The ebola epidemic in West Africa is not just a health care crisis. It has affected every corner of society in the countries most affected. Schools have been closed for months, infrastructure projects have been put on hold and GDP growth has slowed to a crawl. A discussion of the social and economic cost of Ebola in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Guest Host: Susan Page
Frustration over sequester-related air travel problems. The latest on the Boston bombing investigation. And five presidents help dedicate the George W. Bush presidential library. Journalists provide analysis of the week’s national headlines.
- Major Garrett chief White House correspondent at CBS News.
- Jeanne Cummings deputy government editor for Bloomberg News.
- Glenn Thrush senior White House Reporter for POLITICO.
Featured Video Clip
The U.S. will change the way it measures economic growth by adding research and development and the entertainment industry to gross domestic product calculations. Jeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News explained how research and time spent creating movies, books and tech gadgets will be viewed as investments under the new rules. Major Garrett of CBS News said it’s not just a statistical measure. “I think it’s a way of communicating to ourselves what things matter in business and how much,” he said.
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MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Diane is accepting an award today in Michigan. She'll be back on Monday. Legislation to -- in furloughs of air traffic controllers passes the Senate and heads to the House, the latest on the Boston bombing investigation and five presidents help dedicate the George W. Bush presidential library. Joining me in the studio for this week's domestic news roundup: Jeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News, Glenn Thrush of Politico, and Major Garrett of CBS News. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MS. JEANNE CUMMINGSGood morning.
MR. MAJOR GARRETTGood morning.
PAGEWe're going to invite our listeners to join our conversation later in this hour. You can call our toll-free number. It's 1-800-433-8850. You can always send us an email at email@example.com or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, we have news, Glenn, that the Boston Marathon bombers planned to detonate another bomb in Times Square. We just learned this announced publicly yesterday.
MR. GLENN THRUSHYes. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his long-time police commissioner, Ray Kelly, who, I should say, days earlier had dismissed those claims. I guess there was a report earlier that they were planning on headed -- heading down to New York City to party. But it was learned yesterday that these guys were looking to come down to Times Square.
MR. GLENN THRUSHNow, that said, it didn't seem like planning with the addition of the, you know, with the exception of the initial event, that planning after this was really their strong suit. They really didn't seem to know what they wanted to do. And it seemed as if, you know, taking a page out of the failed attempt a couple of years ago. They were going to retry that.
PAGEVery spontaneous, it seemed like, the thought that they would head to New York. How big a threat do you think, Jeanne, is this that this might have actually caused an explosion in Times Square?
CUMMINGSWell, that's difficult to tell. I mean, the mayor had already put his police department on alert out of concern that there would be a follow-up attack or a copycat attack in New York. So there was a great deal of police presence already. In addition, since 9/11 and the botched truck bomber on Times Square, they've installed a lot of electronic surveillance equipment in downtown Manhattan. So their hope was that they might have foiled it if they tried, but the mayor also said, quite frankly, he's glad they didn't have to face the test.
PAGEI think we're all glad that didn't turn out to be the case.
PAGEMajor, what do we know now about the motives of these two brothers who are accused of the Boston bombings?
GARRETTStill very murky. Federal investigators don't have a strong sense of motivation or motivational -- potential motivational actors who may have influenced either of the two Tsarnaev brothers. There is this figure who investigators do believe exists, this Misha person, who may have either provided advice, counsel, inspiration, or some sort of connectivity ideologically to Islamic extremism, but that's all very murky.
GARRETTThat seems to be an addition to the older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev's travels back to Russia, the murkiest part of the story. Where did he go? What did he do? Who he'd meet with? Did he meet with anyone who is suspicious? Did he learn anything there? Secretary of State Kerry earlier this week accidentally implied that during his trip back to Russia, Tamerlan Tsarnaev learned something and came back and bombed people.
GARRETTThe State Department rapidly drew that back and said he wasn't disclosing anything that investigators have already learned. The White House disavowed it and indirectly said cabinet secretaries ought to be a little more careful in their phraseology about what is known and not known. So those two things, motive and any actors, or actor, outside of these two known brothers still kind of a mystery.
PAGETwo policy questions really arising here in Washington, Glenn. One of them is the questioning of the surviving brother, and whether it was cut short to read him his Miranda rights. We heard the House Intelligence Committee chairman raise concerns about that on Wednesday.
THRUSHYeah. I mean, this is turning into a pretty significant issue. Prior to being Mirandized, after being arraigned, I guess, in his hospital bed at Deaconess, the suspect initially had given some very interesting information and implied that he had, to some extent, been brainwashed by his radicalized older brother. The minute he was Mirandized by Justice Department officials, he's clammed up, and that has raised some questions. You mentioned Chairman Rogers in the House, but it's also, I think, starting to trickle over to the other side of the aisle.
