America’s Collision Course With The Debt Ceiling
As the nation counts down to default, Diane talks to longtime Congress watcher Norm Ornstein about the debt limit negotiations, what's at stake and whether he sees a way forward.
President Obama announces his choices for key second-term positions. Vice President Biden meets with gun control advocates and the NRA. And new mortgage rules target risky lending. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
The panel addressed a caller’s remarks that the conversation about gun ownership in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shootings is one-sided and controlled by people without knowledge of the Second Amendment. The Fix blogger Chris Cillizza responded, “I think the idea that everyone in this country thinks guns should be restricted is not true. We know that.” He added that comprehensive gun reform that would drastically restrict or change gun rights almost certainly wouldn’t pass Congress.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Vice President Biden says the task force on reducing gun violence will make recommendations next week. President Obama nominates his chief of staff Jack Lew for Treasury secretary. And the Consumer Financial Protection Agency releases new mortgage rules.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup: Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post, Julie Hirschfeld Davis of Bloomberg News and Major Garrett of CBS News. You are always part of the program. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning, everybody.
MR. MAJOR GARRETTGood morning.
MR. CHRIS CILLIZZAGood morning, Diane.
MS. JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVISGood morning, Diane.
REHMChris Cillizza, I see that Sen. Jay Rockefeller has decided he's not going to run again.
CILLIZZARight. This is not incredibly surprising, Diane. I think if I had been on yesterday and you would ask me name three senators who might not run, Jay Rockefeller would probably have been the first. He is someone who has spent a very long time in the U.S. Senate. He's obviously from an incredibly famous political family. He's now the -- I believe and I'm almost certain, the last Rockefeller in office, which is somewhat a remarkable thing and I think will be reflected on more today.
CILLIZZAWhat this does for the race -- Shelley Moore Capito, who is a U.S. House member, a Republican, had gotten into the race actually very early around Thanksgiving, saying she was running against Rockefeller, I think, in some way, trying to force Rockefeller's hand to say whether he was or was not running. West Virginia has been a traditionally Democratic state, so there are a lot of Democratic-elected officials on the state.
CILLIZZANow, that said, this is a state that, in the last three presidential elections, has gone strongly for Republicans. So I think Capito probably starts with a small edge. My guess is Democrats will turn to someone like Secretary of State Natalie Tennant who -- the best thing about her is that she was the West Virginia University mountaineer mascot, so she wore the coonskin cap -- or Carte Goodwin, who briefly served in the Senate as an appointed member of the U.S. Senate. So there are folks. But this is -- Rockefeller would have been their strongest candidate.
GARRETTCertainly. And Shelley Moore Capito has been looking at running for this race for a long time, looking for the best opening, the best timing. She did not run against Joe Manchin, a former governor who's now on the Senate, deciding that that race would be too big a hurdle for her. She was probably right about that. An open seat gives her the very best opportunity. She also comes from a well-known West Virginia political family. She is the father -- she is the daughter, rather, of former Governor Moore -- Arch Moore, right, Chris? Yes.
GARRETTSo she's well-known and well-respected and has a decent reputation within West Virginia, practicing bipartisan politics. West Virginia has been a state, if you would like to sort of look at them in the larger complex of national issues, very skeptical and hostile to any sort of climate change legislation, all the things about clean coal and what the administration may or may not try to attempt to do on climate change, will not run precisely through West Virginia, but will have to get over those mountains politically and otherwise.
REHMAll right. Let's turn to you, Julie, and talk about Vice President Biden's work this week on gun control.
DAVISWell, Vice President Biden met with a variety of groups. He met with victims, rights groups, gun rights groups, medical professionals, a whole slew of players in this upcoming debate on gun control and gun rights to try to figure out some recommendations, which he said yesterday would be coming Tuesday which, I think, it's a little sooner than a lot of people expected when the president first announced that he wanted these suggestions.
DAVISIt's pretty clear that there are some consensus items that Biden thinks can gather some attraction in Congress. Those are, you know, restricting high-capacity ammunition clips and things like that. But there is the open question of whether they're going to push for a renewal of the assault weapons ban, which is something that President Obama has said he supports. There's no question Joe Biden supports it. He was the architect of the '94 crime bill that put it in place.
DAVISBut there is a question whether they can get past the very, very staunch opposition of the NRA, which came out of their meeting with Biden yesterday saying, we want no part of this process if it's going to be about restricting the Second Amendment rights of Americans. And it sounds like there's very little wiggle room there for any kind of off-the-bat bipartisan negotiation. There's going to have to be a weighing-in by the White House and a lot of fighting on the Hill to figure out which parts of these can actually go forward.
REHMMajor Garrett, what can the president do on his own?
GARRETTWell, the president can do what he has already done: identify the issue, say he's going to spend political capital on it's behalf, use his State of the Union address, which the White House has already signaled he will do on this issue and attempt to take Biden's tenacity and skill set on this issue. Biden has a long history of tangling with the NRA, tangling with gun control, tangling with crime issues. I went back 'cause it was one of the seminal issues I covered when I first came to Congress in the early 1990s.
