The beating death of Tyre Nichols has renewed calls for reforming the police. But can anything really change?
Guest Host: Susan Page
Investigators say the Amtrak train that derailed north of Philadelphia this week accelerated as it entered its final turn. A key House committee cut funding for the railroad service the next day. The House overwhelmingly votes to end the NSA’s mass collection of phone records. The Senate clears a path for trade legislation, but the issue continues to divide President Obama and fellow Democrats led by Senator Elizabeth Warren. Prospective GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush struggles to explain his position on the Iraq War. And we see the first hints of an Obama legacy from the President and First Lady. A panel of journalists joins guest host Susan Page for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Jeanne Cummings Deputy managing editor, Bloomberg Politics.
- Major Garrett Chief White House correspondent, CBS News.
- Amy Walter National editor, Cook Political Report.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She'll be back next week. The National Transportation Safety Board says the Amtrak train that crashed north of Philadelphia sped up before approaching its final curve. The House votes to end the NSA's bulk collection of phone records and Jeb Bush backtracks on his Iraq war comments.
MS. SUSAN PAGEJoining me for the domestic hour of the Friday's new roundup, Jeanne Cummings of Bloomberg, Major Garrett of CBS and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. MAJOR GARRETTGood morning.
MS. AMY WALTERThank.
MS. JEANNE CUMMINGSGood morning.
PAGEVideo of this hour, of our Friday News Roundup, is streaming live on the web. You can watch us all on drshow.org. Later, you can call our toll-free number and join our conversation. The number is 1-800-433-8850. You can always send us an email @firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, Major, let's start with this terrible train crash. Eight people killed, scores of people injured. What do we know now about what caused it?
GARRETTExcessive speed in a curve, twice the recommended speed limit of about 50 miles per hour, 106 miles per hour according to the National Transportation Safety Board and the absence of something called positive train control, which is a mechanism by which if there is excessive speed, there can be an adjustment made within the train itself separate from the engineer controlling the speed.
GARRETTAnd there has been considerable controversy, probably more heat than light, shed on positive train control. Why wasn't it there? What are the deadlines? What are the allocations of funds in Congress? But this is a tragedy, a monumental tragedy that has illustrated in general terms a conversation long overdue, I would say, and many in the infrastructure industry, airports, highways, railroads, about what we're doing in this country to address crumbling infrastructure needs that are specifically related only to railroads, but across the entire system.
PAGEWell, we know excessive speed was behind this tragedy, Amy, but we don’t know why the train was going so fast.
WALTERRight, right. And the engineer himself has been unable to tell us what he was doing at that time. He had a severe head injury. He was concussed. His lawyer's saying that he has no memory of what happened at that moment. His memory may come back, but until then, we won't understand why. And I actually saw on the internet, which is always correct, of course, so I haven't double-checked this...
WALTERUnfailing so. But news organization looking all of the trains in recent days that have gone through that same curve, and it'd be one thing if you said, look, you know, every once in a while, trains speed up around there. It's not rare. But this was so outside the norm that they haven't seen any train hit this level of speed around that curve so this is a -- it looks, at least at this point, incredibly unique.
GARRETTAnd the crash site itself is revealing of that. You see how far away from the tracks the derailed cars ended up and those who were going through the wreckage initially said they had really never seen anything like it. So that speed and the physics involved, obviously, consequential in the worst imaginable way.
CUMMINGSWell, it's so also incredibly unique because one of the reasons that the automatic breaking system was not on the north side of the tracks is because they didn't think it was possible for a train to speed up that fast. And they put it on the south side, but they hadn't gotten to the north side. There also are a lot of unique facts about the crash that I'm gonna be interested in hearing what they learn and that is that the train sped up over the course of one minute.
CUMMINGSI mean, that is just -- that little fact itself is a huge puzzle. And we have a new -- this train, itself, is a very new train and it's a first design of the new train. So could there have been mechanical issues like we often see when car makers roll off, you know, their new design, that they find defaults in them. This is a brand new train so I'm sure that's another thing that they will be exploring and what we've read about the engineer provides no hints thus far that he had any motivation, other than to do his job well and keep his passengers safe.
PAGEYou know, this will stun you, Amy, but this immediately became an issue on Capitol Hill.
WALTERWhat? I'm totally surprised by that.
PAGEEven before we have all the answers behind why this catastrophe happened, the Republican-lead House appropriations committee voted to reduce grants to Amtrak about 24 hours after the crash. This has become a political debate.
