Week In Politics: Emanuel Resigns, Liberals Rally

Melissa Block talks with E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution and Michelle Bernard, CEO of the Independent Women's Forum, about the week in politics.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Now, to talk through the week in politics, we're joined by our Friday commentators: E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post. Hey, E.J.

Mr. E.J. DIONNE (Washington Post): Good to see you.

BLOCK: And today, sitting in for David Brooks, we're joined by Michelle Bernard, with the independent Women's Forum. That's a conservative think tank here in Washington.�

Michelle, welcome back.

Ms. MICHELLE BERNARD (independent Women's Forum): Rahm Emanuel leaving Washington. Not the only one. The 111th Congress has also gone home to campaign. And let's think about a report card here: Big legislation this session, the stimulus package, health care overhaul, financial regulatory reform.�E.J., at least two of those votes coming back to haunt Democrats in midterm campaigns. What do you think?

MR. DIONNE: Well, I give them an A- on accomplishments. The minus is only - they've accomplished an awful lot. The minus is because I think they should've done a bigger stimulus. They could have done a little more on health care. They let cap and trade and the employee free choice site for unions go. But on balance, this has been a very successful Congress. TEXT: But I would give them a very generous B- on messaging. Some of that's the White House's responsibility. They shouldn't have gotten into the hole that they were in as of three weeks ago.

Now, I think - and we'll probably talk about this more - I think they are actually beginning to climb out of that hole with a little help from Christine O'Donnell and others. And so I'm not sure this is as catastrophic an election as it was looking to a lot of people before.

But they sure did get a lot done. And I think that is going to be, in the long run, the most important thing.

BLOCK: Michelle Bernard, a B- from E.J. on messaging. Do you think messaging is the problem?

Ms. BERNARD: That's just one place to begin. I wish I had a professor like E.J. when I was a student, because I would give - myself personally, I believe many members of the American public would give this Congress an F on almost everything.

BLOCK: You think he just graded on a curve here?

Ms. BERNARD: I think he is grading on an enormous curve.

Mr. DIONNE: Just on messaging.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BERNARD: If you look at legislation passed, yes, this Congress passed legislation. If you look at where the American public is psychologically and economically this Congress gets an enormous F.

Messaging is part of the problem - a very large part of the problem. But the bottom-line is the nation's unemployment rate still hovers around 10 percent. In communities of color it's nearing, you know, 17, 18, 19, 20 percent.

And so I think if you were to go out and talk to any member of the American public and say how would you grade Congress just five weeks before the upcoming election you would hear a resounding F. This is awful.

BLOCK: Well, you don't seem to like either party particularly much right now in Congress.

Ms. BERNARD: Yeah. What we've been saying - at the independent Women's Voice they conducted a survey of 1,000 independents recently. And one of the greatest things that we saw in this survey of independents, which is really people right in the middle - former Democrats, former Republicans, self-identified independents. And what they're telling politicians today is that this is a beauty contest between the Democrats and Republicans and all of the candidates are ugly. They do not like what members of Congress are doing.

BLOCK: Well, Michelle, how confident are you that the predicted Republican surge in this year's midterm elections is still surging? That we're looking at a wave election coming up?

Ms. BERNARD: I think we are looking at a wave election coming up in the House. It does not mean that everyone who gets elected to the House would necessarily be my top choice for a candidate. But if you look at what's happening in the middle of the country, independents are very unhappy. And independents are telling us that they are leaning Republican, not so much because they like Republicans. The grades for Republicans are really pretty dismal. This is more of a vote against Democrats than it is a vote for a Republican Congress.

BLOCK: And, E.J., you ask in a column this week: could the plates beneath this election be shifting? You see some reasons for hope for Democrats.

Mr. DIONNE: I do. I think there are a number of things going on. One, these classes of Democrats elected in '06 and '08 are very tough politicians. And they are unlike the class - the folks who lost in '94, many of whom had never had a tough race. So they've been out there for a while. They've known since Scott Brown won in Massachusetts that this was going to be a hard year. So some folks have clawed their way back into the lead.

Second, President Obama had really not been very engaged politically. He is very engaged now. I thought the moment at the University of Wisconsin really did recapture some of the feeling that he had in 2008. It was a kind of revival tour in a number of senses.

And the third thing is people are taking a second look at the Republicans. The pledge to America, I think, hurt them two ways. On the one hand, it has Tea Party language in it, which turns off moderates. But it didn't really satisfy the Tea Party, because it has so few specifics in it. And so race after race, national polling numbers, you're seeing enthusiasm creep up among Democrats and you're seeing the vote shifting away from the Republicans. So I think something is going on out there.

BLOCK: Tomorrow, there's going to be a rally here in Washington on the National Mall - liberal groups this time - the One Nation Working Together rally. E.J., are you hearing a coherent theme for this rally?

Mr. DIONNE: Well, I think in a lot of ways the coherent theme to this rally is the Tea Party folks you've been hearing from are not the people who are unemployed. They're not the people who have suffered most in this downturn. These are folks who are very much against the right, against the Republicans. They're saying that the economy needs more stimulus, and it's getting killed in the Senate. And it's also a rally for tolerance and openness. And the NAACP is involved. A lot of gay groups are involved. So it's sort of the anti-Glenn Beck rally that doesn't get as much attention because they don't have Fox News working for them.

BLOCK: Michelle Bernard, what are you looking for in this rally tomorrow?

Ms. BERNARD: You know, I am really looking to see the turnout - how many people are going to show up for this rally tomorrow. It does appear to be the anti-Glenn Beck rally, and I think that if we see large numbers of people show up in the rally tomorrow, that we actually might see a parallel in terms of liberals that turn out to vote in November. So I'm looking to see if this enthusiasm gap that we talk about is really creeping up. This is the Democrats' base that is expected to show up at tomorrow's rally. And so the big question is will they have hundreds of thousands of people there as they allegedly did at the Glenn Beck rally last month, or are we going to see people who aren't too interested and actually showing up?

BLOCK: Okay. Thanks to you both. Have a great weekend.

Ms. BERNARD: Thank you.

Mr. DIONNE: Thank you.

BLOCK: That's Michelle Bernard of the Independent Women's Forum and E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post.

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