Yamiche Alcindor, PBS Moderator, Washington Week: A nation divided over abortion and the Capitol attack.
Joe Biden, President of the United States: We have to codify Roe v. Wade in the law. And if the filibuster gets in the way, it should be we provide an exception.
Alcindor (voice-over): Democrats grapple with the fallout of the Supreme Court decision to overturn the federal right to abortion. But ahead of the midterms, they are hoping to mobilize voters around the issue.
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA): They are more focused on taxpayer-funded abortions than they are on lower costs for oil, for natural gas, for basic energy.
Alcindor: Meanwhile, Republicans celebrate the end of Roe and try to refocus on inflation and higher prices.
Cassidy Hutchinson, Former White House Aide: I don’t f’ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Let my people in.
Alcindor: A former White House aide makes shocking allegations about what former President Trump said and did on January 6.
Hutchinson: I I remember Pat saying, they're literally calling for the vice president to be f'ing hung. And Mark had responded something to the effect of, you heard him, Pat. He thinks Mike deserves it.
Alcindor: And faces pushback about her accusations, next.
Good evening and welcome to "Washington Week".
It’s been a week since the Supreme Court handed down its historic decision striking down Roe v. Wade and ending the constitutional right to an abortion. Across the country, supporters of abortion rights are continuing to take to the streets in protest. They and Democratic lawmakers argue the decision threatens the lives of women and will lead to other rights being taken away.
Republicans, though, are condemning the protests.
Here is what Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina had to say.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC): When Roe came out, we didn’t burn down the Capitol as conservatives. We didn’t go to liberal justice’s homes and tried to intimidate them.
The radical left are constitutional anarchists. They are literally trying to change this country from top to bottom.
Alcindor: But on Wednesday, I interviewed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She expressed her outrage over the court’s ruling.
Hillary Clinton, Former Secretary of State: It’s the most arrogant misreading of history in law that you could ever find. It is so narrow and baseless. It was not only ignorant but almost dismissive to the point of contempt for women’s lives and women’s choices.
Alcindor: As all this plays out, on Thursday, President Biden called the ruling, quote, destabilizing.
Biden: The first and foremost thing we should do is make it clear how outrageous this decision was and how much it impacts not just on a woman’s right to choose, which is critical, critical piece, but on privacy generally.
Alcindor: The president also said he supports changing the Senate filibuster rules to codify privacy and abortion rights into federal law, but Democrats in Congress do not have the votes to do it.
Joining me tonight to discuss this and more, Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for "The New York Times," and joining me here in studio, Tia Mitchell, Washington correspondent for "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution", and Pete Williams, a long time justice correspondent for NBC News.
So, Pete, of course, I’d have to start with you. You’ve been covering the Supreme Court and all over this. We got to see a little bit about what a post-Roe America might look like this week. What stands out to you based on your reporting given the fact that there are trigger laws and state bans already going into effect?
Pete Williams, NBC News Justice Correspondent: So, what’s happening in the states is we know the Supreme Court says the federal constitution doesn’t provide a right to abortion. So, now, the question is, do state constitutions provide a read that the federal does not?
And we are seeing lawsuits attacking two things. The trigger laws that were put in place while Roe was in effect that said once Roe is struck down, then abortion is banned. And then, secondly, a set of laws that were on the books before Roe was decided by the Supreme Court, that have just been sitting there idling now coming to life.
And the difference between the federal constitution and the state constitution is this, there is no explicit right to privacy in the U.S. Constitution -- in a sense, that is sort of what the Roe controversy is all about. But many of these state constitutions actually use the P word. They actually say that state constitutions guarantee a right to privacy.
For example, in Florida, in Texas, in Utah, there’s discussion about parental rights, family rights, personal autonomy. So we got 13 lawsuits now ending in the state courts that basically try to say either the trigger laws or these pre-Roe bans are unconstitutional under the state constitutions.
Alcindor: Well, of course, it’s all that sort of legalese that’s happening. I want to put up the map for people showing where things stand. Already, we have a dozen states that have banned access to the procedure in all or most cases.
