Syrian rebels seek evacuation from the besieged city of Aleppo. President-elect Trump chooses an Iowa governor with good relations with Beijing as ambassador to China. And Italy’s prime minister resigns after a referendum defeat. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week's top international news stories.
The Friday News Roundup: An independent report widens the scope of alleged misconduct at VA hospitals. A shooting in California renews debate over gun control. And new data show the US economy shrank last quarter. Diane and a panel of journalists discuss this week’s top domestic headlines.
- Jeff Mason White House correspondent, Reuters.
- Manu Raju senior congressional reporter, Politico.
- Ruth Marcus columnist and editorial writer, The Washington Post.
Is Shinseki’s Resignation A Distraction From Larger VA Issues?
Media attention in the wake of the scandal around wait times at Veterans Administration hospitals has focused largely on VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation.
But as speculation grew Friday morning around whether the retired U.S. Army general would remain in his position, some said it was a distraction from solving the department’s history of serious issues.
The problems at the VA “go well beyond what’s happening in Phoenix,” and for that matter, with Shinseki, Reuters reporter Jeff Mason said Friday on the Diane Rehm show.
For instance, said Ruth Marcus, a columnist at The Washington Post, the VA has issued 18 reports on veterans’ wait times since 2005–an issue that predates both Shinseki and President Barack Obama.
And it’s not clear how quickly lawmakers will focus on those kinds of issues even now that Shinseki has announced he will step down.
Watch the full discussion below
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MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Democrats and Republicans call for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to step down amid broadening allegations of mismanagement. A shooting in California renews debate over gun control and new data show the U. S. economy shrank last quarter for the first time in three years. Joining me for the week's top domestic stories on the Friday News Roundup, Jeff Mason of Reuters, Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post and Manu Raju of Politico.
MS. DIANE REHMYou are always a welcome part of the program. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or sends us a tweet. Welcome to all of you.
MR. JEFF MASONGood morning.
MR. MANU RAJUGood morning.
MS. RUTH MARCUSHi.
REHMGood to see you all. Manu Raju, there was another horrendous shooting in California this week. Three people were killed with a knife, three with a gun, 13 people injured before the shooter, 22-year-old Elliot Rodger took his own life. What was different about this particular case?
RAJUWell, in a lot of ways, authorities were alerted ahead of time that there were potential mental issues involving Elliot Rodger. His parents had contacted the police and said that there's something not right with our child. And the police came and they investigated the situation and they determined that there was nothing to be done. They didn't really realize that there was anything wrong with him.
REHMWithout sort of investigating his living quarters.
RAJUThat's right. And as a result, there's a lot of concern that more should have been done ahead of time, either by training police so they can better assess the mental state of a potential assailant ahead of time or, you know, spending more money overhauling the whole mental health system in dealing with how people can purchase and access guns.
RAJUIn a lot of ways, it's similar, though, as we've seen in other rampages across the country that these warning signs have not been found ahead of time and people who shouldn't have guns had access to them pretty easily.
MARCUSI think Manu's exactly right. This is the kind of tragic similarity that there are these warning signs and they are either not heeded or police are appropriately -- it looks terrible in hindsight, but police are appropriately respecting people's right. You don't want us to be locking up or invading the homes of or taking guns away from people who haven't been adjudicated.
MARCUSAnd I say that as somebody who's very much in favor of gun control. I think, however, that one thing that is very interesting and kind of sickly different in this episode is the misogyny of the shooter. It spawned this Twitter campaign, @yesallwomen, and with more than 2 million tweets responding with women telling their individual stories to his manifesto that was just filled with anti-women hatred.
MASONWell, and that manifesto is another unusual part of this thing is that we actually got to look into the thoughts that were going through his head in the long period of planning up to this killing and one of the thoughts, as Ruth mentioned, was his hatred for women. But he also mentioned that episode where the police came to his door and he clearly was able to fake it, fake the fact that he did not have mental illness enough that it would trigger them coming in.
MASONAnd then, he wrote later that that was his greatest fear, that they had figured it out and were going to come in and discover the guns and basically prevent him from making this rampage much later.
