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tv   Washington Week With Gwen Ifill  PBS  August 17, 2013 2:00am-2:31am PDT

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>> deadly clashes on the streets in egypt. the justice department takes a new approach to drug crimes. and reading the tea leaves for 2016. i'm amy wolter in for gwen ifill. tonight on "washington week." >> the united states strongly condemns the steps that have been taken by egypt's interim government. amy: the president responds to the increasing violence in egypt. but how much influence does the u.s. have in the region? >> we violated our own rule of law by not calling it for what it is because our law clearly states that if it's a military coup then aid is cut off. they had the coup and we didn't do that. that's a blow to credibility. amy: the attorney general takes aim at those con victed of minor drug offenses. >> certain low level nonviolent drug offenders who have no ties to large scale organizations, gangs or cartels, will no
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longer be charged with offenses that impose draconian mandatory minimum sentences. amy: and hillary clinton laying the groundwork for 2016. >> many americans are asking how do we ensure that the law continues to serve and belong to the people in a time when ideology and gridlock have paralyzed our politics? amy: but is this man conceding anything? covering the week, indira lakshmanan on bloomberg news. pete williams of nbc news. and jeff zeleny of abc news. >> award winning reporting and analysis and covering heft as it happens live from our nation's capital this is "washington week." corporate funding for "washington week" is provided by -- >> we went out and asked people a simple question. how old is the oldest person you've known? we gave people a sticker and
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had them show us. we learned a lot of us have known someone who's lived well into their 90's. and that's a great thing. even though we're living longer one thing that hasn't changed is the official retirement age. the question is, how do you make sure you have the money you need to enjoy all of these years? additional funding for "washington week" is provided by 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, sitting in for gwen ifill this week amy wolter of the cook political report. amy: good evening. clashes continued today on the streets of cairo and other egyptian cities. between the military and supporters of ousted president mohamed morsi. many of whom have been camped
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out for weeks and parks and squares throughout the country. hundreds died in the fighting this mast week. the interim government has declared a state of emergency. thursday president obama condemned the crackdown by the government. >> let me say the cycle of violence and escalation needs to stop. we call on the egyptian authorities to respect the universal rights of the people. we call on those who are protesting to do so peacefully. and condemn the attacks that we've seen by protesters. including on churches. we believe that the state of emergency should be lifted, that a process of national reconciliation should begin, that all parties need to have a voice in egypt's future. amy: the u.s. has been walking a tightrope ever since morsi was removed from office. and just two weeks ago, secretary of state john kerry was hopeful that what happened this week would not come to pass. >> the military was asked to
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intervene by millions and millions of people. afraid of a re descendens into chaos and violence. the military did not take over to the best of our judgment so far. so far. to run the country. there was a civilian government. in effect they were restoring democracy. amy: so indira, where are we now in egypt? >> well, sadly, secretary kerry's hopeful words that we would be on a path toward democracy have not come to pass. obviously we have more than 600 people massacred this week, protesters who were supporting mohamed morsi. we have 19 generals who were appointed as provincial governors. we have what's looking more and more like a coup if we weren't already willing to use that word. and so far we haven't been willing to. and it's interesting the u.n. security council met last night. we have many of the members calling it a massacre.
