Week In Politics: State Of The Union Preview, Romney, Immigration Audie Cornish talks to regular political commentators E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution and David Brooks of The New York Times. They discuss President Obama's early rollout of the State of the Union, Romney and the GOP race to the White House, and the House vote on immigration.
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Week In Politics: State Of The Union Preview, Romney, Immigration

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Week In Politics: State Of The Union Preview, Romney, Immigration

Week In Politics: State Of The Union Preview, Romney, Immigration

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And to talk more about the week in politics, we're joined by E J Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution. Hey there, E J

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

CORNISH: And David Brooks of The New York Times. Hey there, David.


CORNISH: And we begin with one more voice, this one concerned with the issue of security.


JEH JOHNSON: After the attack in Paris, the attack in Ottawa, in Australia and other places, I'm very concerned about making sure that our budget is adequately funded for the protection of the homeland, for the protection of the American people.

CORNISH: That's Jeh Johnson, Homeland Security secretary, on our show earlier this week. Now, he's been out lobbying, trying to beat back the immigration measures that were tacked on to the latest DHS funding bill. House Republicans passed measures this week as part of their effort to basically prevent the president's executive action on immigration. E J, I'll start with you. This plan, in a way, was patched during the budget fight last year - right? - to try to put these measures onto the DHS spending? Does it seem like a good idea now?

DIONNE: Well, I think this episode is very revealing 'cause it shows the problems that Speaker Boehner could help the Republican Party get into in an effort to escape his own problems. What I mean is he has put together a wildly restrictive measure that not only tries to overturn President Obama's executive action on immigrant families, but he - they also proposed to overturn what he's done for Dreamers - the kids who have gone through school and who are very popular among the American people.

What the House passed almost certainly can't even get by the Republicans in the Senate. Boehner's trying to send a message to his most conservative colleagues that, look, we can do whatever we want. The Senate won't buy it. But they sent a terrible signal to the Latino community, which noticed how really quite radical this proposal turned out to be. I don't think it will go through, but I think it's a problem for Republicans.

CORNISH: David, this - are you seeing it the same way as E J, a kind of indication of strategy? I mean, the Senate picked the Keystone pipeline - right? - as their first issue.

BROOKS: Right, it's a strategy. It's not a particularly good one. It's your first thing out of the box. You're in the majority in both houses. Pick a fight you can win. Whatever you think of the merits - and I think they're right to want to roll back on the executive action of the president, mainly because it was executive action, I think the substance on immigration is completely wrong - but whatever you think of the merits, you're trying to launch a Republican rule in Congress, and they really have no hope. There's no hope of winning. They did this very strong bill. They issued their protests, and it's going to be defeated in the Senate. And by some miracle, if that doesn't happen, the president will obviously veto it. So they're going to have to retreat. And so why do you charge up a hill you're bound to retreat back down? It's like the Fox-ification of the Republicans. They want to make a statement. But instead of actually, you know, doing something, they can pass some legislation.

CORNISH: These are issues, obviously that will play out way well into 2016, right? Everyone has their eye looking forward. And speaking of which, Mitt Romney reportedly considering a third presidential run. He's set to address the RNC, the Republican National Committee, tonight at their winter meeting in San Diego. Plus, people have been talking about Jeb Bush. David, what do you make of these "establishment," quote, unquote, names kind of jumping - getting the jump on things?

BROOKS: I'm pro-establishment, as a rule. But Mitt Romney's the old establishment. You know, I think he's a no-hoper, frankly.

CORNISH: No hope?

BROOKS: No hope - well, I shouldn't say that, little hope.

CORNISH: OK (laughter).

BROOKS: I'm hedging my bets here. But, you know, he is not so much supported among the big Republican donor class, not so much support among the committee people. There's a much stronger field than he faced four years ago. And finally, the candidates who are re-nominated after defeat have passionate defenders, passionate followers - Adlai Stevenson, William Jennings Bryan. If there are those passionate throngs, I missed them. I've been missing them for eight years, so...

CORNISH: E J (laughter).

DIONNE: And I think Mitt Romney is missing - I think one of the most depressing thing for him is you send up a trial balloon of this sort, and all of a sudden all kinds of Republicans, including some you thought might be sympathetic to you, start shooting at it. And you wonder what Romney - Romney's a practical man. You wonder what conclusion he is going to draw from this.

But it tells us something about the nature of the quest for the presidency now. He sent out the signal because Jeb Bush, who had announced earlier that he is pretty certain to run, was starting to pick up a whole lot of his fundraising basement - Romney's fundraising base. Romney couldn't allow that to happen, so he had to put a marker down. Just given the reaction to him among Republicans, I wonder if he's going to proceed much farther.

CORNISH: You know, there's one other thing I want to ask about, and that's the president's State of the Union address that's coming up. I want to say that there's going to be some surprises, but it feels like he's been out on the road telling us everything leading up to this. David, what do you expect to hear? What would you like to hear?

BROOKS: They've destroyed the intense drama of the...

CORNISH: We're waiting with bated breath for this.

BROOKS: No, E J is up nights wondering, what will the cybersecurity reform package look like? So - and so what they decided to do - it's not a moment, it's a movement, I guess, is their language, which is that they're going around the country pre-advancing everything. And so we more or less know what's going to be in it. Some pretty good ideas - I think community colleges for free, some ideas - we'll see nothing too major. But, you know, it's a lot of little things he can do without too much legislation.

CORNISH: E J's facing a Republican-controlled House and Senate. What's the case he needs to make now?

DIONNE: See, I stay up nights only worrying about Obamacare, not cybersecurity. First of all, he is lucky because his popularity has finally bounced up a little bit. He has gone from the low 40s to the higher 40s. And I think there are a lot of reasons for that. Latinos have come back to him because of immigration. People are feeling better about the economy. That's very important because these days, we are so partisan that people don't even watch States of the Union by presidents they oppose. That's not unique to Obama. That started happening with Democrats under President Bush.

I think this little bounce up he's gotten will draw him a bigger audience. And I think he's very conscious that he's not just proposing things that he hopes to pass. He's proposing things as part of a legacy, things Democrats - presumably Hillary Clinton, but other Democrats - can fight for after he's gone. And he's hoping on some of these things - maybe sick leave for parents - might even draw some Republican support. But he's playing a double game. He needs to govern now, but he wants to lay markers for what should happen in the future.

CORNISH: One quick thing, David, Joni Ernst with the reply, the Republican from Iowa.

BROOKS: Yeah, the annual victim. You know...

CORNISH: You know, that is a coveted spot, David Brooks, settle down.

BROOKS: It tends to be a spot that does more damage than good. But, you know, I think she's representing a Republican Party that's slightly more unified than it was two years ago. And so I think her job - nobody has high expectations, but I think the party is actually in reasonably good shape if they could get a strategy.

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.

CORNISH: And I want to take a moment to acknowledge the lovely music we are hearing. It's Thievery Corporation - yes, our house band - words I never get to say - for a day. Melissa?


That's right, Audie. The Thievery crew is going to be playing every musical break in the show live in our studios here, so be sure to keep an ear to how today's stories are inspiring them.


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