REHMYou know, up until now, we've heard those who are in favor of gun control say you've got to go for the guns. Those who are opposed to any further form of gun control argue the mental health issue and that we need to find those people who are potential shooters. How can we do that without somehow strengthening those mental health laws?
MARCUSWell, I think one thing that we have to do is make sure that people who need help can get help. This was a privileged young man who had sort of economic access to help and the most horrifying, chilling scene in this whole thing to me is the notion of his parents getting call or email and racing up the freeway trying desperately to stop him from doing this terrible thing, but access...
REHMBecause they had gotten the manifesto and the film.
MARCUSBecause they had gotten -- exactly. And they called the police and, you know...
MASONAnd a call from a therapist.
MARCUS...what a horrible mess. No parent could imagine being in that situation or should have to. But access to mental health, I think having a serious national conversation about how we're going to draw the line between suspicion and personal freedom. I think one thing that this makes clear, also, is in addition to mental health issues, we need to have, yes, once again, a serious conversation about gun control issues, but it can't be done on a state by state basis.
MARCUSIt has to be done on a national basis to be effective. California has some of the most stringent gun laws in the nation, but if you want a gun in our gun-laden country, you can get one easily across state lines or legally in California.
REHMYou've got Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel trying to come up with a new proposal. What's that, Manu?
RAJUYeah. It's, like, you know, this is in response to a court order that said that Chicago's gun sale ban was not in line with the second amendment. And so what Chicago did was come out with a proposal, very strict plan, that would require strict monitoring at gun shops, actually have video surveillance of all gun purchases and really restrict gun sales throughout the city.
RAJUI think almost 99 percent of the city would not have access to gun purchase in gun stores. The reason being that in Chicago, rampage, there's been deadly rampages, gang-related violence throughout the city, worse than L.A. and New York, even though those cities are much bigger.
REHMSo do any of you see anything new coming out of this horrendous shooting in California?
MASONWell, you did see, this weekend, Senator Blumenthal saying on Sunday that he'd like to revive some of the gun control legislation that failed at the beginning of Obama's term and focusing that legislation on the mental health issues. So I think it's possible that we'll see renewed calls from people like him and others in Washington.
MASONBut the truth is, there was no political will, or certainly not enough political will, to make anything pass when Obama tried after the shootings in Connecticut. And, you know, if anything was going to lead to the national conversation that Ruth just mentioned, it was Newtown.
RAJUYeah, I mean, you're not going to see any changes on the policy front out of Washington, but one thing that the House did yesterday was that it actually increased funding for the national criminal background check system. It's a modest increase of about $19.5 million and it still, you know, will be funded if under the House bill at $78 million even though it's authorized at about $190 million, far short of the authorized level that was created after the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech.
RAJUSo there actually was a modest move by the House yesterday in response to this massacre last week, but if we're talking about a larger overhaul to plug those holes in the background check system, that’s certainly not going to happen this political season.
REHMAnd the same time, you've got Congressman Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, talking about involuntary commitment of individuals who exhibit serious mental health issues. That is going to be our focus on Monday to perhaps somehow give parents greater authority as in this case where they see a son, a child, a daughter who needs help. Ruth.
MARCUSAbsolutely. And we saw the horrible case in Virginia with the state senator, but I want to say, though, my heart is with the parents and my instincts are with protecting the public. It is a very serious thing to talk about involuntarily committing people and so that does require a serious conversation. I'm looking forward to the Monday show.
REHMBut if there are no ways to move the Congress, to move toward any control of greater gun limitation and when you see what's happening in Chicago, when you see what's happening all over the country, surely there's got to be something that can be done, Jeff.
MASONYes. I think that's the big question. And having the political will to do so and also facing the reality of the limitations, that laws and that lawmakers have. I mean, the man who did this horrible, horrible shooting in California bought his guns legally and so looking for some of those solutions will be really important. Rahm Emanuel and the plan we were just discussing cited evidence that having this kind of surveillance at gun shops does actually have an effect.
MASONSo in that...
REHMWhat kind of effect?
MASONIt has -- it will have an effect on what kinds of guns get into that hands of criminals, that they have some research that shows that. Whether it's enough to say this is a reason to do it and whether a city like Chicago can be a model for other cities is another question.