GARRETTThe crime bill was an enormous legislative effort, and Joe Biden built a coalition that revived the bill that was nearly dead in the House, got it through the Senate, picking up Republican votes on procedural votes and otherwise by building a crime bill that not only had an assault weapons ban, the first in American history, but had a lot of other things in it. It increased the federal death penalties, created the federal "three strikes and you're out," long-term felony incarceration program, drug courts.
GARRETTIt created the Violence Against Women Act. It was comprehensive in its scope. It did more than just gun control. And I think the central insight that Biden has on this entire issue is you have to do more. If you're going to achieve gun control, you have to do more that issue alone. And I think there's going to be money in there for other things on the law enforcement side, some sweeteners for those who are not necessarily NRA members but are gun rights advocates to try to build a broader coalition than one simply related to restricting access to firearms.
CILLIZZAWhat I've been struck by is that -- Julie mentioned that Biden has come out and said, we're moving toward agreement on certain things, including universal background checks. What's interesting is that as you have Joe Biden sort of saying we're moving toward a consensus, and I'm with Julie on this. I was stunned that Biden said, "Well, we'll have it all by Tuesday." I mean, typically, the way these things work is a task force meets and then, sometime long after you've forgotten what the taskforce is, they announce their recommendations. So I mean he gets credit for that.
CILLIZZABut just as you have Biden saying there's an emerging consensus, you have stories -- there was one in The New York Times this morning, and I've heard from people I've talked to on the Hill -- though I defer to you guys -- but who say, look, I do not see the votes for the more comprehensive this bill -- to Major's point about the crime bill, the more comprehensive this is, the less likely it is it's going to pass.
CILLIZZAAnd The Times' story this mooring, it jives with sort of what I've heard is this idea that the administration may back away from trying to push an assault weapons ban because they simply don't think that they can pass. And the only thing worse than pushing for gun legislation is having it be submarined by people within your own party, which is what would happen in the Senate. You know, we talk about West Virginia.
CILLIZZAThat is a state where there's going to be an election where the Democrat is not likely to be -- whoever it is -- is not likely to be super supportive of more strict gun laws. Mark Pryor in Arkansas is up for re-election. Tim Johnson in South Dakota is up for re-election. Democrats all who have these -- Mary Landrieu in Louisiana is up for re-election, Kay Hagen in North Carolina. These are folks who I think are going to be very skittish about doing something big on guns.
DAVISAnd the White House is obviously pushing back very strongly publicly and even privately on the notion that they're not going to push for an assault weapons ban. But I think the nuance of it is they want to push some legislation that has aspects of it that can pass. And they're not going to allow an inability to get an assault weapons ban to sink the whole rest of the bill.
DAVISAnd, actually, Joe Biden said yesterday something along these lines. He didn't talk about specifically the assault weapons ban, but he said this is not going to be a process where we allow the notion of not being able to get everything we want to kill any chance of doing something because...
DAVIS...there are things like the expanded background checks and the ammunition clips that they think they can make progress on.
REHMWhat about Gov. Cuomo in New York State? His State of the Union address, he was pretty loud.
GARRETTVery loud on this and wants a very aggressive state law in New York on the question of assault weapons, assault-type rifles. There are all sorts of nomenclature, very specific ways that legitimately firearms dealers and firearms purchasers talk about things in the way they were regulated. I mean if you look at back at the assault weapons ban, it's a very technical list of weapons that did or did not qualify. Small modifications could make one legal, could make one illegal.
GARRETTSo it is a very detailed sort of ban. It's one of the things that creates a political difficulty for it. But Cuomo has jumped into that with both feet. Everyone looks at Andrew Cuomo as someone who might consider running in 2016. He's adjudicated for himself the politics of his state and the politics of this nationally and wants to be near the front of the parade, pushing for this...
REHMAnd what about...
GARRETT...as opposed to being in the middle of the parade.
REHMWhat of Gabby Giffords? She stepped in yesterday, and she and her husband forming a new group.
GARRETTYeah, interesting, Diane, you know, one of the big stories -- I don't think it's news to any of us who cover this day in, day out, but I think in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shooting, it's one of the big stories for your average person who follows politics very loosely is the fact that the NRA is a huge political behemoth both in terms of lobbying and the money they spend on campaigns, $257 million in 2010 alone. And unlike on almost any other issue in this town, there really is no voice on the other side.
GARRETTThe Brady Campaign to Prevent Violence -- Gun Violence, named after Jim Brady, the former White House press secretary, spent -- and don't hold me to this -- but in the three to $4 million range. So people always say, "Well, it's not a fair fight." I always say it's not a fight at all. Two hundred fifty million to $3 million, that is a walkover in political terms. So...
REHMSo what can the president do to counter the influence of the NRA...
