"My Brilliant Friend" by Elena Ferrante is the first of the mysterious Italian author's Neapolitan novels. The series tells the story of a life-long friendship between two working class girls in Naples. Critics have called Ferrante “one of the greatest novelists of our time.” Yet nobody knows her true identity. Join Diane and her guests for a discussion of “My Brilliant Friend.”
House Republicans overwhelmingly resist comprehensive immigration overhaul. President Barack Obama’s nominee to head the FBI answers questions about domestic surveillance. And the Boston Marathon bombing suspect pleads not guilty. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top domestic news stories.
- Laura Meckler White House correspondent for The Wall Street Journal.
- Chris Frates national correspondent for National Journal.
- Sheryl Gay Stolberg Washington correspondent for The New York Times.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced today she is stepping down from her Cabinet position to head the University of California system. Diane Rehm noted that Napolitano’s resignation “really changes things” for the Obama administration. The panel discussed why Napolitano chose now to resign and what comes next for the White House.
Watch The Full Broadcast
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The House passes a farm bill without food stamps. Pres. Barack Obama's nominee to head the FBI answers questions about the domestic surveillance and the Boston Marathon bombings suspect pleads not guilty. Joining me for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup, Laura Meckler of The Wall Street Journal, Chris Frates at the National Journal and Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times.
MS. DIANE REHMYou're invited to be part of the program, give us a call, 800-433-8850, send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. You can also watch video streaming of the show live during this hour. I invite you to do so. And good morning to all of you.
MS. LAURA MECKLERGood morning.
MR. CHRIS FRATESGood morning, Diane.
MS. SHERYL GAY STOLBERGGood morning, Diane.
REHMGood to see you. Laura Meckler, welcome back.
MECKLERThank you very much.
REHMHow is that baby?
MECKLEROh, he's amazing. Thank you.
REHMI'm glad. The House passed a farm bill without the food stamps program. What happened?
MECKLERWell, what happened was that the House was unable to pass what has traditionally been a bipartisan bill that married aid to farmers, the traditional part of the farm bill along with the food stamps, which actually accounts for the bulk, like 80 percent of the spending of the bill. So it really is not the tale of the matter. It is a fundamental part of what has been the bill for more than four decades.
MECKLERThe House was unable to pass it. They brought it up a couple weeks ago, and it went down. Why did it go down? Democrats were upset about the fact they had cut the food stamps program. Conservatives were upset that it didn't cut the food stamp program more. So essentially what the House leaders did was double-down on a more conservative path, and it took out the food stamp provision altogether...
MECKLER...and just pass the farm piece.
REHMSo, Chris, the president has threatened a veto here.
FRATESWell, that's right because there is no indication that the House would get to food stamps. Republicans make the argument that the food stamp program will continue in perpetuity if they don't renew it that all that needs to happen is the House needs to appropriate money at the same levels as it was previously, but there's no guarantee that that will happen. And this is really a disintegration of 50 years of food policy in America.
FRATESThis has been something that has happened with the food stamps have been married with the farm bill for decades. And the fact that the House could not get this pass which is, you know, a routine renewal, every five years, you know, they certainly battle it out, and they, you know, they fight over it, but they come to an agreement. And this is just another signal that this Congress is totally dysfunctional.
STOLBERGYes. I'd like to pick up on what Chris just said. It's really a bad signal for the Congress. You know, after Pres. Obama was re-elected, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, many of them came back with kind of a renewed sense that they can work in a bipartisan way. And in fact, we've seen that happened with the Senate passage of the farm bill and also more significantly Senate passage of a comprehensive immigration bill.
STOLBERGAnd what they're seeing now is that as the legislation moves over to the House, the House is picking these bills apart. So the -- what happened with the farm bill is all goes poorly I think for the immigration bill which the House is also vowing to take piecemeal. And there's a great deal of frustration I know on the Senate side. I had a breakfast with Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan this week who said that it's very frustrating to see legislation go over to the House and get picked apart. And what happens is we've got the same kind of gridlock that voters rose up against in the election.
REHMSo what happens now, Laura?
MECKLERWell, now, the next traditional step would be a conference committee...
MECKLER...between these two bills and to try to come to some sort of an agreement. The problem is that, you know, normally you might think, OK, they can work it out. You know, they'll bring it to there. They'll come with something that say they could get some Democratic support for us so then they could lose some Republicans, and then it would be all right. They could get it through the House.
MECKLERBut it's just the House isn't playing with the normal rules. You know, they are not necessarily willing to go along with the way things have always been. It's not clear, for instance, whether the speaker would bring a bill to the floor that had a significant Republican opposition. He hasn't said that. In fact, I think when he was asked what would be next, he basically said, you know, let's get through today, and we'll deal with -- we'll do it tomorrow, tomorrow.