RAJUYeah, and the critics of that proposal say that, look, you can just go into the Chicago suburbs and purchase gun in much easier or you could go to neighboring Indiana and buy a gun and bring into Chicago. So having those restrictions in a city may only go so far.
MARCUSYou know, it's fascinating. There was a mass shooting in Australia. I think it was in the 1970s and in the aftermath of that -- I may be getting my decade wrong -- but in the aftermath of that, the country passed a national gun control law that basically had a buyback program. People gave back their guns and there has not been a mass shooting in Australia since.
MARCUSIt was very effective, but it shows that the effectiveness can only happen if we do it on the national level, which is hard to imagine here.
REHMRuth Marcus of The Washington Post, Jeff Mason of Reuters, Manu Raju of Politico. Short break, we'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back to the Domestic Hour of our Friday News Roundup this week with Manu Raju of Politico, Jeff Mason of Reuters, Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post. On our discussion regarding guns and the shooter in California, Sarah in Alabama writes, "I'm tired of the University of California shooter being given the mad man excuse. If a black gang member in Chicago shoots up the known headquarters of a rival gang, do we call him mad? No, because his motives were clear. Elliot Rodger told us his motives. He killed others because he hated women and thought that women owed him sex. Misogyny not madness." Ruth.
MARCUSI don't think they're mutually exclusive. Most -- there's a lot of misogyny in the world. Not all of it ends in murder. This was misogyny plus madness.
REHMAll right. And Richard in D.C. writes, "People who have mental health issues are rarely violent. They're more likely to be victims of violence. Violence is limited mostly to paranoid schizophrenia. Your discussion makes it sound as though anyone with depression or anxiety disorders is likely to be violent." I certainly hope you didn't get that impression from our discussion because it was surely not intended. Indeed this young man was given medication for schizophrenia and refused to take it. We're not talking about people with anxiety disorders, which probably encounters the entire population of at least this country.
MARCUSCertainly inside the beltway.
REHMExactly. And here's a Tweet from Alicia, "70 percent of mass shooters are white males even though they're only 30 percent of the population. Our patriarchal society needs to be looked at." What do you think of that, Jeff Mason?
MASONI think it's hard to draw a conclusion based on random acts of violence like this that are so tragic and horrific. And I think the human instinct is to try and figure out why and to try and say, oh it's this group or it's because of this reason or it's because of this law. But the bottom line is, all of these things are very difficult to understand both on a policy level and on a human and emotional one.
REHMAll right. I'm going to open the phones on this topic. Let's go first to Dunn Loring, Va. Hi, Christine. You're on the air.
CHRISTINEGood morning, Diane. First of all, I'd like to say I'm a UCSB grad and I lived in Santa Barbara for 20 years. And this really hits home.
REHMI'm sure it does.
CHRISTINESecond, I would like to say that I don't believe this was madness or mental health issue either. I think it was a self-entitled over-indulged child who had enabling parents. And the latest example of their influenza is that they're using a talent agent to get out their message of how devastated they are, never mentioning the parents of the kids. And by the way, he was not on medication for schizophrenia. He was on Lexapro, which is an anti-anxiety medication.
CHRISTINEThat's what he refused to take.
REHMOkay. You may be right. I'll double check my statement, but I thought he had been diagnosed with an illness more serious than simply...
CHRISTINEAnd one more point I will make is that they were so concerned that they picked up their -- they didn't pick up their telephone and call the police that night. They got in their car for an hour-and-a-half drive when they could've made a 911 emergency call.
MARCUSI was under the impression that they did desperately try to call the police. And I hear the caller's anger and her frustration.
MARCUSI -- as a parent, my heart goes out certainly to the parents of the victims. It's horrible, the father who blamed the gun culture was just -- made you want to cry, as did the Sandy Hook moms who I interviewed. But my heart also goes out to these parents who seemed, at least from what I've read, to have struggled with a son with mental health issues for a very long time. And sometimes in those situations there's not very much you can do as a parent, especially of a child who's over 18 or 21.
REHMAll right. And to, let's see, Richard in Liverpool, N.Y. You're on the air.
RICHARDWell, good morning, Diane. And I absolutely love your show. It's sad that these types of discussions have to occur.
