Washington Week full episode, May 20, 2022
05/20/2022 | 26m 45s | Video has closed captioning.
Washington Week full episode, May 20, 2022
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05/20/2022 | 26m 45s | Video has closed captioning.
Washington Week full episode, May 20, 2022
Problems Playing Video? | Closed Captioning
YAMICHE ALCINDOR, PBS MODERATOR: Tragedy in Buffalo.
And the midterm state of play.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He shot my mom once.
My mom was laying on the ground.
He went and reloaded.
And he shot my mom again.
ALCINDOR (voice-over): In Buffalo, Black men and women murdered at the hands of a racist alleged gunman.
Anguish for the lives lost as the country mourns yet another mass shooting.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What happened here is simple and straightforward.
ALCINDOR: But the path ahead for addressing gun violence and racist ideologies once again remains unclear.
Plus -- DR. MEHMET OZ (R), PENNSYLVANIA SENATE CANDIDATE: What else did you expect?
Everything about this campaign is (INAUDIBLE).
ALCINDOR: This week, midterm results show a neck and neck race in one of the country's pivotal battlegrounds, and spotlights the electability of election deniers.
(BREAK) ANNOUNCER: Once again from Washington, moderator Yamiche Alcindor.
ALCINDOR: Good evening and welcome to WASHINGTON WEEK.
In Buffalo, New York, an alleged gunman driven by white supremacist ideology opened fire at a supermarket.
He killed 10 people and injured three more.
Almost all of his victims were Black, targeted because of their race.
It was one of the deadliest racist massacres in recent American history.
The city and the country are mourning.
Here is Garnell Whitfield.
His mother, Ruth, was killed in the shooting.
GARNELL WHITFIELD, MOTHER KILLED IN SHOOTING: And you expect us to keep doing this over and over and over again, over again, forgive and forget, while the people we elect and trust in offices around this country do their best not to protect us.
Not to consider us equal.
Not to love us back.
ALCINDOR: So moving.
On Tuesday, President Biden traveled to Buffalo to grieve with the community.
BIDEN: Jill and I bring you this message from deep in our nation's soul.
In America, evil will not win, I promise you.
Hate will not prevail, and white supremacy will not have the last word.
ALCINDOR: Well, the president acknowledged his limitations, saying there is little executive action left to pursue on guns.
Meanwhile, the House passed a bill to tackle domestic terrorism.
But the bill's future in the Senate is unclear.
Joining me tonight to discuss this and more, Toluse Olorunnipa.
He is a political enterprise and investigations reporter for "The Washington Post."
Robert Samuels, national political enterprise reporter for "The Washington Post".
Together, Robert and Toluse are the co-authors of a new incredible book, "His Name is George Floyd: One Man's Life in the Struggle for Racial Justice".
And joining us also, Kelsey Snell, congressional correspondent for NPR.
Thank you all of you for being here.
I want to start with you, Robert.
You have, of course, reported across this country so many now are traumatized by this recent shooting in Buffalo.
The alleged gunman wrote something like an -- 180-page racist rant, some are calling it a manifesto, saying that he was going to target Black people.
He also live streamed this shooting.
Given your reporting, what you did for the book, but also, of course, what you've been doing at "The Washington Post", how did this really connect to the sort of issues that we've been facing when it comes to racism in this country for so many years?
ROBERT SAMUELS, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, when we see what happened in Buffalo, we see again the pernicious and insidious force of racism in this country and how it operates.
Now, what we know about the shooter is that he was concerned about being replaced as a white man.
Where does that come from?
Well, it comes from this fear that if people of color start to become the majority in this country, that something could go wrong.
It comes from a lack of understanding and a lack of empathy for people in this country who are trying.
And that is what's truly fearful, that's what's truly upsetting about it and when you hear the mourning of a person who's been victimized, of the family who is looking at one less seat at the table, saying what more can be done?
We're tired of this happening.
That is the cry that's happening with many people of color across the country as we try to figure out how it is possible to stamp out white supremacy.
