ANNOUNCER: This is the WASHINGTON WEEK Webcast Extra.
GWEN IFILL, "WASHINGTON WEEK" MODERATOR: Hello and welcome. I’m Gwen Ifill.
We had so much to talk about in the regular broadcast that we just had to stick around a little bit longer.
Joining me in that is Dan Balz of "The Washington Post", Alexis Simendinger of "Real Clear Politics", Nancy Youssef of "The Daily Beast", and Manu Raju of "Politico".
Congress actually did a lot this week. They fixed a longstanding and contentious problem with Medicare. They passed a budget. And they entertained a world leader for a joint session without boycotts or anger.
What they did not do was act on the 100-plus-day-old nomination of the woman the president has selected to succeed Eric Holder as attorney general. As Congress leaves town for its spring bring, it looks like that won’t happen. If it does happen, it won’t be before mid-April.
So, what’s going on with Loretta Lynch?
MANU RAJU, POLITICO: She’s tied in a totally unrelated fight, which is involving a human trafficking bill that has stalled in the Senate. Now, of course, everybody in the Senate wants to crack down on human trafficking. But this bill includes a provision that would expand the so-called Hyde Amendment, which allows for public funding of abortions.
Now, Democrats want that language removed. They’ve actually didn’t read the bill until it’s on the floor, and they realized it was in there.
RAJU: Oops. And so, they say they want that language removed. The Republicans saying no way, and they said, we’re not going to make a vote on Loretta Lynch until you allow this trafficking bill to move forward.
Now, this is also wrapped in the larger politics of immigration right now. The president, of course, moved -- done an executive action to defer deportations, about 5 million who are here in the country illegally. The Republicans believe that was an unconstitutional action. And Loretta Lynch said in her confirmation hearings, she believes the president acted lawfully.
So, you’ve seen the Republican opposition grow because of this. And so, there’s not really much incentive for Republicans to actually give her a vote, because the Republican base is so riled up against here.
IFILL: You mentioned the abortion issue that popped in the human trafficking debate. It also popped, perhaps less perilously in the Medicare "doc fix" debate, this way to pay fix payments to Medicare doctors, doctors who served Medicare patients. And that’s one of the things that Senate Democrats are a little bit concerned about, this grand compromise that was worked with Boehner and Pelosi and the White House, is that it’s still -- /it also has that language.
RAJU: Yes, it does. That’s one of the fears among Democrats. They believe this is going to create a precedent. Of course, the Hyde Amendment has been law for years, but typically gets renewed annually through the annual appropriations process. But there’s a concern among Democrats that once you take it out of that process, and you start putting it on other bills that involved funding issues --
RAJU: -- that essentially they’re going to keep doing over and over again, make it a long term measure. But Nancy Pelosi did not see that way. She believes that it doesn’t actually affect the way current laws are being implemented. So, she cut a deal with John Boehner, in effect of jamming Senate Democrats. You don’t really see that happening.
IFILL: You don’t have that happened a lot.
RAJU: It never happens.
And it looks like that Senate Democrats are going to have to cave on this. They do not have the support to block this big deal, which actually give the biggest, most significant legislation that this Congress passes.
IFILL: And if the president has already said, "I’ll sign that," it seems like hard -- wrong to go against it somehow if you’re Senate Democrat.
Anyway, I want to move on to another 2016 story, the other side. We talked a lot about Ted Cruz in regular broadcast, but Hillary Clinton, a couple of us were in the room this week for a dinner in which Hillary Clinton spoke in which she was -- it was a press dinner and she was being nice to us and we don’t know what to do with that.
ALEXIS SIMENDINGER, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: I know. Who was --
IFILL: It looks like a charm offensive.
IFILL: Alexis, who was that person?
SIMENDINGER: Who was that person?
Hillary Clinton came to -- she had actually a pretty full day on Monday. She came to speak to the group of journalists who were weighing on the Toner Prize. And someone we know at this table named Dan Balz won that prize for excellent political reporting. So, we want to congratulate --
DAN BALZ, THE WASHINGTON POST: Thank you.
SIMENDINGER: -- Dan, and he was very gracious to when he discovered, as we all did, that Hillary Clinton decided to stay. She was not expected to stay and eat dinner. She sat down and had dinner, and she stuck around and she gave this lovely remarks and she tried to poke a little fun at herself.
IFILL: She always left (ph).
SIMENDINGER: She had a little lecture for all of us, too, though. She also had a little bit of a jab about journalists and she had started her day earlier in the morning at the Center for American Progress, which is a left-leaning think tank that’s supporting here candidacy whenever it actually gets announced. And she was at a wonk feast talking about urban policy. And the thing that really struck about listening to her is she kept coming back to this idea about we have to get away from our ideology and let’s go to evidence-based. And she had this little lecture for journalists who are not based --
IFILL: She also said however, she started with a joke in which, you know, I had all things are new. I have a new grandmother --
SIMENDINGER: Grand child.
IFILL: A new hairstyle -- grandchild. I have a new hairstyle and I have a new email address, right? Funny, laugh, laughter in the room.
