Transcript for Roundtable I: This Week in Politics
the people made it clear what they wanted. Now let's work together. That's one of the wonderful -- it's like earning capital. Let me put it to you this way, i earned capital in the campaign, political capital and now i intend to spend it. I have one mandate. I have a mandate to help middle class families and families that are working hard to try to get into the middle class. That's my mandate. President bush in 2004 and president obama this week with different ideas about the power of their mandates after re-election and we'll get to that with our roundtable in a moment. We're joined, as always, by george will, donna brazile, jonathan karl, congressman xavier becerra, the vice chair of the democratic caucus in the house and former house speaker newt gingrich. Thank you all for being here. George will, I want to start with you, and I want to start with israel. This is a conventional war that we've been looking at in the past week. We've come in a sense a full circle from the war of independence in 1948, which was one essentially of small arms by israel to the great tank and air battles of the yom kippur war in 1973, israel's enemies tried to destroy it with conventional warfare. Having failed at that they went to terrorism, suicide bombers he is and all the rest and israel before had to be on the offensive, built a fence. The problem is you can get over a fence with rockets and there are rockets by the tens of thousands now. Now, senator levin a moment ago praised rightly the iron dome anti-missile defense system but any missile defense system can be overwhelmed by numbers and the danger is and israel will not still sit still for this, but they will have to go in and stop the source and supply of the rockets. Speaker gingrich, just a few minutes benjamin netanyahu tweeted that they are ready to escalate this. Where do you see this going? Two things, one, end all the peace process. You have a permanent war in the region. You have people determined to destroy israel. They spent all the periods of nonwar building up the weapons to have war. And then when they think it's appropriate, they wage war. And then they go back to saying, oh, no, let's talk about a peace process while we accumulate more weapons. Second, I think the israelis, this is very deliberate. The israelis have analyzed an iranian wing of hamas and an egyptian wing. They are methodically destroying the egyptian wing and they will stop when they optimize it but they are killing people and taking out assets that relate -- these are iranian rockets that are hitting tel aviv right now. They came in probably -- congressman, give up on the peace process you think? You want to be militarily strong so you don't have to go to war and so whether it's israel or the united states, you want to always be strong. But what you want to do is get to the negotiating table because that's where you broker the best agreement, and so I think the president has been clear, he's been forceful. America is speaking with one voice, and we have to see us get back to the negotiating table. Jon karl, what happens if this does escalate? How should the u.S. Be approaching it in your view? How is the u.S. Approaching it? Are we doing enough? What is interesting, you see absolutely agreement across the board as you always do when it comes to israel that israel is within its rights to defend itself. That is what this is abo this is responding to, you know, persistent attacks on its territory with these rockets, but the administration also made it clear they don't want this to escalate, and that's the message they are sending, the president is sending to the israelis. But this is a big test for president morsi, remember, hamas is -- the egyptian president. That is correct. Hamas is a member of the so-called muslim brotherhood, so president morsi has dispatched diplomats to the territory to try to de-escalate the tensions. He's in touch with turkey, the arab league to try to get hamas to bring back. He's also signaling to israel that he wants to protect the palestinian population. You know, beyond the long-term threat of israel's security, i mean we have to look at can we give back to the peace process at some point, because ultimately that's the only way that we're going to protect israel, and that's the only way given the neighborhood has changed over the past few months that we're going to see any real peace in that area. I want to switch to benghazi now. It seems that the republicans are still digging in their heels about susan rice. Where does this go? Well, they sent out susan rice rather than the secretary of agriculture because presumably she could -- or the secretary of state. Well, the secretary of agriculture could read talking points by the cia. Did she mislead the country? Of course, she did in saying that this was a movie review gone bad somehow. The question is, did she intentionally mislead, or did someone mislead her by as some people are saying excising crucially parts of the cia talking points where the cia said extremists linked to al qaeda, and they just became extremists. But I got to tell you, the cia talking points were not edited in the sense of