MS. IFILL: When ideas collide – the president and Congress face off over jobs and Republican candidates face off over who gets to be president. Plus, our reporters remember 9/11, tonight on “Washington Week.”
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: You should pass this jobs plan right away. Pass this bill. You should pass this bill right away.
MS. IFILL: The president challenges Congress to help dig the nation out of an economic hole.
PRES. OBAMA: I know that some of you have sworn oaths to never raise any taxes on anyone for as long as you live. Now is not the time to carve out an exception and raise middle-class taxes.
MS. IFILL: But will it work?
REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA) [House Majority Leader]: The things that we don’t like are the things that probably we should set aside and begin to try and work out here. But, again, there’s plenty of room for agreement.
MS. IFILL: And the reconfigured Republican presidential field begins a series of debates.
GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX) [Republican Presidential Candidate]: Michael Dukakis created jobs three times faster than you did, Mitt. (Laughter.)
FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R-MA) [Republican Presidential Candidate]: As a matter of fact, George Bush and his predecessor created jobs at a faster rate than you did, governor.
FMR. GOV. JON HUNTSMAN (R-UT) [Republican Presidential Candidate]: And to my good friend, Mitt, as governor of Utah, we were the number one job creator in this country during my years of service.
MS. IFILL: Covering the week, Jackie Calms of the New York Times and John Harris of Politico. And “Washington Week” panelists share reporter stories about 9/11 –
MARTHA RADDATZ [ABC News Reporter]: It was a day for me where you put your own fear in a box.
JEFF ZELENY [The New York Times]: Everyone else was running away from it. I was running toward it.
NANCY YOUSSEF [McClathcy News Services]: When I think about my life, it’s pre-9/11 and post-9/11.
MS. IFILL: – 10 years later.
ANNOUNCER: 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. There were a lot of gauntlets being thrown down this week. One thrower was President Obama who pitched a jobs bill to Congress last night and went on the road to Richmond, Virginia, to sell it today.
PRES. OBAMA: I was glad to hear some Republicans, including your congressman, say that they see room for us to work together. They said that they’re open to some of the proposals to create American jobs. Look, I know that folks sometimes think, you know, they’ve used up benefit of the doubt, but I’m an eternal optimist. (Applause.) I’m an optimistic person.
MS. IFILL: It’s no accident that, of course, he was in Richmond. That’s House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s home district. This was his response to the president’s pleadings.
REP. CANTOR: I’ve already said there are plenty of areas I think that have room for agreement. But I object to the all-or-nothing message that the president is delivering. That’s not how anybody operates. No two people usually agree on anything 100 percent.
MS. IFILL: And on the campaign trail, another challenge, this one to Social Security.
GOV. PERRY: I think the Republican candidates are talking about ways to transition this program. And it is a monstrous lie. It is a Ponzi scheme to tell our kids that are 25 or 30 years old today, you’re paying into a program that’s going to be there.
GOV. ROMNEY: Our nominee has to be someone who isn’t committed to abolishing Social Security but who’s committed to saving Social Security.
MS. IFILL: So much for the third rail. So the gauntlets were thrown. Who picked them up, Jackie?
MS. CALMES: Well, I’m not sure the Republicans picked them up, but they at least said they’d think about it, which in this Washington counts as progress, I think. Time will tell whether there’s been a rhetorical change only or a real one. But certainly the Republicans changed their tone, as the clips from Eric Cantor showed, and as President Obama alluded to in Richmond today.
And there are a few reasons for that. One is if the Republicans are seen as standing in the way of anything, they could be in real trouble if the economy doesn’t improve or gets worse. They already got a great deal of the blame for the August debt limit fight. They could lose the House. As bad as President Obama is doing in the polls, there’s five dozen Republicans who are from districts that President Obama won in 2008. He won’t win all of those probably next year, but that shows that those are competitive districts and they can’t afford to lose more than 24.
MS. IFILL: Overall on the left coast of the country, John Harris, you were moderating the debate, the Politico/MSNBC debate. And there were gauntlets being thrown there too, this about –
MR. HARRIS: All over the place.
