MS. IFILL: Hello. I'm Gwen Ifill. And welcome to the "Washington Week" Webcast Extra. I'm joined around the table by Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report, Pierre Thomas of ABC News, Nancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers, and Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News.
As if there is not enough going on, our eyes were forced back to Ukraine today as a convoy of Russian vehicles crossed the border in what one Ukrainian official called an invasion, and Russian officials called a humanitarian delivery.
Do we know which it is tonight? (Laughter.)
MS. LAKSHMANAN: Well, we know that the Ukrainians have said from the beginning that they would consider it an invasion if the Russians were crossing without the Red Cross right there and without the Ukrainians inspecting every single truck. So the fact is the Russians have not allowed that inspection to go through. We've got, by the count of our reporters on the ground, 280 trucks in this convoy.
They just decided, you know what, we're just going to go. We're going ahead anyway. And the problem is that the reports from the ground, from the Ukrainian side, are that several Russian military vehicles that were repainted to look like aid convoy trucks are part of this and that the Red Cross has only been able to inspect a handful of these trucks to see that there is food and supplies in there. So we don't know what's in the rest.
So, you know, we had Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power saying just a few days ago this is an act of war. We had Ben Rhodes today taking a strong stand from the White House, saying this is not acceptable. So I think what we're going to be seeing is probably more sanctions coming next week. And what the Russians seem to be trying to do is bolster the separatists, who were on the verge of losing in Luhansk.
MS. IFILL: And yet Putin seems to be cutting a deal or trying to cut a deal with Angela Merkel in a peace deal on the side -
MS. LAKSHMANAN: Right.
MS. IFILL: - which is - which doesn't seem real.
MS. LAKSHMANAN: Right.
MS. IFILL: (Inaudible.)
MS. LAKSHMANAN: Well, Angela Merkel's going to be in Kiev tomorrow, so we're going to see what she's going to say to the Ukrainian president, Poroshenko. At this point it seems as if the Ukrainians are limiting themselves to words, that they're not going to physically attack the convoy yet. But, I mean, I think it's just that people have taken their eye off the ball of the Russia-Ukraine situation because we've been so fixated on Iraq and Syria recently. But this problem hasn't gone away.
MS. IFILL: Where no problems go away.
Nancy, I want to ask you a little bit more about Jim Foley, who you've dealt with. And also he's not the only American journalist who's currently held and who is in peril. We saw Mr. Sotloff. What was his first name?
MS. YOUSSEF: Steven.
MS. IFILL: Steven Sotloff. We saw him hauled before the camera. But also Austin Tice is there, and he's been missing for a long time.
MS. YOUSSEF: Yeah, I've been working on Austin's case from the day he disappeared. And the way I got to know Jim was through that. When Austin disappeared on August 14th, we were in Lebanon and trying to find him. And, of course, you don't know how to handle a situation like this.
And Jim Foley called out of the blue, because he had been taken in Libya in 2011 for 44 days. And he sort of walked us through what we were about to go through. And he said, you know, my mom Diane would be happy to talk to Austin's mom anytime. And we weren't ready to hear it. We rejected it, because we weren't ready to accept - (inaudible) - something that was going to take days, weeks, months, let alone years. And they were both so gracious.
And I remember, it was such a tumultuous period, just a swirl of chasing leads and false reports of death and all of this. And the kindness that he extended to us at that time stayed with me. And it's how I remember him. And I think everyone you talk to remembers him that way. Even those who stayed with him in captivity remember his kindness, the fact that he could stay so calm. And the reality is now Diane and the mothers and families of all of those being held captive have become part of this horrific club and so closely knit because of this shared experience.
MS. IFILL: What is the last we've heard of Austin Tice?
MS. YOUSSEF: It's been a while. The last we heard is that he's being held by government forces. The last confirmed sighting was September 26, 2012, when they released a video. And so I should say, though, the strength that the Foleys have shown, the Tices have shown, the other families, some of whom don't want to be identified for various reasons, has been remarkable. And I think as you watch the Foleys speak - and I know, having spent so much time with the Tices, the strength and the beauty of the people that you're fighting for. You can see where it comes from in these families.
MS. IFILL: It was quite remarkable and moving -
MS. YOUSSEF: Yes.
MS. IFILL: - to listen to his parents speak this week.
Pierre, on another story over at the Justice Department this week, there was a big, fat settlement with the Bank of America, the biggest settlement so far in all of these negotiations about banks which were once too big to fail. Tell us about it.
