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tv   Washington Week  PBS  June 1, 2012 8:00pm-8:30pm EDT

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gwen: joblessness, political distractions, foreign policy challenges. three reasons why president obama may lose to mitt romney. tonight on "washington week." the jobless rate heads up again. >> you'd expect this deep recession to come back to an aggressive turnaround, and it didn't happen. >> the president ought to get out of the badminton game and get back into the rugby game in front of us. gwen: and the president is thrown on the defensive. >> we're still fighting our way back from the worst economic crisis since the depression. gwen: was the victory tactical or practical? in the wake of a massacre, the
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international community struggles with the continuing crisis in syria. >> we absolutely deny that the government armed forces had any responsibility in committing such massacres. >> i think, quite simply, it's another blatant lie. gwen: tough times, tough choices. we explain it all with the reporters covering the week -- jim tankersley of "national journal," dan balz of "the washington post" and helene cooper of "the new york times." >> award-winning reporting and analysis covering history as it happens. live from our nation's capitol, 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 connect our forces to what they need, when they need it. >> to help troops to see danger
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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. economists didn't think today's job news would be good, but they didn't predict it would be this bad either. a net gain of only 69,000 jobs last month, nearly half of what had been expected. response and counterresponse was swift. >> the president's policies and his handling of the economy has been debt a harsh indictment this morning. >> we will come back stronger. we do have better days ahead. and that is because of all of you. that's because of all of you. i've placed my bets on american workers and american businesses any day of the week.
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gwen: but the underlying questions are clearly bigger than the monthly numbers. chief among them, what is stunting growth and is there anything the chief executive can do about it? tackle the first one for me, jim. >> it's a great question, and there's a lot of things that are very much related to the headwinds of the global economy right now. for one, europe is, as i wrote today, a capital p problem. the financial crisis has turned into a huge drag on global growth and it's spreading around the world. we're seeing slowdowns in asia and brazil. that's hurting us. the other thing is oil prices remain very high. that's depressed consumer spending. all of these things are big headwinds to the u.s. recovery. and like we saw last spring and the spring before, america's economy seems to be slowing again. >> that's the president's favorite word, "headwinds." that's what's happening with gas prices and everything that he interests mates is happening is
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out of his will crorks right? >> there's not a lot you can imagine the president doing right now, but there are some things he particularly could have done or he and congress could have done to be ready for this. it's not as if europe came out of the blue to be a problem. there should have been a lot more effort to boost growth even more to, get the u.s. economy really powered up. the president and congress couldn't come together on ways to do that. what we need now is more juice for this recovery. we need more help for the housing market, which is slowly but surely turning around, and we need more ways to get consumer spending and investment back on track so that the u.s. economy can grow. there's just probably not a lot of chance that happens between now and november. >> jim, given the paralysis and the stalemate between the president and congress, what can the fed do? >> it's probably down to ben bernanke right now. it's like "star wars." help us, ben bernanke, you're our only hope. but the fed doesn't have great
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options, but they're probably the only options that are out there. a third round of quantitative easing or another operating twist could provide more tail winds, if we want to keep with the winds, to the growth of sales in america right now. gwen: we saw the stock market down today. is there any kind of silver lining in the job numbers that we saw or in the economy just going forward? >> the job numbers were pretty grim. but there are a couple of things that are happening that could help the economy. if we're thinking about it between now and november in particular, one is that oil prices, while historically high, are coming down. the faster gas prices fall, the more spending we'll see. the other thing that is the housing market, which has been the biggest drag on the recovery since the recession ended, is slowly but surely bottoming out, and in a lot of very key areas is coming back. phoenix, orlando, miami, denver. these are housing markets that are recovering.
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when the housing markets recovers, home markets go up. people can start borrowing on their homes, they can start businesses, invest hiring. this could be a cycle we could see. gwen: let's take apart the jobless numbers. there's 15 million people all together either unemployed, long-term unemployed, stopped looking for work. 15 million people on this hamster wheel. who are they? >> well, they're a wide swath of americans and it sort of breaks down in some very bad ways, depending on where you are in the economy. if you don't have a high school education or less than a high school education, you are far more likely to be out of work right now than any other education demographic. hispanics have seen their jobless rate skyrocket, which is very bad news. but the president is counting on that, but also for a class of vulnerable middle-class workers. maybe the most disconcerting number is now almost 5.5 million americans have been out of work
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for 27 weeks or more. this is a huge problem. long-term unemployment has the potential to turn into basically permanent unemployment. so you could have a class of american workers who, because they've been out of the job market for so long, just aren't able to get new jobs because they can't get in the door. their resume has that big gap and it gets harder and harder to get a new job again. gwen: jim, are either mitt romney or barack obama talking about the real issues that are actually holding back the economy? >> well, the president just spent the last week talking about bain capital and mitt romney spent the last week talking about cylindra. so, no, they're not talking about what the united states should be doing with europe or how to better fuel the housing market, and neither of them, even in their detailed economic plans, none of them has a big jobs plan. mitt romney is not offering a huge austerity expansion plan.
