A special March Readers' Review: Diane and her guests discuss why fiction matters. A recent study indicates that fewer than half of all Americans are reading novels today. It suggests that those who do read fiction are better able to understand the emotions of others. A conversation about the social and personal benefits of reading fiction.
Sparring over spending and taxes intensifies one week before sequestration. Details of immigration proposals emerge. And Florida’s governor reverses course on Medicaid. Guest host Steve Roberts and a panel of journalists discuss the week’s top national stories.
- John Dickerson chief political correspondent for Slate.com and CBS political analyst and contributor. Author of "On Her Trail: My Mother, Nancy Dickerson, TV News' First Woman Star."
- Shawna Thomas White House producer for NBC News.
- Chris Cillizza author of The Fix, a Washington Post politics blog, managing editor of PostPolitics.com and author of the book, "The Gospel According to The Fix."
Friday News Roundup Video
Panelist Chris Cillizza, author of The Fix politics blog, discussed Vice President Joe Biden’s remark that if Americans want to protect themselves against home intruders, they should “get a double-barrel shotgun.” Biden spoke as part of a Facebook town hall Tuesday saying that Americans don’t need semi-automatic weapons because shotguns have the same impact. Cillizza said Biden supporters and detractors responded to the remark differently. “Like almost everything in politics these days, it’s dependent on the partisan lens through which you see these things,” Cillizza said.
MR. STEVE ROBERTSThanks so much for joining us. I'm Steve Roberts of George Washington University, sitting in today for Diane Rehm while she's out sick. Sparring over spending and taxes intensifies one week before sequestration. Details of immigration proposals emerge. And Florida’s governor reverses course on Medicaid. Joining me in the studio for this week's Domestic News Roundup: John Dickerson of Slate.com and CBS News, Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post and Shawna Thomas of NBC News, and I'm happy to say, a former student of mine. So welcome to you all. Nice to have you here.
MR. JOHN DICKERSONGood morning.
ROBERTSThanks for being here.
MS. SHAWNA THOMASWonderful to be here. Thanks.
ROBERTSAnd please give us a call and join our conversation. 1-800-433-8850 as always is our phone number. The email is firstname.lastname@example.org. And, of course, you can also find us on Facebook and on Twitter. And we'll be taking your calls and your comments throughout this hour. OK. John Dickerson, topic number one, the sequester, an odd word but one very much in the news this week, $85 billion in cuts. But that's only the first installment of a much bigger -- over a trillion dollars in cuts to come, starting on March 1. Where are we right now?
DICKERSONWell, where we are right now is that it appears that both sides are basically going to allow the sequester to happen on March 1. There was a phone -- status phone calls yesterday from the president to the House Republican leader, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Republicans in the Senate that basically there was no progress in terms of finding some kind of stop-gap measure to keep the sequester from happening. Republicans, basically, that I talked to basically think the president did this for show.
DICKERSONAnd I talked to somebody in the administration. I said, so why did the president make the calls? And he said, well, we've been asked for two days why the president hadn't made the call, so he made the calls. And it's basically so the president can say, I've done everything I can to try to avoid this. And so that everything he does looks like he tried so that when this ultimately happens and people are casting about for who -- where to affix the blame, the president can say, I did everything I could. It was the Republicans.
ROBERTSAnd, Shawna, this is not a new story. There has been recurring battles like this. Outline the basic positions of the two sides. What's with -- why is it so hard to bridge the gap right now?
THOMASWell, basically, one of the blame game problems that we've had this week has been, well, we both have a proposal. We both have a proposal. We have the House Republicans saying, last year, we passed the proposal, but that barely passed in the House in December to avert the sequester. But a big part of their proposal is getting rid of some of the heath care law that went into effect, which the president is not going to allow to happen. On the president's side, they're like, we gave Boehner, we gave the speaker of the House these options.
THOMASThey don't have a legislative language necessarily, but this is what our proposal and that their last offer though, limited tax deductions to 28 percent for the rich, close some loopholes. That includes more revenue. The Republicans do not want to budge on more revenue after what happened to the beginning of this year.
ROBERTSI mean, I have said over and over again, revenue's off the table. That discussion is closed.
THOMASYes. Exactly. They said they agreed to a revenue package at the end of this year -- the beginning of this year, sorry, and you got your revenues. Mitch McConnell has said that multiple times. I would suspect Mitch McConnell may have said that to the president yesterday. You got your revenues, now you need to give us some cuts.
ROBERTSAnd so if this happens, Chris…
MR. CHRIS CILLIZZASure.
ROBERTSBoth your friends have talked about the blame game. Let's talk first about the politics, and then we'll talk about the practical implications. But Bloomberg -- a Pew survey actually out this week, you wrote about it in "The Fix" in The Washington Post. Forty-nine percent say they would blame Republicans. Thirty-one percent say they would blame the White House. That would seem that the White House has the advantage here. But give us an update on the politics here.
CILLIZZAI mean, so, you know, Steve, I think the politics of it -- the first thing to understand when you think of politics of it is the average person has no idea what the sequester is or does. And I think we have to start there. The term is in odd term for a series of automatic cuts. I think most people are not clear on what would actually be cut and over what time. We're talking about $1 trillion, which is a huge amount of money. But it's over a 10-year period, and who would that impact and what would that mean for my daily life?
