Nine years ago, former FBI agent Robert Levinson disappeared in Iran while on a mission for the CIA. The story of his secret journey to Iran, the CIA cover-up that followed and efforts to rescue the longest-held U.S. hostage.
Guest Host: Susan Page
House Republicans elect Kevin McCarthy of California as their next majority leader. McCarthy replaces Eric Cantor, whose surprising loss in his Virginia primary shook up GOP leadership. President Barack Obama continues his use of executive orders this week to create the world’s largest marine sanctuary. It comes as new polls show a majority of Americans disapprove of his President’s leadership. The IRS says it lost tens of thousands of emails sought by Congress. And Starbucks announces an initiative to make college more affordable for their employees. Guest host Susan Page and a panel of reporters discuss the week in news.
- Ed O'Keefe congressional reporter, The Washington Post.
- Sheryl Gay Stolberg Washington correspondent, The New York Times.
- Laura Meckler staff writer, The Wall Street Journal.
Watch A Featured Clip
The growing number of unaccompanied minors crossing into the U.S. from Central America could dim the already bleak prospects for immigration reform this year.
Ed O’Keefe, a reporter for the Washington Post, said that House Speaker John Boehner has been vocal about Republicans’ lack of faith in President Barack Obama to enforce the country’s current immigration policy–so the recent surge in immigrant children “is just fodder for them,” he said Friday on The Diane Rehm Show’s Friday News Roundup.
On one hand, there’s no “better evidence” that the country needs “a rational immigration policy,” said New York Times correspondent Sheryl Gay Stolberg.
On the other, guest host Susan Page said, the crisis fuels the argument that the country can’t rationalize its immigration system “if we don’t have control of our border.”
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Watch the full June 20 Friday News Roundup.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. A divided House GOP votes on new leadership. In a new poll, a majority of Americans say President Obama can't get the job done. And the IRS says it lost tens of thousands of emails sought by Congress. Here to discuss this week's top national stories on our Friday News Roundup: Sheryl Stolberg of The New York Times, Ed O'Keefe of The Washington Post, and Laura Meckler of The Wall Street Journal. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MS. SHERYL GAY STOLBERGGood morning.
MS. LAURA MECKLERGood morning.
MR. ED O'KEEFEGood morning.
PAGEYou -- we invite our listeners to give us a call later in this hour, our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850. You can always send us an email to email@example.com. Find us on Facebook or Twitter. And for -- since this is the first hour of the Friday News Roundup, as usual, we are streaming live on the Web on drshow.org. You can watch us there. Well, an election yesterday, Ed O'Keefe, you were covering it. New leadership in the House.
O'KEEFEThat's right. The most high-profile student council race in the country has concluded after the surprised defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. We now have 49-year-old Californian Kevin McCarthy as the new majority leader and 48-year-old Louisiana Republican Steve Scalise as your new House majority whip or vote counter. You know, obviously a big change in that John Boehner, the experienced veteran legislator, is now surrounded by two guys who have only been in town since 2007.
O'KEEFEBut, you know, another perhaps a good thing for Boehner in the fact that Scalise, as a sort of conservative Southerner, probably appeases about a third of the rockers, you know, of the caucus. And we'll see. You know, it was a, you know, a totally unexpected development. But walking out of that thing yesterday, it seemed that everyone was pretty pleased that a younger, Southern conservative was now in the leadership ranks.
PAGESo, Sheryl, both elections decided on the first ballot, no big contest.
STOLBERGYes. So no -- that's right.
PAGESo does that mean that House Republicans are really united on anything?
STOLBERGNo. I think what this election really reflects is actually the division within the House GOP caucus. You have Kevin McCarthy from a blue state, California, really a moderate, known as a dealmaker, someone who has -- comes from Bakersfield, the agriculturally-rich district in California where immigration reform is a big issue. And he's expressed support for some sort of immigration reform. That'll put him in tension with the other wing of the caucus represented by Steve Scalise.
STOLBERGSo what you have here is a leadership that reflects the divide, Scalise, the Southern Tea Party conservative, McCarthy, the more from the moderate mainstream Republican wing, ties to the business community. Interestingly, though, for the top spot, their leadership spot, McCarthy beat back easily Raul Labrador who is a Republican from Idaho and a strong conservative and tried last year and failed to mount a coup against John Boehner, the speaker.
PAGESo Eric Cantor is completing his term as a member of the House, but he stepped down immediately as -- pretty quickly as majority leader when he lost that primary in Virginia, Laura. But does -- when you look at that from now till the end of this Congress, does this make any difference in terms of what will get done?
MECKLERWell, that's such an optimistic way to phrase the question, presuming that something might get done one way or the other. You know, the ambitions are fairly modest. There are budget matters that must be resolved, and presumably they will be resolved. But, you know, in terms of doing anything more ambitious, I don't really see it. I mean, immigration reform, there was a lot of, you know, sort of perhaps cockeyed optimism that they would take it on this summer. That's not going to happen, and I don't think that's going to happen. It's too complicated of an issue to try to attack in a lame duck session.
MECKLERIt's certainly not going to happen right ahead of the elections. Eric Cantor had talked a lot about wanting to present an alternative to the healthcare law, a Republican point of view. And Steve Scalise has been a very active proponent of a conservative healthcare reform proposal. But it's hard to see how they really, given all the tumult they've gone through, you know, necessarily get something on the floor about that. All of these issues of course have a down size when you start bringing them up. So, you know, I don't think we're going to see a lot get done, at least in the short term.
