A molecular-biologist-turned-Buddhist-monk says altruism is the answer to many of the world's most pressing challenges. Can concern for others help solve wealth inequality, climate change and world hunger?
A CBO report says a proposal from Democrats to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would boost incomes but cut jobs. The report comes the same week that retail chain Gap, Inc. announces a minimum wage hike to $10 an hour. On the fifth anniversary of the signing of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the so-called stimulus is as politically polarizing as ever. The United Auto Workers union regroups after a defeat in a Tennessee Volkswagen plant. And a Nebraska judge strikes down a state law allowing a route for the Keystone XL Pipeline. Diane and her guests discuss the week in news.
- Ed O'Keefe congressional reporter, The Washington Post.
- Laura Meckler staff writer, The Wall Street Journal.
- Major Garrett chief White House correspondent, CBS News.
A Florida jury came back with a partial verdict last week in the “loud music” trial, convicting Michael Dunn, a white man, of attempted murder, but deadlocked on a first-degree murder charge in the slaying of Jordan Davis, a black teenager. State’s attorney Angela Corey has said she will try Dunn again on the murder charge, which requires proof of premeditation. The panel discussed the evidence and racial overtones in the case. “The key question here is prosecutorial discretion. What do you believe you can prove and what statement do you think you are making by the charges you levy against a defendant?” Major Garrett of CBS said.
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MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. A report from the CBO says a minimum wage hike would boost incomes but cost jobs. Workers at a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee vote against joining the UAW. And a judge in Nebraska strikes down a law that green-lighted the XL pipeline's path through that state.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me for the week's top domestic stories on the Friday News Roundup: Ed O'Keefe of The Washington Post, Laura Meckler of The Wall Street Journal, and Major Garrett of CBS News. I know many of you will want to join us. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Welcome to all of you.
MS. LAURA MECKLERGood morning.
MR. ED O'KEEFEGood morning.
MR. MAJOR GARRETTGood morning.
REHMGood to see you. Major Garrett, this week marks the fifth anniversary of the stimulus being signed into law, still debate about it, still disagreement. What do economists say? Did it help? Did it hurt?
GARRETTWell, it's unquestionably that it helped. How much it helped and could it have helped more, liberal economists and conservative economists debate that. But it's five years old. It's here. It's real. When you take the stimulus itself, priced out at $830 billion, almost half of that tax cuts, and you add another $400 billion in add-on stimulative policy initiatives undertaken by the Obama administration with the cooperation of Congress, it's about 1.2 billion -- at 1.2 trillion, rather, almost half of that in tax reductions of one kind or another.
GARRETTSo it's not as if Republicans got nothing out of this. They just didn't get the tax cuts that they most prefer, which is on income, marginal tax rates. And it is clear -- and the White House projects this, the Congressional Budget Office agrees -- two to 3 percent gross domestic product bump up during the time of the most heavy direct federal spending, about 6 million jobs saved or created. Now, that's a new kind of terminology in Washington, saved or created, not just purely created.
GARRETTBut the fact that we still have a job market that is not generating enough jobs to pull the long-term unemployed back into the workplace makes all economic policy post the great recession still a topic of debate.
REHMAnd we should remind listeners we are video streaming today's first hour. Laura Meckler, you're up.
MECKLERWell, I would just say that the problem that the White House has had with the stimulus from the beginning is that the pitch they've had to make essentially is that it could -- it would have been worse without it. And that's a hard case to make. It's hard to tell people, yeah, we know the recovery isn't going as well as we would like it to. But it really -- we would be in a double-dip recession. And there's a lot of economic data to support that.
MECKLERBut it's still politically a hard argument to make. And it feeds into a Republican argument, which goes back to the passage of this bill. There was very little Republican support right from the get-go for this. And they've been essentially against it from the beginning and invested in, you know, essentially calling it a failure all the way along. And it's a hard case to make.
MECKLERThe other piece that's important about this is that the stimulus bill had a lot of other policy in it that was important to Democrats. It had a new education policy. It had a lot of encouragement for green energy. It -- and a smart grid, electronic medical records. It tried to do a lot of things that they thought were good policy. And there just isn't consensus on all of that.
O'KEEFEYou know, one of the things that people should probably remember is that there was a lot of concern at the start that there would be widespread abuse or fraud of the money that was going out either to state agencies or to different contractors that were receiving it. And for the most part, while there was some -- and there have been well-documented cases of people trying to double-dip and such -- there really wasn't that much fraud.
O'KEEFEA lot of the credit goes to this Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board that had been established as part of the law. They have an office and a suite down the street from the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue. You walk into this place. It looks a lot like a radio or a television newsroom because it's got, you know, TV screens and computer monitors, and they're looking at maps all across the country.
O'KEEFEAnd they're able to pretty much track down to the penny every single dollar that was distributed as part of this. And it was put in as sort of a way to sweeten the deal for people who might have been concerned. And for the most part, it's been an incredible success in tracking potential fraud throughout this.
