GWEN IFILL: We are chock-full tonight with tales of deal making, diplomacy, and redemption, tonight on “Washington Week.”
The House wrestles with the hows and the whys of immigration.
REPRESENTATIVE NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): (From tape.) Why? Why would we (need to ?) delay?
SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH): (From tape.) We are not going to do the Senate bill.
MS. IFILL: While slicing money for nutrition programs out of a big farm bill.
The Obama administration searches for a diplomatic foothold in Egypt.
JAY CARNEY: (From tape.) This is an extremely difficult and complicated situation. There is a crisis in Egypt.
MS. IFILL: And the politics at home is complicated, too. In Texas, where the uproar over abortion rights has now spread to other states; and in New York, where voters are being asked to test their powers of forgiveness.
ELIOT SPITZER: (From tape.) I would say to the public I would like to serve again. And if you wish me to be there, I will be honored to have your vote.
MS. IFILL: Covering the week: Alan Gomez of USA Today, Peter Baker of the New York Times, Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post, and Beth Reinhard of the National Journal.
ANNOUNCER: Award winning reporting and analysis, covering history as it happens, live from our nation’s capital this is “Washington Week with Gwen Ifill.”
ANNOUNCER: Once again, live from Washington, moderator Gwen Ifill.
MS. IFILL: Good evening. The action on Capitol Hill turned to the House this week, which moved on to two issues that could affect the lives of thousands of American, on immigration reform taking a sharply diversion path from their Senate colleagues.
REP. BOEHNER: (From tape.) It’s clear that dealing with this in bite-size chunks that members can digest and the American people can digest is the smartest way to go. And so I’m much more concerned about doing it right than I am in meeting some deadline.
REPRESENTATIVE XAVIER BECERRA (D-CA): (From tape.) When you play football, you don’t play it to get to the 10-yard line and then quit. You play to make the touchdown. And the American people are expecting us to score.
MS. IFILL: And the Farm Bill, long a beacon of bipartisan agreement, passed, but only after the food stamp funding it contained for four decades was stripped away. That sparked a secondary fight.
REPRESENTATIVE G.K. BUTTERFIELD (D-NC): (From tape.) What is it about poor people that you don’t like and you don’t want to feed their families.
REPRESENTATIVE LOUIE GOHMERT (R-TX): (From tape.) I don’t want to end it. I want to separate it out, and one day I want to have all of the public assistance in one committee where we can see all of the ones that are redundant.
MS. IFILL: But first to the immigration battle. Where does that stand tonight, Alan?
ALAN GOMEZ: In a pretty precarious situation, Gwen. Where we’re at right now is the Senate has passed a pretty comprehensive bill that incorporates a lot of the different topics that they’re looking at in immigration: pathway to citizenship for the undocumented immigrants, a lot of border security, new visas, the whole thing all put together.
The House is taking a completely different tack. They’re, as Speaker Boehner said, they’re going piece by piece. So what we’ve seen so far is the Homeland Security Committee in the House has passed a bill on border security. The Judiciary Committee has passed bills on high-tech visas and agricultural visas.
But throughout this, and this is a very, I think, telling thing that’s going on in the House right now, nobody so much has filed a bill that deals with the pathway to citizenship. And that shows the unease, how uncomfortable the House Republicans are on this issue.
MS. IFILL: But the Senate had come out with a bill that had so much money, so much attention paid to border security that people were joking about how much border security there was going to be in the bill. And that’s not acceptable in the House?
MR. GOMEZ: Well, they – in the Senate, I think they even described it as overkill, in terms of how much they were dedicating to the border. But from the beginning of this debate everyone kind of thought that this – we would be where we are right now, which is Republicans in the House, who for a lot of them, despite everything you hear from the national party about how much they want to do to get right by Hispanic voters, Republicans in the House individually don’t have that much incentive to vote for anything that provides a pathway to citizenship.
So that’s why they had a meeting this week, all the Republicans in the House, to talk about immigration. And that was issue number one as they were coming out. How to figure it out, how to proceed, what they can do on that.
KAREN TUMULTY: So this is a top priority for President Obama. In fact, it’s a legacy issue for President Obama. What can he do, given the Republican House? Does it help if he gets involved and starts making the case for this with the public or does it actually sort of drive them further away?
MR. GOMEZ: What’s been interesting to see in the Senate, you saw the president and the administration for the most part taking a back seat. They let the senators drive the whole conversation. They were definitely helping behind the scenes influencing, as they obviously do. But there’s no public display. There’s no – he wasn’t really going out there and hammering them or anything like that.
