For this month's Readers' Review: "Drown" -- the debut collection of short stories by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Junot Diaz. Twenty years ago, Diaz published ten heart-breaking tales about a fragmented family from the Dominican Republic finding their way in 1980s America.
The US employment rate falls to 8.2 percent. The Justice Department affirms both judicial review and the President’s health care comments concerning the supreme court. Congressman Paul Ryan joins Mitt Romney on the campaign trail leading some to wonder if he’ll be on the GOP presidential ticket. Top officials of a government agency goes through a massive shake up after a lavish Vegas trip is revealed. And why a conservative group is facing a boycott because of the Trayvon Martin case.A panel of journalists joins guest host Tom Gjelten of NPR for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Chris Cillizza author of The Fix, a Washington Post politics blog, and managing editor of PostPolitics.com.
- Greg Ip U.S. economics editor, The Economist, and author of "The Little Book of Economics: How the Economy Works in the Real World."
- Shawna Thomas White House producer, NBC News.
MR. TOM GJELTENThanks for joining us. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR, sitting in for Diane. She's recovering from a voice treatment. The economy added a lower than expected 120,000 jobs in March. The unemployment did fall slightly to 8.2 percent. The House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan campaigned alongside Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. And legal scholars bickered over President Obama's comment that a Supreme Court overturn of his health care law would be unprecedented.
MR. TOM GJELTENJoining me in the studio for the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup are Greg Ip of The Economist, Shawna Thomas of NBC News and Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post. You can join us with your own comments and questions. Call us at 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email at email@example.com or join us on Facebook or Twitter. So, Greg Ip, if there's a time -- good morning, everyone.
MR. GREG IPGood morning.
MR. CHRIS CILLIZZAGood morning.
MS. SHAWNA THOMASGood morning.
GJELTENIf there is a time when a drop in the unemployment rate may actually be bad news, I guess that might be today, huh?
IPYeah, that's right. So we did get job growth in March, 120,000 jobs, which is, in normal times, a pretty good number. But it's very disappointing because economists were expecting a number of, you know, 200,000, and we've just had three or four months of job growth of around 200,000. And it's kind of like this eerie feeling of deja vu because both last year and the year before, the year started out just like this year with strong job growth, and then it began to peter out as we got, like, high oil prices because of Libya, problems in Europe.
IPAnd so now everybody's kind of asking, is it the same thing going on right now? And as you said, yes, the unemployment rate did go down, but not for good reasons. It wasn't because more people were working. It's because the number of people looking for work shrank. I think it's a little too soon to press the panic button for a couple of reasons. First of all, 120,000, while disappointing, is a decent number.
IPSecond of all, some of the prior months may have been a little too good because we've had very warm weather through most of the country, and maybe there was some payback from that in March. And the final reason to be somewhat optimistic still is that if you look at all the other data that we have coming out -- surveys of factory managers, the weekly numbers on people collecting unemployment insurance -- those still seem to be improving. We do not yet see elsewhere any sign of a dramatic decline in momentum for the economy.
GJELTENAnd, actually, some good numbers on retail sales in March, though.
IPSome of the retailers are reporting good numbers. I take those with a grain of salt because there may be other retailers who aren't showing such good signs, and the employment numbers did show a big drop in retail employment in the month of March. But, again, it sort of goes to my point: we are not seeing the kinds of pervasive signs of weakness that would tell you that we're about to essentially give up the ghost here.
GJELTENShawna Thomas, I guess in an election season, the politicos -- I'll ask Chris this in a minute -- look at the unemployment rate and jump to real hasty conclusions. What are the White House folks saying about these numbers this morning, given the very mixed nature of this data?
THOMASI mean, the White House is out with their usual statement from Alan Krueger, you know, that unemployment numbers show that the economy is growing, but it's growing slowly. We have to do more. They never are effusive about unemployment numbers, and they like to talk about how it's always volatile, how these change from month to month and we need to look at the overall picture.
THOMASBut for them, they'll continue to say, this shows that the economy is growing even if -- as Greg says, if you get into the numbers, it doesn't necessarily show that the economy is growing. But it ticked down by 0.1 percent. They'll say that's good. A hundred thousand jobs, they'll say that's good as well.
GJELTENChris Cillizza, I guess it's a little too early to say on the basis of these numbers or even general economic trends whether the economy is going to be the number one issue in the fall, which many people have been predicting for a long time. Fall is still a ways away, isn't it?
CILLIZZAIt is, Tom. But I would say I actually don't think it's too early to say the -- I think it's too early to say the economy will be the issue and it's going to help Barack Obama or is going to help Mitt Romney. I don't think it's too early to say the economy will be the central issue. I would point you to -- we've now had 30-plus states vote in the Republican presidential primary. In every single one of them in the exit polling, the economy -- they asked people coming out of the poll, what's the -- the ballot place, what's the most important issue facing the country?
CILLIZZAThe economy has been, by far, the number one issue in every one of those states. So, you know, I think that these are sort of a lagging indicator that people, even if the economy starts to move upward in real measurable ways month after month after month -- let's see how people feel it. You know, I always say the most important unemployment rate number will probably be September because, I think, once you get beyond September, you know, there isn't an -- there will be the first Friday of -- will come right before the November election.
