A panel of top political commentators joins Diane to talk about some of the head spinning events of this last year and to get their perspectives on the challenges ahead.
Guest Host: Susan Page
The unemployment rate drops to 7.6 percent in March, but the economy added only 88,000 new jobs. Connecticut’s governor signed into law sweeping new gun control measures yesterday. The Senate plans to take up national gun control legislation as early as next week. President Barack Obama and some lawmakers say they will voluntarily cut their salaries in solidarity with federal employees who face pay cuts or furloughs as part of sequestration. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel outlines his vision for reduced military spending. And former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton returns to the public eye with a speech about empowering women and girls worldwide. A panel of journalists joins guest host Susan Page for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- David Leonhardt Washington bureau chief for The New York Times and author of the e-book: “Here’s the Deal: How Washington Can Solve the Deficit and Spur Growth."
- Amy Walter National editor for Cook Political Report.
- Major Garrett Chief White House correspondent at CBS News.
Featured Video Clip
“This will eventually come to seem to many people who are young today or not yet born as no different from [signs that read] “No Irish Need Apply.” And that’s why we see politicians rushing to get on the other side of this,” said David Leonhardt, Washington bureau chief for The New York Times.
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MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's visiting WCBU in Peoria, Ill. The unemployment rate dipped to 7.6 percent in March, but job growth was well below expectations. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says defense spending cuts will reform and reshape the military.
MS. SUSAN PAGEAnd Connecticut passes what leaders of both parties call the most far-reaching gun legislation in the country. Joining me for the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup: David Leonhardt of The New York Times, Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report and Major Garrett of CBS News. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. DAVID LEONHARDTThank you. Good morning.
MS. AMY WALTERThank you.
MR. MAJOR GARRETTGood morning.
PAGEWe welcome our listeners, too. They can join our conversation a little later on. Our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850. You can send us an email to email@example.com, or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, David, the unemployment news which came out about an hour and a half ago initially seemed like good news, right? The unemployment rate went down. But then you saw that jobs number and a lot of disappointment.
LEONHARDTYeah, that's right. I mean, we focus so much on the unemployment rate. But it's problematic in a number of different ways, and this is one of the months in which the real story was obscured by the unemployment rate for a couple of different reasons. One, the unemployment rate counts you as officially unemployed only if you are actively seeking work, and so there are -- according to this report, there's a lot of noise month to month.
LEONHARDTThere is a rise in the number of people who weren't working and weren't looking, and so the fall in the unemployment rate was kind of a false decline. And then, as you said, connected to that, the number of jobs that was created was disappointing. So we're now at a point in which you -- if you look a year over your job growth, we're at the weakest pace of job growth in about 18 months. And we've got more forces weighing against the economy to come because the sequester cuts really haven't started to take effect yet.
PAGEWell, do you think, Major, that we are seeing some impact from the sequester and from the failure of Washington to make real progress or discernable progress on reaching, for instance, a budget deal?
GARRETTWell, the White House certainly wants the country to believe that. Alan Krueger, the president's chief economist, just put a blog post up on the White House website saying this is the first job report since the beginning of the sequestration process. He didn't say this is exactly entirely responsible for it, but he said it's a downward drag either in forms of expectations or consumer conduct or the way private business assesses what it's going to invest in or not invest in or jobs it will or will not create.
GARRETTSo the administration is making an argument that sequestration is having a dulling effect on economic growth. But I think David would agree with this. I mean, we are going to the fourth spring of our economic discontent. We have a problem, every spring, sustaining what appears to be early and optimistic job growth in January, February. Now March, it's tailed back. Here are the numbers: 88,000 jobs. The private sector estimates were for 190,000 jobs created. That's a lot lower.
GARRETTAnd as David said, the labor force participation rate dropped. Almost 500,000 people stopped looking for work. We now have the lowest labor force participation rate, 63.3 percent, since 1979. Now some of that is related to seniors moving themselves permanently out of the workforce, but not all of it. The sense is that there is still a problem creating jobs and a sense of, if not demoralization, deep skepticism that people who don't have jobs are going to find them.
PAGEYou know, Amy, The Wall Street -- a Wall Street Journal columnist this morning called it the spring slump, which turned out to be present, given the jobs numbers that we saw. Do we have any idea why we have had these series of springs that have been disappointing after some encouraging numbers? And is there any -- do you have any sense about whether it's brief, a brief dip or whether this is a very wearisome development today?
WALTERWell, building on what Major was talking about, I mean, there does seem to still be a sense of -- I don't know whether it's ambivalence on the part of consumers and business as well as politicians about just where we're going. I mean, it seems that every day, if you're just your average consumer, you're reading a story or listening on the news about how things are starting to get better and then you get the story about, well, maybe this is going poorly.
WALTERSo I don't know if we're -- if that's going to portend much. But what we do know is we're going to look in the summer at another debt ceiling fight. We obviously don't know exactly how much sequestration is going to bite into this. To me, the thing that I'm really looking at more so than the month-to-month changes in the unemployment rate is just the overall feeling from Americans about how they feel about the direction of the country.
