Friday News Roundup - Domestic

Transcript for: 
Friday News Roundup - Domestic

MS. DIANE REHM

10:06:56
Thanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Congressional negotiators reached a spending deal, narrowly averting a government shutdown. A new poll shows President Obama's unfavorable rating as the highest of his term but still lower than that of GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich. And Time magazine names the protester the 2011 person of the year.

MS. DIANE REHM

10:07:30
Joining me in the studio for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup: Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post, Susan Page of USA Today, and Ron Elving of NPR. I hope you'll join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to drshow@wamu.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.

MR. RON ELVING

10:08:03
Good morning

MR. CHRIS CILLIZZA

10:08:03
Good morning, Diane.

MS. SUSAN PAGE

10:08:03
Good morning.

REHM

10:08:04
You're all rather zany this morning.

REHM

10:08:07
Before we begin our conversation, I can tell. Susan, how were the House and Senate negotiators able to reach this agreement?

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10:08:19
I think they saw an abyss, decided not to jump into it. You know, we had showdowns on financial issues, in the spring over spending and in the summer over the debt ceiling, and they faced another one with funding for the government running out at midnight today. And I think, given that low approval ratings of Congress and Congress' desire to go home for Christmas, that that was enough to force a deal.

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10:08:43
You know, it's not such a remarkable -- it's exactly the kind of deal we used to have before politics became so frozen, where both sides gave some. There was a little of compromise. And it looks like they'll move ahead today and tomorrow to pass it.

REHM

10:08:55
So what happened to the Keystone pipeline? What happened to taxes on millionaires? Those are the kinds of things, I gather, were negotiated out.

ELVING

10:09:08
Yes. It does tend to be the spikiest things that are holding up the deal in the late days that go out the door so that the entire package can move forward. We're not sure yet exactly what the language is going to be on the Keystone pipeline. That is attached to the payroll tax -- cut extension. This is the 2 percent reduction in how much people have taken out of their checks for Social Security every paycheck, something that most every American would feel right away in January if it were not to be extended.

ELVING

10:09:37
So this is a really popular thing. There have been some objections raised to it, of course, but it's a really popular thing among people who get a paycheck. So as a result, they finally decided they were going to go forward with it. But a lot of things were attached to it. The Democrats wanted to pay for it with a small surtax on millionaire income, and I mean million-dollar-a-year taxable income. We're not just talking about people who have a million dollars somewhere in their 401K.

ELVING

10:10:02
We're talking about people who make a million dollars a year. That was the surtax they we're proposing, and they backed off of that -- predictably, I would say. I mean, the Democrats do seem to cave on things like this at the last moment typically in these deals. And as far as the Keystone, that is something the Republicans brought into the picture late in the day, looking for something they could trade off against the rather popular idea of the surtax on millionaire income and apparently have been successful in it.

ELVING

10:10:29
Although we don't know exactly what the language will be with respect to the pipeline, it probably will not be forced upon the administration by the legislation the president will have to sign to keep all this together.

REHM

10:10:40
So, Chris Cillizza, how close are they to an extension of payroll tax cuts for our 160 million workers?

CILLIZZA

10:10:53
Let me echo Ron and say that it's a very small number of people, Diane, who know the exact specifics. But my educated guess, knowing how Congress works, is they're pretty close to doing it. The issue, as Ron mentioned, is paying for it. No one wants to have January come around and there be a lot of people, as you mentioned 160 million people, getting a tax increase, which would -- is what would happen. So there is political interest in making that happen.

CILLIZZA

10:11:27
The issue -- and this has been true for, especially in the Republican Party, for the entirety of the (unintelligible) of Congress is, how do we pay for it? They are not willing to do things anymore that are unfunded. And I would -- just to echo Ron again, I do think it is fascinating. You saw Democrats blink on the surtax for millionaires, which they thought was a winning political issue, at least certainly for them.

CILLIZZA

10:11:49
And you saw the White House and Democrats blink on what they were doing, trying to link the signing of the omnibus appropriations bill with the payroll tax cut. They were withholding signing the appropriations bill to fund the government in hopes that they could leverage themselves a little bit more in the payroll tax cut. They wound up signing it because, as Susan pointed out, in facing the abyss, they decided they didn't want to do that.

REHM

10:12:11
But she's raising her eyebrows.

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10:12:13
I was just going to say, of course, they gave on the millionaire's tax. They don't have the bullets to pass that, so they put it on everything when they need to find some money. They have a good issue for a while. But if they want to get something passed, they're going to have to cave on that. And secondly, I think it's pretty clear that they have the effort to tie the payroll extension to the spending bill.

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10:12:31
I think it's pretty clear that there is now a deal to extend the payroll tax break, so that the Democrat -- I think you -- I wouldn't fairly score that as a cave by Democrats. I think there is a deal to get that through as well.

REHM

10:12:43
What about the extending unemployment benefits, Ron?

ELVING

10:12:49
That will be in it, and one expects that it will probably be the long extension, the 99 we've already -- we're already talking about 99 weeks, total that is, new total period. We expect that they'll take another long extension on it, although there's still the possibility, as I understand it this morning, of something shorter. We don't really have the final language. The deals seems to have been cut on what's referred to as the trillion-dollar bill. It's about $915 billion. I'll take the $85 billion difference (unintelligible).