Given these new legal battles, the other thing that I’ve been thinking about and wanting to ask you is what’s the sort of reality on the ground? For medical providers, for women, where do they stand as all these legal battles are happening?
Williams: It’s very confusing because it’s quite -- the bare-bones of it are obvious. Doctors can’t perform abortions. Pharmacies can’t hand out medication for the so-called Plan B or the pills -- the abortion pills, but who knows exactly what circumstances in which a doctor can perform an abortion if a life of a mother is threatened or there’s rape or incest?
In Louisiana, that’s one of the reasons the laws are on hold right now, because there are three separate visions, and a state judge agreed we got to work this out. So, until we can, let’s put it on hold.
Can -- some states are going to try to block people from traveling to other states or make it a crime to do that. The federal government says it is going to try to protect that right. What about sending abortion pills from states where it is legal to states where it is not legal? Who knows? That’s all to be worked out.
Alcindor: And as really Pete lays out the confusing legal strategy and confusing legal battles, Tia, I want to come to you, because I spoke to -- I interviewed secretary -- former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who really said Democrats need to get mobilized and figure out how to push back on this, but she also says she is not certain when abortion rights, if at all, could be restored.
What is your sense of the Democratic strategy and Republican strategy as this is playing out?
Tia Mitchell, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: You know, my sense is that Democrats do not really have a clear strategy for how to overcome what the Supreme Court has done because we know the filibuster is the barrier in Congress. President Biden has said Congress should pass a law that protects the right to abortion access, but you need 10 Senate Republicans right now, and they don’t seem to have the votes.
And yes, President Biden has said carve out the filibuster so that Democrats can do it alone, but Democrats do not have the votes for that either. And it seems like on the Republican side, their strategy is sit back and let the states decide, knowing there are so many states, as you just showed on that map, that are ready to restrict or prohibit abortions all together. So it allows Republicans to kind of claim these wins without having to do anything at the federal level.
Alcindor: And, Peter, Tia -- what Tia just broke down is about the fact that Democrats really do not have the votes, right? She said that more than once. And that is in some ways the thesis of what is going on with Democrats in terms of their issues.
What are you hearing about the White House strategy? The president’s thinking about this, this week?
Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent, The New York Times: Well, I think the president is in a bad position. He remembers the president who was presiding at the time that women’s right to -- access to abortion was rescinded and yet will not satisfy progressives in his own party with an aggressive enough stance, what they believe an aggressive enough stance in response to that.
And that’s because, of course, Joe Biden is not going to go as far as the left wants him to go. They’d like him -- some of them would like him to pack the court, add more justices, for instance, to do things in terms of ruling that the FDA can supersede state abortion laws in the case of medication, medicinal abortion pills, things that they have not, so far at least, been willing to do.
And I think that that is a tension point. That’s why you saw him come out this week and said clearly, he didn’t think it was okay. In fact, it’s necessary to get rid of the filibuster for Roe v. Wade, even though as Tia said there aren’t the votes to do that, even now as he speaks.
And what the argument is going to do is take us into the fall. You heard in that clip you played, Yamiche, say it’s not just about abortion, it is about privacy. And the argument the White House is going to make come the midterm elections is that it is not just about abortion. You may or may not be comfortable with abortion, but it is about a broader spectrum of rights and a broader issue of extremism. They will make the case that the other side is so extreme that they’re not only taking away your right to access to abortion, but it might take away your right to contraception. It might, you know, resend same-sex marriage, and all these other things.
That’s why he said the word privacy today because he’d like to emphasize this is a broader threat, even though Justice Alito, and Pete knows better this better than I do, tried to make clear in his majority opinion that that’s not where the court is headed, Justice Thomas given him enough ammunition by saying it would be where he would like to go in his own personal opinion.
Alcindor: And I want also as you add something, Peter, I want if you can give us just a quick history lesson about when Democrats did have the votes, possibly, when they were controlling the presidency and the House and Senate in the 1990s, early 2000s -- why didn’t they codify or why could they not codify Roe v. Wade and abortion rights then? Because there’s been a lot of questions about that that I have been hearing from voters.