WALTERAnd what is remarkable when you think about a president who was elected by 5 million votes -- he won a -- obviously a very significant share of the Electoral College, and yet his approval rating is only at 48 percent. And only 21 percent of Americans believe the country is headed on the right track.
WALTERWhen you think about how close the 2004 election was and what, of course, we would go into in 2006, even at that point, it was about 35 percent of Americans thought we were headed on the right track and 50-plus some headed on the wrong track. So there is still a sense from Americans that things -- despite what's happening day to day, they just aren't feeling it.
LEONHARDTI can't explain why it's coming to spring, but I think there is a pretty good explanation for why we've had such a stop-and-start recovery. In the wake of financial crises, economies are tremendously weak. Consumers, businesses have all kinds of debt, and so they're easily spooked. And then what we've had is a series of times in which -- and this is the classic pattern after a financial crisis. The government pulls back to soon. It takes its foot off the gas essentially.
LEONHARDTAnd so we had the Fed being too optimistic. We have the Obama administration be too optimistic. We had -- and there's no small irony in this. We had congressional Republicans pushing for European-style austerity. And so we see that again now. Everyone's taxes went up on Jan. 1. And even if the sequester isn't pinching this jobs report, that payroll tax rise which was the end of a temporary cut almost certainly is affecting our numbers.
GARRETTAs are gas prices.
PAGEAnd, you know, it looked to me that The New York Times had a scoop this morning on release of the president's budget, which we expect next Wednesday, just two months later than it's supposed to come out. But never mind that.
GARRETTLook who's counting.
PAGEAnd it shows an effort. I wonder if these jobs numbers and, in general, the political climate, Amy, what kind of reception we think he's going to get. It is in some ways a -- not a typical wish list for the president on budget. It's really something that tries to outline the compromise that he would accept.
WALTERAnd it is -- it does stand in strong contrast to the Republican House budget, which basically was a wish list for the base and the Democrats budget in the Senate, which was a wish list for their base. This is trying to at least come to some sort of middle ground. At the same time, what I expect to see is that Republicans will say yes, the president may be making movement on entitlement cuts. That's what is the big movement here for the president. He's going to be making cuts, especially to Social Security.
WALTERBut it also includes tax increases. And that is still going to be the sticking point. Plus you're starting to hear chatter on some of the blogs, and you had started to see this whip up even before the budget process, even before he released his budget that this chained CPI, this cost of living adjustment change to the Social Security was actually a form of a tax increase as well.
WALTERSo even that many Republicans don't see as real movement on entitlement reform. So the president is basically starting where he left off in 2011 where -- the deal that he was trying to cut with John Boehner on a grand bargain. But my sense, at least at this point, is I don't know that it's going to get a great reception from Republicans and taxes still be that sticky point.
PAGEWell, talk about his reception from liberal Democrats. Here's an email I got about 15 minutes ago from the Progressive Change Campaign, which is liberal Democrats. And here's the statement from the -- Stephanie Taylor, the co-founder is, "You can't call yourself a Democrat and support Social Security benefit cuts. The president has no mandate to cut these benefits. Progressives will do everything possible to stop him." That didn't sound very encouraging, Major.
GARRETTOh, no, not at all. And I was thinking, as Amy was recalling where George W. Bush was after the 2004 election, I thought, well, what did he do to re-energize demoralized progressives in America? He went on to attack Social Security or propose changes. Now the president is doing the same and getting the same progressive blowback that a Republican president got. So at least there is some consistency on those who want to protect Social Security.
GARRETTWhat the president has talked about and will talk about in his budget -- and it's a significant policy moment, I think. Set aside the politics for a second. The president is not going to publicly say something he's never said before. He said it privately to John Boehner in the contour of conversations he'd never win anywhere.
GARRETTBut now he's putting it on a budget and laying it before Congress and all the American people to evaluate, that he will accept a formula put together by economists that is systematically and on an annual basis, less generous than the one we currently use, to provide cost of living adjustments for people on fixed incomes. That is not an insignificant policy choice for a Democrat, particularly one who fancies himself at times a progressive Democrat to make. Republicans do not think it is structurally aggressive enough.
GARRETTBut within the confines of the conversations of Democrats, it is significantly aggressive. And no Senate Democrat has endorsed it. It was not part of the Senate Democrat budget. It won't be part of anything the House Democrats will endorse. So as I said this morning on CBS News, the president is trying to reach out to Republicans on this, but the hand that may strike his reached-out hand first may not even be a Republican hand. It may be a Democratic hand.
PAGEWell, I think the risk for the White House, David, is that Republicans will see this as a starting point, not the end point so that the president has moved to the middle in a way, and they'll expect him to move further in their direction to get a deal.
LEONHARDTThat's exactly right. So the upside for the president is the fact that for months, Republicans have said if the president is serious, he'll propose entitlement changes. And, you know, centrists, people of neither party have said the same thing. Well, now Obama has done that. But there's this funny dynamic in which for many people the way to seem like a centrist actually isn't to look at policies, but to look at where the two parties are and just pick a midpoint regardless of where they are.
