President Barack Obama has called on Congress to approve, without delay, his choice for Attorney General. On Saturday, he nominated Loretta Lynch to succeed Eric Holder, but he said it’s up to Democratic leaders to decide whether to move ahead with hearings now or to let Senate Republicans take the lead when they gain control in January. In final weeks of this Congressional session, Senate Democrat leaders are likely to push ahead on a number of priorities, including a 2015 government funding bill, emergency spending on Ebola and some of the many other pending presidential nominees. Please join us to discuss what will and won’t get done in the lame duck session of Congress.
- Ed O'Keefe Congressional reporter, The Washington Post.
- Tamara Keith White House correspondent, NPR.
- Manu Raju Senior congressional reporter, Politico.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Senate Democratic leaders will be ceding control to Republicans come January, but in the next few weeks, they'll likely take action on some key issues. First up, whether to move ahead on confirmation hearings for President Obama's nominee for U.S. Attorney General, Loretta Lynch. Joining me to talk about priorities for the lame duck session, Ed O'Keefe of The Washington Post, Tamara Keith of NPR and Manu Raju of Politico.
MS. DIANE REHMWe invite you, as always, to be part of the program. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Welcome to all of you.
MR. ED O'KEEFEHi, Diane.
MR. MANU RAJUGood morning.
MS. TAMARA KEITHGood morning.
REHMGood to see you. And Tamara, good to meet you.
KEITHGood to meet you, too.
REHMManu, let's start with you. What's at stake for Senate Democrats in the timing on the confirmation hearings for Loretta Lynch?
RAJUMaybe the fact that she'll get confirmed or not, that's gonna be the big question going forward. Right now, it appears that there's no real red flags in her nomination. Republicans have not seized on anything yet that could potentially bring her down, but the confirmation proceedings have not started yet so the Democrats, it seems, the Democrats that I talked to really want to move forward in the lame duck session of Congress on Loretta Lynch's confirmation proceedings.
REHMSo Tamara, how willing will Republicans be during the lame duck session?
KEITHThey've made it pretty clear that they think that this should wait until the new Congress is in place. One thing that I think is interesting, though, is I sent an email to someone in the Obama administration on Saturday and specifically asked, do you want this done in the lame duck? And the response I got back sidestepped that question and said, we would like her to be confirmed as quickly as possible, or something like that, which, to me, says they aren't necessarily picking that fight, that they are not -- I mean, if they wanted to say, we must have this in the lame duck, they would've said, we must have this in the lame duck, and that's not what they're saying.
O'KEEFERemember part of the reason there's no urgency is that Eric Holder has said he will stay in the position until his successor is confirmed. So unless he walks, there's no need for a replacement just right away.
REHMBut here's the question. If they wait until the new session, is she going to get confirmed? Will anybody get confirmed?
O'KEEFEThat's part of the reason why they put her out now, I believe, is because there's a concern that if things start to go south in the next two weeks or so with some time remaining, that Democrats will fear she could face a harder climb, if you will, to confirmation and so they might just try to rush it through. Remember, under the current rules, which the incoming majority leader, Mitch McConnell says he's going to change, you only need 51 votes to confirm somebody, ultimately, in the Senate.
O'KEEFESo, you know, their belief is if we can get her out of the judiciary committee quickly and if we can get her to the floor, she could probably pass. And remember, she's already been confirmed unanimously twice for the job she currently holds as U.S. attorney, essentially, for Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island.
REHMTell me a little about her, Tamara.
KEITHShe is a sort of a career prosecutor. She, as the president said, she wants to get things done. She isn't flashy. She isn't out for the politics. She's more out there to get work done. She was involved with the Abner Louima case. That was the Haitian immigrant who was beaten terribly. And she actually was involved in the indictment of Congressman Michael Grimm, who faces trial relatively soon from Staten Island.
KEITHSo she is seen as not so much a political person, but as a career prosecutor and, in theory, that would be why she would be relatively easy to confirm, possibly. She's also the first African-American -- would be the first African-American woman to be Attorney General and there's some question of whether Republicans want the optics of fighting this person who would be the first African-American woman.
REHMBut on the other hand, if, in fact, she's not confirmed during the lame duck session, will Republicans put her off into that realm of non-confirmed nominees for all kinds of things?
RAJUIt really remains to be seen. I think that they will certainly give her a confirmation hearing. They'll certainly have votes in the committee. Whether they'll have votes to confirm her, I don't think we can know that yet. One of the big questions facing Mitch McConnell when he comes in as majority leader is exactly how to deal with the president's nominees and whether, as Ed alluded to earlier, whether to change the rules back to requiring 60 votes to overcome a filibuster on presidential nominees like the attorney general.
