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.
When the new Congress takes power in January, Republicans will be in charge of both chambers for the first time in eight years. Presumptive Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Barack Obama say they want to find common ground on issues like taxes and trade. But the president says he’s done waiting for Congress to pass immigration reform and vows to act alone if necessary. And some conservatives argue big GOP gains mean the party should be less willing to compromise. Their first order of business: chip away at the Affordable Care Act. Diane and her guests talk about what President Obama and a Republican Congress can hope to accomplish before 2016.
- E.J. Dionne Jr. Senior fellow, Brookings Institution; columnist for The Washington Post; and author of "Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent."
- Susan Davis Congressional correspondent, USA Today.
- David Winston Republican strategist, president of the Winston Group and CBS News consultant. He has served as an adviser to the House and Senate Republican leadership for more than a decade.
MS. DIANE REHMThank for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. President Obama said yesterday he's eager to work with the new Republican Congress to make his last two years in office as productive as possible, but there are questions about how well GOP senators will work with each other. Joining me in the studio to talk about what the president and a Republican Congress can accomplish before 2016, E.J. Dionne of The Brookings Institution and The Washington Post, Susan Davis of USA Today and Republican strategist, David Winston.
MS. DIANE REHMYou are always a guest on this program so I hope you'll join in. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. E.J., Susan, David, thanks for being here.
MR. E.J. DIONNE JR.Good morning, Diane, a delight to be here.
MS. SUSAN DAVISHi, Diane.
REHMGood to see you. Susan Davis, what did you take away from the president's statement yesterday and that of assumed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
DAVISI thought it was interesting 'cause for the first time, we hear a lot coming from McConnell and Obama in which they're on the same page in that they both extended in their own unique ways somewhat of an olive branch on a number of issues. Both of them said, hey, maybe we can work together on the tax code. Maybe we can work together on trade bills. But I also think that we started to see the contours of where the confrontation is going to come, right?
DAVISI think President Obama saying that he intends to move forward with an executive order on immigration is the first sort of sign that we could be facing another major confrontation and I also think they're gonna -- Republicans are gonna be under a lot of pressure on healthcare. I think that while McConnell has acknowledged they don't have the votes to repeal Obamacare, he has said that they're gonna try and attack pieces of it, the medical device tax, which is part of it, that we hear referenced a lot.
DAVISAnd the president said yesterday, you know, the individual mandate is a line I will not cross and I would be surprised if Republicans don't at least try and force some votes on these issues. So I think healthcare and immigration are going to be issues of confrontation. I think taxes and trade could be issues of compromise. But I talked to a lot of Republicans yesterday that said if he comes out with this executive order that goes very far on immigration, if it essentially addresses the 11 million undocumented in the country on his own terms, it could really set the stage for two years of gridlock.
REHME.J., to what extent do you see the two sides ready to work together?
DIONNE JR.Fundamentally, I don't. I don't think this is going to be an easy time. I mean, Mitch McConnell is a very interesting man and I didn't know this until I read Alex MacGillis' new book and it's called "The Cynic," but McConnell's background was originally with Senator John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky who was a very progressive Republican, one of the most progressive people in the Republican party.
DIONNE JR.And I still think there is a little piece of Mitch McConnell that still has that in him, but that piece, I think, has gotten smaller and smaller over the years. He got to where he is right now by consistent, persistent, unwavering obstruction of virtually everything President Obama wanted to do. And you wonder, can those habits suddenly change. And I was also struck that when the Republican National Committee had a victory news conference -- which they were entitled to do, this was a huge victory, Democrats should not deceive themselves. They got plastered in these elections.
DIONNE JR.But when they had their victory news conference, the sign on the video, behind it, was still a stop Obama, fire Reid. They couldn't even, on the day after they won this election, have some nice anodyne message, like a new day for America or something. So I still think deep in the DNA of the Republican Party is a view that stopping Obama is still their priority so I'm not optimistic.
REHMDavid Winston, how optimistic are you that the two sides can come together, perhaps on a few, if not all the major issues?
MR. DAVID WINSTONWell, I'm a little bit more optimistic than E.J. for obvious reasons, but also you had Speaker Boehner, now going to majority leader, McConnell do this piece in The Wall Street Journal where they were trying to lay out very clearly their intent in terms of trying to govern, move things forward. And I think, to E.J.'s point, I think part of the challenge to the Republican Party at this point is, is this about President Obama for the next two years or is this about where the country goes?
MR. DAVID WINSTONAnd quite frankly, what does the country look like in a post-Obama era? And that's the critical decision and the process that we're gonna sort of see work out. Sorry.
REHMAnd in fact, with the GOP itself somewhat divided, how do you see it coming together, just within its own party?
WINSTONAnd let me sort of broaden that problem out. I mean, that's the problem when you have a majority coalition. You have components that got you to the leadership role that is your base and then, you've got the components that allowed you to become a majority, which is you majority coalition. And so how do you put those two groups into a room and sort of create a governing dynamic? Very difficult and it's why majority coalitions, by the way, fall apart.
