Transcript for Roundtable I: This Week in Politics
worrying about politics and worry about people. Sit down, get in a room and don't come out of that room until you've got this thing taken care of. It's absolutely ridiculous. I mean, it should have happened a long time ago. And if you have to get the job done, you need to get the job done. We heard the job is compromise. You have to work together to get the job done. I have very little faith that they're actuallyoing to reach a deal, and that frustrates me greatly. If my job was to do something for four years and I couldn't do it, I deserve to be fired. The job has been done, finish up, let's go. We're all waiting. Welcome back. There's no shortage of anger at our political leaders out there for failing to do their job. Let's bring in our powerhouse roundtable. We have todd purdum, national editor of "vanity fair." Former vermont governor and founder of democracy for america, howard dean, maggie haberman, senior political reporter for politico and former minnesota governor tim pawlenty, now president and ceo of the financial services round table. Thank you all for joining us. Todd, we're talking about congress. This is a big moment for congress, obviously. But give us the perspective from the president's point of view. How important a moment right now is this going to be a test for president obama? I think it's a very big moment and sets the tone for a second term. He thinks he has the public behind him and campaigned on these issues and won. The problem is, individual members of the house who outpolled him in their districts don't share that view, so i think the stakes are very high for him, and he has got to deliver something too and he knows it and that's why he's back here and that's why maybe something will happen in the next 24 hours. You've seen the polls, governor pawlenty, by a large margin people right now are blaming republicans for this mess and have made it clear that if we go over the fiscal cliff, it's going to be republicans that will pay the price. Well, the polls, of course, are a reflection of a moment in time but, you know, I had some of these issues in minnesota. I had the first government shutdown in the history of my state and learned some things, jonathan. You have to have leverage in a negotiation, two, you can overplay your hand. If you corner one group so completely and leave them no way out, it's likely to blow up and the third and last thing i learned is if you do overplay your hand the ill will that comes from that can reside for a long time and spoil your chances to get things done down the road and president obama I think is in a very powerful position right now. He has some leverage but I think in the interest of the country and the interest of getting things done for the rest of his term, he should be mindful of not overplaying his hand here. He has a good sound-bite, which is raise taxes on the wealthy from his perspective but hasn't given the republicans the good sound bite they need to do the deal. Governor, you've been out there making quite consistently we should go over the fiscal cliff. Right, I think we're having a conversation about the short term and politics in washington which has pretty much been going on in the media since the election. But long term we have to worry about the deficit. This is a good deficit -- solid deficit reduction proposal. My great fear is they will make a deal and simply kick the can down the road and I think that may happen. It would be too bad. The right deal is to really take a big bite out of the deficit. You go back to the clinton tax rates and make some significant cuts and you cut the defense , which hasn't been cut in 30 years. Maggie, looks like we will get exactly what the governor just -- I mean assuming they get -- and what was your take listening to schumer and kyl? My take was there has not been that much progress. My take on labrador -- they sounded so optimistic. Because that's where the deal well, they did. They both did because that's where the deal is being discussed in the senate. With the discussion with the house members that I found much more contentious and sort of interesting about where we are and that I think is of real concern. I do think that some senate democrats and some liberal members of the house would like to see the cliff gone over. They think that is the best way to press a reset. I don't think that is where the president is. I really don't. I think that's what he is saying publicly but his second track, i need a deal for all the reasons -- if we go over the fiscal cliff, he can blame the republicans and he can do the tax cuts on the rich thing, he's the president. I mean, you know, as has been said, we don't really remember who the leader of the house was when hoover was president. I mean, you know -- ultimately it's his economy. It's his country and it's his economy and it's his government but I think one of the things that is instructive is that we are now down to such a tiny perspective deal, the tough issues are not being dealt with at all. Even the sequestration which was supposed to be so horrible, these automatic cuts in defense, so horrible that we would never let them happen will almost certainly happen because there is not time to deal with that in the next 24 hours. It's a sad -- the frustrating thing for