Full Episode: Pence Speaks Out and President Biden Under Pressure

Feb. 05, 2022 AT 8:59 a.m. EST

Former Vice President Mike Pence made news this week. He spoke out after former President Donald Trump claimed that Pence could have overturned the 2020 election results. Meanwhile, President Biden held a bipartisan meeting with senators to discuss his future Supreme Court nominee as he continues to face pressure over his handling of tensions with Russia over Ukraine.

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- Domestic fights and foreign challenges.

- President Trump is wrong.

- [Yamiche] Former Vice President Mike Pence delivers a biting rebuke of the President he once served.

- If I run and if I win, we will treat those people from January 6th fairly, and if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons, because they are being treated so unfairly.

- [Yamiche] As former President Trump flexes his grip on the GOP and continues to lie about the election. Plus...

- This force is trained and equipped for a variety of missions to deter aggression and to reassure and to defend our allies.

- [Yamiche] President Biden deploys troops to Eastern Europe to discourage a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine.

- This horrible terrorist leader is no more.

- [Yamiche] And strikes at the heart of ISIS.

- To make a promise at the outset that it must be a black woman, I gotta say, that's offensive.

- Well, as a black woman lawyer, I am not offended, and why Ted Cruz would be is a mystery to me. This is called progress.

- [Yamiche] The debate over Present Biden's pick for the Supreme Court heats up, next.

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- [Announcer] Once again, from Washington, moderator Yamiche Alcindor.

- Good evening, and welcome to "Washington Week." Tonight, we begin with the rift between former President Donald Trump and his Vice President, Mike Pence. This week, Trump said in a statement, and he falsely claimed that Vice President Mike Pence, former Vice President Mike Pence, had the right to overturn the 2020 election. Just hours ago, Pence, who has sought to remain loyal to Trump, pushed back hard.

- President Trump is wrong. And frankly, there is no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president. Under the Constitution, I had no right to change the outcome of our election, and Kamala Harris will have no right to overturn the election when we beat them in 2024.

- This is Pence's most explicit rebuke of Trump ever, and there's more on the battle within the GOP. Trump recently held a rally in Texas where he suggested pardoning those who carried out the January 6th Capitol attack. A few Republicans pushed back on President Trump's comments. One of them is a key Trump loyalist, South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham. Trump, though, quickly criticized him.

- I wanna deter people who did what they, on January the 6th, and those who did it, I hope they go to jail and get the book thrown at them 'cause they deserve it.

- Well, Lindsey Graham's wrong. I mean, Lindsey's a nice guy, but he's a RINO. I would absolutely give them a pardon.

- Joining me to discuss all this and more, Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for the New York Times, Manu Raju, Chief Congressional Correspondent for CNN, and Seung Min Kim, White House reporter for the Washington Post. Thank you all for being here. Seung Min, I wanna start with you. We covered, of course, former President Trump together. What do you make and what are you hearing about the decision for former Vice President Mike Pence to speak out now, and what could the impact of his statements be given the state of the GOP?

- Well, the impact certainly will be something that we'll be very closely watching because as we've gotten further and further away from the January 6th, 2021 insurrection at the Capitol, you've seen so many in the Republican Party kind of almost forget about the horrors of that day and kind of what precisely caused that insurrection at the Capitol, and also what led up to it: President Trump's clear lies about the election and his continued lying that he actually won the presidential election when he did not. Now, Pence's break comes at a really interesting time when you did have have the former President being much more vocal and much more blatant about the potential actions that he may take should he run again in 2024 and win, and for example, by saying that he would issue pardons for those charged and convicted alongside the January 6th, for their role in the January 6th insurrection. So how much what the consequences of Pence's actions are unclear at this point politically. Obviously, the former Vice President is still angling for a potential future in the Republican Party, but to see which Republicans kind of really align behind Pence and rebuke the former President for the continued lies that he is saying about the election will be something to watch.

