A conversation with best-selling writer Jon Krakauer on his latest book of non-fiction. The author of “Into the Wild” and “Into Thin Air” chronicles the lives of several women allegedly raped on campus at the University of Montana.
President Barack Obama takes his new economic message on the road. The U.S. Senate passes a student loan bill. And New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner faces another sexting scandal. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Ron Elving senior Washington editor for NPR.
- Susan Page Washington bureau chief for USA Today.
- Jeff Mason White House correspondent at Reuters.
Will Anthony Weiner’s latest sexting scandal hurt his New York City mayoral run, while helping Eliot Spitzer in the citywide comptroller’s race? Jeff Mason of Reuters says Weiner and his wife made a choice to let the scandal be a news story. NPR’s Ron Elving invoked a joke from “The Colbert Report” about why Spitzer didn’t employ more “self-comptrol.”
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MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The Justice Department is suing the state of Texas for violations of the Voting Rights Act. Pres. Obama hits the road to begin a series of speeches on the economy. And New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner drops in the polls after admitting to three online affairs. Here with me for the Domestic Hour of the Friday News Roundup, Ron Elving of NPR, Susan Page of USA Today and Jeffrey Mason of Reuters.
MS. DIANE REHMWe welcome your participation in the program, give us a call, 800-433-8850, send us an email to email@example.com, follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. It's good to see you all.
MR. JEFF MASONGood to be with you, Diane.
MS. SUSAN PAGEGood morning.
MR. RON ELVINGGood morning.
REHMGood to have you and especially to say welcome to you, Jeffrey Mason, the first time on the program. We're happy to have you.
MASONIt's good to be here. Thanks, Diane.
REHMOK. Now, Susan, tell me the justification that the attorney general is using to challenge the Supreme Court decision on voting rights.
PAGEThis is the Obama administration deciding to move in the wake of that Supreme Court decision last month that struck down a provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which struck down Section 4 that automatically covered eight states that had a history of discrimination, required them to get preclearance before they change election law. That doesn't apply anymore, but they've using instead a different section of the law, Section 3, which enables them to on a case-by-case basis make the argument that a jurisdiction like Texas has to move -- tried to change election laws or districts in this case in a way that is racially discriminatory.
PAGEYou know, this is really heartened liberals and progressives, people who were distressed by the striking down of this key provision of the Voting Rights Act, but it's a much more arduous path for the administration have to take on this case-by-case, state-by-state basis to try to get coverage back under the provisions of that law.
REHMSo how much traction is he likely to get?
ELVINGHe may have some good shot at getting a good deal of traction because the federal courts have already been friendly to the basic finding that the Texas state remapping that drew these districts that were found to be discriminatory against Mexican-Americans in particular that case brought earlier, a couple of years ago and it's been working its way through the court system for the last couple of years, has had a pretty friendly hearing from the standpoint of the civil rights plaintiffs all along in the district court and then in the appellate court.
ELVINGThis is probably a pretty good test case if what you have to do is show deliberate intent, deliberate intent and that's what makes this different from what Chief Justice Roberts and the other members of the majority on the Supreme Court struck down last month. In this case, it's not presumed that certain states in certain regions are in some sense are intending to discriminate because they did in the past.
ELVINGNow, we've thrown that out as a criteria, and we're saying you have to demonstrate present day, real and present discrimination. And this is a case where if you're going to be able to prove it in court, it seems to be in line here. The evidence seems to be present here.
REHMAnd, Jeffrey Mason, the reaction from Republicans.
MASONWell, Republicans aren't happy. And certainly, in Texas, they're giving a very strong opposition to what the administration is trying to do. And that sort of reflects the politics of this. The politics of such particularly by starting in Texas suggest that this is a state where minorities are going to be a very, very important block in future elections, particularly in presidential elections. So the fact that the Obama administration is starting there is a symbol that they care a lot about black voters. They care a lot about Hispanic voters, which could actually at some point if Democrats get what they want turn Texas into a Democratic state.
REHMSo how quickly is this going to end up in court, Susan?
PAGEWell, I think very quickly it's going to end up in court, I mean, they're actually becoming a party to it. Case is already -- already has begun. And, you know, this will not involve -- this will affect not only redistricting but this big push by Republicans in many states across the country to enact new voting laws that limit early voting that make -- that limit the times of voting that makes it -- may require ID -- voter ID...
PAGE...in order to vote. These are laws that are likely to be challenged by the Obama administration using this law.
REHMSo we shall be following this carefully. Ron Elving, president is going out making lots of speeches on economic policy. What's the prime motivation of going out now?
