A new memoir from the National Book Award-winning author of "Middle Passage." He writes about the art and craft of writing and what he calls "the truth-telling power of fiction."
President Barack Obama says he wants to end the war on terror. In a major policy speech, he announced steps to narrow the scope of the U.S. drone program and reinforced his vow to close Guantanamo. The president plans a visit to inspect tornado damage in Oklahoma. Another IRS official is on the way out after refusing to testify about the agency’s admitted targeting of conservative groups. Apple’s CEO and lawmakers square off over taxes. An immigration reform bill moves to the Senate floor for debate. And the FBI shoots a man questioned in the Boston bombings. A panel of journalists joins guest host Katty Kay for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Chris Frates national correspondent for National Journal.
- Sheryl Gay Stolberg Washington correspondent for The New York Times.
- Jerry Seib Washington bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal.
Featured Video Clip
After the devastating tornado in Moore, Okla., a caller to the show explains why people who live in “Tornado Alley” don’t have in-home storm shelters. The clay content of the soil in these states cracks as it heats, leaving developers reluctant to build underground cellars, he said. “Keep in mind, if you build a big rigid concrete structure, that’s going to break. You’re going to need something that’s going to flex and move as the soil heats.”
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MS. KATTY KAYThanks for joining us. I'm Katty Kay of the BBC, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Diane is on a station visit at Louisiana Public Media. She'll be back on Tuesday. President Obama calls again for the Guantanamo prison to close. After taking the fifth at a Congressional hearing, IRS official Lois Lerner is put on administrative leave. And former Congressman Anthony Weiner announces he'll run for mayor of New York City.
MS. KATTY KAYJoining me for this week's top domestic stories on the Friday News Roundup: Jerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal, Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times and Chris Frates of National Journal. The number here is 1-800-433-8850. Do send us your questions and comments, call in as well. Drshow@wamu.org is the email address. You can send us a tweet, @drshow. All of you, thank you so much for joining me.
MR. JERRY SEIBThank you. Happy to be with you.
MS. SHERYL GAY STOLBERGGood morning.
KAYOK. I went through this list. We have 15 subjects to get to this morning, so we are going to have to be snappy. It has been one of those weeks where my head is reeling because there is so much news. Let's start, though, with the speech that President Obama gave yesterday, really resetting America's national security policy. Sheryl, you and I were speaking just before the program, and you see this as a real shift.
STOLBERGI do. I see this is really a monumental speech and a speech that kind of goes to the core of the differences between President Obama and his predecessor, President Bush. Now, President Bush really, at his core, was a war-on-terror presidency, and President Obama has always made the war on terror one of many priorities. But now he is, in essence, saying to the country, the war on terror is over. This is a war conflict that many people in America thought would never be over.
STOLBERGBut he's saying we need to step back. We need to re-evaluate. And we need to kind of put ourselves on a pre-9/11 footing so that we are preventing terror attacks, we are mindful of terrorism, we are going after terrorists, but we're doing it in a limited and targeted way. And as you said, he also vowed to close Guantanamo Bay.
STOLBERGHe asked Congress to refine and ultimately repeal its post-9/11 war authorization. He wants that more clearly limited to targeting al-Qaida. And at the same time, of course, he acknowledged that neither he nor any president could prevent all acts of terrorism. But I do think this was a very, very big shift in our national psyche that the President is trying to set.
KAYJerry, I agree with Sheryl. When I was listening to it, it struck me that, really, what President Obama is saying is we needed more nuanced approach in the way we fight terrorism, and the nature of terrorism has changed as well. And we saw that, of course, with the Boston bombings. Now, back in the 2004 campaign, John Kerry called for a more nuanced approach in the war on terrorism. It didn't do so well for him. Is this something that President Obama can persuade the American people it is time for?
SEIBWell, 12 years is a long time, and I think that's the calculation here. And I don't think he so much said the war on terror is over. As he said, the war on terror is continuing at a low level, but no country can't be on a war footing permanently. And implicit in that was the notion that being on a war footing produces some unsavory side effects. You know, you have a drone policy that's -- in which presidents are kind of willy-nilly free to order attacks on whoever -- excuse me -- whoever they want without any real check or balance on it, and he's saying that should stop Guantanamo Bay.
SEIBYou have people who've been there for a decade, no charges filed. That kind of violates American principles. We have to get our arms around that. But at the same time, he was very carefully saying there won't be an end to drone strikes. They'll just be more carefully calibrated. And he change the terms. It used to be that the principle for manning a drone strike was that you could strike somebody who posed a significant threat to U.S. interest. U.S. interest is a pretty broad category.
SEIBNow, it's continuing -- somebody who poses a continuing and imminent threat to the American people. That's a much narrower band of potential targets. I think one footnote here is that one area where I don't think this will change much is in the Afghan War theater, Afghanistan, and in the border area along Pakistan. As long as there is 60,000 U.S. troops there, I don't think the rules of engagement in that particular slice of the world are going to be different until next year.
KAYChris Frates, he also talked about Guantanamo, Sheryl said in closing. Again, he said it's time to close Guantanamo Bay. But he also acknowledged that the politics of this are different -- difficult. Will he manage to get Congress on board with this? Does he need Congress? Does he need the Republicans? Can he get them on board in the course of his presidency?
MR. CHRIS FRATESI certainly think he needs the Republicans to do this, and he needs Congress to shut it down. And so what he hinted at was an idea that we -- he will be more open to putting some of these detainees back to Yemen. There has been a discussion about whether or not we should send some of these folks who had been clear back to Yemen.
