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Week In Politics: Trans-Pacific Partnership, 2016 Presidential Candidates


Now our Friday political commentators, David Brooks of the New York Times and E J Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution who joins us from NPR West today. Hello to both of you.

E J DIONNE, BYLINE: Good to be with you.


SIEGEL: We just heard about cooperation by Congressional Republicans and the White House on a trade bill. Earlier this week we saw broad bipartisan cooperation on the so-called doctor fix. And Senate Republicans and Democrats cooperated so well on a bill for oversight of the Iran deal that the White House backed off its opposition. In fact, when I asked Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, if Republicans had also backed off a bill broader than one that just governed sanctions, he said adamantly that was not the case.


SENATOR BOB CORKER: That's really 180 degrees false. It's always been about Congressional sanctions. I think it gave them an opportunity to act as if something substantial had occurred, but this bill - you can go back and look at its initial introduction - has always been about Congressionally-mandated sanctions.

SIEGEL: All this is a way of asking, what's going on here? Has a rash of legislation with shifting alliances and some real give-and-take suddenly broken out in Washington, David?

BROOKS: Yeah. We've achieved a state of semi-dysfunctionalism, which is a huge improvement.

SIEGEL: Better than outright...

BROOKS: Better than outright, which has been the norm for the past five years. I guess the Iran deal is the big one to me because they actually did make some real compromises. It looked like real legislation. And what's interesting is two things. First, on the process, it happened away from the leadership. It happened with Senator Corker from Tennessee, who we just heard, and Ben Cardin from Maryland. And so getting away from the leadership, which is very polarized, was the key - getting it back to a committee, essentially. And secondly, you just look at substance. Both sides gave a lot. The Obama side - the president's side gave that there will be a vote. The Republicans gave that it's very hard to actually beat the president on this one. And then they both gave a lot on the timetable of the thing. And so I - what I was always been worried about is, are there enough people in Congress who know how to craft a deal 'cause nobody's been doing it for five years. Do the actual skills exist? And they did it.

SIEGEL: E J Dionne, is backing a trade agreement and defying organized labor - is that something that a Democratic president does best when all elections are behind him?

DIONNE: Well, first of all, I want to say I am less impressed by the semi-dysfunctionalism, I think, than David is, even though I - he's broadly right that they did make compromises. In two of these cases, both sides kind of wanted to avoid something on the doc fix. They just had this silly thing that went on and on, and they knew they had to pass it. And so they kicked it down the road, added some spending to the debt - added some money to the debt and got rid of that.

In the Iran thing what really strikes me is that over the course of a couple of days, I heard it interpreted entirely differently by the two sides - that Senator Corker needs to interpret it as no change. A lot of Democrats are saying, hey, this is going to allow the thing to go forward. In terms of trade, what you're seeing here is President Obama taking a position that most Republicans are comfortable with, which means that most Republicans will support it.

But I think Scott Horsley was absolutely right about this uneasy coalition. I don't think Democrats figure they lose very much by opposing the president on this. They make their - the organized labor happy, a key group for them. They get one vote against the president, which allows them to be independent. And it is going to be tricky because Republicans, on the whole, are for this, but a lot of Tea Party-ers just don't want to give any special authority to the president. So if you were to ask me to bet, I bet it goes through, but I think it's going to be a very messy process, particularly in the Democratic Party.

SIEGEL: David, you want to take him up on the bet?

BROOKS: No, I agree. I think it's going to go through a lot easier. I think all the Republicans that are for it or most of it, even the Tea Party. People are for capitalism on the Republican side. And it's always interesting to me that a president can be quite far left, but when he becomes president, he becomes very pro-trade. There's something about the institution - the office that makes it trade.

I should say I think this is a cause to be incredibly celebrated. We've seen the greatest decline in human poverty over the last 40 years in the history of mankind, and that's because of free trade and what it's done to Asia. And so its effects in the U.S., frankly, will be mixed. Some industries will gain. Some will hurt. There's no question there's a net plus for humanity and a net plus for world growth.

SIEGEL: Let's turn to the...

DIONNE: ...I think the problem is - if I could just say quickly, the problem with trade is it is, on the whole, very good for the poor countries. It tends to disadvantage the least advantaged people in the rich countries. And we still haven't figured out how to solve that problem.

SIEGEL: Let's turn to the candidates and the non-candidates for the White House in 2016. Last week we heard a lot about Hillary Clinton's much-anticipated announcement. It happened. And since then, we've had another Republican entry, the third first-term Republican senator to announce, in this case, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.


SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: Now, look. At the turn of the 19th century, a generation of Americans harnessed the power of the industrial age, and they transformed this country into the leading economy in the world, and the 20th century became the American century. Well, now the time has come for our generation to lead the way towards a new American century.

SIEGEL: David, our generation - he's 43 years old. Is that a way of saying don't call me too young? Call me new?

BROOKS: (Laughter) I'm 10 years older. Am I in his generation...

SIEGEL: I don't know.

BROOKS: ...Or should - I feel offended. You know, I think he's the most talented politician, you know, on the Republican side right now. And so I think he is a - nominally, he has a really good shot to win. The generational thing, I will - I do not think will play. I just don't think people are in for that. Actually, if you look at the polling, people really want experience this year, not freshness. And so I just think that's a theme he'll drop. But he's really talented. He's really intellectually creative. The problem for Marco Rubio is, how exactly do you do it? He's not going to win Iowa which is more conservative than him. He's not going to win New Hampshire. That's normal Jeb Bush territory. You look at the early states, it's very hard to see...

SIEGEL: South Carolina?

BROOKS: That's not him either. And so...

SIEGEL: Nevada? Well, maybe Nevada - he has roots in Las Vegas.

BROOKS: (Laughter) Yeah, he could do Nevada. I think he sort of has to beat Jeb Bush in Florida. That's a - several weeks down the line. So just the way the states are lined up, it's very hard to see how he does well. But as a politician, he's really, really talented.

SIEGEL: E J, you're impressed?

DIONNE: Probably not as much as David is. It's really interesting that Kim Strassel in The Wall Street Journal - and I don't agree on much, but from very different - I respect her - but from very different perspectives, we both ask the same question which is, he talks a lot about being new, about being a reform conservative. And yet, there are times when he approaches it and then backs away. And so I still think he'll have to prove that. He'll also have to remind people that he's not really running for vice president because he certainly would be the best Republican vice presidential candidate.

SIEGEL: David, you're interested in the fortunes of Ohio Governor Kasich.

BROOKS: Yeah, I think he's - can be a little exhausting, let's rake it - face it, personality-wise. But he's got a very good social conservative background, religious conservative background. He's very focused on the poor. He's the very successful political government in the swingiest of the swing states. The guy carried Cuyahoga County...

SIEGEL: That's around Cleveland.

BROOKS: ...Which is around Cleveland. And so he's showed political skill among a county that, you know, Republicans don't do very well in. And so why wouldn't he be a natural? People think his personality is too over-the-top, too exhausting, too from-the-hip. But, you know, I think if he came in, he would be, like, the Republican Jerry Brown - sort of off-the-cuff, odd, but quirkily good.


DIONNE: I agree with David.

SIEGEL: .... Your 15-second version on - of John Kasich.

DIONNE: I largely agree with David. I admire him for fighting for Obamacare in Ohio, which I think is a killer in Republican primaries. So he might do better on the other side.

SIEGEL: E J Dionne of The Washington Post joining us from NPR West today and David Brooks here in the studio, thanks to both of you.

BROOKS: Thank you.

DIONNE: Good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.