President-elect Trump chooses a retired Marine general to head the Pentagon. Syrian rebels agree to form a new alliance as the regime bombards Aleppo. And thousands of Cubans turn out to watch Fidel Castro's funeral procession. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week's top international news stories.
President Barack Obama asks Congress for nearly $4 billion to address the border crisis. The House and Senate move to renew the Highway Trust Fund. And recreational marijuana sales begin in Washington state. Diane and a panel of journalists discuss the week’s top U.S. news.
- Alexander Burns senior political reporter, Politico.
- Molly Ball staff writer, The Atlantic.
- John Harwood chief Washington correspondent, CNBC; reporter, The New York Times.
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MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. President Obama asked Congress for nearly $4 billion to address the border crisis. The House and Senate moved to renew the highway trust fund, and recreational marijuana sales began in Washington State. Joining me for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup: John Harwood of CNBC and The New York Times, Molly Ball of The Atlantic, and Alex Burns of Politico.
MS. DIANE REHMThroughout the hour, we'll welcome your questions and comments. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send in email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And it's good to see all of you.
MR. JOHN HARWOODGood morning.
MS. MOLLY BALLGlad to be here, Diane.
MR. ALEX BURNSThanks for having me.
REHMGood to have you here. And I should remind listeners we are video streaming this hour. You'd like to see the program as well as hear it, go to drshow.org and click on video streaming. John Harwood, President Obama has asked for nearly $4 billion to deal with this humanitarian crisis at the border. What's going to happen?
HARWOODIn the statements yesterday from various members of Congress, I heard the outlines of an agreement. You had Nancy Pelosi saying, we need to do something. This is a humanitarian crisis. I'm not going to sweat all the details. You had John Boehner saying, we're not going to give him a blank check.
HARWOODWhat that tells me is that Congress is going to put some policy changes into this legislation and give the president most, if not all, of the money he's asked for. You know, there's sometimes, Diane, when -- usually Washington plays games with political circumstances and pieces of legislation. But there's sometimes when it strikes people as so important that they've got to do something right then. I think this is one of those times.
REHMWhat kinds of policy changes are you talking about?
HARWOODWell, changes in terms of perhaps adjustments to the 2008 law that gave certain rights legally to people coming from Central American countries, things that Republicans said the president had indicated a willingness to do that he didn't include in his request for money about expediting some of the removals of some of those kids.
REHMMolly, what about the meeting with Gov. Perry yesterday between President Obama and Gov. Perry on this?
BALLWell, the president came out of that meeting saying that there were a lot of points of agreement between him and Gov. Perry that had been obscured by all of the partisan rhetoric and mudslinging that had gone on in advance of the president's trip and in connection with this whole crisis. And I think that's sort of -- what John is agreeing to -- although I think John is more optimistic than a lot of people that I've spoken to about this.
BALLBut the idea seems to be that especially now that the president's trip is over and we've had this whole sideshow about, is he going to go to the border, is he not going to go to the border, the focus now can shift to the pressure on Congress because it is Congress' turn to respond to the president's request. I don't think it's going to fly for them to just say, well, we're mad at you, so we're not going to do anything.
BALLBecause everybody does agree that something has to be done. Rick Perry agrees that something has to be done. And so, you know, for Congress to say, we don't like what the president has asked for, it's going to be incumbent on them to say, what is their counteroffer, what would they give instead?
REHMAlex Burns, there's been a lot of talk as to why the president did not go to the border. How do you respond to that question?
BURNSI think there are a couple forces driving that. I think part of it is that the White House is genuinely surprised at the intensity that this issue has taken on in just a couple days. When the president was in Denver this week, just before his trip to Texas, he gave a big speech to a political fundraiser there for Democrats, barely mentioned the issue of immigration. And then the next day, it just consumed his entire trip.
BURNSYou know, part of it is that the president -- I think you've seen him get increasingly resistant to giving Republicans the sort of symbolism that they're asking for from him that, a couple years ago, he might have been more inclined to say, well, if everybody's demanding that I go to the border, then I suppose I might go to the border. Instead, he meet with Rick Perry, didn't go to the border, and then, in a different set of public remarks on the same trip, he challenged Perry publicly to get out there and support the spending that I'm asking for. If you think this is a crisis, then help me solve it.
