Analysis of the Supreme Court's last decisions of the term and the impact of a vacant seat on the bench.
President Barack Obama meets with House Republicans on the shutdown and looming debt ceiling. Janet Yellen is nominated to lead the Federal Reserve. And the Supreme Court opens its fall term with a case on campaign finance. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Chris Cillizza politics blogger at The Fix, The Washington Post, and managing editor, PostPolitics.com; author of "The Gospel According to The Fix."
- Olivier Knox chief Washington correspondent, Yahoo! News.
- Sheryl Gay Stolberg Washington correspondent, The New York Times.
Why does the federal government need to raise the U.S. debt limit in order to pay bills? Olivier Knox of Yahoo! News explains in simple terms how the federal government borrows money to pay day-to-day bills for basic services like highway construction. The government defaults on its debt when it can’t pay its bills, which — like the borrowing limit — have been approved by Congress.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. President Obama and Republicans continue talks on ending a partial government shutdown and lifting the debt limit. Janet Yellen is nominated to lead the Federal Reserve, and the Supreme Court opens its fall term with a case on campaign finance. Joining me for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup: Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post, Sheryl Gay Stolberg at The New York Times, and Olivier Knox of Yahoo! News.
MS. DIANE REHMI hope you'll join us, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And welcome to all of you. And to you first, Olivier Knox, what's happening?
MR. OLIVIER KNOXWell, this morning, what we're going to see is Senate Republicans going to the White House to sit down with President Obama to talk about their place, their piece of this evolving government shutdown debt limit puzzle. At the same time, the House of Representatives could conceivably take a vote on the plan that Speaker Boehner has alluded to.
MR. OLIVIER KNOXIt hasn't been spelled out in any great detail, but apparently it would involve a short term six-week lift of the debt limit, you know, the government's ability to borrow to pay existing -- pay for existing programs. So two pieces, possible House vote and a very important meeting at the White House, so those are the two things as they stand now.
REHMHow do you think the White House is reacting to all this?
KNOXWell, right now, they're sort of barely contained glee at the moment, at least in the last 24 hours. You know, they're watching the impact on the economy very, very closely. This is sort of -- hasn't been considered as much by those of us in the political reporting profession, that they are looking at the impact state by state, of shutdowns in popular programs and in revenue-producing programs.
KNOXThey are also, on the political level, you know, they're working very closely with Senate Democrats. I would argue that one of the most important political dynamics of this so far has been the unusual Senate Democratic unity. You know, this is not a party that particularly holds together very well. When they're all serving together, it seems to be in a circular firing squad -- not this time. This time, Harry Reid, the Majority Leader, has really kept his people in step.
REHMWhereas on the Republican side, Chris Cillizza, a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll is that an indication of why the GOP seems willing to negotiate.
MR. CHRIS CILLIZZAI believe it probably is, Diane. Look, that poll -- and I would urge any of your listeners to go and either read the stories written about it, or look at the poll itself -- it is a damning indictment of the fact that Republicans are badly losing the political blame game as it relates to the shutdown. You have approval -- their approval rating, less than three in 10 people approve. Then you're talking about some of their lowest ratings in history.
MR. CHRIS CILLIZZAThey -- 53 percent of the American public believe they are more responsible for the government shutdown. Thirty-one percent believe President Obama is more responsible. There's literally -- and I went through it last night knowing I was going to be on with you. And there's almost nothing in that poll that would lead you, as a Republican strategist, Republican politician, someone who allies themselves with Republicans, for optimism.
MR. CHRIS CILLIZZAThe only thing I could find -- and it's not contained in that poll. It's date-centric which is it's October 2013, not October 2014. If it was October 2014, you would see -- I think we would be talking about things like the Republican trolled the House in jeopardy and those sorts of things. It's not. A year is quite some time in politics. It can change. But where they are today, politically speaking, is not a very good place.
MS. SHERYL GAY STOLBERGI think that poll accounts for something very important that we saw last night. After the House Republicans left the White House and John Boehner came out and greeted reporters and talked about their vision for a path forward for extending the nation's borrowing authority. And one word wasn't mentioned, and that word was Obamacare.
MS. SHERYL GAY STOLBERGHouse Republicans -- or Republicans, sort of mainstream Republicans, are realizing that the defunding Obamacare strategy was a bust, that it was unwise. Some Republicans predicted this. Karl Rove wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal last month saying that this was not going to be a good strategy for Republicans.
MS. SHERYL GAY STOLBERGAnd what we're seeing from the polls is that it has not been a good strategy. And if we look at another poll, the Washington Post/ABC News poll that came out this week, you can see kind of movement within the polls. Before the government shutdown, 63 percent believed that the GOP was not doing a good job of negotiating over the budget.
