A molecular-biologist-turned-Buddhist-monk says altruism is the answer to many of the world's most pressing challenges. Can concern for others help solve wealth inequality, climate change and world hunger?
Guest Host: Susan Page
Newt Gingrich takes the lead for the Republican presidential nomination in the key states of Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida. Rival Mitt Romney launches attacks on his policy positions and personal behavior. President Obama criticizes a Republican filibuster of his choice to head a new federal consumer protection agency. He also defends his administration’s decision to block the FDA plan to allow unrestricted sales of the “morning-after” pill. With a week to go before the planned holiday recess, the Senate rejects both Republican and Democratic plans to extend the payroll tax cut. And a judge sends a tough message: former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich gets fourteen years in prison on federal corruption charges. David Leonhardt of The New York Times, Laura Meckler of The Wall Street Journal and John King of CNN join guest host Susan Page for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Laura Meckler White House correspondent, The Wall Street Journal.
- David Leonhardt Washington bureau chief, The New York Times.
- John King anchor of CNN's John King, USA, and chief national correspondent.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. The rivalry between Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney for the GOP presidential nomination heats up. The head of Health and Human Services overrules the FDA for the first time ever, and former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich gets a 14-year sentence for corruption. Joining us in the studio for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup: David Leonhardt of The New York Times, Laura Meckler of The Wall Street Journal, and John King of CNN. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MS. LAURA MECKLERGood morning.
MR. JOHN KINGGood morning.
MR. DAVID LEONHARDTGood morning.
PAGEWe're going to invite our listeners to join our conversation later in this hour. Our toll-free number, 800-433-8850. You can always send us an e-mail on firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, John King, an interesting speech we heard President Obama give on Tuesday. Some people thought this was sort of the launch of the themes he will be striking through the next year until the -- until Election Day of 2012. What did he say?
KINGWell, he said, number one, that he thinks the defining challenge for the country -- and that is both the policy, and it will be the political framing of the campaign -- is the income inequality, the giant gap between the middle class and the richest, and the bottom of the income scale and the richest in the country. And the most happy people in this town about the speech -- and if you talk to them around the country -- are Democratic activists who've been waiting for a long time for the president to draw sharper lines and to say what the president said after the Tea Party success in 2010.
KINGA lot of Democrats, including the president, were timid, were a bit afraid to say the government has a role here. The government has to be a force here. And the president made the case that in closing this gap, you have to use, at times, that leverage of government. Now, that is directly contrary to let the market rule, let -- get-the-government-out-of-the-way approach of the Tea Party and many conservatives.
KINGSo he planted a flag -- there have been a lot of questions about will the president keep coming back to it, will he be consistent. There are times when he's planted flags and then not returned to them. But Democrats were very encouraged by the speech. And it does set up, both in the policy fights here in Washington and then in the political campaign, a very clear contrast. The American people have a pretty clear choice when it comes to economics, taxes and spending in 2012.
PAGESo if he was challenging some of the precepts of the Tea Party, Laura Meckler, was he embracing some of the precepts of Occupy Wall Street?
MECKLERWell, he was certainly aligning himself with the spirit behind Occupy Wall Street. He wasn't necessarily agreeing with any of their particular prescriptions, but what he was doing was saying the sort of sense in the country has fueled Occupy Wall Street, that things are out of balance, that people aren't getting a fair shake anymore, that you can't get ahead. Even if you work hard and you play by the rules, you still may end up, you know, being left behind, and that's what he talked about.
MECKLERHe said that, you know, the problem that we have in this country isn't -- it's sad when a kid has to go to a food bank. But what's even sadder is when that same child can't aspire to go -- move into the middle class by hard work. And that's what, I think, a lot of the same stuff that's behind Occupy Wall Street -- the anger at institutions, an anger at big banks and corporations, and he spoke very specifically about Corporate America and about their wrongdoing, and in pretty harsh language.
MECKLERSo I think he was appealing to that, but he was trying to go beyond that. And those sentiments do go -- will be on the people who are willing to, you know, set up camp in a public square.
PAGESo, David, is this is a rally-the-base kind of speech? Or is this a let-me-reach-out-to-independents kind of speech?
LEONHARDTI think it's some combination of both. I mean, I think what is important to keep in mind here is that there are populist strains of feeling running through both the right and the left, but also the middle in this country. I mean, inequality doesn't tend to resonate very much in the United States when times are good because, historically, Americans don't really envy or dislike the rich. Maybe they envy them a little, but they don't dislike them. The problem now is that, unlike in the 1990s, when you had inequality rising and everyone doing well, it's just that the rich were doing better than everyone else.
LEONHARDTYou have inequality rising over a decade in which most people have gotten essentially no raise. And then over the last three years they've gotten whacked. And so you combine these things and a lot of people are out there, saying I'm making no more money than I was decade ago. I'm struggling. Maybe I've had a bout of unemployment. And then I look around, and not only did people at the top do really well, but they've recovered really quickly.
LEONHARDTAnd so I think this notion of frustration, however it's expressed -- Occupy, Tea Party, you name it -- is a notion that cuts across political spectrums. We're going to have an interesting situation in which we have a relatively populist moment. We're almost certain to have two candidates who are not naturally populist. Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich -- none of them are naturally populist. They kind of have to put on a populist shirt and pretend, and we're going to see them doing that.
PAGEWhat does a populist shirt look like?
LEONHARDTI don't know. Is it checked? Is it...
KINGThe sleeves are rolled up.
LEONHARDTIt doesn't look like the kind of shirts Barack Obama and Mitt Romney wear, of that I'm comfortable.
