Washington Week full episode, February 24, 2023
02/24/2023 | 24m 10s | Video has closed captioning.
Washington Week full episode, February 24, 2023
Problems Playing Video? | Closed Captioning
Get extended access to 1600+ episodes, binge watch your favorite shows, and stream anytime - online or in the PBS app.
Already a PBS Reno member?
You may have an unactivated PBS Reno Passport member benefit. Check to see.
02/24/2023 | 24m 10s | Video has closed captioning.
Washington Week full episode, February 24, 2023
Problems Playing Video? | Closed Captioning
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Challenges, foreign and domestic.
JOE BIDEN, U.S. President: One year later, Kyiv stands.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: President Biden makes a dramatic secret trip to Ukraine, marking the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion -- DONALD TRUMP, Former U.S. President: He should have been here a long time ago.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: -- as some Republicans criticized the president, arguing he should be more focused on domestic issues, like the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, and the southern border, next.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Good evening and welcome to WASHINGTON WEEK.
This week, the critical foreign and domestic challenges facing the nation were on full display.
It was one year ago today that Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
To mark the anniversary, President Biden made a secretly planned trip to Ukraine's capital, Kyiv.
There, he met with the country's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and with air raid sirens ringing, the two leaders walked through the city in a dramatic moment.
President Biden also announced a new half-billion-dollar aid package to Ukraine, which Zelenskyy praised.
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, Ukrainian President: Together, we will protect our Ukrainian cities and our people from Russian terror and powerfully strengthen the impulse towards our victory.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: On Tuesday, President Biden also delivered a speech in neighboring Poland, where he pledged to continue to support to Ukraine and NATO allies.
JOE BIDEN: One year into this war, Putin no longer doubts the strength of our coalition, but he still doubts our conviction.
But there should be no doubt.
Our support for Ukraine will not waver.
NATO will not be divided, and we will not tire.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Meanwhile, Republicans criticized President Biden's trip and argued he was neglecting domestic issues as the environmental fallout up from the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.
Here is former President Trump criticizing Biden as Trump visited the Ohio village.
DONALD TRUMP: He should have been here a long time ago.
Buttigieg, whenever he comes, he's got to do his job.
And we didn't come, they never would have come.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: In response to some criticism, Biden aides noted that Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, as well as the EPA administrator, Michael Regan, has visited East Palestine as officials deal with the aftermath.
Joining me tonight to discuss this and more, Vivian Salama, National Security Reporter for The Wall Street Journal, David Sanger, White House and National Security Correspondent at The New York Times, and joining me here at the table, Weijia Jiang, Senior White House Correspondent for CBS News, and Abby Phillip Senior Political Correspondent from CNN and Anchor of Inside Politics Sunday with Abby Phillip.
So, thank you all for being here.
Vivian, you, of course, have spent a lot of time in Ukraine over this last year.
What strikes you?
What are the key takeaways for you as you think about how this year has unfolded and, frankly, how Ukraine has been able to hold its own ?
VIVIAN SALAMA, National Security Reporter, The Wall Street Journal: It's pretty extraordinary, Yamiche, that we are at the one-year mark.
And you just said it, the fact that Ukrainian forces were able to hold their own is probably the biggest takeaway.
A lot of people all over the world really questioning their abilities despite the fact that the west was pouring in weapons and all kinds of aid for years before Russia invaded a year ago.
But still, Russian forces were just deemed to be bigger, stronger with better weaponry and the odds were against the Ukrainians.
At least that's what everyone thought.
And so, their performance was one of the most incredible takeaways that we look back at this year.
And then finally, just the west and the way that they kind of came together with Washington leading the way to assist the Ukrainians, we saw the lengths at which they would be willing to go and also which the lengths that they would not be willing to go to help Ukrainians.
And so that was definitely the big story on this side of the pond, if you will, with regard to the war.
Now, looking forward, it's going to be about momentum, how can you keep that momentum going.
And that's going to be the big story in the coming year.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: And, David, of course, that is going to be the big question because, of course, there is the question of how long can Ukraine really hold the line here, but also there's a question of whether or not Biden administration, whether or not they are going to continue to support Ukraine in this way.
What's your reporting reveal?
DAVID SANGER, White House and National Security Correspondent, The New York Times: Well, it has really been a remarkable week here in Europe and just the sight of the president being able to make his way into Ukraine and walk around Kyiv even briefly, and domestically, I think the political image of an 80-year-old president who many have criticized for his age and so forth, to be able to make that trip and come back out and give what was a pretty rousing speech in Warsaw.