ELVING

10:13:20
And that deal appears to be finalized, but we don't yet know what's going to be on the package on the payroll tax cut extension.

REHM

10:13:27
And...

ELVING

10:13:27
So we're not really sure just how long the jobless benefits will be extended for, but we do know this -- it's clearly been negotiated that they will be extended.

REHM

10:13:35
And what about Medicare reimbursement rates for doctors, Susan?

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10:13:39
Also part of the package, not surprisingly. Two of the most powerful groups in Washington would be seniors and doctors, and both of them were very interested in avoiding the big cut in reimbursement rates for doctors for Medicare. That is also part of this big package.

REHM

10:13:54
So we still got defense spending, and they managed to modify a separate defense spending bill to avoid a White House veto.

CILLIZZA

10:14:07
That's correct, Diane. And remember, when you were discussing sacrosanct things in the two parties, Medicare and Social Security would be on the Democratic side, and defense cuts would be on the Republican side. This is a fight that we thought we might get with the super committee, or at least a resolution we thought we might get with a super committee in terms of cuts.

CILLIZZA

10:14:30
I think it came as a surprise to many people, myself included, about halfway through the super committee process, that sequestration -- the automatic triggers that would make across-the-board cuts in defense and these sorts of things -- don't kick in until 2013, the year after an election. The problem with that obviously is that there's very little political incentive to do anything about it before the election.

CILLIZZA

10:14:55
I think, in general, what Congress is doing now is doing what they must do, appropriations bill being an obvious example of it, and not doing much beyond that in hopes that the 2012 election -- they've said as much, John Boehner has said as much -- in hopes that the 2012 elections provides them some guidance about what do people want out of government, what do -- are people willing to cut defense spending?

CILLIZZA

10:15:22
Now, again, I'm not sure we're going to learn that from the election, but both parties, I feel like, are in a wait-and-see mode to see whether we get a mandate, what that mandate tells us, who gets the mandate. And that doesn't mean that we get a lot more done. This will like -- almost certainly be the last big thing that Congress does.

ELVING

10:15:40
You know, elections are not all that good at telling us exactly what people want their legislators to do on specific issues, or even for their president for that matter. We choose people, and the people then make the decisions. And we hope that they've told us in the course of the campaign what kinds of decisions they will make.

ELVING

10:15:56
But I suspect that what these guys and women are waiting to see from this election is who's going to be back here in 2013, or even for that matter, what the pressures will be on the people in the lame duck session we will surely have after the Nov. 12 election when the Bush era tax cuts -- huge amount of money, huge amount of revenue over the next 10 years -- will expire unless Congress does something.

ELVING

10:16:19
So that's another big thing that's coming in exactly one year after the election to be decided by a lame duck Congress, many members of whom will not be -- many members of which will not be returning for the following January.

CILLIZZA

10:16:29
And I would -- just quickly to add, I don't think any of the four of us expect a mandate like 365 electoral victory for Barack Obama or whoever Republican's nominee. And what that means, to Ron's point, I think, is that you're going to have muddled mandate, if you can even use the word muddled mandate -- that may be oxymoronic. But the idea that the election will provide us answers on what the American people, I think, may be a little bit off.

REHM

10:16:54
What about earmarks, Susan?

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10:16:56
Well, earmarks have been a huge issue and very controversial. You see them in ads all the time. You see them actually as a weapon against Gingrich at this point. You know, the big jump in earmarks during the time when he was speaker is one of the things that you hear about. And Congress, of course, has a moratorium on earmarks, and we don't, I think, know if there's going to be a permanent -- a more permanent kind of ban on the use of earmarks.

REHM

10:17:22
But at the same time, didn't members of Congress tried to add, like, 100 earmarks to this agreement last night?

ELVING

10:17:33
Surely. Earmarks are our Congress being Congress. I mean, as Ron Paul said in the Republican presidential candidates' debate in Sioux City last night, earmarks are Congress exercising what they see to be their job, which is to direct federal spending to specific uses, to specific places, to specific people, project back home. To help them get re-elected? Yes. But one could also argue that's why people send their representatives to Congress, to bring the bacon back home. Now, I realize there's a contradiction here. People want less government spending except in their district and state.

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10:18:06
You know, I would just -- to Chris' previous point, I do think this has raised the stakes for the 2012 election, 'cause we may have a muddled outcome as you say, but maybe we'll have a pretty clear one. It's possible Republicans will win the White House and get control of the Senate, whole control of the House. That would be a pretty good mandate. Or maybe we'll have, you know, a comfortable re-election for President Obama. It -- really, some of these issues will not get resolved until we go through that election.

REHM

10:18:29
Susan Page, she's Washington bureau chief for USA Today. When we come back, we'll talk about last night's debate and the various figures involved. Stay with us.

REHM

10:20:04
Welcome back to the Friday News Roundup, as we talk about what's been happening domestically, and certainly one the big things happening have been all these debates. Last night was the last Republican candidate debate of the year before the Iowa caucuses in January. Describe the tone of that debate, Susan.

