President Barack Obama announces executive orders to reform immigration. His plan allows millions of unauthorized immigrants to, as he put it, “come out of the shadows.” But Republican leaders promise a fight. The Senate blocks the Keystone XL pipeline and votes down a bill to restrict N.S.A. phone record collection. Tensions rise in Ferguson as the community awaits a grand jury decision. Takata faces a grilling from senators over its deadly airbags. Montana and South Carolina legalize gay marriage. And Bill Cosby loses deals with NBC and Netflix following more sexual assault allegations. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Reid Wilson Staff writer, The Washington Post; he writes The Post's political tipsheet email called "Read In."
- Shawna Thomas Senior editor, NBC's Meet the Press
- Alexander Burns Senior political reporter, Politico
Video: What's Next For The Lawsuit Against The Obama Administration?
The announcement Friday of a lawsuit against the Obama administration over the Affordable Care Act came just hours after Thursday’s prime time rollout of Obama’s immigration plan.
Both exemplify an issue that will also face the 114th Congress when it convenes in January: “What are the powers of the president in a government that’s as bitterly divided as I think we’ve ever seen?” Politico’s Alex Burns asked Friday on The Diane Rehm Show.
Watch the full discussion above.
Full Video, Domestic News Roundup (11/21/2014)
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. President Obama announces executive action on immigration. The Senate votes down the Keystone XL pipeline and U.S. auto regulators call for an expansion of the Takata airbag recall. Here for this week's Friday News Roundup of domestic issues, Reid Wilson of The Washington Post, Shawna Thomas of NBC's "Meet The Press," Alex Burns of Politico.
MS. DIANE REHMAnd since it's Friday, you can watch a live video stream of the program at our website, drshow.org. You can call us, 800-433-8850. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And good morning to all of you.
MR. ALEX BURNSGood morning.
MR. REID WILSONGood morning, Diane.
MS. SHAWNA THOMASGood morning.
REHMGood to see you all. Before we begin talking about the president's speech, let's hear a tiny clip of it.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMAThe actions I'm taking are not only lawful, they're the kinds of actions taken by every single Republican president and every single Democratic president for the past half century. And to those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer. Pass a bill.
REHMReid Wilson, how likely is that?
WILSONI think it's very unlikely that Congress is gonna be passing any legislation this year. Not only have they said that this action would "poison the well," hard to imagine how the well could be any more poisoned at this point, but the internal dynamics of the House Republican Conference are not conducive to actually acting on immigration reform.
WILSONWhile acting on immigration reform might be in the best interest of the party at large, it is not necessarily in the best interest of individual members. These are the members who have to go home, have to win primary election contests in, you know, among very conservative constituents and those constituents don't want to talk about comprehensive reform.
WILSONThey want to talk about enforcement first, border security, essentially everything like that.
REHMSo before we go on, let's hear John Cornyn's response. He is the senator from Texas on the Senate floor, talking in advance of the speech.
SEN. JOHN CORNYNSo the president seems intent on provoking a constitutional crisis by adopting policies that he previously said were illegal.
THOMASWell, the White House would say, and they've been out this morning saying, that the president's previous answers about that had to do with going much further, kind of what was in the Senate bill that passed last year that didn't go anywhere. And on the topic of passing a bill, the House is not gonna pass a bill this year. Next year, we'll see if they try to come up with anything. But even this morning, Boehner was saying that the president has deliberately sabotaged the process.
THOMASSo the question is, what can the GOP do in response and even that is sort of fractured because basically, the House has said they can't defund the part of the government that actually does this work. The USCIS, they can't defund it because they are self-funded and what is the next step to actually appease the Republican Party? Hard to tell.
REHMWhat do we know about what next steps might be, Alex?
BURNSWell, Republicans have sort of floated a range of options from suing the president, suing the Department of Homeland Security, trying to defund something, even if it's not actually the part of the government that is going to be carrying out this policy. But, look, I think Republicans -- and they'll privately admit this, some of them will publically admit this -- they're in a tough bind here because in the very short term, they believe they have a strong procedural argument against what the president is doing, that Barack Obama is unpopular with much of the country and the idea of him doing something this big through the stroke of pen is gonna rub a lot of voters the wrong way.
BURNSWhen you think longer term and when you think about the substance of the policy, a lot of Republicans are eventually going to have to answer the question, well, if you don't want to do this, what do you want to do? And if you don't like that the president deferred, you know, created this deferred action option for 5 million, up to 5 million people, well, would you rather just throw them out of the country?
