Week In Review: Iraq, Cantor And Clinton

Jun 13, 2014
Originally published on June 13, 2014 2:56 pm

Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson and Meghna Chakrabarti talk to Jay Newton-Small, congressional reporter for Time Magazine, and David Shepardson, Washington Bureau Chief for the Detroit News, about some of the major stories this week, including the stunning turn of events in Iraq, Hillary Clinton’s exchange with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross and Eric Cantor’s surprise primary loss in Virginia.


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This is HERE AND NOW. And if you're just joining us, we're talking about the dramatic developments in Iraq this week.


And joining us now for some analysis from Washington are Jay Newton-Small, congressional reporter for Time Magazine, and David Shepardson, Washington bureau chief for the Detroit News. Welcome to both of you.

JAY NEWTON-SMALL: Hi. Thanks for having me.


HOBSON: And, Jay Newton-Small, let me start with you. Where do you see this going with Iraq? President Obama saying today that the U.S. will not be putting troops on the ground but he's weighing his options and those options could include airstrikes.

NEWTON-SMALL: Well, certainly there's just not a great options for the U.S. - you've got the country kind of falling apart. You've got the Kurds in the north who are basically already an autonomous country, I was there couple of years ago. And they've, you know, they're getting their own oil exports out to Turkey. They're kind of doing their own thing and protecting their own borders, including now Kirkuk, which they sort of took back as the Iraqi troops fled.

And then you've got the sort of center, the Sunni kind of center with ISIS, which, you know, are taking control of, you know, enormous parts, including Tikrit of Iraq and then the sort of Shia stronghold in the South. There's really not much. I mean, I know that Nouri al-Maliki the Iraqi Prime Minister has asked for lot more arms.

We've always been hesitant to do that because the Kurds argue that then the Iraqis could use those arms against them and we are also still allies with the Kurds. And so the question is, do you really think more arms are going to help the situation? And clearly the Iraqi army is not using them very effectively right now.

HOBSON: Well, and actually ISIS has been using some of the arms that we gave to the Iraqi forces.

NEWTON-SMALL: Yeah, exactly. So, I mean, I think more arms might kind of inflame the situation and make it worse. Obviously, bombing is an option. And they are moving the U.S.S. George H. W. Bush - an aircraft carrier - to the area in order to potentially, you know, start bombing sorties. But that'll be at least a week or two until it gets there. And then the question is, what does the situation on the ground look like at that point. Because things are changing very rapidly.

HOBSON: David Shepardson, what do you might happen?

SHEPARDSON: Well, there are no real good options and, you know, President Obama laid out a pretty clear line that the U.S. will not be returning ground troops to Iraq after exiting about two and half years ago. You know, aside from bombing, from trying to repel the advance of ISIS, which has already taken Iraq's second-largest city just four days ago.

You know, the U.S., you know, could find itself essentially, you know, on the same side as Iran in trying to prop up the Iraqi government. But, you know, the interesting thing is that at this point, you know, in terms of the immediate U.S., you know, economic concerns although oil prices are rising, for the most part. Oil production has not been impacted.

You know, Iraq is the seventh largest oil producer in the world producing about 3 million barrels a day. You know, and certain actions have been taken including withdrawing some foreign contractors from some hot spots. At this point it seems like, you know, there's still time for the U.S. to make a difference in terms of, you know, what's going on the ground.

CHAKRABARTI: OK. Well, Jay and David, let's take a look at the other big story this week in Washington on the domestic side of things. And that is the story that took basically everyone by surprise. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor losing his primary race in Virginia to Tea Party challenger David Brat.

Now, no one in Cantor's circle and I think it's safe to say to say no one in the media had any inkling that this was coming. Cantor has said he'll serve out the rest of his term but he's going to step down as majority leader at the end of July. And who's going to replace him? Well, here's Eric Cantor speaking this week.


ERIC CANTOR: If my dear friend and colleague Kevin McCarthy does decide to run I think he'd make an outstanding majority leader. And I will be backing him with my full support.

CHAKRABARTI: So there's going to be a lot of post-gaming about this Cantor primary. But the one question I want to turn to both you, and Jay let's just start with you - is about Kevin McCarthy. Is he conservative enough to appeal to the very wing of the party that booted out Eric Cantor?

