Conservatives are meeting here in Washington for their annual political action conference, and on the agenda is the direction of the GOP. Both parties unveil competing blueprints for the federal budget this week. President Barack Obama meets on Capitol Hill with lawmakers to seek a budget deal, as his approval rating dips below 50 percent. Intelligence chiefs warn that cyberattacks, not terrorism, are the most dangerous threats facing the U.S. A bill banning assault weapons passes the Judiciary Committee but faces strong opposition in the full Senate. And the New York Supreme Court overturns Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban on big sodas. A panel of journalists joins guest host Susan Page to discuss the week’s news.
Co-host of Morning Edition on NPR.
Senior White House Reporter for POLITICO.
Author of The Fix, a Washington Post politics blog, managing editor of PostPolitics.com and author of the book, "The Gospel According to The Fix."
Featured Video Clip
In an annual threat assessment to Congress this week, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said cyberattacks are the top security danger facing the United States. Cybersecurity vulnerabilities surpassed extreme acts of terrorism as the major threat for the first time since the Sept. 11 attacks. Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post said the reliance Americans have on computers and technology is “clearly being worked against us.” “When something goes down in our home, in our workplace, it’s somewhere close to paralysis in terms of the dependency we have,” he added. Steve Inskeep, co-host of NPR’s Morning Edition, pointed out that the odds of a “cyber-9/11” are quite low.
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MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, filling in for Diane Rehm. She's visiting station WITF in Harrisburg, Penn. She'll be back on Monday. The Senate judiciary committee approves a new assault weapons ban, the future of the GOP is debated at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington, and Mayor Bloomberg appeals a ruling that strikes down New York City's ban on big sodas.
MS. SUSAN PAGEJoining me for the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup: Glenn Thrush of Politico, Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post. And joining us for the first time on the News Roundup: Steve Inskeep of NPR. Welcome, Steve.
MR. STEVE INSKEEPDelighted to be here. Crushed that Diane's not here, but you can do -- you'll do.
PAGEI'll do my best. That's a little insulting way to kind of start the show, isn't it, Steve?
MR. CHRIS CILLIZZAYeah.
INSKEEPI know. Well, basically, since you're gonna be throwing questions at me, I just wanted to get, you know, things spiced up.
CILLIZZAHe's going on the offense.
INSKEEPThat's right. That's right.
MR. GLENN THRUSHHe's going to Harrisburg right after the show.
PAGEWe invite our listeners to join our conversation this hour. You can call our toll free number, 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email at email@example.com or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, Steve, let's start with you. Competing budgets released this week on Capitol Hill. Is there a common ground here? Are we gonna see for the first time in quite a few years a compromise, bipartisan budget emerge?
INSKEEPOh, my goodness. I thought for a minute maybe so. It has seemed like the practicality would point in that direction. But you look at the budget, the Paul Ryan budget that was put out and you realize something rather important. Republicans have a very significant difference with Democrats on issues specifically with entitlements, with Medicare. They were much criticized for those positions during the last campaign, and the House Republicans who are still in the House survived that criticism.
INSKEEPAnd people have wondered why did the Republican budget approach not change after their election defeat? For the Republican members of the House, it was not an election defeat. They survived. And so they may not feel any particular pressure to change their position on that. I know there is an urge in the House of Representatives specifically to return to what they call the regular order, to go back to a normal budget process and see how far they can get. But the politics of this are really challenging because neither party necessarily sees a good reason right now to give in.
PAGEChris Cillizza, the Senate hasn't passed a budget since 2009, but we saw Patty Murray, the chair of the budget committee, come out with a Democratic plan this week. Is -- well, tell us about that plan.
CILLIZZAWell, you're right. One thing, Susan, that House Republicans and Republicans in general have hit on for a long time is that Senate Democrats haven't passed a budget in 1,400 days. There's a running count somewhere. It's a lot of days. And that, you know, their responsibility -- Steve mentioned this -- and how Congress should work is that one side passes -- one House passes, the Senate passes their own budget, and then in -- through a conference committee, they come together and work out a deal.
CILLIZZASo Patty Murray has proposed something that includes $1 trillion in new revenue. That means taxes -- closing tax loopholes, that sort of thing. It also includes $1 trillion in cuts, but I would say $1 trillion in tax -- in revenue increases, however you want to define that, tax reform. That is -- if there was something that was less likely to happen than the word non-starter, that would be it. I mean, it's just, you know, Republicans -- it's significantly more revenue than President Obama has even asked for.
CILLIZZAI think what it is doing in some way is trying to sort of stakeout the furthest ground on the Democratic side with the theory that if this is going to be a negotiation, you don't start the negotiation at the 50-yard line. You start the negotiation as far down that field as you want it to be and then you can give in. So it seems to me very unlikely that the Senate Democratic budget sort of is a working document that we build from. But by the same token, Paul Ryan's budget repeals Obamacare so -- President Obama's health care law.
CILLIZZASo that also is not going to happen. So in some way, I feel like this is just the two parties laying out sort of -- in an ideal world, this is what we would do, both recognizing that we're not even close to that ideal world.
PAGEGlenn Thrush, here's one thing that's different this time, and that is President Obama going to Capitol Hill meeting with legislators on both sides of the aisle. How much difference do you think that's making in the prospects for actually reaching some kind of agreement?
