The Pentagon lifts the ban on combat roles for women. Secretary Clinton testifies before Congress on the Benghazi attack. And the House passes a short term debt ceiling extension. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top domestic news stories.
Sheryl Gay Stolberg
Washington correspondent for The New York Times.
Washington bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal
White House correspondent for Time magazine.
Friday News Roundup Video
The panel discussed President Barack Obama’s second inaugural address, which charged Americans with tackling climate change and finding clean energy sources. Michael Scherer, White House correspondent for Time magazine, said climate change is no longer the electoral liability that it posed for Obama during his first term. “It does represent a historic shift. Maybe not in what he believes, but in terms of how he’s presenting himself to the country,” Scherer said about the speech. Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times said the Keystone XL pipeline is an issue of conflict for Obama, who now has the opportunity to accomplish what he wasn’t able to during his first term. “What we saw in this inaugural address, in essence, was the president liberated,” Stolberg said.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The Pentagon lifts its ban on women serving in combat roles. President Obama nominates the first ex-prosecutor to head the Securities and Exchange Commission, and Senator Dianne Feinstein unveils a bill that would ban semi-automatic weapons. Joining me for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup: Jerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal, Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times and Michael Scherer of Time magazine.
MS. DIANE REHMDo join us. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning, everybody.
MS. SHERYL GAY STOLBERGGood morning.
MR. JERRY SEIBGood morning, Diane.
MR. MICHAEL SCHERERGood morning, Diane.
REHMGood to have you all here. Sheryl, talk about why Secretary Panetta lifted the ban on women in combat positions now.
STOLBERGWell, I think that both he and General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had experienced during their tenure women serving in combat. In essence, this already codifies what is in existence. Panetta had served in the Army as an intelligence officer 50 years ago. He was struck by how much things had changed. When Dempsey was in Iraq nearly a decade ago, he said that he hopped into a Humvee and he slapped the officer next to him, the driver on the leg, and said, you know, who are you?
STOLBERGAnd he thought it was a man, and it turned out to be a woman. She said, I'm Amanda. And I think these experiences were very striking for them. And also, I think Panetta wanted a legacy item, and this is a true legacy item for him as he leaves the Defense Department.
REHMAnd what's been the reaction of the armed forces, Jerry Seib?
SEIBPretty positive. I mean, the secretary didn't move until the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at all, signed off. I think that basically, and I think as Sheryl just suggested, you know, this was -- it kind of codifies what was already a trend underway when which women were moving closer and closer to the frontline in combat anyway.
SEIBAnd I think there will probably be some areas of the armed services, particularly the Marines, where there's gonna be some question about whether standards will have to be changed or some positions still roped off because they won't change standards, physical standards. But I think by and large, I think this turns out to have been more of an evolution than a revolution.
REHMWhat about this so-called upper body strength, Michael?
SCHERERWell, yeah, it continues to be an issue. But they are developing right now in the military body armor for women which they hadn't done before. And so I think, you know, there are probably some positions in which strength, not just whether you're a man or a woman but you have to be a very strong man to hold that position, and that will remain the case. But for the broad sweep of positions in the military, I think that that won't be an issue. I mean, most positions in the military are not special forces jobs in which you have to be able to sort of be a superhero to do the task.
STOLBERGAnd also, just by allowing women to serve in combat, it sets a path for them to gain access to the upper ranks of the military, to become generals, to be commanding officers, a path that has been closed to many women because combat experience is required.
REHMAll right. And let's turn to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's testimony yesterday. What did she have to say about Benghazi, Jerry?
SEIBIt was really a day of dramatics but not a lot of new substance really. I mean, she essentially defended the position that the department took, conceded some mistakes before Benghazi in the way some security issues were handled. She got criticized for the administration's response which was expected, got criticized for allowing U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to go on TV and talk about it as a spontaneous demonstration rather than a preplanned attack. But I think she rebutted that criticism pretty effectively...
SEIB...mostly by saying there were questions then right after the attack that are still aren't answered today about what exactly happened that night, where the crowd came from, who joined in and how preplanned it was. And I think, you know, as I said earlier before the show and we're chatting, I think she gave as good as she got overall, and that's, I think, the way she walked away from her last big event as secretary of state.
SCHERERYou know, one of the things that was clear during the campaign when Benghazi became an issue was that this was, in public discussion, more of a political issue than it was a substantive issue. The intelligence committee was doing a review. They were trying to find out what had gone wrong, the process of finding the people who did this and figuring out what should change at the State Department was going forward.
SCHERERNobody disputed that, but there was a political fight over whether, first, the president and his senior staff should be blamed for this, and second, whether they had tried to cover it up for political reasons during the campaign by saying this was just a spontaneous demonstration. I think what came out of Secretary Clinton's testimony was that she was able to sort of definitively say, politics is done. Let's move beyond politics.
