"My Brilliant Friend" by Elena Ferrante is the first of the mysterious Italian author's Neapolitan novels. The series tells the story of a life-long friendship between two working class girls in Naples. Critics have called Ferrante “one of the greatest novelists of our time.” Yet nobody knows her true identity. Join Diane and her guests for a discussion of “My Brilliant Friend.”
For the first time since 2009, Congress passes a debt ceiling bill without any strings attached. The extension is a blow to Tea Party Republicans who oppose an increase in federal borrowing. The Obama administration announces another delay under the Affordable Care Act requiring employers to provide health insurance to their workers. Janet Yellen testifies in front of Congress for the first time as chairwoman of the Federal Reserve. Comcast announces a bid to buy Time Warner Cable for $45 billion. And a federal judge in Virginia overturns the state’s same sex marriage ban. Diane and a panel of journalists discuss the week in news.
- Ron Elving senior Washington editor, NPR.
- Susan Page Washington bureau chief, USA Today.
- Jerry Seib Washington bureau chief, The Wall Street Journal.
Shirley Temple Black died Monday at age 85. Susan Page of USA Today said she was able to raise Americans’ spirits during the Great Depression as one of the most popular actresses of the 1930s. Diane recalled going to see Black’s movies at the cinema, and she described interviewing Black in Washington in 1988. Jerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal called Black’s diplomatic posts as U.S. ambassador to Ghana and to Czechoslovakia her “second career.” He noted that some thought it was a stunt to assign an actress to the role, but she was actually quite well-respected as a diplomat.
Correction: Diane identified Shirley Temple Black’s first husband as Nicky Hilton. In fact, her first husband was John Agar, whom she married in 1945 and divorced in 1949.
Watch The Full Broadcast
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. President Obama heads west today to announce aid for California farmers devastated by the historic drought. Congress passes a debt ceiling extension, the first clean increase since 2009. And the East Coast digs out from a powerful winter storm that's being blamed for more than 20 deaths.
MS. DIANE REHMHere for the top domestic stories on the Friday News Roundup: Jerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal, Susan Page of USA Today, and Ron Elving of NPR. I hope you will be part of the program. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Happy Valentine's Day, everybody.
MR. RON ELVINGHappy Valentine's Day, Diane.
MR. JERRY SEIBAnd to you.
MS. SUSAN PAGEYeah, and to you, Diane.
REHMThank you. Jerry Seib, debt ceiling increase made it through Congress without any attachments. Tell us what it means to be clean. Tell us why it got through.
SEIBWell, what it means is that the debt ceiling won't be an issue for the rest of this year. It's been raised to a point where nobody will have to deal with it until early 2015 -- that it is after the midterm elections. It means the White House got exactly what it wanted, which was a clean no-strings-attached increase.
SEIBAnd it means that Republicans made a calculation -- certainly at the top of the party leadership in the House -- that there was no consensus on what to ask for in return from the White House and not a very high likelihood they could get anything of meaning. So they simply folded their tent and decided to have fights about other issues later this year. So pretty significant victory for the president, I think, but also an acknowledgement by House Speaker John Boehner that he couldn't corral his caucus to do anything but this.
REHMSo what does it mean for the Tea Party, Susan?
PAGEHuge reversal by Speaker Boehner and enraged his Tea Party caucus. The Tea Party caucus members were very much opposed to doing this what we call a clean debt ceiling increase. I think it puts Speaker Boehner in some peril for being speaker the next time around. The next time there's an election, I think it may have reflected a calculation on his part that he wasn't going to go through this again even if it cost him that job.
REHMWhat's it mean for the country, Ron?
ELVINGThe brinksmanship that we've been through of between the president and the Congress since the Republicans took the majority in the House has not been good for the economy. Back in August 2011, we saw a sharp, sharp drop in the markets after the Standard & Poor's downgraded the debt of the United States, largely because of the fiasco over the debt limit back in August of 2011.
ELVINGWe've had several trips to the brink since it's been mixed up with the fiscal cliff and all the other issues that divide the president and the Congress. And the Republicans have really a historic split here that I think we're going to be talking about for some years to come. You mentioned the Tea Party, and of course that's one characterization of the people that are objecting to what the leaders have done here.
ELVINGBut they also have the responsibility as the people in the majority of the House. And if they take the Senate in November in the Senate as well to deal with the nation's fiscal business. And if we go to the brink about this every few months, it really does hurt the economy.
REHMMm. Mm hmm.
ELVINGThere's a lot of evidence that it has retarded the recovery. We've seen what it's done to the markets. So on balance, having these wars coming to an end, at least for 13 months, would have to be seen as a good thing.
SEIBYou know, I think there was an interesting part of the Tea Party caucus in the House that had -- actually had concluded that this was the right thing to do, that there was no consensus to do anything else and that, in the end, the best they could do -- and what they attempted to do -- was to force this debt ceiling increase to be passed almost entirely with Democratic votes.