RAJUThat is something that McConnell has not made a decision yet. There's a division within the Republican conference about whether to reinstate that 60 vote threshold on the filibuster rule and that could also make it harder to confirm her if they decide to go back that route. So we'll see exactly how she performs in the confirmation hearings and whether or not she agrees with some of the president's policies, particularly over his views on the executive power. That's gonna be a big question for her going forward and that could trip her up at least in the eyes of the Republicans.
REHMTamara, why did the president decide to go ahead with this nomination now?
KEITHWell, I think it's because the press got ahead of the president's timing. First, Carrie Johnson from NPR, my colleague, reported that she was the likely nominee. That was Thursday. Then, on Friday, CNN reported it and it blew up all over Twitter. People were asking about it in the briefing. Josh Earnest said the president hadn't made up his mind, but about three hours later, it seems the president had made up his mind and they were prepared to make the announcement.
KEITHI think that they didn't want to let this sit with rumor swirling while the president was in Asia for a week.
O'KEEFEHe's enjoying fireworks in Beijing right now and will be for the next few days. The whole reason was he's on the road and they didn't want to leave her twisting in the wind. And I think, also, it potentially puts it out there to begin the process of sort of sorting out, will Republicans stand in her way or might they be willing to quickly confirm her. The encouraging sign for the White House came from Chuck Grassley, the Republican from Iowa who will be the next judiciary committee chairman who said she deserves a thorough vetting.
O'KEEFEI'd prefer to do this in a lame duck, but either way, she's gonna get a fair hearing. Where you will see Republican opposition to her is primarily around the issue of whether or not the president should use executive action on anything. So the underlying issue, throughout all of this, is what the president does on immigration in the coming weeks. Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and a few others said, if she expresses disapproval of the president's use of executive actions, then we're gonna vote for her.
O'KEEFEWell, she's unlikely to take that position so there already, you can see the signs of opposition growing.
REHMSo what is Patrick Leahy, the current chair of the Senate judiciary committee, likely to decide? He's sort of responded neutrally.
O'KEEFEYeah, I think, again, that, you know, both chambers come back -- are here in Washington again starting Wednesday. As hard as it is for people to believe, sometimes still the best way for things to get sorted out is to put everyone in a room together and have them talk it out. That's what starts on Wednesday. I think, by the end of the week, Leahy will signal when exactly he'd like to do this. It could be that they hold her confirmation hearings now and maybe try to postpone the vote until later.
O'KEEFEThat would require some procedural maneuvering, but at least it would get the ball rolling. He's more concerned, right now, about hundreds of judges that are on the docket that Harry Reid has vowed to get off the docket by the end of the year, on top of dozens of ambassador nominees and others. It was a deputy secretary of state nomination made last week, Anthony Blinken, to head over there.
O'KEEFEThose are the types of nominees on top the AG nominee, the Democrats are very concerned about getting through as quickly as possible.
RAJUYeah, and the other thing that Leahy's concerned about, he's trying to pass the so-called USA Freedom Act, which is an electronic surveillance bill, which would actually be the most significant overhaul of domestic spying activity since the Patriot Act was passed. This is something Leahy's been pushing very aggressively to get done in the lame duck session. It would end the bulk data collection program under the NSA.
RAJUThis is something that the White House, they've signaled an openness to get this done as well, but they need to get this done before next June before certain authorities expire. So Leahy -- and in some ways is using -- you can expect him to use the Lynch nomination as leverage to get support to quickly move the USA Freedom Act.
REHMSo Tamara, the Lynch nomination also could affect how or whether the president decides to move forward on immigration.
KEITHI think that for the president, it's somewhat independent of the Lynch nomination. I think that what the president does could affect the Lynch nomination, but I think that the president's calculation, by all accounts, the president has decided to move forward some time before the end of this year on an executive action on immigration. What's not clear is exactly who would be included or how many people it would be.
KEITHAt this point, it seems like the only thing that could stop the president from taking executive action would be for the House to pass the Senate immigration bill and that seems about as likely as Santa Claus showing up here right now.
REHMBut the discussion on Friday with the congressional leaders was contentious at best.
O'KEEFEIt was because they finally, in person, issued the warning they'd been giving us for days and really have been giving for months, which is, if you take action, Mr. President, you're going to, in the words of John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, essentially, poison the well and make it incredibly difficult for us to work with you on any subject, not just immigration.
