Nine years ago, former FBI agent Robert Levinson disappeared in Iran while on a mission for the CIA. The story of his secret journey to Iran, the CIA cover-up that followed and efforts to rescue the longest-held U.S. hostage.
The unemployment rate dropped to 8.5 percent – the lowest level in nearly three years; President Obama bypassed Congress and appointed Richard Cordray as consumer protection chief; plans for cuts to the Pentagon were unveiled; the Fed urged Congress to take more aggressive action on housing; the official Republican campaign for 2012 got underway; Mitt Romney got an unexpected win in Iowa and an endorsement from John McCain; Michele Bachmann announced an end to her campaign; and Rick Perry said he’s not giving up yet. The domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup.
- Jim VandeHei executive editor, "Politico."
- Jeanne Cummings deputy government editor, Bloomberg News.
- Jackie Calmes national correspondent, The New York Times.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The U.S. economy added 200,000 jobs last month as unemployment fell to 8.5 percent. GOP presidential candidates are focused on primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina. And President Obama went around congressional Republicans by announcing recess appointments.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me to talk about the week's top national stories: Jeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News, Jim VandeHei of Politico and Jackie Calmes of The New York Times. We do invite you to join us as well, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Happy New Year. First news roundup of the year, glad to have you all here.
MS. JACKIE CALMESHappy New Year to you.
MS. JEANNE CUMMINGSHappy New Year.
REHMThank you. Jeanne Cummings, these December unemployment numbers, pretty good.
CUMMINGSYes. They're much better than expected, and they're part of what could be a trend. It appears to be a trend. Those numbers, the unemployment numbers are -- well, the number of jobs created is good, higher than expected. The number of jobs lost, particularly at the government level, was 12,000, and that's getting down to the local governments. So some of the budget reductions that were forced at state levels last year that created a great deal of job loss, that seems to be leveling off.
CUMMINGSAnd consumer confidence is up. Consumer spending is up. Some of the jobs created were in the manufacturing market, one of the hardest hit. Anyway, there are a good number of good-paying jobs, so that's another good indicator. Now, of course, the caution in all of this is that the jobless rate for the last three years is still the worst jobless rate since the Great Depression in the 1930s, and so that doesn't mean things are all sunny.
CUMMINGSIn addition, we ended last year with some positive indicators. And then the Arab Spring and the earthquake in Japan and a host of other things interrupted any kind of momentum and stalled the economy in the summer. So we're not out of the woods yet.
REHMAbsolutely. Jim VandeHei.
MR. JIM VANDEHEIWell, there's a couple of cautionary notes, I think, to make. One is there are very mixed feelings about consumer sales over the holiday period. And if they turn out to be weaker than people anticipated, that's not good news obviously for the economy if you're looking for signals on what will happen throughout the rest of this year. The rest is I really think our economy is so much hinged, at least in its performance, on what happens in Europe over the next year. And their holiday sales were down.
MR. JIM VANDEHEIAnd I think the reports throughout the E.U. are not good. And if we continue to have huge problems in the E.U., if we continue to have big problems in the biggest economies there, there's going to be a spillover effect. And the economy is going to dictate who's going to win this election. I think there's no doubt about that. And if you talk to people around the president, they'll tell you that they're not going to win back independent voters. They're not going to win re-election if that unemployment rate is hovering somewhere around 9 percent.
CALMESWell, I would just add to that, at the White House, they sort of have a trepidation about springtime when it comes to the job numbers because, in the last two springs, 2010 and last year, 2011, just as they thought the economy was getting some steam, you had crises like twice -- two springs in a row, the European euro crisis occurred and worsened again this year. And you had, again, as they've mentioned, the Japanese tsunami and earthquake and the unrest in the Middle East. But, that said, there is a feeling in the administration that this time it might actually be...
REHMBe getting better?
CALMESYeah, take root. Europe, you know, is still a real concern, but it's far less a concern now than it was in the fall. There's a feeling that -- a resignation of European countries are not going to -- they're too wedded to austerity and not enough to stimulating their economies. But they've done more than, you know, they've done in the past to get a hold of this problem.
REHMYou know, every time we talk about some measure of good news in the economy on this program, it's always balanced by -- as all of you have done, presented with cautionary remarks, and yet listeners get angry. I have heard from so many people who said, why don't you stop undercutting the good news and why don't you just give us the good news?