WINSTONBut, I think, in this particular situation, particularly given the nature and scope of this victory, the sort of ball's in the Republican court in terms of how do we make this work.
DIONNE JR.There was a very revealing finding in the exit poll that I think describes the problem Republicans have and it was about immigration. And if you gave Americans a choice for basically legalizing the situation, the undocumented versus deporting them legal, and you could argue about the nature of the choice, but you've got three to two, almost 60 percent in favor of a path to citizenship. But if you looked at how people voted, the people who favored a path to citizenship voted about two to one Democrat, there was still about a third of Republicans, a third of those people voted Republican.
DIONNE JR.But the people who wanted deportation voted overwhelmingly Republican. I think it was three to one. So the base of the party, the energy of the party, is with people deeply opposed to immigration reform, which is why John Boehner, Speaker Boehner has said to Obama, yes, we'll deal with this, yes, we'll deal with this and never dealt with it. And I think those pressures continue to exist inside the Republican party.
REHMAnd one wonders about the whole question of the Affordable Care Act because Mitch McConnell, a couple of weeks ago, had said, we're not gonna fool with that again. It's over and done with. And then, had to backtrack, Susan.
DAVISHe did and he had to -- he discussed this yesterday in his press conference where he said, I'd like to repeal it, but I don't think that's possible, but we're gonna keep shooting arrows at it. And I think that's a recognition of that. I think that you cannot underestimate how unpopular the healthcare law is not only among the conservative base, but still very much within Republicans in Congress.
DAVISAnd I think part of McConnell's recognition was also on the House side, where that is something that John Boehner is absolutely gonna have to confront and they'll have to confront it together where I think many of their members -- and I think it's also important to remember about Congress at this point in time, it's a remarkable chamber of very junior lawmakers. With the turnover that we've had since '08 in these wave elections, many Senate Republicans and many House Republicans have never actually had to govern.
DAVISThey've never had to write legislation. They're fairly young and I think that they have to go through this process. And I think now that they're in control, they have to -- they think that they should be able to vote on these things 'cause they've now taken this control. And part of the challenge I think Boehner and McConnell are gonna have is teaching these more junior lawmakers what it's going to take, how to run committees, how to move bills.
DAVISAnd that is -- it sounds small, but it's a huge challenge for leadership.
REHMAnd think about how impulsive young people...
DAVISYes, impulsive is a good word for it.
DIONNE JR.But it's also -- I think that's a really important point and it's not just a lack of experience, it's that these younger members grew up in this hyper-partisan environment where there was very little friendly conversation, even when people disagreed, people could talk to each other. And there's less of that now. So these new members tend to be -- not all of them, but the new members tend to be very averse to any kind of compromise 'cause they see it as unprincipled.
WINSTONAnd so Susan's point, this is going to be a different dynamic because what -- the difference is McConnell can decide what comes to the floor, which means the actions the House take now can have a venue potentially in terms of, okay, there's going to be a real vote, real dynamic. Part of the challenge here, and I think you see in The Wall Street Journal piece this morning, is the focus there that both McConnell and Boehner are clearly honed in on and that is this is still about the economy and jobs.
WINSTONThe number one issue was still economy, jobs. Immigration, interesting issue, healthcare certainly important, these are all important issues. But the reason the country flipped in terms of this particular election and I -- for obvious reasons, I agree with E.J. that this was pretty huge result, but the reason it flipped was 'cause I think they were -- the country just ran out of patients with the current administration and said, we're gonna give it to the other side because we're just -- in terms of the economy, it's not working well for my family.
WINSTONI'm gonna give these guys a try. Having said that, this is the opportunity to govern. I wouldn't define that as a mandate.
REHMDavid Winston, how much of a fight or a battle do you see for Mitch McConnell to obtain the position of majority leader considering the fact that Ted Cruz, yesterday, would not acknowledge that he would vote for him?
WINSTONThere's no question in my mind that he'll be majority leader. McConnell.
REHMWill there be a fight?
WINSTONThere might be, but it won't be anything that will not cause McConnell not to be leader. I mean, there might be a person who decides to step forward or maybe they get a couple of votes at best, but I see no person who's going to be leader other than McConnell.
DIONNE JR.Yeah, I agree with that. I think a lot of these new members, as well as the old ones, think that he had something to do with creating the circumstances that he would get there. I think that one of the most interesting things, at least to me, is that each party needs to listen to the other party's talking points on the meaning of this election if they're going to get the message they need to get.
DIONNE JR.Democrats would like to say, well, these were in inhospitable states, which is broadly true, that the midterm turnout is not like a general election turnout. A lot of Democrats don't vote in those kinds of elections. That's also true. But Democrats shouldn't use that as an alibi. The fact is, they've got to figure out why they're lack of a clear robust message in this election did not give their people a reason to vote. That's a problem they got to solve.
DIONNE JR.Republicans have to listen exactly to that talking point. This was not a general election electorate. This coalition can't win them a presidential election.
