Congress expert Norman Ornstein on what the debate over the debt limit says about dysfunction in Congress, and his ideas for how to fix it.
The GOP presidential field narrowed after Mike Huckabee and Donald Trump dropped out. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich came under fire for his statements on the Ryan medicare reform plan. Senate Democrats said they weren’t ready to move ahead with a 2012 budget plan. The bipartisan gang of six that was working on its own budget compromise lost a key member. And Senate Republicans blocked Obama federal appeals court nominee, Goodwin Liu.
- Steve Roberts Syndicated columnist and journalism professor at George Washington University.
- Susan Davis Congressional correspondent, National Journal.
- Ron Elving Washington editor for NPR.
News Roundup Video
The panelists discuss the revelations that came to light earlier in the week about former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s affair with a housekeeper more than a decade ago and the child that resulted from the relationship:
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. A busy week for GOP politicians with their sights on the White House. Senate Republicans defeated a bill to end tax breaks for oil companies. They also blocked an Obama administration judicial nominee. Treasury Secretary Geithner took heat for changing debt ceiling projections. And movie star turned governor Arnold Schwarzenegger admitted infidelity.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me to talk about the week's top national stories on the Friday News Roundup, syndicated columnist Steve Roberts, Susan Davis of National Journal and Ron Elving of NPR. Do join us, your questions, your thoughts, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Feel free to join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning, everybody.
PROF. STEVE ROBERTSGood morning.
MR. RON ELVINGGood morning, Diane.
REHMWell, Ron Elving, how is the Republican slate shaping up for 2012?
ELVINGNot shaping up so much as slimming down, I would say, at this point. Since last Friday, we've seen the breathtaking announcement that Donald Trump was not a serious candidate for president. We have also heard from Mike Huckabee, who said that, despite the fact that all the signs were telling him he should run, his heart said no. So he shan't.
ELVINGAnd, also, we have watched Newt Gingrich all but burn his own candidacy down in its first official week with an extraordinary declaration of war on "Meet the Press" last Sunday on Paul Ryan's planning on Medicare, which he has been backing off of all week long to the point where he has finally said to Rush Limbaugh yesterday, well, I wasn't talking about Paul Ryan, even though the question had twice been specifically put in terms of Paul Ryan's Medicare plan.
ELVINGAnd, well, he's had so many different explanations and had so many different things to say that are going to be on the laugh meter for quite some time. And it's hard to see if you're taking him even as seriously as they had taken him heretofore.
REHMAnd, Susan, there was one thing he didn't want to talk about, which was a $250 to $500,000 bill at Tiffany's going back to, what, 2006?
MS. SUSAN DAVISIt was a financial disclosure form from 2006 that showed a debt to Tiffany's, the jewelry store. And when asked about it, Gingrich just said, I don't want to talk about it, which may work in the short term, but in the long term is not probably going to hold up.
REHMAnd yesterday, Steve Roberts, somebody on this program said, I know who Chris Cillizza is going to say had the worst week in Washington.
ROBERTSWell, I've known Newt Gingrich a long time. I covered him for many years on Capitol Hill. He's a brilliant political strategist, but he's always been a lousy leader, you know? He's a guerilla fighter. He's great in the jungle, circling the troops. You capture the palace. He doesn't know what to do with it. And he's also a very undisciplined man. And, you know, what we're seeing is the clash between the cable TV culture and the political culture.
ROBERTSWhen you're in cable TV or talk radio, you exaggerate for effect because that's how you get invited onto the shows and that's how you boost ratings and that's how you boost click-throughs. You get on as a serious presidential candidate and suddenly your words take on a very, very different meaning. They're scrutinized in a very different way.
ROBERTSAnd the most experienced people in Washington, including Gingrich, really have no idea what it's like to actually run for president until you've been under that microscope, and your words suddenly are subjected to so much more serious scrutiny. And I think that's part of what's happened to him.
ELVINGAnd, you know, it's fine to use that kind of overheated rhetoric as long as you always keep it directed at the ultimate other target in the other party, in this case President Obama. And all week long, Gingrich has been saying, no, no, what I really meant to say was President Obama is a social engineer. President Obama is radical. That's what I really was saying. And so Rush Limbaugh asked him, why did you call Paul Ryan to apologize if you were really talking about President Obama? And that's a pretty good question.
ELVINGI think if you just talk about the other side in this way, you're still going to be able to get away with it as a presidential candidate. But when you start directing that, not just at rival candidates for the presidency, but, in this case, at a rival candidate to be the intellectual leader of the Republican Party on the subject of Medicare, Paul Ryan has really taken that over from Newt Gingrich. And Newt doesn't like it. That's what he was reacting to on Sunday.
REHMBut, Susan, nevertheless, thousands of people turned out in Iowa to see Newt.
DAVISNewt is an incredibly compelling figure. I think you're exactly right. He's seen as someone who is this intellectual force in the Republican Party. He's got an idea -- a mile a minute, his mind works. But what I think that Washington was reminded of this week is exactly who Newt Gingrich is. Now, I think, outside the Beltway -- I'm not sure this really matters -- regular American voters, I still don't think they're as tuned in to the presidential race as we are.