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10:20:34
Well, you definitely had Newt Gingrich, who is -- you know, has had this enormous surge in the polls -- now perhaps a bit threatened. You saw him as the center of attention both for the moderators from Fox and also from some of the other candidates on stage. Michele Bachmann went after him in a fierce way, so did Ron Paul. He found himself defending himself on whether he's a reliable conservative, what his position on abortion had been in the past.

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10:21:00
So you saw him in that traditional frontrunner's position of having to deal with a lot of errors. And you saw the other person who's traditionally at the top of these polls, Mitt Romney, pretty much above the fray. Right at the end, he got a tough question about flip-flopping on issues from his time running for office in Massachusetts. But he returned to the stance that he had taken in like the first 10 debates, where he's kind of above the fray.

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10:21:24
He had strayed from that in the last debate the previous Saturday and in some interviews. But we've kind of returned to the regular order, it seemed to me, last night

REHM

10:21:31
But clearly, Romney is working harder in Iowa than he thought it was going to have to.

ELVING

10:21:39
I think at some point, he thought that Iowa might just be something he could skip because he worked it so hard four years ago, didn't work out for him. It made him look weak because he had tried so hard and then lost to Mike Huckabee, whom no one had heard of a few months earlier. So he didn't want that to happen again, but he was reluctantly pulled into Iowa because of this surge that has rolled through the candidate field.

ELVING

10:22:01
I mean, we had the Michele Bachman surge in Iowa, then we had the Rick Perry surge everywhere, then we had the Herman Cain surge everywhere. I mean, some of these names -- it's almost hard to even remember Herman Cain at this point. And yet, just a couple of months ago, he was very hot.

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10:22:14
Two weeks ago. He didn't pull out till two weeks ago.

REHM

10:22:15
Yeah, absolutely.

ELVING

10:22:16
Well, he was maybe a little less hot after October, but you know what I'm saying.

ELVING

10:22:22
He -- and then, of course, now, it has -- like the baseball manager looking down the bench for a new pinch hitter, they have found Newt Gingrich. And so he has been the flavor for the last couple of months, he has -- excuse me, weeks, for the last couple of weeks.

REHM

10:22:35
Weeks.

ELVING

10:22:36
And he has shot to this extraordinary number in one poll, NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, highly respected poll. He was at 40 percent nationally. And in a lot of the Iowa polls, he's been up as high as 30, 31 percent in Iowa. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that might very well be a peak for him, and it might have come a little bit early and that, as people take a harder look at him, as indeed some were doing last night, particularly bringing up these issues of things that he has been involved here in Washington over the last 10 years -- he says he never lobbied.

ELVING

10:23:04
I'm still looking for a verb to put in place of that verb because what he is, of course, is a very famous man who can bring a lot of people together and get you access to a lot of other folks. That's a lot like what lobbyists do. But, of course, he says he never lobbied.

REHM

10:23:17
Yeah. See, I never fully understood what he did to earn the $1.6 or $1.7 million. Chris.

CILLIZZA

10:23:29
Well, according to him, he provided historical advice, consulting, helped arranged meetings, but never lobby. Now, again, I think Ron is 100 percent right about this. This is, for your average person, a distinction without a difference. Newt Gingrich is trying to draw a line in the sand because he was never a federally registered lobbyist. And therefore, he can say, well, I wasn't a lobbyist, but we all know that "lobbyist," in quotes, and lobbying -- lobbying is essentially what the man did.

CILLIZZA

10:24:05
He used his former very high-profile role to influence the way in which debates happen. And again, I said this at the time and I repeat it, the idea that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac paid Newt Gingrich $1.6 million for his historical perspective. While I'm sure that is valuable, I would guarantee there is any number of historians at any number of universities in this country who would take that deal.

REHM

10:24:30
OK. Now, tell me about -- I mean, an awful lot has been made of the use of the word zany in reference to Newt Gingrich. A lot of people had taken issue with it. A lot of people have criticized Mitt Romney for doing it. What does it mean? Why is it such a rise-to-the-top word in the middle of this campaign? Ron Elving.

ELVING

10:25:00
I prefer madcap. Now, look, zany is a word we know no one really uses very often. Sometimes it's applied to skits. It's applied to humor, to comic relief. Sometimes it's applied to a person who might be pleasant to have around, but is certainly no one you would want to rely on. Mitt Romney came up with this word. I don't know if he came up with it personally or someone on his staff did because they were trying to think of some way to describe what they see as the basic instability of the Gingrich character and the Gingrich personality.

ELVING

10:25:29
And this was the most inoffensive way they can sort of raise an eyebrow, raise a question mark over him. And Gingrich was, I think, probably nettled a little by it and brought it up himself in the debates as well. I'm trying not to be zany.

REHM

10:25:42
Susan.

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10:25:42
I think that's right. I mean, I think it goes to the question of presidential temperament. Zany would be great in a radio show talk host. You know, it might be nice in a blind date. You maybe don't want the person handling policy toward Iran to be too zany. So I think that was the point that Mitt Romney is trying to make.

