A new memoir from the National Book Award-winning author of "Middle Passage." He writes about the art and craft of writing and what he calls "the truth-telling power of fiction."
Guest Host: Tom Gjelten
President Barack Obama takes to the airwaves this week, and instead of asking Congress to approve a strike in Syria, he called for diplomacy. Freed from having to vote on Syria, the focus in Washington returns to fiscal issues. House leader John Boehner looks for support from Democrats to help pass spending measures in the House. If Congress doesn’t agree on a resolution, much of the federal government will shut down Oct. 1. Bill de Blasio got the most votes in New York City’s Democratic mayoral primary. And across the country, remembrances on the 12th anniversary of 9/11. A panel of journalists join guest host Tom Gjelten for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Ed O'Keefe congressional reporter, Washington Post
- Jeanne Cummings deputy government editor, Bloomberg News.
- Laura Meckler staff writer, The Wall Street Journal.
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The Justice Department is examining federal marijuana laws as conflicts arise between loosening state laws in Washington and Colorado, where marijuana is legal under certain circumstances. “It’s the kind of substantive policy debate that would be interesting to have, but with all these other issues we’ve been discussing of course it gets pushed off and it’s one that a lot of Americans do worry about,” said Washington Post reporter Ed O’Keefe.
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MR. TOM GJELTENThanks for joining us. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR, sitting in today for Diane Rehm. President Obama pushes the pause button in his effort to get Congress to approve air strikes against Syria. In the House, the focus shifts to a stand-off over funding the government and extending the debt limit. Conservative Republicans say they'll do it if Obamacare is defunded.
MR. TOM GJELTENAnd New York City public advocate Bill de Blasio is the apparent frontrunner in the Democratic primary for mayor. Joining me in the studio for the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup: Jeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News, Ed O'Keefe of the Washington Post, and Laura Meckler of The Wall Street Journal. Hello, everyone.
MS. JEANNE CUMMINGSGood morning.
MS. LAURA MECKLERGood morning.
MR. ED O'KEEFEGood morning (unintelligible).
GJELTENAnd you can join our discussion. Our number, of course, is 800-433-8850. You can email us, email@example.com, can always send us a tweet. You can join us on Facebook. And, by the way, if you want to watch us and see what we look like and what the show looks like...
GJELTEN...video of this hour of the Friday News Roundup is streaming live on the web on drshow.org. Now, don't wave at the cameras.
GJELTENJeanne, President Obama went on television this week. That's a pretty unusual event for a president to make a primetime national speech. He made the case that something terrible has happened in Syria, but we don't have to do anything just yet.
GJELTENKind of a strange speech. What was the point of that speech exactly?
CUMMINGSWell, it was one of the strangest ones many of us have seen because it was a call to inaction.
GJELTENA call to inaction?
CUMMINGSYes. But it really was the exclamation point on an effort by the White House that was just done completely backwards, and so it was undermined from the start. I mean, the president made up his mind what he wanted to do, and then he decides to go to Congress and ask for a vote. And then he decides to inform the public. Well, typically, you want to do it the reverse.
CUMMINGSYou want to have the public with you and then go to Congress. And, you know, then you have a resolution. So the whole thing had gone backwards, and it wasn't going well. And now we have this moment that's a big reset. We don't know if he's going to end up looking great because things work out or if he's going to look like a fool when it's over with.
CUMMINGSBut it -- he does have an opportunity now to get the U.N., get the Brits back with us. Any resolution, if there is one that would go through Congress, would be written differently. And the public now can watch for a bit more, and maybe they'll come around. I doubt it, but maybe they'll come around.
GJELTENWell, Ed O'Keefe, of course, as Jeanne said, originally the idea was the president goes to Congress and sort of tries to make the case for a congressional approval and also public approval. Two things apparently changed his mind. One is all of a sudden he had this new diplomatic opening. But, two, the politics weren't exactly in his favor.
O'KEEFEAnd they're even less in his favor now after this speech. I think the number...
O'KEEFE...approaching those of -- in the Senate who are opposed to this only grew after his speech, so, frankly, he should be thankful that there's a diplomatic avenue being pursued now. Because if the vote had been scheduled this week to go forward without this sort of diplomatic intervention, it would have failed miserably in the Senate and wouldn't be taken up in the House.
O'KEEFEI think there are nearly 40 in the Senate now on the record saying they would be against it. In the House, it's in the hundreds, and if they weren't, you know, completely oppose to it, they were leaning against it. But now everyone on Capitol Hill is saying, wait for Geneva. Let's see what Secretary Kerry's able to pull off. And if he's able to do it, then we won't have to take action ourselves.
GJELTENWell, maybe, Laura, if he's not able to do it, if he really gives this diplomatic opening all the effort that he can and that doesn't work out, maybe that would actually change the political lineup on Capitol Hill.
MECKLERWell, it could. I mean, it's hard to imagine it getting a whole lot worse. Of course, the White House was hopeful that some of these people who were sort of leaning no might actually be able to become yes if given the right set of circumstances, the right set of incentives. It's interesting. In his speech itself, I thought the first part, where he made the case for action, for military action, was fairly compelling.
