MS. IFILL: A big week in the nation’s capital with new faces on Capitol Hill and a lot of familiar faces at the White House. We explore what it all means tonight on “Washington Week.”
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I now pass this gavel, which is larger than most gavels here, but the gavel of choice of Mr. Speaker Boehner. I now pass this – (laughter).
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH) [Speaker of the House]: The people have voted to end business as usual and today we begin to carry out their instructions.
MS. IFILL: A new agenda on Capitol Hill. Cutting government spending, repealing healthcare.
REP. JOE WALSH (R-IL): The folks in my district told me month after month that they wanted this thing repealed.
MS. IFILL: And re-embracing patriotism.
REP. GABRIELLE GIFFORDS (D-AZ): Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.
MS. IFILL: While at the White House a major retooling: as the press secretary shuffles out –
ROBERT GIBBS [White House Press Secretary]: I would not trade the worst day I’ve had here for many of the best days that you might have in another job.
MS. IFILL: – and a new chief of staff and top economic advisers shuffle in. And not a moment too soon, as the jobless rate finally drops.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Now we know these numbers can bounce around from month to month, but the trend is clear.
MS. IFILL: Is Washington about to become a very different place? The reporters covering it all: John Dickerson of Slate magazine and CBS News; Major Garrett of National Journal; Julianna Goldman of Bloomberg News; and Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times.
ANNOUNCER: Award winning reporting and analysis, covering history as it happens, live from our nation’s capital, this is “Washington Week with Gwen Ifill” produced in association with National Journal.
ANNOUNCER: Once again, live from Washington, moderator Gwen Ifill.
MS. IFILL: Good evening. This was a getting-to-know-you week in Washington as scores of new lawmakers moved in and the White House pulled off a giant job swap. The faces are notable but so are their agendas, today, as the president introduced his new economic team by singing the praises of government incentives.
PRES. OBAMA: Our mission has to be to accelerate hiring and accelerate growth. And that depends on making our economy more competitive so that we’re fostering news jobs in new industries and training workers to fill them. It depends on keeping up the fight for every job and every business and every opportunity to spur growth.
MS. IFILL: Meanwhile, new Speaker John Boehner was sworn into office warning of rollbacks to come.
REP. BOEHNER: Our spending has caught up with us and our debt soon will eclipse the entire size of our national economy. Hard work and tough decisions will be required of the 112th Congress. No longer can we fall short. No longer can we kick the can down the road. The people have voted to end business as usual and today we begin to carry out their instructions.
MS. IFILL: But with the new up-tick in job creation in December, the president seems to send some wind at his back and with the new majority in the House and a stronger minority in the Senate, Republicans sense opportunity as well. Let’s start at the Capitol where Speaker Boehner wasted no time letting the Democrats and members of his own party know who is in charge. How different does that make things up on Capitol Hill, Major?
MR. GARRETT: Well, demonstrably different. I mean, obviously, the ideological and the party identification change is clear. But there’s even a difference in the way these Republicans in the House approach power as contrasting the way Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey approached power in 1995. They were much more brash, much more bravado in their approach to power, a lot of chest-thumping about how they were going to take the new deal and the great society and pull them out by branch and root. You saw very little of Speaker Boehner, nothing of Eric Cantor, the majority leader, nothing of Kevin McCarthy, the majority whip before –
MS. IFILL: On purpose?
MR. GARRETT: On purpose. This was a strategic effort on their part to – using one of Speaker Boehner’s words – to be humble in the approach of power, but also to try to manage expectations not only externally but internally. And I think – and I write in this week’s National Journal one reason is that all three of these people I’ve just identified – Boehner, Cantor and McCarthy – previously before coming to Washington served in state legislatures. They know the game. And they also know how restive and ambitious and eager the House Republican freshmen are, so they have to modulate their appearances, their tone, and try to keep these very energized, tea party-inspired House Republicans from overtaking the agenda. So it’s a very difficult thing that they have to maneuver through.
MS. IFILL: John, I was struck by Nancy Pelosi’s speech in handing over the gavel which she used the opportunity to basically say, we were right. The Democrats were right even though, by the way, we lost. And then she finally handed over the gavel. How much different is this going to be, his leadership going to be from hers?
MR. DICKERSON: Well, it was very interesting. Major talked about the differences between New Gingrich and John Boehner. Boehner watched Gingrich do this. When Gingrich spoke he said 6,000 words in 1995; Boehner about 1,300, which was only 30 more than Nancy Pelosi. As you mentioned, Pelosi went through the laundry list of all the things that she’d done wonderfully. In 2007, when she came in, she had movie stars – Richard Gere in the Speaker’s box. Boehner had the Boehners, the whole family. And I think what you’ll see is Boehner’s first image in his speech was about the Ash Wednesday ceremony of smearing ashes on the forehead. You come from ashes and to ashes you will return. Well, that is a message for an age of austerity. And his message is we’re here temporarily, and, as Major said, the word humble and humility that you heard it coming out of his mouth almost every other sentence.
