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.
The F.B.I. reveals another round of suspicious letters that may contain ricin. Latest targets include the White House, an Air Force base, and the C.I.A. Attorney General Eric Holder tells news editors in a private meeting that he is committed to changing Justice Department guidelines on probes involving journalists. President Obama reportedly plans to nominate former senior Justice Department official James Comey to head the F.B.I. The president and Governor Chris Christie reunite on the New Jersey shore to view recovery efforts after Superstorm Sandy. And consumer confidence is the strongest in over five years. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Ari Shapiro White House correspondent for NPR.
- Lisa Lerer White House correspondent for Bloomberg News.
- Ed O'Keefe Congressional reporter for The Washington Post.
Watch The Full Broadcast###
Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann announced that she will not seek reelection. Ari Shapiro, Lisa Lerer and Ed O’Keefe discuss Bachmann’s reasons for not returning to Congress and what it means for the future of the Tea Party.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Authorities say letters sent to the president are being tested for ricin. Similar letters sent to New York City Mayor Bloomberg have tested positive for the potentially deadly substance. Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann announces she will not seek re-election. And consumer confidence is at its strongest in over five years.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me for the week's top domestic stories on the Friday News Roundup: Ari Shapiro of NPR, Lisa Lerer of Bloomberg News, and Ed O'Keefe of The Washington Post. Throughout the hour, you can be part of the program. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And good morning to all of you.
MR. ARI SHAPIROGood morning.
MR. ED O'KEEFEGood morning.
MS. LISA LERERGood morning.
REHMAri Shapiro, I'll start with you. What do we know about these ricin letters?
SHAPIROApparently, there were three of them, one addressed to President Obama, one addressed to Mayor Bloomberg and the third addressed to, disclosure, a friend of mine named Mark Glaze, who runs a group called Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Bloomberg sort of started up that group. And the letters appear to be protesting the gun control movement that President Obama, Mayor Bloomberg and his organization have been leading. It seems as though nobody was injured. The letters appeared to have been intercepted, but that's what we know so far.
REHMVery strong language in those letters.
O'KEEFEThat's right, and they mostly discuss the fact that Mayor Bloomberg and the president have been pushing for gun control, and the mayor pushed back and said, look, you know, this is isn't going to deter us from doing our work. Mark Glaze has been quoted in just about every newspaper on -- and just about every television show discussing this on behalf of the mayor, making it clear they're going to continue targeting lawmakers across the country who voted against the big background check plan a few weeks ago in the Senate.
O'KEEFESo perhaps no surprise that they were targeted in this way, and it comes only a few weeks after Sen. Wicker got a letter as well, the Republican from Mississippi. And another one that was sent to the president was similarly harsh language.
REHMYeah, exactly that. Lisa, you've got this second round now.
LERERRight. What's scary about this is it seems like ricin is having a bit of a rage right now amongst folks who want to protest various things with the government. There is, of course, as mentioned, one sent to Wicker. There was a letter sent in Washington State to a federal judge, one sent to Obama. All these had been intercepted successfully, although I believe Mark Glaze actually went to his office and he opened it. But fortunately, he's safe. But it is a scary time for the mail and for politicians.
REHMYou know, the last time this happened, postal workers really got burned on this. And I'm just wondering who's there to protect them. How do they know?
SHAPIROWhen you say, the last time, are you referring to anthrax attacks just after 9/11?
SHAPIROYeah, I think all of us who were in Washington then remember people in the mail room wearing, you know, gloves and going through all of these precautionary measures. Those letters were sent to news organizations, and in fact, people died as they have not, so far, in the ricin attacks.
REHMAnd the question is, are we going to see more widespread use of this as threatening during this gun control?
O'KEEFEConceivably. I mean, you know, these types of social debates come up all the time, and various things are said or done by people who are in opposition to the push for them. And so I don't think it's any surprise that this type of thing happened. I should point out, we're talking about the screening of the mail. It was because of those attacks in 2001 that, really, everything has been changed and how government mail especially is screened.
O'KEEFEThe letter to Mayor Bloomberg was at a facility a few miles away from city hall or few blocks away from city hall. The letters sent to the president were about six miles away at a military base being screened. None of this mail physically ever makes it into the White House or into city hall. In this case, it's gets screened. The reason that Mark Glaze's letter probably got to him is because he doesn't work in a government facility. In a previous professional life, I spent a lot of time with the Postal Service talking about this.
O'KEEFEAnd, you know, every single piece of mail that gets sent through the system now goes through some kind of a scanner to determine whether there's anything suspicious in it. And that is why in the case of these letters sent to the president and to the mayor of New York, they were caught, and they were kept away, obviously, from those buildings.
LERERI also think with the economy improving, that sort of gives more space for these kinds of more social issues like guns, like, you know, gay marriage, abortion, to heat up and to become more controversial. And you start to see more of these kinds of things.
SHAPIROAlso just, you know, chemically, it's much easier to produce ricin than it is to produce anthrax. One of the ways that they track down the alleged anthrax mailer, who ultimately committed suicide before they could try him, was by -- there were very few people in the country who had access to such a difficult material to produce. Ricin is not like that at all. You produce it from castor beans, and it can be made, you know, pretty simply on your own.
REHMSo how might it, of these letters, be tracked?
