A molecular-biologist-turned-Buddhist-monk says altruism is the answer to many of the world's most pressing challenges. Can concern for others help solve wealth inequality, climate change and world hunger?
President Barack Obama taps Vice President Joe Biden to lead a gun violence task force. House Republicans vow to push a “Plan B” to avert the fiscal cliff. And four State Department officials leave after a damaging report on Benghazi, Libya. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Susan Davis chief congressional reporter for USA Today.
- John Dickerson chief political correspondent for Slate.com and CBS political analyst and contributor. Author of "On Her Trail: My Mother, Nancy Dickerson, TV News' First Woman Star."
- Steve Roberts syndicated columnist and journalism professor at The George Washington University.
Friday News Roundup Video
The panel remembered the life and legacy of Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, who died Dec. 17 at age 88. Susan Davis, chief congressional reporter at USA Today, said his role in the U.S. Senate represented a fading era. “Senator Inouye was someone who was probably one of the most powerful people in Washington that you never heard of,” Davis said. George Washington University professor Steve Roberts described Inouye as a man of quiet integrity and decency who was trusted by politicians from both sides of the aisle.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. House Speaker John Boehner canceled the vote on his fiscal cliff Plan B when his own party failed to support it. President Obama asked Vice President Biden to lead a gun violence task force, and sales of existing homes rose to their highest rate in three years.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup: John Dickerson of Slate and CBS News, Susan Davis of USA Today and syndicated columnist Steve Roberts. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And good morning, everybody.
MS. SUSAN DAVISGood morning, Diane.
MR. STEVE ROBERTSGood morning, Diane.
MR. JOHN DICKERSONGood morning, Diane.
REHMGood to see you all on this last Friday News Roundup before Christmas, before the end of the year. I'm going to start by reading to you an email we just received from France. It's from Robert, who says, "I was shocked that Speaker Boehner did not know he lacked the votes for the Plan B. He did not seem to know where his caucus stood." Susan Davis, you were up there. What happened?
DAVISI think that -- I think they realized for about -- in the middle of the afternoon yesterday that they didn't have the votes. And I think they tried desperately for a couple of hours to see if they could muster enough support. I talked to Tom Cole, a Republican lawmaker from Oklahoma, who's part of what they call the whip team in D.C., which is the group of Republican lawmakers -- Democrats have them too -- that check the votes, check the members, see what they got.
DAVISAnd he said that they -- the reason why the failure is particularly stunning is he said they whipped this vote, in part, he's telling members, this is a vote that says, you know, it's a test of, when the chips are down, who has John Boehner's back. And the fact that he couldn't -- they were whipping the bill a vote as a measure of that, and the fact that they couldn't get enough of their members to support it, I think, makes it particularly devastating for the speaker which is why I think you've seen it cast since and today as stunning, a surprise, a major defeat, long-stemming repercussions.
DAVIS'Cause it is very rare for a speaker of the House to not be able to muster enough support for a bill that they are personally whipping. The speaker, which is very rare, the speaker was on the floor of the House yesterday on the floor glad-handing members, talking to them, trying to get enough votes, and he still couldn't get there.
REHMSo what happened, John Dickerson?
DICKERSONWell, the conservatives who don't want to vote for any tax increase and really don't want to vote for a tax increase if there's not sufficient spending cuts, so nothing in this deal worth voting for. And the speaker couldn't convince them that there was something enough in this deal to vote for, despite all of the tricks and efforts he tried to do. But a lot of it -- at the base, even though it was part taxes, part spending, it was really spending that the conservatives' theory is that Washington has a spending problem. And there was nothing in this trick that was going to get at that big issue.
REHMBut, Steve, the question then becomes, with whom does the president negotiate if Boehner does not have the support of his own caucus?
ROBERTSWell, it was very difficult, and this has been a problem for a long time. You go back 18 months when they tried to have an earlier deal. One of the questions was, does he have a negotiating partner he can deal with? There were two underlying problems here. He -- Boehner made a basic mistake. When you are giving concessions in a deal, you have to sweeten it with some -- getting something. You have to present it as a package and say, look, OK. I gave something up, but I got something.
ROBERTSThis was a bill that was purely about raising taxes. It was not about spending cuts. And so he couldn't go to the hardcore conservatives and say, I've gotten something. It was a basic mistake. The other underlying problem we're seeing is that there's a base, as John said, of the Republican Party who are totally immune to political pressure from their own speaker and from the people because they've been so redistricted into safe seats that the only fear they really have is from primary attacks.
ROBERTSAnd a number of Republicans said last night, I'm not voting for this bill because that could engender the kind of primary attacks that took out Lugar in the last election and several other moderate Republicans. So you wonder whether Boehner, given that structure, is ever going to be able to negotiate a deal that he can sell to his members.
