What's on Congress' agenda in the final weeks before the August recess? Our panel takes a look at what needs to happen, and what can realistically get done.
President Obama outlines his 2014 budget proposal. It includes higher taxes for the wealthy and concessions to Republicans on Social Security. The Senate votes to allow debate on gun control to move forward, thwarting plans by conservative Republicans to filibuster. Tens of thousands of people rallied in Washington to push for quick action on immigration reform. Senators working on an immigration bill said they expect to introduce it next week. And the postal service delays plans to end Saturday mail delivery. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Karen Tumulty national political reporter at The Washington Post.
- Jeanne Cummings deputy government editor for Bloomberg News.
- Ari Shapiro White House correspondent for NPR.
Featured Video Clip
The panel discussed the details and implications of a leaked recording of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his campaign strategists. In the tape, his aides mock actress Ashley Judd, who was considering running against McConnell. “I don’t know that this is a game changer,” Karen Tumulty, Washington Post reporter, said. NPR’s Ari Shapiro noted that while McConnell likened the recording to Watergate, he didn’t respond to the content of the tape.
Watch The Full Broadcast
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The Senate overcomes a Republican filibuster and begins debate on gun control. President Obama unveils a budget that changes Medicare and Social Security. And the Postal Service abandons plans to end Saturday delivery. Joining me for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup: Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post, Ari Shapiro of NPR and Jeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us of Facebook or Twitter. And good morning, everyone.
MR. ARI SHAPIROGood morning, Diane.
MS. KAREN TUMULTYGood morning, Diane.
MS. JEANNE CUMMINGSGood morning, Diane.
REHMAri Shapiro, talk about how the Senate moved forward on gun control.
SHAPIROUnder a lot of pressure from family members of people who had died as a result of gun violence. This week we saw just saturation on Capitol Hill, these family members meeting with senators, putting pressure on them. And I think, largely, as a result of that in this vote, even a lot of senators who said, I may not support the ultimate bill said, I will support bringing this bill to the floor for debate.
SHAPIROAnd so while some Republicans tried to filibuster, other Republicans allowed it to move forward. And now, we're going to see a whole lot of amendments, a whole lot of votes, attempts to strengthen, weaken the bill, undermine the bill, but ultimately, not just the filibuster.
REHMKaren Tumulty, two Democrats broke rank.
TUMULTYThat's right. And I think that shows us what the lay of the land here is for this bill because there are a number of Democratic senators, a number of them up for re-election in 2016 who come from rural states, who come from Western states where they have had built a long record of supporting the NRA.
TUMULTYAnd we can only assume that, as these amendments show up on the Senate floor, they are going to continue. And that is, by the way, you know, it's a sign of how low our standards have sunk in Washington, that we are hailing it this progress when the Senate agrees to talk about a measure...
TUMULTY...that 90 percent of the American public supports, which is expanding background checks. But it really does tell you these geographic politics, I think, are going to dominate.
CUMMINGSWell, I agree with that when you look at who the two of them are, Sen. Begich from Alaska and Sen. Pryor from Arkansas. So it's exactly the point that Karen was making, is that they represent a rural constituency, they have re-elections coming up. And this is an issue on which their voters are probably not a big at that 90 percent who want the background checks.
REHMSo what about the Republicans who did move to allow votes to continue, to allow discussion to continue? Hoe many of them will move?
CUMMINGSWell, there were 16 of them, which was a really surprisingly large number. Clearly, all else they were doing was saying, all right, we'll allow votes on this issue, which is what many of the victims were demanding as well. There was spontaneous chants of, you know, let us vote. Give us a vote that we would see at some events and those messages were being delivered in person by not just the Newtown families who had victims in the school shooting, there were other families.
CUMMINGSThere were lots of families on Capitol Hill, all of them asking for one thing, give us a vote, give us a vote. And those votes, no matter what happens in terms of passage or not, those votes are really important, long term in this debate, I believe. We'll have a vote on renewing the assault weapons ban. We haven't had this vote for 20 years. What that gives to both sides is a target list. It defines a playing field, and then you go from there.
REHMWhat else is in that bill, Ari?
SHAPIROWell, there are three major parts of the bill. Expanding background checks, of course, is the biggest. That's to almost every gun sale with the exception of -- from one family member to another and so forth. There's also enhanced funding for school safety. And then the third component of it is it would increase punishments for gun trafficking, people who are not allowed to buy guns or who are allowed to buy guns and buy it and then hand it off to someone else, what's called straw purchasing.