CUMMINGSWell, I think that what we've seen is that, as Jackie and Jim and I, all of us, have pointed out, is that, as soon as there seems to be some progress, there's setback. And so I think all of us are caution -- cautionary about, you know, going too far. In addition, it isn't clear yet what's going to be the engine that's going to actually propel the economy into some real substantial and robust growth.
CUMMINGSWe're -- we are percolating along. We're doing better. But it isn't clear yet what is going to start driving the economy in a real positive way, in a real robust way. You know -- and what gets lost in the political debate where, you know, Republicans, you know, would be expected, like, to point out that job -- unemployment remains high, that jobs were lost during this last four years, forgetting that a lot of it was overlap from the Bush administration -- the worst job loss was in the first two months of the Obama administration, which he could hardly be held to account for.
CALMESBut, that said, there is just a sense -- there's not enough of a sense that this is caused by a financial crisis that, historically, has been long to come out of. And maybe the White House is to blame, their communication (word?) for not conveying that and the president not conveying that enough from the beginning, preparing the American public for the fact that this was literally going to be years getting out of.
CALMESBut it's true, and your listeners are right, that we are making slow progress and remarkably have withstood, for the most part, these headwinds that have come from Europe and Asia.
VANDEHEIThere's also a sort of a segregation of success when you look at the economy right now. There are certain areas -- if you're in the farming industry, if you're in certain aspects of the energy industry, if you're in pockets of Silicon Valley or a tech-rich area, things are good. Look around Washington. Even when things were bad around the country, they were never bad here partly because of government growth, but also because of some of the other private sector industries that get attracted to this area.
VANDEHEISo there are some pockets of the country that are still struggling arguably more today than they were even two or three years ago. There's others that are starting to pop back, and that's one that, when you try to assess the economy, it gets difficult 'cause some of it is state by state, some of it is dictated by how business-friendly the state might be or what type of minerals and resources that state has.
CALMESYou look at Iowa...
REHMJim VandeHei, he's executive editor of Politico. I want to move on to the president's so-called recess appointments. Jackie Calmes, are these truly recess appointments? Congress has managed to somehow keep going by having somebody show up every single day. Mitt Romney has called President Obama's appointments. He said they reflect Chicago-style politics at its worst. Talk about these appointments.
CALMESWell, you know, I first started covering Congress 27 years ago and have continued to off and on, and so I've seen recess appointments. But, of course, like a lot of other symptoms of dysfunctionality or partisanship, it's much worse than it used to be, and both parties have done it. The one difference -- this is going to be left probably for a court to decide, and an opinion is divided as to whether it's constitutional.
CALMESBut the one thing about these appointments in particular is the administration carefully chose appointments, Richard Cordray to be the first ever consumer advocate for this newly created consumer bureau and three appointees to the labor relations board. In each case, unless there was someone put in those jobs, they could not function. These are agency created by law. The president is the chief executive, charged by the Constitution with carrying out the laws of the country. If there was not a director for the consumer bureau, it could not do a number of its functions.
REHMAnd remind us why the Congress failed to approve any of these nominations.
CUMMINGSWell, they don't want them to function, is the simple answer. The National Labor Relations Board has been at war with the business community. It's had a Democratic majority, pro-labor bent. And they have been acting aggressively. And the business community, particularly the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and there are some outside groups that have been formed for the sole purpose of trying to fight against the actions of this Democratic-controlled NLRB.
CUMMINGSAnd so the Republicans in Congress saw an opportunity to see the board fall down to only two members, which the U.S. Supreme Court has said is not enough for it to continue to function. So it was kind of a perfect storm for them. What's the, you know, quickest way to stop the NLRB from acting is if the Senate doesn't act. And so that is the primary reason that they're not making these appointments.
VANDEHEIAnd it's just -- it's also more evidence that we live in dysfunction junction. I mean, every aspect of this is kind of screwy if you're looking at it from the outside in that Congress has never -- never really wants to approve, especially Republicans, anybody that Obama wants in some of these key slots 'cause, as Jeanne said, they didn't like the legislation to begin with. So then why do you have to have a recess appointment? Because Congress goes into a make-believe session, a pro forma session solely to prevent him from appointing anybody.
VANDEHEIAnd he has a constitutional right to appoint people during recess into these positions to serve out through the end of the year, so then he has to take this extraordinary step of doing a recess appointment to put somebody in a job temporarily when, to have any agency operate effectively, you need people in there for the long term.