ELVINGSetting a political context for the fall and the winter and the political contests of 2014, and I don't think I'm being reductive here and saying that there's no substance in what the president has to say. Surely, there is substance in what he has to say. But why is he doing it now? Why is he going to the places he's going to? Why is he using the kind of terms that he's using? And look at just the language the president is using.
ELVINGIt's very directly political. He is casting the Republicans particularly in the House as being the party of obstruction. He is the guy who wants to go forward and have an economic program and create jobs, et cetera, et cetera. That's his construct. And the Republicans aren't letting him and he's setting this up for the big arguments we're going to have this fall about whether or not we shut the government, whether or not we fund Obamacare, whether or not we raise the debt ceiling again.
ELVINGImmigration, of course, is also part of this, but strictly on the economic arguments, he is trying to cast himself as the guy who wants to go forward and have the recovery get more robust and the Republicans who just want to play politics and resist everything that he wants to do.
REHMHow effective will these speeches be, Susan?
PAGEWell, I'm afraid we're at the point in American politics where most Americans have pretty much decided where they stand on the question of Pres. Obama. There are a few people in the middle, but a lot of people have their minds made up. So this kind of rallies Democrats. It tries to make an argument for those independents that might still be in the middle. It sets the stage, as you say, for the fight over the budget in September and over the debt limit that's likely to follow in October and November.
PAGEAnd it -- and that will set the stage for the midterm elections next year. I mean if we have a government shutdown, we know from the past that who gets blamed for that is going to suffer most likely in the midterm elections that would follow.
MASONWhat I think is fascinating is the White House cares so much about these framing speeches, and they've given a lot of framing speeches like this where they talk about big themes and this one in particular they gave us information on Sunday, on Monday. They were really big into pushing the speech. And then he came out. He gave the speech, and there was no new policy in it at all. And we're expecting to get a little bit more in the coming weeks.
MASONThey're planning to make it a big rollout, but it's just -- it's interesting to me that their strategy is to repeat some of the things from the State of the Union, from the inaugural address, but not have any parts, you know, specific policy proposals that people could actually really dumped on.
PAGEYou know, he also spoke for an hour and 20 minutes.
PAGEI mean a presidential speech is not traditionally that long unless it's like a State of the Union. And so that was another way in which they try to telegraph this was a big event. But I do think you have to question their strategy and having not a bit of new information in it, not a bit of new policy because they have expectations up that this was going to be something worth paying attention to.
PAGEAnd while it's worth paying attention when the president speaks and he is trying to articulate his approach on things if you want to make news, you know, the first three letters of news is new and there wasn't anything new in there.
ELVINGThat's a fundamental difference between the way we in the news business see these things and the way the people in the White House sees these things.
ELVINGFor them, they thought that it was a virtue of these speeches that they were going back to what the president's been saying for years. For example, the first one was given in Galesburg, Ill., where he gave a speech in 2005, eight years ago, when he was a freshly elected United States senator, and only a few people were starting to think about him running for president someday. Clearly, he was.
ELVINGAnd they gave a speech in Galesburg eight years ago about these same economic themes. For example, building the economy from the middle out, meaning the middle class and not trickle down from the top.
REHMOK, guys and I'm going to stop you right there because it seems to me what you're doing is looking at it from the reporters' point of view and perhaps not realizing how the public is receiving these and maybe I don't know this but maybe the public likes what they hear, Susan.
PAGEWell, you know, Diane, that's a very fair point, and I think as reporters we probably do approach this from reporters' point of view.
PAGEBut if it's -- it does have a different effect with the American public, then you'd expect to see it reflected, for instance, in his approval rating, which gets measured like a thermometer every day. And we haven't seen that. We've seen his approval rating ticking down a bit. I think this is a concern to the White House. So if you're right, we're going to see some effect, but I think we have yet to see the effect among Americans generally.
MASONBut it is early, and I think your point is good. I mean not -- he wasn't speaking there to reporters. He knows that he's got skeptical White House press corps. He was speaking to the American public.
MASONAnd he was speaking to his base. You heard him talk about minimum wage again which frankly is not something that has really come up since the State of the Union, but he made a big deal out of that this week, and it got a lot of applause. He cares about the base. He has a midterm election coming up in a year that he wants to help fellow Democrats with this is not only about working on his legacy or working on the economy which he obviously cares about but it's about building up some momentum for Democrats in 2014.
REHMAnd it seems as though the press is playing right into the hands of Republicans who are saying there's nothing new here. Why should we pay attention? And if that is the headline in the newspapers, on the networks, you know, then people react in exactly that way.
