tv Washington Week With Gwen Ifill PBS November 22, 2013 7:30pm-8:01pm PST
gwen: are we seeing the end of the filibuster? the end of the war in afghanistan? the end of sexual assault in the military? or the beginning of the end? plus, a look 50 years back at the legacy of john f. kennedy. tonight on "washington week." >> today's pattern of obstruction, it just isn't normal. it's not what our founders envisioned. gwen: democrats play a little hardball. >> it's time to change. it's time to change the senate before this institution becomes obsolete. gwen: blowing up rules to get the president's nominees confirmed. >> it's not about the filibuster, it's another raw exercise of political power to permit the majority to do anything it wants whenever it
wants to do it. gwen: a breakthrough or a breakdown? another senate debate over who gets to prosecute military members accused of sexual assault. >> we must remove the conflict of interest in the current system. the system in which commanders can sweep his own crime or the crime of a decorated soldier or a friend under the rug. gwen: and a turning point in afghanistan. but in which direction? will we ever leave? >> let's be clear. the war in afghanistan will end next year. as the president has promised. the combat mission will be over. gwen: plus, one half century after an american president was assassinated. the lingering shock. the enduring legacy. and a day of remembrance. covering the week, susan davis of "usa today." martha raddatz of abc news.
james kitfield of "national journal." and michael duffy of "time" magazine. >> award-winning reporting and analysis. covering history as it happens. live from our nation's capital, this is "washington week" with gwen ifill. corporate funding for "washington week" is provided by -- >> at northrup grumman we know in the cyberworld threats are always evolving. at first we were protecting networks. then we were protecting the transfer of data. and today it's evolved to infrastructure. finance. and military missions. we're constantly innovating to advance the front line in the cyberbattle wherever it takes us. that's the value of performance. northrup grumman. >> additional 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 pbs stations from viewers like you. thank you. >> once again, live from washington, moderator gwen ifill. gwen: good evening. it's quiet in washington tonight but there are echoes here from a tumultuous week. we begin in the senate where the biggest debate was about finding a way to end debate. >> the american people believe congress is broken. the american people believe the senate is broken. and i believe the american people are right. gwen: senate democrats infuriated the republican minority by pulling the pin on a long threatened grenade, changing the rules that require a 60-vote majority to confirm presidential nominees. >> they believe that one set of rules should apply to them, to
them, and another set to everybody else. he may as just as well have said if you like the rules of the senate, you can keep them. [laughter] >> huh? if you like the rules of the senate, you can keep them. gwen: that was very lively from mr. mcconnell. how long was this in the works? after years of talking the nuclear option, all of a sudden there it was. >> i think if you were paying close attention to the senate there was a sense of inevitability to this. you knew it was coming. the final straw in all this was a recent fight over d.c. court, circuit court nominations. this has been in the works for a week. these nominees were filibustered by republicans, all the while harry reid was warning them if they keep doing this, he's going to finally go nuclear. if you paid attention to the senate longer, the filibuster has been contention shuss most
of -- contentious. the last time they changed the rules was in the 1970's. they moved it to 60 and democrats today said it's still too high of a bar. the supporters are calling it the constitutional option. saying every president the democrats were quick to focus on this week, not just president obama, all future presidents will have a stronger prerogative to fill the government with the people they want to work for them and seems like a very basic thing to support. on the downside there's something called minority rights which is sort of what makes the united states senate the united states senate which gives each senator an equal amount of importance in the chamber. the idea any of them can come up the works is sort of what makes it a special place. now the democrats have said the majority rule can change the rules of the senate and that in such a significant way changes the way this chamber is going to work. >> so, sue, what does it look forward -- the supreme court, what does it mean for supreme court nomination? >> that's one of the big questions and part of the reason they didn't go nuclear and walked to the line and
walked back was this idea you could go too far. they drew the line. what they did is it only changes executive nominations like officials and all but the judges of the supreme court and it's a slippery slope argument. and republicans said if you open the pandora's box you're changing the game by which any future majority can change the rules. democrats said they don't intend to change the rules for supreme court nominees but in two years, in four years, in six years, it's certainly a possibility at this point. >> what about the thing in the past, what made people step back was you'll be in the minority sooner or later and then it will work against you and that kind of -- why this time did the democrats say we don't care, we know it will be in the minority and will come back and haunt us at some point but right now we're going to do it. >> what's interesting in the senate and john mccain and more senior democrats and republicans, karl levin was a democrat that voted against it, said most democrats serving now don't know what life in the minority is like. 33-55 senate democrats have