O'KEEFEWell, there actually are several things they do have to do. You have to get a new highway bill done ideally by the end of July, which is going to be near impossible. This is the thing that will allow road construction projects to tie up our summer traffic, but it's a critical piece of the economy and key to getting the nation's infrastructure back on course.
O'KEEFEBoehner has wanted for years to do a more ambitious five or six-year plan and yesterday conceded that it's probably just going to be a nine or 12-month fix -- big spending issue, Republicans not very happy about it. You've got to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank which is a very important thing for Boeing and other major multinational corporations in that it helps them do business overseas.
O'KEEFEYou've got to get the appropriations bills done and somehow fund the government after Sept. 30 or risk another shutdown. You've got to fix the Veterans Affairs Department. Remember, this just sprung up in the last few weeks, but 97 percent of the country wants it addressed. Conferees starting meeting this week. They're probably going to get something done -- well, the goal is to get something done by the end of next week. But it's going to cost a lot of money, and they'll have to sort that out later.
STOLBERGAnd the question is, will John Boehner be willing to accept Democratic votes, for instance, for something like a highway bill? I mean, if...
PAGESo will he? He's done that in a few cases in the past.
STOLBERGYou know, I think I might defer to Ed who covers Congress. Ed, what do you think?
O'KEEFEHe hasn't said that yet. There's this -- we could get really wonky here for just a second, and this will cause people to run to the phones. But they are proposing using the end of six-day mail delivery as one way to pay for this. And Democrats so far have said this is not the way to do that. So, so far, Democrats haven't signaled they're willing to do that, and that just proves again that they will have that problem of, how do you get something that has enough Republican votes to get out of the House and then get over to the Senate? And we've seen this play out for the last three years.
STOLBERGWell, and it's a real political...
STOLBERGI'm sorry. It's a real political risk not to do it.
MECKLERBut -- and also, but it also just -- this shows the underlying tensions that they existed in the House before Cantor was defeated and will exist for a long time after, which is that you cannot govern if you're talking about passing something through the House and the Senate, getting it signed by the president just by the most conservative members of the House. And that's what a lot of them would like to do.
PAGEDoes the fact that these -- this new leadership team was elected this week mean that there won't be challenges to them with the new Congress after the midterm elections when Congress organizes itself again?
O'KEEFEOh, absolutely, there will be. You've got to meet again in mid-November to choose your leaders. And so if McCarthy has stumbled by then, he very well could see another challenge to his leadership, Scalise, probably not as much. You know, they are expected to gain seats in November's election, maybe five, six, seven, plus.
O'KEEFEThat will expand their majority, but, you know, if, for some reason, they can't work their way through these five or six things in the next few months, at least not easily, and people get upset, now you have a few more months to organize. Raul Labrador could try again. Pete Roskam or Marlin Stutzman, the guys who lost for whip, could try to mount something in...
PAGEYou know, it also could be, if you get things done and they don't like the way it got done, like, it passed for Democratic votes.
PAGEThat could cause problems. National Journal, I saw is reporting this morning that Jeb Hensarling of Texas is going to challenge somebody for something in November. You're shaking your head.
O'KEEFEJeb Hensarling is the -- you know, he's like the Rick Santorum of House leadership races. I'm going to run this cycle. I'm going to run, I'm going to run, and then it amounts to nothing. Look, he represents a sentiment in the House. He is from the South. He is from the large state of Texas which has, you know, more than 20 members in the House Republican caucus. But he didn't do it, and he didn't do it because he didn't have the support. You have to have built-in support, something that McCarthy enjoyed because he was whip and knew where everyone was and how they stood.
MECKLEREd, isn't one of the things that's looming over this whole thing though whether John Boehner is going to run for another...
STOLBERGTook the words right out of my mouth.
MECKLER...you know, another term of speaker. And if, of course, if he wants another term, you know, it seems like the conventional wisdom that he probably could survive all the -- albeit with a challenge perhaps.
MECKLERAnd then if he doesn't, then of course there are questions about whether he will try to get something done on his way out, you know, by putting somebody -- for instance, a lot less risky for him to put a highway bill on the floor with Democratic votes or even something more ambitious than that if he is not trying for another term. But obviously, if he does step down, then you're going to really have a scramble, it seems to be, for -- you no longer have an heir apparent. You know, Eric Cantor was considered the next speaker likely.
STOLBERGWell, a lot of ways, it's very Shakespearean. You know, everyone there -- all of these underlings are positioning themselves for the fall of the king, the death of the king, right, John Boehner. You know, as soon as Boehner signals that he's out or not going to, you know, run again for speaker, which I think the betting is that he will certainly run again this time around because now the Republicans have a new untested leadership. And it's really no time for the speaker to step down. But looking ahead, we're going to see a lot of jockeying and a lot of positioning because the real question is, who will succeed the speaker?
PAGEWhat about the president? Did the president have a dog in this fight? Does it matter to President Obama's prospects, his ability to deal with Congress that this is the leadership team that's now in place?
O'KEEFENo. No. I mean, that...
STOLBERGHe couldn't get anything out of them before.
O'KEEFEI think the...
STOLBERGAnd he won't get anything out of them now.
O'KEEFEThe subject matter we're going to discuss the rest of this hour proves that he couldn't care less and that it doesn't affect what he's doing at all.
