A panel of top political commentators joins Diane to talk about some of the head spinning events of this last year and to get their perspectives on the challenges ahead.
The White House came under continued attack over the contraception mandate; banks agreed to a multi-billion dollar foreclosure settlement; the House of Representatives passed the Stock Act as the payroll tax debate stalled; Rick Santorum looked to build on his surprising victories in three Republican contests as uncertainty returned to the conservative race; President Obama reversed his position and embraced Super PACs; Proposition Eight was overturned in California; and the Pentagon announced it would ease restrictions on women in combat. Greg Ip of the Economist magazine, James Fallows of the Atlantic and Juan Williams of Fox News join Diane for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Greg Ip U.S. economics editor, The Economist, and author of "The Little Book of Economics: How the Economy Works in the Real World."
- James Fallows National correspondent, "The Atlantic."
- Juan Williams Political analyst, Fox News.
News Roundup Video
The panelists discuss the Obama administration’s decision to allow certain exemptions for religious employers from its new law requiring all employers to provide women access to contraceptives:
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. President Obama announced a multibillion-dollar foreclosure settlement among states and the nation's largest banks. Rick Santorum surprise wins in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri upended the Republican presidential race. And the four-week average of new unemployment claims fell to their lowest level in four years. Joining me for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup: Greg Ip of The Economist, James Fallows of The Atlantic, and Juan Williams of Fox News.
MS. DIANE REHMDo join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. And good morning to you all of you.
MR. GREG IPGood morning, Diane.
MR. JAMES FALLOWSGood morning, Diane.
MR. JUAN WILLIAMSGood morning, Diane.
REHMGood to see you. Greg Ip, let me start with you on this so-called foreclosure settlement. Tell me about the terms.
IPSo I would call this settlement, overall, modestly good news. Mostly, it was dealing with the mistakes that followed the housing bust, not that led to the housing bust. There were revelations about a year or two ago that banks had systemically mistreated a lot of people whose homes were headed to foreclosure by losing their paperwork, by faking their signatures, et cetera, et cetera. Essentially, what the settlement does is it gets the banks and all of the states and the federal government to essentially settle those allegations.
IPIn return, homeowners who were mistreated in the foreclosure process will get payments of up to $2,000 each. In addition, there's a pot of money, roughly $15 billion, that will go to helping people who are deeply underwater on their mortgages, meaning that their homes are worth way less than what they owe. Some of that money will go to actually writing down their mortgages so that they can once again be in a positive equity position.
IPSome of the money will go towards helping people refinance, who currently don't qualify for the lower mortgage rates that are now prevailing because they don't have enough equity in their homes. But I call this a modest settlement for a couple reasons. The amount of money that will be helping people is tiny compared to size of the problem. There's roughly $700 billion of negative equity in the market right now. That's a total amount by which people's debts exceed the value of their homes, so it's a drop in a bucket.
IPAnd, secondly, for the banks, even though they get to put behind them the allegations of mistreating people on foreclosures, there's still stacks of litigations ahead of them over all of the alleged misdeeds that led up to the crisis in the first place.
FALLOWSOh, yes. There's nothing to add to what -- to Greg's excellent summary. I make only two points of scaling. One is if you think of the multi-year, multi-state settlement over tobacco allegations a couple decades ago, that was almost 10 times larger in the amount of money that was firmly going to be taken from the tobacco companies to affected consumers and state governments. So it's modest in that sense, and it's certainly -- like other aspects of recovering from the financial collapse, it's not sort of satisfyingly punitive.
FALLOWSYou know, these banks aren't really being made to pay very much for what they did. And it doesn't really put a floor under the housing problem, as Greg was describing, but it is at least a step in that direction, a modest one.
REHMHas nothing to do with Fannie or Freddie, Juan?
WILLIAMSThat's a critical point to make. They're talking here about five financial institutions, the banks, the big banks -- Bank of America, JPMorgan, Wells Fargo, those folks. And for them, there is an advantage here in the sense that this does give them some sense of certainty, if you will, because you get -- with the exception, I believe, of -- is it Oklahoma, is the one state that's not involved. But, 49 states, and it was the states' attorneys general who took the lead here and sort of got this in place.
WILLIAMSSo now, they have a sense, again, that there is more money that they've been sitting on that they potentially could put back into trying to deal with this foreclosure crisis, and that could help the economy because that's the bottom line here. The housing problem has been a drag on the American economy, and the Obama administration has not been very aggressive in finding ways to solve the problem. The president said, when this was announced, we're not done yet.
WILLIAMSWe're trying to get Congress, in fact, to do more, and we're going to see if Congress will put this bill forward. I don't know what the chances are there -- I'll leave that to others -- but I will say that the administration understands that this is critical in terms of keeping the recovery on track.
REHMBut how much does it really help homeowners, Jim Fallows?
