transcript

Jun
08
2012

MS. IFILL: You say you want change? Look no further than Wisconsin, presidential campaign fundraising, and the rise of secret wars. That’s what we’ll do tonight on “Washington Week.”

GOVERNOR SCOTT WALKER (R-WI): Tonight, we tell Wisconsin, we tell our country, and we tell people all across the globe that voters really do want leaders who stand up and make the tough decisions.

MS. IFILL: Wisconsin’s Republican governor turns aside a recall, rebuffing unions and Democratic activists across the country, while Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, raising a combined $140 million in a single month, square off over who’s to blame for the economy.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I know this is an election year. That’s not lost on me. But at this make-or-break moment for America’s middle class, we can’t afford to have Congress take five months off.

FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR MITT ROMNEY (R) [GOP Presidential Candidate]: There’s something fundamentally wrong when there are over 23 million Americans who are unemployed, underemployed or have stopped looking for work, and yet, the president tells us he’s doing a great job.

MS. IFILL: And a new book reveals how the president who came to office to end public wars came to preside over secret ones.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LEON PANETTA: We have every responsibility to defend ourselves. And we are going to make very clear that we are prepared to take them on.

MS. IFILL: But do drone attacks and covert cyberwars serve that purpose? And who’s telling the secrets? Covering the week: John Dickerson of Slate Magazine and CBS News; Jeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News; and David Sanger 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.

(Station announcements.)

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

MS. IFILL: Welcome to this week’s rollercoaster or maybe it’s not so welcome if you’re a Democrat. Wisconsin Republicans set the stage Tuesday by fending off a vigorous attempt to recall embattled Governor Scott Walker. Both President Obama and Governor Romney remained at arm’s length from that battle, but in victory, Walker saw a lesson for both men.

GOV. WALKER: I think voters coming to the presidential election will want candidates to explain what they’ll do, who they’ll look out for the next generation more than just getting through this next election. That was clearly said I think in the election results yesterday.

MS. IFILL: Perhaps that’s what we saw today as Obama and Romney engaged in long-distance battles over who is right about the economy.

PRES. OBAMA: The private sector is doing fine. Where we’re seeing weaknesses in our economy have to do with state and local government, often times cuts initiated by governors or mayors who are not getting the kind of help that they have in the past from the federal government.

MR. ROMNEY: For the president of the United States to stand up and say the private sector is doing fine is going to go down in history as an extraordinary miscalculation and misunderstanding by a president who’s out of touch.

MS. IFILL: It’s going to go down in history if Mitt Romney has anything to say about it, John. So what was going on there today, the back and forth?

MR. DICKERSON: One thing – there was one petty thing going on and one sort of important thing going on. The president was making the case for the American Jobs Act. He’s been fighting for it for a year. And so he was talking about the relative strength of the economy, saying the private sector has been growing, but in these jobs, these cops, these firefighters, they’re the hardest hit, and he has a plan to give some aid to the states. And so that was what he was trying to make the argument for. The Republicans grabbed it, as we saw, with Mitt Romney and said this shows he’s totally clueless about the economy. He thinks people are doing fine. The president doesn’t think people are doing fine. He says it all the time.

MS. IFILL: And he came back this afternoon in the Oval Office to say it again, just in case anyone misunderstood.

MR. DICKERSON: That’s right. And he can’t be – he can’t let it be the case for a minute that anybody thinks he doesn’t know that people are hurting. But what’s the important argument here that Republicans have, and important larger argument is that government gets in the way of free enterprise and that the president’s solution is a government-based solution. The president would say, well, it’s small one. It’s investment. It’s a smart use of the federal government, but that’s the big argument here, not the petty one. That’s the large one. And that’s as big as this election itself and it goes beyond that.

In Europe there’s a debate right now about austerity measures, how much the government needs to cut back, how much it needs to invest. That’s another reason the president was in the press room today saying basically Europe is rumbling. If bad things happen there, they can affect our economy, in part saying, don’t blame me because of what’s happening in Europe and what happened in Wisconsin.

MS. IFILL: What happened in Wisconsin was a version of the same argument in a slightly – played out at the state level.

MR. DICKERSON: Exactly right. So what happened in Wisconsin? It started out as a debate many months ago about what you spend your money on, and because of scarce resources, what you spend your money on in a time of big deficits. And Governor Walker decided that they wanted to have public sector unions participate more in their pensions and health care than they had before. And so this started up a huge fight, because the unions thought this is a direct shot at our benefits over the years. And if Walker is able to do it in Wisconsin, it’s going to happen all over the country, because there are lots of other Republican governors who won in 2010, who want to do the same thing.