O'KEEFESo while, you know, the debate over whether it was too much or too little and whether it was good for job creation and for all these other programs that were created by Democrats, I think a lot of watchdog groups, a lot of people concerned about this type of thing are relatively pleased. And there are a lot of investigative reporters, accountability reporters here in town who were chomping at the bit waiting for examples of problems who, five years later, probably have to sit back and admit there wasn't much of it.
REHMAll right. And once again, whether it's too much or too little, raising the minimum wage, which now Wal-Mart says it's considering. The Gap, it's already doing. President wants it raised to $10.10 an hour. How much possibility is there that he's going to get?
O'KEEFEWell, we know that the Senate will likely begin debating this issue in their next three-week work period, if not then, right after the St. Patrick's Day break and between then and Easter. It's expected to come up for a vote in the Senate. Again, the proposal is $10.10 an hour. That's something that's been pushed by Democratic senators. There's pretty much unified support on the Democratic side. On the House side, Democrats are going to try to pull a procedural maneuver next week where they try to force a vote and compel Republicans to join them in forcing a vote.
O'KEEFEThat's unlikely to succeed, but it will allow them to sort of make the case that Republicans are standing in the way of something that Americans generally want, which is an increase in wages for people with an understanding that, you know, it hasn't been raised in -- what is it -- almost seven years now. And it's something that should be done. So Democrats see it as a winning argument, and they tend to make it a big issue in the next few months.
MECKLERWell, that's exactly right. I mean, this, I think, started out almost as purely, if you will say, a political argument, that this was viewed as something that had almost no chance in Congress, but it was a winning issue. It's very popular. I mean, it has overwhelming support in the public to raise the minimum wage. And they said, hey, let's try to run on this in the elections. But I at least, for one, have been surprised by how much there, there there has been on this debate.
MECKLERAs you mentioned, the Gap voluntary raising its wage, Wal-Mart saying it would consider supporting a federal minimum, a lot of action in the state and local level on this. It's being debated really throughout the country. I think it's permeated in a way that I don't think was completely obvious going into this. So, again, I agree with Ed. I don't think that Congress is going to pass a higher minimum wage. I mean, it's really -- goes, like, straight up against a lot of Republican orthodoxy. So it's just probably not going to happen. But it has become an important issue this political year.
REHMMajor Garrett, considering you've got November elections, can Republicans afford to stand firm on this?
GARRETTThey believe currently that they can, and they're going to use the report from the Congressional Budget Office that came out this week as political fodder to buttress their economic argument against raising the minimum wage. A couple things, the current minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. A bump up to $10.10 would be, by historical standards, one of the biggest jumps from where it is to where it has been proposed to.
GARRETTAlso another wrinkle to this, which is new, is that it would be, if it passed, inflation-adjusted permanently which means Congress wouldn't go back to it, that it would go up on a yearly basis in tandem with the inflation rate. So every year, those making the minimum wage would see their wages adjusted upward. Now, the Congressional Budget Office said two things today, which I think strike me as commonsensical.
GARRETTSome people will benefit from this. Their wages will go up. Poverty will be diminished. About 16.5 million Americans would see their wages increased, and some would be lifted out of poverty. But maybe not as many jobs would be created because this would have a wage barrier deterrent for entry level positions of about 500,000 for a year.
REHMAnd a half million jobs would be lost.
GARRETTNow, in typical Washington fashion, those who oppose the minimum wage grasped on to Republicans -- well, we're going to lose jobs. Why do we need job-killing legislation? The White House said, no, look at the other side of the argument. Maybe there might be some job losses. Even the White House doesn't even have a...
REHMHow unusual for the White House to go against the CBO.
GARRETTYes. And this -- the Congressional Budget Office, for better or for worse -- and it is a great organization -- I know many of the economists there -- is considered the most nonpartisan and important, arbitrary of economic questions. It would say for itself, and it says in its report, nothing in this is foolproof. We don't know the actual real world. We're looking at the research on this, and this is the best estimate we can come up with. But the White House said, we don't even think that 500,000 jobs will be lost. We think that...
GARRETT...poverty will be dealt with, wages will go up, and the economic downside effects will be minimum. But Republicans will hold on to the $500,000 (sic) figure to buttress their argument against.
O'KEEFEAnd what most Republicans will do then -- House Democrats point out that there are 36 House Republicans currently in office who voted for the last minimum wage increase. And so they say, if they were for it last time, what's holding them back this time? Most of these guys are from the Northeast, from Florida, from places where, you know, the district is perhaps more moderate. A lot of them are senior and therefore close to leadership, so they may not want to necessarily be seen as bucking leadership on this.
O'KEEFEBut there's another consideration over in the Senate. And that is that there are several Republican senators that are looking not at campaign 2014 but at campaign 2016 because they come from a lot of those industrial Midwest states that have suffered to the economic declines in recent years.
