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Week In Politics: Parsing Election Results And Health Law Hitches


It's time for our regular Friday conversation with our political commentators, and we begin by talking about this apology last nigh -. President Obama apologizing to Americans who are losing their current health insurance despite his repeated promises that if people like their health care plan, they can keep it, period. Here he is on NBC News.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I am sorry that they, you know, are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me. We've got to work hard to make sure that they know we hear them, and that we're going to do everything we can to deal with folks who find themselves in a tough position as a consequence of this.

BLOCK: Now, to talk about that and more, I'm joined by David Brooks of the New York Times. And filling in for E.J. Dionne this week, Jonathan Capehart; he's on the Washington Post editorial board, and a contributor to MSNBC. Welcome to you both.

DAVID BROOKS: Good to be here.


BLOCK: David, let's start with you. There are accusations coming from Republicans that this was an outright, deliberate lie by the president, repeated many times over. How do you see the administration handling this?

BROOKS: Yeah, I'm not sure it was a deliberate lie. I'm not sure he understood what was going to happen to a lot of these people. It's interesting how they've shifted. The initial reaction was, well, there are going to be some winners and loser. There won't be so many losers. There'll be more winners. And so they were trying to weigh that balance. Now, if you heard the president last night, it's, well, we'll take care of the losers. So they're not trying to acknowledge - they not trying to - they're just trying to make everybody whole.

The problem with that is that you can't make everybody whole in this. There are some winners and losers. And to me, still the big outstanding problem that's just bubbling forward now, is the age skew of the people who are enrolling. Old people are enrolling; young people are not enrolling. And the danger with that is, the young people are actually losers. You've got to have money from young, relatively healthy people to subsidize the older and the people who are getting insurance. And so there are big losers in this law and somehow, the administration's going to have to deal with that. They can't make everybody whole.

BLOCK: Well, Jonathan, how do you see the administration dealing with that - if, in fact, they can?

CAPEHART: Well, look, I think the administration is hoping that young people are behaving the way young people behave, which is procrastinating; that they will push it till the very end of the enrollment period to jump into the pool, and provide the bodies - and also, the money, as David is bringing up - to pay for all of the older people who are in the system.

But, you know, the administration has a big problem here, and that is this perception that the Republicans, I believe have successfully made it seem like the president lied about health insurance overall rather than the president oversimplifying what would happen to a very narrow sliver of the insurance market.

BLOCK: We did hear the new adviser, Jeffrey Zeintz, today say the website is still a long way from where it needs to be. Do you think we're going to look at a delay of the individual mandate, maybe to take into account these procrastinators, Jonathan, that you're talking about?

CAPEHART: You know, I think the administration would love to not have to face that decision because that would hand - you know - their critics and Republicans yet another reason to hammer away at the administration, and at the president, to get him to delay everything and provide momentum to - at least, they would think - to repeal the law.

BLOCK: David, a delay of the individual mandate, what do you think?

BROOKS: It would be a massive capitulation for them to do that. I'm sure they're trying to do everything they can to avoid that. But clearly - and I think health care experts have been telling us this for, well, for at least a year, it's just hard to implement something so vast and so complicated without having a lot of mess, even if you do it well; and they're not doing it particularly well.

And so I think it's more or less inevitable for the next X number of months - and a good, long maybe 24 months - we're going to have a whole series of stories of different things that are problematic. And the storyline is now established that this is not being implemented well; everything's going to vindicate that storyline. It's going to be politically choppy.

Most of the experts I talk to do think that they'll eventually be able to hammer us out some workable solutions, but we're in for a bumpy, long period, and a politically perilous period for Democrats, as a result.

BLOCK: This was, of course, an election week in this off-off election year, and there were two big governors races - in New Jersey and Virginia. In New Jersey, of course, Chris Christie winning re-election by more than 20 points; and he gave a victory speech that if you popped in, in the middle, you might have thought, wait a minute, am I right in the middle of the 2016 presidential campaign? Here's a bit.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE: I know that tonight a dispirited America, angry with their dysfunctional government in Washington...


BLOCK: And that, as you're hearing, got a huge cheer from the crowd. He goes on to say people are looking to New Jersey, and saying - referring to his support in the election - is what I think happening, really happening?

CHRISTIE: Are we really, working African-Americans and Hispanics, suburbanites and city dwellers, farmers and teachers...

BLOCK: Jonathan Capehart, what do you think the message is from Christie's victory and what it propels him to, going forward?

CAPEHART: Well, the message from Chris Christie is, it was a big lecture to Washington, a big lecture to the Republican Party, in saying look, if you want to win, my fellow Republicans, you have to - as he said - go where it's not comfortable. You have to reach out to Latinos, African-Americans - he didn't say it, but also LGBT voters - if the Republican Party is to survive. The only problem is, the message that Chris Christie is delivering is something that the base of the Republican Party simply doesn't want to hear.

BLOCK: David Brooks, that's a message that sells maybe very well in a blue state like New Jersey, but exactly to Jonathan's point, that's not the population that votes in Republican primaries.

BROOKS: Yeah, but he is pretty conservative. You know, I'm so much looking forward to this campaign. The last campaign with Mitt Romney was like "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." It was just a boring campaign. This one, the - Chris Christie versus Rand Paul or Ted Cruz, that is a great debate; and that is the debate over the future of the Republican Party.

Christie has a bunch of things going for him. After storm Sandy, he proved that he was more loyal to New Jersey than to his party, and that's essential. People do not like people who are more loyal to the party than to anything else. Second, he is verbally tough to meet an angry, dispirited country but politically, a little more moderate. And that, to me, is a pretty good mixture that if he can survive the primaries, makes him a pretty plausible candidate.

BLOCK: That's a big if. Let's end by talking about New York City, which elected a new mayor. For the first time in 20 years, it's a Democrat leading that overwhelming Democratic city - Bill de Blasio, who promises to take New York on a progressive path. Jonathan, I want to start with you. You worked as a policy adviser to the current mayor - Republican, then independent Michael Bloomberg - on his first campaign. How different a path will Bill de Blasio be charting for New York?

CAPEHART: A very, very different path. As you said in your intro and during his campaign, he is a progressive. He is an unapologetic liberal, in a city that overwhelmingly went for his message. I think the problem - or the key for him is going to be trying to ensure that that progressive message doesn't lead to higher crime, which is something that a lot of people in New York City are worried about no matter their political persuasion. But also, what will that mean economically for the city? Will he be able to lead the city in the way that Mayor Bloomberg did, in the way that Mayor Giuliani did?

BLOCK: And very briefly, David Brooks?

BROOKS: I think he's the future of the Democratic Party. Inequality is a gigantic problem. They don't have big solutions. He offers a progressivism where the intellectual wing of the party is already there, the activist wing is already there. He's one of the first politicians to embody this. I think we're going to see a lot more like this.

BLOCK: OK, New York Times columnist David Brooks and Jonathan Capehart, with the Washington Post editorial board, thanks to you both. Have a great weekend.

CAPEHART: You, too.

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