Full Episode: 2016 Candidates Flock to Iowa and Obama Pushes Foreign Policy Agenda in Iran and Cuba

Aug. 14, 2015 AT 9:19 p.m. EDT
The Iowa State Fair kicked off this week with hopeful 2016 candidates hoping to win the support of party faithful in the nation's first caucus state. Meanwhile, email troubles continue to plague Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign as she hands over her private server to the FBI. The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty and CNBC’s John Harwood explain which candidates had a good week and which have seen better. And POLITICO's Michael Crowley explains foreign policy victories for the Obama administration with an Iran nuclear agreement and the American embassy opening in Cuba. But the hard part might just be starting as Obama presses Congress for support for the nuclear deal and faces pushback for his diplomatic steps.

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GWEN IFILL : The candidates descend on Iowa and on each other. Why no one is ceding the stage to Donald Trump. Plus, from Cuba to Iran, celebration gives way to complexity. We explain how tonight on Washington Week

IOWA VOTER: (From video.) If they're going to move on in the process they have to answer the questions that they get in Iowa.

MS. IFILL : Candidates on the upswing.

CARLY FIORINA: (From video.) We have to challenge the status quo of Washington, something that the political class really hasn't been willing to do for a long time.

OHIO GOVERNOR JOHN KASICH (R): (From video.) Now, I happen to be a Republican, but the Republican Party is my vehicle and not my master.

SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): (From video.) This campaign is sending a message to the billionaire class: Yes, we have the guts to take you on.

MS. IFILL : Others struggle to be heard.

LOUISIANA GOVERNOR BOBBY JINDAL (R): (From video.) Look, I know one way to ensure that I get more media coverage is to continue to talk about Donald Trump.

MS. IFILL : While frontrunners stake their claims.

FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR JEB BUSH (R): (From video.) Who can seriously argue that America and our friends are safer today than in 2009, when the president and Secretary Clinton, the storied team of rivals, took office?

FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: (From video.) While what Donald Trump said about Megyn Kelly is outrageous, what the rest of the Republicans are saying about all women is also outrageous.

DONALD TRUMP: (From video.) I cherish women. And I will be great on women's health issues, believe me.

MS. IFILL : Plus, the White House tries to nail down its foreign policy victories, counting votes for the Iran deal.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From video.) I’m not going to anticipate failure now, because I think we have the better argument.

MS. IFILL : And raising the flag, literally, in Cuba.

SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: (From video.) This is truly a memorable occasion, a day for pushing aside old barriers and exploring new possibilities.

MS. IFILL : But the details are indeed devilish.

Covering the week, John Harwood, chief Washington correspondent for CNBC ; Karen Tumulty, national political correspondent for The Washington Post ; and Michael Crowley, senior foreign affairs correspondent for POLITICO .

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, moderator Gwen Ifill.

MS. IFILL : Good evening. So where to begin? With the helicopter rides Donald Trump will be offering at the Iowa State Fair? With the deep-fried Snickers bar Jeb Bush reportedly ate there today? With Hillary Clinton's attempt to rise above the latest questions about her private email server? Or with John Kasich, who managed to take credit for balancing the federal budget and take a shot at the Clintons all in one comment?

GOV . KASICH: (From video.) Bill Clinton takes credit for the balanced budget. Bill Clinton’s the kind of guy that when there's a mob coming to get him, he runs in front of them and claims it's a parade.

MS. IFILL : The truth is, if there's one thing we can take from these dog days of an August campaign, is that we have a long way to go before anything settles down. Here's a sample: Rand Paul going after Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton going after everyone else.

SENATOR RAND PAUL (R-KY): (From video.) So we have now people up there who say such profound things as: You're stupid. You're fired. You're a pig. You look terrible. You only have half a brain. And then when you respond with an argument, it's like you're stupid. (Laughter.)

MS. CLINTON: (From video.) They brag about slashing women's health care funding. They say they would force women who’ve been raped to carry their rapist's child. And we don't hear any of them supporting raising the minimum wage, paid leave for new parents, access to quality childcare, equal pay for women, or anything else that will help to, you know, give women a chance to get ahead.