DAVISBut why I do think it matters is the Republican establishment, the strategists, the fundraisers, the donors that are paying attention and still figuring out who to get behind, I think Gingrich closed that door for a lot of them this week.
ROBERTSThe other dimension about Gingrich is he was speaking vicious truths. He was actually saying what a lot of Republicans believe privately, which is that the Ryan plan is far too drastic a reform. It can't work politically. It can't work practically. Obama learned that lesson during the heath care debate for two years when he tried to reform health care. And I think that Newt has always been something of a pragmatist as opposed to an orthodox conservative.
ROBERTSWhen he was in -- the speaker, he used to refer sneeringly to some of his more conservative members as the perfectionist caucus, was the phrase he used. And so he has never been a down-the-line orthodox, and part of what we're seeing is, within the Republican Party today, there's a whole network of websites and interest groups who are enforcing party orthodoxy. And if you stray, you are going to get lambasted, and that's part of what happened to him this week.
REHMWhat's happening then with Republican moderates, Susan?
DAVISLook, I think the question is where are the Republican moderates? I don't think that there is a recognizable moderate in the field anymore. The closest you would get to that in their presidential field is probably Jon Huntsman, at this point. And I think he's someone -- he's got a moderate record on the stimulus, on immigration, on gay marriage. And this is a record that he is now running away from in pursuit of the nomination.
DAVISThere's not a lot of room for moderation when you're running for a party nomination. In the general election, perhaps, but, right now, there's not a lot of room for it.
ELVINGYes. That's the dilemma between the general election and the primary. And Jon Huntsman, right now, might even qualify as a bit of a liberal Republican based on the issues that...
ELVING... Susan just mentioned. Maybe Mitch Daniels could be called a moderate, if he should get in, which he has not yet, and the betting is still on both sides. So we don't know if Mitch Daniels (word?). If he does, then maybe he would echo a little bit of what Steve was remembering about Gingrich in the '80s and '90s, rather, saying they were perfectionists. You remember Mitch Daniels told CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, earlier this year, that there really shouldn't be a devotion at the level of what he called the suicide bomber.
ELVINGThat's not what we want to be. Let's not be such ideological people that we're like the suicide bombers. Well, some people didn't take that particular remark very well either, and that is the tension right now among Republicans. How far do we want to go in our Tea Party direction? And the Tea Party is really kind of calling the tune to a large degree.
REHMSusan, what about Sarah Palin? We hear she's raising tons of money. But is she going to be in the race?
DAVISShe refueled speculation this week 'cause her political action committee sent out a mailer and saying, 2012 can't come fast enough, and donate to the Sarah Palin cause. I think any Republican who is honest will tell you they have no idea if she's in or out. I don't think that -- she doesn't have the kind of circle around her that lends itself to leaks and tip offs. The bottom line is I don't think we know.
DAVISAnd with the name recognition and the ability she has -- the clock is ticking, certainly, 'cause we are getting into this. But the only person who knows if she's going to run for president is Sarah Palin.
ROBERTSAnd I think that, in the end, she won't run because, in the end, I think she'll make the same judgment that Mike Huckabee and Donald Trump made. She's basically a reality TV star playing a presidential candidate. That's what Donald Trump was. He wasn't ever really serious. And he fueled speculation to boost his ratings. And then, as we -- as Ron said, did what everybody expected him to do, was pull out.
ROBERTSHuckabee was in a similar position. Huckabee runs his own TV show. He's making a lot of money. He sells books. He's a star of what I call Fox world, right? There's this whole world. You're on Fox. You sell books to Fox supporters. You make speeches and get paid a lot of money. It's a wonderful life, and Huckabee is there and Trump is there. And I think Palin, in the end, is going to be very comfortable being a star of Fox world.
REHMTwo people who aren't there are Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann. Where are they, Susan?
DAVISI will say one of the most significant bits of news in the presidential -- Republican presidential field this week came Monday, when Mitt Romney raised $10.25 million in a single day. You know, at the end of the day, money still matters a tremendous amount in this race. Barack Obama raised $850 million in his 2008 race. By nature, elections don't get cheaper the next time around. So whoever the Republican nominee is going to be, they're going to have to probably opt out of the public finances some.
ROBERTSBut here's a good tip-off on Romney's failure to stir up much enthusiasm. Google has a metric now where they measure searches, word searches, and it's a one to 100 scale. Donald Trump on the scale over a month between mid-April and mid-May ranked at 37 in terms of internet searches. Sarah Palin was at 11. Mitt Romney was at three. That meant 10 times as many people searched for Donald Trump's name as they searched for Mitt Romney's name.
ELVINGThat's right. He just doesn't generate a lot of excitement. He doesn't generate a lot of curiosity. He can raise money, but the other thing that he generates is controversy over, well, what we have to call Romneycare. If we're going to call it Obamacare, we have to call it Romneycare. And the plan that he came up with in Massachusetts when he was governor became, largely, the template for what the Democrats did when they got the power to do it in the Obama presidency in terms of health care.
