Full Episode: Culture Wars and Economic Challenges

Oct. 14, 2021 AT 11:50 p.m. EDT

The panel discussed former Trump aide Steve Bannon’s refusal to appear in front of the Jan. 6 committee, expanding political culture wars, and the nation’s economic challenges.

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Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

- [Yamiche Alcindor] Subpoenas, culture wars, and economic challenges.

- We're not messing around. If people don't show up, if people don't provide the documents they're compelled to, we intend to take up criminal contempt.

- [Yamiche] The committee investigating the Capitol attack moves to hold top Trump aide, Steve Bannon, in criminal contempt, after he refuses a congressional subpoena.

- I don't think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.

- Parents have a fundamental right to be engaged in their kid's education.

- [Yamiche] Meanwhile, culture wars over education, race, COVID, and the 2020 election dominate national politics and the Virginia governor race.

- [Joe Biden] Our goal is not only to get through this immediate bottleneck, but to address the long-standing weaknesses in our transportation supply chain.

- [Yamiche] Plus, President Biden tries to tackle the global supply chain crisis, as Americans struggle with soaring prices and empty store shelves. And the Biden agenda still hangs in the balance, amidst the President's sagging poll numbers. Next.

- [News Announcer] This is Washington Week. Once again from Washington, moderator Yamiche Alcindor.

- Good evening, and welcome to Washington Week. The Capitol insurrection happened 282 days ago. And while at the time, the violence felt like a terrible end of an era, it now seems much more like the beginning of a deeper phase of America's culture wars. Someone who is leading the charge in these fights is Steve Bannon. He is one of the architects of former President Trump's grievance politics. Now, Bannon is refusing to answer questions from Congress about his involvement in January 6th. In response, lawmakers are moving to hold him in criminal contempt. Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Bannon headlined a political rally for Republicans in Virginia, and former President Trump called in with more election lies.

- [Donald Trump] We won in 2016. We won in 2020, the most corrupt election in the history of our country, probably one of the most corrupt anywhere. But we're gonna win it again. We're gonna take it all back.

- [Yamiche Alcindor] And battle lines are being drawn, not only on our elections, but also on issues like COVID, abortion, critical race theory, and the rights of transgender Americans. At the moment, ground zero for many of those battles is the Virginia governor's race. Many see it as a bellwether for the 2022 mid-terms, and possibly even 2024. Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glen Youngkin are locked in a tight fight.

- [Terry McAuliffe] If Glen Youngkin is elected Governor of Virginia, abortions will cease, and I gotta tell you, it's dangerous for women, dangerous for doctors. And you can't bring businesses. I've recruited Amazon to Virginia. They're not coming to a state that discriminates.

- [Glen Youngkin] Over the last many years, we've seen our curriculum all of a sudden be infused with a political agenda. Go to the board of education website today, in which you'd find recommended reading, is how to teach critical race theory.

- [Yamiche Alcindor] Youngkin, like many others in the GOP, is courting former President Trump's base. The big question now, how is fear being used to motivate voters? To dig into all of this tonight, we've got some top reporters joining me remotely. Stephanie Ruhle, MSNBC anchor at NBC News, Chief Business Correspondent. And joining me at the table, Leigh Ann Caldwell, NBC News Capitol Hill Correspondent, Eugene Daniels, White House reporter, and co-author of Political Playbook, and Jonathan Karl, ABC News Chief Washington Correspondent, and co-anchor of This Week. Well, thank you so much all of you for being here. I'm really excited about this conversation. There's so much to talk about. Leigh Ann, to you first, tell us what the latest is with this January 6th committee, how they're dealing with Steve Bannon's refusal, and also how is, how they're treating Steve Bannon moving to hold them in criminal contempt? How has that really a sort of a signal for future people and people that they're going after to try to get information?

- [Leigh Ann Caldwell] Well, this is meant to send a very strong signal. They have a lot of subpoenas out, to a lot of people for information and for depositions, and they want to set Steve Bannon as an example. So, how this process is going to work, is the committee is united in the referral for criminal contempt. So, they are gonna vote on it next week, and then it would go to the House of Representatives. The House of Representatives would theoretically pass it, which is what is expected. It would then go to the Department of Justice, where the U.S. Attorney of DC, could then proceed with the criminal case. Now, the one important thing to note with this is, while these criminal proceedings do progress, it will not compel Steve Bannon to cooperate with the committee. So, this is not an attempt to get more information from Steve Bannon. This is definitely to set an example for everyone else to say everyone else needs to cooperate.

