3:45 P.M. EST
THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: Welcome to our second briefing of the day. Our next briefer will be John Fortier, who is the director of the Democracy Project at the Bipartisan Policy Center, and he’s also a congressional expert, and he’ll talk about our next Congress.
MR. FORTIER: Thank you. So, thank you for having me here. It’s nice to be here again on Election Day, and I want to say a few things about the electoral climate, the congressional elections, and then maybe we can even say a little bit about what this might all mean for the Congress coming up and what the difficulties of the new Congress working with the new president will be.
I don’t want to spend too much time on the presidential race, but I do want to think about a little bit the fundamentals of this race. One interesting point to note is that we’ve had three swing elections in a row, three elections with a pretty strong direction: 2006 for the Democrats in the midterm election, 2008 for Democrats both with Barack Obama but also with some significant congressional gains for Democrats, and then 2010 with a very big swing towards Republicans in the congressional elections. There will be a lean, there will be some winners tonight, but we won’t have a big direction. We don’t have a wave. We don’t expect either the presidency or the various houses of Congress to be affected by a strong move in one direction or the other.
And there’s some, I think, reason for that. We had times in the pre-2006 elections, from 1994 to 2004, where we had a lot of status quo elections, a lot of very close outcomes in Congress, a lot of very close presidential elections, and it was a time where we talked about America having a 50-50 breakdown, that America was half Republican, half Democrat. To oversimplify, we moved away from that a bit with George Bush becoming unpopular, Democrats doing quite well, the rise of Barack Obama, and then the reaction against Barack Obama in his first two years, in the midterm election. But I think in many ways we are returning back, at least for this election, to a very close election where there is not much direction.
I do think there’s a little bit of a direction, perhaps. I still don’t think we know who’s going to win the election for president tonight, but if you’d asked me about a week ago, I would’ve said it was very hard to tell that – the national polls favored Mitt Romney by just a little bit, and the state polls – there were certain key states like Ohio which Barack Obama had had a regular advantage in. Those sets of polls were actually slightly different in their assumptions of how many people were going to show up at the polls, how many Democrats, how many Republicans, what sort of enthusiasm there would be, and you could imagine making the argument that one was wrong, one was right, or that we would split the difference somewhere in the middle.
We haven’t moved a lot since that week ago, but we’ve probably moved a little bit with the national polls now slightly favoring the President. It’s still within the realm of possibility, certainly close enough in the margin of error for the Romney campaign to pull something out and to win this election, but I think it’s just a little less likely than we would have said about a week ago where we might have laid the odds closer to 50-50.
Is it surprising, though, that we’re close? No. And why? The underlying fundamentals of this election have pointed to a close election for a long time. If you look at the last year, there’s been a lot of stability. Yes, we remember the time where the President surged in the polls after the Democratic Convention for most of the month of September, the time where Mitt Romney surged back after the – October, the first debate, and more or less has stayed where he ended up after that debate. But if you go back to January and you look at the two big fundamentals underlying this election, which is true for the presidency and for the Congress, it is that the economy is in the middle. It’s not a great economy.
Most political scientists look for not really the state of the economy as much as the change, the growth in the economy in the year of the election, and there has been growth, there is not recession. On the other hand, it’s been kind of anemic growth, not good growth, not maybe good enough growth. That points to kind of a resolve in the middle somewhere. And the President, the President himself, the people’s opinion of the President been around 48 percent job approval rating for most of the year. Some polls he’s up at 50 now, but he’s been a little bit below 50; that also points to a very close election. Typically you think the president’s going to get not too much more than his job approval rating. When we had presidents like President Bush at the end of his turn, he was in the 30s; Jimmy Carter, in the 30s. President Bush, when he was reelected in 2004, was just about 50 percent, maybe just a little bit below in some polls, around 50 percent.
And if you look at 2004, it looks a lot like today, perhaps even a little bit closer. Perhaps Barack Obama is not quite as far ahead in the national polls as George Bush was; just by a small margin he was ahead. But it looks a lot like 2004, which was an extremely close election. Bush won, but was decided by one state.
So point number one is really we have a close election, we have fundamentals being close, the table is balanced, the parties are pretty equal, and that’s going to affect the congressional elections as well. I think it’s possible that we will have, really, the ultimate status quo election. I wouldn’t have said that three or four months ago, where I think Republican chances to win the Senate were much better than they are today. But it is not inconceivable to imagine that the presidency ends up closely in Barack Obama’s hands, that the House of Representatives maybe doesn’t move at all – I think maybe a small Democratic gain of a few seats is a more likely scenario, but really very few, and not anywhere near a majority – and then ultimately the Senate, where it looked as if Republicans had some very good chances to make up some seats may end up with the exact same number of 53 Democrats, or people who caucus with the Democrats, and 47 Republicans. I think if not that, you’re going to end up with one seat closer than that, or one seat further away – a very, very close, similar election.
