A new memoir from the National Book Award-winning author of "Middle Passage." He writes about the art and craft of writing and what he calls "the truth-telling power of fiction."
President Barack Obama travels to promote the agenda for his second term. American Airlines and US Airways merge. And a Senate showdown begins over the nomination of Chuck Hagel as defense secretary. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top domestic news stories.
- David Leonhardt Washington bureau chief for The New York Times and author of the e-book: “Here’s the Deal: How Washington Can Solve the Deficit and Spur Growth”.
- Susan Page Washington bureau chief for USA Today.
- Karen Tumulty national political reporter at The Washington Post.
Friday News Roundup Video
President Barack Obama proposed raising the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour during the first State of the Union of his second term. Washington Post reporter Karen Tumulty said the change is unlikely to take effect under the current economic climate. She described a focus group of lower middle class women who responded negatively to the proposal. “This is not going to be an easy sell,” Tumulty said.
USA Today bureau chief Susan Page said the president used his address to set a vision for the country rather than a laundry list of legislative goals. “What struck me about the president’s State of the Union address was how aspirational it was because he talked not only about the things he thinks can get done, like an immigration bill. He talked about a series of things that he knows are very unlikely to get done,” Page said.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Senate Republicans block a vote on Chuck Hagel's nomination for defense secretary. President Obama travels to Georgia and Chicago to promote his second term agenda. And American Airlines merges with US Airways, creating the world's largest airline. Joining me for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup: Susan Page of USA Today, David Leonhardt of The New York Times and Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post.
MS. DIANE REHMI invite you to be part of the program. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning, everybody.
MS. KAREN TUMULTYGood morning.
MS. SUSAN PAGEGood morning.
MR. DAVID LEONHARDTGood morning, Diane.
REHMSusan Page, Republicans have now blocked Chuck Hagel's nomination. What are they after, what do they want and is he going to be confirmed?
PAGEThey say they want more time to ask questions and get answers, not only about Sen. Hagel and some speeches he gave, but also about the incident in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including our ambassador, there. It stalls his confirmation. It means it can't be taken up again for perhaps 10 or 12 days. I think if nothing changes, he'll be confirmed when the Senate comes back and considers it. But, you know, there's now an interval of time for things to happen, for disclosures to be made, for controversies to develop.
PAGESo in that way, it is not helpful for Sen. Hagel. And I think it is also problematic for the president and Sen. Hagel if he does become defense secretary because his relationship with the Republicans on the Hill, with whom he's going to have to deal, has been wounded. And he emerges from this process a weaker figure than he would have been without this delay.
LEONHARDTI agree with all that. I think one of the things we've seen is Obama really become less hawkish over the course of his time in the White House. He came in saying, let's get out of Iraq, and let's double down in Afghanistan. And given the fact that they didn't have much success in Afghanistan, you've really seen him become -- withdraw a little bit.
LEONHARDTYou see him not want to get involved in Syria, even though some of his advisers do. And Hagel is very much a part of that. And I think that's part of the reason -- some of it is just partisan politics, but some of it is this disagreement over how hawkish the United States should be in the world. And Hagel is very much -- forget about the R next to his name -- very much part of the less-hawkish crowd.
REHMHow much more can we get on Benghazi, Karen?
TUMULTYWell, I don't -- the thing is we don't know. I mean, there is -- there are still, you know, information that people on the Hill are looking at. I mean, this is not only holding up the Hagel nomination, but that was also part of the reason that the vote on John Brennan for CIA director was also delayed.
REHMDo we know who wrote those talking points that Susan Rice came out with? And there was some comment that they were changed as -- quite early.
REHMSo the question becomes, what did we know, when did we know it, and who knew it?
PAGEWell, I think what we now know is that key people in the administration, especially in intelligence agencies, knew very soon, very early that the attack in Benghazi was not some spontaneous eruption because of a controversial film -- it was a terrorist act -- and that the initial description of it on the Sunday talk shows downplayed that. Now, it was in the early stages. And, of course, you never really know what happened until some time has passed.
PAGEBut Republicans will argue -- and there's some evidence to support this idea that the intent -- the administration downplayed the very real prospect, the likelihood that it was a terrorist act. Now why? That would be a question. Was it because they just weren't sure? Was it because an election was coming up and it would be difficult to say there had been a terrorist attack, especially on the anniversary of 9/11? Those are the things that are fueling Republicans' desire to keep this controversy alive.
REHMBut Chuck Hagel had nothing to do...
LEONHARDTHe did not.
REHM...with Benghazi. So why is that getting all clustered?
LEONHARDTWell, because this is the Republicans' opportunity to bring up the issue. And I think that's legitimate, right? I think this is more about the president than it is about his nominees. That's often the case. I do think there's a question of when you look at what happened in Benghazi, at what point do we feel like we know what we're going to know, and do we move on to other fights?