REHM

10:25:57
Somehow I don't think anybody has ever referred to me as zany. But that's the way it goes.

CILLIZZA

10:26:04
Diane, can I just follow up on Susan's point?

REHM

10:26:06
Yeah, sure.

CILLIZZA

10:26:07
'Cause I think it is interesting the way in which Romney and his team have chosen to attack Gingrich, it is almost exclusively on -- to use Susan's word -- temperament. It's on character. It's not -- you know, Mitt Romney ran an ad in Iowa saying, I've been married to the same woman for 40 years, you know, I'm steady. Well, he didn't mention Newt Gingrich in that ad, but he didn't have to.

CILLIZZA

10:26:29
What's interesting is he's not trying to draw issue contrast, and I think it's really probably because he knows that attacking Newt Gingrich as an inconsistent conservative leaves him too wide open to the attack that he himself is a too inconsistent conservative. But it's a fascinating storyline to watch. This is really -- the fight between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich is about who has the right temperament to be president of the United States.

REHM

10:26:53
And it was also interesting that Newt Gingrich fired one of his aides out in Iowa for making some derogatory remarks about Mormons.

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10:27:07
Referring to Mormonism as a cult. Now, there are some evangelical Christians who believe that's a case, and it has been a sort of subterranean but, I think, serious issue for Mitt Romney, especially in Iowa. We know in Iowa, the last time around, 60 percent of those Republicans who went to the caucuses identified themselves as evangelical or born-again Christians.

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10:27:27
And, you know, it's been interesting in the past week. For the first time in his political career, we have heard Mitt Romney speaking voluntarily and anecdotally about his experiences as a Mormon, as a Mormon missionary in France. And I wonder if that's an effort to kind of address this issue. This could be a problem for him in Iowa, also in South Carolina, where the third count is just lots of evangelical Christians there who may have some questions about the Mormon faith.

REHM

10:27:55
Do you agree with that, Ron?

ELVING

10:27:57
Yes. I do believe that a number of evangelicals would prefer, as most people I think in most countries would prefer, to have the leader of their country share their own political and religious beliefs, that they would like have someone of their own faith because that's the kind of person they identify with and they feel who shares their values. I don't know that, even as much as four years ago, this is really what's holding Mitt Romney back.

ELVING

10:28:20
I think, for example, in South Carolina, where he has just gotten the endorsement of their popular governor, Nikki Haley, who stands in solid with the Tea Party, is going to help with that sort of thing. And he's also gotten the endorsements of a number of other kind of key people. If he could pull down, let's say, a Mike Huckabee endorsement -- I don't expect that to happen.

ELVING

10:28:39
I don't think Huckabee plans to endorse before the Iowa caucuses. But if he could get just one or two more of those, I think he has largely neutralized this issue.

REHM

10:28:48
I want to ask you all about Ron Paul, who's doing quite well in Iowa. Chris.

CILLIZZA

10:28:56
Absolutely no question about that, Diane. I've talked to lots and lots of people who are both affiliated with some of the candidates, as well as people who aren't affiliated with the candidates, Republican kind of strategist and operative types who spend a lot of time looking at this. They say that the idea that this, the Iowa race, is a race between Gingrich and Romney is fundamentally flawed. They believe the race is, at least at the moment in the Iowa caucus, is between Gingrich and Ron Paul for first place.

CILLIZZA

10:29:24
That is very difficult for all the reasons Susan and Ron just mentioned, difficult for Romney to get into first place. I do think that Ron Paul will over-perform where he isn't polling. Most Iowa polling has him in tie for a second place with Mitt Romney, maybe a point or two ahead of Mitt Romney. There are polls that suggest he's closer to Newt Gingrich for first place. And the reason they say he's going to over-perform the polls is because he has two things that any candidate would want: ardent supporters --and you hear that at every debate.

CILLIZZA

10:29:54
If you've ever been to any political event, you will have seen the Ron Paul folks. I always say that Ron Paul could literally recite what he had for breakfast, and his people would cheer. They do not care. Whatever he says, they believe is correct. That is a nice thing to have in politics. The other thing that he has that he didn't have as much of in 2008, Diane, and I think this is important, a real political organization. I think it's important to remember his son was elected senator in Kentucky in 2010.

CILLIZZA

10:30:22
Many of the people who worked on that campaign were not -- some of them were, but not all of them were part of the 2008 Ron Paul campaign. Lots of them are part of the 2012 Ron Paul campaign. You have more seasoned hands there. They've spent lots of money, lots of time in the state.

REHM

10:30:35
And Newt Gingrich does not have that kind of organization in Iowa.

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10:30:41
He has not had a traditional organization in Iowa or anywhere else. He hasn't had much money to run ads and other tradition. What he's had is good performances and debates that has kind of tapped into this desire among a lot of Republicans for a very combative candidate. I think it is possible that Ron Paul wins the Iowa caucuses, which would be Mitt Romney's dream come true because it prevents a candidate who has more potential to actually be nominated from getting that head of steam when they get out of Iowa.

REHM

10:31:09
All right. And you lead me to my next question. In this election and past elections, how significant have the Iowa caucuses been?