REHMYou know, it's so interesting because these members of Congress went home for the Fourth of July recess. What were they hearing from constituents? Were they hearing stick to your guns, do away with food stamps, don't pass any immigration bill? What were they hearing, Chris?
FRATESI think immigration was a much bigger issue for members when they went home, and the farm bill, it tends to be an issue that only gets attention, you know, when there's a big vote in the House or the Senate. So the members I talked to didn't tell me that they heard a lot about immigration -- excuse me -- about the farm bill or immigration, though. There was a very -- among Republicans, there still remains a very stick to your guns, no pathway to citizenship, secure the borders kind of mentality about reform.
FRATESAnd when you look at these members districts, you know, these are by and large predominantly white districts. There are only a handful of districts that Republicans won that Pres. Obama also won. So there is really no reason for these members to compromise on issues like cutting food stamps or immigration reform.
REHMAnd food stamp recipients aren't the ones with access, Sheryl.
STOLBERGWith access to the Congress, exactly.
REHMTo the members of Congress.
STOLBERGThey're the disenfranchised. Although, you know, there are certainly big agricultural groups want a farm bill passed. And if the result of this is that we have a stymied conference in which because of the absence of food stamps in the House bill that there can be no merged bill that would ultimately become law, then that obviously is going to create a problem.
REHMWhat about the immigration bill and Congress saying wants to do it piecemeal House?
STOLBERGWell, in that situation I think Chris is right. Republicans are hearing that, you know, from their constituents we ought to stick to -- you ought to stick to your guns. Republicans in the House seemed to feel or many of them seemed to feel that there's a great disconnect between them and the party's leadership. The leadership is mindful of the results of the recent presidential election in which the vast bulk of Latinos and other immigrants voted in favor of Pres. Obama.
STOLBERGThere's a feeling among Republican leaders that they've got to address this problem of immigration in order to have a viable candidate in 2016 for president. That's why we're seeing senators, like Marco Rubio, and other party leaders, including I would add former Pres. George W. Bush, come out and say our immigration system is broken. We need to fix it. And -- but what's happening is we're seeing this kind of gap, this schism between the party leadership and the rank and file Republicans in the House who are just saying, you know, no way. We're, you know, we're not interested.
MECKLERAnd the most amazing thing is the gap isn't just between the Republican leadership but really the entire Republican constellation are almost all of the major pieces of the traditional Republican Party of evangelicals, you have law enforcement, you have the business community, all lobbying for an immigration bill. Normally, that is what sort of makes up the bulk of the party's interest. So -- and not to mention the political pros, if you will, and the donors who also want this perhaps for macro political -- national political reasons but...
MECKLER...it hasn't -- it's not enough.
REHMThen the question becomes will Pres. Obama fight for an immigration bill, Chris.
FRATESAnd the president is in a really tough position here because he doesn't want to fight too hard and turn off Republicans who he needs to support him in the House. And you had John McCain come out of a meeting with Pres. Obama and say, you know, I'm glad the president is where he is. He's certainly forceful. He's talking to members as need be. But he's not getting up there because remember Republicans are really sensitive to the campaign style pressure that the president has put on them on different times, whether it was the fiscal cliff, whether it was sequestration.
FRATESAnd they look at that is he's out there campaigning and trying to work against us, and he's not working with us. So he's kind of forced into this position where if he gets to loud, Republicans will back off. If he doesn't get loud enough, they also might not move forward. So there's a tough, tough position for the president.
STOLBERGRight. That's absolutely right. What really needs to happen here according to Democrats and probably some Republicans is that the business community really needs to weigh in. That is who House Republicans may listen to them. They're certainly not gonna listen to Pres. Obama. And we saw this week, Pres. Obama speaking to senators McCain and Schumer about this. But really, he's, you know preaching to the converted.
STOLBERGThey're the senators who passed the bill in the Senate. And for him to talk to House members or try to twist arms in the way maybe Lyndon Johnson once would have done is simply not gonna work. But we are seeing the White House do something else interesting, and that is making an economic case for immigration reform. The White House this week released a video talking about the economic benefits of immigration reform.
STOLBERGThe Congressional Budget Office has found it will grow the economy. It would boost the GBT -- GDP by $1.4 trillion, more than 5 percent by the year 2033. So I do wonder if we'll start seeing the president articulate that case at least to the public. And that's also actually the argument that Paul Ryan is making. He's probably one of the strongest voices inside the House Republican conference for immigration reform, an economic case. So, you know, maybe that will make a different whereas sort of a moral case is not.
FRATESAnd Boehner does have some room here as House speaker. This is something where because he has a split conference, he has folks like Steve King from Iowa who are very against any kind of reform that includes citizenship. But then he has folks like Raul Labrador who is pushing for a more comprehensive approach that includes citizenship. And what the speaker is trying to do he's really trying to navigate and find that slice of land that he can bring some kind of bills forward that would allow the folks who want to vote no against it to vote no but not be the majority of Republicans because he's promised that he won't bring anything to the fore that doesn't have majority of Republicans' support. But remember, that's not the whole 218 that he needs.
