tv Washington Week PBS November 5, 2010 7:00pm-7:30pm PST
gwen: pick your term. upheaval, earthquake, shellacking. no matter how you cut it, the political earth shifted this week. we'll explain what it happened and what it means tonight on "washington week. >> i'm confident and i am hopeful because this is our movement. this is our moment. this is our morning in america. >> tuesday's election was not about republicans. it was about the democrats. they got a report card. they got an f. >> i'm not recommending for every future president that they take a shellacking like i did last night. i'm sure there are easier ways to learn these lessons. >> no regrets. no regrets. because we believe we did the right thing.
>>there seems to be some denial on the part of the president and other democrat leaders. gwen: the winners. the losers. and the new faces. >> we started a movement 18 months ago. it was a movement of the people, for the people, and by the people. >> we make a great mistake if we believe that tonight these results are somehow an embraves the republican party. what they are is a second chance. gwen: and election that raised as many questions as it answered, for the obama white house, for the newly divided congress and for the very idea of compromise. covering this remarkable week, peter baker of "the new york times," michael duffy of "time" magazine, john harris of politico, and karen tumulty of the "washington post. plus a final salute to one of our own, charlie mcdowell. >> awarding-winning reporting and analysis, covering history as it happens.
live from our nation's capital, this is "washington week" with gwen ifill, produced in association with "national journal". corporate funding for "washington week" is provided by -- >> i volunteered. >> i was drafted. >>i enlisted. >> i was nervous. >> and there i was in asia. >> europe. >> the gulf. and i saw things. >> incredible things. >> and people you never forget. >> i did my job. >> for my country. >> my buddies. >> for total strangers. >> and i was proud. >> so grateful. >> for my family. >> my freedom. >> for all who served and all who serve, we can never thank them enough. there's one thing dave's always wanted to do when he retires. keep working. but for himself. so as his financial advisor i took a look at everything he has. 401k, insurance policies, even money he's invested elsewhere.
we're building a retirement plan to help him launch a second career. dave's flight school. go, dave. >>with you when you need a financial advisor fully invested in you. wells fargo advisors. together we'll go for. >> corporate funding is also provided by exxon mobil and prudential financial. additional corporate funding for "washington week" is provided by the ethics and excellence in journalism foundation, the annenberg foundation, the corporation for public broadcasting and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. once again, live from washington, moderator gwen ifill. gwen: good evening. by now you may have heard what happened on tuesday, a wave so forceful that even political tsunami warnings didn't prepare
democrats for what it would actually feel like. the long and short of it? gridlock is so not over. here's the best the white house could offer in the form of an olive branch. >> can you name today areas you might be willing to compromise on that you might not have been willing to compromise on in the past? >> well, um, i think i've been willing to compromise in the past and i'm going to be willing to compromise going forward. on a whole range of issues. gwen: here what's -- was the republican response. >> the fact is if our primary legislative goals are to repeal and replace the health spending bill, to end the bailouts, cut spending, and shrink the size and scope of government, the only way to do all those things is to put someone in the white house who won't veto any of those things. gwen: and in the meantime here's what at least one of the newcomers headed to washington into the results. >> i have a message! [cheers and applause]
>> i have a message! [cheers and applause] a message from the people of kentucky. [cheers and applause] a message to -- that is loud and clear and does not mince words. we've come to take our government back! [cheers and applause] gwen: back to where, is the question the nation's lawmakers are now wrestling with. but first the house, senate and white house have to sort themselves out because despite all that transpired tuesday, it appears the leadership ranks will only be reshuffled, not overhauled, starting with john boehner and nancy pelosi who will just be switching capitals, michael? >> i'm not sure it even rises to reshuffling. 72 hours after one of the biggest political wipeouts in 50 years, to put it generously both sides are trying to figure things out. the president made sounds, only sounds, about changing course. in response to your question, didn't get very specific. there are lots of questions about whether he wants to or
even can. the republicans on capitol hill have got as nifty after two or three days a dr. jekyll and mr. hyde going, where you have a speaker who tried out by being conciliatory and a majority leader as we saw who is anything but. and finally this afternoon, former house speaker, i guess still house speaker nancy pelosi, instead of going away, the person who launched 1,000 attack ads is not going away. gwen: she didn't launch them, they were about her. >> right. gwen: it seems like different lessons were taken from each side about the results. >> right. it's fascinating actually to listen to them. as you showed some of the clips, the republican mandate as they see it is to stop what president obama was doing, reverse course. the message you heard from president obama is it's time to work together. these are very different ideas out of the same set of elections. and you can find in poll numbers various things that
will satisfy various interpretations but the president's interpretaon of course is one of weakness coming out of a loss, a shellacking, as he put it, in which he's trying to find the best way forward. when he says the voters want us to work together, what he means is, don't cut me out, i'm still relevant here. though he wouldn't use that phrase. >> except that i do think, having been through a few of these tumultuous moments in washington, i got the sense in calling around the democratic leaders that they weren't quite as shell-shocked as after the 1994 elections in part because they did see this one coming and and also unlike a lot of these big wave elections where at the end almost all the close races go exactly the same way, in this case the democrats did pull it out for some very high profile governor's races and very high-profile senate races. so i think they are looking at this and seeing it as perhaps a different kind of wave and perhaps taking solace in history that has shown that the electorate is in a strt -- sort of unstable place.
