What's on Congress' agenda in the final weeks before the August recess? Our panel takes a look at what needs to happen, and what can realistically get done.
President Barack Obama is elected for another term. The U.S. House stays Republican and the Senate gains two Democratic seats. And the focus turns to avoiding the fiscal cliff. Diane and a panel of journalists discuss the week’s top national stories, what happened and why.
- Susan Page Washington bureau chief for USA Today.
- Ron Elving senior Washington editor for NPR.
- Naftali Bendavid national correspondent for The Wall Street Journal.
Friday News Roundup Video
The 2012 national elections ushered in a historic number of female legislators, including key wins by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Rep. Tammy Baldwin and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. Ron Elving of NPR said the number of women running for office, the quality of their candidacies and re-election rates hit record highs, as did voter turnout among women. “I remember when I first start working for the United States Senate as a staff member in 1985, there was not a women’s restroom on the level with the Senate chamber. They had to go to another floor, and there weren’t that many to go there,” Elving said. “So we have just transformed the Senate in that 30 year period.” USA Today’s Susan Page said studies indicate that female elected officials tend to seek alliances and common ground across party lines more than their male counterparts do.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. President Obama wins a second term, the House stays Republican while the Senate gains two Democratic seats. And the focus now turns to avoiding the fiscal cliff. Joining me in the studio for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup: Ron Elving of NPR, Susan Page of USA Today and Naftali Bendavid of The Wall Street Journal.
MS. DIANE REHMI do invite you to be part of the program. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And good morning, everybody. It's finally over and done with.
MR. RON ELVINGGood morning, Diane.
MR. NAFTALI BENDAVIDGood morning, Diane.
MS. SUSAN PAGEGood morning.
REHMSusan Page, what's the takeaway from President Obama's win for reelection?
PAGEPresident Obama wins a second term. He becomes the first Democrat since FDR to win two terms with a majority of the popular vote both times, which is quite an achievement. And he did it by forging a new coalition. It is a coalition that elected him last time, but even more so this time, a coalition of the rising forces in the U.S. electorate: Hispanics, African-Americans, young people and some women, especially -- some whites, especially highly educated women.
PAGEThis is a different coalition than we've seen before, and it's really raised questions for a lot of Republicans on how they can become a majority party again. They're going to need to reach some of these voters themselves.
REHMAnd that's my question for you, Naftali. What is the takeaway for the Republican Party after this election?
BENDAVIDWell, clearly, there's a lot of soul-searching going on. I mean, I think, we don't want to overstate the devastation suffered by the Republican Party. Every two years, it seems we declare one or the other party as dead. I mean, it was just two years ago that there was this huge Tea Party sweep, and people were asking if the Democrats could survive. And two years before that, it was a huge Democratic sweep, and people were asking if the Republicans could survive.
BENDAVIDI mean, having said that, I do think that the demographic issue is a big question. There's just no question that when you're alienating a large percentage of the electorate, which seems to have happened with Latino voters, it's a problem. And I think the challenge for the Republicans is there'll be a temptation to say, well, if we just have more Hispanic candidates and if we just kind of retool our message...
REHMThey've already said that.
BENDAVIDYeah. And that's what the parties tend to do, is they say the problem was the message. It wasn't really, you know, it was the way we communicated. It wasn't really what we had to say. And I think the interesting thing will be to see whether they actually change their policies. And we're seeing some -- a little bit of early indications of that with people like Charles Krauthammer and Sean Hannity, you know, commentators sort of suggesting the party needs to do that. What we'll see in the coming months is whether the party itself actually takes a different approach to immigration.
REHMDifferent approach, Ron.
ELVINGYes. And they could start, for example, by voting for or accepting at least a few of their people voting for the DREAM Act, which was this piece of legislation by which people who had been brought here by their parents or by other people when they were minors and never really made an adult decision about crossing an international border and now are, say, in college or in the military or otherwise earning some sort of path to citizenship allowing them to have that.
ELVINGThat would be something that they could take, and that could be -- that would be one step they could take, and it would be a step in the direction of comprehensive immigration reform, which many Republicans have been in for -- in the past.
REHMThe question that some people are raising is did the Republican Party go far enough to the right, or is it to change its message as you all are suggesting?
PAGEWell, there are some conservative activists who had a press conference yesterday morning, The National Press Club, in which they argued that Mitt Romney threw away a landslide by not being conservative enough. But I have to say that, even in the GOP, that is not the prevalent view. I mean, just -- Naftali is, of course, right. It wasn't the death of the GOP. The Republicans got, what, 48 or -- 47, 48 percent of the popular vote, so that's a pretty even divide, you'd say.
PAGEBut look at what's happening to the demography of our country. Twenty years ago in the election 1992, 87 percent of the electorate was white. On Tuesday, 72 percent of the electorate was white, and that is a trend that's going to continue. So political parties of any stripe need to acknowledge that diversity, and the Republican Party is really struggling with that right now.
REHMWhat about money in this election, Ron Elving?
