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 U.S. economy grew more slowly than expected in the first quarter. Mitt Romney clinched the Republican presidential nomination Tuesday with a win in the Texas primary. A jury found former Sen. John Edwards not guilty on one count against him and the judge declared a mistrial on the others. Major Garrett of National Journal, Susan Page of USA Today and Juan Williams of Fox News join Diane for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Juan Williams Political analyst, Fox News.
- Susan Page Washington bureau chief for USA Today.
- Major Garrett Congressional correspondent, National Journal.
A judge declared a mistrial on five counts in former Sen. John Edwards’ corruption case. National Journal congressional correspondent Major Garrett called the jury “nothing if not diligent.” He said it’s likely the government will accept the outcome and not try Edwards in court again. Fox News political analyst Juan Williams said Edwards was supposed to be the future John F. Kennedy of the Democratic Party, but now “is so laden with baggage.”
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The U.S. economy added just 69,000 jobs in May, fanning fears the economic recovery is stalling. Mitt Romney clinches the Republican presidential nomination, and the John Edwards court case ends in a mistrial. Joining me for the week's top domestic stories on the Friday News Roundup: Juan Williams of Fox News, Susan Page of USA Today and Major Garrett of National Journal.
MS. DIANE REHMAs always, I look forward to hearing your questions and comments. Join us by phone at 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Join us on Twitter or Facebook. Good morning, all.
MR. JUAN WILLIAMSGood morning.
MS. SUSAN PAGEGood morning, Diane.
MR. MAJOR GARRETTGood morning, Diane.
REHMSusan, the economic numbers are not good. The Dow is now down 200 points. What's happening with the recovery?
PAGEYou know, the recovery is clearly stalling. It's the same pattern we've seen the previous two years where things look a little better in the spring, but then they falter. It shows us that the disappointing numbers that we talked about in March and April were not an aberration but a sign that the economy is -- that, while we're continuing to add jobs, boy, the pace of this recovery is so slow that, I think, to most Americans it doesn't feel like much of a recovery.
REHMYou know, it's interesting, Juan. We keep getting all these predictions from economists saying we're expecting 150,000 or 200 -- why don't they just wait and let us hear what the numbers are instead of inflating expectations?
WILLIAMSWell, this is an expectations game. I think the economy is a psychological creature, and this extends to confidence on the part of employers that would get off of the capital that they're sitting on. They have large stockpiles of capital, but they're not hiring.
WILLIAMSAnd they're not hiring because, you know, if you look at the numbers of the population, the fact that you have this month a lot of young people coming out of college or entering the job market, the economy would have to produce more than 150,000 jobs, actually, to try to make amends for the problems that came out of the so-called Great Recession. And that psychological game, Diane, also extends to the stock market, and, as you said this morning, it's down.
WILLIAMSIt's had one of its worst months in two years over the course of last month, May. And, you know, people are now buying more of the treasuries, and you see the yield there going down. Consumer confidence actually, intriguingly, remains good. Housing, especially in some of the weaker markets, you see housing prices going up. Places like Florida, you know, Miami and Tampa that were hard-hit -- Las Vegas -- all of a sudden, housing prices going up.
WILLIAMSBut, again, critically, when you lay out expectations, as the economists do, and people don't meet them, then it creates a political issue. And we're going to see that play out, I think, today in comments that will be forthcoming from -- I imagine largely from the Romney campaign, but also the White House is going to have to say something.
REHMIndeed. And, Major Garrett, is this going to trigger any action on the part of the Fed?
GARRETTWell, the Fed has basically done what it can do. There is some talk now about maybe a quantitative easing, factor three. But let's be honest. The Fed has basically used just about every tool in its toolbox. And when you contrast the experience of the United States economy, though -- and I agree completely with Susan -- I would actually say the economy -- the recovery is not stalling. It's losing altitude and airspeed. It's worse than stalling.
GARRETTThis is a downward draft that we're seeing. The revised April and March job numbers were both revised downward. And the month of June, 69,000 and in April, 77,000 -- those are the numbers -- that's less combined than the 143 revised downward in March. So we're declining in the ability to create jobs. And if you look at the U.S. experience, though we're not in a calamitous zone like Europe is -- Europe doesn't have, and they're debating should they have, a kind of Federal Reserve that unifies across the 17-nation eurozone.
GARRETTBecause if they did, perhaps they could do things to assist not only the deficit and debt situation of some of its weaker economies, but spread out a little bit more liquidity and buffer some of these eurozone countries that are having such a deep economic decline. That -- whether that happens or not is an important factor for our economy because Europe is one of our top exporting regions.
GARRETTAnd while the only rays of good news in the GDP report that came out the first quarter, 1.9 percent growth compared to 3 percent in the fourth quarter, also down was that we were exporting a little bit more. Where? In some cases, to Europe. But if we can't export to Europe, this economic problem is going to continue.
