Roundtable I: This Week in Politics

George Will, Greta Van Susteren, Gwen Ifill, Robert Reich and Jonathan Karl.
3:00 | 01/06/13

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Transcript for Roundtable I: This Week in Politics
john boehner. if you've come here to see your name in the lights or to pass off a political victory as some accomplishment, you've come to the wrong place. You come here humbled by the opportunity to serve. If you've come here to be the determined voice of the people, then you've come to the right place. Speaker john boehner getting a little emotional after accepting the gavel after a surprisingly close vote. One of the things we're going to talk about on our roundtable, joined by george will, happy new year to you, gwen ifill of pbs, abc's new chief white house correspondent jonathan karl, greta van susteren of fox news, former labor secretary robert reich. I think this is the first time congress was in january 1st since the korean war, and you say the deal, and this is kind of a contrarian view, is a triumph. In a sense. I think people will look back on this deal where liberalism passed an affigy and went into decline for the following reason, the bush tax rates were passed in two tranches, 2001 and 2003. In 2001 only 28 democratic members of the house voted for them. In 2003, only 7 did, and they did it for only ten years they were to expire. Under this deal, 172 house democrats voted to make bush rates permanent for all but 1/2 of 1% of american taxpers. What that means is that they can no longer tax the middle class, and we have here an endangered species. Pointing to me, I don't know why. I'll tell you why, there are only three liberals in the country, and you're one, actively hostile to arithmetic and know you cannot fund a state the liberals want, the entitlement state without taxing the middle class at least and now you've given up that -- with the locking in as permanent law the bush tax rates, that's off the table. Well, let me first -- let me, first of all, say slightly more non -- more nonpartisan approach. I think that the problem really with the deal is that what we needed most from an economic standpoint is, number one, a stimulus in the short term, number two, serious deficit reduction in the long term and, number three, some stability and some certainty about the future, and we got none of this, and that really is a major problem. We are going to be up against continuous trench warfare, and we have not dealt really at all with the deficit, long-term deficit problem, and in the short term we've got a huge employment issue. I mean jobs should be the number one issue right now in the country. It still is. We saw that unemployment report, it still is a terrible jobs picture and yet we have virtually no stimulus, in fact, you know, social security taxes are going up. Jon karl, clear when I was TALKING TO senator McConnell that even though he doesn't want to accept the possibility of another massive confrontation over the debt limit in february but it's coming, the divisions are as wide as they ever were. We are absolutely on a collision course. This amazing situation, george, where the white house is saying, they will not negotiate on the issue of the debt limit. That's just something congress has to do, period, no negotiations, they're not scheduling meetings on it, it's not going to happen, and the speaker of the house, john boehner, is now saying he's through with negotiations. That they're going to go through and pass in the house what they're going to do and move on but there will be none of this long -- talking to himself. Basically talking to himself. And president obama, because president obama came out and said, I believe that there are loopholes which still must be closed and fees and taxes which can be raised and heard the speaker -- the senate majority leader -- minority leader mitch McCONNELL SAYING, NO, NO, TAXES Are off the table. It's coming soon. I'm not sure anybody has the appetite for it. Nd it shows that everyone really, you know, really no success stories in this. Everyone was a big fat loser, from the white house on down, this whole fiscal cliff resolution that took 18 months to get to where we are, even simpson bowles said it was a missed opportunity. We need short-term stimulus. Actually there was. Goldman sachs, nascar, hollywood, they all got some short-term stimulus. Tax extenders. Why did they get it? The big losers -- yeah. The big losers are, you know, is it from top down, I blame the white house, I blame capitol hill and the american people saw how the sausage is made and once again they were again because they don't do their work and they just -- all they do is take advantage of the american ople. Don't neglect electric scooters because this tells you how washington works. The fiscal cliff deal, scooters are made in oregon. Senator widen of oregon said it is unfair that the federal government uses tax credits to bribe people to buy electric cars. E, we ought to have a tax credit to bribe people to buy electric scooters, which we now do. The point is the fiscal cliff is a big fat lie. The stimulus for its special interest, its little -- the congress and the white house -- that's disgraceful and didn't do their job. They've known about this for a long time. If you don't do your job, you don't do your job, none of us would -- we'd be out of jobs and instead the media lets it off the hook. That's the way it's always been done. The real question, a practical question, what are they going to do now faced with not only another fiscal cliff but also this debt ceiling. I mean I think that the showdown over the debt ceiling could be much, much worse than anything we've seen so far because they're just dug in. Both sides are dug in. This does seem to be a division inside the republican party right now. You have some voices saying, you know, that phrase "the wall street journal" used shoot the hostage. You should be willing to shoot the hostage, go over in default if you have to. Senator cornyn calling about a partial government shutdown and newt gingrich saying that would be crazy. That would be a losing strategy. That doesn't scare some people because the big loser in the conflict last august was standard & poor's. Standard & poor's said we are appalled and will lower your credit rating. They did and the money flowed