transcript

Jun
18
2010

MS. IFILL: The continuing oil disaster. Apologies everywhere, but not a solution to be found. Plus, the latest on debates on Afghanistan and from the Supreme Court, tonight on “Washington Week.”

REP. BART STUPAK (D-MI): Truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth the matter pending before this committee?

TONY HAYWARD, CEO of BP (British Petroleum): I do.

MS. IFILL: The oil disaster debate moves to Washington with dramatic hearings.

MR. HAYWARD: If this investigation determines that anytime anyone put cost before safety, then we will take action.

REP. PHIL GINGREY (R-GA): Well, with all due respect, Mr. Hayward, I think you’re copping out.

MR. TONY HAYWARD: With respect, sir, we drill hundreds of wells a year all around the world.

SEN. MICHAEL BURGESS (R - TX): Yes, I know. That’s what’s scaring me right now.

MS. IFILL: Partial payback.

PRES. BARACK OBAMA: I’m pleased to announce that BP has agreed to set aside $20 billion to pay claims for damages resulting from this spill.

MS. IFILL: And wild pitches.

CARL-HENRIC SVANBERG, Chairman of BP: We care about the small people.

REP. JOE BARTON (R-TX):  It is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown, in this case a $20-billion shakedown.

I want to apologize for that misconstrued -- misconstruction.

MS. IFILL: Yet the oil continues to flow.

JOHN YOUNG, Chairman Jefferson Parish Council, Louisiana: We’re in a war, and at this point in time unfortunately we’re losing the battle.

MS. IFILL: While a separate debate rages about a real war.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): This is June, 2010. Are we winning?

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: Winning to a counterinsurgent center means making progress. And in that regard I think that we are winning.

MS. IFILL: And the Supreme Court weighs in on text messaging.

Covering the week Charles Babington of the Associated Press, Juliet Eilperin of the “Washington Post,” Doyle McManus of the “Los Angeles Times,” 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. Not that anybody’s counting, but today marks day 60 of the oil disaster that would not end. This was the week when the president tried once again to use his first ever Oval Office address to assert some executive control over the whole mess.

PRES. OBAMA: We will fight this spill with everything we’ve got for as long as it takes. We will make BP pay for the damage their company has caused. And we will do whatever is necessary to help the Gulf Coast and its people recover from this tragedy.

MS. IFILL: It was the week when BP apologized to the American people and promised to pony up at least $20 billion for victims.

MR. HAYWARD: I give my pledge as the leader of BP that we will not rest until we make this right. We’re a strong company and no resources will be spared. We and the entire industry will learn from this terrible event and emerge stronger, smarter, and safer.

MS. IFILL: And it was the week when members of Congress finally got to vent their spleens at BP.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D-CA): I am just amazed at this testimony, Mr. Hayward. You’re not taking responsibility. You’re kicking the can down the road and acting as if you have nothing to do with this company and nothing to do with the decisions. I find that irresponsible.

MS. IFILL: BP CEO Tony Hayward, who did not cover himself in glory in that hearing, gave up day-to-day control of oil spill management 24 hours later. But did any of the parties here accomplish what they set out to this week, Chuck?

MR. BABINGTON: Well, they’ll have some setbacks, Gwen. I think from the vantage point of the president and the White House as the week went on, they felt like they got some momentum. There was something new every day. On Monday the president made another trip to the Gulf. Tuesday, he made his first Oval Office speech dedicated to this issue. He didn’t get great reviews, but they felt like he made his main points. Wednesday, you had the private meetings at the White House with the BP executives. And that’s where he got the promise for the $20 billion escrow account to help the people who are damaged.

Then on Thursday you had those congressional hearings. And the feeling was that especially because of the gaffes by the Republican member that we just saw, it was to the benefit of the Democrats. But by the end of the week, even though the oil is still gushing, the White House feels like they’re in a better position than they were before.

MS. IFILL: How about on the Gulf, Juliet? Do they feel like they’re in a better position?

MS. EILPERIN: They actually have made some gains even today. So for example the new oil containment system is now collecting 29,000 and change in terms of barrels of oil. That’s more than a million gallons of oil and it’s 10,000 barrels more than they were at the start of the week. They’ve also made some progress in terms of the first of the two relief wells. They’ve gone down quite a bit and they still have a ways to go, but they’re ahead of schedule in terms of these relief wells that right now everyone’s expecting in August.