REHMBut I did hear President Obama, on "Face the Nation" with Bob Schieffer on Sunday, explaining that he had initially worked with John Boehner to find a resolution. John Boehner had agreed, gone back to his caucus, couldn't get it, worked and worked for at least a year to try to get this. Why not forward?
O'KEEFERepublicans will tell you that part of the reason they weren't willing to move on this is because, again, the president was starting to use his executive authority to do things beyond the realm of Congress, that when a plan was presented at the beginning of this year, the House Republican get-together that they have every year, it was initially greet somewhat warmly, but then they realized within days it just wasn't going to be able to happen because there's this continuing distrust among Republicans with the president's behavior and actions.
REHMEd O'Keefe of The Washington Post. Short break here. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Here in the studio, Manu Raju. He's senior congressional reporter for Politico, Tamara Keith, White House correspondent for NPR, Ed O'Keefe, congressional reporter for the Washington Post. We're going to open the phones in just a few moments but a few more little issues to talk about that will likely or may likely come up in this lame duck session. On immigration, Ed, how far would president's executive authority go?
O'KEEFEWell, remember we're working in a universe of about 11 to 12 million people who are here in an undocumented or illegal fashion. The going theory at this point based on conversations with people on Capitol Hill in the administration who are familiar with this is that he's going to probably do something that could affect up to 5, maybe 6 million people at the most. They would be eligible. That doesn't mean that those 5 or 6 million people would actually come forth and take advantage of the program, but it would open it up to 5 to 6 million people.
O'KEEFEWhat can he do? He can do a few things. Among other things he could extend protections -- temporary protections to the parents of the children who are currently benefitting from his temporary relief program, so-called Dreamers. While they've all got parents potentially in this country, they could be protected. He could do something more for undocumented or other immigrants who are serving in the military. He could create more visas for people to come in and take high-tech jobs in Silicon Valley or here in northern Virginia. He could open up a guest-worker program for people who come and work agricultural jobs in the Midwest or out in California or down in Florida. You know, a whole host of different things.
O'KEEFEThe suggestion that we've gotten from people in the administration and other groups is that the types of things he's going to do are the types of things Republicans want to see done as part of the immigration change. That would suggest it will include things like the high-tech worker visas which are favored by the Chamber of Commerce and by Facebook and other big companies or potentially those changes to the guest-worker program. Because a lot of Republicans in agricultural states are concerned that farmers have enough workers to help pick the crops.
REHMSo what would happen if he went ahead with this since Republican do agree with so much of it, Tamara?
KEITHWell, there are any number of things that could happen. First off, Republicans are going to be very, very, very angry. It's going to blow up and be a big thing. At the same time though, the immigrant rights community and Democrats on the hill and all these people who have been pushing the president to do this for months and months and months, they're going to be happy. So there's a big of a political calculation here.
KEITHThe other thing that I think is going on here is that in some ways the president would be daring Republicans to say, all right, you're saying nothing will get done if I do this. Go right ahead, let nothing get done. Because Republicans -- and they have said this time and time again in the last few days -- they have to govern over the next two years. They have to get things done.
KEITHIf they want a Republican president to be elected in 2016 and they want many of their members who are up in 2016 on the Senate side in blue states, if they want them to have a shot, then they actually have to prove that they can govern. So getting into, you know, a little match with the president and saying -- stamping your feet and saying no, no, no, that's not going to work either. So in some ways I think the president is daring them to say no.
RAJUYeah, I think the timing's going to be very significant, exactly when the president does it. They've been saying they're going to do something in December. Now there's a big deadline congress has to meet December 11 to keep the government running up until -- through the next fiscal year.
RAJUSo Republicans and the leadership is saying that they want to pass a long-term spending bill to keep the government running until the end of next September. But if the president presumably comes out with something before that December 11 deadline, does that embolden the conservative Republicans in the House and in the Senate who want to add language in that appropriations bill to kill the president's executive action on immigration?
RAJUNow if -- so that has to be part of what the White House is considering. And Democratic leaders in the Senate hope that the president does something in December but after the continuing resolution expires, after they get a deal on the spending bill and as well as after another key date, the first Tuesday -- first week in December, the Louisiana runoff. Mary Landrieu is in a race against Bill Cassidy. And she looks like she's probably going to lose. But if they come out with this executive action in the middle of that runoff and she loses, the White House will get blamed for that. So I think they're looking at that deadline as well.
