President Obama appeals for national unity at a memorial for shooting victims in Tucson. Debate heats up over political rhetoric and gun control. And former House leader Tom Delay is sentenced to three years in prison. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- John Dickerson chief political correspondent for Slate.com and CBS political analyst and contributor. Author of "On Her Trail: My Mother, Nancy Dickerson, TV News' First Woman Star."
- John King anchor of CNN's John King, USA, and chief national correspondent.
- Sheryl Gay Stolberg White House correspondent, The New York Times.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. President Obama calls for unity in his speech at the memorial service for victims of Saturday's shootings in Tucson, Ariz. House Republicans schedule a vote to repeal health care overhaul for next week. And Michael Steele fights to keep his job as head of the RNC. Joining us for the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup, John King of CNN, Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times, John Dickerson of Slate.com. A little later, we will open the phones, take your calls. Read your e-mail, your postings on Facebook. Send us a tweet. Good morning, everybody. Good to see you.
MS. SHERYL GAY STOLBERGGood morning.
MR. JOHN KINGGood morning, Diane.
MR. JOHN DICKERSONGood morning.
REHMIt's been quite a week. On Wednesday, President Obama had a unity message at the memorial for the Tucson shootings. What's been the reaction to his speech, John Dickerson?
DICKERSONIt's been almost universally praised by -- I mean, obviously, by Democrats, but by conservatives and Republicans who -- some of whom said, you know, he shouldn't mix any political message or any message of tolerance, celebrate the lives of those who died, celebrate the heroes, and leave it at that. Don't muddy this. Instead, what he did was he used the power of those lives as they were lived, the action of the heroes, and then built a monument to it, and said, the monument is how we behave in the future and whether we live up to the behavior in that moment of tragedy and in those lives that were lost. And he used the power of the moment to make a pretty powerful message.
KINGIt was -- I was there at the event, and it was odd at first. I think a lot of people watching at home might have been struck by all the cheering and clapping and the celebratory mood. But, Diane, I, you know, spent four days walking around Tucson before that, and there was a lot of crying. There was a lot of shock, not just because it was a federal judge killed and a congresswoman shot, the 9-year-old girl -- the power of that in the community. Every parent takes their kids grocery shopping. It's just a vision in everybody's mind. And you would see these young children writing notes at all the little makeshift vigils around town saying, I'm sorry, or, how could this happen.
KINGAnd after that, after days of tears and crying, a lot of stunned, shocked silence, Tucson needed to celebrate, A, the lives of those who were taken away, but also the doctors and the first responders, and to cheer for Congresswoman Giffords and the others in the hospital who are fighting to recover.
STOLBERGI was struck by the president's language, some of his imagery. He talked about Americans needing to, "expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together." This, in many ways, was the Barack Obama of 2008, the man who ran for office saying, we're not a red America or a blue America, but we're one America. And this event, I think, gave him the opportunity to hark back to those themes at a time when the country really needed it and is really looking for presidential leadership.
REHMThe question becomes, can -- what he called for, this unity -- can that move on, John?
KINGWell, get a quick test. When they -- rightly so, the Republican leadership made the right decision in delaying the health care repeal vote in the House, but we're going to get to the business -- the people's business in the week ahead. And, Diane, that's a -- it is a worthy debate. We just had a big election in which it was a big issue. And the role and the reach of our government, whether it is in the health care issue, whether it's in education, where we get to taxes and spending issues, it is the debate that divides America. And it should be had.
KINGThe question is, do you question the specifics of the health care bill or defend the specifics of the health care bill? Or do you say, you know, that someone who is for it is a liberal who wants the government to take people hostage? One Republican congressman called the bill a malignant tumor on America. Can we have a debate about the specifics of the bill, the policy, the proper role of government? Have a feisty debate, fight it out, have partisan, but don't make it personal. Don't question the integrity of somebody who disagrees with you. That's the test next week.
STOLBERGI suspect we'll see a shift in rhetoric. The bill was initially titled to repeal a job killing health care bill or some such. It was -- that was the phrase used, job killing. I wonder if we will see the words, job killing, used now. I think that, perhaps, we will have a more civilized debate and one that really goes to the heart of the debate that we're having in the country, as John said, about the size and scope of government, about government's reach into the economy and into the lives of people. And that really is the debate we should be having, and that's what Republicans run on. And we will have that debate. We'll see if it's in more polite terms.
DICKERSONOne of the slip-ups in the initial debate about how to take account of this horrible shooting was -- anybody who said, let's, maybe, dial back from the rhetorics. People respond and said, oh, you can't govern speech. Well, that wasn't the point, and this is where the president neatly drew the line. And the reason the line is so important to draw is because it sets the expectation for civility. And what the point John made is the right one. The president wasn't saying don't fight.
