YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Truth and consequences.
FLORIDA GOVERNOR RON DESANTIS (R): (From video.) I have what we think is the strongest election integrity measures in the country.
MS. ALCINDOR: Republicans press forward with more bills to restrict voting as the GOP gets ready for a purge over its embrace of election conspiracy theories.
REPRESENTATIVE LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): (From video.) We should not be embracing the former president.
HOUSE MINORITY LEADER KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): (From audio.) I’ve had it with her. It’s – you know, I’ve lost confidence.
MS. ALCINDOR: At the center, former President Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was rigged and the power he still holds.
PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: (From video.) Trickle down ain’t working very well, man.
MS. ALCINDOR: Meanwhile, President Biden sets new goals for fighting COVID and he hits the road to sell his massive plans to rebuild and invest in America, but will virus and vaccine culture wars get in his way? Next.
ANNOUNCER: This is Washington Week. Once again, from Washington, moderator Yamiche Alcindor.
MS. ALCINDOR: Good evening and welcome to Washington Week. I’m so excited to join you tonight as the new moderator of this great show. Today is May 7th and here is the state of play in our nation. The Capitol insurrection took place 121 days ago. President Biden has been in office for 107 days. And even though the mob that stormed the Capitol didn’t succeed in stopping Biden from taking his oath, sources often remind me the consequences of the insurrection and the false claim that the election was rigged loom large. In the meantime, Republicans in dozens and dozens of states have continued to introduce and pass laws restricting voting. Supporters of the laws say they’re aimed at making voting more secure; critics say the efforts are really about making it harder for many, including Black people and people of color, to vote. And the debate over election integrity has led to a civil war inside the GOP. In January the party’s leadership was sharply critical of former President Donald Trump, who wrongly claimed that the election was stolen. Here’s how GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy put it then.
HOUSE MINORITY LEADER KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): (From video.) The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. All of us must resist the temptation of further polarization.
MS. ALCINDOR: But this week McCarthy was caught on a hot mic saying Representative Liz Cheney, the number three Republican in the House, should be purged from party leadership. Why? Because she’s speaking out against former President Trump’s lies.
HOUSE MINORITY LEADER KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): (From audio.) I’ve had it with her. You know, I’ve lost confidence. Well, someone just has to bring a motion, but I assume that will probably take place.
MS. ALCINDOR: In a Washington Post op-ed Cheney fired back, writing, quote, “We Republicans need to stand for genuinely conservative principles and steer away from the dangerous and anti-democratic Trump cult of personality. History is watching.”
Joining us tonight for insight and analysis: Errin Haines, editor at large for The 19th; Jake Sherman, founder of Punchbowl News, a political newsletter that we’re all reading; and sitting here with me live in studio, Dan Balz, chief correspondent for The Washington Post; and Weijia Jiang, senior White House correspondent for CBS News, who covers the White House with me and is a dear friend.
So, Errin, you are a native of Georgia and have spent a lot of time covering voting laws in that state and around the country. What’s your reporting tell you about how these laws – these voting laws could impact people’s lives, but also how did we even get here in the first place?
ERRIN HAINES: Well, first let me just say congratulations, my friend. It is an honor to be with you as you make your debut as moderator of Washington Week. I am thrilled to be in conversation with you tonight.
MS. ALCINDOR: Thank you.
MS. HAINES: Let me just say, as a native of Atlanta and as a native Georgian, this actually is not a new strategy for the Republican Party. Georgia was a pioneer in voter ID laws dating back to 2005-2006, and there were other states that saw what Georgia did then who followed suit. And so what we’re seeing now is something that has been kind of a long time coming, and what really is kind of the 21st century face of voter suppression that continues to be a solution in search of a problem. We know that, you know, this election was the safest, the most accurate in U.S. history according to our own federal government and according to state officials in Georgia, in Florida, you know, saying that their states had elections that were transparent, that were efficient, and that were accurate. And yet here we are, you know, with a recount, that audit in Arizona, and with these laws being passed in Georgia and Florida, and the reason that they really are, you know, dangerous and continue to be a threat to our democracy is because I think that we’re moving into phase two of the big lie. Phase one, obviously, being that – President Trump continuing to claim that he wrongly won the election when we know that President Biden won and President Trump lost, but now phase two is really just the idea that election integrity is real and that it is a threat to our democracy. We know that that is not true because there is no proven evidence of widespread voter fraud anywhere in this country.
