A massive forest fire has been raging in Alberta, Canada, for nearly a month. Scientists say warmer, drier weather has increased the frequency and intensity of fires. For this month's Environmental Outlook: wildfires, climate change and threats to North America’s forests.
A federal review board says the NSA data collection program is illegal. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew warns the U.S. will reach its borrowing limit by the end of February. And Virginia’s attorney general announces he’ll fight the state’s ban on gay marriage. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Olivier Knox chief Washington correspondent, Yahoo! News.
- Ruth Marcus columnist and editorial writer, The Washington Post.
- Jerry Seib Washington bureau chief, The Wall Street Journal.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) said this week he will not defend the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. The panel discussed how the move will be viewed politically by both Democrats and Republicans. “The underlying premise, I think, is that if there were a new vote in Virginia on that constitutional ban on gay marriage, it would fail now because public opinion has shifted so quickly and so thoroughly,” said Jerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal.
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MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. An independent federal review board concludes the NSA data collection program is illegal. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew warns the U.S. will reach its borrowing limit at the end of February. And Virginia's new attorney general asks a federal court to strike down the state's ban on gay marriage.
MS. DIANE REHMHere for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup: Jerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal, Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post, and Olivier Knox of Yahoo News. Do join us, your questions, comments. You can call us at 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 on this cold Friday morning.
MS. RUTH MARCUSGood morning.
MR. JERRY SEIBGood morning.
MR. OLIVIER KNOXGood morning.
REHMGood to see you. Jerry Seib, talk about this executive branch oversight board saying that the NSA bulk data gathering program is not only illegal. It is ineffective.
SEIBRight. This is a group called the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. It was created with great struggle after 9/11 to try to figure out -- to create a forum where the debate between privacy and anti-terrorism efforts could be resolved. And I have to say this report this week, which did, as you say, say that the bulk data collection the NSA has been doing was both illegal and ineffective. But it didn't resolve the debate 'cause the board itself was very deeply split. It was a 3-to-2 vote among the five board members.
SEIBA couple of the board members disagreed fairly strongly not with only with the idea that it was illegal but with the idea that it had been ineffective, that this effort had not stopped terrorist acts. So there was a declaration. But in a way, it just reflected an ongoing national debate, I think.
REHMAnd what does President Obama want to see done, Ruth?
MARCUSWell, what he wants to see done is what he announced a week ago, which is I thought some significant changes in terms of bringing in judicial oversight and approval for tapping in to this mass data collection and also eventually, if they can work out how to do it, moving it into the hands of a third party, which is what his other advisory board did. It's getting a little hard to keep them all straight.
MARCUSI think what was surprising about this report -- and Jerry's right -- that this group doesn't have any authority other than the weight of its opinion, and it was split along partisan lines. But it really reaffirms the deep degree -- and, to me, actually somewhat surprising degree of discomfort with the nature of this bulk data collection and also underscores continuing questions from a number of different review boards about whether it's actually useful.
REHMAnd the other question is, who would keep this data that has been collected? The telephone companies, Olivier, you say they don't want to do it.
KNOXThat's right. It's actually very interesting to see. All of the big changes that the president announced are so heavily caveated. You know, he talks about wanting to bring in court approval. But, actually, if you read the speech, he says, or in a true emergency, they could access it without court approval. He talks about looking for a third party to hold this information.
KNOXBut they're not ruling out that at the end of the 60-day review by the attorney general and the director of national intelligence, the data could stay precisely where it is today. Everything he's announced, every last change he's announced has included either a caveat, or it was watered down from the original recommendation.
REHMSo where do we go from here?
KNOXWell, I guess we'll know more when some of these reviews wrap up. You know, we'll know more about after that 60-day review. We'll know more when we see, I suspect in about a year, that the special group that he wants -- he created to address civil liberties questions, novel questions of law, et cetera, with the foreign intelligence surveillance court, I think we'll find that out in about a year whether that group has ever actually met and what impact it's actually had.
MARCUSWell, I just want to slightly disagree with Olivier in the sense that we're not just waiting for change. As of this very moment, instead of having 22 -- I say this word nicely -- bureaucrats at the National Security Agency deciding whether it's appropriate, there's enough reasonable, articulable suspicion to tap into this database. The administration has now committed to going to the special FISA court that oversees the law to do it. That's a big -- from my point of view, that's a big change and it's one that's effective immediately.
KNOXWell, let's see whether they actually do that or whether they go with the true emergency statute.
KNOXWell, I don't know...