SEIBSo there were some parts of the Tea Party caucus who thought -- they agreed with John Boehner that this was what the caucus could do, this was the best thing that could be done, and they cooperated and went along with that. In effect, you had almost 30 House Republicans who voted for this, including most of the leadership.
SEIBSo there was kind of, even within the Tea Party, a kind of an acknowledgement that this is what we have to do. I think it kind of presages a Tea Party focus for the rest of this year outside of Washington on states where there's going to be interesting primaries involving Republicans and a focus on getting more Tea Party members elected.
REHMBut does it mean more cooperation within the Congress, Susan?
PAGEYou know, it might. I mean, for instance...
REHMImmigration, for example.
PAGEFor instance -- exactly. If Speaker Boehner has decided he is willing to defy that part of his caucus and willing to do things that depend on Democratic votes to pass, not a majority of Republicans, a violation of what they, you know, call the Hastert Rule, then, yes. I mean, immigration -- the fact is the Senate Immigration Bill probably could pass the House if he was willing to do that. And so let's see if he is.
PAGEI mean, I would not -- I mean, Jerry's right that this debt ceiling got the votes, I think, of 28 Republicans, but that's only 28 Republicans. That is a very small number. And it was, of course, a violation of what Speaker Boehner had called the Boehner Rule, which was that you wouldn't raise the debt ceiling unless you had offsetting spending cuts. So I think this was a huge reversal. My jaw dropped when I heard that they were going to go ahead with this.
ELVINGThere were -- there are two John Boehners, really. There's the John Boehner who steps up and says, all right, we have to get this done. I'm going to lead. We're going to get it done with Democratic votes. We saw him on the Farm Bill. We saw him on the omnibus that passed last year to get appropriations rolling again under regular order, more or less. And we saw it also in the budget deal and now with the raising of the debt limit. On fiscal matters, any place where they can raise the specter of a government shutdown and all the damage that did to the Republican brand last fall, he prevails.
ELVINGBut when it comes to immigration, I think we're still seeing the other John Boehner because, while he came out with principles on Jan. 30 saying, we really want to do this, we really want to have an overhaul of our immigration laws in the House, then the very next week, after having gotten beaten up something awful on his right, both here in Washington and out in the country, he turned around and said, well, I don't think we're going to be able to do that.
REHMOne last comment, Jerry.
SEIBWe shouldn't lose sight of the fact that over in the Senate, this passed only because the Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, in the end, under duress from his own caucus, voted for raising the debt ceiling in a clean way as well. He didn't want to. He hoped that other Republicans would do it because he's got his own Tea Party challenge. I think he discovered an interesting thing. The followers weren't going to follow unless the leaders led, and that's why he voted for this as well.
REHMI want to let listeners know we are video streaming this program live today. So if you'd like to see it as well as listen to it, go to wamu.org. Click on "The Diane Rehm Show." Go from there. Janet Yellen testified this week, Susan, for the first time as head of the Federal Reserve. What did we learn?
PAGEWe learned that there was not going to be much change. I mean, it was six hours of testimony, which is an extraordinary length of time, and that earned her some goodwill. But I think the main message that she was delivering was that she wasn't going to change the path that had been set by Ben Bernanke. She talked about going ahead with cutting back on the bond-buying program that the Fed's been doing.
PAGEThat's the course that they've been on. She talked about the fact that unemployment remains a big concern, that that is a job not yet done. But I think the message of no change was one that was reassuring to markets. And the fact that she stuck around for six hours to answer the questions of members of this House Committee did her some good in terms of building a relationship and conveying kind of a willingness to be more transparent or more communicative with the Hill and with Americans when it comes to Fed policy.
ELVINGLots of times, when you have these people of such great importance to the economy, say, the secretary of the Treasury of the Fed chair, come before a House panel in particular -- the Senate, too -- you know, it's largely about the people who are asking the questions. It's largely about the congressmen getting to be in the picture with this really, really important policymaker.
ELVINGAnd they do tend to go on for some while and ask about stuff that gets really down into the weeds. And at a couple of points during the testimony, Janet Yellen just kind of sat there, actually got very quiet for a little while as if to say, OK, do we really want to get into this? But that's what it's about.
ELVINGIt's making her available, if you will, to the people's House and to the people who are representative of the populist sentiment in America that has always been suspicious of the Fed.
REHMJerry, people have said she's a dove. What does that mean?
SEIBWell, I think when they say that, they mean she -- like Ben Bernanke, and maybe a little bit more than Ben Bernanke -- is likely to keep Fed policies loose for a while until the recovery has really taken hold. That means maybe not tapering off the bond-buying program the Fed has been involved in for a long time...
SEIBAlthough I'm not sure that's true. I think Susan got it right. She said, I'm going to do exactly what Ben Bernanke is going to do. But I think people missed the other part of the message. The other part of the message was, while we may be tapering off in our bond-buying program, we're not going to raise interest rates. Interest rates are going to stay low for a long time.
REHMWhich is why the market went up, happily.
SEIBI think the market went up because it heard low interest rates and heard certainty of the path ahead.