PAGESo the president did announce new executive orders this week, including one that establishes a huge Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. What -- tell us something about what this is that he's declared. And also, why can the U.S. do this about a -- with a big swath of the Pacific Ocean?
MECKLERWell, what this is is it's basically taking a, again, this large amount of the Pacific Ocean and saying it's off limits to fishing, to energy exploration, to other types of activities that could harm those waters. It was about 87,000 square miles, and now it's being expanded to 782,000 square miles. So that obviously is a huge increase. Those -- it's adjacent to islands that are controlled by the United States.
PAGEWhich is why we can say this is off limits.
MECKLERWhich is -- yes, exactly. So -- which, you know, it kind of -- it does -- when you get into international law and the law of the sea, it gets kind of complicated, I think. But we do have this authority evidently. And, you know, it's just -- it's very interesting. I mean, it really is a good example of where President Obama is trying to do what he can through executive action, you know, knowing he's going to get very little else done. Republicans, you know, predictably complained about sort of an imperial presidency and him doing things, going off on his own.
MECKLERBut this is sort of, you know, well-walked charters in the sense that he has -- other presidents before him have taken similar actions. You know, notably, President Clinton did a lot of executive action in the same type of thing in terms of protecting lands. And John Podesta, who is now one of his -- President Obama's chief advisers, was very much involved in this. This is something he cares a lot about in terms of the environment. He was also giving similar advice to President Clinton.
PAGEA big focus on oceans by this administration, something that hasn't really gotten a lot of attention. You mentioned John Podesta. John Kerry, the secretary of state, also has worked a lot on this issue.
STOLBERGYes. And, you know, we've really seen a lot of environmental discussion out of this administration on climate change. That has really been the major thrust. But this is acknowledging that, you know, the president has a broader environmental agenda that he would like to finish before he leaves office.
PAGEWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation. We'll take your calls. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. And with me in the studio for our Friday News Roundup: Laura Meckler of The Wall Street Journal, Ed O'Keefe -- he covers Congress for The Washington Post -- and Sheryl Stolberg from The New York Times. You know, before the break, we talked about the big executive order establishing a marine sanctuary in the Pacific. Another executive order announced this week by President Obama deals with protections for gay and lesbian federal -- gay and lesbian workers of federal contractors. Laura, tell us about that.
MECKLERWell, this is a really interesting one because this is a good example of him trying to do what he can with Congress so deadlocked and everything. For a long time, for 20 years, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act has been pending before Congress. And what that would do would be bar most private employers from discriminating in hiring, firing, other sorts of employment decisions of gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender workers.
MECKLERThe -- it passed the Senate with a surprising amount of Republican support, 10 Republican votes which was, I believe, six more than they actually needed -- four more than they actually needed. And then it went to the House where it, you know, promptly died. Literally the day it passed, John Boehner said, no, he's against it. It's not going anywhere. Interestingly, though, Republicans don't want to vote for this, but they also don't really want to talk about this. When -- just this week...
PAGEThey don't want to vote against it either.
MECKLERThey don't want to vote against it. Many of them do not. And when it was being debated before the Senate, there was literally one Republican who -- there were three days of debate, I think -- one Republican spoke against this for about two minutes. There was not a single Republican who spoke against it in committee, even though many voted against it.
MECKLERThere was -- Republicans, this is not a good issue for them. So when -- this week, what President Obama did was what he could do, which many people have been waiting for for a long time, which was to set an executive order saying that, if you're going to contract with the federal government, you have to have this as your own policy. And, you know what, there was -- not a peep was heard from Republicans against this.
PAGEYou know, one of the things -- some of these executive orders the president signed have been kind of symbolic, right. They're on an issue. They don't have much effect. But this stuns me. Federal contractors employ more than 20 percent of the American workforce, so this executive order covers 28 million workers.
STOLBERGThat is true, but the other interesting fact about this that I noticed, the Williams Institute which tracks gay rights issues finds that 43 of the top 50 federal contractors already have this non-discrimination language regarding sexual orientation in their policies. Lockheed Martin does, Boeing does, Raytheon does, but still there are big companies that don't, like Exxon Mobil which has been a target of gay rights activists on this. And so part of the work has already been done just in the private sector on its own, but the president is trying to move it along and finish the job.
O'KEEFEAnd that is why Republicans are (unintelligible).
O'KEEFEIt is not because of the -- whether or not you're gay. It's the idea that the government doesn't need to do this if the private sector is already doing it. The five biggest defense -- or the five biggest government contractors are defense contractors. And all of them have policies that don't discriminate against sexual orientation or gender.
MECKLERWell, I actually...
O'KEEFEAnd four out of five of them already give domestic partner benefits.
SLOANBut, on the other hand...
MECKLERBut I don't actually think that is why Republicans are against it.
O'KEEFEIt's part of it. It's part of it.
MECKLERI think that they're right, but, I mean, there're all sorts of laws that get passed in order to make sure the outliers are no longer outliers on something you care about. I think the reason they're against it is 'cause the hard line social conservatives don't like this. It includes protections for transgendered workers, which a lot of people are uncomfortable with. You will hear Republicans say, if you press them, that they're worried about things like bathrooms. What happens when somebody who has transitioned to become a man uses the man's bathroom or vice versa?
