Diane leads a discussion about the collection of stories which won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
Guest Host: Susan Page
New polls showed President Barack Obama opening up a lead over Republican challenger Mitt Romney, who tried to reshape his message following a damaging videotape from a fundraiser. The Justice Department found that federal agents and prosecutors ignored risks to the public from its “Fast and Furious” operation. And Chicago’s first teachers’ strike in 25 years ended. David Corn of Mother Jones magazine, Jeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News and Matthew Continetti of The Washington Freebeacon join guest host Susan Page for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Jeanne Cummings deputy government editor for Bloomberg News.
- David Corn Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones magazine and author of the new book "Showdown: The Inside Story of How Obama Fought Back Against Boehner, Cantor, and the Tea Party."
- Matthew Continetti editor-in-chief, The Washington Freebeacon
Friday News Roundup Video
Mother Jones reporter David Corn, who broke the news about the leaked Mitt Romney fundraiser video, discussed why the video had so much impact. “You see Mitt Romney uncut, raw, behind the scenes. And I think everyone wants to see candidates like that to get a sense of who and what they’re really like,” Corn said. Matthew Continetti, editor-in-chief of The Washington Freebeacon, said the video led to a decoupling of conservative elites from the Romney campaign. Bloomberg Newseditor Jeanne Cummings said the video is important because it’s a test of a candidate’s likability and compassion.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's on vacation. Several polls in key states show President Obama gaining a lead. Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, tries to deflect criticism of video tape remarks he made at the May fundraiser, saying he believes 100 percent in America. A new Justice Department report blames federal officials for risking public safety with its Fast and Furious program. And Chicago teachers agree to end their seven-day strike.
MS. SUSAN PAGEWith me in the studio for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup: David Corn of Mother Jones magazine, Jeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News and Matthew Continetti of The Washington Freebeacon. Welcome back to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. DAVID CORNHello.
MR. MATTHEW CONTINETTIGood to be with you.
MS. JEANNE CUMMINGSGood morning.
PAGEWe're going to invite our listeners to join our conversation later in this hour. You can call our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850, or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, David Corn, you had a scoop this week in Mother Jones regarding a video that Mitt Romney -- that's made of Mitt Romney's comments at a May fundraiser. Why did this video have such impact do you think?
CORNIt's a good question, and I'm, you know, pretty close to the story. It took me a couple of weeks to obtain the video from a source. And when I first got it, I started watching it, and the first 20, 30 minutes, it was a lot of stuff that you would expect Mitt Romney to say why he -- you know, his biography, how great his campaign is going and all that sort of stuff. There were a few interesting things.
CORNHe jokes about it would be better if he -- his father had been born of Mexican parents, he'd have an easy shot at it, and some interesting things in the Middle East which we put up on motherjones.com. But then when I got about halfway through and he was asked this question that lead to the 47 percent remark, it was sort of a stunning moment. He was speaking with such utter conviction and passion.
CORNAnd it really sort of indicated, I think, a mindset that he saw the country as divided, you know, half of it, between people who he considered to be parasitic moochers who don't take personal responsibility for their lives. I know in, you know, the last few days, he and his campaign have tried to put a policy-oriented spin on this, that he was talking about entitlements, we have to move a more government-centered society.
CORNAnd those are all the type of debates that we have all the time, and I think they're great debates for this country. But the way he talked about this was not in those terms. It was very visceral. And the great thing about the video is that every one could see this for themselves. And I think most people reached the same conclusion. And if people haven't seen it, if they go to my Twitter feed afterwards, I'll put up all the links, DavidCornDC.
CORNBut it's really, I think, you know, worth watching because you see Mitt Romney uncut or behind the scenes, and I think everybody wants to see candidates like that to get a sense of who and what they're really like.
PAGEMatthew Continetti, this got a lot of attention this week. Is it important as it's something that creates real problems for Mitt Romney, or is it one of those things that'll be fewer today and forgotten tomorrow?
CONTINETTII don't know how significant an impact it will have on the campaign overall. But I do think it has a significant impact on the opinion of conservative elites about Mitt Romney 'cause what we're beginning to see over the past week is that conservative elites here in Washington, D.C. are beginning to de-couple themselves from the Romney candidacy. And so you've seen a bunch of conservative journalists.
CONTINETTIYou've seen a bunch of some conservative candidates, such as Scott Brown and Linda McMahon in the Northeast, distancing themselves from Romney. And that doesn't bode well for his campaign.
PAGEIs that because they've concluded he's going to lose and they don't want to go down with a sinking ship, or why the de-coupling?
CONTINETTIWell, it's because they just -- they fundamentally disagree with him. I mean, it's not only that the statistics we were using were misleading or inaccurate. It's also that they reflect to a static model of politics that I don't think a lot of conservatives have. You know, the Reagan-Kemp vision is very dynamic. And when you look at people who are receiving government benefits, they don't all receive those benefits consistently.
CONTINETTIYou know, many of them are retirees who are the Republican's core vote in this election. So it didn't reflect, I think, a conservative mindset that shared among many elites here in D.C.
PAGEJeanne, what do you think? Is this important?