O'KEEFEYeah, so if you do all that math, you're looking potentially at a mid-December announcement of some kind. The other thing to keep in mind, the belief is, and you saw the president allude to this in his interview with Bob Schieffer. They believe they have the legal authority to do this. It will inevitably get worked into whatever legal challenges Republicans are trying to mount against the president.
O'KEEFERemember John Boehner and House Republicans are currently trying to sue the president over aspects of the health care law. That case has stalled. The belief is they're now waiting to see what he does on immigration so that they can add that to the case and see if they can make a run at it in the courts. Unlikely it would succeed but they would at least try. So they believe they'll have it.
O'KEEFEThe other thing to keep in mind here, and the president also alluded to this yesterday, it could take several years for his executive actions to actually be implemented and play out. It won't be an overnight thing. And I think what he's trying to do here potentially is say, you could through the force of law supersede my executive action quicker than if it were just me signing a piece of paper.
O'KEEFESo potentially it could inspire congress to take this up and try to do it, if not differently, perhaps somewhat similarly simply because it could take a little while for all this to go into effect.
REHMAll this seems totally Machiavellian.
O'KEEFETo some extent, sure.
REHMYeah, it really does.
RAJUWe may be giving them too much credit.
REHMYeah, what really do Republicans want out of this lame duck session, Tamara?
KEITHYou know, I think that if you listen to what Mitch McConnell said then they don't want a government shutdown and they want -- at least the leadership I really believe wants to pass an omnibus bill that gets them all the way through to September that funds the government and keeps the government open for business. There are a lot of people -- there's this thing called the tax extenders, not super sexy but there's a lot of money at stake and a lot of interests out there that really want that to happen.
KEITHAnd I think quite a few Republicans in congress also want to get that done. In some ways there's a desire to clean the decks and give the new Republican congress a chance to do the policies that they want to do and start with a fresh start. I think that there is a desire to get rid of some of those cliffs and crises that are out there so that they can start fresh.
REHMWhat about all those nominees waiting in the wind?
KEITHWell, I would assume the Republicans don't really want all those nominees to go through but also I think there's an acknowledgment that it's probably going to happen.
REHMSo -- but you've got disagreements within each party.
REHMSo how are those likely to affect this lame duck session, Ed?
O'KEEFEYeah, I think where it could be most intriguing, at least in the next few days, is among Democrats, especially in the Senate. There's no disputing unless he suddenly announces he doesn't want it, that Harry Reid will continue to be the leader. But there is a pack of moderates, guys like Joe Manchin, Angus King, Heidi Heitkamp, maybe a few others, Mark Warner, Tim Kaine of Virginia who are deeply frustrated by the fact that they've come to the Senate and they're not doing anything.
O'KEEFENow, how naïve of them to think that in this era they were going to be able to really do things. But what I think they're trying to extract from Reid, at least in the closing weeks of this year, is just -- let's just get it to a point where we can get some things done, clear the decks and possibly score some good will going into the New Year with Republicans.
O'KEEFEOn the Republican side, Mitch McConnell now faces the problem that John Boehner has faced over the last several years. He's going to have an emboldened and expanded conservative base of senators in the Senate. We don't entirely know yet exactly how many, who could potentially stand in the way of attempts to work with Democrats and with the president on things like trade authority, tax extenders. And maybe even getting some of these nominees done, not only this year but potentially next year.
O'KEEFESo you hear House Republicans kind of giggle quietly that the problems that John Boehner has had in recent years are now going to shift over to the Senate with Mitch McConnell because Boehner has expanded his majority to the point where those 40 or 50 so diehard conservatives no longer really pose a threat to him, whereas the 5 or 6, 7 maybe conservative senators in the Senate that McConnell will have to deal with actually could be a big problem.
RAJUYeah, that's going to be the challenge for McConnell. He's going to really have a difficult balancing act because to get anything done in the Senate requires 60 votes. And the most McConnell's going to have is 54. And then you lose some of those conservative senators that Ed was discussing, people like Ted Cruz or Mike Lee, a handful of others. And all of a sudden you may need eight, nine, ten Democrats to support you. So then if McConnell decides to moderate and bring those red state Democrats or centrist Democrats who are eager to legislate, brings them forward, then the bill that's going to pass is going to be pretty moderate.
RAJUSo how does the conservative House deal with something like that? Probably not very well unless John Boehner decides that he too will moderate. And then what does that meant for his own speakership and his future ahead of a very, very conservative House Republican conference? So all this is going to be very challenging for the Republicans to deal with. Even though they've expanded their numbers, legislating is probably going to prove to be pretty difficult here.
REHMSo one area of overall agreement might be emergency spending for Ebola?