That said, I think in addition to the things that Vivian pointed out about the unity of NATO and so forth, I think one of the big questions is, have we seen the sort of high watermark of our ability to bring arms into Ukraine?
At this point, a lot of nations, including the United States, say they are running low on ammunition that Ukraine needs.
The effort to try to ramp that up has been slower than we thought.
I think the second thing is that we have to remember that the Russians, while they have suffered a lot, at probably 200,000 casualties, their economy is actually chugging right along but could still have a lot of people buying their oil.
And that includes China, it includes India, we've seen new relationships with Iran and North Korea.
The White House said today that Iran, in addition with providing them with drones, is providing them now with armor.
So, I think one of the big issues we will be looking is, does the world go back into these blocks that we saw that have a lot of similarities with the Cold War, and that is a scary prospect.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: I mean, that is definitely a scary prospect.
And Weijia, I want to go back to the idea that this was a secretly planned trip.
The White House says they were working on it for months.
What is the significance of that, especially given this moment and sort of the questions that surround how much aid we can give Ukraine?
WEIJIA JIANG, Senior White House Correspondent, CBS News: That's right.
President Biden has wanted to make this trip for quite some time now.
The problem is, obviously, it is a war zone, and he is a president.
We do not even have boots on the ground there.
But this is also a president who cares deeply about legacy.
And in his view, this trip was not just about what was unfolding in Ukraine at the time.
This trip was about leaving a mark for the centerpiece of his foreign policy to really show that the U.S. is not going to stand for, is not going to stand by any autocracy trying to dismantle democracy.
And that is why it was so crucial for him to send that message from Kyiv and not just from the U.S.
But with regard to how you look forward with this when it comes to aid, Republicans have already been threatening to not write a blank check, their words, and to audit what the U.S. has already spent.
There is more hesitancy, even though there is bipartisan support on the Hill to fund this war.
I think that is softening, not only on Capitol Hill but also when you look at public polling.
So, the big question now, I think, remains not only how much the U.S. is able to give to sustain the position but are going to give Ukraine what it needs to win?
Because winning is very different from not losing, and so far, they do not have what they need to win, and that brings up the F-16 fighter planes that Ukraine wants that the president just said tonight in a new interview that, as of right now, he is not going to provide.
ABBY PHILLIP, Senior Political Correspondent, CNN: And I think that's really an important point because that is one of, I think, going to be the biggest divides going forward.
How important is it going to be that there are some people on the Republican side who want to pull back on Ukraine aid or is it going to be more important that the voices that have the power, the committee gavels, the Mitch McConnells of the world in the Senate, Kevin McCarthys even in the House, they are actually attacking Biden from the right saying he moved too slowly here.
And you are seeing Biden tonight, as you were just saying, reaffirming, he does not believe that F-16s are the next step.
And that really gives you a window into the White House's thinking on this.
They do not want to be pushed any further than they are willing to go when it comes to arming the Ukrainians.
However, I think there is a growing argument to be made on all sides.
I have been hearing this from national security analysts who are more to the left and also those on the right that are really asking the question, why not?
Even if you do not want to give the planes right at this moment, why not start the training process?
It's about a one-year lead time.
Why not start that now?
And I think the Biden administration has not really been able to give an answer to that question.
I think the big elephant in the room is that they are still, to some degree, concerned about going too far and needlessly provoking Russia at a moment when Russia is still incredibly bellicose and making threats.
They are still a nuclear power even though their army has proven to be much more weak than people expected.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: And you really, in some ways, hit on this point that I was going to ask about, Abby, which is that Congress has appropriated, and I had to write down, $112 billion so far, but you have the American people in polling what Weijia was just talking about, that support for Ukraine is softening.
What is your sense of how much the American people and their views are going to play into this when you think the politics of all of this?
ABBY PHILLIP: Look, I do think that you're going to see more of that.
There is probably a calcified 30 percent of the American electorate that is much more likely to go along with the far-right politics on the situation, which is calling for a pullback from Ukraine.
But I do think that the White House still believes that they have a solid majority of the country that is comfortable with the level aid and assistance to Ukraine right now.
Perhaps they do not want it to be too much, but they are comfortable with where it is right now.
They are going to have to jump through some hoops.
They're cognizant of that.