BURNSAnd that's a question that has traditionally been a pretty uncomfortable one for Republicans to answer, at least Republicans who are at the level of national politics, not the sort of district level politics that Reid was talking about.
THOMASAnd you run into an issue, which you have also seen with the healthcare law, that once people have something and they see the benefits -- in the case of the healthcare law, it's kids staying on their parents insurance until they're 26 -- once we get to next year and this really goes into effect, how do you take that away from people?
WILSONI mean, this is a problem for both parties. On the Democratic side, as Alex said, they're dealing with a very unpopular president who has just taken a very unpopular path towards what is ultimately an popular idea, which is allowing a path to citizenship and allowing people with kids to stay here, you know, those are things that poll hugely well. On the other side, the Republicans, they're really concerned about some of their members overreacting to this.
WILSONSome of the rhetoric that we've seen, you played a clip of John Cornyn who was one of the calmest responses. There were some comments this morning about the president ripping apart the fabric of the constitution and whether or not he can be impeached or go to jail for five years, et cetera, et cetera. The Republican's leadership here in Washington is worried that some of their members are now gonna say some things that are really extreme and this has the potential to derail the Republican agenda as they come into power in the U.S. Senate next year.
REHMInteresting. But Reid, you're not saying, are you, that the Republicans did not expect the president to move forward this way?
WILSONI think everybody expected. I mean, realistically speaking, everybody expected this. We thought it was coming by the end of the summer, which is what he promised earlier this year. We thought it was coming a little later. He delayed this action until after the election. A lot of Democrats were telling me if he had done this before the election, the wave that swept Republicans in would've been even bigger. It would've energized the Republican base even more.
WILSONBut just because people expected this doesn’t mean that they're gonna take it terribly well and they're not.
REHMShawna, how long is this order on immigration going to extend?
THOMASSo basically, parts of it don't go into effect for six months. But it should extend through the end of the Obama administration. After that...
WILSONI think it's the first part of 2017.
THOMASBut after that, a new president could easily rescind this. This is not permanent, which is, I mean, one of the White House's arguments about it in that why they would rather Congress take it up is because as soon as a new president comes in, they can do away with as many executive actions as they'd like.
REHMOkay. But what about after the first of the year when the new Senate does come in? Could they perhaps simply not fund what the president has asked for?
BURNSThey can try, but Shawna alluded earlier, USCIS, which is the agency that actually oversees this part of immigration enforcement...
BURNS...is funded through application fees from people who are trying to become Americans or trying to get green cards so they have an independent funding stream that makes them very different from most parts of the U.S. government. So I suppose Congress could, you know, commandeer that money for some other purpose, but it's not as simple as just saying, we're not going to appropriate additional tax dollars.
REHMAnd you do not think that Republicans would go so far as to shut down the government over this, Shawna, or might they?
THOMASI think there are certain factions of the Republican Party who would push for that.
THOMASWho would like to do that symbolically. I am not convinced that Senator McConnell or Speaker Boehner would go that far.
WILSONI think that's right. The House and Senate leadership want to avoid the talk of a shutdown at all cost. On the other hand, there are members who are pushing to shutdown the government over just about anything, whether it's this, whether it's funding parts of the Affordable Care Act, which will come up next year, whatever it happens to be, there are some factions of the Republican Party who still believe that a shutdown is good for the party.
WILSONAfter all, they will say, look, we shut down the government in October of 2013...
REHMAnd it didn't hurt us.
WILSON...and we won a bunch of seats. That is, you know, that relationship is not exactly sort of a causal relationship. But there are a number of Republicans who certainly want to shut down the government. It is something that the party leadership is desperate to avoid.
REHMAnd what about Senator Ted Cruz and what he had to say yesterday?
BURNSWell, this is sort of a moment tailor-made for Ted Cruz, right? There's nothing better for him than a moment where he can go as far to the right of his party as possible and also sort of put on the robes of Ted Cruz constitutional scholar.
REHMAnd put President Obama into the role of one of the Greek philosophers, for god's sakes.
BURNSOr worse. He has Obama sort of crossing the Rubicon like Caesar, right? And so this is a great, great moment for Ted Cruz -- what works to Ted Cruz's advantage is that he's like the guy in the bar who always wants to start the fight, but has the friends to grab him and say, no, no, no, buddy. Like, don't go up against that guy. Right? That he gets to show the base how tough he is, but ultimately gets restrained.
