Full Episode: June 24, 2011

Nov. 03, 2014 AT 4:45 p.m. EST

President Obama's announcement to begin drawing down U.S. troops from Afghanistan and what it means; the impact on class action suits because of the Supreme Court's Wal-Mart decision; and the latest on the growing GOP presidential field. Joining Gwen: Martha Raddatz, ABC News; Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times; Nia-Malika Henderson, Washington Post; and Pete Williams, NBC News.

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Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

MS. IFILL : Getting out of Afghanistan, the policy and the politics. Plus, a new face in the Republican race and the Supreme Court throws out a huge gender discrimination case, tonight on “Washington Week.”

PRES. BARACK OBAMA : America, it is time to focus on nation-building here at home.

MS. IFILL : The president lays out his plan to bring 33,000 U.S. troops home from Afghanistan by September 2012. Some worry he’s moving too fast.

ADM. MIKE MULLEN [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] : The president’s decisions are more aggressive and incur more risk than I was originally prepared to accept.

MS. IFILL : Some say too slow.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV) : Enough is enough. After 10 years, how long will it take and long should we be there?

MS. IFILL : But is this a turning point? The latest announced GOP presidential candidate says, no.

JOHN HUNTSMAN [Presidential Candidate] : It’s better than 100,000 very expensive boots on the ground.

MS. IFILL : What else do we know about John Huntsman? And the high court delivers a historic decision.

BETTY DUKES [Plaintiff Wal-Mart Case] : The Supreme Court has definitely muddied the waters for civil rights class action lawsuits.

MS. IFILL : But the outcome may be more complicated than it seems. Covering the week: Martha Raddatz of ABC News; Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times; Nia-Malika Henderson of the Washington Post; and Pete Williams of NBC News.

ANNOUNCER : Award winning reporting and analysis, covering history as it happens, live from our nation’s capital this is Washington Week with Gwen Ifill, produced in association with National Journal.

(Station announcements.)

ANNOUNCER : Once again, live from Washington, moderator Gwen Ifill.

MS. IFILL : Good evening. Nearly 10 years after the 9/11 attacks propelled America into war in Afghanistan, President Obama declared this week that it is time to leave, but not right away.

PRES. OBAMA : Our job is not finished. If you looked at the schedule that I set forth, we’re only bringing out 10,000 by the end of this year. We’re going to bring out all 33,000 that we surged by next summer. But there’s still some fighting to be done.

MS. IFILL : There was not complete agreement on the pace of the pullout or on whether Afghan security forces will be fully ready to step up to the plate by a 2014 deadline. But the president made the case that the mission at least must change. So how hard will that be, Martha?

MS. RADDATZ : Well, when I look back at what the mission is, and the president in 2009, in December 2009 after a review added those 30,000, eventually 33,000 troops in there, but he never really talked about counterinsurgency. His generals did. His commanders talked about counterinsurgency. Counterinsurgency is when you protect the population, when you look at what – jobs and everything else. It’s really nation-building.

MS. IFILL : Yes, exactly.

MS. RADDATZ : But the president really didn’t talk about that. So I have always sort of looked at this as he’s fighting one war, David Petraeus was fighting a different kind of war. And what’s happened now is the president has basically said, we’re not really doing that big counterinsurgency thing anymore because you can’t really have fewer troops and have the same strategy. So I think what they’re going more towards is a counterterrorism model – go after targets, just like they did with Osama bin Laden. So the president comes in with that happening in May and that success. So he can now say, look, we’ve targeted a lot of al Qaeda leaders. We’re going to do this a little bit differently. Now, the White House will say, oh, no, no, no, we’re not really doing anything differently. But you have to if you have fewer troops.

MS. IFILL : Doyle, how did the – trace for us how the administration got to this point. The timing seems interesting.