FRATESSo he's got a very difficult math game he's trying to play. And the Republicans reached out to Democrats this -- early this week to say would you be interested in a piecemeal approach, what kinds of things could you bring votes for. Now, the Democrats I talked to say, you know, that might be a little overstated with how they're reaching out because Democrats feel like we're not going to be lured into this idea that we're gonna pass border security and then wait and see what happens with citizenship because as one moderate Democrat told me just yesterday he said, you know, our top line is their bottom-line. We want citizenship. They do not.
REHMChris Frates of National Journal, Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times, Laura Meckler of The Wall Street Journal. Short break here. And I look forward to hearing your questions, comments. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. We just learned that the secretary of Homeland Security, former governor of Arizona, Janet Napolitano, is stepping down from her federal position. She's being named as the next president of the University of California. It really changes things, Laura Meckler.
MECKLERWell, yes. I mean, she's been with the president since he took office. She's been a very strong voice for immigration reform. She's had a lot of credibility. Not obviously enough to get this done, but she has given her background in Arizona and a border state. She did a lot on immigration policy there. And she's done a lot in terms of border security as secretary of Homeland Security. And she's also been responsible for some policies that are controversial, like offering a reprieve to young people who were brought to this country illegally.
REHMWhy do you suppose this is happening now?
STOLBERGYou know, I don't know. I saw her recently at a forum for journalists and others, and she seemed actually quite content in her job. She seemed really to be enjoying herself. But I suspect that this is really an excellent opportunity, I mean, to head an entire university system in California.
REHMYou bet. You bet.
STOLBERGIt's a big system. It's a system that really needs a strong leader because there have been difficulties with the, you know, with funding in the California education system. So perhaps it was simply an offer that she couldn't turn down. I did not get any sense from her that she was experiencing any discontent.
REHMInteresting that it comes in the midst of all this national security agency stuff...
STOLBERGA new FBI director.
REHM...and the leaks and new FBI director. So I would imagine that President Obama will want to appoint someone rather quickly, but that doesn't necessarily mean confirmation quickly.
MECKLERRight, which sort of dovetails into another story in the news this week, what's happening in the Senate. It's been very hard for President Obama to get many of his nominees confirmed. There's been a lot of frustration on the part of the majority leader, Sen. Reid. And this week, he threatened to hold -- to change the rules, essentially have Democrats unilaterally change the rules so you know -- we're no longer able to filibuster a presidential nominee for his cabinet or other such appointments.
MECKLERAnd that, of course, stirred up a lot of controversy. Republicans are furious about this. They obviously cherish their rights as the minority, and this is gonna come to a head next week.
STOLBERGYes. And if does come to a head, all that stuff I said earlier about bipartisanship in the Senate, you can forget about it. And, in fact, already we're seeing some really bitter language. I think Sen. McConnell, the Republican leader, yesterday said something to the effect that his Democratic counterpart, Harry Reid, would be the worst majority leader of all time for this to happen. You know, in the past, we've seen a lot of bluster and sort of bravado around the so-called nuclear option.
STOLBERGSome years ago when many of President Bush's traditional nominees were being held up, there was a threat to impose the nuclear option, and a bipartisan group of senators created a way out of this parliamentary maneuver. Those senators are all gone now. Harry -- Sen. Byrd is, you know, is deceased, and Sen. John Warner who was a leader of that effort is retired. And some of the senators who serve now, frankly, don't know a Senate in which that kind of bipartisanship was routine. So we'll see what happens.
FRATESAnd this is a Senate -- also, remember that most of the Democrats who are serving...
STOLBERGI said Harry Byrd. I meant Robert. You knew that. I knew it wasn't right. Thank you.
FRATESThis is a Senate where most of the Democrats have not been on the minority. And their younger members -- and they're not listening to senior members like Carl Levin from Michigan, who says, look, it's a different story when you're in the minority. And the shoe on the other foot happens all the time. Democrats were making the same exact arguments that Republicans were, you know, six or seven years ago. And Mitch McConnell has even gone as far to say, and I had a story on this a few weeks ago, that if Harry Reid puts the nuclear option into play, then they will get personal on these nominees.
FRATESThey will make it about, you know, Richard Cordray, who is up to head or -- to continue to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is a politician from Ohio. He's a Democrat from Ohio. The Republicans have focused on the problems with that agency. They've held up his nomination because they wanna systemically fix what they see as a broken agency.
FRATESBut their threat is that we're happy if they wanna go nuclear to make this really ugly and really personal and nasty dive into his political background and do that for all the nominees that they wanna push through using this effort.
REHMAnd we'll be doing a program on the filibuster, its history, how it's been used -- how it's being used now on Monday in our first hour. Laura.
