America’s Collision Course With The Debt Ceiling
As the nation counts down to default, Diane talks to longtime Congress watcher Norm Ornstein about the debt limit negotiations, what's at stake and whether he sees a way forward.
The Senate rejects gun control measures. A fertilizer plant in Texas explodes. And an update on the Boston marathon bombing.
With the Boston Marathon attack and ricin scare coming in the same week, this was the first time since 2001 that the U.S. experienced events similar to those of Sept. 11, according to New York Times reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg. “The bombing at the marathon goes to the very heart of the question that was raised by 9/11, which is, what does it mean to live in a free society? How hunkered down do we need to be?” Stolberg said.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Throughout the hour, we'll bring you the latest on the manhunt in Massachusetts following the Boston Marathon bombing and also other news, a fertilizer plant in Texas explodes, and the Senate rejects gun control measures. Joining me for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup: Michael Gerson, a syndicated columnist, Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times, and E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post.
MS. DIANE REHMThroughout the hour, we'll welcome your calls, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And just to remind you, we are live streaming video of the first hour of the Friday News Roundup. Good morning, everyone.
MR. E.J. DIONNE JR.Good morning, Diane.
MS. SHERYL GAY STOLBERGGood morning.
MR. MICHAEL GERSONGood morning.
REHME.J. Dionne, give us the latest in the search for the Boston Marathon bombing suspects.
DIONNE JR.Well, we've had -- people in Boston had a very wild night last night. There were gunshots, there were explosions. There was action from MIT down near the Charles River, all the way out to Watertown, which is a town right near Cambridge, went right through -- I got calls last night from family who are up there.
DIONNE JR.And what appears to be the case, and I should say -- if I can quote a congressman from another context -- we're walking a fine line on thin ice here, all of us, because this information is developing, and this is a story where I suspect certain things that we thought were true at the beginning of the show might not end up being quite as true as we thought at the end of the show.
DIONNE JR.We are looking at two brothers, it is said, but I believe not yet fully confirmed that they have some connection. They're Chechen or Chechen-Americans, but again, I think that still hasn't been fully confirmed yet, Dzhorkar Tsarnaev and his brother Tamerlan. One was killed...
REHMThe older brother.
DIONNE JR....was killed. There are -- there is a report that he attended UMass Dartmouth. I should say personally, that is right where I grew up. My late mom was on the board of that place it's called -- when it was called Southeastern Mass University. It's a great place that gives a lot of opportunity to first generation college kids.
REHMAnd the younger brother was given a $2,500 scholarship to pursue higher education, Sheryl.
STOLBERGThat's right. We're hearing reports from the Associated Press, from the father of the young man saying, "My son is a true angel. He's such an intelligent boy." The father said he was a second year medical student, although we know that he's a young man, 19, so perhaps he is simply in his second year of college pre-med, another one of the things we don't know. There are so many questions, Diane. We would want to know what significance, if any, is the family Chechen background.
STOLBERGWe're hearing reports that these brothers, one of them at least, had posted links on his personal website to Islamic websites. We know that Chechen is largely Islamic. Republic of Russia's many Chechens are angry that they did not win independence from Russia after two wars in the 1990s. All of these things are questions that, as E.J. said, we don't have answers to, and we really don't know how they will figure in.
GERSONYes. I think it's important to remember that background is not motivation. They're two different things here.
DIONNE JR.And, Michael...
GERSONBut it does seem like something has happened that we feared, which was small groups of killers engaged in small-scale attacks against soft targets in America. We've been fearing that a long time. As someone who was in government at the time of 9/11, I'll tell you the immediate reaction of everyone in government is, are there more teams? Are there associates?
GERSONAre there other people involved here? That's what they're tracking down right now, I think, whether it's family members or even people inspired by this. And I think it does have some long-term effects on our country about changing our sense of vulnerability in large groups and how that's going to -- how we relate to one another in community.
REHMIndeed. And we should say here, an MIT police officer was fatally shot while he sat in his car in Cambridge. And also, there was a hijacking of a vehicle. Somehow, the driver got away and reported to police that the driver had explosives on him. So you're so right, Michael. As we look at this entire process, we have to be so careful because we really don't know whether their background had anything whatsoever to do with these actions.