CUMMINGSYes. I think that it is important. And it's important, I think, in not a black and white way. I think if you take this week and you take last week with the killing of the Libyan ambassador and the -- Mitt Romney's management of that afterwards, that went to a test of leadership and credibility. And this goes to a test of likability and compassion. And in both cases, he failed those tests.
CUMMINGSAnd so, for voters who are trying to figure out, how do I connect with the candidate, how do I pick the candidate that I want to support, that I want to see in the White House and trust with the power of the government for the next four years, that's where, I think, he hurt himself on those kind of measurements of leadership and of -- cares about me.
PAGEYou know, David Corn, your book comes out in paperback just this week. It's called "Showdown: The Inside Story of How Obama Fought the Tea Party to Setup the 2012 Election." And it's interesting, there actually, I think, is some connection between what you write about was President Obama's effort going back two years and what we saw unfold this week. Tell us about that.
CORNWell, the book starts after the November 2010 elections in which the Democrats received a tremendous drubbing, and it's an inside story of what happened in the White House and with the president through the test cut fight, the budget fights, Libya, Egypt, the debt-ceiling fight, everything in the last two years. And the president, after that electoral defeat, was thinking about how he should sort of head towards the 2012 campaign in his reelection.
CORNAnd he saw the Tea Party Republicans coming into Congress and believed that they were going to be so far to the right and so extreme in their views that he would have an opening. That would be to try to set up a framework in which the 2012 election could be seen as a clash between different sets of values and visions on his side and those on the Republican side whoever the nominee might be.
CORNSo throughout all those battles that we covered day in, day out here, you can go back and think that he kept talking about, the reason I take this stand on the debt ceiling, on deficit reduction, on budget cuts is because I have a different set of values. I believe in investments, in innovation, education, using the government to try to move the country forward, a communal sense, while therein sort of looking at the Ryan budget as a stand-in for the Republican nominee.
CORNThey're in a sort of get rid of government, let people make good on their own, and that's the problem here. And he kept trying to set that up. And I think Mitt Romney has played into that by saying that he, too, wants to have a battle over values, that he said he doesn't like government. He wants more individual freedom.
CORNAnd that -- the remark that came out this week shows his attitude towards his view of America and his vision about what America is, and it's one not of a communal sense. We're all in this together helping each other. There are makers and takers. And he really didn't have much -- he had a lot of disdain for the takers.
PAGEAnd yet, Matt, you know, Mitt Romney, in a way, embraced a debate over a different vision of the country, and one of the things that the Romney campaign pushed back with was a video from 1998 that showed Barack Obama, then an Illinois state senator, endorsing the idea to some degree of redistribution of wealth. Tell us about that. And does that counter some of the damage that Romney has suffered this week with the video that David helped bring to light?
CONTINETTIWell, my first reaction when I heard the radio clip of Obama saying that he, you know, was for redistribution was, well, so what else is new? I mean, we knew he was...
CONTINETTIHe's been quite open about that ever since he told Joe the Plumber in October of 2008 that he thinks it's good. When you spread the wealth around, everybody benefits. So I don't think that there was much news value in the Obama clip. The clash of visions, right, the conflict of visions -- to quote Thomas Sowell's book -- that we've been having in this country, as David said, does not necessarily favor this president, a what we've seen in the movement in the polls is that -- the -- what I call the Clinton bounce.
CONTINETTIThe bounce that came out of that Democratic convention is slowly fading. If you look at the real clear politics average of polls, it's now down to about a three-point Obama lead. That's a very tight race. In the Gallup tracking yesterday, it was tied -- same thing with Rasmussen in likely voters. So I think the vision of both parties motivates their bases. The question is, who is going to win the swing voters, and secondly, which base is going to show up to vote?
CUMMINGSA quick point, one reason the president wanted to have this campaign seen as a conflict, a clash of visions was it's better for him than having it seen as a referendum on him and the economy. So that was the whole strategic advantage that he thought he could gain or at least fight to a draw on this and then have this very tight election. And I think Romney, in some ways, and with this tape being released, too, has allowed him to cast the election in those terms, which gives him a far better shot at reelection than a president ought to have with the numbers at where they are.
PAGEAnd Matthew is exactly right that the Gallup poll, the tracking poll is now tied. And yet, Jeanne, we've seen in a whole series of polls in key states, like Iowa, Ohio, Florida, Colorado, Virginia, that President Obama has a small but real lead.
CUMMINGSThat's the -- was certainly the trend that emerged this week. The national polls differ. Some -- there is a string of them that show a five-point-ish lead for the president, and then there's the AP and the Gallup that are hovering around the dead-even mark. But they don't matter. They don't matter at all. The only thing that matters are the polls in these eight or so swing states. And that was the surprise this week.
CUMMINGSIt's when polls came out of those states showing that the president was outside of the margin of error in many of states with leads of anywhere from five to 7 percent. That's a lot of ground that Romney has to make up. And they're beginning to move their resources. They've -- just this week, they added firepower to Colorado. They're trying to change the battlefield a little bit as they try to figure out where have -- where has Obama gained too much ground. And so where do they have to go and try to take a different state.