So in fact in terms of practical day-to-day operations they’re doing better at the end of the week than they were in the beginning.

MS. IFILL: Except the leak is more than we thought.

MS. EILPERIN: Absolutely. The flow rate the new estimates are now between 35,000 to as much as 60,000 barrels a day. And so again that has just gone up and shows you that again this is extremely serious and more serious than people had thought even a week ago.

MR. MCMANUS: Juliet, let me ask about the flow rate because when this all started, the number was between 1,000 and 5,000. Now it’s between 35 and – how can the range be so enormous?

MS. EILPERIN: Well, part of it is because first of all people are still judging remotely by examining videotape. And so part of it is that there’s actually – there are scientists from Woods Hole who want – there’s a moment where they actually want to be able to do physical measurements when there might be a switchover in the containment cap. But it’s very hard to tell that. Also this is a revised estimate based on now that they cut the riser, which everyone knew the flow would go up. If you might recall, BP officials, back a few weeks ago said there’d be almost no difference in the flow rate. Clearly there’s a significant difference in the flow rate.

MS. BISKUPIC: Let me ask about the recovery effort and the announcement this week that Navy Secretary Ray Mabus would be coordinating it, but only as a part-time job. He’s not going to give up his position there. And I’m just wondering how effective he can be in that role with everything else that he has to do. What’s the idea there?

MS. EILPERIN: Well, I think part of it is it’s a fairly unformulated idea that they’re really trying to figure out what they’re going to do. When you consider that they’re asking him to head both the economic and ecological restoration of this region, that’s a tremendous, tremendous task. And so I think presumably it’s based on the idea that ultimately BP will be paying billions for this and they will hire staff in order to execute it. But part of it is when you push them for details they really haven’t decided at this point how that’s going to operate.

MS. IFILL: Chuck, at the White House it seems that there’s a high-wire act underway because this is one of those you can’t win for losing kind of events for the president and with no end in sight. So is there any sense, at the end of this week, that there is an ongoing strategy that’s going to try to get this all together? Or are they just taking it as it comes?

MR. BABINGTON: You make a great point, Gwen. From the very beginning, the president actually had trouble articulating something that’s so clear as you can’t expect the president of the United States to somehow cut off this gusher. In fact, he said in Louisiana he said, “I can’t go down there and suck it up with a straw.” But he’s been pushed and pulled by these forces saying, oh, you’ve got to show that you care, you’ve got to show anger, you’ve got to show you’re in charge. And other people saying but why go so far down the road, sort of giving this impression that you can fix something that obviously is not in your immediate power to fix.

So they do – there’re some things going in their favor such as – as Juliet said – they are capturing some of this oil. Obviously they’re hopeful that whatever they try next would cut out even more. But they also feel like – they feel like that $20 billion escrow account that president helped negotiate himself with the CEO of BP that would not be controlled by they government or by BP, they felt like that was a good step, a concrete action. So they feel like that was one of the more positive things going forward.

MS. IFILL: Both of you can talk about this because one of the big parts of the president’s speech, which didn’t get talked about a lot was how much time he devoted to talking about the energy bill and that he thought that he – Republicans said, of course, he was exploiting a disaster. But how much do we know, this week as opposed to previous weeks, about whether this disaster is actually helping or hurting the chances of getting an energy bill?

MS. EILPERIN: It still seems unclear. I think we might know more next week because President Obama will be bringing in a bipartisan group of senators to the White House to talk about this. And that’s a moment where we might know. But what we saw this week is in fact the Senate Democrats had a closed-door meeting to discuss all the different possible bills and in fact they spent so much time presenting, their colleagues didn’t even get to ask them questions or discuss the substance. And when I talked to senators leaving that room – and these are the Democrats – they still said they weren’t close to coming up with a strategy.

MR. BABINGTON: Yes, this is a bill the House passed last year with a lot of fanfare, had the cap-and-trade element to it that we heard so much about. It got to the Senate, just came to a dead stand still. You hardly heard talk about it anymore. And then when this Gulf spill happened, there was an argument, especially from environmental groups, this is a great example of why we need to wean ourself from oil. And the president did make that point in his speech. He did praise the House bill, but he didn’t use the term “cap and trade.” And some Democrats felt that he didn’t hit the point quite as forcibly as he could have. But Juliet is exactly right. For the most part, it does not seem like enough people have made the connection between this bill and that bill to get it further down the line.

