tv Washington Week PBS April 6, 2012 9:30pm-10:00pm EDT
gwen: mitt romney and barack obama square off. the primaries may not be over but the general election has begun. we examine the battle lines tonight on "washington week." >> the republicans running congress right now have doubled down. and proposed a budget so far to the right it makes the contract with america look like the new deal. >> what exactly does president obama intend to do differently once he's no longer accountable to the voters? gwen: fighting words as the leading candidates for president visibly shift tactics. mitt romney is no longer running against republicans. >> mitt romney has already pivoted to the general election campaign. that whether rick santorum stays in or not is now basically irrelevant. gwen: and president obama, like all incumbents, is defending
his own policies. >> under president obama, domestic oil production is at an eight-year high. so why is big oil attacking him? because he's fighting to end their tax breaks. gwen: the economy, the voter, the supreme court, the candidates, all caught up in one big political stew. covering the week, jackie calmes of "the new york times." john dickerson of "slate" magazine and cbs news. karen tumulty of "the washington post." and david wessel of "the wall street journal." >> award winning reporting and analysis. covering history as it happens. 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 -- >> we know why we're here. >> to chart a greener path in the air and in our factories.
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financial. 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, from washington, moderator gwen ifill. gwen: good evening. we had a severe case of political overlap this week as the president took on the supreme court, mitt romney took on the president, rick santorum took on mitt romney, and all the while, the economy continued its slow recovery. we'll tackle it all in a special roundtable tonight beginning with a sudden jump-start for the general election. from now on, almost everything that happens in policy and politics will have to be viewed through that lens. but don't tell rick santorum. he says the fat lady has not yet sung. >> we've got a strng base of support here -- strong base of support here. we're going to work very hard and get into may. may looks very, very good. there's a move in texas to make
texas a winner take all state. you throw those 154 delegates on our pile and all of a sudden this race becomes a very different race. gwen: perhaps. but romney has already moved on to other things, hasn't he, john? >> i'm sorry, who's rick santorum? the romney campaign's view of things. although it's interesting. mitt romney has a kind of two front war he's fighting. publicly, he's not paying attention to rick santorum. why is that? he's ahead by hundreds more delegates. he's also gotten a lot of endorsements or sort of quasiendorsements from different parts of the party from senator jim demint of south carolina who said romney would be a fine nominee. although he didn't exactly endorse him. marco rubio, senator from florida, has gotten everybody kind of running behind him saying let's unify as a party. let's take on barack obama. so it looks like it's over. but on the other hand, you talk privately to romney aides, and they are angry that santorum is still in the race. they say look what kind of a future does he want in the republican party if he wants to
beat up on the nominee for two months and drawing this out and ruining our chances to take on barack obama. proostly they're more angry toward that and bitter toward newt gingrich who isn't much of a factor at all. romney has to still manage that while moving on to deal with barack obama. and if you look at the numbers, his numbers in the general election with key swing groups are in really bad shape. he wants to begin that repair job. gwen: karen, one of the things that romney is trying to do is accuse -- we did it nakedly, both of them had nakedly political speeches in front of newspaper editors, was accuse president obama of running a hide-and-seek campaign. what does this mean? >> he went back to this moment a month ago where a -- the president was caught on a hot microphone and didn't know -- gwen: one of these is called -- >> yeah. told the president that he would have more flexibility after the election. so romney used this as a jumping off point. and what else does it tell us? and i thought those two speeches, they were a day apart in front of the exact same audience, a bunch of newspaper
editors and reporters were really interesting. because they really kind of framed the contrasts that these two candidates are going to make this fall. obama's message was a very populist message accusing the republicans of being extremists, using words like social darwinism to describe the house republican budget that the president -- that mitt romney has now endorsed. the next day, you have mitt romney come back as a direct rebuttal to that speech and say basically not only accusing the president of running a hide-and-seek campaign but basically saying that the democrats are these kind of hapless believers in big government who don't have either the expertise or the vision to deal with the economy. gwen: david, today we saw new job numbers, jobless numbers i suppose. and two things happened. one is the unemployment rate went down by .1%. 8.3%. 8.2%. >> 8.2%, yes.
