GWEN IFILL, "WASHINGTON WEEK" MODERATOR: Europe on edge, Iran in flux, the Supreme Court on gay marriage, 2016 hopefuls jockeying for position, and the president's State of the Union presale -- tonight on WASHINGTON WEEK.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will continue to do everything in our power to help France seek the justice that is needed.
IFILL (voice-over): The European terror attacks continue to reverberate as the U.S. and other nations grapple with the best way to stay on guard.
SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: We have to be on the offense around the world and kill them over there before they have a chance to kill us here.
IFILL: A brewing standoff over Iran, between Congress and the White House and its allies. To sanction or not?
DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We should not impose further sanctions now. That would be counterproductive and it could put at risk the valuable international unity that has been so crucial to our approach.
IFILL: The legality of gay marriage will now be decided by the Supreme Court. On the hustings, candidates huddle with donors, peddle their possibilities, and step up the 2016 talk.
FORMER GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: I speak to members of my own party in asking that you do not place purity ahead of unity.
IFILL: Plus, the president hits the road to promote his legacy.
This week's "Friday Focus" previews next week’s State of the Union Address.
Covering the week: Michael Duffy, executive editor of "Time Magazine", Tom Gjelten, national security correspondent for NPR, Joan Biskupic, legal editor for "Reuters", Robert Costa, political reporter for "The Washington Post", and John Harwood, chief Washington correspondent for CNBC.
ANNOUNCER: Award winning reporting and analysis covering history as it happens, from our nation’s capitol, this is WASHINGTON WEEK with Gwen Ifill.
IFILL: Good evening.
After a few missteps, including the White House decision not to send a higher-ranking representative to last weekend's massive Paris peace march, the president joined with staunch allied British Prime Minister David Cameron today to present a united front.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CAMERON: We ought to make sure we do everything we can to keep our country safe. It means countering this poisonous, fanatical death cult of a narrative that is perverting the religion of Islam.
OBAMA: I do not consider it an existential threat. As David said, this is one that we will solve. We are stronger.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
IFILL: The president made the case today that the challenge in Europe is a different one than it is here in the U.S.
How is that so, Michael?
MICHAEL DUFFY, TIME MAGAZINE: He did seem to draw that distinction, Gwen. In one sense, at least he's right. There are probably 30 times more just in sheer numbers of return jihadists in Western Europe than there are in the United States.
Western Europe, mostly in France, the U.K., Germany and Belgium have about 5,000 men, mostly men, who have returned from the Middle East having fought there, having been trained there and now live in Western Europe. We have maybe 150. So, that threat is closer. It's more mixed in.
But I think with the attacks over the last week in Paris, like the attacks in Ottawa, in Canada, in Australia last year have proved is that the West is united in one thing, and that is a decade or so after 9/11, there's still no really coherent or successful strategy yet for dealing with Islamic terror whether you're in the United States or in Europe. We have tried massive military invasions and that hasn't worked very well. We’ve tried trillion dollar nation-building, and that has been frustrating.
We are currently engaged in much less expensive, assassination and drone campaigns in, for example, Yemen and elsewhere, that hasn't been all that satisfying so far, as we saw in Paris. And we also pulled out of some places and created voids for terrorist groups to move in.
So, while there are united to some extent in purpose, they also share this problem, which is they have not been able to solve this puzzle and it's clear that the problem continues to grow.
JOAN BISKUPIC, REUTERS: They haven't solved the larger puzzle but what about a week later solving what happened there. Are they any closer to knowing who exactly is responsible?
DUFFY: Well, when it comes to taking responsibility for terrorist attacks, there's who claims responsibility --
BISKUPIC: Yes, right. But who really is, yes.
DUFFY: And who really is, and, of course, that's tricky here, because while both sets of attackers in the kosher market and magazine headquarters have given credit to different groups in Iraq and in Yemen, it's not clear those groups claim, claim them as actual members. It may not matter, you know? They're just as deadly whether they're full-fledged members or not. And what we saw is this week is both groups seem to claim responsibility, though it's not clear they had anything.
