GWEN IFILL, "WASHINGTON WEEK" MODERATOR: Hello and welcome to the WASHINGTON WEEK Webcast Extra.
Joining me around the table for this final week of 2014, Dan Balz of "The Washington Post", Carrie Budoff Brown of "Politico", Indira Lakshmanan of "Bloomberg News", and Pierre Thomas of ABC News.
Guys, there are so much we didn’t get to in the regular. And we’re going to start with Cuba.
That was kind of really, I call it kind of gangster.
INDIRA LAKSHMANAN, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Huge.
IFILL: Out of the blue came the president and said, oh, by the way, we’re going to --
LAKSHMANAN: Completely historic. Well, it wasn’t completely out of the blue, in the sense that from the beginning of his presidency, the president was signaling that he did intend to -- he never used the word "normalize" relations with Cuba, but change the dynamic.
But once Alan Gross, that USAID subcontractor, was taken prisoner and put in jail, there was no way that was going to be able to happen, as long as he was behind bars. And so, the big thing that none of us knew was happening, because that was one case where the White House did not leak. Oh my goodness, so amazing!
IFILL: I’ve talked to people in the White House who are so proud of themselves that it didn’t leak.
LAKSHMANAN: They should be proud of themselves because that guy’s life, you know, his ability, his freedom was at risk if that had gotten leaked out.
LAKSHMANAN: And so, they weren’t talking about it until he cleared out of Cuban airspace. But the point is, once that piece was solved, they could make it part of largely, you know, grand bargain of which normalization is, you know, the leading edge. And I find it fascinating because as the president said, the embargo all those years has not changed the government there. That has not worked. So, let’s try something else and see if it works.
IFILL: Let me ask you another foreign policy question we didn’t get to, which is the president’s relationship with Vladimir Putin. We talked about the Russian economy and the sanctions having their effect. But there’s something very interesting about those guys, and how they do or do not get along.
LAKSHMANAN: Well, I think it’s pretty personal and it was interesting because we saw that Obama did have a working relationship with Putin’s predecessor, Medvedev. And, you know, he spoke about it and he got caught on that hot mike talking about how he thought he’d be able to do more with Medvedev.
And so, you know, it also reveals. I mean, Putin is a certain type. He’s a certain Soviet KGB, you know, thinker, the way he thinks long term, the way he’s talked about the worst thing that happened in the 20th century was the collapse of the Soviet Union. We know where he’s coming from. He’s just not thinking in a 20 century way in a way that’s lined up with U.S. interest.
LAKSHMANAN: And so, they can’t really work together.
IFILL: No matter what president probably is.
LAKSHMANAN: I think that’s right.
IFILL: Carrie, I want to ask you. This time last year when we were looking back on the year, we talked almost completely about the health care law.
CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN, POLITICO: Yes, it’s remarkable.
IFILL: And this year, it’s working or it seems to be working.
BROWN: I mean, if I would dare any of us to look at the year-end sort of summaries of even this program, ACA and the enrolment, millions and millions of people signed up for insurance. The most recent enrolment fairly closed without any sort of -- it’s still open. It might still be open.
BROWN: Yes, there had been no major stories about glitches, the Web site causing problems, or just sort of big fires that flare that the president has to deal with.
IFILL: But is it not a political lightning rod anymore for the president’s --
BROWN: Jonathan Gruber --
IFILL: Well, Jonathan Gruber, yes.
IFILL: The guy who came out and said Americans are dumb. So, we’re going to be able to get this through.
BROWN: Yes, that’s just embarrassing.
Well, I think -- I think you can judge if by looking at Republicans on the Hill and what they’re proposing or not proposing, if this latest spending bill that passed Congress, you did not see a major fight over healthcare, (INAUDIBLE) or legislative language in there that would have defunded health care in any way, that that was not where the fight was. They -- the White House got the money they wanted for in the health care law.
So, I think you can judge the potency of the issue by the fights that are waged Capitol Hill and that’s not at the top anymore.
DAN BALZ, THE WASHINGTON POST: There is still the Supreme Court to be heard from.
IFILL: That’s right.
BROWN: Yes, and that could be enormously difficult.
BALZ: It could be very significant.
IFILL: I have to say that I know that those of us who covered the 2014 midterms found that Obamacare was a big issue on the campaign trail, but it doesn’t translate somehow in Washington.
