WJLA TV’S “INSIDE WASHINGTON”
MODERATOR: GORDON PETERSON
WJLA TV PANEL:
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST;
MARK SHIELDS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST;
EVAN THOMAS, NEWSWEEK;
NINA TOTENBERG, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO
SUNDAY, APRIL 24, 2011
Federal News Service
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From tape.) We’ve got to finish what we’ve started.
MR. PETERSON: This week on “Inside Washington,” week two of President Obama’s
reelection campaign. He’s still dogged by the economy.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (From tape.) There’s no money for schools. Our schools
are falling apart. The infrastructure of the country is falling apart.
MR. PETERSON: Still, is there a Republican out there who can beat him? Also the
winds of rebellion continue to blow through the Middle East. Now, it’s Syria’s turn.
SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: (From tape.) We strongly condemn
the ongoing violence committed against peaceful protesters by the Syrian government.
MR. PETERSON: And how friendly are the skies we’re flying?
SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION RAY LAHOOD: (From tape.) The supervisor
was aware and saw the controller watching the movie.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (From tape.) And didn’t stop.
SEC. LAHOOD: (From tape.) And didn’t stop.
MR. PETERSON: Well, Congress is on spring break, but President Obama is not. He’s
campaigning. He’s raising big, big dollars and doing town meetings, including one with
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, where he talked about requiring the rich to pay more in
PRES. OBAMA: (From tape.) That allows people like me and frankly you, Mark, for
paying a little more in taxes.
MARK ZUCKERBERG: (From tape.) I’m cool with that.
PRES. OBAMA: (From tape.) I know you’re okay with that. (Laughter.)
MR. PETERSON: Let’s talk about the president’s numbers. In a recent ABC News-
“Washington Post” poll, 50 percent of the voters disapprove of the job he’s doing. “New York
Times”-CBS News poll, 57 percent don’t like the way he’s handling the economy, 70 percent
say we’re on the wrong track. Marist Poll, 44 percent they plan to vote against him. “Wall
Street Journal”-NBC News poll, 64 percent think the country’s heading in the wrong direction.
And Standard & Poor’s, the credit rating agency, it’s downgraded its long-term outlook for the
nation’s fiscal health, from stable to negative. Why is this president smiling, Evan?
MR. THOMAS: The theory was he could just win by default because the Republicans
had nobody. He could just back into it. But all this bad news, actually I think is sort of
encouraging because it might force him out of his shell and get him to do something. Now, if
what he does is just demagogue Republicans, that’s not good. But if it forces him to act on the
budget and actually show some leadership, this could be good.
MR. PETERSON: Nina.
MS. TOTENBERG: Well, Standard & Poor’s shows what the polls show, which is – I
think, anyway – that there’s not a crisis actually in the nation’s fiscal health at the moment.
There’s a crisis in confidence in the ability of Washington to do something about it. We’ve just
witnessed a lot of brinksmanship and we have a lot more we’re all expecting. And there’s no
indication that Republicans and Democrats in the House, Senate, and the White House can really
get this done.
MR. PETERSON: Charles.
MR. KRAUTHAMMER: The S&P was not a verdict on Washington. It was a verdict on
Obama and the speech he gave 10 days ago that was supposed to be a plan that would be his plan
for deficit reduction. It wasn’t a plan. It was a polemic. It was an attack on Republicans. And
on the Ryan plan, it made clear that Obama has made a bet. He’s going to run between now and
2012 against the Republicans as people who want to throw your granny in the snow and he
thinks he’ll win on that. And then he’ll deal with debt and deficits in the future. And that’s why
S&P had a judgment we’re going to go at least two years with increasingly large deficits and
that’s very dangerous for the economy.
MR. PETERSON: Mark.
MR. SHIELDS: The Republicans gave President Barack Obama, who is in big political
trouble by himself, gave him an opening that no politician could resist. And that was for reasons
that they will have to explain to their grandchildren. They raised this issue of turning –
privatizing Medicare, one of the truly popular programs in this country, into a voucher system.
And that is not only negative among voters, it is terrifying to voters.