THRUSHI mean, the thing that really shocks me is the effusiveness of the response of some of these Republicans. You know, the president had an intimate dinner with about a dozen of this favorite Republican friends at the Jefferson Hotel last week, and they, you know, came out of that just completely gushing over him. I wrote a story a little earlier talking about Denis McDonough, the new chief of staff from the White House, who's known for his foreign policy chops. He is a guy who has really good relationships with Lindsey Graham and John McCain.
THRUSHMcDonough is not known particularly as a bridge builder, but this is an administration that has been, up until, I'd say, the last two weeks, intent on playing this outside game. So any movement on this is really striking. And, you know, the funny thing is when people get in a room or when Barack Obama gets on a golf course with a Republican, crazy things happen.
PAGEYou know, we saw President Obama's job approval rating in a series of national polls dip, dip in some of the polls below 50 percent. It had been higher than that at the point of his re-election. Steve, do you think that figures in the White House decision to start meeting with people on the Hill?
INSKEEPI'm not sure that it entirely does. I mean, White House officials speaking privately to National Journal and other publications have described this effort as a joke. They take pride in looking long term, not looking at any particular little dip in the approval ratings. I'm sure they monitor them far more closely than they admit. But, I mean, it's not clear to me that the White House is terribly worried about their popularity. It is clear to me that they're willing to invest some of the president's time in this.
INSKEEPAnd Glenn makes an interesting point. In the 1990s, Bill Clinton got together with Newt Gingrich, the speaker of the House and it turned out that Gingrich was just so interested in policy that the two of them in the end started having discussions about how they could fix things. And a lot of legislation was passed in Bill Clinton's second term particularly or at the end of his first term. And so there's a possibility of that.
INSKEEPIt is interesting, you note, Glenn, that Republicans have been impressed this time because we have seen stories in past years in which President Obama met, say, with House Speaker John Boehner and Boehner just found him to be kind of arrogant and annoying and boring to listen to. The President started telling John Boehner about John Boehner's political situation, we're informed. So perhaps the president is getting better at this.
THRUSHWell, I think he is not a great listener, genetically. I think that has been an issue that he's had. And it is not only Republicans that have this perception. I spoke to a Democratic senator a couple of weeks ago, who just slipped in the conversation a reference to Obama as the professor and kept referring to him as the professor over and over again during the conversation so...
CILLIZZAThe one thing I would say and I do think -- I'm with these guys -- that getting Republicans and President Obama in the same room is a good thing. One thing I would say is the person who he has yet to win over and he may never win over is John Boehner, and the difficult thing is that if John Boehner -- I'm not convinced that even if we won John Boehner over John Boehner could then win over his conference.
CILLIZZAWe've seen John Boehner struggle to get sort of what he wants in the fiscal cliff, get what he wants, get his people to vote for it. But any kind of grand bargain -- I even hesitate to use the word now since I feel like we've been down this road so many times, but any grand bargain on debt, spending and budget issues has to pass the Republican House, and John Boehner has a critical role in that. And John Boehner has said repeatedly, I'm done sitting down with Barack Obama one on one.
CILLIZZANow, he may go back on that. He may go back on that. But I would say for all the progress -- and I do think he has made real progress in the Senate, President Obama, among Senate Republicans, kind of saying, look, you know, I come to you transparently. I'm willing to put these things on the table. I don't know if he's moved that immoveable object in the House yet.
THRUSHThe one thing I would say about that, though, is John Boehner is concerned about his legacy as well. This has not been a particularly good stretch for him. Over the past couple of months, he's faced an insurrection, really lost face with the majority of his conference.
THRUSHThe feeling in the White House is that you get a critical mass of Senate Republicans on board for some of the stuff, and then you get him -- force Boehner by dent of his legacy, through use of public opinion, through pressure from Senate Republicans to push something outside of regular order. We're gonna hear a lot more about regular order over the next couple of months.
PAGEWe -- we're talking, of course, about budget politics, but I wonder, Steve, how much impact, whether they're able to reach an accord or at least deal with each other in kind of a respectful, serious way. What impact that would have on the debate over gun control, the debate over immigration, other debates that come up this year?
INSKEEPWell, people are certainly not going to change their positions particularly on those hard line issues, but there is the matter of time. There is only so much time in a legislative year. There is only so much that the Senate in particular can really handle in a given year. And if some of the budget issues are pushed out of the way, it does create space. It just creates, in a literal sense, time to deal with some of those other issues, which might otherwise be pushed off.
PAGEHere's an issue that I think we've all struggled with, which is clearly a change in tone in the last couple of weeks on both sides, more complimentary language. But has anything really changed? I mean, is it just kind of a phony thing to address the public's weariness with the polarization? Or is it real?
INSKEEPOh, it's Washington, of course it's phony. No -- please, go ahead. Go ahead.
CILLIZZAWell, I -- no, I don't disagree. I think that -- look, I think at this point it's -- in the movie "What About Bob," Bill Murray has -- well, just sick with me. Stick with me. Richard Dreyfuss is his psychiatrist, and he says look, you have to take baby steps. You're not going to solve your problems all at once, OK? So we're not gonna solve this big problem all at once. It's not -- as you've seen in these two budgets, the parties just vastly disagree about the right way forward. So if you believe that these meetings and this congeniality is a baby step, it's clearly a step in the right direction. It's not a leap, but it is a baby step in the right direction, that congeniality some level of trust. And that, I think, is what was really lost...
