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.
President Barack Obama extends the health care enrollment deadline for some applicants. The Senate votes on an aid package for Ukraine. And five of Bernie Madoff’s former employees are convicted of conspiracy. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Damian Paletta Reporter, The Wall Street Journal.
- Susan Davis Congressional correspondent, USA Today.
- Jonathan Weisman Congressional reporter, The New York Times.
Watch A Featured Clip
After three Secret Service agents were sent home from Amsterdam this week because of an alleged night of drinking, many have started to question the culture of the agency that has continued to find itself in the spotlight because of its officers’ behavior.
The incident this week comes weeks after officers were punished following a car accident in Miami, and two years after a prostitution scandal during President Barack Obama’s visit to Cartagena, Colombia.
While the incidents raise “more a question of culture than whether the president was ever threatened,” USA Today’s Susan Davis told Diane Rehm on her Friday radio program, they still distract from the messages Obama is trying to send as he meets with foreign leaders.
Still, said Wall Street Journal reporter Damian Paletta, “how many more incidents can we have before something does happen?”
For the panel’s full discussion on the Secret Service, watch the video below.
Watch Full Video
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. President Obama extends the deadline for some healthcare applicants as enrollment hits the 6 million mark. The Senate passes a billion-dollar aid package for Ukraine but leaves out a controversial IMF provision. And a Manhattan jury convicts five of Bernie Madoff's former employees for conspiracy and fraud.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup: Damian Paletta of The Wall Street Journal, Susan Davis of USA Today, and Jonathan Weisman of The New York Times. I do invite you to be part of the program. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And remember we are video streaming this program live. And you can join the fun by going to drshow.org and clicking on video streaming live. Welcome to all of you.
MS. SUSAN DAVISHi, Diane.
MR. DAMIAN PALETTAHi.
MR. JONATHAN WEISMANHi.
REHMGood to see you all. And, Jonathan Weisman, don't worry about not having a tie on.
WEISMANNo tie. If I had just known.
REHMAll right. Damian Paletta, there was some good news yesterday about the Affordable Care Act. Six million people signed up, little short of what had been the goal. But now there seems to be a little wiggle room.
PALETTAThat's right. If you remember, the first day, they got six people to sign up. And, actually, it was two weeks ago they bridged the 5 million mark. So they got a million people in two weeks. There was a huge push in the last probably month or so, both by reaching out to younger people -- the president's done a lot of things on social media -- and there's been a big outreach to Latinos as well.
PALETTAAnd so now they've gotten to that 6 million mark. Now, there's a lot of question marks. We want to know, are these people started paying their premiums yet? Did they -- are these people that actually didn't have insurance before? We kind of want to know more about who they are. But it is a -- they've made up a lot of ground since the troubled start of this law back in October.
REHMAnd the question, how many of them are young people? How many -- we haven't seen any of that breakdown yet.
WEISMANNo. And we won't see it for quite some time. The fact of the matter is there's a really excellent story. I'm not meaning to plug my newspaper. There's an excellent story in The Times this morning because what you really realize is that that national number, that 6 million-dollar -- 6 million people figure, it's not that meaningful because these are state-by-state insurance pools and insurance markets. So you have some states that are just doing tremendously well -- Connecticut, California, New York -- but you have other states that, especially those with Republican governors who have been openly hostile...
REHMLike Texas, yeah.
WEISMAN...Texas, Missouri -- who have actually worked very hard to stop the Affordable Care Act from working. And in those states, it's like a self-fulfilling prophecy. They've said the Affordable Care Act stinks. It doesn't work. And it hasn't worked. And so you're not going to see much political lift for politicians in those states because it really hasn't worked very well there.
REHMBut despite that, a 6-million figure is a 6-million figure, Susan.
DAVISIt is. And the extension of the deadline means that they're pretty confident they're going to get more. As Damian said, there has been this last-minute surge of people. They think that surge is going to keep going. What the administration essentially said was they're giving people kind of like an honor system to say you've got a couple more weeks to sign up.
DAVISIf you -- we can't prove that you are already in the process of doing it, but if you say you are, check this box, and we'll give you more time. It's likely that if 7 million was the original target that we had heard at the beginning of the sign-up process, so the certainly fell short. But I think that there is a fair amount of confidence that they're going to be able to make up that ground and that they're going to see the numbers strong.
PALETTAYeah. I think they'll be close to 7 million.
DAVISWho doesn't like this is the insurance companies in part because March 31, for so long, had been this hard and fast state. The insurance companies don't like it because the idea that you can start moving past the deadlines makes them nervous because a lot of this was built on the fact that they need healthy people to sign up. And insurance companies worry that if you keep moving the deadline back, people wait till they get sick to sign up. And they don't like that. Plus, they need to see what the numbers are so they can set their insurance rates for 2015.