LEONHARDTAnd so the risk that he runs is precisely that. What they are deciding is that in the end this worked for them in the campaign, which is if they continue to present themselves as the party more willing to compromise, ultimately, most voters will see that that is, in fact, the case.
PAGEWell, of course, then Republicans may get blamed for not having a deal. But I don't know if the president gets much credit for not being able to put -- I mean, he is the president.
WALTERAnd it's his economy. I mean, and this is really what it comes down to, which is at the end of the day -- look, all of us sitting at this table are following it to a degree that, let's say, no one else on Earth is following it. What most folks out there even our very smart listeners are paying attention to is the bottom line, which is how are they feeling about their own fiscal situation? What do they think is happening fiscally for the country? And the one issue, too, that we haven't even talked about which maybe we can get to next is the impact that the health care reform could have on all of this.
PAGEWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll talk about that new gun law in Connecticut, and we'll go to the phones and take some of your calls. Our lines are open, 1-800-433-8850. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. And with me in the studio for the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup is David Leonhardt. He is Washington bureau chief for The New York Times. He has a new e-book, "Here's the Deal: How Washington Can Solve the Deficit and Spur Growth." And Amy Walter, she is national editor for Cook Political Report. And Major Garrett, he's chief White House correspondent at CBS News. You know, there's been -- I don't believe in my 154 years covering politics in America...
PAGE...that I've ever the kind of change on a controversial issue that we are seeing in the past 24 hours even on the issue of same-sex marriage. Amy, bring us up-to-date on what's happened just yesterday and this morning and about 15 minutes ago.
WALTERWell, it seems -- you're exactly right that there is this very small list of Democrats in the Senate who had not endorsed same-sex marriage. Not surprisingly, they were all Democrats from red states. There's -- on Twitter and sort of the parlor game here in Washington is, you know, who's going to be the next to go? And it was surprising when we saw Sen. Bill Nelson from Florida switch his position. Obviously, Florida is considered a much...
PAGEYesterday -- just yesterday.
PAGEAnd made it the 51st senator to support it...
WALTERTo support it.
PAGE...which means a majority of the U.S. Senate now support same-sex marriage.
WALTERThat's right. Now, we move on to two people that we thought might take a little bit longer, Joe Donnelly from very red state of Indiana and Heidi Heitkamp, the brand-new senator -- Democratic senator from North Dakota. Now, important to note they are not up for re-election for another five years. They just won re-election. So they're thinking, I think, is that, look, by the time we get to that next election, this is going to be such a non-issue. There's not going to be any political price to pay.
WALTERWhat's fascinating, though, about this is for as much movement as we see the country has made on gay marriage, certainly among Democrats and independents, Republicans have not made that same movement. And I'm talking about Republican voters as well. I think it was Pew that looked at over the last eight years when they asked the question about do you think that gay marriage is a threat to traditional marriage?
WALTEREight years ago, Democrats were evenly divided on that issue. Now, overwhelming majority of Democrats don't believe it is. Republicans, though, 68 percent then believed it was a threat, 68 percent now believe it's a threat. So that's the real conundrum for Republicans. The rest of the country seems to be moving, but their base has not moved.
PAGEYou know, to me the number in the polls that is most interesting isn't the partisan divide. It's the age divide.
WALTERThe age, Yep.
PAGEVoters under 30 in our most recent USA Today/Pew story -- Pew national poll, seven out of 10 voters under 30 support same-sex marriage -- a lot of them think it's not an issue.
LEONHARDTI think what we're seeing here with this rush is that there are a whole set of complicated issues in which we don't know how they'll turn out, where we'll end up. There are arguments on both sides that Americans are very drawn to taxes, abortion, all kinds of issues. I don't know how they're going to play out. But on these rights issues, we generally know where the United States ends up, right?
LEONHARDTWe used to have a system in which women couldn't vote, in which African-Americans couldn't vote. We used to have No Irish Need Apply. It would've been hard for me as a Jew to get a job in a lot of places for a long time. All those things go away. And I think that's where you see same-sex marriage going. I think there will be -- continue to be pockets of opposition to this.
LEONHARDTBut I think what people have seen, when you look at the age of base polling is, in the long term, we will have same-sex marriage in this country and people want to get on the right side of that. This will eventually become to seen to many people who are young today or not yet born as no different from No Irish Need Apply. And that's why you see politicians rushing to get on the other side of this.
PAGENow, Major Garrett, we're, of course, waiting for the Supreme Court to rule on two big cases that were just argued a week or so ago. Does the fact that the political landscape is shifting? Do you think that has an impact on what the court decides?
GARRETTAtmospherically, probably yes. I mean, I'm not someone who has spent time covering the court on a day-to-day basis in Washington. I've read that the justices sort of feel the atmospherics of the country around them but still try to ground their decisions and their jurisprudence in the law and the precedent. And in this case, that's not as hefty as it is in some other cases that come before the court. And so the atmospherics of the country may, in fact, influence us. But you heard in some of the questions from the justices. In one of the arguments, this is a brand-new sort of thing.
