tv The Mehdi Hasan Show MSNBC July 18, 2021 8:00pm-9:00pm PDT
media platform is killing people so what does facebook have to say for itself? and historic protests in cuba. how should the united states respond? i'll speak to ben rhodes, the former obama official who helped normalize relations with havana. good evening. i'm mehdi hasan. the fate of hundreds of thousands of people in this country could be decided by just two people almost nobody has ever heard of. oh, yeah, and that actually nobody elected. meet andrew hanan. he's flown under the radar as a federal judge on the texas-mexico border after his appointment by president george w. bush. though he's been one of the most partisan conservatives as "slate" magazine described him. but he was catapulted to national attention when he claimed daca, the obama era program protecting undocumented kids brought to
this country as kids as unlawful. his ruling doesn't immediately affect the more than 700,000 dreamers in the country but puts an immediate halt to accept new applicants to the program or grant the protections to the people that are applying for the program. but don't worry. the democrats have a solution. they could pass immigration reform through budget reconciliation that needs a 51-vote majority and they even seem to have the support of joe manchin. oh, wait, there's someone else i need to introduce you to. meet elizabeth mcdonagh, a former immigration lawyer who for the last nine years, has served as a little known but at times hugely power official in the united states senate because the only way a permanent fix to the dreamers' problem is going to happen by skirting the filibuster, by reconciliation, is if the senate parliamentarian elizabeth mcdonagh allows it to happen. if she says it can go into the budget reconciliation package, then it can happen. it's her call.
now, there's a soiled argument to be made that it belongs in the bill because when you regularize immigrants they pay more taxes and, therefore, it's a budget issue, but no one really knows how the parliamentarian is likely to rule. you'll recall in february she ruled against including a federal $15 minimum wage in the covid relief bill. of course, if chuck schumer, majority leader doesn't like her ruling, he could always fire her. that's when then senate leader trent lott did in 2001 when he got in the way of the bush tax cuts. but does anyone believe that the dems are going to do that? what happens if the senate tries to tackle immigration reform, something they tried and failed to do so before. george w. bush was in his second term in office and had bipartisan support in congress and yet a coalition never seemed, to well, coalesce and then the obama administration tried to revive the issue but his tough actions at the border failed to mobilize activists and
bush and obama saw their efforts shot down by the good old filibuster. for two decades political leaders in d.c. have been stepping on rakes when they wanted to provide a permanent pathway to citizenship for undocumented children raised in the united states to adulthood. despite it being hugely popular even with republican voters. if joe biden and chuck schumer can pull this off it will be huge, huge, and if this plan doesn't work, and the filibuster once again stands in the way, is that it? do the democrats especially senate democrats really plan to go into the 2022 mid terms next year saying to the american people we wanted to give you immigration reform and we wanted to give you a $15 minimum wage but the parliamentarian wouldn't let us. we wanted to protect your voting rights and we wanted to protect our climate, but the filibuster wouldn't let us. really? is that the plan? because that way lies certain defeat. who better to talk about this than with california senator alex padilla, the son of
immigrants and chair of the senate judiciary subcommittee on immigration. good evening. welcome to the show. you're part of the strategy to get immigration into the reconciliation package. what exactly would you like to see in there, and how exactly do you expect to get it past the parliamentarian? >> good to be back with you, mehdi, and timely, of course, given the judge in texas' ruling just a couple of days ago. and let me just address that first. for any dreamers that are tuned in today or friends of dreamers tuning in, this is not end of the road. the department of justice has already announced they will appeal and so the backup program is remaining in place. this is not the death knell for daca but it is a recent reminder of why we need congress to act sooner rather than later. you know, just to kind of summarize what we're trying to do this, calendar year alone, 2021, which started the year
with some optimism and some hope in the beginning of a bipartisan process and trying to work democrats and republicans to achieve reform because as you mentioned daca is supported by republican and democratic voters across the country, republicans in the senate, a different question so not putting all our eggs in one basket we have been pursuing this reconciliation project which i'm guardedly optimistic about if we're able to achieve not just a security and a pathway for dreamers but for essential workers through the reconciliation process, it's not unprecedented. in 2005, when republicans were in the majority, they used the same reconciliation process to change immigration policy as it pertained to visas so we have a precedent. >> senator, if the parliamentarian comes out against this, is your party just going to roll over and accept that like your party accepted her blocking of the minimum wage increase earlier this year? at what point do democrats say,
you know what, we're elected, you're not. like trent lott and the democrats did to the parliamentarian under a different president. >> there's a whole lot of you are shoes. you have immigration reform, climate change and so much more than an existential threat so everything is on the table to be able to get things done with or without the parliamentarian. it may take a vote on whether it's the dream act or essential workers or maybe comprehensive immigration package on the floor of the senate so that the public clearly knows which party is for immigration reform, immigrants that are contributing to this nation and which party is not. heard a lot from our republican colleagues who support dreamers and they are full of excuses and can't bring themselves to support common sense reforms that are long overdue. >> you're going to atlanta tomorrow for a rules committee field hearing on the need to pass voting rights protection.