STOLBERGYou know, Michael mentioned 9/11, and I have to say that it has been since 9/11 that I felt -- this is the first week since 9/11 that I felt we've had a week similar -- not only this incident in Boston but the ricin letters that we'll talk about later in the show and Texas fertilizer explosion. But I think more importantly, as this incident in Boston, the bombing at the marathon goes to the very heart of the question that was raised by 9/11, which is, what does it mean to live in a free society?
STOLBERGHow hunkered down do we need to be? Can we have these open events like marathons where a 26-mile route is open and people can simply come and watch? President Obama speaking in Boston yesterday said, "We will not hunker down." Yet today we have a massive manhunt going on in Boston where people are, in fact, hunkered down. Schools are closed. The Metro system is closed. You can't get a taxi because we're on this massive manhunt to look for these terrorists.
REHMAnd ABC has a big headline, "Lock your doors: Boston paralyzed by a manhunt." UMass Dartmouth has confirmed that the younger of the two men is a registered student there. And then you had statements by the young man's uncle, which did not seem to be terribly flattering. E.J.
DIONNE JR.You know, again, you've got utterly contradictory statements from the father, who, not surprisingly, is talking about what great kids he had, and, you know, all fathers know what that is like. And then you have an uncle who said very, very negative things about them. We have no idea how to judge either of these statements. There was something just so horrific about this. The Patriot's Day holiday -- Patriot's Day is actually April 19. That's the day of Lexington and Concord.
DIONNE JR.It's a holiday only in Massachusetts and Maine. Maine used to be part of Massachusetts. It is one of the most joyous days of the year -- I grew up up there -- today where the Red Sox play early, where lots of people go to that game, lots of people turn out to the -- to watch the marathon, particularly to watch family members running in the marathon. And so there was something about this attack, to go to Gail's (sic) point, that it went to one of the most joyous days of the year up in Massachusetts.
DIONNE JR.And to have it turn into this tragedy and to have so many people injured -- it was a bomb created as much to maim people as to kill people -- and there were people who have lost limbs, it's just a horrific attack. And we -- I mean, the principle has to be that we cannot allow ourselves to be intimidated into a completely different form of life. But the fact that we have seen that a "slow-level attack" could be pulled off with relative ease is really, really alarming.
REHMNBC is reporting that President Obama is meeting with his national security team right now. That meeting began at 9:45 a.m. Eastern Time. All agency leaders are involved in the meeting, the CIA, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. What does that tell us, Sheryl?
STOLBERGWell, that tells us that the -- this is number one on the president's agenda today, that there is nothing more pressing for him and for the administration than to find out what is happening in Boston and what he can do about it. The number one responsibility of any president is the safety of American citizens.
STOLBERGWe certainly saw that after 9/11 when President Bush was in office, and I think we're seeing it now. I wanted to mention, today, Patriot's Day, today is also the 18th anniversary of the bombing of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. We don't know what, if anything, that means but another thing to note.
REHMMichael Gerson, it does seem extraordinary that through these video surveillance films, the FBI, the CIA were able to identify these two young men as quickly as they did.
GERSONI think that for criminal justice, this is very much a success story. I think they made effective use of all the technologies at their disposal. They pushed very quickly to get the images out and to get a result. So I think that that's -- you know, I think this is largely a success. There were some damaging leaks along the way. Social media both has a good side and a bad side because it identified some people that weren't really necessarily the targets here, right...
REHMAnd that's why we want to be so careful.
GERSONExactly. But as a whole -- I would also say, though, as to the White House reaction, that whenever there's a foreign element in something like this -- and there is in the story now and we don't know what the motivation is -- it raises it to a different level. The CIA is not really engaged in this. All of our, you know, intelligence agency is engaged in this...
REHMAnd NBC is now reporting that authorities disabled a bomb that was discovered in the Charlesgate section of Boston. Where is Charlesgate?
DIONNE JR.If I remember, my -- I believe that's in Cambridge, or at least the Charlesgate I know is in Cambridge. But somebody can correct me out there. You know, to go to Michael's point, it does -- it is very different if it is foreign involvement. And again, there's something we don't know here. Are these two guys -- assuming they are the right two guys, which we have reason to believe, was this their own decision to do this? Or are they part of a larger movement?
DIONNE JR.We don't know that...
