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After Obama speech, 2016 candidates call for tougher stance

The 2016 presidential candidates were quick to share their reactions to President Obama’s Oval Office address on the San Bernardino shootings and fight against terrorism. Gwen Ifill takes a closer look at the responses with Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Tamara Keith of NPR, as well as how each of the candidates say they would tackle the Islamic State threat.

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  • Gwen Ifill:

    But, first, we return to the fallout from last week’s San Bernardino attacks.

    Candidates have staked out ground, some of it high, some of it low. Today, front-runner Donald Trump said that the U.S. should shut down all travel by Muslims to the U.S., including tourists. Other candidates blasted the president for what they said was a tepid response.

    Even Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton said more needs to happen.

  • Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democratic Presidential Candidate:

    We’re not winning, but it’s too soon to say that we are doing everything we need to do. And I have outlined very clearly. We have to fight them in the air. We have to fight them on the ground, and we have to fight them on the Internet.

  • Sen. Ted Cruz,

    Republican Presidential Candidate: We don’t need a president who goes on national television and lectures the American people like a schoolmarm, that condescends to the American people and says the problem we have is Islamophobia. No, the problem we have is a president and commander in chief who refuses to recognize our enemy. Our enemy is radical Islamic terrorism.

  • Sen. Marco Rubio,

    Republican Presidential Candidate: And people are scared not just because of these attacks, but because of a growing sense that we have a president that is completely overwhelmed by them.

    I’m very disappointed tonight. I think not only did the president not make things better tonight. I fear he may have made things worse in the minds of many Americans.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham,

    Republican Presidential Candidate: The president is misleading us about the 65-nation coalition. It’s only on paper. There is no answer, other than destroying ISIL. The president has got the right goal. He just doesn’t have the right strategy.

  • Gwen Ifill:

    It’s Politics Monday.

    So, for more on the response to the president’s address, we turn to Tamara Keith of NPR and Amy Walter, pardon me, of The Cook Political Report.

    We have to start, ladies, by talking about Donald Trump, who, this afternoon, put out this statement saying that all Muslims should be banned from the United States, shouldn’t cross borders, including American-born Muslims who happen to be abroad.

  • Amy Walter,

    The Cook Political Report: Where do we even begin?

  • Gwen Ifill

    : Where to begin.

  • Amy Walter:

    We just — for a guy who continues to raise the bar on saying and doing really inappropriate and offensive things, he now raised it that much higher. And you’re starting to see even Republican candidates jumping on him and saying this is absolutely outrageous and this is not at all what we should be doing.

    But Donald Trump has, thus far, been rewarded for everything he’s said and done. Not only does his support not go away, but it hardens around him, with the sense that he is the only person that’s saying the things that everybody else believes, but won’t dare to say.

  • Gwen Ifill:

    As we speak, there have been denunciations from Jeb Bush, who called him unhinged, from Lindsey Graham, from other Republican candidates. Ted Cruz has said, “That’s not my position.” That’s all he said.

    Even Hillary Clinton weighed in.

  • Tamara Keith,

    NPR: She did. She tweeted and said that this doesn’t make us safer. And she even added, Donald Trump, the real Donald Trump. She tweeted it herself, the H. was there.

    I think that the backlash is immediate and has come from all ranges of candidates on the Republican side and on the Democratic side. This is not one of those things where they’re just sort of backing away and saying Trump will be Trump. Pretty much of all the candidates have weighed in and said this is not the right thing to be saying.

    That said, Donald Trump is getting the ratings he wants. People are talking about him.

  • Gwen Ifill:

    Here we are.

  • Tamara Keith:

    He is driving a news cycle once again.

  • Gwen Ifill:

    Well, let’s go back to the previous news cycle then, rather than helping him to do that, and talk about the president’s speech last night.

    The interesting thing is that there was unanimity on the part of all these Republicans, the ones who spoke, and some of the Democrats, that the president didn’t quite do enough last night.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

    I mean, here’s what Republicans wanted. They wanted two things. They wanted the president to say that we’re at war with radical Islam and they wanted to hear him say we have a different strategy. And they didn’t get either one of those things. And they got a lecture on gun control from the president, which they also hate.

    So, it was pretty easy for them to say that they disagreed with it. What wasn’t easy was to see just where Republicans go next. Each of them has sort of a different avenue in terms of what they’d do to handle ISIS and terrorism.

  • Gwen Ifill:

    So, if you’re Ted Cruz, you want the president and several of the others to say the words radical Islamic terrorism, those words, no other way of putting it. And if you’re Marco Rubio, you want to say the president’s weak. That seems to be the theme that we see emerging.