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the e.u. threatening to cut us aid and yet what we have with president obama so far is deploring it, condemning it and canceling some joint military exercises. but stopping short of calling it a coup that would cut off the $1.3 billion in annual military aid. amy: so let's talk about that. why doesn't the u.s. government put that on the table? as you pointed out, the president and the administration have come up with a lot of other options. but we have not heard anything about just simply cutting off the aid. >> right. well, at this point, the administration has determined that it is still in the u.s. national security interest to keep that aid going. and there are several real politick reasons for that. on the one hand they feel they have some leverage over the egyptian military. that they think they would lose if they cut off that aid. there's also the feeling that this -- that this aid that we give them underpins the camp david accords and egypt's willingness to stay with that peace in israel. and let's not forget that there
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are also a lot of vested interests as pete knows well, there are military contractors all over washington who are gaining from this $1.3 billion in aid which really goes into the pockets of american military contractors. it's just that the weapons that are paid for end up in the hands of the egyptian military. >> so this money gches us leverage over the military to do what? >> well, that's -- that's the $1.3 billion question. the idea has been that the leverage is that they're going to do what we say. but what we know now is six weeks ago, we were pressuring the egyptian military not to oust morsi even though he was unpopular and the u.s. wasn't a big fan. they dent listen. in the last couple of weeks, the u.s. has been pressuring the military to not crack down on the protesters. and they obviously ignored us. so a lot of people are throwing up their hands, long-time analysts and saying what -- what leverage do we have? what influence do we still have in the region? and that's become problematic because it's making obama in a way, the worst of all possible
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worlds. he doesn't come right out and call it a coup. it looks like we're not standing up to american ideals. and at the same time, it looks like we're impotent in the face of what's happening, all the violence in the region. and it makes us in a way look f he canless and it's ditch. -- and is -- and it's difficult. it is a difficult tightrope they're walking. and behind the scenes what i'm hearing from my sources is that it's not that u.s. lawyers are stupid. not that they don't realize that this is a coup. of course american lawyers looked at this afterwards and said oops, this is a coup. but they made the decision that they didn't need to publicly make that determination because that would force their hand in other ways. i think it's interesting -- >> in what other ways? >> forcing them to cut off the aid which they didn't want to do. the aid helps us in several ways because it provides security for the suez canal
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through which $4.5 million barrels of oil are going every way. it provides security for the u.s. embassy and consulates. and it provides a lot of counterterrorism security. not to mention stopping weapons from going into the tunnels through rafa into gaza. so there are benefits that the u.s. fetes from that as well. but the hypocritical, i grant you, it does put us in a bad light. because we're not standing up for the ideals and at the same time we're not getting the leverage they want over our policy. amy: is the arab spring the arab winter? from syria, tunisia, egypt, all the promises of the uprisings now seem to be collapsing. >> it's certainly not what the opt mists had hoped for 2 1/2 years ago. and i think the worst case scenario is people thinking, wow, the revolution that hit tahirer square in january of 11 when people hoping they were pushing out mubarak made
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something worse. while his regime -- they were allowed to contest elections and this new military leadership looks like it's determined to wipe out the muslim brotherhood entirely and we may wind up with something more entrenched and worse than we had 2 1/2 years ago when they rose up in tahir. >> one thing we did hear from the president this week and he was speaking from martha's vineyard he did not mention the aid but did say the u.s. government is canceling its military exercises. is that a big deal or not? it seems like the military is occupied at the moment. and not exactly -- >> right. >> well, this is a biennial exercise so every two years. the last time it was held bright star was in 2009 because in 2011, they also had their hands full with the revolution and couldn't do it. in some ways, you can say it's symbolic and other ways it allows us to understand how the other side works. many countries participate in it. just a slap on the wrist. what's real is if they're considering, for example, they've stopped giving the f-16.