SHAPIROIt's a much shorter list than what President Obama had initially asked for. But as Jeanne said, many of those other provisions the president asks for will come up as separate amendments. And so they will get votes, and senators will be on the record, thumbs up or thumbs down.
TUMULTYBut there will also be a lot of Republican amendments, and a lot of those amendments will be aimed at weakening the current gun laws. And so in many ways, those amendments are going to be at least as interesting to watch.
SHAPIROSo, for example, one Republican amendment says if you have a concealed carry permit in your state, it would be valid in any state. Those are the sorts of things Republicans will be introducing to try and weaken the law.
REHMSo what's next in Congress?
CUMMINGSThe next step in the gun debate?
CUMMINGSThey start next week. They'll start on the floor. They have an original bill, and that -- a big chunk of that is the background checks. Then the agreement that was reached between West Virginia Democrat Sen. Manchin and Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Toomey on a background check deal will actually replace the original bill that's there, and then they will bring up all of the rest of the amendments.
REHMAnd NBC is reporting that Gabby Giffords has launched robo-calls in West Virginia and Pennsylvania to back up Toomey and Manchin. The question becomes how long is this whole debate likely to go on?
SHAPIROWell, I think people feel that this has to get done this summer. You know, there is the sort of 2014 midterm elections looming, at which point everything becomes suddenly far more polarized, as polarized as it is already. You know, seeing somebody like Sen. Toomey from Pennsylvania, a very conservative Republican, joining forces with a Democrat from a very conservative state like West Virginia, that's the sort of thing that just can't happen during an intense midterm campaign.
SHAPIROAnd so the window is closing, and I think there is a lot of sentiment that if this is going to get done, it has to get done (unintelligible).
CUMMINGSBy the way, just because the Senate voted to proceed to this bill and to begin talking about it does not mean that the filibuster threat is over. Any one of these amendments could be filibustered as well as moving the final passage on the bill.
TUMULTYAnd Sen. Reid has said this could take us into the week of April 22. He's expecting a very long debate. And we should also add as a caution note, the House has made no commitment to bring this bill up.
SHAPIROWell, that -- I mean, right, so the House is the big question mark. As difficult as this is in the Senate and the House, you have majority Republican control. And many of these Republicans are elected from districts that are so blood-red, they have no threat of being challenged by a Democrat on the left in a general election. Their only threat is being challenged by a more conservative Republican to their right in a primary election. So they have very little incentive to compromise on issues such as this.
REHMSo you think or do you believe it is going to come up in the House?
TUMULTYI think that -- I think it's going to be hard for them not to deal with this issue in some form or fashion. But what that looks like, I don't know.
CUMMINGSI do believe there will be tremendous pressure on the House to do something, and there is some work over there to try to come up with a background check bill. But we'll see what actually happens because the point about their districts is a very valid one. There is very little up for most of those Republicans to pass a gun bill, and there's a lot more potentially down for that.
SHAPIROAlthough House Speaker John Boehner says he assumes there will be some kind of action in the House, so we don't think it'll just languish there forever.
REHMSo the point is what is the most the public can hope for?
SHAPIROWell, I think, setting expectations, people heard the list of things that President Obama want to do...
SHAPIRO...and they may see the final bill and say this is such a small fraction of what the president wanted to do. But it's been 20 years since there was significant action of any kind on gun legislation. After a sitting member of Congress was almost killed in gun violence, there was no action whatsoever. So the fact that anything is happening is a kind of huge deal. It may all fizzle out. But this is a lot right now.
TUMULTYAnd for the public, the question is are they in it for the long haul because this is not -- we're not going to go from 20 years doing nothing to presto, we do something really big. That's too big a change for this Congress to do. And so this -- that's why I think the target list is important. The politics of this could be changed permanently because we have some structure building around it.
TUMULTYWe do have Gabby Giffords' group. We do have the mayor's group. They do have money on their side. If they take this issue into the midterm elections, and if they have some effect, somebody gets beat because they didn't support the gun bill, that's when this thing changes.
CUMMINGSWell, I'm a little bit skeptical just because the one thing we've learned from history is that one side of this issue, the gun rights side, has a very long attention span and a very intense focus and that the other side does not.
SHAPIROSo it'll be interesting to see whether this family members who have been so much more effective than President Obama or Democrats or gun control groups have been in the past if they have a long-term plan...
TUMULTYThey have staying power.
SHAPIRO...to stay in this fight for years and decades to come because if they do, then that could, I think, really change the dynamic.
REHMIt was really interesting to hear First Lady Michelle Obama the other day. That was such a passionate speech.
