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Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates being interviewed on CBS' "60 Minutes" for Sunday's show. Photo: CBS

"Extreme polarization" in the U.S. is the "greatest threat" to the country's democracy, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates told CBS' "60 Minutes" in an interview broadcast Sunday.

Why it matters: The Republican, who served eight presidents, including stints as CIA director, and later as defense secretary for Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, added that the "greatest threat is found within the two square miles that encompass the White House and the Capitol Building."

  • "The attack on the Capitol was the first time armed enemies of democracy had been in the Capitol since the War of 1812," said Gates on the Jan. 6 insurrection, noting that "seeing somebody parading through the Capitol carrying a Confederate flag, that never happened during the Civil War."

What else he's saying: Gates said in his interview with Anderson Cooper that he's confused by some lawmakers who are in "denial" about the Capitol riot.

  • "These same people who were terrified on January 6th, and whose lives were in danger, to now basically say, 'Well, these are just your normal tourists,'" Gates said, in an apparent reference to Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.), who's described the attack as such previously.
  • "The whole of our society seems to be coming unhinged," Gates said. "I've never seen so much hatred."

Of note: On former President Trump's repeated baseless claims that he didn't lose the 2020 presidential election, Gates said: "It underscores the theme that China is sounding around the world that the United States political system doesn't work, and that the United States is a declining power."

Go deeper

Capitol lectern thief to take plea deal

Adam Johnson carries the lectern of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi through the U.S. Capitol rotunda on Jan. 6 during a pro-Trump mob's invasion of the building. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Almost a year after he waved at a photographer while carrying House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's lectern during the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, Parrish's Adam Johnson is scheduled to take a plea deal.

  • The Manatee County man was one of the first Capitol insurrectionists identified after his photo made the rounds on social media.
Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Congressional leaders clinch support for crucial defense bill, debt limit votes

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer passes waiting reporters on Tuesday. Photo: Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Congress has found a shortcut to pass its annual defense funding bill and raise the debt limit.

Driving the news: The House voted Tuesday night on two major bills — one creating a one-time, fast-track process for the Senate to raise the debt ceiling with just 51 votes, and another passing its annual defense bill.

House passes annual defense bill

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The House voted to pass the annual defense bill 363-70 on Tuesday night, authorizing nearly $770 billion in funding for defenses and national security programs.

Why it matters: The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) still has to clear the Senate, but the House passage greatly increases the chances that the must-pass defense bill will move through both chambers of Congress before the end of the year.