MR. MCMANUS : Well, the timing in a sense technically was brought about by the calendar the president set up when he announced this surge back in 2009. If you remember back then, he said to General Petraeus and General McChrystal, who was then running the war, okay. You can have the troops you want, not all the troops you want but you can have 30,000. It became 33,000, but he said, I’m going to put a time limit on it. It’s going to be a surge. We’re going to know when it ends and we will start drawing down in July 2011. So in the narrow sense, why now? Why now is because this is the calendar he set.

The kind of broader piece of that and it connects exactly with what Martha was saying though is, and why didn’t he give them a waiver from the calendar, because they were basically saying, okay. We’ve had these successes. Can we have a few extra months?

MS. RADDATZ : And not only that. They didn’t get all of the troops in there until last September.

MR. MCMANUS : That’s right.

MS. RADDATZ : So they may say this is 18 months but it isn’t really 18 months.

MR. MCMANUS : Right. And there was a palpable desire, a yearning on the part of the president and his staff to draw that line, to make sure, number one, one of the themes you’ve heard from him in this announcement was, promise made, promise kept. I said we would start to drawdown in July 2011 – we’re starting to draw down. But there was also a fear of getting nibbled to death, of having the generals come in and ask for a little more time and a few more troops and permission to take some of these units from the south and move them to the east, and before you’d know it, we’d have another year or two added to the calendar. So there really was a barely pent up urge for some time to make sure that there was a cap put on this thing and that’s really what happened this week.

MR. WILLIAMS : Well, in terms of what’s there now, how much of a drawdown – how much will this drawdown make a difference?

MS. RADDATZ : I think it’s – it’s a substantial drawdown. It’s 33,000 troops out of about 100,000 U.S. troops there now. You heard General Petraeus and Admiral Mullen say they didn’t want the pace to be so quick, which I actually found quite interesting. I don’t remember that from the first time around having the commanders come out and say, we disagreed with the president. It’s almost as if the White House is saying, yes, please say you disagree with us.

MS. IFILL : So that the president looks tougher, is that the reason?

MS. RADDATZ : Looks tougher. He comes in there as a commander-in-chief. I mean, you’ve read about the last time that he felt a little bit put in a box by the commanders. And he was a new commander-in-chief. He isn’t anymore. And he’s had success and he sort of has his national security juice now and he’s using it to do this. So I think the numbers really are – the president’s saying exactly that. You know, let’s also remember the civilian – its civilian control of the military and he is asserting that in a big way.

MR. MCMANUS : And I asked that question about – at the White House several times this week – are you a little uncomfortable with this clear distance between the president and General Petraeus, the most famous general in America? And they said, no. That’s fine. That’s fine. He’s the commander in the field. It’s fine with us. I mean, that was in a sense choreographed and the White House was perfectly happy, as Martha said.

MS. RADDATZ : Perfectly happy to explain that to us that it was the White House telling us that.

MS. HENDERSON : Looking forward a bit to 2012, what does this mean, the political calculus going into that? We’ll see a large number of troops being drawn out in that summer right before the election?

MR. MCMANUS : Oh, yes. Absolutely. Well, you know, formally –

MS. IFILL : Speaking of timing.

MR. MCMANUS : Speaking of timing. And formally, of course, everyone at the White House is saying, there were no political considerations involved. Well, no one in the White House is unaware that 2012 is out there. What this does is it changes the narrative that Barack Obama had for this war absolutely dramatically. And one of the phrases being used at the White House this week was this should be seen by the American people as a pivot point. Up until now we were building up. We were doing more. Now the narrative is, we’re succeeding. We’re winning. We’ve got these very narrow goals – as Martha said not big counterinsurgency goals, but narrow counterterrorism goals. And we’re drawing down – the phrase the president used was the tide has turned, what was it?

MS. RADDATZ : Yes. Yes.

MR. MCMANUS : He even said –

MS. RADDATZ : You started it. You’re going to have to finish it. (Laughter.) The tide of war is turning.

MR. MCMANUS : I’ve got it here somewhere. The tide of war is receding. So from now we’re getting out of the wars. He even used a phrase about being able to see a light out there. It wasn’t at the end of a tunnel but if you look closely, you could see the tunnel.