ELVINGThis is another question that Republicans are going to have to struggle with. One of the reasons they thought they were going to win this time was because they raised so much money, not just Mitt Romney, but all these other teams. Of course, we've heard about team Karl, you know, the Karl Rove organization, American Crossroads, Crossroads GPS, raising something like $300 million.
REHMAnd Sheldon Adelson.
ELVINGHe was a big part of it. I believe he contributed something in the 20s of millions of dollars when you count in the Romney campaign, the Gingrich campaign and then Senate campaigns. And they put it on the presidential race, but they also put it on a lot of the Senate races that they thought they were going to win and didn't. And they put it mostly, overwhelmingly, on television, thinking that's where the election has won.
ELVINGYou go to network television, you go to cable television, you buy a lot of television time, and that's going to win it for you because that's worked in the past. Unfortunately for them, there was another team raising its own billion dollars that was running a campaign for Barack Obama and then another billion dollars to run the campaigns for House and Senate Democrats and other levels of the government. And so all of their money did not necessarily overwhelm the viewers, did not overwhelm the voters because there was another army out there with just as much money coming at them.
REHMI talked with three or four Republicans yesterday, one of whom said that Democrats were running a stealth campaign among voters, raising heckles in reaction to the amount of money going into the Republican campaign and against the social issues that the Republicans had raised. Naftali.
BENDAVIDI mean, I think this social issues, you know, question is a very important one. It's not really just about addressing Latinos because, hey, they're a growing percent of the population. Obviously, you know, abortion and rape became big issues in the election. And we saw two Senate candidates on the Republican side completely implode with comments on rape. But, you know, let's talk about gay rights. I mean, there were four states that passed, in one sort of another, of gay marriage referendums.
BENDAVIDAlso, the first openly gay senator was just elected, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin. There's just a little bit of a sense, and again, I hesitate to overstate things but that the country is moving in certain directions and that the Republicans, at least in this last election, were lagging behind and that they paid a price. And I think there is going to have to be a real questioning within the party of how and whether they want to change their overall approach.
REHMBut if you've got leadership within the Republican Party that continues to argue that the only way to take hold of this country is through these social issues and through conservative fiscal issues, how do you change that message?
PAGEWell, you do it with the leadership. You do it with the candidates you put forward. I mean, this -- there's not a -- there's not one person in charge of the Republican Party. There is one person in charge of the Democratic Party, and that is Barack Obama. There are many voices in the Republican Party. I think we'll here from a lot of them. And, actually, what happened with social issues is so interesting.
PAGEFor a series of elections, the people talking about social issues were conservatives who were ginning up turnout among evangelicals and people who've held conservative views on abortion and other issues. The people talking about social issues this time were on the other side. They were people who were supporting gay marriage, supporting abortion rights. And it really helped in a series of -- it helped in the presidential race in delivering women votes for Barack Obama.
PAGEIt helped in some of these Senate races. I mean, as Naftali mentioned, we saw -- we've seen such a change in this country on the issue of same-sex marriage and gay rights. You mentioned the first openly gay senator. We're going to have the first openly bisexual member of the House elected from Arizona on Tuesday. Four state legislatures will now have speakers who are openly gay. So this is a trend that has been remarkable in its speed and its velocity.
ELVINGThat's right. In comparison to the civil rights movement or the women's rights movement, this one has caught fire and moved an extraordinary distance, a generation's worth in less than 10 years because in 2004, as we all recall, the Bush campaign wanted to move around the country and get as many states voting on gay rights, gay marriage in particular, as possible, including Ohio, which was the crux of their reelection effort in 2004.
ELVINGThey got a constitutional amendment on the ballot on gay marriage, and that brought out a certain vote. And that was largely credited with reelecting George W. Bush. Here we are eight years later, and the energy is running the exact opposite way.
REHMSo energy is exactly the issue I want to raise with you. What are we likely to see from President Obama going forward? And I'm going to go back to a quote I've seen from Lyndon Johnson after he was elected. He said something like, well, I'm going to move forward. What the hell is the presidency for? Naftali, what's going to be at the top of the agenda?
BENDAVIDWell, I actually think really the key moment and literally today because the president is going to come out and speak about the fiscal cliff, the deficit, economic issues, and he's going to have to figure out what kind of balance he wants to strike. There's a tremendous amount of pressure on him. And my sense is it's internal pressure, too, to be a statesman, to get beyond some of the bitterness not just at the last campaign, but really the last two years and try to move towards solving some of these problems. But there's also a feeling among the Democratic that he always caves right away.
BENDAVIDHe starts off with what should be his final negotiating position instead of his first one. They just won an election. The last thing they want him to do is get out and talk about how, you know, Democrats have to compromise as well. So I think he's going to really set an important tone. I think his top priorities clearly are going to be the fiscal cliff and the deficit. But also, let's not forget immigration reform. I mean, I think -- just because of the way the election played out, I think it's a virtual certainty that in the next year or so we'll see some real changes to the immigration system.
