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State of the Union
Interview With Jon Stewart; Interview With Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL); Interview With U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Aired 9-10a ET
Aired October 17, 2021 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Backed up. With negotiations at a standstill in Congress and supply chain shortages hurting the economic recovery, does the Biden administration need to change course? Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg joins me next.
Plus: Lock them up? the House January 6 investigation has a choice to make as key Trump allies say they will not cooperate.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hope that the committee goes after them and holds them accountable.
TAPPER: Are charges coming? And where does the investigation go from here? I will ask one of only two Republicans on that committee. Congressman Adam Kinzinger will be here.
And he is back. Six years after leaving "The Daily Show," Jon Stewart has a new show and a lot to say.
JON STEWART, COMEDIAN/ACTIVIST: Overwhelmingly, I still believe this is an experiment worth having.
How can you not feel good, Jake Tapper? Feel good!
TAPPER: Our wide-ranging interview and why he still has hope for America ahead.
TAPPER: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is watching President Biden's problems mount.
The president is out fine-tuning his sales pitch for an economic agenda his own party still cannot agree on. Democrats are now scrambling for alternatives, after West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin appeared to kill the cornerstone climate policy in the party's social safety net package.
As Democrats try to sell their spending plans, the Biden administration also needs to calm fears over rising inflation, spiking the prices of groceries, gasoline and rent and a growing supply chain nightmare that could be about to get worse, plunging our nation's ports, railroads, trucks, and critical infrastructure workers deeper into crisis just in time for the holidays.
Joining us now to discuss, the secretary of transportation, Pete Buttigieg.
Secretary Buttigieg, thanks for joining us.
We're seeing major supply chain disruption in the U.S. right now, causing everything from higher prices to longer waits for products. Moody's warns that these supply chain disruptions -- quote -- "will get worse before they get better" -- unquote.
Do Americans need to prepare ourselves for this to get worse before it gets better?
PETE BUTTIGIEG, U.S. TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: Well, certainly, a lot of the challenges that we have been experiencing this year will continue into next year.
But there are both short-term and long-term steps that we can take to do something about it. Look, part of what's happening isn't just the supply side. It's the demand side. Demand is off the charts. Retail sales are through the roof.
And if you think about those images of ships, for example, waiting at anchor on the West Coast, you know, every one of those ships is full of record amounts of goods that Americans are buying, because demand is up, because income is up, because the president has successfully guided this economy out of the teeth of a terrifying recession.
Now the issue is, even though our ports are handling more than they ever have, record amounts of goods coming through, our supply chains can't keep up. And, of course, our supply chains, that's a complicated system that is mostly in private hands, and rightly so.
Our role is to be an honest broker, bring together all of the different players there, secure commitments, and get solutions that are going to make it easier.
TAPPER: Many American companies, especially small businesses, as you note, are struggling to cope with these supply chain disruptions.
One possible solution, President Biden lifting former President Trump's tariffs on China to try to provide some relief. That's not a panacea, but it could provide some relief. Will President Biden do that? Will he lift those tariffs?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, I think every idea is being taken seriously.
But what we're doing right now is to focus on the operations themselves. A lot of Americans might be surprised to learn that our ports have not generally operated on a 24/7 basis.
We have secured commitments to change that. And the president announced that the ports of L.A. and Long Beach -- Long Beach actually was piloting this for a few weeks. Collectively, those two ports are 40 percent of our container traffic. They're now going 24/7.
That's not a simple thing to do overnight, but it was a big commitment. Now we have got to make sure that works its way through the chain, because, of course, it's not just the gate of the port. It's getting those containers onto a chassis, getting them to where they need to be.
And that goes to other issues in our supply chain, like the availability of truckers. So, we're taking steps on that, like my department working with state DMVs to speed the issuing of CDLs, those Commercial Driver's Licenses, so that we can get more qualified safe truckers on the road.
There are a lot of steps that we're taking right now to address this in the short term, but, also, at risk of repeating myself on something that I have been talking about, and the president's been talking about all year, this is one more example of why we need to pass the infrastructure bill.
There are $17 billion in the president's infrastructure plan for ports alone. And we need to deal with these long-term issues that have made us vulnerable to these kinds of bottlenecks when there are demand fluctuations, shocks and disruptions like the ones that have been caused by the pandemic.
