A molecular-biologist-turned-Buddhist-monk says altruism is the answer to many of the world's most pressing challenges. Can concern for others help solve wealth inequality, climate change and world hunger?
Spending on midterm elections approaches a record $4 billion dollars. President Obama continues to defend his achievements to voters. And banking giant Wells Fargo admits mistakes in thousands of foreclosures. A panel of journalists joins guest host Steve Roberts for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Sheryl Gay Stolberg White House correspondent, The New York Times.
- George Condon White House correspondent, National Journal.
- Shailagh Murray reporter, The Washington Post.
MR. STEVE ROBERTSThanks so much for joining us. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in today for Diane Rehm. She's visiting WMFE in Orlando, Fla. She'll be back in this chair on Monday. President Obama focuses on the economy in the final campaign swing before next week's elections. Total spending for the midterm campaign approaches a record $4 billion. And a 50-state task force begins an investigation of foreclosure practices. Joining me in the studio for the national hour of the Friday News Roundup, Shailagh Murray of The Washington Post, George Condon with the National Journal, Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times. Welcome to you all. Good morning.
MS. SHAILAGH MURRAYGood morning.
MR. GEORGE CONDONThank you.
MS. SHERYL GAY STOLBERGGood morning.
ROBERTSAs always, join us in our conversation here on Friday morning. 1-800-433-8850 is our phone number and our e-mail address, firstname.lastname@example.org. Sheryl, where are we in the election? We've got few days to go. As we mentioned, Obama is making one final swing. As you read the final polls and the last minute polls, where are we?
STOLBERGWell, I think we're about where we expected to be. It looks like Republicans will take control of the House of Representatives, unless there's some big surprise. And it also looks like the Senate will remain narrowly in Democratic hands. So a split government for Barack Obama if things go as the polls suggest -- not a happy year for Democrats, all told, because even if they do hang on to the Senate, they'll lose a fair number of seats. And things are going to go a lot harder for them from here on out.
ROBERTSGeorge, are you seeing any last-minute trends? You've been watching this for a long time, long before you worked for the National Journal or the Copley Papers, and you've watched a lot of campaigns. You seeing any movement in the last week or two?
CONDONWell, you see tightening in races, but you always see that...
CONDON...at the end of, like -- and, again, it gives tremendous hope to the party that's in trouble -- this case, the Democrats. It usually is a false hope. But what's fascinating to me right now is what the president is doing, because just three weeks ago, you had Congressman Marcia Fudge say, he's got to stop going just to suburbs. He has to come to Cleveland. He has -- he's ignoring African-Americans. And in the last week, he has spent all his time talking to African-American editors, bloggers. He has a hip-hop artist going to be at his events this weekend. He's gone on black radio. So there's really an effort to get the base out.
ROBERTSShailagh, this is part of a strategy on the part of the White House to use different media outlets to reach different constituencies. He went on The Daily Show's -- audiences, largely younger people. He's been on Univision, a Spanish language outlet. Talk about what you're seeing and sort of the pattern of how -- pick up on what George said, the pattern of what the last-minute strategy of the White House is.
MURRAYWell, in a number of the states that are the big battlegrounds this year -- Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nevada -- Democrats actually have a voter registration advantage in those states. And they believe they can save some House seats, possibly a few Senate seats, if they really turn out their base in large numbers. Now, the marginal voters in midterms are young voters and minority voters. And those are the groups that President Obama was successful -- very successful in rallying in 2008. So this midterm, among the many things we'll learn on Tuesday, is how strong that foundation he built in 2008 is and how effective these last minutes dives into cities like Cleveland, Philadelphia, but also college campuses like Ohio State a few weeks ago, University of Virginia tonight.
ROBERTSYeah, he was on my campus, George Washington University, just a couple weeks ago as well. Sheryl, you cover the White House for The New York Times. What are you hearing inside the White House? What are you hearing from strategists? Is there -- is he having any impact? Is this working at all?
STOLBERGI think -- well, first of all, what you're hearing publicly is different than what you're hearing privately. What you're hearing publicly is, oh, we're convinced that, you know, Democrats are going to be able to control in the House and in the Senate. And it seems to me like Barack Obama and Joe Biden are maybe the only two people in America who believe that, with the possible exception of Bill Clinton. Inside, they're preparing for the likelihood of Republican control in the House and for strength and majorities in the Senate. I think they feel that if the president has made inroads anywhere, perhaps he's made inroads in energizing Democrats over the money issue, a lot of talk in the waning days of this campaign about how anonymous donors are pouring millions and -- hundreds of millions of dollars into Republican campaigns.
STOLBERGThe president is trying to push Democrats to get out to the polls by, you know, sort of raising their hackles over this issue. You know, he's doing what he can to reach out to younger voters. As you said, he went to -- he went on the Jon Stewart show this week. That was fascinating to me. It was, in essence, the White House paying a price for access to Jon Stewart's young, hip audience. And that price was that Barack Obama had to sit there and be ridiculed and needled by Jon Stewart. And the president just sat there and took it. And at the end of this interview, he literally made a naked plug and said, I want to make a plug. You know, go out and vote.