MECKLERWell, that will be timely on Monday as this issue...
MECKLER...comes up in the Senate in earnest. And I think that the comment from Sen. McConnell that was perhaps even more interesting than that Reed would go down as the worst majority leader in history was that he said you'll live to regret this. And I think what he meant to say was, you know, someday you're gonna in the minority, and you're gonna want these same privileges.
INTERVIEWEROf course. Of course. Yeah.
MECKLERBut it is really -- in terms of, Chris, what you were saying about, you know, making it personal, I mean, that was the irony about a nominee like Richard Cordray. I mean, everybody agreed he was qualified for this job. Nobody was bringing up any objections to him. Now, whether there's something in his political past that would be embarrassing, I don't know. But the idea that, really, there was no objection to him, the objection was to the agency itself.
MECKLERThey didn't want this agency. Well, that agency exists and, you know, for better or worse, it was put into law. So I can understand the frustration that says, you know, if you don't have an objection to the nominee, you know, you really should have a vote one way or the other.
REHMAnd those postponements have meant that those agencies operate, really limping along.
STOLBERGThat's right. When we saw the whole scandal about the IRS, who was the head of the IRS? It was a holdover Bush nominee.
STOLBERGI mean, Democrats are complaining that the president is five years into his administration and he still doesn't have his team in place. I have to say though, Diane, I sometimes wonder if this is kind of a bit of showmanship. I'm not sure about it, but you do wonder if the Democratic leader and the Republican leader feel that they have to kind of go to the brink to sort of satisfy their bases that, you know, they've done everything they can and they've brought the Senate to the verge of destruction then only to pull back and save things at the last minute.
REHMAll right. We've got lots more to talk about. Chris, President Obama announced last week a one-year delay for employer-mandated health care. Why the delay? And what's it going to mean for the future of the health care bill generally?
FRATESWell, the Obama administration was under a lot of pressure from businesses to delay this. They felt like they didn't have time to implement it. They felt like it would affect them. They weren't sure how it would affect their employees. And that it would cost them a lot of money, and they weren't sure how these things were gonna shake out. And they were making an economic argument that, you know, this is going to hurt us.
FRATESAnd what was interesting was that, you know, politically, Obama, by allowing this delay to happen, has kind of opened up a Pandora's box where he has now said, well, this isn't quite ready. And Republicans have jumped on that to say, well, if that isn't quite ready, if the employer mandate isn't quite ready, well, maybe the individual mandate that says that people have to have insurance or pay a penalty shouldn't be ready either. If it's good enough for big business, why isn't it good enough for individuals?
FRATESAnd you say John Boehner, just yesterday, say he's gonna bring two bills to the floor. One would make this employer delay law, and one would make the individual mandate delay of one year law as well. And that's to force Democrats into this really tough position because they are going to be forced to either acknowledge on the floor that Obamacare has a problem and they need to delay it, or vote against something that the president has already said he needed. And so it's a very interesting kind of political shift on Obamacare.
REHMAnd this is after, what, 44 votes to repeal Obamacare. Laura.
MECKLERWell, clearly, I mean, there is an irony where it's -- I've heard it compared to the old joke, you know, that the food is terrible at the restaurant. Yeah, and the portions are so small. It's sort of like that. You know, we hate this law, and don't you dare delay it. On the other hand, though, I don't think that White House was completely straightforward when they said, well, we were just listening to business. And they weren't ready, so we decided to delay it.
MECKLERI made a story this week that talked about how one of the major problems was the fact that the White House had not yet put out a regulation explaining to business how they should go about reporting all this myriad of information that was necessary to calculate who owns -- who would own fines and who doesn't, who is eligible to but insurance on the exchange and who isn't. There is -- this is very complicated. And the administration has not put forward this regulation which is critical to making this happen.
MECKLERBecause of that, business has said, well, we don't know. We can't prepare our computer systems. We can't get ready without this guidance. So I mean, what the administration said was essentially, well, we're waiting to try to get this regulation right. But the truth of the matter is that this has been law since March 2010, and they aren't ready. And it does raise questions about whether the administration is really gonna be able to get its arms around this massive task, given the political opposition.
STOLBERGYes. And as I understand it, the 2014 data was actually written into the law. So there are questions about whether or not, in fact, the...
STOLBERG…president can do this by his own authority, or does he, in fact, need Congress to delay implementation of this bill? And if he needs Congress to do it, then it opens up a vehicle for the whole thing to be undone, as Speaker Boehner is trying to do with these votes on repealing the individual mandate, as well as the employer mandate.
MECKLERBut, you know, one of the problems also, because this bill is so big and also so controversial, normally with a big bill like this, there's like a technical corrections bill of sorts that comes afterwards where you go and you fix things that weren't -- didn't just -- didn't get written quite right. This would be an example, perhaps, of one of those. The reporting requirements are really prescriptive and perhaps onerous and not written very well, but they just can't get...