WALTERWell, right. I mean, it seems -- and, again, call me crazy, but it seems like we can have a discussion a Major pointed out, about infrastructure and we can have a discussion about the fact that there is excessive speed involved in this. And we can just take those on parallel tracks, so to speak. That's not the case on Capitol Hill. It's either one or the other.
WALTERWell, this isn't about infrastructure at all, say Republicans. This is about a fact that the guy was speeding and we had a crash. Democrats say, of course not. This was about infrastructure. We should be spending more on these automatic breaking systems. We should be putting -- investing more on rail. It also gets us right into the issue that we've been talking about now, incessantly, on Capitol Hill, but the sequester, right? The reason that they don't have more money for Amtrak is because Congress, four years ago, agreed to reduce, every year, the amount of spending or to cap spending.
WALTERSo that means that there is no more money left for -- whether its Amtrak or whatever else we may run into domestically that we need to fund.
PAGEWell, we're gonna be talking, I know, about this crash and the reasons behind it in future news roundups and our thoughts are with the family and friends of those who died and those who are still recovering from this crash. You know, Jeanne, on Tuesday, there was a big rebuke for Obama, for President Obama in the Senate on this -- of ways to facilitate this trade deal. But on Thursday, then, it passed. What happened?
CUMMINGSWell, it didn't pass. I didn't pass. What they did was they agreed to have the debate on it. What...
PAGESmall victories, Jeanne.
CUMMINGSYeah. Well, that was a vital one. It's sort of like the Wizards have got to win the next one or else. So but yes, the Democratic senators united to block the debate on the trade promotion authority, which will ease the White House's ability to cut a deal with 12 Asian countries for -- and to make trade easier. They did it because they felt like the legislation didn't have some provisions that they want in that would protect jobs, help people who might lose their jobs because of this trade deal and to tamp down on any kind of currency manipulation.
CUMMINGSSo they stopped it then. Then, a deal was cut. They're gonna have their amendments heard and so now we can proceed with the debate. Does that mean the president wins? No. This bill is very troubled, has a really tough road ahead of itself not just getting out of the Senate, but even more problems in the House. They've said they need 20 Democrats in the House and they're not sure they can even get that.
PAGEWell, Major Garrett, you covered the White House every day, how big a deal is this for the president?
GARRETTWell, the White House did its level best to describe this as a legislative snafu and if you look up the acronym snafu, I think they were meaning it actually, literally, a snafu. In the grand scheme of things, they worked it out. But for those who in the White and the United States' trade representative's office who've been trying to engineer a swift consideration with the Senate to build momentum for the House which is, Jeanne has accurately described, is where the entire ballgame will be on this, both politically and substantively.
GARRETTThis was more than a speed bump. Now, initially, I thought there was a real Senate Democrat revolt against the idea of trade promotion authority. I no longer believe that. I think what Senate Democrats needed to do was create an atmosphere where it looked as if they were fighting the good fight politically. They will get votes on these underlying issues. There is absolutely no guarantee those underlying issues will get anything other than a vote and go down to quiet defeat, okay?
GARRETTThe original package, trade promotion authority, which creates the framework for which the president can then negotiate this trade deal with the Asian nations and then present it to Congress along with some assistance for those dislocated by free trade, those things are still on track. The Senate is now back, prepared to move that along. Whether or not that builds any momentum for the House is now very much of an open question.
GARRETTAnd at that level, the absence of that momentum, I think, is a significant issue as it shifts to the House because those in the House within the Democratic party are adamantly opposed to this. The numbers are not there. And if the White House was looking at momentum from the Senate as it was, it is less reliably there than it was a week ago.
PAGEAmy, I was really struck by the language that was used by President Obama and by Senator Elizabeth Warren or members of the same party who are often allies on issue, but pretty -- some pretty tough words.
WALTERThis was not it. You know, the best news -- or the best thing that Democrats have going for them, that this White House has going for them is that the Democratic party is more ideologically united than really at any time in recent history. Certainly more ideologically united than Republicans are so it's easier for him to get Democrats on his side. But it also means when you're gonna go against Democratic orthodoxy, liberal, progressive orthodoxy, it's gonna be very difficult for this president to get what he want.
WALTERThere aren't many moderate Democrats left in Congress or the Senate, in the House or the Senate and Elizabeth Warren, herself, has become, you know, the pillar of progressive -- the voice on the progressive side. So in some ways, it shouldn't be that surprising that this was -- we know that there are just a handful of issues where you're gonna find that the president is gonna go against that liberal base and this was one of those.
