America’s Collision Course With The Debt Ceiling
As the nation counts down to default, Diane talks to longtime Congress watcher Norm Ornstein about the debt limit negotiations, what's at stake and whether he sees a way forward.
President Obama rules out releasing photos of Osama bin Laden. The White House and top lawmakers discuss a deal to raise the federal debt ceiling. And key candidates skip the first GOP debate. A panel of journalists joins guest host Katty Kay for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
The panelists talk about how the U.S.’s killing of Osama bin Laden might change public perception of President Obama’s leadership abilities ahead of the 2013 presidential election and explore some early “missteps” by the White House in describing the circumstances of the raid on bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan:
MS. KATTY KAYThanks for joining us. I'm Katty Kay of the BBC, sitting in for Diane Rehm. There's mixed news on the U.S. job front for the month of April. President Obama visited Ground Zero to honor those killed on September the 11th, and Vice President Biden held the first of several bipartisan meetings with congressional leaders on the issue of the debt ceiling. Joining me to discuss these and other top national news stories, Naftali Bendavid, national correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Washington correspondent for The New York Times, and John Dickerson, chief political correspondent for slate.com and CBS political analyst and contributor. Thank you all so much for joining me.
MS. SHERYL GAY STOLBERGGood morning.
MR. NAFTALI BENDAVIDGood morning.
MR. JOHN DICKERSONGood morning.
KAYWow. What a busy week. Let's start. We'll get to the job numbers in just a minute, but let's start, of course, with President Obama going up to New York in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden. Naftali, why was it important for him to go to Ground Zero this week?
BENDAVIDWell, I think a couple of things. First of all, it created a real bookend with a trip that President George Bush took about 10 years ago, where he went to Ground Zero shortly after the 9/11 attacks and stood on a -- famously stood on a pile of rubble with a megaphone and warned the perpetrators that they were going to be hearing from us. And this was, in a way, President Obama's way of coming and saying, in fact, they did hear from us, and, you know, we've done what we said we were going to do.
BENDAVIDBut I think presidents also do well when they're seen to embody the feelings of the country, and they're sort of rising above being just an ordinary political figure. This was an opportunity for him to sort of embody the satisfaction and feeling of triumph that, I think, a lot of Americans felt at the killing of Osama bin Laden, and to do it in a very dramatic and poignant way.
KAYAnd, Sheryl, noticeable, though, that he didn't make a speech at Ground Zero, that he didn't want to be seen to be politicizing this moment.
STOLBERGThat's absolutely right. He quietly laid a wreath in a very somber moment. He did, however, meet with firefighters, whose colleagues had been lost in the attacks. He met with family members. Today, we will see him go to Fort Campbell, Ky., where he will, perhaps in a more triumphal mode, meet with the members of the Navy SEALs, the elite group that took down bin Laden. And I think, as Naftali said, this was particularly important for this president to go to Ground Zero. You know, President Bush really viewed himself as a wartime president. He was -- the war against terror was at the core of his being, President Obama, not so much. He's had an uneasy relationship, in a way, with being commander in chief.
STOLBERGAnd I think this visit, in the run up to his reelection campaign, allowed him to sort of firmly plant himself in the minds of Americans as a commander in chief who was decisive, who took a risky action -- this was a risky endeavor trying to take bin Laden out -- and who succeeded. And by going there and sort of very quietly laying a wreath, not trying to gloat, he allowed himself to have the symbolism of that and also to sort of embrace that commander-in-chief role.
KAYJohn, in these kind of hyper fast news times, I always wonder whether anything sticks on anybody. And, you know, boost in the poll numbers, such as we've seen for President Obama this week -- how long that actually can last. At the moment we feel totally saturated by the news of Osama bin Laden. We know that fairly soon it will all have blown over, and something else will have replaced it. Is he going to be known, as he said in the Situation Room, as the man who got bin Laden?
DICKERSONWell, it certainly -- it's in the history books. You can't take it way from him. And to the extent that the White House -- for perfectly reasonable reasons, I mean, the president going to Ground Zero is important, as Naftali said, to kind of put some closure here. It's striking how much Obama kind of echoes the George Bush we saw, spending time at Ground Zero, now going to meet with the troops. We recognize those kinds of activities from the previous president, and now we see Obama doing it. I think this -- so this is now a week-long event, the bin Laden killing, but...
KAYAn age in this world, a week-long event.
DICKERSONYes, indeed. And, also, the president's statement on Sunday evening that bin Laden had been killed was watched by, I think, 60 million viewers, his largest viewing audience of anything he's done as president, I believe. But what we saw in the polls supports your point, which is that the president's approval ratings have gone up. But on the issue of the economy, which people care the most about, his numbers, actually, in one poll -- in the CBS News poll, his numbers went down on the handling of the economy, from 38 percent last month to 34 this month, his lowest numbers of his presidency. That number will come back. It will inevitably drag those numbers, those overall approval numbers down, and so that's the long-term question he'll still have to worry about in terms of the election.
KAY1-800-433-8850 is the phone number. Do join us a bit later on with your calls, questions and comments for my panel. Drshow@wamu.org is the email address. Of course, you can find us on Facebook and Twitter as well. Sheryl, just one thing on the confusion over the handling of some of the details because I remember on Monday reporting to the BBC and thinking, my goodness, we're getting an awful lot of information coming out. You know, it's less than 24 hours. We know this, this, this and this about what happened, and then actually we don't know this, this and this.
