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?
The U.S. economy shrinks slightly in the fourth quarter. A bipartisan group of senators and the White House propose immigration reform. And a Senate committee holds hearings on gun violence. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Ron Elving senior Washington editor for NPR.
- Molly Ball staff writer for The Atlantic.
- David Leonhardt Washington bureau chief for The New York Times.
Friday News Roundup Video
Ed Koch, former mayor of New York City, died Feb. 1 at age 88. New York Times reporter David Leonhardt, who grew up in New York, recounted a dinner party he attended at Koch’s house in which the mayor cooked a roast chicken. “For me, for many New Yorkers, you can’t separate your own childhood and the city of New York from Ed Koch,” Leonhardt said.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The unemployment rate ticked up slightly to 7.9 percent. Secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel faced harsh questioning at his Senate confirmation hearing. And former New York Mayor Ed Koch died this morning at age 88. Here with me for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup: Ron Elving, senior Washington editor for NPR, Molly Ball, staff writer at The Atlantic and David Leonhardt, Washington bureau chief for The New York Times.
MS. DIANE REHMI do invite you to be part of the conversation. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning, everybody. Happy Friday.
MR. RON ELVINGGood morning, Diane.
MR. DAVID LEONHARDTGood morning. Happy Friday.
REHMDavid Leonhardt, let's start with the job numbers. Give us your outlook with the unemployment rate ticking up to 7.9 percent.
LEONHARDTIt's always a messy month when the two surveys that the government does show different results. So the government surveys businesses, and it surveys households. And the survey of households is what produces the unemployment rate, and it was fairly weak this month. It's why the unemployment rate went up. The survey of businesses was pretty strong.
LEONHARDTAnd so what you have to do is put these two things together and try to tell yourself one coherent story, right, 'cause data's messy and it doesn't mean anyone's messing with the data. It just means you don't get completely consistent numbers month to month. And I think the consistent story now is that we are in an economic recovery, but the pace of the recovery is disappointing, particularly when you think about just how far we have to go to get a healthy economy.
REHMWhat about the revisions from November and December?
LEONHARDTThat's the best news in the report. So what happens is the Labor Department goes out and first surveys businesses. But it can't get perfect information after just a couple of weeks, so it goes back. And so you get richer information about November and December after a little bit of time that is typical. And this time, the revision showed that things we're considerably better in November and December than we thought. In fact, they were considerably better through much of last year.
LEONHARDTIt's not night and day. It's not like suddenly the economy is booming. But when you now look at the last six months, you see job growth that is actually fairly healthy. And so as long as we are not now at the point where the economy's weakening anew because of maybe the uncertainly over sequestration and the other things going on here in Washington, it looks like we're in a decent economic recovery. The problem is, again, just how far we have to go.
REHMInteresting that the Dow has now hit 14,000. It's up 133 points. Wall Street must think these numbers are fairly good, Ron Elving?
ELVINGWall Street also absorbed another blow this week when we found out that the economy actually contracted slightly in the fourth quarter. That was a disappointment, of course, to everyone, bit of a surprise, but not a total surprise when you're giving some of the blows to the economy that had suffered in the fall and seems to have weathered fairly well.
ELVINGPlus a lot of other economic data this week in terms of personal income, in terms of a lot of other jobs measures besides this jobless report today were positive and gave the market some reason to not take that shrinkage in the economy too terribly seriously. Nonetheless, the headlines today, the jobless rate ticks up to 7.9 earlier this week, the contraction in the overall economy GDP number.
ELVINGThose are bad headlines. But when get onto the guts of it and you look at this, it looks as though the economy is not only still recovering but actually positioning itself for a fairly strong spring, in which case, this could actually be a pretty good economic year. I think maybe the one number in all of this report that really sticks out is the revision in November. There was a lot of talk about some kind of political manipulation going on with the election coming on.
ELVINGAnd it looks, from today's report, as though the job increase for November was actually understated by quite a bit from 161,000, which was what was reported, up to 247,000, same thing then true for December. And overall for 2011, the monthly job growth average...
ELVINGExcuse me. Well, it says in 2011, but -- in this particular report. But I think they're referring to 2012.
ELVINGMonthly job growth averaged 175,000 compared to a prior estimate of just 153, so over the entire year, the election year.
LEONHARDTI actually think that was the 2011 number. They go back...
ELVINGThat's right. They just transposed it.
LEONHARDTNo, no. Yeah, they're adjusting it. So it -- that's actually a good -- we have -- for 2011, we had about 175. And I think for 2012, we have monthly job growth of what, something like 181, which tells you we're making progress at, unfortunately, a really slow rate. One thing I was just gonna add to that is that over time, we should actually lower our bar for what a good jobs report is, and that's because of the baby boomers. The baby boomers are now beginning to retire in great numbers.