GARRETTIt's -- in some cases, I think one of the justices -- I can't remember the name -- said it's newer than the cellphone. And so the court has a kind of hidebound history as well to not leap ahead of things from a jurisprudence point of view even though the politics may be flowing faster. So I don't really have a good answer for you on that as to how much the atmospherics around this deliberation will actually affect the ultimate decision.
PAGEAmy, the -- Connecticut was, of course, the site of that terrible school shooting in December, and the governor of Connecticut yesterday signed what looks like the toughest gun law in the nation. What does it say?
WALTERWell, the -- what happened in Connecticut, of course, was that this was a very contentious issue. And the -- Dannel Malloy, who's the Democratic governor there, got a bill passed, and this is a bill that's going to expand a ban on assault-style semiautomatic rifles. It also bars the sales of high-capacity magazines. It also mandates background checks for all gun buyers. Of course, then we saw Maryland yesterday also pass gun laws. They also had some of these laws on their books. I think Maryland now is officially the state with the most restrictive gun laws.
PAGESo we've seen about five states since the Newtown shooting enact new restrictions on gun laws. But The Wall Street Journal had an interesting story yesterday that reported 10 states have expanded gun rights since the Newtown shooting.
LEONHARDTYeah. The problem for these states that are cracking down on gun ownership is that this, more than most issues, is something in which you can't really seal your borders on, right? If you expand Medicaid insurance, the people in your state get health insurance even if people in other states aren't. But, you know, if you live next to a state that has fairly permissive gun laws and your state has pretty restrictive ones, it's not that hard for people to go buy a gun elsewhere and come into your state. And so this does seem like an area in which the federal policy is more important than the state policy.
GARRETTAnd what you're seeing is state level experimentation.
GARRETTAnd you're seeing the effect of uni-party rule in a lot of these states, not in every state. Some -- in some states like Connecticut, it was a bipartisan compromise. But you can list the states: South Dakota, Arkansas, Tennessee, Ohio, Michigan, Maine, Mississippi, Texas, North Carolina, Missouri, Georgia. All have moved in the less restrictive direction on gun control. One quick thing, Connecticut, not only does it do all the things that Amy said, but you have to create a dangerous weapon offenders registry.
GARRETTAnd it has new rules on buying ammunition. These are other elements of the gun control debate that many other states haven't embraced but Connecticut has. It may not be as strict as Maryland, but it's different ideas along the ideas of getting hold of ammunition and being a permanent registry of someone who's classified as a dangerous offender.
PAGEWe're hearing more and more advertising on this issue, including a group called Mayors Against Illegal Guns financed in large part by the New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. They began $12 million TV ad campaign this week, targeting senators in 13 states during the recess. Let's hear a bit of the ads being run by Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1We need to remember the 26 victims who lost their lives.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2She just wanted to teach little kids. And that was her goal, and she died doing it. Wonderful.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1That was the last day I ever saw Jessie alive.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2I want to prevent any other family from having to go through what we're going through.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3Well, I feel it's something I owe to my son, Jesse, to speak out for changes to be made.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3It's not taking guns away from people. It's making it a safer place for everybody.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4Don't let the memory of Newtown fade without doing something real.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4Demand action now.
PAGENow, we also have ads being aired on the other side. In fact, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is raising money for a pro-gun rights group that's targeting Republicans. The group is called National Association for Gun Rights. They've spent $50,000 on ads in Virginia, including in the congressional district represented by the Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Let's listen to that.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5Virginia Congressman Eric Cantor says he has a plan to improve the Republican Party, but it starts with passing Obama's gun control schemes. Cantor wants to herd even more gun owners into federal database registration system to let Washington bureaucrats strip gun rights from veterans and other Americans without trial. If they seek mental health counseling to deny law abiding Virginians the right to buy, sell or even trade a gun without federal approval to once again blame honest gun owners for the actions of criminals.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5And, of course, Democrat Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine agree. Eric Cantor doesn't sound like a Virginian or a Republican anymore. Eric Cantor sounds like someone else. Call and tell Eric Cantor that's no way to improve the Republican Party and that you don't want any of Obama's gun control. This ad was paid for by the 2 million members and supporters of the National Association for Gun Rights.
PAGESo, David, do these ads matter? Do they have an impact?
LEONHARDTOh, they do have an impact. I mean, we all say we're not affected by advertising, and we all are. I don't know how much they matter. I think Major was making a really important point -- and it's not just guns -- which is we have fewer swing states than we used to. I mean, that is empirically true. If you look at elections, we have fewer closed states for a given election result than we used to.
LEONHARDTAnd so what this means is that we have a kind of funny sort of experimentation in which we have more deep red and deep blue states, and we're going to have more places that put in place restrictive gun laws and more places that do even less on guns. And we're going to see the same thing on abortion, on taxes, on all kinds of things. It is true it's a laboratory, but I also think there are some concerns about that kind of polarization.
