Web Video: Analyzing the impasse over Homeland Security, politics at the Oscars

Feb. 24, 2015 AT 11:23 a.m. EST

Gwen Ifill speaks with Nia-Malika Henderson of The Washington Post and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report about Republican motives in the fight over funding the Department of Homeland Security, who to be on the lookout for at two upcoming conservative conferences, plus the politics behind the 2015 Academy Awards.

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

GWEN IFILL: The week to come is already chock full of politics, with the promise of a presidential veto, new tests for presidential candidates, and a standoff over the Department of Homeland Security.

President Obama weighed into that last fight today, as he met with governors at the White House.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Unless Congress acts, one week from now, more than 100,000 DHS Employees, Border Patrol, port inspectors, TSA agents, will show up to work without getting paid.

Now, they all work in your states. These are folks who, if they don’t have a paycheck, are not going to be able to spend that money in your states. It will have a direct impact on your economy and it will have a direct impact on America’s national security because their hard work helps to keep us safe.

GWEN IFILL: But the politics didn’t stop at the Potomac’s edge, as we will see in our weekly chat with Nia-Malika Henderson of “The Washington Post” and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report.

Nia, let’s start with what the president was just talking about, this standoff which we have seen this before. We have seen this movie before.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, The Washington Post: Yes, we have.

GWEN IFILL: Over the Department of Homeland Security — the White House seems to be and the department seems to be pushing back.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: Yes, they’re pushing back. President Obama is pushing back. Democrats are very much united.

We saw just now that for the fourth time they have filibustered the bill because they don’t want to see this funding stripped out.

GWEN IFILL: In the Senate, yes.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: In the Senate, that just happened.

And you also have Republicans already starting to break ranks and saying maybe this isn’t such a good idea, that this is the way we stand up and sort of speak out against the immigration. This is what it’s about. It’s about Obama’s executive order on immigration reform. And is this the right way that we send a protest or should we wait and see what happens with the Supreme Court and this Texas decision around immigration executive order as well?


AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report: And that’s what is so fascinating about watching this.

Once again, it’s the split within the Republican Party, not just in terms of ideology, but in terms of the House and the Senate. And we always have to remember that in the Senate, they’re looking at 2016, where the map is very different than the map looks like for the House.

In the Senate, there are a lot of blue state Republicans that are up, including Mark Kirk from Illinois, who is one of the people who are starting to break ranks, Rob Portman from Ohio, you have Marco Rubio from Florida, a lot of places where they know they will have a tough fight in November. They don’t want to give their opponents any ammunition to make the case that they were part of a government shutdown.

House Republicans don’t have as much to worry about. They are in much safer districts and they don’t think about what is going to in November.

GWEN IFILL: The White House is writing on the wall as broadly as they can that the president plans later this week to veto the bill that the Congress has passed, both houses have passed, trying to force him to move ahead on the Keystone pipeline. Is that part of the new aggressiveness, second term new aggressiveness as well?


I think you could open up — this seems to be an opening up of the veto era of this president.

GWEN IFILL: Which never began, I don’t think.




NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: And what you have seen from this president, I think, over the last many months is this very aggressive president, and you have seen his poll numbers go up as a result in some ways. And Democrats like this fighting version of Obama.

The thing is, he’s got the numbers on his side with this Keystone pipeline. It doesn’t look like the Senate can actually override a veto. They’d need I think five others to override the veto.

GWEN IFILL: But aren’t there Democrats who also want him to sign the Keystone pipeline?

AMY WALTER : There are. There are some that want to do it.

But, remember, Republicans got their Senate majority in part by defeating a lot of those Democrats who wanted to see the Keystone pipeline, including Mary Landrieu, who was the chair of the Energy Committee, from Louisiana.

Democrats know that it doesn’t do them much good to fight up with the president on this issue. And, quite frankly, I think for a lot of voters who are already seeing lower gas prices today, there’s not an immediate benefit.

GWEN IFILL: So, there’s no demand. That’s what is simmering.

Let’s go to what is bubbling on the other side of the aisle, and that’s the 2016 candidates. This week, the Republicans are going to meet, two different cattle calls, as we call them, groups, the Conservative Political Action Committee and the Club for Growth, which is kind of the business-oriented conservative group, and try to make their case.

What are you watching for there?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: I am watching for Jeb Bush at CPAC.

And this will be really the first time he is going to be talking to actual voters. This time, you could either do a speech or you could do a Q&A. And he has decided to do a Q&A. All of those issues that are his Achilles’ heels, really, Common Core, immigration reform, even in some ways his foreign policy, this is going to be up for debate. And we haven’t yet heard how he is going to handle that in terms of this very conservative…

AMY WALTER : Being directly…

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: Directly confronted in that way, rather than just getting up and giving a speech.

This is a crowd that had liked Mitt Romney for a couple — when they do the straw poll, Mitt Romney has won a few. Rand Paul, I think, won last year. It’s not a Bush crowd at all. So, we will have to see how he does.


But Club for Growth is a different — is a whole different group. Who are these people in either of these groups? Are they representative of anything?

