Full Episode: Washington Week full episode, November 25, 2022

Nov. 25, 2022 AT 11:18 a.m. EST

After mass shootings in Colorado and Virginia, Americans are again in mourning over gun violence. Plus, a growing number of high-profile Republicans call on the party to move on from Donald Trump. Join moderator Yamiche Alcindor, Toluse Olorunnipa of The Washington Post, Dave Phillips of The New York Times, Susan Page of USA Today and Heidi Pryzbyla of Politico to discuss these stories and more.

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Yamiche Alcindor: More mass shootings and midterm fallout.

Unidentified Male: We saw bodies. It was hard.

Unidentified Male: We are going through very, very difficult days today and in the days ahead, but we will get through this.

Yamiche Alcindor: After mass shootings Colorado and Virginia, Americans are again in mourning over gun violence this Thanksgiving week.

And --

Fmr. Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ): It's the reason we are losing is because Donald Trump has put himself for everybody else.

Yamiche Alcindor: -- a growing number of high-profile Republicans calling the party to move on from the former president.

Plus --

Joe Biden, U.S. President: I hereby part -- yes. I hereby pardon Chocolate and Chip.

Yamiche Alcindor: -- President Biden kicks off his holiday season at the White House, next.

Good evening and welcome to Washington Week. Tonight, we begin with the heartbreaking series of mass shooting this Thanksgiving week. Last weekend in Colorado Springs, a gunman opened fire inside of a nightclub long considered to be a safe space for the LGBTQ community within a historically conservative city. At least five people were killed there and more than a dozen others injured.

And then on Tuesday night in Chesapeake, Virginia, another gunman killed at least six people and injured others at a Walmart. According to the Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit that tracks mass shootings, in the U.S. just this year, there have been more than 600 mass shootings. It's just incredible to think about.

Joining me tonight to discuss this and more, Toluse Olorunnipa, the White House bureau chief for The Washington Post, Dave Philipps, National Correspondent for The New York Times, he is in Colorado Springs, and here at the table, Susan Page, the Washington bureau chief at USA Today, and Heidi Przybyla, a national investigative correspondent for Politico. So, thank you all for being here.

Dave, I want to start with you. You're there. You have been on the ground covering that mass shooting that happened in your hometown, Colorado Springs. Tell us what happened with this shooting and how patrons at that night club fought back.

Dave Philipps, National Correspondent, The New York Times: It is really a sad but incredible story. It was midnight on Saturday night and the gunman came in and just immediately started shooting very rapidly with a high-powered assault rifle. He killed five and injured about 18 others.

But what is remarkable about this is within a minute of when he started shooting, a 45-year-old combat veteran who was there with his wife and grown his daughter watching a drag performance, he tackled the shooter. And with the help of other patrons, they essentially beat with his own gun and held him down until the police arrived something like three minutes later. So, it was one of the rare instances where a shooting like this happens that could have been so much worse if people hadn't immediately responded and taken a lot of risk.

Yamiche Alcindor: I mean, they took so many risks. They are heroes, when I was just reading about your stories and so many of the other interviews that these patrons have been giving.

I wonder if you could talk a little bit about the significance of this happening in Colorado Springs given the history of that city as being anti-LGBTQ at times, conservative space, historically.

Dave Philipps: Well, that's right. Colorado Springs, especially during the 1990s, was really a center of not just conservative Christianity, but really an organized conservative Christian political movement that sought to limit the rights of gays and lesbians and do other things to try and remake the world according to the values they wanted to see.

Now, that was a long time ago and they have waned in influence as the city has grown. But this is still a very, very conservative community. Republicans outnumber registered Democrats 2-1. And so the club where the shooting happened, Club Q, it really become more than just a bar or a dance club, it was a community center in a lot of ways for this town of 500,000, a place where people could come together and have that community that they can really see reflected in the larger culture and have a safe space.

Yamiche Alcindor: And talking about safe spaces, I mean, the other thing, Susan, is, of course, there is a shooting in Virginia at Walmart. Anyone who shopped anywhere sort of gave me chills just thinking about you're going about your day and then there is a terrible shooting.

I want to point to the statistic that stopped me on my tracks when I was preparing for this show. Not a single week in 2022 has passed without at least more four mass shootings. That's according to The Washington Post. What are you hearing from your sources, the White House, Capitol Hill, about how to prevent this from continuing to happen like this?

Susan Page, Washington Bureau Chief, USA Today: And, of course, most of those cases, we never hear about. We never read about them. They have become something that's of interest to an individual community where it happens, and yet there is clearly no safe space for Americans to go to. You can't -- to go to elementary schools, you go to shops, you go churches, you go to grocery stores, these have all been the sites of horrific mass shootings.