REHMJim VandeHei, executive editor of Politico. We'll talk more about those appointments, their constitutionality, when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd for the first domestic news roundup of 2012, here in the studio: Jackie Calmes of The New York Times, Jim VandeHei of Politico and Jeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News. Just before the break, we were talking about President Obama's defiance of Republicans in naming former Ohio Atty. Gen. Richard Cordray as consumer financial watchdog, plus three members to the National Labor Relations Board without Senate consent.
REHMHere's an email on that from Jonathan. He says, "Does President Obama's appointment of Richard Cordray mark a seminal moment in how Obama engages Republicans moving forward? Specifically judging by the GOP reaction, Obama has finally given his base something they'd wanted for a long time -- a fight." Jim VandeHei.
VANDEHEIThere's no doubt that, I think, the president has come to the conclusion in recent months that he's not going to get anything out of this Congress and that, politically, the idea he had a year ago of bringing Bill Daley in and trying to play the centrist game wasn't going to work for him and that he really needed to draw a sharp contrast, particularly with Congress, which is about as unpopular as a bad disease at this point. It's about 9 percent in the most recent polls. So he thinks this is smart politics for his team.
VANDEHEIAnd it probably is. If you look at the hand he has to play, you know, they're a -- they're saying inside the White House, whenever you talk to them about the president and his frustrations, he's always talking about how the system is not on the level, how Republicans might pretend they want to help out and work in a bipartisan way but that they don't and that they're the biggest reason for dysfunction in Washington. And, now, they're basing their moves on that theory. They know they can't get anything done.
VANDEHEIThey need to get a fired-up base. They need to maximize turnout among Latinos, African-Americans and whatever left -- what is left of the white community that will vote for Barack Obama for re-election if he wants to win. So I do think there's no doubt this is part of a political strategy. Everything is part of a political strategy in this town.
CUMMINGSWell, I think he's -- that's absolutely true. I do think in the group that he chose, especially when it's the consumer bureau, that also could be good politics at a retail level. I mean, if all of a sudden the administration is taking on abusive lenders or taking on trickery in the mortgage area, that's going to play well with the people, and it'll be good for consumers. And so it's kind of a twofer policy-wise. It's probably a smart thing, and also, politically, it's a good thing as well.
CUMMINGSAnd getting to what Jim was saying about how the White House has concluded, you know, this is just not going to work with Congress. Ed Meese did a piece in Washington Post this morning...
REHMFormer attorney general.
CUMMINGS...for Republican administrations. And he basically talked about the three things that Congress can do in response to this, and one of them was to not pass any must-have legislation. Well, check, done. They don't pass anything, so that's an empty threat. The other thing is to hold -- withhold approval of any other nominations. Check, already done that. So, in a way, Congress brought it on itself. They don't have any weapons left. They've already put all the punishment to the White House (unintelligible).
REHMExcept to take the president to court and to hang up these appointments by putting them through a legal process that could go all the way up to Supreme Court. Jackie.
CALMESRight. And it would be unpredictable. I think the arguments are more on the side that he could prevail given -- the president could prevail given the sense that the -- you know, there's a long history of recess appointments, and they're done -- you know, historically have been done with little controversy, but...
REHMBut how do we define recess in the face...
REHM...of what's going on?
CALMESYou know, I mean, historically, it was tied to the fact that travel times or -- took a lot and the president needed to run the government. Now, you know, nobody is arguing that if the Congress recesses for lunch, that he can name somebody. But what we have had in the last few years under Democrats when George Bush was in -- president and now, under Barack Obama is, you know, the -- having these pro forma sessions where everybody agrees no -- for weeks on end, no work is going to get done, that they're just going to have somebody gavel to order and then gavel closed a couple minutes later.
CALMESYou know, it's clear -- you know, I think it would -- the court would tend to look a scant at that constitutionally because the Constitution is clear about the president's right to make recess appointments. It says in the Constitution that he has the power to "fill up all vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate by granting commissions, which shall expire at the end of their next session." So it will come down, as you've vindicated, to this definition of what a recess is.
REHMAnd we shall see where that one goes. Let's talk now about the election process after Mitt Romney's very narrow win in Iowa. You have, this morning, Jon Huntsman being swarmed by reporters following a college convention event in Concord, N.H. after the Boston Globe has endorsed him. How important a candidate could he be in New Hampshire up against Mitt Romney, Jim VandeHei?
VANDEHEICount me as deeply skeptical that he could be that much of a factor in New Hampshire or anywhere in the Republican race. His politics do not fit the moment.