CILLIZZASo start there. When you have issues like that where the public is, at best, a little hazy on the details, what usually winds up happening -- not always, but what usually winds up happening is it devolves into sort of a popularity contest, which is, as Shawna has laid out, President Obama is sort of saying, I'm doing everything I can. House Republicans are saying, well, we're not budging on this on the tax issue. We're doing everything we can.
CILLIZZAWhen both sides are saying they've done everything they can, usually people say, well, I'm going to side with the guy I like or the gal I like more broadly -- not about the sequester, but broadly, I'm going to side with them on this. And that's why I think you see the numbers with Obama less likely to get the blame. Those number are very much in keeping with President Obama in the sort of low to mid-50s in job approval, which frankly is as good as he's been in years.
CILLIZZAAnd Congressional Republicans -- Congress, broadly in Congressional Republicans at, sort of, as I say, used car salesman, political reporter territory, 15 percent.
ROBERTSAnd John, we're also seeing kind of a mismatch between the size of the megaphones each side has. There was the president this week staging these big events. First responder is very attractive, heroic people behind him saying, these are the people whose jobs will be lost. These are the protectors who will no longer be there. Republicans don't have anything like that stage in which to make their case.
DICKERSONThat's right. And we can -- there are debates, fascinating ones about the power of the bully pulpit. Sometimes we overvalue what the bully pulpit can do. But when the president has the public with him as these polls show and then the people, I believe, show that 70 percent of the public supported -- or no, sorry. That was 70 percent was interested in the deficit. But a majority of Republicans approve of the president's balanced approach, as the White House calls it, which is to say a mix of tax cuts and spending.
DICKERSONAnd so when the White House has the public with them, these public events kind of lock that in place for the President. They couldn't -- change public opinion, but when you've got public opinion with you, it's a nice tableau to put forward to kind of lock it in place. The president -- and you talk to White House aides, they feel very much like the president has the high political hand here. And when I talk to some Republicans' aides in leadership, they say, well, if we're going to make a deal, our approval numbers in Congress are not going to get any better.
DICKERSONAnd our side, Republicans, are going to see it as a capitulation. And so what we have to worry about is after having, basically, given in on the last two rounds of these brinkmanship budget negotiations on the debt limit and on the fiscal cliff, we have constituents who would see any agreement with the president as an absolute capitulation. And last night, the National Review came out and said, let's just embrace the sequester across-the-board cuts because any fast deal at the last minute would be worse than these cuts.
ROBERTSBut Shawna, there are real world implications here in addition to the politics. As the President pointed out, first responders could be cut. Talk about furloughing border guards, longer lines at airports, a big concern about military readiness, what would be the real world impact if this happens as it seems likely?
THOMASWell, I think on the military side, because of what Secretary Panetta has told Congress, it is a lot easier to see what the real world implications. And basically, on their side, they -- the sequester bill, the Budget Control Act basically said you can't cut money from military pay. But you can cut civilian pay. So what Panetta has told people is that we will most likely have to furlough civilian employees of the Defense Department at least one day a week, so 20 percent of their pay, to meet the sequester.
THOMASSo -- and that could mean operations, that could mean, you know, the people who fix your boats, who fix your tanks, all of that kind of stuff. So there's that. On the domestic side, on the discretionary spending, as what we call it in D.C., it's a little bit more wishy-washy. We know how much money has to come this year out of each of these departments, but what does it cost? There have been rumors that, you know, the Women, Infants, and Children's Program, there will be less money put into that, so less money will go to the states.
THOMASHow many does that mean will be kicked off the roles of those programs? Still hard to tell, but there are definite cuts. We have Vilsack, the secretary of agriculture, telling people we're going to have to suspend inspections in meat-packing plants to get this together. So everybody is sort of sounding the alarm of what the cuts mean to them. And it's going to be difficult to see for the first month what actually it costs.
ROBERTSRight. Now, in addition to the decline in services, Chris, as both Shawna and John had been saying, if people are furloughed, that means less money in their pockets.
ROBERTSThat could have an impact on the economy. There are projections that could mean a half a percent increase in the unemployment rate. So talk about that side of it.
CILLIZZARight. I mean, the reality is -- and this is something the President has been hitting on for a while, and my guess would be if -- and I cannot see a way that we would not have the sequester kick on March 1, but once the sequester kicks in, my guess is the President will continue to hit on it, which is this is not a time, in his words, for a self-inflicted wound, that the economy is starting to get better and that doing something like this is just -- while it's not the sort of power and immediacy of the debt ceiling, we lose our credit rating.
CILLIZZAAnd these sorts of things, it does, in fact, have real world implications. And, to be honest, Steve -- and we all know this, the President knows it, Republicans and Congress know it -- it's not as though the unemployment rate is at 30 percent. The unemployment rate is, you know, roughly 8 percent. A half-a-point tick up is a significant tick up.
CILLIZZAAnd that's, I think, part of the broader worry that this slows down what is kind of an economy slowly sort of lurching itself forward in terms of progress.
ROBERTSAnd even though, as you have pointed out, the President seems to have the upper hand politically, his favorable ratings are pretty good, about 55 in the latest Bloomberg poll, but he is still the president.
