The latest research into the link between germs and mental illness -- and what we all need to know.
President Barack Obama takes his State of the Union message on the road. The House approves the Farm Bill. And the Fed continues its stimulus cut as Ben Bernanke’s term ends. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Jeff Mason White House correspondent, Reuters.
- Susan Page Washington bureau chief, USA Today.
- Todd Purdum senior writer, Politico and contributing editor, Vanity Fair.
An Italian appeals court reinstated a guilty murder charge against Amanda Knox this week. Susan Page of USA Today interviewed the former exchange student in her hometown of Seattle last spring. Page said her impression of Knox was that she’s young and not worldly. She added that there are serious procedural questions about the handling of evidence during the trial, which took place in Italy. “While it’s not for me to say whether she’s guilty of this crime or not, I think it is fair to say that in a U.S. court, with the evidence against her, she would not have been convicted,” Page said. The panelists also discussed how Americans and Italians view the case, with Italians tending to think Knox is guilty and Americans tending to think she’s not guilty.
Watch The Full Broadcast
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. House Republicans unveil their plans for immigration reform. The Federal Reserve continues its stimulus cut as Ben Bernanke's term ends. And the Department of Justice announces it will seek the death penalty for the Boston Marathon bomber. And joining us for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup: Todd Purdum, senior writer for Politico, Susan Page of USA Today, and Jeff Mason of Reuters.
MS. DIANE REHMI hope you'll join us, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Welcome, everybody, and happy Friday.
MR. JEFF MASONHappy Friday.
MR. TODD PURDUMSame to you.
MS. SUSAN PAGEHi, Diane.
REHMGood to see you all. Susan, we've had endless analyses of the president's State of the Union. What can he actually accomplish with executive orders?
PAGEWell, we should remember that some really powerful things have happened by executive order. The Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order, was an executive action. The desegregation of the U.S. military by Harry Truman was done by executive order. So you can do big things, maybe especially on dealing with climate change with regulation through the Environmental Protection Agency.
PAGEOn the other hand, you probably cannot do as much. I mean, you definitely cannot do as much with executive orders that you could do with legislation on things like extending unemployment benefits or raising the minimum wage. You can only do more limited, almost symbolic things on those fronts.
REHMTodd Purdum, when you heard the president's State of the Union address, how did you receive it? Did you think it was strong, forward-looking? What was your thought?
PURDUMWell, I guess I was mostly struck by the upbeat tone of it, given the situation he actually faces. He did not whine. He did not (word?). He did not -- he looked like a man who felt he knew what he was doing. And maybe he would be limited in what he could do, but he was determined to do it all the same.
PURDUMAnd, you know, we have a fascinating story in Politico this morning about how many regulatory and executive actions the administration, in fact, has already taken. They've really got quite a strong record in that regard. And in a way, I'm surprised the president hasn't emphasized that a little bit more before this week.
REHMHow about you, Jeff Mason?
MASONI think it's interesting that -- what he didn't try to do. He didn't try to do an executive order to help lesbian, gay rights be extended on employment nondiscrimination. He didn't do anything on executive order for immigration, despite the fact that activists on both of those issues would love to be the poster child for executive order.
MASONHe didn't do that. And what he did do on minimum wage for federal contractors is only going to affect maybe one or 200,000 people. What he did do in terms of retirement accounts is also not going to affect a whole lot of people. So, yes, he said, I'm not going to wait for Congress. Yes, I'm going to take action. But his ambitions were not particularly high.
PAGESo you could tell the effect of the last year because, just a year ago, he gave a State of the Union address in 2013 that was full of big plans, big proposals, and rhetoric that said, this is the year we need to get immigration, for instance, done. Well, almost nothing has gotten done in the past year. So I think this was an approach that's designed to say, OK, we can't do everything, but we can do something. We're not powerless. So even in a case like the minimum wage, we can at least set an example...
PAGE...that the minimum wage ought to be raised. On the issue of immigration, I actually think that may be the exception to the rule. I think one reason he chose not to take an executive action on immigration's because the White House does have some hope that legislation on immigration might be possible to get passed this year.
PURDUMNo. I think that's true. But you saw yesterday at the Republicans' winter retreat that, when they put out their sort of declaration of principles, which is pretty gauzy, pretty vague, about how to move forward, it immediately sparked an intense internal debate about whether they should do it at all. And Speaker Boehner says now's the time to do something about it, but the question is just what. And as he told Jay Leno the other day, he learned that a leader without followers is just a man taking a walk. And he does not want to be a man taking a walk.
REHMWhat did the four responses from Republicans tell us about where they stand?