MECKLER...any kind of fix through the Congress.
STOLBERGExactly. The minute you open up a technical corrections bill, you are opening up the Pandora's box that Chris spoke of.
REHMAnd talk about corrections, student loans, Chris. At first, we thought there was a deal on not increasing the interest or doubling it. What happened? It fell apart.
FRATESIt fell apart, and at the last minute last night, there was what looked like a deal all day long. And, you know, Dems had to retreat on locking in student-subsidized loan rates for another year. They had really fought to lock those rates in, and they had to kind of take back on that. And what you're looking at now is undergrad, you know, Stafford loans for the low and middle class at, you know, plus 1.8 percent on a Treasury bill. So it's pegged to the T bills. Grad school would be plus 3.4, and that would be capped at 8.25 and 9.25.
FRATESSo those are still pretty high rates.
FRATESAnd Dems have fought to bring that cap down. They have fought...
FRATES…to kind of lock in that subsidization, and that all fell apart yesterday. And, you know, the thing that's interesting to me about this, Diane, is that this whole debate, this political game of chicken where both sides are blaming the other for letting student loan rates rise, really doesn't acknowledge the larger discussion that we should be having as a nation about college affordability.
FRATESI mean, there's this idea that, you know, well, if we fix student loans, then college will be affordable. But, no, those rates continue to go up. There was a study out just, you know, this week or last week that said that the unintended consequences of subsidized student loans from the government may be raising college tuition because there's, you know, money there for people. And so this idea is, you know, just another example of a Congress that will deal with symptoms and not problems.
REHMAnd on Monday in our second hour, we're going to talk about why college has become so expensive. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." So why did the deal fall apart, Sheryl?
STOLBERGWell, the deal fell apart because the Congressional Budget Office issued a report saying that this deal would cost $22 billion over 10 years, and we know that we've got a Congress that is interested in saving money. But I think this really -- this whole issue goes to a deep philosophical difference between Democrats and Republicans about student loans. And the question is should we keep loans' rates low for students so that they can pay them back easily, or should they tie loan rates to the market?
STOLBERGAnd if you tie loan rates to the market and to the T bills, then it is quite possible that the rates could go above the current 6.8 percent, which is now in effect, which is a doubling of the 3.4 percent that Democrats want. And that -- that's a decision and a value that we have to talk about in our Congress and in our country. Is it our value to not have the government, as one Democrat told me, make money off the backs of students, or should students be like everybody else and simply pay market rates when they're borrowing money?
REHMSo what happens now? Students have been waiting, waiting ,waiting to hear. Is this likely, perhaps, to mean that some students will back out, won't go to college at all?
MECKLERI don't really know the answer to that question, but, of course, it seems possible if it becomes less affordable. It's -- you know, Congress does have a way of working it out and then applying it retroactively. And, you know, we still have another, you know, month of...
REHMThat's what we thought they were going to do.
MECKLERRight. Well, you know, and they still may, in fact, work it out because -- I mean, the irony of this particular issue is that the position of the White House is not that far from the position of the House. So House Republicans and the White House are basically on the same page about this. They both wanna create a more market-based system for those interest rates, and it's really the Senate that hasn't been able to get on board. So I suspect that this is one that they'll probably be able to work out at the end of the day, but we'll see.
STOLBERGI think -- Diane, in answer to your question, as a parent of a college student, and as someone who advises a lot of college students, I can tell you that students around the country are making decisions based on money, and this is very, very important to them.
STOLBERGAnd they are waiting to find out because when it's $60,000 a year for a private institution...
STOLBERG...or 20,000 a year for a public institution, no matter what your income level is, every little bit helps.
FRATESI think the other thing that's important to think about this is we often think of students as the traditional college four-year-on-campus students. But we had a story in the National Journal this week that looked at the student population, and that's a small fraction of the folks who depend on this aid. Many people who depend on this aid are older. They're going back to school. They have full-time jobs.
FRATESThese are people who are working class and working toward a degree. So this isn't just a discussion about, you know, what do kids pay? We're having a great time at fraternity parties.
STOLBERGThat's right. Many...
FRATESThis is also working people trying to put themselves through school. Can they afford that loan is a really important question.
STOLBERGMany students I talked to are putting themselves through school without help from their parents. I was at the University of Montana earlier this year for a story on young voters' attitudes, and I met so many impressive young people there who were working full time and putting themselves through school and really, you know, doing it on their own.
REHMMeanwhile, the economy is chugging along. Ben Bernanke finally made a comment that sort of eased Wall Street's concerns. Laura.
MECKLERWell, those concerns were first prompted by the release of the minutes from the Fed's meeting where there was indicated there was a divide over whether they should continue this bond buying program, which has pumped money into the economy. And that -- just the fact that there was a divide is great concern because...
REHMSome wanted to stop that right now.
