Guest Host: Indira Lakshmanan
The U.S. economy added 223,000 jobs in April, pushing the jobless rate to 5.4 percent – its lowest since 2008. Attorney General Loretta Lynch decides to launch an investigation of Baltimore’s police department. An appeals court rules that the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone data is illegal. The FBI says it warned police in Garland, Texas about one gunman hours before he and another man opened fire outside a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest. The Senate votes to give Congress the right to review any final nuclear deal with Iran. And politicians reflect on the legacy of former House speaker Jim Wright. A panel of journalists joins guest host Indira Lakshmanan for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Michael Scherer Washington bureau chief, TIME.
- Susan Davis Congressional correspondent, USA Today.
- Manu Raju Senior congressional reporter, Politico.
Video: Will The NSA Stop Collecting Phone Data?
Video: Will The DOJ Investigation of Baltimore Make A Difference?
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANThanks for joining us. I'm Indira Lakshmanan of Bloomberg News sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's recovering from a voice treatment. Attorney General Loretta Lynch decides to grant a request from the city of Baltimore to review its police practices. The jobless rate for April drops to its lowest rate since 2008 and more Republicans jump into the presidential race. Joining me for today's domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup, Manu Raju of Politico, Susan Davis of USA Today and Michael Scherer of TIME magazine.
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANYou can watch a live video stream of our conversation on our website, drshow.org. We'll be taking your questions and your comments throughout the hour. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us an email at email@example.com or send us a message on Facebook or Twitter. Welcome, everyone.
MS. SUSAN DAVISHi, Indira.
MR. MICHAEL SCHERERHi.
LAKSHMANANYeah. So it's been a big week on the domestic news front. Michael, I want to start with you. This is the first time that a higher court has reviewed the national security agency's bulk phone collection program. Tell us what happened.
SCHERERWell, it was a big ruling, a unanimous three-judge ruling. They ruled that this program, which was really at the heart of the Edward Snowden leak, this was the first big thing that Snowden revealed, was not following Congressional law and therefore, will need to be either reviewed by a higher court or Congress is going to have to step in and specifically authorize it for it to continue.
SCHERERThis is the program that allows the NSA to collect basically all the metadata for almost all, or all, we don't know exactly, the phone calls that are made in the United States and then store that information as a historical record that they can then go back and search. And for years, this was totally hidden from the American public. One of the reasons Snowden made his leaks, he always said, was that he watched the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, publically deny that this program existed.
SCHERERHe said in testimony before Congress, we have no program where we're collecting records on all Americans. And so what we have now is an opportunity. We don't know how it's going to play out, but an opportunity for the Supreme Court to take up this case and also an opportunity -- it comes at a sort of difficult time for Congress who is the process of trying to figure out what to do with this program.
SCHERERThere's not really consensus right now in Congress on how to move forward with this and this ruling is actually gonna complicate things in the next few months for them.
LAKSHMANANSo right now, Susan, does this mean the NSA has to stop collecting Americans phone records?
DAVISNo. And that is what's interesting about the ruling is that they did not order that the collection stop. What they essentially said, they kicked it back to Congress. The rule, law under the Patriot Act, that authorizes this program expires at the end of the month so the judges essentially said, Congress has to deal with this in a matter of weeks so we're not going to preemptively say that they have to end it.
DAVISSo now, they essentially have three options. They can reauthorize it as is and essentially ignore the court ruling, which I think is -- a tremendous amount of support for from Republican leadership. I think people like Mitch McConnell and John Boehner would like to just see at least a temporary extension of existing law to let the broader argument play out.
DAVISThere's a significant push to keep the program in place, but to change the way it's structured so that you would need -- you would have to go to a judge to ask for a specific court record, that it would put more layers in place. Or if Congress can't agree on what to do, it could sunset and expire, which I think you're seeing already a tremendous push from people that helped put this program in place to say that would be a disaster, that would put us in danger.
DAVISBut there's a lot of people in Congress that say we do not have the evidence to know that this program has ever stopped a terrorist attack, preempted a terrorist attack, and we can't definitively say it makes us safer.
LAKSHMANANSo Manu, explain this to us a little bit more. This is gonna fuel tension in Congress over the Patriot Act.
MR. MANU RAJUYeah, it really is. And there was already tension. There is three expiring provisions in the Patriot Act that expire on June 1. So Congress does not have a lot time, plus there's a Memorial Day recess at the end of the month so there's even less time for them to figure out what to do. The three expiring provisions, one deals with the issue of lone wolf -- these so-called lone wolf actors who are not directly connected to a terrorist organization, being able to surveil them, as well as roving wire taps when a terrorist suspect is moving around, being able to continue to monitor their activity, and the other is the bulk collection of data.
MR. MANU RAJUSo that is all wrapped up in this debate in Congress in how to deal with these three key authorities. Now, the House is moving on a separate track than the Senate Republican leadership is. The House is probably gonna approve a bill next week called the USA Freedom Act that is supported by a bipartisan group of civil libertarians who want to end the bulk data collection program, but would also keep in place aspects of the Patriot Act.
