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Senators still have questions after a White House briefing on the release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. GOP Senate candidates in Mississippi’s primary head for a runoff. And a look at the unemployment picture for May.
- Jerry Seib Washington bureau chief, The Wall Street Journal.
- Olivier Knox chief Washington correspondent, Yahoo! News.
- Jeanne Cummings deputy government editor, Bloomberg News.
Watch A Featured Clip
One of the questions surrounding the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was held captive in Afghanistan for the five years, is what effects the exchange will have on the country’s security, as well as its politics.
How do you balance the life of one American against the lives of five members of the Taliban, one caller asked on The Diane Rehm Show’s Friday news roundup.
Jeanne Cummings, the deputy government editor of Bloomberg news, said the move was part of what President Barack Obama called a commitment to bringing American soldiers home, a sentiment supported by many across the country.
But some critics have said the way the release was handled, with a celebration in the Rose Garden, was inappropriate given the information that is still unknown about the conditions in which Bergdahl disappeared. The exchange could also encourage more abductions, other critics have said.
Watch our panel discuss public sentiment around the issue, along with the politics and policy at play.
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Watch the full video of our news roundup from our studios.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. President Obama sticks by his decision regarding the prisoner swap that freed Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. The U.S. economy added 217,000 jobs in May leaving the unemployment rate unchanged. And GM releases its internal report into the botched handling of a defective ignition switch.
MS. DIANE REHMHere for this week's top national stories on the Friday News Roundup: Jerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal, Jeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News, and Olivier Knox of Yahoo News. I invite you to join us. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. You can send us an email to email@example.com. Or follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And thank you all for being here on this beautiful day.
MR. JERRY SEIBThank you.
MS. JEANNE CUMMINGSGood morning.
MR. OLIVIER KNOXThanks, Diane.
REHMGood to see you all. Jerry Seib, the Bowe Bergdahl story has certainly been the biggest and really quite fascinating. President Obama is saying he's not apologizing for the prisoner swap. What do we know about this, the details of this swap thus far?
SEIBWell, I think we know that this -- the idea of this swap, generally speaking, has actually been under discussion for two years, probably a little more than that. It didn't come to pass for various reasons in the past. It was not thought to be a good idea by Obama Administration officials earlier. I think we know that one of the things that changed their view of this was a proof of life video that was produced late last year of Sgt. Bergdahl that showed him in deteriorating health. It changed the way people in the administration viewed the value of doing the deal.
SEIBAnd they got some more written assurances from the Taliban about what would happen to the Taliban prisoners released to Guder, and assurances from Guder in writing, which was really hard to find earlier. And in the aggregate, I think the administration decided, it's now or never. And that's why this happened. What we don't know is whether Bowe Bergdahl walked away, was captured, deserted, or simply wandered into something he had no idea of when he was captured five years ago.
SEIBAnd we may never know that.
REHMIt's interesting, Jeanne. As Jerry says, it's been talked about for years. The New York Times lead editorial this morning says that Sen. John McCain was open to the idea of a prisoner exchange for Bowe Bergdahl. And yet as soon as it happened, he went on the attack. How do you see what's happening? Is the reaction to the exchange purely political? Or are there good reasons to complain to the president?
CUMMINGSWell, there's -- I think that the Congress concern that they were not given any alert is an issue that they can legitimately raise. Whether the president needed to comply with a 30-day rule or not seems to be in some legal dispute and certainly doesn't seem to comply with the circumstances that the White House was dealing with at the moment. Now, the White House has said they couldn't alert Congress because the Taliban had threatened to kill Bergdahl if any leak of any kind occurred.
CUMMINGSThat was kind of a late explanation. They didn't tell everybody that straight up. That came later on. And I think if you look at the record of Sen. Feinstein and Chairman Rogers in the House, they have been briefed on many secret things over the course of years. They've never leaked anything. There -- the trust issue there should have probably been there. And I think that those two in particular have the best standing to complain. A lot of this is political.
CUMMINGSThere were -- you know, there were plenty of conservatives on Fox News and elsewhere that were tweeting about, you know, fighting to get Bergdahl back and to bring him home, you know, just in -- months ago. And now, all of a sudden, it's the worst deal they've ever seen. And the only reason to pivot like that is because the president did it and, secondly, because of this -- these four or five soldiers who served with him came out so quickly, identified him in such a negative way, and changed the storyline from, you know, bringing -- at the end of the war, bringing home our one POW to something a lot more complicated.