in. We're borrowing at 40% less not out of this. We're borrowing today at 40% less costs than before our debt was downgraded. But don't you -- default -- the question is do you have to default? Pat toomey says our interest charges are $300 billion a year, our tax revenues are ten times that. We can pay them if we prioritize and don't pay something else. Meanwhile, jon karl, some democrats on capitol hill, the president says he won't do it, go to the 14th amendment and not allow the united states to default and keep on borrowing. It's hard to imagine that they're not going to be tempted to look at that again given -- even though -- -- how adamant they have ruled it out and white house said they will not and congress must act and saying no negotiations on this. Standard & poor's, what their guidance is now saying the risk is not that congress won't act to raise the debt limit they're saying the risk is congress may undermine what little deficit reduction is already put in place. Their worried about the underlying problem which is that we have been an exploding deficit problem. American people are worried about an underlying problem too. WE JUST HEARD mitch McConnell say something everyone can agree with, which is it's beyond me how we got to this point where we were right at this deadline on new year's eve. The president has said, it's beyond me that people can't just do their jobs and the american people are saying it's beyond me they were there doing this. What -- that is the underlying question. Shouldn't the american people vote for it? Greta, let me bring it to you. If you look at it and let me bring it to you, greta. That's what they voted for. You voted -- a lot of people believe this won't get involved or resolved until either republicans win the white house or democrats take control of the house. Maybe the strategy shouldn't be how do you win. Maybe the strategy should be how do you have a sense of decency in your job and responsibility. Maybe they shouldn't take the long vacations that they do. Look at the debt ceiling. August 2011 is when they set the sequestration. The super committee didn't make a decision by november. So what did they do? They did absolutely nothing in january, february. Going up to august and took the month off in august then in september they all started campaigning and we paid their salaries to campaign. Maybe they ought to have a personal sense of decency and stop worrying about winning and at least begin thinking about solving it. Look, george, I think the only way that the president can win on the debt ceiling is by mobilizing the business community, mobilizing wall street, putting huge pressure on republicans in congress right now. It's got to be done right now. It can't wait. The economy really will suffer if we go right up to that deadline because it's not like the fiscal cliff. We're talking about the full faith and credit of the united states. If that doesn't work, bob, i mean does the president -- can he really sustain this notion that he's not going to negotiate? He can't. That's why he needs wall street and the business community behind him saying don't jeopardize the full faith and credit of the united states. It is an abuse of power to subject the united states to that kind of potential danger. But how much negotiating is he doing? Last week he had to outsource it to vice president biden because he doesn't have the relationships, he hasn't spent the years whether as president or -- he had to outsource it to see his old friend senator McCONNELL. It's so dysfunctional -- start by saying I'll give you this. They never start that way. They start with, this is my line. And that's where you -- trust each other and in order to negotiate, you have to have some sense of trust. It can't just be about winning and there's absolutely no -- that's why I want to come to jon karl on this. Speaker boehner couldn't move his caucus along. And you were on the floor during speakership, and it was a lot closer than anyone really expected. Look, there were only 12 republicans who did not support him, right? But it was incredibly dramatic because 17 was the number that would force it to go to another ballot and then who knows what would happen. There was a moment during that vote, as I was watching on the floor, where there were more than 17 that were still, you know, still out there so let their names go by without voting the first time and you could see the speaker's staff on the floor and you could see the staffers for the whip, McCARTHY ON THE FLOOR KEEPING Vote tallies and worried this was going to go the wrong way. This was a real shot across -- republicans who are worried for speaker boehner doing exactly what their constituents elected them to do. They are dissenting from the great american consensus. I again think the journalistic narrative about washington today is 180 degrees wrong. The problem in the country is a consensus that is broad. Republicans subscribe to it, which is that we should have a large, generous welfare state and not pay for it. That's the point about expending all the bush tax rates for all except 1/2 of 1% of the country is that we have now put off limits, the source of money in this country which is the middle class so we're not going to pay for the welfare state. Coming back with more tax -- that narrative is fundamentally wrong. I think what the public does not fully grasp is that it's health care costs in the future combined with aging baby boomers that are driving these deficits. It is not social security. It is not medicare or medicaid. It is the underlying dysfunctionality of our health care system and the affordable care act did not do enough to control long-term health care costs. That's what everybody in washington ought to be focusing on right now. 10 years from now, 20 years from now we'll say two big changes in american life. Much more reliance on private savings and means testing of entitlement programs. I don't care who is president, i don't care who runs congress we'll have both of these. As early as tomorrow we're likely to see a new nominee. I'm going to switch subjects right now for secretary of defense,ck hagel. The white house says the phone call has not been made to former senator hagel yet but it's almost certain to happen. And one of the things we've seen, gwen ifill, right here is an extraordinary amount of politicking