talking about the movie. Both the classified version we now know and the declassified version referred to demonstrations in benghazi growing out of what happened in cairo with the movie. How was the cia, how are our intelligence agencies so incredibly wrong about this? I mean it was not just rice. Regarding her confirmation, i can tell you that she probably almost certainly wins confirmation if the white house goes forward with this, and the white house is signaling clearly that that is where the president is heading right now. Whether or not he goes through it or not, but democrats, I'd be interested to hear what you say about this, but what I'm hearing democrats from the senate, don't necessarily want this fight right now because it will be three weeks of battles over the rice nomination focusing on benghazi because it will be filibustered. Not all republicans will go along with its. The filibuster will not be successful but this will be a bat many that lasts three weeks. Martha, secretary -- ambassador rice communicated what she had been given to communicate by the intelligence community. senator McCain and senator graham's beef is with the intelligence community, not with ambassador rice. If ambassador rice had said something other than what she was told to say by the intelligence community, they'd be attacking her for having said something other than what she was supposed to say. Is this about something more? Absolutely. Is something more going on here? November 6 passed but in the eyes of -- the election is over and why are they digging in? We're still in campaign mode and that's unfortunate. Well, in the fog of war, i mean, this is -- colin powell gave talking points and adlai stevenson during the bay of pigs gave bad talking points. I mean this is just the politics. It's bizarre the way senator McCAIN JUST TOTALLY QUESTIONED Her qualifications for a position she has not even been nominated for and went so far as to even suggest she's not a smart person, and ambassador rice is a very extremely qualified, smart, dedicated public servant, clearly I think the attacks are purely political. But there are all these investigations going on. Why don't we just let a lot of these investigations conclude before we learn the lessons of four brave americans killed in libya. There is a larger issue. Why were they so wrong? Oh, absolutely, the intelligence -- that issue seems to have gone away, and everybody is focusing on susan rice now but I'd like -- they'd rather speculate. I'd like to move on to dave petraeus who we've been talking -- one quick point, which is if we didn't understand what's going on in benghazi, a relatively open city where we had people, why do we think the intelligence community knows what's going on in iran? I mean -- those questions -- yes, we've had those questions for many years and people are asking those questions. And the cia was consistently wrong in a consistent direction about soviet missiles, about soviet economic growth. The record of error is -- I think we'll have questions about a lot of those. Our beef is with the intelligence. I think we've made that pretty clear right here. I think we've made that pretty clear. Let's move on to dave petraeus. You know he was in these hearings. We have -- we thought this might calm down this week. It has not. Let me start with you, speaker gingrich. Is it a national security risk to have your cia director involved in an extramarital affair? I think petraeus concluded and I think he's quite right that he couldn't be effective. I mean I think what he did is -- you don't think it was because he got caught. Well, that's what made him ineffective. I mean I think by definition if something had remained secret, it would remain secret. You'd have no reason to confront But the president actually spent 24 hours thinking about it. But I think petraeus in offering his resignation was communicating that he didn't think he could lead the cia. He didn't think he could deal with the congress and that he would be consumed -- you're much better off to have people saying, gee, he's a great patriot. Isn't it a pity he's gone than people saying why isn't he gone? From his perspective he would have been in a very, very difficult position if he stayed in office. He thought he was going to get away with it, it seems to me. He acknowledged to the fbi the affair and went on a six-nation tour to the region, went to libya, looked at his own benghazi investigation. He didn't decide to resign until james clapper asked him to resign. Until it became public. The fbi calls you and says, we know this, you know this, no one else knows this, you're operating on one -- congressman becerra, get in the middle between those guys. There was a personal failing, a deep, severe personal failing. Does it break into the realm of the public world, the responsibilities that -- what about judgment? What agment? Well, that's surely the point. Isn't that the bottom line here. The american people are not moral-less about this. They never gave up their affection for and job approval of bill clinton. This is a question of you want your cia director to have good judgment. Is that asking too much? And this was obviously a case of bad