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Week In Politics: Speaker Of The House Race, Hillary Clinton On The TPP

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Channeling anger or dissenting into chaos - this is a rare moment for House Republicans and the rest of us. We're reporting unforeseen events with not much sense of where we're headed, perfect grist for analysis by our Friday regulars, columnists E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution and David Brooks of The New York Times - good to see you both.

DAVID BROOKS: Good to be here.

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

SIEGEL: Let's listen back to the week's big surprise. Here's Kevin McCarthy yesterday just after he stunned his fellow House Republicans by withdrawing from the race for speaker.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEVIN MCCARTHY: I'll stay on as majority leader, but the one thing I've found in talking to everybody, if we are going to unite and be strong, we need a new face to help do that.

SIEGEL: David Brooks, evidently Paul Ryan is a new face by the standards of the House Republicans.

BROOKS: (Laughter).

SIEGEL: If he took the job, by the way, do you think that he would abandon Boehner's politics for something more aggressive or be in the same fix that John Boehner was in?

BROOKS: ...A Gerber baby, a really new face. No, it's - first of all, I hope he doesn't do it.

SIEGEL: Really?

BROOKS: Yeah 'cause he's always wanted to be Ways and Means chairman. He gets his dream job. Give the guy a chance to have his dream job. We only get that once or a couple times in life. Let him have it. Second, as everyone knows, he'd be in the same suit. Politically, he's not too different from Boehner. He's a realist. He understands the way the world works. But most of all, he's not an anarchist. And there are about 40 House members who are anarchists. They - McCarthy had a clear majority, and in a democracy, in a majority and you're the minority, you think, well, I tried to persuade them; I didn't, so he wins; I lost. But there are some members of the House that don't believe in democracy, and they want to hold everything up as a result.

SIEGEL: But how do you explain this to people, that if John Boehner and Paul Ryan aren't that different in substance or in attitude - one man the House Republicans are tired of and glad to see the back of him and the other thing - he's the only person who can get 247 votes.

BROOKS: Yeah, well, the Democrats are fighting what to believe in. The Republican are fighting about how to fight. And so they want somebody who they think is just really strong-willed and who they don't already hate, and Ryan is not somebody they already hate. But give them five minutes, and they'll hate him, too.

SIEGEL: E.J., do Democrats look at this is disarray among House Republicans and see any opportunities here for themselves?

DIONNE: Well, they see opportunities by remaining completely silent and letting the public watch what the Republicans are doing. On Ryan - a friend of his - somebody described as a friend of his - was quoted by Glenn Thrush in Politico as saying that only a moron would want to be speaker at this moment. And Paul Ryan is not a moron. He desperately does not want to do this job right now.

But I have a little bit of sympathy for the people David described as anarchists. I went back and pulled a book off my shelf called "The Young Guns," written by Paul Ryan and Kevin McCarthy and Eric Cantor. And they were saying very Tea Party-ish things about how terrible the old Republican Party was and how radically wrong the Obama policies were and they needed to be stopped. Well, Cantor got beaten by a Tea Partier. McCarthy is now out. And I think the problem is the Republican Party has to decide - and they have been trying to shilly-shally around this - do they want to govern, in which case, they will have to be much more open to votes that involve coalitions with Democrats as Representative Charlie Dent, a moderate Republican from Pennsylvania said. Or they go with the freedom, you know - the Freedom Caucus. And they've got to decide. And they - Ryan taking over is, I think, going to face the same problems unless they do decide.

SIEGEL: David, does it complicate matters that there's a Republican presidential primary race going on out there and the message from the country seems to be, give us people who are not part of governing?

BROOKS: Yeah, well, that's the Ted Cruz message and somewhat the Trump message, and even Chris Christie attacking the Republican establishment more than Barack Obama sometimes, it seems. But listen. If you look at the polls, even Republican voters hate government shutdowns by huge majorities. They hate disarray. And so my sense is that a lot of normal Republican voters are going to take a look at this mess, and they're going to react the other way. They're going to say, we want some normal government. We want people actually can do business the way business should be done. And I actually think, before too long, before the weather gets, there's going to be a reaction against this whole mess, and it will end up benefitting the Rubios, the Kasichs, the Bushes, the normal people.

SIEGEL: In time to raise the debt ceiling?

DIONNE: This is very scary because we face two big deadlines - the debt ceiling and having a budget. Either could lead to a shutdown or worse. And I hope the Republicans figure out some way of putting aside their family feud long enough so we don't have those crises.

SIEGEL: There was also a big development among Democrats this week. President Obama's team reached agreement on a big trade deal with 11 other Pacific Rim countries. Free trade is always a difficult trade for Democrats, even for Hillary Clinton, who had served as Obama's own Secretary of State and repeatedly expressed her support for the trade deal. Judy Woodruff asked her about it on the "PBS NewsHour," and here's what Secretary Clinton said.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PBS NEWSHOUR")

HILLARY CLINTON: What I know about it, as of today, I am not in favor of what I have learned about it.

SIEGEL: And she identified some aspects of the trade deal, or reported aspects, that she's unsatisfied with. David, this inspired a column from you.

BROOKS: (Laughter). Well, it was like the sort of flip-flop, I wrote, that would make gymnasts gaping and applauding. Forty-five times, she praised this thing. She called it the gold standard. And this is like flip-floppery to a degree that's also almost awesome. And so I almost applaud pure opportunism because we have too many people who actually have principles in this government, and it's caused us to be polarized. So maybe a little opportunism will make everything flexible, and maybe it'll work together. But I have to say, if she's worried about appearing dishonest and untrustworthy, well, this sort of flip-flop is exactly the wrong...

SIEGEL: What do you think about that, E.J.?

DIONNE: Well, first of all, it was one of the nicest columns David had written about Hillary Clinton in a long time.

SIEGEL: (Laughter).

DIONNE: But, you know, I think of - when I watch this, I thought back to the 2008 campaign when Barack Obama was criticizing Hillary Clinton's stand on NAFTA and suggested he might renegotiate it. And then there was a report in the press of one of Obama's aides talking to a Canadian diplomatic saying, don't worry; this is all about politics. So the White House has been actually quite restrained in responding to this 'cause Obama knows what trade politics is like in the Democratic Party.

He did it. She did it. And Bill Clinton, in 1992, endorsed NAFTA only at the very end of the campaign in his speech that I happened to cover that was almost entirely critical of the particular components of NAFTA. So I am not shocked by this. This issue ties Democrats in knots. And I think, you know, Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley will go after her for switching her position. And she decided the costs of supporting it were too high.

SIEGEL: But David, you seem to be saying she stands accused of an inauthenticity. This doesn't help her in that regard.

BROOKS: Yeah. I mean, I can't believe she believes what she's saying. That's why if you listen to what she said to Judy Woodruff, it's, like - you could see little hints of moral conscience in there withholding her. And she's, like, trying not to say what she clearly has to say. I'm very curious in the debate in a few days whether they actually go after her on character. It'll be very interesting to see how tough Bernie Sanders is personally toward her.

SIEGEL: OK. David Brooks of The New York Times, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post, thanks to both of you.

DIONNE: Good to be with you.

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