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SCOTT DETROW, HOST:
Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. And I'm Scott Detrow. I cover the White House.
DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: I'm Deirdre Walsh. I cover Congress.
RON ELVING, BYLINE: And I'm Ron Elving, editor-correspondent.
DETROW: It is 4:10 Eastern on Tuesday, June 28. And, folks, it is a newsy NPR POLITICS PODCAST today. My co-host, Asma Khalid, just sat down with Vice President Harris for an interview about what comes next after the Supreme Court's decision overturning Roe v. Wade, among other things. And we will hear that conversation in the second half of this episode.
But first, we will start with a dramatic hearing that provided graphic new details about what former President Trump knew and did as a mob attacked the U.S. Capitol. That testimony came from Cassidy Hutchinson, who was at the time of the January 6 attack a top aide to Trump's chief of staff, Mark Meadows. And she testified before the House Select Committee about how top advisers, including Meadows and Rudy Giuliani, knew about the possibility of violence on January 6 in advance. And she said under oath that top White House staff also knew about the presence of weapons in the crowd at the rally before the attack on the Capitol. Hutchinson said that Trump did as well but that he wanted Secret Service to take down the metal detectors to allow for a bigger crowd. Here she is recounting what she remembers Trump saying before he took the stage.
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CASSIDY HUTCHINSON: You know, I don't effing care that they have weapons. They're not here to hurt me. Take the effing mags away. Let them in. Let my people in. They can march to the Capitol after the rally's over. They can march from - they can march from the Ellipse. Take the effing mags away.
DETROW: And as you might remember, during that speech that Trump then did deliver on January 6, he said this.
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DONALD TRUMP: Now it is up to Congress to confront this egregious assault on our democracy. And after this, we're going to walk down, and I'll be there with you. We're going to walk down. We're going to walk down any one you want. But I think right here, we're going to walk down to the Capitol.
TRUMP: And we're going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women. And we're probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them because you'll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.
DETROW: So the Secret Service was aware that many of these people had weapons, including a AR-15s. They told the president. Ron, the president knows the protesters are armed. Then he encourages them to march to the Capitol. That's a lot.
ELVING: That's quite a revelation. And we know that Cassidy Hutchinson was in the small group of aides who were present with the president backstage or first in a tent on the Ellipse and then backstage when he was giving his speech and that he was very upset that the Secret Service had set up these magnetometers and kept people from joining the crowd on the Ellipse if they had weapons, which is, of course, the Secret Service's job is to keep weapons away from the president. Well, he said those people aren't bringing guns to harm me. That was - those people aren't trying to hurt me. Let them in. Well, it was too late because most of the crowd was kept on the other side of Constitution Avenue up by the Washington Monument. And we're learning that the president had been told from law enforcement that some of the people in the crowd had been spotted with guns, including semiautomatic rifles.
DETROW: And, again, we know this because we saw what happened when they got to the Capitol. But, Deirdre, we heard in that clip Trump say, I'll be there with you. This was another big revelation today. Trump really did want to go to the Capitol. There were plans to take Trump to the Capitol. At the last minute, the Secret Service said, no, this is just unsafe. We can't make that happen. But Trump thought he was going there to the point where he gets into his armored vehicle, he gets into the motorcade, and here's what happens.
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HUTCHINSON: The president said something to the effect of, I'm the effing president. Take me up to the Capitol now, to which Bobby responded, sir, we have to go back to the West Wing. The president reached up towards the front of the vehicle to grab at the steering wheel. Mr. Engel grabbed his arm, said, sir, you need to take your hand off the steering wheel. We're going back to the West Wing. We're not going to the Capitol. Mr. Trump then used his free hand to lunge towards Bobby Engel. And Mr. - when Mr. Ornato had recounted this story to me, he had motioned towards his clavicles.
WALSH: It was stunning. I mean, I think the room just was silent when people were hearing these details for the first time, the image of the president of the United States lunging at the head of his security detail to try to take the wheel of the Beast to drive to accompany protesters to the Capitol to block the election certification. I mean, it's almost like something out of a movie that you wouldn't believe if you had not heard it from a witness under oath. And the president's deputy chief of staff was in the room with the head of his security detail as this was all described by Cassidy Hutchinson.
