The New York Times’ Michael Shear joined me in the second segment of Friday’s show to talk about president’s and Hillary’s big news days:
HH: I am joined now by the White House correspondent, Michael Shear. Michael, I know you’re used to a long history of Friday news dumps, right? You are just, this is nothing new. But today was sort of a Friday news avalanche. And the Shinseki resignation, Jay Carney calling it quits, the President going over to FEMA and saying everyone ought to get ready for hurricanes. It’s an unusual day. What do you put it down to?
MS: Well, part of it’s just, you know, the schedule. I think you know, whenever the President goes overseas, which he’s leaving on Monday night to go back to Europe to deal with Ukraine and all those issues, there is a kind of tendency that stuff that hasn’t got done gets kind of crammed up before, because they don’t want to let it linger. And they sort of have to get it done before he leaves. So some of it is that, but you know, look, I mean frankly, it’s just this is part of what this administration does, is that when there’s news that it particularly doesn’t want to highlight or whatever, Fridays tend to be the day.
HH: Now let’s talk a little bit about Shinseki first, General Shinseki, Secretary Shinseki stepping down today.
HH: The only guy left in town who may not know that is Mark Pryor of Arkansas, who was still defending him late last night. I was getting tweets from Mark Pryor’s deputy campaign manager defending Mark Pryor’s defense of Eric Shinseki, even when the writing was on the wall.
HH: But when the President said systemic, that tells me we’re going to have quite the long Federal Bureau of Investigation investigation, aren’t we, Michael Shear?
MS: I think there’s going to be several tracks to this. I think there will be, there will continue to be an investigatory track, and I think you know, you heard the President talk about the Justice Department. I think there will be a kind of criminal piece of that, whether it’s the FBI or it’s some other agency that has that kind of power, but I think there will be that. I think there will be the sort of try to fix it track, which you know, will probably take years, if not decades, to try to like get this thing fixed. And then I think there will be the political track, which is the Congressional v. President, and the stuff that plays out on the campaign trail.
HH: Now here’s the meta takeaway from this. The President went over to FEMA today, and Mark Knoller reported this, that he urged all Americans to prepare for hurricane season and other emergencies by visiting Ready.gov.
HH: And yesterday, he was talking about concussions. Well if the President who campaigned on reforming the VA can’t reform the VA, but in fact allows systemic corruption and malfeasance to spread, and if the President who promised Obamacare can’t get the machines to work on the first day, and can’t get the enrollment numbers up, it’s been a bad…and the West Point speech, would you agree, Michael Shear, was widely panned?
MS: I think it was. It didn’t get high marks in a lot of quarters.
HH: So he may be at the low point of his five and a half years. How does he get out of this trough? And it’s summertime, when it’s very hard to get anything done.
MS: Yeah, look, I think politically, he’s in not a great spot. The polls, you know, tell you that, where his ratings are at the low point, or at least near the low point of where he’s been, and I do think that one of the dangers for any president, and this one has found that it’s true, is when things start piling up, right? It’s not the individual incident that begins to set the narrative, but it’s the compilation. George Bush went through this where Katrina happened, but it was Katrina on top of the economy on top of a couple of other things that sort of all, sort of added on top of the war, and people being upset about the war. There comes a point where it’s just, it all piles up on top of a president, and they can’t sort of dig their way out of it. Now can he? He’s got two and a half years left, Obama does. You know, I mean, in theory, he can, and the people in the White House would say he can, but it’s a lot to face.
HH: Is Jay Carney’s departure at all connected to this bleakness, political bleakness, do you think?
MS: You know, I don’t think so. I don’t claim to have any real special knowledge of his reasons.
HH: Is he a friend of yours, Michael?
HH: Is he a good friend of yours?
MS: I would not describe Jay as a good friend of mine. I didn’t know him before I started covering the White House. He wasn’t somebody that I knew in the press corps.
MS: But I certainly have been friendly with him over the last three years, as friendly as reporters and White House people get. But look, I mean, here’s the thing. Anybody in those jobs, you know, they have a decision to make when it comes to about this point in the administration, and the decision is I’m either at this point going to stay the full time, right? I’m going to be here at the bitter end, and I’m going to turn the lights out at the end of 2016. Or I’m going to try to get out pretty soon, you know, and let somebody else have the last couple of years. And you know, there had been, there had certainly been kind of murmurs around the White House for the last several months, I wonder when Jay’s going to leave? He’s been here three years. Did I know that he was going to do it today? No. Was I really that surprised that he would leave? Not very. I mean, I think these jobs burn you out, and I suspect that three years is probably enough for anybody.
HH: And I suspect as well, the last year, his credibility is in tatters. He’s gotten down to kind of Ron Ziegler kind of land in making astonishing, the Benghazi memo that was released wasn’t a Benghazi memo, stuff that you just don’t want to have to say. But I wonder, has he put America permanently on guard against the White House Press Corps, of which he was a part, then going over and actually being political? Did he damage your business?
MS: I don’t know, look, I don’t know that he damaged it. I think that I was brought up in a very traditional way to feel like you know, there’s a really, really big wall between those two, those two professions, and that you know, you could be one or you can be the other and not both. So I’m always a little bit wary of the idea that people go back and forth between the two, because it just seems to me that you know, you sort of cast your lot with one or the other. But having said that, look, there’s people that have had real success, and you know, he clearly decided that his career as a journalist was going to be over and he was going to do something different, and he did.
HH: All right, now I’ve got to finish by asking you about the Politico story today, the leak, the gift of the Hillary 36 pages…
HH: …in which she declares, in essence, she’s not going to answer questions on Benghazi, right? That’s the takeaway from that, isn’t it?
MS: Well look, I think what’s happening, what seems to be happening with her book is that you know, if we assume that she’s going to run for president, and I think most people do, that the book, as has been done in the past by previous presidents, is going to be a vehicle for setting out the kind of case that she’s going to make, both affirmatively for herself, and as a way of pushing back against the accusations of her political enemies. And clearly, that chapter, when you read the story of that chapter, it is entirely a sort of effort to say you know, to lay out her case in absolutely the most pro-Hillary way that you could lay it out, and say, you know, here’s why my critics are wrong, and here’s why I’m right. And I don’t think anybody should be surprised that that would be the kind of thing that she writes in her book.
HH: I’m not surprised. I’m just curious if you think it will hold. She writes that I will not be a part of a political slugfest. At the same time when she testified, she said it is our job to figure out what happened. Will journalists push her, Michael Shear, to find out what did she know and when did she know it, and what did she do, and when did she do it on the night of Benghazi? Will they demand the answers?
MS: I think, I can’t speak for all journalists. I think the New York Times and papers like ours who take these issues seriously have and will continue to push for the truth on a number of things. And the fact of Hillary’s running for president, which you know, is the foregone conclusion, but assume she does for a minute, will put all of those issues back on the table in a way. I mean, you’ve seen it before. Issues that were dormant for a while, you know, when a presidential candidate, or when a person is actually running for president, those issues come to the fore, and I guarantee you that those issues will come to the fore again if she runs.
HH: And there are still lots of questions to be answered. Do you agree with that?
MS: Well, I’m not sure and I would necessarily agree on all of the places where there are unanswered questions, but I do think that generally speaking, yes, there are unanswered questions. And you know, I think that newspapers play a role in trying to get to the bottom of it.
HH: I hope so. I hope so. Michael Shear of the New York Times, thank you.
Emd of interview.