PAGEYou know, another place in which we saw a little bit of a shift just in recent days is this assumption that -- this assumption we've had that Gov. Romney will have the money advantage seems challenged by these latest fundraising numbers that came out just yesterday. Matthew, what did we learn?
CONTINETTIWhat we learned is a very interesting thing. I mean, Romney continues to have a slight cash-on-hand advantage but he's being outraised. And we learned that Obama for America, which is the Obama campaign, outraised him quite a bit by several, you know, tens of millions of dollars in the month of August. He's also seeing a sharp fallout among small donors, 55,000 fewer smaller donors according to this latest FEC report. And, of course, he had to take that $20 million campaign loan right before the convention in order to kind of manage the accounts between the primary and general election.
PAGEWe're going to take a very short break. And when we come back, we'll talk about the housing market. Is it finally recovering? And we'll continue our conversation. We'll take your calls. Our lines are open, and we're looking for your emails at email@example.com. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page with USA Today, and we've got the Friday News Roundup. With me in the studio, David Corn, he's the Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones magazine and author of "Showdown: The Inside Story of How Obama Fought Back Against Boehner, Cantor and the Tea Party." And Jeanne Cummings, she's deputy government editor for Bloomberg News. And Matthew Continetti, he's editor-in-chief of The Washington Free Beacon. Well, Jeanne, good news finally about the housing market this week. What was it?
CUMMINGSWell, what we saw were sales of existing homes jumped for the -- went up seven or 8 percent, which is the biggest gain in two years. And where this is significant when you speak with economists is that, you know, the collapse of the housing market is what got us into the mess, and everyone's been waiting for that huge piece of our economy to right itself. And one economist we quoted in Bloomberg said, you know, it's the last piston that we have to get moving. And now, it appears as though it is.
CUMMINGSThe existing home sales are up. The number of permits to begin new construction are up. The home prices are going up in some areas. But keep in mind, it is a spotty recovery. And so while overall the economy looks pretty good, you could live in a state, in a city and not feel it.
PAGEAnd still a lot of foreclosures people are dealing with.
CORNThere's still a lot of -- you know, there's still a glut in the market for housing in a lot of different areas, I think, especially in the exurbs where they are building these developments thinking that, you know, they could sell them for half a million dollars to people making $40,000 a year and, you know, on subprime rates and so on. And my question still is, how does that end up sorting itself out? What do you do with all that housing?
PAGEAnd, of course, some of them in such swing states as Florida and Nevada...
PAGE...have been especially hard-hit by that. Matthew, we had a census report this week that looked at states that have had increases -- I guess there was just one state that had an increase in income last year -- and the states that had decline in average household income. Was this -- 18 states showed declines in average household income. Some people argue, though, that was good news. Why?
CONTINETTIWell, I guess because there are fewer states showing the declines than the previous years. No, the truth is that, you know, the census showed that media and income declined, you know, for the second straight year. You know, it's more than 8 percent below the 2007 peak. The economy right now is almost like Rorschach test. You can look at it and you start seeing the things, you know, are you feeling optimistic about the economy? Well, then you're going to look at the new home sales that we talked about or the sale previously of occupied homes.
CONTINETTIAre you pessimistic about it? Well, then you're going to see this, you know, continued fall among incomes. The question is, you know, the two big questions coming from the convention where, on the one hand, Paul Ryan talking about that, you know, disillusioned 2008 Obama voter who's now starring at the fated poster in his parents' house. And on the other hand it's Bill Clinton's promise that if Obama's elected to a second term, you will feel it. These new figures seem to suggest more of a Clinton than a Ryan approach.
CUMMINGSWell, Matthew's absolutely right. It's half-full or half-empty, depending on your perspective, which gives both sides of powerful argument to make. But I think it's a stronger argument if Romney can get his message together. I mean, the truth is the middle class has still not recovered, and they took the hardest hit. The, you know, medium income down 2 percent, they feel that. That's real money that they don't have in their pocket right now.
CUMMINGSSo one of things that I think is another really important barometer to watch is how are Americans absorbing what's happened to them, and that's consumer confidence. And consumer confidence actually ticked up. And Bloomberg did a poll in June, and we started picking up little bit of this changed attitude. And we couldn't quite figure it out 'cause it was our first poll where people were not quite so down about their condition and where the economy was going.
CUMMINGSSo we made the callbacks, you know, to the people who responded to the survey. And what we heard were things like, you know, I'm done. I'm sick of the doom and gloom. This is what it is. I just want to get on with it. And it could be that it isn't that Americans feel great about where they are right now. It may be that they're just tired of all the depressing news and they're just moving on.
CORNBut also, if they looked at other countries, particularly in Europe, they would say, you know, as bad as things are now, they could get worse, which is not a good campaign slogan for the Obama team. But it is a portion of our reality. And to put into political terms, I mean, Mitt Romney has this double task. He has to first convince people that he understands them and cares about them, is empathetic, and he seems to be, according to the polls, failing them at it.
CORNBut then if he can get them to listen to him in a genuine way, he has to convince them that he as something to do different. You know, he can do some things differently that will have a bigger impact on their lives than what has already happened in the last three, four years. And that also is a tough sale. So I think both of you are right that there's just so many different things to look at, both in terms of how people feel about the economy and what's actually happening in the economy that it makes it very hard to have a true line that any politician can take advantage of.