REHMOlivier, how do you see it?
KNOXWell, you know, John McCain, what he said was that he would be, in principle, open to it, but it would depend on the details. I think that, depend on the details is doing a lot of work in that sentence. But I think it's fair for him to say now that he's being mischaracterized -- his position's being mischaracterized in the press, I think. It's not entirely political. It is wrapped up in two huge policy questions that are intricately connected. One is the end of the combat operations in Afghanistan.
KNOXAnd I would say that one of the factors that shaped the White House's decision to make this swap now is that they're trying to wind it down by the end of the year. And so there's a real question -- and this is the second part -- about what happens to the detainees at Guantanamo Bay. So they're both big policy questions. It's undeniably politically shaped. As Jeanne mentioned, there's been a lot of retroactive -- there's been some Twitter deletions that -- who have flipped 180 degrees. But I don't think it's entirely political.
REHMThere are people who are very concerned that this could set a precedent for kidnapping other Americans.
KNOXSure. I would say to those people we've been at war for an awfully long time in Afghanistan. And I don't think this paints a particularly new bulls-eye on capturing Americans. You know, the Israelis have been doing these prisoner swaps for years, including for the bodies of dead Israeli soldiers, trading hundreds of Palestinian detainees. I don't think this is -- I don't think this adds any really major element of risk to the Americans who are already facing, you know, deadly combat almost every day.
CUMMINGSAnd the underlying presumption there is that because the Taliban thinks we may not negotiate with them, they're not trying to capture any of us. Well, of course, they are. I mean, they -- if they can capture us, they will. If they -- we're at war. If they could kills us, they will. And, you know, so how does this increase the odds that somebody's going to get captured when that's part of war?
SEIBWell, and I think the -- it's important to distinguish between a prisoner of war and a hostage. I think there's been a tendency here to conflate the two. I think the administration would have probably served itself better if it had, from the beginning, said, look, this is not a hostage situation. We're not negotiating for the release of a hostage. This is a prisoner of war situation. At the end of a war, you do a swap of prisoners of war. And that's what we're talking about here. That's not really the way it kind of came through.
SEIBI also think, as Jeanne suggested, they probably would have done themselves a lot of good by picking up the phone and calling at least Sen. Dianne Feinstein who's the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and just given her a heads up. I think it would have changed the tenor of the reaction.
SEIBAnd that might have changed the arc of the storyline. Those two things didn't happen, and I think that, if the White House had it to do over again, they might not have had the parents in the White House press room with the president doing a kind of a celebration of this. They would have done it -- maybe should have done it more quietly.
REHMSo the PR part of this done...
SEIBNot so great. Yeah.
REHMReally kind of done the wrong way.
KNOXBut they were expecting blowback on the release of the Taliban detainees. They were expecting blowback on the question of what to do with the people at Guantanamo Bay. I don't think -- they should have expected some kind of blowback on who Bowe Bergdahl is and the mystery surrounding his disappearance. But they were clearly anticipating all this personalized stuff, having the parents at the president's side to me, they -- it sounded -- it just looks like they were trying to pre-emptively counter the Guantanamo complaints, not the Bergdahl points.
SEIBThat's a good point. And I think the, you know, the notion, which they articulated very well at the Pentagon subsequently, was, look, we do not leave people on the battlefield. That's the principle here. And that, you know, that could have been the guiding principle more clearly at the beginning.
KNOXI spoke this week a couple days ago, actually, with Stanley McChrystal, who was the commander of the Afghan War at the time that Bowe Bergdahl was taken, and the person who ordered a massive search and rescue or a recovery effort to find Bowe Bergdahl. And he said two things about this to me. One was he said, we don't leave Americans behind. That's unequivocal. And he was very passionate about it. Then he added, now, are there things about other details about this that people will argue about, yes. And I will leave that to them. But he was very forceful.
REHMNow, what about the notion that six Americans were killed in the search for Bowe Bergdahl? What do we know in facts about that, Olivier?
KNOXWell, what we're seeing is a sort of a drip, drip, drip of information about that where the initial reports that there were six Americans killed and many more wounded in the search effort of Bowe Bergdahl seems to be falling apart a little bit. Some of the people who were reported as having been killed in the search for Sgt. -- for then-Pvt. Bergdahl appear to have been killed in other operations that were not connected, some of them connected to Afghan elections and others to just regular combat operations. So the picture's emerging slowly from Afghanistan as to what happened to those folks.