BURNSAnd the big question here is how restrainable is he, how restrainable is this side of the party at a moment when they feel really empowered and really angry? I think ultimately it's a tough argument that the numbers are there for that wing of the party to shut down the government, but they can certainly make things very uncomfortable for their leadership and for the president.
REHMAlex Burns, senior political reporter at Politico. Short break here and when we come back, we'll talk about the Keystone pipeline.
REHMAnd the New York Times has just reported that House Republicans have filed a long-threatened lawsuit against the Obama Administration on the health care law. The lawsuit was filed against the secretaries at Health and Human Service and Department of Treasury. What do you think of that? Where's it going to go, Alex?
BURNSWell, it's potentially an interesting moment when you tie it into what just happened on immigration. I obviously haven't seen the lawsuit that was just filed but what Republicans have threatened to sue over is the way in which the administration has used executive discretion to implement certain parts of the health care law on a different timetable or on slightly different terms than what is actually written in the statutes of the law.
BURNSMost legal scholars I've talked to about this are not usually optimistic that -- for Republicans that this lawsuit will actually take a toll on the administration, that the executive does tend to have pretty broad discretion in a lot of the administrative details of implementing the law. But this is part of what I think is going to be a huge public conversation between congress and the White House over the next six months or two years about just what are the powers of the president in a government that is as bitterly divided as I think anyone's ever seen.
THOMASI think they've been threatening to do this for awhile. It took them a little while to find a lawyer who is willing to take the case. They have found one. It's hard, since the announcement came out today, not to see this as one of the reactions to what the president is doing on immigration. And you very well, as we talked about before, could see lawsuits from congress on what the president is doing on immigration sort of similar, how large can he go with executive actions.
THOMASBut this isn't a surprise and it plays into this idea that House Republicans and the Senate Republicans have said, we already feel like you're not working with us. We're going to keep going ahead on our path if you're going to keep going ahead on your path.
REHMI see. And the last paragraph of this, which Robert Pear reported for the Times, was that House Republicans struggled to find a law firm willing to take their case. Two withdrew but on Tuesday Mr. Boehner hired Jonathan Turley, professor at George Washington University.
WILSONAnd Jonathan Turley is known for these kinds of big lawsuits. He's argued before the Supreme Court many times. This is part of the larger debate on executive action and executive authority. And there's an irony here because one of the very first things that the Republicans in congress are going to do when they come back to session in the 114th congress next January is they're going to give the president more authority. They're going to pass a measure -- they're likely to pass a measure that would give the president authority to negotiate trade deals much more smoothly without having to go back to the Senate.
WILSONSo there is a nice little irony here that President Obama, the person who they believe has overstepped his bounds by so much, is going to get a little more authority right off the bat next year.
REHMAlex Burns, the Senate came within one vote of passing the Keystone bill on Tuesday night. Give us some of the background on why it failed.
BURNSWell, it ended up as all 45 Senate Republicans plus 14 Senate Democrats voting to put this pipeline through. That's one vote short of what they needed to send to the president's desk. The president didn't necessarily say that he would sign it but he didn't issue a veto threat either, so we might've been, you know, our long national nightmare of debating Keystone could have been over by now. But instead it's going to go into the next year.
BURNSThis was a big political vote, not just for the issue of energy and the environment more broadly but particularly for Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu who's in a very, very tough runoff race right now to try to retain her seat. The vote's on December 6. Her whole campaign theme has been, look at my cloud in Washington. I can deliver for Louisiana's energy priorities. Give me the chairmanship of the energy committee and I will show you what I can do for our state.
REHMBut the question becomes with even coming as close as she did, how likely is she to have helped her prospects for election?
THOMASThis was a last final attempt to be able to win that seat. I mean, there are people who would say, even if she had gotten this through, that might not have been enough in Louisiana to get her the Senate seat.
REHMBecause the runoff is...
WILSONThe runoff is December 6. She's running against a congressman named Bill Cassidy. And Louisiana has changed dramatically since the last time she faced a real tough race. It has lost, you know, a quarter of a million people after Hurricane Katrina who moved to other states. They were mostly her voters. They were -- you know, if they're coming from the city of New Orleans, you know, people who live in big cities are much more likely to vote Democratic. That was sort of the Landrieu family base.
WILSONShe -- now every poll that I've seen in the last couple of weeks has shown her down 10 points or more. The Democrats aren't even spending money on television advertising for her. That tells you all you need to know about her prospects.