before an appointment is made trying to force the president to change his mind. There are so many trial balloons floating around, it blocks the sun at this point. We saw a trial balloon for secretary of state. We've seen them for chief of staff, for treasury secretary even though it looks like it's going to be the same people we hear all along. What I don't understand about the trial balloons is why you don't pull the trigger and do something about it? In this case it did not happen with susan rice. That's not happened with other nominees partly because of the distraction of this debt -- this fiscal cliff debate, but I think in the case of senator hagel, with everyone coming from different sides, the left and the right and the pro-israel caucus and you name it coming down on him, you know, gay rights supporters all coming down on him at once, the white house sounds like they're not prepared to actually do something about it and make people put their money where their mouth is. YOU SAW senator McConnell who praised chuck hagel in the past suddenly saying, well, let's wait and see. We saw chuck schumer wised him in the past say let's wait and see. That's important because there's so much concern among these people who raised the questions that they say chuck hagel is not sufficiently pro-israel. There's already been an ad against him from the emergency committee for israel. While president obama says all options are on the table for preventing a nuclear iran, hagel says, military action is not a viable, feasible, responsible option. President obama, for secretary of defense, chuck hagel is not a responsible option. Jon karl, that caused some concern about democrats, as well as gwen mentioned. The question is, why is the president so determined to go forward with it? He thinks he is the right guy for the job. He thinks having an enlisted vietnam veteran running the pentagon who agreed with him when it came to iraq and on afghanistan, he's the right guy to do it, but I've got to tell youm there's going to be a big problem in the senate on this. I talked this morning to a top democratic staffer in the senate who said this is not a guarantee that he will get confirmed, that there are enough democrats that are concerned about hagel to put him well short of 50 until he makes the case. I mean I think ultimately he gets confirmed, but this will be a real battle in the senate. Originally a puzzle here, with all of the fights that the president has coming up, why is he doing this? I mean, there are a lot of other people he could be putting up, but why is he expending political capital in this way? I don't understand. He didn't want to see his two top picks for national security jobs that -- he already gave up on susan rice. He wasn't going to give up on his second. He's also a republican, let's not forget that, and that also up to a point -- original. Original intention but, look, the guy -- the president gets to choose and he's going to have a hearing. He's going to answer all the questions and without all of us there will be poking at him and all his critics running ads against him, you know, I would like to hear what he has to say. The fight doesn't begin until the nomination is actually made. All this prefight is fun to watch, but in the end these guys have to show up, take their questions, get his answers and whether it's worth it for them to expend the political capital to go against the president. Big difference with the susan rice case. That didn't make it to -- my point. But in this case the white house has been aggressive in defending hagel before the pick was made. It is an odd pick, first of all, because if you pick a republican, a democrat picks a republican, he obviously has to be someone who thinks like republicans and is liked by republicans and neither is true in this case. Furthermore, he doesn't think the way the president thinks or at least the way the president talks about iran and sanctions and negotiating with hamas and all the rest and gays in the military, all that stuff. All that -- he's in line with the president on iran. I mean they both tried for negotiations and that the military should be a last resort. He's saying it's not responsible toalk about a military option right now. I think what he he says, it's a last resort and a fundamentally disastrous resort and says it is so disastrous it's not realistic, which may be right. I disagree with him on a lot of stuff but think he will be confirmed and should be because vast deference is owed to them in cabinet members. Their job is to carry out the president's wishes and "b," they leave when the president leaves. That's why more deference is owed to him than on supreme -- I would love to quote you on that. He will at the end of the day will get through. I can't imagine a republican senate, the republican senators rejecting a republican -- a former republican senator but -- but -- well, they made -- but there will be enough votes there, george. I disagree. There will be blood on the floor and that's the -- why do it? That's the question. Because at some point you have to put some blood on the floor if you say you believe in ings. There's going to be so much blood on the floor with regard to the fiscal cliff and other issues such as the debt ceiling. Another member of the president's cabinet is leaving this month, secretary of state hillary clinton. We saw this week a real health scare hospitalized for a blood clot after so many questions and I'm going to bring this to you, greta, after we show some of this on fox news whether or not she was really sick. When you don't want to go to a meeting or a conference or an event, you have a diplomatic illness. You know, I'm not a doctor but it seems as though that the secretary of state has come down with a case of benghazi flu. And a concussion because the tree falls in the forest does it really fall in nobody hears it fall? Did she really have a concussion? Greta, you're not part of this in any way. You did not question her -- can you help explain what's behind all of these questions? I mean I don't get behind -- I'm responsible for what I say, number one. Those are all dated before she was hospitalized, and there was not much information coming out of the state department and very early on with those -- look, not for one second did I doubt it. Once these people heard that she