House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s had a surprising loss in the Virginia primaries this week. At a congressional hearing, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel defended the Bowe Bergdahl prisoner exchange. And a judge ruled California’s teacher tenure law is unconstitutional. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top news stories.
- Annie Lowrey Economic policy reporter, The New York Times.
- Reid Wilson Staff writer, The Washington Post; he writes The Post's new political tipsheet email called "Read In."
- Rachel Smolkin Managing editor for news, Politico.
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On The Diane Rehm Show’s Domestic News Hour, Annie Lowrey and Reid Wilson talked about what Eric Cantor’s primary loss, and house majority leader resignation, means for the GOP.
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Watch the full video of our domestic news hour.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The race to replace Congressman Eric Cantor as House Majority Leader has dropped to one contender. Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl arrived in the U.S. to continue his recover and a judge ruled California's teacher tenure law is unconstitutional. Here with me for the week's national stories on the Friday News Roundup, Annie Lowrey of the New York Times, Reid Wilson of The Washington Post and Rachel Smolkin of Politico.
MS. DIANE REHMAnd throughout the hour, we will be taking your calls, 800-433-8850, send us an email to email@example.com. You can also follow us on Facebook or Twitter. You can watch the show as we stream it live on video at drshow.org. And happy Friday, everybody.
MR. REID WILSONGood morning.
MS. ANNIE LOWREYHappy Friday.
MS. RACHEL SMOLKINGood morning.
REHMGood morning. Reid Wilson, let's start with Eric Cantor. What happened?
WILSONWell, Eric Cantor has been representing a district around Richmond for the last 14 years. He has been one of the lightning rods for the Tea Party movement. They don't like the national Republican leadership. Nobody really embodies the national Republican leadership more than Eric Cantor. He's a deal maker. He has cut deals with the White House and with more moderate members of his caucus and, by the way, with Democrats on Capitol Hill.
WILSONThen, on Tuesday, this college professor named David Brat ended up scoring what I think is fair to say one of the biggest upsets that we've seen in politics in the last decade in a half, two decades. Not a lot of people suspected that this was coming. Cantor's own campaign had put out a poll that showed him 34 points ahead.
WILSONAnd then, with about 50 percent of the vote in, he was down by 20 points and I don't know about these other two, but my phone started exploding and everybody started saying, wait a second. He could lose. And everybody was called back into the office real quick to write up this story.
REHMAnnie Lowrey, how did it happen?
LOWREYWell, I think that's a really good question. And I think that it leads to this other sort of philosophical question, which is was this race winnable for Eric Cantor. And I think that the feeling in Washington is yes. He had terrible information coming, apparently, from his own campaign. I think that they underestimated the fact that the district had been redistricted to become a little bit more rural so it wasn't the same group of people.
LOWREYI think, honestly, there was a feeling that he didn't know. He didn't have time to course correct. He kind of now famously was not in his district in the morning that he was losing. And so I think that he was getting terrible, terrible information, you know. And I think that there's been this sense that David Brat is this giant killer, but he didn't run like an amazing campaign.
LOWREYHe didn't have that much money.
REHM150, $200,000 compared to 5 million.
LOWREYHe's a real political novice. I think that, to a certain extent, and not to underestimate him, but he was just kind of the guy that was there and that embodied a lot of the thinking of people in that district.
REHMWe also have to talk about low turnout, Rachel Smolkin, very low turnout.
SMOLKINWell, it's a base election, which is why it's so important that Cantor didn't tend to his base, didn't tend to his district. He was a light presence there. He was focused more on his ascension in Washington, his rise in the leadership and he became identified with the leadership, the establishment, the problem, as some of his constituents saw it, instead of being identified as the person who represented them.
REHMHave I mistakenly said low turnout, Reid?
WILSONWell, I don't want to blame this loss on low turnout because turnout was actually 50 percent higher than it was two years before.
WILSONOne of the things that I think has happened here is that we've finally seen the first person lose because Congress' approval ratings are so low. What happened, Eric Cantor ran these advertisements against his opponent, criticizing him, calling him a liberal college professor who had worked in a gubernatorial administration for Democrat Tim Kaine when he was governor.
WILSONSo what happened, though, is I think voters realized, oh, look, there's somebody running against Eric Cantor and they turned out at higher rates than they had before, especially in those parts of the district, as Annie mentioned, that had just been drawn into Cantor's district. So turnout actually went up. You can't really blame this on low turnout or I've seen some Cantor people trying to say that Democrats were coming into the primary. I mean, that's just not true.