last week the president gave his big speech in philly on voting rights. it was a great speech in terms of it laying out the argument and threat and the historic moment we're in, but where was the plan to get the for the people act passed? i didn't hear one. the president doesn't seem to have one. do you? >> once again, if -- whether it's elimination of the filibuster or at a minimum an exemption or carve-out, whatever terminology you prefer to the filibuster for the sake of securing our democracy, this is critical. this is critical, and the public has a role here which is why we're going to georgia. in many ways it's like the only exhibit "a" for why we need the for the people's act but the audacity and cruelty of some of the changes to election laws in georgia is what we're trying to highlight and uplift as a strategy to not just continue to rates attention for the general public but to apply pressure on our colleagues. the last time we were at a
critical moment, remember, we didn't even have the support of joe manchin for the for the people act. whether it's for the policy, moving republicans or some of my democratic colleagues reforming the filibuster we're trying to create that opening to get this done. >> but the carveout, the filibuster carveout is a good idea. your colleague joe manchin said no carveout, not each willing to agree with a carveout. his friend, senator sinema, posted a treat commemorating the late civil rights icon john lewis whose death was one week ago and reverend barber, anti-poverty act have called out her hypocrisy when she's blocking his life's work because she supports a filibuster which wouldn't let it through. at what point do you and your colleagues say to sinema and manchin we give up or you must
budge? i feel like i've asked numerous democratic senators on the show this month where does this end? >> i'll tell you this much, we will never say i give up or we give up. we cannot give up, and so we beef got to continue to press. the more we push, push, push, it does generate movent in. a couple weeks ago joe manchin said he was publicly against for the people act but pressure and cajoling and conversation got him to engage. he asked for a few small amendments to that measure and he got to the yes position. all 50 democrats voted to debate and discuss the for the people act, not the 60 that were needed to overcome the filibuster but the more we continue the more we continue the momentum and shift in opinion not just amongst the general public but our colleagues to either advance the policy or reform the filibuster. >> okay. i'm glad that you've been so
outspoken on the filibuster. doesn't seem if manchin and sinema are listening and joe manchin isn't just opposed to getting rid of the filibuster he's also not keen on dealing with climate change or carbon emissions in this reconciliation bait. you're in a state that's on fire and what's your response to seeing your fellow democratic senator joe manchin on a fund-raising tour in texas taking smiling pictures with republican oil and gas donors? >> yeah. again, california is not just literally and figuratively on fire, but california has led the way in terms of policy and not just ideas. california's shift to renewable energy has proven that yes, it can work. you can create good-paying jobs along the way and it serves as a model for us to build on for a national plan and that's what the debates and discussions are all about, and with all due respect to my colleague senator manchin. he was a key player in putting
together the bipartisan infrastructure package. we knew -- most of us knew that that wasn't going to be enough, and as a member of the budget committee for, you know, days and days and hours on end, literally chuck schumer with my right and bernie sanders to the left and other colleagues around the table to come forward that $3.5 trillion package that meets the moment from a climate change standpoint plus from a child care standpoint and from a resiliency of the grid stand point, from so many other areas. >> okay. >> so i do think that the process has momentum and we'll have the support of all 50 democrats in short order. >> i do hope so. one last question before i let you go, senator. as democrats are doing things in congress like trying to get immigration reform and voting rights and climate change action republicans like matt gaetz and marjorie taylor greene are continuing their road show of protesting and counterprotesting outside their event in riverside in your state of california. yesterday it led to a
confrontation. we saw it all over social media. you have these america first far right gop members of congress riling up people, provoking scenes like that far from their own homes and then you have senate democrats often extolling the virtues of working with republicans, of bipartisanship. i wonder, senator, do you see how weird that looks to a lot of americans, the disconnect? is your party in denial about what the gop has become? >> yeah. look, i think there's -- let me be clear about this. clearly trump is gone. he's no longer in the white house but trumpism is still alive and well, whether you see it in the hallways of congress, in the house and senate chambers or in events like you just pointed out in riverside this weekend. it is taking its toll, its impact on the policy-making process. in congress, most of the american public would ideally like to see bipartisan agreement and we've got to try. the difference is we can't wait,