SHAPIROYou know, on Wednesday, there were so many things happening at once, from the immigration to guns to President Obama's budget to Rand Paul speaking at Howard University that Michelle Obama's speech in Chicago was largely overlooked. And this, I think, is the most emotional speech I've ever heard her give.
SHAPIROShe was -- I actually spoke yesterday to Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to the first lady and the president, and she said that two months ago when Michelle Obama was in Chicago for the funeral of Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old who was shot just a week after performing at the inauguration, Michelle Obama was sitting in the pew and leaned over to Valerie Jarrett and said, we have to do something more. We can't just go to a funeral.
SHAPIROAnd so the speech that she gave on Wednesday about gun violence against children was a more emotional speech than I've ever heard the first lady give, but it was also the first time I've ever seen the first lady really wade into a political issue that is at the center of the national debate, on the front pages and sort of, you know, put her reputation and political capital on the line for something other than child nutrition, military families, which are important but are not kind of the central political debate of the day.
REHMIs she going to be criticized for moving into...
CUMMINGSShe was. She already was. Rush Limbaugh went after her for being so emotional. You know, she was there not just representing the national debate, but also in Chicago, their hometown, the horrible murder rate there, and she was trying to help them.
REHMJeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News, Ari Shapiro of NPR, Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post.
REHMAnd welcome back for this week's domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup. Ari Shapiro of NPR, Jeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News, Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post. Boy, Ari, you said there was a lot going on this week that immigration really -- the issue brought out thousands of people, Jeanne.
CUMMINGSIt really was an amazing sight outside of the Capitol, thousands of people on one side rallying for immigration reform and then another rally on the other side in support of new gun legislation. So it was -- everything was -- it was a beehive up there or an anthill, whatever. But the immigration effort in the Senate, you know, is on track. And, you know, that, in and of itself, is an amazing accomplishment for the senators working on it. And senator...
REHMThe so-called Group of Eight.
CUMMINGSThe Group of Eight. And Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, who's been a prime player, is going to spend, you know, his entire Sunday on every single Sunday talk show.
SHAPIROSeven of them.
REHMHe's going to be on all of them.
CUMMINGSYou know, promoting it.
CUMMINGSAnd the bill itself is supposed to become public next week.
REHMWhat's it include?
TUMULTYWell, it is going to include a -- they always say the first you start with border enforcement. But it will also include a path to legalization and potentially citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants in this country. They're -- after it gets unveiled probably on Tuesday, it goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee probably on Thursday.
TUMULTYThis -- Sen. Chuck Schumer is describing as the crucible because the last time comprehensive immigration overhaul came up, the Senate Judiciary Committee was essentially where it all came apart. And we will see how this coalition holds together under the, you know, barrage of amendments that we're going to see in that committee.
SHAPIROBut, you know, Diane, we talked about how much things changed on guns in just the year to -- it's worth remembering that just the DREAM Act, that small consensus bit of immigration reform, when it came up in 2010, even it could not get through Congress. So why such a short time later are we seeing a bipartisan group in the Senate and in the House talking about something as...
REHMHow do you answer that?
SHAPIROWell, the 2012 election show the Republican Party that they need to appeal to more than older voters, white voters and male voters. President Obama won two-thirds of the Latino vote in 2008. He won three-quarters of the Latino vote on 2012. This is the fastest growing minority group in the country, and the census says that in just 30 years, this country is going to be a minority white country. So the Republican Party realizes it has to play ball, and we've see a completely different landscape today.
REHMAnd why is Mark Zuckerberg getting into this, Jeanne?
CUMMINGSTo be honest with you, I think that's a really good question. I mean...
REHMNo. There are reasons. There are reasons.
CUMMINGSWell, there are reasons. But the tech community has been all over this legislation for a decade. And so why he would create his own little group is something I'm a little curious about. But it's a who's who of the tech community. It's Zuckerberg, Facebook. It's Yahoo. It's Google. It's Netflix. It's Groupon.
REHMBecause they need smart people.
CUMMINGSThey need -- well, they need a set of visas that are in particular for highly skilled workers. And they have wanted that for, as I said, for a decade. And so -- and they have been all over the Hill. They are in the bill right now, and he's creating a group that would help promote that and later education and investment in research.
TUMULTYBut the argument that is being made on the other side of this, and it is an argument that has been joined by groups -- people as diverse as the Economic Policy Institute, which is a sort of liberal-ish think tank, and Sen. Chuck Grassley, is that what they are really looking for are sort of moderately-skilled workers that they don't have to pay as much as they pay U.S. workers.