WILSONCantor lost because he was so unpopular.
REHMRachel, what about immigration? Was it an issue? And if so, how big?
SMOLKINIt was certainly an issue. Brat tagged Cantor with being the amnesty candidate, Mr. Amnesty. It's important to remember that what Cantor had supported, in terms of immigration, was really quite incremental, quite modest, but still, he became identified in this way as Mr. Amnesty. I think what's important, moving forward, though, is that it's quickly hardened into conventional wisdom.
SMOLKINImmigration is a big part of why he lost. If you look broadly across the political landscape, that's not necessarily true. Lindsay Graham, who is much more of a staunch supporter of immigration reform, held on with no problem because he did tend to his district. He did get out front when it looked like there could be some competitive challenges and took care of business at home.
SMOLKINAnd then, he stood behind immigration in a way that Cantor did not. He ended up looking a little bit like he was for immigration reform before he was against it. But still, that's playing out in a way that it's going to make it very unlikely, even more unlikely to see immigration reform this year.
REHMAnnie, what does this mean for the Republican Party at large?
LOWREYWell, they're going to have to manage a transition in leadership and it looks like they're doing that fairly calmly, fairly quickly. Eric Cantor has said he's not going to run as a write-in candidate. He's going to step down. And there's, you know, it looks like Kevin McCarthy is going to take over that position so there's going to be some jostling, some rearranging.
LOWREYI also think it's going to mean a lot for the party because Eric Cantor was a killer fundraiser for, you know, not just himself, but other candidates. He was really, really influential in a lot of these big debates and he's going to be gone. But that said, you know, I think that the feeling that there's going to be some party civil war is kind of overstating it.
WILSONI agree. I think one thing that we've seen here in the leadership contest that have resulted is that speed kills and Kevin McCarthy, the House Majority Whip, the number two -- I should say, actually, the number three official in the House Republican Conference -- moved very quickly to sew up all the votes that he possibly could. He has worked for years to cultivate these relationships.
WILSONHe's one of the closer members to the class of 2010 and the class of 2012, the two big Republican waves that have swept in and really controlled the House Republican Conference right now and it became clear to his two possible rivals, Congressman Jeb Hensarling and Congressman Pete Sessions, both Republicans from Texas, that they simply wouldn't be able to find the votes.
WILSONSo Kevin McCarthy has taken what could've been, as Annie said, a really ugly, really nasty transition and a fight that could've lasted for a week and shown all these divisions within the party and effectively locked it up before any blood could be spilled.
LOWREYAnd I think that the real question is what happens to John Boehner and there's going to be a lot of, I think, a lot of watching about what happens to him and his role. You know, I think that there's a feeling that a major contributor, along with immigration and a lot of other things to Eric Cantor's loss was that he had his eyes way too much on John Boehner and the speakership.
LOWREYAnd so, you know, does John Boehner step down? I think it's unlikely, but I don't know.
REHMRachel, what about Democrats in the White House? How do they feel about Cantor's loss? How much cooperation was there with the White House?
SMOLKINWell, on one level, they're savoring the loss. They were no fan of Eric Cantor over at the White House and they're trying not to be too giddy or gloat too much, but to have the Republicans turn on each other as they had for this week. But more broadly speaking, this does not help the president's legislative agenda. He'd already been focusing on executive actions, the pen and phone, the concept that they've been pushing at the White House to do as much as he can at time when there's so much gridlock in the Congress.
SMOLKINSo it looks like this will only further that. I mean, there is not going to be a big push for immigration reform in light of this. Again, the reasons for Cantor's loss are complex, but it's quickly being interpreted as immigration reform this year is dead.
REHMAnd Reid Wilson, does Eric Cantor's loss have any significant bearing on whatever else is going to happen during this election year?
WILSONI think the only possible thing that could've happened with Cantor not having lost would've been something on immigration reform, though I've always been really barish on the prospects of anything passing through Congress simply because it is not necessarily in the individual interests of members of the House of Representatives, Republican members of the House of Representatives, to pass an immigration reform bill.
WILSONEven though it may be in the greater, larger interest of the Republican Party as a whole, they have just been given, well, at least they think they've been given, quite a firm reminder that it is not in their interest to tackle immigration reform with Cantor's defeat. So I think that's pretty much off the table.
REHMInteresting. All right. And what about the media? I mean, you talked earlier, Reid, and all of you have talked about the signals somehow seemed to go in the wrong direction. Did the media miss this altogether?