ROBERTSAnd if the economy drops, he has a stake in that, does he not?
ROBERTSAnd won't he be blamed for it?
CILLIZZAVery well put. That's what Republicans are banking on in a way, that all of these numbers about who's to blame for the sequester are based on nothing at the moment, and that -- other than the President is more popular than Congress, but, of course, virtually everything is more popular than Congress. Their argument is, once the sequester kicks in, these cuts that Shawna outlined -- longer lines at the airport, military cuts, things like furloughing federal employees -- those real world implications and the coverage of those real world implications will say to people, wait a minute.
CILLIZZAI don't like Congress, but this is the -- the president is the president. And, yeah, he's got the bully pulpit. He's got all these things, and I like him. But isn't the economy ultimately his job? That's where Republicans are counting on happening...
CILLIZZAWe won't know until it happens.
ROBERTSAnd very quickly, John, economic news this week showed the economy recovery is still very tepid, very marginal.
DICKERSONFragile. And one thing that's a part of this economic picture also is confidence. And one thing that has -- people may not know about the sequester, but there has been lots of evidence that, when people look at this dysfunction in Washington, it affects their purchasing. And that's bad for a consumer-led economy.
ROBERTSWe're going to be back with your calls and your comments. That was John Dickerson of Slate, Shawna Thomas of NBC, Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in today for Diane. We'll be right back. Stay with us.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in today for Diane in domestic hour of our News Roundup here as we are on every Friday. Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post, Shawna Thomas of NBC, John Dickerson of Slate and CBS. Shawna, we -- before the break, we were talking about the economy and the tepid recovery.
ROBERTSAnd there was some news about housing this week. Interesting story on The Wall Street Journal reporting that Wal-Mart is putting cheaper goods on the shelves because among the things that's happened is that the payroll tax has gone back up, 2 percent out of the paycheck of ordinary people. How is that playing out?
THOMASWell, I think one of the things -- you mentioned housing, and talking to housing people, when they look at Washington, D.C., they don't exactly know what to do. They don't know how to proceed with their businesses. Should we build? Should we not build? And the sequester is playing into that. It definitely is because they don't know what the rules are going to be for the rest of the year and how much money people are going to be able to spend.
THOMASAnd that's on sort of a more macro scale. On the micro scale, with the Wal-Mart, there wasn't a lot of talk at the end of the year about letting the payroll tax cut expire and what that means is stimulus. And so it kind of expired, and now we're seeing, as what usually happens in D.C., is a month or two later, the effects are playing out.
THOMASAnd there was actually an interesting piece in Cook Political Report by Amy Walter, who I know we all love, about Wal-Mart moms and how they see things and that they are feeling this crunch. They are feeling this inability to buy their children extra things. They are not sure how to pay their gas bills. And that's starting to bubble up again right now. And the sequester situation is not going to help that.
ROBERTSWhen you say gas bills, that's another variable here with a very sharp spike in gas prices, also adding to that sense of a bit of crunch on the family budget.
THOMASDefinitely. And it doesn't look like the gas prices are going to go down anytime soon. And there's been talk that this happened a little bit earlier than we expected. And with something like the payroll tax cut, these are all relatable things. There is just not the extra money in the pocket right now.
ROBERTSLet me turn to another subject, Chris...
ROBERTS...and that's immigration. Last weekend, a story in USA Today reporting to be a leak of the outline of the White House proposal, it was never formally sent to Congress because the White House keeps saying, well, we're going to let Congress do its work first. Republicans unhappy with this draft, but still, the attempts to reach a compromise, a bipartisan compromise, still seem to be on track. Give us an update.
CILLIZZAThey do, which is a nice piece of news if you like Washington working, which is we almost never get to report on. I would say this leak -- a leak going to USA Today on the president's immigration bill seems to me to have been purposeful. I don't know whether it was meant to sort of shock the system and get people going again. The president has made clear, Steve, repeatedly and did so again after this leak in USA Today that he prefers the eight folks -- the bipartisan group of senators that includes people like Marco Rubio, Republican from Florida, and John McCain of Arizona.
CILLIZZAHe prefers that they craft the plan and rally support for said plan and pass it through Congress, and he will sign it. He is saying that this plan, which we got a little bit of an outline of over the weekend, that this plan is sort of a fallback and that continuous to be his belief. You know, he called -- he reached out and talked to the president. I should say not he. The president reached out and talked to Marco Rubio, talked to John McCain, I think, probably to calm nerves.
CILLIZZAMarco Rubio was very upset in the wake of this leak, saying that the way that the president proposed a path to citizenship, both the time and how it was tied to enforcement, was unacceptable. I think the president wants -- there are some within the Republican Party. Ted Cruz from Texas is one who is on the record of saying, look, I think the president just wants a political issue here.
CILLIZZAHe knows that if an immigration reform doesn't pass, it's trouble for Republicans. Call me optimistic, which almost no one ever calls me, but I actually think that the president is looking at legacy building here. The president wants to say that I'm the guy who not just did overhauled health care reform but also immigration and fixed our immigration system in the country. I think this is, on both sides, a sort of good will effort at the moment.