REHMSo what happens when the new congress comes in in January likely to take up Keystone again, and this time pass it.
THOMASIn this time they could pass it. They have the votes in the Senate to do that, send it to the president. The president can make a decision about whether he wants to veto it. Do they have enough votes in the Senate to override a presidential veto? Probably not, no. But what could happen is that this is a case where the president could use this to make a deal.
REHM...to trade something.
THOMASExactly. And that is probably, I would say, what he would do with this. There's no -- other than trying to side a little bit with environmentalists, I don't think he's really shown his hand on Keystone that well. So we have to see what can he get for it, if they're willing to make a deal for it.
REHMWhat might he get for it?
BURNSWell, the funny thing is, if he gets anything for it it's going to be a lot less than he could've gotten for it two or three years ago, right, that if this had been part of some bigger energy deal -- you know, I don't think he was ever going to get, you know, cap and trade in exchange for Keystone or something, but maybe could've gotten the Republicans to, you know, back off some of their lawsuits against the EPA or pass some kind of, you know, energy efficiency or fuel emission standards kind of legislation in exchange for this.
BURNSAt this point, you know, they may not have a veto-proof vote in the Senate, but they're going to get pretty close, right. So under the circumstances, you know, if I'm a Republican senator and I have 64, 65 votes for Keystone, you know, I don't know how much you give away in exchange for -- you know, you might almost rather keep the issue and be able to go out there and say overwhelming majorities of both chambers of congress, the American people are all for this. And all that's standing in the way of these jobs is this unpopular president.
REHMAnd a total of 37 permanent jobs, let us not forget.
THOMASTrue, but one of the things that's really interesting about this fight is that multiple years ago nobody cared about Keystone. Most of the pipeline is already built. This is all about, can it cross the Canadian border? Can it go into the United States? And on top of that, one of the things that the State Department environment impact statement said was, these tar sands are going to be developed anyway. A lot of this oil is still going to get down to Texas to be refined. It doesn't -- it is going to infect (sic) the environment it said. But whether the pipeline gets built or not is not the huge factor on the environment.
WILSONThis is the world's largest process fight. Like this is a -- the president wants to allow the State Department, which has jurisdiction over this particular decision, to make their decision to go through the steps that they will take. It has taken several years. Republicans are furious that it has taken so long. But in the end, to him it's a process fight because, as Shawna says, the ultimate impact of this pipeline isn't going to be dramatic. It is going to be -- you know, the fuel will get to the appropriate refineries whether by -- or the oil rather -- whether by rail or by truck or however other way they will transport it.
REHMUnless Canadians take it out their own route.
WILSONAnd part of the threat has been they will build the pipeline over to Vancouver and then ship it over to Asia.
REHMAnd they don't want it either.
WILSONThat -- well, it's -- I mean, Canada's a huge exporting country and it's -- one thing I will say, by the way, in future generations, lobbyists will study the Keystone pipeline and TransCanada's ability to make it such a huge potent political issue. I mean, this is a textbook case of taking a -- you know, what is in effect a tiny little symbol and making it sort of the speak all of the energy debate.
REHMOkay. But let's make sure not to leave out the environmental concerns we learned on this program just this week, that these tar sands are like peanut butter and have to be diluted to get them through the pipeline. Then the chemicals used to dilute them have to go somewhere, and nobody's told us yet where they're going to go. This is not as simple as building a pipeline. There are large environmental concerns, legitimate ones.
THOMASAnd the State Department impact statement does talk about those environmental concerns and that the tar sands oil, just to process it just to get it out of the ground, takes 17 percent more carbon dioxide than other types of oil that we drill for. It is a labor-intensive process, is a dirty process.
REHMIt's dirty oil.
THOMASIt is a dirty oil. But the issue with this is that everyone thinks this -- and it is being developed now -- this oil will be developed. So the question is, does the United States try to -- or United States companies try to get some money and some jobs out of it, even if they're temporary jobs as you said? Most of the long-term jobs -- there's very few long-term jobs. Or do you -- or does it get shipped to Asia? Do they do something else with it?
REHMWell, they were going to ship it out anyhow, Shawna. We aren't keeping this oil. We don't need it.
WILSONActually, the interesting part of all this is that the tar sands -- this isn't the only oil formation in the world that develops this. We've got one right in our own backyard. The Bakken formation up in North Dakota can -- I mean, it is producing not exactly the same kind of oil but -- all oil is a little different, but similar, much sort of similar stuff. And the pipelines for that oil are already built and they're already operating. The difference is they don't have to cross an international border.
