Special: North Korean Sanctions, Freshmen Members of Congress to Watch, and Remembering Mario Cuomo

Jan. 02, 2015 AT 9:22 p.m. EST

On the Webcast Extra, will newly announced sanctions on North Korea deter change the behavior of Kim Jong Un's regime or just send a message? Domestically, 34 years after the assassination attempt on President Reagan, shooter John Hinckley will not face charges for the murder of Press Secretary Jim Brady. The Atlantic's Molly Ball reports on the most influential conservative in America -- not an elected official, but the leader of a conservative blog with grassroots tea party influence. As Congress returns next week, who are the freshmen members to watch? From a black female Republican to the lone Democrat elected to the Senate, Ed O'Keefe shares who he'll be following. And our panelists remember former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo who died this week at age 82.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is the WASHINGTON WEEK Webcast Extra.
I’m joined around the table by Molly Ball of "The Atlantic", Joanne Biskupic of "Reuters", Ed O’Keefe of "The Washington Post", and Alexis Simendinger of "Real Clear Politics".
A few weeks ago, the president promised the administration would retaliate against North Korea for what he said was evidence they’d hacked to the computers of the Sony Corporation. Today, that shoe dropped, with the Department of Treasury announcing new sanctions against the isolated nation.
What would those sanctions accomplished, Alexis?
ALEXIS SIMENDINGER, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: The administration was clear in saying that these sanctions were in response to the Sony Picture Entertainment hacking, but that sanctions were lobbing against entities and individuals who are not responsible directly for the hacking.
IFILL: What does that mean?
SIMENDINGER: So, what that means is that administration is using this as a tool, even understanding that they’re very few holdings in the United States to actually freeze or to sanction, but to set an example, and to indicate abroad, to allies abroad, if you’re doing business with these three entities, which are the Korean intelligence arms, its arms sales arm, and its munitions and materiel company, as well as 10 individuals who are doing Korean business all around in some of the countries that we look askance at, Iran, Russia, China. That if they’re doing any business through the financial system, that voluntarily, the administration wants the final system to crack down on this, and the administration was saying, this is the beginning, not -- it’s not complete.
IFILL: Are these the kind of sanctions -- it’s never complete. Are these the kind of sanctions that change behavior?
SIMENDINGER: Well, the --
IFILL: Or just send a message?
SIMENDINGER: Well, they actually talk, here’s a term, like a shot across the bow, right? It’s supposed to send a message that this crossed a line. They start talking about the a threshold, that this was coercive and intrusive to a U.S. company, that this is an effort to try to say that this went beyond something that the United States could ignore and that there would be more going forward.
But in the end in North Korea, you know, there’s no real evidence that we can actually, you know, put a tourniquet on anything materially that Kim Jong-un is going to response to right away. And I would add, one of the questions is, how will North Korea respond to these sanctions? In other words, there’s an expectation of a retaliation back.
IFILL: OK. Joan, I want to talk to you a little about two legal issues. One is one that we heard about today, which is that kind of interesting. John Hinckley will not be charged with the murder of Jim Brady, the White House press secretary who died recently, after years of suffering from the fallout, the after-effects, the ailments from the shooting of President Reagan and himself in 1991.
IFILL: ’81. Thank you, thank you.
So, what does it mean that they’re going to charge him?
BISKUPIC: Well, essentially, they gave two reasons, two important reasons. One is, remember, he had tried to assassinate President Reagan and three others were injured in those, including Jim Brady. The fact -- and he was found not guilty by reason of insanity. And the prosecutor said, look, we already have that, he can’t suddenly be found guilty of anything by -- he still, we still have the insanity finding by the jury, so that’s one problem.
The second problem is, at the time this occurred in March 1981, the District of Columbia had a law that said that you could not be charged with homicide for the death of someone a year and a day after the actual incident. So, we’re talking, you know, since 1981 to, I think Jim Brady died on August 4th of this --
IFILL: So, there was never really a chance at this --
BISKUPIC: No. It really -- I mean, once the autopsy came back and the medical examiner that his death can be attributed to that injury, you know, both to the brain and it caused all sorts of problem that ended up resulting in occurrences of pneumonia and all that, just a lot of problems with him.
So, the medical examiner said, yes, that his death just in August, was the result of that bullet injury. So, the prosecutor said that, but then they said, you know, practically speaking and as a matter of policy, and as a matter of can we actually get a conviction here, it would be highly unlikely.
IFILL: I want to ask you about the court.