was seriously ill, that all changed. The secretary of state will have I think answer questions about benghazi. Four people murdered in washington that were unsolved we would still be asking questions in this state. But, look, she was very sick. And when the state department came up with more information, you saw all that stop. So I have nothing beyond to say that. Look, I've known hillary for decades. She is a workhorse. She works harder than anybody i know. And I've traveled wr. I've seen her. I've traveled with her and anybody who's traveled with her has seen that. She's traveled to more countries than any former secretary of state. And she's not shy for a fight either. She said she'll come back and testify on benghazi for the senate. Probably be the last thing. She will not travel and be one of the last things she has to do. Meanwhile, the other big thing coming up, gun control coming out of sandy hook and heard senator McConnell right there saying, george will, that this must follow all of the debate, the fiscal cliff debates we'll be having over the next three months. Well, if the president can through his allies control what comes before congress, so i DON'T THINK MR. McCONNELL CAN Stop this. There are two questions. First of all, the president should look at his home city of chicago and talk to his former friend and still friend I guess, chief of staff, former chief of staff -- rahm emanuel. Where they had 500 murders in chicago last year, most of them gun violence and see if gun control has anything to do with that. George, my feeling about gun control policy is a little bit like climate control policy, it's been well said that the only policy question about climate change is how much money do you want to spend on climate change to have no effect, discernible effect on the climate, and the same is true with gun control. I do not see how you can write a law that will have much effect on what they're experiencing, for example, in chicago. You know, really we should take a look a little bit more at ourselves from top to bottom. I mean we have so much violence surrounding us which we think it's okay. When we go to the movies we see it, it's okay. Obviously you can't legislate against things like that and the president sends rappers to the white house. There's no effort for us to look at ourselves and how we're so -- we're numb to violence. Have any rappers resulted in the death of schoolchildren? I don't think it's all schoolchildren. There were two firefighters murdered on DECEMBER 24th. They weren't schoolchildren. This has put a highlight on the problem. As george points out every weekend there are people killed on street corners in chicago. If you look back over the president's statement on gun violence in the wake of newtown and what secretary arne duncan has to say they talk about the broader idea of violence. What's on the table right now for vice president biden and the people trying to figure out what to do is a wide range of issues, some of it having to do with gun control. Some speaking to gun violence. That's the only way you'll get -- these things come up and then they fade after the shock. Gwen, I don't think washington can necessarily nation. What I'm trying to point out, that we all have to look at ourselves as well, even that psa that hollywood artists put out for gun control the other day and then side by side some put all the violent movies they're in. I mean, this is a big discussion, a big national narrative we all have to look at ourselves in terms of how our culture has come to accept violence as an answer to problems, as a solution to problems. We see that on tv and movies all over. Greta is undoubtedly correct but the fact remains that the murder of 20 first graders has touched the nation in ways that I don't remember the nation being touched. I don't think this is going to go away. The nra's technique in the past has been to really rely on the attention deficit disorder of america. Basically lay low until attention is no longer placed on this, but we are having now a national discussion of a sort that we have had to have and that -- joh, I think bob is right about how there was an initial spike in attention and concern right after sandy hook but seems to have subsided just a bit according to the most recent polls and that's why the white house knows that speed matters here. They're going to have to move quickly. Speed matters. I think there was a moment right after sandy hook where you could see some movement for the first real gun control legislation to pass in some 20 years. Among democrats. Among democrats, strong supporters of the nra, but I've got to say -- senator heitkamp didn't seem all too enthusiastic to move forward on gun control. It's not going to happen soon because there's no way congress will think about anything along those lines until we're done with the fiscal cliff mess, the debt ceiling, the funding of the government. We're at least two or three months away before this can even be considered and that's a lot of time. We do have attention deficit disorder, and there will be a real challenge to get any gun control legislation passed. The real tragedy, the children unbelievable through all our attention but the firefighters trying to save lives on christmas eve, I think that -- I've done criminal defense work for years and been to murder scenes, this violence, you talk about the chicago schools, it is horrible, I mean chicago violence, a lot was in schools and we've got -- 25 sandy hooks in one year. National narrative not just -- we've got to look at all communities and see what's going on in all communities and on in all communities and we've got to stop being so numb to the violence and just say, okay. Real quickly, how many do you think there will be a real serious package of reforms passed by congress this year. On guns? I think it's as likely as a serious package on immigration reform and energy and climate change and all the other things the president has said are high on his list. I think it will happen, george, if the president gets behind it and gets chiefs of police, mayors, mobilizes the public and the people who are likely to be supportive. You're shaking your head. Define serious. If you mean makes a difference in gun control, no. But some laws will be passed. We're going

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