MS. SHERYL GAY STOLBERGAfter the shutdown, 70 percent dissatisfied with the GOP. Before the shutdown, 56 percent thought the Democrats weren't doing a good job. After the shutdown, that shot up to 61 percent. But President Obama, his numbers are virtually the same before and after the shutdown, 50 percent before, 51 percent after. I think that tells you a lot.
CILLIZZAI would add -- and Sheryl makes this point, and I would just echo it. The thing that I think is the most -- would have to be the most frustrating if you are sort of a Republican political professional is that they knew this was coming. They knew -- the only way that they lose politically on Obamacare, which is not a popular law. A majority of people still disapprove of it.
CILLIZZAThe rollout of the health insurance exchanges has -- now, it's been glitchy. The White House has admitted it hasn't gone as planned. The only way they lose on that issue, if you believe polling, is to tie it to keeping the government open, which is exactly what they did against the advice, as Sheryl points out, of Karl Rove and the private advice of many other people and, I would say, probably the private wishes of, for example, John Boehner, who I think understood this was not going to be a winning solution.
CILLIZZAThe president was not going to allow his principle legislative accomplishment of his first term be either undercut or totally taken away. The fact that they did it knowing what was coming is all the more remarkable.
REHMBut, Olivier, haven't Republicans sort of moved Obamacare to the side now? They're all focused now on the debt ceiling.
KNOXWell, they vented at least in one way that they really hate, which is that, you know, if we weren't talking about the shutdown and the debt ceiling, what would we -- what would every political reporter be writing about this week? The incredibly botched rollout of the healthcare.gov website. They've moved off of it a little bit. You know, the White House spent a lot of time in the last couple months trying to ramp up a campaign in which they would portray Obamacare as an entitlement, as a series of benefits that Republicans wanted to take away, as kind of like a second Social Security or a second Medicare.
KNOXThat would have really been undermined by the botched rollout, except that seizing defeat from the jaws of victory, the House Republicans went with the shutdown strategy. In terms of the House Republicans, I'll be honest, I've never thought this was so much about Obamacare. What it is about is about House Republicans going back to their districts and having to explain a vote on the debt limit.
KNOXAnd so they had to tie it to something. They had to tie -- they had to be able to go back to their district and say, yes, I voted for this debt ceiling thing which you don't understand but you hate. But in return, we got something, and the best something that they thought they could deliver was some kind of whittling away at Obamacare. That's off the table now. I'm very curious to see what it is that they do get to go back -- if they get something, to go back home to explain.
STOLBERGYeah. I think that also what we're seeing here is a divergence between the political strategy of some of the Tea Party Republicans who ran in 2010 on a promise to repeal Obamacare, were frustrated that that repeal never happened, and so they went with the strategy of defunding it because they had to go back to their constituents and say, look, we're doing something on this law which we all hate.
STOLBERGBut that -- we're seeing now a splintering between that faction of the Republicans and the Republicans who don't like Obamacare, who want to do away with it and who are now worrying that tying Obamacare to this whole government funding is, in fact, undermining their long-term strategy of seeing this law repealed because there's a backlash now. And Americans are simply conflating the shutdown with those who want to end Obamacare, and they're railing against that.
CILLIZZAOne thing I would say, Diane, is that Olivier's point, I think, is the one that I hear more and more and more often now, which is if only -- if on Sept. 30, Republicans had agreed to keep the government open -- and I would add -- at sequestration levels, this was -- this is a -- that was a good deal for them. This was not the Obama budget.
CILLIZZAThis was -- remember -- let me say, remember the sequester, the thing that they put in place so that they would never actually see it put into place? Well, that's what we're living under budgetarily now. If they had just understood this is a win. This is...
STOLBERGAnd that was a weighted margin when they got it.
CILLIZZAThis is a win for us. Instead...
CILLIZZA...they pushed on Obamacare, of all things, which, again, President Obama was not going to allow to be repealed, neither were Senate Democrats, and now all of the glitchiness of the healthcare website, all of the problems we have heard about people signing up, can people sign up, who can sign up, why, when, all of that stuff, which would be top of broadcast evening news, we'd be talking about it most of the time.
CILLIZZAI'd be writing about -- we'd all be writing about it on the front page of The New York Times, be on the front page of The Washington Post, it'd be on the homepage of Yahoo. We're not -- it's not anywhere.
STOLBERGThe other thing that these advocates of defunding Obamacare and the shut downers have managed to achieve is they've ticked off the business wing of the Republican Party. And you are seeing now groups, like the Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the National Retail Federation, all expressing upset with the tactics of the Tea Party Republicans in trying to defund Obamacare.