MS. IFILL: All over the place – entitlements, Social Security. Who was throwing them and who was picking them up?
MR. HARRIS: Look, the story of this debate was really clearly Governor Rick Perry, who has just entered the race. This was his first debate and is. We see it consistently across several polls he’s at the top of this race. This was really the chance to show us, is this for real? Does he have the goods? The gauntlets were thrown down on Social Security. Just last year, when he didn’t plan to run for president, Governor Perry wrote his book, “Fed Up” that is filled on almost every page with the kind of thing that a cautious, calculating, play-it-safe politician would never say, and above all, on Social Security.
MS. IFILL: In fact, he said he would never run for president if – (inaudible).
MR. HARRIS: Right. If he was planning it – he said he would have never written the book if he was planning to run for president.
MS. CALMES: And that’s a credible thing.
MR. HARRIS: Totally credible. Now he is running for president. The question is how does he make an asset of this, and, of course, everyone else up on stage, the other seven, in particular Governor Mitt Romney, how do we make that book a liability. The most interesting exchange was, of course, over Social Security. Governor Perry did not back away from his rhetorical statement that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, as we saw.
In a way, that’s a flamboyant – that’s flamboyant language to say something that a lot of Republicans agree with, that Social Security is financially unsustainable. More interesting and more radical is what Perry argued in that book, which is that Social Security was a bad idea in the first place. It violated constitutional principles. That is a genuinely provocative idea.
And the gauntlet thrown there was by Mitt Romney saying, look, we cannot go into a general election with a nominee who thinks Social Security, one of the most popular federal government programs for 70 years, was a bad idea.
MS. IFILL: Or win the primary in Florida. So let’s talk about strategy here because the White House clearly had a strategy. The president was full of vim, vigor, a new aggressive tone. Was that part of the plan? They were going to go to Capitol Hill and push back?
MS. CALMES: Absolutely. I mean, they wanted Congress as the audience because – you know, to convey the gravity of it and so that he could sort of be seen as confronting the opposition to show his own party and independent voters that he’s got some fight in him. And they think they have the substance on their side too. This package of his was carefully crafted to be about 60 percent tax cuts, mostly an extension of the payroll tax relief that’s currently law this year. And, you know, he’s dared them. You know, you say you’re for tax cuts, then you’ve got to be for this one because if it expires at the end of this year, as scheduled, it would be on average $1,000 tax increase for every – for the average American family.
MS. IFILL: So he’s saying, put up or shut up essentially.
MS. CALMES: Exactly.
MS. IFILL: And on the debate stage it was so interesting to me because Mitt Romney, who had been considered to be the frontrunner up until Rick Perry got in the race, and Michele Bachmann, who only a few weeks ago was not the frontrunner but was doing extraordinarily well. It felt like everything got scrambled.
MR. HARRIS: Totally got scrambled. It seemed to me that everybody but Romney and Perry had a challenge which is, can I fight my way into the top tier of candidates. The consensus afterwards – and I don’t dispute it – was that Michele Bachmann did not succeed, did not command the moment to really make a convincing case that she belongs in that top tier. Some people thought that Governor Huntsman, who clearly came with the idea that he was going to be more aggressive, did that. It seemed to me that maybe may of the things he said would resonate with independent voters or even Democrats more than Republican primary voters.
Mitt Romney to me showed that he is a much more fluent, capable, nimble campaigner than he was in 2007. I think Governor Perry clearly passed the test, which is no small thing. He didn’t look implausible up there. He didn’t embarrass himself. He did come across. He showed the attributes that the people, his supporters, find appealing, there commanding, even blustery. He didn’t answer the questions to my mind about his substantive depth. He had opportunities to do on global warming, other topics, kind of skated over the surface of those. But he came in and held his place certainly. So in some ways an impressive performance by him, but it does to me seem really we’ve got at the moment a two-person race.
MS. IFILL: We have seen the president, who’s watching this two-person race, no doubt, try to do this before, give the big speech, speak over the heads of Washington, of the pundits, even of Republicans in Congress and try to make a big case. Is that what we see? We saw him in Richmond. He’s on his way to Ohio.
