'This Week': Powerhouse Roundtable

Matthew Dowd, Michael Eric Dyson, Bill Kristol, Katrina vanden Heuvel and Greta Van Susteren on all the week's politics.
3:00 | 03/16/14

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Transcript for 'This Week': Powerhouse Roundtable
What did you come here to plug? First of all, I think it's fair to say, I wouldn't be with you here today, if I didn't have something to plug. Have you heard of the affordable care act? Oh, yeah. I heard about that. That's the thing that doesn't work. Why would you get the guy who created the zone to make your website? Healthcare.gov works great now. And millions of Americans have already gotten health insurance plans. And what we want is for people to know that you can get affordable health care. President Obama, taking his health care pitch to the two ferns line. Actor Zach galifianakis has created buzz, good and bad, for the white house. The roundtable is here to weigh in on that and the latest political news of the week. A gop win in a key special election in Florida. Let's get the back story, first, from ABC's Jeff Zeleny. Congratulations. Reporter: That sound, is the sound of republicans winning. Thank you very much. Reporter: Congressman, David jolly, handing democrats their first loss of the season. In a Florida district, president Obama narrowly won. Talk of obamacare, dominated the race. How big of a political weight is the health care law on democrats? I think the republicans are wasting their time using that as their electoral issue. And they will find that out. Reporter: The democrats shouldn't shy away from it? Absolutely not. Reporter: But privately, several democrats tell ABC news, they're increasingly worried the health care law is political poison. Their worries may be well-founded. Polls showing the president and his top achievement are still highly unpopular. Republicans smell a wave. Is there a chance the republicans can overplay their hands on health care? Don't estimate the amount of impact that obamacare is having on the job market. Reporter: The new congressman is calling his win a sign of early strength. Your win is good news for your party? I think it spells good things. Not just for holding the house for republicans in November. But also taking the senate. Reporter: Now, republicans even more optimistic. We're going to make 2014 a great republican year. Reporter: With former senator Scott brown jumping in the senate race in New Hampshire, democrats are defending one more seat, in hopes of protecting their fragile senate majority. For "This week," Jeff Zeleny, ABC news, the capitol. Let's get to the roundtable now. Here with Matthew dowd. Greta van susteren, from fox News. Michael Eric Dyson. Bill kristol, editor of "The weekly standard." And Katrina vanden heuvel. Sometimes the midterm elections are a sign of things to come. Sometimes they aren't. This time? I think this is a sign of what's going to happen in the November election. Everything was lined up in this district for the democrats to pull out the victory. They had the better candidate. Better name. More money in this. And the republican candidate was very flawed. A former lobbyist in all of this. And the democrats tried to use the playbook they used in 2012, big data, all of the logistics. But what happens in these races, big wave beats big data. This wasn't about a big pro-republican candidate. It is that the president's job approval, where the people see the country in this, sets it up very badly in November. And, Katrina, this was a district that president Obama won. And his former campaign manager, David Plouffe, called it a screaming siren for democrats, this loss. I think it's a wake-up call. Not for the reasons Matthew mentioned. This has been a republican district since 1983. I think any party needs to turn out its core voters. And I think the democrats need to think very hard. And they are thinking hard about how you go on the offense around -- not only obamacare, but an economic agenda. Repeal is not a policy. That provides no economic security for anyone. So, I think the democrats need to go on the offense. Explain how the republican party wants to repeal health care, which is a right. Wants to take back those policies that would prevent discrimination, against women, against people with pre-existing conditions. And lay out a robust agenda. Minimum wage, better jobs. Which are being obstructed by republicans in congress. Pre-k, all kinds of things that will turn out core voters. That's what the democratic candidate tried to do in this race. He thinks the issue is health care, don't repeal. Mend it, don't end it. Right, and jolly, the republican candidate, his key ad at the end, which goes as follows. It's really short. She supports obamacare. I don't. I'm David jolly. And I approve this message because we need someone to look out for our interests, not president Obama's. Pretty simple message. Strong message. She was a strong candidate. She never voted for obamacare. If this was potent in 2013, how does this ad read when it says that she voted for obamacare, repeatedly. I think obamacare. You can talk about agendas. I think the