Washington Week full episode, March 3, 2023
03/03/2023 | 24m 9s | Video has closed captioning.
Washington Week full episode, March 3, 2023
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03/03/2023 | 24m 9s | Video has closed captioning.
Washington Week full episode, March 3, 2023
Problems Playing Video? | Closed Captioning
GEOFF BENNETT: The 2024 presidential race takes shape.
JOE BIDEN, U.S. President: We created more jobs in two years than any presidential term in American history.
GEOFF BENNETT: President Biden touts his economic agenda.
REPORTER: When will you announce your re-election, sir?
JOE BIDEN: When I announce it.
GEOFF BENNETT: Still offering no clues about his expected announcement of a re-election bid.
Plus -- DONALD TRUMP, JR., Son of Donald Trump: This feels like MAGA country.
GEOFF BENNETT: -- dueling Republican events offer a preview of the parties divide -- GOV.
RON DESANTIS (R-FL): Woke left states are failing and freedom-focused states are succeeding.
GEOFF BENNETT: -- as contenders for the GOPús presidential nomination sharpen their messages and gear up for 2024, next.
Good evening and welcome to Washington Week.
I am Geoff Bennett.
The political jockeying of candidates vying to win the 2024 presidential election began in earnest this week as President Biden and high-profile Republicans made moves aimed at defining their campaign messages.
For his part, President Biden met with House and Senate Democrats, hoping to rally the party as he weighs when to announce his likely re-election bid.
On Wednesday, he touted the economic impact of their legislative victories.
JOE BIDEN: -- the deficit.
It is fiscally responsible.
But, we have got more to do.
GEOFF BENNETT: But for Republicans, two high-profile GOP events this week highlight the parties current divide and itús playing out among the announced and expected candidates for the 2024 presidential nominee.
The Conservative Political Action Conference, known CPAC, is underway in Maryland right now.
The event feature several Republicans tied to former President Donald Trump, including his son, Don Jr. DONALD TRUMP JR.: We need a president that is not owned by other people, right?
There is a reason that the billionaire class, even the billionaire conservative news class, wants someone other than Trump.
GEOFF BENNETT: The former president is set to deliver the keynote speech Saturday evening.
But in Florida, just three miles away from the former presidentús Mar-a-Lago home, the Club for Growth is hosting a small, exclusive GOP retreat that he was not invited to attend, but Trumpús top rival, Governor Ron DeSantis, was a featured speaker.
Other notable possible presidential candidates choosing the Club for Growth over CPAC include former Vice President Mike Pence and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott.
Joining us to talk about this and more are Carl Hulse, Chief Washington Correspondent for The New York Times, and here at the table, Seung Min Kim, White House Reporter for The Associated Press, and Michael Scherer, National Political Reporter for The Washington Post.
Welcome one and all.
So, as we mentioned, there has been a lot of jockeying this past week among the presidential hopefuls for 2024.
We are going to talk about the Republicans in a bit.
But letús start with the man who currently occupies the Oval Office.
President Biden has not yet announced his re-election bid.
It is widely expected.
The president is famously deliberative.
Seung Min, what is he waiting for?
Dr. Jill Biden told The Associated Press, your colleague, Darlene Superville, that itús already to go.
What is happening behind the scenes?
SEUNG MIN KIM, White House Reporter, The Associated Press: Right.
Well, whenever you talk to White House aides to Bidenús advisers, they always kind of pointed to the timeline that former President Barack Obama laid out in 2011, that is, he launched his re-election campaign in April.
So, they have always kind of hinted that April 2023 is when President Joe Biden would formally launch his reelection bid.
And, obviously, if you started April, that is the start of a fundraising quarter, they can have about three months of raising money, thatús good for the momentum of a campaign.
And as you said, Jill Biden told my colleague, Darlene Superville, that, basically, all that is left is a time and place and how you are going to announce this.
So, it looks like barring some major turn of events that he is preparing for a re-election bid.
I think it just kind of looks like he is taking his time because we see so much of the action on the Republican side to gearing up, but heús going to have some major concerns to overcome.
Obviously, he is going to face nominal Democratic primary challenges.
But you do see that his approval rating remains stubbornly low despite the Democratic Partyús relative successes in the midterms and also his administrationús legislative accomplishments.
And that kind of standing among voters is something that he is going to have to address.
He is going to have to go out there and sell his accomplishments much more, which was a big part of his message to both House and Senate Democrats this week.
GEOFF BENNETT: And, Michael, letús talk more about that.
I mean, how does the Biden team feel about his standing?
His approval rating right now stands at 44 percent, according to RealClearPolitics, yet the DNC has adopted his preferred primary calendar.
This White House is focused on implementing his historic legislative agenda.
They like to use that phrase a lot.
But the polling shows a lack of enthusiasm among Democrats, not because of his job approval but because of his age.
