Return to Transcripts main page
Trump and Pelosi Engaged in War of Words; U.S. President Refuses to Work with Congress; Political Dysfunction in America; E.J. Dionne, Washington Post Columnist, and Norman Ornstein, Scholar, American Enterprise Institute, are Interviewed About Political Dysfunction; EPA Changing Ways to Calculate Health Risks of Air Pollution; John Bachman, Former EPA Associated Director for Science/Policy, is Interviewed About Air Pollution; Environmental Protection Laws; Increase Civic Engagement. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired May 23, 2019 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:00] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Amanpour." Here's what's coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: This whole thing was a takedown attempt at the president of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: D.C. dysfunction. If a president flat-out refuses to work with Congress, can America's institutions work?
And struggling to breathe. The EPA's new plan to change the way air pollution deaths are counted.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC LIU, AUTHOR, "BECOME AMERICAN": My notion of civic religion, of course, it is not godly religion, it is not worshipping a deity but it is
about believing in democracy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Urich Loo delivers a sermon on civics to engage and inspire the disillusioned citizen.
Welcome to the program, everybody. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
Well, political dysfunction is officially transatlantic now. Here in the U.K., Prime Minister Theresa May defies cries for her to quit over the
chaos of Brexit. And in Washington, President Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are engaged in a very public and very nasty war of words.
It started on Wednesday when Pelosi said the president was engaged in a cover-up, prompting Trump to storm out of an infrastructure meeting and
refused to work with Congress until the oversight investigations are over. And today, it only got more heated.
Here's the speaker detailing the several times he's abruptly ended meetings.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NANCY PELOSI, U.S. HOUSE SPEAKER: The president again stormed out, I think, first pound the table, walk out the door. Next time have the TV
cameras in there while I have my say. That didn't work for him either. And now, this time, another temper tantrum. Again, I pray for the
president of the United States. I wish that his family or his administration or his staff would have an intervention for the good of the
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: That is a strong sentiment indeed and these sure are unprecedented times in the United States. What does it mean though for
governance and can U.S. institutions survive all of this pressure?
E.J. Dionne is a longtime observer for the American political scene for "The Washington Post." and Norman Ornstein is a resident scholar at the
American Enterprise Institute focusing on Congress and political reform, and they both wrote a book all about dysfunction called "One Nation After
Trump." And they are joining me now from Washington.
Gentlemen, welcome back to our program.
E.J. DIONNE, WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST: Great to be with you.
NORMAN ORNSTEIN, SCHOLAR, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: Always a pleasure, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: Well, you know, we always have to call on you because this is your area of expertise. How big a notch has this sort of scored in the
dysfunction scale? What -- how would you sort of, you know, gauge what's just happening right now?
ORNSTEIN: Well, if we view it as a scale of 1 to 100, we were already at 99.9 and this just moved us a bit closer to the 100 mark. And the mercury
is going to blow out before very long. But it's farcical in a way.
You know it's interesting, Richard Nixon, of course, was impeached. Bill Clinton went through impeachment in the House. Ronald Reagan went through
an Iran-contra investigation. And while all of those things were going on, those presidents managed to do business with Congress. They managed to get
the nation's work done. This is the first time we've seen a president, as E.J. put it, very adeptly, go on strike.
AMANPOUR: Well, let me just play this --
DIONNE: You know --
AMANPOUR: Go ahead, E.J., and then I want to play the sound that backs up what Norm just said. But you go ahead because you coined that phrase.
DIONNE: Right. He doesn't think much of the Trade Union Movement but he is the first president to go on strike. And I think this reflects two very
different problems. Problem one is Trump is really beginning to feel the pressure of this investigation. Two court decisions this week went against
him in terms of disclosing information about his financial empire.
The one thing he seems desperately afraid of is the possibility that the Congress and everyone else will learn more about where his money came from,
what his interests are, whether there are conflicts of interest and, of course, how this might bear on the Russia story.
But the other part of what happened is that Trump knew perfectly well even though he promised a big infrastructure program that sounded like what
Democrats have promised for many years, his own party is not willing to support it. He could not come up with the financing for it.
So, this episode that we just saw is dysfunction on two levels. One, specifically having to do with Trump and his troubles but the other having
to do [13:05:00] with his own party, which hasn't been able to pass a bill to fix roads and bridges and transit for a decade, for more than a decade
at this point.
AMANPOUR: So, we're going to unpick all that stuff. But first, let me sort of set this table. Can the president actually refuse to work with
Congress? I mean, what actually does it mean, what does it entail? I guess what I'm trying to say is, can he go on strike and sort of expect
that Congress will not consider -- not continue the oversights or will Congress keep trying to do and keep, you know, enacting that part that its
sort capacity there?
ORNSTEIN: What we are going to see is the House, which passed 100 bills sitting in the Senate, where the Republican leader Mitch McConnell refuses
to do anything on them, will continue to pass legislation. Trump is going to have to do something at least to keep the government running or we'll
have another shutdown that the last time proved to be quite destructive for Republicans and could happen again.
The Republicans in Congress, especially the Senate, really want to pass a bill that takes care of funding through the remainder of this term so that
they don't have to deal with this. Their majority is in question in the Senate in 2020. And he may have to accede to some of that.