LEONHARDTAnd so we used to sort of need 150,000 jobs a month just to tread water, just to keep up with population growth. That number is now falling. It's probably falling to something like 100,000. And so when we hear something like 150, it's actually better than 150 would have been a decade ago because we don't need as much job growth to keep up with the growth of the workforce.
REHMNow, Ron, you mentioned the decline in GDP that was reported on Wednesday. How much of that is because of defense spending?
ELVINGQuite a bit. In fact, that was probably the major element of the drop in defense spending that was a result of our cutting back from the Iraq war, from the Afghanistan war, if you will, the latest peace dividend, if we wanna call it that. It doesn't approach what we experienced in the '90s perhaps. But there is some effect from that. And it's interesting because we're on the brink, and we'll talk about this in a few minutes.
ELVINGBut we're on the brink of some more defense cuts that are coming in the years ahead, and they may get more severe depending on what happens with the sequester. So there's a little bit of schizophrenia here...
ELVING...because we do want to reduce spending. Both parties talk about reducing spending. And for some people, that does mean reducing spending on the military, on defense. But that seems to be a headwind for the economy, especially if it happens fairly suddenly.
REHMMolly, do you want to weigh in?
MS. MOLLY BALLWell, I think that points to something that is a significant sword of Damocles, if you will, over all of these numbers, which is the political world sort of holding its breath over the budget battles that we have coming up in Congress in the next few months. There is a series of deadlines. We have just managed to get through the first iteration of this perpetual, apparently, debt ceiling battle without too much drama, but that's going to come up again.
MS. MOLLY BALLWe're going to have this fight over the sequester, which if this cuts -- you have both sides now really threatening to implement the full-bore sequester cuts and economists saying that could have quite an impact on economic growth and really put a damper on things.
REHMSo are you all saying that maybe this is an argument against austerity?
LEONHARDTOh, yeah. I think that -- I mean, I would say two things. I would think that -- I think the lessons of the last five years are consistent with the lessons of the Great Depression in Japan. Austerity in the wake of a financial crisis is a bad idea. It is something that we -- it's part of the reason why the United States has recovered better than Europe. It's part of the reason we avoided the great depression this time and didn't last time.
LEONHARDTWhen you have the private sector so weak, the idea of the government cutting back, history just argues incredibly strongly against it. We don't have to rely on theory. However, the idea that we don't have a deficit problem, which is becoming popular in democratic circles now, is a problematic idea because we still have debt that is quite high relative to GDP. Some of our assumptions about the long-term deficit are probably too optimistic.
LEONHARDTAnd so it is possible to say that the argument for austerity now is one that is very weak when you look at the economic and historical evidence, and yet we still very much do have a long-term and arguably medium-term deficit problem in this country.
ELVINGNext week, the Congressional Budget Office is gonna give us some new numbers on where we're going with the deficit, and I think some people are going to get a little bit of a shock from that because it is actually beginning to decline as a percentage of GDP. Now, that's in terms of growth. And, of course, the debt is all still there. And we're still $16.7 trillion in the hole and all the rest of it. And David is absolutely right. There is a real deficit problem.
ELVINGThe question is, is it the only problem? Is it the one thing Washington should be focused on? And we have a great number of people in Washington these days, a whole cottage industry of groups that are trying to make it so, make it the only thing that we think about. And as we've seen from the fourth quarter numbers and as we see with this sequester debate, if you strictly say, we're just going to cut spending and nothing else, if you cut it really suddenly, really drastically, it's going to have an economic effect you don't want.
BALLWell -- and in terms of the politics of all this, it's been interesting to see a new sort of Republican line evolving that -- I suppose it's not all that new, it's a bit of groundhog day, that the president isn't sufficiently focused on the economy, that he seems more interested in some of these policy fights such as immigration, such as gun control, such as all of the things that he mentioned in his inaugural address that were not about jobs.
BALLI think, in the campaign, we saw Obama having some success refocusing this discussion away from the deficit and from spending onto jobs and onto growth. But that isn't an emphasis that has been consistent since the election. He seemed to prefer to talk about other things instead.
LEONHARDTAnd part of the problem is for him that stimulus isn't popular, right, and Republicans oppose it. And so if he goes out and says, here's what I wanna do to try and improve the economy, A, the House won't pass it and, B, a lot of the American public will say, really? Is more government spending really the answer? And so he's in this tricky situation in which it's not clear how much he can do short term to help the economy. And then, as Molly said, he talks about other things, and he leaves himself open to the charge that he doesn't care about the economy.
REHMBut what more can he do?
ELVINGWith respect to the economy, probably not a great deal. Not a great deal unless he is going to risk the political risks of a stimulus or even asking for it, which would just really be the political risk of being denied it. So what, at this point, the administration can hope to do is to manage the slow takeoff of the economy and hope that it continues as it has every chance of doing with the right conditions. And, of course, having the sequester would be a rather heavy weight on that aircraft trying to leave the ground.
