Friday News Roundup - Hour 1

Transcript for: 
Friday News Roundup - Hour 1

MS. DIANE REHM

10:06:55
Thanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. House Republicans question an August deadline to raise the federal debt ceiling. Sen. Ensign is accused of breaking the federal laws and new contenders for the GOP presidential nomination. Joining me to talk about this week's major domestic news stories, David Corn of Mother Jones, Jeanne Cummings of Politico and syndicated columnist, Michael Gerson. Throughout the hour, we'll take your calls, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to drshow -- I seem to be having a little frog in my throat this morning.

MS. DIANE REHM

10:07:48
Send your email. Join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning, everybody.

MR. DAVID CORN

10:07:54
Good morning.

MR. MICHAEL GERSON

10:07:55
Good morning.

REHM

10:07:56
Tell me about the debt limit, Michael Gerson. Are we going to see any compromise? Or is the GOP simply going to say we don't need to do this?

GERSON

10:08:12
Well, the GOP thinks they're in a strong position. There's very little public support for a debt limit increase, I think, mainly because the public doesn't understand the issue very much, but it's miniscule support for the president's position. And Speaker Boehner has set out a position. A dollar of cuts for every dollar increase in the debt limit that they think can sell pretty well to the public, so it's a high bar that he set. He may have backed himself into a corner. But they think the president has to approve a debt limit increase and that they're in the -- a more commanding position in the negotiations.

REHM

10:08:51
Jeanne Cummings.

MS. JEANNE CUMMINGS

10:08:52
I think that's exactly right. I think they believe the politics are with them. I think the polls suggest that they are in a better position. But they also know -- the leadership knows that they've got to lift it. They really should not default. And so it is a high-stakes negotiation.

REHM

10:09:11
But that's the confusing part. You know, on the one hand, you hear Treasury Secretary Geithner saying, if we default, this huge apocalypse is going to happen. On the other hand, now, you hear statements like, it doesn't matter.

CUMMINGS

10:09:31
Well, no. Treasury doesn't say it doesn't matter.

REHM

10:09:34
No. I know Treasury doesn't say that.

CUMMINGS

10:09:36
And no Wall Street-type will say that, and most economists won't say that. What -- I do think Treasury has confused the situation, however, by moving the date. If they had -- you know, originally it was supposed to be May that we were going to default. Then it became July that we were going to default. Now, it's August. And I think for those House freshmen who are ambivalent and who are not certain about what really is the truth about a default, would it be, you know, a calamity or not, they -- there are some of them that really are not sure.

CUMMINGS

10:10:12
Moving that date, I think, feeds their uncertainty because it looks like, well, they could probably get along anyway.

CORN

10:10:20
Well, they're just...

REHM

10:10:20
David Corn.

CORN

10:10:21
...not being informed because they're moving the date, in part, because of changes in tax revenue, which come up -- you know, you make predictions. Then you see what actually comes in. So, you know, there was some decent economic growth at the end of last year, last quarter. And so there were a little more revenues. That's why they were able to sort of push it off. So, I mean, I would hope that most House Republican freshmen would be able to understand that basic point.

CORN

10:10:47
You know, the interesting thing in the negotiations here is that Obama has told his fellow Democrats, let's not draw any lines in the sand, coming -- trying to come across as an -- as a responsible adult negotiator. Mitch McConnell's and John Boehner's message is revenues are off the table. You know, we will not talk about raising taxes at all. And there is nobody who can look at our long-term deficit issue and say that you can't have some discussion of revenues.

CORN

10:11:17
You know, the Republican Party, even the great Ronald Reagan -- I put great in quotes, but I know people out there like him a lot -- you know, back in the '80s, said -- you know, agreed to raise taxes when he saw our problems with deficits. But this Republican Party has gone so far off the cliff on this issue that, I think, it makes it really hard for the president to find honest negotiating partners.

REHM

10:11:42
Michael Gerson.

GERSON

10:11:44
Well, I think that the -- it's not just Republicans that are conflicted here. It's also the Democrats. Sen. Kent Conrad is trying to put together a 2012 budget, trying to make it work in his own committee and can't make it work because of divisions within the Democratic Party. You know, he -- I think that people like Bernie Sanders were against an approach that was based on the Simpson-Bowles kind of mix of taxes and cuts.

GERSON

10:12:08
And, now, Conrad seems to be moving towards a plan that has a dollar of tax increases for every dollar in tax cuts, which more moderate members of the Senate, that have to run for reelection, are not going to accept.

REHM

10:12:20
But what about this demand on Boehner's part, that the Republicans would support an increase in the debt ceiling only if $2 trillion were cut in spending to reduce the deficit, Jeanne?

CUMMINGS

10:12:38
Well, I think, what you have to look at that as, is an opening position...

REHM

10:12:43
Okay.

CUMMINGS

10:12:43
...in negotiations. So that's his bar. And Boehner has been, I think, pretty crafty in his negotiations with the White House. And he has achieved a fair amount, although it falls short of what some of his freshmen might prefer. But he's done pretty well in his negotiations. And so I see him laying down his first marker and let the negotiations begin from there.