MR. CHRIS FRATESThere's a feeling among the administration that the Yemenis government has cracked down on terror. There's less risk if we send folks back there. So I think we'll see some of those folks heading out, and he will try to create the pressure. And he did what you often see the president do, is he tried to cast this in a scope of history, that history will look very harshly on this Guantanamo Bay prison camp.
MR. CHRIS FRATESAnd it reminded me a little bit, I think -- you know, he didn't draw the comparison, but it reminded me of maybe the Japanese internment camps during World War II. I think he was trying to kind of make that sense, that this is something that history will judge very, very harshly, and kind of shaming Republicans into doing this. But I didn't get a sense on the Hill yesterday that Republicans were very receptive to the speech generally and Guantanamo in particular.
MR. CHRIS FRATESYou had John McCain say, you know, he was amazed and thought it was incredible that the president would suggest that al-Qaida is on the run and that Saxby Chambliss, who is the top-ranking Republican in the Senate on the said intelligence committee, also felt like this was the wrong way to go. So I think if, generally, Republicans don't agree with the president on his general scope, I think closing Guantanamo is going to be hard in particular.
KAYSheryl, do you think he's going to close Guantanamo while he's president?
STOLBERGOh, I don't know. I think he's got a real problem on his hands there. As we've reported, there's a hunger strike there. They're worried about detainees dying. I think it is very, very difficult because as president, he has to worry about attacks on this country. And every time they release a detainee, there is a risk of course that that detainee will go back out into the field and begin plotting again. So the last thing he wants is to have -- is to be like the judge who released a convicted murderer and have the murderer murder again. I don't know. I don't know the answer.
SEIBI think the chances may be a little better. I think they're better than they were even a few weeks ago for a couple of reasons. One is the fact that Yemen looks like a more stable place with a new president who's actually taking charge of the institutions. That helps if you can start to repatriate the Yemenis. That breaks the logjam.
KAYAnd the Yemenis, by the way, did welcome the speech. They were the first country, I think, to come out and say that it's...
SEIBAbsolutely. That's right. So they're saying, essentially, we're in the game with you. That's important. I think the hunger strike really has had some impact psychologically, and I think the fact that while John McCain was critical of the speech -- he's on the Hill this week at a hearing, advocating from the Republican side for closing Guantanamo Bay, for the detention camp there as a black mark on America. I think there's a feeling among Republican senators. It's not yet very articulate -- or not articulated well that says, we can't go on this way forever. We recognize that now.
KAYOK. Let's move on to the other big story of the week, to Oklahoma. Just before I do so, I should say that in the context of all this discussion about terrorism, there is a story coming out of London, which is just coming at the moment, that British police say that two men have been arrested on suspicion of endangering an aircraft.
KAYThe aircraft have been flying from Pakistan to England. It was diverted from Manchester Airport to London Stansted Airport. The men have been arrested and removed from the plane. That is all we know about that at the moment. But in the context of the discussion we're having about terrorism, apt, I think, to bring it up at the moment.
KAYOklahoma, the president will be going on Sunday, Chris, an extraordinary event. We all watched this tornado come through on our television screens. We saw the devastation afterwards. And now, still questions about, was there enough done to protect the school children? Were there enough safe houses? Is there anything you can do in Tornado Alley that actually will give people a level of protection that they need and that they can afford to pay for?
FRATESRight. And I think that that is the question that the president certainly grapples with on a policy front. But I thought it was interesting to see, you know, the president is very good and is becoming very good at the comforter-in-chief role. You know, he's certainly out there. He's going to go visit. But when you talk about can you make things safer, let's remember that that costs money.
FRATESAnd when you look at the politics on Capitol Hill when it comes to disaster aid, we're seeing, yet again, what we saw after Hurricane Sandy, which is a debate about how much should we be paying, who should be on the hook for that tab. And I thought it was interesting that you had the home state senator, Sen. Tom Coburn who is a guy who has said in the past repeatedly, also during last with the Sandy aid, that you shouldn't pay for something unless you're going to cut elsewhere.
FRATESSo you shouldn't pay for disaster relief unless you're going to cut the budget elsewhere. He's stuck with that position this week, and I thought that was, you know, it was kind of a principled stand but one that's very tough. If -- these are your home constituents. His colleagues, Sen. Inhofe from Oklahoma said that, you know, Sandy is different than Oklahoma, that there wouldn't be the kind of pork projects in a disaster relief bill should it go through for Oklahoma that was in Sandy. So he kind of gave himself some hedging room.
FRATESBut those things cost money. And we saw rebuilding after Joplin and Missouri. There was a hospital that was completely leveled that was rebuilt to hurricane specifications. So they were building, you know, windows that you could shoot a 2-by-4 at at 150 miles an hour, and it wouldn't break. Those were the kinds of things, but that cost, you know, a significant amount more to build in that way. And the question is, you know, is Congress willing to help communities that are vulnerable to that?
KAYJerry, the mayor of Moore has said that he will seek a mandate that all new home construction in Moore has to have an underground shelter. That costs $4,000. You know, if you're a struggling family, you may decide, I'm not going to do that, that the chances of my house getting struck -- and you don't want the legislation. This is not an area of the country necessarily wants legislation like that.
SEIBNo. On the other hand, I grew up in Kansas, due north of ground zero. And in my hometown, everybody had a basement or a storm cellar. I mean, put basements in, people. I mean, it's -- I don't know what the financial resources that'll come from Washington are going to make that happen, but there is a relatively easy fix. And particularly a school building, the idea that you'd build a school building with no underground shelter in the middle of tornado alley is a little strange.