SEIBAnd the reason that interest rates are going to stay low is that, you know, the Fed heads had been saying, we might -- ought to rethink our policies when unemployment rate gets to 6.5 percent. Well, it's at 6.6 percent now. And Janet Yellen said, you know, that's really not -- that number is not a good indicator of how weak the employment market really is.
SEIBWe're going to look at other data and not just the unemployment rate. That was a signal that, even if it gets down to 6.5 percent, we're so worried about weakness in the labor market and long-term unemployed, we're going to keep interest rates low.
REHMYeah. But what else can she do about jobs and unemployment, Susan?
PAGEWell, Democrats had some ideas for -- are at least urging the Fed to try to do more when it comes to jobs and unemployment. But, you know, the Fed has been pretty innovative. I mean, they've kind of used the tools in their toolbox when it comes to trying to make the economy stronger in general and on job growth in particular. So I think the message here was that, whatever they can do, they've been doing and let's hope the recovery stays on track.
REHMAnd she's going to concentrate a little bit less on inflation?
ELVINGInflation is, of course, the other great responsibility. In fact, the first responsibility in most people's minds of the Fed is not job creation or, you know, keeping full employment, although that is part of their mission. The first thing is to reassure everybody of the value of the dollar and reassure everybody that we're going to try to hold down inflation.
ELVINGInflation, however, has not reared its head in some years. And in these recovery years and even before the crash, we have had some remarkable years of low inflation, and even to the point of people raising the prospect of deflation and that being a worry for the economy. So this is a quite different era from the '70s and '80s and a time when people were worried about inflation.
REHMRon Elving of NPR, Susan Page of USA Today, Jerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal. Short break here. When we come back, we're going to talk about Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage and what the court ruled last night.
REHMAnd welcome back to the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup this week with Susan Page of USA Today, Jerry Seib with The Wall Street Journal, Ron Elving of NPR. Ron, we had news last night that Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional according to a federal judge. What happens now?
ELVINGA federal judge in Norfolk, Va., her name is Arenda L. Wright. She is a relatively new addition to the federal bench, an African-American woman appointed by President Obama. And she took this case, and she went right to the precedents established by interracial marriage and also by general questions of civil rights in America and said that the Constitution says, we are all created equal, I think we should take that seriously, and applied it to the question of gay marriage. We've seen this in several other courts.
ELVINGThis is the fourth one in just recent months, starting in Utah. We've had Kentucky now, just this week, and Oklahoma in between. And all of these federal courts, these district federal courts, are going to be funneling these cases up through the appellate system of the federal courts, inevitably to go to the Supreme Court, where, as Justice Scalia, you know, predicted last year in the big landmark Windsor case, we're going to see every state coming in and saying, hey, can we have our ban on gay marriage or can't we? And, right now, it looks like the tide is running against it.
PAGEWhat an incredible tide we've seen...
PAGE...when it comes to the issue of same-sex marriage. Now, 17 states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage. Twenty-four states have lawsuits pending. We've got this competition among states to be the case that gets to the Supreme Court. And given the, you know, the impassioned tone of this -- of the decision that Judge Arenda Wright Allen gave last night, likening it to -- linking it to the struggle for civil rights by African Americans, I just find it hard to imagine that the Supreme Court is going to turn back all these decisions by federal appeals courts.
REHMYou never know. Jerry.
SEIBNo, you never know. And there's an interesting thing that happened in the shadows a little bit in Congress this week, which is Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, both conservative Tea Party Republicans, introduced a bill that would attempt to establish the supremacy of state views on the right of gays to marry or simply allow -- make it clear that Congress says states have the right to define marriage the way they want to do it.
SEIBNow, I don't think that will go anywhere. But it's a sign, as Susan suggests, that the debate is really been joined here on not only gay marriage but states' rights when it comes to gay marriage.
REHMWhat about Eric Holder's statement that federal law will prevail even in states where it's not the law of that state?
PAGEAnd this is a consequence of the Supreme Court decision...
PAGE...last year that found that federal benefits needed to be given to same-sex couples as well as heterosexual couples, and it's an implementation of that. He's also made the case that this is part of the struggle for civil rights by other groups in America, which, as I said, I find pretty powerful.
ELVINGAnd, of course, as you spread something through the federal government as policy, you affect an enormous number of people. And, if you're talking about federal benefits, you are talking about an enormous number of people. So, you know, not long ago, maybe 20 years ago, which really doesn't seem like all that long in historical terms, people didn't talk about gay marriage.
ELVINGIt just wasn't a subject. And when it became a subject, it was largely a subject of people saying, we don't want that to happen. We had the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 signed into law by President Bill Clinton, who now, of course, says it's a mistake -- was a mistake. And, since then, we've had this enormous reversal. But, even as recently as 2004, Karl Rove was trying to get ban-gay-marriage movements going in all these states and initiatives on all the ballots in the key swing states so as to help bring out the voters who would re-elect George W. Bush. It looks like it pretty much worked.
REHMNow, what about Eric Holder's call for states to repeal bans against felons voting?