PAGEYou know, I interviewed President Obama in September right before the Democratic convention. And we talked a little about this, and he said, I'm older now and I'm wiser. And what a different tone you heard on election night -- this time from election night four years ago. It was much less idealistic. It was soaring. It was much more workmanlike. He listed four priorities. He said he hope to work with the other side. I mean, it was just a different maybe warier, less idealistic and perhaps more successful tone.
REHMDo you think that he's going to be able to find a way to meet this process of the fiscal cliff?
PAGEI think they have to. I think we know from the CBO reports that came out yesterday that it is catastrophe if they don't.
REHMSusan Page of USA Today, Naftali Bendavid of The Wall Street Journal, Ron Elving of NPR. Short break, we'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Just before the break, we are talking about the president's reelection and where the GOP goes from here. Question at the top of the list is going to be how the president negotiates with the leaders of the Republican Party. Susan Page, your reporter Susan Davis did an interview with McConnell.
PAGEWith Speaker Boehner yesterday in which it was so interesting what he said 'cause on the one hand he said, we're not going to raise tax rates. That's a line in the -- he didn't use the words line in the sand. But he, in the in effect, drew a line in the sand on the issue of tax rates, which is one of the things the White House thinks they now have a mandate on, to raise taxes on households that make $250,000 a year and more. On the other hand, he said that they could raise tax revenues.
PAGEAnd that's a significant overture, I think, by House Republicans who have resisted the idea of raising revenues, do anything except growth. So he opened the door to the kind of changes in the tax code, reducing -- cutting loopholes, changing maybe the state tax in a way that in effect raises the tax burden on the wealthy but doesn't raise tax rates. Now, I think all of these are opening positions. That was Boehner's opening position. In this afternoon, we're going to hear President Obama's opening position when he comes out and talks to reporters.
REHMNaftali, isn't that, though, pretty much what Mitt Romney was saying? We cut out the loopholes. We do a little tweaking here and little tweaking there, and the CBO has already said it's not enough.
BENDAVIDWell, it's not only what Mitt Romney said. It's really what Republicans have said in one way or another for some time.
BENDAVIDAnd so when you talk about, you know, wanting to raise revenue, that's easy to say. But, you know, what is revenue? I did think his conciliatory tone was worth noting. Just the tone, the way he delivered, it was different than he has in the past than what he emphasized. But, you know, people talk about, and Republicans in particular talk about revenue from the growth that would presumably follow if tax rates were cut. They talk about improving compliance, you know, so more people who owe taxes actually pay it, not something that would necessarily raise a lot of money.
BENDAVIDAnd they also talk about eliminating loopholes and deductions and so forth. But the big question is always which ones. A lot of them are really popular. Do you, you know, do you change the taxation rate of investment income, which is pretty low, but is something that a lot of business people in Wall Street would strongly oppose? So I think all this stuff has to be worked out. It's easy to say you're for raising revenue. The question is always what it really means. But I do think we should stop and take note that the tone has been much more conciliatory than it was before election.
PAGEAnd look how just -- look how deliberate the new tone was. When Speaker Boehner came out the day before to talk to reporters, you know, Boehner's a pretty relaxed guy with reporters. He came in, he read his statement off a teleprompter, and then he left. This is very un-Boehner-like behavior and that's because they had scripted what they wanted him to say. They wanted to make sure that that tone came through. And it's such a different tone from what we heard in the past two years
ELVINGYes, but there's another reason that he needs to be carefully scripted, and that is that he and Mitch McConnell as well have eyes in the back of their head. They're not just negotiating with the president. They're trying to hang on to their jobs. And John Boehner is holding on to his job as speaker of the House rather tenuously. They had lost control of the chamber. He probably would've been replaced as the Republican leader.
ELVINGThey didn't come anywhere close to losing control. They can speak rather confidently of their performance on Tuesday as House Republicans. But he still has somebody right on his back, Eric Cantor, who would very much like to be speaker and who is probably in closer touch emotionally and politically and ideologically with the younger, more Tea Party oriented or more libertarian oriented people who do not want to compromise in any detail.
ELVINGThey do not want to compromise with this president. They wouldn't care if he had won 40 states and won 400 in some electoral votes. They do not want to compromise with him. And if John Boehner does and if John Boehner will sit down with the president and in reasonable fashion come to some sort of reasonable conclusion, these people are going to rebel. And Mitch McConnell has the same problem in the Senate.
REHMBut wait a minute, Ron. The election is over. Are we going to have four more years of somebody saying no?
ELVINGYes. We are going to have four more years of many people in the House and Senate saying no. The question is, can they be overcome? Can they be maneuvered around? Can the Republican leaders find a way to get around those votes, or are they going to render both of these chambers powerless? I'm not saying they will, but they will try because many of the people that I'm talking about in both the House and Senate would rather have four more years of gridlock than see a compromise they don't favor.
BENDAVIDI mean, I guess, everything Ron says is true. But, I guess, I'm a little more optimistic. I mean, you know, there's always going to be that faction. It's true. But the question is where the center of gravity of the party is. And I think party's instinct for self-preservation is something not to be underestimated. They see the results of the last election. There were few prominent Tea Party folks who lost or at least had tough races. Not all of them.