ROBERTSYeah, well, it's the -- this leads to another question, George, which is a phrase we've -- almost the phrase of the year, the enthusiasm gap. But The New York Times poll this week documented that. It said six of out 10 Republicans enthusiastic about their choice, only four out of 10 Democrats. Has he been able to close this enthusiasm gap with these kinds of events?
CONDONWell, he's closed it somewhat, but there's no way you're going to bring parody there. I mean, you have people -- some people are driven by ideology, the Tea Party people. Other people are driven by disappointment on the performance of the president or -- I guess, after what Sheryl said, I should -- the dude in the White House.
CONDONAnd you're just not -- you're going to get the real Democratic believers coming out, but you're just not going to get the independents.
ROBERTSAnd Shailagh, the -- another demographic group that is absolutely critical to the Democratic hopes are women ever since 1980. Women -- there's been a gender gap in this country. Consistently, women of -- on the average voted about 12 percent more likely to vote Democrat than Republican. And yet, rather astoundingly, The New York Times latest polls showed that the women were favoring Republicans by 7 percent. I mean, and it just -- I mean, by 4 percent. They had been 7 percent pro-Democratic, now, 4 percent pro-Republican. What is that about? And that's got to be a very serious concern to Democrats.
MURRAYWell, that's the pocketbook issues...
MURRAY...that women care about and are traditionally identified with women voters. On the other hand, you see in some of these races women being the only chance for candidates like Michael Bennet in Colorado, who has about a 20 percent lead with women voters over his Tea Party-backed opponent Ken Buck. You see women trending towards the Democratic candidates in some of these races where there are Tea Party candidates. So I think that you -- and that explains why you see a lot of ads in Colorado about the choice issue and education...
MURRAY...and I think this underscores, though, how hard it is to actually reach voters on real issues this year. And I don't think that -- I think that all sides are struggling, with the exception of conservative Republicans, to talk directly to voters in these traditional groups. And you see, you know, almost all the ads on television are negative. That turns off women. That turns off a lot of educated adults.
ROBERTSAnd it would seem, Shailagh, that -- the studies have shown this -- that there are more negative ads run by Democrats, and that one of the reasons being that they can't run on their record. I mean, you can't -- at 9.6 unemployment, you can't run on happy days are here again. And they're really reduced to attacking the credibility and validity of their opponents.
MURRAYWell, that's right. And you look at Harry Reid in Nevada, the Senate majority leader, is a perfect example, that he has -- his consultants don't believe he can ever get above about 46, 47 percent in the poll. So his only path to victory is to reduce his opponent, Sharron Angle, down so seriously to increase her negatives so substantially that it gives him an outside chance to basically squeak by.
ROBERTSAnd as we know from many studies over the years, one of the points of negative ads is often not just to convert someone, but to depress turnout and have potential Angle voters...
ROBERTS...simply stay home. And that -- and by undercutting her and attacking her, that's part of the strategy, isn't it?
MURRAYThat's right. And there are a few -- it's interesting because the few candidates who have not followed this path this year -- Ron Johnson, the Republican candidate in Wisconsin for Senate, who appears likely to upset Russ Feingold on Tuesday, has had a series of very effective, very simple ads where he writes on a white board and uses, like, simple math to show how many lawyers there are in the Senate and how few businesspeople there are.
ROBERTSAnd he's a manufacturer...
MURRAYHe's a manufacturer...
ROBERTS... (unintelligible) he's never run for public office.
MURRAY...very effective use of ads to create an image for him and a big key to his success.
ROBERTSSheryl, you also travel with the president, and one dimension of his travels over this weekend in the final days -- you look at the map, 12th visit to Ohio, seventh visit to Pennsylvania. Are we also seeing the beginning of Obama 2012? This is not just about the election this year.
STOLBERGRight. I mean, very critical swing states. And not only trips by the president but by the first lady and by Joe Biden also...
STOLBERG...to these states. But also, these are places where White House advisors have determined that the president may have a hope of making a difference. Interestingly, the president went to Wisconsin earlier this year for Russ Feingold. You just heard Shailaigh say, it looks like Russ Feingold is probably going to lose his race.
STOLBERGSo that's off the list. They're not going to send the president there in the waning days to a place where somebody might not win. But in Ohio, Ted Strickland, the governor, is in a neck-and-neck race. That's an important governorship. So, you know, they're putting out the...
ROBERTSImportant not only for Obama in 2012, but for redistricting in Ohio...
ROBERTS...a very critical state in terms of controlling the Congress.
STOLBERGThat's right, and also, Pennsylvania -- the Sestak race -- pouring a lot of effort into that race. Joe Biden was there not a long ago. The president has been to Philadelphia before. He's going to be back there again on Saturday. So they're just trying to hold on to what they can.