REHME.J. Dionne, senior fellow at The Brookings Institution, columnist for The Washington Post and author of "Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle For The America Idea In An Age of Discontent."
REHMAnd welcome back. Here in the studio with me, Susan Davis of USA Today, E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and Republican consultant David Winston. As we look at what the Senate is going to be doing, what is President Obama going to be doing, E.J.
DIONNE JR.Well, there are three interesting lines he drew at that press conference yesterday. The first was on immigration where it's pretty clear he's going to say, I've waited for two years. You guys haven't done anything. I'd still rather have a bill but I'm not going to sit here and do nothing. And so I think he is going to go ahead with these executive orders. I think there may be a slight halfway house for him where he can say this all won't become effective for three months. Let's try to pass a bill. But if we don't pass a bill, I'm going to do this. That's going to set off a fight.
DIONNE JR.The other two things he said is he wants a war resolution in the war against ISIS or ISIL, as he prefers to call it, which I was very happy to hear. I think congress should debate this. And, you know, Republicans made a big deal about ISIS and Ebola in this campaign. It was -- you know, I've thought about the Republican campaign as don't be happy, just worry, but -- and it worked. And so he said, all right. Let's debate ISIS. What should our policy be? Let's pass the funding we need to deal with Ebola. So that was very, very clear.
DIONNE JR.The one issue where he could really divide his own party, and I think he's going to have to deal with very carefully, is trade where you have many more Republicans who want to pass various free-trade measures than Democrats do. And it's going to be very interesting to see how the president deals with that because I think he's hearing from a lot of Democrats, in the Senate in particular, who say, look, we want to take this body over the next time. And this is not going to help us to have this debate.
REHMSo how far will he go on immigration, Susan?
DAVISWell, if you take him at his word yesterday, he's going to move forward with the executive order that it sounded like he didn't get into policy specifics but that what we were talking about earlier in the summer, which was an executive order that would essentially affect the 11 million undocumented. It would do what the Senate bill that passed last year was supposed to do, but he's going to do it on his own.
DAVISI -- and talking to Democrats yesterday who don't know because they haven't outlined it, they also think it'll be a little bit broader, that it will probably try and involve some engagement from the business community on education visas, different things like that to try and build support for it. I think that it would be a hugely confrontational move for the president to do that in the wake of this election.
DAVISAnd that is overwhelmingly the sentiment I get from Republicans is that he -- the president did not take the lesson that they believe the electorate was sending. And that it's a pretty aggressive move on a very controversial issue when you're at 42 percent approval and your party was just delivered, I think, a resounding defeat in an election year.
DIONNE JR.Could I just say real quick?
DIONNE JR.It depends on what that message is...
DIONNE JR....what you take that message to be. The Republicans want the message to be Obama should abandon virtually everything he stands for. Obama wants to take the message, and I think it's a plausible message, people are just sick and tired of Washington doing nothing. I'm going to act. You guys said I didn't have a strategy on this, I didn't have a strategy on that. I'm just going to act. And if you guys want to respond, go ahead. Now it's risky but I personally think it's worth taking the risk.
WINSTONDifferent -- I agree with Susan here that the Republican reaction, if he moves forward on immigration, it'll just poison our license-ship in the beginning. And I think just watch two years it will be just unpleasant as a result of that. Given what just occurred in terms of the election, what I would say the electorate is saying, it's time for a reset. So you need -- everybody needs to take a step back and think about how we move things forward.
WINSTONAnd I would suggest the thing that was -- that he did not do yesterday, the president, was he didn't take a step back. He said, this is where I've been going, this is where I intend to go. And I think that's not a good starting point given what just occurred. And I think that if he does do the immigration step, I think that just poisons things.
REHMWhat about ISIL and Ebola?
WINSTONI don't think there's any -- I think they'll be able to work that out very clearly. I think the congress would like to do that -- not would like to do that but is willing to do that. I think it's important that there's a consensus developed around those two items to move forward and I think everybody agrees on that. And I think that's the problem with immigration as you put it in the context of health care. It was done as a solitary action, right, in terms of just one side. Three was not a consensus.
WINSTONIf he does the same thing with immigration -- yet again, we've had another key issue without consensus around it. And I think the problem we've had with health care and the problem we could then have with immigration is that we're a split country. And that's -- from the Republican point of view -- from the Republican leadership point of view, that's not a healthy step.
DIONNE JR.If you go with that view, we are a split country on almost everything and you never accomplish anything. And the president spent months and months on health care -- and we could argue this all show, which I won't do -- but, you know, he spent months and months trying to get Republicans on that bill. He hurt himself. He hurt the Democrats by waiting all through that summer trying to get Chuck Grassley and some others to agree. And they just weren't going to be there. And it's very clear when you look back. The leadership of the Republican Party decided, we're going to let him do this. Even if he puts out ideas that we supported once upon a time, we're going to block it.
DIONNE JR.So I think -- again, this is part of why we have a partisan split in the country, but I think the way he looks at it and a lot of Democrats look at it is, we're sick of waiting for obstructionist Republicans to come along with things we think are important. Let's have an argument about it.