ROBERTSWell, we talk about legacy building. John McCain is interested in his legacy too and also in building up the Republican Party. And there is a very interesting split in Republican ranks who have McCainites saying, this is straight talk. We have to deal with this issue if we're ever going to be able to appeal to the rising tide of immigrant votes. If you look at the last election, the electorate was only 72 percent white, and it's going to continue to drop. And that's the McCain argument. But there are the Ted Cruzes, the senator from Texas, who continue to oppose this.
DICKERSONRight. And they argue that -- well, two things: One, that it basically says it's OK for people to break the law, and that if you came into the country illegally, that you're being let off the hook. And they call that amnesty. But they also quibble with the politics, and they say that McCain's got it wrong, that you can pass an amnesty bill and is not going to get you anymore Hispanic votes.
DICKERSONThe Republican argument, in return, is that may be. But you got to get this hurdle out of the way, so that we can then make our conservative case to Hispanics and stop having this be an impediment, a thing we fight over in the primaries, a thing that forces our candidates to get ever more to the right. And we just get it out of the way then we can make our pitch to Hispanics with whom we have a kind of cultural affinity on values issues. And there are a lot of Republicans who think that there can be a connection there. I wanted to say one more...
ROBERTSAnd it's more than that, though, because there's also the argument that the Republican message can appeal to small business people...
ROBERTS...not just in the Hispanic community but also in the Asian community, and that there are points of argument that the Republicans can reach out to these groups. But unless the immigration issue is solved, they're not going to listen.
DICKERSONAbsolutely. For two reasons: One, they won't listen for the sort of ugly noise that they hear and maybe it's caricature. But also, it's the first question every Republican candidate is asked: What about immigration? Well, if that's not the first question, then another question and it might be on one of those issues that they have a little stronger hand on.
ROBERTSAnd, Shawna, speaking of this rare note of bipartisan accord, and as part of this, Congress and the White House sort of outsourced to the Chamber of Commerce and AF of L to come up with a common proposal on guest workers, which is one of the important pieces of any immigration reform. And actually, they did announce this week that they did have at least a framework of an agreement.
THOMASExactly. And as Chris said, I mean, this is one of those things where optimism is reigning because...
THOMASExactly because we have, in this case, multiple strange bedfellows actually working together. And yesterday's announcement by the AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce was we have come up with some core ideas to create a guest worker visa program to deal with one of the issues that actually Marco Rubio was sort of blasting the president about in the leaked immigration document that there was no mention of a guest worker program and how to make that work in that document. And I think that was because that document was not a full document.
THOMASBut they have said -- the White House and Congress have said, business, labor, come together, give us some suggestions, and then we'll put it on the table. And we will help craft the Senate bill that way. And it seems like, even with all the noise about -- maybe noise is the wrong word. But all of the other things going on that the White House is juggling with the sequester and gun control and everything the president is trying to do, this one, they're trying to keep it on track.
ROBERTSThere's another issue here that -- where there was a glimmer of some -- not exactly bipartisan support but you had Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, who was a hospital executive, who ran his campaign for as Republican governor of Florida, highly critical of Obamacare. And, Chris, there was -- as part of this debate, one of the key questions is whether the states would agree to expand Medicaid coverage.
ROBERTSAnd governors -- Republicans like Scott were initially hesitant, and yet, this week, he announced that he would, on behalf of Florida, accept the federal money to expand Medicaid, an important step in the acceptance of this larger program.
CILLIZZAA remarkable turnaround. And I would say we were talking about Obama's legacy. I think one thing we tend to forget because we're focused rightly on sort of what's right in front of us -- gun control and immigration and the economy and the sequester -- one of the largest legacies that we are certain will be part of when we talk about President Obama in historical context is the health care law.
CILLIZZAAnd what we'll see over these next few years is the implementation of it. Earlier, we saw the political fight over in his first term. This will be the implementation. The Rick Scott story, Steve, I actually think is kind of a remarkable and fascinating story. Rick Scott, as you pointed out, ran in 2010 for governor as someone who is vehemently opposed to what he called Obamacare.
CILLIZZAIn July of 2012, when he had been governor, he insisted that the state would not take the federal money, calling it an entitlement. This is the whole -- the argument that many Republican governors put forth: these are unfunded mandates, and these are -- we can't keep up with them. And how are we going to fund them? Well, Rick Scott said this week, well, we are, in fact, going to take the money for three years.
CILLIZZAWe'll take the federal Medicaid money for three years. His reason was because the federal government is promising to fund 100 percent of the Medicaid expansion -- that is, the federal government will pay for all of it -- that he could not, in good conscience, keep the -- I think it's about 1.3 million more people are currently uninsured but will be insured under Medicaid expansion.
CILLIZZAHe could not say to them, we're not going to cover you even though we have the opportunity to. And he's following in the footsteps. You mentioned this, following the footsteps of other people have been quite critical of President Obama and the health care bill including John Kasich in Ohio and Jan Brewer in Arizona. He's now the seventh Republican governor to say, yes, we will take this money.
ROBERTSAnd now it's interesting, John, because, first of all, the governors who are taking the money tend to be from states that Obama won, Florida and Ohio being good examples. But also it shows, doesn't it, that governors have to be pragmatists on some level. And it's very different from being a senator who just makes a speech. A governor has to make decisions, and we're seeing the pragmatic forces on governors to some extent.