MS. IFILL : Martha, you have been there many times. You were in Afghanistan as recently as a month ago and you know that getting out isn’t just simply packing your duffle bag and leaving. It takes time. It takes a tremendous amount of effort. How long realistically –

MS. RADDATZ : Well, that’s a really good point, Gwen, because they say they’re going to have all the surge forces out by the end of September. They’re now saying it’s probably the end of next September. But realistically they’re going to have to start drawing down all through next year. It’s not like you will have those 23,000 additional troops through next year. You have to pack things up. You have to put them in plastic. I remember going to Iraq and it was the most amazing logistics thing I’ve ever seen. Afghanistan is so much harder because of the mountains. You can’t go on any roads in and out there. They’re impassible. So this will be a phenomenal feat trying to get all the equipment out there for just even the 33,000 troops, let alone trying to draw down steadily after that. They’ll be spending a lot of time drawing down instead of fighting wars.

MR. WILLIAMS : Speaking of pivot points, the White House has also talked about the fact that Osama bin Laden was killed and that’s another reason. Did the two really have anything to do with each other?

MR. MCMANUS : Yes. In the sense that it made it a lot easier for the president and his aides to say, we’re succeeding. It would have been harder –

MR. WILLIAMS : Well, politically it makes it easier. But militarily or strategically, it is –

MR. MCMANUS : I think they would have ended up pretty much in the same – I think they –

MS. RADDATZ : I think it does.

MR. MCMANUS : – probably would have ended up pretty much in the same point. But it also made it easier for what I think – I think Martha agrees – is just as important as the numbers we’re talking about, which is the fact that the mission has now been not radically redefined but it’s sort of been made brutally explicit that this is really just about al Qaeda, building an Afghan army.

MS. RADDATZ : It’s not about the Taliban. But right now they are fighting the Taliban. That’s really who they’ve been fighting.

MS. IFILL : And negotiating with the Taliban, so they say.

MS. RADDATZ : And that is the next step. What is what he talked about a lot in that speech too – that now they’re going to try to talk to the Taliban even more. I’ve seen no real hard evidence that any of that is working yet. Some of the reintegration, they call it, from the lower level Taliban hasn’t gone very far either in some of the most volatile areas.

MS. IFILL : But Secretary Gates on the “NewsHour” yesterday was very optimistic about this.

MS. RADDATZ : They’re staying very optimistic about it. We’ll just have to wait and see how much that works. And part of that is what they also say is if you don’t keep the pressure on the Taliban, they don’t really need to negotiate. So at a time when we’re pulling back, it may be a little harder to negotiate.

MR. MCMANUS : And that is a concern and certainly a concern from the counterinsurgency folks. But there are still going to be 68,000 American troops in Afghanistan. And hitting the Taliban hasn’t really been the labor intensive part of this. That’s been done by Special Operations forces. You don’t need 100,000 to do that. So the argument from the administration is they can continue hitting the Taliban through two full fighting seasons.

MS. RADDATZ : They’ve made a lot of gains in the south, but look at the south. The south’s about 2.5 million people. The east, where I’ve spent a lot of time on the border with Pakistan, it really is the scariest thing here because you don’t want people going back and forth across those borders, 30 million people up there. So I think it’s a much, much bigger task in the east spread out. Again, it’s not Iraq. This is rural. It’s a very different kind of fight.

MS. IFILL : I just want to ask one more question before we go about Hamid Karzai: is he ready to take over? This whole thing is predicated on the notion that the Afghan troops will stand up when we stand down.

MR. MCMANUS : This isn’t about Hamid Karzai. If anything, this is about Hamid Karzai’s successor who gets elected in 2014, which is the other big election year here, and it’s about the Afghan army, which is the institution that’s going to take over.

MS. IFILL : And the answer is?

MS. RADDATZ : No clear contenders there either. And on the Afghan national security forces, I’ve seen a big change there and I actually think they are significantly improved, but they’ve got a long way to go.