MASONWell, I think it's good that you mention that there were four. That in itself is sort of telling about the fact that the Republican Party has different views on how to address the president's proposals and how to go forward. The first one was from Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers who, I think, many people saw as a fresh face when she was up there on television. She is the number four ranking Republican in the House.
MASONShe focused on healthcare. She attacked the healthcare rollout, as Republicans have done for ages, and really pushed on that and talked about offering a hopeful Republican vision, also addressed inequality but said it shouldn't -- we should be about helping people and not empowering the government. The other responses -- one of them came from Rand Paul who is a potential presidential candidate in 2016, who really emphasized Tea Party aspects of a conservative agenda, reducing taxes, et cetera.
REHMWhat about a Republican's desire to do away with the Affordable Care Act, Susan?
PAGEI think we've seen a shift in that approach. We've had, you know, years of Republicans vowing to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Now, you know, you hear more emphasis on them trying to propose an alternative that -- and one of the -- one interesting things in the Republican responses was an acknowledgement that we don't want to go back to the system we had before.
PAGEThat is a difference. That reflects a difference from the rhetoric before. Now that provisions of this have gone fully into effect, despite all the problems associated with it, I think Republicans do not think the idea of going back to a system where, for instance, insurance companies can discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions, that is just not going to happen.
PURDUMNo, I think it's true. And, I mean, I think, you know, the president was able to have a few stories like that in the First Lady's box at the State of the Union -- well, woman who had been -- you know, had a pre-existing condition and, really, like, three days after her new coverage took effect, she had major abdominal surgery that would have bankrupted her otherwise. So those are the stories the White House had been looking for for quite a while, and they're beginning to get some traction.
MASONI think they also realize that, politically, it makes more sense to criticize the rollout of a system that is now in place rather than to spend more time on votes trying to repeal it.
REHMWhat about immigration? Where will Republicans go?
MASONWell, that is the hot question in terms of policy for the coming months. As Todd mentioned, the Republicans had a retreat this week. They talked about immigration reform. Speaker Boehner put out some principles. Some of those principles will definitely not be acceptable to Democrats, just as they weren't acceptable to some Republicans.
MASONHe does not have a pathway for citizenship for the more than 11 million undocumented people in the United States. That's a non-starting point for the White House. However, there will be some Democrats, some governors, in fact, who will say, let's at least consider that as a way to move something forward on immigration reform.
PAGEAlthough the president had an interview with CNN -- was it yesterday?
MASONIt aired this morning.
PAGEIn which he didn't lay down a path to citizenship as a non-negotiable thing. He didn't mention it. He talked about a path to legal status to -- so the people didn't have to live in fear of being deported. And if this were another political time, you could see the outlines of the immigration deal.
PAGEWe could sit here on "The Diane Rehm Show" and write what the immigration -- the compromised immigration bill would say. The question is, we're not really in standard political times. We're in the times where it seems so hard to get either side to compromise, and especially congressional Republicans, which makes it harder to see how this gets done this year.
PURDUMNo. I think that's exactly true. I mean, but that's the problem with all of the debates in Washington at the moment. The logical compromise is always clear, and getting there seems impossible.
REHMBut what about the Farm Bill? The House finally passed that.
PURDUMWell, I was just thinking of that because that is, in a way, proof that something can get done. For -- it had been hung up for years over this question of food stamps. And, yes, food stamps were cut. They were cut substantially, not as much as some conservatives wanted them to be cut. But it did mark the end of a kind of grand bipartisan 40-year, really, pattern of having those two issues linked and bundled together in a package that could be widely acceptable for people like Bob Dole and George McGovern together to work on it.
PAGESo the only -- so it got done. That's the good news. The bad news, two years overdue on a bill that traditionally is treated in a reasonably bipartisan way.
MASONFood stamps were reduced. Subsidies for farmers were also reduced. Some more money was put into insurance. The other thing I would add about just the fact that it was passed is this is another reason the White House thinks maybe we can work with Republicans on immigration reform. This was one of the things that the president said last year.
MASONI want to get this done. And they will point to this as an example of, it is possible to get legislation through Congress -- not a lot. But we can get a few things done.
PAGESo the Farm Bill gets passed. We have a budget deal.
PAGEWe're not going to have a budget showdown this year. We've got a debate coming up in the next month over the debt ceiling.
PAGEIf there's a deal in that without a lot of histrionics, maybe there is an opening this year to do something else.
PURDUMWell, the perverse reality is that, even after the debacle of the shutdown and everything last fall, Speaker Boehner's in a stronger position with his own caucus because he marched lockstep with them over the cliff. He told them it was a disaster. But because he stuck with them, they now trust him more than they probably ever have during his tenure. So he may have a little more wiggle room to push them to go along.
PURDUMOr he may be more confident and willing to let them oppose something like immigration and not have a majority of his own caucus but let the bill pass with...
