YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Welcome to the Washington Week Extra. I’m Yamiche Alcindor.
Let’s continue here where we left off on the broadcast. Emotional reunions have begun for migrant families separated at the border under President Trump and our reports say four families will be among the first to be reunited and have been reunited with the help of the Biden administration.
Joining us tonight are four reporters covering this and much more: Errin Haines, editor at large for The 19th; Jake Sherman, founder of Punchbowl News – I’ll say it again – a political newsletter that we’re all eating up; and sitting here with me live in studio, Dan Balz, chief correspondent for The Washington Post; and Weijia Jiang, senior White House correspondent for CBS News. Welcome and thank you so much.
Dan, I want to start with you: Tell me what you think these reunifications will mean to the legacy of President Biden when you think about the legacy of family separation to the former president.
DAN BALZ: Well, the legacy to the former president is obviously one that has been very, very bad for him. It was one of the worst policies that they initiated and it helped to – you know, helped to, you know, dim his legacy, along with many other things certainly. If the Biden administration is successful in reuniting most of these families, that will be – that will be a very, very significant step and something that they can take great credit for. This is not an easy process. I mean, they’re starting with four, but as Weijia said during the main program, there are hundreds and hundreds of families yet to be reunited. They’re working their way through it, they’re doing the best they can, but it’s an enormous undertaking to try to do it, so if they’re successful they will – they will get a lot of credit.
MS. ALCINDOR: Jake, this week made me think, is immigration at all possible as a sort of legislative goal? Could something come out of this, maybe not comprehensive based on my sourcing, but some sort of broken-off bill? What are you hearing?
JAKE SHERMAN: Well, it’s a good question. I mean, the real problem or one of the problems is Democrats have not – first of all, Democrats and Republicans have very little political appetite as a unit to get something done. But take a step back, Democrats have been unwilling or unable or not eager to do things piecemeal. They think that immigration deserves a global solution, and a lot of people would agree with that – advocates and families and people would agree with that – and thereby, for a lot of other reasons, immigration has not been able to get done. Now, we’ve talked to Dick Durbin about this extensively. Dick Durbin, the Democrat from Illinois, the number two Senate Democrat, has suggested he is willing to do things in a piecemeal fashion, in an incremental fashion, to get some sort of progress done. Joe Biden campaigned on being able to get deals like this done and get immigration done, and I would say – we like to put things in this frame – if you put people on truth serum, from the most conservative to the most liberal members of the House and Senate, they all kind of agree on the general contours of the deal but there needs to be some sort of political will and courage.
I would just add one more thing. The general trade people will be looking out for is a border security for some sort of pathway to citizenship and for, you know, undocumented illegal immigrants in the country – so undocumented folks would get a pathway to citizenship, border security for conservatives. I think that is still in play as a broad proposition, would also include DREAMers. I just think, Yamiche, there’s so much on the table right now for Congress to get done – between the American Jobs package, family package, police reform legislation, some people are talking about gun legislation – it gets – Congress, as you know, can only take so much. It’s not a very malleable institution. So there is a point of overload, and I think that – I think that’s close to an overload with that much on the table.
MS. ALCINDOR: Yeah, an overload, that’s one way to put it. (Laughs.) Not malleable is another way to put it. (Laughter.)
Weijia, how much pressure, though, is the Biden administration under? When I talk to immigration activists, they’re like, President Obama did not come through for us, President Biden has to. What are you hearing?
WEIJIA JIANG: You know, when you think about President Biden’s message on the campaign, he promised to restore the soul of the nation, and a huge part of that soul, if you talk to Democrats, was ripped away because of the previous administration’s policies, and so I think the pressure is enormous because this is not just about the items that would be in a bill, right? This is about redefining what America is, restoring it to what, you know, the Founding Fathers viewed it as, and so that is a heavy task. And at the same time, President Biden is very well aware, as someone who, you know, worked on Capitol Hill and failed to pass immigration reform himself, so he knows what the challenges are ahead. And to Jake’s point, it’s not I don’t think one of the top priorities right now because he is handling the COVID-19 response, he is dealing with a fractured economy, and so I think it’s going to take time before we see really how much gas the White House is going to put on passing immigration reform.
MS. ALCINDOR: Another big story I want to turn to is four Minneapolis police officers – former Minneapolis police officers were indicted for violating the civil rights of George Floyd, of course that African American man that was killed by a White police officer who kneeled on his neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds. This comes after Derek Chauvin was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of Mr. Floyd. Errin, I want to come to you on this: Tell me a little bit about the political implications of this and what this means that the – that you’re seeing federal charges here with these officers.