ELVINGI think people will probably make up their own minds about how they feel...
REHMI think so.
ELVING...about this, and it isn't absolutely necessary to the president's purposes that they say, oh, wow, there's a lot of new ideas...
ELVING...in what the president said. For his purposes, what he wants to do is change essentially the temperature and the mood of the electorate as we move into these fall confrontations. And let's face it, the last several months have not been great for the administration. They've had one controversy after another. The president wants to try put those in the rearview mirror and focus on what's coming up.
REHMExcept that as far as the economy is concerned, you're seeing the housing market rebound even with higher mortgage rates. We'll take a short break here. And when we come back, we'll talk more and then hear what you have to say. I look forward to speaking with you. Stay with us.
REHMAnd as we continue our disagreement here on the Friday News Roundup, let's talk about the economy. I mentioned that the housing market is continuing to rebound. That surging housing market is also helping manufacturing. So what does all this mean for recovery, Jeff?
MASONWell, it's a good sign for starters. I mean, it means that despite the fact that mortgage rates are beginning to go up, people are still buying houses. Some economist said that buyers were probably going out to try and lock in those rates while they're still low because they are still low. They're not as low as they were three or four weeks ago, but they're still very good.
MASONSo that may have been reflected in those numbers that we saw, and that -- and we may not see that continued growth in the next set of numbers. But right now, it's a positive sign both for the economy, and quite frankly, for -- to loop in our conversation before, for the president.
PAGEBut sales of new homes at their highest level in five years. So there's the highest level since the economy took such a negative turn. So that's one more sign that the recovery continues. You know, as the president says, it's not over yet and unemployment continues to be a problem, but it shows that these various factors that we were worried would upset the recovery, like sequestration, budget cuts, for instance. Our rising mortgage rates have not had that effect in the economy, continues to make this very slow -- better pace up.
REHMSo what does that say to you? Who's making the right decisions on the economy that are helping it improve, Ron?
ELVINGI would guess, primarily, individuals. These are people who have looked at their own personal circumstances and said it's time to make a move. There were two things to remember about this housing issue in particular. It was housing largely that drove the downturn in 2007, 2008...
ELVING...because of the mortgage crisis and the sub-prime loans and so on. So that's the sector that really got us in trouble. This is the sector that, in some degree, needs to lead us out and bring the economy back to a more normal cycle. That's one thing to remember. The other thing to remember is that a lot of these houses that are being bought are being bought by the people who have done a little better in the recovery, maybe the people who weren't hurt hardest.
ELVINGThey're certainly not the people who were still chronically unemployed. So it is a little bit of a habs-lead kind of recovery. But you would expect that under the circumstances of our current economy, and that speaks a little bit to the president's theme, which I think did not necessarily get through in a lot of the press coverage that the essential issue in our economy and in our recovery today is inequity -- inequality, people who are doing much better. For example, as he pointed out, CEOs, 40 percent increases since 2009.
ELVINGThe average American worker, actually less in real earning power than the average worker had in 1999. So that's the essential theme he's trying to make, and that's in these housing numbers too.
PAGEThat was such an interesting point, Ron, that you make because if you talk to Republicans, all they talk about is economic growth. And President Obama talked about economic growth but in the context of kind of sharing the wealth. And that is a very populist message for him to be making.
MASONIt's also the message that he used to get re-elected in 2012. I mean, it is coming back to the key themes that he used throughout the election against Mitt Romney.
REHMSo here we are with some good news for students on student loans, Jeff.
REHMWhat did Congress decide?
MASONSo the Senate agreed on a deal with the president to essentially keep student loans from going up as high as they would have gone, and that was sort of a rare moment of bipartisanship for both sides. It's a key issue for the president again because of the young people that were such a huge part of his coalition last year. He's been talking about student loans for quite some time, and they were able to come up with an agreement to make it work.
PAGEAlthough this is an agreement that a lot of Democrats don't like. I mean, it's very close to what Republicans hoped would happen. It's very much like what the Republican-controlled House has enacted, which means it's likely to become law. But it caps what some Republicans, including, for instance, Elizabeth Warren, think is an excessively high level of interest rates, caps it at 8.25 percent for undergraduates…
PAGE...9.5 percent for graduate students.
PAGENow, that's not the one's getting the loans right now but in the future...
PAGE...since it's pegged to Treasury note rates.
PAGESo a lot of unhappiness among Democrats. And it means that the government continues to make money off student loans. And one argument is this should be an investment for America. It shouldn't be a revenue raiser.
