America’s Collision Course With The Debt Ceiling
As the nation counts down to default, Diane talks to longtime Congress watcher Norm Ornstein about the debt limit negotiations, what's at stake and whether he sees a way forward.
The unemployment rate rises slightly to 6.2 percent. House Republican leaders pull their bill to address the border crisis after opposition from within the GOP. Congressmen meet again today to try to re-work the bill before leaving town for August recess. Ahead of the summer break, the Senate does pass legislation to replenish the Highway Trust Fund. A CIA internal investigation reveals its officers spied on Senate Intelligence Committee computers. In response, the agency’s director apologizes to lawmakers. And the Justice Department challenges election laws in Ohio and Wisconsin. Diane and a panel of journalists discuss the week in news.
Watch the full video of our Aug. 1 domestic news hour.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The economy added 209,000 jobs in July. Congress goes on August recess without passing legislation addressing the border crisis and a federal judge strikes down the Capitol's ban on carrying handguns outside the home. Here for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup, Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times, Ron Elving of NPR and Annie Lowrey of New York magazine.
MS. DIANE REHMAnd we will be video streaming our first hour of the Friday News Roundup. You can join us by going to drshow.org and clicking on video-streaming live. You can also join us by calling 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And finally, happy Friday to all of you.
MS. SHERYL GAY STOLBERGHappy Friday.
MR. RON ELVINGHappy Friday.
MS. ANNIE LOWREYGood morning.
REHMGood to see you. Annie Lowrey, the unemployment rate has risen a notch. What's the takeaway of 209,000 jobs being added?
LOWREYThis report, it doesn't change our understanding of the economy much. The recovery continues to kind of chug along at this good, not great, pace. There are really no surprises, not much different in this report than in previous reports. So there's not a lot of evidence that the pace of change is improving. There's not a lot of evidence that there's any sort of slowdown.
LOWREYIt seems that the recovery kind of rebounded pretty well after kind of crummy winter due to really bad weather and some other kind of funny things going on. So it's just -- it's kind of blah. It's like a B report, not an A, not a C.
REHMWhat do you think, a B, not an A?
ELVINGI guess I might say a B plus, but a lot of times these reports, the good parts are not as good as they may appear and the bad parts are not as bad as they may appear. In this case, the bump from 6.1 to 6.2 doesn't seem to be particularly meaningful. It may even reflect a little bit of improvement in people's willingness to go out and look, although that's not really statistically indicated in this report.
ELVINGAs far as the good part, it's six months in a row of 200,000 jobs a month plus and that's great. But at the same time, there was a consensus of expectation that it would be higher, that it would be 230 and if they all say 230, then they really think maybe it's 240 or 250 so 209 is just sort of barely acceptable.
REHMWhat about the GDP growth that we saw earlier, Sheryl?
STOLBERGSo that was good news. The GDP grew by 4 percent and the second quarter it was reversed, declined from the first quarter. So I think -- but I still think what we're seeing is, as Annie said, kind of a, eh, the economy is chugging along. And I think when you take these reports in a political context -- because we are, after all, in an election year. We're seeing Congress about to go home, if they can get their work done, to go out and campaign.
STOLBERGI suppose this is good news for Democrats, but I would not say great news. When we look at President Obama's approval ratings on the economy, for instance, only 40 percent of Americans approve of the job he's doing on the economy. And that tells us that people are not feeling these results in their daily lives. So while the numbers may be moving in the right direction, people don't feel the country is moving in the right direction.
STOLBERGAnd, in fact, only a quarter of Americans think the country is on the right track. So it hasn't hit home yet. These numbers haven't hit in people's daily lives.
REHMWhat about Janet Yellen and the Fed? How might this affect her thinking, her statements?
STOLBERGI don't think that it will change too much. This report wasn't bad enough to indicate that there's any sort of slowdown. It wasn't good enough to indicate that there's any overheating in the economy at all. Inflation remains very, very subdued. So I think that they've made very clear that they intend to kind of wind down their purchases of new bonds this fall and that there's probably going to be some tightening of monetary policy next year.
STOLBERGI don't see this changing that at all. There would have to be some more surprising numbers come out. And the numbers that we've seen that have been surprising have been surprising generally a little bit to the upside, but not enough to make us think that there's anything, you know, that there's anything really changing the course here.
STOLBERGI would say that, you know, I think that people are starting to get a little bit worried that stocks are overvalued. There could be a correction that could lead to a slowdown. But right now, that remains just a concern. Stocks are kind of selling off this week, but we haven't seen any big dip. So, you know, we just -- we need more information, more surprises to change the course of Fed policy.