PAGEJohn King, some criticism that the speech had no new proposals, not very many specifics, devoted less than a sentence or two to the issue of the national deficit and the debt, which is something that is of concern to a lot of Americans. What did you think about that?
KINGThe White House would say it's not the time that there was -- they're -- right now you're in some fights over the payroll tax in a fight over extending unemployment benefits that the policy issues of the day, the choices are pretty clear. Now, maybe they'll negotiate, maybe they won't. And in the campaign, you will get more from the president. It's not time for that.
KINGTo your point that he did not emphasize the deficit -- again, I think that is significant in the sense that if you came after the Tea Party success, after the House, the Republicans retook control of the House. What has the conversation been in Washington since the 2010 election deficit debt? Now, not much has been done. The super committee failed. We'll see what happens next in the automatic cuts and all that, but the president has had embraced that as the number one policy priority in Washington with less emphasis on it in the speech.
KINGAre we seeing the president say what a lot of Democrats, a lot of progressives wish he would say -- yes, we have to deal with that but in two or three years? In the short term, we have stimulus issues. He won't use that word. Trust me.
KINGBut we have -- you know, we have -- the economy needs a jolt right now. There are other things we need to do first and whether you're raising taxes two or three years down the road, doing other things for deficit reduction, two or three years down the road. Entitlement reform a bit around the corner, but the less emphasis could be significant again if he sticks with it.
MECKLERI think there was -- we actually had a very sharp departure from that effort to try to come to a bipartisan agreement and really do deficit reduction. To do deficit reduction, he can't do it on his own. He needs to join with Republicans. He tried to do that this summer, tried to strike what was called a grand bargain, where they would raise taxes and also trim or really cut back entitlement spending, and it didn't work. And the White House concluded that the Republicans just are not going to cooperate when it comes to this issue.
MECKLERAnd when we saw in September, really, was the beginning of this turn where he started to say, no, we're not going to talk about that anymore, as John say. We're going to start talking about jobs, or we're going to start talking about moving the economy forward. And that, I believe, what we started to see in September, all through the fall, he was not talking about cooperating with Republicans. He was in their face.
MECKLERAnd it culminated in this speech, which said not only the middle class is getting -- not getting a fair shake, but Republicans are part of the reason why. It was a very partisan speech, very sharp against Republicans, with nothing in there about let's all work together, which is what his attitude was in the aftermath of the 2010 elections.
PAGEYes, exactly. And his attitude also during the 2008 election, which was a new kind of politics, less partisanship, let's work together. David.
LEONHARDTHere's the problem with the debt if you're a politician: Americans aren't actually in favor of getting rid of the deficit. We say we are, but then you ask us. Are we in favor of higher taxes? No. Are we in favor of cutting Medicare? No. Are we in favor of cutting Social Security in the military? No and no. And so we're not really in favor of getting rid of the deficit.
LEONHARDTAnd as a result, it's going to take a really extraordinary effort of leadership to bring people around to that. And it seems that neither Obama nor the Republican is going to try to do that in this campaign. And it's -- and part of that is because it's a really hard job.
PAGEThe White House calls this a major policy address. Maybe when the -- on Election Day, we'll look back and see this as a turning point this week for the president in his message, certainly a turning point just in the last 24, 48 hours, John King, in what's happening in this Republican presidential race. We really see Mitt Romney, who's tried to stay above the fray here come out guns blazing against Newt Gingrich. What did he do?
KINGWell, he has no choice to come out guns blazing because many Republicans blame Romney, essentially saying this play-it-safe strategy for months has now come back to haunt him in that if you look at Iowa, South Carolina and Florida, three of the first four states, Newt Gingrich is ahead and ahead by double digits. And Iowa votes in three weeks, little more than three weeks. In New Hampshire, Gov. Romney is still ahead, but Gingrich is nipping on his heels.
KINGAnd as we all know, Iowa will vote, and that tends to reshuffle the deck a little bit. So if you look at the third-state and the four-state polling right now, look at it as a benchmark, but don't think it's going to stay that way. When Iowa votes, things will shuffle up. So what Romney has decided now, after months of running against President Obama, after months of presenting this inevitability argument -- I'm just going to forget the other Republicans and focus on President Obama -- now he's saying Newt Gingrich is a Washington insider.
KINGNewt Gingrich is part of the polarized environment of the 1990s. Newt Gingrich pretends he's in touch with the Tea Party, but he, you know, has taken all this money from Freddie Mac and the like and, you know, traded influence in Washington. I'm not a career politician, is part of Mitt Romney's argument. Now, the counterargument to that is he did run for Senate. He did run for president before. If he's not a career politician, it might be because he wasn't a successful politician.
KINGBut now you have a framing between the two men at the top and the two people -- most Republicans think this is your race now, Gingrich versus Romney. I'm not so sure because it's been so volatile that we won't get a surprise out of Iowa that somebody else might get one more chance. But at the moment, if you study it and go deep, it looks like it's hardening into a Gingrich-Romney race.
KINGTo David's point, these are not natural Tea Party guys. There's something different happening in the Republican Party. This is more like the old Republican Party -- pick a nominee we know. Gingrich has been running for president for 20 years. He wouldn't say that, but he has been. He wanted to run in 2000. He decided not to. Romney, of course, has been running. This is much more the old Republican Party -- go for the guys we know, the familiar faces, than a Tea Party. Find us new people.
LEONHARDTJohn, do you think Huntsman has a chance to be the third or anyone, or is it someone else?
KINGI think Perry has one more chance maybe, and a lot of people out there are laughing already because he's had so many stumbles because he does have financial resources and a serious group of people around him. And he is acceptable on paper. So if something nutty happens -- and we've had some nutty things happen -- he would be an acceptable person. I think Gov. Huntsman, who -- I just talked to Gov. Huntsman yesterday, and a lot of Republicans think this is the most stupid strategy running for president they've ever seen because, on paper, here is a conservative candidate.