CILLIZZAIt'll be three days before the -- or four days before the November election. But I think that's too late to drastically change it. And I think people's perception gets -- and this is to Greg's point is the perception that it's settled in the first three months of this year was things were getting better. They weren't great, but they were getting better, that what President Obama had done, we were starting to see an uptick. This, I think, it takes away some of that momentum.
CILLIZZAI think it will hand a little momentum to Republicans, who in truth, particularly Mitt Romney, had been struggling to find a message. They spent all this time talking about how Barack Obama didn't know how to handle the economy. Well, now the economy is starting to get better. They were searching for a message. They -- this is a -- they will seize upon these numbers as evidence that things are not, in fact, getting better as quickly as President Obama would like.
GJELTENWell, Greg, let's look ahead a little bit towards September. What are a couple of the big question marks? And one of the things that I'm wondering about is where gas prices are going to be going. And also, what's -- with the European economy appearing to kind drift back down again and could that haunt -- could that affect the U.S. economy in the next four, five, six months?
IPWell, you're exactly right. The two biggest unknowns hanging over the economy are oil and Europe. On oil, we've had some good news recently. The price of oil has actually dropped, you know, three to seven bucks, depending on which type of oil you're looking at, in the last three or four weeks. And so while it looks like going to be stuck with $4-a-gallon gasoline over the summer months, it probably won't be a lot higher than that given what we're seeing now.
IPIt turns out that there is a lot of oil available right now. U.S. inventories are quite high. There have been some disruptions in places like Syria and Sudan and so forth. But the world is coping with that really well. The big unknown is what happens to Iran. We haven't heard much from that front in the last few weeks. But, you know, when the summer comes, new embargo will take effect on Iran. The world's got to find a way to replace that oil. What if -- what is, right now, a very cold war becomes a hot war.
IPThat could be very alarming to the world oil markets. That would send oil up easily $20, $30 a barrel and put the economy back to where it was a year ago. On Europe, the European Central Bank has sort of, like, cut off the risk of a truly catastrophic outcome there by lending very heavily to the region's banks. What we've seen the last two weeks, though, is that the underlying disease, which is essentially a bunch of countries that are not competitive, that are struggling to handle the very large debts, that have lost the confidence of the investors, that disease continues to eat away at the region.
IPRight now, it's Spain in the crosshairs. And so that's why we've seen that crisis sort of feeling flare up the last few weeks. I don't see anything happening in Europe that is so severe that is likely to drag the United States down with it. But it adds a level of anxiety to the financial markets, and it takes away a potential source of strength that the U.S. economy could've really used right about now.
GJELTENRight. Well, Shawna Thomas, President Obama is certainly assuming, banking that a populist economic message is going to resonate with voters this fall, came out this week with a really tough attack on the GOP budget plan, and then Paul Ryan in particular saying it's a Trojan horse disguised as a deficit reduction plan. It's really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country, even talked about it being a form of social Darwinism. What's the White House thinking here?
THOMASI mean, he also said it's antithetical to our entire history as a land of opportunity. The White House is thinking that the Paul Ryan budget, the one that he came out with this year as well as last year, 'cause they're kind of running against both of those budgets, has huge holes in it when it comes to Medicare and Medicaid. And they think that if they can tie Mitt Romney to Paul Ryan and this budget, this budget that they say doesn't close oil loopholes, doesn't, you know, put a fair share or give people their fair share from rich people, then they have a plan of attack.
THOMASAnd in some ways, Mitt Romney played right into that this week. The pictures out of Wisconsin this week, where Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan were handing out sandwiches to people, they were doing tag team duo events all through the state. They looked great together. The video looks great. It looks like Paul Ryan could be his running mate. But it also directly ties Mitt Romney to Paul Ryan, and the Obama campaign wants that so badly.
CILLIZZAYeah, just very quickly, what's interesting about this election, just from a purely political perspective, to Shawna's point, is what this election really would benefit from is a candidate who is a pure economic populist, like a Mike Huckabee figure on the Republican side, somebody -- Bill Clinton on the Democratic side. I picked two people from Arkansas, not purposely, but because those are the two on my mind, but somebody who can make that -- it's us versus them, the rules are unfair, we're not getting our fair shake, and we need to fight to get it.
CILLIZZAWhat's interesting is the two parties are nominating people who are awkward economic populists at best. Mitt Romney is not an economic populist in any way, shape or form, from his background to his demeanor to what he talks about as issues, so let's put that one side. But Barack Obama, though I agree 100 percent that he's trying to move in kind of an economic populist way -- the speech this week, I was struck by the language of it. He said, what Republicans were doing on budget was laughable.
CILLIZZAIn addition to everything -- Shawna, you've already mentioned -- this is very strong rhetoric. He is not an economic populist by nature either. He is not somebody who can kind of wade into a crowd and say, I feel -- I know what's going on. I'm like you. I feel your pain. We need to fight this thing. He's trying to move in that direction. I think his advisors had been pushing him into that direction for several years because they see the writing on the wall. But it's interesting you have -- the two candidates the parties are nominating are not matched exactly to kind of what the populists wants.
