GWEN IFILL: Hello, and welcome to the “Washington Week” Webcast Extra. I’m joined around the table by Hannah Allam of McClatchy Newspapers, Eamon Javers of CNBC, John Dickerson of Slate Magazine and CBS News, and Josh Gerstein of Politico.
As we approach election day, it’s becoming clear the Supreme Court will have a hand in the outcome in several states. That’s because Supreme Court action and inaction in cases in Wisconsin, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas could make a real difference this year.
Walk us through those four states, Josh.
JOSH GERSTEIN: Well, if we take Ohio, for example, that’s where the Supreme Court – these are all on emergency orders, we should say; they didn’t hear any full cases.
MS. IFILL: Right.
MR. GERSTEIN: But in Ohio, they stepped in and allowed the state to cut its early voting period from 35 days to 28 days. The court never really explained in any of these cases why it did what it did. Sometimes dissenters did.
In North Carolina, they were going to cancel same-day voting – same-day voting registration there, where you could register and vote on the same day. An appeals court was going to prevent them from doing that. The Supreme Court said you could go ahead –
MS. IFILL: Wasn’t there a redistricting case in North Carolina as well –
MR. GERSTEIN: There –
MS. IFILL: - the redrawing of a district line?
MR. GERSTEIN: There also have been some redistricting cases. But they have the same-day voter registration in that state, where the Supreme Court stepped in and said, you know, you can go ahead and end same-day voter registration.
The one case where the court came in, from what one might view as a more Democratic or liberal position, was in Wisconsin, where there was a new voter ID law that’s stricter, was going to go into effect. And the court actually stepped in in that situation and said that should be left in effect. It appeared they did this because the balloting was already under way. Ballots had gone out, for example, mail ballots, absentee ballots, and they hadn’t told people you need to submit your voter ID because of the way the court decisions came down.
In Texas, we don’t know yet what the Supreme Court is going to do, but there was also a voter ID law struck down there in a pretty tough ruling, calling it a poll tax, basically, by making people go and buy papers, documents, so that they get a photo ID. The courts have in the past been very strict that you can’t have a poll tax, even of a dollar or two. And this judge said that’s exactly what this is. So we’ll see if the Supreme Court goes along with that or not.
MS. IFILL: So interesting. And we don’t know exactly how it’s going to play out. But it’s fun to see that this has not died off at all.
John Dickerson, let’s talk a little more politics here.
JOHN DICKERSON: (Laughs.)
MS. IFILL: Florida. There was a debate. And in that debate –
MR. DICKERSON: (Laughs.)
MS. IFILL: - the former governor, facing off against the current governor – that’s Charlie Crist against Rick Scott – I don’t remember – I haven’t heard a thing this week about anything that was said at that debate except what happened at the beginning.
MR. DICKERSON: I don’t know what you’re talking about, Gwen. (Laughter.)
So just – before we go on to this absurd moment, what’s interesting about North Carolina and Wisconsin is there are two super-heated races, the Senate race in North Carolina and then the governor’s race in Wisconsin. So those are faces where it’s really on the line, as opposed to Ohio and Texas, where it’s not.
OK, so in Florida, the first eight minutes, roughly, of the governor’s debate was held up over – with a debate over a fan. There was a fan placed at Charlie Crist’s feet – as you say, the former governor of Florida –
MS. IFILL: (Inaudible) - talk about Ohio and North Carolina, so we – I (do know ?) substance before I go to the fan.
MR. DICKERSON: That is important, yeah. Well, so the fan, which has been an accessory of Charlie Crist’s for basically his professional career, was not to be allowed on the debate stage.
MS. IFILL: (Inaudible.)
MR. DICKERSON: Now, Rick Scott – there was a lot of back and forth behind. The rules before debates are discussed and debated and arranged down to the last comma. And there was a debate beforehand, and Charlie Crist wanted the fan. The fan was there. At some point the moderator, trying to explain this whole thing to the audience, said the rules, as they’ve been shown to me, says there should not be a fan, and somehow there is a fan there. It sounded like a line from, like, a Brecht play, you know.
MS. IFILL: (Laughs.)
MR. DICKERSON: And so – so, anyway, then – so finally Crist –
MR. GERSTEIN (?): This is all on live television.
MR. DICKERSON: This is on live television, the debate between the governors –
MR. GERSTEIN (?): And the debate didn’t start.
MR. DICKERSON: The debate doesn’t start. There is an empty lectern and then a lectern behind which stands the – Charlie Crist, being –
MS. IFILL: Sweat-averse.
MR. DICKERSON: - being cooled by the fan. Ultimately, though, Rick Scott, the incumbent governor, comes out. And they have a debate that proves why you would need air conditioning, because it was a festival of acrimony, back and forth, neither man a fan of the other, and –
MR. DICKERSON: Anyway, but there is a historical, of course, precedent for this, in the 1960 debate between Richard Nixon and John Kennedy. Remember, it was Nixon’s flop sweat that was such a problem for him.
MS. IFILL: Historical precedent.
MR. DICKERSON: Historical precedent, very important. In the second debate, they had – Nixon had a man posted by the air conditioner to keep the temperature cool.
MR. JAVERS: But don’t you think that – I mean, a lot of people are dismissing the whole fan episode.
MS. IFILL: Yeah. (Laughs.)
MR. JAVERS: But don’t you think that it’s unintentionally revealing of the character of these two guys, that they would fight to this extent over that fan?
MR. DICKERSON: Well –
MR. JAVERS: Didn’t voters actually learn a little bit about who they are?
