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Shields and Brooks on Sen. Joni Ernst’s response to the 2015 State of the Union

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  • Gwen Ifill:

    That was Iowa’s freshman Senator Joni Ernst with the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union speech.

    Back to Mark Shields and David Brooks.

    David, she talked — she’s the new face of the Republican majority.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes, I thought she did pretty well.

    There’s a tendency to smile too much, for some reason, when you give those speeches. And she did a little. I guess they all seem to. But I thought it was a pretty good speech. It was fluid.

    What struck me was a couple things. First, she had a much more downbeat view of the state of the country, obviously. You have been hurting the last six years. Government is dysfunctional.

    It will be interesting to see which portrayal of America people recognize. They were certainly contrasting portrayals. Secondly, it was a governing speech. Sometimes, the opposing speech, it is an oppositional speech. We’re blocking this. We’re against that. We’re against that.

    But this is, we’re elected the governing majority here. And so we’re going to govern. And so it was an aggressive speech. It was almost two executive speeches. And the third thing, especially now that Republicans have both houses, the whole institution, the way whole thing is set up, is sort of counter-constitutional, that the Congress used to be the supreme body in government, or at least equal. And now it gets eight minutes and the president gets like an hour.

    And so it’s just funny how the structure of this thing has built up to put the Congress in the subsidiary role, which is certainly not what the founders thought.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark?

  • Mark Shields:

    Better than Bobby Jindal, better than Marco Rubio. No lunge for Poland Spring water.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Mark Shields:

    I thought she did fine.

    She was the symbol of the Republicans winning. She was the face of the Republican new majority, winning a Democratic seat held by Tom Harkin for five terms in Iowa, an underdog, a woman backed by the Tea Party, and sprung a personal victory in the primary, and went on to win a seat that the Democrats had expected to hold.

    So, in that sense, she was the perfect — the perfect fit. I don’t think there were any memorable phrases that one will remember. There’s no — I mean, Danny Rostenkowski and Jim Webb are the only two people I have ever heard give that counter State of the Union that was even remotely…

  • Gwen Ifill:

    That stuck in your mind.

  • Mark Shields:

    … remotely — yes, that stuck in my mind.

    But she has the personal credentials, 21 years in uniform in the United States Army Reserves, the National Guard. In 2003, she was in Iraq herself. So, you know, she has…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I will remember the plastic bread wraps over the shoes…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Gwen Ifill:

    … worn them.

    Now we’re going to go to Capitol Hill and to our political editor, Lisa Desjardins.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, thank you for joining me.

    I will ask you right off the top, what did you think of the speech?

  • Rep. Ileana Ros-lehtinen, R-fla.:

    Well, I really paid attention to the foreign policy aspect of it, because I’m the Middle East Subcommittee chair. Gravely disappointed.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    … ranking member.

  • Rep. Ileana Ros-lehtinen:

    And — yes, that’s true.

    And gravely disappointed in his section about Iran. He says that he’s negotiating this really tough deal. He is not. And, number two, on the issue of Cuba, my native homeland, well, I’m greatly disappointed, because he pointed out Alan Gross. We’re glad that Mr. Gross is home.

    But I’m glad that Speaker Boehner had as his guests Antunez and his wife, Iris, great pro-democracy advocates for a free Cuba. He gave no words of encouragement for freedom, for liberty, for human rights. All he did is give away the store to the Castro regime. It’s a shameful thing.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I know you believe his Cuba policy will not help things in Cuba.

  • Rep. Ileana Ros-lehtinen:

    Very weak.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I want to also talk about domestic policy.

    He talked about middle-class economy. He said — pointed to 11 million jobs have been created recently. He says the economy is getting better. And he also says that changes need to happen to help the middle class, including changes in the tax code.

    What do you think about his argument that the economy has improved and also that we need to do more to help the middle class, including raising taxes on the wealthy?

  • Rep. Ileana Ros-lehtinen:

    I think that that — when you say raising taxes on the wealthy, what the president is really saying, let’s punish those folks who are creating jobs, who are the folks who are out there making risks for America’s economy.

    And we all believe in a fair tax code, in a tax code that is fair for everyone. But this class warfare that he claims to be against, he’s the one who originates it. It’s always putting the rich against everyone else.

    And I don’t think that that’s right. We want to lift all boats. And I don’t think that he’s really for this, this kind of middle-class economy that he talks about. Talks a good game, but it’s everything giving away, you know, college tuition free. I mean, everything is just free and very affordable.