LOWREYYes. I think there's a good question as to whether there was some information that the media could've gotten that would've changed how reporters were acting. If it had looked like Eric Cantor was gonna go down a month ago, Richmond would've been coated in reporters. So I think that the media got that same bad information that we was getting. But I don't know. Maybe...
REHMAnd what about pollsters? What does this say about polling going forward?
WILSONTo our credit, though, all three of the organizations represented here interviewed and quoted David Brat, Cantor's opponent, so...
WILSONIt's not as if we totally ignored him. But the pollsters themselves, the pollster who dealt with Cantor's campaign is a guy named John McLaughlin. He's taken a lot of heat this week and in the past because he's had some polls that were wrong previously. He made a point, though, that I think is important. It is that part of a poll is not just going out and seeing what everybody thinks because, as we saw in this race in which 60,000 people voted, which is about 10 percent of the entire district, what everybody thinks isn't important.
WILSONIt's trying to figure out who those 10 percent are. McLaughlin just missed the mark.
REHMReid Wilson, staff writer of The Washington Post. And we'll take a short break here. When we come back, I want to hear a little more about Mr. Brat.
REHMAnd welcome back to the National Hour of our Friday News Roundup this week with Reid Wilson of the Washington Post, Rachel Smolkin at Politico, Annie Lowrey of the New York Times. In our first segment we were talking about the big upset in Virginia with the race to -- in Virginia that Eric Cantor has lost.
REHMAnd here's an email from Lisa who says, "From the perspective of a constituent in Eric Cantor's district, the public needs to be informed, this election was not a referendum on immigration or a vote of support for the Tea Party. Cantor's campaign ran an ad that chided David Brat for working on a committee to advise Democratic Governor Tim Kaine. It was demeaning and belittling and in very poor taste. My vote was more against Eric Cantor than it was for David Brat." Tell us about David Brat, Annie Lowrey.
LOWREYHe's a professor of economics, I think the head of the economics department at a very small liberal arts college.
LOWREYYeah, Randolph-Macon. He's an economist and I think that some of the kind of early commentary sort of painted him as an Ayn Randian libertarian type. But he's actually not. He's a very unorthodox figure who thinks a lot about the philosophy of economics and has pretty strong religious views. He went to a theological seminary -- or theological school, excuse me, as well as being an economist.
LOWREYHe's not a well-known economist at all. He's very, very obscure. And so we're just starting to sift through all of his talks and his thoughts. But, you know, one of his big ideas is that people treat economics like a science when it isn't. It's like a vehicle for political thought. And then I think he thinks a lot about how sort of Christian societies and democratic societies ultimately have more flourishing economies. So that's kind of the early first take that I've had of looking at his work.
SMOLKINWe're only now beginning to get a sense of his views. I mean, he teaches free markets. He teaches a very popular ethics class that students there like, but his policy views do not seem to be particularly well-formed, many of them. And we got an early dose of that when he appeared on Chuck Todd Show the day after his surprise victory, and really struggled to answer some basic questions. And then his campaign essentially decided he needs to go back to the drawing board before he does a lot of big national interviews.
SMOLKINHe'd gotten a real push of support during the primary from conservative talk radio, and that's part of what vaulted him into the national spotlight and the standing that he had. And now he's going to face very different kinds of questions as he moves forward in his campaign.
REHMAnd curiously his Democratic opponent is also a professor at Randolph-Macon College. He is a Democrat, John Trammell. He's 50-year-old Democratic nominee. He's an associate professor of sociology specializing in disability issues in higher education. What kind of chance does he have?
WILSONWell, he doesn't have a fantastic chance that Eric Cantor's district went for Mitt Romney by about 60 percent of the vote back in 2012. Even with a candidate who is not running the, you know, multimillion dollars campaign that Eric Cantor would run, David Brat has the overwhelming odds on his side. John Trammell, as you say, not exactly the best known candidate in the district. Democrats really didn't try to pick somebody. They just nominated whoever stood up as opposed to going out and recruiting a candidate.
WILSONThe one thing I can tell you about John Trammel, though, is that he has apparently written a romance novel and it is quite steamy.
SMOLKINAnd is currently at work on a vampire novel, which also sounds very interesting.
REHMOh my gosh. All right. Let's turn to really a very serious topic. Bowe Bergdahl is back on U.S. soil. Today he is continuing his recuperative process. He was, I thought, going to stay in Germany for more extensive recuperative treatment. How come the change here, Annie?
