A molecular-biologist-turned-Buddhist-monk says altruism is the answer to many of the world's most pressing challenges. Can concern for others help solve wealth inequality, climate change and world hunger?
President Obama’s re-election campaign kicked into high gear yesterday. His team released a new documentary and unleashed Vice President Biden in the battle for blue-collar voters. Economists reported the cost of living rose last month, most likely as a result of higher gas prices. Rick Santorum gained momentum and Newt Gingrich faced more pressure to step down after primaries in the Deep South. The G.O.P. fight now moves on to Puerto Rico and Illinois. And in a rare display of bipartisanship, the Senate passed a much-delayed transportation bill. John King of CNN, Jackie Calmes of The New York Times and David Chalian of Yahoo News join Diane for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Jackie Calmes national correspondent, The New York Times.
- David Chalian Washington bureau chief, Yahoo! News.
- John King anchor of CNN's John King, USA, and chief national correspondent.
Friday News Roundup Video
The panelists take a listener’s question about what the president can really do to try to counteract rising gas prices:
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Rising gas prices drove up consumer costs in February. The Senate passed a two-year $109 billion transportation and infrastructure bill, which now goes to the House. Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum scored twin victories in Alabama and Mississippi, prompting calls for Newt Gingrich to quit the race. And Federal Reserve's stress test on the nation's major banks showed all but a few would survive a major economic downturn.
MS. DIANE REHMWith me in the studio for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup: John King of CNN, Jackie Calmes of The New York Times and David Chalian of Yahoo News. I hope you'll join us, 800-433-8850. Send your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.
MS. JACKIE CALMESGood morning, Diane.
MR. JOHN KINGGood morning.
MR. DAVID CHALIANGood morning.
REHMJohn King, what can the president do about gas prices for which he is currently being blamed?
KINGWell, he's -- not only is he being blamed, he's also now scornfully mocking his Republican rivals saying they're -- now, they're going to go do what all the politicians do. They go to the gas pumps, they take a photo-op, they wave a magic wand, and they say, I'll make gas $2 again or $2.50 again. As he mocks the Republicans, he should remember he did this very thing in 2008. He went to the gas pump. And he not only criticized President Bush and the oil companies, he criticized Hillary Clinton and John Edwards because he was running against them at the time.
KINGAnd he said the insiders in Washington are partly responsible for this because they can't get their act together. Is there anything any president can do today that would make gas cheaper tomorrow or the day after? No. Would it be nice if any president, Democrat or Republican, and any Congress, Democrat or Republican, would actually have the national conversation about energy policy that started in the Clinton administration, went off the track, started several times in the Bush administration and went off the tracks? That would help. That would help. Part of this is Iran.
KINGThere's no question the speculation in the oil market is because of the showdown with Iran, but there are other questions, uncertainty about how much off-shore drilling, uncertainty about how much domestic exploration, uncertainty about new sources of energy. The green energy debate has been a big question. So can he do anything in the short term? Not much. You know, they say tap the strategic petroleum reserves. That would then have to be refined. It would take forever to get it to market.
KINGSo, look, he's an incumbent president, and he is going to be blamed for things, some things that he can control and some other things that are a bit probably beyond on his control.
CALMESWell, it was interesting this week. Some of the more economic-minded reporters in my bureau were just incredulous that the high gas prices could cause this much of a political reaction. And when our -- The New York Times and ABC-Washington Post all came out with polls and we tried to explain to them, it's just the most visible thing people see. It's the most -- it's the, you know, you might -- there might be -- a lot of Americans couldn't tell you exactly what the price of a gallon of a milk is, but they can tell you what gasoline costs.
CALMESAnd so -- but it is -- it's striking because these gas prices have spiked just as these media organizations have come out with these polls, and President Obama had been coming up in the polls as the -- you know, a series of good economic news was coming out. The one thing he could do is release oil reserves from what we call (word?)...
REHMThere was a rumor of that yesterday.
CALMESRight. With this week's visit of Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, there was a rumor that Reuters reported that they were -- there was some joint agreement to release some oil. And they have denied it. But just in a short time between the report came out and the denial came out, on the world market, the price of oil went down a bit. So it shows that something had happened, but nobody thinks that release of oil from (word?) would have a lasting impact.
CHALIANWell, it's not just that Barack Obama did demagogue this issue, as every politician does on both sides of the aisle back in 2008, but John was talking about how the policy initiative sort of went off the rails with the Clinton administration and the Bush administration. Barack Obama also made a very specific decision in 2009 when he took office to focus on health care and not energy.
CHALIANI mean, that was a deliberate shelving of a priority, which is something that the Republicans are eager to remind people about all the time. And to the political potency of the issue, you need to not look any further than Newt Gingrich's signage, right, at all of his campaign events right now. It is a gas pump, right, for his plan at $2.50 a gallon. You no longer -- you rarely see the Newt 2012 signs anymore. Now, all you see are these pictures of a gas pump. That, it is so powerful politically.
