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tv   Washington Week  PBS  May 21, 2021 7:30pm-8:01pm PDT

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yamiche: an uneasy peace in the middle east and political battles at home. >> agreed to a mutual ceasefire. yamiche: can president biden balance support for israel with pushback from his own party? plus -- >> are they going to join us in pursuing the truth or are they going to cover for donald trump and his big lie. yamiche: congress tries to create a bipartisan commission to investigate the capitol insurrection. partisan politics gets in the way as the majority of g.o.p. lawmakers refuse to support it. >> i've made the decision to oppose the house democrats' slanted and unbalanced proposal.
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yamiche: next. announcer: this is "washington week." corporate funding is provided by --. consumer cellular, kaiser permanente. additional funding is provided by the estate of ira adams and koo and patricia yuen. the corporation for public broadcasting and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. once again, from washington, moderator yamiche alcindor. yamiche: good evening and welcome to "washington week." tonight, a ceasefire is still holding in the middle east with
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president biden in office only 121 days, he's faced a number of unexpected challenges. this week, it was the israeli-palestinian conflict. white house sources tell me behind the scenes president biden pushed prime minister benjamin netanyahu to make a deal. pres. biden: palestinians and israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely and enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity and democracy. my administration will continue our quiet, relentless diplomacy toward that end. i believe we have a genuine opportunity. yamiche: as president biden affirmed the u.s. relationship with israel, he faced pushback from his own party. progressive democrats are trying to block a $735 million weapons sale to israel and later tonight we will discuss t political war in washington where most republican lawmakers are refusing to back a bipartisan
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deal to investigate january 6. joining me tonight are four of washington's best journalists. asma khalid, political correspondent for npr and co-host of the npr politics podcast. jeff zeleny, national affairs correspondent for cnn and joining me in studio, andrea mitchell, chief washington correspondent and foreign affairs correspondent for nbc news, host of andrea mitchell reports. and rachel scott with abc news. thank you so much for being here. andrea, you have so much good reporting on this middle east story that unfolded this week. tell me, behind the scenes, how did we get to this point and will this ceasefire last? andrea: we don't know if that's going to last. that's the hope. but it is fragile and the president really decided very early on that he had to stop israel from invading. th really was the important
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point to persuade israel that they should not invade because he felt if it became a land invasion, it would stretch out as it had in 2014. he didn't want months of conflict. in the opening hours hamas was firing more rockets and with more precision than in previous engagements so he knew that netanyahu had to retaliate and he was iistent that they emphasize israel's right to defend itself and that, as it continued day by day, did alienate not only the progressive wing of democratic party but some allies like chris murphy and tim kaine and jeanne shaheen were telling me and others that they felt the u.s. needed to call for immediate ceasefire right away but the president's decision was that you can't back netanyahu into a corner and i think from his years of expernce as chairman ofhe foreign relations committee and as vice president, when president obamaad a cold
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relationship with netanyahu, vice president biden then was sort of the go-between, the b.b. whisperer, trying to keep channels open and that is his nature. i think it was that and the intensive diplomacy and the key was egypt, persuading egypt to show it could deliver results from hamas and four days before the ceasefire came together, egypt finally showed they could get hamas to stop firing long-range rockets into tel aviv and that was such a red line with the israelis, such a hot button for them and when those rockets stopped, the u.s. side knew that hamas might deal and then it was time to start escalating the pressure on netanyahu and saying, you've done enough, you've got to pull back, it's time for peace. yamiche: jeff, i want to turn to you.
