Earlier this month, the House of Representatives passed the 21st Century Cures Act in a rare bi-partisan effort. The bill is meant to speed the development of lifesaving treatments, but critics warn it may also allow ineffective or even harmful drugs onto the market.
Guest Host: Katty Kay
Weekly unemployment claims dropped to their lowest level in five weeks; GOP Presidential candidate Herman Cain denied reports that he sexually harassed former female employees, and accused Gov. Rick Perry of orchestrating a smear campaign against him; and an Occupy Oakland general strike turned violent overnight. Guest Host Katty Kay of the BBC will analyze the week’s top national news stories with Naftali Bendavid of The Wall Street Journal, Nia-Malika Henderson of the Washington Post, and Ron Elving of NPR.
- Ron Elving Washington editor for NPR.
- Naftali Bendavid national correspondent, The Wall Street Journal.
- Nia-Malika Henderson national politics reporter, The Washington Post.
MS. KATTY KAYThanks for joining us. I'm Katty Kay of the BBC, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Diane is in Maine for a station visit. Unemployment dips to 9 percent as the U.S. adds 80,000 jobs in October. The Senate blocks President Obama's infrastructure plan, and the House reaffirms In God We Trust as the national motto. Joining us for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup. Naftali Bendavid of The Wall Street Journal, Nia-Malika Henderson of The Washington Post and Ron Elving of NPR, thank you all so much for joining me.
MR. NAFTALI BENDAVIDGood to be with you.
MS. NIA-MALIKA HENDERSONGood to be here.
KAYWe'll be taking your calls and comments later on during the hour. I'll be opening the phones. Do call us. 1-800-433-8850 is the phone number here. Of course, you can send us an email to email@example.com or join us on Facebook or Twitter. I'd love to get your questions and comments. It's that time of the month, Ron, first Friday in November. How does it look for October?
MR. RON ELVINGAnother murky jobs report, unfortunately. Eighty thousand jobs is not terrible. A dip from 9.1 percent to 9 percent of the unemployment rate is certainly welcome. But this is not good enough news to really be encouraging, particularly because some economists were predicting something like 94,000, a few even 100,000 or more new jobs, net, in this last month. The best news in this report actually has to do with the previous two months when apparently more jobs were created than previously reported.
MR. RON ELVINGAnd we did have very discouraging news at the end of the summer, beginning of the fall. So to know that there were actually more jobs being created than we knew about or that were estimated at that time, that's good news. And, of course, the slight decrease in the rate is good news. But we now had 32 months, I believe, of somewhere around 9 percent unemployment or higher. We briefly touched 10 percent -- 10.2 percent, I believe, is the peak. So that's a long time to tell people we're recovering, but we're sorry we just don't have a job for you.
KAYWell, the market has only been open, of course, for a short while. Any response yet, Ron, quickly?
ELVINGYeah, the market turned briefly positive right after the news came out, I believe, probably mostly on the rate dip and the idea that the number looked a little better than some we've seen in the past. But then the market began to fall. The market is down about a little over 100 on the Dow at the moment, about -- a little over 13 on the S&P 500. So the market is not really all that encouraged by these numbers.
ELVINGBut, of course, we also need to bear in mind the market has many other things on its mind, including what's going on in Europe and what's going on within the market itself technically.
KAYOkay. Nia-Malika, the White House, of course, desperate for the trend to move in the right direction, are they going to be seizing on this as at least we are going down on the unemployment rate?
HENDERSONI think they will be, but certainly very carefully. They have -- you know, as this unemployment rate has been about 9 percent, at one point 10 percent, they have been careful to talk about it in a way that says, we're on the right track, but recovery is slow. And I think that's what you'll continue to hear. If you look at this jobs report, one of the things about it is that the public sector is one of the things that's being battered.
HENDERSONI think 24,000 job losses in that sector, and you've seen the White House try to tie some of these jobs bills to hiring public sector workers, teachers and firefighters. That hasn't worked so far. Part of that bill went down in the Senate. I believe it was last week. So I think you'll hear him come out and say, you know, the trend is going downward, but there's still work to do.
KAYOkay. I'm really hoping that we're going to get an optimistic morning out of this, Naftali, but we've got the jobs report today. Yesterday, we had the Fed chairman revising down America's growth forecasts. What did he say?
BENDAVIDWell, you know, there was some thought that next year, the growth would be at about 3.5 percent for the economy. Now, it turns out that the Fed is saying it'll be closer to 2.5 and that unemployment will remain at 8.5 percent at the end of 2012. So this, I think, goes along with all the reports we've been hearing in all kinds of places. You know, the economy is probably not headed for another recession. We're probably not going to have a double dip as people call it. On the other hand, it's going to be brutally slow.
BENDAVIDAnd I think one of things that this points to is that it's not just a matter of regaining jobs we lost. Some of these jobs aren't coming back. And so the trick is to get other jobs to replace the ones we lost, whether it's in the high-tech sector or elsewhere. That's a really hard thing to do, and, I think, it's one reason that we're headed for a few years of a very slow and difficult recovery.
KAYI think that's one of the most interesting thing that's going on. I mean, basically, we are shifting from a manufacturing economy to a high-tech economy, to a brawn to brain economy. And is anyone telling you where the jobs are going to come from? We all look to the green energy sector, but that doesn't seem to produce a lot.