ROBERTSThat's Sheryl Gay Stolberg. She's White House correspondent to The New York Times. George Condon with the National Journal is with me as well, and Shailagh Murray, political reporter for The Washington Post. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in today for Diane. And we'll be back with your calls, your comments, your questions for our panel and more analysis of -- on our Friday News Roundup. So stay with us.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in today for Diane on our national domestic portion of our Friday News Roundup. Shailagh Murray of The Washington Post is with me, George Condon of the National Journal, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, The New York Times. And, George, let's talk about the money -- $4 billion. This not only is a record for an off-year election, but it's even more than was spent in the presidential year just two cycles ago.
ROBERTSWhat is triggering this enormous outpouring of money? Where is it coming from?
CONDONWell, it's interesting. You start with the Supreme Court decision that basically allowed all the anonymous...
ROBERTSCitizens United case.
CONDONExactly, exactly. Although the anonymous money is, according to the Sunlight Foundation, is only about $110 million out of the 4 billion, but look at the effect of Obama's policies on giving because you've had a huge flip of the healthcare industry from Democratic to Republican, Wall Street, energy and retirees. So you have a combination of the Supreme Court throwing all the restrictions away and the effect of the policies on these industries that don't like what Obama did but also think they're going to have Republicans to deal with.
ROBERTSAnd therefore placing their bets on the...
ROBERTS...members who are likely to be committee chairman and key subcommittee chairman...
ROBERTS...in the Congress. And, Shailagh, do you see any comparable outpouring on the Democratic side? I mean, Democratic candidates have raised a lot of money, but they're losing the race in these independent expenditures.
MURRAYWell, they are. They're being hit just in amazingly obscure congressional districts that even the Republicans aren't able to keep track of. These groups just swoop in. I mean, sometimes these groups are financed by one individual. It's hard to believe there's -- we're having -- we're in the midst of a weak economy when $4 billion is being spent on an election. I know.
ROBERTSBut does that reflect -- George mentioned the economic self-interest. But it also seems that it's reflecting an ideological impulse, an emotional impulse. People are giving a lot of money who don't have -- necessarily have a direct financial stake in this. A lot of very wealthy conservatives feel very strongly about this and are really pouring a lot of money into it.
MURRAYThat's a good point. I think that we're -- I think it's another way of expressing the anger and frustration that we're seeing across the board this year. It's -- I mean, it's sort of a naïve gesture in a lot of ways because you're spending money to elect people who are going to be the lowest of the low in the House and the Senate. But...
ROBERTSBut you're electing a majority...
MURRAYBut you're electing them...
ROBERTS...and, in effect, you're electing committee chairman and who holds the gavel and who calls the witnesses in the hearings and who holds the subpoena power. I mean, you're electing a lot of power.
MURRAYYou are, and it's a -- I mean, it's going to be really interesting to see how the leaders of both parties are going to move forward from here and do anything constructive at all in this environment.
ROBERTSNow, also in a couple of last-minute things that have come up in the campaign -- one just over the last day or so, Sheryl -- that story out of Florida that Bill Clinton urged Kendrick Meek -- now, Kendrick Meek is the -- is an African-American congressman. He's the Democratic nominee for the Senate in Florida. Most people do not give him much of a chance, and Charlie Crist, former governor -- or actually still the incumbent governor -- running as an independent. A lot of Democrats think Crist has a much better chance of winning than the -- either Kendrick Meek or -- and then therefore they're putting their money on him to try to defeat Marco Rubio, who is the Tea Party favorite and the Republican nominee. Talk about that incident. A little odd that Clinton would get involved at that level.
STOLBERGWell, you know, it's funny but it's actually not odd. If you think about it, you might remember when the White House was trying to get Arlen -- trying to get Joe Sestak out of the Pennsylvania Democratic primary to clear the field for Arlen Specter, who had...
ROBERTSSestak, a Democratic congressman...
STOLBERGSestak a Democrat, Specter was a Republican -- switched to being a Democrat -- and the White House had put its weight behind Specter. Who did they send out to try to persuade Sestak to get out of the race? Bill Clinton. That was a Rahm Emanuel special. Rahm Emanuel, former White House chief of staff that, of course, also worked for Bill Clinton. So I wasn't entirely surprised that Bill Clinton was the emissary, in this case, to try to get Kendrick Meek out of the race.
STOLBERGBill Clinton has emerged as a very, very important figure for Democrats in this election. He is out there campaigning his heart out. He loves it. He is probably more popular than the incumbent president. He's certainly more popular with Republicans right now than the incumbent president. So it was an interesting twist. It was a little bit of late last-minute campaign intrigue. But I think people who've watched closely probably weren't all that shocked by it.
ROBERTSAnd, George, we talked a bit about the fact that this is the beginning of Obama's re-election campaign, going to Ohio and Pennsylvania. But the last days of the campaign are also seeing maneuvering by potential Republican candidates for president. Just this week, Sarah Palin, one more tease, saying, well, if no one else runs, who can bear the banner of constitutional government? Maybe I'll let...