REHMYou know, it's so interesting, Jeanne. The American public sees and hears one aspect of this. You all clearly can read among the tea leaves. What do you think the impression of the American public is on the release, the swap of Bowe Bergdahl for five members of the Taliban?
CUMMINGSWell, I think that it's -- I don't mean to speak for the public without having real data on my hands. No one's surveyed the public. My experience -- excuse me -- in dealing with average people, average folks out in the middle of the country and not in the hot house of Washington, is that they are very compassionate, and they are parents, and that they would want their child to come home. And so I think that the idea in the long run, when we do start getting some feedback from the public in any systematic way, is that an argument about a, you know, a phone call to Dianne Feinstein or should there have been a Rose Garden...
CUMMINGS...or this or that, compared to, should you have brought that soldier home before you walked off the battlefield a year from now, I -- my suspicion is that most Americans would agree with that.
REHMJeanne Cummings, she's deputy government editor for Bloomberg News. Jerry Seib is Washington bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal. Olivier Knox, chief Washington correspondent for Yahoo News. Short break, other topics when we come back. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd welcome back to the National Hour of our Friday News Roundup. This is being video streamed, so if you'd like to see it as well as listen to it, go to drshow.org and watch video stream. Here's an email on Bowe Bergdahl. It's from John in Franklin, N.C. who says, "I'm disappointed. One of the commentators said something to the effect we may never know the truth about Bergdahl. I don't think that's a correct statement unless the Army refuses to examine his actions on the day he left his platoon, and intelligence afterwards on his capture. If Mr. Bergdahl is a deserter, the Army should hold him accountable, and the facts will have to be examined." Olivier.
KNOXWell, I think that's a fair point. The story is far from over. You know, the whole point of the last couple of days, at least in the official communications from the Army, has been that they're going to conduct an inquiry -- a full inquiry. They're going to talk to Sgt. Bergdahl. They're going to get down to -- drill down into the details of the night that he went missing, that he disappeared. There's a pretty solid chance that he could face -- you know, obviously if they come up with misconduct, he'll face a court martial. There precedent for this.
REHMI find myself wondering why the video that apparently showed Sgt. Bergdahl in such dire physical shape has been classified thus far and why the American public has not been allowed to see that on which the president and his advisors based their decision, Jerry.
SEIBIt's a good question. You know, there's a similarly interesting classified document which is the earlier -- I think it was 2009 Pentagon inquiry about what they thought then happened when Bowe Bergdahl disappeared. That's a 30-some-page investigation, fairly thorough. Apparently it was done at the time. It's contemporaneous with his disappearance, and that's classified as well. People have described it, but it hasn't been released. I suspect eventually we will see all of this. I mean, as Olivier suggests, we're not done here by a long means.
REHMBy a long shot.
CUMMINGSAnd there is -- yeah, there is discussion in the White House that started yesterday about maybe releasing that video tape. As to the Pentagon report, it was the initial investigation which, as Jerry said, sources have told many in the media is quite thorough and does conclude that he left of his own will. But they stopped short of applying any motivations to it. Was he a deserter or whatever? They don't go there because they have to talk to him. They have to find out what happened. And that's one of the reasons that it will be difficult to know exactly what happened.
CUMMINGSBecause we don't know if Bergdahl will remember things with clarity.
REHMThat's a good point. Jerry.
SEIBThere's also one other point here that's important to remember that we haven't mentioned here, which is that one of the motivations the administration has had all along here was to see whether it's possible to use a successful conclusion to the Bergdahl story as a way of establishing a dialogue with the Taliban that might -- or at least parts of the Taliban that might have much broader implications and good ones for the future of Afghanistan.
SEIBThere's an attempt here to use this process to build some credibility on both sides that we can do business with each other because eventually I think the feeling is you're going to have to come to some accommodation with the Taliban in Afghanistan if you're going to stabilize it.
SEIBSo one of the reasons all these things are sensitive, including the video, including the earlier investigations, is the administration views this in the context of whether we can establish or convince the Taliban that we can be -- we will conduct good faith negotiations with them if they will only conduct good faith negotiations with us and with the Afghan government. So there's an added layer of sensitivity that goes well beyond the Bergdahl case.
REHMAll right. And I know we could spend an entire hour on Bowe Bergdahl, but there are May job numbers out there, Olivier. American employers added 217,000. What does that tell us about the state of the economy? Are we truly on a steady ramp to recovery? Or are those who are no longer applying for jobs weighting the economy down?