MR. MANU RAJUWhereas, the Senate Republican leadership, Mitch McConnell made very clear he strongly opposes moving forward on that and he wants to move forward with the clean extension of current law for five and a half years. Now, that extension doesn't fly with Senate Democratic leaders. They don't want that at all so there are several different approaches here. And it's not just among the parties, it's also among the presidential candidates as well.
MR. MANU RAJUYou have Marco Rubio who wants a clean extension of the law. He's positioning himself as a defense hawk in the Republican presidential field. You have Rand Paul, who doesn't think the USA Freedom Act, that middle ground bill, goes far enough. He opposes that and wants to repeal the Patriot Act outright. And you have people like Ted Cruz who support that more middle ground approach.
MR. MANU RAJUSo it just shows how difficult this is gonna be to come to a resolution in just a couple of weeks' time.
LAKSHMANANAll right. Well, as we are speaking, the new attorney general, Loretta Lynch, is giving her first press conference and she just announced that the Department of Justice is going to have this probe of the Baltimore Police Department practices. And the idea is looking at whether Baltimore engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive force. Michael, tell us, how would this be different from the federal probe that's already underway about whether police violated the civil rights of Freddie Gray, the man who died in Baltimore police custody.
SCHERERSo when we have these problems in local police departments, the Justice Department can approach them in a number of different ways. They can open specific investigations into the specific incident, which there is an investigation. And usually, that doesn't really amount to much. There's not many federal crimes you can bring in these cases that local and state authorities don't bring.
SCHERERThe far more effective method is this pattern and practice investigation and the Holder Justice Department, it looks like, the Lynch Justice Department have been very successful over the last six years in forcing a number of police jurisdictions around the country to change the way they do policing. And basically, this is an investigation in which the Justice Department is going to go into the Baltimore Police Department, go through their email, go through their records, figure out how they do their job and then do an audit and say, these are ways in which you're doing your job that, you know, violates civil rights or violate other laws.
SCHERERAnd then, usually through a court order, they come to an agreement with the jurisdiction to change the way policing is done. The best example of this is what happened in Ferguson. The federal government did an investigation of the Michael Brown shooting, nothing came of that, but there was also a pattern of practice investigation. Only lasted seven months, it was done very quickly and the report that came out that was made public was pretty damning and it basically lead to the resignation of the whole senior leadership of both the Ferguson police department and the governing body there.
SCHERERAnd as a result, the community was able to start over. So this is a situation where, I think, there's a lot of hope in Baltimore. There's a lot of hope among their congressional delegation, among the mayor, that the Justice Department can come in and sort of give the country and the people of Baltimore a report about what's wrong, if there is anything inside the department.
LAKSHMANANSo Susan, are we expecting that this probe in Baltimore would be quite parallel to the probe in Ferguson? Do we think it would have the same results?
DAVISI don't -- I mean, I can't speak to what the results will be, but the process is the same. And what's interesting is that the process that Mike referred to is something that came out of a criminal justice law that was passed in the early '90s in response to the Rodney King beatings and that there was -- Congress passed laws that gave the Justice Department enhanced authority to do oversight of local law enforcement departments.
DAVISSo, you know, considering that Ferguson found systemic discrimination within the police force against African-American communities, they were much more likely to be pulled over. They were much more likely to be cited, despite disproportionately to where they were in the population. I mean, it's clear that Baltimore has a very tenuous relationship between minority communities and law enforcement.
DAVISI mean, that's apparent. Whether or what the Justice Department finds, we can't speak to yet, but I think that it's notable that they're not only investigating whether Freddie Gray's rights individually were violated, but whether there is a systemic problem. I also think it's notable that the mayor announced that all Baltimore police officers will have body cameras by the end of the year, which I also thought was notable and it's interesting that we start to see this maybe becoming a new standard for law enforcement.
RAJUAnd it's also interesting that, you know, Loretta Lynch went -- this is what her first trip as attorney general, her first real major test as attorney general. Of course, she just got confirmed after five months of waiting, due to fighting in the Senate over nomination and other matters. But, you know, she doesn’t have much time in office. She has two and a half years. Clearly, Eric Holder has made a huge mark on the Justice Department.
RAJUThis could be part of her real lasting legacy, how she deals with these police departments not only in Baltimore, but also ongoing inquiries, of course, in Ferguson as well as Cleveland. Those are -- how she handles that is going to really go a long way in how the public ultimately remembers her tenure.
LAKSHMANANVery quickly, we have one listener, Jason, who is saying the Baltimore Police Department has been corrupted for years. When he was 19, an officer falsified charges against him. Do people really think this investigation is going to make a difference? Quickly, Manu.
RAJUYou know, I think that the, you know, the public officials there believe that it will make a difference, at least to alleviate concerns within the community that for years, that the department has not acted in a way, fairly in minority communities. So at least in that level, but we'll see what they actually recommend.
LAKSHMANANWe're gonna take a short break. I look forward to hearing your questions and your comments. Stay with us.
