WEIJIA JIANG: Welcome to the Washington Week Extra. I’m Weijia Jiang.
Let’s continue the conversation where we left off on the show and also discuss a little bit more of what President Biden has been up to. Today he delivered remarks at a national security conference, where he discussed foreign policy and stressed America’s commitment to NATO. Take a look.
PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: (From video.) I’m sending a clear message to the world: America is back. The United States is fully committed to our NATO alliance. An attack on one is an attack on all. That is our unshakeable vow.
MS. JIANG: This week Biden also formally offered to restart the nuclear negotiations with Iran.
Joining me tonight are three top reporters covering all things Washington: Ed O’Keefe, senior White House and political correspondent for CBS News; Anna Palmer, founder of Punchbowl News, a political newsletter, and host of the Daily Punch Podcast; and Ayesha Rascoe, White House correspondent for National Public Radio. Welcome to all of you.
Ayesha, I want to start with you because you covered President Trump extensively, and today it was clear that President Biden wanted to turn the page when it came to foreign policy. He wanted to leave Trump’s America first policy behind him. And do you think he accomplished that today?
AYESHA RASCOE: It’s complicated. I do think that what Biden wants to do and what they have stressed over and over again, unlike President Trump, almost everything they talk about with foreign policy they say and we’re going to do this in consultation with our international allies. They’re always talking about the international organizations and other countries, basically saying we’re not going to do it alone – it’s not the U.S. alone, it’s not America first, it’s America leading but we are going to be working with Europe, we’re going to be working with NATO, we’re going to be working with our allies. And so that’s what they’re trying to present, and then talking about, you know, starting back negotiations with Iran and with those allies who were in the Iran nuclear deal who were kind of left out cold when President Trump pulled the U.S. out of it. But that’s kind of the easy part, the extending of the hand, but what you actually do with Iran, which has engaged in malign behavior, how you actually try to rein Iran in, that’s the harder part. And it’s also a question of now that our European allies or U.S. European allies have gone through the Trump administration and gone through seeing America pull back, do they make the decision that America is simply not reliable – like, yes, the Biden administration may be reliable, but maybe the time has come for Europe and other allies to focus more on themselves because if another person like Trump is elected they could be left out in the cold once again. And so I think that’s the question right now.
MS. JIANG: And Ed, today the U.S. also formally reentered the Paris Climate Accord. The president, as you mentioned during the show, has made this a real top priority for his administration. Can you tell us about, you know, looking ahead how he plans to accomplish his agenda on the climate whenever – you know, it’s so different from his predecessor’s view and handling of what’s happening around the world.
ED O’KEEFE: Yeah, look, I mean, the world at this point is essentially waiting for word of how exactly the United States would hit these carbon emissions reduction goals essentially by 2030 and beyond. Diplomats all over the world were thrilled to hear the United States is back involved, also thrilled to see that China is taking steps to start curbing its greenhouse gas emissions as well. Part of this for Biden is personnel. He’s called on his good friend John Kerry, the former secretary of state, to serve as a diplomat on climate to the world, and so this will become a problem and a focus for him. There are new domestic climate change offices as well. And we’ll see, you know, whether climate change issues are part of the infrastructure bill as they plan to propose it, or whether it’s handled separately, I think will be another cue of how seriously and how willing they are to fight for this issue here in Washington.
MS. JIANG: And Anna, one other thing that the president did today was commit to spending $4 billion to help the international effort to vaccinate people, especially in poor countries, which is something that President Trump did not commit to, and I think that’s just one example of how this president really wants to take the lead again and wants to put America in that leadership role. Do you think that this will make any difference? And I wonder, too, whether you think the rest of the world sees that, you know, this is very different from President Trump and appreciates that, you know, America can do that again, despite what happened over the past four years.
MS. PALMER: I think we’ve seen a lot of world leaders take a deep sigh. To just deal with a president that is not going to be as erratic as Donald Trump, as reactionary as he was, as America first, as was his slogan for the last four years. Certainly we’re seeing Joe Biden take a return to, you know, his predecessor, Barack Obama, where he was vice president, where they want to lead on a lot of things.
And this is kind of an easy way – not an easy way, maybe that’s the wrong way of saying it – but, you know, vaccinations are something that can help a lot of countries that are going to be in need and put America in good stead with their leadership. To feel like they are kind of leading on this issue in particular I think is one of an early sign where we’re going to see Joe Biden take a very different tack than his predecessor Donald Trump.
MS. JIANG: And I just have one more quick question for all of you, because I hate ending a week with an unanswered question in my notebook. And I wonder: What is that top question for you that you couldn’t get an answer to this week that you’ll be working on looking ahead to next week?
MS. RASCOE: Well, I think one thing that I want to look ahead to is what’s going to happen on policing for – and policing reforms? You know, starting out early on there was a thought that President Biden would take steps to maybe set up this commission on, you know, how to address policing – especially after what happened over the summer, the protests against police brutality. He pledged to do that in those first rolled out executive actions. That did not happen. So I think that’s a question for me, is what happens next? We will be having – or, there will be hearings for the attorney general coming up – for the attorney general nominee, Merrick Garland. And so I think it’s a good time to revisit what the administration plans to do to address policing in this country.
MS. JIANG: Ed.
MR. O’KEEFE: Well, and picking up on the – on the Merrick Garland confirmation hearings that are scheduled for next week, I am curious to see how the Cabinet nomination process continues when the Senate reconvenes next week. Senate does a lot of things. One of them is the personnel business, as Mitch McConnell likes to say. And they’ve got a boatload of Cabinet nominees to start working through. They’re expected to confirm Linda Thomas-Greenfield to be the United Nations Ambassador. There will be the contentious closely watched Merrick Garland confirmation hearing next week, as well as two for Xavier Becerra, who’s set to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, William Burns to lead the CIA.
At this point, Joe Biden only has seven of his 23 Cabinet nominees confirmed. That is a historic low, at least for this century. George W. Bush had 17 at this point, Donald Trump 15, and Barack – sorry – Donald Trump 14, Barack Obama 15. And while they may all eventually, or most of them, will eventually get confirmed, it slows down the operation of government. And there’s always concern among those that are in government or that observe it closely that some unforeseen issue could come up, and the lack of permanent political leadership could make it that much difficult – more difficult to respond to it. So how do those Cabinet nominees fare next week? How quickly can the Senate get through them when they also have to start tackling the big COVID relief bill?
MS. JIANG: Anna.
MS. PALMER: Oh, I’m going to pick up when Ed left off. I think COVID relief is where I have a ton of questions left. How does the House handle it? Can Nancy Pelosi wrangle, you know, her very small majority to vote for this bill? And truly the big question – we talked about this on this show – is what happens with the minimum wage? How can the Democratic leaders and Joe Biden appease the progressives if this minimum wage portion gets thrown out of the bill, as is expected it’s going to be? Something that we’re going to be covering extremely closely, because Democrats really have very limited amount of time, and they really need to move very fast on this. So if anything slows it down, they will not get it done by that March 14th deadline.
MS. JIANG: All right. Well, we will be watching and reporting next week. Thank you guys so much. We will leave it there for tonight. But, again, many thanks to Ed, Anna, and Ayesha for your insights, and thank you for joining us. Make sure to sign up for our Washington Week newsletter on our website. We will give you a behind-the-scenes look into all things here in the nation’s capital.
I’m Weijia Jiang. Good night from Washington.