ERRIN HAINES: Yeah, well, you know, this is also what a lot of voters voted for when they voted for the Biden-Harris ticket in November. They wanted an administration and a Justice Department that was going to hold police accountable for the unrelenting killing of African Americans by law enforcement and vigilantes, and that was something that was absent from the previous administration, right? You had, you know, the former attorney general, Jeff Sessions, doing away with consent decrees and saying that they weren’t going to do those pattern and practice investigations, and here you have this Justice Department investigating not only the Minneapolis Police Department but also the Louisville Police Department, you know, that is – that is still reeling from the killing of Breonna Taylor. And so to see kind of the return of the conversation around police reform, I think this is something, both immigration and policing, the Biden-Harris administration is recognizing that this is going to be a multipronged approach. What they are not going to – whether or not they’re going to be able to get anything done in Congress, there are, you know, other avenues to – that they see to address some of these issues, be it from the Justice Department’s perspective, executive orders, or, you know, in the case of Vice President Harris on immigration, dealing with some of the root causes of immigration. She’s meeting with the Mexican president next week. But with respect to, you know, you seeing police officers facing federal charges, seeing these pattern and practice investigations at the federal level into these departments return, I think that what a lot of voters that I spoke to last year would say is that this is, in fact, what they voted for and what they are holding the administration accountable for now in these early days of governing.
MS. ALCINDOR: And, Jake, there’s a theme when I go to you here: What’s the chance of policing reform passing in Capitol Hill? What are you hearing? The president, President Biden, has said that he wants to get some sort of legislation passed by May 25th, which would be the one-year anniversary of the murder – now we can say – of George Floyd.
MR. SHERMAN: You know, I think May 25th is a bit aggressive in the sense that there’s not much time between now and then. But I think for the first time in several years that this has been talked about, there’s actually a decent chance for this to happen. A few reasons why. Number one, all of the tragedies that we just have gone through with the violence, the police violence against Black and brown people, that’s number one. But more importantly from a legislative point of view than ever before there are people in the room that are considered serious and very, very well-respected legislators who have been empowered by their leaders to get a deal: Tim Scott of South Carolina, Karen Bass of California, two very big, heavy hitters, and Cory Booker of New Jersey – three people who are just incredibly well respected. We’ve had Republicans tell us the last couple of weeks whatever Tim Scott does we’ll be for. I mean, that’s an amazing statement. So there has just been a level of trust established over a long period of time between those three lawmakers that I would just – nothing is certain, but this is as good of a chance as ever before. They are close on a lot of issues. Right now their staffs are trying to hash it out while they’re out of town for the congressional recess. I imagine they’re going to come back in this spring into this summer, they’re going to really try to get a deal because there’s so much riding on this in real life. This is policies that I think across the board every member in that room thinks that something needs to get done. That is a good place to start.
MS. ALCINDOR: Dan, Jake hinted at it and really said it, this is life and death for so many people. You talk about policing, especially Black people in this country; tell me a little bit about what – how you see the politics of this and where this stands when you think of the history of this country and policing.
MR. BALZ: Well, this is an enormously important issue, as I think everybody recognizes, and it went nowhere last year. There clearly, as Jake says, is an opportunity right now to get something done on the policing reform front, and I think that if they are able to do that both sides will say this was – this was good for the country. We don’t know what will come out of those negotiations, but obviously, as Jake said, Tim Scott has a pretty free hand, and the question is can they ultimately come together. But it feels as though there is a real desire to do it.
I think the other point which relates to what happened today in Minnesota, the Justice Department is being quite aggressive on this front. Merrick Garland has come in with perhaps his own mandate, his own sensibility about this. He’s talked about the White supremacy issue and domestic terrorism and how that’s going to be a priority, and clearly he’s decided that policing is also going to be a priority, so I think those – the combination of those sends signals to the American people that this administration is serious about it and perhaps Congress as a whole is going to be serious about it as well.
MS. ALCINDOR: Weijia, how much political capital is President Biden willing to put into this issue of policing given all that he’s juggling?
MS. JIANG: Well, you know, this is another, you know, point that he promised that he would take action on and that there would be progress on that, you know, he sold to the American people, as Errin pointed out, as part of his ticket. So I know that he feels the pressure, and sources say that, you know, they really feel this is a moment that they can capitalize on. And to everyone else’s point, I can’t help but think of the questions we were asking to the Trump administration and the very different tone that we’re getting because, as you know from covering him, the former president made clear that in his view this was just a few bad apples, and he – you know, even though he said he was committed to finding a solution, you know, you have to think about what he is saying compared to what President Biden has said and promised because that sets the bar. And you know, whether he can deliver, it seems like at least something can be done, especially if they can compromise on that issue of qualified immunity.
MS. ALCINDOR: Yeah, that dovetails with what I’m hearing from White House sources and also what I’m hearing on Capitol Hill, which is that there’s this inflection point that people really want to feel like they acted and lived up to in some way.
But we’ll leave it there for tonight. Many thanks to Errin, Jake, Dan, and Weijia 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 Washington. I’m Yamiche Alcindor. Good night from Washington.