NEWTON-SMALL: Well, he is actually not that conservative. So he's not one of the sort of natural Tea Partiers. He's not really part of the Republican Study Committee, which is the 170 strong member conservative sort of group of the house republican conference. And so, no - in that sense he isn't. He doesn't sort of appeal to that side of them. And he actually could have trouble there.

I was speaking with allies to representative Raul Labrador today, who's an Idaho Republican who is a member of the Tea Party wing, and he is very much weighing a run against McCarthy. And McCarthy has done his best to sort of lock it down and says he has the votes, you know, come out, you know, with both barrels, you know, firing. And, you know, essentially these leadership elections are a confidence game.

Everybody says they have the votes, they have the votes until you go into the actual balloting and its secret ballot - so nobody really knows who they're going to vote for until they actually cast that vote. And if Labrador does enter the race - which most likely he will either by the end of today or tomorrow - and he really coalesces the conservative tea party vote around him he could, you know, become the next Majority Leader if McCarthy doesn't work pretty hard to convince the conservatives that he will represent their interests.

CHAKRABARTI: It's like of the taking of the mantle of a leadership position, the GOP right now is job-limiting factor, possibly. David, your thoughts quickly?

SHEPARDSON: Sure. I mean, this could only be, you know, the first round, you know, there's going to be another leadership election at the start of the next Congress. You know, Congressman McCarthy has already seems some of the key candidates drop out. I mean, Congressman Labrador's really the only one left standing who could pose a serious challenge.

But you're right, I mean, the real message will be can Speaker Boehner or the next majority leader move the conference, you know, anywhere but further to the right on immigration or other issues or does this essentially freeze the Congress and the House Republicans in place for the rest of the year.

HOBSON: OK. Let me ask both of you about one more thing before we let you go, and that's Hillary Clinton, who's been on her book tour talking about "Hard Choices." Here she is on NPR's Fresh Air talking to Terry Gross, a tense exchange about Clinton's evolution on gay marriage.


HILLARY CLINTON: I have to say I think you are being very persistent but you are playing with my words and playing with what is such an important issue.

TERRY GROSS, BYLINE: I'm just trying to clarify so I can understand.

CLINTON: No. I don't think you are trying to clarify. I think you're trying to say that, you know, I used to be opposed and now I'm in favor and I did it for political reasons. And that's just flat wrong. So let me just state what I feel like you are implying and repudiate it. I have a strong record. I have a great commitment to this issue. And I am proud of what I've done and the progress we're making.

GROSS: You know, I'm saying, I'm sorry, I just want to clarify what I was saying. No, I was saying that you maybe really believe this all along but, you know, believing in gay marriage all along but felt for political reasons, America wasn't ready yet and you couldn't say it. That's what I was thinking.

CLINTON: No, that - no. That is not true.


CLINTON: I did not grow up even imagining gay marriage and I don't think you probably did either. This was an incredibly new and important idea that people on the front lines of the gay rights movement began to talk about and slowly but surely convinced others of the rightness of that position and when I was ready to say what I said, I said it.

HOBSON: Wow. And a lot more where that came from, by the way, for listeners who haven't heard the whole interview - they should. Jay Newton-Small what you make of that?

NEWTON-SMALL: Well, she's certainly, I think, the happiest person this week about Eric Cantor's news because it kind of bounced her off the front page in a really bad time for her, you know, between the sort of remarks on gay marriage to NPR and then also her houses, you know, like, she was so in debt, poor me - broke Hillary Clinton. So, I mean, the book tour - look, she's going to sell a ton of books. She's raising her profile. She's doing what she needs to. But I think it's better for her if she kind of wants to keep a lower profile from here on in.

HOBSON: David, real quick, your thoughts?

SHEPARDSON: Well, gay marriage is going to be a big issue in the presidential primary. You know, there are other candidates potentially who could get into the wings and argue that, you know, she was not forceful enough. She didn't come out, you know, while secretary of state after President Obama endorsed gay marriage. And it reflects, hey this is not going to go away. She's going to have to address it again.

HOBSON: David Shepardson, the Washington bureau chief for the Detroit News, and Jay Newton-Small, congressional reporter for Time magazine. Thanks both of you for helping us wrap up this week.


SHEPARDSON: Thanks a lot.

HOBSON: This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.