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Week In Politics: White House Shuffle, Economy

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Week In Politics: White House Shuffle, Economy

Analysis

Week In Politics: White House Shuffle, Economy

Week In Politics: White House Shuffle, Economy

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Mary Louise Kelly speaks with our regular political commentators, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution and David Brooks of The New York Times, about the week in politics.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

Now to talk through the week in politics, we're joined by our regular Friday duo: David Brooks of the New York Times and E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post.

Welcome to you both.

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

Mr. DAVID BROOKS (New York Times): Good to be here.

KELLY: I want to start you off where Tom Bowman just left us - with the departure of General Jones, the national security adviser. David, let me start with you, how do you rate his tenure?

Mr. BROOKS: He was a bit of a mismatch. You know, most people - if you go in the White House, most people are in love with the president. They dream about him. They write poems about him. They have little heart signs in their notebooks about him. And so they want to serve him.

Jones never really gave off that aura. And that's pretty bad for a national security adviser. You've got to wake up in the morning and say what can I do today to make my president's life easier. And the successful ones have done that and have paid close attention to that job and have put in the hours - 12, 14, 17 hours a day - doing that. He never really fit into that model and he never really fit into the culture of debate. So I think it became evident months and months that Obama was going to Donilon - has been going to Donilon because he just felt more comfortable with him.

KELLY: E.J., we've heard rumors that General Jones's departure was coming, but it seems to have come maybe a little bit sooner than some people were expecting. What do you think is the back story?

Mr. DIONNE: Well, you know, I should disclose that when I moved to Washington 24 years ago, Tom Donilon was the first person I met back in the day when he was - not to use Mike McCurry's language - a political operative. He's a very smart political operative. And I've got to say, from the first months of the administration I had a feeling this switch was going to happen. It was only a matter of when.

And there are a couple of factors here. One is that Tom Donilon spent a lot of time with Barack Obama during debate preparation. And that's a very intense period. And you either get to like somebody or you get to not like somebody in that period. And Obama took a liking to him.

Secondly, he's had a kind of channel with the State Department through the Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg. They've worked together for years on campaigns, when Democrats were out of power, on foreign policy issues. That helped prevent tensions between Secretary of State Clinton and the president, and it gave Donilon, I think, some extra power. So I thought this was eventually going to happen and now it has.

KELLY: And now it has. Well, we learned one interesting bit of trivia about Donilon today, which is that he gets through the day thanks to, quote, "seemingly limitless quantities of Diet Coke."

Mr. DIONNE: That's true.

KELLY: The president gave us that news today.

Mr. DIONNE: It's an untold scandal in the administration, because Larry Summers also uses a lot of Diet Coke. So there's a real addiction problem throughout the entire White House.

KELLY: Well, setting aside possibly addiction problems...

Mr. DIONNE: The administration's Coke problem. Is that what you're talking about?

KELLY: I mean, one thing he does not bring to the table is military experience. General Jones obviously had that in spades. Does it matter in the 21st century for a national security adviser to have had some military experience under their belt?

Mr. DIONNE: Well, I think Henry Kissinger would say it's not a big problem. I think we've always...

KELLY: Mm-hmm. Condoleezza Rice.

Mr. DIONNE: ...had a mixture of foreign policy advisers, some out of the military, some not. And I think that's a good thing. You need some of both.

KELLY: David, this word of Jones's departure comes just a week after Rahm Emanuel, president Obama's chief of staff, announced he's leaving. Last month came word that a couple of his top economic advisers, Christina Romer and Larry Summers, were stepping aside. Is this an unusual amount of turnover for a president before the two-year mark in his presidency, before even the midterm elections?

Mr. BROOKS: Yeah, I actually don't think so. Some of the people had to leave. Larry Summers had to leave because of a Harvard rule. Rahm Emanuel had to leave because destiny called him back to Chicago. And I would say some people have a sense there's a White House in disarray. They're beaten down in the polls. They just don't feel good. The rats are jumping the ship.