ALCINDOR: And Toluse, what Robert was just talking about is really this racist conspiracy theory is called the replacement theory, and it's essentially a false claim that there is this movement afoot attempting to replace white people with non-white people through interracial marriage or through immigration.
What's the significance of the fact that this shooter is talking about replacement theory in the political atmosphere that we're living in, given the fact that there are some critics who say conservatives have lean need this conspiracy theory?
TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yeah.
This conspiracy theory has been around for quite a while but we've seen it really gain steam, especially over the last two years.
We've seen it gain steam in the aftermath of the George Floyd protest and one of the things we cover in our book, Robert and I, is what happened immediately after George Floyd died, which there was this great coming together across the political spectrum of people essentially saying that that was wrong and that we need to stamp out white supremacy, we need to stamp out racism, we need to stamp out institutional racism and - - in the police forces but we saw the backlash.
And that is something that we are seeing in our politics.
We're seeing how people who campaigned on issues like banning critical race theory were able to control their political fortunes and find themselves in power as a result of focusing on those issues, focusing on the backlash and focusing on the grievances that are out there.
And we've seen people try to cash in on that.
And the outcome of that is somebody who's disturbed, somebody who finds that community online, somebody who has hate in their heart is able to pick up a gun and go kill real people in a real-life incident that was a tragedy.
And, you know, politicians and people in the media that are flaming these tensions and essentially trying to either ride them into power or ride them into wealth, they have to live with the fact that real people are hurting as a result of what a real person did and how real people are no longer alive as a result of it.
So, it's not just a theory.
It's not just something that people can talk about as a political strategy.
This is something that can be very dangerous and that is something that I think the Biden administration and folks in power are now grappling with.
This isn't something that we can ignore anymore.
It's become a real force.
ALCINDOR: And it is real consequences that lawmakers are trying to grapple with, Kelsey, as you -- as we think about sort of the movement and non-movement in Congress.
You said that there really isn't a lot being done right now when it comes to hate crime legislation or gun reform.
But I still want to ask you, what plan do Democrats in particular since they are the ones really talk about passing issues and legislation on these issues, what plan do Democrats have in place or what strategies are they talking about not only to get things passed but also to get on the same page?
Because the party isn't on the same page.
KELSEY SNELL, CONGRESSIONAL CORRESONDENT, NPR: right.
The lack of a plan is the theme of this week.
And I thought it was very interesting that we saw the House move and -- this anti-terrorism bill because it is in some ways the thing that they feel they can do because like you said, there isn't unanimity among Democrats about how to address gun control in particular.
You know, we hear particularly from Senator Joe Manchin from West Virginia and I feel like we say this all the time when we talk about the dynamics of Congress right now but he is opposed to many of the measures that other Democrats support.
He does not support many of the background check and large magazine bans that a lot of other Democrats do support.
He's returning to this Manchin-Toomey bill that he worked out with Republican Senator Pat Toomey that is fairly narrow but actually really didn't get very far in the Senate.
It is another moment where Democrats are responding to a base of voters who are calling for action, who are calling for swift action and are having to respond that they simply do not have the votes within their caucus in Congress to respond to the demands of their own party.
ALCINDOR: And, Kelsey, sticking with you, you said the idea of the lack of a plan being the theme here, what are lawmakers saying about the role that President Biden and the White House can play in sort of reacting to what we saw this week and what we saw over the last few years?
This is another situation where they talk about the president as a uniter in chief and as -- his role being to speak to the country.
But there are very clear limits on what can be done through executive action.
We heard the president himself talk about that.
So there -- this is a situation where Congress would have to be the place where action happens, and that is not the place where action is happening.
ALCINDOR: And Toluse, I want to come to you.
President Biden, he referred to the Buffalo massacre as terrorism on Tuesday.
And he also -- you had other prominent figures sort of mimicking that language and echoing that language.
But there is no federal statute here.
So you've talked to President Biden all -- about racism particularly for the book.