LEONHARDTI mean, you want the investigation to keep going. I don't think there's any question that the administration's response -- initial response had flaws to it. I also don't think that there's any question that dealing with these changing intelligence assessments is hard. And I don't think we're ever going to get to a point with Benghazi where we feel like, ah, yes, now we know exactly what happened.
REHMSo, Karen, you mentioned John Brennan. Is he going to face the same kinds of issues?
TUMULTYWell, his confirmation hearings have now been pushed off until late February. And Dianne Feinstein, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, has asked also for more information, more memos on the lethal drone strikes and that program and how those decisions are made. So I think that Benghazi is sort of -- is part of that, but I think the drone strikes and the policies are going to be the central issue in those hearings.
PAGEAnd you know, the issue of the drones is interesting because this is one in which there is bipartisan concern. Sen. Feinstein, of course, a Democrat, expressing concern about her inability to get basic information about these drone strikes, questions about how decisions are made on who can be targeted, especially if American citizens who are abroad can be targeted.
PAGEAnd this week, Sen. Rand Paul, the Tea Party favorite from Kentucky, announced he was putting a hold on Brennan's confirmation until he gets answers about the use of drones in the United States to target Americans, a question he says Brennan has refused to answer. This, you know, this comes as the -- this -- both these confirmation hearings are delaying the process of getting the second-term national security team together.
PAGEThere's been a lot of changes for the president and at the State Department, at the Defense Department, at the CIA, and this means that we're going to have a period of another month or so at least before that new team is in place.
REHMSo the question becomes, you know, how does the world look at us if we cannot confirm a secretary of defense or a CIA director? David.
LEONHARDTI mean, the world always thinks the United States is a little crazy, but they're also always a little envious of us at the same time. And I think it depends how these stories end. I think if Hagel and Brennan are confirmed, then this just looks like a little bit of partisan bubbling that delayed things, and I don't think it'll have a huge effect on our standing in the world.
LEONHARDTI think if this is the beginning of a breakdown in which presidents can't -- including this president can't get their national security team in place, then I do think you could have the world saying, what's going on here? There's a lot of the world that thinks it has bigger problems than we do when you look at any number of issues, and they're sort of surprised why we seem to manufacture our own problems.
REHMOf course, Harry Reid was saying yesterday, the Senate leader, that this is the first time in U.S. history that a defense secretary has been filibustered.
TUMULTYYeah. And this is the sort of escalating arms race that is happening, quite frankly, on both sides. When the Democrats were in the minority, they were, you know, the Republicans were saying that they were breaking with the president as well. I have long thought that -- first of all, filibusters "reform" is never going to work because each party knows that they may be in the majority now. But they could be in the majority later, and they're going to want that power.
TUMULTYI have long thought that if you want to stop the number of filibusters, make them filibuster. Harry Reid, if he really thinks this is a constitutional crisis, why is he sending the Senate home for a week and a half? It is possible to actually make the minority party stand there on the floor and talk. It is inconvenient for the majority. They have to keep 51 other senators there. But they can do it. And it has not really been done since 1988.
LEONHARDTAnd this is a generational divide in the Senate. I mean, there's no question that more recent senators among the democratic caucus are much more interested in filibuster reform than longer term senators.
PAGEHere's a point that we would make only in Washington, which is, while it looks like a filibuster and it sounds like a filibuster and it feels like a filibuster, advocates say this is not a filibuster.
REHMRight. That's what they say.
PAGEThey say that this is an effort to insist on more debate before the vote that was scheduled for -- originally for it to take place today and then was hurried up to yesterday. So it's like a distinction without a difference. And it's cold comfort to Sen. Hagel that they say it's not technically a filibuster, but that is a point that the Republicans (unintelligible).
REHMSo what did Lindsey Graham mean when he said, after these 10 days is up, you know, maybe this will go forward?
PAGEWell, if people -- if nothing changes, it will go forward because there are several -- you know, Sen. Hagel only needed one more vote yesterday in the Senate to get over the 60-vote hurdle and have his nomination go forward. And there are several people who voted against ending debate who say they will vote for his confirmation.
PAGESo we think that absent any new developments that the votes will be there to confirm him. As I said before, though, the issue is how many times have we seen things happen in an intervening period, either in politics or in your personal life, that upends the plans you made?
LEONHARDTThe Republicans are worried on many levels about seeming obstructionist, right? You look at polls and voters think Obama and the Democrats are more open to compromise than Republicans. That almost certainly hurt the Republicans in November. And so I think if nothing changes, right, if we don't get some big news smoking gun, then I think there are going to be a fair number of Republicans who say look, we -- this isn't the fight we want to fight. It's hand to stand here. But just as Susan said, you know, things can change.