MICHAEL SCHERER, National Political Reporter, The Washington Post: I think that is right.
And the DNC has gone almost as far as they can to canceling the primary.
They said there is not going to be debates.
They have given no window for any challengers to come forward.
Theyúre not going to get any help.
Right now, if you talk to Bidenús advisers, they will tell you, yes, the poll numbers are real.
We see those poll numbers.
But those poll numbers are without a Republican opponent.
And what we know about the last few cycles is once you get a Republican opponent, Democrats tend to get pretty enthusiastic.
And I think there is some hope that a rather ugly Republican primary process, which is where we are headed, will lead independent voters who are now 40 percent approving of Bidenús job performance, to start thinking, well, maybe the boring old guy is not so bad after all.
And as they always say, and incumbent re-elects, this is a choice between two candidates.
And that is what they are depending on.
I do think, though -- I mean, I think the way to think about this is there is no Biden campaign yet.
We will probably get that in April.
But Biden has a campaign and he is running right now.
And what we have seen over the last few weeks, the trip to Europe, the speaking events here, the state of the union, is Biden traveling and delivering political messages over and over again showing, wait, he can do a stump speech.
We never saw this in 2020 because of COVID.
He was not out there on the trail.
Heús got to be out there.
It wonút be as rigorous as we are used to in some other cycles.
But they are trying to show him alive, moving, you know, hammering the old Democratic talking points, because, honestly, that is the way to deal with the age issue.
They have to show him on camera performing on a daily basis.
And over time, that will begin to work away at these concerns.
GEOFF BENNETT: Like during the state of the union address, where he was negotiating with Republicans in real-time.
Carl Hulse, there was this issue that arose this past week that is being viewed through the lens of the 2024 race, and that was President Biden saying that he will support this Republican-backed to bill that would reverse Washington D.C.s criminal justice reforms, a move that angered some members of his own party, but it allows the president to avoid Republican criticism that he and other Democrats are soft on crime.
CARL HULSE, Chief Washington Correspondent, The New York Times: Yes.
I think if you wanted an indication that Joe Biden is running, this was a really good one, right?
He was confronted with a problem they really did not expect.
Republicans on the Hill have glommed onto this pretty arcane thing called -- that my colleagues there know about -- called a resolution of disapproval.
And they kind of boxed in the Democrats on this new criminal code in D.C. where there has been, you know, a big swing of carjackings and homicides.
But at the same time, this new code would lower some of the penalties for that.
Biden came out originally and said, hey, I am against this, but he never said he would veto it.
The pressure was mounting on Democrats to approve it.
They are worried about their own 2024 prospects.
And so Biden shows up at the luncheon with Senate Democrats Thursday, says right out of the box, said he is going to sign it and let it become law.
And he left some Democrats hanging.
And you are hearing some anger from the District of Columbia, which likes its autonomy and you are hearing anger from Democrats who went and voted for this thinking that President Biden was going to back them.
But I think Joe Biden looked at this and said, well, I do not want to be soft on crime.
And as we all know, Joe Biden has had a compensated history.
He had a big 1994 crime bill that sort of came back to bite him in the 2020 presidential, where he had -- he actually called it a mistake, I think, at one point, the 1994 bill, and then had to take this position this week.
So, Joe is running.
We all know it.
I think I want to agree with my colleagues there, too, that this -- what you are going to hear from the Democrats is a lot of, hey, look what we did.
They want to talk about the historic run of legislation they had with the Inflation Reduction Act, infrastructure, Chuck Schumer calls this his implementation agenda.
You are going to see Joe Biden at groundbreakings around the country.
They do not think that people are getting the message of what Democrats accomplished and they really want to pound that home.
And I think you are going to hear a lot about that over the next 1.5 years.
GEOFF BENNETT: Is that what you are hearing from your post at the White House?
And how are Democrats responding to the way this bill was handled?
The president says he supports D.C.s ability to self-govern but he has issues with some provisions in this crime bill.
SEUNG MIN KIM: Right.
Well, I think the also important dynamic to remember is that we are talking about 2024, not just for Joe Biden but for Democratic senators.
And the 2024 map for Senate Democrats is as brutal of a map as we have seen in sometime, meaning that you have senators, such as Jon Tester and Joe Manchin and Sherrod Brown, who are fighting for re-election in states that are very reliably red.
Weúre talking about West Virginia, Montana and Ohio.
And I think that instead of kind of vetoing this bill and putting these red state senators who Democrats need to keep their majority, but Joe Biden decided to help them out.
So, I think thatús another dynamic we need to remember here but I can tell you, House Democrats were furious.
I mean, my sources tell me that House leadership was under the impression whether they were explicitly told by the White House or not is a point of contention that Joe Biden would actually veto this legislation when it came to us.