BALLWell, no, I think that's correct. Privately, and even publicly, a lot of Democrats were very frustrated with the president's seeming intransigence on this issue. They -- the feeling was, how hard would it have been? Yes, you look like you're "giving them a win." And, yes, you know, you're standing there with a bunch of miserable children that you're planning to send back to their country.
REHMA photo op. Yeah.
BALLYou know, the best defense from the White House's defenders on why not to go seem to be that it might not look good. And this is, you know, this is a terrible political situation. Everybody wants to run away with it. I think, obviously, the opposition would like to tie the president to this crisis. But even his own party feels that he needs to take a little bit more ownership of it.
REHMJohn Harwood, nearly $4 billion, he may not get all of it, but even if he gets most of it, how would it be used?
HARWOODWell, about half of it would go to taking care of those children. HHS would get half the money. And that's in terms of housing, giving medical care, putting up these kids, feeding them.
REHMFor how long?
HARWOODDon't know until they get processed. But, you know, $1.8 billion for that purpose is a pretty good amount of money. So even with tens of thousands of kids to deal with, that ought to be sufficient. The other parts of the money would go toward border-related enforcement, diplomatic efforts even in those Central American countries to prevent people from coming up and trying to counter the message of those coyotes who are bringing people up.
HARWOODI will say the one other thing that I've heard on the question of going to the border, some on the left are saying that a picture of President Obama with some of those kids would nullify some of the messages the White House has been saying about don't come. That is, you show the president with the kids, that would give a further evidence of the coyotes that, yeah, if you come, the president's going to take care of you.
REHMBut, John, you're talking about processing what could come to as many as 90,000 kids. How are you going to do that? You've got this huge backlog to begin with. Where are the judges?
HARWOODWell, that's part of the -- they're talking about surging resources not just at the border but in the legal and judicial process of moving those kids. It's very difficult, and the one other thing I want to say about the photo is this is the president's problem, period, whether there's a photograph or whether there's not a photograph. An incumbent president of the United States, this is right on his doorstep. And so, in that way, as Molly indicated earlier, it is a sideshow about the photograph. He bears the responsibility whether there's a visual evidence of him with those children or not.
REHMSome people are likening it to George W. Bush's Katrina moment, Alex.
BURNSYou know, in some ways, Diane, I think it's actually a tougher political dilemma than the Katrina situation was for Bush because while Bush botched the politics of that about as well as he could have, I think a lot of people down the Gulf Coast and in national politics knew pretty well what needed to happen after that storm and knew what should have happened in advance of it that didn't happen. You know, the federal government needed to get relief money and relief work going in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast as fast as possible.
BURNSThis is a situation where it's not clear that there is an outcome that leads to a solution that makes really anybody happy here. There are folks who think that a win is getting those kids out of this country. There are folks who think that if you do that, you're just sending them back to this sort of rampant gang violence that sent them here in the first place. It's really a tragedy of a different kind than Katrina. And as far as the politics and policy, I think, in a lot of ways, a tougher nut to crack.
REHMMolly, do we truly understand why so many of these kids came now?
BALLAbsolutely. I mean, they're -- the countries that these children are coming from in Central America are undergoing these spasms of violence. And so, in a very pure sense, they are refugees from situations where they or their parents fear that they are in imminent danger of being killed. At the same time, you know, there are these rumors going around. This has been very well documented by reporters on the ground in these countries that there is a prevailing notion that the United States will take care of these children, at least for a couple of years.
BALLThanks to the backlog, that's how long most of them will stay here. And there is a law that says that they will be placed ideally not in detention but with sponsors, so a lot of them do have family here. So, you know, and despite the administration sort of putting out PSAs and statements to the contrary, the reality is that we are taking care of these children as best we know how. I mean, we are a compassionate country, and it would be awful if we didn't. But they are being forced here, you know, by the situation on the ground in their own countries.
HARWOODWhich is precisely why Alex is right to say this is such a tough nut to crack. We do take care of people. And the fact is that we are -- the country is sort of on the precipice of immigration reform. At some point in the next few years, it's going to happen. It will likely give legal status to people who are already here. The president did, in 2012, say that they would use discretion in terms of who would be sent back and with preference to those DREAMer young people. So all of those are messages, in fact, that are correctly being interpreted as an indication of where the United States is headed, and that makes this very, very, very difficult.