SEIBSo there is this -- as you suggest, one of the problems here is that the best way to make that happen -- or the easiest way to make that happen would be to have some regulatory regime require it, and that's not likely to happen in a state like Oklahoma, at least not very easily. But I think there can be pressure. If the mayor of Moore says that maybe you don't need legislation, maybe you just need a movement that says whatever the cost that's worth it, we'll find some way to do it.
KAYAnd maybe after '99 and now, again, this one, that will be the decision that the people of Oklahoma make. Jerry Seib, Washington bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, Sheryl Stolberg, Washington correspondent for The New York Times, Chris Frates, national correspondent for the National Journal, we have you all here.
KAYI think we got through two of our subjects. We've got still 13 to go. We're going to get there. We're going to get through all of the day's news. Send us your questions and comments, email@example.com. Give me a call, 1-800-433-8850. We'll open the phones in just a minute. Stay with us.
KAYWelcome back to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Katty Kay, sitting in for Diane, who is on a station visit. We're looking at all of the domestic news and what a busy week it has been. Of course, Congress, the hearings, the IRS scandal, which continues to evolve, and we still feel, Sheryl, that we don't have all of the details.
KAYWe don't know all the questions. Who sanctioned what when, how high did this go, and how long did it carry on for, and why?
STOLBERGI think the bottom line is after 12 hours or maybe more of very contentious hearings, we really don't know. And -- but more important, Republicans who have asserted, in some cases, that this is like the equivalent of Watergate, really haven't uncovered any proof of that. The testimony this week from top IRS officials, the former acting director and his predecessor, both said, you know, they hadn't talked to higher-level Obama officials about this.
STOLBERGWe did see Lois Lerner, the head of the tax-exempt organizations division, take the Fifth Amendment. And that was very interesting. She'd got out there, and she said, I've done nothing wrong. I've broken no laws. But my lawyers have advised me to invoke my Fifth Amendment right, you know, not to incriminate myself. So I'm going to that. And that was...
KAYRight. Now, Darrell Issa -- Congressman Darrell Issa is not coming back and say, hold on a second. You can't have your cake and eat it. You can't make a statement and then say you're going to take the Fifth Amendment. Jerry, is she going to come back again, do you think? Will that clarify anything if she does?
SEIBI doubt it. I mean, on both counts. She's been placed on administrative leave now, and so she's halfway out the door. You know, on another level, it kind of doesn't matter in the sense that the damage here, I think, for the Obama administration comes on a sort of different and higher level, which is that regardless of how the who knew what, when and who did or didn't order what is sorted out. I don't think it'll go to the highest reaches of the administration.
SEIBBut what it does is it causing to doubt one of the underpinnings of the Obama philosophy of governance, which is that I'm going to bring back to you confidence that there is a government that can efficiently solve problems without getting carried away. That's kind of what the whole Obama agenda is about, like we can bail out banks, and we won't get carried away or cost the taxpayers, you know, jillions of dollars.
SEIBWe can save General Motors. We can fix -- we can create research that will fix the country's addiction to oil, that government can do these things. And people look at this kind of thing, and they think, well, maybe the government is still just the government we can't trust. That's the longer term problem for the Obama agenda, I think, in this IRS scandal.
KAYYeah. Chris, I think -- I agree politically with Jerry. It feeds into the perception that President Obama, who is associated with big government with the expansion of government during his first term, has tried to say that it's not about big government, it's about effective government, and this is government that is most ineffective. But the way that the White House has handled this scandal over the last few days hasn't been particularly, what's the word, elegant?
FRATESThat's right. And I think Republicans -- you've seen them over the last week -- kind of dialed back the Nixonian comparisons and have really started just to talk about the facts. And I think Republicans have learned that it's better not to overreach, not to get too overzealous because they were just trying to give the White House enough rope to hang themselves. And they repeatedly had to change their story. They had to bring new facts to light.
FRATESAnd that only played into this idea that the IRS is not telling the whole story, that we do need to get the facts, that we do need to continue to hear these hearings. And I would look for, you know, Congress is in recess for Memorial Day next week. Members are going to go home. They're going to do TV. They're going to do radio. They're going to do print interviews. They're going to talk about this. They're going to talk about it locally.
FRATESThis is something that Republicans feel like they need to keep in the news. They will continue to do that. And I think when they come back, they will have more hearings. This is something that's not going to go away that, I think, Republicans want to keep on a low boil and continue to put pressure on the White House because when they are pressured, they continue to get in their own way.
FRATESThat's only good for Republicans and feeds into what Jerry was saying about this 2014 narrative that Republicans are trying to put together, which is big government, you know, at its best, the bureaucracy is so ham-handed, it's going to get intrusive and at its worse is, you know, purposely getting into your business and, you know, hurting your liberties basically.
KAYYeah. But, Sheryl, as -- to pick up on what Chris said about in going home for the long weekend, I mean, how much do we know about how seriously the American public is taking this? Has there been polling on this in terms of the -- if we're going to rank these scandals. I would've have thought the IRS one, for many voters, is the most serious.
STOLBERGYou know, I haven't seen polling on this. But my gut tells me that your statement that voters take this seriously is correct. First of all, everyone hates the IRS, right? Ever year, April 15, we all have to file these forms and pay taxes. That actually gets into another story we talked about this week, the Apple story. But -- so people don't like the IRS to begin with. And the idea that the IRS would be targeting individual groups is something that is frankly very easy for Americans to grasp.