PAGERight after this news came out, Mitt Romney released a statement calling this devastating news for American workers. And the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, Alan Krueger, also put out a statement. Here's how it starts: "Problems in the job market were long in the making and will not be solved overnight." I mean, that is a disappointing statement for a White House to have to put out after 3 1/2 years in office trying to make the case that he inherited a very difficult situation.
PAGEYou know, one reason this has such potential political power is voters don't make up their minds how the economy is going in October. Their minds get made up how the economy is going in the spring, in the summer, before an election. So this is a time period when attitudes about are things working, are we on the right track begin to get settled in voter's minds.
WILLIAMSYou know, I think that this is an interesting juncture in politics because, right now, the general election is beginning. As Susan is saying, you're in a phase where you're trying to define your opponent. You see this in a rush of ads that are coming out. But when it comes to the economy in specific, you see fights over who is going to be better able to take the economy forward.
WILLIAMSAnd a lot of this really rests on the question of, do you think that the president did a good job in terms of what he was handed, in terms of trying to get this economy moving and produce jobs? Do you think it was reasonable? Or, as Mitt Romney would say, we should have had and we should be having a faster recovery. Is that reasonable, or is that unreasonable?
REHMWhat about the job creators themselves? What are they doing to help rebuild the economy, Major Garrett?
GARRETTThey're, in large measure, standing still. And I think there's a couple of reasons for that. Europe, we touched on a little bit. People are concerned about bank runs in Europe and what collateral effect that might have on United States banks, which are linked, in some respect, to European banks. But I think there's another issue that Washington could address. And I've written about this in my column at National Journal. I wrote it about three weeks ago.
GARRETTWe have this enormous amount of business that's not getting done in Washington right now that's being punted off to the lame duck session of Congress, that little bit of time, maybe 20 legislative days, probably closer to 15 after the election, in which we're going to have to decide on the fate of the Bush tax cuts, the president's 2 percent payroll tax cut, the alternative minimum tax, dividend tax cuts from 2003...
REHMI'm exhausted already.
GARRETTExactly. And economists, about a month ago, were saying the cumulative effect of all these decisions could be 3 percentage points or 4.5 percentage points of GDP. All of that is being kicked off until after the election. And it appears that the White House, maybe to its detriment, is content with this. House Republicans are content with it. Senate Democrats appear content with it. And the American public, I believe, at times -- and I sort of tried to express this in my column -- must look at this situation and say, wait a minute. This is our future you're talking about.
GARRETTAnd the uncertainty of what's going to happen with dividend tax rates, capital gains tax rates, overall marginal tax rates, in addition to many other things that I haven't even mentioned yet -- the list is about 13 items long now -- has left employers and those with capital to invest, as Juan said, uncertain about what environment they're going to invest in and what jobs they're going to create in. So I think they're nervously waiting on the sidelines.
PAGEWell, in defense of the White House, it's hard to imagine this Congress could deal with something difficult and important like the tax vote. Even minor things, I mean, even things that are not necessarily minor but on which there is broad agreement, like keeping student loan rates low or passing the Violence Against Women Act or the highway bill.
PAGEThese are things, of which there's some bipartisan agreement. Even these things cannot seem to get through this Congress. I mean, it --- truly, this is one of the things that affects the attitude of Americans, that Washington is not working and that they need some kind of change, whatever kind of change they decide they want.
REHMWhat could the president do to get Congress moving? Anything, Juan?
WILLIAMSNot at this point. You know, he had a to-do list, and this week, there was much fun made about it because -- I forget which news organization asked some Democrats, you know, exactly, do you know what's on the president's to-do list? The list was issued really to poke fun at the Republicans and say, why aren't you doing anything to help produce jobs in this economy? What really goes down, I think, now to Ben Bernanke and the Fed -- and they feel as if they have put their foot on the accelerator as much as they want to. I mean, interest rates are not an issue around here. Inflation's not an issue.
WILLIAMSSo you're going to buy a house right now? This is the best time to buy a house ever, just about. You can get a great mortgage rate. So there's not much that he can do. And the one other thing that we haven't touched down this morning are the so-called X factors. China, for example -- we all talk about Europe. But, you know what? China, their manufacturing rate is slowing. They're starting to stop American imports, so that closes off a market. What happens if the Chinese economy slows down? What does that do to the world economy?
WILLIAMSAnd then, of course, you have all the trouble in the Middle East. We've seen gas prices decline sharply in the last few weeks. That's one of the things that has boosted consumer confidence. And, boy, thank goodness for consumer confidence right now 'cause that's one of the few things that's positive around here. But when people look at gas prices, they also have to think about what's going on in Iran, what's going on in Syria. You know, could things get worse over there very quickly, an X factor that could have a devastating effect on the American economy?
