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Week In Politics: Israel And Immigration

Jul 11, 2014
Originally published on July 11, 2014 6:21 pm
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And now to E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and David Brooks of the New York Times, our Friday political commentators. Welcome back to you both.

E.J. DIONNE: Thank you.

DAVID BROOKS: Thank you.

BLOCK: Speaking of deeply divided government, let's start talking about the surge of migrants over the border. The president has requested $3.7 billion in emergency spending to deal with it. Key Republicans are saying the request is just too high. They're demanding changes to speed up deportations. And other Democrats are telling the president, look, if you agree to those changes, you're going to lose our support. David, do you see any way that the president can thread this needle?

BROOKS: I think he's got to go with the deportations. It's one of these horrific issues where you've got some kids who really are fleeing persecution. But I think as long as the draw is there - as long as the sensation in these home countries is that they can send their kids over this incredibly dangerous route through the - using some of the people they have to use to get here, they're going to continue to do that as long as there's a sense they're not going to be sent back. And so as horrific as it is to send some of these kids back, I think if you don't do that, you're going to continue to see this explosion. So I think that's going to be the crux of the issue. And I think the president, eventually, in order to stop the tide, has got to up the deportation.


DIONNE: I think that the whole immigration fight is - sort of speaks to that Scott Horsley story about the - Speaker Boehner's suit against the president. On the one hand, he says the President overstepped his bounds. On the other hand, when he was asked about that $3.7 billion this week, he just sort of exploded and said he's been president for five and a half years. Where is he going to take responsibility for something? So you had the odd case of the president taking responsibility for something, and then Boehner kind of evading the question. I think it would be really unfortunate if we just because we are very angry right now about this - if we threw out the law that gives kids a hearing because, you know, we patted ourselves on the back when we passed that law. And it was a law mainly to deal with sex trafficking. And now, all of a sudden because everybody's yelling, we're going to send all these kids back to very dire circumstances. But I think it probably will go that way, and I don't see, in the end, how the Republicans can complain and not vote for some of the money the president asked for.

BLOCK: Let me ask you about something else - President Obama, right now, is looking at some of the lowest approval ratings of his presidency. At the same time, we're seeing five months of straight job growth, the unemployment rate down to 6.1 percent. The stock market has hit record highs. Why is he doing so badly, David, if the economy is doing so well?

BROOKS: In my view, the - what I keep hearing is a sense that he's not in control of events. He's being controlled by events. That's especially true in foreign affairs, whether it's Ukraine or the Middle East. It's also true here. I think people - I often hear people often have a sense that he's tired. The administration is tired. It's not launching big initiatives. It's being buffeted. And so people do want to sense their president, more or less, has some energy - has some control. And I think it's basically that has led to the great dispiritedness.

BLOCK: And E.J. - so it's not just the economy, stupid, as the saying goes?

DIONNE: No, I think in this case there is so much going on elsewhere - so much chaos elsewhere. And while the president can make a perfectly good case, he's not responsible for it. People like a more orderly world. I also think that wages are only now beginning to catch up. They're still behind where they were and people feel that. And we've been down so long in the economy that it's hard to recognize up. But I do think that if we keep growing at the pace that we were growing last month - and those economic numbers were really good. There were - there weren't a lot of sort of asterisks or footnotes. So those were very good numbers. If we keep growing like that for another three or four months, I think that will have an effect on his numbers.

BLOCK: Let's move on and talk a bit about the Middle East and the conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip. Israel says that it has now attacked more than a thousand targets in Gaza since Tuesday. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says no international pressure will prevent us from acting with all power. And there are thoughts that there could eventually be a ground invasion. What should the U.S. position be here, David, and what pressure might President Obama use to deescalate things?

BROOKS: Yeah, one thing - this is so striking - is how tactical it is. There's no strategy on either side. Hamas seems to just to want to blow off some steam. The Israelis seem to want to take out a few Hamas leaders just to enforce a little quiet. Neither has a long-term vision for moving forward. I do have to say I think the Kerry initiative, in retrospect, looks like it was counterproductive. It did reinforce the power of the wrong people on the Palestinian side. It did up expectations. It created a bit of a backlash. And therefore somewhat reluctantly, I have to say I'm not sure there's much we can do in this case. Let them have this mini war - this tactical mini war, and then let them settle down. We just have to get to a point where there's different Palestinian leadership - probably a different Israeli coalition. You can't want peace more than they do. And as outsiders, I - right now, I'm just pessimistic we can have a much positive effect.

BLOCK: But E.J., what - with the civilian death toll among Palestinians now over a hundred, many of them women and children, does that put particular pressure on the administration - the Obama administration to do something - to intervene in some way?

DIONNE: Well, I think it puts particular pressure on the parties there not to let this escalate even further. This is a very scary situation. And you could argue it the way David did, but I would look at the failure of the Kerry peace effort as a tragedy, and it showed why it's important to have a peace effort - because what you had here were a couple of terrible events. First, the murder of those Israeli kids followed retaliation and that led to this explosion. And you have a situation where as long as this conflict continues - as long as there is not a settlement, you will have terrible things that happen that can all of a sudden lead to conflagrations like the one we're having now. I say conflagration - it's getting to that point.

BLOCK: OK, E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and Brookings Institution. David Brooks of the New York Times. Thanks, have a good weekend.

DIONNE: Good to be with you.

BROOKS: You too, thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.