transcript

Oct
07
2011

MS. IFILL: If you like playing “Scrabble,” this was your week in politics, on Capitol Hill, and soon at the Supreme Court. It was all over the place. We talk about it all tonight, on “Washington Week.”

GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ): Now is not my time.

FORMER GOVERNOR SARAH PALIN (R-AK): You don’t need a title to make a difference in this country. I think that I’m proof of that.

MS. IFILL: So that’s who’s out. What about who’s in? Herman Cain is enjoying a boost in the polls. Rick Perry’s raised $17 million in less than 60 days. And Mitt Romney is taking on the president on foreign policy.

FORMER GOVERNOR MITT ROMNEY (R-MA) [GOP Presidential Candidate]: If you do not want America to be the strongest nation on earth, I’m not your president. You have that president today.

MS. IFILL: One hundred thousand new jobs created last month, but not enough as the standoff over the president’s jobs bill intensifies.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The question then is will Congress do something? If Congress does something, then I can’t run against the “do nothing” Congress.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH) [Speaker of the House]: Nobody gets everything they want.

MS. IFILL: And the Supreme Court prepares to tackle issues of religion, indecency, immigration, and the constitutionality of the new health care law.

Covering the week: Dan Balz of the Washington Post; Jeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News; Janet Hook of the Wall Street Journal; and Joan Biskupic of USA Today.

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.

(Station announcements.)

ANNOUNCER: Once again, live from Washington, moderator Gwen Ifill.

MS. IFILL: Good evening. All is now clear. Two longed for candidates have opted out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination and those in the race are starting to put all of their fundraising cards on the table. So the field is set, but the contest is not. First, to the opt-outs, one a current government, the other a former one.

GOV. CHRISTIE: Now is not my time. I have a commitment to New Jersey that I simply will not abandon. That’s the promise I made to the people of this state when I took office 20 months ago, to fix a broken New Jersey. So, New Jersey, whether you like it or not, you’re stuck with me.

FMR. GOV. PALIN: After prayerful consideration and a lot of discussion with the family, I concluded that I believe I can be an effective voice and a real decisive role in helping get true public servants elected to office, not just in the presidency.

MS. IFILL: So that leaves the field to the candidates who are actually debating, raising money, and preparing to challenge President Obama. Among them, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney. Each gave high-profile speeches today.

GOVERNOR RICK PERRY (R-TX) [GOP Presidential Candidate]: Our first order of business to getting America working again is sending our current president to the private sector.

FMR. GOV. ROMNEY: This is America’s moment. We should embrace the challenge and not shrink from it, not crawl into an isolationist shell, not wave the white flag of surrender, nor give in to those who assert that America’s time has passed. That’s utter nonsense.

MS. IFILL: So who did more to set the stage this week: the people who were on the stage or the people who weren’t, Dan?

MR. BALZ: Well, it was a little bit of both, actually. The decisions by Governor Christie and Governor Palin ended this long period of the kind of will he, won’t she get into the race? And people looking more to the sidelines than to the real candidates who were in the race. So that helped to clarify clearly what the field is going to be.

But this is still a very volatile race. And we see it in the current round of polling. What we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks is Rick Perry who surged to the top of the heap when he got in the race in August, suddenly in a tailspin as a result of three not very good debates in September. In our most recent poll he went from 29 percent in September to 16 percent this month.

We’ve also seen the rise of Herman Cain. We saw the rise of Michele Bachmann earlier, then Rick Perry. Right now it’s Herman Cain who picked up almost identical number of points as Rick Perry lost. So there’s a question about what’s going on with the Republican electorate and in part the tea party folks. And sitting steadily there is Mitt Romney, who I think people still think is the person to beat but who hasn’t been able to grow his support while all of the rest of them are moving around.

MS. IFILL: You know, when we’re trying to analyze all of this, we’re looking for the objective ways of deciding who’s up and who’s down. One of them is the polling and the other is who’s raising money, who’s really getting support. So how does that measure against what these poll numbers are showing, Jeanne?

MS. CUMMINGS: Well, they show that Perry and Romney are clearly still the frontrunners. They are the only two who’ve raised enough money where they can really compete hard in all four or five now of the early primary states. Ron Paul, however, is also in good shape. And he doesn’t show in the polls, but he has a very loyal following.

MS. IFILL: Raised $8 million?