REHMAnd the other question is, how many of this 6 million, or plus, have actually paid for it?
PALETTAYeah. We'll have to wait to hear from the insurers on that. I mean, that's a big question because, once you start -- you have to really start paying for your insurance in order for it to work. And, you know, if you get sick and haven't paid for insurance, it's going to open up a whole, you know...
REHMAll right. So...
WEISMANBut the fact is, you know, repealing the Affordable Care Act now almost looks impossible. I mean, how do -- because, remember, it's not just 6 million in the private markets. You have at least 3.5 million under the Medicaid expansions in the states that did it. By the time, you know, Republicans, if they take the Senate get -- start to work on this, you're going to have 10, 12 million people...
REHMMm mm. Already signed up. So what does all this mean politically for President Obama, Susan?
DAVISThat's a great question. I think in the short term we wonder more what it means for the Democrats and Republicans that are running in the midterm elections. I -- you don't get a sense from talking to congressional Democrats that they find Obamacare to be an asset, although I do think that there is some level of confidence that they think that Republicans may have overplayed their hand on being so against Obamacare that, if -- as people start to enroll and they start to get health insurance, the conversation could be very different come October that people may like having health insurance.
DAVISAnd they may see the -- finally start to see the benefit, which goes back to sort of what Democrats said in 2010 when they passed it, is just wait till they find out what's in it. And then we'll see if they like it. Republicans are the complete opposite. They think that this is a killer for Democrats and that they're going to reap a lot of electoral gains in November from it.
REHMYou know, former President Jimmy Carter was on this program the other day. And he, like many other Democrats, said he would have preferred putting everybody under Medicare. I wonder whether this program could eventually move in that direction, Damien.
PALETTAThat's a great question. And I think what we need -- we'll have to wait to see is whether public opinion is so cemented about this law because it's been beat up for so long and because of the rocky rollout that people are not going to give the president of Democrats the benefit of the doubt.
PALETTAIf they propose, you know, extending the program further, expanding coverage, or if people kind of start to warm to it -- maybe they see their mom or their cousin got health insurance, and it's working out and it's improving things -- maybe they'll be willing to give Democrats another shot. But right now, the poll numbers on this law are still pretty bad. And it's hard to imagine that Democrats are going to get another bite at the apple.
REHMHmm. And, Jonathan, how is the program going to meld between those states that have accepted and those who have not?
WEISMANWell, it's going to be a huge problem. They basically have this gap between -- in states like Texas where if you could qualify for Medicaid under traditional levels, basically poverty levels, and above that level, there's a gap where the Medicaid expansion was supposed to take you in, and then you'll start, you know, about 150 percent of poverty, you start qualifying for these subsidies in the marketplaces. And you can find some really good deals for your healthcare. Well, in huge states, like Texas and Missouri, you -- there's this big gap.
WEISMANAnd, you know, the pressure will be building on a lot of the Republican legislatures to make amends. New Hampshire just approved a plan, a kind of a hybrid plan to expand Medicaid but as a more private option. And I think you'll start seeing other states do that. But, look, Virginia, you know, they just elected a Republican -- I mean, a Democratic governor.
WEISMANAnd they have one House of the legislature has turned Democratic. But they could not get that Medicaid expansion through in Virginia, which is really a purple state. So, you know, a lot of Republicans are really dug in on this issue.
WEISMANAnd it's really creating a real tangible problem for people who are uninsured.
REHMAnd you also heard this week the arguments before the Supreme Court on the so-called Hobby Lobby case, Susan. Tell us about that case and what it could mean for another amendment to the Affordable Care Act.
DAVISWell, this is part of the fascinating element of this healthcare law is not only as it's being implemented, it's being challenged in the courts at the same time. The arguments before the Supreme Court the (unintelligible) brought forth by the Hobby Lobby, which many people know it's a craft store chain, predominantly in the South, that is privately-owned, and they're Christian owners.
DAVISAnd they say that the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act that requires employers, large employers -- it doesn't apply to everybody, but Hobby Lobby's a large enough employer -- that they have to provide contraception coverage for women. Specifically what the Hobby Lobby is opposed to is that they say that it can force them to pay for things like what is known as the morning after pill and IUDs that are a form of contraception.
DAVISAnd many Christians have the view that those -- or they view it as akin to abortion 'cause they say it prevents the embryo from implanting, and they say that that unto itself violates their federal beliefs. The Hobby Lobby has not particularly targeted other kinds of contraception, but the challenge could effectively, if the court rules on their side, say that the contraception mandate is illegal. We'll -- the court's likely to rule in June.
DAVISThe government, in their argument against it, has said that women should be treated equal under the law, that it is -- that the law that women should have doctor's advices should trump your employers when it comes to and that enough exemptions exist in the law that protect religious employers, like churches and other religious-affiliated non-profits.
