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White House meeting underlines thorny political territory ahead

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And we have some breaking news.

    The White House has just confirmed that President Obama will announce that Loretta Lynch is his pick to be the next U.S. attorney general. If confirmed, she will be the first African-American woman to hold that post. She is now a U.S. attorney in New York.

    We reported a few minutes ago that this had been reported by different news organizations. Now we’re learning the White House has confirmed it.

    And, meantime, for the first time since Tuesday’s elections, the president met today with more than a dozen congressional leaders from both political parties at the White House. But despite all the pleasantries, whether both sides can get anything done on tough issues like immigration remains to be seen.

  • REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), Majority Whip:

      If more executive actions are taken, that would make it difficult for us to always work together. We think we should start with a fresh start. We have got a lot of bills in this House that have moved to the Senate on economics, on jobs creation, and that’s really where our focus should be.

  • REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), House Minority Leader:

      They are saying, give us a chance to pass a bill. Well, we could take up the Senate bill next week, and that would be good, but we have been waiting a long time for that, and I hope that we do have a bill.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, you’re hearing from a Republican, a leading Republican and a leading Democrat in the House.

    Joining me now, more on this meeting, is our “NewsHour”‘s chief foreign affairs correspondent, Margaret Warner, and our political director, Domenico Montanaro.

    So they’re talking about immigration, but, Margaret, I want to come to you first because of the news today, the White House announcement of these 1,500 additional noncombat troops, they’re saying, to go to Iraq. Why did they make this announcement today, when they had other sort of related business to talk to these leaders about?

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Well, Judy, you saw the Pentagon spokesman say it was unrelated to the election. I will leave that to Mark and David to decide. It couldn’t have been helpful to Democrats running in Tuesday’s election.

    But it’s true that it’s building for quite a while. And what we have had is about 1,500 U.S. advisers in these joint operation centers in Irbil, the Kurdish region, and in Baghdad, working with strategists and commanders of the Iraqi forces and the Peshmergas. And they came to the recognition that if they’re going to actually roll back the ISIS advance, as opposed to just stalling them, which the airstrikes have succeeded in doing, they are going to have to get out there more closely to this Sunni heartland, which is in the big area that I.S. really controls, Western Iraq and Eastern Syria.

    So, it really — they also came to believe that the Iraqi troops were a little more capable and that it was now time to move to the next stage. That said, I think they’re putting U.S. troops in a more difficult and potentially dangerous position.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    You mean — well, they’re saying noncombat.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Right, and they’re saying noncombat, but what’s new here is, there is going to be a whole new geographic reach.

    They are going to go out. They’re calling them “expeditionary sites” — quote, unquote — where they are going to be training and advising fighters on the ground.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, this is new. This is not what they were doing…

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    This is what is new.

    Not at all. Irbil and Baghdad are pretty darn safe. And all they needed — all the U.S. was doing was airstrikes. So, we can get more in that. These are going to be much more exposed areas. They haven’t chosen them yet. But one is out in Anbar province and cities like Fallujah and Ramadi, which I.S. controls.

    Those were very bad for Americans back in the Iraq war. And the Pentagon made a point of saying, yes, we understand — and White House officials — that half of the U.S. forces or advisers won’t be advisers, they will be force protection units, and the same with all these other new sites they are going to establish to do training. So at least maybe as much as half of them, they may not be combat troops, but they will have to be ready for combat.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Just very quickly on the question of authorization, the administration saying we have legal authorization to do this, but in the meantime, they’re having this conversation with Congress about additional authorization in Iraq and Syria.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Yes.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What’s the connection to…

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    The connection is, they say — they say they don’t need congressional authorization for this, except they want that extra pot of money before the end of the year. We’re in a current budget year.

    But it does point up the need for what the president has come to believe is an updated authorization for all of these operations. They have been operating under the 2001 authorization directed after 9/11 against bin Laden and al-Qaida and the 2002-2003 against Iraq, the George W. Bush authorization.

    Legal scholars say it really doesn’t fit the fight against Islamic State, which after all split from al-Qaida. So, what you’re going to see, I think — and that was the purpose of this meeting originally, and I think what you are going to see, Senator Menendez — you have big differences between Republicans and Democrats in terms of what sort of limits they want to put around it and there are going to be big hearings next week about it.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, that’s on the foreign front.

    On the domestic front, Domenico, meanwhile, how much do we know about what was discussed? Because some of the reports coming out, it sounds like there wasn’t much agreement.

  • DOMENICO MONTANARO:

    Well, no, there wasn’t much agreement at all.

    As we saw in the intro, we were talking about immigration largely again. And as Margaret brings up on foreign policy, a lot of the discussion here, we know it went on a lot longer than was thought to go because — or originally intended to go because they were talking about the Islamic State group and what we have learned later on and they were talking about Ebola.

    But on — immigration is the one domestic issue where the two sides, there was a little bit of flare-up in the meeting. And this is disputed on both sides now. Republicans are saying that behind the scenes that during the meeting, President Obama cut off Vice President Biden, because Vice President Biden said, “Well, how much time do you all need?” to Republicans on — on — John Boehner, on what would — what could be done on immigration.

    President Obama feels like he’s run out of time, run out of patience on this, because it’s two years that house Republicans haven’t acted on immigration. Democrats are saying, that never happened, and very much like these foreign readouts. You get very different readouts from Washington than you do from the Kremlin, right?

    And we’re getting that from — a lot of times from these congressional readouts from Democrats and Republicans. It’s very similar.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, but I can assume — we can all assume reporters are going to be continuing to nose around on that.

    What — anything else, Domenico? Because there were all these other subjects that — they were saying they were going to talk about trade. The administration has talked about early childhood education.

  • DOMENICO MONTANARO:

    Right.

    Well, look, infrastructure, early childhood education and trade were three of the big issues that President Obama wanted to talk about going in, but a lot of it got derailed because of what happened with immigration today. And Republicans, frankly, call those stale talking points. They said, these are things the president has brought up for three years and haven’t done much on anyway and was just lumping it into this discussion.

    One Republican aide on immigration told me, we’re never going to do comprehensive immigration reform, that comprehensive reform is dead, Obamacare killed that. And they said if the president does anything on executive action, not even step-by-step immigration will happen.

    So the election happens, we think, oh, maybe they will come together. Not much has changed.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, in three days, it looks like it’s gone away, whatever…

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    … there was.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Domenico Montanaro, Margaret Warner, we thank you.

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