REHMAt the same time, didn't I read that some 46 percent of children don't show up for judicial hearings meant to adjudicate whether they could stay or whether they could go home? So, I mean, it's a pretty hairy situation.
HARWOODAbsolutely. And I'm not surprised by that, just as many people whose visas expire don't show up to renew them.
REHMExactly. John Harwood, chief Washington correspondent for CNBC, a reporter for The New York Times. Short break, right back.
REHMAnd before we move on to the Hobby Lobby case, two emails on the immigration situation, one from Diane in New York City who says, "I cannot recall being as ashamed to be an American as I was upon hearing the denunciation issued by the anti-immigrant mob in Murrieta, Calif. this week. I don't have an easy solution to the problem, but the level of pure hatred and vitriol spewed against these youngsters literally sent shivers down my spine."
REHMSecond point from Louisville, Texas, Bret says, "Has the U.S. government spent any money informing through advertising the populations of the South American countries where the immigrants are coming from that they will not be allowed to stay?" That's part of where some of that money is going, isn't it, Alex?
BURNSYeah, you've got $300 million slated to go to the State Department and a lot of that to be spent directly in places like Guatemala and Honduras, both informing the local populations about what our immigration policies really are and then also working with the governments to try to get their cooperation to address these things before we end up with 52,000 kids at our doorstep.
REHMAnd, Molly, what about the mobs?
BALLI'm not sure what you mean.
REHMThe mobs that were screaming at those kids. Sorry.
BALLOh, I'm sorry, in the email. Yeah, you know, this is an issue that has really ginned up a certain segment that's always there but a segment of Americans who are upset about illegal immigration and upset about immigration in general. And this is a group that I think we've seen increasingly marginalized in recent years.
BALLWe haven't seen, you know, the sort of -- back a few years ago, when this was being -- when immigration reform was being considered under George W. Bush, you had the minutemen out there and a lot of this anti-immigration sentiment, very, very lively. That had really died down in the past few years. And now I think you see some of it starting to be excited again.
HARWOODWell, because the level of immigration into the United States has been down in recent years. So that's one of the things that pushed some of that emotion out of the spotlight. But, look, anybody who remembers even in picture books seeing the people gathered around African-American young people who integrated schools realizes that groups of people are capable of being extraordinarily nasty and mean.
REHMAll right. Let's turn to the Hobby Lobby case. Alex, Democrats in the Senate have come up with legislation to override the Hobby Lobby decision. What would the bill do?
BURNSWell, this was unveiled this week by three Democratic senators, two of them, Mark Begich of Alaska and Mark Udall of Colorado, facing tough re-election fights this year. What they're essentially proposing is to exempt the Affordable Care Act from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the law under which the Supreme Court ruled that certain closely-held businesses have the right to deny insurance coverage of contraception to their employees.
BURNSWhat the bill would do is state that an employer is not entitled to withhold coverage of -- any employer who provides health insurance is not entitled to withhold coverage of anything that's mandated under federal law.
REHMAnd what about gay and lesbians? Would they be also exempted, Molly?
BALLI believe that's a separate issue, although it has now arisen in the wake of Hobby Lobby. This was something that was somewhat separate, but it does involve the same issue of "religious liberty." The administration has been planning to issue an executive order exempting -- sorry, or requiring that federal contractors not discriminate against gays and lesbians in their hiring.
BALLAnd now a controversy has arisen over whether to include in that order an exemption for religious belief. So if you are a Catholic charity, for example, you would not have to -- who does business with the federal government, who receives government funding to do social services or something like that, you would be able to -- well, from the perspective of these gay and lesbian groups, you would be able to discriminate against them in hiring.
BALLAnd so the administration is under a lot of pressure from both sides. It's a very difficult situation. On the one hand, a lot of groups, even on the so-called religious left, groups that have been allied with the administration but from the faith community, really believed that the Hobby Lobby case proves that the administration hasn't been sensitive enough to people's religious beliefs and that it needs to give them a little bit more latitude.