REHM

10:13:12
So is that how you see it, Michael, an opening position? Or are they at some kind of an impasse?

GERSON

10:13:22
Well, they could be headed towards an impasse. I think that Speaker Boehner has to please a certain portion of his own party...

REHM

10:13:28
Of course.

GERSON

10:13:29
...and with an ambitious goal. But the goal is flexible in a couple of ways. One of them is it doesn't say when these reductions have to take place as far as timing -- could be 10 years, could be whatever -- so that leaves some flexibility. And the other one is you could do it in smaller chunks than $2 trillion. You could do three or four, you know, hundred billion dollars and do it a couple of times.

GERSON

10:13:51
The cuts get harder each time as you go along that route, but that's another option here. So it's a high standard, a high goal, but he's left himself some flexibility.

CUMMINGS

10:14:00
Absolutely. They could also do some caps. They could do a mix of specific cuts and then set some...

CORN

10:14:07
But can you imagine...

CUMMINGS

10:14:08
…caps in other places and curbs in other places. He's -- you know, how you get to that $2 trillion, he has left wide open.

CORN

10:14:14
But can you imagine doing this every six months for the next, you know, two years, the same fight over and over again? I mean, I think there's something to be said for, you know, having some more effective governance here because there are other issues to tend to. And, you know -- and I still, you know, think there's something very objectionable about talking about cuts in the abstract this way. If you want $2 trillion in cuts, tell us which $2 trillion you're talking about.

CORN

10:14:40
Is this when you decide to, you know, decimate Medicare or Medicaid? What is this? I mean, again, if you're just talking about cuts, you're talking about ending programs and ending services that, you know, often a lot of people depend on. You're talking about lunch money for kids, women and infant children subsidy supports. It's very easy for him to go to Wall Street and say, I want to, you know, cut $2 trillion. But where are you taking it from?

REHM

10:15:09
And that...

CORN

10:15:09
While financing tax cuts for the wealthy.

REHM

10:15:14
And that same question came up in regard to the oil companies and their tax subsidies. Jeanne, what was the goal of that hearing yesterday?

CUMMINGS

10:15:29
Well, I think that much of it was venting. I think, you know, sometimes Congress can't -- you know, Congress can't set gas prices, but they can help their constituents express how they feel to very powerful people. And bringing in the heads of the major oil companies was something we see classically in Washington. It was an opportunity for the senators to express their constituents' outrage and to also, you know, get some explanations from the oil companies about why -- when they have record profits -- they should still receive tax breaks.

REHM

10:16:06
And what were their answers, Michael Gerson?

GERSON

10:16:09
They were entirely uncompromising. They said, there's nothing wrong with our profits. We don't want to be targeted. In fact, they said, we'll take our investment elsewhere if you...

REHM

10:16:18
What does that mean?

GERSON

10:16:20
Well, it means that we have a global economy where they can invest in other countries, invest in -- but, you know, this is a case, though -- I do think it's a populist issue. I think it's unlikely to pass, but it's a pretty good populist issue. This is a case where Republicans are a little bit divided. I think that they would accept getting rid of these subsidies as part of a deficit reduction plan. In fact, Paul Ryan and others have said that. I think they have problems doing it as a separate vehicle, kind of conceding something, you know, what they regard as a tax increase.

GERSON

10:16:50
But Speaker Boehner himself seemed open to at least one of those cuts in subsidies, and, I think, we'll eventually see it. George W. Bush, if you remember, said, you know, these companies don't need subsidies. He said that in -- you know, 10 years ago.

REHM

10:17:06
What is the total amount of subsidies that the oil companies get? Do we know?

GERSON

10:17:13
Well, the amount of money that the Democrats are talking about in terms of removing subsidies -- I'm not sure this is all their subsidies -- is about $4 billion a year in subsidies that they wanted, you know, that they, you know, have proposed an amendment to get rid of that right now. And Republicans are saying, no, we don't think so. Maybe we'll talk about it.

REHM

10:17:32
Not all the Republicans.

GERSON

10:17:33
No, no. No, no, no. They're not -- they do not -- not a single Republican supports a vote, now, in getting rid of these subsidies. Paul Ryan, John Boehner said, oh, we're going to talk about this, maybe. But, listen, you know, these guys love the market so much and they want to talk, you know -- subjecting all of us to the market when it comes to health insurance and everything else.

GERSON

10:17:52
Why would they spend a second not getting rid of these subsidies that have been around for almost 100 years that no longer exist for the reasons they were created, and now they want to just sort of play this game rather than do anything? And when George Bush was president, when Republicans controlled both Houses of the Congress, they made no move on these subsidies, really. They didn't do anything about this. This has been going forever.

CORN

10:18:15
I think it's a strategic objection instead of an ideological objection. I think that they would want things like this to be part of a package instead of cherry-picked by Democrats as a populist issue.

REHM

10:18:25
Michael Gerson, he is a columnist for The Washington Post. Jeanne Cummings is here. She is with Politico. David Corn is with Mother Jones. Short break. We'll be right back.