BENDAVIDAnd so the question is where they think they need to go forward. What always has happened in the House of Representatives is that John Boehner has lost about 40 Republicans for almost anything because they consider whatever he's doing a betrayal of conservative principles. So he relies, to some degree, on Democratic votes. And I don't think that that pattern would continue.
BENDAVIDAnd, you know, the question is whether he has more room to maneuver now because the results of the last election were widely seen as, if not a, you know, full repudiation of Tea Party values, at least, you know, a sign that people were moving a little bit more in the Democratic direction.
PAGEAnd, of course, they also face a situation where they really need to take action. They need to take action on raising the debt ceiling. They need to try to do something to avoid having tax -- taxes go up for everybody and have the sweeping across-the-board spending cuts in January if they don't -- aren't able to reach either a long-term agreement or some kind of short-term agreement that gives them a little more time to negotiate.
BENDAVIDYeah. And one thing we shouldn't forget by the way is the markets. There's going to be pressure imposed simply by the rating agencies in the markets. And it's even before Jan. 1. If there's sort of a sense that we're not going to really be able to avert the fiscal cliff, what's going to happen is there'll be real reaction in the markets, and it will force, I think, the political leaders very wary of the consequences, both political and economic, to come to some sort of an agreement.
REHMWhat happens to Grover Norquist and the pledge, Ron?
ELVINGWell, that's part of what I'm talking about. There are very hard rocks to be gotten around here, and this is the test of great leaders. If John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are going to go into history as highly effective legislative leaders, they're going to have to accomplish now what the country needs as Naftali was describing. They have to do what the country wants. And I don't think that it's just 50 percent or 51 percent of the country that wants a compromise.
ELVINGI think the great number of Americans do want to compromise. I think even most Republicans probably want a compromise that would avert not only the fiscal cliff but would change the direction of ever, ever greater reliance on debt, which we've seen on the part of both party's presidents for a good long time now, really going back to Ronald Reagan having joined the Democrats in relying on debt when he was the president and George W. Bush, of course, as well.
ELVINGSo the country doesn't want that to go on forever. They want to see not only the fiscal cliff averted, which, after all, is a totally artificial thing that was created by Congress to force Congress to be responsible about debt. So what the country really would like to see these people kind of get together to get this act together, and this is a perfect moment to do it.
ELVINGWe have had an election that indicated what the people would like to see happen and good leaders, strong leaders in Congress, that's in both parties, but, of course, we're talking here about the Republicans negotiating with the Democratic president. So it's really on McConnell and Boehner. Can they deliver? Can they make this thing happen? Can they bring their people to where the American people want them to be?
REHMAnd does Grover Norquist have to pull back, Susan?
PAGENot -- retreat is really not a direction that Grover Norquist is known for taking. But I would say that if you look at the exit polls, which are so interesting in giving you a sense of what the electorate was thinking, about six out of 10 voters said, we think taxes ought to be raised. Half of them thought it should be raised just on wealthy. Another -- more than one in 10 said they thought they should be raised on everybody.
PAGEBut clearly, there -- that is broad support for the idea of raising taxes, which is not always a very popular thing now. A lot of people want to raise taxes on somebody else, people making more money than they are. But if there is one thing that the president consistently campaigned on, you know, he didn't have to offer a lot of specifics in his campaign. But one of the specifics he did offer was this idea of making the most affluent taxpayers bear a little more of the burden. I think to the degree he has a mandate, that's one of the things he thinks he has a mandate to do.
BENDAVIDYeah. I mean, first of all, we should clarify that there's two things we're talking about here. One is averting the fiscal cliff, the tax increases and spending cuts that are happening in January unless action is taken. The other is the question of a broader deal to reduce the deficit, which would involve overhauling the entitlement programs, Social Security and Medicare and also finding more revenue.
BENDAVIDAnd so there's a sort of short-term and a long-term task. But politics is complicated, and it maybe true that in some broad sense, Americans believe taxes should go up on the wealthy. But an individual congressman who has to run an individual primary in his district may face a very different political calculus. And so I think there's this kind of merging of what the people, "overall want" and what individual lawmakers need to face in their own elections.
PAGEAnd, you know, not much time. You know, we know that the 2016 election started yesterday or the day before, right? We got -- the first thing I saw yesterday was a press release, saying that Marco Rubio is going to Des Moines this month to address...
PAGE...the birthday party for the Republican governor there. So, you know, you've probably got about a year-and-a-half before the politics of the 2016 election take over. And I think everybody involved is aware of that.
REHMAll right. I want to stay with the 2012 election at least for a while. Let's talk about this as an historic year for women. Susan.
PAGEYes. You know, in 2010, for the first time in 30 years, the number of women in Congress went down. That got reversed on Tuesday, especially in the Senate. You know, we had all these women. We had any number of women in competitive races in the Senate, and as a result, the number of women who serve in the Senate will go up to 20. That's a record. I mean, it's not 50. You know, it's not equal to the women's share of the population, but it's a level we've never reached before.