SHAPIROWell, you know, the Wicker letter was tracked through the Postal Service. There was somebody who -- and there this very strange story where, initially, they picked up one guy. It turned out there was another guy who had known the first guy. But, you know, I think in this case, it's not going to be who could possibly produce ricin, it's going to be old fashioned detective work, whether it's handwriting analysis or postmark analysis.
O'KEEFEAnd often, Postal Inspection Service would tell you they track this stuff on a daily basis, and they get all sorts of false alarms. But they can begin to track different types of letters, different types of substances sent in letters, even false positives. They can trace what was in those alleged suspicious materials back to certain places. Remember, there's bar codes on your mail.
O'KEEFEThere are ways to track and sort of centralize where exactly they think something happened. That's why so quickly did they determine initially incorrectly that the guy in Tupelo, Miss., was the one targeting Sen. Wicker. Then they then determined it was someone else nearby who had been doing similarly suspicious things, and it's something they tracked pretty closely.
LERERAnd of course, with the Internet, just like we see with bombs and domestic and international terrorism of that kind, it's so much easier for people to replicate and create ricin. They can just go online and download the manual and the instructions, and there you go. So I think that's also made it a little bit more difficult than what we saw with anthrax.
REHMLisa Lerer of Bloomberg News. Do join us, 800-433-8850. It is said that the president is about to nominate James Comey to head the FBI after Robert Mueller departs, when he departs. He stayed on an extra two years because the president asked him to. But the White House itself has not said anything about James Comey, Ed O'Keefe.
O'KEEFENot officially although, really for months now, there's been talk about who would get this job because it is seen as a critical post and it has to be filled. And, really, the confirmation process has to be done before August when Congress leave because Mueller's term expires in Sept. 4.
O'KEEFESo for months, there have been conversations about Lisa Monaco, who is now the president's White House Homeland Security advisor, Comey, who's the former deputy attorney general, a former U.S. attorney in New York City and in Richmond, Va. and even Mike Rogers, the Republican congressman from Michigan who's now chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. In the end, it appears he's going with Comey. It is seen as a signal of bipartisanship...
REHMHow do we know that?
O'KEEFEWe have good sources, I suppose. And the White House is keeping quiet about it, but there are enough people who know what's going on that say that Comey is the guy.
LERERAnd many people thought he was the leading candidate for several weeks. There were certainly some in the White House who love the idea of Lisa Monaco. She would have been the first woman in this position. That would have been a really big deal. But there is a lot of concern that her confirmation hearings would have been extremely difficult. Her name was on the communication after the Benghazi attacks, so it would have given certainly Republicans another opportunity to bring that back up.
LERERAnd the FBI is investigating the IRS because of the targeting of Tea Party groups now, so there was concern about putting someone from the White House who had ties to that scandal into this job. The White House really didn't want to -- they are trying to put those issues behind them as much as possible. They didn't want to go through contentious confirmation hearings where that was -- those two issues were really the focus. This allows them to avoid that.
REHMJames Comey is a Republican. Long history there, Ari.
SHAPIRORight. I have to say, having covered Washington for more than 10 years, the single most riveting hearing I have ever been at was with James Comey as the sole witness. It was in 2007. Ostensibly, this was a hearing about the U.S. attorney firings. He had already testified at one such hearing in the House. This was one in the Senate. So everyone expected it to be a big yawn. And at this hearing, he told this story that was like listening to a thriller novel unfold, about a hospital room confrontation in 2004.
SHAPIROJohn Ashcroft, then the attorney general, was in the hospital with -- he was being treated for acute pancreatitis. Comey was the acting attorney general and got a tip that the White House chief of staff and counsel were on their way to Ashcroft's hospital room to get Ashcroft to re-authorize the domestic spying program that Ashcroft and Comey had decided they were not going to re-authorize because it was not legal.
SHAPIROAnd at this hearing, Comey told this incredibly riveting story in which Card and Gonzales bulldozed into the room, didn't even acknowledge Comey, told Ashcroft he had to sign this thing. Ashcroft, with his wife standing by his bed, looking pale and weak, suddenly sat up in bed and said, I am not going to reauthorize it.
SHAPIROBut it doesn't matter what I think because I'm not the attorney general, he's the attorney general, pointing to Comey. Card and Gonzales stormed out of the room. Comey and all these other senior Justice -- oh, then the White House went ahead and re-authorized the program without Justice Department permission. Comey and all of these other Justice officials said they were going to resign en masse.
SHAPIROAshcroft's chief of staff said, wait for the attorney general to get better so he can resign with you. Finally, George W. Bush blinked. The president said, make the changes you need to make to this program so you're convinced it's legal. And the situation got resolved without this sort of 21st century Saturday night massacre, to make a Nixon reference.
REHMSo how do Republicans then feel about Comey?
SHAPIROYou know, on the whole, this is expected to be an easy confirmation. Although he did stand up to Republicans, he is seen as a law-and-order, non-partisan guy. And on the whole, you know, I think they frankly kind of respect him for having stood up in this situation. They may or may not have thought that he did the right thing or that they would have done the same thing in his shoes. But the people he stood up to, Andy Card and Alberto Gonzales, do not have huge constituencies among Republicans in Congress, and I don't think anybody expects this to be tough.