CONTINETTIYou know, when the economy's in this state -- Sean Trende, a political analyst I respect, he says, when you look at the economic statistics, they're in that area where you're not really sure whether the incumbent is going to succeed or fail, so it's hard to be a challenger running on economic issues. What that means is that the cultural issues and the foreign policy issues are going to come to the fore like we've seen in the past week.
CONTINETTIThe question for me is, can Romney capitalize on those issues? He doesn't really want to touch about the -- touch the cultural stuff. And so far on the foreign policy stuff, he's having a rocky time. So -- but on the other hand, Obama's approval in the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll on foreign affairs did take a dive. So you wonder whether -- we're talking about the economy right now, but six weeks from now, we could be talking about foreign policy.
CUMMINGSI really think jobs are going to stay the number one issue for voters, and it will be also interesting in the coming weeks to see -- we've heard through our reporting that Romney is going to put more meat around his promise to do something better for the economy.
CUMMINGSAnd we, on the outside, expect that to be elements of the Ryan budget plan that we would incorporate into his rhetoric out on the campaign trail 'cause in focus groups, what you do hear from voters is that they don't feel like either Romney or the president are giving them enough details about what they're going to do to help them. So far, we've heard Romney's going to do this. We haven't seen it. And if he were to fulfill that wish by voters, that could improve his standing.
PAGEAnd yesterday, at a rally in Sarasota, Gov. Romney talked about his Medicare plan. We didn't get the headlines, but it was interesting to me that -- because it's controversial because, in the past, talking about change in Medicare has not been a winning formula for candidates in either party. But I wondered if that was a sign that he was -- he saw a need to try to get more specific about exactly the course he would take for the country.
CORNWell, the I read that was slightly different because also this week, the campaign, the Romney campaign put out an ad with Marco Rubio, you know, promoting their Medicare plan in which Marco Rubio basically says, you know, the way to help our seniors today is to agree to have less Medicare for you tomorrow. I didn't quite get the internal logic there.
CORNBut he was -- I see this as sort of trying to inoculate against the obvious, you know, attacks, in Florida in particular, against a Medicare -- using the Ryan Medicare plan as the obvious ammunition for the Obama campaign and that they're trying -- you know, they try to get out there with what I thought was the phony charge that Barack Obama has cut $716 billion from Medicare while they themselves talk about an entitlement side.
CORNIt didn't make much sense. But they're now trying to get in front of that and try to at least fight to a draw. I don't think they can win on this, but they want to muddy the waters so they won't take a big -- as big a hit as might come on Medicare.
PAGEYou know, it's true that Gov. Romney has had a tough couple of weeks. No question about that. That's been to the benefit of President Obama's hopes of winning a second term. But I think it's also true that the Obama campaign is not confident that this is an election they're going to win. And, in fact, if President Obama wins a second term, it would be a president winning a second term in the worst economy. I mean, we haven't had a president face this kind of economy and yet get a second term.
CONTINETTIBe careful what you wish for.
CUMMINGSWell, he would defy the odds. But let's face it, he already has. I mean, one of the things -- when I look at President Obama and think back to when he ran, every time people said he's not going to pull this off, he pulled it off in some manner. So he's certainly not one to be underestimated. Also, you know, records are made to be broken, and there is this statistic that no president has won with an unemployment rate as high as it is right now. But that's a record waiting to be broken. And so he could, well, break it.
CUMMINGSBut I agree with you that if -- when you talk to the campaign, they expect a very close finish. The country is, as Romney said, pretty divided, not along who takes what and who gets government aid, but along partisan lines for sure. And eventually, these races tend to sort of fall into their natural place, which is to be pretty close. And that's why the battlegrounds remain so important.
PAGEAll right. Let's go to the phones and let some of our listeners join our conversation. We'll go first to James. He's calling us from Falls Church, Va. Hi, James.
JAMESHi. Good morning. Thank you for taking my call. I had a -- Mr. Corn made a point that kind of struck me, which is he said, oh, this was -- you know, Mr. Romney's remarks were so visceral. Mr. Romney's remarks were, heaven knows, ham-handed at the least. But there is an underlying point, which is 50 percent of the population is receiving some form of transfer payment. That is absolutely unsustainable, given our demographics. We know that.
JAMESSo doesn't he have sort of an underlying point in can we address the problem if we can't talk about it? Obviously, you wouldn't do it the way Romney was talking about it. That Mr. Obama is not to be fair about it is not really challenging the status quo. In fact, he's saying you can have more and you don't have to worry about it. We only have to tax the rich. So don't you have a severe political problem that runs much more deeply?
JAMESIf Mr. Romney had a visceral reaction, isn't there some grounds for it? I don't want to make a defense of what he said, but I'm simply saying if you can't talk about it, you can't fix it. And that's a huge problem. So I'll take the -- my answer off the air.
PAGEJames, thanks so much for your call. David.