But then we find out today on Friday, that, in fact, that the question has been whether she handed over her emails and whether they contained any Benghazi information, her lawyer says, trust me, we handed over everything. We’re not giving anything else and, by the way, we scrubbed the servers.
SIMENDINGER: Yes. Well, that is the Hillary Clinton that we know. The woman who is -- was there making jokes about to all of us about this idea that she was going to give up on this idea of having a zone of privacy because how would that ever work, like joke ha-ha. And then we find out that that won’t work, yes --
SIMENDINGER: Yes, but she, you know, had the savvy to have her own server, and the interrogators and inquisition, whatever she wants to call it on Capitol Hill, they’re not going to get a hold of that server, that private server, and they’re already conceding that.
IFILL: Interesting. Well, let’s that seems to take us perfectly to this question I want to ask Dan about, which is a new Gallup poll this week about public distrust in politicians, but especially in both parties.
Both parties are below 40 percent in approval now, I think for the first time ever. That must mean something.
BALZ: Well, it does. I mean, you know, at the minimum, it just tells us what we already know, which is the public confidence in government is low, public cynicism toward Washington is extremely low, and that neither party at this point has any advantage over the other in the way they’re perceived by the public.
This series of questions that they asked, they’ve been asking this since 1992. And the usual situation is, either both parties are seen relatively favorably, right after 2001, the terrorist attacks in 9/11, or one party may be down, but the other party is up. And now, what we’ve seen is for the first time, both are under 40.
The Republicans are above 40, right after the election, and they slipped back down. But they’ve been in the bad place for a long time.
The Democrats have gone steadily down. They bounced up a couple of points in this latest. But they’ve gone steadily down for the last four or five years. So, it’s politicians continue to act as if either there is nothing they can do about this, or they don’t care whether there’s anything to do about this.
IFILL: Yes, that’s the point I was referring to --
BALZ: And there are few people who really addressed this. The way politics is practiced today reinforces a lot of the cynicism that people see. And even though people take their sides on election day, if you get them in a focus group, or you get them in a poll, they are not happy with what they are seeing.
IFILL: Is it they are not happy with the parties or they are not happy with individuals? The numbers come out differently when they don’t put the party label on to an individual.
BALZ: Well, you know, generally, they’re happier about their own member of Congress than they are about Congress as an institution. It’s easier to bash the institution than particular members. So, but as I say, to see this kind of sink down -- to see both of them sink down seems to be another reminder that people are ignoring a very big part of the problem.
IFILL: Yes, which is going to determine a lot of outcomes.
I want to end by talking to Nancy a little bit about whether we are back at war in Iraq. One of the under-covered stories probably this week was the return of U.S. airstrikes in order to reclaim Tikrit. And it means that after -- we’re busy focusing on Afghanistan, but it seems like we’re back into that sticky wicket again.
NANCY YOUSSEF, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, we’ve expanded the airstrikes because up and until this point, the U.S. had very noticeably avoided striking ISIS in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s hometown and what became a battle ground for Iranian forces. Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Quds force travel to Tikrit, the Shia militia, 20,000 of them, some of them back by Iranian advisers were there.
And so, the U.S. made a point of not getting involved with that, they didn’t want to be the air force for the Iranian forces on the ground.
And this was fine until -- when people thought Tikrit was going to fall in the few days, or a few weeks, and then the campaign became stalled. The Iraqi forces, the militia forces suffered a number of losses, much higher than they anticipated, and the Iraqi government came to the U.S. and said we need air power. And the U.S. said, you can have airpower on the condition that you pull back those militia forces and you remove the Iranian influence, that this is an Iraqi-led campaign.
And so, this week, on Wednesday, U.S. started a very ferocious air campaign unto Tikrit, hitting weapons facilities and other places in what became really a very stalled effort.
IFILL: And we think that that did what it was intended to do?
YOUSSEF: Well, it’s interesting because what we’ve seen in this war is that nothing, no city has been claimed with just air power, or just ground forces. So, in Tikrit, they have gone from 23,000, which was militia forces, with 20,000 of them, militia, and Iraqi forces, to about 4,000 total. Is that enough?
In Kobani, in Syria, where the U.S. also launched a very aggressive air campaign, there were 5,000, and it took -- and Peshmerga forces, who were considered more capable, and that was an area where ISIS was not entrenched but actually going after. Now, we’re talking about 4,000, in an area they’re deeply entrenched, in a city that they don’t want to lose, and U.S. air campaign has just begun.
It really shows that it takes a root out a group like ISIS takes a tremendous amount of both air and ground power. So, we’ll see.
IFILL: We’ll see.
OK. Thank you, everybody.
Stay online all week long for the latest on this and other stories, from the best reporters in Washington, our panelists.
Also, see my blog, on one of them, the great Dan Balz who was the recipient of the Robin Toner Prize for political reporting, as Alexis was telling us tonight.
Thank you and congratulations, Dan.
BALZ: Thank you.
IFILL: Thanks. So great.
Find it all at PBS.org/WashingtonWeek.
And we’ll see you next time on the WASHINGTON WEEK Webcast Extra.