TUMULTYThis is a variation of the debate that we have also seen for low-skilled workers, for service workers, for agricultural workers. What I think the two sides -- one of the hardest issues is not -- is legal immigration. Who are we going to let into this country to meet the needs of a -- an economy that is shifting without taking jobs that might otherwise go to American workers?
REHMSo you've got this H-1B visa, and that's the difference.
SHAPIROThe highly skilled workers. And so the proposal that, you know, we're hearing leaks of before the formal rollout talks about a merit-based visa system where people will be given citizenship based on their qualifications, based on their ability to fill jobs that the U.S. needs, which is something that people of both parties in many industries around the country have been saying the U.S. really needs for years.
CUMMINGSAnd it's useful to remember that when immigration reform has fallen apart in the past, it's this issue. It's the labor and the chamber -- U.S. chamber having a huge fight over this. And so that, you know, this is hard stuff, and getting into the -- getting agreement on, you know, something that just sounds abstract and small, H-B1 visas. What is that? Well, that's the whole thing. If they got to get deals on that set of visas, they got to get a deal on the agriculture visas. They got to get a deal on the reuniting family visas. Each one of these is their own little fight.
TUMULTYAnd if you think about the many, many problems of this country's immigration system, one of the greatest is the fact that it runs on a quota system that gets sort of frozen in amber. And the last time the quotas were set was around 1990. Well, think of how -- that was before the tech boom. Think of how much the economy has changed since and then, and yet, we are still letting people in legally under a system that was dreamed up by, you know, people who'd never heard of the Internet.
REHMSo where is this going to go and how long is it going to take?
SHAPIROWell, Sen. Chuck Schumer says he hopes to, you know, make the formal introduction next week. And you'll have Congress, I think, much like in the gun bill, it's going to start in the Senate, and then it's going to move to the House, assuming that its gets through the Senate. But there is a lot of desire and passion in Congress to get this done, get it off the table and finally be able to accomplish something and move on.
SHAPIROYou know, I think many of us who have been covering Washington for years have been saying for years and years and years, this is more partisan than we've ever see in the country, more partisan than we've ever see in Washington. And in some way, that's true. You know, we're seeing more filibusters than ever before.
SHAPIROWe're seeing more delays on confirmations than ever before. But it's worth taking a step back and appreciating that right now, we are talking about bipartisan deals on guns, bipartisan deals on immigration, huge problems that the U.S. has not tackled for decades that this year, the U.S. may actually be able to tackle.
REHMWho gets the credit for that?
SHAPIROIn the best of all possible worlds, everyone does. But, I mean, to a large extent, I think demographics gets credit. Honestly, you know, Sen. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, probably would not have made this gun deal if he weren't concerned about appealing to the suburbs of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in his re-election campaign. Republicans probably would not be playing ball in immigration if they were not worried about growing Latino votes and losing those people as voters.
CUMMINGSAnd that's the one soft spot in all of this. When we want to celebrate progress, it's that -- what driving the progress is partisan interest...
REHMPartisan politics. Yeah.
CUMMINGS...and not necessarily the good of the country.
REHMAnd what about President Obama's budget, Karen? Are we going to see compromise there?
TUMULTYWell, the president put forward a budget that incorporated some of the things that had been part of the so-called grand bargain that fell apart a few years ago, chief among them being changes in the entitlement system, changes that many in his party did not like because they are likely to cut back on both Social Security benefits and benefits for higher income Medicare recipients.
TUMULTYThis -- the president is offering as a, you know, in hopes that this kind of gets the move toward this big bargain that everybody agrees has to be done at some point started. I think you can look at what's happening on immigration and look at what's happening on guns and say, well, maybe there is a bit of a thaw in Washington. But whether -- even if those two bills get through and people can reach some kind of consensus, whether that means that they could then later in the year move toward the bigger issues, I'm still sort of skeptical.
SHAPIROI think we're seeing the evolution of a president in this budget. At the beginning of his first term, he ignored Republicans because he was able to with strong Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. Towards the end of his first term, he could not longer ignore Republicans, and so he vilified them. And now at the beginning of his second term, we are seeing President Obama who is reaching out to Republicans in a very public way, putting things on paper that he might have only said behind closed doors before, having dinners with Republican senators.
SHAPIROThis week, he did that for the second time. When he did it for the first time, senior White House aids said to those of us who cover the White House, oh, this is just to make the press happy because you think having dinner with people will make a difference, and we know it won't. Well, if it didn't actually make a difference, they wouldn't have done it a second time. So I think we're seeing a new President Obama trying tactics that he's never tried before.
REHMCompromising on things like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Jeanne.
