Congressional Outlook

Transcript for: 
Congressional Outlook

MS. DIANE REHM

10:06:53
Thanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Congress returns from a recess this week, the Senate today, the House tomorrow. But the 113th Congress is in a state of deadlock on many key issues. Few expect any significant legislative action before the midterms. President Obama expressed his frustration by instructing his administration to find ways to work around Congress to get things done.

MS. DIANE REHM

10:07:26
Joining me in the studio to talk about our nation's Congress, Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, Democratic strategist, Donna Brazile, former Republican congressman, Tom Davis, and Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report. I hope you'll join in the conversation, call us on 800-433-8850. Send us an email to drshow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And welcome to all of you.

MR. NORMAN ORNSTEIN

10:08:07
Great to be with you, Diane.

MR. CHARLIE COOK

10:08:09
Thanks for having us on.

MR. TOM DAVIS

10:08:10
Yeah, thanks.

MS. DONNA BRAZILE

10:08:10
Always a pleasure seeing you.

REHM

10:08:11
Thank you. Norm Ornstein, there is so much to be done. Why are expectations so low?

ORNSTEIN

10:08:22
Well, one thing, Diane, I was just looking at the House calendar that Eric Cantor, the former majority leader, had put out. And if you really count up the number of full days in session for the remainder of the year, we have less than three weeks. There are, you know, the schedule is almost all come in late Monday night and leave just after noon on Thursday.

ORNSTEIN

10:08:51
And, of course, the entire month of August off and many days that are called the constituent work week and you have none of the appropriations bills done. We have this crying need with the highway trust fund. We've got the issues raised with the VA and the question of reform. I mean, the agenda -- and, of course, that's not to include things that are now off the table, like immigration and little prospect of significant action being taken.

ORNSTEIN

10:09:18
So the Congress that was the least productive in our lifetimes, in fact going back much further than that, seems to be intent on setting a record that will be hard to break further down the road.

REHM

10:09:30
Congressman Tom Davis, your thoughts.

DAVIS

10:09:34
Well, Norm's right. I don't think you're going to see much. This is a election year and it's started early and it continues. The House has passed a number of appropriation bills, but I think Reid pulled the last bill off and said there won't be any more appropriation bills this year. That's the one thing Congress used to have to do ever year and now they keep putting it off. I mean, one year, I think it was six months late.

DAVIS

10:09:56
The Export-Import Bank looks like it's going to be thrown under the bus as part of Republican leadership fight. The one thing, I think, there's got to be two things. They're going have to act on the president's immigration proposal that he's put forward, $2 billion he's asked for. I think you're going to see some reaction to that. I don't think they can just let that go.

DAVIS

10:10:14
It'll be an opportunity to bait an tweak it a little bit. And then, I think, a highway bill, they have to do. Outside of that, I think you'll get resolutions on national sweet potato week and those kind of things going through to keep the members in town and keep the...

COOK

10:10:26
They may even make it a month.

REHM

10:10:29
Yeah, yeah. Donna Brazile, do you see both immigration and the highway bill being acted on?

BRAZILE

10:10:35
I agree. I think those are two important issues. Look, there are over 100,000 highway projects across the country and if Congress fails to act on that initiative, clearly 700,000 plus people will be out of work. The states are now scrambling to figure out how to extend the money to get things done until Congress acts. There are proposals on the table. Some proposals are paid for. Some of them call for additional tax increases in terms of gas tax increases.

BRAZILE

10:11:08
But I do think that's one issue that will not get kicked too far down the road. I agree with Congressman Davis in terms of immigration reform. We have a real crisis on our border right now, with the 60, 70,000 young people, sometimes young women and their families coming across the border. That's created a great deal of not just uncertainty at the border, but I also believe that it's causing the United States to figure out how are we going to advance the issue of immigration reform.

BRAZILE

10:11:39
So that might be another issue that will come up as well.

REHM

10:11:41
Charlie Cook, who's in charge as far as Republicans are concerned?

COOK

10:11:49
That's an excellent question. You know, it's almost -- I think anarchy is probably too strong, but it's -- in the House, you would expect the Speaker of the House to be in charge, but given some of the rather exotic members that Speaker Boehner has to deal with, that's...

REHM

10:12:12
Exotic, that's an interesting word.

COOK

10:12:13
Well, it's a nicer word than wacko, but -- that he's not completely in charge. I think you can say that Harry Reid is definitely in charge in the Senate. No question about that. But just to play off of what my colleagues have said, trade promotion authority, transpacific -- they're not going anywhere. I mean, they're not...

REHM

10:12:39
Ex-Im Bank, why has that become such a controversial...

COOK

10:12:44
Well, it's sort of the role -- I mean, that at least gets to philosophical things, where what's the role of government and some conservatives believe it's not the role of government to come up with low cost loans to buy U.S. goods. I mean, you know, I hope we extend the Export Import Bank, but at least that's got some philosophical underpinnings. Most of these things don’t.