PAGEOn Monday's "Diane Rehm Show," there'll be an hour at 10 o'clock on how states are experimenting on abortion rights, abortion limits, on just to this point that you are making, David. Let's go to the phones and let some of our listeners have a word. Jay is calling us from St. Louis. Jay, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
JAYYeah. Hi, guys. Yeah. I want to let my -- let you all know I'm a moderate Republican, and maybe there aren't too many of those left around here. But in our state, the Republican legislature overruled the will of the people a few years back on concealed carry. The voters voted it down, and the legislature overruled it, and I think that's pretty indicative of what's going on. I just don't understand -- by the way, I'm a law enforcement officer, and I don't like the thought of being outgunned on the streets.
JAYYou know, there is no -- absolutely no need for a guy to have a 30-round magazine in his weapon, and you don't need it for hunting. And I heard on one of the AM stations around here yesterday, a gun rights guy going, oh, it makes him upset to hear about when people say, you don't need it. Well, you know, we limit cars in this country. Yeah, you can buy a Corvette, and it's very fast. But it's limited on the speed limit it can travel. So there are limitations on weapons -- on cars. There can be limitations on guns.
PAGEJay, thanks for your call. I'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Now, Jay was in support of gun laws. Let's talk to someone with a different point of view. James is calling us from Lebanon, Va. James, hi. You're on the air.
JAMESThanks for taking my call. I live in Virginia, in a rural part of the state. My -- the closest police station is 25 minutes away. As the famous outlaw Jesse James took 11 bullets before he stopped shooting back, what am I going to do if I only have 10 rounds? And Jesse James wasn't even on drugs.
PAGEAnd, James, have you ever felt the need to defend yourself, had an incident where you used your guns to defend yourself where you live?
JAMESNo. No, I haven't. I have a 11-month-old son, and I hope I never have to. But I would be willing to to save the life of my son and my wife.
PAGEAll right. James, thanks so much for your call. Here are two such different perspective from James and Jay about this issue.
GARRETTYeah. And the debate will -- this debate will be seen on the Senate floor the next couple of weeks, and long conversations at the White House this week. And the White House perspective is all we can ask for on some of these more difficult issues that are politically looking as to be lost -- the assault weapons ban, maybe even a magazine clip limit at the federal level -- is to have a debate and a vote to at least have that clarifying action, to have members, for the first time in many, many years, cast public votes along these issues and defend either their opposition or voice their support and let the country sort of not play this out entirely on talk radio, but to the legislative process.
GARRETTAnd the White House will take whatever it can get. It is going to fight hardest, quite obviously, for universal background checks. But it knows that there is a sense within certain parts of the Democratic Party and many sectors of the Republican Party that though these ideas are called common sense by the president, some Americans, like James, look at them and say, they're not going to do anything but either infringe on my rights or make it more difficult to protect myself. And that's simply not a compromise they're willing to make, and some of the legislators in the Senate, and certainly in the House, will reflect that spirit.
PAGEAnd yet on the polling that we've seen, including a new Marist poll out this week, like nine out of 10 Americans support an assault weapons ban and expanded background checks.
WALTERAnd yet this is where it's so important to drill down beneath that...
WALTER...because I think what we do, all of us, often, as we look at the top-line number or we cherry-pick polls and we say, well, 90 percent of people agree with this. I don't understand why 90 percent go out and support it. When you ask the follow-up question to that -- and this is what Quinnipiac asked, which is: Do you think that a universal background check will lead to gun confiscation? Almost 50 percent of Americans believe that it will. So it's not so much -- if you say, do you believe in background checks? Absolutely. But guess what I think is going to happen next.
WALTERThen they're going to come take my gun. So that's where it becomes very, very difficult. And the reason you -- when you heard that -- the ad that you played, the -- against Eric Cantor, Obama's name, I think, came up two or three times. Democrat came up at least a couple of times. It's not a coincidence. The profile, by the way, the demographics of a gun owner, the most likely to own a gun is a Southern white married man. And those are the kinds of voters that, of course, live in those very red states that were seeing a lot of this new gun -- where they're getting expanded gun ownership rights.
WALTERIn the places where they're less likely to own guns, you're going to see the more restrictive moments. I think that becomes a real issue here, which is that the demographics of gun ownership are driving this debate almost more than anything else. And now that demographics are intrinsically tied to voting behavior, that's why you're seeing it become a Democrat versus Republican thing.
LEONHARDTFirst of all, I think Amy's point about drilling down on polls is extremely important because it is true -- we don't govern by polls. We govern by debates, right? And that's why it's so important. There are some gun control measures that a majority of Americans support, no matter how far you drill down.
LEONHARDTAnd I think that's one of the reasons why, politically, what the White House is hoping to do on some of these big things, even ones that may not become law, is win in the Senate, because what they want to do is make it clear that it's Republicans who stand against some of these things that the majority of people support.
LEONHARDTAnd it's connected to this idea that the most likely people to own guns are white Southern men. And what the White House wants to do, even on things they know they can't win, is say, look, we're the party of the majority here, and Republicans are the regional party of the minority. They can't do that if it doesn't pass in the Senate, which is Democratic control.
WALTERAnd they have to try to win red states in 2014...
WALTER...in Southern -- red Southern states that are controlled right now by Democrats.
PAGESo do you think that the White House would just as prefer that it passes the Senate, it gets stalled in the House and they have an issue?
