tv Washington Week PBS January 28, 2022 7:30pm-8:01pm PST
yamiche: president biden gets a supreme court pick. president biden: the person i will nominate will be the first black woman ever nominated to the united states supreme cou. yamiche: justice steven breyer announces his retirement. and president biden vows his replacement will make history. >> i'm going to give the president nominee whoever that may be a fair look. yamiche: setting the stage for a senate debate ahead of the midterms. plus -- >> we're acting with equal focus and force to bolster ukraine's defenses and prepare a swift united response to further russian aggression. miche: tensions over russia and ukraine intensify. next. announcer: this is "washington week." corporate funding is provided b.
additional funding is provided by the estate of arnold adams, koo and patricia yuen through the yuen foundation committed to bridging cultural differences in our communities, sardinha and carl delay-magnuson, rose hirschel and andy shreeves. robert and sues be rosen palm. 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 "washiton week." president biden was busy this week with two major issues, the supreme court and the possible invasion by russia of ukraine. now, on thursday, the first -- for the first issue, justice steven breyer announced the end -- that he would have retired at the end of the supreme court term.
with breyer leaving the ideological balance of the court will not change. but this does give president biden a chance to make history and energize the democratic base. as a candidate president biden pledged to nominate a black woman to the bench. the promise came with the strong urging of a key political ally of the president, south carolina democrat jim clyburn. >> one of the real yurnd current throughout the black -- undercurrent throughout the black community was no black woman had ever been seriously considered for the united states supreme court. yamiche: on thursday, president biden stood by his word. president den: the person i will nominate will be someone with extraordinary qualifications, character, experience, and integrity. and that person will be the first black woman ever nominated to the united states supreme court. yamiche: joining me to discuss what comes next nancy cordes,
chief white house correspondent for cbs news. ayesha rascoe white house kotb correspondent for n.p.r. and ariane de vogue, supreme court reporter for cnn. thank you for all of you being here. ariane you're at the supreme court and i have to start with you. talk about what went into justice breyer deciding to retire at this moment and also talk a little bit about his legacy and what he leaves behind as he prepares to retire. ariane: justice brie senior an optimist and a pragmatist and also a steadfast liberal. if you look at his legacy you got to look at his cases, what he cared about. he cared a lot in recent years about the death penalty. he thought that that should be revisited. he thought it was being applied arbitrarily. he wanted the court to take a look at the constitutionality again. that will be left on the table. because liberals didn't join him on that effort. he also wrote big opinions on abortion over the years.
and this term he was really unhappy when the supreme court let that texas law thatans abortion before most women even know they're pregnant to go into effect. he was always a big supporter of the affordable care act and one of the cases that i remembered the most because he read a dissent from the bench, it was when the court blocked effort by some school districts to desegregate and he said -- he said that that was a betrayal of brown v board of education. now, of course, there were some liberals who were pressuring him to step down. they saw what happened to ruth bader ginsburg when she died and her seat went to a conservative. and some really wanted him to step down last term. but he had decided to stay. and that's probably because he thought that he might be able to contribute to the conversation this term. but boy, when you saw what the court did with that texas case, when they blocked president biden's attempt to get more people vaccinated, he was really firmly in dissent. but most of all, his legacy, and
he talked abou this a lot this last year, and always brought this up in speeches. is he cared a lot about the institution of the court. he would say over and over again, that the justice aren't junior varsity politicians. that they're divided by the ideological, philosophies, he saw that while a lot of progressives have been saying that they wanted to change the court and maybe change the composition, he wanted the court to stay the same. he cared about its institutional independence. and more than anything else, he cared aboutivility, his colleagues really like him. and that's -- those -- those are the big pars of -- parts of his legacy. >> -- yamiche: a big legacy he will be leaving. i who are the lding contenders to row place him? talk specifically about the specific judge that jim clyburn is pushing for. >> right. well, as you said, this isn't going to change the balance of the court. it's going to be 6-3 but there is going to be a younger maybe a more liberal candidate who takes
his place. on the top of the -- before we get to clyburn's pick on the top of the list is of course ketanji brown jackson. she is 51 years old and important for a lot of reasons. one, she is the former breyer clerk and has this glittering resume but she was just confirmed for a lower court position. that's important. especially if they're going to want to go quickly here. another one on the list, leeondra kruger. she sits on the california supreme court. she worked in the obama administration during the -- in the d.o.j. and talk to anybody there and they think she's brilliant. she could go toe-to-toe with any conservative. now to representative clyburn that's a different kind of name being put forward because it happens every time the president has these allies. they want him to consider their choices. and that's michelle childs. she is a south carolina judge. she's actually right now up for appeals court seat. she will be interesting to