CILLIZZASo it's difficult. I think Major touched on it, which is he can use the bully pulpit, which I think is less bully and less pulpit than it once was because of the fracturing of the media and the difficulty to drive any message. But he still is the most powerful communicator in the United States on issues. He can take a campaign-style approach and bring this to districts and states. But I would say, Diane, you know, ultimately, the NRA can say, "Look, we have pull. You have X number of NRA members who live in your district. All of them do not want an assault weapons ban. We have a proven track record."
CILLIZZAThey don't even need to say this because people know. "We have a proven track record that if you go against us, it will not work out well for you." And again, the dynamic, it's not just Republicans who would kill this bill ultimately. It's really, honestly, Democrats in the Senate, moderate Democrats who are up in 2014.
GARRETTThe White House wants to reach big, and an assault weapons ban would be the most aggressive component of this. But if it falls back from that and Joe Biden did not mention it. Yesterday, he mentioned many other things and achieves other things on mental health, magazine clips and universal background check. It will have changed the debate and the underlying law.
REHMMajor Garrett, CBS News chief White House correspondent. Short break. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd for the Friday News Roundup of domestic stories, here in the studio: Julie Hirschfeld Davis of Bloomberg News, Major Garrett of CBS, Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post. I know that many of you are going to want to talk about the guns and what's happening in Washington. We are going to look at some other news as well, including the president's selection of Jack Lew for Treasury secretary. Major Garrett, tell us exactly who Jack Lew is and why the president chose him.
GARRETTJack Lew was a very well-known figure in Democratic politics when it comes to finances, budgets and the minutia therein. He was budget director under Bill Clinton, budget director under President Obama and chief of staff. And I'm told by those who work in the White House the best of the three chiefs of staff, the calmest, most organized and most disciplined in controlling the flow of information to the president and from the president.
GARRETTAnd there are many in the West Wing who will miss Jack Lew if he's confirmed as he inevitably will be. He has been up before the Senate twice before, unanimously confirmed both times. There are Republicans who object to his nomination now.
REHMAlabama Sen. Jeff Sessions has already said Jack Lew will not be Treasury secretary.
GARRETTYeah. He should not be the Treasury secretary because he believes he has not been sufficiently aggressive on reducing budget deficits or dealing with the structural debt of this country. Many Republicans regard Jack Lew and look at his heritage as working once for Tip O'Neill as being doctrinarily committed to all of the great society programs the Democrats seek to protect now as budget caucus continue.
GARRETTThey're skeptical of him that way. Jeff Sessions could put a hold on this nomination. It would be an extraordinary maneuver. The votes don't exist to sustain a filibuster in the Senate. If he does it, it will be short-lived, and Jack Lew will be confirmed.
DAVISBut I think what you are seeing with Sessions' statement and his willingness to come forth that quickly and say something that absolute is that Jack Lew's confirmation fight is going to be, in many ways, a proxy fight over the entire budget and all the budget issues that President Obama and the Congress are going to be fighting about for much of this year. We've already seen -- you know, they have these three deadlines that are coming up.
DAVISThey had the deal that sort of solved the tax issue for now and pushed off a lot of the spending issues up until February, March, beginning of April.
DAVISBut as we see these hearings unfold with Jack Lew's nomination, I think what you are going to hear is a lot of the arguments that you'll hear on the floor, policy-wise, about should they raise the debt ceiling and what should the conditions be, how many spending cuts should be included, how do they keep the government operating with their budget about to expire at the end of March and what to do about the sequestration, the automatic cuts that they still haven't dealt with.
DAVISSo the fact that these problems were not solved earlier in President Obama's tenure when Jack Lew was at the helm are really going to affect his chances and affect the tenor of his confirmation.
REHMChris, are we going to see these kinds of objections to every single nominee?
CILLIZZAYou know, it's so interesting, Diane, because I just went back and sort of looked because we had Susan Rice, who is kind of -- didn't even make it to the nomination.
CILLIZZAI mean, that's kind of where we are in the political processes. Someone who didn't even get nominated pulled her name from nomination or consideration. And then Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense, obviously, that's going to be a...
REHMAnd they come out blasting?
CILLIZZARight. That's going to be a big fight. I think it is probably where we are. But it has -- it's not where we've always been. Very few people wind up not being confirmed. You know, the most famous one is John Tower, former Texas senator for secretary of defense who did not make it. There are a few here and there. I think we have to be careful to distinguish between rhetorically opposed and will vote against versus will put a hold on -- will filibuster.
CILLIZZAYou know, as Major points out, I understand that Jeff Sessions doesn't think that Jack Lew is going to be the Treasury secretary. But if you rank order the people in terms of where the big confirmation fights are, it's Chuck Hagel, John Brennan for CIA and then Jack Lew. The idea that Jack Lew is somehow going to be -- unless something comes out, which it probably won't, he's going to make it. So I take their statements with a grain of salt.