MS. IFILL: Kind of modesty is the theme.
MR. DICKERSON: Absolutely. Modesty – and you talk to staffers and aides and very quickly they’ll say, you know, when 10 percent of the country is unemployed, everything has to be both modest, because we recognize that people are hurting, and also focused on that, which is why when they talked about repealing healthcare they called it the job-killing healthcare bill.
MS. IFILL: Over and over again.
MR. DICKERSON: Over and over again.
MR. GARRETT: It’s actually the title of the legislation itself.
MS. IFILL: It is the title of the bill. Yes.
MR. DICKERSON: And the point there is if you’re going to talk about anything, it has to be in the jobs context. And if you bring it to Boehner and say, you should talk about this, he won’t do it unless it’s got that job connection, which is why they put it in the bill in the actual language.
MS. IFILL: Now, seldom do we see this much change on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue in a single week as we did this week. We see the new chief of staff at the White House, Julianna, Bill Daley, who we have seen before, who has been to Washington before, the secretary of commerce. Why him?
MS. GOLDMAN: Well, he brings a very unique skill set right now. You’ve got the political at a national level. You’ve also got the economic portfolio, commerce secretary. You’ve also got the business portfolio, JPMorgan executive. So he brings this unique skill set right now as the White House looks to 2012 also as they look to this new Congress and how they’re going to be interacting. He’s also a moderate, got NAFTA through. So he’s got these negotiating skills as well.
He’s also a communicator. And there’s a void right now in the White House with the departures of David Axelrod, with Robert Gibbs. It leaves Obama as the chief spokesperson. So Bill Daley is going to be able to go out there. He’s going to be a surrogate for the administration with the business community as well, which is also something that was missing. And also thirdly, he’s fresh blood in there and they really needed someone to come in and shake things up.
MS. IFILL: Even though he was not fresh blood in previous Democratic administrations, he is in this one. They seem very pro-business all of a sudden over at the White House, Jeff.
MR. ZELENY: I think they do seem pro-business, but I think a few of the differences, at least in the White House side of things have been overstated a little bit. Bill Daley is not that much different than Rahm Emanuel who was the first chief of staff. The instant President-Elect Obama said he was going to name Rahm Emanuel, the left went crazy. Oh, he’s too moderate. He’s too centrist.
MS. IFILL: I remember that. Yes.
MR. ZELENY: I think what they really need is someone who commands a room and commands some discipline. I’m told that things in the White House were getting a little bit sort of informal. And they needed a sense of someone who was a wise man. I was talking to Governor Bill Richardson at the end of last year and he said, they really need a wise man. It’s a time of Christmas. And I think this is the wise man. And I spoke briefly with President Obama on the phone this week and he was saying that –
MS. IFILL: It should be said he called you up.
MR. ZELENY: He called. He was wanting to sing the praises of Robert Gibbs, his long aide who literally has been with him since April of 2004. He’s stepping aside as well. But I asked him what kind of moment this is, if he’s going to spend a lot of time sort of putting his second team in place. He said there’s time for dilly-dallying. We have a lot of work to do. And I think it was clear at that moment that these staff changes are happening quickly but, you know, it is time to sort of engage with this Congress.
MS. IFILL: Tell me if this strikes you the same way, listening the president on the one hand talking about this is no time to dilly-dally, we’ve got to get right to work; and listening to Speaker Boehner on the other hand saying, we’re here just to do what the American people sent us to do. It seems to me that on both ends of the avenue we have managers rather than ideologues, which is what we paid so much attention to in this campaign.
MR. DICKERSON: I think that’s right. And they’re both going for the same issue. They’re both basically trying to beat the other on who can define the spending question faster. There are going to be some votes that are going to have to come up. There’s the budget process which happens every year, but they’ve also got to figure out how to fund the government in March. They’ve got to figure it out before that. And also they’ve got this question of the debt ceiling, which is a very highly charged question of raising the debt ceiling and there’s some opposition to that. So they’re both trying to find out who can quickly define this so that it can go forward in the most favorable terms. But that underlying process of getting the numbers to add up is a managerial (task ?).
MS. IFILL: It’s been very interesting all week watching people in our profession try to get the numbers to add up by quizzing Republicans about this. Judy Woodruff on the “NewsHour” this week talked to Dave Camp, who’s the incoming chairman of the House, Ways and Means Committee. And she asked him about how much they’re going to cut.
