TOPICS > Politics

Pentagon Proposes Leadership Moves; Immigration Bill Stalls

June 8, 2007 at 6:15 PM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, now the analysis of Brooks and Dionne, New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne. Mark Shields is off tonight.

Gentlemen, just picking up on what we were just talking about, this shuffle at the Pentagon. David, what does it look like to you?

DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times: It bothers me a little. I understand wanting to get a new fresh set of eyes and that sort of thing. I don’t understand ending somebody’s career because it might make for politically inconvenient hearings, a bad television show.

If Peter Pace is a competent general — and I have no opinion on that — but if Bill Gates thinks he is — Robert Gates thinks he is a competent general, I think he should defend him. And if he’s a tough, competent general, he should be able to take some tough questions from a Senate Armed Service Committee. I mean, there’s something odd about that there are men and women in Iraq dodging bullets, and the general in charge of the war can’t dodge a few questions. There’s something weird about all this.

E.J. DIONNE, Columnist, Washington Post: You know, and I think David’s comments suggest that the reason they gave is not the real reason why he’s gone. I think what this really means, as both Mark and Josh suggested, is this is going to be the Gates Pentagon.

General Pace was seen as someone who was either close to Rumsfeld or willing to do what Rumsfeld wanted. I was talking to somebody on the Hill today who said that he seemed more willing to go along with Rumsfeld than the alternative, who was up for a consideration at the time.

And so what I really think this is, is Gates taking over. I think that will be pretty popular on the Hill, because so far the notion of shaking up that place is very popular up on the Hill.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Does this suggest there’s more room for a change in policy toward Iraq?

DAVID BROOKS: Among the administration, yes, I think there is. I think the administration is thinking long term. They’re thinking beyond the surge. They’re trying to create a sustainable policy that will really bind the next president, and that involves probably moving some troops out of Baghdad, trying to fight al-Qaida, do some other things, making sure nobody tackles the Iraqi regime. But I do think there is flexibility now, because they really want to make sure that some Iraq policy is sustained by the next president.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And in terms of the hearings, E.J., in the fall, when the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs and vice chairman come forward, that will change the tone of those hearings.

E.J. DIONNE: It will change the tone of the hearings, but it’s going to be a donnybrook in the fall. I mean, when the House and the Senate passed the Iraq funding bill, Speaker Pelosi said, “See you in September.” And we’re waiting for a number of things to happen in September.

Pelosi told her anti-war Democrats, “Look, this is coming up again. We’re going to vote on this again.” Mitch McConnell has said, the Republican leader in the Senate, that we’re going to wait to see what happens and has suggested that he and other Republicans are looking for a change in policy.

So they are going to have — whatever they’re going to be selling in September, they’re going to have a very large selling job to do, because there’s still a lot of skepticism in the Democratic Party, growing skepticism among congressional Republicans.

DAVID BROOKS: And in the White House, they’re now trying to head that off at the pass. They don’t want to get to September. They want to have some policy that at least Mitch McConnell and the Republicans can buy into that will be sustainable, because they know that, if it comes to September, we get a mixed report from Petraeus, then that really is a disaster. There are a lot of Republicans who do not think it’s worth destroying the Republican Party over Iraq.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Any sense of what that policy is?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, as I say, I think it’s a bit of an anti-surge, if you want to put it that way. I do think it’s pulling some troops out of Baghdad, hopefully putting Iraqi troops in there, if they’re capable, but something that will reduce American casualties.

Collapse of the immigration bill

Sen. Robert Menendez
This bill has become more punitive, it has become more onerous, it has become more impossible to achieve comprehensive immigration reform with every passing amendment.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, I'm going to ask both David and E.J. to sit right here, because we want to talk to you some more about what is going to be the end of any hope for immigration reform and a few other issues. But we're going to do that right after this report from NewsHour congressional correspondent Kwame Holman.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), Massachusetts: We are not giving up; we are not giving in.

KWAME HOLMAN: Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy stayed positive this morning, arguing last night's collapse of the immigration bill was only a temporary setback. But Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter criticized some in his own party for preventing the Senate from moving toward a final vote on the bill.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), Pennsylvania: Yesterday afternoon, we sat around for hours -- about six hours -- when the dissenters would not allow anybody to offer amendments.

KWAME HOLMAN: One of those Republicans was Jim DeMint of South Carolina.

SEN. JIM DEMINT (R), South Carolina: I feel compelled to object to this process because our side has not been able to bring up the amendments that we want.

KWAME HOLMAN: DeMint was among a handful of conservatives who said more time was needed to amend the bill. Even though the measure included elements embraced by many conservatives, including tighter border security, it also would give those now here illegally a path to eventual citizenship, a concept conservatives called amnesty.