RICHARDBut my heart goes out to the injured parties and the families of the victims. I, as an older person, often wonder about things I see on the news media, you know, the knockout game and things like this. And although I'm concerned about the guns in our culture, I don't see that I have an alternative. For example, if a person was being attacked by another person and a good Samaritan who's legally armed offered to intercede, would all of the people who are so concerned about gun control say, well no, sir, please do not intercede because I have a philosophical problem with guns?
RICHARDAnd in reality when -- in Biblical sense when Cain disabled Abel, what would the news stories have been talking about the next day?
REHMAll right, sir. Thanks for calling. Manu.
RAJUThe caller certainly hits on the debate that's been consuming both congress and the states in that, you know, do more guns lead to more violence or do they actually stem violence? And the folks who advocate for gun rights, the NRA, aggressively are pushing for more guns. And they say that things like which happened at Sandy Hook could've been prevented if there were armed guards. So that's a constant debate that's happening at the state level.
RAJUAnd as you've seen, there have been laws that have been enacted in the states that have actually loosened gun laws that have led to more access to guns, notably in Georgia earlier this year. So we're seeing that play out and certainly that's one area where folks were advocating for gun rights were pushing.
REHMAll right. Let's turn now to Edward Snowden. Jeff Mason, what did we learn new, different, amazing from Brian Williams' NBC interview with Edward Snowden?
MASONWell, there were lots of little bits I think that we learned. Nothing necessarily amazing but lots of little bits. He said he'd like to come home but he doesn't want to live in a jail cell. He said that he was trained as a spy and made a point of downplaying government suggestions that that was not the case. He said he thinks he's a patriot and sort of defined patriot as somebody who protects his country. And there was a very sharp rejoinder from Secretary Kerry who said, patriots don't go to Russia or apply for asylum in Cuba and Venezuela.
MASONAnd he said he has no ties to the Russian government and expressed some frustration with freedom of the press in Russia, freedom for bloggers. So those were a few of the elements that were interesting.
REHMThe NSA released a memorandum that -- one memorandum whereas Edward Snowden said, many memos had gone back and forth.
RAJUYeah, Snowden tried to make the point that his leaking of these documents to the media was not his first recourse. He actually had gone through official channels to raise concerns through the system. But the NSA pushed back pretty aggressively and said, well actually there's only one email that Edward Snowden...
REHMBut how do we know whom to believe? I mean...
RAJUExactly. That's the whole thing is that really what's happening is a PR war on both sides. On Edward Snowden's side clearly he was doing this to look like a hero in the eyes of the American public. And folks on the administration side say that he's not. He's a trader. So that effort to release that email was certainly part of a push to undermine his credibility.
MARCUSWell, he says he went to the government ten times. If he's got a lot of emails and a lot of documents, I'd sure like to see those if he's got them. What the NSA released, and I totally take your point, we don't know if they have more. We don't know if they looked for more and failed to find it. But it certainly wasn't, to me, convincing evidence of somebody who had diligently, fruitlessly tried to go through channels only to be rebuffed.
REHM...go up the -- yeah.
MARCUSI actually thought it was a little bit more of the same from Snowden. He thinks he's done the country a great service. And he should be welcomed home with a tickertape parade. I doubt that that's going to happen. I thought the most interesting tidbit is that he's watching The Wire and doesn't think that much of season two.
RAJUIt was blasphemous, actually.
REHMThe idea that he'd like to come home and, you know, be able to state his case, he says if he did come home he would be charged as a spy and thereby not be allowed to state his case.
MARCUSWell, I think he's got some legitimate claims and some less than legitimate claims. There are certainly some questions about whether there are adequate protections, and this is sort of his decision to do it in advance, questions about whether they're adequate protections for whistleblowers in the national security area. He's argued that he's treated differently as a contractor. That's not totally accurate but there are certainly risks for whistleblowers in national security of retribution.
MARCUSAnd there are also certain limitations on what you can -- how you can defend yourself and whether you can use whistle blowing as an affirmative defense if you are charged. But it's also certainly true that if he wanted to come home and state his case, he could state his case and get due process of law, which is -- sorry to be snarky here -- more than you can get in Russia.