- Yeah, and Peter, Seung Min just talked about the fact that this comes at an interesting time. It also comes at a time where Marc Short, who was the former Vice President's Chief of Staff, that he was talking to the committee and has just testified before the committee. Also, there are said to be a number of aides from the Vice President's office, the former Vice President's office, going to the committee. I wonder what you make of this timing and how, if at all, what we heard from Vice President Mike Pence today saying that Donald Trump is wrong, words that he never said before, how do you think that connects to the fact that we're seeing these aides of his from his office coming in and talking to the committee?

- Yeah, I do think obviously there's a connection here. Marc Short was the right-hand man for Vice President Pence at that very critical moment in American history, one telling him and reinforcing for him the decision that, no, he couldn't try to claim unconstitutional powers to overturn the election. So you heard the Vice President, the former Vice President, Yamiche, as you say, use words he had not before. Up until now, over the last year, he's tried to soften the distance between him and the President, the former President, President Trump. He would say things like, "Well, we're just gonna have to agree to disagree. "I don't think we'll ever agree on what happened that day," sort of a very mild way of saying that they're never gonna be on the same page, and today's language was different. The language was very firm. It was an un-American act to suggest that a vice president could unilaterally overturn the election, and that was the phrase that the former President used in his statement in the last few days. The real goal, he admitted in a way for the first time, wasn't just the idea of pursuing whether there was fraud. It was to have, overturn the election, his words, overturn the election, in other words, to subvert the will of the public in order to keep power, and I think we kind of forget just how serious a thing that is. We forget what those people were doing on January 6th when attacked the Capitol. It wasn't that they were just peaceful protestors. They were trying to stop the transfer of power from President Trump to President Biden because Congress that day was counting the electoral college votes and these rioters or insurrectionists, or whatever phrase you wanna use, were storming the Capitol with the explicit goal of preventing that from happening. So that's why all this matters. It's not a semantic issue here. This really goes to the heart of American democracy, and it was fascinating to hear the Vice President, the former Vice President, speak up in such a forceful way today.

- Yeah, and Manu, Peter's talking about, this is a serious matter and that language matters. We also saw, of course, and when you talk about language, former President Trump talking about pardoning these people who attacked the Capitol, and also claiming now that Senator Graham, Senator Lindsey Graham, that he's not a true Republican, calling him a RINO, Republican in Name Only. What does that say that they're now clashing like this, and also, this is all coming as the RNC is deciding to censure Representative Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for their role in being on the committee that is trying to get to the bottom of what happened on January 6th.

- Yeah, look, it all shows one thing, that loyalty is a one-way street when it comes to Donald Trump. I mean, Lindsey Graham was one of the staunchest defenders of Donald Trump through his presidency, went to bat with him on a number of very controversial issues, and essentially distanced himself from his longtime friend, John McCain, the late senator who sparred openly with Donald Trump at the time. But after McCain passed, Lindsey Graham became a very close ally of Donald Trump. Even when Trump was bashing McCain, you didn't hear Lindsey Graham really say much publicly about how he was upset about that, but once you go crosswise with the former President, he comes after you, which we saw with Lindsey Graham. We saw that also with Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader. He was key to implementing much of the Trump agenda through four years of the Trump presidency. He voted to acquit Donald Trump twice in his impeachment trial, but then he blamed him for the January 6th insurrection, and since then, it's been nothing but attacks from Trump against McConnell. And McConnell himself, I asked him this week whether or not he agreed with the notion that these insurrectionists should be pardoned. He said those who pleaded guilty should absolutely not be pardoned. He also said that the election was determined on December 14th of 2020 when the states had certified the electoral votes, and then you're looking at the RNC, which has made very clear that they are the Trump party, that they will align themselves with Donald Trump, going after two people who are investigating exactly what happened here who are on the outs of their party, Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, simply because they wanted to get to the bottom of Donald Trump's role in everything that happened with it, but they are so decidedly in the minority right now that there is a significant push to defeat Cheney in her primary, push to expel them from the Republican Conference, and also that is putting them, putting the Republican leadership in the House in a difficult position. Kevin McCarthy, who has tried to align himself with Trump, is gonna essentially be forced to choose sides between this effort to try to boot Cheney from the party, boot Adam Kinzinger from the party, or try to keep the focus where he wants to keep it, on Democrats heading into the midterms, and that's the real concern from Republican leaders who see what Trump is doing and see these things about talking about the election as essentially dividing their party, as a distraction from the real focus, which they wanna keep the message on the Biden administration. And Yamiche, when I asked McCarthy multiple times today whether or not he supports this RNC effort to censure Kinzinger and Cheney, he would not answer the question.