KNOXWell, it's a pretty good number. It's the fourth straight month of 200,000 jobs being added. It's the first time since the year 2000. It also marks an important landmark in that it's -- we finally recovered the 8.7 million jobs lost in the recession. But you're right. The labor participation rates concerning -- about as many people return to the labor force has got jobs. And that's important.
KNOXBut it's still true that I think we're still at the lowest labor participation rate since 1978. And that's the number you hear a lot from Republicans who say, look, the unemployment figures don't count because there are so many people who are discouraged, who are not looking for employment, and therefore who are not counted in that 6.3 percent unemployment rate.
REHMSo, Jeanne, what does this mean?
CUMMINGSWell, I think it is a steady ramp, but it's not a very steep one. Yeah. This recovery has been slow, and that's part of a pattern that we've seen for over 20 years that during -- after a recession, each time the recovery has gotten longer and slower. And this one is very slow. But it's -- but we have, for several quarters now, been consistently moving in a positive direction but not fast, not steep.
SEIBOne of the interesting things about this number is that there were 217,000 jobs added, 216,000 of them, almost all of them were in the private sector. One of the things that I think gets too little attention is how much the decline in government employment has contributed to the job cratering.
REHMAnd why has that happened?
SEIBWell, governments in the recession started to run out of money, and not just the federal government, even more importantly state and city governments. They stopped hiring people. They laid off people. That was a huge drag on the overall employment picture. This month tells you it's not moving into the plus category by much, but it's at least stopped being a drag.
SEIBThe good news is that most of the jobs that are being created are being created in the private sector, which everybody would agree -- almost all the jobs are being created in the private sector. And everybody would agree that's a good thing to have happen. The other thing that the administration is happy about here is that you're seeing a sign that the drag of government employment on the overall picture may at least be at an end. And that's also important.
CUMMINGSYeah. There were times last year when we would see the number of jobs created in the private sector offset by the number of jobs that were lost when state governments in particular were really laying people off and ratcheting that.
REHMBut state governments and the federal government have not begun hiring again?
SEIBStates have. States have to some extent.
SEIBYeah. And -- but more importantly, as Jeanne suggested, they stopped laying people off. They've stopped cutting back. And you have to start somewhere. And the starting point is, don't be a drag anymore on the national employment picture. And that seems to have at least happened.
REHMOK. And, Jeanne Cummings, the scandal at the VA has certainly been one of the ongoing stories of the last few months. And now there apparently is a new bipartisan deal announced that would give the acting secretary of the VA more power. Tell us about that.
CUMMINGSYeah. There are three important elements in the legislation although it's more -- it's going to get bigger because this is going to be a bill that's going to -- has a chance of life. And so we're talking Christmas tree. People are going to be adding to this. But the three really core elements of it, they allow the secretary to fire people faster and impose some real discipline on the system. They allow the veterans who are experiencing long delays or who live in remote areas and have difficulty accessing the system a path to get private coverage.
CUMMINGSAnd it adds $500 million to it to hire new doctors and nurses and to provide some other services to the veterans. So therein is the compromise. The Republicans in the Senate initially were resisting any new funding. And so they -- and the unions had a lot of problem with these new ability to fire people. So they compromised in that area. Everyone -- it was a bipartisan idea to let them go outside of the system if the system couldn't manage them properly.
REHMI see. And, Olivier, you mentioned you talked with Gen. McChrystal. I gather he took himself out of the running.
KNOXHe did. He said that whoever takes over the really troubled VA is going to have to have a unique set of skills. And he said modestly, I think, that he doesn't have the skill set required. He's the wrong guy, that he cares enough about the VA that he doesn't want to have the wrong guy at the head of it. And he said something interesting, which was -- two things -- one was that what the message this has sent to veterans is that it's devalued their service. It's devalued their sacrifice. He's very sensitive to that. And the other thing he said was that he hopes that whoever gets installed there has the freedom of action, is given the freedom of action to really fix the place.
REHMI wonder what that means.
KNOXI think it partly means what we're seeing in this proposal, in this legislation. I think it means the ability to hire, fire, promote with greater flexibility. I also think it means the additional resources, frankly, the additional money that would give whoever that is more flexibility.
REHMOf course, my question is, what doctors are going to want to go to the VA under the kinds of restrictions they face? But, Jerry, more importantly right now, who is in line for this top job?
SEIBWell, it appears that the leading candidate at the moment is a doctor named Toby Cosgrove who's the chief executive of the Cleveland Clinic, an extremely well-respected health…
REHMAnd a veteran.