DETROW: And, Ron, this - I mean, it's a disturbing and amazing image to think about. But this matters because it shows how serious Trump was about getting a mob of people to the Capitol as part of his pressure campaign to get Congress to reject the election results.
ELVING: And not only getting them up there but keeping them at a fever pitch. He knew that at the end of his speech, when he had addressed them and told them to go to the Capitol, that they were pumped, that they were ready to walk. And it's a January day, and they, you know, might have sort of started to thin out over a period of time. He wanted to make sure that they had the spirit and that they believed he was going to be there with them. He had told them he would be, and he wanted, apparently, to be at the head of the group, that he would be visible to them, that he would be urging them on. And by the way, there were people in the crowd at the time who were sending tweets saying the president's going to be with us. And there were, if you will, provocative agents there at the site of the Capitol who were also telling people the president was going to be there with them.
WALSH: You also heard Hutchinson testify that the top House Republican, Kevin McCarthy, called her after the president said that he was going up to the Capitol with the marchers, when he heard the line in that speech, saying - angry. Like, we talked about this. You know, what's - why is he saying that? Tell him not to come here.
DETROW: So that's a lot more information than we had before about conversations and mindsets in the White House about this mob that's emerging on the Capitol. Here's a conversation that Hutchinson saw between Mark Meadows and Pat Cipollone, the president's lawyer.
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HUTCHINSON: And I remember Pat saying to him something to the effect of, the rioters have gotten to the Capitol, Mark. We need to go down and see the president now. And Mark looked up at him and said, he doesn't want to do anything, Pat. And Pat said something to the effect of - and very clearly had said this to Mark - something to the effect of, Mark, something needs to be done, or people are going to die, and the blood's going to be on your effing hands.
DETROW: Deirdre and Ron, one of the things that Hutchinson testified today - and we had seen reports of this before, but we heard her say it in her own words today - was that she heard Meadows tell people that Trump had - you know, when he heard that the rioters were chanting hang Mike Pence, that he had agreed with the sentiment and said, in his view, Pence deserved to be hanged.
WALSH: Right. And this was one of the points in the hearing - sort of a rare point in the hearing - where we heard Hutchinson sort of personally react to that sentiment and saying that just - as an American, she said it was un-American. It was disgusting. She was saying, you know, we were watching the Capitol be defiled or defaced over a lie. And I mean, you just saw how helpless she felt during the testimony - said it was like she was watching a bad car accident. She didn't know how to make it stop.
DETROW: Ron, it's probably hard to tell an hour after hearing wrap, but we have seen so many dramatic hearings in the Trump era. We have seen, over the years, big revelatory moments that matter a lot, moments that feel revelatory and don't actually matter that much. Any sense at this time if this feels like it could be one of those moments that matters and makes a difference?
ELVING: It felt historic at the time, partly because of the impressive composure of the witness. She seemed to be as clear a pane of glass as we can expect to have into the events of that day, and it was utterly plausible that she would be present for all the things that she described so vividly. And there was something about the sorrowfulness with which she was divulging all of this that lent credibility to her, if you will, audio as well as video reproduction of what went on. We could picture these people. We heard them saying these things. To some degree, we have seen this reported elsewhere as well. And the description, even the most unbelievable thing, which is - which was Trump having a tantrum in the Beast - that is the limousine - and grasping for the wheel and trying to insist that he was the president, and he knew he could direct this car in any way he wanted - all of that rang surprisingly true.
DETROW: And there's one other thing to mention. There were a lot of things to mention at today's hearing, but this was one more big detail that came at the very end of the hearing, is that Hutchinson told the committee that on January 7, as everyone in the White House was figuring out what to do next, she says that both Meadows and Rudy Giuliani sought pardons.