MECKLERHe's a very good speaker obviously. He laid it out. He said, you know, we can't allow the, you know, the chemical gassing of children to go unresponded. That's not who we are. The problem of course came -- then he said, but let's just wait and see if this other things works. So it isn't so much that -- I mean, sometimes they're faced with complicated moments as president.
MECKLERYou just don't choose those moments to go on national primetime TV to try to work it out in front of the American people, most of whom are not following every twist and turn of this thing. So I think at this point, you're right. This is a moment where, if this can go through, great. If they can come up with a diplomatic solution, he'll be able to, you know, claim victory. If it doesn't work out, which I think is certainly a very decent chance, then maybe he does have a new life. Go back to Congress, say, hey, we've tried everything.
GJELTENMm hmm. Right.
MECKLERAnd the new environment that he could face, where he had to go back to Congress, would be if we see Russia and Syria stalling, being untruthful, withholding information, not allowing inspectors in, and if the inspectors do get in, if they get fired upon, which they were the last time. So there are -- a lot of this is on Russia and Syria if they want to avoid it. And the great irony there is that, you know, Assad now has a seat at the table...
MECKLER...when in fact everything we were saying about him was that he had to go, he had to go. And now he's a critical player in these negotiations.
GJELTENRight. Well, Ed O'Keefe, when it appeared that Congress was going to have to make a really difficult decision on whether to support this authorization or not, sort of everything else got put on hold, right?
GJELTENAll of a sudden, they don't have to make that vote. There's plenty else for them to deal with. Majority Leader Harry Reid says the Senate will move on to other issues because he doesn't want to tread water while this unfolds. So, in fact, some votes were actually put off last week in order to deal with Syria. Now, I guess everything is back on the front burner.
O'KEEFERight. And it's incredible. Washington basically lost a week hemming and hawing over Syria. And now, of course, they might have to come back to it. But in the meantime, there are plenty of other things they have to do. You know, the most vivid example of this this week was the fact that the House was fully prepared to move forward on a vote on their short term spending plan, or what's known as a continuing resolution.
O'KEEFEThey had to punt it into next week. And Republican aides are running around saying, well, this is because it's a very complex issue. And members didn't have enough time this week with everything else going on to, you know, to get up to speed on it all. Really, what happened there is that there are profound disagreements still within the House Republican conference about what exactly to do, what exactly they would propose to cut, and under what vehicle would they do it.
O'KEEFEWould they do it under the short term spending plan? Would they do it as part of this fight over the debt ceiling that's coming in mid-October or early November? And I think by next week, we'll have a better sense of that. But there's only five days currently scheduled on the legislative calendar for the House in September. It's likely they will now be here for the full final week of the month. They weren't supposed to be.
O'KEEFEBut they're going to need it at this point in order to get a spending deal done by the end of the month with the Senate.
GJELTENWell, Laura, as Ed just said, there are these various Republican ideas for how to proceed on these very tough fiscal issues. Give us a quick outline of what the sort of the different Republican proposals are at this point, that they are debating within their own caucus.
MECKLERRight. Right. Okay. So what's at issue here is basically funding the government for the coming fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1, and what is happening is that they can't come up with a real budget 'cause that would just be, you know, beyond our capabilities right now as a capital city. So instead they're going to just extend essentially current spending.
MECKLERSo that's one option. You suggest -- say, OK. We already cut spending a lot through what's called the sequester. We're going to just continue at those levels. But that essentially -- and that is what --Democratics view that as too deep. Those spending cuts are too deep. But that's sort of one Republican position. Let's keep going on the rate we're going.
MECKLERAnother position is, no, no, no. That's not enough. We need to do that, and we need to cut off all funding for implementation of the new health care law, which begins in earnest on Oct. 1. People start signing up for the new insurance plans. So essentially what they're saying is, we're not going to continue funding the government unless we also cut all funding for so-called Obamacare.
MECKLERNow, they -- and there are people who feel so strongly about this that they're willing to shut down the government over it. And I think that that's the question that's out there right now. I mean, really, ever since the Republicans took the House in 2010, there's been this question of, when is this whole fiscal debate going to come to a head and something really bad happening, either something kind of bad, like shutting down the government, or really bad, like defaulting on U.S. obligations?
MECKLERBut, you know, we're headed towards -- down that cliff again right now, which is that you have a -- because the number of conservatives in the House who feel this way is such a large number, you can't pass anything else with only Republicans. You would need Democrats.
GJELTENWell, this is just what I was going to ask you, Jeanne. Where are the numbers right now? And what does -- what is the apparent strategy of Speaker John Boehner in order to proceed? Is he going to solicit Democratic support, like Laura's suggesting he might have to do, in order to go the way he wants to go?
CUMMINGSFor him to achieve his goal, he's eventually going to have to have the Democrats voting with him. He's got 50 to 80 Republicans. That's about a third of his caucus that he has not managed to have sign up with the way he wanted this to progress. What the speaker and the leadership wanted was to get a clean CR, short term, and then push the major debate over spending cuts and Obamacare and all of that into mid-October so it coincided with the raising of the debt ceiling. Their thinking was the White House will be so fixated on getting that debt ceiling...
