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tv   Washington Week  PBS  December 17, 2011 3:00am-3:30am EST

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gwen: end of the year maneuvering. on the campaign trail, where mitt romney fends off the gingrich threat and on capitol hill where they're staring each other down. plus the end of the iraq war. tonight on "washington week." mostly polite on stage. >> i'm not in the business of blaming governor romney. i'm in the business of trying to understand what we can do as a policy. >> governor romney, do you want to respond to that compliment? >> thank you. >> fortunately for the republican party this year, probably anybody up here could probably beat obama. gwen: mostly polite. >> the fact that we know that he cashed paychecks from freddie mac. over $1.6 million. gwen: but things are heating up on the trail. >> zany is great in a campaign, it's great on talk radio but in terms of a president we need a leader. >> governor romney to like to
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give back all the money he has earned from bankrupting companies and laying off employees from his years at bain i would be glad to listen to him. gwen: countdown to iowa and another showdown on capitol hill. over taxes, spending, deadlines. >> i think everyone needs to step back and take a deep breath. >> as we come to the end of the 112th congress, it can clearly be labeled the republican do-nothing congress. gwen: happy holiday to you, too. and the official end of the war in iraq. >> so as your commander in chief, and on behalf of a grateful nation, welcome home. welcome home! gwen: but can the nation and the president really claim victory? covering the week, dan balz of "the washington post." jeff zeleny of "the new york times." jeanne cummings of bloomberg news.
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and laura meckler of "the wall street journal." >> award winning reporting and analysis. covering history as it happens. live from our nation's capital this is "washington week with gwen ifill." produced in association with "national journal." corporate funding for "washington week" is provided by -- >> we know why we're here. >> to connect our forces to what they need, when they need it. >> to help troops see danger before it sees them. >> to answer the call of the brave and bring them safely home. >> around the globe, the people of boeing are working together to support and protect all who serve. >> that's why we're here. >> additional funding for "washington week" is provided by prudential financial, the
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annenberg foundation, the corporation for public broadcasting and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. once again, live from washington, moderator gwen ifill. gwen: good evening. this week gave us the state of the presidential campaign in a nutshell. the republicans are taking aim at a frontrunner newt gingrich. gingrich is doing his best to prove he is a man of big ideas who won't lose his school. and everyone is looking over his or her shoulder at ron paul. it was all on display thursday in the last debate of the year. paul preached hands off government. >> i would be a different kind of president. i wouldn't be looking for more power. everybody wants to be a powerful executive and run things. i as a president wouldn't want to run the world. i don't want to police individual activities and their lifestyle. and i don't want to run the economy. gwen: gingrich wanted everyone to know he is prepared to lead.
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>> i think on the conservative thing, sort of laughable to suggest that somebody who campaigned with ronald reagan and with jack kemp and has had a 30-year record of conservatism is somehow not a conservative? gwen: and romney on the campaign trail if not on the debate stage boasted of having a steadier hand than gingrich. jeff zeleny asks romney if he thinks gingrich is too zany to be president. >> zany is not what we need in a president. zany is great in a campaign, it's great on talk radio, it's great in the print. it beats -- makes for fun reading. but in terms of a president, we need a leader. gwen: so let's start with last night, dan. what was everyone trying to prove on that stage? >> well, you have to think of last night as closing arguments. it is the last debate before the caucuses in iowa which are on january 3. and i think for gingrich, it was an effort to try to tell people yes, there may have been
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chaos while i was speaker of the house. but remember what i was able to accomplish. if you don't think i can lead, look at what we did while i was speaker. so it was an effort to push away from the criticism he's gotten and focus on what he's done. governor romney was interesting. he decided to stay totally positive. he spent the week in interviews with a number of news organizations. gwen: both of you. >> both of us. going after gingrich. but in the debate, he decided not to. and i think it was his effort, largely to bring the issue back to the fact that he has the capability that nobody else on that stage has in his estimation and that is i can defeat president obama. gwen: i had a split screen experience watching the debate last night. because on one screen, i was getting all these emails from the romney campaign saying very harsh things about newt gingrich. but on the debate screen, there was mitt romney not landing a glove on him. and i thought that was part of the strategy. >> it is. the iowa voters have a similar experience. because they've been watching these very tough commercials. and they've been getting really
