Many say the current presidential race is the most uncivilized in modern American history. Civility in public discourse, why it seems to have hit a new low and long-term implications for the democratic process.
Guest Host: Susan Page
The Supreme Court hands down key rulings. House Speaker John Boehner says he will file suit against President Barack Obama accusing him of abuse of executive power. And what we learned from Tuesday’s primaries. Our panel discusses the week’s top headlines.
- John Prideaux Washington correspondent, The Economist.
- Janet Hook political reporter, The Wall Street Journal
- Ron Elving senior Washington editor, NPR
What Could This Week’s Supreme Court Decisions Mean For NSA Surveillance?
The Supreme Court this week ruled police need a warrant to search your cell phone — one of several decisions that leaned toward limiting what the government can do, said John Prideaux, the Washington Correspondent for The Economist.
“It’s sort of siding with a slightly more libertarian view of citizens’ rights,” Prideaux said of the court’s rulings.
It’s a kind of philosophy with which justices would look negatively upon the communication surveillance carried out by the NSA, he told guest host Susan Page on June 27 during the Diane Rehm Show’s domestic news hour.
Watch the discussion below.
Watch Full Video
Watch the full video of the week’s news in studio.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. Diane will be back next week. The Supreme Court hands down key rulings. One strikes down buffer zones that limited abortion protestors. House Speaker John Boehner says he will file suit against President Obama accusing him of abuse of executive power. And what we learned from Tuesday's primaries.
MS. SUSAN PAGEJoining me for the Domestic Hour of the Friday News Roundup, Ron Elving of NPR, Janet Hook of The Wall Street Journal and John Prideaux of The Economist. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. RON ELVINGHello, Susan.
MS. JANET HOOKHi, Susan.
MR. JOHN PRIDEAUXHi, Susan.
PAGEWe invite our listeners to join our conversation later in this hour. You can call our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850. You can always send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, Ron Elving, let's start with the Supreme Court. A big balance of power decision when it comes to the president's authority to make recess appointments. I was amazed to learn that the Supreme Court had never considered this issue before. What did they decide this time when they finally did?
ELVINGApparently, they've been considering it for some while because the length of the decision that they put out and the 54-page appendix that they put on about every recess appointment that had ever been made by a president indicated that this was something of a fascination for some of them. But in the end, they decided that the president did not have a right to appoint three members to the NLRB, the National Labor Relations Board, when he did so because, in frustration, he was waiting for the Senate either to give a vote to these three nominees or to go on recess so he could use his recess appointment.
ELVINGWell, the Senate didn't go on recess. They kept having pro forma sessions. And if you've ever seen a pro forma session, it's really kind of funny. I mean, there's one senator there and the other senator says, okay, we're in session and then they essentially adjourn. But that's a session. And there's no Senate there doing any work.
PAGEYou know, Ron, I would just say that often just during the week and while they're in session it doesn't seem like the Senate does very much more than that. But Janet, now that the Democrats control the Senate, that they've changed the filibuster rules when it comes for confirming appointments. Does this have much impact in the short term?
HOOKNo. And, in fact, it does have a little bit of an academic quality to it because they changed the Senate rules. It is hugely important and, in the long run, you know, there will be a lot of situations where it matters. Right now, what happened was, out of all of this frustration, because the Republicans had enough votes to block all of these Obama administration nominees, that was why they were thinking about doing recess appointments in the first place. Nothing was moving.
HOOKSo but at the same time, Harry Reid proceeded with a rules change that got around the Republican filibuster in another way, which was allowing the Senate to confirm or at least advance nominees with a 51 vote majority, which the Democrats now have. So they kind of don't need the recess appointment power quite as much as they used to.
PAGEBut John, down the road could be a very significant decision.
PRIDEAUXYeah. I think that's right. It's part of this gradual kind of firing up of the rules by which the Senate runs, which we've seen over a while. It's hard to point to a particular moment when things got really bad. I mean, those with slightly longer political memories will remember that the Democrats gaveled in the Senate in order to block some of George W. Bush's judicial appointments.
PRIDEAUXBut I think you're right. It's going to make it very difficult for the next president and presidents after to get recess appointments through. And if the Senate, you know, continues to block appointments during the normal term, it's a recipe for further gridlock, even with the filibuster rules change that we've seen.
HOOKAnd I would point out that even with these new rules to advance nominees more quickly, there's, right now, a really big backlog in the Senate of ambassadorial appointments. There's, like, 30 sitting around not moving and that’s because Republicans have found a way, even with the rules change, to really slow things down by, like, running out the clock on every single stage.
PAGESo when we look at the National Labor Relations Board, which has been operating with these appointments that have now been declared unconstitutional, what happens to all the decisions that they made, Ron?
ELVINGThat's the other short term affect. The National Labor Relations Board needs to go back and reissue all those decisions. Now, the three people who were appointed, one has moved on and been replaced by a duly confirmed member of the board, the other two have been reappointed and duly confirmed. So they're all there now. It's a healed up board and they can go back over those decisions and presumably the people who are in those jobs will reissue most of those rulings.