gwen: and at the same time the expected job creation level was not what it was expected. it fell short. >> right. there are two different surveys. one talks employers and one talks to households. they often don't match up. the unemployment rate fell not because more people said they were working but because more people dropped out of the labor force. and if you're not in the labor force, you aren't looking for work, you aren't counted as unemployed. that's why the unemployment rate fell. but the big surprise was all the other signals in the economy lately have been very positive. car sales are up. the retailers, macy's, gap, and others reported strong sales. the warm weather seemed to be making for a little bit more activity in construction. and so there was this big hope that this would be the fourth month in a row that employers added more than 200,000 jobs. those hopes were dashed this morning. so it's got people scratching their heads worrying that maybe the economic recovery isn't quite as strong as they had hoped. gwen: i'm very keerius to watch a week -- curious to watch a week like this and see all the
pieces fall into place. and out of left field fight with the supreme court which i wasn't sure if the administration meant to pick or not. let's listen to a little bit of what the president had to say about the supreme correlate. -- the supreme court: >> ultimately i'm confident that the supreme court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected congress. gwen: so let's pars that. because the very next day he had to come out and said what i had meant to say was this. and the word "unprecedented" was the one that got people's hakels up. >> right. there were two things that he said that got people's hackles up and justifiably. president obama is a former constitutional law instructor at the university of chicago. so it's really befuddling to a lot of people including some of his aides that he would have
this self-inflicted wound at the beginning of the week when he was just trying to convey the idea that the court is going to uphold -- to show optimism about the court upholding his signal, significant domestic achievement, the health care law. and also to make the case as to why they should. so that if it does go down he's planted in people's minds the idea that the court is wrong. if it strikes it down. but by saying that it's unprecedented, every schoolkid who's been taught marbury v madison, 1803, establishes the court can strike down law and is the ultimate arbiter of constitution altavista. -- constitutionality. and he said the law was passed by a strong congressional majority when it wasn't. in both houses it was a close vote and without a single republican vote. so that just -- it's persisted to today.
the republicans have jumped on that. and like you said, he cleaned it up the next day. gwen: i wonder how much of this, the reaction or the overreaction depending on how you look at it has to do with the nature of the argument, which is about health care which crosses these different issues we talk about. it certainly speaks to the economy. >> well, sure. it's obvious as jackie said that he said more than he intended to say. and that's always difficult, just like the open mic. when you have to explain, what i meant was, you're never in good shape. it is one of the hot button issues. the president is very frustrated that he got health care reform through. and it has a lot of elements that people say they want. but as a whole, the package is not very popular. and he is stuck with health care reform. i think the white house bets that it will be hard to make it an issue in the general election if the opponent is mitt romney who basically did something very similar in massachusetts. but it goes to the -- it goes to all these issues about economic security, about taxes, about whether we're going to
have more jobs, that the republicans paint this as a job killer, it's going to be very difficult for the president to fight back. >> i'm also not sure how wise it is to be running against the supreme court. we in washington, i think, probably think of it as a very, you know, there's a hard right and hard left to it. but for most people in the country they look at the supreme court, and they really do see it as the arbiter, what the constitution is supposed to say. the fact is most people in the country probably couldn't name very many members of the supreme court. gwen: i can't tell you how many campaigns i've covered where i've seen mostly democrats say vote for my guy because the court matters and that's not really how people end up voting. >> it depends. it matters to the bases who pay very close attention to the court. and it's true on the left and the right. they care about the hot button issues that the court adjudicates. but i think karen's point is interesting for the swing voters in the middle who don't care about those hot button issues that the court rules on. but who might see the court as
a kind of seal of approval one way or the other. and if the court doesn't go the president's way, then they sort of see, ok, maybe there was something wrong with the law. and now the president, a person who came to office talking about changing politics, removing the negativity, not fighting, is suddenly picking a fight with another branch of government. that is counter to the barack obama of 2008 in a way that's different than he's had to be different than the 2008 candidate because he's in a fight with republicans. but now he would be a guy who's picking a fight with new opponents. and that just seems very counter to the barack obama of old. >> but it is interesting that the court has become less popular in both parties. and it remains -- it's got a lower favelt rating right now with republicans than with democrats. but that's because it's barack obama who's president. they've seen the news that he's named two supreme court justices throughout the bush years. it was democrats who had a lower favelt rating.
there was -- favorability rating. there was a 32-point spread between republicans and democrats in six sex which was right after -- in 2006 which was right after george bush had name his second consecutive justice to the supreme court. there's a growing sense the court is more partisan. and that's what democrats are picking up on and going to their base trying to rally them in the way that republicans often have. gwen: let's talk about the base and the swing voters that we've been talking about. the one other little fight that's really blown up this week has been over women voters. and over women's votes and over gender gaps. remarkable new polls showing the president leading mitt romney in a head-to-head, 19 points or something like that. >> among women. gwen: among women. and as a result, we see everybody trying to figure out how to fight back or get into this. earlier this week, we heard ann romney, mitt romney's wife, speaking to women voters. >> women are talking about jobs. women are talking about deficit spending. thank you, women. we need you.