THRUSHI think there is a sense, particularly with the revelation that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was put on two separate watch lists as early as the middle of 2011, that there was this phenomenon of stovepiping that we talked about so much after 9/11, that you had intelligence agencies that were not communicating adequately with one another. So this -- as the story evolves, as we learn more about these two suspects, there is this parallel and, perhaps, more important narrative of what did we know and how come it wasn't disseminated?
PAGEThat's clearly the second issue that's getting raised here. And I wonder, Jeanne, do you think there is evidence at this point that the United States missed a chance to prevent these bombings if the watch list system had worked better?
CUMMINGSWell, that's certainly what Congress is going to look into, and it's difficult to, you know, look forward and make these decisions. And it's easier to look backwards and make them. Clearly, there's initial evidence of a failure to communicate within the government. And so in -- at a minimum, it's -- I mean, the upside is they were on the list. So at least, somebody was on to them. The downside is they weren't -- they were investigated early. They looked OK. When he came back from Russia, they're now finding evidence that he did start to speak out more then.
CUMMINGSAnd that's when we weren't watching him. If we were watching him, could we have stopped the bombings? Who knows? Up until the bomb itself, there's no evidence he did anything illegal. So, you know, it's very unclear. And that investigation is just continuing now. So -- and in terms of the interrogation of the younger brother, under the laws that they -- I'm not a legal expert.
CUMMINGSBut as I understand it, under the public safety provision that the White House invoked, they could ask him about things like, is there another bomb, are there other accomplices out there, are there other cells? Questions generated to keeping the public safe. But when it came to, did you do it, that's a whole different kind of question. And when he was Mirandized and stopped talking, we have to bear in mind he also had a lawyer. And that lawyer, meanwhile, had instructed him to stop talking.
GARRETTAnd a couple of other facts that bear on this. He's a U.S. citizen. He has protections under the Constitution not to incriminate himself, period. Stop, end of story. If he doesn't want to talk, he doesn't have to talk. It's not his burden to lift over everything he wants or may not want to say of the United States government. He's an American citizen. He has rights. And they have been authoritatively protected, either by his lawyer or by the procedures employed by the U.S. government as they should have been. I don't know why this is a controversy.
THRUSHRight. And the initial delay in Mirandizing him was based on a provision that allow...
CUMMINGSThe public safety provision.
THRUSHThe public safety provision where he's debriefed to see if he -- if this poses an ongoing threat.
GARRETTRight. But it is not an open season...
GARRETT..on incriminating evidence that a U.S. citizen may be forced to give up about himself. It just isn't. Now, to this question of stovepiping, based on what I've been able to learn and talk with the FBI and others about, we have very established post-9/11 procedures about opening up case files on people who are legally in this country based on evidence brought to us by outside governments, which is what happened in this case. The Russian government said, hey, there's this guy Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
GARRETTYou might want to look at him 'cause he might have connections to Islamic groups or outside hostile forces. The FBI, with that recommendation, opened a file. You have 90 days to conduct your investigation. If you find nothing derogatory, under the procedures, you must close the file and not re-open it unless there's something new that comes in. There was a 90-day period. Three times there was a request of the Russians.
GARRETTWe found nothing. Do you have anything more specific? Nothing came back. Then, sometime later, the Russians sent the exact same letter to the CIA. The CIA gets it, doesn't do anything. It goes to the FBI, says we had it. We closed it. There was nothing there. Again, Tamerlan Tsarnaev was in this country legally as a refugee. He had a green card status. He has rights.
GARRETTI just asked everyone who listen to this show and I wrote about this in the National Journal this week, do we want to live in a society where as a legal resident of this country, without any probably cause, without any fact basis, a foreign government could say to the FBI a file should be opened on you and be kept open perpetually? I don't think we do.
PAGEAnd from Russia where -- not our closest ally, a government that might have had an agenda of its own against the Chechens. And the FBI has pushed back pretty hard against the idea that anything went wrong here. I mean, clearly, the bombing was a tragedy that went off, but that the watch list system didn't work as intended.
GARRETTRight. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was in what is called the tide list, which is the lowest level of government scrutiny imaginable. It's called tide for reason. It's a huge flood tide of names. About 750,000 appear on this list. It never went any higher than that. And custom checks you when you leave the country, OK? It pings, as Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said.
GARRETTBut it doesn't ring an alarm bell. And, I would say, if you're on the tide list, you don't want it to ring alarm bells because there's nothing inordinately suspicious about your actions or whatever the FBI found out about you. So I just think, as Jeanne said, it's very difficult to look at this fact pattern and say this was a system breakdown.
GARRETTThe system was followed. This person became radicalized, committed a horrible atrocity afterwards, but nothing up until that time rang alarm bells. And if we want to live in a society where we're constantly vigilant about everyone -- just to understand what that means, that means FBI files kept open perpetually on people who live here legally. And do we want to live in a society like that?
PAGEMeanwhile, something pretty quintessentially American has happened. More than $20 million has poured into One Fund Boston, Americans giving money to try to help the people who were injured, Jeanne.