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they put that on hold. if they decide to stop giving other hardware, if they're not really letting aid flow since july 3, since this ouster, that's the bigger question. and we'll have to see where it goes. if things get worse, they're not going to be able to continue with the policy they have right now. that's my prediction. amy: thank you very much for that. here at home, a decision by attorney general eric holder this week is sure to stir up a debate about the fairness in the criminal justice system. at issue, mandatory minimum sentences for what many acknowledge are minor drug infractions. >> although incarceration has a significant role to play in our justice system, widespread incarceration at the federal, state, and local levels is both ineffective and unsustainable. we also must confront the reality that once they're in that system, people of color often face harsher punishments than their peers. black male offenders have received sentences nearly 20% longer than those imposed on
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white males convicted of similar crimes. this isn't just unacceptable, it is shameful. amy: so pete, is this about inequity or is this about economics? >> it's both. and it's something that's been on the attorney general's mind for several years now. what he said this week at the american bar association is look at the number of people in federal prisons. 219,000. eight times what it was 30 years ago. it's 40% over capacity. you've got -- if you add in the states, 1.5 million people in prison. and at a time of declining budgets that's expensive. so is it really worth -- does the punishment fit the crime when you send these low level drug owe feners, and that's really what he was talking about. mandatory minimums for them so he sent a memo to all the u.s. attorneys saying don't put in your indictment how much drugs were involved if it would trigger a mandatory minimum sentence under the federal law for people who are low level, nonviolent offenders, no ties to drug cartels or organized
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crime or gangs, and don't sell to children. if they fit all those criteria, don't trigger the mandatory mims. now, i think what he's really trying to do is to start a nationwide debate on this. there's a sign that some republicans are gipping to think it's a good idea. he mentioned rand paul and make lee, the senator from utah. and i think he wants to ultimately get the drug mandatory minimums off the books. amy: but given those restrictions on who is eligible for this, is this going to have a real impact on the number of people in our prisons? >> very good question. very hard to tell. we tried to figure out exactly how many people would fit this profile. first of all, we're talking only about federal prison here. nothing the attorney general said or sent his memo to the u.s. attorneys will change what the states do. and that's where the majority of the mandatory members are filling up the prisons. so it could be as many as a fourth of people who go to prison for drug offenses would
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meet this criteria. and of course the number of drug offenders in prison is about half the inmate population. so you can do the math. >> what's the reaction of law enforcement to this? is this viewed skeptically? >> well, i think to some extent they wonder what effect it will have. but the other thing is what law enforcement people say is they want the bargaining chip. when they arrest a low level offender, they want to be able to say look, you could get five or 10 years automatic, mandatory sentence. unless you give us the goods. where did you get the drugs from? we want to know who the higher ups in the organization. and they're worried about losing that leverage. >> i would love to know about whether there's been a change overall in the thinking about mandatory minimums. because i remember in the 1990's being a police reporter. and how popular they were politically, not just with the law enforcement but also with politicians. it seems republicans now not all republicans think it's a great idea. >> there's definitely a change here. they started in the 1980's. they were sort of cemented into place. and were added to during the
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cocaine-fueled crime rise in the 1990's. and i remember when charles shurm, the democratic senator from -- shumer, the democratic senator from new york in the house, they all loved mandatory minimums. but i think a couple of things have changed. number one the crime rate is down. number two americans just are not as worried about illegal drugs anymore. you put all that stuff together, plus the cost of sending a lot of people to prison. and many people are taking another look at mandatory minimums. amy: we're going to stick with you, pete. because we're -- there was another story that caught the eye of the attorney general and the justice department. north carolina's governor signed into law what's regarded as one of the toughest voter i.d. measures in the country. >> protecting the integrity of every vote cast is among the most important duties i have as governor. and it's why i signed these common sense, commonplace protections into law. amy: reaction was fierce and swift. >> legislators in north carolina have pushed through a bill that reads like the
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greatest hits of voter suppression. restricted early voting, no more same day registration, or extending voting hours to accommodate long lines, stricter photo i.d. requirements, that disqualify those issued by colleges or public assistance agencies and it goes on and on. amy: all right. so pete, republicans say we're just trying to protect the integrity of the process. democrats say this is voter suppression. so how do we tell which is which? >> there's not a lot of evidence on either side for this but the supporters of the changes were liberated to act and they passed this a month after the u.s. supreme court cut the heart out of the voting rights act. so that north carolina was no longer what they call a covered jurisdiction. they didn't have to get federal permission before they changed their laws. so boom, right out of the box they made these changes. so one of the nation's strict photo i.d. laws. the hillary clinton mention it's no more same day registration. it cuts early voting from 17 days down to 10.