MS. CUMMINGS: Yes. He raised $8 million in the quarter, which I think is even – it’s more. It’s almost double what he raised in the first quarter and so he’s showing some strength as he moves along. So Cain said he’s been helped not just with new polling but financially, but his number is unclear. We don’t know it yet but he sent out a message saying he’s having – he had his best quarter yet.

MS. BISKUPIC: Well, what’s behind that surge? Dan, you mentioned that Michele Bachmann had had her surge and that’s gone, but why Herman Cain? Why now?

MR. BALZ: Well, part of it clearly is the decline for now at least of Rick Perry. And he’s benefited from that. But I think there’s more to it than that. Herman Cain has come across not only in debates in front of Republican audiences as positive, as likeable, as somebody who has something to say.

He’s got a very catchy tax plan, 9-9-9, which at least on first blush sounds interesting and attractive. So he’s used the debates a little like Mike Huckabee did four years ago, which is to draw attention to himself but do it in a way that makes people like him. He hasn’t drawn any criticism from the others at this point. That may or may not begin to happen in the next debate, which is next Tuesday in New Hampshire. So we’ll see how much sustainability he has. And as Jeanne just pointed out, there is a real question of whether he has the infrastructure and the financial wherewithal to go a long distance.

MS. IFILL: I’m curious, Jeanne, whether this sounds a lot like past campaigns that we were seeing where there’s always someone who can excite the crowd and for a moment at least, in retrospect that’s what Howard Dean was doing. They seemed very exciting to the base. But what happens then? Do they have the infrastructure, meaning cash?

MS. CUMMINGS: Absolutely. And there’s very little evidence that Herman Cain has built any kind of operation in Iowa, which is expensive because it takes a lot of people to make Iowa work for you. You have – and there’s no evidence that he has enough money to buy ads to play in New Hampshire or, most importantly, Florida now that it may move up.

MS. IFILL: In which he won the straw poll.

MS. CUMMINGS: That Florida move up is so important in terms of the financing of the candidates because to win in Florida candidates spend up to as much as $20 million.

MS. IFILL: Remind people when the date is, when you say move up, they moved the date to –

MS. CUMMINGS: They moved the date to January – is it 27th or –

MR. BALZ: Thirty-first.

MS. IFILL: Thirty-first.

MS. CUMMINGS: Thirty-first. Okay. But it can cost $20 million to just work Florida. And so estimates at the beginning of the campaign season were that you need $50 million to get through the first set of primaries. Well, that’s true. And now you have to raise that $50 million a lot faster. You have to have it in the bank and you can’t necessarily hope for a bounce out in New Hampshire, which could be only two weeks before Florida, to suddenly fill your coffers.

MS. HOOK: The whole schedule of the primaries has moved up so much – I mean, we’re going to be seeing debates and campaigning around Christmastime. Does that favor one of the other of the candidates to – what kind of impact does that have on the horse race to have its advance?

MR. BALZ: Well, it certainly favors somebody who’s been through it before, which is Mitt Romney. It favors somebody who’s got the money right now to begin to put up the advertising in whatever states. But beyond that, this calendar is a little bit trifurcated I guess in terms of who’s advantaged.

Mitt Romney is not really playing in Iowa this year. He may in the end go in and try to steal something there, but he hasn’t put in place the kind of organization that he did last time. That state is now a state that Rick Perry has to win, but so does Michele Bachman. So we’ll see what the competition is there.

In New Hampshire, Governor Romney is in great shape right now. He’s at 37 percent. The next four or five candidates add up to another 37 percent. So there’s nobody close, but we know the history of New Hampshire is one that it can change dramatically and particularly turn against a frontrunner.

MS. IFILL: Governor Romney told Judy Woodruff, my colleague on the “NewsHour,” today that maybe who knows? Maybe President Obama will be primaried, which is the new term this cycle for drawing -- an incumbent drawing some sort of challenger. Maybe that’s wishful thinking, but how was the president doing in terms of fundraising and structuring himself as opposed to the Republican field?

MS. CUMMINGS: He still is going to be way ahead of them. His campaign has not released his third quarter report but they also have not backed off of their estimate that they would raise a combined $55 million between the DNC and the candidacy. That would mean Obama’s take would be somewhere in the $25 to $30 million. And as it is right now, Perry, who is going to be the fundraising king of the third quarter for the Republicans has announced he raised $17 and Romney is expected to come in at around $13 million. So the president will remain way ahead of the other side.

