Full Episode: House Votes Down Trade, More Troops to Iraq, Shaping Obama's Legacy and 2016 Frontrunners

Jun. 12, 2015 AT 9:10 p.m. EDT
House Democrats led by Nancy Pelosi voted down President Obama's fast-track trade authority Friday. POLITICO's Manu Raju explains the showdown and the possible resolution next week. Also this week, President Obama announced that 450 more troops would be headed back to Iraq to advise and train the Iraqi military. The Daily Beast's Nancy Youssef explains the administration's strategy and the Congressional concern of "mission creep." How do these and other upcoming decisions on health care play into Obama's legacy as he enters the final quarter of his presidency? The Washington Post's Juliet Eilperin reports. And on the 2016 presidential trail, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush are both holding major events to introduce themselves to voters this weekend. TIME's Michael Scherer explains how the presumed frontrunners are learning from early stumbles.

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

JOHN HARWOOD: House Democrats reject the president’s trade agenda, more U.S. troops are heading to Iraq, and how did the Clinton and Bush presidential campaigns get so battered, even before they formally launched? I’m John Harwood in for Gwen Ifill, tonight on Washington Week .

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From video.) Hello, everybody.

MR. HARWOOD: Despite the president’s 11 th hour appeal to House Democrats, his trade agenda suffers a defeat.

HOUSE MINORITY LEADER NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): (From video.) Sadly, I would vote against the TAA.

MR. HARWOOD: Can the White House save one of the administration’s top priorities?

More American troops prepare to deploy to Iraq, but is an expanded training mission what’s needed to defeat ISIS?

HOUSE SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH): (From video.) It’s a step in the right direction, but as the president admitted the other day he has no strategy to win.

REPRESENTATIVE CHARLES RANGEL (D-NY): (From video.) This is exactly how Vietnam started. And if you don’t think you’re putting them in harm’s way, then you’re not living in the real world.

MR. HARWOOD: And as the president’s second term winds down, we look at how war, nuclear talks, and the Supreme Court’s upcoming decision on health care may shape the Obama legacy, plus the political dynasties known as Clinton and Bush.

Covering the week, Manu Raju, senior congressional correspondent for Politico ; Nancy Youssef, senior national security correspondent for The Daily Beast; Juliet Eilperin, White House bureau chief for The Washington Post ; and Michael Scherer, Washington bureau chief for Time magazine.

ANNOUNCER: Award-winning reporting and analysis. Covering history as it happens. Live from our nation’s capital, this is Washington Week with Gwen Ifill . Once again, live from Washington, sitting in for Gwen Ifill this week, John Harwood of CNBC and The New York Times .

MR. HARWOOD: Good evening. House Democrats handed President Obama a stunning defeat on Friday, voting to block his landmark trade agenda. The day began with the president going to Capitol Hill to meet with Democrats to push for support, but in the end Mr. Obama couldn’t even convince his long-time ally Nancy Pelosi. The House is moving to vote to reconsider the defeated Trade Adjustment Assistance measure next week, but let’s start by looking at what happened today, Manu.

MANU RAJU: It was really a remarkable rebuke for the president, who – this has been the most aggressive lobbying push the administration has mounted since the health care law passed in 2010.

MR. HARWOOD: It didn’t feel to you like the victory that Josh Earnest said it was?

MR. RAJU: (Laughs.) It is a procedural snafu, is what the White House called it. Essentially what happened was that the House – the Senate passed this bill last month. It includes – it’s a fast-track trade bill that would lead to the enactment of the sweeping Trans-Pacific Partnership. But what the Senate did was they added what’s known as Trade Adjustment Assistance, what’s meant to help displaced workers from globalization. This is a big Democratic priority, but Republicans don’t like this at all.

So what the House Republicans decided to do is that they decided to split up the TAA, the Trade Adjustment Assistance, with the TPA, the Trade Promotion Authority, in order to give their guys enough cover to vote for each. But what they did not calculate, and what the White House did not expect, was to see Democrats vote en masse, revolt against the TAA because they needed to carry that in order for this to land on the president’s desk.