CUMMINGSYes. The One Fund is at 20 million. And then there's also another 2.2 million that has been raised over the Internet through sites that have been set up by victims. And so we have an official site, and then we have these homegrown ones. And a great deal of assistance is coming in for the people to help pay for their hospital care and recovery.
PAGEKen Feinberg, a familiar figure from previous tragedies, is in charge of trying to distribute that money. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll talk about the good news for air travelers. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. And with us for our Friday News Roundup, Major Garrett, he's chief White House correspondent at CBS News. Glenn Thrush, he's the senior White House Reporter for Politico, and Jeanne Cummings, deputy government editor for Bloomberg News. Sorry, Major. I almost put you at the wrong network.
GARRETTMany networks in my past. It's a common mistake.
PAGEYou know, Glenn, the Senate never acts quickly. The Senate never acts unanimously. And yet last night, they did both. Why?
THRUSHBecause they all fly. You know, these images of the lines -- it's so funny the way that all this stuff works, right? You can present them with all sorts of information about the way this is impacting the Head Start program. We had a report about sequestration hitting cancer care. But you have two days of people standing in long lines in airport -- airports, and all of a sudden we're reopening this issue. The question is, has the White House now lost all of its leverage in the sequestration?
PAGEAnd what's the answer to that question?
THRUSHI think they have. If they -- if Democrats and the White House go along with this, they can no longer sort of make the case that this is a -- what is it, the term of art that they've been using? Using an axe -- a meat cleaver instead of a scalpel. Now, they're using a scalpel on specific issues, and, guess what, these are not Democratic issues.
PAGEWell, Jeanne, first, it has to pass the House. Will it?
CUMMINGSProbably. The House members were just as, you know, up in arms as the Senate members. So it's likely that they will. I mean, they did this with the meat inspectors too. If they see an area where the sequester cuts are going to have -- take a pretty good hit on the public, then obviously they're willing to go ahead and forget everything they said and take care of that problem.
PAGESo what happens next, Major, in terms of other programs that have been hurt by the sequester? There might be other departments that want to move money around in a way of making decisions that the sequester wasn't kind of designed to allow?
GARRETTWell, they may find flexibility. What's -- I think Glenn's point is well-taken, that if this creates a public relations drama or a disruption of what the public expects, you're going to see action. And what happened on this is significant both from a political point of view and a practical point of view. The politics for the White House is they had said two things repeatedly: No piecemeal solutions and every solution would have to be long term and include tax revenue. They rolled over completely on both.
GARRETTThere is no tax revenue assigned to this fix for air traffic controllers and it is piecemeal. How do they fund it? Through the Airport Improvement Program, which is a existing aviation program. There was some extra money left in there. Two hundred fifty-three million will be found -- put in there. That wasn't the administration's original fallback position.
GARRETTIts fallback position was to use savings from the accounts dedicated to the Iraq and Afghanistan War that would have surpluses in them. That didn't work. So Republicans won on three different scores. They won on piecemeal, they won a no tax revenue and they won on existing funding, not budget gimmick. So I agree with Glenn. It is a fallback on a fallback on a fallback for the White House and it may presage more.
PAGEWhy did the White House fall back, though, instead of staying firm on this?
GARRETTThey had -- when you have the votes, you stick. When you don't, you fall back. They didn't have the votes, not even close.
PAGEHere's an email we've gotten from Sharon. She writes us from Ravenna, Ohio. She writes, "The sequester was invented to spread the pain of cuts. The poor with few lobbyists have received their pain and the loss of housing preschool and food. Now the rich and powerful are all mad when the sequester causes them to wait at airports. The inconvenience of waiting versus homelessness and hunger speaks volumes about who has a voice and who matters." Glenn?
THRUSHAbsolutely. I mean, the one thing I would say, though, is I think the air -- the lockbox -- from my conversations with folks in the White House, the lockbox, I think, is defense spending. I think they see everything else kind of in the middle on the domestic side as being a little less fundamental. But I think there is a real question.
THRUSHI think there's a debate within the White House, to be perfectly honest with you, over whether or not to try to attach restorations to other programs to this FAA thing. But, remember, you know, your -- middle-class people vote more frequently, particularly in -- for Republican candidates. And, you know, this is an enormously TV-friendly story to go into an airport and see people waiting.
PAGEIt makes the Republicans point, though, doesn't it, Jeanne, that it's possible to squeeze this amount of money out of the federal government if you make some hard decisions?
CUMMINGSWell, there was -- I don't think that the Democrats disagreed with that point. The White House wanted a real budget so that if they were going to take this amount of money out of the FAA's budget, it could be taken out in programs where it would do not this kind of damage, where it would be taken from accounts that have surpluses. It would be taken from programs that are inefficient. It would be taken from programs that we no longer need.