ELVINGAnd it had an individual mandate in it. And even though it was only limited to the state of Massachusetts, it was, in every other respect, very much in the spirit of what was done. And that set off, to a large degree, the Tea Party movement. So this is a very difficult thing to sell to the mood that is the current mood of the Republican Party.
REHMWhat about -- pardon me -- Michele Bachmann?
ELVINGMichele Bachmann is waiting to see, to some degree, what Sarah Palin is going to do. I think she keeps taking another step forward, waiting to see if Sarah Palin will get in. When Sarah Palin doesn't -- and I think Steve's exactly right about what's going on in Sarah Palin's mind -- and every time Michele Bachmann takes another step forward and Sarah Palin doesn't react, Michele Bachmann takes another step forward. I think that's going to lead her all the way into a candidacy.
ROBERTSBut she is going to fall prey to exactly the same problem as Gingrich is. She's a TV personality, given to outrageous statements which work for the party faithful, but not as a serious presidential candidate.
REHMSyndicated columnist Steve Roberts, he's also journalism professor at George Washington University. Short break, we'll be right back.
REHMWelcome back to the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup this week with Susan Davis. She's congressional correspondent at National Journal. Ron Elving is Washington editor for NPR. And syndicated columnist Steve Roberts. I want to go back to Newt Gingrich and this Tiffany obligation for a moment. How do we know whether this hasn't already been paid off, Ron?
ELVINGWe don't know. We don't know. The Gingriches have not chosen to explain it. They have chosen not to discuss it. And maybe that is the smart thing to do politically because maybe there really isn't a good way to make this situation any better by talking about it more. So maybe they've paid it all off. Maybe it's still revolving. Maybe, as Susan was suggesting a moment ago, they were just buying a lot of Tiffany paperweights for the campaign. But that doesn't seem to be likely. If there were some kind of logical political explanation for it, I suspect we would have heard it.
REHMSteve, you said this kind of behavior has happened before.
ROBERTSIt has. Newt has a long history of sort of commingling funds when he -- he got in serious trouble with the House of Representatives when he was speaker because he spent all of this money on -- he had an elaborate communication set up. He would speak on satellites, and he ran a course. It was part of a brilliant strategy to create a conservative movement around the country. But he used a lot of funds in shady ways, and it was part of the indictment. Part of the reason he got pushed out as speaker was his very sloppy use of money. So this is part of his past.
ELVINGYou know, another reason he got pushed out as speaker is that all the way through the impeachment process in 1998, while President Clinton was being essentially impeached for an affair with an -- well, an employee, shall we say, at the White House, an intern. During that period of time, Newt Gingrich was having an affair with a staff member in the House who is now his wife. That is, to some degree, brought back by this Tiffany tab because we assume it isn't paperweights, and we assume it isn't all for ties, although Tiffany, I believe, does sell neckties.
ELVINGI don't believe those were for the candidate. I think we all assume that this has something to do with his wife. And, therefore, it brings back that whole memory at a time when he himself is very much trying to make Callista, his wife, the, shall we say, the showpiece of her -- of his campaign. She's all over the website. She's there with him in all his public appearances. She's been doing very well as a public figure and a supporter to her husband. And he's trying to essentially defang the issue of her being his third wife by making her very prominent in his campaign.
REHMAll right. I want to move on to the vote in the Senate on tax subsidies for oil companies. What happened, Susan?
DAVISThere was two bills this week. There was a Democratic bill and a Republican bill. Essentially, the Democratic bill would have -- both trying to address the issue of gas prices in their own way. Neither would accomplish that in either event. The Democratic bill would have eliminated subsidies for oil companies that receive upwards of $4 billion a year in tax expenditures. And the Republican bill would have basically expanded the U.S. ability to -- for offshore drilling. The key thing to remember about these two bills is neither would have done anything to address gas prices in the short term.
DAVISEnergy policy, by nature, is not a short-term fix. There's really nothing -- there's no legislative strategy that really exists that's going to make the price of the pump go down by Memorial Day weekend when a lot of Americans start their vacation seasons. Energy policy is a 10-, 15-year goal. What these did do was provide both sides with messaging. These are purely political votes. Already, we've seen Democrats go on the air on both House and Senate races, accusing the Grand Oil Party, they're saying, defending oil companies, standing with oil companies.
DAVISAnd this has given Republicans ammunition to say, we've tried to expand drilling to make it easier, and they wouldn't -- and they didn't let us. So it gave both sides sort of some amount of political ammunition. But in terms of what it would actually do for gas prices, it was nil.
ROBERTSIt was a total phony from the beginning. Everybody knew that. This is very common in the -- as an election season starts heating up, where both parties try to create votes that provide embarrassing ammunition. As Susan said, the Republicans have already sent out press releases, attacking senators like Sherrod Brown of Ohio who's up for re-election. Democrats have already sent out fundraising letters, saying, see, the Democrats and the Republicans are in the pocket of big oil. It is a total political charade. That's all it is.