BALLThere is a religious exemption like this that's very broad in the Employment Non-discrimination Act that would apply not just to companies that get federal money but to all companies in hiring. And that passed the Senate. And the broad religious exemption was part of what helped it to get Republican votes. It's going nowhere in the House, and now some of these LGBT groups have withdrawn their support from it saying, you know, the Supreme Court has shown that if you give them an inch, they'll take a yard essentially, and that we can't give license to discriminate because these loopholes end up being exploited by corporations like Hobby Lobby.
HARWOODDiane, could I just go back to a point that Alex made about...
HARWOOD...these senators proposing a legislative remedy? It really underscores a really stunning change in our politics from the politics that I started out in the news business covering. For a long period of time, the social changes that coursed through American society in the 1960s and '70s put Democrats on the defensive. And it helped fuel the Republican presidential majority, the silent majority that Richard Nixon talked about.
HARWOODWe're now in a point where social issues are offensive weapons for Democrats in political campaigns. So these two senators that he referred to, Begich and Udall, that's Alaska and Colorado. That's not Massachusetts and California. Those are states that once were very solidly Republican-leaning where Democrats now, by accentuating the idea that Republicans are against contraception, can make political headway.
HARWOODThat is a fundamental shift even from 2004. Remember when George W. Bush was using and Republicans were using the issue of gay marriage to mobilize what we referred to than as values voters? Values voters are Democrats right now.
REHMSo Democrats are going to use these issues big time in the midterm elections.
HARWOODAbsolutely. And, you know, Republicans are concerned that their candidates not repeat the mistakes of some of the Senate candidates who blew elections in the last couple of years. They don't want any Republican candidate, as much as they can avoid it, to be portrayed as questioning the right to contraception. So, you know, that's why Mark Udall was challenging Cory Gardner, his opponent, to say, you know, where do you stand on this? And, yes, they're going to be using it.
REHMWhat was the response from Cory Gardner?
HARWOODI don't think Cory -- I think Cory Gardner has kept his distance from that issue. I don't think he's been emphasizing it, but I don't actually know what he has said about this particular bill.
BURNSWell, Cory Gardner, since he got into this race, the whole campaign against him has been about social issues. He supported this personhood initiative in Colorado a couple years back which would've essentially banned contraception. He has since recanted that position. You have Republican candidates -- you know, Democrats aren't thrilled with the substantive outcome of the Hobby Lobby decision, but they are absolutely thrilled with the world of political opportunities that it opens up for them. And you have, you know, plenty of Senate races being fought in very conservative areas.
BURNSBut the Republicans have been trying to compete in places like New Hampshire and Michigan, governors' races in places like Massachusetts and Connecticut. I think you had the first instance of a Republican really messing up on Hobby Lobby just in the last couple days where Charlie Baker, the generally moderate business-oriented Republican nominee for governor of Massachusetts, came out and said, I don't think this decision is really important to our state, right, or something to that effect.
BURNSI'm paraphrasing him, to be clear. That's not a message that works in Massachusetts. And, as John said, it's surprisingly not a message that may work in Alaska or North Carolina.
REHMBut the question is, is the issue of contraception itself really on the table, or is this one that's being manufactured by Democrats?
BALLWell, Hobby Lobby shows that it very clearly is a controversy about certain forms of contraception, not all of them.
REHMCertain forms, right.
BALLCertain forms of contraception. Even Hobby Lobby provides most forms of contraception to its employees.
REHMThere are four that they don't want used because they're considered abortifacients.
BALLThat's correct. And they include the "morning after" pill and IUDs. But, you know, the conventional birth control pill is provided by Hobby Lobby. At the same time, there are some contraceptives that Hobby Lobby will not offer to its employees. And there are thousands of other companies that are potentially affected by this decision. There are a number of other suits in the pipeline from companies seeking to make use of the Hobby Lobby decision. Lower courts will be called upon to interpret it and to see to whom it applies. So it is very much a live issue.
BALLAt the same time, Democrats have an obvious interest in blowing this up, in magnifying the scope of it and, as Alex was saying, to make it appear that Republicans are against contraception generally. And this is a political play that they have been using very, very effectively in recent years because birth control is overwhelmingly popular.
