ROBERT COSTA: One president fights on and the next one looks ahead.
GABRIEL STERLING: (From video.) It has all gone too far.
MR. COSTA: The president’s baseless claims spark outrage as he refuses to concede and considers pardons.
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: (From video.) Help is on the way.
MR. COSTA: But the president-elect mostly ignores him and announces nominees to address the pandemic and the economy. On the Hill, momentum gathers behind a stimulus compromise.
SENATOR MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): (From video.) The time to borrow money is when there’s a crisis, and this is a crisis.
SENATOR JOSEPH MANCHIN (D-WV): (From video.) We are not going to leave until we get something accomplished.
MR. COSTA: Next.
ANNOUNCER: This is Washington Week. Once again, from Washington, moderator Robert Costa.
MR. COSTA: Good evening and welcome to Washington Week. Another Friday and another week with President Trump refusing to accept Joe Biden as the president-elect, but this moment is about more than defiance. The president’s refusal to concede also has sweeping political implications, especially for the Republican Party. In Georgia, two GOP senators are facing many Republican voters now nodding along to the president’s baseless claims, and they could decide to sit out the January Senate runoff elections where the Senate majority is on the line. Here is Trump ally Lin Wood in Georgia this week.
LIN WOOD: (From video.) I want you to go to the governor’s mansion. I want you to circle it. I want you to blow your horns until Brian Kemp comes out and orders a special session of the Georgia legislature, and then he can resign. And then, as far as I’m concerned, lock him up.
MR. COSTA: Other Republicans, such as Georgia election official Gabriel Sterling, are urging the president to stop.
GABRIEL STERLING: (From video.) It has to stop. Mr. President, you have not condemned these actions or this language. Senators, you have not condemned this language or these actions. This is elections. This is the backbone of democracy, and all of you who have not said a damn word are complicit in this. Stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence. Someone’s going to get hurt, someone’s going to get shot, someone’s going to get killed, and it’s not right.
MR. COSTA: Let’s not forget this all comes as the nation is in crisis. More than 275,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus and we all know a tough winter is ahead.
Joining us tonight with more are three plugged-in journalists: Joe Scarborough, host of Morning Joe on MSNBC and author of Saving Freedom: Truman, The Cold War and The Fight for Western Civilization; Ayesha Rascoe, White House reporter for National Public Radio; and Annie Linskey, national political reporter for The Washington Post.
Joe, you’ve been writing about the presidency. You’ve been studying President Trump for years as a journalist and commentator. What is President Trump up to with this refusal to concede and his continued grievances about the election?
JOE SCARBOROUGH: Well, I don’t think any of us are surprised that the president of the United States has not conceded this race. If you had asked most reporters beforehand if he would claim that the race were rigged if he lost, they’d say he was because, let’s face it, he’s made this claim over the past six months, has been setting us all up for this moment, and so he’s going to leave the White House without ever conceding to Joe Biden and he’s raised over $200 million scamming his followers into believing that the election’s been rigged when one local Republican official after another local Republican official who’s actually counted the votes say there’s no there there. And yet, he continues on, maybe it’s for a 2024 race. I think it’s more likely that he’s doing it just to raise money.
MR. COSTA: But what else is going on, Ayesha, inside this White House? Beyond the fight over the election result, the president is upended personnel at the Department of Defense. He’s installing loyalists like Corey Lewandowski onto a defense advisory board. Is this what we should expect in the coming weeks, upheaval inside the federal government?
AYESHA RASCOE: Well, it’s pretty much what we’ve had at the White House from the beginning so I don’t think he’s going to stop now. I think it’s going to continue on. And so much of what President Trump has done has been about score settling, it’s been about, you know, getting back at people, but also trying to figure out what he wants his legacy to be. You know, when it comes to defense, you know, he’s always talked about how he wanted to pull all the troops out of the Middle East. He wants to be the president to do that, and he’s faced pushback within the Defense Department and has been hindered in that, and it seems like at the end he’s trying to make moves in that direction over the objections of, you know, other people in the Defense Department. But I think that this has just been par for the course. I also think that at this point a lot of this is about managing President Trump’s feelings, his emotions. The release of that 46-minute video that they put on Facebook, I thought that it was very interesting that they put it on Facebook. They could have done, you know, a quick scramble – look, the president’s going to speak – that would have probably been carried live by most of the cable networks if he had spoken live, but they didn’t do that. Like, it seemed almost that they were putting it out there but they didn’t want everyone to carry it. It’s almost like they were letting him speak but they didn’t really want to give that message a lot of air. And I think that is – says something about where this White House is right now.