RAJUAnd that's sort of the irony here. He even acknowledge that that he's in Russia where he was critical of the lack of press freedoms that certainly we don't enjoy in the United States, that he's in a country where they don't have the things that he's advocated in the United States to have. So, you know, that -- but if he did come to the United States, he certainly would -- he broke the law so he would be tried as someone who broke the law. And that's something that he would have to live with if he came here.
REHMBut what about his relationship with Vladimir putting?
MASONWell, I mean, he was able to get a question into Vladimir Putin when Putin had this press call a few weeks ago, which I think was interesting. And clearly there's no sign that he's trying to get out of Russia. The temporary asylum arrangement that he seems to have appears to be much more than temporary.
REHMIt seems quite comfortable, as a matter of fact. Where is...
MARCUSHe's got streaming video, you know.
REHMYeah, he's got that, but how did Brian Williams arrange this? How -- where did it take place? Do we know that?
RAJUI'm not entirely sure the logistics of it happening, but I think that Edward Snowden had every motivation to want to state his case publically in such a primetime manner. In the aggressive way that NBC promoted it too probably helped him in the eyes of the public.
MASONAnd he tried to build a little sympathy for himself, you know. He talked about missing home. He talked about missing his family. He talked about missing his work and his colleagues. So that's -- it's interesting some of the human bits that he made a point to getting across.
MARCUSI just want to share one of the self-serving statements that actually got my goat here. He was asked about why he wouldn't come home and face the music and he said, it would quote "serve as a bad example for other people in government who see something happening, some violation of the constitution and think that they need to say something about it." And, come on.
REHMAnd that is the voice of Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's talk about the Texas primaries. This time Tea Party rules, Manu.
RAJUYeah, there was a couple of Tea Party wins in state races. There was Lieutenant Governor's race, David Dewhurst who's a longtime figure in the state, a 16-year veteran, lost his reelection there against a man named Dan Patrick, the state senator, a conservative radio host who had really galvanized the right wing of the party. There was also another win in the Attorney General's race, Ken Paxton, a man -- another person who had really gotten that Tea Party fervor behind his campaign.
RAJUBut the marquee race of the day was the Ralph Hall, a 91-year-old congressman, a longtime, 18-term veteran member who lost his runoff against John Ratcliffe, a former U.S. attorney in the state. And, you know, that was significant for a lot of reasons, one of which that now that Ralph Hall lost, next congress there'll be no more World War II veterans serving in congress after John Dingell, the Detroit Congressman has announced his plans to retire.
RAJUBut the Ralph Hall race was not necessarily your typical Tea Party versus establishment dynamic. That -- both Hall and Ratcliffe had support from Tea Party elements in their races. And Ratcliffe was a self-funder. Put a bunch of his own money into that race. Really kept competitive with Ralph Hall's campaign. This was more along the lines of -- this is a long-serving member and someone who may not, you know, be fit for all of us anymore. That was a campaign that was run against him and it was run effectively.
MASONThe other thing that was, I think, significant from those races is what it means about Ted Cruz, the senator from Texas who is a Tea Party leader, a potential presidential candidate in 2016, after a lot of races where the Tea Party candidates lost. The fact that these candidates in Texas won where Cruz is such a force certainly reinforced him and his place on the national stage.
REHMAnd Ruth Marcus, meanwhile here in Washington, some Senate Republicans are calling for the creation of a policy manifesto. What's this all about?
MARCUSWell, you know, everybody wants to know if -- what the Republican Party stands for beyond let's repeal Obamacare and have hearings about Benghazi. And Manu wrote very intelligently and interestingly about this. I think it's a -- the Republican Party did very well with the contract for America in 1994. And there's always a tension between explaining what you believe in and attracting voters and not being too specific about what you believe in and alienating voters.
MARCUSAnd to some extent, that is -- that's true of both parties and that's the debate that's going on in the Republican Party right now. As a policy person, I love to see specifics, but I have to say these documents tend to have a lot of flowery general language and not the specifics of the contract of America. And I'm not really sure -- I mean, Lindsay Graham and others have been calling to get specific. I think the Republicans, especially looking at their chances in the Senate, think they're doing really rather well by ducking the issues and just attacking the president and his Democratic friends.
RAJUYeah, running against the president seems to be working much more effectively.