LOWREYI'm actually not sure about what medically happened that they decided to bring him back to the United States. But I do know that we know that he's going to go through a very long process, I think, of psychological and physical medical treatment. I think that obviously the past few years have probably been extraordinarily hard on him. So, you know, he is a public figure but he is certainly not returning to public life.
REHMWe learned a bit more about him, his thinking, from some writings that were disclosed, Reid.
WILSONThat the Washington Post published. He has been thinking for a very long time about America's role in the world and especially America's actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. And these are -- of course, this is what he was writing when he was in his early 20's. He's only now in his late 20's but it paints the picture of somebody who was not happy with America and with the role that we were playing in Afghanistan. And it sort of presages, I think, some of his thought process in terms of the earlier emails that we heard about him that he sent to his father in the days before he walked off this base in Afghanistan.
REHMVery interesting that in 2006 he left the U.S. Coast Guard after just 26 days on what was called an uncharacterized discharge and then allowed to enlist in the Army with something of a track record of mental instability, Rachel.
SMOLKINAnd that does raise some red flags, some warning signs. We don't know why that happened but the person who shared his writings with the Washington Post did so -- it was a close friend. She did so because she was concerned about the portrayal of him as a calculating deserter and felt that this was a person who had been very fragile for a long time, had been in a fragile psychological state. And that's what she was hoping would come across by sharing his writing.
REHMSo the fact that he was mentally fragile, if you will, did not deter the U.S. Army from bringing him in at a time when they were beginning the surge.
WILSONAnd remember back in 2008, 2009 that's when we started hearing -- when Bergdahl enlisted and went to Afghanistan. That's when we started hearing the stories about the U.S. Army opening -- loosening some of their restrictions for who was going to be admitted to the service. They were taking people with -- who were -- who had some criminal backgrounds or who didn't necessarily have a clean background who had had drug problems and things like that because we were so desperate to find people who could get back into Afghanistan and Iraq.
REHMAnd so Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel spoke on The Hill this week. How did he justify the decision and did he quiet critics of the deal to swap the five Taliban members for Bergdahl?
LOWREYThis has become so quickly politicized, I'm not sure that there's anything Chuck Hagel could've said that would've changed anybody's mind. But he had some very sharp words. You know, he basically said, I was an infantryman and you don't know how messy war is. That was kind of, you know, one of the things that he said. And he said that basically there was no choice. He was a soldier and a captive and that they were going to do what they had to do to bring him back, like open and shut, that's it.
LOWREYWhereas I think that there's been this whole public referendum on Bergdahl on his actions and whether he endangered his fellow soldiers and, you know, the kind of broader ethical question of bringing him back. And I think that the White House has basically said they're not engaging in that. They got him back, that's it, you know. And this is not about anything that he did. And, you know, his merits as a soldier or anything else like that, that there's no gray area for them.
SMOLKINI think that's right. And I think the White House was caught by surprise on this. I mean, they had President Obama come out in a rare weekend rose garden ceremony to talk about bringing the soldier back home. And I do not think they anticipated how quickly this was going to go to such a political place with questions not just about Bergdahl but about their own failure to notify Congress. And it has become a partisan issue but Democrats are also angry that they were left in the dark about this.
REHMAnd where is this going? Is it going to continue now that he's back here? What kind of questioning will he face?
WILSONWell, Bergdahl is going to face an investigation by the U.S. military once he is healed though. And the Pentagon statement that came out at about 3:30 this morning announcing that he had arrived in San Antonio for more treatment said that there is no timeline for when his healing process will end. They are focused simply on making sure he is better. Then what comes next comes next.
WILSONWhat I think you're going to see on Capitol Hill, however, is Chuck Hagel is going to be called before a lot more committees. The Senate Armed Service Committee will get their take on it. I'm sure the intelligence committees will get involved. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has been particularly aggressive in investigating the White House. And when they're talking about not being notified, as was required under the law, 30 days before any prisoners are released from Guantanamo Bay, then they're talking about -- they get into signing statements and things like this. This is something more for Republicans in Congress to investigate the White House on.
REHMWill Bergdahl himself be called before Congress?
WILSONThat's a good question. I don't know.
REHMAnd we don't know as yet. All right. Let's move on to another topic involving the military, and the VA's internal audit. We learned this week that the wait around the country at VA hospitals has been a widespread problem, not just in Arizona, not just in the hotspots we thought, but again, all over the country, Rachel.