PAGEWe're gonna take a short break. Just to remind you, you can see all of our guests on our live video stream at drshow.org. You can give us a call, 1-800-433-8850. Our phone lines are now open. Or send us a message, an email at email@example.com. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. With me in the studio for our Friday News Roundup, Amy Walter. She's national editor with the Cook Political Report. Major Garrett. He's chief White House correspondent for CBS News. And Jeanne Cummings. She's deputy managing editor at Bloomberg Politics.
PAGEWe're gonna go to the phones and take some of your calls and comments. But first, let's talk about what Jeb Bush did this week. So, Amy, he got a question about the Iraq War. He gave one answer. Four days, he gave four different -- over four days he gave four different answers. He, finally, I think, settled on the one he's gonna stick with. But is this not the most obvious question Jeb Bush should have expected in a presidential campaign?
WALTERWell, especially for a candidate who says -- and has said really since day one of his non-campaign campaign for president, I'm not my brother. I'm my own man. He says this over and over again. I'm my own man. I'm my own man. Jeb Bush's problem right now at least is he has yet to really define what that means to be his own man. And this just fits right into that problem for him. I mean, in some ways you say, well, gosh, this issue was also very complicated for other members of the Republican primary, not the specific question that was asked, which was, if you knew then what you know now.
WALTERBut the specific question that will be asked by all the Republicans running and by the Republican nominee ultimately is are you going to have the same agenda, when it comes to foreign policy, as George W. Bush? And Marco Rubio made a speech this week on foreign policy that quite frankly looked very familiar to what we saw back in that era. That, I think, will be another fundamental question for them.
PAGESo, Jeanne, run through us, just very briefly, what it was that Jeb Bush said. And we should remember that these were not hostile questions.
PAGEThese were generally kind of friendly interviews asking him his stance on the Iraq War.
CUMMINGSYeah, the original question was if you knew then what we know now, would you have approved the invasion of Iraq. And his answer was yes, that he would have and that Hillary Clinton would have, too. So there. So that -- the next answer was, well, I misinterpreted the question. And I didn't catch the part about if you knew what we know today. So I misinterpreted the question. And then he said, but it's a hypothetical so I'm really not gonna answer it.
CUMMINGSAnd then he finally answered and said no, that if he knew there were no weapons of mass destruction and that other parts of our intelligence were wrong, that he would not have invaded.
PAGEHe's lucky we're so far out from the election because other things are gonna happen that'll -- that's over…
CUMMINGSI just don't think it's -- I think this one gets remembered.
CUMMINGSI don't think we're far enough away -- I mean, this is his introduction. And I think introductions are important. And especially when you contrast it with Rubio's speech which, agree or disagree, was well delivered, well thought out, it's very smart in terms of foreign policy. A striking contrast.
PAGEWell, Major, tell us about Senator Rubio's address on foreign policy. You know, it's interesting. He is a first-term senator, so in some ways not that experienced. But he has made a real point of the past four years to pay attention to learn about foreign policy.
GARRETTPay attention to and try to demonstrate and create the impression that he is a student of foreign policy and therefore, is not too young to assume all of the myriad obligations and pressures of commander in chief. And, as Amy indicated, there was a lot of that speech that has sort of become doctrinaire criticism of President Obama leading from behind. We're not controlling events. We are -- events are dictating our reaction, our response. The president has been muddled, too filled with nuance.
GARRETTHe has been too weak. He has not sent the strong enough signals. Nobody respects us. This is sort of the body of criticism Republicans have for the current state of American foreign policy. And trust me, as somebody's who's at the White House every day, I hear a great deal from the White House about why it's much more difficult than Republicans in their hyper-simplification are trying to represent. But this is a political argument and sometimes that happens.
GARRETTWhat I found missing from Marco Rubio's speech was a credible alternative to what is a fast-changing and hard to predict set of shifting alliances, particularly in the Middle East. There is no playbook. There has never been a playbook for the Arab Spring. And there is certainly no playbook for the devolution of the Arab Spring. Not a think tank in town anticipated it. The CIA didn't anticipate it.
GARRETTAnd nobody really knows what is going to be the ultimate outcome of the clashes within Islam itself between Sunni and Shia and the absence of dictatorial leaders who had a strong-arm approach to keeping that cauldron, if not on a low heat, from bubbling over. And that is happening throughout the region. And I think the foreign policy debate at large would do well to have somebody from either party say, you know what, this is a lot harder than bumper sticker rhetoric would suggest.