So, the fact that this happened yesterday, they were informed as this basically was happening when House Democrats were at their retreat in Baltimore and they were certainly blindsided because this was not what they expected from the White House.
It is actually remarkable too because I donút want to get too processy, but the one thing that the Biden -- GEOFF BENNETT: I love process.
Letús go way deep into the weeds (ph).
SEUNG MIN KIM: But the one thing that the Biden White House is good at is legislative affairs.
I mean, this is Joe Biden who was a senator for 36 years.
So, to see this kind of miscommunication with the White House and its allies on the Hill is a very unusual circumstance.
GEOFF BENNETT: Well, letús talk about Republicans, shall we, because there were these two dueling high-profile gatherings of Republicans.
We have CPAC featuring former President Donald Trump and then Club for Growth featuring Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, really showcasing the deepening divide within the GOP.
And, Michael, CPAC has largely been remade in the image of Donald Trump.
He was the headliner this year along with several other sort of other Republicans who have pushed election conspiracies and election lies or some other fringe characters who were there.
But you have reporting that Donald Trumpús campaign really has the strategy to boost his standing among delegates heading into the nominating convention next summer.
MICHAEL SCHERER: Yes.
I think we are entering a very different cycle than what we were used to the last few times for Republicans.
Normally at this point, when you do not have a re-elect, you are saying, oh, it is a wide-open field, nobody knows what is going to happen, it is all going to be crazy.
But you have these real giant power centers right now in the Republican Party and you actually have a pretty small field relatively.
It was not 20 people running for presidents, maybe eight, maybe nine, maybe seven, we are not sure yet.
And within that, Donald Trump looms enormously.
Not only does he have CPAC basically under his control, this used to be a forum for all conservatives to come fight with each other.
He has a think tank out there thatús basically working just for him with a whole policy staffer giving him ideas.
And then you have these sort of rival groups of donors.
The Club for Growth is of them.
The Koch Network has one.
There are some other smaller ones that try and operate a little more quietly.
These are very wealthy people, generally.
They put lots of money into elections.
And for the most part, they have decided they do not want Trump to be the nominee again and theyúre trying to figure out how to make that happen.
And so Trump is not invited to their parties either.
And so you have these giant power centers sort of jockeying for control.
The two big names obviously are Ron DeSantis and the former president.
And, then you have five or six of these other candidates who are trying to find their place at the table when they are still sort of in the child seats.
They are not getting the same attention as everyone else.
GEOFF BENNETT: Carl, I hear you laughing.
How do you see the undercurrents here?
Because Club for Growth, they pumped $2 million into Ron DeSantisú gubernatorial re-election bid.
They are clearly looking for the anti-Trump or someone other than Trump.
CARL HULSE: Right.
This is going to be one of the more fascinating primary seasons on that site, I think, in my experience.
But Trump still holds considerable sway.
So, how do they break that gripped?
And you see especially among Republicans in the House there is still this strong allegiance to Trump.
So, I think you are seeing some of these other people tip-toe out a little bit.
Nikki Haley, obviously, the former South Carolina governor and U.N. way more than tiptoeing out.
And I think other Republicans are waiting to see how she fares.
I think then in the Senate, you have a different dynamic where there is -- among the leadership, there is a big search for somebody besides Donald Trump and they like their colleague, many of them, Tim Scott.
So, is he going to become a real candidate or is he mainly running for vice president?
And then, CPAC, you know, everybody avoided it this year.
There were a lot of reasons for it.
But you did not see the leadership, members of Congress who usually go out there and talk.
So, while we have Biden playing his waiting game or whatever he is doing, the Democrats are happy when they watch what is going on with the Republicans right now.
They want them to totally bloody each other and make it easier for Joe Biden.
And I think there is actually pretty good potential for that, right?
Isnút that Donald Trumpús M.O.?
He is going to take on the people who take him on and he is going to make life rough for them.
So, it is just going to be a real slugfest and probably going to be pretty ugly at the end of it.
GEOFF BENNETT: Michael?
MICHAEL SCHERER: And I think there is an interesting one-two punch that Trump is playing here.
You are right.
He is going to make this a bar brawl by the end of it.
But right now, what you see him doing is very small events, policy-focused events.
Whoever thought Donald Trump would be doing policy-focused defense?
He is coming out with new proposals for sort of obscure ideas, bonuses for having children or incentives for building new cities.
And he is trying to reestablish himself as a veteran politician, which is very off-brand for him, in a way, right?
As someone who could come in and do this again, who has ideas, who knows how to do the presidency.
And then we are going to get later in the season, once we get on the debate stage and once the ads start going, the old brawling, name-calling Trump.
So, itús going to be very interesting.
And I think a lot of people, a lot of opponents of Trump in the Republican Party are sort of white-knuckled now, wondering whether their chosen candidates can take those punches, because we have not seen Ron DeSantis ever really get punched, we have not seen Nikki Haley go toe-to-toe with him, Tim Scott.