MR. COSTA: So Annie, Joe talked about how the president, in his view, is scamming his supporters raising all this money. Ayesha’s talking about people inside of this White House perhaps trying to manage the president’s feelings. Annie, finish this sentence for me: The GOP is silenced – is silent because what? What is keeping the Republicans silent?
ANNIE LINSKEY: Look, I mean, certainly from the Biden folks’ perspective – and Joe Biden said this today – they have this belief that when Trump leaves office, when the electors in mid-December meet and vote, that that silence is going to be – is going to change, and that they are sort of paying respect to Trump and his process that he’s going through as he tries to process this loss, and that that’s going to be the turning point. And Joe Biden is certainly counting on that because he is looking at a – you know, at best 50-50 Senate if he’s, you know, going to get his agenda through, so he’s counting on the Republicans to have a real change of heart pretty quickly.
MR. COSTA: Quiet until December; it sounds like a holiday song. Joe, let’s talk about Attorney General William Barr. Some Republicans are being quiet, but in an interview with the AP this week Barr said the DOJ has, quote, “not seen fraud on a scale that could have affected a different outcome in the election.” My sources tell me that Barr is now on thin ice for simply stating the facts. Is he gone before January?
MR. SCARBOROUGH: I – (laughs) – can’t tell you what Donald Trump is going to do when it comes to the attorney general, but this is just more of the same. I think of all the people that you and I have known since we began covering Donald Trump in June of 2015 that pledged their loyalty to Donald Trump, that sacrificed their values, that bent over backwards to be as obsequious to him as possible, and it was never enough. With William Barr, you actually did have the man who answered the call when Donald Trump asked several years ago where’s my Roy Cohn. That’s exactly what William Barr wanted to be, and he’s followed that through a certain point. Obviously, he framed the Mueller investigation report in the most favorable way possible to the president. He bought him, you know, several months moving towards impeachment. But at the end, William Barr is proving to be just as unwilling to break the law for Donald Trump as local officials, Republican officials in Michigan, or Wisconsin, or Arizona, or Georgia. At the end of the day, they understand the consequences. Barr, above everyone else, understands the consequences of not bending the law, but breaking the law for the president of the United States and undermining American democracy in a way that could have – could make him criminally liable, but most certainly will darken his name for good in the history books.
MR. COSTA: Ayesha, I want you to build on that, what Joe just said. He listed all these states where local officials are speaking out. And we saw those powerful videos from Georgia in the opening of this program tonight. Gabriel Sterling outranged, a Republican, about the president’s handling. Are we seeing a divide out there in the states? Local and state officials are willing to speak up, but national Republicans, to Annie’s point, just see a – they’re calculating that it’s best to just sit on their hands until December.
MS. RASCOE: You do see a divide there where, you know, as Joe said, that they have been – the local Republican officials have been unwilling to break the law, and they’ve been unwilling to overturn the rightful election result. That is a bridge too far, I think. But you do see so many national Republicans and you see the base calling for more action. And so it almost seems as if they’re out of step with their own party. The people that are holding this line and saying: No, we’re going to respect the election results are out of step with the rest of the Republican Party, and they’re out of step with the leader of the Republican Party, President Trump.
MR. COSTA: Ayesha, what does that mean though in Georgia, where they have a runoff election for two Senate seats on January 5th?
MS. RASCOE: And that is the big question right now. And I think if I was a Republican I would be very concerned, because you have people like Lin Wood and like Sidney Powell saying: You need to hold these Republicans accountable and saying that – don’t vote unless they meet these kind of outrageous claims. And President Trump himself saying: If you want to ensure that voters come out, you need to make sure that I win the state of Georgia, when that’s a done deal.