REHMWill this be an election issue at all?
ELVINGIt depends on where the price of gasoline is one year from now and 14 months from now, 16 months from now. That's what really matters, is the degree to which the voters are going to the polls motivated primarily by their anger over gas prices. I think there will probably be quite a number of issues that have voters riled by the time we get to the fall of 2012.
ROBERTSYeah, there are two numbers that matter in American politics right now: the number nine and the number four -- 9 percent unemployment and $4 gasoline. And those are two numbers that hang over the Democrats very much.
REHMThere's another number, and that is that the U.S. reached the legal limit on the -- how much it can actually borrow. Somehow, the goalpost keeps moving. What's going on here?
ELVINGThe goalpost does not necessarily move, but the way we relate to the end zone perhaps moved. That figure, I think -- and I really worked hard at memorizing this -- it's $14.294 trillion. That is the Congress-passed, President-signed authority of the U.S. government to continue borrowing. And it goes back into the early years of 2009, I believe, is when we set that particular number.
ELVINGNow, the debt limit is something that goes back to 1917 when they were trying to sell bonds for World War I. And this was Congress' way of trying to restrain, a little bit, the use of debt to pay for that war. And we have lifted the U.S. debt limit, which, I believe, was originally something like $11 billion. We've raised it almost 100 times. We've raised it 74 times since 1962. This has been fairly routine.
ELVINGFor a while, it was cranked right into the budget vote. They didn't even have a separate vote on raising the debt limit. But the Republicans, when they took over the House in '95 and, again, when they took over the House just most recently, have said, no, we want separate votes. We want a separate vote on the budget, and we want a separate vote on raising the U.S. debt limit because they clearly saw that there was great leverage in having this vote and forcing the Democrats to cut spending, in essence, or raise taxes.
ELVINGAnd, of course, they, the Republicans, refuse to do that. So anything you're going to do to reduce the deficit is going to have to involve at least a certain amount of spending cuts. And that's what the Republicans are doing.
REHMBut Secretary of the Treasury Geithner and Fed Chair Ben Bernanke said earlier, if you don't raise the debt limit, you've got big problems by May 1 or 2, what that original date was. Now, the deadline's been stretched to August the 2nd, with some borrowing done here. I don't understand...
ROBERTSWell, it's a very imprecise judgment. You know, they can always find money somewhere. There's one congressman who said, sell Utah, you know, as a way of -- that Utah -- 70 percent of Utah is owned by the federal government. He said that. And so it's an imprecise calculation. Two things are true. One is they're absolutely right that this is very important, if -- the ability of the United States to finance this debt is dependent on confidence abroad...
ROBERTS...that we're going to pay our bills. And if there's any question that we're not going to pay our bills, starting with China and many other governments who buy American debt every day start to lose confidence. But the -- but some -- Geithner, who is being almost too professional in the sense that the figure does keep moving, and he's now changed it four times. And he is undercutting his own credibility. As one Democrat said this week, you know, you can only cry wolf so many times.
ROBERTSAnd I think that they're undercutting the seriousness of their own point by keeping -- to move this figure. And now you're growing -- you're leaving room here in this space and cable TV for the debt deniers, the equivalent of the climate change deniers who say it's not really a problem. After all, it is a problem, but Geithner is not helping matters by changing the deadline every few weeks.
REHMBut then if you borrow from one pocket, how do you repay that pocket, Susan?
DAVISWell, I mean, I think a lot of the Treasury funds are fungible. You know, you can move money from accounts to accounts. I mean, there's tricky accounting by way they can do this. I think the latest deadline has been moved to early August. What I do think is interesting is you increasingly do hear an argument coming from Republicans in Congress that say, it would not be the worst thing if we don't meet the deadline outlined by Timothy Geithner and that -- one of the things that we've heard recently -- and I've heard several Republicans cite this.
DAVISThere's an argument made by Stanley Druckenmiller. He's a famed investor, was a money manager for George Soros, who gave a widely publicized interview with The Wall Street Journal recently. And he said, the more dangerous thing that the -- the investment world would not be shaken if it was, you know, a six, seven, eight, nine, 10 delay because, I think, at the end of the day, everyone realizes the debt limit is going to be increased.
DAVISNo one really has questioned that it's going to happen eventually. The -- it's far more dangerous to just raise it and not actually address the big question of our -- the nation's debt. If you don't address entitlements, if you don't address the spending equation, then that would rattle the investment world far greater than letting the deadline pass by days or weeks.
REHMBut, in the meantime, you had thing Gang of Six working to try to rearrange the chairs, and you had Tom Coburn quit.
ELVINGYes. A number of people had a lot of faith in the Gang of Six, those of us who think that the way that the Senate is supposed to work is for these people to get to know each other across the aisle and actually cooperate at times, in the interest of the country and in matters of crisis. And, I think, we can all agree, this is one. And it also came out of the Simpson-Bowles commission, which was the president's own commission. Four senators served on that and moved over to the Gang of Six.