KINGHe could say, you might disagree with me on civil unions, you might disagree with me on climate change, but look at all the other issues, whether it's abortion or taxes and jobs. But he ran this I'm Mr. Nice Guy, I'm more of a center strategy, going for the old McCain vote in New Hampshire. Yet if Iowa wounds Romney, then New Hampshire sometimes takes another look. And that is the whole Huntsman strategy, sort of the Big Bang theory.
KINGIt's not a positive vote-for-me strategy. It's more I-hope-somebody-else-falls-and-I'll-try-to-pick-up-the-ball strategy. But look at all the volatility this year, so who knows?
PAGEGingrich attacked on many fronts by multiple candidates. How did he respond, Laura Meckler, to this -- these new assaults as he became the frontrunner?
MECKLERWell, he's trying to stay above the fray, and that's what they've said is that, you know, great, bring it on. You know, we're not going to engage in that. So we'll see if that works. We'll see if he sticks with that. One big test will be Saturday night when they'll be debating for the first time since Gingrich's rise and where we'll find out, you know, what happens when he's under the gun, no doubt, from the moderators as well as his fellow candidates.
PAGEWe're going to take a short break. And when we come back, we'll talk about all the things that Congress failed to do this week. We'll take some of you calls, 1-800-433-8850. Or send us an email, email@example.com. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. And with me in the studio this hour, David Leonhardt, he's the Washington bureau chief for The New York Times. Laura Meckler, she's White House Correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. And John King, he's anchor of CNN's John King, USA and its chief national correspondent. You know, on Wednesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled the FDA on the morning-after pill.
PAGELaura Meckler, this is something that we believe has never -- it's within our power to do so, for the head of HHS to do so. But we believe this has never happened before. Why did she choose to do it this time?
MECKLERWell, that's a question a lot of women's groups are asking themselves right now. This decision just stunned her natural base, her natural supporters. She said the reason that she did is that she couldn't be confident that a 10- or 11-year old wouldn't be out there trying to buy, essentially, a birth control method on their own from a drug store and that they wouldn't necessarily understand all the adverse effects that the drug could have, can't make those decisions on their own.
MECKLERThat reasoning came under a lot of scrutiny from many quarters, where people said, well, you know, a teenager, a young teenager can go and buy Tylenol on their own, and there are sometimes bad effects of that. So obviously, this isn't just any other drug. This is a drug that deals with sex. And we are talking about sex with young teenagers. That's obviously a very controversial thing. So that was her reasoning. You know, there's been a lot of speculation about whether there was politics behind this.
MECKLERIf he had -- I should say, if the Obama administration -- and by de facto, President Obama -- had allowed these sales, over-the-counter sales of this drug, he would have come under a lot of attack from the right, in that case, from people who said, you know, this is inappropriate. There are -- social conservatives view this pill as akin to abortion, although what scientists will tell you is that what it really does is prevent pregnancy from occurring in the first place. But either way, it's very, very controversial in certain quarters, so...
PAGEUnder the current rule, 17-year-olds and above can buy the drug without a prescription. But you have to go up to a pharmacist to ask for it. If you're younger than 17, you now have to have a prescription. And so this continues that kind of split process.
MECKLERAnd, I mean, one of the issues to that is that if you're an adult and you want this drug, you can't just go buy. You've got to go up and ask for it, and people think that that sort of inhibits ability of people to get it when they need it.
PAGEAnd, you know, it was remarkable in the aftermath decision to see statements being put out by the head of the FDA, usually an Obama administration ally and appointee, being very critical of the decision by her boss. President Obama defended this decision yesterday. David, do you think politics played a big part?
LEONHARDTYes. I mean, I don't have the smoking gun memo that proves it, but it's pretty hard to read this as anything other than politics. The scientific community is relatively united on this question. This is, as you said, the first time that something like this has been done. I think probably what we're seeing here is an instance in which, when the administration looked at this, they say what they thought was a relatively small public health gain from this if you look at the numbers, and they saw the potential for a major political controversy.
LEONHARDTYou could imagine weeks on talk radio or on cable television or on the campaign in which people are talking about President Obama is in favor of quasi-abortions for 12-year olds, right? And I think they made this call, that it just sort of wasn't worth it. I think you see something similar in the recent ozone decision, right? This was an issue in which the issue was going to come up again in a year. The science seem to suggest that they made the wrong call on this, and I think they decided that the benefit of this was not worth the potential political price.
PAGEAnd in that case, say, the administration overruled the head of EPA, much to her disappointment as well. Well, John King, you know, candidates should be careful what they say during campaigns because people remember him. One of the things that President Obama said as a candidate in 2008 was that the Bush administration had let politics overrule science, and that was something he would not do.
KINGRunning for president is so much easier than being president. And every candidate learns that because, when they're running, especially for the first time, they can't help but to criticize, how dare you, how dare you, and then they're in the same situation. And whether it's just a tough policy call, or in this case a tough political call, this stuff happens. And it was interesting listening to the president because he said he had no direct role in this decision, but then he backed it up.
KINGAnd he talked not as president, but more as the father of two daughters in saying, you know, and so there is a -- as Laura knows, there's an abortion issue, social conservative issue here. I also think there's a parental rights question here. And the president is -- look, can we talk about the middle of the electorate? He's looking not only -- rare praise. These groups that have -- that every day condemn the administration are praising it for this, number one, which doesn't hurt politically. Does it help? Who knows? They're not going to -- most of those people aren't going to vote for Barack Obama anyway.