LERERYeah. That story is exactly why -- I mean certainly in big part -- why the White House loves Comey. I mean, Democrats obviously think that's a great story. Republicans, some of whom do have issues with the Bush administration, like that story, too. And what we've seen so far in terms of what folks have been saying on Capitol Hill hasn't been any major complaints, granted it's been a bit muted 'cause they're all out in the districts for memorial day recess.
LERERSen. Grassley has brought something up about his hedge fund backer and he worked for a hedge fund in Connecticut. But that's -- we haven't seen much complaining so far.
REHMLisa Lerer of Bloomberg News, Ed O'Keefe of The Washington Post. And, Ari Shapiro, you told that story beautifully. Short break. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Here is our first email from Daniel, who says, "Have things changed so much that a poison letter sent to an elected official is considered expected as part of a social debate? I beg to differ with your guests. These are acts of terrorism." Just one person's comment. Let's go back to the FBI. There is news that an associate of the bombing suspect in the Boston bombing was shot by an FBI agent and was unarmed, Ari?
SHAPIROYeah. We've had sort of differing stories coming out about what exactly happened. What we know is that FBI agents were interviewing this guy in Orlando, believing that he was involved in a triple homicide in 2011 in Massachusetts, that they think Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the Boston bombers, who's now dead, was also involved in. And the guy they were interviewing in Orlando was shot many times and was apparently unarmed. But the story has changed.
SHAPIROInitially, we heard maybe he lunged at the interrogator with a knife. The latest version that came out this week was that he threw the table at the guy asking him questions who sustained a facial injury and then lunged at him, perhaps, with a pipe. There was this press conference in Moscow where the Chechen gentlemen's father said this man was assassinated by the FBI. They didn't want him saying what he knew. Certainly, when Comey goes to his confirmation hearing, there is going to be at least a couple of questions about what exactly happened there.
LERERI mean, this is part of the transition after Sept. 11. The FBI really transitioned from being an organization that focused on white-collar crime and drugs and things like that to an organization that focused a lot more on counterterrorism. And I think the Boston bombings have raised questions about their effectiveness.
LERERIn that transition, this is certainly -- will raise questions. There's also been questions about -- in 2011, the agency closed a file they had on Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who, of course, was one of the Boston Marathon bombings, who was -- bombers -- who was killed in that incident. So I think we'll have a lot of those questions in the hearing.
O'KEEFEIt does speak to the cleanup that whoever is the next FBI director will have to do. I mean, there are a lot of unresolved situations that the FBI has been involved in this Boston situation, certainly the most high-profile at this point. And the case in Orlando, you know, just sort of embodies, really, I think, that the difficulty that the FBI now faces in that you are dealing with terrorism suspects.
O'KEEFEMany of whom are immigrants. Many of whom are Muslim, and they face concerns about their treatment of these suspects. And this certainly only adds to the criticism that a lot of different groups have of how the FBI has handled these cases in recent years,
REHMAnd speaking of cleanup, tell us bout Eric Holder's invitation to private meetings with news organizations. Lisa.
LERERWell, yesterday, Eric Holder convened his first round of meetings. There's another set of meetings today with news organizations. And this, of course, comes in the wake of, first, the disclosure that the Department of Justice had subpoenaed telephone lines at the Associated Press after there was -- in conjunction with an article that was published by the Associated Press about a failed terrorist attack in Yemen. They were trying to figure out who had given those reporters that information.
LEREREric Holder went up to Capitol Hill in the wake of that and testified, saying basically that he had never prosecuted -- never have been -- prosecuted a journalist under the Espionage Act. Two days later, it came out that the DOJ had subpoenaed phone lines and personal emails of James Rosen, a Fox News reporter, which -- who had been -- who had published a report on North Korea.
LERERThey are trying to find a leaker that in that case, and it turned out a little bit after that, it came to a light that Eric Holder had approved that investigation. So now he's in a firestorm of criticism from Republicans who are calling from his head and also media organizations, which brings up -- brings us to the meetings yesterday and today. He's trying to clean up this mess by, you know, retooling the rules.
REHMBut these meetings are off the record, Ed?
O'KEEFEThat's right. I was scribbling this down trying to keep score of who's going and who refuses to go because of the fact that these were being kept off the record. Those that attended yesterday's meetings was The Washington Post, POLITICO, Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, Wall Street Journal and New York Daily News. They all said yes, but several said no. The AP, The New York Times, CBS, CNN, Fox News, Reuters, McClatchy Newspapers and Huffington Post said, if the meeting can't be on the record, if we can't discuss it publicly afterward, we're not going to go.
SHAPIROBut the Justice Department sort of fumbled this a little a bit because setting up these meetings was, in a sense, an olive branch to journalists and then saying that it is was off the record, alienated many of those news organizations. And then at the end of the meeting yesterday, the organizations that decided to attend were able to negotiate terms where they could, in fact, describe what happened at the meeting.
SHAPIROAnd so if the Justice Department had just said from the outset, OK, here are the ground rules. Maybe you won't have exact quotes, but you can describe in general terms, or if in negotiating with journalism organizations ahead of time, they had reached that conclusion, they could have save themselves a lot of the sort of bad press back and forth of the last couple of days.