MS. HOOK: Let me ask you, though, getting back to the Republicans and looking ahead to the general election, is this a stage where the Republicans actually now that they have their field set, do they look at them and think about who’s most likely to beat Obama or are they still thinking about these candidates more like what kind of Republican Party do we want to be?

MR. BALZ: I think right now there’s a little bit more of that. And I think that’s why there’s been this volatility, particularly if you look at the internals in the polls at the tea party supporters. I mean, they’ve had a different candidate for the last three months. They’re moving around. So there’s a little bit of this head-heart tension going on within the Republican electorate. As you get closer to the Iowa Caucus, the New Hampshire primary, South Carolina, Nevada, and Florida, at that point, electability does become a bigger factor in people’s minds. We’ve seen it in the past. John Kerry in the 2004 Democratic race overtook Howard Dean in large part I think because people felt in the end he would be a more – a tougher general election candidate against President Bush.

MS. CUMMINGS: And I think that some of the volatility in that primary is contributing to something we’re not seeing, which we typically do around the third quarter fundraising figures, and that’s when the field will clear out because –

MS. IFILL: Yes. Nobody’s dropping out.

MS. CUMMINGS: Nobody’s quitting, even though we know they cannot compete. There’s only maybe four -- three or four of them on the stage who will have the financial resources to actually compete.

MS. IFILL: But if you’re Rick Santorum – a couple of weeks ago you were basically sitting in the men’s room talking to Herman Cain and you both were complaining that no one’s calling you in the debates. Now Herman Cain is getting his moment. So why drop out if you’re Rick Santorum?

MS. CUMMINGS: Well, I think that’s exactly what’s driving this phenomenon in this cycle. And that is it’s – Bachmann had her moment. Perry had a moment. Now Cain has a moment. If you’re Rick Santorum, you think, hey, I’m next. Next Tuesday I’m going to be great.

MR. BALZ: Or Newt Gingrich or Jon Huntsman. I mean, everybody can look at and say, there may be a path for me if things break the right way.

MS. IFILL: I do have to ask: where is Michele Bachmann now? She was a big deal a minute ago.

MR. BALZ: She was. And she is now at – in our Post-ABC poll, she is at 7 percent. She’s taking a tumble, although she didn’t really drop much over the last month. She peaked the day she won the Iowa straw poll and has gone down since. And she’s staking everything on Iowa. If you talk to her now, she essentially says Iowa is the game.

MS. IFILL: And she’s actually losing staff as she goes along, not dropping out but shedding people, which we assume is a money issue.

Okay. Well, thank you both very much. It’s safe to say none of the Republican presidential candidates are fans of the jobs bill President Obama has been pushing these last few weeks. But neither the president’s insistence, nor new round of tepid but not disastrous jobs numbers seem to be breaking the political logjam. At least one Democratic senator said this week it’s precisely the politics that’s causing the jam.

SENATOR PATTY MURRAY (D-WA): I remember well one time when I was very little and I was fighting with my brother every other minute and my mother put us in the backroom and said, don’t come out until you’ve got it figured out. We’d stared at each other for a while but we came out friends.

MS. IFILL: Now, of course, this is not quite the same thing. She’s talking about the Super Committee that she’s on, their ability to maybe work something out. But is that even possible anymore on Capitol Hill that everybody just gets in a room away from the cameras and they work things out?

MS. HOOK: Yes, the smoke-filled backrooms just don’t exist anymore. If they did, I don’t know whether they’d work. Things are really – have really kind of devolved into a political brawl here that – I’ve got to say – call me naive. When this jobs bill debate started, I actually thought that something might come of it because when you looked at the time, in early September Congress came back from this recess and the public was hopping mad about the way they dealt with the debt limit. The economy just continued to stall.

And Obama’s proposal, when he came out with it in early September, it actually wasn’t a totally in your face partisan bill. He did pull on ideas that Republicans might support. And the Republicans seemed to be on their best behavior. So at the outset it looks like that maybe something could come of it. And it’s just completely unraveled since then and it got to – I mean, this point – this week it really became clear. You know, Eric Cantor, the majority leader, said it wasn’t going to come up in the House. It will come for a vote in the Senate next week, but everybody knows it’s not going to pass. And everybody’s focusing on the things they disagree on rather than the things they agree on.