FALLOWSI think for the limited class of people who are not in a Fannie -- FHA or Fannie Mae mortgage, who have some prospect of being able to carry out their mortgage if there are some renegotiations terms with these five banks, it gives them some help. So I think the main point is -- as we all said, this is a step towards some kind of certainty or clarity. It's the unresolved nature of the housing debt as a whole, which has been a drag. So this is one part of it getting a little more clarity.
REHMLast word, Greg.
IPAnd to add one thing, that, in the near term, a lot of people who are facing foreclosure are going to have deal with that more quickly than they had in the past. A lot of banks had essentially either been forced to or on their own volition imposed moratoriums on the foreclosure process until these problems were put behind them. That process is going to kick into high gear again. You could actually see a flood of foreclosures in the coming year. It's going to be painful in the short term, but in the long term you actually need to flush all those bad loans out of the system for it to stabilize.
REHMAll right. And talking about a problem in high gear, the White House is expected to announce a compromise, something of a compromise, later today on the contraception mandate. Do we know yet what it's likely to be, Jim Fallows?
FALLOWSWe certainly don't know the details, but the rumors have been this will be something -- the so-called Hawaii plan, where there are certain ways in which, especially Catholic religious institutions can exempt some of their people from what was the most controversial part of the administration's ruling recently, which is that all institutions serving the general public must include contraception as part of their no-cost health care benefits.
FALLOWSAn interesting thing to meet here is we're not talking about abortion, which, of course, is still so polarizing, understandably a moral issue for many people in the country. We're talking about contraception, which, according to every known poll, is overwhelmingly used by people of every faith within the country. Even Mitt Romney a month ago or so at a debate was -- acted just amazed when somebody said, well, would contraception -- is that something that states might try to outlaw? So this is objectively a somewhat strange issue to have this kind of first principles moral battle over it, in my view.
REHMSo how do you think this compromise is going to look? What's going to be in there, Juan?
WILLIAMSWell, basically, when it comes down to this, insurance companies understand they would lose money if people are not covered for contraception because then that leads to all sorts of other issues, in paying for, potentially, abortions and the like. So the idea is that the insurance companies would make coverage available to women outside of the Catholic institutions, the charities, the schools, the hospitals.
REHMBut what would those Catholic institutions have to do?
WILLIAMSApparently, the deal would be that they would have to make the women aware that these insurance companies are willing to offer them with no deductible at all included. So it's being called Hawaii Lite, (sp?) is the term that's floating around Washington this morning. But let me just say that this is all about presenting an image of being reasonable on the part of the administration, to try to tamp down what has become a conservative firestorm over what I would think of as a culture wars issue.
WILLIAMSIt's suddenly a culture war in which, you know, you have Newt Gingrich out on the campaign trail saying there's Obama war on religion. You have Newt Gingrich saying this is a matter of an attack on conscience, Rick Santorum saying that this is a First Amendment issue. Not -- I mean, incredible in the sense that, one, the polls are very clear on this issue, but they feel it fires up the conservative base in this country.
WILLIAMSAnd the archbishop in New York, Dolan, and the Catholic churches have had messages all last Sunday in the pulpit about this. It's incredible because, as I say, not only are the polls clear, but 28 states have had this in place.
IPBut I like, I think, as Jim was saying, unlike abortion, this isn't really about the right to use contraception. How the administration's critics have framed this, quite successfully, is that it's about religious freedom.
IPAnd so even though the polls show that the vast majority of Catholics use contraception and believe in the right to the access to contraception, they're much more divided on whether the federal government has a right to force Catholic-affiliated organizations to supply it. And that is where the administration is losing the political battle. And that's why they are eventually going to have to capitulate it.
WILLIAMSBut let me just say it, Greg, it's not about supply because I think that it was Sen. Blumenthal of Connecticut said this week, the Catholic institutions wouldn't have to supply it, so they wouldn't be dispensing it.
FALLOWSThey wouldn't have to cover it or pay for it, and no Catholics would have to use it. It's simply a matter of the larger health care plan. And, I think -- you know, as I engage in looking and reporting on this, time and again, I come back to people who then say, well, this is part of the Obama health care plan and why we're opposed to it, and this is forcing things. And I suddenly see that it's a part of larger attack.
FALLOWSWe could go on all hour about...
FALLOWS...this. But one other thing which makes the culture war framing of this so unusual is that there is -- even under this Obama plan, there is an exemption for very, very strictly religious organizations, like if you're a running a convent or something, you know, that doesn't serve the general public. Then there's ways, you know, all ready to have religious exemptions.
REHMJim Fallows, I want to ask you about an article you wrote for The Atlantic Monthly March cover story. It's all about what you say in regard to Bill Daley and his resignation and how it fits in to this whole contraception issue.
FALLOWSThe anecdote I have about former chief-of-staff Bill Daley happened before this issue blew up. And the context was -- I was trying to say, what can we say about President Obama's performance at this stage in his presidency when we don't yet know whether he's going to be ratified and seen as a two-term conquering victor or as a one-term pathetic loser, which is the way which we bi-modally divide people.