MS. BISKUPIC: And Chuck, what do you think we’ve learned about the president in the course of the week? Do we have kind of a better sense of how he operates or things that we didn’t know about him before?

MR. BABINGTON: He still seems like a president who, for his most liberal supporters, is not as populist or as tough on big bad business as they would like him to be, even though he’s taken quite a few steps, remember the General Motors. He forced out the CEO there. But those are rather extraordinary circumstances. And he still – he’s not going to be a throw the elbows around trust-busting type of populist but certainly he did show some forcefulness in dealing with BP this week.

MS. BISKUPIC: What about – you talk about coordination here in Washington, but I’m still wondering about coordination down in the Gulf. There were also reports about who’s in charge, is it the Coast Guard? National Guard men will be going down there, but have the governors really released them? Who is coordinating down there and has that gotten better, Juliet?

MS. EILPERIN: Well, certainly I think the federal officials are taking a slightly more sort of role than they did before. When I was back down there a few weeks ago, it was very clear that in a lot of ways BP was running the show. And again, ultimately in terms of capping the leak, they still are. They’re the people who know how to do that. But we are certainly seeing the Coast Guard and Homeland Security be a little more assertive in certain instances because I think they’re frankly getting hammered by whether it’s governors, local official, or people here in Washington that feel like they need to take more control.

MR. MCMANUS: Chuck, you spent time talking about the – both of you about the division among Democrats. I want to ask about the Republicans. Congressman Barton isn’t the only Republican who’s said that there’s been too much of a heavy government hand on BP. Michelle Bachmann from Minnesota said it. Haley Barbour, the governor of Mississippi kind of said it. But the leadership in the House ran away –

MS. IFILL: Really, really fast.

MR. BABINGTON: They did. They had to on Thursday because what Joe Barton of Texas said on TV was just so stark and so alarming that they had to – they had to threaten him with the loss of his leadership position if he didn’t retract it.

But Doyle, the Republicans have sort of struggled themselves from the very beginning of this oil spill. As we know, generally speaking Republicans are not real big on government regulation. They’re bigger on free enterprise, don’t overregulate. This, coming on the heels of the Wall Street meltdown, could certainly raise a question, gee, don’t we need more and better regulation? They’ve been loathe to say. So what they’ve been mostly saying, well, the president is not being forceful enough in fixing this job. And then Joe Barton threw them all off message Thursday.

MS. IFILL: And the great person that’s going to ride to the rescue of everybody of course is Ken Feinberg, the 9/11 mediator, who’s going to split up this $20 billion plus and figure out how to make it all work.

MR. BABINGTON: Our solution to everything.

MS. IFILL: I think Ken is right outside right now. See if he can split it up for us as well.

Well, elsewhere, while our eyes were glued to the Gulf, the nation’s military leadership banded together to defend the increasingly violent and uncertain war in Afghanistan. The question members of Congress wanted answered, has the president already missed next summer’s deadline to begin pulling out American troops? This was General David Petraeus’ answer.

GEN. PETRAEUS: My understanding of what July, 2011, means and how it is important again that people do realize, especially our partners, especially our comrades in arms in Afghanistan and in the region, that that is not the date when we look for the door and try to turn off the light.

MS. IFILL: Our great translator, Doyle McManus is here. (Laughter.) What does that mean?

MR. MCMANUS: It was clear as day. (Laughter.) You didn’t get that? What that means actually, Gwen, is that six months after he announced a new strategy in Afghanistan, President Obama and his generals are still trying to explain what that strategy means. And that’s a problem.

If we go back to last year, what the new strategy was, the generals were asking for more time and more troops, and Obama decided, okay, you can have 30,000 troops, but you’re going to have them for a limited time. That was the decision. And he was trying to avoid – he was trying to win the war, but avoid an open-ended escalation where the Pentagon could come back time and time again as in Vietnam. So he had a complex message, not a simple, straightforward one. The message to the military was, here are your troops, but this is all you’re going to get. Come back at the end of the year and tell me how it went.

His message to Democrats who don’t like the war was, don’t worry, it’s not forever, starting in July of 2011, that magic date we’re going to start drawing down.

His intended message to the Afghans and the Pakistanis was, we’re coming in big. We’ve got lots of troops. We’re going to make a big difference.

The problem was the Afghans and the Pakistanis or many of them chose not to hear that part of the message. They chose to hear the withdrawal part of the message and began behaving as if you guys aren’t going to stay around that long. And so we are once again debating the timetable and whether the timetable was a good idea and whether or not you like the timetable. It’s pretty easy to see the timetable isn’t working the way that President Obama intended.