GARRETTOne thing I would also point out, Diane, though the NRA -- getting back to our original topic -- is confident, the Republicans would prefer not to talk about the gun control issue here and now. And I think you're beginning to structurally see evidence that every other issue imaginable that can be raised and can be confronted and be contested will be contested and confronted if that allows them a day, a week, a month to not confront the gun control issue.
REHMTalk about the legacy of Tim Geithner, Julie.
DAVISWell, I mean, Tim Geithner came into the job at a time when the, you know, the financial meltdown had just -- coming out right out of the financial meltdown, the economy was in shambles. He had to deal immediately with how to sort of restore the financial stability. So he's sort of dealt in a crisis environment his entire time there. Now, he went in with some degree of credibility with Republicans because of the whole process of putting together the bailout at the end of George W. Bush's term. So that was a leg up.
DAVISBut, I mean, really, they would pan his performance and say that he did not do what he should've done to restore the, you know, the financial health of the country and to make sure that this country was in a position to have a recovery. Now, I think, you know, you have to look at the -- at what happened with the stimulus and look at how that impacted what he was able to do as Treasury secretary.
DAVISIt was a lot less than he might otherwise have been able to do. The tools at his disposal were a lot weaker because he came in at such a weak time for this country. But I think Jack Lew -- the challenge for him is he has been the behind-the-scenes guy. He's, as Major said, seen as a real details guy, very disciplined, effective as a manager inside of government. But he never had to be the front man. He's never been the face of the administration, the face of the country.
DAVISHe doesn't have any international profile, which is something that Tim Geithner did have some coming in. He's never really dealt with currency issues. He spent like a little more than two years on Wall Street, which is rare for recent -- modern Treasury secretary. So he has some challenges that Geithner did not have going in, transition challenges. That will be interesting to see how he confronts those.
REHMWho's likely to replace him as chief of staff, Chris?
CILLIZZAWell, so I think it's between two people: Denis McDonough and Ron Klain. Ron Klain is the person that many of us know better. He's a former chief of staff to Vice President Biden. He is someone who has been deeply involved in sort of election politics as well as Democratic administrations in the years past. McDonough is a different sort of figure, more of an inside player in the intelligence world too, not in the political world.
CILLIZZAYou know, the criticism that you hear, Diane, is, if it is down to those two -- and I'll defer to Major 'cause he knows the White House better than me, but I think it is probably down to those two -- is that we will now have, in all of the major positions -- and when I say major, you're talking about the big cabinet heads, as well as the chief of staff -- we will now have all white males that President Obama has picked in the second term.
CILLIZZAAnd this comes four years after the president said openly and without that -- the cabinet is going to look like America. So he has opened himself up to -- this is not a criticism. People say, oh, you guys are just (word?) -- there's not a criticism that we are foisting upon him. He invited this by sort of saying that that was a directive in his cabinet.
GARRETTRight. And Chris is right. It's down to Ron Klain, who would be an outside K Street political, deeply connected, highly visible, Democratic operative working as chief of staff, and Denis McDonough, who would be the top loyalist for President Obama who could get this position. Denis McDonough, who I actually know better than I know Ron Klain, works about 22 hours a day. And that's not an exaggeration.
GARRETTI mean, this guy has an absolute battery that does not have a limit, and he is fiercely loyal to the president. He is fiercely loyal within the staff. He does not have a profile in town. He is not well-known on K Street. He is not well-known in the Governors Association and the sort of larger, throbbing ganglia of Democratic politics.
CILLIZZAThat's an image…
GARRETTBut the president knows him and trusts him.
GARRETTHe's not. He would be the classic insider. But he would be fiercely loyal. And the question for that -- the president has to decide is what kind of person does he want to be his chief of staff. Does he want someone who can speak inside and talk outside credibly or only conduct these most crucial inside conversations? And the president always knows he has his interests and his interests alone, chief and foremost.
REHMAll right. Let's go back for a moment to Chuck Hagel and how that discussion is continuing.
DAVISWell, I mean, it's been ironic, really. President Obama is going to -- has nominated John Kerry for secretary of state, and he's a Democrat, and looks like he's going to sail right through while Republicans have a lot of questions and some Democrats as well about former Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican. He is facing questions about a whole variety of things. The biggest problem for him is the bipartisan nature of the opposition.
DAVISHe's got Republicans talking about him being insufficiently committed to Israel, not being tough enough on Iran. Chuck Schumer, Democrat from New York, has said that he, privately, that he may have a hard time backing him. He hasn't been willing to say that he -- to predict that he'll be confirmed. There's also an issue that Democrats are going to want to probe deeply into, which is his position on gay rights and things he's said about gay people in the past.
DAVISHe was against don't ask, don't tell. And he was -- he made a comment several years ago about a candidate who was openly gay, who he didn't think should be appointed a U.S. ambassador because he said he was "openly aggressively gay." The bigger issue, I think, thematically in terms of his confirmation is that he is, like President Obama is, not an interventionist. He is a person who believes in restraint. He's a person who opposed the 2007 surge. He was among the only Republicans who did that...