But, you know, what we have here is a president who is basically saying stop investigating and that is not going to happen. There are more shoes
to drop, including from other parts of the Justice Department, the Southern District of New York, the State of New York is going to release his state
tax returns and continues to investigate his business dealings. This is going to get worse before it gets better for him. And the chances are that
means it will get worse for our governing.
AMANPOUR: So, let me play the soundbite from President Trump, because he sort of threw down his version of the gauntlet.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: You probably can't go down two tracks. You can go down the investigation track and you can go down the investment track or the track
of let's get things done for the American people. I love the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, E.J., you know, we've sort of discussed that other presidents have endured investigations, impeachments, et cetera, and
nonetheless, managed to continue the business of government. But what do you make of what the president has just said, either investment or
DIONNE: Well, you're right that, you know, both Nixon and Clinton, very different kinds of people, got a lot done even as they were under
investigation. Nixon actually signed quite a bit of progressive legislation before he got impeached. He had a Democratic Congress.
Trump has made this threat before trying to say it's an either/or choice simply because he's trying to figure out some way to delegitimize
Congress's job, which is to hold presidents accountable. And lord knows the Republican Congress have all sorts of investigations going on into
President Obama that didn't lead very far, although they probably helped defeat Hillary Clinton in the election. So, this is an untenable
And the president has at least one very big thing besides what Norm rightly talked to about just keeping the government running, one very big thing is
just trying to get through Congress and that is the new NAFTA, new U.S.- Mexico-Canada trade deal where we have real problems already. And if he is saying, "I'm on strike, I'm not going to work with them," they can say,
"OK. If you don't want to work on infrastructure or anything else, you know, maybe we can just push your trade deal aside."
So, this is ultimately an untenable position for him, and I guess that doesn't really bother him much because he's walked away within 24, 48 hours
of a lot of things he said. So, I suppose he will have to do it again here.
DIONNE: You know, Christiane, one of the challenges we have is the president is going to try and take his powers to a level that is
unconstitutional and that we haven't seen before, and it push the envelope. We know already he's looking for ways to sell lethal bombs to Saudi Arabia
that they will use in Yemen, which should require Congressional approval and he will try to bypass it.
He's already pushed the envelope on the use of troops in a civilian fashion down on the border, which is deeply violative of our constitution and our
history. And he has an acting defense secretary who is being (INAUDIBLE). We're going to end up with far more contest in the courts over his abuse of
presidential power and the unwillingness to turn over any kind of documents or to submit to testimony for members of his administration than we will
action inside Congress or the normal way of governing.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, that's really interesting because you just mentioned some [13:10:00] of what the courts have ruled and not in the president's
favor. So did Speaker Pelosi mention some of that today. So, you have also coined the phrase, I think it was you, E.J., the notion of
institutional patriotism. There seems to be no allegiance to the institutions that elected leaders are sworn to uphold.
And I guess I want to know from your perspective, both of you who watched this for so many years now, can the institutions survive? Can they
actually do their job? Is this what the constitution and its framers envisioned?
DIONNE: Well, first of all, in fairness, Norm was nice to give me the strike. I learned institutional patriotism from Norm and his colleague Tom
Mann. And I think it's a very important concept because our constitution wasn't written with parties in mind, they were clearly faction spiting each
other but we didn't have a party system at the time.
And we've gone through periods where despite strong partisanship, it wasn't as divisive or tribal as it is at the moment. And so, what you have as a
Republican Party in Congress that is not joining the Democrats at all in defending the prerogatives of Congress in saying, "Look, we may be
Republicans, we may not agree with the Democrats. But as a body, we have a right to certain things and that is the testimony of public officials.
Certain laws, for example, about requests for the president's income taxes." The law about that written back in the 1920s is very clear that
the Congress has a right to the president's income taxes to take a look at them.
And so, I think that the Republican party is going through a terrible radicalization at this moment that they're -- you know, both parties pulled
away from the center, but the Republicans moved much farther right than the Democrats have left, and they have decided that the interests of individual
politicians is to stick with Trump.
Now, we should romanticize the past. Republicans stuck with Nixon for a pretty long time but there were already Republicans on the judiciary
committee who early on were starting to pull away from Nixon except for Justin Amash, who is a very independent-minded libertarian Republican from
Michigan, there's been very little willingness to stand up for Congress and against Trump inside the Republican Party.
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you, Norm, just to expand on this idea because people like to think that no matter what, no matter who's in the White House, the
institutions will survive, they were built that way, the framers envisioned it that way. Did they, though, envision this kind of president and did
they or rather has there been this kind of sustained assault on the institution as the disruptive, the self-declared disruptive the president
ORNSTEIN: So, the framers did envision that we could end up with a demagogue in the White House and they built in safeguards. And the number
one safeguard was an independent Congress. And, you know, E.J. is right on point on that front that if this were Congress against the president, the
Congress would be winning because the Republican Senate could say, "If you don't stop overreaching, you will get no more judges. We will block your
executive nominees. We'll use the funding power to take away money from the things that you want," and Trump would have to bend. But this is the
House Democrats against the Republican Senate and the president, and that's not what the framers envisioned.
You know at the same time, the post-Cold War era, Congress ceded a lot of authority to Congress, emergency powers he can use. He could if he
declared an emergency, for example, seize control of the communications that we have in the country. There are a lot of things that he can do.
