Special: President Biden Looks for a Reset

Jan. 29, 2022 AT 9:23 a.m. EST

President Biden continues to face challenges at home and abroad. The panel also discussed a vacancy on the Supreme Court and the president’s trip to Pittsburgh to discuss infrastructure on the same day a bridge collapsed in the city.

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

- Welcome to the Washington Week Extra. I'm Yamiche Alcindor. We're continuing our conversation on President Biden's agenda. Tonight, joining me to discuss all of this, Nancy Cordes, Chief White House Correspondent for CBS News, and Ayesha Rascoe, White House Correspondent for NPR News. Thank you so much for being here. Ayesha, I wanna start with you. President Biden, he has been having sort of a rough time for a couple of months, but now he gets to put his mark on the Supreme Court. There's also sort of bipartisan support for trying to take action against Russia that is also sort of changing sort of possibly, as I talked to Democratic strategists, his fortunes here, maybe making things a little bit easier for him. What are you hearing from White House officials about sort of the political impact of this week?

- Well, I mean, I think the White House officials are definitely happy to be having Washington focus on something that is actually in the President's control when it comes to the Supreme Court pick and something that he can actually get done and deliver on. It has been a rough couple of weeks and maybe a rough couple of months for Biden, and so being able to, and because we all know that a Supreme Court fight really sucks all of the oxygen out of the air in Washington. That's all anyone will be talking about, and it's something that they can highlight. They can show they can find, they can vet someone, and they can show that they're competent and able, the White House is competent enough to find someone who has experience and can get confirmed, and they can get a win when they desperately need a win. I do think that when it comes to the foreign policy issue with Russia, that's a little bit more complicated. Because even though generally you can get that bipartisan support when it comes to the military, it's such a different time that you never know how that will go. And things are so polarized that you can have people who feel like Biden is being too weak or things can easily get out of control, right? And so I do feel like Russia is still a bit of a wild card for the White House.

- Yeah, the other thing that's a bit of a wild card, as I talk to Democrats and Republicans, Nancy, is the midterms. We saw House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, I'll call her the other Nancy, she announced that she's gonna be running for reelection. I wonder, of course, I know that you're the Chief White House Correspondent now, but you spent a lot of time on Capitol Hill, what do you think went into her decision? Do you think that means that she's gonna stay on as Speaker for longer? Talk a little bit about what you think went into this.

- Well she has promised that she will step down as the leader of her party at the end of this term. It's a promise she made four years ago. I was there when she made it, and that was because you had younger members of the Democratic Party in the House were frustrated, who felt that there were all these older members who had a lock on all of the big party leadership positions in the House. And so she basically made that vow in order to get the support of some of those younger members to keep her leadership of the party in the house and, of course, the speakership. But she has said that she will step down at the end of this term. Now if she were to go ahead and announce right now that she was going to retire, she would immediately be a lame duck, and we saw what happened when Paul Ryan, as speaker, made a similar announcement. Immediately, there were members of his party who felt even more emboldened to buck his leadership, because they said, "Look, you're a short-timer. You're leaving," and they didn't feel as uncomfortable about crossing him. So yes, Nancy Pelosi has announced she is seeking reelection, but she could always change her mind. She could get very close to the end of this term and announce that she actually is going to leave, and they'd have hold a special election in her district. She could stick around, win reelection, and then decide to depart. It is very difficult to envision Nancy Pelosi as a rank and file member of the Democratic Party in the House, losing her big, majestic suite of offices in the Capitol Building and moving into one of those House office buildings there on Independence Avenue, staying in the House, but not serving as a leader the way she does right now. So she would have a very difficult decision to make, but clearly what she's chosen right now, as someone who understands power dynamics in the House better than anyone, is that the best thing for her to do is to announce that she is running for reelection and sticking around.

- Well, Nancy, my time covering Capitol Hill, it echoes what you're saying, which is it's hard to picture Nancy Pelosi just sort of walking around and not being House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Meanwhile, Friday morning, hours before President Biden was set to visit Pittsburgh to talk a bit of infrastructure, a bridge in the city collapsed. The President toured the site to see the damage up close. Now local officials said there were minor injuries, but the incident underscores the nation's dangerous challenges ahead. Ayesha, back to you, what's the White House saying about how this bridge collapse sort of impacts the President's message? And also, is there any sense that now that this has happened that this will help him possibly get that large Build Back Better Act through, or at least get more credit for the Bipartisan Infrastructure bill that was already passed?

- Well, I mean, the White House was saying that Biden immediately reached out and was talking to the governor, and obviously, he was there on this trip to Pennsylvania. He made a stop to go and see for himself. It is really a blessing or luck, or whatever you wanna call it, that only minor injuries came out of this. But if he needed an example of what his Bipartisan Infrastructure bill is supposed to be helping with, he got a very visual and visceral one that the nation's infrastructure, in many places, is crumbling. It's falling apart. And I think that you are going to see Biden visiting a lot of bridges and a lot of infrastructure ribbon cuttings and anything you can do, because he has made the argument in the past that he feels like during the Obama Administration, that Obama did not take enough victory laps. And he has said that, and he wants to make sure that he gets out there and that he is reiterating to people that they did get the Bipartisan Infrastructure bill done when a lot of people had been trying for many years to get it done and it hadn't happened, and that they did get this done. Build Back Better, I think that's still a very difficult road. I don't think this bridge collapse is going to affect that. I think they're gonna have to really continue to negotiate and figure out what that package will actually end up looking like and what they can actually get done that Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, Senators, what they will accept.

- Yeah, and Nancy, last question to you. Ayesha just talked about sort of President Biden getting out there, but there are reports on who's not getting out there. Just today, there was some reporting that high-profile Democrats in Pennsylvania, they were not at the speech that the President gave. That comes after there was reporting that some Georgia officials, including Stacey Abrams, she didn't attend. Obviously they say it's for scheduling reasons, but Stacey Abrams didn't attend the big voting rights speech that President Biden gave. Again, the Democrats are saying that this is all scheduling conflicts, nothing to see here. But I wonder what you take from it, especially, of course, as some are saying, President Biden was trying to use today to possibly pivot more to the midterm elections.

- Look, when the President comes to town, it's pretty easy to clear your schedule if you really want to. Hard to imagine, in either of these cases, what it was that was so important that any of these politicians couldn't possibly change their schedules around to attend with him. So it's obvious that there's more than that going on. And these are swing states, both Georgia and Pennsylvania, where politicians may feel that it is not to their benefit to appear with the President, particularly in an election year, particularly with a President whose approval ratings are a lot lower than they were a year ago. I remember when President Biden went to Pittsburgh to announce the Bipartisan Infrastructure bill back in March of last year, and there were no Democratic politicians back then who were resistant to attending that announcement. His approval ratings were a lot higher then than they are now, and that's part of the reason that Ayesha referenced to, the fact that he's looking to take more victory laps. He's realized, and some of his aides have realized, that the only way to possibly bring those approval ratings back up is probably to go out there and tout the victories that he's had over the past year, remind Americans that if there are revamped roads and bridges and airports in their community, it's because he was the first President in a generation to be able to bring both of these parties together to pass an infrastructure bill. That's something that a lot of Presidents have tried to do, but they haven't been able to do that. Ayesha, unfortunately, just at the end of this chat, we have lost the signal from Yamiche, I'm told, and so on her behalf, I'm gonna say goodnight to you and goodnight to the audience and thank everyone for watching, and we hope you have a good night. Thanks a lot.


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