CUMMINGSThat was the argument of the White House and they -- Congress gave that kind of flexibility only to the Defense Department, which is why the FAA had to furlough everybody. The law did not give them that flexibility. And that was the argument that the White House was making. If people might recall around the turn of the year, the president had a press conference saying, you know, we can do this. It's just dumb. And that -- this is one of the dumb things that is a consequence of the sequester.
PAGEOne of the concerns about the sequester cuts, Major, was it was going to hurt economic growth. Now, this morning, just two hours ago, we got numbers for the economy in the first quarter of the year, grew an annual rate of 2.5 percent in the first quarter. That's not so great, but it's a lot better than the previous quarter.
GARRETTRight, it is. And what the Bureau of Economic Analysis said was personal consumption increased. People felt good about their own personal finances and consumed in the first three months of this year and that government spending, though down, was not down sufficiently to take a huge bite out of quarterly economic growth. Whether that -- and, of course, in those first three months of this year, the sequester cuts did not exist. They were beginning to process.
GARRETTBut remember, in the fiscal cliff deal, there was an arrangement to delay them for a full two months and then we had the implementation phase. So we don't really have anything in this first quarter that could be decisively said to have a contractionary effect because of less government spending. We may see that down the road. But in this first quarter, it didn't show up.
THRUSHThe one caveat is this was inclusive, I think, of the payroll -- the expiration of the payroll tax cut. So, you know, I think that mitigated against perhaps what might have been a slightly bigger GDP number.
PAGEThere had been some concerns that the elimination of that tax break was going to prompt people to spend less, but we didn't see that really in the first quarter.
THRUSHRight. And inflation seems to in check as well.
CUMMINGSAnd the job numbers are good.
PAGEJeanne, explain to us how -- this is the last time they're going to calculate GDP in the way they've usually done. And maybe it's kind of a wonkish issue. But tell us what the new way is that we're going to see in the future.
CUMMINGSEssentially, they're going to add two new sectors to the GDP, and that's going to be entertainment, movies, books and research and development. And basically what the thinking is is that R&D used to be categorized as just as a cost to business. But what they've concluded is that that research is actually an investment. And R&D is what led to iPhones and all of our technology.
CUMMINGSAnd so it's not just a cost, it's an investment that should be counted, an investment in our economy. And then they're treating entertainment in a similar fashion. When you would -- when they count the movie industry, they would count tickets sold. Now, what they'll do is they'll count the cost of making a "Star Wars" movie as an investment, George Lucas' investment. His company's investment is making that movie because it has long returns.
PAGEAnd is it likely to make the numbers look rosier or less rosy?
CUMMINGSWell, it only adds 3 percent to the gross domestic product, so it's very small. I think The Post article said it's like adding Belgium to the United States. So it's a tiny ad. But...
PAGEOK. No insult to the people in Belgium who may be listening to the show.
CUMMINGSRight, right. Yes, I -- my apologies.
CUMMINGSLovely Belgium, I love your chocolate. But the...
THRUSHAnd the (word?).
CUMMINGSBut here's the part of the story that I really love, and that is that they're going to go all the way back to the beginning, you know, way back beginning of the last century when they started to calculate the GDP and they're going to adjust it. Now, I want to be the federal bureaucrat who gets to go back and figure out how much "Gone with the Wind" should be valued at.
THRUSHIt's been furloughed, by the way.
CUMMINGSHow about the "Wizard of Oz?" And what literature do they choose over that century? I think that's going to be really interesting.
GARRETTI think the one thing that's relevant about this, going forward, is to understand both economically and as far as the government organizes itself that research and development is not a sunk cost. It's not a lost cause. It is actually a productive part of ways American businesses operate.
GARRETTAnd we should count it as such that it is an investment and you can have something five years from now be a real GDP reflection of something you did and invested in five years before that. I think that's not just a statistical measurement. I think it's a way of communicating to ourselves what things matter in business and how much.
PAGELet's go to the phones and let some of our listeners join our conversation. We're taking your calls. Our toll-free number: 1-800-433-8850. First, we'll go to Detroit and talk to Matt. Matt, you're on the air.
MATTHey, good morning. I got a question for the gentleman, and I can't recall his name at this point. But I find it highly ironic that you're very concerned about closing up the iFiles on suspected terrorists and people, citizens of the United States. But turn around and you want to keep list of every single person that the federal government does a firearms background check on.
PAGEAll right. Matt, thank you very much for your call. I think that's a reference to something that Major said. Major Garrett, go ahead.
GARRETTYeah, but I didn't say anything about background checks. I don't have a political position on background checks. Some members in Congress have a rather conspicuous conflict on this issue, but I'll let them defend it, and I'll let the Congress debate it. But I didn't say anything about background checks.
CUMMINGSWell, actually, the caller brings up an interesting point, and we wrote it at -- about it at Bloomberg, and that is that the people who are on these terrorist watch lists and others, the law right now prevents the FBI from blocking a gun sale to those individuals, and I think that's a point the caller is trying to raise. And Sen. Manchin of West Virginia, when this came to his attention this week, has -- is reviewing it.