DICKERSONThere were two theories behind what Boehner -- what they were calling Plan B. One was to try and strengthen Boehner's negotiations with the White House. If he could pass something, he would say, hey, we've passed something. We're not going to get the blame if the country goes over the fiscal cliff because we will be able to say, we passed a measure that kept rates where they are for the middle class, and it was the president who didn't do his part.
DICKERSONThat was one part. The other part was to say -- was to create a kind of public relations structure so that members wouldn't take the blame if the country went over the fiscal cliff. But to Steve's point, the bigger blame for those members who voted against the speaker would've been if they voted for a bill that raised taxes. So when you -- if you're trying to think -- if you're the speaker and you're saying, I've created a storyline here that protects you in the public, those members would say, no, you haven't. You've created a storyline here that hurts me in the public in my district.
DAVISIt was a strategic failure on many levels. One being Plan B, they knew it was never going to become law. Harry Reid made clear he wasn't going to take it up. Obama said, on the off chance it shows up at my desk, I'm going to veto it. So a lot of members are saying, why are you making us take a tough vote on something we all know is not going to pass?
DAVISThe fact that it failed, I think, gives Boehner an even weaker hand in what were the real negotiations with President Obama in order to get an actual deal that could pass. I think the fact that he cannot say he can deliver a certain amount of his own members on a bill that he wants to pass means that, as Harry Reid said last night, I think the new reality is a final deal is going to have to go through the House on the strength of Democratic votes.
ROBERTSBut, you know, this is not an impossible idea. I was looking back at history here. 1982, Ronald Reagan, a great conservative, forged a tax and spending deal with Tip O'Neill, then-Democratic speaker of the House, that passed the House with 123 Democratic votes and 102 Republican votes. And this included significant tax increases. Tip O'Neill made a speech for this on the floor of the House in a very similar situation.
ROBERTSO'Neill was the last Democratic standing, a popular Republican president, very similar to the current situation. And Ronald Reagan in his diaries that night wrote, Tip O'Neill made a speech for this. And it was a bit strange, but we were on the same side. It was a reminder, Diane, that this is not an impossible idea in Washington. It has happened before. But it takes the kind of leadership that we're not seeing very much.
DICKERSONIt takes John Boehner deciding that he can pass a bill or allow a bill to come up for a vote that will pass perhaps without a majority of his majority. Now -- and his aides had been saying for weeks, not going to happen. He's just not going to do it. But now we're in a different place. And reporting from the last budget breakdown in 2011 over the debt limit, their aides or people who were -- who knew what was in his mind said he was willing, if there was a big grand deal, to let it go to a vote where he might not have gotten a majority of the majority.
DICKERSONSo he has been -- he has had that in his mind before. And in reporting this morning, nobody is now saying that he's absolutely ruled out a possible vote someday that would pass without a majority of the majority.
DAVISI think that there are broader repercussions here for Republicans. I do think that John Boehner had the bulk of his conference with him. I think it was -- probably came down to about two dozen members that have been the same two dozen members that have been problematic for him for the -- for his speakership. And I think that they have cast the party as probably collectively more extreme than they are by numbers. And I think the CNN poll yesterday was very telling.
DAVISFor the first time in the CNN poll history, a majority of Americans, which is 53 percent, said they view the Republican Party as too extreme. And what is most telling about that is it is up 17 points from two years prior when Republicans took control of the Congress. So in a two-year span in one Congress, they have been viewed as 17 points more extreme than when they started. And that's a problem.
REHMAll right. So what happens now? Boehner has told Congress to go on home. So what happens?
ROBERTSWell, there is still a possibility, I suppose, of Boehner and the president getting together. There are a lot of real-world ramifications here. People say, oh, well, you go over the fiscal cliff, and it doesn't really matter. It does matter. The markets will respond. They already are this morning.
REHMThey already are.
ROBERTSYou have bond rating agencies that are hovering, ready to downgrade American bonds. You have real-world consequences in terms of personal wealth. And maybe this is a moment when Boehner says, you know, as John said, I'm going to defy at least my most conservative members and do what's right for the country because a lot of my own constituents are going to suffer from this. Now, the president has got to make a decision, too, because, in the short term, this might play for him politically. As Susan says, you know, people are ready to blame the Republicans for this. He just won re-election.
ROBERTSBut looking down the road, six months or a year, he's going to be president for four years. Does he want to preside over an economic disaster? Does he want to have to have this hanging over his head? In the end, all presidents get blamed for the economics. We saw that during the election. And if there is an economic downturn as a result of this, yeah, they might blame the Republicans, but any incumbent president is going to have to accept a lot of the blame, too.