AMY WALTER : That’s right.

Well, these are representative two branches, you could say, of the Republican Party, both on the conservative end. For CPAC, these are more social conservatives. And Club for Growth is more fiscal conservatives. Now, Club for Growth was known from the beginning of taking out the establishment, people they thought weren’t strong enough on fiscal issues.

Either they had voted for too much government spending or they weren’t strong enough on tax cuts. That’s — you’re right — more of the community you would think that Jeb Bush would do well in.


AMY WALTER : But they also supported people like Marco Rubio very early on, when he was running against the establishment.

GWEN IFILL: She’s watching for Jeb Bush. Who are you watching for?

AMY WALTER : Jeb is certainly the person to watch for, but Rand Paul, too.

Since 2007, two people, the same two names, actually, have won the straw poll at CPAC. This is where all the people who attend vote to say who they would like to see as president, some guy named Mitt Romney and then somebody with the last name Paul, either Ron Paul or Rand Paul.

This is the kind of group that they love the libertarian, outside-the-box kind of candidate. And that’s supposed to be Rand Paul’s strength is his ability to organize. Does he still have that sort of spark that he once had?

GWEN IFILL: And between those two groups and just in general in 2016, aren’t we at this stage watching just to see who can stay on their feet, who’s lightest on their feet, no matter what questions are thrown at them?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: Scott Walker, right? That certainly comes to mind, because he’s had a difficult week. And we will see what he does. He will be down at the Club for Growth.

And he’s in this situation where he’s sort of playing cutesy with the press, not quite wanting to answer questions about the president’s faith, about the president’s patriotism. So it is a test to see how you do.

GWEN IFILL: It should be said that he was at the White House today.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: Yes, he was at the White House.

GWEN IFILL: And so was Bobby Jindal.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: Bobby Jindal, who came out…Yes, that’s right, and came really strong, Bobby Jindal did, against the president, I think at some point called him — said that he had disqualified himself from being commander in chief.

These are folks who really have some tough rhetoric against this president and are trying to make their identity around that.

GWEN IFILL: OK, let’s talk about the Oscars. Why not?

Because I’m very curious, watching them last night. It wasn’t just that there was an occasional bit of politics. It was a lot of politics. We have seen it before when Marlon Brando came out on stage with Sacheen Littlefeather and she accepted an award for him and then didn’t accept it. And it was a speech about Native American rights. This is eons ago.

But it’s not the first time. But it was very interesting the issues which came up. Pay equity came up. Civil rights came up. Immigrant rights came up. And we kept seeing it and it unfolded. Why did we see this last night? Was it because of the nature of the films or the nature of Hollywood?

AMY WALTER : Maybe there a little bit of both, but I felt like at times I was sitting not necessarily just watching an award show, but watching the Democratic National Convention.

I mean, this was, like, going through every one of their planks. It did fulfill a stereotype that many people have about Hollywood, which is they just fall on the liberal end of the spectrum on all of these issues. It’s also interesting to note, as The Wall Street Journal did a Facebook — they looked through Facebook and noticed that when you look at the people that were clicking on or talking about stories that they were following on movies, in red counties, it overwhelmingly was “American Sniper” and in blue counties overwhelmingly “Birdman.”

This also was done on “Meet the Press” the other day. Just goes to show, even in our movies, we’re polarized.

GWEN IFILL: … polarized.


And I think a lot of people in red state America are upset that “American Sniper” didn’t win. “Birdman,” of course, did. I think seeing that last night, I think if you are Hillary Clinton, you had to be glad, right, that you saw Meryl Streep, for instance, cheering on — she was cheering on Patricia Arquette, preach, sister, preach. It was kind of a moment like that.

GWEN IFILL: When she talked about unequal pay for women.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: Equal pay, equal pay, right.

GWEN IFILL: Even in Hollywood, it turns out.


And I do think Hollywood and sort of culture in general does often operate as a kind of cheering section and a sixth man in a campaign. You saw that I think very much in the Democratic primary, where Obama had culture and cultural figures on his side, in a way that Hillary didn’t.

GWEN IFILL: Well, in that case, were they cheering on Edward Snowden by giving “Citizenfour” the best documentary award?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: I think yes. And we talked about this before.

He is a bit of a folk hero. And this is a movie that criticizes, I think, the Obama administration, as well as the Bush administration. And you saw him there really being celebrated and that movie being celebrated.

GWEN IFILL: Well, that’s go ahead.

AMY WALTER : Of course, ironic coming at a time when you had hacking of Sony, right, and a lot of the issues about pay equity, even in Hollywood…

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON: And diversity, right? That’s the other thing. It was one of the widest Oscars we have seen in some time.

AMY WALTER : And diversity, yes.

GWEN IFILL: But lots of attention, however, paid to black presenters. And we saw the song “Glory” won and very strong statements made by the songwriters.

So this was — this may have not — apparently got record low viewing, but it was interesting politically.


GWEN IFILL: We watched. And that’s what counts.

AMY WALTER , Nia-Malika Henderson, good to see you again. See you next Monday.


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