VANDEHEII think the funny thing is it's really -- his ideas kind of do fit the moment, but the rhetoric he used early on to define himself as a candidate, where he took on his own party, turned off so many conservatives who might think seriously about voting for him. And that's a big reason that the only place he's measured -- polls at all in any poll has been in New Hampshire, where he still tends to remain a distant third. I'm also skeptical that newspaper endorsements mean what they used to mean.
VANDEHEIOnce upon a time when people got all of their news from newspapers, these big papers had a real commanding voice in these races. Now, I don't think that they're that big of a factor. It's certainly a nice lift for Huntsman, but I think he needs a lot more than that to overcome the real concerns that conservatives have with him. And I haven't seem him do anything in the last couple of weeks to address that.
CUMMINGSWell, I agree with Jim that I don't think that endorsement is going to be helpful to him. In fact, it might hurt him, being endorsed by the Boston Globe and you're a candidate in a Republican primary. The Boston Globe is not known as one of the leading conservative voices, and so I think, actually, it's kind of a demerit and not helpful to him at all. The Union Leader, the paper in New Hampshire that still does have some influence, they endorsed Newt Gingrich. And the question is, how far are they going to go?
CUMMINGSThey've been known to, like, push their agenda and use their own paper to do it by -- with front-page stories and front-page headlines. I don't know how far they're going to go given that Gingrich didn't do very well in Iowa. And he doesn't seem to have the kind of momentum that he would need to become the nominee, so...
REHMBeyond that, his rhetoric in the last few days has been, well, surprising to you, Jackie, or not?
CALMESNot so much. It's sort of like the real Gingrich. We saw in Iowa his attempt for two weeks of his life to take a positive approach to politics. You know, I covered Congress when he was a backbencher and when he was sort of pioneering the use and the emphasis on words and how they can, you know, influence voters, and his -- you know, most of the words were pejoratives and, you know, calling Congress, you know, all sorts of names short of cuss words.
CALMESAnd so to see him -- the weeks was not a natural fit in which he was trying to be above the fray. And so, now, he -- and it didn't do him any good as we saw in Iowa when, you know, he was being hit by incredibly negative ads financed by associates of Mitt Romney. And so now he is, you know, playing politics as he's used to playing it.
REHMAnd Rick Santorum has raised $1 million in just a very short time. Since that, one could say, near-win in Iowa, what does that mean for him in New Hampshire, Jim?
VANDEHEII mean, it means that Rick Santorum is now the Newt Gingrich, who was the Michele Bachmann, who was the Rick Perry, who was the Donald Trump.
VANDEHEIListen, 75 percent of the Republican Party does not want Mitt Romney to be the nominee. They would love for anybody other than Romney to be the nominee, and so they keep trying out these shoes, even shoes that they tried on a long time ago and didn't really fit too well. And so Santorum is it now. He was the beneficiary of exquisite timing. He was the last one to peak. He did it at the right moment, and it's working fabulously for him.
VANDEHEISo now he is, at least for this week, the alternative to Mitt Romney. And the question is, once you have that spotlight, do you melt? Everybody else has melted before, often in record time, because people then start to scrutinize your words, scrutinize your record.
REHMWhich they've begun doing.
VANDEHEIAnd in Santorum's case, there's a lot to scrutinize. There's this great line by Bono of U2 where he talks -- he's a big fan, actually, of Rick Santorum 'cause Santorum has done a lot on the issues of Africa and poverty, but he says he has this almost Tourette's-like syndrome where he always says things in the most acid terms and really turns people off. And people are now looking at the things that he said, looking at his affiliations, looking at his record in Congress where he was a -- he was the establishment.
VANDEHEIHe was the leadership in both chambers. He was part of the K Street strategy of trying to get more Republican lobbyists. He was a champion earmarker in his home state. So the question is, can he overcome all of that scrutiny, and can he unite conservatives? And I have no clue.
CUMMINGSDiane, I just want to...
REHMOne point I want to make is that an awful lot of people who suffer from Tourette's syndrome might not appreciate your reference there. John McCain has now endorsed Mitt Romney. Is that a help or a hurt, Jackie?
CALMESWell, count me as someone who really doesn't understand what this does for Mitt Romney. I mean, he -- John McCain, he was the nominee of the party in 2008, and he lost big. But he has always been popular since 2000 when he ran against George W. Bush in New Hampshire. He's like Mr. New Hampshire Republican. It's his, like, second state. And yet Mitt Romney is already well ahead in New Hampshire, well-known because he was governor of Massachusetts.