CUMMINGS...raised so that we don't default and stock market doesn't fall apart and all kinds of really disastrous things happen, that that may be when the House Republicans have their best leverage. So the speaker wanted this first part to go relatively easily. And it has turned into a quagmire. And, you know, he's got time.
CUMMINGSHe's got, you know, another week. He may let them have a bunch of votes, so, you know, they go to 40 times to defund Obamacare. You know, give him another five. Would that satisfy him? But in the end, he wants a clean CR. Democrats will vote for a clean CR, so ultimately that is the impact that may work.
GJELTENWell -- but the White House is saying it will not negotiate on the debt ceiling. It will not negotiate on delaying Obamacare. How much left is there to negotiate? That's a good question that we're going to have to deal with. We're going to take a break here. I do want to point out that Politico has just tweeted that Gene Sperling, one of the president's longtime economic advisers says he's going to leave on Jan. 1.
GJELTENSo whoever replaces him--and The New York Times says it could be Jeffrey Zients, an entrepreneur who has been in that position before. We'll have a time -- it's been announced. Okay. This is the Friday News Roundup. Stick with us. Quick break.
GJELTENAnd welcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR. I'm sitting in for Diane Rehm today, and this is the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup. And our journalists here to help us analyze the news are Jeanne Cummings, deputy government editor for Bloomberg News, Ed O'Keefe, congressional reporter for the Washington Post, and Laura Meckler, a staff writer at the Wall Street Journal.
GJELTENAnd just before the break, we pointed out that Gene Sperling, one of the president's longtime economic advisors, has announced he's going to be leaving on Jan. 1. He's been with the president from the beginning of his term in January 2009. The New York Times is reporting that Jeffrey Zients, an entrepreneur who twice was the president's acting budget director and past candidate for two cabinet positions, is in line to succeed Gene Sperling.
GJELTENI said that that was a tweet from Politico, which in fact it was, but Politico did not break that story. Politico gets plenty of credit. We don't want to give them any undue credit. I was actually -- as Laura pointed out just before the break, the White House actually announced that. So this wasn't something that came from Politico.
GJELTENOkay. So we're looking here -- now Ed, just before the break, you suggested that there are only five scheduled legislative days left in this session. But with the work that has to be done here and the negotiations that have to take place, you're saying it's likely Congress will work more than it was scheduled to work.
O'KEEFEYeah, and, actually, it's the House that has five days left. The Senate is technically here through Columbus Day. So the House will have to stick around because senate Democrats and the White House made clear on Thursday this week that there's no way that they're going to, you know, hold an up or down vote on either postponing or curtailing any or all of the Affordable Care Act, or the Unaffordable Care Act as some Republicans call it or Obamacare as others call it.
O'KEEFEAnd so this means that we're headed for another one of those stare downs that has plagued this city and this country for the past 2 1/2 years or so. Harry Reid said, look, I understand the position that John Boehner is in. He's got about, you know, 50 to 80 -- the unflexible 50 who refuse to, you know, do anything that doesn't include pulling back the health care law or severely, you know, curtailing government spending. But he said, we've got to find a way. It has to happen very quickly.
O'KEEFEAnd, look, it appears that, you know, Republicans are trying to determine -- and they really only have about a week to figure this out -- do you have this fight over -- you have three opportunities left basically this year to have a fight over fiscal matters. You have the CR that has to be passed by the end of the month, you have the debt ceiling argument that has to happen by mid-October, the beginning of November, and then if the CR -- or if the budget is only extended until mid-December, conceivably you're having another fight in December.
O'KEEFERepublicans in the House have to figure out, where do we want to have this fight? Do we want to let it go on the first one and have it all on the debt ceiling and maybe again in December? Do we start now, maybe lose, try again in October? If we lose there, try again in December? But then the law starts in January, and it'll be very difficult at that point once it really gets rolling to pull back parts of it.
CUMMINGSThe one thing here though is that...
CUMMINGS...it's they can't win, and it's this unreality...
GJELTENWho can't win?
CUMMINGSThe House Republicans can't win. The Senate won't pass it. Obama won't sign it. Then -- and, you know, I don't know if I should be proud of this or not, but I was around here in 1994 and '95 and '96. And I was covering the Hill at that time and when we had some partial shutdowns of the government. And there are appearing to be a lot of similarities right now.
CUMMINGSWe have a House caucus that is very inexperienced. Many of -- more than half of these members have only served one or two terms. Many of them had never been in elective office. These are the same dynamics that were present in the 1994 caucus and -- because that was a big revolution class. So, you know, the idea that they might shut the government down, I think, is not inconceivable only because they don't know what it's like when it happens.
GJELTENYeah, but Jeanne, you're talking about what the outcome of that '94 fight was. But we do have a new poll out this morning, a Wall Street Journal poll, that shows that the Republicans have gained favor over Democrats, including on their handling of the economy. So, you know, this raises the question of whether sort of the political fallout here is going to be precisely along the lines that it was 20 years ago or might it be different. Laura Meckler.
MECKLERBut a lot of -- you know, our poll notwithstanding -- of course, it's an excellent poll, but the -- as it always is -- but...
GJELTENYou're going to put it down now?