LERERAnd I think for people outside of government, outside of media, this all seems very, very confusing because they don't quite understand what off the record, on the record, why is this an issue. This is a constant debate that news organizations are having. The president says off the record chats frequently with news organizations. And it's always a debate. Do you -- it's better, of course, to have these officials on the record.
LERERDo you attend and accept the terms just to have insight in what folks are thinking and then at the end of the meeting, negotiate what you can? Do you not attend? So this is sort of being played out on large scale. I'm not sure it's good for journalism because I think a lot of people sadly have a low opinion of our profession because they think we're too cozy perhaps with elite...
REHMAnd there's another question: Is Eric Holder going to hold on to his job, Ed?
O'KEEFEAll indications for now are that the president has his back and wants him in the position. But certainly, he's not doing himself any favors on Capitol Hill. Even Democrats question him pretty sharply in that House Judiciary Committee hearing because he showed up just a few days after the revelations about the Associated Press phone records case. They arguably asked some of the toughest questions because they said, look, you know, we're supposed to be the administration and the party that, you know, does everything it can to promote the First Amendment, to protect it and civil liberties...
O'KEEFE...and to be transparent. This was a president who vowed to be the most transparent in history. Arguably, this completely saps him of the ability to say that.
SHAPIROAnd there were questions that Eric Holder really didn't answer because this was before the Fox News case, which he was involved. Within the AP case, he was recused, and so he just said to one senator after another, I can't help you with that. I can't answer those questions. I don't have that information. I think the situation puts journalists in an uncomfortable place because everybody is trying to both cover the news while being a part of the story.
SHAPIROAnd so you have, for example, these White House briefings, where one reporter after another is really trying to nail White house Spokesman Jay Carney to the wall, trying to be a tough reporter, but at the same time, advocating for the interest of journalists, which is a tough tight rope to walk.
REHMYeah. Right. All right. A tight rope that Michele Bachmann has decided to get off. She's not going to run for re-election. Why not, Lisa?
LERERWhat a tragedy it is for the fact checkers that she in no longer on the scene, of course, 'cause she was someone that was known for making statements that fact checkers love to pound. She is not running for re-election. She faced a really tough fight. She was going to be up against the Democrat who nearly beat her last time. She also has -- is facing investigations from the FEC and the FBI into her campaign finances. She, of course, in her eight-minute video about why she was stepping down, so it wasn't about the investigations...
LERER...which usually means it is about the investigations.
LERERBut I think this'll -- from Michele Bachmann's perspective, this allows her to preserve some of her role as this heroine of the Tea Party movement. She can still go out there and maybe get her Fox News contract. She can certainly hit the speaking circle, maybe do a book, and it certainly preserves her ability not only to be an important voice in the movement but also to cash in. So you could see from a personal standpoint why she would make this decision.
O'KEEFEShe really, you know, it's funny. The more you see a lawmaker on television or speaking out publicly in these types of ways, the less influence they really seem to have on Capitol Hill, especially in the House side. In the case of Michele Bachmann, she was here, what, six, almost eight years now, can't name any real significant legislative accomplishment, hasn't been known to be able to, you know, be a bridge builder, if you will, between members of her own party and Democrats for that matter, isn't really in the good standing of House leadership.
O'KEEFEAnd so, really, you know, this was someone who was better known for just appearing on television, saying things, running for president unsuccessfully, and that was about it. And she saw the politics and understood that she probably would face even tougher re-election next year.
SHAPIROOne of the most polarizing figures in Congress, I would say, beloved by the Tea Party and not many people feeling indifferent to her, sort of one end of the spectrum or the other. An interesting fact about her district in Minnesota: It is the most Republican district in the state, and yet she's the Republican who was elected twice now by the smallest margin of any Republican in the state, which tells you something about her popularity, generally, and also within her own party.
REHMAnd what about the Tea Party itself since they will not have her voice within Capitol Hill?
LERERIt does raise some fascinating questions about the future of the Tea Party, and it is. I mean, we should point out, it was a spectacular fall. I mean, I remember just two years ago at -- being at the Iowa straw poll and watching her as the surprise winner come out of her trailer in triumph. And now she can't even -- it was unclear whether she could win re-election, and she's not running again. And we've seen a number of prominent Tea Party figures decide to drop out of the -- drop out of Congress.
LERERCertainly, Sen. Jim DeMint went over The Heritage Foundation. Steve King decided not to run for Senate. So they're opting to either stay where they are or go for positions outside, and I think there are questions about whether the Tea Party can be effective if they don't have voices advocating their positions in the inside. We'll certainly see this when we debate the debt ceiling next, sometimes -- something the Tea Party is consistently opposed to raising. In October, it'll certainly be their first next big test.
O'KEEFEAnd I think, you know, you look at the fates of Congressman Joe Walsh from the Chicago suburbs who was a Tea Party favorite, Congressman Allen West from the upper east coast of Florida who lost in a narrow race. Steve King faced a pretty significant challenge, just last time won, but could, you know, conceivably face another one. So I think she saw that these other Tea Party figures, who are, you know, voice boxes for their opinions, who have a national following, cannot seem to deliver back home.
O'KEEFEAnd I think -- I've been -- I went to Allen West's district, I went to Joe Walsh's district, and the thing you would hear over and over again was he's spending more time on Fox News than he is worrying about my concerns and the concerns of people here. And we know that Bachmann was facing similar criticisms in Minnesota.