MS. IFILL : The polls are up and down. Most of the field is scrambling for money and attention. And the rest of us are left looking for clues. So who had the biggest ups and who had the biggest downs this week? Start with you, Karen.

KAREN TUMULTY : Well, it depends on where you're looking. Donald Trump pulled out ahead in some polls in Iowa, which was very, very bad news for Scott Walker who’d been sitting on top of those polls. But I think the more intriguing story, other than the continuing Donald Trump hurricane, are some of the people who did pretty well in that first debate who are now sort of beginning to see an opening, beginning to get a little bit of oxygen. We are seeing John Kasich suddenly moving some in New Hampshire. Carly Fiorina is – got – I don’t know if you can call it that big of a bump when you're just talking about a few percentage points –

MS. IFILL : From 4 percent to 7 percent.

MS. TUMULTY : But it may be enough to get her on that stage, get her on the grownup stage for the next debate. Ben Carson, another one who I think people are just taking a second look at. And at this stage in the process, that's what you want to happen.

MS. IFILL : That counts for a lot. John, who did you see go up and down?

JOHN HARWOOD : Well, I think – I think we’re at the end of the beginning of the first phase of the campaign. And this is the point, having had the first debate, having weathered the Trump surge and seeing that it's more persistent than many people had expected, everybody's tires are starting to get some traction on the road. And I do – I agree with Karen. Carly Fiorina, John Kasich are the two most obvious people who have moved up in the ranks of serious contenders.

There was a poll that was favorable for Marco Rubio in Iowa. Showed him in third place. Another one showed him way down. So I think it's a little bit difficult. The polls are of varying qualities and different methodologies. But I think the – you had some strong performances in the debate. And those people are beginning to realize how they have to engage with each other, and have to engage with Trump.

MS. TUMULTY : Oh, and by the way, there was some very tangible bad news out of the Rick Perry camp earlier, which is that he announced he was no longer paying his campaign staff.

MS. IFILL : His super PAC is paying them, but that’s never a good sign.

MS. TUMULTY : It is not. And if he can't get on the grownup stage for the next debate, it's really beginning to be hard to imagine how he can even continue, even with a super PAC backing –

MR. HARWOOD : Forgot one loser. It appears that Jim Gilmore will not be invited to the CNN debate.

MS. IFILL : At all, because he's not even at 1 percent.

MR. HARWOOD : That’s right.

MS. IFILL : But let’s be clear about what we say – what we mean when we say the grownup stage. We’re talking about the candidates who score above 10 percent in the polls. That's the same rule that’s going to –

MS. TUMULTY : The top 10 candidates.

MS. IFILL : The top 10 candidates. That’s still going to apply in the CNN. Those are still going to be the rules, OK.

MR. HARWOOD : And you still will have the opportunity – remember, we had the kids table debate in Cleveland, and that became a forum for Carly Fiorina, by dominating, to generate some traction for herself.

MS. IFILL : Right.

MR. HARWOOD : That opportunity will still be there at that second debate for somebody else, if they can seize it.

MS. IFILL : OK, we haven't talked about the big front runners, the people who were definitely the ups, or who at least in the past have been seen. Let's start with Hillary Clinton, who today, Karen, gets some more bad news – yesterday gets more bad news, the day before more bad news about this email controversy that never seems to go away. How much – can we measure how much it's hurting her? It certainly isn’t helping.

MS. TUMULTY : Well, the big news this week was that her attorney, David Kendall, had turned over to the FBI – you never want to hear the FBI mentioned when you are running for president – had turned over a thumb drive that had had copies of all of her emails on them. A few weeks ago, they were insisting they were not going to do that. What this says is that this investigation that began and may continue to be contained to the question of is all the sensitive material that may have been in those emails accounted for and under government control?

But right now, what's making the Clinton people and the Clinton allies nervous is they don't know whether this is going to go into the larger and more troublesome question of whether Hillary Clinton herself, or people who worked for her, were not as careful as they should have been in handling sensitive information. And there is potentially a crime in there if that can be shown that this was done intentionally.