ELVING: Yes. This is a remarkable added wrinkle because here you have the president's personal attorney and his chief of staff, the two closest to him in the entire entourage of the president's power circle, both being strongly convinced that they have legal exposure for the things that they have all been up to and therefore believing they, too, need to be pardoned by the president before he loses that power on January 20. And they were not, and neither were the congressmen.
DETROW: And there's one other revelation that's worth just briefly noting, and I'm sure we will come back to it soon. At the very, very end of the hearing, Congresswoman Cheney raised the prospect of possible obstruction of justice, saying several witnesses have told the committee that people in Trump's orbit have reached out ahead of their testimony, making it clear that former President Trump would be paying attention to their testimony and urging them to, quote, "do the right thing."
We will do a podcast every time the select committee has a hearing. We don't think there's going to be another one for a few weeks, but we thought that last week and then had the surprise hearing today.
WALSH: Never know.
DETROW: Never know. Deirdre Walsh, Ron Elving, thanks to both of you.
WALSH: Thanks, Scott.
ELVING: Thank you, Scott.
DETROW: We are going to take a quick break, and when we return, our exclusive interview with Vice President Kamala Harris.
And we're back. Vice President Kamala Harris sat down today with our co-host Asma Khalid at the White House to talk about post-Roe America. And despite all the other news that has happened today, we wanted to get you this interview as soon as possible. Here's the conversation.
ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: So I want to start with the Dobbs decision.
VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: Yeah.
KHALID: One of the criticisms that we have been hearing from folks on the left within the Democratic Party is, you know, the White House is telling people to vote more. But why are we not seeing you out at abortion clinics meeting with women?
HARRIS: Well, I have been at this very table. So I think - but let's talk about it - if we can just back up for a moment - in terms of what this means. And I want to make that point to make an equally important point, which is that we have to stand together in this fight - right? - those of us who understand what's at stake. This is the first time in the history of our country that the United States Supreme Court has taken a constitutional right that was recognized. Taken from women the ability to make decisions about their own body has, in effect, rendered an opinion that suggests that a woman will have to have and carry to term a pregnancy that she doesn't want. It's an extraordinary thing what has just happened in terms of the significance to the essential principles, the essential to our nation and its founding of freedom, of liberty, the right to privacy. It is profound in terms of where it takes us back. You know, we have a 23-year-old daughter who is going to know fewer rights than my 80-something-year-old mother-in-law. That's profound.
KHALID: And that's why, I guess, you know, some of these women are saying, well, why not be out in the streets? Why not be out, you know...
HARRIS: Well, but that's...
KHALID: ...Meeting with women?
HARRIS: ...Exactly - all of these things need to happen. All of these things need to happen. We need to stand up and speak loudly about why this is something that we will fight against. And part of that fight has to include understanding that the court has now acted. And now, we're going to need Congress to act. And that means passing legislation that, as we say, codifies Roe, which means let's put it into law. So it is beyond debate around what should be constitutional protections, protections, legal protections for a woman to make decisions about her own body.
KHALID: I want to follow up on this idea of codifying Roe, codifying abortion rights.
KHALID: You, the president both have said that you don't have the numbers in Congress to do that right now. So do you support overturning the filibuster in order to do that?
HARRIS: Well, so I serve as vice president of the United States, and in that capacity, I'm also president of the Senate. And we right now have a Senate where there are - it's an even split of Democrats and Republicans, 50-50. I sat in the chair presiding over the United States Senate when the vote came up for the Women's Protection Act. And the votes were not there. Not one Republican voted. Not one Republican voted in favor of passing legislation to protect a woman's right to make decisions over her own body. And so that's where the votes are right now.
We have a midterm coming up in 100 - and I think it's, as of today, 133 days - a midterm which could decide the balance of the United States Congress both on the Senate side and on the House side. And knowing that we now - the court has acted in the way that it did, we now know the place where the protection is going to happen, to reinstate those protections has to be through law, and that's through Congress. So part of what we need to do is we cannot underestimate the significance of the upcoming elections and the need for all people who care about this issue to understand that we have to have a pro-choice Congress to pass this law.
KHALID: So I want to make sure that I can understand what you're saying, though. So you're saying that there wasn't Republican support for this legislation. But then why not...