watch. and then two more people on the list, i don't think either one of these would actually make it to a confirmation. but they're there for an important reason. and that's sherrilynifill and anita earls and they're giants in the area of civil rights. president biden cares a lot about that and changed the type of nominees he's put on the lower courts and he wants these to be high on the list as well. yamiche: and nancy, i want to come to you. you've covered and i have to get this right last four supreme court justice. last four nominations. talk a little bit about what the time line might look like here and even though democrats have that 50-50 split with the vice president being able to vote and break the tie there, what could republican do to slow this down? nancy: well, there are a lot of things that they can do to slow it down in a 50-50 senate. and actually yamiche there are a lot of things that could happen to slow things down even if republicans don't do anything. i mean, that's the problem when you got an evenly split senate
like this. if just one democratic senator is sick and can't vote. there are all kinds of things that could happen that would suddenly mean the democrats don't have the votes they need if all republicans decide to vote no. and that's why you have a lot of democrats right now saying let's move fast. on one hand, justice breyer has already said he wants to stay until the end of this term. that's six months away. you might say, well, they have time here to move slowly to go very deliberately. but democrats are concerned that anything could happen. just recently, we got an example when one senator got covid. tested positive. and a vote that they were hoping to have end up having to be delayed. so there are democrats who are urging the white house not to wait a month to name the president's pick. they would like to see a name come up even sooner than that. and then they want to move quickly to go through the
confirmation process, have this jurist come and meet with senators on capitol hill, hold confirmation hearings, and right now, they believe that they could even hold a final vote to confirm this nominee even before justice breyer steps down at the end of the term. they say that they've looked at other cases of -- where this has happened in lower courts where someone could get confirmed say in february, march, april, may. and then be seated once breyer retires in june. yamiche: well, that could be quick and as you said, even someone being seated before breyer retires. at the end of the spree court term. obviously democrats are motivated to do that. i want to talk about this pledge that the president made. in history of the supreme court, 115 justices have served on the bench. but only seven of them were women of color. after the news broke, after -- after there were people of color
who are women, after the news broke, president biden said he would keep his promise to nominate a black woman. a number of black women in response to that, they talked about what the significance of that would mean to them. >> having a black woman represent the judiciary branch in the supreme court would be a fortification of my faith in democracy's capacity to heal itself even after all of these radical ruptures that we've been witnessing. >> it is hard to overstate just how important and powerful and inspiring a moment this is. yamiche: ayesha, i want to come to you. what are you hearing from civil rights leaders but also from the white house, from black women, about what this moment means to them? ayesha: well e. the historic nature of it is not lost on them. and i think that's why it was so important, especially now when biden has had a lot of issues as
we know and as has often been talked about with people feeling like he has not lived up to all of mispromises, especially particularly to the black community when it comes to voting rights, when it comes to policing, and other things of that nature, this gives president biden a chance to actually deliver and to say that i have -- that this is an historic moment. you will have a black woman on the supreme court. the vice president will likely preside over and be the tie-breaking vote. she is a black woman of black and asian descent. and so this linebacker historic. this is something that will go down in history books. and look, there has been some criticism from some people who have talked about well, oh, will this be an asterisk by this person's name because he has stated so clearly that this will be a black woman? but, you know, i have to remind everyone, look, for many, many years, every person on the -- on
the supreme court was a white male. was that affirmative action? like there were years where you could not be anything but a white male and get on the supreme court. and so that context has to be there. and in all these years to just now be getting a black woman, you know, in some ways, it is absolutely historic. and amazing. but it's -- there's some sadness there. yamiche: and ayesha, the context that you bring i think is so important. briefly, i want to also talk about the fact that the biden administration officials they also talk about that he's already nominated a bunch of people to the federal judges and that they've been very diverse. what are you hearing? ayesha: yeah. that is one of the arguments that they make when people bring up the fact that voting rights hasn't gotten done and these other things haven't gotten done. they point out the fact that they have appointed an historic number of people of color to the federal bench. and that that this is one of the ways that they are delivering on their promises for equity and
for getting diversity and these are very important appointments as we see over and over again. these are lifetime appointments that have a huge impact on the policies that are carried out by the government because of the decisions that courts make. yamiche: and ariane, ayesha is talking about the huge impact that these nominees, these justices make, talk about sort of the issues that are at hand for the supreme court. you talked so much -- so eloquently and so smartly about justices breyer's background but the modern day future and the future of the court what they'll have in front of them? ariane: right. that's why i think this issue of timing is so interesting and usually the process is two to three months and that changed with justice amy coney barrett. the republicans pushed that through in just over 30 days, i think it was. so now saz nancy said, the democrats want to move quickly but they don't want to move too quickly because they don't want to miss this moment.