SMOLKINThat's right. And it seems like with each new piece of information that comes out we learn more about just how widespread, how prevalent this problem was. Striking figures in the report out this week, which found that more than 57,000 veterans have been waiting more than 90 days for an initial appointment. And a figure that particularly struck me was over the past ten years 64,000 people who were enrolled in the department's healthcare system never have had appointments. So just really start numbers.
SMOLKINAnd if we talk about one place Congress can come to an agreement this year, it's on this issue. Nobody wants to be seen as being against veterans or not being sufficiently supportive of veterans.
REHMWhat about all these bonuses that were handed out, Reid?
WILSONAnd that's where the FBI comes in. And we've heard reports earlier this week that the FBI has begun investigating whether or not the heads of these VA clinics and medical centers around the country were lying about their performance, were intentionally skewing these numbers and requiring 57,000 people to wait more than 90 days and keeping another 64,000 off the lists in order to win the incentive bonuses that had been set up for them.
WILSONThe irony of all this, of course, is that that incentive system was put in place in the first place back during the Clinton Administration to try to reduce the backlogs and reduce the wait times that veterans were facing. So there's sort of the perverse incentive that -- or the perverse side effect of providing the incentives didn't actually fix the problem.
LOWREYI think that what we see now is that basically all three branches of government are going to get really, really involved in this. It's pretty clear that there's at least a good chance that there's going to be criminal indictments for some of this behavior, for defrauding the government in essence, although we don't know that yet.
LOWREYObviously there's been a ton of pressure on the Obama Administration to start cleaning this up from the executive side. And I think that what's interesting is that, you know, some people have indicated that there could be some legislative action too, that this is such a broken department that perhaps there's some changes needed from Congress themselves.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's open the phones, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Let's go first to Harrisburg, Penn. Hi there, Tom. You're on the air.
TOMHi, Diane. And real quick. It's ashamed that the most important topic on this program facing our nation and not brought up in the Congressional race is guns -- is guns. That is the most pressing problem. And our society is so immune to bloodshed, even with children now, that we don't even discuss it anymore. And I'm sure the 7th District, those candidates rushed -- I'm sure they rushed to say how pro-gun they were. But that being aside, I think you're giving the voters of the 7th District way too much intelligence. I think they wake up, they go to the convenience store, an immigrant is working -- waiting on them.
REHMYou know what? I'm not sure I can appreciate that point of view. I think that's denigrating voters and suggesting that they're not thinking before they're voting. And I think you're not giving your fellow citizens enough credit. However, on the issue of guns we have certainly seen some bad situations this week.
WILSONAnd there was another shooting this week in Oregon -- in Gresham, Oregon just outside of Portland. It is something like the 75th school shooting since the Newtown massacre a couple of years ago -- 18 months ago. It is -- and yet again, I mean, I hate to say it, but nothing -- it's not going to change anything on Capitol Hill in politics. There's simply no appetite in America for tackling gun legislation, even as these tragedies happen over and over and over.
LOWREYI think it gets to kind of a funny deeper point too which is that immigration is a sort of not-very-many-Americans-first issue. It is some American's top issue but not as many as you might think. The same thing with guns. A lot of people hold a strong opinion about it but fewer than you might think are going to kick somebody out of office for not doing what they would like to legislatively on that issue.
LOWREYYou know, the economy, I think, is almost always like number one, right. And, you know, obviously that's not going to be true for all voters, not going to be true for all districts.
REHMBut you would think that the issue would rise more to the forefront with, as the president said the other day, a gun-violent action almost weekly. And the country seems to have become accustomed to that. And it doesn't rise anymore to the top of the agenda.
SMOLKINWell, look what happened when President Obama did try somewhat briefly to put it at the top of the agenda. It went nowhere. And Democrats from red states don't want this issue to come up anymore than Republicans want it to come up.
REHMBut people are still getting killed and children.
WILSONAnd I think one thing that we're going to see this year, which is something new, is that there are at least two issue sets on the Democratic side of the equation, in which people are actually investing money and trying to talk about it. And one is guns with groups like Michael Bloomberg's organization and the former Congresswoman Gabriel Gifford's organization actually running advertisements defending various members of Congress who have taken pro-gun control stands or advocating for the defeat of pro-gun candidates.
WILSONThe other is climate change. there's a California billionaire named Tom Steyer who has committed to putting about a hundred million dollars, half of it of his own money, another half that he's going to raise from other people who care a lot about climate change into some of these other races. So people are going to try to make these a part of the debate. The gun control side though is nowhere near that hundred million dollar mark.