FALLOWSAnd several people told me of an episode relatively early in Mr. Daley's tenure at the White House, where he came to the president and said, if you're going to step up your game, you really need a broader and better class of people around you in the White House staff. And according to versions I heard, which the White House would not respond about, the president came back and said, I like the people around me. I'm satisfied with them.
FALLOWSThe context here was that, among the surprising critiques I heard of this administration from people who were veteran over the decades is that the president, for all his personal discipline, excellence and A-plus performance, didn't seem to have that kind of surrounding crew.
REHMJames Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic, Juan Williams of Fox News, Greg Ip of The Economist. Short break, and when we come back, we'll turn to other issues and your calls.
REHMAnd welcome back. With me, Greg Ip of The Economist, Jim Fallows of The Atlantic, Juan Williams of Fox News. Let's turn, Greg Ip, to the economy and what the latest numbers tell us about the recovery, especially in regard to unemployment.
IPWell, this week, we got another weekly number on the number of people asking for unemployment insurance benefits, and it dropped again. In fact, on a four-week average, it's the lowest since 1998, which is terrific news because last week we learned that in month of January, we created roughly a quarter of a million new jobs, which is the best rate of job creation in a year. We revised up the previous year. The unemployment rate is now down to the level that was the month after President Obama took office.
IPAnd what the -- this week's numbers tell us is that that improvement in January seems to have continued into February. Now, let's not, like, pop the champagne corks just yet. We are still talking about a pace of growth in the third year of recovery, which is still painfully slow. And the decline in unemployment has also owed a lot, unfortunately, to people leaving the labor force. But, you know, I'm kind of a glass half-full rather than half-empty kind of person. I would say, on balance, it's been very encouraging what we've seen on the economy.
REHMWhat do you see, Juan?
WILLIAMSYeah, I think that if you look at the overall trajectory, which is what economists and politicians look at, they are encouraged. They think things are headed in the right direction. And, of course, you have to look at things like the consumer confidence in the country as an absolute, critical measure. And, again, for the last six months, consumer confidence has been on uptick. When you look at hiring, you know, big corporations are making a decision of -- an expression of confidence in the future, when they do this.
WILLIAMSAnd I think they're starting to open up on some of the capital that they have been hoarding in the past and, you know...
REHMWhat evidence do you see of that?
WILLIAMSWell, the hiring numbers. That's exactly -- that's what it really indicates. You know, as Greg was saying, there are some people who are dropping out of the labor market. We see some people who are reluctant to participate now, but the fact is the employers seem to be doing more hiring.
REHMBut at the same time, you've got people like Newt Gingrich saying that the real unemployment numbers are as high as 17 percent, Jim Fallows.
FALLOWSYes, that is the case. The economic point I would make here is that certainly, for at least a year now, the overall trends have been positive, and that's good for everybody's point of view. But the things that were wrong with the economy five years ago and 10 years ago are wronger (sic) with it now. The inequality is getting worse. Long-term unemployment, discouraged people, all those long-term secular issues are there and will remain to be dealt with.
FALLOWSThe political point I make is, number one, obviously, this is good news for the administration to have the trend be positive in the beginning of an election year, and that's been a very powerful indicator over election cycles. The other is it may change the stakes on the pending battle over the payroll tax extension. It's somewhat a less freighted showdown than it seemed a couple of months ago as -- since the economy seems to be proving. It's -- but we'll move to that topic now, I think.
REHMI want to hear about that.
IPYeah. So, you know, just roll the camera back a little bit. You know, the end of December, the administration had made a priority of extending the payroll tax cut for one more year, couldn't come to an agreement. So what Congress ended up with was a two-month extension to give them more time to fight over it and decide how to do it for a full year. Here we are three weeks away from the expiration of that two-month extension.
IPAnd we're back in the same place, where the Republican say, yeah, we'll do it, but we want to pay for it by, for example, reducing unemployment insurance benefits from their current generous levels and freezing federal civil service pay. The administration is saying, no, don't -- or excuse me -- Democrats are saying, we don't want to go along with that.
REHMAnd so you see a big fight ahead?
IPYes. My guess -- and Juan and Jim might want weigh in here -- is that as in December, the two sides will capitulate with the Republicans capitulating more because they simply can't politically win on a battle that is about extending a tax cut that benefits the vast majority of working Americans.
WILLIAMSWell, the House Republicans think that they're a little inoculated this time, whereas all the polls indicated in December that they took the lion's share of the blame for the failure to get anything done on a long-term basis, a long-term package. They are hoping that by saying, you know what? Here are our very reasonable proposals. We propose that people who have drug problems not be allowed to stay on unemployment, for example.
WILLIAMSOr we're suggesting that everybody be working towards a high school equivalency degree, if they're on unemployment for this long. And they're saying, you know what? We are also of a mind to say that you can have 59 weeks of unemployment as opposed to the 79 weeks that -- right now, that the Obama administration, the Democrats are subscribing to. So they're hoping that by saying, here are specific things, these are not unreasonable -- and this is why the Democrats are trying to thwart us -- that they can, in fact, win over some of that public opinion that went so strongly against them last time.