MR. THOMAS: A record, the biggest ever, the most a private company has ever paid the U.S. government. This is about the fact that the government says -
MS. IFILL: Sixteen (billion dollars), $17 billion?
MR. THOMAS: Seventeen billion dollars. The government said they got the bank to admit that Countrywide, Merrill Lynch and portions of Bank of America committed basically fraud, that they knew that some of these mortgage securities that they were saying to investors were good were actually junk and led to the financial collapse that led to the great recession.
MS. IFILL: How much of the money - is this a real $17 billion? And how much of it, if it is real, goes to people who actually suffered, who got these bad mortgages?
MR. THOMAS: Well, there's $7 billion in relief to consumers. But again, some of the people lost their homes. You can't say that that's going to fix the horror and the pain that those people went through. And the big criticism that the Justice Department got yesterday, even though, again - (inaudible) - $17 billion is $17 billion with a "b," but still no senior high-level banking officials have gone to jail. And that's what people are upset about. They want somebody to go to jail for the great recession.
MS. IFILL: And it's not looking likely at this point.
MR. THOMAS: Not yet.
MS. IFILL: Finally, in 2001, Senator James Jeffords, who passed away this week, did what few others have ever done. He singlehandedly turned the Senate over from one party to another merely by leaving the Republican Party to become an independent. This was a big deal in a Senate that was, at the time, divided 50-50.
Here's how we talked about it with Gloria Borger that Friday night.
(Begin videotaped segment.)
MS. IFILL: For everyone, it was a bolt from the blue. Gloria, is this something the Republicans should have seen coming?
GLORIA BORGER: I think that's a question, Gwen, that both the White House and the Senate Republican leaders are asking themselves. And I think if they were honest with themselves, the answer would be yes, absolutely. Here you have Jim Jeffords, a 26-year congressional veteran. He's a Republican. He's kind of a mild-mannered guy. He's not a guy who seeks the klieg lights, a lot of publicity. And they ought to be asking themselves what drove him to this.
(End videotaped segment.)
MS. IFILL: What drove him to this? What was the reason for the Jeffords -
MS. WALTER: Well, it had been bubbling for quite some time. Remember, he was a moderate New England Republican in a party that was increasingly southern and conservative. But what really led him to it was the Bush tax cuts. There was the debate about the size of the tax cuts and whether or not he could get more funding for special education, which was his big, big, big issue.
And as he fought with Republicans, both at the White House and congressional Senate Republicans, when they didn't give him what he wanted, he had been talking with Democrats about maybe I should just switch sides. He, of course, became an independent. And this was the first time in history that, by switching parties, he switched control.
MS. IFILL: That's the only time that's ever happened.
MS. WALTER: Yeah.
MS. IFILL: So what impact did it have, ultimately? Did he get what he wanted? Did he get movement on -
MS. WALTER: Well, what he got - he got to head the committee that deals with some of those issues. Yes, he was able to get money for his project. But ultimately what I think you also saw, which we will never see again, is a Senate that the two leaders, then Trent Lott and Tom Daschle, the Democrat, were able to come up with a plan for how they were going to deal with this -
MS. IFILL: Tom Daschle, the Republican. You just called him a Democrat.
MS. WALTER: Oh, my gosh.
MS. IFILL: Got to get that right.
MS. WALTER: Tom Daschle, the Democrat; Trent Lott, the Republican. Thank you. He would be very upset I said that. They figured out, in what was obviously a very tumultuous time, how they were going to split up the committees and do all this work, given that nobody had expected it.
When I talk to folks today who are in the Senate, they say can you even imagine that happening? I mean, if someone - and we could be at that point. Remember, there is a potential of having a 50-50 Senate after this next election. The idea that if somebody switched parties, the two sides could come together and set ground rules - they can't even figure out how to get, you know, one side or the other giving the keys to the bathroom, (nonetheless ?) figuring out how to get the ground rules set.
So it feels like, in so many ways, that was such a different time. But it was certainly, I think, what he signaled was it was really the end of an era for certain types of Republican.
MS. IFILL: You know, I corrected you, but you had it right. I just realized (I quoted you ?) wrong. Never mind. I always admit when I'm wrong.
MS. WALTER: (Laughs.)
MS. IFILL: Well, not always.
Thank you, everybody.
MS. WALTER: Thank you.
MS. IFILL: Check us out online at PBS.org/WashingtonWeek. And we'll see you again next week on the "Washington Week" Webcast Extra.