SCHERERAnd there's one point where she sort of exploded at one Republican senator who asked her about, you know, whether the White House should have been more forthcoming about what the cause of the attack was immediately after and whether there was a cover-up. And she said, what difference does it matter at this point? Four Americans are dead. We're trying to solve this. And the reality is politics is kind of moving on. The election is over.
SCHERERYou know, the White House has admitted that, you know, they could have done better in communicating some of this. But there is no question now that the State Department is making changes to make sure this doesn't happen again.
REHMBut politics for 2016...
REHM...is just beginning, Michael.
SCHERERNo. And actually, for political reporters like me, that was the most interesting part of watching this testimony. Hillary Clinton is really without match on the public stage in terms of her ability to perform in those situations. She's under enormous pressure there. She was in complete control not only of the facts but her emotions during the whole event. And this is a hearing which, at one point, she was crying and another point, she's yelling.
SCHERERBut there's sort of like a master-at-work feel to the whole thing. And it -- and she really, I think, acquitted herself very well going forward if she does decide to run.
SEIBYou know, I was just gonna, add as a footnote perhaps, that if you actually care about the substance of this issue, I think one of the things that was disappointing in that long day of hearings was how little discussion there was about what happens going forward. In other words, there is a real question here. If your top priority is simply to defend the security of American diplomats, how do those diplomats do their jobs? You can't be a diplomat in a fortress. And that's a really difficult question.
SEIBAnd it's not that anybody has the right answer, but there's gonna have to be a new balance struck and it's really hard. And that ought to have some airtime, too, not just the looking-backwards part.
REHMAnd how much money is the Congress willing to devote to protecting diplomats abroad?
SEIBRight. And that was an element in the hearings as well. The Congress has cut back on the State Department's request for diplomatic security funding. There was some debate. And Secretary Clinton didn't make a big deal out of that. She acknowledged it. But she didn't say that's the reason this tragedy happened. She just acknowledged there's plenty of blame to go around.
STOLBERGYes, I agree with what Michael said. It really was a masterful performance. I think Hillary Clinton effectively put this Benghazi issue to rest. The election is over, as you said. Susan Rice has not, you know, has already been blocked. She addressed questions by saying, look, we're implementing the accountability board's recommendations, and we're going beyond them.
STOLBERGShe appointed a deputy secretary for high-threat posts and -- but more important, for herself, she demonstrated herself to be a forceful leader yet someone who also could show emotion without falling apart, an essential ingredient for any woman to run for president.
REHMAnd next came Sen. Kerry.
SCHERERYeah, Sen. Kerry who was introduced for the job from his long-time friend, Sen. John McCain, who immediately endorsed him as secretary of state, a big contrast to McCain's role in basically deep-sixing Susan Rice's attempt for that job. Kerry has been running for the job of secretary of state for half a decade. He's a long-time head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He has travelled independently overseas on a number of trips to meet with foreign leaders.
SCHERERAnd he's made it very clear to anybody who's paying attention that he has wanted this job for a long time. And so I think he feels very prepared for it. I think the White House is happy. Maybe he wasn't their first choice, but the White House is very comfortable with him. There won't be any real problems in the Senate. It's his club who's going to be, you know, putting him in there and, you know, he said uncontroversial things yesterday.
REHMTwo things, though: He seemed to allude to the battle over the debt ceiling. He also talked about the Keystone pipeline. Sheryl.
STOLBERGYes. I -- well, the thing that I thought was interesting was actually him issuing a call for work on climate change, saying that he would view climate change as a national security threat, which some experts, including people at the Pentagon, are looking at because climate change can cause floods or, you know, other natural disasters that could destabilize a country.
STOLBERGAnd I thought that was interesting at a time when the president is pushing for climate change and is likely to have a -- or climate change legislation and is likely to have a problem. In the Senate, Kerry is gonna try to make it, you know, a platform that he can work on as the secretary of state.
REHMSo what could that mean for the Keystone pipeline?
SEIBWell, he was not very clear on that, and he basically skirted around that question, which is gonna be a very big one. Now I personally think -- I think the path is clear now politically for the administration to buy into the Keystone XL pipeline. I think they would like to. The governor of Nebraska, who's a Republican who also objected have said, now there is a plan that moves the pipeline to less-sensitive areas. I'm OK with it. Our state is OK with it.
SEIBI think once that -- and by the way, just as a footnote, the reason the secretary of state is involved is that this is an international issue because it crosses a border. It crosses the U.S.-Canadian border, so it becomes an international issue. My guess is the administration is going to look for ways to get to yes in the next few months.
STOLBERGThe other thing that I think is just worth noting about this is that for Kerry, this was a very personal moment. This is the man who came to the Senate to this very committee in 1971 as a Vietnam War veteran to speak out against the war, giving his famous speech about how can you leave the last man. And so for him to come back before this very same committee, which he himself chaired, to be the nominee for secretary of state is really kind of a capstone to his long career in public service.