MR. PETERSON: Let me ask a question, though. Was the president’s health care
agenda, putting that so high on his agenda, was that a political miscalculation?
MR. SHIELDS: I think you could say it was. The biggest problem that this
administration faces is the one of jobs and that remains the reality. And I think that drives
everything else. When the economy is bad, the economy is the only issue, and that just affects
everything. One number of all the numbers you read, the one that they should be most
concerned about was the “New York Times” poll that said 70 percent wrong direction. When
you get 70 percent of people saying the country’s heading the wrong direction any incumbent at
any level is in political trouble.
MR. PETERSON: Now, the “New York Times” headline on Friday: “New Poll Shows
Darkening Mood across America.” Across America, but not on Wall Street. Wall Street’s doing
MS. TOTENBERG: This country is a little delusional at the moment. It doesn’t want to
hear real figures about the fact that we can’t have everything for nothing. And it doesn’t want to
hear that there actually is better news, not great, but better news about the economy. And there’s
this sort of false confidence that we can do everything and pay no price. And that’s just crazy.
MR. THOMAS: But that’s what I’m hoping that these numbers show that that finally is
being called into question. I mean, you’re absolutely right. Americans lived in Never Never
Land of free lunch, hey we can have everything we want and not pay for it, but maybe, maybe
these bad numbers suggest that people in their own slow way are waking up to the reality that
you have to deal with this.
MR. PETERSON: What are the headwinds that president’s facing, Charles?
MR. KRAUTHAMMER: Well, I think the reason these numbers have gone down
precipitously in the last couple of months is one thing: gas prices. Unemployment is about the
same. The growth of the economy has been at the same sort of slow level. Nothing dramatic has
changed economically except that. And that hits people right where they live.
I always find it amusing that the Fed – the government announces inflation rate excluding
food and fuel. Well – (laughter) – you can’t stick an iPod in your gas tank and run the car. Yes,
sure computers are going down in price, but everybody lives off food and fuel. So it’s really
hitting people hard. It has – it’s had that same effect with other administrations. And on that,
there is nothing that the president can do. He can do stuff on debt, do stuff on growth, even on
jobs, can’t do a thing about gas prices.
MR. SHIELDS: I think gas prices are really important and I think that they’ve grabbed
people’s attention. But underlying that is that all of the corners we’ve turned, all of the dawns
that were coming have not materialized. The economy is not better in the sense for people who,
A, who are not working, and B, whose wages are stagnant. And I think that underlies
MR. PETERSON: And you know who else was talking about gas prices this week?
Donald Trump. Is he running for president or not? We have an inside source on this panel, next.
DONALD TRUMP: (From tape.) I mean, look at what’s going on with your gasoline
prices. They’re going to go to $5, $6, $7, and we don’t have anybody in Washington that calls
OPEC and says, fellas, it’s time. It’s over. You’re not going to do it anymore.
MR. PETERSON: That’s Donald Trump on ABC’s “Good Morning, America” with
George Stephanopoulos. Yes, gasoline prices are going up, but I’m not sure that tactic would
work with OPEC.
Trump went on to say that having spent a trillion and a half dollars in Iraq and having
won the war, we should reimburse ourselves. To the victim belong the spoils, he says. Now,
Charles, you’ve been talking about the un-seriousness of the Trump candidacy, but I understand
you got under his skin. He gave you a call.
MR. KRAUTHAMMER: He called me. Yes. My secretary says, “Donald Trump is on
the line,” so I girded my loins, I put on the seat belt, and I held the phone a foot from my year
thinking that he was going to go into a tirade, as you say, considering the stuff I’ve said about
him. What’s surprising is he simply called – he was rather courteous and composed – to make
his case for how serious a candidate he is.
Now, I didn’t exactly accept it. And when I mentioned the birther issue, he said, well, the
media keeps asking me about it. And I said, well, Mr. Trump, you really aren’t a victim of the
media on this. You raised it. But he was – I must say he was a gentleman in the call. He had
every right to start screaming and he didn’t. But because of his demeanor, I’m inferring that he’s
running, if he weren’t a serious candidate, he would have unloaded on me and felt cathartic, but
in fact, he spent a few minutes, made his case. I’m not in any way swayed. I think he’s
unserious in the extreme. But he was –
MR. PETERSON: You think he’s serious about running perhaps.