gwen: almost more like a pendulum election than a change election? >> well, that's right. of the last five midterm elections three have been so-called wave elections. we're accustomed to a wave election being something that happens every couple of generations. this underscores obviously that we're in this period of radical fluidity. american politics say jump ball but i think somebody would in a state of denial as a democrat if thought oh, this wasn't necessarily such bad news. this was the biggest turnover since 1948 in the number of seats in the house and it went deep into the states. a liberal state like minnesota has both houses of its state legislature republicans now. through the industrial midwest, republicans in the state houses, governorships. this was a bad, bad night for democrats. gwen: it was a bad night for incumbents most especially if you were a democrat because as i -- you pointed out, 53 of them lost their jobs compared to only three republicans.
the news hour and you will see washington lost a combined 317 years of experience including party leaders and committee chairmen. of course, one person's experience is another's insider status. in any case it didn't help to have either of those labels attached to you this cycle. >> really tough to be an incumbent. statistics from ohio, a state where interestingly enough turnout went down -- >> your home state? >> yes. and it's a good bellwether and the president went there 14 -- 15 times in the last eight months. both sort of sides closed out there. incongressional districts that -- inusually go one way or the other by two or three points, they went republican by 12 13. and even among voters who said wall street was to blame for the economy, they broke republican. almost 5-4. no matter who you were, if you were an incumbent, were you wrong. gwen: compare this to past elections. we saw the president say every president at some point has to
stand up here and have this happen to them. we did see this happen to clinton, to reagan. does it compare? >> you know, it's interesting. i was talking to people at the white house about that today. they have a number of old hands at the white house, starting with the chief of staff, who have seen this happen, but as they look back in history them say that the differences from 1994 and 1980 are at least as important as the similarities. and one -- one of the differences is that they don't think president obama can essentially do small-bore initiatives because in a time of unemployment at 10% this is going to look just completely inadequate to the moment. and they say they're operating in a much more partisan media culture than anyone else has had to deal with. so yes, there are historic parallels and reason to think that resurgence is possible two years from now, but they also know, they're very aware that they have a very different kind of challenge. >> listen to how he talked on
wednesday. he interpreted the election results as not that he went the wrong direction but that he didn't go far enough, he said we didn't make enough progress fast enough, the voters are frustrated. the economy is still not recovered as much as we had hoped it would be. >> there are two interpretations to that and neither flattering to the president. one is he didn't hear what the people really said and the other is that he is just kind of stubborn. there's not a good interpretation of his reaction, at least his initial reaction to this drubbing. >> well, there's also the question of -- he salked -- talked so much about his specific policies. it was as though he assumed that a whole bunch of of legislative initiatives and successes would add up to something in the voters' minds. i was thinking back to sitting in the his campaign van in waco, texas, with chet edwards, facing his own political
demise, and i was thinking, keep thinking back to something bill clinton told me. he said the problem with the democrats is they don't know the difference between an issue and a message. all the things that president obama, as gifted a communicator as he is, was trying to make, it just didn't add up. >> i agree the times are completely different. it's a time of war. that was not. the media environment, many things are completely different. the fundamental challenge that barack obama has is the same. bill clinton was obsessed with getting independents who abandoned him in 1994 back and he largely managed. obama has had an even more drastic flight of independents away from him between 2008 and 2010. seems to me that's got to be his overriding task, how to win those voters back. i don't think he can and he's not by nature inclined to
replicate president clinton's example. >> we don't know how much elasticity is in president obama. we haven't seen much and in response again to your question --gwen: even the liberals think he's been too elastic. >> right. but the record isn't clear and the way i heard him speak on wednesday is he seemed to say i didn't do anything wrong, i just didn't sell it very well and that's not what the voters seem to be saying. >> but this is like the stages of grief. >> right. denial, negotiation, all that. >> the news conference was all about, well, the turnout. -- the turnout, if it was a little bit different, we'd be fine. >> and by the way, it took bill clinton a number of months to figure this out. it took him almost a year through a mix of conciliation and a move to the center.