MS. IFILL : Okay. Thank you. Well, every Republican running for office is trying to sell him or herself as the best alternative to President Obama. Add to that list this week a candidate who until recently actually worked for President Obama.

MR. HUNTSMAN : For the first time in history we are passing down to the next generation a country that is less powerful, less compassionate, less competitive and less confident than the one we got. This, ladies and gentlemen, is totally unacceptable and it is totally un-American.

MS. IFILL : That was John Huntsman, who is attempting to stake out new ground, not least of which on Afghanistan, as we’ve been talking about. What’s he doing with that, Nia?

MS. HENDERSON : On Afghanistan he is in many ways to the left of President Obama, calling for a drawdown that’s much faster, on a smaller footprint there. He has tossed out numbers of 15,000 troops and is really focused on this whole idea of having a counterterrorism effort rather than a counterinsurgency. And he’s also linking this effort to budget and spending in the way that Obama did in 2008 when he was running and running against the Iraq war and fiscalizing that. That’s essentially what he’s doing there. And on his right he’s got Romney. He’s got Pawlenty, who are very much calling for a presence there and criticizing Obama for setting these timelines.

MS. IFILL : Is this a real split among Republicans about what to do in Afghanistan?

MS. HENDERSON : There is a split with these GOP candidates with, again, Huntsman on the left. And I think there are these internal deliberations going on, not only with the GOP candidates but also just within the party more generally – a shift from what is really the Republican orthodoxy, the real hawkish orthodoxy. And we’re seeing a shift I think now around Afghanistan and Libya.

MR. WILLIAMS : But I thought the conventional wisdom is that to win the Republican primary you have to be a conservative. So what’s on the wall that shows his path to victory?

MS. HENDERSON : Well, I think he already is looking towards the general election. And Democrats are nervous about him being able to appeal to moderates, to independents, and to women. His path, he really is wanting to skip Iowa. His aides say he’ll skip Iowa which is very conservative, lots of Evangelicals there. And he really wants to focus on New Hampshire. He thinks the Republicans, Democrats and independents can vote in that primary. He feels like he can come in strong in New Hampshire, play well in South Carolina. And he’s also betting big on Florida. He’s got a campaign office there and he’s thinking that that’s where it’s going to be determined.

MS. IFILL : And that’s where his wife is from, right?

MS. HENDERSON : Exactly, Orlando.

MS. RADDATZ : He’s the second Mormon in the race. How does that play or is that even an issue anymore?

MS. HENDERSON : Yes. It’s funny. In some ways, you imagine maybe two Mormons in a race has this kind of mainstreaming effect with Mormons. Polls show that I think it’s something like one in five people say that they would not vote for a Mormon. And this is a statistic that’s unchanged since 1967, which is when –

MS. RADDATZ : What does he do about that? What do both of them do about that?

MS. HENDERSON : Well, I think – so of course we saw Romney in 2007 give his JFK speech and really address his faith. He was pretty much panned for that. When he gave that it was in the run-up to Iowa. He was creamed in Iowa, of course. And I think what they’re doing so far is not really talking about it. Huntsman has been asked about it. He doesn’t really talk about it. He has, for instance, said he has a Mormon background, not necessarily a Mormon faith. That has angered some Mormons, especially in Utah. But so far, I think two or three years ago we were asking whether or not the country was ready for a black president. Of course –

MS. IFILL : So who knows?

MS. HENDERSON : Yes. Who knows?

MR. MCMANUS : Nia, you used the word “left.” He’s clearly left in relationship to the rest of the field. How conservative, how moderate is John Huntsman and how does this shake up the rest of it? With Huntsman to his left, does this make the world safe for Mitt Romney? (Laughter.)

MS. HENDERSON : Well, that’s the thing. You know, they are running in the same lane in some ways but, of course, John Huntsman fancies himself as being the guy on the dirt bike, you know, going through the desert.