ELVINGYou know, it's interesting that this is good news for people who are 18 and 20 and 22 who are already in school, but it's probably bad news for 10-year-olds because they're going to be paying much higher rates in all likelihood. We expect interest rates will not remain this low indefinitely.
REHMYou know, you also have to wonder whether it's really going to affect decisions as to whether to go to college or not of 16-year-olds who are a couple of years away thinking about the entire cost in borrowing.
ELVINGThat's right. And when you look at the actual numbers of how much more someone is going to have to pay, particularly for a public college or university education, the numbers don't seem that huge when you think about it, when you think about what somebody might have to incur. On the other hand, if they're paying for a private college, then those numbers get enormous and really become a burden.
MASONAnd on sort of a philosophical level, I think Susan's point is really good. I mean, this deal allows -- according to the Congressional Budget Office, it'll reduce the nation's deficit by $715 million over 10 years. Just the idea of using student loans towards deficit reduction is sort of an interesting example of the debate in Washington right now.
ELVINGBut you have to. If you don't show some kind of deficit reduction, you can't go forward. It's the same thing with ObamaCare. They had to score that in such a way that it showed that the deficit is reduced, or you couldn't go forward.
PAGEBut you know, how many kids have you talked to in the past two or three years who have gotten out of college are carrying huge debts as a result of going to school, can't get a job or can't a well-paying job, can't get a job with benefits, and they are wondering, was it worth it? Was this the right thing for me to do?
REHMI was at a restaurant last night, and a young man, a waiter, came up to me and said that he had had one year at a private college, had dropped out because of the cost, learning how to wait tables and how to repair cars. He said, I just cannot afford to continue with college. So that's what I mean about 16-year-olds. It's not just the 10-year-olds. These kids are facing hard times. Let's talk about the National Security Agency bill, a proposal to block the NSA collection of phone records, narrowly defeated. What does that mean, Jeff?
MASONWell, for starters, it's a real victory for the Obama administration. This is an issue that's been dogging him since Edward Snowden started his leaks of -- on virtually every press conference during his Africa trip recently and Europe as well. He's been asked about it. It's a real headache for the Obama administration. And in this case, Congress decided it's OK. We're going to let this keep going.
MASONIt was narrow, as you said, which reflects the fact that it's still very controversial, both within Congress and within Washington, as well as throughout the country. But they're going to let it go forward, and I think that was largely because the Amash amendment would have destroyed the program completely. And that's something that the others voting just couldn't quite accept.
REHMAnd here's an email from Diane in New York City on this, "This is the real irony of the defeat of the amendment imposing restrictions on NSA's spying. Is that the inspiration for this bill? Edward Snowden languishes in a Moscow Airport, unable to move or return to the U.S. It's doubly odd that many of the same members of Congress who voted to reign in NSA's surveillance are denouncing Snowden as a traitor, Alice in Wonderland meet Franz Kafka."
ELVINGWow. Well, how about the emergence of the Obama-Boehner-Bachmann coalition...
ELVING...in the House. I mean, this is a place where the president was very strongly urging Democrats to vote against this amendment, to not cut off this NSA program, so is the Speaker of the House John Boehner, who's really on the same side with the president.
ELVINGAnd one of the most, I would say, memorable speeches that was given on the floor in the later part of the debate was given by none other by Michelle Bachmann from Minnesota who is calling it a false narrative that people were reacting to on the NSA. It was an extraordinary experience to watch these people on the same side even if all their motivations might have been quite different.
PAGEBut, look, you had the president, you know, the speaker of the house, you had a Tea Party leader, and they still barely managed to defeat this, 217 to 205. I was stunned by that number. And, you know, people who are unhappy that this got defeated should take heart in that this is an argument that's not going to go away.
PAGEWe've got the renewal of the Patriot Act in 2015. It'll be a thing - it'll be an issue there. This is -- the concern over the surveillance of Americans who are not thought to be guilty of any -- suspected of any crime is one that distresses a lot of people even if the leadership of the country is united in support of it.
REHMAnd speaking of leadership, let's talk about Anthony Weiner and what's happened there. He's made a series of admissions about sexual encounters online. This is all after he left the Congress. Susan?
PAGEYou can't make this stuff up, you know? Really.
REHMI know that. I know.
PAGEAnd so, you know...
REHMYou know, it's one thing to talk about this and to sort of giggle, but this guy must have some kind of problem.
PAGETo have engaged in this juvenile behavior in a way that cost him his House seat, and then to continue to engage in it when he's making these public protestations that it's a redemption journey...