LEONHARDTNo, I don't have any doubt the White House wants background checks. They have come to believe that background checks would have a serious effect on gun ownership and gun violence, more importantly. And so they want background checks.
GARRETTAnd not only that, but if you build a thoroughly integrated and successful federal registry and background check system, you can deal with law enforcement issues and take a lot of the sting out of the theory and the fear about confiscation...
GARRETT...and a national registry and all that other stuff, which advances public policy goals the White House also embraces.
PAGEWe'll take another short break. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. And with me in the studio, David Leonhardt of The New York Times, Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report and Major Garrett from CBS News. Let's talk about -- we talked briefly about the budget.
PAGELet's talk specifically about the Pentagon budget because we had the first big policy speech this week by Chuck Hagel, the new secretary of defense, in which he did not seem to raise the same alarm bells that his predecessor, Leon Panetta, did over the idea of some continuing cuts in Pentagon spending. David, what did he tell us?
LEONHARDTSo he said that Hagel said all along, maybe we shouldn't be too too worried about this idea that Pentagon cuts will eviscerate the military. I think that what's funny about the military right now is I think the parties are a little bit the wrong frame to think about this. And that's not true on many issues. Today the parties are usually exactly the right frame to think about an issue. But there are both Democrats and Republicans who are deeply worried about the idea of cutting the Pentagon budget.
LEONHARDTAnd they are -- both Democrats and Republicans who are deeply comfortable with the idea of cutting the Pentagon budget. Obama has moved from the more worried camp to the more comfortable camp. And we see that in his choice of defense secretaries. Leon Panetta, a Democrat, was more worried about cutting in. Chuck Hagel, a Republican, is more comfortable with doing it. And Obama switched to someone who is more comfortable about doing it.
GARRETTYeah. And the defense secretary said that the cuts will be in many, many places -- personnel, weapons acquisition and, quite possibly, health care. It's an enormous embedded cost at the Pentagon. And there are things about Chuck Hagel that did not translate well this confirmation hearing. But there is something about the way he talks about things now that he is defense secretary that I think some people find more than mildly refreshing.
GARRETTHe said the Pentagon budgets and its acquisition process and many of its procedures have grown enormously more expensive in every way in modern history and that "military power..." -- this is a direct quote -- "...must be used judiciously, with a keen appreciation of its limits." This speaks to his comfort level with a smaller military.
GARRETTSo the Army, 540,000 men now or women, men and women, is already scheduled to go down to 490,000, could go down another 50,000. The Marine Corps could shrink by about a third under some of these cuts. And Hagel said, look, this is the new world. We're going to have to adapt it -- to it, and he set people within the Pentagon in motion within two months to find new cuts, efficiencies and the ways to achieve this in ways that his predecessors simply were not comfortable with.
PAGEYou know, the other thing that Chuck Hagel did this week was announce or disclose that he was going to take a 5 percent pay cut because a lot of federal workers are being faced pay cuts or furlough days because of sequestration. And I wonder, Amy, that sort of set off a rush among officials to say they were willing to give some of their money back too.
WALTERIncluding the president who said that he is also going to give 5 percent back. We saw John Kerry, who we all know as having money troubles, he doesn't have really enough. So that going to be a real problem for him, but just kidding. He's doing quite well. Even Mark Begich, the Democratic senator for Alaska, is saying he's going to give 5 percent of his salary. And so I think you are, potentially, going to see more folks do this.
WALTERThe question is whether it has any impact or not on the debate or whether people see this just simply as more of the political theater. And the one thing that I would be weary of, if I'm in the White House or hoping that this is going to spur Republicans to make some -- to take some action on the sequester, is that a lot of folks may look at this and say, you know what?
WALTEROf course I should take a 5 percent cut. In fact, everybody in Congress should take a 5 percent cut. Why are we paying them at all? They don't do anything, right? And so what it could set off is actually the opposite reaction which is, yeah, we actually need to do more cutting. It's a great start.
LEONHARDTI think the worrisome thing about this theater of taking pay cuts which we've seen now in both the administration and Congress is many members of Congress and the administration don't actually need their salaries at all because they're rich -- Barack Obama, Chuck Hagel, John Kerry. But, you know, some of them actually do. Some of them rely on their salaries to pay things like their mortgage. And I don't think we want a situation in which the only people we have in Congress and the administration are people who can go through the political theater of forfeiting their salary.
GARRETTAnd one other thing, this goes back to the president's budget which will be formally presented to Congress on Wednesday, a couple things on the Social Security. The White House is very insistent that this deal only exist if Republicans are willing to put more revenue on the table, 600 million is what the president's going to propose, and soften some of the sequestration cuts here and now. I mean, part of his budget is to reopen a conversation about doing something that Washington has been unwilling to do.
GARRETTAnd the president has now put his pen to twice, putting the sequestration in motion way back when and then re-establishing it just a few weeks ago and continuing the budget for this year. So not only is this a budget for future years and Social Security and all of these other sort of galactic battles, but it's also trying to re visit what, if anything, Washington will do and or not do about the sequestration cuts today.