STOLBERGAnd that kind of story, I think, has legs. And it'll be interesting to see what lawmakers hear when they go home this week because I think they are going to get an earful from people who are saying, what? And even, you know, liberals, who, you know, maybe have no love loss for the Tea Party groups that were being targeted, are going to think, you know, hey, this could happen to me. I think it won't go over all at home.
FRATESJust to piggyback on it, Sheryl's exactly right. And one of the talking points that Senate Republicans are going to take home with them is that a new Fox News poll out says that 68 percent say, "Government is out of control and threatening their civil liberties." And so this feeds into that. You know, and it's a nice, perfect storm. You have the IRS. You have the Department Justice subpoenaing AP reporters, and you have the question around Benghazi and the attack there, what actually happened? You know, this is a really nice perfect storm for Republicans that they're taking advantage of.
KAYAnd that poll number, actually, has been pretty static throughout the last few years. So I guess this'll just -- if anything, this is probably just going to increase those numbers, I'd have thought. Let's talk about the other scandal that's bubbling around Washington, that certainly, I think we take very seriously.
KAYAnd that is journalist phone records being seized by the Justice Department. I'm not sure how seriously the American public takes it. Unfortunately, journalism is not one of the professions that is held in the highest of bars. I think our approval ratings are a record lows at the moment.
STOLBERGI think lower than Congress.
FRATESIs it lower than Congress?
STOLBERGNo, I don't know. I did see a poll recently.
KAYNo. No. We're not -- we aren't lower than Congress quite, but we are vying for that fantastic position.
FRATESWell, we're right around used car salesmen.
KAYOK. Let's talk about the case of James Rosen, Jerry Seib. This is -- we had the AP phone records being seized by the Justice Department. And this week, we've had the case of Fox News reporter James Rosen.
SEIBRight. James Rosen, a Fox News reporter. As you say, it turns out through court documents we've learned that the Justice Department investigating what they thought was a breach of national security in the form of documents that talked about how North Korea might respond to new U.N. sanctions got to James Rosen. So as a result, they've looked at emails and looked at phone records of his phone, Fox News' phone, and, apparently, even the phone records of his parents. And so what you have is...
KAYAlthough the Justice Department has denied that.
KAYRight. Although the number seems -- one of the numbers that showed up in the court document seems to be that. So maybe it was a case of mistaken identity, but anyway...
SEIBAnd the court document said that Mr. Rosen might be -- was a possible co-conspirator in the leaking of documents, which takes it out and puts in a different category, takes it from source of leak to conspiracy to reveal classified information. And that's a pretty chilling notion.
KAYOK. But hang on, Chris. Yesterday in his speech, President Obama specifically said that journalists should be allowed to do their jobs without threat of their being told that they were doing anything illegal.
FRATESWell, he did say that. But he also said in that very same sentence that they should aggressively go after the leakers. And remember, those are our sources. So if you're saying that journalists should do their jobs but we're going to aggressively pursue leakers who are giving journalists the information that allow us to be the watchdog and play that oversight role, then it really has, you know, almost the same chilling effect.
FRATESI think, you know, going after journalists under the Espionage Act, which is what the Justice Department did here with James Rosen, really does, as Jerry say, take it to a whole new level. It was different than the AP, and it's saying that we believe this guy is a criminal. We don't even have to tell him that we're looking at his records.
FRATESWhereas if the Justice Department, in the AP case, did have to disclose to the Associated Press that they had taken their phone records. In this case, they didn't have to because they named him as co-conspirator. That really is chilling, I think, to reporters around the country.
KAYSheryl, are reporters in Washington starting to see the fallout from this? In conversations that we're having with sources, that you're having with sources at the White House...
KAY...that your colleagues are having, are they starting to find the sources don't want to speak to them about?
STOLBERGMy colleagues who cover national security are and have been feeling the fallout. This is not really new behavior for the Obama administration. The Obama administration has been very, very aggressive, more aggressive than the Bush administration, in going after leaks of information to journalists. And my colleague Scott Shane, who covers national security, wrote a lengthy piece not that long ago about one of his sources who wound up getting prosecuted.
STOLBERGAnd it was kind of a personal story about what that was like for him. But I think this is really a chilling effect, and it does strike me that in some ways, the president tried to have it both ways yesterday in his speech by saying, we need to aggressively prosecute leakers. But you should pass my shield law, Congress, and journalists should have their freedom.
STOLBERGI suppose this goes to the balance that he is wrestling with as president and that we're wrestling with as a country between civil liberties and national security and safety and how much freedom can we allow and, you know, how safe do we have to be. You asked earlier if -- how much the public cares about this. Honestly, I don't know how much the public cares about this. I think journalists, frankly, may be more up in arms than the public, although I think the public should care.
SEIBYou know, I think that there is a sense that it's never a good thing for administration to start a war with the media. There are plenty of -- the old phrase used to be -- it doesn't apply anymore -- don't pick fights with people who buy ink by the barrel. That doesn't really apply in the Internet age, but I think the principle is the same. And that's kind of one of the things that's happened here.
SEIBAnd I do, though, think -- and I think Sheryl's exactly right -- there is a chilling effect. It started before this. It'll be more the case now. It changed already the way reporters who report on these things go about doing their business. So it does have an effect, and it's meant to. That's the point. You know, honestly, that is the point here from the national security apparatus' point of view. Let's send a chill over the people who handle security information in the government by making a few examples out there.