JUDY WOODRUFF [NewsHour Anchor]: So you’re saying that $100 billion is a number that Republicans can reach.
REP. DAVE CAMP (R-MI): We’ll have $100 billion in cuts when you compare the president’s budget with where we end up. Absolutely.
MS. IFILL: When you compare the president’s budget with where we end up. Does that sound like it’s open to interpretation to anybody?
MR. GARRETT: Well, it is depending on how you look at the calendar and if you’re going to obsess about the calendar. And the first conversation House Republican leaders are going to have to have is with their grassroots supporters who looked at the campaign rhetoric that said $100 billion in savings in our first year. What is the first year? Is it a first fiscal year or is it a calendar year? Well, that may sound like a completely ridiculous question –
MS. IFILL: It’s not the meaning of it, is it?
MR. GARRETT: No. But the Republicans very shortly, very briefly say, look. The fiscal year is half over. We can’t cut $100 billion out of this fiscal year. There’s not the time and we can’t find the cuts for that. But over the next fiscal year and what remains of this one we’ll get to $100 billion. Now, that’s relevant for a couple of reasons. That’s all in the domestic, non-defense, non-veterans side. So it’s real programs affecting real people. Are their members going to be willing to – (inaudible) – the political heat that will inevitably come when make those kinds of decisions?
Secondly, will grassroots Republican supporters, tea party and others accept that timeline? They may want it much more rapidly. Here’s the third point quickly on that: on the debt ceiling, everyone has to agree on this. John Boehner can say to the president, I have a coalition that will support X number of spending cuts. Will you accept that if we attach that to the debt limit? If the president says yes, then John Boehner can say, hey, guys, we have a real deal to cut spending in a real way, not just put votes before the House that go to the Senate and die and never get to President Obama. That will be the first test: the debt limit itself and what comes out of the negotiations for John Boehner.
MS. IFILL: But let me just show you a little bit about – Chuck Schumer is the best example of what this Democratic pushback is to this theory and to the strategy.
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D-NY): At every turn, they’re adding ifs, ands and buts to their campaign promises. So we’re here today to say these reckless fiscal policies are dead on arrival here in the Senate.
MS. IFILL: Reckless fiscal policies, job killing legislation – basically this is the, we’re going to undercut them and say they don’t mean what they say in a sense.
MR. ZELENY: That’s exactly what they’re going to do. And Senator Schumer, of course, is the one to watch because he’s not the Senate majority leader, but he’s the closest thing to it. He really has emerged as a power center among Senate and Democrats. But there’s no question Democrats are trying to hold Republicans accountable for everything. And they know they’re not going to make good on all their promises. They’re very well aware of that. So the Senate is one place where Democrats still have the ability to sort of do something because they are still in the majority. But what is going to be the most interesting dynamic out of all this are the Senate Democrats and the White House. Are they going to be sort of left out of this? When Speaker Boehner and the president are making some kind of a deal, what happens with the Senate Democrats?
MS. GOLDMAN: Well, especially the White House as they’re seeing Republicans right now it’s not show me the money, but show me where the money isn’t. Now is the time to make good on your campaign pledges. And one thing that the White House does have leverage over them is that Democrats and Republicans voted for $858 billion to be added to the national debt in that tax cut deal/stimulus, which we won’t call a stimulus.
MR. DICKERSON: Well, one thing about that deal and these tea party activists is that they can explain – Republican leaders can explain it and it makes sense. It’s plausible why they can’t do $100 billion in the fiscal year. But add that to the nearly $1 trillion that they spent on the lame duck. And now the tea party – you know, the conservative activists have now had to take three or four excuses before they get to the kind of hard cutting they’re expecting.
MS. IFILL: Does it help at all that they got the vote this week on cutting their own budgets, that they got the symbolic vote leading up to the more substantive vote next week on health care, on repealing health care? Is that the manager’s way of saying, okay, we’re giving you something and then we have to go really –
MR. GARRETT: That’s the approach that they’re going to take. Eric Cantor told me, the majority leader, that every week there’s going to a spending cut initiative on the floor leading up to that debt ceiling vote, every single week. So you can vote on something to cut federal spending. The Healthcare Repeal Act will pass with Republican support. That will be a campaign promise box that they can check. So the managers of the House Republican majority believe by putting forth these kind of sequential votes they can build a coalition. It is a theory at this point.
MS. IFILL: And what is the pushback theory from the White House?
MS. GOLDMAN: Well, even with the healthcare vote, look, then that adds $230 billion to the deficit. So that was a nice gift that the White House had there.