BENDAVIDWell, that's right. I mean, one of the things people talk a lot is this idea of green jobs for precisely that reason. It's an obvious area for growth. But, you know, efforts to cultivate green jobs have struggled, the truth is. You know, it's one of those things that require a certain amount of investment without a guaranteed payoff, and so it sort of stumbled. And this is not a time when people are making big investments in the economy without a certain payoff.
BENDAVIDAnd there's a lot of talk, of course, about high tech. But, ultimately, you know, we don't know where it's going to come from. And that's what's so tricky about all this, is that something has to happen, but nobody can make it happen. People look to the government. They look to banks. But the fact is these things have to happen somewhat organically.
KAYOkay. Nia-Malika, meanwhile, of course, talking of jobs, yesterday the Senate killed another portion of the president's jobs package, a portion of it for infrastructure. What's the situation now in the Senate with these jobs bills?
HENDERSONWell, you heard the president in September come out with this huge package, $474 billion, to jumpstart the economy. One of the problems with it, at least as far as Republicans are concerned, was that a lot of it was tied to a millionaire tax. And that's one of the things that has doomed it in the Senate. And just the sheer size of it, not only Republicans balking at it, but in some ways, Democrats have a problem with this idea of spending so much money right before an election year.
HENDERSONI think Claire McCaskill would have problems going back to her district in Missouri saying that she voted for a $474 billion package. So it's not only Republicans. It's some of those moderate Democrats who are also a little worried about spending so much in the wake of a stimulus package that'll -- in many ways, didn't trickle down to average folks in many ways. So I think what's going to happen going forward is they're going to put forward another part of this, a part that looks at hiring veterans, giving tax incentives and tax credits for hiring veterans, something like a $4,800 tax credit.
HENDERSONThat looks like it has bipartisan support. Republicans have said they support that. And so that's -- I think that's the next step,
KAYMeanwhile, John Boehner responded to the president standing on Key Bridge just down the road from us on Wednesday, Ron.
ELVINGThe president went to the Key Bridge to talk about infrastructure that is clearly important to the country and that is aging. A very high percentage of our key bridges are aging to the point of needing to be replaced. And certainly the Key Bridge is a lovely one to look at, but not necessarily the world's most reliable over a long period of time, and the president was simply making the point that if we had a big infrastructure program, such as we've had in the past, things such as the building of the national interstate highway, that would create a lot of jobs.
ELVINGAnd if we create a lot of jobs that would probably hit that sweet spot of people who don't necessarily have high-tech skills and aren't going to be designing or repairing computers, it would get them back to work, and that would be good for the economy in general. And in the long run, it would provide the infrastructure we need to be a healthy economy in future generations. But, of course, at the same time, that means money. It takes money. The money has to come from some place. And that has been the issue that has paralyzed our Capitol.
KAYBut I was struck this week, Naftali, amidst this discussion about jobs bills and what is the right and wrong approach to try and stimulate job creation, how quickly between the president and John Boehner it kind of disintegrated into yet more political tit for tat. Why is he proposing a new motto for -- in the House when we should be dealing with jobs? I mean...
BENDAVIDWell, that was what was interesting, I thought, about...
KAYDoes that get us anywhere?
BENDAVIDWell, that was what was interesting, I thought, about the president's speech yesterday, is that it got pretty personal. You know, we all know he's been traveling the country, touting his jobs plan and blaming Republicans for blocking it. But this time, he specifically named John Boehner, and he made fun, really, of what the House of Representatives has been doing.
KAYWhich, when you're trying to work with the House to try and get things through, doesn't seem like (unintelligible).
BENDAVIDIt doesn't, but I'm not sure that's exactly his strategy right now. For a long time, his strategy was to try to work with the Republicans and try to get things done. I think the White House has concluded that's not going to get them anywhere. And now, the strategy is to go around the country saying, I'm working my tail off to try to get jobs done, and the Republicans are blocking it.
BENDAVIDAnd he made fun of them for debating a commemorative coin for baseball, for reaffirming, you know, the nation's motto as In God We Trust. And he said, you know, I'm sure John Boehner doesn't want to represent a state where a fourth of the bridges are substandard. So it got really personal, and I think it raised it to another notch.
KAYNia-Malika, this is talking to the base, right, in the White House?
HENDERSONYes, indeed. I mean, if you look back to the 2004 election, this is what George Bush did. He -- it was a base strategy. He ended up winning that election by about 3 million voters, so that's what he's doing. He's going to run against what he would, you know, coin as a do-nothing Congress. And in many ways, he tried to do that in 2010, got really personal, I think, on the stump in talking about Republicans.
HENDERSONSo, in many ways, he's going back to that strategy that didn't work so well, actually, in 2010. So, you know, I think, clearly, he does not have a good relationship with John Boehner. He doesn't, quite frankly, have a good relationship with many members of Congress. You hear folks on the left and right complain that he's not engaged enough with folks on the Hill.
KAYIt is increasingly all about the re-elect, I suspect.
KAYNaftali, tell us about this letter that was signed by 100 lawmakers because, amidst the pessimism that we're talking about on the economic front and how the politics is interfering with economic progress, there was this week a letter signed -- a bipartisan letter by 100 lawmakers who seem to be saying, we will make the compromises necessary in order to get deficit reduction.
BENDAVIDYeah, this was a -- we had this 12-member super committee who -- that's tasked with cutting the deficit by $1.2 trillion. Actually, they are supposed to come up with a plan by Nov. 23, so time is really running short. And, of course, there's been people on both sides ruling out one thing or another. So you had 100 House members get together and say, look, we understand that some of this may take tax increases, this may take cuts to safety net programs like Medicare, but we're okay with that because we think this is that important.