MS. IFILL : We should explain. That was a very interesting video that he released over days of a guy on a dirt bike riding nowhere apparently and they said, here he comes. And then at the end it wasn’t even Huntsman on the dirt bike.

MS. HENDERSON : It wasn’t even him. Yes.

MS. IFILL : Motor cross.

MS. HENDERSON : Yes. Motor cross.

MS. RADDATZ : I am not Mitt Romney. Yes.

MS. HENDERSON : His campaign fancies him as the cooler version of Mitt Romney. And so that’s, you know, you see him on his dirt bike there and he likes motorcycles and he likes to eat fast food and he’s supposed to be a real hip dude.

MS. IFILL : It is tough to be cooler than Mitt Romney. (Laughter.) So looking at this field right now, the way it’s shaping up, who are the Democrats worried about?

MS. HENDERSON : I think the Democrats are obviously worried about Huntsman. They are still in the middle of doing opposition research on this guy because he’s new to the field. And I think they are more worried about Romney than they say they are because he’s a strong frontrunner at this point. He’s been able to raise a lot of money. He raised $10 million last month in a single day. And so we’re going to see some number from his campaign and how much he’s been able to raise over the next couple of days.

MR. WILLIAMS : So what does he do about all the TV commercials that say, he’s Obama’s guy? He was Obama’s guy.

MS. IFILL : Like a minute ago.

MS. HENDERSON : Right. Just a minute ago. The thing that he’s doing with the China relationship is essentially saying, you know, my president called me to serve and I served. I was serving my country. I wasn’t serving the president.

MS. RADDATZ : I was an ambassador.

MS. HENDERSON : I was an ambassador. And, you know, I speak Mandarin. I speak another Chinese dialect. And it seemed to be – in New Hampshire it seems to be playing well for him. But, again, I think the president is very much going to hug him to death with that relationship.

MS. IFILL : He’s already started. This is becoming a running joke. Nia, welcome to Washington Week.

MS. HENDERSON : It’s good to be here.

MS. IFILL : Thanks. Finally tonight, the Supreme Court, days away from the end of its session shut down the largest class action suit in history against the nation’s biggest private employer. And does that mean the class action suits are over or that Wal-Mart, which of course is the nation’s biggest private employer, is not guilty of the discrimination it was accused of. Pete.

MR. WILLIAMS : No to both because this lawsuit was not about whether Wal-Mart actually discriminated. It was whether this case could go to trial. And what the Supreme Court said is – I think both sides would agree – that class action lawsuits like this will be harder to bring, although the two sides will differ on whether that’s such a good thing or not. What the Supreme Court said is that it wasn’t the size of this class action that doomed it – 1.5 million women – every woman who’s ever worked at Wal-Mart since 1998 basically, what the majority said is that they could not all trace their claim of discrimination to some common factor. They couldn’t say there was a single Wal-Mart policy that caused them to be discriminated against in pay and promotions.

Now, what the women said is, oh, yes, there is. Wal-Mart delegates all these decisions to local managers and that allows, they said, a culture of gender bias to creep in. And they cited 120 specific cases of discrimination. They had surveys that said this could be a problem for Wal-Mart, but the Supreme Court says that’s basically not good enough. So what this ruling means is that anybody who wants to use this kind of approach, a few specifics, some surveys, take them and make a big general case will find that much harder to bring. But other kinds of class actions are probably still okay.

MS. IFILL : Women’s groups and civil rights group had high hopes for this case. Theoretically I assume they were pretty much depressed by the outcome. Why do they do with that?

MR. WILLIAMS : Well, as for the individual women who were suing Wal-Mart, they basically have a couple of choices. Many of them will pursue their own lawsuits against Wal-Mart. Some of them will still band together in class actions. You could easily do a class action, for example, all the women who had worked at some single store where you had some single manager that was making the decisions. Or maybe you could even group them together, stores in a small geographic area. So there can still be class actions. But this big, 1.5 million class action is clearly dead.