GJELTENGreg, meanwhile, Paul Ryan struck back very hard as well. I mean, you have Barack Obama and Paul Ryan both claiming to be concerned about the economy and coming out with almost totally polarized views of what should be done.
IPWhat I think is really interesting is that you have a president who's not really campaigning against the nominee. He's campaigning against the congressman, Paul Ryan. And that speaks to the extent which Paul Ryan has really seized the imagination of the Republican base in a way we haven't really seen since Jack Kemp in the 1970s, who's supply-side economic story essentially formed the basis of Reagan's message.
IPAnd I wanted to add to something that Shawna was saying. The Obama folks are definitely betting that the Ryan budget will be a sort of a key -- sort of locus point of this election. What's interesting is Romney, the extent to which he's embraced it, a year ago, when Ryan's first budget came out, Romney definitely kept it at arm's length. He is now embracing it fully. That is a very high-risk strategy.
GJELTENGreg Ip is U.S. economics editor for The Economist and author of "The Little Book of Economics: How the Economy Works in the Real World." Coming up, more on the Friday News Roundup. Stay tuned. We'll be right back.
GJELTENWelcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten, sitting in for Diane Rehm today on the Friday News Roundup with my guests: Greg Ip from The Economist, Shawna Thomas, White House producer for NBC News, and Chris Cillizza, author of The Fix, a Washington Post politics blog, and managing editor of postpolitics.com. You can join us. Call us at 1-800-433-8850 or send us an email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
GJELTENFolks, I was amused by Frank Bruni's comment this week that speculation about who would be vice president is like a public work's project for unemployed pundits. So let's play that game a little bit.
GJELTENShawna, Paul Ryan, as you've mentioned, was campaigning at the side of Mitt Romney. And that, and all week in Wisconsin or prior to the primary in Wisconsin, that, of course, led to a lot of speculation as you suggested. They look good together. They've got a message that compliments each other very well. What do you think?
THOMASI think it's both of those things. I think the trouble possibly with Paul Ryan is that Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney are too much of the same, so they both are white men, young-ish, dark hair, economic message. What part of Mitt Romney's base that he doesn't have, does Paul Ryan shore up that he wasn't going to get anyway?
THOMASSo in some ways, depending on what the Romney campaign is looking for, Paul Ryan doesn't help them in that respect, except they both would be concentrating on this economic message that's -- neither of them wants to talk about social issues, and, in that way, it helps Mitt Romney continue on that economic message. But then that leaves out the Marco Rubios. That leaves out the Susana Martinezes.
THOMASWhat direction does the Republican campaign want to go in the RNC? Do they want to -- if they lose this time, do they want to shore up 2016? And you may need someone like Marco Rubio on the ticket to do that.
GJELTENWell, Chris, do you want a game changer or not? I guess the lesson in 2008 is you got to be careful about game-changing candidates.
CILLIZZAYeah. Be careful what you ask for. Yeah, you know, I think you only throw the Hail Mary when you are down six points and there's three seconds on the clock. I mean, you know, that's -- you don't see football teams throwing a Hail Mary in the first quarter. We are -- despite the fact that I have spent, you know, the last two and a half years of my life covering this race, we are in first quarter. You know, we've just basically picked the Republican nominee at this point.
CILLIZZAI think that Mitt Romney is at a little bit of a low ebb. A lot of polling out -- Gallup and USA Today put out polling this week in 12 swing states that showed Obama ahead significantly overall in (unintelligible) as well as among independents. There's a CNN poll that had Obama up 11 on Romney nationally. But I think that Mitt Romney is a little bit of an undervalued stock at the moment.
CILLIZZAI think he's come through what has been a long and relatively nasty primary process that appears to be coming to an end. And I say appears -- we never know, but appears to be coming to end. And I think the next few weeks and even the next couple of months, we'll likely see an improvement in the Mitt Romney image as he gets introduced to a broader general electorate. So until we kind of know what the dynamic is going into the conventions -- 'cause the pick will not be made until mid-August, would be my bet, but the Republican convention in Tampa is in late August.
CILLIZZAUntil we know what the dynamic is there, it's harder to know game changer or a safe pick. I actually think there are -- Shawna's point -- I think there are some hybrids that are relatively safe but could match the kind of Obama energy and historical sense of it. I think Rubio -- he's a Cuban-American. He's a senator from Florida. That's not insignificant given what we believe the centrality of Florida will be to the presidential race. He is also a very, very well-liked candidate by the Tea Party.
CILLIZZANow, it's hard to know is he a safe pick or not in that he was elected in 2010. So we don't have a huge record to go on, but I think he is the closest thing you'll find to a hybrid that may check as many boxes as possible for the Republican Party.
GJELTENWell, Greg, Chris says that Romney appears to be the choice of the Republican Party to run for president, but Rick Santorum is not giving up. And it seems that as long as Santorum is in the race -- and yesterday, there was a group of conservatives that met with Santorum, and they're urging all conservatives to unite behind Santorum. It's clear that the conservative sector of the Republican Party, the Republican base, is determined to exert and influence on this election, not just as it has up until now, but right through November.