REHM

10:20:03
And welcome back. Just before the break, we were talking about the testimony of oil executives upon Capitol Hill yesterday. Michael Gerson, what's the outcome of this likely to be?

GERSON

10:20:19
I think there is -- we're very likely -- unlikely to pass any legislation related to this. I think even the supporters of legislation realize that. But I do think, in the long term, as part of a deficit-reduction package, this is a very likely measure that will be taken. There are, by the way, some Democrats who opposed it. Mary Landrieu and others from oil-producing states, they -- she called it laughable. So there's a little bit of division on the Democratic side. But I do think this is likely in the long term.

CUMMINGS

10:20:46
Well, that would take, of course, a major tax reform bill. And everyone -- not everyone -- but there is bipartisan support to overhaul the corporate tax structure. But the folks on Capitol Hill -- Mitch McConnell in particular, the Republican leader in the Senate, has said, you know, there's just no time, and it can't get done before the election. And so that is an issue for another day. But I think it's certainly something the White House has called for changes in, the business community has called for changes in and Congress has as well.

CUMMINGS

10:21:21
So, eventually, it would be included in something like that. But even that is not likely to get done in the near term.

REHM

10:21:27
David.

CORN

10:21:28
Let me give a shout out to the Center for American Progress, a liberal group in town that put out a report not too long ago identifying -- I'll have a good look at it here -- $64 billion in tax loopholes that they think in one year can be taken out of the budget, and they identified a half a trillion dollars over five years. So while everyone is focusing in spending cuts, this is, really, exactly the same type of money that we give -- and, you know, this is all to oil companies. This is -- it's across the board.

CORN

10:21:56
But, you know, a real strong focus -- and this is where you would think some ideology would cross party lines. If you believe in the market, a lot of these things are not market-driven subsidies. So, I think, you know -- I think one of the good benefits of this debate this past week about oil company subsidies is that it may lead to the bigger picture of how to deal with tax loopholes as a way to get the deficit reduction without focusing only in spending cuts, which affect primarily the less fortunate and the (unintelligible).

REHM

10:22:27
All right. Let's talk about FBI Director Robert Mueller and President Obama's request that he stay on the job for two more years. Why?

CORN

10:22:41
Well, I mean, they had a couple, you know, of good candidates. I'm not sure these candidates wanted the job -- Patrick Fitzgerald, for one, the U.S. attorney in Chicago who did the Valerie Plame case. But, I think, they worried a bit about a confirmation fight, even if they nominated James Comey, who had served in the Bush administration. And I -- you know, I think there's a very good relationship between the president and the chief. So I think the president wanted to continue. They didn't want to fight. They have a lot of people leaving the administration now, sort of midway through.

CORN

10:23:17
And this made sense. I assume it will go through with a little squawking from some Republicans and...

REHM

10:23:23
What do you think, Jeanne?

CUMMINGS

10:23:25
I agree with David. I think that we haven't seen strong opposition surface immediately. And when a nomination like this, where it's a little distinct, and it's odd -- it's unprecedented -- to just add two years to the end of the FBI director's 10-year term -- if there were strong objections, we'd probably be hearing them now and pretty quickly. Instead, what Sen. Grassley -- you know, he raised eyebrows at it, wondered about what kind of precedent was being set. But even when he was raising concerns, he was not necessarily saying, I'm going to vote against it.

REHM

10:24:03
What is the primary concern, Michael Gerson?

GERSON

10:24:08
Well, the primary concern, which I don't think is that strong, you know, among members of Congress, is that Herbert Hoover was -- you know, had a lifetime appointment as the FBI director and became abusive of that power. And so the 10-year limit was instituted in -- you know, in the 1970s to prevent that from happening again. But I think you have to say Mueller is viewed by just about everybody as a very effective public servant, successful and low-key, independent, has served two presidents very effectively.

GERSON

10:24:40
And I agree. I don't think they want a nomination fight about War on Terror policy in the middle of an election because it could alienate left and right in a certain way.

CUMMINGS

10:24:49
I also think -- David mentioned this. But it is really important when you look at the other changes in the national security team, with Leon Panetta going over to the Pentagon and Gen. Petraeus going into the CIA, the White House has some real concerns about keeping its (unintelligible).

REHM

10:25:04
Big changes.

CORN

10:25:06
Yeah.

CUMMINGS

10:25:06
And they've got adjustments. Both of them are going to have transitional periods. And so they don't want all three of -- you know, the most important players, or some of the key players, in our anti-terrorism efforts, they don't want all three of them going through in a transition.

GERSON

10:25:20
And there had been times in the FBI history where the place has just been really terrible, without leadership, with lots of problems, computers not working. I think the idea of having at least one little slice of stability...

REHM

10:25:33
Yeah.

CORN

10:25:33
...in the national security establishment is very, very appealing to the president.

REHM

10:25:36
Nobody has said how Bob Mueller feels about all this. I thought he was sort of looking forward to moving into private life, Jeanne.

CUMMINGS

10:25:49
Well, if he was -- he issued a statement, saying he would be honored...