MARCUSWell, that -- fair enough.
KNOXI mean, what I don't know -- and I -- one of my big questions about this process is I just I don't know. Are they going to do what the authorities do now, which is to say, no, no, it's an emergency. We have to do it -- you know, we'll do it first. Then we'll get the approval from FISA. I don't know whether they're going to follow the court statute. I have no idea.
SEIBAnd I think, ultimately, this does not break evenly along partisan lines. I mean, one of the questions here is whether there's going to be legislation that takes some of the edges off the NSA program. And you would think logically that might happen, but actually some of the people you would expect -- Democrats who might normally be bigger defenders of personal liberties, less hard over on national security questions, actually have been defending the NSA a fair amount.
SEIBSo I don't know that you can see a clear path. And, by the way, some conservative Republicans -- Rand Paul -- libertarian type Republicans go the other direction. So this is a gender bender kind of an issue, and I think it's hard to predict what might happen legislatively to adjust these programs.
MARCUSBut, you know, I think that's right. But I also think it's interesting that we've seen now twice in the last few weeks boards appointed by advising President Obama coming out dominated either by his folks or by Democrats coming out to the left -- or, I mean, coming out -- let me -- 'cause it's not a clear left right thing -- coming out in a way that would be more restrictive of NSA surveillance than he has been willing to do. And I think that's interesting.
KNOXAnd then there's the other question, which is, you know, we've had conflicting rulings from federal judges. Will the Supreme Court weigh in on this? Are they going to say whether it's constitutional, unconstitutional, split the baby in some way? That's certainly going to have an impact on their being in Congress.
SEIBAnd, by the way, the president himself seems, you know, not exactly eager to rein in the NSA. I mean, having been somebody who talked more about the primacy of personal liberty as a candidate and a senator than he has as president, I think he's come to a different appreciation for what the NSA does now that he's sitting in that chair in the Oval Office.
REHMAnd what is the significance of Treasury Secretary Jack Lew saying we're going to hit the ceiling at the end of February, Olivier?
KNOXWell, there are a couple of interesting issues here. One is that the date's very much moved up from what he originally said -- what he said in late 2013. You know, Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid came out of a White House meeting last year saying, oh, we're not going to hit it till May. Now, instead, we have a compressed schedule for Congress to act on raising the debt ceiling or face a possible U.S. in default.
KNOXIt really -- by compressing the timetable by which Congress has to act, it's going to raise a lot of hackles on the Hill. But it might force them to act maybe without quite as much drama as they have been the last couple of times.
MARCUSWell, I think there is going to be a little drama. But I don't think it's going to be -- pardon the phrase -- cliffhanger that we've seen previously. You see from Republicans some jockeying for position and some huffing and puffing from Speaker Boehner and others about how we're not going to pass a clean debt ceiling bill. But it seems completely clear to me that in the end, they do not want to be tagged with breaching the debt ceiling or making the markets go berserk and get nervous about what's going to happen.
MARCUSAnd so I really do think this time around, way less drama than what we've become, unfortunately, accustomed to.
REHMAll right. And I want to let listeners know we are streaming video live of this hour, The Friday News Roundup. You can go to drshow.org and click on streaming live. Jerry, I know you wanted to weigh in on that debt ceiling.
SEIBWell, yeah. I do think there's still going to be a debate. But I think it'll be different than the last couple of times around. The last couple of times around, the Republican position was, well, we're not going to raise the debt ceiling unless we get some off-setting cuts in spending to make up for the increase in the debt ceiling. Democrats never bought that logical connection, but nonetheless that was the position.
SEIBNow, I think Republicans are saying to themselves, you know, there aren't any easy spending cuts out there. The sequester squeezed spending down. We have a budget we don't -- so I think what Republicans are going to look for are some policy provisions to go along with (unintelligible)...
REHMFor example, the XL pipeline?
SEIBMaybe that. They talk about that a lot. I don't think the administration wants to negotiate that subject. And we have a story in the Journal today that says that's coming -- that decision is coming along soon anyway. So I don't think that has to be connected, but they're...
REHMThen, of course, they've already begun the southern portion.
SEIBRight. And it's -- yeah, and it's opened up. And so I think that's -- the president's going to make that decision anyway sometime in the late spring, early summer. But I think things like pro-growth policies, maybe some changes in the Affordable Care Act, I think those are the policy changes attached to an agreement to raise the debt ceiling. That's, I think, going to be the debate over the next month.
REHMWhat do you think, Olivier?
