Special: Renewed Relations with Cuba and Immigration & 2016

Jan. 16, 2015 AT 9:11 p.m. EST

On the Webcast Extra, NPR’s Tom Gjelten details what the new Cuba regulations mean for the individual traveler. Robert Costa of The Washington Post explains how the GOP is using immigration as a strategy for 2016 and what to watch with potential Democratic candidates. Joan Biskupic of Reuters delves deeper into the Supreme Court and same-sex marriage -- focusing on one family at the heart of the Supreme Court's case.

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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.
We had so much to talk about on the regular broadcast that we just had to stick around a little longer.
Joining me: Joan Biskupic of "Reuters", Robert Costa of "The Washington Post", Michael Duffy of "Time Magazine", and Tom Gjelten of NPR.
Tom, one of the big pieces of news that got overlooked this week is that we are finally truly opening the doors of Cuba again and this was took effect -- literally today, Friday.
TOM GJELTEN, NPR: Right, went into effect, new regulations took effect today, Gwen. You know, what’s -- it’s a historic move, but mostly from a symbolic point of view. And a lot of people are very anxious to know what it means for their own possibility of traveling to Cuba.
As an individual, very little. There are two reasons -- one, you already could go. As along as your way --
GJELTEN: As long as your way to go is part of a group escorted by a guide with an itinerary all set up in advance, you could go. Guess what? That’s still the case. You still have to go with the group.
The difference is that it’s going to be much easier for the group to get permission to go. It can basically just sort of go on its own under a general itinerary (ph). So, that means more groups will be going. But the individual travel experience won’t be that different. That’s one thing to keep in mind.
The other thing to keep in mind which is really important, this is not just one government here. We’ve got two governments. And so, it’s not just a question on what the United States allows, it’s a question of what Cuba wants to happen. And we don’t have visa free travel yet. So, Cuba could still really limit U.S. travel regardless of what the Obama administration has done.
IFILL: How about U.S. commerce? Isn’t that really what this is opening the door to in so many ways, the ability to actually increase trade and make some money?
GJELTEN: Right. Yes, but there still is an embargo. You know, the Cubans have to pay cash in advance and that really limits. They don’t have a lot of cash to begin with. That limits the amount of trade.
So -- and the other thing is, that Cuba is not a great place to do business. I mean, you know, contract sanctity is very important to businesses, the idea of an independent judiciary. You don’t want to be dealing with arbitrary government bureaucrats that can just change the rules on you overnight.
So, you know, it’s going to be a while before we see thriving U.S.-Cuba trade.
IFILL: OK. Let’s talk about a little domestic politics.
Let’s go back to Capitol Hill, Robert, and talk about what the Republicans are planning to do. They’ve got a lot up their sleeves about how they’re going to come and take over the majority. And the first thing out of the box, maybe not the first but almost, is immigration strategy.
ROBERT COSTA, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right, because they did fund most of the government last year, but they neglected to fund DHS funding for this immigration enforcement. They only did it until February.
And so, one of the big challenge is that all this 2016 activity happens is, can Republicans come together and have a strategy to get that funding extended so the government doesn’t shut down?
IFILL: Well, not only the 2016 strategy, but in the midst of global terror, how do you not fund the Department of Homeland Security?
COSTA: There’s going to be an urgency. I think McConnell and Boehner both want it to happen. They don’t want to have any kind of standoff. But you saw 25 people who voted against Speaker Boehner in the speaker election. There’s still an element in the House that has a lot of influence that’s going to push for a real showdown.
IFILL: OK. So, assume that there’s a shutdown, but they can’t pass because leaders of the Congress don’t want to shoot themselves on the foot on this issue. What’s next?
COSTA: Well, what’s next, you’re going to see a lot of small ball things. You’re going to see Republicans try to do things on energy, do things on health care that a little bit more piecemeal, like the medical device tax, maybe cut some new trade deals with the administration.
But in terms of a grand fiscal deal or anything else that really seems farther on the horizon, I think there’s an appetite with Boehner to get something perhaps later in the year. But right now, it’s really just about incremental change.
IFILL: Lots of shoes dropping and lots of incremental change from the White House as well.
But let’s a little bit about -- we talk during the regular program about what the Republicans were doing, getting ready in 2016. But there are Democrats out there, too, and there are some who are not named Hillary Clinton.
IFILL: Are there any of them getting themselves ready for this, too?