GERSONOr just inspired by a...
DIONNE JR....and it makes a big -- or they could be inspired by it. And that's difficult, too.
REHMAll right. Short break here. When we come back, everything we know right up to the minute.
REHMAnd welcome back to the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup. We are, of course, following minute by minute what is happening in Boston. Now, we've received note that Connecticut State Police have put out a bulletin that someone linked to the suspect or the suspect himself may be in a Honda CR-V with Massachusetts plate 316-E, S as in Sam, nine. I hope our folks up there in Connecticut will keep an eye out.
REHMHere in the studio: Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution and syndicated columnist Michael Gerson. We're going to open the phones in just a few moments. Sheryl, you wanted to report on something that The New York Times is reporting.
STOLBERGWe've got an item on our website that says there's a undated photo essay online about the elder brother, the brother who was killed, showing him in a boxing ring. He apparently wanted to be a boxer, and he told the photographer that he was kindly disposed toward the United States. Pictures in front of him -- showing him in front of an American flag, the caption read that "unless his native Chechnya became independent, he would rather compete for the United States than Russia." He dreamed of competing in the Olympics, so sort of an alternative view or an intriguing hint about his past.
REHMAll right. And to your point about Charlesgate, E.J. Dionne, you are correct that it is in Cambridge. And I'm going to take a few calls here. Let's go first to Mike in Arlington, Va. Good morning to you.
MIKEThank you, Diane, and to the guests. Excuse me. The view of the street where the bombers were laying their apparatus was quite extensive and was apparently a very elaborate security system. Do they know if it was under the auspices of the city or the merchants?
REHMIt's an interesting question because they reported initially that the camera had been part of Lord & Taylor.
DIONNE JR.Right. Well, I think there are more and more cameras being used by retail stores to prevent theft. And so I think what happened here is that they collected all of the available images. As you say, Diane, my understanding is that the Lord & Taylor footage was critical because of the location of their camera. But I just want to underscore something Mike said earlier, which is the extraordinary use of every available image by law enforcement.
DIONNE JR.It was -- the law enforcement was actually at the airport stopping people to see if anybody had footage on their phones in order to put together as many images as they could. And it's really striking that within just a few days, they managed to collect all this information and identify them. But I think the critical camera from what we know so far was actually a retail camera not a city camera.
STOLBERGYou know, I think that's right. I think thing that we were talking about earlier is the use of social media in this whole event. You know, last night, I was sitting at my kitchen table and my 14-year-old said, there's a shooter at MIT. And I said, how do you know? A friend of hers had tweeted it. You know, we're getting our news in real time.
STOLBERGAnd we saw also Boston police using social media to great effect during the marathon when you could hear them on the police radio saying, I need someone to get out on social media, where people should go, what we should do. People are getting their information that way, and...
STOLBERG...from a public safety perspective, it's a help.
REHMLet's go to Betty in Cincinnati, Ohio. You're on the air.
BETTYHi, Diane. I think that Boston is to immigration as Newtown is to gun control. I think that it's time for the country to really have a serious conversation is what should we do about legal immigration. And my opinion is that all immigration should be stopped until we have a conversation in this country regarding immigration.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling. Sheryl.
STOLBERGI think that is a predictable and not surprising reaction. But the truth is we don't know anything about the immigration status of these young men or whether...
REHMThey've been here in this country for a while.
STOLBERGRight. They've been here for a while. And so -- but I think we are going to see now that immigration is on the table in -- on the agenda with a hearing in the judiciary committee today, just a day after a group of bipartisan senators released their comprehensive immigration bill. We probably will see a rising up from conservatives trying to link this event in Boston and the fact that these people were foreigners to the immigration debate.
GERSONWe're already seeing it in the conservative Twitter verse that this somehow is discrediting to the cause of the comprehensive immigration reform. I think that's a questionable premise. But I think it's a real kind of political reality. You couldn't have worse timing than this week to have Marco Rubio and Sen. Schumer and others announcing this bipartisan approach, which is a balanced and kind of reasonable approach to immigration reform. And then to have an event like this, I think it strengthens the opponents of immigration at least in the short term.