ELVINGBut we don’t know how many and we don't know which ones might go orphaned and so some of the decisions that the board made under those conditions will go evanescing.
PAGEYou know, one of the reasons this seems so significant is, as John was saying, there is this big debate now about relations between the Congress and the president. They've been sort of famously dysfunctional in the last couple years, between this White House and Republicans on the Hill. And, in fact, we had the extraordinary scene this week. The House Speaker John Boehner announced he's going to file a lawsuit against President Obama, alleging him of exploiting his powers too much. John, tell us about that.
PRIDEAUXHe sent a memo around to his caucus among the House Republicans saying that he was going to move legislation forward to sue the president for not upholding the law, not performing his proper role in the constitution. He wasn't clear, from the memo, completely what he was referring to, but I think it's the delay to certain bits of the Affordable Care Act and also some of the ways in which immigration law and particularly deportations have been enforced.
PAGEJanet, I wonder, why do you think Speaker Boehner has decided to take this route? I mean, if they really think the president has been acting like a king, which is one of the things that was said, wouldn't you impeach him? Isn't that really the course that Congress has if they think the president is acting in appropriately?
HOOKRight. I think that -- I saw this lawsuit as a little bit of a primal scream by the Republicans in the House, you know. They just were so frustrated by all that President Obama could do and some of it was executive authority that he clearly had. And I think going the impeachment route, they tried impeaching a president once before and they had pretty disastrous political consequences in the 1998 midterm elections. They don't want to do that again.
HOOKOne advantage of a law suit is that it would take a really long time to happen.
PAGESo it's really just saying to their supporters, hey, we're doing something.
ELVINGAnd it's another narrative line in a group of stories that the Republicans are telling, largely to their supporters, about how hard they're working against President Obama. That's extremely important to the people who elected this Republican Congress. They elected them to oppose the president and they want to see them doing it and they want to see them do it successfully, of course, but if they can't do it successfully until the president's term is entirely over, they can at least have a lot of good storylines going about how hard they're working at it.
PAGEPresident Obama, yesterday, call it a stunt.
PRIDEAUXI think both of you are right. I think it's one of these things where Republican lawmakers will be able to say to the constituents when they're seeking reelection, you know, we're trying to sue the president for being unconstitutional in the same way that they like to -- we voted against Obamacare, you know, 100 million times. There's a really symbolic element to that. What I think is interesting about the Republican critique is that if you look at what they say about Obama's foreign policy, it's that he's weak.
PRIDEAUXHe doesn't stand up for America. He's not energetic enough and using the president's authority. If you look at the critique of the kind of domestic sphere, it's the complete opposite. It's that he's, you know, he's overreaching. He's doing all these unconstitutional things. I think for most people who observe politics, the idea that the president gets so do whatever he wants seems a little farfetched. I mean, they've seen constraints on his power everywhere, right.
HOOKAnd it also reminds me of -- there is nothing that unifies the Republican Party quite so much as hating Obama and pretty soon, that's gonna run out. So this is kind of one more chance to rally around the I Hate Obama cause.
ELVINGYeah, there is a constitutional standard for impeachment and it's high crimes and misdemeanors. What we're looking at here are a lot of policy disagreements where there is a legitimate agreement or disagreement about whether or not the president can do what he calls pen and phone changes to the law and it's a legitimate question to take to the courts. And so, you know, there is, underneath this, a rather "within the rules" kind of challenge to what the president's doing.
PAGEAnd, of course, Republicans can point to this court decision, which was unanimous, how many of those have we had, saying that in this case, the president had overreached his authority. You know, it was an interesting week. So on Tuesday, the Bipartisan Policy Center put out a report with 60 recommendations, trying to address the dysfunction of our government. On Wednesday, you had John Boehner announce he's going to sue the president and then yesterday, we learned that former Senator Howard Baker had died.
PAGEI'm not sure, Janet, he would recognize the world of Washington these days compared to his tenure in the U.S. Senate.
HOOKYeah, it really was. He was a man of another era. He led a Senate that was much more bipartisan. I mean, not completely devoid of partisanship, but he was also a different kind of Republican leader who kind of tried to build bridges and advance, you know, build coalitions. I mean, the bad way they describe that kind of legislator is he was a deal maker. But it meant that he was a doer. He was a pragmatist.
HOOKHe called himself a moderate, moderate conservative.
ELVINGHere's a man whose father was in Congress, whose step-mother was in Congress, his father-in-law was Everett Dirksen, for whom one of the three Senate office buildings is named. His second wife, after his first wife died, was another United States senator. If there was ever a Washington insider, it was Howard Baker and this is a time in which we see the Washington insider largely reviled around the country.
ELVINGBut Howard Baker is somebody we remember fondly because he was successful because he served his president when he was chief of staff for the presidency, did an excellent job of restoring Ronald Reagan's luster in the second term and I think Barack Obama could really use a Howard Baker today, for example. And he did a lot of things that needed doing and ultimately, sacrificed his own career on a number of occasions in order to do the thing that needed to be done and doing it by cooperating with a lot of people he may have disagreed with.