MS. IFILL: That’s what the Congressional Budget Office says.
MS. GOLDMAN: Yes.
MS. IFILL: And I think Mr. Boehner’s response was, oh, those are funny numbers.
MR. GARRETT: But here – let’s go back to some history. This dates back to the Gingrich era. There is one reason and one reason only in Washington today that CBO is the ultimate score keeper. It’s because the showdown of the government shutdown in 1995. Before that, the White House has said, no –
MS. IFILL: That’s right.
MR. GARRETT: – the Office of Management Budget keeps score. The Congress said no, the Congressional Budget Office keeps score. One of the long-lasting policy victories for Republicans, though they lost completely on the politics, and the optics of that day was to put the CBO dead center in counting all legislative initiatives. Republicans to say CBO numbers don’t matter is stretching things historically, factually and politically.
MR. ZELENY: And I think Democrats believe that there is a bit of – at least a political upside in having this healthcare debate over again at least in some respects. The Democrats are hoping that Republicans look extreme, that they’re trying to take away aspects of the healthcare bill that people are okay with. But a bigger problem is what if it does pass the House, which it will probably will – obviously, it gets to the Senate. I mean, how many sort of uneasy Senate Democrats are there who may vote to repeal it? I mean, are there any people who are up in 2012 who – I mean, there’s probably not a –
MS. IFILL: Does it even have to come to the floor?
MR. ZELENY: I don’t know if it has to come to the floor. I would think it would have to come to the floor.
MR. GARRETT: Reid’s not going to bring it to the floor.
MR. DICKERSON: He won’t. He won’t.
MS. IFILL: Yes.
MR. GARRETT: The only way it would matter is if outside Republican groups, for example, that we saw in the campaigns and (C)(4) groups begin running ads and saying, senator so and so, you’re up in 2012. Call your senator. Tell him you want –
MR. ZELENY: How would Ben Nelson vote on it this time, for example?
MS. IFILL: Right.
MR. ZELENY: I mean, there are a handful of Senate Democrats – they’re hoping it will never come to that.
MS. IFILL: Which is an argument against putting it – yes.
MR. GARRETT: There’s an interesting dynamic already going on. There are 13 House Democrats who voted against the healthcare bill in the last Congress who came back in this one.
MS. IFILL: Right.
MR. GARRETT: Only two so far have said they’re going to vote for the repeal. The other ones have said, the reason I’m not going to vote for repeal is because there’s no replacement. I want to know what the replacement is. So House Democrats, you would think theoretically vulnerable, have found a safe harbor. At least they believe so. That might be the same safe harbor Senate Democrats try to find as well.
MR. DICKERSON: In between repeal and the alternative, which will take a long time to go through the committee process, what the Democrats are hoping is to kind of reverse what Republicans did to them on healthcare which was when the healthcare bill was being put together, the Republicans would take the ugliest little provision, hold it up, call it death panels, whatever, and that would be the thing that would create the firestorm.
Democrats hope to reverse that, take the most sweet and wonderful part of healthcare, whether it be prescription drugs to help middle-class families or allowing people with pre-existing conditions to get coverage, use those to say they want to get rid of these wonderful things.
MS. IFILL: Take these things that you already have. Okay. So it seems to me like this week is like a teeing up between now and the State of the Union at the end of the month. And that both sides are rushing to define what happens next. We, for instance, saw Darrell Issa who’s going to be head of the new House Oversight – the old House Oversight Committee – started this off by saying he thought that this administration, or at least that the president was corrupt and then backpedaling and saying, what I meant by corrupt was this, because that’s not the message they want to send.
Now, on the other hand, the White House gets these good job numbers today. So it feels like everybody’s searching to get a little wind at their backs going forward.
MR. ZELENY: I think without a doubt. I think Chairman Issa is very happy with doing a lot of oversight, but he’s being reined in by some of his leaders, as Major wrote about this week. I mean, Speaker Boehner is really – is dead set on keeping a strict and disciplined approach because that is the fastest way to get the American public to turn on this House Republican majority is by wild and crazy oversight. So he may want to do this. And the White House Counsel’s Office has been staffing up with lawyers and accountants and all these things. And they’ll have to use them of course. But I think the oversight thing may not be as big as we once thought.
MS. GOLDMAN: I was just going say you mentioned the jobs numbers. What you saw today from the White House was trying to be able to frame these jobs numbers because they really were a mixed bag. Sure, 9.4 percent unemployment down from 9.8 percent. But 103,000 jobs were added in the month of December when 150,000 jobs had been expected. So this was really a mixed bag. And what you saw from the president was to say, hey, the trends look really good, 12 months also of consecutive private sector job growth, but we have got to do a lot more and then next phase in my presidency is going to be securing this fragile recovery, boosting jobs and boosting economic growth. And the way to do that is to ensure that the U.S. stays as a global competitor with emerging powers like China and India, which is going to be a central theme that we’re going to see in the State of the Union.
