Congress expert Norman Ornstein on what the debate over the debt limit says about dysfunction in Congress, and his ideas for how to fix it.
The acting chief of the Internal Revenue Service is forced to resign. President Barack Obama goes on the offensive over political scandals. And the federal budget deficit is shrinking. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Susan Page Washington bureau chief for USA Today.
- Chris Cillizza Author of The Fix, a Washington Post politics blog, managing editor of PostPolitics.com and author of the book, "The Gospel According to The Fix."
- Christina Bellantoni Political editor at PBS NewsHour.
Featured Video Clip
Minnesota passed legislation this week approving same-sex marriage, becoming the 12th state and the first Midwestern state to do so. The panel discussed whether the bill marks a tipping point for the marriage equality movement and the likelihood that other states will also pass gay marriage laws. Susan Page of USA Today pointed that while support for same-sex marriage is growing, there still remain large regional disparities across the U.S.
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MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The Obama administration went on offense as controversies over the IRS, Benghazi and the AP continued to unfold. A New York senator and other lawmakers introduced a bill to alter the way the military deals with sexual assault charges. Joining me for the week's top domestic stories on the Friday News Roundup: Susan Page of USA Today, Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post and Christina Bellantoni of the "PBS NewsHour."
MS. DIANE REHMWe will invite your calls, your comments, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning, and happy Friday, everybody.
MS. SUSAN PAGEGood morning.
MR. CHRIS CILLIZZAGood morning, Diane.
MS. CHRISTINA BELLANTONIGood morning.
REHMGood to see to you all. And just so our listeners know, this hour of the Friday News Roundup is being video streamed. You can watch it at drshow.org. Susan Page, what a week for the White House. Let's start with the IRS. The testimony we heard this morning from the former acting IRS chief.
PAGEYes. And, of course, he's still the acting IRS chief, stayed on the job for just a bit more, although he's announced his resignation, not an entirely voluntary resignation, we think. I mean, lots of attention to this hearing which opened at 9 a.m. The immediate question posed to him by members of the House Ways and Means Committee was, did you lie to members of Congress about whether conservative groups were being targeted?
PAGEAnd he said, no. The secretary general's report says he did know before the point. He was giving assurances to members of Congress that this targeting was not going on. He says, I didn't lie about. I answered the questions as they were asked.
REHMHow were the questions asked?
PAGEWell, we have to go back and look at that, but he certainly left a misimpression among everyone who heard his answers. People heard him as denying it. Now, maybe it will turn out to be some turn of phrase that gives him an exit hatch. But I think it is hard for him to argue that he did not mislead.
BELLANTONIAnd lawmakers don't like that. They don't like it when they've asked for questions.
BELLANTONIParticularly, they send letters saying, my constituents are saying something to me about this, what's happening, and then they don't get answers. I mean, reporters who have the Tea Party as a beat have been hearing about this for two years, complaints. We're getting asked for all these extra documents. We're getting asked to print out our Facebook pages. I mean, there were multiple stories about this. And, you know, lawmakers like Sen. Orrin Hatch were saying, hey, what about that? And they feel very mislead. And that's why you're going to see such a scrutiny on everyone involved.
CILLIZZAYeah. I mean, Susan, I think, has the right of it, which is whether or not when we go back and parse exactly what he said. The very clear impression was this: We are not targeting groups based on any sort of political leaning. That was the broad impression that reporters, that politicians, that, I think, other folks watching this took from it. What we now know, Diane, is we don't know how far-reaching this was, you know, there's still a lot.
CILLIZZAI always caution people, this broke almost seven days almost exactly at this time, maybe a little later in the day, last Friday. So we're seven days into this. But what we do know is that when he testified, what he said was certainly a misrepresentation. You know, whether it was an outright lie or not, in a way, it doesn't matter. It's also, I think, one of the reasons why, as Susan points out, he's still the acting commissioner right now but not for all that much longer.
REHMOK. Here's the question I have. Are the standard's standard, or has the Congress made the rules for what qualifies as a 501 (c)(4) standardized?
PAGEWell, there's a tax code that describes what a 501 (c)(4) is supposed to be. But it's one of these areas where we saw a big surge in applicants for it and in part because it enables you to get contributions, not release the names of your donors and use them for social welfare purposes. You're not supposed to use them for primarily political purposes, and that's where the...
REHMIt says primarily, Susan, and that's the word that, it seems to me, catches everybody. It could be 49.9 percent and still fall under that primarily.
PAGEAnd some people who work in this field, like Fred Wertheimer, a friend of "The Diane Rehm Show," argue that the real crime is that the IRS hasn't provided tougher scrutiny for all the groups that are applying for this kind of special tax status. But the fact is if you're going to apply tough scrutiny to one group, one sort of group, you really need to apply it equally to all.
