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Politics & Government

Week In Politics: Executive Action, Keystone Pipeline

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And on that note, we turn to our regular Friday political commentators E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and David Brooks of The New York Times. Welcome back to you both.

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

DAVID BROOKS, BYLINE: Good to be here.

CORNISH: We're going to hear a little bit more tape - kind of picking up where Tamara left off. And we're going to hear from John Boehner in a minute. But just to set this up - basically we have House Republicans debating how they might respond to a thing that's not officially out yet, right? Like, the executive order is not something that's been issued. Key quote that came from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell - he said, we will not be shutting down the government or threatening to default on the debt, this idea of is there some way to respond to the White House taking executive action? Here's House Speaker John Boehner.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CONGRESSMAN JOHN BOEHNER: All the options are on the table. We're having discussions with our members, and there are no decisions been made as to how we will fight this if he proceeds.

CORNISH: All right. What are you guys seeing in the posturing here? I want to start with you, David. This seems like a test for both of these leaders.

BROOKS: Yeah. Well, you know, I support what the president is thinking about doing on substance grounds. I don't think we should be breaking up the families the way we are. But at this moment, to do this, it strikes me as a total Ted Cruz maneuver. First, it's extremely confrontational - the idea that we might've had some compromises and some actual legislation passed, which I do think was possibility. This is a total thumb in the eye of this by the White House to do this. It's extremely confrontational. It's picking the most hot-button issue and just shoving it in the eye of the Republicans. Second, and more importantly, it makes immigration reform much, much less likely for a long, long time. I don't think the White House knows too much about the Republican Party, but they were getting around to the idea of some sort of immigration reform. They know they have to do it. This makes that much, much less likely. And then finally, it just strikes me as executive overreach. You know, this is re-changing the status of maybe five, six million people. That's not something a president should do on - with the stroke of a pen. That should go through the legislative process.

CORNISH: And we should remind people this executive order potentially could change enforcement policy and shield some people from deportation who might've qualified prior to that in terms of enforcement going after them. E.J., for you, you know, stick in the eye, like all these terms that David is using. Is that how you see this?

DIONNE: Not at all. And I don't think Ted Cruz is the right model here. The Senate passed a bipartisan - it really was bipartisan immigration bill last summer - a year ago last summer. John Boehner kept saying, oh, I want to pass it. I want to pass it. I want to pass it. The president waited, waited, waited and waited. Then he said, I'm going to do an executive order. Then he put it off to help Democrats in the election - didn't help Democrats in the election. At this point to presume that the president doing this is a stick in the eye as opposed to saying everybody's tired of waiting, that's what this is about. And I think that you have this very interesting argument over the meeting of the election. The Republicans are saying, we won the election, so therefore everything we want is really - should take priority. The president points out this is the lowest turnout since 1942. Nearly two-thirds of the public didn't vote. Most of those nonvoters were Democrats. A lot of them were young people and Latinos. And so what he's saying is folks are dispirited because nothing has happened. I'm going to start making things happen. And I think that's better than nothing happening.

CORNISH: Last night the president was asked whether he really thinks he can work with Congress. Here's what he had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The one thing that I think is going to be important for us to have a successful partnership over the next couple of years is not making disagreements on a single issue suddenly a deal-breaker on every issue.

CORNISH: David, a lot of these issues have been, like, have deal-breakers kind of tone to them. And yet the White House is taking them on kind of all out of the gate. What do you make of this optimism?

BROOKS: I just think it's politically tone deaf. You know, you don't start from nursery school and go to graduate school. We shouldn't go for the hot-button issues right away. You should - there were certain things that Mitch McConnell laid out that are possible to do where there's agreement on - trade policy, on patent law - which is kind of boring but kind of important - a whole series of other things where there could be actually a few pieces of legislation passed. And we just should've started with the easy stuff where there's some agreement rather than starting with the hard stuff which makes everybody mad which is about what just happened.

CORNISH: E.J., is there easy stuff? Is that true?

DIONNE: No. I mean, no. I think patent reform is a perfectly good idea. And I don't think it would make any difference. There's no way you can't start with the hard stuff because you've got to write a budget, and the budget is hard stuff, especially if the Republicans go with some version of Paul Ryan's budget. I think the fascinating, new dynamic will be between the House Republicans and the Senate Republicans. And there are plenty of Senate Republicans who don't want to pass something as sweeping as the Ryan budget. There are a lot of Republicans up in the next election in blue states who would like a much more moderate budget than, I think, most House Republicans would, which you're going to have at least this time is clarity. It won't be President Obama and then a split Congress. It'll be Republicans in Congress fighting with President Obama. And I think there will be a lot of fighting, but at least the issues are going to be clear.

CORNISH: Quick hit on this - Senate Democrats Harry Reid pulling in Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts into the leadership circle at the table. This is after definitely some swing state Democrats had things to say about his leadership. Obviously, people have talked about her quite a bit going into 2016. David, your thoughts on this move?

BROOKS: Well, the Democrats - when you have these sweep elections, the people who lose tend to be the moderates. And so the Democrat moderates are just fewer in number, and the party is more on the left as the Republican Party shifted more to the right in its wins. And so Elizabeth Warren makes the heart sing. And so I want all my progressive friends to have their hearts singing, so I guess I'm for a Warren promotion.

CORNISH: E.J., am I hearing your heart right now?

DIONNE: My heart is singing. First of all, I think that Elizabeth Warren is for the Democrats in the Senate what President Obama said Bill Clinton is. She's the senator in charge of explaining things. And she is one of the best people out there to explain what the Democratic position is. This kind of odd position they created for her is about messaging and trying to get their message across. But it's an interesting, balanced ticket here because also included in leadership - Amy Klobuchar, who is a more middle of the road Democrat from Minnesota and then Jon Tester who's head of the campaign committee, who is a moderate in some ways - moderate to conservative Democrats. So they covered all their bases with these additions to their leadership.

BROOKS: It's all an ingenious Hillary Clinton move to get Elizabeth Warren out of the primary.

CORNISH: It all gets back to that. I thought we would make it through this chat without mentioning Hillary Clinton, and somehow it did not happen. I applaud you both.

BROOKS: Sorry, sorry, sorry.

CORNISH: David Brooks of The New York Times. Thanks, David.

BROOKS: Thank you.

CORNISH: E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post. Have a good weekend.

DIONNE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.