What they decided to do in a shrewd bit of calculus was to block the TAA from passing, in essence prevent the TPA from landing on the president's desk and stymieing his agenda. It was really a remarkable day and it leaves a question about what next.

MR. HARWOOD: Well, they’re talking about having another vote on TAA next week. Is it conceivable that they could turn that vote around, given there were more than 300 votes against it today?

MR. RAJU: It's going to be really hard because the numbers – they’re going to have to probably turn around about 100 – more than 115, 120 House Democrats to vote for it. Right now, House Republicans are saying they're not going to change any of the policy measures. They are trying to – hope a couple days will force the Democrats to change, give the White House more time to lobby some of these Democrats, maybe they'll feel more pressure and say we want this Trade Adjustment Assistance to pass because the Trade Promotion Authority, maybe that can pass, stand alone. That's going to be very difficult, but that's where we are right now.

JULIET EILPERIN: And, Manu, I’m curious, you know, President Obama, he took some members over to Europe on Air Force One, he showed up at their baseball game – first president since Nixon – he went up there. What does it say about his relationship with members of his own party that he got this rebuke?

MR. RAJU: It's really amazing because, you know, you hear this all the time, that the president has not spent a lot of time, you know, elbow rubbing, glad-handing members, trying to develop those relationships that are very important. And, you know, he hasn't shown much interest in doing that through his time in office, and he's been knocked in doing so.

It was – I think what was remarkable today was that when he went into the House Democratic Caucus to sell his agenda, he didn't take any questions. He spoke for 45 minutes. He didn't want to get into a debate. He didn’t want to get into an exchange with them. And some of them actually kind of took it personally. And he seemed to be questioning their motives. He said: Play it straight. Vote for the TAA. If you want to vote against the TPA, then vote for the TPA. But they said, you know what? You don’t need to question my motives. I think there's just not a lot of love lost.

MR. SCHERER: Does House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi have an end game here? She said she was voting to delay and to continue the discussion not to end the discussion on trade here.

MR. RAJU: She was really stunning to watch through this whole process because she didn't say how she was going to vote until just before the vote. And it wasn't clear what she actually wanted. And of course, she voted against – she urged her caucus to vote against the TAA. And what she said afterwards, which was also surprising, she said: We should move on a highway bill first.

Now, Congress has not been able to deal with a highway bill for years, and they are billions and billions of dollars apart – the parties are – in figuring out how to fund infrastructure programs. So she said, let's move on that. And that could – highway bill – and then maybe we can get the trade bill through. And that just seems something that will not happen. So it's not entirely clear what will convince her eventually to come along.

NANCY YOUSSEF: Well, I'd be remiss to not mention 2016, since this is hovering over this city. Where are the presidential candidates on this, specifically Hillary Clinton? Did we hear from her about this issue?

MR. RAJU: No, not on the Trade Promotion Authority which, of course, this essentially – the authority would give Congress the ability to vote up or down on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. She has – you know, as secretary of State she praised and supported the TPP . But she – as a presidential candidate, she’s kind of walked that back. And on the Trade Promotion Authority, she has not said how she would vote.

MR. HARWOOD: But that’s interesting, Manu, because she is for Trade Adjustment Assistance. So it would seem that she might have an opportunity to make her influence felt, if she chooses.

MR. RAJU: If she so chose. And her decision not to say anything really sparked a lot of dissension from the left, particularly the people like Bernie Sanders, who’s running against her, and said she needs to come out and say where she stands on this important issue.

MR. HARWOOD: Well, a few more days for elbow rubbing. We’ll see whether they can get the job done this time. Thanks, Manu.

The Obama administration announced this week it’s sending 450 additional troops to Iraq in the fight against ISIS. The U.S. forces will be advising and assisting the battered Iraqi army and working on a strategic plan to retake Ramadi from Islamic militants. But there’s skepticism from Republicans and Democrats that this non-combat training mission is too little too late. Nancy, is this a shift in strategy or a continuation of the same one?