LEONHARDTThe politics of the sequester are really interesting now because the Republicans, I think, have skillfully tried to change things and say, well, wait a second. We're not the ones desperate to avoid the sequester. The president is the one who's desperate to avoid the sequester. The fact is, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans want the sequester, but they both agreed to it. And so we're in this funny thing in which they both want to have the idea of eliminating the sequester be something that the other side has to negotiate in exchange for something.
REHMDavid Leonhardt, Washington bureau chief of The New York Times, Molly Ball, staff writer at The Atlantic, Ron Elving, senior Washington editor for NPR. When we come back, we'll talk about Chuck Hagel's day yesterday, which was a little rough.
REHMAnd for this week's Friday News Roundup: Molly Ball staff writer of The Atlantic, David Leonhardt of The New York Times, Ron Elving of NPR. Let's talk about the grilling that Sen. Chuck Hagel got yesterday during his confirmation hearing. What kinds of questions were thrown at him, Molly?
BALLWell, someone actually did a word cloud of all of the words in the hearing yesterday, and Iran and Israel sort of stood out as big, flashing lights on the map. And that was pretty predictable. We knew those were going to be the major issues for Hagel, the stances he's taken in the past. And these are substantive policy matters for a secretary of defense candidate to be answering.
BALLHowever, I think there are also some well-founded suspicions that a lot of the opposition that Hagel faces has more to do with his history, whether it's personal history with members of the Senate that he's disagreed with in the past such as Sen. McCain, a former friend of his who was not at all friendly yesterday.
REHMAnd what was that issue?
BALLWell, that was about the Iraq War. McCain and Hagel were friends. They were both in Vietnam, obviously, and they were close as Republican senators. And their relationship really fell apart over Iraq, which Hagel initially voted for and then turned against quite vocally. And the way in which he did it, not just turning against the war, but being so vocal, and in the view of some war supporters, rather self-righteous about it, really alienated a lot of the Republican senators who continue to support the war-chiefly McCain.
LEONHARDTI was struck, in particular, by one exchange between McCain and Hagel over the surge. It's now conventional wisdom, and I think correct that the surge worked in Iraq and that it really stabilized the situation and had big benefits. And so the easy thing to do is to do some version of saying the surge worked. I should have seen that. Hagel could have said those things. I was struck that Hagel went out of his way to talk about the number of Americans who had died as part of that.
LEONHARDTAnd I think Hagel is the first enlisted man if he gets this job, if he's confirmed to rise to this position. And I do think that often in our discussion of war in this country, we take out some of the costs. In particular, we take out the costs of human life, even to Americans, let alone to people in other countries when we talk about should we increase our involvement in Afghanistan, should we increase in Iraq.
LEONHARDTWe often talk about the strategic and tactical benefits we would get in those places, which are real and important. But sometimes we remove from the whole discussion the idea of well, one path involves a whole bunch of young Americans dying and the other path doesn't involve it. And I was really struck that Hagel wanted to inject that into the conversation and went out of his way to do so.
ELVINGThat's right. Sen. McCain wanted to get Hagel to say, all right, maybe the Iraq War was a quagmire and I'm against the way we went it. But yes, John, you're right. The surge was the way to get out. And Hagel wasn't willing to do that. He said, I'll let history judge, and John McCain said, well, history has judged, and I have judged and my other colleagues have judged that the surge was the way to get out.
ELVINGAnd Hagel was saying, you know, there was a price to that surge. It wasn't just a face-saving tactic. It was more fighting. It was more troops. It was more deaths. And he clearly was not willing to just, you know, shrug his shoulders and say, OK, John. You were right about the surge. We were wrong about the war in the first place. We should never have gone in. But you were right about the way to get out.
ELVINGHe wouldn't do that. He wouldn't take the easy way out. He wanted to stick to his guns and did pretty much on those issues. He backed off on some other things, Palestinians, some of the things he said about Iran. And he tried to accommodate the Republican senators on a number of those issues. Overall, it was, you know, he's not gonna be accused of being glib. He had a lot of trouble getting his answers out.
ELVINGAnd probably the worst thing for him, just in terms of the memory that people are gonna take away from this -- and I'm a radio guy, so I always focus on the pictures -- look at the pictures on every front page and on every website and on every television screen. He's so hangdog. It looks like they had to carry him out.
BALLYeah. I think it's interesting hearing -- you characterize the way that he talked about these things. It makes much more sense in hindsight when you sort of sum it up. If you were actually watching the hearing, he really fumbled his way through so much of this stuff. He didn't seem well-prepped. And these hearings really matter. I think there were -- especially with someone like Hagel, who a lot of senators had to be reluctantly brought on board for, especially on the Democratic side since he's not a Democrat.