CALMESThere's really nothing that John McCain can say that would really change people's perceptions except in a negative way, which is to say by -- what most of the stories were about on the endorsement were reminding readers of just all the nasty things that the two of them had said each other, in particular McCain's quotes underscoring the, you know, well-trod idea that Mitt Romney is without a core and flip-flops too much. So I'm really skeptical as to what good this did Mitt Romney.
CUMMINGSI couldn't agree more. I'm trying to get my head around it. Looking past New Hampshire, I wonder if maybe they -- 'cause he's taking it down to South Carolina today, if the military background that John McCain brings in a state like South Carolina, which, among the early states, has the largest military population, if it might give him some credibility or at least a door open to that community in South Carolina. That might be one good thing that John McCain brings to Romney.
REHMJeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Michele Bachmann has dropped out of the race. Have we seen the last of her on the national scene, Jim?
VANDEHEIWell, I doubt that we've seen the last of her in the national scene because there's such a celebrity element to politics, and I think she's a leader of the Tea Party movement. She's a very articulate leader of the Tea Party movement, so I think you'll see a lot of her on TV, but...
REHMAnd Rick Perry, what about him? He says he's staying in, Jeanne.
CUMMINGSHe is staying in, at least for South Carolina. And I think this goes to the point that Jim and Jackie were making earlier about Santorum in that, yeah, he is the alternative right now, but he is in a very precarious position. And it seems to me it's apparent among the candidates in the primary they're not convinced that he actually owns that space. It's almost like he lucked into it because of timing.
CUMMINGSAnd so both Perry and -- Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich, who you might typically see in a normal year drop out, after the showings that they had in Iowa, they're not quitting yet because they're not -- I don't believe they are convinced that Santorum can hold that place. They're looking to go down to South Carolina and knock him off that perch, and then retake the position as the alternative to Romney.
VANDEHEIThere's an important meeting coming up in the next week of social conservatives: Dobson, Gary Bauer and others, some of the leaders in evangelical movement. And the evangelical movement, I don't think, has the clout, necessarily, that it had during the Christian coalition days 'cause it's not as organized, but it still has a lot of clout. And what they want to talk about is, is there a candidate that they can rally around?
VANDEHEIAnd I think that's the sole reason that Rick Perry is still in this race. He thinks he has a chance to be that candidate. And I don't know how -- what the mechanism would be 'cause there's not one leader of the right who could just sort of lay his hand on the candidate and say, this is our choice. This is the person we think we could unite around. But if enough of them start talking about the same person, be it Perry or Santorum, it could give one of those candidates a lift.
REHMI thought it was interesting. Moving on during the week away from the election process, I thought it was interesting that President Obama himself traveled to the Pentagon to announce his new strategy. How come, Jackie?
CALMESWell, one reason is optics. You see, you know, the video of it is the president, as commander in chief, addressing an audience of uniformed military people against a backdrop of top brass...
CALMES...which conveys a sense, an imprimatur, if you will, on his policies, and, you know, and shows him to be in command. And I think that, you know, it is a policy he's laying out that lays out realities that are both fiscal and that, under any president, the Pentagon is going to have less money than the virtual blank check it had over the past decade.
CALMESAnd so -- and we -- there had to be an addressing of this long-standing theory or dogma that underlay defense spending, which was that we had to be ready to fight two land wars at a time, and which has been sort of, you know, rhetorical at best for a long time. But now they're acknowledging it can't be done. And, really, in a land -- in a time when we're more -- getting more worried about things like cybersecurity, it really almost does seem like a, you know, a relic of the 20th century.
CUMMINGSWell, in addition to the policy changes that Jackie spoke of that are very important, there are so many -- there's -- there are layers of politics in that appearance. There are the optics that Jackie spoke of, there's the confidence from the White House that they -- that they've got national security. And that is such a rarity for a Democratic candidate to have that kind of advantage, and if you look at public opinion polls, he is down on economic questions of job approval, but very high up on national security. And he wants to maintain that and hold that.
CUMMINGSSo there is that aspect to it, reminding the voters, I am the commander-in-chief. And then I think this also sent a message to some liberal constituencies who have been disappointed by the fact that he did continue in Afghanistan and in other places, that it's a signal to them, I'm serious. I'm going to deliver on the promises to start drawing back and reining in the Pentagon spending.