STOLBERGAnd let's not forget, insurers benefit from Obamacare. Big Pharma benefits. The insurance industry is spending a billion dollars in advertising to try to get people to buy its products on these new healthcare exchanges. They don't want Obamacare repealed. They don't want it defunded. They do want fixes in it.
STOLBERGThe insurers, for instance, have partnered with the Chamber of Commerce to try to repeal a tax that the health law includes on -- or imposes on insurers. But they don't like this. And this is a big chunk of the Republican Party, of its donation base. And Tea Partiers are going to have to worry about this.
REHMWe saw yesterday the stock market shot up 300 percent -- 300 points or even more on the notion that there was some agreement coming. We shall see. We'll take a short break here. When we come back, we'll talk more, take your emails, open the phones. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd welcome back to the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup, this week with Olivier Knox. He's chief Washington correspondent at Yahoo! News. Sheryl Gay Stolberg is Washington correspondent for the New York Times. Chris Cillizza is politics blogger at The Washington Post. He's also managing editor of PostPolitics.com and author of "The Gospel According to The Fix."
REHMDo join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. What did Treasury Secretary Lew have to say, Sheryl, this week about the consequences of defaulting on the debt?
STOLBERGHe sounded very, very dire. He said that it would cause irrevocable damage. It would be more expensive to own a home, to buy a car, to open a small business if the government defaults. He sounded, as he testified in the Senate, almost exasperated at times. And he insisted that the White House would not negotiate on Republican priorities like having spending or overhauling taxes unless and until Republicans agree to extend the debt ceiling, the nation's borrowing authority. And he called the Republicans, who don't want to do so, debt ceiling deniers.
KNOXWell, basically he echoed something the president -- you know, the president came out to the White House briefing room at an impromptu press conference and basically took a turn as his own secretary of explaining stuff -- which is the title, of course, he bestowed on Bill Clinton in the campaign -- pushing back against this wing of the Republican Party that says, you know, oh, there are ways to -- the default won't really matter.
KNOXWe can still pay our debts. We'll just have to make some cuts elsewhere. You know, and they basically had to push back and say, no, actually that doesn't work. You know, if you're looking to invest in a company...
KNOXIf you're looking to invest in a company and they're paying off their creditors but they're not making payroll, that's probably not a super sign of health. But it's part of the administration's push, again, to combat popular misunderstanding of what the debt limit is. And Lew really carried that to its logical conclusion.
CILLIZZAI think that the hardest thing as it relates to the debt ceiling for an administration or for any politician, frankly -- and I think Olivier said it earlier -- which is, people don't know what it is, but particularly conservatives don't like it. They don't really understand -- President Obama spent -- I think his opening statement in that press conference was 12 to 15 minutes. And probably 70 percent of it was to essentially say, here is the thing with the debt ceiling. This is not about spending more money. This is about paying the bills that we have already incurred.
CILLIZZAIt's so funny because I remember back -- the last debt ceiling showdown we had in 2011 -- the summer of 2011, it was the same argument which is, this is not -- we are not asking for a big pot more of money. We are paying bills that have already -- the money has already been spent. We have borrowed the money. We now need to pay the money back.
CILLIZZAYou know, I just think for Republicans, particularly in this iteration of the Republican Party that we're seeing, they -- I think the political people -- at least a fair number of them -- understand that this is about paying bills we've already incurred. But they view it as a pinch point to try to focus on bringing down debt and spending, which I would say, Diane, is a potentially powerful issue for them. Most Americans do think we are running up debts well beyond our means.
CILLIZZAWe are spending too much money. The problem is they have conflated it with so many other things now, the government shutdown, Obamacare, debt ceiling. In people's minds those are all sort of one big morass.
STOLBERGYeah, that's exactly right. And, you know, you see -- you hear these Republicans saying, well, we can just pay some bills but not others. Maybe we could just pay Social Security, but we don't have to pay for the Commerce Secretary to travel to a conference somewhere or -- but the Treasury says, look, we can't do that.
STOLBERGThis is not -- we don't have the technical capacity, and we just don't have the authority, the legal authority, to simply pick and choose what bills we pay. We pay our bills as a government as they come in. It's not like saying I'm going to pay the rent this month, but I'm not going to pay the electric company. It's the U.S. government. We have bills. We have to pay them all. And that's what the administration is saying we need this money for.
KNOXOne quick point about Obama's press conference, too, is -- I talked to a couple of people in the administration afterwards. And one thing that they're really getting exasperated about is the idea that attaching the president to something automatically makes a lot of conservatives hate it. And so they point to things like Republican talking points about Obama's debt as though this president had run up all nearly 17 trillion of it.