PRIDEAUXHe was an insider as Ron says, but he was also capable of asking incredibly awkward questions and this famous one that he asked of Nixon, what did the president know and when did he know it, over Watergate, which has become this political cliché now. But it's an incredibly clever question and it is the question that people ask now whenever there's any kind of scandal 'cause as most of us know, it's incredibly hard to pinpoint accurately when you actually knew something, even if it's something, you know, really trivial.
PRIDEAUXAnd people often tie themselves in knots trying to answer it.
PAGEThe other thing interesting about that question was he was the ranking Republican on that committee asking that question about a Republican president. Now, it's if, you know, you're only asking that question if you're on the other side.
ELVINGIf Baker had not been the ranking member on that committee and if he had not taken the attitude that he took, it's entirely possible that that entire committee would've gone in another direction.
PAGEWe've got our Friday New Roundup this morning. In the studio with me, John Prideaux, Washington correspondent for The Economist, Janet Hook, she's a political reporter for The Wall Street Journal, and Ron Elving, he's senior Washington editor at NPR. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll talk about some more of these Supreme Court decisions this week and the IRS scandal.
PAGEWe'll take your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. With me in the studio for our weekly News Roundup, Ron Elvin of NPR, Janet Hook of the Wall Street Journal, John Prideaux of the Economist. And we're taking your calls. And you can watch the video live stream if you want to not only hear us but also see us. It's streaming live on the web at drshow.org.
PAGEWell, let's talk about some of these other major Supreme Court decisions. You know, there was another one that was unanimous that dealt with the searching of cell phones by law enforcement. John, tell us what they decided.
PRIDEAUXWell, this is a really interesting case, which I was sitting in on the Supreme Court when the oral arguments were being heard. And it was great to see the judges kind of playing around with technology and the law and how they fit together. The case that was before the judges hinged on an arrest of a man, and the police searched his cell phone, found a connection to another crime. His lawyers argued that they would have had a warrant to do that.
PRIDEAUXAnd what the judges were trying to work out is weather this kind of long standing provision that it's okay for the police to search the effects of a person when they arrest them apprised to a cell phone. And the plaintiffs' lawyers were saying, hang on. It ought not to because a cell phone contains so much information about all our lives. It's not just like having a wallet or a billfold or something on your person. It's equivalent really to having your entire office and a record of everywhere you've been for the past three years, everyone you know, pictures of your entire life. You know, it's categorically different. And in the end the Supreme Court, you know, unanimously decided that that was the case.
PAGEAre there any implications from this decision for the NSA and its surveillance of communications of Americans, which is of course done a lot of the data collection -- the metadata collections and without warrants.
PRIDEAUXI think it's different, isn't it, but it's related. And I think you can see there's a thread running through all of the big Supreme Court decisions we had this week. And whether it's the decision on abortion clinics or whether it's the decision on the president exceeding his executive authority or this decision on, you know, what the police should be able to look at and what they shouldn't when they arrest a person.
PRIDEAUXAnd it's limiting what government's sort of able to do. It's sort of siding with a slightly kind of more libertarian view of citizens' rights. And I think you could read across to that, a kind of philosophy that would say that some of the stuff that the NSA has been doing, the Supreme Court judges would not look fondly upon.
PAGEYou know, it's interesting -- that's such an interesting point you're making that there's a thread, although in some cases they're angering conservatives. In some cases they're angering liberals. Janet, talk about the case involving buffer zones in Massachusetts that were set around medical clinics that offer abortions. They decided that was not permitted.
HOOKRight. What had happened was in Massachusetts they set a very specific and wide buffer zone around abortion clinics of 35'. And the Supreme Court ruled together that that -- to overrule that, to throw out that for different reasons though. The point being though that they were saying that it was a violation of the First Amendment free speech rights of potential demonstrators, and in part because the property that was in the buffer zone was a public sidewalk.
HOOKAnd it has -- could have interesting implications. The proponents -- protestors were arguing that actually if they could get closer to the clinic they wouldn't be so rowdy, that they were saying because the buffer was so far they didn't have a chance to talk to the women going into the clinic that they wanted to. That with this buffer zone eliminated or reduced, they might actually not have to shout so much, which was sort of interesting response to the ruling.
PAGEAre -- does this mean, Ron, do you think, that buffer zones, which -- not established just in Massachusetts but also in some other cities and states, that they will now go away, that they won't be permitted anywhere?
ELVINGIt does not mean that. It does not mean that they all have to go away. And it does not mean that they won't exist in the future or that Massachusetts might, in its own right, find some other way to do this. The court was essentially inviting people to come up with something that was a little less draconian than 35' on a public sidewalk. And a lot of other states already have and a lot of other states probably will.