GARRETTThere was a good deal of bumper sticker rhetoric in Marco Rubio's speech. It will play very well within Republican primary caucus and primary states. And, of course, that is the first and most important priority. So at that level it worked well. Is it a mandate or is it something that could develop a mandate for a new president on these foreign policy issues? I'm not so sure.
PAGEAmy, you had a piece in the Cook Political Report that I saw this morning. I don't know when you were…
PAGE…when it was posted, but it -- you talked about why Hillary needs Obama. You talk about the importance of President Obama's approval rating for whether Hillary Clinton, as the likely Democratic nominee for 2016.
WALTERYeah, you know we spend a whole lot of time and we're going to spend a whole lot of time looking at everybody's polling numbers, head to head in a Republican primary, how's Hillary doing, is she considered trustworthy. But, you know, every single election is a reflection of the person that's currently in the White House. And how people feel about the current occupant is also going to determine how they feel about making a change to the next person.
WALTERAnd when you look at, for example, in the 2008 election, you know, you had President Bush's approval rating somewhere in the high 30s, low 40s. It really was almost impossible to see how John McCain was going to win, regardless of the other issues that were going on. When you look at where the president was in 2012, in all of the key swing states, he was somewhere around 48, 49 or 50 percent. I went now and looked at where he is, his approval rating in those swing states.
WALTEREven in places that we consider Democratic leaning, like Pennsylvania, and he's in the low 40s or right at 40 percent. These are real danger signs for Hillary Clinton. Which is why, you know, she, more than anybody else, needs him to do well. She needs the economy to do well. But losing on trade authority, while I don't think it's a voting issue that voters are gonna go well, boy, I'm gonna pick the next president based on trade. If he looks weak, if he looks like he's not able to do much, he's just sort of sitting there as a lame duck, I don't think that's very good for her.
CUMMINGSI -- yeah, I definitely agree with that. And I think that the White House and Hillary Clinton know it. I mean, I think that's one of the reasons that she's met with him privately a couple of times. Love to be a fly on the wall, but I can't imagine they don't discuss the campaign and where she is and what may come next. I think there are some ways he can help her by trying to get some issues off the table, so that she doesn't confront them in any serious way on the campaign trail.
CUMMINGSYou know, we get this trade thing -- if it gets through in the next couple of weeks, she won't get asked about this. And thereby this big division with the Democratic Party that we see so clearly right now, will go away. And the party can unite behind her. 'Cause, as Amy said, this is one of like a handful of issues that can divide that party fast and deep and it will go away. That's very helpful to her.
GARRETTAnd the White House and Hillary Clinton have negotiated the position that allow -- or the agreement that allows Hillary Clinton to remain agnostic on trade promotion authority. This is a huge issue for progressives. They want her to say she's opposed to it. All she's saying is I need to wait and see. After having endorsed the whole concept of trade promotion authority as secretary of state and, of course, being married to Bill Clinton, who passed NAFTA, which has sort of become the bloody red shirt, rhetorically, for the left about why trade deals never create all the wonderful things that they promise initially and leave many workers in America in this very rough transition in the 21st century economy.
GARRETTThe White House has been asked numerous times, shouldn't Hillary Clinton get involved. And the very comfortable answer is, well, she's not in the Senate, so it's not really necessary. The White House could say, we'd love to hear from her. But they've already negotiated with her. We're gonna let you do whatever you want to do, whenever you think you need to do it. And if you think you need to do nothing at all, that's okay, too.
CUMMINGSAnd I think it's…
GARRETTAnd that goes to Jeanne's point about working together to create space for her political instincts, however she and her team decide to pursue them.
CUMMINGSAnd this is a mutual, beneficial relationship because he needs her to win. She needs him to do better so she can win. And he needs her to win to secure his legacy and to protect the programs that he has put into place.
PAGELet's go to the phones and let our listeners join our conversation with their calls and comments. We're gonna start with Mary, who's calling us from Lynchburg, Va. Hi, Mary.
MARYHello. I just called because my husband's presently stranded in New York. He visits his mother and sister there about every six weeks and goes on the train. Now, he can't get back to Lynchburg because there are no rental cars available. There are no -- all the busses are completely filled. And the trains are just incredibly important to us. And especially for us because we're elderly. And when we go to California once a year to visit our children, it's -- you know the Amtrak really is useful. And when you're older almost everyone has joint replacements. And when you go on the plane you're more likely to have deep vein thrombosis.
