GWEN IFILL: A Keystone Pipeline decision and promising new jobs numbers as presidential candidates deal with vetting, shifting polls, and debate prep. We will catch you up tonight on Washington Week.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From video.) Shipping dirtier crude oil into our country would not increase America’s energy security.
MS. IFILL: The president pulls the plug on the Keystone XL Pipeline and takes a rare victory lap on the economy.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From video.) While our politics have been consumed by a debate over whether or not this pipeline would create jobs and lower gas prices, we’ve gone ahead and created jobs and lowered gas prices.
MS. IFILL: Nearly 300,000 new jobs last month, declining unemployment. Will the Fed respond by hiking interest rates? Tensions rise on the 2016 campaign trail.
DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) Marco Rubio has a disaster on his finances. He has a disaster on his credit cards.
SENATOR MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): (From video.) When Donald comes across a poll he doesn’t like he gets weird and he does sorts of strange things.
MS. IFILL: The new frontrunner gets fresh scrutiny about his oft-told life story. And the guy who used to be the frontrunner takes on all comers.
FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR JEB BUSH (R): (From video.) And you can’t just tell Congress “you’re fired” and go to commercial break. (Laughter.)
MS. IFILL: And Bush, once again, is confronted with presidential-level family issues.
MR. BUSH: (From video.) Oh, I love my dad. He’s a great guy. I think the book’s going to be worth reading.
MS. IFILL: Covering the week, Coral Davenport, energy and environment correspondent for The New York Times; Eamon Javers, Washington correspondent for CNBC; Dan Balz, chief correspondent for The Washington Post; and Jeff Zeleny, senior Washington correspondent for CNN.
ANNOUNCER: Award-winning reporting and analysis. Covering history as it happens. Live from our nation's capital, this is Washington Week with Gwen Ifill. Once again, live from Washington, moderator Gwen Ifill.
MS. IFILL: Good evening. Well, news wouldn't stop breaking today, so we’re going to do our best to cram in what we can here and online later tonight.
First, to the White House, where the president emphatically turned off the spigot on a proposed oil pipeline that critics said would hurt the environment and supporters said would create jobs. President Obama said it would do neither.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From video.) For years, the Keystone Pipeline has occupied what I, frankly, consider an over-inflated role in our political discourse. It became a symbol too-often used as campaign cudgel by both parties, rather than a serious policy matter. And all of this obscured the fact that this pipeline would neither be a silver bullet for the economy, as was promised by some, nor the express lane to climate disaster proclaimed by others.
MS. IFILL: So, if it wasn't exactly about job creation or environmental degradation, what was this decision really based on, Coral?
CORAL DAVENPORT: So much of this decision was about symbolism. I really actually like what the president said a lot at his press conference. It wouldn’t have a really big impact on the economy. The total number of jobs – permanent jobs created would be about 35. It wouldn’t really have a huge impact on the environment or climate change. This emerged – kind of morphed into this big political symbol of the president's climate change legacy. And by saying no to it, what he really wants to do is send a signal to the rest of the world that he is serious about climate change, that he wants to build a big environmental legacy, wants to be ambitious on climate.
MS. IFILL: So, are we to believe that this fight we’ve been watching – this has been a seven-year decision making process – is really – was just hijacked?
MS. DAVENPORT: Hijacked? Yes, it was. What’s really interesting about the Keystone Pipeline is that during the seven years that it’s been under consideration, the administration has actually approved other similar pipelines that just haven’t been turned into these political symbols. Both sides have kind of appropriated it. We really saw this in the 2012 campaign when both Republicans, groups like Americans for Prosperity, sort of saw this as a great symbol of energy and the economy and jobs. Environmentalists saw this as a great symbol, something they could rally around and demand action from the president. They wrapped a pipeline around the White House. And it's really bizarre how something that is so substantially not very important got turned into this really outsized political symbol that dragged on for seven years.
EAMON JAVERS: Why do you think we got this decision today? Because had this interesting thing in the run-up here. TransCanada, the company behind the pipeline, had appealed to the U.S. government to actually stop the permitting process. The wanted to stall it. And the government said we, no, we’re not going to stop. And then suddenly, bam, today we see the president come out and make this decision. Why now?
MS. DAVENPORT: So, two things going on with the timing of both of those events. TransCanada expected, like a lot of us, that the president was moving toward saying no to the pipeline. And they hoped by stalling the review they could postpone it until the next administration, hopefully get a Republican president who would approve it. The reason that they thought that a rejection was coming is that in three weeks the president is headed to this major U.N. climate change summit in Paris. He wants to be a broker of a broad, sweeping climate change deal, committing every country to substantial action on climate change. So he wanted to have a new, fresh action in hand. He wanted to send a signal. And it was widely expected that he would make this decision before heading off to Paris at the end of the month.