KNOXI think that's likely. I also think though that a lot of this debate is informed by the politics of the shutdown in late 2013. I think that's what you hear from a lot of Republicans on the Hill. They don't want to duplicate that. It clouded the horrible rollout of Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act. They paid a -- briefly paid a steep price for it. And they're not really eager to see that happen again.
REHMAnd speaking of the Affordable Care Act, you've got Target and other large companies saying they're no longer going to pay health insurance for part-time workers.
MARCUSRight. The Affordable Care Act gives them the authorization and some might say the incentive to not provide health insurance for part-time workers, those who work 30 hours or less or less than 30 hours a week. And it's sort of unfortunate cliff there, right? Because you want to incentivize/require employers provide health insurance for full-time workers, but you don't want to make them cover every last worker. This is a particularly unfortunate cliff.
MARCUSAnd Target, like a lot of other big companies, has decided to stop offering healthcare to employees. Now, that is not necessarily a terrible thing, it turns out, because, two things. Very small percentage, like 10 percent of Target's employees, actually, the part-timers take up the healthcare. Number two, a lot of them might be better off on the exchanges where they'll be eligible for subsidies.
REHMRuth Marcus of The Washington Post. Short break. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Jerry Seib is here. He's with the Wall Street Journal. Olivier Knox. He's chief Washington correspondent at Yahoo News and Ruth Marcus, columnist, editorial writer at the Washington Post. We were talking about the Affordable Care Act, it's effect on large employers like Target who have said they're no longer going to pay health insurance for part-time workers, Jerry.
SEIBYeah, and I think in a way the law creates an incentive for them to do that because they can say to those part-time workers, we could give you a kind of inferior health insurance option that we finance or you can go to the exchanges and get a better deal by taking the government's subsidy that's offered to people in your income range. And so I think while the law was not designed to encourage employers to dump employees into the public exchanges, it has that effect to some extent.
SEIBAnd this is, I think, one of the tensions in the whole system, not just in this law, but that's been riding through the health care debate for a couple of decades now. Is the country going to be able to -- does it want to stick with an employer-based health insurance system, which is to say the principle responsibility for providing health insurance belongs to employers or are we slowly going to create a shift in which the employers get out of that game and people are either on their own or the government's taking care of them.
REHMAnd what about this huge jump in Medicaid enrollment, Olivier?
KNOXWell, this is going to feed one of the big Republican complaints about the overall Obamacare effects, which is the shift of that burden from the employers into taxpayers. We're already seeing that in response to the Target announcement, the Home Depot announcement, the Trader Joe's announcement. They are complaining that it's shifting that burden from the private sector to the public sector.
KNOXThe other thing is, it complicates any plan to repeal this because basically you have millions of Americans being added to the Medicaid roles. If they go ahead and repeal the totality of Obamacare, those people -- it's not clear what will happen to them but a lot of them would almost necessarily lose their coverage. And that's posing a real headache for Republicans on Capitol Hill.
REHMI thought Republicans had pretty much given up on total repeal of the ACA.
MARCUSThat argument didn't work so well, at least when they were targeting it to the shutdown and everything. I think that the Medicaid expansion, it's important to understand, is not an unintended consequence of the Affordable Care Act. It's an intended consequence of the Affordable Care Act. There were two big ways that the government was going to -- the Affordable Care Act was going to expand coverage. One was setting up these exchanges so you could buy the insurance.
MARCUSThe other was expanding Medicaid eligibility so that people with higher incomes -- it's about 138 percent of poverty -- and single people with -- or people without families would be for the first time eligible for Medicaid. So the fact that these numbers go up, however Republicans choose to use them, is an illustration from my point of view that the law is working as intended.
MARCUSNow there's a bunch of states where Republican governors have declined because the Supreme Court has given them the flexibility to say no to what's a pretty good bargain, because the federal government is paying almost all the bill for many years to come, have nonetheless said no to the Medicaid expansion. And they're actually under quite a bit of political pressure in some of these states from constituents who say, look it's not going to cost you any money in the short term and we need our health insurance.
REHMAnd these people in those states are virtually left out.
SEIBAt this point but I think that my guess is overtime that will change. I think, you know, as Ruth suggests the more that people in states that have opted out see that there's federal money on the table they're not getting access to. I suspect you'll see people slowly dribble in, which is -- has tended to be the history of these programs. I think the longer term question is what the cost is to the federal government in the short run and to the states in the long run, and whether the presence of these people in the system actually helps bring costs down or pushes costs up.