  • Tamara Keith:

    I think that’s a pretty consistent theme that has been coming from Republican presidential candidates, Republicans on Capitol Hill, that President Obama is not using strong enough language and that he doesn’t have a strategy.

    However, many of these same candidates, when you look at their strategies, their strategy seems to be very similar to President Obama’s strategy, except, like, we would do it better.

  • Amy Walter:

    But a little bit tougher, but a little more.

  • Tamara Keith:

    But tougher or stronger language.

  • Gwen Ifill:

    Yes.

  • Tamara Keith:

    But not a markedly different strategy, aside from Lindsey Graham, who talks about something like 10,000 ground troops. Many of them are saying the same things.

    They want airstrikes, but more of them.

  • Gwen Ifill:

    But they have turned this into a critique of the president than a critique — rather than a critique of the president.

  • Amy Walter:

    Correct, more of the style, including Hillary Clinton.

  • Gwen Ifill:

    Including Hillary Clinton.

  • Amy Walter:

    That’s right.

    And she went on television Sunday morning saying that she had hoped that the president was going to outline sort of a more muscular defense of his strategy or give some new proposals, which he didn’t do. Notably, she hasn’t made any statements in the wake of his speech last night.

  • Gwen Ifill:

    But was very quick to make a statement about Donald Trump.

  • Amy Walter:

    Statement about Donald Trump.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes, but that’s easier. That’s certainly easier for her.

    She’s in a difficult position, where she was part of the Obama administration, she was part of the early development of the strategy. And now she is distancing herself, but you can’t distance yourself too far. And it’s just tougher for her.

  • Gwen Ifill:

    If you are going to pick a fight, pick the easier fight.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes. And going after Donald Trump, for Hillary Clinton, that is an easy fight.

  • Gwen Ifill:

    Well, here’s the other fight which seems to be percolating to top on the Republican side, and that’s Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who kind of are eying each other from opposite ends of the boxing ring.

  • Amy Walter:

    Right.

    It’s sort of interesting because, while Donald Trump is taking up all the time and energy right now, I think where many of us see this race ultimately coming down to is a choice between Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio for the nomination.

    If you’re Ted Cruz, you’re hoping that Donald Trump supporters, Carson supporters ultimately come to you. If you’re Marco Rubio, you are positioning yourself a little bit more as the center-right, as opposed to more of the right candidate.

    And what Marco Rubio is doing right now is trying to undermine Cruz’s bona fides on defense, to try to take those supporters who might migrate from Trump and Carson over to Cruz. So, basically, let’s try to question Cruz’s commitment on national security, his support for getting rid of the metadata bulk collection system, questioning some of his support for other issues in terms of making him look weaker.

  • Gwen Ifill:

    So, are they fighting for second place? Is that what they’re doing, hoping that Trump stumbles and they get the fallout?

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes.

    These are two senators who are basically the same age, who have similar backgrounds, Cuban Americans. And they…

  • Gwen Ifill:

    Similar ambitions.

  • Tamara Keith:

    And similar ambitions and are both also very good orators from the Senate.

    And they are looking at each other and thinking that they are going to be the final two, that they figure, at some point, the air will come out of the Donald Trump balloon and it will be between them. And they are fighting that fight.

  • Gwen Ifill:

    The great Ann Selzer, who is a pollster in Iowa we — some of us know, and who weighed in by saying, the one thing about all these polls we follow so obsessively, who is up and who is down, is that Iowans make up their minds the last minute.

  • Amy Walter:

    They always do it very, very late, and as do New Hampshire voters, and a lot of it is determined by what had happened in the state before that.

  • Gwen Ifill:

    So all right now is just a dance?

  • Amy Walter:

    A lot of it is a dance, but a lot of it is sowing the seeds.

    And, again, that’s where Marco Rubio, doing this much more than Ted Cruz is doing it to Rubio, but sowing seeds of doubt, sowing seeds of questioning his commitment on some of these issues when it comes to national security, hoping that voters remember that as they make their last-minute decisions.

  • Gwen Ifill:

    Final thought.

  • Tamara Keith:

    There are three or four tickets out of Iowa, and Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are hoping to have those tickets.

  • Amy Walter:

    Yes, and Ted Cruz more likely to have that ticket than Marco Rubio.

  • Tamara Keith:

    Yes, absolutely.

  • Gwen Ifill:

    You guys got right to the ticket thing right away. I thought we were going to do that later. We will get back to it again.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Gwen Ifill:

    Thank you both very much.

    For the first time in six years, Congress has passed, and the president has signed, a $300 billion transportation funding law. Political director Lisa Desjardins reports on the bipartisan breakthrough. You can find her report online on what happens when politics goes right.

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