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10:31:22
You know, they've been significant. They don't choose the nominee, but they usually -- with other fields, some people probably don't -- who don't do well in Iowa won't come out of Iowa, won't survive even to New Hampshire. We saw that four years ago. And it gives somebody a lot of energy, a kind of stamp of approval from an important early state where people will look closely at you. So it doesn't give you everything, but it does give you something.

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10:31:45
And especially with -- heading into New Hampshire, where we know Mitt Romney has a longstanding organization, has done a lot of work, has had a big lead in the way this contest will unfold. I think Iowa is not everything, but I think it is important.

REHM

10:31:56
On a completely different subject, you might be interested in the fact that the AP is now reporting that the SEC is charging six ex-Fannie/Freddie top executives with securities fraud over subprime mortgages.

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10:32:19
Well, you know, I have no doubt that Newt Gingrich is not involved in this, but it is nonetheless bad news for Newt Gingrich. If Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac were in the news in a way -- in that kind of way, it just kind of increases the taint that the -- those agencies have for some voters.

CILLIZZA

10:32:35
And I -- just to agree with Susan, I think one of his -- Newt Gingrich's worst moments last night, Diane, was when he got trapped into defending government-sponsored enterprises like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, basically saying, well, there's a place for government in our lives. I would say, in a Republican primary, that is a terrible message. Michele Bachmann jumped on him. Ron Paul jumped on him. It contributed to a very bad first hour of the debate.

REHM

10:32:59
Well, he talked about credit unions and Tennessee Valley Authority and things like that, which somehow seemed off the mark as far as Fannie and Freddie.

ELVING

10:33:14
This is one of the reasons why many people think Newt Gingrich is a polling phenomenon of December and not necessarily a voting phenomenon of January because he has a tendency to wander off into these kinds of counterproductive explanations of how many things he knows about.

REHM

10:33:30
Ron Elving of NPR. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Do join us, 800-433-8850. Let's talk about Time magazine's person of the year, Chris.

CILLIZZA

10:33:47
You know, they went somewhat generic with...

REHM

10:33:52
Somewhat generic?

CILLIZZA

10:33:53
I'm trying to be kind.

REHM

10:33:54
Yeah.

ELVING

10:33:55
Cop-out.

CILLIZZA

10:33:56
It's like last night in the debate where you could tweet dodge if you thought the candidate was dodging. You can tweet me @dodge. I'm dodging. You know, look, I think -- I understand the logic behind it in that, you know, we saw both domestically and internationally the -- kind of the idea of protest organized via social means. But a very kind of old method of expressing our discontent with the way that things are -- organized via Twitter, Facebook, et cetera -- has had a renaissance of sorts.

CILLIZZA

10:34:27
I mean, I think the Occupy Wall Street movement, very much on the minds of people. You know, I think for journalists particularly, we are always trying to figure out what new movements -- if movement is the right word -- what they mean, what they tell us about America.

CILLIZZA

10:34:44
And I think Time's thinking on this was if the overriding emotion of 2011 or emotions of 2011 were anxiety, unease, a feeling as though the gap between haves and have-nots was getting bigger, the system is rigged in some meaningful way, that anger was captured in these protests. And so that would be -- they're trying to get kind of the zeitgeist of American culture at the moment.

REHM

10:35:11
Susan.

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10:35:11
You know, the way I think protesters could be defended as a person of the year is not thinking domestically, but internationally because certainly...

REHM

10:35:19
Absolutely.

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10:35:20
...if you look at the Arab Spring, what an astounding year, things a year ago we never would have been able to predict.

REHM

10:35:23
At the same time -- but we're still evaluating where that Arab Spring has actually taken us, which we're going to talk about in the next hour. But...

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10:35:37
The Arab Spring becomes the Arab winter, right? It's a tough...

REHM

10:35:40
Right. Exactly.

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10:35:40
...time now in many countries, the elections in Egypt and the turmoil elsewhere. But it has transformed a region of the world in ways that -- and in the space of months. So, in that way, I think the Arab Spring was just an astounding event of the past year.

REHM

10:35:57
All right. I want to take a caller before we go to a break. Norman in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, good morning to you.

NORMAN

10:36:08
Hi, and good morning, panelists, and good morning, Ms. Rehm. Thank you for taking my call.

REHM

10:36:13
Sure.

NORMAN

10:36:13
It seems that the Republicans or the vote -- the Republican voters are, you know, are thinking, you know, anybody but Romney. Romney stays in his poll numbers, you know, pretty consistently. And I'm wondering, is there a scenario where if the governor gets the nomination, will the evangelicals vote? Will they, you know -- or will they run somebody on a third party? I don't take a Trump campaign very seriously.

CILLIZZA

10:36:49
I couldn't agree more on your last point. I don't take a Trump candidacy very seriously either. I would say if you look at polling broadly in the country, there is vast support for a third party. In a generic, I think that's -- that would drop if there was actually a candidate. I still think -- and I know there are groups like Americans Elect doing work to get third parties qualified for the ballot -- it is still a huge logistical lift to do so.