HARWOODI will be very -- yes, it is. I will be very surprised if the administration comes up with a solution to the Hobby Lobby case that involves requiring insurers to pay for those contraception methods that Hobby Lobby doesn't want to finance. I'll be very surprised if Republicans oppose that position, oppose, that is, the availability of those at all, whether they're provided by the government or by Hobby Lobby.
BURNSAnd I would just add, the big question mark in the Senate right now -- I don't think anyone expects this Democratic bill on Hobby Lobby to pass all of Congress. But the big question mark is whether it will even pass the Senate. And a couple moderate Republicans, Mark Kirk from Illinois, Susan Collins from Maine, Lisa Murkowski from Alaska have not said where they land on the Hobby Lobby decision at all. So those are the folks to watch going forward.
REHMBut aren't they trying to fast track this legislation?
BURNSWell, yes. They are trying to move it down the pipeline as fast as they can.
REHMYeah, very quickly.
HARWOODYou know how fast the tracks are in Washington.
REHMMolly, do you want to add something?
BALLWell, no, just, you know, as Alex sort of indicated, this is a political messaging bill more than anything. And the more particularly moderate or vulnerable Republicans Democrats can get on the record about this and sort of make them twist on what's a difficult issue for them, the happier they'll be.
REHMYes. NPR had a piece yesterday which included a Republican female saying, they're trying to say we are against contraception. We are not. And they've got to get that message out. But clearly it sounds as though Democrats are sort of getting the edge on this one right now.
BURNSI'd agree with that. I think that it's -- I don't know that most Americans are going to believe that Republicans are going to come into their bedrooms and take their contraceptives from them. But what it is -- and John alluded to this before with the comparison to the Bush campaign in 2004.
BURNSWhat Democrats are trying to do is make this just a gut check issue where they're asking voters, you know, when it comes down to it, which party is going to side with the religious liberty argument? And which party is going to side with the sort of personal choice and sexual freedom argument? And I think, in this day and age, the reality is that sexual liberty is a lot more popular than religious liberty.
BALLWell, and there's an interesting solution, going back to Cory Gardner in Colorado, that Cory Gardner has come upon. He has come out in favor of making birth control available over the counter. And he's been pushing this message very aggressively. And this is something I think we may hear more and more Republicans making an argument for. They can pitch it as deregulation in giving people more individual choices, getting the government out of the regulation of birth control, and at the same time seem to be in favor of it.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Molly, talk about the highway trust fund. Are these monies going to be released to states or not?
BALLWell, that is the many billion dollar question. The highway trust fund is about to expire and, you know, the problem that Washington has these days that everybody complains about is not that they can't get things done that they disagree on. I think everybody understands that when there's a tough issue that has two sides that feel very strongly, that of course in divided Congress, that's going to produce gridlock. That maybe is the truest reflection of what the voters want.
BALLOn something like the highway trust fund though, everybody wants to get it done. And even if you're opposed to government spending, almost everybody wants that government spending in their own states. They want these road projects to continue, but the relationships in Congress are not there. There's a multitude of different plans floating around sponsored by different legislators. There's a plan to raise the gas tax which many Republicans oppose.
BALLAnd so -- and, you know, this is a perennial issue because the trust fund always has to be renewed. And in the past, former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was sort of able to get this done more or less by force of personality. He was a Republican. He was someone who had a lot of really good relationships on both sides of the aisle. The new transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx may be perfectly competent, sort of hasn't been tested yet, but he certainly doesn't have those relationships in Congress. So it will be interesting to see whether he can make this happen.
HARWOODThis is a perfect reflection of how inept Washington governance is right now. The solution they're going to -- it looks like they're coming up with, which will be a temporary funding of the highway programs through the middle of 2015, not a long-term extension, which everyone agrees ought to be done, and is going to be paid for by one of the most ridiculous budget gimmicks possible. It's called pension smoothing.
HARWOODAnd what that is is providing an out for corporations to use fluctuations in the value of their assets to adjust how much they pay to their pension programs and let them pay less. If they pay less, they have more profit, and they pay more tax revenue to the government. So the government is going to use that short-term benefit in order to pay for highway programs that everybody agrees are needed. And long term, it costs the government money because later they're going to have to fund those pension programs and have less profit and pay less taxes.
REHMWhat about raising the gas tax, Alex?