REHMIs the Congress determined to hold off on doing anything, Susan, until this election is over in the expectation, not just the hope but the expectation that Republicans will take the White House and the Senate?
PAGEBecause we know this election is going to be a close one, I think there is -- and because we don't know what's going to happen in the Senate, who's going to control the Senate after the election, I think there is a political inclination to wait. Now, there are a few things have passed. You know, they passed an FDA bill -- FDA reform bill. They passed a reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank. But on big things and political things, I think both sides are waiting to see what happens in November.
REHMSusan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today. Major Garrett of National Journal. Juan Williams of Fox News. Short break. The phones are open. Do join us and stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back to the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup this week with Susan Page of USA Today, Major Garrett of National Journal, Juan Williams of Fox News. Here's an email from James, who says, "We're stagnating economically because Americans are tapped out. Mitt Romney's comments are disingenuous because he won't be flipping a magical switch to create jobs." True, Juan?
WILLIAMSWell, it's absolutely true. I mean, the big deficit is ideas. So if you think that you are going to be the man who creates all these jobs, exactly what is it that you would do? And, so far, he's been short on any great ideas. Of course, nobody has any great ideas, not to be critical of Mitt Romney. But, you know, the question is, what about an economic plan? What is -- what's in your – he had a 56-point economic plan at one point. It just got scathingly criticized, not only by his Republicans -- fellow Republicans running for the nomination against him but by the Wall Street Journal and others.
WILLIAMSSo the question is exactly, you know, are -- would it be more tax cuts? Well, he says he wants tax cuts, less regulation in (word?). But is that going to provide the certainty Major was talking about that would allow employers then to say, oh, yes, we are now going to go forward? I think this is something that has to be negotiated out, and then you have to deal with all the X factors I was talking about earlier. So there is no magic switch. But, again, if you want change, if you're just totally fed up with the way President Obama has been running things, I guess it's enough.
REHMI want to ask you all about voter ID laws and what Atty. Gen. Eric Holder is saying. There are some real efforts to increase the need for certain kinds of voter ID. For example, Congressman John Lewis was on this program this week. He said, in Texas, a gun license serves as voter ID, but a student ID does not. What's going on, Susan?
PAGEThere has been a huge effort in the past two years, mostly by Republican governors and legislators, to break -- to clamp down on what they call voter fraud although there is, in fact, no independent evidence that this is a big problem in this country. Texas is one state that's done this. Boy, the state that is really in the spotlight now is Florida which signed a particularly tough law and two developments on this front last night.
PAGEOne is a federal district court placed an injunction on restrictions in this new Florida law on registration -- voter registration conducted by outside groups. They had really made it very hard for outside groups, like the League of Women Voters and efforts to register young people, to go ahead with voter registration. The other thing that happened last night was the Department of Justice sent a letter to Florida ordering it to stop its purge of voter rolls, which has been an extraordinary effort by Florida to knock people off their voter rolls.
PAGEWhat they've done is they've looked at the motor vehicle registration list and matched it up against the voter registration list and sent letters to about 2,600 Florida voters saying that they were going to lose their voter registration because they weren't citizens. Now, a lot of these voters were, in fact, Hispanics who had become citizens after they registered with the motor vehicles department. The motors vehicles list, not updated.
PAGEHere's an interesting statistics: 13 percent of voters in Florida are Hispanic. Fifty-eight percent of the voters targeted to get pushed off the rolls are Hispanic. So, naturally, this has caused such alarm with people like John Lewis or Eric Holder, the attorney general, who on Wednesday spoke to a group of African-American leaders and warned them that strides made even in the '60s were at risk because of these new laws.
GARRETTNow, a couple of things worth pointing out in Florida. Florida -- five counties in Florida are subject to heightened scrutiny under the Voting Rights Act because of their past discriminatory practices, which means everything has to be pre-cleared by the Justice Department. It has not gone through this. There's also, under the Voting Rights Act, a prohibition. You can't purge voter rolls anywhere more than 90 days before the next election. Well, the primary is Aug. 14, so all purging under the Voting Rights Act, under any data set...
REHMIs illegal at this point.
GARRETTAnd there are those within the Republican Party in Florida who have admitted publicly that the data set has problems with it. But even if it didn't, under the Voting Rights Act, you're not supposed to purge voting rolls after -- any less than 90 days before the election. And we are in that period now. It should've stopped on May 16. It has not, so these are other issues.
GARRETTAnd one thing to point out, the district judge who offered -- wrote this preliminary injunction, Clinton employee, Robert Hinkle, and he said that the restrictions on outside groups registering serve "no purpose" -- and I'm quoting him here -- "other than to discourage voluntary participation in legitimate and constitutionally protected actions."
PAGENow, the spokesman for the Florida secretary of state said last night that they have a different interpretation of both the voting rights...
