Special: Trade Authority Deal & GOP Cattle Call in New Hampshire

Apr. 17, 2015 AT 9:22 p.m. EDT

Peter Baker of The New York Times breaks down the deal giving President Obama broader trade authority and how Congress is reacting. Plus, all eyes are on New Hampshire this weekend where many Republican presidential hopefuls are wooing the party faithful. The Washington Post’s Dan Balz describes this “cattle call” and how Jeb Bush is trying to sell himself at these forums at a conservative. And Manu Raju of POLITICO explains how Chris Christie is being received as he weighs his own White House run.

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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.

MS. BORGER: Hi. I’m Gloria Borger, sitting in for Gwen Ifill this week. Joining me around the table: Dan Balz of The Washington Post, Manu Raju of Politico and Peter Baker of The New York Times.

Continuing our theme of, guess what, renewed harmony – well, I don’t know if it’s renewed, but harmony between the White House and Congress. The president was able to cut a deal giving him some broad trade authority that he had been seeking. And, Peter, give us the skinny on that. How did he get that done?

MR. BAKER: (Laughs.) Well, it’s an interesting – this is just like the Iran deal in the sense that you have senior Democrats and Republicans both with an interest in getting something done on the Hill. And they agreed to give this what they call Trade Promotion Authority to the president. That means he can sit down with these Asian nations that he’s been negotiating a trade pact with and bring it back to Congress for an up-or-down vote without amendments, because nobody thinks that you can get a trade pact through with amendments. And so it’s a huge, big deal.

Now, the problem for the president is, his biggest critics here are not the Republicans. It’s his fellow Democrats, concerned about labor, environmental provisions. And it’s a – it’s a big issue within his own party that he – and he’s going to have to bring some Democrats over to finally get this passed. Otherwise the Republicans are going say, well, it was all your fault.

MS. BORGER: The problem is that there’s a presidential campaign going on. Hillary Clinton, you know, the presumptive nominee – I don’t know if we can say that yet, but –

MR. BALZ: Front-runner, perhaps. (Laughs, laughter.)

MS. BORGER: Front-runner, right. Hillary Clinton, front –

MR. BAKER: Potential nominee.

MS. BORGER: Hillary Clinton, front-runner. And you know, people tend to be for trade deals when they’re president, but not so much when they’re candidates, if they’re Democrats. And so is this a problem for Hillary Clinton out there, you know, as she looks at this?

MR. BALZ: Sure. It’s a – it’s a – it’s a real problem because this is a – this is a trade agreement that, as secretary of State, she was promoting as a member of the administration, and now she’s running for president in a party where the base of the party is very much against this. Her office – one of her spokesmen put out a statement on Friday, very careful, saying here’s what has to be in a good trade agreement: It has to create jobs and protect workers; it has to protect the national security. We should be prepared to walk away from a bad deal. And I asked the campaign: Where does she stand on the Trade Promotion Authority that’s going through Congress? And the response was that, well, this just got introduced and we are taking a look at it, and the real issue is the agreement itself. So she’s leaving herself room to see what comes out.

MR. RAJU: But it’s going to be so important exactly what she says because that’ll influence so many Democrats. And she may want to, you know, be cute about the Trade Promotion Authority, but that is so critical because they’re going to have to get that through in order to get the larger trade package done. And there’s no assurance that they can get Trade Promotion Authority through the House. It will probably pass the Senate, but the House is the real issue. And why? Because Democrats by and large oppose it. So this –

MS. BORGER: But you know, Chuck Schumer, who’s a very influential Democrat in the Senate, came out and said, I don’t like this, right?

MR. RAJU: Yeah. Yeah.

MS. BORGER: And that’s not going to help the president, and it’s going to make life more difficult for Hillary Clinton.

MR. RAJU: That’s right. And he wants to tie it to Chinese currency legislation to prevent China from allegedly artificially manipulating its currency. It’s a big issue for him and a lot of Democrats. It really goes to show you the Democratic leadership is split on this, as well as your presidential candidates as well.

MR. BAKER: I remember 2008, of course. President Obama was a critic of NAFTA, said he would renegotiate it if he came into office. We’re still waiting for that to happen. Secretary Clinton was also critical of NAFTA in 2008. Strangely enough, of course, that had been negotiated – or not negotiated, but passed by her husband – who fought very hard, by the way, for Trade Promotion Authority. I remember covering that.

So you know, if you say –

MR. BALZ: And for – and for NAFTA as a candidate –

MR. BAKER: And for NAFTA as a candidate.

MR. BALZ: – standing up to the unions.

MR. BAKER: Right. And brought in Republican presidents to help him pass it when he had the White House.