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andrea laid out the complicated nature of this. talk to me a little bit about how this gets more complicated when you think of wt's going on in the democratic party and shifting politics regarding the middle east? jeff: president biden saw that directly as he was traveling to michigan on tuesday, of course, promoting his domestic economic agenda, he was doing that in dearborn, michigan, a suburb of detroit, home of the largest arab-american population in the country. so there were protests preceding his trip and during his trip and it laid bare the challenges here. this is not something that president biden has ever wanted in his foreign policy menu of options. he knows the middle east is intractable. there's very little a u.s. present can do. certainly his presidency up until now has been focused on domestic concerns but this was,
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indeed, the first foreign policy crisis of his administration and it is that experience, the long experience andrea was talking about as chairman of the foreign relations committee, as vice president, that guided him through this and it could have gone either way and can go either way. the ceasefire is holding at this hour and there is reason to think it will going forward but the president does not want the middle east to dominate his foreign policy agenda. he's focused on china and russia and everything here at home but this is all happening as he's about to step on to the world stage, traveling next month for the first time as president, overseas, to meet with world leaders at nato, g-7 and likely summit with vladimir putin so he was eager to get this behind him, on the back burner. it did take that quiet, intense diplomacy, as he's calling it, the beginning of the biden doctrine. we'll see how much credit he deseres for bringing this ceasefire because really both sides had done a lot and there
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would have been a lot of retribution from around the world if prime minister netanyahu had launched a ground invasion and hamas had struck many targets. so he was really joining a process already in play but it would not have happened without him and the intervention of egypt, as well. you can see this is one reason he was elected -- the experience he brings to this and the confidence he dealt with this, talking with netanyahu six times over 11 days, was extraordinary. yamiche: and jeff is talking about this being a test. asma, there's the biden doctrine, this being his first test. what does your reporting tell you about the ability of progressive democrats in particular to nudge the president with his views on the middle east? asma: i agree with a lot of what jeff was saying. i think the challenge for joe biden, though, at this point, is that progresses tell -- progressives tell me that the situation on the ground
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domestically has changed. they're dealing with benjamin netanyahu who has embraced the american right and they've embraced him back. then also there is a growing power in racial justice movements in the u.s. within the democratic party. one the things i discovered is that some of these alliances were formed on the ground in ferguson, missouri, in florida, after trayvon martin was killed where you had black and palestinian activists joining forces and delegations that palestinians hav to organize one of the co-founders of the black lives matter movement to israel to see how palestinians were living and you've seen the younger wing of the party be more vocal. former deputy national security adviser mentioned to me this week, that there was never this type of vocal, outspoken protests that they had from the left when it comes to the
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israeli-palestinian conflict as we've seen this week. yamiche: rachel, what asma mentioned, the meshing of racial justice and the palestinian cause. i want to talk to you a little bit about how this is playing out on capitol hill? rachel: and congressman rashida tlaib, eight minutes she was talking to the president on a tarmac, hands out, it seemed tense. i was talking to an aide in her office and it was confrontational. she pressed the president on this issue and she feels the white house needs to do more and do more sooner. this is personal for her. when we talk about the change in politics and the progressive wing, i don't think we've ever seen so manyrogressive lawmakers on the house floor speaking out, sharing the stories and pressing the president directly in front of cameras for that long, pressuring president joe biden. clearly, i think there was a little bit of wiggle room here. i think they pushed him to speak out more about the rights of
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palestinians and what they're going through. we saw that in some of his statements this week, as well. but the question is for progressives, is he going far enough on it? yamiche: andrea, the president of south korea was at the white house today. jeff talked about the middle east issue upending the politics that president biden -- the priorities he had. tell me a little bit about what's going on here and what you see as this is playing out? andrea: the fact that he kept it focused today on china, on north korea, the mutual threat and also reasserting the alliance with south korea and japan has been so important. the only previous leader who came before the south korean visit was the japanese prime minister so this is another instance, as the middle east was, where this is so different from the trump foreign policy agenda because first of all the discipline -- you saw over all these 10, 11 days, on the middle east, that the president never
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broke secrecy, ner answered drive-by questions. he stiffed reporters day after day. yamiche: we tried. andrea: i know. and again on north korea, there will be no love letters between joe biden and kim jong un, none of those beautiful letters or overt threats back and forth and rollercoaster of emoonal personal diplomacy. he wants some commitments before they meet. but he is willing to meet but he wants denuclearization which was the same goal as the trump white house but it won't be as personalized. it will be more substantive and this was reassuring to south korea. very important meeting today where president trump, in his first meeting in singapore where i covered that summit with kim jong-un, agreed without telling his defense secretary, jim mattis, that he was going to cancel the joint military exercises with the u.s. and
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south korea, a bedrock of preparation and readiness and signals to the north and to do that unilaterally without telling his advisers, his cabinet secretaries, was pretty startling and they still have not been resumed. they've been table-top exercises. so this was basically getting back to the substance of what you could call a normal u.s. foreign policy. yamiche: incredible times when you think of the trump years. meanwhile on capitol hill, the house voted to approve creating a commission to investigate the insurrectionn january 6. democratic representative tim ryan of ohio slammed republicans for not supporting it. >> we have people scaling the capitol, hitting the capitol police with lead pipes across the head and we can't get bipartisanship! what else has to happen in this country? cops! this is a slap in the face to every rank-and-file cop in the united states.