So we will have spent $6 billion and had lots of campaigning for two years, and the people might end up returning the exact formula that they’ve had for the past two years.
I guess I could say a little bit about some of – I don’t know, maybe I should save this for the questions – some of the particular races in the Senate and the House. But I guess I do want to say one way in which I think congressional elections will return a slightly different Congress. Even if the numbers look the same, even if Republicans have about the same number in the House, Republicans have the same number in the Senate, Democrats the same, the types of people there and the breakdown of who’s who in the House and Senate I think will be a little different. And that – I want to give you just the two-minute longer political party history lesson that you probably all know, that is that our American political parties today are very polarized. And you see this especially in the House and the Senate, where every voting study shows that the most conservative Democrat is to the left of the most liberal Republican. The parties look like two teams in different parts of the field when you look at their voting patterns.
That was not always the case. We had a party system that lasted for most of the 20th century where the parties were more coalitional; they overlapped a bit more. The Democratic Party was, for many years, the majority party, really, from 1930 or so to 1994, where they controlled the Congress in all but four years, the House of Representatives in all but four years. They controlled the House of Representatives for 40 years, from 1954 to 1994. But that party, which was a majority party, was a very funny party. It had a left wing, which was the bigger part, but then it had a very right, conservative wing in the south. And so the Democratic Party, if you looked at it on a football field, might have a lot of its team down here, but some of its team actually over the 50-yard line in the other teams’ territory. And the Republican Party also had more diversity, more Rockefeller Republicans in the northeast, liberal Republicans which don’t exist as much today.
To give you one illustration, that certainly was the case in the 1950s and ‘60s and ‘70s where you had some very conservative Democrats sometimes in Congress blocking other Democrats’ programs, blocking the programs of their own president. But even by the time we got to 1992 or 3, you still had a lot of Democrats who would be able to win in more conservative seats. And I think this is where you’re going to see the difference in this coming Congress. It used to be that a Democrat, especially Democrats, could win seats that were pretty Republican in the presidential election. We did a study recently where we looked at seats that were 10 points or more for the one party or the other, so a seat that’s very Republican, a Republican president would win 55 to 45. And then we tried to figure out how many Democrats in Congress could actually win in that same district. And again, 20 years ago, there were a lot of them. There were 93 Democrats who held districts that didn’t look like themselves, held Republican districts. If you think of it this way, they might have been Alabama Democrats who said, “I know what it means to be an Alabama Democrat. We’re more conservative. We have policies here. I’m nothing like Michael Dukakis, the Massachusetts nominee or like John Kerry. I’m different from my national party, and I can win by talking about issues that matter to my constituents, to Alabama Democrats.”
Those people, 93 of them in 2000 – I’m sorry, in 1993, have dwindled and dwindled and dwindled. And in the last election in 2010, you saw Republicans win a lot of seats, but they didn’t win so many very Democratic seats. They won back a lot of seats that maybe they should have had all along, very Republican conservative-leaning districts that Democrats had held. And so today, that 93 number has come down to nine – nine Democrats who sit in Republican seats. And if you look at those nine, you realize five of them are not going to be back because they have retired or they have lost in primaries, and there could be a couple other people added. But the number of those people who are left are going to be very small, three to five. On the Republican side, that number never was as big, but it was 10 or so back in – 20 years ago, and it’s down to two today, might be as low as zero, somewhere between zero and two after this election.
The simple way of looking at it is the numbers may be the same in the House and the Senate, but you have a lot fewer people who are in the middle, people who are representing districts that don’t look like themselves. The realignment has become almost perfect so that the parties are – even though they’ve been polarized, perhaps will be even a little bit more polarized and little left for the middle.
I won’t go through all of the issues that our new Congress will face, but will just say that if we have a divided Congress – one party controlling the Senate, one party controlling the House, a presidency which I – again, I think Mitt Romney could win, so I’m not for sure that the President will win, but if it’s the same president or even if it’s Mitt Romney, either way there will be divided government. I think maybe Mitt Romney six months ago thought he would win the Senate and might have control of it all, but certainly won’t, even if he’s president today.
That’s a difficult environment to deal with our very difficult long-term fiscal problems, but also the so-called fiscal cliff, which all of you have heard about, the set of tax cuts that will expire – the Bush tax cuts, payroll tax cut, other sort of tax cut extenders, as well as some automatic spending cuts that will just kick in or expire, depending on what it is, around the 1st of the year. And those are very difficult matters to deal with. Both sides have very different ideas of what to do, the President and Democrats wanting to at least allow some of the tax cuts on wealthier individuals to expire, to have revenues as part of the equation, perhaps a little less excited about cutting entitlements, and Republicans really thinking you have to move in a direction where you have primarily the spending cuts for the future rely on cuts of spending, not revenues, and perhaps more aggressive cuts in the entitlement area.