REHMWhat does that mean?
PAGEWe're not sure, and that this 1993 law that set up the 90-day window before you -- when you have to stop purging. You know, we talked about the political -- now everything shouldn't be seen through a political lens, but we talked about the political impact of the unemployment numbers. Think about Florida. It's the nation's quintessential swing state. It's a state where an error on ballots in one place swung the election, we think, in 2000, swung the presidential election. And this is a state that's undergoing an effort that could push thousands of voters of the rolls.
WILLIAMSWell, I don't know how you could analyze it any way but politically. I think we have, after the 2010 midterms, a group of about nine Republican governors around the country who have now tried to crack down on minority voter participation. And that is -- it -- the consequence would be to diminish votes likely to go to Democrats, especially in this upcoming presidential race.
WILLIAMSAnd, you know, given the demographics that we see in the country right now, with Republicans being an older, whiter group, and younger people of color and immigrants being the most likely Democrats, while the older group is mostly Republican, I think this is a very strategic move by governors to say, we're trying to depress voter turnout in certain groups that are unlikely to support Republicans.
WILLIAMSNow, the contrary argument is, oh, voter fraud is a real issue. But, as Susan said, there is no evidence of this. There were efforts even in the terms of the Bush administration to seek out evidence of voter fraud and to prosecute it. But they couldn't find much in the way of voter fraud.
REHMAnd here's an email on that very point from Terry in Rochester, N.Y., who says, "Republicans claim to be concerned with voter fraud. It falls on its face. Are the people in these states furious? If such scurrilous legislation passed here in New York, I'd be in the street with a pitchfork." It's interesting. The very people who are being targeted may feel as though they have no right to go out in the street.
GARRETTWell, the legal process has been joined by outside groups. The Obama administration is very much -- the Justice Department and the Obama campaign has supported efforts to fight this legally. And also, the Obama campaign is not leaving it just to the legal realm.
GARRETTThey are re-doubling efforts to register and educate voters in all the affected nine states, have voter ID laws, on what to do, what the rules are and doing all -- everything they can with their field operations to communicate. These are the new rules. They may exist. They may not. We can't rely on the legal process to work rapidly enough before this next election. So we have to prepare ourselves politically through our ground organization.
GARRETTAnd I would say this: If the Obama campaign didn't have such a good ground organization, they would be much more jeopardized by these rule changes.
PAGEYou know, I just say that that we're all against voter fraud. I mean, if non-citizens are voting, we don't want that to happen. We want citizens to vote. But the bigger problem in American politics right now seems to me that people who are eligible to vote don't vote. I mean, it seems to me that our efforts ought to be...
PAGE...to get Americans to vote, especially when stakes are high like they are this year.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about another big story this week. Major Garrett, the John Edwards trial completed with a mistrial, and it seems to me there was a lot of confusion there. The jurors came out, handed the judge their verdict. He -- she told him to go back, think more, do more. What happened?
GARRETTYeah, they reached a verdict on one count, count three. They said John Edwards was not guilty of knowing that there would be this $200,000 payment to Rielle Hunter to keep her either by her silence or provide a means by which the existence of their relationship outside of his marriage would be publicized during the course of the 2007, 2008 pursuit of the presidency. That was an acquittal, pure and simple, not guilty on that.
GARRETTBu they could not reach a unanimous verdict on the other five counts, and they were at it for the better part of nine days. And the judge said, no, really, go back. Try again. And they came back and said, look, we have tried and tried and tried. And what you saw in the process of deliberation is they were calling for evidence, asking for things, note, pieces of testimony introduced. And, finally, the judge said, OK, instead of piecemealing, I'm going to give it all to you. Just go back, search through it, look through it all.
GARRETTSo I don't think you could come to any conclusion that the jury was anything but diligent. They just could not reach a unanimous verdict. And the word coming out of the resolution of this trial is that it is unlikely that John Edwards will face these charges again and that the government will accept this loss on one count and mistrial on the others. And, remember, this was brought by U.S. attorney George Holding, who's now a Republican nominee for the United States Congress. This may have some political consequences for him.
REHMI thought it was interesting that when Mr. Edwards took the microphone after the trial was completed and he came out of the courthouse, he said that only he could feel the guilt. He was responsible. He also talked about his love for that little child, about whom I worry the most. But he also said he thought God had other plans for him. What do you think about that, Juan? What -- how did you interpret that?
WILLIAMSWell, you know, it was a pickup on a Jesse Jackson line, actually. Jesse Jackson was the one who said God isn't finished with me yet after he had come through some of his turmoils back in the '80s after he had his second run for president. But it could mean -- to me, I hope it means that he's looking for some way to redeem himself and to grow and to get beyond this moment and to, you know, change his life. It could also mean, though, since we're a bunch of political cynics sitting around this morning, that he thinks he can revive his political fortunes and run for office again.