CUMMINGSSen. Lautenberg of New Jersey has put in legislation. There is also no -- nothing to prevent large sales of black powder, the powder that was used to create the bomb. And the ATF had such concern about the lack of regulation in that regard that years ago it sent out a letter to those who sell it, who sell fireworks and things like that, hobby shops, saying, be a good citizen and pay attention to who you're selling this to.
CUMMINGSNow, as the result of that appeal, the New Hampshire fireworks sales company that sold this to the older son, sold the black powder, did indeed ask for his ID and took his name. And as a consequence of that voluntary act, the police were able to connect the two.
PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Glenn?
THRUSHTo look at the politics of this, I think, is also really interesting. I mean, having lived through 9/11 literally and then reported on the aftermath, it was a really left-right divide on the keeping of these watch lists and domestic surveillance. But things have really moved down the road here. Now you have a very strong libertarian strain in the Republican Party. So I think there is going to be a different dynamic in terms of some of the surveillance and monitoring issues that Major was referring to earlier. You're now seeing just as many people on the right raising questions about that as people on the left.
PAGEMatt, thanks very much for your call. You know, Matt raises -- gets us into the issue of gun control, and that, you know, legislatively, that has run into a very rough patch on the Hill. But we did see the gun control group that Gabrielle Giffords is backing start to run radio ads on -- against the people, against some of the senators who voted against expanding background checks. Who are they targeting, Jeanne?
CUMMINGSWell, they're targeting the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell down in Kentucky who has -- is up for re-election and was instrumental, from what our reporting shows, in holding the opposition to the legislation in place. So he's a key target. He is concerned about a primary. He doesn't have one yet, but he's expecting a tough re-election race. And he's a prime target for the Democrats because if they can take him in Kentucky, then maybe they could take anybody anywhere.
PAGEYou know, Kelly Ayotte, the senator from New Hampshire, also a target of -- and we're very proud to have New Hampshire Public Radio as one of the stations that carries "The Diane Rehm Show." Is she actually at risk on this issue, do you think, Major?
GARRETTWell, there is some evidence right now to suggest she might be. She had -- before she cast a vote against the Manchin-Toomey amendment that would have brought a much wider umbrella of coverage to background checks for all firearms sale, she had an approval rating of 48 to 35, according to the most recent poll taken in New Hampshire. After that vote, which was very controversial and opposed by many newspapers in New Hampshire, her approval rating went from 46 percent disapproving and 44 percent approving.
GARRETTSo she's now underwater. She's lost that double-digit lead she once had. And it appears the only real dynamic that has shifted in that intervening period of time is her vote on the gun control question, and that may last for a long time. It may be a short-term blip, but it is certainly something that any politician would look at and raise an eyebrow to.
PAGEWell, Glenn, there were some Democratic senators who voted against expanding background checks as well. Will they be targeted by this group?
THRUSHNot yet. I mean, that's really the interesting question here. You know, both the president and Democrats and some of the gun rights -- gun control groups talked almost exclusively about the fact that, you know, 90 percent or more of the Senate Republicans voted against that measure. But the real dynamic here were the four Democrats who -- including Max Baucus, who is now retiring, and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota -- who really defied the president and his chief of staff, Denis McDonough, by voting against this.
THRUSHAnd, really, that is the fundamental dynamic that the party needs to address. In 2006, Chuck Schumer and Rahm Emanuel helped win back the Senate and House for the Democrats by muting the gun issue more or less completely. They got people like Claire McCaskill and Jon Tester elected. The fact now is they've got to deal with this as a party issue. If they had gotten those four votes, the entire dynamic on this issue would have been changed. The president will be able to say this was strictly an issue of House Republicans blocking it. They no longer have that leverage.
CUMMINGSNow, Gabby Giffords' group is not -- has not done any advertising against the Democrats. However, there's another group, another pro-control group, Progressive Coalition and a couple of other words in it, but it's essentially another one of these pro-control organizations. They did run print ads in Montana, every Montana newspaper, and they held rallies in the states of senators who opposed it, including Montana. In fact, Baucus was the only Democrat of the four that was targeted by this group.
PAGEWell, Major, why do we think that Sen. Max Baucus, who's been in the Senate for a very long time, chairman of one of the most powerful committees, why did he decide not to run again?
GARRETTWell, that I don't know for sure. He may have -- there was no significant sign he would have any trouble winning re-election. He may have decided that his relationship within his own caucus was rocky enough, thank you very much, his relationship with the White House rocky enough, thank you very much, 'cause it certainly was. I won't say that Max Baucus was held in low regard by his Democratic colleagues, but he was viewed suspiciously by many of them because of his role in helping George W. Bush pass his tax cuts.
