Preview of the 111th Congress
Director, Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, American University
Foreign Press Center Briefing
December 16, 2008
State Dept Photo/Dec 16, 2008/Washington, D.C.
11:00 a.m. EST
MODERATOR: Welcome to the Foreign Press Center. Today, we have with us Dr. James Thurber, who is the founder and director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University, and he’s going to preview for us the 111th Congress. After his presentation, we’re going to have a Q&A session. Please wait for the mike and when you ask a question, please identify yourself, give your – the name of your media organization, and the country you’re from. Thank you. James.
MR. THURBER: Good morning, everyone. It’s good to be here again, good to see a couple of people that have not had enough of this presentation, and I gather it’s a little different. We had – did have an election. I’ll talk a little bit about the election and then I want to talk about the transition. But most importantly, as advertised, I would like to talk about the upcoming 111th Congress. But we have a Congress going on after the 1st of the year too. We’ll have a lame-duck Congress, and we’ll talk a bit about that as we go into the January 20th period when President-elect Obama is inaugurated.
I have a couple of slides up here, but I’m not going to, you know, go through them in great detail. But I do want to talk about sort of the basics of this election and how it influences – how it influences governing.
If you look at this distribution – don’t worry, I’m not going to have a lot of data and econometric models and stuff – if you look at this distribution in the middle, Americans are radical centrists even though it seems sometimes they’re way to the left, way to the right. And Obama knew this. He had message discipline in this campaign. Of course, he had a bad economy and a very unpopular president and eight years of an unpopular party, which helped. All the econometric models show that he was going to win because of that, but you can screw up in campaigns.
Remember Joe the Plumber? How many remember Joe the Plumber? Okay, Joe the Plumber; you can’t make that stuff up. I mean, how do you explain that to a foreign press? But anyway, Joe the Plumber came up in the debate and what did Obama do? He brought it back to the economy, brought it back to the economy. There were ads at the very end by McCain about anthrax threats and homeland security. I mean, it was weird. He brought it back to the economy. He was very disciplined. He actually ran a perfect campaign in my opinion.
I’m writing a book. It’ll be out at the end of January. I want you all to buy it, write about it, buy it for your friends. It’s called Campaigns And Elections American Style, and I talk about how very few errors were made. He had overwhelming and an ungodly amount of money, $750 million. That helped on the ground war and the air war, the ground war meaning organizing the ground, and I mention this because it’s going to affect the way he governs.
He had 70 offices compared to 20 in Virginia. He had a 5-to-1 expenditure of funds in Virginia for television. Now I mention Virginia because Virginia has been a solid Republican state since 1964, as did North Carolina. We may be seeing – this is not an anomaly – we may be seeing the beginning of a slight realignment of a couple of states in the south, which is a serious problem for the Republicans. When North Carolina and Virginia go for a Democrat, a black Democrat, it is phenomenal.
He had message discipline. He has message discipline now during the transition. He is selecting people, in my opinion, based on merit. Let’s take Steven Chu, fabulous scientist who ran the Lawrence Berkeley Lab. As you know, the United States has about ten laboratories in the Department of Energy. This is a gem of a lab. He left Stanford – a Nobel Prize winner – left Stanford, which is the apex of academia, in a chair, an endowed chair, to go there and to focus on global warming. He’s now the Department of Energy’s Secretary.
I mention this and I could go through all of these. Hillary Clinton; really based upon someone who’s quite competent. Barack Obama is not afraid of people who have different ideas and he listens. I happen to know him personally. I worked on lobbying an ethics reform for two years, sat in a room with him several times. He’s a listener. That comes from, I think, his experience as a community organizer.
There’s a thing called the Industrial Areas Foundation started by Saul Alinsky – don’t worry, I’m getting to Congress here in a second because this is all relevant to the way he’s going to work with Congress. Saul Alinsky started this, and what do you learn in community organizing? You learn how to listen. You learn how to go into a community and find out what the problems are and mobilize people, find leadership so they can help solve their own problems.
Obama knows this. He’s a listener. And he’s a listener internationally in terms of multilateral approach to foreign policy. He said it; I believe it. He will be also in terms of working with Congress. But he has very serious problems in Congress. The most serious problem is this, this distribution. The normal distribution of ideology is measured by the National Election Study out of the University of Michigan from 1954 to present. It’s been normal since we’ve been measuring it. Most Americans are in the middle. That one distribution in the middle is really a – it’s a wire cage of attitudes about a variety of issues.
Most people are in the middle; not many communists except on the far left in Berkeley, California, right? Not many Aryan Nation types – these are jokes, folks – not many Aryan Nation types except in upstate Idaho, you know, Ruby Ridge. Most people are in the middle. You can smile at my jokes. I’ll go like this when I do a joke, okay?