TOM GJELTEN, NPR: Mike, you mentioned the Ottawa attacks, which I think people now pretty uniformly think was definitely a lone wolf attack. What do we know about whether the attacks and plan attack in Belgium and attacks in Paris, were they also single cell sort of operations, or is there a concern now there may be a whole campaign?
DUFFY: That was, of course, the initial concern, is that there would be a campaign and follow-on set of them. What I think has emerged this week that is worth noting is that both of the attacks in Paris were very by, very small cells, two people each. Those are the hardest to crack, as opposed to lone wolves, which are almost impossible to do so.
And, of course, there's another interesting link, which is that that one of the attacks was by two brothers, which we also saw in the Boston marathon attack. This is one of the tightest men most men will ever know if they have a brother. It's a particular -- it’s like a covalent bond and very difficult one for investigators or people involved in surveillance or law enforcement to get inside of. So, that's another worrisome detail of these -- is clear, again, a pattern.
ROBERT COSTA, THE WASHINGTON POST: Earlier today, we saw a united Anglo-American alliance. Prime Minister Cameron and President Obama speaking out together.
What is the expectation in France for the United States moving forward?
DUFFY: Well, one of the thing when's the Attorney General Eric Holder was in France, one of the things he was trying to say is you have to work harder at law enforcement. You have to lower the standards by which you arrest, detain and question people.
We are in the United States -- this is a difference also, Gwen -- that we're subjecting people to very low standard. Material support of terrorism can be as little in this country as buying a plane ticket. That doesn't fly in European countries and Holder was trying to get them to lower what it takes to bring people in essentially, sweat them. France also this week cracked down on incendiary speech. Belgium launched some raids. And, of course, Cameron we heard say we want more surveillance of what goes on, on the Internet.
IFILL: We heard the president talking about surveillance in kind of this post-Snowden era. So, I think we’re still going to see this continue to roll out.
There was another interesting topic that bubbled to the surface at today's Obama/Cameron news conference -- Iran. The president is promising to veto any congressional effort to impose new sanctions while the negotiations continue about Iran's nuclear ambitions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: And the question I had for members of Congress, including those folks in my own party is, why is it that we would have to take actions that might jeopardize the possibility of getting a deal over the next 60 to 90 days? What is it precisely that is going to be accomplished?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
IFILL: And British Prime Minister Cameron has gone so far as to lobby lawmakers on Capitol Hill today. And the president said if talks fail, he will be the first to ask Congress to, quote, "tighten the screws."
So given all of that, what is the state of these talks, Tom?
GJELTEN: Well, Gwen, have you heard the expression make or break?
GJELTEN: We have applied it before to these talks. We're now in the third round of these talks, second extension. There was going to be a -- there was an interim agreement that would last six months. That was extended for four months. Now, we're in the seven-month extension.
And basically what's happening is that, one, there's no sign of progress. Both the Iranian and the American and British officials are now saying they can't report that any progress has been made.
And as you say, Congress has just finally fed up with these extensions, no sign of progress and saying basically we're going to take matters into our own hands. We're going to -- we're going to draft sanctions that will take effect, that will give you more leverage because now the Iranians are going to know if these talks fail, there will be a new set of sanctions coming on them. That's the background to what the president said.
IFILL: They must think on some level that Congress is on the verge of doing something, what they consider to be dangerous here.
GJELTEN: Congress is definitely on the verge of doing something. I mean, we had -- we had a majority of members last year ready to vote for sanctions. Now we have new Republicans in who have replaced Democrats.
First, we have a number of Democrats, including some pretty leading members -- as the president said of his own party. So, the latest vote totals, which suggest actually you could get sanctions being approved in the Senate as early as next week.
BISKUPIC: Did this -- but did today change anything? I know it's early. We're just in this evening, but this kind of tough talk from David Cameron and the president --
GJELTEN: This was extraordinary, Joan. I mean, you had the leader of another country standing up there for an hour next to the president and saying, yes, I called a couple senators, and weighed in on it. And I -- you know, he's weighing in on what's essentially domestic policy issue. They really, really don't want this sanctions legislation passed.