STOLBERGI think this was a mistake on the part of the White House. You know, on Monday, as it became known that bin Laden had been killed, the White House came out and said he went down in a firefight, suggestions that he was armed, that he has -- had used his wife as a human shield -- all these things we found out on Tuesday were not accurate. The White House says that this was as a result of lots of information coming in and conflicting accounts. And they were refining the story as they went along. But, frankly, it made them look a little bumbling. It was a little blot on what otherwise could have been a really victorious moment for them, and it's raised, now, some questions in the minds of some people about how bin Laden was treated.
STOLBERGI think some -- very few probably -- but some have suggested perhaps we should have just captured him if he was unarmed. And these are not the kinds of questions that a White House wants to face in this moment. And, frankly, they could have been avoided had administration officials been a little bit more cautious on the first day and waited. Yes, they have to satisfy the news beast and the media. But they probably should have said, look, we'll give you the details when we're really confident of them.
KAYNaftali, that may have been a little blip, I mean, you know, to -- in some respect, given the magnitude of what had happened, I mean, it's a little bit of a storm in the teacup...
BENDAVIDYeah, I think so.
KAY...looking at some of the details. But is the issue of photos -- on whether to release the photos -- of more significance perhaps?
BENDAVIDWell, that's obviously a very controversial question. The president has decided not to release the photos because they're apparently fairly gruesome, and there's a fear that this will give radicals and terrorists something to rally around. You know, this is a guy that they really revered and looked up to, and here's a shot of him with, you know, his head blown away. I think there's a fear that that could really, perhaps, stimulate some action that we'd all really regret. They also say that anybody who doesn't believe that Obama is dead isn't going to be convinced by photos.
BENDAVIDThey'll just say, well, they were doctored or something like that. Interestingly, some Republicans have really backed up this decision. Speaker John Boehner yesterday said he completely supported the White House. Others have not. And so you had, for example, Sen. Lindsey Graham saying we really should have released the photos just to avoid any uncertainty about whether he was really dead. My sense is there's a little bit of a subtext here, too, among some of the people who want to release the photos, which is they want to make it as vivid and in-your-face as possible, that if you mess with the United States, this is what you get, this is how you end up. So I think there's a little bit of that emotion behind the push to release the photos as well.
DICKERSONThe al-Qaida put out a statement this morning, or recently, that bin Laden, in fact, is dead. So the question whether he's dead or not...
KAYWent up on their website today.
DICKERSONYeah -- has not -- has been sort of taken care of. I mean, there will always be doubters, of course. But one of the administration views was that, to the extent there will be doubters, a picture won't solve that problem -- people will think it's been doctored somehow -- and that there will be future events, like al-Qaida's announcement that bin Laden is dead, that will sort of close this and not require the releasing photograph to prove that he was dead.
BENDAVIDI think there's another point that we should make about the poll numbers that we were talking about earlier because it's true that his poll numbers rocketed. I mean, they went from 46 percent approval in The New York Times-CBS poll, which is not great for an incumbent, to 57, which is really pretty good for an incumbent. And I do think it's likely, if history is any guide, that they'll go back down, but I think more important than the poll numbers is what this does to a certain narrative that the Republicans were building about President Obama heading into the 2012 election, which is that he's weak.
BENDAVIDHe's indecisive. He leads from behind. He's incapable of doing anything proactively. And, I think, even as the poll numbers go back down, he will have a good defense, from here on out against that line of attack. And I think that's not an insignificant political development.
STOLBERGI also think there's an important group of the electorate in which this event -- the killing of bin Laden -- will really help Obama, and that is young people. Young people are not so concerned as their parents are with jobs and the economy and all of these other things, but, for them, for teenagers who are going to be able to vote in 2012, Sept. 11 was really a defining moment in their lives. And we saw the other night streams of people, kids coming out from George Washington University and other places to celebrate at the White House. And I do think that, for some of those young people, going to the polls, you know, late teens and 20-somethings, this is going to be very important. And this event will stick with them. And they were an important part of the -- of his election in 2008.
KAYAnd a group that wasn't there during the midterm elections, of course. I was really struck by watching these young people 'cause I have a son who's 17, who actually found out about this before I did because he was on Facebook. And it came up on Facebook, and I think I was fast asleep, actually, at the time and had to be woken up. But watching some of those young kids and across the universities, many of them, it struck me, would have only been 10, 11...
KAY...when September the 11th struck. Certainly, my 17-year-old son has almost no memory of that day. He was seven years old, and yet it still seemed to be a major event for him and a rallying point.
STOLBERGMy 16-year-old jumped up and down and said she would have gone down to the White House, had she could. And my 12-year-old looked up the Obama speech on YouTube and watched it. And that really showed me that kids are paying attention, and, for them, this is an important moment.
KAYOkay. We're going to go to break in just a minute. But before we do that, let's talk a little bit about what we've learned. And, of course, we're going to get on to the economy and debt negotiations after the break. I want to talk about one more area of the intelligence that we're learning about from some of the data that was seized from the raid. And, Naftali, there was a story out yesterday that some of this intelligence was suggesting that there may have been plans to attack U.S. trains, but none of this was ongoing. How -- in real terms, how significant is the killing of Osama bin Laden and what was found in his compound, in terms of intelligence gathering?
BENDAVIDWell, I mean, I think the intelligence information, I think that has to be seen. People are still going through it right now. The information about the train attacks, I think, was out there because that could potentially, you know, be a direct threat. However, people were very...