But those were all done with Congress expecting that the president would be a rational figure surrounded by rational people with the nation's interests
And now, that we have a president who is none of those things, we don't have a Congress that's even stepping up to say, "You know, maybe we should
change some of these laws or put some real curbs in place," and that's a danger. We've had dangers before. We've had crises in our governance
before but this is clearly in the top rank.
AMANPOUR: So, I want to play this exchange President Trump had yesterday about what he said in his respect to Congress. Let's just play this and
I'll ask you afterwards.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you view Congress as a coequal branch of government and do you respect their power of oversight?
TRUMP: I respect the courts. I respect Congress. I respect right here where we're standing. But what they've done is abuse.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, that is what he's saying, this is not a fair fight. They have ratcheted up. He's called it a [13:15:00] witch-hunt. "They're
abusing using me. I'm not going to play ball." And even "The Wall Street Journal" framed the latest, whatever you want to call it, the going on
strike as president calling Congress' bluff and portraying it as the kind of negotiating tactic that he's often used throughout his career.
DIONNE: Well, I think history suggests -- his history so far suggests he's actually not a very good negotiator. He hasn't negotiated very effectively
with North Korea, for example, with Russia, for example. So, I'm not allowed by his skill at "The Art of the Deal" as he said in his book.
Secondly, I suspect "The Wall Street Journal" would have said something very different during the Obama years.
And, you know, let's be honest, both parties tend to defend the executive more when they hold it. But I think, again, in the -- the Republican case,
they have been even more radically different when their party was in power versus when they held the Congress.
Nothing Congress is doing is illegitimate. Richard Nixon allowed many of his leading figures, including famously, John Dean, to testify before the
Watergate committee, to testify before Congress. Nothing that the House is asking for is at all out of line with any of our traditions. He just
doesn't want to be investigated, period.
AMANPOUR: Let's just play actually some video that we have, the empty chairs at the recent Congressional hearings, both the attorney general,
William Barr, and former White House counsel, Don McGahn, have refused to testify, at least some of them under pressure from the president. You --
your paper, E.J., says President Trump and his allies are blocking more than 20 separate Congressional probes. I wonder how you think Congress
will be able to continue its oversight as it says it wants to.
ORNSTEIN: So, this is a challenge, and it's a challenge that Speaker Pelosi is taking on with some divisions within her own party. She wants to
investigate the way that the Watergate committee did under Nixon with the Senate but basically uncovering and making clear to the public what he has
done and that there are high crimes and misdemeanors and it's becoming harder to do.
Congress is taking to the courts, but I think we're going to start to see a more aggressive move to bring in some of those witnesses, especially those
who are no longer in government like Don McGahn. And think we're going to see the efforts ratcheted up to move this to the next level which is formal
impeachment inquiry which gives Congress more leverage to bring people in and to get documents from them.
But I think it's important to say that every president has had words with Congress over what they are going to say and what they are going to do over
executive privilege, but we've never had it done in a blanket way like this with all of these investigations, and that is unprecedented and Congress is
going to have to step up to the plate to put some limits.
AMANPOUR: Go ahead.
DIONNE: Could I say? I think there are two issues here. One is how quickly the courts move. Because --
DIONNE: -- clearly, part of Trump's strategy is to try to delay all of these witnesses from going up for as long as possible. The closer we get
to an election year, the more people will say, "Let's just settle this in the election." So, the courts are going to have to make some pretty quick
decision if this is going to move forward.
I think the thing we also have to remember between a lot of comparisons are made with Watergate. When Richard Nixon was in power, the Democrats
control both houses of Congress. So, you had investigations begin very early.
Nixon was impeached in '74 or, yes, faced impeachment in '74, but the Watergate hearings happened in the summer of '73. The Republicans control
Congress for the first two Trump years. So, the investigation that was going on with Robert Mueller was not accompanied by any action in Congress.
So, you've had a long delay in the Congressional investigative process. And that creates a very different dynamic than the one you had in Watergate
that led to Nixon being forced out of office.
ORNSTEIN: You know, it was -- with the Nixon impeachment, a key event was when the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that he had to give up the tapes.
Here we have a different court. Five Republican justices, two of them Trump appointees. Some of these issues are going to get to the Supreme
Court. And we're going to see how independent that Supreme Court is when it's faced with these challenges involving presidential and Congressional
AMANPOUR: And then, of course, we get to the I word, not the investment or infrastructure, but impeachment. So, you were mentioning perhaps on
infrastructure, as what Chuck Schumer said, the senator, that he probably [13:20:00] didn't have the sums, he didn't have the math, he didn't have
the backing for all of the spending or figure out how to do it.
But this is what Nancy Pelosi said about the I word, and she's talking about impeachment and suggesting that actually that's something the
president kind of wants to drag the Democrats into.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PELOSI: It has nothing to do with politics. It's not about politics. It's not about, I don't know, passion or prejudice against him. It's not
personal. It's about patriotism. And that the facts will take us where we need to go. To your point, I'm not sure that we get any more information
by instituting an impeachment inquiry. But if we thought that we would, that's a judgment we have -- that we would have to make.
And I think what really got to him most is these court cases and the fact that a House Democratic caucus is not on a path to impeachment, and that's
where he wants us to be. And when he saw that that was not happening, that, again, with the cover-up, which he understands is true, just struck a
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, gentlemen, do you believe that analysis, that the president or the Democrats have not found themselves on to the impeachment track and
that for whatever political reason, he might want them to be there?