I wonder what your takeaways are on the way that the president is speaking about this but also overall his vision of what to do next?
There are a couple of things that Biden could have done when he went up to Buffalo to console the family members and to talk about solutions.
He could have spent time talking about gun control and that was part of the speech.
But one that you really wanted to do was talk about this very issue that allowed -- that caused him to get into the presidential race in 2020.
And he told Robert and I about that, about how he thought he had hung up his political hat for the last time when he left the White House.
But then he saw people marching in Charlottesville and decided that he had to get back into the race.
He had to do something to heal the soul of the nation.
And that's what we heard in his speech.
That's what we heard when we spoke to him and even months ago back at the end of last year.
He said a similar message to what he said in Buffalo which is that hate doesn't go away in this country.
This original sin of hatred in this country continues to be part of our fabric and continues to be something that we grapple with.
But he wants the better angels of our nature to win out and that is his message that this ongoing struggle between light and darkness, between love and hatred, continues.
But we have to continue to fight and make sure that hate doesn't win in the end.
That white supremacy doesn't win in the end.
And it was a powerful and moving speech, Biden tends to be at his best when he's consoling and talking about these issues that he actually feels.
He feels deeply, issues that he has talked about for quite a long time and is part of his political record.
So I do think that it's something that he's going to take into the midterms and going to take this message pretty deep into the rest of the year because he feels that -- it powerfully and something that he can talk about eloquently.
But at the same time, you know, eloquence, talking and speeches are one thing.
And policy, like Kelsey said, the -- a very different thing and there does not seem to be much policy making whether it's on guns, whether it's on racism, whether it's on institutional issues that need to be addressed, and that is what makes it difficult.
These powerful speeches and consolations from Biden can get you so far.
But a lot of people are looking for solutions and it's hard in a 50-50 Senate where Democrats aren't always united on exactly what needs to be done and you need 100 percent unity, it's hard to get things done and that's one of the areas where it's going to be difficult for that message to get across because people want to know exactly what has been done and what's going to be done and it's hard to deliver on that in the current political environment in which we live.
ALCINDOR: Hard to deliver.
Kelsey, I want to come back to you.
We should also mention that there was a shooting in Laguna Woods, California, authorities say that the man there shot up a church of Taiwanese American church targeting those people because they -- of his hatred for Taiwanese people.
When you have these things happening together, again, I know that we've had the theme where there is no plan but I just wonder when you have these things happening, does the conversation change among lawmakers?
Are you seeing sort of any sort of wiggle room here?
SNELL: Well, you know, I think we hear from a lot of same lawmakers who are as frustrated as their own voters.
Democrats who really do feel that this needs to be addressed.
You know, I'm hearing from lawmakers who say they've introduced bills over and over on hate crimes, who feel that they are trying to push the party forward and are not having success.
You know, I think it's really interesting Toluse mentioned about bringing this into the midterms.
And we keep hearing that from Democrats.
We keep hearing that they're going to use the condition of the country and the things that we're watching play out every day as a way to convince voters that what needs to happen is that more Democrats need to be elected.
That they need to have larger majorities in the house and the Senate in order to actually pass the things that they promised the last election and the election before that.
And it's really a difficult sell for people who have been waiting for Democrats to deliver regardless of the reality of math, people look for results.
They want to see something come of their vote and it's very difficult for Democrats to be in that moment right now where they are not able to point to a lot of successes where they followed through on the promises that they made.
You know, because of the dynamics of the Congress.
ALCINDOR: That's a tough dynamic there.
Robert, I want to come to you before we start talking about the midterms because obviously this is the week that -- the book that we're going to talk about in the extra but two years since George Floyd was murdered, we can say now, because there was an officer who was convicted of murdering him.
When you look at the last two years, what did your report, how does your reporting connect to sort of where we find ourselves today as a country?
Again, we'll get to the midterms but just a couple of seconds before we turn to that subject.
SAMUELS: Well, I think about the conversations that I had with Reverend Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.