TAPPER: Well, Secretary Buttigieg, that $17 billion for ports in the infrastructure bill, I mean, that passed the Senate more than two months ago. It's sitting in the House, and House progressives are not going to vote for it unless they first get a vote, a successful vote, on the larger social safety net bill.
Are you frustrated by that delay? Do you think that was a mistake for progressives to demand this other legislation be voted on before the infrastructure bill?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, the reality needs -- the reality is that America needs both of those pieces of legislation, not only to make sure that we have the right kind of infrastructure, but to make sure that life gets better in this country for people trying to raise children...
TAPPER: Right, but only one of the bills is ready now.
BUTTIGIEG: ... and for people trying to participate in the work force. And, obviously, we need both of them to be ready, to get to the president's desk and to be signed.
Earlier, you cited Moody's, the Wall Street firm, analytics firm. And one thing that has not been talked about enough is their finding about how the overall Build Back Better vision is designed to reduce inflationary pressures.
So, if you care about inflation, you ought to care about not just the supply chain issues, not just the infrastructure things I work on, but also the provisions in Build Back Better like paid family leave, like making it easier to afford child care, like community college that are going to give us a stronger labor force and help us deal with that major constraint on economic growth.
TAPPER: Given the supply chain issues, given the fact that you don't see this ending, this problem ending any time in the next week or two, would it be wise for Americans to do their holiday shopping perhaps a little earlier this year? Or would that exacerbate the problem?
BUTTIGIEG: Look, I think, obviously, every family makes its own preparations for Christmas.
What I know for sure -- or the other holidays. What I know is that the holidays are going to be a lot better this year than they were last year, because, a year ago, millions of Americans were sliding into poverty who now have jobs. And a year ago, a lot of us were gathering with loved ones over a screen.
It's going to be different this year because of the president's leadership, because of being able to get more and more Americans vaccinated and make that available free to every American. And those are just a couple of the reasons why we can expect a much better holiday season this year than we were facing a year ago.
TAPPER: A key climate change policy in the Democrats' reconciliation bill, the social safety net spending bill, the clean energy -- clean electricity standard, will likely be dropped from the final deal because Senator Joe Manchin says he can't support it.
You supported a clean electricity standard during your campaign. How disappointed are you that this potentially will not be in the bill?
BUTTIGIEG: Look, the administration and the president are committed to bold climate action. Exactly what legislative form that takes is what's being negotiated right now.
But the bottom line is, we have to act on climate for the good of our children and, by the way, for the good of our economy. I view this as kind of like a planetary maintenance issue. The longer you take to do something about it, the more it's going to cost, in livelihoods, as well as lives.
We need to act. The president has led on this literally from day one, rejoining the Paris climate accords. And, of course, while my piece of it, the piece I work on most in transportation, is a specific limited piece, it's a big one when it comes to making it more affordable and easy to drive electric vehicles in this country and dealing with carbon and other sectors of transportation.
We have got to get this done. Our future depends on it.
TAPPER: This is the first time you have been on the show since you and your husband, Chasten, welcomed twins Penelope and Joseph into your family.
You just returned from paternity leave, which Congress is debating right now. Some conservatives have been citing your experience in an effort to mock the very idea of paternity leave. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS: Pete Buttigieg has been on leave from his job since August after adopting a child, paternity leave, they call it, trying to figure out how to breast-feed.
No word on how that went.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: What's your response?
BUTTIGIEG: As you might imagine, we're bottle-feeding, and doing it at all hours of the day and night. And I'm not going to apologize to Tucker Carlson or anyone else for taking care of my premature newborn infant twins.
The work that we are doing is joyful, fulfilling, wonderful work. It's important work. And it's work that every American ought to be able to do when they welcome a new child into their family.
I campaigned on that. So did the president. The Build Back Better agenda includes provisions for paid family leave. And, by the way, we're pretty much the only country left that doesn't have some kind of national policy for paid leave.
I think it's down to us and Papua New Guinea. It is long past time to make it possible for every American mother and father to take care of their children when a new child arrives in the family.
TAPPER: We're thrilled for your family. And we're happy that parental leave is a reality for so many in the U.S.