BENDAVIDAnd I was at the press conference, and I've been to a lot of press conferences on the Hill. And it's really rare to see a bipartisan press conference. It was really striking. It almost seem jarring, actually, to see these two sets of people kind of being nice to each other, joking together, but...
ELVINGDo you know where you are?
ELVINGDid you know these other guys (unintelligible) ?
BENDAVIDRight. I mean, it was really something to see, actually. And -- but a couple of things. First of all, the fact that 40 House Republicans said, essentially, we'd be ready to raise taxes to cut the deficit was something to watch. And it's clear that a lot of them on both sides were anguished at the fact that they can't get anything done. There was some visible frustration. Now, it has to be said, the letter was a little vague. It didn't commit them to anything.
BENDAVIDIt just said that, in theory, everything should be on the table. But still, that contrasted particularly with the tone of the Republican leadership, which has been saying, no, tax increases aren't on the table.
KAYOkay. Naftali Bendavid, national correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Nia-Malika Henderson, national politics reporter for The Washington Post, Ron Elving, Washington editor for NPR, are with me in the studio. We will be taking your questions and your comments later on in the program. 1-800-433-8850 is the phone number. The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Send us those emails. Find us on Twitter. Find us on Facebook. We'll be having more on the super committee and the state of the 2012 election after this short break.
KAYWelcome back. I'm Katty Kay of the BBC, sitting in for Diane Rehm. You have joined the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup. Of course, another busy week, both politically and in terms of the economy. Just before the break, we were talking a little bit about a letter, which has been signed by 100 lawmakers -- 60 Democrats and 40 Republicans -- committing to some sort of compromise on reducing the deficit.
KAYRon Elving, I was talking to a member of the super committee last night who -- one of the senators who suggested to me that he thought the chances were rather slim for the super committee to actually come up with a plan, to make the compromises that this letter suggest the people -- some people would like to be seen.
ELVINGI see you talked to one of the optimists.
ELVINGThat's very heartening to hear.
KAYWell, he did describe himself as depressed and then said that the chances were about 20 percent. So slim is probably...
ELVINGSlim to none, I think, would be the assessment that most people have given it. The task that was given to this committee of 12 was quite impossible, really. They were told to resolve the question that no one else can resolve and to do it by the eve of Thanksgiving and do it in such a fashion that it could then be approved by both the House and the Senate, or else a sequestration would be held in which there would be no revenue increases.
ELVINGBut we would cut something like $1.2 trillion with a bunch of it, maybe half, maybe more than half of it coming from national security, which is already taking an enormous hit over the next 10 years in the build-down from the two wars that we've been fighting, one of which we are still fighting in Afghanistan. And this includes all kinds of things, including intelligence, spending for Homeland Security, things that are going to be extremely difficult to get members of Congress to really allow to happen.
ELVINGSo this huge sort of Damocles was put over these 12 people as though somehow they had some magical solution. They were chosen by the leaders of the two parties in the two chambers. And they were put there in this little room, in this little cage. It's like a cage match in which they are equally represented, House and Senate, and ably represented, Republican and Democrat, and that is a formula for gridlock. So unless we get a kind of miracle -- and this was a miracle begging to happen right from the very beginning, a Hail Mary pass, if you will.
ELVINGUnless we get that in three weeks, we will be in a situation where they either have to ask for more time or pass another law, which is extremely difficult to do, to undo what they did in August, or they will have to face that sequestration, which will be extremely unpopular in the country.
KAYNia-Malika, how do you rank the chances of the possibility of extending this deadline? I mean, presumably, they could go to the leadership and say, actually, you know what? We think we're making good progress. Give us another month.
HENDERSONYes. You know, I mean, that's something that I did when I was in college a lot, asking for an extension for turning in a paper. And that's where this looks like it's going to be headed.
KAYYou wouldn't happen to write the paper with 11 other people?
ELVINGI'm sorry to hear about your mom and your having to go home during that period.
HENDERSONOkay. Yeah, I see.
ELVINGI had mono myself.
HENDERSONYeah, exactly. Always some excuse, right? And so, you know, I think one of the things that Congress must know is that their approval rating is so low at 9 percent. And I think there is a great deal of frustration in the country about the fact that not a lot has gotten done in this Congress. And it always comes up to the last minute, whether it was these debt ceiling talks, and we're always hanging around until midnight to get something done.
HENDERSONOne of the polls, I think, showed that people are a little bit more optimistic. Something like 25 percent actually thinks something might happen out of this. But, like you said, it just looks like it's so tough, this bipartisan committee with this huge task of cutting so much from the deficit in such a tight deadline, that you have to think that they're going to raise their hand and try to get more time.
KAYNaftali, the super committee is 12, but six of the members are starting to meet privately to try and come up with a deal amongst themselves. What's the chances, do you think, that a couple of the Democrats in that mini super committee might jump to the other side and say, okay, we have to have something, even if we don't get the tax revenue -- the hike in revenue that we want?
BENDAVIDWell, first of all, there's been a few groups that have met, you know, these subgroups that have sort of met informally on the sides. Some have got more attention than others. I think it's -- you know, this committee, one thing to really understand about it is it's a creature of the leadership. It was appointed by the leaders, and they put their allies on it. So the idea of a couple of Democrats or a couple of Republicans sort of -- in sort of a rogue act jumping to the other side -- I think the chances of that are relatively small.