O'KEEFEThey're the ones that are looking for a way to cut a deal on extending unemployment insurance. And they're the ones that know that they will face political pressure if they stand in the way of raising the minimum wage, at least from Democrats, because there are a lot of workers in their states who could conceivably benefit from those increases.
O'KEEFESo that's part of why, I think, we're seeing this issue continue to sort of, you know, blossom and possibly come to some kind of a head in the next few weeks.
REHMBut do you agree with Laura that it's not going to pass?
O'KEEFEI don't at this point. I certainly -- all...
REHMYou don't agree or you don't think it's going to pass?
O'KEEFEI don't agree that it's not going to pass, at least at this point. How's that for a political answer?
MECKLERYou think it might pass?
O'KEEFEI think it might pass. But whether it will be 10.10, whether it will be a permanent inflation adjustment, those are the types of things that get negotiated. But I think, you know, in a year where there are all these different types of economic arguments where increasingly lawmakers are seen as out of touch, and incredibly wealthy when compared to their constituents, that everyone will face political pressure to try to do something.
REHMAnd how likely that Wal-Mart would go on?
O'KEEFEThat I don't know. I don't cover the retail industry. But if they were to come on board, I think the pressure there would be for Republicans especially.
REHMEd O'Keefe, Laura Meckler, Major Garrett. When we come back, we're going to talk about the Michael Dunn trial, the verdict in the shooting death of Jordan Davis.
REHMAnd welcome back. Here with me Major Garrett. He's chief White House correspondent for CBS News. Laura Meckler is staff writer at The Wall Street Journal. Ed O'Keefe is congressional reporter for The Washington Post. The Michael Dunn trial certainly raised lots of hackles when the jury came back after deliberating for four days, found Dunn guilty of three counts of second degree attempted murder, but deadlocked on the first degree murder charge.
REHMThe State Attorney Angela Corey is the same prosecutor who tried George Zimmerman, said she's going to retry Michael Dunn on the first degree murder charge. I'd be interested in your perspectives, considering that first degree murder requires premeditation, why this prosecutor went after a first degree murder charge.
O'KEEFEIt's hard to say, Diane, why it appears she may have done this. I think part of it must've been influenced by, you know, obviously the evidence but also the fact that there had been these other cases in the state. We talk about the Trayvon Martin one, for example. You know, this is just such an incredibly complex issue and touches all sorts of things for Florida and for the country.
O'KEEFEAnd I think if you look at what the jurors have said in recent days that have spoken about this, they say, look, you know, we were all onboard with the attempted murder. But the question of whether or not a first degree murder charge was warranted was a real sticking point. There was shouting. There were deep disagreements because I think there was at least two or three didn't necessary believe that beyond a reasonable doubt that the evidence had been proven. So I think that's the holdup.
O'KEEFEAnd it's just a reminder that, you know, when you prosecute these types of cases, it's got to be slam dunk if you really think you're going to be able to get that charge.
GARRETTI mean, the key question here is prosecutorial discretion. What do you believe you can prove and what statement do you think you're making by the charges you levy against a defendant? And sometimes -- and, look, I spent six years covering cops in courts before I came to Washington to cover politics. And I saw many cases where prosecutors, not only in addition to prosecuting a case, were trying to make a larger statement by saying this is so serious we're going to go for the maximum charge.
GARRETTAnd sometimes when you overshoot the evidence, you can have a situation where you are trying to make a statement of the seriousness that you can't back up with the evidence. And the jurors were deadlocked on whether or not you could say Michael Dunn truly premeditated the idea of shooting into this vehicle with the intent of killing someone.
GARRETTNow, the reason they found it much more easily to get to the attempted murder charges is that those involved the other occupants in the car after Michael Dunn exited his vehicle and approached it. They're like, OK, that clearly indicates something going on besides self-defense, which was his stated reason for doing all of this. It appears that the prosecutor, while trying to make a statement, overshot the provable evidence, even though it was close.
MECKLERSo let's -- just to remind listeners who might not remember the details of this case, this is a case where there's a couple cars parked at a convenience store. Mr. Dunn is in his car. He's annoyed by the loud music coming from the car next to him, and he said -- some people doubt this -- that he saw a gun in that car. He shot and killed one of the people in that car and then after that went and fired into the car, which is what led to the attempted murder charges, which he was convicted of and faces a sentence of as much as 60 years in prison. So this isn't a situation where he's just going home.
MECKLERYou know, having said that, I think the really important thing -- and the thing that goes through all these cases -- is this heavy racial overtone. Essentially you have somebody who is white shooting into a car full of young black people. And that is -- you know, that -- it's very hard to separate that out from everything else that we know about racial bias and racism in our society and assumptions that people make about people. He was said to have referred to them as -- I think, as thugs. He was -- he sort of -- there was some sort of...
MECKLERRight. Exactly. He didn't like the music. It was probably not his style of music. And so it all gets, you know, woven up together. And I think it's part of what you see just, you know, year after year in our criminal justice system, these high-profile cases where you have this layer of racism layered over it.