wait, wait for republicans to come around. we give it a good faith effort and if they are not going to participate and reciprocate we have to move forward even if it means abolishing the filibuster and doing for the nation what we know needs to be done. >> senator alex padilla, democrat of california, appreciate your time and your insights tonight. coming up, a special kind of stupid requires a special kind of attention, especially if it's a law that can kill you. like making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of vaccine status. stick around for my 60-second rant. plus, joe biden says facebook is killing people. facebook says hey, we're not responsible. the battle between big tech, covid misinformation, and two of the most powerful men in the world, next. owerful men in the world, next. there's an america we build and one we explore. one that's been paved and one that's forever wild.
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>> they are killing people. i mean, they really -- look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated, and they are killing people. >> an astonishing claim from the president about one of america's biggest companies that they are killing people. his comments just the latest in the war of words between the social media giant and the white house. on thursday press secretary jen psaki referenced a report that found 12 accounts on facebook were responsible for 65% of vaccine misinformation on social media, following biden's remarks, facebook hit back, blasting the administration and claiming their site had done a better job than biden had on vaccinations. in a statement the company's vp of integrity, yeah, this is a job title there, said 2 billion people use facebook to view trusted information about the science behind the vaccine. okay. great. so just for context and just to compare, how many people viewed vaccine misinformation on facebook?
surprisingly mark zuckerberg and co won't tell us that begging the question what does facebook have to hide? joining me now is charlie wassel, a technology writer for "buzz feed" and the "new york times" and is now editor-in-chief of the newsletter "galaxy brain." charlie, thanks so much for coming on the show. in that statement facebook laid out how they combat covid-19 misinformation claiming to have removed 18 million instances of misinfo and reduced the visibility of 167 million pieces of debunked covid-19 content and yet vaccine misinformation still continues to spread. a poll found 67% of unvaccinated adults have heard at least one myth about the covid-19 vaccine and either believe it to be true or are not sure. are these moves by facebook enough in your view, charlie? >> well, no, absolutely not, and i think as many people pointed out in the past couple of days we're seeing a classic example of facebook using part of the information they have, the good
part to obscure the other part. someone said using the enumerator to obscure the denominator, and i think that's a great way of putting it. this is a problem with facebook and its size. this is what we're talking about is its size, right. obviously facebook is going to be one of the prime vectors of covid-19 vaccine misinformation and disinformation. it's also probably going to be one of the, you know, one of the places where most people can go and find, know, a vaccine information that is good. facebook is huge and that's part of the problem and anything that they do that is, you know, good for society has this outside alternate benefit, you know, negative consequence rather for society. >> yeah. facebook saying well, you know, look at canada. we have -- we have a huge presence in canada. they don't have the same resistance to vaccines. maybe facebook users in the u.s. are a little bit dumber elsewhere, i don't know. but let me ask you about the
political reality here. we have a president who has never been a fan of facebook, quite to the contrast to the previous administration. donald trump are mark zuckerberg over for meals at the white house and kamala harris has been very close to silicon valley back in her california political days but joe biden hasn't been. how bad is this current conflict between the administration and facebook politically? >> i think politically it's quite bad. when i interviewed joe biden with the "new york times" editorial board in january of 2020 he came out very forcefully and basically cite that had he didn't like mark zuckerberg as a person. there's a real animosity there that i think is -- is quite profound and this is clearly a move to put a bunch of pressure on the company, but i do just want to say that this is maybe, know, not the most exciting point, but there's a real flattening of this conversation other where we say is facebook killing people? is facebook saving people and the truth is really complex. again, i guess i want to keep