COOK

10:13:10
And but part of this comes to leadership used to be -- or it used to be an assumption if you didn't want to cast tough votes, you shouldn't run for Congress. And now, one of the hallmarks of leadership for each side is protecting your members, keeping them from having to cast difficult votes. And that's a lot of what's happening in the Senate. I don't want to put my folks in a bad position so we're just not gonna have a vote on it.

ORNSTEIN

10:13:34
You know, Diane, just -- this gets to the appropriations bills and the Export-Import Bank as well. The reason that things have broken down in the Senate is basically Reid will not allow bills on the floor that have open amendments on the appropriations side.

REHM

10:13:50
Because?

ORNSTEIN

10:13:50
It used to be -- because we're heading into this period where the Senate elections are particularly hot and there will be gotcha amendments. Now, it used to be that they would work these things out, the leaders, and the committee would stick together on the floor. That's all gone. Now, what it means is we're going to head to October 1 when the fiscal year begins, a month before the election.

ORNSTEIN

10:14:13
One, we may have a confrontation over the Export-Import Bank that could potentially lead to a shutdown of a portion of the government, but we're going to have chaos and we're going to have -- I think what Democrats will want is a clean continuing resolution to take this through the election. Republicans are going to be looking for a fight on this. And we're going to have, right before the election, maybe the 8 percent of Americans who approve of Congress will finally start to say to themselves, what was I thinking?

REHM

10:14:38
Tom Davis, do both the Congress and the president share responsibility for what looks like a deadlock?

DAVIS

10:14:50
Well, I think they all share in the responsibility. I don't think there's any question about it. And now, whether they're equal share or not, I think we can debate. But I think you've seen very little in the way of presidential leadership on these issues. You've seen no coordination between the House and Senate at all. They don't even meet on the same weeks sometimes.

REHM

10:15:06
They don't talk to each other, do they?

DAVIS

10:15:08
Well, not only that, the Republicans and Democrats in each chamber don't talk to each other so it's a complete mess at this point.

BRAZILE

10:15:15
But when you talk about presidential leadership, I mean, look, Speaker Boehner has said on many occasions that he doesn't want the president to interfere. He doesn't want the president to go out there and tout immigration reform. So for months, the president did not for fear that he would cause some eruption in the House Republican caucus in the House.

BRAZILE

10:15:36
So clearly, the president has provided leadership not just on the extended unemployment insurance, which we haven't talked about, but that's something that Congress has left languishing at the table. He's tried to provide leadership on immigration reform, but the Republicans say no, we don't trust the president. So I think, at this point, we cannot focus on who's to blame.

BRAZILE

10:15:57
We need to figure out if we can move some of these issues off the table so that we don't go through another government shutdown that will cause the economy billions of dollars at a time when the economy is slowly recovering.

REHM

10:16:09
Go ahead, Tom.

DAVIS

10:16:09
Diane, I don't think we'll see a shutdown. I think Republicans, they touched the hot stove a year ago. I think they're beyond that. You saw the leadership last time just cave in on the debt ceiling altogether. They're not going to take any tough votes before this elections. If that means a clean resolution, so be it. They're going to get this out of the way and get to the election.

ORNSTEIN

10:16:28
That's right. A Republican friend of mine said that Speaker Boehner has removed all the sharp objects from the room. I mean, to do everything he can to stop them from doing anything self destructive in the month before the election. So I agree with Tom. I don't think we will have a shutdown, although, you know, certainly looks like it could.

REHM

10:16:45
But let's take this highway bill. Let's take the highway trust fund. Runs out of money September, what, 31 or 30? What happens then?

COOK

10:17:01
Well, it's not even running out September 30. It's leading into this peak of the construction season. They have to keep some reserve money. So we already have notices going to the states that they're going to have less money available to them. States, even if they anticipate that this will be resolved down the road, are going to be very reluctant to make commitments for big projects without knowing what's going to happen.

COOK

10:17:22
This is, I think, the wonderful best example of dysfunction at work. You have bipartisan proposals. We know that the biggest problem here is that the gasoline tax has not been pulling in the revenue that it used to. One reason is that we've been through rough economic times. People drive less. Another is we have more fuel efficient cars so less revenue is coming in.

REHM

10:17:40
Right, right.

COOK

10:17:43
There are other ways of paying for this. You can now borrow money for next to nothing. But you've got all these plans out there and you have a weak leadership. I think, in this case, especially on the Republican side, that simply will not entertain anything that's called a tax increase, even if it's offset by other revenue cuts.

REHM

10:18:03
How could the gas tax be offset? How would you see...

DAVIS

10:18:08
Well, you could raise the gas tax. I mean, what they're talking about are taking 10 years of cuts to pay for six months of revenue, which is just absurd to anybody with any kind of understanding of how this works. They don’t want to take any tough votes at all.

REHM

10:18:22
Former Virginia Congressman, Tom Davis. Short break here. Your calls when we come back. Stay with us.