KNOXThey refer to Obama's debt limit increase as though, you know, this were not -- as though this were somehow an optional thing that the president was asking for. And they express a lot of frustration. They say, you know, we want to use the bully pulpit, but we have to be careful. There's this whole chunk of American voters who, the minute they hear the president attach himself to something, immediately are skeptical and immediately think it's not really a good idea.
STOLBERGYeah, and the other thing that the president and his allies are arguing, they're saying, hey, if you want to talk about the federal deficit, the shortfall that we have, the deficit is, in fact, shrinking. Under President Obama, the deficit has shrunk from, I think, 11 percent of GDP in 2009 when he took office to 7.4 percent last year. And it's projected to continue dropping further. So the White House is trying to make the case. And I think it's frankly a hard case to make with the American public that we're attacking this problem.
REHMWhy is it such a hard case to make?
STOLBERGBecause I do think the public feels -- they see the huge size of the deficit. They hear talk that we have to extend the nation's borrowing authority. And people do relate it to their own experience. They wonder, is the government buying things on a credit card, in effect, that I wouldn't buy? I think that's just how people absorb the information. The debt ceiling is maybe a complicated notion. It's one that is hard to convey. And I do think that's a hard message to get over with the public.
CILLIZZAYes. And I think that Sheryl's got it right, which is, in politics, what most politicians -- when they are being effective -- do is say, here is a complex issue about the federal government or about some policy matter. But here's how and why it makes sense. It's like your life in fill-in-the-blank way. That's what's -- that -- you have to relate these complex things to people's lives.
CILLIZZAThe hard thing is you don't -- Sheryl makes this point. You don't -- it's not as though OK the federal government -- we get in our electric and our gas and our -- OK, you know, I have to pay my American Express bill this month because I haven't paid it in two months.
CILLIZZAI'm not speaking from experience, you know, but...
CILLIZZABut that's not how it, in fact, works. It makes sense, and that's why you have Republicans saying it. But because the federal government is this behemoth that has lots of bills, to pick and choose, you can't do it logistically and pragmatically.
REHMBut, you know, when we talk about bills, we talked yesterday with people around the country who are trying to pay their own bills during this government shutdown, people who run, say, restaurants near federally-operated public parks, people who work for the government who have to live paycheck to paycheck. This is getting down now to bare tax.
STOLBERGI think it is, and I think that's why we're seeing also this shutdown anger because this is really starting to hit home. Now you're seeing, you know, people who die while serving the country, their families aren't getting the death benefits. OK. The House and the Senate quickly passed the bill to allow that to happen, and the president signed it into law.
STOLBERGBut other things, the kid who has cancer and can't get into a clinical trial at NIH because it's shut down. The bed and breakfast owner near Grand Canyon who's business is in the tank because nobody can come visit the Grand Canyon. Even here in Washington, you know, I take Beach Drive in Washington to go...
STOLBERGIt's closed. It's part of Rock Creek Park. I can't take Beach Drive anymore. The little league in Fairfax, Va. that practices at a park that is managed by the National Park Service, closed. They actually sued, and a federal judge, I think, yesterday temporarily opened this park. So people are seeing this around the country, and not just here in Washington where people are really inordinately hit because so many work for the federal government.
REHMExactly. All right. And this week President Obama nominated Janet Yellen to lead the Federal Reserve. Why was she chosen? Why'd it take so long, Olivier?
KNOXShe was chosen because she's eminently qualified for the job. She makes history being the first woman who would, if confirmed by the Senate, to lead the Federal Reserve. It took so long because of an internal administration debate about whether to choose Janet Yellen or former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers. Those of you who follow this will recall that Mr. Summers withdrew his name from contention when he realized that his confirmation would've been in deep trouble because of democratic opposition. So that's the story...
REHMAnd why? Why was there such Democratic opposition to Larry Summers?
STOLBERGWell, I would say for three reasons. One, a lot of Democrats, especially liberal Democrats associate Larry Summers with policies of the Clinton era that allowed banks to engage and investment companies to engage in trading these derivatives that they feel led to the mortgage meltdown of 2008, so number one. Number two, Larry Summers -- Larry would probably tell you himself that his style's a little bit brusque, and people felt that his style was brusque.
STOLBERGSome who remember him as President of Harvard University making very impolitic comments about the talents of women, suggesting that women did not succeed in science or math because they had less aptitude than men -- those comments have stuck with Larry Summers. It'll probably be on his tombstone. He'll never live them down. And so women especially were up in arms over this and saw in Janet Yellen an extremely qualified, brilliant economist, vice-chair of the Fed already, perfectly qualified candidate. And she was clearly the Democrat's pick.