SEIBYou know, to me it's just another reason to think we won't know whether this law really works, whatever that means in quotes, for years to come.
REHMBut I think we ought to stress that those part-time workers who work between 20 and 31 hours a week are going to be bumped off the Target health care plan. They are eligible for payments of something like $500 to help in transition. But you've still got those people who fall into that gap who don't make enough money to fall under Medicaid.
MARCUSThere's kind of two gaps I think. One gap is -- and this one sounds crazy -- people in states where the governors haven't decided to participate in Medicaid expansion are -- make too little money to be eligible for subsidies on the exchanges.
MARCUSSo they are in a terrible position. And then there are people who say work for Target -- were picking on them -- lose -- work part-time, lose their health care, make too much money to qualify for subsidies on the exchanges. And so there the question is how they are able to afford coverage on the exchanges.
REHMSo how do you figure that's going to be fixed?
MARCUSYou know, one question is really how many people are in that category. If just a share of Target workers took this -- I think it's -- at least Target argues, and it seemed fairly convincing, that their less well-off workers, the ones who are paid least will do better on the exchanges. But, you know, we've always said that health care is going to have some winners and losers. There may be more winners in that group, but that doesn't mean there won't be some losers.
SEIBI think in a lot of ways Medicaid is going to -- may well be the health care story of the next year, what -- how big does that Medicaid role go, are the rules loosened up to pull some of those people in because they have no other -- no place else to turn? Does that start a debate about, oh wait, just a minute. Are we heading toward national health insurance through the backdoor via this expansion of Medicaid?
SEIBI don't know the answers to those questions either, and I suspect that, you know, everybody who is smart who looked at the passage of the Affordable Care Act said, look this is the kind of legislation you have to fine tune and tinker with for years to come. And I think that's really the true answer to your question.
REHMOK. Let's talk about former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife. Olivier, they were both indicted on federal corruption charges. What are the charges and what are the claims?
KNOXWell, former Gov. McDonnell and his wife appear to have parlayed their position into about $165,000 worth of gifts and loans from the chief executive of a company who was looking for access to the Middle East. And it appears now that there's reporting today in the Washington Post that the McDonnells have turned down a plea offer. They are facing...
KNOXRight. And the really interesting aspect of the Washington Post story today about Ros Helderman who's been owning the stories whether the McDonnell's are going to split their legal strategy and whether you might see them turn on each other just as they argue, I didn't know what she was doing and she says, I didn't know what he was doing. And at the end of the day there's this giant pile of loot, much of which they're going to have to return.
MARCUSWell, if you're bored and you're looking for some juicy reading, I would highly recommend the McDonnell indictment. It is just a remarkable catalogue of greed and stupidity and at least arguably criminal misuse of office. Who is at fault here? You know, did the wife push the husband or what is -- you know, it's...
REHMSome of the quotes I found just unbelievable.
MARCUSThe quotes from Mrs. McDonnell about we're drowning in credit card debt, and it's so wonderful, I'm drowning in credit card debt. We have this inauguration coming up. I must have an Oscar de la Renta dress. You know, I personally have gone to not -- I've never been a first lady but I've gone to some formal affairs. And you can do it for a lot less than the price of Oscar de la Renta.
MARCUSBut that was driving some of it, but also driving it, and the part that really, I think, implicates the governor more, is the McDonnells were in financial trouble. They had rental properties where -- that were not doing as well as they had hoped.
MARCUSThey needed the money to cover the cost of these properties. Money was forthcoming in "loans" because there's no indication there was ever any paperwork for it or that they were ever even being started to be paid back by this businessman Johnny Williams, who had a company Star Scientific that had -- was seeking all sorts of favors from and business before the state. And the McDonnells, both of them according to the indictment, made significant efforts on Star Scientific's behalf to promote its dietary supplement.
REHMHow does the Middle East get drawn into this, Jerry?
SEIBWell, you know, there's an international aspect to this because this is an international business. But I think the bigger problem for the prosecutors is more local. It's going to be very local. In fact, it's going to be how do you prove a quoin pro quo? How do you show that the favors granted produced an official government action that benefitted the company? And I -- you know, I think that you can look through the smoke here and sort of see that. But I think proving that in a court of law is going to be very difficult.
SEIBAnd Ruth doesn't necessarily agree with that.
MARCUS...I think I would rather be prosecuting this case than defending it because you not only have -- you have a bunch of facts that are not healthy for the McDonnells. First of all, there was no preexisting relationship. These are not long time friends. They get to know each other during the campaign when he loans the plane. And then all of a sudden, according to the indictment, she is hitting him up for money and shopping sprees...