KEITHCertainly. That's one area. Another area is probably the 5.6 billion dollars that the Obama Administration is requesting to help train and equip Iraqi and Syrian fighters.
REHMAnd that during the lame duck session.
KEITHThat's definitely during the lame duck session. That will most likely be part of the omnibus, the big spending bill. So there are places where things should be relatively easy.
RAJUYeah, I would add that on the ISIS front the question is going to be on how to deal with an authorization for use of military force. They're not going to deal with that in the lame duck session. They'll probably start debating exactly how to structure a new authority for this war that's happening against ISIS. Because right now the administration is relying on authorities from the 2001 and 2002 AUMF.
REHMSo they'll just approve the funding, but they won't agree on how it will be used.
RAJUCorrect. Correct. And I think that's what's going to wait until -- we're going to wait until next year when the Republicans have the larger hand to debate exactly how to structure an AUMF. And the question's going to be the only really fundamental difference is in both parties -- within each party on how to deal with things like combat troops, an expiration date for use of force. It's going to be a pretty messy debate and it's something that the new congress will have to dig into right away.
REHMGo ahead, Tamara.
KEITHYeah, one smaller thing that they will have to do in the lame duck is, it's called Title X authority. This is the authority to train and equip the Syrian rebels that they voted on in August. That actually expires in the middle of December. So they're going to have to deal with that though they won't have to deal necessarily with a larger authorization of the use of military force. Just that smaller piece of it.
REHMDuring this lame duck session there's a November 24 deadline for reaching a deal with Iran over its nuclear program, Ed. But congress and the administration are not necessarily on the same page on this.
O'KEEFEThey're not. They're not. This is among the sort of -- you could call them miscellaneous items that could come up and really upend the process in the next few weeks. You're right, November 24 is the deadline. Democrats and Republicans, we believe a filibuster proof majority in the Senate actually agree on a piece of legislation that would stiffen sanctions against Iran. The administration has begged Congress to hold off on that until they try to get through these talks.
O'KEEFEThere's no real clear signal of how well it's going and there is the possibility that the administration will say, give us a little more time. The question at that point is, will Democrats and Republicans both say okay, because even among Democrats there's a belief that this has gone on for too long. You attempted it. There's no point in trying to continue those talks. It will become an issue in the big defense policy bill that has to be approved that will include this AUMF language regarding Syria. It could become a big issue next year as well.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Time to open the phones, 800-433-8850. First to Jay in Albany, Ind. Hi there.
JAYGood morning, Diane.
JAYKind of confusing and a little depressing to hear all this. My question, I have -- I remember in 2006, 2008 there was a huge mandate for the Democrats against the Republicans coming out of the Bush Administration. And then the Republicans decided they were just going to obstruct and keep everything from happening for the next five years. I mean, that's famous words of McConnell. I'm going to make everything that he does impossible to achieve.
JAYSo I'm curious, is there some kind of movement in Harry Reid's circle to do the same thing to them? Because in 2016 if the Democratic Senate allows the House -- excuse me, the Republican Senate lets everything pass through that we've been trying to keep -- or trying to keep the Republicans from doing for years like the Keystone Pipeline, Obamacare, immigration, a lot of those things, a lot of the Democratic liberals and donors are going to flee. They're going to be so upset, they're not going to support the Democrats in '16. So I'm wondering how Harry Reid's going to handle that? Is he going to be an obstructionist like McConnell or is he going to kind of let things go?
O'KEEFEJay, you ask a good and difficult question.
REHMHe sure does. He sure does.
O'KEEFEIt remains to be seen. And again, I think there are a pack of moderate Democrats who've been elected in recent cycles who really do have a strong desire to try to demonstrate progress, to work with Republicans who may be enough to stand in Reid's way and say, no, you know, I'm going to break from you and I'm going to go work with Republicans. Bob Corker, Republican in Tennessee who was about to become chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, had a great line for me in an interview. He said, as a member of the minority, you suddenly become a much more important figure in the Senate because you have the potential to break away from your party and try to cut some deals, or at least present a willingness to do so.
O'KEEFEWhen you're a member of the majority party, you're just one of the cast of characters and you kind of have to tow the line. So there's a potential for a lot of Democrats to break from Reid and say, no, I want to get things done. I came here to do that. I ran on that promise and yet you probably will see a good chunk of Democrats down with Reid and say, we don't necessary want to do this.
RAJUYeah, it'll be interesting to see how Reid deals with it. Remember, he's already been minority leader before but that was during the Bush Administration. And he was a foil for George W. Bush. How's he going to deal with it with a Democratic president and someone with whom Senate Democrats in the White House have seen frayed relations with over the years?