REHMAll right. The other bill that did not make it through the Senate this week was the proposed overhaul of the NSA's phone data collection program. What happened there, Reid?
WILSONWell, the -- Senator Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee until the Republicans take over in January, has been pushing this overhaul of the NSA reforms in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations. This reform would have halted the bulk collection of metadata, that is the domestic call records that the NSA scoops in and is able to analyze. It failed by two -- I shouldn't say failed. It did not proceed to the final vote by a two-vote margin. It got 58 votes. It needed 60.
WILSONThe two people who were expected to vote for it who didn't, one was expected, Bill Nelson the Democrat from Florida. Another, Senator Rand Paul who has been outspoken on issues of privacy and outspoken against the NSA and their collection of this metadata, he voted against it reasoning that it didn't go far enough. Once again, the perfect has become the enemy of the good. And so it fell two votes short despite the fact that, well, a significant number of Republicans voted for it.
WILSONThis is something that matters a lot right now, especially because the U.S. Senate is debating with the CIA over a report on torture. And within the intelligence community the Senate report on torture -- they're debating what can -- what has to be redacted, what can be released publically. There are a few senators who feel very strongly about the NSA reforms and the collection of this metadata who have threatened to read the entire torture report into the Senate record, which they're legally allowed to do.
WILSONThe intelligence community had -- well, the Senate had a little bit of leverage over the intelligence community with this NSA bill. Now I think that leverage is gone.
REHMReid Wilson of the Washington Post and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." So what's next for this bill?
BURNSWell, the prospects for its revival in the new congress are really dim. The chief opponent of this bill is Mitch McConnell who will be actually leading the Senate in about six weeks. And you saw at least one major champion of NSA reform go down in this election, Mark Udall of Colorado, a huge, huge figure in the fight over privacy, to an opponent Cory Gardner who has really diametrically opposed views.
BURNSIf you couldn't get to 60 with this Senate, if you couldn't get Rand Paul's vote before the presidential election gets started, suddenly it gets a lot harder after the New Year.
REHMAll right. And Shawna, let's talk about the airbag manufacturer Takata. They and the automakers certainly faced a tough day on Capitol Hill. They got an apology from Takata but there was a long pause before the representative actually accepted responsibility.
THOMASYeah, and sort of the background of this is that there's been these cases of exploding airbags. First they thought it was only in humid conditions in multiple cars. Takata is one of the few companies that actually produces airbags for cars. It's connected with five deaths. They think it's in about 8 million cars.
THOMASBut then -- there was an actual recall last year and then it got -- they wanted to expand the recall last year.
THOMASMuch wider because they've realized that it could affect up north, everywhere. And the thought was that possibly Senator Nelson and Senator Thune were going to introduce a bill that rewards employees for, like, bringing these kind of things to notice. But it's one of those things where we've seen so many recalls -- this is all people can talk about -- actually my car has that airbag in it so I need to go get my car fixed -- that it's hard to sort of trust the car industry. And we keep seeing this happen over and over again.
REHMI know. And if I'm not mistaken, didn't they run out of replacements for the airbag?
THOMASYes. And so what the senators were pushing for or what the congress was pushing for was that car companies should be able to give people rental cars while you're waiting for the replacement parts to come in. But that's actually a normal refrain for a lot of these recalls, that they're not ready for the amount of people coming in. They're not ready for the amount of cars coming in.
REHMSo Alex, what does the involvement by regulators due to Takata?
BURNSWell, it's funny that you see sort of congress now doing what congress does best these days, which is hauling in public people, humiliating them on television.
REHMBack to that.
BURNSForcing them to apologize and then probably doing nothing else on the issue. But, you know, a big question with auto manufacturers, just as with virtually every other sort of big part of the economy, manufacturing, financial, everything else, you know, were regulators paying enough attention, right? And I don't -- you know, I think there's a pretty clear consensus at this point, you don't get to the point where you have this kind of epidemic of recalls on the ignition switches for General Motors, the airbags across several brands of car, Honda and Chrysler, not just, you know, a single automaker that, you know, are these machines getting enough due diligence before they actually hit the road.
REHMAll of them. I mean, I frankly might be a little leery about buying a new car these days simply by virtue of the millions of recalls we've seen.
BURNSWell, not to try to be the glass-half-full guy here, but for those of us who are terrified of air travel and always have their friends telling them, airplanes are actually much, much safer than automobiles, that's starting to get a lot more believable.