only known the senate in the majority. karl levin voted against it this week and said that very same thing is that you have to think of this as an institution and not just as your personal prerogative right now. to think that -- and republicans have been rather candid in saying when we take over, and eventually we will take over, that we are going -- we have every right -- you have set the precedent that the majority can change the rules with just the majority vote and mitch mcconnell said on the floor, it may happen sooner than you think. >> talking about hinting the 51 votes roll back health care. gwen: the white house has made the case they've been subject to more filibuster or obstruction than any other president in the history of the world. is he right? the numbers are hard. >> it's hard and i shy away from using extreme numbers as they use because not all filibuster is the same and not all closure votes are the same but it is true barack obama has had a more difficult time getting his nominees on the court and more importantly if
he's going to have the affordable care act protected and sustained, he's going to need judges in the court system that are going to help him uphold his law. and currently in places like the d.c. circuit court, he does not have many allies on that court and that one of the already striking down the contraception provision going through the courts right now was a conservative justice that was appointed by george bush and i think there was a big movement on the progressive left that they really were pushing the party to have more -- more representational judiciary which right now because of the previous agreement did not go nuclear under the bush administration has left the judiciary that has more conservative judges on it. gwen: that debate is just beginning. because they only reach closure on one of the three judges outstanding and will move on. there was another senate argument and was not about rules but injury. as reported, sexual assaults in the military continue to soar. all 20 female members of the senate and of course some men
have decided to do something about it but they can't yet agree who gets to prosecute the offenders. >> which way are you going to have more protection? if a group of colonels, half a continent away, are looking at the facts of the case, or if your commander has signed off? of course if your commander has signed off because that sends a message to the unit, we're getting to the bottom of this. gwen: that is senator claire mccaskill who agrees on 90% of what they talk about in terms of prosecuting these offenders but she and kirsten gillibrand who is the sponsor of the major bill that talks about chain of command, they disagree on this piece. >> they completely disagree on this central focus of gillibrand's amendment is she wants to take control away from commanders. think about it this way, if someone is raped in the military, they essentially have to go to their commander and the commander decides to
prosecute. claire mccaskill wants -- and the majority of the military, certainly the pentagon, wants to keep it in the chain of command because they say it's the commander who really has to look after the good order and discipline in their ranks. nerd, they want to know what's -- in other words, they want to know what's going on. a good example, one of the victims said, look, it's like the commander has to decide between the brother and sister in the family, is the brother more senior, does he trust the brother more? does he know the guy who is fully decorated and been in battle and maybe the victim, he doesn't know as well. so gillibrand's amendment really goes to the heart of that and she's getting a lot of support. she needs 60 votes, of course. they think she has around 53 public support at this point, a few more who aren't public but still think it's a huge uphill battle to get this passed. >> the senate couldn't get the defense authorization bill done.
what are the chances for passage at all? >> i think probably in a couple weeks when they come back maybe it will go to the floor again. i don't know. but i think they will remove it from the defense authorization bill and try to get the vote on just that bill itself. but again, i think it's a real uphill battle to do this but boy is she fighting for it. >> we both know that this problem has been percolating for quite a while. what do you think -- what brought it to the tipping point now where you see someone who is pretty close changing something the military is -- leadership is united against and doesn't happen very often. >> it's extraordinary to me. the problem has been around forever. you heard it for decades of zero tolerance for sexual assault. but the key here was this incredible documentary called the invisible war. lots of victims in that. lots of people coming out and talking about sexual assault in the military. it is an incredibly powerful documentary.