REHMAll right. And one no surprise is that there's no border security bill, Ron Elving.
ELVINGYou know, Diane, the Congress set expectations for this last week before recess pretty low, but yet managed to fall short. They did not get the most highly visible crisis of the moment addressed. They did do the highway bill. They do seem to have done the veterans administration bill in a modest fashion and the highway bill is just a temporary fix.
ELVINGBut the big thing a lot of us were watching was the immigration issue raised by all these children who are at the border. They have been coming for many months. We're talking about tens of thousands. The number may be somewhere around 90,000. It could go considerably higher, although the flow has slowed down. And people in this country are very concerned about it on a humanitarian basis and also on a policy basis.
ELVINGHow in the world can this be sustained? What is the problem here? Why are these children coming? And it is highlighting, again, what is a dull ache in our society as a whole, which is the immigration question.
REHMSo exactly what happened, Sheryl, to stop this bill from going forward?
STOLBERGWell, so what happened was a conservative insurrection in the House. This, you know, as we know, immigration is an issue that has, you know, really split apart the -- not only the country, but the Republican Party and you have conservatives lead actually by Ted Cruz, as senator, a conservative Tea Party favorite, saying that this bill basically didn't do enough to tighten border security.
STOLBERGThey want to roll back certain provisions. The president has enacted something called DACA. That is the Deferred Action -- help me out here -- Child...
ELVINGFor Childhood Arrival.
STOLBERG...For Childhood Arrivals. It's, in essence, a program that he enacted to delay deportations for children who have come here -- been brought here illegally by their parents. They want that to be rolled back and they were not happy with an offer by John Boehner to take a separate standalone vote on that. So what you had was basically conservatives plotting to undo this bill.
STOLBERGAnd yesterday, on the House floor, the House Republican leadership tried to bring a bill forward and they were forced, at the last minute, to pull it. And it looked very chaotic and it, frankly, was not good news for Republicans at all. They, themselves, have said this is a humanitarian crisis. Democrats agree it's a humanitarian crisis. Now you have the nation's elected officials saying we have a humanitarian crisis on our hands and yet they are unable, because of party infighting, to do anything about it.
REHMSo what about the Congressional leaders staying here this morning trying to work something out?
ELVINGWell, just in the past hour, the House Republican conference, which is the meeting of all the House Republicans, has been trying to thrash out a new bill that could get the votes of 218 Republicans. It would have the basics of giving some money, but only a fraction, I think less than a fifth of what the president actually asked for, to the departments that are trying to deal with the children.
ELVINGAnd it would also not only roll back some of the things that Sheryl was talking about from the 2008 law, but it would also add some more importunements of the president and more restrictions and restraints on the president and essentially wave banners that could, you know, attract the attention of conservative radio talk show hosts and other people who are really driving this issue.
ELVINGThey truly are driving the issue around the country.
REHMBut what good would it do? The Senate's already gone home so even if these House Republicans so go ahead and pass something, what difference does it make?
LOWREYYou're right. The bill was never going to pass and become law one way or another. It is especially not going to pass and become law now in this current iteration, which is further away from what Democrats wanted. You know, I don't know that there was ever going to be a compromise here. And I think what's interesting is, you know, you hear it from Republican leadership that this is a humanitarian issue that urgently needs to be dealt with because these are children.
LOWREYYou hear it from Democrats, the same thing, but there is a real streak among conservatives of saying that this is also a border crisis issue, that this is demonstrating that our borders are porous and that there are people streaming in and I think that there's a real undercurrent of that framing that makes it really, really hard for the Republicans to even agree on anything.
REHMSo what happens to these thousands of kids who've already crossed the border, Sheryl?
STOLBERGWell, many of them are being housed in shelters, as we know. The administration has opened emergency shelters on military bases in three states, California, Oklahoma and Texas.
REHMTexas, apparently, said they're not going to open theirs now.
STOLBERGRight. And we're seeing debates at the very local level. So, for instance, in Maryland, the governor has said -- who has presidential ambitions, by the way. Martin O'Malley has said, oh, I think that, you know, we're a country that doesn't turn back children and this is not what we're about. We should take them in. But he doesn't want them housed in his own state.
REHMSo it's (word?) all over again.
STOLBERGAnd meanwhile, you have children who are in need of services, of healthcare and other services. And the administration, without this bill, this money, is deprived of the resources to care for them.
REHMI still want to know what's going to happen to these kids.