Looking back, as a Cabinet secretary, why didn't you or the Department of Transportation make an official announcement when you went on parental leave? And why did you not appoint an acting secretary while you were away?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, so, the way this works is, there is a deputy secretary, Polly Trottenberg, who's doing phenomenal work and who, as deputy secretaries do, can fill in when a secretary is not available.
Now, look, even though I have been on maternity leave, and I'm proud of it, obviously, given the nature of my job, when you take a job like mine, you understand and accept that you're going to have to be available 24/7, depending on what's going on, and you're going to have to engage.
And I did, even if that meant taking a phone call or making a decision from a hospital room. But I am so thankful for the phenomenal work that my colleagues at the Department of Transportation have done and are doing. And I'm thankful to be part of an administration that is walking the walk on our family values. TAPPER: Well, congratulations again to you and Chasten on Penelope
and Joseph. I know you're going to find you have ability to love that you probably didn't even know you had before.
Thank you again for being here. And congratulations.
BUTTIGIEG: Already am. Thank you.
TAPPER: Nobody's off-limits. Will the January 6 select committee subpoena former President Trump?
One of only two Republicans on that committee is here.
Plus: Six years after leaving "The Daily Show," Jon Stewart is back on the air.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: My name is Jon Stewart. I have been away from television for some time. This is what I look like now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Our conversation with Jon Stewart is just ahead.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.
President Biden weighing in on the January 6 House select committee, saying he's fine with a zero tolerance approach for witnesses who will not cooperate.
The panel this week taking critical steps to hold Trump disciple Steve Bannon in criminal contempt of Congress. Who will the committee go after next?
One of only two Republicans on the House select committee, Congressman Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois, joins me now.
Congressman, we have a lot to get to.
But, first, I do want to ask you about this breaking news overnight that gang members in Haiti kidnapped as many as 17 American missionaries who are originally from Ohio, including three children, as the missionaries were returning from an orphanage, according to a source in Haiti's security forces.
You're on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. What should the U.S. do to rescue these kidnapped Americans? REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): Yes, first and foremost, pray for them.
I think, secondarily, we need to track down where they are and see if negotiations without paying ransom are possible or do whatever we need to on a military front or police front. But, yes, I mean, I think probably everybody watching at least one or two, I guess, Kevin Bacons away knows somebody that has been a missionary to Haiti at some point.
And so this is a -- this hits home. So we keep them in our prayers, and the U.S. government will do everything we can to get them back.
TAPPER: Let's turn to the January 6 committee.
I want to take a listen to what President Biden said on Friday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: What is your message to people who defy congressional subpoenas on the January 6 committee?
BIDEN: I hope that the committee goes after them and holds them accountable criminally.
QUESTION: Should they be prosecuted by the Justice Department?
BIDEN: I do, yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Now, the Justice Department later clarified that they would make their decisions based only on the law and on the facts.
Do you think it's appropriate for President Biden to say that? Does it make your job on the committee more difficult?
KINZINGER: No, I think it's appropriate.
I think the president has every right to signal. I think he has every right to make it clear where the administration stands. I mean, God knows the prior administration, every two hours, was trying to signal to the Justice Department. But that had to do with other pretty horrific things.
And I think the president has made it clear that we need answers to this. And I think the vast majority of Americans agree. So, this is -- this potential criminal contempt referral -- or will be criminal contempt referral for Steve Bannon -- is the first shot over the bow.
It's very real, but it says to anybody else coming in front of the committee, don't think that you're going to be able to just kind of walk away and we're going to forget about you. We're not.
TAPPER: Both you and the chairman of the committee, Bennie Thompson, would not rule out a subpoena for former President Trump.
But you and all the members of your committee have also pointed blame for the insurrection squarely at him for inciting it. Do you really think you can do a thorough investigation on the insurrection without subpoenaing President Trump, former President Trump?
KINZINGER: I don't know.
I think, if I had that answer now, I'd probably go in and not be able to see all the pieces. What we really want to do is make sure we're getting every piece of this puzzle. And that's going to include people that have already come in and talked to us. It's going to include people that we will potentially subpoena in the future whose name you probably have never heard of, who have very good incentives to come in and talk.
And that begins to put the building blocks of this together. And I think, you know, just speaking quite honestly, if we subpoena, all the sudden, the former president, we know that's going to become kind of a circus. So, that's not necessarily something we want to do up front.