DICKERSONWe are. And, yes, it's -- I mean, this is why governors, you know, to put your money where you mouth is. And it's also interesting that Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana, has said not -- he's not going to take the money.
ROBERTSAnd Rick Perry, the governor of Texas.
DICKERSONAnd Rick Perry.
ROBERTSThere are people who are resistant.
DICKERSONExactly. And then heads all turn to Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey who has presidential ambitions. And this is a litmus test question. And what's interesting in Florida is that Gov. Scott, in return for taking the federal money, got a waiver from the administration to allow the privatization of Medicaid. Now, what's interesting there -- the conservative critique of what Scott did was, look, you accept money. But the government's not going to pay for everything.
DICKERSONAnd once you create a relationship where you'll get all these new people on the roles, the state's going to have to pick up the tab in the end after the federal money runs out, although it runs out sort of slowly. So you're sort of expanding the program, not fixing it. His argument is, wait. We got this waiver so we can try to fix it using our private sector, private enterprise approach.
DICKERSONAnd so it will be a bit of a laboratory for a Republican idea which then means his campaign, his re-election campaign -- and that, of course is a part of his decision here -- may be a referendum on this idea of privatizing Medicaid, which is an interesting, again, to your point, Steve, about governors having to do things. It means we got a real debate about things that might actually happen in programs, in the real world that affect real people, which feels very much a distant from the kinds of debates we have in Washington.
ROBERTSWell, it's -- Shawna, several times, you've mentioned, you know, what we do in D.C., and this is a very good example of how the world looks different from Tallahassee or from Columbus, Ohio than it does from Washington, D.C.
THOMASAnd you have a lot of states that actually do have to balance their budgets which is something the federal government does not have to do. And when you sit down and your state legislature only needs once every two years and you have to make these decisions, it calls for compromising in a lot of these states.
ROBERTSI'm Steve Roberts, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You can call us at 1-800-433-8850, email, email@example.com. Facebook, Twitter, we're happy to get your comments and your calls. I want to ask about one more question, and we will get to those comments and calls. Chris, interesting development over former Sen. Chuck Hagel this week, nominated secretary of defense. A lot of Republicans very angry.
ROBERTSFifteen Republican senators, in fact, wrote a letter this week urging President Obama to withdraw his nomination as a fellow Republican former senator. But at the same time, it does look like the votes are there. What's the -- your best guess?
CILLIZZAYeah. I think the votes are there. This letter that was organized by John Cornyn, senator -- Republican senator from Texas, and signed by sort of the usual suspects.
ROBERTSAnd the number two Republican in the Senate.
CILLIZZANumber two Republican in the senate, signed by Ted Cruz and Jim Inhofe and all the people that we saw clearly opposed to Chuck Hagel's nomination from the start. That letter, Steve, feels to me more like one for the history books than it does sort of part of an active attempt to keep Hagel from the nomination.
CILLIZZAI think what Republicans were doing last week when they essentially postponed for 10 days the vote on Hagel through a Senate procedural move, what they were doing was buying themselves a little time in the event something major came out that would disqualify him. I think you will see him be approved. It's not going to be 80 votes, but we've seen -- Richard Shelby, who's not exactly a moderate from Alabama, said he's going to vote for him.
CILLIZZAMike Johanns, outgoing, just announced his retirement. Senator Republican from Nebraska says he will vote for him. So he'll get a few Republican votes. I really think at this point where everyone is -- they say in the Senate, you know, note it down for the record. That's kind of what it feels like here. Everybody's sort of making sure that their constituents and their base knows where they stand on this with the acknowledgment that Chuck Hagel is almost certainly at the beginning of next week going to be the next secretary of defense.
ROBERTSLet's turn to some of our callers, and, Bob in Davidson, N.C., you're up first. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
BOBThanks, Steve. My question relates to the power of the presidency, the power of bloody pulpit. And I'm...
ROBERTSBully pulpit, not bloody pulpit.
BOBI'm focused on within the Democratic Party. You can talk about the cross party, but we seemed to be using the term kick the can down the road a lot in the last two or three years. And I'll use gun control as an example. Barack is very passionate about that. But even within his own party, people like Harry Reid seemed to be more interested in or worried about their re-election than they are in stepping up.
BOBAnd so my question is, has the presidential office lost some of its power, or is this unique to the personalities and kind of the political environment we've gotten ourselves into? And I'll take the answer offline.
ROBERTSWe certainly appreciate the call. John Dickerson, what's your response?
DICKERSONWell, I think it's different for different issues. This president said almost nothing about gun control before the Newtown shooting. And then he has been pretty consistent and pretty -- I mean, he's done a lot of taking the issue to the road, on the road. He mentioned it in -- he had a very strong -- the peroration of his -- say, the union address was the most emotional moment of the entire address. It was related to gun violence.
DICKERSONHe went to Chicago and talked about the cultural aspects of gun violence in the streets. So it's not just about these school shootings. He's done a lot on that front. Now, as we were talking about earlier, there's only so much presidential power can do, and this is kind of always been true. Reagan left office, one of the great communicators, Bill Clinton, a great communicator. They both left office saying, if I'd only been able to communicate better, and they were frustrated with the idea that they couldn't...
ROBERTSObama said the same thing about his first term. He said it was his single biggest regret.