CORNWell, I think you make a good point. You know, there is a policy debate to be had about entitlements, whether they're Medicare for the elderly or welfare assistance, and I would include, you know, tax breaks for oil companies and subsidies like that. You know, we can have that. But that wasn't what Romney was talking about. He really was talking -- he was -- he really was giving his assessment of Americans.
CORNAnd he really was saying that half of Americans believe they're victims and they're -- and that they're entitled to all these things and that they're moochers. And I think that's when I said visceral. He was -- you know, he wasn't saying, hey, you know, we got to have a really well-informed policy debate. We got to bring Matthew Continetti into this -- he's a smart guy --and really, you know, get on "The Diane Rehm Show" and get stuff on Bloomberg News and really figure out how we, as the country, can proceed together over a path that, I think, is not sustainable. But that wasn't that.
CORNAnd so if he had a real point, he wasn't making it, and I thought he was showing a different side of Mitt Romney: a total disregard for anybody, whether you're on Social Security, Medicare, and this notion that people who get food stamps take no personal responsibility. I've worked with people who are poor, and I see a lot of poor people busting their backsides every day to try to make things better and trying their hardest to take personal responsibility. And to just write those people off, that's what I think was -- did him the most damage.
CONTINETTICandidates always get into trouble when they try to explain their relative position in the polls. If you recall, this is exactly the problem that Barack Obama got into in the spring of 2008 when he talked about the bitter clingers in rural Ohio and Pennsylvania who weren't voting for him in the Democratic primaries. He was taking on the job of a pundit. And leave that to the pundits, please.
PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Let's go to Nashua, N.H., and talk to Bill. Hi, Bill.
BILLHello. How are you?
BILLGood. I guess I just have one question for your post there. Barack Obama made a statement at the Univision forum this week about him not being able to change Washington from the inside. Will that have any effect on the way that the media is talking about the campaigns?
PAGEBoy, the Romney camp really jumped on that right away, Jeanne. Tell us about that.
CUMMINGSWell, what the president was talking about is how divided Washington is and how difficult it is to get things done. He was being asked about the things that he didn't accomplish, you know, things that he felt like he had failed on, and which he mentioned not passing immigration reform, and, you know, so then talked about how tough it is to get things done in the city. And the Romney campaign did jump on it and say, well, if he can't change it from within, then he's incompetent and he shouldn't be reelected.
CUMMINGSI think the broader point the president was trying to make is that the change has to come from voters. The change has to come from the public, pressuring Washington to get together and sit down at a table and resolve the big issues that are facing this country, that inside the hothouse that is Washington, D.C., the sides are too entrenched. And there's merit to that argument. We who work here can see how difficult it is for either side to go to the table and give a victory to the other side because that's what a compromise involves.
CUMMINGSYou have to let the other side win a little, and everything in Washington is so close on the partisan divide that each side thinks just one more chance and we'll be able to take over and we'll have control. And so it's -- the environment is not in any way conducive to a real compromise by the parties that are here.
CORNWell, you know, I would also point to, I mean, the book that Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann wrote, came out a couple of months ago, which said there's divided government. But they really -- these are two centrist guys who don't throw too many Molotov cocktails, that they blame the Republicans more for taking a much more obstructionistic view. I think you're right in explaining the general political mindset in any capital city.
CORNBut they really said when you -- when it comes down to brass tax, in the last two years, the Tea Party-led Republicans have put up more obstacles to those sort of compromises than the president or the Democrats. What was funny about Romney's remark yesterday was that, you know, he campaigned --particularly during the primaries when he was running against Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann and others who served in Washington -- as the guy who said, you need an outsider.
CORNYou got to bring change from the outside. You got to have a business guy from the outside. And now he's talking about, well, I can come inside Washington and make it work. So it was sort of like black -- you know, Obama said black. I have to say white. And it was -- it smacked, again, of desperation, not part of his strategic overall message, but just like here's a hit we can get today.
CORNAnd I think, you know, Matt can tell us what conservatives and Republicans respond to that. But I think you get the sense from the Mitt Romney campaign that they're just very reactive and have lost hold of his sort of a strategic plan.
CONTINETTIYou know, what I think is interesting about the Obama comment to Univision and in light of the Romney comment earlier this week that David reported on, which was actually made in the spring, but he said both of these candidates are weak. And that's one reason why the polls are so close. Both of -- both these candidates -- not only is Obama's record spotty, but he, remember, got into trouble over the summer in his remarks to Roanoke, Va., which Republicans then made their entire convention about, you know, whether they built that business or not.
CONTINETTIThen Romney comes in, and he steps on it in terms of this tape, but also kind of his response, you know, during his Olympics trip. Now, here comes Obama back, saying, well, you know, basically, you can't change it from the inside even though I'm president. And the Democrats do control the Senate, so the Congress is not completely controlled by the Tea Party. We should remember that.
CONTINETTIThe point being, though, you know, there's going to be a lot of further gaffes from both candidates, and that's one reason why I'm so eager for these debates because I don't think the Obama camp is actually that confident about the debates. If you read between the lines in some of the reporting this week about Obama's training sessions at the DNC, Jen Psaki, one of the Obama for America spokeswomen, said, well, you know, we're trying to -- he sometimes gives very professorial answers, and that could not, you know, redound to his benefit come Oct. 3.