SEIBWell, you know, this is an interesting issue that the attorney general framed essentially as a civil rights issue, saying that the bans on felons voting, which go back years and years to just a couple of centuries in some cases, have become a tool of discrimination because the people who got caught up in this, by-and-large or in disproportionate numbers, were minorities who were sent to prison for long times and became felons because of crack cocaine violations which disproportionately fell on the black community.
SEIBAnd he said, essentially, that's not just. We need to fix that. But all the attorney general can really do is try to use his bully pulpit to convince the states to change these laws because voting laws are passed by states, not by the federal government.
PAGEAlthough, you know, the politics of it seems to be changing with the rising of the Tea Party movement and of Libertarianism. You know, for instance, Sen. Rand Paul from Kentucky has been talking -- is aligned with liberal Democrats on this issue in terms of trying to review whether these laws make sense and ought to be repealed. He's also worked on addressing mandatory minimum prison sentences as something that's unjust.
PAGESome of the statistics that the attorney general talked about when he gave his speech were pretty remarkable. Ten percent of people in Florida are barred from voting because of their felony records. In Mississippi, if you get convicted of passing a $100 bad check, you are barred for life from voting. I mean, these are things that I do think raise questions of fairness which was, of course, Eric Holder's point.
REHMAnd, Susan, you mentioned Rand Paul. What about comments on Hillary Clinton this week?
PAGEWell, he is clearly trying -- Rand Paul, who has made no secret that he'd like to run for president in 2016 perhaps, or later, has been reviving the Monica Lewinsky scandal, saying it's a case of workplace predatory behavior that ought to be addressed. You know, this was an issue that got pretty well litigated when it happened -- how many years ago was that...
ELVINGOh, 15, 16.
PAGE...15 years ago, and with an impeachment trial and all that. But it is -- he has succeeded in reminding Hillary Clinton, if she needed any reminding, that if she runs for president in 2016, these questions are going to be raised, and she's going to have to address them.
ELVINGThe Diane Blair papers, too, coinciding with this, and maybe, for all we know, prompting these remarks from Rand Paul, just have come out. And this is a long-time good friend of Hillary Clinton's back in Arkansas, who died in 2000. And her papers went to the University, and they were there in archive. But they were only sealed for a period of time. They have now been unsealed, and people are going back over these papers. And she does have many recollections of Hillary, some of which are -- I suppose, in some peoples' minds, less than entirely flattering.
ELVINGThey talk about her being, you know, hard-charging and aggressive and ruthless and so on, but in an admiring sort of way, because the person who is writing these recollections was a very close friend and thought that all of these things meant that this woman, Hillary Clinton, was going to go places, even if her husband did not -- which, of course, he did. But they had a longstanding friendship, and she had seen this particular talent in Hillary Clinton. And we're going to see a lot of this kind of thing.
PAGEYou know, you'd probably hope a president would be hard-charging. You know, that'd be an edge...
PAGE...you'd want to be applied to a U.S. president. And...
REHMTalk about ruthless, think about LBJ.
PAGERuthless is a characteristic that can serve a president well. Kudos, by the way, to the Washington Free Beacon who went and found these papers. They would have been available to any of us if we had been smart enough to go down there and look at them.
REHMHmm, interesting. Jerry, talk about Comcast, its plan to buy Time Warner.
SEIBIt's interesting. It's the number one and number two cable providers proposing to merge. Comcast would buy Time Warner. They would have, combined, more than 30 million cable subscribers. They probably would have to shed a few million of those to make the regulators accept this, and that is the question here. It's a giant $45 billion merger, a huge acquisition.
SEIBThe real question is whether federal regulators at the Justice Department and the FCC will let it go through. I think that's an open question. It's hard to predict. I think that it's likely, though. And this is probably what people don't understand so well. I think the regulators are going to look not so much at the concentration of cable TV services because cable TV has lots of competition now from satellite indirectly.
SEIBAnd the number of cable subscribers is declining in this country. I think they're going to look for concentration in provision of broadband service, Internet service, because cable companies are now the biggest providers of broadband service. And I think the regulators are going to look at whether that creates a lack of competition in the provision of online broadband service.
REHMSo, ultimately, what could that mean for consumers?
SEIBWell, that's the great question, and people -- that's what people will wonder about. I think the Comcast argument is that there's plenty of competition in the provision of shows, of video. You don't have to worry that we'll have too much market power because we have a lot of competition, you know, satellite TV and Apple TV and Comcast TV. Those are all competition. I think what people worry about is that, if you have too much broadband concentration, that they have the ability to dictate terms and that neutrality issues become very problematic.
REHMAnd that's our program in the first hour on Monday. What do you think, Ron?
ELVINGLet's say, you'd like to watch Netflix -- you want to watch "House of Cards," for example.
ELVINGI guess there are all of these new episodes available as of today.
ELVINGI'm not going to go any further with this advertisement. But let's just say that's what you want to watch, and you're getting that from Netflix. And the Comcast people and the Time Warner people have been saying, oh, this is not anti-competitive because you can still get Netflix. Well, all right, I can still get Netflix as long as I can get a broadband connection. But what if I'm getting my broadband connection from you guys, and you make this a little more difficult or a little more costly for me to get that programming as opposed to yours?