DAVISBut the reason why...
WINSTONBut E.J. -- sorry, but if I may, but this election just showed where the American people sort of came down in terms of how issues should get resolved. And I would suggest that what they were saying here is the way the process has worked has not -- and by the way, I'm not saying that we're not complicit in some of that but the way the process has worked at this point, it has not been to the American public's benefit.
DIONNE JR.I agree with that and the Democrats big -- one of their big problems in this election is they never tried in a serious way to hold Republicans accountable for this mess. And the Republicans did an absolutely brilliant job of blaming it all on Obama. And it was very effective and it worked.
DAVISBut I would say when you talk about the president moving forward on immigration, let's talk about also Democrats' political motives in doing that. I think...
DIONNE JR.Oh, I agree. There's no question.
DAVISAnd when you talk about this confrontation, I think -- when I talked to Democrats yesterday and I said, you know, explain to me why this is smart. What's the good idea behind the president doing this? And what I heard from Democrats is that this will just inflame the Republican base and it will highlight the ugly parts of the party that they're trying to move beyond.
DAVISAnd so there is certainly a confrontational aspect to Democrats that say, we just lost this election. Let's do something that's going to fire up the parts of the party that we think are going to isolate Republicans and help us win it back. I mean, the political motives of this cannot be stated as well. This is not just like a good policy decision that Democrats are pushing forward.
DIONNE JR.Well, see, I think there's another political motive, which is the Latino community was very angry that this didn't pass under the president. They didn't vote Republican although the Democratic vote was not quite what it usually was, but the turnout was down. I'm waiting to see what the analysis is out of Colorado to see what happens in the Latino vote and whether they're sort of being turned off and not voting helped defeat Mark Udall out there.
DIONNE JR.So the Democrats feel they owe a debt and Obama believes he owes a debt to the Latino community that he promised -- you know, he believes it's a good policy -- he promised to do it and he's going to do it one way or the other.
REHMAll right. Here's an email from Marilyn. She says, "2014 voter turnout, the lowest in modern history, about 33 percent. Republicans took over with about 17 percent of the electorate. This is what happens when Democratic candidates decide not to sell the Democratic agenda. If they do this again in 2016, the turnout will be even lower. So what are the lessons learned," Susan?
DAVISThat's a great question. I would say a couple of things. One, I think -- well, one thing that affected turnout is the increasingly unstoppingly negative tone of political campaigns. I think part of it has to do with the outside spending that goes into these races where people are just absolutely inundated with negativity. And I think it's hard -- that it's hard to inspire turnout. People usually, I think, show up to vote for something more often than they do against. We can debate that but I think that that is a driving motivation.
DAVISI also think that Democrats were on -- I've talked to Democrats who think that they should've run more Democratic, big D, campaigns. I think that's a debatable point. I'm not sure if Mark Pryor in Arkansas would've run more to the left it would've made his race any easier there. And I also think that Democrat -- E.J. was just talking about the Latino vote -- a lot of the core coalition the Democrats needed to show up, they didn't really have much to show up for. I think the Latinos' vote is depressed because of the lack of movement on immigration.
DAVISI think that the tone of the negative campaign turns off young female voters who they were trying to inspire through a lot of politics of fear. And so there wasn't -- it was just -- overall I'd say the hyper negativity really depresses people's interest in thinking that their vote will matter.
REHMAnd over all, didn't more white men and older white women show up at the polls?
DAVISYes. But that sort of -- that's consistent. I think one thing we know about midterms is older whiter voters almost always more consistently vote. Younger, more diverse voters tend to stay home, but they do show up in national elections. And I don't subscribe to the idea that people aren't going to show up in 2016. I think 2016 is going to be a hugely motivated election.
REHMOkay. Ralph in Kalamazoo says, "If less than 40 percent of the population voted, then is that really a mandate for the GOP," David Winston?
WINSTONI don't -- well, I'm going to go to -- given the discourse, what I see happening was that basically the American public's patients ran out with the Democratic Party. Republicans were saying, we potentially may have -- here are the different directions we're talking about. But was there a consensus around a particular policy direction? No. Was there a consensus that Republicans should be given the opportunity to govern given the Democratic performance? Yes.
WINSTONAnd that's why you see that editorial today from Boehner and McConnell defining what that governing process would look like. And it's an opportunity to show why we should govern. But it's not, here are the 18 things that you should do tomorrow.
DAVISAnd they have not claimed a mandate. And to Boehner and McConnell's credit, they have said that they don't subscribe to the idea that they have a mandate.
DIONNE JR.Just if I can get in on this, there -- the key thing for Republicans to remember is just what that emailer said, that this is not the broader American electorate. This is a midterm electorate. We've not seen twice that the midterm electorate is different from the general election electorate. A lot of people stay home and more of them are Democrats.
DIONNE JR.But when Susan referred to the party moving left, I don't think it's left so much as populace. And if you look at what people are unhappy about, a lot of people both in the Democratic base and white working class, men and women who attended to move Republican, they're worried about stagnating incomes. They're worried that even though we have economic growth now, it's not lifting up wages.