So most people are in the middle, but look at the distribution down below, that bimodal distribution measured by votes by how people vote in the House of Representatives. We have a bimodal distribution of ideology. Nobody’s in the middle anymore. The endangered species in the House of Representatives is a moderate Republican. They’re gone. In 2006, 15 moderate Republicans as measured by their votes lost. This last election, Shays was the last Republican in the Northeast to lose. The Republicans are in trouble if they think they can get a majority in the House of Representatives in the future without going sort of towards the middle.
Now, on the left, we have Pelosi, who is a little bit left of the top of that mode. But you know, to the right of the mode, you have the Blue Dog Democrats. Now how many of you know what a Blue Dog Democrat is? Help me out. I’ve forgotten. What’s a Blue Dog Democrat?
QUESTION: They’re more conservative Democrats.
MR. THURBER: Yeah, they’re more conservative Democrats. They’re fiscally conservative Democrats. Symbolically, Barack Obama came to the Hill three weeks before the end of the election, in the heat of this election, and met with the Blue Dog leadership promising them to be moderate about programs outside of the economic rescue package – that’s very little these days – but outside that and to go with PAYGO. PAYGO is – pay as you go means that you – if you have a new program, you have to either tax for it to get the money or you have to cut somewhere else. It’s central to the Blue Dogs.
There are about 55 Blue Dogs in the House of Representatives. Many of them are from the south. A classic is Bart Gordon, Chairman of the Science Committee. He’s from central Tennessee. They’re moderate. They’ve been moderate on the war. They didn’t want extra statements in the funding of the war about redeployment. They’re moderate on a lot of spending things. But they’re pretty – pretty – sometimes pretty liberal on social issues, okay? They’re key to getting the votes on a variety of issues that I’ll go through that will face the House of Representatives. They’re key to getting the votes for Obama and for – and for Pelosi.
Senate is the same. This is the distribution of Senate also that Senate has become bimodal. We can talk about why later in Q&A if you want. And so it’s very hard. In the Senate, as you know, the golden number is 60, but I’m a skeptic about that, 60 meaning the cloture vote to overcome a filibuster. I think every different issue that comes to the Senate will drive different kinds of coalitions.
If you take cap and trade, cap and trade is a bill that’s very important to resolving – reducing the amount of CO-2 in the environment and helping with global warming – if you take cap and trade, it came up in the Senate June 7th of 2008, and it got 48 to 36 votes. After this election, it’s likely to get 60 votes, but it will be very close, because it splits the Democratic Party. People from coal states – Byrd from West Virginia, a very powerful guy even though he’s no longer Chair of the Appropriations Committee – he’s going to be against other coal state people that are very liberal on other things, who will battle it whether you have 60 votes or not.
Immigration, it’ll pass. It got 59 votes the last time it came up in the Senate and it will easily, in my opinion, pass because – it’ll be a balanced bill of pathway to citizenship and security, maybe less money for security than it would have been under that last bill. My point is when you have this question of 60 votes in the Senate, be skeptical. Think about the nature of the policy that you’re dealing with to see whether the coalition is there or not. It will be different for the bailout or the – pardon me, the rescue package. It’ll be different for alternative energy. They’ll get lots of votes for that. It’ll be different for cap and trade. It’ll be different for No Child Left Behind, the major education piece that’s going through, very controversial. It’ll be different on immigration. Of course, party is very important, but there are always a few people that will not vote with those from the Democratic Party and a few people in the Republican Party. But there are very few moderates in the Senate also.
If you look at what’s happened here -- let me just use this. The decline of the political center started in 1961. These distributions show the ideological sports scores from 1961 to 2000 as the – and it continues. In 2001, we had about eight percent in the House and the Senate that were moderates. In ’61, we had about 30 percent. It’s gone down to about two percent now. Again, you measure that by their votes and you add up this thing called an ideological sports score. We’ve been doing it for years. National Journal reports it, CQ reports it, as you know. And that is a serious problem for Obama. He wants to change the way Washington works, right? Well, when you don’t have anybody in the middle and you’re trying to go to the middle, it is a very destabilizing situation.
The type of election in your countries and in our country fundamentally influences governance. The question is, in a presidential campaign, is there the -- a perceived national mandate or not? We haven’t had a national mandate since Reagan’s first election, and before that, it was LBJ. What was the national mandate when Clinton got 43 percent of the vote when he was first elected and then he got 48 percent? What was the national mandate for Bush when it was resolved in the Supreme Court in 2000? What was the national mandate when Bush was elected in 2004, as some people would say, by 60,000 votes out of – out of Ohio? If 60,000 votes had changed in Ohio, Kerry would be President of the United States.
The national mandate in those last elections that I mentioned is to be moderate. And when you’re not moderate, you get punished. Clinton did two years later in the 1994 election. He lost the House and the Senate and lost it for the Democrats for a long period of time. In 2000, Bush pushed it too hard. He lost Jeffords, a moderate Republican from Vermont. He changed parties and all the chairs of all the committees in the Senate became Democratic, stopped the agenda of the President in its tracks until 9/11 came along. 9/11, he went from 32 percent in the polls to 91 percent in one week. It saved his – some people would say it saved his Administration.