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sharp and pointed mailers in their mailboxes. almost every day from the romney campaign or his allies. but to -- dan is absolutely right, the romney campaign made a decision to really over the last like 10 days or so just to throw everything but the kitchen sink and even on most the kitchen sink at gingrich but wanted to close on a high note. he knows iowa republicans don't love him all that much. he knows that he wanted to sort of leave this a sweet taste in their mouth as opposed to sour taste in their mouth and that he is the guy who can beat president obama. so he was pushing the long-range goal. not the short-term hit. >> dan, ron paul has been coming on strong. there are some people who think he might pull an upset in iowa. i wonder if you all think that could actually happen. and then also, his foreign policy remarks last night where he said he would withdraw all troops and withdraw really from
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the world, could that be a disqualifying position for him to take with republican voters? >> there are a lot of people in iowa who think he has the best organization on the ground. now, you never know that until the night of the caucus. in 2003, a lot of people thought howard dean had the best organization. jeff was actually one of the few people who started to poke some holes in it well before. but most everybody thought he had a great organization. it turned out he didn't. but we think that ron paul has been pretty diligent on the organizational front. he clearly has a ceiling in iowa. it's probably somewhere in the low 20's. if it's a very crowded finish, he could be, you know, second, maybe he could slip into first. the lowest anybody's won iowa with is 267%. bob dole did that in 1996. so he's a real force and a real force out there. gwen: jeff, if you poked holes in it before, poke holes in it again. >> that was howard dean saying he was going to do a meet up in all 99 counties in iowa and it
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just rang a little false to us. i was at the "chicago tribune" at the time so we sent a few reporters around the state to find out if he was doing this. some of these meetings weren't even happening. a little bit harder on ron paul. you know he has some real followers. i mean, he has the most committed people but talk to some republicans who like a lot of his ideas on the fiscal side of things. cringe when he starts talking about foreign policy. and now is time to be serious and to pick someone who can beat president obama, not just sort of satisfy an interest right now. so it's -- it's just hard to know. but some of the campaigns are not well organized this year. i mean, we go to events out there and we don't see as many volunteers sort of signing people up. there haven't been as many events that there have been in recent years. so he probably does have the strongest organization. but he probably -- it's an open question. because he has a heavy lift here to persuade people on the -- across the board.
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>> i went into the offices of most of the candidates a week before last. early in the evening when you would expect to see activity. and they were all virtually empty. we just have never seen anything like this in a campaign. >> so as we all know the winner of the iowa caucuses is not the winner of the nomination, far from t how long could this nomination fight go among the republicans? and are any candidates, how many of the candidates are really prepared for a long fight? >> i think that's a good question. because the republican parlte has changed its rules this -- party has changed its rules this year, it's more like the democratic party. it's not winner take all. coming in second place is almost as good as first place as the states go along the line until march. very possible if things are competitive and there's a split decision between iowa and new hampshire, then maybe south carolina and florida, also have a split decision. it could go on for several months because the candidates need to get delegates to win. if you asked mitt romney what is his past winning the
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nomination, he will not say iowa or new hampshire. he'll say 1,150. that's almost the number of delegates he needs to win. he's prepared to go the distance. the others are not quite as prepared at this point. but it's still possible that they could sign up people and sort of go the distance. gwen: one more question before we turn to the democratic side of the equation which is about gingrich. one more gingrich question. mitt romney tried to do is paint him as unstable without using the word unstable, the word they used was unreliable. do we know whether that's having any impact? >> well, i don't think simply governor romney is saying it. but you have this kind of weight of a lot of people in the republican party. particularly kind of the elites. elected officials. who remember what it was like when he was speaker. and the fact that he was -- it was a chaotic period and a coup attempt against him which failed and ultimately he stepped down after they had disappointing results in 1998.
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and not only governor romney but all these other republicans are saying this, it is i think going to take some kind of a toll. and he has adopt add posture at this point of saying -- adopted a posture at this point i'm going to stay above this and not going to respond and stay positive. but there's a lot coming after him. as jeff said, the advertisements in iowa are constant. and the superpac, the romney superpac which does throw the kitchen sink at him, is on all the time. >> aren't some of the polls showing a little bit of decline or a tightening of the race where gingrich sort of leaped ahead and then it looks like it tightened back up? i don't know if these are polls that we should all be relying on -- >> i'm not sure these polls are as credible and we're waiting for the des moines register poll, the final one of the year. anecdotally and sort of a sense you have, you can see that these -- all this information is being absorbed by voters. gwen: let's talk about the democrats. they're watching this.