REHMTodd Purdum of Politico. Susan Page of USA Today. Jeff Mason of Reuters. We are also video streaming our program today. You can watch us as well as listen as we audio stream the show as well. Last week, when we video streamed, the whole site went down. It crashed. So we'll hope we don't crash it this week. What about the Senate on the Farm Bill?
MASONWell, that's the next question. I think that the outlook there is good. Again, the bipartisan vote that happened in the House was a good omen, I think, for the Senate. But it still has to get done.
REHMAnd, Susan, do you think it will?
PAGEI do. I think that this was the -- I think that reaching a deal in the House was the more difficult chamber on this bill and maybe every other bill. So I would be surprised if it got into a problem within the Senate.
REHMAnd you mention the debt limit. You don't see a fight on that, or do you?
PAGENo. I -- I don't know if there's going to be a fight. I'll tell you, because you hear this conflicting -- the Republicans are taking a pretty hard line that they're going to demand action on the deficit to agree to the debt ceiling. You hear the White House saying they won't negotiate on the debt ceiling, so that would seem that we're headed toward a confrontation. On the other hand, Speaker Boehner and other Republicans also say that there will not be a default on the nation's obligations. So that indicates they will make a deal.
REHMSusan Page of USA Today. Short break here. Your calls, your comments when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. Just before the break, we were talking about whether to expect a fight on the debt ceiling. And Jeff Mason, you had some inside info.
MASONInside info only in that on Wednesday, I was traveling with the president, and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew came back and briefed reporters on Air Force One. And we asked him about the debt ceiling and whether he expected there to be a big fight and he said no. He repeated that the administration won't negotiate on it, and he said he felt like Republicans had taken that message and also seeing what happened last fall and did not want to repeat that.
MASONSo I think it's interesting that not only is the White House and someone like Treasury Secretary Lew saying, we're not going to negotiate, but they're telegraphing what they've been told by other Republicans. So I think that probably means there won't be at least a really big showdown.
REHMTodd, you're frowning.
PURDUMNo, no. I'm just frowning -- I mean, I'm thinking about last fall. And if we have to go through that again, (unintelligible)...
REHMThat would be disastrous. But then this question of how much the president is going to travel to try to get support. How much do you think he can accomplish that way, Susan?
PAGEWell, he can get a lot of attention in the places he goes. And this is at a time when the national press is paying less attention to him when he goes out and gives speeches like this. So I think that's useful. And, you know, it's a little bit of a different phase of his presidency. If he can't get legislation through Congress what he's trying to do is persuade the public. He's trying to -- and plant the seeds for his policies and his ideas about how things should be to survive after he's left the office.
PAGEI mean, I think it's a different chapter of his presidency that's...
PAGE...and that means he'll do more events, more travel.
MASONI think he'll do a lot of travel. I think one of the messages that his advisors sort of told reporters after his trip to Hawaii was, he doesn't want to be stuck in Washington. It's part of the message of, we're not going to wait for Congress. He also thinks things are getting done elsewhere in the country and he wants to be a part of that.
PAGEYou know, I think they also believe they've made an error -- they made an error in the past to not doing more efforts to address the country. And you make a good point. When you go to look at some states, even on things like the minimum wage (unintelligible) ...
PAGE...you see actions by states and cities at a time the federal government's paralyzed.
REHMHere is an email from Steven in Boone, N.C. "The strength and humor President Obama used in the State of the Union address reminded me of the man I enthusiastically voted for in 2008. By 2012, I was put off by many qualities of Obama, the worst being his beta dog" -- I don't understand that...
MASONLeading from behind.
REHM..."attitude with Congress. In fact, I didn't even vote for him in 2012. I cast mine with the Green Party." So apparently that address pleased some people.
PAGEYou know, Todd made this point earlier in the show, but I thought President Obama's manner was pretty energized. He talked faster than he often talks in these big speeches where he can seem kind of (word?). He used some humor. I loved the line where he said, you know, you should call your mother and encourage her to sign up for the Affordable Care Act, and plus she'll be glad to hear from you.
REHMExactly. Lee in South Bend, Indiana says, "Did the Republican leadership or did they not state as an agenda around Obama's first inauguration to block his agenda, whatever it was? And why are they never questioned point blank about it by those who are in a position to do it?" How about that, Todd?
PURDUMWell, I actually say that they are questioned point blank about it and, in fact, leader McConnell in the Senate made that claim in response to an interview, If I'm not mistaken, with Karl Haas of the New York Times, I think, or somebody.
PAGEI think it was -- was it Politico? I think it may have been your own publication?
PURDUMMaybe. Maybe it was Politico. In any case, he said it in response to a question from a reporter, and they've made no bones about it. And I have to say, I've written that sentence so many times, you could almost have an automatic function on your...