LAKSHMANANWelcome back. I'm Indira Lakshmanan. I'm sitting in for Diane Rehm. Joining me today for the Domestic News Roundup, Susan Davis, congressional correspondent at USA Today. Michael Scherer, Washington bureau chief for Times magazine. And Manu Raju, senior congressional reporter with Politico. You can watch our conversation on our live video stream right now at drshow.org. And we wanna talk next about the biggest story on your beat this week, Manu, which is the vote yesterday of 98 to 1, in the Senate, for a bill giving Congress the right to review any final nuclear deal with Iran. So what is this legislation actually gonna do?
RAJUWell, what's it gonna do once it passes the House, and assuming that the House does not change it dramatically and then the President signs it, what it's gonna do is that -- once Iran and P5+1, which are the world powers that are negotiation this Iran nuclear accord, once they actually reach an agreement -- assuming they do -- by the end of June Congress will have an opportunity to decide whether or not to reject this agreement.
RAJUAnd if Congress rejects the agreement, the president -- assuming he vetoes it. He could veto that disapproval resolution from Congress. And then Congress would have to overturn that veto in order to formerly kill the Iran nuclear deal. So practically…
LAKSHMANANBut could they actually kill it? Because…
RAJUI mean, practically it's gonna be very, very hard for Congress to do that. I mean, they're gonna -- the White House will have to basically keep 34 senators on its side in order to prevent them from losing in Congress. And right now the White House is very confident that it can, which is one reason why you saw the about-face from the administration. I mean, they did not want any Congressional role whatsoever on this, but they saw they were about to get rolled and they decided that, hey, we might as well take the best possible outcome here, which is chances are we're gonna win when this comes -- finally comes to a head on Capitol Hill.
LAKSHMANANBut, Michael, isn't it also a case that even with this bill going through, effectively, they can say they disapprove of the Iran deal, but they can't actually do anything about it, can they?
LAKSHMANANBecause the legislation says that the president has the right to waive sanctions anyway.
SCHERERWell, this rule is about changing the playing field. It's making it so that instead of the Senate having to -- voting to approve the deal and then the president having to deal with that, it's actually the reverse. So only 34 Senators now can block it, as opposed to, you know, it being a treaty in the first place. In which case, you know, the president would have to get 66 Senators on his side. So in a lot of ways it's a win.
SCHERERThere is a balance of powers debate that could have played out. But I think what's happened is Bob Corker and some of the other senators here have struck a way in which now the Senate will be able to go back to their constituents and say I voted the vote you wanted me to vote.
SCHERERWe lost. And everyone will be able to save face. And the president will most likely be able to get the deal he wants.
LAKSHMANANThey'll save face by being able to go on the record, as opposing it, even though the president can get it through. Susan, this bill was stalled last week. What finally moved it forward?
MS. SUSAN PAGEWhat's interesting is that what almost all it was -- well, what did stall it was Republicans. It was not the Democrats. It's not the minority in the Senate, which is usually what's gumming up the works. What happened was you had two senators, Marco Rubio, who's running for president, and Tom Cotton, who has taken a -- probably the hardest right stance in the Senate against the White House negotiating over Iran, in that they tried to get votes on amendments that would be called poison pills, that if they had been added into the legislation it would have doomed it.
MS. SUSAN PAGEMarco Rubio's -- basically wanted…
RAJUPiece. He wanted right to recognize Israel.
PAGEHe wanted an agreement…
SCHERERTo force Iran, yeah.
PAGE…that Iranian officials would recognize the right of Israel to exist, which is basically an impossible ask. In that, if that language is in there, there was no way that it would allow the White House to do it. Tom Cotton wanted stronger language on inspections that also would have scuttled any deal. So what happened was Mitch McConnell basically had to shut down his own party. They wanted to have a lot of amendments.
PAGEBob Corker and Ben Cardin, who were negotiating with other senators, they wanted to have a robust debate. And McConnell just had to shut it down. And I think it's a testament in some ways to, you know, Mitch McConnell is very focused on ending gridlock and moving legislation. And I think that part of what this showed is that he's willing to do that, even if it means shutting down people in his own party and people that are his allies.
RAJUYou know, that was very interesting. It was a good point because this has been a challenge for McConnell because he's vowed to open up the Senate, allow for lots of votes. Anyone can vote their will. Amendments can come to the floor on anything. That's been part of his whole push as majority leader. But the challenge in running the Senate is that to vote on anything, you need to have agreements from all 100 senators. Any one senator can object to having a vote.
RAJUAnd if one senator objects to having a vote, then you can't have it unless you go through days and days of procedural moves to overcome that objection. So it made it very difficult for McConnell and made it, you know, it made him take matters in his own hands, something that he said that he wanted to avoid doing.
LAKSHMANANWell, on the politics of this it's actually quite interesting. I mean, APAC, the pro-Israel lobby, actually came out against adding these tough amendments that you guys were talking about. And I'm curious, how did McConnell and Senator Bob Corker, who's the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, how did they manage to fend off the sort of far-right elements of the party to get a bill that the president has said he will sign?