DAVIS...in Iraq. He's talked about how he's had a lot of reservations about the war in Afghanistan and said that it wasn't being -- the involvement there wasn't being unwound quickly or efficiently enough. And so there are going to be questions from all across this political spectrum. And as Chris said, if you're going to rank how hard these confirmation battles are going to be, I think Hagel has to be at the very top of the list.
CILLIZZAThat's right, and Julie's hit it. It's because Republicans are probably going to be opposed to a former Republican who quasi-endorsed Barack Obama in 2008 and whose wife openly endorsed Barack Obama in 2008 and who made clear he would be open to serving on a ticket with Barack Obama in 2008. So that's not surprising. Schumer, I think, is the linchpin here. This is someone who we all -- well, I won't speak for all of us -- I expect to be the next leader of the Democratic Party in the Senate whenever Harry Reid decides to depart.
CILLIZZAHe's someone with significant influence and someone who has been -- lukewarm is a kind way to describe how Chuck Schumer has felt about Chuck Hagel being the pick because of Hagel's position on Israel. If Chuck Schumer lines up behind him, I think it would be solely because he wants to be supportive of the president.
CILLIZZAHe does not want this to be a blemish on the president as the president tries -- attempts to start sort of a momentum building for a second term. But I do still think -- while I think it's more likely Schumer supports Hagel than not, depending on what Hagel says in the confirmation hearings, I do not think we should assume that Chuck Schumer will line up. I think it's probably 60-40.
GARRETTPicking up on 60-40, Democrats I've talked to think, in the end, this will be a process that Hagel will give a lot of representations of his positions and how he's going to support the president in these one-on-one meetings, that his hearings will go well and the range is 65 to 75 votes for confirmation, not overwhelming, but certainly enough.
GARRETTThis also gets to the diversity question because the president had a candidate who he looked at very closely for the defense secretary, Michele Flournoy, deputy defense secretary, knows the Joint Chiefs very well, knows the bureaucracy very well, is schooled in all Pentagon budget issues.
REHMSo why didn't he?
GARRETTBecause he wanted Hagel. It's the president's prerogative. But I'm telling you -- and people at the White House I've discussed this with agree -- if the president had made Michele Flournoy the pick, these diversity questions would have evaporated almost overnight.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We've also learned that Eric Holder, Kathleen Sebelius and Eric Shinseki are going to stay on, but Hilda Solis is leaving.
CILLIZZAWell, the Hilda Solis news. This is a woman who's a member of Congress from California, Latino woman, prior to being Labor secretary. I said to some of my colleagues when the news was announced this week, it could not have come. It was the department of bad timing for the White House, just as these stories about Chuck Hagel and John Kerry and Jack Lew and the chief of staff thing that we've talked about...
REHMAnd no diversity.
CILLIZZA…and all white males. A Latino woman decides to head out. Now, she's leaving, we believe, for other prospect -- political prospects in California, and it's out of her own volition. It's just -- it does not look great. When it comes to the people who stayed, you know, I think Eric Holder is the one -- because the Justice Department is one of those big cabinet jobs, I wouldn't say I was surprised by it. But, you know, he has been someone who has taken a huge amount of flak from Republicans. He and Janet Napolitano are probably the two who take the most, but Eric Holder is definitely number one.
CILLIZZAMy guess is he does not stay for a full second term. But, look, I think if he left right now, rightly or wrongly, Republicans would declare victory that they rode him out on a rail because of this Fast and Furious, this gun walking that -- program that the Justice Department put in place. Holder is in the middle of lots of things. So him staying is another example, I think, and Major touched on this. If term one was team of rivals, this is team of allies. This is Barack Obama picking people he knows likes and wants in those jobs, not for political considerations.
REHMAll right. The week's economic story is AIG. Julie.
DAVISWell, there was this talk of whether Hank Greenberg, the former chief executive of AIG, who have -- who's at a different company now and left before the whole meltdown situation really took hold, his company announced plans to sue about -- on the terms of the bailout. They got $182 billion from the federal government. The government just got rid of the last of its shares last month.
DAVISAIG actually just started running ads last week, saying thank you to the taxpayers. And this company, which is called Starr, has decided to launch a lawsuit, seeking $25 billion in damages for allegedly violated shareholder rights. Basically, Hank Greenberg says, we got a bad deal. Shareholders got a bad deal when -- in taking this money. The government used it for a backdoor bailout of other financial players, and it wasn't fair, and we lost money.
DAVISAnd AIG got together, their board, and they had a very long marathon session, we understand, and decided for a lot of reasons -- nobody can really say exactly what went on in that room -- but that they were not going to join this suit. They were getting enormous pressure from members of Congress, from the public, from investor rights groups. I mean, it was just -- it was immense the pressure they were coming under not to do this.