SCHERERYeah, I absolutely agree. And on the Keystone pipeline, I do agree the administration is moving in that direction. It's still going to be a painful yes for them, though, because there have been two issues with the keystone. One is environmentalists are very upset about the emissions that will come from the oil that is pumped down through the Keystone pipeline. And then there's the issue that we've been fighting about, which is an aquifer issue and whether there could be leaks in water in Nebraska.
REHMAnd the governor of Nebraska sort of changed.
SCHERERHas changed. But -- so the administration made its battle line on the aquifer issue and never dealt with the global warming issue. But the global warming issue is the thing that most of its constituents are most concerned about.
REHMMichael Scherer of Time magazine. Short break here. And we'll talk about the debt ceiling when we come back.
REHMAnd here with me for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup this week, Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times, Michael Scherer of Time magazine, Jerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal. Jerry, after the election, there has been a lot of soul searching on the part of Republicans. They had their winter meeting in Charlotte this week. What did they talk about? What conclusions did they come to?
SEIBYou know, I don't think there were any conclusions. There'll probably be a conclusion in the form of the re-election of the national chairman who's likely to be rewarded with a second term mostly 'cause he got the committee, the national party, out of a financial ditch. He cleared away the debt, and they're grateful for that. But they don't -- they have a bigger problem, which is what's the message, how do we package it, and how do we reach out to people who seem alienated from the party?
SEIBAnd there's a lot of discussion down there of, you know, African-Americans, Hispanics, young voters, Asians, none of them seem to hear our message. Should we change our message? Can we change our message? A fair amount of discussion, and this is where I think the interesting part of this debate is going for the Republicans about what governors can do to repackage their principles.
SEIBLet's not change our principles. Let's look at ways we can present them better. And you have Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, for example, talking about, let's not be the party of austerity. Let's be the party of economic growth. That's the kind of discussion that's underway.
STOLBERGYou also heard Bobby Jindal say, let's not be the stupid party. And I suspect he and other Republicans are looking at the numbers. And if you look of the numbers of the 2012 presidential election, 71 percent of Latinos voted for President Obama. Three to one, gay people voted for President Obama. Women, 55 percent for Obama and 96 percent of black women, and you really saw that reflected at his inaugural this week when the crowd where I was, in the ticketed area, was overwhelmingly black.
STOLBERGAnd I thought overwhelmingly female and black. And many of the women that I talked to had gone out for Obama, had supported him, had made phone calls for him. Many of them were older women who, I think, took a great amount of pride in him. And overall, blacks voted 93 percent for the president. So unless Republicans wanna be the party of white men, which is a shrinking constituency, they have to figure out some way to get their message out and to appeal to these other constituency groups.
SCHERERThere are several things they are talking about. One is that they need to catch up with Democrats in technology and technique in terms of campaigning. Obama was way ahead of Republicans, and Democrats have been ahead of Republicans now for a few cycles. But the other issue is what Sheryl was just talking about, broadening the party. And there, if you talk to Republican leaders, they say it's mostly a tonal problem. We have to change the way we're talking about things but stick to our principles. I think...
REHMYou know, I've heard that before.
SCHERERYeah. I think the reality is that it's both a tonal and policy problem. And you can already see, you know, these changes will happen incrementally over time. But you already see the party moving on things like immigration. You know, even from the Republican primaries a year and a half ago, the idea that prominent Republicans will be standing up and saying, look, we need a path to citizenship, was sort of -- would've been alarming. Or even to say, look, we need to have some new revenues to go with tax cuts would've been alarming.
SCHERERAnd you see the party moving. I don't think they're gonna brag about that moving on policy. And then the other part that the Republicans are really working on not just at the national level but in the congressional committee is how to deal with this Tea Party issue. I think there's been a sort of hope over the last couple of cycles that if Republicans just sort of grin and bear it, maybe the Tea Party's enthusiasm will help outweigh the fact that Tea Party tend to elect in primary processes worst candidates.
SCHERERAnd I think there's a conclusion that's been reached after the last campaign that party leaders and outside forces, the outside groups, need to be more involved in making sure that the best primary candidate gets through the primary. And there could be some fights ahead on that front as well.
REHMIsn't there also or wasn't there also some talk about gerrymandering and also the Electoral College and how to, perhaps, reshape those voting districts?
SEIBWell, there is some conversation about changing the way states, of course, in electoral votes to make more states -- and there only a couple now that aren't -- not winner-take-all states but proportionately. In other words, if you win the presidential vote in a congressional district, you get that congressional district's share of the state's electoral votes. I think that's a long, tough haul, I think. I don't think that's very likely to happen in very many states. But the conversation has begun, and you're right about that.
STOLBERGWell, you know, one thing that strikes me is a lot of the things the Republicans are wrestling with now are things that George W. Bush actually wrestled with. President Bush was someone who took kind of a big tent approach. He and his aides worked very aggressively to court the Latino vote. For instance, he was from Texas. They worked aggressively to court black Republicans.