KINGI was -- Jackie makes a great point. Some of us are old enough to remember when you pulled into the gas station and somebody else pumped your gas. In most places, if we're not in New Jersey, we have to do it ourselves now, or we choose to do it ourselves because it's a little cheaper. You stand there and watch. You stand there and watch as you pump. And if you travel the country, you know, a lot of people in Washington think, oh, the statistics are getting better. And people -- they should be feeling better about the economy, right?
KINGWhen you travel the country, in a lot of places, people aren't feeling any better. They still have the foreclosure problem. They still have high unemployment. Or maybe they got a job, but it's not quite the job they wanted. Or their neighbor is still unemployed. Or they just feel tired. Even if their own lives are getting a little better, they've had three or four years where -- I always call it, like, treading water. Their legs are tired. Then on top of that, now, you're taking -- we were just about to plan a summer vacation. And now I'm staring at that pump, and it says $4 and what?
KINGAnd it just keeps ticking and ticking. And what used to cost $50 now costs $70, as you fill your tank. Maybe it's $80. I was filling mine the other day, and it came pretty close to $100. And you just stare at the...
KINGYou just stare at that thing, and you say -- exactly. You say, wow, and you want to blame somebody. It's human nature.
REHMWell, and we got other good news on the economy, but, still, these gas prices seem to, I don't know, outrank everything else, Jackie Calmes.
CALMESThey do. And, you know, John just illustrated it very well. And I would disagree just a little bit with something David said about the White House choosing not to pursue the energy policy. I think that's true to some extent. But, starting with the stimulus bill in February 2009, there was a lot of things in there for clean energy. So they've pursued a long game about transitioning to more clean energy methods.
CALMESBut those aren't anything that are going to affect, you know, gas prices in the short term, unless you're an individual who's gone out and bought a pre-assured gas price, will be less than it would have been if you'd kept your old car. The other thing is the House, in 2009, House Democrats when they were then in control, did move forward with climate change legislation. But, again, that wouldn't be anything that would affect prices in the short run. And, also, President Obama, once it, know you, was going to go nowhere in the Senate and Democrats there didn't press it, neither did the White House.
CALMESBut in terms of -- then you had, of course, the BP oil spill in 2010, which, for a long time, disrupted oil production here. And so the Republicans think they have a good issue, and the fact that the -- you know, that we should be really pursuing domestic oil, natural gas and shale oil.
REHMJackie Calmes of The New York Times. To you, David Chalian, what about the increase in foreclosures? Is that a good sign or a bad sign?
CHALIANWell, there's mixed opinion with some economists on that. I mean, there are some economists who will tell you that that is a good sign. The White House seems to be particularly sensitive to this issue of housing. They have tried several times to sort of go at this. I think there are about three sort of deliberate attempts that they've made, none of which have really sort of worked entirely as they planned, and certainly not as the Treasury Department and Secretary Geithner had planned. And, politically, it seems to still be a drag.
CHALIANI think this goes to an issue -- unlike what John was saying, where everyone can look at the gas pump here, right, this doesn't seem to have sort of direct impact on everyone the way gas prices do, but it does have a hanging effect on the economy. And they -- and the White House economists will tell you that we cannot be looking to the housing market anymore to revive this American economy. And that was a big thrust in the Bush years, in the Clinton years.
CHALIANThat was sort of the engine of the economy. And they believe that we have to think about this in a different way because they aren't seeing a path out from this housing crisis.
REHMBut, at the same time, isn't the fact that more foreclosures are now taking place a sign that the banks are finally starting to unwind?
KINGThe banks starting to unwind -- look, you have to get to the bottom, and there's a big debate in our presidential campaign: how much should the government be involved, should the government be helping people, do you just let the market bottom out? We can have the politicians have that debate. There are a lot of economists who, David says, think all this activity is a good sign because you will get there. You will -- it's a mess. You will clean it up. It's painful, but the only way to start building is to find the bottom.
KINGThat's a good thing. But, again, to the psychology, you know, we went through a long period of time where families thought this was their ticket. This was their ticket to pay for a college education. This was a ticket to build the American dream and their version of it. Was that the right choice or the wrong choice? That could be a debate as well. But when you look around, and your home values -- you're lucky if your home values have gone up a little. You're lucky if maybe they stayed the same.
KINGYou have a lot of people -- and they happen to live in swing states, like Florida and Nevada -- the good people who are still paying that mortgage, they bought their house for $400,000. The same exact house across the street is now on the market for 175 or $200,000. And they're still paying their mortgage because they think that's what they're supposed to do. You tell that person they're supposed to be confident about their future and about the economy.
KINGSo there's a -- it's most likely a good thing to process through all this. But there's a psychological impact of this in the places that have been hardest hit that is stunning, and it depresses people.
REHMBut the job market is perking up, Jackie.