But several liberal Democrats also were unhappy, arguing that recent changes to the bill would do more harm than good. New Jersey's Robert Menendez.

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), New Jersey: This bill has become more punitive, it has become more onerous, it has become more impossible to achieve comprehensive immigration reform with every passing amendment.

KWAME HOLMAN: Mississippi Republican Trent Lott implored colleagues from both parties to put their differences aside.

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R), Mississippi: This is the United States Senate, the great deliberative body. Are we going to belie that description, or are we going to step up to this challenge and try to get it done right?

KWAME HOLMAN: Party leaders tried to craft an agreement that would allow a final vote, but failed. However, Majority Leader Harry Reid refused to say the bill was dead.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), Senate Majority Leader: You know, we're going to take the bill off the Senate floor.

KWAME HOLMAN: Today, the bill's lead negotiators said they would come up with a list of must-do amendments, based on consultation with both parties, and urge Majority Leader Reid to bring back the bill within the next few weeks.

A difficult compromise

David Brooks
The New York Times
Even among the supporters, even among a lot of Democrats out in the country, the polling is very ambivalent. There are a lot of people, when they saw the bill, didn't like it. There was not an upsurge of popular support for the thing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Back now with Brooks and Dionne.

E.J., what happened?

E.J. DIONNE: Well, this was a great compromise that was also ugly, and that was part of the reason why it was a great compromise. There were things in here that liberals were very upset about, the whole guest-worker program, for some of them shifting completely away, or largely away, from family reunification as a reason for immigration.

For a lot of conservatives, they just don't like the core idea, which is we're going to legalize 12 million people who are in the country now, illegally, and they say that's amnesty. This was always a shaky thing that was either going to pass with 65 or 70 votes or all these forces who were critical were going to end up coming together to kill it.

But I don't think it's dead yet. I think what Senator Graham said is right. I think there is still a great desire in the majority -- I think there was a majority of votes for some kind of immigration bill. How they fix this, though, I think is very difficult, because the concessions you make to appease one side are just going to make the other side more upset.

JUDY WOODRUFF: If there's a majority for, why did this turn out the way it did?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, the first thing is that you have a really angry minority, and the e-mails -- you know, I would talk to the senators, and they'd say, "Our e-mail is running 1,500 to 30." I mean, they were getting hammered, and the people who are for it were ambivalent about it. And they weren't e-mailing in. They weren't heard. They weren't at the town meetings. So there was some invisibility.

And then, to be fair -- and this pains me to say -- but even among the supporters, even among a lot of Democrats out in the country, the polling is very ambivalent. There are a lot of people, when they saw the bill, didn't like it. There was not an upsurge of popular support for the thing.

So we've got a fuzzy supporting group, an angry negative group, a very complicated bill. It is a recipe for failure.


E.J. DIONNE: I was going to say about President Bush that, you know, two years ago, if President Bush had called a Republican, a, you know they'd take the call, and, b, they would give him some heed. Right now, this is a freebie for a lot of Republicans, because by being against this, they can satisfy this angry base that David described very accurately, and they can say, "I'm independent of the president."

So at a moment when the president really needs to fight very hard for votes, he is much less powerful in getting those votes, and he's making his base very angry. A Republican I talked to today said, "You know, the only people who are still with him are conservative Republicans. He's attacking them. Does he want to go down to single digits?"

DAVID BROOKS: It is worth noting, though, among conservatives in the talk radio land, this is such a powerful issue. Even if Bush were at 80 percent approval, they would still oppose him on this. This is a conviction matter for a large section of the country, not a majority, but a large section.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We are told today the president is making calls from Air Force One over in Europe. He's calling senators. He's going to go to have lunch with Republican senators, the first time that's happened in a few years. Could that make a difference, his involvement? You're saying it doesn't matter what he does, is that what you're saying?

E.J. DIONNE: I think David is right that, for a group of Republicans -- and it's not all conservatives. A very particular part of the conservative movement, they'll never move on this issue at all.

But I just don't think the president has the same persuasive power. A lot of Republicans are mad at him that he didn't play really nicely with the Hill for a long time, and so he doesn't have anything to fall back on.

DAVID BROOKS: And, by the way, it's not as if Democrats are wild about this thing, either. Byron Dorgan was a leader in killing it. And in the polls, a lot of Democrats oppose it, because they think it will lower wages.

Pardon for Scooter Libby

E.J. Dionne
The Washington Post
My hunch is the president will pardon him, partly because the only people he's got left -- and particularly the only people who are enthusiastic about his Iraq policy -- are those who are pushing him hardest to pardon Scooter Libby.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let's talk about another decision that may be facing the president, Scooter Libby, Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, sentenced this week, two-and-a-half years in prison, a lot of discussion about the sentence. David, what does it represent? And what do you think the president may or may not do?