KAYAlthough it was said that this was not an active threat.
BENDAVIDExactly. It was very -- people were very careful to say that it was aspirational (sic) as opposed to operational, which is a way of saying they were talking about it a lot, but there were no signs that they were really putting it into effect. But there was a lot of talk that they had captured, you know, documents, computer hard drives that Obama -- that Osama bin Laden was, in fact, you know, still giving orders. And so my guess is that it is something of an intelligence coup. But that doesn't compare to the psychological effect of getting rid of this guy, who was this inspiration and sort of this motivating factor for a lot of people. And I think that's probably the bigger significance.
KAYOkay. Naftali Bendavid of The Wall Street Journal, Sheryl Gay Stolberg from The New York Times is also here. John Dickerson is with me in the studio as well from slate.com and political analyst for CBS. We'll be taking your calls, questions and comments after this break. Do join us for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup. The phone number is 1-800-433-8850. The email address email@example.com. We're going to take a quick break. Stay listening.
KAYWelcome back. I'm Katty Kay of the BBC. You've joined the Friday news roundup. This is our domestic news hour in what has been an incredibly busy week. I feel like saying another incredibly busy week. I am going to go to an email that came in from Thomas, who writes to us, "How is it that the USA and world can handle slow motion film of John Kennedy's head being blown off, but we cannot handle one single headshot of Osama bin Laden?" You know, John, there is something here because we've had President Obama saying he didn't want photographs, photographic evidence of torture being released. We had George Bush saying he didn't want photographic pictures of coffins coming back from Afghanistan. There is something here about images, isn't there?
DICKERSONSure, although the two are different. The coffins...
KAYThey're very different.
KAYBut they're still...
DICKERSONYeah, I mean, the question is -- well, there are several questions. What can the American public handle? And then what should our government deny us? And should -- on the question of coffins, you know, should the -- should war be sort of sanitized? There are a lot of people who argue that both -- I mean, you know, to celebrate the heroism of those who've fallen, but, also, to know the cost of war, it's important to see those caskets. But on the question of bin Laden, the worry was and the difference with the John Kennedy killing is not so much about the sensitivities and tenderness of the American public, although, I'm sure, somebody's made that case.
DICKERSONBut the worry is that this would inflame -- as a national security matter, would inflame people in the Middle East. It would look, as the president said, like they were spiking the ball. And from a public relations perspective, as far as the White House is concerned, the iconic picture they want is the picture of the president in the Situation Room being steely and determined and not a picture of bin Laden's, you know, face after -- with gunshots in it. So the -- so then that's a public relations move as well. But it's -- so it's not so much about the sensitivity of the American people that kept the president from releasing this.
KAYJohn Dickerson of slate.com. Let's turn now to the economy because there was important news this morning on the jobs numbers. The government has released its April jobs report for just this morning. Two hundred and forty-four thousand jobs have been added, but the unemployment rate rose to 9 percent. Sheryl, what's going on?
STOLBERGWell, what's going on is more people are looking for jobs. But I think that, frankly...
KAYSo that's good news.
STOLBERGThat's good news, but I don't think the American public is going to look at a 9 percent unemployment rate and say, wow, this is great news. More people are looking for jobs.
KAYI mean, as ever with the unemployment numbers...
KAY...it kind of just takes a lot of explanation off the headline.
STOLBERGThat's exactly right. So we went -- we saw it go up from 8.8 percent to 9 percent. I think that is a really, really important threshold for President Obama. When he came into office, he promised that, with his stimulus package, unemployment could remain below 8 percent. I think 8 percent is the threshold, is the number that he has to meet when he's heading for reelection. I think anything above that is trouble for him, and 9 percent is not good.
KAYAlthough I heard an economist this morning, Naftali, saying that the trend is still moving down. Is this is a blip, this number? Or are economists trying to put a bit more of a gloss on this that might be justified?
BENDAVIDNo. I don't think it's a blip. I mean, I think this is actually sort of the way things have been going in the last few months, which is to say they've been getting better, but in a slow and halting way. And the question is whether it's fast enough. And I think most people would say it's not. We also have this weird kind of two-track recovery where corporate profits are often up, but unemployment doesn't go up...
KAYWe've seen huge corporate profits.
BENDAVIDYeah, and employment doesn't go up as fast as you might think because productivity is up. So it's this weird situation where a lot of businesses are doing better, but that's not helping people who don't have jobs. And, you know, just in the last few days, we saw that jobless claims were up. Commodity prices were down. Retail sales were up. I mean, it seems like every week or every month, there's a series of seemingly conflicting economic numbers that come out. And I think it's because this is one of the slowest, rockiest, least smooth recoveries that we've seen.
KAYJohn, we have the job numbers coming out today showing this kind of mixed picture. At the same time, we have Vice President Biden meeting yesterday with congressional negotiations over the debt ceiling. Which is it that the American public is really focused on?
DICKERSONWell their focus -- the American public is focused on jobs. And what's always tricky in coming out of a recovery is -- the reason you have two different numbers here is it's two actual different reports. The jobs numbers, the 244,000 that were increased, is based on payrolls, and economists usually pay more attention to that number. The other number, the rate just comes from the household survey, a smaller sample, and they often diverge when you're coming out of a recovery sometimes because more people are looking for work. Although there are some preliminary reports in this that, in fact, some people are saying that the increase in the unemployment rate did not increase because more people are looking for work.