DICKERSONJust to pick up on that point, I think that's exactly right. At the White House, they think the economy is poised for a recovery here and that, if they can just get this settled in some way, that recovery will take off. Well, that's a nice piece of legacy for the president if he can claim after four years the economy was as damaged as it had been since the Great Depression, but I pulled it out. The second thing is you don't want to start your second term and be preparing your inaugural remarks...
DICKERSON...with this hairball still sticking around in Washington.
REHMAnd the IRS is saying if you guys don't get a deal, we are in a huge mess.
DAVISI think -- and to what Steve said, I'm actually more optimistic that they might get a deal at this point, in part, because I think there's collective frustration among the rank and file to move on. And part of that, as you talk about real-world consequences, is the IRS talking -- sent a letter today to -- or this week to Congress saying, you know, if you guys don't fix this, you are messing with millions of Americans that will feel the impact as soon as this tax filing, particularly on the alternative minimum tax, a very complicated piece of legislation that Congress has been patching for...
REHMThat is going to hit more than 30 million more people.
DAVISAnd the way that this tax is structured will hit them for this tax season. It will affect them for this filing.
REHMSusan Davis of USA Today. Short break. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd, of course, we are talking thus far about Plan B, which Congressman Boehner lost last night because his own Republican caucus would not support him in that vote. There is some good news on the economy. Sales of existing homes rose nearly 6 percent November, highest rate since November of 2009. On the other hand, consumer sentiment is down, perhaps because of these ongoing failed negotiations.
ROBERTSUncertainty. Well, there's no doubt about that. The worst thing for markets is uncertainty. We know that, and this has injected an enormous amount of uncertainty. The economy is recovering slowly. It's still fragile. And this has got to be, as we were just saying, got to be on the president's mind. You know, he's the steward of the economy in the end. And he knows it's fragile, and he knows that his second term is going to be defined, to some extent, by how successful he is at continuing this economic recovery.
ROBERTSAnd there's another variable here we haven't mentioned, and that's the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. If there's going to be a deal, it's going to have to include some benefit cuts, some painful cuts, particularly a change in the way Social Security benefits are calculated so that the increase is reduced. It's not going to be a cut in any benefits, but the increases will be at a slower rate. You know, a lot of liberals are very upset with this, Paul Krugman in The New York Times and many others.
REHMAnd raising -- yeah, and raising the age of eligibility.
ROBERTSAnd so there's going to have to be some courage not only by John Boehner, but by Barack Obama saying this is the best deal we can get. It's essential for the economic health of the country. And everybody's going to have to give a little. And Obama, if there's going to be a deal, he's going to have to stand up to the liberals in his own party too.
DICKERSONWe're at a fascinating historical moment. If John Boehner -- what John Boehner was asking Republicans to do is essentially to vote for a tax increase for the first time in 21 years. The sort of signature sin of George Herbert Walker Bush, according to many conservatives, was the budget deal that broke his no-new-taxes pledge.
DICKERSONAnd so after that, there has not been a vote by Republicans to increase taxes. So, on the one hand, you have a kind of conservative history that this is very much a part of. On the other hand, John Boehner has a chance to be like Nicholas Longworth, the House speaker from the same part of Ohio that he comes from. Longworth was known as a Republican dealmaker.
DICKERSONAnd Boehner, if he's able to put together some kind of deal that doesn't rely on a majority of the majority, what will be remembered more, that he and the president got together and put together a deal that finally broke this stalemate or that he lost last night in his own conference? And that's the sort of historical question for John Boehner as he tries to figure out ultimately what his end game is.
REHMIs there somebody waiting in the wings behind John Boehner, Susan Davis?
DAVISShort answer is no. I think that you hear increasingly from some of the conservative grassroots outside, at Tea Party-type groups who have said, we should replace John Boehner, we should replace John Boehner. I think it's a small minority of the party, and I think it goes to the point of you can't beat somebody with nobody. There's been a lot of chatter in Washington that Eric Cantor, the majority leader of the House, was someone who maybe had been angling or undermining the speaker at times.
DAVISBut I don't think there's any evidence to that now. I think Eric Cantor worked very hard to help the speaker try and get Plan B the votes it need it. I think Eric Cantor was just as frustrated as John Boehner was that it didn't. So it's going to be -- the speaker of the House will be voted on by the full House on Jan. 3 when the next Congress convenes. And I do think it will be an interesting element to see if any members of his party do not vote for him. But I don't think it's a question that he's going to be the speaker of the next House. I think the question is, why does John Boehner want to be speaker?
REHMAnd he is speaking as we speak. He is signaling he's still open to talks with President Obama to avoid the fiscal cliff. So if he is still open to those talks and he sent the Congress home, what does that mean between now and Dec. 31? John Dickerson.
DICKERSONWell, it means that he has to find a route to something that's going to pass the House. And again, it goes back, I think, to what we've all been talking about is, is he going to bring something up for a vote that could pass but that wouldn't pass with the majority of his own members? How does he get that thing?