GARRETTSome Democrats thought he dragged his feet -- injuriously so, from a tactical point of view -- on the president's health care law. And he said some things recently about the health care law that cannot be described as charitable, all these things raising ire of Democrats and certainly not bringing him into good favor with the White House. And his likely Democratic successor, Brian Schweitzer, has been looking at that seat for a while, and he wants it bad, it looks like.
PAGEWe're going to take another short break. When we come back, we'll go to the phones. We'll take some of your calls and questions. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. And with me in the studio: Glenn Thrush of Politico, Jeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News, Major Garrett of CBS. Let's go to the phones. We're going to talk to Alexis, who's calling us from Louisville, Ky. Hi, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
ALEXISYes. Hello. I have a question for the gentleman who was worried about surveillance of immigrants and permanent residents. I'm an immigrant from Russia myself, and I know a thing or two about immigration in other countries. But immigrants are guests in the U.S., and we have to be grateful for U.S. being -- providing us a home. So if the situation is as down as it is internationally, we should be ready to be a subject of surveillance and that should not protest, but no less important.
ALEXISU.S. legal system is biased in favor of criminals already, and it looks appalling in the case of Tsarnaev brothers. Your guest's worried about surveillance and rights of those who are being surveilled, but what about the rights of poor people who are killed by the Tsarnaev brothers? What about 200 who were injured? Their lives were claimed by the terrorist. The U.S. has lowered the guard and the guard should be brought back up.
PAGEAll right. Alexis, thank you so much for calling and giving us your perspective.
GARRETTWell, undoubtedly, the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings suffered horrible. I said it was an atrocity, it was a massacre, it was a crime, absolutely, and it will be prosecuted as such.
GARRETTBut what I was addressing was the allegation that there was a system breakdown. And as a permanent legal resident, you have certain rights. And believe me, before 9/11, we had an FBI perspective that grew out of the church committee hearings at the late 1970s about inordinate, wide-ranging, roaming FBI domestic surveillance investigations sometimes motivated by politics, and we shut those down and for a good reason. After 9/11, we created these procedures that are strictly monitored.
GARRETTAnd there's a huge manual -- if you're an FBI special agent, you have to take 17 hours of training and pass an enormously difficult test just to be a part of these kinds of case files, OK? And there was even a scandal at the FBI where a bunch of agents cheated on this, and so they're even subject to more scrutiny. And all I'm saying is without probable cause and without factual basis, files can be opened at the recommendation of a foreign government, and they can be open for 90 days.
GARRETTBut if nothing is found, they have to be closed. That seems, to me, to be a reasonable balancing of what the caller raised that if you're an immigrant and there are some questions raised about you, perhaps you should be cooperative. There's no evidence the Tsarnaev brothers weren't cooperative. I'm just saying -- and I just raise it as a question -- in what society -- what kind of society do we want to live in where a file can be kept open perpetually even if there's no derogatory information, no probable cause and no fact basis for it to be open in the first place?
THRUSHThe -- and I completely agree with Major's point on this. The one caveat that I would add is there is some level of discretion at the agent level as to what is regarded as cause for moving forward with an investigation. It doesn't reach the jurisprudential benchmark of probable cause. They can proceed on lesser cause. And I think the question -- I think as this thing moves forward and as congressional committees get involved, that's going to be what they're going to be looking into.
PAGEAlexis, thanks so much for your call. No question we're going to be talking about this more in coming weeks as Congress and others look at what exactly happened in Boston. You know, there was another terrorist case, Jeanne, that's been perplexing for a lot of us. It involves those poisoned letters that were sent to President Obama and a U.S. senator and a local Mississippi judge. What's -- tell us about the twists and turns on that in this past week.
CUMMINGSYeah. That was really crazy, and it was going on while so much was happening in Boston, that, you know, it really escaped the big headlines. But the FBI initially arrested a man in Mississippi who has sent letters to members of Congress addressed in the same manner that these letters with the ricin poison were addressed, and same kind of messaging inside the language was very similar. So they thought -- they were pretty confident that they had arrested the right person.
CUMMINGSWell, they get him in. They arrested him, and they went and searched his home, and he had -- they had stationery that was very similar but no ricin, no evidence of it at all. And his attorney starts arguing the case. He was framed. So the police ultimately appear to have bought in to the fact that he may well have been framed by another Tupelo, Miss. man who he has had an email feud with for a number of years. So they let the innocent man -- they say -- well, they let the first man go. And now, they are pursuing an investigation of the second suspect. And...
PAGESo we've looked for lessons in the Boston bombing. Any lessons in this story?
CUMMINGSWell, the lesson that the original suspect, Kevin Curtis -- Paul Kevin Curtis, who's a Elvis impersonator, who was -- got a lot of TV time despite what was going on in Boston because he's quite a character. His lesson learned is that he's getting off the Internet because he felt like he was so exposed that someone was able to copy his language, the way he signed off on things, and impersonate him in these letters.