So I think it’s not a hopeless situation by any means, but it’s a difficult situation, and one that a new Congress, which is divided – both sides will claim that they’ve been reelected – you’ll have perhaps at least some replay of the many, many times that we have in the last two years seen a clash over budgets, over the debt ceiling, over various deadlines, and then ultimately a small solution which pushes things down the road a bit and we face it again. We’re hopeful that the parties will come together and say, “We need to do something. We’re divided. Let’s do a bigger deal.” But that’s a very difficult matter. We’ve tried to do that before and it’s – I’m not absolutely predicting it. I’m not ruling it out, but I’m not absolutely predicting it.
So I think the simple answer is a relatively status quo election in the Congress, a close presidential election with Barack Obama slightly favored, a very difficult set of fiscal challenges ahead for a Congress that is, in a way, the same, but perhaps even more polarized and more difficult to deal with our significant problems.
So I now – I definitely want to get your questions so I can say more about some specific races, but I think I will leave it there for you to ask me.
MODERATOR: Any questions? No?
QUESTION: I’m Yashwan Trajan (ph), Hindustan Times, India. My question – I asked the earlier briefer also this – what do you see – if Obama wins, what kind of relationship will he have with the House? The Senate is cool, okay. Will be it easier this time for him than the first term, or is it going to be as difficult? And how do you see Romney really connecting with the House, same House? Will he have a better time? Because the Republicans will be in charge of the House and the Senate, of course, will be with the Democrats. Thank you.
MR. FORTIER: It’s a good question. I mean, one answer might be that all the players are the same and we’ll have a similar set of circumstances for – if the President is reelected. I am not absolutely certain that all of the leaders will be back in Congress, but I think it’s a little more of a question whether the minority leaders will be back. I think it’s pretty clear that John Boehner will stay as Speaker and that Harry Reid will stay as Majority Leader.
So I think the relationships are somewhat difficult. Look, we’ve faced, in a way, some of these issues of the fiscal cliff before, in that the President, when he ran in 2008, thought that the tax cuts should expire for the wealthy. Could have moved early with his party being in control to make that happen; chose not to because the economy wasn’t very good. Why raise taxes even on the wealthy when the economy isn’t good? Why have that fight when you want to do other things?
2010, of course, that’s when the tax cuts were originally supposed to expire, or at least one portion of them, and they pushed things down the road again because, well, it’d have been a good win for Republicans. And while the President I don’t think conceded a lot to the Republicans, he wasn’t willing to make that battle. They wanted to find a way to patch things up. They passed this payroll tax cut, they extended the tax cuts, they went on their way and had some significant effects on the economy without really dealing with the spending issues.
I think the President and Democrats feel that they will be in a stronger position to allow the tax cuts as a whole to expire and to blame Republicans if they do not reenact just the middle class tax cuts. They’ll say it’s – Republicans want only – want to cut taxes for the rich and Democrats are happy to have that fight. I think it’s a bit unpredictable, though, because while they may believe that, it is true that people are likely to return Congress to Republican hands, and a pretty big margin as well. And that battle is not exactly the most predictable battle to figure out who the people will blame. Will they blame the President for having a big tax cut – a hike on everyone because he was unwilling to compromise? Or will they blame Republicans for the same thing because they were unable to agree to just the part that Obama wants – to raise taxes on the rich?
So I think there will be a lot of talk about wanting to cooperate. I think there are some opportunities to cooperate. But I think there will be some confidence that winning the election means that Democrats at least will have that in their back pocket, the ability to let some of this expire, and that will put them in sort of a tougher negotiating position rather than a conciliatory position at first.
The other thing I think – if we’re not going to the brink, if we’re not really going to have a big confrontation right away, we might just delay things a bit. We certainly are very good at that, pushing things down the road, but if the parties did feel like they could work something out, I think it’s almost certain that they will have to push things down the road a little bit. That actually might be a good sign that we could get something done this time. Sometimes it’s a sign we don’t – we aren’t going to do anything. But if we were to give ourselves a little time to figure out some very difficult solutions to what might be a compromise on these things, I think that’s probably positive.
If the President and Congress both feel like they’re going to go to a confrontation, then I think we won’t have that extension and we’ll go and let – at least let part of these – the tax cuts, at least, and other things expire. And that will be the biggest, toughest situation, though I think – although I think there are some who think that that’s not as bad as it seems, right? That used to be – thinking that was the absolute disaster. Now I think some think they’ll be willing to deal with that – win the politics or perhaps even wait out the economic consequences, which will be significant for the year, but maybe in the long run wouldn’t be as bad. So I think it depends a little bit on – I think the stance is not going to be so conciliatory. I think it’ll be partially conciliatory, but at the end of the day, the parties don’t agree very well on these things.