BELLANTONIAnd there's a big difference between, you know, the Tennessee Tea Party that's maybe flyering at a couple rallies and an organization that is buying ads, getting involved, advocating for a candidate. And so that's the argument that a lot of these, you know, Wertheimer types and ProPublica are saying, hey, we know the groups that you should be scrutinizing, but you're not taking an extra look at Crossroads, for example.
CILLIZZAAnd that's -- to Christina's point, I was just going to note, what's amazing to me about this, Diane, is the groups that we know were targeted -- and this is no offense, but this is just in terms if you look at broad political spending -- these are small potatoes groups. I mean, these are not the American Crossroads, actually, it's called Crossroads...
CILLIZZA...GPS is the 501 (c)(4) arm. That group spent $70 million on voter education efforts. Now, that is a group that many Democrats -- and there are groups on the -- I would say on the left that Republicans say, look, this is the same thing. How much of this is social welfare? How much of this is, you know...
REHMAnd that's why I'm saying that Congress has not laid out specifically enough what needs to be said.
CILLIZZAIn my opinion, the issue is that there has not been enough regulation up to this point about what this group was trying -- the broad sweep of what this group was trying to do is to say, we know that this is a place that both liberal and conservative groups are trying to exploit because, to Susan's point, they don't have to disclose their donors.
CILLIZZAThey can accept unlimited amounts of money. They're trying to do this to influence the political process. That much we know. Where they -- that is a noble goal. Where they went wrong, and Susan noted this, is you can't do that with a certain number of groups who have words in their titles and not do it the other.
CILLIZZAIf they put this broadly and really put some enforcement muscle behind it, which many people say they can't do because of budgetary constraints in the federal budget, but if they put real muscle behind enforcing the fact that both sides are doing everything they can to move money this way, then we'd be somewhere.
REHMChris Cillizza, he is author of The Fix, a Washington Post politics blog, Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today, Christina Bellantoni, she's political editor at the "PBS NewsHour." Do join us, 800-433-8850. What about the guy in Cincinnati who really was responsible for choosing out, picking out, selecting out which groups would be targeted?
PAGESo this might be confusing to some people about why is this focused on Cincinnati. The fact is they funneled most of these request to Cincinnati to be considered, and the people who are in charge there said they had this flood of applicants. They needed to do triage to figure out who deserved more scrutiny, who deserved less scrutiny, and that's why they went down this course.
PAGEI got to say, it is at least a incompetent and insensitive way to approach it, if not one that is politically motivated. And one of the things that we will see Congress exploring is whether the fundamental motivation for this was just kind of a stupid ham-handed way to try to handle a flood of applicants or whether there, in fact, was a political motivation behind it.
BELLANTONIAnd what's so funny about that is a flood of applicants, now you're asking them for more documentation. You're asking them for multiple printouts and names of politicians that they've spoken with. I mean, the original requirements that, you know, groups seeking tax exempt status would have had to put in are statement of formation, their basic, you know, purpose for existing. And then they keep going on, well, OK. Who did you meet with? How many politicians have you spoken with over the last year? Name -- give us the CVs of every member of your board of directors.
REHMInteresting. All right. So how does all this -- how did President Obama handle this particular issue, Chris?
CILLIZZASo I would say this, Diane: I think in the first 72 hours, not all that well. I think in the last 72 hours, better. This happened around this time last Friday. Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, came out and said, if this is true, you know, obviously this is not something we condone. They put out another statement from Jay Carney on Saturday evening, a little bit stronger.
CILLIZZAPresident Obama came out and spoke about it on Monday. He spoke about it again yesterday. I thought what he said Monday and then what he said yesterday, on Thursday, were the right tone, which is, this is outrageous. This is not a partisan issue. This can't happen under our watch. This is why things need to change.
REHMSusan, you're frowning.
PAGEWell, it's just that, you know, here's the criticism that President Obama got, even from his great friends like John Stewart. You know, who could like Barack Obama more than John Stewart? In those first statements, it was like he was a bystander observing something as opposed to the president of the United States in charge of these federal agencies.
PAGEAnd I think that what they eventually did by this point by, you know, after almost a week was make it clear that he was in charge, that he was going to take action rather than he was an observer who was dismayed by this news.
BELLANTONIWell -- and it was so formulaic, too. You know, insert anger here. Say several times, it's inexcusable. You -- there's a point where, yes, he did not go out and scrutinize these groups individually. But you do have to sort of take a little bit of responsibility and not just necessarily have this, you know, I'm frustrated...