DAN BALZ: Does this decision end this, or are there circumstances under which this is going to come back?
MS. DAVENPORT: It ends it for the rest of the Obama administration. It’s very clear that if TransCanada were to resubmit the permit it would clearly be rejected. There’s not really any kind of congressional avenue for this. However, if we get a Republican president, absolutely, you know, all of the candidates said today they would approve the pipeline, that they support it. And so if we get a Republican president, it may be that TransCanada could resubmit a fresh application and a Republican president would approve it.
MS. IFILL: And there's an interesting distinction. In Canada, they have a new liberal prime minister, who was much more muted in his acceptance of the president’s decision today than the conservative prime minister he ousted would have been.
MS. DAVENPORT: The election of the new Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, really helped the president as he moved towards making this decision. His predecessor, Stephen Harper, had made the pipeline a centerpiece of U.S.-Canadian relations. If President Obama had rejected it while Stephen Harper was still president, it would have been a big blow to our relationship with our, you know, friendly neighbor in the north. Justin Trudeau supported the pipeline, but he also made clear it was just one piece of the whole relationship. Also, he just came into office, so he can sort of move this off the table, move forward. And it was a lot easier. The election of Justin Trudeau made this decision a lot politically easier for President Obama.
JEFF ZELENY: You said that it would have only created 35 jobs. This was such an issue in the 2012 campaign. And it’s been – you know, it’s an emerging issue in this campaign as well. Is that true, 35 jobs?
MS. DAVENPORT: So, the total number of job creation – jobs created, according to the State Department analysis, is in the two years of construction it would create 42,000 indirect jobs, 3,900 jobs – direct jobs in construction. The rest of those would be in support jobs like food service. Those would all go away after two years, leaving 35 jobs. The total number of jobs, even that 42,000, less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the entire economy.
MS. IFILL: I love how a big story can sometimes not be as big of a story as you think. More of that. The White House was happy to use the pipeline announcement today to talk about some good economic news. More new jobs than expected in October, and a drop in the unemployment rate to an even 5 percent, half of what it was in 2009. What’s more, wages are finally on the upswing. All of which tell us what, Eamon?
MR. JAVERS: All of which tells us that the economy’s doing a little bit better than we thought it was doing last month. And it tells us a little bit about where we think the Federal Reserve might go in terms of interest rates. But this was a blockbuster jobs report – 271,000 jobs. Totally unexpected on Wall Street. To give you a sense of this, yesterday Goldman Sachs put out – and they’re known for knowing what they’re talking about – they put out an analyst note saying that they were more bullish on the jobs figure than everybody else. A lot of people were saying 175,000. But they were going to go with 190,000 as their guess.
And we saw 271(,000). So this blew away expectations on Wall Street. And it played into a lot of what the president was talking about today in terms of – that maybe we don't need to have the Keystone XL Pipeline because we’ve suddenly got this huge growth in jobs in the country. And all of the internals inside this – most of the internals inside this number were really good too – you know, increases in construction and other sectors. And we saw revisions of past months that were pretty solid as well. So all of it good news for the administration. And they were not shy about taking credit for it today.
MR. ZELENY: The unemployment rate is at 5 percent now, the lowest point of President Obama's time in office. What about the labor force, though? Is it coming back at all? Will it come back? Or is this just the new reality?
MR. JAVERS: Yeah, we’re starting to see the labor force participation rate coming back. But it is at a low we haven’t seen since the 1970's, right? So that’s one of the big negatives here overall.
MS. IFILL: Tell people what the labor force participation rate is.
MR. JAVERS: The labor force participation rate is the number of people – the percentage of people who are actually looking for work, actively involved in having a job. So if you step out of the labor force and stop looking for work after a certain period of time, they don't count you as unemployed anymore, officially in the statistics. So a lot of people say that that’s sort of the dark matter here that we’re not counting in the unemployment rate, and a lot of those people would like to get jobs but just don't see any hope for themselves, and therefore they’re just not in the labor force at all.
MR. BALZ: That raises a related question – (coughs) – excuse me – in my mind, which is this is a very strong, bullish jobs report. And you know, it foreshadows a probable increase in interest rates by the Fed. All of those things are great. And yet, on the campaign trail, on both sides, people are talking about an economy that’s not delivering, that really is leaving lots of people behind. How do you square this?