CALMESRight. These last couple of months, especially this last government report for the month of February has more and more of sort of analysts out there who watch these things, as their occupation, saying that it seems to be a permanent, if slow, recovery. And, you know, of course, external events, as we've seen, could change that, you know, an Israeli attack on Iran, and then, you know, completely upending world markets and -- we've seen a number of these things every year.
CALMESIn fact, there came to be a saying around the administration, beware of the spring. And guess what? It's almost springtime, and here we have high gas prices.
REHMJackie Calmes of The New York Times, David Chalian of Yahoo News. John King, he is anchor of CNN's "John King, USA." Short break here. When we come back, we'll talk about the Republican race for the presidential nomination and whether we are down to two.
REHMWelcome back to the Domestic Hour of the Friday News Roundup this week with David Chalian of Yahoo News, Jackie Calmes of The New York Times and John King of CNN. The Senate did pass the transportation bill. Do we expect the House to follow suit, Jackie?
CALMESWe do, eventually. But it may not be soon, or, simply, it may be ugly. The House has -- you know, the House is -- Republicans are divided right now. They -- as in the Senate, the transportation bill was becoming a vehicle to attach unrelated amendments. The one in the Senate, the so-called Blunt amendment, that would have been a sort of blanket exemption for any employer -- not just people with religious affiliations -- to withhold contraception coverage in their insurance plans if they a had a moral objection.
CALMESThat went down there, but there's, you know, many in the House Republican caucus who do want to add some such amendment to that bill. But Speaker Boehner and other leaders are resistant and so are a lot of members of their caucus, especially the women members in their caucus who say, you know, what people care about are jobs, economy, and, you know, gas prices, as we have been talking about. And this contraception issue is not, you know, getting us anywhere. And we're just going to walk right into a democratic trap.
CHALIANBut the -- in addition to the side issues, I think that the House Republican caucus is -- this is fundamentally about spending, right? And this is why, I think, so much of what we're seeing play out in the nomination race, which we'll talk about in a bit, should not be all that big of a surprise to us if we've been watching what's been happening inside the Republican Party for the last couple years.
CHALIANBut John Boehner, once again, wanted to move forward on a transportation bill that was anathema to these 87 freshmen and others who got elected on a platform to stop the way Washington was doing business, actually reign in spending in a fundamental way. And so every time they have an opportunity to exert that as -- remember, Mr. Speaker, this is why we're here. This is why you have a majority. He runs into a stumbling block and actually trying to move through legislation.
CHALIANSo that's why he kicked it to the Senate, and he realized he wasn't going to be able to get his conference together initially. And he wanted the Senate to go first here. Now, maybe there will be some momentum behind this to be able to find a way to piece it together.
KINGWell, they're home right now, the House. And sometimes the best way for a speaker to rally momentum or find out he doesn't have any is to send the members home, and then they will come back. And it depends on their mood when come back. If they're hearing it from people at home, gas prices, jobs, do something, that would be the speaker's best friend in the sense that he would like to say, let's make this about a four-letter word, jobs. There's some talk about of even just taking the Senate bill, which would be unusual because, as Jackie says, the House -- everybody wants the pride of authorship.
KINGEverybody wants to add their own little pets projects to this, but there's some talk of even just taking the Senate bill and passing that and then say, we'll deal with these other issues later. But that will all depend on when these members come home. We're going to learn a lot about these freshmen. Do they stick to their guns even if, when they go home, they get yelled at? And you can't fault them. A lot of people disagree with them. You can't fault them for keep coming back and saying, this is what I said I was going to do when I ran for office.
KINGSo don't be surprised when I say we can't spend this money.
CALMESOne little addendum to that. One of the things we have to keep in mind is when a lot of these members go back to their districts, those districts are drawn. They're redistricted into much more conservative districts than the nation as a whole, or even their state as a whole. And so sometimes what they go back to their district and hear is, dig in.
CALMESYou know, don't give an inch. And so it depends. You know, there are the -- you know, there are some who, even though their districts are like that, will be sensitive and sympathetic to those who are in close districts, swing districts and then...
CALMES...be more open to compromise.
REHMA lot of this $109 billion in the highway bill would go to the states, and they would make up their own minds as to what kinds of projects they needed.
KINGA governor would say, this bridge is in the greatest disrepair, or I need this project here. And that's one way of making it more appealing to some of those Republicans, by saying, this is not Washington saying, do this, build The Diane Rehm Bridge, you know, in this town. This be a nice bridge. I think, you should have at least more than one.
KINGBut it's to -- so let the local government make the actual decisions. We'll send the money. That is more in line with the -- you know, the conservative Republican principles. If Washington is going to spend money, at least let those closest to the people make the decisions. They say it would create just short of 3 million jobs. That's the most powerful argument for it, especially in an election year, but in this economic climate.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about the GOP candidates. Are we now effectively down to two candidates, David?