That tactic’s changed completely in the House. The president met with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus just a few days ago, and his message – one of the messages to them was get out there, get out and sell this to the public, so that they can then put pressure on the House to try to get this thing done.
PETER BAKER: What about Janet Napolitano? Now, she was the secretary of Homeland Security –
MS. IFILL: Still is –
MS. BAKER: Still is till September, announced today, though, she’s leaving. She wants to head the University of California system. Department of Homeland Security’s been a very vigorous, you know, player in the immigration debate, a lot of deportation, but also enacting this sort of DREAM Act executive action. What does her departure means for this?
MR. GOMEZ: She’s been the sole person in the administration who, for the last few months, has really been sort of the salesperson for this bill. She’s testifying before all sorts of committees that deal with border security. I mean, everything we’re talking about in this bill kind of falls under her purview. So if you talk about border security, citizenship, visas, everything – you know, be it ICE, Customs and Border Protection, is under her.
So this is a very interesting time. And on the one hand, Republicans, not the biggest fans of her record so far. So in some sense, it might give some cover to allow them to maybe trying to get on board, maybe accept this a little bit more. But on the other hand, you know, now we’re going to face a nomination for a new Department of Homeland Security secretary, and that could muddle things up even more.
So it’s – we’ll have to see.
BETH REINHARD: You mentioned the House Republicans are not feeling the same pressure that Republican Party leaders are feeling on a national level regarding Hispanic voters. Can you explain why that is?
MR. GOMEZ: One of the – you look at the House and the average Republican House district is 75 percent white. The average Democratic district is about 50 percent white. And a lot of that – the minority representation for House Republicans come from very predominantly – come from very big minority districts: Texas, California, places like that. So for these folks, I mean, they’re looking at districts that are maybe 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 percent minority.
So A, they don’t have a lot of constituents telling them you need to get this done. And on the other hand, they – so they won’t see any sort of damage if they don’t support this.
MS. IFILL: But on another issue, the Farm Bill, which also played out this week, it’s not like only people of color get food stamps, but the food stamps issue is really dividing not only – the Republican caucus as well as the Republicans from Democrats.
MR. GOMEZ: That one’s a really tough one because, as you mentioned earlier, this is – for 40 years, what they’ve done is tie farm subsidies to food stamps in an effort to make sure that both of those are sort of insulated, so that they can get through Congress each year.
And now, the Senate already passed the bill, along the same line, kind of following traditionally with the House, they just break it up into two. And now, that’s put both of them in jeopardy.
MS. IFILL: And they’re expecting to come back to this – to the food stamps portion –
MR. GOMEZ: They’re saying – well, so far, they’ve said they’re definitely – the House passed this week a bill solely for the farm subsidies and say they’re going to get back to the food stamps, but we’ll wait.
MS. IFILL: We’ll see if that happens. Thanks a lot, Alan.
If you think negotiations in the House are difficult, just try taking sides in Egypt. The State Department has been searching for middle ground ever since democratically elected President Mohammed Morsi was forced from power. It turns out supporting democracy is far more complicated than it might at first appear. State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
JEN PSAKI: Egypt has gone through a significant transition on the road to democracy. There’ve obviously been curves in the road, bumps in the road, flat tires, you name it, along the way. And it’s not an easy task.
MS. IFILL: Curves in the road, bumps in the road, flat tires, that’s not a very – that’s not – is like an almost like an understatement.
MS. BAKER: I.e. the bridge has collapsed. We’re heading into the ravine here at this point in Egypt. And it’s – you know – it has taken the Obama administration with them. What is the right approach in this circumstance? Nobody in Washington – all that flow with President Morsi – the Mohammed – the Muslim Brotherhood president who had been in office only about a year, hadn’t been very inclusive, hadn’t done much with the economy, wasn’t really listening to the Obama administration, seized power last fall without limit for a while. And the idea of the military kicking them out, even if it’s supported by 14 million people on the streets, is a complicated thing. Who wants to support that kind of thing.
So what’s the question? Is this a military coup or not? Obama administration has been all week kind of dancing around this question. A coup or not a coup. Sounds like a military coup. Looks like a military coup. But only in Washington would that be an open question. Why is that? Because $1.5 billion is at stake. Under the law, if it’s a military coup, they have to cut it off, no ifs, ands, or buts, no exceptions.
MS. IFILL: So today, however, we saw that the White House, which had been avoiding answering this question with a little nudge from Germany, I gather, said, yeah, well, maybe the military should release Morsi from wherever they’re holding him. What’s that about?
