TOPICS > Politics

Political Challenges and Clashes to Come Between Congress and White House

April 30, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
How does the current relationship between the White House and Congress affect major points of business like spending cuts and immigration reform? Judy Woodruff gets analysis from Glenn Thrush of Politico and Dan Balz of The Washington Post.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: We continue coverage our coverage of the president’s news conference today with a look at his relationship with Congress.

Joining me now are Dan Balz, chief correspondent with The Washington Post. And Glenn Thrush, he covers the White House for Politico.

Welcome to the NewsHour to you both.

So, the president said — we heard him say at the news conference the rumors of his demise are greatly exaggerated When Jonathan Karl of ABC asked him, does he still have the juice to get the rest of his agenda through Congress?

Dan, does he have the juice?

DAN BALZ, The Washington Post: Well, he has some juice. But we have seen throughout his presidency, particularly after the 2010 elections, how difficult it is for him to get the Congress to go along with the things he wants to do.

And we thought perhaps after the reelection, he would have a little bit more strength to do that. But very quickly we fell back into the same divisions. And it’s hard for him to overcome that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Why? Why doesn’t he have what people thought after the election, Glenn, that people might have, a little more clout?

GLENN THRUSH, Politico: It is just really striking to me the difference five months make.

You know, right after the election, people around the president were saying, this is a mandate. This is a ratification of everything that he was trying to do. But I think it’s been a confluence of a bunch of different circumstances. I think a lot of this has to do with the predicate that the president himself established during the first four years. He doesn’t have great relationships on the Hill with Democrats or Republicans.

And at this point in time, he needs to have leverage up on the Hill, and he just can’t rely on relationships.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So is it a matter, Dan, of just not cultivating members of the Hill?

DAN BALZ: Well, that is part of it.

I mean, as Glenn says, he’s never been a schmoozer on Capitol Hill. But it’s much more difficult to operate on Capitol Hill today than it used to be for any president. There are sometimes analogies made to Lyndon Johnson, and he should be more like Lyndon Johnson, you know, breaking arms and legs and twisting everybody.

The fact is, that doesn’t work the way it used to. This is a different time. The Congress is different. The country is so divided, red and blue, that it’s just hard for any chief executive to operate that way and, as we have seen, for congressional leaders to get their way sometimes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Glenn, we heard the president say today — he said, it’s not my job to get members of Congress to behave. He said it’s their job because they’re elected to do what is right for the American people, he said, and they ought to be thinking about five, 10, 15 years from now, and not right now.

Is he right about that? Does he have a point?

GLENN THRUSH: Well, maybe the juice we’re talking about needs to be in the form of a cattle prod.

I think he is — he’s partially right about that.

I think, you know, to a certain extent, as Dan said, the president is facing this incredible division. He has come up, however, with a fairly reasonable strategy, which is to approach the Senate and attempt to make these deals through the Senate. I think, on the immigration bill in particular, he can establish a conduit and put more pressure on the House Republicans.

In terms of legacy, that particular argument hasn’t worked so far.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about that, Dan?

DAN BALZ: Well, I think that’s right.

I think that in some ways, what we have seen since the reelection is a two-prong strategy, which is slightly different than what he did in 2011. I think there is still an effort working the inside and, as Glenn says, mostly through the Senate, hoping to break through with some Republican senators, who are certainly frustrated by the inability of Congress to do some things.

But there is a more aggressive outside strategy that he has employed since the election. And in a sense, you could say there is a legislative strategy of working the inside, and there is a political strategy on the outside, which in a sense is aimed at, if we don’t get those things, we are still going to benefit politically perhaps in 2014.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, when he says — I mean, at one point, he said — he said, I can’t force Republicans to embrace commonsense solutions. He said they are going to have to say, we want to do the right thing.

I mean, should he be more talented in some way in getting Congress to do what he wants?