REHMAll right. We're going to take a short break here. But before we do, I just want to let you know that CBS News reported that Elliot Rodger was prescribed an anti-psychotic drug called Risperidone but refused to take it. Risperidone is an anti-psychotic drug mainly used to treat schizophrenia. Short break here. When we come back, more of your calls, your comments. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back to our domestic hour of the Friday news round-up. And as everyone knows, the president is expecting to meet with V.A. Secretary, General Shinseki today. What do you expect to come out of this meeting, Manu?
RAJUWell, I don't think Shinseki is going to be around for very much longer. It seems that they're trying to figure out an exit strategy. And Shinseki went to the White House with an internal audit to detail exactly what he views as a situation. Of course, this all blew up this week in light of a very scathing inspector general report finding long wait times at V.A. facilities and in cases of wait, this wait list being abused by V.A. staff and understating how long folks have been waiting for heath care.
RAJUThis is a situation where Shinseki cannot sustain this level of criticism and outrage that's pouring in from all sides -- Washington, Democrats, one after the other are calling for him to resign. The administration needs to move past this and needs to look like they're doing something about the accountability at the top and then also as well as how to deal with that actual problem, which is the fact that these veterans are not getting health care in a timely fashion.
REHMAnd we should point out that Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, an ex-V.A. official and wounded Iraq war veteran has also stepped up and said she believes Eric Shinseki should resign. She went on to say, "Our first priority should be the veterans. And whether Secretary Shinseki will stay or go is too much of a distraction." A distraction, Ruth?
MARCUSWell, I think it's certainly distracting us now. I think that there's two levels in which we need to talk about this. One is the level of accountability. And we've had this conversation before. Should the president have fired Secretary Sebelius for the botched rollout of Obamacare? Or should he have waited to let her go after things were fixed. I thought Speaker Boehner may be similar. Interesting point when he was asked about General Shinseki yesterday and he said, the question I ask myself is him resigning going to get us to the bottom of the problem.
MARCUSIs it going to help us find out what's really going on? I think those are legitimate questions. But at a certain point, you just have to say, where is the accountability? General Shinseki this morning describe the situation at the V.A. as, quote, "inexcusable." If it's inexcusable, who takes the fall?
MASONWell, and he wants to fix it. I mean, he apologized this morning. He talked about steps that he's already starting to take.
REHMWell, he's fired the top level people at the Arizona facility.
MASONRight, at the facility in Phoenix. And he said they're reaching out to all 1,700 veterans who are waiting for care. So he's clearly fighting for his job. But I think it's interesting that the president has signaled that his job is on the line. He did it again in an interview that was aired this morning, saying he was going to have a very frank conversation.
MASONSerious conversation with Shinseki. And that's, you know, that's probably not what you want to hear if you're Shinseki going in.
REHMBut of course, as you've said, Ruth, the president is not one who enjoys firing people.
MARCUSIt's not just that he doesn't enjoy firing people because really other than maybe Donald Trump, who among us does? But it's also that I think he really is offended by the Washington instinct to call for people's heads without thinking it through. But I'd like to talk a little bit about whether Shinseki stays or goes. And I agree with Manu that he is -- it is -- he is not going to be around for very long.
MARCUSI'd be surprised if he survives the day. But whatever happens, there is a serious problem at the V.A. There is a serious problem that goes well beyond what was happening in Phoenix. If you look at the inspector general's report, they've had 18 reports on wait times and failure to get access to care. Eighteen reports since 2005. That is something that precedes General Shinseki...
MARCUSAnd Obama, good point.
MARCUSAnd that is the part that's really seriously inexcusable.
REHMWell, this problem goes way back through various administrations, does it not?
RAJUYeah. And that's because this is such a sprawling bureaucracy. It's interesting to see how the debate that's playing out on Capitol Hill over how to fix the problems over veterans health care. On one side you have Republicans in the House who are pushing for legislation that would allow veterans who've been waiting longer than 30 days to actually seek private care instead.
RAJUAnd then on the other side you have Democrats in the Senate who are pushing for funding for new V.A. facilities, about 27 V.A. facilities in order to alleviate that backlog of folks who are waiting for care. So, really, you're seeing a debate play out over the -- the philosophical debate play out between the two parties about whether the government should be involved in health care or whether this should be done through the private sector.
