Special: Bush Loyalty, New Boston Terror Threat and Lincoln the Hawk

Jun. 05, 2015 AT 4:35 p.m. EDT
Despite family ties, Republicans aren’t quick to jump on the Jeb Bush bandwagon just yet. The former Florida governor is expected to officially launch his presidential campaign this month, but several key Bush family supporters aren't sold yet. But at the White House, a new guest is already moving in, but it’s not who you would expect. A hawk has taken up residence on the White House grounds, Alexis Semindeger reports. NBC News’ Pete Williams returned from Boston this week where officials responded to a new terror attack and the police department has taken a new approach to build community relationships.

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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. IFILL: Hello, and welcome. I’m Gwen Ifill.

I’m joined around the table by Pete Williams of NBC News, Alexis Simendinger of RealClearPolitics and Peter Baker of The New York Times .

We spoke in our regular broadcast of the new 2016 candidates who are trying to claw their way up from the bottom of the polls, but what about the ones at the top? Peter wrote this week about the challenges facing Jeb Bush, surprisingly, among the people who worked for his brother and his father, and who appear to now be rethinking their options. What struck me about your piece, Peter, is you contacted, one way or the other, more than a hundred of them. And they said?

MR. BAKER: Yeah, not so fast. (Laughter.) You know, that they are proud, many of them, of their service of the Bush family in the past, but it doesn’t mean they automatically transfer their loyalty to a new Bush. You know, George W. Bush said when he first ran for office that he inherited half of his father’s friends and all of his enemies, and I think that’s what Jeb is finding right now. But of 120 that I got in touch with, only about 25 or so said yeah, I’m on board with Jeb. About 50 said they were neutral or maybe for somebody else. And the rest didn’t really get back, which, you know, they had a chance to offer their support if they wanted to for Jeb Bush. And I think it just shows that it is a different era. They are having some of the same questions that other Republicans are having, which is do we want a third Bush? Is this the best argument we can make against Hillary Clinton, assuming she’s the Democratic nominee? Is there another candidate who can carry our message forward? Is the Bush message of the past relatable to a 2016 environment?

MS. IFILL: Now, I wonder if some of this isn’t because he hasn’t formally announced yet, and therefore he’s not carrying out kind of the sharply focused campaign you would expect of a front-runner, and people are hedging their bets.

MR. BAKER: I think they are hedging their bets. And a lot of the people who used to work for George W. Bush now work for employers that wouldn’t want them to take any position, right? They’re in media punditry, maybe. They work for academic institutions or they’re working for commercial employers who don’t want to be seen as political. So that’s part of it. Part of it, too, is some of the ones most well-known, best associated with George W. Bush, recognize that supporting Jeb might be used as a weapon against him, right? A-ha, this is just another reincarnation of your brother. So some of them are holding back because they don’t want to hurt him by seeming to be, you know, a reviving of the W. 43 administration. So it’s a mix of these things. But it does show the challenge he has, which is, yeah, he’s at the top of the poll, but at 13, 14 percent. He’s not where his brother was at this point in the game 16 years ago, a much more dominant figure in that Republican primary process.

MS. IFILL: It’s interesting, every time you see a new poll about the vast Republican field, they’re all around 10 percent. There’s nobody who’s really breaking out.

MR. BAKER: Not yet.

MS. IFILL: So we’ll see how that happens.

Pete, I want to actually ask you about – you spent – you might as well move to Boston. You spent a lot of time between covering the Boston Marathon bombing trial and this week yet another suspected terrorist incident in Boston, which was very curious and very interesting. But what struck me the most was how it was handled, so that it didn’t become another case of a police-involved shooting that got out of control. Tell us a little bit about that.

MR. WILLIAMS: Well, you’re right. And the victim was a black man. He was shot in a parking lot in the Roslindale section of Boston where he lived. His name was Usaamah Rahim, the son of a – by all accounts a moderate imam who worked at a couple of mosques in Boston, now lives in California. What the FBI says is that they’d been onto him for a while, concerned about his Internet activity, and had him under 24/7 surveillance; and that, over the weekend, he met with a couple of other people and talked about attacking a woman in New York. And then, on Tuesday morning – and they’re wiretapping his phone – he called a friend at five in the morning and said, you know what, I’ve changed my mind: I’m going to start attacking police here in Massachusetts because they’re an easier target. I’m going to “go after the boys in blue” is the way he put it. So all the alarm bells went off. They basically broke cover and found him in this parking lot when he was getting ready to go get on a bus, and they just said they did not want him getting on that bus because they didn’t know what might happen. So they went up to him, five FBI guys and Boston police. They claim that what happened is that he drew the knife and they kept saying –

MS. IFILL: So we’ve saying knife, we’re talking knife.