FALLOWSLet's think of the sequence of three economic policy showdowns and how the gradual recovery has changed the stakes there. Last summer, in the debt ceiling showdown, I think the administration felt it simply could not afford to -- it couldn't really afford to bluff there because the Republicans called their bluff, and the debt ceiling was not passed. There would be a genuine financial disaster, at least that's what the administration thought.
FALLOWSIn the showdown in December over the payroll tax cut, I think the administration felt that it would -- hade a very strong line to push, as Juan and Greg were saying, in sort of public opinion. But it was afraid that if that didn't happen, the taxes went up again, the recovery was still so fragile, there'd be a real problem. Now, as there's more momentum, it's a different kind of stakes here. I think the administration will make their case, but there's less fear of sort of going back into recession if somehow this doesn't work out.
IPYeah, I think that's right. So, to a certain extent, you could actually have more of a cliffhanger now than a few months ago, precisely because, as Juan was saying, the Republicans feel they have a stronger political case and a stronger substantive case. And the Democrats feel that the stakes aren't quite as high.
REHMWhat about the so-called stock act? Is it closer to becoming law? Juan.
WILLIAMSYeah, it is closer. You've seen...
REHMExplain what it is.
WILLIAMSOh, well, this would require members of Congress to disclose any information that they have and limit them from buying stocks, trading in stocks on the basis of such information. There are some complexities here about, you know, if they're giving a speech or if they're in the midst of hearings, and they divulge some information, does the person who's listening then have to register as a lobbyist and all the like?
WILLIAMSBut the overall sentiment is that this is a snowball that's rolling downhill, that you -- that the idea that Congress has such low overall ratings puts them in a very defensive posture, Diane, and requires them to say to the American people, we are not guilty of insider trading or enriching ourselves on the basis of information that comes to us because of our jobs as regulators.
REHMBut this morning, The Washington Post reports The Office of Congressional Ethics has been investigating possible violations of insider trading laws by Congressman Spencer Bachus last year.
FALLOWSYes. He was the chairman, I think, of the financial services committee, which makes this especially dicey. On the stock act, number one, it's incredible this hasn't been the law all the way along. And most people are amazed to hear that people in Congress can get away with this sort of thing.
FALLOWSAnd, of course, there's now a showdown coming up with it, which will, if anything, intensify, I think, the public cynicism about the way Congress deals with theses issues because, of course, the House's version of this bill has a big carve out for so-called what strategic intelligence companies that have hedge funds or others can talk with Congress people or their staffers and get usable information. They can do that without registering themselves as lobbyists, and so there's -- we're ready for another round of dispute about this.
REHMAnd tell me why the Republican-led House voted to give President Obama a line-item veto? Juan.
WILLIAMSWell, you know, this is, I think, part of the effort by Paul Ryan, and he was one of the key players on this proposal, to suggest that, you know, there has to be change taking place in terms of dealing with entitlements and spending in this country and the line-item veto will be part of it. And so you get -- not only do you get Paul Ryan, but you get Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, a Democrat, joining in.
WILLIAMSAnd the idea here is really interesting that they would give the president the right to have a line-item veto, but if he -- they would have to change it because the Supreme Court has ruled that the line-item veto, when it was previously given to Bill Clinton, is illegal. It's unconstitutional because it takes away budget authority from the Congress, and that's where the Constitution puts the budgetary authority.
WILLIAMSIn this new proposal that now will go before the Senate -- has passed the House -- the way they deal with this issue, Diane, is by saying the president can propose to rescind some spending...
WILLIAMS...but then it will have to go back to the House...
REHMOh, I see.
WILLIAMS...and the House or -- and the Senate -- go back to the Congress, I should say -- they would then have to approve of it. But, again, it's still constitutionally uncertain, but part of this larger discussion about the need for more budgetary responsibility and specialty cuts and entitlement spending.
FALLOWSThis is an issue with a very long history. We've all heard these debates in previous administrations, and it muddles the normal political and partisan lines because, on the one hand, you have congressional versus executive authority and you have a number of both Democrats and Republicans who don't want to cede this authority, which is probably even unconstitutional, to the president.
FALLOWSOn the other hand, you have -- the more people are concerned about the deficit and debt as an issue, as opposed to economic slowdown or other things, the more they're looking for some answer. And that's why Paul Ryan was behind this.
REHMInteresting that President Obama has changed his stance on super PACs, Greg Ip.
IPYeah. I think he's sort of, like, bent reality. He found himself sort of in the, you know, situation of a person who's for gun control, living on a street where everybody else is armed to the teeth. This goes back to the Supreme Court decision in early 2010, Citizens United, which basically opened the door for unlimited corporate and wealthy donor and union funding of issues-type advertising.