I find that's not true. In my conversations with people in the White House their mood is fine. They're not too pleased about Washington these days and the city they happen to live in. But within the White House I don't detect any upsurge in disarray or down attitudes or infighting. So I think a lot of this is just - by and large, it's either a couple of people they were unhappy with, but mostly it's just an accumulation of circumstance, not a sign of anything deeper.

KELLY: Well, let me ask you both about another challenge the president's facing, and of course, the economy would be front and center. We had new unemployment numbers out today showing the economy still really struggling to create jobs. This new report showing the economy lost 95,000 jobs in September. Not a very encouraging picture for the president. And that's the last unemployment report we're going to have before the elections next month. What does this mean for members of Congress out trying to figure out how to spin this on the campaign trail?

Mr. DIONNE: In campaign terms, the Democrats, the administration, have been hoping for months and months of, say, 200,000 jobs a month, and they haven't gotten that. But I think it's really interesting, if you split these numbers up, our supposedly socialist president has presided over nine straight months of private-sector job growth. We had 63,000 new private-sector jobs. Where the losses were were in government employment, not just from the census jobs disappearing. Local governments lost 76,000 jobs. This is something David and I have disagreed on for months.

I think that it's very clear that you needed more stimulus, particularly in the form of help to state and local governments. They're in fiscal crisis. They are laying off people and in many cases they're also raising taxes. This is not a good thing to do for the economy. And so I think what you're going to see is people saying, ah, Obama's stimulus didn't work in campaign terms. The stimulus wasn't big enough, but it actually did a lot for us as far as it went. And what's really hurting us now are the anti-stimulative policies as things like aids to state and local governments get blocked by the Republicans in Congress.

KELLY: David, what's your take?

Mr. BROOKS: I might take a little different tact.

Mr. DIONNE: I thought you might.

Mr. BROOKS: I think what happened is that over the last 20 years we went on this huge debt binge. And if you look at the debt charts - public debt, private debt - it's just like climbing a mountain. And then we had the crisis, and now we're getting out of that debt. And so savings rates have begun to jump, corporations have begun to store away some money. And the effect of this in the public sector is that states are bringing their budgets in the balance and that's leading to unemployment. But corporations and individuals are beginning to save a little. And we just have to do that.

And there's no short-term solution to that problem. We have to get to a point where our fiscal situation at home and in the states are at some sort of sustainable level, and that means we're going to have slow growth for a long period. But there is no shortcut out of that problem. We went on a three-decade binge.

Mr. DIONNE: But if you're looking at the state and local government, we're not talking here about their just getting rid of debt and coming to some balance. I mean, they're making very deep cuts and the tax increases. And, you know, conservatives shouldn't like very much the fact that state and local governments are having to raise taxes. And so I think there is still a role to get this thing moving quicker.

KELLY: E.J., one more topic for you on the campaign trail, this controversy over funding for U.S. Chamber of Commerce ads. The allegation is the Chamber is using foreign money to pay for its ads. The Chamber denies it. What should we make of it?

Mr. DIONNE: The problem is there's no way of knowing whether or not the Chamber is telling to truth, or whether it is technically telling the truth but foreign money coming in through memberships from foreign entities is sort of indirectly mixed in. And I think this becomes a big deal. There is an enormous amount of outside advertising financed by wealthy conservatives and now, thanks to the terrible Citizens United decision, corporations - I was down in Danville, Virginia, Tom Perriello's district - and you look at the morning shows, and it was just bombarded with ads. I think this is going to become a big issue because people are going to ask, why are these people spending all this money to influence the selection? What do they want to buy out of it?

KELLY: All right. Thank you very much. That's E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and David Brooks of The New York Times. Thank you both, gentlemen.

Mr. DIONNE: Thank you.

Mr. BROOKS: Thank you.

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