ELVINGNow, a couple of years ago, a few years ago, Comcast picked up NBC Universal. And that's an awful lot of programming. You know what I mean? NBC, MSNBC, CNBC and lots of other things as well that are associated with NBC, and all of that programming comes through them. Now, if they are not neutral about the way that they make these things available to other folks, that could have anti-competitive consequences.
REHMAnd what does net neutrality mean to you?
ELVINGWell, it means that I would not have to pay a premium to see some program I want to see if it didn't happen to come from my cable or my broadband provider. If I don't have to do something special to get the program that I want, then that's OK by me. But a lot of senators are looking at this, I think, with the question of, gee, isn't this just getting a little big?
ELVINGI mean, we're going to 30 percent, I think, of something like that of the total cable market in the whole country being in the hands of one company. And, sure, that's still less than a majority. But this is the number one and the number two company, the number one and the number two combining to be 30 percent of the market. And where do they go from here? Probably up.
REHMReminds me of banks, Susan. Too big to fail?
PAGEOr the telephone company. Remember when there was one telephone company?
REHMYou bet, Mother AT&T.
REHMYeah, Ma Bell. So what's the likely outcome of this?
PAGEWell, Jerry might know better than I do. But it looked to me like it was likely to go through because, while there are some concerns, they're offering to keep their portion of the cable market below 30 percent...
PAGEAnd some of these issues involving the way the media industry's being transformed, they're still being worked out. But it looked to me like the objections were not big enough to stop it from going through. But Jerry might know better.
SEIBWell, maybe. I mean, the Comcast people have made it very clear, they wouldn't have gone ahead if they didn't think they could win regulatory approval. Why go to this much trouble if you don't think you can win? So that's probably a leading indicator of something. I will say, though, that the Justice Department in particular has been pretty tough on anti-trust issues in the last couple of years.
SEIBYou know, there was a -- there has been a T-Mobile merger that's been floating around that they've managed to stop. And I don't think you can be sure just because the attitude seems to be, we're going to be the cop on the beat on this sort of stuff.
REHMJerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal, Susan Page of USA Today, Ron Elving of NPR, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." There's an interesting battle going on in Tennessee -- Tennessee lawmakers trying to block Volkswagen workers from joining the union. Susan, what do you make of this?
PAGEWell, here's the interesting thing about that. It's that Volkswagen seems to be fine with the UAW organizing this plant...
PAGE...in Tennessee. It's Tennessee politicians who don't like the idea. And Volkswagen, in fact, has talked about establishing, if the union's approved, establishing these work councils that they use in Germany and that work pretty well in increasing cooperation and efficiency in their plants.
REHMThe first foreign manufacturer to be in favor establishing the union.
PAGEAnd, of course, one reason that some conservative politicians are against it is for fear that, if it succeeds here, it will succeed at the plants in Alabama and Mississippi and in South Carolina.
REHMWhat is this, even as union membership is on the decline, so...
ELVINGIt's a countertrend. It's clearly a countertrend. And the reason that the auto industry and many other industries headed south and got out of Motown years and years ago was because the UAW had become, in their minds, the biggest obstruction to their ability to run their business. So they went to states where the UAW would not have a friendly legislature, where there were would be laws, right-to-work laws, that would make it very difficult to have closed shops where only members of the UAW could work.
ELVINGAnd this was a very powerful tool in moving a lot of heavy manufacturing in the United States south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
SEIBYou know, and not just auto plants. Boeing went south for the same reason. I think the Tennessee politicians are not so concerned about one plant, obviously. But they're concerned about a removal of what they thought as their region's competitive advantage which was the ability to tell manufacturers, we're a right-to-work state.
SEIBAnd, if you're not anymore, and as Susan suggests, it's not just Tennessee. It's South Carolina. It's Alabama. It's all over the region. That's been the relative advantage in attracting manufacturing jobs there. If that goes away, I think they fear the consequences.
REHMBut, I mean, Republicans seem to be putting just a huge amount of pressure on here -- Republicans threatening to refuse to give VW any further tax incentives if the plant is unionized.
PAGEBecause they -- they're looking at an expansion. The politicians have also suggested that Volkswagen is considering expanding at this location in Tennessee or building a plant in Mexico and that a move to recognize the UAW representing its workers could prompt the company to go to Mexico instead -- although the company doesn't say that's the case. So clearly this is seen as an important battle that could go well beyond this particular manufacturing plant.
REHMRepublicans say that if the UAW wins, the state is going to lose business from companies that want a union-free environment.
ELVINGWell, that's right. And that's what Susan has been saying, that this is a big calling card for the state as a whole. They're not that interested in VW, per se. They're not just interested in autos, as Jerry was saying. This is an over...
REHMBut why wouldn't they be?
ELVINGWell, they are interested in each individual company. But you can imagine the distress among some of these Republican legislators in Nashville when they looked up one day and said, well, what do you mean VW doesn't object to having the UAW authorized as the union in their plant here in Tennessee? Of course they do. That's why they're here. And then somebody said, well, no, actually these guys, you know, they just told us that they're OK with having the UAW do this.