abandon compromise. gwen: we know what the dilemma is for the democrats. but the republicans are being pretty cautious about this. we heard john boehner say over and over again, this isn't a celebration on tuesday night. everybody seems meek in claiming the mantle of victory in part because they've got tensions in their own party. >> that's right. >> that's exactly right. there is tension within the republican conferences. the tea party movement has to be integrated in there in a way that makes some sort of sense. you heard rand paul in your clips and he's going to be an exemplar of the no, no, no, we're not going down that path model. are republicans going to be able to govern within their own conference? the difference you hear in the message is also due to the fact that in 1994 when the republicans took over, the democrats had been in power in the house for 40 years. they were willing to embrace republicans because they didn't have anything against -- against them. it's only been four years since republicans were in power and the public 1 not necessarily enamored of what's happening then, they're just mad about what's happening now. >> there was also a real
difference in between -- tone between mitch mcconnell and incoming house speaker john boehner. boehner was far for kill silliatery, talking about needing to get things done. whereas mitch mcconel said our chief political goal is to replace president obama. >> and it's worth spending one more minute on. boehner is something of a newcomer. the republicans are hoping that boehner does not copy newt gingrich. i remember 15 years ago karen tumulty spent a week or two weeks trailing gingrich -- gwen: she was working for "time" magazine at the time, let's be clear, she was not stalking him! [laughter] >> right. "time" could not get so much as a posed picture with boehner this week because they are so concerned about making those mistakes. gwen: he's also a very
different person than newt gingrich. he's not that much out there. he came up from humble circumstances in ohio but his reputation in washington is being someone who hangs out with lobbyists and -- >> i think they're very concerned that the tea party people will see them as just another round of old-fashioned republicans in washington. gwen: right. >> i also think that the white house is hoping that they will play their role just the way the republicans did 15 years ago. >> unlikely they would be as lucky as bill clinton was in their choice of enemies. gwen: on the senate side, they have to deal with jim demint, who is talking about putting on the boxing gloves when he comes back to washington. he's not -- i mean that may be part of the reason why he can't afford to be conciliatery. >> boxing with mitch mcconnell as well. >> or harry reid, an actual boxer. >> the guy who did win a majority and has to govern on some level is trying to be conciliateory. >> the i think beneath the surface in the senate the real story is not the more flamboyant characters like rand
paul. it's the fact you have a lot of authentically conservative but still main stream conventional politicians who are going to be there in. portman. roy blunt. even marco rubio, a tea party favorite, a former speaker of the house in the state house in florida. so a lot of these conservatives were brought up with the newt gingrich example and they're serious-minded legislators. gwen: that said, we started the program with a little clip from a sarah palin mama grizzly video. how much power does she have behind the scenes now? based on whose campaign she endorsed or uplifted? >> she had a good night but not an unvarnished night. a lot of her candidates she had endorsed, in south carolina, in new hampshire, did win. a number did not though, most prominently of course sharron angle in nevada fem much
further behind senator reid, the majority leader, than most people expected. gwen: he won by a decent margin. better than the polls had looked like. and in alaska, senator lisa murkowski, as a write-in, got 40 some percent of the vote, beating both the democrat and the republican. >> i think the reid race is one where the democrats really do have a silver lining in a night where there weren't many. in nevada hispanic votes broke 6-1 for the democrat. that's astonishing. in california the percentage of hisses -- hispanics as eau percentage of the electorate went up. that really made a difference for them. gwen: and the democratic conservative caucus in the house, known as the blue dogs, they've been basically decimated. half of them were defeated which is why nancy pelosi can count noses and figures she can get elected. on the senate side, new
senators like joe manchin who wran -- ran by attacking, running against barack obama, i think mitch mcconnell is thinking he can count on him. >> two years from now it looks terrible for the democrats. these are a lot of seatss in very conservative states. gwen: first up we have a lame duck session coming back and a tax cut vote. that's the most obvious place for compromise. >>what's striking is how much there actually is to do before this new congress even gets to town. the president left for asia today. when he gets back, we're going to debate tax cuts, arms control treaty, we're going to debate unemployment insurance. >> the debt limit. >> and a continuing resolution to keep the government going. then in december the fiscal commission, the president will come back with no doubt very volatile recommendations about how to handle the debt, the afghanistan and pakistan review. there is a lot on the table before christmas.