PAGEI think the most damaging single thing for the White House from this scandal and from the others is that it fits into the argument that his fiercest critics make, that he's in favor of a big overreaching government that will look into your lives, that will take control of your lives, whether it's health care or the way the press works or the way you pay your taxes. And that is why I think this has been so serious for this administration.
REHMSusan Page of USA Today. When we come back, we'll talk about some of those other issues out there in the past couple of weeks. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back to the first hour of our Friday News Roundup, where we take a look at domestic issues. We are live video streaming this hour as well, so you can watch the program as it unfolds with Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post, Christina Bellantoni, political editor at "PBS NewsHour," Susan Page of USA Today. Second political scandal, Benghazi, Christina, what about these emails going back and forth and the newest news on that that apparently Republicans had a hand in those emails?
BELLANTONIYeah. This is -- it's interesting to me because I can barely get through my email inbox as it is. And the fact that people are captivated by hundreds of pages of mundane email replies back and forth is pretty interesting, and it goes to how much people are following this right now. That said, what these emails going between the State Department, the CIA, the White House, you've got -- everyone has a hand in this.
BELLANTONIAnd, you know, as we were talking about earlier, Republicans, of course, wanted to leak out the emails they had their hands on and set a certain tone and suggest certain things about the White House trying to make this for political purposes, right? This is something that they have been talking about, really, since the moment it happened.
BELLANTONII mean, during the campaign, Mitt Romney was going right after President Obama, saying his response was not adequate. And this is a thread that you've seen. You know, Oversight Chairman Darrel Issa keep after for all of these months. So the email seems to be the smoking gun. Look, the White House wanted to not say that this was a terrorist attack 'cause they wanted to win the election.
BELLANTONINow, don't forget this is in the grand sphere of we had a 2004 election that was all about national security and terrorism, so a lot of sensitive feelings about this. All of that said, it's also become a little bit of media intrigue story, right, because the different news outlets have reported different things, and it turns out some of those emails weren't exactly what everybody presented that they were. You have to read them to know.
CILLIZZAWell, let me first say that it couldn't be more complicated to follow this story. You have not only what happened on Sept. 11, 2012 in Benghazi, Libya, and you have everything after it, including, as Christina has outlined, these emails that were released by Republicans that appear to be edited from the fuller versions, hundreds pages of which were released by the White House. Here's what, I think, we can say with confidence right now with the understanding that much more or more could come out.
CILLIZZAIt looks as though at the moment, the email seemed to suggest that this is really a sort of not that uncommon battle within Washington between two agencies, the CIA and the State Department, over what you say in order to sort of protect yourself in a public relations standpoint going forward, that they didn't -- neither side wanted to sort of be in a position where they looked like they were shouldering blame for what they did not think was their fault.
CILLIZZAThis seems to be -- something happens quite a bit now because an ambassador died, because three other Americans died. Because this has gotten so much scrutiny, I think it's reached this higher level. But today -- and that doesn't mean other things won't come out -- but today, based on the emails the White House released, that's what it looks like we're dealing with, sort of an interagency scuffle at a very-high profile level.
PAGEWell, you do see the State Department trying to protect themselves from criticism that they didn't take the security issue seriously enough. And, of course, that's something that the independent investigation that was done by two very senior figures concluded as well, that the State Department was due for some criticism on the security there.
PAGEBut what there wasn't was a -- the -- an exchange that led you to believe that they wanted to insert the idea of a spontaneous uprising related to that offensive video that had been posted on YouTube that there was no effort to insert that to make it look like it wasn't terrorism. That assertion was in the first talking points and in every talking point through the editing process. So the thing that was, I think, going to be most damaging, if it turned out to be true, turns out not to be true when you look at the full exchange.
REHMSo what about Susan Rice and her responsibility going forward?
PAGEWell, she does look like a victim of this process because she did not participate in the writing of the talking points, and she represented the final version when she made those five appearances on the Sunday talk shows. On the other hand, if you're a high-ranking U.S. official and you're going to go on five Sunday shows to represent the U.S. administration...
REHMYou better check what you're going to say.
PAGE...maybe you should look -- know more than the talking points that you're handed.
CILLIZZAWell, and those of us who do television, which I think is all of us, I think you have to know that ultimately, regardless of who prepared them, you have to be comfortable delivering them because they're coming out of your mouth. And so -- particularly when you're an official in an administration in a high-profile role like this.
CILLIZZAI don't think she bares probably the culpability that she got initially. But I also think as someone in a role like hers, to Susan's point, she needs to be aware that, yes, these are the talking points. But am I comfortable with saying what we now know and how much of this do we know? I mean, we've seen this happen before.
REHMChristina, can you elucidate for me the...
REHM...some of the allegations regarding Republicans changing some of these emails? I don't get this.