And yet the debate over gun control, how many times have we said that that's stalemated? There was a legislation passed and signed by President Biden in June that did something to provide incentives for states to have red flag laws, for instance, increased background checks for young people. But the idea of more serious gun measures that would, say, get assault weapons out of the hands of shooters is just something we don't seem to have the political will to do.

Yamiche Alcindor: And, Toluse, you are at the White House, of course. What are you hearing from White House officials that are sitting down with their families on Thanksgiving, but also thinking about all of the other families now that are sitting down at a Thanksgiving table without their loved ones?

Toluse Olorunnipa, White House Bureau Chief, The Washington Post: Well, President Biden was elected in part because he was someone who knows how to empathize with the American people in 2020. There are a lot of people who had empty seats at their Thanksgiving table because of the pandemic and because of a number of different things. And now he is having to deal with the fact that there are a number of people who have empty seats at the Thanksgiving table because of gun violence.

And he has touted the law that Susan mentioned that was passed earlier this year, a bipartisan gun law that -- the first time that happened in more than 30 years, but it was a limited law that will not prevent a lot of these mass shootings because there are a number of things that the president and Democrats want to do, including an assault weapons ban that Republicans were not going to go along with.

And so the White House has said that President Biden continue to be optimistic about the idea of an assault weapons ban. It is hard to square that with the political reality of the fact that the White House is not going to be able to pass much legislation in the next two years because Republicans are going to be in charge of the house and they have said that they do not want to pass additional laws, especially on gun rights.

And so it's hard to see where that optimism is coming from and it's hard to see exactly what powers the president might have to be able to restrict access to guns by people who would want to do harm people on a mass scale because it is hard to do any of that through executive authority. You have to pass laws, and it's very difficult to pass gun laws in this country, especially in a divided government, which we're about to go into.

Yamiche Alcindor: Certainly. And, Heidi, you have been covering two beats there, I think, are so central to what we are talking about. You've been covering education but also really the conspiracy theory beat, if that's a beat we can even call it that. Because -- and I bring that up because with the Colorado Springs shooting, there are a lot of people in the LGBTQ community who are saying, part of why they're feeling targeted and their lives are more in danger is because of the rhetoric, frankly, coming from the right with conspiracy theories saying that some LGBTQ people want to brainwash children. What are you hearing?

Heidi Przybyla, National Investigative Correspondent, Politico: There has been a huge investment just over the past couple of years of shifting the culture wars to this issue of LGBTQ and the community. You look at just the number of bills that have been introduced in state legislatures, the most ever. You look at the rhetoric that's coming from some of the right-wing outlets. And, of course, this community feels threatened.

And then you see something like this, at the same time, those same communities and individuals who are making these statements aren't -- there is no mea culpa here. Listen to what Herschel Walker said. He doubled down. He said people who can't tell the difference between a man and woman are the enemy. He said this after the shooting.

And so this is a huge concern because not only do we have a gun problem in this country, that's been longstanding, we have increasingly what many are calling a domestic terrorism problem that is really being cultivated and radicalized on the far-right by individuals who believe that story time for children ages three to eight, where they are singing, if you are happy and you know it, clap your hands, that that is sexualizing children.

But there's a through line here too, Yamiche, and that is if you remember, even going back to the campaign, it's almost as if many on the right are trying to make anyone who is their opponent or anyone who is their opponent politically or in the culture wars into a pedophile. They were suggesting Joe Biden was a pedophile, they called Mallory McMorrow, who is in the Michigan legislature a groomer. And so there's this almost a dystopian, Russian-style attempt to smear people as pedophiles because it's the one thing that is universally abhorrent important is pedophilia, right?

Yamiche Alcindor: And there is also the 2024 politics, something Secretary Mike Pompeo, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said that the most dangerous person in the world is Randi Weingarten. Of course, she's the head of the Federation of Teachers. She's a teachers union. Talk about how 2024 politics are playing in here if you talk about fringe right but also some mainstream Republicans are talking about this too.

Heidi Przybyla: Well, this is also cutting into the suburban vote as well. If you look at what happened in Virginia with Glenn Youngkin, that battle was really fought on school boards and on the notion that, for instance, critical race theory is being taught in schools. I did a lot of reporting on that. I did not find any evidence of what critical race theory is other than teaching accurate history about segregation, Jim Crow, slavery. Some people feel that that is making white kids feel guilty or bad and that that is their critical race theory.

But this is touching a nerve. Again, folks stoking the cultural war, shifting the front, the battleground now to schools, whether it is LGBTQ and accusing people of grooming children or these debates over critical race theory. This is where they're trying to have the battlefront.

Yamiche Alcindor: And, Dave, you are there in Colorado. It's seen some of the country's worst mass shootings. I wonder what you're hearing on the ground from people about what can prevent this but also what we have all been talking about, which is that Washington, does it really have possibly an answer for these communities?