REHM

10:25:53
I see.

CUMMINGS

10:25:53
...to continue to serve...

REHM

10:25:54
All right.

CUMMINGS

10:25:55
...for the next term.

REHM

10:25:55
Okay. I want to -- going back to some things David was talking about, regarding cuts to poor people, cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, some of the Catholic universities around the country have taken a stand on Congressman Boehner's record on poverty. What do you think about that, Michael Gerson?

GERSON

10:26:23
Well, he's giving the Catholic university commencement, which is the reason that a lot of these concerns were raised. And these professors raised a serious concern of Catholic social thought, which is the preferential option for the poor, not to having the poor have disproportionate cuts in a variety of ways. The document itself, when you look at it, though, is deeply partisan, nasty, used a lot of language about slashing and gutting and other things. So I think that, actually, in a certain way, undermined the effectiveness.

GERSON

10:26:52
They called for tax increases. They -- and they didn't really kind of grasp the policy challenge here, which is if there are not any controls on Medicare and Medicaid, there's not going to be any money left over for discretionary spending on poverty and other issues. We got 80 million people -- baby boomers -- entering our retirement system. They're going to take up all of this bandwidth in the budget. And so I think that they're -- you know, that reform is necessary in order to do any of the spending they're talking about.

CORN

10:27:23
But, you know...

CUMMINGS

10:27:23
Well...

CORN

10:27:23
Okay. Go ahead, Jeanne.

CUMMINGS

10:27:25
Well, I'm, once again, a -- that's looking at it only from the side of spending cuts. And with additional revenues, more things could be afforded. It's -- I mean, David's made that point. But it is true, if -- and the...

GERSON

10:27:38
You can't get there from here with larger -- you cut -- the increases would have to be so large, it would undermine economic growth.

CORN

10:27:44
But if you look at the Ryan budget, you know, the amount of spending -- of tax cuts in that is really close to the amount of savings that they get in spending. So it's almost, you know, a net off. So if you really -- you know, if you take the Catholics at their word here, you know, they would say, wait a second. Then just don't give those tax cuts to the well-to-do or even to the upper-middle class. And that way, you can continue to fund for a lot more years. There may be problems still down the road to contend with. But, you know, it wouldn't be as dire.

CORN

10:28:17
And, more importantly, you don't have as dire and as Draconian cuts in these social service programs. I mean, that's just basic math. If you're giving out these tax cuts, then you don't have to cut as much to justify these tax cuts financially.

GERSON

10:28:31
And I do think that we're going to end up with some mix here.

REHM

10:28:33
Yes, I agree.

GERSON

10:28:34
But if you look at the mix...

CORN

10:28:35
But no Republican...

GERSON

10:28:36
...the mix actually...

CORN

10:28:36
...in public office is saying that, Michael. While Obama...

GERSON

10:28:38
Because...

CORN

10:28:39
The Democrats are happy to say, we believe in the mix.

GERSON

10:28:39
(unintelligible) early in the negotiations?

REHM

10:28:43
It's hard for listeners to hear if two people are talking at once.

GERSON

10:28:49
My apologies. Sorry.

REHM

10:28:50
Okay. Let's talk about the economics of the flooding along the lower Mississippi and tributaries. I mean, talk about huge money that's going to have to be spent to try to reclaim those properties.

CUMMINGS

10:29:09
Absolutely. There -- and the flooding, of course, we all know is historic. And, you know, in terms of, you know, where our federal budget is and where the state budgets are, it couldn't come at a worse time. They're talking about $2 billion of farmland alone. But that's just scratching the surface of the real damage here in terms of homeowner losses and property damage that eventually, you know, will be assessed.

CUMMINGS

10:29:36
And we need all of the water to recede, and it's not even done. And we go from state to state to state, that are going to face billions of dollars in costs in trying to recover from this incredible flood.

REHM

10:29:50
David.

CORN

10:29:50
You know, what's fascinating is that there has to have -- decisions have to be made about who's going to bear the cost because it is a decision of what to do with the water, whether you sort of spill it off -- and it will flood, you know, basically, an entire agricultural sector in Louisiana -- or whether you let the water go towards New Orleans and perhaps breach the levees and create damage down there. And, you know, this is a decision that's being made by the corps of engineers and the people in charge of the flooding commission in the states down there.

CORN

10:30:23
And, you know, how do you decide whose lives and who -- you know, whose territory, whose cities you're going to destroy and flood? It's not a democratic decision. You know, there's not a vote on this. And it's -- you know, it's quite painful to see.

REHM

10:30:39
Michael.

GERSON

10:30:40
Well, I think the damage is significant to crops and casinos all along the river that are a major source of local revenue, and to grain production, where we already have shortages of commodities like that. And then you add in the coverage, which is like adding insult to injury. We've got alligators and snake problems in these areas.

REHM

10:30:57
Oh, wow.

GERSON

10:30:58
And, you know, it's a serious problem, and it's not over yet.

REHM

10:31:03
And we haven't even talked about the casinos that are going to lose millions of dollars for that state. So what about the government's flood insurance program? How does that kick in, Jeanne?