MS. IFILL: So John McCain is right.

MR. MCMANUS: So John McCain is right in the sense that it’s not working the way it was intended, yes. John McCain’s fundamental argument – and it’s an old one – this was the exit strategy argument that we had in Bosnia and other places – was never announce when you want to get out because that’s going to convince everybody that it’s going to happen earlier.

MR. BABINGTON: Doyle, talk about what’s happening in Kandahar, that southern city, the home of the Taliban, I think, and the offensive there is crucial, right?

MR. MCMANUS: In fact Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, was on the Hill this week and he said that’s really the ball game right now, Kandahar. The problem is that that offensive is slowing down to such a degree that the American military has stopped calling it an offensive. Originally the idea was that they would convene a lot of local Afghan elders. They would get local communities to agree to invite Afghan and American troops in. A lot of this would be without fighting hopefully. There would be some fighting in the parts of the countryside the Taliban are strongest. The fighting was supposed to be done by mid August when Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, starts. And then you’d be able to really begin showing some progress.

That whole timetable slowed down in part because those initial councils, the Afghans said, we’re not so sure we like this idea, isn’t there some other way, and also because the Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, who is from Kandahar, was supposed to step up and behave as a commander in chief in this offensive. And instead he sort of went in and mediated. And slowed it down.

MS. BISKUPIC: And didn’t we have some news from his group this week in terms of didn’t he fire two of his ministers?

MR. MCMANUS: Yes.

MS. BISKUPIC: Is there much confidence left in his leadership?

MR. MCMANUS: There is not a lot of confidence.

MS. IFILL: I saw Secretary Gates answer that question unflinchingly. (Laughter.)

MR. MCMANUS: Unflinchingly – Secretary Gates is a stand-up guy. (Laughter.) But not a lot of people around Secretary Gates in the dead of night would answer the question the same way. And it works the other way around. Hamid Karzai is still angry that United States opposed his re-election a year ago. There’s not confidence the other way around. So that relationship is no better.

MS. EILPERIN: And Doyle, before July, 2011, which clearly matters, there’s also December, 2010, where we’re going to get a key report. Do we already know what’s going to be in that report?

MR. MCMANUS: I’m afraid we do. I think if you put yourself in President Obama’s shoes, this was supposed to be a kind of a pilot program. And the hope was that by December of this year it would be clearer. Is it working? Should we continue? Or is it really just not working? Is it too costly? And should we go to a plan B, a smaller kind of plan of the kind that vice-president Biden has been proposing? The problem is, Petraeus said this and Stanley McChrystal, the general in Kabul said this, is we are making progress. It’s just slower and less dramatic than we’d like.

MS. IFILL: Sounds like unpalatable choices ahead.

MR. MCMANUS: Tough choices again, yes.

MS. IFILL: Okay, thank you, Doyle. Well, finally tonight, as the Supreme Court prepares to wrap up another eventful term – we keep waiting on that – it hands down one of its increasingly rare unanimous decisions. The subject: racy text messages. I can’t even say it. (Laughter.) Racy text messages.

MS. BISKUPIC: As long as you didn’t put it in a text, yes.

MS. IFILL: Exactly. I won’t text you. A topic you wouldn’t expect to find its way to the nation’s highest court. How did that get there? How did that story get there?

MS. BISKUPIC: It’s a great question because aren’t texts, e-mails, and other electronic communications so much a part of our lives and they’ve been so much a part of our lives.

MS. IFILL: I had to wrest your BlackBerry from your hand –

MS. BISKUPIC: It’s true. It’s true. But it was the first time the justices heard one of these cases having to do with the privacy of these communications. And it came up in a case that you alluded to having to do with sexually explicit texts. The member of a SWAT team in a California city, Ontario, California, was texting both his wife and separately his mistress and – on a Department issued pager from the City Police Department. And he kept going over the character limit. So they decided the Department was going to audit it. Now, he had been given –

MR. MCMANUS: You say the character limit. (Laughter.)

MS. BISKUPIC: Right, yes, the character limit of the text, Doyle. And what the Department said was, we’re going to audit this because we want to see if first of all maybe our character limit is too low or maybe he’s using excessively for personal use. Turned out he certainly was. But he was the one who brought the case. He said, you had no right under my Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable searches to look at these to review transcripts of it. And he actually won at the Ninth Circuit, the San Francisco-based appeals court that said his privacy rights were violated because he had an expectation that his government employer was not going to go reviewing these.