republicans need a more energetic economic agenda. The republicans have to be for replace, instead of repeal. That's important in health care. At the end of the day, the obamacare vote is a huge thing. This is going to scare the loser. It's a special election. Only two names on the ballot. There's a lot of time between now and November. This was a bill young republican district for a long time. And of course, the republicans are going to use this against the democrats. The democrats are going to be scared because they lost. This is just a special election. November's a long way off. A lot can happen. This was a republican seat. But picking up on what Katrina said, Michael Eric Dyson, it seems that the problem for the democrats are not just defending obamacare. But the fact that the voters who came out for president Obama in 2008, and 2012, particularly young voters, do not seem motivated this time around. It's hard to get them out in midterm elections. There's a charisma gap. You have to acknowledge that. Obama for all of the faults that people have assigned to him, certainly could galvanize the base. And I think Katrina's right. The democrats have to figure out a way to galvanize the base. But that's not to overplay it. We can paraphrase "Much ado about nothing." But it's not just that democrats are losing. These special elections are special. That means they are district-laden. In 2009 and 2010, the democrats had three special elections they won. But they got beat badly in the 2010 midterm elections. It doesn't necessarily call well or ill for the candidates in special elections. Jolly ran as a false populous. This wasn't about jolly. This wasn't about jolly. And this really wasn't fundamentally about obamacare. This is about the mood of the country. And I think democrats at their peril, ignore the mood of the country. As the mood changes and it changed this year. The president has a job approval rating in the low 40s. When the president has a job approval rating in the low 40s, the democrat incumbent, loses seats. One person who seems to agree with that is Scott brown. Three days after the election, decided to set up his exploratory committee in New Hampshire. Here's what he said. It wasn't so long ago. I remember like you do, that the democratic establishment in Washington was feeling very comfortable. A big political wave is about to break in America. And the obamacare democrats are on the wrong side of that wave. Confident enough, Greta van susteren, to move to another state. To become a senator. This really opens up the map for republicans and gives them many more routes to a senate majority. He's going to have support from republicans nationwide. I don't know how much support he's going to get from voters in New Hampshire. I don't know if they'll see him as a carpetbagger. But he's going to get support nationwide because republicans want and need that seat. There is a disconnect in this country. There's a disconnect between the beltway and the people. It is a populist moment. If you look at the polls, majorities support minimum wage. More fairness. Taking on a rigged system that's working against working people. The democrats and the Progressive, the democratic wing of the democratic party, is ascendant. And it needs to speak more forcefully. The special election didn't have that. She may have been a good candidate. But she was a former corporate lobbyist. And jolly used false populism against her. He kept talking about a falsehood that the republicans were going to cut obamacare. We need medicare down the road. But it's a populist moment. And let's not buy the polls out of Washington. I agree with Katrina. The republicans need to run as populists. I think they're intelligent enough to do so. And it's true populism. And obamacare cuts medicare. Obamacare takes medicare advantage. It favors the insurance companies. That's a big issue in Florida with the demographics. Victory is the lens through which people perceive positives and defeat is the negative. The reality is Walton, in charge of the 2004 campaigns in the congress, said, of the special election, they have to galvanize their bases. They have to go forward. This is not a referendum on obamacare, so much as it is dictated by the districts. After he wins, it's a referendum. We can't overplay what's going on here. But the populism, and the tea leaves, they have commandeered populism better than the democrats have because of what goes on. You can't underestimate the importance of medicare in the state of Florida. And when in the state of Florida. But medicaid, you can't underestimate. Medicaid in Louisiana right now, bobby jindal is suing moveon for putting up billboards for saying that bobby jindal will take away your medicare. If the democrats could expose how Florida's governor and other governors are taking away medicaid, you get a lot of low-income -- This is not -- I watched in 2012. I've seen this. I've been involved in many elections. And 2012, the main criticism from the conservative party, was Mitt Romney wasn't conservative enough. I agree, the country's a populist country. When you have the "D" on your back in a bad year, it doesn't