But if he has pieces of information we need, we certainly will. This is not -- Jake, here's the thing. This isn't about necessarily even getting answers for tomorrow and hoping that the people that believe the insurrection was really some Antifa false flag thing are going to believe it.
When I think about what we're doing on the committee, I think in terms of, yes, I hope we can change minds tomorrow, after we get the report, basically, some time in the future, but this is about the 10-year argument. What are our kids going to think when they read the history books? Who's going to win that argument?
And I have always believed since I have been a kid in Sunday school that truth needs to win out.
TAPPER: So, I know you're worried about protecting democracy, and you have been very outspoken.
You have opposed both bills from the Democratic Party that are intended to strengthen protection for voters, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, a bill reinstating the Justice Department's power to block some states and localities from enacting what they view as discriminatory voting rules.
Why did you not support those bills? And is there a bipartisan effort that you and other Republicans could get behind that could actually protect the rights of voters and get through the House and Senate for President Biden to sign?
KINZINGER: I certainly hope there is. I think there is. I think there's been discussions in the Senate, from last I have heard.
Look, you can call a bill the Voting Rights Act, and then left-wing Twitter goes nuts about this, by the way, and they can say, you voted against voting rights, without even looking to the details of this. So, the quick details, the Voting Rights Act in the mid-'60s came out
with a temporary provision called preclearance, which required certain states to get clearance for any changes to any election system that they did. That went on into perpetuity. It was intended to be temporary.
In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court threw that provision out and said history changes. We can't keep pretending like it's 1965. And so, for the last eight years, we have not had that provision in.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Act would simply put -- to reimplement that provision to have again the Justice Department make any approval to any changes. By the way, that would have been the Trump Justice Department and anything like that.
So, yes, we can get to a solution. The problem is -- I admonish my side all the time about playing politics. The Democrats have to quit playing politics on some of this too. You can call it the For the People's Act, which was the other one. And, really, what that is public funding for campaigns, among other a whole host of things.
If we actually went into this as adults with real discussions, I think we can solve stuff. But, instead, we just wait for these Twitter comments of Adam voted against whatever. And then I can put a bill out there, the God and Puppies Act, and see people vote against that, and say they're against God and puppies.
TAPPER: We only have a few seconds left, but I did want to get your reaction to the fact that there was a rally in support of Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin in Virginia in which it was announced that there was an American flag that was carried at the rally with Trump on January 6, and they pledged allegiance to the flag.
What was your reaction to that when you saw that?
KINZINGER: A hundred percent disgusted. And it -- I wasn't surprised when I heard it, which is sad. It was disgusting.
The gubernatorial -- Mr. Youngkin did a good job denouncing it. It took him a while to do it.
But let's just be clear to every leader and everybody involved in anything like that in the future. If you bring a January 6 insurrection flag, boo the person bringing it and say the pledge to a flag that didn't fly that day.
TAPPER: Yes, Glenn Youngkin called it weird and wrong afterwards.
Adam Kinzinger, thank you so much. Good to see you.
KINZINGER: You bet, Jake.
TAPPER: The long-awaited return of Jon Stewart to television. What's he been bottling up in the six years he was off a regular gig?
I'll ask him next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: We find ourselves in an absurd place, where minor sacrifices to preserve freedom now lead to violent backlash because they think it's leading to Hitler.
Is our democracy robust enough to withstand a freedom without definition or a fear of a future Hitler that won't allow us to take even minor steps to stop a current slaughter?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.
That was, of course, late night icon Jon Stewart with a clip from his new show, "The Problem With Jon Stewart," which Apple TV+ boasts is already its most-viewed unscripted series ever.
After stepping out of the spotlight for just a few eventful years in America and around the world, Jon Stewart is back with a new tone and a new mission.
TAPPER: And joining me now, Jon Stewart.
Jon, thanks so much for joining us.
So, your last episode of "The Daily Show" was in 2015. Between then and now, there have been two presidential elections, two impeachments, an insurrection, a global pandemic.
TAPPER: Was it...
TAPPER: Was it frustrating to watch all of this play out without it being your job to weigh in?
STEWART: It was -- I never really -- the job was a nice way of going in and kind of working through all those things. That was -- I didn't miss the idea of having to comment on it on television.