REHMBut they're talking about going back five years, looking at speaking engagements, looking at how much he earned. The question of whether he received money from Saudi Arabia came up.
TUMULTYAnd these issues, however -- there was even some pushback from the Republicans on this. When Ted Cruz started suggesting that he'd been taking money from, you know, North Korea, even John McCain, who's been one of Hagel's harshest critics, said, you know, this is not about going after the man's character.
PAGEBut, you know, what else Sen. McCain said yesterday in an interview on Fox was he started complaining about how Sen. Hagel had opposed George W. Bush on any number of policies when he was in the Senate. That has nothing to do with his credentials or ability to be confirmed for this job. But it tells you that people in the Senate have long memories, and that goes in this battle too.
TUMULTYAnd John McCain especially.
REHMKaren Tumulty, Susan Page, David Leonhardt. Short break. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back to the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup this week with Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post, David Leonhardt of The New York Times, author of a new e-book titled "Here's the Deal: How Washington Can Solve the Deficit and Spur Growth" and Susan Page, she is Washington bureau chief for USA Today -- pardon me -- and who often sits in for me. Here's a caller in Orlando, Fla. Vinnie, you're on the air.
VINNIEHi. Thank you. Just a couple of quick points on Benghazi: One, it is a Department of State issue, not in defense. And they didn't nearly go after Kerry as much as they did Hagel. The second thing is we've been seeing this since Benghazi, and they've tried -- they basically want to get Obama in some sort of scandal that doesn't exist.
VINNIEAnd the third thing is Republicans will never learn that the majority of the American people are struggling and trying to care more about putting food on their table, not about some scandal in Benghazi. And they just keep hoping that somehow this is going to resonate and it's not. And they're going to keep digging themselves in a hole if they don't just -- thank you.
LEONHARDTI think there's something to that. I think probably most Americans feel like the Obama administration made some mistakes in Benghazi. I think the fact suggest the Obama administration did make some mistakes in Benghazi. And I think mistakes happen in war. And so is this going to rise to the level of a mistake that should bring down various officials? I think that seems unlikely. And I think, as the caller says, most Americans probably understand that.
PAGEYou know, I think that's right. And, Diane, you had mentioned during the break that you've gotten some emails raising questions about Sen. Hagel's performance at his confirmation hearings. And I think that opened the door to some of this crit problems he's having. You know, he didn't he seem very surefooted.
PAGEHe didn't seem prepared to respond to some of the very predictable questions that he got. Contrast that with John Kerry, who, of course, got a very friendly...
REHMOh, sure. Yeah.
PAGE...reception in his confirmation hearings. Or contrast it with Hillary Clinton when she finally testified before a Senate committee about Benghazi and was completely prepared to respond to the question she knew she was going to get. If Sen. Hagel had done better job in those hearings, I think that some of the Republicans would not have seen the opening they've seen to go after him now.
LEONHARDTIt's worth -- Sen. Hagel did not do a good job in that hearing. And it's worth remembering that this is hard, right? This isn't making an excuse for him, right? If you're going to be the secretary of defense, you should be able to do this. But he doesn't have anywhere near the experience that Senators Clinton or Kerry do. Think about just how much they have done and been through. They both run for president. And both nearly won.
TUMULTYWhich also, you know, goes back to a point, I think, that Susan touched on earlier, which is, you know, one of the reasons for appointing a Republican to this position of defense secretary was the strategy that he would have some credibility with the Republicans because there are going to be some difficult things that are going to happen on his watch, and specifically, difficult things involving Pentagon spending and cutbacks. And you have to wonder how, you know, how Sen. Hagel has -- how well he's done in serving that larger goal.
REHMAll right. Here's an email from Bob in Rochester, N.Y. He says, "In Sen. Kerry's hearing, he pointed out the details of Benghazi were reviewed in a closed CIA presentation. Is this true? And if so, is the request for more information just grandstanding?"
PAGEI don't know the answer to that question.
LEONHARDTThere's no question -- the CIA was involved on the ground in Benghazi, and so there's no question that portions of this review have happened behind closed doors.
LEONHARDTThere's also no question that some of that's appropriate, right? You don't want all intelligence matters discussed out in the public. So it makes it hard to know whether it's grandstanding. I would be surprised if it were all grandstanding. But I also would be surprised if there were no grandstanding.
REHMBut, I mean, it does seem as though if they heard CIA review this behind closed doors, what are they trying to bring out in the open?
TUMULTYWell, again, we don't know because we don't know what it was they heard behind closed doors.
REHMSo one does wonder exactly what it is all about. Let's go to Battle Creek, Mich. Good morning, Lenny.