BELLANTONII'm going to go back to where Chris is saying that this is a little confusing. I mean, there are a few different words that are getting pulled out here and there, attempting to suggest...
BELLANTONIWell, so I have one of these here, right? You've got a Republican version of the Rhodes -- of a comment from Ben Rhodes, who was a White House speechwriter -- now, he's high up in the National Security Council within the White House -- said, "We must make sure that the talking points reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department. We don't want to undermine the FBI investigation."
BELLANTONINow, the White House released these emails and it says, "We need to resolve this in a way that respects all of the relevant equities, particularly the investigation." So you're leaving out a few words there. The FBI don't want to undermine an investigation. I mean, these are tough words, but it's just a very complicated and weird story that doesn't answer the security question.
REHMSusan, what do you make of this?
PAGEWell, what I think happened is that Republicans, of course, had seen these emails, not fully realized that they would become the center of so much attention. And when they became the center of attention, then wanted to leak them to reporters. And apparently, one can only assume, did not actually have the full emails with him, maybe had notes or maybe characterized them in ways that turned out to be inaccurate.
PAGEI mean, they're not -- it's not as though they turned it on their head 100 percent. But they made them seem more negative toward the administration than they turned out to be when you see the actual email.
BELLANTONIShocking in politics.
REHMAll right. And the president has tried to dismiss this by calling Benghazi a sideshow.
PAGEWell, I don't think it's fair to call is a sideshow. I think it's a serious issue. I think it's more serious because of the security issues involving Americans, diplomats and others who serve in dangerous places. I think the sideshow aspect may be on the attempt to kind of pin it on the administration as politicals spend seven weeks before an election to avoid a controversy over the state of the terrorists' threat. But I think it is a fair subject for discussion, and whether I think it's fair or not or President Obama thinks it's right, there is going to be more congressional inquiries into this.
CILLIZZAJust one -- I just want to add one thing that I thought was interesting. It came up yesterday during his -- President Obama's press conference with the prime minister, I believe, of Turkey.
CILLIZZAErdogan. He made a very interesting argument in which he sought to tie sort of national security that the Associated Press, which I know we'll talk about...
REHMWe're going to get to that.
CILLIZZAIt's the third huge story of the week...
CILLIZZA...that would be a dominant story in any other week. But you try to tie all these things together by saying, look, regardless of what you think happened in Benghazi, it points to the need for more funding -- this is to Susan's point -- more funding for security.
CILLIZZAState Department is asking for over $1 billion to secure some of these consulates, embassies, those sorts of things, in interesting way to sort of take what he knows is a sort of a red-hot issue and say, look, if you want to do something about -- we can debate what happened here when we will. He's basically said that. But if, moving forward, our goal is to prevent Benghazi and the deaths of four Americans from happening, here's a way to do it.
REHMOK. And now to that third issue, the Justice Department going after the Associated Press phone calls, not wiretapping, but records of phone calls. Chris.
CILLIZZAI mean, the thing here to me, Diane, and I don't want to be sort of the prototypical up in arms journalist because obviously, this matter more to us as journalists than it does to my father who's a teacher, although you can argue it doesn't 'cause it's about the First Amendment. But, look, this seems to me to be a really big deal. The key here, to me, is not that the Justice Department requested phone records in relation to an investigation.
REHMTrying to find out about a leak regarding...
REHM...what the Justice Department, the White House regarded as a very serious national security issue.
PAGEAlthough they're -- I think as you revisit it, you can raise questions about whether it, in fact, was still that kind of serious leak. I mean, the Associated Press acknowledges they held off on publishing this for several days...
PAGE...with the argument that it was going to imperil national security and published only at the point that the administration seemed to lift that threat.
CILLIZZAAnd the broadness -- the -- two things. I just -- the broadness of it in terms of the time span and the number of phone records that they wanted, number one, I think is worthy of note and worrisome, number two, that it -- and this is the bigger one, I should have led with this -- that it was done secretly.
CILLIZZAThat is a -- I mean, that -- there was no court to litigate. There's a proposal to have a court say, is this subpoena and these records, is this a matter of national security? It's a tough issue. President Obama talked about it yesterday, the balance between national security and the First Amendment. We all grant that. But the ability of the Justice Department to secretly take large amounts of phone records from a huge news organization over a broad period of time, whether you're a Democrat or a Republican or you don't like politics at all, I think we need to learn more about why this happened.
REHMAnd one issue that came up in this program the other day, which I'm sure you all know, was that the national security issue was trying to protect the safety and security of a double agent whose identity could have been revealed.
BELLANTONIAbsolutely. And this town in Washington knows very much how, when you have agents that are getting outed, that's a big deal. That consumes people...
