Brooks and Oliphant Debate the Election of John Boehner
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JIM LEHRER: And to the analysis of Brooks and Oliphant-New York Times columnist David Brooks, columnist Tom Oliphant. Mark Shields is off tonight.
JIM LEHRER: Tom, how do you read the coming of John Boehner as House majority leader?
TOM OLIPHANT: It was interesting, Jim, after his election, Democrats and Republicans used the same line, you know, new boss, same as the old boss. And it’s witty.
JIM LEHRER: What do they mean? No difference?
TOM OLIPHANT: Much less has changed -
JIM LEHRER: I see.
TOM OLIPHANT: — and there is a substantial element of continuity here especially when you think about the actual operation of the House of Representatives.
But I think a more accurate point is that the House Republicans in an hour of need have turned to a fresh, old face.
JIM LEHRER: Because Boehner had been in the leadership and then he was ousted in ’98.
TOM OLIPHANT: A veteran of leadership fights at the beginning of the Gingrich era in 1998. He is very — he has very sharp elbows. He has a reputation, by the way, as an excellent bipartisan legislator also.
I mean No Child Left Behind largely became law because of the work he did in 2001.
JIM LEHRER: But David, aren’t some people saying this is less about John Boehner than it is about Blunt and his connection to Tom DeLay and the need to – or the perceived need, at least, to disconnect completely from Tom Delay?
DAVID BROOKS: Yeah, branding matters.
And Roy Blunt’s a perfectly nice guy who all they all like; when he lost, they gave him a standing ovation. He is quite popular, a good guy but he was branded as the status quo.
And when this guy John Shadegg, who was the third candidate, came in and said reform, reform, reform, he moved the whole debate over a little. And then Shadegg was too new so they went to Boehner, who I think as Tom said is a bipartisan person.
I think the big difference with Delay is much less team-oriented, much less my team, your team.
But, you have to remember these races — when you hear about what happens in these meetings, it is so emotional. These House Republicans – maybe House Democrats too – they are so passionate, they tear up, they cry. And they really had this emotional thing within the family.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with Tom that very little changes though?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, no, in part because I do think there is going to be less partisanship, less team spirit than Delay, which is easy because nobody was more partisan that Delay
But two other things are going to happen: First of all they are going to have to have reform agenda. And the House — is yet to be determined but I think it will be pretty serious. I think Republicans are pretty wary of what going to happen. And then the second thing that is going to happen is they have got to have a positive agenda. They have got to have an agenda of how people face their life every day. And they’re really beginning to think about a fresh agenda, which is something people in the House have not been doing because Delay has been consumed with himself for a year.
TOM OLIPHANT: There were two things, though, that make me pause, David, last week, as Boehner was winning this thing. One there was another one of these horribly close divisive votes to pass a new round of budget cuts aimed at social programs, particularly Medicaid and student loans. It only passed by two votes, I think.
JIM LEHRER: And it failed the first time -
TOM OLIPHANT: That’s correct.
JIM LEHRER: — several weeks ago.
TOM OLIPHANT: That’s correct.
JIM LEHRER: Blunt couldn’t get the votes.
TOM OLIPHANT: And the need to take care of basic business almost raises these partisan issues that are very hard to get around. The other thing that gives me pause is that I have heard almost nothing from Capitol Hill in the last few weeks about changing the way the House actually operates when bills are printed, whether you are allowed to offer more than token amendments, how debate is structured, whether you hold votes open after they go on.
I think at its core that is where the real objection to the House right now comes from, not how much you can spend on a lunch with a lobbyist.
JIM LEHRER: A lot of people have asked me just in the last 24 hours, hey, why in the world is the House majority leader such a big deal anyway? Why isn’t the speaker of the House the one who makes all these Tom Delay type decisions? How did Delay get to be so powerful?
DAVID BROOKS: I actually think he is not that powerful. I think Dennis Hastert – and I have asked a lot of members about this, who really runs the House, there was a perception that it was Tom Delay but I think Dennis Hastert ran the House and runs the House.
But I will say that what is happening in the future, I think there is some debate, there is some fresh thinking in part because the area of crisis.
I began to hear members talk about why don’t we make it a two-year budget as opposed to a one-year budget, which is the wonkiest but oldest reform, probably John Adams was talking about it, taking the budget over two years. But it is a symptom of hey, something is new here, we have got to change. We just got to change.
JIM LEHRER: One thing before we leave the subject, Roy Blunt said today that the media calls for a new face in the party’s leadership rather than a desire by Republicans for change is what drove the outcome. People were — the Republicans were reading the media clips instead of listening –
DAVID BROOKS: I had a Republican senator say to me last week, he said, if you ever get in trouble, blame the media.
TOM OLIPHANT: There was — just briefly there was a very symbolic couple of things that happened just before the vote. The last lobbying push that the Blunt forces made was on the demoralized members of the Texas Republican delegation where they had a lot of success and thought they were right on the verge of winning a first ballot victory.
While Blunt was doing that, Shadegg was, on the one hand, getting the support of most of the true believers who backed John Shadegg and -
JIM LEHRER: The true reform believers?
TOM OLIPHANT: That’s right, real conservatives.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah.
TOM OLIPHANT: Gingrich-like in a way, from the beginning, and in addition, he was forming an alliance with a very important inside player in the House of Representatives, Bill Thomas, the chairman of the Ways & Means Committee.
And in that you see Boehner is non-Delay I’m not sure you see him as all that different when it comes to substance.
JIM LEHRER: New subject, David, the NSA surveillance issue, what did you make of that intelligence, the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing yesterday, when all the leaders of the Intelligence Committee on one side and the senators picking at them on the other?
