Week In Politics
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
President Obama is closing in on a major milestone. Next week, he hits the 100-day mark. For an early assessment of the administration's performance out of the starting gate, we're joined by our regular political commentators, E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and the Brookings Institution, and David Brooks of the New York Times. Welcome to both of you.
DAVID BROOKS: Good to be here.
E.J. DIONNE: Thank you.
NORRIS: I want to begin with that uptick in violence we just heard about. And as we just heard, the military is not talking at this point about rethinking the withdrawal. But if things continue to unravel, will President Obama seem politically obstinate if he remains steadfast in his commitment to draw down the troops? David, I'm going to begin with you.
BROOKS: Yeah, he left himself open to keep troops there as conditions warranted. And I suspect he may keep that. Just this week, we've had a whole series of foreign policy commitments. I mean, the most dangerous - that's dangerous; Iraq is a continued source of worry - but in Pakistan, the Pakistanis seem unwilling or unable to get control of the region.
So we're going to be sending in 10,000 Marines into Afghanistan. We're going to be sending them to a Stryker Brigade. At the same time, things may be deteriorating on the other side of the border. So Iraq and Afghanistan are turning into much bigger issues.
NORRIS: So a case where the campaign promise meets the hard reality.
DIONNE: Right, but the very hard reality of Pakistan and Afghanistan is also going to push him to keep the campaign promise because there is a limit to how long we can stay in Iraq. And I think that there is a certain inevitability about things getting out of hand in Iraq. I see a lot of folks, Tom Ricks, for example, at Washington Post - formerly of the Washington Post, said, you know, this, you can't expect it to stay this peaceful. There are a lot of issues that have to be settled there.
I think there's still going to be a lot of pressure on him not only from his own supporters, but from the reality of having to deal with other places, to try to get American troops out of there, or at least way down.
NORRIS: I want to turn to another big test the president faced this week - the internal debate within the White House about whether or not to release the so-called torture memos. What did we learn about the way the president made that decision, by essentially asking people who were for and against this idea to work it out in a kind of "West Wing" mock court?
BROOKS: It was like Oxford debating union. And he had two teams. His staff was extremely divided. And he literally set them aside in an office and they had representatives, and they had a debate. And they had a debate, he reached a decision and then dictated the decision right then and there, and then issued it.
And I guess the danger came when later in the week - the decision was, we're going to release, but we're not going to go re-litigate - and he, in a meandering press conference, he sort of let the cat out of the bag on re-litigating it, but then the last 24, 48 hours, they've slammed that door shut, using the Senate - Democratic senators. But the amazing thing was the incredible openness of the debate, and the way it came to a very quick and firm conclusion.
NORRIS: E.J., what does that say about his leadership style?
DIONNE: Well, I think this is a leadership style he promised both explicitly and implicitly. This is what you knew he was like. He did lead seminars in universities where he was very good at being fair to both sides. He could make both arguments. And then he would figure out what he thought and would come back.
But he's got a real problem here because he desperately wants to play it down the middle on this issue, and neither side wants to let him do it. That he has what I think is a reasonable position, which is torture was wrong. We're going to stop doing it. We're going to release these memos so we can be transparent about it. And then let's move on.
But on the one side, on the right or Cheney side, there's a view this wasn't wrong, you shouldn't release these memos. And by the way, if you're going to release those memos, let's see if this extreme, this torture - which they don't call torture - worked.
On the other side, it's - if this is wrong, you're going to hold people accountable. So that what you saw this week is a town that keeps saying, we want Obama to find moderate, middle-of-the-road, bipartisan positions. And neither side wants to let him do it on this one.
NORRIS: We don't have a lot of time left, but in the time that we do have remaining, let's talk about this big milestone next week, and the way that the administration seems to have moved through the first 100 days blazing through their to-do list. But on at least two of the big items on that list, there are still real question marks surrounding them: health care and climate change. Does he have the political will and the political capital to tackle these big issues? E.J.?
DIONNE: I think he's made very clear that health care is a priority relative to climate change. And the climate change is going to take longer because climate change is not one of those issues that divides simply along partisan lines. It also divides along regional lines. Coal state Democrats and oil state Democrats have some problems with what he wants to do.
On health care, he's going, I think, full speed ahead. Today, the Congress decided, without getting into the details, that you're going to be able to pass this, if they can get there with 51 votes in the Senate instead of 60. And I think they're actually going to get health care this year, even if a lot of smart people around the city disagree with me on that.
NORRIS: Now, I usually try to figure out if you two are going to agree on at least one issue in every conversation - David, you agree with E.J. on that? Are we going to get health care?
BROOKS: I do, actually. I don't think we're going to get any global warming -serious legislation. We will not get cap and trade, which will rob the administration of $642 billion in revenue. But I suspect, like E.J., that we're going to get health care, in part because the groups are really sort of organized around it. The administration is making great progress for the interest groups, in part because of reconciliation. The big problem is the money. They've got sort of 4 or $500 billion to pay for this $1.2 billion proposal. Where does the other 700 billion come from? That is a huge problem with all the other deficit stuff we've got running around here.
NORRIS: To be continued. Thanks to both of you.
DIONNE: Thank you.
BROOKS: Thank you.
NORRIS: That's David Brooks of the New York Times; E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and the Brookings Institution.
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