SEIBAnd a vet of Vietnam War, former U.S. Air Force heart surgeon who's run the Cleveland Clinic, which is an extremely well-respected institution. That's not announced, but he seems to be at the top of the White House list. And there are other names floating around. One of the more interesting ones I heard this week -- I have no idea how realistic this is -- was Donna Shalala who used to be HHS secretary, now is the head of the University of Miami, and who got involved in a commission that helped sort out the earlier scandal in the military healthcare system at Walter Reed Army Hospital.
SEIBAnd so you need -- but I think what somebody like that or Dr. Cosgrove brings to the table is, above all, experience running big complicated institutions. And the VA is, if nothing else, a big complicated institution.
REHMWhat about Tammy Duckworth?
CUMMINGSYep, yep. That's a House member who is also a veteran who has been named as well. But the -- Jerry just touched on, I think, what is the most important thing for the White House to have in mind. And that is scale, scale, scale. The VA is just gigantic. And, you know, Dr. Cosgrove has an excellent record. He's innovative. He was apparently a great doctor who, you know, created some medical devices that are named after him, seems like a really brilliant person.
CUMMINGSBut the Cleveland Clinic handled 5.5 million patients last year, the VA, 84 million. The Cleveland Clinic has 40,000 workers. The VA has 338,000 workers. It is -- the scale of it is, I think, what is the problem, which -- so a hospital in Phoenix can, you know, do whatever, and it will take -- they're a needle in a haystack. And trying to track that kind of stuff is difficult. So the skill set that the White House will be searching for should include someone with an extraordinary ability to look at a giant place, figure out what kind of layers of leadership need to be installed in order to maintain it, and keep an eye on it.
REHMJeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Jerry Seib, what is the takeaway from the primaries that we've had this week, the Tea Party versus the establishment, for example, in Mississippi?
SEIBWell, it was for the people in the Tea Party who wanted one big day that they could talk about in this primary season. They haven't had many. They may have gotten it in Mississippi where Chris McDaniel, who's a Tea Party favorite, barely edged out in the primary Thad Cochran, the incumbent Republican Senator and somebody who...
REHMBu not quite enough.
SEIBBut not quite. There has to be a runoff. He beat him -- it was essentially a tie between the two, but they -- neither got over 50 percent, so there will have to be a runoff on June 24. The conventional wisdom says if you go to a runoff, the challenger and the guy who's leading an insurgency has the advantage 'cause his people are very motivated to show up on a day when nobody expected to have to vote.
SEIBAnd the people who are supporting the incumbent tend to sort of yawn and stay home. And that may or may not be true in Mississippi. We'll find out soon. Democrats would like to think that the infighting, which will now go on for weeks and expend more Republican dollars, makes Mississippi at least a possible pickoff for them. I still think it's hard to imagine a Democrat winning a statewide race in Mississippi right now. But that's what happened in Mississippi.
SEIBI would just add as a footnote, the better news for Republicans on primary, I think, came in Iowa where a very good candidate emerged to run for an open Senate seat being held by Tom Harkin who's now retiring. Joni Ernest is a state senator, and she turned out to be a great candidate that came from nowhere to win that primary.
REHMWhat do you think, Olivier?
KNOXI think that the Joni Ernest story is a really fascinating one. I think that she -- well, we -- she's best known for having run the most attention-grabbing political ad of the cycle. It was called...
KNOXIt was called Squeal, and it focused on her background, her ability to castrate hogs. And it drew a lot of attention, a lot of national attention. You talk to Republicans though on both the establishment and the Tea Party fronts, and you hear a lot about how Joni Ernst has really hit a sweet spot between the two and that she's done a very good job. You know, she's got all the insurgent credentials that she needs, you know, Harley-riding, pistol-packing, hog-castrating...
KNOX...military veteran, right. She has all these attributes, but she's really -- the establishment liked the fact that she's an attention-grabber, that she's smart, and she's a really good candidate. And the insurgents think they see one of themselves in her. She's really hit a really great sweet spot.
CUMMINGSYeah, she definitely did. She had the support of the governor, who's very much aligned with the traditional wing of the Republican Party, Gov. Branstad. And she was endorsed by Sarah Palin. So that's what she managed to do. And having, you know, a united Republican Party electorate in Iowa will help her as she goes up against Congressman Braley who is a very good politician himself who had no trouble in his primary. So he's well-funded and rested. And so...