PAGEWell, I do think, though, I would say that there is -- what happened last week and that internal fighting, and how it started to look like this thing was just gonna become a mess, does also remind us that this Congress has not been very good at wading in on foreign policy issues. So I think there's also concern among leadership that if you let the debate run wild it can get ridiculous. And I think that this is a Congress that -- it struggled with the Syria resolution, they were never gonna be able to get to a passage on that, but they -- finally a deal was negotiated separately.
PAGEThis is a Congress that the president has asked for an authorization of use of military force, which has just essentially gone nowhere and isn't going anywhere. So leadership, I think, is trying to balance members who want greater say in these foreign policy matters, but Congress doesn't have a very strong track record of sober, serious, foreign policy work.
LAKSHMANANMichael, I'm curious, is this ultimately just a relief valve, a chance for Congress to be on the record, let off some steam, but actually not interfere with the separation of powers you were talking about and the president's right to do foreign policy?
SCHERERIt is. And that's almost certainly what's gonna happen, assuming the House passes this. It prevents the Senate from bringing other bills to the floor that could actually scuttle a deal. This is gonna go instead of those other ones. You know, and the backroom positioning that has led up to this has really been fascinating. There was a trip earlier this year where Bob Corker brought a bunch of his colleagues to Israel to get a briefing from the Israeli intelligence services about a previous version of this bill that both the U.S. intelligence services and Israeli intelligence services thought would scuttle Iranian deal.
SCHERERAnd in Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu canceled the meeting of his own intelligence services with U.S. senators and Corker threatened to leave the country in protest. And then, you know, the U.S. ambassador from Israel had to get involved and put the meeting back on the agenda. So this fight has been going on for six or seven months.
SCHERERAnd it's a real win, I think for the administration, for Corker who wanted the Senate to weigh in, wanted some monitoring, but didn't want to scuttle the deal. And against those -- and as you said, APAC was dividing itself from a number of other pro-Israel conservative groups on this and, in a lot of ways, from the prime minister of Israel who would have preferred a bill that scuttled this. It's a real win for all of those people.
LAKSHMANANSo possibly win-win for the Obama administration and Congress for once. Briefly, is the House going to pass this?
SCHERERI think it's likely. I mean, Manu would say better than I. But I haven't heard much to the contrary.
RAJUYeah, I mean, it most likely. I think you're gonna see the House Freedom Caucus, which is the rightwing caucus in the House Republican Conference, as well as other elements, conservative elements, including the House Republican Study Committee, push for language to make it tougher. Whether John Boehner can fend those off and keep this bipartisan coalition together will be a question. But the betting is yes, it will pass the House.
LAKSHMANANOkay. We shall see. The other news in Congress, Manu, was that they managed to pass the first joint budget resolution in five years. But there wasn't a single Democrat who voted for this. And the president has threatened to veto. So is there any chance the Republicans can get a bill through that sticks to this blueprint?
RAJUYeah. So the budget blueprint is -- we should remind our listeners that it's a non-binding blueprint. And what it does is it sets the parameters for spending and tax goals for the rest of the year. So what this is really gonna do is set up larger fights over federal spending for the next several months, and potentially leading to battles we've seen over and over again, about whether to keep the government funded. What it did was that it would ostensibly balance the budget over 10 years, including about $5.3 trillion worth of cuts.
RAJUIt would increase defense spending by including more money through emergency accounts. But what it also calls for, the use of a fast-track procedural tool to repeal the president's healthcare law. Now, all these things would spawn a presidential veto. One, of course, if there is -- if it does lead to actual legislation that would pass that would repeal Obamacare, of course, President Obama is gonna veto that. And the Democrats would have the votes to sustain it. And if it sticks to the levels of spending, which are essentially, lock in the so-called sequester levels of spending on domestic levels.
RAJUI'm sure lower than what the administration wants. If it could -- if they continue to spend according to that blueprint, you probably will see veto threats coming from the administration on this. So what we're gonna see is this is gonna set up months and months of battling between Congress and the White House over federal priorities and spending and -- which could lead to the same kind of things we've seen in the years past.
LAKSHMANANOkay. Susan, in plain English, for those of us who are not budget wonks. What do the Democrats in Congress and the White House want in this budget?
PAGEWell, you know, in the -- Congressional Democrats in this process -- when one party controls both chambers -- are not a factor. The minority does not exist to write the budget. It is the prerogative and the priorities of the majority party to do that. So in this sense, Democrats were never at the table to begin with. Nor did they really wanna be because I feel like Democrats view the budget as it is essentially a political document, more than it is a policy document. So for Democrats, they see this budget as a gift. This is something that they have -- it's not dissimilar to Republican budgets in years past.
PAGEIt is something they have campaigned on, they will campaign on next year. Things like Republican proposals to overhaul the Medicare system and turn it into what they call a premium support system, which would give senior, future seniors' vouchers to buy insurance on the private market. This is something that Democrats have targeted intensely. Domestic spending cuts that are in this bill to NIH, to Pell Grants, to popular domestic programs I think are really gonna be highlighted.