DAVISSo it's a very divisive issue. I think no matter the outcome, I think it's going to have a tremendous effect in the election in part because I think it's going to be a really -- a rallying social issue, even beyond the healthcare issue, over what employers can and cannot say, and whether it will precedent other parts of the law.
REHMYou know, it was interesting. The attorney who -- one of the attorneys who represented Hobby Lobby was on the program. I asked him whether condoms were sold and included, and he said he didn't know. You know, the issue becomes women and whether their health is protected. Did we learn anything from the justices and their comments?
WEISMANThere was some question raised about whether there could have -- Justice Roberts, Chief Justice Roberts raised some question about whether there could be some kind of narrow carve-out that would prevent this from expanding because the big concern is, if a company can claim religious liberty on this, they could claim religious liberty on all sorts of things.
REHMJonathan Weisman of New York Times. Short break, right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Jonathan Weisman, I think you made a tiny mistake talking about Missouri.
WEISMANI did. I apologize. Yes. Jay Nixon is the Democratic governor of Missouri but is the Republican legislature there that has been trying really hard to block...
REHMBlocking Medicaid expansion. OK, correction issued. The Ukraine aid bill -- the Senate passed that Ukraine aid package yesterday. Why did Democrats agree to remove that IMF portion of the bill? And what was that all about?
PALETTAYeah, I think politically they didn't really have a choice. This is one of the examples where Republicans stood their ground and won. The Democrats backed down. This has to do with some reforms that the U.S. and other countries have passed to the International Monetary Fund, which is this kind of international organization that can extend loans and aid to struggling countries. And they passed these reforms in 2010. It would essentially give developing countries more of a voice at the IMF. And it's pretty controversial politically for lawmakers.
PALETTAA lot of Republicans don't like this idea of some emerging countries, including Russia, potentially having more of a voice at the IMF. So when the Democrats in the Senate were going to pass one of the proposal law to give more aid to the Ukraine, they wanted to include these IMF reforms in there. So Republicans stood their ground. And these things happened very quickly in the Ukraine. The Democrats couldn't afford to draw this out and have this go on for weeks and weeks like everything else.
PALETTAAnd they ended up -- Harry Reid decided to take the provision out.
REHMHow much of a setback for the White House?
WEISMANIt's a big embarrassment, frankly, because, well, these IMF reforms -- I remember. I was there. It was at the G20 meeting in Seoul in 2010. President Obama was part of -- actually, one of the real champions of these reforms. The idea is that you have these emerging economies, the BRICS -- the Brazil, Russia, India, China -- we and the international community want them to contribute more to international organizations like the IMF. And they said, well, if you want us to contribute more, you've got to give us more of a say. Obama agreed.
WEISMANEvery country in the world that is necessary to make these changes has already approved them, except the United States. And this was Obama's reform. They tried to get these reforms in this big budget bill in December. They lost. And they've tried again. It's embarrassing, especially since President Obama is in Europe trying to rally the allies on Ukraine. And he's once again being undercut domestically.
REHMSo he really couldn't afford to wait any longer. The Congress had to go ahead.
DAVISIt's true. And it was starting to almost look embarrassing that the Congress could not move -- after coming out so forcefully behind Ukraine and saying, we stand behind the president. We want to give him all this leverage. And then this got mired down in this debate that, I think, was embarrassing to the Congress in a way, too, that they were not able to sort of rally around the president and show this international show of support for him at this time when they said that it's what they wanted to do.
WEISMANEven though this is, like, well, let's not overstate this. The Congress just approved a billion dollars in loan guarantees the day that the IMF approved $17 billion of loan guarantees. And the European Union has 15 billion. In fact, the United States ain't pony up a whole lot of money here.
PALETTABut also, Diane, you know, the president can go on the stump around the country and talk about minimum wage, unemployment insurance, things that might kind of get people excited. You can't go around the country talking about IMF reform.
PALETTAI mean, it's going to be a loser politically for him if he drew this out any longer.
REHMAll right. Susan, the White House announced details of a plan to end the government's bulk data collection of phone calls made in the U.S. So what happens to this collection of data? It goes elsewhere? What happens?
DAVISThis is going to be one of the next great fights over this NSA program because we see all these competing reforms coming out now. And there is no consensus about how this is going to get figured out. What the administration came out and said -- they had promised that they were going to come out with a program for reform. Essentially what they said is, instead of the government holding onto this data, that the companies will maintain some propriety control over the data.
DAVISYes. And that the government will have access to it but that it will provide -- I think part of what the pushback against the data was this sort of Big Brother-esque (sic) government control surveillance that people did not like and that it would provide consumers and Americans more confidence that is was -- the proprietary information is staying under the company's control.