LENNYYeah, good morning to all. I did want to say that the Republicans, you know, in regard to Chuck Hagel's defense secretary nomination, it is more about the president because, you know, Benghazi is the thing -- the latest thing that they're trying to get traction on. I mean, they've tried Solyndra. That didn't really stick. They've tried Fast and Furious. You know, any bad thing that happens that, you know, caused by the United States they want to pin on, you know, on President Obama, and it's not working.
LENNYBut they got to keep trying. And that's really the crux of it. And they're just messing with the president now. And here we are, early into his second term, and there really hasn't been any major scandals. And so this just bodes ill for this -- the rest of his term. They are going to continue to be obstructionists.
PAGEWell, Lenny, I think you could join the News Roundup panel because I think you're exactly right. This isn't really the Benghazi dispute. It has nothing to do with Chuck Hagel. I mean, you can at least argue that the drones' dispute has something to do with Brennan and his work as counterterrorism chief. This is all about Republicans and President Obama.
PAGEAnd, you know, you also make a fair point. There has not been the kind of big scandal in the Obama administration we've seen in some previous administrations. But it is also true that often those scandals erupt in a second term. So you might want to knock on wood there.
LEONHARDTAnd let's also not miss something that's happening here, which is the degree of paralysis in the Senate has been reduced. We have now seen twice on the fiscal cliff deal and on the aid regarding Superstorm Sandy. A substantial number of Republicans joined with Democrats and passed something. There are also kinds of signals that that may happen again on immigration. And so there's no doubt the Republicans have decided to oppose Obama. But there are cracks in that. And how much that continues is a major question for the second term.
REHMAll right. And that takes us to the president's State of the Union address. He was talking about the middle class raising the minimum wage, gun violence, climate change and immigration. What about minimum wage? How do you see the debate going on that, Karen Tumulty?
TUMULTYI do not know that anything is likely to happen. But what a lot of people have forgotten is that President Obama, when he was first running for president, actually proposed raising the minimum wage to $9.50. This is a really difficult thing to do in this economic environment. And I -- it was interesting. I saw a focus group of a bunch of women who've been -- political scientists and pollsters have been following.
TUMULTYThey call them Wal-Mart moms. They're essentially sort of middle-class, lower middle-class moms, a very important swing voter group. And a couple of polling firms did some focus groups with them right after the State of the Union, and I was really surprised at the negative reaction to this proposal.
TUMULTYWell, for one thing, these women, all of whom are, you know, struggling in this economy...
TUMULTY...said, I can't live on $9 an hour anyway. I can't feed my family on this. And they were also worrying about things like, if this does, does this mean businesses will be able to hire fewer people? Does it mean businesses that are already struggling will lay off people?
REHMBut, Karen, let me just interrupt you. If you can't live on $9, you surely can't live on $7. So what's the problem?
TUMULTYWell, it was interesting. In fact, one of the women in the focus group had just been laid off. And she said her unemployment benefits were better than that. So again, I think this is not going to be an easy sell.
PAGEYou know, you can think it's smart or not, and there's a debate between economists about how the value and the economic repercussions of raising the minimum wage. But I think we could all agree that it's not going to pass. The minimum wage is not going to get raised this year. What struck -- in all likelihood. What struck me about the president's State of the Union address was how aspirational because he talked not only about the things that he thinks he can get done like an immigration bill.
PAGEHe talked about a series of things that he knows are very unlikely to get done, like legislation on climate change or like far-reaching gun control bill. Maybe a gun control bill will get passed. It's not going to include all the elements that he supports. And in that way, I think it was laying out a vision for the country, an agenda for the Democratic Party and not just a legislative laundry list for the things that he thinks can get done this year.
REHMWhat about early childhood education? He is certainly going across the country touting that. David.
LEONHARDTYeah. One of the things that's interesting is actually how little his early childhood education proposal costs. It's on the order of $10 billion a year. That's incredibly little. I mean, you can -- Social Security is $800 billion a year. The federal government already spends only 100 on education. So this would increase that by 10 percent. It seems unlikely to happen. But on the other hand, I think there are some scenarios where it could happen.
LEONHARDTJonathan Chait had a good piece in New York Magazine, saying that by putting this out there, it is possible that you could get some kind of budget deal in which Obama accepts changes, which is to say cuts to Social Security. And one of the ways that his base on the left isn't too upset about that is that you tuck in $10 billion on pre-K, which, again, in terms of these budget battles, is not anymore in a sum and, if it leverages state funds, could actually end up having a huge statement.
REHMTen billion here, $10 billion there.
TUMULTYWell -- and actually I thought the big message in the State of the Union address was Obama's declaration that he was no longer going to allow essentially the politics of austerity. He was not going to let the deficit anymore dictate an -- the -- his economic policy. He said, in fact, that, you know, deficit reduction is important. It's something we need to do, but it is not an economic plan. And there is also a debate going on right now among economists as to whether, you know, deficit reduction is as important as it was and whether we've done enough for now.