But I used to really enjoy going in, in the morning with a group of smart, funny people and just talking about everything that was going on. It was just sort of a weird sort of old people sitting at a counter at a lunch -- at a lunch place just talking about the day. So I missed that part of it.
But it was like we had -- in one of the early shows, I think one of the audience members said, you have missed so much over these past six years.
And I said, well, I -- I was alive. I did see it. I had to -- I had to wear a mask like everybody else during the pandemic. I didn't -- I experienced these things. I just didn't have a television show by which to comment on it.
TAPPER: The most recent episode of your show tackles the very idea of freedom and democracy in the United States and worldwide.
You had these activists on your show from Egypt and Venezuela and the Philippines to talk about the guardrails of democracy. And one of the things you asked them was if they think that Americans who are worried about the erosion of democracy, whether we are -- you, me, others, are hyperventilating too much?
What do you think? And were you reassured at all by what they had to say?
STEWART: Well, to some extent, I was.
I mean, I think, in general, Americans have a view of the country similar to that -- the sort of classic "New Yorker" poster of New York City vs. the rest of the country. So, it's bracing sometimes to hear the reality of people's lives in other countries as -- it's not to say that warning signs don't exist or bells aren't going off or that democracy is a birthright and is something that will always be with us as a kind of a sash that we wear, having been crowned the greatest democracy.
But it did remind us that we have a long way to go before we end up in those situations. And it's kind of like watching a fable where you realize, like, maybe the end of "A Christmas Story," where you're like, what day is it? It's Christmas Day. Oh, my God. That's great. I still have time.
Like, we still have time. But I think we see now that, unfortunately, the messiness of democracies is oftentimes maybe one of its greatest weak points, and that we talk about protecting it in a way -- I remember there was -- it was always the hyperventilating over: Donald Trump is not normal. He's violating the Hatch Act.
STEWART: And for the most part, people at home would be like, I don't know what hatch you speak of.
STEWART: People generally want prosperity and security.
And if a democratic system is having difficulty providing that, or if it's being subverted by those who want to create chaos, so that they can make a more authoritarian government, that's part of it too.
Listen, it's -- nothing's guaranteed like that. And the encouraging thing is watching on a grassroots level people that are really viewing it as something that they want to protect and that they want to strengthen and working on those things on the ground.
TAPPER: As somebody who worries about democracy every day, I do appreciate your conveying of optimism right now.
But we have a majority of the Republican voters out there who think that -- falsely, that the election was stolen and who think it is an integral part of defining themselves as a Republican to say that Donald Trump had the election stolen from him.
I mean, this is not only not going away, this misinformation, big lie, flirtation with autocracy. It's getting worse, I think.
STEWART: That's the worst bedtime story I have ever heard, ever.
STEWART: It's -- you can fret about it, or you can go about strengthening those areas -- and I think that's -- the call to action here is, action is the antithesis of anxiety.
So, if we have -- if we have identified the pressure points where the guardrails look most vulnerable, that's where we should be focusing so much of our efforts in terms of strengthening.
We're adjusting to a new information and political ecosystem. And it's going to -- it's going to be rocky.
TAPPER: It felt like there used to be a sense of shame that existed, at least to a degree, about these sorts of mistruths or lies or disinformation, that -- that -- and maybe I'm being naive. Maybe I'm being nostalgic, and...
STEWART: You are being naive, Tapper. That's what I'm saying.
STEWART: You're being naive.
TAPPER: Maybe I am. Maybe I am.
But it does -- it did feel like there was a time where, if somebody's rhetoric, like Donald Trump's rhetoric going after journalists or Democratic politicians, whatever, created somebody who actually was literally sending pipe bombs to news organizations, to politicians, that that would create a sense of shame and responsibility, and that politician would tone it down.
And we're, like, way beyond that. Nobody cares anymore. There's no incentive structure that's built for -- other than if one -- if shame doesn't exist.
STEWART: Well, the consequence is loss of power.
STEWART: But the consequence is loss of power. It's always been that way.
Violence is part of our national heritage. I mean, we had a civil war, for God's sakes.
STEWART: And when the rhetoric gets to a certain point, and the other side has been treated like enemies of the state, well, then it makes sense.
My point is only that I don't think that dynamic is different. It's that the delivery system is more sophisticated, more robust, and more ubiquitous. And so the virulence of it kind of helps radicalize in maybe a faster way or a deeper way.