DIONNE JR.And I think Democrats needed to be far more aggressive first about what government did to end the recession in the first place, for which Obama does deserve credit -- some credit, and secondly, what they're going to do for these folks. And I think this is a problem for Senator-led parties all over the world because there are big forces in the world that are making life very difficult for working class people. And as the party of the center left, the Democrats have an obligation to answer the call for policy on that.
WINSTONAnd to sort of support what E.J. just said in terms of who the key voters were, in 2012 about half the electorate said that they thought the economy was not so good. Okay. Democrats actually won that group 55-42, a 13 point margin given the fact that, you know, they were in control and they won by that -- that was an interesting outcome. In 2014, that same group which is also about half the electorate, Republicans won them by 17. And so to E.J.'s point there is a discontent in terms of the economic direction at this point.
REHMDavid Winston. He's a Republican strategist and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." People have wondered out loud whether this election is going to signal a turnover in White House staff. Susan, what are you hearing?
DAVISThat's a good question. It does not -- there's been a lot of speculation to that effect but we haven't seen any notice given. I do think it goes to the -- one of the underlying problems that the administration has is that they have poor relationships with Capitol Hill.
DAVISAnd I think that that spans not only Republicans, but Democrats as well. And one of the things -- and E.J. afflicted this and I think it's an important sort of context or a remember in the next two years -- is what do Democrats do? What do Senate Democrats do? I don't think that -- they are too also looking beyond the Obama presidency.
DAVISAnd I know on issues where Obama may be trying to deal on a tax bill, on an Asian trade bill, I think it will be very interesting to watch the more progressive Democrats in that caucus and if we will start to see some sort of triangulation. Do they start to go against the president in ways they haven't before? I think that's going to be a really interesting dynamic going in. But he does not have a reservoir of good will or chits to cash on capitol hill within his own party.
REHMNow is that his own fault or is that the fault of his staff or a combination, E.J.?
DIONNE JR.You know, President Obama does not seem to like hanging around with the guys and women on Capitol Hill. And I think that's unfortunate for him. I don't think Mitch McConnell or John Boehner would've done anything differently if he had schmoozed them to death and had filled McConnell with Kentucky bourbon, that wouldn't have made any difference -- much material difference. But it could've made some difference at the edges and he could have better relations with his own party than he does.
DIONNE JR.Having said that, on your original question, there is going to be some White House shakeup if only because a lot of people are tired and they're also looking for work to do after the Obama Administration is over. And you tend to get better jobs if you leave now than if you leave at the end of the term, and we should be realistic about that.
DIONNE JR.Now, that gives President Obama a real opportunity, which is there will be some natural attrition, if you will. And the question is, what does he do with that? What does he decide he needs for this last period in office? So I think there will be a shakeup. And the question is -- of some sort and the question is whether it's substantial and suggests he's retooling. The thing he needs most is energy.
DIONNE JR.I felt at that news conference yesterday, as I've said, I agree with what he said about immigration and ISIS and Ebola. And I think that was a positive step. But he needs to sort of -- I think he needs a little time off to re-energize and say, how am I going to use these two years? As one Democrat told me, 25 percent of his administration is still left to him. And he's got to figure out what he can do with that.
REHMOkay. And before we take a short break, are there any silver linings here for Democrats, David?
WINSTONWell, I mean, the thing about this election -- and actually E.J. sort of had it in his piece this morning, is that it was so decisive that it's going to force a rethink. And I think for political parties when they are forced to do a rethink, it tends to sort of clean out some older doctrine that perhaps doesn't work anymore. And it allows fresh thought to come into the process, if they are willing to do it. And so if there's a silver lining, it's that people with new ideas potentially would have a chance to emerge.
DIONNE JR.And then the other silver lining is, how do the Republicans handle this power? What do they look like? Are there fights between the House and the Senate? How is the relationship between the presidential wing of the Republican Party that's posturing for primaries versus the guys like Boehner and McConnell who have to run the place? And I think that Democrats see some real opportunity here if the Republicans behave like -- as Republicans have behaved in the recent past.
REHMWhat about Hillary Clinton, in five seconds?
DAVISWhen she gets in will hugely determine what the next congress is able to do with President Obama.
REHMAll right. Short break here. When we come back, it's time to open the phones, your questions, comments for Susan Davis of USA Today, E.J. Dionne at the Washington Post and Brookings, David Winston, Republican strategist. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. Here's our first email from Marsha, in Indianapolis, who says in all caps, "$4 billion of special interest money determined this election. Why is the panel refusing to admit this?" Well, I guess it's because I haven't asked.
WINSTONNo. The big money -- there's a very good story by Nick Confessore on this in the New York Times today. It is a very big deal. Now, one of the reasons people haven't focused on enough is Democrats spent a lot of money, too, in many of these key states. But I hope there is a very careful analysis of this election that'll go on in the couple of next months. Because this outside money played a big role in two ways. One we've already alluded to, as Susan suggested, ads put up by the outside groups are almost always really negative.