PAGEMajor Garrett at National Journal, that's who the interview was with where Mitch McConnell said, my job now is to block whatever it is President Obama wants to...
MASONAnd the White House has used that for years. And it was almost playing right into their own hands as a way of sort of encouraging their base to come out in 2012 and also to oppose policies that the Republicans were putting forward.
REHMAll right. Here's an email about none other than Hillary Clinton. Apparently an awful lot of polls are showing she's got a big lead over any other Democrat who wants to run. Why are we doing this now, Susan?
PAGEWell, you know, election campaigns are more fun than governing. So, you know, there's always an appetite to move on. And these polls are silly. You can't predict what's going to happen in a presidential race a couple years down the road. But that said, Hillary Clinton's lead in this Washington Post poll is pretty stunning, 73 percent of Democrats across ethnic and class and education lines. I mean, the Democratic Party has reached a consensus behind a candidate who's not yet told us whether she's going to run.
REHMAnd the other publication you work for, Vanity Fair, has certainly done its share of profiles of Hillary Clinton.
PURDUMYes. I mean, I think, you know, she's almost become an Eisenhowerish figure in the sense that, you know, she's not really a regular politician anymore. She's transcended that role. But the minute she become a declared candidate for presidency, she will be a regular politician all over again.
REHMSomething else again.
PURDUMAnd I think no one knows better the vulnerability she'd bring to the race than she herself.
MASONAnd the polls are coming out in 2014. So much can change. Hillary Clinton was also a frontrunner in 2007 and look what that got her. It is early. Yes, it's remarkable that so many people are coalescing behind her. Certainly if she puts her hat in the ring she is the formidable frontrunner. But it's not always a good thing, even for Hillary Clinton to be this popular.
REHMAll right. And the economy showed some good measures this week. It grew at a fast pace in the fourth quarter. Jeff Mason, is the fed right to be moving back on stimulus right now?
MASONWell, I think most economists think that it is. There were some even who said that they could move a little bit faster because these economic signs are good. The gross domestic product grew at 3.2 percent annual rate in the final months of last year. The Fed said in a statement that overall the economic indicators continue to be on balance to be positive. So, yes, Bernanke in his final meeting continued to reduce tapering. And it looks like they will continue to do that throughout the year.
REHMHow are people going to judge Ben Bernanke's term as head of the fed, Todd?
PURDUMWell, you know, I was just thinking about that. I have to think they're going to judge it pretty positively at the end of the day. And I don't know if he's announced any plans to write a memoir yet, but he is of course himself...
REHMI hope he'll come on "The Diane Rehm Show" as soon as he does.
PURDUMHe's a historian of the great depression. And he -- I think his every action over these last years has been made with that in mind. And the team of him and Secretary Paulson and Tim Geithner, who was at the New York Fed during the worst of the crisis in the end of the Bush years, I think they really behaved in a kind of heroic way that will probably stand them in good stead.
REHMWhat do you think?
PAGEI think you would have to say there's going to be criticism for his failure to foresee the crisis coming and to take steps to either ameliorate it, make it less severe. But once it happened he was incredibly inventive. I mean, tapering, which is a word we've all come to know, was in many ways one of a series of kind of experimental policies that he undertook in an effort to find something that would keep the economy from crashing into another true depression. So credit for that. This is of course his last day.
REHMIndeed. And Janet Yellen moves in next Monday, I presume. And one wonders will she continue with the Bernanke ideas.
PURDUMAnd I think most people assume she will. I mean, one of the proponents of having Janet Yellen take over this position was continuity. She absolutely is in lock step with Bernanke on this issue. And to your question about legacy, a lot of it lies in Janet Yellen's hands because the tapering or the reduction of this particular program will have a huge note or line in the legacy of Ben Bernanke. If she doesn't handle that draw down very well it will lead to judgments about whether or not Ben Bernanke made a good decision on it in the first place.
REHMYou know, it's interesting because she was not President Obama's first choice.
PURDUMNo, she wasn't.
REHMIs this going to lead to some friction perhaps between the White House and the feds, Susan?
PAGEWell, she did get the job in the end so maybe that -- and so there she is. I mean, she's going to be the Chairman of the Fed and an historic one, a groundbreaking one. So I guess I don't know enough about their personal relationship to know if there'll be friction there, but I'm inclined to think that, you know, she's in the job and Larry Summers is not. And that's that.
MASONWell, they don't have much of a personal relationship but the president did emphasize when he made her appointment or nominated her, her commitment to reducing unemployment to a lot of liberal ideas that he obviously also shared. So I think despite the fact that he didn't get Larry Summers, he's a fan of Janet Yellen.