DAVISWe've already seen House Republicans put out a different proposal, that they don't like it. I think that there's still a strong measure of support in Congress to keep this program going. So while -- I don't think there's any clear resolution to this. This is going to be a great fight between the administration and the Congress. And I'm not entirely sure it can get resolved even this year.
WEISMANI don't think it can get resolved this year because this is a very, very complicated thing. The House plan that the Intelligence Committee -- Republican Mike Rogers, who announced his retirement today, which is not going to help, and Dutch Ruppersberger, the Democrat who heads the Intelligence Committee, that House plan also agrees that the bulk data collected by the NSA will be held by the companies -- by the phone companies. And House Speaker John Boehner also came out in favor of that.
WEISMANSo there is some consensus. The question is obscure. It's about hops, about the number of -- about the distance from the target phone call that the NSA can jump to and the expansion of the listening. And it's very complicated. And, you know, in an election year like this, this is just not the kind of issue that gets resolved.
REHMYou know, again, referring back to my conversation with Jimmy Carter, he said he wrote a letter to the Pope -- literally wrote a letter, put a stamp on the envelope and mailed it because he said he did not want to pick up the phone and have -- he claims that his data is being collected along with everyone else's.
PALETTAI mean, that would've sounded crazy five years ago, but you never know now.
PALETTAAnd the question obviously with -- you know, maybe they're going to pass some new laws eventually. But who know how they're going to be interpreted. Who knows what kind of secret legal memos are going to be written by the Justice Department to change the way they're implemented. And I can't imagine -- it's going to be hard to imagine a telephone company, when the Justice Department comes banging on your door, saying, you can't have this...
REHMYeah. But don't they have to go through the FISA court first?
WEISMANYes. That is still in the reform, so that...
REHMThat's still the situation.
WEISMANYes. And I think that the administration...
PALETTAEven in an emergency though? I thought there was some sort of emergency loophole that the president wants.
DAVISWell, he can claim national...
DAVIS...immediate national security threats.
WEISMANBut I think -- I mean, I think that there's going to be a big fight also over the future of the FISA court and at least -- at least the declassification of the FISA court's arguments, which always seem to tend to favor the NSA.
DAVISWhat is to me -- but it's also -- what's really interesting to me is that in the beginning, when we first heard about this program, it was cast as this integral to our national security and that we've been kept safe by it. And that's changed even from the conversation from the intelligence community. There's really no singular event that they can point to that these programs have stopped a terrorist attack. It's all -- and senators like Ron Wyden who have been very skeptical of the program say that there's no evidence to show that it's been critical in preventing any kind of terrorist attack.
REHMAnd yet there have been claims.
DAVISClaims, and one of them being Mike Rogers, who's the House intelligence chairman, who firmly believes that this program needs to stay in place. But there's very little evidence to show that it has reaped the gains that it promised and instead has violated -- and some people feel -- their rights in a very -- including President Jimmy Carter in a very real way.
REHMYeah, how hard has President Obama pushed? How closely has he been involved in this, Damian?
PALETTAI think -- that's a great question. You know, he's given some speeches about it. It's clear that these reforms were not hastily drawn up. I mean, he's given them a lot of thought. This has been -- this Edward Snowden episode has been a huge embarrassment for him because he did not campaign as someone who believed in big government surveillance of Americans.
PALETTAAnd so the fact that he's got this kind of stamp on his presidency now, I think, is something that's probably going to bother him because you can tell he's already thinking a lot about his legacy, you know, the healthcare law and other things like that. So this is something -- but like Jonathan said, it's not going to be easy to change. And this could take until the end of his presidency for there to be some substantial change.
REHMSo how different then is the congressional proposal on this from the White House proposal?
PALETTAWell, I think one of the main changes is how much lead time you have to give the FISA court or some other court notification in order to get the information. And the White House has this sort of emergency power that would let it just go in immediately and get the information if there's some sort of national security threat. Is that correct?
WEISMANI mean, remember that the House Intelligence Committee is very much involved in this. But the Senate Intelligence Committee is right now wrapped up in its huge fight with the CIA. And the Senate Intelligence Committee is badly divided along partisan lines over the declassification of its torture report from the Bush year. So, I mean, I can't even imagine how the Senate Intelligence Committee can take up and work on such a complicated issue when it itself is part of the story right now.
REHMAll right. I want to take a call now, 800-433-8850, on this very subject from Brian in Gainesville, Fla. Hi, you're on the air. Go right ahead.
BRIANGood morning. I'd just like to clear the air a bit, especially since Mr. Carter indicated, as you reminded us, that he was under the impression that there was widespread recording of conversations. My understanding of the various investigations so far has been that there have been a few minor abuses by employees. But had there actually been any evidence of widespread recording of conversations? Or is the metadata policy still the biggest deal here? I mean, is this a misconception on my part or on President Carter's part?
