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Week In Politics: Unemployment, Rand Paul's Filibuster


And now for some political reaction to those jobs numbers and other events of the week, we turn to columnist E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and the Brookings Institution. E.J., welcome back.

E.J. DIONNE: Good to be here.

BLOCK: And sitting in for David Brooks this week, we have Mary Kate Cary. She's a former speech writer for President George H.W. Bush, a columnist with U.S. News & World Report and she's also a regular political analyst on NPR's Tell Me More. Mary Kate, welcome to you.

MARY KATE CARY: Thank you.

BLOCK: Well, let's start with the jobs numbers. As we heard, the unemployment rate now at a 4-year low, 236,000 jobs added in February, quite a bit more than expected, yet the overall signs of the labor force shrink and we haven't yet seen the effects of the sequester. So Mary Kate, you first. Your read, are you popping champagne corks or are you pessimistic?

CARY: I think I'm somewhere in the middle. I think this is good news, but not great news. I'm hoping it continues and that we have many more months like this ahead of us. I certainly agree with some of the reports in the piece we just listened to that the jobs deficit is big and we've got a long way to go. But boy, if we could have more like this, I think everybody would be thrilled.

I think the uncertainty coming out of Washington is what's sort of stalling the jobs growth. So if this is a sign of better things to come in the housing markets or the consumer spending, I think that would be awesome.

BLOCK: And E.J., if something is working to get the economy back on track, what is it?

DIONNE: What is working in the economy is a natural comeback plus some effects of the policies we've been following. But I'm sort of worried about the long term effects because the good news is that at the current rate of job creation, we could go below 7 percent unemployment by the end of the year. That's still too high, but it's a lot better than we were.

The bad news is the sequester could stop that from happening. This jobs report does not obviously include the effects of the sequester and we've had this drag from constant layoffs from government cutbacks. Floyd Norris of the New York Times pointed out that for the 31st consecutive month, the number of government jobs was less than it had been in the previous year.

So we have pursued public policies that kind of hold the recovery back, but the private economy is really starting to roll.

BLOCK: I want to move on and talk about the renewed focus this week on the Obama administration's use of drone strikes. We saw Senator Rand Paul take the floor of the Senate on Wednesday. He held it for nearly 13 hours in an old fashioned talking filibuster.

SENATOR RAND PAUL: When I asked the president, can you kill an American on American soil, it should have been an easy answer. It's an easy question. It should have been a resounding and unequivocal no. The president's response, he hasn't killed anyone yet.

BLOCK: And Mary Kate, he did get that resounding no in a two-sentence letter yesterday from Attorney General Eric Holder. What are your thoughts on the Rand Paul filibuster?

CARY: To have a situation by the end of the week where you had both Charles Krauthammer and Eugene Robinson saying I want to stand with Rand...

BLOCK: Conservative and liberal columnists, yeah.

CARY: Quite a moment. And overall, I think, Rand Paul accomplished his goal. He asked a question. He got an answer to his question. He stood down. He voted for the nominee and it was a smart move. What was not so smart was Senator John McCain saying, really what this guy's doing is rabble-rousing the libertarian college kids in their pajamas in their dorm room.

And I think what Senator McCain forgot is that those college kids not only vote, they fight in wars. And so the Republican Party needs them to start voting for Republicans. So for him to have pointed that out, I thought, was a mistake. This is a big tent moment for the GOP in a lot of ways because I think what's starting to occur to certainly the younger wing of the party, is the Republican Party cannot be the party of war forever.

BLOCK: And maybe that's the beginning of that. It's interesting, Mary Kate is mentioning John McCain's criticism of Rand Paul. He was saying that the hypotheticals that he was putting there were in the realm of the ridiculous, a political stunt. Could you argue, though, that Rand Paul did, by highlighting this question of drones, draw attention to a really key issue to both parties?

DIONNE: Yes, that's exactly what I think. I think that on the one hand, there was some stuff he said that was simply outrageous. I mean, the notion that Barack Obama was somehow going to target with drones his political enemies in the United States, that's ridiculous.

But I think - I thought this was a great moment because you scrambled all the ideological categories. Here you had John McCain and Lindsey Graham in a very principled way standing up and defending Barack Obama. You had people like Gene Robinson and a lot of other liberals, who said, and this I personally agree with, however flawed Rand Paul was as a messenger, we need a debate about this. The administration has not been forthcoming enough about its drone policy.

And so I guess you could say Rand Paul did a useful thing in a fairly bad but still very effective way.

BLOCK: Yeah. We saw Jeb Bush this week, the former governor of Florida, get back in the spotlight. He's been promoting his new book, called "Immigration Wars." Let's listen to him on MORNING EDITION this week talking about whether undocumented workers here in the U.S. should be able to become citizens.

JEB BUSH: Over a period of time, they can have a legalized status that allows them to live a life of dignity but not necessarily a path to citizenship, so as to not create incentives for future people that aspire to come to our country to do so illegally when they could come legally.

BLOCK: And Mary Kate, it's really interesting to see the alignment after he said that because he later explained, well, you know, since I wrote the book, the political winds have changed. I'm actually - maybe I would be for citizenship if I were writing it now, a position that other Republicans like Marco Rubio have staked out. So where is the Republican Party right now, and where are these shifting sands heading?

CARY: Yeah, I think this is another one this week, sort of a big tent moment for the GOP again. This is a great beginning to I think what's going to be a three-year-long discussion about immigration policy. He is really working to build a consensus, and I think he will. When people started asking him about specifics, he said, look, I'm just writing a book, I'm not writing a law.

But Marco Rubio is writing a law, and so I think his sort of very consensus approach is going to be very useful. The most interesting thing I heard him say in an interview was that the GOP is being seen as stiff-arming immigrants in both policy and tone. And if we can stop the stiff-arming through some of the things he was talking about: social mobility, education reform, tax reform, in addition to immigration, that to me is a great governing coalition going forward.

BLOCK: Let me just follow up on that. You're talking about a big tent Republican Party. Does that party, if that is indeed where it's headed, reflect where the Republican base is on all these issues?

CARY: Not right now it doesn't. But he talked for example about the Asian vote and the Republicans losing the Asian vote 71 to 27 and that that to him is a real canary in the coal mine because those are people who are highly educated, entrepreneurial, socially conservative, should be Republicans in every other way, and why aren't they.

BLOCK: E.J., the last word.

DIONNE: You know, I actually think there are more Republicans than people realize who would be sympathetic to immigration reform in the rank and file. I think the lesson for Jeb Bush this week is politicians shouldn't write books with long lead times.


DIONNE: Because what you had here is Jeb Bush, when he wrote this, seemed sort of advanced, well, he's willing to say he's for immigration reform even though he's not for a path to citizenship. The book comes out, the party or at least parts of the party, including Marco Rubio, have already moved to endorse a path to citizenship.

John Kerry, accused of flip-flopping, probably smiled through all of this as he watched Jeb change his position, adjust it. But this is good news, I think, on the whole because what it shows is there is real movement in a positive direction on this issue.

BLOCK: Thanks to you both. Have a great weekend.

CARY: Thank you.

DIONNE: Good to be with you.

BLOCK: E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post, and Mary Kate Cary of U.S. News & World Report. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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