CONDONWell, and, of course, she did that on the political site Entertainment Tonight.
ROBERTSThat's -- and you have Newt Gingrich, a very active view of Haley Barbour, the governor of Mississippi, making rounds of all the primary states, having raised a lot of money, particularly for Republican -- fellow Republican governors. So give us an update on that. What are we seeing on the Republican side in this campaign?
CONDONOh, I mean, the campaign starts officially the day after the election next week. You know, Mike Pence out there, everybody's favorite for president.
ROBERTSRepublican -- very conservative Republican congressman from Indiana.
CONDONRight. Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, every single one of them is out there. They want to take as much credit as they can. They're helping raise money. There's one other aspect on the -- on 2012 that is going to be interesting. Sheryl just mentioned Bill Clinton out there with the message. Contrast his message, which is very positive -- here are the things that Democrats have done with the message the president has had. I mean, Sheryl could probably repeat word-for-word the speech that he's giving, and I defy you to find anything positive in there. He's talking about...
ROBERTSYeah, but Bill Clinton...
CONDON...Republicans as enemies.
ROBERTSBut Bill Clinton presided over a -- you know, a budget surplus and in a period when you could legitimately claim Washington was working well. Barack Obama has a much harder time making that case.
CONDONI know, but there's nothing positive in the message that he has.
ROBERTSInteresting now, is it? I want to ask each of you. Give our voters out there, our listeners, a sense of what to watch for on Tuesday. Shailagh, what are some of the races you are going to be watching that will give us a tip-off of this -- of a national pattern?
MURRAYI think two House races -- or the Tom Perriello race in Virginia, this is a young freshman Democrat, big favorite of the White House, is a very big supporter of the president.
ROBERTSThe president is going to be in Charlottesville today.
MURRAYTom is going to campaign for him tonight.
MURRAYHe's a -- this is a Republican district. If he's able to hold it, he's a very, very effective candidate, very natural. And the other House race that I'm watching closely is the Patrick Murphy race in Pennsylvania, suburban Bucks County. It's always a bellwether race. And Patrick Murphy is a big star of the 2006 cycle for Democrats and is fending off the guy he beat in 2006, Mike Fitzpatrick. The Ohio governor's race, I think, is really key. Strickland is struggling there, but, again, as you said, redistricting is so important in states like Ohio, which is likely to lose a seat.
MURRAYSo -- and Strickland has also been a pretty effective governor. And if he's able to fend off this challenge from John Kasich, I think that'll send a message that kind of hard choices and effective governing can get you through these kind of periods. And then the Nevada Senate race, obviously, is a huge bellwether for the West, for the Tea Party, for the fate of Congress and the Senate. In particular, Harry Reid is on the ropes, very tough guy...
MURRAY...fended off many challenges in the past.
ROBERTSPast, and has generally won by very narrow margins, as a matter of fact.
MURRAYVery narrow margins.
ROBERTSOf course, we also saw it today, stories about the maneuvering to succeed Harry Reid should he be defeated.
ROBERTSTwo men, senators, who actually share an apartment in Washington...
ROBERTS...Dick Durbin of Illinois and Chuck Schumer of New York, both starting to mount campaigns should Harry Reid be defeated. Sheryl, what are you looking at?
STOLBERGWell, since I cover the White House, I'm interested in the president's strength and the president's coattail. So a couple of -- Shailagh and I overlap on a couple of races. I'm very interested in Ohio and the Strickland race because the president has put so much effort into that race. And he'll be out there again in Cleveland, his very last big campaign stop on Sunday, before the election day. Also the Chicago Senate race, the president has -- and the first lady have really gone to bat for Alexi Giannoulias, the Democratic candidate there. It's Barack Obama's old seat. If a Democrat loses Barack Obama's old seat, I think it doesn't bode well for the president. The Reid-Angle race also in Nevada because it will be so dispiriting to Democrats if Harry Reid loses. And I also have to say...
ROBERTSAnd, of course, previously to Tom Daschle, was defeated in the elections. So this is...
STOLBERGThat's right. And it's funny because somebody told me that Harry Reid, you know, is feeling good about the race. They said, you know, sort of optimistically, he feels like he's got a great ground game. And I was out in South Dakota when Tom Daschle lost in 2004, and I -- it almost feels like Groundhog Day. I remember the Daschle people saying we've got a great ground game this year.
STOLBERGAnd, you know, out of the race came kind of the term to get Daschled and meaning to be upset as a party leader.
ROBERTSAnd, of course, one of the things that South Dakota and Nevada have in common as relatively small states where money can go a long way and that...
ROBERTS...you get inundated by money from a lot of outside groups. George, your picks of places to watch for our listeners?