    Where is that money coming from? It’s just unreal. It’s unreal math, not based in the real world. And he’s saying that the unemployment numbers are so great. It’s because people have given up looking for jobs. So his math and our math, they differ greatly.

    It’s like maybe parents who are upset with Common Core math. Maybe he’s using that kind of math and we’re using old-fashioned math. But two and two equals five for him. And it’s still four for us.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, it doesn’t sound like the Democrats and the Republicans are coming together any time soon after this speech.

  • Gwen Ifill:

    Not tonight.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That was Republican congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen talking to Lisa Desjardins.

    Now let’s go back to Domenico, our political producer, to — for a different take on the president’s speech, the applause factor, Domenico.

  • Domenico Montanaro:

    Well, and talking about math, we were adding the numbers on how many times we had those applause breaks that everybody at home sees people stand up, people sit down.

    We had between 77 and 85, if you count those teeny claps when nobody else was applauding. You had about 75 to 77 real applause breaks. And this dates back to about 1982, actually, when, at that time, Republicans gave out speeches that had applause cues in them.

    When Tip O’Neill, the speaker, caught wind of that, he decided in 1983, a year later, to take one of Ronald Reagan’s lines on government and how people who are elected need to be involved in the economy more. And what happened then was Reagan made that — said that one line. All of the Democrats stood up.

    It kind of took Reagan aback a little bit. And he said, gee, you know, I thought you were all reading the paper.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Domenico Montanaro:

    And Republicans then got up, and they decided to clap down Democrats. And that’s the origination of where we actually started with this partisan divide.

    And the numbers have just continued to grow. The most — the most numbers were for Bill Clinton in — he had 129 applause breaks in the year 2000 — Gwen, back to you.

  • Gwen Ifill:

    That were some great details, Domenico. Thanks a lot.

    And now we will go back to Lisa Desjardins, who has got the Democratic response in Statuary Hall on Capitol Hill.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Joining me now, I have the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.

    Thank you for joining me.

  • Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-md.:

    Great to be with you tonight.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Let’s start right away with one of the topics you spend the most time on, taxes.

    And just a week ago, you proposed your own tax plan that actually would raise taxes more than the president has proposed tonight. And you would also cut taxes more than the president has proposed tonight, the same kind of idea, moving taxes from wealthier corporations to the middle class.

    Do you think the president went far enough? You would have gone farther.

  • Rep. Chris Van Hollen:

    No, I think the president did a great job.

    Look, the president gave a really upbeat speech tonight, lots of good news in the economy. Jobs are coming back. The GDP is up. The one area that remains flat are worker wages and paychecks.

    And so we need to be finding ways to, number one, boost wages, and also make sure that middle-class people who are being squeezed on all ends right now have a little bit more money in their pocket. And so we have proposed a significant middle-class tax cut. The president has also proposed similar pieces of a middle-class tax cut.

    In both cases, we’re talking about dealing with what is fundamentally an unfairness in the tax code. Right now, those who make money off of money get a better tax rate than people who make money off of hard work, right?

    Unearned income is actually treated better under the tax code, lower taxes, than earned income, people who make money through hard work. So, what we’re saying is, we need to make sure those folks who are working every day for an earned income and a paycheck get a decent paycheck, number one, and also put a little bit more money in their pocket.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, that’s Chris Van Hollen, who is one of the leading, Mark, Democrats in the House, always a loyal supporter of the president.

    Did the president give his party something to work with tonight?

  • Mark Shields:

    I think he did.

    I mean, the president — their fate and fortune is tied to the president. I mean, Republicans have won two national elections, in 2010 and 2014, by running against the president.

    In the Washington Post/ABC poll, the president for the first time in two years is at 50 percent approval. That’s even better than the Wall Street Journal/NBC. That is the best news. And he gave the Democrats a sense of pride that, for all they have gone through, that the pain they have suffered, the losses they have sustained, it’s been — it’s been — it’s worked. I mean, it’s better for the country.

    And to the Republicans, it was sort of a, cheer up, eventually, things will get worse, because they — you know, they don’t — I was listening to Ros-Lehtinen. She didn’t want to acknowledge any improvement in the economy, 11 million jobs. Five times as many jobs have been created in Barack Obama’s six years as were created in George Bush’s eight years.

  • Gwen Ifill:

    Well, David, Mark seems to be suggesting that what we have here is that the president has a little leverage with Democrats.