But I do not hear a whole lot of alarm inside of the administration that the spigot of money is going to stop flowing, even as the approval rating from the American public goes down.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: And, Vivian, I want to come back to you because you had some also critical reporting on China possibly weighing, providing lethal aid to Russia to continue this war in Ukraine.
Explain that reporting and why, based on your reporting, would China take that step at this moment?
VIVIAN SALAMA: So, Yamiche, up until now, China has been exercising a level of self-restraint when it comes to providing weapons or any kind of lethal aid to Russia.
They have given Russia money.
They have purchased oil, as David earlier.
But they've really held off on that one redlines in the view of Washington, which is providing weapons for the battle in Ukraine, partially because they did not want to embolden Russia.
For them, seeing and emboldened Moscow could be problematic for many reasons.
But at the same time, it is a lot worse for them to see Moscow crumble, whether it's economically, militarily, they just feel like that would come back and haunt China.
And so they have been considering now providing weapons in the form most likely ammunition, kind of starting small and working their way up.
And U.S. intelligence and European intelligence is now revealing that while they were hesitant at first, they are really looking to take this next step.
And so Washington and its allies have been collaborating and discussing in recent days whether or not to declassify that intelligence, like they have with so much other intelligence so far with regards to Iran helping the Russian forces and North Korea helping Russian forces.
It would be sorted in the same vein.
But, of course, this comes against the backdrop of growing tensions with China because of its intensifying campaign towards Taiwan, because of the surveillance balloon that was shot down over the Atlantic Ocean a few weeks ago.
And so, it's going to be a really tricky maneuver and a tricky diplomatic issue that they are going to have to face.
I am traveling with Secretary of State Blinken next week to the G20, where he may once again see his Chinese counterpart.
And we know that it came up in Munich last week when they met up and it will certainly come up again.
This is something that is deeply concerning to Washington and its allies across Europe.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: And, David, what is your reporting on this when you think about what China is weighing here, but also this is may be a hard question but the thinking of Putin?
It is hard, of course, to know exactly what he is thinking, when you think about the fact that he is pulling out of nuclear treaties, he's also, of course, giving these speeches where he is finally using the word, war.
What is your reporting show?
DAVID SANGER: Well, two things, Yamiche.
First, to follow on Vivian's point, I think the nature of the relationship between Russia and China in the next year or so may be the biggest single international story.
The Chinese are in the superior position in this relationship and Putin doesn't like that.
Back in the old cold war, the Soviet Union was the largest force out there and China was still an agrarian society.
Nobody really thought of it as the coming world's second-largest economy.
The Chinese and the Russians have pledged a relationship without limits, but we have seen some of those in recent times, as Vivian explained.
If those go away, then we are in a very, very different world and President Biden will be facing a situation that really is a lot more complex than the cold war ever was when we really only had one significant adversary there.
The bigger question on what's inside Putin's mind, well, at this point, he has shown an obsession, of course, with Ukraine, but he has also been careful not to take the war beyond Ukraine's borders.
And if there was any single topic that worried people the most at the Munich Security Conference last weekend, when were in Warsaw, right, of course, on the Russian border, it is that will change.
We are already seeing a very large increase in cyber-attacks in Poland.
We have seen that for the past year.
Whether those spillover into broader and kinetic attacks on NATO countries is a big issue.
Some people believe Putin does not want to take the risk of taking on all of NATO, but it's also possible that he may get so frustrated about his lack of progress in Ukraine that he has got to take it out on the west somehow.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: And as we talk about sort of the international issues that are going on, Weijia, there's also the domestic issues at play.
We said it at the beginning, there was a lot of GOP criticism for President Biden''s trip to Ukraine, people saying he should be in East Palestine, he should be on the southern border.
How concerned, if at all, is the White House about these criticisms?
WEIJIA JIANG: The White House, I think, is aware that they could have handled the situation, especially in East Palestine, better than they did, because the transportation secretary fumbled a few times.
He was criticized for being flippant about this derailment, clumping it with the other hundreds of derailments that happened across the country every day.
And so, I think that that insensitivity, that was interpreted as insensitivity when, really, I mean, the administration continues to say, look, we were there within two hours.
The president just said that again tonight, that the agencies that would normally respond to this sort of thing were, in fact, there.
But, of course, the optics also matter.
And Republicans really seized on the fact that he was abroad, that he was committing money to another country instead of at the site of this emergency disaster and showing that he was there for them physically.