IFILL: We talked a little bit during the program what to expect in this situation. But I’m also curious about if there’s some sleeper cases, or at least a sleeper case that we should be keeping our eye on as well?
BISKUPIC: Well, I want to mention one that’s going to be heard on January 21st and it comes from Texas and it involves the breadth of fair housing law and what it takes to bring an anti-discrimination claim.
And what people should know about this case is that twice before, in the last two and a half years, several groups have tried to keep this kind of case away from the justices. The justices have actually taken up cases the breadth of fair housing law, twice before, and civil rights groups intervened to get the case settled, so that Roberts court which tends to be much more conservative than its predecessors, wouldn’t be deciding it.
And the question is, can you bring a claim for discrimination under fair housing law based on statistics and pattern and practices but not showing intentional discrimination? In this case, it involves Texas officials who give tax credits for certain public housing, and the developers ended up building mostly in poor minority neighborhoods.
And a community group, you know, challenge this and said, you know, based on this patter on where the housing is going up, where these tax credits are going, where the developers are using these credits, this is discriminatory and tried to file under fair housing law. And lower courts have said that that’s possible. But this Supreme Court has been one that’s wanted to say, look, if you can’t show intentional discrimination, that a policy actually is targeting individuals, especially, then probably not.
So, watch that on January 21st.
IFILL: January 21st.
IFILL: We’ll be watching.
OK. Molly, you wrote an interesting piece in "The Atlantic" this month about Erick Erickson. Now, who people may not have ever heard of, but you described him as the most influential conservative voice. And how is that? How do you draw that?
Now, I know who he is. I know what he’s done and what he said. But you went down and kind of hang out with him in his house.
MOLLY BALL, THE ATLANTIC: Yes. So, for Erick Erickson, for those who don’t know who he is, is the editor-in-chief of RedState.com, which is one of the most influential conservative blogs. It has a smaller readership than some of the places like, you know, "Newsmax" or "The Daily Caller". But a lot of people read it who are intensely interested in politics, Hill staffers, political consultants, Tea Party movers and shakers.
And so, I make the case that he’s the most powerful conservative in America, distinguishing the conservative movement from the Republican Party. He’s certainly not the most Republican, but the Republican Party, chairman Reince Priebus told me he consults Erickson regularly in order to keep in touch with that grassroots base.
So --
IFILL: He was the architect of the government shutdown in many ways?
BALL: Exactly. You think of someone like Ted Cruz who’s been the ring leader of these Tea Party causes in the Congress. Erickson is very close to Ted Cruz and his radio show and his blog and his voice on Twitter are often egging Ted Cruz on or giving him ideas.
Someone like Jim DeMint, the former senator who’s also been a conservative ring leader who’s now at the Heritage Foundation, he’s someone that Erickson is very close to.
And so, he’s got all these tendrils in the conservative movement that has made its mission. And this has been I think one of the bigger themes of American politics over the last several years, this conflict between the Tea Party, the grassroots base, and the sort of Republican establishment, and Erick has been in the middle of all that.
IFILL: And he had a big voice this week when he came out and said that he thought that Steve Scalise could not possibly not known that he was speaking to David Duke organization down in Louisiana.
BALL: Yes, very well-time for my profile.
IFILL: Yes, I thought so. I read it more closely as a result.
BALL: The part of why Erick was interesting to me is he is someone who has a lot of contradictions, right? He’s someone who seems to speak for that sort of Bubba base of the GOP, the white man from the South, right?
But he mostly grew up in Dubai. He’s a lawyer by training, he lives in Macon, Georgia, he prides himself very much in the sort of outside the Beltway perspective, but he also served a term on the city counsel of Macon, Georgia, where he was this paragon of bipartisan compromise and helped everybody get along in the city.
So, he’s a really interesting figure. I think a lot more complex than a lot of liberals might give him credit for and someone who I think provides a lot of insight into what that grassroots of the party is thinking.
IFILL: You should worry if anybody who looks like a cookie cutter, they usually aren’t. Not if they have really impact.
BALL: Exactly.
IFILL: Ed O’Keefe, we’re counting on you tell us who these new folks who are coming to town joining Congress and who we should be watching. Start with the Senate.
O’KEEFE: There’s 14 new members of the House Republican, 11 new Republican senators this year. Among them, Joni Ernst, who becomes the first woman elected statewide in Iowa, a military veteran, and will be a 2016 powerbroker, like no other, given that the Hawkeye State plays such a central role to what’s going on there.