ELVINGNow, are they trying to take the onus of themselves as VW and say, oh, it's the Tennessee legislators who are really blocking the UAW here, not us. We were willing to play ball with the union. But, you know, the Tennessee legislators, they came in, and they wouldn't let us. Is that their deep game in this? I don't know. I'm just saying that usually you would expect to see the manufacturer and the legislator more or less working this out over lunch.
REHMSo the vote ends today, Jerry?
SEIBWednesday through Friday -- not clear when the results will be known, probably over the weekend, but not necessarily. The federal overseers of the election get to decide when they release the results. So we'll see. It'll be very closely watched. As a footnote to what Ron was saying, I have my doubts personally that UAW is as OK with this as they say. I think that's a good position for them to take publicly. I wonder, you know. And I think the Republican politicians in Tennessee really wonder whether they are OK with this.
REHMSo how do you think it's going to turn out?
SEIBI have no idea. I have no idea. I suspect that the union organizers picked a plant where they thought they had the best chance of winning a vote in the South. But I really don't know. And I don't think anybody does. It's a secret ballot, and it's very hard to tell.
REHMJerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal. Short break here. When we come back, we'll open the phones, take your calls. I look forward to speaking with you.
REHMAnd time to open the phones. Let's go first to Jason in Sarasota, Fla. You're on the air.
JASONHi, Diane. I'm such a fan. Thanks for taking my call.
JASONI have been reading about how the last four federal judges who overturned their state's ban on gay marriage have cited Scalia's dissent in Lawrence vs. Texas. And so I'm just wondering if the panel can speak to that, explain how they used Scalia's words essentially to bolster their argument to overturn it.
ELVINGI'm going to have to take a stab at this.
ELVINGBecause I can't quote you the passage that the judges have been -- or that the federal judges have been citing in this case, that particular case, I believe, was the anti-sodomy case. Is that correct? And he -- Scalia was dissenting actually in what was a famous anti-Kennedy opinion in which he said, you know, really, the federal government should not be allowing these states to strike down individual practices in this way.
ELVINGAnd Scalia, I think, at that time was already anticipating that this would go in the direction of gay marriage. And he wrote a dissent in which he said, if this is going to be the position of the court, then it's going to lead us to invalidate all these bans on gay marriage that all these states are passing. And that may be the passage that's being cited.
SEIBI think that's right. I think it was not him -- not Justice Scalia -- saying I think this is a good thing, but saying this is -- if we go down this path, this will be an inevitable result here at the Supreme Court down the road. And I think that is -- that was the point he was making, and I think it's being used by the advocates of gay marriage for their purposes, although that's slightly different than I would think Justice Scalia -- the points Justice Scalia was trying to make.
ELVINGHe was making a warning, I think.
ELVINGHe was warning against a decision...
SEIBNot an advocate for it, but a warning of it.
REHMOK. To Janet in Daytona Beach, Fla. Hi there.
JANETHi. Hi, yes. I'm so happy you took my call. The Bush tax cuts did not create jobs. That's a fact. Now the so-called job creators would rather sit on their trillions in profits, make their stockholders rich, but they are not creating jobs for American workers. So I have a suggestion for President Obama. If the American companies keep cutting and outsourcing our jobs, offer foreign companies incentives to come here and utilize our thousands of empty factories and warehouses. The American corporations, too many of them are acting greedy and un-American. Enough is enough.
REHMAll right, thanks for calling, Janet.
SEIBWow. Well. Look, there is a problem in job creation in this country. And I think that the difficulty is that nobody knows what's creating it. It is true that corporations have a lot of cash at the moment. It is true they're not spending it as much as they might. And it is true that when they do spend it, they're creating more production without hiring so many people. I'm not sure that would be different if foreign companies were doing exactly the same thing.
SEIBI think the question is, why is that the case? Why is that how the economy works now? And that's -- and I think if you listen to Janet Yellen testifying, she was making the same point. There's something wrong here. We are not sure what it is, but it's not the job-creating machine that we thought it out to be. Now, I would just add as a footnote, there is -- in a certain way, President Obama is proposing to do what the caller suggested, which is to open the door wider for foreign companies which is -- by proposing that there be new free trade agreements with Asia and with Europe.
SEIBThe problem with that is that, within his own party, those things have become somewhat toxic. And Harry Reid said just two weeks ago, don't bring them up here. He didn't say it directly, but he said, we're not going to give you fast-track legislation to make it easier to get those deals done. It's not a popular thing right now. Let's not do it this year, was essentially his message.
REHMSusan, here's an email for you from Hillary -- from Peggy -- forgive me. She says, "Please clarify why Hillary Clinton needs to address the Lewinsky affair. Hillary didn't have it."
PAGEHillary Clinton will need to respond in some way to the -- to criticism that her husband was a predator, that she was an enabler, what was her role during that time. Now, that may not seem fair, and maybe she deals with it by saying, that's old news, that's not my problem. But the fact that even at this point Rand Paul is raising this, the issue is a sign that, for some Republicans, this is an issue that has not gone away.