BURNSWell, this is what a lot of industry groups want to do because this is one of these situations where the administration and the business community are very much on the same page because folks who build roads want that highway money out there. But the gas tax, leaving aside the short-term politics of it is really a much bigger scale problem than I think anyone wants to reckon with at this point.
BURNSWhen you're funding your highways by taxing the sales of gasoline, in this day and age, people are driving more fuel-efficient vehicles. In many parts of the country, people are driving less overall. We saw on the state level Virginia just overhauled its entire transportation funding scheme exactly for this reason because, over time, if you're funding your roads through tax in gasoline, your revenue is just going to go down, down, down, down, down.
REHMBut still gasoline taxes have not been raised in, what, 20 years, Molly?
BALLMore than 20 years. And the gas tax is not a percentage tax like the sales tax. It's a certain number of cents. And so that means that, in real terms, the amount of the gas tax is declining. We are paying less gas taxes because of inflation. And so, I mean, there is an obvious need for this. As Alex said, people are buying less gas, so that money's going down. Roads are in disrepair. But good luck getting Congress to raise taxes right now.
REHMWe've got to do something. Short break here. Your calls when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. It's time to open the phones. Let's go first to Sue in Liverpool, N.Y. Hi, you're on the air.
SUEHi. Good morning. While we all feel sorry for children, I'm kind of disturbed that nobody in media has brought up the point that President Obama caved to the Republicans and signed a farm bill that gutted $4 billion out of food stamps for our own desperate citizens. Half of them are children. There's many sick and disabled people who have really been hurt, particularly as food prices have continued to rise over the past couple of years. So my question is, where is he suddenly miraculously going to come up with almost $4 billion after he hurt our own citizens? And now we're supposed to care for people who came over there illegally?
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call. John Harwood?
HARWOODWell, I think she alluded to it in the run-up that is that we all care about children, and it's an immediate situation. It is kids who have presented themselves on our border. It is something that is easier for people to grasp and less susceptible to the argument that's made about waste, fraud, and abuse, which is what Republicans have been making about the food stamp program.
REHMAnd that food stamp program certainly hurt lots of kids, Alex.
BURNSWell, and this is going to be -- while the food stamp issue may be settled for now on the federal level, you see this now trickling down to the local level across the country, where when you cut that kind of money out of the social safety net, the people who are expected to make it up are mayors and county commissioners and folks who have to deal with issues like hunger and homelessness on that level.
BURNSSo, yeah, the story is not done there.
REHMTo Mark in Cleveland, Ohio. Hi there. You're on the air.
MARKHi, Diane. I'm a big fan. Pardon me.
MARKAnd I'm glad to speak with you. I listened to the last caller. I have been on 11 trips to Honduras, and I've had this conversation a lot with Americans who don't understand the depth of the poverty and the situation that's faced by the kids down there. I've gone down with NGOs. I have not met any of the bad kids. We don't meet the gang kids.
MARKWhat we need are these good kids who are sort of trying to stay out of the way of this sort of thing. And there's not just a few of them. There's millions of them, uncounted millions, of these kids. And I don't have a solution, but, you know, you make a connection when you go down. And there's no -- I made some notes, what to say, and yet there's just so much to talk about.
REHMI understand, Mark. And I have heard the same from others who've been to Honduras. It was Sen. Patrick Leahy, I think, who said you don't send an 8- or 9-year-old child back to her home country to be gang raped and the kind of violence going on down there, pretty awful. Let's go to Jim in Tamarac, Fla. Hi, you're on the air.
JIMIt was, what, a year-and-a-half ago when we decided that maybe Congress should have their pay cut. And they did some little event so that they could get their pay reinstated. And maybe they could put that towards the road taxes.
REHMWhat an idea. John, what do you think of that?
HARWOODWell, they put this very stringent constraint on themselves. They said, we're not going to get paid unless we pass a budget. Well, the solution to that was they passed a budget, and it didn't change any of the fundamental divisions that we had been experiencing. But, no, that whole thing was a show. And the caller is right to raise questions about the quality of governance we're getting because it's pretty low right now.
REHMAll right, to Amy in Kingsport, Tenn. Hi there.
AMYHi, Diane, love your show. Thanks for having me on.