RAJUWhat other is a bigger calculation for Reid is that he's up for re-election in 2016. he's probably going to face a pretty tough election, potentially if the current popular Republican governor Brian Sandoval decides to run against him in 2016. The expectation is that he will not but it's possible that he may. And also Reid is also pretty vulnerable. He's not popular in Nevada and he may have to worry about his image nationally. Does he dig in and become a warrior against Mitch McConnell and how does that help or hurt him in Nevada? Or does he decide to cut deals and does that help him in his re-election campaign? All that will certainly have an effect on what Reid decides to do.
KEITHWell, and I would just say that this other calculation that's out here the caller asked about, Obamacare repeal or the Keystone XL Pipeline. As Mitch McConnell has said, President Obama still has a trump card here. He has the veto pen. So as much deal-making or whatever as might happen in the House and the Senate, Democrats still have their guy in the White House and he has a veto pen.
O'KEEFEYeah, and we'll see. I think the one area probably where you would see Democrats pretty much stand united is against any real strong attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. I think there's agreement among even most Democrats that parts of the law need to be changed. But to chip away at its bigger parts would be seen as unacceptable.
REHMAnd of course you've got Supreme Court about to weigh in on part of it.
O'KEEFE...who could do it on their own. That' right.
REHMShort break here. When we come back, your emails, more of your phone calls. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd here we go with two emails with contrasting points of view. First, from Roger in Little Rock, Ark. "If President Obama goes ahead on his own with any kind of immigration reform without waiting for Republicans to have a chance to act, it will confirm my belief in his political incompetence. That would just give them an excuse to go directly into obstruction mode that most voters would accept. They're going to try to mess things up anyway, looking ahead to the 2016. But don't hand them the club to beat you with."
REHMHere's an email from Howard in Washington. "One of your guests said that Republicans need to get things done to get elected in 2016. I'm not so sure about that. Most of the Republican base seems united behind an agenda of obstruction. Rush Limbaugh said that job one for the GOP is to stop Obama. Do they really need to get anything done?" Manu.
RAJUWell, I think from Mr. McConnell's perspective, he was not a fan of the fiscal crises that happened and when the House Republicans took over after the 2010 elections. In debt ceiling fight that happened in 2011, he came in and had to cut the deal with Joe Biden to resolve that. After the 2012 elections, the fiscal cliff situation also looked very bad for Republicans. In that situation, he had to come and cut the deal at the end of the day. Same when the government shut down in October. That was a fight that was initiated by House Republicans, conservatives who wanted to add the defunding of Obamacare language in that must-pass spending bill. McConnell had to come in afterwards.
RAJUHe recognizes full well that those hurt the Republican brand. They need to prove that they will not lurch from crisis to crisis and push their agenda. Now, they, of course, they will be confrontational with Obama. I think we can expect that. We can probably also expect that they're not going to actually enact very many laws. But what -- what McConnell wants to do is at least show that they can pass bills out of the Senate, get things moving, and force Obama to veto things. And then, if nothing happens, they can blame the president, while -- instead of being blamed for not getting anything done and provoking national crises.
KEITHI think that very early on in the new Congress, we will see an Obamacare repeal. They have to do it. They -- it is simply, Republicans ran on that. And they're going to take that vote. And Democrats are going to go crazy and say, "Oh, my gosh. This is the 56th vote to repeal Obamacare. They just don't want to govern." I think the Republicans have to take that vote. They just have to do it. They have to say that they tried. They have to send it to the president for a veto, if they can actually get it out of the Senate, which is a really big if.
REHMDo you agree, Ed?
O'KEEFEBecause they're not going to have 60 votes in the Senate. And will you find the four or five Democrats needed, who are willing to say they're willing to repeal all or even big parts of Obamacare? Unlikely. Howard needs to remember that in 2016, a presidential year, more independent voters, more swing voters in all these different states are going to turn out to vote. That is why Republicans need to demonstrate that they're doing something, because these are people who are a little less attuned to politics and who are going to be looking for things to change.
REHMAnd here's an email from Bob. "How many times could the president use his veto pen, and -- before he, and by extension his party, come to be seen as the obstructionists heading into the 2016 elections? How might that potential perception affect prospects for Hilary Clinton?
O'KEEFEBob, I think you can count on less than one hand how many times Obama has used his veto pen over the six years of his presidency so far. So if he...
KEITHYeah, that pen is dry.