REHMReid Wilson of the Washington Post, Annie Lowrey of the New York Times, Rachel Smolkin of Politico. Short break. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. We'll open the phones and take a call from Scott in Orange, Va. Let's see, Scott, you're on the air.
SCOTT...and panel. Great to talk to you guys.
SCOTTJust a comment about the Cantor election. I'm a democrat in Orange and I did vote in the primary but I don't believe that we really swayed things. I do want to disagree with the person who wrote in the letter, basically, you know, I think Cantor's loss, very much, had to do with the immigration issue. His district was just redrawn to include less of the Richmond suburbs and much more of the rural area, where I am.
SCOTTAnd around here, I mean, the tea party means many things, depending on who you ask and, and where you are. But around here, what tea party means is, kind of, the old social reactionary evangelical base, which has a pretty strong streak of nativism in it. And those folks are right up Dave Brat's alley with the Christian economics. And, and also with a very, very strong anti-immigration stance. And I think, that that's what Canton ran head-on into.
REHMAll right. What do you think Reid Wilson?
WILSONWell, the immigration issue did become something of a factor, largely because there is a lot buzz in the conservative media world, right now, about what's going on in Texas and Arizona where there are a significant number of immigrants streaming across the border. They're being held in, in certain detention centers which...
REHMA lot of young children, as well.
WILSONYes. And according to Senator John McCain has called for, for the media to have access to it, see the conditions. Apparently it's really terrible. But conservative radio, which is sort of an under-appreciated part of, of the media landscape, when, when we're looking at these, sort of, big over, over arching themes, was -- has been talking about it for weeks. They've been talking about it in the context of amnesty.
WILSONNow, amnesty in the republican primary is pretty much the worst word you can say. The only thing you could say that's worse, is I endorse Barack Obama. So Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin, some of the, the larger names, Glenn Beck, too, have been talking about this for a long time. And along with that, they've been talking about a guy who has been advocating for comprehensive immigration reform, named Eric Cantor. And then they've been talking about his opponent, David Brat.
REHMAll right, Annie...
WILSONAll, all of that money came -- that Brat was able to raise, came when, when those particular conservative figures were talking about him.
REHMAll right. And here's an email from Paul, in Pittsburgh. He says, "Your guests are saying Cantor's loss cannot be talked up to low voter turnout. Only 14 percent of eligible voters turned out in that election. So it was a small number of people that booted Cantor. I don't see how you can draw a broad conclusions about the mood of the country based on 60,000 voters in Virginia." Rachel.
SMOLKINWell, those are all great points. I do think we need to be careful about drawing, sweeping conclusions from one particular district. But it's also important to remember that these very committed voters, who did turn out in the election, are the same kinds of voters that, that make up the base for the republican party. And it's an illustration of why, for example, immigration reform is such a complicated issue for republicans, like Rand Paul, like Rubio, like Jeb Bush, as we start to think about 2016 and they're messaging on this issue.
SMOLKINBecause it is tough and if, even if they have a message that would appeal to voters in the overall elector, at the general electorate, they may never get there unless they can persuade these very dedicated voters on the right, who turn out in the primaries.
LOWREYAnd I think that that's, that's a really smart way. I think that's right. And I, I was going through the thought experiment, the other day, of thinking about how different this would be if there were a republican in the White House, who wanted some sort of legislation on immigration reform, right. Because right now, this is also, you know, this is Barack Obama's priority. There's a huge incentive for nobody to cooperate across party lines right now.
REHMLike Nixon going to China.
LOWREYRight. That might not, that will not always be true. But, but that's kind of the moment that we're in right now.
REHMYeah. Let's talk a little about Hillary Clinton, her memoir was finally released. She's had two NPR interviews, one on "Morning Edition" and one yesterday with Terry Gross on "Fresh Air." What are we learning about Hillary Clinton from the memoir and from the interviews she's had, Rachel?
SMOLKINWe're learning more, so far, from the interviews then we did from the memoir. The memoir was not so newsy but the interviews have been. And we're learning that she's having trouble, early on, with some of these interview questions. She had a gaffe when she talked to ABC's Diane Sawyer, on Monday, in which she said that she and former President Bill Clinton were not only dead broke but in debt, when they left the White House. She had to quickly do a course correction on that.
SMOLKINAnd then in her interview yesterday, with Terry Gross, she got testy during an exchange over gay marriage and her position on gay marriage and how that had changed. This was not in an unexpected question for her to be asked. And yet, she seemed to have trouble with it.