PAGEAlthough I would say there's a long tradition before debates of both sides saying, oh, our guy, he's just not that great a debater. The other guy, boy, he is great in debates, trying to lower expectations. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll talk about what that investigative report found about the Fast and Furious program at the Justice Department. And we'll take more of your calls and read more of your emails. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page with USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. And with me in the studio, Matthew Continetti, Jeanne Cummings, and David Corn for the first hour of our Friday News Roundup. Let's go to the phones. Nancy Jean's been holding on. She's calling us from Florida. Nancy Jean, where are you in Florida?
NANCY JEANWell, I live outside Orlando in place called Oviedo, Seminole County.
PAGEOviedo. Well, thanks for your call. Did you have a question or comment?
JEANI have a comment. David Corn is bordering on gleeful, maybe even a little pejoratively mean-spirited and repetitively describing Romney as condescending, dismissive, even sneering toward half of the American populous. I don't interpret the comments that way. It weren't well-stated, but I am concerned about the growing entitlement issue. And I'm wondering why it's kosher to you simply go on and on and on ranting about a candidate. I think it's disrespectful, and it helps me decide for Romney.
PAGEAll right, Nancy Jean, thanks very much for your call. We've gotten also an email from Virginia who makes a similar point. She says, "I've always depended on NPR -- I've always defended NPR against those who've bemoaned your extreme media bias and blatant salivation for Obama. Listening to the show today with all three media people speaking disdainfully of Romney and fawningly of Obama, I am concerned."
PAGEWhat do you think?
CORN...I haven't heard Matt be fawning about Obama throughout the show. He called...
CONTINETTINor will you, David.
CORNI know. He called both candidates weak. I don't think I have fawned either. All I can say about the tape is the great thing about this tape, I said it earlier, is that everybody can look at it for themselves, go to motherjones.com -- I can't help but plug it -- and you can see. I think the overall reaction is different than the caller from Orlando. He said without doubt that he believed that half of America did not take personal responsibility for their own lives.
CORNNow, I equate that with disdain, but Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard, David Brooks, New York Times, you know, conservatives who have all sat in the studio and argued with me in the past all took that same interpretation of remarks. I think Bill called them arrogant and stupid. So the caller can watch for herselves and come up with her own conclusion. But I do think on this one, she's in the minority.
CONTINETTII think the caller had an interesting point, though, in terms of when she talked about the entitlement society. And I don't think we should forget that the one time that Romney showed something of a surge in the polls was in between his selection of Paul Ryan to be his running mate and his convention. And during that two-week period, I think the conservative base was very enthusiastic.
CONTINETTIThey wanted to have a discussion of entitlements, and they knew that if they were going to have a discussion, Paul Ryan was the person to have at the forefront of it. What we've seen from the Romney campaign during its convention and afterward pivot away from that broad entitlement discussion. And I wonder whether that's one reason why Romney is lagging behind in some of the polls we've been seeing lately.
PAGEWe should talk about this Fast and Furious investigation report that came out this week. Jeanne, remind us just briefly what was the Fast and Furious program, and why has it become so controversial.
CUMMINGSWell, it's a program that began in the Bush administration and then was maintained through the Obama administration and changed in which there was a hope of breaking up some of the gun sales that were making their way down into Mexico and being used in the drug war that they have down there. And basically they were going to let some of the sales go through tagging the guns, and they were hoping to follow the guns so they could catch the people who are making the purchases and transferring the weapons and providing these weapons.
CUMMINGSWell, it all went awry when they didn't manage the program well. They lost track of 2,000 guns that were supposed to be tracked through the system. And a couple of them were used in the killing of a border patrol agent which is, you know, the tragic ending that prompted an investigation into the program itself.
PAGEAnd so, David, who got blamed in the report that came out this morning?
CORNI think 17 people or so. Not Eric Holder but up to the deputy. I think AG level, Lanny Breuer, who had been already chastised and reprimanded by Holder. You know, there's a larger point here, too, which is, you know, a policy perspective.
CORNFortune magazine did a great piece a month or two back -- I'll find the link, put it up in the -- on my Twitter feed afterwards -- which noted that the real problem here was that the ATF agents -- and I know one of the people involved -- who are trying to stop the gun trafficking from the United States into Mexico couldn't bring their cases. The U.S. Attorney's office down there wouldn't let them because the gun laws are such that if you're a store purchaser, you really can't be prosecuted.
CORNSo they tried again and again and again to try to bring cases. And they were told, no, you can't do this. You have to really prove that the person is conspiring to do this. And the bar was just so high that they said, you got to try something else.
CORNSo they tried this which obviously didn't work either. And so the Republicans and others are jumping on this have yet to say what they would do to change our gun laws or our enforcement of our gun laws that would make these under over operations, that not that would make these undercover operations not necessary and give the ATF the tools they need to stop the gun trafficking -- and all of those, there hasn't been a single discussion of that.
PAGEThe -- and Assistant Atty. Gen. Jason Weinstein resigned on Wednesday in the wake of this report. But the report did exonerate Eric Holder, the attorney general. Matt, is that going to be enough to satisfy Congressman Isaac and other Republicans who have been so suspicious that Eric Holder had more of a role in this than he's acknowledged?
