AMNA NAWAZ: Welcome to the Washington Week Extra. I’m Amna Nawaz.
We are continuing our conversation on the end of the Trump presidency and the beginning of Biden’s with four reporters covering it all: Laura Baron-Lopez is White House correspondent for Politico; Errin Haines is editor at large for The 19th; Anna Palmer is founder of Punchbowl News and the host of the Daily Punch Podcast; and Ashley Parker is White House bureau chief for The Washington Post. Welcome back to you all and thank you for bearing with us in what I know have been some trying technical difficulties. (Laughs.)
I want to open by saying I think it’s fair to say we may not fully understand this moment in time, this one week in Washington, for years to come. Each of you are writing the chapters of history in real time, so I’d really love to step back and zoom out a bit and hear how each of you are processing and reflecting on this time in American history. So Errin, let’s start with you. You look back over this week, we saw the historic swearing-in of the first Black woman, the first South Asian woman, first-generation American woman as vice president just weeks after White supremacists were among those who stormed the Capitol. How are you reconciling this moment right now?
ERRIN HAINES: Yeah, and listen, Amna, no worries, 2021 has already been full of technical difficulties if you know what I mean, so. (Laughter.) You know, what I would – you know, I would actually back up to January 5th. You know, I’m a native Georgian, and on January 5th I was watching the Senate runoffs that were also historic in my home state, and you know, really thinking about the idea of that – those runoffs coming down to an issue of voter suppression versus voter turnout, I mean, regardless of who the candidates were and regardless of who the – you know, what the outcome was. The idea that voter suppression was defeated on January 5th was something that was really striking to me, and so, you know, to see, you know, less than 24 hours later, you know, both the highs and lows of our democracy captured was really – I think says a lot about where we are, where we continue to be as a country in terms of our divided democracy, our divided electorate, to see, yes, the – a Black woman, a, you know, woman of Asian American descent, the first woman to become the second-most-powerful person in the country, but at the same time her leaving the Senate leaves no Black women in the Senate, you know, only two in the Senate’s history, you know, this is the push and pull of our democracy. This is the push and pull of race in America. Even as she, you know, swore in this week the first Latino senator from California, the first Black senator from Georgia, and the first Jewish senator from Georgia, and the youngest senator to ever serve – you know, the youngest senator since Joe Biden. So I mean, it just really – America is often, you know, just a collection of contradictions, and that was certainly true and certainly on display this week, even as we saw history being made.
MS. NAWAZ: Ashley Parker, what about you? First tell us where and how were you watching the inauguration, and then what has struck you about the way that this week has unfolded?
ASHLEY PARKER: So I was watching the inauguration from home, unfortunately, as I – (inaudible) – during quarantine. But living in D.C., there was sort of – (inaudible) – split screen – (inaudible) – I could see the fireworks with one eye and then out my window I could see them above the National Mall out of my other eye. And you know, as you – (inaudible) – reporters write the first draft of history, but in some ways you do kind of have to pause and take a moment to step back. (Inaudible) – journalist I was finishing up my time as a Trump beat reporter and, you know, working long days – (inaudible) – the White House, you know, is he going to leave the White House, is he going to leave with some modicum of grace, is he going to say something inappropriate again, and as soon as that’s over you’re suddenly the Biden beat reporter. And the one thing I’ll just say, the one moment that was interesting to me is I have – (inaudible) – there just was sort of – (inaudible) – forced me to step back, to realize that, you know, my older daughter – (inaudible) – and then a female vice president who is also the first woman of color, and my – (inaudible) – certainly will only – (inaudible). So regardless of her politics or her ideology, something that is very exciting for them, at least the older one – (inaudible) – but as, you know, citizens at our dinner table.
MS. NAWAZ: Laura, I saw you were liveblogging the inauguration with some of your colleagues. What were you noticing as the day was unfolding and what’s stayed with you since then?
LAURA BARON-LOPEZ: Right, well, I think one of the biggest things that’s stayed with me was elements of Biden’s inauguration speech, which was – the scope of it that he was trying to bring to bear about the difficulties the country is facing right now. And so when he was talking about unity, he was referring to unity in battling and confronting White supremacy, rising extremist threats, and domestic terror, and he was talking about uniting to face the anger and the resentment that has clearly built up in this country and rising to face the fact that the majority of one party’s voters believe that he’s an illegitimate president. He didn’t explicitly address that, but he was talking about this larger scope of the difficulties that the country is facing. Finally, reckoning with the cry for justice, he said, after – you now, from the beginning of the country for 400 years dealing with slavery and racial inequity. And so that was what he was hitting when he was talking about unity, and it still is a big question about whether or not Democrats, whether or not Republicans explicitly are going to join him in trying to battle those rising White supremacist threats and actually confronting and holding themselves accountable and deciding whether or not they are going to move in a different direction as a party or they are going to stay with Trump and with people – and whether or not they’re also going to stay in trying to encourage voters who believe that this was an illegitimate election, whether they’ll continue down that line or actually tell their voters and their supporters that Biden was a legitimately elected president and that it’s time to move forward together to address the different confrontation.