STOLBERGI never thought I'd see the day when Republicans were sort of yearning and looking back toward George W. Bush. But they might take a page out of his book, at least on that score.
REHMNow, did the vote to extend the debt ceiling to May come out of that conversation?
SEIBI think it's related to that conversation. I think the vote to extend the debt ceiling to May, which is to say not to have a big fight over whether the country should hit its debt ceiling in February and then create a crisis about whether to pay its bills or not, the decision by House Republicans not to go to that point I think reflected a feeling that's in the party -- growing in the party now that says essentially, let's worry less about winning today's legislative battle. Let's worry more about winning the long-term debate.
SEIBAnd so if we move the debt ceiling and create a debate over the next three or four months about how big government is, how much spending there should be, how you can reduce government spending, we're much more likely to win that debate if we're not seen as holding people hostage to have their arguments. So that's really what's going on.
REHMBut isn't this just kicking the can?
SEIBWell, sure. But, I mean, everything in Washington kicks the can down the road. But I think this is more, Diane. I think this was a decision to say we're not going to play the debt ceiling game anymore. I mean, yes, it's just until May. But in Washington today, that's a long time. And I think the underlying decision was let's not fight on this battleground anymore. That doesn't work.
REHMSo what's gonna happen?
STOLBERGBut it's not really until May. It's until March, because two months from Sunday, on March 27, the stopgap measure that funds the government is gonna expire. And at that time, you know, Republicans and Democrats are gonna have to grapple again with whether or not there'll be steep cuts and spending or changes to Medicare, et cetera. We're already hearing hints that Republicans are willing to let the government shut down over that.
STOLBERGAnd also on March 1, even before that, the so-called sequestration, the across-the-board cuts in spending -- $110 billion in across-the-board cuts in military and domestic spending will go into effect. So it's kicking the can down the road till March.
SEIBRight. But those are -- see, those are debates, though, about spending bills, not about the debt ceiling. And they're much happier, I think, of the Republican Party now to have debates about spending bills than about debt ceiling.
STOLBERGRight. But what they gave up was what they had threatened to do which was to attach the debate over spending to the debt ceiling.
REHMBut there -- go ahead, Michael.
SCHERERThe other thing that Republicans got out of this extension is that they are going to force the Senate for the first time in many years to actually pass a budget. One of the provisions of the bill they just passed says that by April 15, Congress must put forward a budget. There aren't -- it doesn't have to be one that they all agree on. But one must pass each chamber by April 15. And if it doesn't, then the pay of members of Congress goes into this sort of sequester.
SCHERERHolding tank, which is...
REHMBut is that constitutional?
SCHERERIt's -- I am not the Supreme Court, so I can't tell you. I think on its face...
STOLBERGI think they set their own pay, don't they?
STOLBERGSo they can decide not pay themselves, I suppose. I don't know.
SCHERERBut the 27th Amendment of the Constitution says very clearly that members of Congress cannot change their pay until after the next election.
SCHERERAnd the idea was members of Congress...
SCHERER...shouldn't be voting themselves pay raises without the voters (unintelligible)
SEIBOr pay cuts as it turns out.
REHMRight. But it would be put into a holding place, and then they could get it at the end of the term.
SCHERERIf this happens, and I don't really expect it to happen. But if this happens, we could have a very entertaining lawsuit in which member of the public or member of Congress sues to say that the House has just violated the Constitution, and it would go to the Supreme Court. And the Supreme Court would have to decide essentially whether putting pay checks into a holding tank is the same as cutting pay. And I don't know the answer to that question or how the Supreme Court would come out.
STOLBERGHow many Americans do you think would sue to see to it that Congress got paid?
SCHERERWell, a member of Congress could as well, right?
SCHERERI mean, they'd have cause to do it.
REHMBut you know, at the same time, you still got Paul Ryan, Jerry, saying at The Wall Street Journal that he's going to submit a budget to eliminate the deficit in 10 years.
REHMDoes he specify how?
SEIBNo. I mean, he was at a breakfast The Journal hosted this week. We talked about this at some length. He has a job, and it's basically a job he took on willingly, but that was also assigned to him by his boss, the speaker of the House, to do something House Republicans haven't done before which is draw up a budget that actually reaches balance in 10 years. The one that Paul Ryan did on behalf of the House Republicans the last two years got there sometime in the 20-30s. It didn't get you the balance.
SEIBSo this is a long haul. Now part of the answer is he will get to take advantage of the additional tax revenues that were put in the fiscal cliff deal at the end of last year. But there's still a long way to go, and it'll be very interesting to see how they do that. And then, you know, as you suggest, there'll be a very interesting contrast between a Republican budget in the House that allegedly gets the balance in 10 years and a Democratic version that comes out of the Senate that most certainly won't. And then we'll see what debate that brings.