THRUSHAnd medication, according to your...
CILLIZZARight. Well, my metaphor only goes so far. That's what's been lost in the first term of President Obama, is trust, is that Republicans and he they do not trust one another at all. I think he's trying to build that up to say, look, I'm trying to be as close to an honest broker as I can. Obviously, we have different priorities on this stuff, but that doesn't mean we can't find some level of common ground. But I do think, Susan, you're right. For all the talk of it, I'm not sure the actual policy ball has moved any closer to a deal at this point.
PAGEThat's Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post. And we're also joined this hour by Glenn Thrush, senior White House Reporter for Politico, and Steve Inskeep, co-host of "Morning Edition" on NPR. We're gonna take a short break. When we come back, we're gonna talk about the gun debate and an interesting exchange yesterday between senators from Texas and California. You can join our conversation. Our phone line is now open, 1-800-433-8850. Stay with us.
PAGEThe Senate Judiciary Committee approved a ban on assault weapons yesterday. Glenn Thrush, what would this proposal do?
THRUSHWell, essentially -- again, this is a dream proposal for Democrats that broke along party lines, a 10-8 vote not surprisingly. And it would essentially reinstitute the assault weapons ban, limitations on high-capacity magazines and institute universal background checks. Essentially, what the president and some of the mayors have been pushing for, but it does not seem terribly likely to pass in anything resembling this form.
THRUSHIn fact, the negotiations that have been taking place, the bipartisan negotiations, which have broken down, I should say, are dealing with a relatively limited form of background checks.
PAGEYou know, it's interesting that the judiciary committee has passed a series of measures on gun control, expanding background checks, renewing a grant program to help schools improve security, penalties for straw purchases. Chris, what's the theory behind doing these piecemeal instead of having one big gun control measure?
CILLIZZAWell, I think the theory is to Glenn's point, which is one big measure seems extremely unlikely to pass. Congress is almost genetically incapable at this point of doing anything big on almost anything, frankly just because you start losing -- the more things you put into a bill, the more people start peeling off of it. So I think the theory is knowing that, the assault weapons ban is almost certainly not going to pass, that if you tie everything together, then you lose the assault weapons ban, you lose expanded background checks, you lose limitations on high-capacity magazines.
CILLIZZAAnd so I think that the theory being each of these four proposals, in the Democrats' ideal world, would get an up or down vote and one or maybe two of them might have a chance at passage, where if you put all four of them together, there's just no way. And I would say there's just no way not just because Republicans are gonna vote against it.
CILLIZZAThere's no way because there's plenty of Democrats, including people like Max Baucus, Marty Landrieu, Mark Pryor, people who are up in 2014 who are in conservative -- moderate to conservative states, who simply would not vote for a big package like this.
PAGEYou know, Steve, if I've even heard the theory that by separating them and giving members of Congress, giving senators a chance to vote against an assault weapons ban...
PAGE...makes it easier for them to vote for something else, like expanded background checks.
INSKEEPOh, that's entirely possible. That's the way Congress has worked since the 19th century. The Compromise of 1850 was cut into bills for the same reason. There is some interesting reporting by Bloomberg. We had the correspondent on this morning, talking about the way that there's a little bit of a division among those who support gun rights that people in the gun industry, gun makers, may not be really that opposed to background checks.
INSKEEPThat's something they might be perfectly happy to give on. They don't wanna publicly support it. They'd get in trouble with the NRA. But they kinda don't care as long as they're able to sell their weapons. And so there is one item that possibly could pass.
THRUSHThere's also a lot of debate, I think it should be said, over the president's strategy here. There was a sense that every day that you move past the Newtown tragedy, momentum for a significant gun control measure fades. And there was a very big push early on to have the president and Senate Democrats -- and I should point out it's by no means certain that Harry Reid, who is a gun rights advocate is gonna even bring this thing to the floor.
THRUSHBut there was a sense that he had he pushed for it in the December-January time period and not put it off to kind of this commission that Joe Biden put together that at least you would have some momentum, you'd get a stronger measure. I think that is being borne out now by the fact that this thing seems to be trailing off a bit.
PAGEWell, in fact, remember in his, I guess, it was in a State of the Union address, he didn't call for passage of gun measures. He called for a vote on gun measures, which is really a step back from pushing for something you had actually enacted.
CILLIZZAWhat's -- you're exactly right, Susan. I think what's fascinating throughout this process is President Obama and Joe Biden, who chaired this task force to come up with these proposals, has almost made clear in their rhetoric that they don't expect most of these things to pass, that -- remember, they deserve a vote. That was the big line at the end of President Obama's State of the Union address. These victims of gun violence deserve a vote. That doesn't mean they deserve this to become a law.
CILLIZZAAnd I would say yesterday Jay Carney, the White House Press Secretary, was asked about the vote in the Senate on the guns bill, and he said the president supports the assaults weapons ban. You know, support can mean a lot of things in politics, and the issue is is what does President Obama do? Remember he said he would spend all his political will to make this happen.
CILLIZZAHe's not really done that yet, and my guess is with sequestration and with debt and spending and with immigration and with what he seems to be interested in on climate change, there's only so much political back capital to be spent. And my guess is he sees this in some way as let's get something so that we can say we did something. But ultimately, a big package, he's not going to spend his political will pushing.