IPThey really have. And I think that it's starting to unsettle a lot of the establishment because you'll hear a lot of Republican strategists say that their biggest concern is that -- coming out of this primary season is that the Republican brand has been damaged.
IPAnd it's been damaged precisely because the conservative standard bearers, whether it's Rick Santorum now or Michele Bachmann or somebody else in a previous month, have kept dragging the attention of the voters away from the core economic message that, you know, as Chris was saying this election is going to be about, to, frankly, distractions, whether it's abortion or contraception or whatever. They would really love to sort of, like, get back to that.
IPSantorum is essentially -- you know, speaking of Hail Mary passes, it's all riding on Pennsylvania on April 24. He has to win that state. He himself has said it's a must-win. The other big state voting that day is New York, but he is going to -- Romney is going to wipe the floor with Santorum in New York. But, even if he won Pennsylvania, the arithmetic is almost impossible. At this point, I'm not sure I'd -- perhaps Chris and Shawna have a better insight into what Santorum hopes to get out of this process.
CILLIZZAI -- just very quickly, I just -- the Santorum people put out a memo late yesterday. It's interesting that the media has the delegate math wrong, and it's -- in fact, the delegates are closer. Mitt Romney's lead is less determinative than we think. One of the ideas in that memo was that Texas, which will vote May 29, is -- they stated, the Santorum people -- is going to be a winner-take-all state, which means if you win, you get all 144 delegates, a huge, huge amount.
CILLIZZADig a little bit deeper, one person on the Texas Republican Party executive committee, who is a Santorum person, is pushing that idea. In order to change the rules, you need two-thirds of the executive committee to approve it. You have the Republican National Committee spokesman saying, this is not going to happen. It really does feel like grasping at straws. And I think there is a danger that exists here for Rick Santorum, who, by any account, has done himself quite a bit of good in this race.
CILLIZZANo one thought that Rick Santorum would be the alternative to Romney in the end. I think the longer you stay in this race, if you're Rick Santorum, the more you attack Mitt Romney, the more danger exists for your political future such as this.
GJELTENWell, here's one thing that confuses me. We haven't talked about Newt Gingrich. He's the forgotten name in this race. Now, the conservatives who met with Rick Santorum are apparently urging Gingrich to drop out of the race so that conservatives unite behind Santorum. On the other hand -- and given especially what you just said, Chris -- I've heard an alternative analysis that Santorum's best hope is that Gingrich stays in the race because then it's going to be -- it would be easier for the two of them to deny Romney that majority that he needs going into the convention. Shawna.
THOMASWell, definitely, the people who met with Rick Santorum yesterday, he wants Newt's delegates. Newt said yesterday, not on camera, but said, he's not dropping out. His spokesman said that he hasn't agreed to any alliances. You know, he hasn't spoken to Romney since New Orleans. This is going to be a continuing conversation that they have. But if both of them, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, can both stay together and sort of tick off this amount of delegates from Mitt Romney, they may have more power when you get to the convention if we were to get to that point.
THOMASThe RNC has no desire to get to a brokered convention whatsoever. So I think, most likely, Newt stays in so he has a larger part of the conversation at the convention. Rick Santorum may do the same thing. But with Pennsylvania coming up, there's a danger that if he were to lose Pennsylvania, what does that say about a guy who's now lost it twice?
CILLIZZAAnd, you know, just very quickly, Tom, on Gingrich, this idea -- and it's been percolating for a while -- that if Newt Gingrich somehow endorsed Rick Santorum, then they'd unite and they beat Romney. There are two things that are wrong with that. Number one, Mitt Romney's delegate lead -- Greg mentioned this -- it's -- if it's not determinative, it's close to it. It's clear that he's the only candidate who could get the 1,144 delegates you need to become the nominee.
CILLIZZAIt's possible the other two candidates could deny him that number, but they can't get to it. The other thing is Newt Gingrich won South Carolina on Jan. 21. Then he won Georgia on his home state in Super Tuesday. He has not won one other state in the entire process, and he is, of late, faltered even more. He finished fourth in the Illinois primary, behind Ron Paul. So the idea that Newt Gingrich has this vast constituency waiting to rally behind Rick Santorum if he endorses, I think, is a little bit not borne out by fact.
GJELTENMeanwhile, Greg Ip, another issue that is certain to play large in the coming months is health care, either Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act, whatever you want to call it. And fascinating developments this week in -- around the debate over health care with, President Obama said that if the Supreme Court overturns Obamacare, it would be unprecedented for a court to overturn decisively decided legislation by Congress.
IPSo, first of all, it's interesting because as the president himself pointed out, it's normally the conservatives who are, like, complaining about judicial activism. And so it was a bit of turning the tables by saying this would really be unacceptable for the, you know, unelected judges to sort of, like, contravene the will of the Congress. To a certain extent, it's not surprising 'cause, as we've been talking about this morning, this is campaign season. This is -- you know, Obama hopes to sort of, like, turn this issue.
IPHowever, the court decides into part of his re-election thing. It's a little more surprising in the sense that the president -- he got his facts wrong. It is not in the slightest bit unprecedented for the Supreme Court to overturn the will of Congress. I mean, never mind that...