Dave Philipps: What we heard again and again is frustration that this is not a unique problem or a new problem, but one that everyone is so used to it, that when someone came in and started shooting with a military-style weapon in this bar, the patrons immediately knew that they had to attack him. They had seen it play out before.

And what are they saying? What I heard over and over again when I tried to report on is this a hate crime, is this a question of targeting the LGBTQ community, a lot of people in that community said to me, like, hey, look, this is more than anything a gun violence problem. We are never going to be able to make everybody love us, but at least we could try and make things a little safer so that dozens of people are not shot.

Yamiche Alcindor: Dave, thank you so much for sharing your reporting on the ground there. It's so important to have you. I appreciate you making your Washington Week debut.

Now, back here in Washington, a rift is growing among Republicans over the party's current and future leaders. Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy's bid to become House speaker is in jeopardy. Last week, he won enough votes to be nominated for the role by his party but he still needs to get 218 votes on the House floor. And so far, it is just not clear he can get that many because some Republicans, mostly from the House Freedom Caucus, have said they will not support him.

This all comes as the course of prominent Republicans calling on the party to put former President Trump, that's Donald Trump, of course, behind them is getting louder.

Gov. Chris Sununu (R-NH): Let's stop supporting crazy unelectable candidates in our primaries and start getting behind winners that can close the deal in November.

Fmr. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI): I am a never again Trumper. Why? Because I want to win and we lose with Trump. It was really clear to us in '18, in '20 and now in 2022.

Yamiche Alcindor: Still, Trump remains popular among many in the GOP base, which will be critical to winning the 2024 presidential nominees.

And so, Susan, back to you. You interviewed former Vice President Mike Pence. What did your interview reveal about what Mike Pence thinks about the future of the Republican Party and maybe his own ambitions?

Susan Page: Well, Mike Pence thinks there is an opening for himself and that the era of Trump voters just might be willing and able at this point to say that's over now. He might turn out to be wrong about that but he sees an opening for himself. He is critical of Trump, not Trump policies but of Trump himself, in a way he, of course, never was as vice president.

And you do hear a rising chorus, was just heard from people former Speaker Ryan and from former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie a willingness to criticize Trump that we have not seen since he won the nomination in 2016.

Is that enough to convince Republican voters to defeat Trump in a primary, to choose somebody else, Ron DeSantis or whoever, as their nominee? I don't think we know that yet. But we know that there is a new vulnerability surrounding Donald Trump that wasn't there before.

Yamiche Alcindor: I also have to ask you of former Vice President Mike Pence. He was pretty hard on the January 6th committee in other interviews. He was also saying that he doesn't -- he was at least saying, and at least in part, when asked, does Trump bear some criminal responsibility, he said, look, he's not sure because Trump was listening to bad lawyers. What do you make of that given the fact that Mike Pence was running for his life on January 6th?

Susan Page: Yes, his life, his family's life and put in peril by the president, by the former president. Well, I think Mike Pence is trying to have it both ways. He is trying to be critical. He is trying defend the action he took on January 6th, which so dismayed Donald Trump, while also appealing to Trump voters. And that is threading a needle that I think is very difficult, indeed, and we will see if he can do that.

Yamiche Alcindor: And, Toluse, we, of course, covered former President Trump together, some interesting days we had together. I wonder if you could talk about how real you think this break from Donald Trump, or at least attempted break from Donald Trump is, given the fact that we have seen Republicans sort of go away and then come right back at times to Trump when it is clear that the base is still with him.

Toluse Olorunnipa: Yes, Yamiche. You remember the former president, when he was running for president in 2016 and when he became president, he told voters and Americans that they would never get tired of winning. And now, after successive losses for the Republican Party in 2018 and 2020 and 2022, there are a number of Republicans that are getting tired of losing. And they are being open about criticizing the former president, criticizing a lot of suburban and moderate voters.

Now, as you mentioned, the president continues to have support among his base, he continues to be the one Republican who can bring out thousands of people to gather and rally for him. And so that is a formidable thing in the Republican caucus, especially at a time when the party is somewhat fractured, it doesn't have a lot of alternatives, and has a number of people that are trying to be that alternative. And when you have multiple people splitting a vote against former President Trump, who has his base that is going to be with him no matter what, he could have a glide path to the nomination just based on the fact that even if you get 30 percent or 35 percent, and they are rock hard, rock solid supporters, and you have five other people who are also running for the nomination, who split up the vote, it can be difficult for anyone else to stand a chance.

So, I would not count the former president out as a formidable Republican potential nominee, as someone who continues leads the party in a number of different ways and continues to have sway over everyone in the party, especially in Congress, so I --

Yamiche Alcindor: I want to ask you, if you could, what do you make of former President Trump also sort of continuing to punch back? What does that it tell you about sort of his plan, briefly, if you could?

Toluse Olorunnipa: Yes. He will continue to be the fighter, the pugnacious former president that he has been as long he has been a politician, as long as he has been a businessman. He wants to punch back harder than anyone can punch him.