PAGEHere's one thing that some proponents of the buffer zones have pointed out, that the Supreme Court has a buffer zone for protestors around its own building. Are they guilty of hypocrisy, John?
PRIDEAUXI'm sure they would find extremely clever arguments as to why they're not guilty of hypocrisy. But, no, certainly for the people who are defending the buffer zones, it's a very kind of handy argument to have up their sleeve.
PAGESo let's talk about these latest decisions in lower courts involving same-sex marriage. All of a piece, it seems to me, that we've been seeing over the past year or so where these restrictions on same sex marriage are falling in one state after another, Janet.
HOOKRight. And this week we saw a really -- a real landmark because for the first time a court of appeals -- a U.S. court of appeals threw out a ban on same-sex marriage. This was the court in Denver for the circuit that included Utah. And it threw out Utah's same-sex marriage ban. So that puts it much, much closer to the doorstep of the Supreme Court. It's thought that they're going to appeal directly to the Supreme Court rather than going through and (word?) hearing. And who knows whether and when the Supreme Court would take it up.
HOOKBut remember, a year ago the Supreme Court issued its own major ruling upholding gay rights in marriage. But it wasn't the full broad sweep of saying states cannot ban same-sex marriage. And that's the question that will be put to them now as a result of this circuit court ruling.
PAGEYou know, it's dangerous to predict what the Supreme Court might do but given the rather consistent string of decisions involving state restrictions on same-sex marriage, is it -- can you imagine the Supreme Court making a decision that did not uphold it as a constitutional right? It seems like that's the natural progression we've been moving toward.
ELVINGI can imagine it but as you say, the natural sequence that we seem to be doing here, the edifice that they have been building for a number of years, since the legal preponderance changed on this issue and since public opinion changed on this issue, which was a rather dramatic change in the last 10, 20 years. For a while all the energy was on the side of let's ban gay marriage. Even if it isn't happening, let's have a law against it. And even if we have a law against it, let's have a constitutional amendment against it.
ELVINGAnd that energy built for quite a long time and was very potent, even within the last decade. And then everything seemed to turn around in the last decade. And now we have this Supreme Court march towards saying it's a constitutional right to marry.
PRIDEAUXYeah, I think Ron's right. It's incredibly interesting. That turnaround in such latitudes toward gay marriage in America has to be one of the fastest changes we've ever seen on almost any subject, right. And I think one of the intriguing things about the Supreme Court decisions on this is that you have these unelected judges who appear to be more responsive to public opinion on gay marriage than the elected lawmakers who keep putting these bans in place. It's an intriguing thing for democracy.
PAGEThere might be a little bit of a chicken and an egg discussion here because you did have some early decisions in the courts overturning bans on same-sex marriage that were not popular. But I think then they happened and people decided the sky didn't fall.
ELVINGAnd that I think is also true of the culture's change. The culture's change about gay marriage, the culture's change in attitude towards gay life, the culture's change in attitude towards gay people. And some people have said that when your attitude changes depends on when you realize how many of the people you know and like are actually gay.
PAGELet's go to the phones and let some of our listeners join our conversation. Let's go first to Rob. He's calling us from Miami. Rob, hi, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
ROBI just wanted to say, I listened to your show yesterday and you was talking about the bipartisan. And, you know, there's a lot of gridlock and I think the Republicans are taking gridlock to the next level. And, you know, I just want to hear your points about maybe gerrymandering that's going on that kind of facilitates this type of gridlock. And, you know, the Republicans need to understand what goes around comes around. And if they expect to be in power at some point then the Democrats, I'm certain, will try to employ these type of tactics. And in the end it really hurts the people. Thank you.
PAGERob, thanks so much for your call. Ron.
ELVINGGerrymandering is of course a very large part of our political history. It goes all the way back to the 1700s. And both parties of course practice it all the time. They draw the lines to advantage themselves when they have the power to do so. Right now it is more easily done if you're a Republican Party because the Democratic vote nationally tends to be concentrated in cities, tends to be concentrated in the inner part of the city. And therefore it's easy to draw districts that have many, many, many more than the necessary number of Democrats to become a democratic district.
ELVINGAnd that facilitates the Republicans creating a much more efficient system for their own seats. For example, Michigan, Pennsylvania and North Carolina all had more votes for Democrats than for Republicans for the House in the last election, but they all have rather large majorities of Republican seats. And that's because of the drawing of the map. At the same time, that's not the only reason for gridlock. It is also a result of the natural polarization that is going on in the electorate. People are moving farther apart. They are moving closer to the centers of opinion within their red or blue attitudinal construct.
PAGEYou know, Rob mentioned the show that we did yesterday on "The Diane Rehm Show" about some bipartisan efforts to try to address congressional gridlock. Janet, you're up there all the time. Any signs that this is about to ease, reach a turning point or should we look ahead for another two years of what we've seen in the past?