Now, you ask, is it going to make a difference? It might make a difference I think with some Democrats. I don't think necessarily with Republicans it's going to make a difference. We had a very interesting and telling comment this week from Tom Cotton, a new senator from Arkansas, who basically said, we don't care if this torpedoes the negotiations because the intended consequence is to torpedo the negotiations because we think the negotiations are wrong-headed basically.
BISKUPIC: But beyond having Prime Minister Cameron call a few senators, where is this administration and this White House going to find the political capital to get this through?
GJELTEN: Political capital? You mean, as far as --
BISKUPIC: The Congress.
GJELTEN: What they have in mind, they're not going to call this a treaty. If they do get an agreement, they're not going to call it a treaty. Because if it's a treaty, then they have to get it confirmed by the Senate.
So, they're saying it's not a treaty. They're hoping they can just bypass Congress and when it comes to lifting sanctions, which would be the first part of the implementation of the new agreement, we can see something very much like the president done with Cuba -- executive actions that lift a lot of sanctions against Iran, because, you know, as you imply, there's not support in Congress for lifting those sanctions, so the administration would have to do this unilaterally really.
DUFFY: Tom, does their nervousness about sanctions suggest to you that talks are close to some kind of a breakthrough that they don't want to upend or in such bad shape that that would simply end them completely?
IFILL: And it's not unimportant John Kerry was today in Paris meeting with his counterpart.
GJELTEN: He had an eight-hour meeting with the Iranian foreign minister. So, there's certainly a lot going on. There's going to be another meeting in a couple of days. You know, they say the darkest hour is just before dawn, and both sides have been very tight-lipped about this, so the fact they say no progress has been made, you know, who knows?
IFILL: Is there any incentive for Iran to cooperate on this?
GJELTEN: Sanctions had been terrible for the Iranian economy. If they could get sanctions relief, you know, that would be important. But you know what, the supreme leader this week tweeted his recent recommendations for the new year, make the country immune to sanctions, pay attention to the goals behind the enemy, rely on domestic power. Doesn't seem like he sees much of an advantage there.
IFILL: OK, we will wait and see.
Big news today from the Supreme Court where the justices agree to hear not one, not two but four challenges to gay marriage bans across the country. This is the constitutional debate both sides have been waiting for, isn't it, Joan?
BISKUPIC: Yes, we were so anxiously awaiting it. We thought it would even come in October. But they did.
Today, the justices said they would hear this case in April with the decision likely by the end of June. Two big questions, one is, does the Constitution protect the nationwide right to gay marriage? Second question is, if a state still is allowed to ban gay marriage or its own people, must it recognize a gay marriage from another state when those people move in?
So, two questions going to be an extraordinary set of arguments in April with a case from the Midwest involving state bans in Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee and Kentucky. That's where regional corporate of appeals, sixth circuit, upheld those bans saying, no, I’m going to separate - this court decided to separate itself from all of the other courts that had been ruling in this area to say no, we have not gotten a clear signal from the Supreme Court and the right to decide what marriage laws we're going to have rests with the state, not with courts.
DUFFY: Now, 36 states have OK’d same-sex marriage. And there's the old reliable chestnut that says that the Supreme Court is a lagging indicator in American politics. So, are they -- is it a done deal? Are they absolutely going to come through and do this, or are we going to be surprised?
BISKUPIC: Well --
DUFFY: Not that you know the answer. Or do you know the answer?
IFILL: She just not tell us.
BISKUPIC: OK. Two things, first of all, in October when they didn't take it, only 19 states had allowed same-sex marriage at that point. So, you're right. We had this growing overall anthem but we also now have the split in the circuit, too. So, those are two reasons why the justices weigh in.
I actually think it is inevitable. I don't like to, really predict in a hard-core way on this court because it can surprise in the end but you have got Justice Kennedy right in the middle having issued a series of rulings over nearly 20 years all that support gay rights. You have 36 states now. And, really, irrespective of how you might think about gay marriage, there is this conflict in the nation that the justices have to resolve and if they go the opposite way, it will be -- it will be trying to reverse a real seat change.
GJELTEN: Joan, you covered the Supreme Courts for so long, to what extent are they influenced by popular sentiment? It does seem to be kind of a growing feeling in this country that maybe gay marriage is OK. Does that weigh into their considerations?