QUESTION: Thank you. Hi. I’m Celia La Runio (ph) from Reforma newspaper, Mexico City. I have two questions. The first one: I don’t understand very well – why is the House of Representatives going to stay more or less the same? I understand there is a reelection of a lot of congressmen now, so why is that? I mean, they are sure or you are sure that they are going to win, basically, their reelection? That would be my first question.
And my second question is: How do you explain this polarization between the two parties? I mean, you said, like, for a long, long time in the United States, we didn’t see this going on. But now from some years to now, we see, like, opposite parties, totally opposite parties. How can you explain that? Thank you.
MR. FORTIER: They’re good questions and they’re big questions, I guess. So why do I think that the House of Representatives is not going to go? I mean, I feel pretty confident about that, so I – first of all, the Republicans have a good-size majority. They – the Democrats would need 25 seats to change back to Democratic control. We are not likely to see a wave. People often will exaggerate the win. If President Obama wins, they’ll say, “Well, President Obama won. It was a big election. A lot of people voted. It was important.” And yet if he wins by a percent or a percent and a half, that’s not a big swing of the country. It’s lots of people from both sides showing up with a solid but narrow victory. If you remember in 2004, there were a lot of Republicans going around saying this is the beginning of the new Republican era; George Bush was reelected in a high turnout election when Democrats really wanted to get them, even gained a few seats in the House and the Senate. But if you looked at the election, you realize he won by a little over 2 points, 2 to 2.5 points. That’s a pretty close election in our politics, and it doesn’t really portend a big swing in one direction or the other. So I think there was not much of a swing.
There also is the question of are people safe in their seats. Obviously, the answer is yes, many members of Congress are very safe in their seats. We’re not talking about the entire Congress being up for grabs. Many people are in seats that are safely Republican, 60, 65, 70 percent Republican districts. Same thing on the Democratic side. We’re talking about a universe of seats in the middle. And it’s true always that incumbents have some advantages, but in an election where it doesn’t swing very much, you’re really talking about, again, probably the narrowest of seats. And as I said before, interestingly, we used to have people before in the quote/unquote, the wrong seats, right, people who represented Democratic areas and were Republican and vice versa. Because we don’t have so many of those anymore, there aren’t as many targets for people who are really out of step with their party.
So now some of that has been reinforced by the fact that we’ve had redistricting. We had a census and we changed our districts, and in most states that’s done by a political process. The people in charge of the Senate and the House and the governorship of the state redraw the lines. That means politics comes into play. Interestingly, Republicans had a lot of places they controlled the redistricting this time. They did also in 2000, not as many as in 2010 but still a lot, the majority. And the difference is in 2010 – I’m sorry – in 2000, Republicans had the opportunity to actually get some gains out of redistricting, because they would – they got ahead or they controlled the process in states where they didn’t have as many members of Congress. They increased the Pennsylvania delegation from a minority of them to a majority.
What happened here is lots and lots of Republicans controlled states that did redistricting, but they were in the places that Republicans already had control. So states like Mississippi where they have three Republican seats and one Democratic seat and very, very large majorities that they can’t expand. And so what they often did was to shore up their incumbents, make them safer, make their own people safer. And so I mean, one interesting fact is the Tea Party, which we don’t talk about as much, but a lot of Tea Party members came in in 2010. Most of them are not in trouble. They’re – some people say, well, they’re too far out of mainstream, but they’re in Republican districts, they’re in safe districts. The people in trouble are really some of the moderates or people in very competitive moderate districts. There are some exceptions to that, but lots and lots of the extremes, the left and the right, are going to be reelected. There are a few people in the middle.
So there’s not as much competition. There’s not a direction to the election. There’s some safe seats, and all that adds up to, I think, I guess if I had to really predict, I’d say a few seat Democratic gain, probably less than five, but perhaps even nothing or a Republican gain of a few.
What caused polarization? That’s a big debate in political science, how it came about. There are a number of factors. I think the biggest thing is this realignment of the country. As much as we don’t think about it as much anymore because it’s nearly done, the South was this Democratic conservative region. And it was kind of funny that the party had a really strong conservative base in the South and a progressive base everywhere else, and eventually that started to change as politics became more nationalized. And it started at the highest levels of the presidency, where Republicans sort of started to be able to be competitive in the South for the presidency, and then the state senator and Senate and governors level, representative, and finally lastly at the local or state legislative level, where you see almost all of the states have now kind of changed their state legislatures to become Republican in the South. Arkansas is the one exception. It might change this election.