MR. KRAUTHAMMER: – unserious as a candidate, but I think there’s no doubt the
way he interacted with me implied that I think he wants to run and he will run.
MR. PETERSON: I mentioned the Marist Poll earlier. When asked if there’s any
potential Republican candidate out there voters feel enthusiastic about, the category of “no one”
got 56 percent, 56 percent.
MS. TOTENBERG: But you know, that’s –
MR. PETERSON: Romney got 9 percent.
MS. TOTENBERG: – that’s really not that uncommon at this point in a campaign.
When was the last time that you saw polls early on that said I love everybody or I love – I’m
really enthusiastic? This is fairly typical.
MR. PETERSON: Well, we were talking about Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton four
MR. SHIELDS: Four years ago, at this point, 65 percent of Republicans were excited
about candidates for president. That included Giuliani, McCain, Field, as well as others, Mike
Huckabee included. And this is low. This is a low number. I agree with you that victory has an
aroma and a fragrance all its own. If somebody starts winning a bunch of primaries, they will
start to emerge and be seen as more exciting. But this is a real problem. I’d point out, in spite of
Donald Trumps telephonic retailing of one of America’s most preeminent columnists, in a
“Times” poll he’s at 25 percent favorable and 46 percent unfavorable overall. This does not
MR. THOMAS: Trump is a side show, but Obama’s weak numbers are significant
because the script has been the guy can’t lose. Well, that’s apparently not true.
MR. PETERSON: That’s right. Here’s a question for you. If you’re sitting in the White
House right now, which potential candidate -- about which potential candidate are you most
MR. KRAUTHAMMER: Most worried? I would say somebody sort of (stolid ?) like a
Mitch Daniels or even a Pawlenty, who is unknown now, sort of not distinguished, but if you get
somebody without baggage who can make his case, who runs a string of successes in the
primaries, who gets a little enthusiasm, you don’t have to have charisma to beat Obama. He tried
it in ’08, he won with it. Charisma is not going to be the major issue in ’08.
MS. TOTENBERG: I’d be most worried about Huntsman and nobody’s heard of him at
MR. PETERSON: Well, the ambassador in China. He leaves that job at the end of the
MS. TOTENBERG: I mean, I still think the odds of him actually prevailing in the
primaries are pretty small, but as a candidate, if he actually got nominated, he’s a really serious
person. He’s the un-Trump.
MR. SHIELDS: The two candidates that the White House appears to be most concerned
about, based upon the president’s own singling them out, are Mitt Romney, whom he singles out
for particular – I mean Romney, as “Onion” points out is in big trouble for having brought health
care to poor, sick, old people. That’s going to damn him among Republicans. And John
Huntsman, who’s, of course, Obama’s ambassador – the United States ambassador to China
I would be most concerned, if I were in the White House, about Mike Huckabee. He’s
got the most favorable rating among all voters. He’s overwhelmingly favorable on Republicans,
and he’s a perfect matchup in temperament to Barack Obama. He’s engaging. He’s easy. He’s
informal. He’s likeable. He’s funny. And Obama –
MR. THOMAS: But Charles says he’s not running.
MR. SHIELDS: Well, that’s – but I’d be most worried about him.
MR. PETERSON: You say he’s not running? You don’t think he will?
MS. TOTENBERG: I don’t think he’s running either.
MR. KRAUTHAMMER: He’s given no indication of running and I think he’s got a
great life. I’m not sure he’d want to sacrifice it for the ordeal of a presidency which he may
calculate he’s not going to win. I would say Romney would be the prohibitive favorite if not for
RomneyCare because one of the essential issues any Republican’s going to have to make against
Obama is on the size of government. The best example of that, of course, is ObamaCare. And if
you – and the president is needling all the time Romney on what he did in Massachusetts as a
way to undermine him trying to make that case. And Romney has not made a coherent case as to
why he opposes ObamaCare. And of course, he’s the man who invented RomneyCare.