MARCUS...and wedding costs and all sorts of stuff. And at the same time she is saying, oh I can sit you next to the governor. She's making enormous efforts and as is to a lesser degree the governor himself to help the company while they have these needs from Johnny Williams, the businessman, to help him out.
MARCUSAnd then the reason I really want to be the prosecutor in this case is it's fairly clear from the indictment that they understood that this was, at the very least, sleazy. And they're taking some steps to hide the gifts, to hide the fact that Mrs. McDonnell had been buying significant numbers of shares of this stock. But then every year when the deadline for financial disclosure forms came up, she got rid of the stock so she didn't have to report it.
REHMHere's what I don't understand. When a man like Gov. McDonnell is elected to office, surely he knows the risks of doing that kind of under-the-table business. What was there in his head to keep him moving forward?
SEIBDon't we ask this question in the middle of every single political scandal? Don't you know that you shouldn't text compromising photos of yourself? Don't you know that you shouldn't have, you know, a slightly sleazy relationship with this or that businessman? Don't you know that you shouldn't be soliciting donations from sources that might be foreign? I mean, don't we ask this question every single time?
REHMAnd have politicians gone so far as to think that somehow they're immune from this kind of behavior?
SEIBWell, you know, that's the eternal question and it's been true of -- you know, through history I think. And I think that -- I'm not sure people in the political world think they're immune. I think they believe that they can either rationalize it or that they'll never be seen doing these things. And this case looks to me like it's a combination of the two. Well, we can justify it and, by the way, nobody will ever know. When you put those two things together and all of a sudden the path is pretty clear.
REHMJerry Seib of the Wall Street Journal and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Also in Virginia, Jerry, the attorney general has announced he's going to fight that state's ban on same-sex marriage. Surprising turn.
SEIBVery -- to me at least, very surprising. Not just that he did it but he did it so quickly upon taking office and in such a kind of confrontational way with the other side of this debate. I mean, essentially what the attorney general of Virginia said was, I'm not going to enforce a constitutional ban the voters in the state put in place a few years ago on same-sex marriages. I'm joining a lawsuit that will attempt to have that ban overturned.
SEIBAs you'd expect, this has really set Republicans on edge in Richmond because they essentially are arguing, look you're the attorney general of the state. Your constitution duty is to defend the constitution of the State of Virginia. The constitution happens to include this ban on gay marriage. How can you wriggle out of that?
SEIBThe answer was, well, my highest duty is to defend the United States Constitution, the attorney general says. And I've concluded this -- our constitution ban violates the United States Constitution, so therefore I'm doing what my real ultimate responsibility is, which is to make sure our state is not in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Whether that's a principle legal position or a political position depends on who you are and where you stand as you look at this.
MARCUSIt's very a fascinating issue and we saw versions of this actually in the cases that were before the Supreme Court last year where the California attorney general declined to support proposition eight. And actually for that reason, nobody else had legal standing to challenge it. And that was why the case came out the way it did. Similarly President Obama declined to support the constitutionality of the Defensive Marriage Act.
MARCUSI think one thing that is important in these cases is making sure, as happened in the Defensive Marriage Act case, as didn't happen in the California case, making sure that there is somebody who can come in to make the argument on the other side.
MARCUSBecause I do think as much as I am a supporter of gay marriage and the right to the constitutional right to gay marriage, I do think that the people of Virginia did express themselves in a constitutional amendment. And they do have some right to expect until they change that amendment. Somebody -- maybe not the attorney general but somebody acting in his stead to support that amendment.
REHMAnd of course it's fascinating that the attorney general himself, Mark Herring, had voted against gay marriage when he was in...
KNOXYeah, right. He voted in favor of that 2006 amendment himself. You know, the timing, I think, is forced by the fact that there were about a week to ten days before arguments start in the case in earnest in Virginia. So he was forced a little bit by the timing there. But after a razor-thin election victory in which he didn't exactly come out and say Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage is like the doctrine of separate but equal, and instead sort of kept that largely out of the headlines.
KNOXRepublicans should be furious. You know, they lost this job by a really narrow margin and this guy's turning around after the election and changing his mind completely.
SEIBThe other problem that -- excuse me -- the Democrats have is that they had been complaining for four years that Mr. Herring's predecessor, Attorney General Republican Ken Cuccinelli, had been doing exactly the same thing on the other side, stretching the ability -- or stretching the powers of the office to push ahead a conservative agenda. Well now Democrats are accused of exactly the same thing.