REHMAnd bring them back? Bring them back?
DICKERSONYeah. Well, bring them back after Christmas.
ROBERTSHe has put them on notice that they had to be back within 48 hours.
REHMTwenty-seventh. Mm hmm.
ROBERTSBut, you know, Trent Lott, the former majority leader of the Senate and before that, a House leader, said sometimes the best time to get a deal is when the capital is empty. You know, and that you can -- really, this requires the two leaders to create a package that doesn't leak ahead of time, but they hold hands, they walk out in front of the microphones and say, we both gave something, we both got something, we're holding hands and doing this together the way Tip O'Neill and Ronald Reagan did it 30 years ago.
REHMDo you think that's likely?
ROBERTSPossible, but not likely because it's a very different Congress. And one of the things that's happened today is that the parties are far more polarized than they were 30 years ago.
ROBERTSYou don't have moderate Southern Democrats, and you don't have progressive Republican, you know, progressive Northern Republicans. But one of the groups that is most upset by this breakdown are the Republicans who can count. And they just lost an election, and they look at the changing demographics in this country.
ROBERTSAnd the whole notion that's coming from the Republican right, that the answer to the Republican defeat is to become more conservative and more pure, it just drives moderate Republicans -- I don't even say moderate -- reasonable Republicans crazy 'cause the whole adage about politics is it's about addition, not subtraction. And when you purge people from your party to reduce it to a small, pure minority -- there are Republicans this morning in Washington who were just shaking their heads and saying, what is happening to this party? It's just making matters worse when this happens.
REHMWhere is Grover Norquist?
DAVISIt's a great question. Grover Norquist supported Plan B. He said that it would not be a violation of the pledge. And part of the, you know, positioning on this vote was to give some members what we would call political cover so they could vote for it and not be in violation of the pledge. In a way, he said it wouldn't violate the pledge because the bill was to extend current tax rates. It just didn't address the other expiring ones.
DAVISYou know, this is politics. This is the great part about it. There was an equal -- there was also a number of conservative groups, a group called Heritage Action, Club for Growth, which is an anti-tax group that came out against it. So even within the Republican Party, there were pretty sharp divides on this issue.
REHMJohn Dickerson, do you think it's likely we'll get something before Dec. 31?
DICKERSONGee, you know, this town's -- the capacity for people to muck it up even when it seems like disaster is at hand is pretty high. And also, I'm getting a lot of emails from Republicans in both the House and the Senate, aides who are saying, you know, one of the things they've been having trouble getting around is that if this -- if we are allowed to go over the cliff, what -- a vote that is for increasing taxes on the 30th becomes a vote to cut them on the 2nd of January.
DICKERSONThe world is not going to collapse. It is not indeed a cliff. If you -- so in other words, after the 1st, the world does not end. The Mayans were wrong, and the cliff analogy is wrong. And so that if voting on the 2nd, though, may allow Republicans, some anyway, to get over this notion that they're voting for a tax increase because they would indeed then be voting for a tax cut, a huge one. So that -- my point is that that theory that's coming up again and again allows everyone to go over the cliff.
DAVISI also think it's important to remember that a new Congress starts Jan. 3, and Republicans are in a worse position after that. They'll have -- Democrats will have two more votes in the Senate. And Republicans, I believe, will have eight fewer votes in the House.
DAVISSo it's in their interest to get it done.
REHMAnd before we move on, NBC and others are reporting that the White House will announce this afternoon that it will nominate John Kerry as secretary of state. No big surprise, Susan.
DAVISNo big surprise. I think for my own purposes, I immediately think another special Senate election for the Senate seat in Massachusetts and does that give Scott Brown, who was defeated in 2012, yet another chance to come back into the Senate. That's going to be a great race.
REHMBut how popular is he after that election?
ROBERTSScott Brown? Well, you know, he ran a good race. He ran well ahead of the other Republican ticket in that state, and he clearly is someone who is one of the last of the moderate Republicans, and he defied his own leadership. And so he has a reasonable chance to win. But, you know, naming Kerry is part of a long tradition here of senior senators who then move to the cabinet as the capstone of their careers.
ROBERTSI remember when Ed Muskie, former Democrat from Maine, became secretary of state. Bill Cohen, a Republican from Maine, became secretary of defense at the end of his career. And this is taking advantage of a man, John Kerry, who never became president but is widely regarded for his judgment in foreign policy.
REHMAnd so you believe it's a good post for him.
ROBERTSI do. I do. I think that he carries with him -- as Joe Biden did. You know, one of the reasons why Barack Obama named Joe Biden as his vice president was Biden had made a career in the Senate on foreign policy. Obama needed -- was weak on that area, and he needed the reinforcement of Biden. I think Kerry adds to that sense of experience and judgment in his cabinet.