NANCY YOUSSEF: Well, it’s an acknowledgement that the current strategy has not brought in enough Sunnis into the Iraqi government, that not enough are coming forward and saying that they want to be a part of the Iraqi government, that – or the Iraqi military, that they want to train with the U.S. trainers, that they want to fight ISIS under a majority-Shia government and its army.

And so this is a concession to that point, that there needs be an additional push by the United States, that these troops will essentially be a conduit between the majority-Shia Iraqi government and their Sunni residents. So it gives you a sense of how precarious the situation is between the Iraqi government and some of its own people.

MR. HARWOOD: Is there a reason to think that this – these additional trainers can solve the problem that Ash Carter identified a few weeks ago when he said the fundamental thing was that the Iraqi army didn't have the will to fight?

MS. YOUSSEF: Well, the problem is that a lot of – the expectations is that if you have Sunnis on the ground that they will fight for their territory in a way that Shia, who are mostly from the south, are not willing to do. The problem becomes you have Sunnis who have been unwilling to train at the other base in Anbar province, which is where they're from, and Al Asad, because – one of the reasons they've given is we don't want to travel that far. Well, if they don’t want to travel –

MR. HARWOOD: So that's how this could make a difference.

MS. YOUSSEF: Right. But the counter argument is if they're not willing to travel, what makes you think then they would be willing to fight against a ferocious enemy like the Islamic State?

MR. SCHERER: Is this a – is this a(n) iterative strategy? I feel like every few months we get another announcement of a few more troops. And is it clear whether this is a strategy to win, or just to hold ground right now?

MS. YOUSSEF: Those are two great questions. So I would argue that this is a tactical tweak, that there’s not a major change in strategy, that the hope is to have Iraqis on the ground that fight the Islamic State while the United States provides air support. What we've seen throughout is constant adjustments because, as the president suggested in his comments on Monday, the Islamic State has been nimble and, arguably more nimble than the coalition. And so these are small measures to try to adjust to that in such a way without putting U.S. troops back into harm's way.

MR. RAJU: Would there be an opportunity for – do you think this will actually turn into combat troops – U.S. combat troops? Or will they just stay out of combat because of the concerns that the administration has raised?

MS. YOUSSEF: Well, the base that they're going to in Al Taqaddum is between Ramadi and Fallujah, which, as we all know at this table, are two very dangerous cities. That said, they’re tasked with recruiting Sunnis without leaving the base, that the idea is that Sunnis will go out and bring in potential candidates such that these troops will not be put in harm’s way.

But it's hard to argue that they're not in harm's way, given where they are, given the escalation of violence there, and that in other bases in the area ISIS forces have launched rockets at those bases. So it's not combat in the way that we saw in the Iraq War, but it is a risk that they're being put under. But it's clear that there's an effort to minimize that risk.

JULIET EILPERIN: And, Nancy, how do you think we can judge the success or failure of this strategy? We can obviously look to Ramadi and Mosul and so forth, but how do you think we can evaluate whether this new change is going to make a difference?

MS. YOUSSEF: Well, the key measure will be, are Sunnis willing to join the Iraqi army? Do they have enough confidence in the Iraqi government that the Iraqi government will look out for their interests? Are they willing to trust the Americans, particularly after they had seen in the Sunni Awakening of 2006 and ’7 that while the Americans were there they eventually left, and a lot of those people were assassinated afterwards? Are they willing to fight against alongside Shia and Kurdish soldiers under the Iraqi flag or will they continue to resist? So that will be the sort of key measure, can the U.S. indeed be a bridge between these warring sects?

MR. HARWOOD: Nancy, is there any relevance to the administration’s options or it’s – the strategy it’s pursuing right now to the fact that Congress has not passed the new authorization of military force that's been discussed for some time? A lot of – some members of the Hill want that to happen. Josh Earnest this week said Congress is ducking that responsibility. Does that matter, or are they doing all the same things they would do even if they got a new authorization?