KAYYeah. And I agree. I'm not sure the public is focused on this, but you only have to live in countries where there is not a free press. And you can remind the American public, if you live in somewhere like Russia at the moment or in countries around the world that do not have a free press, you will realize how valuable it is to you as a citizen in order to have that freedom of information, that access to information about what's really going on in government.
KAYOK. We're going to take a break in a second. I just want to get immigration first. I'm ticking them off my list here. Jerry, it does look like having the Senate Judiciary Commission -- Committee having finally given approval to this sweeping immigration reform bill that's being proposed that we have a pretty good shot at immigration reform in the country.
SEIBI think so. I think that's been the case all year. The important thing about the Senate Judiciary Committee passing it this week was that it was -- it passed fairly easily, 13-to-5, I think, was the vote. And it passed in a bipartisan way. There were a significant number -- at least a meaningful number of Republican votes.
SEIBAnd that clears the way for Republicans on the floor, when it gets there, to vote for an immigration bill because their colleagues on the committee that has spent the most time on it essentially blessed that. Still a big question about whether this bill or something like it can pass the House, where Republican opposition is a lot higher. But I think, at this point, what had to happen to start the ship sailing toward port did, in fact, happen this week.
KAYI'm Katty Kay. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Chris Frates, it gets -- if it gets through the Senate, do we think that it now has -- and it gets through with -- I think Chuck Schumer and Jeff Flake of Arizona are saying that they think it could pick up 70 votes in the Senate, the immigration reform bill. Does that give it a stronger chance of getting through the House, do you think, now?
FRATESWell, that's always been the assumption, and I've been a little bit -- I've been a little skeptical that this thing could make it into law throughout the process. And you saw yesterday the House leadership, for the first time, put out a statement that said that we're happy that you are moving forward, but the House is going to go through regular order. And what that was code for was dear Senate: Thanks for your work. We're not going to eat your bill.
FRATESWe're going to do our own thing. And that is very, very important, I think, and it was the first time that House leadership has weighed in on this. And you've seen them take a very hands-off approach. They are now being a little bit more proactive as this thing moves to try to fend off some of that pressure that will come if there is a big vote.
STOLBERGNow, here's what I think about that. I think John Boehner, the speaker of the House, had to do that in order to satisfy his members. And -- but I think that, in the end, they may have to eat the Senate bill, that if the Senate bill passes with 70 votes, there will be a lot of pressure on the House to pass it. And I think that Boehner -- but Boehner needs to start the process. Chris is shaking his head. He disagrees with me.
STOLBERGBut Boehner has to start the process because his members will excoriate him if he doesn't start the process and allow them to build their own bill in the fashion that they want to so that they can have their say.
KAYOK. I'm not going to let you two get into a big debate about immigration reform 'cause we need to go to the phones. So let's go to Mindy, who's calling us from Broken Arrow, Okla. Mindy, thank you for calling "The Diane Rehm Show." Mindy, can you hear me? Hello, Mindy?
KAYHi. It's the -- Katty Kay. You're on "The Diane Rehm Show." You've joined the program.
MINDYI just wanted to comment about the storm shelters that y'all were talking about and the houses being built with them. We would love for houses to be built with storm shelters out here, or basements would be nice. It's really hard, though. The majority of the neighborhoods out there -- there's only a couple of builders in that certain neighborhood, and they don't do basements. They don't like to do basements. It's more money, and it's more time.
MINDYAnd my dad actually hired a builder -- and he's building his own house right now -- and got a builder that would put a basement in. And his neighbors have told him that when they tried to build their house and put their basement in, that their builder told them that, no, it couldn't be done. My dad's builder says it can be done. Builders just don't like to do them.
KAYMindy, that's so interesting. And do you think that what happened in Moore this week is going to change the minds of builders and make them realize, as your dad has found, that it is possible to put the basements in?
MINDYI don't know. I hope so. It would be nice. I mean, if nothing else, I think that a school at the very least should have a safe place.
KAYYeah. Everyone in the studio, Mindy, is nodding their heads at that one. Thank you so much for your call, and, you know, let's hope that those basements get built specifically in the schools. Let's go to Tim, who's calling us from Lambertville. Tim, you've joined "The Diane Rehm Show."
TIMHere's my question.
TIMDon't we want the IRS to carefully scrutinize tax evaders, especially for organizations like using a term like Tea Party celebrating the most famous tax evasion act in American history?
KAYGo ahead, Sheryl.
STOLBERGI think we do want the IRS to scrutinize tax evaders, but I think the caller maybe has this one a little bit confused. These Tea Party groups were going for 501 (c)(4) tax-exempt status, which requires that groups have a job of primarily promoting the social welfare there, supposed to be primarily educational groups.
STOLBERGAlthough they can engage in some political activities, that distinction is a little bit murky. So there's nothing really here about these groups being tax evaders. They were simply seeking tax-exempt status to organize in the way that groups of all political stripes and all kinds of groups can form so that they can be 501 (c)(4) s.
KAYI mean, there's certainly a broader discussion to be had about tax reform generally and whether we -- exactly.
STOLBERGAbout tax reform, and whether we should have 501 (c)(4) s and what the standards ought to be.
KAYYes. And one of the things that the IRS has said is that it wasn't clear from -- after the change of...
KAY...legislation after Citizens United that the -- that -- what they should and shouldn't do. The rules were not clear from Washington.