REHM

10:20:00
And welcome back. Just before the break, we were talking about a possible increase in the gasoline tax to pay for the highway bill. Here's an email saying, "I truly don't understand why Speaker Boehner does not bring bills to the floor he could pass with both moderate Republicans and Democrats. He would be a hero to most Americans that want to see something get done. Let the Tea Party have a fit. Americans want something done."

DAVIS

10:20:40
Well, Diane, let me say, the speaker's brought a lot more bills to the floor than Harry Reid has in the Senate by a large margin. And the House has passed a lot of legislation. It's parked over in the Senate and won't go anywhere. But the adage is when you're the leader, you don't want to pass things over the objection of the majority of your caucus. If you do that, you're not going to be the leader anymore.

DAVIS

10:20:58
So we've had this majority of a majority rule basically in place in the House. It is -- on a few occasions, it's been (word?), but for the most part that's the way it works.

REHM

10:21:06
But Tom Davis, what's going to happen when the highways fall apart? What are the -- and the bridges and the...

DAVIS

10:21:16
Well, Diane, the House will pass a pill. I don't have any doubt about that. The question is will the Senate accept it? That they -- we are on two completely different paths here in terms of what that offset, what the pay for for this is going to be. But the House will pass a bill and they will have a narrative that they can go and explain something...

BRAZILE

10:21:32
But the Senate has already passed. I mean, we often talk about the lack of action, but the Senate panel has already passed a $265 billion highway bill, part of a larger transportation bill. What the House is talking about is a $9 billion patch to get us through this period so we don't run out of funds. And the question is, are we going to go long or are we going to go small in terms of solving the problem? I think we should go long so that we don't have to have this conversation in another six months.

ORNSTEIN

10:21:59
That's one part of it. I think the other part of it is that the bill that the House will pass will have as its offsets probably taking money from poor people. And they'll take it out of discretionary domestic spending on food stamps and other programs like that. And the Senate's not going to accept that.

REHM

10:22:14
So the idea of raising the gas tax to pay for the highway bill off the table, Charlie?

COOK

10:22:22
Well, I mean, keep in mind that for -- let's say you're a Republican member and let's say you think we ought -- you were personally sympathetic to raising the gasoline gas.

REHM

10:22:33
How long has it been since we've raised it?

COOK

10:22:35
It's 20 something years.

BRAZILE

10:22:36
1993.

COOK

10:22:38
And so...

DAVIS

10:22:39
And then it didn't go for transportation, but I'm not going to get into that.

BRAZILE

10:22:41
That's right. I won't either. I was there with you as a staffer.

COOK

10:22:44
Right. But the thing about it is somebody's going to run against you in a Republican primary saying you raise taxes. I mean, simple as that. But to the caller's question, if Speaker Boehner went to -- violated the Hastert Rule, which actually isn't a rule but violated it several times, it's a matter of time before they kick him out. And what will he have accomplished being kicked out during the middle of the session. And so really, it's only a temporary option because long term, that's not -- you know, he's got to kind of follow his members a little bit.

REHM

10:23:23
Well, where else is the money going to come from, Donna?

DAVIS

10:23:28
Well, if you're not going to raise taxes or fees, there are other proposals that will put more toll roads out there, which is another form of tax. We just don't call it a tax because the consumer, you know, the citizen pays it directly. But that's another proposal that's on the table as well.

REHM

10:23:45
Norm, what would Republicans have to gain for not authorizing funding for the highway trust fund? What would they gain?

ORNSTEIN

10:23:57
Well, if you're looking at House Republicans for example, within their own districts, they're safe once they get past those primaries right now. And in a larger sense, if you want to look at this in a really tough almost Machiavellian way, if the economy takes a hit heading in to the election, it's the president's party that suffers more.

REHM

10:24:15
So if jobs are lost, as Donna has said.

ORNSTEIN

10:24:19
Yeah. Now, I think that's --- I don't think you have a strategy to bring the economy down at this point but I don't think that that is having the impact that you would normally expect it would on members looking at the larger picture and saying, we're here to make sure the country benefits.

ORNSTEIN

10:24:35
You know, there's another proposal out there, Donna -- excuse me, Diane, which is to create an infrastructure bank that is funded in part by having investments from the private sector using repatriated profits that they now have parked abroad. And that's gotten bipartisan support. You actually have a very innovative plan that John Delaney of Maryland has introduced with a substantial number of Tea Party supporters for it. But that's going nowhere as well.

ORNSTEIN

10:25:02
And I think, you know, another part of the dynamic here is heading into this cycle, congressional Republicans don't want anything that will give Barack Obama a signing ceremony, something that looks like they're actually making progress on things. And that also -- that's why I think it's far more likely that we'll get a patch that takes us through the election. And it won't come until late in the game. And it's already going to screw up a lot of the transportation projects...

REHM

10:25:25
Suppose a bridge goes down, Donna.

DAVIS

10:25:29
Sadly we've seen that happen in Minnesota with the Mississippi bridge, but the sad truth -- and we saw it last week in Brooklyn where the bridge was crumbling down...

REHM

10:25:40
Exactly.

DAVIS

10:25:40
...this is a huge problem. Not just, you know, in terms of keeping people employed but it's about safety. And we need to focus on it.