CUMMINGS

10:31:22
I don't know the answer to that question. I don't know -- I mean, with an unprecedented nature like this and with our finances as they are, I don't know exactly how it would kick in or whether it could possibly cover all of the losses that we are facing.

REHM

10:31:36
I mean, the farmers have crop insurance.

CUMMINGS

10:31:38
Mm hmm.

CORN

10:31:39
But, you know -- but...

CORN

10:31:41
Sorry. The mic left me for a second. But, you know, the -- if their territory is flooded because of a decision made by the flooding commission...

REHM

10:31:50
Yeah.

CORN

10:31:51
...it's not covered -- you know, their losses. If there was a flood that was considered an act of God, it would be, but an act of a bureaucrat is not. So there are a lot of people who are looking at losing their lands. And there's whole cities, just having entire areas flooded out, who will not get anything. Now, if they come to the federal government, we have this issue, as often happens, as, you know, what responsibility does the rest of the country have to a particular region when there's a problem.

CORN

10:32:18
And we see with the rise of the Tea Party and this libertarian streak in the Republican Party that often people want to say, sorry, you're on your own. It'll be interesting to see this play out.

REHM

10:32:29
And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Jeanne Cummings, let's talk about Indiana's plan to cut Planned Parenthood.

CUMMINGS

10:32:41
Yes. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels became the first to sign a law that would block any state funding for Planned Parenthood. And, you know, this clearly is an agenda that's moving from state to state to state. These Republican governors, you know, they share information at conferences and among their staff. And we certainly saw with the legislation aimed at labor unions that it kind of became a little bit of a wildfire, moving from state to state to state. And we'll see if this does as well.

CUMMINGS

10:33:16
It was interesting that -- of all the governors, that it was Mitch Daniels because he had called for a time out on social issues while he tried to really focus on the fiscal challenges facing his state. And, you know, with him discussing running for president, obviously, he would take this on to the campaign trail as one credential. But there were lots of other governors that you would have thought had -- would go first on this. I was -- and so it was a little ironic that it was Mitch Daniels who went first.

REHM

10:33:46
So Planned Parenthood is rejecting opponents' claims that other organizations that do not receive any federal funding whatsoever can carry on the 3 percent of monies that are Planned Parenthood's that do go toward abortion, Michael. Is that true?

GERSON

10:34:17
Well, I think, Gov. Daniels has tried to -- he sent directives to state bureaucrats, in this case, that they need to refer people to other services. And, you know, he argues that they exist. Planned Parenthood, you know, does many other things, but they provide half of the abortions in Indiana. And that's the...

REHM

10:34:37
But they do not use one drop of federal money. Is that correct?

GERSON

10:34:41
In the argument made by supporters of this, is that the money's fungible, that if you're providing federal money, you know, through Medicaid and other things, that frees up money to do other things. That's the basic argument. But Daniels did not, by the way, seek this. He didn't propose the legislation, but he had very little choice but to support it, given the Republican dynamic.

CUMMINGS

10:35:02
Well, he -- but he...

REHM

10:35:02
And then, early this morning, the Kansas legislator -- legislature voted to prohibit any insurance companies from offering abortion coverage as part of general health plans, except when a woman's life is at risk. David.

CORN

10:35:24
You know, when the Republicans won the last election, it was seen as the tide was moving back in their favor. You know, a lot of people thought this was based on -- that they'd come in and talk about the economy. What did Speaker Boehner say? Jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, prior to the election. It's not just what's happening in Indiana and Kansas. We see this in the Congress here, too.

CORN

10:35:46
So one of their first acts was finding ways to go after Planned Parenthood, defunding it, but also doing things such as redefining the definition of rape, so -- to restrict people who are raped from getting access to federal funding for abortion, so that, you know -- we haven't seen, really, a single jobs bill. But we've seen several attempts aimed at a woman's right to have an abortion. And, again and again, they're doing this in all sorts of different ways.

CORN

10:36:12
And by going after Planned Parenthood, they are, no doubt, going to make it less easy for women to get other health services -- you know, cervical exams, breast exams. And they're just going to say, we're fine with that. We are fine with that.

REHM

10:36:24
Michael.

GERSON

10:36:25
Well, I think that that's some kind of -- not a correct description of what the Congress has done. I mean, the Congress led -- the House led with H.R.1, which was a budget measure. Most of the discussion that we had this morning related to how we're going to do the budget -- I think Republicans have led with those issues. But pro-life people (word?) a very important part of the Republican coalition, just like liberal groups are part of the Democratic, you know, coalition. And these kind of issues come up.

GERSON

10:36:54
This was the Indiana legislature that did this in Indiana. And, you know, Daniels had a binary choice. He could support that or oppose it. And this was not a flip-flop. He's been pro-life his entire career.

CUMMINGS

10:37:07
But it's not quite that benign because Daniels really is a very influential governor. He's a strong governor. And when his legislature wanted to go -- move forward, the anti-labor legislation that we've seen around the country, he told them, put it on the table. I don't want to go there. I've got other things to do. So, clearly, he could have sent a similar signal on this, too.