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it ends a program where you can register the day you vote and also ends a program where young people can sort of sign up in advance to register. so it's -- it's many changes, including the one that says if you cast your ballot by mistake in the wrong precinct it won't count. now, civil rights groups have already filed a couple of lawsuits. and here's their argument. they say this hits minorities especially hard because they tend to be the people who use all these things. they have some figures here. 70% of african-americans in north carolina voted early last november. compared to 52% of whites. they also say minority voters tend to use same day registration more because they move more. and they have to record their new addresses. and they say early voting, reducing early voting is going to be hard on everybody because it's going to make the lines a lot longer on election day. and it becomes more of an ordeal for everybody. >> i would love to know what the justice department is going to do about this? because eric holder has already shown that he's willing to go after what he sees as voting
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rights -- violations with what he's done with texas. isn't it? >> so the easy thing for the justice department to do is just be to sue over these measures and say court, you got to stop these. but i think they're going to go for the bigger game in north carolina, just as they have in texas. and what they're going to try to do is say we know the part of the voting rights act that was in effect since 1965 is gone. but what they're trying to do in texas, and what they're going to do in north carolina is say to a judge we still need to force under a different section of the voting rights act but still survive the supreme court decision, we need to require these states to still get approval because there is still discrimination going on. so i think in a couple of weeks, they'll follow the same line in north carolina. >> we saw a lot of outrage from groups. and some of the groups are threatening to sue and other things. but actually on the photo i.d., the public opinion for that is fairly high across the country. that if people ask, is it reasonable to show a piece of -- a driver's license or photo i.d., is that acceptable? most people say, majorities say
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yes so what is the big deal about photo i.d.'s? is there an argument these are needed? >> the governor you showed a little excerpt from it. he said you have to show a photo i.d. to board a plane or buy sudafed and why not show it to vote? opponents say boarding a plane and sudafed are not constitutional guaranteed rights and it's harder for minorities, the poor. to get them. in north carolina, for example, college students can't use their student i.d. this is one of the things that states fight over is whether you can use student i.d. so yes, they are popular. but the other thing is the polls show that the other provisions of this law are not nearly as popular. so we all sort of fasten on photo i.d.'s. but these other provisions could have maybe a bigger effect than photo i.d.'s do. amy: that's why the governor talked a lot about voter i.d. and not a lot about those other things. we're going to stick with politics for a little longer. we're going to get to hillary clinton. she's been keeping a rather low profile since she lost the
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state department. but her speech to the american bar association this week coupled with the announcement that she was starting a foundation of her own has many observers thinking these are the first indications of a 2016 white house run. and then just this morning, the republican national committee voted to ban cnn and nbc from hosting republican primary debates next time around. the rationale e. the two networks have projects about hillary clinton in the works. >> it's time that we do what's right for our party and our candidates. and by the way, it's the right thing to do for our voters. they're not going to get a real debate of substance if it's run by a network who wants to help out hillary clinton. we're done putting up with this nonsense. amy: so jeff, no nonsense. is this a good thing for hillary clinton to be so far out front and center this far before 2016? >> it's probably a mixed bag.
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it's definitely a mixed bag. and talking to some people, some republican state chairmen and members of the r.n.c. who are in boston for that meeting we just saw. and they're like look, maybe these movies would be fein because they're sure to sort of show all of the not so glamorous sides of the clinton story. and some of the clinton people are not thrilled by these movies at all because they have complete entertainment license to sort of dramatize -- and certainly rehash all these stories. but that said, she definitely is front and center and the clinton campaign, the soon to be clinton campaign, i believe, is -- there's a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes. we've been led to believe that she was going to sort of take a break in 2013 and going to sort of put her feet up and get her health back in order. and sort of take a rest. for hillary clinton this is resting. giving a speech in california one day and other things. but behind the scenes are a lot of things going on here. if she wasn't out there driving this conversation, other people would be out there talking about her. so they're going with the flow here. it's impossible for her to sort
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of stay completely under the radar. they're trying to have some control of the discussion here. amy: if diane lane wants to play me in the movie i'll be totally ok with that. all right. but we talked all about hillary. but there's this -- this other person who happens to be the sitting vice president, joe biden. that we're going to hear a little bit more about. he seems to be putting himself more out front and center. he's going to iowa next month. what do we think? >> he is a bigger airplane for the moment. he has air force two and can fly around and still gets a lot of news attention. and if you're joe biden, why not? you're successful, sitting vice president. helped win the second term. and served three decades, more than three decades in the senate. run for president a couple of times. why not one more time? third time is a charm perhaps. so no one knows if the vice president is going to run for president. but all of his advisors who i speak with say you know what? he would be crazy to sort of act like he's not running so stay in the mix.