REHMPeople are forgiving. Look at Newt Gingrich.
WILLIAMSI just don't see it, Diane. You know, I mean, I'm always looking for opportunities for these politicians. But what woman -- I just think if -- women are such a critical part of the electorate. Let's just not -- I think they'll determine the outcome of this presidential election. What woman is going to vote for him? I just -- you know, Bill Clinton's come back from a lot of trouble, right? And he's much loved. But, you know, I think he has a different stature than John Edwards.
WILLIAMSJohn Edwards was, you know, the future John F. Kennedy of the Democratic Party, a Southerner, charming, gave a great speech, that Two Americas speech that still, in terms of content, would resonate today. But his personal record, despite the win in the court yesterday, is so laden with baggage, I just don't see how the voters could possibly get past it.
REHMJuan Williams of Fox News. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Susan, weigh in.
PAGEYou know, here's his defense. His defense was, I am a cad. I'm not a criminal. This does not strike me as a great political position to have when you're going into an election. Hard -- I mean, it's hard for me to believe he could run for anything in North Carolina or on the national stage or that a president would put him in his cabinet.
PAGENow, he has still -- one of the things that he succeeded in doing in this trial is keeping his law license. So he could -- you know, we know he's an extremely talented lawyer and very skilled in the courtroom. And he could take up causes of poverty or other things, you know, cases that put him in a friendlier, more flattering light than he's in right now.
GARRETTI would just say this. For anyone who believes in God, that's always true. God's never done with you, John Edwards or anyone else, if you believe. Actions also speak louder than words. And I think for John Edwards' future career, whatever it is, he will be judged by his actions.
GARRETTAnd he will have to be evaluated and put his actions forward and put far fewer of his words forward because his words have become contaminated by the actions and the mendacity and the habitual, pathological lying he conducted both publicly and privately. His words will have almost no utility or value. His actions will have to speak for him, and they will determine his future (unintelligible).
REHMAll right. And the 1st Circuit Court has spoken and ruled part of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. Juan, tell us about this case before the court.
WILLIAMSWell, this is a fascinating case because it -- basically, they said that it -- the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional because it denies equal rights: insurance, rights in the hospital, everything.
WILLIAMSEverything. Yeah, down the line. So they say -- and they said this -- that gays are historically a discriminated group not necessarily in the same way that you would say people of color are, but that the law would have to somehow speak to this idea, that you are subjecting them to a special and lesser status and that it had not successfully done that. Why gay marriage as opposed to heterosexual?
WILLIAMSNow, it does not address whether or not gays have the right to marry. That was not in it. And it doesn't address whether or not one state has to recognize gay marriage performed in yet another state. So those things are not on the table. This is purely about the constitutionality. You know, right now, we have -- I think it's 38 or 39 states with a ban on same-sex marriage. You have six states that have made it legal to have same-sex marriage.
WILLIAMSTwo states -- Washington and Maryland -- are going to have referenda on this issue. The District of Columbia also allows same-sex marriage. So there's this mismatch or patchwork around the country. And I think the result is now, with this decision, the Supreme Court is likely to have to deal with this in the next term.
REHMSo this first court is anticipating that Supreme Court is going to take this.
PAGEThat's right. And they delayed the impact of the ruling on the assumption that the Supreme Court would take it up and that they'll want to set a national standard, not one that would apply only to the first district. You know, is there another issue on which we've seen bigger changes in public opinion in the space of 15 or 20 years?
PAGEI mean, remember back to 1996 when the Defense of Marriage Act was passed. Bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate, signed by President Clinton, who now disavows it, and yet now we see public opinion has undergone such an incredible shift that now half of Americans say they support the idea of same-sex marriage.
WILLIAMSLet me just say very quickly on that point that, among African-Americans, we're now seeing shifts in the numbers...
WILLIAMS…since President Obama's action because, as you know, it was more than 50 percent who opposed it at the time that the president announced his support, so, to pick up on Susan's point, I think that his actions actually have provided some leadership if you are in support of gay rights.
GARRETTAnd Massachusetts was one of the states that allowed same-sex marriage. The couple involved -- the partner was deceased, had been deceased for several years, and there was an appeal for a Social Security benefit. So, on this basis, in the federal realm, the jurisdiction that the 1st Circuit Court saw was in regard to federal benefits. That's why these other issues were not taken up.
GARRETTAnd just for those who are curious, three-judge panel, unanimous decision, written by District Judge Michael Boudin, appointed by George Herbert Walker Bush, joined by Sandra Lynch, appointed by Bill Clinton, and Juan Torruella, appointed by Ronald Reagan, so two Republican appointees, one Democratic appointee, unanimous circuit court opinion.