BALLAnd so senators who might have felt like they got talked into accepting him as a nominee are now a little bit annoyed that he didn't put on a very good show. He didn't acquit himself very well. There was a point at the hearing where he had to be passed a note by a staffer and correct something that he had said. And I think there is a feeling, superficial or not, among some members of the Senate that's just, why didn't you do your homework for this?
REHMAnd what about those comments regarding the "Jewish lobby," David?
LEONHARDTYeah. So one of the things the senators wanted to ask him about is his negative comments in the past about this idea of a Jewish or Israeli lobby, and he did back away from some of those. And this is obviously an incredibly fraught debate, right? It, in its history, has involved tinges of anti-Semitism. It has involved real security questions that then get conflated with anti-Semitism, real questions of whether the United States' interest is as close to Israel's interests as some argue that it is.
LEONHARDTAnd I would be surprised if Hagel's -- I would still be surprised if Hagel is not confirmed. I mean, we should remember, this is deeply unusual. Each one of the recent defense secretaries has been confirmed essentially unanimously, Donald Rumsfeld on a voice vote. You have to go back to John Tower, who was rejected amidst personal problems to find any even significant number of no votes at all.
LEONHARDTBut I agree with Molly. He didn't do himself any favors. He didn't look good. And if, you know, if you were tracking the odds of his confirmation, they're still high, but they fell a little.
REHMWhat about the chance of a Republican filibuster?
ELVINGNot one Republican, to my knowledge, has yet said he will filibuster. Now, there has been talk of something of that nature with respect to John Brennan going to CIA. And we will probably have to get past that particular hurdle with respect to John Brennan, unless that's withdrawn. It takes a lot to filibuster against a former senator of your own party. There would have to be, I think, another development before we would see a filibuster. And that's why I think 54, 53, 55 votes will still be enough to get him through.
BALLI do believe that Ted Cruz, the freshman from Texas who was quite aggressive in the hearing yesterday, has threatened to place a hold on the Hagel nomination is one thing.
BALLAnd second, I would point out that it's just a terrific irony that, sort of on paper, someone who would look like he would sail through because after all, it's a gesture of bipartisanship on the president's part to pick a Republican and reach across the aisle for a position such as defense, on something such foreign policy, which is often considered to be less politicized than some domestic issues. Instead, this is looking like the most contentious of all of the nominations.
REHMInteresting. And, of course, John Kerry had a very different kind of day.
ELVINGThat was a love fest in the hearing and then only three votes against him, two Texans and one Oklahoman. You know, he really did not raise any hackles. It's interesting that by choosing a Republican, in the case of Chuck Hagel, that almost seemed, I think, to irritate the Republicans that he chose a Republican whom they did not like. And therefore, it was almost an in-your-face kind of choice of Republican.
ELVINGThat's how partisan things have gotten by choosing someone of the other guy's party but choosing the wrong one, the one they don't like. It's seen as in-your-face.
LEONHARDTAnd he's not even a liberal Republican, right?
LEONHARDTI mean, he's a Nebraska conservative Republican. Time travel back 10 years and say, a Democratic president is gonna nominate John Kerry, right...
LEONHARDT...the alleged Frenchman from Massachusetts...
LEONHARDT...and he's gonna sail through, and the Republicans are gonna object to Chuck Hagel. It's amazing.
BALLWell, and it's this particular Republican as well. It shouldn't be news to anyone that Chuck Hagel had a way of making enemies even when he was in the Senate. It wasn't necessarily someone who placed relationships and comity with his fellow senators as his top priority.
REHMAll right. And who is likely to run for John Kerry's Senate seat?
LEONHARDTWell, Scott Brown seems to be likely. And I think that was -- I think, Diane, we've even talked about this in the past. I think that really was a big downside for Obama in doing this. And he's shown himself not to particularly care about that. He's picked a lot of senators for cabinet positions. And risking a Senate seat for your own party has real cost to it. I understand the Democrats now say, well, we're not at 60 votes now, and losing this wouldn't cost us the majority.
LEONHARDTBut each vote matters, particularly how often you have to get to 60. And there's a chance the Democrats -- this -- if they lose the seat, it will cost them the majority in two years. And so it's gonna be a close race. But it's striking that Obama was willing to take this cost for his party.
BALLOn the Democratic side, it looks like Ed Markey is definitely in, congressman from Massachusetts. Another congressman, a more conservative Democratic congressman, Stephen Lynch, also looking at it, seems likely to run. And so you could have a potentially divisive Democratic primary.
BALLMarkey, who's certainly the favorite of the establishment and the Democratic Senatorial Committee, has come up very strongly, trying to put all the forces of the party behind him. But they may not be able to avoid a divisive primary, and that could, again, strengthen Scott Brown's hand if he is the Republican candidate.