MR. DICKERSON: I think you can – sure. And also the really important thing, actually, is that when you talk to political scientists about what voters key off of, it’s often this kind of stuff. It’s things that they understand in their daily lives. Somebody’s got such a thing about a fan? That’s weird. Somebody cares so much that a fan’s there? They won’t come on stage?
MS. IFILL: Except they’re Florida voters, who are used to being hot, so it may –
MR. DICKERSON: So this is the kind of thing –
MS. IFILL: I’m about to end this fan (debate ?).
MR. DICKERSON: Really, because, yeah –
MR. GERSTEIN (?): It’s getting a little windy.
MR. DICKERSON: - the puns are piling up anyway. Yeah, it’s –
MS. IFILL: You never know. This may be the kind of thing that determines how people vote. It may be the first thing – (inaudible).
MR. DICKERSON: Yeah. It may be the only thing people remember about the Florida governor’s race.
MS. IFILL: OK. Eamon, I’m not going to ask you about the fan. I’m going to ask you about the Department of Justice, which this week came out pretty hard on Apple and Google –
MR. JAVERS: Yeah.
MS. IFILL: - because of encryption on our cell phones. And they’re really – I mean, this isn’t the first time he said it, but this week he gave a big speech in which he – (inaudible).
MR. JAVERS: Yeah. What we saw was the director of the FBI, James Comey, who’s only been in the job about a year, come out and really go after Apple and Google in a big speech at the Brookings Institution earlier in the week.
The backdrop to all this is in the post-Snowden era, a lot of the tech companies have been getting a low of blowback for having cooperated with U.S. intelligence over the years and are trying to now demonstrate to their customers globally, as well as in the United States, we’re resisting the efforts of U.S. intelligence. We’re not going to cooperate.
So what both Apple and Google have done is say we’re going to make high encryption a default setting on some of our new products. And that means that law enforcement won’t be able to get into these phones even if they have a warrant. Apple and Google won’t be able to crack into them because it’s unbreakable encryption from the companies’ perspective.
The FBI hates that. They want to be able to get into these phones with a warrant. They say in this day and age that’s the information that they need to get to stop crimes that are in progress, terrorist attacks, to build their cases –
MS. IFILL: But don’t consumers who worry about privacy like that?
MR. JAVERS: And that’s why the companies are doing it, because they think that consumers are very worried about government surveillance. And there’s a market out there for encrypted phones. What the FBI is saying is that’s irresponsible. And Comey came out and said that encryption is going to take us to a very, very dark place. It was very – sort of a scary speech, although he was philosophical about it and said we need to have a debate and we need to swing the post-Snowden pendulum back a little bit.
MR. DICKERSON: Could the government do anything to incent them to change these rules?
MR. JAVERS: Well, if you change the law. There’s a law that oversees what they can get access to and what they can’t. It would require Congress coming back and voting on this and actually changing the law. That’s always something Congress can do.
As of right now, though, there’s not much they can do, other than jawbone the companies. The companies have said, you know what, they can get this data elsewhere. We’re not participating in this. We’re going to put the encryption out there for the public, and let them buy it if they want it.
MR. GERSTEIN: So much of what the companies are doing, though, as you mentioned, globally is internationally driven, right? I mean, these are American companies. If they don’t do this, it’s pretty clear that other companies will. And as much demand there is from American consumers, in Europe this is really viewed as a necessity. Even the governments there are insisting on it.
MR. JAVERS: Sure. Absolutely. And so what Comey said in his remarks – there was a Q&A session at the end, and he was asked exactly that. Well, if the American companies are barred from providing encryption to their customers, a French company will do it or a German company will do it, and Americans will buy those phones.
And what Comey said is we have to get to the point now where we have to ask whether or not American companies should be expected to just take a financial hit on behalf of the government and on behalf of law enforcement in order to do this, and they should just give up that market to their foreign competition, which is not something that’s going to go over very well in Silicon Valley.
MS. IFILL: Hannah, I want to ask you about something having to do with this engagement we’re involved in against ISIS/ISIL in Iraq and Syria. They’ve given it a name this week. It’s called Operation Inherent Resolve, which – I don’t know – lacks some of the muscularity we’ve seen in past campaigns.
MS. ALLAM: I guess Enduring Freedom has sort of lost its sheen –
MS. IFILL: Yeah.
MS. ALLAM: - now that, you know, up to half of Iraq is in ISIS control. Of course, I think almost any name they chose would have sort of been lampooned. And this one certainly was. But actually a lot of thought went into this name. They took the – the American officials who came up with this took the unusual step of actually reaching out to coalition partners to make sure that this wouldn’t be offensive to some of the other cultures that are involved in this. And so, nevertheless, there have been complaints that it doesn’t translate well into Arabic and that there are two
MS. IFILL: Well, why do we have to name them?
MS. ALLAM: That’s a good question. (Laughs.) I don’t know the answer to that. But it’s, I guess, to streamline, to differentiate it from previous –
MS. IFILL: Campaigns?
MS. ALLAM: - (inaudible).
MS. IFILL: I always wondered about that. It always seems like a strange thing to slap a PR stamp on a war.
MR. JAVERS: Should they do it the way they do it with hurricanes, just go alphabetically through the names that they have?
MS. ALLAM: Right.
MS. IFILL: Yeah, that’s really funny.
MR. JAVERS: That one didn’t go over.
MS. ALLAM: A British columnist suggested some –
MR. JAVERS: Or number them?
MS. ALLAM: - alternates, such as Dude, Where’s My Humvee? and Why Are We Doing This Again?
MS. IFILL: The Brits are hilarious.
MS. ALLAM: There you go.
MS. IFILL: Well, thank you, everybody.
Stay online. Read everything else our panelists are writing about; more on the fan, I’m sure. And we’ll see you next time on the “Washington Week” Webcast Extra.