BENDAVIDBut I do think, just to present a slightly more optimistic view, you know, the consequences of failure here are pretty severe. And it's not just the across-the-board cuts. It's also -- I think there'd be a backlash among voters and among the markets if they announce, sorry, we just couldn't pull this off. So I think there's a lot of pressure on the leadership and on the committee to do something. And I think the question -- and we're going to see this in the next week probably -- is whether the threat of what would happen if they fail is enough to overcome the obstacles to them coming to an agreement.
KAYIt was kind of interesting speaking to deficit economists recently, people that spend a lot of time on the Hill, Nia-Malika. And they said that there's some feeling on the Hill -- and perhaps that's why we've had this letter signed -- that some Republicans are kind of fed up of what they call being Groverized, which I didn't even realize was a verb. But when Grover Norquist has now made it up there with Google into the verb status, you could be Groverized. And some Republicans are saying, we don't want to be anymore.
HENDERSONYes, not, you know, Grover Norquist, not to be confused with the "Sesame Street" character, who is a much beloved figure, but I think it was yesterday that John Boehner actually referred to Grover Norquist as either some dude or some guy. And, you know...
ELVINGSome random American or something.
HENDERSON...some random person who he didn't really know. And, of course, there had been so much support in Congress up until now for this no new taxes ever mantra from Grover Norquist. But there does look like there is some, you know, daylight now between Grover Norquist and his troops and this idea that no new tax revenue is allowed. I mean, in some ways, they're fudgy. This whole idea of changing the tax code doesn't exactly sound like a tax hike. So it looks like that that's the way they're framing it now. But, certainly, a sea-change to have John Boehner stand up and say, no more Groverization.
KAYRon Elving, let's turn to the campaign and specifically to Herman Cain. My question here is that Herman Cain's campaign was derailed this week by sexual accusations. But, actually, I'm looking at the latest numbers and thinking that it wasn't derailed after all.
ELVINGI think it's safe to say there is a difference here between the idea the voters have of Herman Cain and Herman Cain's campaign, strictly speaking, if we take the latter to mean the group of people who are working to get him elected and who are having a rather difficult time this week dealing with these allegations of sexual harassment.
KAYAnd quickly fill us in on those 'cause we're at the end of the week. Give us a rundown on what's happened.
ELVINGThis has been a curious renewal of the Washington scandal routine because among other things, the names of the women who have made these allegations are buried in the past. It's not that the women aren't still with us, but they have successfully managed to keep themselves from being personally identified.
ELVINGSo the story broke Sunday night with Politico story saying at least two women had been harassed when they worked for the National Restaurant Association when Herman Cain was its chief executive, and that they had complained and that they had left the employee of the NRA, that's the Restaurant Association, with agreements that they would not speak about what had happened. And they were paid some amounts of money.
ELVINGNow, over the week, with some of the reporting that's been done by Nia-Malika and some of the others, we've learned that these agreements were apparently $35- and $45,000 respectively -- not huge amounts of money, but significant amounts of money to these two women because they were significant parts of their total compensation -- and that they went on to other work. There was apparently a third person who also thought about making allegations in a formal way but did not do so, did not actually file some sort of a complaint.
ELVINGAnd the allegations themselves have been enough, of course, to raise questions about Herman Cain. And he has not given a consistent story about what happened. Initially, he said he didn't have any recollection of any of this. And then, of course, he started remembering more and more of it. And he has maintained throughout that he never sexually harassed anyone ever in his entire life. But, yes, okay, there were some of these allegations, and things did have to get settled. But that isn't really terribly important. It's a long time in the past.
ELVINGAnd because -- and I think this is critical -- we don't have any pictures of these people. The only person involved in this we see on television is Herman Cain, and he is stoutly defending himself. We do not see the women. We do not have any pictures of them. We don't put forward any information about them. They fade. The allegations become just words, and his defense is really quite vivid and quite aggressive and quite physical. And we see that, and that has a stronger impression.
ELVINGSo, as you were referring earlier, the latest poll that has just come out, Washington Post-ABC polls -- it's not in the physical newspaper this morning, but it was online early this morning -- shows that his numbers have not suffered. Now, there are some people, particularly women, who have new questions about Herman Cain because of these allegations. But most Republicans are saying it doesn't matter. I believe it was 70 percent of Republicans were saying it doesn't matter to them, at least not yet.
ELVINGAnd so where we stand at this moment is it's all very much in the balance, and we have to see what new information may arise or whether we get to meet either of these women and hear her make her case for herself in person.
KAYOkay. Nia-Malika, you've been reporting this. Are we going to hear from these women?
HENDERSONWell, the women that we -- the woman that we've been in contact with through her lawyer at The Washington Post doesn't really want to be public, but she does want her story told. So, today, we're going to hear from the National Restaurant Association whether or not that can somehow happen, whether or not, through her lawyer, she can release some sort of statement that would give her side of the story, the implication being that what she's been hearing from Herman Cain very much differs from what she actually experienced.
HENDERSONI think Herman Cain has benefited tremendously, not only from his vigorous defense but also this sense among Republicans that this is some sort of witch hunt a la what happened with Clarence Thomas. They've been likening him to Clarence Thomas. They've been using very racialized language to talk about this, talking about it as a high-tech lynching -- again, a phrase from Clarence Thomas. So he -- and he's been able to raise, I think, something like $1.2 million in the last couple of days over this.
HENDERSONHe raised $5 million in the last quarter. So it has benefited him tremendously. I talked to Sen. Jim DeMint a couple of days ago, and he said that very thing. He said if no more details are released, that he thinks it would end up helping him. I do think, though, that's still a big if. We don't know if more women will come forward, if, you know, they will actually speak and identify themselves and raise their hands. And I think that would, in some ways, shift the narrative.