CILLIZZA

10:37:17
My guess is -- to the Romney point -- my guess is that it will be similar to what we saw in 2004. There were lots of Democrats who did not necessarily want John Kerry, but they wanted George Bush less. So if Mitt Romney is the nominee, they are likely to get behind Mitt Romney 'cause they want Barack Obama less.

REHM

10:37:32
Chris Cillizza. He's author of The Fix, a Washington Post politics blog, managing editor of postpolitics.com. Short break. More of your calls when we come back.

REHM

10:40:04
And we're back. We've gotten a little more information about that word zany, Susan.

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10:40:12
Well, interestingly, John Harwood, of course, is a friend of "The Diane Rehm Show," sent us all an email that says zany was not dreamed up by Mitt or his staff. Jeff Zeleny, the reporter for The New York Times, also a friend of "The Diane Rehm Show," used it in a question in the interview, and Mitt Romney then repeated it in the interview. But now, Chris and I were talking about whether this is a distinction without a difference.

ELVING

10:40:35
Well, the name Zeleny is almost an anagram of zany.

CILLIZZA

10:40:38
I mean, I just -- look, it is an important clarification that, yes, Jeff used the word zany in his question to Mitt Romney.

REHM

10:40:48
Right. OK.

CILLIZZA

10:40:50
That said, the idea that Mitt Romney, two-time presidential candidate, the man who ran the Salt Lake City Olympics, the governor of Massachusetts for four years, doesn't know well enough that you don't -- you are not required to use the language reporters use in their questions. I'd love it if politicians did. It would make my job a lot easier. But the point being is it is important to note that Jeff asked and used the word. The fact that Mitt Romney chose to repeat it still is telling.

CILLIZZA

10:41:17
It does not take away from the fact that he is trying to, whatever the word he uses -- I like Ron's madcap word. But whatever the word he uses, he's trying to call it a question whether Newt Gingrich is fundamentally temperamentally ready to be president of the United States.

REHM

10:41:31
All right. Let's go now to Rochester, N.Y. Good morning, Dan. You're on the air.

DAN

10:41:39
How are you doing, Diane?

REHM

10:41:40
Good.

DAN

10:41:40
I just first wanted to say that I think -- I really like listening to your show. And I think you have a lot of thoughtful questions, so I appreciate that.

REHM

10:41:49
I appreciate your comment.

DAN

10:41:52
No problem. And one of the things that I just want to thank you for was mentioning Ron Paul. It seems like he gets skipped over a lot in the media. And I just -- I think, you know, when talking about Newt Gingrich accepting funds from lobbyists and, you know, using his...

REHM

10:42:13
Uh oh. We lost him. Don't know why.

ELVING

10:42:16
More of the Ron Paul conspiracy, by the way, Ron Paul supporter.

REHM

10:42:18
No. No, no, no, no. Look, we've got another Ron Paul supporter on the line. Let's go to Baltimore, Md. Good morning, Al.

AL

10:42:29
Hello, hello. Glad to be on the show finally. Very popular.

REHM

10:42:33
Good.

AL

10:42:35
I wanted to say that I'm another Ron Paul supporter. I really like the guy 'cause I can see where he stands. His cards are all on the table for everyone to see. But with Mitt Romney, you just don't know what he's going to do, and I'm just shocked that he's so, you know, winning, I feel in a way, in the polls because he looks the part. And there's got to be more to...

REHM

10:42:57
You know, it's interesting to recall that, number one, Ron Paul did come on to this program, did speak for an hour, did lay out his thoughts and his plans. On another occasion, Newt Gingrich promised to be on the show for a full hour and hung up midway. So, I mean, talking about having everything out on the table, I got sort of Shanghaied with that. And yet here was Ron Paul, exactly as our caller suggests, just here, answering listener questions, doing as he promised he would do, and, of course, Ron Paul wants to get rid of most of the federal government, Ron Elving.

ELVING

10:43:54
Yes. I believe he said last night 80 percent.

REHM

10:43:56
Yeah.

ELVING

10:43:57
We should cut the federal government by 80 percent and got a nice round of applause. I think probably a lot of people think that sounds like a good idea until you start talking about what 80 percent of the federal government would consist of. Ron Paul is what you see is what you get. He has had strong views, kind of out-there views on a lot of fiscal matters and monetary matters over the years. And when you look at his geopolitics, well, that's not what the Republican Party has stood for in a very, very long time.

ELVING

10:44:25
It's really a throwback to the 1930s when the Republican Party really wanted not to engage with the rest of the world, and so there are people who feel that way. Most of them are not in the Republican Party, so one of the biggest problems for Ron Paul has been that his international views clash with those of the people who agree with him on fiscal and monetary policies.

REHM

10:44:44
Susan, I want to ask you about something, and that is that the so-called Republican intelligentsia, the Republicans who are in the highest level of authority in the party do not like or want Newt that many of them have come out to speak against him. Are those same people for Mitt Romney?

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10:45:15
Well, that's a fair question. A lot of the leading Republicans, the people we call when we do stories to get quotes from, have not committed to a candidate. There's been a real reluctance to commit to Mitt Romney. But I can tell you they'll support Mitt Romney over Newt Gingrich.