and the reason that is is because a, this is so historic, the first african-american woman on the court, that's going to reverberate obviously with young lawyers, young children, and keep in mind you could -- justice kagan, justice sotomayor, often talk about how it was to see sardinha day o'connor on the bench and ruth bader ginsburg. that means a lot. but this is a moment for another reason, too and that's because the supreme court right now as we said, they're discussing whether or not to overturn roe v. wade. they're discussing behind closed doors whether to expand gun rights. next year, it's affirmative action. all that is going to be playing out this spring at the same time that we have these confirmation hearings and that means the democrats are going to be -- be able to engage people that they don't -- may not usually be paying attention. they're going to see what happens at the supreme court. and these hearings are going to be going on at the same time. yamiche: well, thank you so much, ariane, for joining the
show tonight. and sharing your reporting. i want to now move on to the other of course big issue of the weekend it is the escalating tensions between russia and ukraine. on monday, the pentagon announced that 8,500 american troops have been placed on high alert for possible deployment to eastern europe. and just tonight, president biden said he would be moving troops to the area in quote the near term. the pentagon also confirmed for the first time publicly that russia has enough troops on the border to invade the entire country of ukraine. i want to also talk about the fact that the president is continuing to warn russia that there will be dire consequences if they invade ukraine. president biden: i made it clear to -- early on to president bute than if he were to move into -- president putin that if he were to move into ukraine there would be severe consequences including economic sanctions as well as -- i feel obliged to beef up nato's
presence in -- on the eastern front. yamiche: but republicans -- republican senator lindsay graham called for immediate action. >> what we're doing is not working. the bottom line, putin deserves to be sanctioned now. we're talking way too much. we're doing way too little. yamiche: but in an interview with nancy, nancy cordes, that it's here with us, democratic senator chris coons close ally of the president called for immediate action. >> we need to come together in a bipartisan way and pass a robust package of sanctions. that may include some sanctions that would be imposed now. yamiche: now, joining us again as she did last friday is vivian salama, subcommittee is a national security reporter for "the wall street journal" and joining us from ukraine, up early on her side of the world. vivian, thanks so much for being here. tell us what's the latest that you're hearing about what possible threat is of some sort of imminent danger. is there imminent danger? what are you hearing from your sources and national security
officials? vivian: well, yamiche, it depends who you ask. the u.s. has been hammering the fact that the danger is imminent, that president putin is moving closer to an invasion. the pentagon talked even about sort of the moving around of assets to indicate that this was more than just -- you know, a ploy or some sort of ablatio which a lot of folks -- a bluff which a lot of folks in the ukraine are suggesting. talking about moving medical units to the border and other things to suggest that they are going to move fairly soon. and so there was a phone call this week between presidents biden and ukrainian president zelensky where president biden warned him that this is really a going threat but president zelensky who we sat down with for a small press conference with foreign press, insisted that he knows his country better than anyone else and while he does believe that the threat is there, he does not think that
it's anything new from what they've been doing experieing with russia since the last time russia invaded ukraine about eight years ago. and so they continue to downplay the threat but not only that, they also are urging allies, especially the u.s., to stop going out there publicly and sort of placing this fear in people of an imminent attack because he said repeatedly in this press conference, it's going to have a negative impact on our economy here in ukraine, people are going to start to rush the banks. they're going to flee the country. and they don't want to see that. and so ukrainian government urging nato allies to say yes, we need to work together, we need your help. but we also need you to keep calm and tone it down. yamiche: and i want to go to nancy. nancy, you're hearing sort of vivian talk about sort of the discrepancy between the president's -- president zelensky and president biden. but i also -- i'm interested in the fact that president biden ie evolved on this issue as of course the dynamics have changed. what's your reporting revealed
here? nancy: i think that the message that he and other u.s. officials are trying to send is aimed at a different audience than zelensky. so the president and u.s. officials first of all are trying to sound the alarm around the world about the possibility of russian aggression and they're trying to keep nato together, keep their nato allies on their side, on the side of strong punishments for putin if he does invade. zelensky on the other hand as vivian pointed out, he's trying to keep his population calm. and he's trying to show his population that he's in charge. and so naturally u.s. officials tell us his language is going to be very different. he's going to argue that an tark isn't imnebt and -- isn't imminent and he's got everything under control and u.s. officials say they strongly disagree. they're very concerned that putin could invade any day now. he's got even more troops surrounding ukraine than he did a few weeks ago. they are now stationed on the border with belarus in addition to the border with russia.