PAGEChris, you mentioned senators from states with lots of support for gun rights being cautious about gun control. And yet, Steve, we saw one of those states, Colorado, a place where a lot of people hunt, guns are really part of the culture in Colorado. The legislature passing some pretty strict measures on gun control this year -- this week.
INSKEEPWhich is -- yeah, which is extremely interesting. But, of course, Colorado is one of the places that we've had one of the much publicized shootings of the past year or two that has finally pushed this into the political arena for many people.
PAGEYou know, Glenn, senators make a point typically of being courteous to one another, especially when they're in a hearing or on the Senate floor. And yet, this exchange we heard yesterday from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Dianne Feinstein at this judiciary hearing. I mean, it was remarkable. Tell us about it.
THRUSHPeople are really, really loving Ted Cruz over there in the Senate. He….
CILLIZZAGlenn is droll.
THRUSHHe -- Cruz apparently is not. The exchange took place over the question, I think, of the -- I believe it was over the discussion of the First and Fourth Amendments. And Cruz, who is a fairly accomplished constitutional lawyer who has argued before the Supreme Court, delivered a lecture on those amendments to Dianne Feinstein, who is an august member of longstanding in the Senate and somebody who is regarded, shall we say, as someone with not an insubstantial ego. And she responded by saying thank you very much, young man. I know my Constitution.
INSKEEPI have an education.
THRUSHYeah, she has an education. You know, what it really illustrates is, again, the same split that we've been talking about on a bunch of other issues. You have this young cohort of Republicans with Tea Party support in a state like Texas who feel that they are -- they have been given a mandate to challenge the system. And you saw -- this is not the first time Cruz has run afoul of the lions of the Senate. I mean, we've had John McCain, who seems to be -- who's become the get-off-my-lawn guy in the Senate chide Cruz for similar comments.
INSKEEPWell, this is a problem on issue after issue, and you talk about, you know, people trying to get together and meet over dinner. One possible effect there is lessening this sense on both sides that the other side, almost as John McEnroe, would say you cannot be serious. (laugh) Your position is so obviously ridiculous and obviously based on no reality that there's no reason for me to think that even you believe your position. That's a common point of view.
CILLIZZAOne very quick thing I do think is you -- Glenn's points out the division that you see between the Ted Cruzes, Rand Pauls, Mike Lees of the world and the McCain and Lindsey Graham cohort is fascinating in that Barack Obama and his people are not unaware of what happens every day in the Senate. And, you know, that is the potential, the sort of split that group. Now all of a sudden, he's got a group of people -- like Ted Cruz and Mike Lee are never going to be with Barack Obama on a lot of these things.
CILLIZZABut maybe John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Susan Collins of Maine, that division, that fissure does provide Barack Obama, I think, with an opportunity 'cause he knows he's going to need Republicans in the Senate and the House.
PAGEYou know, if you wanted to look for divides in the Republican Party, look no further than the Conservative Political Action Conference yesterday, where you had Sen. Rand Paul speak and Sen. Marco Rubio speak and different visions -- different analysis of what the problem is that the Republicans face and about what to do.
INSKEEPYeah, although -- I mean, these get to be very entertaining speeches. And particularly when you pull out the sound bites, I mean, you have Rubio...
PAGEWell, that is what we do.
INSKEEPOf course, that's what we do. But, you know, Rubio has this dramatic statement where he says we don't need any new ideas. You know, we already have the ideas. We have America. Well, this annoyed some of our listeners this morning because people are asking well, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. OK, we all believe in America. But what actually do you want to do? And that is an electoral challenge for the Republican Party, isn't it? When it gets down to proposing specific programs, what can they offer that feels like it fits this moment and also fits conservative values?
PAGEBut I was interested in the reception that Sen. Rand Paul got and also in the analysis or the reception he got for his filibuster on the issue of U.S. use drones against American citizens on U.S. soil. I mean, he seems to be -- he's his father's son, Rand Paul, in terms of being a libertarian, maybe in some issues especially foreign policy, out of the mainstream of the GOP. And yet he seems to be hitting a chord in the party. Glenn.
THRUSHWell, what I thought was really interesting about the filibuster is what he was talking about would not have been out of place, you know, in a progressive rally in the Judson Church in Greenwich Village, you know? I mean, it's like -- so it was not an issue, I think, that is at the core of the -- of Republican values. I think we are seeing -- we saw this in the Paul Ryan budget -- a recognition among a lot of Republicans that defense -- that the time has come for a reduction of defense spending.
THRUSHAnd there is not an appetite on the Republican side, with the exception of McCain and Graham, for a lot of new intervention. So he does represent the mainstream on that. But Ron Paul -- I mean, Rand Paul, sorry, you know, is not a unifying figure in this party, and, you know, I think people had looked towards Marco Rubio as that. I think, now, others are getting a second look. The thing that I find sort of amazing is the omission in -- is the omission of people like Chris Christie from the CPAC gathering. I mean…
PAGESo why was Chris Christie not there, one of the most popular Republicans nationally there is? Why wasn't he invited?
CILLIZZAWell, the explanation was that he was insufficiently conservative. Many -- there are a -- there is a segment in the conservative movement who are unhappy with how Chris Christie acted last fall, that he was too over-the-top praiseworthy of Barack Obama. This is all tied to Hurricane Sandy and the administration's handling of it. Chris Christie says, look, you know, I'm the governor of a state that was seized by a natural disaster.