REHMMajor Garrett. He's congressional correspondent for the National Journal. When we come back, it's time to open the phones. We'll also talk about that recall election out in Wisconsin.
REHMAnd it's time to open the phones. Let's go first to West Palm Beach, Fla. Good morning, Anthony.
ANTHONYGood morning. I'm enjoying your discussion. But I wanted to remind you of two politicians, Ted Kennedy and Joe Biden. There's no dead girl in John Edwards' Camaro. And, as far as I can tell, plagiarism is about a bad a crime which you can commit if you're stealing a platform to stand on, so to speak. And yet one of them is a vice president, and one of them is a greatly revered late senator so...
REHMWhat do you think about that, Juan Williams?
WILLIAMSWell, you mean plagiarism versus Mary Jo Kopechne? I don't know how you put these things on the scales. But I will say that, you know, the Kennedy name and the power of Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts and -- the family carried Ted Kennedy and helped him through a phase. And remember that this is a man who lots of people expected would have been president of the United States. So his ambitions were curtailed. It's just that his ceiling is much higher than most.
REHMTo Somerville, Mass. Good morning, Alma.
ALMAGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.
ALMAI wanted to go back to the economy and jobs. And, recently, I heard one commentator say that he had information that -- I think it was businesses were holding back money. And I also have wondered if banks are holding back money in hopes that keeping the economy slow will just give them enough push to get over the top, and the Republicans and conservatives, who are so much more business-friendly, would take over the whole government and give them more of what they want.
REHMYou hear an awful lot to that point, Major.
GARRETTIt's unknowable for sure. I -- when I talk to people on the Hill and when I get a chance to talk to those in the business community -- I get a chance to speak around the country with some frequency -- I don't detect that. I think people would like to hire more and would like to have more profits and would like to create a bigger business for themselves or the corporation that they're aligned with. I know this is an underlying suspicion, and it is -- it's becoming more pronounced. I will tell you, I was talking to someone very high in the Obama campaign. They had just done some focus groups.
GARRETTAnd they were reviewing them in Chicago. And one thing that they came across, which was not exactly partisan -- and they weren't sure exactly how to interpret it, but it speaks to this larger issue. In the focus group, even when they talked about things the president had done or new ideas or proposals or things to make things better or solve things, the first reaction most people had, across independent non-aligned spectrum of voters, was, well, yes, that sounds like a good idea.
GARRETTBut how is it going to hurt me? Their initial reaction is everything that happens around them has a greater percentage chance of hurting them than helping them. In that sort of climate, I think politics is very hard to practice.
WILLIAMSI think it's a tremendous anxiety on the part of Americans right now. It's interesting. As I said, consumer confidence is good. And if you look at the stock market, despite the losses that we suffered over the last month and today, you know what, the stock market is pretty much back to where it was when things went haywire back in '08.
WILLIAMSSo the stock market's there, and the capital is there in terms of the big corporations. But, again, we've seen all sorts of transformations taking place in the American economy, including more use of technology to perform jobs. We've seen more people reaching close to the age of retirement, especially people who've had to take advantage of long-term unemployment benefits saying, well, maybe I should just retire at this point.
WILLIAMSWe have an aging population. That impacts the way that we view things as well. So there's lots of changes going on, and this comes back to the point of well, exactly what is the magic bullet? How does this get fixed? Well, if people are searching for certainty as an employer, they don't have it right now.
PAGEYou know, and a business, though, that had decided not to go ahead with expansion for whatever reason, would look at these economic numbers this week and say I made the right decision.
GARRETTI made the right call, absolutely.
PAGESo I take Alma's point. It is true that owners of businesses lean Republican, probably want Romney to win, think that'll be friendlier administration for them. But their fundamental goal was to make money for their companies. And caution in this recovery, I mean, it seems like you can certainly justify it.
REHMAll right. To Kalamazoo, Mich. Hi here, Ralph.
RALPHOh, yes. I want to sort of echo what Juan was saying. I wonder if we're not in a slow-growth period for the long term. And I'm looking at this, well, gas prices went down. That was good news. But that didn't seem to help the economy. And then I want to echo his point about stock prices are up. I have a AP article here that says that the stock prices are up, CEO pay and bonuses are up. This is for last year, 2011.
RALPHYeah. They said they're setting records. So the – I guess what we call the 1 percent is still doing great.
REHMBut one of those CEOs decided not to take a $75 million bonus, even though his income was $145 million. So he really didn't need the 75. It's true that these corporate CEOs are making tons of money, Susan.
PAGEIt's true. I would like to be a CEO.
PAGEI would. I would like to be a CEO.
GARRETTWell, I mean, it is a hard life. It's -- I mean, the...
REHMYeah, let me tell you.
GARRETTI'm not saying that their compensation packages which are adjudicated by a board of directors and they're answerable to stockholders -- I mean, it's not nearly as transparent as it ought to be.