REHMJeanne Cummings. She is deputy government editor for Bloomberg News. Short break and then your calls.
REHMAnd first, an announcement -- this was posted at 10:30 A.M. The White House will propose a 0.5 percent pay increase for civilian federal employees as part of its 2013 budget proposal. It's going to be the first pay jump for a federal worker since before President Obama ordered a two-year freeze in late 2010. I'm sure that's good news for federal workers. But we've got of emails, like this one, Jim.
REHM"Whatever is left of the white community that will vote for Barack Obama?" "Wow," says Marilyn in Arvada, Colo. "I've not heard a mainstream journalist be so frank about the racism in current presidential politics."
VANDEHEINot that I'm being frank about the racism. I'm being frank about the segregation of vote in American politics. If you look at every single poll over the last year-and-a-half, you have a president who gets about 90 percent support among African Americans, 60 percent among the Latino-Hispanic community and about 35 percent among whites. So there's no doubt if you look at the voting patterns that he has a huge problem with white voters.
VANDEHEIAnd if you look at the Republican Party, certainly look at the sweep of the party over the last decade, it's become a mostly white party. That is just the reality of politics. And, in fact, one of the things Republicans should be thinking about when they think about Mitt Romney is they might become an even whiter party with Mitt Romney because of his position on immigration. He might even turn more Hispanics away from the Republican Party where someone like George Bush did pretty well with Latino voters, did quite well.
VANDEHEIAnd there are certain candidates on this -- on the stage still today, Newt Gingrich, who might do better than Mitt Romney in reaching out to Hispanic voters 'cause he's had a more nuance view on immigration. And I think Republicans need to think about that in the long term. And there are Republicans who obsess about this: Jeb Bush, Karl Rove. They think about the arc of politics and the arc of history.
VANDEHEIAnd, yes, Republicans can survive as a mostly white party now. But if you look at demographic changes, this is a huge challenge to the Republican Party.
CUMMINGSIn talking with a person associated with Obama's re-election campaign, I asked what did they make of what was happening in the primary and who might come out -- you know, who might win there. And they don't know exactly who they're going to face. They think it's going to be Romney. And the silver lining they see is how far Romney has been pushed on immigration because they're very mindful, as many -- as Jim said, many Republicans are, of the growth of the Hispanic vote.
CUMMINGSThat's an important part of the future. And as long as the Republican Party continues to isolate itself and put itself in a sort of anti-immigrant position, then that pushes that vote towards the Democrats.
REHMAnd isn't that why so many Republicans were hoping Jeb Bush would get into the race this time?
VANDEHEIWell, some Republicans -- there's a really huge divide inside the Republican Party. Most Republicans, particularly conservatives involved in this process early on, aren't big on immigration reform. They're not big on reaching out to new communities. And so, yes, the establishment Republicans -- and there's a lot of -- I mean, the sad thing for Republicans is there's a lot of really smart thinking going on inside the Republican Party at the state level, even on Capitol Hill.
VANDEHEIPeople like Rob Portman, Paul Ryan, coming up with different ideas for Republicans, but it gets brushed to the side because it's all silly season in the primary season where it's all about let's get those core Republicans as hyped up as possible, so in these low-turnout primary races, I can win.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Nashville, Tenn. Good morning, Carl. You're on the air.
CARLGood morning. Thank you. First of all, Jim, if you haven't seen the spoof of you on "Saturday Night Live," you've won yourself a disservice. It was hilarious. Have you seen it?
VANDEHEIOh, I've certainly seen it. It's the first time many of my friends in Wisconsin realized I had a job.
CARLIt was one of the funniest things ever. You need to see it if you haven't seen it. But, you know, I'm looking at the good results, the way the economy has been moving forward over the past year, even if the Republicans don't want to believe that. And I'm looking at the unemployment numbers steadily go down, and these things stabbed at the heart of the -- what the Republicans are going to use against President Obama.
CARLAnd I have to say they have fell for a political trap that he set for them with this recess appointment. This is a fight that President Obama won. He won the fight against a do-nothing 6 percent Congress.
REHMWhat do you think, Jackie?
CALMESWell, I tend to agree with the listener, that this is a fight that the White House relishes on a couple of levels. We've already talked in the hour about how, legally and politically, it could benefit him. I mean, legally, that, you know, he may have the arguments on the side even -- although certainly unpredictable with this Supreme Court -- conservative leaning Supreme Court would do.
