Washington Week full episode, June 3, 2022
06/03/2022 | 24m 10s | Video has closed captioning.
Washington Week full episode, June 3, 2022
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06/03/2022 | 24m 10s | Video has closed captioning.
Washington Week full episode, June 3, 2022
Problems Playing Video? | Closed Captioning
YAMICHE ALCINDOR, PBS MODERATOR, WASHINGTON WEEK: The gun debate and economic challenges.
ALCINDOR (voice-over): The nation on edge.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My fellow Americans, enough.
Let's hear the call and the cry.
Let's meet the moment.
Let us finally do something.
ALCINDOR: As President Biden calls on Congress to pass new gun laws.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He began firing at anyone in his way.
ALCINDOR: And more horrific mass shootings, including in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): I think I've got partners at the table who have a lot of credibility in the Republican caucus.
That makes me feel good about our chances.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Hopefully, we can find a way to come together and make some progress on this horrendous problem, consistent with our Constitution and with our values.
ALCINDOR: But out of the darkness comes hope a bipartisan deal on guns could pass the Senate.
Plus, ahead of the midterms, the White House tries to pivot its messaging on inflation and the economy.
But will the strategy work?
(BREAK) ANNOUNCER: Once again from Washington, moderator Yamiche Alcindor.
ALCINDOR: Good evening and welcome to "Washington Week".
Across the country, there is shock and frustration since the massacre at Buffalo three weeks ago, there have been more mass shootings than there have been days.
To be exact, since May 14th, there have been at least 37 mass shootings in this country.
That is according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive.
One of those was on Wednesday in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
There, a gunman walked into a medical building and allegedly killed four people and himself.
And in Uvalde, Texas, funerals have begun for the 21 students and teachers shot to death at Robb Elementary School last week.
In a primetime speech, President Biden addressed the nation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BIDEN: After Columbine, after Sandy Hook, after Charleston, after Orlando, after Las Vegas, after Parkland, nothing has been done.
This time, that can't be true.
This time, we must actually do something.
For God's sake, how much more carnage are we willing to accept?
How many more innocent American lives must be taken before we say enough?
(END VIDEO CLIP) ALCINDOR: Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of lawmakers working to hammer out some sort of gun reform bill say a, quote, framework for a deal is close.
Joining me tonight to discuss and more, Eugene Daniels, "Playbook" author and White House correspondent for "Politico", and Annie Karni, congressional reporter for "The New York Times".
There's so much going on.
I want to start, of course, with you, Eugene, because there was this primetime speech.
President Biden laid out so many things that he wants to see happen.
But what's the sense inside the White House and how much the president can really influence Congress to pass something?
EUGENE DANIELS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: Yeah, what you saw yesterday was the president talking to a bunch of different audiences.
First was members of Congress where he was saying these are the things I want to do.
And this list we heard from him when he was heading up to the gun task force during the Obama administration after Sandy Hook, talking about a ban on assault rifles, talking about - - assault weapons, talking about a registry, talking about red flag laws.
These kinds of things have a lot of bipartisan support among voters.
And also more importantly, talking to the American people and channeling their frustration.
The administration thinks it went well, that the speech did what it was supposed to do.
But the problem is and what you did not hear was executive action he is thinking of doing.
That's because a sense in the White House, they have felt the did what they can do, and their hands are tied when it comes to the executive action that they have left.
They've done I think four different haunches of executive action on guns and safety laws.
They cannot do much more.
They are now worried watching members of Congress go through what we have seen over and over again, which is a bipartisan effort, come together to help something happens, and waiting on pins and needles to see if it does.
ALCINDOR: And, Annie, the president at one point said "I told you what I want to do," and he said, the question is, what will Congress do?
Of course, that brings that squarely on your beat, all eyes are on this bipartisan lawmakers.
What more do we go, the framework they are close to or have settled on?
Is it going to happen?
ANNIE KARNI, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: It looks like something -- people are optimistic something is going to happen.
Senator Cornyn from Texas made a statement saying it would be embarrassing if we got nothing done.
It was seen by advocates, a lot of people watching as a strong statement to make, indicating that something will happen.
Now, the question is how modest is it going to be?
Most Democrats have been burned so many times in this kind of debate and assume it will be modest, it will not be lowering the age to buy an assault weapon, something modest on background checks and red flag laws.
But modest is also -- getting something done to show legislation can pass in the Senate, there can be 60 votes and the sky doesn't fall, and that they can start chipping away at the inability to do anything.
What I'm really struck by is that there's broadly the sense that every time one of these tragedies happens, nothing is going to change.
Yet among Democrats working on the issue, activists in this world, they are optimistic.