SEIBI think one of the interesting things about this whole situation is that the underlying premise, I think, is that if there were a new vote in Virginia on that constitutional ban on gay marriage, it would fail now because public opinion has shifted so quickly and so thoroughly. And that's probably true but the reality is that vote hasn't taken place.
REHMJerry Seib, Ruth Marcus, Olivier Knox, they're all here to answer your questions. We'll open the phones when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. We'll go right to the phones. First to Houston, Texas. Hi there, Ryan, you're on the air.
RYANHi. Thanks for taking my call.
RYANI didn't expect to be on the air this fast.
RYANAnyway, I heard you guys talking earlier about this group ruling -- or not really ruling. Anyway, just trying to making this (word?) that the NSA's bulk data surveillance program is illegal. And my question for you all was, in light of that, you know, what evidence or compelling arguments would you have for keeping enemies part of the program legal or in operation?
MARCUSWell, I think that what supporters of the program argue, including President Obama, is that it does provide a valuable tool. This was set-up after 9/11 because one of the post-9/11 concerns was that we were not as intelligence enterprising, properly connecting the dots. There were not adequate communication between different intelligence agencies and we weren't using all the tools in the toolbox.
MARCUSI think there have been increasing questions about exactly how useful this program has been or whether there are alternate ways to get the same information. This is one of those things that's really hard to know from outside the cone of, you know, the highest security classifications.
REHMAll right. Let's go to San Diego, Calif. Eric, you're on the air.
ERICYes. My question is about the healthcare. I was under the impression if a company has 50 or more employees they had to offer healthcare or pay a penalty. And you kind of said something that enforces this. That Target's going to offer inferior plans and so they're pushing these part-time employees to the market. But I thought they had to offer a set, you know, like, a certain plan that covers the certain things that was offered to your plans.
REHMOK. Jerry, can you answer that?
SEIBWell, that's correct for their full-time employees. The employees we are talking about were people who work less than full-time.
SEIBPart-time under 30 hours, the 30-hour threshold is the key one here. And for those people, the, you know, providing coverage is an optional activity. And so there is a large employer mandate. It doesn't apply to all employees of that larger employer.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Olivier Knox, he gave his inaugural speech. He acted as though there was no hint of any problem dogging it.
KNOXOh, I thought he was a little chaste in that speech. I didn't think that he was completely -- I mean, he didn't address it directly but I didn't think he was completely chastened. I'm sorry, I thought it was a little bit chastened. He wasn't honest, he wasn't humble. But that just keeps heating up, you know, with the Feds subpoenaing both his campaign documents and state Republican documents. This is only going to get worst.
KNOXAnd one of the big problems for him, at least on a political level, is that a lot of big donors who are already looking at the 2016 fields may be inclined to sit on the sidelines rather than cut him a big check, at least until they are sure that this is not going to go all the way to the top in New Jersey.
MARCUSThis was not the inaugural week of Chris Christie's dreams. His big party got cancelled by the snowstorm. But even worse was the report by the mayor of Hoboken that the lieutenant governor of the state had come to her and explicitly conditioned, according to the mayor, the receipt of funds to clean up and recover from Hurricane Sandy on approving a different project.
REHMWhy did she wait so long to come forward, Jerry?
SEIBI don't know the answer to that and I've wondered the same thing. But I think the fact that she did come forward and say that is an indication we're in the phase -- and there's a predictable cycle into these scandals -- we're on the drip, drip, drip phase in which little things will come out for a while. Some of them will be relevant, some of them will be irrelevant. Some of them will turn out to be true. Some of them will turn out to only be half true.
SEIBBut that I think is the danger for the Christie world that you now are in for some weeks or months of people pushing things forward that would have stayed unspoken or in the shadows otherwise.
MARCUSShe said she was worried that nobody would believe here. She said she was worried that coming forward with her constituents, it certainly does not make her look noble that she waited to the end.
REHMAnd the only proof she has is what she wrote in her own diary.
MARCUSWhat she wrote in her diary at the time. There have been some suggestions, I've heard, that she concocted it after the fact. If you do that, you're going to end up in jail. OK? So I don't think she is the perfect witness. But I think she has made a very serious allegation. And Jerry about the drip, drip, drip phase. We are totally there. But this is a potentially really big drip, which is why you saw the U.S. Attorney in New Jersey Paul Fishman.