REHMThey ought to be answerable to more people than just stockholders. That's my problem.
GARRETTAnd that's part of a moral continuum about how do you work and place yourself in the U.S. economy, vis-à-vis the economy in general, and your own employers. Are you comfortable making so much more than your employers -- employees do as someone who sits at the top of a corporation?
GARRETTAnd that's a much broader sort of psychological, cultural, moral debate.
WILLIAMSWell, you know what is interesting to me is one of the driving forces in our politics is obviously the Tea Party, as well as Occupy Wall Street, and we think of them as other, you know, polar opposites. But one thing they both get upset about is TARP and the bailout of Wall Street and too-big-to-fail. But Wall Street and those guys, not only do they keep going on in high profits and high pay, but they think, you know what, we don't owe anybody anything.
WILLIAMSWe're great. We do good things. What's wrong? Now, you're going to have this conversation, this debate that we're having this morning right here with you, Diane, in the presidential race. We saw...
WILLIAMS...some of it this week with Mitt Romney out at Solyndra, saying, oh, this -- what is this kind of thing the government getting involved here trying to save this company, trying to boost the alternative energy industry? This is cronyism. It went to Obama's friends and his cronies.
WILLIAMSAnd on the other hand, you have president Obama and David Axelrod, his political strategist, top most senior adviser, going to Boston yesterday to try to make the case. Well, wait a second. Where is this magic bullet from the great Mr. Romney, the man who's going to make the economy produce jobs? He didn't produce jobs when he was governor of Massachusetts. Well, of course, Romney's team, every gofer in the Romney campaign office in Boston showed up and hooted and booed David Axelrod.
WILLIAMSIt didn't turn out very well for David Axelrod. But that's the debate. And I think part of it is going to be, what is the social responsibility of -- what do they call themselves, the titans, the, you know, the big players on Wall Street who say, you know what? Our job is to make money. We don't have any obligation to this country.
REHMAnd here is Bill Clinton making an appearance on CNN last night, saying Mitt Romney has a sterling business career and that the campaign should not be about what kind of work Mr. Romney did. Now, that's the same kind of statement that got Cory Booker in trouble.
REHMHe had to backtrack on that. I don't think anybody is going to get Bill Clinton to backtrack. Let me ask you...
GARRETTAnd the president is not going to backtrack either, I guarantee you.
REHMLet me ask you about this Wisconsin recall effort. We saw the final debate last night. Major Garrett, ahead of the recall vote next Tuesday, what is this going to indicate to us about the electorate in general?
GARRETTI think it does have national implications. Democrats are beginning a strategic effort to downplay implications and say, this is a Wisconsin debate among Wisconsinites, and it will not have a larger national resonance. I don't think Republicans are going to take that from this at all. If Scott Walker -- the current governor who pushed through a lot of controversial, and for Democrats, deeply upsetting pension reforms -- survives the recall, then I think you're going to see that issue elevated to the state level.
GARRETTOther Republicans will look at it and take the Walker approach and understand that, if they encounter similar resistance, they can receive the backing of big outside Republican donors. Almost 70 percent...
REHMHuge money planned into this.
GARRETT...of Scott Walker's $31 million in collected donations so far, it was 57 percent two weeks ago. It's now up to nearly 65 to 70 percent. According to state records, it has come from outside of the state, very large donors who don't live in Wisconsin but are nevertheless giving Walker the financial means to carry out his recall campaign. It will be, I think, demoralizing for Democrats if they don't succeed because it will be a test of ground game versus outside money, and they thought that they had a ground game advantage.
GARRETTThey collected far more signatures than was necessary. Democrats are deeply heavily invested in this, and they may fall just short. The Marquette poll has Scott Walker up seven and the first poll to have him at 50 or above. He had about 51 percent. Republicans have already baked the cake that they won. I think they should be very nervous until all the votes are counted because Democrats are highly, highly motivated.
PAGEWhat a loss, though, for organized labor if Gov. Walker wins on Tuesday because they put all their efforts into this. They created dozens of field offices to help Tom Barrett, the Milwaukee mayor, who's running against him as he did in 2010. This, I think, clearly would embolden Republican governors and legislators in other states to go after the public employee unions on their collective bargaining rights and on the benefits that they have pension and otherwise.
WILLIAMSWell, you know, I think that the numbers right now indicate that Walker will prevail. Whether or not it, you know, the ground game is there is the question because, to my mind -- and I think this is the opinion of Democrats in the state -- where's been the national party? Now that Bill Clinton is supposed to go in this weekend, he's supposed to stir people up for the Democrats. It's a last minute pinch. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the head of the Democratic Party, said, we are trying.
WILLIAMSBut people on the ground say they'd been short of money coming from the national democratic apparatus, and they are resentful of it. And -- but I think that it could have a negative impact then on the national democratic image because the unions will be, I think, left looking impotent.