Baker: Yeah, it’s a great question because, in fact, we would not be relying on the Supreme Court if there was a national law. You wouldn’t have to wait for the court to reinterpret the Constitution if the law of the land passed by Congress and signed by the president said there’s a national right to abortion.
But you’re right, Democrats had opportunities and moments when they had enough control of the Congress and the presidency to do it, they didn’t. In the ‘90s, I think the issue was partly that Democrats themselves were more diverse on the issue of abortion. There were more antiabortion Democrats back then who would have found a vote like that very uncomfortable, would have voted against it, in fact, in districts that were rural or pretty conservative and were not in that vain.
Today, Democrats and Republicans are much more homogenous on this. Republicans are almost entirely antiabortion, and Democrats are almost entirely pro-abortion rights. And so, you could have that vote, but they don’t have the votes.
The last chance they’ve had was Obama’s first term, when they did for a moment, for about a year, had 60 votes in the Senate, they didn’t choose to do it because they felt like they had a lot of other things to do. They had the economy to rescue. They had climate change. They had immigration and they didn’t perceive the threat from the Supreme Court to be that real at the time.
Alcindor: And that list of issues and challenges, really still mirrors a lot of the stuff that’s on their agenda now.
Pete, I want to come back to you. How might this ruling impact other rights like same-sex marriage, voting rights, even affirmative action if it’s the next term?
Williams: Well, it depends on which part of the Supreme Court you read. The logic of the Supreme Court’s ruling was., there is no constitutional right to abortion because it’s not enumerated, it’s not spelled out in the Constitution.
And in order to find unenumerated rights, you have to look at whether something is deeply rooted in history, tradition, and essential to the concept of order of liberty. That’s what the court said.
Well, obviously, same-sex marriage flunks that test. There’s -- it’s not deeply rooted. Nor is the right to contraceptives or interracial marriage, or a whole bunch of other guarantees.
However, four times in the opinion, Alito says, don’t worry, those other precedents are safe because abortion is different, it involves a life. Justice Thomas doesn’t think it’s different enough.
You know, I think part of this is, is better for you to all to answer, because I think part of it is, is there a political push? Will states try now to ban that? That is how it would get to the Supreme Court, if states try to n same-sex marriage or ban access to contraceptives.
It seems hard for me to believe there’s a national groundswell to ban contraceptives.
Alcindor: Quick follow, which is we -- I saw Senator Cornyn tweet, now do Plessy versus Ferguson, Brown v. Board of Education. Of course, for viewers who don’t know, those are seminal landmark decisions that dealt with desegregating schools in our country.
Do you have any sense of whether or not there’s a legal grounds for that, there’s even talk about that? I thought it was a fake tweet, but when I saw it, it was real.
Williams: I have no idea what he’s talking about.
Alcindor: Yeah, I’ll just leave it there, you’re like, I have no idea what he’s talking about, and I’ll move on.
And I’ll say this, I want to bring up the latest poll from PBS NewsHour, if we could put it up for folks. More than half of Americans oppose the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, 88 percent of Democrats, 20 percent of Republicans, 53 percent of independents.
Tia, how can those number -- what might those numbers mean for Democrats and for the midterms as they are trying to, Democrats, focus voters' attention on abortion when there are so many other issues like inflation and other things, but polls are showing that in some ways, public opinion might be on our side?
Mitchell: Right. And that’s what I thought interesting about what Pete just said, that the Supreme Court knew that abortion isn’t necessarily something the even public is clamoring for. It’s coming from the right but not necessarily the majority of all Americans, and that didn’t preclude them from making this ruling, so there’s no indication that other things might come along to them, might be politically unpopular.
What Democrats are hoping is that it’s unpopular enough and has their base fired up enough that it might help them in the midterms. We know that history is not on the side of Democrats as far as keeping control of the House, and they are hoping that this issue is enough to motivate people, especially those independence, who we know can swing and a lot of votes in a lot of states, to perhaps keep more Democrats, help them pick up some seats and perhaps keep that majority.
It’s still, you know, a long shot for them, but they are hoping this is an issue knowing that the economy is bringing them down, President Biden’s approval ratings are bringing them down. They hope abortion might be a winning issue for them.
