Bill Maher and Guests Addressed TikTok Bans, Partisan Divides and AI on “Real Time”

It was less policy-heavy than you’d expect from an episode with two members of Congress

March 16, 2024 2:28 pm
Bill Maher and Eric Holder
Former Attorney General Eric Holder stopped by "Real Time With Bill Maher" this week.

When it’s at its best, Real Time With Bill Maher can feature smart discussions of political policy from an ideologically diverse range of guests. Given the names announced for this week’s episode — former Attorney General Eric Holder and two members of the House of Representatives — you might expect it to go in that direction. Instead, the episode veered into another recurring theme for Maher: how (and whether) a politically divided nation can come together.

In Maher’s conversation with Holder, the two men addressed questions of political gerrymandering. Maher pointed out that both of the nation’s major parties have engaged in it over the years. Did Holder see a difference between the parties there? Holder spoke of his confidence that Democrats can win without gerrymandering. Cited Princeton study.

One of the episode’s more unexpected moments took place when Maher asked Holder about his own ambitions for office. “You were going to run, for a minute,” Maher said.

“For a minute — and then my family said that I wasn’t,” Holder replied.

Republican Nancy Mace and Democrat Ro Khanna joined Maher for the panel, which returned the night’s conversation to gerrymandering. Maher upped the ante somewhat, arguing that gerrymandering “is what radicalized America” and pointed out the dwindling number of “swing districts” across the nation.

As Mace spoke, Maher looked to Khanna for a reply. “I’m being polite,” Khanna said by way of explaining why he hadn’t interrupted his colleague.

“Polite?” Maher replied. “That’s why you lose elections.”

Both Khanna and Mace addressed communication issues in the House and Senate. “Half of Congress doesn’t talk to each other!” Khanna said — and then pointed out that he and Mace had collaborated on two bills that had since become law. For her part, Mace spoke about the number of unaffiliated voters in her district and of the importance of winning them over.

Policy matters didn’t come up as much as the 2024 Presidential election, with the two Representatives each addressing their party’s candidate. Khanna sounded frustrated about perceptions of the economy, a theme Maher returned to later in the episode. “I don’t understand how we’re losing on the economy by 12 points,” he said. Later, he got more candid: ”If we’re not going to have a better economic message, we’re going to lose.”

Maher also addressed Mace’s contentious on-air exchange with George Stephanopoulos that took place earlier this week. Khanna made the case that Stephanopoulos had been within his rights to ask her (or anyone in politics) the questions he had asked; Mace argued that he had crossed a line in not raising the subject with her first.

The discussion closed with a discussion of legislation to ban or force a sale of TikTok — which both of Maher’s guests had voted against. They were in unexpected company there, with the likes of Donald Trump and Mace and Khanna’s colleague Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also opposing the bill. What, Maher asked, was the common ground?

“The common ground is the First Amendment and free speech,” Khanna said. He went on to note massive support for data privacy, and expressed frustration that there hadn’t been legislation there. For his part, Maher took a different approach: “I’m so much more concerned about AI,” he said.

“It’s like an arms race,” he added, “and we’re the guinea pigs.”

Some other notable moments from the episode:

  • Maher, on Texas’s Pornhub ban: “I tell you, these red states— no Pornhub, no abortion, no legal weed. All these people who moved out of California — how’re we looking now?”
  • Maher revealed during the panel discussion that he’s repeatedly tried to get Arnold Schwarzenegger as a guest on the show, to no avail.
  • Maher is not found of the nickname “City of Angels,” it turns out.
  • In New Rules, he asked a bold question about the national mood: is it bad because we’re all overthinking things? 
  • This turned into a trickier argument, as Maher tried to both acknowledge that depression and mental illness are real while also contending that too many people were using the language of mental health when it wasn’t (in his opinion) warranted.
  • Did Maher bring up his recent firing of his longtime agency? He did not.
  • To be fair, he also didn’t bring up Real Time being renewed for two more seasons.

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