So you know, you’re right. I mean, there’s a difference between a campaign trail Democrat and a – and a president Democrat.

MR. RAJU: And Hillary, she’s looking over her left shoulder. Elizabeth Warren is aggressively opposed to this. So it will be interesting to see how she navigates that.

MS. BORGER: Yeah, Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Schumer, as I was saying. So –

MR. BAKER: And the president did say that this is the most progressive version of Trade Promotion Authority you’ve ever seen, trying to appeal to his fellow Democrats by saying, in fact, it already takes into account the concerns you have.

MS. BORGER: Dan, you’ve been out on the campaign trail. There is a big cattle call this weekend in New Hampshire –

MR. BAKER: You must love going up there.

MS. BORGER: – with Republicans. Talk a little bit about what they’ll be saying and why these events, what most people think is early in the campaign, are really so important.

MR. BALZ: You know, this is the third cattle call of the year. There have already been two in Iowa. This is New Hampshire’s moment.

MS. BORGER: Such an attractive term, cattle call. (Laughter.)

MR. BALZ: It is an attractive term, but I –

MR. BAKER: Imagine being one of the cows. (Laughter.)

MR. BALZ: I think – I think even the candidates embrace the concept over the name.

They’re going to be doing two things. One is literally introducing themselves. I was watching Jeb Bush talk at two different forums today, and he’s telling them his story. All of the candidates – I mean, we think that because they’ve been out there a long time, people know who they are. People don’t, even activists in these two states. So this is the first time that –

MS. BORGER: They haven’t heard of Bush? (Laughs.)

MR. BALZ: They have heard of Bush, but they haven’t heard of – they don’t know about Jeb Bush. And he got a question today from a woman who said, we don’t want a coronation in our party. I think we need a battle. And we don’t want somebody who is a Republican in name only. And Jeb Bush said, I have a very conservative record. He is trying to sell that. And so all of the candidates this weekend are trying to, you know, make that initial good impression.

MS. BORGER: And the other interesting thing is that Chris Christie is starting to campaign, and he has a plan on entitlements. He is actually running on reining in entitlements, as in Social Security and Medicare. Now, that’s something we’ve heard from Republicans in the past a lot, but not so much lately because the deficit has gone down and nobody talks – likes to talk about cutting Social Security. Is this kind of risky, do you think?

MR. BAKER: Well, look, you know, he’s not going to be able to make the sale on social issues inside the Republican primary. First of all, he’s suspect on that, his own record, as far as conservatives are concerned, and there are too many people to his right. So his shtick, his promise, his theme is I’m the guy who’s going to tell you like it is. I’m going to tell you hard truths. And the hard truth is, even with the deficit coming down, we have a problem with entitlements, and I’m going to be the guy to fix it. And there’s an appeal there because that goes to his central, you know, political identity as a – as a truth-teller, as a – as a – as a, you know, a tell-it-like-it-is guy.

You’re right, there’s not a great constituency at the moment for let’s cutting – you know, let’s cut entitlements. But that identity may help.

MR. RAJU: And it’s maybe good politics in the – in the – in the primary, but in the general election we know that doesn’t really work well for Republicans.

MS. BORGER: Well, everybody likes the idea, except when you start talking about what you have to do to cut entitlements, which is maybe raise the retirement age, which is something a lot of people have talked about in the past and I think something that Christie is considering. And on the Hill, nobody wants to talk about that stuff. (Laughs.)

MR. RAJU: Yeah, no, I mean, he – the Democrats have run against the Paul Ryan Medicare plan for three straight election cycles. Clearly, the Republicans who embrace that this time, they can expect that same narrative to play out. That’s why you’re not hearing a whole lot of this. This is why Ted Cruz is not really embracing this. He’s embracing social issues. You know, you’re not hearing a lot of Republicans talk about it. Chris Christie’s one of them. Another one who will, Lindsey Graham. He won – when he runs, assuming he runs, he wants to make this a centerpiece of his campaign, reining in entitlements and telling people what the hard truths are about Washington.

MS. BORGER: I remember when Walter Mondale tried to tell the truth and said, they’re not going to tell you they’re going to raise your taxes, but I will.

MR. RAJU: Mmm hmm. He didn’t do so well. (Laughter.)

MS. BORGER: He wasn’t President Mondale, right. Well – (laughs, laughter).

We’re going to have to wrap that up for now. And be sure to follow the reporting on all – from all of our panelists each weekday on our website, PBS.org/WashingtonWeek.

I’m Gloria Borger. Gwen Ifill will be right back here next week for another edition of the Washington Week Webcast Extra. Say that five times fast. (Laughter.) Thanks a lot.


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