MS. CALMES: Well, it’s interesting. You know, he has been dogged since nearly the beginning of his term with this complaint from within his own party that he hasn’t really campaigned for his ideas, he hasn’t mounted a sustained pro-jobs agenda throughout his – and he hasn’t been tough about it, hasn’t shown fight. Well, you know, the White House, of course, rejects that line of thinking. And in fairness to the White House, the president has been interrupted by outside events throughout his administration like the BP oil spill last year. But this fall you’re going to see, or at least they’re going to try, a sustained campaign. Next week he’s going – he was in Virginia today, next week Ohio and North Carolina, three battleground states. He’s going to do another bus tour this fall.
MS. IFILL: So when he says he’s going coast to coast to campaign, he’s actually going battleground state to battleground state.
MS. CALMES: Two a week.
MS. IFILL: And what are the candidates doing? They’re going to New Hampshire first or are they just – are they scattering to try to raise money and other things?
MR. HARRIS: They’re scattering certainly, but they’re really trying to continue framing the issues from this debate. Romney’s people made it clear immediately afterwards that they’re going to try to hold Perry’s feet to the fire on the Social Security issue. Perry has basically placed a big bet that the politics of 2010, the midterm elections, can be taken to the presidential election campaign trail of 2012. You play to the base, rile people up and don’t worry about their usual rules that you have to moderate your stance for swing voters and all the rest.
MS. IFILL: Well, thank you, John. Thank you, Jackie. What’s interesting about both of these debates, of course, is nobody talked about national security. And here we are 10 years ago this weekend, America rocked by a domestic attack that changed the way many of us go about our jobs and about our lives. To mark the observance of this sad anniversary, we asked several of our “Washington Week” regulars to tell us how they experienced the day and how it’s changed their lives and their jobs.
MICHAEL DUFFY [Time Magazine]: I was sitting at my desk when the first tower was hit. And I was very quickly on the phone to New York where the magazine is headquartered. And while I was talking about it, the second plane hit the second tower.
MS. IFILL: I was on my way to work on September 11th, just a regular work day. And just like everyone else walked past the television set where I saw the most horrific thing happening.
ALEXIS SIMENDINGER [RealClearPolitics.com]: I was covering the White House that day. I heard about the plane going – the first plane going into the towers. And I wasn’t thinking – the connection to terrorism. I thought of a small plane.
DAVID WESSEL [The Wall Street Journal]: We saw the first plane hit and we thought it was a horrible accident. When the second plane hit, we realized it was terrorism.
MR. DUFFY: This is al Qaeda. We know this is going to be al Qaeda. There’s no one else it can be.
KAREN TUMULTY [The Washington Post]: I ran for the subway and headed toward my office. There were hoards of people, just – the cars were just jammed coming out of Washington and they were almost empty going into Washington.
MAJOR GARRETT [National Journal]: I was in Sarasota, Florida, with President Bush covering what we thought would be an extremely ordinary, almost forgettable education of anonymity at Booker Elementary School. I was in a small anteroom, were the classrooms that the White House had created for us to sit there, watched the president and watched television. So we see the first aftereffect of the plane in the tower and then we watched the second jet fly in. And you have a feeling that what you’re seeing can’t be believed.
MS. RADDATZ: It was so unfathomable what had just happened. You couldn’t even image what came next.
JOHN HARWOOD [CNBC/The New York Times]: And you had this gathering sense of foreboding because you had two planes crashing. There was an awareness that there may be other planes in the air.
JOHN DICKERSON [Slate Magazine/CBS News]: There were rumors on the radio that there was another plane maybe coming towards the State Department. So I drove down towards the State Department and was driving and opened the sunroof and was looking up to see if I could see the plane as I was headed down to the State Department. It turned out that plane didn’t exist. It was just one of the millions of rumors that day.
MR. HARWOOD: It was the first time that I remember, and it’s never happened since, that people around me in Washington, not just in the newsroom that I was in, but all around the city were scared because they didn’t know what was going to happen.