ELVINGThey were, in some senses, recruited by Saxby Chambliss, a Republican from Georgia, very conservative, and by Mark Warner, a first-term senator from Virginia, a Democrat. And Chambliss and Warner really had something going, I think. They recruited these guys from Simpson-Bowles. They said, look, you guys were in favor of a balanced approach, higher revenues, lots of deep, deep spending cuts, including doing entitlements, including to the things that are religion for Democrats. But it would violate the no-tax pledge that is religion for Republicans. And so they were going to get something. I think they made a lot of progress.
ELVINGI think, over the weeks, that they really did get to something that would have been enormously significant. But, in the end, when they got down to it, the actual tradeoff between how much in tax increases revenues and how much in entitlement cuts, particularly to Medicare, because that has become so hot because of the Paul Ryan debate and the Newt Gingrich debate, by the time they got right down to it, Tom Coburn, who was perhaps the most conservative of the three Republicans and certainly the guy who has been seen as sort of the most libertarian of the group and a contrarian, too, in all those years in Congress, he pulled out at the last moment.
ELVINGThere were a number of reasons why he did. There are personal things involved. There are political crossfire, things on him, and it's not clear that the Gang of Six could have gotten the other 94 senators to go along with whatever they were doing. But they were a potential breakthrough. And now it looks like, as a gang of five, they're not going to have (unintelligible).
ROBERTSBut, Tom -- part of what we're also seeing -- you talked about this in terms of Gingrich's comments on the Paul Ryan budget. There is, in the Republican Party today, a network of purists who enforce party orthodoxy. And Tom Coburn was trying very hard to be flexible. He was trying very hard to say, any deal has got to include revenues. And he got lambasted for this day after day, so was Saxby Chambliss.
ROBERTSSaxby Chambliss, the Republican, has been called, in his own district -- there's redstate.com, one of the big conservative blogs. He was called a backstabber by Erick Erickson, who is the head of redstate.com. Tom Coburn was attacked by Grover Norquist, the leader of the anti-tax forces, saying he was being mugged by the Democrat. The worst thing that Erick Erickson could say about Saxby Chambliss this week was he's become Mr. Centrist.
ROBERTSSo what is happening -- the sin that they are committing in the eyes of the purists is they're talking to Democrats, and they're actually thinking about a compromise. And that is heresy in the Republican Party today.
REHMSyndicated columnist Steve Roberts, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." So are we going to move forward on this or is there no chance, Susan?
DAVISI wouldn't say there's no chance, but I think Coburn leaving really was a really bad sign of -- and in part -- and I think you hit on this exactly right, is that the political imbalance was just too apparent, that the anti-tax sentiment and strength from the Republican Party was just simply too strong. Where on the Democratic side, and including in the White House, a lot of Democrats want to prove that they're -- they can support spending cuts right now.
DAVISThey were a little bit more willing to dance on this issue, except when it came to Medicare. I think what was -- kind of blew it apart in the end was Coburn wanted deeper cuts in the Medicare system than Richard Durbin, a liberal in the Senate, was willing to give. I do think that this shifts renewed pressure to, I guess, what we would informally call the Biden commission, which is the commission that the president has asked -- led by Vice President Joe Biden to create a deal for the debt ceiling.
DAVISWhat are we going to negotiate on the debt ceiling to pass that? I think that that might now supplant whatever the Gang of Six was doing, especially because, yesterday, Kent Conrad, who is the Democrat, who's the chairman of the budget committee, suggested that it would be unlikely that the Senate Democrats would move forward with a budget resolution and that they were going to wait and see what the Biden commission came up with.
REHMAll right. And we've had two major sex scandals in this country this week, Schwarzenegger acknowledging -- governor of California, just out of office, acknowledging that, before he was elected, he had a relationship with a woman living in his home, a housekeeper, had a child by her. The child was a son born within a week of the time Maria Shriver herself gave birth.
ELVINGThis is, I suppose, shocking to many people. It may not be quite so shocking to people who were around in California at the time that Arnold Schwarzenegger emerged as a political figure, as opposed to an entertainment figure, and wanted to be governor of California in the midst of the recall of Gray Davis. Los Angeles Times published a story at the time that was a rather conclusive story about the behavior of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
ROBERTSRight on the eve of the election, they published it, right.
ELVINGRight on the eve of election, which, to some degree, undercut them because it made it look like it was a politically motivated attack. But there had also been a lot of other journalism leading up to this. And in today's environment, with blogs and the internet being as dominant as it's become, I wonder if it wouldn't have been much more viral for weeks and months beforehand. But a lot of people knew that Arnold Schwarzenegger was like some other people -- and I think we can draw some analogies here in the next few minutes -- and possessed of a sense of entitlement that really knew no bounds.
ELVINGAnd I think we've seen now, with what he has admitted to in terms of his own household, just how unbounded it was. So this was pretty thoroughly reported. At the time, Maria Shriver went very public and said, no, that's not my husband. You don't understand. He's being unjustly accused, and I stand by him. And he's just fine, and he's not some kind of a monster. And that was highly effective. His poll numbers went up. He was elected governor of California. He was reelected, served a couple of terms, not entirely effective.