AMYI wanted to ask the panel to comment on the science behind -- and the science that the Supreme Court used behind the four forms of birth control -- one of those forms is one that I use -- behind calling them an abortifacient and where the line is drawn and what that -- how that went into their decision or...
BALLYeah, this is an interesting question. And there has been a lot of criticism of the Court, primarily from the left, over the fact that they didn't examine the science very much in making this decision. What they took, pun intended, on faith was the litigants' sincere religious belief about what constitutes conception. And so, in the view of Christians, like the owners of Hobby Lobby, life begins at conception.
BALLAnd conception occurs when the sperm meets the egg. Now, scientists would say that the process, you know, in many cases, that happens and then it fail -- the fertilized egg fails to implant on its own, and you don't get a pregnancy. And so, you know, a lot of scientists would say that actually the moment of conception is when that fertilized egg is implanted, and that is when it begins to grow into a fetus.
BALLBut, you know, this question of, what is the moment of life beginning, for a lot of religious people, that is not a scientific question. That is a spiritual question. And they, you know, and the Supreme Court ended up saying as well that if you have a sincere religious belief that that is the moment of life beginning, you know, a scientist cannot basically argue with that.
BALLAnd so, based on that, these -- and even in some of these -- in the case of the IUD in particular, we don't even know for sure if the IUD prevents implantation after the egg has been fertilized or if indeed the only thing that it prevents is fertilization. There is uncertainty in the scientific community on what exactly stage of development the contraceptive method interferes with.
BURNSI think, you know, listening to Molly's very fluent explanation of all this, I think it gives you a sense of why it is that this is an issue that is sort of problematic for folks on the religious conservative side of this that even a lot of Americans, you don't -- the reason why a majority of Americans are generally in favor of mandating contraception coverage is because when you end up in a conversation like this with a group of judges, none of whom has a degree in the life sciences, sort of trying to do their best to discern, you know, what exactly is going on in the woman's womb and how does that relate to the CEO's religious beliefs, it just makes people uncomfortable.
HARWOODHas Todd Akin spoken on this question yet?
BALLOh, very much so.
BURNSIt's just getting started, John.
REHMWell, but the other issue is that you've got five Roman Catholics on that court. And I don't think we can forget that.
BURNSWell, by those standards, this is actually a pretty permissive ruling.
BURNSI mean, I'm being dry. But, in some ways, the sort of traditional Catholic interpretation of when life begins is, in some ways, more restrictive than what the judges came down.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Ben in Baltimore. You're on the air.
BENHi, good morning.
BENHi. So I just was thinking about the immigration issue that you have. And -- well, at least that America has. And if we make this just about children and immigration, then there is no question. There is -- you have to tend for these children. You have to care for them. But if you look at it from a different angle and see that -- if you look 15, 20 years down the line, then there needs to be a discussion about policy and the use of resources.
BENAnd at a time right now where people in the U.S. are feeling like they don't have enough resources, such as healthcare, the Obamacare -- even with that being the case right now, a lot of Americans feel like they don't have enough resources, like the previous caller regarding the cutbacks on the food stamps issue. So I think the protesters in California, I can see their point.
REHMYeah, it's interesting. John Harwood, you think if our own economy were in a stronger place right now that perhaps Americans might be looking at this immigration issue somewhat differently?
HARWOODNo question about it. One of the underlying realities of American politics right now is that our economy is not delivering rising living standards to ordinary people, to middle class people. And that's a trend that is not an Obama administration, not a Bush administration, it is a multi-decade circumstance. And as long as that's the case and people don't feel confident that they're going to move ahead and that their kids are going to move ahead after them, they're going to be unhappy.
HARWOODRemember, the country got very used after World War II to a dominant economic position with respect to the rest of the world and rising living standards. We're not in that point right now. And one of the results is political unhappiness and instability.
REHMAlex, I want to ask you about this new documents from Edward Snowden and what they showed about American spying on certain Muslims here in the United States.
BURNSSo this latest disclosure from Glenn Greenwald's website showed a spreadsheet of 7,485 email addresses that were monitored by the National Security Agency. And what the report says is that the authors went through -- sort of combed through the email addresses to try to determine what kinds of people these were and found five fairly prominent Muslim Americans of no -- with no apparent connections to sort of problematic regimes overseas, problematic groups overseas.