MECKLERSo you do hear that kind of thing talked about. And I think that they're uncomfortable with it. Certain parts of the party are uncomfortable with it, and that's the basic reason. There's also some concern about additional lawsuits, is something that they talk about. But, you know, I think it's interesting. I just want to note one thing about Exxon, which Sheryl noted. I was covering this this week, and I called Exxon for comment. And the spokesperson said, well, here, let me show you what -- I don't know what you're talking about. Here, read this. Read this and then call me back.
MECKLERAnd he sent me a website where they have sort of a statement -- sort of a gauzy statement that says they don't discriminate on anybody based on sexual orientation or gender identity. But then when you actually probe deeper, you see that that links to their standards of business conduct. And when you read their standards of business conduct, and their actual policy does not have that. And then when I called back for further comment, you know, suddenly my calls were not being returned.
PAGESo the White House, as you said, had pressure to do this before they delayed it in part because they'd rather have a law rather than an executive order that is just a statement of policy for this administration, could be undone by the next administration. Did politics in the midterm elections play any role in the timing, Sheryl?
STOLBERGWell, you know, the gay rights advocacy community are big Democratic donors. The president announced this the day before he was going to New York to a fundraiser. Some gay rights folks have suggested that they withhold their donations this year. And, let's face it, Democrats are looking to raise money wherever they can. And this is a very, very important constituency. And the president has tried to cultivate this constituency.
MECKLERWithin hours of this announcement -- the executive order isn't even signed yet. Within hours of this announcement, the Organizing for America, President Obama's political wing, was already sending messages out to their supporters saying, hey, why are Republicans against us? You know, we're fighting for you. So that backs that up.
O'KEEFEI would just point out that it was four years ago this summer the president was pushing for the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell on the backs of gay Democratic donors who, again, were threatening to withhold money from Democratic candidates. Here, he's doing one of the last things he can do to advance the government's own gay rights policy, something that's been sitting on his desk since February of 2012. And, you know, we'll see what happens.
STOLBERGAnd it will be followed today by an announcement of new rules expanding federal benefits to same-sex couples in the wake of the Supreme Court decision overturning DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act. The White House will announce these rules. They will be very broad. You know, Defense Department employees will get same-sex marriage benefits.
O'KEEFEThe IRS is going to (unintelligible)...
STOLBERGThe IRS will recognize same-sex marriages. Federal immigration law will apply equally to gay and straight couples, et cetera.
PAGEOur phone lines are open. You can call us at 1-800-433-8850. Well, you mentioned the IRS. We actually have several emails and commenters interested also in the IRS. Here's an email we got from Gary in Charlestown, W.Va. He writes, "The IRS has always required taxpayers to keep meticulous records. Since the IRS has lost tens of thousands of emails, have they lost the moral authority to require perfect records of taxpayers? Is it the end of IRS audits?"
PAGEAnd here's a comment from Curt on Facebook: "How is it possible seven people's computers all crashed, all related to the IRS scandal? Sounds mighty fishy."
O'KEEFEWell, actually, if you were to quiz the federal workforce, I think they would tell you it happens quite frequently, and it's because they're still using antiquated technology. That's no defense of the IRS. And I'd frankly probably agree with Gary that they perhaps lost their moral authority. But, you know, this is a government that still operates on 1990's technology. And the president has railed against this for years. And Congress has not coughed up the money. But, you know, the timing on this situation couldn't be worse for the IRS. This is a scandal that doesn't go away.
STOLBERGIs there any agency that Americans love to hate more than the IRS?
STOLBERGSo this also really plays into that.
PAGEThe IRS commissioner is getting grilled on Capitol Hill at this moment on this controversy. Let's just back up a step, Laura, and explain to us what the issue is.
MECKLERSo what the issue is -- and there really is a real issue at the heart of this, at the very beginning of this, which is that they're increasing the groups that are overtly political, are filing under -- are using the IRS to -- a provision in the tax code to file as a nonprofit group. And that comes with all sorts of protections. And, you know, frankly, some of them are doing it who are questionable, whether they're truly -- their purpose is not political versus some sort of a social welfare.
MECKLERSo -- but how they went about doing it then the IRS tried to say, OK, we're going to try to crack down on this. But there's evidence that they were essentially targeting Tea Party groups. And there also is some -- they've also targeted some groups that had progressive in their name or occupy in their name. But if you have the name Tea Party in your name, you got -- and there are a lot of them that do -- you got singled out for special attention. It took a lot longer for your application to be processed.
MECKLERAnd when this came out, you know, Republicans just went crazy. They were just -- there was a huge amount of attention in saying essentially that the administration, the Democratic administration is -- you're using the leverage of government to discriminate against groups that they don't agree with. And so this is what set off this entire thing. People have lost their jobs over this.
MECKLERLois Lerner was at the center of this entire thing. Her emails have been -- disappeared for, I think, it's a two-year period although there had been thousands of others that have been turned over. And now this week we found out that six other workers who were involved with this, their emails have also been lost. So, as you can imagine, Republicans who are investigating this are, you know, none too pleased that, number one, they're just finding out about this now. And, number two, you know, this feels, I'm sure, like the erased tapes did during Watergate from their point of view.
PAGEWell, in fact, in your own newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, the deputy editorial page editor said, the IRS Tea Party audit story isn't Watergate. It's worse than Watergate. Worse than Watergate, really?
MECKLERWell, I always say I take nor the credit nor blame, depending on who I'm talking to for anything that's done on The Wall Street Journal editorial page. But I don't know that I would necessarily see this as worse than Watergate.