MS. ALCINDOR: Weijia, I want to come to you. Errin’s talking about voter suppression, but apart from these laws there’s also what’s happening in Arizona with this audit. I wonder what you think the impact is of all of this, and how is the White House and Democrats really readying themselves to push back given the fact that they’re criticizing them?
WEIJIA JIANG: Well, there’s only so much the president can do himself, and he has said very clearly and the White House press secretary today said again that they, you know, are very – it’s obvious that these laws are meant to keep people from voting. I asked also whether the president believed that the Justice Department should intervene in any way to try to stop these laws from being implemented, and this White House has been so careful about separating the Justice Department and Attorney General Garland’s power that they weren’t going to weigh in on that, but certainly they are aware that this is a massive fight ahead. The problem is that, you know, sources say it’s not only going to make it difficult for Democrats to vote, but for Republicans too, and so there is this risk of backfiring that they think is really something that these state officials are not thinking about clearly enough. But they are prepared for what’s ahead and they know it’s going to be something that they have to struggle with.
MS. ALCINDOR: This struggle, of course, is also connected, Jake, to what’s going on in the GOP and Liz Cheney. Like I said at the beginning, we’re all reading what’s going on here through Punchbowl News. Tell us, what’s the latest? Is Liz Cheney at all going to survive this, possibly?
JAKE SHERMAN: Well, Yamiche, I want to echo congratulations. I feel like we’ve been on TV together since we were young children and here you are with your own show. (Laughter.)
So, no, listen, I think that – I have no reporting that would suggest that Liz Cheney is going to survive this challenge next week, which is next Tuesday or next Wednesday. It could happen. We could be very surprised on Wednesday if Cheney survives. We were surprised last time. I don’t believe that will be the case this time. Kevin McCarthy is against her. Steve Scalise is against her, Jim Jordan. Some of the most prominent figures in the Republican Party are for Elise Stefanik, the Republican from New York who is challenging, essentially, Liz Cheney.
But there’s two competing visions here of the party, right? There’s the Liz Cheney vision, which is that she believes that Donald Trump is a danger and he should – she uses every opportunity that she can to talk about the lies that he’s telling about January 6th and the election, and also she’s unafraid to criticize her own party leadership, the leadership in which she sits. And then there’s Elise Stefanik, who believes that it’s her job to represent the broader Republican Party, the broader House Republican Conference, which, frankly, is fully behind Donald Trump. So two competing visions for the party, two strategies. I think a lot of members of Congress, sitting Republicans, are with Stefanik because they – although they don’t – some of them don’t care for Donald Trump, it’s not all they want to be talking about, but it is just a – it’s a shameful episode and a strange episode for this party.
MS. ALCINDOR: Strange is definitely one way to put it. Dan, you wrote this week in The Washington Post that the move against Cheney is a sign of political cowardice for the party; while shocking you, right, it is not surprising for a party that has lost its way – that’s lost its way. Talk to me about this moment and the history. Is there – I always ask this question, especially to veteran reporters: Is there anything to compare this to?
DAN BALZ: Nothing that I’ve covered over many, many years here in Washington covering the Republican Party and these kinds of battles. The Republican Party of today is not the Republican Party that existed five years ago, certainly not 10, 15, 25 years ago. It is now Donald Trump’s party. We have all talked over this spring about the battle for the soul of the Republican Party, and I think at this point Donald Trump owns the soul of the Republican Party – he owns it lock, stock, and barrel. Liz Cheney is standing up against that, but she is in a very distinct minority. There may be people who agree with her, but they’re unwilling to speak out in the way she is, and so what you have is a very small minority – Liz Cheney on the one hand, Senator Mitt Romney on the other, among a handful of people who are prepared to make the argument that the party is in danger of ruining its future if it continues to buy into Trump’s lies about the election. But it appears as though she’s on very thin ice in the House, and as a result of that what we have right now is a party that is Donald Trump’s.