BURNSThey're talking about -- you're not talking about obscure people here. You're talking about the chairman of the American Muslim Alliance, the president of the American Iranian Council who were monitored for reasons that we're not really sure about. And so this is just, you know, we've seen sort of in a lot ways the most sensational disclosures. But when you're getting into the nitty gritty of exactly who gets watched by the government and why, I think these new documents do raise questions about sort of what is the process that leads to this apparently unobjectionable people getting this kind of close personal scrutiny.
BURNSWell, we don't know. And the NSA doesn't -- isn't going to come out and say, well, you got us. Those are the 700 -- 7,500 people we were monitoring, and this is why. I do think that one of the sort of underlying fault lines here between people who are really alarmed about this and people who are less alarmed, you know, it may be true that these folks who run these groups are not connected to anybody violent.
BURNSBut, you know, if you are somebody who travels frequently overseas, if you are somebody who -- you know, one of these folks thought about running for president of Iran. Is it fair game for the government to say, well, you seem like you look a little bit like a foreign agent, we ought to keep an eye on you? And I think for a lot of folks, the answer to that is probably no.
REHMAnd the same time, John Harwood, Edward Snowden has decided he's going to extend his stay in Russia. Why?
HARWOODWell, the existing authority that he was staying there under legally is about to expire, and he's seeking to extend that. You know, he's somebody who doesn't have a lot of places to go. And I don't know how long he's going to stay in Russia. He gives no sign of being willing to come back to the United States and face the charges against him. So I would certainly expect that Vladimir Putin would allow him to stay.
REHMAnd you don't see any compromise on the part of the U.S. to exactly how he would be treated if he were to come back?
HARWOODI'd certainly think that the Justice Department would engage in a conversation that you could call a plea bargain or something that would involve, from Snowden's point of view, of lessening some of the potential penalties against him. But I don't see Snowden being willing to do that.
REHMAll right. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to, let's see, Lucas in Durham, N.C. You're on the air.
LUCASHi. Thank you. I'm wondering at what point, in regards to Hobby Lobby, we get to the point that there's too much personal power for corporations.
BALLWell, this is a question that has been repeatedly raised by the left with regard to the Hobby Lobby decision, this claim that this Supreme Court has unilaterally decided that corporations are people. In fact, there's a lot of legal ways in which corporations are given rights. For example, with the First Amendment, newspapers have a right of free speech and they are corporations. So this is not actually such a legal novelty.
BALLBut it also is the case that some legal experts have said that this distinction the Supreme Court drew about Hobby Lobby being a closely held corporation who's, you know, a private corporation, whose owners are very involved in the management of the company, that that may not hold up in subsequent decisions and that if subsequent courts begin to examine that for other companies that are not "closely held" that there may be a sort of slippery slope there to more and more companies being able to claim that they have these kinds of religious beliefs and that it may not be as narrow a decision as the Supreme Court tried to make it.
BURNSWell, and this is sort of a larger scale argument that we're going to have over the next, you know, five or 10 years and, like, had over the last five years starting with the Citizens United decision that this notion that corporations are people when it comes to political speech, election hearing, that when it comes to religious liberty, I think it's pretty clear that this is -- there's a pretty clear partisan divide on these issues.
BURNSAnd, you know, we may just see this litigated by the Supreme Court, by the next Supreme Court, which is something we're certainly going to hear about in the next presidential election. What I don't think you're going to see is real impetus coming out of Congress to draw brighter lines around these issues.
REHMAnd final question for you, John Harwood, is 10 years a fair sentence for former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin?
HARWOODThe judge indicated that there was a balance between the nature of the corruption charges against him and the government's request for 15 to 20 and the service that Nagin had provided to the city. I think that 10 years in prison is a long time. So it doesn't strike me as an obvious miscarriage of justice even though there are very serious charges against him.
REHMJohn Harwood of CNBC and The New York Times, Molly Ball of the Atlantic, Alex Burns of Politico, thank you all.
BURNSHave a great weekend.
REHMYou too, and hope you all do as well. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Denise Couture, Susan Casey Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman, Lisa Dunn, Danielle Knight and Allison Brody. The engineer is Toby Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts and podcasts. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington, D.C. This is NPR.
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