MS. IFILL : In their defense, what the Clinton people seem to be doing is establishing as much distance between the candidate herself and any controversial behavior, and also making it as confusing as possible because maybe voters look at it and say, like Whitewater, I just can't keep track, but it makes me feel funny.

MR. HARWOOD : The Clintons' argument is that the classified information that may have appeared in her email, her private server email, was either information that has subsequently been determined to be classified –

MS. IFILL : It was not at the time.

MR. HARWOOD : Or that was not marked as classified, even if some of the information was. And so that she was, unwittingly perhaps, exchanging information with aides who were on their State dot-gov accounts, that may be problematic. And so the FBI is trying to figure out, did Russia and China hack her system? There's no evidence that that happened, but some people wonder about it. Just how vulnerable was that system?

Whatever happens as a result of the investigation we know that her favorability has been hurt. She's underwater in the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll. She was minus 11 points, 30 – I forget the exact numbers, but it was double digit on the negative side. But I do note historically, Bill Clinton was in double digit negative territory before his 1992 convention, and turned it around.

MS. TUMULTY : And one thing that we maybe ought to stipulate here, at least our reporting at The Washington Post indicates that the most questionable material that investigators have come across is not primarily – it's nothing she was sending. It's things that people were sending to her or forwarding to her, in many cases things she didn't even respond to.

MR. HARWOOD : And in one case that was – the AP wrote about, the information that was in a top secret category, it was based on a news article. It was about a drone program that was technically classified, but had been written about many times.

MS. IFILL : Right. Didn't help for John Kerry to say this week he suspects his own email is being – been read by Russia and China. Thanks a lot for the help, Secretary Kerry.

So let's talk about another leading person in the race, obviously, Donald Trump. Every week we say: This is the thing that's going to stop the rise of Donald Trump, or at least is going to precipitate his fall. And he doesn't seem to fall. He doesn't rise, to be honest, he stays right about there. But right about there when there’s 21 people in the race, is pretty much – pretty good. So where is he now?

MS. TUMULTY : He is – it looks like he is now the leading contender in Iowa. And he is going to be there. And interestingly enough, it's not – two things can win the Iowa caucuses for you. It requires both of them. It requires a lot of enthusiasm. It requires a lot of organization. And Donald Trump does appear to be looking at the second half of that equation, too. He's got volunteers on the ground, apparently everywhere. And again, this is a suggestion that maybe this is more of a campaign than we thought it was.

MS. IFILL : Than we had been thinking. Well, what about Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire? He seems to be surging. And of course, he's from a neighboring state, which the Clinton people were quick to point out. But those crowds we saw on the West Coast are not an aberration.

MR. HARWOOD : No. And it’s extraordinary the crowds that he's drawing. The performance in that poll, can't speak to the reliability of the poll, but it’s a very robust result for him. It did have Joe Biden in the poll itself getting 12 percent – points of the vote. But, look, Bernie Sanders is at this moment in the campaign speaking to the aspiration of Democrats for a much more robust government role in smoothing out income inequality and dealing with other inequities in the society. And he's triggering a response.

I think in the case of Bernie Sanders, as in the case of Donald Trump, voters have a different filter when it comes to actually voting and beginning the process of selecting a president. They’ve got to look at those candidates and say, can I see that person behind the desk in the Oval Office? And I think when that test is applied, Donald Trump fades, and Bernie Sanders is not likely to defeat Hillary Clinton.

MS. IFILL : And let's talk about Jeb Bush. And I want to bring in – hi there, Michael; I didn’t see you over there, very quietly watching. Jeb Bush gave a big foreign policy speech this week, in which he talked about Iraq and about how the failure of the Obama administration, including Hillary Clinton, had been getting out of Iraq too soon. Why is he picking that fight?

MICHAEL CROWLEY : Well, partly because the public's attention is so focused on ISIS. You kind of have to have something to say about ISIS. And he's really forced to confront Iraq in some way because there's just no sidestepping this. You know, and there is, you know, an intellectually honest argument to be made that says the Obama administration should have tried harder to reach some sort of agreement with the Iraqi government – the administration says it wasn't possible, but a lot of people who follow Iraq closely say that's debatable – to have left some kind of troop presence in the country to make sure that it didn't fall apart. His argument was Iraq was somewhat stable, but it was fragile at that time.