ELVINGThey're going to remain in legal limbo for the moment. And there are hearings going forward at many of these sites where they're being housed where the INS is trying -- or the ICE, which is the successor to the INS so this is part of the Department of Homeland Security, is conducting expedited hearings to determine their status. Do they have a right to be called refugees because they've come from violent situations in Central America?
ELVINGOr are they simply illegal immigrants? And if it's the later, they're gonna get sent home.
LOWREYYeah, and, you know, the issue is even as vulnerable as they are here, I think that the kind of pressing question that a lot of people are facing is that they would hypothetically be more vulnerable at home. So it's just a terrible situation one way or another whether they stay or they send them back.
REHMAnnie Lowrey of New York magazine. Ron Elving of NPR, Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times. Short break here. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back to the Domestic Hour of our Friday News Roundup. We're also doing live video streaming of today's show. You can watch by joining our Google Hangout which we just shared on our Facebook and Twitter pages. So Ron Elvin, this week we got a little closer to a lawsuit against the president. Would you explain what this is all about?
ELVINGSpeaker John Boehner was authorized this week by his House Majority Republicans, on a straight party line vote obviously, to initiate a lawsuit against President Obama because President Obama -- well, this is the part that's really hard to explain -- because he did something to actually ease the pain of Obamacare by deferring the employer mandate, making it easier on businesses to adapt to Obamacare. Which was something you would think that the Republicans would like, on behalf of small business in particular.
ELVINGBut they saw it as him using his executive authority rather than coming to them to change the law. And of course, if he had come to them to change the law, they would change much more than just that one provision. In fact, they voted 50 times to repeal the law or otherwise restrain it. So the president was not going to come to Congress and ask them to do this. He did it on what he considered to be his executive authority to ease the transition to the law, in the same way that departments in the federal government for a very long time have written regulations to institute laws that are passed by Congress.
ELVINGNow this is obviously something that is not going to change anyone's policies overnight. It will go into the court system. It will then make its way through the court system over a period of months, even perhaps years. It's conceivable it will not be resolved until President Obama has left office.
REHMIs there any precedence for this?
ELVINGYes. I mean, this is certainly the sort of back and forth we've had between Congresses and presidents before. And in this particular instance, it's really a ploy, if you will, it's a maneuver on the part of the speaker in order to forestall the talk and the push from some elements of the conservative base of the Republican Party for impeachment proceedings. Yes. He would just as soon not go down that road.
ELVINGHe was around in 1998 and he saw what happened with the Clinton impeachment proceedings and how that in the end actually hurt Republicans and helped President Clinton.
STOLBERGSo on the issue of precedent, lawmakers have sued the president in the past. Never before has the House collectively sued the president. And there will be a debate over whether or not they even have standing to do so. So that's the legal issue. But on the political side, this talk of impeachment is great news for Democrats. They're raising all kinds of money off of it, saying that...
REHMBut aren't Republicans raising money too on the idea of suing the president?
STOLBERGWell, the idea of suing the president. But the idea of impeachment makes Republicans a little bit nervous. Yet polls show that a majority of Republican voters actually favor impeachment. A Fox News poll this week found that 56 percent of Republicans favor impeaching the president as compared to only 36 percent of registered voters. So this is an idea that actually is gaining traction with Republican voters out there.
LOWREYSo I think it's worth noting that even if the House eventually in time voted to impeach and even if the Senate then followed up a Republican Senate presumably after this November's elections followed up...
REHMWe don't know that for sure.
LOWREYYeah, probably. We don't -- we certainly don't know that for sure. The likelihood that this would ever actually become anything other than symbolic is very, very slim. There would need to be a super majority in the Senate, which seems terribly unlikely. So it's this funny thing in which I do think that there's an upside for Democrats. They want Republicans to self emulate like this.
LOWREYRepublicans shut down the government and got blamed for it. They blew up a debt deal and they got blamed for it. Again and again they put these kind of structural impediments or seem to go down these other paths to show their displeasure with the president. And it usually kind of works out pretty poorly for them. You know, I think that if we actually got to the point of impeachment proceedings, if there were articles of an impeachment, I'm not sure that I think that the American public at large would think very highly of it.
REHMYou know, think about the time the money, the effort wasted on something like this when there's so much to be done.
STOLBERGYes. I think this is really not going over well with the public. You have so many crises in the world. We just spoke about a humanitarian crisis at our border with children coming in. We have international crises with Israel and Ukraine and all kinds of things, substantial things to take up the time of the Congress. And yet we have what some have said is the do nothing of all do nothing Congresses.