REHMAll right. And another person who is leaving quite soon, Henry Waxman. How much has he done? How much are we going to miss him, Todd?
PURDUMWell, his name is on so many things, clean water, clean air, the Affordable Care Act, auto regulations. I mean, you name a liberal policy of the past...
REHMAll things Republicans hate.
PURDUMAnd some Democrats. I mean, one of his biggest battles was with his colleague John Dingle over, you know, auto emissions and things like that. But any policy you could name over the past 40 years, any kind of stalwart liberal policy, Henry Waxman has had something to do with it. And he's really, along with his colleague George Miller of Northern California who's also retiring, they're the last two sitting members of the House of that remarkable class that swept into town 40 years ago and really upended the ways of Congress. Congress has really never been the same since.
PAGEThe Watergate babies.
PURDUMThe Watergate babies.
REHMYeah, well, but beyond that he -- Henry Waxman says he's leaving because it doesn't work anymore.
PAGEWell, he has been there 40 years. He is 74 years old. You know, not -- it's not stunning that he would choose that this is the time to leave. But surely the fact that things are so difficult and there's so much gridlock in Congress, has to make it a less fun place to be. Also I assume this reflects a calculation on his part. The Democrats will not gain control of the House this fall, which would make him a committee chairman again and in a much better position to run things, to get things done.
PAGESo I assume that his retirement and the retirement of some others -- I mean, we've had 17 House members announce where they're going to retire -- reflects in part the calculation of whether the job's as much fun as it used to be.
MASONAs much fun and I think your point about the chances of Democrats actually taking the House later this year is well made. You know, if he had a chance he'd be staying.
REHMBut he talked about extremism in Congress and I think that that's a word that rings very loudly for some people. Who's going to want to move in to take a place that's been so prominently filled for such a long time?
PAGEWell, you know, one of the names we are hearing as a possible candidate in that district is Sandra Fluke. I think you've had her on your show.
PAGEShe's from that area. She's moved back there. She's, I think, working as a community activist. Now that would be interesting and, you know -- so I think there's no question there'll be another generation of people who see Congress as a place where they can do things that matter.
REHMAnd one of the elements that made her name a household one was Rush Limbaugh. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We learned yesterday that the Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is going to be under the death penalty. That's what the Justice Department is seeking. What are the chances for a plea bargain there?
PURDUMI don't know. You know, it seems almost inevitable that he would've faced the death penalty given the gravity of the crime, given the kind of symbolic convulsion it really caused, not only in Boston but in the country. I don't think the government's interested -- but the mere act of saying that they want to try for the death penalty, that doesn't connote an eagerness to make a deal.
PAGEYou know, I -- you may know more of this than I did, but it does seem to me this increases their leverage to get a deal that would involve life in prison, which is surely what any deal would be.
REHMAnd he would have to, what, plead guilty?
PAGEHe'd have to plead guilty. And so I guess I wouldn't rule out the idea that this is -- this could lead to a plea bargain to avoid a trial. I mean, it's hard to imagine he thinks he can get acquitted of these charges. And the federal government's been pretty reluctant to execute people. There have only been three people executed since 1964, one of them being Timothy McVeigh in another big trial of jurors.
MASONI think it's also interesting what -- the fact that they're charging him -- or threatening the death penalty I think was expected. But Eric Holder, who's the attorney general, personally opposes the death penalty. Many people in Massachusetts, a very liberal state, oppose the death penalty. So I think that the chances of using that as leverage and then ending up with a life sentence are good if they get that far. But I think it also just raises some interesting questions about the death penalty that you don't hear talked about that often in American political discourse. And this trial will certainly raise that issue.
REHMAnd I'm sure we'll be doing a program on that fairly soon. Susan, what about Amanda Knox? She was someone you interviewed shortly after she came back to the United States. What is your thinking about the decision of the Italian appeals court to reinstate the guilty charges against her?
PAGEI went out to Seattle last spring and actually had the first sit-down face-to-face interview Amanda Knox ever did with a reporter. This was in advance of her book that she wrote. And she talked about this very procedure with the appeals court in Italy and what it would mean to her. She was, at that point, hopeful that this court would confirm the fact that her conviction had been overturned. That did not happen. It did the opposite yesterday. It reaffirmed her conviction on these charges.
PAGEIt's not -- this process isn't done yet, but Amanda Knox says that she's going to appeal this decision by the court, which she can do. But if the high court once again upholds her conviction, there could be a situation where it seeks her extradition from the United States. There is an extradition treaty. And that will -- if that happens, the United States will have to decide if they're willing to extradite her to go back to serve a prison term that's now about 28 years.
REHMWhat was your impression of her?