MARCUSHis office interviewed her, like, the day after on Sunday, right after these allegations came out on a Saturday. This is not just a sort of mess up the traffic on the George Washington Bridge. And God knows I've spent a lot of hours there, so I'm not downplaying it. But in terms of federal crime, you have to kind of stretch to find the federal crime there. You don't have to stretch to find a potential federal crime in conditioning the receipt of federal funds on other action.
REHMAnd the question I had from the beginning was when Gov. Christie saw this massive four-day tie-up, who was he talking to to find out what happened and why?
SEIBGood question. We may or may not ever know the answer to that. You know, I do and I've thought for a couple of weeks now that the way that Gov. Christie came out and said I knew nothing and -- that flatly, with that clear an assertion at a time when he knows, he's smart enough to know, that one piece of paper that contradicts that story will be fatal to him. I have to believe that somehow he didn't know what was going on. That doesn't justify it in any way. But Chris Christie is too smart to make that his first line of defense if there's a hole in that line of defense, I think.
REHMWhat do you think, Olivier?
KNOXWell, why don't we just ask the question of why politicians make dumb mistakes? I mean, I tend to agree. I also think that, you know, for somebody whose image is so conditioned on, you know, I'm a no-nonsense guy who gets the job done...
SEIBIn a bipartisan way.
KNOX...in a bipartisan, you know, I'm very much in charge. All these things. He's now saying, you know, my top aide didn't tell me this thing even though she was acting on my orders. That's really -- that's going to be a tough one to adjudicate in the court of public opinion at the least.
REHMYou wrote a column about this, Ruth, talking about betrayal.
MARCUSYes. Well, I think that I agree with Olivier and Jerry that it's really hard to imagine that Chris Christie directed this, that she executed it. She, the aide, fired aide, executed it on his directions and that he is now just flat out lying about it, because that seems like a recipe for complete political disaster. I think the really interesting question is whether he created, you know, he has his bipartisan persona but he also has a bully persona.
MARCUSWhere he created a sense among his staff and that they've been acted in misguided -- a sense of loyalty to him that bullying people and using the sort of muscle of government was OK in this regard.
REHMSo the subpoenas that had been issued to whom?
SEIBTo -- well, to the party and to his reelection campaign, which just kind of takes it -- opens a new front in this discussion. I mean, we're out of the governor's office into the purely political operation now. And who knows what that's going to produce, but the clear implication is that this wasn't a few people doing something on the side in the governor's office, but that there was a more organized political campaign underway.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Joe in South Bend, Ind. Hi, you're on the air.
JOEHi. One of the -- when you were talking about the governor and his wife and specifically the governor's wife trading the stocks and then flying them, you know, trying to stay below radar. Can you compare and contrast that to Hillary Clinton when she was the governor's wife in Arkansas trading on a commodities account and basically on somebody's account and was allowed to trade on it until she had a significant profit from it.
MARCUSI'm going to date myself by saying I remember that story quite well. I was at the famous press conference where she came out in a pink suit and tried to explain what had happened. I think that there is a similarity and difference. The similarity is that the -- as with the McDonnell stocks, the Clinton campaign, when it voluntarily disclosed its various IRS filings, given tax information, as I recall, it neglected to provide just conveniently the tax information started, like, the year after the $100,000 was made in commodity trading.
MARCUSBut they were not required to reveal that, and it wasn't that they were trying to evade disclosure requirements at the time. So I'm not arguing that that was particularly magnificent behavior on the part of the Clinton campaign, but I don't think it rises quite to the level of what Mrs. McDonnell is alleged to have done.
SEIBYou remember better than I. So, by the way, we're all going to have to renew our -- review our files on this stuff as Hillary Clinton campaign gets...
REHMWell, and the apparently this Sunday she's going to be on the cover of the New York Times magazine with some sort of astral...
REHMPlanet Hillary, that's exactly right. All right, let's go to Roger in Washington, D.C., you're on the air.
ROGERHi there, Diane.
ROGERI wanted to make a comment in reference to Target situation because I've had to go through the same thing as the business manager for a clinic. And we converted all nine employees to the Affordable Care Act. And Target's problem is that most of their temporary employees are probably earning between $15,000 and $20,000 a year, which would make them, on most cases, be able to get assistance. And all of my staff got assistance. Some of them did not.
ROGERAnd in view, the problem is that a lot of the employees were reaching ages where our insurance premium tripled over the last five years, tripled. So we had to make a decision because we could no longer afford it. And the great thing was the Affordable Care Act was there to help them. We still give them a stipend and I think Target is going to give them some sort of a bonus to help them out.