PAGESo, Ed, what about the attitude of members of Congress, and especially the Republicans who control the House, toward this? Are we going to be reading a lot more about this this year?
O'KEEFEAbsolutely. This is an issue that keeps on giving to both Republicans and Democrats. I think they're both equally outraged because the country's outraged. You see the hearing underway with the IRS commissioner today. There will be more in the coming weeks. And, you know, I think it demonstrates the ongoing disconnect between the administration and Congress and agencies inability to sort of play ball with Congress.
O'KEEFEThe fact that this was announced on a Friday, for example, doesn't help them at all. The fact that it took them several months to disclose that these emails were missing doesn't help either. And leading up to an election where, you know, the nation's dissatisfaction with government is, you know, at historic high, this is something that just allows Congress to make it seem as if one unpopular institution is beating up on yet another. And maybe it'll boost their popularity.
PAGELet's go to the phones and let some of our listeners join our conversation. We're going to go first to Houston and talk to Samuel. Samuel, hi. You're on the air.
SAMUELGood morning, everybody. My name is Samuel (word?). I'm calling from Houston. I want to ask a question to your panel, or they can address this issue to American people. Where was the economy when Obama took over? Why is the unemployment rates? How many people have died in Iraq -- Afghanistan since Obama took office? And why are they telling me that his leadership ability is not good? (unintelligible)...
PAGEAll right. Samuel, thank you so much for your call. So Samuel's making the point that President Obama inherited an economic crisis, has done a lot of things, so why is he getting so much flak?
STOLBERGSamuel might do well to look for work. The White House needs a new press secretary. He's articulating their arguments. I think, for a couple of reasons, the president is not really getting the credit for these things. One is that, while it is true that unemployment is down, really, many Americans are still not feeling good about the economy and good about their job prospects.
STOLBERGAnd I also think that there is kind of an Obama fatigue, which we certainly have seen in poll numbers this week. This week saw some terrible poll numbers for the president. His job approval rating is at 41 percent, a record low. Four in 10 Americans say...
PAGEThat's in the NBC/Wall Street Journal report.
STOLBERGExactly. Four in 10 Americans say that the performance of his administration has gotten worse in this past year. Thirty-seven percent -- only 37 percent approve of his foreign policy. And sort of the big whopper, when asked if he can still lead the country and get the job done, 54 percent said they did not feel that he could -- is still able to lead the country and get the job done. These are not good numbers for the president.
PAGEAnd that leadership number, it's really the most fundamental measure of a president, right, his ability to lead.
STOLBERGAbsolutely. And the irony of this poll is that when people were asked about individual issues, education, immigration, energy, they agreed with him. But when you don't have leadership, when people don't trust you, when people don't feel like you're up to the job, then it's hard to get any of those things done.
PAGEI mean, you saw the flipside with President Reagan. People often disagreed with him on particular issues, but they really trusted him as a leader. I'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Well so, Ed, he's not running for election again. He's won the White House twice. Does it matter that his poll ratings are low?
O'KEEFEIt does because it does drag down Democrats to some extent. You will have voters go to the polls in November. They'd like to vent their frustrations. And depending on what district or what state you live in, you might have an opportunity to take it out on a congressional Democrat. And that's why you've seen several different Senate candidates across the country seek distance between the White House and themselves on all sorts of different policy, why you've seen, you know, a real willingness, I think more than normal, to see Democrats part ways with the president.
O'KEEFEI think that the VA scandal was a great example of that just a few weeks ago, that part of the reason that Eric Shinseki was forced out was because it was Democrats telling the president to fire him.
MECKLERAnd it's just harder to get anything done in Washington, harder to get anybody to kind of rally behind you when you don't have -- you know, when you don't have a sense of popularity with the American public, where you don't have a sense that you're in charge and that things are kind of going your way. So, you know, the lower you are, the easier it is to kick you again.
STOLBERGI'm struck by the way the timeframe is moving up too. You know, we always see after the midterms of a second-term presidency this kind of lame duck feeling or a feeling that the presidency is over, that there's not that much that the president can do. We're seeing this now in advance of the midterms. We're not even halfway through president Obama's second term. And already the public is kind of signaling that it thinks his presidency is over.
MECKLERAnd we see -- I mean, look at how much attention Hillary Clinton is getting. She's not even running for president yet. That'll actually...
MECKLERYes, formally, as absolutely we should add that. That election is more than two years away, and yet isn't it -- I find it striking -- I was thinking the other day, it was just a year-and-a-half ago that President Obama was re-elected. And...
PAGEAnd the first president since Eisenhower to be elected and re-elected both times with more than 50 percent of the popular vote.
MECKLERSo, I mean, it was a resounding victory. He came out of that. You know, all this optimism, which, frankly, I was very skeptical about during the campaign about how the -- you know, how the -- we were going to all heal and that the tension was going to dissipate and that there would be all this stuff that he was able to work with the Republicans on and get done. And there has been a little progress on the budget front, but it's just that I find it striking just how recent that was.
PAGEThere was also a poll by NPR this week that showed in the 12 states that had the most competitive Senate elections, course control of the Senate in the balance in November, President Obama's approval rating was 38 percent. What does that mean for Democratic candidates in those 12 Senate races, Ed?
O'KEEFEOh, it's horrifying. You do everything you can every single day, every hour of the day to remind people that you're not President Obama and that you have nothing -- you want nothing to do with him. That's why you've seen, I think, most especially in places like Alaska, Arkansas, and Louisiana, the senators there, Mark Begich, Mark Pryor, and Mary Landrieu, hone in on local state-based issues.