there's not perfect data in it. but it is a real emotional hook to this problem. i think it's one of the few times you've seen such powerful testimony in one place. but still, the military, the senior members of the military, they've all seen it but they don't want to take it out of the chain of command. everybody wants this problem, this horrible issue to go away. everybody. >> -- gwen: here's what i don't understand. you talk about the film, you talk about this debate. you were on the program in june talking about this very issue. why hasn't the pentagon tried to beat senators like gillibrand to the punch? certainly they don't want the fate to be in the hands of what congress does or does not do to them? have they been trying to defuse this issue? >> they certainly have put in new measures and the pentagon is trying to be proactive on this. can i just go back to the picture on the hill? all male senior leaders. the optics of that say so much of that about the senior
leadership of the military in general. i think that's why you have so much pushback from someone like senator gillibrand, too, who says basically, you don't get it. to me one fundamental problem here, though, they have horrible data. the 26,000 number of sexual assaults could really be anything from a pat on the rear end to rape. they've got to get better data. gwen: and yet has support from people like senator cruz and senator paul all across the board. it's not just a women's issue or a democratic issue either. >> it can't just be a women's issue or they'll never solve it. gwen: that's a nice point of view but not wrong. thank you, martha. so now, finally, tonight we have a look back at one of the most searing moments in american history that any of us who are alive can remember. actually, before we get to that, i want to get to one more thing, afghanistan. as the 2014 pullout deadline there, it's becoming clearer the formal combat mission may
end but our overall involvement there will not. even a broad security deal announced this week may not be signed off until next year. so what's the best case scenario in this, james? >> the best case scenario is voting on this as we want continued western and nato presence. karzai goes back on his meds and we had this weird situation where secretary kerry who has probably the best relations with president karzai, as anyone in the administration, said there is a deal basically formalized on wednesday and thursday karzai surprises everyone and says i'm not signing any deal until next april's elections. that's totally not acceptable to the obama administration and they're not willing to have this issue drug into a contentious afghan election. they say they need planning. it takes months and months to plan and if you're going to relieve -- leave a residual force, what kind of security do you need for them? we're at an impasse and this is one more time where hamid
karzai has thrown a monkey wrench in the works. gwen: we heard there was a deal and john kerry basically said there was a deal and hamid karzai showed up and said i don't really trust these americans. that's not helpful. >> after 10 years, it's kind of indicative of the relationship we've had with this guy. and he asked for an apology. as if the president can stand up after all the blood and pressure we expended in afghanistan and apologize for our presence there. so my sense is that karzai doesn't want to be a lame duck. he wants to keep his leverage as long as he can do it. he has some horses in this presidential election field of 11 candidates. i think that he just doesn't want to let go. so he's going to make this very, very difficult. i suspect at the 11th hour on the 11th day he'll accede to this because really the stakes are very high for afghanistan. >> what are the chances that afghanistan starts to go in the way of iraq, in the way we've seen it sort of dissolve on the ground and continue to be a security problem even though,
as we saw, that we're leaving. >> as martha knows, iraq is the cautionary tale. we drug those talks -- those talks dragged on way too late and in the very end it became politically expedient to throw our hands up and say zero option, we're out of there. if you look at iraq today, it's gone back to almost the levels of violence of 2007, al qaeda in iraq is ascended and they could evolve into a civil war and what you don't want in afghanistan. >> they say the agreement is until 2024 so another 10 years at least. john kerry said no way we're going to be there until 2024. he's only going to be around for three years, does that mean we'll be out in three years? >> the agreement, this bilateral security agreement, does not mention time lines, does not mention troop levels and is all to be determined by president obama. he doesn't have to commit to
anything. the agreement to actually come to an agreement went out to 2024. but there is no -- secretary kerry is right, there's no guarantee in this agreement we'll be there at any time line. gwen: there's a possibility the u.s. could simply pull out? is that even practical? >> if we can reach an agreement, we don't want to pull out. we want to be there some number of years, probably four or five, to make sure we take the training wheels off and make sure the afghan security forces can take care of business with some enablers that we'll provide them at very small numbers, we're talking 7,000 to 8,000 troops. gwen: with the understanding we have an election coming up next year in afghanistan, just wait until karzai leaves and do business with somebody else? >> no. >> even though they say the war is over, right? >> i think the administration has had it with this. they will not get drug into an afghan -- there will be candidates who will be denouncing the american presence and playing to the domestic argument, they're not going to get drug into that kind of discussion. they're going to -- i think they'll say zero option if you don't sign by a date, december
31, and hopefully karzai will come around. gwen: i guess if there's money on the barrel head there may be new discussions every single day. thank you very much. we want to go back to the end of the program with a look back at one of the incredible moments in our american history that any of us who are alive still remember where we were the day president john f. kennedy was assassinated was the first time i saw my father cry. if you're old enough to recall that day, i bet you have stories, too. yesterday i chatted with "washington week" regular michael duffy, the co-author with nancy gibbs of the best-selling book "the president's club" about the legacy of that loss. >> michael duffy, you covered a lot of presidents, you've written books about more, the presidency of john f. kennedy was one of those compelling ones but only lasted 1,000 days. what did we gain in those 1,000 days, the promise of the kennedy administration, and what did we lose when he was taken away so quickly? >> i think the single aspect of the kennedy presidency that
