Special: Lincoln Chafee's Brief & Unspectacular Campaign, FBI Probes Benghazi, Obama Vetoes Defense Bill and Debt Ceiling Deadline Approaches

Oct. 23, 2015 AT 9:29 p.m. EDT

Lincoln Chafee ended his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, and The Atlantic's Molly Ball discusses the short-lived campaign of Chafee, the "most pointless" candidate. Plus, Politico’s Josh Gerstein explains how if Hillary Clinton’s email scandal becomes an actual FBI criminal investigation it could quickly eclipse her Benghazi committee hearing. The Wall Street Journal’s Carol Lee discusses President Obama’s follow through on his warning to veto a $612 billion dollar defense policy signaling a continued struggle with Congress over federal spending and his ability to close Guantanamo Bay for good. While CNN’s Manu Raju explains the push by The White House to avoid a default on U.S. debt by enacting legislation to raise the debt ceiling in the wake of a fundamental group of Republicans who won’t vote for the debt ceiling increase no matter what’s on the bill.

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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 by Molly Ball of The Atlantic , Carol Lee of The Wall Street Journal , Manu Raju of CNN, and Josh Gerstein of POLITICO – all of them, oddly enough, currently or formerly employed by POLITICO . (Laughter.) There’s a conspiracy theory we’ll talk about later.

But there are a lot of loose ends that we couldn’t get to during the regular broadcast. First, Benghazi. Hillary Clinton may have won the political war this week, but is there still a legal war – a serious legal war – underfoot, Josh?

MR. GERSTEIN: Well, I mean, I think the FBI investigation is pretty serious. I saw that Jim Comey, the FBI director, used the word “investigation” in connection with it publicly for the first time this week.

MS. IFILL: What’s significant – what’s significant about the use of the word?

MR. GERSTEIN: Well, you know, there are different ways in the legal system these things are referred to. The first time he talked to reporters about this, he just kept calling it “the matter” over and over again. And there can be a preliminary inquiry, and then a full investigation. So I don’t know what he’s signifying, but one of the shoes everyone’s been waiting to see if it would drop is, does that get converted into a full kind of criminal investigation? Even if it, say, weren’t focused on Hillary, would it be focused on people at the State Department who might have sent her classified information? Barely broached at all during this 11-hour marathon, but a much bigger deal, probably, than this testimony if that investigation were to go in an unwelcome direction for her.

MS. IFILL: Is that why the FBI was reportedly unhappy about what the president said about this?

MR. GERSTEIN: I mean, they did feel that the president was preempting them in this I think it was 60 Minutes interview where he said he didn’t think this was a serious – a serious matter or that it was – didn’t have serious national security consequences. That’s what the FBI’s investigating, and this comes up regularly. The president has done this in the Bradley Manning case and a few others where he makes some kind of a general comment about the way he thinks it’s headed, and you know, he’s the head of the branch that’s doing this investigation, so it would be better for him to reserve comment. And we saw FBI agents and others making that suggestion back to the White House on the front page of The New York Times .

MS. IFILL: While we’re at the White House, Carol, let’s talk about something else the president did this week. He signed – he vetoed a defense policy bill. What’s the significance of what he did – of what he didn’t do?

MS. LEE: Well, he’s – every year he’s threatened to veto this, what’s known at the National Defense Authorization Act, which sets policy – military policy, but also authorizes funding for the military. And this year he did it, and he did it for – his primary reason was because it didn’t handle the budget in the way that he wanted to. He wanted an NDAA that got rid of sequestration. But if you really look at what he’s doing, one, he’s setting up for a major budget fight. There’s a bunch of deadlines that are coming up: November 3 rd is the debt ceiling; December 11 th , you know, the budget; there’s a highway funding bill that’s running out. So all of these things are kind of being punted to be dealt with somehow together. But at this – to me – I’ve covered the White House for six, seven years – and it’s Guantanamo. This is his last chance to stop Congress from doing – from having the ban – the biggest problem he has with the ban on Guantanamo detainees coming to the U.S., and it’s his – and that is codified in this law. And he’s – it’s why he’s threatened to veto it in past years, but ultimately signed it. And if he were to let that go through this year, it would tie his hands for basically the rest of his presidency, and he really wants that closed.

MS. IFILL: This is one of the reasons why it’s important to pay attention to things that seem obscure, because that’s where policy hides.

Let’s talk a little bit more about the debt limit ceiling, which it seems we are approaching again.

MR. RAJU: Again.

MS. IFILL: And we keep approaching it again and kicking it down the road. But this – the first test is going to be in the House.

MR. RAJU: It is. It’s a big problem for the House. Republicans don’t have a solution yet. You know, the White House is saying they just want a clean debt ceiling increase, and what that means is that they don’t want any restrictions tied to it, they just want it increased into next year – probably actually into 2017. Actually, they’d take it as long as they could. But Republicans in the Senate actually agree. They know this is a big problem politically. They’re willing to punt this up until the beginning of March 2017 because they worry about the prospects of a debt default, which is the significance of raising the national debt ceiling. But in the House, they do not have the votes to pass a clean debt ceiling increase. So, then, what do you do? That’s what John Boehner in his final week in office is struggling to figure out. They were supposed to vote today, Gwen, on a – on a bill to raise the debt ceiling that would tie it to a bunch of conservative policy ideas, but they couldn’t even get the votes for that because there are fundamentally a group of Republicans who will not vote for a debt ceiling increase no matter what’s on it. So the question is, what can they pass? And there’s not much time, and Paul Ryan’s coming into office soon and he’s going to have to deal with it, potentially, if John Boehner doesn’t deal with it. And there’s talk maybe about a short-term increase, but then they’ll have to deal with it again.