MR. WILLIAMS: Well, he had a – yeah, it was a fairly large blade. I don’t know exactly how many inches it was, but it was not a machete. It was – it was a – you know, but a good-sized knife. And they say they said, you know, put it down, and that he said, no, you put your weapons down. And they were backing away, they say, as he came toward them. He eventually got so close they thought it was dangerous. He was shot three times and was dead by the time he got to the hospital.

But what you’re talking about is the very interesting decision that the Boston police made. They drew religious and community leaders to a meeting room – Muslims, Jews, Christians, National Urban League, NAACP – and they said, all right, here is the surveillance video that we found from a Burger King that looks at this parking lot. You know, you look at it and decide what you think. Now, many of them came out and said, we can’t really tell whether he had a knife or not. But the imam – his brother – had said they shot him in the back while he was talking to his father on the phone, and they all came out and said, well, they clearly didn’t shoot him in the back and it didn’t look like he was on the phone. But they all commended – they all said, look, we don’t know enough about what happened here in terms of the shooting, but we commend the city for being transparent and kind of tamping down kind of wild rumors from the beginning. And it’s a model they used once before in Boston with another shooting that was racially tinged. They decided to try it again, and they think this is the right way to do it.

MS. IFILL: That is so different from what we have seen in a lot of these other really controversial shootings which have spurred protests, because what you’ve seen is lots of mixed messages about what actually happened, maybe grainy video footage, and then the law enforcement goes to ground until they get an indictment or don’t get an indictment. In this case, they put it out there.

MR. WILLIAMS: And there really wasn’t any big community protest after this.

MS. IFILL: Right, as a result.

OK, I wanted to ask a silly question here of Alexis because one of the things we do in Washington is we pay a lot of attention to the environs directly around us. And one of the interesting things that’s happened – and he has his own Twitter account now, I’m told – is that there is a hawk who lives on the White House grounds.

MS. SIMENDINGER: Yeah, a red-tailed hawk. It’s not just fence-jumpers and drones that come over the fence. (Laughter.) There is a red-tailed hawk that has taken up kind of – I wouldn’t say residence, but certainly loves the feeding ground that the 18 acres of the White House complex offers.

MS. IFILL: Is he feeding on reporters or is he feeding on –

MS. SIMENDINGER: Feeding on squirrels and dare we say other kinds of vermin that live around city environments. And really smart bird experts have said that this is not uncommon, and those of you who know New York remember Pale Male.

MR. WILLIAMS: Oh yes.

MS. SIMENDINGER: Pale Male was a red-tailed hawk that was very famous, and still is, in New York City. So the environment in – at the White House is offering the food source, and lots and lots of audience spectators. And even nicer, the administration took advantage of this to give this red-tailed hawk a name thanks to a fourth-grade class in New Hampshire. You know, combining this with climate change, education, New Hampshire, you know, all of it came together and the red-tailed hawk’s name is Lincoln the hawk. And that’s a name chosen by the fourth graders in New Hampshire, and the White House has put this on the website and it’s attracted a lot of feel-good attention.

MS. IFILL: The Twitter handle is @LincolnTheHawk.

MR. WILLIAMS: Is the first lady saying he should only eat vegetables? (Laughter.)

MS. SIMENDINGER: I think that she understands the natural habitat and food choices that a red-tailed hawk has, yes. (Laughter.)

MR. BAKER: Squirrel can be very fatty. (Laughter.)

MS. SIMENDINGER: But you know, just to add, the White House has been home to foxes and historically has been home to all kinds of critters and creatures, so it’s –

MR. BAKER: Not including the elected kind.

MS. SIMENDINGER: Yes, exactly. So it is –

MS. IFILL: If you start seeing the hawk doing jumping jacks you will know Michelle Obama has gotten to him. (Laughter.) Thank you all very much.

If you’re dying for more of this – (laughter) – incredibly high-toned conversation, you can check out my take online, where I will tell you all the stuff I bet you didn’t know about the 2016 candidates. For instance, which one was a blacksmith? Anybody?

MS. SIMENDINGER: Oh, the farrier? Yes, Lincoln Chafee.

MS. IFILL: See, there’s somebody who was paying attention.

MR. BAKER: There you go. (Laughs.)

MS. IFILL: This is very good. There’s also – my other – my favorite one, I was telling you about before, is Ben Carson, the pediatric neurosurgeon, came to fame separating conjoined twins; his middle name is Solomon. (Laughter.)

And we’ll see you here next time with lots of better information on the Washington Week Webcast Extra .

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