REHMAnd looking at what's happened in the U.K., we're going into a triple-dip recession.
PAGEWell, lots of concerns about that and lots of concerns if the sweeping, automatic budget cuts called the sequester go into effect March 1, like -- which now seems likely or maybe probable, that -- will that have an effect on the economy that's going to be problematic, that's going to undermine this fragile recovery we're still in?
REHMYou know, I have to tell you, I felt sorry for the grief that Marco Rubio got for his reaching for water. I mean, you know, people get thirsty...
REHM...in front of those teleprompters and hot cameras. What do you think of his response, David?
LEONHARDTI thought his response was pretty good. I mean, it was not an elegant moment for him in the way he kept looking at the camera, and he's normally so good on TV. I don't think this is going to hurt him. I think he's responded with some good humor. It reminded me of...
LEONHARDT…Bill Clinton in 1988 when Bill Clinton went and gave that speech that seemed like it lasted 4 1/2 hours at the Democratic National Convention, and he got applause when he said, and finally.
TUMULTYOr -- and also giving the minority party response to the State of the Union is just a star-crossed thing to do.
TUMULTYIt's hard for anyone to follow. The president is in the grandeur of the House chamber...
TUMULTY...addressing all the assembled powers of Washington, and then this poor one guy has to get up. The reviews were not scathing, for instance, as they were of Bobby Jindal when he did it, the governor of Louisiana, a few years back.
LEONHARDTI think, in some ways, the bigger political critique of the speech is not the water moment, but that if you didn't know better, you could have thought it was a speech that a Republican was giving a year ago. It still sounded like he was running against President Obama. And, you know, President Obama has won re-election, and he's never running again. And I think there's a real argument that Republicans should be focusing less on Obama and more on explaining what their vision is.
PAGESo if he's remembered for his -- in this address, I think what he'll be remembered for is not just the water. I mean, I think you make a good point on the substance of the message. I don't think that's what people will remember. They'll remember the water, and they'll remember his humor, his self-deprecating response to it, and that's not a bad thing.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And what about the reaction from Republicans to the State of the Union address? Did you see any give, or did you see any moments where you thought, you know, this really might go?
LEONHARDTMuch of it was predictable, right? You see a president of one party giving a speech. The other party says it's terrible, terrible. But I thought there was one thing worth pulling out, which is immigration. Obama devoted much less time in the speech to immigration than he did to guns. It didn't have anywhere near the passion that his talk of guns did, and I think that was deliberate. I think Obama thinks that the best chance of passing immigration is to not have him wrap his arms around it.
LEONHARDTAnd you saw afterwards some conservatives like Michael Gerson, now at The Washington Post, the former Bush speechwriter, say that they really appreciated that Obama didn't try to turn it into a wedge issue. And so I think that was the one part of the response that was a little bit unexpected and, if anything, caused you maybe to think immigration is just a tick more likely even than you thought before.
TUMULTYAnd it's really interesting to see, even outside the context of the speech, the degree to which the White House is hanging back on some of the really, really sensitive, difficult aspects of this. For instance, they are allowing organized labor in the Chamber of Commerce to try to come up with some compromise on the question of letting guest workers into this country. That is the kind of thing that could blow this bill up, and they understand that this is better left for other people to work out.
PAGEYou know, I really agree with David that his lack of rhetoric on immigration was a positive sign for actually getting something through, also the fact he didn't mention Sen. Rubio by name. There had been some discussion. Would he mention him as his partner on immigration, and if so, would it help Rubio or hurt him in his effort to bring Republicans along?
PAGEBut the overall message, it seems to me, of the State of the Union address was the end of President Obama's efforts that we saw very much when -- in the first two years of his first term to try to reach across party lines, to try to find some middle ground to see if there could be a new era of policymaking in Washington. I think that they -- he has concluded that that is not going to happen. It was a much tougher tone in his speech, and the Republicans responded as they have, really, for all four years of his term of being pretty unrelenting themselves.
REHMAnd how do you think the public at large responded?
PAGEWell, I think Democrats like that. Democrats like the fact that President Obama is taking kind of a stiffer response to Republicans. I do think most Americans are tired of how Washington seems to work or, rather, seems to not work. And they look at something like the Hagel fight, which we started to see, and say, why in the world, when we have big problems to face...
PAGE...is this what's consuming them at Washington?
LEONHARDTBut I think -- here's the problem. I agree with all that. Americans are frustrated by this. But we're not going to have it end until voters on both sides punish people who take partisan paths, and I don't use the word partisan negatively. You can -- instead of partisan, you could replace the word principle and instead start sort of rewarding people in the middle, and we don't see that.