MS. YOUSSEF: Well, the reality is that it’s always been under the – every iteration of increased troops has been under the same legal framework, and this is no different. The big difference here is rather than just having the soldiers training, we're now going to ask U.S. soldiers to be advisers as well. So that would be the biggest change, rather than the legal ramifications under which they go to Iraq.

MR. HARWOOD: One closing question: The Charlie Rangel sound that we played earlier, where he said, this is how we got into Vietnam, is that a relevant analogy? Do you think, and do you think many members of Congress actually think that there's a real danger of that?

MS. YOUSSEF: Well, remember that in Vietnam it started as an advise and assist mission, and a training mission as well, that these were slow mission creeps, that this was adjustment, if you will, to the enemy on the ground rather than a long-term broad strategy. And so there is validity in the argument, but the difference is that you have an American public and an administration that is adamant about taking the least amount of risk possible to try to answer the ISIS threat.

MR. HARWOOD: Which was not true at the time of Vietnam.

MS. YOUSSEF: Exactly.

MR. HARWOOD: Thanks, Nancy.

MS. YOUSSEF: Thank you.

MR. HARWOOD: With just 18 months remaining in President Obama’s term, the White House knows that now is the time to focus on his legacy and the administration’s top legislative accomplishments. The trade deal was supposed to be one of those achievements. We’ll see where that lands, but there's also the nuclear talks with Iran and the Supreme Court's review of key sections of the Affordable Care Act.

Now, Juliet, you’re at the White House every day. This is not just about the president’s legacy. It’s also about sustaining some kind of momentum for the last quarter of the president's term, as he puts it.

MS. EILPERIN: Absolutely. Until, for example, what happened today, I think the White House could argue quite effectively that they have driven the agenda to some extent on the national stage, and that when people thought that the midterm elections were going to sap them of energy it in fact did energize them and make them feel like they could dominate what we’d be talking about and what lawmakers would be doing. And so they feel like it's very important to have a few wins right now this summer, while people are still paying attention to the White House.

MR. HARWOOD: Do you personally feel as if that element – potential element of his legacy is dead, or do you think it’s still got a shot?

MS. EILPERIN: In terms of trade?


MS. EILPERIN: I think it’s still has a shot. I mean, we’ll see. I mean, there is significant support for it. And I think that’s one of the reasons. And again, they are deeply invested in it. And equally importantly, the Republicans are. So that's why it's too early to count it out.

MR. RAJU: One of the things, of course, is health care, the Supreme Court case that’s coming down on King versus Burwell, that could eventually eliminate millions of subsidies for people who’ve enrolled in these federal exchanges. The White House keeps saying that they don't have a plan B if they lose this case. Do you think that – do they actually have a plan B? Is there a secret plan B? Or do they just – are they just hoping that that will scare the justices into ruling their way?

MS. EILPERIN: I really – I don't think that they have a secret plan B, or certainly I've been trying to find one and haven’t gotten it yet, so. (Laughter.) So I’d like to think that I’m not inadequate, so.

MR. SCHERER: Report harder.

MS. EILPERIN: Exactly, clearly I need to work harder.

But I would say that – I mean, there are – there are legitimate questions that really Congress has the power of the purse and you’ve got to find this money somehow. And so really there are actual limits to their executive authority, even though Republicans could ask whether there actually are those limits, given what Obama has done. And so between that and the fact that, frankly, Republicans say that they are behind the scenes drafting plans of what could be done but are not very explicit of what that would look like, there are some real questions of what would happen should the Supreme Court strike down the law.

MR. HARWOOD: How confident is the administration right now that these Iran talks can actually amount to something this summer?

MS. EILPERIN: While they’re still optimistic, they do not think it's a slam dunk, by any means. And I think that's really significant, that this is such an important issue, and yet they're going to try as hard as they can but they would acknowledge that there are limits to how much they can control really what’s happening in Iran, and to what extent they can live up to the deal.

MS. YOUSSEF: Juliet, I know that we talk a lot about the Obama legacy. Do they talk about it a lot? And if so, in what terms?

