tv Washington Week PBS April 27, 2012 8:00pm-8:30pm PDT
gwen: hot buttons everywhere you look, from a debate over student loans to supreme court arguments over immigration. we put on our oven mitts tonight on "washington week." >> is it easier to make ends meet? audience: no! >> is it easier to sell your home or buy a new one? audience: no! it's still about the economy and we're not stupid. [cheers] gwen: with five more primary wins under his belt, mitt romney throws down the gauntlet and the president picks it up. >> your voice matters. you've got to stand up. you've got to be heard. you've got to be counted. you've got to tell them now is not the time to double your interest rates on student loans. now's the time to double down on the investments in a strong
and secure middle class. gwen: but was that a policy speech or a campaign speech? >> it doesn't even pass the straight-face test. are you kidding me? gwen: either way, welcome to the general election. even at the supreme court, where a big immigration case takes center stage. plus, we assess the obama record this week on interrogation and privacy. covering the week -- john dickerson of "slate" magazine and cbs news, alexis simendinger of "real clear politics," pete williams of nbc news, and james kitfield of "national journal." >> award-winning reporting and analysis covering history as it happens. live from our nations capitol, this is "washington week with gwen ifill," produced in association with national journal. corporate funding for "washington week" is provided by -- >> this rock has never stood
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>> corporate funding is also provided by -- norfolk southern, at&t, rethink possible. 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. i suppose there are one or two of you out there who are still at the edge of your seat, waiting for the general election to officially begin. wait no more, because this week offered no-looking-back evidence that barack obama and mitt romney are in their corners, and the bell just rang. the fight, as well outline tonight, will be about policy as well as politics. example number one -- the president this week challenged republicans to extend low interest rates for a college loan program. romney said yes, they should be kept low. but for congressional
republicans, there was a catch. the house voted today for the extension, but only if the cost comes out of the presidents health care plan. the white house, in response, called it a "politically motivated proposal and not the serious response that the problem facing americas college students deserves." and a vetoo threat was promptly issued. is this the kind of fight we are just going to have to get used to this year? >> i think so. i think it's going to get uglier. this entire campaign is operating in a time of scarcity. trillion-dollar deficits and every penny is being fought over. also, you have two week candidates. a president whose approval rating is low for an incouple benl. people think his handling of the economy has not been good. but then mitt romney is not a terribly strong candidate. his numbers are generally low
for likeability. what we saw today in this fight, it was not a question of whether the hold down the interest rates on these stafford loans but you see that in a weak economy, four and 10 parents said in a cbs poll last week that they've changed their financial decisions about sending their kids to college. you have a time of scarcity. people are hurting. 7.4 million people are affected by these loans. both sides say we want to keep the interest rate low. the fight is about how to pay for it. they go for a few short ribs out of each other's sacred cows. the democrats want to pay for it by taking oil subsidies from oil companies. the republicans say take it out of the slush funds. gwen: the fight will also go to the voters which the candidates are trying to target? for instance, we saw the president at three different
college campuses. policy white house official trips, not political trips, and they're clearly targeting them in states that he has to win in november as well. >> swing states, young people what a surprise, right? if you're the sitting president and in a weak economy, as john was describing, you're trying to show that you're working on the economy, that you're trying to produce results and that you're up against your opponent. there's some source of the there that's keeping you from improving the economy from some way. the president has an enormous advantage over young voters. he had a 2-1 advantage over john mccain in 2008 and if he can keep that margin with mitt romney large going into this election he could see a victory in some of these key states. so returning again and again to the swing states, focusing on young people and focusing on what looks to many voters,
particularly independence voters in producing results. student loans is not just an issue for young people. it is an issue for parents everywhere. >> when you say swing states, are they the same that they were four years ago? are there surprises here that you wouldn't have naught about? >> depending on who you ask, it's a smaller pod than maybe the 12 that we started the year off with now. the campaign is bosting that they might be able to have multiple maps to get to the 270 elek roll -- electoral votes. we've all been looking at arizona with a dreal of interest. john mccain was a candidate in 2008, carried arizona. we don't have that this time. hispanic voters could deliver potentially for barack obama in arizona. >> part of this is trying to shape the conversation so that obama folks want to say the map isnormous, we can play in all
sorts of states, including arizona, which is a very red state. the argument is because there are so many hispanic voters and mitt romney is 40 points behind the president among hispanics. but when you talk to democrats candidly, they say arizona is not in play. the roll any team says we're not going to worry about arizona and the places to look at are some traditional ones -- colorado, ohio, virginia. if you had to pick four states to pay attention, to pick those. a couple of interesting states to watch is north carolina. the president won there in 2008. he may not win there this time. pennsylvania is one that might be a battleground but that likely might stay in the obama camp. those are two that might go into their various camps. >> romney spent some time with marco rubio and clearly that is a look towards the hispanic