MS. IFILL: If indeed they’re playing chicken with each other, waiting to see who blinks, what are they basing this on? As you pointed out, everything we know shows that people have lost patience with this kind of standoff, but maybe they know something we don’t?

MS. HOOK: No. I think part of the problem is that unlike the other deadlines that we’ve seen Congress work up against like the debt ceiling and the government closing, this is one that kind of nobody really knows what the solution is. There isn’t a lot of confidence on either side in what their proposals are. So there’s – I think they’ve gotten to the point where they just think that they have more immediate impact in blaming the other side than in actually trying to get any one particular thing done.

MS. BISKUPIC: But speaking of one particular thing, are there pieces of this that could be broken out that could help people out there that maybe there could be some unanimity on?

MS. HOOK: Yes. Well, unanimity, that’s a little much. But I do think – (laughter) – but I do think that there are –

MS. BISKUPIC: Majority. Majority.

MS. HOOK: There are parts that I think once they get through this really partisan phase, they have to have their up or down votes and blame each other for a while, there are parts of the Obama proposal that Republicans might be willing to support. One is there’s a payroll tax break that we’re all benefiting from this year that expires at the end of the year. And I think it will be really hard for Congress to allow that to lapse. Obama proposed extending it. And if they don’t, we all get a tax increase.

MR. BALZ: Janet, one of the interesting things about this is that there’s been division within the Democratic Party about the president’s bill. Why is that?

MS. HOOK: Well, they’re actually – there are different reasons for disliking different parts of it. And Democrats being Democrats, they always kind of bring those things up. There are some conservative Democrats who think that the overall proposal, which was $447 billion worth of spending and tax breaks, was too big, too reminiscent of the 2009 stimulus that they’d gotten hammered for. That’s a small number of Democrats.

There are others who didn’t like the proposals that Obama put up to pay for it, to offset the cost, which were tax increases that they didn’t like. Well, instead, they’ve replaced that with one monumental tax increase – I mean, one single increase, a surcharge on millionaires as opposed to the kind of little menu of tax increases that Obama proposed.

MS. CUMMINGS: The president said at his press conference this week that he didn’t have a problem with that particular approach.

MS. IFILL: He didn’t exactly put his arms around it either.

MS. CUMMINGS: He didn’t embrace it, but he didn’t say he’d veto it, either.

MS. IFILL: Yes.

MS. CUMMINGS: Did they only put it in to just take care of the piecemeal tax breaks that were in there that the Democrats objected to or was it political that they changed the funding to turn it into a fight?

MS. HOOK: There were two things. One is they wanted to maximize the number of Democrats who would vote for the bill when it came to a vote. And the oil and gas – people from states that make a lot of oil and gas didn’t like raising taxes on the oil and gas companies so they got rid of that.

But the other thing is that there’s a school of thought among Democrats – Chuck Schumer, the senator from New York, is the leading proponent of this – that you get a cleaner political message if you say, I am raising taxes on millionaires. It’s simpler than saying, well, for people who make $250,000 or more we’re going to limit your deductions on – I mean, it’s just a simpler message.

MS. IFILL: If you’re going to do class warfare, just go all the way.

MS. HOOK: Right. Just go whole hog. Right.

MS. IFILL: Not that I’m saying it’s class warfare. (Laughter.)

MS. HOOK: No, it’s math.

MS. IFILL: It’s math.

MS. HOOK: It’s math.

MS. IFILL: Okay. Thanks, Janet. And if you wanted anymore evidence that autumn in Washington is off to a rock ’em, sock ’em start, just look at the issues headed for the Supreme Court: challenges on immigration, indecency, the health care law, warrantless searches, religion in the workplace, and the death penalty. And who better to preview it for us, I think it’s like – what is it? Drug, sex, and rock and roll? Everything is happening at the Supreme Court, than Joan Biskupic. Joan, what are you keeping your eye on?

MS. BISKUPIC: Yes. We find rock ’em sock ’em in many opinions these days. (Laughter.) Well, just think of what they already have that they’ve already said they’re going to take.

We’ve got, can the police fix the GPS to your car without a warrant and follow you around? What about Cher and some of her fleeting expletives that she blurted out at an award ceremony? Is that indecent? Can that be sanctioned? We’ve got a good case having to do with whether jailers can strip search anyone who comes in, even on a minor traffic offense? So we’ve got a very good slate already of great cases.