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presumably not unhappenly. do they have a past victory -- a path to victory or a map how they plan to do this? >> they have half a dozen maps. but ned a briefing last week in washington which jeff and i were both at. the senior staff from the campaign. and they put up a slide of six different paths to the magic 270 electoral votes. partly what they were trying to emphasize is that they have a lot of different routes to get there. that they're not going to be confined to having to win ohio or win florida in order to win a second term. and in many ways, they're pretty credible about that. because it's the same thing they did four years ago. but the economy is different. the lack of enthusiasm for him is notable in a lot of places. so they tried to put a very good gloss on it. >> and the bottom line is they're going to need all these options. because the unemployment numbers state by state, some of
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them aren't going to -- aren't going to look as good. so that's why they have all these options. >> and the republicans responded to those different paths to victory by saying yes, but his poll numbers are down in this place and they're down in that place. and is it really a different path in each place? in other words, is there a different way to win north carolina and virginia than it is to win the rocky mountain west? >> well, their assumption all along is that there is an obama coalition which is unique to american politics. and that in some states, like ohio, that coalition doesn't exist as much as it does in some states like virginia or north carolina. which is to say, a lot of younger voters, minorities, well-educated folks. that tends to be more concentrated in some of these growth states. which he was able to win. so they look at ohio as a tough sled. a lot of people look at north carolina and say, how is he going to win that again?
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they claim they feel as good about north carolina as they do about ohio. gwen: can the obama folks outpopulous the populists in the republican party? >> they're sure going to try. the president gave his big stage in kansas last week and sort of set this message. and the obama people are very sense active to the subject of saying this is the first populist speech he's ever given. they pointed out and transcripts, he's given them back to 2005 when he was in the u.s. senate. so we're going to have a big competition between who can be the most populist. gwen: and some is happening on capitol hill. another stare them down standoff on capitol hill. will the payroll tax holiday be extended? will the congress force the president to approve a canada to texas oil pipeline and will the government shut down? the last answer is not yet. the other two are up in the air. where does all the
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brinksmanship stand tonight, jeanne? >> well, once again -- gwen: doesn't roll your eyes at me. [laughter] >> one game they are really good at is kick the can down the road. and it appears that's where we are tonight. that an agreement was reached on capitol hill early this evening to extend the payroll tax, unemployment benefits for two months. and so they will be back at it in february. and attached to that is some language that would force the white house to provide an earlier decision on the transcanada keystone pipeline. that's going to cut across the country if it's approved. we've not seen that language. senator conrad early or late this afternoon told bloomberg reporter that that language was not problematic. that where they got stuck was trying to find the cuts to pay for the full extension of the payroll tax. and the unemployment benefits.
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that leads me to believe that we really want to take a look at that language to find out, is it fuzzy and just how fuzzy is it? how much wiggle room might there be for the president inside of that particular plank? gwen: how much bipartisanship is evident in these negotiations at this late date, at this latest date? >> today, they're starting from the morning, there was a sense that they were -- there was a deal within their grasp. and there was real work being done. you had leadership, commonly, reid, -- mcconnell, reid, coming out and not slamming one another. and even at the end the rhetoric was not as we have seen it before where they come out and blame one another. so again, we got -- we have to see what they've done. but it raises the specter that what they just couldn't get it done now. and that they're going to take the two months to try to figure fought. they were very close. it's $119 billion that they
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needed to find. and they got $100 billion of it pretty easy. it was the last $19 billion that were there. and the house version of the bill did things like freezing federal employee salaries and playing with the retirement. increasing medicare costs for wealthy people. and the senate was moving in a very different direction. on the table for them were pell grants and a little bit of foreign aid and a little bit of e.p.a. really spreading around where they were taking the money. and so those are a lot of pieces to the puzzle you have to put together. >> jeanne, how did the keystone pipeline become so central to the final stage -- >> i think payroll taxes -- i think pipelines. it's natural. come on. it was a bargaining chip. and senator ma cull ski said this is like negotiating a treaty and we're trying to figure out what we can give up for peace. the republicans in december,
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early december, about three weeks ago, realized that they didn't have a chip on the table. every fight was over give the tax cut and help the unemployed and protect millionaires. and the republicans were always over there protecting the millionaires. they needed -- gwen: that was the fight they needed. >> right. so enter the pipeline. and they justified it by saying and this is a legitimate argument that this is a very big project. $7 billion. cutting all the way across the united states. from canada to the gulf. and there will be a lot of jobs in there. and so that's how they put that one on the table. >> so what overall do you think this is going to do to the american perceptions of congress? which are -- rock bottom lows. do you think this deal is going to convince people that they -- they did avert a government shutdown to their credit. so is it -- is it just as bad as -- does it make it worse? >> i don't think -- i don't think it would make it worse.
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i'm guessing here. but i don't see how they help themselves. 76% is the latest number in the polls who believe that members should not be re-elected. there's very much a throw the bums out. attitude out there. you look at public opinion polls, and they don't -- we had one, and this was several months ago in bloomberg, where we asked them, have you just given up on washington? at that point, 54% were still hanging in. i don't know where they are today. >> so what exactly does this mean for the early months of next year? since they kick this can down the road, when do they pick it up and what happens? >> they pick it up in february. so it's on top of them pretty quickly which is why you wonder if they don't have the next step kind of in play. then they also are in the process this weekend of passing legislation that will fund the government. so we did avoid that shutdown. that was run separately through congress. and that goes until september.