DIONNE JR.I just want to say that I think politically what's just been said is probably true. But we also shouldn't jump the gun here. First, the conservative movement is split on immigration, as Michael's comments suggested. There are a lot of conservatives, including Michael, who support immigration reform.
DIONNE JR.Secondly, I think if we want to get into this, have to ask the question: Are we better off with a broken system we have or does this only underscore the case for immigration reform so that we know who's here and we have a rational system to allow people in? Because we are going to be an immigration country as we have always been.
GERSONBut the response to 9/11 was immediately to clamp down, to have fewer student visas, to do other things.
GERSONThat is the political context.
REHMAnd, by the way, Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano will not testify at an immigration hearing today because of the events in Boston. Let's go to Little Rock, Ark. Good morning, Rod. You're on the air.
RODGood morning, Diane.
RODHello. I just wanted to speak to the crowd sourcing that has happened in Boston with the people in social media using their phones and juxtapose that to what has recently happened in Arkansas, the Mayflower oil spill. Exxon has imposed a no-fly zone over the entire area. And I was up there with a friend attempting to shoot footage from private property, and we were given criminal -- interfering with governmental operations ticket for taking pictures from private property from police who were hired to work as security for Exxon.
REHME.J., this is an ongoing problem in Arkansas with Exxon.
DIONNE JR.Well, indeed. And that this, you know, the Exxon problem is going to play into the debates over the Keystone pipeline. It's going to play into all kinds of environmental debates there and whether -- I think Arkansas -- people down in Arkansas are split between -- as often happens in these things -- between sort of economic development folks and people in the area saying, wait a minute.
DIONNE JR.What are the dangers here? And I think the same is true even more so with the fertilizer plant that blew up in West Texas, where -- and my understanding is that plant hadn't been inspected for something like 28 years. So we have a lot of issues that are not connected to terrorism, but are connected to these dangers.
GERSONI would only add, I think that crowdsourcing and social media have proven their worth in this crisis. It's been very important to the outcome that we've seen. But we've also seen how important traditional journalism of people like Pete Williams at NBC has to get facts...
GERSON...as a basis instead of just endless rumor, which can be recycled on social media, so I think we've seen the importance of both those elements.
DIONNE JR.Right. And I think exactly, and I think it's important to underscore the value of social media and the fact that social media can get truth around fast. But it can also get untrue rumors around fast.
REHMExactly. Of course.
DIONNE JR.And thank God for somebody who tries to sift them.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Highland Beach, Fla. Good morning, Paul.
PAULYes. This is Paul in Highland Beach, Fla. All I wanted to say is the release that the FBI gave out last night, if you look very closely, you'll see the brother in the front, 30 feet back, the other brother. I want to know who the guy 30 feet back of him with yellow stripes down his clothing, carried a knapsack, following foot for foot with the other two if there wasn't a connection.
REHMI don't know that we know.
GERSONI assume that the police are looking at things like this. But I will tell you, one of the things that impressed me about this story was the amazing element that one of the victims that had his -- both his legs removed below the knees was one of the initial witnesses to this, had seen these people and, on his hospital bed, asked for pen and paper and said, I was a witness to this. There have been some extraordinary things that have emerged in the context of this where the victims themselves became the initial sources of information...
GERSON...on the people that were there that are...
GERSONI think that's quite inspiring.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about the gun control amendment defeated on Wednesday. Was this a surprise, Sheryl?
STOLBERGWell, I think certainly as the bill was coming up for the vote, no, it was not a surprise. We saw the families from Newtown, Conn., practically shame the Senate into taking up this background checks measure, the so-called Toomey-Manchin bill, which would have expanded background checks to cover gun shows and other -- some other sales.
STOLBERGThey basically forced the Senate into bringing this up for a vote, but it became quickly clear that there simply were not enough Democrats and Republicans willing to vote in favor of it. I thought it was striking that of the three -- of the four Democrats whose votes were lost, three, I believe, are running for...
GERSONIn this cycle.
STOLBERG...in this cycle.
STOLBERGWe had Begich of Alaska, Pryor of Arkansas, Baucus of Montana. All three voted no on expanding background checks, as did Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. And...
REHMAnd would their votes have made the difference?
STOLBERGWell, they still would have needed two more Republicans.