STOLBERGIn 1948 -- I was looking at these numbers. In 1948 Harry Truman declared the do nothing Congress. And that Congress, the 80th Congress passed 906 bills. Okay. This...
STOLBERGThis Congress, with five months left to go, has passed 142 bills.
STOLBERGAnd according to the Pew Center, roughly 108 of them are substantive and only 34 are ceremonial. And even the number of ceremonial bills, like the post office naming, are fewer than have been passed in recent decades. So, you know, you have a do nothing Congress that can't even do nothing and that is...
REHMWhere is this headed, Ron?
ELVINGI don't see it getting better in the short run. Much of this is being performed for a political audience. And it is not the general public. It is not for the people who pay attention to politics only casually and usually only in presidential years. It's for people who vote not just midterm years, such as this one, but in midterm year primary elections. That's who the audience is.
ELVINGThe Republican Party and to some degree the Democratic Party are now primarily concerned about challenges in their primary process leading up to the fall elections and not to winning in November. They're not worried about appealing to independence as often as they used to be. They're not worried about bringing people over from the other side of the aisle because that's so rare. They're interested in making sure they don't get a challenge from their left if they're Democrats or their right if they're Republicans.
LOWREYAnd I think what's really interesting is if we theorize that, you know, if the Senate does shift control, there's still going to be very little that's going to happen legislatively. It might be that Congress passes much more legislation and the choke point just moves. Because President Obama will, you know, get out his pen and veto a whole lot of bills I think.
LOWREYSo I think that the interesting thing for Republicans is they're seeing a future in which they're going to have to get Senate Republicans and Senate -- and House Republicans on the same page, which will be, I think, a harder task than it might look like at first blush. But then for Democrats they have to say, you know, well if there's going to be two years of nothing and we still control the White House, you know, is that really the worst outcome? It certainly seems like it's going to keep on being a log jam.
REHMOkay. Let’s move on to the CIA. Sheryl, you've got many senators outraged by a report that the CIA did in fact hack into computers used by the Senate Intelligence Committee. Explain what happened.
STOLBERGRight. So Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic leader, called this appalling. But here's what happened. This is an outgrowth of a Senate Intelligence Committee inquiry into detention and interrogation practices that the CIA was using under the Bush Administration. We all remember the debate of water boarding. The Senate Intelligence Committee is charged with overseeing the CIA. It was investigating these practices. And during the course of its investigation CIA staffers became concerned about the investigation and according to this report hacked into the computers of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
STOLBERGNow when this hacking became public in March, Senator Diane Feinstein, who's the Democratic chairwoman of the intelligence committee, was livid. And she took to the Senate floor and she said, this will be a defining moment in the history of this committee to see whether or not we can oversee the CIA. And at the time John Brennan the CIA director said, the people who think that this hacking occurred will be proved wrong.
STOLBERGWell, guess what? The people who thought that this hacking occurred have now just been proved right. And John Brennan has been forced to apologize. This is very difficult news for him. Senators of both parties are expressing a crisis in confidence in his leadership and in the CIA, and demanding action and accountability.
REHMOkay. So how does something like this happen, Ron? Is it that individual agents, hackers do this on their own or are there directions from the top?
ELVINGIt could be either. I think at this point we only know that it was done and so that the minimum, some individuals who were involved -- and you know there was a shared system here. There was a computer system that was set up to enable the investigators from the Senate Committee, Diane Feinstein's committee -- Saxby Chambliss is the Republican ranking member.
ELVINGAnd this bipartisan committee which, you know, historically has been one of the more bipartisan operating committees in the Senate, they went to investigate what was going on with the CIA records essentially of these procedures -- torture if you will, water boarding. And obviously there was some protectiveness on the part of the CIA protecting the history of what went on in that decade.
ELVINGAnd they set up a separate computer system so that they could share information without one side or the other getting too far into the other people's business, into their computers. And this apparently broke down. We heard John Brennan complaining back in January that the Senate staffers were getting too far into the CIA's business. And then when that one came blowing back on him, it blew up in his face. And he said nothing could be further from the truth.
ELVINGYou know, you have to watch that phrase. When you hear somebody say, nothing could be further from the truth.
LOWREYI think if we are -- you know, if we reconvened the four of us in two or three weeks or a month and he were still leading this agency, I would be shocked. I think there's no way that the Obama Administration isn't at this point forced to have him resign or fire him.
REHMHow many CIA directors have we had in the last ten years?
LOWREYThey're kind of the drummer from Spinal Tap.
LOWREYThere's been a lot of churn. I don't know how many but a lot. And it's just...