REHMWhy hasn't the national Democratic Party stepped in to the extent you've seen money coming in from outside Wisconsin for Republicans?
WILLIAMSWell, I think money is that, you know, money is not flowing so quickly into -- you know, President Obama is not even raising money for people on Capitol Hill these days. So there's a shortage of money to some extent, but I think it's the Republicans who have been energized over this issue much more greatly than the Democrats.
PAGEI think the White House made a decision. They did not want to play in this race because they might lose, and they might hurt their own prospects to win Wisconsin in November. You know, Wisconsin, I mean, Wisconsin is not Alabama or Mississippi or some reliably Republican state. It's a state that's voted Democratic in the last seven presidential elections. It is a swing state this time. And I think the White House made a calculated decision not to be part of the story.
REHMSusan Page of USA Today, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." What about Pennsylvania as a so-called swing state? People have been talking about that this week.
GARRETTWell, one of my colleagues at National Journal, Alex Roarty, wrote a piece on our website yesterday that says every indication of the Romney campaign so far is that they may skip Pennsylvania or only play in there tangentially. Pennsylvania, if Romney gets it, would be, I think, in the gravy or frosting category. There is an electoral victory path to 270 or more for Romney that does not include Pennsylvania. It's much more structured around Ohio.
GARRETTThe problem for the Romney campaign in Pennsylvania is you have a dominant, very strong and highly motivated suburban and urban population in Philadelphia that tends to overwhelm all the voting blocs in the rest of the part of state which will be sympathetic toward Romney. But I don't think Pennsylvania right now is nearly as high on the list for the Romney campaign as is Virginia, North Carolina, Nevada and Iowa and then Wisconsin.
REHMAnd will Gov. Romney name a running mate before the convention? Who are the people on that list, Susan?
PAGEYou know, I think that -- I don't know. This is based on reporting, but I cannot imagine Gov. Romney will announce this until the last possible moment because it's his big surprise, right? What are we going to list -- care about at that Republican convention in Tampa? It's his -- the running mate. And I think they are having people who would like to be considered as a running mate out there, doing very public events, and that is fueling interests in debate. I think that's all to Romney's advantage.
PAGEJust this morning, Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota who actually ran against Romney for the Republican nomination, he was on a conference call for the campaign. He was asked, would he like to be vice president? He said, yes, I'd be honored.
PAGESo you have -- unlike previous years when people kind of jockeyed in private and tried to be kind of demure, you have Marco Rubio and Rob Portman and Tim Pawlenty and half a dozen others out there pretty much campaigning for the job.
GARRETTI think it was up for the Romney campaign if they really could. They'd shrink this convention down to a day-and-a-half, announce the vice president, have their acceptance speeches and go.
REHMAnd go home.
REHMAll right. Let's take a caller in Dallas, Texas. Good morning, Dee. You're on the air.
DEEGood morning, everyone. I just wanted to reference something in regards to John Edwards. I'm a female. And I think one of the things that's great deal to look on John Edwards that made him most admirable that he was the only person during this campaign that referenced the word poverty. He called poverty the great moral issue of our century.
DEEAnd I think his personal sins are irrelevant to what positive impact he might have had for the society, that the amount of -- when we look at the amount of business and donations that are privately and secretly given to candidates now, either from private entities, individuals or from foreign sources, that pales in comparison to what I think John Edwards' (word?).
REHMIt's very interesting to hear that caller from Dallas. Dee perhaps represents a lot of women -- men as well.
PAGEIsn't it one of the tragedies of the John Edwards' case that the one candidate, as Dee says, who really focused on the issue of poverty, turns out to be someone who is so discredited on personal grounds?
GARRETTBut as -- right. Dee is consistent with the point I made. If John Edwards wants to have a future in political life, actions will speak louder than his words. And if his actions are consistent with the emphasis he put in 2004 and 2008 on poverty, and people see that and believe it, he'll have another chance.
REHMWhat do you think, Juan?
WILLIAMSI don't see it.
GARRETTYou still don't see it.
REHMYou still don't see it.
WILLIAMSI'm listening. I'm listening and...
WILLIAMS...I really appreciated the caller's, you know, very open-minded attitude. But even on the issue of poverty -- and as I say, I feel that John Edwards gave a great speech when he talked about the Two Americas -- and it still resonates to this day. But even now you have to question, was he sincere or was he just being an expedient politician?
REHMJuan Williams, political analyst for Fox News, Susan Page, Washington bureau chief at USA Today, and Major Garrett, congressional correspondent for National Journal. Thank you all so much.
WILLIAMSThank you, Diane.
GARRETTThank you, Diane.
REHMHave a great weekend, everybody. 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. Natalie Yuravlivker 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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