MECKLERRight, exactly. Right. Some wanted to stop it. Some wanted to keep going. So obviously...
MECKLER...that raises the possibility that they could -- that spigot could be turned off. And then the question was, well, what about interest rates? Is the Fed gonna keep interest rates low? And Ben Bernanke did, as you say, ease those concerns by saying that they intended to keep things going the way they were, to keep -- certainly to keep interest rates low for the foreseeable future, so until unemployment really comes down.
REHMLaura Meckler of The Wall Street Journal. Short break, and when we come back, your calls, email. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd as promised, we are going to open the phones. If you haven't heard as yet, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has, after four years, resigned her post and will become the next president of the University of California. She says she will be delighted to play a role in educating our next generation of leaders. Let's go first to College Park, Md. Good morning, Billy. You're on the air.
BILLYGood morning, Diane.
BILLYYou know, the reason I'm calling is because of the immigration. My wife is an immigrant. Her family has -- goes through hours of stories about immigration issues. But the politics surprises me in the fact, why aren't people talking about compromising? Instead of asking for U.S. citizenship, why not ask for legalization?
BILLYA lot of the people I talked to -- students, older people -- they just wanna work here and have a stable life so that they can make money and do well for their kids. Why does, you know, why does it have to be citizenship? Why can't we compromise?
MECKLERWell, I think, it's a good question. And I think a few years ago, the advocates for immigrants would probably have taken legalization happily. But the debate has shifted so far, and there appears to be so much momentum for immigration reform, so much pressure on the Republican Party that, I think, there was a sense that, hey, this is what we really want, and this is what we should get. The argument is that you shouldn't have two classes of Americans, you know, some who are here legally, some who aren't.
MECKLERThese people can't vote. That you're not really truly -- you're sort of a second-class resident if you don't really have a, you know, if you're not a citizen, where are you a citizen of? So those are some of the reasons why against it. But I just think, politically, advocates think that they can do it. And they're gonna push for it.
REHMAll right. To Gadsden, Ala. Twana, (sp?) you're on the air.
TWANAThank you, Diane. I'm enjoying your panel today. There's a few things I wanna bring up. One was the farm bill, you talked about. Here in Alabama, there are gonna be about a million people that are gonna not have food stamps. This is a issue, as your panel has discussed. This is something that's been going on for 40 years. This is not something that just happened overnight.
TWANAAnd he also talked about the student loans. I am also paying back student loans, and I have a son that's going to college. We have had talked about, you know, the necessity of college, you know? Is there a technical skill that you can do, you know, versus going to a four year school? Also, you talked about the -- Obama unable to get his panel -- his nominees in place. Particularly about the -- I think it was the -- forgive me for not remembering what you talked about, Diane. I also wanna talk about...
REHMOK. I'm afraid we've got limited time, Twana. But let's talk about those food stamps and the student loans, Sheryl.
STOLBERGWell, this goes to the question of, do we help the most vulnerable in our society or the people who need it the most? Young people, certainly, many, many young people, children are on food stamps. I believe that, currently, one in five Americans maybe has received some sort of food assistance, be it food stamps or perhaps a school lunch or some other assistance.
STOLBERGAnd, you know, we're coming off of a terrible recession in which...
STOLBERG...people lost jobs and people were suffering. So, you know, we would hear during the campaign, Newt Gingrich would refer to President Obama as the food stamp president...
STOLBERG…complaining that there was this incredible growth of the use of food stamps under his administration. But the fact is, is that these are the programs that kick in when the economy gives out.
REHMAnd the question is, what do those who are against food stamps expect those people to do?
REHMTurn to churches, turn to charities...
STOLBERGI think they expect the private sector charities, churches, communities.
REHMTo take it out.
STOLBERGBut you know what, the private sector and charities are also strapped...
STOLBERG...exactly, after the recession. It's not easy for them either.
REHMAll right. To Grand Rapids, Mich. Hi there, Will.
WILLHi, Diane. You earlier posed the question of whether more or less students should be going to college with loan rates raising. And I just -- as a college student, I wanted to comment and ask the question. I think that you're not gonna see so much a decrease in students going to college because it's so mandatory now to get -- to make a decent salary that you need a college education and even a graduate education. But I think that students are still gonna be going to school.
WILLBut the problem is, is that you're gonna see more students defaulting on those loans. And I think you're gonna create more strain on the economy as more and more students don't pay back what they owe.
FRATESAnd, Diane, this has been a problem, you know, generally for students, you know, during this recession. You know, even when the loan rates were low, we've seen...
FRATES...record numbers of students coming back...
FRATES...to live with their parents. They can't get a good job because the economy is not going. They can only find part-time work or menial work that they don't even need their college degree for. So Will has a very good point that, you know, are we creating a unfulfillable debt that these students won't be able to repay because they won't be able to get the jobs that they need to -- and at the income level they need to repay them?