DICKERSONHe was saying don't fight dirty. He was saying that we can have passion. And he talked about the reaction to the shooting itself. He said, of course, it's natural to search for answers and to kind of fumble around. But don't take it so far that in your search for answers and meaning and -- or how to organize this thing that's, in many ways, impossible to organize in your head. Don't jump to questioning about motives. Don't take that very last step. And so by drawing a line between passion and ugliness, he sets the conditions for the next debate and, hopefully, people won't overread it and say, if there's a return to regular politics, they won't say, oh, that's going too far.
REHMSheryl, were you surprised at Sarah Palin's comments?
STOLBERGI was a little surprised. I think either way you look at it, Sarah Palin's reference to the -- her use of the term blood libel, which is certainly emotionally freighted term for Jews.
STOLBERGWhy? Because it refers to the, sort of, centuries-old false accusations that Jews murdered Christian children and used their blood to bake the Passover matza. This is an accusation that has fueled anti-Semitism.
REHMWhat was she referring to?
STOLBERGWell, she was referring, in specific, to the attacks on her. And I will read to you her quote so that we have it in full. She says, "Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own, especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding. Journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence that they purport to condemn." Now, she was responding to attacks against her. Sarah Palin had issued a map of Democrats that she wanted to see defeated. She put their districts in crosshairs, looking to the crosshairs of a gun. This was something that Gabrielle Giffords, the Congresswoman who was injured and nearly slain, spoke out against. So Sarah Palin was reacting to this.
STOLBERGBut, I think, either way you look at the use of her term blood libel, it's a problem for her. If she didn't know what it meant, it raises questions about, is she fit to be a leader? How could someone not know that history? And if she did know what it meant, why was she using that phrase?
KINGIt was a well-produced video posted on Facebook. Sarah Palin has used social media to communicate largely outside of her Fox News platform. That is how she communicates with her followers and with others in the news media. It was not done in a rush. It was clearly thought through. It was well-lit. It was a produced video. So, clearly, it was a calculated statement. Sheryl makes the valid points about the choice of language, which many find offensive. Another conservative commentator had used them. They had been used in our dialogue.
KINGShe's not the only one to use them, but that, by no means, excuses it. And, Diane, the question many people asked -- I was in Tucson that day, and I was speaking to somebody who is a supporter of Sarah Palin who said, "Oh my God. Why today?" It was the day of the memorial service. She could have responded a day before. She could have responded a day later. And the people assume -- and most Republican people who do campaign say, that was a calculated decision to get involved in the debate on the very day the president was traveling to Tucson.
DICKERSONThere are a couple of things we want from our public officials, and sometimes -- she, obviously, was on the defensive. Liberals had said that, basically, she was somehow to blame for this. She had to account for that. And that was an unfortunate position to be put in. But, you know, when you're in politics, you get put in unfortunate positions, and you rise to the occasion. Her response was not good, as we've discussed, but there was also -- she didn't meet the moment.
DICKERSONAs John mentioned, the country and everything had moved to the question of the mourning and the victims. And there was nothing in the rather long statement that kind of got at that, that rose to that moment that's also part of the conversation. And, I think -- and then, finally, there was just a logic flaw. On the one hand, she said, nothing outside the criminal can influence the criminal. And then she said, but this blood libel might cause violence. So you can, on the one hand, say that you can incite -- that you can't incite violence by a criminal, but then on the other hand say, what the liberals are doing might incite violence. So, internally, it was also flawed.
STOLBERGAnd we'll see more of Sarah Palin. She'll have an opportunity to explain herself. She has agreed to go on to Sean Hannity's program next week. And this is interesting because one of the raps against her is that she does speak from a sort of the-comfort-of-her-own-little-home studio without opening herself up to questioning from journalists and independent people. Now, obviously, Sean Hannity is on Fox, her network. It's a favorable venue for her. But I can't imagine that he won't ask her about her use of the term and that she won't have thought through a clear response before she gets there.
REHMBut lest we concentrate on the negatives that had come out of this, do you believe that the tone of the debate, for example, on health care, might change, John King?
KINGI spoke last night to Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a fiery Democrat. She is a proud Democrat. She's a proud supporter of the health care bill, and she said, you know, I'm going to go back and look at the things I have said in this and other debates in the past and just see if I've crossed the line. And I'm going to be very careful going to the next debate. I also spoke with Republican Congressman Jeff Flake of Arizona. He had left the funeral for the 9-year-old girl who was killed, and he was very, very subdued. And he is not a -- not known as somebody who's a firebrand. He's a fiscal conservative. He's one these guys who's fought his own party about earmarks and things like that, and he said, we need to be very, very, very careful. And he said it will be a test next week.
