Coronavirus Report

Coronavirus Report: The Hill’s Steve Clemons interviews Jane Harman

The Hill’s Steve Clemons interviews former Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), CEO of the Woodrow Wilson Center.

Read excerpts from the interview below.


Clemons: Let’s focus on national security. What most worries you? What do you see out there about those trying to exploit this moment and cause increasing troubles for the United States?

{mosads}Harman: I think it’s a long list. You hinted at many of them. But let’s start with North Korea, which claims not to have any COVID cases — yeah right — where the leader disappeared for three weeks. But he’s back, and there’s no indication that they aren’t continuing to test short and medium range missiles, which could be armed with nuclear warheads, which could hit our allies like South Korea and Japan. And they also have longer range missiles, by the way. So, let’s go there. Let’s go to Iran, where the centrifuges are turning again. After we got out of the 2015 nuclear deal. I think it was a mistake to get out, and I think they have a license to, and they’re taking advantage of it, to restart their nuclear industry there. That’s two. We have a couple of failed states like Yemen. I don’t know what we call the Palestinians these days, but certainly they’re unhappy and we have denied them aid and there could be an uprising there. Syria is another one on my list of failed and failing states. The Sahel of Africa, how long do we have, Steve? I could I could go on. But let’s also talk about a domestic terror attack. People can self-radicalize on the Internet in their basement. We all understand this. And the weapons of choice these days are trucks or vans and knives or guns, and guns are plentiful. So, I see this happening. And finally, I see some immigrants. They’re not all refugees, but immigrants, getting into Europe. Maybe they were Europeans who pledged allegiance to ISIS and doing things like the effort in France a couple weeks ago where several people were killed near Lyon.



Tell us your thoughts on John Ratcliffe for the role of the Director of National Intelligence.

Harman: Well, I don’t know what he’s looked at, but my understanding from publicly reported sources is at least 12 presidential daily briefs, briefed the president, this president, in January and February on the possible coronavirus threat to the United States. Those briefings were ignored. So, let’s start with that. What I’m talking about is in the run up to war with Iraq, I was there. I was ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee at the time. There was enormous pressure on the intelligence community to produce proof, proof that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Now everybody knew Saddam wanted to develop WMDs, and he did have certainly a chemical industry going on there. He had gassed his own people, and so we all understood that. But the pressure produced a wrong National Intelligence Estimate. Now, what I see is pressure on the IC [intelligence community] where we’ve had huge turnover in leadership. Ratcliffe would come in, he’s been nominated to be Director of National Intelligence, he hasn’t been confirmed yet, but some call it a purge at the top and enormous pressure. And if the pressure is to produce proof, proof that there was a man-made virus developed and distributed in the Wuhan lab, no proof for that that I’m aware of, then we’ll come up with another wrong intelligence product that could lead to another misguided war.


Clemons: There almost seems to be a partisan divide over how science and empirical research are dealt with around the president. Do you worry about that?

Harman: Sure, I do. I don’t know — It’s probably a partisan divide in Washington because everything’s a partisan divide in Washington. But when you look at what the states are doing and the efforts of governors, both Democrats and Republicans, I don’t see that kind of divide. I have a kind of personal heroes list, of course, my own governor’s Gavin Newsom of California. But Andrew Cuomo is doing well. Mike DeWine, who was a friend of mine in Congress, governor of Ohio, a Republican, who is doing great. Larry Hogan, another Republican doing great. These are governors of pretty big states, trying to figure out how to have both, protect the health of their citizens and have an economy that will be able to function in a fairly near term while protecting the health of their citizens. And that’s what they’re doing. So, I just want to give a shout-out to most of the governors. They all seem to be very sensible to me.


Clemons: What will it take to actually invest in the protection, in the infrastructure, and the investment in science that we need for this pandemic and the next one?