CHALIANWell, no. In some ways, we're not. You know, we're no more effectively down to two candidates than we were several weeks ago. I still think that it is hard to see how Mitt Romney is not the eventual nominee. I think we're still in a place where that is, by far, the most likely outcome here. But I think we're locked in this for a little while now, and I don't see this becoming an actual two-man race for a while.
CHALIANI think we're going to see this split field here where you have Gingrich and Santorum, both sort of now in this mode of we must deny Romney the 1,144 delegates when the calendar runs out in June. That is their sole mission now, so that they can spend a summer of trying to figure out if they have an in here. And that is not a two-man conversation. That is a multi-person conversation.
REHMAre you surprised that Santorum did so well in Alabama and Mississippi, John?
KINGYes and no. Am I surprised he did so well? He has great appeal, and they view him as authentic, to the Christian conservative base of the party. Now, in the South, a few weeks back, people thought that might be a Gingrich constituency, but Gingrich has stumbled. And the credibility of the Gingrich argument has suffered quite a bit when his -- even his own staff was saying he's going to win from Spartanburg all the way to Texas. Well, that would include Alabama and Mississippi, and he just didn't win those. He says he's staying in it for now. I take him at his word. Why would he get out?
KINGWe've had such a rollercoaster race. Why would you -- based on one week -- say, you know, it's over for me? I do think if he can't win in Louisiana, couple weeks down the road, he's going to have another conversation with himself. But in a time when there's a lot of doubts in the Republican Party, especially the base of the party, is Romney for real? Is he authentic? Will he flip-flop on this? Is he really one of us? On the social issues, it's getting the -- a lot of people in the party are nervous about this, the establishment. They think the more talk about this, the more trouble we have in November.
KINGBut among those people in those constituencies, the Republican Party is a lot of different pieces. And those pieces view Santorum as one of them, and they view him as authentic. And I think a lot of politicians talk their language, then get to Washington and walk away. They trust him.
REHMAnd now, the race moves on to Illinois and Puerto Rico where Rick Santorum made a comment about English as a first language, David.
CHALIANWhich he said would be something that he would want to see as a requirement for Puerto Rico to get statehood. Of course, that's not a requirement for any of the other states in the union. They had to walk that back and said that it should be sort of the primary language. And his campaign tried to clarify that. But he lost a delegate in Puerto Rico who was supporting him and said no more because of that. And, you know, he proclaimed himself Sen. Puertorriqueno is how he used to be called.
CHALIANAnd so, all of a sudden, he didn't seem to have the fluency in that population, among that electorate to be able to speak to these issues. So that kind of negated his claim to some real bond there. This -- Gov. Romney has the support of the governor of Puerto Rico down there and should do well there. I do think there is a social conservative argument that Rick Santorum can make to the Puerto Rican Republican electorate. But I think he did himself a little bit of damage there because he decided to spend two days there, right? So that's a lot of time when you only got a week before Illinois.
CHALIANThey -- the Santorum campaign chose to really go in and play there, and I think he kind of basically wiped away the effort that he was making.
KINGBut to David's point, they did make that investment. They made it based on this calculation. They understand this math. And the only way to block Romney from eventually getting there is to knock him off in places that he is expected to win. You can't just win Alabama, Mississippi, come in second in Illinois, come in second in Wisconsin or whatever. You have to start beating him.
KINGAnd because of the proportional delegate rules -- Republicans have new rules this time -- you have to actually start beating him by pretty good margins, so that you're picking up 60 percent of the delegates, not splitting them, you know, 50-40-10, something like that. The only way to stop Romney and the math is to go into places like Puerto Rico and then to go into other places and to beat him in places where he is supposed to win and beat him well. In that regard, they made a calculated decision to try to do that, and then their candidate probably complicated it.
REHMJackie, you mentioned a women's issue that got knocked out of the transportation bill. Sen. Murkowski said to her fellow Republicans that they were coming across as anti-women. Do you think her remarks have had an impact?
CALMESWell, I think they did in the caucus and they have generally. And an even larger impact was another female senator, Olympia Snowe, who, last week we saw, has announced, to most people's surprise, that she's not going to run for re-election. And she, you know, said that she's just -- you know, she cited the incivility and the lack of bipartisanship. And she's, in subsequent interviews, cited the sense that, you know, her just being incredulous at these issues that touch on contraception and others are such a big issue.
CALMESSo it is -- it's a big, big concern. And, you know, one of my favorite things written recently was John Feehery, who writes a blog called The Feehery Theory and used to be a leadership aide to House Republicans, has -- wrote an essay called "Talk to Your Wife," or "Listen to Your Wife," it was. And I thought that sort of summed it up, that, you know, just the sense that Republicans, especially Republican men, need to, you know, to get off these issues.
CALMESThat said, there are a lot of Republican women who agree with the Republican stance on this, and you could see that -- some of that in the exit polls in Mississippi and Alabama.
