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Democratic Senators threaten to block Biden nominees over lack of AAPI representation

White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor and Capitol Hill correspondent Lisa Desjardins join Judy Woodruff to report on the government's response to the Colorado shooting, the status of President Joe Biden's cabinet nominees and how that will affect the administration's immigration plans.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The shooting last night in Boulder, Colorado, is renewing calls from some Democrats to restrict gun access.

    To look at the proposals being made, along with a host of other issues on the Biden administration's agenda, I'm joined now by our Yamiche Alcindor and Lisa Desjardins.

    So, hello to both of you.

    I want to start with you, Yamiche.

    The president today did address this terrible shooting last night in Boulder. And we know he has seen this before. As vice president, he saw it. He was there during the shooting at Sandy Hook, during another mass shooting in Orlando, certainly before that as a United States senator.

    What is the White House saying? How are they responding to these latest atrocities?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, the — President Biden is responding to this latest shooting in Boulder, Colorado, by again urging the passage of gun reform, something that he has done over and over throughout his career as vice president and as a senator.

    Of course, it's still unclear whether or not any sort of gun legislation can actually get through the House and the Senate. That's the big question there. That being said, the White House is throwing their support behind two bills that have already passed the House, one focused on increasing and improving, they say, background checks, another one on banning assault weapons.

    The White House press secretary today, Jen Psaki, also said that President Biden is open to executive action on this issue. She said that he's — that there's a range of issues that can be thought of, and that really him going in alone in this executive order could be one of the ways that he does this.

    The other thing to note is that there are lawmakers that are pushing the president to establish a national gun violence director. That would be someone, they say, that would be focused on trying to cut gun violence down by half by the end of the year and other times in this country.

    And they're really focusing on whether or not that position can be happening. But the White House right now is not making that commitment. Instead, they're saying gun reform is a priority, but not making actual commitment. So, it's still, in some ways, unclear exactly what the White House wants to do, but they are saying that something needs to be done.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lisa, we did hear earlier in the program some reaction from the Congress, including that Senate Judiciary Committee, where a number of senators were speaking up.

    But at this point, what does it look like may be possible? What are expectations with regard to what Congress might realistically do?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You know, I spent the day speaking to dozens of U.S. senators. The House is out of Washington, but the Senate is in town.

    And I have been at the U.S. Capitol, unfortunately, for the day after several of these shootings, going back to Virginia Tech, Newtown, Parkland, El Paso. And the mood today was not the same kind of sharp heartache and urgency that I felt following those other shootings.

    For some Democrats, yes, it is there. They are pushing hard. They want to see these votes happen. But, in general, I felt kind of more of a numbness and not the urgency that I think it would take to get the votes that any of these things need.

    Let's talk about those House bills for universal background checks that Yamiche is talking about. Well, I spoke to senator, a key senator. That is Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the Democrat. He told me and other reporters he is a no on those House background check votes.

    That basically means they don't have a chance of passing. Now, he still perhaps could work on his own more limited background check bill. And his former partner in that, Republican Senator of Pennsylvania Pat Toomey, told me he is trying to have conversations and discussions to try and find some kind of bipartisan path on gun reform.

    I asked him, could that even coalesce this week? He said, no, it won't happen this week.

    So, it is a long path. And I think the farther we get from events like this, the harder the path for gun reform gets.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, I know you're going to continue to report on that.

    But meantime, Lisa, the Biden administration has a number of other headaches, if you will, facing them in the Congress. At this point, we have, what, two Democrats who are threatening to block the administration's own nominees for top administration positions. Tell us what's going on there.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This is an extraordinary development just in the past couple of hours. This is led by Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, joined by Mazie Hirono of Hawaii.

    They are protesting the lack of AAPI — that's Asian American and Pacific Islander — representation among Cabinet secretaries. President Biden does not have any AAPI Cabinet secretaries. And only one member of his Cabinet, the trade representative, is Asian American.

    Now, we talked to Senator Duckworth earlier today. And she expressed why she is saying she will not support any more Biden nominees until she gets a guarantee of more diversity in the next opening slots. Here's what she said.

  • Sen. Tammy Duckworth:

    To be told that, well, you have Kamala Harris — we're very proud of her — you don't need anybody else is insulting.

    At this point, they can call me and tell me what their proposal is. But, until then, I am a no-vote on all — on the floor on all non-diversity nominees.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's all nominees, including judicial nominees.

    And I should say she was speaking to other reporters. That audio was courtesy of the pool.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Yamiche, the White House is seeing all this. How worried are they about what this means for the nominees yet to come and, frankly, for the rest of their agenda?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, this is something that is definitely, you can tell, troubling to the White House. The White House has in some ways been mom right now. There's been no statements released.

    I have been talking to sources. None of them have wanted to go on the record with a comment just yet. That being said, you're already seeing the effect of these two senators banding together on this. You have the top Pentagon policy adviser, his nomination was already on thin ice, with Joe Manchin not saying whether or not he was going to back him.

    Now these two senators make it almost impossible for that nomination to go through. So, that's the White House agenda already getting pushed back and really getting stalled by this stance. Another thing to note is that the Biden administration, while they say they have a lot of diversity, they also understand that this is something that is real and that will impact their agenda.

    They're looking at infrastructure and wanting to pass $3 billion worth of legislation active — action to help with roads and bridges, and that may not be able to happen, even though, of course, right now, it's on nominees. It's a tight Senate.

    Also, on immigration, President Biden has a big, big challenge on his hands. He wants to be more humane, wants to be more moral, he said. But this — what he wants is an immigration bill. And that's going to be tough when he's having trouble with Democratic senators, let alone GOP senators.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Yamiche referring, of course, to that — what is reported to be a $3 trillion really massive infrastructure jobs and education package, which we haven't seen yet, but a lot of reporting about it.

    And it's only two months in, just barely two months in to this administration.

    Yamiche Alcindor, Lisa Desjardins, thank you both.

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