Mike Pence has had his rounds but arguably has not done very well, at least with Republican primary voters.
GEOFF BENNETT: Well, to your point, Governor DeSantis has not been tested on the national stage but it appears he is gearing up for it, Seung Min, because according to some reporting from CNN, he spoke for 40 minutes at the Club for Growth retreat this week, and while he did not talk about the 2024 race, he did talk about his view of the culture wars.
He said this.
I am going on offense.
Some of these Republicans, they just sit back like potted plants and they let the media define the terms of the debate.
They let the left define the terms of the debate.
They take all of this incoming because they are not making anything happen.
And I said, that is not what we are doing.
There are Democrats who say that Ron DeSantis is a demagogue.
There are Republicans who bristle at his use of executive power to bully, they say, private companies.
DeSantis here is saying, I am going all in.
SEUNG MIN KIM: Right.
And he also has a book out this week, which is a sure tell sign that he is running for higher office.
And I think the really interesting dynamic that DeSantis brings to this debate is how much he is leaning into these culture wars.
He clearly sees that as his lane in the Republican Party.
Kind of that can seize those brand of voters without having that brand of Trump with him.
And I also -- the debate thatús emerging, especially among when the Republican presidential field, as kind of stilled information as it is, is DeSantisú approach towards corporations, towards business.
You saw his standoff with Disney again come to the fore this week, kind of revoking that special tax status that Disney has had in Florida.
And we have always just thought of the Republican Party as this very kind of a classic, pro-business chamber of commerce limited government Republican Party, and DeSantis is throwing that out the window.
And it will be really fascinating to see if Republican primary voters in this day and age respond to that.
GEOFF BENNETT: What about that, Carl Hulse?
I mean, have Republicans sort of learned the lesson of the 2022 midterms?
That going back to the well of the culture wars does not always deliver in the way that they want electorally?
CARL HULSE: Right, especially when you consider what happened with abortion.
I do think there is a big split among Republicans still about, in some ways, the establishment Republicans, letús say Mitch McConnell, who still a big business-type Republican, he supported the CHIPS bill and they want to foster business.
And you have this new, more populist brand of Republican who were fighting for the little guy.
We hate big business, which, of course, is why some of the big business money is being diffused throughout this.
You know, about DeSantis, one thing I find interesting is he is also running against us.
The media is a major opponent to Ron DeSantis.
And he is really limiting his media access.
And I know it is kind of inside baseball but can you run a national political campaign without engaging with the media on the level that at least we would expect from a candidate?
So, I think that is going to be interesting to play out and maybe he is going to prove that it can be done.
MICHAEL SCHERER: He is really also redefining what it means to be a conservative.
Like it is not just limited government.
It was -- government was not the solution.
Ronald Reagan said government is the problem, right?
Right now, Ron DeSantis is traveling the country.
Heús just written a book that says, no, government is the solution.
Government is how you go after higher education.
Government is how you go after woke corporations.
Government is how go after big tech.
I mean, he passed a law in Florida that requires all social media companies to keep accounts for anyone who is a candidate in the state of Florda.
That is a remarkable thing for a conservative to do, to tell a private company that you have to put on someone spouting whatever they are spouting on your private service.
So, I think it is a discussion conservatives have not really had, like rank and file conservatives have not really had it among themselves.
It has kind of been in the air a while since Trump came along.
But we are walking into a pretty fascinating time.
GEOFF BENNETT: To your point, it would have been political malpractice for a governor to attack the marquee business in his or her state the way that DeSantis went after Disney.
But it would appear that he read the landscape correctly because he emerged from that with a higher approval rating and he won re-election.
MICHAEL SCHERER: And he did not just attacked the business.
He attacked the business proposing his policy.
It was like the crime Disney committed in Florida was opposing and education bill that he supported had nothing to do with this.
And so it was not even a debate over corporate subsidies or something like that.
GEOFF BENNETT: You have 30 seconds left.
Whatús the -- SEUNG MIN KIM: Well, I was thinking along those lines.
I mean, again, consider the source, but I believe Ron DeSantis recounted in his book thatús coming out this week that he talked about how the leader of Disney kind of came to him and told him how much pressure he was under because of these policies.
And, again, that is Ron DeSantisú recounting of that discussion, but it really does kind of show him as strong against this so-called woke corporation.
GEOFF BENNETT: Well, we have a lot to cover in the weeks and months to come.
Seung Min, Michael, Carl, thank you all.
And that is Washington Week for tonight.
Thanks to our panel for joining us and for sharing your reporting.
And thanks to you for watching.
And donút forget to tune in to PBS News Weekend for the latest efforts to safeguard the 99 percent of the worldús oceans currently without legal protection.
I am Geoff Bennett.
Good night from Washington.
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