REHMYeah, and they were.
WINSTONAnd they create this sense of how, you know, politics is the only profession that always advertises against itself. So that's a problem, A. But problem B is -- and especially in the House -- how much of this dark money dropped in the last two weeks in key House races to push them over to Republicans? Because there was a big push toward the Republicans, it looks like, in the last couple of weeks. And, you know, I am not saying it's just the dark money -- because I think there were a lot of factors in this election.
WINSTONBut I do think we need a big study. And to get very serious, I hate Citizens United. I think it's done terrible things to our politics. So I'm sympathetic to the spirit behind the writer's all caps.
REHMAll right. Let's…
WINSTONBut I think we've got to figure out what happened.
REHMLet's open the phones to Westport, Mass. Hi, Steve, you're on the air.
STEVEHi. It's very nice to be here. Thank you.
STEVEI'd just like to make an observation. You know, all -- most of the things, most of the policies that President Obama has proposed on immigration, on gun control, on raising the minimum wage, on extending benefits, jobs programs for veterans, have all been embraced by the American public. Basically everybody wants -- they've all said, yeah, we can agree with that. The Republicans have opposed all of it.
STEVEBut yet, when it came to the election just a couple days ago, the American people voted for the people who opposed the things that the American people were for. And I don't know if the…
REHMIt's confusing, isn't it?
STEVEWell, I've got to say this -- and I mean this in no judgmental or critical way. The journalists that I've been listening to haven't actually acknowledged that. They haven't actually said, hey, what's this all about. You know, you've got a president who's proposing all these things that American people are for, his job ratings are going down and they're voting -- and the American people are voting for the people who are opposing him. That doesn't even make sense.
DAVISIt's a great question. And I think that's a very valid point. When you look at issues like background checks and minimum wage raises and things that have 70 percent support nationally. This wasn't a national election. And those issues weren't being put up to a national referendum.
REHMBut didn't Republicans make it a national election?
DAVISWell, they certainly tried to, and make it a referendum on the president more broadly, but…
DAVIS…specifically the issues, I mean, I think gun control is a great example because I think that is something I hear a lot from people who say, how can they not do any movement on this when 70 percent of the people say they support it and after Newtown, after all. I think gun -- the background check bill was a great example in this Congress of not being able to move forward on an issue that seemingly had public support.
DAVISBut I think that you have to look at the places where a lot of these races played out this year. And in places like Arkansas and Louisiana and elsewhere, they -- that did not have these kind of supports. This -- and I'm saying on these issues in particular, I think they will play -- pay a role in 2016.
DIONNE JR.But here's the problem with those three issues -- and those are important issues. But, again, they're priorities. And the electorate, while being interested in these issues and thinking they're important to the country, it was still about jobs and the economy and what was the solution around that. I go back to 2010 when the president was focused on health care and John Boehner was talking about where are the jobs focused on the economy.
DIONNE JR.That produced a decisive outcome. And that's because Americans not only look at the issues, but what are the priorities? And by the way, one thing in terms of Boehner I would suggest, John Boehner has been the leader of the party, in terms of both 2010 and 2014. I would suggest that we haven't seen two more positive elections than we've seen in those two. And I think a lot of credit goes to the speaker, in terms of…
WINSTONPositive elections? This year?
DIONNE JR.No. In terms of winning for Republicans.
WINSTONOh, oh, oh, I'm sorry.
DIONNE JR.Republican outcomes.
WINSTONI thought you meant positive arguments.
DIONNE JR.No, no, no, no. Not -- no, no, no. And you and I -- look -- and we all agree. I mean I think one of the detriments that's occurring here and the reason both parties have terrible brand is because the quality of the discussion of the elections is so atrocious why would people feel good about either party? But I want to go back to the speaker for just a second.
DIONNE JR.Because, again, 2010 and 2014 have two of the best Republican outcomes we've had. At this point we have more state legislators than we have ever had in the history of the Republican Party. And so I do think the speaker deserves some significant for the outcomes of those two elections.
WINSTONCould I just say something to Steve? First of all, I -- Horseneck Beach in Westport is one of my favorite beaches in the world, Steve. I grew up over the line in Fall River, down where you are. There are two problems here. One is that gun control -- particularly background checks -- has broad public support. Where is it unpopular? It's unpopular in almost all of the key Senate states that were on the ballot on Tuesday.
WINSTONAnd that the supporters of gun control -- and I'll say I am one -- really need to figure out the politics of this, really need to hold the other side accountable, really need to start changing minds on the idea, for example, that background checks are not getting in the way of people's rights to own weapons. Secondly, what you're talking about, Steve, is not the journalists here, but the fact that the Democrats did not choose to wage a national campaign. And to the extent that they did try to use minimum wage it the election -- and it wasn't a big enough issue to turn.
DIONNE JR.Minimum wage is past in four red states. It's a very popular issue. Democrats have to figure out how to use that as part of a larger economic message about lifting people up from the bottom.