REHMAnd Romney's a former presidential nominee -- Mitt Romney's candidates did well.
KNOXThey did, they did. Mitt Romney's still telling people that he's, you know, not interested in running again. But he certainly is leveraging his profile and his resources pretty capably here. I wonder whether we're going to get a boomlet of, gee, should Romney try to run again.
KNOXThe people I've talked to sort of near him have said, no, I don't think that's in the cards. But, you know, it is interested to see how he's leveraging his influence.
CUMMINGSOne of the things that's also important about Mississippi is that the -- this is big break for the Tea Party because the establishment wing had them on their heels. And that loss in Mississippi -- if Cochran had won, that would've been the prelude to three or four serious House races that are coming up. And now they're back.
REHMJeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News. Short break. When we come back, we'll open the phones. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back to the national hour of our Friday News Roundup with Jerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal, Jeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News, Olivier Knox of Yahoo News. Jerry, a number of people have written in asking us about whether John McCain, while he was held prisoner by the Viet Cong was traded for Viet Cong prisoners. I think the answer is no.
SEIBWell, no. I mean, the real -- this real story there is that John McCain, while a prisoner, resisted or refused to be -- to allow himself to be released as a propaganda tool because he was the son of a famous American admiral multiple times while he was in the POW camp in the Hanoi Hilton.
REHMBecause he would have been released before others with whom he was there in camp.
SEIBCorrect. Right. And he decided that was a dishonorable thing to do, so he stayed in the camp, refused to be released. And then in the end, he, like many others, was released as the war came to a conclusion. As the Paris Peace talks concluded, part of that was a release of prisoners -- or exchange of prisoners generally. So that was not really a trade. That was a release of prisoners, and John McCain was released then because he refused to allow himself to be released earlier.
REHMDo you want to add anything, Olivier?
KNOXYeah. We started this conversation by noting The New York Times editorial about Mr. McCain's alleged change in position. And they really mischaracterized his position both before the trade and after the trade. As I said at the top, he said that he would generally be inclined to favor a trade, depending on the details. Well, that matters. Depending on the details does matter.
KNOXFive Taliban, 10 Taliban, 30 Taliban, these sorts of details matter. And then afterwards, you know, he didn't immediately denounce this agreement, this trade. He built up to that, and he said, after looking at the evidence or what he knows, he criticized it. So that was a little -- that was a bit of unfair shot today.
REHMAll right. Let's open the phones, 800-433-8850, first to Kelly in Port Orange, Fla. Hi there. You're on the air.
KELLYHi, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
KELLYRegarding Sgt. Bergdahl, no one knows the whole story until there's more information. We're hearing politicians, like Sen. McCain and others, that these five Taliban are high risk, the hardest of the hardcore, are responsible for killing our soldiers. Three thousand Americans were killed on 9/11 because of the most dangerous threat, Osama Bin Laden.
KELLYWe were supposed to catch Bin Laden in Afghanistan. Somehow he escaped to Tora Bora. So, for seven years, Bin Laden was a free man. How much damage to our troops was he responsible for during that time? I don't remember Congress calling out George W. Bush to catch the most dangerous terrorist in history. President Obama did.
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call. Jeanne.
CUMMINGSWell, Kelly does raise an interesting point, and that's, if you look at the five that were in the -- in this as part of this exchange, four of them are Taliban. And only one of them really has ties to al-Qaida. And, you know, there are many things that led up to this decision, lots of circumstances, as Jerry said, years in the making, but among the things that had changed was that the Taliban is a lot weaker in Afghanistan now than it was, say, three years ago.
CUMMINGSThe Afghanistan forces are a little bit better than they were. The timeframe of the war, it's almost done. The president's determined to have almost everybody out, except for trainers. And these Taliban folks at Guantanamo Bay at some point were going to have to be released. So part of it was, what do we get in exchange for them? Is this an opportunity in addition to potentially some of the political and diplomatic gains that Jerry spoke of earlier in the program.
KNOXI would just add that in 2004, in 2008, the Democrats made a lot out of the fact that Bin Laden had escaped and had not been brought to justice. So, actually, members of Congress and national Democrats had really been pounding the Bush Administration for this. The -- one of the big rationales of Obama's victory in 2008 was that the Bushes had taken their eyes off the "good war" of Afghanistan in order to fight the bad war in Iraq, and this had let Bin Laden escape, run free, and what have you.
REHMAll right. To Lisa in Dayton, Ohio. Hi there. You're on the air.