ROBERTSNow, the Republicans in the state have largely disowned him, even before this incident, just over other issues. And so he had no political future anyway. It's hard to remember this. But in 2005, after he gave the best received speech at the 2004 Republican National Convention, people were saying, hey, couldn't we change the Constitution to make people born in foreign countries eligible to be president of the United States? And that was called the Schwarzenegger Amendment.
DAVISIt's hard -- I mean, obviously, I also think not only with the IMF scandal but also John Ensign, the senator from Nevada. In this very short period of time, we've just had this sort of trio of -- I think it just goes to -- it's sort of this common theme in Republican or not -- excuse me -- not Republican politics but in politics in general. I think we see it almost every -- there's a seven flow to it. I mean, I think, John Edwards in the -- during the 2008 campaign. I mean, there's just this persistent behavior. And I think the question is why did they do it? It's 'cause they could.
REHMEntitlement sounds like the issue and the feeling thereof. Short break. When we come back, your calls, your email. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd it's time to open the phones. First, to Little Rock, Ark. Good morning, David. You're on the air.
DAVIDGood morning, Diane. Hi. I've loved listening to your show for many years now. I consider myself a much better informed individual for having listened and participated...
DAVID...in your shows. But when I hear you discussing these candidates like -- or so-called potential candidates like Gingrich and Huckabee and Palin, you know, these people have no interest in elected office. They -- but they have an interest in making a lot of money off of being a potential candidate and throwing these verbal zingers out. And I just think that they're not worth your time or mine to use -- to discuss on National Public Radio.
DAVIDSomebody like Jon Huntsman, you know, he's a potential candidate. Let's talk about him. But these pseudo-candidates that are just using a candidacy to jack up their ratings and make more money, I think we should just put them aside and let them run their course on the commercial national media. Thank you.
REHMThanks for calling, David. Is that a fair characterization of these folks who he says are not really interested in running, they just want the money, Steve?
ROBERTSI think, up to a point, it is a fair characterization. It's certainly true with Donald Trump. We don't know what Sarah Palin is going to do. Huckabee, I think, was a serious man who had -- who made a serious decision. But bottom line is political reporters are caught here. I mentioned those figures earlier, about the fact that 10 times as many Americans put in Trump name in the search engines than Mitt Romney.
ROBERTSNow, on one hand, we could sit here, I think, fairly as political reporters and say Romney is a serious person in the way that Trump is not. His proposals are more serious, worth our discussion. But Americans -- 10 times more Americans are putting Trump's name in, so that forces us also to pay attention to the phenomenon...
REHMMaybe it's just curiosity.
ROBERTSSure it is. But it also forces us to pay attention to him, hopefully critically and not take him -- you just swallow him seriously. I think the coverage of Trump was pretty critical, even while it was quite pervasive.
REHMThe AP is reporting that former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is running for the GOP presidential nomination. He will announce his bid in Iowa on Monday. That's according to an adviser with direct knowledge of his plans.
ELVINGYou know, it's amazing what passes for urgent sometimes on the wires. I think it would have been a news story if we have been told that Tim Pawlenty was not running for president. He has been running for president pretty much full time now since he left the governorship of Minnesota. Some people might say even earlier. And he certainly would like to at least be on the ticket.
ELVINGI think he's going to be more of a force in this race than one might have thought a year or so ago as some of these other candidates fall by the wayside. He does have a somewhat moderate reputation that will hurt him, that will be a problem in some of these primaries. But he comes from Minnesota, right next door to Iowa, especially if Michele Bachmann does not run. Now, he's got to share that with Michele, who's from Minnesota, if she runs.
ELVINGBut Iowa is his backyard. If he has it to himself -- much like Walter Mondale in 1984 -- that could be a real plus for him. If he can win a state with a reputation with -- for social conservatism and where the Tea Party is a factor, then he can really burnish his credentials as an honest-to-God, really crusading kind of conservative, which is what the party -- at least in the primary -- is looking for.
REHMAll right. To John in Strafford, Vt. Good morning.
JOHNGood morning. A provision for raising the debt limit that would guarantee future deficit reductions would be to adopt the SaveGo strategy proposed by Pete Domenici and Alice Rivlin for dealing with the deficit. It would seem that a mutually agreed upon deficit reduction target with this fallback across the board solution could then provide space for competing deficit reduction plans between the two parties in the next election. I was wondering if your commentators could comment.
ROBERTSI think he's right in the sense that you can see the outlines of a compromise. We're faced with two realities, one is that everybody knows the debt ceiling has got to be raised, and no one can figure out how to do it. And the emerging bridge between those two truths is some trigger, some mechanism which promises to reduce the deficit in the future if targets are not met. So you avoid -- we were saying earlier the Democrats have not put forth their own budget plan 'cause they don't want to say the word taxes publicly and force their people to vote for it.