LEREROne thing we should point out is that she could raise money, and a lot of these figures...
LERER...can raise money. She was one of the -- I think she was the third-highest fundraiser in the House on the Republican side after John Boehner and Eric Cantor, of course, in the leadership.
O'KEEFEAnd Allen West in previous years.
O'KEEFEHe's one of the top -- and, again, another Tea Party guy.
LERERBecause, you know, all you need to do is go on Fox News, and the money flows in, or you have a viral moment on the -- you have a moment on the House floor that goes viral. So I think that's also changed the nature of fundraising in campaigns. And I had in the last election a number of campaign consultants tell me, well, we just need that viral moment, and then we're ready to put it in the online video, and the money will flow in. It also happened with Scott Brown. So it's an interesting -- the fundraising prowess, I think, will certainly still be put to use, I imagine.
SHAPIROThere's also a counter-narrative, though, to this Tea Party in decline theme, which is that the IRS controversy has given new life to conservatives who feel like the big Obama government is out to get them. Post had a front page story this morning about the Tea Party coalescing again in opposition to an education initiative. And as health care gets implemented this fall -- sign-ups beginning Oct. 1, insurance becoming available Jan. 1 -- you can imagine that some of that opposition is going to be revived again as well.
O'KEEFEOh, we will be...
LERERAnd Michele Bachmann was an IRS lawyer early in her career, we should point out.
LERERSo imagine she will have plenty to say about that issue.
O'KEEFEUnless you think the Tea Party's in decline, remember, three of its biggest stars are now over in the Senate: Mike Lee of Utah, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas, all three of them...
SHAPIROAnd Marco Rubio.
O'KEEFE...and Marco Rubio, to some extent, to a lesser extent.
LERERBut Marco Rubio has been trying to cut -- sort of toe the line between being his Tea Party -- the Tea Party credentials than he ran election on and doing things that are a bit more bipartisan that some in his party don't like, like immigration reform.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." So, this week, President Obama and Gov. Christie met again on the Jersey shore. Ari, how did that go? There weren't any big hugs.
SHAPIRONo big hugs, but, you know, I think this is sort of the reprise of the bromance that -- I remember Lisa and I were both covering the Romney campaign the week before the election, and we were dumbfounded that one week before the election, we were on a story that nobody cared about because everybody was just watching Obama and Christie touring the damage from Superstorm Sandy.
SHAPIRONow, long-term, if Christie wants to run for president, this may damage him in a primary. But short-term, in a blue state where he's a governor, where President Obama is popular, where he wants national attention paid to the recovery and where President Obama wants to distract from Benghazi, IRS, Justice Department leak investigations, I think this was a win-win all around.
LERERThey're just a couple of guys, hey, going for a stroll down the shore, throwing some footballs, winning some bears.
SHAPIROPlaying carnival games.
LERERRight, playing carnival games, greeting some voters. I mean, that's certainly the image that they were trying to project. This is obviously a friendship of political benefit to both, and I think it's worth it for the reasons Ari pointed out. I think it's worth pointing out that Christie is in a re-election battle.
LERERIt's not much of a battle. He's leading by a pretty big margin right now, but it doesn't hurt him to show that he still has the juice to bring the president to the state and to tout the Jersey shore, make sure folks come back there this summer.
O'KEEFEShowing you how seriously he's taking Christie's Democratic opponent. He spent all this high-profile time on the Jersey shore, won the teddy bear from Christie, you know, did everything they needed to do for the cameras. He met Christie's Democratic opponent, a woman named Barbara Buono, in a room before an event at Asbury Park.
O'KEEFEAnd she was one of dozens of people in the room. There was no photograph of their exchange. So that shows you how seriously he's taking her candidacy, and she's certainly trailing in the polls. So, you know, there's some benefit to both of them for having done this. But, of course, there's also seriousness. You know, Jersey shore has reopened pretty remarkably...
O'KEEFE...and pretty quickly.
O'KEEFEBut, of course, you know, it all boils down to raw politics, and this was a mutually beneficial exchange for both of them.
LERERBut this is -- this does -- in the long term, this could be a problem for Christie. I mean, if he wants to run for president -- and there are many indications that he does -- this is not something that Republican -- the type of Republican voters who turn out for primaries in early states like Iowa, like South Carolina are necessarily going to love.
LERERWe saw with Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, when he ran for the Senate in 2010, he had this very famous embrace of President -- you know, physical embrace, a hug -- of President Obama after the stimulus bill passed. That really was his downfall. We'll have to see how much the climate has changed when we get to the 2016 presidential elections, but it's certainly something Christie's strategists are thinking about now.
REHMBut let's talk a bit about the economy because it's starting to look better. You have good news on the housing front this week where prices are way up.
O'KEEFEThey are on the increase in the first quarter. You know, remember that the downfall that began in 2007, 2008 began with housing prices and with new construction, and so it's always seen as a leading indicator. And to suggest now that the prices are going back up, that demand is there, is a very encouraging sign. I mean, that came in the same week that we had consumer confidence growing to its highest point in five years.