CONDONRight. I would agree with what both of them said, but I want to see if it's a wave election. A wave election, you can tell right away if somebody loses that you didn't expect. In 1980, when we saw Birch Bayh lose because Indiana is an early state in reporting, you knew something was going on. If we see in -- if we see the main governor's race, if we see the Connecticut Senate race, Blumenthal lose, we're going to know that something is going on.
ROBERTSI was thinking of Blumenthal, too, that if the Democrats can hold Connecticut and hold Delaware, it's going to be very hard for Republicans to win the Senate. But -- and Blumenthal seems to have opened a bit of a lead.
MURRAYWest Virginia, too.
STOLBERGAnd I might add that the president will be in Bridgeport, Conn. on Saturday for Blumenthal. So the White House is watching that race, too.
ROBERTSAnd there's also an important House race there. The last Republican member of the New England delegation, Christopher Shays, was defeated by Jim Himes in the last election, and that's one of those suburban districts. As you were mentioning, Shailagh, the Democratic majority in the House was built on winning those suburban districts outside of Philadelphia, outside of New York, and these are going to be battlegrounds, not only in this election but...
MURRAYThey're always battlegrounds.
ROBERTSThey're always battlegrounds.
ROBERTSBut that's where the Democrats made a lot of their inroads.
ROBERTSLet's turn to some other news of the week. Because as enthralling as politics always is, the economy is a part of the backdrop, part of what is affecting voters. Before I ask you the question, I'm going to say, I'm Steve Roberts, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Okay. Let's talk a bit about the economy. But the news that broke this morning, Shailagh, we had news that the presidential commission which have been investigating the oil well blowout in the Gulf is now saying that the contractor, Halliburton -- a name that's been controversial in the past for its activities in Iraq and also the former employer of former Vice President Dick Cheney.
ROBERTSNow, the allegation is that they knew of the -- that the cement that they were using was unstable and that they ignored the warnings. They told -- in one message, they told BP that it might be unstable. BP ignored the warnings. And now pretty clear evidence that this is at least one of the reasons for the well blowout. What are the implications here?
MURRAYWell, it's -- I don't think it's -- I think Halliburton has already been demonized pretty effectively over the years, its ties to Dick Cheney and, as you said, in Iraq. I think this will only reinforce people's sense that something went terribly amiss in this. The whole deepwater drilling idea has been completely mishandled and that there's some level of malpractice at almost every level of this, it's shocking that they would know that there were problems with something so essential. I mean, this cement is used to seal the well to prevent...
ROBERTSAnd why would they take that risk?
MURRAYI mean, that's what protects the well from an explosion.
MURRAYSo you see things like this, and you can't quite -- I think that is exactly what a lot of voters are feeling right now, not to go back to politics. But this is what losing faith in institutions is all about.
ROBERTSYeah, who can you trust?
ROBERTSBecause it's not just the companies, it's also government regulation.
ROBERTSAnd there's a failure up and down that chain link.
MURRAYAnd unlike any other company that would be up against an accusation like this or allegations like this, Toyota, for instance, when they went through all these recalls -- that's a company with a sterling reputation. Halliburton comes into this with already a lot of baggage.
ROBERTSSheryl, news also, Wells Fargo, one of the major banks that has held mortgages around the country, files 55,000 affidavits, revising some of their filings. And there's a debate going on. Some political economic forces pushing to say we should shut down the foreclosure process because it's deeply flawed, and there's been a lot of irregularities. Others, like the Treasury, this week, warning -- saying hey, wait, there could be real economic difficulties if you shut down the foreclosure process. It's going to have even more negative effects on housing prices and the housing industry. So your read on this story.
STOLBERGRight. Well, I think you have two competing forces here. I mean, you have homeowners who are saying, hey, you know, I was foreclosed upon improperly. I lost my home. You know, this -- if you were that individual homeowner, and you feel that you have been unjustifiably forced out of your home, that's a big deal for you. Now, if you're the Treasury Department, and you're sort of looking at the macro picture, and you want the nation to recover from this -- the terrible recession that we're in and the downturn in housing, you know, you could see Treasury's point.
STOLBERGI don't know how this will all play out. But one thing I can say is that -- and I hate to go back to politics -- but for the Obama administration, this is not good news. I mean, we are trying to climb out of this foreclosure mess. And now to have the discovery that as many as 55,000 homes, just in Wells Fargo's portfolio alone, may have been improperly foreclosed upon is a terrible complication to say the least.
ROBERTSWell -- and, as you were saying, if we're talking about the beginning of the 2012 election, absolutely critical to Barack Obama's and the Democrat's hopes is a recovery in the economy.
STOLBERGThat's right. They don't want to prolong this any further.
ROBERTSGeorge, talking about the economy and some, actually, flickers of good news this week. Sixth straight quarter, Ford Motor Company reporting profits, Chrysler and GM talking about refurbishing and reopening some plants. I mean, is -- are we starting to see a flicker of revival in industrial America?