we all need you in november, too. we have to remember why we're upset and what we've got to do to fix things. gwen: and earlier today, we saw barack obama in the rose garden at the white house or not in the rose garden but at the white house talking to women's economic conference. and obviously trying to make that same appeal in a different way. >> there's been a lot of talk about women and women's issues lately as there should be. but i do think that the conversation has been oversimplified. women are not some monolithic bloc. women are not an interest group. [applause] you shouldn't be treated that way. gwen: they liked that. they weren't an interest group. i wonder who got invited. >> it is interesting. republicans have long suffered from what is known as the gender gap. they get much stronger support from men than they do from women. but what we have seen in the polling is that the size of
that gap has opened dramatically. and especially it is opened in what appears to be a big shift of independent women who were at the end of the year favoring mitt romney slightly. and now as you said, the president is 14 points ahead in this latest gallup-"usa today" poll. and those are really the women i think who both parties realize they have to do well with. so we've seen part of it could be because the economy is getting better. part of it could be because they're suddenly hearing all this talk about contraception. and then it took a really i think jumped the shark in a lot of people's minds this week when suddenly the two parties were arguing over -- well, they weren't arguing but there was a lot of talk about whether women should be admitted to augusta country club where the masters is played. where the -- whether republican chairmen talking about a war on women is like talking about a
war on cat pillars. gwen: an interesting comparison. >> can't make this stuff up. >> back to ann romney's point, women are in fact most concerned of all the polling shows it about what is going on in the economy. gwen: and not so much whether they get to gosm at august -- golf at augusta. newt gingrich and mitt romney said they don't have a problem with it. >> to be allowed in the club. and to figure out where this problem is because barack obama has done with independent men, he's also done well, he made up about 12 points. so the question may be, contraception may be part of what is certainly offending certain group of women. but it may also be for a while the republican party has been eating itself up in its primary process and they look at the voters and say this has nothing to do with my life. even contraception as important as it is -- people care about the economy, their jobs. their college loans and those kinds of issues. and if they see one party obsessed about that, so the
question then is, once that ends, once that process is over for mitt romney, and another reason he wants it to be over immediately, what's the baseline? wlakse the new -- what's the new level without romney having to do a real programatic effort to get votes. gwen: is it true as both candidates try to compete for women's votes that women care mostly about the economy, can women be almost -- we'll talk about womenas issues over here, or is it the same -- >> people care about the economy. and for good reason. because the economy is moving like a tortoise. very slowly in the right direction. and if your husband is laid off, your life suffers whether you have a job or not. so i think -- the notion that men and women care more about the economy, i don't see that in the polls and it doesn't mack any sense. it is true, though, that men fared much worse in the recession than women. and in the recovery, the opposite is true. so the unemployment rate for men has fallen more than a full percentage point. the unemployment rate for women
has fallen only hatch a percentage point. -- half a percentage point. to that extent women may be feeling for their individual situation that they haven't felt any of this recovery that we keep writing about. gwen: are both parties at this stage, even though i started this by saying we're in the general election pivot, are they both still trying to unite their base? it's interesting to see the president at the white house with an interest group as it were. or at least women who are interested in being re-elected. and listening to mitt romney try to unite the conservatives who are secretly meeting with rick santorum. >> what president obama is doing is locking in gains. there was this contraception battle which was bad for the president and switched and the politics started working well for him. there has been an intention on the part. white house, we're on your side at this flashpoint moment. it may be harder to remind everybody of this two months from now. so lock in those gains and slightly different than what romney has to do. which is unite his party. he's still working on that. fortunately he's got the
president helping him in that regard and there are a lot of ways in which barack obama helps unite the republican party. both with the hot mic comment which has republicans riled up and this supreme court thing. gwen: we all talk about that. 5% to 10% margin of independent or swing voters that decide an election. but any election decided goes to the person and party who gets more of their own voters than the other. of 2010 republicans took the house back and made senate gains. and stayed houses all over the country. because conservatives turned out. 2008. more democrats. and democrat leaners turned out. gwen: how does the debate we've had this week, because it's been lost, that part of the president's big speech at the newspaper editors, was about the paul ryan budget. the republican budget that passed the house. how much of that speaks to all -- crosses all of these lines, does it? >> it ought to. i mean, frankly, there is a choice. paul ryan's budget is a much smaller government than barack
obama's budget. barack obama's budget has higher taxes than paul ryan's. and the president, i think, has done a good job at draping mitt romney in the paul ryan budget. i think that romney might have been trying -- might have been in romney's interest to put a little distance between him and paul ryan. but the president made it very difficult for him to do that. to the extent that there's a choice here, it's not about who said what about the supreme court. that matters to a lot of people. but there's a very different vision of how we shrink the deficit when both parties agree that's going to be high on the agenda after the election. gwen: do you agree that the president successfully tangled mitt romney up in the paul ryan budget? >> we'll see. yes. as a candidate, you want to be vague, you want to say i'm for lower taxes and for smaller federal government. but you want to stop at that. the reason the president wants to staple ryan and romney together is to make -- put romney on the hook for every piece of specificity in the quite specific ryan budget so that he can say, answer for this, that and the other thing.