House campaigns, are they competitive? Well, in 2004, there were only 26 seats that were competitive. In 2006, there were 61 seats. This election, it looks like there were 78 seats that were competitive. Competitive means that someone wins by 55 percent or less. It’s safer than the Politburo in Havana. Anybody here from Cuba? You know, it’s not very competitive down there in Havana to get on the Politburo. Geez, come on. (Laughter.) Okay, you’re smiling. That’s good.
In 80 seats, all you have to do is steam up a mirror to get reelected, show you’re alive, cause there’s nobody in the primary, nobody in the general election. So what’s the real election in the House? It’s the primary election, like in Berkeley, California, the People’s Republic of Berkeley, right – very, very liberal. You have to be an extreme leftist in order to get the nomination. Do you know what the turnout is in that election in the primary, four percent. Four percent of the eligible electorate turnout to nominate a Democrat that is then safely in the House of Representatives. There’s no incentive for that person to moderate on issues that are key to Berkeley, California. We’ve seen when people do that; they lose in the primary. And so that’s very difficult for a president when he comes, when this individualism dominates. Even though it looks like Pelosi is very powerful, she is walking a tightrope. She has to appeal to the Blue Dogs, which are very different than the people on the far left.
Senate campaigns have significant Republican losses, but there’s not a clear filibuster-proof majority, so it will be competitive. The question is, what are the fundamentals of change that will affect this election, and then I’ll go into the issues.
Well, we’ve seen the break-up a long time ago of the solid Democratic South. We may see now it’s a Republican in the South. The Democrats or Republicans dominate in the House and the Senate. They are conservative. They’ve taken the place of old Dixiecrats. But we’re seeing the breakup of the South again slightly, because of demographics. Virginia is changing. Remember Palin said: Well, Northern Virginia is not the real Virginia. Well, the real Virginia now happens to be Democratic, because they won. And the same in North Carolina -- North Carolina wasn’t just the black vote turning out in 98 percent, it’s a lot of other northerners and others that have come down to Research Triangle to Duke, to – you know, to various university towns that are Democrat. It’s changed. We are going into a period of unified party government, which is rare in our system.
If you have a parliamentary system that – in your country, you always have unified party government, because the members of the House of Commons United Kingdom select the prime minister. The prime minister has a shadow cabinet. You don’t have this lengthy period of time where you form a new government. They come in, there’s leadership. They have a unified party government. We don’t. We can have the House and the Senate at a different party than the presidency.
We’re going into a unified period. Unified period means that the presidential support scores, meaning it’s like a batting average in baseball. It’s how much a president gets. Clinton, first two years, got 87 percent. That was his presidential support score. That’s how much he got through the House that he wanted. We measure that also. When you have unified party government, you have a presidential support scores. When you have divided party government, a different party on the Hill, as we’ve had during this last two period – two years, the support scores drop into the 30s. It dropped at 38 percent in 1995 for Clinton. We’re going to have a unified party government.
We’ve had close presidential elections. Is there a mandate? You know, mandates are psychological sometimes. There certainly is a mandate for certain explicit policies that he has indicated, Obama. One is redeployment. But the question, of course, he’s changed the language slightly -- redeployment out of Iraq into Afghanistan. He’s changed his language slightly. He says, well, of course, I will take the views of my commanders on the ground and he did that early in the game, which has alienated some of the far left people who are against the war. But I think he will redeploy carefully out of Iraq, and more people into Afghanistan.
But also he says that he’s going to change the way Washington works, right? How many of you believe he’s going to change the way Washington works? You can express things. It’s okay. How many of you think that it’s going to change? Don’t be bashful. Everybody here is skeptical. Nobody thinks that he’s going to change the way Washington works? What’s wrong with you? You’re – well, you have to be skeptics, as I am, journalists are, academics are. What’s that mean? It means he wants to change policy. And there will be some changes in policy, but events drive that to a great extent, too, you know, like the recession – serious recession that we’re in. But also he says he’s not going to have lobbyists in his cabinet and working in the White House, right? How many of you believe that? Are you asleep or something? No. All right. You don’t believe it. Okay. Well, listen to the language very carefully. I know him and I know this generally because I’ve, you know emailed back and forth with some people working on this. It is federal registered lobbyists, okay. Federal registered lobbyists. There are about 16,000 federal registered lobbyists.
As you saw in The Washington Post yesterday, I was quoted. I think that the industry of advocacy, meaning selling things to the Defense Department and intervening and regulations and all the support staff that they have at the AARP, they have 1,700 employees. Probably half of them are in the advocacy industry. I come up with a figure, and we took a whole summer to count this: 214,000 people are in the advocacy business. Is he going to change that? No. He’s stimulating that business right now, because there’s so much change going on, people are hiring new firms that seem to be too Republican. But they’re hiring all kinds of people.