LISAOh, thank you for taking my call. It's quite an honor. I was calling regarding to the VA system, and it was addressed when you mentioned that Dr. Cosgrove would be in consideration to head the VA medical system. I think that one of the things that's very important in restructuring the program is for a physician executive who has experience and understanding of a complex system, how to provide the support that the physicians need to work more efficiently, one of the comments that I heard today from one of the Republican congressman was, physicians just need to work more efficiently.
LISAAnd my husband was in the military for 30 years, and then he had a contract position and to provide care for military dependents. And one of the things that was very frustrating was that, in order to control cost, support staff and payroll was one of the first things to be cut. And so it's very hard for a physician to be efficient when he doesn't have the support staff. He has to bring the patient back to the room. He has to set up the room. He has to make up his own biopsy tray. He has to do a lot of things that techs need to do. And so I think the system -- I think the question should be, how can the system be in place for the physician to be efficient?
SEIBWell, I -- yeah, I think Lisa makes a really good point.
SEIBAnd I suspect most people who know the VA in Washington would totally agree with her, you know, that the -- you know, that most people will tell you that, once you get through -- and, in fact, President Obama said this, that once you get through the maze and off the waiting list and into the VA system, your healthcare tends to be pretty good.
SEIBNow, we did the story in the Journal this week that said that's not universally true. There's actually a lot of variation among VA centers in terms of quality of care. So there are problems in the healthcare delivery segment of the operation as well. But most people realize their failure has been one of kind of administrative -- ease of administration and quality incompetence of administration, and that's really where, I think, you're going to see most of the attention focused.
REHMAll right. One more subject today. I want to ask you all about General Motors internal review. Yesterday, the internal investigation into its handling of a defective ignition switch was released. What did we learn, Jerry?
SEIBWell, it was a pretty scathing review that said essentially this question of what went wrong here bounced around inside GM from committee to committee with nobody taking responsibility for fixing it for years. So on that level, it was pretty tough. And the GM CEO Mary Barra admitted it was a pretty tough and unflattering portrait of GM.
SEIBThere's a minority view on this -- and Sen. Blumenthal from Connecticut articulated it probably best yesterday in which he said, well, this is great, that is, to come clean. But, on the other hand, isn't it interesting that all the top chief -- all the top executives can't come off clean? They're not taking the fall. Some lower level people are being blamed, and they're being pushed out. So is that a tough report? Or is that a kind of a whitewash of the people at the top? You get your choice.
KNOXThirteen deaths, 47 crashes, a problem that stretched over a decade, as Jerry points out, the very top executives at GM don't seem to be implicated in their internal report. There's no way that Congress is just going to let this lie. I think there was talk yesterday from some senators that they were impressed with the report. They thought it was, you know, good for GM to come clean. I just can't see Congress letting this one go completely, just because of the length -- the duration of the problem and the seriousness of it.
REHMSo Mary Barra stays where she is. Top executives stay where they are. What's fascinating to me is that sales of GM products during May have gone sky high.
CUMMINGSWell, it is, and that's important for the company to deal with this as quickly as they can. It -- I mean, it is true that the hierarchy is remaining in place. In part, that's because some of them weren't even there when -- including Mary Barra in her position -- when this happened. There's one piece of the report that talks about the CEO or another high level executive may have seen a video illustrating the flaws with the switch. But he was gone three weeks later when Obama and the White House came in and took over the company. So there was a lot going on...
CUMMINGS...at the time that there might have been an opportunity to catch what was happening with this ignition. It also coincided with the financial collapse of the country. So there's a lot of bad things that all came together. The one turning point the report seems to identify is, in 2006, when an engineer actually decided to redesign the switch because it had become so problematic. And somehow, that redesign was not sent up through the chain of command which would have triggered someone to say, well, then what do we do?
CUMMINGSWe've got to recall the old ones. That seems to me to be the biggest miscommunication. That was their best moment to catch what was happening.
REHMSo, as with Sgt. Bergdahl, will there be further hearings?
CUMMINGSOh, yeah. They're already scheduled.
CUMMINGSThere are going to be hearings in the House and the Senate.
REHMAnd back to Bergdahl, hearing scheduled on that swap.
SEIBOh my gosh. I -- yes. I think you can be -- you can rest assure you can hear about Bergdahl issues for months to come. But I think, as Olivier said first on this discussion, that this moves -- probably moves into the military justice system. And so that will curtail what people will be willing to say in a public forum. And that may be the ultimate way this is adjudicated, if that's the right word.