BELLANTONI...in fact, for years and many investigations. And to get back to Susan's point about the fact that the AP held this story for a little bit, this is a giant news organization that deals with very sensitive stories sometimes. They have lawyers. They have a lot of checks and balances. They were very, very confident, when they went to press with that story, they wouldn't have gone to press with it, right?
BELLANTONIThere are a lot of systems in. President Obama was actually far more forceful in kind of defending, look, this is about national security. You know, we'll see how it all shakes out, but he was defending himself than Republicans have been. Actually, the Republicans focused on that one. They had Eric Holder on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, you know, kind of in the hot seat. It ended up being a pretty mild hearing. But that was their attention, and that's really a change in sort of philosophy from parties, I'd say.
PAGEYou'd also note that this is in the context of an administration that's done more to go after leaks and gone after news organizations more aggressively than any previous administration. I think that's been a surprise to a lot of reporters, given the president's stated belief in the important role of a free press.
PAGEOne other thing I'd note that maybe people don't realize is how often news organizations do hold stories when law enforcement agencies or national security agencies come and say, this would be damaging, this would be dangerous, hold stories, delay stories to avoid -- to make sure that the disclosure is worth whatever the cost is.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." But let's not overlook the idea that had the Justice Department tried to get the AP to hold its stories and the AP said, no, we won't, and they had gone to court over this, that could have meant long delays in terms of court back-and-forth arguments and so on and so forth. But the question I have: How is all this mess affecting the president's agenda, Christina?
BELLANTONIWell, this is a president who, one, actually has a chance to pass comprehensive immigration reform, right? You've got Republicans and Democrats coming together on Capitol Hill to put together a package. This is one of the things he said he really wants to focus on at the end of the spring going into the summer. He's not able to focus on that one. He's deflecting all of these different agencies that are having problems at the top, that he's ultimately responsible.
BELLANTONIHe likes to always say, the buck stops with me. Well, it is definitely stopping with him. Then, of course, you've got all kinds of fiscal issues that are still a huge problem. And as Republicans grapple with this on Capitol Hill, what are they going to do about the debt ceiling, which is now coming up again? By the way, the budget fight that's still happening, not to mention a lot of nominations that have not been able to clear the Senate.
BELLANTONISo these are all very big issues, and the White House is just constantly on defensive. And we in the press bear a little bit of responsibility for this. I think these are all major issues absolutely worth reporting, but sometimes you can sort of inundate the White House. They can't do anything else because we are trying to get attention on things that actually involve the press.
PAGEYeah. Well, there are clearly some costs to the press, and I think it's hard to know exactly how it sorts out. I mean, it's only been a week of this kind of trifecta of problems that have been kind of a deluge for the White House. But it clearly is -- cost him some in his credibility. It cost him some in the clout that you need to have. He doesn't have a big window here before the next presidential election takes over. And it cost him, I think, perhaps most importantly, in terms of time and attention and focus, right?
PAGEI mean, to get even the immigration bill through, which we think has the best prospect of big legislation this year, it's not a lead-pipe cinch. It's not guaranteed there's going to be comprehensive immigration reform. It needs the focus and support and attention of the White House if it's going to get through. And the last -- in the past week, they have been focused not on that. Even though the Senate continues to hold hearings on it, they've been focused on these other issues that they wish they were not facing.
REHMSo are we likely, on any of these issues, to see criminal charges before it's all over?
CILLIZZALet me first say I don't know, and I'm not a lawyer. That said, my guess would be the most likely situation where that would arise is the IRS situation. I also think the IRS situation has the most political -- long-term political consequence to it for a simple reason, which is everyone knows the IRS, every person listening, and the vast majority of them don't like the IRS. So they're ready to sort of believe the worst of the IRS.
CILLIZZAJohn Boehner, the speaker of the House, said -- I believe it was yesterday -- two days ago that he was not worried about who was going to get fired as a result of this. He wanted to know who was going to be behind bars. Now, that's a piece of political rhetoric. I'm not sure John Boehner sort of targeted people who should be behind bars, but that, at least, has a potential. It seems to me with Benghazi and the AP, I would be surprised, but I always put the caveat out that I am not a lawyer, and I'm not -- I'm surprised often, you know?
PAGEYeah. I agree. I don't know quite what the criminal charges would be...
CILLIZZARight. Me neither.
PAGE...with Benghazi and the Associated Press subpoenas. But with the IRS, I think it's possible. It's possible on an issue of what they did and also on misrepresentation to Congress. That's against the law, and people have been prosecuted for that.
BELLANTONIAnd think about what the Tea Party sort of says it stands for, right? Like this formed to get government out of my business. We're supportive of limited government. And, now, here you have the exact example of government overreach into their personal business when people are trying to organize on the ground, and they're not scrutinizing these bigger groups of all these, you know, millionaire political donors that, you know, we all write about all the time.