MS. BAKER: Well, what they’re trying to do with this question of the money is to use it as leverage to say, look, we’re not cutting it off this second. We’re going to have to review it. But it depends on what you’re doing now. Stop the violence. Stop the round-ups. Release President Morsi. Have a transition to democracy that we can believe. And then, maybe, we can avoid, you know, the hammer falling down.
MS. REINHARD: Peter, are you seeing divisions between the way Democrats and Republicans in Congress are responding to the crisis?
MS. BAKER: It’s a great question. I think there’s one of these few issues that doesn’t cross the ordinary lines. You know, there are Republicans who really just don’t like the Muslim Brotherhood, who don’t like the idea that –
MS. IFILL: Trust, really.
MS. BAKER: Don’t trust them, believe they’re hostile to the United States. Believe they – you know – believe in tyranny or you know, a form of government that really is an anathema to United States, and are happy they’re gone. They don’t openly say we’re happy the military took over, but they’re happy they’re gone.
There’re other Republicans who are more democracy advocates, neo-conservatives and promoters of a new order in the Arab world, were very disappointed and think this is a setback and it will only convince the radicals who support Muslim Brotherhood to believe that democracy doesn’t work.
And the same divisions are true in the Democratic Party as well.
MS. TUMULTY: So if Egypt were to lose these money, what would happen? Would somebody else come in and give them that amount of aid, or, you know, what would happen to the stability of Egypt if the United States did pull back on the money?
MR. BAKER: That’s a great question, too. We give them $1.5 billion a year. That’s the second highest amount we give to anybody in the world behind Israel. And yet, just this week – the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, the other Gulf States pledged $12 billion to Egypt on their own. So they dwarf what we’re giving them. In that way, we are beginning to lose our influence because we’re not the most important donors in the block.
MR. GOMEZ: And Peter, President Obama, he was hammered for supporting Mubarak for up until the very last moment. With Morsi, he’s been criticized for allowing him to sort of go on this tack and accumulating more power. So how critical is it for him and how he handles this situation now?
MR. BAKER: It’s very interesting, right. Since Morsi was ousted, you haven’t seen President Obama say one word about this in public, not a word. He had an event this week talking about making government websites more efficient. He had an event this week where he gave a medal to George Lucas, the “Star Wars” creator. He has not said one word in public about this because he realizes, I think, he did get in trouble for not – for seeming to be on Morsi’s side, for not doing enough to rein him in. And yet, now he thinks that basically anything he does can only make the situation worse. It cannot look like the United States is dictating to Egypt because it will only backfire.
MS. IFILL: Is Egypt still our lynchpin in the Middle East in many respects? I noticed today that president made a phone call to the leader of Saudi Arabia.
MS. BAKER: Right.
MS. IFILL: So maybe he’s looking for other options. How important is it that that relationship be worked out, no matter who’s in charge?
MS. BAKER: That’s a really interesting dynamic. Egypt, for a long time, as you say, has been a main partner for the United States in the region largely because of its peace agreement with Israel forged in the Carter administration. But over time, over the years, they seem less and less influential beyond their own borders. Saudi Arabia has risen. Even the tiny state of Qatar with only hundreds of thousands of native Arabs there, but a big check book, has risen as a more influential state. You see it out of non-Arab actors like the Iranians, the Turks also playing a bigger role. So in that sense, Egypt is eclipsed to some extent from its traditional role.
But it is still critical to any long-term relationship between Israel and this region. And that’s why we continue to give them the money basically, as that foundation of stability.
MS. IFILL: Thanks, Peter.
Watching democracy work itself out is tough back here at home as well. At this hour, the Texas State Senate is poised to accomplish what a dramatic 11-hour filibuster derailed a few weeks back. It is expected to pass a bill that would force abortion clinics to operate under the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers, a new approach that would not outlaw abortions outright, but could still reduce them. And the anti-abortion activists in Texas are not the only ones taking this approach. Karen’s been keeping track of that for us. How many other states are we talking about?
MS. TUMULTY: Well, at this point, just half way through this year, over a dozen states have enacted some form of new restrictions on abortion. In total 43 different restrictions on abortions, these are figures that are put together by something called the Guttmacher Institute, which is a prochoice advocacy organization, but is also – their numbers are pretty well respected by both sides.
The Texas bill would do a number of things, it would put – basically require abortion clinics to operate as ambulatory surgical centers. Only six of the abortion clinics in the state at this point can meet those standards or do meet those standards. So that may mean that dozens would have to shut down.
The other thing it does is it would put a ban on all abortions after 20 weeks of gestation. This is another type of measure that we have seen very popular in state legislatures across the country and was also passed by the United States House of Representatives just last month.