WINSTONAnd E.J. makes a huge point here in terms of -- and I'm going to back to 2006 when Republicans lost anything. When you hear a national -- when you hear parties saying we're going to go local, it's meaning because they don't know how to engage in the national discourse or they haven't figured it out. That's one of the reasons why I think we lost in 2006. And I think that what E.J.'s defining here -- it's one of the problems the Democrats had this cycle.
REHMBut here's what I don't understand. The unemployment rate has declined steadily. The economic outlook has improved steadily. There are people whose jobs have been affected negatively, but overall what President Obama has done has been positive. Why didn't the Democrats play that up?
DAVISI'd also say that gas was under $3 a gallon in many places across the country.
DAVISWhich used to be this sort of litmus test for how people felt about the economy.
DAVISI think there's a huge amount of disconnect right now between what's happening in the economy and Americans' confidence in the economy. I also think you will point to things like…
REHMBut why? The question is why?
DIONNE JR.Stagnating wages is the answer. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt.
DAVISNo, no. I -- that's what I was going to say. I think stagnating wages is a huge thing. I think that the economy has approved on the macro level, but on the micro, family, kitchen-table level I think things like the cost of student loans, still somewhat tougher to get mortgages in this country. I think that the economic impact on millennials, on the people that are supposed to be buying cars and buying homes…
REHMWho did not vote.
DAVIS…who did not vote, I think among a lot of those people there's not a lot of confidence that they're in their own economic security, individual economic security.
DIONNE JR.Which is one reason why Elizabeth Warren was such a popular figure on the campaign trail.
DIONNE JR.Because she's somebody who introduced a bill blocked by Republicans to try to do something about student loans.
DAVISAnd she captures that sentiment very clearly.
DIONNE JR.But Democrats were tongue-tied because they had all year long an internal argument over -- on the one side, we ought to brag on our achievements here.
DIONNE JR.Because this economy almost collapsed.
DIONNE JR.And it was brought back to life, unemployment is lower. The other side said, that's all true, but because of stagnating wages people don't feel it.
DIONNE JR.And so therefore you look out of touch if you talk about how much progress is made. Now there may have been some way to make the -- both of those arguments at once, which would be the ideal thing. And Obama tried to do it in some speeches, some other Democrats did, but they could never figure out how to do both of those things at once.
WINSTONAnd to back Susan's point, the exit polls clearly showed that that's how people viewed it. 28 percent of the electorate thought that their personal financial situation was getting better. 70 percent thought it was either the same or worse. And so there was no translation. And part of that is, as E.J. was describing wages, there's also this concept of underemployed. And actually the public is pretty sophisticated. They understand that a lot of people have left the workforce.
WINSTONThe reason that unemployment rate is coming down isn't necessarily just purely job creation. It's a lot of people who have chosen to leave the workforce because they can't find jobs.
REHMAll right. Going back to the phone, to William, in Dallas, Texas. Hi, you're on the air.
WILLIAMHi, Diane. Love your show. Glad to be on.
WILLIAMI just wanted address one issue about the silver lining for the Democrat. I know that the GOP tried to frame this election a lot on Ebola and ISIS, which I kind of think are red-herring issues. But having worked at the NIH and seeing how the GOP defunded, you know, a lot of HHS departments, such as NIH and CDC, I think Ebola could -- excuse me -- Ebola?
WILLIAMObama could frame it in a sense that, well, if you want to be really genuine about these kind of issues, these kind of diseases, well, you should stop defunding these kind of institutions that fund, you know, the monitoring, the surveillance systems, the biomedical research that look into this. And then we could actually address real public health issues such as seasonal flu, which kills 45,000 people a year or multiple drug-resistant enteroviruses that are actually real public health concern.
WILLIAMAnd I think that there's a way that you could put, you know, the GOP on their heels on this issue, if they really want to make Ebola, you know, one of their highlights.
DIONNE JR.I agree. Obama did that at the news conference yesterday by saying let's fund this properly. It wasn't in time for the election. A few Democrats tried to put out some ads on this. It didn't seem to penetrate. The more general fear had more effect than the very specific, well, how do we deal with this? Because they're dealing with this was not terrible. In other words, there was a sense that, you know, that in fact we have not been infested with Ebola, in fact we are doing things. That message never got across.
DIONNE JR.The information was slow to get out and it looked worse than it was to a lot of people. I think there was a lot of demagoguery around this issue in this election. And now I hope we talk about solving the problem. And now that the election's over maybe everybody can say, all right, let's back away from the demagoguery.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Cincinnati, Ohio. Hi, Brad.
BRADI mean, I just want to -- I'm 47 years old and I've noticed a pattern over time. It seems like every time the Democrats are in power there's never a focus on, oh, you know, are the Democrats going to work across the aisle. But the minute the Republicans take control that seems to be the focus of the media. And, you know, where was that focus when Harry Reid was ramming through the ACA in the dark of night by invoking cloture?