GJELTENAnd he -- and Barack Obama is the first constitutional lawyer we've had as president in a long time.
IPExactly. You know, I think people need to double-check the degrees they got, you know, when they went to his classes. I mean, it goes back to 1803, Marbury v. Madison, but you don't even have to go back that far. In 1995, the Rehnquist court invalidated part of the handgun in schools law precisely because it was a congressional overreach in terms of using the interstate commerce clause to regulate something else.
IPIt happened again in 2000 when part of the Violence Against Women Act was invalidated on the same grounds. This happens more often than the president sort of, you know, is willing to admit. I will grant you it does not often happen with the president's signature piece of legislation.
GJELTENShawna Thomas, a strange request from a federal appellate judge in Texas this week, who, after hearing what President Obama said, asked the Justice Department to clarify his comments and affirm that, in fact, this administration still does believe in the concept of judicial review. Then the Justice Department Eric Holder came back with a kind of another strange response, saying that, on the one hand, defending what President Obama has said, and then, on the other hand, reaffirming that, in fact, this administration still does believe courts have the right to review legislation.
THOMASI mean, we were talking before. It's -- it was odd that the attorney general was basically given homework by a federal judge, and then did the homework on time. But he did say that what the president said was correct, but that judicial review will continue as it has. The Supreme Court has this ability. I think about the health care decision that we expect to come out of the Supreme Court in June, the politically incorrect thing to kind of say is, in some ways, it's a win-win for the president no matter what.
THOMASIf they uphold the health care law, great, he has the signature piece of legislation that is still law. All of these people get to stay on their insurance with their pre-existing conditions. If they overturn it, he gets to run on, well, I tried to do this for the country. Now, people with pre-existing conditions can't get insurance, and your kids are getting kicked off your insurance.
GJELTENShawna Thomas is White House producer for NBC News. I'm Tom Gjelten. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Chris, what do you think of the administration's political calculation around this? Was it wise, or did the president really step on it in these comments?
CILLIZZAWell, it's interesting because he, in some ways, walked back what he said earlier in the week after this very high-profile speech he gave that we've been talking about earlier in which he castigated Republicans. There was a question-and-answer period, and someone asked him about health care. And he gave sort of a broader answer that, I think, was probably the answer he should have given initially that essentially said, look, you know, I understand that the courts have -- that we have three branches of government, essentially, and that they have the power to review.
CILLIZZAWhat it feels like, Tom -- and you never know with these things because it's -- the decision is made by nine people, none of whom are talking to me or any other reporter. It feels like the White House is trying to not game the refs, but game the outcome that if it comes out that the bill -- the law is ruled unconstitutional, they will have laid the groundwork for this being what you get when you have a conservative majority on the court and setting this up as a referendum, at least in part on the court going forward.
CILLIZZAThere was clearly some pessimism out of allies of the Affordable Care Act after the oral arguments last week. President Obama is saying that this week adds to that sense that the White House and its allies seem to believe that it's uniquely possible this goes the wrong way and are trying to prime the pump on the argument they will make if it does wind up going the wrong way. Now, if they -- if it -- the act is upheld, I will throw all this out the window. But it certainly seems as though that's what they're doing at the moment.
GJELTENGreg Ip, one thing we need to keep in mind, because this debate has become so partisan and so politicized, isn't it true that, at the end of the day, there is actually wide agreement that -- across the aisle, that health care costs are out of control and something has to be done, some major reform has to be undertaken in order to bring health care costs back in the line?
IPWell, I think that's right. And, in fact, regardless of how the court rules, this will be one of the key issues in the campaign this year. And it's interesting because the same week that this clash over the Supreme Court's views on the Affordable Care Act was unfolding, Paul Ryan's budget, which we're just talking about, also has returned to the limelight. And, of course, the most controversial part of Paul Ryan's budget is the remaking of Medicare as we know it.
IPNow, it's not quite as dramatic a remake as he originally envisioned it a year ago when all Medicare would have been replaced by vouchers. His new version is you can have a voucher or you can have traditional Medicare. But the value of your traditional Medicare will still be somehow tied down to the price that the private sector is willing to provide health care at.
IPSo, for the administration, you know, going back to the point Shawna was making, one of the reasons that they're looking forward to having a campaign about the Ryan budget is that they believe that his Medicare provisions are deeply unpopular. But, you know, Ryan has, in my view, a pretty effective rejoinder, which is, what is your Medicare plan? Because the president still does not yet have a very credible strategy of his own for overhauling the entitlement situation.
GJELTENYou know, the president is speaking right now at the White House Forum on Women and the Economy, and this is his comment on the latest drop in unemployment rates. He says, "There will still be ups and downs along the way. We have a lot more work to do." Quickly, Shawna Thomas, interesting story out of Washington, for all those people that hate Washington bureaucrats, it's a paradise. The General Services Administration went through a big shake-up. What happened there?
THOMASSo, basically, it came out from the Office of the Inspector General that the General Services Administration, their western branch, had a big conference two years ago, spent $830,000 on this conference over the course of planning for it and doing it. The things that came out were they spent it on clowns. They spent it on a mind reader. They had little beef Wellingtons. And the OIG said this was unacceptable, and they probably broke a lot of rules that the government has about how much money you can spend on these events.