And then, marching right in the middle of the court’s docket in our election year are two hot ones, one having to do with the constitutionality of the Obama-sponsored health care law and the Arizona immigration debate. Both of those cases are likely going to be taken up by the justices in this term with rulings coming in June of 2012 right as we head toward the election year.

MS. IFILL: Oh, boy. Let me ask you about the health care, because that’s not there yet, but there is some pressure –

MS. BISKUPIC: The appeals are – yes. The appeals are there but the justices haven’t yet agreed to hear it.

MS. IFILL: So this week we saw both the Obama administration and the states who are challenging this law both saying, hurry up, take it up sooner.

MS. BISKUPIC: They’re not so much saying hurry up as they’re saying take it up, take it up now in the normal course of things and the justices have essentially until about January to set this term’s slate of cases. And with both parties, as you said, Gwen, coming and asking for it, especially the Obama Justice Department saying, no more appeals in lower courts, let’s come right now, I think the justices will take it.

MR. BALZ: Can I follow up on that? The appellate courts have split on this. Is there any early tea leaf reading on what the Supreme Court may end up doing on this or is it just too difficult to anticipate?

MS. BISKUPIC: Well, here’s the deal. The law – there is plenty of case law there to support this mandate being held constitutional. As everybody knows, it’s the individual mandate that says that everybody has to buy health insurance by 2014. There is law out there that the justices have by a majority ruled for that would support it. But like everything else at the Supreme Court, you can find case law on both sides. I actually think this might not be as tough for the court and that it could be upheld, but we just don’t know with these nine justices who are so ideologically split.

MS. CUMMINGS: What about the Arizona law is just as politically hot as health care and with the new law that passed in Alabama recently, we have states –

MS. IFILL: The border protection laws.

MS. CUMMINGS: Yes. We have states all doing lots of different things on immigration. Is the court consistent on that issue?

MS. BISKUPIC: Now, that’s a tougher one. But I should tell you, Jeanne, that that’s coming to us not as a straight constitutional matter having to do with like racial profiling. What she’s referring to, of course, is the law in Arizona that was signed into – I think the spring of 2010 by Republican Governor Jan Brewer there saying that if police suspect that somebody might be undocumented, his or her papers can be checked. And what the Obama administration has said, that this could lead to racial profiling. But the actual court case to do with the division between state and federal power. And what happened in lower courts is that they blocked the effect of that law, saying we think that the Obama administration has some support on the merits. So if it comes up to the Supreme Court and they take it, it will be on a little bit more of a procedural one than racial profiling. So I think they actually could side with the Obama administration on that too.

MS. HOOK: You know, up on Capitol Hill this week there was an unusual hearing where some of the – a couple of the justices actually came and testified at the Judiciary Committee and we don’t see that very often. What did you think about that hearing?

MS. BISKUPIC: Well, I should tell you, Janet, I was thinking about you when I heard Justice Scalia say, learn to love the gridlock. (Laughter.) Because he said, hey, in his usual way of saying, hey.

MS. IFILL: Janet already loves it.

MS. BISKUPIC: Yes, yes, exactly. That, you know, face it that the framers of the Constitution thought not everything should get passed. But it was – Senator Patrick Leahy and the Senate Judiciary Committee had Justice Scalia and Justice Stephen Breyer up there to talk about the role of judges under the Constitution. And it turned out to be sort of a love fest, frankly. There weren’t fireworks that I was kind of hoping for.

MS. IFILL: But it’s kind of unusual for justices to go and testify.

MS. BISKUPIC: It’s completely – the scene of the crime essentially is the Senate Judiciary Committee when they’re trying to get through the process and only a very small handful of times have justices returned to testify on something. So this was what we thought would be a terrific moment.

MS. IFILL: And they were comparing who got the most votes out of the Senate. And I think it was Scalia who got more votes to be confirmed.

MS. BISKUPIC: Yes.

MS. IFILL: Okay. We’ll talk about more of this. The conversation has to end here for now, but we’ll keep gabbing over on the web. You can find our “Washington Week Webcast Extra” online at 11:00 p.m. Eastern tonight. Also on our website, you can go into our vault and view our program from 10 years ago this week when President Bush launched the war in Afghanistan. Find it all at pbs.org. Keep up with daily developments on the PBS “NewsHour” and we’ll do our best to help make sense of it all next week on “Washington Week.” Goodnight.