CONTINETTIHolder's defense was always that he had been unaware of the program. And want the report did -- it's almost 500 pages in length -- it says that this claim of ignorance is -- vindicates this claim of ignorance. He says, yeah, Holder wasn't aware. Now, on the one hand, that means that Holder wasn't really covering up.
CONTINETTIBut on the other, it means that Holder doesn't really know what's going on throughout his department and throughout the agencies that he controls. He was, you know, AG for two years before he found out about Fast and Furious. So I think this doesn't speak well to his management of the department, just as an executive. Where it has any legs, from this IG report, I'm doubtful.
PAGEHere's an email from Steve. He writes, "Romney said some time ago that he plans to release his 2011 tax returns in October. Given the close race, is he making a mistake by releasing his tax return so close to the election -- I mean, since we haven't seen them yet -- assuming it gives Democrats some ammunition to focus again on his wealth and tax shelters? Does the panel think he might continue delaying his tax return submission until after the election?"
PAGEI got to say, Steve, I've been puzzling over this, too. Once he promised to release his 2011 tax return, you'd think he want to do it as early as possible and probably on the Friday night of a holiday weekend. Jeanne.
CUMMINGSWell, I -- all of us -- today is Friday.
CUMMINGSAll of us are on alert. Well, I know where my tax reporter is and the tax editor at Bloomberg, and I'll be tracking them every Friday until Election Day. When you look at the time frame that we're in that releases his tax return -- Steve is right -- could create yet another distraction for Romney at a time when he doesn't need it. He made this promise, he needs to keep it. What we are hearing, they want to do it before the debates.
CUMMINGSIt won't -- you know, the numbers aren't going to be great because he's a millionaire, and there is nothing wrong with that. But to an average Joe, you know, we will see again that probably the rate that he pays has been reduced because of the way the tax code is written, perfectly legally. But it will be yet another thing that they've got to deal with, and it's not a discussion about jobs in the economy which is what we were told they were going to talk about every single day. And it will knock them off of that one more time.
CORNYou know, he's in a doomed if he does, doomed if he doesn't position because he has said he will release his tax return for 2011 which most of us filed on April 15, but he got an extension. He was a little busy this year. Don't begrudge him that. But this will raise the whole issue once again, what about the 10 years before this? You know, you looked at 10 years of Paul Ryan's returns. You gave 23 years to John McCain.
CORNYou know, giving only two years, your father -- what did he do? -- 12, 13, and said, you had to do that many. So this whole fight that came up a couple of times during the primary after he clinched the nomination, when he releases his tax returns, regardless of what it says and whether he takes a hit for that before the debate, after the debate, it's going to raise the issue of the missing tax returns. And so I think Susan is right.
CORNYou know, why you didn't -- if you're going to do this, why didn't he do that in the summer, middle of the Olympics, you know, when he's not taking care of the horse, some other time rather right before the debate where it could come up in the debate or right after the debate where it can be teed up during the debate.
PAGEYou know, we have such a smart audience on "The Diane Rehm Show." And many of them have emailed us to correct a historical fact that was misstated on Obama's prospects for reelection in a down economy. Neil (sic) and others note that Franklin Roosevelt was reelected to a second and a third term at a time of higher unemployment. In 1936, the unemployment rate was 16.9 percent. 1940, it was 14.6 percent. But I think our point was...
CORNNot since then.
PAGENot since that.
CORNYes. That's usually how people put it.
CONTINETTIAnd I'd also say, too, the economy was growing quite substantially under FDR. And the economy is not growing. We have one more GDP -- I mean, it's growing, but it's growing under 2 percent. It's very weak growth...
CONTINETTI...and just barely growing. So -- and that's I think one reason Obama is weak. On the tax issue, I actually don't think that the tax return issue is a huge process story. We read all about it. I'm not sure if that's what's been damaging Romney.
CONTINETTII think the Bain attacks are much -- have been much more effective and very -- and really defined Romney over the summer as the kind of guy who did not relate to the white working class, which is the Republican base. And that's reason why when I look at these polls, I'm often shocked that Romney isn't pulling more Republicans. Obama is really solidifying that Democratic -- if you're a D, you're going to vote for Obama.
CONTINETTIThere's still about 10, 11 percent in some of these polls of Republicans who aren't supporting Romney, and I wonder who those people are. He tends to do well among affluent voters. I don't think many people are scared of him in terms of the social issues. I wonder if whether that 11 percent might not be the white working class voters in places like Ohio, in places like Pennsylvania in the Midwest...
CORNIt could be evangelicals who worry about Mormonism, right?
CONTINETTIWho -- or who don't trust him on abortion, which I think is more important.
CORNRight. Maybe too.
CONTINETTIBut that's a big problem for Romney. He needs to get that number down to, like, 5 percent in order to win this election.
PAGEAlthough historically, he probably will. I mean, at the end of day, will Republicans cross over to vote for Barack Obama...
CONTINETTIOr will they just stay home?
PAGE...or will they just stay home? We have a caller, Ed from Providence, RI., who might have a different candidate in mind. Ed, hi. You're on the air.