DIONNE: I'm a bit -- first of all, I'm a bit of a skeptic that the president plays that many moves ahead. So, I'm not 100 percent sure.
There is a popular theory that that's the case. I'm not sure it's the case. I do think that Democrats -- a lot of people talking about
Democratic divisions. I have talked to a lot of members up there lately and I find a lot of them are torn within themselves, it's not simply a
fight this side for impeachment, that side not.
A lot of Democrats think he has done things that are impeachable offenses. And not only just what's in the Mueller report. But they -- a lot of them
also think two other things, which is would it be better off in the long run for the country if Donald Trump were defeated by a very large majority
in the next election, which would have a kind of Democratic legitimacy? And they also worry if the House impeached but the Senate acquitted, which
at the moment given where the Republicans are, looks like the likely outcome, wouldn't that acquittal end up legitimizing so many things Trump
So, Democrats are frustrated that they cannot mount a reasonable investigation because Trump is blocking them and, therefore, there's
pressure to impeach to improve their position to get witnesses and documents. But there's real worry about whether in the long run
impeachment it will be the best route.
And as I say, there is a fight among some folks, Pelosi is not as enthusiastic about impeachment as say some members of the judiciary
committee. But my impression is a lot of this is Democrats within themselves saying, "This is a really hard question for us to decide."
AMANPOUR: And just --
ORNSTEIN: So, I --
AMANPOUR: Go ahead, Norm.
ORNSTEIN: I agree with E.J. This is not a Machiavellian figure who plays chess. He plays checkers and he plays it by pounding with a hammer on the
checker board. But his whole presidency has been built around not uniting the American people but exciting his base, and getting them to turn out in
large numbers in a political system where you can lose the popular vote and still win the electoral vote.
So, the degree to which he can frame this as a witch-hunt and get his base excited that he's being treated unfairly, and if along with that Democrats
are divided about the direction which they go in, that may provide him some level of satisfaction. But if you watched him at that press conference,
this is not a satisfied man at the moment.
AMANPOUR: Endlessly interesting from where you sit and, of course, from where we all sit. Norm Ornstein and E.J. Dionne, thank you so much for
joining us again.
ORNSTEIN: Thank you.
DIONNE: Great to be with you. Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Now, Wednesday's infrastructure meeting was meant to have discussions about clean air and water. And if you ask President Trump,
that is the same thing that he wants.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Right now, we're at the cleanest we've ever been, and it's very important to me. But if we're clean but every other place on earth is
dirty, that's not so good. So, I want clean air. I want clean water. Very important.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And he said that many times, clean air, clean water. But since he's come into office, he has rolled back numerous environmental protection
laws and embraced coal, which is a dying industry.
Now, we learn the Environmental Protection Agency has plans to change the way it calculates the health risks of air pollution. And "New York Times"
report [13:25:00] says the new equation would count fewer pollution-related deaths.
John Bachman is a former associate director at the EPA who says this is another example of the Trump administration and the EPA walking away from
science and putting lives in danger. And he is joining me now from Raleigh, North Carolina.
So, John Bachman, welcome to the program.
And it must be said that you have decades of experience at the EPA, starting back in the '70s and through the Bush administration. Just unpick
for us the premise of this new calculation on pollution and death risk.
JOHN BACHMAN, FORMER EPA ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR FOR SCIENCE/POLICY: Okay. And thanks for asking me.
The new methodology is really part of something that is done on all federal regulations, especially ones that affect the environment, that is to do a
cost/benefit analysis. To do that, if you have to calculate the cost and then you want to calculate the benefits. And they want to -- they are
twisting the way that we've been doing it -- or not we anymore, but the way EPA's been doing it for a decade or so, from a point where you make some
assumptions that the effects of air pollution actually go to very low levels and there's no obvious thresholds. So, you can calculate a risk and
a benefit of reducing air pollution.
In this case, they're about to put out a new regulation that relaxes an air pollution standard that was put out by the Obama administration, the Clean
Power Plan. And that plan was intended to address climate change.
So, they have changed two ways they want to change how they do benefits. The first way would be to hide the ball, that is, we're only going to look
at the benefits we're trying to get from this regulation, which is to reduce clean house gas pollutants. And if we do that, and we don't even
look at the other potential benefits that come with that action, then you get an example where taking that rule away might produce some benefits
because we don't have as good a data for how to monetize the benefits of greenhouse gas reductions as we do for some other pollutants.
AMANPOUR: So, I have to say it does sound very, very complex.
AMANPOUR: So, I'm just going to stop you there and ask you what impact do you believe that will have on the ordinary citizen.
BACHMAN: Well, as a matter of fact, the relaxation of this regulation, when they do the calculations, would increase the number of premature
deaths from air pollution by about 1,000 per year, and there would be tens of thousands of people who suffer -- who are sensitive who suffer asthma,
aggravation, school absences, work absences and other events related to their health.
AMANPOUR: Well, that sounds very dramatic. I mean, can one really change the calculation to a point that it would result in that kind of risk and
that kind of impact?