Alcindor: And we can talk a lot more about this topic, but this was one of those weeks where there was just news and news and more news. So, what also happened this week was a surprise January 6 committee hearing. It had some of the most explosive testimony yet.
Former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson testified that former President Trump demand armed protesters be allowed into his January 6 rally and that Trump insisted on joining the crowd at the Capitol. She also said former President Trump grabbed the neck of a Secret Service agent and the steering wheel of his presidential vehicle when he was told it was too dangerous to go to the Capitol.
But some have pushed back on parts of her story, and many Republicans have dismissed her words as hearsay.
Meanwhile, new insights from Hutchinson about former White House chief of staff Pat Cipollone and chief -- and former chief of staff Mark Meadows may have opened up a whole new lane in the investigation.
Hutchinson: I remember Pat saying to him something to the effect of, the rioters have gotten to the Capitol, Mark. We need to go down and see the President now. And Mark looked up at him and said, he doesn't want to do anything, Pat.
Alcindor: The January 6 committee has now subpoenaed Pat Cipollone to testify.
Joining us now to discuss this, Jacqueline Alemany, congressional investigations reporter for "The Washington Post."
Jacqueline, Jackie, thank you so much for being here.
You’ve been covering January 6 inside and out. So, I want to just ask you what stuck out to you and what was different about this week.
Jacqueline Alemany, Congressional Investigations Reporter, The Washington Post: Yeah, Yamiche, it was certainly one of maybe the most explosive congressional testimonies that we’ve seen in history. For all the comparisons to John Dean, Cassidy Hutchinson might have actually surpassed expectations, but with these revelations and with the committee achieving what they wanted to do, which was breakthrough to the broader American public, has also come intense scrutiny and criticism from Trump and his allies specifically, trying to poke holes in Cassidy Hutchinson’s credibility and open the committee up to criticism that they did not thoroughly vet some of her claims in the lead up to her -- the scramble to get her on the dais.
That being said, the majority of her testimony has not been contested. There was only one small anecdote, that anonymous Secret Service agents have come out against, but the rest of it has so far stood the test of time, and there are other committees hoping to subpoena Republicans like Pat Cipollone to corroborate some of the more explosive revelations, such as the president actually encouraged armed rioters to march to the Capitol.
Alcindor: I want to ask you about Pat Cipollone. He obviously, as you just said, was subpoenaed to testify. How problematic might it be for the committee if he doesn’t show up?
Alemany: I -- the committee right now, it’s a fairly mixed bag on feelings on if you will ultimately show up. And so, the latest reporting that we have is that his lawyers are in close negotiations and that is it's quite possible that he is prepared to provide at least written testimony. But what the committee would obviously like would be for that to be videotaped so they could ultimately take the videotaped depositions and present it to the American public.
And it really could be key to, I think, breaking through some of these criticisms from those in the conservative media ecosystem, who are putting unsubstantiated attacks on Hutchinson and her testimony. But at the end of the day, Pat Cipollone, whether or not he cooperates, might not be key. The committee after all has been doing this for over a year now, and they have mountains of evidence, and are still prepared to reveal some other bombshells in their finale hearing, which is now scheduled for not next week but the week after.
Alcindor: And, Peter, in thinking about sort of the focus of these hearings, 13 million people supposedly watched Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony. You told our producers that people shouldn’t get lost in sort of back and forth because there were so much other things that were talked about.
We covered former President Trump together. What’s your take on sort of what we learned and the overall impact that this hearing might have given the grip the former President Trump had but also the sort of window we saw into the White House and his thinking?
Williams: I think it was important in a number of instances. And the most important thing was the mindset of the president on January 6, in particularly, right? Because we heard from someone who is in the room, who’s, you know, present in the White House, who was part of the team there about how he views this.
And what he -- what he worried about was the size of the crowd. He didn’t care that they seemed to have weapons. He said to the Secret Service, take down the magnetometers. They’re not here to hurt me. And then he wanted to go to the Capitol himself and lead this crowd that he knew was armed in some cases with weapons in order to try to disrupt the transfer of power.