vote. is there a sense that his troubled hispanics might improve? >> freshman senator from florida. rubio is from florida. that's an important and key battleground state. the unemployment rate there is 9%. heart -- hard hit by the housing boom. so the president has some issues there so marco rubio might help romney just in the state of florida. the hispanic question is an interesting one. because in florida rubio does well with cubans. he is of cuban heritage. some would say republicans always do well with cubans. but does he help in colorado, new mexico, arizona, some western states in which hispanics in the puge hispanics center, 51% of hispanics don't like to be called hiss panics. they would prefer to be called
puerto rican or whatever state their family or parents came from. so the question of rubio -- also, by the way, rubio has no executive experience. romney made a big deal about executive experience. hard to see him pick a number two who lacks that key quality. gwen: if we know one thing about this campaign now that the primary season is essentially over, we know that there was never an amazing overflow and want of enthusiasm for mitt romney's candidacy. how much is the white house counting on that? when you look at the poll numbers, the enthusiasm gap is pretty significant. >> one of the things we know is that the president has always enjoyed what they consider their faverblt air cushion. that voters, no matter what they think of his policies, tend to like him, think of him as an average nice guy. when we see the president doing things on entertainment shows
or singing or whatever it is we're seeing him doing. he's trying to contrast against mitt romney who is considered in some way the dork. people are encouraging him to be the dork. be who you are. but the president has not necessarily assumed that mitt romney was going to be seen this way. they have gone out of their way to suggest to everyone who's listening or reading or watching that mitt romney is this person who's malleable, who's swinging in the wind. the president said the way he used marvelous. that he doesn't have an internal ruuder. that he's so wealthy he's trying to support a range of people he knows. that he never knew about college loans. >> that's right, your campaign is based on who you are. so the president says -- his view is the government gives people a little bit of help and then once they get that little
bit of help they do well and become productive members of society. mitt romney says that you give everybody freedom and if you get government out of the way then they can become productive members of soment. >> in ohio he suggested people could turn to their parents for loans. gwen: i saw that. that wasn't the smartest thing to say. the roll any folks also want to make the point that yeah, he's a likable guy but he's in over his head. on the other hand they come out with ads that say he's just a celebrity. >> in 2008 john mccain ran an ad that talked about him being a celebrity and it was hurting obama and then they picked sarah palin and things went in another direction. we hear from the romney people that voters are going to start pushing the message that president obama is not just incompetent. there's a moral failing. that while everybody is hurting he's off living a celebrity --
celebrity life. mitt romney talked about the vacations he takes. extrave gant vacations. it's not just that you're hurting. it's the guy who's supposed to be running the show is off enjoying his time and the fruits of his office and not really concerned about you. >> it's typical for presidents to take a vacation during the opposite party's convention. i suppose he will take his vacation this year. >> he will because, unlike other presidents, he doesn't have a vacation home that he has already in his family that he can repair to so he has to go places where things look pretty fancy. >> this might be the year in which we would see the president, the vice president, the first lady all doing things that look like they're working for the american people. i can well imagine that there will be opportunities for them to do that in a low kiowa. gwen: we saw that on the marine base today.
also, it's going to be whether mitt romney is going to be bringing folks together in tampa, not what's happening away from the spotlight. another hot button this week, the supreme court stepped into another legal minefield this week that may turn out to be a political one as well. the issue, what latitude should individual states have to police their own borders? the state, arizona. and the debate essentially was in some ways about suspicion. pete? >> right, and it's that part of the arizona law most controversial. it would require police, whenever they stop anybody, they would have to verify the immigration status and have to detain them until they get that answer. the obama administration argued that central -- federal law trumps that state law. and that the obama administration has different priorities for immigration enforcement. gang members, people who have committed crimes, potential
terrorists. they said that the federal law preefments the field but it seem told me that the supreme court justices were not buying that part of the law. they said all the arizona police do here is call up the federal government, call the federal center and say hey, we have a guy here. do you want him held or no the and when the lawyers say no, we don't want him, they're supposed to let him go. gwen: the chief justice was the one who said don't we want to know? >> right, he said it sounds like the federal government doesn't want to know who's here illegally. there are two sections that may not fare as well. because they make it a crime to do something that is not a crime under federal law for illegal immigrants. that is to not get a job and to not have their federal papers. those parts may not be upheld.