DAVISAnd they did after -- as the bailout unfolded in 2008 and 2009, the hearings were being held and everything, they did snap, too, at a certain point and start to worry about their reputation. They hired -- I'll never forget. They brought one of these strategic crisis communications firms with them to some of the hearings they had on the Hill. They kind of got the joke that it's not necessarily all about your business practices. It is about how it looks, the optics of it, to the public. So they dodged a reputational bullet here. Maybe they left some money on the table, but...
CILLIZZAI mean, as someone who covers the financial industry very loosely and covers the politics of the financial industry, Julie has hit on it. Whether or not they think they got a bad deal from the government, they were going under without the government's money. The idea that they would then seek damages for getting a bailout, I always say, does it pass the common sense test? Can you explain it to someone on the street, and they would not raise their eyebrows? This one didn't even come close to passing the common sense test, Diane.
REHMChris Cillizza of The Washington Post. And when we come back, we'll talk about the new mortgage rules released by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and take your calls. Stay with us.
REHMAnd we'll open the phones now. As I said earlier, there are many of you who want to talk about guns. There is, however, other news out there. Let's go to Houston, Texas. Good morning, Cindy.
CINDYHow are you doing?
REHMI'm fine. Go right ahead, please.
CINDYAll right. One of the suggestions that I haven't heard about gun control is when a gun is sold to someone who has no proper authentication, why isn't the seller of the gun not responsible for any crime committed with that gun?
GARRETTWell, the way the federal law works right now is if you are a licensed federal firearms dealer, you are compelled by law and practice to run a background check on the criminal record of a purchaser and a mental history background of the purchaser. There are some gaps in the data stream there. One of the things the Biden task force is looking at is beefing up funding and data streams for criminal background checks and mental health records to streamline and make that more rapid.
GARRETTOne of the things that's in the law now is if for three days -- if you've heard nothing back from the federal government a background check, you can sell the firearm, OK? The NRA successfully removed what had been a previous position which if you hadn't heard, you couldn't sell it. Now, if you can't -- if you don't hear, you can sell it. That's one of the things people are looking at now, OK. So those are the rules for federally licensed firearms dealers.
GARRETTBut a private sale -- let's say I have a firearm, and my neighbor says, hey, I like that. Can I buy your Glock? And I say, how much you want to spend? Four hundred dollars. Here you go. I hand it over the fence, he gives me $400. That is completely invisible. And some dealers, some private citizens who sell at gun shows operate on this level. So that's one of the things the federal government is looking at.
GARRETTThe reason this is controversial is because to get those kind of sales, those minute transactions covered, the NRA believes you have to get a registry. And a registry of firearms by owner, by address, by all sorts of other characteristics creates for them, they fear, a national database of gun ownership which they believe, in their own minds, could lead -- at some future data, though no one talks about it -- to a confiscation program. And that's why they've always been ideologically and philosophically adamantly opposed to this kind of data sale.
REHMAll right. To Houston, Texas. Hi there, Glen.
GLENGood morning, Diane. Great show.
GLENI have a question. There was, at one time, a ban on assault weapons, and during the Bush administration, it was reinstated. Why is it that the NRA has so much power now to kill that and in the past they didn't? What is the difference between before Bush and now?
GARRETTIt was a 10-year sunset placed into law under the signature of Bill Clinton in 1994, the Crime bill of 1994, which included many provisions I summarized earlier. It had a 10-year sunset. Joe Biden agreed to that in a concession that he would've preferred not to make. But to get the votes and to get the acceptance of this concept, he said, look, we'll take a look at it for 10 years, but it will not be permanent.
GARRETTMost federal law is permanent especially federal law that doesn't deal with financial mechanisms. They don't have to get through this -- I won't even say it -- well, I will say it, reconciliation and all this other budgetary gobbledygook. But on things like firearms controls or other criminal aspects of the code, they're permanent. This was 10-year sun-setted in order to get the votes to evaluate after 10 years, and then it went away. And there was absolutely at the time, we all remember it, no impetus whatsoever politically to extend it.
REHMAll right. Here's an email from Taylor, who says, "Please discuss the status of filibuster reform in the Senate." Julie.
DAVISWell, when the congressional leaders met with President Obama right after the election -- this is something that Mitch McConnell brought up right off the bat -- that if Democrats in the Senate were going to try to change the rules in order to deny the minority, the ability that they've always had, that that's what defied in the Senate and that's why people call it the world's greatest deliberative body, to block something by filibuster, that there was going to be a big problem and Obama was not going to get any of his second term agenda done.
DAVISNow, there has -- there's been a group of Senators that's meeting, that's mad about rules changes in the Senate to try to get the Senate to work in a more functional way. And everyone who has watched the Senate closely or from afar over the past several years notice that it's dysfunctional. They are not talking filibusters. Things come up and you just, and they just stall out immediately. And it takes 60 votes to do almost anything which is not the way that it always has been.
