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Threat of violence in state capitals leaves the nation on edge

The unprecedented show of military force to defend the peaceful transfer of power is not just taking place in Washington, D.C. The FBI says there are threats to all 50 states, where there could be armed protests. In Pennsylvania, some of the 450 National Guard troops deployed will help protect the state Capitol in Harrisburg. Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman joins Nick Schifrin to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Returning now to one of our top stories, the unprecedented show of military force to defend the peaceful transfer of power.

    And it's not just here in Washington.

    Nick Schifrin has more.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The FBI says there are threats to all 50 state capitals this weekend, when federal authorities warn there could be armed protests.

    In Pennsylvania, there will be 450 National Guard protecting the state Capitol in Harrisburg.

    The Pennsylvania lieutenant governor is John Fetterman. And he joins me now.

    Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, Welcome to the "NewsHour."

    What's the threat that Pennsylvania faces? And what are you doing to protect your Capitol?

  • Lt. Gov. John Fetterman:

    Well, I mean, the threat isn't necessarily a specific (AUDIO GAP).

    And the governor had taken the preemptive steps to close the Capitol Complex all next week. So, if they do have a protest, which, of course, as long as it's peaceful, that's, of course, their constitutionally protected right to do so.

    And in the event that it does get out of hand, which I don't expect that it would, there is a robust presence there that would deter anything to go along those lines.

    When I was just at the Capitol this past Tuesday, we had armed National Guardsmen with automatic weapons, and there was a much different vibe and a much different energy than there was just one week ago, when I was there, when it was a very casual, laid-back atmosphere, even though there were a couple hundred angry Trump protesters right there on the front steps.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Are you getting enough federal help?

  • John Fetterman:

    I can't speak to that specifically.

    But what I can say is, is that this is an issue that has been the number one priority for the governor and the Capitol Police Department in Harrisburg. And they have taken every preventative step to make sure that there are no exposed vulnerabilities, that the complex is shut down.

    And I really, again, don't anticipate that there's going to be anything on the order of what happened in Harrisburg — excuse me — in Washington last week, especially since no one's there and the entire complex is closed this entire upcoming week.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    You said there was no specific threat.

    I wonder if we could talk more generally about that general threat. The FBI just a few months ago labeled Pittsburgh a hub for white supremacy, for extremist groups. Is that a particular concern for you going forward?

  • John Fetterman:

    You have to consider every angle.

    Last week in Washington changed everything. This idea that you would have a mob take over the entire Capitol complex was unheard of, unprecedented, No one thought that. And that's why there wasn't the kind of security there, because no one ever believed that that was possible.

    So, after that, everything is possible, and there is an entirely new level of scrutiny and possibility that is being considered to make sure that there is a peaceful transfer of power and that there is no kinds of insurgency, and certainly in Harrisburg, and I suspect all across Pennsylvania as well, too.

    The National Guard and the governor's office is in close contact with all other law enforcement agencies. And, as I said, there isn't a specific plot in mind that I'm aware of, but, nevertheless, everyone is on high alert just to make sure that everything goes smoothly, and whatever protests there are peaceably, constitutionally guaranteed rights to protest.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    You say anything is possible.

    And I'm wondering if you could help us understand this moment we're in, in U.S. history. Pennsylvania, of course, one of the original colonies. It ratified the Constitution in 1787. Here we are 233 years later talking about insurrection.

    Where are we today as a country?

  • John Fetterman:

    I mean, I — your guess is as good as mine.

    I mean, I watched those events on the television where they took over the Capitol, much like everybody else did it. It felt very 9/11. It felt very surreal.

    But what we have to remember is, on the upside, that the guardrails held in America. And Pennsylvania was the target of more smears and lies regarding our electoral security than any other state. And, at the end of the day, we had three instances of voter fraud out of over seven million ballots cast.

    And the Justice Department, the president's own Justice Department, just signed off on the fact that said there wasn't any fraud or any activity that would closely resemble that in Pennsylvania.

    So, what kind of a new era are we in? We're in an era that we're not able to take the peaceful transition of power for granted, like we were able to for the entire history of our country.

    And that needs to change. We can never look — look at that again. And we also have to confront this idea that, when you are maliciously lying and creating and fomenting chaos, that that can't be permitted on a platform that affords you to spread things in an unprecedented speed to an unprecedented number of people.

    And this idea of slapping a warning on these kind of things, that doesn't include the fact that, but for this idea that this election was stolen and rigged and they're trying to steal this country from you, I mean, there's a straight line from those kinds of incendiary statements, banging repeatedly, being tweeted, retweeted, and repeated for two months straight.

    And it all culminated in what happened in Washington, D.C. I mean, we — there's a lot that has to be considered, so this is never, ever part of the American story again, and we can get back to one of the pillars of our democracy, and that is the peaceful transfer of power.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    John Fetterman is the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania.

    John Fetterman, thank you very much.

  • John Fetterman:

    Thank you for having me.

  • Nick Schifrin:


  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now, Nick, let's turn to another story that you have been reporting on today.

    Last night, you described a series of policy changes that were announced at the very end of the Trump administration.

    Tell us what the Biden transition team is saying to you in response.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes, Judy, many administrations rush through policies at the last minute, especially when there's a change — excuse me — when there's a change of party.

    And the administration has rushed through policies on Yemen, Cuba, Taiwan, and Iran. So far, the Biden administration has been shying away from criticizing individual policies, but that changed today.

    A Biden transition official in an interview told me — quote — "We will manage this, but if — it does start at some point to feel like sabotage."

    The official singled out the designation of the Houthi group in Yemen, over the objection of humanitarian groups, who say that that designation will make the world's worst humanitarian disaster even worse.

    The Biden transition official told me — quote — "Secretary of State Pompeo is literally risking hundreds of thousands of lives. Most of Yemen is at risk of starvation, so that Mike Pompeo can feed his own domestic political ambitions. This is childish and silly, and we're not going to let it box us in."

    In response to that, a senior administration official told me — quote — "We're designating the Houthis as terrorists for a simple reason. They're terrorists." The Houthis and no one else are responsible for the humanitarian crisis Yemen faces."

    But, Judy, even humanitarian groups today are calling for that designation to be rescinded.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, nick, I know there's so much to report on, but just in brief, what are the main foreign policy challenges that the Biden administration is going to face from the very beginning?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes, the challenges are widespread, and the plans on day one for the Biden team in terms of foreign policy are rejoining the World Health Organization, rejoining the Paris climate accords, and rescinding executive orders that ban travelers from majority-Muslim countries.

    In the first few days, the Biden team will have to figure out how to extend the New START treaty. That is the treaty that governs American and Russian strategic weapons. And in the first few weeks or months, the Biden team will kick-start diplomacy with Iran.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Nick Schifrin covering security issues in this country and abroad.

    A lot on your plate. Thank you, Nick.

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