All of these financial institutions that are hurting so badly, you know, they powered up on the advocacy side. He has appointed Daschle, former minority leader in the Senate to become head of human and health services. You know Daschle. How many of you know Daschle? Okay. So everybody knows Daschle. Good. Daschle – Daschle lives on Foxhall Road, out by American University. And you know what, he’s not raising corn out there for ethanol. He is an advocate. He is a lobbyist. He’s not a federal registered lobbyist, but he – you know he structures things where he hires lobbyists and other things. Everybody is a made person, you know, like in the mafia, a made guy. Well, everybody is made. You know, in both campaigns it’s a – they’ve all been into the advocacy business, and that’s what pluralism is about – pluralism. We have a pluralist system. And it’s very easy not to register.
We’re bringing in people like John Podesta to head the transition team. He heads the Center for American Progress. You’ve been there for some of his programs – great programs. What does he do? It’s an advocacy think thank, okay. So to say that they’re not going to have lobbyists in the White House or appointed for the agencies and elsewhere is disingenuous, in my opinion. And so I don’t think that’s going to change too much. But he does have new rules, new ethics for the transition team. And I think it’s very important that he’s doing that.
One of the reasons he’s pushing this is that the perception of the American people is that lobbyists are corrupt, that it’s not good. Eighty three percent in a PEW Charitable Trust poll a year and a half ago said that lobbyists regularly bribe members of Congress – 83 percent in America. It’s incredible.
So the question is, will he change Washington in that way? I don’t think so. Will he change the partisan polarization that I’ve shown you in this distribution? That’s a big question. He’s promised to be bipartisan in his approach to government, approach to Congress, but also in his appointments and certainly the Gates appointment shows that. He may have others. He’s trying to reach out and talk to people in the Republican Party, and he has done so. But the partisan polarization to a certain extent comes from the competition between the two parties to gain more seats in the House and the Senate. They have wedge issues. They have this permanent campaign. Wedge issues meaning they don’t resolve a particular issue, they want it to continue because it’ll help gets votes for or against a particular person. I’m skeptical. I’m going to watch that very carefully. He certainly is a very popular person in the polls. He won significantly. That’s important in terms of a mandate and a honeymoon. But when it gets down to the votes, let’s see what happens with respect to the opposition party.
Now let’s talk about the issues before Congress, but also a little bit about the structure of what’s going on in Congress. There’s a very important event that happened in the House of Representatives with respect to the committee leadership. As you know, in our system, we have a highly decentralized power structure on the Hill and it’s very hard for Pelosi to work with some of the Chairs.
Very difficult to work with John Dingell. John Dingell was the Chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee. He is from Detroit. As you know, he’s been in the House of Representatives for 53 years. He represents the United Autoworkers and the three big automobile manufacturers. And he has had great limits on the Clean Air Act amendments and also alternative energy investment and other things. He’s a Democrat, but he’s pretty conservative. He’s been fighting since 1974 Henry Waxman from Hollywood.
Now Henry Waxman is very interested in representing the interests of Hollywood. What are those? It is to have his constituents sit in hot tubs, blow grass, and see Santa Monica. Now in order to do that, you have to clean up the LA basin, you know, from pollution. And in order to – I’m getting in trouble. I’ll never get invited back again, but what the hell, let’s keep rolling. (Laughter.)
And so in order to do that, what do you have to have? You have to have strong, clean air legislation. This great drama could make an offer. Just occurred. Phil Schiliro, who was his chief of staff for 20 years, Henry Waxman’s, moves. He becomes head of Legislative Affairs in the White House. And Phil is an old friend of mine. Phil obviously cleared this with Obama and Pelosi that Waxman would challenge Dingell in secret – in the selection of the Chairs.
We have secret ballot selection of Chairs in the House and the Senate. You know what happens when you have secret ballots, people lie. They go and say, yeah, John, I’m going to support you. And then they go in and vote the other way. Well, what happened was the Steering and Policy Committee in a vote of 25-22 -- very, very close – nominated Henry Waxman to be Chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee. They went into the caucus where they voted secret ballot and Henry Waxman won. So what. But it’s major because Obama wants to push alternative energy, but also the cap and trade bill to reduce CO2 and other pollutants by 80 percent of 1990 levels by 2050 and that curve is very steep. It’s going to change our economy. It’s going to change the way we extract and use energy, especially coal. John Dingell stood in the way of that. This is going to be a piece, after the economy and the two wars, the question of cap and trade, this environmental piece of legislation, and energy is going to be a central piece to this administration and it’ll take up a lot of time on the Hill in terms of an issue.
It’s set up in the House to have a better situation than with Dingell, with Waxman, Markey, who has an ad hoc committee on alternative energy and global warming, that Pelosi set up two years ago to put a stick in the eye of John Dingell to move him a little bit and he didn’t move. And so it is set up for a major push of legislation in that particular area.