me isn't this what we really need to do? I think washington is incapable of making a deal that will help the country. What we're talking about here is a deal that's going to help the politicians. It'll help the president. We're arguing it's going to help boehner. That is not the problem. The problem is we have a really big deficit that the economy is much stronger three years down the line than it was that we can stand this. Now, I believe also that if we go over the cliff then the president has a lot more leverage. Because then all of a sudden middle class people's taxes will rise and that will be bad for every politician in washington. Maybe they'll actually get something done. But I think at this point at this late hour I think almost any deal they come up with is worse than going over the cliff. And let's be honest. The deal they're talking about would effectively reduce tax rates because it would extend some of these tax -- yeah. And it would increase spending so it would do exactly the opposite. Exactly. It would make the deficit worse if they cut a deal. I mean, is that where we are, governor? No, I mean, jonathan, the -- only thing that makes the problem worse. I hope not. This is a moment where people's backs are up against the wall. And there would be if there was an opportunity for a big deal but you need symmetry. If you are going to fly over the cliff, you need the tax cut or excuse me the president's argument on raising taxes but you also need those structural changes to get enough to support the deal. They haven't gotten to that point. They just haven't gotten to that point. The other thing that I think is important to remember here is that if we get a small deal and it is really what we're talking about, we'll be back here in a couple of weeks for a debt ceiling. The republicans think they have more leverage. Democrats, some will privately agree with that. So, you know -- right, so we're going to be here in a situation where once again the credit of the united states is in question. We're at risk of defaulting because we've hit the debt ceiling. The president says he doesn't want to negotiate at all on this. I'm wondering what your position on this is, governor pawlenty, because I remember full well what you were arguing during the republican primaries, making the case that the republicans should not give in and raise the debt ceiling unless they got a big price. Take a listen. I've said all along don't do it unless you get something really good for it if you have to draw some lines in the sand. It's also a moment where you can push people's backs against the wall and get something significant. So you're now head of the financial services roundtable. Is it still your position that republicans should push the president against the wall and not give in on the debt ceiling? Well, the financial services is part of the economy, as well as the economy more broadly wants to avoid the cliff. We don't want a howard dean scream as the country bungee jumps into the cliff. A low. You might need one. I was right then, and I'm right now. But to answer your question, seriously -- and thank you, governor dean for your good sense of humor. Thank you, tim. -- You've got to have moments in politics, you've got to have people get their backs up against the wall to do something big but you don't want to overplay your hand. Aren't republicans playing with fire? Speaker boehner came out early, jonathan, and said, look, I'll raise revenues and also increase the debt ceiling. In that moment there was a signal that perhaps a bigger deal could have been done and then it fell apart but there was an acknowledgement that the debt ceiling would go up by speaker boehner. There was an acknowledgement that revenues would go up by speaker boehner, so the one wing of the plane you feed to fly over the cliff was being constructed pretty nicely on that side, but the other side, the real structural changes and entitlements never materialized. You see, I think the smart THING TO DO HERE IS to GO OVER The cliff and then do a big deal then wrap the debt ceiling, the cliff, the tax rates, the cuts all into one big deal. It's going to take some time but I think you can -- if you go over the cliff, you reduce the debt ceiling problem by $600 billion, so the debt ceiling gets postponed some more and that should give you enough time to do the deal. I think that's the way to go. Obviously you can't let us go over the cliff on the debt ceiling. That's a much more serious problem. This is really not a cliff. We call it the fiscal curve, which is really what it is. It sounds catchy, governor. I know. But let's take a look at the larger issue here, this kind of absurdity of being here at the end of the year with this situation. Take a look. Take a listen to how president obama put it on friday. This is deja vu all over again. America wonders why it is that in this town for some reason you can't get stuff done in an organized timetable. Why everything always has to wait till the last minute. I think the president there was speaking for virtually everybody in the country but i was struck, todd, when he said this town as if he doesn't live in this town and has actually a pretty important address in this town. The painful lesson of his first term is the limitations of change within washington are pretty severe