HARRIS: There was not. There was literally not.
KHALID: But why not push for overturning the filibuster in that case, knowing that you're not going to have the Republican votes?
HARRIS: You still need the votes to overturn the filibuster, and the votes don't exist.
KHALID: Do you individually support that idea, though? Let's say you don't have the votes.
HARRIS: Why are we talking about hypotheticals? The votes don't exist. What I support - let me tell you what I support. I support electing a pro-choice Congress to get the votes to pass the legislation to put into law a protection for women of America to make decisions about their own body without government interference. And so I'm not going to engage in spending time talking about something that actually is not going to happen right now.
KHALID: So I want to issue two quick follow-ups there. One is, I do want to make sure that I understand clearly, though, what it means to say Roe is on the ballot this November because if it's not a practical thing to talk about eliminating - you know, blowing up the filibuster right now, then is it that you need 10 more...
HARRIS: Well, we just don't have the - but it's not that it's not - listen, that is a legitimate conversation - OK? - About the filibuster. So that's not what I mean to suggest.
HARRIS: What I am saying, however, is that given the current composition of the United States Senate, it's not going to happen.
KHALID: Got it. But you're not saying you need 10 more...
HARRIS: And it won't happen. And it won't happen with this current configuration. And so then one must ask, well, how can the configuration change?
KHALID: Got it.
HARRIS: And the response to that is, through the election process. And then one might ask, well, when is the election taking place? And my response is, within 130 days.
KHALID: I want to ask you another question about the Supreme Court because I know that this White House does not support the idea of expanding the court, but would you support an idea of 18-year terms? This is something that would essentially guarantee that every president has an equitable number of two picks. Is that something at all that you would be open to?
HARRIS: The president has been very clear on the issue of expansion, to your point. And...
KHALID: But what about a term limit? Yeah.
HARRIS: But what we have is we - there has been a commission that was established to take a look at this. And so the commission has done the analysis of all of the options. And so that has happened.
KHALID: What do you think - I'm curious - you personally?
HARRIS: I personally think we need to win the midterms (laughter). If you were to - if you're asking me to reduce it to one issue, but it is not only one issue. But if you want to know what I think is one of the greatest charges right now because after 130-something days, we would have lost an opportunity to potentially change the configuration of the United States Congress.
KHALID: You mention winning the midterms. A lot of our listeners - especially also on our platform at the NPR POLITICS PODCAST - they are young, and a lot of young voters have soured on the Democratic Party. I mean, that - I don't need to tell that to you. I'm sure you hear some of this. And there's this sense - you know, my colleague Barbara Sprunt was actually out on Friday on the steps of the Supreme Court, and a lot of what she heard was, we mobilized in record numbers. We gave you two Democratic senators from Georgia. And you're telling me this is where we are? And what is your message for that demographic? You talk about the midterms, and this is young voters who did turn out in 2020 who are quite disenchanted right now.
HARRIS: First of all, I think we all felt, and rightly, a huge blow when this decision came down in Dobbs. And it really - again, when we talk about settled versus, you know, what we thought was settled, and to see that this stuff is not - that's real. So I don't deny anybody how they are feeling right now. I know how I'm feeling right now, right? But if we want to look at why people should vote - people stood in line around our country in 2020. We had one of the - I think some would say the largest turnout ever. And what people voted for is they wanted an extension of the child tax credit. We did that. And as a result, in the first year, we reduced child poverty by somewhere between 40% and 50% in America. They said they wanted to have a tax cut for child care expenses like school supplies, medication. We did that.
They said they wanted to fix the roads and bridges and public transportation with an infrastructure bill. First in a generation, we did that. People said in places like Flint, Mich., and all over our country in many, many places, get rid of the lead in the pipes 'cause poor children and children of color are drinking toxic water, and it's having a direct impact on their ability to learn. We did that. We were going to - we got that passed. We're putting the money out. We're going to get rid of lead in pipes by - the deadline is 10 years, and we're fast on track to meet that.