WEISMANIt's really neither. The fact is that metadata collection really is -- these huge dragnets that the NSA is doing really is just collecting, you know, this phone number -- this cellphone number called that cellphone number this long. And, you know, it's just part of this huge data trove of not the content of the phone numbers.
WEISMANAt the same time, remember we learned that the NSA actually was listening in on conversations that Chancellor Merkel had in Germany, and the prime minister of Brazil or the president of Brazil had. So we know that world leaders actually are getting listened to. Now, Jimmy Carter might consider himself a world leader. I don't know if the NSA cares enough to listen in on his conversations, but we know that there's both things going on.
REHMBut why not your conversations as a reporter for The New York Times covering the Congress?
WEISMANWell, you know, actually, I would not think that I merit, but we do know that (unintelligible)...
PALETTAI used to sit next to Jonathan, and it's not worth (unintelligible)...
WEISMANYeah, all you have to do is put a tape recorder on actually.
DAVISThey just -- you can stand outside and hear him.
WEISMANYeah. But, I mean, we do know that there was the case of the Associated Press and the Fox News reporter who -- they were basically trying to trace to figure out where they were getting leaks on intelligence matters. So, you know...
DAVISThe caller is right in that, when we talk about metadata, it is not recordings of conversations. But Jonathan's also right that if the government imparted that ping-to-ping data that they're looking at -- this phone numbers calls this phone number -- then they do have the technology and the ability to listen to phone calls after the fact. But the metadata, as it is collected, is not the recordings of conversations.
REHMSusan Davis, she's congressional correspondent for USA Today. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We have news that five former employees of Bernie Madoff played a role in his Ponzi scheme. Yet Bernie Madoff himself has said that they didn't know that they were pushed by clients. What's going on here?
PALETTAWell, Bernie Madoff's credibility is not that high. And so five of his former employees were convicted. And this is kind of a scary, I think, development for a lot of people because it suggested this was not a one-man shop. I mean, obviously he had employees. But they found that these people created false accounts. I mean, obviously, he wasn't able to create all these different customer accounts. There were people creating false accounts, doing all sorts of other things with computers that enabled the scheme to go on for so long.
PALETTAAnd this has repercussions for the victims obviously. They were probably involved in a much wider, more sophisticated plot than some of us originally thought. And, you know, who knows where this goes next. I mean, there's obviously a lot of accusations going at the banks that were involved as well, like JP Morgan. And so I think this is a kind of scary next chapter in this whole thing.
WEISMANYeah, you know, it's funny. We've kind of forgotten about financial crises. We're worried about this economy actually starting to pick up, but...
REHMI'll bet the people who lost money under Madoff haven't forgotten about this.
WEISMANNo. And I still think that there is still a sense that there has just been no justice in any of these fiscal financial schemes.
REHMHas there been any money returned to those principals?
PALETTAI believe so. I don't know the dollar amount, but it's -- they're nowhere near being made whole. And they probably -- and I'm sure they never will be.
REHMSo when you say they created accounts, spell that out a little bit.
PALETTAWell, sure. I mean, so if I -- if you have an account at a stock broker or something, you know, you have to show all sorts of documentation to prove you are who you are. It's called know your customer. And so it's not policed the way it should be, especially at a firm like this where they're not -- you know, they're not a bank or something like that.
PALETTAAnd so it's probably quite easy for people to create these false customer accounts, which makes it much easier for money to move around and potentially disappear. And when the financial crisis came and kind of the tide went out, we realized that this whole thing was a house of cards.
REHMAll right. I want to take another call. Let's go to Kristine in Arlington, Texas. Hi, you're on the air.
KRISTINEFan of yours, Diane.
REHMGo right ahead, please.
KRISTINEThank you so much.
KRISTINEBig fan of your show.
KRISTINEThank you so much for being here for all of us enlightened Americans.
KRISTINEI just wanted to comment on the Affordable Care Act in that I do live in Texas, and it's one of the states that our governor is not really promoting the program. And I'm just curious as citizens or in some other capacity, why aren't we putting the coalition of voices together in opposition to our senators and House and representatives who have very good healthcare for themselves and their families, but they're denying that opportunity to we Americans that they are supposed to be serving?
PALETTAThis kind of gets to the point that I raised earlier about public opinion on this law. So the Republicans feel very safe right now opposing the law because of the way that the public feels. If something happens, if this 6 million threshold they get to -- maybe they get to 7 million. Maybe people start to warm to it because their mom or their cousin got health insurance.
PALETTAIf voters start to vote with their, you know, their decisions and change who is in charge of making these decisions -- and maybe states like Texas will eventually change the way the law is implemented. But right now it's the Democrats who are on the run, that are fearful of the way the law is playing out. And the Republicans feel very comfortable that the decisions they've made are the right ones.