ELVINGYeah, it's South Boston against the suburbs. It's all Boston area between Ed Markey, who's from the suburbs -- or Malden -- and Stephen Lynch, who is from South Boston. And the abortion issue is going to raise its ugly head here because Lynch is pro-life and Markey is on the other side. And this has been a big divisive issue for Democrats in Massachusetts for a very long time and led to some of their losses in statewide races. And Scott Brown's still an attractive candidate, and he's leading in the polls right now.
LEONHARDTAnd am I right that if Scott Brown wins this, he'll then have to run again in 2014?
ELVINGI believe that's right.
LEONHARDTYou've got to have a little bit of sympathy for Scott Brown.
LEONHARDTI mean, I know he's doing it voluntary, but he won a Senate seat in 2010. He lost in 2012. He's now trying to win it back in 2013, and if he does, he'll have to run again to win it in 2014.
REHMIn another hearing on the Newtown tragedy, we heard Gabrielle Giffords speak at length for the first time.
MS. GABRIELLE GIFFORDSViolence is a big problem. Too many children are dying, too many children. We must do something. It will be hard, but the time is now.
REHMReally quite a dramatic statement, Molly.
BALLYeah. I think there was not a dry eye in the chamber while she was reading those words off of her sheet. There's a few proposals before the committee. It was interesting to see that the National Rifle Association, which previously has endorsed expanding background checks as a sort of compromise measure, now is against that, is against really any new measure. And this appears to be their sort of strategic decision.
BALLThey see it as their job to oppose absolutely any new law that would affect gun ownership, whereas in the past, they have read the political climate as requiring them to come to the table. I think most outside observers would say that the political climate is in a more difficult place for the NRA, that they face -- you know, in every poll, 90 percent of Americans support universal background checks, including about three quarters of members of the NRA.
BALLSo they may have painted themselves into a corner here. There seems to be a lot of political will to say, well, even if I am, say, a red-state senator who's not gonna support the assault weapons ban, background checks may be a compromise that I can get onboard with.
ELVINGIt's a strategy for negotiation. You go in, saying, absolutely nothing needs to change, absolute zero. And then if, in the end, you give up background checks, which I think, as Molly has made pretty clear, is going to be the issue that everyone can agree on, then you give that up, but you don't look that bad to your membership because, after all, your own membership thought you were gonna have to do that.
ELVINGBut you start at that point and you fight over that point, and you don't even start to talk about ammunition and clips and styles of weapons. An assault weapons ban, you don't ever get there because you're still back at background checks.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." David Leonhardt, your take on yesterday's hearings.
LEONHARDTI mean, as Molly said, it's obviously, on a human level, it's a very dramatic and touching moment to hear someone who obviously is -- doesn't have anywhere near the capabilities that she did because of gun violence.
REHMDoes she move the response of the Congress?
LEONHARDTI don't know. I'm not sure she moves it hugely. Maybe she moves some votes. It's obviously part of a whole larger swirl of political forces that'll affect it. It is true that this reminds me a little bit -- the gun issue reminds me a little bit of the climate issue in which you do not have anywhere near solid Democratic support for some of these proposals. My colleague, Mike Shear, pointed this out.
LEONHARDTJust compare Harry Reid's words on an immigration overhaul to his words on gun control. He sounds much less enthusiastic about gun control. He is someone who's been an ally of gun rights groups in the past. And so I think something like an assault weapons ban is a very, very steep climb. Background checks may be doable.
BALLI'd make two points about this. I think that's a very good point. This is much more a regional than a partisan issue. And part of the way Democrats have managed to win seats in the Intermountain West, where I'm from -- Colorado, Nevada, those type of states -- has been by diffusing the gun issue and getting A-plus ratings from the NRA and saying, this is not the culture war we want to have. This is not where we want the partisan fault line to be.
BALLI would also say, though, some of the gun rights or the gun control advocates I've been speaking to have pointed out that this idea that because an assault weapons ban might be the hardest thing to do and therefore the most ambitious proposal doesn't mean it's the most important proposal. In fact, 95 percent of gun murders are committed with handguns, not rifles. And so even if you got all the assault rifles on the -- off of the streets, it wouldn't have that big an impact.
REHMAnd meantime, what's happened in Chicago, what's happening across the country, I mean, you would think people would really wanna put police on every street corner.
ELVINGWhat has happened in Chicago in particular is an epidemic. This is a lot of cycle of violence. It's somewhat drug-related, largely gang-related. Some of that violence took the life of a 15-year-old girl this past week, who had been in Washington for the inauguration the week before. Incredible tragedy. Incredible tragedy. Newtown, Gabby Giffords. It's not a question of examples of things that ought to move us. We have those examples.
REHMYou know, it's interesting to me that Wal-Mart has moved to restrict ammunition sales. After all this, how big a deal is that, Molly?