CUMMINGSYes, he is. He is offering them a compromise. And according to many Republicans, the big deal for them is that he actually put it in a document. He wasn't just talking. It's in the document that they would change the way that they calculate inflation on Social Security, which would slow down the increases in Social Security payments. He wrote in there the means testing of Medicare.
CUMMINGSAnd so that's a real offer to them, whereas in the past, these deals were behind closed doors, there was a lot of talk, and there was always fear that if I say yes to this -- the Republicans were always afraid of this -- that if they said yes, that at the last minute he'd pull away. And at that point they have had -- they would have agreed to some other things that they wouldn't have agreed to if they didn't have his concessions. Now, they've got them in writing.
TUMULTYBut it's important to recognize that the president is insisting that these concessions are not stand-alone, that they are, in fact, part of a package that includes higher revenues, and that's one of the reasons the Republicans are, a lot of them, declaring this a nonstarter. But the president is also reassuring his own party that he will not make these concessions in a vacuum.
TUMULTYAnd he is also trying to convince his own party, convince liberals, convince people who are really worried that they have given up one of their best arguments against Republicans that if they don't do this, if they don't accept some kind of changes to the entitlement system, the future is going to look like one year after another of continued whacking domestic discretionary spending. And that's a lot of programs that Democrats really care about.
REHMI thought it was interesting that he wants to fund pre-K programs through a cigarette tax.
SHAPIROYeah, universal pre-kindergarten through a cigarette tax, and there are other things in this budget that are kind of overlooked because of the entitlement news and because of the tax hike news. For example, he -- there's a new mental health funding, raising the minimum wage, a lot of other things that he talked about in the State of the Union address that he's putting in writing. The White House sees this not as an opening bit, but as almost a final bit.
SHAPIROAnd I think a lot of the concern you see from the left is that President Obama is negotiating with himself and making concessions one after another without seeing the other side come any closer to him. And so the concern from the left is that the right will see this as the starting point for negotiations, and the White House has taken pains to say, no, this is not the starting point. This is the result of negotiations, and the Republicans can take it or leave it.
REHMAri Shapiro, White House correspondent for NPR, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." What about capping itemized deductions at 28 percent, Jeanne?
CUMMINGSYes. The president has several things, several tax changes in the budget that is what is giving pause to Republicans. Of course they cheered, and we're very happy with the entitlement reform section, but what made them pause was the tax section. And it does it. We cap for wealthy people their tax deductions on home mortgage and those sorts of things at 28 percent. It also would increase estate taxes from 40 to 45.
CUMMINGSIt would tax the carried interest that some investors, big investors in New York earn at a much higher rate. It has the tobacco tax. So there is revenue in it, and that is the area where Republicans stop. It's interesting, though, that several of his tax ideas are, in fact, Republican ideas. The idea about capping deductions is a Mitt Romney idea. So, in some cases, he took from their playbook. Now, of course, they would probably write -- prefer to write it differently. So, I mean, there's going to be negotiation here.
CUMMINGSAnd we'll see, you know -- it's -- what I find interesting with these dinners is that you see different senators come up. So the pool -- he's trying to build a pool that's somewhere in the middle. We need to give tons of credit to how Speaker Boehner and Minority Leader McConnell for not getting in the way of this and, in fact, encouraging it, because they -- neither one of them feels like they can do this 'cause they've got burned so many times, and they took a lot of political heat for it.
CUMMINGSSo they are saying, OK, you know, you all try it, and they're not standing in the way. And so you have different names of senators. You have -- Rubio and Graham and McCain are often involved in these things, and -- but you hear Sen. Johnny Isakson from Georgia organize the dinner. And you had Sen. Lamar Alexander from Tennessee, Sen. John Thune. These aren't the names you hear when you talk about guns or when you talk about immigration.
SHAPIROYou know, to me, one of the most telling quotes from President Obama's first term came from Maine Republican Olympia Snowe, since retired, one of the most centrist Republicans in the Senate who said that over President Obama's first term, she got maybe one, maybe two calls from the White House ever. Now you have to think given the agenda that they wanted to pass, if they wanted to pass anything in a bipartisan way, wouldn't they have reached out to Olympia Snowe?
SHAPIROAnd somebody from President Obama's first term said to me, oh, if we had said, we called Olympia Snowe, she would have shown up at the Senate cafeteria with two arms in a sling, having been beaten up by Republicans for talking to. They don't have to say every Republican that they talk to, but that lack of outreach could not be more different from what we're seeing right now.
REHMAnd let's talk for a moment about a new scoop that David Corn got this week. Karen Tumulty.