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the president does not have -- gwen: a really popular austerity plan, which explains why there's not an american plain. >> exactly. the president does not have a roosevelt style jobs corpse or anything like that. -- corps or anything like that, because people don't want big spending and people don't like the results of austerity so far. if you follow out their economic philosophies, that's what they should be calling for. >> well, the question i have about the european piece of this is, is there anything that the u.s. and particularly the president can do? i know he likes to say that he's been active, that he has influence, but there's no evidence that any of that has had any impact. >> the biggest thing we can do -- there's two things we can do. the first is to insulate our financial system from a rolling shock that could come. a worst-case scenario meltdown in europe would be that "contagion" spreads. bad loans go and shut down the european banking system and that
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spreads into the u.s. banking system, too. the more we can try toins late by capital requirements and other things our banks from that, the better. the other thing he can do is try to get our growth rate up higher. the faster we're growing the better we can with stand a huge wave from europe that would knock down growth nationwide and worldwide. gwen: the obama campaign last week, as we were talking about, tried to make the case that mitt romney's record as a businessman falls short. this week the idea was to undermine his record as massachusetts governor. romney, meanwhile, spent yesterday raising questions about the obama administration's support for a now defounget solar energy firm. but both got stepped on. romney's by former george w. bush yesterday and also by supporter donald trum be, who revived discredited claims about the president's place of birth. and the president's message got stepped on by another former
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president, bill clinton. >> there's no question that in terms of getting up and going to the office and, you know, basically performing the essential functions of the office, a man who's been governor and had a sterling business career crosses the qualification threshold. but they have dramatically different proposals. the obama proposals and the obama record would be far better for the american economy than those that governor romney's laid out. >> this was clinton, unapologetic today. >> the great thing about not being president is you can say whatever you want. >> well, this seems to be the off message campaign. >> it's great to be able to say what you want, but if you're president obama and the former president is doing what he did, you've got another view of that. >> it's interesting. these campaigns go to great lengths to figure out the message, the strategy. they test it, they hone it, and
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all of a sudden unexpected events knock it off the track. look at this week. this was the week that mitt romney clinched the nomination. he finally went over the 1144 threshold. where is he that night? he's with donald trump in las vegas at a time you said that donald trump is talking about the birther issue, of all things. gwen: raising money. >> they were raising a lot of money, and these are some of the things that go along. but when you're with donald trump, you've got potential problems. this was yet another week in which the president's message got stepped on by outsiders or others. a few weeks ago it was vice president biden who got in the way of things when he talked about same-sex marriage, then the mayor of newark, cory booker, and this week, clinton. so realistically the view in chicago and boston, where these two campaigns were being run, is that these tend to be
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distractions that mostly distract the chattering public class. gwen: you mean us? what we're doing now? >> they describe chicago as the corridor, that they get fascinated by all that. they think that real americans are less distracted by these, and that these strategies, whatever the obama campaign is trying to do, whatever the romney campaign is trying to do, actually will resonate over time. gwen: who are the target audiences, if not us? >> well, the target audiences are the swing voters. there's two. one is to rev up their bases, but obviously they're trying to speak to the swing voters. this is a polarized election, and the president will roughly get nine and 10 democrats and governor romney will get nine and 10 republicans. but there's a slice that's in-between. the obama campaign desperately does not want this to be a referendum. and today's job numbers make that much more difficult. gwen: no incum bent really wants
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that. >> right. so they are trying to discredit governor romney. governor romney's view is that they are doing everything they can to remind people of the disappointment they may have about what president obama has tried to do, and to suggest, yes, he's a good person, he's a good family person, but the best he is able to do is not good enough. those are the two messages that they're trying to drive, despite all of the outside distractions. >> very disappointing jobs report today for the president. how does responding to that kind of abysmal job-creation report change his strategy? >> well, i mean, i just think they're stuck at this point. i thought that the responses that they had to point out that there's been 27 consecutive months of job growth was about all they could do. but i think the biggest danger for the president at this point is that people's perceptions of the economy and economic performance by the incumbent
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tend to lock in by summertime. if you go back to 1992, the economy was actually growing by the time of the election in 1992, and yet president then george h.w. bush had lost voters by the time that happened. that's the risk for the president. and we had a couple of weak months, not great months. we've now had a surprisingly bad month. he's only got a couple of more months to really show some progress. so this was a tough report for him. gwen: it's so interesting listen to you talk about the surrogates going out with obama, because you know at the end of the day he believes he can do this so much better than anybody else can. cory booker, joe biden, bill clinton. >> so did clinton actually undermine obama this week? >> well, he undermined one piece of it clearly by suggesting, a, that private equity is a legitimate part of the economy. gwen: he's not the only democrat