KINGBut suburban moms, if we have a 50-50 presidential election, if we're looking at the Philadelphia suburbs and we're looking at, you know, just outside of Cleveland and just outside of Columbus, Ohio, to decide who decides our president, the state of Florida, it is an interesting question. And I think, without a doubt -- again, we probably won't get to connect the dots with a memo, but that somebody somewhere said we're not doing this now. Maybe if we win four more years, we'll think about it then.
PAGELaura, the Senate blocked a vote on Richard Cordray to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Was that a surprise?
MECKLERNo. It wasn't a surprise at all to anybody who had been paying attention to this. And, frankly, a lot of Republicans are counting on the fact that nobody was paying attention to this, which is part of what was going on here. This is a bureau that's been without a director. It was created by the Dodd-Frank law that was passed in the wake of the financial crisis. This bureau was supposed to help consumers -- a lot of it is just having more knowledge about what they're doing, making sure they don't get into credit card agreements and pay large fees to payday lenders and don't realize what they're up to.
MECKLERThis is -- what a lot of is about disclosure, about consumer protection. And some of those duties of the new bureau cannot actually be implemented without a director. That's how the law was written. The president nominated Richard Cordray, the former attorney general of Ohio, this summer. And Republicans made clear that not only were they not going to confirm him, they were not -- they are not going to confirm anybody to this post until there are changes made in the structure of this bureau.
PAGEWhat changes do they want to see made?
MECKLERThere are things like they want a board to govern the bureau rather than a single director. They want changes in how the budget is set. It's sort of those kinds of structural issues. In a lot of ways, they are sort of re-fighting the last fight. They -- much as they have tried to do with health care. You know, often you kind of think of it as, OK, Congress debates a law. They pass the law, then OK. You win, you lose. You move on, you implement it if it passes.
MECKLERBut that's not how the congressional Republicans see it. The law passed, and now they're looking for another shot at, at least, portions of it, and they have in this case. Unlike health care, where, in order to stop something, they sort of need to affirmatively get a law through Congress or get a budget authority through Congress, in this case, they have a lot of power to stop something. They just can refuse to confirm any director, and that's what's happening.
LEONHARDTIt's -- you know, to paraphrase Mao, politics is not a dinner a party, right? And so, of course, we should have fights in Congress. Mitch McConnell has made this point. Look, of course, we should have debates. These are serious issues, and that's true. I think what's interesting is the extent to which this is an example of something in which we do see -- you might call it congressional nullification. You see in a number of ways, basically, Congress trying to undo things that were done before as large as hinted at them.
LEONHARDTAnd you see it with the refusal to confirm nominees. You see it with health reform. You see it here. The Republicans have been, depending on your view, more skilled at it or more willing to engage in subterranean politics. But we do -- it is part of the breakdown here, and it really is Senate-focused in which, without 60 votes, you can't get a lot of things happening, including laws that are on the books being implemented.
PAGESo the president indicated, perhaps, he'd consider recess appointment. Will he have to have that opportunity, do you think, John?
KINGWell, Congress would have to go into recess. And the Republicans -- the House -- Republicans control the House, and they have used other language, other provisions to go home but does technically stay in session, which means somebody has to stay in town to pretend the House is in session, to keep him from that power. Will they do that now? We'll see. This is interesting. To David's point, remember, before the House Republicans -- before the Republican retook the House, you had a Democratic Congress for a long time.
KINGAnd one defining political story of the last three years has been the discipline of Senate Republicans and Mitch McConnell, even when the Democrats had the majority, in saying, no, Mr. President. Then, to Laura's point -- forgive me, but forget your civics books that you're reading in fifth and sixth grade. No fight in Congress is over in this environment, and they keep re-fighting them. On this one, a lot of Republicans privately are grimacing a little bit because you have the argument David Axelrod always makes for the president -- will this be a referendum or a choice?
KINGIf it's a referendum on Barack Obama or any president, Democrat or Republican who had this economic record, it's hard to win re-election. The president wants to make it a choice, saying who's on your side? Who will fight for fairness? And allowing the president, blocking this nominee, the president, bang, into the briefing room, saying, wait a minute, these are the -- this is the director would help you not get that mortgage that ended up in foreclosure, would help military families who, frankly, get a raw deal because they're moving around and somebody says, you can afford this loan and then they can't.
KINGIt allowed the president to tee up the fairness argument. And that's a powerful argument. He's not a natural populist, as David noted, but this is an opportunity for him to play populist, to play I'm on your side. And that has some power in American politics. And some Republicans think you know what, you should have confirmed these guys and try to change the rules. If we win -- if you win the Senate in the next election, you'll have a chance to change the rules. But this one might not have been worth going to the mat over.
MECKLERAnd what someone in the leadership, Senate leadership explained to me that understood that, yes, that is a very powerful dynamic, that when people are asked about these issues, they agree that there should be these consumer protections, and basically said they're not worried about it because, you know, who the blank knows who Richard Cordray is? -- with another word for blank.
MECKLERAnd the -- that's essentially what they're counting on, and, in fact, that's what we saw from the White House this week, where they spent a whole week basically trying to educate people about who he is. They said that they were working to try to pass his confirmation, and obviously they would have liked that. But what they were really trying to do is just raise the profile of this. Will it work? You know, it's hard to say.
PAGEHere we have an email from Carrie. She writes us from Cincinnati. She writes, "Isn't it interesting how the nomination for the head of the Consumer Protection agency was blocked, yet you have Corzine saying he doesn't know where the money went and we don't need a watchdog?" Tell us about the situation with this incredible scene yesterday, David, with former governor of New Jersey, former U.S. senator from New Jersey on the hot seat in Congress.