- [Yamiche Alcindor] And to set an example, it's really interesting that you make that point, because there are some people said to be engaging with the committees. Among them, Mark Meadows, Kash Patel. Tell us a little bit about what we know about that engagement. And I also wonder if you could talk a little bit about how former AG Jeffrey Rosen. His sort of meeting with the committee this week, how it went. There was reporting that he was there for hours.

- [Leigh Ann Caldwell] Yes, there is reporting that he was there for hours and he did meet with the committee, and that was something that was unexpected. We didn't know about until he was actually meeting with the committee and shortly after. But that's an interesting sign that he did go in. There was no subpoena for him. There was no public request for him but he went in. As far as those who are engaging with the committee in the Trump orbit, former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, Kash Patel, top advisor to the former President. And we don't know what level of engagement is, but we know that it's enough at this point anyway that a criminal contempt has not been referred by the committee. So, Mark Meadows and Kash Patel have kept them in the committee in the fold, and it's enough for the time being. We'll see how long that lasts though.

- [Jonathan Karl] But I have to say, I would not expect Kash Patel or Mark Meadows to cooperate in any significant way with this committee. They're engaging. That means they're not saying, hell no, I won't come. But they're having, you know, well, when would you want me, what are the things that you don't want me to talk about? You know, a back and forth like this. But when Bannon said that he was not going to cooperate and he was going to defy the subpoena. His lawyer in the letter to the committee made it explicit that this wasn't Steve Bannon's decision. This was Donald Trump's decision. That Donald Trump is the one that has the privilege. Donald Trump is the one that asserted executive privilege and effectively instructed Bannon not to testify. The same thing would apply to Kash Patel and to Mark Meadows. They just don't want to be out there, front and center, taking the bullets the way Bannon is. Bannon, frankly, I think enjoys being the bad guy here.

- [Yamiche Alcindor] Well, I wanna asked you about your report this week too, Jonathan. Your new book is coming out, "Betrayal: The Final Act of the Trump Show". Great title there. I wonder if you can talk a bit about what you learned about what the President was saying while the January 6th insurrection was happening, and I also wonder how that connects us to this sort of grievance politics that Steve Bannon and President Trump they pursued.

- [Jonathan Karl] Well, look, one of the central purposes of this committee, aims of this committee is to find out what Donald Trump was doing while his supporters were rampaging through the Capitol. What was he doing during those hours when people were pleading with him, publicly and privately, to come out, and to publicly call on his supporters, to stand down and to leave the Capitol? What I learned in the course of my reporting is that Donald Trump was quite happy with what he was seeing. He was actually boasting at the time about the crowd size at the rally. In fact, when I interviewed him two months after he left office, he was still telling me, nobody gives me credit for how big that crowd was on January 6. But also significantly, we all know about Kevin McCarthy's phone call. I learned some more details about that. Kevin McCarthy placed that call literally while he was being evacuated from the Capitol, when he was on his way to the secure location off the Capitol, along with the three other top leaders. And he told Trump explicitly, the shots were just fired off the house floor. At that time, they thought there were multiple shots. Shots were just fired. I had to be evacuated. You have to come out and call this off. And it was in response to that, that Kevin McCarthy heard Trump, you know, say, they just believe it more than you Kevin. They just believe it more than you.

- [Yamiche Alcindor] And I mean, it's so incredible to think about president, former President Trump sort of boasting a crowd size as people were literally running for their lives. This all connects to what's going on in Virginia, Eugene, with the idea that there are these culture wars that are playing out, that are central to President Trump and his sort of brand of politics. Talk a bit about what's going on in Virginia and how it could be a microcosm for what's going on in this country.

- [Eugene Daniels] Yeah, I mean, the thing about cultural wars is that you don't actually have to have facts to back them up, right? Like, when you say something and you hope that people believe it, it angers them and then it takes them to the polls. And that is something that we've seen a lot in Republicans, do a little bit more than the Democrats have been doing. Like with critical race theory for example, there were months and months of that. Have you heard much about critical race theory recently? And the thing that's really important to know about critical race theory for example, is that they're not teaching it to kids, right? It's not something that they're learning in high school. It's not something they're learning in middle school. They're learning that in college, in grad school. And so what you do is twist something and then make it easy for people to understand what they're talking about, is conversations about race. And I think that's, what's happening, part of what's happening in Virginia is that, like you said, Virginia is a bellwether, right? You have two people running in the vein of, of the leaders, of their party. You have Terry McAuliffe, who's very Biden-esque. So you have Youngkin who has embraced Donald Trump in many ways. And this White House knows that, right? The White House knows that, this is something that people are going to see as a progress support for them. As much as they publicly try to pretend that that's not the case. How much involvement they've had in, in this race, sending all of, all of the principals, the vice president, you have the second gentlemen, the first lady and the president. He's likely to go again.