MS. EILPERIN: They don't talk about it explicitly most of the time, although in private to some of their closest allies they do. And so you – it’s clear. And in certain moment you can see that it’s something that they think about and they really do feel an urgency that in these coming months, this is their moment to solidify some of the things that they worked so hard to achieve in the early part of the – his tenure.

MR. HARWOOD: So is there anything else – at some points in the second term there's been talk about tax reform, business tax reform if not individual tax reform. Is that still alive in any fashion, or is really the trade legislation and getting approval of the Iran deal all they've got?

MS. EILPERIN: That and some of the things that they're going to work on without Congress, such as they're going to press ahead on climate change, the talks at the end of the year are something that the president has focused on, as well as his allies. So they have other things. But in terms of engaging with Congress, unless Nancy Pelosi can make that highway bill somehow materialize – (laughter) – there's very little that they're looking to do with lawmakers at this point.

MR. HARWOOD: Well, if in fact the Supreme Court goes against the president, and that's the biggest single domestic element of his legacy, is there hope that they can salvage a solution, whether it's from governors of states that haven't set up their exchanges or whether it's through embarrassing or pressuring Republicans to pass a fix to the law? What do they – what do they think of about?

MS. EILPERIN: I think they would work on both levels. And they think that there is some reason that Republicans don't want to see this entire thing collapse. That’s something that, again, then their presidential candidate would have to own going into 2016. And Democrats think that that really could bolster whether it’s Hillary Clinton or another nominee. So there’s no question that they’re going to work both for practical reasons and political reasons to make sure there’s – that they can salvage it to some extent.

MR. HARWOOD: Well, it’s also the case, isn’t it, that the outcome of the 2016 campaign itself is going to be very important to the president's legacy. So that's something that doesn’t involve getting votes from Congress, but it involves the success of the Democratic nominee, who presumably would protect the main elements of the president’s –

MS. EILPERIN: Absolutely. And so I should say that that is part of the legacy that they are also worried about. That they know when you have every single Republican candidate talking about reversing some of their signature laws and executive orders, that they know in order to truly be more transformational the president would have to be succeeded by a member of his own party.

MR. HARWOOD: Thanks, Juliet.

Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush may not agree on much, but these two White House hopefuls have a lot in common when it comes to presidential politics. Their families are political dynasties. Each has worldwide name recognition. And they have lots of money – lots of money – (chuckles) – and powerful political connections. Their pre-campaigns have also suffered some bumps and bruises, even though they’ve long been considered the front-runners in the race.

Now, let’s start with the former secretary of State, who delivers the kickoff speech of her second presidential campaign on Saturday. Michael, what is she trying to do with this speech? And how does this campaign – is it likely to differ from her 2008 campaign?

MR. SCHERER: It’ll be the biggest launch since the last time she launched, a month ago. (Laughter.) It’s her official launch. It’s going to be – this is the beginning of the big crowd section of her campaign. And what she’s trying to do is reintroduce herself to the American people and I think answer a lot of the questions that have been raised over the last several months, which have hurt her in the polls, about her trustworthiness, about the financial issues with her foundation, about her honesty when it comes to, you know, following government rules on email records.

I think what you’re going to see is a pretty personal speech. You’ve seen the beginnings of that rollout already. And I think she’s going to try and do what she failed to do in the 2008 race, which was really connect with her supporters. In 2008, I think her advisers were part of the problem. There were other problems as well, but she was never really able to show even the people who supported her who she really was. And I think the team around her, which includes a lot of former Obama advisers, are going to try and make that happen.

MR. HARWOOD: All right. Now, Jeb Bush returns from his three-nation tour of Europe to formally announce his campaign in Miami on Monday. While he was overseas, he was asked about his recent slip in the polls.

FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR JEB BUSH (R): (From video.) Polls are – you know, it’s fun to see them when you’re winning, not so fun when you’re not. It doesn’t really matter, though. It’s June, for crying out loud. So we got a long way to go.

MR. HARWOOD: For crying out loud, Michael, is he right?