REHMExactly. All right. We'll take a short break here. When we come back, it's time to open the phones. I look forward to speaking with you.
REHMAnd we have much more news to talk about. But first, let's open the phones, 800-433-8850. Let's go to Laura in St. Louis. You're on the air.la
LAURAGood morning, Diane.
LAURAI just wanted to make a comment. I had recently heard an interview with an Alec MacGillis on a book that he had written about Mitch McConnell. And the attitude that many, I think, politicians have these days of more insistence on getting elected than actually governing and getting any work done, which I noticed in some of the rebuttal on President Obama's immigration speech last night just that discourse that, well, you know, you're not giving me what I want, so I'm not going to work with you. And I just feel people just want to get reelected rather than govern. And...
REHMWhat do you think, Alex Burns?
BURNSWell, there's certainly -- certainly a lot of that going around. I think that the -- in addition to just the pressure that politicians feel to get reelected, it does seem like folks are no longer operating under the basic assumption that they do have a responsibility to solve problems, right? There was a time not that long ago, we all remember it, where if the president took a view on immigration, it was diametrically opposed to Congress' view.
BURNSBut everybody was concerned about the crisis on the border, a unified Republican Congress would pass a conservative bill, and then go back and forth with the president. They'd build a conference between the House and the Senate, maybe the president would veto, they'd do some political gamesmanship. But they would all proceed under the assumption that, at some point, they're actually going to have to pass something.
REHMThat something would get done. All right, let's go to Tom in Harrisburg, PA. You're on the air.
TOMHi, Diane. You and your staff and the best. You know, I think it's pretty -- I admit I'm a simple person. I think there's a very simple reason why Congress isn't passing this and that's because the United States Chamber of Commerce have a huge influence on the Republicans and they do not want to have to pay a minimum wage. What...
REHMWhat do you think, Reid?
WILSONActually the Chamber is very much in favor of comprehensive immigration reform. They want to see some big package passed, because it's good for their workers. I mean, there are a number of companies around the country, whether they're the high tech companies, the Facebook -- the founder of Facebook has been pushing immigration reform for a while. Or the most low tech, labor intensive jobs in the world.
WILSONIn my home state of Washington a couple of years ago, the apple growers had to leave 40 percent of the harvest on the trees because they simply didn't have enough people to pick them. So Chamber of Commerce is actually very much in favor of immigration reform. I think the people who are opposed are the much more sort of hard-lined conservatives.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about the big news for gay marriage. Tell us about it, Shawna.
THOMASSo, this week, South Carolina became the 35th state to allow -- to permit same sex marriages. There had been basically a court case. They tried to get a stay on that. U.S. Supreme Court said we're not going to stay these marriages. You can continue to appeal the decision, which they probably will, but we're not going to put a stay on it. So, now, 35 states in the union have approved same sex marriage.
REHMIs this really the -- one of the last big pushes?
BURNSI think it is. And the -- the court case that may ultimately be more consequential was this ruling in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, where a more conservative panel, for the first time in a long time, overturned lower court rulings, making gay marriage legal in a number of states, including Kentucky and Ohio and Tennessee. So, for the first time now, you know, gay marriage proponents were on this incredible hot streak in the courts.
BURNSFor the first time, we now have real conflict between the different circuits of appeals courts. The sixth is the only one that's ruled against gay marriage, the fourth, the seventh, the tenth rule in favor of gay marriage. All that, when you do have that kind of lack of consensus, that makes it much more likely that the Supreme Court will have to rule on its own.
WILSONAnd that's what gay marriage proponents are looking for. They actually want this case to go to the Court, the Supreme Court, get the final decision out of the way one way or the other. And, you know, I would hasten to add, by the way, that Montana also legalized same sex -- I wasn't quite sure on who gets credit for being number 34 and who gets on being number 35. But gay marriage is now legal in both Montana and South Carolina and wasn't on Wednesday. So...
REHMGood. Let's talk about Ferguson, because there are reports we might get the grand jury's verdict today. How likely is it that we'll get it and that Officer Wilson will be indicted?
WILSONIt looks like Officer Wilson will not be indicted. The Department of Justice has said for a long time, quietly sort of played down expectations. They say it's very difficult to mount this kind of civil rights case against him and that they simply don't have the evidence. The -- my understanding was a decision may come down as early as today, but it would stay sealed for 48 hours as law enforcement are made aware of it and given the opportunity to prepare for any demonstrations that would happen in Ferguson or St. Louis or the surrounding area.