BISKUPIC: Well, it's not supposed to.
GJELTEN: I know.
BISKUPIC: But, of course they do. And they pay attention to what the states are doing. And, in fact, in many rulings, they will say here's what's happening in the states and because that matters to them. They can point to that.
And I’m sure -- you know, they're nine human beings. They're out in the world. They know what's happening. Justice Kennedy himself has written about the evolving understanding of equality for gay men and women.
Even though they would be basing their decision on legal precedent, they would also be looking to the larger, culture social shifts that naturally work their way in.
COSTA: Beyond Justice Kennedy, who else should we be paying attention to on the court? Who could be a swing vote here?
IFILL: I wonder about Justice Roberts.
BISCUPIC: Well, this question would play into that. For the last time we saw the gay marriage dispute version, a modest version of what we have got now in 2013, Justice Kennedy was with the four liberals. Chief Justice John Roberts was with the conservatives saying, no, we want to uphold the federal law that said marriage should be defined as between a man and woman for purposes of federal benefits.
But Chief Justice John Roberts has surprised us before, for example, in the Obama-sponsored health care law. You know, I think there's a chance that can he go to the other side but, Robert, it won't matter. They just need five.
IFILL: This is one of the rare cases where both sides wanted the court to take this up, advocates for and against.
BISKUPIC: Absolutely, because, first of all, you've got to this discrepancy out there for what is the right for people who want to get married, but then for people who don't want the right, they say these lower federal courts are now occupying the field. They have been able to dictate what happens in the majority of the states. The Supreme Court should come in and set them straight.
IFILL: We have so much else to cover tonight. Let's just keep going.
Elbows are being thrown, staff is being hired and the 2016 presidential season has begun. At least it has for Republicans. Every punch gets a counterpunch. Every expression of interest, unless it's a seriously considering every state of state speech becomes a test run.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: As I traveled the country over the last year -- you may have heard about that. Traveled a little bit around the country in the last year. This anxiety was the most palpable emotion that I saw and felt, more than anger, more than fear -- anxiety.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
IFILL: Party members meeting tonight as we speak here on the east coast in California, with their annual meeting, what -- how are things shaking out?
COSTA: What we are seeing now is a generational divide in the Republican Party. And it's a surprising turn of events. If you said a year ago we would have Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee --
IFILL: Six months ago.
COSTA: Six months ago, a month ago.
COSTA: They're all in, it seems, or at least leaning toward in 2016, and that's really shaking everything up, because the younger crop of senators and governors, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, they're all looking for oxygen. They're trying to mount their first national campaigns. Yet, you still have these past figures who are real party heavyweights trying to come back and run again.
IFILL: When you talk about party heavyweights, let's just go right to Mitt Romney. What is strategy for somebody with that high of a name recognition and last seen was pretty soundly defeated.
COSTA: Speaking with his advisers tonight, they feel confident though this has been a rick of a rocky roll-out, not everyone in the party has embraced Romney's possible return to the stage, they feel when they look at the national polls, they are competitive with Secretary Clinton and they feel in the long race, they can still win the nomination.
DUFFY: How much Romney if he is for real -- and I think a week ago, most people would have not thought he isn't, and now, a week later, think he is -- how much is just about his feeling he would be better than Jeb Bush?
COSTA: There is certainly a rivalry between these two major clans in American politics. The house of Bush, Romney, of course, his father ran in '68. And Romney feels he has a legacy for his family. He also believes he can be better than Bush. He thinks Bush has real vulnerabilities on Common Core, the education standards and on immigration.
And if Romney does run and formally run, I hear he's going to run as proud Republican, somebody not going to change the party mantra on education or immigration.
BISKUPIC: What about reverberations -- what about reverberations with the other candidates? Like Governor Christie? What kind of reactions do you think this is causing among the ones that look like they were more positioned?
COSTA: So, a lot of them had wanted to wait months to maybe think about running and launching a campaign in the spring. This has sped everything up. Huckabee, if you're a conservative, he's already making trips to Iowa. He's launching a book tour.
You need to start building the relationships now, courting donors. It’s really moved up the calendar.
IFILL: Rand Paul was in New Hampshire this week.