STOLBERGRight. And the problem here was that conservative Tea Party groups were being targeted for questioning and for a greater level of scrutiny than other groups that were getting similar 501 (c)(4) status.
KAYOK. I just want to say this one email's come in from Rick, and we are in (word?) -- and we are getting a lot of these, which is pointing out that the ground in central Oklahoma has much clay in it, and it makes it very difficult to build those basements. So as Mindy said when she called in, there is a actual physical problem there. We're going to take a quick break. The number here is 1-800-433-8850. Drshow@wamu.org is the email address. Do call us with your questions and comments for this Friday News Roundup. We'll be back in just a minute.
KAYWelcome back. I'm Katty Kay of the BBC, sitting in for Diane Rehm. You've joined the domestic hour of our very, very busy Friday News Roundup. The phone number here is 1-800-433-8850. The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. I've got in the studio with me: Jerry Seib, he's the Washington bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Washington correspondent for The New York Times. Chris Frates, national correspondent for the National Journal is also with me.
KAYSheryl said to me it's lucky that I speak fast because we have so much to get through, and I think I raced through her name there. I should have said it more slowly so everyone got your time for the show. Anyway I want to get to Apple because this is something you particularly wanted to speak about. Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple was hauled before lawmakers to talk about the company's tax returns. What did he say, and were they convinced?
STOLBERGWell, he said that the company did everything legally, which is true. Apple has paid little or no taxes on about $74 billion over the past, I think, four or five years, in part by stashing a lot of money overseas in Ireland. But I guess there was sort of an element of hilarity almost to these hearings. I mean, on the one hand, you had all these lawmakers saying, I love Apple. I love my iPhone.
STOLBERGI -- and, you know, even Carl Levin, on the one breath, you know, was holding up his iPhone, and the other breath, he was accusing Tim Cook, the CEO, of engaging in alchemy and ghost companies. And I just kind of felt that in the end, although Americans probably are outraged that they didn't pay taxes, Apple has an incredible penetration of its products. I mean, people are buying Apple products. And that, frankly, is not going to change, as evidenced by the senators' own behavior in this hearing.
KAYChris, I think Sheryl is suggesting there might be a conflict of interest.
FRATESCertainly. I think Sheryl is right that Apple's branding has penetrated even Capitol Hill, when you have John McCain complaining about, like, why is my iPhone always updating? Like, knock it off. It's bothering me.
STOLBERGThere's a bigger problem for Apple, though, and that is the treatment of Chinese workers in its factories overseas. I think that is a bigger public relations problem for Apple than paying -- than the taxes.
FRATESCertainly. And the other thing that I saw in that hearing was, you've seen in the past, Congress has called chief executives up to kind of give them a public shaming and a public flogging, and they've really, you know, kind of had to be contrite about it. And we're seeing that shift. I mean, Tim Cook punched back. He was a guy who was making no apologies for Apple's policies. He said we followed the law...
KAYAnd the spirit of the law.
FRATES...and the spirit of the law. And so if you guys want to do it differently, then get your act together and do tax reform. And I think that was very interesting that even the public shaming aspect that they were trying to do didn't really come off with Apple.
KAYNo. As Sheryl suggests, it's a little bit difficult to public shame when you're holding your iPhone in your hand. But I think it gets -- doesn't it, Jerry? -- to the bigger issue. And I keep hearing this from American business leaders whenever I go and talk to them is that, one of the things they do -- two things they really want: immigrant reform and changes to the American tax code. What are the chances of that actually happening in this term?
SEIBWell, this was the argument of the week for tax reform was the Apple hearing, and it's -- there is a fix to this. It is to change the way the U.S. taxes corporate earnings to fall into line with the way most people -- most countries around the world do, which is to tax earnings in the country itself, not that the company earns around the world. The U.S. creates a tax system in which they have built in an incentive for companies to do what Apple does, which is to not bring the money home because it will be taxed here even if its earned over there.
SEIBThat's a changeable problem. That's a fixable problem. You have to do tax reform. That's what business people tell you all the time. I will bring billions back home, and they'll go to work here if you change the tax laws so that I'm getting taxed twice, once in Chile or wherever it is and once when I bring the money back home. That's a fixable problem. People in Congress just have to decide to change the rules. Tim Cook was right in one way and says, you write these rules, as Chris suggests, I follow the rules, and then you complain. So change the rules, and I'll follow the rules. That's what has to be done here.
KAYThe law is an ass, I think, is what the expression...
KAY...that we probably wanted to use. Let's go Calvin who's calling us from Washington, D.C. Calvin, you've joined "The Diane Rehm Show."
CALVINGood morning. My question has to do with why there's not discussion around the difference on the IRS issue between the statute which says exclusively and the regulation, which, to my understanding, was changed in 1959 to primarily. Seems like there's a lot of airtime around why the IRS did not interpret this correctly when the root cause should be, why is the regulation inconsistent with the statute?
KAYVery interesting, Calvin. Jerry Seib.
SEIBThis is a very good point, and this goes to the heart of -- it's hard to be sympathetic with the IRS, and I agree with everybody on that. But, you know, this was a very confusing situation. The law seems to say one thing. The regulation for implementing the law seems to say another. And I'll add a third element. If we had a federal election commission that was actually functioning and that was helping to distinguish between what's a political group and what is not, maybe the IRS wouldn't have this job.
SEIBBut the Federal Election Commission is broken. It's divided between Democrats and Republicans. Congress will not fill out the Federal Election Commission. So a body that should be helping to referee some of these questions so that the IRS doesn't have to do it is totally dysfunctional. So there is a lot of confusion, and that's the context in which this controversy broke out.