PAGEAnd we saw women candidates winning in some places in -- very competitive, where they were underdogs. Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, running against a very popular former governor, Tommy Thompson, won. Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota that is not...
REHMElizabeth Warren in Massachusetts.
PAGEElizabeth Warren, perhaps a marquee race. But, of course, that was at least a very Democratic-leaning state. Heidi Heitkamp won in a red state, a Democrat winning in a red state, so I do think this was a year, an important year, for women.
ELVINGAnd the number of women who were running for Senate seats was a record this year as well. Eighteen women were running for Senate seats. We had a race out in Hawaii where there were two women running against each other. We had a race in California with two women running against each other. That's going to become increasingly common. So I remember when I first started working for the United States Senate as a staff member in 1985, there was not a woman's restroom on the level with the Senate chamber.
ELVINGThey had to go to another floor, and there weren't many of them to go there. So, I mean, we have just transformed the Senate in that 30-year period and less than 30-year period. And the direction, as Susan says, was really reconfirmed by this election -- the number of women running, the quality of the candidacies of the women running and the reelection rate of women who were running for reelection, which is also key.
ELVINGThere were a couple that looked a little shaky at the beginning of the cycle. Debbie Stabenow, certainly Claire McCaskill, they're both back for the next Congress. And that really re-establishes a strong energy. And let's not forget to mention that women voted more than men in the presidential election, 53-to-47, and that the gap by which Barack Obama won women was enough to overcome the gap by which he lost men.
PAGEAnd, you know, one other thing we know about women in office is that they operate a little differently than men. We know from studies that have been done at Rutgers and elsewhere that women elected in -- elected officials who are women are more likely to try to seek common ground or more likely to make alliances across party lines. And so this may be a good fit between the demographics of the new Senate and what they need to do over the next year.
REHMSusan Page of USA Today. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Naftali.
BENDAVIDThough the number of Republican women in the Senate is going to go down by one because two women senators are retiring. Deb Fischer in Nebraska won. And I don't think that's a long-term trend, but it does -- you know, it brings up, again, I guess, this problem that Republicans have in terms of attracting women voters. But it's not just women. Apparently, the Democratic caucus in the House of Representatives -- that is to say, the number, the full body of Democrats in the House -- will be a minority of white men for the first time, you know?
BENDAVIDSo if you count minorities and women, that will make up a majority of the Democratic caucus in the House. And so I think what you're starting to see is Congress reflect the country's population a little bit more. We do have a ways to go. Of course you'd see 50 women in the Senate if it was going to be anything like what the population is, but it's moving inexorably in that direction.
ELVINGYou know, but you make up -- you make a good point here when you say the Democratic caucus will be majority minority and women. And in the Senate, the numbers of women who are senators who are Republicans actually going down. This is becoming a party divide, and this is another one of the reach out problems Condoleezza Rice was on television this morning talking about.
PAGEAnd if we...
PAGEIf we mention the problems for Republicans in reaching out, there actually is a little bit of a red flag here for Democrats because Democrats need to continue to attract white votes, you know? And there have been big erosion in the share of the white vote. President Obama got about 40 percent of the white vote on Tuesday. You -- a majority coalition has to include a fair share of whites as well as some of the minorities and the rising forces in the electorate.
REHMWhat did Condoleezza Rice say?
ELVINGWell, she said that the Republican Party really needed to reach out to women and to people who are not white males. And the party has become really dominant among white males, and there was a time not too terribly long ago when white males were the electorate. And then we got women suffrage, and then we started letting people of color to vote and really encouraging them to vote, and the country has changed as a result. I mean, 1984, Ronald Reagan won about 60 percent of the white vote in America, won 49 states.
ELVINGAnd not only did he win in this huge electoral landslide in 1984, but he was more or less crowned the king of American politics forever. Mitt Romney, on Tuesday of this week, got about 60 percent of the white vote, got 62 percent of the white male vote, OK? Very Reagan-esque, and he did not win a 49-state landslide, and he will not be president of the United States. That is an enormous amount of change in just 28 years, and Condoleezza Rice is just begging her party, please, recognize this. Reach out to these people. It's fine to be a party of white men, but you can't just be a party of white men.
REHMBut that phrase reaching out to does not seem to me to grasp the reality that the message itself has to change. It's not just reaching out. It's what you say.
PAGEAnd this will be such a challenge for the Republican Party. On the issue of women, one of the things that attracted women to the Democratic Party this time was choice on abortion. It was access to contraceptive services through the new health care law. You know, that is an issue that -- there is a big part of the Republican Party that is strongly pro-life, that -- for which that would be -- a pro-choice position would be unacceptable.
PAGEOr think about the issue of immigration, the idea of providing a path to legal status for the 11 million people who are in this country illegally. I mean, that's something that -- when we talk about immigration reform, that's probably going to be part of that. That is something that really will divide the Republican Party because there are -- there's a -- there are many Republicans for whom that is a very strongly held principle that there should not be a path to legal status.