REHMWith his wife at his side.
PAGE...with his wife by his side. And, you know, we saw -- it was a poll in the wake of these additional disclosures. Now, it's a one-day poll, so you wanna -- you know, that's got a high margin of error. But in this one-day poll, his standing in the mayor's race plummeted. You know, you have to wonder if he makes it. We think there will be a runoff, a runoff for the Democratic nomination in September because it seems unlikely that, with this big field, anybody gets the 40 percent you need.
PAGEAnd it's hard to imagine he makes the runoff, I think, at this point.
REHMAny likelihood that Spitzer will abandon his run for controller and step into the mayoral race?
MASONWell, that would create a great narrative, wouldn't it? But I haven't seen any suggestions that he's going to jump in. What I thought was most interesting this week about this story was watching Huma, Anthony Weiner's wife.
MASONI mean, that press conference where she stood next to him...
MASON...her body language was just so powerful. I mean, she started smiling and looking at him, and then she looked down, and then she turned away. This is a woman who is not unaccustomed to being in the public. She's been standing at Hillary Clinton's side for decades. But it's the first time that I can think of that she ever addressed the press like she did, and it was painful.
REHMAnd I must say, looking at the cover of The New Yorker on the newsstands and other publications really gave me pause. I mean, this is such a dramatic scandal that it really takes you aback.
ELVINGIt's one thing to be caught in a scandal. It's another thing to become a laughingstock.
ELVINGHe has become a total laughingstock. We have a more tragic situation, I think, out in San Diego where the mayor, Bob Filner, who used to be a member of Congress, too, has been accused now of sexual advances by seven, I believe, of his former or current staffers. And some of them have come forward and made themselves quite public at great pain to themselves. This is a horror story for the city of San Diego, and in this case and in that case, there is just a line over which it's no longer to be discussed. They just have to get out.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." A judge ruled that Detroit's bankruptcy is valid. Ron Elving, what was the question there?
ELVINGThe question was whether or not the governor and his appointed controller for the city of Detroit had the power, under the Michigan Constitution, to invalidate or to at least cast shadow upon the claims of creditors such as the pension people. The people who have worked for the city of Detroit their whole lives, who have been promised pensions, who have been living on those pensions suddenly don't know whether they're going to be getting their pensions or not.
ELVINGAnd that is obviously a huge diminution of their financial expectations, and it would seem -- in the minds of at least some who have looked at this question --to be beyond the governor's power to do that. A federal bankruptcy judge has stepped in and said, look, I'm going to decide all these questions. All of the rest of you, step back. I'm the federal judge here, and I'm going to be in charge.
PAGENow, it doesn't mean the retired city workers can't make their argument. It means they're going to have to make their argument at this court.
REHMRight. And they are. Yeah.
ELVINGCorrect. He is saying, no other court has jurisdiction once I step in as the federal bankruptcy judge, and I suspect that the federal courts will uphold that as we appeal it up the line.
MASONBut it was a blow to them. I mean, they would have liked to have other options.
MASONRight. I mean, that's -- that was hard for them to take.
REHMI mean, some of these union members said that union members with pensions as small as $19,000 or maybe as high as $40,000. Still. I mean, to simply say you're only going to get a nickel on a dollar, how can you survive on that?
ELVINGWell, for most people who are -- those people who are making the smaller end of that that you mentioned, that and Social Security is almost surely what they have. They may have some kind of 401 (k) that they got along the line, or they may have done saving on their own. But for many of them, I suspect they're living on that pension and on Social Security.
PAGEAnd not just a story that it will affect Detroit because we are likely to see...
PAGE...battles like this -- maybe not quite as dire as Detroit's situation -- in other cities and other states because of the un-funded pension costs that a lot of them have racked up.
REHMHow did New York get out of this situation, Ron?
ELVINGWay back in the 1970s?
ELVINGWell, as we know, famously, they didn't really get very much of a federal bailout. You remember the famous New York Daily News headline...
ELVING...Ford to City: Drop Dead. I didn't see that reference too much this week. I don't think people really look to Washington bailout, too many cities anymore, although there have been people talking about what role the federal government might take with Detroit. New York basically got its act together, got its fiscal house in order. And New York is New York. It has the most extraordinarily dynamic economic engine of any city -- possibly in the entire world, certainly in the United States -- and it was able to get itself righted.
REHMBut it was pretty close. Go ahead, Jeff.