REHMAnd what kind of fed chair will she be if confirmed? And will there be any opposition?
CILLIZZALet me take the second question first, Diane, since confirmation does matter. I think that what President Obama did here was listen -- and he doesn't always do this -- listen to what Senate Democrats were telling him, which was, don't pick Larry Summers. We've been with you on many things. Don't make us fight this battle. He does not and will not have that problem with Ms. Yellen. And I think it does provide a window though -- quickly -- into how President Obama thinks about these things.
CILLIZZALarry Summers has widely sort of been described as one of the cool kids of the Obama Administration, someone that the president personally likes. He respects his intellect. The president has often picked those sorts of people against the wishes of sort of the broader, certainly Democratic Party community.
REHMBut this time...
CILLIZZAHe did not this time. And again, as Olivier pointed out, Larry Summers withdrew his name making it a little bit easier. It wasn't a one-to-one choice. I do believe -- my long answer to your short question, I do believe she will be confirmed. You -- Bob Corker, influential Republican from Tennessee, he opposed her nomination in 2010 to be the vice-chair of the fed, saying that her monetary policy was too sort of on the liberal end of the spectrum, which is not a critique that is terribly surprising.
CILLIZZAI think, again, Democrats control the Senate. I don't imagine her -- she does not seem to me a Larry Summers-like fight that we will get. And he will likely get his pick here.
STOLBERGYeah, she's going to be a Ben Bernanke-like chair.
STOLBERGShe is a strong believer in supporting the labor market. She's been a strong backer of the course that Bernanke has chosen for the fed, which is this QE3 now quantitative easing, the stimulus that is intended to encourage job creation. My colleague Binya Appelbaum had a fascinating story about Janet Yellen and her husband George Akerlof who is a Nobel Prize-winning economist. So two economists.
STOLBERGThey decided in the 1980s when their son was little that they were going to pay more money than they needed to than the going rate for a babysitter for their son on the theory that they would get a better quality babysitter. And that yielded not only better quality babysitting, but it also led to this theory that the two of them together posited a theory of the labor market that argues that during periods of high unemployment, monetary stimulus can increase demand for labor. And this is, in fact, the policy that the fed is pursuing today and will under Janet Yellen as chair should she be confirmed.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." What about the FEC case that was before the Supreme Court this week, McCutcheon v. FEC? What's it about, Olivier?
KNOXWell, I'm a little out of my lane on the Supreme Court case. I would like -- when I saw the subject on the list of issues we'd be discussing, the first thing that jumped out at me was, god, remember when money and politics was, like, the hugest issue? Remember when you couldn't go a week without a press conference with someone saying, we need to get money under wraps, under control in politics? Remember on McCain-Feingold -- remember? Where did that go?
REHMWhere did it go?
STOLBERGSo this case is an outgrowth of the Citizens United case of 2010, which basically freed corporations and unions to spend unlimited money on elections. But what Citizens United did not do was lift the spending limits on money that individuals can give directly to candidates and to political committees.
STOLBERGSo the person who brought this case, Shaun McCutcheon, is an Alabama businessman. He gave thousands of dollars to Republicans last cycle. But he was bound by the all-important aggregate limit of $48,600 in what individuals can give to candidates, a maximum of $2,600 to each candidate, which basically limits you to 18 candidates.
STOLBERGShaun McCutcheon says that's an infringement of his freedom of speech. He wants those aggregate limits lifted. And that is what the court seems to be signaling that it's inclined to do. Justice Roberts will be the lynchpin here. And he hinted during arguments this week that he's inclined to lift those limits. It's causing a lot of worry among advocates of campaign finance reform, President Obama and others.
REHMSo what would this mean in the long run? You can give as much as you want, no limit?
CILLIZZARight. So as Cheryl points out, Diane, right now, McCutcheon's point is essentially this. I complied with federal campaign donation limits, which is I gave $2,600 to a variety of candidates. But why should I be bound to only be able to give $2,600 to 18 candidates? Why is there this broad limit? Here's what the practical implications of it is. Let's say that you have -- you decide you have a million dollars that you want to spend on candidates. You want to donate to candidates.
CILLIZZAIf this law -- if McCutcheon vs. FEC -- if McCutcheon wins, you would then be allowed to give now, still in $2,600 increments, OK, but you would now not be capped at giving to 18 candidates. You could give whatever a million divided by $2,600 is, which is well beyond my math to consider, but hundreds of candidates you could donate to.
CILLIZZAWhat it does, in effect, would allow wealthy individuals or people who want to spend significant amounts of money on campaigns, to not have to necessarily only go the route that we saw in the 2012 election, which is Super PAC, that you like a candidate, you give $5 million to a Super PAC, it spends money on the candidate.