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you never know what's going to happen. and he is enjoying this. having the time of his life and he did add his name to the speaking agenda of the harkin steak fry and something we look at as political reporters, in 2006 it had barack obama and what happened to him? he showed up at the steak fry. not just him. a whole raft of other potential people. no one is -- necessarily knows what secretary clinton is going to do. so people are sort of planning for a lot of scenarios. >> and also want to eat the chicken by the way. amy: i covered the last year of hillary clinton's campaign and then four years of her secretary of state in which it was like two different personalities. the campaign hillary versus the secretary of state hillary. and it was clear to me by the end that her camp was divided. some people thought she should run and some of hillary land
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people thought she shouldn't and was ready to put up her feet and put on some fuzzy slippers when she was leaving office and that doesn't seem to be happening. how sure are you that this is actually happening? particularly there's some distracting liabilities, and -- >> we'll find pout when we find -- out when we find out. we're probably wasting a lot of time predicting but giving every indication that she's going to run. you can find -- as each month goes by, i find it harder to find a democrat, someone in her world or out, who thinks she probably won't run. now, the question if it's a good idea, that is not necessarily as clear. i'm surprised by one strain of thought. i've been picking up from some democrats. actually in the conversation of these movies. do we want to relieve all this again? yes, she should have the right to run for president. but do we want to go through all this again? so there are still big questions about what type of operation she can sort of oversee. and run. her campaign was sort of a
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disaster. it was run very poorly. so she knows that if she's going to run again, after -- have to throw out those people and bring in some new folks and all that is happening behind the scenes right now. if i had to put money on it, at the moment, i would say yes, she runs. but if she doesn't, we'll find someone else to run. >> if i had to put money on it i would say neither of those movies are going to be made. but what about the republicans? is it krill chris christie and rand paul at this -- is it still chris christie and rand paul at this point? >> chris christie looks to have a strong re-election in new jersey and it's a pretty wide republican field. and we're seeing this divided ideology here. all these fights between the chris christie and rand paul and on immigration, marco rubio. and others. so there is a very, very, very big republican bench a deep republican bench and a lot of governors out there if they win re-election. scott walker in wisconsin, john cassive -- kasich in ohio.
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a lot of peesm who want that. so i would not put any money on who the republican nominee is going to be. the party has to work out a lot of its ideological disagreements between now and then. amy: is it even relevant for us to be talking about this in 2016? it's 2013. we'll keep doing that. all right. before we go tonight, we remember the passing of a legendary journalist. jack gerromond was a columnist in washington for half a century. his stock in trade was reporting on and chronicling presidential campaigns dating back to the johnson-goldwater race of 1964. many of them -- he was also a staple on the mclaughlin group for 15 years. jack germond what was 85. our thoughts go out to his family and former colleagues. that's it for tonight. this reminder, our webcast extra is streamed live 8:30 p.m. eastern where we'll hear more from indira on her interview with iraq's foreign minister, who's asking the u.s.
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for drone support in fighting al qaeda and iraq. you can find us on our website. pbs.org/washingtonweek. i'm amy wolter. gwen ifill will be back at this table next week on "washington week." good night. >> corporate funding for "washington week" is provided by prudential. additional funding is provided by the annenberg foundation, the corporation for public broadcasting and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers look you. thank you.
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