DAVIS

10:25:49
Well, but Donna, let me just make this point. Whatever happens, the Republicans will have a bill. They will pass a bill. The Senate probably will have passed a bill. So each side will have their explanation if things go up. And everybody will go back to their respective corners and pin it on the other guy.

DAVIS

10:26:03
In terms of giving the president signing ceremony, I think if it's on their terms they're going to do that. But I don't think anybody's right now willing to go up and leave their base and leave their...

ORNSTEIN

10:26:12
Yeah, but on their terms, not a compromise. That's the problem.

REHM

10:26:14
All right. And what executive orders has President Obama talked about -- talked about making to go around Republicans, especially in regard to immigration, Charlie?

COOK

10:26:30
Well, yes. The president has been specific but basically, if you won't pass an immigration bill I'll do what I can through executive order. And it's sort of traditional, particularly in second terms, for presidents to run up against a stone wall with congress and to try to circumvent congress as much as they can. But we are seeing the -- we are seeing courts starting to push back, for example, on the national labor relations board, the recess appointments and that.

COOK

10:26:59
So there's a limit to what you can get away with. But any chance there was of an immigration bill going through, and I think it was extremely remote to begin with, just evaporated with Eric Cantor's loss. And while there were a lot of moving parts in Cantor's loss, if you were going to attribute it to any single issue -- specific issue, oh absolutely, it was immigration. But there were other aspects to it as well.

REHM

10:27:24
Donna, what about the president signing in executive order earlier this year for his cabinet to look at ways to help underachievement among young black people?

BRAZILE

10:27:40
Well, there's no question that the president is finding -- looking for ways within the existing law, the existing framework to ensure that we don't leave more kids behind. Not just in education, but looking at the criminal justice system. He's ordered the Justice Department, for example, to take a look at these sentencing guidelines.

BRAZILE

10:27:58
But I want to get back to immigration because I think we might have -- perhaps we might have a breakthrough. And that is the president's request in emergency funds to deal with this current crisis with the kids coming across the border.

REHM

10:28:08
We're going to do a show on that tomorrow as another...

BRAZILE

10:28:11
And so he's requesting $2 billion. But this may give the Republicans, who I'm sure want another opportunity without going for a full immigration comprehensive bill to look at the law that was passed back in 2008 that allows these kids, if they come, to seek through the courts asylum. Perhaps this is a way for the Republicans to amend that law, at the same time give the Democrats the opportunity to say, we've made progress on some of the things we care about.

BRAZILE

10:28:40
But it's a $2 billion request and it'll be interesting to see how Speaker Boehner and Mr. McCarthy, now that he's the majority leader, will handle this issue.

DAVIS

10:28:47
Well, let me just say, this is full of mine fields whenever you get into this kind of an issue. What are you going to do with these kids? You going to keep them in the country? If you listened to Jeh Johnson yesterday, you couldn't tell what the intent and the policy of the administration was going to be in terms of where these kids are. But this is a very polarized society on this issue at this point. And they seem to have lined up in a partisan way.

DAVIS

10:29:08
So it's an opportunity, I think, to get some funding on the border to expedite some of the adjudication of these cases quickly, maybe to add some border patrol. But I think if you go beyond that, we're going to get into the partisan high grass pretty quick.

ORNSTEIN

10:29:23
Yeah, I don't see it as a breakthrough right now, maybe down the road. Right now I see it as another explosive device. And one reason is that you'll -- there'll be demands for offsets, even for 2 billion. And the demands that will be put forward are likely to be unpalatable. So we may not get this one resolved.

ORNSTEIN

10:29:40
And, you know, this is a really tough one to resolve I think for the reasons that Tom suggested. You've got these kids -- you have, you know, basically obligations under the refugee-related statutes. But it's clear that at least some of them are coming there because they think that this is a free ride for their kids and they're sending them over the border. And how you deal with children under these circumstances is excruciatingly difficult.

ORNSTEIN

10:30:04
And it kind of reminds me a little bit of what happened with the Cubans coming over during the Clinton governorship in Arkansas that -- in the Carter Administration. That was an absolute disaster for him. it cost him his election. And this is one that has, I think, explosive potential for a lot of people.

REHM

10:30:21
So last week the president told Republicans, so sue me. What was he talking about?

ORNSTEIN

10:30:29
Well, they are -- he's going to be sued. Speaker Boehner still is vague about exactly what he will sue the president for, but it is for failing faithfully to execute the laws, to put it in different grammar.

REHM

10:30:43
In regard to...

ORNSTEIN

10:30:46
Well, we're talking about a whole host of things. And there are multiple options here. It starts with elements of the Affordable Care Act. It turns to immigration. It is the use of signing statements, executive orders, executive actions. The reality is -- I mean, it's a very interesting set of realities. One is that Obama has actually had far fewer executive orders, many fewer signing statements that actually said he wouldn't use the law.