DICKERSONSo there's still some more peeking through the numbers to figure out exactly why that went back up to nine, but, as Sheryl quite rightly said, that -- when that number goes up, that's the one people focus on. And if that's at nine, that will matter much more in terms of the president's reelection and in terms of the general mood of the country. The country is in a horrible mood in terms of the way what people think about the economy. Eighty percent in a recent CBS poll said the company -- the economy is either bad or very bad. That's just dismal in terms of the way people think about the economy.
DICKERSONThe question about the debt and all of that is a few steps removed from people's daily lives. And the challenge for both the Republicans and the White House is explaining how all of this cutting and reorganizing the shape of government actually affects people in their daily lives and particularly affects their ability to either keep a job or get one.
KAYAnd there are some negotiation about the debt and, also, the Republicans' debt plans this week. Sheryl, we seem to have mixed stories about whether Republicans are or aren't backing away from Medicare proposals that were in Paul Ryan's plan. First of all, The Washington Post is saying that we're backing away. The Republicans are saying, no, no, no, we're not. Now, The New York Times, again, reporting this morning, yes, perhaps we are after all -- the Republicans are.
STOLBERGYes. My newspaper is reporting that perhaps Republicans are backing away. And I think Republicans today are maybe learning a lesson that George Bush learned in 2006 when he proposed overhaul in Social Security, which is that it sounds very nice, but the public doesn't like it. So all of these lawmakers went back home to their districts over the break, and they really fought hard to sell this. But I think it's a bitter pill for the public to swallow, to think that Medicare, a cherished program, is going to be revamped into basically a private insurance program.
STOLBERGAnd perhaps Republicans are getting skittish, I don't know. But they do seemed to be backing away from it and, at least, to be saying that they're not going to tie it to this vote on raising the debt ceiling, which is a very important vote. The Tea Partiers, who came to Washington saying, we've got to stop this out of control spending, are saying we absolutely are not going to raise the debt ceiling. We're not going to allow the government to borrow any more money unless we can extract a price from Democrats and that price being cuts in spending. If cuts in Medicare are not going to be the price, we'll have to see some other price. But that is the next big clash, and we're seeing Vice president Biden trying to resolve it now.
KAYOkay. We're getting emails in on this subject. Greg writes to us, "Why is every..." -- on Facebook -- "Why is every Republican lawmaker now backing away from Ryan's budget plan, which was being touted by everyone, especially in mainstream media outlets such as NPR, as being very courageous?" Naftali.
BENDAVIDWell, it's not that every single Republican lawmaker is backing away, but I think there's very little question that the Republican leadership is saying, we're not going to do this anytime soon. And that's just the political reality. But I think what happened...
KAYBut this was the central tenet of the Paul Ryan plan, right?
BENDAVIDWell, it's certainly the one that got the most attention. I mean, I think -- but I think it's true. I think it's a very sort of dramatic development. It was only a few weeks ago that they were rolling -- they set this out. They were saying that they were going to tackle these difficult issues. There was talk...
KAYBut they voted on it, and only four Republican lawmakers voted against it.
BENDAVIDAbsolutely. It was a big deal, and they made a big deal about how brave they were being and how, finally, after all these years, they were tackling the so-called third rail of politics. They went home for a couple of weeks. They got beaten up on it pretty bad. They came back. And, all of a sudden, it's something that maybe they'll do at some point, but they're certainly not going to touch anytime soon, not going to insist on it. So I think it's a classic thing that we've seen before.
BENDAVIDAnd, by the way, there were some people within the Republican Party who did not want to do what Paul Ryan did and didn't want to roll out this budget in this kind of a way because they knew that there'd be some political danger. And now that seems to be occurring, and so -- I mean, I think, you know, there's a lot of talk about how this is still our position and, you know, we still believe in the Ryan budget. But I think there's really not that much question, that this is something that they've essentially abandoned for now. Even Paul Ryan had sent pretty strong signals that this is not something he's going to push.
DICKERSONSo the political question then is, how much do Democrats -- are Democrats able to remind everybody that this vote was taken early on, on the Ryan budget, and that a number of Republicans were for turning Medicare into essentially a voucher program? When the president spoke a couple of weeks ago in a sort of response to the Ryan plan, that was -- one of the goals of that speech was to kind of put down a big statement that said, this is something we oppose. But if it goes away as quickly as it seems to, after the period where the lawmakers went home, tried to sell it, it didn't wash. If it goes away quickly, the question is then, can Democrats, 18 months from now, say, well, you know, there was this vote 18 months ago and they said they wanted to do this -- will that work as a political weapon?
DICKERSONFinally, I would point out what may make it work is that Paul Ryan, in admitting that it won't pass because they say it won't make it through the Senate, has said, well, then this will be an issue in the 2012 campaign, which means Democrats can say, well, if you want to elect Republicans, do so, but knowing -- do so, knowing that they will then revive this plan they shelved 18 months ago after it didn't sell so well with the American public.
KAYMeanwhile, let's talk a little about this meeting that Vice President Biden had yesterday, this so-called bipartisan meeting -- although I'm not sure that a meeting of eight Democrats and two Republicans really counts as bipartisan, Sheryl -- the vice president's attempt to try and negotiate cuts to the debt.
STOLBERGWell, I think, as we heard Eric Cantor say, after the meeting, we developed a good rapport, which is maybe Washington lingo for we didn't get a whole lot done.