But I guess what I wonder about the people like Scott Walkers, I don't see them getting nervous and rushing into it. Isn't there an alternate theory which is let these guys run it out, especially with the incredible pushback -- establishment pushback against Romney, do you think?
COSTA: I think that's a great point. When you talk to people close to Walker and close to Rand Paul, they think this is actually an opportunity, because you will have Bush/Romney fighting for establishment vote. You will have Huckabee and Cruz and others, Ben Carson and Santorum, he’s meeting with his guy, Foster Friess in Arizona this weekend, so they’ll be a big fight on the right, a bit fight for the establishment.
Who could come right up the center? Maybe Walker. He balances both of those wings of the party. Maybe Paul.
GJELTEN: Robert, how much -- what are the implications of a big fight like this? One between the heavyweights, between Romney and Bush, but even more broadly, is there any danger for the party? You know, one, you burn up a lot of resources. You hurt some feelings, you know? What are the long-term political fallout implications of this?
COSTA: There are various schools of thought, talking to a few Republican National Committee members who were out in San Diego tonight, they feel like if this plays out in major party drama, it could make the nominee better because they got through a tough primary or it could lead to establishment candidates who are battered and end up killing each other's candidacies and you’d have someone like Ted Cruz perhaps rise and snag the nomination.
IFILL: So, two quick questions, how much is this about grabbing the bucks before somebody else gets them?
COSTA: It's huge. Everyone -- you need big money to run. That's why Santorum is courting Foster Friess. Look at the Santorum model from 2012, what happened to Huckabee in 2008. You could win the Iowa caucuses, but if you don't have the money long term to launch a national campaign, you’ll fade.
IFILL: Of all of the people who talked about money and expressed interest, who is less likely to be the nominee, John Bolton or George Pataki?
COSTA: I talked to former Ambassador Bolton yesterday. He said he's not dissuaded by this wall of money he sees from Bush and Romney. Look, you can run for president and get a lot of press attention, get some grassroots dollars and survive pretty far.
IFILL: You're saying it's our fault.
COSTA: Yes, well, I’m --
IFILL: The more the merrier. That's what a lot of people are saying and you know what? I’m all for that. The more the merrier. Fun for us.
Finally tonight, as the president delivers to prepare his annual State of the Union Address this coming Tuesday, he's taking the unusual step of forecasting what it will contain.
Contributing correspondent John Harwood of CNBC clues us in, in our "Friday Focus."
JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC (voice-over): After six years, presidents can get overtaken by events and see Americans tune in. So, President Obama's strategy for previewing this year's State of the Union is to touch their lives as many ways as he can.
In Washington, he announced steps to protect Americans from cyber crime.
OBAMA: We're introducing new legislation to create a single strong national standard so Americans know when their information has been stolen or misused.
HARWOOD: In Phoenix, a cut in borrowing costs for some home buyers.
OBAMA: Starting this month, the Federal Housing Authority will lower its mortgage insurance premium rates enough to save the average new borrower more than $900 a year.
HARWOOD: In Knoxville, a proposal in partnership with states to make two years of community college free.
OBAMA: Community colleges should be free for those willing to work for it, because in America, a quality education cannot be a privilege that is reserved for a few.
HARWOOD: And in Detroit, he announced new federal money for apprenticeship programs to help young people find good jobs.
OBAMA: We want young people to see that they have opportunities. They don't all have to go to a four-year college. They can get apprenticeship, save some money, start working.
HARWOOD: Will congressional Republicans give him all of this? It doesn't sound like it.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We're listening to the American people. We hope he’ll start to listen too and reconsider his opposition to some of our jobs bills.
HARWOOD (on camera): But a lame duck's president's best chance is to give as many people as possible a reason to like his speech -- Gwen.
IFILL: You can watch the State of the Union for yourself live and online with Judy Woodruff and me this Tuesday. Our "PBS NEWSHOUR" special coverage will include analysis of Mark Shields and David Brooks.
In the meantime, stay online for more WASHINGTON WEEK later tonight in our Webcast Extra. That’s at PBS.org/WashingtonWeek.
And we’ll see you again next week on WASHINGTON WEEK.