CILLIZZAI did everything that I could not in a partisan way. There are people -- it is not just CPAC -- there are people who remain skeptical of Christie because of that. But I would argue -- I could be wrong, but I would argue that it actually probably benefits Chris Christie in the long run to not be invited, so high profile his snubbing. If he needed a way to say, I'm not beholden to any part of the Republican Party, this is a way to do it.
CILLIZZAAnd I think we can make a mistake by assuming that CPAC attendees equal the Republican base. They are a portion of the Republican base. They're very libertarian-tinged. You saw that by the way Rand Paul was received. Ron Paul, his father, won the CPAC straw poll in 2010 and 2011. So they're an element of the party's base, but they are certainly not the party's base.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." If you'd like to join us, our phones are open, 1-800-433-8850. Here's an email we got from David. He writes us from Edgewater, Md. He says, "I find it interesting that at yesterday's CPAC meeting and their discussions over immigration, the attendees were all now using the term undocumented worker instead of the more offensive pre-election term illegal alien." Steve, what do you think?
INSKEEPI -- well, I'm not sure that that's used -- universally true. I believe that I heard speeches where people were referred to as illegals just in the last 24 hours or so. But that is an interesting change to the extent that it's taking place. There is a whole range of ways to deal with people who are here or to discuss people who are here illegally. You send a powerful signal just with that word that you choose.
CILLIZZAI would say -- we're talking about Marco Rubio's speech -- now, he only had 15 minutes, but a fascinating omission from Marco Rubio -- who is taking the lead for Republicans and trying to cut a bipartisan deal on immigration that includes a path to citizenship, which is not popular with the base of the Republican Party -- did not mention the words immigration or immigration reform in his speech.
PAGEWhat -- and why do you think he didn't? Why do you think he failed to do that?
CILLIZZABecause he knows that -- look, this is -- you want to throw some level of red meat to this crowd, and you want to sort of talk about where you share common ground. This is not a moment where you -- or he chose not to make it a moment where he sort of spoke truth to power. I think he knew that if he did that, there would be boos for his support for a path to citizenship, and the people, like us, would note that very high in stories, and I think he didn't want that.
PAGEI actually think politicians get so much credit when they say something to an audience that is gonna elicit boos, something that they've stood up for, especially an audience that's basically friendly to them. I think it's like an underappreciated asset for political candidates.
CILLIZZAAnd they fear it. I mean, I think they fear -- and you know what, I think Rubio is probably still a little shell-shocked. You can say what you will about whether we made too much of a big deal there, but still a little shell-shocked from the coverage he got in his response to the State of the Union. He made a joke about drinking water. People applauded when he had a sip of water, you know? So I think he's just trying to keep his head down at the moment.
PAGELet's go to Wendy. She's calling us from Dallas. Wendy, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
WENDYHi. Thank you for taking my call. I was just curious. I'm a staunch liberal, and I am so against the assault weapons ban. And I was wondering what your panel thought about the liberals out there who are against the assault weapons ban 'cause there's a bunch of us out here...
PAGEAnd, Wendy, tell us why you're against the assault weapons ban.
WENDYI just -- I don't see that it's necessary. I think law-abiding citizens should be able to own whatever weapon they want. I don't have a problem with people owning these kinds of weapons to go out and go sports shooting. I'm not even talking about hunting. I'm just talking about going out for an afternoon gun range and shooting them up.
WENDYI don't have a problem with that. I'm also -- I just recently started practicing criminal law, and I -- you know, I see a problem with criminals getting a hold of things, but they can get a hold of that whether it's legal or not. And I just felt...
WENDYI'm sorry. Go ahead.
PAGEAnd, Wendy, if it's not too personal, do you own guns yourself?
PAGEAnd do you have an assault weapons gun?
WENDYI've been raised -- I don't have one, but I do have friends that have them. You know, my husband would probably like to own one, and he'll probably start looking for one soon. And I've been raised around guns my whole life since I was a little kid, and I just -- I don't see the problem with anyone owning these types of weapons 'cause law-abiding citizens aren't gonna use them in ways that they shouldn't be using them.
PAGEWendy, thanks so much for your call. You know, so interesting the geographic elements of this debate. Wendy's from Texas. Guns in Texas means something different than guns in Washington, D.C.
THRUSHI just have to say, a lawyer with a gun is a reporter's nightmare. But, look, she just articulated the reason why the Democratic Party has kept away from this issue for a decade. I mean, Rahm Emanuel and Chuck Schumer who quarterbacked the Senate and House take-back by the Democrats, their -- you know, thou shall not talk about guns was their number one commandment, one through 10, actually.
THRUSHAnd this illustrates a long-term problem, I think, the Democrats have, particularly as they head into the midterms. This is working right now for them. It's pulling the party together, but there is, as she illustrates, a lot of divergence on it.
INSKEEPAnd Wendy just expressed something that we've heard gun owners say when we've interviewed them for "Morning Edition" as well, essentially saying, look, I don't own an assault weapon. I don't need an AR-15. But I don't object to those who want to have it, and perhaps some people even go on and make the argument, I have my own concerns. I have my own potential gun restrictions that would affect me, and I'm willing to defend other people's AR-15s because I don't want them coming after me.