matter what you say. You're probably going to lose. When you have an "R" on your back, in a bad year, like 2012, and 2006, you're going to lose. That's why Scott brown is -- I don't know if he's going to win or lose. He's a flawed candidate. But he's got an "R" on his back. And he's cresting in a wave this year when people are frustrated with the president. That doesn't take into account unpredictable forces and crises that might emerge. It's like in football. That's why you play the game. You can stack of the -- "C" on your back is a bad thing, too. As my friend, long-time Texas populist, Jim Hightower likes to say, the only thing in the middle of the road, are dead armadillos and yellow stripes. Unless president Obama can get his approval rating back in the mid to high 40s, little chance for democrats to hold on. I want to turn to something else happening in the senate this year. It's kind of a remarkable moment. We had intelligence committee chair committee Dianne Feinstein, go to the senate floor, in a rage, doing a broadside against the cia, suggesting the cia inappropriately monitored the computers by senate staffers. She said she had grave concerns about that. Take a look. The cia search may well have violated the separation of powers principles. And I have asked for an apology and recognition that this cia search of computers used by its oversight committee, was inappropriate. I have received neither. This is all about the senate investigation into the cia interrogation practices, back in the first decade of this century. Now, a remarkable situation. Greta van susteren, where the senate is suggesting that the cia broke the law by looking at their computers. The cia is suggesting that the senate staffers broke the law by taking away documents. And you have a major confrontation. Everybody thinks that senator Dianne Feinstein did this incredible assault. She's asking for inappropriate monitoring, is called breaking the law, is about bad manners. And she wants an apology. She should demand an investigation. She has asked for an investigation. The cia needs to be investigated in a criminal investigation. I see bill shaking his head. But we let the intelligence community get away with murder. You have the dni committee perjury, lying before the senate. And it just goes away. You know happens if you steal a ham from the grocery store? You get prosecuted. You know what happens if the cia does domestic spying on the senate? She asks for an apology. Part of me thinking senator Feinstein wants to attack Leon Panetta. She wants the Panetta documents released. This is an administration launched after president Obama takes office. Controlled by a democratically-appointed cia director. And the staff, the senate staffers are democrats who are writing this one-sided report. I will defend the intelligence community against a bunch of senators and their staffs. And I will defend the interrogation program that -- First of all, bill, it's not an interrogation program. It's torture. Second of all, senator Feinstein has been a defender of the intelligence community. She says without intelligence oversight -- she says without overtight, there is a secret democracy. We now have two administrations or more, implicated in this. President Obama should have prosecuted, held accountable. What we need and write about in "The nation" is a new church committee. The committee in the '70s, exposed abuses of the cia, FBI. And try to reorient the intelligence community what it should be. Eric holder, president Obama's attorney general, did a criminal investigation. A disgraceful investigation, looking backwards, at cia officials doing their job. He found nothing illegal. Why is there 6,000 pages of this report that would be disclassified. Here's news flashes. Spies, spy. Oh, my god. They also lie. So, the reality is, yes. It is a battle between a pitch battle between Feinstein and the cia director. But it's also about the degree to which the legislative branch will exercise oversight over an executive branch appointee, in terms of the cia. Secondly, we talk about the cia, regardless of who is in the office. Whether it's a democrat or a republican. The fact is, they will remain there after the president is gone. And deal with the persistence of a shadow government. You get the last word. Do you think the cia is going to try to mend fences? First, this feels like a Walter Cronkite moment. You lose Walter Cronkite in a Vietnam war. You know you're on the wrong side of this. It seems hypocritical in all of this. That members of congress and the members of the senate, defend all of the programs when they're spying on average Americans. As soon as it comes on then, they say, this is an awful program. Three, this happens -- Spying on average Americans? We argue that the ends justify the means. We have a culture that says we can do whatever it takes so we don't have terrorism, and preserve security. These things happen when you have a culture where the ends justify the means. It's a culture of intimidation. And has to be dealt with.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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