CILLIZZAYou could give directly to as many candidates as you like, though what is not at stake in this case is the individual limit. McCutcheon is not saying, I should be allowed to give a million dollars to a candidate. He's simply saying, I should be allowed to give a million dollars at $2,600 a pop.
REHMAnd as many.
STOLBERGYeah, that's exactly right. But, you know, the government argues that this -- that these rules were put in place after Watergate no less, to guard against corruption. So the solicitor general really appearing on behalf of the government made the case before the court that this is -- you know, to guard against things like giving a Maserati to the secretary of defense.
REHMSheryl Gay Stolberg. Boy, I want to see that Maserati. We'll...
STOLBERGIt won't be for 2600.
REHMYeah, you bet. We'll take a short break here. When we come back, time to open the phones, read your email, your tweets, your Facebook postings. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd it's time to open the phones, 800-433-8850, first to Joseph in Orlando, Fla. You're on the air.
JOSEPHGood morning, Diane.
JOSEPHI'd like to make a comment regarding the situation we find ourselves in right now with this close down of the government, et cetera.
JOSEPHMy opinion is this is merely a continuation of what I would refer as the tyranny of the minority. Specifically there's a small group of mostly Republicans who have decided that, in their obsession to discredit President Obama, they're putting our democracy in danger.
REHMAll right. How many of you see this as a fight against President Obama and his overall policies?
STOLBERGWell, I think on the part of those who pursued the defunding Obamacare strategy which led to the shutdown, it is a fight against President Obama and his policies. There's, frankly, no question about that. They ran against these policies. They despise the health law. They think it's bad for the economy, and this has been their strategy.
REHMAnd the question that continues to come up, Olivier -- and I know you've heard it -- is one of racism.
KNOXRight. There's an analysis, you know, after the 2012 election. The Republican Party was supposed to be going through this big soul-searching process, this big reinvention process. How do we reach out more to Latino voters? How do we reach out more to a broader, more diverse coalition? And they seem to have dialed back way, way back. To Joseph's point, you know, it's not just about the president.
KNOXIt's also about these House Republicans trying to survive. And one thing that's been kind of bugging me a little bit the White House keeps saying that they're not asking for concessions from House Republicans in lifting the debt limit. Well, they are in a way. They're asking House Republicans to take an extremely politically painful vote that can cost them re-election without anything to sweeten it. I can't -- for a politician who holds elected office, there really is no greater concession to ask.
CILLIZZAAnd, you know, Diane, I would -- we talked about this -- you and I talked about this during the 2012 election about how much of the opposition to President Obama was borne of race and how much of it was borne of sort of policy disagreements. And I would say, it is extremely difficult to know the answer to that. I would say that I believe that what you are seeing now is a legitimate policy disagreement between the two parties.
CILLIZZANow, I think the thing is really what this is about is a fight within the Republican Party in truth, that, yes, the big players are President Obama and John Boehner. But it's really -- John Boehner is not a liberal Republican. John Boehner probably would like to see Obamacare repealed. But it's about strategy and tactics. Ted Cruz and John Boehner disagree fundamentally on the strategy and tactics necessary to sort of prosecute the case against Barack Obama. And I think that's why you've seen Republicans get into the situation that they're in at the moment.
REHMAll right to Bill in St. Louis, Mo. You're on the air.
BILLYeah, Diane, thanks for this great program.
BILLI just wanted to know -- just while waiting, I wondered has your program on Friday, this great roundtable which I listen to as much as I can, have you ever had so many digital media people there in that room?
REHMWell, we've got Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times. We have Chris Cillizza who writes for The Washington Post. And we have Olivier Knox who writes for Yahoo.
BILLThe question I have, though, is -- so what it looks to me like is you have actually a representative of Google and Yahoo and one print media person.
KNOXWell, I do -- the caller is right that I do most of my journalism online. But I would say -- and I think we all agree on this one -- is that the definitions between print and digital -- print and online media are fading. We all do journalism where it appears, I think, it doesn't -- it matters less and less.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Sheryl in Grand Parks, Mich. Sheryl, you're on the air.
SHERYLHi, Diane. It's Grand Rapids, Mich.
SHERYLI know you've been here.
REHMOf course, I have.
SHERYLYes. Thank you for taking this call.
SHERYLI have been sitting on a street corner in Grandville, which is where my state or national legislature is located, protesting with a sign that reads: The government shutdown has closed my clinical trial. And I've gotten local press here on it. And I can tell you the response has been incredible from people. I've been doing social media.