PAGEIt's part of the Clinton history. But, you know, if Hillary Clinton runs for president, Bill Clinton is part of that campaign. And it is hard to imagine that the -- both the assets he brings and the liabilities he brings are things that Hillary Clinton will barely or not have to respond to.
REHMAll right. Here's an email from Sarah who says, "I live in rural Pennsylvania. Comcast is the only option for broadband, and it's expensive because they have a monopoly. If this merger goes through, it will be a disaster for American consumers." Jerry Seib?
SEIBWell, that's -- I think that goes to the issue I was trying to describe before. That's going to be the question regulators are going to deal with.
SEIBNot whether this -- is this the only cable company available in your town? Well, yes, it's always been. There's always been only one cable company available in most towns. That's not the issue anymore. The issue is -- could be, because you can go get a satellite dish and have a competitor to cable that way, the issue is, is anybody else bringing broadband into your community? Is there any prospect that anybody else could bring broadband in your community? And is that the monopoly we ought to now be worried about?
REHMAll right, to Knoxville, Tenn. Hi, Mark.
MARKHi, Diane. Great to hear -- great to be allowed to be on your show.
MARKI'm calling about the Tennessee Volkswagen vote that's going right now.
MARKI'm wondering if your panelists have any thoughts about the political implications of the Tennessee politicians trying to have such a strong response. How much of this trying to prevent any Tea Party challenges from the right during the upcoming primary season? And I'll just take the call up offline.
REHMOK, thanks. Ron Elving?
ELVINGIt's always a good bet that when a Republican legislator is upset about something, he is concerned not about whether or not he's going to be polling votes over from the other side, from Democrats, or possibly even from independents because, after all, he's in office. He has put together what he needs to get there, what she needs to get there.
ELVINGWhat he's worried about most of the time, especially today -- more so than I have ever seen in watching politics -- concerned about somebody coming up behind him in the primary and doing to him what was done to Richard Lugar, what was done to Robert Bennett, those two senators from Indiana and from Utah who lost in their primary to people that no one had ever heard of, at least at the national level and many people hadn't even heard of at the state level, because they were not sufficiently conservative or because activists -- people with a lot of money and a lot of energy and a lot of volunteers -- were able to get out there, organize against them and find a candidate, oftentimes not even a particularly important individual, to be the actual candidate in the primary, but to organize against the officeholder in the Republican Party in states that are dominated by the Republicans.
REHMSusan, let's talk about former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. He's been called the face of Katrina. What happened this week?
PAGEWell, it will stun you to learn not that he was convicted of ethical violations, but that he is the first New Orleans mayor to be charged, tried, and convicted of corruption when New Orleans is a place that has long been known as, you know, an ethically challenged government. You know, he was -- he became a symbol of government dysfunction in the aftermath of Katrina.
PAGEBut it turns out, as the prosecutors laid out in court, that he was taking free trips, got free cellphone service, has his lawn taken care of, free shipments of granite for the company that he had with his son. And that -- and now he was convicted on 20 of 21 counts, and he's likely to go to jail.
REHMAnd to you, Jerry Seib, the ACA mandate delayed. Talk about why.
SEIBWell, I think the administration -- well, what the administration did was it delayed the mandate that medium-sized businesses would be required to insure 90 percent of their workers and pushed it back by a year, essentially saying we need to get people more time to comply, that the point here was not to have some artificial limit or some ceiling or some floor that was hard and fast, but to push employers in the right direction.
SEIBI think what the administration really was worried about was a backlash among small businesses and also an attempt by more businesses who couldn't cope with it to just push their employees off employer-provided health insurance entirely on to the exchanges. And so it said, essentially, we're not changing the goal, we're just changing the timetable.
PAGEYes. And now they also had some good news on the Affordable Care Act this week -- 3.3 million people have now signed up to the healthcare websites, the state and federal ones. That's not -- that doesn't meet the goal they had originally set, but it puts them on track. Some analysts say they have perhaps 6 million people signed up by the end of March, the end of that open enrollment period. And given how things looked in October, that is a pretty respectable number.
REHMAnd what about healthy, young versus unhealthy, older?
ELVINGThose numbers are improving, too. Now, it's still a real concern because, for a while there, it looked like none of the young and healthy or the healthy at various ages, later ages as well, were going to be interested in this particular option. But as more information gets out, as more of the -- if we'd call it overheated reaction to the rollout of Obamacare fades a little bit and people actually weigh their options and look at this and see what they're losing and what they're gaining, more people, I suspect, are going to sign up. And that goes for younger people and healthier people as well.
REHMRon Elving at NPR, Susan Page of USA Today, Jerry Seib at The Wall Street Journal, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And here's a call from Phoenix, Ariz. Hi, Robin.
ROBINHi, thank you for taking my call.