HOOKI think we can look to another two years. I think there's sort of -- as Ron said, there are a lot of structural reasons. I think one place that we might look for -- there's a little experiment going on in California right now. They changed their rules for drawing districts. And they, after the 2010 census, wrote their district lines not by gerrymandering but by a commission that supposedly was less incumbent-protection oriented. And we'll see if that makes much difference in the makeup of the California delegation or its state legislature.
PAGEAnd it could be important because California, our biggest state, it has a huge delegation in congress.
PAGELet's go to Kalamazoo, Mich. and talk to Ed. Ed, thanks for joining us.
EDYes, hello. I just wanted to comment on the Mississippi Senate primary election where Thad Cochran won over the Tea Party candidate McDaniel. And what -- it seems to me that the Republican Party splitting up into factions -- at least three factions I can identify -- there's the Tea Party faction, and now there's a Libertarian faction and then there's the regular old Republican faction. So it seems like there's a war -- sort of a war in the Republican Party.
EDAlso there was the, you know, sort of dispute of election of leadership in the House with Kevin McCarthy. There was a lot of talk about Raul Labrador and, you know, there was dissatisfaction among the Tea Party slash Libertarian wing with Kevin McCarthy.
PAGEEd, thanks so much for your call. You know, one thing that struck me about Tuesday's results, for the second time we were flummoxed by what voters did. The Virginia primary that ousted Eric Cantor, I mean, we the press did not see that coming. And there was prediction after prediction that Thad Cochran was going to lose that primary runoff. He ended up winning it. John, tell us about it.
PRIDEAUXYou know, he did end up winning and it was very interesting the way in which he won. Both sides in this fight over what the Republican Party should be fought, by which I mean the kind of Tea Party-ish side and the side of incumbents had decided that this was the big one for them, that both put a lot of money into this race. And Chris McDaniel, the challenger, had surprised people by doing so well in the first round that it went through to runoff which Thad Cochran won. It's being presented as kind of a victory for the Republican establishment but I think it's important to note that the vote in the end, after all this money was spent, was 49 to 51. It was incredibly close.
PRIDEAUXAnd as Ed in Michigan says, there is a real fight going on between the different factions of the Republican Party. He mentioned, you know, three. I think there are at least, you know, kind of four or five. And they will continue to duke it out. And I don't think it's the case that the Tea Party needs to win lots of these races in order to be relevant. It just needs to do kind of well enough and to make lots of people in congress worry that they might lose their seat to make them, you know, watch their voting records very carefully and kind of recalibrate them.
ELVINGYou know, after all that money was spent, after all those resources were sent into Mississippi, what actually made the difference in the end was they brought out some different voters. The number of people voting in the runoff tripled in certain precincts in Jackson in Hinds County, which is the capital city of Mississippi. They tripled. Now why all of a sudden this huge new interest? Runoff elections are usually smaller electorates than the initial primary. So why this new sudden interest?
ELVINGWell, it turns out, these are African American precincts. And the Cochran campaign made a very direct appeal to African Americans saying, please vote for me because I've been better to you than Chris McDaniel would be, so vote in the Republican primary.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And, in fact, David Wasserman of Cook Political Report has a very interesting analysis out this morning that looks at the majority of black precincts and districts. And shows how turnout was really ginned up and really helped and perhaps accounted for Thad Cochran's victory there. Janet, you went down there to report on this race. What -- is this the last we've seen of Mr. McDaniel do you think?
HOOKYou know, he really built up a very strong following. And actually it may not be the last we see of him in this race. He and his campaign staff were scouring the results for irregularities in the voters. Because the rule is you can't -- you're not allowed to vote in the Republican primary if you -- in the runoff if you voted in the Democratic primary the first time. So they're looking for votes that might be disqualified on that ground.
HOOKHe's a very -- he built up quite a following. You know, he could run for another office like governor of the state. He -- but he's a mad character. I mean, one thing when we were talking about the divisions within the party, when he gave his -- it wasn't even a concession speech -- he hasn't quite conceded -- on election night he gave a really angry speech. He wasn't just disappointed that he lost. He felt like this outreach to Democrats was a betrayal to the party. And he made the argument that Republican voters should be making the decision in a Republican primary.
PAGEAnd yet if you look at the recommendations by this report that came out this week by the Bipartisan Policy Commission, one of the things they say would help is if primaries were more open if you let independents or even people in the other party vote.
PRIDEAUXI think that's right. And part of the reason we get this partisan gridlock that we get is that both parties often seem more interested in talking to their own supporters than trying to win over new support. The Thad Cochran campaign, this kind of second iteration of it, was an example, I think, of what more people ought to do. You know, they ought to be looking beyond their natural constituencies.
PRIDEAUXI think Thad Cochran perhaps took it as a little far in the sense that some of his leaflets that went out to black districts mentioned that Chris McDaniel had been horrible towards Obamacare. And some of his leaflets that were in white districts said that Thad Cochran had in fact voted against Obamacare 100 times. So there was this certain amount of saying kind of different things to different people. But in general the principal of trying to win over people who are not your natural supporters is a good one.