PAGEAnd I think, as Manu talked about, is going to be sort of the heart and soul of the fight we're gonna see this year over the bills that do mater, which are the 12 annual spending bills that fund every reach of the federal government. And where the clash is gonna come is the two parties just have radically different views of how the federal government should spend its money.
PAGEAnd until they can resolve those, it's going to be a very difficult three to six months. And Mitch McConnell has said that he thinks that this is gonna be the biggest fight of this Congress with this administration, is figuring out how do you fund the government in a way that doesn't send either party into just absolute, you know, tailspin.
LAKSHMANANOf course not a new fight under this administration.
PAGENot a new fight. This has been the fight of the…
LAKSHMANANThat's right. Of this administration.
PAGE…this administration and Republicans in Congress.
LAKSHMANANThat's right. Michael, the FBI is now saying that it sent a warning to police in Garland, Texas, about one of the gunmen three hours before he and another man opened fire outside of this cartoon contest to lampoon the prophet Muhammad. Did they have advance knowledge of his plans?
SCHERERThey didn't have advance knowledge that he was going to attack, but they knew he was interested. And they had been monitoring him. This is a person who, five years ago, had come onto the FBI's radar because he had been caught discussing possibly going to Africa for jihad. The FBI interviewed him at the time. He lied to the FBI about what he had said. And then he was convicted of lying to the FBI, put on probation. He fell off the sort of FBI radar a little bit because he stopped talking, either on electronic media or otherwise, about jihad.
SCHERERAnd then recently he had, mostly through social media, begun talking about this stuff. And basically what the FBI has come forward to say is that they think there -- at least one and maybe two people overseas, who through social media this person was communicating with. One a hacker of British origin who is probably in Syria. Another an activist of American origin who's in Somalia. And they had found out about this event, this Muhammad cartoon event in Texas. And they were outraged by it in much the same way that many Muslims were outraged about the Charlie Hebdo comic in France.
SCHERERAnd they had sent messages to each other talking about, well, we should do something about this. And this was what triggered the FBI warning. The FBI did inform the police. There's no evidence, though, that that message, which came just a few hours before the attack, got to the police officer standing outside the event space. But it does show, really, the challenge that the FBI has now.
SCHEREROnce upon a time, if you wanted to monitor jihadi discussions you could just go to a chat room, a website where it was happening. Now, all this stuff is happening through social media and it's far more diffused. And the command and control is also far more diffused. This is just people meeting up on Twitter and saying…
SCHERER…what about doing this? It's not -- none of these people trained at a camp in Afghanistan or something like that. It's just…
SCHERER…sort of self-starters.
LAKSHMANANIt's happening in real time and it's hard to know who's serious and who's not. I'm Indira Lakshmanan and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Manu, you know, we've heard that Elton Simpson, this man was communicating with a man associated with terrorists in Africa. But is there actually an explicit link that we know that any terrorist organization, be it ISIS, be it al-Qaida, had anything really to do with this?
RAJUNot particularly. I mean, we do know that he was sort of, you know, you've seen some of these ISIS militants say that whenever countries in the West or people depict the prophet Muhammad in a caricature, in a cartoon, that they encourage violence against countries and perpetrators doing such things. And clearly that may have been part of the influence that led to this attempted attack last week. But, you know, and also, you know, if you look at -- also back in, you know, the -- Anwar al-Awlaki, the former al-Qaida operative who was killed by a U.S. drone strike.
RAJUHe was another person who would also push people who are sympathizers with al-Qaida to attack folks who are, you know, depicting Mohammad in these cartoonish ways. So they're -- perhaps they were influenced by this, but I don't know. It's not clear that they were -- there were actual clear, hard links between ISIS militants and Elton Simpson, one of the two men who tried to carry out this attack.
LAKSHMANANAll right. Susan, a solid jobs report for April. Does this mean that those March numbers were a temporary blip?
PAGEIt's unclear, but they are certainly good numbers. I think it's the -- the 200,000 mark was what they were saying they needed to hit to show some signs that the economy was still strong. I think that the thing that's most important about it is the number is strong enough that it's probably further increasing the likelihood that the fed gets closer to raising interest rates later this summer.
PAGEThey've already said they want to do that. The jobs numbers are the indicator that people are looking at for timing to see when that might happen. And this report seems like a strong indicator that things are better than they seemed in March and that it's more likely that the fed's gonna move forward with those interest rates increases.
LAKSHMANANYeah, what about wages? Any progress there, Michael?
SCHERERYeah, that was another good sign in this report. And you always have to qualify these reports because month to month we're always surprised. Right? It's always better than we expected or worse than we expected. And really what matters is the trend over time. But what this report showed was that there was a decent 2.2 percent wage growth. And that's the thing that matters, in a lot of ways, more for the economy and more for most Americans.