LEONHARDTCorzine's fall is really remarkable. He was the head of Goldman Sachs at a time when every MBA in the country, to exaggerate only slightly, wanted to go work for Goldman Sachs. He was a senator from New Jersey. He was the governor of New Jersey in a state that has one of the most powerful governors in the country. And he then gets defeated by this no-name, who is now a huge name, Chris Christie. And he goes back into the private sector, and he chooses a firm that's just a disaster. And he isn't able to prevent it. On some level, he's probably causing some of it.
LEONHARDTAnd it's -- I can't walk you through all the details here and tell you how guilty or innocent he is. But I do think it's really a good example of just how poorly regulated finance is right now. We see all these other cases in which the SEC fines companies -- my colleague Ed Wiseman reporting on this -- forces them to say they'll never do it again, and then they all go do it again. And so it does seem pretty clear that we have something approaching a lawlessness problem in certain corners of the financial system.
PAGEThe big photo on the front page of your newspaper this morning, Laura Meckler, shows Jon Corzine in a quote saying, a quote, "I simply do not know where the money is." He's talking about $1 billion.
MECKLERYes. Well, you know, these things happen -- no. Honestly, it was a remarkable hearing, where he -- that's exactly what he said, that he's -- he doesn't know where it is, but that he's very upset about it. And this is exactly what feeds into what we were talking about earlier, about the frustration across the country with what's happening in institutions on -- both in Washington and Wall Street. I mean, how do you not know where $1.2 billion is?
PAGEIt was the first time an ex-senator had been subpoenaed by Congress in 103 years. I'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." John King, among the other things Congress didn't do this week was pass an extension of the payroll tax break. Proposals by both Republicans and Democrats went down.
KINGThey both went down. The big debate is over how to pay for it. The Democrats want to have a surtax on millionaires. They had a bigger proposal, then they've scaled it back some. Essentially, they want to raise taxes on more affluent Americans to pay for extending this payroll tax cut. Most Republicans prefer extending this tax cut. They just want to cut spending or find other ways to pay for it, and that's been a defining challenge on other issues as well.
KINGDo you raise taxes on the rich, or do you cut the budget more? There are some Republicans and a few Democrats who will say this privately -- they don't like to say it publicly -- who question this policy, who say they agreed with it in the first place. Even -- there are people like the presidential candidate Michele Bachmann who pushed this at one point, says, if you look at the numbers, it hasn't stimulated the economy as much as you would like, and the money comes out of the Social Security trust fund.
KINGSo is there another way? Is there some other way to maybe put money back into people's pockets, but not take it out of the Social Security trust fund? Everybody in Washington thinks because most Republicans say they want this tax cut, that eventually they'll figure out some compromise. That has been what has happened on most of the issues. They argue, they argue, they argue. In the end they cut a deal.
KINGBut to cut a deal here, the president is going to have to give if he's not going to get that tax increase. So there is a question is the game of chicken going on? You see the president every day saying, they have a clock. Go to the White House website. Go to the White House briefing, where they have a running clock 24 days, 12 hours. They're down to the second. The Republicans are going to raise taxes on the middle class unless they agreed to this.
KINGThe Republican calculation is, when you get to the very end, he's the president. He's the president. And even if he's 100 percent right on the policy argument, 100 percent right on the political argument, he's still the president. And when you vote in an election, the president -- life's not fair, and politics is not fair. So will he blink? Will he accept something that does not give him his tax cut? And that's the game of chicken we're in right now.
MECKLERWell, what's happening also in the House is that the leadership, the Republican leadership, is basically trying to attach a -- not basically -- is trying to attach a completely unrelated matter to this, which involves approval of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada that's supposed to go to the Gulf of Mexico. That was another controversial decision that President Obama put off, his State Department put off until after the election.
MECKLEREnvironmentalists are very upset about the idea of this pipeline running through, but it's also a job creator. So that's sort of a whole different ball of wax. And now what you have is the -- is Speaker Boehner saying, OK, we'll give you your payroll tax cut. We'll even do it -- pay for it in a way that won't make you too upset about it, but we're going to extract this. And then yesterday, you saw President Obama come out and say, no, no, no.
MECKLERWe're not going to do that. This isn't about what can you extract from me, what kind of price can you make me pay in order to get this payroll tax. We all want this payroll tax cut extended. And so it's a very interesting dynamic when you essentially have all the parties saying that they agree on the underlying point, and yet it's wrapped up in politics big time.
PAGELet's go to Dallas, Texas, and let Tom join our conversation. Tom, thanks for joining us on "The Diane Rehm Show."
TOMYeah. Good morning, Susan. Happy holy days and holidays to everyone. We know what all the days are. And I wanted to bring up the situation with Theodore Roosevelt. He did have empathy for the poor people in the coalmines and all that. I think he had some prejudices, too. (unintelligible) talk about those. But Ralph Nader, for the last 45 years, has been dealing with corporate corruption since he wrote the book "Unsafe at Any Speed" about General Motors.
TOMAnd that chairman of the board had to be taken before the country in front of Sen. Abraham Ribicoff committee and admit that they tried to set him up in a grocery store. Women come up to his -- their hotel room with him. And they were fined for it, and he had to admit that it was General Motors that did this.
PAGETom, interesting -- lots of interesting points you're making there. I'd like to just focus on one of them, which is Teddy Roosevelt because one thing that struck me about President Obama's speech was the very conscious effort to associate himself with Teddy Roosevelt, including the location of the speech.
LEONHARDTYeah. And so I think...
PAGESo, David, where was the location of the speech?