- [Yamiche Alcindor] And former President Obama is going to Virginia. Stephanie, I want to come to you because there was sort of this, I would have to just say wild, crazy scene in Virginia, where someone was flying literally a flag that they said was, was flown during the January 6th insurrection. And people were pledging allegiance to it during this Republican rally. Now Glenn Youngkin the Republican running for governor of Virginia. He's trying to back away calling it weird. But frankly it is very weird. But it's also in some ways not shocking. When you think about the way that Republicans have tried to, to really recast January 6th. what do you make of what we're seeing? What is going on, Stephanie?

- [Stephanie Ruhle] Well, let's say first of all, as it relates to culture wars, when you dig back to the root of them, similar to what Eugene was saying, they're very rarely rooted in fact, and most often they're created by people that have nothing to do, but be provocateurs. And what they do is drum people up and get them in a frenzy. But it has little to do with actual problems going on. Look at the wars we see breaking out over kids wearing masks in school. When all of that should just be about public health and safety. If there are any battles we were having right now about kids in school, it shouldn't be about masks. It should be about learning loss because kids across this country have lost between a year and a year and a half of education. So it's devastating to see wings of our political parties drum the American people up about issues that don't matter. When you go back to what happened this week with, with praising to a flag, a pledging to a flag that, that was potentially a flown on January 6th. It's completely twisted. And they have redefined what happened on that day. But the problem is, Yamiche, lots and lots of American people don't actually think about what happened on January 6th. They don't realize what a threat it was and continues to be to our democracy. And unfortunately, there are many people who minimize it, and there's a lot of people who have started to just put it in their rear view mirror. Because people think day in and day out about their family, about their health, about how to put food on the table. And they're not prioritizing what a terrible, dangerous issue took place on the 6th. And we still have that danger in this country. So you've got some people that are pretending it didn't happen. And other people who are forgetting what happened. And those are two very problematic things.

- [Yamiche Alcindor] They're two very, very problematic things, Stephanie. And Eugene, Stephanie just talked about COVID. With this week, we saw the Texas governor ban vaccine mandates in his state. Saying that private companies can not require customers or workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19. We are still, of course, in the middle of a pandemic. Talk a little bit about how the White House sees that and how Democrats see that.

- [Eugene Daniels] Yeah. The White House sees it as extremely problematic, right? They know that to be, do anything, to be seen as successful as a White House, as a presidency, they have to get COVID under control. It is at the root of any of the poll numbers that you see from President Biden, any of any question that you have people have of whether or not we're going in the right direction. COVID is at the root of this. So they see, and you saw this week, Jen Psaki basically saying this is about politics. And it's a problem because something that has happened over and over and over again, is that you've had Republican governors and the White House battling it out about what exactly, like how you should handle COVID. Right? And Texas has very high numbers. They've had high numbers. They had low vaccination rates. And that is not helpful for the rest of us. Because for, I had COVID recently. Got over that, but it is

- [Yamiche Alcindor] So happy you got over.

- [Eugene Daniels] Thank you very much.

- [Yamiche Alcindor] I was praying. My mama was praying.

- [Yamiche Alcindor] Because it's scary.

- [Eugene Daniels] Yeah, no, it's very scary. And you know, and trying to explain that to people and for governors who are also vaccinated, right? A lot of these people saying that, you know, it's your choice. Don't worry about it. They're vaccinated themselves. And I think that's what the White House sees as one of the biggest problems.

- [Yamiche Alcindor] And Leigh Ann, you also talk to a widow

- [Stephanie Ruhle] But hold on,

- [Yamiche Alcindor] about Capitol, oh, I'm going to come to you Stephanie, in a minute. You also talk to a widow though, Leigh Ann, of a Capitol police officer who committed suicide after working on January 6th. Let's listen to part of your interview.

- [Leigh Ann Caldwell] And you think that his death is directly related to what happened to him on January 6th?

- [Erin Smith] I do. I believe that if he did not get hit, and his demeanor did not change, that he would still be here.

- [Yamiche Alcindor] Before I go to Stephanie, I want to come to you. Cause it's such a moving interview that you did with this widow. How does what this family is going through connect to the consequences, the real consequences of these culture wars and how is, how is this family managing?