O'KEEFERight. And so if he starts using it, that'll be a new development. And frankly, it's just as much a power of his as it is to sign a bill and as it is to issue executive authority. And, you know, I think it'll -- like Tamara said, it'll be interesting to see whether Republicans can get things to his desk that he then has to actively veto. And if that's the case, look, that's part of the way it works.
REHMAll right, to Mark in Fort Worth, Texas. Hi, you're on the air.
MARKGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.
MARKI'm a long-term listener.
MARKI'm one of those independents that your panelist was just talking about. And in essence, you know, we're just as active as regular party people, we just may be under the radar. But what I want (word?) is just a snapshot of, you know, a voter who voted. And basically, it's because the policies of the current administration have not been effective that I voted straight Republican. And also, I see the strategy of the Republican Party as seizing both state, local, governorship and then obviously at the federal level both houses of Congress. They're in a position -- pass legislation, put it in front of the president. And all we care about is, is it good legislation?
MARKAnd if the president chooses to just veto because they're Republican ideas, it doesn't bode well for the Democratic Party in 2016.
RAJUAnd that's only the rest that the president will -- the president will face, if Republicans can actually get something to his desk. There will be efforts to try to repeal parts of the Obamacare law that do have bipartisan support, such as the medical device tax repeal. That's going to be one that's going to be right at the top of the Republican agenda. And even if they don't get 60 votes, there's a budget process called reconciliation, in which -- that can circumvent a Senate filibuster. That is something that would go to the president's desk and the president could still veto it. But it's something that the Republicans probably are going to use to try to at least enact parts of their agenda.
REHMHere's a tweet from Holly. "These executive actions the president could have taken for immigrants are good. Why didn't he do it before the election? That would have helped turnout." Tamara.
KEITHThe politics. And they can -- the Democrats who were running in these red states, who were hanging on for their lives, they didn't want him to do it. And so...
REHMAnd they got to him.
KEITHAnd they got to him. And so he didn't do it. So he put it off. And I think this will be a long debate about whether that was the right choice or not.
O'KEEFEAnd yet there are a number of Democratic Congressional candidates who, I think, once they dig through things and ask a lot of questions, are going to realize that the Hispanic turnout in their states or in their districts was down. And it was down, in part, because the president didn't do what they wanted him to do, you know? Support was soft in North Carolina for Kay Hagan, in Colorado for Mark Udall, and about a dozen House races across the country, in Texas, in Florida, California and New York, other places.
REHMCould have been affected?
O'KEEFEWhere they could have been affected by lower turnout, suppressed turnout, less enthusiastic turnout among Hispanics.
RAJUYeah, the challenge, though, for the White House, because in a lot of those key Senate races, there was low -- the Hispanic population was pretty small. I mean, places like Alaska, Arkansas, some of the most hotly contested races. And for the White House, they were, you know, damned if you do, damned if you don't. You know, if you do do it and you lose the Senate, you get blamed for it. If you don't do it and you lose the Senate, you also get blamed for it.
REHMAll right, to -- go ahead, Tamara.
KEITH...I was just going to say that if they could look back and know what they know now, and know how catastrophically those Democrats in those deep-red states lost, they may have made a different choice.
REHMAll right, to Brad in Cincinnati, Ohio. You're on the air.
BRADGood morning. Thanks for taking my call.
BRADI just wanted to say that, you know, we're a nation of laws. And given the fact that President Obama is a former constitutional law professor, it's quite amazing how often and readily he basically snubs the Constitution and uses executive order to pass certain agendas that he wants to pass, bypassing the legislative branch altogether.
REHMTamara, would that be moving against the Constitution, if he were to issue an executive order?
KEITHWell, I am not a Constitutional scholar. What I do know is that the president believes that he can do this under the realm of prosecutorial discretion, that the president, with these decisions, would be basically saying, I'm taking the prosecutorial discretion to decide not to go after people who I consider to be a low risk, and to move those priorities to go after people who we consider to be a greater risk -- people who are -- would be criminals, or to move the resources to the border instead of going after the parents of American citizen children. That's his argument. I think that the legal experts that I've spoken to seem to think that that argument has held in the past, but it will no doubt be challenged if the president goes forward with this.
REHMAll right, to Robert in Little Rock, Ark. Hi, you're on the air.
ROBERTHi. Thank you very much for taking my call.
ROBERTI'm a big admirer of your show.