REHMBut, at the same time, President Obama is losing ground with women, John.
KINGAnd some of that is just economics. You know, women are -- 50 percent of the electorate, a little bit more in presidential elections, is said to be women. You know, a lot of them are out there working in this economy, too. Sometimes we try to over-think voting blocs when all Americans are struggling: male, female, black, white, Latino. So a lot of it is that. And on this particular issue, the Republicans had a pretty good issue on the religious liberty question.
KINGAnd they managed to make it about something that's now hurting them. And the question is, can they get back out of it? The president's argument -- go ahead. The president's -- both parties tend, when they see an issue, to overplay their hand. The Republicans overplay it by making it about contraception. Sometimes the Democrats overplay their hand back. You see that all the Democratic women senators parade into the floor. The Violence Against Women Act has to be reauthorized. There's no question it's going to be reauthorized, probably by something like 96-to-4 by the time we're done.
KINGThey want to add some provisions to it, some new provisions that the Republicans object to. It's called normal legislative business. They would work that out. But now the Republicans are mad 'cause they're saying, wait a minute. Wait a minute. We want to work with you, and this is the wrong place to do this. So both parties do this sometimes, and it's interesting theater in Washington. And, you know, it's -- we'll see how we are around November.
CALMESI agree with John completely, that, you know, President Obama's support among women has gone down just in the past month, among women. He still, though, has a big advantage among women if you put him head-to-head with Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, any of the others. And, you know, it is -- for women, it is -- we talk a lot about the women's vote in terms of contraception, but it's -- it -- women's vote is about economics, big time.
CALMESI mean, it -- and on gas prices, it's women who are often driving the cars, you know, long distances to soccer games, to the grocery stores, to their jobs. And so they're very conscious of these costs. And, of course, they would react to that.
CHALIANAll you have to do, if you were to look at our email inboxes from the DNC, you can see how much they see right now the conversation about women as an advantage to them. I mean, they are even -- you know, this week's example, taking Mitt Romney's comments completely out of context about ending Planned Parenthood entirely, right, which is not anything he said at all. But, boy, did they seize on that and pump that out and -- they want to stoke this story as much as possible, that the Republicans are not speaking to women.
REHMDavid Chalian of Yahoo News, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Speaking of inboxes, have you seen the new documentary on President Obama, David?
CHALIANYes. This is the 17-minute, Davis Guggenheim-directed -- tough to call it a documentary in its real sense. It's more a campaign advertisement. In fact, I'm told by senior campaign officials that you will see a lot of this footage in their campaign paid advertisement. They have brilliantly rolled this out. I will give the Obama team credit for that. Two weeks or a-week-and-a-half ago, they rolled out the first little clip of a trailer of this film. And it's all about trying to tell the story of President Obama's first three years in office and lay the groundwork of the argument for the campaign going forward.
CHALIANThen they put out another trailer clip. Then last night they released the full. They've gotten so much free media attention on this, more so than they would have if they just sort of launched their first big campaign ad of the cycle. But the one thing that really struck me, Diane, about this film and the first images that came out -- there is so much at the beginning, especially the trailer that they put out initially -- the first 30 seconds of images of President Obama were from Grant Park, Chicago, election night 2008.
CHALIANThere is something -- that, to me, represented the challenge that the Obama team is going to face for this cycle, which is they can't recapture that sort of magic and the pixie dust that existed around the Obama phenomenon from 2008 'cause just incumbency and the economy and all those things won't allow for that. So they have to find other ways to do it. But to lean so heavily into starting to tell their story from election night 2008, I think, gets at their challenge, which is the story of '09 and 2010 and 2011 is a much harder story for them to package and tell.
CHALIANThey tried to do it through the auto bailouts -- obviously, that's big front -- through foreign policy, about the killing of Osama bin Laden in a gut-level decision. But it's much easier for them to try to pivot back to the memory and the aura of that night in 2008, and I think that's a hard thing to ask the electorate to do overall.
KINGAnd the question is, can the Republicans -- do they have an able enough communicator in their nominee, when they get one, to seize on the openings that this gives them? You can't blame the Obama people for trying to promote...
KING...and show their candidate in the most favorable light. But hope and change is what Grant Park was about. Do people have hope? Has Washington changed? And Mr. Guggenheim gave an interview that Gov. Romney is seizing on, where he was asked, well, you didn't say anything bad about the president or raise any criticism. (unintelligible) said, I couldn't find anything. You know, in four years and a tough economy, they need to be a little careful in the messaging. There are a lot of people out there who are hurting. So if they get too full of themselves, there's a risk in that.
CALMESI think that documentary sort of showed the needle that the Obama campaign has to thread. It's heavy on going back -- you know, the road we've traveled -- and going back and trying to remind people just how bad things were, just, you know, that we were on the abyss, economically, because memories have faded. And, you know, now people, you know, don't see, you know, that things have gotten better because they have forgotten how bad things were.