STOLBERGThey only got 54 votes. They needed a 60-vote threshold for passage. I can tell you I spent my week with victims of gun violence, whose children were murdered at Virginia Tech and in Aurora, Colorado and elsewhere. And it was a very trying, emotional week for these people. They were in the gallery for the vote. One of the mothers from Virginia Tech and also a survivor of the Tucson shooting shouted out in the gallery, shame on you, at the senators. They -- and these are women, dignified women, but who just could not contain themselves.
DIONNE JR.Look, I want to put my cards on the table. I think this vote was craven and cowardly, and I could use a whole lot of other words for it. Mark Kelly, the husband of Gabrielle Giffords, injured in the event in Arkansas, they were lobbying for very moderate gun control. And let's be clear. This Manchin-Toomey, Toomey-Manchin proposal was very moderate. It was a compromise background check. It wasn't even universal background checks.
DIONNE JR.Mark Kelly said he visited senators who basically offered no substantive objection to Manchin-Toomey, but were basically talking, in a way, indirectly about the political difficulty of getting there. And I think, politically, there are two lessons here. First, I think this is the first time I've seen Democrats who have, in the past, been willing to let rural Democrats off the hook. This time they're saying no. There is something wrong if you can't even vote for this. But this wouldn't have been defeated if Republicans hadn't voted almost in lockstep with the NRA.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Michael, why did this measure require 60 votes to pass? Was it essentially a filibuster?
GERSONYes, it was a threat and filibuster. It requires them 60 votes. I think people -- the leadership of people like Cruz and others threatening that they would filibuster this forced the Senate to do this. Just to E.J.'s point, there is an additional element here. It's not just money and politics. There's -- I supported the background check, which I think is quite reasonable. But when you look at this issue more broadly, it's not just an ideological issue.
GERSONIt's really very much a cultural one in America. There are some parts of America, like where I grew up, where you view guns as a threat and a danger. There are other parts of America where it's deeply embedded in the cultural kind of self-identity. And it's hard for those two Americas to communicate with one another, and I'm not sure some of the rhetoric that surrounded this, trying to shame senators, has been particularly effective on these issues. So...
STOLBERGI think Michael is absolutely right. I also spent much of last week reporting on Wayne LaPierre, the head of the NRA. And what I found is that the -- a lot of people think he's effective because the NRA gives money, they pressure lawmakers, they score votes, and, yes, they do all of that. But they also have a very committed, devoted membership, and they also have something that few other advocacy groups have, and that is a right enshrined in the Constitution.
STOLBERGAnd they can cite and do cite the Second Amendment, and people out in the country -- in places like Cape Girardeau, Mo., where I interviewed a judge who hosted an NRA dinner -- feel very strongly that this is a constitutional right, and they don't see it as something they are willing to have incursions on.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Lafayette, Ind. Good morning, Bob.
BOBHello. How are you?
BOBYeah. I -- my point was what one of your commentators just said about the filibuster issue, is that this is greater than just these bills being defeated. They actually weren't defeated.
DIONNE JR.Yes. Thank you.
BOBThey voted against voting for them. So, in essence, 54 votes would have been a majority, and they would have passed had they actually been voting on the bills. But they weren't.
DIONNE JR.Amen to that. I mean, you know, it's actually 55 votes. Harry Reid switched his vote to no...
DIONNE JR....just so he could bring the bill back. And if you look at the vote, the senators who voted yes represent about 63 percent of the American people. So the Senate is already -- over-represents smaller states and that the filibuster allows a minority of the country to dictate policy to a majority of the country. Ninety percent of Americans supported the background checks. And that's why I really want to dissent from this cultural issue thing. I know there is this element, but I think the culture thing has been used as a smoke screen by the gun industry.
DIONNE JR.Lots of people who support background checks are gun owners. Vast majority of gun owners support background checks. Gabrielle Giffords has -- had -- when she was in college, was by no means hostile to gun. She is from Arizona. And I think they've used this year after year after year to say that people who support sane gun laws, just moderate regulation, are somehow disrespectful of rural culture. That is simply not true, and I agree that that has to be fought through in order to get this done.
REHMThe president said that the NRA had lied about this bill in order to attract voters.
STOLBERGYeah. Well, you know, to E.J.'s point, we did a poll -- whose results were not published, but shared with me -- that showed 68 percent of voters in NRA households -- in other words, those households with an NRA member -- do support background checks.