ROBERTI think what everybody's missing here is the bigger point. And let me give you just a quick background on myself. I did not vote straight Democrat this year. I did not vote for Mark Pryor. I could not bring myself to vote for Tom Cotton. The issue, really, the elephant in the living room, is our government really no longer responds to the masses in general. They've been captured by special interests, the monied elite. Immigration is just an example of where this really becomes obvious. Everybody that I know -- and let me add, my wife is an immigrant and I fix her papers -- everybody I know is opposed to this bill because they want less immigration, not more.
ROBERTAnd the biggest part of the bill isn't granting amnesty, it's the increase of the H-1B Visas. This is really an effort to reduce wages in the United States through immigration. And everybody I know is aware of it. The other point, which nobody wants to talk about is, I used to be just worried about the numbers, but I start to worry about the cultural compatibility that we have with some of the groups coming into the country and the...
RAJUWell, I think that's one reason why you saw Tom Cotton in Arkansas use the immigration issue pretty aggressively against Mark Pryor, because you do have a lot of people who are -- get very riled up over this immigration issue. And that's certainly something that Democrats in red states had to contend with this year. And I also think that the voter -- the listener speaks more broadly about kind of how voters are, you know, disenfranchised, feel disillusioned by the way things are happening in Washington. And that's what really also hurt Democrats last week. Turnout was lower than they needed.
REHMYou know, this idea, this phrase, cultural compatibility certainly must have been at the forefront when, in the early 20th century, you had all these immigrants coming into this country.
O'KEEFEYeah, that caller's lucky that the cultural compatibility didn't kick in until after his wife got to the country.
REHMIt's a comment that sort of hits deeply into the heart of what this country has been all about, the strength it has created by virtue of cultural compatibility writ large. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go now to Jason in Kent, Ohio. Hi, there. You're on the air. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."
JASONHi, Diane. Hi, Diane. How are you?
JASONOh, you're one of my favorites. It's an honor to be talking to you.
JASONWhat I want to talk about and you actually, talking about cultural compatibility, I'm on the forefront of this right now. I'm a professor at a university here and I teach part time. My degree is in philosophy, but I ended up teaching English as a second language. And the vast majority of my students are Saudi. And they're here under the Saudi Arabian program that George Bush set up to bring them over here to learn English and also to win the hearts and minds. Because the battle against terrorism isn't dropping bombs, it's also winning the hearts and minds of people.
JASONNow, I do this in my class and I can read it in my essays. I've had Saudis write essays where you can see their perception of America change. Now, terrorism is a big issue, health care and education. Now, I was a supporter of Obamacare, still am. But when Obamacare came out, our university cut all of our part-time professor's hours so they didn't have to give them health care. The most I can make in a year is $12,000 teaching. Now, this is where the rubber hits the road. When you have policies like health care policies, education policies and terrorism policies that are mandated on the federal and at state level and they -- we have something so important, where we have an opportunity to change the minds of the people.
JASONBut yet I'm here in a position where I love my job, I love what -- the ability to change their minds. But yet I cannot financially support myself on $12,000 a year. And now I do not see this Republican majority doing anything to solve this serious problem.
REHMAnd lack of wage growth is certainly an issue that people all across this country are struggling with, Ed.
O'KEEFEThey are. And increasingly you're hearing stories like this professor's where...
O'KEEFE...where, you know, the health care law is becoming a factor in all that. I think it demonstrates the complex challenge that Congress faces in the new year and dealing with policy in addition to the politics and I think really gets to the frustration of a lot of Americans.
KEITHAnd the 40-hour workweek provision of the health care law is what he's talking about here, that is -- actually says, I think, that it's 30 hours is considered full time under the health care law. And that is one of the provisions that Republicans in Congress plan to take up as soon as possible. And they likely could get some Democratic support for that, and in fact...
REHMTo raise the 30 to 40.
KEITHTo 40. Not all Democrats would support it, certainly. But there are people who would support it. It's one of those things that could be among a suite of changes to the health care law that wouldn't undermine it completely, but that would fix some of the drafting errors and some of the unintended consequences.
RAJUYeah, I think that you probably will see some small -- smaller changes like that made to the law that the White House will have to accept. The question, to me, is exactly how the Republicans decide to pursue this. Do they add that to must-pass bills that the president has to sign to keep the government funded, to raise the debt ceiling, et cetera? Or do they try to do it on standalone legislation, which would also make it easier for the White House to veto it. So it will be interesting to see how the Republicans decide to use changes to the health care law as leverage to give the president something that he wants.
REHMLast word, Manu. Thank you so much Manu Raju of Politico, Tamara Keith of NPR, Ed O'Keefe of The Washington Post. I'm sure you'll all be back here once this lame duck session is over and we move from there. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.