CALMESAnd -- but the problem with that is -- you know, they have to do that. But, on the other hand, elections, as Bill Clinton likes to say, are about the future, and that's a saying that Barack Obama subscribes to as well. So they have to do both. You know, even as they're reminding people of where -- the road we've traveled, they have to be talking about the future.
REHMAnd here's an email from Keith, which says, "Americans have a sense of entitlement to low gas prices that's amazing, if not humorous."
KINGIt's true in the sense that if you look around the world, our system is different, and it's a source of pride, normally. In tough economic times, when prices are up, it becomes part of the debate. But it is true that somehow -- we're all used to the cycle where, just around July 4, they go up. It's the summertime, and we think, oh, is it supply and demand? Are they trying to make a little bit more money? Oh, well. And you get over it.
KINGBut when it happens in good economic times, we roll our eyes. Maybe we mutter a little bit. When it happens in tough economic times, it has an impact on the family, and it has an impact on our politics.
REHMJohn King of CNN. Short break here. When we come back, we'll open the phones for your calls, comments, questions. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd welcome back. It's time to open the phones. First to Asheboro, N.C. Good morning, Michael. You're on the air.
MICHAELThank you for taking my call.
MICHAELI was just -- your guests are talking about the price of gasoline. And my -- I'm 73 years old. I'm retired. And I visit my grandchildren in Raleigh and in Winston-Salem, and I've noticed that no one is slowing down. I always drive below the speed limit or ride at speed limit, and most people pass me -- or I'd say 99 percent, and they're doing an excess of 70 miles an hour. And they're in Suburbans and so forth. And they don't seem to be -- gasoline does not seem to be bothering people.
REHMWhen 55 miles per hour is supposed to be the optimum usage of gasoline.
KINGI think Michael hits on the ultimate tension here. People want their freedom. People don't think that they should have to compromise their own lifestyle. That is part of the American story and part of the American dream. It's a debate we've had in our history where the small cars -- and the American -- the revival. And we could have a debate about bailouts. I'm not trying to stoke that one. If you look at the revival of the American auto industry, it is, in part, because of newer, smaller, more efficient cars. However, a lot of us still like our big pickups and our SUVs...
REHMAnd that's what a lot of our emails are about, John King, wanting to know what kind of car you drive that cost 100 bucks to fill.
KINGI have an Acura MDX. I have children that I put in the car, and it requires -- my mistake, but it requires the premium gas. It...
KINGRequires the premium gas. And so you look at that -- which is now -- I think it was $4.79 when I filled it up yesterday.
KINGAnd I was just staring at thing spinning and spinning and spinning, and I was on fumes. So that was the full tank. It's just shy of 20 gallons.
REHMAll right. Here we go to Ann Arbor, Mich. Good morning. You're on the air.
ROGEROh, thank you for taking my call.
ROGERIn the liberal mainstream media, Mitt Romney's views on illegal immigration are often labeled extremist. I feel this practice is personally insulting and offensive to both Mitt Romney and millions and millions of ordinary Americans who share these views. If we're going to talk about what is extreme concerning legal immigration, maybe we should focus on what President Obama is doing.
ROGERHe is implementing a de facto amnesty program through executive order that basically allows almost all 11-plus million illegal immigrants to stay here and continue taking jobs from American citizens unless they've committed a violent felony such as murder or rape. Not only does that reward illegal behavior, but it creates a situation where we will now have basically unrestricted free immigration into our country.
CHALIANWell, I think, first of all, the administration would point to the fact that they've had more deportations than any in history -- in recent history, in fact, so much so that it, at times, has enflamed the Hispanic community that it is not being handled in as nuanced a fashion as they would like to see -- some of the activists. But in terms of Mitt Romney, I don't think his position is being characterized as extreme as much as I think it's once again -- John mentioned before the flip-flop issue for Mitt Romney and sort of the -- whether or not the conservative base is buying into whether he is authentic on a given issue.
CHALIANAnd I think this is another issue like that. Back -- if you look at his comments back in 2006, he never formally endorsed the comprehensive immigration reform that Ted Kennedy and John McCain were working on. But he had favorable things to say about it, and his comments suggested that it was the right goal. And now, as he's been wooing the conservative base, he has moved more to the right. He said Arizona's immigration law is the model for the nation. And I think the coverage has reflected that as a potential problem for him in terms of the consistency issue with the electorate overall.
CHALIANAnd as well as -- obviously, the Democrats do think, much like we were talking about women before, I mean, they -- any chance they get to point out where Republicans are moving away from being able to woo a big chunk of the Latino vote is something that they want to make sure is well known.