MASONAnd we shouldn't ignore the politics of all this. Many of the Democrats who have called for Shinseki to go are running in very tough reelections in their states. The president also is someone who, back on the campaign trail in 2008, made a lot of promises about veterans, veterans vote. And so that's one reason why this issue is such a big one in Washington, not only because of the very legitimate reasons of these major problems there.
REHMI was interested that the American Legion became so loud in its outcry.
MASONAbsolutely. And those groups have a lot of credibility and that ties in with what we are just talking about with regards to politics.
REHMAnd some lawmakers are actually demanding a criminal investigation, Ruth.
MARCUSThat seems a trifle silly to me. When I say silly, I'm not discounting a problem. But turning this into a criminal investigation isn't going to help anybody get the health care that they need. And just to underscore the nature of the problem, the average wait for these folks in Phoenix, according to the inspector general's report, 115 days to get to a primary care physician. That's just unconscionable.
RAJUThe official figure made it look like it was just 24 and that's even more unconscionable. Because what was happening was, people were incentivized to make sort of disappear these people because they're bonuses and merit pay and things...
REHMExactly. Depended on it.
MARCUS...depended on it. You want people to be incentivized, but not to rig the system against veterans.
REHMExactly. All right, I'm going to go back to the phones to Bob in New York City. Hi there, you're on the air.
BOBHi, Diane, thanks for taking my call.
BOBI just want to say I enjoy -- I'm a faithful listener for decades and I really enjoy the commentary and a lot of the issues that are brought to light.
REHMThank you. Thank you.
BOBI just find it to, you know, I was sitting her listening and the commentary on Edward Snowden, you know, I think we just don't realize the risk that this man took to do something that was absolutely necessary to be done. And, you know, to throw him under the bus at this point because he took a risk to bring an important debate to light I think is despicable. And it delivers a message to anyone who wants to do the right thing when they see a very powerful entity or organization such as our defense establishment and our government doing something that is completely out of line with our values.
BOBAnd all of this started with the rhetoric of the Bush administration around Saddam Hussein. And, you know, everything after 9/11 we've pressed the panic button and behaved in a way -- in many ways that I think is somewhat despicable.
REHMBob, thanks for your call. Ruth?
MARCUSWell, Bob reflects obviously a very widespread view about and Snowden's own view about himself as a patriot. I would respectfully dissent from that, at least somewhat. I think Snowden certainly raised -- we've talked about national conversation on gun control, he certainly raised the important national conversation about the extent of the surveillance state. And it is fair question about whether we could be having that conversation had he not gone outside proper channels to do it.
MARCUSAt the same time, I'd say a few more things. He didn't, as far as I can tell, try to raise this conversation through any kind of proper channels. He just took it on himself. Second of all, he didn't just release information and take information about domestic surveillance and the extent to which our privacy is compromised, he took a lot -- took and released a lot of other information that, from my reporting, is very damaging to the United States.
MARCUSAnd I'm not sure I'm very comfortable with the notion of letting some individual who has access to this classified information decide for himself that it's a good idea to take it.
REHMAll right, let's go to Tony in Lancaster, PA. Hi, Tony, you're on the air.
TONYHi, Diane. I'll pass you the regular compliments. Love your show.
TONYThere's something, a background thing that I think is never discussed here and I really like to get it on the table. I heard your panelist say, you know, Edward Snowden is at a place that doesn't have real trial by jury and Edward Snowden should come back here and face the law. Well, I hear those in every news media without anybody ever really talking about the fact that trials in the United States are not like -- they're not like a TV show.
TONYEdward Snowden, if he comes back here, and I'm not talking about general guilt or innocent. He'll face millions and millions of federally funded dollars, everyone as prosecutors, high-powered lawyers working for the Justice Department.
REHMSo you're saying he -- if he -- he would not be in a fair fight. And what do you say to that, Jeff?
MASONWell, and that's certainly Edward Snowden's argument as well. I think the administration would argue exactly the opposite that Constitution and the rights that Edward Snowden says he's trying to protect are there and available to him. He has a right to an attorney. And no doubt, if he did come back here and face those charges, that money would be matched by the many, many civil lawyers...