REHMIt has been a very long week as we look back now at the Newtown shootings that killed 20 children, six adults, plus two more. The expectations now that President Obama has laid on Vice President Biden's shoulders regarding what to do about gun violence, what do you expect?
DICKERSONWell, to step back, you know, a week ago, this was at the horrible time we were learning of all this, and the president's first remarks when he came out and addressed the violence were focused almost entirely on the families and the tragedy...
DICKERSON...and a lot of people, you know, on the liberal side who are in favor of gun control thought that was a bad idea. They wanted him to come out and grab the moment and make the case for gun control, and his point was tomorrow. Right now it's about the families. So there was this question: Will the president really commit himself? And we've seen now a series of things showing that he will.
DICKERSONHe put this issue in Joe Biden's hands, but was very careful to say this is not just another commission where ideas go to die. He said, I want, by January, the House to take up three specific measures: to renew the assault weapons ban, to close the gun show loophole and to deal with these high-capacity magazine clips. Those were three specific things he said. Often when appointing a commission, a president will say, I don't want to prejudge their work. Well, he said, I want these three things at least to be in it.
DICKERSONHe said also that he would be making this an issue in his State of the Union. Remember, in 2011, he got some criticism for not talking about gun control after the attempted -- assassination attempt on Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. He -- there is some sting, I think, in him for the fact that he did not talk more about this, both as an issue related to Newtown, but also related to his hometown of Chicago, where lots of young men, many of them African-American men, are shooting and killing each other every single day.
DICKERSONAnd so that 34 gun deaths a day is a number that he will no longer countenance, and I think he put the weight of his office, the weight of those deaths in Newtown, where he said, let's remember them as we go forward, when he said, let's have the courage the teachers there had, he has put a lot of weight on himself to keep this on the agenda. It's one of the few things a president can do to keep something on the agenda. He may not pass it, but he keeps it on the agenda. So I think he's committed himself pretty forward on this issue.
ROBERTSWell, you know, Democrats have believed since 1994 that gun control is a losing issue. They believe that their support for the assault weapons ban helped defeat the Democratic House in '94. Bill Clinton believed that, and it has sort of colored their view ever since. I think that Barack Obama changed the debate this week, and one of the ways he did it was frame it in terms of his role as parent, not as president.
ROBERTSThat's a nonpartisan office parent, and his speech touched people in a human way. He got past this Democrat, Republican, left or right debate on gun control and put it in such powerful human terms that I think there's at least a possibility of breaking the stalemate that's been there a long time 'cause he has very effectively redefined the debate.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Susan, do you think that commission will come up with really strong language?
DAVISI don't know, but two things, one on Democrats. I think the world has changed for Democrats since 1994, and part of the reason why they have shied away from taking on gun issues is they were afraid to alienate a key portion of their party which was largely white men, rural areas in the South. Well, guess what, they're already gone. So this faction of their -- what was then their bay or their coalition is now part of the Republican Party.
DAVISAnd their existing coalition -- urban, suburban, women, Hispanics, young people -- tend to be the exact people that support exactly what President Obama laid out. So from the sheer political look of it, I think Democrats aren't as afraid of the issue politically as they once were. Secondly, I think one of the X factors in this is going to be the parents of those children.
DAVISI think it's an imperfect parallel, but I remember after 9/11, when Congress was debating 9/11 and the intelligence reform. And some of the most powerful people in that debate were the 9/11 families, who camped out on Capitol Hill, who were in then-Speaker Hastert's office almost every day, who carried pictures of their loved ones and were not lobbyists.
DAVISThey had no, you know, they had no structure, but they showed up, and they were a very potent force in that debate. And I -- we don't know if the parents will engage in this. We don't know if they want their privacy. But if some combination of them decides that they are going to make themselves part of this debate, I think that could be a very powerful influence.
REHMAnd what about the NRA, John Dickerson? Up to now -- and they are going to have a press conference this morning -- we have not heard a word from them. The NRA has said it's prepared to offer meaningful contributions to make sure this never happens again. What does that mean?
DICKERSONWe don't know, and we won't know until the press conference, and it will be up to other people to determine whether the contributions are meaningful. And public opinion here is in a different place, and the politicians are in a different place than they have been in the past. And this is a tricky moment for the NRA and also for politicians to be associated with the NRA in terms of where public sentiment is.
DICKERSONBut there is still a baseline that people are not -- the majority of the country is not in favor of, say, a complete handgun ban. So the NRA does have public sentiment on their side at some point. The question is, just where is this new place? And I think one thing that's just fascinating about the president's remarks is that the president now says some kind of gun control is important for the greater good.