>> is this the end of the road for immigration cases that might come to the supreme court or can we see this continuing on? >> i think no for two reasons. there are civil lawsuits filed by civil liberties against these laws. that was not a supreme court issue in this case. it was strict a-- strictly about preemples. secondly, this is what's called a facial challenge. the government was saying the law on a its face is unconstitutional. i'm sure if parts of it are upheld then you'll have new claims that it's unconstitutional as it's applied to people. >> it looked like all the justice were kind of against the case. one of them wasn't participating. elena kagan. why and >> the second arizona immigration case she sat out one last year as well. presumably because she worked on them when she was a
solicitor general. i suppose they'll call this constitutional but it raises the prospect of a 4-4 tie. under the supreme court decision, a 4-4 tie, the decision doesn't apply and the lower court ruling would stand. the lower court ruled these other provisionals unconstitutional. >> what does that mean for other states that have similar kinds of laws? >> i think there's going to be a split decision. however, if the supreme court upholds any part of this they'll see that as a grfment there are five states that have exceed arizona or gone further. alabama, georgia, south carolina, also indiana and utah. so other states will undoubtedly be emboldened by this if the supreme court upholds part of it. >> the solicitor general got a
lot of bad reviews this week for his arguments, not seeming that co-harnlte or per suavive. is there displush with him? >> you have to remember that oral argument is the only part of the process that we see so we make a big deal out of performance. in fact, what difference does it make in terms of how they vote? they've read the briefs, they're going to have conversations among themselves. it's not a detective. so the performance of the advocate probably doesn't matter that much. gwen: you talked about the other five states who are trying to copy arizona. and i wonder if there hasn't been any buyer's remorse. there was a lot of pressure on arizona and other states at the time because of crime rates, which have since gone down or other tensions which have sense -- since failed. >> you see some pushback from
businessmen who claim the states have lost business and agriculture, who can't get the workers to work the fields. very interesting data came out this week showing that imfwration from mexico is basically at a netzero. that as many people are now leaving the united states and going back to mexico as are coming here. returns to mexico are twice of what it used to be. gwen: maybe some of the reason is because of this perceived pressure to self-deport? >> undoubtedly and because of the economy as well. gwen: finally tonight, we turn to one of our periodic segments assessing the obama record. this weeks topic -- fighting terror. next week marks the one-year anniversary of the capture and killing of osama bin laden -- a promise kept. >> the president shut down secret prisons overseas, banned torture, and in doing so demonstrated that we don't have to choose between protecting our country and living our
values. and, as a consequence of those decisions, enhanced the security of our own soldiers abroad and the power of our persuasion around the world. gwen: but what of foreign policy promises not kept? like the presidents vow to close guantanamo. james kitfield writes this week about how much has not changed in this administrations approach to privacy, interrogation, and secrecy. so why is guantanamo still open? it was the first thing he would sign an executive order to do. >> right, he ran on that. about banning torture and closing guantanamo within a year. they put a goal in place without a plan the short answer is and when they looked at the cases of began tan mo, they were a mess. created political space prosecutor his opponents.
dick cheney comes out and gives a really tough speech about the torture memos etc. and they got on the defensive. congress started passing bipartisan law after bipartisan law saying you can't transfer the prisoners to the united states, you can't let them go. and the net result was they basically have been on the defensive on guantanamo and now it looks like it's going to be with us forever. gwen: it's one thing to discover ah when you become president or sit because the obama administration has decided this is a good idea, this idea of heightened interrogation or secrecy? >> certainly not on heightened interrogation. they were big on saying that was torture and we're not going to do it but they wouldn't investigate or prosecute any of the bush administration for
those acts. and you have republican candidates like rick santorum saying waterboarding was very successful. governor romney saying held increase the population at guantanamo by be doubling its and the administration has vastly increased the drone strike target killing program to the point where they claimed the right to use that against american citizens, like ala lackey. civil libertarians are saying this is not what we expected out of this president. >> one of the things you wrote about is that this administration is setting records for prosecutions under the inailability act. >> it's mainly because they now have the ability through damage tall trails, email, itself -- etc., to actually find out who
the leakers are. civil libertarians say this administration has been really, really tough on leaks. people who leaked the name of some of the c.i.a. agents who were involved in the enhanced interrogations. they're now prosecution what civil libertarians think are the whistle blowers and they're furious on that. >> i covered the bush administration and i was reading about how the american public has been so september -- accepting with the kinds of trade-offs that we have made as a society. what does your reporting show about the tradeoffs we all as a civil society were willing to make under two administrations? >> it's a real good question. in a war without end in -- in the middle of a war the american people will give the government great latitude and the executive great power. when you get a war without end
that never self-correct itself. now a majority of americans support torture and keeping gaughan tan mo open and support the drone strikes. the new reality is that's sort of the viewpoint of the american people. we've gotten into the consciousness that we are at war and justice many powers in the government. >> and that's supposedly made us safer? >> we haven't had a major attack on the homeland since 9/11. it's also played wull well for the president. >> how much change will there be if there's a republican administration? a lot of people have said that barack obama is not radically different in a lot of these things as the bush administration. >> that's a good question. there are some quarters of the republican party saying you should bring back enhanced interrogations. they work. it's hard to save.
mitt romney said that he would double the detainee population at guantanamo, which means he's more amenable to sending prisoners there, which the obama administration hasn't done. gwen: thanks everyone. the conversation has to end here, but it will continue online where we tackle the eternal question, do political endorsements matter? you can find that in our "washington week" webcast extra, and i answered your questions this week in my monthly webchat. its posted at pbs.org/washingtonweek. keep up with daily developments with me on "the pbs newshour," and well see you again right here next week on "washington week." good night. download our weekly podcast and take us with you. it's the "washington week" podcast at "washington week" online at pbs.org. >> funding for "washington week" is provided by --
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