SCHERERI think one of the most interesting parts of this whole debate is we're just now, what, four months after the election in which we spent a year-and-a-half talking about jobs. Everyone is saying jobs is the number one issue. The economy is the number one issue. The president does his inaugural address, barely mentions jobs. It was -- the word is there twice, but it's in a very tangential way.
SCHERERNo one in Congress is mentioning anything to really jump-start the economy in the short term. Obama has basically ruled it out as a potential. And what we're talking about are cuts which, while they may be good for the long term of the country in terms of, you know, avoiding a credit crunch and bringing down the national debt, no economists would argue are gonna be very positive for the economy in the short term.
REHMBut, you know, considering going back to that inaugural address, were you surprised to hear climate change mentioned as frequently?
SCHERERI was surprised. I think it was a surprisingly direct shift for President Obama. You know, he mentions climate change, and again, four months ago, he was running ads in Ohio about how he was a better friend to coal than Mitt Romney was. He was running away very clearly during the campaign from climate change because it was an electoral liability in some of these swing states, and now he's embracing it.
SCHERERHe's embraced gun control, something also he never talked about during the campaigns because he saw it as an electoral liability. He's also putting forward -- you know, he put himself in the tradition of, he said, Selma, Stonewall and Seneca Falls as a sort of inheritor of the activist tradition. And this is coming from a president who, only a year ago, was still against gay marriage.
SCHERERI mean, it was -- he made that shift just a year ago. So I think it does represent a sort of historic shift, maybe not in what he believes, but in terms of how he's presenting himself to the country.
REHMBut that's why I think the Keystone pipeline is a bigger question right now than people might have thought.
STOLBERGWell, I think you make actually a very good point. I think what we saw in this inaugural address, in essence, was the president liberated, right, to say, I'm gonna do what I didn't get done in my first term, what I wanted to do when I ran in 2008. And so this Keystone pipeline, then, becomes a real conflict for him.
STOLBERGHe danced around it prior to the election, put off a decision. He did make a very forceful argument for legislation or for using his executive authority more likely on climate change since he's unlikely to get legislation through. And so how he handles the Keystone pipeline will be very interesting to watch.
SEIBYou know, I think -- here's how I think they can make the argument for the Keystone pipeline. You say we are not going to be burning more oil because of this. We're just going to be burning North American oil instead of Middle Eastern oil, and that's good for us. And, oh, by the way, I'm doing, at the same time, things that will make cars more fuel-efficient, which the administrator is doing, and we will be encouraging more use of natural gas, which, it turns out, we have a whole bunch of. And guess what, at the end of the day, our carbon footprint will actually go down anyway.
REHMJerry Seib of The Wall Street Journal. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's talk about Mary Jo White at the Securities and Exchange Commission. What does her nomination signal about President Obama's plans for the banks?
STOLBERGWell, I think it signals a very get-tough attitude, and I think we have to take it in -- we have to also take into account the nomination of Richard Cordray to head the consumer...
REHMWho is serving an interim position.
STOLBERGRight. He's serving in an interim position. And by not -- Mary Jo White will get -- she'll get confirmed. She's a very tough prosecutor. She came from New York. She prosecuted mob figures and the terrorists who bombed the World Trade Center in 1999.
REHMPresident Obama said, don't mess...
STOLBERGHe said, don't mess with her. That's right. So that sent a very strong signal to the banks that he's sending, you know, a prosecutor into the SEC for the first time, and she's a get-tough woman. And Cordray also is a get-tough guy. He's gonna have a fight on his hands. The president appointed him as a recess appointment, made a lot of members very angry over that. And there -- Republicans are bound to block him.
STOLBERGSen. Mike Crapo said he'll -- you know, he sees the recess appointment as unconstitutional, and he's -- you know, they're fighting it in court, and until that's resolved, they don't wanna confirm Cordray.
SCHERERIt's not always that regulatory bodies in Washington are described as cops. But yesterday, in his announcement, the president came forward and said, we need cops on the beat, and he's appointed a prosecutor who has a long record. You know, she was involved in the World Trade Center bombing prosecutions, the embassy bombing prosecutions. She was involved in even investigating Bill Clinton's pardon of Marc Rich way back when, if any listeners remember that.
SCHERERShe helped train Preet Bharara, who is the get-tough prosecutor right now in the Southern District of New York who's prosecuting a lot of Wall Street firms. And so I think this is very much that the metaphor here for the SEC is that we're not a regulatory agency that's gonna work with industry to improve markets and things like that as much as we're a regulatory institution that is looking for people who are doing things wrong, and we're gonna get you.
REHMThe other thing that President Obama talked about in the inaugural address was gun control. And the NRA's Wayne LaPierre reacted rather strongly, rather angrily. Sen. Feinstein has now introduced a bill to ban assault weapons. She said she's got a really uphill battle.
SEIBShe does, she does. And, you know, the NRA response to the inaugural was very interesting. I mean, he said -- well, Wayne LaPierre, who's, I believe, the executive vice president of the NRA, but it's public face in most of these arguments -- said essentially the president is shredding the Constitution by proposing these things to limit guns. But then he did something even more interesting.