judgment. There's a -- I would hope, by the way -- and should it just be the cia director or should it be anybody? Where do you draw the line? I don't know where you draw the line but especially the cia director. This might also be a good time for the country to think about the militarization of the cia. I'm not sure we should have military leaders leading the cia, people in the military. That's been a long debate. That's why they wanted him to retire, correct. The cia is going to become increasingly a paramilitary operation. We ought to talk about that because that's a momentous development. A few months ago the gallup poll indicated our military was the most trusted institution in american life, so this was a huge blow at a time when congress is as popular as a root canal to have another institution of government have failed so badly, so, you know, we respect his service to the country, his sense of duty but this was a failure of judgment and I thought his resignation had to be accepted, and I know he'll get on with his life at some point. Jon, does it harm the military, do you think? Well, this isn't the first scandal to -- the pentagon is investigating why there have been so many scandals lately. Let me just quickly on that, do you think we really do need to look at not only younger soldiers, but generals and what they've been through? Dave petraeus has been deployed -- was deployed for six years. Yeah, how much time -- he spent more time deployed than he has back home, but, you know, i this you want to be careful about making excuses but I think the military is looking not only at this issue, but at kind of the whole culture at the upper ranks. I mean, you know, sort of "the washington post" has about how gates realized that he had to -- next door to mullen. Mullen has people making dinner for him. Sort of blowing his leaves over to mullen's yard because he knew he had four people over there. The chairman at the time. Okay, let's go to another perhaps not quite as sexy topic and that is the fiscal cliff. Meetings on friday, everyone came out of those meetings and was so optimistic and thought they were so constructive. We've heard that before. What's different now? Did you look at the body language as they walked out of the white house? I have never seen a less enthusiastic -- I guess we will now go out and talk to the press. We will all be positive. Constructive meeting. It was very constructive. Now, we have here somebody in the leadership so maybe he can tell us if we should be optimistic. I heard nancy pelosi say we should be optimistic. There's reason to be constructive and optimistic because it's simple math. We've got -- I sat on both simpson -- I sat on the super committee. You can only come up with so many ways to deal with the deficit. It is arithmetic and so -- so we should be able to do this. You talk about that simple math for a long time. Is it really just that? Well, if I could just conclude, if the math is simple, what the problem is is the egos and the concern about the special interests. If you can hang your egos and special interests at the door. They have not gone away. That's the problem. Congressman, are democrats going to go along with entitlement cuts? Are they going to go along with cuts to medicare and social security? The president was prepared to make significant changes in some of our important mandatory programs. The president and democrats were willing in both the super committee and biden talks and the president's grand bargain were willing to put everything on the table. It's always been that way and that's why I say it's arithmetic. It's simple math. We can do it. Simple math and is there a mandate? Does the president have a mandate? He has a mandate. He said it. He said he has a mandate to protect the middle class, to fight for the middle class, and I think what's important before we start talking about entitlements, which the president has talked about before, is that the republicans are now talking about revenue. The question is what republican party will show up, the republican party that still believes the romney/ryan math adds up or the other republican party that understands the reality 60% of the american people at least on election day voted to put revenues on the table. That is the big question we have to look at as we look down the road. The president is going to play the long game. He's not going to play for a short-term deal. The president denounced the house republicans across this country as obstructionists. The country said, we hear you and they sent him back to continue being a break on the president. And almost every member of john boehner's caucus won his or her seat by a much bigger margin than mr. Obama won his renewed term. Look, the arithmetic is simple. If you cap at $25,000 the available deductions, you raise $1.2 trillion. A lot of money. If you cap at 50,000, you raise about as much upon as you would letting the bush tax rates I don't think that's a problem. You showed the clip of patty murray saying as a negotiating ploy go off the cliff. Let me give you another theory. For 40 years the democratic party's activist base has had two goals, substantial tax increases and substantial