THOMASSo the administrator stepped down. She had fired two of her deputies. Four other people were put on administrative leave. And it just -- it's one of these stories out of D.C. that shows how crazy the spending can be. It plays into the Republicans saying there's too much spending going on in the federal government. And it -- in some ways, it's kind of funny. There was a video that came out yesterday that sort of spoofs the GSA that was a part of this whole event.
THOMASAnd I don't know if it's going to have a lasting impact on anything, but we're going to see two hearings on this in the next couple of weeks. And that's just going to be part of the story.
GJELTENThis is why covering Washington can be so much fun. We're on the Friday News Roundup. This is the domestic hour. My guests are Greg Ip from The Economist, Shawna Thomas from the White House, the White House producer at NBC News, and Chris Cillizza from The Washington Post. You can join us. We'll be going to your calls right after this break. Stay tuned.
GJELTENWelcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten, sitting in for Diane Rehm, and this is the Friday News Roundup, the domestic news hour. And, folks, a number of our listeners want us to talk just a bit more about gas prices. Kevin writes it drives him crazy when Republicans and conservatives and, specifically, Romney, criticize and blame President Obama for the increasing gas prices. Kevin points out that any bellicose talk about Iran makes the oil market nervous which, in turn, bids up the price of oil, which affects gas prices.
GJELTENAlso, David from Grand Rapids, Mich. has the same complaint. "Why does the right continue to blame the president for the price increase and never gets -- seriously get called on it?" And I want to go now to William, who's on the line from Hamilton, Ohio. And, William, you want to talk about this gas price issue as well. Is that right?
WILLIAMThat is correct. Good morning. With this upcoming election seems more important to the big oil companies with tax subsidies, tax breaks and the possibility of more drilling, tens of billions of dollars can be at stake for Big Oil. It seems to me it would be in their interest to improperly inflate gas prices leading up to the election since the Republican nominees will -- have been promising lower gas prices. If Big Oil was to inflate gas prices, say, five, $6, they could sway a lot of votes.
GJELTENWell, Greg, the Republicans are saying that President Obama is inflating gas prices for his own purposes, and William is wondering whether Big Oil is inflating gas prices for their own purposes.
IPSo I think I can sort of say neither of the above in this case. We know that oil prices, which are the primary determinant of what happens to gasoline, are set in a world market. And the Europeans and the Japanese and everybody else is being saddled with these very high oil prices. Does the president bear some blame? Not really, I mean, except to the extent that his very tough talk on Iran is contributing to some of the nervousness out there. And I would point out that Republicans, if anything, talk even tougher on Iran.
IPSo it's not like, you know, changing from a Democratic to a Republican stance on Iran is going to actually help the gasoline situation. And there are a few minor things, you know, for example, reversing the flow of some pipelines to get more of the oil that's basically piled up in -- at inventories in Oklahoma down to the refineries. That would help, and the administration is moving in that direction.
GJELTENYou know, it's unfortunate, in a sense, that this debate is focused so much on gas prices 'cause the truth is that there is an important debate about energy policy in this country that needs to be had. It needs to be had in a kind of a reasonable way. And in a sense, the gas price issue sort of is a diversion from that. Isn't that right, Chris?
CILLIZZAYou know, I think that -- I'll go back to what the president said in a conversation with Dmitry Medvedev in which he said, you know, I'll be more flexible. This had nothing to do with energy. But this is an off-mic moment. Republicans have made a lot of this. But in truth, what the president was saying was an acknowledgment of reality, which is in an election year, particularly in one as pitched as this in which the partisans lines have been drawn for -- since the day he got elected, nothing is going to get done.
CILLIZZAAnd even sadder, Tom, and this is to your point, we're not even going to have a serious debate about these. The idea that were going to have a serious debate about the Ryan budget, which passed the House and is going to die in the Senate and...
GJELTENAnd it's a serious budget.
CILLIZZAAnd -- right. It's going to become a political football in which Republicans point to the good things in it. Democrats try and nitpick the things that they do not like, particularly Medicare, in it. Even on energy, I was -- William mentioned Big Oil, which is something that Democrats really...
GJELTENLove to talk about...
CILLIZZA...have -- like to talk -- to lump oil and gas companies into Big Oil. President Obama, who has, in many ways, called for a raising of the dialogue, went on television this week in swing states with an ad, it's the second of his reelection campaign, seeking to link Big Oil with who, Mitt Romney. And what does that speak to, the fact that we are now boiling this down to the lowest-common-denominator political terms? Ultimately, the president isn't responsible for gas prices.
CILLIZZAI don't think Republicans are in the pocket of the oil industry, but that's what we reduce it down to. It's black, or it's white. There's no gray area. That is politics. And it's certainly going to be -- the next seven months is more of the same, with both sides baring significant culpability. The idea that Republicans are doing this or Democrat -- both sides are doing it because they want to win the election.
GJELTENMakes you wish for a European-style election where the campaign is so short instead of two years like we have in this country.