RAJUCivil liberty lawyers.
MASONYeah, there would be money.
REHMBut my question has to do with trying someone under the espionage law and what rights could be denied him under that law. And I don't have the answer to that.
MARCUSWell, I believe it's correct that he would not be able to use as an affirmative defense, I was trying to save the country from itself and I was trying to alert the American people. That's just not a, as a legal matter, a defense to these charges. And so...
REHMWhat would he use then? That's the question.
MARCUSWell, that's, you know, why God invented plea bargaining.
REHMYeah, exactly. All right, let's talk about immigration and the delay of the deportation review. What happened there?
MASONWell, all of us who cover immigration have been waiting for weeks now to find out what the Department of Homeland Security would do on deportations. The president asked the secretary to look at the number of deportations and to look at what could be done, what the administration can do to reduce them. The president is under a lot of pressure from immigration groups because of that.
MASONAnd so we are expecting results quite soon. And what happened this week is the president asked the secretary to put off the results of that report until the end of the summer to give Congress, and specifically House Republicans, more time to take up legislation. And what that means is the White House believes that there is a genuine chance that Republicans will get behind some kind of immigration reform in the next two months before the general election, the 2014 midterms comes up.
MASONAnd he's willing to keep taking the grief from advocates to make that happen. And I should note as well that some of those very advocates encouraged him to do that and said, look, we see room for legislation to happen. So let's not hijack that opportunity by coming out with a report that will upset many Republicans who might help us.
REHMJeff Mason, he's White House correspondent for Reuters. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Ruth, a good strategy on the part of the White House?
MARCUSI'm not so sure. I mean, on the one hand, Jeff said the White House believes there's a genuine chance. I would say maybe I might amend that slightly and say they believe there's a slim chance. It's a very, very slim chance. The interesting thing was that the administration's announcement that it was going to withhold executive actions and further determinations.
MARCUSBut potentially only withhold that for a while didn't seem to sit very well with, for example, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Bob Goodlatte who's in charge of House rewrite of immigration laws, who basically saw it as more not in the nature beneficence and withholding from the president in restraint but more like a threat. If you don't get it done, I'm going to step in and act.
MASONBut that threat has been there for a while. I mean, it's hard to see how that is new.
MARCUSBut he didn't respond -- what I'm saying is, he didn't respond well to the president's asserted restraint.
RAJUI think it all really speaks to the fact that a lot of these advocates and people who are pushing the immigration reform bill see this as a last chance potentially for the president to get a bill for his entire presidency because if this bill does not pass this Congress, then next Congress we get in we have a larger House Republican majority. There's a chance the Senate Republicans take the majority back.
RAJUAlso, you have people like Marco Rubio who are instrumental in pushing the bill through the Senate now possibly, probably running for president in 2016. He's not going to want to do a comprehensive bill. He's already said he will not do one in the next Congress. And so, the politics changed dramatically. So this could be the last chance.
REHMNow, finally, on Wednesday, Maya Angelou died. And since then, there's really been a huge outpouring of grief, sadness. This is a woman whose biography was absolutely remarkable. She read a poem at swearing in Bill Clinton in 1993. What is her legacy to women and to African Americans, Ruth?
MARCUSWell, I had the privilege of being on the Mall and hearing her in 1993. And that voice is just so magnificent. I think that her legacy is that of someone who survived the most grotesque hardships and mistreatment and managed to rise above it all. I was listening to her reciting some of her poetry this week with so much humor and verve. And you just think, if she can rise from the situation that she was in and really transfix a nation with her poetry, that just sends a wonderful signal to not just young women everywhere but people everywhere.
REHMAnd what do you think?
MASONWell, and she just did so many things. She was a civil rights activist. She was a professor. She was an actress. She was a director. She was a dancer and she was a teacher. And I think it affected so many people how she lived her life. I think something that touched me and no doubt touched many people, her last tweet on May 23rd went like this, "Listen to yourself. And in that quietude, you might hear the voice of God."
REHMI thought that was so beautiful. Jeff Mason, White House correspondent for Reuters, Ruth Marcus, columnist, editorial writer at the Washington Post, and Manu Raju of Politico. Thank you all.
RAJUThank you, Diane.
REHMThanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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