REHMAnd, Naftali, on another subject completely, meanwhile New York, New Jersey continue to suffer in the aftermath of Sandy and the nor'easter.
BENDAVIDYeah, absolutely. It almost seemed like adding insult to injury to have another storm hit that part of the country. The big thing that's happened recently is that there's now gas rationing in New York City, as there is throughout New York and New Jersey, with even-numbered license plates on one day and odd on the other. And, you know, I saw a statistic that 25 percent of gas stations are open there. I mean, it's a real problem.
BENDAVIDAnd the other issue that's coming to the fore, as it did in Katrina, is the question of the discrepancy between upper-income and lower-income people. And you're seeing real complaints that there are parts of New York -- public housing and other places where lower-income people live -- that's still without power and water even as other places are getting it back.
REHMNaftali Bendavid of The Wall Street Journal. When we come back, it's time to open the phones. I look forward to speaking with you.
REHMAnd it's time to open the phones first to Cathy in York, Pa. Good morning to you.
CATHYGood morning. How are you?
CATHYGood. The reason I called is that two years was long enough for men to come to Washington to represent their constituents when our country was founded and then they went home. They didn't stay there, maybe some of them did but not too many. And when I hear that most people don't want gridlock, I was just coming up with an idea that maybe since we have the Internet, we wouldn't need the Congress as much that maybe as of their terms come up that they wouldn't be replaced.
CATHYAnd then we could let the people vote for the issues themselves, and then we would really have a true democracy because I wonder if the members of Congress actually represent their constituents, or do they represent the people who help to pay for their campaign?
REHMInteresting question. Naftali.
BENDAVIDWell, that's sort of question, you know, I've heard before, you know, this idea that, you know, the Internet permits more direct democracy. I think it would be difficult. There are certain constitutional requirements, and a lot of people don't necessarily have time to spend all day studying the issues. I think perhaps it would permit, you know, some kind of greater consultation.
BENDAVIDAnd certainly a lot of members of Congress try to consult with their constituents using technology, and there's a lot of state legislatures, by the way, that adjourn for large parts of the year. But the idea of substituting Congress with a sort of more direct vote through the Internet strikes me something that probably is not in our near future.
REHMLet's go to Houston, Texas. Manuel, you're on the air.
MANUELHi, Diane, my question was relating to Supreme Court. I'm wondering if during these four years there'll be maybe a vacancy that will allow for another appointee.
PAGEYes, I think we do. Think -- expect vacancies in the court maybe more than one over the next four years because of the age of the current Supreme Court members. But the issue of whether it changes the kind of political makeup of the court depends entirely on who retires because if you have a liberal-leaning justice retire and they get replaced by a liberal-leaning justice, that's no net change.
ELVINGThat's right. Ruth Bader Ginsburg has had health issues and concerns. She would probably like to have the option of retiring at some point over the next four years. I think also Anthony Kennedy has indicated to some people at least when he hears this that he would prefer not to have to spend the absolute rest of his life to his last breath sitting on the court. And that he is, in some measure, maybe a little tired of all the pressure that comes on being the fifth vote, the swing vote on so many decisions.
ELVINGBut we don't know if either of those two people actually will retire. If they were to both retire, either at the same time or in close succession, that would seem to be one vote from each side -- one vote from the five conservative majority and Anthony Kennedy and one vote from the liberal side in Ruth Bader Ginsburg. But we don't know, and oftentimes the person who retires is not the one you expect to have retired. But I think two is a probably a predictable number over the course of four years. It may be more than two.
REHMAnd you never know about the person you're replacing that retiree with.
BENDAVIDWell, that's true. I mean, the parties have, I think, gotten a little better at that because there have been a few cases -- David Souter is the obvious example -- when a president appointed somebody who needed up voting differently than they thought they would. But we do have this almost funny, you know, thing play out every few years where the justices of the opposite party seemed like they're desperately trying to hang on and not retiring under any circumstances.
BENDAVIDSo they could just wait until the president of their party takes over. And the real blood bath is when somebody retires who's from the opposite party of the president. And I think that's what would be interesting to see if somebody like Justice Kennedy does return.
REHMAll right. To Fairfax, Va. Good morning, B.D. (sp?)
B.D.Good morning, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
B.D.So I have a couple of points, and I'm not even a green card holder, I cannot vote. I'm not a U.S. citizen. So this is an outside perspective. So I think the Democrats had more relevant sort of topics to discuss during the election: the global warming, the education -- math and science. Obama has mentioned that even on one of the debates. The Republicans who are still sort of old school, right?
B.D.So what do Republicans take all of this election? I think they got to go back to the drawing board and talk about marketing to the demographics of the U.S. towards those values. I mean, it's very interesting where now we see Latino voters, now we see more women, and now people are trying to target them? They should actually think about values. It's about you cannot tell the women what to do about the baby, you know, abortion and stuff.