MR. ZELENY: And we saw, of course, what was happening in New York City. But then we heard that something had happened at the Pentagon.
MS. YOUSSEF: I saw the smoke coming from the Pentagon and I knew it was hit before I’d actually seen it on television.
MR. ZELENY: So I raced to get a taxi cab and we went out there. He could only make it about halfway over the bridge. So I ran the rest of the distance to the Pentagon. And everyone else was running away from it. I was running toward it.
MR. GARRETT: In that chaos, literally, everything horrible seemed possible.
TOM GJELTEN [NPR]: I’d been at the Pentagon when the plane hit. I was evacuated with everyone else at the Pentagon.
MS. RADDATZ: I think what I recall more than anything that day looking across and seeing the smoke rising from the Pentagon, all day. And then seeing fighter jets go down the Potomac River.
MR. GJELTEN: I could see all these military boats patrolling the river. I got into downtown Washington. There were tanks and armored personnel carriers and uniformed troops on the corners. I never thought of Washington, D.C., my hometown, as being a warzone.
MR. ZELENY: We saw this incredible sort of system of triage being set up all along the highway outside the Pentagon. But as the hours ticked by, it was clear that it wasn’t needed because everyone was either able to walk away or they were dead.
MR. GARRETT: And for the first time in my life, I’d never felt it before and never since, the highest levels in the United States government were caught completely flatfooted, didn’t know what was happening, had no idea what was coming next. And in ways that I found very disturbing then and still now had the same look of dread I had on my face – what’s next?
MS. SIMENDINGER: We were waiting for the president to return that evening and he was going to address the nation. He looked so stricken and grim, resolute, as President Bush liked to be, but stricken.
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: Today our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts.
DOYLE MCMANUS [Los Angeles Times]: My most vivid memory of that day, when the work was finally done, this very long drive from Washington took us right past the Pentagon which still eight, nine hours, 10 hours later was still burning.
MS. SIMENDINGER: I stood on the knoll overlooking the road to see that part of the Pentagon and it was still in flames. There was still smoke. Finally I could come to grips with, in my own mind, exactly what had happened in New York, in Shanksville, and then in Washington.
MR. MCMANUS: It was ghostly because Washington by then, by the evening was almost deserted, except for National Guard checkpoints with sandbags at major intersections. And you had to stop at a checkpoint to go ahead. I had been through that before but only in places like Beirut.
DAVID WESSEL [The Wall Street Journal]: We all covered it as reporters but we all felt it as Americans at the same time. Later that day I went home and we went to a house of some friends. And their 11-year-old son – we were watching TV and it was all very confusing and frightening – and I remember him pulling me aside and saying, you know what’s going on. Explain to me what’s happened. And that sense that our kids were just terrified.
MS. RADDATZ: I think there’s part of every American who remembers that day that they will have somewhere inside them that’s afraid.
CHARLES BABINGTON [Associated Press]: The thought that just immediately came into my head was I felt sorry for my children. I knew that my children would live under a different type of shadow, a different type of threat that would never go away and would never know when it might hit or not hit.
MR. DUFFY: It was a day that required you to both toughen up and realize you were in for several years of tough work. And also watch people and their lives some ways come apart.
MS. IFILL: For weeks afterward, the most amazing experience, just a personal experience after September 11th was my commute to work every day, which took me right past the Pentagon where at the site of the building where the plane crashed there was a scar. There was a big burn scar. And they had hung a huge American flag over it.
MS. CALMES: They said that day this is going to change everything. And it did.
MS. RADDATZ: And the next morning I remember getting up and thinking, I just have to go do my job. I can’t think about what happened. I can’t think about anything other than my job.
MR. GARRETT: There was also a sense of collective psychic remorse that those people in the counterterrorism or the terrorism part of our government, who had been warning about this, had simply been shunted aside. Oh, that’s what you do all the time. You lay awake at night worrying about all these terrorists squirreled away in little holes in the side of mountains in Afghanistan. That’s what you do but we’re bigger, serious people. And then we thought, of my – they were right.
MR. GJELTEN: We have to remember that in August, just a month before 9/11, the intelligence community was warning that bin Laden is determined to strike in the U.S.