gwen: my guess is that that debt debate is where the tea partiers really get to raise how much more are you willing to go into? in order to pay for government. isn't that a basic? >> and more than the number of tea partiers in congress is the fact that every republican in congress is looking over his or her shoulder afraid of a primary challenge and that's going to suggest that the only safe vote for a republican on anything that has money attached is a no. >> and the place where sarah palin and the tea parties are going to have the most lasting effect is in the presidential primaries, starting up in a few months. gwen: that's where i was going. >> the message is unmistakable. if you are in a situation like all the presidential candidates will be depending on grass-roots activists, that you've got to bow to them. again and again in primaries those people showed their willingness to punish incumbent republicans they thought were too moderate and richly reward people who agreed with them and all these presidential candidates learned that lesson
well, i think. >> the tea party has to have some learning in it. one of the lessons of tuesday night was that while the voters liked the revolt, there were some rebels they just didn't like, like sharron angle and ken buck in colorado. they were within i guess three more seats, that would have taken them nearly to 50. you have to expect that some part of the republican party will say ok, these places we went a bridge too far, we cannot continue to do that. we'll see if they can wrap their arms around the tea party or if they continue to be a problem. gwen: on the democrat side the president has to be weakened to have any challenger. is there any sign on the landscape of a democratic challenge? >> they're looking far --- for that. they're very aware that all the
incumbent presidents who have lost in modern times have been challenged first inside their own parties. gerald ford, jimmy carter, george h.w. bush thethey're on the lookout for that but don't see somebody on the horizon like that. they're more concerned about somebody from the middle, mike bloomberg from new york, who can sell -- self-finance. gwen: because the self-financing worked so well this year? >> ironically, not a good year for them. >> and another thing is what happened in the governor's races. because if you're running for president the best friend you can have in a swing state is the governor and in a lot of these swing states the governor is now a republican. florida, wisconsin, ohio. that could really change things as well. gwen: so it's not an accident on the republican side that one of the most enhanced possibilities for 2012 is the head of the republican governors association, haley barbour? >> that's true. he raised $80 million on the way to electing somebody and he can probably do that again. some people say in this year
alone, he's absolutely looking at it and won't make a decision until april. >> fascinating. in the final days of the election you saw tim cain -- gwen: i introo duced him. even he post election press conference was mitch mcconnell, john boehner and haley barbour. that must mean something. >> that means he's seriously thinking about running. gwen: and who else? >> yeah, on the republican side? >> sarah palin, mike huckabee. tim pawlenti. mike pence. >> we've not had a sitting member of the house elected president in this country since jamed garfield in 1880. but mike pence announced he was stepping down from the republican leadership to consider his options. gwen: and he might run for governor of indiana. there is so much going on. it's been is much fun. -- so much fun but
we're going to have to leave it here and pick it up in the web cast. because before we go tonight i'd like to take a moment to salute charlie mcdowell. the richmond dispatch reporter and columnist who spent nearly 20 years at this table passed away today, suitably on a friday. he was a treasure not only to us but to those who recognized his brilliance like ken burns who used his voice for "the civil war" and "baseball." his voice just stuck in our heads. in 1991 when washington was caught up in the challenge by anita hill to supreme court nominee clarence thomas. >> the quibbling of the committee got to people who don't sit around and watch congressional committees very much. here was quibble, quibble, quibble, political posturing hokum that happens on committees. these are the people who have the ethics troubles and who are caught in just a series of things that make people scoff and smirk. and here they were where the two people with any real class
in the room looked to a lot of americans like professor hill and clarence thomas. gwen: charles rice mcdowell jr. a class act. he was 84 years old. our hearts go out to his wondful wife, ann. funding for "washington week" is provided by -- >> i'm an engineer. my kids say i speak a different language, but i love mathematic. and math and science develop new ideas. we've used hydrogen in our plants for decades. the old hydrogen units were very large. recently we've been able to reduce that. then our scientists said what if we could make it small enough to produce and use hydrogen right on board a car? as part of a hydrogen system, this could decrease emissions and increase fuel efficiency by 80%. >> this rock has never stood still. since 1875 we've been there for our clients through good times
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