And so it’s – and I thought it was very interesting when you heard Governor Kemp speaking, I believe, on Fox News saying that he’s trying to support the president within the law. I’m trying to do everything I can. (Laughs.) But he’s kind of saying, but I have to follow the law. And what you’re hearing from Lin Wood and others is that’s not enough. And so I don’t know if it will go that far. If these elections are close and you have dampened turnout from Republicans, you know, that is a serious concern.
MR. COSTA: Well, Annie, what about the view in Biden world? You cover that so closely. Is he going to head down there to Atlanta to try to get that Stacey Abrams coalition back together again?
MS. LINSKEY: Yeah, you know, Biden was asked that question today in Wilmington at his press conference. Sort of the very last question, somebody sort of yelled it as he was walking off the stage. And you could hear him through his mask saying yes, he is going to go to Georgia. But he didn’t answer the follow up about whether this will be before or after Christmas. Of course, the president is going down there this weekend. But, you know, I think how Biden plays Georgia is going to be super interesting because he’s got two different cross currents here. I mean, he is trying so hard in this moment to be the healer in chief, and to be a sort of – you know, post partisan almost.
I mean, he’s been talking to Republican governors, Republican mayors. He talked today to Republican county executives. And so for him to, you know, be pushing that image of himself as this guy who reaches across the aisle and makes deals with the – with the Republican Party, and then the next day go down and sort of engage in a very partisan fight in Georgia is going to be a tricky political maneuver for him. It’s certainly something that he said today that he’s willing to do. I think watching how he’s able to do that will be really interesting.
MR. COSTA: And, Joe, one of the moments that really stuck out to me from that press conference today from Biden was when he was coy – and he’s a talker – but he was coy when he was asked about whether he’s engaged with Leader McConnell. That’s a relationship to watch – McConnell and Biden.
And on that point, Joe, let’s turn to the politics of the economy because roughly 12 million unemployed Americans will lose federal benefits at the end of the year if Congress can’t come together on a stimulus deal. But things are now fluid this week on Capitol Hill. Let’s listen to the latest from the speaker and the majority leader.
HOUSE SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): (From video.) All of that is to come to this place to say: There is momentum. I’m pleased that the tone of our conversations is one that is indicative of the decision to get the job done.
SENATE MAJORITY LEADER MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): (From video.) Compromise is within reach. We know where we agree. We can do this. Let me say it again: We can do this. And we need to do this.
MR. COSTA: Earlier this week Biden also introduced a diverse team of economic advisors, and then Friday when he was talking with reporters he said the new underwhelming jobs report means a, quote, “dark winter is ahead” and he called for, quote, “urgent action” in Congress. Joe, are we seeing a revival of the moderates? I mean, Annie’s talking about Biden reaching out to Republicans. We also see Senators Manchin and Romney and Collins really leading us on Capitol Hill.
MR. SCARBOROUGH: Yeah, elections have consequences. And you look at the Senate, it’s a far different Senate than it was in 2010 after the tea party members came in, far different than it was in 2004 or 2006, when a lot of progressive Democrats came in. And, you know, over the past 15 years you’ve seen more division. You’ve seen a more diverse Senate. But this is really the revenge of the moderates. Joe Manchin is right in the middle of things.
And he’s in the middle of things because he now has Mark Kelly from Arizona, Kyrsten Sinema, who’s voted with him 90 percent of the time over the past few years, Governor Hickenlooper who’s going to be another moderate to conservative Democratic senator. Then you’ve got Mitt Romney and Susan Collins, who won a state, Maine, by nine points that Joe Biden also won by nine points. So you’ve got six, seven, eight moderates on both sides. And people like Lindsey Graham and Joni Ernst also saying they want to get involved in this COVID deal.
And I really do think of everything that’s happened this week, the Manchin coalition expanding out, Manchin and Romney expanding out to six, seven, eight, nine, 10 moderates in the Senate really is the most important development if you’re trying to figure out not what happened the last four years, but what’s going to happen over the next two years. And of course, Bernie Sanders has said he can’t support this bill. People like Tom Cotton also concerned on the other side they can’t support the deal. You’re going to have a lot of progressives and a lot of tea party conservatives – if there still are such a thing in Washington, D.C. – who are going to be frustrated over the next two years because there are going to be a lot of deals made by this Manchin-Romney coalition.