- Well, I have to tell you, I always appreciate when you and Seung Min are running around the Capitol, giving us the latest. You talked about the idea of loyalty being a one-way street for former President Trump. That leads me in some ways to the January 6th Committee and their work. There were so many developments, with new memos coming out that some in Trump's orbit were wanting to use the powers of the NSA to go after people. There were also this information that came out about a draft executive order that might have been used to seize the control of voting machines. It didn't happen, but that was something that Trump and people close to him were looking at. What do you hear from lawmakers when they talk about sort of the work that's ahead, given that the time that they have to work on this might be short if Democrats lose control of the House? And also I wonder, what do they expect to hear from people that they've asked to come in voluntarily, including, of course, the President's daughter, Ivanka Trump?

- Yeah, it still remains to be seen whether or not Ivanka Trump will in fact cooperate with this committee and how far they go in trying to compel her testimony. It also remains to be seen whether or not they get the testimony from a number of the people, very, very close to the former President, people who were pushing back. But what we know is that they have interviewed hundreds, more than a hundred witnesses, more than 200 witnesses, and have gotten scores and scores of documents, both from the National Archives and from these witnesses, and even people who fought the committee, like Mark Meadows, have provided a number of text messages and other issues to help piece together exactly what happened here, but the real challenge for this committee is being able to put this all together and have a very definitive narrative about exactly what was going through Donald Trump's mind, what he was doing, all the efforts leading up to the insurrection, the efforts by the Justice Department to overturn the election at the same time, and get that all done before November, because when we know November comes, House Republicans are probably gonna take back the House. They have a very good chance, and then they're gonna end this investigation in the next year.

- Yeah, and meanwhile this week, President Biden held a bipartisan meeting with key senators about his Supreme Court nominee, but the process could get complicated. Days ago, New Mexico Democratic senator Ben Ray Lujan suffered a stroke, delaying his return to Washington for several weeks. With Democrats' razor-thin majority in the Senate, some in the party are nervous. Seung Min, talk to us a little bit about what Democrats are telling you about how concerned they are about Senator Lujan's condition and how it might impact things. Of course we're hoping the Senator has a full recovery here, but I also wonder, you had a good scoop on sort of how President Biden is building his team for the Supreme Court. Answer those two questions for us, the timing of all this, but also what's going on at the White House.

- Right, well, I mean, nervous doesn't even begin to describe what Democratic senators are feeling right now. They're sending their best wishes to Senator Lujan, a valued member of the conference, and we are told that if his recovery is on the trajectory that it is right now, that he should return to Washington in four to six weeks, which is pretty remarkable, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has indicated that his absence is not really going to impact the timeline for the consideration of the Supreme Court nominee, particularly because Senator Lujan does not sit on the Senate judiciary committee that does a lot of the early work with the confirmation hearings and the committee votes, but, I mean, Manu and I have been told by Democratic senators for a year now that they are very well aware, in pretty blunt terms, that they are one heartbeat away from losing the majority, so whenever a health condition arises, even if it's a COVID diagnosis that takes a senator out of commission for a few days, they are very aware that their majority is fragile, and that's why they wanna move as expeditiously as possible, not just on a Supreme Court nomination, but on so many pieces of their agenda. But for now, with Senator Lujan's prognosis being what it is right now, the plans for a Supreme Court nomination seem to be on track, and obviously that's very welcome news to the White House for many reasons, and the White House, President Biden, his senior aides, are making a lot of the preparations right now to make sure that they have a seamless rollout of the nominee and to make sure that she can really navigate through what is likely to be a pretty contentious confirmation process. So to that end, they've enlisted a former Democratic senator, Doug Jones, a Democrat from Alabama who has this bipartisan appeal, even though he did not spend, he did not have a long tenure in the Senate, as a so called Sherpa, which is one of my favorite Supreme Court terms: effectively the guide for the nominee to guide her around the hallways of Capitol Hill to meet with senators one on one. And at the same time, the White House is bringing on two veteran political strategists, one in communications, a former Obama spokesman, Ben LaBolt, and Minyon Moore, a long-time veteran political hand very close to the Clintons, and she's gonna be tapped with engaging and mobilizing a network of outside groups to really build this grassroots support for this nominee, who, as we should always know, will be the first black woman to sit on the Supreme Court in history, and that really is a historic moment.