SCHERERMost Americans who want a job, have a job. The unemployment rate now is only 5.4 percent. And they've been stuck with the same wages on a whole for almost, you know, 15 years now. And they're looking for a bump.
LAKSHMANANWe're gonna take a short break now. And when we're back, your calls and your questions. Stay with us.
LAKSHMANANWelcome back. I'm Indira Lakshmanan, sitting in for Diane Rehm. We're talking this hour about the week's top domestic stories with Manu Raju, senior Congressional reporter with Politico, Michael Scherer, Washington Bureau Chief for Time Magazine and Susan Davis, Congressional Correspondent at USA Today. If you're just joining us, you can also watch us live on our video. You'll be able to see all three of our guests at drshow.org. So, the latest thing that happened on the 2016 race is that Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee have joined the GOP race this week and it's an already very crowded field. Manu, are these three serious contenders?
RAJUWell, they can have an impact in different ways in the race, but I don't think anyone expects any of the three to emerge with the nomination. Of course, the field's going to get even larger. We're probably expecting probably upwards of two dozen candidates eventually getting in. I'm not sure how they'll fit all of them on the debate stage, but, you know, these three are interesting in their own unique ways. I think people, they could be a factor in certain aspects. Like, Mike Huckabee, for instance, he is a guy who won the 2008 Iowa caucuses.
RAJUHe is a very -- he speaks very -- he has a very strong following among Evangelical Christians, who play a big role in the Iowa caucuses and he's gonna be a factor in that particular race. Now, can he win in New Hampshire? Can he win in South Carolina? Can he win in any of the other primary states is very unclear, but certainly, he's enough for folks to pay attention to, and especially his popularity actually has improved in the eyes of a lot of conservatives because he had a Fox News show for the last couple of years.
RAJUAnd clearly, his name recognition has improved, so he'll be someone to pay attention to, but at the same time, Huckabee also has a lot of things that economic conservatives don't like about his record. As Arkansas Governor, when he attempted to raise taxes, the club for growth, the anti-tax group is going after him pretty hard, so there is resistance from folks like that. So, all three of them will have their own stories to tell and can have an impact on the race, but winning the nomination's another question altogether.
LAKSHMANANOkay. Susan, what are the issues that are drawing Carly Fiorina into the race and tell us about her.
DAVISYou know, it's interesting, so she's, she, obviously, is a woman. She is the former executive -- tech executive, and she has unsuccessfully run for office before. She flirted with the Presidential contest before. She ran for Senate unsuccessfully. I think she had a sort of comical blip in her rollout this week in that she did not register all the domain names associated with her name, so carlyfiorina.org was -- no one in her team thought to purchase that, and so someone purchased that, and if you go to the site, it's just a screen that says, Carly Fiorina didn't register this site, so I'm gonna use it to remind you how many people she laid off at Hewlett Packard.
DAVISAnd it was 30,000 people. And she's been asked about it, so she's had sort of like a fumbling rollout in that everywhere she goes, that's the question she gets asked, which is exactly the way you don't want to start a presidential, an already B tier presidential campaign. I think she's campaigning as a turnaround artist, as someone who understands the economy, as someone who can get the economy going again. I think that that's going to be a tough message for her, particularly because in that context, it always goes back to her corporate career.
DAVISWhich was, I think, in mixed reviews, in some ways. She's not necessarily -- she didn't leave the company in the best form. It doesn't have this great corporate story of turnaround. So, I think she's spinning a story that's not exactly, can't really sell itself. But, I think it's probably good, as Manu said about, you know, she's probably not going to win the nomination, but what does she do to the race? And I think that there's a lot of Republicans who are happy to see a woman on the stage in some of these debates. I think it takes a little attention away from Hillary Clinton.
DAVISIt takes a little attention away from Hillary Clinton. I think it helps Republicans who are battling what the fact that they are still essentially a white male party, not only in their candidates, but in their electorate and who the base of their voters are. So, I think they're trying to get a bigger tent, and I think she helps that aim.
LAKSHMANANWell, speaking of a white male party, we actually have the third candidate we're talking about, Dr. Ben Carson, is an African-American Republican. So, tell us about him, Michael.
SCHERERHe's an accidental candidate, and he'll tell you that himself. He never thought he would try and run for president. He even says, still to this day, things like, it will be a relief if I don't win, which is an odd thing for a presidential candidate to say. But he's a very accomplished neurosurgeon, a pediatric neurosurgeon, who's African-American, who rose to conservative stardom after appearing at a prayer breakfast with President Obama, and basically tearing apart Obamacare. He's a small government conservative.
SCHERERFree market conservative. And after that, what happened was he became sort of a direct marketing, talk radio, Fox News star and raised enormous amounts of money. There was a third party group last year that actually raised more money, using his name, than Hillary Clinton was able, that that third party group supporting Hillary Clinton last year was able to raise. And he actually polls pretty well. I mean, in these early national polls, he polls far above a lot of other contenders in this race.