BACHMAN: Well, the first example I gave you ignores the calculation, it just says, "We're not going to count it." It's like saying when they
developed Viagra as a drug to help your heart, let's ignore a side benefit that turns out to be the main use of it today. And the side benefit of an
air pollution reduction that comes with the Clean Power Plan is it reduces sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide emissions which makes small particles
which causes very serious health effects, and that's how -- and what they do to reduce those calculations, because they have to show them pretty much
today, is by saying, "Let's throw in a threshold. Let's say that any reduction that is below the level of the current standard for this
pollutant doesn't count."
And as it turns out, most of the country that is affected by this regulation already meets the standard. So, there is zero benefits.
AMANPOUR: Give me --
BACHMAN: By an assumption.
AMANPOUR: Yes. Give me a sense of some of the most integral environmental protections that are currently under threat and being rolled back since the
Obama administration and what is the impact being if you're able to measure it on people's health and other, you know, metrics.
BACHMAN: Right. Well, there's a number of regulations that are particularly important. Anything that affects emissions of particles or
anything that makes ozone smog, the bad kind of ozone. And some of these are automotive regulations. The particular ones that affect diesels, this
Clean Power Plant is one of the biggest. And a couple scientists from Harvard have done a calculation on their estimate of what those -- these
benefits would be of these relaxations.
And they came up with a number, who knows how great it is, but they did the best they could last year of about 80,000 premature deaths over a 10-year
period from those kinds of relaxations.
Now, whether it's 80,000 or 40,000, it's a lot. And there's a lot of corollary health benefits like I mentioned that don't involve just
AMANPOUR: So look, Paula Jean Swearengin was one of the candidates for the midterm elections of last year. She was raised by coal miners. She's lost
several family members to black lung disease and she wants to take on the coal industry as part of her platform.
She obviously comes from West Virginia, which is a major coal-producing state. This is what she said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAULA JEAN SWEARENGIN: As we go around the block, I'll try to point out some of the houses that I know that people had cancer. This was my
house where I raised my kids.
My neighbor's daughter ended up with a rare form of bone cancer. I know this lady had cancer. There is a person in that house that has cancer.
And our leadership is not hearing us. They're in bed with industries.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So what -- the EPA, several members, several previous administrators have signed the letter trying to explain the dangers and
trying to offer Congress help. And I think you have obviously seen it. You've signed it, right?
BACHMANN: No, no. I (CROSSTALK) administrator.
AMANPOUR: No, you haven't signed it. OK. What can they do? What can that -- what help are they actually offering?
BACHMANN: I think they're trying to remind people of the 50-year history. The EPA is going to have a 50th birthday in next -- a year from December.
It was founded in 1970.
In 1970, the Nixon administration produced EPA and passed this really great, new clean air act, which has really done wonders since then. And at
that time, there was a bipartisan consensus. Edmund Muskie who was going to -- post-Nixon, was trying to outdo Nixon and Nixon tried to outdo
Muskie, a whole different kind of fight than we see today.
And the idea that you really had a consensus that really we ought to be taking on the obvious in-your-face problems that existed back in the 1960s
and early '70s was clear. That tradition of the E in EPA being about protecting the environment and human health has mostly, with some
exceptions in the early '80s, stuck with EPA right up until the most recent administrator left in 2016.
And we now have an EPA that brags more, just yesterday in the regulatory calendar, about how much they're going to deregulate. And it's one thing
to deregulate when the regulations don't make sense.
And I'm not here to say that no -- all regulations make sense. Some of them could be cleaned up. There are sometimes more efficient ways to do
things but we need to look at it and do these kinds of analysis to see what you're doing when you do those deregulations.
And in addition to saying you're somehow going to help the economy if you really are, because you're not going to bring coal back.
AMANPOUR: Well, OK. You say --
BACHMANN: And, in fact, you really -- go ahead.
AMANPOUR: No. Just what you said, you're not going to bring coal back but I think President Trump is quite ready to bring coal back or at least
saying that to the coal industry. This is what he said in his 2018 State of the Union Address.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have ended the war on American energy and we have ended the war on beautiful, clean coal. We are
now very proudly an exporter of energy to the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So how realistic, John Bachmann, is President Trump's desire to rejuvenate, reenergize the coal industry in America? And let's not forget
that the current EPA administrator is a former coal lobbyist, Andrew Wheeler.
BACHMANN: It certainly is the intent of this regulation that we're talking about, where they're changing the rules and benefits that they want to try
to promote and prolong the lives of coal plants. But the trend for years, for decades, has been for mechanized operation of producing coal, reduce
coal miners. And with fracking natural gases so cheap, the utilities on their own without regulations at all are for economic reasons switching to
There's just no way that industry comes completely back. And everybody sees the handwriting on the wall that if you try to continue burning coal
into the future, you're [13:35:00] going into the wind, I didn't want to use a sailor's term there, against what we need to be doing about climate
change. And, of course, the president has pretty much denied that that's a serious issue.
AMANPOUR: There's climate change obviously and there's also the health of people. And a new study basically says that this air pollution has found
that it could be damaging to every single organ in the body, causing 8.8 million early deaths every year, which is -- which means it's actually
bigger and has a bigger deadly impact than smoking does.
I just want to know how this air pollution situation in the United States compares with some of the big polluters overseas? For instance, China,
BACHMANN: Well, on the world scale, the levels in China and India, India's probably at the worst, are the worst in the world. Whether you're talking
about particles which is one of the most serious pollutants or ozone in the case of China, they both have very high levels.