REHMAll right. Short break here. And when we come back, more of your calls and update, if there is anything new on what's happening in Boston.
REHMAnd welcome back to the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup this week with E.J. Dionne, Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Michael Gerson. Bloomberg News is reporting that the FBI is questioning family members of the two suspects, one of whom has died -- that's the older of the two brothers, Tamerlan -- questioning family members who live in Maryland, in Montgomery County. We'll keep you updated on developments as they occur. In the meantime, let's go to our callers, to Pittsburgh, Pa. Good morning, Benita. You're on the air.
BENITAHi, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
BENITAI wanted to comment on the lady that had a very strong opinion about the nationality and the foreign impact of the terrorism attack as it pertains to immigration reform. You know, in this country, we -- you know, we try to push to the side or not take seriously the fact that we have had homegrown terrorism in this country literally since its inception.
BENITAAnd unfortunately, the people who were being terrorized, African Americans and other ethnic groups, were marginalized where attacks from the Klu Klux Klan weren't necessarily seen as terrorism until you had horrific incidences of people who were killed. And the sad thing of it is, is that we don't connect the dots.
REHMAll right. Sheryl.
STOLBERGI think the caller raises a very interesting point. We saw President Obama very carefully avoid the word terrorism earlier in the week when talking about this, and it's because, in modern times, especially since 9/11, terrorism has come to connote some kind of foreign involvement. And, of course, terrorist attacks cannot...
REHMHe had used the next day, however.
STOLBERGRight. That's right. But, of course, terrorist attacks, you know, can be, as the caller said, of any sort. When the Klu Klux Klan is bombing churches and fire bombing churches, that's terrorism. That is a terrorizing event. Or when the Oklahoma City building is blown up, that's a terrorist event. But we do often think of it in the connotation of foreign bred.
REHMI want to go back for a moment to the issue of gun control. Many supporters of background checks have said the fight is not over, E.J.
DIONNE JR.Well, that's very much my view. I mean, American history is full of examples where you have to lose some fights before you win them. It took that long time to get a strong civil rights bill pass through Congress. A lot of what became the new deal were bills that were defeated in the 1920s before FDR took office, so one defeat is not a final defeat. And the other thing is I think we may find -- and this is up to the people who support, say, in gun laws -- that the NRA overreached on this one. The NRA used to support background checks. We actually have background checks as part of the law.
DIONNE JR.They're just not universal right now. And what you had here was an unprecedented mobilization on the side of gun safety. The question is whether it continues and moves forward. And the first reaction to this vote I find, as somebody who does want these laws to pass, is quite heartening that Gabrielle Giffords was right out there with The New York Times op-ed piece expressing her anger. And I saw -- I don't think it's over yet by any means.
REHMAll right. I want to take a caller in Oklahoma City. Good morning, Jeremy.
JEREMYHello, Diane. And thanks everybody for having this conversation.
JEREMYI just want to take issue with the 90 percent of Americans agree with the background checks that's going around. By that line of thinking, nine out of 10 people agree. Well, I don't know anybody who's been surveyed. I certainly haven't, and as a, you know, I'm not a member of the NRA, but I do believe in background checks. I also have my concealed carry permit, so I'm a firm believer in gun safety as well. But I don't know anybody's been surveyed and...
REHMJeremy, where -- sorry, Jeremy. Michael, where do these numbers come from?
GERSONWell, I think that that's from all of the fact checkers on this issue, that's been an accurate figure. This is overwhelmingly supported by Americans, and it is just the extension of the current policy not a constitutional innovation. It's just they're extending it to more people. I think that's perfectly reasonable. I would only respond though to E.J. by saying that how you lose sometimes matters.
GERSONAnd when you lose, if you accuse all of those senators of being bought and paid, of betraying children, if you use really bitter and angry language, you're not forwarding your cause to go with the next round on this. You're creating, you know, deep divisions. And I think that some of the advocates on this, even though they have a reasonable view, have responded in ways that's made it less likely that others will eventually join that cause.
DIONNE JR.You know, I...
STOLBERGIn defense of E.J., CBS News national poll conducted March 20 to 24, "Do you favor or oppose a federal law requiring background checks on all potential gun buyers?" All voters, 90 percent in favor, voters in gun households, 88 percent in favor.