- [Leigh Ann Caldwell] Yeah. There's a couple of things here. I mean, they are dealing with the aftermath of January 6th because they no longer, she no longer has her husband. He committed suicide in the days after. And she is fighting to get line of duty death benefits. That means that he would get an official burial. That means that she would get survivor benefits, including health insurance. And because of the stigma of suicide, she's not able to get it. So she is having to deal with the, the people still denying January 6th. She's dealing with threats. Meanwhile, while she's trying to preserve the memory of her husband and still fight for him and herself. And this whole interview is going to air Sunday on Nightly News. And it's just a devastating assessment of really what's happening. And the divisions in this country right now.

- [Yamiche Alcindor] And Stephanie, I want you to jump in, but first I want to just say the holiday season is just around the corner. But many people are worried about whether they'll have enough money and supplies to celebrate. Many items have been stuck on container ships off the coast of California. That bottleneck has caused prices to rise on almost everything from groceries to cars, to electronics. On Wednesday, President Biden announced plans to address some of these challenges triggered by the pandemic.

- [Joe Biden] In order to be globally competitive, we need to improve our capacity to make things here in America. While also moving finished products across the country and around the world.

- [Yamiche Alcindor] Meanwhile, in August, a record 4.3 million workers quit their jobs. Many are concerned about low wages, childcare and health issues amid the pandemic. Wednesday I questioned the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Suzanne Clark, about this issue. Here's what she told me.

- [Suzanne Clark] I think this is a really multifaceted problem that's going to require all kinds of solutions, right? We see something like 2.2 million more open jobs than people looking for work right now. It is one of the biggest problems threatening the country. Every CEO, I'm sure a lot of people in this room are worried about it. And it's at the heart of a lot of the supply chain challenges as well.

- [Yamiche Alcindor] Stephanie, you were going to jump in. Hopefully you remember your thought and also talk a little bit about what's going on with the economy.

- [Stephanie Ruhle] Okay. I just want to, what I wanted to say before was when Greg Abbott sort of banned these vaccine mandates. The most interesting thing, what did private businesses in the state of Texas do, ignored it, kept on trucking. Why? Because they know for their businesses to thrive. They need people to be healthy. They need to be able to stay open. That's how they're going to continue to make money. So it's interesting to see some of these Republican governors, Republicans who consider themselves the pro-business party, getting completely blown off by these CEOs. Show me any Fortune 500 CEO that has pushed back against the vaccine mandates, the OSHA requirements. You cannot find them. They're thrilled that the administration did this because they know in order for their businesses to make money, we've got to be vaccinated. So put that over there. As far as our economy, listen, people definitely do not like that prices are going up. On everything we're buying out there, prices are high. We're all expecting. We're going to go into the winter months. Oil prices are up. Any way that you heat your house, We're expecting prices to be up. That's not good news. However, we are in an economic recovery. When you see all of those people quitting their jobs in the month of August, what does that tell you? It tells you that they are confident, that there are other jobs out there. And we're actually seeing this shift. All of us are saying, man, everybody has open jobs. You can't go to a restaurant without seeing a 'We're hiring' sign. That's true, but it's not necessarily a labor shortage. It's a labor shift. Finally, after years and years of workers having such little power, such little voice, they're getting different jobs. In the last year, We've seen the likes of Amazon, Walmart, Target, these other big box stores, hiring millions of people to their distribution centers. And these are jobs that pay 16, 17 bucks an hour to start plus benefits. So if you had been working in food service, getting paid 2 or $3 an hour, dealing with difficult customers, not knowing your schedule, then you're right. You're not going back to those jobs. You are shifting to higher paying jobs with more benefits. And to that point, you're also seeing all of these strikes going on. People calling this Strike-tober. Yes. In the moment, this is not good. It's a scary moment, but it's also a positive because these strikes and this pushback is against the fact that worker versus CEO pay has never been greater. The differential between the two. And we're starting to see that narrow. That is not a negative.

- [Yamiche Alcindor] And Stephanie, it's almost like you wrote the intro to what my next question, which is the pandemic and economic struggles have led to a resurgent labor movement. Here's the president of the AFL-CIO. The largest Federation of unions in the country.

- [Liz Shuler] Enough is enough. And that's where we are. We're at a breaking point. They've made the sacrifices. They just want a decent paid job with some security, some good health care coverage and the ability to have some respect and dignity at work.