MS. IFILL: And especially next week there’s going to a big run-up to the President Hu’s visit here from China.
MR. DICKERSON: One of the things Darrell Issa’s trying to do though, he’s looking into a lot of different areas and what Speaker Boehner would like him to do is focus on those regulations that have gotten in the way of job creation and business activity. So you’ll see him do a lot of questioning of those regulations that were promulgated under the first two years of the Obama administration, again, arguing that everything we do in this GOP Congress has something to do with jobs and the economy.
MR. GARRETT: But it’s not just going to be Darrell Issa. This is one of the reasons Speaker Boehner is intervening. He wants other committee chairmen, probably less visible than Darrell Issa has been on the general oversight front, to also get into the issue of education and labor, ways and means, energy and commerce, whether it’s FCC in net neutrality, whether it’s EPA regulations on greenhouse gas emissions, all these things –
MS. IFILL: And that’s because John Boehner is basically a processy guy. Yes –
MR. GARRETT: Former committee chairman.
MS. IFILL: As we saw this week during the reading of the Constitution when someone screamed about Obama not being a citizen from the gallery, there’s all this potential for distraction. The birthright citizenship issue is coming back again. And how do you manage – if you’re basically a manger and in many ways he and John Boehner and Barack Obama are not so different, how do they keep the reins on their people to keep on message?
MR. GARRETT: John Boehner’s – one of his many skills, and anyone who becomes speaker is a skilled politician. That’s just a definitional obvious statement. But one of his key skills is member-to-member relations. John Boehner can have very candid, very direct conversations with every Republican, even the new freshmen. And there are numerous stories of John Boehner looking a Republican in the eye and say, what do you want. No, I can’t give that to you. Next. Giving them a straight, blunt, no answer and them saying, wow. Okay, I didn’t get what I want but I got a straight answer.
MS. IFILL: But there’s so much discussion on the flipside of this that at the White House this is not going to be a Congress-centric White House staff anymore and that that’s part of what Bill Daley’s there to do.
MR. ZELENY: It is one of the reasons that Bill Daley is there because he’ll sort of remind this president that he has the power of the executive branch. You’ll see a lot more executive orders. And the power of the cabinet as well. That was sort of gripe. If you talked to some cabinet secretaries, a lot of them were former governors. They actually formed a bit of a group, a coalition, a Kathleen Sebelius, Janet Napolitano, Tom Vilsack – and they said, wait. Like we know how to win elections. We’ve sort of done this before. So I think you’ll see a lot more from this cabinet going forward. But you’re absolutely right. This is not a congressional-centric White House because they’re already looking for reelection and things. So he’ll be in the country more. They’ll be talking to the country more, talking to the private sector more, as Julianna said, with business.
MS. IFILL: How well do Barack Obama and John Boehner know each other? Do they have any relationship that we can detect?
MR. ZELENY: Minimal.
MR. DICKERSON: Not well. There was a scene that Boehner talks about it where they both basically – you know, Barack Obama is not known for a lot of heavy emotion. And he basically pointed at Boehner and said, you’re scaring the country. And, you know, so there’s been talk of them playing –
MS. IFILL: Because of what?
MR. DICKERSON: Because of the way that Republicans were campaigning before, in the run-up to the campaign that they were trying to frighten the country to stir up votes for Republicans. There’s been talk about them going golfing. They both love golfing. But you can imagine what kind of a circus that would be.
MR. ZELENY: Speaker Boehner said he’s a better golfer and he’s right about that.
MS. GOLDMAN: And Robert Gibbs even admitted to it this week also.
MS. IFILL: That Boehner is a better golfer?
MR. GARRETT: Quickly on the daily Congress relationship.
MS. IFILL: Very quickly you can get it though.
MR. GARRETT: The big two issues for Obama this year and next are trade and an infrastructure bill, huge highway reauthorization. That’s a private sector driven initiative, both. That’s where he’s going to be dealing with House Republicans.
MS. IFILL: Okay. Well, we’ll be watching all of it. We’ve got our plates full. Thank you everyone. You can read all of Major’s story on John Boehner, “Seeing Red,” in this week’s National Journal. We’re through here for now, but the conversation continues online with our “Washington Week Webcast Extra.” And keep up with daily developments online and on the air all week on the PBS “NewsHour.” Then join us again next week around the table on “Washington Week.” Good night.