ROBERTSSo this would be a way of saying we've solved the problem without putting any specifics down, which would incur the wrath of the voters in the fall. So I think that the caller is basically outlining the direction it's going to go.
REHMAll right. Here's an email from Mike in St. Louis, who says, "Eliminating the subsidies for big oil or any large, profitable company is not about the price of gas at the pump. In this deficit-cutting mood of the nation, it should be a principle that large profitable companies do not need, nor should they get, tax subsidies." Susan.
DAVISI think that's right. And I do think, even among Republican leaders in Congress, I think, there is some sympathy to that sentiment. House Speaker John Boehner has said publicly, oil companies, we have to take and look at and see if they're paying their fair share. What I do think that they're talking about in -- from the Republican side -- Democrats say, we should just eliminate the subsidies. They just shouldn't get them, and we should put it towards deficit reduction. Republicans say, if we eliminate these subsidies, you're just going to feel it one way or another. The corporations don't pay taxes. They just pass that cost on to their consumers who buy their goods.
DAVISWhat they're saying is we -- maybe we should eliminate these subsidies 'cause in a way it amounts to corporate welfare -- I think Republicans would call it - and that you would take -- if you eliminate these subsidies, you would apply it to lowering the corporate tax rate, that you eliminate sort of the special interests and then lower rates and that that is one way that you would get out of it. Where Democrats, of course, say, no, we don't -- corporations don't need to pay less taxes. They should probably be paying more taxes.
REHMAnd here's a message posted on Facebook from Jonathan, who says, "Thank you for asking where the moderate Republicans are. I, as a moderate Republican, have felt less and less represented and more and more alienated for the last several years."
ELVINGThe direction of the Republican Party -- I don't think anyone would question -- has been back toward its hardcore base. And that's domestic policy, foreign policy. It's fiscal policy. It's social policy. And the only question is, at this point, are they going to go so far in that direction that they isolate themselves?
ROBERTSYou know, for years, as southern Democrats -- southern conservative Democrats left the party, what did they say? I didn't leave my party. My party left me. Now, moderate Republicans, like our listener, are saying almost exactly the same words. People like Lincoln Chafee, elected as a Republican, left the party, ran as an independent in Rhode Island. He's a template for what's happened to a lot of people like our caller.
REHMAnd here's from Mark in Little Rock, who says, "Susan is right. There are no moderate Republicans left. The question is will the Tea Party be able to dominate a presidential election the way they did in 2010 midterms?" Susan.
DAVISThat's a great question. I do think it will be a curious test because of the way the primary system works. And, I think, when you look at the early states, particularly Iowa and New Hampshire, these are two states that have a pretty fervent Tea Party activist base in them -- South Carolina probably also, to a certain extent. I don't know if there's any states that the Republican primary has to go through that you could say doesn't have a Tea Party contingency.
DAVISThe thing I would say to that is when you do have such a wide field, that vote does tend to be fractured, that the Tea Party vote could be split apart, a Bachmann candidacy, a Santorum candidacy, and that that might lend itself to a candidate like Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty running up the middle.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Woodstock, Ill. Good morning, Lydia.
LYDIAGood morning. I want to request that reporters resist the temptation to script Mr. Gingrich as a lonely Newt. He's got tentacles that are out there currently, not only in the Republican Party but the Tea Party and Citizens United as well. His key lieutenants, according to a fascinating article in The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 18, 1995, David Rogers authored it, are Dick Armey. He's formed the Tea Party, in many ways. His assistant, Virginia Thomas, Clarence Thomas' wife, was part of that.
LYDIAShe's helped formulate the Tea Party. Mr. Gingrich had SAG, which was Speaker's Advisory Group. And among the people on that were Mr. Boehner, who now has the House. The House was essential...
REHMOkay, Lydia, I'm afraid you're fading out on us. Ron.
ELVINGDavid Rogers, wonderful reporter, did a story back in 1995, when we were all still really being introduced to a lot of these names, about how interconnected they were and how they had all come from a movement that was essentially an anti-Bill Clinton spirit in the early 1990s, led to the takeover of Congress by Republicans in the House and Senate in 1994 elections, and then they really took over in '95. So we were just getting introduced to a lot of these people. And, yes, they did have a lot of connections.
ELVINGNow, over the last 16 years, a lot of those folks have gone off in some very different directions from each other and don't really have much to do with each other anymore. But the caller is quite right to suggest that Newt Gingrich sits atop a group of subsidiaries. I believe Steve alluded to this earlier. He has many, many, many different organizations, some of which pay some of his bills, some of which are responsible for some of his time, and it gets very confusing. It may have something to do...
ROBERTSNewt Inc. works as a fount of ideas, to sell books, to go on the lecture circuit, to be on the Rush Limbaugh Show, to be on Fox News -- all of that works. You get into presidential politics -- I don't care how many tentacles you have. If you can't sell yourself as a leader and as a reliable, credible person, all the tentacles don't matter. And I think that's what we're seeing this week.