O'KEEFEMark Begich, for example, during the VA scandal, did a skillful job of reminding people the 48 contiguous states are having problems with the VA. But because of the work I've done in our state, we don't have a wait time. We don't have any problems at our VA hospitals. So what's going on down there in the rest of the country, completely separate from what's happening here in Alaska. You see Mary Landrieu doing it as chairman of the energy committee in the Senate saying, you know, I want the Keystone Pipeline passed. It'll be good for our state. I'm looking to bolster the energy industry. Again, putting her a complete distance away from the president.
PAGEYou know, these approval numbers also underscore how unfriendly the landscape is in these Senate races for the Democratic Party. Many of them are in red states. There's several of them -- six of them, I think, are in states that Mitt Romney carried -- really increases the degree of difficulty this year.
MECKLERYou're seeing some challenges, for instance, Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky trying an uphill battle to unseat Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader -- Kentucky is no place to want to cozy up to President Obama -- or Michelle Nunn, another challenger in Georgia trying to win back her father's seat, again casting herself as a moderate, a bipartisan, someone who can bring the parties together.
PAGEWe're going to take another short break. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. And with me in the studio for our Friday News Roundup, Ed O'Keefe of The Washington Post, Sheryl Stolberg of The New York Times, Laura Meckler of The Wall Street Journal. And you can watch us live stream on our website if you'd like. You can call us on our toll-free number. You can send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PAGEWe've gotten several interesting email comments from the conversation that we had just before the break. Cliff says, "With Eric Cantor's loss, why should we trust these poll numbers?" Fair point. Here's an email from Brian who writes us from Flushing, Mich. He says, "Why don't you talk more about a failed Congress, a Congress who isn't up to their job and incapable of getting anything done?"
PAGEI'm sure that's a reference to our conversation about questions about President Obama's leadership. And here's an email from Victor. He says, "Copies of those missing IRS emails can be found at the NSA." Let's go to the phones. We'll talk to Sloan calling us from Reston, Va. Sloan, hi. You're on the air.
SLOANHi. Thanks for taking my call. Yeah. I just wanted to go back to the earlier conversation regarding the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and I think it's great that the president is issuing the executive order to protect people working for federal contractors from discrimination and just would mention, as dysfunctional as Congress is, I think we should not give up on passage in the House. It takes -- if you get right down to it, you know, there is, you know, not just broad Democratic report, but a lot of Republican support for protecting people from job discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
SLOANAnd there are 205 co-sponsors for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the House. This kind of discrimination is still legal in most states and even if the leadership is initially saying no and no and no in the House, with enough support among every day members of Congress, it will pass. But we need to call our members of Congress and say, hey, look, we support equal rights. We support religious liberty. Americans should not be discriminated against. And, Congress, you need to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to protect all Americans.
PAGEAll right. Sloan, thanks very much for your call.
MECKLERWell, I would just add that, you know, there are a lot of co-sponsors in the House. Very few of them are Republican. I agree that if it was put on the floor, it would pass, and it would probably get a lot of Republican votes. But you just don't have a lot of Republicans coming out for it. One other point he mentioned, religious liberty. Right now, the legislation has a very broad exemption for religious nonprofits, much broader, for instance, than the healthcare law allows on the contraceptive mandate, if people remember that story.
MECKLERSo it does -- although that exemption, in fact, has run afoul of some gay rights groups who've actually pulled support for the current version of ENDA because they think the exemption is too broad. So there is another little wrinkle that will have to be worked out if this ever makes its way.
PAGEBut, you know, when you think about the way this issue has changed, when you realize that it was President Clinton who signed the Defense of Marriage Act, for instance, and changing attitudes towards same sex marriage, the rights and protections for gay people, I wonder, Ed, if you think it's in the foreseeable future that the House GOP might turn around on this.
O'KEEFEI mean, it very well could happen, but it won't happen this year. I just see no path for it at all. I think it would have to come, if, for some reason, a handful of Republican Senator House candidates suddenly faced the music and lost or at least faced challenging re-elections because this issue suddenly became a top issue and that has not happened yet.
O'KEEFEAnd, yes, there are 205 sponsors, but there are 200 Democrats in Congress. And I bet you that at least 196 of them have signed on, and, yeah, there are about 10 or 11 Republicans who have no problem signing on to this type of legislation 'cause they're from parts of the country where it's considered socially and politically acceptable to be in support of this. But there are 200-plus more who come from ruby red districts where social conservatives and others dominate and where this issue is not important. That's just the way the nation's carved up.
PAGELet's talk to Deborah. She's calling us from University City, Mo. Deborah, thanks for joining us on "The Diane Rehm Show."
DEBORAHHi. I also have a comment about the situation with civil rights for transgendered people. And earlier, you were saying that a big concern is bathrooms, like, who's going to go to what and who's going to be upset by it. And I have to laugh because, back in the '70s, when the Naval Academy in Annapolis was integrating women into their corps, a wonderful organization development consultant, Edie Seashore, was working with the senior leaders at Annapolis. And their biggest concern, as she told it, was "plumbing" because they didn't know where the women would go to the bathroom. Yeah.
PAGEYou know, this was an issue also in the U.S. Senate, wasn't it, when they got more women elected to the Senate?
O'KEEFEYeah. Did you write that story?
STOLBERGI may have. They had to build new bathrooms, you know.