MR. MCMANUS : So does that mean that this wasn’t broadly applicable or it was? I mean, was this case an outrider among class action suits and are there still lots of class actions that will be able to chug forward the way they always did?

MR. WILLIAMS : Well, the kind of class action lawsuits that are clearly undisturbed by these decisions is where you have a defective laptop battery that scalds people or you have a lawnmower that some part goes flinging off. Everybody has a common claim there and that’s easy to make. Or a drug is improperly labeled or a company has a bad policy. Those lawsuits can go forward. But there was a sort of growing trend to use these cases where you have surveys and a small number of anecdotes that you spin into a large number of a class and those are going to be much harder to bring now. You’ve got to have something more specific. You’ve got to show a cause and effect.

MS. RADDATZ : Pete, one of the things I read from Marcia Greenberger from the National Women’s Law Center was that because you have majority male justices she said they just don’t understand the implications in a case like that. Is that fair criticism?

MR. WILLIAMS : Well, if you look at the vote, it was five to four. All the women were certainly in the minority here. But I don’t know it’s the women-men because if you look at two of the three women – Ruth Bader-Ginsburg’s been there since the Clinton administration, but if you look at the two most recent women arrivals on the court – Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor – the two justices they replaced, John Paul Stevens and David Souter, I’m sure would have been in the minority too. So I don’t think the fact that they’re women made a difference.

MS. IFILL : In fact, five-four decisions, the women are almost ways voting together in these five-four decisions at the court.

MR. WILLIAMS : A lot of the decisions this year have once again broken down on those ideological lines. And the women are in what we call the more liberal wing of the Supreme Court.

MS. IFILL : Right.

MS. HENDERSON : What are the other cases left on the docket this year for the Supreme Court?

MR. WILLIAMS : Well, there are four left. Monday will be the last day. We know that now.

MS. IFILL : Pete started his countdown. (Laughter.)

MR. WILLIAMS : A little digital clock is running. I think the two most interesting that are left are, first of all, for the purposes of this program, a political funding case from Arizona. And this is a case that said, if you’re a publicly funded candidate, you don’t take any private contributions. You take the state’s money. You get a certain amount of dough. And then if your privately funded opponent spends more than that, then the state bumps you up to try to match that. And the allegation is, by people who oppose that, that that violates their free expression. What they claim is, well, we sort of keep our spending down because we don’t want to trigger that bump up for our opponents and that limits our advertising, which, of course, the court has equated with speech.

The second case that I think will be closely watched is a case from California where the state has banned the sale of violent video games to minors. And this really calls upon the Supreme Court to decide whether or not to carve out another exception and say, okay, we’ve already said that you can’t sell sexually explicit material to minors. Now are we going to say you can’t sell violent material to minors? And by the way, how do you define violence? It’s easy to define sexually explicit materials. They just show certain things. But how do you define violence? A much more difficult thing so that will be closely watched as well.

MS. IFILL : One final question on the Wal-Mart case. Wal-Mart argued that they actually have improved their behavior over the years when it comes to promotion for women.


MS. IFILL : Is that so? And something – isn’t the bringing of these cases enough to change behavior and improve it?

MR. WILLIAMS : I don’t think it’s any question that it’s made a huge different here in Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart admits that itself and that’s one of the things that the women who brought this lawsuit say they should get in their credit is that they did force Wal-Mart to make changes. And, of course, you have to think about why you file class actions in the first place. These women were going for back pay, very small amount, hard to get a lawyer to take a case for that kind of money.

MS. IFILL : Okay. Well, thank you, Pete. And thanks, everybody else. We’re done here for right now but the conversation will continue online on the “Washington Week Webcast Extra,” for more on Libya, politics, and the debt ceiling dance. Oh, yes. You thought we forgot about that. For daily developments on these stories and more all week, be sure to tune in to the PBS NewsHour on air and Washington Week online. You can find us all at pbs.org. Hope you have a lovely summer weekend. Good night.


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