ROBINI would like to have your panel's opinion of the Kansas legislation that has passed the House -- and I believe it's going to the Senate -- that will effectively allow any business, governmental agency, anyone to refuse to provide service to a gay person. And is this a reinstitution of the Jim Crow laws? And I'll take your answer off the air.
REHMAnd, Susan, is our hometown girl from Kansas.
PAGEI'm from Kansas, as is Jerry.
REHMJerry's also from Kansas.
ELVINGYou know that I went to Shawnee Mission North High School in Kansas.
PAGEThat's right. And all-Kansas...
SEIBAn all-Kansas panel.
PAGEYeah. So, Ron, as a high school graduate from Kansas, why don't you take this question?
ELVINGI was not necessarily volunteering. But I will say this, that that particular piece of legislation that we've seen other social issue legislation from Kansas that is a little bit over the top. There's something going on in Missouri, right, by the way, having to do with teaching creation. So they're in the competition as well. But, OK, what's the matter with Kansas, as the famous book title asked.
ELVINGThere is a very strong religious right, if you will, a religious conservative movement in the state of Kansas that is very, very strong in the legislature and has been well-represented in the congressional delegation as well. And they are always looking for ways that they can essentially show to their constituency that they are really serious about taking us back to the traditional values of another era. And, you know, pick a year.
ELVINGBut certainly with respect to gay rights, this is a weight, punch everybody in the nose and say, not in Kansas, we're not going to have it. But they're under the same federal laws that every other state is in the end.
PAGEI would say that the very conservative turn that Kansas is taking, especially under that governorship of Sam Brownback over the last couple of years is at odds with a Kansas tradition, which has been really much more moderate. Kansas has had a series of Democratic governors as well as Republicans ones. The Republicans who have served from Kansas include people like Bob Dole and Nancy Kassebaum. So this has been a change in Kansas in the past, what, 10 years.
REHMBig article about Sam Brownback this morning in the Times.
SEIBIt was. And I was in Kansas last weekend, so I can speak as a first person authority now back in my home state. But I think there is a really interesting sense of anticipation in Kansas political circles right now about the election this year. Sam Brownback is up for re-election. There is a kind of a soul searching underway in the Republican Party of Kansas. There are some Republicans who are very quietly wondering if they can oppose Sam Brownback because they don't like the direction he's taking the party.
SEIBThe Democrats have not had a player in a statewide election for the last several years. It's not clear that's going to change this year. But if they can peel away some moderate Republicans, they think maybe there's a possibility they can turn the tide. And, you know, we will see. I think Sam Brownback is in pretty good shape. I'm skeptical that that will succeed, but there is an interesting debate underway in the state.
PAGEWe should remember that Kathleen Sebelius was governor of Kansas and re-elected governor of Kansas...
SEIBImmediately before Sam Brownback.
PAGEYes. And so, you know -- and what does it say about Kansas that the entire news roundup panel is from Kansas?
REHMI don't know.
ELVINGI'm going to have to contemplate that.
REHMAll right. Now, finally, I want to talk about the death of Shirley Temple. What an extraordinary career she had, Susan.
PAGEReally two lifetimes, right? The most popular actor in America during the '30s, someone who brought -- raised the spirits of Americans through the Great Depression and then quite a respected diplomat against the odds in Czechoslovakia and Ghana, I mean, really a remarkable career.
REHMYou know, it was -- I'm probably the only one old enough here who went to Shirley Temple movies and adore them. She was such a precious thing. And back in 1988, I had the opportunity to sit down with her at the old Quonset hut on the American University's campus. We talked about her career. I remember that, right after she moved from child star into adolescence, she was married, I think, at 19 to playboy Nicky Hilton that dissolved.
REHMThen she married good guy Charles Black with whom she stayed for years and years, had a lovely family. We are going to rebroadcast that interview next Wednesday in our second hour. I'm almost embarrassed to do it. My voice sounds so different. But what we hear is this lovely woman and music and song from that era. You even hear her tap dancing with Bojangles. So it's -- I hope you all will tune in. She was extraordinary. Jerry Seib, any thoughts about Shirley Temple?
SEIBYou know, it does really -- you said 1988, and you said Shirley Temple Black. And it makes me think back to the Reagan years when, you know, she had, I think, what Susan was referring to as her second career as a diplomat. And she actually was quite -- my recollection is she was actually quite well-respected as a diplomat.
SEIBYou know, she was appointed. Everybody thought it was kind of stunt by the president. It turns out she was a good ambassador to two different countries.
REHMAnd she also was director of the...
PAGEWas it multiple sclerosis or cystic fibrosis? I can't remember, one or the other, because her brother had chronic disease. You know, just one other thing that I think is noteworthy. At a time when people didn't talk about cancer, she had breast cancer.
PAGEShe talked openly about it and encouraged women to get to be -- to monitor that -- part of her legacy as well.
REHMSusan Page, Jerry Seib, Ron Elving, Happy Valentine's Day.
SEIBAnd to you, Diane.
REHMThank you all, and thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Denise Couture, Susan Casey Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman, Lisa Dunn, Danielle Knight, and Alison Brody. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts and podcasts. Call 202-885-1200 for more information.
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