If you look at the developer or look at your viewers in Europe, Northern Europe is about the same levels as the United States. The United States is
much cleaner than those countries. It's among the -- United States, Canada, Australia are among the cleanest.
And Northern European countries are among the cleanest in the world. They're developed. They have done things to reduce this pollution but it
doesn't mean it's not having significant effects.
But in Southern Europe, that's actually not as good I think partly because of diesels for transportation and some other things. So the United States
is pretty good for air pollution, less good for ozone than it is. It's world class for ozone and probably in the middle tier for ozone.
So it's not the cleanest when you look at all of air pollution but it's on the good side. And all that is due to all of the work that was done over
the last 40-some-years under the Clean Air Act by, not only EPA but states and local agencies and industries that have done their jobs.
AMANPOUR: Well, on that note, John Bachmann, formally of the EPA, thank you so much for joining us.
And now we turn to lessons of civility with our next guest, Eric Liu, CEO, and founder of the nonprofit Citizen University. The former Clinton
administration adviser says that we need civic Saturdays, a nonreligious ritual of coming together to celebrate America. He told our Michel Martin
why he believes that we're in a moment of moral awakening.
MICHEL MARTIN, CONTRIBUTOR: Eric Liu, thank you so much for talking to us.
ERIC LIU, AUTHOR, BECOME AMERICA: I'm so glad to be here.
MARTIN: And we're talking about your latest book which is "Become America" but really what we're talking about is your call for kind of a movement in
a way, for a civic religion. What is a civic religion and why do we need it?
LIU: Civic religion is simply the idea that in our lives as citizens here in the United States, we have so little to hold us together. We're not of
a common bloodline. We're not of a common faith tradition. We come -- our ancestors come from all over the place.
The thing that binds us together simply is a creed. It's a set of ideas, a set of promises, and some of them are written in parchment in our founding
and foundational documents, but others are from other parts of our history.
And when I talk about the idea of civic religion, it is reminding us that in the first place, there is this foundational creed that doesn't just
execute itself. We have to remind ourselves of it. We have to commit to deeds and actions that actually give it life.
But we do that best not just in random, one-off moments but actually with a structure of ritual, right. You have to come together in a regular way to
remind yourselves what this thing is that we inherited by simply being here in the United States and what we're called actually to hold up and sustain.
MARTIN: You really mean that people should get together. They should celebrate the country. They should get together on a regular basis. They
should read things that are inspiring.
LIU: I do.
MARTIN: You really mean that?
LIU: I really mean it. I think my notion of civic religion is, of course, not -- it's not godly religion. It is not worshipping a deity but it is
about believing in democracy and believing in each other and our capacity actually to live up to the promises of democracy.
And I think democracy works only when enough of us believe democracy works. And that is a fragile thing. It's kind of a gamble and it's kind of a
miracle when it works.
And when it starts to corrode or evaporate, you realize just how evanescent that mutual faith is.
MARTIN: How did you grow up with this idea, that this is what the moment requires? Did you go up religiously and go into church and think, yes,
this is what translates to that? What brought the idea?
LIU: Interestingly, I grew up with no faith tradition at all. I was not raised in any particular tradition. But I grew up -- look, I think all
humans are wired for belief and belonging in something.
And I had that wiring especially [13:40:00] strongly and so I'm a son of immigrants. My parents came to the U.S. from China via Taiwan.
And so when I was growing up in Upstate New York, I had this very strong sense that the way that I wanted to channel that spirit of belief and
belonging was into the idea of this country, the promise of this country. But to be clear, I didn't come up with this idea of civic religion.
This is at least as old as Alexis de Tocqueville when he came through the young United States in the 1830s and noticed that again the miracle that he
observed of people -- well, of white men governing themselves at that time, was that there's this mutual belief that if they showed up and showed up
for each other, they could make the thing work.
MARTIN: Which you actually have a very specific proposal in this book which you talk about in this book which is called "Become America". You
think people should get together.
MARTIN: Like on Saturdays. You call it civic Saturdays and so stuff.
LIU: Well, let me tell you about that. So I founded this -- co-founded this organization called Citizen University. And we do work all around the
United States to spread the belief that a strong democracy requires strong citizens.
And one of our signature programs, you just referred to, is called Civic Saturdays. These are gatherings that are basically a civic analog to a
faith gathering. It's not about church or mosque or synagogue or religion but it is about this notion of American civic religion.
And the gathering follows the arc of a faith gathering. We sing together. We will turn to the strangers next to us and talk about a common prompt, a
question like who do you belong to or who do you feel responsible for?
Something that just cracks open the heart right from the get-go, right, with maybe somebody you just met, that invites you to be on a different
plain and just I'm looking at my phone or I've got my armor on because I'm living in a city or whatever, right.
And then after that, there are readings of texts that you might think of as civic scripture, just text from the American tradition. Whether it's
famous things like the Preamble of the Constitution or I Have A Dream speech or less well-known texts.
And then from those readings of scripture, what follows is a sermon to make sense of the moment that we're in, to tie the moral choices and ethical
conundrums of living in the United States right now back to our lives in community, right.
MARTIN: And I think some might wonder at this point what qualifies you for this.
LIU: Yes. Well, what qualifies me is what qualifies you, which is that we have the dumb luck to be here right now. We have the dumb luck to be the
stewards of this experiment that got handed to us.