DAVISSo there's been a lot of effort made around figuring out how do we change this. And there is a group -- a bipartisan group of Senators that came up with some recommendations, mostly having to do with streamlining things so that the minority would get an amendment in the process of bringing the bill to the floor. But there wouldn't be the ability to completely just cut something off of the past without a talking filibuster. So these rules are on table...
DAVISTalking filibuster where you get like, Mr. Smith goes to Washington...
DAVIS...you get up there, and you have to keep talking...
DAVIS...and if you want to -- if they're going to yell at the floor, it has to be to someone else who's going to keep talking as well.
DAVISSo there is an effort, and the majority leader, Sen. Reid, and Mitch McConnell are actually talking about this behind the scenes.
DAVISI understand that they are less worried now that this is going to blow the Senate up at the beginning of the session than they had been previously, but it's not settled. And even if they do settle it, there are going to be a lot of people who are going to be unhappy because you have Republicans like Ron Paul and Mike Lee who are -- who do not walk and lock necessarily with their leadership who are not going to like it if they feel like they're being cut out of the process.
CILLIZZAAnd, Diane, if I could just, very quickly...
CILLIZZA...the problem with filibuster reform always is it's you want it when you're in the majority, but eventually you know you're going to be in the minority. That's why it's always, you know, these politics works as a pendulum.
REHMAll right. To Sykesville, Md. Hi there, Geoffrey.
GEOFFREYHi, ma'am. My name's -- I'm calling in regard to the one-sidedness of their discussion today about gun ownership. As a gun owner and, you know, a taxpaying American and a law-abiding citizen, I'm just deeply concerned about how, you know, people that have very little knowledge of guns and the principles behind gun ownership and the Second Amendment have, you know, pretty much controlled the debate over the issue. And the demonization of the gun owners and the NRA, in particular, has really offended me.
GEOFFREYAnd it just, I mean, specifically, your show -- and, you know, I'm a long-time listener -- excuse my nervousness -- but I'm a long-time listener, and I've always looked to you for some side, you know, of objectivity. And it's just clearly lacking here. And it's just deeply offending me, you know? I don't understand why you can't at least have one panelist on there that, at least, you know, had the resemblance of the understanding of the Second Amendment, how it's not for sporting or hunting, but it's just a way of protecting the people from an oppressed government.
REHMNow, there is nothing in that Second Amendment about protecting one from the government.
CILLIZZANo. You know, look, let me say broadly, Diane, there are many millions of people, including my in-laws, who are gun owners and believers in gun rights. I think that the idea that everyone in this country thinks guns should be restricted is not true. We know that -- Major hit on this at -- you know, when the crime bill and the assault law has been sun-setted in '04, there was zero political interest. And that doesn't just mean from Republicans. There was zero political interest in doing anything about it.
CILLIZZAGo back and look at the number of times Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate for president in 2008, talked about guns. Go back and look at how many times guns were mentioned in the 2012 debates. I did it. It was one question in one of the three debates that they both, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, summarily sort of answered, and that was it.
CILLIZZASo they've stayed away from it for a reason which is that the last 15 years or so, it has become clear to many Democratic Party strategists that the country simply does not want more restrictions on guns. At most, they want the current laws to be enforced, which they are and they are not, but they do not want more. Now, in the wake of Newtown, when you have the number of children, young children murdered, there has been movement on some aspects in terms of public opinion on gun control.
CILLIZZAI would say there is still not as much movement as people think there should -- some people think there should be. And I would say that we've just spent the 10 minutes at least talking about how -- I think the three of us agree that the idea of a huge comprehensive thing that would drastically restrict or change gun rights is almost certainly not going to pass the U.S. House or Senate.
CILLIZZAI would say I still think there has to be a middle ground between confiscating every gun in the country and banning the sale of firearms, which nobody wants, and the opposite which is we can never make common sense -- we can never update and make common sense gun laws that 75 to 80 percent of the country agree on. There has to be a gray area there. Unfortunately, on this issue, Diane, there has not been.
GARRETTAnd if I could just say, I fundamentally disagree with Jeffrey. I've spent a lot of time educating myself about this issue. I speak credibly about guns, the underlying laws, and I try to describe very accurately what the laws do and don't do. I've tried to educate myself. There is nothing I've said today or I think anyone on this panel said advocating a position one way or the other.
GARRETTIf I've insufficiently defended the Second Amendment in Geoffrey's opinion, fine, that's not my role. I've described everything I know about underlying laws where the Biden task force is heading, what the underlying politics are, and I'll stand by it.
REHMAll right. To Alex in Rochester, N.H. Good morning. You're on the air.
ALEXGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.
ALEX(unintelligible) have to apologize. I too am calling about the gun issue. I realize there are other news issues. But I was watching Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the NRA, at a press conference on TV approximately a week after the tragic shooting in Newtown, Conn. And he was arguing for a national database of the mentally ill.