HENDERSONIf there's a face to go with this, if there's a name, if there's a story with details, then I think we might see something different with these polls and the story.
KAYNaftali, it's been a kind of fascinating week in the campaign with what's happened with Herman Cain, Rick Perry having a difficult week because of a video that came out about a speech that he gave in New Hampshire, that then some Republicans had to defend the speech and say that he wasn't intoxicated, even though he had actually said that he was intoxicated. You know, where -- give us a sort of -- you know, your overview of where we are at the end of this week in the Republican race.
BENDAVIDWell, I think the big picture is that Mitt Romney is the luckiest guy alive. I mean, the one thing that could have threatened him is the right wing, the conservative part of the Republican Party -- which is a lot of it -- coalescing around a certain candidate, and they -- that just hasn't happened. And every time somebody seems like they're going to play that role, they implode a little bit.
BENDAVIDSo the biggest threats to him right now are Herman Cain, who's now fighting off the sexual harassment charge, Rick Perry, who's having to explain this video that's gone viral, in which he seems to act kind of jittery and a little bit strange and, you know, a lot of gestures that are odd when he's giving a speech. And not only that, those two campaigns are going at each other because Herman Cain -- or his campaign, at least -- sort of accused Rick Perry of leaking the sexual harassment allegations. Now they've kind of backed off that.
BENDAVIDMitt Romney sort of seems to just cruise along as all of his potential challenges on the right keep on blowing up each other and themselves.
KAYI'm Katty Kay of the BBC. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And if you'd like to join us, do call. 1-800-433-8850 is the phone number. Send us an email, email@example.com. We're going to go to the phones now, to Joseph, who joins us from Virginia. Joseph, you've joined "The Diane Rehm Show."
KAYHi. You have a question for the panel?
JOSEPHI know that we've kind of turned away from discussions of the unemployment rate, and I'm not sure if they're labor specialists. But to what extent do you believe that the unemployment rate is related to people looking for certain jobs, not being able to connect with employers who have those positions open? I was wondering if we had a national clearinghouse for jobs, where basically every job offer in the U.S. was posted somewhere online, if that would improve the allocative efficiency of people looking for work.
JOSEPHAnd an additional comment was, what if we tied upper income rate tax rates to the unemployment -- to the amount of unemployment? And I'll take my answers off the air.
KAYOkay, Joseph. I'm going to put that to Naftali Bendavid, who's national correspondent of The Wall Street Journal.
BENDAVIDWell, first of all, in terms of the idea of a national employer clearinghouse, I mean, you know, it sounds like a good idea. I know there are websites that try to do things like that. But the bigger problem that you hear about isn't so much people being unable to find jobs for which they're qualified. It's just that the qualifications that some employers need aren't met by the workforce -- that is, more training is needed and more education.
BENDAVIDAnd so there are a lot of surprising numbers of companies out there who did -- do say that they're willing to hire, but that they're having difficulty finding, you know, potential workers who have the training that they need. And that's a real issue, and it's something that people in both parties are talking about. In terms of the upper income tax rate and tying that specifically to the unemployment rate, I mean, it's an interesting idea.
BENDAVIDI think it would be difficult to -- it'll be difficult politically, in part, because to sort of hold an individual responsible for the national unemployment rate would be a tricky thing to do. It's an intriguing idea. I have a feeling it'd be tough to pull off.
KAYOkay. Nancy in Lansing, Mich. Nancy, you've joined "The Diane Rehm Show." Good morning.
KAYHi. Yes. You've joined "The Diane Rehm Show." You have a question for my journalists?
NANCYYes, I have a comment and a question.
NANCYIn general, I am tired of reporters editorializing about President Obama instead of reporting on him. And I would wish that reporters would not absolutely deny the criticism or defend themselves immediately. Just listen to, you know, for a change, to the charge. And then, second, can the president, in any way, bypass Congress to do anything about these job programs?
KAYOkay. Nancy, I'm going to put the question, perhaps not the comment, to Nia-Malika.
HENDERSONYeah. You've seen the president last week try to do some tinkering around the edges with the economy, focusing on, for instance, student loans, focusing on the mortgage problem, focusing on veterans. And I think it's very much a model that Bill Clinton used when he was running for re-election, doing more small ball executive orders around the V-chip, around school uniform. So that is something that he is trying to do, make an end run around Congress.
HENDERSONIt's something that a lot of liberals, a lot of his supporters, have wanted him to do for some time. And it -- it's a different picture of this president, who has, for a time, been going out, bashing Congress, saying that he has these great ideas about jumpstarting the economy, about creating jobs, and saying that Congress won't let him do it, which isn't exactly, you know, a vote of confidence in terms of his leadership and ability to get things done.
HENDERSONAnd it's probably a worse argument to make for his presidency and for his candidacy than saying that he's actually getting things done around the mortgage crisis and around student loans. So there is some sense that he's making a shift to try and to make an end run around Congress.
KAYOkay. We're going to take a break in a minute. But, before we do so, Ron Elving, I want to ask you where we are with the Occupy Wall Street protests. We had another bout of violence in Oakland this week. What happened there?
ELVINGIn Oakland, the protest has come to focus on the Port of Oakland, which is a very busy economic portal that is a gateway to much of the trade that we have with Asia. It is the most important port now on the Bay Area. It's just hugely busy, and it's a source of many, many jobs. So to get a focus more on to themselves, the protesters went to the port to close it down. The port then said, look, we don't want to have some sort of a riot or some sort of a mess here. We're just closed for the day and see what happens next.