Now Boxer – the Boxer bill, she’s Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee in the Senate. She will move her bill that almost passed the Senate last time. It is not guaranteed that it will pass, that they’ll get 60 votes from the Senate, but it will be close. That’s another issue that’s facing this. And it’s related to this new House committee leadership. Now of course, the Senate’s had major changes. Robert C. Byrd, I usually go “Robert C. Byrd,” because he’s a graduate of American University. He’s so powerful. He’s, I think, 92 now. He stepped down as Chairman of the Appropriations Committee. And as Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, he used that position to have earmarks for West Virginia, like a Coast Guard facility in West Virginia, a landlocked state. It was a great idea. Now the next earmark was going to be a canal from Baltimore up to Martinsburg (inaudible) to get the ships up there. But anyway, let’s keep rolling. He used that also to try to limit the cap and trade bill, to try to kill it because he’s a coal state. And he has stepped down.
Let’s go through some of these. Diane Feinstein is going to be Chairman -- Chair of the Intelligence Committee, giving her oversight of the -- you know, the spy network. And Rockefeller from West Virginia is stepping down. There’s a lot of contention, especially after the quality of the NIE, the National Intelligence Estimate, to justify going into Baghdad. That committee used to be very bipartisan. After that, it became quite partisan, and that’s going to change the nature of that to a certain extent because she’s going to be the Chair.
Rockefeller would be -- will become the Chair of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, a very powerful committee, because Inouye’s moving from that Chair and becoming Chair of the Appropriations Committee. Inouye is from Hawaii. I think you’ll see some earmarks, more earmarks going to Hawaii. There’s a very large military facility out there, and I think it will expand. They’ll do all right in Hawaii as a result of that. Byrd is 91 – he’s not 92. He is now still on the committee and widely respected by people. Kerry is going to be, and this is important to all of you, Chair, as you know, of the Foreign Relations Committee. And he moves from Chair of the Small Business Committee, not very important to foreign affairs, and he’s very close with Biden, and he has a certain amount of closeness with Obama.
You know, one of the observations here is that with respect to the issues on the Hill and Obama, is that he’s setting the right tone to work with the institution. Clinton came from Arkansas. It was a weak legislative assembly. He didn’t really reach out. He made a lot of mistakes. He alienated Tip O’Neill by not giving him extra tickets for the inaugural – the Speaker of the House, I mean it was stupid. And you know, this guy really knows what he’s doing, and the people around him are from the Hill. Daschle – selecting Daschle – he’s widely respected by both parties, that’s really setting a tone of reaching out, working with the Hill, and having consultation early. He’s bringing people into the transition team, I notice, talking to them about their issues that they’re interested in from their committees, and trying to work with them in terms of what he wants. I think that consultation on the early legislative agenda is very important.
Now, let’s go through some of the issues. Number one, the economy. But you know related to it is the debt. Now, China now owns about a third of the debt which is going up to $11 trillion -- $11 trillion – and still racking up. About a third of it is owned by foreigners, by some of your countries, and now China is the largest debtor – largest owner of our debt of all those foreign nations at this point. This will continue. This is serious. This means that my granddaughter Kelsie, who’s five years old, is going to have to pay two dollars for every dollar we’re borrowing right now. So the point is, symbolically, we’re shoving this to the next generation. I know we have to get the economy going, but I think it’s immoral to shove debt onto the next generation. And we’re going to be doing that significantly.
The two wars, we talked about them, significant support in the polls for redeployment. But remember, when we went into Iraq, 70 percent of the American people thought we should. So now a little over 70 percent – you saw it in the Washington Post today – think we should get out. And almost half think we have succeeded. But you know, related to the wars is the building up of the military again. He’s promised to add 92,000 new troops as did McCain. We’ve ground down our troops, we’ve ground down our equipment. There’s going to have to be a huge investment in that if we want to get them back to the level, pre-Iraq level, of equipment.
There’s also the U.S. image abroad, and you know about this. And I noticed that all of you had to take your shoes off before you came in here today, thank God. I don’t want to be – I don’t want to have a shoe thrown at me. But you know, we’re not very popular anywhere in the world and – except Obama is, you know. Obama got – you know, he would have gotten 99 percent of the world’s vote. So just with one election and one new person, an African American – let’s just pause for a second – America selected an African American for president. That’s a very significant thing. He looks more like the world than our previous presidents, and that’s very important. And he says the right things in terms of bilateral – I mean, multilateralism and working with nations.
But of course, he’s going to have to stand up for our security, what is perceived – what is perceived to be our security. And that means that if he continues to pour troops into Afghanistan, he may not be very popular in certain regions, if not throughout Pakistan. He will do that. But our image abroad immediately has changed and I think that he will do his best to continue to change that.
Healthcare: Healthcare is a very complex thing in anybody’s nation, especially this one. In healthcare there are four issues: Cost, quality, finance, and access; access to the system. You can finance it, but you know – and you can put in cost controls, but that doesn’t mean that people can have access to it. If you’re on Medicare, which is for the aging in America, that doesn’t mean you can find a doctor. A lot of people don’t take Medicare patients.