TUMULTYYeah. Somehow these surreptitious recordings just keep seeming to find their way to David Corn of Mother Jones.
SHAPIROOf Mother Jones.
TUMULTYThis was a recording, it turns out -- apparently, it was made secretly by some people from a liberal super PAC in Kentucky -- of some Mitch McConnell campaign strategists plotting how they were going to campaign, in particular against Ashley Judd, the actress, who was thinking about making a run against the senator.
TUMULTYThey were heard saying some sort of -- the kind word, I guess, would be dismissive stuff about her and mocking, almost, her struggles with depression. I don't know that this is a game changer in that, you know, these recordings were, you know, quite possibly illegal. And the people who made them are under a lot of fire, as well as, you know -- I think, at this point, they're being damaged as much as the Mitch McConnell campaign aides.
SHAPIROYeah. When Mitch McConnell was asked repeatedly about the content of this conversation, he kept saying these are Watergate-style tactics. Lefties attacked the ethnicity of my wife. That's Elaine Chao. He was referring to a tweet about jobs being exported to China. But he never did respond to the content of the conversation.
SHAPIROIf you listen to the conversation, there is a lot of stuff there that I'm sure nobody would have said unless they thought they were speaking in secret behind closed doors. It did, however, have the feel of a brainstorming session, and some of the most egregious things were said by aides, not by Sen. McConnell. Even so, it just doesn't look good for him.
CUMMINGSWell, it doesn't look good, but it -- this is -- you know, every campaign does this. And so, you know, some of the horror that came out of the Democratic operations on this one is -- you know, take it with a grain of salt. They have the same kind of brainstorming sessions.
REHMJeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News. Short break here. When we come back, your emails, your calls. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd welcome back to our Friday News Roundup. Time to open the phones. Let's go first to Culpeper, Va. Good morning, John. You're on the air.
JOHNGood morning, Diane, and good morning to your guests. I wanted to make a couple of comments regarding the gun control debate. One has to do with a couple of fallacies that have been repeated and repeated and repeated with nobody challenging the validity. The first of those is in the debate about extending background checks. They've talked about that it'll close the loophole, that people can -- won't be able to buy guns off the Internet anymore without a background check.
JOHNThe fact is you never been able to buy a firearm directly off the Internet and have it shipped to you ever. What people has to do when they use a site like Auction Arms, gunbroker.com or any other online service is they may conduct the -- they may find the firearm, bid on it and make the transaction essentially with the -- between the purchaser and the seller. However, for the purchaser to take possession of that firearm, it has to be sent by the seller to a federally firearm -- federally licensed firearm dealer in a state where the purchaser resides. And that...
REHMOK, John. I think what you're doing is getting into an area that none of our reporters knows about this morning, that whole area of online purchasing.
SHAPIROBut online, of course, is just one small part of the various loopholes...
SHAPIRO...that they're talking about, whether it's purchasing guns at, you know, a flea market or a gun show or other places where background check may not be required. You know, people on the Senate floor were describing shows where you would have multiple gun sellers and some would have signs saying no background check, and they're trying to get rid of the kind of venue where you could say, oh, well, this guy has a background check. That one doesn't. I'll go to that one.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Columbia, Mo. Good morning, Richard.
RICHARDHello, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
RICHARDI would like to ask about the immigration number...
RICHARD...11 million always being on the news everywhere on any media and yet no distinction or breakdown of that number, and it's led the public, I believe -- and I used to call on a phone bank for the immigration bill in 2007 that would let people know the difference between the Latin American especially, of course, the Mexican undocumented citizens in the United States.
RICHARDAnd the rest of the number, 11 million, which are -- I was reading that it was upwards of nearly five million that were not Latin Americans, not Mexican border crossings but other. And I wondered why the news in the last years of five, six, seven years has never differentiated that number for the public consumption.
TUMULTYI think because the -- it's not necessarily differentiated for the issue. I don't think people think coming over the Mexican border is somehow worse than coming in other ways. And, you know, I think one of the things that radicalized a lot of people on this issue was 9/11, and those people didn't come in over the Mexican border. So it's -- like I said, I don't necessarily see why we need to make a distinction every time we mention the number of illegal immigrants.
CUMMINGSIt is an issue though. The House is approaching immigration very differently than the Senate. And what the House has been doing is the leadership has been conducting what they call listening sessions. And basically, since this issue never got to the House even in '07 and in '09, they haven't had a debate over there about immigration for basically almost the entire caucus has never had to deal with this issue because so many of them were elected after 2000.