DICKERSONHe has now put himself on the other side of arguably the most powerful lobby in Washington. When he came to Washington in 2008, he said, I will change the way this town works so that special interests who do not act in the greater good will no longer have control over the levers of power in this city. He has now put himself in the middle of a debate in which he is now going up against the strongest and most powerful and effective users of those levers of power.
REHMAnd, clearly, we're going to have to talk about this more broadly with violent video games, with violent movies. I think Hollywood's response is interesting. Chris Dodd, chair of the Motion Picture Association of America said that Hollywood's ready to be part of a national conversation. The premiere for Tom Cruise's movie, "Jack Reacher," has been postponed. The premiere for Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained" was cancelled. All of this means the conversation is changing. Short break here. When we come back, more and your calls.
REHMAnd welcome back. Time to go to the phones, first, to Gary, North -- Cary, N.C. Good morning, Ken.
KENHi. Thanks for taking my call.
KENThe -- I appreciated the point about the -- so many representatives having such safe districts. And it reinforces what I've been thinking this -- over these last few days of how our Congress is acting more like a parliament, and the Republicans really had a coalition of two very different ideologies. And now, it turns out that they don't -- the Tea Party doesn't really depend on the larger party structure to get re-elected.
KENThen there's very little reason for them to work together. And so the question that arises in my mind is, what role could another coalition partner play in moving some of this legislation forward, such as, you know, as many Democrats as Nancy Pelosi could get to vote was something that Boehner might go along with?
ROBERTSWell, the caller's absolutely right, that the Tea Party, in effect, has its own structure. It has its own sources of funding. And the members who defied John Boehner last night were very explicit saying, we don't have to listen to the speaker. We're elected separately. We can go our own way. And we've seen over and over again, they're relatively impervious because of their districts, because of their sources of money, and because they don't feel any loyalty to the speaker.
ROBERTSAs we were saying earlier, that does raise the question of whether there's another coalition of majority Democrats with some more moderate Republicans. The -- but that depends on John Boehner being willing to bring up a bill that would pass with largely Democratic votes. That would be a mark of weakness, but it also would be a way of getting it done.
REHMHere's an email with a different perspective, saying, "I find it interesting you're not discussing the fact that the president isn't budging on his positions, but Boehner is expected to give away a lot on his." Susan.
DAVISI would say I don't think that's entirely accurate. I do think that the president offered -- in their last round of negotiations, before Boehner tried to go to Plan B, the president did actually move the ball. He agreed, you know, he had campaigned on raising tax rates on 250 and above. He increased the bar and said, OK, I'll make it $400,000.
DAVISThey also offered what is called chained CPI, but as what Steve referred to earlier, which is how they calculate cost of living adjustments for Social Security so people would get a little bit stingier payouts as the program goes on to save money. Democrats hate it, but that was something that Obama would, you know, the White House said they put that on the table.
DAVISSo part of the reason why I think there's a lot of confusion about what Boehner did is that it least seemed publicly that they were maybe getting there, that, you know, Boehner had conceded that rates were going to rise, Obama was moving towards the middle and split the difference at 500, shake hands and call it a day. And I think that's part of the frustration that you're seeing out of this. Our own poll, the USA Today poll, that was out this week showed 66 percent of respondents said they should both compromise on their principles, get a deal and move on.
DICKERSONAnd one thing that's happened now is that Boehner and his team has a pretty good sense of how many votes they could get for -- if we come back to the grand deal, Boehner gives on getting the majority. He has some idea now of how many of his members would maybe vote for a grand deal that includes those concessions from the White House.
DICKERSONThere probably would need to be a little bit more of a concession from the White House. And, you know, so now, Boehner knows what the number is. Maybe it's around -- he needs about 90 of his -- well, 90 or a little more of his Republicans to vote on something the Democrats would support in the House.
REHMAll right. Then we are told that the National Rifle Association press conference has now been pushed back to 11 o'clock. Let's go to St. Louis, Mo. Good morning, Elizabeth.
ELIZABETHGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.
ELIZABETHI'm a lifelong Republican. I'm 84 years old. And I'm just heartbreaking at the (word?) position that the Republicans have taken. And there's no working across the aisle anymore, and they're not Republicans. They're rip-it-up-cans. (sic) And it seems no matter -- a portion of them, no matter what is presented to them, it is not acceptable. There's no humor. There's no sense of the individual anymore. And it's just a platform to be carried through.
ROBERTSWell, you know, Missouri is a very good example of a state that used to be a thriving home for somewhat more moderate Republicans. Jack Danforth was the senator there who prided himself on working with Democrats. Kit Bond, the other senator, was also a reasonably moderate person. They were Republicans. There was a Republican congresswoman from Missouri, Jo Ann Emerson, who I've talked to many times over the years, who said, you know, they never put me on TV because I'm too moderate for them.