They take a long view and feel something that will look small potentially matters quite a bit.
But modest is kind of the best hope here.
ALCINDOR: And it's really interesting that he said, because I remember covering Newtown, Connecticut, and the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
I thought the world was going to change.
I now think of that, as a decade ago, as a naive reporter because, of course, nothing changed.
But it does seem like you said this time is a little different.
I do want to go to you, Eugene, because in "Playbook" today, you pointed out that in February 2020, President Biden had this gun speech hoping to win Nevada.
When he was down and needing to win in the primaries in 2020, he pledged he would have gun legislation who first day in office and it didn't happen.
Connect that February 2020 speech to the pressure the president is feeling now.
DANIELS: Yeah, because he made a lot of promises in the campaign trail.
We all remember all of the Democrats did, because they were thinking about how we can possibly beat Donald Trump.
We have to get not just the base, which is Black voters and they're a little bit more moderate, you have to get liberals very excited to vote.
So, that's what he did.
He made very large promises on what he was going to be able to do with gun legislation.
Not knowing he would have 50 Democratic senators to do something, anything on pieces of legislation.
And so, now, as you watch different constituencies that are really important to the administration, whether that is gun control advocates, whether that's civil rights groups because of issues like what happened in buffalo -- all of those different groups are pushing and talking to the administration asking what are you doing?
And like I said, they have done a lot of executive action they feel like they can do, but they wanted to see the president get out more.
He hasn't been super involved in the negotiations on what is happening with the bipartisan effort, wanting to give the senators time and space to do that.
It's not always helpful for a president to jump in and try and help negotiate on a bipartisan effort, but that was giving advocates a little pause about what he was going to do.
ALCINDOR: And I want to follow up, because there have been more than 200 mass shootings this year.
Polling shows that Americans over and over again say that they are back -- they are open to backing things like changes in background checks.
Does the White House have a sense it will change?
That all of this cultural things and the polling is kind of giving this sense of urgency that something will really be done?
DANIELS: I think they are hopeful, you know what I mean?
But they just like all of us, watched Sandy Hook happen and nothing happened.
A lot of folks working at the White House now or either working for President Biden or somewhere in the administration at that time, so they have been burned on this issue before.
And so, when you talk to folks what they say is, they are encouraged about what they see, not thinking something huge is going to happen.
But they hopeful that if you look at -- you know, you break a little crack in the dam, and have flooding rush in and changes happening -- Senator Chris Murphy who's leading this for Democrats, he's been telling reporters if I can get my Republican colleagues to realize the world is not going to end if we get something done on legislation, maybe we can do this again."
ALCINDOR: And, Annie, the crack in the dam.
I like that metaphor because in some ways, it is if they can get a little thing done, it can overflow.
I'm also really interested in asking you about this, I was thinking about it all day, and I was like, can't wait to talk to Annie about this.
And it's the House bill.
There's a bill happening.
It's going forward.
What is the point of it if we know it will not be passed in the Senate?
KARNI: Well, I mean, it's still important to show support.
And it -- now, the House bill, there is a passed bill that Senator Schumer now has to decide next week, like he has to give them space to have these negotiations.
And he has to decide like am I going to bring up that House bill for a vote?
Or some -- I have to bring at some point if there is not going to be a compromise, I'm not going to bring a vote and it can be a show vote.
He's had many -- you know, Congress does this a lot.
A vote they know will fail, but it has to show where everyone stands.
KARNI: So, they think, you know, 70 percent of the country supports background checks.
Republicans will have to stand there and vote no for something that has broad popular support.
So, I think it's just important for -- you know, they wanted -- they can -- the House can pass a bill like that, why wouldn't they, and then say, it's on to you, to the Senate to take some action?
That there is a bill waiting for them to vote on if it comes to that.
I think next week, the real question for Schumer will be do we have to take a vote on a bill that will fail, or is this bipartisan group going to come out with a framework?
Obviously, they'd rather pass legislation than have a show vote.
ALCINDOR: And another question I had for you, Representative Chris Jacobs is this Republican who represents a district that is 10 miles from where Buffalo, New York, where that massacre happened, where 10 black people were killed.
He came out and said that he actually was in support of a federal assault weapons ban.
And then, now, he faced a lot of GOP backlash and he's no longer running for reelection.
Tell me a little bit about what he is going through, tell us about the political states that Republicans are facing.
KARNI: I mean, I think he lasted seven days after coming out against -- for gun control efforts.
And now, he, today, the story broke that he is not running for reelection anymore.
I mean, that should temper anyone who is incredibly hopeful right now about the party, where the Republican Party is, the control that the NRA still has even in its diminished state over Republican lawmakers.