ORNSTEIN

10:31:10
One instance where I think it was abuse, which was the prisoner exchange for Bergdahl. And at the same time if you look at when signing statements began to be used as almost a line item veto with President Bush saying, this portion of the law I'm not going to abide by or I won't necessarily, the brainchild of Samuel Alito when he was in the Justice Department, as a way to make an end run around congress.

ORNSTEIN

10:31:38
Now you have a number of justices on the Supreme Court who have believed in a unitary executive and strong executive powers. Whether they'll react the same way if a lawsuit gets to them now with a different president is going to be an interesting...

REHM

10:31:52
How likely is he to sue?

DAVIS

10:31:54
Well, I think it's a huge political blunder for the Speaker right now. The D triple C, the Democratic campaign arm or House Democrats raised a record amount of money off of this. This is getting a Democratic base, which is more (word?) and tired all of a sudden on their feet. And in an off-year election which is all about turnout, that's not what you want to do. Did it arouse the Republican base with something he could throw to his -- to the Tea Party groups? Absolutely, but it also aroused the other base. And that's something Republicans do not want to do.

REHM

10:32:23
Do you agree, Donna?

BRAZILE

10:32:24
Oh, absolutely. And when the president said, sue me, I kept saying, absolutely. Go ahead. Try to sue him for doing his job when House Republicans and others are not doing their job. This was the most energizing thing I've seen Speaker Boehner do in the past few months.

REHM

10:32:39
Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Going to open the phones here, 800-433-8850. Let's go first to Terence in Dallas, Texas. Hi, you're on the air.

TERENCE

10:33:03
Thank you. Good morning.

REHM

10:33:04
Morning.

TERENCE

10:33:05
A couple comments. First, toll roads are horrible. Because of the way the highways were funded in Texas, almost every new road is a toll road. And by far it costs a lot more money than an additional 5 cents per gallon of gas. So it's a bad idea. The other comment one of the gentlemen made, I wouldn't care if the Speaker of the House were Republican, Democrat or Independent. If the moderate and one of the other party would vote for something that doesn't agree with their base, if they're not willing to do that they should step down. Because at that point, it seems like their interests is more important than what the interests of the American people are.

REHM

10:33:45
What do you think, Charlie?

COOK

10:33:47
Well, I mean, I think what the caller has put his point on -- finger on is that, you know, in Texas the anti-tax environment is so strong that they have a choice. It's toll road or no road. And my -- I would bet you that the caller would rather have a toll road than no road at all. And those were effectively the options because when taxes are effectively taken off the table, you know, there's really not a lot of options left.

DAVIS

10:34:20
I'll just say, in Virginia, as I sit on the toll road authority out there in (word?) and chair that as part of our airport authority. And the people who oppose the taxes also oppose the tolls but they're driving the roads. So everybody wants something for free. And unfortunately, as Charlie said, you take taxes off the table, it's the only option you've got left.

ORNSTEIN

10:34:39
Just in response to Terence's other point, I have a little sympathy for John Boehner. It's -- he, I think, wants to do things that fit a larger picture. He's dealing with a very difficult caucus. And what he's done in instances where he's brought things up to get more Democratic votes than Republican, he waits until the very last minute, lets -- gives them all the rope they need. And then finally when they've reached a point where many of them realize they could hang themselves, he's able to bring them up.

ORNSTEIN

10:35:04
You can only do that so many times. And I actually think the suit in some ways may be an attempt to head off a much worse problem, the I word, impeachment. And my guess is that it's going to have the opposite effect. I think you have whipped up a lot of people into an almost frenzy in believing that Barack Obama has crossed every line in terms of an imperial executive. And you get reinforcement with talk radio, Wall Street Journal editorials all over the place. I will be surprised frankly if we end up going through the remainder of Obama's term without impeachment hitting the House.

REHM

10:35:38
Anybody else agree with that?

COOK

10:35:41
I think Norm's points, a good point though, is that threatening to sue the president, or in fact suing the president, may have been the mildest option. I mean, given members a not insignificant number of members it would sign up tomorrow with an impeachment, maybe this -- maybe Boehner saw this as the least objectionable avenue.

DAVIS

10:36:07
Well, just look at Eric Cantor. He started to go along and he starts to raise the debt ceiling. He starts to reopen the government and his voters turned on him very quickly. The Republican primary base is a very angry rabid base against the president this time. So I understand why the Speaker did what he did. But in terms of midterm politics, I think it was a blunder, that's all I'm saying.

REHM

10:36:27
Donna, do you expect a move toward impeachment?

BRAZILE

10:36:32
There's no question that you hear it a lot from Republicans. During the primary season you heard it much more. We shouldn't -- I mean, I listen to some of the talk radio I can't help but listen to it because it's all over the place. The truth is is that this is just an election year stunt, that I think the Speaker is tried now there to appease his base.

BRAZILE

10:36:56
I mean, they are -- as Congressman Davis mentioned, they are angry. They want to see action against this president but it's counterproductive. It's counterproductive not just for the country, but it's counterproductive in terms of electoral strategy because I think it will have the opposite effect. It will mobilize Democrats and Independents to once again see the Republicans as the part of gridlock, obstruction and hyper partisanship.