KAYWe did nothing.
STOLBERGRight, exactly. But I do think it's interesting watching Joe Biden, though, frankly, emerge as a very important figure in the Obama administration in dealing with Congress.
STOLBERGWe saw him in the lame duck session in December negotiate the tax cut deal with Republicans. We saw him again last month, averting a budget shutdown. And, now, we're seeing him dispatch to try to deal with this debt ceiling issue and the broader budget issue. And...
KAYIs this because Biden has a better relationship, still, basically with Congress...
STOLBERGI think so, yes. I think that's...
KAY...than the president does, and that the White House recognizes that if they need things smoothing over with Congress and with the Republican leadership, Biden is the person to send out there?
STOLBERGI think that's exactly the reason. Joe Biden spent 36 years in the Senate. He's a very likable person. He has good relationships on both sides of the aisle, deeper relationships in the Senate than in the House, but, still, I think he is somebody that members of Congress feel they can deal with. And he's proved himself a pretty good negotiator in the past. So we'll see what happens this time. I don't think they did get a whole lot done yesterday, though.
KAYNaftali, earlier, Sheryl mentioned the debt ceiling. We should talk a little bit more about that, of course, 'cause we all know this is heading to be a big debate. Republicans are seeking to make some sort of bargain here. What kind of cuts do they want in exchange? Specifically, what kind of cuts are they looking at now? If it's not Medicare, what are they looking at?
BENDAVIDWell, that's exactly what's being worked out. But I think where they're going toward is something that would cut a substantial amount of money from the 2012 budget, particularly in what are called mandatory spending, which has to do with things like farm subsidies and student aid and food stamps and stuff like that. But they're also looking for promises that, in the years beyond 2012, spending won't grow beyond a certain amount. So where it seems like they're going is toward cutting the 2012 budget and then having caps for the years beyond that. And it really should be said that this is a much narrower plan than people were talking about before. When we were talking about...
KAYMedicaid, tax reform left out.
BENDAVIDExactly. We were talking about the Gang of Six, which, by the way, still could come out next week with something that could be very important. But it seems like where we're heading toward is a narrower deal, something that doesn't deal with the tax code, doesn't deal with entitlements, but focuses fairly narrowly on spending and deficits.
KAYOkay. You've joined the Friday News Roundup. This is the domestic hour. I will be opening the phones -- I promise you -- after this short break. 1-800-433-8850 is the phone number, firstname.lastname@example.org. Do stay with us for more on this week's news.
KAYAnd I'm Katty Kay of the BBC. You've joined the Friday News Roundup. Let's go to the phones and to Rich in Arnold, Md. Rich, you've joined the Friday News Roundup. And, nope, Rich doesn't seem to be with us. Let's talk to Joanne. Let's see if we can Joanne in St. Louis, Mo. Joanne, you've joined the Friday -- Joanne, you've joined the Friday News Roundup. No, I seem to think we have -- we seem to have a problem with our phones, so we won't be answering calls just at the moment. But do keep trying, and we will see if we can overcome that technical difficulty.
KAYMeanwhile, luckily, emails are working still. And Dick has written to us from Bowie, Md. Dick, "We hear all the time about the increase in federal spending, creating the yearly budget imbalances and adding to the $14.3 trillion national debt. But what about the federal and state revenue flow over the past 10 years? How has that been affected by the continuing critical economic conditions?" Naftali.
BENDAVIDWell, it's true that, you know, the federal government has tried to help out the states more -- I think this is what the writer is talking about, that as the recession has gone on for some time, the federal government has ended up spending more money on the states, whether through the stimulus program or through other kinds of formula programs and so forth. And so that is a big part of what's going on, but, you know, this is, overall, debate about what caused the deficit. Republicans are out there saying, you know, it was Democratic spending, and therefore if the debt limit is going to be increased, we need to get certain spending cuts in return for agreeing to raise that debt ceiling.
BENDAVIDDemocrats are very quick to say that it was the Republicans under President Bush between the wars and the tax cuts and the Medicare expansion that is responsible for it. So, I think, ultimately, there's a whole lot of things that go into shaping the deficit and to the money that we've spent, and it kind of depends where you're coming from as to what you blame the most. Democrats say, if we hadn't cut taxes so much, Republicans say, if we hadn't been spending so much. And so that's a big part of the debate.
KAYOkay. Let's talk a little about this debate last night in South Carolina. The so-called debate, although a debate where not enough of the big candidates turned up. I don't know about you, John, but it didn't seem to grab a huge amount of attention last night. What did we learn about the Republican field, apart from that it's rather limited?
DICKERSONWell, it's -- we learned that the Republican field really hasn't taken the field yet. I mean, they're all -- you've got -- Mitt Romney did not participate in the debate and neither did Newt Gingrich. We don't know -- Jon Huntsman, the former ambassador to China, is likely to begin his campaign. Well, he may begin it Saturday at a commencement address in South Carolina, an important state there. Mitch Daniels, the governor of Indiana, wasn't there. He may decide to jump in. Mike Huckabee may decide to run again. All of those players I mentioned were not involved.
KAYSo more people were not there...
KAY...than were there.