ELVINGMore than half a dozen.
LOWREY...it had -- you know, the Hill and the White House have not had a great relationship. They -- you know, just in general. And I think that this really is going to further erode the trust. And I guess that the risk for the agency is that the Congress can change its rules, right? Congress can, you know, perform more of an oversight role and so I think that can be...
REHMWell, they keep saying they're going to do that.
STOLBERGYes, but I just wanted to add an interesting tidbit about this report. So the CIA, when it hacked into the computers of the Senate Intelligence Committee, referred the case to the justice department saying that the Senate staffers had improperly gained access to CIA material. This report found that that was not true, that that complaint to the Justice Department was based on false information. So it also, you know, cleared that issue off the table. As for Brennan, the White House is so far standing by him so far. We'll see.
REHMDo you think?
ELVINGThe Brennan defense is essentially this -- and by the way, let's tip our hat to another office, inspector general, because these inspector generals, in various parts of the government, have really been embarrassing their -- this administration over the last several years in very critical places. This particular report does not specifically say that Brennan knew perfectly well in January and in March when he made these statements and did these things that he was just flat wrong. In other words, this report does not call him a liar.
ELVINGBut of course the members of the Senate who are most familiar with this whole controversy in both parties, several of them, not all of them, but some of them have begun to call for his resignation. It would certainly be, in many instances, you know, sort of the Roman-fall-on-your-sword moment for him to take responsibility for this.
ELVINGBut he has not been absolutely caught red-handed in this personally, and the White House is still standing by him.
REHMAnd -- but what you're saying is that somebody could have done this and never acknowledged it to him before he said what he said.
ELVINGCould have lied directly to...
REHMAbsolutely. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And let's move now to the Justice Department filing challenges to voting rights in two states, Wisconsin and Ohio. What's behind this, Sheryl?
STOLBERGRight. So what we're seeing here is a tussle over these states, like other states moving to restrict access to the polls. So in Wisconsin, the Justice Department filed a brief supporting a previous court ruling against a photo identification requirement that the state had enacted.
STOLBERGIn Ohio, they wanted to eliminate same-day voter registration. And the Justice Department is arguing that many African Americans and low-income people in Ohio are -- have been taking advantage of early voting, especially since the 2004 presidential race when we remember there were very, very long lines in Ohio. And that this, in essence, is a disenfranchisement.
STOLBERGAnd what this is, it's sort of an outgrowth of this broader debate that we're having in the country since the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act last year about access to the polls. And, you know, how broad and how loose should it be? Should people have to identify themselves? What kind of restrictions should be placed?
REHMBut, you know, you think of this as having begun in southern states.
REHMAnd now here you are moving to Wisconsin and Ohio.
ELVINGWhich become quite pandemic, the effort to make it a little bit more involved to identify yourself at the polls or to limit some of these early voting opportunities. I believe a majority of states have passed some kind of restrictions of these kinds. Last year the Justice Department sued North Carolina and Texas over their restrictions. And this year instead of going directly at these states they have joined lawsuits that had already been filed by other plaintiffs, including the NAACP and some black ministers' groups in Ohio and so on.
ELVINGIn Wisconsin, the voter ID law that they have on the books since 2011, Scott Walker signed it into law, that was also challenged at the state level. And just this week a Wisconsin State Supreme Court voted to uphold that voter ID law.
REHMSo what happens next?
ELVINGWell, the -- in the state that's the last word as far as the court system in the State of Wisconsin is. But the challengers still have a win on their side in the district level of the federal courts where a district court judge there in Wisconsin sided very much with them and said, look this is a solution in search of a problem. There is no evidence that there was extensive voter fraud or that there was systematic voter fraud.
ELVINGJust this week Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman who's from Wisconsin, used his home state as an example and says, well, of course, we all know there's a problem in Milwaukee. Well, that problem has often been alluded to by Republicans, but the evidence for any kind of widespread fraud, as Judge Engelmann (sp?) noted in his decision, is just simply lacking.
LOWREYYeah, I think that that's the crucial point to understanding this sort of -- the cynical politics that are happening in this issue in a lot of places. There's just -- you know, you see -- it's become an intensely polarized issue and you see a lot of Republicans saying, you know, we need to uphold the integrity of our elections. What could be more important? We need to make sure that there's no voter fraud. But there's really just no evidence that voter fraud has been anything other than accidental in a lot of cases or that it's been decisive in elections at all. It's just it seems that it just really doesn't happen.