LEONHARDTWe don't see voters rewarding politicians who say we should solve our deficit by cutting Medicare and raising taxes. That is one of the ways we have to solve our deficit. And so I think part of the reason that you see this continuing polarization is Obama tried a different path, right? It was a path that Hillary Clinton said would never work, and she was right about that, right?
LEONHARDTThe strategy of sort of trying to win over this middle of the country and governing above the heads of the opposition in Washington failed, and that's why Obama changed tacks in 2011, and that's why we see the State of the Union that we saw. And so I don't think we're going to see a change in this until politicians who sort of take this more middle path do better than politicians who go to either side.
REHMSo are you saying we're not going to know anything until midterm elections?
LEONHARDTNo, not at all. Things can still happen, right? I mean, we got a -- we got the most important piece of social legislation in 40 years, whether you think it's terrible or great. We could get a big immigration bill, but we won't resolve these things.
REHMDavid Leonhardt, Karen Tumulty, Susan Page -- they're here to answer your questions when we come back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We'll go straight to the phones to Dallas, Texas. Good morning, Garrett. You're on the air.
GARRETTGood morning, Diane. How are you?
REHMI'm fine. Thanks.
GARRETTI just want to say I really enjoy your show. Thank you for having me.
REHMI'm glad. Thanks.
GARRETTI just wanted to comment on, you know, the Republican rebuttal at Marco Rubio. I felt his response, you know, they're way too focused on Obama. I mean, although his mishap with the water was (word?) I'd have to say, though, they were -- they seem to be focused way too much on him in particular instead of getting things done.
PAGEWell, Garrett, I think that's a fair point and a point that some critics made afterwards that the Republican Party needs to be more forward looking. And, of course, we think that Sen. Rubio himself is pretty forward looking 'cause we think he's interested in running for president in 2016.
REHMAll right. To Nelson in Cincinnati, Ohio. Hi there.
NELSONHi. How are you?
NELSONOK. I would like to just comment on the underreporting of the influence of right-wing talk radio on all the shooters -- Adam Lanza, Jared Loughner, positively, and James Cole -- who all stated that they were influenced by right-wing talk radio which identifies Democrats and non-NRA members as the tyrants that those guns were supposed to be used on.
NELSONThis has been unreported by the media, and that amounts to being an accessory to these murders because it has allowed them to go on with no scrutiny. There are people like Mark Levin and Bill Cunningham on these shows, and I don't think anyone out there is aware of the depths of depravity of their rampages.
REHMAll right. Nelson, I'm going to stop you right there. I certainly have myself heard many of these talk show hosts talk about what they see as the left-wing effort to stop gun control, to make sure that people have as many guns as they want, to define it as depravity. You know, we got a lot of worries in this country about guns. Let's hear what Laura in Fairfax County has to say. Good morning.
LAURAThank you for taking my question. This week, a statement made by an NRA gun lobbyist in Wisconsin caused quite an outrage when he said that they were just waiting for the so-called Connecticut effect to dissipate. But what I found really outrageous was what the lobbyist said after that, that a Democratic legislator had asked him for permission to support universal background checks.
LAURAAnd the lobbyist said -- and I quote -- "We're not going to do that." And that was the end of it. So he openly bragged about owning an elected official. And I want to know, since you have the media right there with you, what they're doing to find the name of this legislature because if I were a Wisconsin voter, and I'm not, but if I were, I'd want to know who this guy is.
LEONHARDTWell, I mean, we've done a lot of reporting on the influence of lobbyists including gun lobbyist, and we'll continue to do more reporting on it. The one thing I would say, though, is it's not clear to me that the lobbyist owned that politician without knowing more about the story. It's possible that that politician happens to believe that everyone should have guns, right? It's -- it could be more of a philosophical thing than it is a financial thing.
REHMBut it's also possible to believe that if a legislator is asking a lobbyist.
TUMULTYBecause the -- to a lot of members of Congress and state legislators, the NRA's score sheet, the report card, can be a make or break thing in their districts.
TUMULTYAnd so I think that was -- and again, that is really the secret of the NRA's influence is that, you know, they have a long memory, and that they can make your life miserable, and I suspect that that was probably what was going on there.
LEONHARDTAnd it helps explain why when you go down the list of these gun control measures, they have almost all of them, the ones the debate now have majority support. Background checks are up at 85 or 90 percent public support. And it explains why the things that are -- at 60 or 70, we think, have almost no chance of happening. And we think the things that are 85 or 90 might happen but, yet, still might not.
PAGEAnd the issue, of course, universal background checks is particularly interesting to watch because, number one, as you say, nine out of 10 Americans think it's a good idea. It's also a proposal that Wayne LaPierre, the chief lobbyist for the NRA, endorsed a couple years ago in congressional hearings after one of these horrific shootings, saying there should be background checks with no exceptions. Now, the NRA is opposing that very proposal.
REHMAll right. To Plano, Texas. Good morning, Rhonda.