MASONWell, Washington, I don't think, is saying drop dead. That's a pretty strong phrase, but I -- it has been sort of remarkable this week and -- just to watch how the White House and others are just trying to stand back and not say much about it at all. We're supportive. We hope that they make it through. But there's definitely not going to be a push for a bailout from here in the way that there was for the auto companies, which are the engine of that city.
MASONIt's an interesting contrast, that. And there's -- you know, you're certainly not -- I mean, Gene Sperling was on a television interview yesterday and was asked about that. And, you know, they're not in a place, number one, to offer money to Detroit, and they also don't wanna set that example.
REHMBut, you know, an awful lot of listeners have called in and said, how come the automakers who abandoned Detroit don't step in with some kind of percentage of profit going back to the city?
PAGEBut, you know, I think there is a conclusion by policymakers in the government, in the federal government, in the state government and that the automakers said, some drastic things have to happen for Detroit to come out of this, like...
REHMLike annexing parts of Detroit.
PAGELike changing the size of the city...
PAGE...shrinking the city...
PAGE...like really cutting some of these pensions, like not holding bondholders harmless either and that you need to keep the pressure on so that those things can happen.
REHMSusan Page, Ron Elving, Jeff Mason, all here to answer your questions when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. Let me remind you that this first hour of the Friday News Roundup on "The Diane Rehm Show" is available via video streaming. So if you'd like to see all of our gestures and facial movements, you can now log on to drshow.org and click on Watch Live. Let's open the phones, 800-433-8850. First to McKinney, Texas. Hi, Chris. You're on the air.
CHRISIt's an absolute pleasure to get to speak with you. I've been...
CHRIS...a long time listener for a long time.
CHRISSo in New York, you've got the story of two candidates that are "reformed." And it seems like with the recent revelations about Anthony Weiner's activities that Eliot Spitzer might come out looking like roses. I wanted to ask your panelists, how do you think, maybe even a positive way, that these recent news about Anthony Weiner might actually help Eliot Spitzer's candidacy for the New York comptroller?
REHMThat's what I asked. What do you think, Jeff?
MASONWell, I think, it's interesting how whenever one of these scandals comes out in the news, it makes us look back and think about all of the other politicians who have had similar scandals. And whether or not it helps them or hurts them, I think, is hard to say. Yes, maybe this will help Eliot Spitzer because he doesn't look as bad. I don't know, I mean, it's -- in both cases, these are men who, after their falls, have made decisions to come back and have made decisions to allow these things to go back into the public sphere.
MASONAnthony Weiner didn't have to be running for mayor right now. He could've run in a few years. He could've gone through the therapy that Huma was referring to. They could've worked through these problems. And maybe they still are and maybe it is a personal issue as she said. But the bottom line is they made the choice to let this be a story. And the same is true for Eliot Spitzer.
PAGEWell, there are people are making the argument that what Spitzer did is less bad than what Anthony Weiner did. Although what Spitzer did was, of course, not just a violation of his wedding vows but a violation of the law. He also faces a very...
REHMI have forgotten, Susan. What did he do?
PAGEHe employed prostitutes.
PAGEClient number nine, you may remember, was his moniker.
ELVINGWell, it is monumental hypocrisy after he had prosecuted this particular crime. So...
MASON...shall we say, eagerly and aggressively in New York City.
PAGENow, he has a credible opponent for the nomination for comptroller, Scott Stringer, who, I think, is the Manhattan Borough president and who thought he was sleepwalking to the nomination until Spitzer announced that he was going to run against him. I don't think that raises over yet either. I think...
PAGE...let's wait and see what happens in the primary.
REHMI'm going to remind you all of what one listener reminded me that controller is the first pronunciation in the dictionary. Comptroller is the second. So…
ELVINGAnd may we quote Stephen Colbert who said when interviewing Eliot Spitzer, someone who wants that job should really show more self-comptrol.
REHMYou did it. You did it. Now, tell me about the other candidates on that New York mayoral race.
PAGEWell, the leader has been the -- Quinn...
PAGE...who is -- interesting, she's a lesbian who is married to a woman. That would be a breakthrough if she got elected. She has been leading in the polls -- she continuous to lead in the polls. But she's far shorter of the 40 percent she would need to avoid a runoff. Bill Thompson is a candidate. He's the only black -- major black candidate in the field. And there's some thought that he is likely to make the runoff, and he is someone to watch. And there's Bill de Blasio who is the fourth of the major candidates for mayor.
MASONAnd Quinn was leading for quite some time before Weiner got into the race. And I think it was he who sort of shook it up for her in a way. But in any case, that would certainly be historic if she ends up getting the nod.
ELVINGShe's president of a city council as well. I mean, she really has...