I mean, we have algorithms that make sure that if you're starting to lean towards something bad, that you have to go -- like, everybody just dips their toe into radicalism, and then the algorithm says, ooh, you like that video.
STEWART: I have got a four-hour manifesto you have got to see.
STEWART: Like, it's -- we have created a machine that makes that kind of radicalization more efficient.
TAPPER: And you were talking a second ago about identifying the weak points in the guardrails of democracy. It's also obvious -- and I know you have spoken about this in the past -- that Donald Trump has also identified those weak points.
He is now endorsing candidates for secretary of state in battleground states...
TAPPER: ... candidates who are all in on the big lie in -- you know, in Arizona.
STEWART: I think, though -- I think we make a mistake focusing this all on Donald Trump, as though he's, I don't know, Magneto, and some incredible supervillain that has changed the very nature and temperature of the United States.
Like, he's just been an effective vessel. But, again, like, he's not singing new songs. This is something -- he's maybe singing them a little better than Goldwater.
But I think it's a mistake to focus it all on this one individual, and not to focus it more on the idea that power is its own reward, whether it be in the financial industry or in government. Like, power doesn't cede itself.
And unless we can figure out a better way to balance that power for -- for workers and voters and different groups, we will be vulnerable. I don't -- I don't know that autocracy is purely the domain of Donald Trump. I think that we all have a bit of a tendency to be like -- to grant amnesty to people that are doing things that we would prefer, even if that means that they're slightly undemocratic.
There's many times where I think to myself, like, just do an executive order, for God's sakes! Just get it done!
STEWART: So, I think our focus unhealthily on this one individual comes at the price of systems and dynamics that have been in place long before this cat ever learned how to surf those waves.
TAPPER: I think that what's going on is, it turns out -- and we have learned a lot of this in recent decades, but especially maybe the last four or five years, because Donald Trump was so disruptive and so willing to challenge norms -- we have learned that a lot of the American system is built on the honor system.
And that only works, of course, if you care about or even have a sense of honor. And I know that the -- that you're not so much concerned about an autocracy taking root as you are in the minority party figuring out how to rule despite the fact that they do not enjoy majority support.
STEWART: Well, I think there's always been the danger that a minority of voices would have a majority of power.
I mean, in a lot of ways, that's baked into the way that the system was created and enacted. And I don't -- I just think, in general, coming up with remedies to that have proven to be really difficult, because the larger issues is, we have elevated money and corporate power to this one level. We have diminished sort of pure democratic power to another level.
And we're wildly out of balance. That sounds -- that's an awfully Oprah-esque way of putting the threat to the republic, but I just -- Jake, we're irregular. I think we're irregular right now.
STEWART: We need -- we need democratic fiber to help ourselves.
TAPPER: So -- but that's not to say that you are not worried about what's going to happen in 2024?
STEWART: Oh, I'm worried about everything.
STEWART: I'm constantly -- of course.
That's -- I'm a human being. I try to maintain a certain level of optimism, which I do, I think.
But, yes, I'm -- when you can see a train coming at you this far away, yes, you keep thinking, is anybody going to -- are we going to put -- so, is anybody -- are we putting a thing up, or we're just going to let it...
STEWART: Just going to hit? That's going to be the end of it?
But, boy, power doesn't ever cede itself. And it's a difficult -- it's a difficult thing to balance.
TAPPER: Stay right there.
More coming up in our conversation with Jon Stewart, his take on why Democrats can't seem to get out of their own way.
TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.
Here's more of our conversation with Jon Stewart.
TAPPER: It's been nine months since Joe Biden took office. Do you think he's leading the nation with the urgency you're calling for?
STEWART: I don't think anybody is.
I don't think -- I don't think -- I think, mostly, the urgency that the nation is calling for comes from the outside of Washington. First of all, it's an overwhelming gig, clearly. We have gotten to a point, with the status in the government, that tons of the positions that you would normally need to function aren't even filled anymore.
Like, at a certain point, it feels like this country is that -- you ever go into a deli at like 9:30, and you want a sandwich? And you walk in and, like, they're saran-wrapping all the stuff. And you're like, hey, man, can I get a sandwich? They're like yes, no, no sandwich.