LEONHARDTThe location was in the same Kansas town...
PAGEAs a Kansan, I can say it. Yes.
PAGENoticed you're avoiding the name of the town.
LEONHARDTYeah. As a New Yorker, I didn't try it. It was in the same Kansas town where Roosevelt gave the speech. And I think what we see Obama doing there is an attempt to be populist and yet bipartisan, right? Roosevelt is a Republican. John McCain loved to pattern himself after TR. And so it is tapping into the sense out there that people want a little bit of populism, not too much, but they want a little bit. But they don't want the harsh partisanship. And although that speech had a lot of partisanship in it, it was wrapped in a little bit of a bipartisanship.
PAGEWrapped himself in Teddy Roosevelt, not Franklin Roosevelt, interestingly.
PAGEWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll go back to the phones. We'll take some of your calls and questions and we'll read some of your emails. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. It's the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup. We're joined by Laura Meckler of the Wall Street Journal, David Leonhardt of the New York Times and John King of CNN. Well, John, a terrible story this week about the dumping of ashes of U.S. troops. Tell us what happened.
KINGThis is a follow-up story, and The Washington Post has been doing some great reporting on this. And this is -- it's heinous, and it makes you both sad and mad at the same time. America's heroes, the fallen, are brought back to Dover Air Force Base. Many of the bodies sometimes are -- forgive my -- forgive me, this is tough to talk about -- are in fragments because of the battles and the deaths on the battlefield. And they've had a horrible time keeping track of things at the morgue.
KINGAnd it turns out that they had acknowledged several weeks ago that some remains were cremated. And because they couldn't account for who they belonged to, without telling any families, were dumped in a landfill along with other medical waste. They said it was a relatively small number. Now, they're saying at least 274 troops had at least parts of their remains cremated and dumped in a landfill. It is a horrible thing that adds to the pain of these families, number one.
KINGAnd it is just proof that there's a serious management problem in a part of the military that is supposed to do one of the most hallowed things. These are heroes, whatever you think of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or anywhere else. These are heroes who died on the battlefield, and their families are not getting -- in some cases, not getting straight information about how it happened, about accounting for all of the remains and, most significantly, about a proper burial.
KINGAnd to The Post's credit, they've been doing some fabulous reporting coming back and back on this. And they're exposing a scandal. And the new Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says he'll get to the bottom of this. He says he will fix it. And let's hope that's the case.
PAGEYeah. We certainly all hope that. You know, we -- going back to less serious and ponderous topic, we should talk a little more about the campaign. Herman Cain suspended his presidential campaign on Saturday. There was a time, actually, just weeks ago, Laura, when he was leading the Republican field. Now, he says he won't go away. Does he, in fact, have a voice that we'll continue to hear in this presidential race?
MECKLERI think he probably does. He has a lot of people who really like him. Certainly as -- I think he has a voice as long as this Republican nomination fight goes along. A lot of people will be looking to see if he endorses somebody. His aides had sort of hinted that he might endorse Newt Gingrich. That might give Gingrich a bit of a boost beyond what he's already gotten.
MECKLERSo I think that he does have a voice. I just heard that he's going to be commenting on the debate on Saturday night, which is, you know, a remarkable revolving door. You go from candidate to commentator, you know, in a week. But -- so I think that -- I think people -- he's very charismatic, and he has a lot to say. And people clearly like to listen to him. So I do -- don't think he's going away.
LEONHARDTI agree with that. I don't think he's going away. I think his voice will be modest, though. I mean, it wasn't so much Herman Cain. It was the fact that conservative voters really didn't find anyone they fell in love with. And Herman Cain was one of the people that conservatives tried out. And now that he's not running for president and he has all these problems, I think he becomes one voice among many rather than a really distinctive or influential one.
PAGEOur phone lines are open. You can give us a call at 1-800-433-8850. Well, John, here's an email from Albert. He's writing us from here in Washington, D.C. He says, "I think that Newt Gingrich is merely polishing his personal brand in running for president. He's a smart guy. He knows there's little chance he could be elected, but he'd leverage this for personal financial gain. This is probably the reason he sought advice from Donald Trump." What do you think?
KINGI think there are many of these candidates who early on probably thought, I don't have much of a prayer here, but this would be good for me. And Newt Gingrich has rehabilitated himself several times over his career. We were just talking about Herman Cain. Many people early on said this guy is trying to sell a book. He's not a serious candidate for president. And then your moment comes, and this new national poll comes out, and you look down and you think, uh oh, I'm ahead. And then an Iowa poll comes out and you say, uh oh, I'm ahead. And so you have these people who get in the race.
KINGDo I think Newt Gingrich wanted the nomination when he announced his candidacy? Of course he did. Do I think he thought he had a very good chance at it the day he announced it? -- Newt's a pretty smart guy, whatever you think of him -- probably not. However, he has this moment now, and he is a serious candidate now. And if you're looking at the data today, he is more likely than anyone else to be the Republican nominee. And a lot of people say the Democrats are gleeful. They're doing handstands because of all his past baggage.
KINGTrue, he would be a very interesting candidate going back, looking at his history. At the same time, look at the history of American politics. This will be a competitive presidential election, no matter who wins the Republican nomination, given the state of the economy, given the Obama record the first three years, given the demographic changes in the country and what we learned from 2010. So at the moment, he's now trying to grow. Was he trying to rehabilitate the brand? Yes. Has he shown -- we've all covered Newt Gingrich over the years.
KINGHas he shown remarkably more discipline this time than he has over the course of his career? Yes. There are still a lot of people, including very good friends who support him, who think the moment is yet to come. The moment will come. The only question is when. But, you know, Michele Bachmann is selling a book and trying to improve her brand. Herman Cain, selling a book, trying to improve her (sic) brand. In the talk radio, cable television generation -- used to be if you ran for president and lost, you were a loser.