REHMJohn King, he is with CNN. Stay with us.
REHMAnd in the aftermath of the Tucson shootings, there is so much more to say. John Dickerson, you were talking about instant media, instant messaging, how that played a role.
DICKERSONOne of the things the president did effectively in his speech was he moved past the question. He addressed it, but also moved past the question of whether the dialogue led to the shooting. He said it didn't. But there's another dialogue to be discussed and to be examined very closely, and that's the dialogue that erupted the minute the shooting took place. And if you look on Twitter, for example, if you look at how -- the mentions of the name Giffords and the mentions of the name Palin, they both rise in a huge spike, almost right together, which is to say that the conversation about Sarah Palin's role on this map and the fact that it had targeted Giffords' district was happening instantaneously. It wasn't put out there by the media. It was just bubbling up.
DICKERSONAnd the thing is that the conversation that quickly grew up around this was people were using the shootings' details -- a lot of details which they had wrong -- as facts in an ongoing debate about left versus right and who is to blame. And, immediately, the instinct in some quarters was to fight a new fight -- not to pause, not to be reacting to this shooting, but to just continue that same old fight. And I think the question of whether civility returns is whether people immediately judged to go right -- just let that lack of constraint, whether they immediately questioned somebody's motives, immediately assumed the worst. That's what the president was talking about.
DICKERSONAnd I think that if you go back and look, there was a 51-second pause the president took at the very end of his speech, at about the 31st minute where he talks about wanting to live up to the expectations of Christina Taylor Green. And that clip, if anybody wants to remember the kind of guts of the president's message, where he broke down, a man who's not supposed to be so emotional, where he was blinking his eyes and swallowing hard and talking about himself trying to live up to those expectations, but also as a country trying to live up to the expectations that a 9-year-old girl had for her government.
STOLBERGI think what we saw also was this shooting tapped into a deep concern that ordinary Americans have about our rhetoric. And we saw it with the Tucson sheriff, who really sparked this debate when he said, you know, we all need to sort of take a look at ourselves and take a look at our rhetoric. This was on his mind. He's not a creature of Washington. He's not a political, you know, hack, you know, looking for advantage. He's a law enforcement official investigating a terrible tragedy.
REHMWho was stunned by the tragedy.
STOLBERGWho was stunned. And this came out of him very naturally, and it was, obviously, a concern with him. And it tapped into a concern that many, many Americans have, which is why we're having this discussion.
KINGThere was a sense in Tucson -- the sheriff shares it, those around him share it, many in the community share it -- that this has progressed very quickly from sort of a sleepy town where, yes, they had their differences. But diversity was a source of strength, not a source of weakness, and it suddenly -- because of the immigration debate in Arizona, because of the tough political campaigns right in that area, that, all of a sudden, at a very quick speed, they have gone from having community conversations about these issues in a polite way to this vitriol -- was the word the sheriff used. And I sat down with the local Republican, Democratic and Tea Party leaders.
KINGAnd all three of them said, you know what? We just had a tough campaign year where we were at each other pretty good. We're going to try to learn a lesson from this. Not connecting the dots, not connecting the dots, saying the rhetoric had anything to do with this, but saying, at a time when your community is stunned, shouldn't we all think about what we want to do next and how we want to lead out of it? That part -- if it happens -- is heartwarming and refreshing and, perhaps, a positive legacy.
REHMThere's also been a lot of talk about mental health and the question of whether services are sufficiently available to those who need them, whether someone who had encountered this man could have made steps. He encountered the police five times, John Dickerson.
DICKERSONAnd they ultimately said, you can't come back until you get some kind of notification. It's -- the question is right. Where does the responsibility lie? Does the community college he went to, should they have done something more, instead of saying, we're keeping you out until you go see a doctor? Or should they have said, we should provide these services to you? If not them, then was this the parents' role? And then...
REHMThey actually went to the home. The police went to the home with a letter saying, you cannot come back.
KINGAnd -- but there's no evidence. There's no evidence. All the law enforcement people have run all the traps on this, and they said there's no evidence he ever sought treatment, went to treatment or that anybody petitioned. A lot -- there are -- a lot of the conversation, Diane, has been about the Wild Wild West. Arizona actually has a fairly liberal law in the sense that somebody at the school, somebody in the community could have petitioned and said, there's a problem here.
KINGAnd you can push and go and petition for an involuntary mental health evaluation if you see someone who's a threat in the community. And one of the things they're asking on that campus is, should someone here have done it? But what they say in their defense of not doing it is that he was erratic, people felt threatened, but there was no act of violence. He had not -- he had done things, and people felt threatened by him. But there was no actual violence in his history. And there's some soul searching going on there, but the police say that they had nothing before them that would have forced them to do that.