harping on facebook's size and opacity and the fact that we don't know a lot about this company. there's so much data that they need to, you know, share with people about how information travels, recommendation algorithms and systems that researchers need to see this stuff so they can be held accountable and we can assess liability. >> so let me ask you about what's happening on this channel in an hour, in the next hour. joshua jonson will be sitting down with the authors of the new bombshell book of what's been going on behind the scenes of facebook called "the ugly truth" and the book says facebook experts were so alarmed about posts from domestic extremists in the run up to the capitol riots that some urged zuckerberg to call trump to find out what he was going to say on the rally on january 6th. they decide against that, they cited concerns that that would leak to the press and that would make facebook complicit. facebook denying that those
conversations took place. facebook is denying the power that they have and don't seem to put the country or business above their own algorithms whether it's the threat from covid or white supremacy or russian interference, whatever. >> what i noticed in that reporting which is fantastic as well as just covering facebook for so long is this struggle. you have plenty of well-intentioned wonderful people inside the company, but at the end of the day this company has its own directives. it has -- you know, the system puts pressure on all the employees there. it sort of works them and it turns them, you know, to do things based off of, you know, driving the bottom line in scale and growth and i think what it really is it's just an absolute failure of leadership from the top and a group of people who fundamentally believe that facebook's growth and success is more important than anything else or any other fallout from that.
>> yeah, and they can make it all up by mark zuckerberg cooling on the water on the fourth of july. that image will stay in my mind for a long time. charlie, thank you for your insights. the unvaccinated as civil rights heroes? what? next, republicans are trying to use civil rights laws to push their anti-vaxxer agenda, and i'll be responding. first, here's richard lui with the headlines. >> hey, mehdi. three people were shot outside a washington nationals game saturday night. one was a bystander attending the game and is expected to be all right. this is the fourth shooting this weekend. u.s. tennis player coco gauff tested positive for covid-19. the world's 25th ranked player will no longer participate in the olympics. she expressed her disappointment and wished the team good luck at the games and martine moise returned to the country for her husband's funeral.
she arrived in a bullet proof vest with her right arm in a sling. she was treated in miami after the july 7th attack that injured her and killed her husband at their private residence. more on "the mehdi hasan show" right after this break. liberty mutual customizes car insurance so you only pay for what you need. how much money can liberty mutual save you? one! two! three! four! five! 72,807! 72,808... dollars. yep... everything hurts. only pay for what you need. ♪ liberty. liberty. liberty. liberty. ♪
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welcome back. it's time now for what i'm calling the 60-second raft. start the clock. axios reported last week state republican lawmakers around the country with pushing bills, at least one of which has become laws giving unvaccinated people the same protections os those surrounding race, religion. in montana, for example, hotels and groceries stores in montana are prohibited to withhold goods from people who are not vaccinated. experts saying this is a civil rights expert and republicans are using civil rights laws to push their anti-vaxxer agenda. are you kidding me? have we forgotten what the civil rights movement was all about, harriet tubman and rosa parks fighting civil rights and john lewis having his skull cracked with a billy club crossing the
bridge and a bunch of largely privileged predominantly white conservative anti-science republicans refusing to get vaccinated and refusing to accept any consequences into isn't a civil rights issue. it's an issue of recklessness, of selfishness and of sheer, sheer idiocy. it's monday in the uk where they are set to celebrate the lifting of nearly all covid restrictions. there's just one problem. covid cases are rising again, including within the british government. we'll speak to a scientist who sounded the alarm. that's next. of course you've seen underwear that fits like this... but never for bladder leaks. always discreet boutique black. i feel protected all day, in a fit so discreet, you'd never know they're for bladder leaks. always discreet boutique.