One problem with that argument, among others, is that Hillary Clinton was among the people who was trying to say to the president, don't pull out. Leave a robust troop force. Have trainers and advisers and special forces who can kind of zap al-Qaida types who pop up. So that's one problem with the argument. I think the bigger problem is that, you know, having said that I think he does have to address it, it’s just a really hard subject for him to come out on top on because even if he's making an argument that you would have some expert opinion that says is valid, that Iraq was kind of stable and we could have stayed there, there are so many potholes – like when he says mission was accomplished by 2009. It just sounds kind of ridiculous. It just – there's a quality of –

MS. IFILL : Well, it stirs up bad memories, you would think, for his family and for his supporters.

MR. CROWLEY : You just don't want someone named Bush talking about Iraq.

MS. TUMULTY : And in fact, he did the – what they call the soap box at the Iowa State Fair today. And those were a lot of the questions and comments he was getting from fairgoers was, you know, what about your brother? What about the Iraq War? So it's really hard for him to get past his name – his last name on any discussion of Iraq.

MR. HARWOOD : Well, and the question of who broke it in the first place?

MS. IFILL : Well, and the question of – I mean, he's been doing this for a while. Why isn't the answer in the box by now? Why hasn't he come up with the answer that puts this to rest?

MR. CROWLEY : Because I think it's really hard to come up with that answer when you don't want to insult your brother, and you –

MS. IFILL : Your father.

MR. CROWLEY : And you’re just trying to thread too many needles. And the solution he comes up with is kind of ridiculous, which is the sort of mistakes were made passive construct. And then he starts talking about 2009. Well, not everything was perfect before then, but what I want to talk about now is what Obama did. And that’s just not – it’s not going to wash.

MS. IFILL : It’s hard. We really love “mistakes were made.” That’s our favorite formulation in Washington. We’re going to talk about – in the webcast after the program – a little bit about the trial balloons we saw go up and down this week, which was also fun. Thank you both.

While the people who would be president jockeyed for a position, the current administration did its own jockeying on Iran. It was nose counting, how much support can the president gather to allow him to win the day on his delicately negotiated nuclear agreement? And on Cuba, will the new and historic opening to the isolated island nation stick?

SEC . KERRY: (From video.) There have been too many days of sacrifice and sorrow, too many decades of suspicion and fear. That is why I am heartened by the many on both sides of the straits, who whether because of family ties or a simple desire to replace anger with something more productive, have endorsed this search for a better path.

MS. IFILL : And here's a taste of the pushback from Florida Senator, presidential candidate, and Cuban-American Marco Rubio.

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): (From video.) President Obama has rewarded the Castro regime for its repressive tactics and its persistent, patient opposition to American interests. He has unilaterally given up on a half century worth of policies towards the Castro regime that was agreed upon by presidents of both parties.

MS. IFILL : So, Michael, how is the administration dealing with these two balancing acts? Both of them require congressional help.

MR. CROWLEY : Yeah. Well, you know, step back for a minute and think about Obama's presidency in the last several years, where you've had a Republican Congress that just won't do anything that he wants them to do. Foreign policy, however, is a venue where he can take some initiative and get some things done, up to a point, without the Congress. But the Congress never goes away.

So on Cuba, for instance, you know, the economic embargo remains in place. It would require congressional authorization or a congressional vote to lift it. So what we have now is a normalization of diplomatic relations, a relaxation of some travel and trade regulations. But you know, fundamentally, the relationship is still kind of on ice on some level. And that's not going to change under a Republican Congress.

But, you know, as is the case with Iran – which we'll talk about in a second – the president's theory is: We're not getting anywhere by not dealing with them or talking to them. Turning a cold shoulder is not accomplishing anything. And even if the regime does a lot of things that we don't like – they're repressive, they're anti-democratic – actually, it's better if we start a line of dialogue and we start to melt the ice a little bit, and that will take on a life of its own that will have larger benefits down the road.