STOLBERGI have to say, though, it seems that this country isn't really learning its lesson because this is a pattern that we have seen before, right, in the Virginia Tech shooting, the Army psychiatrist in Texas. In each of these cases and in others, we see people who needed help and who weren't getting help. And, surely, there's got to be a better way for people to act on their instincts in the same way that when you're in an airport, they tell you to, you know, mention something if there's an unattended bag. A lot of people had observations of this troubled man. The -- I'm thinking of the girl in his math class who said, you know, I sit by the door, and I hold my purse so that I can make a quick exit in case he comes in here with a gun. People knew, and yet, somehow, he didn't get caught or picked up or the help that he needed to prevent this from happening.
REHMAnd what about health care and the bill before us, whether, in fact, Republicans will reflect on this mental health issue as it considers whether to overturn health legislation?
KINGWell, whether it's the mental health issue or some of the other more popular proponents -- provisions of it, like preexisting conditions and things like that, what the Republicans say they are going to do is vote to repeal. Then if they could repeal it, then have all the relevant committees come back with incremental legislation. Here's a piece of legislation to deal with preexisting conditions. Here's a piece of legislation somebody could propose on mental health issues. Now, as we have this conversation, we should make clear they will not be able to repeal the health care bill. They don't have the votes in Senate. And, even if they did, the president of the United States has a veto pen.
KINGSo what you will see next week in the House of Representatives is, in part, political exercise, but it's not just that. For those who say this is mindless political theater, they have a point they want to make. They campaigned on this. They do owe it to their voters to keep their promises to vote to repeal it. But they will -- they cannot. They do not have the support. The question is, is there a round two? Is there then a conversation? Do we have a grownup conversation? Remember Bill Clinton in the briefing room with Barack Obama? He said he would change some things in this health care bill. Will grownups sit down at the table and say, let's make another run at this? That -- I'm skeptical about that.
REHMAnd what about gun security? What about gun control? Will there be any further discussion now as to whether to change certain elements there?
STOLBERGI think we'll see a lot of discussion. I would be surprised if we see a whole lot of action. Rep. Peter King of New York introduced a relatively modest bill, saying it would be illegal to carry a gun, I think, within 1,000 feet, or something, of a federal official. He said that he had already gotten 100 calls now from people who think he was trying to take away their Second Amendment rights. He said he found lukewarm support even among Democrats. This is an issue -- gun control -- that has been very difficult for Democrats since the Clinton days when they passed an Assault Weapons Ban. And I think that we're not going to see much movement on this issue.
REHMAnd, indeed, gun sales all over the country have gone up.
DICKERSONGun sales have gone up all over the country and in Arizona. And this was also the reaction to the -- I believe it was the Virginia Tech shooting. It was also the reaction that gun sales would go up. And in Arizona, the talk is to -- or if there is a legislative movement, it is, in fact, to loosen the gun laws. In other words, the notion that if everybody -- or if more people are armed, a situation like this doesn't happen, although, as my colleague, Will Saletan, wrote about this week, there was a gentleman who ran to the scene, felt he could do so because he was armed. I mean, felt, you know, that he was protected.
DICKERSONBut in the -- by the time he got there, the shooter had been subdued, and the person who had subdued him had his weapon, had the glock in his hand. And this man said if -- there was a split second where I almost shot him, shot the Good Samaritan who had, in fact, you know, already stopped. So the question is, if everybody's armed, are you going to compel them to get firearms training, to get the kind of training that would make you be able to make that split-second decision if you run to a chaotic scene and have your weapon drawn and have to choose between, you know, whether the person who's now holding the gun is the shooter or the...
REHMHow can you know? How can you know?
DICKERSONUnfortunately, this fellow did.
REHMWell, in a melee of that sort, how one can know anything that's going on? And to be even more armed, I gather there is a bill before the Arizona State legislature considering whether to allow students to take guns into colleges, have teachers armed as well. Where is that going to go?
KINGThere's widespread support for gun rights and expanding gun rights in the state of Arizona. And you'll see that in some other states recently. I don't mean to pin this just on Republicans, but because of the gains in the last campaign by Republicans who generally are more supportive of gun rights. But Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic leader -- to back up Sheryl's point -- he's in no mood to do any gun control. He's from...
STOLBERGFrom Nevada, another western state.
KINGAnd, you know, Democrats traced this back to Al Gore's problems. In Arizona, Diane, the one conversation that came up -- and there's almost zero hope, they believe, for any legislative success -- is the police don't like these big clips, where you can put the big clip in this Glock, 30 rounds at a time. The assault weapons ban was a broader bill, but part of that was 10 rounds at a time. Most police organizations and these police right there in Pima County would prefer that, but they also know -- no say in their second rounds.