MS. IFILL: A couple of Democrats too.

MR. DICKERSON: Well, that’s true. I mean, all of the governors are fighting – as the president said, the governors and mayors are fighting to find a way to shrink these deficits, deal with low tax revenues and find a way to actually keep their governments running.

MR. SANGER: John, if in fact Wisconsin was a microcosm of this argument we’re going to see play out over the whole general election, why was it that both President Obama and Governor Romney stayed as far away from the state as they could possibly do? You can almost see them routing their airplanes away from its borders.

MR. DICKERSON: They did. And the president was in neighboring states and just couldn’t somehow get there. They also didn’t run television ads in the state as well, neither one of them. Basically, they didn’t know how it was going to turn out and they didn’t want to be on the hook for going into the state.

And remember – when President Obama campaigned against now Senator Scott Brown, he went up there and made a last-minute pitch for his opponent and it didn’t turn out so well. It became a referendum on the president, not a success necessarily for Brown in terms of the national political conversation. And that was true also for Romney. If he went in and made this about him – it was a local issue. And don’t get in the way of what for fear of hurting you and backfiring essentially.

MS. CUMMINGS: Overall, what message does Romney take out of this?

MR. DICKERSON: Well, there are two messages to try and parse out of this. One is about the battle map. And the question for Romney now is, if you look at the battleground states, they’re about 11. The Obama campaign at the start of this campaign last year had Wisconsin in the deep blue, safe for Obama category. They no longer have it there.

So the question for Romney now is: is he going to play in Wisconsin? Is he going to put the money in the advertisements and spend the time trying to compete for Wisconsin because of what was seen in the Walker success?

But there’s also another sort of ideological question for him, which is Walker won by being loud and proud about what he was going to do. He’s saying, these are my conservative ideas. I’m going to run on them. I’m going to be very forthright about them, really try and put them into action and I’m going to withstand the onslaught. And so conservatives have looked at this and also Paul Ryan from the same state and said, that’s the way we need to govern. And Governor Romney, you’ve got to run your presidential campaign that way.

Governor Romney has run a very risk adverse, very safe campaign. Is he going to take the Walker message? Is he going to say – not just the message being turn away from Barack Obama but to the electorate, turn towards this specific set of conservative ideas.

MS. IFILL: And he can’t underestimate what a blow this was to the labor union movement either.

MR. DICKERSON: It was a big blow to the labor union movement, if no other reason that they’re just now defeated and sad and they’ve got to get – sort of get their energy back up for the general election.

MR. SANGER: But they didn’t put that much money and when you think about how much they could have.

MR. DICKERSON: Well, there was a tension here between the labor unions who wanted to work on this and the national committee. And that’s part of the tension that’s left over – you didn’t come to help us out, they say to the president and to the Democratic National Committee.

MS. IFILL: That’s going to play out again this fall. But let’s talk some more about this fall because it looks like both candidates are going to have plenty of cash on hand to sell their messages. The Obama campaign, flush after a month of celebrity fundraising, announced they’d hauled in $60 million in the month of May. But the Romney campaign bested that raising $76.8 million during that same period, more than it had raised during the entire primary campaign.

So is this what you expected the kickoff of the general election, Jeanne, or is this just one of those things where the Romney people really are beating the Obama people at their own game?

MS. CUMMINGS: Well, we expected him to do well the first month out, because Romney was careful during the primary to only collect primary money. And so everybody who gave to him in the primary, you just send them a note and say, send me the general election check and they’ll be most inclined to do so. So there’s an expectation that’s easy money. That’s the low-hanging fruit.

Romney’s number though carries a lot of messages though. There’s a lot of strength in that number, and that is, if you look just going a little further on the calendar in the primary race, let’s say it’s $88 million just because we’re counting by months. And so then we go to this month, and it’s $76 million. So it almost matches everything he raised. And people now can send in a check that’s not $2,500 but is $30,000 to $40,000. So there’s a lot of growth in Romney’s fundraising ranks to easily catch up. And it also was – it could prove to be significant. We’ll find out eventually.