KINGIn this generation, you can run for president or vice president, in the case of Gov. Palin, and be on a losing ticket and lose and still have a voice or at least a media role. We'll see.
LEONHARDTThe funny thing is that it seems to help your media role if you don't get the nomination, right? The people who get the nomination and lose almost fade more into the background than the people who lose the nomination, which is kind of funny.
KINGIt is an interesting point.
MECKLERYeah. Well, it's also important to think about with Newt Gingrich, when he first launched his campaign, I think, he was taken fairly seriously. But then soon after that, his whole campaign collapsed. There were -- basically, his whole senior aides essentially tried to fire the candidate. They all left en masse, saying that he wasn't taking it seriously, that his wife had too much influence. And it was after that that he just sort of -- you know, his whole campaign sort of shriveled, and it became just basically Newt Gingrich selling books and showing up at debates.
MECKLERBut then, it's -- he's come back. Now, I'm not saying this is exactly the same but, you know, John McCain in 2007, his campaign collapsed. It was him on a Southwest Airline flight as he told many, many audiences, you know, carrying his own suitcase. And then it came back. You know, Newt Gingrich is a serious person. He was speaker of the House. He's not somebody who just came along and decided, I want to run for president this year. So I don't think we should, you know, completely dismiss this.
PAGEInteresting, though, that the only public event that Newt Gingrich has on his schedule today is a book signing at Union Station here in Washington, not in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina or Florida. Well, we have an email from Joanna in Laconia at New Jersey who thinks perhaps we're all too cynical. She says, "Why does everyone assume that Sebelius' overruling of the FDA was political? Couldn't she or the president be concerned about young girls being considered mature enough to have sex but not mature enough to see a doctor and get medical help and advice?" I suppose that's a fair point.
KINGIt is a fair point. If there -- some of the people supporting this decision, or at least encouraging, the debate about is if these young girls can walk in to a pharmacy and just get the drug, suppose they have a sexually transmitted disease, suppose they have other -- some other health issue. If they're not required to get a prescription to see a medical professional, then that doesn't get uncovered, and you have problems. Maybe they just need a little education if they're sexually active at a young age.
KINGMaybe they do need somebody to talk to them. And if they can't talk to their parents, it would be good if they talk to somebody else. There is part of that debate. And why are we overly cynical? Well, when things happen this close to a political environment, when it's the first time it has ever happened and when you have an administration that in almost all of its other decisions has sided with what I'll call the pro-choice or the more liberal community on this regard, it raises red flags.
LEONHARDTThere's something else, too, which is you can come up with a reason why any over-the-counter medicine may be bad for some subpopulation. And then we would have empty drugstores. And so while it's true this could be based on a legitimate concern, I assume it is. If we took that to its logical end, we wouldn't have over-the-counter medicine.
MECKLERAnd I think the other reason people were suspecting politics is that Kathleen Sebelius has a very strong abortion rights record. I mean, she was the governor of Kansas, where you have horrible wars over late-term abortion clinics. And she really stuck up for the abortion rights side of things. So people view her as sort of a stalwart ally. So they suspect that if she went the other way, there's got to be a reason.
PAGELet's talk to Carol. She's calling us from Smithfield, N.C. Carol, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
CAROLThank you. Hello, everybody. I just want to take issue with the statement of one of the gentlemen. I think that a lot of people get their opinions of the candidates from the media. And a statement was made a few months ago about the Democrats and the Republicans and that the American people really didn't want the deficit to be lowered. And I think that's a very uninformed or very irresponsible statement to make.
CAROLThere was only three items on the table. Do we want Social Security cut or the other two? No. But there's a plethora of other ways the government can cut spending and save us on taxes without taking those three items away. And the American people, those three items are big tickets for us, for sure, but there's a lot of government ways.
PAGECarol, thank you so much for your call. You know, David Leonhardt, I believe you were the one who said -- questioned whether Americans, in their hearts, when push came to shove really cared about reducing the deficit.
LEONHARDTYeah. I mean, you can't solve the deficit without raising taxes, cutting Medicare, cutting Social Security, cutting the -- on the military or doing some combination of those things. You really can't. I mean, would it be possible to come up with something where you eliminate the entire rest of the federal government? Maybe. I don't even think mathematically that's right. And so what I mean by that is that when you ask Americans, are they for cutting the deficit, they say yes. But that's easy, right?
LEONHARDTI'm for eating more dessert and exercising less and losing weight, but it doesn't help me do that, right? And so when you look at polling, Americans don't line up with the series of opinions that actually would reduce the deficit. They're not in favor of the kind of hard choices. I think they could be. I think it would take real leadership, but we've promised ourselves more than we can afford, and it's going to take some hard choices.
PAGEAll right. Carol, thanks for your call. Let's go to Al. He's calling us from Baltimore. Hi, Al.
ALHello. How are you?
ALThat's great. My question is about why aren't independents and Republicans interested in Ron Paul? I've listened to a couple of his speeches, and I was somewhat impressed with him more so than Gingrich or Mitt Romney. And it just seems he's just drifting back there. And every time I hear on the radio, his name is constantly being mentioned, but yet he's not considered a serious candidate. I do have some questions about his foreign policy, but other than that, he seems like a wholesome contender.
PAGEAll right. Al, thanks so much for your call. John, what do you think?
KINGHe is more in contention this cycle than he was last cycle. And when you talk to Ron Paul, he likes to say, I use to be the outlier. Nobody agreed with me on anything. Suddenly, they agree with me on more things, and they do. If you look at his support, he's running third in Iowa right now, I believe, third or fourth in New Hampshire, third in South Carolina. He will be an impact player in this race.