PAGESo Thad Cochran, an old timer in Washington who survived. Another old timer in Washington survived this week, that's Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel that, man, a close race, Ron.
ELVINGA close race and here again, I'm not sure that Adriano Espaillat has conceded. Has he conceded? Do we know? He didn't certainly in the first day or two. It was a close race. It had been a close race when the two men faced off in 2012 in that primary. And after that I think a lot of people thought Charlie Rangel would see the handwriting on the wall. And he is 84 years old and he has been there since 1970. And, you know, it was time to move on mostly because the district is no longer a majority African American district. It's mostly a Hispanic district now.
PAGEInteresting, that would've been the first, I think, Dominican member of congress if the challenger had won. Is there a larger message, do you think, Janet, from Charlie Rangel's victory...
PAGE...or from his close call?
HOOKWell, I actually think both Cochran and Rangel are interesting cases of incumbents who a lot of people, even though they won, a lot of people thought that it would've been the more gracious thing for them to retire and make room for a new generation. There was one other district in America where an incumbent was booted out for the same reason, which is Ralph Hall in Texas. He lost his primary. He was 91, the oldest member of the House.
PAGEWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll go straight to the phones. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. We're talking about the week's news with Janet Hook, Ron Elving and John Prideaux. And we're going to take some calls. Let's go first to Berryville, Va., and talk to Ben. Ben, hi, you're on the air.
BENHi. Thank you for taking my call. So I'm not sure if anybody here saw that article awhile back in the Washington Post about how one -- about the Metro coming into Loudoun County and how once the population tends to hit about 800 people per square mile, it tends to vote Democratic. And how Obama delivered 49 of the top 50 most densely populated counties in the country on the last election. And I think the Republican Party is kind of having a conflict in that they want jobs, they want growth, but when the region grows, they don't vote Republican.
PAGEAll right. Ben, you know, it reminds me a little of the Pew Research Center study that came out. I think, Ron, you referred to it earlier, that shows people sort to live with like-minded people. And it's one of the factors behind the polarization that we see.
ELVINGThat's right. People are more inclined now to socialize with people, to worship with people, to inter-marry and date with people who are politically simpatico. And this, apparently in our past, was not quite so common. Now, of course there were many instances of it and of course people cared about those things in the past. And there is some political science disagreement about just how much of this big sort is really going on. But there is a lot of political voting evidence that people are increasingly likely to stick with one party and increasingly likely not to be swing voters.
PAGEBen, thanks so much for your call. Well, let's talk about the latest developments in the IRS case, this controversy that's getting a lot of attention on the loss of records that Congress has been seeking. John, what is happening on that? Is there evidence that a crime was committed?
PRIDEAUXI don't think there is evidence yet. But there are all sorts of fishy looking things, which means that the Republican Party are having a lot of fun with it. If we backtrack a little bit, what happened after the famous Supreme Court decision Citizens United, that unleashed a whole load of outside spending into elections, was that a lot of money poured into organizations called 501 (c)(4) s, which, it's not a very exciting name, but it's after a line in the tax code. And the kind of special sauce of these organizations is that they don't have to disclose who their donors are.
PRIDEAUXAnd the laws, as they've been interpreted around these organizations, state that their not meant to do -- spend more than half their money on political activity, however you term that. And the IRS is charged with figuring out, you know, whether that's being, you know, whether they're following the rules or not. So the IRS is faced with a kind of title wave of registrations for these things and had to find some way of trying to figure out which ones it ought to look at to see if they were kind of obeying the rules.
PRIDEAUXAnd, you know, no surprise perhaps, they started with ones that had names that sounded like they were doing politics and often included words like "tea" and "party." And fast-forward a little bit -- they also, by the way looked at some progressive 501 (c)(4) s. Fast-forward a little bit and the Republican Party is, you know, extremely exercised about the fact that the IRS seems to have singled out conservative groups for special treatment and has been subpoenaing people from the IRS all over the place.
PRIDEAUXThe kind of latest twist in this came when it turned out that Lois Lerner of the IRS, whose emails they wanted to get a hold of, the IRS had managed to delete all her emails. And this is a kind of delicious detail really, because (a) , you know, everybody loathes the IRS -- (b) if you're audited by the IRS, which is a, you know, horrible process, you have to produce records since, you know, back when you were still in the womb practically. And so the fact that the organization itself doesn't seem to keep it's email for more than, you know, a year is sort of too good to be true really.
PAGEYou know, the president kind of ridiculed this probe, the idea that there was a controversy, in his comments yesterday when he was on the road. And yet, Ron, this doesn't seem to be a cure that's going away soon.
ELVINGIt won't go away. It's another one of those storylines that we talked about. Benghazi is another one and there are several others that give the Republicans an opportunity to point out the failings of any element of the government -- which any element of the government is part of the Obama administration. And so it's another way to continue to show that they are doing everything they can to oppose Barack Obama. At the same time, clearly there is a serious failure here of judgment within the IRS. They did seem to be targeting political groups, the preponderance of which appear to have been conservative groups.