And Reverend Sharpton told me there's Newton law to the civil rights, that for every action there is an equal reaction.
And sometimes it's a deadly reaction.
It's hard to believe that two years ago, the books that everyone thought we should be reading to understand systemic racism are the same books that are trying to be banned in 2022.
It's hard to believe that when you saw momentum on the state and local levels about banning no knock warrants and banning chokeholds that there still hasn't been anything done on the federal level.
So the question that we have to posit, I think, if we are serious about confronting the idea of racism and making lives better for not just the family of George Floyd but those who are lost in Buffalo and those who live with the systemic impact of racist policies in the United States, if we cannot do that, what can we do?
What can we hope for?
And I think that's one of the questions that people continually ask how can we continue to be hopeful when we see all of this happening?
Now, a lot of people believe that the long arc bends toward justice.
And that gives people hope and sometimes it's unfortunate that that American hope can feel more like a defense mechanism than an actual product of what we're seeing in America.
Those are all key issues that are also on people's minds.
They're going to the polls so we have to talk about the midterms because directly connected to what Robert was just talking about.
This week, critical primary elections played out in key battleground states.
North Carolina and Pennsylvania and the Tar Heel State of North Carolina, candidates endorsed by former President Trump had mixed results.
And in Pennsylvania, there's a matchup that could alter the balance of the U.S. Senate.
For Republicans, the race between Mehmet Oz and hedge fund giant David McCormick is too close to call.
The winner will take on Democratic challenger John Fetterman and Republican candidate for Governor Doug Mastriano easily won his bid.
He has openly questioned the outcome of the 2020 election and if he wins, he would play an important role in certifying Pennsylvania's 2024 presidential election results.
All of this, of course, setting up the stage for what is going to be pivotal races to come next week.
So, Kelsey, I want to come back to you.
This was, of course, a wild week in midterms.
We saw, of course, and Doug Mastriano win the GOP nomination to be governor.
What does it say that someone who is questioning the legitimacy of American democracy can win both for that race but also for the GOP and the future of this country?
SNELL: Well, I think it speaks to the dumps between the -- well, the potential difference between electability in a primary and electability in a general election.
The thing that can win over a majority of voters in a single party has in the past been a liability in some cases -- when it comes to a general election and that is what Democrats are banking on.
They're banking on the fact that voters will reject candidates like this when it comes to a question of the whole electorate and not a choice within a party.
But then as you said, what does this say about the Republican Party right now?
Well, it says a lot about who is willing to show up in the Republican Party to vote, and I think that's something that Republicans have struggled with, and I think it's an identity question that, you know, I talked to kind of old school Republicans, people who have been around for a long time.
And they don't have an answer about who - - how to address that.
They don't know really what to say about who their party is right now.
And you know, the question that we'll be watching in this midterm election is how the total electorate feels about that.
How does the majority of the population in a state really feel about the politics of the Republican Party embracing right now?
ALCINDOR: And Toluse, in that - - in that Senate race, we have now former President Trump pushing Dr. Oz, the celebrity heart surgeon, to declare victory when it's clear he has not won.
We covered, of course, former President Trump together.
I wonder what you make of the fact that he is continuing to really push people to do things that are unprecedented when it comes to our elections and continuing to have a really heavy hand in the GOP?
OLORUNNIPA: Yamiche, I think this is a trial run for the former president.
He is seeing 2022 and already starting to make a playbook for 2024.
And when there is a close election like we have in Pennsylvania where it's too close to call, it's literally too close to be able to determine the winner at this point, former President Trump is essentially saying that Dr. Oz, that the candidate there, because he was ahead at the end of election night, should just declare victory and allow the chips to fall where they may.
It seems like that's something that obviously he tried to do in 2020 when he ended up losing that race even though he was ahead, quote/unquote, on election night because other ballots had not been counted.
But it's an attack on the Democratic system and the ideal which says that everyone's vote should be counted even if the votes are still being processed after the election night.
Sometimes it takes a little bit longer than a couple of hours to determine a winner.
