May 11th, 2014
07:04 PM ET
11 months ago

Political Chatter: All eyes on Putin, Clinton and Shinseki

(CNN) – Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to Crimea Friday in what many journalists and policymakers in Washington have dubbed a “victory lap” for the thrice-elected Soviet leader. But should the United States be doing more to sanction Putin for his aggression in the region?

On the eve of Ukraine’s election, journalists on Sunday focused whether the current steps taken by the White House are working to weaken Russia’s aggression in the region and what Putin’s march into Crimea could signify about what is next for Ukraine.

Washington influencers also discussed hot topics such as the Nigerian kidnappings, a reignited Benghazi debate on Capitol Hill, Monica Lewinsky’s new essay after 10 years of silence, and the bureaucratic backlog scandal that has many calling for the Veterans Affairs secretary to resign.

If you missed the Sunday political talk shows, we’ll get you up to speed on the latest events and opinion in Washington with this comprehensive roundup of all things political:

Foreign Policy:

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made an alarming statement about how the world views America’s foreign power. “There is a sense out here by some that somehow America’s powers are eroding or we’re not going to use it or we’re too timid about it. I don’t believe that. I think were wise about how we’ve used our power.”

Conservative political commentator Bill Kristol responded to Hagel’s comments on ABC’s “This Week” saying “it’s appalling” and “stunning” that there’s such a global perception. But the situation in Ukraine may further that notion, according to some lawmakers, who are urging the White House take a tougher stance on sanctions against Putin.

House Speaker John Boehner said that he believes the United States should be imposing heavier economic sanctions to prevent Russia from further interfering in Ukraine’s upcoming election. “We should go after their banks,” Boehner said on Fox News' "Sunday Morning Futures.”

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, echoed Boehner’s comments, telling MSNBC: “The international community and the United States should do everything we can to make sure elections go forward. Russia is trying to destabilize Ukraine … President Putin is trying to influence their judgments.”

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, on the other hand, says that President Obama is in a tough spot because there’s not much the United States can do to change the situation in Crimea.

“As far as I’m concerned that’s a done deal,” Gates told CBS’ Bob Schieffer. “I don’t think (Putin) will rest until there’s a pro-Russian government in Kiev.”

He continued, “We have few tactical options,” but “there is no real military option. My view is, we need to push back on the periphery of Russia making sure countries have freedom to choose economic partners.”

Hagel told ABC’s Martha Raddatz that he doesn’t foresee Russia leaving Crimea “any time soon.”

Lawmakers agreed on one thing: no American boots would be placed on the ground in Ukraine.


That same sentiment echoed in talks about the crisis in Nigeria, where more than 200 girls were kidnapped by terrorist organization Boko Haram almost a month ago.

A social media campaign urging lawmakers and activists to act using the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls has gone viral, drawing reaction from dozens of global leaders, including Pope Francis and first lady Michelle Obama.

In the first lady’s first solo weekly address, she reflected on the situation as a parent of girls. “In these girls, Barack and I see our own daughters,” Obama said. “We see their hopes, their dreams – and we can only imagine the anguish their parents are feeling right now”

While the issues of fighting terrorism and standing up for girls’ and women’s right to education is bipartisan, defense experts said Sunday that finding the girls in Nigeria will be very difficult.

Hagel said, “Were going to bring to bear every asset we can possibly use to help the Nigerian government,” but “there’s no intention at this point to be putting any American boots on the ground.”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers argued that the actions by Boko Haram symbolize a new ecosystem of terrorism that requires a long-term strategy to combat. “You can’t base your policy on what’s trending on Twitter. It has to be more than hashtags and selfies,” Rogers, a Michigan Republican, said on “Face the Nation.”


The debate about what happened during the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans resurfaced on Capitol Hill last week, fueling controversy among lawmakers over whether a new House select committee that will investigate the incident is politically motivated and fair.

On Sunday, Democrats argued that the GOP select committee is an unnecessary political stunt, and Republicans contend that it is important step in getting to the bottom of what happened.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, told CNN’s Candy Crowley on “State of the Union” that Republicans are using Benghazi buzz to drive voter turnout in 2014.

"The bottom line here is that the Republicans have clearly lost the ability because we've had such a precipitous drop among Republicans even in their fervor for repealing the Affordable Care Act," said Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida. "They are clearly doing this to drive their turnout and gin up their base."

But Republicans asserted that the panel was not a political maneuver but part of a search for the facts.

Arguing against Schultz on “State of the Union,” Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, said the committee is simply deliberately seeking the truth of what happened. “That's all people want is the truth," Bachmann said.

Adam Kinzinger, R-Illinois, said on “This Week” that the administration’s initial response was an attempt to “cheapen the death of four Americans.”

Echoing Wasserman Schultz’s concern, Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-California, likened the Republicans’ attempt to investigate to a witch hunt and slammed the party for using the investigation as a “smokescreen so they can raise campaign funds.”

“We’ve always said that we’re ready to participate (in the select committee process). We have an oversight commitment to Congress,” Becerra said. “What we don’t want to see is reckless and irresponsible use of congress and taxpayer money to do these witch-hunts.”

Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Caroline Republican who was selected by Boehner to lead the select committee, said that it’s not unreasonable for Democrats to demand certain conditions.

“I don’t run my committees in the way that Democrats are fearful of,” the former prosecutor said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I want a process that you are welcome to draw different conclusions from the facts, but I want everyone to say it was fair, it was exhaustive, and we know more than we did when it started.”

Former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pennsylvania, told CNN's Candy Crowley on "State of the Union" that he has faith in Gowdy’s ability to do his job professionally and credibly. If the panel does succeed, Santorum argues, “it will be a very successful event for the GOP.”

Tough week for Clinton

While most of the focus of Benghazi chatter this Sunday revolved around the newly created select committee, Hillary Clinton received her fair share of the spotlight, with a new report published by the Daily Beast, saying that Clinton’s State Department refused to brand Boko Haram, the group who has claimed responsibility for the Nigerian kidnappings, as “terrorists.”

Sen. Marco Rubio told ABC that both Benghazi will greatly impact Hillary Clinton’s political future and that he would give Clinton an “F” for her performance as secretary of state. “I don’t think she has a passing grade,” Rubio said. “If she’s going to run on her record as secretary of state, she’s also going to have to answer to its dramatic failures.”

Another controversy Clinton may have thought was behind her also resurfaced this week when former White House intern Monica Lewinsky penned a column in Vanity Fair Magazine discussing her affair with President Bill Clinton and the aftermath from her perspective.

Sunday’s chatter about her essay seemed slightly optimistic for the former first lady. “I don’t think this is going to really affect Hillary,” Kinzinger said on ABC, arguing that her involvement with Benghazi is going to be a much bigger issue. CNN host Michael Smerconish said that the resurfacing of the issue may even be good for Clinton’s public image. “It portrays her as a sympathetic figure.”

2016 Talk

One attack Hillary Clinton probably wasn’t expecting this week came from someone in her own party, Vice President Joe Biden. Speaking at a closed-door fundraiser in South Carolina Friday, Biden said the fraying of middle-class economic security did not begin during President George W. Bush’s administration, but earlier, in the “later years of the Clinton administration,” three sources there told CNN.

Biden’s “Elizabeth Warren”-type populist comments could reflect his intentions to lay the groundwork for a potential 2016 presidential primary run against Hillary Clinton, if she runs, but he has not voiced that intention explicitly.

Warren, however, has made her decision on 2016 perfectly clear. When asked about a potential 2016 bid, she told ABC’s Martha Raddatz affirmatively, “I am not running for president.” Warren wouldn’t say if she would endorse Clinton in a presidential run.

Other lawmakers were less definitive about whether they would run in 2016. Rubio, who didn’t say whether he would run, told ABC’s Jonathan Karl that he would not simultaneously run for Senate if he were to run for President. “If I decide to run for President, I will not have some sort of exit strategy to run for the Senate,” Rubio said. “You don’t run for President with some eject button in the cockpit that allows you to run go on exit ramp if it doesn’t work out.”

Santorum told Crowley that he is looking at what other people do before he makes any decisions, but he did say that the GOP needs a candidate that can lead that charge by connecting with average voters.

Could former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush be the one that Santorum and other potential Republican candidates are waiting for? Sources at a Republican National Committee gathering in Memphis told CNN’s John King that Rubio and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky “did themselves some good” by attending the meeting and speaking with a few key Republican activists there, where it was noted that there was little conversation about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Robert Costa of The Washington Post shared reporting on “Inside Politics” with CNN’s John King that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is visiting New York to meet with conservative editorialists and GOP donors. The trip, Costa says, is part of an effort to explore a possible 2016 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Fortunately for Pence, while the trip may or may not help him in a 2016 run, the optics are certainly adorable.


Recent reports of a policy of the Department of Veterans Affairs that has caused dozens of veterans to die while waiting in hospitals for care angered lawmakers. While some lawmakers have called for Veterans Affairs Secretary Gen. Eric Shinseki to step down, others have suggested that the problem is bigger than Shinseki himself.

Speaking to Fox News's "Sunday Morning Futures," Boehner said that he thinks the problem is not necessarily Shinseki’s fault, but rather represents a systemic issue within the V.A.

Kinzinger said he wouldn’t go as far as to say the Shinseki should resign but as a veteran himself, he is offended by the entire controversy. “They’re faking numbers, drawing fake waiting lists. This is the problem of bureaucracy and huge government. This is something in Congress we’ve got to be right on top of and I hope the President will be too.”

Hagel said he supports Shinseki and that controversy likely didn’t’ start with him. In fact, he said, the problem is something that the administration “missed” years ago. “This is something that should’ve been looked at years and years ago, so yes, we missed it,” Hagel said on ABC.

Gates also said: “We can't wait for a congressional investigation and findings and so on. This needs immediate action … I’m hopeful that Secretary Shinseki will take that action. And then, as I said, hold people accountable.”

Santorum, whose parents both worked at V.A. hospitals, says Shinseki has to “face the music” and if he doesn’t perform appropriately, the administration should “act accordingly.”

Echoing Santorum’s comments, Rogers said if Shinseki can’t “come up to Congress and say exactly how he’s going to fix it, then he needs to move along.”

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