MECKLERNo, no, no, I'm not at all. But I'm just going to point out that the powers that be sort of within the Republican Party -- or maybe I shouldn't call them the powers that be -- sort of the establishment Republicans really believe that doing this is a huge political risk. Essentially, this health care law has been a political winner for two elections in a row for Republicans. And a lot of people believe that this is a way to turn it into a loser into next year's.
MECKLERThat if you essentially -- if Republicans get blamed for bringing the entire government to a shutdown and people can't go to national parks and people are worried about their meat not being inspected and don't get their mail and God only knows what else, then -- actually, I'm not sure if mail is affected -- but the bottom line is if this all comes to a head and it turns out ugly over essentially stopping this law, which, although people don't like, people don't necessarily -- are not clamoring for this kind of stop it now that you see from this very conservative wing of the Republican Party.
GJELTENSo are you saying that your newspaper's new poll showing Republicans gaining favor on issues like handling the economy and dealing with federal deficit is on a fragile foundation?
MECKLERWell, I think there's -- it's always a fragile foundation essentially that when you say -- I mean, as the poll points out, I mean, this has -- this is a shift. It's moving in their direction. There's nothing inevitable about that. They want -- Republicans who want to win want to capitalize on those gains and move continuing the same direction, not try to undermine it.
GJELTENEd O'Keefe, House Speaker John Boehner here, as we have been pointing out, is going to need support of Democrats in order to move forward with what he wants. How many times now has John Boehner been put in the position of having to go against the majority of his own party, and how long can he continue to do that?
O'KEEFEI'm counting three or four at least and...
CUMMINGSBut it may not be a majority of his party, right?
CUMMINGSIt's a minority. That's a third of his caucus.
O'KEEFEThe idea that he needed Democrats to get something passed though is at least three or four times now just in the past year. There was the fiscal cliff, there was passage of some federal funding for Hurricane Sandy victims, there were a few other things, and he's avoided it the rest of this year because his rank in file made it very clear to him, if you keep this up, you will be sent back to Cincinnati.
O'KEEFEYou know, there have been rumblings that, you know, after this next election next year perhaps that's it for him. And frankly, you know, I find it very difficult to see how he can continue on, especially if things don't go well for Republicans through this series of arguments. But Democrats know they're going to be needed in the House.
O'KEEFEThey're going to be needed not only on this. They potentially might be needed, if it ever comes to a vote, on things like immigration. Maybe even a Syria resolution if there has to be one. And so they are preparing to sort of, you know, negotiate and get something out of it is part of the problem.
MECKLERWell, Democrats would absolutely be needed on immigration or Syria. I mean, there's no question either one of those could pass without Democrats. But the question again for Speaker Boehner is, can he survive to even -- you know, especially in immigration -- even bring that to the floor? I mean, there's -- you like to sort of think, OK, the House will need a majority of the House to pass something. But that's not really how it's working in practice. So you need a majority of the Republicans. So -- but, yes, absolutely, we need Democrats for either one of those.
GJELTENWell, let's move to another hot button issue, gun control. We had this recall election in Colorado this week where two Colorado legislators who had supported, voted in favor of stricter gun control laws were voted out of office in a special recall election. Jeanne Cummings, what's your analysis of the significance of that recall election?
CUMMINGSWell, I think that's actually really important because that was the first test where the people who want more gun control measures and in full disclosure. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is the owner of Bloomberg News. So there's a firewall -- I've only met the guy once, so we operate very independently. But just so, you know, I disclose that. But he got involved through his outside foundation Mayors Against Illegal Guns. They put hundreds of thousands of dollars into that race.
CUMMINGSThey had made a promise that they were going to stand by politicians who took these risky votes and that they were going to protect them. And they didn't do it. They failed. The NRA won that fight. And I think that that will be -- have a chilling effect on politicians in the future -- state politicians who may want to consider these kinds of things.
GJELTENEd O'Keefe, analysts sometimes talk about the enthusiasm factor around certain issues. And in this case we -- these gun control laws evidently had the support of most Coloradans. But those who favored repealing them seemed to have been -- and I think what Jeanne said bears this out -- more enthusiastic about repealing them than the supporters were enthusiastic about keeping them and protecting those legislators.
O'KEEFEThis shows that the continuing structural weakness of those that are pushing for more gun control, whether it's Bloomberg's group, whether it's these groups of mothers across the country or others that are trying to do this. They have threatened all year that, come next year's elections, they will somehow show their political force and make it clear that they will hold politicians accountable for voting against federal regulations.
O'KEEFEI don't see how that is going to succeed if you couldn't take what was a very simple recall of two state legislators in Colorado and somehow defeat that. They weren't able to bring people out. They weren't able to combat the message that the NRA and others were putting out there. And only a few months after those laws were passed in a state that has suffered more than most from mass gun shootings. And I think bottom line...
O'KEEFE...twice, yes...what this means now more than anything is that any hope of getting any new federal ban in place is all but dead because Congress will look at this and say, if they can do it to two state legislators in Colorado, they'll do it to the rest of us.
GJELTENIs that what Congress is going to say, Laura?
MECKLERI don't -- I think they've already said it. I don't think that there's a matter of it now being all but dead. I think it was dead dead before this happened. And now it's really, really dead.
GJELTENNow it's dead, dead, dead.