REHMChristina Bellantoni, she's political editor at the PBS NewsHour. When we come back, it's your turn to comment on these and other stories. I look forward to hearing your questions and comments.
REHMAnd welcome back to the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup. Going to open the phones now, first, to Greenville, N.C. Good morning, Kate.
KATEGood morning, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
KATEI just would like to give a little bit of a different perspective to the IRS affair. I retired last summer after 36 1/2 years with the Internal Revenue Service. I worked predominantly in the collection division, but the last eight years of my life there I spent as a fraud adviser to the civil side of the House. And I cannot begin to tell you how much fraud there is involved in the use of non-profits by individuals and by groups to shield their income from the tax laws. That's number one.
KATENumber two, while I do not condone any targeting, if you're going to put the word Tea Party in your title, you rather beg the question whether or not you're a political party or are indeed one of these 501 (c)(4) s. And by the way, yours is the only show that I have watched -- or listened to over the whole week that has tried to explain that to anybody.
KATENumber two, if you look up the word patriot, it's appeared for over 20 years in many groups that were malicious, that advocated violence against government employees, particularly tax employees, and is also been heavily used by the whole anti-tax, unconstitutionality group of people.
KATEIn fact, when I listened to NPR earlier this week, they interviewed a gentleman from Ohio who is complaining about his group being targeted. And at the end of his episode, he mentioned that he was also part of We The People. Look up We The People. They are the group affiliated with Robert Schulz, very high profile tax protester...
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call, Kate. Christina.
BELLANTONII understand her comments, but I think that you could have a similar argument for, you know, gun groups or groups that are getting involved in liberal politics if you feel a different way. And it just -- it's such a slippery slope. And I think that's what you saw the president acknowledge. That's what you have general sentiment. A lot of people hear this and think well, what's the limit? How do you actually define what words do that?
REHMAll right. To Dallas, Texas for another perspective. Terrence, you're on the air.
TERRENCEYes. Hi. Good morning.
TERRENCEI guess my -- it's kind of a follow up with the previous caller. I remember a few years back when the IRS was targeting left-wing organizations, particularly the NAACP, and I just don't remember the Republicans being so up in arm wanting people to be fired and terminated. And I guess, I just see, again, all this partisan BS in Washington. It's like, be fair.
REHMI wonder how people across the country are seeing this, whether there have been polls taken on this IRS issue and what they look like.
PAGEYou know, I saw a poll that Gallup came out with this morning and one that -- a similar one that Pew, I think, came out with yesterday or the day before that showed relatively low public interest in all these scandals. And you know why? It's because people are worried about their jobs and their health care and sending their kids to college.
PAGEAnd that is something to remember as well. And then that is why President Obama, today, is not talking about these scandals. He's going to Baltimore. He's going to an elementary school. He's going to go to a job training program because, of course, that is what Americans are most focused on.
REHMAnd here's a question from Andrew in Atlanta, Ga., about a subject we have not yet gotten to, so I thank you, Andrew. He says, "Does the passage of same-sex marriage by a state legislature in the Midwest coming on the heels of two other states legalizing gay marriage in the same or last month represent a tipping point? What other states are likely to pass bills and support same-sex marriage in the near future?" And, of course, Andrew is speaking of Minnesota.
CILLIZZAYeah. Diane, this is important and historic in that it is the first Midwestern state to pass it through a legislative process. Some have passed it through a ballot process. And one thing that's fascinating about Minnesota is the turnaround. There was a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage passed at the state -- or put on the ballot, I should say, put on the ballot just two or three years ago. I wouldn't say this is a tipping point.
CILLIZZAI think we have reached, I would say a couple of months ago, or maybe even before that, politicians tend to be -- and sometimes journalists, admittedly, tend to be behind the curve in covering these things. I think the tipping point has been raised. If you look at any, literally, any national poll -- the Washington Post, ABC, USA Today and Gallup, any national poll -- what you will see is a remarkable shift over time in support for gay marriage.
CILLIZZAAnd even more important, the younger you are, the more likely you are to be supportive of gay marriage. So what that suggest is that the coming generations -- I'm 37 -- people in their 20s, that as they age, this will sort of push out as a political issue. I think you're seeing a lot of Republicans frankly acknowledge that, Republican strategists certainly.
BELLANTONIAnd the activism at the grassroots level on these states, the anti-gay marriage side is absolutely flattened. They are, one, waiting on what's happening with the Supreme Court, right? We've got another few weeks before we're going to know exactly what happens with the Defense of Marriage Act. By the way, if that gets overturned, it's going to be incredibly complicated at the state level.