LOWREYAnd so this is -- you know, this is seen on the Democratic side as being an enormously crass way of Republicans preventing Democrats from voting. And I think that it's just -- it's really ugly politics that's gotten caught up in this very kind of high-minded legal challenge. And it's happening, you know, as Ron mentioned, just in tons of jurisdictions. It's really spread out of the south.
REHMAnnie Lowrey of New York magazine. Short break here. We'll come back, take your calls. I look forward to speaking with you.
REHMAnd welcome back to the domestic hour of our Friday news roundup this week with Ron Elving of NPR, Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times, and Annie Lowry, she's staff writer for New York magazine. Let me remind you if you're just joining us, you can watch live video of our domestic news hour by joining our Google Hangout. We posted the link on Facebook and Twitter. Let's go first -- let's see if we can go to Tony in St. Petersburg, FL. Hi, you're on the air.
TONYThank you, Diane, for taking my call.
TONYCongratulations on your award...
REHMOh, thank you.
TONY...that you recently got. I think it's well deserved. I think you have a very good show that airs both sides very well. One of the things I want to mention about the discussion that you've been having on the domestic hour is, you know, the rating on the president. I think the president would be an A-plus if he had a Congress that worked with him. Obviously he doesn't have a Congress that works with him.
TONYAnd this particular Congress not only go down as the do-nothing Congress but also the fearless Congress in my mind because suing the president is really nothing more than a mockery because they're not going to go anywhere with it, it's just a political stunt. So, to me, I think the president on the domestic agenda would have done a whole lot better if he had a Congress that worked with him and they actually pass legislation that was important. I think they're wasting a lot of time on something that is really frivolous, just for political staging.
ELVINGThe president is highly successful if you just look at the people who approve of him and he has, if you will, been a successful president of half of America. And I'm borrowing the phrase there from Will Marshall who is the head of the Progressive Policy Institute. He says it may not be possible going forward to be president of more than half of America. George W. Bush may be slipped a little below that in his later years.
ELVINGAnd who knows what will happen in the last two years of Barack Obama. But we do seem to be in an era in which it is extremely difficult for someone to really unite the country on the White House.
STOLBERGYou know, I was thinking about this recently. The president, if you look at his domestic accomplishments early in his term, the passage of the health law, the Dodd-Frank Bill, rescuing the auto industry, you know, you could make a case that he really has accomplished a lot. But the one thing he hasn't accomplished is the one thing that he really promised and that people were so hopeful about.
STOLBERGAnd that is that he would change the tone of the country and bring the country together. And I agree with Ron, I think it may not be possible for any leader to do that. If you just look at the course of the last two presidencies -- Bush and Obama -- and how the country has been polarized and so split apart, you know, I don't know who in our country can do that at this point.
REHMIndeed. Let's go to Barbara in Hyattsville, MD. You're on the air.
BARBARAI'd like to follow-up on the comment about Governor O'Malley and the not in my backyard issue and inquire as to whether anyone research that past the soundbite. And the reason I'm asking is because I did read a very detailed Washington Post article that gave the impression that Governor O'Malley had talked a number of times with an undersecretary about where the children could be housed.
BARBARAAnd that this soundbite was the only thing that had been leaked and that his opposition was in direct response to where it was that they were intending to place the children in one of the most conservative counties in Maryland where they had already spray-painted the walls with "no ill-eagles." And so, I'm just wondering if anybody went past the soundbite and uncovered information that I have not yet heard about.
STOLBERGThe caller may know more than I know. It was my understanding that the governor had spoken with White House officials and asked that the administration reconsider its assessment of whether or not to place the children in a former Army Reserve center in Carroll County. I don't know what conversations may have happened beyond that, but it was my understanding that the governor was concerned about that and was trying to forestall that development.
REHMAll right. To Greg in Greenville, MI. You're on the air.
GREGThank you for taking my call.
GREGI am baffled by what appears to be intelligent folks on your end endorsing no card check of any sort in voters booths. There was so much widespread fraud, especially one that I can point out is Baltimore in Ohio, where there was statistically more voters than there were people in the precinct. What's wrong with using your license or your ID to say, hey, this is who I am, this is where I live and I want to vote?
ELVINGI don't know of the particular precinct that the caller is referring to, but the investigations into this have been conducted over a number of years. For example, during the Bush administration, a large initiative was made to root out voter fraud and prosecute it. In fact, those U.S. attorneys who weren't finding it were, in some cases, relieved of their duties. And this was a big emphasis for the administration, the Department of Justice in the president's second term.