REHMBut has she made some…
ELVING...true credentials as a politician and as a legislator.
REHMHas she made some sort of off-the-cuff comments that have gotten her in trouble?
ELVINGI think she is known as a plain-spoken person. That she has, despite her success in running the city council, she has been seen as somebody who speaks her mind perhaps at times that are undiplomatic, which in New York can sometimes be seen as a virtue.
ELVINGBut, I think, the guy to watch here maybe Bill Thompson, who did very, very well when he was the -- when he was opposed to Mike Bloomberg in the last mayoral race four years ago.
ELVINGAnd he almost made that a real contest even though he didn't have any money, and Bloomberg, obviously, had a great deal.
REHMLet's go to Tarpon Springs, Fla. Siobhan, you're on the air.
SIOBHANYes, hi. Hi, Diane. I agree with your astute observation when you called the panel on how they were reacting to Obama being out on the road and offering no new ideas. And I'm one of those people out there who -- I am interested in what he has to say. And I'll give you the reason why. I live in Florida where my health insurance was $14,000 a year. My husband and I are self-employed. And we had to change it to major medical our -- to a crisis situation.
SIOBHANAnd we pay about $5,000 now. And it's quite a burden. And we have a $7,000 deductible. So I'm very much interested in hearing what the president has to say in paving the way for ObamaCare because we have a crisis down here with our legislature. The governor OK'd the funding for ObamaCare, but the legislature didn't. So we're in a bit of a mess right now.
REHMSure. And I can certainly understand why you would support the president's going out on the road. Here's another perspective from Chris in Germantown Hills, Ill. He says, "You ask perhaps what we liked. Perhaps we like what we heard. No way. I live near Galesburg, heard the speech. Same old blame the Republicans. Nothing new here, just preaching to the choir. I see Obama as the obstruction. Can't wait for him to be gone then we get something done." Two views. The country is clearly divided on this.
ELVINGAs Susan said earlier, this is a man on whom most Americans have made up their minds. Now, that's not to say they could never change their minds, but there is a lot of settled opinion about whether people support Barack Obama or not. We talk about movements in his approval rating up and down with much, you know, sort of eager and fervid attention when they really only move within a range of single digits.
ELVINGThey really only move between about, you know, low, low, 50s to mid 40s or low 40s. It's about a seven or eight-point range. That's not a wide swing. People have largely decided how they feel about this.
ELVINGAnd it's a very small number of people in the middle. That said, I'd think the White House cares a lot about that single-digit swing.
ELVINGIf they can be just a hair over 50 percent, they feel they're in a much stronger position than they would otherwise be in October.
PAGEAnd I think Siobhan is exactly the kind of person the speech was given to bolster up, to reach, to explain.
MASONI think -- and I would add to that. You know, regardless of where people stand on Barack Obama, this is a president who does want to do more on the economy, and he does genuinely feel like Republicans are standing in the way. And I think we will see in the coming weeks whether it's big new policy ideas or smaller ones. Some initiatives that shows, look, we really are trying on housing -- on manufacturing to do something to make sure that this economic recovery continues.
REHMAll right. To Snowville, N.H. Hi, Kevin, you're on the air.
KEVINHi, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
KEVINI would just like to get back to the housing market plummet or the recovery. Well, I do agree that there is a recovery going on. I've also read that the largest homeowners in America now are Wall Street hedge funds that have been taking care or taking advantage of the low interest rates and renting places. So is the housing recovery being driven by individuals or by investors?
PAGEWell, lot of it is by investors who have been able to buy these properties where the value's gone down, you can get a low interest rate, pay all cash for it, rent it out, hold on to it. I mean, that's definitely been a big part of the housing recovery. On the other hand, a housing recovery helps an awful lot of American workers, construction workers and others. So it's not something that -- it's not a terrible thing, it seems to me, that some of this recovery in the housing market is driven by investors.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Chambersburg, Pa. Hi, Kaye.
KAYEHi. When they commented about the people in Detroit being able to live on Social Security, if I'm not mistaken, Michigan is one of the states where they don't get Social Security like Wisconsin and Illinois.
REHMIndeed. I did get another email about that from Richard in Detroit, who says, "An important factor, remember, many of the municipal employees in Detroit are not eligible for Social Security, so their pension is all they have."
ELVINGIf all they've done is work for the city through their lives and if no one else in their household has had any other kind of employment, then that may be the only source of income that they have. My point was only that the civil pension that they're receiving, in addition, if they do have any other income in home such as Social Security, would be very small even if they had both.