REHM

10:37:20
All right. And when we come back, we'll hear more from our listeners. We'll get a sense of how they're feeling about this whole mess. Stay with us.

REHM

10:39:58
As we talk about what will or will not get accomplished in this Congressional session before mid-terms, we'll go right back to the phones to Fred in Glendale, Mo. You're on the air.

FRED

10:40:18
Hi, Diane.

REHM

10:40:19
Hi.

FRED

10:40:20
Yeah, listen, I'm -- I've got the Saint Louis Business Journal in front of me and there's an article that says, Cantor defeat may push Wagner higher. Now that would be Ann Wagner from Todd Akins old Second Congressional District here in Missouri. And I'm wondering, she voted to shut down the government during the budget debate, when they threw the temper tantrum in the house to the -- with the Obama -- tying Obamacare to the budget crisis. And I'm just wondering, I don't think this bodes very well for situations within the Republican Caucus. And are we going to experience down the road some more government shutdown?

REHM

10:41:08
That's what everybody is wondering, Norm.

ORNSTEIN

10:41:12
Well, you know, Tom suggests that they won't shut it down this time. And I think the Speaker recognizes that it would be absolute catastrophe. But you've got this huge force outside Congress. It's not just the primary voters and some of the funders, it's media outlets that gain a lot by promoting division and confrontation.

REHM

10:41:33
True. True.

ORNSTEIN

10:41:34
And it's going to take every bit of skill on the part of the Speaker, the new Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and others to avoid a catastrophe before the election. What I fear is that in the process of doing it, it'll set things up for another big problem after the election.

REHM

10:41:51
All right, let's...

ORNSTEIN

10:41:51
And we may get something that takes us through November and then a shutdown after that.

REHM

10:41:55
Let's go to...

DAVIS

10:41:56
Can I just say one thing on Ann Wagner?

REHM

10:41:57
Sure.

DAVIS

10:41:58
I think she's -- she's a former ambassador. I think she's one of the more thoughtful, respected members of the junior -- now, she is a Republican. I mean, my gut on here is she's likely to be a Senate nominee against McCaskill. But she is well regarded among her colleagues.

REHM

10:42:12
Okay. To Ellen in Exeter, New Hampshire. You're on the air.

ELLEN

10:42:18
Hi. Thank you for taking my call.

REHM

10:42:19
Sure.

ELLEN

10:42:20
I have called down because we have the most dysfunctional Congress that I have ever seen in my lifetime. I called down, when they shut down, that gentleman before me just talked about when they shut down the government. I have called down to the ACLU and have asked them, is there any way that we can sue this Congress for not doing their job.

ELLEN

10:42:41
They are not doing what the American people tell them to do. They're in there for themselves with -- and doing what they want to do. And the ACLU said to me, it is being discussed. They are not doing their job and they should be sued. So it's so funny that they just threatened to sue the president, when they're doing the exact same thing.

UNKNOWN MALE

10:43:03
You know we have elections. I mean, that's what this is all about. It's not about suing. It's about elections. And if you don't like them, throw them out.

BRAZILE

10:43:12
Sadly, we have so many seats in Congress that are not in play, they should call reserve seats, move them into the...

DAVIS

10:43:16
But in New Hampshire, they are in play. In New Hampshire they are in play.

BRAZILE

10:43:19
That's right. Vote.

REHM

10:43:19
Okay. Here's -- here are two comments. First, a tweet. "Obama's approach is being confrontational." And a related email, "Can the panelists explain why the president is not sitting down with the two leaders, majority and minority, in each chamber, just the five of them on a weekly basis to hash out these issues? That's what Reagan did with Tip O'Neill." Charlie Cook.

COOK

10:43:54
Well, I think you're dealing with people who don't like each other, who don't respect each other and that would see that as a waste of time. And I mean I think it's sad that that is the case. But, you know, if you don't want to work with someone, sitting across a coffee table and look at -- staring at each other isn't going to, I mean, there's a mindset here that's a part of the problem, not that they're not in physical proximity with each other very often. I mean, these are people -- I mean, look at the Senate. You have two leaders that despise each other and just barely speak.

COOK

10:44:34
Now, you know, the Senate was designed to be slow and deliberate and cumbersome, and boy it's good at that. And then you have 30 years of intense partisanship injected. But we're just sort of at a unique point in time when we've got people at the top who just, as I say, despise each other and barely speak.

REHM

10:44:55
But they -- but the point our caller was making, it seems to me, is none of these people are putting country before personal animosity.

COOK

10:45:10
I, no, I agree with that. But the thing is, the question is, you want to put two scorpions in a jar? I mean that's kind of what we're talking about here.

REHM

10:45:19
But they took...

ORNSTEIN

10:45:20
Well, you also -- they look at the world very differently and through different lenses. And their constituents do too.

REHM

10:45:24
Once they're up there. Once they're up there. But they took an oath to the American people.