There are some other factors people point to. Some people point to redistricting. I actually think it has a small effect, but most political scientists don’t think it’s the main thing. Yes, we can draw our lines a certain way, but there’s actually a lot of polarization out there in the country. People tend to marry people that are like them politically, live with people in neighborhoods that are like them, so even just the patterns of people living and where they locate themselves have become more polarized across the country.
So a number – I think the primary process – I’ll throw that out there. The primary process tends to draw people to the right on the Republican side and to the left on the Democratic side. Hard to win a primary as a moderate. So there are a number of factors, but I think the biggest one is that we’ve seen this 60- or 70-year change where slowly the South has transformed from a very conservative Democratic region to a conservative Republican region for the most part, and the Northeast a smaller transformation that has gone from a kind of more mixed region to a strongly liberal Democratic region.
QUESTION: Thank you. Jose Carreno (ph) with Excelsior, Mexico. I have doubts. I mean, both the Republicans and the Democrats in the Congress are starting to behave more like a bloc than as political parties. So my question would be how much, how faithful, let me use the word, would they be to a Romney agenda or to an Obama agenda, knowing that none of them have the real coattails that drag them in in Congress. And so – and following this logic, how much do you think that Mann and Ornstein will be writing a book called, “It was Worse and it was Worser”?
MR. FORTIER: Mann and Ornstein are longtime colleagues of mine, and I like them very much. It’s a good question and I actually didn’t answer the earlier question about how Romney would work with Congress, so maybe I’ll get to that now. I think the Republicans now have some problems holding their bloc together, but my sense is it’s a fairly minor problem compared to how they would have to do it in the majority. If you think about the House of Representatives now, well, what are they doing other than blocking the President? They’re not going to get anything done. What might have been difficult had Romney – I think Romney’s chances of winning are probably better than the Romney’s chances of winning the Senate these days.
But if Romney had won and the Republicans had been able to win the Senate even by a narrow margin, you can imagine through some of the processes we have that don’t require a supermajority, the Republicans would try to govern basically on their own without Democrats. You wouldn’t have very much margin in the Senate, almost none, but even in the House I think there would have been the real question of how do you hold together this coalition. Sometimes teamwork causes people to be more willing to work and moderate their differences.
I mean, I think George W. Bush actually had Congress – they didn’t always like his ideas as Republicans but sort of worked with him because they needed to win. But I think it would have been difficult. I think the two difficulties would have been holding that coalition together and then also the math of how to do big fiscal things with only cuts and not tax revenues. They might have run up against a wall and said we can only do so much or we actually have to raise some taxes. So I do think that there are some factions in the Republican Party, but I also think that there’s actually more uniformity in the Republican Party than there used to be. I mean, in terms of the voting positions, I think it’s not so different as much as the attitude. There is an attitude of a group of Republicans that they aren’t here to compromise and that they really want to be oppositional, to be a way of putting it.
And – but at the end of the day, I think they would unite under a sort of larger plan to really cut spending. I think that would be something that would unite them. It just – it would be very hard to do. So I do think that it’s very hard to imagine Congress functioning in a very good way. My one difference with Ornstein and Mann is they see it strongly on the Republican side, this polarization; they don’t see it as much in the Democratic side. The case I just made to you is I think the Democratic side has also become very polarized. It’s just a little bit lagging behind the Republicans. All of these many Democrats who used to be from Republican districts are now essentially gone. The caucuses become much more liberal, and I think it’s going to be hard for them to work together.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) of the World Journal. You say the Tea Party members are safe, and could you talk about the Michele Bachmann case? And also what do we expect during the lame duck session whoever wins the election? And why do we see so many voter ID laws? Is that a Republican conspiracy?
MR. FORTIER: All right. Tea Party, lame duck, and voter ID. The – I don’t think all the Tea Party members are safe, but I think given the thought that, well, this wave washed all these people in, they were – and of course, not all the Republicans who came in were identified with the Tea Party, but of course it was a strong theme of the election. A lot of people actually identified with the Tea Party. But the idea that a strong wave would come in, and of course, now that we’ve returned to normal, a lot of them would wash out. And the simplest answer is most of them are in pretty safe seats. I mean, I think Michele Bachmann is going to be okay. She’s in a state that’s not particularly conservative, but Minnesota is an interesting place where you can get the extremes. It’s a slightly Democratic state. In the presidential election, I think President Obama is going to win that state. But you have at times had very Republican senators and very conservative senators and very liberal senators.
At the same time, it’s not as if a lot of people in Minnesota in the middle, as much as there’s a pretty strong conservative bloc as well as a slightly larger liberal bloc. And there’s an independent movement there, too. I think it’s a little closer than maybe she would like, and her district isn’t overwhelmingly Republican. But it’s Republican enough, and I think she’s likely to make it. I mean, there were some questions about people like Allen West in Florida whose district is a lot more competitive. The few Tea Party people who are in really competitive districts, I think they will have some problems.