and they're very concerned and they're not going to heed zelensky's pleas to back off of that argument. they continue to say that they believe an attack could happen at any time. yamiche: and vivian, of course, nancy was just talking about sort of russian troops. but there are of course american troops on high alert. what's your understanding of what it would take for those american troops to be deployed and for this to be a sort of military issue? vivian: it's hard to say, yamiche. because the president -- president biden has repeatedly said that he does not want to see boots on the ground in ukraine and that is largely the consensus among most nato allies. where they do believe that they have to reinforce european security, but whether or not they would rush to the aid of ukraine in the event of an invasion by russia in the form of military action remains to be seen. and these troops by the way are part of the posturing that we've been seeing over the last few years with regard to russia's complaints about nato and nato's
complaints about russia where -- it's sixly what comes first the -- it's essentially what comes first the chicken or the figure the russians blame nato for bringing troops into europe and a direct prove consolidation against russia and nato says vice versa that the russians continue their aggression. and so this is just ramping things up with the escalation that we've now seen along half of the ukrainian border. now nato allies are saying that they are going to have to ramp things up as well. and so what they're saying is they're putting these troops on readiness sort of any kind of state of emergency situation where if they need to move quickly, they will. whether they do or not remains to be seen, yamiche. and it really does not -- it does not seem likely that anything short of an invasion of kiev, the capital of ukraine, which most folks here believe is pretty farfetched. but with -- as nancy just mentioned there are soldiers in belarus about 120 kilometers
from kiev. that threat sort of went up a little bit. and so that -- the readiness of troops, you know, is really important just in case. yamiche: and ayesha, what are the politics at play when you talk to white house officials and what's going through president biden's mind as he is thinking about sort of not giving into pressure or the pressure that he's facing for things to try to sanction russia how does he sanction russia without also provoking president putin? ayesha: yeah. i think that's a part of the issue. and i actually asked white house president press secretary general psaki about this very issue this week and asked about these calls that they do sanctions now and not wait. she pointed out that there have been some individuals in russia that have been sanctioned but what she said was that the -- the threat of these massive sanctions including some like export controls where they would try to block certain exports, you know, technology exports to russia, that these -- that the
threat of the sanctions, they view, as the major deterrent. and so they feel like that at this point, that is enough. part of the issue is that if you do get into sanctions, you do get into this tit for tat. because experts say that russia will respond. they're not just going to take major sanctions on the chin and not do anything about it. they will respond. and so there is a concern about a spiraling effect that they want to avoid. it is interesting that the white house is still saying and secretary of defense lloyd austin said today that conflict is not inevitable. they're still trying to lean into diplomacy. you have the german chancellor coming to the white house next week. i'm sure this will be a major topic of discussion. and they're trierg to find a way out of this. -- trying to find a way out of this. yamiche: trying to find a way out of this. vivian, when you think about sort of what ayesha is just talking about there, president
biden said if russia invaded ukraine it would change the world. you also of course are coming back here and i know you're heading back to state side soon. talk a little bit about how this might change the world but also sert a little bit of the politics here. we have about 45 seconds left. but really if can you talk about the politics both domestically but also the politics globally. vivian: well, yamiche, a ground war in europe in 2022 is pretty unprecedented. and that's what everyone is afraid of that we could be entering a new phase and wars are not just convexal. they're not just boots. they're hybrid, cyber a. number of other things with technology. and so that's the main concern. but for president biden, the political implications are much larger. if president putin succeeds and is able to invade ukraine, the fear is that it opens the door to other actors, malign actors to continue their own campaigns, namely china and taiwan, but also many others. and so a lot of -- a lot of pressure on president biden to be able to put a stop to this. so that he can also send a
message to the rest of the world that this kind of action will not be tolerated. yamiche: that is as she said a lot of pressure on president biden. thank you so much, nancy. ayesha, vivian, i appreciate you coming on and sharing all of your reporting. i also -- we will be continuing our conversation on the -- on "washington week" extra and our facebook, ytube, and on our website. and i also on monday please watch "the pbs newshour," the show will be focusing on how climate change is changing the long tradition of outdoor ice skating. thank you again for joining me. i'm miche alcindor. good night from washington.
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