CUMMINGSNow, we don't know if the second suspect did that. It's an ongoing investigation. There is yet another letter that has turned up in Washington, intercepted out at the mail facility, so this one has a ways to go.
PAGESo lessons of the Internet, we had another one this week when AP's Twitter account was hacked with real economic consequences. What happened?
GARRETTWell, I was at the White House briefing, and Julie Pace, the White House correspondent for The Associated Press sat -- who sits right next to me in the front row, came in looking very flushed. And she's, like most White House correspondents, pretty much together and not easily flustered. And I looked, I said, what's wrong? And she said, our Twitter account has been hacked. I said, wait, the Associated Press' Twitter account has been hacked?
GARRETTAre you kidding me? You guys have 2 million followers. What does it say? Explosions at the White House, and Barack Obama is injured. And so we opened a briefing without -- not with Jay Carney saying something, but The Associated Press White House correspondent saying it's false. We're going to put out a statement. Meanwhile, market watchers on Wall Street and all the exchanges begin a sell-off.
GARRETTAnd within about four minutes -- it took about a minute for this information to be digested and a behavioral tract to be --- to ensue -- the market dropped 143 points, and then AP put out a statement. And within five minutes thereafter, that 143-point drop was regained, but it just shows you how rapidly humans can respond to bad information. And then computers, who play off human decisions on the market, can amplify that response.
GARRETTAnd now, the FBI and the Securities and Exchange Commission are looking into this. The organization that claims responsibility, the Syrian Electronic Army, is a sympathizer of the Assad regime in Damascus. I will tell you at CBS, our "60 Minutes" and "48 Hours" accounts have been compromised. National Public Radio's accounts have been compromised. So this is something that's lurking out there, to put it mildly.
PAGEYou know, an issue because I know that -- I love Twitter. I rely on Twitter to keep up to speed on what's happening all around. And yet, I -- we have got to be cautious about it.
CUMMINGSWell -- and there were many lessons learned about Twitter in the last couple of weeks, in addition to the dangers of a hacker. And it should be said that the stock sell-off primarily was driven by computerized programs. Many of the human buyers saw some kind of confirmation, but the computer-generated sales are the -- are what -- most of the Wall Street experts say is really what -- that is what caused the tumble.
CUMMINGSBut on Twitter, you know, during the Boston case, we saw also Twitters that went out that were inaccurate. It could -- because it's a nature of the beast when an investigation is early and reporting is, you know, influx and it's confusing. And so there's a lot to reflect on about the role of Twitter and how reliant we should be on it, what we should say on it. In fact, Glenn was on Twitter reminding people, all through the Boston investigation and the chaos, to be careful what they were saying.
PAGEWhat were you saying, Glenn?
THRUSHYeah. 'Cause that's -- I view that as my job to be the arbiter of all of this...
CUMMINGSHe's the Twitter police.
THRUSHNo. I mean, there was a CNN correspondent, who shall remain nameless, who was essentially taking stuff off the scanner and saying things like six or eight devices have been found along. The root -- and I just said, you know, what, not everything you hear from a police source needs to go up without being verified.
GARRETTAnd any one who's covered police -- and I did it for six year before I got covering up politics -- knows scanner traffic is as fragmentary a bit of information as you can find. It is single perspective. It is often rush. It is sometimes emotionally conveyed. Sometimes it gets a fraction of the actual crime scene. You have to be incredibly careful with scanner traffic of any kind. And to put it up straight on Twitter as if it a verified fact...
GARRETT...is absolutely an act of journalistic malpractice. And for those who aren't even educated about it, it's just stupid. It's just -- it's not real stuff.
THRUSHThe one thing I will say about Twitter is it corrects almost as quickly, sometimes more quickly than it makes a mistake. So it is both a gift and curse because -- particularly, you know, we saw this a lot in Boston, and we saw this a lot this week. When people screw up or put up a piece of erroneous information, a lot of people jump on them. So it is a very much mixed bag.
PAGEAlso, we're not going to have Twitter police. We're not going to not have Twitter. Twitter is a force. It's been a force in foreign countries for democracy groups organizing it's -- that we're going to have irresponsible people on Twitter. I mean, there are some degree to which readers of Twitter need to be -- exercise caution and judgment and especially news sites that are using Twitter.
CUMMINGSAbsolutely. And there are some Twitter users now who are looking to see if there can be a way of deleting erroneous tweets and to get them out of the system. So, you know, adjustments can be made, but I think you're right, Susan, that, you know, this is user responsibility. Particularly, professional journalists need to be more responsible.
PAGELet's go back to the phones. Jeff's been holding on for a long time. Jeff, thanks for your patience. He's calling us from Cleveland Heights, Ohio.
JEFFMorning. Good to talk to you all. I just had a quick comment about the sequester. I really think that the fact that these flights were delayed this week was a good thing for us because the thing that really worries me is that all kinds of people are being hurt by this in ways that are not nearly as obvious. And I just hope it brings to attention to this and gets our leaders to do something to correct the problem.