SEIBHe essentially tried to frame this as an elites-in-America-versus-everybody-else-in-America issue. He said, essentially, the political class and the elites get their security guards with their guns, implying everybody's in the elite...
REHMAnd brought -- and the ad brought the Obama girls in too.
SEIBRight, and that was -- clearly, he continued down that path with his response this week. But everybody else, we're all kind of on our own, so people need assault weapons in their homes to protect themselves. And so this -- I mean, it's always been a populist issue to some extent. That makes this a sort of an ultra populist issue when that's the framework for the argument.
STOLBERGI thought it was very interesting that Wayne LaPierre chose to give a rebuttal. I mean, this is something that you might see at a State of the Union address when Republicans would give the rebuttal to President Obama. But on Inauguration Day, it's a day of coming together for the nation no matter what your party. The pageantry is so beautiful. It's an affirmation of our democratic system that we have a peaceful transition of power when parties change. And so I felt that to see him give this rebuttal was almost out of sync with the day.
REHMSheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times. Short break here. And when we come back, your calls, your comments. I look forward to speaking with you.
REHMWelcome back. If you've just joined us, it's the Friday News Roundup, the domestic portion. Jerry Seib is here. He's with The Wall Street Journal. Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times and Michael Scherer, White House correspondent for Time magazine. And we just got an email saying, "Congratulations on the show. I just wanted to share that it's Michael's birthday. From his loving family." Happy birthday, Michael.
SCHERERI do have a very loving family.
STOLBERGHe's only 29.
REHMRight. Yeah. And here's an email from Greta in Arlington, who says, "Benghazi is not put to rest for me. I still feel duped by my government. I don't believe Mrs. Clinton is to be faulted for the deaths. The serious wrongdoing occurred in the aftermath of Benghazi. The public was lied to." Sheryl.
STOLBERGWell, I think she expresses a feeling that some Americans do feel: that it is not put to rest, that they wanna know more, that they wanna get to the bottom of it. In saying that she put it to rest, I really meant that she put it to rest kind of as a political issue for now. I don't see it, this investigation or this issue, gaining much more traction as a political issue in Washington.
REHMAll right. To Syracuse, N.Y. Good morning, Jerry.
JERRYGood morning. You got the best program on air.
JERRYNo one better.
JERRYWe were talking over the poker game last night, and we were wondering are women gonna be required to enroll for the draft?
REHMThere ain't gonna be no draft, Jerry.
SEIBI'm not holding my breath for a draft.
SEIBI don't think anybody else should either.
REHMDo you all agree?
STOLBERGNo, I don't see a draft coming.
SEIBNow, there's a separate question about enrolling for the draft, but I, you know, in other words you have to still -- technically, you still have to sign up when you turn 18 so that if there ever is a draft, you have to be in the draft pool. That's a legitimate question. I don't know what the answer to that will be.
REHMBut in our lifetime, you don't really see a return to the draft?
SEIBI -- well, I'm gonna live for a long time so I don't wanna say that, but I mean, I cannot...
SEIBGod willing. But I can't, at this point, envision the circumstances that would bring the draft back.
SEIBI think the country is very happy with an all-volunteer army.
REHMJerry, I'm glad you enjoyed your poker game. Let's go to Sarasota, Fla. Steven, you're on the air.
STEVENI was listening to your comments about the Republican Party saying to repackage or make some of their positions more presentable to certain groups. Take one particular issue. Let us say, abortion on demand. How do you repackage opposition to abortion on demand with no restrictions to make it palatable to women who want freedom to control their own body?
REHMGood question. Go ahead, Michael.
STOLBERGWell, interestingly -- oh, sorry. Go ahead, Michael.
REHMGo ahead, Michael.
SCHERERYou know, I would say, I mean, I think that's an excellent example of the tonal shift the Republican Party needs to work on. The Republican Party is gonna remain a pro-life party. There's no question about that. So there's not a policy shift of that level. But it's also clear, looking back at the last election, that the way Republicans -- a number of candidates spoke about the abortion issue by bringing up rape and speaking of it in ways that they later had to apologize for or clarify, changed the way voters were thinking about abortion.
SCHERERThe debate about abortion by Election Day was not about the life of a child or, you know, or the Supreme Court decision. It was about whether politicians should be able, in these most horrific circumstances, to dictate to a woman what she can do with her own body. I think there's a situation where Republicans just need to shift the way they talk about it and get back on friendlier terms.
STOLBERGI would also...
STEVENWell, let me just add one more point to it, which I don't think it's a total shift. I think when you say it will be a total shift, you are attributing to women an inability to see the true facts as opposed to making it more palatable. Women are smarter and either they want abortion on demand or they're against abortion. It is...