the biggest thing of course being the changes in medicare. >> and barack obama aside, romney got caught up with embraced ryan so fulsomely because it was -- it shows that he can't quite get into the general election. because the wisconsin primary this week was what he was in. and paul ryan is from wisconsin. he needed paul ryan's endorsement. and so they were joined at the hip. so just shows the extent to which mitt romney continues to be in a primary battle even though everybody thinks he's going to be the nominee. gwen: how successful can the republican whoever it is nominee be targeterring the president -- the fear of obama's second term? how much is that central to what the -- what all these arguments are about? >> well, the argument that mitt romney made in front of the newspaper editors was that the president in his first two years did a lot of really aggressive things. he spent a lot. he passed big programs. that he sort of trimmed his
sails going into in election. and sort of moved a little bit toward the center. what mitt romney, the doubt he is trying to plant in voters' minds is once this election is over with, which barack obama would show up. gwen: and where is the part establishment on both sides in all of these arguments? we know where they are with romney, for instance. >> well, the establishment on the republican side is basically let's get this fight going. and the democratic side, the establishment is pretty much behind the president. they've had plenty of gripes and grumbles. as we were talking about earlier, it's a choice. the democratic establishment recognizes what kind of a choice it is. and sees that this would be quite a different world with a republican president. one thing that's interesting about the point karen makes is that if this is a choice between who is the more authentic candidate, mitt romney making a case about the president not telling you the truth about his true core belief sincere a little rich the democrats would say because mitt romney has that problem. but if it's a referendum, what mitt romney, which is what mitt romney is hoping it is, then it's a comparison of barack obama today to barack obama of
2008. and that's more favorable for mitt romney because he hopes there's not going to be talk about his authenticity but about this president. >> i think john's right. what mitt romney is trying to do is blur this idea that he, mitt romney, is the one who no one knows what he would actually do or which direction he would tack if he were elected president. i think it's a little bit difficult to sell that argument about barack obama when he's a president who's already served three years and is in his fourth year. gwen: -- >> whether you like it or not. much of his second term would be given over to implementing the big things he's done in this term. yes, he would try to do more on maybe an overhaul of immigration law. more on energy. but he's going to have his hands full just implementing health care law, if it's sustained or finding an alternative if it's not. and the programs he's put in place. gwen: is it sure the white house does not have a plan b on the health care law?
>> i think that's probably largely true. it's hard to know what it would be. and it would take a lot -- they have enough -- there's only so many things you can do, right, david? but if you don't have an individual mandate, it's just hard to see how you can have these other things sustained. gwen: and is there plan b if the economy keeps moving as slowly as it is? >> i don't think there is. i think a lot of the election will turn on two economic numbers. unemployment and gas prices. if unemployment falls and gas prices fall, that's good for the president. if they go up, that's good for mitt romney and everything else is detail. gwen: and any plan b is over on the political side. if santorum does stay in through texas? >> try to margalize -- romney's benefit seck take on the president and that's good for him in the primaries and good in the general. but it does create some static. and they would rather that static get out of the way. because they have to move on. >> i did talk to someone who talked to santorum this week who said he's very fearful of
losing his own home state. gwen: pennsylvania april 24. thank you, everyone. we have to go for now but the conversation continues online. where we will pick up where we left off in the "washington week" webcast extra where we may or may not talk about the vice-presidential sweepstakes. you can find us and find links to everything else our panelists are writing at pbs.org/washingtonweek. and then we'll see you next week on "washington week." have a blessed passover and a happy easter. good night. every thursday, get a preview of our topics and panel with our "washington week" email alert. available at washingtonweek online at pbs.org. >> funding for "washington week" is provided by -- >> this rock has never stood still. since 1875, we've been there
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