stays with people 50 years later is its youth. he was the youngest president in 100 years and followed the oldest president, dwight eisenhower, so when he took office in 1961 it was the dawning of a completely new able. and his policies were pitched towards the future. he knew it. he talked about his presidency. that way even before he was doing things in the job. and he had that wind at his back. it was a strong wind. and also, i think it left a lot of people, when the presidency ended prematurely with the double feeling of unfinished business. and i think they were aware of that and used it to their advantage. gwen: being bracketed by people like dwight eisenhower on one end and l.b.j. on the other must have done something to shape the way we remember john f. kennedy as well. >> yeah. i think there's a work in progress aspect to the kennedy presidency that stays with us now, a sense that he was someone who had come into it, very young, 42, not knowing much about the white house, had some incorrect ideas about how
to organize it, didn't really want to listen to eisenhower when eisenhower told him to organize it this way and kennedy said no, i don't want to do that and he paid a price for that. you see him learn on the job as he goes, particularly on foreign policy. that's also interesting to watch because most presidents, it isn't quite as dramatic as it was with kennedy. start with the bay of pigs and it's kind of a disaster and by the time a year later you get to the cuban missile crisis, he's learned a great deal how the white house needs to be organized. gwen: it's interesting, we think so much of kennedy as a domestic president or very much a hollywood president, a kind of a glamorous president but his foreign policy tests were really key to shaping what he was able to get done or not get done. >> i don't think there's been a presidency in the last 50 years that's been so difficult on foreign policy as kennedy's was. the soviets when they come in office are rising in power. they are arming much faster than the united states because they realize the u.s. is ahead. kennedy, they want to test him and do test him.
he meets khrushchev in geneva and doesn't go very well and kennedy is aware he's really not quite ready to take on this test and takes him almost two years to kind of find his footing. of course there is the fiasco of the bay of pigs. he reorganizes the white house and changes the way he has meetings and changes how he talks to the generals. he becomes much more hierarchy and almost like ike and adds an element of his own which is creative and different in a way ike wasn't. so by the time we get to the cuban missile crisis, he's much more comfortable. he's much more certain. it's still a tough call. he isn't really sure that when he send the naval blockade down it will win. he knows he's kind of bluffing and knows the soviets might not back away and calls eisenhower at one point, you think they'll back off, i don't know. they might. i think they will. it's a risk worth taking. you have the old and young president making judgments on the phone about how this might turn out so by the time he gets
to the speech in berlin in 1963, he's much more able to run the public and winning in public when he talks about freedom versus tyranny. gwen: domestically he had challenges which he left some of them unfinished for lyndon johnson to complete, civil rights being among them. >> he's late to the game on civil rights. he's a reluctant leader. when he comes into office, he called greta scott king during the campaign and that call was widely known in the black community and made a difference in places like michigan and illinois and south carolina that helped carry him to victory but when he gets in the white house he doesn't really want to do much for civil rights. it's not really his agenda and he's much more concerned about his economic policies, mostly tax cuts and tax reform in congress and he's worried southern conservatives won't be with him if he pushes this other agenda. but then the event force his hand. the freedom riders going through alabama, particularly montgomery in 1961, and later continued attempts to integrate
universities in mississippi and alabama make it impossible for kennedy to ignore. his own justice department agriswold at harvard law, you're not using the powers of your office and could be doing so much more for civil rights than you are. and only when the violence is shown on television from the seg graduations -- segregations does he step up and say, i'm going to lead this and he begins to. gwen: it's a lot to have on any president's plate in 1,000 days and we haven't talked about vietnam which of course was percolating and that's something else that was left undone for lyndon johnson which is why i find it so interesting whether every president that follows kennedy, especially johnson, then had to labor in his shadow in part because he was assassinated. >> yeah. they say, of course, you know, it took both kennedy's assassination and johnson's legislative skills to get civil rights law of 1964 through the first public accommodations law. kennedy's first attempt at that had been weak and not much of a law at all and puts another one down in 1963 during that amazing summer when he seems to
be firing on all cylinders and johnson is able to carry that into the great society. gwen: so it's been an amazing time and an amazing history and sometimes you can leave a footprint even after you've been taken away. >> the moment that kennedy is shot is a history changing event for the nation. an end of some kind of optimism, an end to some kind of trust, maybe some naivete. but the beginning of a different era where the relationship between the people and government has been edgier. gwen: michael duffy, managing editor of "time" and author of the great book "the president's club." thank you so much. >> you're welcome. gwen: two presidents lay a wreath at kennedy's arlington grave this week. gwen: thanks, everyone, for joining us. next week we have a special program in store, hear building what you want to hear from washington.
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