STOLBERGThat's actually not correct. The public opinion in this country on abortion is not really a division between abortion on demand or being opposed to abortion. Most Americans have very conflicted feelings. Polls show that many Americans do want some restrictions on abortion. Even women and men who favor abortion rights don't wish to see it complete unfettered or uncontrolled. They would oppose many of them late-trimester abortions, et cetera, and also would advocate for, oftentimes, parental notification and things like that.
SEIBIt's also, by the way, not -- and polls will show you this too -- not a women's issue. It's -- there's not that big a gender gap on it. People will have different beliefs about abortion, but it's not because they're a man or a woman. It's because of what they believe about a very emotional topic. So there are a lot of myths in this whole subject.
REHMTo Houston, Texas. Good morning, Steve.
STEVEYes. Good morning. Can you hear me?
REHMYeah. Go right ahead.
STEVEYeah. Regarding the environmental complaints about the Keystone Pipeline, one of the big objections always seems to be whether or not this tar sand -- Canadian tar sand resource should be developed. But that decision isn't up to the U.S. That decision belongs with the Canadians themselves. And they seem determined to develop this. So that carbon is bound for North America anyway, the way I see it. I don't understand why that doesn't come up or I don't hear that.
SEIBWell, I think Michael was referring to this earlier. There are some environmental issues, one of them has to do with the way the pipeline itself might affect the areas its transporting oil through. But another one has to do with whether you should be encouraging the use of oil at all. Another one has to do with tar sands in Canada.
SEIBI think the argument environmentalists would make would be if you don't have this kind of pipeline to make it easier to move oil out of the tar sands regions of Canada, they won't be exported as much. I'm not sure that that's really -- that holds water, but that would be one of the arguments that I think. But I think the real cutting issue on the pipeline was environmental impacts in places like Nebraska in this country. I think that was the cutting issue.
REHMAll right. To Ahmed in Greensboro, N.C. Good morning. Ahmed, are you there?
AHMEDYes, ma'am. I'm sorry about that.
REHMGo right ahead, sir.
AHMEDWell, one of my original questions is relating to women in the military. I had some concerns with that and in the infantry and combat arms. I was in the infantry for a number of years, and one of my concerns was you're gonna get a large pool of women who are gonna feel the need to compete with their male counterparts in a profession that's not really, I guess, intended for women compared to a man. I guess what I was gonna try to say is I was concerned with the possible increase of performance-enhancing in drugs and -- for women to, you know, to compete.
SCHERERThis decision by the military doesn't change the standards at all that will be required of someone who has to perform certain duties. So it is not the case that automatically someone who may not be able to do a job is going to be given a job just because she's a woman. Everyone will have to demonstrate that they can perform. And, you know, the issue of steroids in the military is one which will continue just as it always has. I mean, it's an issue for men, it'll be an issue for women.
REHMAll right. To Erwin, Tenn. Good morning, Judith.
JUDITHGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.
JUDITHIt was my understanding that all the oil from the XL Pipeline is to be shipped overseas. It will not be used domestically. So if this is true, then all the hype about our reducing dependency on Middle East oil is just a lie.
SEIBWell, I don't believe that's correct in the way the pipeline is envisioned in the long run. The oil would be taken down to refineries in the Gulf region. It would be refined there. Some of it might go overseas. More of it is likely to burn -- be burned here. And some of it would spin off along the way between Canada and the Gulf Coast to go to other refinery areas. So that's really not, I think, the way people envision the XL Pipeline.
REHMBut what about the concerns over the aquifers?
SEIBWell, that's legitimate. I got from Kansas originally. I grew up over the Ogallala Aquifer. So that's a legitimate concern, but I think the question of whether the pipeline's current route skirts around it and whether the aquifer can tolerate an accident and a spill is, you know, is to a question to debated. But I also I think the question of what procedures are put in place to deal with an accident to make sure the aquifer is not affected are all legitimate issues. And they're gonna be discussed. And I think that's what Michael is referring to. Those are the -- that's the real environmental issue, I think, at the moment.
REHMAll right. Let me ask you all about the Senate deal on filibusters. What it did do? What it did change, Michael?
SCHERERIt didn't change much. The - this has now become a perennial issue. Every new Senate comes in with talk about reforming the filibuster. And quickly, the filibuster is basically the idea that you need 60 votes to get most anything done if a senator objects. It used to be something you would have to stand on the Senate floor and keep talking to prevent something from happening. Now, you can just say you want a 60-vote threshold. The changes they made don't change that. There will still be 60-vote threshold in the Senate.
SCHERERWhat they did change -- and they're claiming these are reforms, and they could actually speed things along -- are other rules about how long it takes to have a vote once you proposed having a vote, whether amendments can be allowed on votes. They're sort of fine-tuning details that could moderately speed up the phase of the things. But the fundamental issue that you basically need to get the Republican leader and the Democratic leader together to agree on something, to agree on a vote if you don't have 60 votes will remain the way it works.