B.D.It's almost like telling in the Middle East where women cannot drive cars. In China, people tell you can only have one child. It's no different if you can tell women here what to do and what not to do, right? How can men work for something that's so private for women?
PAGEWell, I do think that B.D. makes a great point that it's really fundamentally about values. I think it's not about marketing. I mean, we did see a growth in leaps and bounds in the kind of micro targeting that is done by big companies that's trying to -- who are trying to sell you products being used in this presidential race this time. But I think it is fundamentally about the values you hold, who do you trust to represent your interest in the country over the next four years.
REHMAnd B.D. also raised global warming. To what extent after Sandy and the northeastern and all this other stuff going on around the world not just in our country do you believe that global warming is going to take a more prominent position in the president's thinking and push?
BENDAVIDI do. I mean I think that probably the storms have brought it to the fore, but I think there's been this gradual but steady movement in that direction. But there's a big gap between accepting that global warming is real and is caused by humans and coming up with policies that are acceptable to everybody and can get through Congress. And so I think we're moving in that direction, but I don't think we're there yet. That's my sense of where we are.
ELVINGThe president also took on to some degree coal interests and oil interests in this election. Certainly, there was not question where those industries sympathies lay, and he won. That's going to make a difference. Also, of course, the rise of natural gas and some of the other world market affects some of these different energy forms. And eventually, the solar industry is going to make a comeback.
ELVINGThe United States government has actually started to take some measures against China for dumping all of those under market cost solar panels in this country which was what caused a great number of American solar panel companies to tank three years ago. We're finally taking some steps against that. There is a future for renewable energy. And all of these things militate in favor of politics more favorable to getting some climate change legislation.
REHMTo Concord, N.H. Hi there, Brian.
BRIANGood morning, Ms. Rehm. I love your show. Ms. Page, gentlemen, good morning. I'll tell you what we saw here in New Hampshire. We saw a huge blue wave. It was a reaction against the Koch brothers, the Koch industry and their secret cabal, the American Legislative Exchange Committee. One of your callers couldn't think of the name of that group yesterday. They provided almost identical language nationwide for all of these new repressive measures.
BRIANWe had the Speaker of the House here in Concord provoking incident on the floor Bill (word?) O'Brien. A lot of this was a reaction, a backlash against those repressive measures. And I saw for the first time, long lines at Saint Pete's and including -- mostly new people signing up to register to vote. I am very pleased, and we have three ladies, support ladies.
REHMAll right, and Naftali.
BENDAVIDYeah, that's true. New Hampshire's interesting because it has completely, not only completely women congressional delegation...
BENDAVID...but also the governor. But it's a classic swing state these days. It went very Democratic in 2006 then Republican in 2010, and now it's gone back. But, I mean, just to address this broader issue of values, Republicans aren't going to say, look, we only got 49 percent of the vote. We're going to change all our values. I mean, they believe things very deeply as well. And I think it's a little more complicated and a little more nuance than that.
BENDAVIDAnd I think that for all that this was a favorable election for Democrats, there's a lot of complexity here. And the party is just going to have to work out how it wants to move, but it's not some kind of, you know, necessarily a broad repudiation of anything any Republican has ever stood for.
REHMYou will be interested in hearing that Sen. Mitch McConnell issued a statement this morning to Breitbart News on the fiscal cliff negotiations, saying, "I know some people out there think Tuesday's results mean Republicans in Washington are now going to roll over and agree to Democrat demands that we hike tax rates before the end of the year. I'm here to tell you there is no truth to that notion whatsoever."
PAGESo Mitch McConnell who we remember four years ago, when President Obama was elected, said his number one goal was to make sure he didn't get a second term. That didn't work out for Mitch McConnell, but it doesn't sound as though Mitch McConnell is changing his approach. That different tone we heard from John Boehner, I don't -- it doesn't sound like we're hearing that same change in tone for Mitch McConnell.
ELVINGNot when he's talking to Breitbart, that's for sure.
REHMExactly. To St. Louis, Mo. Good morning, April.
APRILHi. Good morning, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
APRILI just wanted to touch on the fact that the Republican Party -- I listened yesterday, and they -- their strategists just keep talking about Latino vote. Well, I'm African-American. I'm black, and I'm 30 years old. My sister is in her 30s. We've never voted for a Republican. My parents have never voted for a Republican. But my grandfather only voted for Republican, and he paid a full tax when he voted.
APRILAnd I feel like the Republican Party has lost the black vote for two generations, and they're not interested in seeing where they had went wrong. I think a lot of black feel like it's definitely a moral obligation. It wasn't just because the president is black. You see they throw up black figures in the Republican Party like that's going to draw black. Well, that's not what it is. We have certain morals, and we have certain values, and we don't want to be pandered to.
BENDAVIDWell, I think that goes to what we're saying earlier. That it's not just a question of having, you know, more black candidates or communicating better, but a real rethinking of what the message is and whether it needs to change.