and, you know, he's talked about that often in the campaign, and that's one of the things he learned, so it will be interesting to see if we do go over the cliff whether the president can muster support among the public to say in a howard beale kind of moment or howard dean, we're not going to take it anymore. We're mad as hell. As you pointed out a year ago we knew this and two years ago we knew the tax cuts, so I'm not sure why we should think two months now from will be better in terms of striking a deal on the debt ceiling or whatever it is. Part of it is the incredible polarization of congress. Terrible. It's built in a structural built-in polarization. Let's take a look. Nate silver, the guru of all things number when it comes to politics or sports, looked at what happened to the house of representatives. Take a look. Pretty striking numbers. We now have swing districts, districts within 5% of where the national vote was in the presidential race, there used to be 1992, 103 competitive swing districts. Now there are just 35 districts out of 435 that are actually competitive, and then what he calls landslide districts, these are lopsided districts where there was more than 20% difference between the national race and what we have now, look, the number of landslide districts has almost doubled. These members of congress are now in a situation where they're worried about a primary, and they are not concerned at all about appealing to the other party. It's actually a fairly simple fix which of course neither the republicans or the democrats are going to want, you do what the voters of florida and california did. You take redistricting out of the hands of legislators and put them in the hands of a public group, a nonpartisan group. It's worked in iowa for a long time and had some startling results in california and it's working in florida. This has been done by ballot by citizens rising up against their state legislatures and saying stop screwing around with our government. Let's do it ourselves. This is what you saw with plan b, right? Essentially this was the problem for boehner. True on both sides but this is why boehner was unable to get the votes that he needed for an alternative plan that was purely about a pr gimmick, basically his members did not want to take a vote on something that wasn't going to be real in the first place because of a fear of the primary, because of the threats over the norquist pledge and threatening primary people so I agree with you in terms of the longer-term nonpartisan redistricting but in terms of the more immediate next couple of years, I'm not sure how you change it. What does it say about boehner's leadership? I mean, that was a pretty extraordinary moment when even with a larger majority that he's going to have in the next congress, he couldn't get his conference to agree on the bare minimum. Well, I think it's some level it's not just leadership, it's math. In the old days president reagan and tip o'neill have a cocktail together and cut a deal that was pragmatic. You remember president reagan said he wouldn't raise the gas tax ever. His feet were in cement when he announced it and famously said, "the sound you hear is the sound of cement cracking." But back in the day there were enough people in both parties who were kind of in betweeners and they could accommodate a pragmatic solution. Those days appear to be numerically over for the moment as your graph from nate silver just showed. Even of the 35 swing districts, jonathan, those 35 aren't necessarily swing members of congress. Probably half are fully committed to the right or left personally so you have a very narrow sliver left of anybody who could be a hinge vote. Everybody is entrenched hard left, hard right and there's very little room to maneuver in between. Todd, you have a situation where the speaker doesn't have power. He doesn't have some of the tools he used to. Earmarks, can't spread around extra special projects around to districts. Can't control his freshmen. The notion that some of these lip pi freshmen go out and say things on a television program, the idea 40 years ago that sam rayburn would have had to deal with that is inconceivable that the breakdown in party and all the things we like to decry bad for democracy turns out in certain ways they were good for democracy. Is boehner ultimately maybe through no fault of his own style the kind of political situation one of the weakest speakers of the house we have seen in modern times? He certainly in modern times and it's interesting because speaker pelosi was probably one of the strongest because she was in the same, you know, ballpark as her caucus and congressman boehner is just not. Can I say on this point in defense of speaker boehner, if you understand the dynamics of the current republican party and what it takes to go out publicly on the point and say, I'm going to raise revenues and I'm going to raise the debt ceiling, for him to do that early on in these discussions took great courage, a huge risk for him. So that was an exercise -- what have you been able -- that was an exercise of bold leadership. Now, he wasn't able to deliver in that moment but it's very rare these days you see a leader willing to take that much risk or flack from his or her party so please don't take that as a sign of . I think it's a