CILLIZZANot for me. This is job security, Tom. But...
GJELTENAnother public works project. OK. Let's go to Patricia, who's calling us from Cleveland, Ohio. Good morning, Patricia. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show." Thanks for calling.
PATRICIAGood morning. Thanks for taking my call. I have a question about Justice Smith's request in the fifth circuit. Is that kind of request typical? Is dialogue in our court system as pointed and as disrespectful, as that kind of a request seems to me to be when I read his own language?
GJELTENWho among you has a law degree? I don't.
CILLIZZAMy mom wants me to go to law school. I don't think that qualifies me.
GJELTENWell, I think it's pretty obvious. This was an unusual request, right, Shawna?
THOMASI think so. I think part of the reason why it got so much media attention is because he made it while hearing a case that was totally unrelated to this and that the White House and the Justice Department decided to respond to this. So that points to it being unusual. Whether it was disrespectful for him to ask the Department of Justice to give him an answer, I'm not sure about that. But I do think this was a very unusual case.
GJELTENOkay. Let's go now to Paul, who's calling us from Panama City, Fla. Good morning, Paul. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
PAULGood morning. What concerns me about the president's statement is not that it seems a little bit wrong because I understand what he's doing is laying the groundwork to stir up his -- to stir up the Democratic base in November if they strike it down. What disturbs me is that he seems to be making the argument that the Supreme Court would be going back to Lochner era, judicial activism if they strike down the ACA. But it seems to me that that's exactly what they were asking the court to do.
PAULThey're asking the court to draw a distinction between the health care market and every other market because they realize that Mr. Corbin's argument was right before the Supreme Court when he said that if you allow Congress to regulate anything that is statistically connected to commerce, then they can regulate everything because everything is statistically related to commerce in the aggregate. So it seems he's just obfuscating the issue. Thank you.
GJELTENWell, Greg Ip, this has been an interesting debate, hasn't it? Because it has introduced Americans to this idea of what is commerce, what is a market and what will the federal government should have in regulating commerce and in regulating markets.
IPThat's right. And these fights over the interstate commerce clause do typically revolve around just how broadly do you define commerce, and the times when congressional action that was premised on the constitutional prerogative of ruling on interstate commerce, the times those laws have been overturned or when the court basically feels that Congress has too broadly defined it, like in the case of guns or violence against women.
IPWhat was interesting about the questions that the administration got during the hearings, especially from Justice Kennedy, the swing vote, was he said, it was of this nature. If we say yes to the mandate, where does it stop? He -- what he kept asking for, what's the limiting principle? Where do we know that if we grant you this that you will not use it to basically force everybody to eat broccoli or something like that?
GJELTENLet's go now to Tony, who's calling us from Mystic, Conn. Good morning, Tony. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
TONYGood morning. Thanks for taking my call.
TONYEarlier you were talking about the Santorum parallel with some conservative leaders in trying to force Gingrich out. And I remember hearing a report a while ago about Sheldon -- is it Adelson...
GJELTENThe Las Vegas magnate with the big pockets.
TONYYes. And I think I recall someone reporting that he made a statement that he would never support Rick Santorum, that he would -- if Newt Gingrich is not the in the race that he would back Mitt Romney. And so why does Santorum not notice and would think that any of Newt Gingrich's followers or his backers would just automatically leap over to his side?
GJELTENThanks for the call, Tony. Chris, Tony is saying that Santorum shouldn't -- again, I think, you've alluded to it before, Santorum shouldn't assume that all these guys are just going to turn around and vote for him.
CILLIZZAWell, let me first say, Tony, Mystic, Conn. -- I'm from Connecticut. Mystic, Conn. is one of the most beautiful towns in the country, so enjoy it.
CILLIZZABut, yes. I mean, that's the thing that I find so hard to swallow about the Santorum logic here and the logic of some of his supporters, this idea that, number one, Newt Gingrich has this broad constituency and, number two, that this broad constituency, which, as I have said, does not exist, could be ported over directly to Rick Santorum. Neither of those things are true, as far as we know. We know that when candidates drop out of races and endorse someone -- Jon Huntsman, for example, a former Utah governor.
CILLIZZAHe drops out of the race. He endorses Mitt Romney. Some of the people who supported Jon Huntsman, I'm sure now support Mitt Romney. Some of them may not support anyone. Some may support Rick Santorum. The idea that you just take your block of voters and you just wrap them in a bow and you hand them to another candidate, that's not how -- that maybe how some people think of voters. That is not how...
CILLIZZAThat is not how voters think of themselves. If you look at any polling that suggests, do endorsements matter that (unintelligible) -- by and large, people say, they do not matter. People don't like the idea that they can just be handed -- supporters could be handed off. And, in fact, I just don't think that logic holds water for Rick Santorum. I think he has to find another path to -- that has a stronger sort of, OK, this makes sense logical component to it then -- well, Newt Gingrich will drop out and all my problems will be solved.
GJELTENWell, that's one of the stories that we're going to be eagerly following in the coming months even if Romney moves very quickly to establish himself as the Republican presidential nominee. I'd like to go now to Mary who's on the phone from Warner, N.H. Good morning, Mary. Thanks for calling "The Diane Rehm Show."