MECKLERI mean, I don't know how much more dead it can get frankly. I mean, this issue -- when people talk about this being, you know, a political loser to be in favor of gun control, the fact is that they're right. I mean -- and you -- there was this -- I mean, you look at what President Obama, how he handled this issue for the majority of his first term -- or for his full first term I should say. You know, there were gun tragedies, terrible things, Aurora, Colo., Tucson where a member of Congress was so severely hurt and others killed. And he did essentially nothing about those things.
MECKLERNow when this tragedy happened in Newtown, Conn., things changed for him. He finally felt like, OK, I need to get behind something. A lot of people thought, OK, this is as bad as it gets, 20 six-year-olds gunned down. What more would it take? But I don't think it -- I just don't know that there is a gun tragedy that would be essentially severe enough to change the politics of this.
GJELTENAnother issue here, Jeanne, is the very idea of using a recall to pull back two legislators who did not vote on an issue the way that you thought they should have voted. How often has this happened and are we now seeing the use of recalls in American politics much more than we had previously?
CUMMINGSWell, it is on the rise. I think the recall of the California governor several years back...
CUMMINGS...yeah, kind of set this whole thing in motion. And, you know, it's a good tactic from the perspective of you then get a much smaller constituency who's going to come out to vote because the people who are in the habit of going out on election date, when these special elections happen, they're busy. You know, they're running around.
CUMMINGSThey've got busy lives, and it's not -- they're not in the habit of doing it. So it is a way -- a tactic in which you can shrink the electorate that's going to be there. And that's when if you are, like the NRA, very passionate you can outnumber the other side. Your odds are better.
GJELTENJeanne Cummings is deputy government editor at Bloomberg News. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR sitting in for Diane Rehm, but this is "The Diane Rehm Show." And I want to remind everyone that our telephone number is 800-433-8850, our email is firstname.lastname@example.org. And we're going to bring listeners into the conversation here in a few minutes.
GJELTENLet's go on to a couple of other issues. You know, another trend, Ed, that we have seen here recently is the loosening of state laws regarding marijuana usage. The problem is that that puts some of those laws into conflict with federal laws on marijuana, some action in the Congress this week in trying to deal with that. Bring us up to date.
O'KEEFEThat's right. Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing to sort of discuss where federal and state marijuana laws kind of are at issue -- or in conflict with each other. Washington State and Colorado of course have now legalized it in certain cases. And basically some folks from those states came to Capitol Hill this week to say, look if we're going to have these laws we need to make a few changes to have the federal government deal with the issue.
O'KEEFEThe Justice Department announced late last month that they are basically going to allow these states to continue enforcing their new marijuana laws so long as they make sure that children aren't getting their hands on the drug and that it's not being sort of slipped across the border into other states. But there are a few sort of notable little issues that have to be sorted out.
O'KEEFEAmong other things, apparently some of these marijuana companies can't get bank accounts because there are restrictions at the federal level on drug dealers or those that sell drugs legally being able to open a bank account. So the Justice Department said they would look at that within existing legislation.
O'KEEFEA bunch of lawmakers, whether it's Patrick Leahy who's the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, others who have legal backgrounds who said, you know, we've got to find a way to pull back because so much of the prison population these days are people who, you know, for either minor or major drug offenses are there. And in many of those cases probably don't need to be.
O'KEEFEWe've seen pullbacks in Virginia and New York. Other states have been talking about it as well. It's the kind of substance of policy debate that would be interesting to have but with all these other, you know, issues we've been discussing of course it gets pushed off. And it's one that a lot of Americans do worry about. Not just because marijuana's a popular topic, but because they worry about it.
CUMMINGSThe conflicts between the federal laws and these two states are really interesting. And there'll be -- it'll be really interesting to see how they settle it because it goes beyond banks. If you're the farmer who's growing the marijuana, you know, you're a drug king pin maybe under federal law.
CUMMINGSIf you're the landlord where the store that's going to sell it, you know, you could be charged with racketeering and, you know, drug trafficking under federal law. So there's a lot more than just the bank account that is complicated by these two different sets of laws.
GJELTENLaura Meckler, another important development -- political development this week was the Democratic mayoral primary in New York. I'm not going to ask Jeanne Cummings about this...
GJELTEN...because once again her boss is a principal player.
GJELTENMichael Bloomberg was opposed by Bill de Blasio pretty frontally and Bill de Blasio won big. What's the significance there? But he won big -- I should say there could yet be -- it hasn't been decided yet by any means.
MECKLERYeah, it's -- you know, he's like just right at the 40 percent threshold, which is what you need to avoid a runoff. And it looks like either he's going to clear that threshold or possibly the second place candidate just doesn't even -- there's a lot of pressure on him to just step down and now challenge it. It does look like de Blasio is going to be the Democratic candidate. He ran on the anti-Bloomberg platform, very liberal Democrat.
MECKLERIt's interesting, you think of New York City as being, you know, a bastion of liberalism. But in fact there's been Republican mayors, you know, for the last two decades. So now we have essentially an old school traditional liberal Democrat who is making a very different argument saying that, you know, Bloomberg's tactics on the police, his tactics on sort of economics are not what the city needs.