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10:45:29
I mean, we've seen the extraordinary scene in the past week or so of Republican members of Congress who served with Newt Gingrich, some of them now former members, coming out saying they don't think he has the leadership qualities, the maturity, the discipline to serve as president. It's clear that the Republican establishment doesn't think Newt Gingrich is their strongest general election candidate.

REHM

10:45:49
And they are divided.

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10:45:52
And they are. But they're beginning to unite, I think, behind Mitt Romney because the idea that there's going to be some strong alternative to Mitt Romney, Mitch Daniels, the governor of Indiana, who I know has been on your show as well, or Jeb Bush in Florida, the former governor of Florida, I think that is now unlikely to happen. It's hard to imagine another candidate getting in the field. And that is one reason we see these endorsements coming every day for Mitt Romney.

ELVING

10:46:17
I think that the Mitt Romney alternative is ultimately to Barack Obama in the minds of the conservative and Republican consensus if there is one. And while the Tea Party is going to be terribly unhappy with him and while there is the real prospect of some kind of third party candidate who will get out there and perhaps be an alternative that's appealing to many left independents who are dissatisfied with or disillusioned with Barack Obama, that's possible.

ELVING

10:46:43
I think there's a stronger possibility that if Romney does wrap up the nomination, someone will get in as some kind of third party candidate, could be Ron Paul, probably somebody else.

CILLIZZA

10:46:52
I would just add very quickly, Diane, not to forget, Ron Paul ran for president in 1988 as a libertarian.

REHM

10:46:57
Right, right.

CILLIZZA

10:46:58
I'm not suggesting that that will happen again, but this is someone who has done so before.

REHM

10:47:02
Here's an email from Dan in Tulsa. He says, "Republicans are holding fast to their positions, forcing Democrats to drop their most important issues, like the millionaire tax increase, time after time. Regardless of the poll numbers they say -- that say Congress has its lowest approval ratings in history, they, Republicans, are not budging. Why not? Are the poll numbers not telling the whole story?"

CILLIZZA

10:47:39
You know, I think that's a fascinating question because even in the run-up, we now have a deal to avoid a government shutdown. But I was thinking to myself, you know, we have poll after poll after poll. And 24 hours ago, we didn't have this deal. And I thought, how was it possible that Congress, again, is keeping the possibility of government shutdown? You know, if somebody said to me, hey, Chris, don't write this one thing or you're going to get fired. I wouldn't write that one thing over and over again just out of self preservation.

CILLIZZA

10:48:10
You know, Diane, in regards to the Republicans in particular, I would say the polls are a little bit misleading in that, yes, I think the general population is incredibly dissatisfied with Congress and wants more deal making, wants compromise, wants things get done. If you just poll conservative Republicans, however, I think that they are less -- they're probably just as dissatisfied with Congress, but they are less inclined to what the government could compromise.

CILLIZZA

10:48:39
There's a great question that often gets asked. The question is, would you rather have a compromise or someone who sticks to their ideals regardless of the impact? And sticks to their ideals regardless of the impact in a Republican primary is the more effective message. It's why you have Rick Perry out there talking about a part-time Congress that, you know, that the government governs best that governs least is a very appealing message.

CILLIZZA

10:49:03
So the poll numbers are not misleading, but remember, what's dominating the Republican conversation right now is the Republican presidential primary. The people who vote in a Republican presidential primary are quite conservative.

REHM

10:49:14
Exactly, and quite dedicated. Go ahead, Ron.

ELVING

10:49:17
We're talking here about a body of people within the House Republican caucus who would dig in their heels and say, under no circumstances would we allow this surtax on millionaires. That makes it impossible for John Boehner to deliver the House for any kind of a deal, any kind of a package. And I think people have known that for some while.

ELVING

10:49:33
Those Republicans who are digging in their heels, back in their district -- whatever the national poll say -- back in their district, their biggest political exposure is to a yet more conservative person who might run against them in the primary. That's the only poll they're caring about.

REHM

10:49:46
All right. And an email from Christy, who says, "With all due respect, all of you are completely out of touch with the sentiment behind worldwide protest. They're not a sign anxiety as one of your guest said. And they are certainly more important than your chuckles implied. They are a sign of people who are tired of being ignored and suppressed and are recognizing that they have power."

CILLIZZA

10:50:18
As the panelist who used the word anxiety, I would say, number one, I was referring primarily to the economic anxiety in this country. I was speaking about the protest in this country and the economic anxiety that they represent. I would also add, I mentioned -- and I think this is true both domestically and internationally -- that there is a sense of the system being rigged, of the haves and the have-nots getting further away.

CILLIZZA

10:50:41
We view it, in this country, to an economic prism. I think it's viewed through a rights prism, internationally more. So I don't actually think that we, the emailer and I, disagree necessarily -- she may take issue with my choice of words, but I do agree that the idea of a protest was a very powerful sentiment in this country. The idea that it is new in some meaningful way, I think, is a little bit more debatable.

REHM

10:51:08
All right. To David in Pensacola, Fla., thanks for holding on.