IPAnd so, even though Obama has -- is a prolific fundraiser, you know, raised a record amount of money in 2008 for his campaign, what his people were really worried about was that this new flood of unregulated money into the so-called super PAC was just going to swamp his -- their efforts this year. We've already seen their potency in the Republican primary, both Romney's use of them and the fact that, like, one wealthy donor has kept Newt Gingrich's, you know, hopes alive.
IPSo I think, essentially, the president's campaign has bent reality and said, we're not going to indulge in unilateral disarmament, and so we're going to actually participate with some events with our super PAC.
REHMHow does this leave his standing with the public after he said so vehemently he did not like super PACs, didn't like the way they worked, felt they took advantage of funding efforts?
FALLOWSI think, as a strategic matter, he had the choice either to try to outrace the super PACs and stay away from them with all his grassroots online-type means that gave him such an advantage four years ago. He decided -- his campaign decided that wasn't going to work. So I think the rhetorical burden is upon him to say every single time this system is bad, and I'm trying to change it, but I need your help now to change these bad rules.
FALLOWSThis is the world we live in. It's like sort of the argument for nuclear weapons, or, as Greg said, for having guns, but everybody else has them. So as long as he accompanies every pitch for more super PAC money -- he was saying that one of his goals is to change these distorting rules -- then I think that's the only way he can meet that problem.
REHMAnd here's an announcement from AP. President Obama has -- well, it simply says will announce. I don't think that he has actually announced that he's going to say that religious employers will not have to cover birth control. After all, the administration instead will demand that insurance companies will be the ones directly responsible for providing free contraception. Is that what you see happening, Juan?
WILLIAMSYeah, that's what I said.
WILLIAMSThat's the resolution that I'd heard described this morning, that the one that was described is Hawaii Lite. And believe me, the insurance companies are glad to jump in here because they're afraid of the added cost that would come from people not having the coverage.
REHMJuan Williams of Fox News, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Juan, Rick Santorum made a clean sweep of three primaries this week, and so the warning bells are going off again for Mitt Romney.
WILLIAMSYou know, it's a strange thing because he is the leader of the pack by everybody's measure, certainly by delegate measure. But this is a week in which you'd have to say, gosh, how is it possible that he's only won two of the eight primaries, and Rick Santorum has won four? You would never guess that. Now, I remember that Santorum got no delegates out of the clean sweep of Missouri, Minnesota, Colorado this week.
WILLIAMSBut the Colorado victory isn't particularly a damaging one for Mitt Romney. He won this overwhelmingly in '08, beating John McCain by a great distance, and then had some organization and ads on the ground, looked like he was trying to make it -- make that his statement on Tuesday and didn't work. Santorum wins in Colorado as well. So here we are now in a week in which you have the conservative action group meeting here in Washington.
WILLIAMSYou have all of the candidates, with the exception of Ron Paul, coming in, and they're all going to have to make the case that they are real conservatives, true conservatives. And Mitt Romney, more than anyone, needs to make this message because no matter where you are in this election cycle, it looks like whoever is the anti-Romney keeps popping up. And the anti-Romney...
FALLOWSRight. Popping down.
WILLIAMS...in fact, seems to outperform Romney, but it's just that Romney gets his 25 percent or -- in New Hampshire, and Florida he gets more, but it's not enough that you would say, oh, most Republicans are content with this field.
FALLOWSAs we've seen Republican races over the years, the pattern usually is that whoever is the likely candidate, the established person, the one who finished the previous cycle as the heir apparent ends up being the nominee. And the old cliché is the Democrats fall in love, and the Republicans fall in line. And people may lack enthusiasm, but they finally align behind the person whose turn it is.
FALLOWSAnd that -- 1996 Bob Dole may be the classic case of that. Not many people thought that Bob Dole was going to beat Bill Clinton, but still there was a sense he is our guy. I had expected, until very recently, this would be a '96-type situation where many Republicans would lack enthusiasm, lack the fire for Mitt Romney, but he was the guy. He was the one, the most likely candidate. With these last week's results, it's possible to contemplate that he's going from the unenthusiastic, but inevitable role to the perhaps too damaged, you know, to be acceptable...
FALLOWS...to the party role. And I guess that's why we keep having the primaries.
IPIf you look back on how Romney has gotten this far and beaten back the, you know, serial challenges -- whether it was Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry or Herman Cain -- it's that it -- each time has come down to electability. You know, he has always emerged as the one most likely to beat Obama. This week, The Economist had a poll that showed that in head-to-head match-ups, Obama beats Romney by 10 points, he beats Santorum by 15 points, he beats Gingrich by 20 points.
IPAnd so the likely outcome is that after that, Romney will once again beat back this challenge and will emerge for the same reason as a nominee. However, in the process of doing that to recapture the hearts and minds of the base that he has so manifestly failed to do so, he may be dragged further to the right, which will damage him further with independent voters out there. So it's an interesting dynamic to see what happens.
REHMAnd where does all this leave Newt Gingrich, Jim Fallow?