PAGEYou know, she's very young. She's what -- she's only 26 even now. She was not very worldly at the time she went to be an exchange student in Italy. And while it's not for me to say whether she's guilty of this crime or not, I think it is fair to say that, in a U.S. court with the evidence against her, she would not have been convicted because of serious questions about the handling of evidence by the Italian authorities.
REHMWhat do you think the public here in Washington, around the country think about Amanda Knox?
MASONI think it's certainly interesting to compare what Americans think about it and what Europeans think about it. I mean, I get the impression most Americans think she's probably not guilty, whereas people in Italy and Britain, as we were talking about before the show, think she is. And it would certainly raise some very interesting political and legal questions for Secretary Kerry, if he had to make a decision whether to ship her back to Italy.
PURDUMWell, I think that's totally true what Jeff says, but the point Susan made about the procedural issues in her trial and prosecution, they're significant enough given under American standards of law that probably that Secretary Kerry would have a lot of reason to say this was not on the level and she doesn't have to go back.
REHMTodd Purdum, senior writer for Politico. He's also contributing editor at Vanity Fair. Short break, your calls when we come back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Time to open the phones. Let's go first to Yancy (sp?) in Indianapolis. Hi, you're on the air.
YANCYThank you for taking my call, Diane. Your show is such a national treasure.
YANCYWhat I wanted to ask about and get your comments on from your panel there, the GOP is recently kind of opened the door to immigration reform. And I think I'm with most Americans in thinking that's a good idea. And some of their ideas on the plan are actually quite reasonable, including probably a background check. But I'm curious, do they even recognize hypocrisy in saying that a child that was brought here 10 years ago and now wants to not risk deportation by applying for college should undergo a background check?
YANCYBut as a natural-born U.S. citizen, if I want to buy an assault rifle out of my friend's trunk, I shouldn't have to. It seems ironic to me that they want to put this on something like not getting deported and being able to go to college but not on the ability to, you know, buy multiple weapons from a local resident.
REHMOK, Yancy, thanks for your call. Todd Purdum?
PURDUMWell, you know, throughout our history we just have this long string of anti-immigrant feeling coupled with, of course, I lift my lamp beside the golden door, the welcoming shores of America. And I think we're -- for the last 20 years or so, we've been going through one of these really intense periods of anti-immigrant feeling. And look at -- perhaps one of the leading congressional opponents of immigration reform is Representative Steve King of Iowa that comes from Sioux City area.
PURDUMAnd the notion that his experience in terms of what immigrants do for the country or don't do for the country should have any relevance to the national debate is kind of preposterous because he doesn't have experience, like, in a place like California where or New York or the big cities of our country where immigrations have changed the face of our life for the better mostly. And it's just a very odd reality.
REHMInteresting that Yancy sort of put gun control into the same mix. Here's an email: "What do your panelists think about an executive order for gun reform? The NRA was able to effectively oppose congressional efforts for uniform or universal background checks. But wouldn't Congress have a more difficult time reversing an executive order?
MASONWell, there's only so much that you can do by executive order. And the president did a lot of that last year. I mean, you'll remember in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings, the president and the vice president really made gun control one of their major priorities. They issued several executive orders and then tried to get legislation and the legislation failed. You did hear the president talk about gun control in the State of the Union address on Tuesday night, but only in a sentence or two.
MASONAnd he said I will continue to push for this. I will continue to do things to bring down violence in the United States. And so we may see another executive order or two. But to answer the caller's or the writer's question, there's just not that much more he can do.
PAGEIt's interesting that even though we continue to have these incidents of gun violence, including in this community last week where the shooting...
REHMAnd that's where the caller is from.
PAGEAnd yet it doesn't spark -- it doesn't revive the debate. I mean, it's as though even -- I mean, obviously there are activists who are very concern about this, but it doesn't seem to spark even a broader debate, reviving the idea of tighter gun laws because it seems like that battle has been fought and lost and that's where it is.
REHMBy the way, if you have any trouble seeing the video on our website, you can also go to Google+. Let's go back to the phones to, let's see, to Chris in Hollywood, FL. You're on the air.
CHRISI'm a working -- hello. I enjoy your show. I have to agree with the other caller. You really get great topics on the air. A couple of days ago, I believe you had David Leonhardt on.
CHRISYes. And the question came up, and you had a few other economists. And a lot of the callers were expressing that they were disconnected from reality living in fantasy world. And I'm a working person, and I just remember when Ronald Reagan was elected and the primary leading up to that, I think George H.W. Bush labeled Ronald Reagan's economic policy as voodoo economics.
CHRISAnd I think that goes back to FDR in the '30s who had discredited those same policies. And yet today we see Barack Obama who had huge majorities when he came in 2008, and he correctly labels the right wing the extremists of the Republican Party as hostage takers. And then he negotiates with those hostage takers.