WEISMANAnd the problem here politically is that, you know, Texas is a state with one of the highest rates of uninsurance. (sic) But let's say 30 percent of Texas doesn't have insurance. Well, 70 percent does, and a lot of those -- the large employers that are still offering insurance, for their employees, they're worried that maybe this is going to impact them negatively. But they don't have to worry about losing insurance. They're just looking -- they're not -- they don't care that much about the 30 percent.
REHMJonathan Weisman, he's congressional reporter for The New York Times. And we'll take a short break here. When we come back, more of your calls.
REHMAnd welcome back. We also have news that Atty. Gen. Eric Holder has announced the federal government will recognize same-sex marriages performed in Michigan in the window between two court rulings that legalized and then suspended same-sex marriage in the state. See, you've got this limbo that all these people are in. It's so unsettling.
PALETTAAnd from -- so, I'm like 100 million other Americans right now in the middle of filing my taxes, right? And so, if the federal government thinks I'm married but the state government thinks I'm not and I'm filing this tax, I just can't imagine that logistical nightmare this is going to become.
WEISMANBut it does create facts on the ground. I mean, that's what Eric Holder is trying to do. This is what happened in California when there was a brief legalization and then it was overturned by the courts or stayed by the courts. And then it went to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court said, what are we going to do? We've got all these couples. And then the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the gay marriage advocates in California. So Eric Holder is creating facts on the ground that are going to bias this process toward legalizing gay marriage in Michigan.
REHMAll right. And here's an email from Jake, Susan. He says, "The bill to change the bulk record collection is at best symbolic, at worst a smokescreen as things like the prison program are far more invasive and not addressed."
DAVISI think he's right. I mean, this -- the bulk metadata is just one piece of the national security infrastructure. It just happens to be one that we know the most about, in part because of Edward Snowden. I don't -- the other thing that I do think is important when we talk about a lot of this is that the majority of the public doesn't oppose these programs, that there is an idea if the government -- these programs are necessary to keep us safe.
DAVISOn the whole, there is a significant amount of public support behind them, which is why I don't think that you see a lot of urgency among members of Congress to change them. You do see civil libertarians and people like Ron Wyden and people like Ron Paul who believe in the issue passionately as a philosophical debate. But as a matter of public opinion, the public on the whole supports programs that they believe are going to keep them safe.
REHMAll right, let's go to Kalamazoo, Mich. Hi there, Ralph.
RALPHYes. I want to mention two things, and maybe you can comment on them. One is this -- the massive effort by the Americans for Prosperity and the Koch brothers to do these nationwide ads. In Michigan, they've got two ads running, and they both -- one is filled with inaccuracies, according to The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler.
RALPHAnd the other thing is if you could comment on, is the Republican policy toward healthcare, American -- the healthcare industry, is it to keep the status quo? Because my understanding is our healthcare system is -- it's one of the most expensive healthcare systems in the world. It is the most expensive healthcare system in the world by far, like maybe a factor of two. And we get mediocre outcomes. We're ranked 37th in the quality of care.
REHMTell me what these Koch brothers ads say, Ralph.
RALPHWell, there's the one that's got most attention is the one with Boonstra. Her name is Boonstra, and she got leukemia. And she said she tried to go on to the health system, the healthcare.gov, and she had to pay more in premiums. And she couldn't see her doctor. And Kessler gave it three Pinocchio. And then the Koch brothers have had to come up with a counter, a part two ad, a booster ad to explain the part one ad.
REHMAll right, Jonathan.
WEISMANThat's right, Ms. Boonstra. First, she claims that because of Obamacare, she was unable to afford her prescriptions for her cancer and basically she was saying it was going to kill her. And then there were many people fact-checking it and said, that's insane because there are lifetime limits imposed by the Affordable Care Act and cost controls on prescriptions that just couldn't -- it just didn't make any sense. So then they came back with a much more vague ad that...
REHMWait a minute. Did somebody track her down...
REHM...and find out whether she had been paid to make inaccurate statements?
WEISMANNo. Her husband, as it turned out, was a Republican, I think, an appointee by the Republican governor. There were Republican connections. People question it. But, you know, Americans for Prosperity, which put this ad on, this is backed by the Koch brothers, they basically just -- in fact, there was a big counter-push when -- this ad is aimed at Gary Peters. He's a congressman who's running for the Senate seat that's being vacated in Michigan.
WEISMANGary Peters went to the networks in Michigan and said, don't put this ad up. It's false. And there was this huge counter-push saying, how dare Gary Peters try to shut down this poor, sick woman? And they came to her defense, right, and saying she has a right to say that Obamacare has been bad for her.
REHMAnd what did Glenn Kessler find out?