tax or defense cuts. Going off the cliff implements the democratic party's agenda. Well, do you think it would be so bad to go off the cliff? I think it would be mildly chaotic. Just mildly? This is a gigantic country. This country can absorb lots of mistakes. We test that theory regularly in our history. I don't think you should negotiate out of fear. I don't think you should have people say, oh, we have a gun at your head. The american people are faced with a flawed system. I agree with george will. The fact is that we're two mandates, not one. There's a mandate for the president, and there's a mandate for the house republicans and should the house republicans consider some revenues? Maybe but I watched reagan get taken to the cleaners. I watched george h.W. Bush get taken to the cleaners. Give us the taxes and we will present someday eventually give you some spending cuts is not an appealing thing and I hope republicans would be very careful about whether there are genuine reforms and entitlements. Jon karl, you were shaking your head about it being mildly chaotic. Well, you know, I think what we're having now is both sides hearing what they want to hear. The democrats hear the republicans talk about revenues and the republicans hear the democrats, you know, make vague statements about entitlements. But there's a lot of space here. I mean, nancy pelosi told you directly that she would not agree to anything that did not raise rates. A starting point, huh. We had some controversial comments this week by governor mitt romney in a conference call with donors. Let's listen to that. What the president's campaign did was focus on certain members of his base coalition, give them extraordinary financial gifts from the government and then work very aggressively to turn them out to vote. If you want voters to like you, the first thing you've got to do is to like them first and it's certainly not helpful to tell voters that you think their votes were bought. This is completely not helpful. This is not what the republican party needs to go. What do you think of that? Is that where the republican party needs to go? I just think it's nuts. I mean, first of all, it's insulting. This would be like walmart having a bad week and going, the customers have really been unruly. I mean, the job of a political leader is to understand the people. If we can't offer a better future that is believable to more people, we'ng to o win. And how do you do that, george will? How do you do that. You begin where bobby jindal was. It's well said you have a problem when the voters don't like you but have a real problem when the voters think you don't like them. Mitt romney was picking up the theme that he put before the country, that 47% video during the campaign, get back to quit despising the american people particularly because a lot of what they're despising them for, republican policies. When mitt romney said, so many americans aren't paying taxes, yeah, because the republicans doubled the child tax credit for conservative reasons, yes, because they expanded the earned income tax credit as ronald reagan did because they thought it was an effective anti-poverty program. Congressman becerra, let me go to you on this. It's deja vu all over again. What are republicans doing to attract those certain members of the base? I don't think they read the tea leaves from november the 6th and I think they're still harkening to yesteryear. It's a new day in america and they should be catching up. He is the de facto leader of the party, mitt romney is still there, and so his comments remind folks of the 47% comment and it's unfortunate for them because they have to figure out a way to distance themselves from a guy who doesn't get it. I have to say he is not the de facto leader of the republican party. I think what this did was hasten romney's departure completely from the scene. Romney has -- I mean I talked to republicans now. They talk about how you'll never see him speak at a convention again. People aren't going to be going to his door begging for his endorsement. That's a great question. De facto leader. His comments went over like a lead balloon with everybody, especially republicans. I agree with my home state governor bobby jindal but I have to tell you I saw a lot of people who said where's my gift? You know, no one believes that we're getting gifts from the government. I was at a party last night. Everybody said, can you tell the president we want some gifts? I'm like, yeah, the gifts that he will give to the american people, it will come with improving the economy and that's what we all want. Quickly, george. We're all getting a gift, we're getting $5 worth of government services and being charged $3 for it. And where does the republican party go? Mitt romney, do you agree, is finished? I think romney -- I think many -- finished? Well, I think he's finishing himself but I think the republican party has many leaders. We have a whole new generation. Bobby jindal is a good example, susana martinez. You'll see a whole wave of you're going to see a whole wave of new people coming along and that's good for the republican party.
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