MS. JIANG: Dan’s so right here because this is a lot less about Liz Cheney than it is about Donald Trump, and that’s why you’re seeing the huge endorsement of Elise Stefanik because you’ll remember during the impeachment trial she was one of the very few who was willing to go as far as she did to staunchly defend President Trump, who at that time was really his own defender in chief, and so I think this is another classic example of what happens when you support the former president and when you don’t. It’s a case of being rewarded and being punished, and that’s what’s playing out here.
MS. ALCINDOR: Well, this – if I could, I’m going to go to what President Biden said because this week Biden was questioned about the GOP leadership crisis. Here’s what he said.
PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: (From video.) It seems as though the Republican Party is trying to identify what it stands for, and they’re in the midst of a significant sort of mini revolution going on in the Republican Party.
MS. ALCINDOR: Dan, you were going to jump in; tell me a little bit about how President Trump’s hold on the GOP might impact his ability to function in the party and also the party’s function to really deal with President Biden. There’s all this talk of bipartisanship; what do you make of it?
MR. BALZ: Well, I think – I think there’s two related but somewhat separate issues on that. In terms of President – former President Trump, the party is focused on trying to win back control of the House and maybe the Senate in 2022. That’s why they are upset with Liz Cheney, because they think she is taking them back to an old fight and they want to move past that, whether they buy into what Donald Trump has said or not. But Trump has made it very clear that he’s going to continue to be active within the party. He’s rare among presidents in that he gets involved in intraparty fights, and that’s clearly what he’s going to do, and most Republicans don’t want to be on the wrong side of that, so they are – they are with Trump and therefore against Cheney. How that will affect the legislative agenda of President Biden is not yet clear. There are signs that there are going to be decent negotiations over the American Jobs Plan. I don’t think we know enough about how serious those are yet, but there’s a possibility that those will end up being somewhat compartmentalized, but right now the Cheney – if you will, Cheney-McCarthy battle and the Cheney-Trump battle is overwhelming everything else within the Republican Party.
MS. ALCINDOR: And Dan talking about – Errin, Dan talking about all of this overwhelming everything, I’m really interested in the idea that Joni Ernst – she’s a senator, a Republican woman in the Senate – she came to the defense of Liz Cheney. What does that tell you, and what does it – what does it tell you that maybe possibly going after Liz Cheney, how could that impact the GOP’s relationship with its women voters?
MS. HAINES: Yeah, I mean, well, certainly that is something that we are interested in over at 19th News. One thing that was interesting, you know, that we’ve reported is that, you know, even as Liz Cheney was embattled, she had a record fundraising quarter last quarter, you know, after, you know, her colleague Matt Gaetz goes to Wyoming and, you know, tells her constituents to vote her out of office, and instead they respond by, you know, donating millions of dollars to her campaign. And so this could be something – we know that, you know, there were women voters, especially conservative women that we talked to, you know, in the 2020 campaign, who maybe were turned off by former President Trump’s rhetoric but were not necessarily turned off by his agenda, and so it isn’t clear, you know, kind of where women voters will come down. But I think it is clear that just because President Trump is out of office, that does not mean that he is out of power, and how that plays into, you know, the 2022 cycle I think will be a test of his power and continued hold over this party. But because he is the standard bearer, those who are not going to carry that standard are being intimidated.
MS. ALCINDOR: Yeah. Now, as you talk about President Trump – former President Trump, I want to turn to what President Biden spent much of his week focused on. He hit the road pitching the urgency of his economic plans.
PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: (From video.) I’m not ready to have another period where America has another infrastructure month and doesn’t change a damn thing.
MS. ALCINDOR: Tuesday, the president also set a new goal for fighting the pandemic. He is aiming to have 70 percent of Americans vaccinated with at least one shot by July 4th. Biden urged Americans not to let politics get in the way of getting a vaccine.
PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: (From video.) I want to be clear. I’ve been saying this a long time, but I really believe this is not a Democrat or a Republican issue. While we may not always agree on everything, this is one thing people across the political spectrum can agree on.
MS. ALCINDOR: But Republicans, according to polling, are still among one of the most vaccine hesitant groups in the country, and a number of conservative voices have been spreading disinformation about the vaccines. Jake, I want to come to you. The new jobs report fell well below expectations. White House aides tell me this underscores the importance of passing President Biden’s plans. How might this latest report push the Dems to go it alone?
MR. SHERMAN: Yeah, so, Yamiche, it’s a good point. So Democrats have been toying, because Joe Biden wants them to, with negotiating, as Dan alluded to earlier, with Republicans over this package. I think when Congress comes back into session next week they are going to be a lot less interested in waiting for Republicans to figure out if they want to come along and negotiate this package. I’ve talked to Democratic aides and lawmakers all day; they believe time is of the essence – maybe not the entire package, but I have to imagine that they’re going to need to – they’re going to want to pass something quickly. The general gist is Democrats feel like Republicans, you know, go halfway down the road and then eventually decide that they don’t want to negotiate. They think they’re not going to be able to do it this time. That’s one way I would say this is going to impact legislating. The second way is I think Democrats are going to want to go big, I really do. I don’t know if it’s going to be $4 trillion, but I don’t think some sort of $600-700 billion plan is going to suffice for most Democrats, especially in the – in the wake of this – of this job report, which by the way I had – and I’m sure you guys did, too – I had White House sources telling me yesterday they expected a 700,000 to a million job number, which would give – would have given Joe Biden 2 million jobs in his first 100 days. That didn’t happen. So it was a big surprise in the West Wing, big surprise in the White House. Congress is going to need to respond with speed. Joe Biden’s going to have people at the White House next week. I have to imagine that things are going to go a little bit quicker now.
MS. ALCINDOR: Dan, I want to come to you. How is all of this traveling that President Biden’s doing – how might it help speed things along? Jake is saying things need to happen fast because of this surprising jobs report.
MR. BALZ: Well, it helps at the margins, but I think that the real question is going to be is there – is there room for a real compromise between the White House and the president and Senate Republicans. I’m told there will be a meeting next Thursday at the White House with Senator Shelley Moore Capito. I think that the White House at that point will begin to see whether – how serious Republicans are about really giving ground and then how serious he is about meeting them closer to where they might want to – want to be. So I think until we – I mean, I would say a week from today we may have a much better idea of whether what I would call a hard infrastructure bill, which is just to say the kind of roads, bridges, that sort of thing, is possible. And at that point, if it’s not possible, then he’s going to have to make a decision about what to do.
MS. ALCINDOR: Weijia, you’re, obviously, at the White House covering all of this. I wanted to ask you a bit about the jobs report, but there’s also, of course, these big COVID goals, and the Biden administration’s going to have to navigate access and vaccine hesitancy. What are you hearing about all this?
MS. JIANG: So before I get into that, I was so excited to start tonight that I forgot to say again congratulations.
MS. ALCINDOR: This is why I love Weijia. This is literally why I love you. (Laughter.)
MS. JIANG: Because I was like, wait a minute, yeah, this is an amazing night and I’m so happy for you. (Laughter.)
So, yes, as you know, from the very beginning the president said that you cannot separate these two crises. So you have the, you know, virus and you have the economy, and so that’s why he is making this huge push by July 4th to vaccinate 70 percent of the adult population. And what we saw today was a clear example of why, because, you know, the White House has said that the reason why these job numbers were not where they had anticipated them to be is because people still have that fear factor about going into work, into a crowded workspace, especially into a restaurant or a bar, which is an industry where we’re seeing a shortage of labor and employers trying to get more people. And so that’s why he’s trying to get the numbers up, but it is very hard, as you mention, because the hesitancy still exists and, even though access is a huge problem that they’re tackling with more walk-in clinics, with more mobile units, I think it’s really going to be the holdouts that make a big difference. And the president said over time the spokespeople will be more granular into these local communities to try to change people’s minds, but the worry is that people have already made up their minds, and if they’ve decided they’re not going to get it they’re not going to get it.