MS. NAWAZ: Anna, this is what is so jarring about this moment and the way this unfolded, right? In some ways the inauguration ceremony is exactly what you’d expect – there’s the bunting and the flags and the ceremony and so on – but it was everything outside of the West Front of the Capitol that was so surreal in many ways. What struck you about the way the handover happened and everything that’s happened since?
ANNA PALMER: Well, I’ve spent the vast majority of my career inside that building as a reporter, and so I think it’s – (inaudible) – processing of the fact that there was a siege on the Capitol, I do think it was powerful to see a week later, on the next Wednesday, democracy remaining, that a peaceful transfer of power happened. But in the backdrop you had social distancing. It was very scarcely attended. And frankly, the other part that I think just can’t be felt, I mean, unless you live in Washington – I live on – (inaudible) – Capitol, the security and the tension around whether or not there was going to be another security incident or not.
The fact that there has been, you know, guard troops that are sleeping on the floor of the Capitol, it just underscores – (inaudible) – issue that just because Biden is now president, the problems of this country remain. They’re deep and they’re significant. And you know, I wonder how we can move away from the police state and get back to, you know, bringing some unity – (inaudible) – the president’s – (inaudible) – around moving forward, getting through the pandemic and the economic crisis. But certainly for me, it was wonderful to see the fact that – (inaudible) – Republican – (inaudible) – Democrat. You’ve had the new president at the Capitol saying: We are going to – (inaudible) – and no one is – (inaudible).
MS. NAWAZ: Errin Haines, I want to get back to something you mentioned earlier, which was a recent conversation you hosted with the senior communications members of the Biden administration’s team. The first all-female senior comms team, we should mention, which is another little bit of history they’ve made. But when it comes to how we as journalists, we as reporters do our jobs right now, there’s a concern I want to ask you about, that we could slip into complacency. That this return to a somewhat normal relationship – less overtly adversarial, when you’re not being called fake news or the enemy of the people – that that could allow journalists to slip into some complacency. What do you make of that concern? And how do you protect against it?
MS. HAINES: Well, you know, Amna, what I would say is that this is not a moment for us to be complacent, as a political press corps. And I think that, you know, President Biden and Vice President Harris, in laying out these four crises of the pandemic, the economy, climate change, and racial inequality – any one of those issues would be, you know, heady fodder for a political journalist to cover. But you have to stay on top of the four of those issues. And to hold this administration accountable on all four of those fronts is certainly enough to keep any one of us, much less the entire press corps, busy for the next four years.
And so, you know, I think, you know, the work is there. And for those of who want to do it, whether we’re coming for legacy and storied institutions like The Washington Post or PBS NewsHour, or whether it’s newbies like us at the 19th or Anna with Punchbowl and Laura with, you know, Politico. It really is, you know, taking the lessons that we have learned as a political press corps in, you know, our recent political history. This new administration does present a new opportunity to really look at just these stories and the narrative that we have the potential to tell as a political press corps about who and where we are as a country and, you know, what this administration is doing – not only for the people that elected them, but for the people who didn’t.
MS. NAWAZ: Ashley Parker, what about that? We should turn to you here now. You’re the newly minted bureau chief, we should say, at The Washington Post. What are you telling your reporters? What’s the mission statement?
MS. PARKER: Well, it’s the exact same as it was covering President Trump. We will cover President Biden as rigorously and authoritatively and fairly as we covered President Trump before him, President Obama before him, and every president to come. And I think to answer your original question, that is one of the ways we keep ourselves from slipping into complacency. Biden is a different president. He presents different challenges and different opportunities and is facing different crises. But sort of the general mission of the work stays exactly the same at the Post, and I believe at just about every other news organization.
For instance, when Trump became president we upped our White House team to six people at the beginning of his presidency. That was a historic number, and we ended it with seven. We are beginning Biden with seven people, again, with the same systems in place, the same call rotation, the same mandate, stories. And I know the Post is not the only organization doing that. I think we are the rule far more than the exception.
MS. NAWAZ: There is a lot of work, for sure, to be done ahead. We do it without fear or favor. And it’s a privilege. It’s a privilege to speak with all of you tonight too. We’re going to leave our conversation there for now. Many, many thanks to Laura, to Errin, Anna, and Ashley for being here.
Thank you to all of you for joining us as well. Please make sure you sign up for our Washington Week newsletter. That’s on our website. We’ll give you a behind-the-scenes look into all things Washington.
I’m Amna Nawaz. For now good night from Washington.