SHERYLIt's gone all the way to Japan. It's just been amazing. And in Japan, they don't know that this was happening. The only effect that they see is that our National Parks are closed down. They don't understand that people aren't getting medications, like our veterans.
SHERYLThey don't understand that cancer research, private and public, is slowly grinding to a halt. There's just so much out there that this is impacting that people are so unaware of. So I'm trying to put a face and a name in my west Michigan community to what's happening to people.
REHMI'm glad you called, Sheryl. Thank you.
REHMAnd Sheryl Gay Stolberg.
STOLBERGYou know, I want to actually draw a point to what the caller said about Japan. In fact, foreign governments at least do know this was happening. President Obama was forced to cancel his trip to Asia to meet with leaders of Asian nations. That left the Chinese as the sort of the strong party in those negotiations. The president sent Secretary of State John Kerry in his stead. But still, it's not the same as having the president.
STOLBERGAnd I think that that is a matter of concern to a lot of people here and in our government that, you know, what message are we sending to foreign countries when we can't have our own government operate such that the president can travel on an overseas trip.
REHMHere is an email from Ashley in Texas who says, "I do not understand why we need to raise our debt limit in order to pay our bills. Can someone please explain the debt ceiling as if I were a 6-year-old?" Olivier?
KNOXWell, I have a 7-year-old, and some might suggest that he has a better grasp on policy than I do. But, look, basically the federal government is borrowing every day to pay its daily bills, the bills that have come due because Congress has approved and the president has signed off the creation of programs, the continuation of programs. We have been borrowing money day by day by day to, say, fix our highways.
KNOXWell, we reached a point where we need to keep -- we have a debt limit. We have a congressionally-imposed limit on the amount of money we can borrow. If we hit the debt limit, we can no longer borrow money. And that means we can no longer pay our day-to-day obligations, these programs that have existed, some of them for the better part of a century. So we have to raise the debt limit in order to pay back what we borrowed to keep basic services going.
STOLBERGYeah. I mean, basically, we bring money in through taxes. Every year a certain amount of money comes in to the federal government through taxes. But that tax revenue is not enough to pay the current obligations, the current obligations, the current bills of the U.S. government, so we have to raise the debt ceiling to do it.
REHMTo Tony in Geneseo, N.Y., you're on the air. Tony, are you there? Let's try. Go right ahead, sir.
TONYYeah. I mean, I'm riding out here in the hinterland, seeing all these Do Not Tread on Me flags, and I think it's so hypocritical because it's all these Tea Party people who supported their representatives who are treading on numerous other people. I mean, who's treading on who here? And the second point is, even more severe tread is that the fact that the majority in Congress is ill-gotten gains. They have 53 percent of the seats, the Republicans do, and they got 48.3 percent of the vote. So who's treading on who? Democrats got more votes.
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call. Chris?
CILLIZZAHe is right. Democrats did get more votes overall. If you count all the votes cast for House Democrats versus overall all the votes that cast for House Republicans, Democrats did get more votes.
CILLIZZANow, that said, the fact that the country's Congressional districts are drawn in ways, often strange ways, to benefit one side or the other, depending on which party controls the line-drawing process, that is an oddly bipartisan thing, in that both sides, if they control the line-drawing process -- and that happens once a decade after the census counts Americans -- both sides work to exploit their advantages, Diane, which means that you have situations in which you have more votes cast, one side over the other.
CILLIZZAThe one thing I will say -- and I do think this is important -- in 2012, 199 Democrats won House seats, 51 percent of them -- 51 percent. A majority of those 199 won with 67 percent of the vote or higher, basically a non-competitive race. Many of them won with 90-plus.
CILLIZZAOf the 232 Republicans who were elected in 2012, that same day, less that 30 percent, 29 percent were elected with 67 percent or higher. So, yes, it is true that both parties have many politicians whose only real danger is in a primary. But the Democratic Party has just had more than the Republican Party -- just to throw that out there while we discuss this.
REHMAll right. There's an email asking that Sheryl talk about the article on the way the shutdown was planned for months, which suggests that some of the Republicans had no intention of negotiating. Is that true?
STOLBERGI'm happy to talk about that article. I think, though, that -- here's what that story talked about. That story traced the roots of the government shutdown back to a meeting of conservative activists who gathered shortly after President Obama was inaugurated for the second time. And this was in February. At that time, the repeal efforts on Obamacare were going nowhere.
STOLBERGThey decided they were then going to push this defunding effort, a wide array of conservative groups signed on. They initially targeted March as their date. That date came and went. And then over the summer, groups with a lot of money and a lot of wherewithal, groups like Heritage Action for America and the Tea Party Patriots, et cetera, sort of put together this plan to build up steam on the outside to pressure House Republicans to go along with this defunding idea.