DICKERSONThe only one who was mentioned kind of in the second tier -- just in the second tier -- would be Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota. He was at the debate, but he was there with Rick Santorum, a former senator who is considered sort of, you know, fourth tier. So the ones -- you know, Ron Paul was also in the debate. He does very well in some polls and in CNN poll. He does the best of all Republican candidates against President Obama. He only loses to Obama by seven points. The rest of the prospective GOP candidates lose by larger margins. But the Ron Paul story is still the same. He gets a big, rousing applause from his audience and his very strong core constituency, but there is a bit of a ceiling to that support.
DICKERSONIf you look at that same CNN poll about support within the Republican Party, Paul doesn't do so well. So we're still waiting for the Republican field to line up. I guess, one other point to make about that debate is that you saw a lot of sort of -- it highlighted some of the strife within the Republican Party in terms of whether to stay in Afghanistan or not, whether torture is a viable method for getting information out of terrorists or not, the role of family values in the Republican conversation, how much they should be a part of the pitch Republicans make to the nation as a whole for why they should be elected to replace Barack Obama. A lot of those fault lines were -- came out last night in this debate.
KAYOkay. And, of course, the winner of the South Carolina primary has gone on to win the Republican nomination in every cycle since 1980. So the fact, Sheryl, this debate, even limited, was held in South Carolina does, perhaps, mean something. We will be coming back after this short break. We will try to make those phones work. 1-800-433-8850 is the number. Do bear with us. And, of course, in the meantime, Facebook, Twitter, email are all still working. We're going to take a quick break.
KAYWelcome back. I'm Katty Kay of the BBC, sitting in for Diane Rehm. And I have an apology to all the callers -- it was totally my fault that the phones were not working earlier. So we will now see if I can make them work. Caroline, you're joining us from Georgia. Caroline, you've joined "The Diane Rehm Show."
CAROLINEYes. Thank you for taking my call. I see a pattern among Republicans. Many were quick to believe that President Obama was not born in the United States, and most Republicans don't believe in the scientific evidence regarding global warming. Now, they are those who don't believe bin Laden is dead. They want photos put out for public display, which could endanger our soldiers. Republicans seem to want proof of everything. But where was they, those same people, when lies about WMDs and connections to 9/11 and Saddam Hussein were running rampant? They never questioned the Bush administration.
BENDAVIDWell, the question of President Obama's birth is something that's been persistent in the Republican Party. I saw a poll just today that suggested that the number of people who believe that he was born elsewhere dropped. And I don't know if that's connected to the bin Laden death or not. As far as the bin Laden photos, I, you know -- I don't think that Republicans are questioning whether or not bin Laden is dead. I think what they're doing is they're saying, we need to make sure the rest of the world, and particularly radical terrorists, know that he's dead. So whether you agree or disagree with that argument, I don't think they are questioning the fact of his death so much.
KAYOkay. Let's go to Brandon in Sparta, N.J. Brandon, you've joined "The Diane Rehm Show."
BRANDONI just want to make a comment about the government releasing images. I feel like a lot of times they say they don't want to release them to protect the public. But I feel like the U.S. public really deserves to -- I don't know -- understand the horrors of war, and releasing images is a good way to do that.
KAYYou know, that's an interesting perspective because that's not something I'd heard before. I'd heard the idea that you release the images to persuade people that Osama bin Laden is dead. But is it a good idea to release photographs so that people know the reality? I mean, to some extent, I suppose that was why President Obama pushed for photographs to be released of the coffins coming back from Afghanistan, wasn't it?
STOLBERGI think that's exactly right. And that is the reason that people were up in arms when President Bush refused to release pictures of coffins, which was that the public was not experiencing, in any visceral way, the cost of war. I do think that, with this bin Laden image, there is another consideration. There are two audiences here. There is the American audience, but there is also the very important overseas audience. And for the very reason that the Obama administration decided to give bin Laden a burial at sea so as to avoid any grave being turned into a shrine, they don't want to give terrorists or people who would attack the United States an image to wave in flags or posters or banners, to use as a rallying cry.
KAYAnd purely in terms of America's national security.
KAYThe White House seems to have decided, in this instance, the foreign audience is more important.
STOLBERGAnd in terms of the safety of our troops because, much like instances where the burning of the Quran has sparked violence overseas, the fear is that this kind of image -- this graphic image of Osama bin Laden shot in the head could really spark that kind of anti-American violence against our people and our troops.
KAYWe're getting a lot of emails, actually, and comments about the photograph. That's interesting in and of itself. Sonia writes to us from Miami. "I see no need to release the photograph. I believe that bin Laden is dead. As a physician, I find DNA test results to be more reliable than a photograph anyway, especially in the age of Photoshop and digital photography. Let skeptics scrutinize DNA result if they need that much convincing. Bin Laden comes from a large family, which includes more than 50 half siblings. Skeptics will be skeptical -- a photograph will not change that." So that's interesting, from a physician's point of view. Let's go to Jim in Newport Township, Ill. Jim, thank you for joining "The Diane Rehm Show" and for waiting.
JIMYes. So what does the situation over the death of Osama bin Laden have to say about what's happened to American society? It seems that we've lowered ourselves to a videogame era sense of justice. I hardly see that the cold-blooded execution of an unarmed man celebratory. You know, for almost 1,000 or 800 years now, since the Magna Carta adoption of 1215, it's been the tradition that the most heinous criminal is entitled to his day in court. The era of Gary Cooper and Gene Autry were -- when they were iconic, the terms good day and justice would never be attached to a situation like this.