REHMAnd the question, the question was?
SMOLKINThe, the question was about how her support had changed and if it had changed when it became more politically expedient for it to do so. And she said that, that, that's just flat wrong and let me state what I feel you were implying in repudiated -- she, she really pushed back but in a way that showed she was having some trouble with the question. And again, this was not a surprising question for her to be asked.
LOWREYIt was, it was funny because I, I agree that she just seems kind of, out of practice. And for the past year, she's never put herself in the position where she's had to answer unexpected questions. She really went to ground, right. I think that the theory has been that she is such a clear, she's such a clear path to the democratic nomination that, that much more dangerous thing for her to do is be put in a situation where she can make these kinds of gaffe's. And she just seems out of practice, to me.
LOWREYThe Terry Gross question, it was not, like, a difficult question. But she treated it like a gotcha and she got really, kind of, riled up and she didn't have a good answer, which you know, it, it was a little bit funny to see because she's normally such a calm, controlled practiced politician, that it just seemed, to me, that, that it was almost like she hadn't quite remembered -- she needs to get that muscle memory back.
REHMHer memoir does include a forceful defense of Benghazi.
WILSONIt, it does. And I, I'm wondering if we've seen her struggle with a question -- with these two questions, by the way, that she very much should've expected, an evolution on, on gay marriage which is something the entire democratic party has gone through now. The questions about her taking $200,000 of speech from, from big corporations around the country. I mean, those are two -- those are the first two questions that she would be asked in most interviews.
WILSONNow, you know, her next interview or the, an interview coming up shortly is on Fox News. And I would very much expect that that interview is going to focus all about, all on Benghazi and, and her role as Secretary of State. And she's said, in some of these earlier interviews, that, you know, as Secretary, she's not directly responsible for security at every single consulate around the world, which is true. But how is she gonna handle that when, when, you know, Bret Baier and Greta Van Susteren, of Fox News, come at her again and again and again, on every little part of, of the Benghazi investigation?
REHMAnd how do you answer your own question?
WILSONExactly. And, and this is, you know, I think this just feels like a reminder that, back in 2008, it wasn't only that she was wrong on Iraq that made Hillary Clinton vulnerable, it, it's that she wasn't the best candidate in the world. And frankly, the better candidate in that, in that democratic primary won the race, Barack Obama was just a better candidate then she was.
SMOLKINAnd there's a new reality since then, which is the 24/7 Twitter culture, in which a gaffe instantly hardens into conventional wisdom, it spreads everywhere because now, even more so then, then, it's tweeted, it's on Facebook, it's on social media. We have websites that run all day and, and are pumping stories out about this. So it's, it's a culture where, if you make a misstep, you have to correct that immediately, you can't wait till the next day. It's way too late.
REHMHow long does she have to wait to announce whether she's going to run or not? It's not just her own candidacy but that of many other potential candidates out there, Annie.
LOWREYI think, if we were having this discussion six months ago, we would've talked a lot more about potential democrats. I think that she has very effectively -- I mean, the woman...
REHMThat's what I mean. Well, I, I'm not sure about that.
LOWREYAnd I think that she has dampened, I, I'm -- I, I don't know. I, I certainly could be wrong and I, I don't, you know, I don't have a magic ball but I think there's really a feeling that she's kind of inevitable and, you know, she's, she's doing it. You don't hear a lot about, for instance, Vice President Biden anymore.
WILSONAlthough, I, I will say, Vice President Biden fundraised for the governor of New Hampshire, earlier this week.
WILSONHum, there's an interesting little tea leaf to read. I, I feel like, this roll out though is her, her entrée into the race. I mean, she has been so -- these, these events feel like campaign events. These interviews feel like big campaign interviews. Everything about them -- from, from what I've heard, Clinton has talked to a lot of members of her inner circle who say that, you know, she doesn't necessarily want to be president, she doesn't necessarily want to run for president but she sure doesn't think anybody else can do the job.
LOWREYAnd, I think, that the thing that's gonna be good for her and for democrats, is for the republican race to start. Because I think, that, that could be a very rollicking, exciting, intense competition. There's gonna be a lot of in-fighting among republicans. I think, there's a feeling about that. And if she just seems, kind of, inevitable and can stay above the fray, I think that there's a feeling that that would be the best strategy for her, in terms of winning the White House. But, but there -- we, we have a long time.
REHMYeah. We have...