BALLI think it's a big deal. I think it's a symptom of where public opinion is going. Corporations, obviously, have an economic incentive to respond to shifts in public opinion in a way that politicians sometimes don't. And so you see Wal-Mart sort of with their finger in the wind, saying, this is what we need to do to please our customers.
REHMAnd do you think that's going to make a difference in the minds of customers, David?
LEONHARDTOh, I think it certainly could, and in the behavior of them as well. I mean, I think it's a reminder that it isn't just politics that matter. It's also culture that matters around an issue. And if, as Molly says, you know, you could see this shift where you are on the guns issue, it becomes less acceptable to be in a certain place for companies, things like that could matter.
REHMAnd there's one other thing, and that is a story in The Washington Post today, Ron Elving, about how a federal shield law approved in 2005 protects the gun companies from being sued.
ELVINGThat's right. We've paid -- we've passed a lot of legislation in just the last 10 years that has improved the position of the gun industry enormously and made it much more difficult for people who do have grievances to take them to court.
REHMAnd that's gonna be our show for Monday, lawsuits against gun companies and why they are restricted. Short break here. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. It's time to open the phones, 800-433-8850. First to Charlotte, N.C. Good morning, Frank.
FRANKHi. Good morning. You know, I'd like to say something about what John McCain said to Sen. Hagel. And the year after the surge, the L.A. Times had an article which stated that before the surge, three months before in the Anbar providence where 45 percent of Americans were being killed, well, that right there before the surge happened, before the American went over there with the Sunni awakening, with paying off the Sunnis, the killing stopped in that area.
FRANKAnd I'm pretty sure in Sadr City, they also had something going with those people too. So it wasn't just the surge to stop the killing of people, it was the pain off of people and other things.
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call.
ELVINGThere's a real point here and that was being made at the time. And it was interesting in the hearing yesterday that Chuck Hagel did not try to get into this. He didn't try to argue with John McCain's feelings about the surge which were clearly not going to change. And John McCain was playing -- if you've seen the movie "A Few Good Men," he was playing both parts in the climactic court scene there.
ELVINGBoth Tom Cruise saying, "I want answers. I want answers. I have to have an answer to my question," and also, to some degree, Jack Nicholson shouting back, "You can't handle the truth." So I think Chuck Hagel probably was, to some degree, just a little bit coached, if you will. Maybe it's more of his nature to not engage John McCain.
ELVINGJust drop back a little bit.
REHMAll right. And one more caller on Chuck Hagel. Good morning, Aaron.
AARONGood morning, Diane, and everyone there. I have to say that I was, you know, profoundly affected by seeing our American soldier, hero and Sen. Chuck Hagel performing as he did. If he's gonna be the secretary of defense, the leader under fire, I thought he, you know, perhaps at this point, is out of his league. And I would hope that after seeing his own performance, he might be objective and take a look at it and say, perhaps it would be a good thing for me to withdraw.
AARONAnd that's even setting aside the, you know, remarks that he's made. They're obviously offensive and disturbing. And if you think about it, you have someone like Ahmadinejad in Iran, you know, publicly stating he wants to see the annihilation of Israel and expressing hatred of Jews and all of that and to have someone as secretary of defense who, even in the arena of appearance, you know, looks at "Jewish lobby" or an Israeli lobby, et cetera. If anyone spoke that way about the black caucus or about white people or about any other minority, people would rightly be offended.
REHMAll right, sir. Thanks for your call. Any possibility that Hagel would withdraw?
LEONHARDTI think the only way Hagel withdraws is if the numbers change, and he can't get confirmed that...
REHMOr if the president asks him to withdraw.
LEONHARDTYes, that's right. And I would even say that the odds of the president asking him to without the numbers changing are pretty slim.
REHMWould you all agree?
BALLYeah, absolutely. I haven't heard anything to that effect.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Rockville, Md. Hi there, Leonard.
LEONARDHi. Good morning, Diane. I usually listen to you while I'm shaving every morning but...
LEONARD...but today is different.
LEONARDWell, my question is this. Is it not feasible to have a national referendum on contentious issues such as gun control? Is it constitutional?
LEONHARDTWell, I don't think it would be constitutional to mandate policies in states based on a national referendum. It might be constitutional just to have a referendum almost as a national poll. But we don't really have a history of those things.
BALLIt's not a mechanism that exists in our democracy just in sort of a logistical way. That's not the way our democracy is constructed. But, yeah, polling is the way we find out where public opinion is on these kinds of matters and then politicians may or may not respond to that.
REHMAll right. To Jacksonville, Fla. Good morning, Lou.
LOUGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.
LOUThis has to do with the subject of gun control in a way, but my concern is this, is there anything being done federally as far as initiatives to address the mental health component of the whole problem? I mean, you know, if you trace back many of these terrible cases that have happened, you have kids who have been bullied and abused by classmates and so forth.