CILLIZZAIt's a rare issue that has found its way into the political sphere that is not driven along very traditional partisan lines. It's a fascinating -- it is much more cultural and geographic, as you point out, Susan, than it is Republican-Democrat. And I think to -- we try to wedge everything into that. Well, this is Democrats, and this is Republicans. Not really. It's much more where you live. And as Wendy pointed out, if you -- she said, I grew up in a house with gun. It's just -- it is really cultural and geographic, and I think we do well to remember that.
PAGEWe're gonna take another short break. When we come back, we're gonna talk about the warning from the director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, on the biggest threat facing the United States, and we'll go back to the phones and take some of your calls and questions. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. And with me in the studio: Steve Inskeep, he's co-host of "Morning Edition" on NPR, Glenn Thrush, senior White House reporter for Politico, and Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post. He is author of the book "The Gospel According to The Fix."
PAGEYou know, right before the break, Chris was talking about the way that the guns issue crosses the traditional partisan divide. There are other factors that matter in it. And, you know, I'm struck by how much the issue of same-sex marriage has some of the same surprises. We had Senator Portman, who was, of course, this and last year and in some previous times, a very serious contender for vice president for the national GOP ticket.
PAGEHe announced that he was changing his position on same-sex marriage because he had learned that his son was gay, and it had forced him to think through the issue in a new way. And he now writes -- in a piece he wrote in The Columbus Dispatch this morning, "I've come to believe that if two people are prepared to make a lifetime commitment to love and care for each other in good times and in bad, the government shouldn't deny them the opportunity to get married." How significant is this, Steve?
INSKEEPI think it is socially significant, Susan. When we think about these announcements, we tend to ask about what the effect will be on the politician. When President Obama said that he favored gay marriage, there was a question about whether some of his supporters who have not, according to pollsters, favor gay marriage, like African-Americans, generally speaking, would pull away from him. I wonder if the effect is actually the opposite.
INSKEEPWe have such polarized politics that when someone like the president comes out as he did and says, I favor this, what is more likely to happen is that people will end up in an argument defending the president's position on gay marriage even if they didn't like it before. And if you have Rob Portman making this statement, it becomes safe for people who are more conservative or a Republican to say that they favor gay marriage.
PAGEYou know, we're just reading a tweet from Kasie Hunt of NBC. She's at the CPAC conference and here's her tweet, "Conservative leaders and lawmakers at CPAC don't seem to have anything bad to say about Senator Rob Portman today, hearing praise for his sincerity." Glenn.
THRUSHI think Portman's just probably, from my perspective, the most interesting Republican out there right now. He -- remember, he was in -- particularly late in the game with Mitt Romney. He became one of Romney's most important advisers and really helped Romney, I think, get a much stronger showing in Ohio than he might otherwise have gotten. You know, I think the train has left the station on this issue officially, and I think this is just the latest signal on this.
THRUSHAnd it really gives the Republicans, I think, a tremendous opportunity to kind of put some of these more divisive social issues behind them. And I think you heard that also from the podium at CPAC, that they wanna talk about economics.
PAGEYou know, as someone who has covered politics for 126 years, I have never seen...
PAGE...the kind of change...
PAGE...in public attitudes on a difficult issue like same-sex marriage as we've seen on this one.
CILLIZZAIt's remarkable, the pace, at which it changed, Susan, too, is that, you know, usually in these things, particularly with social issues, it tends to not -- the needle tends to not move all that much because it's just deeply moral position that people feel kind of in their bones.
CILLIZZAThe erosion and support for gay -- in opposition to gay marriage has been so rapid, and it is so generational to -- Glenn's point about the train having left the station...
CILLIZZA...to the extent there is a majority of people who still oppose gay marriage. It's 55-plus and particularly 65-plus in terms of age. You -- 18 to 29-year olds are overwhelmingly -- I don't know if they're supportive of gay marriage. I think they just don't really care one way or the other so that you can see the trend line and where it's headed.
PAGEHere's another tweet we're reading -- tweet, "Thrilled to hear about Rob Portman, but I wish Republicans didn't so often have to see gays in their immediate family before coming around." One of the people they're...
INSKEEPWell, it's not just about Republicans, though...
INSKEEP...it's the public who are at large. That's how people have been changing on this is that...
CILLIZZAWell, Barack Obama. I mean, Barack Obama, during the campaign, civil unions refused to say gay marriage then -- is now in support of gay marriage. Bill Clinton coming out, you know, very recently, saying the defense of marriage act is bad in our Constitution. I would say Hillary Clinton -- and Glenn knows this better than me and he can speak to it -- but Hillary Clinton has been interestingly not all that vocal about sort of where she stands on all this.
THRUSHShe is in favor of -- she's been out there in civil unions and has, I believe, come out in favor of gay marriage. But I thought the evolution since '08 -- I remember when General Peter Pace called homosexuality immoral, Hillary Clinton went on George Stephanopoulos on ABC and refused to condemn that. And then the next morning, I caught up with Obama at a firefighters' convention and he refused to condemn that. These guys, four, five years ago weren't even willing to talk about this issue.
PAGEAnd, of course, the timing now, we're waiting for the Supreme Court arguments later this month on -- based on a big -- on two big cases involving the constitutionality of issues surrounding same-sex marriage. Does this debate and the fact that a prominent conservative like Senator Portman comes out and changes his position? Does it affect, do you think, what the Supreme Court might do?