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the cdc director now saying this is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated, but it's not just the united states facing a worrying upward trend. in england where the clock struck midnight just an hour ago it's officially what conservatives have dubbed freedom day with all government covid restrictions now lifted, and how better for the prime minister boris johnson celebrate than by going into self-isolation. why, you might ask? well, because the newly installed health secretary there has been infected with a breakthrough case of covid-19 and he had met with the prime minister. oh, the irony. look, this is an issue that extends far beyond downing street in england. take a look at the latest numbers out of the uk, today recording 48,000 new cases of covid-19 with 25 deaths. despite, that the government says it's full steam ahead. in fact, they say they think they will hit 100,000 daily cases or more in the coming weeks, but the johnson government remains defiant. it's our price worth paying for freedom.
the only issue is it's not just their problem as a group of scientists wrote in the medical journal "lancet" saying allowing the virus to spread and mutate is a danger to the entirely world. joining me is the director of the clinical operational research unit at university college london. thanks so much for coming on the show tonight. want to start by asking you a very simple question. should england be lifting all its covid restrictions all at once as it is right now? >> no, i mean, absolutely not. it goes against every public health principle to relax controls just as, you know, you're nearing the peak of another wave. it's just crazy. >> and as i mentioned, the health secretary says that the country will reach probably 100,000 cases a day this summer and, you know, oh, well, that's just life seems to be the altitude even though one leading scientific says it could be as high at 200 cases a kay.
-- 200,000 cases a day. you motor a piece which you point out that any infection comes with the possibility of what we're calling long covid. an estimated 1 million people, including 33,000 children live with long-term covid with 385,000 people having symptoms for more than a year. i wonder is this whole debate missing something important, given the idea if you don't go to the hospital and don't die, you're fine. that's just not true, is it? >> no one is measuring long covid routinely. it tends to get ignored. deaths are lower and hospitalizations are lower and they are now going up in uk and this affects young people and children and there's no treatment. we might have another 500,000 cases of long covid just this
year. it's a massive new chronic disease for which we don't have a treatment. >> it's a ticking time bomb as all these cases add up. a top executive at the world health organization say the strategy in the uk, moral emptiness and epidemiological stupidity. while this group of more than 1,200 in the lancet sent a pretty clear message but nobody is listening on downing street. what is the worst case scenario here not just for the uk, but for the rest of the world? >> for the rest of the world i think the worst case is a new variant. and as you say international scientists have been raising the alarm internally here. a group of eminent doctors wrote to downing street saying you're creating a condition where a new variant is likely to rise by having incredibly high
infections in a semi vaccinated population so if you get a variant that resists the vaccine it will spread and we've seen that with delta and could happen with a new variant. because the uk is an international travel hub, any variant that comes here will spread globally and we saw in january to march and we cannot risk it. we have a global responsibility. >> i mean, given the uk and the bores johnson gave the world the alpha variant what you're saying is we could get the variant out of uk which is the first variant in the world that defies the vaccine which has about working against all the variants including the delta variant out of india. let me ask you about the breadth of opposition in the uk, internationally given that the government has implemented much stricter lockdowns, why is the boris johnson government doing this now in defiance of the scientific advice?
in defiance of common sense? it is just pure reckless politics? >> i think part of it is ideology. there seems to be an idea that the government wouldn't be able to get through parliament with prolonged restriction as enough of their own mps rebel. certainly the science is not behind them on this, and i find it just inexplicable, irresponsible, frightening. i think -- i think -- i think they will have to change their minds. i think everyone expects it to get to at least 100,000 and it could double that, and we are in a situation where hospitals are overwhelmed. we've got 5% of our population is clinically extremely vulnerable, that's new. almost 4 million people. they have been told to stay at home and not mix with anybody. that's not feasible to do.
people have jobs and have kids. you just have thrown them under the bus. >> i fear this is going to end in tears. i hope it doesn't. thank you so much for your insight tonight. appreciate it. why is it whenever there's trouble in latin america, the answer in washington is always pay, more military intervention. it's time for a little walk down memory lane. up next the grim history of u.s. interventions in cuba and haiti. alice loves the scent of gain so much, she wished there was a way to make it last longer. say hello to your fairy godmother alice and long-lasting gain scent beads. part of the irresistible scent collection from gain! (vo) when you are shopping for a new vehicle, how do you know which brand you can trust? with subaru, you get kelley blue book's most trusted brand winner, seven years in a row. in fact, subaru has won most trusted brand for more consecutive years than any other brand.