ALEXAnd my concern, I, myself, am a person with a mental illness. And I also have criminal record, although it's a misdemeanor. But, you know, in addition to the underlying stigma, misunderstanding about mental illness that might be informing that kind of perspective, what about the medical records privacy issue? And should we really be singling out people with mental illness?
DAVISWell, I mean, I think you're going to hear a vibrant debate about that on the Hill. I mean, this is one of the only things other than arming guards at schools that the NRA has affirmatively come forward with at this point at -- in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings and said they would be willing to do. And it -- there is definitely a bipartisan discussion.
DAVISAnd I think the vice president alluded to this after his meetings this week that there's a growing consensus that there needs to be more research behind what leads to these deaths, both weapons wise and mental health wise. And I don't think there is any -- I think that there will certainly be a push to up funding for that kind of research. There -- they could run into bigger problems trying to increase funding for research into weapons-related deaths because the NRA has opposed that in the past.
DAVISBut I do think that they're going to have a very hard time if they're talking about beefing up the kind of mental health information that you can feed into the database that Major was talking about because there are all sorts of health care privacy laws that they would have to -- that they would be running afoul of. So they -- I don't think that there's necessarily a way to do that that would work in the way that the advocates of reform are saying they want it to and still maintain the privacy protections that are in place right now.
REHMJulie, tell us about these new mortgage rules put out by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
DAVISWell, this is part of a wrath of new mortgage rules that the bureau is going to put out in the coming days. They are coming out with mortgage servicing rules on Monday. And it's part of a process of trying to overhaul a system that was fundamentally broken and lead to the housing meltdown. And the idea is that lenders will have to verify borrower's ability to pay. Imagine that, their ability to repay their mortgages.
DAVISAnd they set a debt to income ratio that you have to meet, or you have to be qualified for a federally backed loan. That's the other. If you can't -- if you don't meet those specific criteria that the board is laying out, then you have to meet the criteria that exist now for a federally guaranteed loan. The problem is there's, you know, they'll -- they still haven't figured out what the role of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are going to be going forward.
DAVISAnd in the absence of that, it's difficult to do what these rules are designed to do, which is to -- now that banks are ready to lend again and able to lend again free at the flow of capital so that the housing market can really recover in the way it hasn't yet been able to. It's coming back, but it's not there yet. And they're going to need to clarify these rules before it'll happen.
REHMJulie Hirschfeld Davis of Bloomberg News, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let me ask you about the baseball Hall of Fame, Major Garrett.
GARRETTMm hmm. Nobody qualified this year. It's the steroid-tainted class of 2012. And I believe there was one enormous and egregious casualty, Craig Biggio of the Houston Astros, who is, under any estimate, a Hall of Fame baseball player, 3,000 base hits, 414 stolen bases, enough home runs to qualify, multiple All Star, multiple Silver Slug winner, a position player of merit at catcher and second base.
GARRETTAnd he -- because he was wrapped in with Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire and everyone else -- came close but didn't get there. I hope in the second ballot -- round of balloting next year, baseball writers see the injustice of denying him a first ballot election. With everyone else, I agree with Tom Verducci.
GARRETTHe's a Sports Illustrated writer. Check out his column this week. Everyone who is tainted by steroids should not be in the Hall of Fame. It's more than a museum. It's about cheating. It's about the integrity of the game. And I'm a loving baseball fan since I was 6 years old, and I don't want the cheaters in.
REHMAnd talk about Richard Ben Cramer, Chris Cillizza.
CILLIZZAYeah. So Richard Ben Cramer is someone who I think if you're a political journalist or follow politics you knew about. And if you don't, you should. Richard Ben Cramer wrote a book called "What It Takes," about the 1988 presidential campaign that came out during the 1992 presidential campaign. The reason it took so long 'cause -- is because the book is 1,067 pages long.
CILLIZZAIt's about six biographies essentially of the men running, including Bob Doyle and Joe Biden. Richard Ben Cramer was someone, I think, who understood at a base level, he wanted to understand what motivated politicians to do what they do and who they were before they became these big names in lights. Buy the book "What It Takes." And if you don't want to buy it, read his profile of Joe -- of Ted Williams in Esquire magazine. Beautifully done.
REHMHe died at 62...
CILLIZZA62 years old on Monday in Baltimore. He was -- I hope to say a friend of mine. I met him on multiple occasions and actually went out and interviewed him last summer to -- for a chapter of my book about him writing his book.
REHMAnd for many of you, I'm sure you know that the former Episcopal bishop Jane Holmes Dixon died on Christmas Day. She was a dear friend of mine for 45 years. We are going to rebroadcast my interview with Jane Holmes Dixon on WAMU this Sunday at 2 p.m. And you can certainly listen to a live stream at wamu.org. That interview originally aired in 2002. I hope you'll tune in. Have a great weekend everybody.
CILLIZZAYou, too, Diane.
GARRETTThank you, Diane.
REHMThanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Susan Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman and Lisa Dunn. The engineer is Erin Stamper. 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 email@example.com, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington, D.C. This is NPR.
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