MR. COSTA: Annie, jump in here. What are you hearing from Biden’s people?
MS. LINSKEY: Yeah. No, that’s exactly right. This – you know, it was fascinating that you picked up on that moment at the press conference today, Biden being asked twice if he’s talked to McConnell. Both times he wouldn’t answer. And what’s so interesting is that Biden has been asked that exact same question in earlier press conferences. And, you know, all the previous times he said, no, I haven’t. This time he was actually – you know, gave this sort of human – very human response about, you know the sausage making that he was sort of in the middle of, and kind of refused to answer questions about it.
He said: Look, if I were to tell you what I was doing and the deals that I was striking right now, I wouldn’t be able to do it again. And so that wouldn’t be very smart of me, would it? And so he was almost a little bit playful today when he was at the podium, which is kind of an interesting side of him to see. But I think he’s really trying to project that he has a lot of comfort with that coalition that Joe just described. You knowpi9999, this is – this is very much his people, this is his type of Washington, and this is what he’s really hoping – this is the hope of his presidency. Now, is it something that will actually really work? I mean, that’s kind of the big question.
MR. COSTA: Ayesha, how important is a deal before Biden takes office for everyday Americans who are struggling out there? We all saw the jobless numbers today. What does this mean? And especially if this is tied to a COVID relief package – a spending bill tied to COVID relief, that’s how it’s being proposed by Speaker Pelosi and others – it may not include direct payments to Americans. Senator Bernie Sanders is telling reporters today he can’t support this if it doesn’t have direct payments. So if it’s all about state and local aid and liability insurance, what does that mean for people in this country?
MS. RASCOE: Well, you know, there are a lot of Americans who are really struggling. You mentioned the jobless, you mentioned all of those. And, you know, we’ve seen the lines at food banks and, you know, mass of – you know, food banks saying that they’re having all of this massive outpouring of people who need help. And I think that’s been one of the striking disconnects at this moment, at the White House and with Congress, is that you have an America where you have all of – you know, record numbers of people hospitalized with the virus, you have all of these – you have people dying. And you have people really struggling to get by. And there has not seemed to be an urgency until kind of this week to get something done. People are going to be going into their Christmas holidays not knowing how they are going to, you know, feed their family, you know. And I know people that – you know, people who are not – they’re being put out of their homes. They don’t have a place to live. And so these are very real concerns, and I think that what the American people are looking for is leadership from the White House and from Congress to get something done.
MR. COSTA: Annie, any quick impressions about the Biden economic team rollout and his health team rollout?
MS. LINSKEY: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think when you look at that economic team, one of the real standout things to me and my sources has been that the number of people there who are really focused on the labor markets. And this is a little bit of a wonky thing, but these are folks who spent their career looking at issues of inequality, what can the government do to increase employment in different sectors, what are the – you know, what are specific policies and how exactly can they be, you know, implemented in various sectors of the economy and various parts of the country, sort of both the geographic diversity and in outcomes. And so these are really labor economists, and that’s going to be very different from Trump which is sort of they were very focused on the capital side of the equation.
MR. COSTA: Joe, in less than a minute, what are your thoughts on this Cabinet and the team?
MR. SCARBOROUGH: Well, it’s a Cabinet that you would expect Joe Biden to select. Again, it’s not a Cabinet that’s going to make progressives happy in the United States Senate, but the election was a split decision. You had Americans give Joe Biden, obviously, a fairly sizeable victory in the presidential race, but in the House and in the Senate Republicans did much better than anyone expected. That’s going to have consequences, and Joe Biden’s going to have to select moderates.
MR. COSTA: Well, we’re going to have to leave it there. Many thanks to Joe Scarborough, Ayesha Rascoe, and Annie Linskey. Really appreciate you all taking the time on this busy Friday night.
And thank you all for joining us here at Washington Week. We will keep taking you as close to the news as we can. Be sure to check out our Bookshelf series on our social media and website. I’ll chat more with Joe one on one about his new book on Harry S. Truman.
I’m Robert Costa. Good night from Washington.