MR. SHIELDS: Could anybody explain to me why the Obama campaign announced in
advance that they’re going to have a billion-dollar campaign. It’s not edifying. It’s not – it’s not
MS. TOTENBERG: No, no.
MR. SHIELDS: And it sets a bar that is going to be very, very tough to –
MR. KRAUTHAMMER: It’s to give an air of being inevitable. It’s to say, look, I’m
popular. I’m the incumbent. The opposition is weak look and look and I’ve got a war chest the
size nobody’s ever seen.
MR. SHIELDS: One Democrat suggested to me it’s to discourage a challenge within the
primaries to him.
MR. PETERSON: All right. All hell’s breaking loose in Syria now, next.
SEC. CLINTON: (From tape.) We are calling for an end to violence. We’re calling for
peaceful protests and a political process that can respond to the legitimate needs, interests, and
aspirations of the people of the region.
MR. PETERSON: Talking about Syria, President Assad said he’s lifted the nearly 50-
year-old state of emergency, but the question is does that mean anything, Charles?
MR. KRAUTHAMMER: Calling for an end of the violence, why not say we denounce
the brutal shooting of demonstrators in the street in city after city. The administration policy on
Syria is incomprehensible. Sometimes, you have to choose between a strategic ally, like say
Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, and human rights. And you decide, okay, I give up on rights because
I have to protect a strategic ally. But Syria is an enemy, an ally of Iran. It funneled fighters into
Iraq who killed Americans. Here is a regime tittering at the edge. There’s a genuine revolution
and we are doing and saying almost nothing. It is a scandal.
MR. PETERSON: Hasn’t the State Department been pushing for engagement with the
Syrian government so that they can weaken its allegiance to Hamas and Hezbollah and Iran?
MR. KRAUTHAMMER: For the same reason that Obama spoke so weakly about the
revolution in Iran, in 2009. Because he had a fantasy of negotiating with the mullahs over the
nukes, which was of course a fantasy, and thus he did nothing. Here they’ve had this –
(inaudible) – they’ve negotiated Assad out of his alliance with Iran and Hezbollah, which
Americans have dreamed about for 30 years. It is a fantasy and in the name of that, he sent an
ambassador into Syria, still there. He has to be withdrawn tomorrow as at least the beginning of
a statement of opposition to the regime.
MS. TOTENBERG: Charles didn’t note that part of Ms. Clinton’s statement, which I
think was at the opening of the show, actually did denounce what was going on in Syria, but
secretaries of state always do these sort of little, formal dances that don’t mean a lot. What I
think probably any administration would realize that there’s a limit to what we can do about
Syria. You don’t want to get so far out there that you’re involved in something that you can’t do
MR. PETERSON: Well, we’re involved in Libya. We’re sending drones in now.
MS. TOTENBERG: There we have some capacity. Some of us on this panel didn’t
think was a great idea to get involved there either. But at least we have some capacity. In Syria,
we don’t have much of a capacity. We don’t have anything.
MR. KRAUTHAMMER: Why is our ambassador still in Damascus?
MR. PETERSON: Let me hear from Mark.
MR. SHIELDS: I’m envious. I wish I was as sure of anything as Charles is of
everything. And I would say that the most important and urgent –
MR. KRAUTHAMMER: Well, that’s why I sleep so well and I look so young.
MR. SHIELDS: – it obviously is. The most urgent priority that we have is to find jobs
somehow, not simply for Americans, which is urgent priority, but for young Egyptians. That is
going to determine whether, in fact, this revolution is going to take root and take a positive
development. And that is the key. Libya, to me, is the worst of American policy. It’s strong
words and drones will follow. It really is. We’re not in. We are in. We’re advisors. This has
all the sound and look of mission creep in the worse possible sense.
MR. PETERSON: Evan.
MR. THOMAS: Didn’t we convince ourselves there is hope for Syria because Assad’s
wife is sort of westernized and he was an eye doctor?
MR. KRAUTHAMMER: Because of the cover article in “Vogue.”