sign of leadership. I think it is a sign of weakness and I'll tell you why. He must have known that was going to happen. The difference between what he did and what pelosi did to get the health care bill through, pelosi went through her caucus and broke every arm in the caucus that was giving her trouble and then made the announcement. Boehner went out and made the announcement first then couldn't get his people. That's a leadership mistake. In that moment you have to concede, governor, she had it within -- I think boehner does have courage and I think he could be a good speaker. He's just not tough enough. I don't agree with that. Results show. Look into the crystal ball here for the next couple of days. And we're going to get your predictions for next year, but just over the next couple of days, based on what you heard here today from the senators and the raucous discussion with the house members, each of you, do you think the deal is going to happen and if it happens will it pass house and senate? There will be a deal. I'm a little pessimistic at the moment. I hope they can get over the cliff and avoid the january 1st cutoff. My hope is they can put something together as early as january but I'm a little pessimistic whether they can get it done by december 31st midnight. I'm where the governor is. I think that the -- I understand that schumer and kyl are optimistic but there's not much coming out of the house right now that seems positive. I do think there will be some framework. I think it's the best thing for the country to go over the cliff right now. It's not a great -- will we? Yeah, it's not a great thing but the best of all the alternative. They'll have to do something and the market's reaction wednesday morning if they haven't done anything will be the next wedge. It will be although I predict ultimately if we go over the cliff and stay over the cliff, six months from now the dow will be at 15,000. The biggest uncertainty in the market is not taxes and blah, blah, blah, it's the size of the deficit. If you've gone over the cliff, you've done something serious about the deficit. All of a sudden the financial horizons look pretty good. Okay, now we've ask eached of you to come up with your -- since this is the last show of the year. Tell me what you felt were the defining or was the defining moment of 2012. Start with you, governor pawlenty. Well, for the presidential race it was the arrival of hurricane sandy. That was a moment that changed the dynamic. Changed the coverage of the race. Allowed the president to elevate his presence and message and persona in the race in a way that I think cemented or solidified or at least contributed greatly to his victory. I disagree completely. I think it was the 47% video. When that emerged, I think that that really was what sort of calcified the image of mitt romney that the president's ads had been maintaining for months and I think it was very hard even with a poor debate performance from obama at first to come back from. In 1984 I knew mondale was going to lose when he gave his acceptance speech and said, the next president has to raise taxes. He won't tell you, I just did. This year I believed I knew that mitt romney was going to lose when he said, I will veto the d.R.E.A.M. Act if it gets to my desk. When he said that in republican debate, I knew he couldn't get to 30% among latinos and I knew he was done. It sounds like an obvious answer but I think president obama's re-election will be seen by history as -- I think the way that he won, the way that he won so decisively, so clearly and with an electorate whose composition surprised the heck out of the republicans will make his second term seen as -- he can no longer be seen as sort of a flukey creation of the wars and the bush economy. He's actually -- I'll do a variation of that. Election night, the amazing moment when fox news and all the other networks had called the election, and karl rove went on to say, no, no, wait a minute. This is not over yet. A little reminder. We've got to be careful about calling things when we have like 991 votes separating the 2 candidates and a quarter of the vote yet to count. Now, the reason why to me that was the defining moment is because the republicans were just shell-shocked. You guys really seemed to think you were going to win this. One thing to score a touchdown, another to do a dance in the end zone. There was a lot of data error and data bias and part of it i think is the commercialization of polling in a way that absurds the industrialization of the use of the polling data that biases -- maybe we can just listen to nate silver the next time. Predictions for 2013. Each have one. All right, well, I was going to say immigration reform is going to pass the united states congress and be signed into law by the president and also say there may be the re-emergence of arab spring-like protests in jordan. I think there will be progress in immigration reform, not on gun control. The relationship with israel will continue to deteriorate if netanyahu is re-elected. Gridlock will persist. Okay. And my prediction, the washington nationals will win the national league pennant. Whoa. And narrowly edging out his -- my friend gio gonzalez beating out stephen strasburg for the cy young award.
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