REHMOK. And let me bring in two of the factors down at Ole Miss with the statue of James Meredith having a noose put around his neck. He was the first black man admitted to that university. Also a case in Florida of Marissa Alexander who tried to assert her state your ground defense against her ex-husband who was allegedly going to beat her. She fired a shot into the air. She didn't fire a shot at him. She fired it into the air to try to scare him off. What did she get, Ed O'Keefe?
O'KEEFEWell, currently, she's under house arrest awaiting a retrial because they said that the jury had been improperly instructed. The argument there was if this woman was trying to defend herself against her, I believe, ex-husband, if not just, you know, a friend who has said on the stand that he had threatened to kill her, you know, how can she be put in jail? When in these other cases, which are not necessarily similar or the same, the argument that was that she tried to use the stand-your-ground defense, and she wasn't allowed to use it.
REHMThe jury deliberated 12 minutes before finding her guilty of aggravated assault and sentenced her to 20 years. What does that say?
O'KEEFEWell, the 20 years was a mandatory sentence because there was a gun law -- or a gun crime in Florida, and they've got mandatory minimums.
REHMShooting up in the air.
O'KEEFEThat was the law in Florida.
REHMI don't get it.
GARRETTInequities reign in the judicial system, and it's going to -- I think these cases...
GARRETT...that these cases are going to lead to, at the state level in Florida -- certainly it already has begun in a million other states -- to a revisiting of the stand-the-ground -- stand-your-ground principle behind the idea that self-defense has this broader perimeter and broader interpretation and that any perceived threat can be judicially justified, whatever the after -- consequences.
REHMI hope you're right, Major, that this is going to begin this reexamination. It feels as though those who passed that -- those stand-your-ground rules feel as though they want to stand their ground on this.
GARRETTCertainly, but when you look at the underlying cases and the application of these laws and what, in some cases, these laws have created as an aftereffect in real life, there's going to have to be a reappraisal.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about the Tennessee union vote where, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Volkswagen plant, the workers wanted to join the UAW. The vote failed. What happened, Laura?
MECKLERWell, this is a fascinating case. I mean, this is the UAW, United Autoworkers, this is their best chance to organize a foreign automaker in the south and have not succeeded in doing that. And in this case, Volkswagen was not even opposing the union. They invited them in, and they saw some benefits to the company of having a union. They want to create sort of a worker committee that works with management to work out workplace issues. And you actually need a union in this country to do that, to have somebody who's truly representing the workers.
MECKLERSo they were fine and did not try to do what a lot of companies had done to union organizing efforts. However, there were others who stepped in where they -- to oppose this effort where they did not, conservatives essentially. This has become so political that you had essentially outside conservatives. You had members of Congress, you had Sen. Corker from Tennessee actively campaigning and essentially stoking anti-union views. And, for whatever reason, by a very narrow margin, the workers voted against the union.
MECKLERSo this has a lot of implications -- has huge implications for the UAW. How are they going to grow? How are they going to essentially organize new places if they could not succeed in a situation like this?
O'KEEFECorker's involvement and the involvement of the governor and other Republicans in the state was not only on political principle, but also the fact that the state has really flourished since this auto plant came. There had been talk about them possibly constructing yet another one. And I believe state leaders had threatened that if this union were allowed, they might take a pass and have that go elsewhere, right, or...
MECKLERWell, what happened, I believe, is that Sen. Corker said right at the beginning of the voting that if we -- if you reject this -- if you reject the union, then VW will essentially build another line of cars here.
REHMAnd if you allow the union, we will take away tax breaks.
MECKLERRight. Which of course is...
O'KEEFERight. Well, yes.
MECKLERWell, and I think the most -- the particular -- I think the particular complaint here is that Sen. Corker had -- really has no inside knowledge of what VW's plans are. The company...
REHMGrover Norquist got involved here.
MECKLERRight. Right -- in a similar way. And Volkswagen said that, no, our decision about where to put this next line is not going to be contingent on whether you unionize or not. But Sen. Corker said -- essentially implied or outright stated that it was. And that -- and some people think that influenced the voting as well.
GARRETTThis was not about labor strife. This was about political strife, OK. The labor strife was essentially handled equitably. There was a vote. I would disagree with Laura. It wasn't all that close. The turnout was 1,338 members of 1,550 available. And they lost 53 to 47. Now that's not all that close. It was a regular election and they lost.
GARRETTThe ramifications of this are, this was the best place in the south, the second area of American auto manufacturing. We always think about Detroit as the only area. No, there's an enormous southern auto manufacturing base in this country, foreign owned, without labor union representation. And the UAW wanted a place, a toe hold to begin the process of laborizing, if you will, the auto workforce in the south.
REHMA number of people who voted against joining the UAW said it was because they saw what had happened in Detroit.
GARRETTThey saw what happened in Detroit, the legacy cost of pension. And let us remind ourselves, the intervention of the federal government to bail out Chrysler and GM brought with it wage concessions for future autoworkers. Current autoworkers make 20 to $32 per hour on the line. New ones, meaning anyone hired since the bailout, make $17 an hour less than the workers in the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant make now.