So we have a system that is very complex. It’s a huge of our GDP. And he has said that he wants to change the finance portion of it, having an insurance system that allows for more people to have insurance. We have 47 million people who do not have insurance. A lot of them are children. He certainly will expand SCHIP which is children’s insurance in the states for people that live in families below the poverty level.
But at the same time, we’re going to have a problem with quality and we’re going to have a problem of cost. He has not said much about that. The one thing he said explicitly in terms of an investment in the stimulation of the economy and the infrastructure -- everything’s being thrown into that phrase right now, by the way, higher education, whatever -- he said that we should have HIT, health information technology, electronic forms of – for records for healthcare. I know you’re not interested in this, but it will take up time and it will be part of the issues that are coming out of Congress.
Energy environment, alternative energy: Yeah, everybody’s for alternative energy; that’s great. But they all want to go to heaven without dying. They want all of this stuff, but they don’t want to have higher taxes, and they don’t want to cut something else. So the big battle there will be: Where’s the money coming from? It’ll come out of the – out of this stimulation package. He’s going to say, well, the greening of the energy in America is part of the stimulation of the economy. But eventually, we’re going to run out of money.
Education: He’s for, and I’ve been to the websites – I’ve spent a whole semester with my graduate seminar looking at his websites and McCain – he’s for more investment in science, math, and engineering. Bart Gordon earlier had a bill that’s passed to do that. I think he’s going to continue to invest in that, but also try to get the No Child Left Behind act through, which is exceedingly controversial. Both parties don’t like it.
He’ll have huge investments in infrastructure. He went to the governors in Philadelphia, as you know, and he talked to them about what they need. You know what they need? They need investment in infrastructure to get the jobs going, but they need money for Medicaid immediately. What’s Medicaid? It’s insurance for poor people. There’s more and more people that are unemployed, that are living below the poverty line that need insurance. It’s an insurance system administered by the states, and they are billions of dollars behind in places like California on that and they need the money. But infrastructure investment will be for roads, bridges. And he’ll use the greening of energy in that and lots of other things and try to create jobs and jobs programs. Immigration is also going to hit the Hill. Immigration will be one of his easier bills, in my opinion.
There are other issues and those other issues are usually associated with things that we don’t know now, and they’re called events. In every election people discuss all kinds of issues, and then events come along. 9/11: you know, we couldn’t predict 9/11. They come early. The Cuban missile crisis created by the Bay of Pigs, created by a policy before Kennedy came to office, and it tested him immediately. Lincoln was tested in his first few months, of course, because of the Civil War. All of these presidents get tested early. Obama will be tested and the test has already started, and it’s called the economy. And in a globalized world, globalized economy where trade has gone down in the last quarter 16 percent, minus 16 percent, things are slowing down so that, you know, we have serious problems but also other nations do – China.
We create 2.5 million new people into the job market every year; China does every month, 2.5. And unemployment is rising very quickly in China and in many of your other nations. This is a serious problem. It cannot be solved by one president of the United States, even though he’s pretty powerful. It’s got to be solved in a global way. And you know what, there’s not a lot of clear answers, and they’re experimenting right now about what to do about it.
Let me conclude by saying that this election has inspired a lot of my students, young people in America, the way Kennedy did, even more so. And that’s good for democracy because they’ll stay involved, they will be – they were involved in the campaign, they’re going to stay involved. You see it. I see it in the classroom. You see it in the polls. And that’s very positive for our democracy to get young people interested in government again.
Government’s not the problem, as Reagan said. Government is going to be part of the solution at this point, and that’s not strictly a liberal/conservative argument. It is a fact that when we have crisis, as we did in – after 1929 and, you know, the election of ’32 brought in FDR, government intervened to do something, and we’re – think 1933 right now in a similar situation. We’re not in a depression, but we’re in a serious recession, and we’re going to have intervention.
Let’s open it up to Q&A. And I’ve talked too long, sorry. I’m used to do 55 minutes, but you know –
Yeah, right here, sir. And could you say who you are and who you represent.
QUESTION: I’m Jay Park with Radio Free Asia, South Korea. Thank you so much, Dr. Thurber for your – for entertaining us this morning. (Laughter.) It was a pleasure.
MR. THURBER: Hopefully, there’s some substance also besides the entertainment.
QUESTION: Of course. Let me raise a little bit specific questions on foreign policy. How would you predict the congressional response on President-elect Obama’s initiative on foreign policy issues, especially if President Obama decided to meet with both Korean leaders Kim Jong-il without conditions? What would Congress react on that?
MR. THURBER: Well, that’s quite an assumption. I hate to take hypotheticals, but I think that if he actually did that – I don’t think he would do that, by the way. I think he would have certain – current agreements before he met with him. But if that happened, as you describe, there would be quite a few people on the far right from the Republican Party that would scream. It would become a major issue. He would use up political capital unnecessarily. I think that his approach to this is to continue to use the multilateral approach with, you know, China, Japan, South Korea, Russia, other nations to try to continue to get change there.