REHMHow many people surveyed?
STOLBERGI'm sorry that I don't have the full data on that...
STOLBERG...but I do know -- but a CBS News national poll is typically a respected poll that is done with a -- within the realm of statistical analysis that most pollsters would agree. It's...
DIONNE JR.You know, I mean, the caller's right. There are a lot of us who never get called on polls. I do.
STOLBERGYeah. I haven't gotten surveyed.
DIONNE JR.They survey thousands and thousands and thousands of people. The Fox News poll showed the same thing. Just a reply to Mike, there are moments when a gracious response is appropriate, but I really think in this case, the NRA has intimidated people over and over again and said, our people really care about this issue, and they will defeat you if you vote against us.
DIONNE JR.And I think you actually need members of Congress who start worrying about being defeated by the other side. And so I do not agree with Michael. One of us is right and one of us is wrong, but I do not agree. This is a time to say no. You will pay a price for this just like the other side does. I don't like that style of politics particularly, but I think that the NRA has made it work, and they have to start worrying about the other side.
REHMAll right. To Wixom, Mich. Good morning, Richard.
RICHARDGood morning. How are you?
RICHARDSo, you know, this argument that they're presenting that this Second Amendment is, you know, sanctified in such way, it's disturbing for me because it ignores, you know, 200 and some of odd years of, you know, judicial history we have of all kinds of compromises to our amendments. You know, First Amendment has been with respect to free speeches had, you know, qualifications placed upon it, the Fourth Amendment, you know, rights to search and seizure and on and on, and just the telling, ignoring the Ninth Amendment as a whole.
GERSONOh, I agree with that. I mean, the Second Amendment is not an absolute right any more than the First. You can't have fully automatic weapons that's highly regulated in this country. We have all sorts of regulations, we do. In the context of the Second Amendment -- and the Supreme Court has ruled, even though it's ruled in favor of strong protections of the Second Amendment -- it's said that there are exceptions to this. So this matter that we just debated was well within the bounds of the constitutional protections of the Second Amendment.
GERSONIt was not an innovation.
REHMPeople are tweeting right now that Boston looks like a ghost town right now. Nearly 1 million people are on lockdown for this terror hunt.
DIONNE JR.And this is not surprising when you saw what happened last night where this chase, if it was a chase, ranged over a very wide swathe of the city, and they are leaving law enforcement to try to catch these guys. So it's very scary in the short term but it's probably necessary. We just pray this doesn't happen to us a lot. It's a country...
STOLBERGAnd the question is, when will it be over? How long will this last?
REHMExactly. Here is Todd in Gaithersburg, Md. Good morning to you. Todd.
TODDGood morning, Diane.
TODDI love your show a lot.
TODDI had -- I'd like your guests, if they would, please, to respond to...
REHMExcuse me, Todd. I want to just say here, NBC is reporting that police are moving slowly to enter a house where the suspects lived due to concern it maybe booby trapped. Please go ahead, Todd.
TODDYes, Diane. I wonder if your guests could respond to my concerns about announcements that were made over the loudspeaker at the finish line during the Boston Marathon that told the observers that there was an exercise underway and that they should not be afraid. And that may have otherwise nullified most Americans' knowledge of how to respond to a suspicious activity in a crowded place like the Boston Marathon.
TODDWe've all flown. We know not to take -- most of us have flown. We know not to take bags, or we know that abandoned bags are a threat. Public officials, police officers, military people who were very close to the bomb site all know this. The likelihood that the injuries could have been greatly reduced had those announcements not been made really concerns me. And I wonder if they would respond, please.
DIONNE JR.I am not familiar with what he's talking about. I'm not sure any of us is.
GERSONNo, I'm not either.
STOLBERGYeah, I'm a little puzzled by that. It's the first I've heard that any announcement was made. I'm not suggesting it wasn't, but I think one of us probably would have known, had that been the case.
REHMAll right. To Vienna, Va. Sam, you're on the air.
SAMHi, Diane. Thanks for having my call.
SAMI guess that this (unintelligible)...
REHMSam, I'm sorry, you're breaking up on us. If you can call us on a better line, that might help. Zachary in Shaker Heights, Ohio, you're on the air.