CONDONThe answer is, yes. We are -- it is not enough to really get employment where it should be and get hiring. But if you look at some of the early signs, I mean, the stock market -- which in July we thought was heading downward again -- it turns out it bottomed out in July. And if you look at the early signs for holiday, the inventories are being restocked. Toys "R" Us said they're going to hire 45,000 workers, which is 10,000 more than they did last year. So the early signs for the holiday, which is so crucial for the economy, are good.
ROBERTSAnd quickly, Shailagh, the AP survey of economists now ruling out a double-dip recession, something we heard a lot about during the summer. But while we're not talking about a boom, people are as marginally more optimistic than they were.
MURRAYMarginally more optimistic. You know, small signs of growth this morning. The 2 percent rate announced the, you know, signs of life and consumer spending and home sales, but this foreclosure crisis is still a problem.
ROBERTSSigns of life in our audience, too. They're going to be calling in, so stay with us.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in for Diane today. And for the domestic portion of our News Roundup on Friday, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, White House correspondent with The New York Times, George Condon, White House correspondent with National Journal and Shailagh Murray, political reporter for The Washington Post. We've got some e-mails. And let's try to clarify the story about the -- whether Bill Clinton did, in fact, ask Kendrick Meek, the Democratic candidate in Florida, to withdraw. We have an e-mail from one listener, said, "I just heard the panelist discuss this as a fact. However, I read an AP article this morning which says Meek denies Clinton asked him to withdraw. I do not know which is accurate." What do we know, Sheryl? What's our best guess on this story?
STOLBERGWell, there has been a lot of swirl around this. But the former president has, in fact, told CNN that he did reach out. And prior to that, Mr. Clinton's spokesman, Matt McKenna, said that the former president had concluded that Mr. Meek's candidacy was struggling and was urging him to drop out of the race. Mr. Meek's campaign initially denied reports of a deal with Mr. Clinton and insisted that he was not going to drop out of the race. But as far as we can tell, the former president did talk to him about dropping out. He says he's not going anywhere.
ROBERTSAnd Peter Bonafante (sp?) from Tarrytown, N.Y., writes to us, "The expected gains Republicans anticipate on Tuesday may not be to their benefit. If they control the House, they are going to have to come up with plans that will move us forward. If they go on witch hunts and they'll simply oppose anything from the White House, it will not bode well for them in 2012. Be careful what you wish for." What do you think, Shailagh?
MURRAYI think that's a really good point. And I think that's what most of us are expecting to see, which is the -- there are a lot of divisions within the Republican Party. It's -- I mean, if we can remember all the way back to two years ago, it seemed like a party that was -- had a permanent minority status. It was so unfocused, especially on a national level, so I think that you'll see a lot of people elected on the conservative end of the spectrum. It's going to be very hard to herd them in one direction, and yet the Republicans won't be able to pursue this opposition strategy that they've used very effectively for the last couple of years. Much more complicated, too, is the fact that the House and Senate will likely be split. So they will -- you know, House Republicans will have their own, you know, majority strategy to pursue. House -- Senate Republicans in the minority, very different approach.
ROBERTSAnd, George, this happens all the time, that if you win enough seats to win a majority, that means you're something of a national coalition, and you're a diverse party. Democrats ran into this. They united around their desire to throw out Republicans in 2006, 2008. And once they got in, we saw the splits between the blue dogs and more conservative or moderate Democrats and the liberals. And so we can anticipate a similar split in Republican rank.
CONDONWell, except I see a big difference in that the Democrats who came in were willing to compromise, work with the other side. They believe that's what governing is. You have an awful lot of Republicans who are going to come to this town who have made a point of, we will never compromise. We will never work with the other side. And that is a recipe for nothing getting through. Although, as a reporter, I have to admit there is nothing going to be more entertaining than watching Sen. Mitch McConnell try to work with some of the new Republican senators that he's going to have.
ROBERTSBut we should also point out, Sheryl, that if and when the House does transfer to Republicans, even with a small majority, it involves enormous powers. It involves setting the agenda in the House. It involves what committee hearings are called and who are the witnesses are and staffing changes. Hundreds of jobs -- thousands even -- change hands from Democrats to Republicans. So even though the Republicans will be grappling with a lot of problems, they'll still rather win than lose.
STOLBERGThat's exactly right. And part of that enormous power is the power to oversee the federal government. And we already see Rep. Darrell Issa, who would likely become the chairman of the House Government and Oversight -- Government Reform and Oversight Committee, talking about investigating the Obama administration. They'll have subpoena power. They can call witnesses. They can make life absolutely miserable for the White House, simply by trying to probe its doings, and, of course, the power to appoint committee chairmanships, the power to set the agenda and to control the rules in the House. We've seen Democrats very effectively use their power to prevent Republicans from offering amendments to bills or introducing their own legislation. Before that one...
STOLBERG...Republicans were in control. They did the same thing to Democrats. So...
ROBERTSLet's turn to some of our callers. Cathy in Toledo, Ohio, welcome. Ground zero in the political wars as always. Ohio, so welcome.