RHONDAYes, good morning. I would like to know, especially since one of the guests, just a few minutes ago, talked about, you know, we're not necessary -- we're not in an election cycle. We're not going to have to wait to get something done in this country. But as a citizen, as a resident of this country, I feel that we're just stuck.
RHONDAWe're just hostage to what has been happening in the last four years. And it just doesn't seem like the Republicans want to make this country work on a participatory basis. I would like to know from the panelist, if you don't mind me asking them a question myself...
REHMOf course not.
RHONDA...what can we do as citizen, as voting members of this country, to make this country work? I can't think of another place where a person can have a job that they just decide not to work for a period of years but continue to get the benefits, to continue to get the paychecks and think that they're working on their job.
REHMIt's a mighty good question.
TUMULTYAnd in a democracy, the way you do this is you throw people out of office. The problem is, particularly in the House, the deck is stacked where there used to be more than 100 districts that were considered swing districts where really moderate party-crossing voters could determine who won. Now, almost every district is either intensely Democratic or intensely Republican. And these House members go home to their districts and their constituents are saying, do not compromise.
LEONHARDTIt reminds of something else from the State of the Union which is the president's call for a voting commission. He's creating a voting commission. And, look, we have big disagreements in this country. We're not going to solve them all. But I do think that people should be able to vote. And one of the things we saw in this last election was people waited a long, long time in some places: Florida, Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C.
LEONHARDTThe lines were just terrible in a lot of places like that. And so one of the ways we could have a better-functioning democracy is if people were able to vote without having to sometimes wait two hours and then giving up.
REHMBut they've got two years to wait now to vote.
PAGEYou know, Ronda asked what voters can do. And, of course, Karen points out that nine out of 10 districts now are either solidly Democratic or solidly Republican. Of course, you could have redistricting that doesn't take into account incumbents, doesn't try to stack districts one way or the other but instead follows kind of geographic lines. And California has a very interesting experiment with this.
PAGECalifornia voters passed an initiative that requires non-partisan redistricting so that redistricting makes sense to the people who live. They are not the people who want to run for office there. And when their -- those districts were redrawn after the 2010 census, that's what they reflected. You had some two sets of incumbents thrown into the same districts in some cases. This just seems to me a really valuable thing to watch and see if that's the way, if that's a way that our politics could become more functional.
REHMRhonda, thanks for your call. David, what about these airline mergers, good for the country, not so good?
LEONHARDTProbably, on balance, it won't be great for fliers because when you reduce the numbers in the market, you tend to get higher prices and worse service. But I'm not sure it will have a major effect. When you -- I used to cover the airlines in Chicago. And when you look at airline routes, what you see is that these big incumbent airlines -- US Airways, Delta, used to be Continental, United, American -- they don't really do much competing on price.
LEONHARDTThe thing that affects whether a market has real competition and price competition is whether one of the discount airlines, like Southwest or JetBlue, is on there. And so I don't think there are many markets now where you've got American and US Air really competing on price, and then they're going to merge and that competition goes away. So my guess is the effect on consumers will not be enormous.
REHMKaren, you were just saying that even Southwest has jacked it's prices.
TUMULTYWell, it certainly seems that way as a frequent player myself on Southwest. I do think the discount airlines, too, are not quite the great deal that they used to be.
PAGEYeah. You know, one thing that could be helpful, I think, to consumers is if we ended up with a stable, financially thriving airline industry as opposed to this series of bankruptcies and problems that we've seen in the industry. And also if they could just give us a little bit more legroom, I would be very grateful.
REHMYou have to pay for it.
LEONHARDTAnd let's remember also that one way to introduce more competition to the airline business is to improve other forms of travel, right, and so it's to improve the experience on the roads because through a lot of these markets, driving is a realistic alternative. And so introducing things like variable price tolls that really have a huge effect on travel could, in a funny way, improve the airline experience as well.
REHMOther question I have for you all is regarding Gen. Allen. Will he accept the NATO position he's been offered, Susan?
PAGEWell, NBC is reporting that he has -- the reports say of three sources is saying he will not accept it. Clearly, he's reconsidering it. We know that for sure. We heard Leon Panetta, the outgoing defense secretary, say that he's urged Gen. Allen to take a little time before he makes a decision. I think that signals that his decision at the moment is not to take that job because he -- we are told by sources he doesn't want to put himself and his family through this confirmation process.
REHMIs this all about those thousands of emails, Karen?
TUMULTYI think that is it. It is the throve of embarrassing emails between him and a Tampa socialite as the way she keeps...
TUMULTY...she keeps getting described in the press.
TUMULTYYeah. And even though he was exonerated in an investigation of this, it's nonetheless going to come up again and be replayed over and over again.
