Special: Republican Mistrust of Government, Hillary Dodges Keystone Questions, and A Republican Challenge to John Boehner

Jul. 31, 2015 AT 6:48 p.m. EDT

A new Pew Study shows that Republican trust in government and the presidency has never been at a lower point. Meanwhile on the 2016 campaign trail, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton -- citing conflicts from her tenure as secretary of State -- dodges questions about whether the controversial Keystone oil pipeline should be built. And House Speaker John Boehner is fighting off a lone Republican congressman trying to remove him from his position of power.

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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, I’m Gwen Ifill. I’m joined around the table by Robert Costa of The Washington Post , Susan Davis of USA Today , and John Harwood of CNBC.

John’s New York Times column this week exposed some of the worries some Republicans are feeling as this year’s campaign unfolds. One Republican, Tom Cole of Oklahoma, says “It’s always easier to stand up with the crowd and say, ‘You’re right, they’re all bums.’ We’ve played into our worst instincts instead of our best.” As we look at these early polls, are we seeing distress and skepticism turning into anger, John?

MR. HARWOOD : We are. Republicans have been angry pretty much throughout the Obama presidency. Pew Research Center did – compared the average trust in government since – of the presidency through the last half-century. Republicans during Obama have been most mistrusting of the federal government than – more than any other party in the last 50 years. Fifty-two percent of Republicans said that President Obama makes them angry. We’re seeing that flower in this campaign right now.

MS. IFILL : We’ve seen – this week you spent time with three of the candidates who are elbowing each other, still trying to get on the debate stage. And I wonder if you see any of that bubble up in their strategies of how to get attention in this kind of Trump-centric world.

MR. HARWOOD : All of them were pretty temperate. Chris –

MS. IFILL : Chris Christie.

MR. HARWOOD : Chris Christie, in fact, said you’re seeing all these other candidates like Donald Trump say outrageous things to get attention; I’m not going to do that. He’s trying to fight through circumstances that have been reduced dramatically from what we thought just a couple of years ago, trying to campaign intensively in New Hampshire.

Carly Fiorina, who I spoke to, very temperate candidate, very good communicator, probably the longest of longshots in the Republican field. But she’s staying at it in a steady way. She said in a very calm demeanor, I will stack my business record up against Donald Trump any day.

And Scott Walker’s had a quite consistent message throughout, saying there are two kinds of people in politics, there are fighters and there are winners; I’m the only one in the race who’s both.

MS. IFILL : Today, this week, we saw Hillary Clinton, Robert, talk about a couple of interesting issues which get lost a little sometimes in all of the other discussion, the bombast. But one was about – today, in Miami, she was talking about Cuba and opening relations with Cuba, which obviously puts her up against Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. But we also saw her earlier this week asked about the Keystone Pipeline, something she oversaw or had a look at while she was secretary of State, and which nobody can quite get her to nail down. Let’s listen to what she said when she was asked what she would do about that.

MRS. CLINTON: (From video.) This is President Obama’s decision, and I am not going to second-guess him because I was in a position to set this in motion and I do not think that would be the right thing to do.

MRS. CLINTON: (From video.) If it’s undecided when I become president, I will answer your question.

MS. IFILL : “When I become president.” Does she get away with that, Robert?

MR. COSTA : We’ll see. It was interesting to see Senator Sanders challenge her, and he’s been very respectful of Secretary Clinton throughout the campaign. But he said, if she’s going to come out with all of these positions on climate change and be an advocate for the climate, she really has to have a position on the Keystone Pipeline. And because his campaign has momentum, I think eventually this is going to exert pressure on Clinton to take a position.

MS. IFILL : I also have to wonder, however, if there’s any other answer she can give or should even as – just as a political professional give in this situation. If you don’t have to answer a difficult question, why bother? It seems to be their approach.

MR. COSTA : No, that’s right. I think Clinton, she continues to try to respect President Obama. She is still his secretary of State, if not officially. She remains an ally to him. She realizes how important he is to her own bloc within the Democratic Party, to her own political success. And that’s what I really interpret. I don’t think it’s so much she’s hesitant on the climate, hesitant on things like energy. She’s with the left of the Democratic Party. But she’s respectful of his position and her role and her friendship with him.

MS. IFILL : And also we’ve seen a lot of money numbers come out today, super PAC money, in which it looks like even people who we think are the longest of longshots are getting some chunks of money. John Kasich is getting a couple million dollars from people. Rand Paul, who people have now been writing is beginning to fade, he’s been pulling in money. Of course, Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton. Any surprises you see in those numbers so far?

MR. COSTA : Well, one thing I found out last night was the Ricketts family, which owns the Chicago Cubs, they’ve thrown $5 million towards Scott Walker’s super PAC. And I think you see a lot of the establishment donors – like Joe Ricketts; the Koch brothers, of course are always involved – they see the Trump rise and they’re really going to these super PACs and throwing more money, perhaps, at this early stage than they would have earlier in the year wanted to do because they realize they have to have a plan. If Trump continues to ascend, how do you have a super PAC or a few there ready to stop him?

MS. IFILL : That is interesting to me, that all of a sudden Donald Trump is having other effects that maybe even he didn’t think about. Let me – $10 billion man that he is.

Let me ask you, Sue, about what happened on Capitol Hill behind us this week. I mean, I called it the coup that wasn’t, and that was the short-lived, as far as we know, effort to once again take down John Boehner.

MS. DAVIS : Yeah. It was a congressman named Mark Meadows. He’s a Republican from North Carolina. And he introduced a resolution to essentially vacate the speakership, citing – a two-page resolution citing any number of offenses against John Boehner, saying he has consolidated power, that he has used that power to punish people who vote their conscience and not the party line – to which I think John Boehner might say I wish I had consolidated enough power. (Laughs.) So far it’s a resolution of one. John Boehner was asked about it this week. He very literally shrugged it off. He said, member here, member there – and I quote – “no big deal.” So it’ll be interesting to see if other members would step forward and sign on to that resolution. I’m skeptical.

He certainly has had pushback as speaker. The past two elections for speaker he had – the first time a dozen Republicans voted against him. This past January, he had 25 Republicans vote against him. There’s absolutely a small but vocal group of agitators that would like to see Boehner go. But –

MS. IFILL : But the speakership is not in imminent danger.

MS. DAVIS : No. And until you can answer the question who can beat him, I think that he’s – his handling of the speakership, while it may be criticized, is not really in doubt.

MS. IFILL : I believe that is a story for the ages in politics: Who can beat you? (Laughter.) Thanks, everybody.

For more check out my take online, where I tackle one of the great myths of the two-term presidency, that anybody really wants a third – anyone other than Bill Clinton, that is. And we’ll see you the next time on the Washington Week Webcast Extra .


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