SCHERERThere's a real hunger within the Republican party for an African-American conservative. And I think he's kind of a down home, plain spoken guy, as well. I think, you know, what he lacks is any experience in government. There is no record of Republicans ever nominating someone who's never held a government job before, and he's never held a government job. But I think he will shake up the race. I think he will help Republicans make the case that they are not just a white male party. Just as Carly Fiorina's best message is it's better to have a woman attack Hillary.
SCHERERBen Carson's best message will probably be like the one he gave at his announcement speech in Detroit, that, you know, the inner city where I grew up, that the minority community is not universally liberal, that there are other points of view that you should hear out.
LAKSHMANANAll right. A very crowded field. Manu, does this mean there's going to be more competition for campaign fund raising?
RAJUYeah, there certainly is, and that's gonna be the big question for these second tier candidates, whether or not they can raise the kind of money that they're gonna need to be competitive and whether or not there will be this big spending outside groups that will actually pump tons of money into those early states that could influence the race. So, that will be -- how they manage the fund raising once those next quarter reports come out and how little cash that they may have will start -- force us in the media to determine exactly who's viable and who's not.
LAKSHMANANMmm-hmm. Susan, Hillary Clinton has finally embraced the super PAC that's supporting her and began meeting with her donors this week. How much do you expect her PAC to raise?
DAVISWell, hundreds of millions, most likely, and the number that I've seen most often cited -- the goal is around 200 million, in that orbit. I probably, I would bet that it almost would probably, will probably beat that. I think it's the least surprising development in the 2016 race that Hillary Clinton has embraced super PACs. I mean, it was only a matter of when. I don't think it is viable for any candidate that's in serious competition, like Hillary, to not participate in the super PAC game, particularly when your opponents are, and the outside money on the other side is so great, you can't walk away from that table.
LAKSHMANANBut she initially was delaying, apparently, for reasons of, you know, her pledge of campaign finance reform.
DAVISBut for, to me, for obvious political reasons, because the hard part the Democrats have in this is that a significant amount of their base, including their fund raising base, hates super PACS, hates the way that the campaign finance laws are currently set up, and would like to see more of a champion against the status quo. And I think that, you know, this is always -- this is gonna be Clinton's continual balancing act is that she wants to win, but there's a lot of unrest among the liberal progressive base right now.
DAVISAnd they don't necessarily see her as their hero, and I think that doing things like bashing super PACs, but then saying that you're going to have to embrace them is sort of the thing that Clinton always has to do. She says the right thing, but then she has to do the thing that it takes to win and often, those are two very different things.
SCHERERDemocrats have come up with this very elegant way of dealing with this, in that they -- Hillary and Obama both favor a constitutional amendment to ban the thing they're now embracing. A constitutional amendment takes a very long time to do, is very difficult to do, you have to have the states ratify it. It's almost certainly never going to happen. So, she can embrace, you know, the reform that is almost impossible, and then go to the super PAC and tell the people writing million dollar checks on her behalf, I don't want you to be able to write those checks.
RAJUIt's also, it's also kind of a direct response to what Jeb Bush is doing, too. I mean, Jeb Bush is not formally declaring as a candidate right now, largely so he can raise money directly from his super PAC, because once you're a candidate or an office holder, you cannot coordinate with that super PAC. And he clearly is able to now, because he's not a candidate. So he can go in front of these audiences and collect checks, upwards of 100,000 dollars per donor, who comes to these super PAC events, which, of course, is a lot higher than the contribution on a campaign event, which is about 2,700 dollars a candidate right now.
LAKSHMANANWe have an email from Randall in Michigan. Perhaps a rhetorical question. He says, is it ego, ambition, or the chance to have a pulpit plus fund raising capability that is causing the multitude of Republican contenders? Michael.
SCHERERAll of the above.
SCHERERI've been doing this a decade now, and I've yet to meet anyone running for office that is not driven by ego, ambition and a desire to have power and raise a lot of money.
SCHEREROr celebrity. I mean, that's, that's what...
DAVISThe truism of American politics.
SCHERERYeah, it's a brutal business. It's not actually an enjoyable life, unless you are driven by those factors.
LAKSHMANANGive us a quick update on the Clinton Foundation's latest, you know, questions, troubles. Former President Bill Clinton seemed a little testy in his defense of this this past week.
SCHERERYou know, it's really been interesting to watch this develop. The campaign, Hillary's new campaign has actually been pretty deft at managing this. They, they, they, I think that team came together and realized what a problem they had with this foundation. It's just, for so many years, it's kind of been poorly run. It's been embracing all kinds of things that have, at least the appearance of impropriety, if not actual impropriety. And so, they've been fighting this daily media battle to silence critics of the foundation.
SCHERERMeanwhile, Bill and Chelsea go off to Africa to showcase the good works of the foundation, and it was as if Bill Clinton didn't get the media training he needed from the campaign. Because instead of, you know, keeping to the campaign message, he said things like, well, I don't care if there's an appearance of impropriety here. That's not my problem. You know, and he was testy with the interviewer. And he didn't really either show concern or sympathy or understanding of what the national concern is over this.
