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Joining us now to analyze this Congress, how it performed, and the emerging political risks are two familiar faces to us at the NewsHour. Todd Zwillich is the Washington correspondent for "The Takeaway" of Public Radio International and WNYC. And Amy Walter is national editor for The Cook Political Report.
Welcome to you both.
TODD ZWILLICH, The Takeaway, Public Radio International & WNYC: Hi, Judy.
AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report:
So let's talk about where — as we watch what happened in this Congress over the last few days, Amy, the role of Harry Reid, the role of Nancy Pelosi, what does it say about what the role is going to be going forward? Pelosi has already been in the minority. Harry Reid is now going to be in the minority.
Well, it seemed to be a big divide between the pragmatists and the purists. And the pragmatists were the ones like Harry Reid and the White House saying, we have got to deal. It is not the best deal in the world. but it's better than anything we're going to get once we're in the minority. So let's just all agree to push this forward.
The purists, which are in the Nancy Pelosi category and a lot of the liberals that you saw there with Elizabeth Warren say, it's worth having a fight over an issue, like you saw the Wall Street bank issue about riders that were inserted at the last minute. And this is not a debate though for Democrats that is necessarily going to go on in the same say as it will for Republicans, because this is it for Democrats.
They are now out of power. They are in the minority. This is the last best chance they could get for stuff they wanted to see in the next year.
So, Todd Zwillich, watching it up close, the Democrats have a strategy for how they operate in minority in both houses.
Well, I think Nancy Pelosi sent a very clear signal as to what her strategy is going to be. It's true she is in the minority and John Boehner is the speaker still with an even big majority.
But John Boehner, it has been proven time and time again — it was proven with the cromnibus bill that we called the omnibus plus the C.R.
Hate that word.
Oh, well, we all hate it, but there it is.
It was proven that he very often will not have the votes to pass these bills with just Republicans. That means he has and will need Nancy Pelosi.
You are talking about McConnell. You are talking…
You are talking about Speaker Boehner.
Speaker Boehner, yes, over in the House.
Now, I don't usually revert to sports metaphors, but I will use one.
Very often, John Boehner will have to make an end-run around the conservatives in his party and run down the sideline. And Nancy Pelosi showed that she can and will stick her foot out when he runs by and trip him if he doesn't give her some concessions.
Now, she lost that vote. But she was able to bring a lot of people with her. And she was able to really make it close. On the Senate side, Mitch McConnell is the new majority leader. He has 54 votes; 54 is not 60. He will need some Democrats. And Mitch McConnell has already lowered the expectations.
He did it on the very night that he was reelected in Kentucky, to say, I can agree with the president. We can pass some things that we agree on. And the bar was really very low, a trade deal, corporate tax reform, which is worth a lot of money, but not exactly an issue that rattles the national cages for politics. So he knows he needs Democrats.
And so, Amy, Todd is making a good point. Yes, the Republicans now have the majority in the Senate, but they still don't have the 60 votes you need to get pretty much whatever you want. What is their strategy? What does their approach have to be?
Well, and this is where Mitch McConnell is in a similar predicament to where Harry Reid was in this last year, which is Mitch McConnell is looking forward to 2016. He has a lot of his senators up in 2016 in very blue states, just as Harry Reid this year had his senators up in very red states.
So Mitch McConnell has that balancing act where he — yes, he wants to push in a conservative agenda. But he also wants to make sure that he protects his most vulnerable members who sit in blue states. And that was a lot of the tension that we saw on the Democratic side, right, where you had Democrats who tried to distance themselves from the president, never got a chance to take those votes because Harry Reid was trying to keep everybody together.
What does all this mean, Todd, in terms of what can actually get done? I mean, you have the presidential election kicking in. We're going to start hearing announcements pretty soon. You are talking about Mitch McConnell. He has got a number of his members who are already running or about to announce they're running.
How does it affect what actually can get done?
Well, like I said, the bar is pretty low for legislative efforts, I think, over the next year-and-a-half and two years. I think everybody recognizes that.
There is a lot of bipartisan support sort of in the center for a couple of trade deals, for corporate tax reform maybe. But that brings us back to Elizabeth Warren and her moves this past weekend, because I think that sends a very important message, not necessarily to Harry Reid and Senate Democrats. It sends a big message to the president, to Barack Obama.
The dynamics of his negotiations, such as they are — and they have been few — with Congress have shifted. Now Harry Reid is out at the center of those negotiations. It's Speaker Boehner, Mitch McConnell and the president. Elizabeth Warren has said through her actions, Mr. President, you make a deal on trade, you make a deal on a nominee, you let Republicans slip in erosions to Dodd-Frank into some bigger bill, you are going to deal with me. You may get it passed, because I can't stop you, but I can make you pay for it politically and I can make the left of this party, the progressive and the liberals who are upset that this party has gotten cozy with Wall Street, I can make them very, very mad at you.
So, do we look at these divides that we're watching now in both parties, Amy, getting bigger or what, a frantic effort to…
Well, yes, so I think it's really important to understand at least where the divides are.
I think, on the Republican side, there are some serious policy differences that are significant and I think are going to continue to dog Republicans going into the 2016 presidential, especially in an issue like immigration.
On the Democratic side, there is much more unity around policies. Procedure, they may have differences. So that's number one. The second part, when we talk about the polarization of Congress and why it's getting to be as bad as it is, there just are simply no moderates left.
There are five Democrats in the House right now, five, who sit in a district that Barack Obama didn't carry. When we talk about, how does John Boehner find allies, how does Mitch McConnell find allies, they're gone. The other big piece of this too is, in more than 100 years, we have never had this many House members serving in the United States Senate, which is why the House is looking — I mean the Senate — I'm sorry — is looking a lot more like the House in terms of its behavior, the all or none, the not compromising, the not working sort of behind the scenes in a clubby way.
Taking it to the brink.
And so that's what we have to look forward to.
Well, I think a lot of that, Barack Obama is controversial. He's controversial on the right. He's got two more years. He still ties House Republicans especially, congressional Republicans, in knots.
Look, they this know how to make deals. Their base, their constituency — constituency doesn't want any deals with Barack Obama. That's not going to change. And that's going to pull both Speaker Boehner as he tries to deal with the reaction to immigration and Mitch McConnell as he tries to steer his party towards a successful run in 2016, it's going to pull them to the right. It's not easy.
Todd Zwillich, Amy Walter, we thank you.
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