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there is a growing acknowledgement these days that the teaching of american history and especially black history here at home has been bad, incomplete, white-washed, but our knowledge and understanding of america's history on the international stage, especially with our neighbors to the south is even worse. take haiti now in crisis again after the president was assassinated in his home earlier this month. "the washington post" editorial board reacted by calling for a
swift and muscular international intervention in haiti led, of course, by the united states military. no mention of the fact that haiti's first elected president, jean bertrand aristide was toppled in a coup and he was overthrown again in a second 2004 coup whose instigators were supported by elements of the george w. bush administration. or that haiti was militarily invaded and occupied by the united states between 1915 and 1934. take cuba, in an appearance on fox news to discuss the growing protests there, republican mayor of miami frances suarez says u.s. air strikes against cuba is an option that have to be explored and cannot simply be discarded. sorry, what? it's almost as if the cia did not try to assassinate fidel castro more than 600 times, if the bay of pigs never happened and if the united states hasn't spent much of the past six
decades with an embargo on an island of 11 million people, a policy millions of people are against. the united nations general assembly voted to end the u.s. embargo on cuba. only two countries voted to keep it, the united states and israel. our record across the rest of the globe isn't much better. we're still bombing iraq and syria. we're still over a month away from withdrawing from afghanistan. and post-war libya remains a mess yet there are people seriously suggesting we send troops to haiti. we launch air strikes in cuba. have they lost their winds and if they have lost their memories, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. next, historic protest in cuba broke out against the government this week. we'll speak to a man familiar with cuba and its policies. president obama's former national security adviser ben rhodes is here. stay with us. us there not just any razor will do venus for pubic hair and skin
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the history of the united states and cuba encompass revolution and conflict, struggle and sacrifice, retribution and now reconciliation. it is time now for us to leave the past behind. it is time for us to look forward to the future together. >> that was the moment in 2016 where the future looked bright for the u.s. and cuba. president obama was the first
sitting u.s. president to visit the communist nation since 1928. everything was reopening. the u.s. embargo was being relaxed and then along came donald j. trump. he targeted cuba with a raft of policies. including travel restrictions and a crackdown on business dealings. all but reversing the obama era policies. unsurprisingly, these moves helped cripple the country and its economy. paired with surging cases of covid-19, cuba is now in serious economic turmoil. to be clear, much of that turmoil has also been caused by the dictatorial regime in havana. in the last week, we've seen unprecedented protests. government supporters have taken to the streets, though it's difficult to tell what's driving different groups of people in that country. what's the new democratic president of the united states to do? especially as he's being pressured by the hawks in both d.c. and miami. who better to ask than the
architect of the obama outreach, ben rhodes. former deputy national security adviser for the obama white house. he visited cuba many times as well as overseeing the secret talks in canada. author of "after the fall." ben, your resume is far too long. thank you for joining us today to talk about all of this. i want to start by asking you about some of the calls we're seeing for action. the miami mayor says the u.s. should consider air strikes. marco rubio says cuba will see a horrific bloodbath if biden does not take action. what is your reaction to all of that? >> it's absurd and counterproductive. and above all, it's a gift to the cuban communist party. we should be asking ourselves,
this is a simple question we asked in the obama administration, we've been trying an embargo. we've been trying the total isolation and pressure on the communist party for more than 60 years. and all it has led to is devastating humanitarian impacts, crushing poverty for the cuban people and an entrenched cuban communist party. the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again. if we think that continuing this hawkish, hard-line policy towards cuba will do anything to help the cuban people or to advance the cause of human rights in cuba, we're refusing to learn the lessons from several decades of history. >> indeed, and that whole definition of insanity, doing the same thing again and again, excepting different results. it applies in cuba, iran and so many places around the world where we just keep doing the same thing, regardless of the results. and, of course, ben, this isn't just an issue for the republican party, cuba. we've seen others going toe to toe with alexandria
ocasio-cortez, who calls for an end to the embargo. it is never acceptable for us to use cruelty. she responded saying it's the failed policies of a communist regime. the u.s. must act. i don't know about you, wherever i look, it seems to be some sort of divide where you're either someone who thinks the embargo is to blame for all of cuba's problems or the castro and the regime is to blame for cuba's problems. clearly both of those things can be true, can they not? >> it's even more than that. the embargo and the regime are symbiotic. what the embargo does, it cuts off this island of 11 million people from the rest of the world. it cuts them off from the economy, from sources of ideas and information and the cuban government, because of that isolation, therefore has an easier time controlling things