REHMSo if he doesn't take it, who might? Nobody knows. What about Gen. Carter Ham? Anybody know? OK. That's one thing we don't know. Let's go to Indianapolis. Jason, you're on the air.
JASONGood morning, everybody.
JASONMy question is whether or not anybody thinks that this filibuster was more about Hagel or more about the GOP trying to, I guess, what you'd call flex their muscle and show that they're able to come together as a party especially after the criticism they had after the election of not being able to unify under one message.
PAGEJason, I want to thank you for asking us a question we can answer after the previous round that stumped the panel. Yeah. I think it had a lot to do with the president and the idea -- the Republican effort to kind of beat him up a little bit, weaken him a little bit, that might be helpful in some future fight coming up. I think that's what this was all about.
REHMAll right. To West Bloomfield, Mich. Good morning, Ruth.
RUTHGood morning, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
RUTHI have the opposite opinion. And that in terms of Chuck Hagel, there are some very, very, very grave concerns about him that has come out that are very legitimate.
RUTHHis undermining sanctions on Iran and wanting to dismantle the military, his talk about the Jewish lobby is really anti-Semitic. So I think there are some very grave concerns that people are glossing over and wanting to say that, you know, we're just trying to be mean to the president.
LEONHARDTWell, I'm not -- I don't agree that what he said is anti-Semitic. But I do think that the caller is on to something here, which is there are real policy disagreements here that on Iran, on Israel, on the general notion of how big and how aggressive our military should be. Again, as I said before, forget about the R next to his name.
LEONHARDTChuck Hagel is one side of that debate. And it's a side that the president is moving toward. He's becoming less hawkish. And so I think there are people who want to essentially put a stake in the ground and say, we object to this. We don't like this kind of drift in policy. And so it's not just personal, it's not just partisan, there are some real issues here.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To Bethesda, Md. Good morning, Bob.
BOBGood morning, everyone. Thank you for taking my call this morning.
BOBI just want to comment on the disproportionality of the way our legislative process works. There's this amazing focus on gun control and responding to these admittedly tragic events. Yet, where -- why aren't they putting the amount of effort that they're putting toward gun control, why don't they instead spending time on sequester which, if that happens, affects every single American?
LEONHARDTWell, there's -- I actually think there's something important there, which is -- and I think there are probably people in the White House who agree with you that -- I know this is going to sound cold. But if you look at the sheer numbers, some things like immigration and the sequester actually have the potential to affect a lot more people. And they could even cause more effect on people's lives, health and longevity based on some of the cuts. And so I think that's why you see the White House trying to do a lot of things at once.
REHMOK. So if the sequester does come in to effect, we know defense is going to be cut way back, lots of civilians are going to lose their jobs. How is the ordinary American going to be affected if the sequester comes in to be?
TUMULTYWell, I think the biggest effect for the ordinary American if you believe economists is the fact that this has the real potential to throw a wrench into the economic recovery and, you know, both the uncertainty that surrounds it but also the effect of a sudden contraction in government spending.
REHMAre Republicans going to let the sequester go into effect?
PAGEI don't see how it gets avoided. I mean, they're going on recess the next week. When they come back, they only have until March 1. It's hard to imagine negotiations of this sort getting result in that period of time.
REHMWhy would they do that, Susan?
PAGEBut, Diane, what might happen is that it goes into effect March 1. You know, it's not like everything stops immediately. It's a gradual thing. And then you have some serious negotiations. And especially if you see a big economic reaction, if you see a big reaction in the markets, that might really spur Congress to try to workout some alternative deal that would be less draconian.
REHMWhat do you think, David?
LEONHARDTI agree. I think that we're probably going over the March 1 line, but this isn't like the debt ceiling. Going a little bit over the line doesn't mean the end of the world. It's more like the fiscal cliff. And I think...
REHMBut does the Defense Department begin laying off people pretty quickly?
LEONHARDTI think its April 1 that they begin furloughing people so they have a little bit of a buffer. Does that sound right to both of you?
PAGEThere'll be some effects. I mean, there are some nutrition programs. People will be kicked off some nutrition programs 'cause there won't be money to pay for them. We think there'll be an effect on the National Parks. I mean, it's not going to -- it won't be invisible. And that -- and the degree to which we see visible effects and people respond to them, that is a message to Congress about what to do next.
REHMI don't understand why any party would want to let this happen?
LEONHARDTThey don't, neither party does, but they can agree on the alternative, and that's really the problem. They can't agree on what should replace it, and so we have the stalemate.
REHMDavid Leonhardt with the last word. He is Washington bureau chief for The New York Times. Susan Page is Washington bureau chief for USA Today. Karen Tumulty, national political reporter for The Washington Post. And happy belated Valentine's Day to you all.
TUMULTYAnd to you.
REHMThank you, and...
LEONHARDTThank you, Diane.
REHM...thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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