BELLANTONIYou might have -- if your state does not recognize same-sex marriage, but you do -- you'd be recognized at the federal level, you might have to file a separate state return filing as a single person in that case. But -- so the activism is really on hold because they're seeing more and more defeats, more and more public sentiment shifting, as Chris was talking about with this generational shift. It's going to be a big deal. And over the next year, you're going to see more and more states like Minnesota.
PAGEYou know, it's not that I disagree with you, but I would also just also note that 30 states have amended their constitutions to ban same-sex marriage. That makes it a more complicated process in those states to change the constitution. And also, there's a big regional -- besides the age characteristic, the generational difference, there's a big regional difference, too.
PAGEAll of New England now allows same-sex marriage. Every state in New England allows that. No state in the South allows same-sex marriage. And so what we're likely to see is a patchwork of laws. And we're likely to see that for, I think, a considerable period of time.
CILLIZZAAnd just very quickly, to add to Susan's point, people forget, I think, this past November -- the November 2012 elections is the first time that we saw a same-sex marriage be approved on the ballot. They had always to legalize same-sex marriage. They had always been defeated every single time prior. So I think it is shifting. But Susan is right in that there's a lot of evidence here that even if it is shifting, it's going to take time to change.
BELLANTONIIt's only one year since President Obama came out in favor of gay marriage, and look at what has changed so far.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Houston, Texas. Good morning, Ryan. You're on the air.
RYANHi. Thanks for taking my call.
RYANIt's always great to get on the show. Anyway, I heard you guys talking about the story of the government taking phones records from news organization.
RYANWell, my honest question really is, why do you care? I mean, the FBI and CIA, DHS, Department of Defense, they've all been data mining every American citizen since -- basically since 9/11. If you have a Facebook, a Twitter, you're on the FBI's radar...
PAGEWell, the reason that we care is because it makes it much more difficult for sources, for whistleblowers, for people with axes to grind, for people with information they want to give to the press to give it to us. And that's why we care. It has a chilling effect on the ability to do reporting the big and complicated topics facing the country.
BELLANTONIAnd not just to us, to the American people, by that resolve.
REHMOf course. Susan, the House Republicans voted for the 37th time to repeal the healthcare law passed under President Obama, the Affordable Care Act. What's the purpose of continuing to do this?
PAGEWell, the purpose was not to actually repeal it 'cause there is no prospect that's going to happen. The Senate is not going to take it up. Obama would -- President Obama would quickly veto it if it got to his desk. The purpose was to let the 70 Republican freshmen in the House be able to say -- go back to their constituents in 2014 and say, hey, I voted to repeal Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act. Even the White House now says it's all right to call it Obamacare. No longer seen as a slur than it was once.
REHMOK. And this week, just to add to the scandals, Republicans are looking into fundraising by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. What are they investigating, you wrote, about this?
PAGEKathleen Sebelius called H&R Block and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and asked them to contribute money to a group called Enroll America, which is headed by a former White House aide, a former aide to Kathleen Sebelius. This organization, a non-profit organization, was created to encourage people to enroll in these health care exchanges that are going to open up on Oct. 1.
PAGEAnd the argument that Republicans are making is that they -- Congress has refused to provide the money that the administration has asked to encourage enrollment. And, therefore, it is like -- according to Sen. Lamar Alexander -- like the Iran-Contra affair, where she is trying to get around Congress' judgment to raise money privately for a purpose that Congress has been unwilling to fund.
CILLIZZAAnd Republicans are up in arms, and Lamar Alexander is one, because the heads of department -- the department officials more broadly -- are not allowed to sort of fundraise. She is not allowed to fundraise as Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
CILLIZZAThat's part of sort of the separation of the church and state or...
REHMPart of the Hatch Act.
CILLIZZAAbsolutely. You can ask for donations as a private citizen. Now, again, I feel like I would have benefited from being a lawyer this week because there are just so much sort of complex interpretation going on here. The HHS officials have said, look, she was asking in her capacity as a -- but, you know, but she is -- everyone knows that she is the secretary of Health and Human Services.
REHMYeah. How can -- you can't split that. Yeah.
CILLIZZAIt's hard to separate those.
PAGEActually, there's a public health act of long-standing -- passed, I think, in the '40s -- amended in 1976 to allow the HHS secretary to seek money for organizations that help the public health. Now, the Sen. Alexander now, they say that's meant to say like, let's all contribute to the American Cancer Society and not to do fundraising calls aimed at this very particular and controversial purpose.
REHMI see. Right.
BELLANTONIWhich you're in charge of implementing.
PAGENow -- right. Now, we'll have lawyers decide who's right on this controversy.