WEISMANGlenn Kessler basically found out that what she said about the Affordable Care Act making her coverage actually unaffordable was wrong. And they came back with a second ad, as the caller said, which was much more vague, which basically said, well, I don't like the Affordable Care Act. It's been a pain in my neck, which could be true. It's been probably a big pain in her neck. But it didn't make specific claims that it has somehow bankrupted her or put her on the verge of death because she couldn't afford…
REHMThis whole thing is fascinating.
PALETTAYou know, and this -- we're not -- this is not going to be one ad thing. I mean, the Americans for Prosperity and the Koch brothers, they did not get much bang for their buck in the 2012 election. And so they've done some recalibration. They're going to be aggressive in 2014 midterms. The see a big opportunity. And we should be expecting a lot of ads from both sides, quite frankly, in the months to come. And this is probably just the beginning.
REHMBu it sounds like people are looking at such ads far more carefully, much more discernibly than perhaps once, Damian.
WEISMANTrue. But, you know, how many people who are watching their television and seeing this ad then go picking up the fact-checker in The Washington Post to see if it was true? I think that AFP understands that the power of the medium of television is much more powerful than the power of -- I hate to say it -- newspapers.
REHMWell, let's hope that radio is doing its job. Let's talk about the ruling from the National Labor Relations Board this week on college athletes. How viable is this so-called test case on the decision as to whether college athletes should be paid to play. Susan?
DAVISI think there's some viability to it. Now, in a practical sense, college football is not going to unionize anytime soon. The local NLRB decision is going to be appealed to Washington. No matter what Washington rules, it will go through the federal courts. I mean, there's years before there's a resolution to this. But it is part of, I think, an undermining of the NCAA and the way they do business. This is -- it's not only a way they treat players, this ruling.
DAVISThere's other lawsuits about whether players -- they should be able to profit off players without players getting any cut off of their jerseys and using their likenesses. There's suits of whether the NCAA operates as a cartel and whether the way they do business should be questioned. So the larger culture of college sports, which is a very passionate area of debate in this country, I think it's just the beginning of what is sort of a fascinating way in which we treat college sports and how we treat college players.
WEISMANYeah. The NLRB ruling in this case is just so fascinating. I went to Northwestern. At that time, Northwestern never won any football games. They actually do now. And basically the players of the Northwestern football team were saying, we are employees of this university. We are not just students. I mean, we get scholarships to come here. We have, you know, benefits, and we should be treated as employees because we are making a ton of money for this university and for the NCAA.
REHMRaking in million dollars a year and so on.
REHMBut does the scholarship count for paying?
WEISMANWell, what the students would say -- well, the university says, you weren't employees. You're students. What the players say is, well, we're really badly-paid employees.
PALETTAThe scholarships, I think, are technically grants, just like, you know, a grant. So they wouldn't be taxed on the grant money that they get. But, you know, for example, the Virginia basketball game in the NCAA tournament is tonight. It starts, I think, at 10:20. I mean, this is not -- this is a business. You know, these are not things that are designed for students and their family.
PALETTAThis is a business. Football is the same way. I think this sort of thing was bound to happen eventually and is probably a national conversation we're going to have about the billions of dollars flowing into these schools. How much of it should be flowing to the students?
REHMAnd we're going to do a full hour on this on Monday. Let's talk about Secret Service. What is wrong with the Secret Service?
PALETTAI just cannot believe this. I mean, these stories are obviously true. But I cannot believe how these decisions that some of these people are making. So we find out that three people that run the president's trip to Europe were sent home. Three Secret Service officers were sent home.
REHMPart of the very special group.
WEISMANThis is the president's detail.
PALETTAYeah. I mean, they're in charge of protecting the president's life.
PALETTAThey're kind of a scout team that goes out ahead and...
REHMNot supposed to have alcohol within 10 hours of reporting to duty.
PALETTAYes. I mean, that's -- personally, I think that's an -- I don't know why they should be having any alcohol within any hours of being -- protecting the president's life. But one of them was apparently passed out in the hallway of the hotel and had to be carried into his room. So he gets sent home, you know, kind of gets spanked and sent back to Washington. And this happened after apparently there was a car accident a couple of weeks ago in Miami with other Secret Service officers involved. And this comes a year or two after...
PALETTAThere was an issue in Colombia with prostitutes, so...
REHMSo you're wondering, is there a kind of culture that's building up in relation to drugs, alcohol, women?
DAVISWell, I think it's important to just make clear that there was never a suggestion at any point the president was ever at any risk. So it is more a question of culture than, you know, was the president ever threatened? I do think, yes, it is a question of culture.
DAVISI think part of the reason why the current director of the Secret Service is a woman, which she was appointed after the Cartagena, Colombia prostitution scandal, and, in part, there was this thinking that it was -- for lack of a better term -- a bro culture and that perhaps if they had a woman come in and run the agency, that it would clean up what was seen as maybe frat-like behavior. I mean, it's all been male Secret Service agents that have been involved in these sort of drinking and carousing incidents. I think -- and she has instituted a zero tolerance policy, which…
REHMWell, what is a zero tolerance policy if they simply send them home?