DAVIS

10:45:33
But Diane, the question is, is that oath to compromise if it's a bad deal. And so it just goes back and forth. But let me make this point, that President Obama has something that LBJ and Reagan didn't have, and the super PACs that are out there that have more money than you can raise for your party.

REHM

10:45:46
True. True.

DAVIS

10:45:47
And you've got media models that are business models that are polarizing models. You've got the Internet, which the crap-to-content ratio coming over that is so high. And people are just getting a lot of misinformation.

BRAZILE

10:45:57
But President Reagan had what President Obama clearly does not have, and that is moderates. Moderates in the Congress who are willing to cross the so-called divided line and seek compromise, seek solutions, seek common-sense legislation. You don't have that today. You know, before President Obama took office and had his first night in the White House, there were meetings that the Republicans held and said, you know, basically we're not going to cooperate. Mitch McConnell, the majority -- minority leader in the Senate, said that he would be a one-term president.

BRAZILE

10:46:32
So they sat down early on and decided that they would not seek common ground. And I think, to the president's credit, he has attempted to find common ground. But it's very difficult in this partisan environment.

ORNSTEIN

10:46:44
You know, the five leaders actually did sit down just over a week ago to talk about Iraq as the situation was deteriorating. And at least they didn't come out of there with cheap shots. I mean that's one where they did see a national interest. But, you know, this is not a president who likes to schmooze with members the way Bill Clinton did, say. But at the same time, I have to give him this credit. He has reached out multiple times to both Boehner and McConnell. It is not, as they see it, in their interest to meet with the president.

ORNSTEIN

10:47:14
The more they meet with the president, the more it looks like they are sleeping with the enemy to their own constituents. And Mitch McConnell's up this time. And even though he didn't have to worry in the end about his primary challenge, he's worried about a group of Republicans who see him as a part of the problem and not a part of the solution. And being a part of the solution means you don't cooperate with the president. So it makes it very hard to have this kind of meeting of the minds. And for all the reasons that Tom Davis suggested. There are outside forces that are just very different than we've had before.

REHM

10:47:47
Let's go to Harrisburg, Pa. Hi there, Tom.

TOM

10:47:52
Hi, Diane. Love you, love the show.

REHM

10:47:53
Thanks.

TOM

10:47:55
I think the best thing Bill Gates or the brightest minds in computers can do for us in this country is to say, we'll go state by state and we're going to come up with a fair legislative redistricting from -- based on computer analysis -- take the politicians totally out of it -- and have redistricting. Unless we have legislative redistricting, this country is just going to get worse when it comes to gridlock.

REHM

10:48:19
Charlie.

COOK

10:48:19
I think Tom has a very good point. I mean, I'm not sure that specific solution will work, but I think it may -- if I could wave a magic want and institute one political reform, it would be redistricting reform. And Iowa does a fabulous job. It's as close to putting lines where god would put lines as you could get.

REHM

10:48:39
How did they do it?

COOK

10:48:40
They have a group of statisticians in a basement someplace that, without regard to politics, draw the lines. Now, granted, Iowa is a lily-white state where all the counties are square, so it's not exactly the toughest place to do. California has come up with a very convoluted way, but it seems to have worked the first time that it's been done. But as a practical matter, state legislatures are not going to institute redistricting reform. They're not going to give away power voluntarily.

COOK

10:49:12
So realistically, the only place you're likely to get this is where voters can push it through on a ballot. And that's where, if the caller wants to get Bill Gates and whoever else on board in initiative states, that actually is a possibility.

ORNSTEIN

10:49:28
Diane, the problem are these single-party districts, of which about 80 percent of the House is that way. We know what parties...

REHM

10:49:34
80 percent.

ORNSTEIN

10:49:35
80 percent are single -- we know what party they're going to elect. It's a question of who wins. So everybody orients toward the primaries. It's -- gerrymander is clearly a major culprit in there, but so is just residential sorting patterns and so is the Voting Rights Act. I mean, when you take a look at all of these -- have an effect and a polarizing effect on this.

COOK

10:49:53
Yeah, and I, you know, it's the big sort. The new Pew survey, the giant survey just reinforces this. People are moving into areas where they're surrounded by like-minded individuals. And Tom has a great point, I think, about the South. What has happened with redistricting there, partly because of the way the Voting Rights Act was applied, and we got a lot of majority-minority districts, but it made southern Republican districts lily white. And they behave in a very different fashion. I'd love to see redistricting reform.

COOK

10:50:21
I think far more important at this point is to move towards open primaries and expand the electorate, so you get more people voting. This new idea of a national primary day, I think, makes a whole lot of sense. And if we could do that with preference voting, where you have more of an impact for basically moderate people, because you're going to have extreme partisans having less of an impact, we could get somewhere.

REHM

10:50:44
I want to get back to what might get done. What about reforms to Veterans Affairs?