PAGERight. Yeah, that can be troubling. Well, Mary, we certainly hope your husband finds his way back. And we hope you love that long train trip to California. That sounds great. Let's go to Charlotte, N.C., and talk to David. David, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
PAGEYes. Hi, go ahead.
DAVIDYeah, I was just wanting -- what happened to the $830 billion for the stimulus that was supposedly devoted to shovel-ready projects and infrastructure. And the other is, I think it's disgraceful that any time anything like this happens, that the first thing liberals do is try to make political hay out of situations. And this time they did it before they'd even pulled the last body out of the wreckage.
PAGEDavid, thanks so much for your call. Major, tell us about the stimulus money. That -- a lot of it did go for infrastructure.
GARRETTWell, the American Recovery Act, as the White House likes to call it, the stimulus did set aside what the White House likes to say is a historic amount of one time allocations for infrastructure. Those were distributed around the country in a lot of different ways. Some of the projects were shovel-ready, some of them weren't. Some of them had been on the shelves for a long time. What Amtrak and larger infrastructure needs of the country require, however, is sustained funding over a long period of time.
GARRETTAnd the biggest problem Washington has had is not a one-time stimulus bill in the midst of an economic crisis, which is precisely what the 2009 allocation of funds were, but a consistent funding stream over a number of years. And Congress and this White House have been unable and unwilling, I would argue, to put together that kind of package, primarily because of spending concerns, but also -- and this is not insignificant.
GARRETTThe way we fund highway transportation, for example, comes from federal gasoline taxes, which are down because as fuel becomes more -- cars become more fuel efficient there's less revenue. And no one has cracked that particular funding mystery and the deadlock remains.
PAGEI'm Susan Page. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Our phone lines are open. Give us a call or shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you're just joining us, you can also watch live video of our show at drshow.org. Well, let's talk about this house bill that passed, the USA Freedom Act. It ends the bulk phone data collection by the NSA that Edward Snowden revealed that's been so controversial, Jeanne. Where does this go from here?
CUMMINGSWell, it doesn't exactly end it. It ends in the way…
PAGEEnds the government holding it.
CUMMINGSThe government -- yeah, the government won't hold the data, but the phone companies will hold the data. They already do to some degree. They hold the records for 18 months for billing purposes. They'll have to adjust that under this legislation, but they say they can do it. This is a compromise. It was worked out between the White House and the House Republican leaders. And it's trying to strike the balance between protecting from attacks and protecting our privacy. And that's a very fine line to walk.
CUMMINGSSo it went through the House with a big bipartisan vote behind it. And now has gone to the Senate, where it is in big trouble because the Senate is quite divided. The speaker, I mean, Majority Leader McConnell wants to just extend the Patriot Act, as it, not make any changes. And he has some people in his camp, including Marco Rubio. And then you have Rand Paul and liberal Democrats who think that the House bill doesn't go far enough. And so -- and then Ted Cruz is behind the House bill. He supports it. So you see all these divisions in the Senate. It's gonna be a very tough debate over there.
PAGEAnd it expires on -- the provisions of the Patriot Act that allow for this program expire on June 1st. So if the Senate can't reach a deal, Amy, it goes away.
WALTERThen it goes away, right. And then what do you do, right? Especially since we're talking every day and in the Republican primary it seems every minute, about security issues, about terrorism. The idea that this could just get punted seems quite amazing.
GARRETTAnd the important thing here is we also had an intervening opinion from a second circuit court of appeals.
GARRETTWhich said, unequivocally that this program oversteps Congressional intent and that is an enormously important part of this debate as it goes forward. Because whatever Congress says, in committee, on the floor, will be, as everything said up 'til now, sifted carefully by appellate courts to try to figure out what it is Congress intended this program to do, achieve, and what were the parameters legally it foresaw. This is where the nitty-gritty of legislative action really means something. It's not just about votes. It's about what you say, how you say it, the placement of words, the relationship to Section 215, what is a relevant investigation, who is a relevant target.
GARRETTAll of these things matter. And having them adjudicated within a month, in the body known as the United States Senate is a bit unnerving, but it has to be done. And it has to be done carefully. I can't emphasize that enough. Because as we've learned from this litigation process, everything that Congress says about this matters because that's where the court goes to sift what is legal, what is the interpretive intent, and what are the bounds our country lives with in balancing security and privacy rights.
PAGEAnd, Jeanne, what is has this debate done in attitudes toward Edward Snowden, who revealed it -- the scope of this program two years ago? Some people say he's a traitor. Some people say he's a patriot. Has it affected attitudes towards him?