BENDAVIDI mean, there's this fascinating thing, you know, Lyndon Johnson when he -- speaking of Lyndon Johnson -- when he signed the Civil Rights Act, he talked about the Democrats would lose the South for a generation and that seems to be true. But there's this other side of it, which is that they're gaining what turns out to be a growing part of the American population, which is minorities. And that is ending up being something that's positive for the party.
PAGEBut, you know, just to keep maybe a note of realism even in the aftermath of these -- the very interesting results. There's nothing ordained that African-Americans or Hispanics will always vote Democratic even though that's how they voted in the past two elections. And African-Americans, of course, have been the most solid supporters of the Democratic Party for some time and especially with an African-American running for president.
PAGEBut Democrats need to deliver for these voters if they're going to keep them there. They need to deliver on promises of growth and job creation and improving education. So it's not a given, and they'll be openings in the future for the Republicans to make inroads with these voters.
REHMHere's an email from Jay, who says, "I don't understand why your panel would think Obama has a mandate. He did not win by selling his agenda. He won by preying on the fears of voters, making rich people into bogeymen. He made oligarchs the Willy Horton of this election." Ron Elving.
ELVINGProbably not an Obama voter, but the -- although I suppose it's conceivable. The mandate the president has -- if we want to call it that and it's not really a word that I'd be comfortable with -- is pretty narrow. All we're saying is one of the few things he was specific about -- and very few they were -- about what he would do on the second term is he said he would continue to pursue higher taxes on people who make over $250,000 a year.
ELVINGAnd he knows perfectly well he's probably going to have to compromise on that level, but that was his bargaining position. And he was straight up about saying that's what he was going to push for. And since he did get reelected, one would expect he would stick to that gun if no others.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Now to Louisville, Ky. and to John. Hi there.
JOHNHello. Thank you. I'm hopeful that there will only be a gridlock till 2014 when there's another election, I think, for the Senate. In other words, Mitch -- and Mitch McConnell be running again.
PAGEWell, so maybe you think Mitch McConnell will be in trouble in your home state if he -- if there is just a gridlock in the next two years. But 2014 could be important for another reason. We know that traditionally, historically, the biggest setbacks for the president come in his second midterm election. That is that would -- for Barack Obama, that would be in 2014.
PAGEThat's when the other party traditionally makes big gains in the House and Senate because there's kind of a reaction to six years of one party being in power in the White House. So that's -- that may be a deadline for Mitch McConnell. It's also kind of a deadline, I think, for the White House.
ELVINGYou know, it's true, everything that Susan just said. And that was certainly true for George W. Bush in 2006, but it wasn't true for Bill Clinton in 1998. And there were, of course, extraordinary circumstances behind that, the impeachment and so on. Not exactly a huge endorsement for Bill Clinton to be on the verge of impeachment, but the country was divided about it, and it probably help the Democrats. Different things can happen in a second midterm election.
ELVINGAnd it is an interesting proposition to ask. Are the Democrats automatically going to lose the Senate in 2014? And some people say they have 13 seats to defend. That looks pretty bad. But they have 23 seats to defend in this last election. This is going to be, I think, an usual two years. I don't expect another two years like the last two years or the previous two years. I think we're going to blaze some new ground...
REHMI hope so.
ELVING...blaze some new trails.
REHMLet's go to Fayetteville, N.C. Hi there, Kelly.
KELLYHey. Good morning, Diane.
KELLYHey. I just want to make a comment. I heard one of your guests kind of speak to this after I held on for a while, but the Republican Party doesn't necessarily need to change their message. I mean, a lot of us conservatives believe in absolute truth and absolute rights and wrongs, and that doesn't change. And just because the majority of Americans voted for Mr. Obama in this election, that doesn't mean that they were right or that he's right.
KELLYAnd I just believe that, like for the message, might need to change to a way we communicate with our convictions, need to say the same of what we believe in. If we believe it's right, it's right. And like I say, I believe in absolute truth and absolute right and wrong, and those things don't change.
REHMKelly, let me ask you what you think about the need for compromise in that kind of situation.
KELLYWell, in certain -- in fiscal issues, I'm fiscal conservative as well as socially conservative. I certainly believe in compromise. You know, with the fiscal cliff looming, you know, I wouldn't be against making some compromise in the area of revenues. And -- but again, I believe there are efficiencies to be had in certain areas that need to be look at just as strongly as the increase in taxes.
REHMI think everybody is looking at efficiencies as a way to at least begin to talk.
BENDAVIDYeah. I mean, one of the questions facing the Republican Party, I think, is the extent to which they emphasize social issues as opposed to fiscal issues. And that's something the caller was addressing. And one way the party could go, one of many, is to really decide to downplay social issues, which have not been, so far, playing in their favor, and to emphasize fiscal issues where they seem to have a little bit more of a popular support.
REHMNaftali Bendavid of The Wall Street Journal, Susan Page of USA Today, Ron Elving of NPR. I just want to say congratulations to all of you in the press for having survived.
REHMThanks for being here. And thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Susan Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman, Lisa Dunn and Jill Colgan. 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 email@example.com, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington, D.C. This is NPR.
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