INSKEEPOh, goodness. I'm not smart enough to know that. But it is interesting, as Glenn points out, to note that it used to be the other party, the Democrats, who wanted to go dark on this issue, who would just rather not talk about it too much if they could avoid it. And now, it's probably Republicans who would be perfectly happy to be in that position and not bringing it up.
CILLIZZAAnd just one other reminder. Less than a decade ago, in the 2004 election, George W. Bush's re-election was credited in many ways to the fact that they put...
INSKEEPA proliferation of...
CILLIZZA...so many gay marriage ballot initiatives on the ballot...
CILLIZZA...and drove the conservative vote. It's a remarkable -- that was eight years ago. You know, it's a remarkable shift in sort of political strategy in how people think.
INSKEEPAnd just two or three years ago, it was conventional wisdom that any measure relating to gay marriage was only going to go one way when put before the public.
PAGEAnd to be clear, most of the times this has come before voters, it has gone in opposition of gay marriage.
PAGEBut you did have some cases, for the first time last November, in which it went the other way. Let's go to Mount Dora, Fla., and talk to Russ. He's been patient. Thanks for holding on, Russ.
RUSSOh, thank you for taking my call. I'm always excited to hear you filling in.
PAGEWell, thank you very much.
THRUSHWe are too.
INSKEEPHe is happy. You've won me over, by the way, Susan.
CILLIZZATake that, Inskeep.
INSKEEPYou've won me over. You've won me over. It's fine. I miss Diane but you're great. It's good that you're here.
PAGERuss, please go ahead.
RUSSOK. I wanted to point out and also ask your opinion because you were talking about the interaction between Senator Cruz and Senator Feinstein. And Senator Feinstein didn't really answer the question. She went off about all of her six grade education and all the bills she passed and so on, but she didn't really respond to Senator Cruz's initial point. And since she has been pretty -- has shown herself to be very ignorant about firearms and different types of firearms and so on throughout her career.
RUSSI would like the committee to address instead of just saying, oh, well, she just, you know, told him put -- him in his place, which is sort of the implication I heard.
PAGEOK, Russ. Thank you so much for your call. What do you think group of panel?
CILLIZZAWell, I would say that Ted Cruz was bringing up a question about how the assault weapons ban would impact the Constitution in limiting rights, and would she be OK if the First Amendment, freedom of speech, had been sort of abridged in that way, or the Fourth Amendment on searching in your home had been abridged that way?
CILLIZZASo, you know, her argument was she's familiar with the Constitution and these things aren't happening. I would say that Diane Feinstein, I think, deserves some level of leeway not because of sort of what she's done in the Senate, but because she is someone whose life has been directly touched by gun violence. She became the mayor of San Francisco after the mayor and, I believe, city supervisor were both assassinated.
CILLIZZASo that doesn't mean that she gets to say whatever she likes, but I do think she does have a personal experience. And I think that's why you saw her react in the way that she did, which she was personally offended at him questioning her.
THRUSHAnd I think it's a valid counter-argument made by gun control folks, you know. And I get this a lot when I write about gun issues. Folks say I grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. We don't, you know, we don't necessarily have a lot of assault rifles there legally.
THRUSHIllegally. So my knowledge of firearms is not particularly great. The thing -- the point that Feinstein was making yesterday, and it does resonate with a lot of people, is she has a lot of experience with bullet wounds. And, you know, she was on the scene when Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk were killed. And I think, actually, attempted, if I'm not mistaken, to resuscitate one of them. So she speaks with great passion on this issue, and as does Cruz.
INSKEEPAnd the thing with all Constitutional questions, if you're arguing with someone who says this right is absolute, it's in the Constitution, that is the end of the argument, it's never been the end of the argument in American history, whichever of the amendments we're talking about. All the rights are absolute up until the point that they begin conflicting with other rights. And then you have to have a balancing act in courts, and Congress tried to do that.
PAGEThe director of National Intelligence James Clapper gave the annual threat assessment to Congress, and he said the top threat was not terrorism. What do you say it was, Chris?
CILLIZZACyber attacks. First time since the September 11, 2001 attacks that terrorism -- extreme acts of terror have not been the major threat. I think a remarkable and eye-opening thing for all of us, it's obviously not a subject I spend a lot of time on, but we have seen time and time again recently, Susan, the power of the web. I mean, look, I know from our own personal experience, when things go down in our home, in our workplace, it is somewhere close to paralysis in terms of the dependency that we have on these things.
CILLIZZAAnd we've seen groups like Anonymous, their capacity to sort of infiltrate levels of government and sort of personal accounts that you would not think possible, our dependency on computers and technology, I think, is clearly being worked against us. And Director Clapper emphasizes the fact that they have information that terrorist groups are actively working on cyber attacks.
INSKEEPLet me add a note of caution here, though. My colleague Tom Gjelten had an excellent report this morning in which he looked very closely at Clapper's statement, and noted that while Clapper said he was very worried about this, the odds of a cyber 9/11 in the next couple of years, in his view, are quite low. And Tom Gjelten goes on to report that a number of people who were sounding the alarm about this kind of cyber Pearl Harbor are hyping the issue and knowingly hyping the issue because they want something to be done.