KAYWe've had this email came in from Frank, talking about the journalists and the leaks and the clamping down on journalists' phone records. Frank writes, "Government leaks are illegal and a violation of the individual's oath of office. I find it interesting that reporters are advocating people break the law to help them with their stories. I believe reporters have a conflict of interest with the subject obviously if they're advocating illegal behavior as First Amendment freedom." Chris.
FRATESWell, I think that is always the rub here, and the question is, well, what is the whistleblower protection? And when are you trying to right a wrong that you see by leaking, and when are you illegally leaking? And then is always the balance folks are trying to strike. And the email has a very good point that, you know, it is, in fact, illegal. But the question is -- that is also a necessary watchdog. If we can't know what's going wrong, how do we fix it?
KAYJerry, I want to ask you about another subject I did want to get to which is the Fed this week and the Fed Chair Ben Bernanke signaling that Congress -- signaling two Congress that it might be about his bond-buying program. Are we looking at the end of QE3?
SEIBWell, there was a certain amount of ambiguity on that point by design. What Ben Bernanke said in testimony this week was that sometime in the next few meeting, which means in the next few months, we might start to curtail our bond-buying program. The Fed buys about $85 billion a month in bonds, which is a way of simply putting money into the system, keeps interest rates low, keeps money flowing through the system while recovery from the recession continues.
SEIBSo it was a signal that said, well, maybe sometime soon, not saying definitely and not saying when. The market took that initially as a sign that maybe the screws are going to be tightened on the money supply. It reacted. And then there were some conflicting signals elsewhere from the Fed, both from the minutes of the last meeting plus things other Fed governors were saying which left the situation unclear.
SEIBBut I'm not sure that isn't what Ben Bernanke had in mind when he did this. It's a warning shot to the markets. We may be getting to the point where the spigot is going to be turned down. I'm not telling you we're they're yet, but think in the back of your mind as you make decisions that we're not that far away from that point.
KAYIs the underlying health of the American economy strong enough now to suggest that it might be time to...
SEIBWell, there's enough...
KAY...take squeeze on some of those credit?
SEIBThere's enough strength emerging that it's time for that to be a plausible idea, that's really where we're at. I mean, look, the housing slump seems to finally be over, you know, the new home sales are going up, median price and average prices of houses are going up. Unemployment is coming down very slowly, but that's still the troublesome one.
SEIBThere are not enough jobs created to really bring unemployment down rapidly enough. So while the stock market is above 15,000 job creation, it's still a little below where you'd want it, and that's the rub. And that's why I think there's not a certainty that the Fed is going to move down this path, only a possibility.
KAYOK. Let's go back to the phones now, to Ed in St. Louis, Mo. Ed, thank you very much for joining "The Diane Rehm Show." I know you have another comment to add about Oklahoma.
EDYeah. Good morning.
EDIt's the issue related to basement, it's actually pretty simple. The clay content of the soil in that part of the country heaves, causes the soil to heave. You can put in a basement, but keep in mind that, as the soil heaves and moves, it's going to break that basement up. A builder is going to be reluctant to put one in because he's got a warranty to stand behind.
EDAnd he's going to have big enough problem just trying to get a slab to stay in place without cracking. So if you could -- if you can talk a builder into putting in a basement, that's fine. But what you're going to end up with is a basement that's cracked, that's broken, that's shifted, and he probably won't have warranty.
KAYEd, is this a money issue? If you paid the builder more, would you get the basement you wanted with the warranty?
EDNo. I mean, it's just physically impossible to do it, Katty. You're talking about the soil is going to shift. The soil is going to -- if, for example, these safe rooms that they're talking about putting in underground, those are not poured. Those are usually, but they're typically solid one-piece units where you dig a hole, you drop this thing in and it's going to not crack the way the concrete will. If that's rigid, it's going to break.
KAYEd, that's very interesting. Sheryl wants to jump in.
STOLBERGWell, I was just going to say, I wondered about having a kind of neighborhood safe rooms or sort of -- exactly what he's talking about or -- so if people can't have basements in their own house, can there be kind of storm cellars or shelters that are tiny, almost crawl space-like things the people can just go into quickly?
EDSure. I mean, you could, if you, I mean, theoretically, sure. But keep in mind, if you build a big, rigid, concrete structure, that's going to break. You're going to need something that's going to flex and move as the soil heaves.
KAYYeah. And that's actually, Ed, that kind of big structure, of course, is what you would need if you're talking about a school population. Ed, thank you very much for joining us and for that information on the shelters. I just want to bring us up to date. President Obama is speaking at the Naval Academy.
KAYAccording to CBS News, he has told the graduates that those in the military who commit sexual assault threaten the trust -- here is the quote, "Threaten the trust and discipline that make our military strong." Sheryl, there has been news on this during the course of this week with this video that was taken at West Point of women members of the academy there as well.
STOLBERGRight. This is very unsettling news. An Army sergeant has been accused of taping female cadets at West Point -- really, the crown jewel of the Army, its academy -- taping them in the shower nude over a five-year period. And we have to take this in context. This comes on the heels of other revelations that a Pentagon report recently found 26,000 women in the military have been sexually assaulted within the past year alone.
STOLBERGAn Air Force officer recently -- a guy in charged of a sexual assault prevention unit was himself accused of fondling a woman in a parking lot. So the military is really having to re-examine its treatment of women, its handling of sexual assault. Chuck Hagel, the defense secretary, and President Obama have both vowed that this will not be tolerated. And I think it's important that the president, in addressing the Naval Academy in their commencement speech, raise this issue today.