ELVINGSo they self-closed, if you will, in response to the protest. Late at night, I believe Thursday night, the -- excuse me, Wednesday night -- the protest, a very small portion of the protest, approximately 100, maybe a few more people, decided that they wanted to make more of a statement than they had made during this long day that they have been occupying the gates to the port. And they went out and smashed some windows, painted some graffiti and set fire to some garbage cans, which made some very lurid pictures. And many were arrested by the police.
KAYOkay. We'll have more on this protest after this short break. Ron Elving, thanks very much. Do stay with us. Do stay listening. We'll take more of your calls.
KAYWelcome back. I'm Katty Kay of the BBC, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Diane is in Maine. She's on a station visit. We have been talking about the state of the economy, the negotiations going on between the White House and Congress, and we were starting to touch on the 2012 campaign and the Oakland protests. I want to ask another question just quickly about those protests because, of course, this is something that we have now starting to see around the country. What's been the reaction, Nia-Malika, specifically, to what Ron Elving was describing that's been happening in Oakland?
HENDERSONRight. Well, politically, I think this has been a hot-potato issue for Republicans and Democrats, the question of whether or not to fully embrace this or treat it with kid gloves. You saw, for instance, Mitt Romney come out initially and say, this was something that was dangerous and destructive. And then, you know, a couple of days later, he came out to say that he actually identifies with the 99 percent.
HENDERSONI think one of the things that this has done is really brought about this question of economic inequality and poverty back into the mainstream, back into the political discussion. That, of course, was a real bread and butter issue for Democrats for many, many years. You had folks like Ted Kennedy and Jesse Jackson always talking about poverty. But, obviously, when Clinton came in and this whole idea of the new Democratic Party, there was something of a shift in terms of talking about poverty.
HENDERSONSo, I think, that's one of the things that these protests have done, brought that conversation back to the mainstream. But I think, still, Democrats are a little wary of embracing it fully because there is that specter, there is that potential of these protests getting out of control, as we've seen in some ways in Oakland, and some people complaining about the garbage and the noise and just people hanging out on the street and not affecting the economy or just the community.
KAYNaftali, do you think -- you know, we saw about a week ago polls suggesting that there was more support amongst the American public for the Occupy Wall Street protests than there was for the Tea Party now. You can always take polls with a pinch of salt. It depends how the question is phrased. But do you think we're going to start seeing those numbers change?
BENDAVIDWell, we actually already have. There was a Quinnipiac poll, I think, yesterday that showed less support for the Occupy Wall Street people. And I think that's to be expected. You know, the novelty wears off, and people start seeing other sides of any phenomenon. You know, the Tea Party started off with majority support. Now, they've had, you know, minority support for a long time. I do think that they have energized that part of the political spectrum and changed the conversation in a way that's probably going to be long lasting. So I think they are significant, but there is a peril for them.
BENDAVIDAnd it's not just that these things -- you know, if they turn violent or confrontational because, really, I feel -- pardon the expression -- 99 percent of the protesters, you know, are non-violent. But I think it's -- when it starts seeming like they're interfering with innocent bystanders, if you will, when it starts seeing just some guy trying to get to work or some small businessperson has their business thrashed, we've seen very small amount of that. But if that tends to be -- starts to be one of the pictures that people really see, then I think -- then it becomes a little bit more of an issue.
KAYOkay. Let's go to the phones again. To Bob in Miami, Fla. Bob, welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
BOBYes. How are you doing?
BOBI just want to say, you know, number one, with regard to -- two comments, quickly, with regard to Occupy Wall Street. You know, the wealth and inequality is clear. You know, Republican David Stockman, a former budget director, said that in 1980, I believe, that the top 5 percent had $8 trillion net worth and now, today, it's $40 trillion. That's five times in growth. That's huge, and people need to recognize that
BOBThe second thing is that, you know, some of you commentators and pundits that, you know, just like when you say you editorialized Obama and what he's doing and saying that he's not providing any leadership. I think, it means, you know, there's so many doubting devils here. You know, the growth rate was like 0.5, and now it's 2.5. The unemployment rate, in its highest peak, was 10.2. Now, it's 9.0.
BOBYou know, I think that, at some point, we need to recognize and acknowledge that they had something -- something has been done within the last three years to make sure that we don't go into a depression. And I want to hear the commentators and these pundits and all of these individuals, who are so negative about everything, I want them to say something that's going to lift up the American spirit rather than always criticizing, always finding the doubt in everything. Thank you.
KAYWell, thank you for joining the program. You know, listen, Bob's got a real point here, particularly on the unemployment numbers. Every economist I speak to says that we could have been much higher than 9 percent if we had not had the stimulus package of $800 billion. We could have had unemployment still up above 10 percent. The problem, Ron, is that it's very hard for the White House to prove that negative, right?
ELVINGAnd let me also add -- I think this might have been mentioned earlier -- that many of the job losses in the last year or so, that have retarded the rate of job recovery, have come in the public sector because of cuts to government. And there are two enormous competing ideas about how we recover. One is that the public sector help us recover by creating a certain number of jobs and putting the bill off on, perhaps, the well to do.
ELVINGAnd then this other idea that what we need to do is virtually eliminate the role of government in the economy and -- seriously, Ron Paul and others do propose this -- that we just pull back the Federal Reserve, we pull back everything the 20th century gave us in terms of a public sector participation in the economy. Go back to laissez-faire.