REHMHere's an email from Ginger in Hillsborough, N.C. She says, "Our oldest son is 15. We'll keep him at home if we have to, send him to local community college and then to a state school. We will avoid at all cost any sort of student loans to get him through college. His dad and I are in our late 30s. I'm working on an undergrad degree, my husband a master's. We have over $75,000 in student loan debt. Our lives revolve around how we will be able to feed our family and pay that off. I believe it's worth it to go to college, but it must be done very carefully." Wow.
MASONIt really highlights how big of a story this is for so many people across the country. I mean, you think sometimes student loans that only affect a certain small group of people, but it affects a lot of people and in a way that really affects the pocketbook. One other thing that she sort of touches on in that email is the just cost of college in general is so high, these loans aside, and that's something I think we can probably expect to hear more about from the White House in the coming months as well.
REHMWe did a program on that recently, just why the costs are going up. Comments from administrators are that students demand fancier housing. But it's clear, administrative costs are going up faster than anything else at the college level. To Indianapolis. Daryl, you're on the air.
DARYLHi, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
DARYLMy question is related to the positive economic indicator, specifically with regard to employment. Is that a false positive or is it a true positive indicator if she's taking account real unemployment, underemployment and those who've left the workforce? And on the other side, I have another question related to that as well.
DARYLWouldn't it make more sense for Washington to focus -- if they really want people to care about what they're saying in doing, to focus on clearly articulating risk in getting labor, consumer protection as well as business to the table together and identifying what policy makes sense to free up the capital?
REHMAll right. Jeff.
MASONWell, I'm not an economist. I can't really answer that first question. But on the second question, I can say that, you know, one issue where just exactly that is happening, where people from both sides of the aisle and both business, labor, et cetera are coming together is immigration. And that's an issue that both sides who are in favor of some kind of immigration reform say will help the economy.
MASONAnd the fact that that moved where it did in the Senate but it's not going to move as much in the House doesn't only have ramifications for immigrants. It also has ramifications for the economy.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Ron, what about those unemployment numbers?
ELVINGThere is a hiding of some of the people who are suffering most in the numbers as they improve because the numbers as they improve do not necessarily help the people who have been unemployed longest, and the number of people who are underemployed is always been a subject of debate among economists. How do we count people who would like to be working more hours? How do we count people who would normally expect to be in a higher-paying or higher-skilled job? How do you count those people? And how do you count all the discouraged workers who may have just given up on looking for a job?
ELVINGAll these things are little hard to tell, and we do tend to focus on just the simplest number, the seven point whatever, and the slight movement of 1/10 looks like an improvement or some kind of deterioration when, in fact, the underlying number may not be changing a great deal so some of the positives while not necessarily false may be very limited.
REHMAll right. To Matt in Miami, Fla. Thanks for waiting.
MATTHi, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
MATTI just have a question in regards to the Republican agenda going forward because I live in Miami. I live on the edge of Little Haiti. So I just stood in line for a long time. So when I hear you speaking earlier in the program about future state legislatures to limit voting opportunities or -- I work with teachers and police officers here in Florida.
MATTWhen I see them having difficulties even keeping a roof over their head based on the amount of money that they make or they have to live at home with their older parents because they can't afford to live on their own or when I hear you talked about student loan rates going up in order to help pay back the deficit or I hear about the Republicans voting 37 times not to enact ObamaCare when you hear people talking about not being able to afford health care and even when sequestration comes to the forefront -- and I'm actually from Virginia.
MATTA lot of my friends are quite Republican, but they are the ones that are being put out of work. It makes me wonder what really -- who is going to really vote for Republicans going forward when -- again, I hear about the possibility of talking about shutting down the government later on this year. It seems like they're a group of people that are going to benefit from these policies who's basically the one or 2 percent who are the richest among us. And...
PAGEWell, that's a great point, Matt, and we'll see a test to that. We'll see a test to that in the midterm elections because Democrats say they wanna win back the House. That's a really tough steep uphill fight. Republicans wanna gain control of the Senate.
REHMOf the Senate.
PAGEThat is an easier course. And so we're going to have a test if the Republican approach to the economy and other issues will sell with Americans next year.
REHMAnd with gerrymandering, it does seem as though there are very few House seats that are really up for grabs, so we'll see where this goes. Thank you all for a great Friday News Roundup. Susan Page, she is Washington bureau chief for USA Today, Ron Elving, senior Washington editor for NPR and Jeff Mason, White House correspondent at Reuters. Terrific panel. Have a great weekend, everybody. Thanks 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 Tobey Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington, D.C. This is NPR.
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