ANNOUNCER: This is the Washington Week Webcast Extra.
MS. IFILL: Hello, I’m Gwen Ifill. Welcome to the Washington Week Webcast Extra. I’m joined around the table by Susan Davis of NPR, Ed O’Keefe of The Washington Post, Pete Williams of NBC News, and Alexis Simendinger of RealClearPolitics. I like saying, that “real clear.”
Anyway, this is one of those weeks where the big story was so all-consuming that other big headlines were almost missed. One of those, the release of celebrated Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, who was held for 30 years in federal prison. The release itself happened before dawn, very low-key, which concealed how big a deal his confinement had been. But this was a key point of tension between the U.S. and Israel, wasn’t it, Alexis?
MS. SIMENDINGER: And it has been through multiple presidencies. In this particular case, President Obama has resisted and resisted the idea of letting Jonathan Pollard return to Israel. You know, while he was in prison he became an Israeli citizen. He was offered citizenship.
MS. IFILL: And a cause celebre.
MS. SIMENDINGER: And a cause celebre. And his release, of course, has been celebrated by no less than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and, you know, the Israeli elites.
Pollard’s – the circumstances of his parole are that he must remain in the United States for five years, and President Obama has said that –
MS. IFILL: Doesn’t he have to wear an ankle monitor –
MS. SIMENDINGER: Has to wear an ankle monitor. And he already has a job in New York working for an investment house doing analysis. You remember his – the reason he got into trouble was he was a Navy analyst who gave suitcases full of classified information to the Israelis in – and was caught in 1985. So he’s appealing to be able to be released to Israel, where his second wife lives, and the president has shown deaf ears about that particular, you know, request. But he did qualify for parole and he was given parole, as you say, in the pre-dawn hours of a Friday while we were all thinking about other things.
MS. IFILL: That was the cleverest thing I’d ever seen. But I have to say, you know, most people who get out of jail after 30 years don’t walk right into a job at an investment –
MS. SIMENDINGER: I thought the same thing, considering our unemployment rate and the fact that he has not been employed in investments of any kind for 30 years, yes.
MS. IFILL: Someone’s watching out for the guy.
Pete, I want to talk to you about the Supreme Court, which also under the cover of everything else going on seems to be making some actual movement in the cases it’s choosing to take – today, most interestingly, on immigration.
MR. WILLIAMS: Well, you know, it was one year ago today the Obama administration announced the new immigration policy. And the administration has moved here with lightning speed because it was just last week that a federal appeals court said the program is unconstitutional because – it’s illegal because the president didn’t get public comment before putting it into effect, and that violates the Administrative Procedures Act. So the Justice Department normally cogitates, fills a bowl full of tobacco pipes – (laughter) – and thinks about it a lot. But they raced up to the Supreme Court, filed this petition to have the Supreme Court review the case. If the – if the justices decide they – they’ve still got till late January, the justices decide to take the care. If they do take it, then they could decide it this term. And if it’s upheld, as the administration hopes, then the president could try to put it into effect while he’s still in office. If the justices don’t take the case and they have to wait, then it’s very unlikely the administration would ever have a chance to put this into effect.
MS. IFILL: OK, I want to turn to you, Sue, because another person who’s been just percolating under the – under the whatever is Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House. And he not only got a House transportation bill through, but then this week he was the – kind of the – it seems like he was like the moving force between negotiating a passable bill on refugee resettlement.
MS. DAVIS: Yeah, I think one of the things you’re seeing stylistically from Paul Ryan is that the complaint under John Boehner was leadership was too heavy-handed and the speaker did too much, and now he’s really trying to decentralize power. This legislation came out of what was a task force that he assembled the day after the Paris attacks that had the majority leader and all the committee chairmen. Everybody had buy-in on this refugee bill. I’ve joked that Paul Ryan is giving away task force assignments like Oprah gives away cars – (laughter) – like, by the end of the Congress, like everyone’s going to have one. (Laughs.) You get a task force and you get a task force.
MR. WILLIAMS: If you’re a Republican.
MS. IFILL: Yeah, exactly.
MS. DAVIS: If you have a Republican – if you’re a Republican.
I think – and so far he’s gotten very high marks for it. I think his colleagues felt like they weren’t engaged enough in the legislative process. And you know, they may want to be careful what they wish for because there’s that task force, he started another one to change the rules of the House, he’s announced other – advisory groups to let him know where different parts of the –
MS. IFILL: Put your money where your mouth is, Brother!
MS. DAVIS: Yeah. He is putting his money where his mouth is.
So, so far he has come under very high regard, but you know, it’s a long way to go. And the highway bill that they did pass, they still have to negotiate a final bill. So, you know, there’s a lot of tests in the future for Paul Ryan still. (Chuckles.)
MS. IFILL: Oh, and so, Ed, let’s go back to the campaign trail for our final look at what we missed this week. And this wasn’t missed, exactly, but it kind of happened under – here I go – under the radar, that’s what I’m reaching for. And last week we were talking about how Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, who used to be great pals – mentor/mentee – were now at each other’s throats. This week it became Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, the two Latinos in the race. And the interesting thing to me about that is that Marco Rubio is a common denominator.
MR. O’KEEFE: Exactly, and that’s what this is all about. Now, Bush and Rubio, they say they’re still friends. Rubio and Cruz –
MS. IFILL: Friends like this I don’t need. (Laughs.)
MR. O’KEEFE: Yeah. And Rubio and Cruz, not really much love lost, but certainly a lot of similarities: both 40-somethings, both the sons of Cuban immigrants, both seen as rising stars, both backed by the tea party. The problem for Cruz is he’s sort of the guy that many expect will pick up all of that ultraconservative support in the event that Ben Carson and Donald Trump somehow disappear, which looks increasingly unlikely because they continue to do so well in the polling. Rubio’s the guy that’s trying to bridge the divide. He wants to be both the sort of main-lane establishment guy who can have great appeal in the general election given his youth and his – you know, the state he’s from and everything, but also appeal to those conservatives that put him in the Senate in the first place.
So they’re fighting over immigration and the idea of who was more conservative on immigration back when that bill was being negotiated in 2013. Rubio was part of the Gang of Eight. Cruz wasn’t. Rubio supported the whole thing. Cruz tried to throw in some poison-pill amendments. That’s what they’re arguing over. It’s very arcane Senate procedures that only people like Sue and I would recall. (Laughter.) Bottom line, it’s who can appeal to those conservative voters. And very interesting, when you talk about the future and the brand of the Republican Party, to have the two Hispanics, the two sort of future stars of this party, fighting over that issue of immigration. The Spanish-language press takes very close note of that. It affects them virtually even more when they’re fighting about it.
MS. IFILL: And the other 12 candidates step back and say, have at it, gentlemen. We’ll just –
MR. O’KEEFE: And say go right ahead because we don’t want anything to do with it.
MS. IFILL: Absolutely. Well, thank you all for catching us up on all the stuff we may have missed.
And if you’re dying for more, be sure to check my blog out this week, where I suggest 10 questions you should be asking presidential candidates this year. And we’ll see you next time on the Washington Week Webcast Extra.