ROBERTSThey always put Michele Bachmann on TV. The fact is Missouri is a very good example of a state where the Republican Party has been high-jacked to some extent by the more conservative elements. And that used to be place where the dealmakers we've been talking about used to flourish and not today.
REHMAll right. To Tampa, Fla. Hi, John.
JOHNHi. I think that we've moved on to a political topic, but I was -- I want to just talk about gun control. I called this show a few days ago, and I didn't do a very good job expressing this point. It was actually the first time I've ever called a radio show. So thank you for giving me the opportunity to do so again. May I go ahead?
REHMYes. But let me tell you, we do have a one-month rule. I'm going to let you go on this time, but I'll ask you, please, next time to hold off for a month.
JOHNOK. Thank you very much. The difference between assault rifles and handguns is important. And I think when the Democrats pushed this issue, which I believe they will, I think they need to do so two-fold. They needed to address handguns and assault rifles separately. The vast majority of gun violence are caused by handguns -- that inner city crime and casual gun murderers, I would call them. When there's a handgun available, someone picks it up and shoots someone else.
JOHNThese kinds of mass murders, especially when an assault rifle is involved, is a planned incident. The person is really convinced that they want to kill people. So making guns hard to acquire isn't necessarily going to prevent mass killing. It might curve them a little bit, but it's really just going to make it more inconvenient for the person to do what they want to do.
REHMWell, let's hope we have lots of inconvenience around.
ROBERTSWell, you know, there's this argument that this tragedy at Newtown and others could not have been prevented by tighter gun laws, and, perhaps, that's true. But there's a basic fallacy in this argument that because these laws are not perfect, they're useless. And that's just not true. If you can reduce the odds -- we don't abolish speeding laws because people break them every day.
ROBERTSWe tighten enforcement because we know they save lives. They don't save every life. They save some lives. The analogy is a good one. The tighter gun laws, if they save a few more lives, if they make it more inconvenient, more difficult to get these weapons, is a social good. It's public health good. It's a moral good. And just because they're not perfect, that doesn't mean that they shouldn't be done.
DICKERSONAlso, it's -- the facts of the Newtown case are not the only facts at play. In other words, in the Virginia Tech shooting, there were -- and in Aurora, and so some of the gun control measures being put forward might have not stopped Newtown but would have had an effect in those other shootings, as well also with the mental health piece of this puzzle, which would certainly have played a role in Virginia Tech.
DICKERSONSo, I think, that's another point here, which is that to continue the analogy, right, it's not just one speeding incident. We're talking about the whole variety. But the caller is right in that -- and the president talked about this -- when you're talking about violence in inner cities, you're talking about brand-new guns being purchased. But in that case, you're talking about the gun show loophole in which a lot of those guns are purchased from other states through the gun show loophole and then scattered out on the streets of our cities.
REHMAll right. I want to talk with you about two people who died this week, Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii. He became just the 32nd person in the country's history to be given the honor of lying in the Capitol Rotunda. He was the second longest-serving senator in U.S. history. Susan.
DAVISHe -- the death of senator -- you said, Inouye, which is how Hawaiians often pronounced his name. In the halls of Washington, he was known as Sen. Inouye. He was almost represents an era that, I think, is fading in the Senate. He was -- there is only one World War II veteran still serving in the Senate, Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, sort of an end of an era in that way. It's also an end of an era of how business was conducted. I mean, Sen. Inouye was someone who was probably one of the most powerful people in Washington that you never heard of.
DAVISMitch McConnell, the Republican leader, praised him on the floor as a quiet man who didn't need credit for the things he had done. But in his five decades in Congress, you know, it wasn't just Hawaii. I think through his position on the Appropriations Committee, a lot of Americans today drive on roads and bridges and have infrastructure and jobs and funding for projects that Daniel Inouye spend his career trying to establish.
REHMTalk about Bob Dole's visit to the Rotunda.
DAVISYou know, in the backdrop of all this fiscal cliff back and forth in politics, there was this very somber moment. And I was fortunate enough to witness it. As he is lying in state -- I believe he's -- and leaving the Capitol today, but yesterday he laid in state in the Rotunda. And Bob Dole, who was also a World War II veteran, came to visit him. And Bob Dole and Daniel Inouye met in a medical hospital as they were both injured in the war. And Inouye wanted to be a surgeon, and he lost his arm in the war.
DAVISAnd he said he would tell the story that he had -- was wondering what he was going to do with his life now. And in a conversation with Bob Dole, who was also injured, said he was going to go to law school and run for office, and he was going to go to Congress. And Inouye was like, well, OK, that sounds like a good idea, too. And Inouye actually ended up getting elected to the Senate first. He beat Bob Dole to the Senate. And he would joke that he said he would always give Bob Dole a hard time saying that he beat him.