DAVID BROOKS: Yeah. I guess what struck me first is how partisan it is. You know, we’ve been talking on this show for a couple weeks about getting together and saying reform, let’s reform the FISA bill, this law that governs the intelligence and so we can all agree, we’ll have the program, we’ll get it under some judicial framework so, very little hint of that. Republicans utterly confident that they don’t need the frame — that it is legal, Democrats very angry.
And I tell you what struck me emotionally myself was all the members saying how badly the nation had been hurt by the publicity — not so much because Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida didn’t think they were being surveyed but they were saying that intelligence agents all around the world were saying, can’t you guys keep a secret? And as a member of the media, and even the New York Times, you know, that’s something -
JIM LEHRER: Which broke the story –
DAVID BROOKS: Yeah, which broke the story — you do have to think. I was struck by the fervor with which they all said that.
JIM LEHRER: You mean people like Porter Goss, head of the CIA -
DAVID BROOKS: Right.
JIM LEHRER: And Negroponte -
DAVID BROOKS: And Negroponte.
JIM LEHRER: — who is not an emotional –
DAVID BROOKS: Yeah, a serious guy.
JIM LEHRER: What did you think?
TOM OLIPHANT: Though I thought it was very interesting that in agreeing, basically, the vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Jay Rockefeller, who has been in the select group here from the beginning, made the very important point that the universal suspicion is that the information came not from the New York Times, that’s the agent, but from the executive branch, and that –
JIM LEHRER: And a whistle blower somewhere in some spy agency.
TOM OLIPHANT: More than a whistle blower. But the other thing that I –
JIM LEHRER: What do you mean more than a whistle blower?
TOM OLIPHANT: Well, somebody fairly high up in the –
JIM LEHRER: It was closely held information, for one thing.
TOM OLIPHANT: Absolutely. This is no minor disclosure by some low-ranking person.
The other thing I took from that hearing, Jim, is that the real issue here is not unlike the White House talking point whether or not one wants to know about it if someone from al-Qaida is calling his pal in Cleveland or something; of course we do.
The real issue is going to be the facts here and whether the Bush administration has been candid, honest if you will, in what it has said so far.
There was a very revealing moment, I thought, when some of the senators noted that John McCain has said casually that thousands of telephones are involved in this surveillance. It’s not some tiny little thing.
And they tried asking Negroponte or Hayden or Mueller or whatever, well, give us a rough guess; tell us what we’re talking about here; and they wouldn’t do it.
JIM LEHRER: They wouldn’t do it – nobody will.
TOM OLIPHANT: And there is a negotiation going on this weekend between Arlen Specter, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee and Attorney General Gonzales even over whether to give us access to the still secret legal opinion about this thing. So I think –
JIM LEHRER: The one they used at the very beginning to justify –
TOM OLIPHANT: That’s right.
JIM LEHRER: Those hearings are on Monday, we will see what happens.
JIM LEHRER: Before we go, how does the State of the Union look three nights later, David?
DAVID BROOKS: A lot heavier and more substantive. (laughter)
JIM LEHRER: Tom, how did the state of the union look three days later?
DAVID BROOKS: That’s all I get?
JIM LEHRER: Flesh it out a little bit.
DAVID BROOKS: I think what you’re hearing is from conservatives –
JIM LEHRER: They’re upset, conservatives are upset?
DAVID BROOKS: Liberals are upset, where’s the beef? You know, a lot of little – conservatives are upset because this is big government conservatism, there is nothing government won’t take over. And you are hearing a fair bit of that from the right.
I would say the first thing I noticed is that there is ferment on energy and portable healthcare. Bush didn’t propose huge things on this. But there is a debate starting that we need a big energy program and we need to make healthcare portable.
JIM LEHRER: Not necessarily what he proposed.
DAVID BROOKS: But something. Almost every senator and representative I have spoken to said I want to have a big plan, let’s do something big, and so it’s beginning.
It will wait for the next president but it sort of moved the ball a little I would say.
TOM OLIPHANT: I don’t think so because if it’s not connected to a program, the ball can’t move. And President Bush does not have a program. I think his recommendations on healthcare are too small to move the ball.
Perhaps someone on the Republican side in the Congress might start something but this State of the Union I think ended up a little bit like the one at the beginning of 2004 when Bush seemed a little uncertain of what direction he wanted to take.
And we were instead of whatever that kind of grass, human animal hybrids this time, we were focusing on like steroids and trips to Mars before he got his legs for the presidential campaign.
And a final point is that I think people on the left were not upset at all by this speech. What is interesting is to listen to some dissent on the right, on Iran, on big government, on energy.
JIM LEHRER: The Wall Street Journal editorial page leading the thing -
Quickly, before we go, there was also a big report criticizing the administration on Katrina this week. What do you think that — is that having any resonance?
TOM OLIPHANT: Very much so because it takes it up the food chain. Now we are at the Homeland Security Department. The next step is what happened between the experts and the White House to explain what happened. The White House is refusing to make information available. And the other reason it resonated is that you can substitute terrorist attack for Katrina and see the problems that are that our government has.
DAVID BROOKS: Michael Chertoff would say he would do the designation which the GAO was calling for in a terrorist attack, they weren’t prepared.
You know, I would just — no I don’t think we are stunned that this is a disaster. It confirms my basic view of this whole disaster all along — it was August. People were on vacation. And they were not ready in late August.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah, of course the report said they are still not ready for the next one. That was the big — a lot of this will come out as we — as time moves on as they say. Thank you both very much.