REHMSo the question...
GARRETTSo the real economic considerations that they took...
REHMAnd is there going to be a do-over or some remediation here? The plant get a works council. What's that?
O'KEEFEWell, that's -- and that's the German model. I mean, that is the sort of argument that you sit down with management and you sort out a few things, you know, whether it's wages, whether it's hours, whether it's something else. And Volkswagen seemed amendable to that and has that in Germany to some extent. I think they go next down even deeper into the south. There are a few other foreign plants in places like Alabama and Mississippi that UAW was eyeing as the next place, if the Volkswagen vote succeeded.
O'KEEFEUnclear at this point I think where they will go with those elections. And probably they will be influenced in a big way by what happened in Chattanooga. But, you know, I think it does demonstrate that the labor union movement in this country continues to have just real incredible problems, whether it's because of what happened in Detroit, whether it's the perception that they're no longer needed necessarily because through the years that they were establishing themselves over the last century, they established a bunch of safeguards and whatnot that perhaps aren't as big a deal anymore.
O'KEEFEBut, you know, on the flipside, other people say no. This is something that is still needed, that there are workers who could be better represented. And so far at least, they're failing to make that argument.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." But, Major, I want to go back to your characterization of this as political. Will there be any backlash against those Republicans who moved in to squash it?
GARRETTWell, Bob Corker, for example, the senator from Tennessee, used to be the mayor of Chattanooga. He was there when this was negotiated to bring the Volkswagen plant to Chattanooga. The State of Tennessee put $577 million of tax incentives before Volkswagen to secure this plant. So Corker says, I'm not a bystander. I'm an interested party. I was mayor of the city. I was there when this was begun and I have a voice and I'm going to use it.
GARRETTNow, Volkswagen denied his assertion that if the union vote went down there'd be an extra line brought to that factory. So what Corker in some cases represented publicly did not prove out to be true. It may prove out in the future, but he's going to have to live with the political consequences.
GARRETTThe next aspect of this politically could be is you might have a revisit of this vote with an appeal to the National Labor Relations Board because this was not a -- this was a card check -- or a non-card check election meaning it was a secret ballot. Labor unions prefer an open ballot where everyone is identified.
GARRETTThat could be appealed to the National Labor Relations Board. And if you really want to get inside the political weeds here, there's a Supreme Court case that's due to come out in June deciding whether or not the Obama Administration overstepped its constitutional bounds by recess appointing members of that Labor Relations Board when the Senate was not in technical recess. That could make this entire case change. If the court rules that that was an unconstitutional appointment of that board, the board that this would be adjudicating this might be changed because of that ruling.
REHMWhat about Grover Norquist?
MECKLERBut he's not going to take...
MECKLERBut he's not going to take -- I don't think there's going to be a lot of political backlash along the lines I think you were asking about because the people who are against this are so clearly antiunion. This isn't a secret. They draw their support from people who agree with them. And I don't -- it's hard for them -- I mean, there will be obviously people who take great issue but...
REHMSuppose it is found that there was "undue persuasion" on those who were voting against joining the union?
MECKLERWell, you know, you either -- there's always hypotheticals that could happen, and there always could be but...
REHMYou know, I've been watching "House of Cards" for so long.
GARRETTClearly. Let me...that was...
MECKLERI don't know. In the actual real world that we live in, labor unions are losing strength with every passing day.
GARRETTYeah, and it would be hard to make that case because...
MECKLERAnd this is like a seminal moment in that...
GARRETTUAW did have access to the shop floor. I mean, they were able to run this campaign in every way that they wanted to. The only thing they didn't get was a non-secret ballot, OK. And so I think that assertion would be hard to carry out and prove before the National Labor Relations Board.
O'KEEFEAnd I would argue the political fallout is in the reverse, Diane. It's not, did Republicans mettle. It's, why didn't the labor union convince enough workers and what does it say about their future, not only in their ability to organize but in American politics if their influence is waning?
REHMOK. And here's an email, since I mentioned "House of Cards."
MECKLERDon't ruin it for me because I'm not caught up on "House of Cards." I was speaking for our listeners who are the...
REHMOK. I'm not going to ruin it for you. But Paul asks, "I'm curious to know what your Friday News Roundup thinks of excellent journalists like Cindy (sic) Crowley and Matt Bai playing themselves in fiction. Certainly it's been done before. Does a journalist risk a loss of credibility with colleagues and his or her audiences by taking a star turn," Major Garrett?
GARRETTWell, Diane, I suppose I'm the best-equipped member of this panel to answer that question.
MECKLEROr the worst equipped.
GARRETT...who have not caught up on all the episodes, the final episode of Season 2, I have a brief, largely forgettable cameo appearance, representing myself and the network I work for, CBS News. And I'll go no farther than that.
REHMYou had to get permission from CBS, absolutely.