- [Yamiche Alcindor] I want to come, go to Eugene real quickly, which is that this is really about unions standing up saying, we can come together. We can have our power. What's the say about sort of where we are, but also what's the president doing? We saw him sort of assemble a group of people at the White House. Talk about how he was going to try to push through and get things, get people, the goods that they need. What do you make of this?

- [Eugene Daniels] Well, when it comes to unions, this is a president who has talked about how supportive he is of unions. He is the president who enjoys the support of unions when he was running for president. I think that is something that's really important and also kind of vital to his, you know, his Joe-ness of who he is. And when you talk to anyone at the White House about this, they try to be very careful and not talk about every single, you know, union fight that's happening right now. But they are very supportive of that, right? Just like Steph was saying this idea that people are saying, you know, we want to work like this and that a lot of that I think has to do with COVID, right? We were stuck at home and people could kind of rethought work. And so now people are saying, no, I wanna work like this. And we are, there's more of us than there are of you. And so we're going to tell you, this is how we're going to work. And I think one of the things for this country and for this president, that's going to be difficult is, they keep saying, talking about inflation, right? Inflation is going to end early 2022, but that's hard to explain to a single mom who has two kids to feed and all the prices are going up, right? And so this White House is going to have to figure out how to message that in a better way. Because inflation will be over soon-ish is not going to cut it for people.

- [Yamiche Alcindor] Go ahead, go ahead John-

- [Jonathan Karl] I mean, this has been a long time coming. We've seen stagnant wage, real wage for a long time in this country. And now unions are in a position where they have leverage because you have a labor shortage. So, you know, it makes sense that, you know, Joe is Mr.Union. Joe Biden, he's Mr. Union President. He doesn't wanna see strikes paralyze the economy. But, you know, you can see how they're going to walk this because he is very sympathetic to what these workers are fighting for.

- [Yamiche Alcindor] And Stephanie, we only have a couple of minutes left, but I want to come to you really quickly. Which is talk a bit about, this sort of bubble that might be bursting when it comes to cheap labor. That's the way, when I was watching Nightly News last night. That's sort of the way that you and Lester Holt were talking about it. Talk a little bit about this bubble that's bursting.

- [Stephanie Ruhle] Listen, this is a really tricky situation that we're in. Because it's not necessarily bad that we're seeing workers push back and demand higher pay. And if you talk to economists, I mean, just yesterday, Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan said, these supply chain issues are somewhat overblown and were, they are gonna work themselves out in the next few months. However, we don't know when the next few months, exactly is going to be. And Joe Biden has to worry about midterms. And people are living in the moment. And Eugene made the point, when you talk to that single mom with two kids, who's struggling to put food on the table or you basically talk to anyone out there. Everyone is experiencing higher prices. So the Biden administration is in a tough place that the economy is strong. Consumers are spending. One of the reasons we've got all these shortages is 'cause people saved so much money and they've ordered new furniture that are sitting on barges waiting to get here. So the American people are comfortable, but they don't like that everything costs so much more. And that is going to be tough for Biden to deal with as we go into the midterms, 'cause Republicans love to seize on this.

- [Yamiche Alcindor] Yeah. And Leigh Ann, Stephanie just said the Biden administration is in a tough place. They're in a tough place on a lot of things, including infrastructure and trying to get things done in Congress. In the 45 seconds that we have left here, talk a bit about where things stand now. The White House keeps saying there's progress being made, but what's your reporting say?

- [Leigh Ann Caldwell] Yeah, I'm, there's not a lot of progress being made. I mean, just now you have a very public fight between Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Joe Manchin, who are on opposite ends of the spectrum of the Democratic party of what this infrastructure bill should look like. Senator Sanders just published an op-ed in the biggest newspaper in West Virginia, basically calling out Senator Manchin and saying, this bill will be good for West Virginians. And Senator mansion just responded to that. And there's this fight. And I do not know how they get together.

- [Yamiche Alcindor] well, we'll have to just keep following it. Thank you so much to all of you, that's it for tonight. Thank you to Stephanie, to Leigh Ann, Eugene and Jonathan for your reporting. And thank you all for joining us. Tune in Monday to the PBS NewsHour for the whitest paint. They explore the groundbreaking science that shows how it's use could it eliminate the need for air conditioning. And before we go, my heart is with my friend, CNN anchor Kasie Hunt, who's recovering from surgery to remove a benign brain tumor. I am so happy Kasie that you're recovering. I can't wait to welcome you back on the show as soon as you are well. And we'll continue our conversation on the Washington Week extra. Find it on our website, Facebook, and YouTube. This week's topic, the space race and economic inequality. I'm Yamiche Alcindor. Goodnight from Washington.


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