DUFFY: Well, you know, there’s a play within the play on the Democratic Party all the time. And if Hillary is the main actor, then you have to say, well, who else is even going to exert any kind of influence? And the absolute "it" girl, I should say that, person to watch at the moment is Elizabeth Warren. She is exerting a kind of gravitational lunar pull on Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the left and it’s worth watching.
And this was a great week to watch it because simply through kind of, you know, putting her foot down, she got the Obama administration to drop a nominee to the treasury secretary who she felt was too close to Wall Street.
Now, the little secret is, she probably couldn’t have done it without Republicans standing by, weighing to vote against anything that Obama had proposed. But it’s another sign that Elizabeth Warren by kind of talking almost every day about some aspect of the Obama and Clinton administration’s handling of economic policy over the last 20 years is reminding particularly Democratic voters that there are other ways to go than to have, you know, Wall Street executives be your treasury secretary and your Fed chair.
IFILL: Now, she has said that she is not running for president.
DUFFY: Right.
IFILL: More times probably than Mitt Romney has said, which is saying something.
GJELTEN: That’s 11.
IFILL: That’s 11 times.
But it seems that it’s not a matter of running for president in order to still have this effect to --
DUFFY: No, in fact, she’s being quite -- the initial pull is quite powerful by not running. And, you know, it’s interesting, the -- for example, their cromnibus, as they say, passed in December, the Clinton campaign, though it’s not a campaign, made it very clear that they have voted against the two because Elizabeth Warren had made such a stink about what a crummy bill it was, particularly with respect to consumer rights and financial consumer advocacy.
So, they feel her power and the fact that she has a built-in audience now. And you can look at some of the focus groups that news organizations have done in the last couple of weeks, and you can see that it’s not just liberal Democrats who are interested in Elizabeth Warren, though she is a liberal Democrat. Independents like what she has to say and even some Republicans know that her aspects of, you know, the business community, and --
IFILL: Even if you’re not running against her, you want her voters.
DUFFY: Right.
IFILL: Joan, I want to talk a little bit more about the gay marriage case at the court today. Most importantly and interestingly, to me is that there are individuals at the heart of this debate and who actually are the ones who brought these cases and even meet at least one of the couples, haven’t you.
JOAN BISKUPIC, REUTERS: I have. You know, there were scores of cases percolating up from the states and I happen to, last year, I have gone to Tennessee to meet this one couple who was challenging in Tennessee a law that would not recognize their out of state marriage.
They had been married in New York, two women, moved to Tennessee for jobs, and one of them was pregnant through artificial insemination and they wanted to have their marriage recognized from medical reasons and just to say that both of them are the parents of this child. And so, they sued and I happen to go down there just because, I thought, you know, that would make for an interesting story.
And I turned out that they go a lower court to say that they were married to allow it under the Tennessee law, just in time for the birth of this baby. So, they hand this birth certificate, but then what happened is, just like in several other cases in this regional sixth circuit, it’s now before the Supreme Court, this court of appeal said it doesn’t matter what this district court has said, we’re reversing and we’re saying that the states are allowed to have these bans, both outright bans on gay marriage, but also laws that say, we’re not going to recognize marriages from other states.
IFILL: Wow, that’s so interesting.
IFILL: So, they’re exactly, you could actually trace their life experience and they’re all the way up to the Supreme Court and find out --
BISKUPIC: Yes. In fact, it’s funny, you know, we all -- you know, it’s just so many cases out there and I just thought, this was an interesting one to go.
IFILL: That this should be one to percolate --
BISKUPIC: Yes. So, the one thing that made me wary when I went there, that I thought it wouldn’t end up being part of this landmark dispute that we’ve got up here, is that they were just challenging the recognition part. But it turned out the justices said, we’re going to both parts. We’re going to take the question of an outright ban and also the recognition.
Now, other parts -- Michigan, for example, has outright ban and that’s going to be before the justices and Kentucky has both. That will be before the justices.
But in Tennessee, it’s just recognition. So, these two women, that little baby - let’s see, that baby was born in spring of 2014.
IFILL: Right.
BISKUPIC: So, she’ll be a year old when justices rule one way or another.
IFILL: Because this is going to be heard in April an probably decided in June.
BISKUPIC: Yes, exactly right.
IFILL: OK. Well, thank you all very much. So interesting. So much to talk about this week.
For more of the inside skinny on the Supreme Court, stay online and check out the back story. A feature on our Web site which this week features Joan talking about the exclusive fraternity of lawyers who get to argue before the court.
And we’ll see you next time on the WASHINGTON WEEK Webcast Extra.


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