REHMLet me ask about the judicial nominee that the Obama administration put forward, Berkeley Law Prof. Liu. And, apparently, he had been nominated for a federal court's opening. What happened, Steve?
ROBERTSWell, Goodwin Liu is a professor who -- a very outspoken man. And there's an opening on the Ninth Circuit, a very important federal court. And there has been a deal in place for -- now for years between Democrats and Republicans, that they would not filibuster judicial nominations. In fact, several other Republicans who voted against Liu, starting with Lamar Alexander, the number three Republican in the Senate, said, I will never, never filibuster judicial nomination.
ROBERTSWell, what led to them breaking that pledge? I think two things: One is Liu is a particularly incendiary figure. When Alito was nominated, he testified in very personal and angry terms about Alito. And his words...
ROBERTS...and got thrown back in his face. But, also, it's a reflection of something we've been talking about all morning. The lines have hardened so much. The trust has been so decreased. The sense of -- the absence of moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats. In the last Congress, there wasn't a single senator, not one, according to National Journal, who voted in the middle between the two parties. The most liberal Republican was more conservative than the most conservative Democrat.
ROBERTSAnd so there's not one single senator in the middle. When you're talking about a Senate like that, who are the bridge builders? And Liu, to some extent, the only worst enemy, some of those comments he made, but his -- stopping him is also a reflection of a much larger pattern in the Senate today.
ELVINGThis is a brilliant, young legal scholar from Berkeley. He is Asian American, and he would be the only Asian American on the Ninth Circuit. Now, the Ninth Circuit Court serves the west, the far west, the Pacific states, and this is the most Asian part of the United States and increasingly so. And that's one of the reasons they wanted him on the court. But another reason that they wanted him on the court was to groom him, to eventually make him the likeliest Asian American nominee for the United States Supreme Court.
ELVINGThe Republicans know this perfectly well. This is part of the reason the Democrats have resisted some of the people coming up on the conservative side because they were clearly being groomed in one way or another for the Supreme Court. This is payback for Alito. It's even payback all the way back to Robert Bork...
REHMRon Elving of NPR. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To Winston Salem, N.C. Good morning, Grey.
GREYGood morning. I just wanted to comment (unintelligible) great discussions that have been on hold is -- I can say something about everything that's been discussed (word?) what I called in about. But regarding Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton and impeachments, you know, the impeachment, often it's said that it was about Bill Clinton's alleged affair with Monica Lewinsky. But impeachment was really about perjury and the fact that Bill Clinton perjured himself in a deposition in another case involving another alleged affair.
GREYAnd it was significant enough that he lost his law license. Whereas Gingrich's dalliances are unsightly, and, in my opinion, you know, I don't know that I would want somebody who would behave in that manner to be president of the United States as a Republican. Yeah, they're just not the same thing. So anyway, great show.
ROBERTSThey are not the same thing. Perjury was the root of the legal case against Bill Clinton, not only in terms of the bar association, but also in terms of his impeachment. But it was all driven by the exposure, shall we say, that he had given himself in these cases. And the same political exposure, which would have been devastating to the case against Bill Clinton, was being created by Newt Gingrich himself, even as he was leading the Republicans at the time of impeachment. That's the kind of political bad judgment that we're talking about.
REHMTo Morristown, N. J. Good morning, Bob.
BOBThe criticism that the judicial nominee Liu leveled against Alito happened to be absolutely accurate. And the problem that I'm having with all of this stuff coming out of the right wing is being correct in your point of view or being correct in facts doesn't seem the matter.
REHMOkay. Let's -- can anybody tell me what Liu has said about Alito?
ELVINGWell, he said that Alito -- the world, the America that Alito would defend where the white cops could gun down a black youngster. It was a -- and he said a number of other things...
DAVISThe FBI could have a camera in your bedroom, and they created -- I wish we had the exact quote, but it's been widely cited by Republicans in this argument. Essentially, he cast Alito in very harsh terms as someone with a very harsh world view and that he -- Liu himself did admit later that he perhaps crossed a line in terms of rhetoric when he said these things about Alito. But this is really -- what he said about Alito is the foundation by which Republicans have blocked him in the Senate.
ELVING(unintelligible) Elena Kagan had said the same things in the Alito hearings that Liu did, she would have had a much greater problem being confirmed by the Senate. I mean, those things were cast in a way that did not sound like a legal scholar, that did not sound like somebody who was respectful. It sounded like somebody who was really doing a political hit.
ELVINGSo it came back to him.
ROBERTSSo Ron is also right in saying this is in a much larger context. We have a long history now. This is like the Middle East. Everybody has memory. Everybody has grievances. Everybody has grudges. Everybody remembers Bork or Estrada or other cases, and Liu is getting -- is the last in a long line of using judicial nominations to fight these battles.
REHMSyndicated columnist Steve Roberts, Susan Davis of National Journal, Ron Elving of NPR, have a great weekend, everybody.
ELVINGThank you, Diane.
REHMThanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth and Sarah Ashworth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. 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. This is NPR.
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