DAVID

10:51:14
Yes. My question relates to the payroll tax cut, specifically, you know, I like the fact that working people are actually getting a cut. But in this whole discussion, nobody -- I have never seen one talking head ask the question, what happens to Social Security? I mean, we already know the Social Security System -- we've heard for years -- is in big trouble and that it's underfunded at this point, and now they're taking more money away from it. And I'm just wondering why does nobody ever talk about that? I mean (unintelligible)...

REHM

10:51:46
OK. You know, David, I've been married for 52 years, and my husband, right from the start of our marriage, said to me, don't use the words always or never. Indeed, I have raised the very point you asked about. And unless you have been listening each and every day, every hour, every minute for the last two years, you might have missed it. Go ahead, Ron.

ELVING

10:52:26
We had a story on NPR last week by David Welna , our senior congressional correspondent, and this was a difficult story and made a lot of people unhappy in which he raises some of these questions about just how long can you go to this bank, how many times can you go back before you start to raise some fundamental questions about how Social Security is funded in the long run. Now, compared to Medicare, Social Security is doing just fine.

ELVING

10:52:48
And a few tweaks to the payroll tax, a few tweaks, for example, to the amount of money you have to pay the tax on -- right now it cuts off at $106,000 a year, I believe is the figure -- if you were to tweak those things, it would be fine for -- well, more or less, practically in perpetuity.

REHM

10:53:03
Ever.

ELVING

10:53:04
But if you keep messing around with how it's paid for and if you keep using this as an easy bank to go to, to make people happy, put a little in their pockets, then ultimately you will create problems.

REHM

10:53:15
Ron Elving of NPR. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And to Chuck in Greenwood, Ind., thanks for joining us.

CHUCK

10:53:28
Thank you for taking my call, Diane.

REHM

10:53:29
Surely.

CHUCK

10:53:30
I moved to --back to Indiana from the great state of Massachusetts, where I resided for 11 years. And I had opportunity to vote for Mr. Romney for governor. I guess that maybe I have too many libertarian tendencies to feel comfortable with his reaction as governor of Massachusetts to putting him as the president of the United States. And I'm still confused on who to vote for. So, I guess, I'm kind of just an undecided.

CHUCK

10:54:04
But the Ron Paul question that I have for you -- I hear people talk about insider constantly. I'm 42 years old, and Ron Paul speaks of working with Ronald Reagan. I can't see how people do discount him as a insider and that he's some kind of a fresh breathe of air. Can you help me understand that?

PAGE

10:54:28
Well, you know, Ron Paul has never been -- if you talk about Washington insiders, people who are congressional leaders, the chairman of committees, you know, on the Georgetown salon circuit, Ron Paul has never been one of those people.

REHM

10:54:39
Never.

PAGE

10:54:39
He's always been kind of an outsider, even though he's been in Washington a very long period of time.

REHM

10:54:44
Because of his views, because of the stances he takes.

PAGE

10:54:48
He has a very clear philosophy, and he sticks to it. And in some ways that's appealing to his Republican (unintelligible), and in some ways it is antithetical to their views, for instance, in what we heard at the debate last night on the issue of U.S. policy toward Iran.

REHM

10:55:02
All right. And one last caller from Montevallo, Ala. Good morning, Chris. Quickly please.

CHRIS

10:55:10
Hi, good morning. Thank you for taking my call.

REHM

10:55:11
Surely.

CHRIS

10:55:12
My question relates to something that was involved with the -- or part of the Herman Cain campaign that's seen as unique, which was Herman Cain campaigning in Alabama and sort of a unique states that some of the other candidates were sort of ignoring, I guess, to an extent. My question is how do you all see Newt Gingrich performing in the primary circuit throughout Southeastern states and Southern states, where there might be more of a visceral conservatism that sort of emerges in those particular primaries for Republican candidates?

REHM

10:55:41
Chris.

CILLIZZA

10:55:42
On the one hand, he is from Georgia. And there could well be some home state, home region attraction there. We saw that with Mike Huckabee in 2008 after John McCain had essentially locked up the nomination. Mike Huckabee continued to win Southern states even though it wound up not mattering that much. I would say, though, Newt Gingrich's personal life, Newt Gingrich's -- may become more of an issue as we go along.

CILLIZZA

10:56:08
You do tend to have more evangelical voters, more socially conservative voters, particularly in a Republican primary in Southern states. Does it become an issue? His organization is -- struggles to raise money. I would add too, Diane, the longer this primary goes, the better it is for Mitt Romney 'cause he's the best organized candidate with the most money.

REHM

10:56:25
Any thoughts, Ron?

ELVING

10:56:26
Gingrich needs to capitalize on this sudden momentum that he has developed in the last several weeks. Win Iowa, challenge in New Hampshire and win South Carolina, then there's a real upside to his candidacy. Otherwise, I think he's done.

REHM

10:56:38
Susan, last word.

PAGE

10:56:40
I agree with my smart panelists.

REHM

10:56:43
Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today, Ron Elving, Washington editor for NPR, Chris Cillizza, author of "The Fix," a Washington Post politics blog, managing editor of postpolitics.com, thank you all. Have a great weekend, everybody. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

ANNOUNCER

10:57:10
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