CHRISIf I took hostages, they'd set up a perimeter, and they'd blow my head off. But there's this willingness among people to accept Reagan's policies which had been discredited and which were correctly labeled voodoo. And to give him -- to not question and call these policies into question -- and even the president did that when he questioned Nancy Reagan running the country with seances and astrology. And then he apologized for it...
REHMAll right, Chris.
CHRISAs a working person -- one other thing. Yesterday you did -- you had the panel with the maternity leave and paternity leave. And it just goes to show, we say we're the greatest country, all these other countries have maternity and paternity for their people and we don't have this. It's just really, you know, it's just terrible.
REHMAll right, Chris, thanks for your call.
MASONIt's interesting he mentioned Reagan. And working or not working with others, you know, many people highlight the fact that President Reagan did work with Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill. And that's something that at least people who are in favor of bipartisanship would like to see between President Obama...
REHMBut how can you do that if somebody says right off the bat we're going to do everything we can and make sure he's a one-term president. We're not going to cooperate. I mean, he did come in saying, I want to see bipartisanship. He did make efforts and got knocked down every step of the way.
PAGEIt's been just an enormously frustrating time, I think, for the White House. You know, he came in 2009 saying he wants to change the way politics worked in town. That has not happened. That's proved to be an impossible goal. And even after the 2012 election, I think the president argued that if he could break the fever, that the fact that he was elected and re-elected by a majority of the American people would mean Republicans would be more willing to negotiate.
PAGEAnd with a few exceptions that we've talked about this morning, that has not been that case.
PURDUMWell, hope springs eternal for the president. But, I mean, in contrast to caller's assertion, I really don't think he has been negotiating with hostage takers. He certainly didn't last fall. He hung much tougher than people thought he would.
MASONAnd he learned. I mean, he learned from previous sessions and that was one reason why he didn't. But I think looking forward through this year, he realizes despite that bad experience he still needs Republicans to get some of his priorities through. If he wants to get immigration, which we talked about before, he needs the other party.
REHMAnd how is he going to get them?
CHRISWell, he -- I think it has a lot to do with whether he's willing to compromise a little bit on some of his policy goals on immigration, for example. I think it has to do with how much the other side wants to move, how much the other side particular on immigration the Republicans decide they need it for themselves politically.
REHMYou know, political and other sources are reporting at the Keystone Pipeline, report is coming down from the State Department right this afternoon. Is that one area of compromise that the Republicans want from the president who has the final say in this?
PURDUMWell, you know, the pipeline is just one element in a whole broader debate. It's really a debate about fossil fuel and the exploitation of that and our dependence on it. And the president has gotten himself, you know, fairly staked out on the issue. I'm not sure how much room there is for him to wiggle there. But it is certainly -- it's a flashpoint in the whole debate.
REHMSo where do you think the president's going to go on the Keystone?
PURDUMI'm not a good -- I don't like to predict things I don't...
PAGEIs it meaningful that they're -- if they do put it out today, they're putting out on a Friday afternoon because that is when you traditionally put out things that you're worried that are going to be really controversial?
PURDUMBut is it -- is it controversial if he backs it? Is it controversial -- we know it's controversial if he opposes it. So, I mean, you could argue that.
MASONWell, it's important to note that Reuters is also reporting that this is going to come out this afternoon. But this is not the decision.
MASONThis is a report that opens up another 90-day discussion period. And in the end it's the secretary of state whose responsibility it is to make the decision. But if other agencies object to the report from the State Department, then it goes up to the president. And it will almost certainly go to the president and he'll have to decide. It's a win -- it's a lose-lose really. He's going to make people unhappy either way depending on which way he goes.
PAGEAlthough maybe it's also a bargaining chip to get something else done.
REHMWell, precisely, yeah.
PAGESo anyway, so we're going to have many more Diane Rehm show and these round-ups that we'll have a chance to talk about this.
REHMAnd on Monday we'll be talking about the State Department's report. So let's go to, I think it's Boydton, Va. Frank, you're on the air.
FRANKYes, thank you very much. I don't know which one of you it was that compared Hillary Clinton to President and Gen. Dwight David Eisenhower.
REHMI think that was Todd Purdum.
FRANKWell, Todd, you need to go back and do a careful review of history. Dwight David Eisenhower was not only president of the United States, but he was the commander of our allied forces in Europe. Hillary Rodham Clinton is the boss' wife. She was -- she got her start because her husband was the attorney general and then the governor and then the president of the United States. And frankly -- and I spent a fair amount of time overseas -- her tenure as secretary of state was a national and international disgrace.
REHMWell, that is one very strong point of view, Frank, and you are certainly entitled to it.
