NBC’s Today co-host Savannah Guthrie has developed a surprisingly strong track for grilling Biden administration officials when they make the rounds of the broadcast network morning news shows, particularly on foreign policy.
Wednesday’s show featured at least the seventh installment (see past installments here, here, here, here, here, and here) as she respectfully hammered Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Iran, Ukraine, and the alliance between North Korea and Russia.
Guthrie began with the return of five Americans held in Iran in exchange for five Iranians and unfreezing $6 billion in Iranian oil sales. After conceding one should “be elated for” them and their families, “the thornier issue, of course, is at what cost” and if it “put[s] a higher prices” on the “heads” of Americans.
“When you free up $6 billion in order to get Americans back, does that not endanger Americans elsewhere,” she asked.
Blinken insisted “the moneys that were freed were Iranian funds that they had gotten from the sale of oil that were stuck in a bank, and, from day one, have been exempt from our sanctions” and the U.S. will have “very clear controls to make sure they can only be used for humanitarian purposes.”
Guthrie wasn’t having it:
[M]oney is fungible, so the notion is that $6 billion Iran doesn’t have to spend on whatever the Iranian people need is $6 billion they can spend elsewhere and be up to no good. How — how do you respond to that? They’re suddenly flush with $6 billion in cash they wouldn’t have otherwise.
After more Blinken dithering, Guthrie pivoted to Ukraine with this simple question in light of strong Republican resistance to further funding the country: “How hard of a sell is this for President Zelenskyy?”
Guthrie kept pressing, citing the $113 billion Americans have already given to Ukraine and if there’s concern the war “will just go on for years” (click “expand”):
GUTHRIE: I mean, already the U.S. has committed $113 billion in 18 months to help Ukraine. How sustainable is this level of support when there’s really no end in sight to the war, no hint there’s any talk of diplomacy among the two parties, and there doesn’t seem to be a strategy for victory. So, this could just go on and on and on. And how much are you concerned that — peop — about war fatigue? That people will not want to continue to be able to give this much support to Ukraine?
BLINKEN: Well, first, just over the last year, Ukrainians have taken back more than 50 percent of the territory that Putin seized from them going back to February of 2022. But to the point of — of sustainability, what we’re, working on, what dozens of other countries are working on, is a plan to be able support Ukraine for the long term but in a sustainable way. On the margins of the NATO summit a couple months, we had countries come together to say we’re going to look at how we can help Ukrainians build their own military and build it so that it’s a force for the future that can deter aggression, that can defend against aggression coming down the road.
GUTHRIE: In your mind, does this seem a war that will just go on for years? I mean, is that the expectations?
BLINKEN: Well, first, it’s important to note this. Putin’s already failed in what he was trying to achieve because, remember, Savannah. His goal was to erase Ukraine from the map, to end its status as an independent country, to subsume it into Russia. That has failed. Now, exactly where the lines are drawn? That’s going to be up to the Ukrainians. But there’s a big difference here. Ukrainians are fighting for their own country, for their own land, for the own future. The Russians are not. At the end of the day, I think that is the biggest difference maker.
Guthrie closed with two questions about Russian dictator Vladimir Putin growing closer to North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, even though Russia’s been isolated on the world stage, it’s still “a pretty big concern” they have allies in Iran and North Korea.
In contrast to Guthrie, her colleague Andrea Mitchell offered an eye-rolling, state-run TV-like description of President Biden’s United Nations speech, calling it “a rousing defense of democracy” and “an impassioned speech.”
Blinken also appeared on ABC and CBS. For the latter, CBS Mornings co-host Tony Dokoupil opened with a softball wondering whether he would “[h]elp the average American understand how you’re possibly going to be able to control how” the $6 billion “is spent.”
Dokoupil then had a follow up: “[Y]ou know how money works. If I give you $5 that you can spend on humanitarian aid, that frees up another $5 to spend on, I don’t know, drones, missiles, weapons that you might send your friend Russia to fight in Ukraine.”
Like on NBC, Blinken all but admitted “whether we like it or not, and we don’t like it, the Iranians have always found ways to use money, whether they’re sanctions or not, for military purposes.”
Dokoupil again pressed: “Does it not endanger the next American to travel to a country that may not be our friend? Does it not encourage more hostage taking in essence?”
Ukraine was the second topic, but it wasn’t anything worth sweating about as chief White House correspondent Nancy Cordes only wanted to know how the administration will “convince Congress that this money is going to be well spent by Ukraine.”
Dokoupil closed with a question about Biden’s age (which Blinken obviously said was of no concern), and whether he’s “up for another four years, as a matter of health and energy.”
On ABC, co-host and former Clinton official George Stephanopoulos went soft (click “expand”):
STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to start with Ukraine. President Biden, of course, this meeting with President Zelenskyy at the White House tomorrow making the case here in New York for more aid. But there does seem to be resistance on Capitol Hill. How do you respond to that?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Another key issue. U.S. engaged in talks with Saudi Arabia over possible mutual defense pact. Of course, Saudi Arabia’s been accused of war crimes in Yemen, responsible for killing an American journalist. How is that in the U.S. national interest?
STEPHANOPOULOS: President, of course, is also meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel today.
BLINKEN: That’s right.
STEPHANOPOULOS: — not at the White House, here in New York City. Do you believe that the prime minister’s willing to do what it takes to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Final question. It appears the United States may be on the verge of another government shutdown. Seems to be some stalling on the government funding bills in the House. What would that mean for the State Department, U.S. diplomatic efforts?