GLENN THRUSH: I mean, that isn’t the roots of his political success. In 2008, he didn’t just run against Congress. He ran against Washington.

And his entire mind-set has been about — until now, been about changing the larger political climate so that people will move in his direction. I think, in the middle — in the early part of the summer, in May, starting in May, we’re going to see some OFA action, part of his old campaign …

JUDY WOODRUFF: This is this outside group.

GLENN THRUSH: The outside group.

We’re going to start seeing some actions, we hear. I think that may have a limited impact.

But, as Dan said, I think he really does need to continue to improve the inside game here.

DAN BALZ: The challenge that he’s going to face, the guns vote, while certainly a setback, is in some ways not a surprise. It’s been — I mean, nobody’s wanted to deal with the gun issue for a long time.

He sees the opportunity after Newtown, and was unable to be successful. They are putting so much now into immigration and they’re optimistic that in the end they’re going to get something on immigration. I think that’s still a big question mark, particularly because of where the house may or may not be on that issue.

The budget issue is one in which they’re still is no evidence that there is grounds for a real breakthrough. And I think that’s one — if you look at the big frustrations that he may face by the end of this year, that could be it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you agree with Dan on immigration, that the prospects look good for that?

GLENN THRUSH: Yes. I think even the prospects on immigration look good again, but then there is the possibility that this thing could blow up again.

You have got folks in the House who are saying that they are a no-go on this, people who are …

JUDY WOODRUFF: On immigration?

DAN BALZ: On immigration, people who are challenging Marco Rubio.

You know, Jim DeMint, Marco Rubio’s — the former senator from North Carolina, now head of the Enterprise Institute, has expressed opposition. So even that might not even be a smooth path.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, that is not a slam-dunk.

And what about the sequester, the budget? Bigger — the president put it today. He said, maybe we can fix the sequester problem by going for a bigger — a bigger deal.

What does that look like?

GLENN THRUSH: Well, I think to a certain extent — and I have noticed this in the last couple of days. And maybe Dan has as well.

There’s a certain bitterness creeping into the way that the White House is — are viewing these fights. I think the gun battle for them was a really difficult experience. I think they believed that the moral force of having the Newtown families up on the Hill was going to change hearts and minds.

I also feel that they thought the sequester was going to get people in line. That has not happened. And I think there is a sense now — I think you kind of saw it in the president’s demeanor at this press conference — that things are going wrong. And they’re not exactly sure how to deal with it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that kind of attitude, Dan, if that is what they are thinking and feeling, is that helpful, harmful?

DAN BALZ: Well, it’s not helpful to be overly pessimistic if you are the president. You have to believe that you’re going to be able to get some of these things done.

I think they feel that right now there’s a storyline that has kind of developed because of the guns vote and because of this change in the FAA funding, that he’s on the defensive and can’t get his way. I think their feeling is, it’s a nice story for the press to focus on, but they have got some bigger fish they’re going to try to fry.

But I do think that there is a question about what their ambitions are on the budget at this point. I’m not convinced that they are as ambitious in their expectations as they might have been before. So we could get some solution to the budget issue. But every piece of history over the last several years tells us that, in the end, we do a minimal deal, not a maximum deal.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Just a final quick question to you both about health care reform. Implementing health care reform, that came up today. The president said he’s confident they can work that through. What do you see on that?

GLENN THRUSH: Well, we know from our conversations with Democrats out in the states that there is an apprehension that this is going to impact them in the midterms.

And we saw Max Baucus the other day call this thing a train wreck, so I think it is very much an open question how to deal with this.

DAN BALZ: I agree.

The president was trying to say, for most of the country, this is not going to be a problem. But we know there are a lot of issues for the implementation of that part of it which still has to come.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And this is for something that has already passed.

DAN BALZ: Right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s a matter of getting it implemented.

Dan Balz, Glenn Thrush, thank you.

GLENN THRUSH: Thank you.

DAN BALZ: Thank you.