MR. KATTY KAYAnd, Chris, he's been the named -- the individual at West Point's been named as Sgt. First Class Michael McClendon. He's facing charges of dereliction of duty, mistreatment, entering a woman's bathroom without noting -- notice and taking and possessing inappropriate photos and videos. Now, those women have been notified that they may have been filmed. But this has to come, doesn't it, from the top? Doesn't this have to -- the change in culture has to come from the very top of the military?
FRATESCertainly, and that's why it was important that Chuck Hagel weighed in that this something that's not tolerated. And I would look for Congress to also weigh on this. There's a legislation that -- bipartisan legislation by Claire McCaskill, Susan Collins in the Senate, Niki Tsongas and Mike Turner in the House that they want to put into the Defense Authorization bill to try to curtail some of this. So this is an issue that is a very, very serious issue.
FRATESIt's a national defense issue. You're going to see Republicans and Democrats get on board on this for different reasons. But it's something that I don't think is going to go away until it's handled at a high level. And the president speaking to it at a commencement address today only shows how serious the administration is taking this.
SEIBYou know, there is a change here that will be beyond military culture. It may actually change the way the military operates because one of the things that people in Congress are concerned about is that the military chain of command hasn't handled this issue properly. The military chain of command is also responsible for discipline within the chain of command.
SEIBThe feeling of Congress is, well, that hasn't worked here, we're going to take this issue and move it outside the military chain of command, which may not sound like a big deal. But in the military world, that is a very big deal that if the business, if the job of disciplining people in the military is handled by people outside the military, that's a significant change. And that may be what the end result of this is.
KAYAnd I think Sen. Gillibrand has already -- of New York has already proposed a bill to that effect. And actually, it is what happens in the U.K. We have an independent judiciary process that -- prosecutorial process that deals with sexual assault cases. In the British military, it does seem to work more effectively. Let's go back to the phones now, to Michael in San Antonio, Texas.
MICHAELYes. Good morning. One thing I'd like to say. I think the real scandal is the fact that we have all these small scandals and the media just goes crazy about them. The thing with the IRS is not really a scandal per se. You have the GOP who are prepared to burn across on the White House lawn in a moment's notice. They're looking for any little thing possible to try to, you know, accuse the Obama administration of doing something crooked. You know, and some other things that are going on with the Benghazi thing, that's not really a scandal. You know, they are trying to...
KAYMichael, did you have a question for the panel?
MICHAELThe question is, you know, it's laughable to see the Congress, you know, question somebody about doing something wrong at a government agency when the Congress itself is dysfunctional. And I would like to ask the media, why don't they cover that?
KAYWell, I think we do actually spend a lot of time covering the fact that Congress is dysfunctional, don't we, Sheryl?
STOLBERGWell, I think we do, and, you know, frankly, Congress...
KAYBecause Congress is dysfunctional.
STOLBERGIt is. But one of Congress' roles is an oversight role. I mean, we have a recon who is taking civics knows that we have a balance of power in this country, and Congress does have oversight authority, and it is within Congress' rights to hold these hearings.
KAYI'm Katty Kay. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And if you'd like to join us, do call, 1-800-433-885 is the phone number. I'd like to get to one other story that is down there on the bottom of my list but I think is worth talking about, Chris Fates, Anthony Weiner.
FRATESSuch a good story.
KAYI think we have to get there. If no -- for no other reason that it's become a tabloid war of puns.
FRATESAbsolutely. And any time he jumps into anything now, it's a tabloid war of puns. But I thought it was interesting how he has done is. He's, you know, he kind of did a confessional to The New York Times magazine a few weeks ago indicating he was looking to run.
KAYWe should just back up Anthony Weiner, who says he'd like to run for mayor of New York.
FRATESRight. Who was also -- who lost his -- had to resign his seat in Congress because of inappropriate pictures that he had tweeted. And so here he is on his comeback tour. And this looks like something to me where, you know, he doesn't have a real great shot of winning this race. But it's a cleansing exercise where he can go in, he can run, he can answer all the questions around his misbehavior, around his relationship with his wife, how he is a changed man, how he's learned from his mistakes.
FRATESAnd that next time he sees an office, you know, he will be able to run for it cleanly and not be surrounded by these questions about, you know, his conduct and was it appropriate or not. He can say, I dealt with that. We've talked about that. I am running again. So I think this is a palate cleanser by and large. And, you know, it's something that will certainly get a lot of coverage.
KAYBriefly, Sheryl, his wife seems fully behind him.
STOLBERGHis wife does, very interesting. He sent those lewd pictures. A lot of people wondered of his wife, Huma Abedin, who's been a close aide to Hillary Rodham Clinton, would stick with him. Not only has she stuck with him but she is right there in his inaugural video saying I think Anthony will work hard for New York. And she has been working behind the scenes to orchestrate appearances for him, and she is a draw to his campaign because people who want to work for the Clintons will go work for Anthony Weiner, so they can get close to her.
KAYSheryl Stolberg, Jerry Seib, Chris Frates, thank you so much for joining me. I think we got to everything.
KAYThank you so much.
KAYI'm Katty Kay. You've been listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Thank you so much for listening. Have a great weekend.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Susan Casey Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman, Lisa Dunn and Danielle Knight. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is email@example.com, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington, D.C. This is NPR.
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