REHM

10:37:31
Jeanne Cummings of Politico. Short break. When we come back, your calls.

REHM

10:40:02
And welcome back to the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup. We've got lots of callers waiting. 800-433-8850. First to Rochester, N.Y. Good morning, Paul. You're on the air.

PAUL

10:40:21
Good morning. Thanks for letting me talk here. I just want to make one statement, and it's something that I haven't heard much. And it's something that I think more people feel, like I do and are speaking, and that is -- is I think Barack Obama is doing an excellent job. And I don't belong to an organized party. I belong to the Democratic Party. And I hope people realize what a gift this guy is. I keep trying to figure out what the vitriol is from the other side. And I think it's jealousy.

REHM

10:40:59
Jeanne Cummings.

CUMMINGS

10:41:01
Well, yeah, I'm sure the Republicans are jealous that he's in the White House, and they want it back. And, you know, politics is politics, and it is definitely a contact sport. But I do think that the Republican leaders, after the events of last week, with the death of Osama bin Laden, I think, you know, pretty much every Republican leader came out and gave the White House its due. And, you know, that was a victory for our country. And there were very, very few of them that either qualified or skimped in their praise for that act.

REHM

10:41:39
Michael Gerson, in the last portion of the program, we were talking about the FBI. And you made the same mistake I have made...

GERSON

10:41:49
Sure.

REHM

10:41:49
...upon this program. We've gotten 100 emails, so correct yourself.

GERSON

10:41:53
Sure. Well, I do want to apologize to Herbert Hoover and his family.

GERSON

10:41:58
But I -- you know, he may have had many problems, but one of them was not the abuse of power at the FBI. That was J. Edgar Hoover. That's what I meant to say.

REHM

10:42:06
All right. And let's go now to Ed, who's in St. Louis, Mo. Good morning.

ED

10:42:13
Thank you. Yeah, first of all, I'm not a Democrat. I'm not a Republican. And I'm not from the oil industry. However, I have a long career in doing business, both internationally and here. And it's very discouraging to hear the dishonesty over this tax -- over this "subsidy" issue for oil companies. Yes. There are a few, very targeted subsidies. However, most of what was being discussed in the numbers deal with salary depreciation, types of deductions for foreign leasing or for foreign taxes that apply just as much to Apple, Google, Intel, any -- GM, anything.

ED

10:42:54
What we have here is just another bunch of show trials and a huge amount of dishonesty by the liberals out there, trying to say, well, oil prices are up. How about, who owns the oil companies? Its pension funds, 401 (k) s and IRAs own about three-fourths or 60 percent of the oil companies.

REHM

10:43:15
All right, Jeanne Cummings.

CUMMINGS

10:43:17
One of the arguments that the oil executives made on the Hill yesterday is precisely what your caller is raising, and that is that the cuts would be to broader tax provisions. And so it would be discriminatory to single out the oil companies, to exclude them while other major international corporations would still have the benefit of them.

REHM

10:43:41
All right. Michael Gerson, I want to ask you about some of the GOP 2012 candidates. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich tweeted his announcement of his presidential nomination bid. Can he overcome his liabilities?

GERSON

10:44:03
Well, he wants to put himself in that category of, like, Richard Nixon in 1968 or Ronald Reagan in 1980, who had been out of politics a long time, coming back in and trying to win the nomination. I think that -- you know, I was recently in both Iowa and New Hampshire, and asked a lot about Gingrich. And people think that he is the idea leader of the Republican Party. They don't think he's the next Republican nominee.

GERSON

10:44:27
They think he has significant baggage. He is creative, but not a particularly stable thinker. He makes gaffes and mistakes. And so I think that he's going to do well in the debates. I think that he is going to, you know, be an ideal leader in this situation, but I think it's very unlikely he'll be the nominee.

REHM

10:44:50
What about his personal baggage, David?

CORN

10:44:53
How many steamer trunks do you have? I mean, he has more baggage, you know, we've seen on the personal front than any other candidate -- serious candidate in a long time. He's had, you know, three wives, two messy divorces. And one of these affairs had happened with a congressional aide while he was Speaker of the House and while he was leading the Republicans when they were doing the sex and lies impeachment crusade against Bill Clinton.

CORN

10:45:23
You know, he has tried to reach out to the evangelical community to try to, I think, pave the way. But, you know, some leaders have said, well, you know, he has one wife too many, you know, one ex-wife too many for a serious candidate. But I think it's his temperament more than anything that will get him into trouble. We at Mother Jones put out a list of some of his more intemperate remarks over 30 years of public life. And it ended up being a 10-page list, and it was incomplete.

CORN

10:45:51
And the first item comes from 1978 in which, when he was running for Congress in Georgia, he told the young Republicans down there, the main problem with the Republican Party is that it doesn't encourage you to be nasty. This is what he says in 1978. And he has been true to his word. For 30 years, he has been one of the nastiest politicians out there. And each time he doesn't like someone, he compares them either to Nazis or to Neville Chamberlain. He has both sides of the equation covered. I don't think, for a year-and-a-half, he can keep that nasty side locked up in his baggage.