KAYJim, I think that's a very interesting point. You raised something that, actually, I've been hearing much more abroad, perhaps, and from a few critics here in the United States, but much fewer, Sheryl, than there have been in other countries. The Archbishop of Canterbury, for example, has weighed in on this and said that he has some concerns about the way bin Laden was killed.
STOLBERGYes. And I think the caller raises two distinct concerns. One is about the way bin Laden was killed, but the other is about the reaction, the celebratory nature of it. And I do know a lot of people here, just in my own life, people I've had conversations with who say that they were, frankly, uncomfortable at the sight of people dancing on his grave, in essence, of celebrating, of jumping for joy, that it was more a moment to be somber, to reflect. Yes. People are glad that he is gone. We've rid of the world of a terrorist, as the president has said, but not really so much cause to celebrate.
KAYAnd Bruce writes to us, actually along those lines, from Dallas, "I'm one of many Americans who feel a measure of relief at bin Laden's departure from the scene. But crowds of Americans in D.C. and N.Y. waiving flags and cheering the violent death of another human being is a little too much."
BENDAVIDBut there also is -- there are more, in a way, you know -- I don't know -- legal, for lack of a better word, question or policy question about whether or not it's the policy of the United States that we go in and when there's an unarmed guy standing there not doing anything, even bin Laden, whether we just blow him away.
KAYAnd this was a confusion this week, another of the confusions that came out the White House.
KAYWhen I spoke to the White House on Monday, an official told me U.S. service personnel are never authorized to kill somebody if they are in a position where that person might be surrendering.
KAYThere is a legal issue here that they are aware of.
BENDAVIDAnd that's become part of the conversation, and it's become trickier because some of the things that they said initially -- like, he was armed and there was a fire fight and so forth -- have been retracted. Now, you're seeing, you know, some defenses against that. There are people who are saying, you know, well, there were guns right nearby, and he could've lunged for one. There are people who are saying he's threatened to blow himself up if he's almost apprehended. And so there could be a suicide in that situation. There are people who just make the argument that he's such an enemy of the United States that any place he is is, in essence, a battlefield.
BENDAVIDAnd -- but, I think, ultimately, the way the vast majority of the public feels is this guy is such a horrible person. He was responsible for the deaths of thousands of people that they're not going to worry so much about the niceties and exactly how he was --
KAYWell, the way the vast majority of the people feel is neither here nor there, really, when it comes to law, right?
BENDAVIDI think that's -- I think that is true. I'm not sure who's going to bring the case. I mean, you know, I think you're right. There's a legal question. I'm not sure it's really going to be fully explored, I guess, is what I'm saying.
DICKERSONWell, and the conditions and facts of this case would've been different if the president -- one of the options before him was whether he would just bomb the house in which bin Laden was living. And we've done that rather regularly with drone strikes. In fact, there was one in Pakistan subsequent to the bin Laden capture.
KAYYes. And why is that -- why are people raising questions about that? That's a very good point.
DICKERSONWell, because it's a -- it's -- you know, the drama is of one Navy SEAL facing another human being. It's your -- it's in a room, and there are -- it's just a closer act of killing than when a bomb is -- and, to some extent, the bomb from the drone or the plane is much more of a push-button war than in this case, where you had a human being making a choice. And, you know, there's not a -- one of the problems is that, you know, not only was there the action going on in a chaotic scene, it's hard to piece together what happened. I mean, bin Laden -- there is -- there's no suggestion that he was -- you know, had his hands up and said I surrender.
DICKERSONAnd there -- and, basically, the narrative we're now getting is essentially that the SEALs had reasons to believe, given some of the initial fire they came under at the beginning of the attack, that this was of live situation, even though after a while, the shots stopped being fired. So it's hard to piece together the exact order of battle because, you know, while soldiers or SEALs may not be told going there and assassinate or kill someone, if they're fired on or had the expectation that they will be, then that changes the dynamic.
KAYAnd, of course, the president's in Kentucky today visiting the base where those Navy SEALs came from. We've got an email from Peter and Laura who write, "Would one of your commentators address former President George Bush's refusal to attend the ceremonies at Ground Zero? Isn't refusing an invitation from the sitting president a major faux pas?" Sheryl.
STOLBERGI actually don't think so. I think it's -- I think President Obama was correct to invite President Bush, and I think President Bush was probably correct to decline for a number of reasons. One, he has said all along that he wants to be private in his post-presidency. He doesn't want to be out there criticizing or commenting on President Obama. And, also, let's face it. Quite frankly, it would be uncomfortable for him. The most triumphal moment of his presidency was standing on top of that pile of rubble with the bull horn, saying, you know, we we're going to -- we hear you and the people who knocked these buildings down are going to hear from all of us soon.
STOLBERGHow would it look for him and how would he feel to go back there, stand beside his successor and have to, basically, tacitly acknowledge that it was President Obama who got bin Laden and not he, President Bush? It would've been awkward for him. And I don't think the White House begrudged him at all, frankly, in his declining their invitation.
BENDAVIDThis also raises another issue, which is that a lot of partisans of the Bush administration have trying -- have been out there a lot, saying, look, a lot of what President Bush did was actually responsible for all this, so...
KAYLaid the ground work.
BENDAVIDYeah, and so you see a lot of comments from Republicans, you know, duly congratulating President Obama but saying that, also, they congratulate President Bush who started all this and so forth. And in a more, in a way, pointed way, it raises the question about these enhanced interrogation techniques. This debate that we've had and, to some degree, had simmered down over whether or not things like water boarding and other harsh tactics did, in fact, contribute to this. And it's kind of raised this issue again, and we're seeing the debate being relitigated.