So with Iran, it's different because he's not normalizing diplomatic relations or anything like that.

MS. IFILL : Far from it. Far from it.

MR. CROWLEY : And the administration is very careful to say: This was a nuclear deal just to cap Iran's nuclear program. And if other things come of it, that's great, but that's not what the deal is about. But really they are hoping that other things will come of it. They are hoping that the beginning of this dialogue, showing the Iranian hardliners that you can trust the United States, we can – you can do a deal with us and we’re not going to stab you in the back and trick you, will be useful and you will also empower reformers who said we will lift the economic sanctions, we’ll take Iran into a more modern direction, you will empower the middle class of the country, and that will have beneficial results.

But Congress is threatening to bring this deal down. So what will likely happen is you will have a vote of disapproval carried easily by the Republican majorities in both houses. The president will veto that. And then there will be a veto override vote, and that’s where the big drama will be. It looks as though he has a firewall in the House. It’s going to be close, but I think there’s sort of what you would call cautious optimism right now that enough House members are holding firm.

And you know, viewers will probably be familiar with the fact that New York Senator Chuck Schumer came out against the deal. That seemed quite dramatic, a big blow. You really haven’t seen a lot of defections since Schumer. That was not the beginning of a cascade. And I think there’s some hope that that could have been the low point up till now and that the deal will survive.

MS. TUMULTY : And if this goes through, the Republican candidates are talking, you know, a number of them, that they could undo it, that they would just go back and reimpose sanctions and just make them tougher or whatever. Realistically speaking, if this deal goes through, what are the chances that the next president, whoever he or she may be, could actually undo it?

MR. CROWLEY : I think it’s not realistic that a Republican president will come into office and immediately kind of pull the plug on the thing and bring it down. There are different ways they could – there is a kind of passive-aggressive way to – you know, as someone described it to me, malign neglect; you could kind of let the deal fall apart. You could increase pressure on Iran to try to provoke a confrontation. You could try to crack down on Iran in other ways. But once the deal has been in place for what it would be – what would it be, 18 months, and you will likely have investment, you will have economic activity, you will have a lot of corporate interests who do not want to get burnt, it’s hard to see the scenario where the Republican president comes in, pulls the plug and it’s over. So I think – and that’s one of the great fears of the critics, is that the cake will be baked.

MR. HARWOOD : I’d put the same question on Cuba because I think this is really interesting. And remember that Ronald Reagan campaigned hard against the Panama Canal Treaty. It passed in Jimmy Carter’s administration. When he became president, left it alone, didn’t do anything. In the debates weeks before the 1980 election, he said he wanted to junk the SALT II treaty, which had not been ratified. He abided by the entire treaty through its expiration. Is anybody going to come in and say, you know what, I’m going to close that embassy in Havana and break diplomatic relations? Likely? Not likely?

MR. CROWLEY : I think it’s not likely, particularly in the case of Cuba. You know, I think the chances are small that things are going to get worse, Cuba is going to become belligerent, is going to challenge us in some way. I think –

MS. IFILL : Even though we have heard the Castro brothers make noises about reparations this week, right?

MR. CROWLEY : Yes. I mean, and they wanted us to close the Guantanamo military base and, you know, we’ve annexed that land illegally. So they still have their gripes. But I think that – particularly in the case of Cuba, I think that issue will fade. And you also have the politics of Cuba in Florida in particular, as you may know, are changing, and so I think the political dynamic has changed.

With Iran, you know, that’s a more interesting case because I think you could see aggressive Iranian behavior in the years to come that could keep that a hot issue.

MS. IFILL : OK. Well, thank you all very much.

And you mentioned Jimmy Carter. We want to send our best wishes to his good health.

We have to go a little early again this week to give you a chance to support the public television stations who support us, but the conversation continues online on the Washington Week Webcast Extra , where we’ll preview the week to come, trial balloons and all. You can find it later tonight and all week long at PBS.org/WashingtonWeek. Keep up with developments with me and Judy Woodruff on the PBS NewsHour every night, and we’ll see you here next week on Washington Week . Good night.

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