ELVINGGo back to Atlas Shrugged. There's a large convention here in Washington today of the Americans for Prosperity, a Koch brothers related organization. They're going to climax today's program by watching a copy of Atlas Shrugged, the novel from Ayn Rand. And this entire philosophy goes 180 degrees the other direction and says, no. There should be no government, in essence, at all in the economy. And those two warring ideas are represented by fairly equal participation in the Congress and in the polls.
ELVINGThose ideas are contesting. So we had the Tea Party in 2009 and '10. Now, we have Occupy Wall Street. Populism going from one, if you will, extreme to the other, people who represent these points of view. This is a national contest. It's not just something that's going in Washington, D.C. It's not just something that's going on among commentators.
BENDAVIDYeah. I mean, in terms of the messaging, particularly around the stimulus, I think part of it is a failure on the part of the White House, and part of it is a success on the part of the Republicans. I think the White House made a terrible mistake by predicting that unemployment would go down to 8 percent because, by that definition, they sort of set themselves up. So now the stimulus is a failure by their own predictions, and I think that was just an error that they made.
BENDAVIDThey shouldn't have made a specific number out there as their prediction. But the second thing is that the Republicans, they don't even call it the stimulus. They call it the failed stimulus every single time. I mean, just consistent, repetitive messaging. You'd think that its official name was the Failed Stimulus Act of 2009.
BENDAVIDAnd so it's true. A lot of economists say, look, things would have been a lot worse without the stimulus. But they, I think, have gotten it in people's mind that this was a failure, and that's -- it's just sort of accepted now. So I just think they've been a lot more effective in conveying their side of it than the Democrats have, no question.
KAYNia-Malika, here's an email that comes to us from Rod. He writes to us, "When is President Obama going to confront Mitch McConnell directly about McConnell's statement that his top priority is to ensure that President Obama is a one-term president, which explains the Republican refusal to let Congress get anything done that could reflect well on the president?" which gets back, really, to Naftali's point, in a way.
HENDERSONYou know, by confront, I don't know if he means confront face to face. And he has talked about it.
KAYI mean, he has called. In that press conference that he gave a couple of weeks ago, he actually called up Mitch McConnell on this.
HENDERSONYes. Yes. He has said that this, you know, that Mitch McConnell made the statement -- I believe it was in 2009 or 2010 -- that his job is to make sure that the president goes down in defeat, which, in fact, that's all of the Republicans' job. I mean, that's what -- they're there to get their message out, to get their party in power. And Mitch McConnell, as the leader of the Republican Party, that's his job as well.
HENDERSONBut I do think Naftali is exactly right, that the Republicans have just been better, more disciplined at getting their message out around the stimulus package. And I think you will see, obviously, the president be tough out there on the Republicans, try to change the messaging. But it is hard to make this argument that things would have been worse if he hadn't acted. It's -- it would be a much better argument if he were able to go out there and say he created X number of jobs and that, you know, he could look at this trend.
HENDERSONI mean, if the job numbers keep going down, I mean, he'll be able to run on that downward trend in the way that Reagan did. But it's moving so slowly. I think the projections now are that it won't be until 2013 that you'd get unemployment around 8.5 percent, 8 percent. So they did make these promises early on, and now they're having to walk back and look at this reality of 14 million people out of work, 26 million underemployed. So it's a bleak job situation out there.
KAYAnd meanwhile, Ron Elving, we have a Congress which does seem incapable of action. And when you talk to members of both the House and the Senate who are kind of more from the center of the political spectrum, they say that they don't think that it has ever been this bad before, that you just cannot make compromises with the left and the right up on Capitol Hill. This week, we had news from Arizona, which suggests we may, again, see more redistricting, which is going to exacerbate this political problem.
ELVINGThat's right. Now, this may seem a bit out to left field, but in Arizona this week, we had an independent commission that was going about drawing the districts for members of Congress...
KAYIs there such a thing as an independent commission when it comes to redistricting?
ELVINGWell, it's -- it has been experimented with. Iowa has had a fair amount of success with it. The state of California is going through its first experiment with it right now, and that it's apparently going to make a number of incumbents run against each other. It's going to make many more of their districts competitive. So, perhaps, we would actually get Republicans who have to appeal to Democrats as well and Democrats who have to appeal to Republicans as well.
ELVINGRight now, we don't have enough of those. The extremes prevail. You get nominated to run by being the most democratic Democrat, the most liberal, if you will, in many districts in California. You get nominated to be the Republican by being the most conservative. Therefore, we get the most liberal and the most conservative people in the entire state of California -- and that's saying something -- as their members of Congress.
ELVINGIs that representative of California? I would submit it's not. And I would say the same of Arizona, where they have tried to have this independent commission. Just this past week, the governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer, decided that the woman who is heading up this independent commission, Colleen Mathis, had hired a mapping firm she didn't like because they have worked for Barack Obama at one time.
ELVINGNow, this is just a firm that's going to draw the maps, you understand, not decide where the maps are going to be drawn, just the people who are doing the computer work. So she told the state senate she was going to fire this woman. She did it. The state senate, very Republican, backed her up, and all the Republicans in the state are saying terrible things about this independent commission idea because, apparently, it was going to hire some people to draw some computer maps who had some connections to the Democratic Party.