MR. SCHERER: He also said I’m not paying attention to the polls. Any politician who tells you they’re not paying attention to the polls is losing.

MR. RAJU: And lying. And they’re lying. (Laughter.)

MR. SCHERER: And they’re lying. Because every politician is paying attention to the poll, and you only say that when the polls are looking bad.

Bush’s situation is he wants to be Hillary Clinton. I mean, he wanted to have that sort of coronation. He thought the name would help. He’s clearly a very successful public servant. He came into the race grabbing a lot of the money, pushing Mitt Romney and Chris Christie onto the edges. It seemed for a while that he could really claim that, and then he started to dip in the polls. And I think he underestimated, his team underestimated, the degree to which there’s real skepticism and animus towards the Bush name within the Republican Party. It’s different from the Clinton problem, which is that independents and Republicans don’t like Clinton but Democrats generally like her. When George W. Bush left the White House, he had really burned the bridges with his own party. And his brother now is facing that problem and trying to figure out how to deal it.

MR. HARWOOD: Do you think it correct to still call him the front-runner in this race?

MR. SCHERER: I think we’re going to have a report about money in the next several weeks, and he will almost certainly have more money, although maybe not the 100 million (dollars) that was at one point expected. But in terms of polling, no, he’s not the front-runner anymore. He doesn’t have a lead. He’s basically tied nationally and in most states with Marco Rubio and Scott Walker. And he’s really facing a challenge that, you know, Hillary Clinton will also face in a general election, which is this is – elections are always about the future. We’re in the middle of a country that’s still not very happy with the present, is not really happy with the current political situation, and he’s running with a name of the past in a Republican Party that doesn’t really like that past. And he’s facing, in the case of Rubio and Walker, two fresh names, two younger politicians, two people who are going to get their chance to introduce them. And then there’s, you know, 15 other candidates who are jockeying for position as well.

MR. RAJU: How do you expect Jeb to distinguish himself from W.?

MR. SCHERER: You know, it’s interesting, it’s been his biggest challenge. He seemed to think earlier this year that the way he did it was to just say I love my family, I love my brother, I love my dad, I’m never going to say anything bad about them, and let’s move on. And he found out a few weeks ago, when he was asked a bunch of hypothetical questions about how he would have handled an Iraq invasion if he had had different information than his brother did, that it’s not that easy. He really is going to have to answer. He had more questions on the trip to Europe this week, again, about how he would have responded differently from his brother. And I think you saw in the campaign shakeup of last week – he replaced his likely campaign manager, his sort of designated campaign manager, with a guy named Danny Diaz, who’s a much more tactical, day-to-day campaign fighter – that he is realizing now he can’t run this front-runner, I’m-not-going-to-answer-that-question campaign. He’s going to need to have answers for every one of these things. And pretty soon he’s going to have to be attacking pretty consistently some of his rivals.

MS. EILPERIN: And, Michael, speaking of tactics, Hillary Clinton is obviously using some of the Obama tactics in her campaign, but to what extent will those work for her? And can she connect to those folks?

MR. SCHERER: I think it’s a really interesting question. You have Robby Mook, who is a true organizer coming out of the Howard Dean campaign, you know, followed the same school of thought of many of the people who organized both Obama campaigns. A number of her other senior advisers are Obama people. They’re clearly structuring the campaign as a movement campaign. It’s a very difficult thing to do when you don’t have someone like Obama in the center of it, and the reality is now that there are several polls that have showed, you know, only something like 42, 45 – depending on the poll – percent of the American public believe Hillary Clinton is honest. Now, if you’re going to go to a house party and really, you know, give your life, you know, for months making phone calls, and that’s sort of hanging over your head, it could make it a harder – a harder sell.

MS. YOUSSEF: You mentioned –

MR. HARWOOD: Guys, we’ve got to leave it there. We’re out of time. Thanks, everybody.

Thanks for watching. Gwen Ifill will be back next week, but you don’t have to wait until then. Check out her response to viewer questions on the Washington Week website at PBS.org/WashingtonWeek. I’m John Harwood. Good night.


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