PAGEYou know what, one thing I love about "The Diane Rehm Show" is the quality of our listeners. And I have to say that we have been flooded with corrections to the previous version by our called James on what happened to Jesse James. One is from...
LEONHARDTGood. It was one of us.
GARRETTWow. But yeah, no idea the look of panic that swept across all three of us when we hear that string of corrections line.
PAGEHere's an email from Judges James B. Croy from the Oklahoma County District Court, who says, "Just for the record. Jesse James was shot by a fellow gang member once in the back of the head." Here's one from James Cal (sp?) who is a medical doctor, who says, "Your previous caller was mistaken. Jesse James was shot from behind while playing cards in a saloon." And someone -- I'm not sure who this was -- has sent a poem about this. It says, "The dirty, rotten coward that shot Mr. Howard and laid poor Jesse in his grave."
PAGESo we are -- we stand corrected on the situation that took Jesse James from us. You know, while we're talking about money, we should talk about the money that Barack Obama is raising for House candidates, in particular, for 2014. He was out in California for two days this week, raising a ton of dough. And what's difficult, it seems to me, David, is that he's doing this while also trying to convince Republicans to make a deal with him on issues like immigration.
LEONHARDTHe is, although, I feel like these politicians are adults, and they understand that on the one hand, they need to try to negotiate. And on the other hand, they all want their own party to win and the other guys' party to lose. And so I tend to think that what will drive whether or not we get a deal is less whether Republicans and Democrats are nice to each other and more whether they find a kind of common ground. And so I would be surprised if Obama's raising money had a substantial effect on whether they can get a deal.
PAGENow, he talked to...
GARRETTOther Republicans are raising money during the recess. It's worth pointing out.
WALTERReally, they are?
GARRETTJust for the record.
PAGEHe talked about his desire, how much better things would be for him if Nancy Pelosi was returned to speaker of the house. He have to -- Democrats would have to gain 17 seats to do that. Amy, is that in the realm of possibility?
WALTERWell, and that's the difficulty. And, you know, we, at the Cook Report, just crunched the numbers from 2012 to look at every single House district and how that House district voted in 2012 and compared it to how it voted in 2008. And here's the number that I thought was the most fascinating is that between 1998 and 2013, the number of swing seats, you know, those competitive districts we all talk about and write about in the midterm especially has fallen by 45 percent.
WALTERSo in 1998, there were 164 competitive districts. There are just 90 today. There are just 17 Republicans who sit in the "wrong seat," i.e., a district that Barack Obama won. Actually, for the first time since 1960, the candidate who won the presidency actually lost -- did not win more House seats than the loser. So this is a situation that is created in part by redistricting in 2010, and it's also a situation born on two waves -- three wave elections that has cleaned out all the low-hanging fruit.
WALTERAnd finally, what we see too is Americans now concentrating themselves, especially Democrats who concentrate much more than Republicans do. You see then moving to close-in suburbs or urban areas where their votes are essentially -- we call it wasted. They're never -- voters never -- a vote is never wasted. But their votes are just not distributed as evenly as Republicans.
LEONHARDTOne reason it's unlikely is that the 2014 electorate will almost certainly be less favorable to the Democrats than the 2012 electorate because the kind of people who vote Democrat turn out less in the midterm. That's why it's not impossible, but it's unlikely the Democrats will take back the House.
PAGEYou know, the only thing that seems to me to be a little glimmer of hope for Democrats is that they loss so many seats in 2010 that the people who might be able to be most easily defeated have been defeated. That might help a little. I mean, it did help Bill Clinton in the 1998 midterm that he had lost -- the Democrats had lost so many seats in 1994.
GARRETTYes. But Democrats also looked at that in 2012 with what they thought would be a much more favorable tide of turnout across the country, and they simply can anticipate that in 2014 as they did in 2012. I think in many respects, they slightly over performed the expectations in the president's re-election year, winning a couple of three more House seats narrowly that the Republicans thought they would hold on to.
GARRETTIt's still a very tall mountain for Democrats to climb. The president raising money for them is necessary for all sorts of reasons within the Democratic conversation. But I agree with Amy and David, it's more likely than not that Republicans will retain control of the House. And it would not stun me if they picked up a seat or two.
LEONHARDTIf the Republicans impeach Obama the way they impeached Clinton...
LEONHARDT...then all bets are off.
PAGEPossibly not the way to go politically. Let's talk to Dave. He's calling us from Ottawa, Ill. Dave, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
DAVEHi. How are you doing?
DAVEI just want to answer your guests why campaign finance reform hasn't been really a subject. I mean, last election cycle, I was getting emails from all candidates, especially Democrats -- I support a lot of Democrats -- about super PACs being a big problem. They need money for this and that. So I would think campaign -- or at least super PAC transparency would be a good way of getting rid of them.
DAVEBut I've heard nothing about it. And I just think that maybe Democrats are using a bit of a scare tactic now at least to get to contribute to their campaign funds or getting work contributions campaign fund, they really don't want to get rid of super PAC.
PAGEDave, you know, that makes a pretty good point.