There is no grade that's more important to a lot of people, there is no issue that defines the party so much as the Second Amendment.
That just states the feeling about government, the feeling about independence, and your own rights as this issue.
So, you know, it is a cautionary tale for anyone feeling like -- we watched the slaughter of schoolchildren and now, there's going to be some big moment.
And you just look at what happened, seven days after coming out for gun control efforts, he's out of the race.
DANIELS: But despite all of the popular support that we know all and we talk about every time there is one of these shootings, there is not a lot of political incentive for Republicans to do that.
Obviously, he is a perfect example.
When you talk about voters, things like gun control and abortion do not rise to the levels of that, you know, Democrats or the people who want to see this change would want.
It's about the economy.
It's about inflation.
ALCINDOR: Well, Eugene, you basically wrote what my turn is to our next subject, because it is the economy as you just said.
Inflation is at a four decade high, and rising prices at grocery stores and gas stations are hitting Americans so hard.
With six months to go until the November elections, the midterms of course, the administration is trying to shift its messaging on inflation and the economy.
Earlier this week, the Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen admitted on CNN that a year ago, she was incorrect when she said inflation would be, quote, transitory.
She told the network, quote: I think I was wrong then about the path inflation would take.
All that said, there is I should say some good news that the May jobs report was better than expected, despite fears of an economic slowdown.
Joining us to discuss the state of the economy is Amara Omeokwe.
She is an economics reporter for "The Wall Street Journal".
Thank you so much for being here.
I want to start off with where we are.
You're an economics reporter.
I'm so happy you are here because we really need an economics reporter to break it down for us.
Jamie Dimon is saying, who is, of course, I should tell people, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase.
He's saying that there's going to be an economic hurricane.
Mothers will be able to find baby formula.
But we also have a jobs report that looks better.
So, break down sort of where we are in the state of the economy and the horizon.
AMARA OMEOKWE, ECONOMICS REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, the state of the economy is really sort of in a delicate place, right?
There are a lot of bright spots.
If you look at where we are in the labor market, for instance, we had a pretty solid jobs report today.
If you look at where household balance sheets are, those are some of the positive signs in the economy.
But, of course, we have inflation which as you mentioned is at a four-decade high, it is hitting families hard.
And if you look at polling data and consumer sentiment data, Americans are really concerned about the higher prices at grocery stores, at gas pumps, like it's a big problem for a lot of Americans.
And then you also have the Federal Reserve which is mounting this very aggressive campaign to lower inflation.
They're raising interest rates.
They're shrinking the size of their balance sheet.
They are basically trying to tap the brakes on the economy.
And that is what is giving corporate leaders and economists some pause.
The fear is that the Federal Reserve will not bring down inflation without launching us into a recession basically, a really significant slowdown.
So, I think people are hopeful that hopefully, you know, the Federal Reserve will be able to do it, but there is fear amongst some that they will not be able to and that's sort of a big headwind and a big question mark for the economy in the months to come.
ALCINDOR: And another big question, Amara, is what can President Biden actually do?
There have been so many presidents, all the way from LBJ, to Nixon, other presidents who tried to deal with inflation and failed.
How much can he really impact the economy on his policies and his messaging?
OMEOKWE: Well, I mean, he is trying.
The administration is trying.
You saw him say that they are going to be engaging in this month-long campaign to speak to Americans about the economy, to try and reassure Americans have a plan to fight inflation.
If you talk to any economist, they will say, look, the president really can't do much, his administration can't do much.
Really the most powerful player is the Fed and we just sort of have to wait for the Fed to make its move and see how they work through the system.
But at the same time from a political standpoint, it is impossible for the president and his administration to say it is the Feds responsibility, we're not going to do anything about it.
So, you do see them trying to reset on your messaging.
You see him talking about what they are trying to do, whether it beer a release from the energy reserves, or trying to push Congress to pass some of President Biden's economic agenda.
But if you talk to economists, they say those things really don't move the needle on inflation, particularly in the short term.
ALCINDOR: And, Annie, this week began with President Biden writing an op-ed in "The Wall Street Journal", calling on Congress to pass things like a clean energy tax credit or investments and tax reform.
How much is Congress interested in what the president is talking about?
KARNI: There is a lot going on.
ALCINDOR: I love this answer by the way.
(CROSSTALK) KARNI: I do think it is interesting that Biden has spent the week kind of tacking into, you know, they have been trying -- for months more optimistic about inflation and the economy than the reality has been.
And with Yellen saying she was wrong and the administration now trying to kind of tack and not -- they have positive economic indicators like the job numbers that they've been trying to highlight, but now, they are trying to really show that they are taking inflation issues more seriously.