MR. JAVERS: Well, I think there’s a couple things. It’s the labor force participation rate. So there are a lot of people who left the work force and haven't gone back. So that’s impacting the way people feel. I think the fact that we’re starting to see wages tick-up now in this latest report is going to be helpful to that sense that people have that the economy is really not going well. And I also think that there – I don't what to be flip about this, but I think there is a certain amount of, like, economic PTSD from the 2008 crash. I think people were really shocked and unmoored by the speed at which the economy went off a cliff and the numbers of jobs that we saw – I mean, at one point we were losing 600,000 jobs a month in this country. It was devastating for families. So that leaves an impact. It’s a searing memory for a lot of people. So even if they’re starting to find their footing, they’re getting jobs, politically that affects the way they see the world. And it might for a generation.
MS. DAVENPORT: Eamon, does this mean that the Fed will be raising rates? What would be the timing on that?
MR. JAVERS: Well, I think everyone is looking now to the December Fed meeting as the possible time when the Fed will raise rates. You know, they’ve kept interest rates at basically zero now for years and years –
MS. IFILL: It's kind of hard – it’s kind of hard to imagine that they wouldn't at this stage.
MR. JAVERS: That's the betting, but stranger things have happened, right?
MS. IFILL: Yeah, well, you know.
MR. JAVERS: I mean, Janet Yellen said earlier in the week, she was kind of telegraphing this, and said that December is a “live meeting,” quote, unquote. That means, like, get ready. (Laughter.) But they have not raised interest rates in a very long time. And so this will be an interesting decision, no pun intended, to see if they can do that and if Wall Street will buy it, because we’ve had this weird moment on Wall Street where, for so many years, bad news in the economy has been good news on Wall Street because that means the Fed is likely to keep interest rates down.
MS. IFILL: Here’s – I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you – but there’s one interesting thing I want to get to, which is – and the White House and Democrats are pointing this out. Remember when we were talking about the health care law, and of course, now, the Supreme Court today said they’re going to take another challenge, one of the big arguments was that it was going to cost us jobs. I remember John Boehner saying it was a job killer over and over again. It turns out it didn't.
MR. JAVERS: Yeah. I mean, clearly we’re seeing jobs increasing. We’ve got – the past couple of months, we’ve had 180,000 or more jobs created. If you go back over a year –
MS. IFILL: Even in the health care sector.
MR. JAVERS: Yeah.
MS. IFILL: Yeah.
MR. JAVERS: Even in health care as well. And the other question is whether or not Obamacare – and this is an unresolved issue and I don’t have the answer to it – but whether or not Obamacare has actually enabled some people to stay out of the job market who otherwise would have been forced to be in, who didn’t want to be in, who maybe can be home with their families because now they have access to health care. So there are a lot of ways this can crosscut.
MS. IFILL: That you can cut that, hmm.
MR. JAVERS: Yeah, we’re going to have to study that for years to come, I think.
MS. IFILL: OK. Well, thank you. All right, that was interesting. Now –
MR. JAVERS: Thanks.
MS. IFILL: Yeah, you’re welcome. (Laughter.) To 2016 politics. We have a new frontrunner, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. And, just like clockwork, the scrutiny has begun, much of it focused on the rags to riches biography that made him famous. Some of the digs are just joking.
MR. TRUMP: (From video.) Let me just say this, Ben Carson is a complete and total loser.
MS. IFILL: That’s a “Saturday Night Live" promo, of course. But Trump, who has been losing ground to Carson in the polls, has also been taking aim on Twitter. Carson’s typically low-key response?
BEN CARSON: (From video.) I discovered when I was in grade school that those tactics really are for grade school. And I’ve gone far beyond that now.
MS. IFILL: But the questions appear to be starting for Dr. Carson. What’s happening here, Jeff?
MR. ZELENY: Well, what’s happening is, you’re right, he is getting the scrutiny that only frontrunners get. I mean, it doesn’t matter how long you’re in the public spotlight. It just happens in a more searing way than you can imagine. But some colleagues of mine at CNN actually went back to look at a chapter in his childhood about – he said he had a very violent upbringing and he found a religion, and he – it saved him, basically. So they went back and interviewed a bunch of his childhood friends. And they said, this just doesn’t seem like the Ben Carson that we know. He wasn't violent. He didn't have these episodes. So then he, of course, is saying, you know, it’s not the right people. You’re not – so it’s all kind of unfolded in a very messy, messy way.