I don't care what your documentation status is. When I say citizenship and Citizen University, I'm not talking about papers or passports version of
citizenship. I mean this bitter, ethical sense of being a member of the body.
What qualifies me or you or any other member of the body who decides to show up and decides that you know what, there's no such thing at the end of
the day it's someone else's problem, I'm kind of responsible for the health or lack of health for the body politic.
And so if I look around and I feel like people are hungering for belonging, hungering for an invitation to have a different way of dealing with each
other than you see on social media, and no one else is doing it, then I've got to raise my hand and do it. And that's how we started these.
We started them in Seattle in 2016, which is where our headquarters is. And we thought it would be great if 20, 30 people showed up. For the first
one, 220 people crammed this basement reading room at a bookstore because, again, we don't get invited or we don't get permission to engage with one
another, face to face in a locally rooted way to try to make moral sense of our times.
MARTIN: OK. Well, you said something important just there which is (INAUDIBLE) but you said 2016. For a lot of people, let's just say for, I
would say a lot of Progressives but not just Progressives because one of the things that we have seen are a lot of committed Conservatives who are
deeply troubled by what they see as the direction of the country, the tone of our discourse.
But you live in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle. I assume a lot of Progressives showed up. Obviously, for some people, 2016 was a terrible
crisis. I mean they feel like this is -- Donald Trump is like their worst nightmare of someone who should not be in leadership.
But for other people, this is a great moment, a great moment where they finally felt heard and seen. What is your ask for the people who think you
know what, finally, somebody who's -- somebody is in there is going to get the job done in the way that I want it done.
LIU: You talk to anybody who is a fan of the current president, and I have them in my family. And you ask then -- if you ask them how they like the
president, they will say they think he's doing a great job.
But if you ask them what's the state of the union in your neighborhood? Are there problems with opioids? Are there problems with suicide? Are
their problems with jobs disappearing? Are there problems with people not knowing or trusting their neighbors?
Do you feel like the quality of life where you live has gotten worse? Do you feel like people's sense of dehumanizing each other has gotten worse?
They will say yes just like anybody else. It doesn't matter whether you're left or right. The crisis that I'm addressing here is not the crisis
[13:45:00] of one person getting elected to the White House.
Though in his own way, he is eroding, in my view, democratic norms and a lot of the habits that are required to sustain our Republic. But this
book, our work, Civic Saturdays, this whole approach to gathering people in invitations way is meant for all.
MARTIN: If people can't go to Civic Saturdays, it just isn't their thing, some people are not good in groups, they don't like it, what should they do
to advance the goals that you're talking about?
LIU: The first thing I really would say is join a club or make a club. Even if you're an introvert. Even if you don't like big crowds or
whatever, any circle of people that's more than 1, 2, 3, 10, 20 people, right.
And the club doesn't even have to be political or civic. It can be a gardening club. It can be a neighborhood club. It can be a book club.
MARTIN: OK. But tell me about the Garden Club. What's good about that? How does that help things?
LIU: Oh, come on. I mean if you're in a gardening club, in the first place --
MARTIN: You get tomatoes.
LIU: You get tomatoes. You are -- I mean, first of all, you are doing literally what is metaphorically the work of citizenship which is to weed,
seed and feed, and tend the garden.
The garden of our democracy does not tend itself. The system of community and civic life, system of our marketplace, they're not self-regulating
machines, they're gardens. And once you let weeds take hold and if you just sit back and watch with a laissez-faire approach, those weeds will
take over until the --
MARTIN: But tell me -- but one of the points is -- tell me how adding -- joining anything --
LIU: Gardening, chess --
MARTIN: Chess, anything, because?
LIU: Because joining a club is about re-exercising that muscle of association, of coming together with a group of folks who may not be that
close to you yet, trying to figure out common goals, common agenda, common interests, common ways to figure out when you disagree about how to deal
MARTIN: We talk to a number of people who belong to these white supremacist groups, especially the young people, that's what they say.
LIU: You bet,
MARTIN: They say that's why they liked it.
LIU: Yes. They --
MARTIN: Because there were people who belonged -- who they felt a sense of belonging and they thought it was exciting. And so --
LIU: And it gave them an identity. It made them seen and feel heard, recognized, powerful, right. And so to me, I look at that, I look at the
appeal of white supremacist groups to certain young people not as an argument against clubs and against associations but as an argument for far
more and better choices and alternatives of associations and clubs.
So that if you're a young person who feels lost and adrift and feels dissed by society and you think well, the one place I can feel strong again is in
a white power group, then that's a failure of all of us. Why weren't there five other channels at the Y, at the school, in the library, in the sports
team where that young person could have plugged in, in a multiracial, multi-faith, multi-other dimension group and realized I can find voice and
meaning and belonging and power there, right?
The failure is not in the white supremacist group. They're doing what groups are supposed to do.
MARTIN: What informs your idea that this kind of personal, face-to-face participation is the antidote to all of this corrosion and corruption of
relationship that you see. The reason I ask is that if people feel that these really big forces are shaping our environment, like, you know, not
point the finger at anyone in particular, like tech companies, right. People feel like that these are really the forces that are shaping our
culture, then would it make more sense to focus on regulating or addressing them?