ZACHARYHi, Diane. Thank you for having me on.
ZACHARYMy question is that I feel like it's a piece of hypocrisy that we have just announced that we're selling all of these incredibly dangerous weapons of war -- fighter planes and missiles and things -- to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and the idea that law-abiding American citizens wouldn't be allow to have more than eight shots from their gun or require a background check. What kind of checks had been done internationally with -- to the people that America is selling?
REHMWell, we don't control the laws internationally. Sheryl.
STOLBERGYeah. I respect the caller's point although I would say that to equate international arm sales with the Second Amendment right to gun ownership and whether or not gun owners in America should be able to have high-capacity magazine clips or assaults or the like, I don't really feel like it's an apples-to-apples debate.
STOLBERGI think the debate here is around, what is the right of the Second Amendment, how far does it go, how much do individual Americans need to bear arms? That's very different than what a militia or an army in a foreign state requires.
DIONNE JR.I mean, if you are, for example, a pacifist, you would probably oppose arms sales to any country in the world. Most Americans aren't pacifists. What we're talking about here are laws, like existing laws on background checks -- we're just trying to extend those -- like laws against machine guns and we're trying -- some people like me would like to extend those to the big magazines or to assault weapons. And I just don't see the comparison. Unless, as I say, if you're a consistent opponent of any arms, then I supposed the caller's question is reasonable within that framework.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's see. I think I want to ask you all about the explosion in West, Texas because what it raises are questions about regulation and the placement of these kinds of plans that hold, potentially, explosive material. Was -- do we know yet whether that plant was there first and then the town built up around it? You mentioned that it had not been inspected for 28 years, E.J.
DIONNE JR.Yes. I mean, first of all, as I understand it, there is at least a school nearby, a housing for the elderly nearby, I think, and housing -- and just a housing complex nearby. I am constantly brought back to something former Sen. Bill Cohen said, government is the enemy until you need a friend.
REHMAnd 12 people are dead from that explosion in Texas.
DIONNE JR.Exactly. And that we talk -- some people talk loosely about how awful government regulation is, and yet when something like this happens, lots of people asked, where was the government? Why would it take so long to inspect this plant? And it's -- we have this debate over -- when tragedies like this happen, and then it kind of goes away.
STOLBERGYeah. There are questions about whether or not the plant had properly told officials about the ammonium nitrate that it was storing. And I think, you know, Diane, in any other week, we would know everything there is to know about this plant. And it is amazing to me that this is the last topic we're talking about on such a news-packed and horrific week.
REHMWell, and the ricin found...
REHM...in envelopes mailed to the president and to legislators.
GERSONYeah. Well, that is the strange thing. Normally in a week where you had an Elvis impersonator who is sending deadly poison to the president of United States, that would be headline -- that would lead all the news.
STOLBERGThat ran inside our paper.
GERSONRight. It was, you know, maybe five stories down in a lot of settings and that just is an indication of how busy this week was.
REHMAnd one more word. Police have located the SUV believed to be linked to the Boston suspects and they are processing it as we speak. I didn't mean to interrupt you, Michael.
GERSONNo. But, you know, I completely agree. And just back to your previous point, I know the state is looking into regulations in Texas and what regulations needed to be imposed, but it doesn't make much sense to build a plant like this within blocks of homes. Every...
REHMAnd schools. Schools.
GERSONRight. Every home within four blocks of this was destroyed of this blast. You know, it went 50 meters in the air, the fireball. This is -- that seems -- the most common sense of regulations would be not to place this right next to home.
REHMA nursing home as well.
DIONNE JR.Right. And it's not as if the potential dangers of these plants are unknown, that this fertilizer, these materials were used -- had been used in bombs in the past.
DIONNE JR.So we knew this was dangerous. I agree with Michael on this.
STOLBERGJust for scale, in Oklahoma City, Timothy McVeigh purchased 40 50-pound bags of ammonium nitrate. This plant reportedly held up to 270 tons. We're not talking about pounds, but tons.
REHMSheryl Gay Stolberg, Washington correspondent for The New York Times, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution, and Michael Gerson, syndicated columnist. And we are told that there is to be a press conference by Massachusetts State Police about to start. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Susan Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman and Lisa Dunn. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington, D.C. This is NPR.
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