CALMESIt -- this is sort of a threefer for him in that issue in that it goes to the middle class. You know, these are issues -- the consumer bureau director is somebody who is -- goes to issues that voters can understand about, you know, not getting -- I'm stammering because I was about ready to say...
CALMESYeah. And I was going to use a word that's not suitable on radio. It also makes him look like a fighter, which is something, clearly, after last year that -- not just the base but independents. He was looking weak. All of the polls said so. And also, one -- another thing that has been sort of dragged on him is this sense in the public that nobody went to jail for the financial crisis, that Wall Street never was punished.
CALMESAnd, frankly, a lot of the reason that's true is because a lot of what the financial sector did was legal. And so this financial regulation law, Dodd-Frank that the Republicans love to criticize, was the attempt to do something about that, and it created this consumer bureau. So I think the administration has decided that, you know, if it can't win on the esoteric, you know, details of Dodd-Frank, the one piece of it, the consumer bureau is something voters can understand.
REHMAll right. To Mary, Ky., good morning, Ron.
RONYes. I have a comment about this -- the recess appointment. And, of course, the Senate is charging that they were in session. And I heard on this station one day recently that they were on -- in a session for, like, 40 seconds. And I was just curious as to how anybody could consider that being on the job. I believe that's just a reflection of the dysfunction that our legislators have in Washington. And I'll take your comments off the air.
REHMAll right, Ron. Thanks for calling. Jeanne.
CUMMINGSWell, he's right. It is a reflection of the dysfunction of Washington. It also reflects kind of some of the gentlemen's agreements that have been longstanding in the city, and that is by going -- as Jackie pointed out earlier, Democrats and Republicans have used this tactic for various reasons over the course of years. Either side could have pressed the other and -- against a wall and force them to, you know, put cots up or whatever and stay, actually, in session. But they all want to go home for the holidays.
REHMSure. Of course.
CUMMINGSAnd so, you know, we have these sort of, you know, fake events happen.
REHMBut refresh my memory. Did President George W. Bush make any similar appointments during his time in office when Democrats kind of held on with 40-second sessions? Jackie.
CALMESThe short answer is, yes, but I -- did not come prepared with...
VANDEHEIDid more. He did more recess appointments, but did not do it in this identical fashion.
VANDEHEIWhat's new is doing it while they're in this pro forma session, and if I can just add one point to what Jeanne...
CALMES...was saying. When you think about the reasons for dysfunction that the caller is talking about, there's many reasons. You can blame redistricting. You can blame the proliferation of partisan media. Another factor that people don't pay enough attention to is about how the Senate has become like the House. It's become much more partisan in a way that it wasn't for a long, long time. It was -- it used to be the reasonable chamber.
VANDEHEIAnd, now, because so few people want to run for office, a lot of the people that are willing to do it are the ones who ran for the House in the first place. So, now, you see this mass proliferation of the use of the filibuster or these tricks, like keeping a pro forma session in for a couple of seconds so you can deny the president one of his rights. And it's just another one of the ingredients into the dysfunction stew.
REHMAll right. Here's an email from Jay. "What percentage of the Iowa caucus does Ron Paul need to win for him to be mentioned? I'm not asking you to talk about Ron Paul, but I'm trying to see what the threshold for being mentioned in your show." We have mentioned Ron Paul in every single program we have done on what's happening in this election process until now. Jeanne.
CUMMINGSWell, Ron Paul is a factor. And I -- we were talking about, moving forward, in who might win the nomination, and that's where Ron Paul gets tricky. It's not a matter of what percentage he gets or what place he comes in. Ron Paul has got a constituency that adores him. And they will stay with him, and they're going to keep him funded so that he could stay in the race for as long as Ron Paul would like to catch an airplane and go and participate in a primary.
CUMMINGSBut the question is, really, can he win the nomination? And it's there that almost, you know, every political person you talk to says that's really, really hard for him because he's out of the mainstream of his own party on issues such as legalizing medical marijuana and, you know, his -- what he would do with the Pentagon. Fiscally, he fits in just fine. He -- you know, he wiped out a bunch of five different agencies -- all of that is great.
CUMMINGSBut you go on the social side, you go into some other areas, and if you really think about it, OK, will the Republican Party -- will Republican primary voters cast away Romney, cast away the Santorums and embrace Ron Paul in a way that he could win the nomination? And the odds are so high against that. That's one of the reasons that he's always tricky to work into the conversation.