REHMThey can't even get that.
DICKERSONThey want that, and that, it's most unlikely to pass.
STOLBERGYeah, I agree with John, though. I think, if there is any debate, that is what -- that is the narrow place that the debate will happen. And it will be around those magazine clips, 33 rounds that Jared Loughner used in the shooting.
REHMTell me about John Boehner. He was not at the memorial service. He did get choked up on Wednesday on the House floor speaking about the shooting. I don't, in any way, mean to demean his emotions, but he does cry a lot.
KINGHe does. In this case, a lot of people were crying. But, you know, as Boehner says, he's an emotional guy, and that's who he is. And, you know, it's -- he wears it on his sleeve.
REHMDoes the fact that he did not go with the president on Air Force One to Tucson -- why was that?
STOLBERGWell, you know, he took some hits on liberal blogs for that, for turning down President Obama's offer to fly on Air Force One to Tucson. But, I think, we have to remember that there was a prayer vigil in the House on Wednesday. Had he taken that airplane ride, he would have missed the vigil. And, you know, one thing that a lot of Americans don't realize is that, we, in Washington, and especially in Capitol Hill, are a community. It's a neighborhood in its own. Speaker Boehner is, in effect, the mayor of that neighborhood. All the lawmakers -- there are stabs, one of whom died in this attack.
STOLBERGThe -- everyone from the barbers and the janitors and the food service people come together in those buildings and -- as a family almost. And he had to be there that day to preside over that vigil. It is possible, they say, that he could have gone and flown commercial. It would have been difficult. He had access to a military jet, could have done that. One thing he did do that got him some criticism -- and, perhaps, justifiably so -- was prior to the president speaking that night, he did attend a fundraiser for someone who was running for the chair of the Republican Party. His aides say he left before the president spoke, and he did watch the president's remarks.
REHMSheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's turn for a moment to an issue that, certainly, is also on people's minds, the economic conditions in this country. The Fed released a survey earlier this week. What did it have to say, John Dickerson?
DICKERSONWell, it said that the economy is continuing to expand moderately, which is good news. You remember, there was a -- a few months ago, there were some worry by the Fed when they did this survey, which is the -- it's a survey of business and sort of getting anecdotes from across the country in preparation for their economic meetings, for the Fed's meetings. And there was worry about a double-dip recession, so that seems to have gone away. And the good news is that the retail sector is doing better. Manufacturing is doing better. Service industries are doing better. The auto sales are up. The worry -- the one place that isn't doing better, as we all know, is the housing sector. And that's important, of course, because housing is important, but also because in the last -- getting out of the last tough economic time, the housing sector was the one that created a lot of middle class jobs.
DICKERSONSo where are the middle class jobs going to come from? This report talks about the job picture firming up a little bit. Although, in December only, I think there was 103,000 jobs created. That was below expectations and below, I think, about the 160 needed to keep up with the rise in the population. So job growth is still a question. And then, of course, there's the big question of wages, that we have enormous corporate profits and corporations are sitting on a lot of that cash saying, you know, this last economic trouble proved to us that things aren't so secure. We need to hold on to our cash. So they're not increasing wages.
REHMAnd the banks have been holding on to a lot of cash, John King. How big of a milestone would it be for the nation's largest banks to begin restoring dividends?
KINGWell, that is a sign of their financial health, and their investors would like their dividends to -- which is a good thing. You know, don't get me wrong. You know, the profitability of any business means a more healthy economy. However, when you travel the country, one of the biggest complaints you get from businesses -- large and small, mom and pop organizations and larger corporations -- they say the banks are still stingy and slow to lend them money. And that slows job creation. Now, the debate we were having last year was a lot of people said that was because they're still uncertain about the economy. They were uncertain about the tax structure. And once they get a little certainty, things will change. Well, now, they have a little more certainty with the extension.
KINGWhether you like it or not, we know the tax rates will stay in place now at least through the next presidential campaign. So the question to watch early in this year is, does that somehow open the spigot? Is more money flowed into the economy and more job creation? But to John's point, if this economy creates 200,000 jobs a month, we will get back to where we were at the beginning of the recession in about 10 years, just back to where we were at the beginning of the recession. So you need job growth in the 250,000, 300,000 range to get the rate dropping. And, remember, when the rate starts to drop, it may spike back up a little bit because the people who stopped looking aren't counted. And if they suddenly think there are jobs out there and they flood back into the job market, we're going to have a little rollercoaster with the rate.
REHMSpike, yeah. Yeah.
KINGBut even if the economy is getting better, it's going to bounce up and down.
STOLBERGYeah, I think we have to remember that what this like -- looks like good news on paper, but we still have a 9.4 percent unemployment rate in this country. Nearly one out of every 10 people who wants a job doesn't have one. We're seeing gas prices go up. Ordinary people don't feel this yet.
REHMSheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times, John King of CNN and John Dickerson of Slate.com and CBS. When we come back, it's time to open the phones. We'll take your calls, your comments. Stay with us.
REHMTime to open the phones. First, to Melbourne, Fla. Good morning, Ed. You're on the air.
EDHi, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
EDThe framework -- my comment is with respect to the shooting in Tucson. Your conversation ought to be appropriately framed where -- this shooting ought to be framed in the framework of mental health issues for people who are in that gray area -- as Sheryl from The New York Times already mentioned -- and also in gun rights. That's the appropriate and responsible framework for discussing that tragedy as a responsible media organization. I'm a little bit frustrated and weary of the entrenched camp that we're in, in the media, both left and right -- really tired of it. I'm a middle guy. I'm neither right. I'm neither left.
EDI love NPR, but I'm really surprised that NPR -- being a credible media source that it is -- is entertaining this thing that somehow Sarah Palin and the Tea Party are responsible for this guy committing this terrible act. Clearly, the guy had mental health issues. Tragically, he didn't get the help that he needed. He didn't get -- nobody intervened appropriately for whatever reasons, and that's where we ought to discuss. And that's our -- your responsibility as credible and responsible journalists, to have the American people talk about this tragedy.
REHMThanks for calling, Ed. John King.
KINGI think Ed makes incredibly valid points about the big issues and the lasting issues of this. The thing I would -- I'm not sure taking issue is the right word with -- is that we cover events. And when you cover an event, you cover the specific event, and you cover the reaction around it. And one of the instant reactions around it, as John rightly pointed out earlier, is before the media were saying anything, individuals involved -- some of them with political ties, some of them just average Americans who live in communities who are politically active as thinkers -- they started talking about this. And part of what we do in covering...
REHMAnd define this.
KING...about whether it is the map that Sarah Palin posted, whether it's about the rhetoric -- vitriolic rhetoric in our politics from the left and the right, it instantly became part of the conversation. The sheriff himself charged with investigating this crime raised it. When that happens, we have a responsibility to cover the totality of the story. It reminds me of days back in the Clinton impeachment days when people would say why are you covering these stories about the president's personal life?
KINGThen I would say, well, a man who has the powers of the attorney general of the United States has been appointed to investigate it, that's why. Do I like to be covering these issues? No. But if it's part of the bigger conversation -- he-- Ed makes a good point, and we have to decide, you know, how much time of an hour do we give to it? That's a fair point. But it is part of the conversation, and we need to watch it.
DICKERSONI think we also had two events recently. One is the president addressed this very idea in his remarks quickly and moved past them, but he was addressing what John was talking about, this question of a connection. And he said there's not one, but he said we should be focusing on the conversation that grew up outside of it, the national political conversation. And then, also, we obviously have the Sarah Palin message that was put out on the same day, which also addressed its principal purpose -- arguably, was to address this connection that had been thrust on her. So those are two more events in addition to the immediate instant reaction that was brought up that we have to cover and can't just sort of pretend didn't exist.
REHMLet's go to Dallas, Texas. Good morning, Tim.
TIMHi there. Thank you for taking my call.
TIMAnd I'm sorry to continue on with the same kind of thrust in the conversation. But, you, know, I'm not going to disagree with the previous caller, but I am going to take a little issue with it. You know, I'm not as entrenched in all of the information regarding all of this as I would like to be. But I do consider myself to be pretty well-informed about what's happening. And, I'll tell you, as someone who is trying to view this as objectively as possible, you know, there was only one politician that had graphics on her website, that within hours of this shooting pulled them down because of the nature of them.
TIMAnd I've only heard of one conversation that had happened with the media -- the responsible media, I think -- in dealing with this, and it was a couple of her representatives. And it was with a conservative talk show host, that when they actually started talking about what the graphic was, the conservative talk show host actually suggested that it wasn't crosshairs of a gun at all. But, in fact, it was a surveyor's sight. And the representatives from the Palin camp, it was like they just jumped on the bandwagon. It's like they were like, oh, yeah, yeah. You know, in fact, that is what it is. It is a surveyor's sight.
TIMSo, you know, I'm not laying blame at Palin's (word?) by any stretch of the imagination. I think, in fact, that the rhetoric is horrible right now in our country. But I think that her actions -- or at least the actions of the people that represent her via her website in her political, you know, campaign committees -- they need to be accountable for that action, both of pulling that off immediately -- or they need to be able to stand up after the fact and be able to say, this is what we really meant, or we didn't pull it down because we don't think that we're responsible.