But I’m struck by the people who are most likely to lose on the Republican side are some of the moderates. The moderates in – some of them are moderate in Illinois, some of them are Tea Party, but a big redistricting by Democrats have really put a number of Democrats – Republicans on their heels in Illinois. The new lines in California drawn by a commission, not by politicians are putting some of the most moderate Republicans – Dan Lungren and others – in tough spots and also in some other places in upstate New York and New Hampshire where moderates in competitive districts are having the hardest time. So I think there will be incumbents who will lose. A lot of them, I think, will be these moderates in competitive districts. Some of them will be some conservatives who maybe made some mistakes. But the idea that this will be sort of a repudiation of the Tea Party, I think that’s not true, that both the weight is not there, but also the people are not in the right places to get knocked out. And I think Michele Bachmann will be back.
The lame duck – well, I tried to talk about that before. I really don’t know what’s going to happen. I guess I am of the view that in some ways, if we really are going to be more productive and get something done, we may find the lame duck is really a time to start thinking about a deal and figuring out a way to delay everything a little bit so that you can really work on the deal. If it looks like that the deal isn’t going to happen or the sides are really at odds with each other, then maybe the lame duck just reinforces in some people’s minds the idea that we go up to the fiscal cliff and let it happen. I mean, I hope that doesn’t happen. That’s not my preferred solution. But there may be some people who think, well, it would be better to just, as they say, let it rip, let it happen, and then have to fix it afterwards.
And I’m not positive how that’s going to go, but I think that it’s too difficult to expect that we are going to resolve all of the issues in this so-called fiscal cliff package in the lame duck itself. It’s too complicated to do the math and to do all the programs. It’s also too complicated to craft some majorities. But it might be possible to start laying the groundwork for it, get some ideas of how to go forward, and put an extension, maybe with some teeth in it that force some action in a few months or allow easier action. Again, the super committee didn’t work very well, but something like that that allows a kind of easier path to getting this thing done. But I don’t think it’s going to be we all work together and get it all done in the lame duck. It’s too short a time, and the differences are too big.
Voter ID – well, I don’t know if it’s a Republican conspiracy. I wouldn’t call it a conspiracy, but I do think it’s – Republicans and Democrats have different ideas of what to do about the problems with our elections. And to oversimplify, Republicans are worried about voter integrity and the messiness of the system and fraud, and Democrats are worried about access and obstacles to voting. And when one party takes control of a state, they think about their version of election reform. And so Republicans did very well in 2010. They won in a lot of states, a lot of conservative states that they just hadn’t held before had legislatures and governorships now where they could pass laws that were dealing with problems in the election system.
And I know there are a lot of arguments that, well, maybe voter ID isn’t a perfect solution for the type of fraud that might be committed. I think that’s probably true. I think there’s a place for voter ID, so I’m not against it. But I also just think that it’s the sense of Republican voters that the problems are really about integrity. And actually, on this one, the public opinion is broadly with the Republicans. Elite opinion has been very against voter ID, but general public opinion, you could say maybe it’s not informed, has been 65-75 percent in favor of the general principle of voter ID laws.
In practice, most of these laws have been held up by the courts, so they’re not in place. I think they will be in place for the next election; I think they’re just on hold. I think the Supreme Court is basically going to reaffirm them. They reaffirmed a similar law in Indiana after – before the election’s been in place, since before 2008, as well as in Georgia. So I think it’s just a matter of time before something like that gets done. At the end of the day, I think you can do both. You can do something about access and integrity – we have both problems in our system. But it’s a more Republican idea, but I don’t think it’s an unworkable idea. And I think practically speaking it’s not going to matter that much this election, but it will be in place probably for the 2014 elections.
QUESTION: Shed some light on the future relationship between Paul Ryan and John Boehner should Paul Ryan go back to the House.
MR. FORTIER: That’s a good question. I mean, I think Paul Ryan will – losing will not make Paul Ryan a – kill his future. I think he still has a pretty good future and will be prominent in the House and prominent in our budget and fiscal debates. I assume he’ll run for president. So he’ll – that’s always a tricky thing, and leaders will look out for that. I’m not sure that John Boehner is looking to thwart that. There’s nothing that John Boehner has against Paul Ryan, and a lot of people like Paul Ryan. So I don’t think they will hamper him from doing his job in the House and then ultimately running for president.
But I do think you’ll see a number of candidates come forward. And Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan and some others will be high on the list, and I think a lot of Republicans sort of like the younger bench, the slightly younger new members of Congress who – they’re conservative and they’re Tea Party-like, but they’re not bomb throwers, and I think that an interesting potential race between Romney, Rubio, and a few others jumping in, would be – I think a lot of Republicans would like them. So I don’t think John Boehner’s going to stand in the way of Paul Ryan, but it will be interesting to see who else gets the race.