But I do want to ask you a little bit about 2014, but not about what happened with Congress, because it gets overlooked, what the incredible upheaval we saw in statehouses and in governor’s offices this year, and I wonder whether that changes people, affects people’s lives almost more than one happened in Washington.
BALZ: It has a tremendous effect on people’s lives, in some ways more than Washington because Washington has been dysfunctional and there’s not that much that’s gotten done.
The thing that happened in these races, there were a lot of embattled governors, Republicans and Democrats. For the most part, almost all of the Republicans survived. Democrats did not and Republicans picked up in some places where you would not have expected it. Next door here in Maryland, Massachusetts, which has had Republican governors in the past, but again, they lost it. Illinois, the president’s home state.
But what you are seeing now in the states is unified control by the Republicans in almost two dozens states. And in those places, sometimes, they have super majorities, and the governors and the legislatures are able to enact a conservative governing agenda. Sometimes, it’s more active than what the Republicans in Washington are talking about. But nonetheless, it is creating a template or a model that we will see trotted out in the 2016 presidential campaign, as here’s what we’re able to do in the states we can take this to Washington.
BROWN: That have a very real effect for the -- setback for the White House in the expansion of Medicaid. Before the election, there was a lot of hope within the White House that this would be their way, you know, hope before the election that Democrats would take some of the statehouses, big statehouses where they could finally expand Medicaid, and they just got blown out in a way that they did not expect. It was remarkable. And that sets back that effort --
IFILL: That affects people’s lives --
IFILL: -- in the way that’s very real.
Pierre, another thing.
PIERRE THOMAS, ABC NEWS: Yes.
IFILL: We mentioned Supreme Court in passing but there are two things which I find are interesting. One is the voting rights cases in the Supreme Court. It was huge rollback and a disappointment for activists and for some people in this administration, and also the CIA torture report, which is completely different from that but still affected how our government works and how it treats people and how it does its business.
And I wonder -- let’s start with, at one of the time. Let’s start with the rollback on the voting rights case. It’s still an avenue of appeal on that at this point.
THOMAS: The Justice Department is looking at that. That’s been a pet issue of Attorney General Eric Holder who will be soon leaving. He believes that the Republicans have tried to limit the participation of African-Americans and other minorities and the elderly. He thinks it’s been a systematic to do.
He will push back on that. And I think he will press his successor if she’s confirmed, Loretta Lynch, the current U.S. attorney out of New York to do the same.
In terms of the CIA torture report --
IFILL: Oh, there’s been some talk about persecuting.
IFILL: For instance, persecuting the people who did torture. And the White House and others are saying, I don’t think that’s going to happen.
LAKSHMANAN: I think even though giving amnesty, giving pardons would be a statement, because it would be saying, hey, they did something wrong. And because they did -- we’re acknowledging they did something wrong, and therefore, we’re pardoning them. So, you have seen some ACLU types and some, you know, attackers of the torture report call for that.
THOMAS: Right. You can see people press for the Justice Department to persecute. They’re not going to. And the prickly issue is that you have a Justice Department play a role in blessing some of the activity of the Bush administration. And you can have that department play a role and then turn around and say, we’re going to persecute the people. It’s just not going to happen.
Can I ask you about pot?
IFILL: Because it just seems that there is a bit of big change. This is the year when people just stop thinking it was worth worrying about.
THOMAS: Well, it’s interesting. More and more states legalizing the use of marijuana.
IFILL: And same sex marriage, by the way. I don’t know --
IFILL: I don’t know if there’s a connection.
THOMAS: And it’s primarily because, there’s a thinking at least in federal law enforcement that they have other things to focus on rather than pursuing people that want to smoke weeds. They’re going to continue to go after the cartels, the Mexican cartels, huge problem, particularly as it relates to heroine. That’s where their focus is right now.
And the federal government seems to be leaving to the states, you resolve this issue and we’ll stay out of it.
IFILL: It feels like a real cultural shifts are underway in 2014 and we’re going to keep seeing the reverberations --
LAKSHMANAN: I wonder if that shift is going to come to abortion. I think we see it coming to --
IFILL: I think it came to abortion and that’s why we’re moving on into these other issues. Another conversation for another night.
IFILL: Thanks, everybody.
And we’ll see you next year on the WASHINGTON WEEK Webcast Extra.