SCHERERI mean, the bottom line is that when his wife was Secretary of State, Bill Clinton was taking very large sums of money from people who had business before the government, who had business before other governments that he was brokering, or he was involved in getting access to. And it looked like, in a lot of ways, now, maybe not illegal, but a situation which people were giving money to the foundation and getting something in return, which is a tricky thing to be doing when your wife is Secretary of State and she's about to run for President.
LAKSHMANANAll right, let's take a call from Mark in Dallas. Mark, go ahead.
MARKHey, good morning. Forgive me if I missed it, but in your discussion of some of the expiring provisions of the Patriot Act, I didn't hear you mention that, I think it was the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, earlier this week declared that the NSA's bulk collection of telephone meta-data and IP addresses, it was just revealed, is flatly illegal.
LAKSHMANANYes, that was how we -- that was the point of our discussion. Yes. But go ahead.
MARKSo, DNI James Clapper, that exact same program, that illegal program was the exact same one, he flat out lied to Congress regarding and it should be astounding that he's not being criminally prosecuted, and in fact, is still in his job. But I have two comments. One is I hope that journalists will acknowledge that James Clapper is a liar and call him on that, and the second is that, you know, we should just, sort of, thank Edward Snowden for his revelations and pardon him and let him come home.
LAKSHMANANOkay. I'm Indira Lakshmanan. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Susan, can you take his question? Can you respond to that?
DAVISWell, I mean, I think that he speaks to a lot of the frustration from the American public about these laws. I think there is a sense, when you look at poll numbers, about how people feel about these programs, that they feel that their government lied to them. That they feel like, and there's anger about the programs. What I -- Clapper, in particular, it is hard to see how, in any way, he would be prosecuted for anything, although I'm sure that is something we'll hear over and over again.
DAVISAs for Snowden, it's not necessarily the fact that he revealed a lie. It's the process by which he did it. It is the reveal of classified information that is illegal, even if what he revealed was technically accurate. So, you know, I think that that frustration is real. I also think the fact that the public frustration comes as this court decision comes as this is about to expire, has put increased political pressure on Congress. Because a lot of times, these programs happen in black budgets, in bills that pass that people don't really know about.
DAVISEven members of Congress, when it was revealed, said they didn't realize what they had voted for. And the fact that there's so much awareness now puts even more increased pressure on elected officials, because their constituents are paying attention.
RAJUI would also add that what was interesting about this court ruling was that in the secret court that was enacted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, that had actually justified the collection of bulk data. It said that it was perfectly legal to do it under the existing authority, under the Patriot Act. And clearly, the first appeals court to rule on it said no it's not. Congress did not intend to do that. And that actually speaks to the frustration of a lot of the reformers, who say that we need to get rid of that secret court of reform dramatically.
RAJUBecause what it's doing is just giving a blank check to the government to surveil without looking at the infringement on Americans' rights.
SCHERERThe other interesting question this whole scenario has raised is when is it appropriate for the federal government to deceive its own population if they think it's in the national security interest? Because that's very clearly what happened here. Clapper said, we're not wittingly collecting this information on Americans, when he knew that he was wittingly collecting this information on Americans. When the Patriot Act was originally passed, section 215 was known as the Library Records Provision. This was like, the public discussion about this was that people could find out what books you checked out from the library.
SCHERERNot that they would take all phone records that anyone makes and create a database out of it. And that was what motivated Snowden. And in a way, I think history will record that Snowden's disclosures, even if illegal, and even if morally wrong, that can be debated, ended up being a check on an attempt by the federal government, with Congressional consent, with some court consent, to deceive the American people about what they were doing.
LAKSHMANANWell, to end our discussion of this week on a lighter note, Deflate Gate. The NFL investigated whether New England Patriots deflated footballs in January's AFC title game, so did quarterback Tom Brady know that the balls were probably being deflated?
RAJUIt sounds like he very much did, according to this report. You know, it was, you know, several months of drama that started at the AFC Championship game when the Indianapolis Colts lost, in big fashion, to the New England Patriots. Found out that some of the balls appeared to be less than the legally required level of inflation. And that's important because quarterbacks can grip balls much easier, receivers can catch balls much easier, and it would appear it was a locker room attendant as well as an equipment assistant.
RAJUBoth were engaged in some sort of effort to consistently deflate these balls and Brady seemed to have known about it, according to the NFL. Now, Brady was asked about this yesterday, and he said, he's still trying to digest it. So, we'll see when he exactly digests this and he actually admits to doing anything wrong.
LAKSHMANANSo, very quickly, expected penalties? Is he going to be suspended?
RAJUIt's unclear. The NFL has to decide on that. They could do other things, like sanctioning the team, forcing them to give up draft picks, fines, et cetera. We'll see what happens in the coming days.
LAKSHMANANManu Raju. Senior Congressional Reporter with Politico. Michael Scherer, the Washington Bureau Chief for Time Magazine, and Susan Davis, Congressional Correspondent at USA Today. Thank you so much for joining us.