    Do Republicans, based on what we saw in the clearly planned response and in some of off-the-hand — off-the-cuff response, do they have any leverage? They’re in charge.

  • David Brooks:

    Yes. No, I think they have a lot.

    I think we’re seeing sort of a rise of a much cleaner debate over the big issue, the issue of wage stagnation. The Democrats, you say — everyone acknowledges the issue. For a long time, the Democrats just said minimum wage increases. And that’s not really commensurate to the size of the problem.

    I think we saw in the speech a growing package of things. If you put it together, it’s at least arguably equal to the size of the problem. The Republicans have a different set of policies, which they’re coming into formation. They don’t have the presidency, so they’re less organized.

    But you look at Paul Ryan, you look at some of things that are happening in the House, you look at Marco Rubio, people are giving speeches and a set of alternative policies are coming into formation.

    So, this big problem lands in our lap, flat wages. It’s taken each party a couple years to come up with their answer, but now they’re getting there, and pretty much that’s what the next presidential election will be about.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Lisa Desjardins is still up on the Hill.

    Lisa, you were talking to some other members up there in the last few minutes about what they thought.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That’s right.

    One of the interesting ones that I talked to, Gwen and Judy, was a freshman representative, Ryan Zinke of Montana. He’s a former Navy SEAL. He disagreed with the president on all the armed services matters. And, in fact, he implied that he thinks the U.S. Navy needs to send special forces, maybe more troops into Syria to combat I.S.

    But I think, overall, talking to many members here, some on camera, some off, what I’m gathering tonight is, really, we haven’t had any change in the needle at all. The president may have made Democrats more enthusiastic about their own agenda, may have sort of rallied his crowd.

    But I haven’t sensed a shift in anyone. And I think, if anything, what I got from this speech, for what it’s worth, is that we’re going to see another year where we will have even more stark contrast of these two visions for America.

    Republicans in the Senate this week, remember, will be voting on the Keystone pipeline legislation. That is something the president wants to veto. And one of those reasons is because of climate change, the issue he said is a national security threat.

    Tonight, Republicans, that freshman rep I mentioned, Ryan Zinke, he says, no, he doesn’t think it’s a national security threat. He doesn’t even think that climate change is manmade.

    Now, debate over that, clearly, but it’s just to point out that I don’t think opinions were changed tonight. I do think perhaps some emotions for the Democrats were charged.

  • Gwen Ifill:

    That’s interesting. I want to come back to the guys at the table with that a little bit. Thanks, Lisa.

    Because what’s really interesting to me is one of the things the president said about the pipelines, we’re bigger than a pipeline. He kept trying to say, we’re larger than what we have heard before, than the debates we have had or the quality of the debates we have had.

    Does that stick, or is that just something we want to hear?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And is it just talk? I mean, based on what Lisa just said, it sounds like…

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, he took it and tried — and enlarged it into the infrastructure, that let’s not talk — it’s more than a pipeline.

  • Gwen Ifill:

    Right.

  • Mark Shields:

    Let’s talk about rebuilding the country and being competitive again, and that this had become just totally out of proportion, which has been the case by several observers who have studied it more closely than I, that there aren’t — that 35 jobs and the damage to the environment is not as cataclysmic as opponents have suggested.

    But it’s become a great symbol, more than anything else.

  • Gwen Ifill:

    Was he talking about just that issue? Was he speaking more broadly about the kinds of debates we’re having?

    (CROSSTALK)

  • David Brooks:

    Well, in both — he was doing both. I think the case for the pipeline, it is not a big plus. But it’s a — I think the case is sort of overwhelming.

    But the one thing is, again, we’re stuck with a certain set of debates. Mark had mentioned earlier he could have talked about a gas tax. And that’s something pretty much every Republican economist supports. And so that’s really taking the debate out of the small ball and putting it in the big ball.

    And so a gas tax, some sort of carbon tax, it raises revenue. It helps the environment. It’s an economic plus, if you compensate and make it progressive. It’s just a policy that a lot of bipartisan economists support. And a president in the fourth quarter who wants to take some risks, that would be a fantastic one.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And it’s a pay-for. It would pay for some of the other things that he’s talking about wanting to do.

  • Mark Shields:

    No, exactly. Exactly.

  • Gwen Ifill:

    Well, you guys have been, as always, hanging in there with us, giving us all the smartest analysis.

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