DAVISHe got there first. And Dole, who's now in a wheelchair, was assisted in the Rotunda. And he stood up with his wife, Elizabeth Dole, a former senator as well, and he said he didn't want Danny to see him in a wheelchair. And he shed a tear at his coffin and stroked this coffin that was draped in the American flag and was quietly led back out of the Rotunda.
DAVISIt's just a very poignant moment.
ROBERTS...it certainly was. And I knew Sen. Inouye very well, covered him for many years. And he was a man of such quiet integrity and decency that the Senate over and over -- you talked about appropriations. But I think even more important was his role as a judicious figure when they needed an important investigations and they need someone that everybody could trust on both sides of the aisle. They turn repeatedly to him.
ROBERTSAnd you wonder who would play that role in today's Senate who command just from a perspective of personal decency and integrity. And part of what Susan was mentioning was the World War II legacy. I think that one of the reasons that bound so many of those veterans who dominated Congress for a generation or two, the common service in World War II when they were all on the same side of America colored the way they operated as members of Congress.
ROBERTSAnd it led to these kinds of connections and their ability to reach across the aisle because of their common experiences and their common service in the military. And that's lost today. And it's one of other reasons why there is far less of the kind of personal connection between Sen. Dole, a Republican leader, and Sen. Inouye, a Democratic leader, that was such an important part of the old Senate.
DAVISI just would say quickly, I wrote about this recently. In the next Congress, there will be fewer veterans serving in Congress than at any point since World War II.
DICKERSONI mean, I'm thinking about it in terms of, you know, you look at -- on the one -- we got the House -- so far, the House Republicans giving us an example of total, total dysfunction. And now this on -- in one chamber of Congress and then in the other, you have this poignant moment from the past. And just the imbalance is kind of overwhelming.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Another individual passed away this week, Robert Bork. What is his legacy, John?
DICKERSONWell, picking up on that last point, a lot of people, you know, if they're doing the timeline of when and how Washington broke down, they -- one of the important stations in that story is the defeat of Robert Bork when he was put up for the Supreme Court in 1987. He did not make it and then became a hero in conservative circles and was treated that way in his obituaries. He -- the fight over him -- he was basically an originalist in the Constitution, and that was what Democrats found so distasteful about him.
DICKERSONBork, in many people's minds, created the situation in which partisanship kind of had creped further than it had ever before in Washington. There's -- you can debate about that. But a lot of people go back to this Bork nomination. And what -- that's kind of cracked the Senate in a way. The Senate on display with Bob Dole and Sen. Inouye was a different kind of Senate than the Senate that defeated Bork.
REHMYou know, it's interesting because the people who knew him talked about him as warm and jovial and outgoing. And that is precisely the opposite of what we saw when it came before the confirmation group.
ROBERTSThat's true. That's true. And the story of Robert Bork was not just about the Senate. It was about his nomination in the first place. You know, there had been a tradition -- a lot of Republican presidents had nominated William Brennan. They had nominated Earl Warren. They had not nominated hard-right ideologues. And that was part of the tradition, too. And Democrats -- Kennedy nominated Whizzer White, who was a fairly moderate justice.
ROBERTSBut Bork seemed to represent an ideological move to the right that triggered a reaction on the part of Democrats. And the history of this polarization was caused, first, by the nomination of a very ideological conservative and then the decision by Democrats to go to war over this. And I do think that Bork's legacy will -- there's a verb in Washington, to be Borked. And that involves both sides of this, an ideological figure and a counter-reaction on the part of the Congress.
DICKERSONOne other point on the map here is the Watergate scandal. Sen. Inouye was on the Senate investigating committee, and that's where he kind of was introduced to a lot of people as a bipartisan figure and a man of temperament. Robert Bork was in the Justice Department, and he fired the then Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox after Elliot Richardson and William Ruckelshaus had refused to do so, putting Bork -- and that was another thing that came up in his...
REHMAbsolutely. Yeah. Right.
DICKERSON...confirmation hearings, so putting him at the center of this crucial moment, perhaps the most public moment of the Watergate scandal at the time. Bork had his own explanation for why he did that, but certainly Democrats basically thought he was acting like a political act.
REHMWell, it's been quite a year and we've lost some good people. We've had just terrible arguments in the Congress. We have finally gotten through an election. I want to tell everybody that "The Diane Rehm Show" is going to take a break from live broadcast between now and Jan. 2. We'll bring you some other very favorite programs throughout the holidays, and I hope you enjoy them. John Dickerson, Susan Davis, Steve Roberts, merry Christmas, happy New Year, thanks for being here.
ROBERTSSame to you, Diane.
DICKERSONSame to you, Diane.
REHMAnd merry Christmas to all of you. Happy New Year. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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