FALLOWSI think it leaves Newt Gingrich -- all of us in the press will confess are glib at Newt Gingrich staying in the race because he is such an interesting character. And I think he's found a way to express the conservative id and the conservative imagination. I imagine he'll continue to do that as long as he can get outside funding.
FALLOWSOne more word on Romney. It's interesting to me because, in my view, he's relatively good in the debates. There's been sort of a halo effect that he is a -- an electable good candidate. I would argue that good as he is in the debates, he is equally bad. A number of others are saying his Q-and-A's have been his real Achilles' heel.
REHMAnd his tin ear on money.
REHMWhat about Gingrich, Juan, very quickly?
WILLIAMSWell, I think that, for the moment, the question is does he get out? You know, it's an odd question because just a while back in Florida, the question was, does Santorum get out to allow the anti-Romney forces to unify behind one candidate? Well, the question this week is on the other foot, if you will. Does Newt Gingrich get out?
REHMJuan Williams of Fox News. When we come back, time for your calls, questions, comments. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd welcome back to the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup. Our conversation in this hour is being recorded on video. That should be up on our website in about an hour. We'll open the phones now. First to Louisville, Ky. Good morning, Mary. You're on the air.
MARYGood morning. I'd like to say that I'm a Catholic here in Louisville. And while it seems -- we just -- we don't have to press -- the total press accounts yet, but it seems like President Obama is going to -- has lost this battle. But I don't think he's going to -- has lost the war. And I think that, going forward, people are going to question what exactly is a religious affiliate university or institution.
MARYFor example, here in Louisville, Catholic Health Initiatives just merged several big hospitals and their outpatient, you know, services to be the largest health care provider in the state of Kentucky. And they almost merged with a university hospital. It was only blocked because the governor blocked it because it provides care for the poor, and sterilizations were going to be prohibited. So I think, in the future, all those non-Catholics that work for humongous institutions, like this one that has $10 billion in revenue a year, are going to question whether their rights are being imposed upon.
MARYAnd secondly, the bishops who continue to force and tell people in the pews that they are immoral, I just find this that -- will men and women that are married in a Catholic Church, that they tell them they -- it is immoral for them to use contraceptives and to have intimate relationships with their spouses, I think more and more people in the pews are going to just be more and more fed up with this...
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. Jim Fallows.
FALLOWSYes. Mary makes, well, a point I was making too tersely early on, that the significance of this policy of the Obama administration is for religious-affiliated institutions that often serve a broad public that are not serving a strictly religious community of believers who might all adhere to certain code. That's one point.
FALLOWSThe other is, again, it's worth noting it's been more than 50 years since the landmark Griswold v. Connecticut ruling essentially establishing the right to contraception as something that would be part of modern American life. And to have this moral battle over contraception and not abortion or something else is strange.
REHMAll right. To Flint, Mich., good morning, Bryce. You're on the air.
BRYCEGood morning, Diane -- I was hoping to hear a discussion about the weird disconnect between rhetoric and behavior in the rank and file of GOPs because if you -- conservative websites, they will tell you in no uncertain terms that an Obama -- will be the -- America. I mean, truly apocalyptic language, yet we look at the behavior so far in the nomination process, and, you know, voter turnout is down. I mean, like, not down but, like, you know, 50 percent down in Missouri this last week And, even with a weak field, that just seems very, very strange.
REHMAll right. Juan Williams.
WILLIAMSYou know, this is a very interesting point that's much discussed in political circles these days because, going into this race, the presumption was that the Republicans had a tremendous advantage in terms of voter enthusiasm, that Republicans were enthusiastic about throwing out Obama, and their distaste for Obama was so great. And that Democrats and especially Obama's base was not fired up for Obama and had seen points of disappointment with his policies, his decisions.
WILLIAMSHe hadn't proven to be the miracle worker that they had hoped. But what we've seen in the primary contest in both of the elections and the caucuses is less turnout. And this proved true this week. It was -- it's true in states like New Hampshire where independents made up some of it. You got about a quarter of the votes turning out independents. Same was true in Iowa. It's just an oddity because it seems as if it's a reflection of, again, the Republican disenchantment with the field or something. But something's going on here.
REHMAll right. Jim.
FALLOWSIf you want to make the case for Barack Obama as a long-term political strategist, setting apart entirely policy concerns, you could say that, for better and worse, (unintelligible) that the entirety of his public career he's tried to play to the center. People often haven't believed him, who have been his critics in the right, but he said, we're not red states and blue states. We're United States. Let's find ways to have compromises. Let's look for good ideas from all sides.
FALLOWSThat has often exposed him to charges from his own base of being weak and not fighting the Republicans enough in the Congress. But we see part of the results now where the Republicans are having more and more, sort of isolating themselves, it seems, with a group of fervently believing but minority people on the right who are going to have a hard time challenging them.
IPYeah. Now, we just add that the subtext to all of this is, as Republicans are struggling with these issues that Juan and Jim were referring to, is that Barack Obama has gotten a little bit of a wind to his back. His latest approval ratings have actually started to rise, and he is -- and for the first time in quite a few months, actually, since the killing of Osama bin Laden and enjoying positive approval ratings. I think that might partly be the fratricide that continues in the Republican primaries, but I think, mostly, it's the improvement in the economy.