STOLBERGAnd you saw the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party able to sway other Republicans to go along. And it did seem that they anticipated a shutdown. Their defunding toolkit put out by the Tea Party Patriots talked about what happens when the government is shut down and you're blamed for it? The suggested answer to House Republicans was, we don't want to shut down the government. We just want to defund Obamacare.
STOLBERGSo it does suggest a coordinated effort on the part of outside conservative groups backing these hardliner Tea Party Republicans to push this defunding issue, which led to the confrontation that resulted in the shutdown we have today.
REHMIf there is a deal, is Boehner likely to lose his job, Olivier?
KNOXNo. I think John Boehner will be fine. I think that he -- in fact, this emerging deal spares him quite a bit. Again, we haven't seen the House vote yet, we haven't seen the Senate Republicans go to the White House yet. Those are two critical, vital parts of this evolving this. But I think that if in fact the House only votes on a clean, which is to say a concessionless increase in the debt limit, sends it to the Senate, something happens in the Senate.
KNOXThey might decide to add measures to reopen the government. They might decide to add something else. It goes back to the House. Well, there's a very plausible case for John Boehner to come out and say, look, we fought a good fight, you voted on what you wanted to vote on. But now the reality is we have a coalition of Democrats and Republicans in the Senate who don't want this. We don't have the White House, it's time to take this vote.
REHMOlivier Knox, chief Washington correspondent at Yahoo News. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Here's an email from Peggy: "Isn't there some way the Congress could override the speaker's refusal to take a vote? It seems very gray that one man can hold the reopening of the government as hostage." Chris?
CILLIZZASo there is something called the discharge petition which essentially -- the biggest power that the speaker of the House has is to decide what bills are brought to the floor. Bills that are favorable to the Republican Party or the Democratic Party, depending who's in charge, don't get brought to the floor. A discharge petition is essentially in layman's term a sort of end-run around the speaker's wishes.
CILLIZZAWhich is that -- if enough members of Congress sign onto it, you can bring a bill to the floor that would be, for example, reopening the government. Because we know for a fact that there are 20-plus Republicans who have said on the record, they would support a clean and to Olivier's point, nothing attached to a bill to continue to fund the government at sequester levels. Add that to the 200 Democrats who we would expect would in unison.
CILLIZZAAnd the math add up, you have a majority of the House. It will not happen, however, Diane, because to do so, it would be a break with long amounts of tradition which is that the speaker has -- that is the power of the speaker. Someone within the Republican Party who would do that, even Pete King from New York who's been very critical of the Republican has said, I would not sign on to a discharge petition.
STOLBERGYeah, I think that's unlikely. And also to the point about John Boehner and whether or not he'll be replaced, frankly, there really isn't anybody out there to replace him.
REHMAll right. And finally, Sheryl, there's a great anecdote about Janet Yellen. She was both the editor-in-chief of her high school newspaper as well valedictorian of her class.
STOLBERGThat's right. She was a high school senior in 1963 in Fort Hamilton High School in Brooklyn. And there was a tradition at Fort Hamilton that the high school valedictorian would be interviewed by the editor of the high school newspaper. So what did Janet Yellen do? She very creatively interviewed herself. A very enterprising reporter for the New York Times went to the New York Public Library, dug up the old copy of the interview. It's on our website, and you can see Janet Yellen interviewing herself. The story ends very presciently with Janet telling Janet, no comment.
REHMAh, it's wonderful. Now, I want a quick prediction from each of you. Is this standoff going to end this weekend? Chris?
CILLIZZAI don't think it will end this weekend. I think it will end in the middle of next week, but I believe it will. I believe there is -- currently as of 10:56 Eastern time, there is a path that can be seen.
STOLBERGDitto. I see light at the end of the shutdown tunnel. And one man to watch, Paul Ryan.
STOLBERGBecause he is somebody who Democrats trust. He's kind of considered a voice of reason. He's expert on budget issues. He articulated a way forward in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week. People seem to be listening. I don't know if his path, which talks about reducing spending on Medicare and Medigap, will be the ultimate way to go forward. But suddenly Paul Ryan has managed to insert himself into this debate in a way that people are sitting up and taking notice.
KNOXI think Chris' notion of the timing of a solution is correct. I think, however, we will have the framework for a solution maybe by the close of business today. And the reason for that is continued churning is going to upset the markets. Continued churning is bad for the Republican Party. So I think what we'll have is we'll have a game plan for resolving this, and then everyone goes through the motions of voting today, Monday, Tuesday. And then before the debt ceiling is reached, we have a deal.
REHMOlivier Knox, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Chris Cillizza, thank you all so much.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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