MR. DUFFY: We knew about al Qaeda. We knew that they were growing and we didn’t really chase it.
MR. GARRETT: What did the 9/11 Commission say? Failure of imagination. So there’s this collective sense of regret and remorse about the government failing to appreciate and understand this threat.
MR. DICKERSON: The main question was how soon were we going to go to war? How the new president was going to manage this catastrophic moment?
MR. ZELENY: Only a month earlier I spent the entire month in Crawford, Texas, covering President Bush. There were all these questions about, is he a consequential president? Well, of course, things were happening that we didn’t know at the time and it changed his presidency forever.
MS. CALMES: A country at war, then soon two wars, and you’re just thinking, everything you used to know about there would be wars, one state against another. In this case, we were fighting just sort of an amorphous group. We didn’t really know who the enemy was.
MR. BABINGTON: This was the epitome of asymmetrical warfare or struggle, if you will, where just a – literally a handful of men could do a devastating act on a large country, the greatest country in the world.
PRES. BUSH: On my orders, the United States military has begun strikes against al Qaeda terrorist training camps and military installations of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
MS. RADDATZ: Afghanistan was supposed to be over so quickly. And when you look back at it, we had so few people involved, I mean, just tens of thousands, not hundreds of thousands.
MR. GARRETT: It was a short war on the front end, rapid victory over the Taliban, consolidation of that country, elections. All those things looked very positive. And then the president and his administration became extremely focused on Iraq.
MR. GJELTEN: Our attention and resources were diverted from Afghanistan to Iraq. Special Operations forces that were key to the fight in Afghanistan were redirected to Iraq. As a result, there was not an end game in Afghanistan. And 10 years later we are still there.
PETER BAKER [The New York Times]: The conflict obviously morphed over time. It was all-consuming at the beginning. It was everything that the Bush administration could focus on.
MR. DICKERSON: For the next eight or nine years we became focused on wars and death in America but in this different way. And we had two wars that became a part of our politics.
MR. HARWOOD: We were in a war that became very polarizing within the country. So, in some ways, the aftermath of that experience took all the things that we didn’t like about our politics and made them worse.
MS. SIMENDINGER: President Bush felt so strongly that he wanted to rebuild confidence. And, in fact, his two-term presidency was undermined to such a large extent by the lack of confidence in some of the steps that were taken afterwards -- obviously going into Iraq, et cetera, weapons of mass destruction.
MR. MCMANUS: Before 9/11, it’s hard to remember now, but we actually went through a period after the end of the Cold War when American foreign policy didn’t matter anymore. And 9/11 changed that. In an odd way it changed it not only in the obvious sense that it made American foreign policy terribly relevant – we were back in wars to begin with – but even on the domestic front because 9/11 touched off a big reorganization of the federal government and a massive expansion of the federal government.
MS. RADDATZ: I visited between Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Middle East, probably more than three dozen times over the last 10 years. I became a regular commuter to war zones.
MS. YOUSSEF: When I think about my life, it’s pre-9/11 and post-9/11 because I had just graduated college and had done a couple of journalism jobs. And then, all of a sudden, my whole life was transformed and I was suddenly in conflict and doing interviews over dead bodies and in firefights and all this kind of stuff. It’s just something I never imagined.
MR. BAKER: It’s interesting. We have been at war in Afghanistan now for 10 years but as somebody put it to me, it’s not one war. In effect, it’s been several different wars. And for a number of years, it was sort of a very low-grade conflict without any genuine big-scale kind of challenges. And that obviously has changed in the last few years.
MS. RADDATZ: I am still stunned when I go there about how much is going on, how real the danger is, how real the commitment on their part is, how many deployments – I mean, time after time after time after time.
MS. IFILL: Reflections of the reporters who come here every week to empty their notebooks. You can find more of their interviews plus my own reflections online at our website. Follow the link at pbs.org to our special page, “Remembering 9/11.” And for coverage of the weekend observances, join me for our “NewsHour” special report Sunday night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. See you next week on “Washington Week.” Good night.