KINGHe has yet to show the ability to grow enough to be a potential nominee, but let's see what happens. There are some people who think he has an outside shot winning Iowa. Were that to happen, interesting things would happen in the race. His views on the Federal Reserve are out there a bit, out of the mainstream. His views on foreign policy, however, you have more and more Republicans who don't 100 percent agree with Ron Paul, but who say it is time to come back from Afghanistan.
KINGIt is time to rethink how many troops are stationed overseas around the world, and we need to find budget cuts. And he's getting a decent amount of Tea Party support, Susan, which is interesting because of the libertarian in Ron Paul, the constitutional conservative in Ron Paul that says Washington shouldn't be doing these things. These are things that the state government should be doing or the local community should be doing. And so he is more of a player this time, and he has a -- his base is a strong base and a loyal base. The question is, can he grow?
PAGEWe often hear complaints from Ron Paul's supporters that the news media does not give him his due, especially in this campaign. I'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We have an email from Thomas and he writes, "The most bizarre part of the Senate filibuster of the CFPB director," that would be the new consumer protection agency, "the most bizarre part is that the only Republican voting in favor was Scott Brown." Laura, why is that bizarre?
MECKLEROh, I'm not sure it is bizarre. I'm actually...
PAGEYou know, maybe bizarre because of who he defeated to become -- get in to the Senate.
LEONHARDTI think it's bizarre because of who's he running against now, right? He's running against the person who came up with the very idea.
MECKLERWell, yeah. Well -- but -- well, yes, but in the same -- it's bizarre in that sense, but in a way, it's also very understandable 'cause he's -- their both running in a state, Massachusetts, where these issues are very popular and where, if he were to vote against this, he would have a big political issue on his plate. It's not like we're in a lot of states where maybe nobody would really notice or care.
MECKLERIn Massachusetts, it's top of the mind and because of Elizabeth Warren's candidacy and also because of the nature of the electorate there, a little bit more. So I think the fact that -- and he has actually shown, since he's gotten to the Senate, an interest and willingness to vote with Democrats on selected occasions, when it seems to make sense to him, and this has been one of those times.
PAGEAlthough, the only reason Elizabeth Warren is running for the Senate against him is because she was not made...
PAGE...nominated to be head of his agency.
KINGA lot of liberals were very mad at the president when he would not nominate Elizabeth Warren, when he would not have that fight because Republicans had served noticed then. Yes, they have objections about the scope and the budgets, and why does the money come from the Federal Reserve about this agency? They particularly had concerns about her because they viewed her as overaggressive. But, to Laura's point, Scott Brown has cast votes, taken positions that prove he wants to be re-elected in a state that President Obama is likely to carry next year.
KINGBut it's also significant, Scott Brown did not vote with the Republicans. And Olympia Snowe of Maine voted present, essentially not taking a side, trying to say, I'm here, but I'm not touching this one. Two moderate Republicans who you could see there is a sense of unease among some of the moderate Republicans who have to run in more blue states, more progressive or liberal states, pick your term, that saying no all the time gets them in some political trouble.
MECKLERWe should note that Olympia Snowe actually said that she voted present because she had a conflict of interest with her husband, although I think that probably the point you make is definitely at work.
PAGEWe saw former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich sentenced this week on corruption charges, 14 years. That's a pretty stiff sentence, David.
LEONHARDTYeah. Isn't it the record for recent Illinois governor who's gone to jail?
LEONHARDTI think that's the longest. And there's a long history of them as well. It is. That's a really stiff sentence. It's -- the charges are serious as well, right? I mean, it's basically trying to sell government influence.
PAGEThe previous governor is still in jail on a sentence that's much shorter. Now, Rod Blagojevich had, up to this point, denied the accusations against him. Did he change his tune at this point, John?
KINGIn the end he decided that, well, since you've convicted me and since you have this evidence, maybe you should give me leniency. And maybe if -- maybe there's a misinterpretation or misunderstanding here, and I would like some leniency. It is a long sentence. And it is a sad stain on Illinois politics that we can make jokes about this. And there's a concern about this. And also, it's not over.
KINGThe House Ethics Committee is looking at a case involving Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. about whether he had offered Gov. Blagojevich some help, some fundraising help in exchange for being named to that Senate seat. So this -- the Blagojevich part of this is -- perhaps that chapter is closed, but the story is not completely over.
PAGEBecause the issue was, of course, whether he was trying to get something in return for making the appointment to succeed Barack Obama when Barack Obama was elected president. Laura.
MECKLERIt's just the whole thing is -- it's hard not to see a comical angle to this when you have the character of Rod Blagojevich at the center of it, who has spent a good portion of his time, since being charged with these crimes, you know, spending on reality TV, declaring to anybody who would listen what a travesty this was, once he gets to put on his case, it's going to be clear, how innocent he is.
MECKLERAnd then, evidently at his hearing, all he could do was just apologize, apologize to everybody who he could have hurt. And, you know, it's amazing when you think about that 14 years -- long time.
PAGEI want to thank our panelists for being with us this hour, Laura Meckler of The Wall Street Journal, John King of CNN, David Leonhardt of The New York Times. Thanks for being with us this hour.
KINGThank you. Have a great day.
PAGEI'm Susan page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Diane's husband is doing well after surgery. She thanks you all for your good wishes. Diane will be back next week. Thanks for joining us.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth, Nikki Jecks, Susan Nabors and Lisa Dunn, and the engineer is Tobey Schreiner. A. C. Valdez answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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