MECKLERHe's put a big focus on income inequality, that the city needs to spend more time thinking about those who do not have much or struggling to get by. And that really resonated among Democratic primary voters in New York. It was not considerable -- when this race began he was not the frontrunner. It was viewed as almost a certainty that there would be a runoff because of such a crowded field. But, in fact, he appears to be walking away with it.
GJELTENWalking away with the Democratic nomination. As you say, it's been 20 years since New York has had a Democratic mayor, so we still haven't heard from the Republicans. Laura Meckler is staff writer for the Wall Street Journal. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, your calls about this week's domestic news. I'm Tom Gjelten. Stay tune.
GJELTENAnd welcome back -- sorry. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR. This is the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup of "The Diane Rehm Show." And we're going to be going to calls in just a minute. I want to read first a couple of emails from listeners. First of all, Michael from Raleigh, N.C. writes, "I know" -- referring to the controversy over Obamacare, "I know there are a lot of people against Obamacare.
GJELTEN"And they are organized and vocal. I have benefited from the law. My cost has dropped twice, last year and this year. And my coverage went up. Where do I go to champion the law?" And of course we're coming up on the beginning of the health exchanges, which -- who knows? I mean, this could possibly change people's view of this law for better or for worse. I mean, I think one of the things, Laura Meckler, that is notable is how ignorant people are. Four out of 10 people think that the law already has been repealed, right?
MECKLERRight. They don't realize it's a law. Yes. No, absolutely. I think that we are -- that we really -- as long as this period has been, that this will probably be looked onto as sort of one phase of the ultimate version of the Affordable Care Act, assuming that it is implemented. I mean, it may continue to be politically polarizing, especially if it doesn't work as it's supposed to. But on Oct. 1, the exchanges open for business. This is the heart of the law. What this...
CUMMINGSNo. They don't open for business until January. You mean enroll.
MECKLERWell, they -- no, well, they open for signing people up.
MECKLERAnd then the coverage begins on Jan. 1. But they open...
GJELTENSee, the panelists can't even agree on it.
MECKLERWell, it depends on how you view it for business. But the upshot is that this is when you essentially get your first chance to interact with what the heart of the law is...
MECKLER...which is a government-run marketplace that allows you to go and shop for insurance, allows insurance companies to compete under new rules. That's what the heart of -- and subsidies for people who have lower income. So, you know, as for the emailer, where can she (sic) go to express her views, I guess, one place is right here on "The Diane Rehm Show."
MECKLERI don't know how many people she'll be communicating there who don't already agree with her. But essentially this law really is yet to really start. And I think that -- and certainly the supporters have long been saying that once it actually gets going, people will like it. But they've been saying that for a long time. It hasn't been true yet.
GJELTENWell, one of the things that we've learned about the American people is that they -- we are procrastinators, and we often don't pay attention to issues until they're right in front of our face. So, who knows, in the next few weeks, we could see a different situation.
CUMMINGSAnd this is a really critical moment for the Obama administration. Secretary Sebelius has been working day and night and all of her crew to get ready for this moment. They know a bad opening day for the new health care law could be a big setback for the administration. It could really create a huge drag for everything else the president wants to do in his second term. So, you know, it's game time for them.
MECKLERAnd the -- I think though that they also are trying to prepare people. I mean, this is such a huge system just from a pure systems point of view, making all the computers work, letting them talk to each other. There probably will be glitches in the beginning, and they want people to sort of realize that, and hoping they can work them through.
MECKLERSo, you know, I've also heard that they're not going to put too much of an emphasis on day one 'cause they don't want there to be all that pressure on -- does it work on day one? You know, let's give it a month. But we'll see how it actually ends up unfolding. I think it's fair to say that whatever problems there are will be highlighted.
GJELTENAll right. Let's go to the listeners now. Jim is on the line from Kentucky -- Vanceburg, Ky. Good morning, Jim. Thanks for calling.
JIMMorning, Tom. I guess I'd just like to say I heard someone comment. I didn't catch all your show. One of your guests there said there was five days until -- left that these decisions would have to be made...
GJELTENIn the House. Mm hmm.
JIM...and to keep from shutting down the government.
O'KEEFEThat's right. It's five legislative days currently scheduled in the House. The Senate's scheduled to be here just about every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday between now and Columbus Day. But what the Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who sets the schedule, said yesterday is that it's likely now they will be here the last full week of September. The House wasn't scheduled to be.
O'KEEFEPart of the problem this month is that you've got the Jewish holidays, and so they're sensitive to that. And they've been giving enough time in the weeks to make sure that, you know, lawmakers can get home to mark those holidays. But...
JIMYes. Well, I just -- my comment was just this, and then I'd appreciate any comments you all have. They've actually had five years to resolve this problem, not five days. And also, if any of those people performed like for any other company besides the government, they would have all been gone five years ago. So I'll listen for your comments. Thank you.
O'KEEFEAll I'll say, Jim, is you're right.
GJELTENWell, more evidence that Congress is one of the least prestigious institutions in American life today. To reinforce his point, Jim's point, we have an email from Sally in Alabama. "I had to laugh," she writes, "when one of your guests said that Congress had a whole week wasted by the Syrian question last week. It seems to me they've, on their own, wasted the last few years with their partisanship, campaigning, and vacations." So precisely the same view. All right. Let's go now to Mark in Oklahoma City, Okla. Good morning, Mark. Thanks for calling.