MS. IFILL: And in fact, Marco Rubio’s being recruited to be its main sponsor in Washington, right?
MS. TUMULTY: And it is a question that polls very well. It’s always been the case that the public’s acceptance of abortion diminishes the closer you get to viability. And that’s somewhere probably between 22 and 24 weeks. Increasingly you hear abortion opponents talk about the threshold of the pregnancy where the fetus actually feels pain. There are, you know, again all sorts of arguments coming into the debate that I think we haven’t heard in the past.
MS. BAKER: Why is this happening now? Is this a matter of technology getting better and therefore changing our attitudes? Are there – is there a move toward the pro-life side of the argument in America today or –
MS. TUMULTY: Public opinion has not shifted very much on abortion legality since a few years after Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. And people have always been essentially somewhere in the middle on this question. They think abortion should remain legal, especially in the early stages, but again, under certain conditions. And what has happened is first of all, the 2010 elections put a lot of conservatives into these state legislatures. And so we’re seeing a lot more activity.
Second of all, we’ve had things in the news like this horrific trial, a few months ago, in Philadelphia of Kermit Gosnell, the abortion doctor whose clinic was essentially a house of horrors. And that, I think abortion opponents realize, is once again putting attention on the procedure itself, the fetus itself, which is, again, the type of issue where they see that they can win.
MR. GOMEZ: So, I mean, we’ve seen in the past, I don’t know, Representative Todd Akin, former Representative Todd Akin, if you say the wrong thing about this, obviously you can get hammered. But generally speaking, I mean, heading into 2014, is this something that they see as a benefit then?
MS. TUMULTY: Well, the whole Todd Akin thing, basically, the Republicans lost two Senate seats last year because their candidates said sort of boneheaded things about rape. That goes the other side of the equation. The more it focuses on the pregnant woman herself and her ability to get this procedure, the more of the abortion rights advocates’ side wins. I think it is going to be an issue, particularly these questions of late abortions. I think you’re going to be hearing a lot from Republicans on this.
MS. REINHARD: Just jumping off at it a little bit, I mean, you’ve heard a lot of discussion, after the last election about we need to do better with women voters. You heard the Democratic attacks of a war on women. Is that sort of feud continuing?
MS. TUMULTY: It is and certainly in Texas. This question that Gwen brought up first of putting restrictions on abortion clinics, making them operate more like hospitals, one side, the anti-abortion side, argues we’re doing this to protect the health of the women. This is just common sense, you know, good medical practice. The abortion rights advocates are saying, no, this is a pretext to just shut down the clinics. And I think that that is an argument where, at this point, I think the abortion rights side has a good chance of winning. And we saw that just in North Carolina this week.
MS. IFILL: We’ve been covering this issue for years. And we’ve seen it move from the Supreme Court to the Congress and now to state legislatures. And it seems that all along the anti-abortion activists have been the ones with a plan, a plan about how to – we can’t do it this way, we’re going to go that way. Do Democrats or pro-choice types have a plan to push back?
MS. TUMULTY: They do. Again, their plan – and we saw it in Texas with this filibuster, you know, by this – by Wendy Davis, this state senator who became nationally famous. The more they can focus on, again, the rights and the accessibility of women who want this procedure, and you certainly heard that in the debate today. Wendy Davis got up on the Senate floor and was talking about some of these restrictions require a woman to go back to the clinic three separate times before she can get an abortion, and that that’s a very difficult thing for a woman who has two jobs to do, or a woman in a rural area to achieve.
MS. IFILL: So in each and every case, it’s not the courts necessarily, but it’s fighting language with language.
MS. TUMULTY: Exactly. The courts have made it clear they will allow some restrictions. The question is now what restrictions.
MS. IFILL: OK, thank you.
We close with a bit of a meditation on political redemption. There’s quite a list of politicians behaving badly who staged head-snapping comebacks: Bill Clinton, David Vitter, Mark Sanford among them. And there are those who didn’t bounce back, not yet anyway, John Edwards, Mark Foley, John Ensign come to mind. This week, all eyes turned to New York, where disgraced former governor Eliot Spitzer joined disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner, in seeking municipal office. The word chutzpah comes to mind, except maybe voters don’t mind as you might thing. You liked how I said chutzpah, wasn’t that great?
MS. REINHARD: You did it right. Right, the polls show that these guys have a shot. We saw a survey this week that showed Eliot Spitzer 11 points over his opponent, the Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who, of course, is not a household name the way Eliot Spitzer is. And you’re seeing Anthony Weiner also inching up in the polls. The long-time frontrunner was the speaker of the City Council, Christine Quinn, also not a household name outside of New York City. But now, you’re seeing Anthony Weiner in one poll in the first place, in another poll in second place.