QUESTION: Uds Slabia (ph), Slovakian Radio. If the differences between the President and Congress continue, I have heard some statements that this is one of the major challenges for national security of United States. Do you see other spheres, except economics, where these challenges will remain in this case?
MR. FORTIER: Do you mean other – just other differences in other parts of policy? Or will it have greater effects than just on that?
QUESTION: Well, probably which are these spheres where are the biggest differences? And how can they evolve in the future?
MR. FORTIER: Right. Well, I mean, I do think the biggest problem – and in a way, the biggest differences of philosophy – are about the fiscal issues, so I’m not surprised that that’s what we’ve been, in a way, arguing about. I mean, it is in the background the idea that while we have these big differences about the size of government and revenues and programs, but we also really need to get the economy moving, right? That’s what Mitt Romney’s talking about more so than he’s talking about some of the budget plans. So sometimes those views get tempered by that a little bit, and the easiest way that the parties have done that so far is to just sort of allow the tax cuts to keep going on because they’re stimulative.
Do I think they will – or is there – are there other areas that the parties disagree on? Yes. I mean, I think absolutely – I mean, immigration reform is one area where the President has talked about it, the past President has talked about it, and it’s a complicated issue because it’s a – at one time a policy issue, but it’s also seen a political issue. I think the politics have shifted some. If over the years – 10-15 years ago you would have said, well, both parties have some parts of their parties that are kind of against immigration reform or against immigration. Democrats with more unions and Republicans had significant worries about immigration. But it shifted some. Both parties still have some wings that are different than this, but the Democratic Party has become much more supportive of immigration. You have not only a larger Hispanic population, but Hispanic unions and others which are more supportive. And Republicans have a wing of their party – George Bush, and Karl Rove, and John McCain – who are kind of pro-immigration, but I think you’d say the majority of the party is skeptical of it.
And so I think that’s a hard deal to cut. They disagree on this, but it’s also one that I think the President has used sometimes to his advantage to say, look, I know there’s a growing group of Hispanic voters in the country and I want to appeal to them, and so I’ll make this both a policy thing I agree with, but also kind of a political tool to help them. And so I think that’s a very difficult issue one we’ll have to deal with, but one that’s become even more politicized. So I think it’s a hard thing to imagine both parties coming together. But there are a whole bunch of other things, too.
I mean, on foreign policy there’s actually been some more agreement between the parties this time. More people like the President’s views on foreign policy – or his actions on foreign policy – than they do on the economic front. We’re probably not – while we have a lot of things going on in the world, and don’t get me wrong, it’s not in a way – we may not be arguing about quite as controversial things in the next four years as we were at least in the 2000s.
So but I’m not sure I see the great issue that they work together on. I mean, there’s some little issues that they – we’ve had some cases. Reagan in 1986 had tax reform with the Democrats. Bill Clinton and welfare reform. But it’s not obvious to me that there’s a great issue that, outside of the economic realm, which would kind of make everybody work together and then ultimately maybe help the relationship for other things.
MODERATOR: One last question.
QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Andres Ruzonski (ph). I’m with ITAR-TASS News Agency of Russia. Thank you for doing this. I have a rather technical question: You said that Democrats will need to get 25 – I think – additional seats – right – to take over the House, and which is highly unlikely. And the magic number is, if I’m not mistaken, 218. Is that correct? How many seats do they have now in the House?
MR. FORTIER: Well, I’ll have to go do the math again, but, if I’m not mistaken, the Republicans have 242. There may be some – I’m trying to remember if there’s a vacancy or not – but 242 or so. So a – oh, no – the Republicans have 242. Democrats have 193. But I’m doing the math based on my 25 number, so I’d have to go back and look that up for sure, but I think that’s right because I don’t think we have any vacancies. So 25 seats would be what we need for the majority. And that’s a good sized majority. Democrats had a good sized majority in – after the 2008 election, especially 2006, in 2008.
On those years between 1994 and 2004, Republicans – their first wave when they came in with Gingrich had a smaller majority than that – in the 230s – but they quickly dropped down and we had many elections where they had a six or eight-seat majority. So it was – it’s been a lot closer than that. In our polarized world, it’s a good sized majority. We don’t expect anybody to have 100-seat majorities anymore, given how our parties are pretty closely matched in their – in the right seats.
But it’s a fair amount, which would probably take an election that has a little bit of more of a direction than this election. This election won’t have a big direction to it. A midterm election with a big direction might do it, but remember midterm elections very strongly tend to go against the president. No president has won a big midterm election – basically they don’t win seats at all in midterm elections. So if Obama is reelected, it’s very unlikely that he will end up with the majority at any time in his last four years.