REHM$500 is what I understand. Jerry?
SEIBRight. And that's a really interesting story. And I think Roger kind of frames the point you made earlier, Diane, which is the real issue here is going to be the people who fall in the gap between those who are low enough on the income scale that they can go on the exchanges and get a subsidy and those who are just high enough that they don't get that subsidy but aren't being provided by their employer health insurance.
SEIBAnd not every employer is going to give those people some help, as Target is doing. And those stories, I think, are going to be one of the themes of this debate this year.
REHMAll right, Jerry, talk about the new study on economic mobility this week. How significant?
SEIBI think it's significant in the sense it's going to frame what is going to be a central debate in Washington this year, which is the debate over what Democrats call income inequality and what Republicans call economic mobility or lack of economic mobility. And this study by a group of esteemed economists from the National Bureau of Economic Research made an interesting conclusion.
SEIBIt said, income inequality in the country is actually very great and getting bigger. But economic mobility is not getting worse, which is to say the ability of people to move from the lower income scale to higher income scales has pretty much stayed flat over the last couple of decades. It hasn't gotten better, but it hasn't gotten worse either.
REHMBut that doesn't change the income inequality.
SEIBRight, right. So both parties have something they can point to in the study. And both parties have a kind of a problem in the study with the narrative that they're pursuing. And it's just changed the conventional wisdom a little bit.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Ruth?
MARCUSWell, it was a fascinating study. But simply because economic mobility has not gotten worse over the last several decades, which is what the study suggests, doesn't mean it's not a problem. When you look at these numbers and you realize that your chances if you are born in the lowest quintile of emerging from that quintile are so difficult and it's so stacked against you and we have this image of ourselves as America, the land of opportunity.
MARCUSWhen I started to read in this field and realized that the numbers showed that economic mobility was significantly greater in Europe than it is in the United States, I was just shocked. So I think whether it changed or not, it's still a problem.
REHMSo we may expect to hear the president talk a great deal about this during his State of the Union Address.
KNOXThat's right. The president is letting it be known that he considers this the essential challenge of our times now going forward when he steps up to the podium on Tuesday night. He's going to be making the case that I think the government needs to step in and take a bigger role to promote -- to narrow income inequality and to promote mobility.
REHMHe's talking about raising the minimum wage.
KNOXThat's right. One of the -- right. One of the proposals he has is raising the minimum wage. That hasn't gone very far in Congress in the past. They're going to be looking at executive branch tools to try to achieve some of the same effects that...
KNOXWell, they have some tools that they could use to try to raise the minimum wage in states that don't have their own. That's a dicey proposition. But in any case, we know from that amazing New Yorker profile of the president that he's been huddling with historians since at least 2011 to try to find a way to talk about income inequality that doesn't make him sound like a class warrior.
REHMCan he do that?
SEIBWell, I'm sorry...
MARCUSNo, no. You go ahead.
SEIBI think so. Because, I mean, the things is that there is -- the numbers tell you there's income inequality and that has gotten worse. Nobody actually disputes that. That is not the bone of contention here. The bone of contention is what do you do about it? And Republicans essentially say government policies have made it worse. Democrats say government policy is the only thing that can make it better.
SEIBThis is why we have two political parties in the country. So I think he can talk about it because it's not a widely acknowledged phenomenon. The question is about solutions not about whether there's a problem or not.
REHMBut if the president says raise the minimum wage, raise taxes on higher income earners, what do the Republicans say?
MARCUSWell, they may say class warfare, but I think that -- I slightly disagree with Jerry's framing it earlier of income inequality being the Democratic mantra and economic mobility being the Republican mantra because I think Democrats also are and should be concerned about economic mobility. And I think that the way the president has tried to frame it recently with talking about, for example, making sure that lower income kids can afford to go to college is absolutely both substantively right.
MARCUSIt's essential to try to promote economic mobility, and it's politically right in terms of the messaging because no one can argue that that's class warfare. That's just trying to give kids who wouldn't otherwise have a chance to go to college, a leg up.
SEIBOne of the perplexing things about this topic -- and this goes out beyond partisanship -- is that people don't know. I mean, there was this feeling a couple of decades ago. If we can just get more -- a higher percentage of the population with college education, they will make this move up. Well, that's happened, they're not moving up and nobody's quite sure why.
REHMJerry Seib of the Wall Street Journal, Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post, Olivier Knox, Yahoo News. Have a great weekend, everybody.
MARCUSYou too, thanks.
KNOXThank you, Diane.
REHMThank you. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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