So I don’t know, maybe you know something that I don’t know about this. You know, he did say, in a general statement, that he was willing to meet with certain leaders, like Chavez, without preconditions. And that became an issue in the primary and an issue in the general election, but not an important issue in terms of the way Americans judged him, in my opinion. I think it’s a rational statement. But then, when you get into power, you – you know, you have other – you calculate differently. That doesn’t mean you’re duplicitous, you just have more information and, therefore, you approach this differently.
Back to the point, I don’t think he would do that. I think he would continue in a multilateral way to put pressure on North Korea to change its wedge.
MR. THURBER: You only get one, man. Just one. (Laughter.) No go ahead, what?
QUESTION: What about the more broader approach? I mean, response from the Congress and Obama – the administration initiative of foreign policy there?
MR. THURBER: That’s so broad it’s hard to answer. I’m sorry -- I mean, with due respect. He does have people that widely respect him and he’s close to them. He knows Kerry. You know, in the Senate where the confirmations are going to go on and where much of the initiative in foreign policy from the Hill or reactions to the initiative from the Executive Branch are there. I think that he’d have the consensus, clearly, to redeploy. The question is how fast and what happens on the ground in Iraq. He has consensus, and there’s some splits in the Democrat Party on this on trade, because trade is foreign policy. I think he’s a free trader. He’s not a Hoover who wants to put up trade barriers, you know. He thinks that we need to keep free and open trade. But he wants the Koreans to buy some of our cars. Come on, man, buy some of our cars, right? You know that. So he’s going – he’s no fool. He’s going to push nations’ reevaluation of the UN and China that’s – you know, he said that in the primaries – he’d like to see that happen. But that’s sort of set aside now that we have this huge economic problem worldwide. But he’ll get back to it.
So I think he’s got friends on the Hill he’s reaching out to. And Biden and Hillary are two people that would certainly help on the Hill, but also help him develop policy and that’s good. That’s very general, but the question was general. Okay.
Yes, sir, right here.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Mounzer Sleiman with Orient News Service from Lebanon.
MR. THURBER: Yes.
QUESTION: I have two-part question, so that’s going to save me from going follow up.
MR. THURBER: At least it’s not a three-part question.
QUESTION: Yeah. The national security team of President-elect Obama has two of the most – General Jones, the national security advisor, and has also Hillary Clinton who is a powerful leader in the Democratic Party and also as a former First Lady. From past experience, generally we have some tension between the Secretary of State and the national security. What’s your assessment of how with retaining of the Secretary of Defense Gates from previous administration – how you think the national security team going to work without creating a problem?
The other part of the question is you rightly said that Obama will be tested on the economy. Now, what specifically can be done to alleviate the fear that existed now in the country and throughout the world about the future of the United States economy and world economy? What exactly Obama can he do, as a general – I’m not talking about specific program. But what are some tangible things that can be done to send the message that this situation can be resolved, can be at least addressed?
MR. THURBER: Let me join the two questions there. They’re excellent questions and very difficult to answer, but I’ll try to talk about what he has already done. What he’s already done on the national security area in a very – in a dangerous world, in my opinion. There’s some real threats out there to world peace, to the United States, but also to other nations. He’s retained someone who’s widely respected by the military establishment, but also by Republicans and Democrats, Mr. Gates.
Now, Gates may not stay, you know, for four years, but it is smart. It’s smart in terms of a bipartisan thing. And it’s smart in terms of sending a message to the world about we are not going to let down during this period of transition in the first few months of an administration. And the national security advisor, a very strong, widely respected person, willing to stand up, express himself, this is not going to be one of these things where Colin Powell sitting here giving a statement, and Rumsfeld’s over here giving a statement. They don’t look each other or talk with each other. The President sits there and takes a briefing, and then they leave. And then Cheney comes in and talks with the President about what should be done.
Now, I’m not speaking for the State Department. I’m speaking for myself and my interpretation of what happened and, you know, it’s over-simplistic. But Cheney, you know, is very close with Rumsfeld. It’s not going to be one of those deals. It’s going to be very interesting to watch these very powerful people intellectually, that know these issues, to sit down and talk about them. Ultimately, the President has to make a decision, and I think he’s going to make the decision in this thing. It’s going to be good for America and the world to have that kind of debate in the national security and defense area with the President, as well as others. You know, he has not selected the head of the CIA yet – oh, I mean, the intelligence community yet, National Intelligence Director – National Director of Intelligence, NDI. That’s going to be important, too.
In terms of what can he do, you know, he had language – it was like FDR, in a sense. He says, we’re going to – FDR explicitly said, “We don’t know what’s going to work. We’re going to experiment, but we’re going to help you.” We – you know, he had the four freedoms. The last freedom was about fear. He talked about reducing fear. It took a long time to come out of that depression, but we did. Some people think the war – you know, World War II, certainly helped us come out of that depression. Hopefully, we will not have that solution to this recession. He is saying what he’s going to do.