CATHYThank you. And my topic may not seem quite as deep as some, but early in this show, there was comment made about the president's appearance on the Jon Stewart show.
CATHYAnd as a formal journalism teacher, I -- the comment was rather sort of dismissive or negative. I have -- I teach college, and I have students who I wish didn't get their political information from Jon Stewart. But they are big Stewart fans. I watched the show. I thought that the president did a good job by not trying to be funny and letting Stewart be funny, but I think that he did reach an important audience. I don't know that all those students will come out to vote, but I do know that young people like Jon Stewart. And again, as a former journalism teacher, there is more truth on Jon Stewart than there is on some other shows on television. And I say that with respect for the three media outlets that you have on your show today, where there is a great deal of truth. But I do think that was a good appearance, a good choice by the president, and I think he handled himself well.
ROBERTSThank you. Sheryl, you were the one who made that comment. I myself...
STOLBERGYeah, and I actually don't disagree with anything the caller said. I think it was a very effective appearance by the president, even though, as I said earlier, he did have to subject to some needling. He got his points across. He reached Stewart's audience. You are right. He let Stewart be the funny guy. And Stewart actually conducted a rather substantive interview, pressing the president with the standard liberal critique that the president's agenda had been too timid, which the president, of course, said he had not been too timid. Thirty million people with health insurance, he said, isn't timid. But, in effect, it gave the president the opportunity to address those criticisms that his supporters on the left have of him.
CONDONAnd as a teacher myself in college, I actually think Jon Stewart is so important. I signed a paper on Jon Stewart, or at least my students are able to write about Stewart because I think...
CONDON...it -- he is such an important outlet for younger people.
STOLBERGYeah, the White House never would have gone on that show if it hadn't been important.
ROBERTSLet's talk to Marian in Southern Pines, N.C. Welcome. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show," Marian.
MARIANYes. Good morning from Moore County, N.C. Well, I've been working very hard as a volunteer, making hundreds of calls to help get out the vote and also working outside the polls for my party. And I'm seeking to the -- your guest who made the very droll comment, Russ Feingold loses. She called the election. It hasn't even been held, and I think you really need to stick with the facts. Like, for instance, if there's a certain percentage gap between the candidates, I think that's fine. But to call an election when people haven't even voted yet on Election Day, I think you really are overstepping, you know, what you should be doing. You should be encouraging people to vote.
ROBERTSOkay, Marian. George, you made that comment.
CONDONThat was Shailagh.
ROBERTSThey're pointing at each other, let the record show.
MURRAYNo, no. I did make the comment. I -- I'm simply -- my comment was simply reflecting what polls have shown and what both parties concede as the likely outcome at this point. I -- actually, I think that this cycle could be one of the most interesting as far as outcomes differing with polls. We have polls all over the map. I mean, I was looking at one House district yesterday where there's -- three polls came out this week. They're about an 18 point spread between them with -- predicting totally different outcome. So I think that the voters haven't spoken yet. They have in some states...
ROBERTSWell, that is...
MURRAY...where there's early voting. But it's absolutely the case that we could see some surprise conclusions on Tuesday.
ROBERTSBut we, as journalists, always run into this problem and the criticism -- people like Marian. On one hand, she says, well, they haven't voted yet. How can you say he's lost -- which is a fair comment. But we also have an obligation to report what we know. And when the White House decides not to campaign in Wisconsin...
ROBERTS...because they think Feingold is going to lose, and they don't want to put the president's prestige on the line by going there, we have an obligation to report that. The White House is making that decision. We're not making that decision.
MURRAYAnd I think it's -- I think there's a distinction between saying what's -- what the situation is right now, which is that Russ Feingold is about eight to 10 points down in most polls, and what the outcome may be. It's -- as the caller -- I mean, lots of people just like the caller all over the country, working hard to get the vote out.
ROBERTSLet's talk to Mike in Charlotte, N.C. Welcome, Mike. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
MIKEHi, everybody. And thank you for inviting me into your show. Where my curiosity is, is right now -- and Mr. Roberts, I hold you folks in the press sort of responsible for this -- is that we haven't seen any stories about the sheer nature of the donations coming in from the corporate sector. Right now, most of the elections that I've noticed, no one's talking about serving the interest of the people, and the people are supposed to make the decisions for that. And what we're seeing is only serving of corporate interest being translated and represented by the donations that are going on nowadays. And I'm very worried about what the status of the nation is going to be because of it.
ROBERTSOkay. Thank you, Mike. George, you were talking about the impact of corporate and the economic interest donating in this campaign.
CONDONRight. And it's an extraordinarily important story. I would disagree with Mike a little bit. I think it's been covered very comprehensively, perhaps not in all publications, but certainly in most of them. You could argue you can never do enough on that, but...
ROBERTSBut one of the problems this year is that under the laws, there are certain kinds of contributions where disclosure requirements don't apply and that there is at least a section of this whole picture that's very hard for reporters to get out because the laws do not compel disclosure.