But when they each released their press releases about how much money they had, Romney added in his that he has around the $100 million in the bank. Barack Obama had $150 million in the bank last month. This month they didn’t tell us. Yes. So we have to –

MS. IFILL: You think it’s because they’ve been spending it, they don’t have to tell?

MS. CUMMINGS: I have a feeling that that number isn’t going to improve to be as good as it could have been.

MR. DICKERSON: Can they turn on a switch – so we know the machine is going well for Romney. How is the Obama – can they flip a switch – I know they sent out a press release trying to use the Romney news. Are they –

MS. IFILL: The press release said, we got beat – please send us more money.

MS. CUMMINGS: Yes. Yes.

MR. DICKERSON: Can they kick the generator up a little bit more or –

MS. CUMMINGS: Well, they have been sort of like a battleship. They’ve been really steady. They raised a lot of money, but it’s been in the $60 million range a couple of times. It almost looks to me like they’ve got this thing timed out. And so that they’re not going to have like wild peaks except, of course, in the end, when they hope that the small donors reengage at the level that they did last year or last cycle, because that’s really what pushed Obama into the stratosphere in history in terms of raising money.

MR. SANGER: Jeanne, did what we see happen in Wisconsin tell us anything about what the general campaign will look like for voters in this sort of super-charged, Super PAC, super-advertising era? And what did it feel like in Wisconsin? And is that going to spread?

MS. IFILL: We’re talking – what – $66 million?

MS. CUMMINGS: Sixty-six million has been documented. They think in the end, it will be –

MR. SANGER: In a small state.

MS. CUMMINGS: In the end, they think it will be $80 million. But what’s interesting is – you know, we all talk about, oh, the Super PACs are going to swamp everybody. Well, in Wisconsin, that didn’t happen, or at least so far. The numbers will stretch some. The last three weeks aren’t reported yet. But, as of two weeks out, the Super PACs for the Republicans had spent $18 million and the Democratic Super PACs had spent $15 million. So they were competitive.

And where the real imbalance was, was Scott Walker himself because they have this quirky law in Wisconsin that says, if you – imagine this written by incumbents, okay? If you’re an incumbent and you face a recall, the campaign finance rules no longer apply to you. You could take as much money as you want. So that’s why he could take $500,000 at a clip, whereas Barrett, the challenger, the rules did apply to him so he was limited to $10,000 of donation. So, like I said, written by an incumbent.

MS. IFILL: That’s a big gap.

MR. DICKERSON: Incumbent protection.

MS. CUMMINGS: So he raised – so the governor raised $30 million and Barrett raised four. So that’s where the huge imbalance occurred. And what people say there is that they – no matter what you say, there was enough money for both sides to get their messages out because the people say they would get half a dozen to a dozen direct mail things every single day; phone calls, one, often two every night. You know, there were bus tours. I mean, the place was a carnival.

And there’s – you know, I talked to one expert out there and he said the idea that if the unions had just thrown in $2 million more, they would have gotten a few more votes. He said, nobody here knew that – didn’t know there was an election. Nobody here didn’t know who was running.

MS. IFILL: Can we cycle back to the national campaign, because I’m curious – we’ve been paying a lot of attention to the celebrity fundraising. We saw Mitt Romney last week appearing on stage with Donald Trump who said some dubious things about birtherism, but his point was, hey, Donald Trump can raise money for me. And then we saw the president on a seemingly endless campaign trip to California, back to New York. Sarah Jessica Parker, Anna Wintour, you name it, raising a lot of money. How much did that account for what we saw in these numbers?

MS. CUMMINGS: We won’t know for sure until the actual reports come out. What we have now is what the campaigns have announced. Their FEC reports are due in the middle of the month and we’ll be able to dig deeper. But if you look at California up until now, it is the number one donor base for him.

In addition, these celebrities are really important because they may well become his replacement for the businessmen billionaires who are giving to the Republicans. And so you could easily see – Sheldon Adelson, the casino giant, giving –

MS. IFILL: (Versus ?) Cher.

MS. CUMMINGS: Really. And George Clooney matching him. You know, but when you think about where (is priorities ?), the Democratic Super PAC going to get its money, in all likelihood, it will be in Hollywood.

MS. IFILL: Thanks, Jeanne. Finally tonight, you may have been reading about it all week – tales of secret plots, cyber warfare and frayed relations with old allies, all contained within the pages of David Sanger’s new book, “Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power.” Because this is Washington, the debate quickly turned to how of the story. How did David learn all this stuff?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ): It compromises our national security. For this reason, regardless of how politically useful these leaks may have been to the president, they have to stop. These leaks have to stop.