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raising the notion that very close to the election, we could have yet another crisis. gwen: and could only hope that we're all paying attention to the election. no chance. so the obama white house was eager this week to take credit for a promise kept. the final withdrawal of the u.s. troops, of all u.s. troops from iraq. the president marked the moment with a visit to the fort bragg army base in north carolina. >> as your commander in chief, and on behalf of a grateful nation, i'm proud to finally say these two words, and i know your families agree -- welcome home. gwen: early in t week there was a sayer -- a ceremonial visit from iraq minister nouri al-maliki. but there are some loose ends out there. >> there are. more in iraq than there are here in the united states where the withdrawal from iraq was extremely popular, still is extremely popular. but there in iraq, we still
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don't know whether -- there's still violence there. will that violence abate with the u.s. withdrawal? or will it spike back up? they have major questions to answer about how they're going to divide oil revenues. about how their judiciary is going to be set up. and the geopolitical questions. how big of an influence is iran going to have in iraq? that's something that a lot of people in this country are worried about. and there are political implications back here. republicans have been very critical of the fact that even though this withdrawal is happening on the pace that was set under president bush, a lot of republicans think that the u.s. should have tried harder to stay. at least a small force to remain in iraq to create and maintain some of the stability that's been there. gwen: there's still a big diplomatic presence in iraq. i think it's the largest u.s. embassy in the world so not like you aren't -- you are going to go there and the nerns will be completely gone. -- the americans will be completely gone. >> no. americans are there. 4,000 or 5,000 contractors who are security contractors with guns. it's not like there are no
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americans there. but we don't have any bases there. we don't have soldiers there. it's a changing relationship. and one that president obama has been eager to portray as a relationship between two independent nations rather than one that's invaded the other. >> speaking of president obama, what are the politics of this for him? he's someone who largely was elected because of hyssop sigs to the war -- of his opposition to the war. politically does this help him at all or is this just a sign of the times, of passage about -- of a moment in history? >> it's really remarkable because this war was so divisive in this country. it's almost hard to remember how stark the differences were over whether we should have gone into iraq and once we were there, how to fix the mess. and indeed, obama probably wouldn't be president today were it not for his early opposition to the war. and you think that him ending the war might give him a little bit of a political bump, along with other national security
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achievements as well. taking out osama bin laden. a whole string of al qaeda leaders. but it's just not doing anything for him. the economy, as you know, is the number one issue. and i think his aides, even though they're doing everything they can to get the word out about these achievements, they know that this probably in the end isn't going to mean much. the one thing it may mean for him it takes an attack away from republicans on the issue that democrats are usually vulnerable on. >> are there any circumstances that you can foresee under which u.s. troops would go back into iraq? >> that's one of the unansed questions here, too. -- unanswered questions here, too. we're selling f-16 fighter jets to iraq and train the pilots how to use them. where is that going to happen? will that happen inside the country? will that happen outside the country? and there may be calls later down the road. and the administration has said if iraq asks us to come back, we'll consider that. gwen: if iran, the threat is up, syria's threat is up, maybe that provides the pretext. >> and all of these things are
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things that the white house has been very eager not to talk about. last thing they want stepping on their story about the end. war in iraq is conversation about new military involvement. it's not going to be anything like we've seen lately. but there's always -- there is an outstanding question about that. >> laura, i felt the white house really rolled out the red carpet. and they had a number of really high-profile events with the president of iraq. maliki. how is that relationship? >> you know, it's interesting. because i don't think the two of them are particularly close. but they both had their own domestic political concerns which lined up. maliki needs american troops out of iraq as much as obama needs to get out of iraq. and so essentially, that put them on the same path. and because of that, they're sort of partners in arms. they spent a lot of time one on one together. in the oval office. really discussing some very sensitive issues. and what was -- a fairly
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symbolic and dramatic moment where they went to arlington. and where they laid that wreath. gwen: laura, thank you. and welcome to "washington week." >> thank you. gwen: thanks everybody else as well. we have to leave it there for now but the conversation will continue online. we'll keep chatting away on the "washington week" webcast extra. next week, we take a look back at the year just passed and ahead at the year to come. join in by sending your questions to us on facebook, twitter or our "washington week" home page at we'll answer the best of them next week on our year-end webcast. in the meantime, keep up with daily developments on the pbs newshour and we'll see you next week on "washington week." >> "washington week" was produced by weta which is solely responsible for its content. funding for "washington week" is provided by -- >> this rock has never stood still. since 1875, we've been there
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