CONDONExactly. And we're always trying to get that. I would make a little distinction with the political message. I'm somewhat critical of whether or not it's a good tactic for the president to be talking about this and making it so central because I don't think it's an effective campaign tactic. When you're alleging the other side doing something that most voters believe both sides do, I don't think it changes votes.
ROBERTSWe have a listener who says that we were using the wrong phrase at -- with the oil spill. It's not cement. It's concrete. I read cement in all of the stories, but we take your point. You probably know more about it than we do, Marty from Long Beach, so thanks for calling in. I'm Steve Roberts, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's talk to Lance in Willowick, Ohio. We got a lot of callers from Ohio this morning. Happy to have you, Lance.
LANCEAll right. Thank you. I was struck by a comment by one of your panelists earlier. Actually, I think it was you, Mr. Roberts, that said, you know, the Democrats have to be negative. They can't run -- possibly run on their record, and, I guess, I take issue with that. I think they've actually done quite a number of very good things. And it just seems to me -- I guess my question is what the real problem for maybe all politicians, not just Democrats, that in terms of campaigning, that it's so hard to reach voters who -- so many voters who tend to be impatient and probably quite ignorant of the issues and very emotional in their choices rather than becoming well-informed and making, you know, thoughtful choices and having some patience for policies to take hold and produce results.
ROBERTSOkay. Thank you, Lance. Of course, what I was referring to was the unemployment rate and the foreclosure rate and all of the economic facts which -- but pick up on Lance's point, Sheryl, and talk about why the president and the Democrats have not been more effective at making the case Lance just argued, that the -- about the stimulus package, about the healthcare bill and other legislations out there.
STOLBERGYeah, you know, to me, this is one of the most interesting things about this campaign. If you look at the legislator session that we're about to conclude with the lame duck, it has been incredibly productive, a landmark health insurance bill, a financial regulatory bill, overhaul of the student loan system that will funnel more money into the hands of young people and their parents, a new consumer protection agency. Yet all of this is overshadowed by the unemployment rate of 9.6 percent and the dire economic straits we're in. And, I think, we're, in essence, coming at the point -- the caller and Steve are coming at the point into two different ways. The reason that the president has not been more effective and that Democrats have not been more effective in making the case that they've done good for the country is because people are so overwhelmingly concerned with the economy and so many people are out of work.
ROBERTSYou know, Shailagh, your colleague, Dan Balz, tried to deal with this issue in a very interesting piece this week in looking at the polling number and getting beyond the phrase, angry. To try to dig deeper as to what really is going on in the electorate this year that has caused, in so many ways, not only the polling numbers we've been talking about, the outpouring of money on the Republican side, the enthusiasm gap, all of these factors we've been talking about. And Dan tried to get behind these numbers. And what's your read, having covered this whole campaign? What is really going on in the minds of the voters that has made them so resistant to the Democratic message?
MURRAYI think I've been to a lot of parts of the country this year, and the one constant is this, it's not -- I wouldn't describe it as anger. I would describe it as frustration and disconnection. And, you know, I was just in Columbus, Ohio this week with a group of college students who were trying to get out the vote for the Democratic ticket. And their response to the Jon Stewart appearance was, why hasn't he been doing this all along? Why is Obama just now doing these backyard events that get so much favorable local press? Why is he just now going on the Jon Stewart show to talk to young people? Why hasn't this been a part of his presidency from the beginning? He is a master communicator after all. Why hasn't he been using that more effectively? And I think that that goes to part of what you're seeing with voters right now is they -- no one's talking to them in a language that they understand.
ROBERTSAnd, George, the -- another dimension that Dan was writing about was that, you know, in pass recessions, some people lost jobs and then six months later, they could assume the plant would restart and rehire them and that there is -- his reports and others are saying there's a loss of confidence, a loss of this quintessential American optimism. People think our best days are behind us. And that has lengthened a dimension of pessimism and sourness to the mood that is -- helps explain this, all of this phenomenon we've been talking about.
CONDONExactly. And one of the numbers that you look at, if you're an incumbent, is do voters think the country's on the right track or the wrong track? And people overwhelmingly think we're on the wrong track, that...
ROBERTSFinal word on this, Sheryl. What's your take?
STOLBERGYou know, my take is that until the economy turns around, life is not going to get better for Democrats. Americans have short memories. If you would have said two years ago when Barack Obama was inaugurated, standing out there in the mall with however many million people, that he would find himself in this situation today, nobody would have believed you. His advisors didn't think it either. They knew it would be tough, but this near 10 percent unemployment is just going to be an albatross around their necks.
ROBERTSThat is Sheryl Gay Stolberg, White House correspondent, New York Times. Shailagh Murray, political correspondent of Washington Post. George Condon, White House correspondent of the National Journal. Thank you for joining us this morning on the News Roundup on "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in today for Diane. And thanks for spending part of your morning with us.
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