STEWART: And you're like, but you're open until -- you're open until 11:00. You're like, yes, yes, but no sandwiches.
But you have a sandwich shop.
You go, like, hey, we're done -- we're done making sandwiches.
STEWART: Like, in some respects, that's what it feels like.
And they have come up with an awful lot of good ideas, I think.
STEWART: And I'm hoping that some of them can get implemented.
But it's hard to believe in the process of them getting implemented, especially when you have got one group who, basically, their entire governing ethos is: Government is the enemy unless we control it. So, if you control the government, we will do everything we can to make sure that it doesn't work, so that we can run advertisements saying government doesn't work, until we take control of it, and then we get to do whatever we want.
So, it's a pretty cynical strategy.
TAPPER: There's a big debate going on right now in the Democratic Party about how to appeal to voters in 2022.
There are a lot of social issues getting a lot of attention. Governor Gavin Newsom in California has signed a law requiring gender-neutral toy sanctions in stores. There's obviously a lot of debate across the country, not all -- not all of it well-informed, about Critical Race Theory and how race is taught in schools.
What are your -- what do you -- do you have concerns about how these debates are taking place? Obviously, I'm not talking about how they're depicted in right-wing media, because they're -- it doesn't matter what the Democrats do or liberals do for right-wing media to lie about it.
But there are a number of independent voters who might not understand what's going on.
STEWART: Yes. I mean, there are a lot of things a lot of people don't understand.
And it's -- something's either right and common sense. I mean, I do think there are ways to accomplish some of these goals in ways that -- but you can't govern to the lowest common denominator.
You can't -- I think one of the difficulties -- and, again, it's with the way that -- the lens through which we view everything is based on, and what will that mean for the midterms or what -- I saw a great headline in Politico as Afghanistan was descending into chaos in that final week.
And the headline in Politico, there's just -- this is the top-line headline, the one with the 40-point font, whatever it was. It said "Why Afghanistan May Not Matter in the Midterms."
TAPPER: Yes. Yes.
STEWART: And then the subhead was "And Why It Might."
STEWART: And I think...
TAPPER: I mean, they have a point. They have a point.
STEWART: But that's our journalism, right, man?
Isn't that -- like, how many times have you seen stories about the battle over masks that's the Karen yelling in the store and the people throwing them out and all that? And how many stories have we seen about the efficacy of masks, or the why, or the actual -- like, there are some, but the overwhelming majority of stories seek to expose the conflict lines.
TAPPER: But do you think it's all about the media?
There isn't anything to the degree of -- that, sometimes, activists on the left risk alienating a culture, instead of educating, and then bringing people in? That's one of the criticisms...
STEWART: Their job isn't to educate, necessarily.
I mean, I agree with you. I'm uncomfortable with certain, like, activism that feels performative. I think, a lot of times, it's not particularly helpful. And if your goal is to create a change there, sometimes, that performative activism isn't particularly helpful.
But, in the scheme of things, performative activism gets people's attention. And if the follow-up to that conversation is fruitful, it can be really effective. But I don't generally think that the problem in Democratic politics lies with activists. I just don't think that that's a fair assessment of what's wrong with Democratic politics.
TAPPER: You think that it's that Democratic politicians don't deliver enough to the people that they were elected to represent? Is that more accurate?
STEWART: I think that their ability sometimes to respond in kind with smart and competent programs is probably a bigger problem.
And so everybody wants to talk about, like, that question you said about gender-neutral -- I can't remember what you said, gender-neutral something in stores?
TAPPER: Sections in toy stores. It's a law that the governor just passed and signed into law.
But, honestly, like, that law, like, who gives a shit? Like, it's -- you know what I mean? Like, in terms of the importance of the running of California, yes, it's a law. Who's it really going to impact?
It reminds me of -- somebody said to me they were upset the other day that things had gotten so out of hand. Demi Lovato wanted to be referred to as they. That was the pronoun that Demi Lovato wanted to use. And this person went, oh, this is just -- it's out of hand.
And I said, well, I have got really good news for you then. You don't know Demi Lovato.
STEWART: So you're never going to have to really be in this situation. And whatever pronoun you use in conversation, she will be fine, because you don't know Demi Lovato.