WALTERHe got it. He makes a great point. And, in fact, Dave, you'll be not so happy to know that between 2010 and 2012, the influence of Democratic super PACs increased by a tremendous percentage. And, in fact, when you look at the -- one of the biggest contributors to Democratic candidates on the House side, it came from something called the House majority PAC which is a super PAC. I mean, we heard a lot in the 2012 election about the Priorities USA, which was supporting the presidents.
WALTERBut Democrats have geared up. They have their super PACs in place. They tried to fight against it in 2010 saying, this is the most horrible, terrible, awful thing that's ever happened to politics. Then they lost control of the House. They lost seats in the Senate, and they said, guess what, we're going to have to play this game.
LEONHARDTNow, if Democrats control the whole government, I do think they'd do something on campaign finance. I think the first reason is that Republicans control the House. But it's also the fact that it doesn't seem like the current system is preventing them from winning the presidency.
PAGEDavid, thanks for your call. Let's go to Fallston, Md., and talk to Cathy. Cathy, thanks for holding on.
CATHYGood morning. It's nice to talk with you guys. I'm calling about how the sequestration has affected small business. We live and work in a community that's about 20 miles from or 20 minutes from Aberdeen Proving Ground. So our customer base is predominantly defense contractors. And we limped through the recession, and we're slowly coming back.
CATHYAnd when -- I guess it was about the third week of February when it looks like the sequestration gridlock was going to really impact our customer base. Our contracts that were about to be executed just stopped 'cause our customers were afraid to tap in to savings or home equity loans when their pay was going to be cut by 20 percent.
PAGECathy, thanks for your call. You know, David, one of the reasons that employers may be reluctant also to hire is because some of the uncertainty that surrounds the sequestration that's...
LEONHARDTThat's right. And we talked before about how fragile recoveries are after financial crisis. Almost anything can knock people's confidence aside.
PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're just going to take one more call about Jesse James.
PAGELet's go to Richard who's calling us from San Antonio. Hi, Richard.
RICHARDGood morning. Yeah, I'm a history buff, and I just thought I'd bring up the sort of latest research. It seems that at a Confederate reunion in 1925 on the roster who was attending the reunion was a signature Jesse James. And in the background of it, he was in the picture of that reunion. And they did facial recognition of the only known picture of Jesse James, matched to the picture of the reunion.
RICHARDAnd sure enough, it's a match. So that we're thinking is that the Howard thing was an assassination of someone. And if they shot him in the head, the face was pretty well messed up and that he didn't die in 1882.
PAGEAll right. Well, Richard...
GARRETTAnd in a related story, that picture also looks a lot like Jim Morrison.
PAGEYou know, this is clearly a subject that deserves more serious consideration on a future show.
GARRETTYou'd never know it from my previous comments, but I wasn't trying to be overly flipped to the history buffs out there. I appreciate all the emails and phone calls and corrections today.
PAGEWe saw quite a political comeback this week with former Gov. Mark Sanford who knew he could come back from this sort of embarrassing scandal he found himself entwined in and that cost him his political future, we thought at the time. Yet he won, Amy…
WALTERYes, he did.
PAGE...a big primary this week.
WALTERHe did. And, listen, we talk a lot about Southern states especially Southern states with big evangelical communities, and we say, wow. A sex scandal is going to absolutely destroy any chance of you coming back. Of course, there was another person with a sex scandal in his past who happened to do well in South Carolina named Newt Gingrich. So they seemed to be quite forgiving especially -- and this is what I think that the former governor and former congressman has done quite well which is to basically go on a redemption tour.
WALTERThe guy had spent a lot of his campaign talking about the fact that yes, indeed, he messed up, and God is a forgiving god. And we all are sinners, and let's move forward because you guys really care about the thing that I'm the most -- after the Appalachian Trail, I'm best known for, which is cutting spending and fiscal reform.
PAGEMeanwhile, Hillary Clinton was back in the public eye this week after just two months of -- on her rest and relaxation period after serving as secretary of state. What do you make of the fact that, David, she gave a speech? They've announced she's coming out with a book about her tenure as secretary of state. What does this tell us?
LEONHARDTI would say it tell us she is probably running for president. I don't think we'll know for sure for quite some time. And I think it's fascinating. We -- I mean, can any of you think of a situation like this? Is Eisenhower the closest parallel? When we had someone who was that significant to a presidential race, the single most important thing is whether one person would or wouldn't run.
GARRETTColin Powell would be another person I would think.
GARRETTBut you never thought he was going to run. Hillary, you do think she's going to run.
GARRETTAnd so the scrutiny and the consideration of her is at a much higher level. And what I think we learned in the last weeks, and it's not a surprise to anyone, is that she can occupy the public square any moment she chooses.
PAGEYou know, the biggest sign I thought was when James Carville, long associated with Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, sent out an email for a group that is urging her to run. I assume he would not have done this without her saying.
PAGEIt was OK or indicating it was OK. Well, I want to thank our panel for joining this hour. David Leonhardt of The New York Times, Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report, Major Garrett of CBS News. Thank you all.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Susan Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman and Lisa Dunn. The engineer is Toby Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington, D.C. This is NPR.
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