EDHi. Well, just what you were just talking about, I wonder if some of those Republicans that aren't around this camp are in the libertarian camp that Johnson -- some of it still hanging in there, or if they are Ron Paul supporters who just got pissed off in the primary and aren't going for Romney either. That's my question.
PAGEOh, you know, Gary Johnson, the libertarian candidate, could he have an impact on a close race, Jeanne, do you think?
CUMMINGSWell, we have Johnson and we have Virgil Goode, and both of them independent candidates. And because of a unique set of circumstances and because we do think -- I think the panel altogether does believe this race will tighten despite the current polls. The unique thing about these two guys is that they could have influence in two swing states. So here, again, it's not a national race. It's about a...
PAGEAnd what are those swing states?
CUMMINGSJohnson in Colorado. Johnson is a pro-marijuana candidate, and there is a pro-marijuana ballot initiative on the Colorado ballot. And so that could drive out voters that would vote for him. And there were some polls done, and he takes really from both candidates...
CUMMINGS...but he could really, you know, take a few from Obama or take one from Romney and make a difference in there. Virgil Goode, on the other hand, is a native Virginian, who is running on the ballot in Virginia. And Virginia is another swing state where it's expected to be tight despite what some of the polls show right now. And if Virgil Goode could take -- he takes universally from Romney. If he could take a couple points off, it could swing the state.
PAGETo avoid being deluged by emails, I'd like to note that Jill Stein is also a third-party candidate running for the Green Party. I'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You know, David, we've gotten a couple of emailers complaining that you have said several times that Romney called American moochers. And they point out that that is your word, not his.
CORNThat's my -- I was -- that's my characterization. He says that they don't pay taxes. They don't take personal responsibility for themselves. They expect the government to give them everything, including housing, food, health care, you name it. So put that altogether, and I think it's pretty close to being a moocher. He also said they see themselves as victims.
PAGEYes, but not -- but he says...
CORNVictims was his word.
PAGE...victims was his word. But moocher, that is your word.
CORNMoochers is my word, is my characterization. On the air, you don't get to see the quotation marks or the lack of quotation marks.
PAGECricket has sent us an email saying, "Why is no one reporting on the illegally obtained aspect of this tape?" Now, David, was this tape obtained illegally?
CORNI don't know. I mean, it was recorded in the state of Florida. We now...
PAGENow, is it legal to surreptitiously record something in state of Florida?
CORNWell, the law is kind of interesting. You know, there are people -- actually, the caller is wrong in the sense that no one has reported on it. There are people who've written stories about it, and it seems in Florida you need, you know, both side consent. But a lot of these laws are written -- sort of thinking about a telephone call instead of an event like this.
CORNWhen there is, you know, 60, 80 people in the room, one person there is a public figure, and the presumption of privacy goes down. So it gets a little bit fuzzier. It's an issue that, you know, that may, you know, come to bear if someone files a suit or if someone decides to prosecute.
PAGEAnd there's also been a little furor over what's called -- been called a two-minute gap in the tape.
PAGECan you tell us what that is?
CORNOh, yeah. What happened was the file was sent to me, and it came in two files, one, 35 minutes long, another about 30 minutes long. And there was sort of, you know, a gap in between, and it wasn't exactly continuous. And I asked the source what happened, and the source said, during the recording, the device shut it -- shut off. Either it was brushed or timed out. And as soon as the source noticed that, the source turned it back on, and the source estimates one to two minutes, maybe less, were loss in between.
PAGEMatthew Continetti, just very quickly, we saw finally the teacher strike in Chicago settled after seven days. Does this have implications for other school districts across the country?
CONTINETTIOh, absolutely. I mean, my big take away from the teachers' strike was that the public sector unions in a time of low growth and low tax revenues, this is a debate that is transpartisan, you know, whether it's Scott Walker taking on public sector employees unions in Wisconsin or now, Rahm Emanuel, the Democratic mayor of Chicago, the former chief of staff to Barack Obama, having to deal with Karen Lewis, the president of the Chicago Teachers Union in Chicago. This is going to affect every government, whatever the party.
PAGEPublic employees generally, but also teachers in particular and whether to link their evaluations and their tenure and their future in the system with student achievement.
CUMMINGSYeah. I think this has a little less -- it has less to do with the argument about whether they can have collective bargaining rights, which was the Walker argument. Rahm Emanuel never said they didn't have a right to be sitting at that table, negotiating with him. It's the point you're making. It's -- this is about education, and this is a big fight, and it will involve the teachers' unions across the country. There was a big fight in here Washington, D.C. regarding this.
CUMMINGSAnd it is sweeping across the country because we have jobs that are open, but we don't have people who are educated and trained to take them. And that's a big problem in this country that needs to be fixed.
PAGEJeanne Cummings, she's deputy government editor for Bloomberg News. And we also have been joined this hour by David Corn, Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones magazine, and Matthew Continetti, editor-in-chief of The Washington Free Beacon. Thank you for being with us.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Susan Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman, Lisa Dunn and Megan Merritt. The engineer is Erin Stamper. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program is a production of WAMU 88.5 from American University in Washington, D.C. This is NPR.
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