And so, I think the administration, they will continue to make the case that they've done everything, that they are the first line of defense, that they have responded in the appropriate ways, and the president also said that he did not get any requests to go visit.
And as of now even, he does not have any plans to go there.
And this isn't necessarily unique, because anytime there is a major disaster like this, he is very concerned about getting in the way of the response, about being a distraction.
So, I think they are hopefully continuing to hammer these points home that they did everything they were supposed to.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: And, Abby, I mean, we recovered President Trump together, it was not surprising to see him there while passing out water while also passing out those red MAGA hats.
What's your sense of things?
ABBY PHILLIP: Yes.
Look, I mean, this is Trump country.
I mean, that part -- that county where East Palestine is went for Trump by some 45 points in the 2020 election.
It is not in any --#* it used to be a swing county back in the Bush years, but these are his people, they are deeply supportive of him.
One of our correspondents who was the ground there says there are Trump flags, Trump signs everywhere in East Palestine.
And it was an opportunity for Republicans and conservatives to do two things at once, to criticize Biden but also to criticize Pete Buttigieg, who, while he is the transportation secretary, if you watch conservative media and you see how they approach him, they treat him as Biden's heir apparent actually.
And so, this is a very important, I think, political attack on Biden.
But I think we should just be frank with the audience.
The two things are not actually related.
There is no money that is going to Ukraine that would have gone to East Palestine and vice versa.
And beyond that, this is an environmental disaster, and the EPA was, in fact, on the ground.
But the White House missed an opportunity to have a public face to what is an actual human tragedy on the ground there, people's livelihoods and even potentially their lives now in the balance after what happened with that train derailment.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: And, Vivian, with the couple of minutes we have left here, jump in here just on your sense of the GOP pitting, it seems artificially, I think it's fair to say that East Palestine against Ukraine.
VIVIAN SALAMA: Absolutely.
I think at this point, the politically charged environment that we are in right now, you are going to see that a lot.
And frankly speaking, any president who is on the road somewhere and something happens back home, he or she would immediately get some criticism, and it's just inevitable.
And so, what you're seeing was partially not impartially just a sign of the times, as a sign of the environment here in Washington that we're in.
And so, President Biden obviously very committed to the Ukrainian cause.
This was a top foreign policy challenge.
Weijia mentioned that this has been planned for months and months.
Whether or not he should have done something to rearrange the trip or not, obviously, they were very committed to hitting the anniversary date, and so, regardless, they made that decision and they were going to make that the priority for him to physically be there and send the transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: And, David, with my last 30 seconds to you, tell me what is next year as you think about sort of Biden administration's stance on Ukraine and how are they going to balance domestic issues, again, 30 seconds?
DAVID SANGER: Yamiche, great powers have to learn how to run their own country and be great powers at the same time.
I think President Biden has been around long enough and was in the Senate long enough to recognize that is a hard balancing act but that you could be equally criticize if, for example, he was allowing Russia to run right across democratic societies.
So, he has got to do both, and that is called being president.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR: He's got to do both and that's called being president.
Isn't that a way to end this show?
Well, we will leave it there for now.
Thank you so much for our panel for joining us and for sharing your reporting.
And don't forget to watch PBS News Weekend on Saturday for a story of an African American Air Force pilot who helped pave the way for NASA's black astronauts.
And, finally, I want to note that this is my last time moderating WASHINGTON WEEK.
As I announced last week, I have made a difficult decision to step away from the role to focus full time on commitments to NBC News as a Washington Correspondent to finish my upcoming memoir.
It has been an honor, a complete honor to be in your homes every Friday and to help you, the viewers, make sense of all the news that we have to cover.
Thank you so much for watching.
I also could not have done this work without the stellar team here at WASHINGTON WEEK.
So, thank you all, of course, for your efforts.
And I have also been blessed, really blessed, to honor the life and legacy Gwen Ifill, the longtime iconic WASHINGTON WEEK moderator who absolutely loved this program and personally mentored me and so many other women.
I thank her in my heart often for giving me courage and confidence.
Last, I hope this is not a goodbye but rather a see you later as I hope to see you all on the next big story, as I continue my work.
I am Yamiche Alcindor.
Good night from Washington.
Celebrating 50 Years
Washington Week came on the air February 23, 1967. In the 50 years that followed, we covered a lot of history-making events. Read up on 10 of the biggest stories Washington Week covered in its first 50 years.Learn More