CALMESWell -- and one thing I would add is that apart from it being just the mainstream media who has said or covered at all the immigration issue, in these last few months, it's been Rick Perry, the governor of Texas and formerly a presidential candidate, and Newt Gingrich, who have been the most vocal and criticizing Mitt Romney's stance on immigration and Jeb Bush, who, not too long ago, wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post, warning Republicans that their stance towards immigration was hurtful and impractical, hurtful politically as well as to people.
CALMESAnd so this DREAM Act, which would, you know, give the benefits of citizenship to people who were brought to this country through, you know, as children and are now in college or serving in the military to give them the benefits of immigration, has become sort of the litmus test.
REHMRoger, thanks for your call. To Cleveland, Ohio, good morning, George. You're on the air.
GEORGEMorning, Diane. How's it going?
REHMPretty well. Thanks, sir. Go right ahead.
GEORGEI had a question about -- your guests said that the president couldn't do much about gasoline prices. And I'm wondering if the supply that was taken off market from the moratorium on the deepwater drilling, if this -- if the new oil that's being pumped out through the shale, these new lands that have been opened up on private property, if that's just making up the supply that was lost.
GEORGEAnd the inflation that was caused by the quantitative easing since oil's, you know, brought in dollars, if that's had a price on it, you know, Dr. Chu's $5-a-gallon gas, all this stuff seems like the president can really do, you know, quite a bit. Maybe not by tomorrow, but, you know, through his philosophy on energy, seems to be, you know, causing this, and I...
KINGA lot of different pieces there. I do think that Dr. Chu's views, both before he came into the administration and in the administration, have complicated this in the short term politically because he does take a long-term view. And he was on the record as essentially saying one of the ways you force people to get into more energy-efficient behavior is, as the Europeans and other places do, if you have higher prices, you encourage smaller cars, for example, and you sort of force people to make the tough choices.
KINGThat was Dr. Chu's position before he came in government. And Newt Gingrich, every day, is pointing out that he thinks maybe Dr. Chu should get a new job. He also mentioned quantitative easing. There's a number of different issues there, the offshore drilling, the shale. There's a big debate in the campaign now about, you know -- the Obama administration would say the United States is producing more oil and pumping more oil than at any time in recent history, more than in the Bush administration.
KINGAnd they are correct. Its critics would say, OK, but there's a lot more out there. Why don't we go more offshore? Why don't we do this? And this debate will continue. Some of this is a state issue, state of Florida, California may not want it. In the Gulf, they do. In terms of the pause after BP, there, again, is a fair debate about how long do you wait? What are the new regulations? What are the new safety? The only thing I would say is if you talk to the experts on this, that if they decided tomorrow, you could drill anywhere in America, anywhere.
KINGThen the oil companies want to make money to do this, so they have to have studies that takes about eight years for the government saying, yes, drill. About eight years, I think, is the industry standard to actually then get the drill in the ground because of just what it takes. And there's a actually a shortage of these big rigs because they're in other parts of the world.
REHMAll right. Here's an email from Marilyn. She's in Arvada, Colo. "Republicans say gas prices are rising because Obama won't let us drill. Obama says we're drilling more now than in the past eight years. Doesn't this circular reasoning simply prove that drilling more does not keep gas prices down? There's no way to get far enough ahead of demand to maintain prices." What do you think, David?
CHALIANI think it says more about political rhetoric than anything else about drilling. But I do think that the Republicans would say, as John was just saying, that what the Obama administration has done is not sufficient and that there is much more drilling -- there are many more areas in the country to tap into this resource, so there is much more there. And I think the Obama administration would actually admit this, too, that there is areas that they are not -- that they are -- that are not on their radar screen to tap that the Republicans say we should tap to get more energy resource.
CHALIANBut the Republican argument is one that the -- Democrats like to paint as drill only. And then President Obama likes to say that he has sort of -- what is it -- all-of-the-above energy policy, right? But there is a fair criticism that the Obama administration does tend to focus on certain things over other things, and it is not at all times an all-of-the-above policy. This is what I was saying before about that. There's not been a comprehensive front burner energy approach.
REHMAll right. To Homestead, Fla. Hi there, Bill. Go right ahead.
BILLHi. Good morning, Diane. Good morning to your panel.
REHMGood morning, sir.
BILLThank you for taking my call.
BILLYou were earlier speaking about the 2008 and the hope and the promise of change that the Obama campaign at that point, and then the administration was briefing and telling us all. And I find that a little disconcerting that once the candidate becomes the office, president, the administration, we found that that administration tended to not focus on the jobs that were promised, not focus on the day-to-day economy, but seem to be, in my opinion, seem to be focused on some pet projects or personal agenda.
BILLAnd, I guess, I would ask your panel to use their crystal balls and tell us that if President Obama is re-elected for the second term, are we going to be -- should we expect some additional pet projects? Should we expect some additional personal agendas rather than the jobs issue again?
REHMWhat do you think, John King?
KINGWell, second terms tend to be defined by legacy. A president gets a second term -- I know they can't a get a third. They start thinking about what is the big thing. To the point that the caller -- and who knows we're getting a lot of calls from very important swing states in Florida.