ELVINGAnd they were not able to find very many cases, including in Wisconsin where they did try to prosecute a couple, there were just a tiny handful, fewer than five. And this after every effort could be made to root out these cases. Nonetheless, I do understand the caller's frustration because many people believe and have been told throughout their lives that there is widespread, totally fraudulent voting that goes on, particularly in Democratic precincts.
ELVINGAlthough there have been allegations in the other direction at times and that these oftentimes involve people of color and in these communities, in the inner cities, and that this has been done routinely to inflate Democratic voting numbers. But let me just say, among the people I know who do not have an acceptable ID to go and vote is my father. He's 99 this fall and he does not get out too much, but he can get out to vote.
ELVINGHe's not going to go make a trip to the DMV to get a driver's license, he's not going to make a special trip to do something like that. He's probably going to use -- he lives in the state of Washington -- where you can have different ways that you can vote rather than going and standing in a long line and he's going to use those kind of opportunities. There are many people in this country who, for a variety of reasons, are less likely to vote if you tell them they have to show up with a picture ID. It's just that simple.
REHMAll right. And, Sheryl, let's talk about the federal judge overturning Washington, D.C.'s ban on carrying handguns in public. On what grounds?
STOLBERGRight. So, well, this was actually the last ban -- the last such ban standing and the federal judge ruled that given previous court decisions about the right to possess a weapon that this kind of outright ban, a flat ban on carrying a handgun outside the home could not pass constitutional muster. Now, that does not mean that people can just willy-nilly carry handguns anywhere they want. Other jurisdictions, states all across the country have passed varying laws restricting or allowing handguns to be carried.
STOLBERGSo the city of Washington is now going to have to figure out what, you know, what it should do. There are kind of three types of laws. There's what -- states that have what it would call a constitutional carry law, which is very lose, meaning you can pretty much, if you have a gun, carry it anywhere.
REHMWhatever kind of gun?
STOLBERGI think so, I'm not certain.
STOLBERGI think we're talking mostly about handguns.
STOLBERGBut then the second is the law enforcement authorities can issue what they call a shall carry permit. So, so and so, you know, shall be able to carry. That's a kind of a lose -- also lose rule. Then there is the may carry. Law enforcement officials can issue a permit saying so and so may carry. And that gives law enforcement a lot of authority to impose restrictions on who can carry a gun and where they can carry it.
REHMI wonder how D.C. Police are going to feel about this.
STOLBERGWell, they're not very happy about it.
STOLBERGAnd there's been a lot of confusion about it. So, D.C. immediately filed a request asking for a stay. The judge granted a 90-day stay so that they could -- the city could now come up with some kind of law that meets the requirements that the judge set out while, at the same time, considering whether to appeal. The judge noted in his ruling that there are sensitive areas that handguns can be prohibited in sensitive areas.
STOLBERGCertainly there are a lot of sensitive areas in D.C. -- the Capitol, the White House, you know, all kinds of federal office buildings. So I don't think we're going to be seeing citizens packing heat all around Washington just yet.
REHMWhat if somebody were to walk into WAMU or NPR with a handgun? Is the police officer stationed at the door legally allowed to say, you may not enter?
ELVINGWell, the supposition here has been that people could use these guns for self-defense at home. And this, by extension -- and this is not just, you know, this is not just D.C., this is kind of coming home to roots here in D.C. where we've had some fairly strict gun laws. This judge says you can't, by a strict reading of the Second Amendment, prohibit people from carrying their gun around. But he did not necessarily say that there were no restrictions at all as to where they might carry it.
ELVINGObviously, you're not going to be allowed to carry a gun into the White House or be able to carry a gun into a school. And these are going to have to be spelled out. And it's a very difficult position for the police to be put in.
REHMVery difficult position for everybody who doesn't carry a gun to be put into.
ELVINGYou know, a lot of people in Washington are wondering who this judge was because it's not a name that we're familiar with, not a local judge. It's a judge by the name of Frederick Scullin who is normally a senior judge on senior status in Syracuse, NY. He was appointed to handle this case by Chief Justice John Roberts of the U.S. Supreme Court.
STOLBERGBecause there was a backlog in the -- he was appointed to handle the case because there was a backlog in the D.C. District. And Justice Roberts intervened and moved a batch of cases, including this one to the this judge who is in Syracuse. But the fact that an outside judge handled this created a lot of consternation here in Washington.
REHMDo you see this case as part of a strategy on the part of the NRA to stretch the boundaries?
