AMY WALTER: Welcome to the Washington Week Extra. I’m Amy Walter.
Let’s continue the conversation where we left off and discuss some of the things we didn’t get to in the broadcast. Joining me tonight are three reporters covering the issues: Errin Haines, editor at large for The 19th; Eamon Javers, senior White House correspondent for CNBC; and Jane Mayer, chief Washington correspondent for The New Yorker.
Eamon, since I cut you off during the broadcast I’m going to start with you and guns. The president came out this week putting executive orders out on gun control. If you can talk about what those will do and, more importantly, what it says about the president and the White House and just how unlikely they think, perhaps – I’m seeing this – that legislation on guns will make it through Congress.
EAMON JAVERS: Yeah, I mean, that’s the whole ballgame, right? I mean, on guns they’ve clearly decided that executive action from the White House is where they need to go because nothing’s going to happen on Capitol Hill; the opposition to any gun control is so deep in American politics that it’s just not a – it’s just a nonstarter, right? So you go with some executive action, but the president doesn’t seem to want to get his infrastructure bill off of the frontpages. That’s the main priority for this White House. They have to do some things that they said they were going to do around gun control so they’re doing that, but clearly the priority is spending this money and becoming a transformational presidency in terms of the enormous amount of political money that’s going out there – or, of government money that’s going out there into the economy and into the social system. That’s going to be a transformative thing, and I think Biden knows that.
And the one thing I wanted to say, Amy, about this debate we were having earlier on the question of Mitch McConnell and what role companies should play in all of this, you know, it strikes me this really goes to the heart of the question of what is a corporate campaign contribution all about, right? There have been two ways to look at it. The cynical way is, you know, this is sort of a very polite extortion game run by politicians in Washington who say if you want to play, you got to pay, and so the companies are paying both sides with these campaign contributions. The other way is to say, hey, these are just companies who have political opinions and they’re voicing them through this campaign system. That’s the polite way to say it. But when you’re asking companies to be quiet politically – not to say anything – but to keep the campaign cash going, you look like you’re leaning more toward the one side than the other, and I think that’s why you saw McConnell back off that and say, no, no, no, OK, companies can say whatever they want, I misspoke a little bit, which you rarely see from McConnell.
MS. WALTER: Right, corporations are indeed people at the end of the day. Errin, let’s talk about what Eamon brought up, this infrastructure bill. And Republicans are criticizing it, saying that Democrats are now calling all kinds of things infrastructure that have nothing to do with bricks and mortar and roads, including things like home health care and others. Can you – can you talk about how the Biden administration is defining infrastructure and how different that could be from anything else we’ve seen before?
ERRIN HAINES: Well, Amy, frankly, they’re looking to redefine it, right, much have they have – (audio break) – to redefine bipartisanship here in these first hundred days, looking outside of Washington for a definition of bipartisanship, and now looking beyond roads and bridges and the things that we kind of traditionally think about in terms of what infrastructure is, right? President Biden, in kind of laying out the case for this $2 trillion package this week, talked about the evolution of infrastructure – how, you know, in our grandparents’ generation we couldn’t have envisioned highways as being a part of our infrastructure, but certainly everybody, you know, alive and around today considers highways part of our infrastructure, but then maybe even our grandparents’ parents and their parents before them, thinking about bridges in terms of being infrastructure, that was not something that they could have envisioned as being – as being, you know, just kind of a core part of how this country works and what is required for this country to work. And so now, looking ahead in the 21st century, Joe Biden is saying things like broadband, especially in rural communities – you think about how crucial the internet was to – you know, to young people in the pandemic attempting to learn but also for so many workers who were working from home, I mean, the internet was a lifeline for those people and the difference between whether or not they were, frankly, able to participate in the workforce. And then the caregiving piece, literally having to think about how you find, you know, the, frankly, infrastructure in your household to deal with your child or possibly an elderly loved one, like if you cannot navigate that, that’s the reason that we saw hundreds of thousands of women in particular dropping out of the workforce and also marginalized folks, the women of color who are largely the essential workers who made up the caregiving workforce, having to make choices between, you know, being on the frontlines and being exposed to the coronavirus and earning a living. And so he is now – the president is how attempting to really bring those types of things into the conversation around infrastructure – clean water as an infrastructure, which would seem kind of like a no-brainer, but, yes, if you don’t have clean water the infrastructure of your community certainly is not as solid. And so I think that a lot of Americans, given their – the polling, and what the polling shows about their support for these issues, and then for the bill as a whole, indicates that they may be on board with the president’s definition.
MS. WALTER: And, Jane, I want to go to you. Just one more dark money issue here. And that’s the Supreme Court. On the docket is a case called Americans for Prosperity versus Rodriguez. Can you talk a little bit about what that case is about and what it could – what a ruling could mean for these groups?
MS. MAYER: There’s certainly a few people who see that as sort of the camel’s nose in the tent moving towards trying to have more dark money, more secrecy for donors. It’s a case that involves the laws in California which required big donors to – nonprofits to disclose who they were, just to the state. And these – the dark money groups are saying they shouldn’t have to even tell the state officials who their big donors are. And what people who oppose sort of secret spending are saying is this could be a precedent for trying to define a constitutional right to be a secret spender, that you have a right to privacy when you spend money, which could get you to a point where there may be no disclosure at all in American politics. So what’s what people are – why they’re watching this particular case.
MS. WALTER: So could – Jane, it could mean more than just these groups. It could mean even just traditional campaign filing reports that we’re used to seeing, where individuals are writing checks, that could be threatened too, they think?
MS. MAYER: It has – it certainly is not – it’s not there yet, and this case would not bring that about. But what it is, is it’s sort of beginning to lay the groundwork, just as we saw with Citizens United. It took 10 years to get to the point where that was passed, and so – where the Supreme Court upheld that, and so it takes years and there are sort of advocacy groups that are pushing case, after case, after case, and each step gets you closer to the ultimate goal, and that’s why people are taking a look at this case. It’s interesting. It’s a big – it’s a beginning of a big test case about secrecy and money in American politics.
MS. WALTER: And we should know by this summer then, Jane, what it is?
MS. MAYER: The arguments have yet to take place. There are briefs that have been filed, and every single dark money group you have ever heard of – including every group connected to the Kochs and every other group – is involved in filing amicus briefs in this thing. Clearly, the groups see it as something very important.
MS. WALTER: Well, thank you to everyone for bringing such great insight and analysis and reporting. We’ll leave it there for tonight. Many thanks to Errin, Eamon, and Jane, and thank you for joining us. Make sure to sign up for our Washington Week newsletter on our website, where you’ll get an early preview of each edition of Washington Week. I’m Amy Walter. Good night.