And while we may not exactly what lunging -- he didn’t do in the Secret Service vehicle, what the Secret Service has confirmed, even as Jackie rightly points out they are anonymously denying that aspect of it, what they had confirmed is he did get angry on them and tried to get them to take him to the Capitol and they refused to do it.
So, this mindset I think kind of dispels some of the defense that the president had been mounting in recent weeks or his allies had, that, you know, his state of mind wasn’t such that you could say he knew that he was going to unleash a violent crowd. She has provided testimony that suggests the opposite, that he knew the crowd was potentially violent, that he knew -- and he encouraged it and he wanted to join them up there.
I think that’s the thing. You’ve heard a lot of lawyers say this week, conservatives, that is -- you know, to use the words of former Ken Starr prosecutor said, a smoking gun.
Alcindor: And talk about smoking gun and sort of just the significance of this hearing, former President Trump was out attacking Cassidy Hutchinson in real time, on Truth Social, which is social media platform.
Tia, you, of course, had been to all the hearings. You were also trapped with a group of lawmakers during the Capitol riot. What’s your take on the impact of these hearings and the significance of it given that you, of course, are talking to lawmakers about it as well?
Mitchell: Yeah. I think the impact of the hearings are to lay out not just what happened, but they are trying to connect the dots, that the violence on January 6 was fed into by Trump and his allies in that they knew that what happened, that deadly riot, was a possibility based on their rhetoric. And so, the committee has laid that out and talked about the pressure campaign on officials and talked about the people who were at home feeding into the misinformation and disinformation felt compelled by the former president to come to Washington on January 6.
And again, the committee is only kind of fact-finding, and they’re going to -- they are presenting a case, but what they’re hoping is that the result is charges by entities that do have the power to bring charges against former President Trump or his allies, and that is what remains to be seen.
Alcindor: Including in Georgia, possibly.
Mitchell: Yes, in Georgia, we have district attorney in Fulton County, where Atlanta is based, who has convened a special grand jury and there are, you know --
Alcindor: And the charges that could happen.
Mitchell: A lot of speculation.
Alcindor: Which is a lot.
And, Jackie, I want to go to you. The committee also talked about trying to get new witnesses but also that there might be sort of witness tampering going on. What more do you know about that given your reporting?
Alemany: Yeah, Yamiche. That decision by Liz Cheney to end yesterday’s -- sorry, Tuesday, I don’t even know what day it is.
Alcindor: No, I understand.
Alemany: Was very deliberate by the committee. They put up those two messages that were communicated to Cassidy Hutchinson from those in Trump’s allies to try to intimidate her from ultimately cooperating with the committee and being truthful and disclosing the details that she provided. And in doing that, I think what we are actually seeing is that intimidation campaign continues and also signify that others who do come forward should know that the committee sort of almost in a way has their back and is prepared to potentially prosecute those who continue to try to discourage those from coming forward.
And I think what’s really interesting, actually, is that this is all representative of a pattern we have seen really over the 4 years of the Trump White House and that has continued past the Trump presidency, and it has ultimately allowed the former president to keep this tight grip over his supporters and prevent a lot of them from coming forward to the committee and helping with the investigation.
Alcindor: And it’s remarkable that while that was going on, Bennie Thompson was making an appeal to other witnesses saying if you suddenly remember something or if you want to come forward, he said, please remember that you won’t previously haven’t, or if you have discovered some courage, I’m reading, you had hidden away somewhere, you should come before the committee. So, a lot to talk about there.
Well, thank you so much to the panel for sharing your reporting.
And on tomorrow’s "PBS NEWS WEEKEND", the obstacles faced by President Biden as he searches for more ways -- and more ways to federally protect abortion.
Meanwhile, we will continue our conversation on the "Washington Week Extra". Pete Williams will stay with me to talk about the historic Supreme Court decision from the last few weeks. Find it on our website, Facebook and YouTube.
And finally, I want to acknowledge that Pete Williams is retiring at the end of this month. He is a legendary journalist, a Washington institution, and a dear friend of this program. He will be very much missed, even though I know he is a little embarrassed right now, I have to give him a tribute.
So, thank you for joining us all from -- at home and thank you, Pete.
Again, good night from Washington.