Week In Politics: The Affordable Care Act

Audie Cornish speaks with our regular political commentators E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution, and David Brooks of The New York Times. They discuss the House vote to defund the Affordable Care Act.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And we take up things there with our Friday regulars, columnist E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution. Hey there, E.J.

E.J. DIONNE: Good to be with you.

CORNISH: And David Brooks of the New York Times. Hello.

DAVID BROOKS: Hello.

CORNISH: So as Scott mentioned in this piece today, House Republicans succeeded in passing a bill to keep the government funded, but that also strips funding for the Affordable Care Act. Obviously, this is like vote number 42, I think. In doing that, David, what's different this time?

BROOKS: Nothing. You know, I guess there are two levels of things going on here. First, there are a bunch of Republicans who apparently don't know how to do math and don't know they can't repeal Obamacare. And there are people like Ted Cruz, they're not really here to pass legislation, they are here just to make statements.

And so they'll make a statement. And so they're making their statements and if the Republicans don't repeal Obamacare, they can run against their own party, raise a lot of money, maybe get the Republican nomination of the presidency. That's sort of the strategy. Then, there's the second group who are more or less rational, I put John Boehner in this camp, who are saying, okay, we've got these difficult people who want us to make some big statements.

We'll make our big statement. We'll pass this thing. It'll go to the Senate. It'll die and then at least we'll have some leverage to try to get some compromise out of the Democrats. And so I think, at the end of the day, I'd be very surprised if we have a government shutdown. We'll have some fudge solution like we did in 2011 and this will be some effort to try to get some compromise on spending.

CORNISH: And E.J., before I get to you, let's hear Senator Ted Cruz and also Senator John McCain speaking on CNN this week about this debate.

SENATOR TED CRUZ: Mike and I are gonna fight with every breath in our body. As Churchill said, we will fight on the beaches. We will fight on the street. We will fight at every step to stop the biggest job killer in America.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Senator Cruz is free to do whatever he wants to within the rules of the Senate. I will again state unequivocally that this is not something that we can succeed in, and that's defunding Obamacare, 'cause we don't have 67 Republican votes in the Senate.

CORNISH: That was Senator John McCain and earlier Senator Ted Cruz talking about also Senator Mike Lee joining him in fight to fight on the streets and storm the beaches. I played this tape, E.J., because it seems as though there's also a battle going on within the Republican Party, trying to decide how to deal with divided government, right?

Some people think the House Republicans are doing the right thing. Others think, guys, you're not being rational.

DIONNE: Well, I listened to Ted Cruz. It was a little like Churchill meets P.T. Barnum. I mean, there's something here that is about a show for the base and then Cruz got called on it because he then said, well, we can't really stop it in the Senate. It's up to you guys in the House. And Ted Cruz did something that no one else has been able to do.

He brought Republicans together across all their lines of division on this because obviously the people in the House who think it's completely irrational, which it is, not to mention irresponsible, to pretend you can repeal Obamacare and hold the country hostage, said what are you saying? But then also, the loyal conservatives said to Ted Cruz, what are you doing?

You're saying we have to take this path and you can't do anything about it in the Senate. I think this may help avert a shutdown and bring some Republicans back to passing a budget. I'm still not sure we're out of the woods, but it looks better than it did three days ago.

CORNISH: I'm gonna turn away from this, only because we're gonna be talking about it for the next, like, three weeks, right? This budget battle keeps going. I have a little Groundhog Day here. In international news this week, you had two leaders trying to make a shift in public perception. Two names we're not going to expect here, but the Pope and the president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani.

I want to talk Iran first 'cause, E.J., this week, you have competition in The Washington Post's op-ed page from Iran's president where he says that he wants to, quote, "move beyond impasses" whether in relation to Syria or, he says, "my country's nuclear program or its relations with the United States." What do you make of this diplomatic outreach?

DIONNE: You know, I read that piece in The Post and what I thought of was Gorbachev. And Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher said early on, Gorbachev is for real. A lot of conservatives didn't agree with them and I think that one of the discussions we're going to be having is is this for real? Is this new opening for real?

If it is, then all of the craziness of the last few weeks about foreign policy may give way to something really remarkable. But we don't know yet.

CORNISH: Okay. Putin in The Post. John McCain was in Pravda's webpage. David Brooks, what do you make of this?

DIONNE: Putin in the Times.

BROOKS: Putin in the Times.

CORNISH: Oh, Putin was in the Times.

BROOKS: We had the better column. I would say it's a triumph, actually. If this works out, it's already a victory for some sort of bipartisan American policy. First, the Bush administration, now the Obama administration had had a policy of going back 10, 12 years of consistently ratcheting up sanctions against Iran, financial sanctions in particular.

And they're beginning to bite. And if you are the president of Iran and you want to show some economic progress in your first year, this is really your only gambit. And so I'd say success of sort of bipartisan foreign policy.

CORNISH: And also on the Pope in a far-ranging interview published this week, he was saying, quote, "we cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods," and another quote, "I have never been a right-winger" which we heard this week that the translators looked over several times to be sure he meant the term right-winger. E.J., your take?

DIONNE: The pope's interview was a real wow moment for Catholics and for everyone else who cares about the church. And I think there are two key points. One is conservative bishops have, particularly here in the U.S., have insisted that abortion, gay marriage and contraception are so central that this has pushed the church's commitment to social justice and the poor to the back pew.

And the pope was very explicit in saying no to that. The other thing is people talk about a smaller - the more conservative people talk about a smaller, a more orthodox church. He wants to bring everybody in. This is a welcoming pope.

CORNISH: And David, I'm giving you the last word.

BROOKS: It was just a gorgeous interview. He's going to be a major figure on the world stage because he was so humble, his talk about his apartments, his talk about Mary and how people's love of Mary. It was a presence of a genuinely humble, new voice in the world. I think just his personality will be as powerful as JP II.

CORNISH: That's David Brooks of the New York Times and E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and Brookings Institution. Thank you both.

DIONNE: Thank you.

BROOKS: Thank you.

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