O'KEEFEAll of this, coupled with a shrinking unemployment rate, and it becomes a very interesting, you know, situation for Republicans, especially in this town, because there was an expectation that there would be a big debate this summer into the fall about, you know, finding more ways to cut government spending. They will have to discuss raising the debt ceiling at some point in the fall. But a big piece of the argument they wanted to talk about -- the size of government, the overall federal deficit -- is really becoming less of an issue because it's beginning to shrink as the economy improves.
SHAPIROI, yesterday, interviewed Gene Sperling, the president's economic adviser, about this, and they are very aware that, yes, home prices are up, consumer confidence is up, the stock market is up, gas prices are down. But at the same time, wages are pretty stagnant. 7.5 percent unemployment is too high. And an economy growing at 2.5 percent is, you know, OK if the economy is doing great, but not OK if the economy really needs to recover.
SHAPIROSo they are trying to accentuate the positive, but not seem too rosy, and they are very aware that all it takes is one tsunami in Japan or one Greek financial crisis and, you know, all of these positive news could suddenly be overwhelmed.
REHMAri Shapiro, White House correspondent for NPR. Lisa Lerer of Bloomberg News, Ed O'Keefe of The Washington Post. Short break. When we come back, it's time to open the phones.
REHMAnd it's time to open the phones first to Laura in Alexandria, Va. Good morning to you.
LAURAThank you, Diane. I'm calling about the ricin attacks against Mayor Bloomberg and Mike Glaze of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns. And I agree with your earlier emailer that this is an act of terror. And the perpetrators are not, as one of your commentators said, protesters but unsuccessful murderers and terrorists. And I think it's a case of reaping what you sow, if you look at the horrific threats and vitriol thrown at anybody who even questions the gun lobby, the NRA and the various gun rights groups.
LAURAAnd you see that they have created an atmosphere where intimidation, violence and terrorism inevitably flourish, in my opinion. And by the way, this is not a case of tempers flaring on both sides. I want to be very clear on that. We have somebody planning an armed march into D.C. on the 4th of July, an armed march. When you see the moms planning something like that, then you can equate them. But I don't think that's fair to say that there -- tempers are flaring on both sides.
REHMOK. Hold on a minute, Laura.
O'KEEFEWell -- yeah. Well, Laura, that armed march into D.C. has been cancelled.
LAURAI'm so glad.
O'KEEFEIn fact, the organizer of it is now urging people who wanted to join him to do something similar in their state capitals.
LAURAOK. But you...
O'KEEFESo we'll see if that happens. But it's not going to happen here in the District.
LAURAWell that's wonderful to know except that they were planning something like that and 2,000 people signed up to do it. So don't say that both sides are angry or both sides are enthusiastic or energized or whatever like that. It's just not the case.
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call. Let's go to Baltimore, Md. Bruce, you've got another view.
BRUCEYeah. Actually, I'm glad that the person that just came on the phone because, look, the people that had sent the ricin is obviously wrong, that they went too far. But what I will say is this: Sending the ricin to Mr. Bloomberg and to the president is wrong. But I used to be much more liberal. I've just been much more conservative. And there a lot of people that are angry at the attacks on traditional and conservative values, not just guns, not just guns.
BRUCEI become a full-time member of the National Rifle Association even though I don't own guns because I don't like what the left is doing, the way they're attacking some of the people who have conservative and traditional values. Your guest yesterday, her first name was Michelle, made a ridiculous statement that she says, I'm paraphrasing. She said something to the effect that the Republican Party is going to send this country back to the Stone Age. How ridiculous...
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call. Ari.
SHAPIROSo I think what the caller is tapping into is an overwhelming sense among conservatives in the country, that the government is big and overwhelming individual liberty, which has been a very powerful argument in the past and may well continue to be in 2014. And the three controversies that the White House is dealing with -- Benghazi, the IRS and the leaks investigation -- all play into this narrative that the government, that President Obama always tries to argue, is acting in your best interest, as us, as part of society, in fact, is, as the conservatives see it, this overweening beast.
SHAPIROInterestingly, President Obama's speech last week about counterterrorism, in which he said this war will end and he's going to ask Congress to repeal or shrink the law authorizing the use of military force, had the exact opposite reaction from conservatives, who said, this president is abdicating responsibility, abdicating power and not being the kind of strong leader the country needs.
REHMSo what do you make of that?
SHAPIROWell to some extent, it's the opposition being the opposition. I mean, in each case, these maybe legitimate arguments. But also, the opposition is there, in some sense, to be the opposition.
REHMAll right. To Houston, Texas, good morning Ryan.
RYANHi. Good morning Diane. Good to hear your voice.
RYANAnyway, I just had one comment and one question. The comment was on the recent news on Chris Christie and President Obama and how -- I heard a distinct lack of praise for Christie and Obama for being able to work together despite being on both sides of the aisle or -- on opposite sides of the aisle. All I hear about is how this is a bromance, and this is going to be bad for Chris Christie and this is going to be bad for President Obama. But there's no real praise for the two of them for being on opposite sides of the aisle and willing to work with each other and not just tear each other apart over the airwaves.
REHMWhat do you think, Ed?
O'KEEFEWell, you're right. I mean, very quickly, Christie said that he was pleased with how the federal government was responding. And we should point out that Christie is not the first Republican governor to heap praise on the Obama administration for responding to a natural disaster. You look at Mary Fallin in Oklahoma just last week with the tornadoes.