REHMAll right. To Menzure (sp?) in Houston, Texas. You're on the air.
MENZUREFirst of all, thank you very much for taking my call.
MENZUREWell, at the (unintelligible) I think the comment I have on Sgt. Bergdahl, you know, he wanted to protect the (unintelligible) people in the country who are criticizing him right now. We don't know what happened with him, whether he left. You know, the only person who can left in the wilderness of Afghanistan would be someone with mental health issues. But he was captured.
MENZUREAnd, on the other hand, we have five Taliban, which we have no hardcore evidence to prosecute them. They will be in our system forever if we don't end up (word?) them. So we have our prisoner of war, and we have an opportunity to bring him back home and then bring him back to justice and figure out what happened with him. I really don't know why the Republicans are making this a more -- like a political issue than just the issue the way it is.
KNOXWell, part of that -- part of the answer to why Republicans are making this an issue -- I would say there are two different wings of the response -- one is politics. The president held a Rose Garden event. Some of the president's aides insisted that Bergdahl had served with honor and distinction, even though there were questions about (unintelligible) of his disappearance.
KNOXAnd that raised it into a political issue immediately. The other half is the policy question which is, what do you do about Guantanamo Bay? How do you wind down the war effort in Afghanistan? And those are -- you know, those are pretty substantial questions of policy that they're going to be working on all year.
REHMAnd we'll be talking about just those issues during our first hour on Monday. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And let's go to Jim in Spring Lake, N.C. Hi there.
JIMGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.
JIMYou know, I get that, you know, the Republicans don't want the president to look good on this, and I get that, you know, this has got to be a political issue because he didn't seek their permission first through Congress. But isn't one American life worth five Taliban? I mean, to me, I'd like your panel to answer, what is it that I'm to be afraid of from these five Taliban? And why should I value what they can do over the soldier that went over to protect our freedom, regardless of what he did when he got there?
CUMMINGSWell, that -- Jim sums up, I think, a lot of the debate and the ultimate conclusion within the administration that the staying true to the idea that we don't leave folks behind, honoring the fact that he volunteered. Sources have said the initial report that the Pentagon did on this found that, while he was a little quirky, he was a pretty good soldier. He showed up on time. He was dressed and in uniform...
REHMHe wandered away.
CUMMINGSYeah. He was a little quirky. He wandered away a couple of times and then came back.
REHMYeah. Yeah. Right. Right.
CUMMINGSSo -- but they didn't view him as a big problem. And so what do we owe him and his family for the sacrifices that they did make and versus, you know, these five prisoners who are now 12 years older, have not been part of the leadership for a long time? You know, the iPhone wasn't even invented when they went in. So much has changed. And, you know, really, how dangerous might they be?
REHMAll right. A couple of other comments. Donald in Peoria has said, "You ought to divide the chairmanship of the VA into Eastern and Western divisions. It's too big a job for one person if we want to minimize bureaucracies." That make sense, Jerry?
SEIBYou know, I have to admit I don't know enough about the way the VA runs to know what makes sense. There's another possible division. There's a part of the VA that handles disability benefits and other veterans programs and the part that handles only healthcare. And that's a -- you know, there is a kind of a division within on that. Maybe the healthcare system ought to stand alone as its own agency. You know, I think these are existential questions about the VA that everybody's going to look at. Now, they've been danced around for years. I think one of the -- there's a silver lining in this cloud is that they'll now be addressed head on.
REHMAnd one other email from Jeff who says, "I understand the political realities of getting elected. But if we want our Congress to start working, we need to focus more on whether Joni Ernst will make a good legislator and not devote the entire discussion to the quality of her candidacy."
KNOXI think that's a great point. But I think that the candidacy is in part, you know, a proving ground where you lay out your principles and you have -- you submit your record to scrutiny for the voters. And so I think they're not unrelated. I get why my fondness for the theatricality of the campaign might rub Jeff the wrong way, particularly given the subject matter of that (unintelligible)...
REHMAt the same time, we have to say she won 56 percent of the vote.
KNOXBut here's what we're going to hear running from now through the election. Bruce Braley the Democrat is going to be hammering away at the fact that she missed a lot of votes as a state senator. So we are going to hear about that.
REHMAll right. Olivier Knox of Yahoo News, Jeanne Cumming, Bloomberg News, Jerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal, have a great weekend, everybody.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. 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 Toby Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts and podcasts. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington, D.C. This is NPR.
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