when we opened up space, just the last two years of the obama administration, a growing cuban private sector suddenly had resources pumped into it because it was connected to the grid of the cuban economy. the people were suddenly connected to the americans who were traveling down there. we negotiated as part of the normalization deal with the cuban government not just the release of 53 political prisoners, but also increased internet access in cuba, increased wi-fi in cuba, entry for u.s. technology and social media platforms into cuba that became part of the way people in cuba were able to empower and connect one another. this is absurd to suggest that somehow the only way to support the cuban people is through a completely stifling embargo. >> your critics would say that, look, engagement was fine, diplomacy was fine, but you guys went too far. that you were way to chummy. we saw the obama/castro game that they watched together. that was back in 2016. some people would say that's not
how you do diplomacy with dictators like the castros. what do you say to your critics? >> i would say that we were learning from the mistakes of 60 years. we were learning from what had not worked in america's cuba policy. this is an island of 11 million people. it is 90 miles from florida. if you allow for travel, the internet, the people are going to be empowered. you talk about a lot of american politicians, talking about the cuban people want. there was research after the obama opening that found that 97% of the cuban people supported normalization. they desperately want that interaction with the united states. the people protesting of course want freedom and deserve greater access to the basic universal values. like freedom of assembly. they're also hungry, mehdi. they want -- they need medicine, they need food and the united states is in part together with the policies of the cuban government, responsible for the dire circumstances.
if we want to respond to the cuban people, we should actually listen to them. >> ben, you mentioned cuba's 90 miles off the coast of florida. this is a major political dilemma for the democrats right now. you have val demings running for the senate against marco rubio in florida. she can't win in a place like florida if she doesn't take a hawkish stance on florida, which she is taking. and that's been a problem for the democrats. florida is a swing state where a bunch of conservative people on cuba insist on a hawkish policy on cuba and your party has to go along with it. >> barack obama ran for president of the united states in 2008 promising to engage in direct diplomacy with cuba. including raul castro. he took steps to relax the embargo in his first term and opened things up in the second. the only democrat who has won florida in recent years is barack obama. he won florida twice. because he offered a real contrast.
the way to defeat hard-line politics is not to be hard-line light. if they want the real deal, why don't they vote for the hard-liners here. if you look at the democratic party in 2016, hillary clinton ran on lifting the embargo. that's where we were at the end of the obama years. it's donald trump who invested a lot of time and a lot of effort and money into florida to shift things in a more hard-line direction. the way to beat that is to offer a real contrast and to make clear the reason you're offer that contrast is not because you support in any way the cuban communist party, it's because you want to help the cuban people. you want to improve their lives. and both improving their economic circumstances and advancing human rights in cuba will be far easier if we're engaging. if we have diplomats on the ground, if we're sending americans down there. that's the way to promote positive change. >> well, i hope your former colleagues at the white house are listening to what you're saying tonight.
it's important. it's different to what a lot of other democrats are saying on this issue. that's why we wanted you on the show tonight. always appreciate the conversation. thanks so much for being here. thank you all for watching at home. we'll be right back here next sunday at 8:00 p.m. eastern and catch me monday through thursday at 7:00 p.m. eastern on the choice on nbc streaming channel on peacock. now it's time to turn it over to joshua johnson. good evening. >> good evening, mehdi. thank you very much. hello to you. it's good to be with you tonight. republicans and democrats remain at odds over the infrastructure bill. this time over when they should vote on it. but that is just one challenge the plan faces right now. we'll explain. plus the number of people who identify as white christian evangelicals appears to be dropping. how much does donald trump have to do with that? we'll discuss it with a self-proclaimed ex-evangelical. thousands of lives could be in limbo again after a federal judge ruled against daca.
from nbc news world headquarters in new york, i'm joshua johnson. welcome to "the week." ♪♪ we've talked about that old washington joke about infrastructure week. it's going to be infrastructure week. sometimes it feels like every week is infrastructure week. but this week really might be different. two major infrastructure bills are working their way through the senate. there's the bipartisan bill which is worth about $579 billion. then there's a $3.5 trillion package that democrats hope to n dollar package which democrats hope to pass through reconciliation. this will be clear article. by friday, it will know whether they passed neither or both. for one thing, house and senate democrats seem pretty unified in their approach to the two bills strategy. much of that unity may depend on good faith negotiations with republicans on the bipartisan bill. it may not hold, if the gop