GARRETTOh, absolutely. CBS cleared everything but -- word for word for the script and everything else. And the "House of Cards" was generous enough to go to CBS and...
REHMSo do you think you lose any credibility?
GARRETTWe talked about that at CBS. We did not. We believe that visibility and me doing something that I normally do, talking the way that I normally do, did not take me outside of my confines as a journalist.
REHMMajor Garrett of CBS News, soon to star in "House of Cards."
O'KEEFEFire up your Blu-Ray.
REHMAnd we're going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850, first to Phoenix, Ariz. Hi, Rene, you're on the air.
RENEHi, Diane. Thanks so much.
REHMYes. Go right ahead, sir.
RENEThis past week, our state legislators passed a bill that have allowed businesses to discriminate against sexual orientation based on religious grounds. I guess it's waiting on the governor's. We've already passed other bills. They pretty said you're not welcome here to immigrants and now to homosexuals. I'm just wondering how far the country will allow my state to go as far as telling people that they're not allowed here.
REHMAll right, thanks for your call, Rene. Laura Meckler?
MECKLERWell, you know, in terms of how far the country will allow the state to go, which was the question, I guess there's a question whether this will be appealed up and if the Supreme Court at some point will say that this is not allowed. It's essentially a clash of rights. But I think the thing that's -- the most interesting thing about this is that in recent we've seen a rampant acceleration of the gay rights movement in this country.
MECKLERGay marriage is being -- same-sex marriages are being allowed in states that you would never have a thought, where at least there have been rulings that were allowed, and if they are allowed to stand. And I think that most people think that there's been a rapid acceleration of the acceptance of gay and lesbian relationships. And so, now, we essentially are seeing a backlash, where we see social conservatives trying to come back and say, well, no we have another card in our deck essentially.
MECKLERAnd that is these new laws that are trying to say that, you know, private businesses can refuse service to people who are gay if they find it offensive. So, you know, it may in fact become a law in Arizona. There's another effort in Kansas that actually is stalled in the legislature. So I think it's definitely an open question whether these will be allowed to stand. But it shows that this issue is not settled in this country.
REHMAll right. Here's an email from Jim in Washington, "The CBO report is so unexpected. Is there any reason to say there have been policy or political changes in the traditionally nonpartisan CBO to explain their report?" Major?
GARRETTNo. I think it's a disagreement among economists. And one thing that the Congressional Budget Office does, just that listeners understand because they're asked questions by legislators about pending legislation. What would be the economic impact of this policy change? And then the CBO presents that to its economist, runs data analysis, checks existing research on a topic and produces a report.
GARRETTAnd I think Ed and I would agree, and Laura as well, they do it in pretty short order. I mean, they produce a tremendous amount of analytical and research-based presentations to Congress. So they have a lot of workload. It's not like minimum wage is the only thing they're asked about.
GARRETTAnd the White House disagrees, but it does not find the CBO analysis partisan or in any way gamed. They just have an economic disagreement.
O'KEEFELet me. Please.
O'KEEFEThere are three-letter abbreviated places in town that we consider genuinely nonpartisan, the CBO, the GAO, the Government Accountability Office, and the CRS to some extent, the Congressional Research Service. Folks don't really believe that they're becoming partisan organizations. They're not. What always happens is someone will disagree and immediately turn around and criticize the report on its methodology or its findings.
O'KEEFEBut that same lawmaker is probably requesting a similar report or something completely different from the same exact place because they're able to hold it up as a gold-plated, nonpartisan arbiter of policy and whatever else Congress is debating.
REHMAll right, let's go to Patty in Palm Coast, Fla. Patty, you're on the air.
PATTYYes, thank you, Diane. Yes. I was very pleased about the Nebraska decision, not allowing the Keystone Pipeline. We've had too many environmental disasters. The BP oil spill caused what's defined as dead zones in the Gulf where no sea life can exist. Research -- other disasters in West Virginia, North Carolina. But here in Florida, something a lot of people don't know, boaters are allowed to dump their waste, namely excrement, into our lakes, rivers and coastal regions.
PATTYMy husband and I are not boaters. But if you rent a paddleboat, you will see floating piles of human feces moving with the tide on the Halifax River. Now, the governor here wants more marinas being built. That means more boats. But no one is addressing this dirty little secret of what's being dumped in our precious water.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling, Patty.
O'KEEFEI'm going to Palm Coast this weekend, Patty. I'll check the water. My mother in law lives down there, too.
GARRETTEnjoy the swimming.
O'KEEFEI'll get back to you.
REHMHow about the Keystone?
GARRETTYes. OK, so here's what happened. In 2011, the Nebraska legislation, the governor signed a piece of law that said the governor could assert eminent domain privileges on behalf of Trans-Canada, the company that wants to build the Keystone Pipeline and then run it through a section of Nebraska. A judge said, no, you can't. The Public Utilities Commission of Nebraska, which regulates all of this matters, must do that and must be the only authority with the power to grant eminent domain.