PRES. OBAMA: The notion that my White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive. It’s wrong. And people I think need to have a better sense of how I approach this office and how the people around me here approach this office.

MS. IFILL: Now, David’s book actually does provide a better sense of how the president approaches his office, precisely how a man elected to end two public wars ended up launching extensive secret ones. Was it out of necessity or was it out of his natural inclination. David?

MR. SANGER: You know, I think it started out of necessity, but I think the president quickly moved to revealing what his inclinations were. And we really didn’t know that when Barack Obama was elected because he really came with so little foreign policy experience.

You know, I tell the story in “Confront and Conceal” of a meeting that took place between President Bush and then President-elect Obama just days before the inauguration. And President Bush said to him, you know, there are two programs you’re going to want to save out here. One of them is drones, particularly over Pakistan, and the second one is called Olympic Games and it’s what’s described in the book. It’s not the Olympic Games of London next month, but instead, that was the code name for a very broad cyber war against Iran that started during the Bush administration.

Well, the new president comes in, he looks at these, and he doubles and then tripled down on them. And why, because I think he rightly sensed that after 11 years at war, the country was pretty tired of sending 100,000 troops and spending $1 trillion and doing these wars of occupation where the occupation turns into resentment. He needed some kind of high-tech, low-casualty way to try to accomplish the same mission. And in the Iran case, he needed a way to keep the Israelis from doing a military attack.

MR. DICKERSON: Is that – what is then the Obama doctrine coming out of this evolution that he had that started maybe with that first meeting with President Bush?

MR. SANGER: I think I’d say that there are probably two elements to it, John. The first is that for all the talk about engagement and the new leaf and all that, the president has shown himself very willing to take unilateral action when he believes there’s a direct threat to the United States – the bin Laden raid, certainly the drone strikes in Pakistan over the objections of the Pakistani government.

MS. IFILL: Including one this week.

MR. SANGER: And one this week, a big one this week that got the number two in al Qaeda. Number two in al Qaeda is a pretty risky job to have you end up carrying the cell phone around. It’s not a good thing.

And the third is that in Olympic Games, he was willing to go use an entirely new weapon of war that we really haven’t discussed very much in the country. But all of these are cases of direct action. When there’s just a global good, when he’s worried about Libya or Syria or something, he is much more reticent and says to the countries who have a direct interest, your direct interest is greater than mine. We’re not going to be the policemen of the world.

MS. CUMMINGS: Now, is this a Barack Obama we just didn’t meet in the last election cycle or has he evolved as a president into who he is today, the way he is leading now?

MR. SANGER: It’s a great question and, you know, requires crawling more into the president’s head than I’m certainly capable of doing. But I certainly do believe he evolved, because as he faced the decisions in Afghanistan in that first year when he had to go do the surge – I tell the story of how he does the surge but basically feels cornered by his generals and regrets putting in that surge almost as soon as he does it and then pulls out very quickly. I think he realized that was the last big commitment of troops he could do. He needed an alternative.

MS. IFILL: I have to ask you – tonight, the attorney general has decided to investigate the source of the leaks that he says led to some of the things in your book. What’s your reaction to that? What’s going to happen?

MR. SANGER: You know, I don’t know what’s going to play out in these. You know, leak investigations are something we’ve all seen a lot of in Washington over the years. And certainly – there’s a lot of reason to be very careful about how you handle national security information. We try at the Times, as all of you do, to be careful with it. That is to say we think there are things to report, but we also go out of our way to go to the government and say, if there’s something here that’s going to endanger lives, if there’s going to endanger future operations, we need to discuss it so that we don’t end up putting that in the paper.

MS. IFILL: David, very revealing book. You’re going to sign it for me before you go tonight.

MR. SANGER: Absolutely.

MS. IFILL: Thank you everyone. We have to leave you a few minutes early because it’s Pledge Week. We like to think of it as giving you the chance to support your local PBS station, which in turn supports us.

But the conversation continues online in the “Washington Week Webcast Extra” where we’ll just pick up where we left off. That’s at pbs.org/washingtonweek. And keep up with daily news developments with me online and on the air over at the PBS “NewsHour.” And we’ll see you again next week on “Washington Week.” Good night.