REHMBut the governor has already declared a state of emergency, Shawna.
THOMASGovernor Nixon did that on Monday so to be able to free up the National Guard, to be able to respond. This has gotten mixed reactions throughout the country. I mean, there is a conversation to be had about what does it say about what you think people are going to do and race relations if you mobilize the National Guard that early before anything has happened. There's also something to be said for if people are already threatening civil disobedience, do you need to take steps in advance to make sure everybody stayed safe, everybody -- there's no looting, that kind of thing?
THOMASBut one interesting that one of my colleagues pointed out is that in the exit polling from 2008 when talking about race relations, 47 percent of the country thought race relations would get better. We did more exit polling in 2014, that number dropped to 20 percent thought that race relations had gotten better over the last few years. And I -- and the striking thing was 59 percent of people thought it was going to get better.
THOMASFifty-nine percent of black people thought it was going to get better in 2008. When black people were asked again has it gotten better, that dropped to 18 percent.
THOMASAll of the numbers have dropped. And that just says something about post-President Obama where race relations are in this country. It is not a surprise when you look at these numbers that people are still protesting in the streets every night in Ferguson, MO.
REHMSo, would you expect, given the long duration of time the discussions that have gone on, the protests that have already occurred that if there are protests following a verdict, they might be peaceful?
BURNSWell, I think it's worth, you know, you talk to folks around the governor in Missouri and they say that what they're afraid of is actually not so much the folks who are protesting the civil rights issue or protesting police conduct. And many of those protests have been entirely peaceful or overwhelmingly peaceful. What they're afraid of are folks who have sort of come in from out of state, you know, take the bus down from Chicago or, you know, over from Tennessee or whatever.
REHMAnd didn't the Ku Klux Klan get involved?
BURNSWell, it becomes sort of a magnet for people who are looking for a fight, right? There are people who -- most people just want to peacefully protest what's going on there. A small minority of people want to start something with the cops and that's what they're afraid of is it there's, you know, you're dealing with a tinderbox situation and there are people who are only too happy to start the fire.
WILSONSo the Klan threatened some protesters in Ferguson. They threatened to commit violence against them or something like that. And shortly thereafter, the hacker collective Anonymous hijacked all the Klan's websites and changed all their passwords and everything like that. So, this obviously has become a debate that is much larger than one person and any, you know, one small community. This is, as Shawna -- I mean, Shawna, those numbers are shocking.
WILSONThis is a national debate. You know, Michael Brown is not the only teenager that this has happened to. And, you know, these things are going to keep coming up. And when they do, it's up to the local jurisdictions to come up with some way to handle the protests better than the Ferguson Police Department did. I think the initial reaction was so over the top and so overly harsh that it -- things spiraled out of control and they didn't need to.
REHMAll right. Let's take a caller in Great Falls, VA. Hi there, David, you're on the air.
DAVIDGood morning, Diane. It's a wonderful show.
DAVIDI have a comment, really.
DAVIDThe Democrats have a recipe for failure, which is pretty straightforward. They want to outdo the GOP in terms of the Republican agenda. They don't advertise their success in the economy or their populist perspective adequately. For example, in the immigration debate, the GOP drew a line in the sand. The Democrats don't draw a similar line in the sand for things like repealing the ACA and other items on their national agenda. I'll listen to your...
REHMAll right, thanks for calling. Alex?
BURNSWell, I think your caller's expressing frustration that a lot of Democrats feel, but that also is part of what comes with -- it's one of the burdens, it one of the benefits of being the party that controls the presidency that when you're in Congress, you're only means to get leverage over a national agenda is draw this sort of theatrical lines in the sand. When you control the presidency, you do actually have to govern and administer the country.
BURNSSo if you did have the president saying if you send me a bill like this, I will shut down the government. People would not react well to that. I think that your caller's first point about how Democrats have not advertised the really pretty obvious success of the economy...
REHMTouted there. Yeah, absolutely.
BURNS...at this point or at least the steady recovery. That's something that people across the party can agree on from the populist wing, from the business wing of the party, I think that was what Democrats were hoping to campaign on in this last election before they got bogged down in Ebola and ISIS and, you know, goodness knows what else.
REHMLet's go to Santa Fe, NM. Hi, Kate, you're on the air.