PAGEAll right. Jeff, thanks for your call. I'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's talk for a minute about immigration legislation. You know, we think the gun control legislation is not going to go anywhere in the near future. Immigration, though, might be on a kind of fast track. Jeanne, where do things stand?
CUMMINGSWell, in the Senate, they have set a date in early May to begin the amendment process, so it is on track. The -- they're going to allow open amendments, and so it's going to be a very robust session in the Senate Judiciary Committee. And they are still saying they want to have a vote on a comprehensive bill in June. In the House you have a whole -- a very different picture. Over there, the House Judiciary chairman is talking about moving several bills, breaking apart the comprehensive bill and moving it in pieces.
CUMMINGSThere are people who've tried to this now several times who say, that really doesn't work because people will cherry pick. And you need to put the demands of the advocates of immigrants. That being the path to citizenship, you have to marry that with the border security people. And if you put them together, it's a true compromise, and that's how you get them both passed. And there is great fear that in the House, it will fracture. And one piece might go and the other piece not, and the whole thing could collapsed.
CUMMINGSThe only thing -- that's the dynamic they're on right now. What might change it, some say, is if there is a very strong bipartisan vote in the Senate. And if that's the case, 70 votes or higher, you get a majority of the Republicans or close to it, that that would put pressure on the House to step back and go ahead and do it in a comprehensive way.
PAGESo, Major, do you think this is going to happen this year?
GARRETTI think the Senate vote will definitely happen, the amendment process that the Senate Judiciary Committee will be revealing. But it will not be this positive on the Senate floor. That's where you going to see real votes and real coalitions built and real coalitions tested legislatively. Can you hold on issues and amendments that will be brought up, that will -- were meant to divide the coalitions that are currently together?
GARRETTLabor and business, the immigrant communities, border security types, all of whom are in a rough coalition behind the current Senate bill along with the White House. If that happens and you get anywhere from 65 to 70 votes in the Senate, I think that is very definitely a possibility, then this becomes a very much live issue in the House revisited in a completely different context.
GARRETTAll the politics and legislative strategizing going in the House right now, that's all written on the water. The Senate acts and acts decisively. In a large bipartisan way, those strategies and those politics change dramatically in the House and they'll all be revisited. But I do think this is a full-year process minimally, and it could even roll over to next year.
PAGEAfter two terms in the White House, George W. Bush has kept pretty quiet since leaving office. But we saw him yesterday at the dedication of his library and museum at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Five presidents there. Glenn Thrush, you don't see that very often.
THRUSHIt was extraordinary. And I think the headline for me was Jimmy, you know, Jimmy Carter's got, you know, "The Picture of Dorian Gray" somewhere. Jimmy Carter stealing the show, who could have thought about that? It was very, very interesting, not only for what was said but for what wasn't said. And...
PAGESo what wasn't said?
THRUSHWell, I mean, President Obama was elected fundamentally because of the mistakes that George W. Bush made on Iraq. And people didn't really talk about that, but it really weighed on the scene. And what I thought was the most extraordinary thing is at the moment President Obama took the podium, the White House released on background the first admission that they believe some use of chemical weapons were employed in Syria. And it was just an unbelievable illustration of the problems that sunk the Bush presidency are in some ways coming back to revisit us now.
PAGEAnd we'll be talking about that issue early on in the second hour of our news roundup, the international hour. You know, I thought it was surprising -- I was slightly surprised I guess, Jeanne, that at this occasion President Obama chose to lobby for immigration reform 'cause there's kind of a tradition of not doing much of that at this library -- presidential library dedications.
CUMMINGSWell, I think that if each one of them found the best that they could in Bush's presidency and they heralded that. Jimmy Carter and President Clinton both spoke up -- and President Obama, too, but mostly the two former -- talked about his assistance in fighting AIDS in Africa and really applauded him for that work. And Obama was attaching himself to Bush's prior efforts to try to reform immigration, which we're really brave things that the Bush administration tried to do.
PAGEI'll tell you, the interview that I thought was most intriguing was by Barbara Bush, not a former president, a former first lady, on the "Today" show. She said, she was asked whether Jeb Bush should run for president. And she said, he's by far the best qualified man, but no, we've had enough Bushes. What does that mean?
GARRETTI think it's pretty clear what it means. The dynastic sense of Bush family access to the White House may be coming to an end, at least if Barbara Bush gets her way. And I think there is an undercurrent of this as well because if Hillary Clinton run's, we'll be revisiting the dynastic question, Clinton-Bush if Jeb runs. And Barbara Bush has weighed in, probably speaking for more than one American.
PAGEMajor Garrett, Glenn Thrush, Jeanne Cummings, thanks so much for joining us this hour on "The Diane Rehm Show."
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. She'll be back on Monday. Thanks for listening.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Susan Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman and Lisa Dunn. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This comes to you from American University in Washington, D.C. This is NPR.
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