So, he is looking and taking names and I would expect him to be very vicious towards other Republicans to who try to cross him and try to take advantage of the fact that there are a number of people who don't see him as strong as he was when he was president.

Yamiche Alcindor: And, Heidi, we are seeing some Republican donors say they don't want to be with him, but you are also seeing this sort of grassroots effort to vilify anyone who sort of goes against his election deniers. So, I'm thinking about Arizona, where you have Bill Gates, who was a high-ranking official there working in the election system. He had to go end up basically hiding because of what was happening with people attacking him. What does that sort of tell you about where the Republican Party is?

Heidi Przybyla: Well, look a lot of these folks lost, the election deniers in position of authorities, such as governor or overseeing elections, but they didn't lose by much. And there are a lot of people who feel very strongly and believe, in fact, that the elections are rigged and are being stolen.

I was out there in Arizona at a polling precinct where one of the tabulators just wasn't printing accurate tick marks and a gentleman came outside to identify himself as a poll worker and started working up the crowd about how maybe their ballots wouldn't be counted if they were put into the ballot box, which was unbelievable, given this has always been the process that they do.

But the point, to answer y our question, is that it is pervasive. A lot of these folks lost. But what was that? Why was that? Was it because Trump wasn't drumming it up and supporting them every step of the way? There's a lot of indication based on my reporting that because he was quiet and these folks were kind of out on a limb in the end there, they all just conceded, but it could have gone so very differently.

Susan Page: But I've got to say, the best thing that happened in this election, to my mind, is there were 13 people running in the six battleground states for jobs that would have given them oversight of elections, 13 and 13 lost.

And we've got some election deniers elected in six Republican states, that's not a great thing, but it's not so dangerous. The idea that we did not -- we as a country did not elect election deniers in the states that will determine the next presidential race is, I think, the most important thing that happened on Election Day.

Heidi Przybyla: It is huge. It's huge. Some of them were elected to Congress. We have like a much higher number in Congress right now. But to Susan's point, they are not in positions of authority to oversee elections in 2024, which -- it makes a huge difference. And we may have really averted a constitutional crisis.

Yamiche Alcindor: And I want to, of course, turn to the other thing that we've talked about, which is part of the fallout of the midterms is that Kevin McCarthy, Susan, is going to have the time of his life getting these 218 votes to be House speaker. What is your sense of his strategy to get there and what might happen if he doesn't get those votes?

Susan Page: Well, he is going to work pretty hard between now and January 3rd because he's got just no cushion, he's got no room for error. And we will see what kind of commitments he needs to make to the Freedom Caucus and to others to nail down their votes.

So, I think it is entirely possible he is not elected speaker because you don't need to defeat him with somebody, you just need to deny him a majority of those present in voting. And at the moment, if the election were today, he would not get there.

Yamiche Alcindor: He wouldn't get there.

Toluse, we only have about 30 seconds left, but I want to just bring you in. What is your sense of how the White House is viewing all of this given the fact that President Biden is trying to figure out how to deal with his agenda as all of this plays out?

Toluse Olorunnipa: Yes. You hear from White House officials that President Biden has worked with members of the Republican Party in the past, that he's passed more than 200 bipartisan bills during the first two years. So, they are optimistic that they will be able to get things done, but they are also bracing for impact because they know Republicans want to investigate everything about his administration and his family. And so they are waiting to see how aggressive the Republicans will be when it comes to the oversight of the Biden administration.

Yamiche Alcindor: And, Heidi, the slim majority that Republicans, it mirrors the slim majority that Democrats have. I think it's so interesting that our country is sort of swinging which is a little to this side and then a little to that side. What do you make of that?

Heidi Przybyla: Well, with redistricting, it probably would be very different if we did not have the maps drawn the way that they're drawn. And I think we need to look at the popular vote in terms of making those determinations.

But, look, to Toluse point, they are going to use that to just do the investigations because this majority is going to make the tea party look like they were really easy to manage for John Boehner. Just the concessions that they are going to demand of McCarthy, if he makes it, he's already had to cut a deal with Marjorie Taylor Greene, who is now saying -- telling everyone, look, I'm going to have a lot of power. And you see him already going back on some of the things that he said, like impeaching Mayorkas.

Yamiche Alcindor: Yes. Well, lots to definitely watch.

Thanks so much to our panelists for joining us and for sharing your reporting.

And be sure to tune in Saturday to PBS News Weekend with College Football rivalries underway, they take a look at the effect name, image, and licensing rights are having on collegiate sports.

And finally on this Thanksgiving holiday weekend, all of us at Washington Week, we are grateful for you, our viewers, for joining us each week. We hope you are celebrating this holiday weekend with those you love most.

I'm Yamiche Alcindor. Goodnight from Washington.

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