ELVINGThey didn't necessarily deny them tax exemption. They said, you're going to have to jump through some hoops. You've got to go fill out this questionnaire. You've got to do this and that. And there was a lot of delay. And obviously that's the kind of thing that drives people crazy, not just as bureaucracy but because they perceive a political agenda on the part of the IRS.
PAGELet's go to Mark. He's calling us from Cincinnati. Mark, thanks for holding on.
MARKThank you. Good morning.
MARKLong-time listener, first-time caller. Love the show. My question is about John Boehner's lawsuit against the president and if it will cost taxpayers -- if it will cost them for the lawsuit.
PAGEOkay. Interesting question. Janet, is it going to cost taxpayers?
HOOKYes, it will be a taxpayer-funded activity. And actually that was what the White House spokesman, in responding to it, pointed out yesterday. And it's probably a talking point. It probably will be -- because that was part of what the -- Nancy Pelosi complained about in previous efforts by Speaker Boehner to advance legal challenges to Obama policies.
PAGEHere's a question from Cliff. He sends us an email. He says, "Does the speaker of the house have the authority to sue the president as opposed to any other citizen?
ELVINGYou know, the speaker, as I understand it, is asking for the House to give him authorization to do this. He is asking for a bill to be passed by the House to effectuate this.
PAGEIt was one year ago today that the Senate passed a bipartisan, comprehensive plan to overhaul the nation's immigration system. Lots of optimism on that day that this was going to go through the House, go to the president, be signed. But we're nowhere near that today, Janet.
HOOKBoy, one year ago today. It actually seems like a lot longer ago than that. You're right that, at that point, it just seemed like the world was filled with optimism, that this would be one issue where the parties' interests actually coincided, because the Republican Party was looking at the results of the 2012 election and seeing that they were just totally losing it among Latino voters. But now it's -- the issue has basically died in the House. They've talked about maybe doing a piecemeal approach of tackling small immigration issues.
HOOKBut those residual tiny hopes were really dashed when Eric Cantor lost his primary. If there was any kind of powerful Republican who was even making motions towards dealings with, say, the children who had been brought to the United States illegally, it was him. And that was sort of one of the issues, probably not the only issue, but one of the issues in his defeat in the primary.
PAGEI interviewed Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona this week. He was one of the Gang of Eight, the team that negotiated the bipartisan deal a year ago. I asked him what the odds were that, I mean, anything on immigration would happen this year. And he said, close to zero.
PRIDEAUXI think that's right. I think within the Republican Party, there's a tradeoff between kind of short-term and long-term benefits. They know that in the longer term they have to get on the same side as the kind of majority of the electorate on this issue. But in the short term, it's going to be really painful for them. And at the moment, they can't see much past the midterms. And the other thing, I think, I would say is that the climate for immigration reform has changed since the arrival of extremely large numbers of unaccompanied children in Texas, which is a, you know, it's a kind of terrible story.
PRIDEAUXBut I think the effects of it -- you know, it's terrible in itself -- but I think it has big political effects. I think we were looking at both a midterm and a presidential election that would take place against a backdrop of a border that looked, you know, if not completely impermeable, which I think is impossible, you know, pretty much become secure. And now that looks less like the case. And that makes immigration reform even harder.
PAGETens of thousands of unaccompanied kids making this very dangerous journey from Central America, arriving in the United States, and then being put in basically holding areas. What's going to happen to them?
ELVINGThat is not clear at this time. The president has said and people from the administration have said that they have to go back to their home countries. It's obviously very difficult to identify their parents. It's difficult to get the parents here to reclaim them. It's difficult to get them returned to their Central American homes. This is going to be around for a long time. There are examples from the past of when people have arrived here under these kinds of circumstances, say, the Mariel boatlift back in 1979, I believe it was. It takes a long time to sort back through these things that are tragedies, human tragedies of great proportion.
PAGEYou know, there's criticism among Republicans of President Obama for not doing more to address the people of Central America and saying, don't send your kids here. They won't qualify for the provisions that I've made, the executive action I've taken to help some of the so-called Dreamers, the kids who were brought here illegally. But I mean they really made -- their parents are really making a gamble that the United States, in the end, will not send these kids back.
HOOKRight. Right. You know, the question of getting the message to people in Central America, don't send your kids here. Jeh Johnson, the secretary of homeland security took a stab at that this week in an op-ed and letter, talking to that point. And there is a lot of confusion about why all these kids all of a sudden are coming. There's some thought that the smugglers are, you know, spreading bad rumors about the possibility of becoming citizens, you won't be turned back. So it's a sad and difficult problem.
PRIDEAUXA colleague of mine was down in Honduras this week talking to some people who are leaving and trying to get their kids into the U.S.A. And he did find that there are rumors being spread. There's -- people traffickers there are saying that you've got until October and that there are permits being handed out and your children won't be sent back and so on, which is obviously false. And I'm not sure that any amount of, you know, American government officials saying it's false will necessarily counter it.