KINGWell, I would just say that the caller's question and sense of passion and, at least, searching for answers kind of answers Ed's question, which is that there are people out there who have these views and these unsettled questions. The Palin -- it's not exactly clear where it was pulled down from and where it wasn't. The map was still -- and never pulled down from her Facebook page, which is her sort of primary channel of organization. It was taken off of the Sarah Pack page, which is a website that gets a lot less traffic. So the notion that they -- it was the notion that they sort of tried to expunge the record everywhere is not exactly right.
KINGWhat is true is that their initial handling of this was rather ham-handed and -- because when Palin's representatives said, well, these are surveyor's marks, but Palin herself had referred to them as a bull's-eye in her own discussion. But I think we all kind of got past that because the fundamental point is that the shooter here, Jared Loughner, had no political ties. I mean, he made a series of videos after the election -- a very contentious election, a very contentious election in Arizona. Those videos did not mention Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, targeting maps, immigration, health care or any of the issues that were in the air.
KINGAnd it seems that everything the investigators have found is that this is a kind of lone wolf who attached to Congresswoman Giffords because he didn't like an answer she gave him. And he attached to her because of a variety of bad things that were happening in his brain chemistry and other reasons, but that nobody has been able to draw the line. In fact, the line -- to the extent there ever was one in people's imagination -- is disappearing, the more people learn, the more the investigators learn about Jared Loughner.
STOLBERGI would just also add briefly if the caller's concern is that no one is being held accountable for a kind of behavior of, say, putting crosshairs on a map, this was the subject of debate when this map first came out months ago. This did not escape public notice or scrutiny or attention. We, in fact, had had this debate in newspapers and in the political sphere. Gabrielle Giffords herself remarked on it.
REHMI want to ask you, John King, on a completely different subject about a vote that's taking place today for the chair of the Republican National Committee. Tell me about Michael Steele, his chances for reelection.
KINGMichael Steele is the current chairman. He has been quite controversial. His chances for reelection -- if you believe the people who will be voting, the members of the Republican National Committee -- his chances are quite dim. They are fed up with him. A lot of people out there might say, why? The Republicans just had a great year. Why could they be disappointed in their chairman? Most Republicans believe they won despite him, not because of him. And they believe they might have actually done a little bit better, had there been better fundraising and better coordination and better management at the Republican National Committee. So he has lost his support.
KINGMost of the key people who helped him become chairman have left him and support other candidates, and they will have the selection today. It may take several ballots to resolve it. By all accounts, Michael Steele will not win the election. Much of the criticism, Diane, is he didn't raise enough money, didn't manage the committee well when he -- with the money he did raise and that he never quite made the transition. He had been a television political commentator where you get points for being a little preposterous, a little outlandish, and he never made -- to make it less about him and more about the party. That is the principal criticism of Michael Steele.
STOLBERGI think John hit the nail on the head. I think Republicans want to build on the gains that they had in the November -- the shellacking, as President Obama called it. And they're looking for a strong leader, someone who can carry them through until they get a nominee because, of course, once the 2012 presidential election is underway and Republicans choose the person who will run against President Obama, then that nominee will put the party apparatus under his or her own control and appoint a chair. And we'll see a whole new ballgame. But, in the interim, they want to build.
REHMAnd, finally, Tom DeLay, sentencing to three years in prison. John Dickerson, DeLay says he is going to appeal. Were you surprised at the sentence?
DICKERSONWell, I was -- to the extent I was surprised, it was just the -- how far Tom DeLay has fallen. With John Boehner's ascent, it reminded me of my first days covering the Hill in the days of the Gingrich revolution. And Tom DeLay and John Boehner were there and a part of all that, and then DeLay's rocket rise, including through, you know, the trouble Gingrich had and then during impeachment, the trouble Congressman Livingston had. And DeLay just -- nothing can hurt him. He just kept moving and was so powerful. Arguably, though, he was the third most powerful person in the House leadership. He was the most powerful. He knew where the votes were. He knew how to get them. And he would -- and we were talking about guns earlier.
DICKERSONAnd I remember his aides. There were a lot of gun debates during that period. And his aides, you could call them, and they would say, there's not going to be any gun legislation here. People -- you know, the media's obsessed about it. It ain't going to pass. It's not even going to get to the floor. And you would think, how can they say this? How do they know this? Well, they knew it because DeLay knew the votes. He knew where the Democratic votes were, and he knew it wasn't going forward. And he owned that place, and, now, he owns nothing. And he is -- and we should remind people to what he's been convicted of and sentenced to, is basically a scheme in which he got corporate money to go to the Republican National Committee and then funneled money from that committee back to Texas.