MS. IFILL: Talking to the wrong people. Why would they talk to you, yeah.
MR. ZELENY: But we spent a lot of time in Detroit, in his neighborhood, talking to a lot of people on camera. And they said it’s just not how he remembers it. So it’s one of those weird things. It doesn't necessarily matter to the current presidential campaign, but he’s presented himself as this person who was changed by that moment, so it just doesn't quite add up.
MS. IFILL: And, Dan, there was, of course, another report today in POLITICO, which changed – the form of it changed as the day went on. But the basic story was that he has been saying for years – and his inspirational stories – his story, right, his come from behind was that he had been offered a full scholarship to West Point. Well, it turns out West Point doesn't really offer scholarships. If you’re accepted, you’re accepted. That maybe he never even applied to West Point. This kind of scrutiny, though, is really getting under his skin.
MR. BALZ: It is getting under his skin. And he claims there’s a double standard. That’s it’s the liberal media that’s going after him because he’s conservative, and therefore he’s a threat to the liberal media. As Jeff said, this is not uncommon for any person who, A, is a frontrunner; and, B, is not particularly well-known. And so people’s life stories tend to get scrubbed. And if there are embellishments or contradictions, or anything that doesn't quite add up, or if the story is told in different ways over different times, there’s scrutiny on it. And, you know, the question, I think, for Dr. Carson at this point is how well and effectively he can rebut some of these criticisms or questions, how well he can answer them. And, you know, in the days going forward we will know the answer to that.
MS. DAVENPORT: So, are these the kinds of things that could melt down a campaign like Ben Carson's?
MR. ZELENY: I don’t think so, because he’s an unusual kind of candidate. He has so many strong supporters who got to know him through his books, through – you know, he’s been on the scene for a long time in some Evangelical households and other things. So I think they really believe his story. And I think anytime you’re saying the media is picking on me, I think that’s a pretty good response. So I would be surprised if this unravels his candidacy. But it’s so unpredictable. How he – how he acts over the next coming days, I think, is – you know, is interesting.
MS. IFILL: Go ahead.
MR. JAVERS: What do you – what do you guys make of his response so far? I mean, the first thing we saw out of the Carson campaign, we saw some tweets from some sympathetic allies during the course of the day today after that POLITICO story raising questions about whether that story was fair or not. Then we saw he got on the phone with The New York Times. And then he held a press conference late in the day, 7 p.m. Was that fast enough for a national presidential campaign? Or are they sort of undergoing this growth –
MS. IFILL: I mean, we’re talking about something that’s been going on for 24 hours, so.
MR. BALZ: Yeah, I mean, I think he’s moved pretty quickly and the campaign has moved very quickly to try to – to try to douse the flames of this. I mean, and –
MR. JAVERS: So he might have gotten ahead of the news cycle.
MR. BALZ: And there were some questions about the way the POLITICO story was originally written, which give – which gave him more ammunition to come firing back.
MS. IFILL: We got a lot else to get to. I want to talk to you about the Bushes. Jeb Bush, of course, used to be the frontrunner. He’s out there trying to get his groove back. And in the middle of this appears a book written by our pal Jon Meacham about H.W., his father, who has been saying some unkind things about people who worked for his son, which makes things a little complicated.
MR. BALZ: It’s very complicated. I mean, the Bushes are a fiercely protective family, particularly if there’s anything coming at them from the outside. And here, suddenly, George H.W. Bush, in his – you know, in his last years, wonderfully interesting biography, starts taking potshots at people in George W. Bush’s administration – particularly Donald Rumsfeld, the defense secretary, and Vice President Cheney. Cheney –
MS. IFILL: Vice President Quayle, too, I think.
MR. BALZ: And Vice President Quayle, and to some extent George W. Bush himself for kind of the tone and tenor of what happened after 9/11.
There’s an old rivalry that he has, that George H.W. Bush has, with Rumsfeld, so some of that may be playing out. He clearly did not think that Cheney served his son well. And so all of this comes out in the middle, and you saw various people either scrambling for cover or trying to figure out which side to be on in that – in that dispute.
MR. ZELENY: But the Cheney stuff was the most interesting, because he of course served as his defense secretary. And he said he changed. He said something about him changed after 9/11. Is that right?
MR. BALZ: Right, yeah.
MS. IFILL: Yeah, and Rumsfeld graciously said he’s just getting up in years.
MR. BALZ: He’s just getting up in years, yeah. (Laughter.)