- Yeah, it's gonna make big history. And now I wanna turn though, of course, because that's big history and also we're living history right now, because the week's other big story is the diplomatic standoff between Russia, Ukraine, and the United States. More than 100,000 Russian troops are currently gathered at the Ukrainian border, and on Wednesday, the Pentagon announced that about 3,000 American troops are being deployed to Eastern Europe, but both sides insist there is still time for diplomacy, and on Capitol Hill, Democrats and Republicans sounded off about their concerns.

- The White House has put us in a horrible situation, a horrible predicament, and now I'm concerned they're starting to throw gasoline on the fire.

- We need to make clear to Ukraine and to Vladimir Putin that Ukraine is not alone, that the free nations of the West will stand with Ukraine against Russian aggression.

- I think it's right to communicate our intent in advance because it's most likely to have a deterrent effect.

- Joining our discussion on this is Nancy Youssef. She's a national security reporter for the Wall Street Journal. Thank you so much, Nancy, for being here. Before I go to Nancy, I'm gonna go to Peter because you were, of course, for years the Moscow Bureau Chief for the Washington Post. You also have written a book on Russia and Vladimir Putin. Where do things stand at this hour given what we're hearing from the US and Russia?

- Well, we're still basically waiting for Vladimir Putin to explain what he's going to do or show us what he's going to do. He's the central figure in all of this. Everything else that's happened until now has been predictable. Vladimir Putin knows exactly what Joe Biden is going to do or could do in retaliation for an invasion. He knows what Europe can do and would do. He knows what NATO can do and would do. He knows what Ukraine is capable of, and all of that has already been factored into his equation. What we don't know is what he's going to do, and that's the real question, and it's a question not only that Joe Biden is trying to figure out and the Europeans are trying to figure out and the Ukrainians are trying to figure out, but also the Russians, I think, are trying to figure this out as well, because Putin holds his cards close to the vest, and the question for him is, how far is he willing to go? Now, I don't think we're gonna have anything happen in the next few days. He's in Beijing, or he went to Beijing for the opening of the Summer Olympics. He doesn't wanna show up his friend Xi Jinping by creating a military situation in the middle of that, so we've got a little bit of time. There's talk about more diplomacy, but we were talking today, I was talking today with some officials in Europe and in the United States, and they are very, very worried that this is heading toward a very bad conflict, and that this is a serious threat not just to Ukraine, but to all of European stability right now, and the question is, is there an off-ramp that President Putin is willing to take? He hasn't shown it so far.

- And Nancy, what's your reporting reveal about sort of President Biden's decision to deploy troops, and what role might they be playing in trying to deter Russia? As Peter was just saying, there's a lot there, a lot fluid there. What's your reporting show?

- So a couple things: The US troops will be going to three countries, Germany, Poland, and Romania. You'll note that they're not going to Ukraine because the United States has said that it would not deploy troops to Ukraine. Their purpose is really twofold. One of them is deterrence to Russia, to say to Russia, "While you have not gone into Ukraine "and you've said you're not going into NATO-allied partners, "this, for the Alliance, is our line. "There cannot be any threats to NATO members," and this comes after Russia deployed troops to Belarus near the Polish border and really heightened concerns in the region about what Russian intentions were. The other is to reassure allies and partners, because as I said, as they've seen Russian movements, there's been a real fear amongst NATO members that this could be the start of further Russian aggression, and so all of these military maneuvers are designed to signal something to both the Alliance and to Russia about the US interest in backing its partners in the region.