And in close elections, the history of the country is to count every vote.
But former President Trump is really attacking that history and he's bringing a lot of Republicans and a lot of heft behind that because all these Republicans are competing for his endorsement.
In order to compete for his endorsement they have to essentially line up behind the big lie, attack the integrity of our elections and say that whatever the former president says about elections is right, and it's not right to try to basically say that we shouldn't count all the votes.
There are people overseas that have to vote, whose votes don't get counted sometimes until after the vote is -- until after the day -- the day or the week after the election.
So -- ALCINDOR: Yeah.
It takes a while to get people's votes, the counted and to get people to be able to -- to be able to cast their ballot.
And it's not a quick process.
Robert, I want to come to you because Democrats also saw John Fetterman win and he was in the hospital when he won.
What's your sense, though, what of Fetterman's win means especially when you look at Democrats still trying to craft a message about the economy and trying to really get their ducks in a row for the rest of the midterms?
SAMUELS: Well, Fetterman looks like a different kind of Democrat.
You look at the person who is his chief opponent Conor Lamb who is a more mainstream person.
John Fetterman, 6'8", tough-looking dude, who believes in minimum wage and legalizing marijuana, takes the Democratic primary.
I think what that says is that people are looking for some sort of change that they want an idea of a candidate who speaks to them, who speaks for them, who is of the people, and doesn't fully compromise his type of politics is much more aggressive than the typical moderates that we have -- we have typically seen being pushed to run for Senate.
And so, this marks a pretty big sea change.
ALCINDOR: And, Kelsey, of course, there was also Madison Cawthorn, the representative from North Carolina who lost.
We saw a lot of different developments.
I'll let you get into the ones you think are important but what does that race tell you about the change that people want to see as Democrats?
Get their ducks in a row and Republicans outed a sitting congressman saying that he had lost their confidence?
SNELL: Well, you know, and so interesting, Madison Cawthorn race was that that was a situation where the Republican establishment went after one of their own.
We don't see that happen really at all right now.
And it was - - it certainly is an anomaly but it shows that there are ways that Republicans could organize themselves around getting members of their party out if they chose to do that.
And we haven't really seen a lot of that.
I think -- Robert touched on about Fetterman is really interesting because it goes back to that same electability question because so many Democrats had been picking, you know, that mainstream kind of guy that was kind of a predictable looking Democrat.
They thought it had to be a middle of the road guy to win in Pennsylvania.
That was wrong.
And I think it's causing a lot of Democrats to have questions about what -- you know, what voters want and who their party is.
So, it's - - it's a very -- it's a different struggle for Democrats in a lot of ways because it isn't so much about the identity and the future of how their party approaches major existential questions about democracy, but for Democrats, it is a really big question about who they are.
ALCINDOR: There are a lot of big questions and I want to give you 10 seconds to also just really quickly -- President Biden is in Asia and trying to talk about sort of international investments at home.
What's that tell you about what Democrats are trying to do again only about 20 seconds left but I want to let you weigh in on that because the president is making news there?
Kelsey, I think that Democrats want to make sure that they can shore up the supply chain and that they can communicate that they can control in economy which is not something that voters believe right now.
So that is a big part of what they're looking for.
And we're going to be covering the elections in Georgia where there's a lot going on there with the Brian Kemp race and Stacy Abrams and so many others.
But thank you so much for joining us.
Thank you, Kelsey, for joining us and sharing your reporting.
Toluse and Robert will stay with me for the "Washington Week" extra and we'll discuss it and we'll discuss their new book, "His Name is George Floyd: One Man's Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice".
Find it on our Facebook, YouTube, and on our website.
And tune in Saturday to the PBS "News Weekend" for a conversation with Dr. Ashish Jha on the state of the pandemic.
And, finally, my heart goes out to the families and loved ones impacted by the tragedies in Buffalo, New York, and Laguna Woods, California.
Just such sad news there.
So, thank you so much for joining us and good night from Washington.
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