STOLBERGI'm not surprised by that. You know, the Senate really views itself as truly the upper body, as Jefferson always said, the saucer that cooled the kind of hot-headed action of the House. And so the 60-vote threshold is something that I think is engrained into the Senate. It doesn't wanna be the body of speedy legislation, and the minority always wants to have its rights.
REHMAll right. To St. Louis, Mo. Good morning, Elizabeth.
ELIZABETHThank you for your wonderfully informative program and taking my call.
ELIZABETHThis pertains to the early segment on women. That debate's been going on for a long, long time. My dad served in Congress in the '40s. And he debated Clare Boothe Luce on the floor of the House over -- they debated over whether the women should be authorized to go overseas. And it was the naval reserve at that time, and they were called the WAVES. And Margaret Chase Smith also served at that time. And she stressed that thousands of nurses were serving on the frontlines. And it was quite an uproar at that time and will continue to be so.
REHMI totally agree with you, Elizabeth. And that's a very special memory to have. Thanks for calling. You know, we've had lots of emails now on the Republican Party's attempt to change the Electoral College vote distribution. I want our listeners to know that is going to be the subject of our first hour on Monday, so tune in then. I want to go back to the filibuster rule just for a moment. What could that mean? What could this change mean in terms of the balance of power, Jerry?
SEIBWell, I'm not sure. At this moment, it means a lot. I mean, one of the things that goes away is the ability to use the filibuster on a procedural vote that merely brings a substantive bill to the floor. So that goes away. But that still leaves the minority two or three opportunities on those bills to filibuster -- the original bill, the conference report, the final passage.
SEIBBut I do think that its -- it suggests that there's at least some by partisan support in the Senate for changing behavior as it relates to filibusters. I think that may be more important than this particular rule, kind of a sense that, OK, we've been called on this. We get it.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Sheryl.
STOLBERGOne important thing that this did was it took off the table something called the nuclear option which was -- it's an essence of procedural maneuver by which the majority party could change the rules on its own. And if that had happened, it really would have gummed up the works in the Senate. It would have ground the Senate to a standstill. Such a partisan action would never have been tolerated. Nothing would have gone forward.
STOLBERGSo at least by coming to terms on a modest filibuster reform, Sen. Reid and Sen. McConnell have avoided kind of the disastrous outcome that would have taken place if Reid had exercised the so-called nuclear option.
REHMHere's an email from Jana, "Can you talk about whether the Senate voted to have a simple majority on its first day or do they still need a super majority? This was supposed to be a priority for Elizabeth Warren and some other Democrats. I don't think it happened because there has been no news on it. If not, why not?" Michael.
SCHERERThe answer is you still need a super majority for the votes that matter the most. So that has not changed. It was a priority for a number of senators. Elizabeth Warren said she was -- they're not delighted, but that there had been some progress in this. You know, the issue with the filibuster is it's an institution that's been around for decades. The issue is, just in the last two decades and really the last one decade, the filibuster has been used as a routine way of blocking bills.
SCHERERFor example, in 1993 when Dianne Feinstein got through the last assault weapons ban, she did it with less than 60 votes because back then, the convention was that senators would not filibuster something that was coming through regular order. It wasn't something that was -- had a special reason to be filibustered. Today, if the assault weapons ban comes before the Senate, I cannot imagine a situation in which you could get that through with less than 60 votes.
SCHERERAnd that's where this objection is coming from, and that's where the behavior issue comes in. I think what you see here is senators trying to pressure each other to kind of rethink the way they're approaching this without changing the rules.
REHMWhat about the president's call on the American public to help with the issues that they care about, Jerry?
SEIBWell, you know, the interesting thing on that front is that the president's political apparatus, Organizing for America, is being turned into a permanent or supposedly permanent organization that's going to change its status and become an advocacy organization that is supposed to help push that kind of agenda. We'll see if that works or not. You know, there were similar talk after the president was elected in 2008, and honestly, it didn't produce very much. We'll see if that kind of grassroots politics has a new life on the Obama side after 2012.
REHMAnd finally a call from Boston, Mass. Hi, Debbie.
DEBBIE (CALLERHi. Thank you for taking my call.
(CALLERSure. No problem. I'm always encouraged to hear President Obama mention environmental legislation during his inauguration address. I frankly feel fairly hopeless about the ability for us to accomplish anything given the power's industry lobbyist. I sort of feel that it's, if you will, a pipe dream. My friends who work at the EPA feel similarly hopeless. Do you think there's really any possibility for change?
STOLBERGI think that he will have trouble getting legislation through, but he will use his executive authority to the extent that he can. We've already seen him do so on guns, and we'll also see him, I think, take his case on these issues to the American people. But I do agree that the status quo in Congress is unchanged.
REHMIt's gonna be tough.
STOLBERGIt will be tough to get legislation through.
SEIBWatch for the confirmation hearings for a new EPA director. That's gonna be the grounds for debate about a lot of the stuff.
REHMJerry Seib, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Michael Scherer. Have a great weekend.
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