O'KEEFEYou go down to Mississippi with Haley Barbour after tornadoes there, Bob Riley at the time as well. A lot of states with Republican governors and a Democratic president who worked together very successfully, thanks to FEMA, in responding to these disasters.
O'KEEFEAnd, you know, working with Christie, yes, it is a great example of bipartisanship.
LERERAnd it's certainly one the White House wants to highlight. President Obama, of course, came in promising more bipartisanship, promising to change the tone in Washington. He's really struggled to do that. His negotiations with House speaker Boehner have certainly not gone in that direction. So this is an example of the White House wants the spotlight.
REHMAll right. To emails regarding the security leak, please discuss the possibility that the media did leak national security information that puts CIA agents at risk and compromised their operations. We seemed that they making this all about freedom of the press and ignoring the fact the journalist may have broken the law. Ed.
O'KEEFEWell, remember, one element of this case involving The Associated Press specifically was that the AP had gotten a tip, took it to the CIA in the White House, and the CIA said, OK, you now know this. But we need you to sit on it for a few days as we sort out whether or not some people who are involved in this situation are safe. A few days later, the CIA came back to the AP and said, OK, all clear, go ahead. But almost immediately, the CIA and the White House called the AP and said, actually, would you mind waiting?
O'KEEFEBecause the White House would like to make this announcement. We'll give you, like, a five-minute heads up that it's happening and then you can break it. And the AP said, no, if there's no longer a national security risk here and you're just trying to hold this back for politics, we're not going to play that game. But if everything's been sorted out when it comes to national security, we feel now that we can report the story.
SHAPIROThere's also an important distinction between leakers, who take an oath not to reveal classified information, and journalists, who live to publish classified information after checking with the White House and the CIA that it does not going to compromise national security.
REHMAnd in that case, it involved the double agent in Yemen.
SHAPIRORight. So we should discuss what this case was about involving the AP...
SHAPIRO...where they revealed a bomb plot that was designed to sneak an underwear bomb onto a plane that would not have been detected by existing TSA technologies. However, in doing so, the administration says the AP compromised the safety of a double agent who the U.S. was hoping would lead them to a master bomb maker who had been responsible for several catastrophic attacks.
SHAPIROSo when you asked, how could this have compromised national security, well, the administration would respond, we had the potential through this double agent to reach this master bomb maker who now was out of our reach.
REHMAnd what about the North Korea incident?
O'KEEFEThis one doesn't appear to have been as critical as the Yemen situation, I believe, as we understand that it. It was that a State Department official, who was working on Korean issues, essentially shared some information regarding North Korea's nuclear capabilities to a guy named James Rosen, who, at the time, was more closely covering the State Department that now serves as Fox News' chief Washington correspondent. Good guy, who has been in this town a long time.
O'KEEFEAnd in the process of discovering that this man had leaked the information to Rosen, the Justice Department went and looked at Rosen's phone records, his email records, his security access to the State Department. And that was what sort of set up another round of concern is that the Justice Department was now snooping into the personal workings in relationships of a reporter as he was doing his constitutional, you know, something that his constitutional rights certainly allowed him to do.
LERERThis whole -- I think this whole debate, it's important to point out, is really focused on finding the right balance between protecting national security and allowing the media to do their job. And a lot of -- I think that's what both the journalists and the Department of Justice are discussing and did discuss in the meetings yesterday and will discuss today.
LERERYou know, when, for example, can prosecutor seek for phone logs and other information that could identify reporter's sources, how much notification do the media organizations need to have? In the case of The Associated Press, they were given no notification from the Justice Department that their phones were being subpoenaed. So I think it's a matter of rebalancing the rules and figure out what the right balance is there.
REHMAll right. To Tulsa, Okla. Good morning, A.J.
A.J.Good morning, ma'am. I was just commenting on the previous caller just recently where he talked about Gov. Christie and President Obama and threw in our Oklahoma Gov. Fallin, as praising the president for the response. She snubbed him when he came to Oklahoma a couple of years ago. She said her schedule was too busy to meet with the president. And this time, she had her hand out, so she made it a point to show up, her hand out. She was not exactly a willing praiser.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling.
REHMYeah. It happens. And that, for sure, is politics. Let's talk about Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee and his decision to change party affiliation.
O'KEEFEIt's incredible story. Lincoln Chafee, of course, was a Republican senator, although a pretty moderate one, goes home to Rhode Island and becomes governor and serves as an independent. But he has become a widely unpopular governor in part because Rhode Island's economy has suffered much more than most states in the last few years, and its unemployment rate remains above the national average. So just this week, he announced that he's now switching, and he's going to run as a Democrat for re-election.
O'KEEFEHe faces potentially at least two other contenders. And if you think about it, if he wins the Democratic primary, and Charlie Crist, who we were talking about earlier, win the Democratic primary in Florida, you'll have two former Republicans running as Democrats for governor in two states that have elections next year. And they are fully backed by President Obama. This week, he went out of his way to praise Chafee for switching parties and welcomed him to the Democrats.
LERERRight. His -- Chafee's hope, of course, is that the president will help him through primary. They have a long relationship. He -- Chafee backed President Obama over Hillary in 2008. He backed him again in 2012. The president opted not to endorse the Democratic challenger who's -- Chafee, of course, was independent in 2010 out of respect for his friend Gov. Chafee.