You know, we have a pretty transparent democracy. There’s no conspiracy out there now, in my opinion, about what he’s going to do. He’s going to go along with what’s already been done last summer in terms of the housing bills; secondly, the several hundred billion dollar stimulation to the credit markets, half of it’s been spent. He was – he wanted to help save the big three automobile manufacturers. He kept saying, there’s only one president at the time; however – and then he’d go into these policies. You know what he’s going to try to do. And so now, in that three-dimensional chess game on the automobile manufacturers, which is one out of every seven (inaudible) associated with automobiles. That chess game has shoved the decision to the President. I think he will take money out of TARP, out of the stimulation package, to help the automobile – two of the automobile manufacturers. Ford doesn’t need it. The President’s for that.
But what he wants to do also is reach out, work with other nations, work with China, work with the EU, Japan, to build a structure that helps us pull out of this thing. But we don’t know, in my opinion. We’re in new territory in terms of what’s wrong. There’s not just some econometric model that you can run and it automatically will change the economy here and, therefore, to the world. You know that it’s already floundering in terms of the investment in the banks so far, in AIG.
So your question is what is he doing? You can see what he’s doing. He’s going to continue to do that. He’s going to continue to invest in infrastructure, get jobs going. Jobs are the best welfare program -- jobs to, you know, stimulate the economy. But what he should do is a question for God, not me, you know. And I should say that our Department of Economics is in the School of Theology at our university where you need a lot of prayer, hope, and faith to figure out what’s going on, and where it should be. But you know, I don’t have the answer about what he should do. I know what he is doing, and I’ve mentioned some of those things so far.
Now, I want an easier question. Right here.
QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Sonia Schott with Radio Valera, Venezuela. I was wondering if you can make some comments regarding the Governor of Illinois’ issue and the way he was trying to find out the replacement for the Barack Obama seat at the Senate? And also the second one, if you can make some comments on the possibility of Caroline Kennedy could be the replacement for Senator Clinton in New York? Thank you.
MR. THURBER: Right. I don’t have any inside information about the Caroline Kennedy thing. But it certainly – at American University, Ted Kennedy, my neighbor, who lives a couple houses down from me, came to American University and endorsed Obama. Caroline Kennedy was there and Patrick. It was great for our university. And a lot of campaign people think that really turned his campaign and helped him at the very end to win with – against Hillary Clinton. I think there were lots of other things, but it’s symbolic, and she was there. I think Ted Kennedy, you know, he’s sick, but I think he’s going to use everything he can to try to influence the selection of Caroline Kennedy. She’s untested, you know, in politics. There are a lot of people in New York that would – that want that seat. But I think she certainly has an edge by being a Kennedy and having that heritage.
Now, in terms of Chicago – pardon me, in terms – well, the governor comes out of Chicago. In terms of the Illinois politics, the amazing thing is that Obama is so careful that he really hasn’t talked with the governor since 2005, and he’s very transparent, open, investigates immediately. He doesn’t let a cycle of news go by before he really addresses these issues, and that’s the important thing. I think that Obama had nothing to do with it. I think Rahm Emanuel, yeah, he went into to talk to him about who the candidates were, but there is no evidence that there were any illegal activities going on by Rahm Emanuel, who’s chief of staff and out of Chicago and a close friend of Obama and the White House. So I think the governor will eventually have to resign and he’ll be impeached. He’ll probably go to jail, which seems to be a tradition in Illinois these days, and they’ll probably have to have a special election. They’ll pass legislation and have a special election in order to clean this thing up.
I hope that’s helpful. I thought you were going to ask about what’s the relationship between Obama and Chavez. No? Okay, never mind.
QUESTION: One question –
MR. THURBER: Another woman right here in the – yes, please.
QUESTION: Hi. Heather Yamour with the Kuwait News Agency. I just wanted to follow up with what you mentioned about the economy, with what Barack Obama has been doing and will continue to do. Is it possible for the President-elect to actually bring the U.S. out of a recession within the first – or even within two terms?
MR. THURBER: That’s exactly what the new Treasury-elect is talking about -- Larry Summers is talking about. I don’t think they know. You know, I don’t know. But I think it’s going to take several years to pull this economy around. And it will be a major test of his first presidency – I mean, first four years as to whether it can be reelected if he’s turned the economy around. I think the best thing that – for the Democratic Party is to nominate Palin as the nominee in the Republican Party so he can win overwhelmingly in the next election. (Laughter.)
No, I’m sorry. I’m a little edgy. But it’s going to be very hard. You know, most economists say, well, we’d be lucky to be pull out in two years. I think it’s going to take a lot longer than that because of so many structural things.
Now, I’m willing to talk, and this is part of the arrangement, with people one-on-one, if some of you have that, after this. But this is supposed to be a one-hour briefing. And I thank you very much. Excellent questions.
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