PURDUMI'd just like to say that I wasn't trying to compare her resume to General Eisenhower's. I was trying to compare her near-universal popularity in her party to General Eisenhower's and the fact that he became a commanding figure, actually sought by both parties first in 1948 and then a certain degree later on. I was just trying to compare her floating above the fray at this moment in the Democratic Party, but not comparing her background or skill set to General Eisenhower.
PAGEAnd of course Frank is correct that she was the boss' wife when she was first lady. However, she was elected and re-elected senator from New York. And she ran a very credible campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in which her husband wasn't necessarily a complete asset and then served the secretary of state for four years. So that is, I think, an independent resume. Whether you think it's -- her history in these jobs was good or bad, that's up to you. But it is an independent career.
MASONAnd she was not chosen to be secretary of state, which is the nation's top diplomat, because of her husband. She was chosen because of who she was.
REHMAll right, to Ann Arbor, Mich. Hi there, Matthew.
MATTHEWHey, Diane, how are you?
REHMI'm good, thanks.
MATTHEWHey, thanks for taking my call. I really, really enjoy your show. I listen to it all the time. So thanks so much.
MATTHEWSee, I'm calling about immigration reform. And I consider that code for failed government. I'm a trade worker and since 1990, I've been seeing, you know, illegal aliens come up and working for pennies on the dollar pretty much for what just a normal guy would have to work. And here we already are 24 years later, it's like since 1990, and, you know, the government's in crisis mode. What are we going to do? And I use the metaphor as like, you know, wood or like a foundation of a house.
MATTHEWYou got ants in it, you got to get it out. You got to stop the ants because they're eating it away. Second of all, what do you do? Do you replace the wood or do you shore it up with, you know, newer wood? And we're in a really big time of our, you know, the economy right now where we've got to do something about all the illegals up here. And, yeah.
REHMAll right, sir. Thanks for your call. And what do you think, Jeff?
MASONWell, I think the chance to decide whether or not the wood is rotten or not is in the midterm elections in November. And people will have a chance all over the country to elect Democrats or Republicans and to either give a chance for Democrats to hold on to the Senate or for Republicans to take it over. And that will affect these policies on immigration and many more.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Paula in Toledo, Ohio. You're on the air.
PAULAThank you so much for taking my call. I telephoned to object to the guest's observation that the congressional representative from Iowa apparently has no business weighing in on the immigration issue. I think that this is one of the most egregious examples of big state bigotry I have ever heard on the air. I don't know if this gentlemen has ever been to Iowa or to Minnesota where there's a huge Somali population or any other area where there is a major influx of immigrants that are disrupting the social fabric of rural populations.
PAULABut there is a completely different dynamic in these small rural states than there is in border -- border states -- I'm sorry -- like California and Texas where the ebb and flow of immigrant population has been ongoing for actually centuries. And the capacity to absorb and assimilate is completely different.
REHMWell, I'm called. Todd?
PURDUMPaula, you make a very fair point. I'd say in my defense that I was born and raised in Macomb, Ill., 38 miles east of Keokuk, Iowa. I've spent a lot of time in my life in Iowa. I wasn't trying to say that Congressman King has no right to have a view about immigration and indeed Sioux City community has very significant immigrant population that works in the meat industry and so forth. So that's the origin of his concern about it.
PURDUMI was simply trying to say -- really make the point that you make that other regions of our country, especially Southern California, Arizona, places like that, Texas, have had generation upon generation of experience with immigration. And the attitude there is really quite different of the effect that those people have, the functioning effect they have on the local economy, the local fabric of life.
PURDUMAnd you're quite right that in many rural communities, large immigrant influxes have disrupted the daily ebb and flow of life. And so I didn't mean to connote any disrespect for Congressman King and the reason to came to this issue only to say that the experience that he has there is perhaps not broadly typical of the broader issues of immigration in the country as a whole.
REHMAnd lastly, I want to talk about the death of Pete Seeger at age 94. He's going to certainly be remembered for his wonderful music, but also his political activism.
MASONYes, and it's interesting how even President Obama and his comments about his death said, the quote was, "For reminding us where we come from and showing us where we need to go, we will always be grateful to Pete Seeger." And that has a lot to do with his politics but also a lot to do with his songwriting and his message.
PAGESo convicted of contempt of Congress in one era and by the end of his life, remember that wonderful performance he gave at President Obama's inauguration in 2009.
PURDUMAnd a local boy at times. His family lived in Chevy Chase, which I did not know until this week and had a lot of active -- performing in Virginia and around the D.C. area.
REHMTodd Purdum, Susan Page, Jeff Mason, let's hear as we go out on this cold morning in Washington some of Pete Seeger's music. Have a great weekend, everybody.
MASONThanks very much.
REHMThanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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