MS. IFILL: And what about –
MR. BALZ: And Cheney said, no, I haven’t changed. And George H.W. Bush suggested that it was Cheney’s wife, Lynne, and daughter Liz who had gotten him pushed in the direction, and he said no it’s me. And George W. Bush then said, look, I made the decisions, I was the decision-maker.
MS. IFILL: But if Jeb weren’t running for president, how much of this would we care about? How much of this trickles down and affects him in any way, that he get sucked back into defending his family?
MR. BALZ: Well, the issue where he potentially has some trouble is that it re-raises the issue of Iraq and what happened, and he had trouble dealing with that question back in the spring. To the extent that he has to replay that, that’s not particularly helpful. But I talked to somebody yesterday who said in some ways this is kind of liberating for Jeb. I mean, he can – he can just try to move on and let the rest of the clan fight.
MR. ZELENY: Side with the father over the brother. I mean, it is helpful.
MS. IFILL: And bringing up the inside – we’re going to do a little horse race here – bringing up the inside is, assuming that the Evangelicals are going one way and that the establishment folks are going another way, are Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, both of whom are sitting U.S. senators but have fashioned themselves as kind of a hybrid – they’re raising a lot of money, getting endorsements.
MR. ZELENY: Especially Ted Cruz. He is raising – he probably is running the smartest campaign. He is very strong in Iowa, stronger than people think I believe. He is raising more money than most people expected him to. So at this moment in the campaign, we are watching him because the dynamic between them is very interesting. But, you know, the question is how many more moments we’re going to have. We have something like 85 or so days until the Iowa caucuses here. So the question for Marco Rubio is, can he face the scrutiny? He’s about to get some of the scrutiny that’s coming his way, so we’ll see if he can withstand that. But Ted Cruz is a very smart campaigner, so do not underestimate him, most Republicans I speak with tell me.
MR. BALZ: The big question mark is, you know, for those two to rise, something has to happen to both Trump and/or Carson. And so I think everybody kind of anticipates that those two could make it to the end, but we don’t know how the rest of the story plays out.
MS. IFILL: So when we see a debate stage which begins to shrink before our eyes this coming week, who do – you know, we saw a couple people who have dropped off, dropped to the undercard, dropped off the undercard. What’s this – what’s the shape of this next debate?
MR. BALZ: Well, it’s a different debate because there’s only going to be eight people in the main debate.
MS. IFILL: Only eight. (Laughs.) Only eight people.
MR. ZELENY: A small number.
MR. BALZ: The field has shrunk to eight on the main stage and four on the undercard.
I don’t know what to make of it. I think – I mean, anybody who has to sponsor a debate has a very difficult calculation as who deserves to be on that stage. It’s not the media’s role to pick winners and losers. And I’m not sure that, for Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee, both of whom are now relegated to the undercard debate, that that’s the worst thing in the world. I mean, they’ll get airtime, and if they do well they’ll get attention coming out of the debate.
MR. JAVERS: I wonder if you guys think that affects the tactics, because it seems to me that Marco Rubio has been really effective with the counterpunch, right? Jeb Bush tried to hit him in last week’s debate and Rubio came right back at him. We saw Marco Rubio counterpunching against Donald Trump as well. You know, you wonder whether or not that multi-candidate stage really gives an opportunity to somebody who just has something short and quick and pithy to say, and it changes sort of what we see from the debate.
MR. ZELENY: Sure. I mean, I think Marco Rubio has been one of the best debaters of anyone because he manages to squeeze in a lot about him during all these questions. He puts more biography in his answers than anyone else. But I think, you know, the arrow will be on him, and we’ll have to see how he withstands that scrutiny.
MS. IFILL: And does it matter – if you’re in the undercard – we only have a few seconds – whether anybody – is anybody watching those debates anymore?
MR. ZELENY: Sure. The audience has actually been pretty good, especially –
MS. IFILL: For the undercards?
MR. BALZ: Yeah.
MR. ZELENY: – especially on a Fox Business debate, they’re sponsoring it. I think it’s fine.
MS. IFILL: OK. Well, we’ll be watching, and we’ll be watching everything else that’s going on because what else do we have to do? (Laughter.)
That’s all we can fit in for now, but as always, there’s more on the Washington Week Webcast Extra. We’ll stay around the table and talk about this week’s elections and ballot initiatives in Kentucky, Ohio and Texas. We’ll post it later tonight, and you can watch it all week long at PBS.org/WashingtonWeek. Keep up with daily developments with me and Judy Woodruff over at the PBS NewsHour, and we will see you here next week on Washington Week. Good night.