LERERSo they served together in the Senate. So that's his big hope here. Democrats feel good about it 'cause they think it increases their chances to win the governorship. They just don't necessarily think it will be Chafee who wins it, but they think a Democrat will be able to hold that seat.
SHAPIROAll of those individual political interests are real and valid. But there's also a broader narrative here where there was a time not too long ago where centrist Democrats were becoming Republicans pretty regularly. And what we've seen more recently is centrist Republicans becoming Democrats, whether it's the late Sen. Arlen Specter or, you know, not becoming a Democrat. But just this week, Bob Dole, who ran for president as a Republican, says he doesn't think that today he would feel welcome in the Republican Party.
SHAPIROSo there is sort of a theme here.
REHMAll right. To Southern Pines, N.C. Good morning, Maryanne.
MARYANNEWell, good morning. Well, I was going to make a comment about Gov. Christie and the president, but because I very well remember that the vast majority of Republican House members voted against aid to Sandy victims so, you know, why should Gov. Christie care what they think about his friendship with the president? And I'm waiting for him to become a Democrat.
O'KEEFEWell, you know, if you think about it, he was friends with Charlie Crist, he's friends with Lincoln Chafee, he's friends with Chris Christie, we may see something come 2016 or beyond.
LERERBut he may care an awful lot in 2016 what those House members think about his friendship with the president when he has to run in a Republican primary, which tends to bring out the party faithful.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Here's an email from Diane in New York City, who says, "While the bedside story James Comey tells is laudable, it must be remembered that Comey oversaw the CIA investigation into the Valerie Plame case and latter refused to press charges against Richard Armitage after it was revealed that the latter was the infamous leaker."
O'KEEFEYeah. There's -- there are concerns not only about his involvement in that case but also just in general with the CIA's interrogation techniques and the fact he allowed some of that to go through despite having some objections. But I tell you, from a congressional perspective, it is going to be very difficult for Democrat to vote against James Comey, and it's going to be very difficult for Republican to come up with the reason to vote against James Comey.
O'KEEFEHe's one of them. He's a registered Republican. He worked for George W. Bush. And for Democrats, you know, the president made this pick. It's seen as a sign of bipartisanship. And this is a man who stood up to one of the most controversial aspects of the Bush administration's legacy. So I think the president picking him sees this as almost someone that would be nearly impossible to vote against, and therefore, it will happen pretty quickly.
REHMHere's another email on this very subject from Leanne: "While I appreciate the experience and political objectivity Comey brings to the role, I was truly disappointed that once again a white male prosecutor is being selected. The FBI needs someone with a broader national security background to counter the entrenched agent-oriented, case-focused culture.
REHMNearly 12 years post-9/11, the intelligence aspect of the FBI continues to be implemented only superficially with just enough of the near to pass minimal congressional oversight. If Comey is actually nominated and confirmed, an opportunity to effect real change would be lost."
SHAPIROIt sounds like the letter writer has some first-hand experience...
O'KEEFEWho really knows what they're talking about.
SHAPIRO...in the intelligence community. You know, if Comey is FBI director for the next 10 years, his job is going to be to oversee what President Obama has described the transition out of the war on terror, where there are still terrorist threats but they are smaller scale, many of them domestic, many of them what's known as the lone wolf.
SHAPIROAnd the other point that that letter writer made, which I think is a valid one, is having the face of another white man at the top of that food chain in the FBI is not the best thing when one of the FBI's goals now is to reach out to some of the disenfranchised immigrant minority communities that may be more likely to foster some of the stuff that we're trying to prevent.
LERERIt's also not the best thing for the administration, which -- and many people in the administration made this argument, which is face criticism for picking white men for its most prominent post. A number of people have wanted to see more women or minorities in those really top-shelf cabinet and administration positions.
REHMAnd speaking of women, Olympia Snowe was on this program a couple of weeks ago. In her book, she argues for a five-day week for members of Congress who, by the way, have been out again this week. Are they coming back next week?
O'KEEFEThey are. They're coming back Monday night.
REHMWhich is going to be nice.
REHMIt would be good to get some work done on the Hill.
O'KEEFEWell, and -- we were marveling at this yesterday. By the end of June, it is possible that the Senate will have passed a new five-year farm bill. They did this last year, but they had to do it again this year because the House and Senate couldn't work out a deal last year. You'll have that, and then the Senate may also pass the bipartisan immigration bill. So if you have a farm bill passed in a bipartisan way plus an immigration bill passed in a bipartisan way...
O'KEEFE...it would have been one of the most productive months in Senate history in recent years.
REHMI'll give you that.
O'KEEFEOver in the House, they're just beginning their immigration discussion. There will be another argument in the coming weeks also in both chambers about extending student loan rates. But, inevitably, there will be some agreement on that and some progress.
REHMAnd that's our subject for Monday morning. Want to apologize to those of you who tried to see us through live video streaming. Unfortunately, it was not working during the show.
SHAPIROI did my hair.
REHMYeah. The entire show will be available to watch at the end of today's program at drshow.org. Ari Shapiro, your hair looks great.
SHAPIROThank you so much.
REHMLisa Lerer, so does yours. Ed O'Keefe, yours is good, too. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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