BELLANTONIAnd it's interesting with her because she was one of the administration officials that actually went out and did campaigning, too, during, you know, 2012, getting -- however that legal exemption works for you to be able to go and do that. You know, and she spoke at the convention. I mean, this is someone who has political ambition. It was important to keep that in mind.
CILLIZZAIt does also go back, I think, to the fact -- and Susan touched on this -- is that this is just -- the Affordable Care Act, the Obamacare -- call it what you want -- is such a political touchstone.
REHMYeah. It sure is.
CILLIZZAThat Republicans refused to fund this in any way beyond what they have to, which Sebelius is saying, that is forcing, you know, we are now forced to do this. It's because this was the sort of defining political issue of President Obama's first term. And anything related to it now -- Diane, as you've seen by these 37 votes -- is just something that you're either on one side or the other and never the two end shall meet.
REHMAll right. I want to go the Eastern Shore in Virginia. Good morning, Lois.
LOISGood morning. I am questioning the hullabaloo about IRS also. I've been -- I understood from the things that I've heard that the original law spoke about the exclusivity of using the 501 (c) s for social welfare. And that at the end of the Eisenhower administration, the IRS arbitrarily changed it to what they say now a practicality or whatever the word was. But do they have the right to change a law?
REHMWell, the word you're looking for is primarily, and that's the word that has become so arbitrary sounding as the lawyers, which Chris Cillizza is not.
CILLIZZAMy mother still wishes I was...
BELLANTONII think this is the law school for Chris Cillizza.
CILLIZZAMy mother is thinking, you should have gone to law school, Chris.
REHMThe lawyers are still trying to sort out, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Christina, I want to ask you about the issue of military sexual assault because, boy, was that big news this week.
BELLANTONIYeah. And you're seeing a lot of partisans who pointed this as we're all talking about talking points and hundreds of pages of emails when this is a major issue that probably is going to see some congressional action. You're seeing a lot of momentum, not just on the Hill but at the White House, to basically say the system has to change.
BELLANTONIRight now, there is a system where people who want to change it are saying that people are afraid to come forward and report sexual assaults and sexual misconduct in the military because they're afraid of losing their status or even their jobs. And you've got Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand who was championing this effort, but actually there's building some momentum for this right now. And with the White House basically saying this is intolerable and the president summoning Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel last night on this, I think that you're going to see some swift action.
REHMAnd what she is taking the lead on is trying to get through a proposal that would let military prosecutors rather than commanders decide whether to bring serious military crimes to trial. We've already heard about three cases where generals have completely overturned the verdicts of juries, thrown the cases out.
PAGEAnd we've also had, just in the past two weeks, two cases where people in the military who were in charge of combating sexual assault were themselves charged with sexual assault.
REHMSomething has to be done. How much momentum do you see Kirsten Gillibrand's proposal getting?
PAGEOne of the things we're seeing, which we've seen in the past, is this is an issue in which the women members of Congress in both sides, both parties...
REHMAnd now you have more.
PAGE...are uniting. And now you have more of them.
CILLIZZASusan Collins. Right.
PAGESusan Collins, the Republican senator for Maine. So I think this has some considerable momentum.
BELLANTONIAnd there was a documentary film that came out last fall about this topic. And those filmmakers are really, you know, feeling -- vindicated isn't the exact right word because they want to see something changed, but they're feeling like there is really a new hope for some thing changed 'cause the numbers are staggering.
REHMOn the other hand, are you getting pushback from Secretary of Defense Hagel who wants to keep military control of the whole process?
PAGETwo things. He's in -- I want to say two things. One is that Hagel is in a good position because he wasn't in charge when these things happened, so he has the opportunity to be a kind of clean sweep. Second thing, I was in a cab yesterday in D.C. The cab driver recognized my voice from "The Diane Rehm Show" and insisted that I not pay my fare because he is such a "Diane Rehm Show" fan. So, Diane, thank you very much.
REHMWell, thanks to...
CILLIZZAWow. The power of Diane Rehm.
CILLIZZAI'm getting in a cab as soon as I leave here.
BELLANTONII can feel the power from over here.
REHMNow, I want to go back to this military justice thing because it does seem to me that at a time when women's strength is being tested in the military to then have it undermined by these kinds of high-level decisions is absolutely the way to discourage women from going into the military.
BELLANTONII can't argue with that.
CILLIZZAI mean, look, from the outside, Diane, the thing that struck me as someone who follows this passively was what Susan talked about. You have people who are literally tasked with preventing sexual assault, not just engaging it but imbibing. I mean, this is stuff that -- hopefully, this is big enough and is getting enough attention that something happens.
REHMChris Cillizza of The Washington Post, Susan Page of USA Today, Christina Bellantoni of the "PBS NewsHour," thank you all so much. Thanks to your cab driver.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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