LOWREYMonths and months and months.
REHM...a long time except for the fact that the inevitability factor, sort of, keeps everybody else out. And that's why I'm wondering how long she can afford to wait and keep everybody else at bay, Rachel.
SMOLKINWell, the inevitability factor probably helps a little bit in giving her some time to make a few gaffe's in interviews where she has been out of practice, she's been the Secretary of State, so it hasn't been doing these kinds of interviews. So it, it creates some time. The question is, whether the same kinds of things that gave her problems the last time around, seeming a little bit out of touch, not seeming like she's, she's connected with the, the base of the democratic party, we were just talking about the base of the republican party, whether that will begin to hurt her over time.
REHMAll right. I do want to remind our listeners that we are video streaming this hour. You can watch the program by going to drshow.org and click on 'watch video.' Let's go now to Paula in Lansing, Mich. Hi there, you're on the air.
PAULAHi, Diane. I, I -- my husband was disabled in Vietnam, in 1972. He's been dealing with VA for over 40 years now. And I hear all these problems with VA. The one thing I haven't heard one single person mention is the allocation of funds to VA. Our state mission, we had a problem with foster care. And -- where the workers falsifying how long it was taking for that, how many visits they making, how long, how often they were making visits because there weren't enough workers to do everything that, that the law required.
REHMAnd the same thing is certainly true in regard to doctors.
WILSONThat's right. The VA has not been funded adequately for many, many years. When republicans and democrats would both yell and scream about, about the, the, how terrible the situation at the VA is. But the reason there's a huge waiting list is because there aren't enough doctors and there aren't enough doctors because they're not being paid enough. And they're not being paid enough because Congress never appropriates any money to the VA.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go, now, to Tom in Durham, New Hampshire. Hi, you're on the air.
TOMHi, Diane, you're the best.
TOMI just want to add to the, to the discussion there about the veterans. And here, here's the, the things. The lack of foresight in thoughtfulness. And most of the problems we have but certainly this one. The amount of aging population, we have this country, certainly includes many veterans which is, is gonna put stress on the system. Now, let's add 12 years in one war, eight years in another, nobody saw this coming? Really? That's all I have to say.
WILSONI mean, it's, it's -- he's right. It's, we've got, we're getting to an age where Vietnam veterans are, are getting to retirement age, which is when medical care is more important and, and more, more -- it happens more often, is required more often. We're getting to a point where we've had 10 years of war and now 750,000 new veterans are coming back and they need care.
WILSONAnd then, by the way, the Obama administration has now allowed people to make VA claims for being exposed to Agent Orange, which means a lot more people are suddenly eligible to make claims. So they're making the care available to more people but without necessarily appropriating the money to make, to give, provide for more care.
REHMAnd here's an email from Dan who says, "It seems to me, Congress is more angry about the swap of five Gitmo prisoners than about Bergdahl's return. Many democrats voted to defund Obama's initiative to close Gitmo, making it impossible for it to be closed. Maybe Obama has found a way around them in swapping prisoners." Any thoughts, Rachel?
SMOLKINWell, this, this was one way for President Obama to go a big rogue on Gitmo. And that has generated controversy. Although I would say, the focus of most of the controversy has not even been so much on the prisoner swap, although that's been part of it but more about the failure to notify Congress ahead of time.
REHMWhat do you think, Annie?
LOWREYI think that's right. And there's been some questions about the legality of the decision, not to inform Congress. And, and I, I just think that, that that actually, in my mind, has been, has been more of the political touch point. But I, I think it's right that, that there's, it brings up the whole Gitmo issue again, is a way to put it.
REHMI don't think the Gitmo issue is going to go away. It sounds as though, there's got to be a way to close it. And maybe the president is working on that.
WILSONYeah and he has been working on it since the very beginning. It was one of his campaign promises, in his first campaign, that he would close it within a year and that didn't happen. And then Congress got involved and, and Congress has not been terribly thrilled with any of the proposals that he has, that he's made to close the prison. And yet, the, I mean the point that the administration has made about these five prisoners released in exchange for Bergdahl is that, they weren't necessarily prosecutable in the first place. We, there's nothing, necessarily anything we could've done but release them, therefore why not get something for them?
REHMAll right. And that's the last word for the Friday News Roundup, this week with Reid Wilson of The Washington Post, Rachel Smolkin at Politico, Annie Lowrey of The New York Times. Thank you all.
REHMAnd have a great weekend everybody. Thanks for listening, I'm Diane Rehm.