MARYGood morning. I just wanted to make a point about Nikki Haley's comments this week twice on "The View."
GJELTENNikki Haley is the governor of South Carolina.
MARYYep, the governor of South Carolina, and, then this morning on NPR, she was interviewed by Steve Inskeep. And she seems to be being used by the GOP as a puppet. And she's being, you know, sort of touting these comments that women don't care about contraceptive. That's not why they're voting. But the reality is that since, you know, "the GOP's war on women against women" and their legislation tactics of recent, many, many women have turned to Obama, and his ratings are soaring.
MARYAnd I really feel like she's being used as a puppet in this, and I also think the media is giving her a pass on it. And I kind of wanted you to comment on that.
GJELTENWell, Shawna Thomas, it's a little hard, isn't it, to figure out the politics? I mean, we do see a clear movement of female voters toward Barack Obama. But does the connection between that and the contraception issue is a little murky, isn't it?
THOMASI think it is a little murky. I mean, we had the USA Today/Gallup poll come out in the last week that's said, you know, independent women have moved towards Obama in the last couple of months, and there's been a shift to there. And is that because of the contraception -- is that because of the contraception issue? That's hard to tell, even though that Democrats have used these issues, have put it into the system.
THOMASWe had the caterpillar war on women comment yesterday from RNC chairman Reince Priebus. But it is hard to tell if Nikki Haley is being used as a puppet. I think Nikki Haley is highly regarded in the Republican Party. I think she is considered a very smart governor, and I would hesitate to call her a puppet.
GJELTENShawna Thomas is White House producer for NBC News. This is the Friday News Roundup on "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Tom Gjelten. And let's go now to Tim who's on the phone from Dallas, Texas. Good morning, Tim.
TIMHi there. I read last night on Huffington Post where Anthony Bucco, a lawmaker, and I believe it was New Jersey, has called for yet another official investigation in the Barack Obama's birth certificate as a result of speech that he heard. And I'm sorry I don't remember what the name of the person who was giving the speech, what his name was, but I just wanted to, you know, kind of hear the panel. Have they heard about that? Is there anything new that's coming out of this, or is this the same old stuff that's just being rehashed?
GJELTENGreg Ip, what do the editors at The Economist thinks about this on-going story about Obama's birth certificate?
IPOddly enough, we haven't, you know, editorialized on it recently. All I can think of is if you're the Republican Party, you're thinking, thank goodness. We finally got the contraception thing behind us. Now, we turn it to -- uh-oh -- birth certificate of the president issue beyond that. I'm not really sure what to make of this.
GJELTENWell, it's not coming back, right?
CILLIZZAIt's -- Tom, look, this is the reality. There is a certain segment of this population -- and I think it is in single digits. But there is a certain segment of this population who, no matter what evidence to the contrary, will believe that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. These people would not vote for Barack Obama if they thought he was the single most patriotic person on Earth. It does not matter. They are willing to believe the worst about him.
CILLIZZABut these are not people who are swing voters. They are not people who are persuadable voters. They are on the fringe. And it will -- you know, unfortunately, it will continue to bubble up because the way that our media world works now is the more outlandish the statement, the more likely it is to get attention. But I do think we need to always remind ourselves, this is sliver of a sliver of people, and just because they yell loudly does not mean there are a lot of them.
THOMASAnd there's no one on the Republican campaign trail who wants to answer this question anymore, who thinks this question is valid. This is a complete distraction from what they'd like to talk about, mostly the economy. So as Chris said, it will continue to bubble up, but there's no one in the Republican establishment that wants to have this conversation.
GJELTENWell, speaking of female voters, at the White House Forum on Women and the Economy -- it's mostly female audience -- the White House said that this forum is not a political event. But we understand that the audience is applauding President Obama this morning with chance of four more years. It makes you wonder who got invited to that event.
GJELTENBut it does underscore that the Obama administration is looking to female voters for some support. We have time for one more very quick call. Lee from Norfolk, Va., you're on the line. Good morning. Thanks for calling "The Diane Rehm Show."
LEEYeah. Good morning. Thanks for having me. Just really briefly, the conditions of the individual mandate and, you know, I deal with health care insurance. You know, they're stating that the government cannot require people to purchase stuff, where in fact, this country when it was first founded, militia men were required white -- land-owning males were required not only to purchase a gun but to participate in the local militias to help, you know, deal with the, you know, breaking away from the English colonies.
LEEThis part of the Constitution, this part -- this requirement was what founded the entry into the Constitution where it says that Congress shall not abridge the rights of a well-regulated militia to bear arms, which has now been interpreted to mean that people can pack a gun on a hip and carry machine guns in their trunks. So what people are saying that health care -- that this mandate will fail because Congress can't make people buy stuff, that's not true.
GJELTENWell, thank you, Lee. That is, in fact, a comment, not a question, and that's appropriate 'cause we don't have time to answer it anyway. This has been the Friday News Roundup on "The Diane Rehm Show." Thanks to Greg Ip, Shawna Thomas and Chris Cillizza. I'm Tom Gjelten. Thanks for listening.
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