MS. IFILL: Is it voters have gotten used to kind of a – the coarsening of politics and they don’t care about that stuff anymore?
MS. REINHARD: I don’t think that’s true. I think there’re also – there’re just so many variables that go into these kind of races. Like we’ve mentioned Mark Sanford as someone who won.
MS. IFILL: Former governor of North Carolina.
MS. REINHARD: Former governor of South Carolina –
MS. IFILL: South Carolina.
MS. REINHARD: – who had an extramarital affair while in office and mislead the public about his whereabouts, most famously saying he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. If you look at the district that he won in, Mitt Romney won that district by 18 points. He had a weak Democratic candidate who had never run for office before. And the district – the voters in that district just – all they saw was Republican and Democrat. They didn’t so much see Mark Sanford pass.
As one voter put to me when I was out there, she said, it’s not like he committed murder or something.
MS. BAKER: Well, that’s a big question. Is that the standard – criminality? I mean, these guys have done things that are shameful perhaps and embarrassing and certainly harmful to their marriages, but they’re not necessarily criminals. Does that make a difference if – is a conviction the thing that stops you from making a comeback?
MS. REINHARD: Well, it would certainly get in the way of you sort of reinventing yourself the way, for example, Eliot Spitzer, who was never charged with a crime, after he stepped down as governor, he sort of reinvented himself as a –
MS. IFILL: There questions –
MS. REINHARD: There were –
MS. IFILL: – having a prostitute is not exactly legal, but he wasn’t charged with a crime.
MS. REINHARD: He wasn’t. He wasn’t. He got gags on CNN and on another cable channel. And it’s been five years now since he left office. And so some time has passed. And he is, you know, now doing the typical humility tour, going on “Morning Joe” and getting choked up. And he’s going on Jay Leno and –
MS. IFILL: He’s going on Jay Leno? Did I miss that? (Laughter.) I’m sorry. Go ahead.
MS. REINHARD: I saw that on Twitter. I hope I’m not –
MS. REINHARD: And Anthony Weiner, also, you’re seeing sort of a, you know, reinvention. His wife is now fundraising for him and –
MS. TUMULTY: But Beth, both – Eliot Spitzer is running now for a fairly modest office – comptroller. Mark Sanford went back to, you know, the district he had first. He also took a demotion. Anthony Weiner is asking for a promotion. (Laughter.) He’s asking for the, you know, the big prize in New York politics. Is that, you know, one chutzpah over the line here? (Laughter.)
MS. REINHARD: It may be. I mean, he is obviously trying to turn the conversation to all of his policy ideas. And Eliot Spitzer getting into the race isn’t helping with that, since it revives all this talk about, you know, sex scandals and people comparing what Anthony Weiner did to what Eliot Spitzer did. Is that worse? Is that better? So he’s going to have now an even bigger challenge to try to get the voters to focus on what he’s going to do for New York City.
MR. GOMEZ: I’m kind of curious, Beth, you know, what role technology these days plays in this? I mean, obviously, we can see these days how quickly somebody can fall. I mean, it just takes a couple of days, really, for Paula Deen, for example, just in a couple of days how quickly somebody can suffer such an utter collapse. But does it also help them trying to resurrect their career at some point?
MS. REINHARD: Absolutely. I mean, there’re so many new cycles that are happening every day. And also I think it helps these candidates who have been really shun by the political establishment. I mean, you’re seeing stories about, you know, the unions and business leaders and the political establishment wanting nothing to do with these folks. But through online, they can still reach lots of people. I got emails all week from Anthony Weiner asking for money. (Laughter.) So –
MS. BAKER: You going to send a check? (Laughter.)
MS. TUMULTY: Hoping he didn’t send pictures with it.
MS. IFILL: Yeah.
MS. REINHARD: So sort of the traditional rules of the political rules of the political machine don’t apply.
MS. IFILL: Well, somewhere Gary Hart is thinking why didn’t I wait? (Laughter.)
Thanks, everybody. We have to go for now, but the conversation continues online, where we’ll talk about Edward Snowden and Rick Perry and Janet Napolitano some more, among other things. That’s on the “Washington Week Webcast Extra.” We stream live beginning at 8:30 p.m. Easter Time. Or check out the video all weekend long at pbs.org/Washingtonweek.
Keep up with daily developments with me over at the PBS “NewsHour.” And we’ll see you right here again next week, on “Washington Week.” And I want to wish a happy 100th anniversary of the sisters of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. Good night.