REHMAll right. To Sherman, Texas. Lander, good morning to you.
LANDERGood morning. And thank you. One of the things that really strikes me is many conservatives hold an individual right to conscience as being paramount. And it seems to me that's one of the things that's being trampled, this discussion about contraception. I would think if the bishops (word?) to make this a principle to argument, then why not take that principle to position of not accepting government funds?
FALLOWSYes. And I think that's part of the modern inextricable connection of a variety of faith-affiliated institutions with the whole modern world. They work -- any organization that runs a medical care system has to have federal funds of various sorts. And, if to wall yourself-- if you're going to wall yourselves off as thoroughly as, say, the Amish do, then you can have your own rules because they really are insulated from the modern world. But I think -- is right. To separate oneself entirely from any kind of federal influence, Republican influence would be impossible.
WILLIAMSWell, let me just say that, to be fair to the caller, that these rules would apply to institutions that don't accept federal dollars. So that -- it would just be applying to everybody, and that's why, I think, conservatives worry about this issue of conscience.
FALLOWSBut if they're serving the public, too, if they're not a very strictly closeted religious order, if they have some kind of public role, then there are these public rules they would have to apply them.
REHMAll right. Let me ask you all about this issue of same-sex marriage and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on Tuesday which said California's 2008 law, Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. Juan.
WILLIAMSSo this opens the door to people in California and other states now getting married are gay people. But the question is, will it go to the Supreme Court, and how will the Supreme Court rule on the ninth circuit? Now, the ninth circuit, it was a 2-1 ruling. Ninth circuit is viewed as a very liberal court. But the question is, now, do we have it as a constitutional issue finally after all these years?
REHMAnd is it going to be prominent in the presidential campaign?
FALLOWSThat we will see. As a legal matter, the ruling by it, by Judge Reinhardt in California seemed to be -- seemed to go out of its way to say this is a California-specific ruling. And the specific circumstances of this case were a right was established, and then it was taken away by public ballot. We don't find that it's constitutional in those circumstances, so it seemed, number one, to be written in a deliberately narrow way.
FALLOWSAnd, number two, to call its precedence on ones that Justice Kennedy had written in the past. So it was designed to sort of avoid broad Supreme Court ruling, and it went to the Supreme Court to be aimed at Anthony Kennedy too.
IPIf you think about the genesis of this case, it goes back to 2008 when the California Supreme Court -- actually, in what its critics branded, you know, marquee case of judicial activism -- established the right for gays to marry, that led to the ballot initiative, which amended the California Constitution to define marriage as excluding gay couples. What the appeals court has done in this case is quite different from what the California Supreme Court did in 2008.
IPRather than sort of establish a new right that a lot of people did not think existed, they've said there already was a right that the, you know, legislature has taken away without a compelling public purpose for it. And in that respect, a lot of scholars feel they have written this ruling narrowly enough to survive at the Supreme Court.
REHMAll right. To Birmingham, Ala. Hi there, Chris, you're on the air.
CHRISGood morning. I'll ask my question and then take my call off the air.
CHRISI also hear the unemployment rate being reported as X percent. So with the comment afterwards -- but if you include everybody instead of just job seekers, the rate would be this much higher -- is there a convincing reason other than painting a rosy picture to usually report the lower rate rather than the absolute rate?
IPSure, because it's the definition that has been used over the years, and it has been consistent. And, you know, you make good policy by using numbers that are defined the same way from year to year. It's true that if you add people who have given up looking for work 'cause they don't think jobs are available or they're working part-time because they can't find full-time work, the unemployment rate would be, perhaps, 15 percent.
IPBut in you're looking -- when you're looking at the trend, the one -- the 8 percent, the unemployment rate we're all familiar with and that supplemental rate, they tend to move together, so you don't get that much of a different picture. A more interesting question is: Why is it that the number of people who want to work is growing so slowly instead of bouncing back as we often see after a recession like we've had?
IPIf you were to add back all the people who ought to be in the labor force, given the size of the population, but aren't, you'd probably have an unemployment rate over 10 percent. That's still a bit of a mystery, and it's very troubling.
WILLIAMSWell, you know, what's interesting to me is that there are a number of people, obviously, who may be retiring. We have a rapidly aging society, so there are more people retiring. And you also have people who may decide that the economy is so shaken and take the opportunity to go back to school. So there are lots of positive reasons that people may, in fact, be leaving. But the second part of this is there were numbers put out this week that said that there are more and more Americans who are living on entitlements, that they get money from the government.
WILLIAMSAnd this number is now at an -- I think it's a historic high. Is that right, Greg?
IPYeah. I think the one that's especially troubling is disability. The number of people who are now on long-term disability has shot up by a dramatic amount. That number alone could explain perhaps a percentage point reduction on the unemployment rate.