BRADOr when he changed the fundamental rules of the Senate by reducing the need of a threshold vote from 60 to 51 votes. And I just -- I don't hear -- I've never heard that focus from the media. But now that the Republicans are in control that's all I seem to hear.
DAVISIt's a good question. I think, for me personally I'm a little bit too close to the sun because I work out of the capitol and I see these guys, so I do hear those criticisms. But I would say to his point, I think to some extent while you hear it for Republicans is because of the line that McConnell said, that his singular goal was to make Barack Obama a single-term president. I mean that is just -- infected the bloodstream.
DAVISAnd I also think it goes to the point of last year's government shutdown. I think Republicans were seen overwhelmingly as the party that provoked that and was more aggressive and confrontational. And that is why they were seen as maybe less willing to work together.
REHMSusan Davis of USA Today. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." E.J.?
DIONNE JR.The difference between my perspective and the gentleman's perspective shows how deeply divided we are as a country.
DIONNE JR.Because I would just point out that when President Bush was in office, the Democrats didn't threaten people on the -- the country on the debt ceiling. They didn't do it under Reagan. They didn't shut the government down. There is a reason why people are skeptical of whether the Republicans work across the aisle. But I fully accept that his view -- the gentleman's view is held by a whole lot of people on the other side of politics.
REHMYeah, and here's a follow-up question from Joe, in Rochester, N.Y. What incentives exist for the GOP to compromise on their principles? They were just handsomely rewarded for six years of unwavering obstruction.
WINSTONWell, I would disagree. It wasn't unwavering obstruction. And I think part of the challenge here -- and this is what part of the selection was about. Republicans in the House passed quite a bit of legislation that Harry Reid just decided he wasn't going to bring up for a vote. And it wasn't even a question of letting, you know, that he disagreed. He wouldn't even let votes occur. And so ultimately what you hear Mitch McConnell talking about his getting back to what is commonly referred to as regular order.
WINSTONAnd what that means is committees play a role within the Senate. Senators play a role within the Senate. You don't arbitrarily overrule the parliamentarian on something that you take 67 votes to overrule the -- and just decide that you're going to allow nominees to move forward. And so what I think you're going to hear from Republicans is we want to make sure that members have their voice heard and that hadn't occurred before.
WINSTONAnd so I just fundamentally disagree with E.J., also, in terms of the Democrats -- remember all the impeachment discussion to -- around the president -- going to your point. The discussion here -- and it's a real problem -- has been so volatile, and been so extreme that I think it generates interaction that isn't becoming necessarily of what we want over a democracy.
DAVISI also think the shorthand to that question, too, is I think they're incentive is they want to win the White House inn 2016. And I think they realize that the Republican Party brand -- even though they had great victories on Tuesday -- the Republican Party brand is still in the toilet. And I think that they see the opportunity to govern as a way to show that they can put points on the board and that the American public can trust them with the White House.
DIONNE JR.But there's…
WINSTONAnd I -- and I agree with her.
DIONNE JR.And David -- there's a great debate in the party. David is on one side of it. Others believe that in fact governing would get in the way of their winning the election. Two quick things. One, I want to correct myself a little bit. I do not want to say Democrats never use the debt ceiling bill as a vehicle. I don't want you to get inundated with emails. They've used the debt ceiling bill. They never threatened crisis like the one we've seen from Republican Congresses.
DIONNE JR.And on the appointments, the Democrats changed the rules because there's been unprecedented obstruction of nominees. And so they said we're sick of this. We're going to change the rule. Now, you can argue back and forth about it, but there was -- you've never had Democratic Congresses block nominees like this.
WINSTONBut, E.J., yes. Yes, you do. Or I…
DIONNE JR.Not to this degree.
WINSTONI remember -- no, in terms of the judges back -- I dealt with Bill Frist when he was deciding whether he was going to do the nuclear option or not. I sat through, listening to those conversations. And he chose that in fact senators have a role. The Senate has this role. And you don't arbitrarily change rules to make something just easier politically.
REHMAll right. Last question, how does the election we had on Tuesday affect Hillary Clinton's prospects? Susan?
DAVISI don't think it has any significant effect one way or another. I don't think it changes the fact that she's probably going to run. I don't think it changes the fact she's probably a sure shot for the nomination. And I don't think it changes the fact that a 2016 electorate will be hugely, dramatically different than what turned out on Tuesday.
DAVISAnd that she -- what will be interesting, though, I think is going to be -- one of the things I thought was interesting about Tuesday -- quickly -- is that Obama's really lost support of Southern Democrats and even in places where Democrats used to be strong, Kentucky, West Virginia. And I think it'll be interesting to see if the Hillary Clinton, Clinton economic brand can revive some of that blue collar white vote in this country for the Democrats.
DIONNE JR.I -- it puts pressure on -- I agree with everything Susan said. It puts pressure on Hillary Clinton to come up with a plausible and appealing economic message that brings home some of these voters who have left the Democratic Party.
REHME.J. Dionne, Susan Davis, David Winston, great discussion. Thank you all.
DAVISThanks for having us.
DIONNE JR.Thank you.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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