- And Nancy, a quick follow up: There was this letter, there was reporting on this letter that President Biden wrote, and of course, President Putin then responded. I wonder, sort of what does that reveal about their strategies, but also talk a little bit about the energy issues here, the natural gas issues here when you think about Europe's stance and sort of where they stand in all of this.

- So one of the things that happened in the effort to reach a diplomatic solution was an exchange of letters. The US spelled out what it needed from Russia, and Russia did the same. One of the things that you discover in those letters is that while Russia is talking about border issues, how it doesn't want Ukraine to be a member of NATO, how it doesn't want the Alliance to expand any further, how it wants to really, frankly, weaken the Alliance, the United States was offering in exchange things more related to missile defense. The US response was things like, we will let you inspect our missiles in Poland, we'll maybe reduce the number of patrols we do through the Black Sea, and I think that's why we're having such a challenge in finding a diplomatic solution. These two foes are looking at this from a completely different perspective. One's talking about border control, one's talking about missile defense, and so I think that's why there's a real nervousness about what's ahead, because all this is happening as Russia is mounting troops on all sides of the Ukrainian border, as it's moving ships into the Black Sea, and by every measure, moving more troops than it ever has in the past seven decades around the Ukrainian borders.

- And Manu, Nancy's sort of laying out sort of all of the foreign policy issues here. If you could quickly, we only have a couple minutes left, but I wanna give you a couple seconds to describe what's going on on Capitol Hill, the split in the GOP, where Democrats stand as it relates to sanctions. What could happen?

- Yeah, there's a significant discussion, bipartisan discussion to cut a deal to impose sanctions on Russia. The debate has been between the Democrats who have, and the administration, who have been concerned about pre-invasion sanctions to impose on Russia before any invasion of Ukraine. Republicans have wanted to impose stiff sanctions preemptively, and also to go after the Nord Stream 2 pipeline as well, but there's significant discussion to try to cut a deal so some sanctions would go in pre-invasion and some would be kicked in after any invasion, but what both sides are saying is that they're getting closer to a deal, and that what they're saying is these would be crippling sanctions. One of the leaders of this effort, Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, said this would be the, quote, "mother of all sanctions." In a lot of ways, they're trying to deter Russia from going forward, but expect that to be proposed in the coming days. It will be interesting to see where the Republicans who are concerned that they're going too far are concerned about sending troops to Europe, where they come down, as well as some liberals who are concerned also about this could lead to further conflict by a beefed-up military presence as well as beefed-up sanctions as well.

- Yeah, and Nancy, we only have about 30 seconds left here, but I wanna just come to you because on Thursday, President Biden did announce that a top leader of ISIS was killed during a raid carried out by special forces. US officials say the leader detonated an explosive, killing himself and members of his family. President Biden spoke about this, but Nancy, just weigh in here. What's the significance of this raid? Sort of what does it mean overall?

- So Qurayshi, who was the former head of ISIS, had ruled for about two years over the group, and in that time, he came in after the self-proclaimed caliphate had been destroyed. Now on one hand, ISIS was able to stay intact. It was able to actually expand its presence in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Sahale, but this was not the kind of public charismatic leader that we saw in Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. And remember, this is an organization where people don't get to retire. They leave either because they die off or they die in strikes, and so the organization is designed to come back from the loss of its leader and to continue, and I think we'll see that again.

- Yeah. Yeah, well, thank you so much to Peter, to Seung Min, to Manu, and to Nancy for joining us and sharing your reporting. We will continue our conversation on President Biden's agenda on the Washington Week Extra. Find it on our website, Facebook, and YouTube, and tune in on Monday to the "PBS NewsHour" for the latest on the efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the tensions between Russia and Ukraine. And finally, I'd like to mark the beginning of Black History Month and say my heart is full thinking about the heroes of our community, past and present. I look forward to celebrating them this month and all year long. I also wanna call attention to the recent terrible bomb threats against historically black colleges and universities. It's heartbreaking to see these incredibly important institutions targeted. I pray they remain safe. Thank you for joining us. I'm Yamiche Alcindor. Goodnight from Washington.


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