LOUAnd it seems to me that they're -- it would be very helpful to have something that would -- maybe in -- to put it in an over-the-top sort of way, to make a school a compassionate community, you know, where kids are helped to see that they're all in the same boat together, and they should all be sort of pulling together.
ELVINGThe community, the culture, the violence that we all live with, unfortunately, is the real root, of course, of all these problems. It's an extraordinarily difficult thing to address. As far as mental health is concerned, many people have brought up that issue with regard to some of these mass shootings in particular. And, of course, we would like to see greater mental health services that were more effective in reaching some of these people before they reach a breaking point.
ELVINGBackground checks to some degree addresses the question of making sure that we are weeding out those people who are most likely, perhaps. But as the caller suggests, and I empathize with the caller, the caller suggests that this is really a very large societal question, the role of violence. Look at our entertainment. Look at all the ways that we ingest violence in our cultural life. The caller is getting to something very basic here.
REHMAnd speaking about culture, let's talk for a moment about the Boy Scouts and what the latest is on whether the Boy Scouts are going to allow gay members to -- or gay young people to openly join. Molly.
BALLWell, I believe the formal announcement on this still has not been made, but, apparently, they are gearing up to make a formal announcement that they will allow openly gay leaders. And this would be a cultural shift for an institution of the American community, of the American family, that I think has historically been seen on the other side of these cultural issues because of their unwillingness to give in to this point.
REHMI wonder if it's going to come down, as Dave said earlier, to a particular group's choice. Many are backed by churches, and those churches may say, we don't wanna do that.
LEONHARDTThat's right. So the early signals we've gotten are not that the Boy Scouts will say, we're gonna end discrimination against gays, but instead to say, we are gonna allow some groups to bar gay members and other groups to now allow them. Whereas in the past, they haven't allowed them at all. The problem here for the Boy Scouts is the sort of long (word?) of American history on many issues is muddled, but on rights issues, it's pretty clear, right?
LEONHARDTWe expand rights over time. We let women vote. We make it easier for African-Americans to vote. We allow people of different races to get married. The idea seems now pretty clear where we're going on gay rights. And so for the Boy Scouts to take a half measure, it's hard not to think that will continue to cause them problems in some parts of society and that they will eventually have to go further than that, but I don't know when eventually is.
REHMHere's an email from Judy in New York, "Could you please talk about the idea that the senators who are retiring, Rockefeller and Harkin, could take the lead on gun control as they will not face voters again?" Molly.
BALLWell, I think that's certainly a possibility. Whenever you have a lame duck situation, it magically seems to free up politicians from a lot of pressures that they previously felt. But I think for all of the politicians on this issue, it is a sort of gut check question of where are the political liabilities and advantages. You have the NRA for a very long time being -- willing to spend very large amounts of money against legislators who win against its prerogatives and in favor of legislators it supported.
BALLAnd now you have groups like Mayor Bloomberg in New York with his group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, trying to provide a counterweigh, trying to say, we're gonna be the other side of that equation. We're gonna spend money if you don't vote our way, and try -- and so trying to make that political pressure a little less one sided.
ELVINGI don't see Jay Rockeller or Saxby Chambliss or Tom Harkin becoming the face of gun control or the opposition to gun violence, to use the new terms that opponents of guns are using. I don't see any of them being a crucial vote change. I don't see any of them really becoming, in some sense or another, a driver of change in the Senate. But any of them could be, in some moment, a key figure who could give them key speech or perhaps make some sort of representation to other colleagues. It's possible that the freedom that they get, as Molly described, will make them more important on this issue.
REHMAll right. Let's talk for a moment about the bipartisan group that came together on immigration reform and then President Obama putting forth his priorities. How are they similar? How are they different, Molly?
BALLThere are couple of very small differences between the two proposals. There is a sort of -- and they're -- they haven't actually introduced legislation. The Group of Eight, they've just played out a framework.
BALLBut the framework includes this sort of trigger mechanism whereby the path to citizenship would not start to be created until somebody's border enforcements were -- mechanisms were in place. And it also does not include a provision to include gay partners in the immigration visas which is something that the president's proposals would be. The broad outlines are very, very similar.
BALLAnd among immigration reform advocates, there is almost an eerie feeling to how well things are going. They sort of don't wanna jinx it because it hasn't been this good for them for a very long time. There is...
REHMTwo sides working together?
BALL...so much political will. (laugh)
ELVINGBut, you know, already things are coming apart, I think, with some of the Group of Eight. You've got Marco Rubio taking a tremendous amount of fire not just in the blogs and places where you'd expect it but also from some of his fellow senators. There's a very big question about whether or not we are bringing people out of their shadows, as John McCain and the president have both used that image, in order to make them legal so that they can stay in this country without being arrested and deported.