DICKERSONTexas does not allow corporate contributions in its campaigns. And so he -- his argument was -- and this is part of what the judge said -- there's no contrition here. Basically, DeLay said, I was doing what everybody else was doing. He called it Texas cocky. The judge said -- you know, determined that it required at least three years. Now, the judge did suspend another -- he could've given him more time but ended up giving him 10 years of community service. DeLay says he's going to fight it. And that's sort of where things stand now.
KINGThis is part of -- it's bigger than just a fall from grace, and it's a remarkable fall from power and grace for Tom DeLay. But this is part of the narrative, Diane, that I think is fundamentally changing the Republican Party. It used to be the party that went with the guy we knew. It was the traditionalist party, the conservative party in the sense of, you ran last time, you lost, but you ran, so you can have it this time. With the Tea Party, the fall from grace with people like Tom Delay, the Republican angst at the spending of George W. Bush, this factors into the Michael Steele race, too, with some of the more -- people with more traditional establishment support are not leading in this race.
KINGBecause there's a move in the Republican Party, we need to close the book. We need to close the book on this chapter, this 10-year period where we had power, and we did not use it properly. It's very interesting, heading forward into 2012.
REHMJohn King of CNN. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Here's a message posted on Facebook by James, who says, "I've seen a move forward, especially on Facebook, to get the two parties to sit together at the State of the Union in the name of bipartisanship. I've contacted my representative and senators, asking them to sit next to a member of the opposite party. Does the panel think this will happen? And is there a precedent for such a thing?" And, of course, the other question is, is the entire Supreme Court going to show up? Sheryl.
STOLBERGWell, that's a good question. Since President Obama irked the members of the Supreme Court last time around and has...
REHMAt least one member.
STOLBERGAt least one member, yes, with his attack on the ruling in Citizens United. This is a very interesting issue about mixing it up. You know, we've become accustomed, as we watch State of the Union addresses, to seeing the parties divided. One side stands up and claps, the other side sits down.
STOLBERGSomebody, sometimes, even yells. You -- right? You lie. We saw that last time, a shocking outburst from a Republican lawmaker at President Obama. Now, we're seeing a move to mingle in the House floor, and it does seem to be going places. The Democratic leadership said yesterday, Sen. Harry Reed said he was considering it. He'd like to take it up. He wants to talk to the Republican leader about it. This idea comes out of Third Way, a centrist Democratic organization that proposed it earlier this week in the wake of the shootings in Arizona. And Sen. Udall has also taken it up. So we will see. It would be fascinating to see how things play out if, in fact, they do mix it up.
DICKERSONWell, it -- it's got a -- Udall -- Sen. Udall has got some people behind him. Sen. McCain has said he would be for it. I think Sen. McConnell or Congressman Boehner's office said, basically, we -- you know, members get to decide on their own. It wasn't exactly an endorsement, but it also wasn't that we're not going to stand in the way. I believe it is unprecedented. I think for all the times they've had that, you know -- of course, there was a time when the State of the Union was just mailed up to the Congress. A lot of people would like to go back to that and end the charade. Although, you know, for all of the years of charade, now the charade is going to potentially...
REHMHave meeting, absolutely.
DICKERSON...pay off in a fashion and actually have meaning. And what's interesting about the, you lie, comment that was shouted out at the president is -- of course, that was about health care.
STOLBERGRight. Of course.
DICKERSONAnd so, now, we're reopening health care in this new environment and in the wake of a shooting.
REHMAnd on that note, we have an e-mail from Joy in Bridgeport, Mich., who says, "When candidate Obama campaigned to become president, he promised to overhaul the health care system. He did that successfully. Now, another election has passed with a, supposedly, different mandate to repeal the health care law. How do we know what the American people want? It seems we're a fickle group."
KINGWe have a fickle country right now. We have a divided country. In some ways, it's fickle. The American people before have opted for divided government, and many make the case that divided government has worked and defied its expectation sometimes. But, particularly on the health care issue, that is where you do scratch your head because the president litigated that issue -- all of the Democratic candidates litigated that issue in the campaign. John McCain, Diane, ran on a health care plan that was not the plan Obama ran, but was a pretty expansive plan from a Republican perspective.
KINGMitt Romney was in that race as someone who had passed health care in Massachusetts. So the political debate about health care just took a 180 degree turn. And so you can sit in America today and be confused. Wait a minute. We elected a president to do this, and the Republicans can rightly say, we just took power in Washington because this is among the issues, not just health care -- we're in a bad economy -- but is among the issues that people revolted.
STOLBERGBut let's not be confused about health care. Polls show it was the divisive, and the public was divided on that when we debated it last year. It's still -- nothing has changed.
REHMSheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times, John Dickerson of Slate.com and CBS, John King, anchor of CNN's "John King, USA," and chief national correspondent. Thanks to all of you. Thanks to you for listening. Have a great weekend, everybody. Stay safe. I'm Diane Rehm.
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