STOLBERGWell, it's absolutely a strategy and it's a strategy not only on the part of the NRA but on the part of this very small nonprofit group out in Washington state called the Second Amendment Foundation, which is behind this case and was also behind the 2008 case, Heller versus District of Columbia that went all the way up to the Supreme Court and that struck down the D.C. ban on handgun ownership.
STOLBERGAnd that was a landmark Supreme Court case that basically led the way for similar handgun bans all across the country to fall. It extended the rights of the -- the Second Amendment right to individuals. And that just happened in 2008. This group, the Second Amendment Foundation, has had a legal strategy to build on that case and especially to come after D.C., which has had some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation.
LOWREYAnd it's happening at a kind of fascinating moment because I think that you're seeing increasing political potency and certainly more organized efforts to provide a counterbalance to these groups, and most notably through Mayor Bloomberg's group, Everytown for Gun Safety, which has kind of looked at the playbook, the NRA and the Second Amendment group's playbook very closely and said can we harness some public opinion, which is generally in support of some stricter gun law, though also generally in support of allowing individuals to own guns.
REHMAll right, let's go to Harrisburg, PA. Hi there, Tom , you're on the air.
TOMHey, Diane, thank you. Real quick, I just want to say I do a lot of work where I'm in the houses of elderly and shut-ins and the companionship, you know, actual companionship you and your the staff (word?) provide for people throughout this country is truly a blessing.
TOMI just want to say, if you take our president, okay, and take a mutual person who doesn't know him, just say, follow the worst world financial crisis in our world, followed a war that destroyed our economy for a generation and decimated our military, we now have unemployment below 6 percent or close to it, the Dow over 17,000, continuing to go up, Obamacare, I'd be proud to call Obamacare, 20 million uninsured, no insured and going up and all HMOs are participating now.
TOMAnd the negative naysayers about reduction of full-time hours not occurring. In fact, part-time hours getting cut down, all of this with a Congress that said on day one we will not work with this gentleman.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." A lot of people out there agree with what this president has done and see the Congress as the deterring force.
ELVINGThat's true. The question, of course, becomes how many...
ELVING...of them will be voting...
ELVING...in the right places in November...
ELVING...to help the president in the future because if they don't live in a district where they would have a chance to remove a Republican member of the House, their feelings will go unheard. If they don't live in a state that's having a Senate election or a competitive one in November, odds are they don't -- their voices will also be unheard.
REHMLet's talk about this transportation bill that was one piece of legislation passed. Unfortunately, it's a short-term fix rather than the long-term fix the president wanted. Annie?
LOWREYYeah, I think if you look at this -- the broader politics of this -- this is a really great example of how impossible it has gotten to do the day to day work of legislating. So leave aside new controversial legislative initiatives. So on the border, on immigration, on energy, cap and trade, it's gotten really hard to just do the basic work in Congress, too.
LOWREYThis is just a Band-Aid. You know, this issue is going to come up again. There's hypothetically the chance that we could have another government shutdown in September. It's just gotten really, really hard to get these kind of simple, straightforward things done.
STOLBERGCan I just say, this is another example of why Congress is like your teenager, because they always leave everything until the absolute last minute. I think a lot of Americans are scratching their heads over this one. This bill passed hours before the federal government was set to cut off funding to the states for highway infrastructure, literally like the most basic function that Congress has to do.
REHMSo how much can be accomplished with the bill they passed?
ELVINGWell, what it essentially does is it keeps the Department of Transportation from issuing stop orders to all the people who are already busy rebuilding highways and bridges. They would have had to have stopped because the money would no longer be available and it would not be in the offing any longer. So people would just simply have to leave those construction sites as they are, open and bleeding, as it were and walk off.
REHMSo, how many...
ELVINGThat would have happened this August.
REHMHow many of our construction sites are going to be able to continue to some reasonable conclusion?
ELVINGIf they're in the ground, if they're working, if they're in the process of replacing lanes or replacing bridges, whatever they're doing, they can continue under the promise of funds through the stopgap funding measures. But this doesn't really address the problem, which is that the highway trust fund relies on the gasoline tax, and the gasoline tax is no longer sufficient.
REHMYeah, very briefly.
STOLBERGAnd I think we should also talk about this pension smoothing provision that is in this bill that made it so contentious. So this bill relies on a maneuvering known as pension smoothing, which basically allows corporations to kind of shave off money, set aside less money for pensions, which presumably will them boost their profits and boost tax receipts, thus avoiding raising the gasoline tax.
REHMNot a happy week, you guys, really. Thanks for being here to talk about it. Sheryl, Ron and Annie, have a great weekend.
STOLBERGThank you, Diane.
ELVINGYou too, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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