DICKERSONRight. And what this is is presidents slightly deluding themselves about their own power. It's basically a politically scientist will tell you that almost always, it's the case. And Lincoln and FDR, who knew something about how to, you know, work the country, said, can't move any faster than the country will move.
DICKERSONAnd on, say, the assault weapons ban, the president doesn't have the country with him. The polls show that people are nervous about that. And then you look at specific Democrats who are up for re-election in 2014 in red states, they're really nervous about it. So a president can only do so much.
ROBERTSWe're going to be right back with your calls, with -- and your comments. John Dickerson from Slate, Shawna Thomas from NBC, Chris Cillizza from The Washington Post. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in for Diane. We'll be right back.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts, sitting in today for Diane while she's out sick. And in this portion, the domestic portion of the Friday News Roundup, with me: Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post, Shawna Thomas of NBC, John Dickerson of Slate.com and CBS News. Let me read an email -- we've gotten several to this effect -- from Paul who says, "I am disappointed that the poor view today's panel has of the American public.
ROBERTS"There have been repeated references to the public really not understanding what the sequester is, to the Republicans betting that the public will blame the president for the consequences if the sequester kicks in.
ROBERTS"The panel seems to share the conservative amnesia that we had in election in which these issues were all discussed and the president won, the Republicans lost. And now, the public strongly supports the president in his position. The panel should consider whether it is missing, what is going on." Chris, you were talking about this.
CILLIZZASure. Absolutely. Let me say, I don't mean it. I certainly didn't mean to be insulting in any way. I just think it'd be -- there's a decent amount of polling data out there about the sequester in particular. And it would suggest -- the data suggest that most people are following this story not very closely and don't know all of the details, and Shawna have mentioned this earlier. I don't think it's an important point.
CILLIZZAThe reason a lot of people don't know the details is no one really knows the details. We didn't think this was going to happen. Remember, this was put in place by Congress and the White House as a sort of Damocles that would hang over Congress so that they would never let these across-the-board cuts happen.
CILLIZZASo I think, in some ways, we're in an unchartered territory. I would say to the emailer's point more broadly, I do agree that the 2012 election affirmed that the public agreed far more with President Obama and his approach to the economy than Mitt Romney and his approach to the economy. But John made this point earlier, and I think it's an important one. I talked to lots of Republicans lately who say, we may need to take sort of a strategic tactical loss here.
CILLIZZAWe simply cannot -- for our base, we cannot vote to raise taxes again anytime soon. We cannot do it. And, yes, that will not make us more popular with the general public. But remember, Republicans are worried, first and foremost, without the base of your party. This is true for Democrats, true. Without the base of your party, you don't have a party.
CILLIZZAAnd so that's what they're most concerned about right now. You can disagree with that theory, but that's the theory.
ROBERTSWe were also talking earlier about the power of the bully pulpit and its limits and not only is -- yes, Obama won the election, but the Republicans still control the House of Representatives and a very high percentage of those Republicans are in safe seats that are basically immune from political pressure. So the president can go out and campaign around the country, he can invoke the polls that you talk about, but there is a core of Republicans who are largely immunized from this pressure.
CILLIZZAAnd it's a great point. And I think people, they see the 2012 election and say, whoa. It's a national election, and the people spoke. And that is true. It was a national election. Every state voted at this roughly the same time. But, you know, these are national elections in name only. Really, there are a series of state elections. And for most members of Congress, it's a series of district-by-district elections, and if you look at the history of Republican primaries, both in the Senate and the House in 2010 and 2012, what it would suggest to you is the most dangerous thing that you can do is compromise.
CILLIZZAThe best thing that you can do is stick to your ideals. There's been lots of poll data when they ask some -- self-defied Republicans, would you rather have your member stick to principle or compromise, they'd rather stick to principle. That's the way that they get re-elected. And before you criticize them too much, remember, if your job was entirely dependent on the whims of a public, you might do the same.
ROBERTSLet me go to some more callers who want to get in on this conversation. David in Raleigh, N.C., welcome. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show," David.
DAVIDHello. Thank you for taking my call. I want the panel to comment on what I feel is somewhat of a fear mongering or the sky-is-falling-type approach to what's coming out of Washington from both sides regarding the sequester. When you look at the amount of money we're talking about taking out of the economy, it's less than point -- around .5 percent of our whole U.S. economy.
DAVIDAnd are we really talking about going back to levels that were spent in 2011? So how can this have such a dramatic impact on our economy, where we would potentially lose our first responders or .5 percent increase in unemployment? It just seems a little bit much from a standpoint of how much money are we talking about in regard to our total U.S. economy.
ROBERTSDavid, thanks very much for the call. Shawna, I want you to answer that, but I want to remind our listeners that on Monday, we're going to do an entire hour. "Diane Rehm Show" is going to do entire hour on this very question that David raises and the practical implication of the sequester. Please answer his call.
THOMASWell, it does. The amount of money that we're talking about for fiscal year 2013 does sort of pale in comparison to the entire U.S. budget, definitely. But I think what economists are saying is that even taking that hit out of the federal government budget, that little hit percentage-wise, our economy is so fragile since the recession in 2008 that we can't take it. And a good example of that would be military spending from last year.