Well, the Supreme Court, pretty quickly, with a unanimous vote said, no, in this case you might have had an expectation of privacy, but the step that the government employer took to review this to see whether was its character limit and its policies on using these government pagers – were they appropriate? So in this case the justices said for this sergeant, a man by the name of Jeff Quon, that he had no case against the City of Ontario for going through those. He had been disciplined for the sexually explicit nature of these and just felt that his right to privacy had been breached.

MS. EILPERIN: Now Joan, I think one of the key questions is do any of these justices actually text? This is a good question. I want to know.

MS. BISKUPIC: It is. Well, my – our favorite justice, who still wrote with a quill pen, David Souter, is gone. (Laughter.) But Chief Justice John Roberts, who writes his opinions out on long hand on legal pad, does have all these high-tech things. So they all do. Not all, but Justice Sotomayor does text. She actually is somebody who, I believe has both a government –has a couple of different devices, which is something that Justice Kennedy said in his opinion, “these are pervasive and maybe the way that we all use these” – he says maybe, the court is not saying we should – “is that you have your government employer one and then you also have your personal one.” But that’s why there’s this question of an expectation of privacy. We all do it so much now that even if you’re working with a government pager or government e-mail machine that you would think you have some expectation of privacy because you’re doing both.

MR. MCMANUS: Well Joan, let me go back to the fundamental part of the decision and make sure that I understood what it said. Okay. I’m an employee of a private business.

MS. BISKUPIC: Okay.

MR. MCMANUS: Does that change this decision is question number one? And then question number two is you said, well, the court decided that government did have a right to look at this because of the way this came about. Does that mean they limited the employer’s right to look at anything you do on a device?

MS. BISKUPIC: Those are very good questions. And Justice Kennedy raised them and said, we’re not answering them. First of all, it was just in the context of a government employer because of Fourth Amendment. Now the Fourth Amendment only applies to government actions, but as you rightly said, a lot of states now are passing laws that say even for private employers they have to give somebody a heads up if they’re going to be reviewing these.

So the important thing going forward is the analysis the court used. Said first of all that he shouldn’t have expected these all to be private all the time. He was a member of a SWAT team. These kinds of – his messages were going to probably be reviewed in some way. And the second thing the court said was it was a limited review of the transcripts. It just looked for the particular months that he had gone over. And so that might guide a case that a personal employee would bring against a private company.

MR. BABINGTON: Suppose I had been sending texts to this sergeant for whatever reason. I don’t work for the police department. Would my messages to him have shown up in this discovery? And could they – and maybe I send things that I didn’t want publicized. Do I have –

MS. BISKUPIC: Well, in this case – remember the mistress and the wife who were involved? They actually were part of the lawsuit too, saying the government had no right to review what they sent in return and what was sent to them. The Supreme Court didn’t answer that question. It said effectively they have no case here in part because of how we’ve so narrowly decided this Sergeant Quon doesn’t have a privacy right.

MS. IFILL: So as interesting as this case is, that’s the beginning of something, not the end of something. The court purposely decided not to make any kind of sweeping generalities about how we are supposed to communicate and under what circumstance.

MS. BISKUPIC: Right, Justice Kennedy wrote that everything’s evolving these days. And it felt that the majority of the court was unanimous felt that it should only look limited – in a limited fashion at sergeant Quon’s case, and that there’ll be plenty of time down the road to see in terms of frankly what legislation is passed in various places, having to do with both private and public employers, and what kinds of cases are brought in terms of a very prying employer. In this case, they were saying the employer wasn’t that prying, but you might have that down the road.

MS. IFILL: Well, we know what you’re going to be doing next week because we’re all waiting for all these big Supreme Court cases to be decided. And we’ll be curious to see what they are. And also we’re going to see the beginning of a Supreme Court – remember that, Supreme Court nomination?

MR. BABINGTON: Yes, yes.

MS. IFILL: All this stuff is going on. And we’re going to talk about it, but the conversation has to end here. It continues online however. We’ll talk about all those things. Just go to pbs.org, check out our “Washington Week” Webcast, where we’ll tackle all those topics. Keep up with daily developments on the PBS “NewsHour,” and we will see you right here, around the table, next week on “Washington Week.” Oh, and make sure your dad has a happy Father’s Day. Good night.