CUMMINGSThe issue has never gotten there. So they've had to do a big education -- internal education campaign. And one of the facts that we at Bloomberg were told has been a bit eye opening for the members is that around 40, 45 percent of the illegals are just people who stayed. They had a visa, and they just never went home. And so, you know, it's -- in their minds, it was all about people coming across the border. And, in fact, there's a very large chunk where they came in legally.
REHMAll right. I want to ask about Rand Paul's speech at Howard University.
SHAPIROHoward University, not a place where Republicans typically deliver high-profile speeches, one of the most prestigious, historically black colleges in the country...
REHMSo was he invited?
SHAPIROYou know, I'm not sure whether he was invited or whether he called and asked to make the speech. That's a good question. The focus clearly was trying to expand the appeal of the Republican Party, and he made a largely historical argument talking about Republicans as the party of Lincoln, and saying, you know, the Republican Party needs to be more welcoming to black voters, particularly young black voters.
SHAPIROThe reaction was not what you would call jump up and down wholeheartedly enthusiastic, but I think, you know, at least from what I heard from students there, they were pleased that he decided to come speak to them directly even if they may not have found him entirely persuasive.
REHMHere's an email from Reno (sp?) on this. He says, "As a black man, I give the senator credit for coming to the school. But Sen. Paul's suggestion that the GOP sympathies on race have not changed since the time of Lincoln is intellectually dishonest. He speaks as if there were no Nixon Southern strategy, no Reagan state's rights speech in Philadelphia, Miss., no Jesse Helms hands ad, no Lee Atwater attempt to make Willie Horton the most famous black man in America.
TUMULTYAnd he was speaking to an audience that was very aware of all of those things. And he, for instance, at one point, he said, well, would it surprise you to learn that the founders of the NAACP were Republicans? And, you know, a lot of the kids in the audience said, yeah, we know that. And why has the party changed so much?
REHMAll right. Here's another email from Dan in Sacramento. He says, "Isn't it true the president's offer to change the CPI, consumer price index, for Social Security has limits to those of a certain income level that those below a particular threshold will not be affected in how that CPI is calculated? Can someone explain details behind President Obama's proposal on this?" Jeanne.
CUMMINGSI'd have to double check that.
CUMMINGSI thought -- I know that the means testing does apply on Medicare. But...
TUMULTYBut the president has assured Democrats that his proposal would hold harmless essentially low-income seniors.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Nashua, N.H. Good morning, Don.
DONGood morning, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
DONSo the question that I had basically or the point I wanted to make is that it seems hypocritical with the GOP not supporting background checks for guns and saying that they're not effective and not -- and seeing that currently we're not prosecuting people who are found illegally purchasing guns. And so it's not effective. But yet they also support making drugs illegal in the drug laws.
DONAnd currently, we know that there are many people who are able to get drugs illegally and that it's not 100 percent safety method. So I was wondering about why they so vehemently oppose guns on the practicality issue. I mean, why are they so vehemently support guns on a practicality issue but there are issue on illegal drugs is so different?
SHAPIROI think there are two different things going on here. One is that there actually is widespread bipartisan support for cracking down harder on people who try to make an illegal gun purchase. If you lie on the form in which you say I am legally authorized to purchase a gun, then they do the background check and find out that you're not, you can be prosecuted for that. That's a felony. People are generally not prosecuted.
SHAPIROAnd for the most part, everyone, both parties agreed that ought to change. But the thing about drugs is actually very interesting to me right now because I think it's part of this part libertarian trend we're seeing where people -- a majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana. We saw in two states where it was on the ballot, marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington State.
SHAPIROAnd I think its part of this sort of libertarian shift that we're seeing in the country where on both economic and social issues -- ranging from same-sex marriage to low taxes and small government -- you see majority of Americans in favor, and Republicans starting to adjust in pivot to that new reality as part of their effort to appeal to younger voters.
REHMOn a totally different subject. What happened on the Postal Service, Karen?
TUMULTYWell, what happened on the Postal Service was that Congress told them in the continuing resolution that they could not discontinue Saturday delivery. This is one of the problems that the Postal Service runs into as they try to figure out some way to get themselves back on their feet financially. Every time they try to do something, whether it's closing down post offices that aren't being used much or something like this, Congress comes in and overrides what they try to do.
REHMAll right. And news reports do confirm that Sen. Rand Paul asked Howard University for the opportunity to speak. We have another email from Richard, who says, "One of your guests mentioned something about wiretapping McConnell's strategy room. Do we know who made the recording, and was it a wiretap?"