People said we want to make sure that we - everybody - especially through the pandemic, we saw not everybody, based on income or region in the country, has access to high-speed internet. That directly impacts the ability of our children to stay on track with their education, or is it going to push them back, especially in communities that are already experiencing such disparities in terms of resources? And so we are doing that because we got the infrastructure bill passed, where we're doing high-speed internet, and - to the extent of even just having discounts and bringing the internet providers in to tell them to lower prices, which they've done.
People voted and said, we want a Black woman on the United States Supreme Court. We did that. Her name is Ketanji Brown Jackson - first time in the history of the court - over 200 years. People said we want more women appointed to the federal bench. I believe 70% of the women we have appointed - of the people we have appointed to the federal bench are women - historic numbers in terms of who will sit in those chairs, making decisions and interpreting the law.
People said we need more money going into our minority-serving institutions, our HBCUs. Tens of billions of dollars are going into those institutions because people stood in line in 2020, and that's what they ordered, and we got it.
Now, we haven't done everything. We still have more to do. We have been fighting to say we need to pass the legislation that we have been proposing that brings down the cost of child care so that working families don't spend more than 7% of their income in child support - in child...
KHALID: And that's been stuck in the Senate, yeah.
HARRIS: It's been stuck in the Senate because we don't have the votes 'cause not a Republican would vote for it, and we have a 50-50 Senate. We've been saying...
KHALID: But you also have some Democrats, too - right (laughter)?
HARRIS: But we don't have the votes. We've been pushing to say that we should have paid family leave. We're still going to keep fighting for that. We're saying, let's have affordable home care. So these are the fights that are still on the table. There's still more to do, but there is so much that people demanded and asked for and ordered in that election in 2020 that has actually been delivered. And there's no question there's more to do.
KHALID: Can I ask you one last question, please?
KHALID: Just one last one...
HARRIS: Of course.
KHALID: ...Because I do think it is important for us to talk. It has nothing to do with the Dobbs decision...
KHALID: ...But I did want to hear your thoughts on this.
KHALID: I'm sure you saw that, last night, there were at least 50 migrants who died in a tractor trailer in San Antonio, Texas, and attempted border crossings are at extremely high levels. I know immigration reform is another intractable issue in Congress, and it's also another issue where the courts have restricted what the administration can do. And given just the news of what we heard last night, I wanted to get your sense of if there is anything else you feel that you all could do through administrative powers, specifically just to tackle the ongoing border crisis. I mean, we hear about this constantly. We hear the politics of it. I don't need to tell you about that. Very soon afterwards, we heard the politics play out there with the Texas governor. But I wanted to get a sense from you of - are there any new plans that you have for tackling the issue through administrative powers - through executive actions - that you all think you can't do?
HARRIS: I mean, first of all, I think the numbers are now at 50 dead...
KHALID: Mmm hmm.
HARRIS: ...In the back of a truck. People who, it seems, by what we know so far, were trying to find a better life - right? - died a horrible death. And I think that your raising the point about how the governor of that state responded really highlights part of the problem because his response, where there are 50 dead bodies in his state, is to go straight to politics instead of dealing with the realities of the issue. The realities of the issue include what we need to do on the issue of smuggling, for example. And so our administration has been taking that quite seriously. There have been over 2,000 arrests as of - just in the last three months. I think there are at least eight indictments that have happened. So we need to deal with that - right? - in terms of the consequence of criminal behavior that results in death. But we also need to take seriously the fact that we have a broken immigration system that was decimated by the last administration, and we've been trying to - and we are on the path doing it - to fix that broken system.
KHALID: Well, thank you, Madam Vice President. I really appreciate you taking the time.
HARRIS: Thank you. Thank you.
DETROW: That was NPR's Asma Khalid talking to Vice President Kamala Harris. And we should note, since this interview was taped, the death toll in San Antonio has increased to 51.
That is it for today. Thank you to Barbara Sprunt for helping produce today's podcast. Thanks to Ron Elving and Deirdre Walsh as well. I'm Scott Detrow. I cover the White House. Thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.
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