REHMAll right. To Frankfort, Ky. Hi, Jay.
JAYHi, Diane. Thank you. I'm a huge fan of the show. I love the show.
JAYJust a general comment about all the -- again, it kind of encompasses all of the subjects you've been discussing from the farm bill to -- excuse me -- the nominations and McConnell saying that -- who, by the way, is my senator. I don't say that proudly. But anyway, I just feel like that, generally speaking, it is so infuriating in -- subject after subject, that nothing is happening, and it's almost entirely because of the Republican House. Everything comes to them, everything halts.
JAYAnd I just feel like, you know, they have clearly forgotten what their job is when it comes to, as you were talking about, the food stamps and so forth, student loans. There is no compassion. There is no forward thinking, for one thing. It's even in a self-interested manner. Some of these things we should do simply because it helps everyone, not just the people that the programs are directed. And, unfortunately, it is personal for them already. It's simply about not doing anything for this president.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. What do you think, Laura?
MECKLERWell, there certainly is a lot of antipathy towards President Obama and the House. There's just a very different mentality, I think, that we have seen before in this new crop of Republicans in the House, which is just sort of antipathy to government, a sense that, you know, I'm sure a lot of them would say, no, you know, it isn't that I don't want to do the right thing. I think I do want to do the right thing.
MECKLERThe right thing is that we shouldn't spend any more money, and we can't afford it. The country is going bankrupt. Or they would say, you know, I'm not going to be pushed around by, you know, a bunch of, you know, political professionals who think that they know best. I mean, they -- it's not that they don't have their own philosophy, they do. It's just very different than what a lot of other people would say.
REHMSo perhaps the Democrats feel it is time to play hard ball and get rid of the Republicans' ability to block each and every nomination.
STOLBERGWell, some Democrats do clearly feel that. They feel that at least with respect the nominations, they want to assert majority rights. I don't think that there's a willingness to block the filibuster altogether.
STOLBERGSo some of these other issues that we're talking about would, frankly, not be taken care of by this maneuver to limit the filibuster on nominees only. And I honestly do not see it as a step toward limiting minority rights in the Senate completely. I think that, you know, I don't think we're going to see the death of the filibuster, but we might see the death of it for nominees.
FRATESBut I think that really does play into the Republicans' slippery slope argument, which is that if you do it for nominees for the executive branch, why wouldn't you then do it for the judicial branch? And then why wouldn't you do it because the issue has overwhelming polling? And I do think you end up down that road. And Lamar Alexander had a really great quote on the Senate floor. He's the ranking member of the Senate Rules Committee. He's a veteran.
FRATESHe's a guy who left Republican leadership because he kind of felt chided by having to parrot the Republican line. And he got up and he said, you know, if you get rid of the filibuster then it looks a lot more like the House and you can run a freight train through the House in one day and pass legislation without any minority input. And he said, you know, in 18 months, that freight train could be the Tea Party Express.
REHMIndeed. Indeed. Let's talk about Guantanamo and force feeding. Two senators have called on the president to rein in that force feeding, and then this followed an order from a federal judge. Sheryl.
STOLBERGRight. Well, there were two judges -- one order, one sort of urging. The federal judge also ordered the administration to not allow guards to touch the genitals of detainees, which they were doing in weapon searches. And also another judge separately ask that the president use his authority to stop the force feeding, which has become a very, very difficult issue for the president. There were 166 detainees currently at Guantanamo Bay prison. Of these, I think about a 104 are on a hunger strike, and of those, about 45 are being force fed. Medical ethicists say that force feeding is in humane. It is...
REHMAre there still charges against those who were still being held?
STOLBERGAgainst the detainees?
STOLBERGYou know, I don't know the particulars of each and every -- of each and every detainee, but I think there's...
REHMYeah. I think there's a question...
STOLBERGI think there is a question. But the concern is that these detainees feel hopeless. There's no chance of them being let out to go home. They're on this hunger strike. Medical bioethics experts say they have a right to do this. The administration, in an effort to keep them from dying, is force feeding them. And it's a horrible situation both for the detainees and a very complicated situation for the president who is faced with -- he's a president who said he was not going to...
REHMHe wanted to close it.
STOLBERGHe wanted to close the prison. He wanted to respect human rights. Now, he's in a situation where he is being accused of violating human rights by this force feeding.
FRATESAnd to your question, Diane, 86 of those detainees had been cleared...
REHMOf all charges.
FRATESOf all charges. There's just nowhere to send them because they can't come into the United States. And the question about what do we do, which is why the president has been largely unable to close Guantanamo is what do we do with these detainees if we get rid of them. And the other question that really raises his head is that there are no standards here. The standard operating procedure for the Army is much different than for our civilian prisons when it comes to force-feeding.