REHMHow interesting. All right. Let's go to Tulsa, Okla. Good morning, Damien.
DAMIENHi. Good morning, Diane. I love your show.
DAMIENAnd I think you're a remarkable journalist.
DAMIENI hate to be another person that sort of talk about the contraceptive issue, but I haven't heard anyone this week make the point that I thought this whole time. There seems to be a basic philosophical problem with the Catholic position in that the Supreme Court has always viewed health insurance as a form of compensation.
DAMIENSo the argument that the Catholic Church or at least the Catholic entities that are speaking for the Catholic Church in this situation seems to be making is that somehow employers could decide for their employees what they do with their paychecks, whether or not they use their paychecks for what they choose to use them for or what the Catholic Church deems moral for them to use them for.
FALLOWSThat's an interesting rococo argument because there are parts of compensation that are obviously up to the employee to decide what to do with, the cash part, and the other parts where the employer has decisions. For example, 401 (k) plans are usually of some kind of limit on what you're able to do with that money. The employer makes some decision. So I have not thought deeply about this aspect of it. I will use it to -- as a segue to one other thing, the politics of this.
FALLOWSWe know about the Catholic aspect of it, how the Obama administration is dealing with that. There is a -- there are more women in the United States than there are Catholics. And I think that is a very important also part of the political calculation.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I think it's important to point out that not everyone within the Obama administration agreed with his decision on this, Jim Fallows.
FALLOWSYes. Based on reports we've heard, at least Vice President Biden and former chairman -- Chief-of-Staff William Daley and perhaps some others are said to have implored with the president not to get in the middle of this. And they are Catholics, and that's -- so that's the report we have heard.
REHMDo you think they're right, Juan?
WILLIAMSI think that, in the Biden case, Biden often plays sort of the contrarian role in -- at Obama's request. But, remember, Biden's Catholic, Daley's Catholic, and so what we're talking about are people who have some relationship with the bishops, with the hierarchy. But, again, I mean, the bottom line is, even if you look -- I've got a poll here, you know, publicreligion.org.
WILLIAMSMajority of Americans agree employers should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception and birth control at no cost. Fifty-eight percent of Catholics believe employers should be required to provide their -- now, this is from a religious polling group.
REHMOK. But here is the thing. You've got very loud voices coming from the extreme right, coming from the Catholic Church. Are they overwhelming President Obama's message on this? Greg Ip.
IPI think they are. It goes back to the framing question, which is that the people who oppose this have framed it not as the right to contraception but as religious -- the freedom of religious conscience. The Catholic Church rightly, correctly points out they're not denying their -- the employees of these organizations the right to buy -- to use contraception, the right to buy insurance, other insurance that gives them contraception and so forth.
IPThey're talking about, should the federal government compel them to supply coverage for something that they disagree with. And the polling that Juan points to is very interesting, but there are two -- you have a framing issue. If you actually phrase the question slightly differently, should Catholic organizations and affiliated Catholic organizations be required to offer this even if it violates their conscience, that there are still a majority in favor, but it drops somewhat.
IPSo I think what you have is a situation wherein many matters of conscience, Americans who feel one way about what is right for them as individuals feel very uncomfortable forcing that choice onto the population at large.
FALLOWSAs a matter of pure politics, I'm sure the administration wishes this issue had not come up now in 2012. But as a matter of substance, there are regulations for enforcing the health care plan that had to be issued at some point. So on the substance, I assume they believe they were doing the right thing as I, in my individual role, think they were doing the right thing.
FALLOWSAnd then as politics, a matter of explaining it in a way that appeals -- that avoids the framing Greg is talking about in saying this is consistent with law and practice in American life. It's consistent with the expressed views of most people. We know some people resist. It's a complex issue. Here's why we're doing it.
REHMWill the administration be able to reframe their arguments, Juan?
WILLIAMSNo, and I don't think they feel the need to reframe them, again, because the numbers are in their favor politically. But what they arch up against, Diane, is the fact that this plays to the conservative base in the Republican Party and, as we have this campaign going on, it plays exactly to people like Romney, Gingrich, Santorum -- especially Santorum, a social conservative appealing to Evangelical taste.
WILLIAMSAnd he's -- and they're saying, this is about, you know, to quote Gingrich, "A Obama war on religion," and that's what their case is, that this extends not only in terms of the Catholic Church issue, but all the regulations and rules that the Obama administration wants to put on Americans.
REHMLast quick words, Jim.
FALLOWSThe conservative base isn't going to vote for them anyway. They're playing to the middle, and so that's the case they're going to make.
REHMJim Fallows of The Atlantic, Greg Ip of The Economist, Juan Williams of Fox News. Thank you all so much.
WILLIAMSThanks for having us, Diane.
FALLOWSThank you, Diane.
REHMHappy Friday, everybody. Have a great weekend. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth, Nikki Jecks, Susan Nabors and Lisa Dunn. And the engineer is Tobey Schreiner. A.C. Valdez 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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