VANDEHEIThe only I want to add is that I actually understand why Ron Paul supporters are so agitated. By every single measure of American politics that we use to cover races, the guy does exceptionally well.
REHMHe sure does.
VANDEHEIDoes great in polls, has bigger crowds, gets young people engaged in the process. I think I just saw that his last quarter fund-raising number was $13 million, which would make him the second best-funded candidate in this race. And yet he gets -- never gets taken seriously, even when people do cover him, and the reason is because of what Jeanne said. I can't find a single person who's a student of politics, involved in politics in any state, who thinks he has any plausible chance whatsoever of ever winning a state or the presidency.
CALMESAnd I'll add my voice to that. I think, you know, I've been shocked by a lot of things in my career of covering government and politics, but I would be willing to say that there is no discernable scenario under the sun by which Ron Paul could get the Republican nomination. That said, I think he's one to be watched as a potential independent candidate, given the attributes that Jim mentioned that he enjoys. And there is clearly a hunger out there. There's even an organization for him to encourage a third-party candidacy.
CUMMINGSAnd just adding -- yes, he's got money. Yes, he's got hard fans. But what people love about Ron Paul is when you watch him in debates and one of the other participants will say some standard line, you know, the Fed is, you know, something good about the Fed or something like that. And he'll just throw his hands up and say, you know, Greenspan, he was horrible. And it's just right out of his mouth. And that's what people love about him.
REHMJeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to San Antonio, Texas. Good morning, Herb. You're on the air.
HERBHi. Hey, I just have one quick one here. OK?
REHMWhat happened? He's gone. It's dropped. Sorry about that, Herb. Call back if you like. And let's go to Albuquerque, N.M. Good morning, Alfred.
ALFREDHi, Diane, and happy centennial to my state. Anyways, I wanted to call 'cause I was -- I wanted to make an observation. I think it's been overlooked a little bit. Mitt Romney, from the very beginning of the race, he's been about 25 percent, and everybody knows that. And then all of the other candidates have been -- you know, they rise and fall, but no one is really looking at the -- well, I'm sure they are, but not really paying much attention to the trend.
ALFREDI think they look at the polls, and they're kind of an instant snapshot, but not so much, you know, the gradual thing over time. If you look at that, each of the candidates get this nice bell curve where they shoot up. We notice them, we talk about them, and then he falls precipitously just as quickly as they rose. But the interesting thing is that Ron Paul, he started with the others in the very bottom.
ALFREDAnd then he's kind of had a linear progression. And he's -- you know, he's been picking up, about now, same time as Santorum, but Santorum jumped up just like all of the others did. And he's been growing. And if, I mean, if the trend continues, he's going to continue to go up, and he might pass Mitt Romney and the others.
VANDEHEII'm going to feed the conspiracy theorists and use his Ron Paul question to talk about Mitt Romney 'cause when you talk about linear progression -- the brilliance of Mitt Romney, for as much frustration as Republicans have with him, is he's run, given what he has to work with, a masterful campaign. He has organization in every single state. He's on every single ballot. He has more money. He's run a methodical campaign.
VANDEHEIAnd if you look at the successful candidates in recent elections, George Bush and Barack Obama, in particular, one thing that stood out is they had the organizational management skills to put together a 50-state operation. And he's doing the exact same thing. And that benefits you in the long grind of American politics.
REHMAll right. And very quick last caller from Rochester, Mich. Good morning, Frank.
FRANKGood morning, Diane.
REHMQuick call, please.
FRANKI have a quick question about Richard Cordray's appointment to the CFPB -- I had to write that down -- that even if it goes to court and the administration loses, doesn't Obama and the Democrats, especially Obama, get a big political kick out of this?
REHMWhat do you think, Jeanne?
CUMMINGSWell, that is a point that Jackie made a couple of time as well, and that is that legally, you know, we'll see if they take it to court. And courts are unpredictable. It's a constitutional question. That fight will take its own course. But, politically, did they pick one they think they can win? They sure did. That, you know, the consumer agency, if it starts doing the kind of work it's supposed to do, it's probably going to turn out to be pretty popular.
CUMMINGSAnd one good bit of anecdotal evidence to that is that Sen. Scott Brown, Republican Senator of Massachusetts, was quick to come out and applaud this particular appointment.
REHMJeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News, Jim VandeHei of Politico -- we've got to go Google you now on "Saturday Night Live" -- and Jackie Calmes, The New York Times. Thank you all so much.
REHMThank for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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 email@example.com, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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