REHM

10:46:23
Jeanne.

CUMMINGS

10:46:24
Well, I've covered Gingrich for a very long time, and discipline is an issue with Gingrich. And he will -- you know, he often concedes that. He has said himself that he has to be more disciplined. But, you know, I -- it's very hard for him to stay on message, and it's the...

REHM

10:46:44
His ideas are just constantly flowing.

CUMMINGS

10:46:45
Yes. And he's used to talking quickly.

REHM

10:46:48
Yeah.

CUMMINGS

10:46:49
And -- you know, so the odds are there are -- there's going to be a moment when he sort of -- he's going to misspeak.

CORN

10:46:52
But it's not just...

CUMMINGS

10:46:54
And...

CORN

10:46:54
It's not just ideas, though, because if you look at what he said about President Obama not too long ago, he said the only way we can understand this fellow is if you think about the perspective of a Kenyan anti-colonialist. Excuse me, how many Kenyan anti-colonialists have killed major terrorist leaders? It was, I think, a racial tainted remark, if not a racist remark. And it was, like, just an attack remark. It wasn't a clever idea.

CORN

10:47:16
It wasn't -- and he has a lot of that in his past. So he comes across -- he likes to portray himself as an idea guy, and he does think a lot about policy. But the other half of him -- I think it's a 50-50 mix -- is an attack dog who has counts with other Republicans to call Democrats traitors and immoral for decades.

REHM

10:47:33
All right. Let's talk about Ron Paul and his announcement. How much of a shot does he have of staying in the forefront, Michael Gerson?

GERSON

10:47:46
I think he has no chance of the nomination, but a very good shot at staying at the forefront. He has the most loyal element of the Republican coalition. There are no more than, I think, 10 percent of the primary audience. But they will do anything for him.

REHM

10:48:01
And what about Mitt Romney in his speech about Massachusetts health care law, Jeanne?

CUMMINGS

10:48:09
Yeah, yesterday, he really -- as we said at Politico, he confronted his ghost. And this is his one of -- he's got liabilities. But this is a really big liability in that the Massachusetts law that he signed to expand health care coverage, in that state was a model that was used when the president put together the national health care law. A lot of Republicans have said he has to apologize for pushing through that law, before he can get past this liability because, of course, Obama's health care law is one of the most motivating things for the Republican base right now. And he didn't. He didn't apologize.

CUMMINGS

10:48:49
He said it was the right solution for his state, and that if he became president, he would allow states to opt out of the federal law. And he believes that states should solve their own health care problems rather than having a federal law. So that's his way -- he's trying to work around this. There were many commentators and Republican strategists yesterday who were pretty mixed about whether he went far enough to get past this.

REHM

10:49:16
Right way or wrong way, Michael?

GERSON

10:49:18
I think they were a little more negative than mixed. I think there's a real argument here among Republicans, that whatever the argument's in this case, the Republican primaries are going to be about repealing Obamacare. And it's very hard to distinguish Romneycare from Obamacare. There's a -- just too many similarities there. And he -- you know, I think it's admirable that he came out and did not, you know, repudiate his previous position. But I think it's a real political problem.

REHM

10:49:43
Michael, are we seeing anyone yet who looks as though he may win the GOP nomination?

GERSON

10:49:54
Well, when I've been in these early states, you have a lot of people that are marginally supporting Tim Pawlenty or Mitt Romney and hoping somebody else gets in the race. And that would be, you know, Chris Christie of New Jersey or...

REHM

10:50:07
Who has said he doesn't want it.

GERSON

10:50:09
...want to do it -- or Mitch Daniels who may be nearing a decision that he does this, you know, or Mike Huckabee in Iowa, you know, who seems, you know, honestly conflicted, but would be the immediate frontrunner in Iowa. So there are some big figures who will still have to make a decision.

REHM

10:50:24
David.

CORN

10:50:25
Well, I thought what was interesting, too, yesterday with Mitt Romney's speech was that he clearly, you know, didn't pander, but he has a history of flip-flopping on gay rights and abortion and gun control. So he -- you know, he can't flip-flop. He still have -- he's used up all his flip-flop potential in 2008.

GERSON

10:50:43
True.

CORN

10:50:43
So he was kind of cornered by his own position. But he tried to, you know, get aboard the bash-Obama bandwagon, and, you know, he did this with a slideshow. And one of the slides he put up, which I thought was interesting, said the Obama administration fundamentally does not believe in the American experiment, which, to me, is trying, like -- he's not a Birther. He said he doesn't believe in that stuff.

CORN

10:51:06
But he's still trying to tap into this vein that Obama is not really a true American, he's an other. He doesn't get America. I mean, if anyone gets America, I think, in terms of success and taking advantage of its opportunities, I think it's Barack Obama.

REHM

10:51:22
All right.

CORN

10:51:22
So Mitt was trying to tap into that, you know, subtly.

REHM

10:51:25
All right. Let's go to Keith in Bristol, Tenn. You're on the air.