BRAZILE

10:50:51
Well, that is a critical issue. And Bernie Sanders and John McCain, they have a great solution to allow veterans in many of these regions to go outside the VA network to ensure that they get the care they need, so that -- and also to reduce the backlog, to upgrade the entire system of how we enter people into the system to make sure there's follow-through and follow-up. There's a lot that can be done and I think this is one area that we might find some bipartisan agreement. Let's hope we find that. My father, before he passed away, was in the VA care for many, many years.

BRAZILE

10:51:30
He was a prostate cancer survivor. He received good treatment, but getting him, you know, into the hospital, into the clinic, getting the kind of treatment, it took a lot of phone calls and a lot of pressure. I want to get back to this whole issue of redistricting because I agree that is one area where we can reform the system. But if we don't reform the amount of money that we have in the system, campaign finance, that -- we will never get back to the point where we have representative government. Right now, we have government of the special interests, by the special interests, paid for with special interest money. And you don't need that much money in politics to win an election.

BRAZILE

10:52:08
What happens is that when these lawmakers are in town for the three days or four days that they're here, all they're doing is raising money from the special interests.

REHM

10:52:17
Tom Davis, what about mental health reform?

DAVIS

10:52:21
Well, I think that needs a thoughtful approach and you're not going to get it done in the next few months. But clearly that's a piece of the problem. Let me say this on campaign finance reform. I was a strong opponent of McCain-Feingold, which is where this started. You know, Citizens United put it on steroids.

REHM

10:52:36
Yeah.

DAVIS

10:52:36
But basically, by starving the parties of money -- the parties have been a centering force in American democracy for 200 years -- I said, where do you think this money's going to go? So instead of going to the parties, it's out there on the wings now and it has made it worse. So every time Congress seems to touch it, it gets worse.

REHM

10:52:50
Charlie.

COOK

10:52:50
Diane, you brought up mental health. And I have his theory, it's probably simplistic, but that liberals can screw things up and conservatives can screw things up. But if you really want to completely bollocks it up, it takes both. And between the difficulty that ACLU types have made it in terms of getting people institutionalized who need to be institutionalized, and on the conservative side budget cuts, where there just simply aren't institutions and programs to take care of these people who really shouldn't be out walking around -- between the left and the right, we have a totally dysfunctional system.

COOK

10:53:27
And when we see people shooting things up and people that, heck, they not only shouldn't have a gun, they shouldn't be walking around the street. That's a problem.

REHM

10:53:37
And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I have heard from all of you the word dysfunction, dysfunction, dysfunction. Is democracy -- our democracy still working? Donna.

BRAZILE

10:53:55
It's on life-support in my judgment.

REHM

10:53:56
Yeah.

BRAZILE

10:53:57
I feel, first of all, we have a huge majority of Americans who are not participating in the electoral process. Some of them apathetic. Some of them have just said, you know what? Why bother? I think we need to do a better job of teaching young people civics, the importance of voting, to give them the history. That's one thing. Secondly, we've got to get back to the political parties going out there educating voters about what's on the ballot, what's at stake, and not just tearing the other side apart. That's also an important function.

BRAZILE

10:54:27
But, yes, I do think that our democracy, as I learned it as a child growing up in southern Louisiana -- I say that because my brother here on the other side of me is from north Louisiana, there's a distinction there -- but there's no question that when we were growing up, we knew the importance of voting and why it was important that we got out each and every time to select a candidate that we believed in and that represented our values.

REHM

10:54:49
And that Congress work toward compromise.

ORNSTEIN

10:54:53
You know, I'm very worried, Diane. More than I have been in my lifetime. The Supreme Court, in the Hobby Lobby decision, reinforced the idea that corporations are people. And in effect, they're giving them all the rights that people have along with all the rights from protection from lawsuits, special tax rates, that corporations have -- at a time when inequality has grown to a historic high level and where cynicism, corrosive cynicism about government has increased. And government is doing nothing of significance to erase that cynicism or ameliorate it. And it's a big problem.

ORNSTEIN

10:55:28
You know, having said that, we've still managed to meander through this better than European countries have in terms of dealing with the problems in the global economy. It's not all lost, but there are danger signs out there that are real.

REHM

10:55:40
Tom Davis, as a former member of Congress, how concerned are you?

DAVIS

10:55:46
Well, I'm concerned. I think I agree with Norm, that when you get to crisis, we still work it out. TARP was ugly. I was a whip for TARP, the Troubled Asset Relief Program. It took us two times. But we're not Greece. When there is a crisis, you bring the parties together. And that's how we operate best. We're pretty inefficient (word?)

REHM

10:56:03
Charlie.

COOK

10:56:04
Last night, my 21-year-old son, Jeff, asked me, is it ever going to get better? And my response was, well ever is a really, really long time. Let's -- in my lifetime, maybe not. Your lifetime, yeah, I think so. The pendulum goes too far and sometimes -- and eventually it'll turn around.

REHM

10:56:23
I hope you're right. Charlie Cook, Tom Davis, Donna Brazile, Norm Ornstein, let's hope for the best. Thank you all.

COOK

10:56:33
Thank you, Diane.

BRAZILE

10:56:33
Thank you.

REHM

10:56:34
And thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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