CALMESAll right. How is that?
KINGIs it a personal pet project to do health care that has been a generational hope of the Democratic Party? Now, it's going to be, and it is already a big debate. Should that have been first? David made the point. Should the economy have been first? Should they have said, we want to do health care, but we're going to wait till we're in a better place? We have to do this. That is a fair and a very vibrant debate in our politics. Are there other things the president has done?
KINGEvery president -- I say this all the time -- campaigning for president is so much easier than being president. And there a lot of people, even supporters of President Obama who say, here is a guy who had never been a chief executive, who had a bit of a learning curve when he came in. And those supporters say he's learned a great deal. His critics say, no, he hasn't. And that's what we're going to have a debate about.
KINGAnd right now, he's the incumbent president and his first three-and-a-half -- and by the time we get to the election, you're only four years will be the template of the election. Did he deliver on his promises? It's hard. You can't just blame him, but Washington hasn't changed. You can't just blame him, but presidents, regardless of their party, get blamed for an economy. That's the way our politics works, and he can make the cases.
KINGThey're doing this documentary while we were in a deep ditch and we're starting to come out. We're in a better place. If people don't feel that on Election Day, they might not vote that way.
REHMJohn King of CNN, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I want to ask you about former Goldman Sachs executive Greg Smith. What he had to say in his op-ed and why it's created such a stir? David.
CHALIANWell, there's nothing that gets sort of the pitchforks out, right, more than anger at Wall Street greed. And so when somebody from inside gives voice, who has been part of that greed culture and then -- excuse me -- and then rebels against it and says, there is something fundamentally wrong here with what we're doing, that is going to be a very popular and obviously populist argument that's going to resonate with a lot of people. If you ask the Wall Street crowd, this guy might be a bit of a disgruntled employee and had a different personal agenda being made here.
CHALIANBut that doesn't negate the fact that what he writes sparks a very real emotion about real antipathy, still all these years after that financial crisis in 2008, towards Wall Street.
REHMHe was making about $500,000 a year. We've had no indication that he was a particularly disgruntled employee. He said, I am leaving Goldman Sachs because it makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off. This is -- you know, this really does speak to what we had, perhaps as a people, thought about these huge institutions. Jackie.
CALMESWell, that's exactly right, and it went while Greg Smith did not himself include in that column he wrote any specifics allegations. The subsequent coverage, of course, raised memories of in particular 2010 case where the SEC went after Goldman Sachs because they had packaged mortgage securities at the behest of one of their billionaire clients who subsequently bet against that package of securities, which did lose value, and Goldman Sachs also bet some of its money again.
CALMESAnd so that sort of double-dealing, it's been in trouble for before, so this went to that. And it was, you know, there is -- it did go to a sense widespread that there is this, you know -- we're in it for ourselves mentality now. And there are some old people from the street who would -- who have said to him, right on. But, you know, I'm not sure what impact it will have and what it will change.
REHMYeah. Are there going to be any consequences?
REHMAre there going to be any more prosecutions, perhaps, with people within that industry? John King.
KINGThere are some ongoing -- there are same cases that are already in the courts. There are some additional investigations going on, and this is part of the reason this kind of behavior is why the administration push so hard for what is called the Dodd-Frank bill, the new financial regulations.
KINGAnd now, there's a big debate over, you know, slowing down some of the implementation of the regulations on that, and I think -- I believe every one of the Republican candidates have said they would repeal it if they came. So the whole policing Wall Street is going to be part of our narrative both politically in Washington and within the business for some time.
REHMWell, our caller asked what if Obama is re-elected. Do you think that's going to be part of what he goes after?
KINGThat's a great question because one of the great criticisms of this administration is they're trying to over-regulate, that they have overreacted, that they're going too far. And some of that comes from the White House chief of staff who left. Bill Daley was one of those who said be careful, be careful. You need rational regulations. Don't overdo it. Now, he comes out of the banking industry himself and the financial -- so some people might say, of course, well, you're trying to protect your friends.
KINGBut this is debate that will continue. A part of this also depends, Diane -- the American people know they're picking a president November. They're deciding what the Congress looks like. And part of this to enthrall in debate, tug-of-wars because we have divided government.
CALMESWell, in terms of how this reflects on a second term, I think it's a good example of how, you know, a second Obama term, a lot of it will be devoted to protecting their gains. And that then it goes to -- if there were to be a Republican elected with a Republican -- presumably, there'd be a Republican-controlled Congress still, at least the House if not the Senate as well, that they would, as they pledge, undo financial regulations, undo the health care law. So that's the start of question whether Obama gets re-elected and protects those or Republicans get elected and undo them.
REHMJackie Calmes of New York Times, John King of CNN's "John King, USA," and David Chalian, Washington bureau chief for Yahoo News. Have a great weekend. Thanks for being here.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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