THOMASThen in the last quarter of last year, we saw a little dip in the economy, and a big part of that was that the DOD started to sort of pull back on spending in anticipation, a little bit, of the sequester, but also in the way they do their purchasing anyway. And that pullback actually was felt in the entire economy. And it may seem small, but those little things, things that we've already talked about today, will continue to build up and cause people to not spend more money. It will cause the federal government to not purchase more things and all of those things...
ROBERTSHave a ripple effect.
THOMAS...have a ripple effect.
ROBERTSLet's talk to Sarah in Oklahoma City. Welcome. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show," Sarah.
SARAHHi. Thanks for taking my call. My comment is that here in Oklahoma, our governor, Mary Fallin, is still refusing to accept the federal funding to expand Medicaid. And she has stated that most poor people's health problems stemmed from the use of tobacco and the problem of obesity. So rather than accepting federal funding to expand Medicaid, she has proposed using state money to expand tobacco cessation programs and programs to combat obesity.
SARAHAnd I just want the rest of the country to know that that's the thinking here in Oklahoma, according to Marry Fallin. So I would appreciate your comment. Thanks.
ROBERTSThanks for sharing that. John, this is part of what's happening. There are a lot of different approaches in different states.
DICKERSONYeah. And, well -- and it's kind of what you want, which is to say it may fail or it may succeed, but you want the experiment to be tried. And, if you have 50 different states trying 50 different things, you have the potential that one of them might do something that the other states agree with or that works out. And if it's a bad idea, then you can kind of cross that off the list. And that's what -- going back to what Gov. Scott is doing in Florida with the privatization of Medicaid, it may be a terrible idea. It may be a great idea.
DICKERSONBut by actually doing it, it moves it out of the realm of the theoretical and into the realm of the actual. And, obviously, it's -- if it's a failure, it's not good for those who don't get the services. But on the other hand, it is one of the ways in which, in a big, unwieldy system, we do make progress, is by having experiments that either do or don't work, and then deciding how to go forward from there.
ROBERTSLet's turn to Jeremy in Detroit, Mich. Jeremy, welcome. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
JEREMYOh, hi. Thanks so much.
ROBERTSPlease, go ahead.
JEREMYYeah. I was just wondering if your panel could comment on Joe Biden's advice to squeeze off a few rounds from a shotgun from the front porch.
ROBERTSOK. Thank you. Chris.
CILLIZZASure. Just a slightly more context. This was -- Joe Biden was doing an online town hall and was making the case for why assault weapons should be banned. And in his unique brand of communication said -- talking about women who were worried about home intrusion -- said, go out and buy a shotgun. Buy a shotgun. Now, conservatives laughed on this. My general take on this is, look, Joe Biden is someone who has been a passionate...
ROBERTSHe's sort of saying, buy a shotgun as opposed to an assault weapon?
CILLIZZAHe was saying, as opposed to an assault weapon, right. Joe Biden has been someone who has been a long-time advocate, long before he was vice president, of stricter of gun control laws and was a leading voice in the assault weapons ban when it was passed in the 1990s. My thought on this particular comment, if you like Joe Biden's hail-fellow-well-met approach to politics, you see this as he was -- this is a little bit of straight talk, being frank. He didn't -- he wasn't encouraging every housewife to go out and buy a shotgun.
CILLIZZAHe was, as you pointing out, Steve, saying there will be alternatives even if we passed the assault weapons ban. If you don't like Joe Biden -- and I feel like there's almost no one who doesn't have an opinion about him -- if you don't like Joe Biden, you see this as, I think, sort of the tone in which the caller was reflecting that this is a guy who is allegedly leading the White House taskforce, telling suburban housewives to go out and buy shotguns. So it's like almost everything in politics these days, Steve. It's dependent on the partisan lens through which you see these things, what you take from them.
ROBERTSBut, Shawna, we were talking earlier about the glimmers of bipartisan cooperation and immigration. And at least on one dimension of gun control, particularly expanding background checks, there are too seems to be a gelling on both sides that there is -- there might be reasonable compromise there.
THOMASDefinitely. And, I mean, Joe Biden going out and talking about buying shotgun is not necessarily going to get us there, but both sides seem to say that there is an issue with mental health, that there is some way to increase background checks to deal with straw purchasers, people who go out and buy guns for other people that they know cannot buy guns themselves. So there are some legislative and rule things that it seems like people are willing to compromise on.
THOMASAnd even the president -- I think when we started this after Connecticut, the president was adamant about assault weapons ban, about the magazine clips. And what he said in past interviews in the last few weeks and on the State of the Union Address was they deserve a vote with his thing. It wasn't that I think this is going to happen. It's that I'd almost -- I don't want to antagonize anyone about this anymore. This is how I stand, and let's just put it on the floor and see what people think.
ROBERTSJohn, a couple of other quick news stories that happened this week. The continuing decline and fall of Jesse Jackson Jr., former House member from California -- from Chicago, pleaded guilty to misusing campaign funds, as did his wife. Update on the story.
DICKERSONWell, this is a fall for, you know, a member of an important Democratic family. And Jesse Jackson Jr., $750,000 misused on everything from Rolex watches to Bruce Lee memorabilia, you know, it's kind of striking. I mean, Illinois is a crazy state when you think about it. You had two governors who are in state prison, several other officials under charges, and yet it's also the state that gave birth to Barack Obama.