LIU: I've got to answers two that. The first one is we've got to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time, right. So it is true that Facebook,
social media companies, Twitter, YouTube, they need more regulation. I think there needs to be legislative action and policy action to address
But at the same time, remember, how does Facebook get so powerful? How does Twitter get so powerful?
Because you and I give them our attention. You and I give them our eyeballs. You and I give them our screen time, right. If you want to curb
Facebook's power, convince yourself and those around you and those around those around you to stop giving away your power and your attention that way
and that will be part of the solution, right.
But in addition to that, I do think face to face is ultimately the way that we're going to rekindle the renewal of democratic life. And the reason why
is I think that the things that you and I are discussing here are about values, they're about norms, they're about spirit, they're about the heart
and whether your heart is open or closed and your capacity for empathy or for imagination to see yourself in someone else's shoes.
And these things are, in my view, upstream of policy. The spirit is upstream of policy. The values and this kind of civic faith is upstream of
law and elections. The soul is upstream of the state.
And yes, we can at other times and others among us can focus a lot on policy, law, elections and a state. We must. I'm not saying give that up.
But in the end, you cannot durably un-pollute what's down there [13:50:00] unless you actually clean out what's up here, right, what's upstream. And
that is our attitudes and the way we see each other.
The thing that you said earlier when you were talking about people who support the current president and you're saying that a lot of them did that
because they felt seen and heard, right. That is a universal human desire to be seen and heard and recognized as fully human.
And we live in a dehumanizing time and so it's only by setting emotion a counter-veiling set of habits together in the company of others to actually
see each other. And that does not mean like each other. That does not mean agree with each other.
But it means to be grown-ups with each other. And I think our screens give us too many reasons and too many excuses to not be grown-ups, to be
toddlers with each other, to behave in our worst ways with impunity and face to face is the way we've got to --
MARTIN: What exactly do you want people to do right now? I take it the first thing you would say is stop unfriending people because you don't
agree with them. I mean I don't know. I don't want to anticipate what you're going to say.
The reason I raise that is that you remember in the wake of the 2016 election, a lot of people were like, I just can't deal with these people
anymore, even in my own family. And not for reasons that were terrible, just because I found your discourse horrible. I think that you are
endorsing racism or sexism. I mean you want me to give all of these people a big hug who hate me and want to kill me?
LIU: You know I think it is possible to empathize and humanize with another person even when they're wrong, even when they are -- even when
their behaviors are evil, even when they look to you to be evil.
I foundationally believe that. And I think one of the things that we've got to do before you project this on to how you're going to handle that
guy, that person is, and it answers your question, what do you want people to do?
I want people to begin by asking themselves, you know, the civic golden rule. Let me give you an example. As a person who's not a fan of the
current administration, I have been alarmed at the extent to which President Trump has used executive orders and executive authority to bypass
Congress to go against the will of the people, what have you, right.
But as has been pointed out to me, I was not even remotely alarmed when his predecessor, President Obama, used exactly the same powers for ends that I
liked. And upon reflection, I think the first thing we've got to do as citizens is to ask ourselves are we willing ho told ourselves to the
standards that we wish to hold others to?
And if not, then the first task is actually to sit with that and ask why not? Is it because I love my righteousness? Is it because in the end, I'm
just as annalistically committed to power and winning as the other side is? And I'm just as -- I will just as conveniently dress up my desire for power
in moral language?
Then you've got to face yourself, right, because if that's the case -- well, that's the recipe for the politics we have now.
MARTIN: I just want to understand what you're saying but I'm trying to find a way to say this that isn't so flamboyant. But unilateral
disarmament, is that what you're asking for?
You're asking for the nice people to be nice and let the not nice people run over them? Because I think it could feel that way.
LIU: Yes, it can feel that way. And I think you put it -- I think that's a really important thing.
I think -- I am asking people to recognize that it can feel that way and that it's not that way. It feels like being a sucker. It feels like
And again, to say that I'm trying to empathize with the other person or trying to realize the ways in which I'm being a bit of a hypocrite when I
criticize them for doing X but I was happy with X a few years back under Obama is not to, therefore, forgive them.
You can still dislike the thing they're advocating, right. You can you still mobilize with all of your might and activate every ounce of civic
power you can muster to defeat that other guy or that other side. You ought to.
I do in my life as a citizen. You can be in the fight. But I think to me, one of the things that you've got to recognize is that the subtitle of this
book is civic sermons on love, responsibility, and democracy. And responsibility, we've talked a little bit about here, right.
But love, like I guess the fundamental question is, do you believe love is for suckers? If you believe love is for suckers, then yes, you know, then
maybe you won't like anything I'm saying.
And if you believe love is for suckers, then even if you think you oppose Donald Trump, you are absolutely fueling and feeding his rise if you are
somebody who believes love is for suckers. I believe that this notion of civic love, this broader notion of civic religion, it does not require you
to be a saint. It does not require you to be an altruist.
It just requires you to recognize that we are part of a story bigger than ourselves and that true self-interest is not just [13:55:00] about me and
my side in this moment getting what I can. It is about recognizing that true self-interest is mutual interest and we're all better off when we're
all better off.
Is there evil in the world? Sure. As dark as things may seem sometimes in our politics, I do believe we're not done yet.
MARTIN: Eric Liu, thanks so much for talking to us.
LIU: Michelle, it's been great to be with you. Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And that is it for now. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.