KEITH

10:51:31
Hi, guys.

REHM

10:51:32
Hi.

KEITH

10:51:33
I would just like to suggest that we nationalize the oil companies, and I really think there would be a groundswell of support for that. I know the folks on you panel probably don't agree with that, but I'd like their thoughts on it.

REHM

10:51:47
All right. Thanks for calling. Jeanne.

CUMMINGS

10:51:50
Well, I'm not sure how you nationalize an international company. So, you know, I think it's -- we're well beyond that sort of option.

REHM

10:52:01
He thinks that FDR would have done something like that, Michael.

GERSON

10:52:07
Yes. I do think that the practicalities of that are very difficult. I mean, first of all, these are not the largest oil companies in the world. They're much -- you know, some of them are in the top 10. And, you know, these are in global markets, where if you do something in the confines of America, people can go to other markets and do other things. So...

REHM

10:52:26
All right.

GERSON

10:52:26
But there is a move to cut down on speculation and trading that really is purely speculative.

REHM

10:52:31
Yeah.

GERSON

10:52:32
And, you know, that could be where some of this populist fervor could be aimed.

REHM

10:52:36
All right. Jeanne, you've been following Sen. Ensign's story this week.

CUMMINGS

10:52:43
Yeah, it was a really extraordinary moment in the Senate where the bipartisan Ethics Committee unveiled the findings from its near two-year investigation of Sen. Ensign, who, a couple of years ago, acknowledged that he'd had an affair with one of his employees. And what the Senate Ethics Committee found was that he had broken federal law, and they have made -- now, they have sent recommendations to the Federal Election Commission, that they look into what they claim are lies that were told to FEC about the nature of the payoff that was given.

CUMMINGS

10:53:22
Once the affair was broken, the senator's family gave the couple, who -- the woman and her husband...

REHM

10:53:29
Her husband.

CUMMINGS

10:53:30
…yeah -- money. And they said it was a gift. And the Ethics Committee says it's essentially hush money and that they then sent a recommendation over to the Department of Justice, that they look into Sen. Ensign's potential violation of lobbying rules and Senate ethics rules.

REHM

10:53:46
And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." David Corn.

CORN

10:53:51
You know, there are a lot of interesting angles to this, one is that, you know, the congressional ethics process in general over the years has been weak at best. And this was a rather strong report. I think Barbara Boxer said that, you know, it would have led to expulsion if he had still been in the Senate. But there's, you know, a couple little things in it, too, about Sen. Tom Coburn, who is still in the Senate, who was a go-between between the aide whose wife had the affair with Sen. Ensign and the senator in terms of getting money.

CORN

10:54:21
He wanted $8 million at one point, and Coburn said, well, that's way too much. But it looks like Coburn was involved, in a way, to sort of come up with -- if it wasn't hush money or a bribe, it was sort of quasi-hush money. And I don't think we're going to -- that the Ethics Committee is going to do too much in terms of looking into -- further, that is, into his role here because senators usually like to give the -- their brethren or sistren the benefit of the doubt.

CUMMINGS

10:54:45
And Sen. Coburn, when he testified before the Ethics Committee, he described his role as a very passive role, that he just was told, you know, one party wants this amount of money, and he conveyed that to the other party. The report has other testimony that suggests that Sen. Coburn influenced the amount. Sen. Coburn says he did not.

REHM

10:55:11
Michael Gerson.

GERSON

10:55:12
Well, it's a sad, salacious, pathetic episode, you know, that mainly speaks about human weakness. But I will give the senator one item of credit, that his decision to resign and spare the country...

CUMMINGS

10:55:29
Resign the day before he was going to go and testify before the Senate Ethics Committee. So...

GERSON

10:55:33
Right. And, you know, and that was appropriate. But, you know, if there are, you know, federal laws violated here, there is a referral to the Justice Department to take a look at these, and, you know, they'll pursue it.

CUMMINGS

10:55:48
And it's surprising that the FBI told -- according to Sen. Ensign's attorney, the FBI has indicted Mr. Hampton, who is the husband of the woman who had an affair with Sen. Ensign. They have indicted him for violating the lobbying rules, but they -- his attorney says that he -- that the senator was given a pass, told he wasn't a target. But if you look at this report, it's astonishing that they didn't go after the senator.

REHM

10:56:19
But here's the question, with the country focused on jobs, jobs, jobs, the economy, why should we even be talking about this, Jeanne?

CUMMINGS

10:56:33
Because this is such an abuse of power. If you read this report, the fact that the couple, the Hamptons, both were employed by the senator. He had complete control over their lives. He underwrote their mortgage. He was paying the tuition of their children. He completely controlled this family, and then he was relentless. He stalked her, and he continued to go after her when she even said I'm worried about my job. I mean, this is sexual discrimination and harassment and an abuse of power.

REHM

10:57:02
And that's the last word from Jeanne Cummings of Politico, David Corn of Mother Jones, Michael Gerson, a columnist for The Washington Post. Thank you all so much. Thanks for listening, everybody. I'm Diane Rehm.

ANNOUNCER

10:57:20
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