MR. THOMAS: Grasping very small straws here, but I actually believe that. I think that
we thought that he had just a bit of a Western tilt or at least was open to –
MR. KRAUTHAMMER: But we gave that theory 10 years of empirical testing and he
failed everyone. He’s shooting his people on the street. He’s like Yuri Andropov. He’s not a
jazz-listening whisky-drinking pro-American dictator who’s ready to institute reform. He’s a
thug, a Middle Eastern thug of the first order. He’s tittering. We ought to be helping it.
MR. PETERSON: Okay, thank you.
Message to air controllers: stay awake, please, stay awake, next.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (From tape.) They’re there to do a job and they’re there to
control the air traffic and keep us all from running into one another. And it sounds to me like
they’re relaxing and having recreation.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (From tape.) I mean, that’s – that’s just horrifying to me.
MR. PETERSON: Let us now revisit the national air traffic control issues. Two
interesting episodes this week, one involving a controller watching a movie on his DVD player
while on duty in the air traffic control center in Oberlin, Ohio. He accidentally keyed his mike.
A military pilot heard it, reported it.
Then there’s the first lady’s aircraft, which had to circle a few times before landing at
Andrews Air Force Base, flying too close to a C-17 military cargo plane, three miles of
separation. It’s supposed to be five miles, not a big deal really. But I would think the one time
you would not want to screw up is when the president or the first lady is in the air, Nina.
MS. TOTENBERG: Well, that’s absolutely right and I’m sure there are traffic
controllers who don’t do their job. But the Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said on
television, “I’m not going to be paying air traffic controllers to nap.” Well, the fact is that people
who work overnight and long shifts, particularly when they’re by themselves – if we’re going to
pay them to have a, quote, “lunch hour,” why not allow them to have a nap. Doctors who are on
call in a hospital have a call room. We know – we know as a fact that people, when they get
very sleepy, there is no controlling sleep. And the best way to control it is to allow for a 20-
minute nap. They’ve done studies about this. NASA did a study –
MR. PETERSON: But not when I’m trying to fly in, okay?
MS. TOTENBERG: Yes, but if there are two people there, if you’ve got – you organize
it. You don’t let it happen. You organize it. That’s the whole point. NASA did a study for the
FAA that said pilots on overnight flights or transatlantic flights, and they’re two of them, should
have a 20-minute nap. But they don’t that. They don’t allow that. I’m sure they have naps that
are not organized.
MR. KRAUTHAMMER: I’ve got a solution: alarm clocks, loud ones, in the earphones,
when they’re watching their DVD. I’m sure the guy was watching “Snakes on a Plane” or
something like that.
MR. PETERSON: We have a very safe system actually.
MR. THOMAS: Totally safe. We haven’t had a major – we’ve had – we were talking
about this earlier. Why – planes used to drop out of the skies when we were kids. There were
routinely major air crashes. In the last decade, more than a decade, that just has not been true. I
don’t really understand this cluster, why there is a sudden cluster of these stories. Is it just a
freak, is an accident, or does it signify a bigger problem in the air traffic controllers?
MR. PETERSON: I think it signifies that we’re just paying attention to it now.
MR. SHIELDS: Well, I think we should be paying attention to it, but the idea, with all
due respect to the doctors and their rest rooms and all the rest of it, I just really think what we’re
talking about is when you work the night shift, you work the night shift. I mean, that’s what it is.
There’s usually a pay differential involved. It’s – you make that decision and what you do is you
sleep when you get off and maybe sleep a little before you go on. But I’m sorry, nap time with a
blanky and a juice and a cookie is not part of the formula.
MS. TOTENBERG: You’re defying science, though.
MR. KRAUTHAMMER: That’s why it’s called a shift. You shift your diurnal rhythm.
You get paid extra. If you get $160,000 a year or such as a controller, you ought to be able to
stay awake on that shift. It’s not a lifetime shift. You get shifted on and shifted off.
MS. TOTENBERG: Every sleep expert in the world says that people can’t really
successfully do that -- shift their rhythms that way. And this is a constant problem on the night
MR. PETERSON: Well, that’s the last word. Thanks very much for staying awake for
this program. (Laughter.) We’ll see you next week.