O'KEEFEAnd they've had to expand the women's bathroom 'cause there's 20 of them now.
STOLBERGThat's right. And, speaking as a woman, I hope they have to expand it again.
MECKLERAnd, you know, and on the ENDA issue, I do not think that bathroom thing is a major barrier. But when you actually talk to people who are opposed to it and you press them why exactly are you against this, this is one of the things that they come up with. You know, it doesn't seem like a major thing to me, but...
PAGEIt's hard to believe that's the issue on which this question will turn.
PAGEHere's an email from Charlotte who writes us from Silver Spring, Md. "I'd be interested in hearing your panel's opinions on why our State Department failed to warn us of the incoming flood of undocumented immigrant children from Central America so that plans could be made in advance as to how to deal with this situation." This is just a shocking situation we see developing.
O'KEEFEAnd I actually think that's an important part of this story that has not yet been explored. The White House continues to insist that they have been conducting a public messaging campaign in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, that is attempting to tell people there, yes, the president has established this rule that children of certain illegal immigrants cannot be sent home and might eventually be allowed to apply for some kind of permanent status, but that people should not be rushing for the U.S./Mexico border.
O'KEEFEThey have not demonstrated to us exactly how that's being done, and I think that there's some validity in that argument, that perhaps the administration might have seen this coming and could've done more to try to prevent it.
MECKLERWell, they did do something and did see it coming in the sense that these numbers have been mounting. For a long time, the number of unaccompanied minors who are crossing the border was in the 7,000 per year, and it was like that for several years. And then it has slowly gone up. Last year, it was 23,000, I believe. Then, so far this year, just this fiscal year, we're already over 45,000 children, and the official projection is 60,000. Some say it could go as high as 90,000 for this year.
MECKLERSo it has been mounting. But what happened, really, is that it had been increasing slowly, and then, in May, there seems to be some sort of a switch that was flipped or all of a sudden, what was a river became a flood of children coming across.
PAGEWell, what does all these kids, some of them young, some of them teenagers, coming across the border, being caught, what happens to them?
STOLBERGSo here's what's happening. The Obama administration is, you know, struggling to deal with this influx. It has opened three emergency shelters on military bases in California, Oklahoma, and in Texas. The children are being channeled into these shelters and into deportation proceedings. They're being given bus tickets, in some cases, or be sent to places where they have relatives or into long-term foster care if they can prove they have a legitimate claim to staying here. And if not, they'll face deportation proceedings.
MECKLERWell, they are all placed in deportation proceedings. They all have come across the border illegally, so they are subject to deportation.
STOLBERGRight, and they're...
MECKLERBut the issue is that some may have claims that would allow them to stay, and those claims have to be played out through immigration court. But 90 percent of these children are placed with family or, in some cases, friends who they have in the United States, and they're placed there -- they live here while those deportation proceedings are playing out.
STOLBERGAnd just to clarify, some of them are getting notices saying, you know, come back in 30 days for your court proceeding, and this seems to be fueling rumors back home that people and children are getting permits to stay and that...
MECKLERAnd to some extent, they are. I mean, in the sense that those notices say you have to come back to court, you have to have your case heard. And they do have to. But because our immigration courts are so clogged, it can take a long time before those are resolved. So in one mind...
STOLBERGSo it's a de facto permit, in a way.
MECKLERYes. In fact, it is. They are legal -- even if you do everything legally, you still are able to stay. Now, what isn't -- for a time, but that time could be at least a couple years. But the irony of this is that what they're being accused of -- the Obama administration's being sort of accused of saying, well, your support for a Senate bill that would allow people legal status or citizenship or a program he has that allows young people who have been in the country illegally to have legal status, those really have nothing to do with these kids 'cause those have cutoff dates that have already expired.
PAGEBut aren't some of these parents, these families, just gambling that if these kids get into the United States, get placed in family or friends' household that the United States will, in the end, not forcibly deport?
O'KEEFEYes. Because you have not seen huge truckloads of illegal immigrants being sent back south.
STOLBERGThey are gambling that, be...
MECKLERWell, you actually have.
O'KEEFEYou've seen the criminals. You've seen the, you know, the rapists, the gang members, yes, but...
MECKLERWell, actually recent border-crossers are a priority for deportation, and most of the deport -- the increase in deportations we have seen -- two-thirds of the people deported are people who are apprehended by border patrol, and these kids are in that category. So they are a priority for deportation.
STOLBERGBut you also have president vowing to make his deportation policies more humane and especially with regard to children and that -- when the president speaks, he speaks with a megaphone, and that message has, obviously, gotten out.
MECKLERI just think it's going to be a lot more difficult for him to provide leniency and the reason being that the more lenient that he is, the more it encourages people to come. In fact, Joe Biden is in Guatemala today, and he's going to be delivering a message that essentially says, don't come. And Hillary Clinton was asked about this this week as well, and she said, you know, essentially, no, these people cannot stay. I think it's very, very dangerous. Yes, they do want to make their policy more humane, but most of that, that applies to people who are already in the country.
PAGEI got to say the prospects for immigration reform weren't, like, all that bright before, but -- and I've got to think in Congress this just makes it even more unlikely that there's going to be any legislative action.
O'KEEFEAbsolutely. And it will only allow Republicans especially to raise concerns about what the president has done or has not done. Boehner, the speaker, regularly points out that Republicans don't have faith that the president is going to properly execute current immigration laws. I think this is just fodder for that, and they'll probably be -- continue to make that point throughout the summer.