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to have said that. >> no, even president obama has said that. but also to suggest that he has, as the president put it, a sterling record in business. so in that sense he did undermine it. i think that the second part of what he had to say in some ways kind of baited a trap for governor romney, because basically what he said is what they ought to be talking about are the ideas that they have. this ought to be a battle for ideas about what to do about the economy, which is to say this is not just a referendum on the record, it is who has something concrete, innovative, creative and new to offer. and he put, i think, both candidates on the spot in doing that. gwen: ok. finally tonight another set of events that seem to be spiraling out of control, this time in syria. more than 100 civilians, dozens of them children, were massacred. the u.n. security council denounced it. international diplomats were
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withdrawn, and a peace plan was shelved. yet, president bashar al-assad widely thought to be behind the onslaught remains in power. so does the united states, helene, have any leverage when it comes to these things? i think back to bosnia and other times when people have looked to the u.s. and said "help." >> you know, the united states is really behind a rock and a hard place in syria. obviously not as bad a position as the syrian people have been in, but still a pretty bad position. when you look at what happened there, these horrible images of children being killed at point-blank range, and you think that this is something that started off in the euphoria of the arab spring and the democracy movement a year ago, you see how far we've come. but it's come at exactly the time where the united states has lost its appetite completely for military engagement, even if we were interested in doing, and we're not. on top of that the united states has never had that much influence in syria.
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we barely started talking to them again, only a few years ago. so we've looked to other countries to guide us to some sort of international coalition. the latest idea coming from the obama administration now is to sort of try to pressure the russian government, which has been standing in the way of any real pressure on the assad government, to look for a way to orchestrate some sort of political transition in syria that would ease out assad in a negotiated kind of settlement, ease him out. remnants of the regime would stay in place, but he would end up leaving. this is modeled after what you just saw happen in yemen, with the president there leaving. the administration has broached assad about it. that's what they're looking at right now. >> how long can assad hang on? seems like he's sort of entrenched here in power and
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without any real outside pressure, it could be a while, right? >> it could be. i mean, so much of this for once really hinges on russia, because russia is -- syria has two big allies right now, iran and russia. china to a certain extent, but it really is. russia sees syria as its last bastian of influence in the middle east. >> would this be russia, where putin wouldn't come to the u.s.? >> yes, president obama broached this idea, for instance, at the g-8 meeting, but with medvedev, not with putin, because putin is still angry with the united states for a whole lot of reasons that we won't go into right now. but medvedev said that the russians feel very much that they were hoodwinked and that medvedev has taken a lot of heat for it. he brought up when president obama suggested this whole yemen
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option, maybe if we try to get you guys to ease them out of power, and he said that may not be a bad idea, as long as it's not a forced migtary -- exactly. but i really wouldn't be surprised to wake up any morning and see that assad is gone, because there's any number of things that could happen. but he could hang on for months and even like a year or two, depending on what russia does, and then iran becomes an issue as well. >> if the russians are uncooperative, are there other option that is could be invoked? and secondly, could this become an issue in the campaign? >> yes to both. there are other options, but they're not really tenable. there's the domestic option. you just showed coco, but that hasn't gone -- coffee coffee, but that hasn't gone d-coffee annan, but that hasn't gone very
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far. he has started saying that he thinks iran has to be involved in any kind of domestic solution in syria, and you can imagine that's going to go over like a lead balloon over help white house. the other option is the military one, and nobody here wants that. i don't think there's an appetite for that. but if we see where things continue to spiral out of control, there are people in the administration, a few people now, who are starting to say, look, is this the kind of legacy, president obama, that you want to leave behind? gwen: so the prospects of civil war, on horrific civil war might be enough to change opinions? >> we don't know. at the end of the day we don't really want to go in there either. because if the united states -- even with assad gone, nobody knows what happens then. you have prospects for a huge sectarian region, and you have iraq next door that would
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probably get involved and then all things come apart. you asked about the residents on the campaign trail. you're hearing all sorts of different things. the republicans haven't coalesced around one thing yet. mccain is calling for mill temporary strife, and romney wants us to arm the rebels. gwen: once there was an overthrow, there was no guarantee of what happened next. thank you, helene, thank you everyone. we're going to have to leave you a few minutes early this week to give you the chance to support your local pbs station, which, in turn, supports us. but the conversation continues online on the "washington week" webcast extra, where, among other things, we'll be talking about the verdict in the john edwards corruption trial. keep up with new developments on the pbs hour and we'll see you next week right here on "washington week." good night. funding for "washington week" is provided by -- >> this rock has never stood still. since 1875 we've been there for
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