ELVINGOr whether we're bringing them out of the shadows to take them all the way to full citizenship where they will be able to vote. That is a huge and crucial question here. Are the Republicans fully committed to bringing these people -- 11 million or whatever number we're using now, are we fully committed to seeing them all becoming full citizens who vote? Or are we just trying to make them legal so they can continue to work here and do all the jobs that they're doing?
REHMMolly, is this is a new sign of more functional Washington?
BALLWell, I wrote that this week and maybe this is naive or Pollyanna-ish on my part, but there do seem to be a lot of issues where Washington is actually getting things done, avoiding the fiscal cliff, avoiding the debt ceiling, avoiding what could have been a really politically toxic showdown over the filibuster and the Senate -- that was diffused. And now you have a really sort of galloping progress on immigration reform.
BALLOf course, there are potential sticking points. There are always sort of rocks and shoals to these things. But this is not the sort of awful gridlock that we have been led to expect over the last seven years.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." David.
LEONHARDTI think the main reason why we see more bipartisan agreement is the Republicans are worried. The Republicans made a decision, best captured by this Mitch McConnell line that our priority is to defeat Barack Obama for a second term. That Obama's promise was bipartisan president, and they held a veto over that because they're over one-half of the bipartisan.
LEONHARDTAnd having lost this election, having lost five of the last six popular votes, I mean, we really went through six elections where Republicans thumped Democrats or lost close in the '70s and '80s. And now we've gone through six elections where Democrats thumped Republicans or lost close. Republicans are worried. And I think you see them being much more willing to compromise on issues, and that's why we see some of these changes.
BALLI think that's absolutely right. I also think on immigration, it's worth remembering that it's not only about the Hispanic vote for Republicans. There's a lot of support for this in the business community, the Chamber of Commerce and also the faith community, Catholic and Evangelical churches that is helping motivate Republicans on this issue.
REHMAll right. Hillary Clinton exits the office of secretary of state today. Her legacy, Ron?
ELVINGHer legacy, I would say, is that she'd not only visited over 100 countries, she seems to have left the office with absolutely astronomical numbers of approval from the American people, which is extraordinarily unusual for someone who has had bad numbers in the past to go up as far as she has. She is much more popular now than before she ran for president. She is seen as having been one of the bright lights of the first term of the Obama administration.
ELVINGAnd she has, in many respects, healed the Democratic Party from the great rift of 2008. She and her husband did a great deal to re-elect Barack Obama, and now, he owes them big time as we saw a little bit on that "60 Minutes" love fest between him and Hillary. So she is in a magnificent position now to decide what she wants to do with the rest of her life and that might include being the first woman president.
BALLAbsolutely. It's interesting that we talk about her legacy mostly in political terms. In policy terms, it's been pointed out, there isn't so much a sort of Hillary doctrine. And in a lot of ways, foreign policy is the arena in which President Obama has sort of made the fewest waves and provided the most continuity with the prior administration ironic when you consider that he basically started out as an anti-war candidate.
REHMAnd finally, Ed Koch died this morning. David, tell us about it.
LEONHARDTI'm a New Yorker. I grew up in the '80s. Ed Koch is for -- like for me, for many New Yorkers, you can't separate your own childhood and the city of New York from Ed Koch. He was a giant figure in New York. He accomplished a lot of things. He was also a flawed. He's handling of race relations was deeply flawed. There are a lot of people who blamed him for not responding more aggressively to the AIDS crisis. He also accomplished a lot of things.
LEONHARDTI think what you hear from a lot of New Yorkers this morning in the wake of his death is just what a figure he was, how much he's tied to our own image of our city and what a booster he was of that city. And you heard him talk, and you knew he was a New Yorker. I met him once. After growing up listening to him on TV all the time, I went up at a dinner at his apartment with a small group of writers.
LEONHARDTAnd I was nervous because this was the mayor of my city, so I showed up early with a bottle of wine, and no one else had shown up yet. And he didn't have any staff there, which completely stunned me. So...
REHMHe was cooking?
LEONHARDTHe was cooking. So I don't know if someone helped him cooked before. So I ring the doorbell of his apartment in Lower Manhattan, and I hear, come in, in this voice that I heard my whole life on the TV. And I opened the door, and I come in, and there's Ed Koch taking a chicken out of the oven.
LEONHARDTAnd what I loved about that is that his great appeal was that he wasn't above it all. He was part of the fray, right? How am I doing? And to see that on some level in real life he was the same thing was a great treat.
REHMHow was the chicken?
LEONHARDTIt was good.
LEONHARDTHe was doing well.
REHMDavid Leonhardt of The New York Times, Molly Ball of The Atlantic, Ron Elving of NPR. On that note, thank you all.
ELVINGThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Susan Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman and Lisa Dunn. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. 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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