GARRETTAnd there is an interesting echo of the Gilded Age in this creation of the Public Utilities Commission of Nebraska because it was founded in the late 19th century to prevent governors from giving railroad barrens then unlimited access to terrain in the state of Nebraska. This puts the Keystone Pipeline decision already delayed many years. I was in Toluca, Mexico with the president and Prime Minister Harper of Canada and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto at the summit this week.
GARRETTAnd Stephen Harper was very gentle in his rhetoric, but there was no mistaking Canadian officials. They are frustrated at the delays with the administration on the environmental implications of Keystone. The White House continues to assert this is going through the normal process. The Canadians feel it's being slow-walked. Well, now this judge's ruling complicates things in one section of that pipeline, namely the part that would go through Nebraska.
REHMAnd then somebody came out today and said you'd be better off environmentally if you did the pipeline rather than have the oil transported by trucks. On the other hand, who says it has to come through the U.S. at all? And that's the question.
GARRETTWell, the United States is open to it. The Canadians want to have it go through there because it's easier to take this tar sands generated oil and not sell it in America.
GARRETTBut to sell it to foreign purchasers who would take out to the Gulf of Mexico. It's a much easier place for that to happen.
GARRETTIf you go straight west to Vancouver, along the Canadian-U.S. border, that's a much more complicated porting position.
REHMBut they don't want it, Major.
GARRETTThey don't want to do it. No, they want to go through the United States.
REHMExactly. They want to take it through the U.S.
MECKLERAnd I think no discussion of this can be complete without noting that President Obama has been a -- we've been waiting for him to make a decision on this for now years going on where, I think, when the clock is starting to run out now. And just recently, the State Department ruled that -- concluded I should say that there would be no significant impact on global warming or emissions of the damaging materials that affect climate change. And so that essentially puts more pressure on the president and on his administration to approve the pipeline.
REHMBut how about the environmentalists who voted for Mr. Obama in overwhelming numbers against this XL Pipeline?
O'KEEFEAnd that's part of why there's a belief among Republicans especially that this is being slow walked, because how many times did he walk into a closed door fundraiser of the president and especially out on the West Coast and been confronted by big environmentalists and liberals who say, look, I've given a lot of money and time to this party and you better not do this. Also, remember, Secretary of State John Kerry has a pretty good environmental record throughout his Senate career and faces the difficult decision as well.
GARRETTAnd just called climate change an order of magnitude of a weapon of mass destruction.
GARRETTThey did that a week and a half ago while in Indonesia.
O'KEEFESpeech in Indonesia, right. So, you know, these two guys will have to make the ultimate decision certainly facing...
GARRETTAnd it's not just the West Coast where the president gets an earful. I've traveled with the president across the country. And people protest on Keystone relentlessly wherever the president goes.
REHMAbsolutely. All right. Let's talk about Scott Walker, the release of 27,000 emails from ex-aides, reopening a chapter of the Wisconsin governor's political past. What's that all about, Ed?
O'KEEFEThis is about when he was county executive of Milwaukee basically or Milwaukee County. And it has to do with whether or not his campaign aides were in too close consultation with county officials. And so you've had now 27,000-plus pages of documents released. This dates back to when before he was governor. You know, is there a lot of there, there? As one of my colleagues who's been reading through them says, if you've been following this case in Wisconsin all the way through, there's not much.
O'KEEFEBut for the rest of the country, for Republicans who are thinking about possibly holding up Walker as a potential standard bearer in 2016 or those of us in the national political press corps who are examining the backgrounds of these potential candidates, there's a lot there because there's a lot of conversation about, you know, about the details of his official work and his campaign, about they vetted different people that were going to be working with him. And it's a really good demonstration of how someone in official office sort of balances his official work with his political work.
MECKLERWell, I mean, balances is a nice way to put it. I mean, essentially what we have is we have county employees doing political work on government time. I mean, and that's what it kind of comes down to. Now, I will say that for people who cover politics and been around politics, this is kind of like a, you know, I'm, you know, shocked that there's gambling going on here type of situation.
O'KEEFEIn Las Vegas, yeah.
MECKLERI mean, everybody from -- you know, there are plenty of official -- White House officials who are on the government payroll all throughout President Obama's re-election who spent probably every waking moment thinking of nothing but his re-election, you know, even as they were being paid by taxpayers. So it's not -- and having conference calls and all sorts of things. So, I'm not saying they broke the law, but I'm saying -- and you have members -- congressional staffers who will be on, quote, "vacation" for weeks...
MECKLER...before their member is up for re-election. And they're working in the district campaigning.
REHMAnd that's just par for the course.
MECKLERAnd they're technically on vacation, so they're not being "paid."
MECKLERBecause a member of Congress can give as much vacation as they want.
REHMHow does this line up with what's happened to Chris Christie in New Jersey?