MS. ALCINDOR: Errin, I want to come to you. I was in St. Louis this week, talked to a lot of people who were hesitant about the vaccine; surprised me a bit. You have been writing a bunch about vaccine hesitancy and access. Talk about that, and also talk about racial inequalities and how that factors into all this.
MS. HAINES: Absolutely, you know, so racial equity has been – you know, is a cornerstone of this administration, something that they said they were going to prioritize in this administration. And even though, you know, they have certainly had an impressive record in these first 100 days in terms of getting people vaccinated, we know that that has not been equitable from a racial standpoint, and you know, as much – for as much as people make about the vaccine hesitancy issue in those communities of color, access was such a huge piece of the equation – setting up, for example, these huge FEMA sites, you know, without necessarily access to transportation, for example, helping people to get to them. And we know that so many of these frontline workers, these essential workers, right, are people who don’t necessarily have the means to take the day off to get a vaccine, much less the second dose of the vaccine. We know a lot of people have pretty bad side effects, you know, in the wake of taking that second vaccine; if they have to call in sick, they’re not going to get paid when they do that. And so when somebody knows that, that certainly is something that is stalling certain parts of the population from coming back in to get the second vaccine, right? And so the J&J pause, we don’t know what effect that had, especially in communities of color, you know, who could have gotten maybe one dose and wouldn’t have to worry about coming back for that second dose, maybe that – taking more time away from work, more time away from the childcare piece. And so, you know, I think that the trusted messengers that are certainly being deployed in a lot of communities of color, those folks may be getting more people to get the vaccine. But still issues of access are not just about having a facility in that community; it is about making it possible and viable for folks to get the vaccine in a way that they’re not kind of balancing their economic survival, for example, with their public health.
MS. ALCINDOR: Yeah, yeah, all such important issues. Before we go, we had major immigration news this week: the Biden administration carried out some of its first reunifications of families separated at the southern border under former President Trump. Weijia, these are such emotional scenes, these are such really scenes that tug at your heartstrings. I wonder, though, as you – as you watched them, what other challenges on immigration really are at the part where the Biden administration is having to really face these challenges? What are the other immigration challenges?
MS. JIANG: Well, for one, we saw four families reunited this week, which is so substantial still because you think about those images that you talked about and how powerful they are and how long these families have been waiting for this moment, but there are hundreds of other families that still need to be reunited. So the taskforce is working on that; they’re trying to do it as quickly as possible. But there’s also this issue of young migrants that are still coming to the border every day. There was huge news yesterday that they are being processed faster, so they’re not being held in those, you know, border facilities that were not set up for children as long. They’re going to other ones that are run by Health and Human Services that are a lot more humane for kids, so that is a success. But the root of the problem is still there, and they continue to come, so they have to communicate and try to get to the source of that. And also, I think the issue of the refugee cap will continue to be one because even the president said he – even though he’s raised the cap to 62,500 from the historic low of 15,000, he doesn’t believe that they’re going to get there this year. So that number is still lower than what he wants it to be, and that’s, you know, a pledge that he wants to fulfill because he made it while he was still a candidate.
MS. ALCINDOR: Well, those immigration challenges are definitely going to be something they’re going to have to contend with. That’s all the time we have for tonight. Thank you so much Errin, Jake, Dan, and Weijia. Our conversation will continue on the Washington Week Extra, and find it live at 8:30 p.m. Eastern time on our website, Facebook, and YouTube.
And a final note: This show has an incredible legacy, and I am thrilled, thrilled to step into it and to expand it. I was lucky enough to know and to be mentored by Gwen Ifill, a longtime host of this show. I am thinking of her – her brilliance, her tenacity – today and every day. Know that my guiding – my guiding light will be centering this show on the decisions made in Washington and beyond and how they impact everyday Americans and vulnerable populations. I hope that you’ll see the questions that you have about politics and power represented here at this table. Please join me every week.
I’m Yamiche Alcindor. Good night from Washington.