PAGEAnd yet, if you think about it, what better evidence than this that the country needs a rational immigration policy?
MECKLERNot to mention the fact that the laws that allow these kids to stay have been in place since the Bush administration.
PAGEIt's true. But it does fuel the argument that how can we rationalize our immigration system if we don't have control of our border.
O'KEEFEYeah. And I would go back to Charlotte's point. Look, my mother's from Guatemala. I go down there every year. None of my family has ever attempted to cross the border illegally, but I tell you, they read newspapers in Guatemala very well. I don't see anything in those newspapers, op-eds, ads, anything from the U.S. embassy in Guatemala City that says don't come because you're not welcome. And that's the point that Charlotte's making, that you see nothing being done in the countries that says, we have a law, and you're not supposed to come.
MECKLERWell, that's what's going to start to happen, I think, that they're trying to amp that up, and that probably hasn't happened enough.
PAGEAnd it's so interesting, I didn't realize you had that personal connection to Guatemala and go there regularly. Is something happening in Guatemala that's pushing these kids out, as well as maybe the immigration debate here drawing them in?
O'KEEFEYeah, I mean, you're seeing a few things, and I think the situation right now is probably worse in Honduras, which has just seen a huge uptick in violence, murder, not necessarily even tied to the drug trade but just violence in general. In Guatemala, it's become a drug violence issue and also this belief that, you know, if mom or dad is already there and hasn't been sent back, why can't I send my kids to join them and hope that perhaps they can stay.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go back to the phones to Charlotte, N.C. and talk to Ethan. Ethan, hi. Thanks for joining us.
ETHANHi, I have two question. The first one is about a recent poll that the Pew Institute did basically saying that people are more political than they've ever been. And Republicans are more Republican, and they actually -- the number was, like, 60 percent said they wouldn't even affiliate themselves with Democrats. And I just wondered how that affected politics and possibly do you think it could be affecting how they view President Obama.
ETHANAnd my second question is, how -- you spoke about the leadership that Obama has and that people aren't very happy about it. I was wondering how much is an actual, like, role of leadership that he fulfills and how much is just the image that he has, and do people forget that, I mean, he has to go through Congress to pass his policies and ideas and just -- yeah, that's my question.
PAGEEthan, thanks so much for your call. You know, that Pew Research Center poll was so interesting, Sheryl.
STOLBERGYes. You know, and we are seeing that Americans in a way are self-segregating. We're also seeing research showing that, for instance, Republicans are tending to live in more Republican areas, and, you know, liberals, Democrats are tending to live more liberal areas. So as a society, we've seen over the years this sort of polarization not only in our politics, but in our demographics.
STOLBERGAnd it does create for a much more difficult environment in which to govern. And we see this also playing out redistricting. That's one reason, a structural reason, why we have polarization in Congress because districts are being drawn more and more narrowly to appeal to the extremes of the parties. In fact, this was a factor in Eric Cantor's defeat. His district was redrawn to make it even more red than it already was, and he got defeated by somebody who was redder than he was.
PAGEOn Monday, Starbucks released a new college tuition plan with Arizona State University for its employees, got a lot of good press, then got a little of bad press. Tell us about it, Laura.
MECKLERWell, what they were doing was actually pretty extraordinary for a company, which is that they were essentially saying that we're going to pay for our employees to go to college, one particular college, Arizona State University -- it's an online university -- and that there was no requirement that they stay with the company afterwards. Basically, to qualify, you just had to work 20 hours a week, and they would pay this tuition.
MECKLERYou know, it was unfortunate for the company that they didn't -- weren't just sort of straightforward from the start about exactly what the program was because they got some flak afterwards that -- because you have to have at least 21 credits before you get any reimbursement. And that can cost as much as ten or $11,000. So essentially, people who want to take advantage of this program, if you're just starting from a dead start, it's not like you get paid first dollar. But it still is a lot. It still is a fairly generous offer.
STOLBERGAnd the other thing that they did was they cut out -- they eliminated their other program, loan program, to allow employees to attend other colleges. So now, if you're a Starbucks employee and you want to take advantage of this college program, you are going to do it through Arizona State and no other institution.
PAGEYou know, it's not that the provisions seem outrageous. It's just that they weren't disclosed when they first announced it.
MECKLERIt just goes to show, I mean, as reporters, of course, we all are all in favor of full disclosure at all times, and I think it just -- people just seem to need to relearn this lesson over and over again. If you're straightforward with people, if you tell them the good, the bad, and the ugly, it's always better for you than if you just wait for it to trickle out.
STOLBERGIt would've been a much better story for Starbucks had they just been upfront at first. It still was still a very, very positive story for them, but by withholding that information, it's sort of like the old Washington adage, you know, the cover-up is worse than the crime. In this case, there was no crime. They were doing something legitimately good.
O'KEEFEUltimately, everybody wins though, good publicity for Starbucks, you know, good recruiting tool. The workers, if they want it, they can have it, and Arizona State gets a lot of federal money because those students can also apply for federal Pell Grants. And so the university might benefit.
PAGEEd O'Keefe with The Washington Post, Sheryl Stolberg with The New York Times, Laura Meckler with The Wall Street Journal, thanks so much for being with us this hour.
O'KEEFEGreat to be with you.
MECKLERThanks a lot.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening and have a great weekend.
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 is email@example.com. 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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