MARKHello there. Well, I would submit that Medicare is (unintelligible) far more government-run than Obamacare, therefore the outrage of the Tea Party and/or Republicans to Obamacare is not only phony but silly, unless one of the Tea Party or Republican members of Congress have also offered legislation while they were trying to repeal Obamacare to also repeal Medicare. Or is the panel aware of any legislation offered by Republicans and/or Tea Party members of Congress to repeal Medicare?
O'KEEFENot repeal it, but of course the Republican budgets of the last few years proposed making some big changes to Medicare by changing the eligibility and the rules for people who were younger, let's say, closer to -- you know, in their 30s and such. And people that were basically in their 50s and beyond would have been grandfathered into the old version. That, of course, got shut down. Democrats seized on that, and Republicans haven't been able to advance that idea too far. So they tried, but so far have failed.
GJELTENBut I think Mark raises an interesting point which is that once legislation gets really implemented and people get used to it, it becomes a lot harder to repeal, that it's much, much easier at the beginning to do it.
MECKLERWell, and it's also worth noting that when Medicare passed, it was as controversial as this health care law is too.
GJELTENLet's go now to Grant who's on the line from Virginia. Good morning, Grant.
GRANTGood morning, sir. Thank you for taking my call.
GRANTNowhere in the Constitution does it allow for perpetual continuing resolutions to fund this government of ours. The number one requirement of the Constitution is a budget be offered by the executive branch, which they have not done for five years. If the government shuts down, it's nobody's fault but this administration. I look forward to the day when Congress will expect this administration to follow the Constitution.
GJELTENOkay. Laura Meckler.
MECKLERI'm confused by what the caller is saying. The president does offer a budget every year. Now, the Congress has not, on its own, gone ahead and passed its own budget or modified that budget. But the president does present a budget proposal to the Congress each year, as far as I know.
CUMMINGSAnd the Senate...
GRANTHe hasn't offered one in five years.
MECKLERI don't think that's right.
CUMMINGSThe Senate right now in preparing for the debt ceiling debate, entitlements are going to be back on the floor. So the debate about Medicare is going to come back front and center this fall. And in the Senate, they are looking at, in fact, the White House proposals for changes in Medicare that were in their budget and whether to use some of that language.
MECKLERYeah. I mean, the caller might want to look at the OMB website, and he can find the budgets for the entire -- every president, not just this one, does in fact -- and because it's easy for the president to put a budget out. They can just put out their own set of ideas. It doesn't have to be negotiated with anybody. They just put out, this is what I'd like to see. And it's incredibly detailed, in fact.
O'KEEFEAnd in fairness to Grant...
O'KEEFE...the reason why he might be confused is this is because every year the White House puts out a budget, and every year it gets ignored by Congress.
O'KEEFESo he might not realize that in fact they do issue one. It's just nobody pays attention to it.
GJELTENAll right. Sean is on the line from Charlotte, N.C. Good morning, Sean.
SEANGood morning. Good morning. Hey, great conversation, Tom.
SEANOne of your guests lifted up a poll which stated that the people feel that the Republicans could do a better job of handling the economy. But, really, what have they done to actually offer the American people (unintelligible) here's an alternative to what's happening right now with all the instructions going on.
GJELTENWell, I think what often happens, Sean, is there's a kind of an anti-incumbency reaction when people are not happy with the way things are going. It's a lot easier to blame the government in power or the party in power rather than the opposition. So it would appear from the findings of this poll that this is a moment of opportunity for the Republicans to, as you said, Laura, to sort of make some headway.
GJELTENI mean, this is a trend that is, for the moment at least, pointing in their direction. But I guess whether they make headway or not would depend, as Sean suggests, on what exactly they are able to propose that has a chance of moving forward as opposed to just making a statement.
MECKLERRight. Well, there hasn't been a lot of legislating going on beyond that.
GJELTENSean, did you have a -- you want to add something?
SEANAnd also, just one more point. And also as it relates to the Affordable Healthcare Act, what is the alternative to the Affordable Healthcare Act?
CUMMINGSWell, that's one of the criticisms of the Republican party that comes from within the Republican party. Newt Gingrich, among others, has been critical of the leadership in Congress in that they have not offered an alternative. And, you know, he has argued that the voters would be more inclined to, you know, get excited about where the Republicans are going on health care if they could see what they would do in a proactive way and not just defund the president's system.
GJELTENI want to read a couple of emails that we've gotten. Back on the issue of gun control which clearly touched a nerve among some of our listeners, Dustin writes, "A panelist remarked that there's no gun tragedy severe enough to change the politics of gun control. But is that because the American public doesn't feel that any amount of death could justify restricting gun rights? Or is it because powerful interests so control the legislative process that there is no way that that process can respond to the people's wishes?"
GJELTENAnd of course Jeanne Cummings pointed out that in the recall election in Colorado, both the -- those in favor of recalling the legislators and those to -- in favor of protecting them were heavily funded from the outside. Also, a tweet from Jen, who says a very similar point, "There's not a gun tragedy that will spur Congress to action? That in itself, my friends, is the biggest tragedy." Okay. Just a couple of comments I wanted to throw out there before we move on.