INSKEEPIt is a danger. They don't actually think it's a huge danger. The real danger is espionage, is stealing trade secrets, is the kind of computer spying that we have seen actual evidence of China and other countries doing in recent months.
PAGEOne of the interesting things I thought about the assessment was that it named Russia and China as advanced cyber actors. Now it said that they are unlikely to launch a devastating attack against the U.S. outside of a military conflict. But the fact that it cited the threat -- the cyber threat from Russia and China, I thought, was significant. Glenn.
THRUSHYou know, just anecdotally, you know, I've spoken with administration folks who, jokingly, half-jokingly have said, why don't we have this conversation in person, as opposed to having it through electronic means? So I can tell you that it is on peoples' mind. Look, I think the most serious potential impact here is a non-state actor or a smaller state actor targeting something like the power grid. I think we can deal with some interruptions on Internet websites and stuff with the power grid...
CILLIZZASpeak for yourself.
THRUSHOh, yeah. I've seen you reduced to tears because Twitter went down. But I think the power grid is something people are really worried about.
PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, in fact, let's take a call from Tulsa, Okla. and talk to Thomas. Thomas, hi, you're on the air.
THOMASHi, how are you today?
THOMASGood. Well, I've got a question, well, actually a theory, you know? I'd like to see if your panel would like to test this theory. My theory is actually that we would ban assault weapons from personal purchase and -- because the argument for assault weapons is usually about sporting -- have a license that a rental shooting range can grant the assault weapons to customers so you can -- if you're doing it for sport, you can go into a licensed shooting range, borrow the equipment, shoot for sport and for fun, and then turn the equipment back in. That way...
INSKEEPSort of an assault weapons library, that's what you're looking for.
THOMASEssentially. Kind of like if you go to a skate -- goes roller-skating and you check out roller skates to hit the roller-skating rink...
THOMAS...and then you check them back in. That way, you get the fun out of it, but you have no need to...
THOMAS...own an assault rifle.
PAGEYou know, we have another tweet from CPAC saying that NRA stickers are now being distributed at CPAC that says stand and fight. So I'm -- that, I think, Thomas, might well be the NRA's response to the idea that you could a rent an assault weapon but not have one at home.
CILLIZZAAgain, it's not -- some people like to lease cars, most people like to own cars. I mean, you know, the reality is -- the proposal you -- sure, that makes sense. But people like -- again, it is cultural. If you grew up around guns, people -- I know people in my family -- my in-laws, who -- the husband gave the wife a gun for her birthday. It is sort of something that it is -- it's a thing that you like to have. It's a material thing. It's not something you just want to go and rent for many people.
CILLIZZAAnd I think it can be difficult in certain parts of the country to understand that mentality. If you're in the parts of the country where you have that mentality, it's almost impossible to understand why you wouldn't think like that.
PAGEWe've gotten several emails like this one. This one is from Kimberly in Cary, N.C. She writes, "If the guest who just said that Senator Feinstein did not answer the question yesterday by Senator Cruz had actually listened to the complete hearing on C-SPAN, he would know that she did indeed answer Senator Cruz's question. She said no." This week, we had first hearing on sexual assault in the military in a decade. And the story, Steve Inskeep, were pretty chilling.
INSKEEPYeah. And what we have here is a case where a military officer overturned the verdict of a court-martial involving sexual assault. This is a tough one, and one that the military is now debating, because you do have a historic situation where the commander of a military unit is in absolute charge of that military unit. Even if the commander were to order up a court-martial, the commander can reverse the decision. And that's what happened in this case, and you now have an officer who is being sharply criticized for that. I think it's a tough one, though.
INSKEEPYou can go back in history and find specific court-martials, even executions of soldiers that seem unjust in retrospect, and we can have a long discussion about that. But at the same time, when you are in a military unit, somebody needs to be understood to be giving orders that have to be absolutely followed. It's a tough one.
PAGEYou know, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York chaired this hearing. As I said, it was the first one in a decade, which I thought was surprising. And I wonder if this reflects the -- just the fact that the hearing was held -- that the issue was given some attention reflects the growing role of women in the Senate. Now, we have 20 women senators. A record, Glenn, what do you think?
THRUSHWell, and as we know, women are 20 percent of the American population. No. I really -- and the thing that I find really striking about the presence of women, you have people like Deb Fischer from Nebraska who are, unabashedly, conservative -- Kelly Ayotte. You have a much broader range, ideologically, among the women in the Senate. But they do tend to come together on particular issues like this one. I think that is a brand-new -- in addition, we've talked about the Tea Party and Ted Cruz. I think it's a brand-new dynamic.
PAGEWe had a New York appeals -- New York court strike down, Senator -- Mayor Bloomberg's ban on those giant sodas. Is it over, is that debate over?
INSKEEPNo. Bloomberg will appeal.
CILLIZZAYeah. I mean, look. You can agree with him or disagree with him, but Michael Bloomberg both has a very clear vision of what he thinks the government can and can't do and is willing to put his political money, literally, behind it.
PAGEChris Cillizza of The Washington Post, Glenn Thrush of POLITICO, Steve Inskeep of NPR, thank you so much for being with us this hour in "The Diane Rehm Show."
INSKEEPDelighted that you're hosting.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA TODAY, sitting in for Diane. She'll be back on Monday. Thanks for listening.
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