DAVID BROOKS: My instinct is the president will not pardon him. He's getting a ton of pressure from Republicans, and people like Fred Thompson think this is an outrage. And the argument was, this is a political, out-of-control prosecutor, a theme we've heard over and over again in the last 20 years. There was no underlying crime. Fitzgerald knew who the leaker was, Richard Armitage, on the first day. He went on this long trek.

And Scooter Libby did commit a crime, but two-and-a-half years is way out of proportion. And so he's getting a ton of pressure. But, again, this goes back to the president's weakness. My instinct is he probably will not pardon him.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do nothing, let him serve the term? He's appealing, we know.

DAVID BROOKS: Right, and that will go on. But that would just be my instinct. And the White House has not sent out any signals either way.


E.J. DIONNE: I think the White House is praying that the judge lets Libby stay out of jail while he's appealing, but it doesn't look like the judge is going to do that. He signaled that he probably would send him to jail.

My hunch is the president will pardon him, partly because the only people he's got left -- and particularly the only people who are enthusiastic about his Iraq policy -- are those who are pushing him hardest to pardon Scooter Libby. But it will be an enormous problem, because you had a Republican Party that talked all during the Clinton years about the importance of the rule of law, the importance of perjury and obstruction of justice, suddenly saying, "Well, in this case, it doesn't count," for whatever reasons, the out-of-control prosecutor and the like.

And it's a really hard thing to do, also, because you're talking about a judge here who was appointed by President Bush himself, who typically does hand out very hard sentences, sentences that a lot of conservatives like in most cases. They just don't happen to like it in Scooter Libby's case.

The 2008 presidential debates

David Brooks
The New York Times
This campaign is insane. They're sleeping four hours a night. They're going full bore. They're going to be doing it for another eight months. You better have a solid core if you're going to survive this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We've got a real disagreement here about what may happen. We'll have to -- we'll be watching.

Both the Democratic and the Republican presidential candidates have debated over the last week. Has the shape of either race changed as a result of this?

DAVID BROOKS: No, but it's solidified. I think the big three in each case are the big three for a reason. I think in McCain, Romney and Giuliani did very well, and the big three, Obama, Clinton, and Edwards, did very well. So they're there for a reason.

Some of the people we thought would climb up -- Bill Richardson -- not climbing up. And so that solidified -- I would say, of the two who did the best, Senator Clinton did very well by embracing the whole party, by seeming like the leader of the party. John McCain did very well by being his authentic self.

You've got to remember: This campaign is insane. They're sleeping four hours a night. They're going full bore. They're going to be doing it for another eight months. You better have a solid core if you're going to survive this. I happen to think Clinton and McCain, among others, showed they do have that solid core.

E.J. DIONNE: Yes, I agree with a lot of that, although I feel Joe Biden had an extraordinary moment. He's got to set himself on fire for anybody to pay attention, and so I thought he did have a good debate.

I think it's very striking that both Giuliani and Clinton have held onto these leads. And to be honest, I didn't expect them to stay this strong all during those six months.


E.J. DIONNE: Partly because of ideological issues, that Giuliani is pro-choice on abortion, which is not popular among Republicans. Clinton was dealing with that vote in favor of the war that she won't directly apologize for. It turns out a lot of Republicans and a lot of Democrats aren't as dogmatic as people thought, number one. Number two, Clinton has run a very solid campaign and has really made experience and preparation an issue that sticks in Democrats' heads.

On the other hand, I think in the debate, Obama was much better in the second debate than the first debate, and he showed something very important. People wondered, can Obama throw a punch? He threw a really tough one at Edwards, when Edwards was going after his leadership on Iraq. Obama said back, "Well, you were missing in leadership for four-and-a-half years," knowing that Edwards had supported the war, so I think he showed something important.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Final quick question. Democratic Congressman William Jefferson today indicted on bribery. Very quickly, how much damage does this do to the Democrats?

DAVID BROOKS: In itself, not that much, but the country's in such a bad mood, the Democratic Congress's approval rating are down to where the Republican Congress's were. People are very prone to think ill of both parties in Washington right now, and this sure doesn't help.

E.J. DIONNE: Jefferson is about as welcome in the House Democratic Caucus as Tom DeLay or Dick Cheney right now, and they would love him to resign, because they don't want to have to deal with a corruption issue when corruption was such an important issue to them when they won the Congress.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We're going to leave it there. We're delighted to have both of you here. E.J., David, have a good weekend.

E.J. DIONNE: Thank you.

DAVID BROOKS: Thank you.