GARRETTWell, Democrats want to conflate the two. You have a scandal-tarred governor in New Jersey, and now there's another scandal-tarred Republican in Wisconsin. See, they're all full of scandal, and they're all miscreants. And that's a perfectly logical step for the Democrats to take. The larger issue for Scott Walker is, first of all, there's no debate about this. People have been prosecuted in Wisconsin over this, aides for Walker.
GARRETTThey have admitted guilt. Walker was never prosecuted, never even charged. And nothing that was released this week was unknown to those who made that decision, point one. Point two, there is another investigation going on about the recall and whether or not Gov. Walker's office was inordinately and possibly illegally coordinating with outside groups on messaging and polling and other things in the recall effort.
GARRETTThat investigation is still going on. People don't know exactly what it's all about and where it's heading, but that is another dimension of the story that does raise some question for someone like Scott Walker who was trying to assemble a national fundraising team to appeal to those in states outside of Wisconsin that he can build a political network, which is the kind of work you need to do now if you have any thought at all of trying to run for president.
O'KEEFEAnd Major makes a good point. Make no mistake, Democrats know that Republicans' best candidates for president are governors. Disclosure rules and the scrutiny of governors is always sharper than it is for lawmakers. And what they're trying to do here is...
REHMAnd they had experience...
O'KEEFEAnd they have several -- and they have experience and they several, you know, out there who could conceivably emerge as the frontrunner. So what are they hoping to do? They're hoping to discredit Christie, Walker, maybe guys like John Kasich and Mike Pence, Bobby Jindal so that all you're left with are Republican lawmakers in that equally unpopular Congress we like to talk about. And the thinking is among Democrats, if that's all they've got, then someone like Hillary Clinton is a slam dunk in 2016.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Michael in San Antonio, Texas. You're on the air.
MICHAELYes, Diane, hello. I would just like to remind people that the average congressman makes about $85 an hour. OK, in terms of minimum wage -- when you compare it to the minimum wage, half of them are millionaires. A lot of them get government benefits because they have farms and other things. And, you know, I think that needs to be brought into the discussion.
MICHAELAs far as this case in Florida goes, if that guy who shot into that Jeep had been a black guy shooting into a Jeep with four white kids, this whole thing would have been totally different. You know, so something has got to be done in terms of this Stand Your Ground law. It's, you know, I don't know what's wrong with the folks in Florida, but they need to really get themselves together. That's all I have to say, thank you.
REHMMichael, thanks for calling.
GARRETTA logical sentiment and part of the Florida conversation. Justice is reshaped as just-us in the minds of some who -- with that exact assertion, that if the absolute numerical relationship of this case was precisely the same but the races were different, not only would this have been prosecuted differently, possibly not. It probably had been first degree murder charge, but it would have adjudicated differently -- is the assumption that many African Americans in Florida and around the country have when they look at this case.
MECKLERAnd, Diane, as you pointed out, you know, the contrast of the Marissa Alexander case, I think, partly was the fact that because in this case the assailant, the person who was trying to use the Stand Your Ground case was African American. And so people look at that and say, well, is there a double standard here?
O'KEEFEI see Michael's point about $85 an hour for lawmakers is reason why something, I believe, will still probably be seriously belated if not passed.
REHMAll right. And finally to Padma (sp?) in Jacksonville, FL. Hi there.
PADMAHi, Diane, and happy Friday to all of you.
PADMAListen, I live in Jacksonville, and I live 20 minutes away from where the Jordan Davis shooting happened. And this past weekend, when the jury deliberated over this one person's right to be fearful of his life and juxtaposing that against this young man's right to live and the deliberations that happened around a judge, it was just a very sad commentary on the justice system. And also the, you know, compare that with Marissa Alexander situation, you know, I don't know where Florida is going with this whole thing. So I just wanted to...
REHMI don't think anybody does, Padma. Thanks for your call.
GARRETTThis goes back to my point that this is going to provoke, I believe, a reexamination because, in the abstract, Stand Your Ground sounds plausible. It sounds defensible. It sounds like an assertion of self-defense right. In application, in the hands of fallible human beings with maybe deep-seeded fears that society hasn't quite considered when these laws were put on the books, it turns out quite differently. And the stark differences...
REHMAnd combine that.
GARRETT...in assumption and application, I believe, will provoke a broader conversation and probably a change to the fundamental assumptions underlying Stand Your Ground laws.
REHMCombine that with the right with the right to carry concealed weapons, and you really got the formula for if you throw popcorn at somebody, you get shot. I want to take half a minute here. This is from Mike in D.C. "Can you explain for me the net gain for Americans for this pipeline? My understanding is few to no long-term jobs, price of oil will not come down, the oil is sent to tax-free zone for refinement. Will the tiny gain we might get outweigh the risk of catastrophic damage?"
REHMYou might just think about that. First, we're going to say goodbye now. We'll talk about it another time. Major Garrett at CBS News, Laura Meckler of The Wall Street Journal, Ed O'Keefe of The Washington Post, you all are terrific.
GARRETTThank you so much.
REHMHappy Friday to you. 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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