DICKERSONIt's -- I mean, it's basically the end of Jesse Jackson Jr.'s career. And in terms of turning the page on African-American leadership in the Democratic Party, it's sort of a sad end to the Jackson legacy and that party.
ROBERTSI'm Steve Roberts, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And, Chris, there's another dimension. We're talking about gun control here. In the fight for his seat, there is a former member of Congress, Debbie Halvorson, who's in the primary, a white woman who is much more critical of gun control. And her opponent is a stronger proponent of gun control. And Mayor Bloomberg who has poured a lot of money and effort into the gun control effort is pouring money into this primary.
CILLIZZARight. Very crowded special election primary is a very Democratic seat in Chicago. Debbie Halvorson ran and lost a primary against Jesse Jackson in 2012. Much more conservative member broadly and particularly on gun, she -- when she was in Congress, she represented the district. That was a little bit more rural, not directly in the city of Chicago where that viewpoint was more acceptable.
CILLIZZAYou know, I would say, Steve, she probably would have won this special election if it were not for Michael Bloomberg and his Independence USA super PAC. One of my deputies, a guy named Aaron Blake, added up the spending that Bloomberg has done in that race. He has outspent -- his super PAC has outspent Debbie Halvorson by 20-to-1 clip, 20-to-1 -- and this is not $20 to $1 because this is the Chicago media market, which is extremely expensive.
CILLIZZAMichael Bloomberg spending heavily, and I think Robin Kelly, the alternative candidate at this point appears headed toward a victory that I would say she certainly deserves and has earned. But there is a very strong assist there from Michael Bloomberg, who has shown his willingness at the end of the 2012 election in statements made in the wake of Newtown and now with his spending on this district that he will put his money where his mouth is.
ROBERTSAnd, of course, there are lot of Democrats who bemoaned the fact during the general election that very rich conservatives were pouring a lot of money into politics, and Bloomberg is doing this now on the other side.
CILLIZZAAnd, you know, he is someone who had shown -- this is very overlooked. But in the 2012 election, he put $3.5 million through, again, a super PAC into a race in California where Joe Baca, a pro-gun Democrat with a strong rating of the NRA. Bloomberg was the biggest spender in that race by multiple folds.
CILLIZZAAnd he helped elect another Democrat. So this will be -- if Robin Kelly wins, this will be his second. Very clear place where his money against -- spent against someone who is out of step, he believes, on gun violence and gun control will have made a direct impact on the result.
ROBERTSAnother story this week, Shawna, that my old newspapers, The New York Times, announcing that they were going to sell The Boston Globe. They bought The Boston Globe 20 years ago for $1.1 billion. Most people think the selling price today would be about a tenth of that. The importance of this story?
THOMASWell, I think the importance is that, one, The New York Times is in some way trying to consolidate itself, that it is protecting its brand. It wants to take its money, spend it on The New York Times, the Times Company brand, and that everything else is really just fat to them that they don't need. And that's what we're seeing throughout the media landscape totally, that everything else is just -- if you can't streamline your process, then we got to get rid of it basically.
THOMASAnd I was reading an article about The Boston Globe, and that they had tried multiple things to sort of make more money, that they took their newsroom space. They got digital partners to come in to try to, one, rent out their newsroom space, but, two, work with their Boston Globe people on projects. And those are the kind of things that it's going to take to keep media -- and I think this is newspapers, I think this is television -- active and making money and able to do things. But it's going to be less diversity now.
ROBERTSAnd, John Dickerson, you work for Slate, and one of the stories -- a lot of the stories have said that one of the reasons why newspapers are suffering so much is the competition from websites like yours?
DICKERSONYeah, that's right. I mean, the -- and it's -- and the circulation is leaving The New York Times. The circulation has dropped dramatically.
ROBERTSThe Boston Globe circulation dropped in half.
DICKERSONYeah. And the question then is, when you sell The Globe, what happens? Who they sell it to? They sell it to somebody who's going to kind of uphold the journalistic traditions of the old media or sell it perhaps for a higher price to somebody who wants to use The Globe brand name and use that to deliver a very new kind of journalism that might not be in keeping with kind of the old style and the ethical rules of journalism.
DICKERSONOn the one hand, the Times -- would get -- New York Times would get more money from such a sale. On the other hand, they would be sort of aiding and abetting the forces that they might argue have contributed to the erosion of The New York Times in the first place.
ROBERTSVery quickly, Chris, you work for a legacy media that's also struggling very much...
ROBERTS...with these questions of keeping the revenue flowing.
CILLIZZAYeah. I mean, look, the thing that, I guess, I latched onto is the fact the desire for news is -- has never been higher. The delivery vehicle is clearly changing. No one disputes that. But if people stop being interested in the news, that's the day I'm really going to start worrying.
ROBERTSBut that hasn't happened yet.
ROBERTSAnd they're certainly still interested enough to tune in to the Friday News Roundup. We're very grateful that you all did that. That was Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post, Shawna Thomas of NBC News, John Dickerson of Slate.com and CBS News. I'm Steve Roberts from George Washington, sitting in today for Diane while she's out sick. Thanks so much for spending an hour of your morning with us.
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