Harman: Well, let’s start with leadership — leadership that wants to solve the problem, not just blame leadership on the other side for not solving the problem. And it’s hard for leaders in Congress to show leadership. I would give my Girl Scout badge to [Speaker] Nancy Pelosi, who worked very closely with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on the last big bill, the multitrillion-dollar bill, which is providing some aid for a lot of folks. … I don’t have specific information, but I’m listening to the chairman of the Fed yesterday saying we need more and let’s have bipartisan leadership focus on what the next tranche should be. I take seriously the ballooning, exploding deficit. I think it’s a real problem for national security, American security going forward. But I also think it won’t matter if we have a big deficit, if we have a lot of dead people and no economy.


Clemons: What do you think some of your former colleagues and the Democratic Party haven’t gotten right as they’ve stepped forward?  

Harman: Somebody has to say — and a few do and I bet you Joe Manchin is one of those — I’m gonna put the country first. This is a problem. The COVID virus is an invisible enemy, to quote our president. It doesn’t choose us by party affiliation. So, if we don’t put the country first here, again, we’re gonna have a lot of dead people and a dead economy. And that is just how it is. And so I would say to my constituents, and I had a pretty bipartisan district all those years. I would say to my constituents, this is what I think. I would be willing to talk to any of them, but I would take a risk and do what I thought was the right thing, regardless of which party I was voting with or working with.


Clemons: How prepared or unprepared are we, in your eyes, for the November election and this worry about outside meddling?

Harman: Well, I’m worried about it. I think we’re better prepared than we were in 2018 for sure, or 2016. And I, you know, shout-out to the Department of Homeland Security, which is working well with all the states. Let’s understand the states regulate the time and manner of elections. We don’t have a national election. We have 50 state elections. But they are working with the federal government. Just before the end of the Obama administration, election machinery and the election process was declared critical infrastructure, which it is. And so that’s good. Also a shout-out to some states, like mine, California, which is going to all mail, M-A-I-L not M-A-L-E voting. And I think that’s a good thing. It obviously has to be worked on so that it can’t be manipulated. But let’s expect that Russia and others will try to be there and let’s understand that we have a way to go and we have technology that could go there to make a vote-by-mail election secure. Another reason to do that, by the way, Steve, of course, is if we have COVID-19 in our fall, which is predicted or some permutation, which is even worse. God forbid. People are not gonna go to polling places. And, I heard that Jared Kushner — this could be an urban legend — said, well, then maybe we won’t have an election. Well, oops! I don’t think that’s the White House’s call. I think our Constitution provides that we have elections for president and other offices every four years, and the states have to regulate that. And I think most of our states, and I would hope all of our states, are up to that.


Clemons: I’d love to get your insights as a sculptor of big legislation in the past. How should we be thinking? Is Ernest Moniz on the right track with calling for a TVA or CCC? Where are you on tech and what it can do to sort of rebuild our social contract in America?

Harman: Well, I think tech is no longer optional, if it ever was. Even I have learned how to sort of kind of work Zoom and do a few other things that I never thought I could do. But I think the future of work is going to be much more technology based. I think not everyone’s going back to an office, so let’s start with that. I think that, you know, to quote Rahm Emanuel, “Let’s not let a crisis go to waste.” This crisis could be an accelerator of bad things, that is, more dictators controlling more of their countries, or it could be an accelerator of good things. And that is using technology to build jobs of the future in the energy sector, certainly, that’s one. But you know, climate is a gigantic challenge, but also jobs in the national security sector, and in the health care sector. All of this stuff could benefit from technology. I’ve just been watching, another shout-out, Ken Burns’s series on the Roosevelts, and how Franklin Roosevelt, at the darkest time, before this time, developed all these new agencies, the ones you were talking about, which jump-started our economy. And then came a war. Let’s not start another war. He didn’t start World War II. And the defense production business lifted millions out of unemployment. So, I’m not recommending war, but I am recommending taking on the big challenges that we know we face and doing exactly what Ernie Moniz says.

Tags Andrew Cuomo Coronavirus Report Ernest Moniz Gavin Newsom Jared Kushner Joe Manchin John Ratcliffe Nancy Pelosi

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