Another one to watch Cory Gardner, former member of the House from Colorado. A lot of people see him as a kind of model spokesman of the new generation of Republican legislators. He won, he orchestrated quite a takeover of that campaign for himself, defeating Mark Udall, and is a kind of a Republican the Democrats admit that they really like, sort of mainstream.
Another one to watch, Gary Peters is the only Democrat who won a Senate seat this year. He will --
IFILL: He’s the unicorn.
O’KEEFE: He is the unicorn. He will wallow alone in the minority for quite some time -- we’ll see; but also former member of the House.
A lot of experience spread across both of chambers, whether you were a state legislator, or a member of the House who’s now in the Senate. If you look at the House, a lot of history happening this time.
Elise Stefanik, who comes from New York country, just a little north from where I am from, 30 years old, becomes the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.
Mia Love, the first black Republican woman to serve Congress. She’s coming from Utah.
IFILL: Announced today that she’s joining the Black Congressional Caucus, which I must say that people which I must say that many black Republicans have not done in the past.
O’KEEFE: Exactly. So, to her credit.
Debbie Dingell, first woman to succeed her husband through an election, a critical distinction because many, of course, have succeeded their late husbands in the past.
And another guy to watch, Will Hurd. He’s in his 30s, first black Texas Republican. He takes over a huge district that stretches from San Antonio to El Paso, black, also a former CIA operative, speaks about three languages.
IFILL: How can all of those things exist in one person?
O’KEEFE: He’s an interesting guy and he’s from one of those swing districts. So, he’s got to be very careful about how Republican he becomes or how willing he is to perhaps moderate his position or will he leave in the Republican Caucus.
IFILL: Just want to round this up by talking a little bit about Mario Cuomo. He was -- when I said he was larger than life, I wasn’t overstating it, for a change. He was quite the amazing person.
But I was also taken the things he did not do. All of us who cover politics remarked by the day, we can remember where we were on the day that the plane was idling on the tarmac and he didn’t get on it because he wasn’t ready to run for president, and wasn’t ready to take off for New Hampshire, and he didn’t go.
And when you look back on it, you think of a missed opportunities for his ability to run for president, and also a missed opportunity, Joan, to be on the Supreme Court.
BISKUPIC: In 1993, Bill Clinton had him as his first choice to become the successor to Byron White, when Byron White announced his retirement, he -- his people went to him, George Stephanopoulos said, you know, we’re going to offer you this and he hemmed and hawed, he said, yes, no --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: George would work for him.
BISKUPIC: Yes, yes. So, he was really interested in it, and it was very frustrating with President Clinton, because he’s like, I’m not going to beg him to do this. And in the end, Mario Cuomo said, no, I don’t want the cloistered life of the Supreme Court, and instead, Bill Clinton ended up choosing Ruth Bader Ginsburg who is a year older and still around.
IFILL: You know, you guys, is it possible at all that Mario Cuomo actually left a mark on the party? I mean, he was unabashed, unrepentant liberal, in the party that as we saw with Bill Clinton’s election, was going the other way. Did he get go out of style?
BALL: I think he went out of style for a while. But I think it’s been amazing to watch in the resemblance -- remembrances of Cuomo how much they resonate right now with the Democratic Party that’s in the wilderness, that doesn’t feel like it knows how to win anymore, and it’s really torn between these competing visions with a lot of Democrats wanting to go the way of an Elizabeth Warren, of someone who is speaking much more for that muscular kind of liberalism that Mario Cuomo represented and that ironically his son doesn’t represent at all.
And, you know, now, we have, you know, Hillary Clinton also the model of the Bill Clinton, new Democrat that Mario Cuomo was so set against, looking to be the next standard bearer for the party and a lot of Democrats really torn still between those two voices in the party, in which way they’re going to go.
IFILL: Well, for a man who would coin the phrase, you know, that you do politics with poetry and govern in prose, he died poetically on the day that his son was sworn in to this second term in office.
O’KEEFE: Thirty-two years to the day that he had been sworn in as governor.
IFILL: It’s remarkable. It’s remarkable. But he certainly -- he left a mark in many, many weeks. He will be a person we’ll be a comparing a lot of people to in the future.
Thank you all very much. And thank you all for watching. While you’re online, dive into the WASHINGTON WEEK Vault to hear what we had to say in 1992, Gloria Borger, that’s who it was, when a number of women in Congress cracks 50 for the first time.
And we’ll see you next time on the WASHINGTON WEEK Webcast Extra.


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