MS. IFILL: And the White House is poised to make this another big issue of irresponsibility on the part of the Republicans.

MR. RAJU: Yeah, and I think this is actually probably maybe even a bigger problem than they’ve had in the past, you know, because a lot of these guys just – they’re tired of caving on this issue. And you know, as Carol was suggesting earlier, there’s another big fight right after that, is funding the government on December 11 th . And they need to figure out a way to deal with extending government funding through the next year, and there’s no agreement there. Only thing different there is that there is actually talks happening between the White House and congressional leaders that are happening. But if that comes after a default, who knows what resolution they can ultimately reach.

MS. IFILL: OK, Molly. We’re going to take people inside the way we do our jobs. We had two candidates today run out of – this week run out of time and drop out of the race – Jim Webb, the former senator from Virginia, and Lincoln Chafee, the former governor of Rhode Island and senator from Rhode Island. And you had set out to do a profile of Lincoln Chafee for The Atlantic Monthly ’s or The Atlantic ’s January issue, and then he drops out of the race. So tell us what you found in your reporting that in the end didn’t turn into the profile maybe that you would have hoped?

MS. BALL: Well, the piece ended up running online as a campaign obituary using the material that I gathered spending a beautiful day in New Hampshire with Lincoln Chafee. I set out to profile him, really, because if you look at the number of candidate(s), that’s really one of the major features of this campaign cycle that makes it different from other presidential years, is just the number of candidates.

MS. IFILL: Yeah.

MS. BALL: With the number of Democrats and Republicans combined, which was 22 at its peak – it’s down to only 18 now – (laughter) – is the biggest field of candidates in a hundred years. So why are all these people running? What has gotten into them? What motivates? What are they thinking?

So, you know, Chafee seemed to me like possibly the most pointless of all the candidates – (laughter) – so I figured I’d go and try and figure out what he was thinking as a way of getting into this whole phenomenon, and I really couldn’t figure it out. And I think a lot of people had their first exposure to Chafee in last week’s Democratic debate, and that was really the takeaway – was what is he doing there, what does he think he is up to? You know, I couldn’t even get him to say that he thought he was going to be president. He didn’t have this sort of arrogant, divine sense of mission that he just thought that he would get there.

MS. IFILL: And voters seemed to get that he didn’t really know what he was doing.

MS. BALL: Yeah, it was amazing. Over and over again on the campaign trail, people would raise their hands and say, I’m not trying to be rude, but why are you running? And he would sort of take it in stride and say, well, I’ve got this great resume. There wasn’t even an issue, right? A lot of candidates are like a message candidate, an issue candidate. There wasn’t a single thing that was driving him to say this is the one thing I’ve got to teach people or impress on people. It was just he just thought he was a good candidate.

MS. IFILL: If he didn’t have a motivating reason for getting out – for getting in, why get out?

MS. BALL: Well, that’s a good question. And if you listened to his speech getting out of the race today, it was just as sort of pointless and difficult to understand as the rest of his candidacy, right? (Laughter.) There was this, like, weird analogy to the Lysistrata , I believe, and then – and there’s this – (laughter) – he said I hope that a chance can be given to peace. And you know, in his announcement he talked about the metric system. So his candidacy was just sort of wacky –

MS. IFILL: All over the place.

MS. BALL: – and all over the map. He seemed like a very nice man. He did not seem like somebody who had any business being in the presidential race.

MS. IFILL: Well, there’s something to be said for nice people running for president, but it would be nice if they were more than just –

MS. BALL: A block of granite, as well. He described himself repeatedly: I’m a block of granite.

MS. IFILL: Block of granite. That was my favorite, when he described himself as a block of granite to describe his consistency. My other favorite is when our pal Wolf Blitzer said to him, you know you’re going to look silly if you keep doing this. And that was certainly a death knell.

MS. BALL: Right, it was like as a friend. Senator Chafee, I’ve got to ask you why you’re doing – (laughter) –

MR. RAJU: What are you doing?

MS. IFILL: Why are you doing this?

MS. BALL: Hear that enough times, I guess it finally sinks in.

MS. IFILL: Well, let us know who you’re profiling next and we’ll be sure to keep track and see who’s about to drop out next.

MS. BALL: Like the Sports Illustrated curse, right. Yeah.

MR. GERSTEIN: Curse, yeah.

MS. IFILL: Exactly. Thank you, everybody.

There’s more online on the Washington Week website, including footage from Hillary Clinton’s last marathon congressional appearance in 1993, and the first lady at the time was defending the Clinton administration’s health care plan. You can find that in the Washington Week vault at PBS.org/WashingtonWeek. And we’ll see you next time on the Washington Week Webcast Extra .


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