MODERATOR: Our next to New York, please. Go ahead, New York.
QUESTION: Hello. My name is Louise Vitt (ph). I’m with the Daily Newspaper in Denmark. Back to the fiscal cliff one more time. We haven’t really seen the markets react in any substantial way yet. If the markets start reacting within the next few weeks, what’s the relationship between Congress and financial markets? Are they likely to listen and respond to that in any sort of serious way?
And secondly, about the Republican Party: If Mitt Romney loses today, what’s the likely lesson that the party’s going to take from this, in terms of going more ideological versus more centrist or moderate, do you think? Or what’s the battle that’s going to be in the party around that?
MR. FORTIER: Those are both very good questions, and my mother is from Denmark, so I’m happy to speak with you. The – I do think that, aside from the sort of hopelessness that I was portraying a bit, is that ultimately there may be some other forces that make both sides a little more serious about coming to the table. And that would be significant pressure from the business community or from the markets saying you really need to do something. I mean, we – you hate to think that there would have to be an absolute crisis, but of course when there was an absolute crisis in 2008, many people voted sometimes against their predilections. They did it because they felt like they absolutely needed to. There was an emergency. And while everybody knows these things are very important, they also sometimes think that their view is important and if you kick it down the road a little bit, you can just get to it later. And if the markets are really serious, and it’s hard to know how bad a reaction they have to have to make this happen, I do think it would put some more pressure on the sides to sit down and reach a deal.
Will that be the biggest deal in the world? I don’t know, but at least maybe a deal of some size that says it looks a little bit more like something real that took at least a bite out of the problem that solved things for a while rather than just a kind of patching over that got us to the next fight. So I think that is one place that we should watch, what happens with the markets and how seriously they react to inaction. I don’t know if that’s going to happen after the election, or if it’s going to happen in December, or when it might happen, but it’s a real possibility.
How will the Republicans react? Well, every party who loses the presidency reacts to it – recriminations around, everybody is to be blame, and there will be all sorts of view. The simple point is that these are not – our parties are not really organized parties, at least they’re not places where the party leaders or the club in the backroom can figure out who the next candidate will be. There will be a lot of different theories about this, and often one of the theories of losing is yes, you have to become more ideological, or maybe that you don’t have to become more ideological. Both will be said.
I do think, though, that Republicans have – well, they have two challenges. One, I think that they are reasonably happy with some of the younger leaders. If Mitt Romney loses, again, the Paul Ryans and the Marco Rubios of the world, and some other interesting figures, Chris Christie, and maybe – although maybe he’s not as popular with Republicans in the last week – or Bob McDonnell, who are new faces who Republicans kind of like. And they thought maybe they weren’t ready for primetime yet, but now they might be in the next round. So I think there’ll be some optimism.
I think the big question for Republicans will be what do they do about some demographic challenges that Republicans have. I think they – those problems are actually probably a little bit exaggerated by President Obama, who does so well in the African American community especially, that the next Democratic president won’t do as well as he will, so there may be even a little bit of slipping back of his coalition. But the direction of the demographics is against Republicans. The ability of Republicans to appeal to the Hispanic vote will matter, and trying to – right now, I think if Mitt Romney wins, he will win in a more traditional coalition, will get a very significant fraction of the white vote. I would watch what percentage he gets tonight. If he can get 60 percent or more, he will probably be in the game. But the next round will be more difficult to do that.
And so – and that’s why I think Marco Rubio – some people see some flaws in him, but Republicans are going to have a hard time sitting down and finding a immigration policy that they all like or that might appeal to Hispanics, but they have elected a number of prominent Hispanic leaders, and Marco Rubio is one who probably will throw his hat in the ring and might be part of that. You see a new Senator coming out of Texas; Ted Cruz will be there, and some prominent governors. I think that will be part of the discussion, but as much as they’ll be unhappy, I’m not sure you’re going to see a real – even somebody like Ron Paul’s son, Rand Paul, has tried to stay more in the Republican Party, he wants to make it more populous, more Tea Party, but isn’t looking to break away.
It will obviously not be a good conversation Republicans will have, but I think the mix of people they have is not – they won’t be looking for somebody who’s an older figure who they’re turning to who’s of a different era. They’ll be looking for this younger generation that they feel a little bit more comfortable with. And also you have to remember this: It’s far away. We talk about these things as if they’ll happen right away, but two more years before we actually start running. And again, the smoke-filled room doesn’t pick it. It’s the primaries, and so we really won’t know who that person is until we see you again here in 2015, or 16.
MODERATOR: Okay. Thank you very much.
MR. FORTIER: Thank you.
MODERATOR: If anybody would like to do one-on-ones, Mr. Fortier is available.
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