ELVINGThat's partisanship, and that kind of partisanship is what gives us the kind of Congress that we have today. This is not just what happens in Washington. It comes from the 50 states to Washington and then expresses itself there. And so the spectacle of this ugly partisanship gets attached to Washington. It's coming to us from everywhere else.
KAYNaftali, this is the big overlooked story, isn't it, of American politics of the moment, redistricting?
BENDAVIDYeah. I mean, redistricting and, I think, primary system are the two most irrational parts of the political system. And it's true. We just have this very strange system where whoever happens to be in power in a given state gets to draw the maps to their own benefit, and it's sort of crazy. And a few states have really tried to have independent commissions. Florida, actually, also has a very interesting situation where they can go to court to have their district to be more fairly drawn, I guess you'd say. But it's a struggle, and the partisan power don't want to give it up.
BENDAVIDAnd it has a huge influence on the makeup of Congress. And it's just very -- a very strange thing, not in keeping with the rest of our political system, that people are trying to change, but it's a struggle.
KAYIn the U.K., I should mention, electoral districts are drawn up by civil servants. It's not a political process. And I think that helps, to some extent, take some of the politics out of the equation.
ELVINGHats off to that.
KAYI'm Katty Kay. You're listening to the BBC -- "The Diane Rehm Show." And if you -- I am from the BBC, but you're listening to BBC. This is "The Diane Rehm Show." If you'd like to join us, do call 1-800-433-8850. Or send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We're going to go back to the phones. To Frank in St. Louis, Mo. Frank, you've joined "The Diane Rehm Show."
FRANKYes. Thank you. I'd like the panel to touch on one just glaring thing that I -- and you mentioned this, how this is helping Herman Cain. I tell you, I'm not a Herman -- I wasn't a Herman Cain supporter, but this is making me one because of the way you guys in the mainstream press is treating this. I'm old enough -- I think all of you are, maybe -- to remember when the first allegations came out about Clinton, during primaries, about him using public resources, police, to go get women who were also public employees, Paula Jones and a whole bunch of other women.
FRANKThose allegations rumbled underneath the surface for a long time, sometimes six, seven months, even a year. The mainstream media completely ignored that. They treated it like, oh, this is just right wing fanatics going after Clinton, blah, blah, blah. Same thing with Edwards. He was the champion of the poor and the middle class, and we can't pay attention to this scandal. It took about a year before that thing ever really became off the ground.
FRANKWhat happens with Herman Cain, the very next day after unsourced -- unnamed sources about something that happened many years ago -- same thing, maybe there's something or maybe there isn't. But the way that press has treated this is incredibly telling. And I'm telling you, you know, it's -- it -- this high-tech lynching thing -- I hate the race card, but they don't think he's legitimate because he doesn't have the background. Oh, he's way more experienced than Obama was at this time when Obama ran.
KAYFrank, I'm going to jump in there because we want to get an answer to your question, and we don't have that much left -- time left on the program. So let me hand it over to Nia-Malika.
HENDERSONYou know, I do think there is skittishness, sometimes, on the part of the press to dig in to these sorts of personal allegations. And I think the difference with Herman Cain was that there was evidence, least if you read the Politico report that there was a settlement, that there were actual documents, and that, you know, there was apparently $80,000 paid out to these women. But, yes, I mean, this has renewed this whole argument that the press is somehow in bed with Obama or in bed with Democrats and that the press goes easier on Democrats than they do on Republicans.
HENDERSONYou know, I don't see that pattern, but I think it just feeds into, again, people are very partisan, people see the things they want to see when they look at the press and the press' treatment of black Republicans or white liberals. And I don't see any evidence of it. You know, I think it almost makes the argument that there's some coordination on the part of the media. And I can say for one, I don't think the media -- we're called news organizations, but I think the idea that we're very organized is actually a misnomer if you've ever been in The Post newsroom or any of these newsrooms in -- around the Beltway.
BENDAVIDWell, I mean, you know, there has been this allegation, too, specifically that the media and liberals are very upset by the idea of a black conservative and that that's what's behind some of this. But I guess I would just say that if it turned out that any presidential candidate, you know, on either party had reached a settlement or, you know -- or a settlement was reached on his behalf because of claims of sexual harassment by two or more women, I just don't think that wouldn't be a story.
BENDAVIDI just think there's no evidence that somehow Herman Cain was being singled out. I think what it does show is that he's never been vetted before. The guy has never run for anything. He hasn't held political office. So things that may have come out earlier and been in some way, you know, internalized by the system with another candidate, he just hasn't gone through that yet. And I think that's some of what you're seeing right now.
KAYAnd it wasn't, of course, just the one woman. We should stress this, that we have three.
ELVINGYou know, with -- let's go back to the Clinton example, where he began with -- back in 1991, 1992, when there were first rumors about Bill Clinton's affairs, there was woman named Gennifer Flowers. And she was willing to go to his bank of microphones, present her case, tell us all what she had experienced with Bill Clinton, and that was covered. I mean, I -- it was -- we stopped everything and watched that press conference in the middle of the day. Even broadcast television broke to it. It was covered heavily because she was willing to come forward. Paula Jones at that time was not.
KAYOkay. And if these women come forward, I know that, of course, we're going to be covering that as well. Ron Elving, Washington editor for NPR, Nia-Malika Henderson, national politics reporter for The Washington Post, Naftali Bendavid, national correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, thank you all so much for joining me.
HENDERSONGreat. Thank you.
KAYI'm Katty Kay of the BBC. You've been listening to the domestic news hour of The Friday News Roundup here at "The Diane Rehm Show." Thanks for listening.
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