KAYAnd, again, a little bit of confusion there as well.
BENDAVIDWell, yeah, there's debate about...
KAYBut which interrogations led to which piece of information...
KAY...which led to the courier which led to bin Laden?
BENDAVIDRight. Right. And I think one of the points that people who oppose these tactics make is that you can never say that some piece of information would never have been obtained but for water boarding or something like that. It is a whole series of streams of information that contribute to any action like this. But, certainly, people have emerged, including from the Bush administration to say, look, the things that we did, you know, they paid off in the end.
KAYOkay. Briefly, there's one more piece of news that I wanted to get in. Amidst all of bin Laden news and the unemployment news, the debt ceiling news, House has passed an anti-abortion measure this week, John. It's known as H.R. 3. Exactly what is it? And what does it mean?
DICKERSONWell, it would eliminate tax breaks for insurance providers who cover abortion. And what this is, kind of -- you know, this doesn't have to do with direct federal funding of abortion, which is not allowed. But it would kind of -- it'd be a sideways way to get at insurance companies that provide this service, even if federal money didn't go directly for it. And then it would recodify some federal provisions prohibiting taxpayer funding for abortions. It's not going anywhere. It's not going to pass the Senate. But it is the second already passed through the House of these abortion-related measures, one sponsored by Congressman Mike Pence passed earlier, trying to defund Planned Parenthood. This is -- again, they're not going anywhere.
DICKERSONWhat's interesting about this, though, is that the Medicare provision that we were talking about earlier, the -- one of the things Republicans are saying when they back away from it is they say, well, it's never going to make it through the Senate, so why bother? Well, when it comes to abortion-related measures, they're perfectly happy to bother, even though they know it won't pass through the Senate.
KAYI'm Katty Kay. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And if you'd like to join us, please, do call. 1-800-433-8850 is the phone number. The phones are working. And so send an email to email@example.com. Sheryl, is this House Republicans saying to social conservatives, we hear you, your concern? Were they still on the front burner?
STOLBERGI think it is. I mean, I think we saw, during the recent budget fight, the big debate over defunding of Planned Parenthood, and it almost came to shutting down the government over it, over whether or not Planned Parenthood was going to get federal funds. I think that, despite all of the attention to economic issues and fiscal issues, there is still a strong strain of social conservativism within the Republican Party. There are many people out there who feel these issues of abortion and gay marriage and others are very important and need -- and should not be ignored. And so this is kind of a message to them, saying, you know what, we haven't forgotten you.
KAYLet's go to the phones again to Sarah in Miami, Fla. Sarah, thank you so much for joining "The Diane Rehm Show."
SARAHOh, hi. Thank you for having me.
KAYYou're very welcome.
SARAHI just had a comment. There was a caller a little while ago who had mentioned that -- his opposition to people celebrating on the street. And although I do agree with that, especially when I noticed the age of the people who were celebrating or the people who were fairly young or were very young when it happened, I was -- I had just exited the World Trade Center when the first plane hit. I'm one of these people who do want to see the photos. I'm not one of those people who would -- wanted to run out on the streets, but I was happy.
SARAHAnd I did -- although it may be a bit morbid, I did smile, not because I was happy that someone died, but it's just a small sliver of justice. I mean, unfortunately, his death will bring none of those people back, but, at least, it was something. And at least it was also the idea that the government and the Army hadn't just completely given up on the idea, because I think after 10 years, you start thinking, you know what, they're just in Iraq for oil. They could be -- they're just there for their own gain. And the 9/11 tragedy was just a means to an end.
SARAHSo it is a small piece of justice. The pictures, I personally would like to see them for -- if no other reason, to just -- I don't know, to maybe just close a wound. I'm not really sure. I often question why I was so annoyed yesterday when I found out the president wouldn't release them. But it does give, maybe, a little bit of closure and a little bit of justice. I mean...
KAYSarah, somebody -- as somebody who just survived the attacks of 9/11 -- of course, you were incredibly lucky to get out of the World Trade Center, and you've lived with that for 10 years -- when you heard the news last Sunday night that Osama bin Laden had been killed, how did that make you feel?
SARAHHonestly, the first thing I did was cry and hug my mother. We moved from New York to Miami to get away from that because it was really wreaking havoc with my emotions. But it was a small piece of happiness, and it's sad 'cause it is true what the caller said before. It is a bit morbid, but it's at least some type of justice. And it's stupid because one person won't bring 3,000 back. You know, one person is not going to make my bad dreams go away of people jumping out of the building, which is the hardest thing I've had to deal with.
KAYI'm sure that that's going to -- it's going to be difficult years for you ahead, and very moving to hear you tell your story, Sarah. And we hope that this news has at least brought you some sense of calm, now that you've moved from New York -- the site, of course, of the attacks -- down to Florida. It has been an incredibly busy week here in America, and the president, of course, going up this week to pay tribute to the victims and addressing, of course, people like you as well, Sarah. Naftali Bendavid, national correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Washington correspondent for The New York Times, John Dickerson, chief political correspondent for slate.com and CBS political analyst, thank you all so much for joining me.
KAYYou've been listening to the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup. I'm Katty Kay of the BBC, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks so much for listening.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth and Sarah Ashworth. The engineer is Erin Stamper. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information.
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