PRIDEAUXThe other thing I'd point out is that though President Obama often gets accused of not enforcing the law on this, actually this administration has deported an extremely large amount of people. But there are some 11 million people living in America without proper paperwork. And that's an awful lot of people to deport, even if you're running at, you know, kind of 300,000, 400,000 deportations a year, which is the level at the moment. So the people doing the deporting have to make some kind of choice about who they choose to kick out of the country first.
PRIDEAUXAnd at the moment, they've chosen to kick out of the country people who have criminal records, rather than, you know, children who don't. So actually only 1,000 or maybe 2,000 children get deported every year. So those people in Honduras actually have made a kind of correct assessment. The chances of their children being sent back are kind of relatively small, if they make the kind of long and dangerous journey. I think it's a hellish problem.
PAGEWe know that immigration reform has very little chance of going anywhere this year. What about in the next two years? Janet, do you think that the prospects are good for piecemeal reform for something happening? Or are we just in a situation where we need to have another presidential election before we'll address this issue?
HOOKI do think we need to have another presidential election. It really did seem like last year was -- you couldn't have found a more favorable political climate for it, and it just died.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Let's go to Little Rock and talk to Bart. Bart, hi.
BARTHey, how's it going?
BARTA quick question and a quick comment. Do you all know how much it costs the taxpayers for the Republicans to do their little trick of gaveling every three days, while they're actually on recess?
PAGEOkay. What do you think, Ron?
ELVINGThat really can't be a large figure. The Senate staff that's necessary to keep them in pro forma session would be on salary in any event and the security and so forth is all present, even if the senators are not. So I don't really think that there's much of an expense involved in this. And it's really something that's been around for quite a long time.
PAGEBart, thanks for your call. Let's go to Gerald. He's calling us from Dallas, Texas. Gerald, hi. Hi, you're on the air.
GERALDYes, ma'am. I got a -- well, the first thing is, we were talking about the warrants, okay? I personally believe that if someone is doing something that is illegal, especially if some crime that would involve the loss of life of somebody or any kind of -- trying to extort money from somebody -- any crime which has been found out as evidence on their cell phones, it should be legalized. So they -- I don't think a law-enforcement officer should have to wait to get any kind of warrant.
PAGEOkay, Gerald. Thanks for your call.
ELVINGThis is an issue that the court itself struggled with, because they could imagine circumstances in which the cell phone itself might be crucial to some kind of a criminal act. And of course they are allowed to search for weapons, if they pull over your car, because the weapons might be used against the police officers doing the arrest. So they're allowed to do that. And the cell phone, well, if they think that the cell phone, for example is involved in some kind of bomb -- if there's some of terrorism threat of that kind or if they have reason to think that the telephone is being used in a kidnapping or some other form of child abuse, they can, in that instance, proceed without a warrant.
PAGEWe saw the president yesterday do something unusual. He went out to lunch with a woman from Minnesota who had written him a letter talking about the travails in her life. They had burgers. John, what do you think is going on here?
PRIDEAUXI think there's a certain amount of kind of what presidents do in their second term, when they don't have a majority in the House and when the Senate, you know, won't do their bidding. I mean, Bill Clinton, at the tail end of his second term got very exercised by V-Chips, if you remember, which were the things that you were meant to put on top of your TV to block the sort of inappropriate content for children and also school uniforms. And President Obama, this week, was talking about how to make working for federal government employees more family friendly in -- at the White House.
PRIDEAUXAnd there was not a kind of whole load of policy that came out of this. There's this odd thing, you know, we began at the top of the hour talking about the president overreaching his authority. And then you look at, you know, a lot of other stuff that he actually spends his days doing, and it's quite small ball.
PAGEHe was -- he also hosted a White House summit this week on working families, Jan, and I suspect this is the theme that we're going to hear Democrats strike from now until election day in November.
HOOKYeah. The whole focus on working women and working families, I mean, it's a big pitch for the female voters that are so important to the outcome of a lot of these midterm elections. And also the broader Democratic theme about we're for the middle class, we know how hard you work. I did love when Obama talked about his own working conditions when he said, well, the store is downstairs, you know. He doesn't have a lot of commuting time.
PAGEYou know, the other thing that struck me was how hard it is for him to get attention to his priorities, because it's easy -- you know, he's really, in some ways, the victim of events now. Hard for him to command the kind of pulpit he had in his first term.
ELVINGAlso he began his presidency at a pinnacle of historical significance as the first African-American president. You remember the 2 million people out on the mall moment in 2009. You know, we're in to the seventh, eighth year now of the Obama phenomenon. The trajectory is clearly not upward. He likes to call himself the bear and say the bear is on the loose. And he gets out beyond the White House gate and he meets real people. He's trying to rejuvenate his image, I think, a little bit.
PAGERon Elving, Janet Hook, John Prideaux, thanks so much for being with us this hour on "The Diane Rehm Show."
ELVINGThank you, Susan.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She'll be back next week. Thanks for listening and have a great weekend.
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