KATEGood morning. As an environmental engineer, I find the black and white debate on the Keystone -- political debate on the Keystone Pipeline really frustrating. I mean, the pro-pipeline is like you're going to create a zillion jobs and global warming is not real. And then the other end is a black and white litmus test for Democrats that if you don't fight this, you know, we're going to get you.
KATEAnd in reality, it's much bigger than that. I mean, if it doesn't come by pipeline, they're still going to produce it in Canada and it's going to come across the U.S. in tanker cars as it has been. And those are like rolling bombs. The new tanker standards aren't even passed yet. We've seen severe accidents in Canada and the U.S. And this is part of the debate, too. I mean, it's not black and white.
REHMAll right, thanks for calling.
THOMASWell, and one of the things that she brings up when it comes to putting it on tanker cars is that there is a thought that that is a much more dangerous way to transmit the oil instead of the pipeline. But the other side of that has always been, if there is a tanker car accident, it's bad. That's not good. It's one isolated incident. If the pipeline ruptures, you can get much, much oil in the environment from that. But the likelihood of that is much less than a tanker car accident.
REHMWell, but think about the tanker car that did explode and really ruined an entire city.
WILSONAnd that was in Canada.
WILSONAnd remember, there was another one just down the road here in Lynchburg, VA a few months before that. I mean, these things happen with increasing frequency as we rely more on the tankers to transport the oil, whether it's through, you know, from the Canadian tar sands or from the Bakken or from pretty much anywhere else.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's talk about the sexual charges against legendary comedian Bill Cosby. Shawna, a number of allegations against him from women who are alleging that these sexual assaults occurred against them. Why are they coming forward now?
THOMASWell, there was -- a few months back, a comedian made the jokes about, in one of his acts, about Bill Cosby and these sexual allegations. And it was...
REHMYeah, calling him a rapist.
THOMASCalling him a rapist. There was one case that -- where a woman threatened to take him to court and they ended up settling it out of court. And in the process of trying...
THOMASYes. And in the process of doing that, the lawyers went up and they said they found a lot of other women who were willing to testify on her behalf. But it is important to note that there has been no case in court. He has not been charged with anything. But I think it is -- his reputation is kind of America's dad from the 1980s and the early '90s makes it hard for people to have this conversation about him. But we have to keep -- who he was on television is not necessarily who he is in real life. But we don't know what happened.
BURNSWell, we don't -- we certainly don't know what happened and we haven't sort of seen this play out in court. You do now have eight women who have put their names to these allegations, which are really disturbingly similar across incidents. You don't have stories that are just, you know, Bill Cosby did this thing that's very, very different from this other thing. It seem -- it certainly seems like a pattern.
BURNSYou don't want to prejudge these things, but that's exactly what the entertainment companies are doing. Netflix has put on hold a sort of comeback special featuring Cosby. NBC has scrapped a potential comeback sitcom for Cosby called "Bill Cosby at 77" or "Bill Cosby 77." TV Land has pulled "The Cosby Show" reruns from the network and has, without any comment, taken down the section of its website about "The Cosby Show." So certainly from the corporate side, from the entertainment side, the reaction has been pretty intense, pretty quickly as this has gathered steam.
WILSONI think this is a part of larger shift in the conversation. There were -- these allegations did exist, you know, 10, 20, 30 years ago. They were out there. we published a piece in the Washington Post a few days ago about a woman who had accused him of this 30 years ago when he was in the middle of his amazing run as, you know, at the top of the entertainment charts. The difference now, though, is that the conversation sexual assault is dramatically different.
WILSONIt is no longer -- it's not as, you know, stigmatized for the victims. It's something that is playing a role in the -- in discussions about college, in discussions about sports, the sort of all of our -- all of our culture is now newly aware almost, as sad that is to say, about the epidemic of sexual assault around the country. So the atmosphere is much amenable to allegations like this to actually be believed.
REHMI thought the interview he did with the AP sitting in that studio, where he asked the interviewer to delete that entire portion struck me -- and sort of putting pressure on the interviewer to do just that made me feel really uncomfortable.
THOMASWell, and I think as a journalist as we saw the AP reporter kind of say, I can't do that. I can't promise you that. It makes you think that he doesn't sort of know the enormity of what is going on around him. I mean, that interview plus the Scott Simon interview for "Weekend Edition" where he was unwilling to talk. It seems short sighted. You are going to have to talk at some point.
REHMShawna Thomas of NBC's "Meet the Press," Alex Burns of Politico, Reid Wilson of the Washington Post, thank you all.
WILSONThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.