SHAPIROWe do know. Yesterday, a Democrat in Kentucky out of the group Progress Kentucky, a liberal group which -- apparently, it was not a wiretap. What we understand is that somebody from the group was in the McConnell headquarters. There had been in open house that day. They were outside of a door where they heard this strategy session taking place and just decided to record it through the door.
SHAPIROSo it wasn't as though they planted a bug in the room. That may still be illegal depending on the state laws: eavesdropping, recording on a conversation, publishing that conversation without the person's permission. Laws vary from state to state, but the FBI is looking into it.
REHMAll right. To Houston, Texas. John, you're on the air.
JOHNHi, Diane. This is the first time I'm calling on your show. I love your show.
JOHNSo I was calling about people who are talking about immigration. And I wanted to have -- make a comment about that. I am actually a legally resident. I came from India. I came here almost 13 years ago as a student, now I work here. It seems that both the current administration, as well as the opposition, are more interested in the illegal immigrant than making -- giving them their citizenship.
JOHNWhereas people who come here legally, study here, work here, we pay our taxes, we have our own houses and everything, and yet it takes -- we have to go to a lot of legal hurdles just to become a legal resident or a green card holder or a U.S. citizen in this country.
CUMMINGSWell, that is one of the hardest parts of this debate, and it's one of the reasons that -- it's one of the many reasons that nothing is passed before now. And that is there are many members of Congress who are loath to do something that would give illegal immigrants an edge over those who have gone through the process.
CUMMINGSIt is a long one, as he described, and have done it legally. And so the legislation will see the details next week but as we understand it puts the illegal immigrants behind the line, at the very end of the line if and when they start to go through any process.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Memphis, Tenn. Good morning, West.
WESTGood morning, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
WESTI was actually calling because one of your guests made an assertion that I feel is incorrect. The assertion was that President Obama, at the outset of his first term, was actually not interested in getting any assistance from the Republican Party, not compromising on them. And that's actually totally untrue because among other things, President Obama initially nominated secretary -- for secretary of commerce Judd Gregg, who is a lifelong Republican and quite conservative.
WESTAnd also he included in stimulus package the number of tax increase -- well, not tax increases -- tax cuts, which he wasn't initially interested in doing but he put in to get Republican support. So the narrative that President Obama wasn't initially interested to compromise with the Republican or adding Republican ideas is patently untrue.
SHAPIROYeah. So I was the one who originally made that comment. And I agree that it's not fair to say he wasn't interested in compromising with Republicans. He was interested but he didn't really work to compromise the Republicans. He may have included some Republican proposals in legislation that he offered.
SHAPIROHe nominated -- in addition to Judd Gregg, there was the Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood, Republican member of Congress. But in terms of the person-to-person diplomacy from one end of Pennsylvania Avenue to the other, the White House simply did not do it. It just wasn't there.
TUMULTYBut when you mentioned Olympia Snowe, I was reminded of an interview with that I did with her very early in the Obama administration when she was being courted on the stimulus package, and she said much more so that she's ever been courted by the Bush White House. And on health care, one of the reasons it took so long was that they were trying to give Max Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, an opportunity to sort of bring some Republicans on board with that.
TUMULTYYou know, Chuck Grassley. There was a lot of -- and they just never came. And so I think there's, you know, in the early part of his first term, I think President Obama did try to at least bring some Republican ideas in. And the second part of his term especially after the mid-term elections, we certainly didn't see that.
SHAPIROAnd it was obviously a two-way street. Republicans said that they wanted to deny him a second term, that they were going to use an obstruction, you know, they didn't want to compromise with him either. But I heard a lot of complaints from both Democrats and Republicans that the phone just didn't ring.
REHMJeanne, one last question. Retail sales are down, consumer sentiment at a nine-month low. How come?
CUMMINGSWell, you know, reading the public is difficult, right? It's definitely -- there are signs of some withdrawal. That can be many things. It could be sequester has spooked some members of the public. It can be gas prices are pretty high. It could -- so they may be retrenching because of that. You know, reading the public from week to week and month to month is tough to see a clear trend especially when we've kind have been up and down and up and down.
CUMMINGSIt's just -- I think it's, you know, just another dip in the road of -- to recovery because many other things are strong. The unemployment claims were down last week. And so you have that good thing, and then you get the bad news this week that, you know, consumers are showing some hesitancy about buying. And that's, you know, important though because, you know, we are our own strength in this economy, the people. And the consumers of, you know, got to get active again for the economy to really get on a steady way forward.
REHMJeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News, Ari Shapiro of NPR, Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post. Thank you all so much. Have a great weekend.
SHAPIROYou too. Thank you.
CUMMINGSThank you, Diane.
REHMThank you for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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