June is going to be an interesting month between the Roe decision coming out of the Supreme Court, gun vote in Congress, the January 6 hearings, this is going to be a big month for Democrats to try and convince voters it is not just a referendum on the president and on Democrats in control of Congress, that this is a choice election.
And that like this is a big month where that like it will either happen or it won't.
ALCINDOR: Yeah, I was going to ask -- Eugene, I want to ask about the challenges.
I want to ask about Janet Yellen and her saying that she is wrong.
What was going on there because she fell on her sword?
DANIELS: Yeah, no, absolutely.
It was something that we don't often hear especially from this administration, because when you think about the invasion becoming evident, Jen Psaki, who is the press secretary at the time kind of scoffed at the idea that it was going to stick around for a long time.
And what they kept using and saying was that it was going to be transitory, which means it's not going to be around very long.
That feels a lot different now, right?
And so, Janet Yellen saying I was wrong on this, that was brought up to the current press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, this week, and basically like, were you guys wrong or will you say that as well?
And she was like, no, we're not.
She's just kind of moving -- you know, kind of moving on and saying that.
But when you talk to the American people, what they have said is the whole time they felt they were not taking it seriously enough.
President Biden giving speeches, telling people I feel your pain, but he kept talking about those economic indicators that are good for this administration or for the country.
People were not hearing that when the milk was expensive, when gas was going up.
Now you have this issue of infant formula not being able to come to mothers and not being on shelves, so not feeling the same thing.
ALCINDOR: There are so many challenges.
Amara, I want to get your sense of what you thought about Janet Yellen's comments.
And also, you told our producers that people sort of just feel sour right now around the country.
So, weigh in on her statements and how the way that people are feeling is also part of this.
OMEOKWE: Oh, yeah, I agree with Eugene.
It was a rare moment of candor from the treasure secretary that you don't often hear from administration officials.
But I think what you also heard her doing there is trying to explain why we have the inflation that we have right now.
You know, in those same comments, she said there were circumstances that could not have been foreseen that caused supply shocks to the economy driving the inflation we are seeing right now.
And what I sort of heard her saying is basically like a pushback to the criticism that Republicans have been constantly launching at this administration, that it was their policy that's fueled the inflation that we're seeing right now.
What you heard her and other administration officials often doing is saying, look, there are a lot of reasons we have inflation, inflation is a global problem.
We have the supply chain issues.
So, they are pushing back on that -- on that criticism from Republicans.
Whether the messaging resonates with voters and breaks through with voters, that just remains to be seen.
As others in the panel said, the administration has been messaging on inflation for months and we still see that in polling data and consumer sentiment data, people pretty much aren't buying it.
They feel bad about where the economy is now, they feel bad about the outlook for the economy in months to come.
So, this really is a difficult position for the administration to find itself in.
ALCINDOR: And, Eugene, going back to the great point about the challenge the White House faces, take us a little bit into how they're prioritizing what are they dealing with and just the overall mood in there because when I talk to folks, they sound like they are overwhelmed, but like this is what the White House has to deal with.
Yeah, the mood is sour.
It's sour outside in the country and it's sour in the White House because there's so much is going on.
And the biggest problem we have been talking about the entire show is there is not much the White House can do for some of these issues, on inflation, on guns, on some of these things that the American people want them to do.
There's not much for them to do.
So, it feels like they have to -- ALCINDOR: And they also said -- I should also say that aides also said that they didn't tell President Biden about the baby formula issue until April.
They are also walking back some of his statements on Taiwan.
There's sort of this frustration it seems like.
There's like a flurry of what seems like missteps, right, especially talking to the administration and asking why the president was not briefed on baby infant formula when the people who make it new that the closing of the Abbott facility was going to be an issue immediately.
Why didn't he know?
And that is one of the many things that they are dealing with.
And it is -- you know, White Houses are hard.
Running of the country is very difficult, and at a time when people are feeling how they are feeling, this administration feels like they don't have a lot of things that they can do, but are pushing forward, talked about chewing gum and walking at the same time.
Well, a lot of challenges to deal with.
Thank you so much to Amara, Eugene, and Annie, for joining us and for sharing your reporting.
We'll continue our conversation on "The Washington Week Extra".
This week's topic: the January 6 Committee hearings.
Find it on our website, Facebook, and YouTube.
And on Saturday, on PBS News Weekend, Geoff Bennett looks at mass shootings and gun violence in America and what can be done to curb this growing problem.
Thank you for joining us.
I'm Yamiche Alcindor.
Good night from Washington.
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