And if you ever did meet Demi Lovato and you used the wrong pronoun, I'm sure Demi Lovato would be like, oh, oh, I'm sorry. I prefer this one. And then it would be done.
But in the media, that story is ubiquitous. And it's -- I think the media does a terrible job at de-escalation.
STEWART: And de-escalation is the antidote to all this nonsense.
And I don't mean civility, and I don't mean nonpartisanship. I mean focusing on things that are more urgent and elemental in people's lives, and really hammering away at those things...
STEWART: ... rather than purely the emotional fault lines that occur in societies.
And for our show, like, we just wanted to do a show about burn pits...
STEWART: ... and why it was that these individuals that fought for this country weren't getting the health care and benefits that they earned, all because there were bureaucratic processes in place that were pretending that sleeping next to 10-acre pits filled with hazardous materials burning with jet fuel wouldn't give you diseases.
TAPPER: Now that you have done a show about it and talked to the secretary of Veterans Affairs, Denis McDonough, and it was -- it was a great episode, and you interviewed some real American heroes.
But, also, you came face to face with somebody, Denis McDonough, who, while well-meaning, could not give you an answer as to why he couldn't just OK these complaints, these filings from veterans who now have diseases that almost certainly they caught because they were sleeping next to this toxic cloud for a year in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Coming face to face with it, what was that like?
STEWART: I mean, what you come face to face with is the reality of the stasis, and the reality of money, and the reality of bureaucratic processes that are not necessarily in place to usher in better care and service for wounded veterans, but are in place to protect a status quo where it functions more like an insurance company.
And so what I find illuminating about those conversations is kind of going back to the conversation we had earlier about the fragile points in a democracy, right?
Well, once you can identify where the bottleneck is or what the obstacle is, then you have got a fighting chance at being able to overcome it in a way that accomplishes the goals or at least improves the goals that you're trying to -- you're trying to achieve.
TAPPER: The last time I interviewed you, you said you always have hope for America.
And you still seem to be hopeful. But a lot has happened since then, the big lie, the insurrection, the worst days of the pandemic. There are a lot of people out there for whom it probably seems very dark out there at times. A lot of people out there might feel despair, not hope, for the future, because of the pandemic, because of the state of American democracy, because of the threats to American democracy.
Where does your hope come from?
STEWART: Perspective, context, from realizing that it's not supposed to be a straight line to progress. It never has been, and that there's ebb and flow, and you take steps back.
But we have come through -- I was of age in the '60s. My first memories are of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy being killed. And so we are a complicated people. And it's a complicated story in America.
And we like to mythologize it because it makes us a little bit more comfortable. But to be able to see things clearly is not to be despairing, but to be optimistic that fair-minded people working together can make incremental progress over time. And that ain't nothing, and that -- and that real people making real
decisions can change things. And, overwhelmingly, I still believe that this is an experiment worth having.
And, admittedly, the country feels right now like it's in kind of a joint custody arrangement.
STEWART: Like, sometimes, you stay with dad, sometimes, you stay with mom, and we go through it.
But why wouldn't you be optimistic? What -- name another time you would rather be alive? Just -- I can't think of one. And, yeah, is social media annoying? Yes. Would I rather be alive in the '40s? No.
Like, this is -- think of the opportunities. Think of -- have you met younger people? Some of them are brilliant.
TAPPER: Yes, they're great.
STEWART: Coming up with all kinds of great stuff.
TAPPER: They're pretty great.
STEWART: And I'm sure there's a couple of evil geniuses out there too. And we're going to have to deal with their nonsense.
But, for the most part, everybody's doing the best they can. And there's a lot of really powerful energy and vitality being put towards trying to make stuff better.
So, I prefer to think that they will be triumphant, but that it's not a fait accompli, that we are not guaranteed anything. And if you look at it like you're not guaranteed anything, there is no entitlement in a society to progress or making things better.
But if there's enough people that feel invested in accomplishing that, it can be done, even if it's on a local level. It can be done.
How can you not feel good, Jake Tapper? Feel good!
TAPPER: I do. I feel good after that. I really do. I honestly do.
The show is "The Problem With Jon Stewart." It's on Apple TV+.
And, Jon, it's always -- it's always great to have you. Thank you so much.
STEWART: Thanks a lot, Jake. Good talking to you.
TAPPER: Fareed Zakaria is next.