FRATESSo you had this almost daily force-feeding that's happening twice a day for most of these detainees, and it's not a life or death thing. I mean, in the U.S. prisons, they force-feed you if you may die. This is happening, you know, twice a day. And there was a viral video by Mos Def, the rapper and actor, who sat down to show what it's like to be force-fed.
REHMFive minutes long.
MECKLERIt's a very difficult video to watch.
FRATESIt's very difficult to watch.
MECKLERChris and I were talking about it. We both tried to watch it last night. I didn't finish. And, you know, he is an actor, so there must be some dramatization there. But still, it's a very compelling video, and it is going viral. And I think this issue is gonna gain traction among the public once they see what this force-feeding might look like.
FRATESMuch like waterboarding.
FRATESOnce you saw what it looked like.
REHMLet's talk about Eliot Spitzer running for New York City's comptroller.
MECKLERHe's back, much to the delight of headline writers at The New York Post. He is -- he, of course, was first attorney general then governor of the state of New York, forced to resign in a prostitution scandal. He misses the limelight clearly. He said he is sorry for what he did and he'd like to be comptroller. In fact, he'd like to make comptroller a much bigger job than just sort of accounting for the money. He'd like to, you know, make it sort of oversight of city government generally. So he's running. The thing...
REHMSo the question becomes how forgiving are New Yorkers?
STOLBERGPretty forgiving. According to the latest polls, he's leading the Manhattan borough president his likely opponent by 42 to 33 percent. Sixty-seven percent of Democrats said Eliot Spitzer deserves a second chance.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And what about the mayoral race in New York, Chris?
FRATESYou know, that's another really fun race. You know, you have Anthony Weiner throwing his hat in. He -- the, you know, the crotch selfie on Twitter. And he is also finding that...
FRATESYou know, he's also finding that there is some forgiveness. And I think that was a way for him to kinda clear the decks even if he doesn't win this race. Then he will have answered all the questions about his bad behavior. He will have made his comeback. And should he throw his hat in for another elected office, he'll be able to say with the straight face, I dealt with these questions, and now it's about the issues of -- about this race. And he's trying to move that forward. But it's a competitive race, and there is a shot that he, you know, he could pull this off.
MECKLERDon't you like the idea of Eliot Spitzer investigating a Weiner administration?
FRATESWell, my favorite story on so far out of these New York City races is that one of Spitzer's opponents is -- has -- is a former madam -- she went to jail -- and is accusing Spitzer of being one of her former clients in the race, like that's a campaign issue. You can't get more fun politically than that.
REHMYou know, I understand it's fun. But darn it, politics ought to be serious, and we ought to be electing and having an opportunity to elect people we can trusts.
REHMIs he trustworthy?
MECKLERWell, it just depends how important you think prostitution is. I mean, is this something -- I mean, if you -- I wouldn't wanna marry him, you know? So it's a matter of, I think, you know, do you -- is this a scandal that, you know, just really doesn't matter? It's just about sex...
MECKLER...and, yes, a second chance is totally appropriate. Or is this something about something more fundamental? And I do think that's a serious question that gets posed. I also think it's pretty amazing. Like, who doesn't make a comeback? I mean, they are people who are, you know, forced out of their jobs because of these scandals. It just seems like there is just always a second act around the corner.
REHMSounds like a television program, which already exists.
STOLBERGBut in Eliot Spitzer's defense...
MECKLERHe won too.
STOLBERG...not that I'm his defender, but, you know, many New Yorkers remember him as the crusading prosecutor who brought down the Gambino crime family as the New York State attorney general, who went after Wall Street, you know, fat cats with zeal.
REHMSo why is he going after such a low-level position.
STOLBERGBecause I think for the reason stated earlier, he loves public life, he misses it. He sees an opportunity to use the skills, the particular skills that he has to make a platform to create a bigger job and to make a platform, frankly, for running for mayor and another office later on.
REHMAnd then you've got Gov. Rick Perry of Texas saying he won't run for a fourth term, Chris.
FRATESAnd everybody in the political world has read that as he's clearing the way for maybe another presidential campaign, which, you know, a lot of Republicans shake their head at. You know, you remember the I-have-three-points-I need-to-make...
FRATES...oops moment. And, you know, that being said, you know, this is a very fluid time, and this race is far from decided. I mean, certainly we look at folks like Marco Rubio and Rand Paul is getting in. But...
REHMIs his fight over abortion going to hurt him or boost his chances for a presidential race, Laura?
MECKLERWell, in order to run for president, you first have to get the nomination. And I don't think that hurts him at all in a Republican primary. So, you know, whether it could hurt him down the line if he were the Republican nominee that so far in the future, you know, who knows.
REHMLaura Meckler of The Wall Street Journal, Chris Frates of the National Journal, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Washington correspondent for The New York Times. Have a great weekend everybody.
FRATESThank you. You too.
STOLBERGThank you, Diane.
REHMThanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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 Erin Stamper. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones.
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