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if we're going to take onhina, if we're going to rebuild the country, if we're going to reverse climate change, we need two political parties in this country that are both living in reality and you ain't one of them. yamiche: in the end, 35 republicans defied g.o.p. leaders and joined democrats in voting for it. the bill now heads to the senate where its fate is unclear. senate minority leader mitch mcconnell has said he will ipose oppose the legislation. allies of former president trump are seeking vote audits in swing states. republican states are trying to relitigate the 2020 election based on the false claim that there was widespread voter fraud. rachel, how likely is it this commission comes together and if not approved, what will democrats and republicans do? rachel: i don't think it really stands a chance at this point in its current form in the senate. we were on capitol hill talking to all of the republican
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senators, namely the ones who voted to convict former president donald trump in the second impeachment trial. i can tell you a handful -- senator romney, susan collins -- seemed to have a willingness towards a commission. but the bottom line is there's not 10 votes in the senate to do this, republican votes. that's what the democrats would need to get this through. that was my question to nancy pelosi this week, how long are you willing to wait before you move on this on your own a before democrats in the house form a select committee on their own? she wouldn't give a timeline to that but she did warn that either way, democrats are going to investigate this. there's a real fear on capitol hill among lawmakers right now that this is going to happen again and for republicans, sources that i have been talking to in the party, a t of them just really fear this was going to hang over the midterm elections, even though the commission would vended by the end of the year, they thought it
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would drip, drip, on and on, and continue to hang over the critical midterm elections at a time when trump is still a central part of the party. yamiche: republicans i have been talking to are worried about the implications if there are testimonies about january 6. asma, what's the white house's view of all of this? how are they going to handle this? how will they deal with this when you think of midterms coming up in 2022? asma: the white house and president biden has said he would like there to be a bipartisan commission. at this point, as rachel said, that doesn't seem likely, which i think is fascinating given that it's modeled off of the 9/11 commission, a bipartisan group. this speaks to the fact that the 9/11 commission was based off of an attack by outsiders. this was an attack committed by those within the united states and there doesn't seem to be consensus about how to deal with this. i think some of this is about certainly senators wantingo
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shift the conversation to other issues like the economy. but part of this to me has always been the fact that donald ump, in the 2016lection, was not an isolated force. i've said he tapped into the pre-existing condition in the country and there are certainly reblicans, particularly in the house, who feel it is a liability to openly essentially disagree with the former president. yamiche:jeff, former president trump has so much influence over the g.o.p. but ts week the new york attorney general announced she's teaming up with the manhattan district attorney for a criminal investigation into the trump organization. i wonder what the legal jeopardy that could be caused for former president trump and how does this connect with the commission and the g.o.p. sticking with president trump? jeff: it shows how fragile the republican party's decision to embrace the former president is. as he begins to make his way from mar a lago, where he's been
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the last five months, up to bedminster, new jersey, to spend summer and early fall, he will be in the shadow of this investigation in new york by the manhattan district attorney, as well as the new york attorney general. we do not know if they're going to bring criminal charges but the sense that they said out loud that they are pursuing that investigation opens that possibility. it could be a variety of things. we know that a tax fraud is one possibility. also making false statements is a possibility. if you think about the trump organization, it is a very small family-run organization and nothing gets under the former president's skin more than someone looking into his finances, his personal finances or his family's finances. all of this is coming, is really a risky bet for house republicans, particularly kevin mccarthy, to throw all the chips in with the former president here because we do not know his standing at the end of this. but one thing that is interesting, we'll have to watch how it plays out. the republican base is still
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very energized around the idea of the election fraud which has not been proven. in fact, there are no examples of widespread election fraud that would have impacted the election, yet audits are going on in arizona and other places. some republicans say this is keeping the base energized but the reality is, by not moving on from the former president, they've invited him to the table for 2022. mitch mcconnell has made the decision to not go after, not support this commission, not because of president trump, per se, but because he's focused on trying to win the senate majority and doesn't want this hanging over him but it is very risky and republicans who are so concerned about what happened on that day are uneasy about not doing the simple step of simply investigating it but president trump is still directing this party.