GJELTENHere's an email from John who says he's offended by the flippant tone of this panel when we say -- make comments such as, the president could look like a fool. He says, "That reflects the superficial nature of the media's view of the life and death struggle of the Syria people." This is the domestic news hour, John, so I guess that we probably, in a sense, are guilty at looking at the Syria issue, for example, through the prism of domestic politics. Ed.
CUMMINGSAnd, wait, I'm the one who used that word.
GJELTENOkay, Jeanne. Okay.
CUMMINGSAnd, you know, if I offended him, I want to apologize. But I was talking about how the president might appear...
CUMMINGS...and not that it was -- he was on a foolhardy cause but that he had handled the situation in a foolish way or made a mistake.
GJELTENRight. And presidential leadership is a really important issue, isn't it?
CUMMINGSIt -- yes, it is.
GJELTENOkay. Let's go to Beth who's on the line from Birmingham, Ala. Good morning, Beth.
BETHGood morning, Tom. Thank you for taking my call. I go to the polls to vote for people who will negotiate and accomplish something. I am out of patience with -- it was originally Newt Gingrich's playbook, as I recall. If you won't play my way, I'm not going to play at all. It's time to change the name of our country, and it should be now, hence forth until they fix it, the Dysfunctional States of Partisan Problems.
O'KEEFEHold on, Dysfunctional States of Partisan Problems.
MECKLERYou know, the...
GJELTEND.S. -- what was the...
O'KEEFEThat'll be hard to chant at a sports game. D.S.P.P. We'll try.
MECKLERIt's -- no, but, I mean, to take what the caller said seriously, the question I have is, how many voters out there feel the same way? You know, how many people who run for office promising compromise and promising to try to work with the other side win a primary or win a general election versus somebody who says, you know, these are my principles, and I stand for them? And that just seems to be what's been winning the day, certainly of late.
MECKLERAnd so, you know, I think that if more voters valued what Beth just articulated, maybe things would be different here. I mean, let's keep in mind these members of Congress don't send themselves to Washington.
GJELTENLaura Meckler of The Wall Street Journal. I'm Tom Gjelten. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Martin is on the line from Shelter Island, N.Y. Good morning, Martin.
MARTINGood morning. I just wanted to say that there was no unified federal budget before the 1920s. Their budgeting is a congressional responsibility. And until the passage of that bill was set up with Bureau of the Budget at the general accounting office, now the General Accountability Office, each department of government submitted its budget request separately to the Congress, and the Congress constructed a national budget. This whole thing is totally ahistorical.
GJELTENWhat whole thing, Martin, this discussion?
MARTINYeah. Well, and the attitudes. The president -- what's the role of the Congress? What's the role of the president? The role of the Congress is to make a budget. The president horned in with some legislation passed in 1921. It probably made sense. It does make sense to have some unified place where tradeoffs are done. But the notion that it is the responsibility of the president to prepare a budget for the United States under the Constitution, that's not true. It wasn't done...
MECKLERWell, regardless of whether -- that in fact may be the case. And the truth, as Ed made the point, the president does in fact, by law, put a budget out, doesn't really get adhered to very much. It is the Congress' responsibility, and the Congress does not seem to be up to that task of late.
O'KEEFEWe should give Martin Grant's phone number, and the two of them could hash these out for us and get back to us.
GJELTENWhat should be...
O'KEEFEThank you for that, Martin.
GJELTENYeah. 'Cause the issue here is, who should have the responsibility? Who does have the responsibility? Who should have the responsibility? Of course, the House of Representatives does have the power of the purse. Before we close out this hour, I want to point out that this was the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. This was on Wednesday.
GJELTENThere were moments of silence observed. Names were read. In some events, music was played. Remembering 9-11 has become something of a ritual. Twelve years is not that long. Of course for the many families who lost someone they loved, the pain is ever present. Jeanne, what has changed in your view over these 12 years in the way that we remember that day?
CUMMINGSWell, I think that we don't really remember -- what we risk is that we don't remember the horror, the sheer horror of seeing the smoke and seeing the planes because that's when the country just froze.
CUMMINGSAnd somehow we need to remember that. And because of how horrible it was, it is one of the reasons now that we have these great debates about privacy versus security.
GJELTENEd O'Keefe, do you want to add anything?
O'KEEFEIt's just I was driving to work on Tuesday, Tom, and listening -- and somebody was replaying parts of the broadcasts from that morning. And you could look out the window of your car -- in this city, especially -- and look around and say, that wasn't there before 9-11. That wouldn't have been there before 9-11. That has changed since 9-11. It's just, you know, in all the debates we're having now, so, so constructed around what happened that morning.
GJELTENFinal thought, Laura?
MECKLERI read -- reread some of the coverage from right after 9-11, things that people had posted, and I was just struck anew by just the personal sadness that we all felt at that time.
GJELTENLaura Meckler is staff writer for The Wall Street Journal. My other guests are Ed O'Keefe, congressional reporter with the Washington Post and Jeanne Cummings from Bloomberg News. Thank you very much for joining our conversation this morning, folks. And thanks to our listeners for calling in and paying attention. I'm Tom Gjelten sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
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.
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