DAVISWell, I don't think -- I mean, it's not entirely clear that they were just sent home. I mean, it's the beginning -- they were immediately sent home. But you can't immediately fire federal employees. There's still a process by which they would have to go through. So it's possible that some combination of them could lose their jobs over this. And because of the sort of embarrassment factor of it and the continuing negative culture, I think that they're in a pretty bad spot right now.
WEISMANNow, this all happened in Amsterdam, and I think that basically the president's international gathering should be, like, in Peoria. We need to select more boring places for the Secret Service to go.
PALETTABut Sue raises a good point. There is no evidence that the president's life was in danger. But how many more of these things can we have until something really scary happens?
DAVISAnd it distracts -- when the president's abroad and trying to have a message and have something to say and then this is happening, we're all talking about this and not talking about what the president wants to talk about.
REHMSusan Davis of USA Today. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Paul in -- if I can get there -- Paul in Charlottesville, Va. Hi there. You're on the air. Go right ahead.
PAULGood morning, guys. Hey, I just want to talk real quickly about the Hobby Lobby case you mentioned earlier. So, if I understand correctly, Hobby Lobby doesn't want to pay for -- if I were a woman, they wouldn't want to pay for my birth control through the healthcare benefits. What I don't understand, why it hasn't been a part of the conversation, is, you know, their healthcare benefits and the paycheck that they give me, if I'm an employee, is all my compensation.
PAULI get to spend my compensation the way I want. I mean, couldn't this become a question of them saying, well, you know, we don't want you to buy alcohol with your paycheck because that offends our religious sensibilities? Or you can't go get a vasectomy through your healthcare benefits because that offends our, you know, religious sensibilities? You know, what do you think about that argument? And why isn't that argument a part of the conversation?
WEISMANWell, you know, I think actually some of the justices did raise this. The question is, if you say that a corporation, a company, has a moral right, that is really a broad statement. I mean, do they have a moral right to say, we don't believe in the minimum wage? Do they have a right to say, we don't like the way you dress? You're immoral, and, you know, we don't like that.
WEISMANThere are all sorts of implications for declaring a moral right for a company. And I think you, caller, actually has a very important point. And, I mean, I do believe that the Supreme Court is trying to come up with a ruling that would be as narrow as possible because of the vast implications of declaring the moral right of an entity that's not a human being.
REHMBut how about Citizens United and the relationship there, too?
DAVISWell, that is a great question. That's part of the sort of philosophical legal question in that in Citizens United, which was the 2010 case about campaign finance, they essentially did rule that corporations have First Amendment rights, that it's free speech. So, in this case, will they be -- if they side with the side of the companies, it's the suggestion that companies have religious freedom protections under the Constitution.
DAVISI will say that the caller does bring up kind of a funny point as well, that many female Democratic senators have referenced, in that in all of this conversation about female contraception, there's never a debate over whether it should cover things like vasectomies or Viagra or other drugs that also play a role in the conception of children.
DAVISSo there is -- I think that's one of those issues where I do think it does particularly inflame the anger of female constituencies and obviously some male constituencies as well.
PALETTAAnd, as Sue mentioned earlier, Hobby Lobby wasn't opposing the insurance covering birth control. It was specifically for the morning after pill and for IUDs, I believe.
PALETTAAnd so -- but I don't see why any company, if the Supreme Court ends up siding with Hobby Lobby, any other company can say, well, we just oppose birth control, period, you know, and try to widen it out like that.
WEISMANAnd Chief Justice Roberts tried to kind of parse it. He's suggesting that maybe closely held private companies that don't have public shareholders would have more protections than public companies. The problem is that there are some huge private companies.
REHMPrivate companies, of course.
WEISMANActually, Koch Industries is privately held. Cargill, they're one of the largest agribusinesses in the universe -- well, let's just say world. Cargill is also privately held. So it's not -- it doesn't narrow it that much to just say it only applies to private companies.
REHMAny guesses as to how the court's going to rule on this?
PALETTAIf I had to guess, I would guess they would rule with Hobby Lobby. They would come up with some ruling that seems to -- just from reading the tea leaves from the kind of behavior of some of the justices and specifically Justice Kennedy who tends to be the swing vote, they seem to be a little bit sympathetic to this argument.
REHMSo you think it's going to be a 5-4?
PALETTAI do, yeah.
REHMAll right. Damian Paletta, The Wall Street Journal, Susan Davis of USA Today, Jonathan Weisman of The New York Times. He did not know we were going to be video streaming this, so next time he promises to wear a tie.
WEISMANMaybe I'll shave.
REHMMaybe you'll shave. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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