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yamiche: jeff said president trump is still at the table. i think he's probably at the head of that table. talk to me about how the g.o.p. both, of course, wants to put the 2020 election behind them but also wants to relitigate the 2020 election? how is that complicating this? and what does it say about our democracy and the dangers this might have? andrea: it's frightening in terms of the democracy because never before has a president of the united states not concede an elecon. we have a gracefu concession from al gore when there were 500 and some votes deciding that election in florida and it took the supreme court, and conceding it. you had to, it was a supreme court decision. but in this case, it wasn't even close. so for him not to concede, it definitely hampered the transition on a lot of major issues -- defense, intelligence, covid preparations, vaccine distribution. there were real issues and now we see vacancies, not having
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ambassadors in key places like israel. a lot of things would have happened more quickly if there had been a normal transition between the two parties. but the fundamental undermining of the democracy is so disturbing and especially after january 6. rachel was there, experienced it. i have colleagues who were in the gallery on their hands and knees with the people who were being threatened and for the house members, more threatened than the senate members, actually, with the effort to get into the chamber -- to be denying the reality of it and see what's going on in arizona where you now the secretary of state in arizona has said none of their voting machines can be used in the 2022 election because the chain of custody has been broken because this ninja group has -- yamiche: cyber ninjas. andy: cyber ninjas have the voting machines so they can't
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prove they've not been tampered with and that's mirrored in legislature after legislature. it's a complete denial of the process of democracy. yamiche: before we go, i want to discuss this week's moving testimony from the oldest living survivor of the 1921 tulsa race massacre. a white mob attacked black americans in tulsa, oklahoma, known as black wall street. the attackers left hundreds of black families dead, homeless, fighting for survival. viola fletcher, 107 years old, came to d.c. to push for reparations and justice. here's what she said. >> i'm asking that my country acknowledge what has been happening to me, the tremors and the pain, the loss, for 70 years, the city of tulsa and chamber of commerce told us that the massacre didn't happen.
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like we didn't see it with our own eyes. no one cared about us for almost 100 years. we and our history have been forgotten, washed away. this congress must recognize us and our history. yamiche: rachel, you were in tulsa last year for juneteenth. what's the impact, do you think, going to be of these efforts? rachel: listen, i think that the conversation on reparations has taken a major step forward. it's been introduced in every session of congress since 1989. for the first time it's made it out of the committee. it's a question of whether or not it can get through congress. but when we hear from someone like viola, it was just last year that the tulsa race massacre made it into the history books in oklahoma. it is considered the single worst incident of racial violence in american history. when i was on the ground, you could hear the pain and you could hear people learning about it for the first time. so i think the conversation has moved a little bit further but
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you still have republicans, even senate minority leader mitch mcconnell, he says he does not believe there should be reparations for the sins of something that happened hundreds of years ago but you have the living history of it, you're looking at her, hearing her, seeing her, and that impassioned plea to not forget what happened. i think it's a notable movement. it was her first time in washington, d.c., she said. the question is can democrats get republicans on board to actually do something about this. yamiche: her brother came with her and i wonder what you think the impact of ignoring the long history? rachel: that's what struck me the mt. the history was silenced for so long because of the violence. if you ske out, you were killed. this? this in itself, having the living survivors on capitol hill speaking their truth is an extraordinary moment.
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yamiche: we have to leave it there. it's so powerful to see viola. thanks so much to asma, jeff, andrea and rachel, for the insights. thank you for joining us. make sure you join us for the "washington week extra." catch it live 8:30 eastern on youtube, facebook and our website. i'm yamiche alcindor. i appreciate you for watching. good night from washington. [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit]
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