CUMMINGSWell, I think it probably may have taken the edge off of some of the anger when these records were first released. It certainly has -- he has accomplished what he set out to do. He said he did it because he thought the American public should know about it and that there should be a debate about it. And that people then could decide how much of their own privacy they did want to hand over to the government. He's accomplished those goals, 'cause that is the very debate that we are having right now on Capitol Hill.
PAGEWe're gonna take another short break. And when we come back we'll go back to the phones and take your calls and questions, 1-800-433-8850. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. It's our Friday News Roundup. Here in the studio with me, Major Garrett of CBS, Jeanne Cummings of Bloomberg Politics, Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report. And we're taking your calls and questions. We're going to go to Caleb. He's calling us from Dallas. Hey, Caleb, you're on the air.
CALEBHi, Susan. Thanks for having me on the show.
PAGEYou bet. Go ahead.
CALEBSo my question is really regarding TPA. I'm on the speech and debate team at my university, and we actually had a case that we had to write on TPA. And so it's really been remarkable to me how quickly the politics have shifted. I mean, even with pre-trade acts with Columbia or South Korea in the recent history, Democrats haven't abandoned the president like this.
CALEBAnd so I guess my question is specifically for Mr. Garrett and others too. What is the president's lobbying shop looking like this from the House? I mean, Mike Allen in Playbook this morning had Paul Ryan saying, you know, we maybe even only have 180 House Republicans that will support this when it comes. So how is the president planning on lobbying the House to generate the effort to make that happen?
GARRETTWell, back to my earlier point, the idea was to springboard some momentum from a swift end, relatively carefree Senate endorsement of trade promotion authority. Well, that's now off the books. They have to grind it through the Senate, get it over to the House. And the House has two problems for the President and the White House and his lobbying shop. One is the entrenched Democratic opposition. And one is suspicion/opposition from certain quarters of House Republicans. Let me try to unpack them briefly.
GARRETTThe Democratic opposition is largely along the lines of trade promotion authority is the means by which you're going to get the Trans-Pacific partnership, this Asian free trade deal passed, and they are skeptical that that will create the economic growth and the jobs and provide sufficient protections for endangered jobs in America threatened by globalization. That's a pretty standard Democratic approach to trade.
GARRETTRepublicans are reluctant, at least initially in some quarters, to provide trade promotion authority because they have long said this president acts outside the law, he interprets Obamacare his own way, he does things on immigration we think are outside the law, and we are not eager to go out on a political limb, even for free trade, which we conceptually believe in, to give this president what appears to be more authority. And what you're beginning to see is Republican leaning, editorialists like Charles Krauthammer and others, try to knock down that argument, build up House Republican vote support for this.
GARRETTOn the House Democratic side, Jeanne was referring earlier to maybe a 20 vote threshold. Look, when this began, John Boehner, the House Speaker, said there needs to be 40 or 50 House Democrats. Well, that's off the board. There's never going to be 40 or 50. There probably never was going to be. If they get to 20, it's going to be a very tight vote in the House. To approve trade promotion authority, they're still not there yet. I asked the White House earlier this week in public, can you name one House Democrat whom the president has spoken to who was a no and is now a yes? There was a long, long pause, and no answer.
CUMMINGSThis also though is a systemic problem. It's not just about the president. This is a reflection of the way our elections over the past -- in the past ten years have become more partisan place. And so through redistricting and things like that, we have seen the middle of both parties go away. You know, there are no more moderate Republicans up in the northeast. And there are no more moderate Democrats, except for perhaps a handful, in the south. And so as a consequence, the middle is gone, and it was the middle that passed NAFTA. And it was the middle that helped get through the Columbia and the other trade deals prior to this.
CUMMINGSSo what we're seeing is a reflection of the fact that both the House and the Senate ideologically are very far apart, and there are very few people to bridge.
PAGEAnd NAFTA was hard to pass, remember?
PAGEThat was a big White House effort to get it through.
WALTERThat was a big White House effort. And what did Bill Clinton have that this president doesn't have? He had earmarks, and he used a lot of pork projects to make sure that that passed. The other thing, and you hear this from Democrats, Republicans, lobbyists I talk to, this has been a constant criticism of this president, that he does not have relationships...
WALTER...that he doesn't ask Democrats, work with Democrats until he needs them at the last moment. They do not have a robust lobbying shop that, you know, there are a lot of Democrats who are quite disgruntled saying, you know what, this is an effort that you should've been working on months ago, not just at the last minute.
PAGEHere's an email we've gotten from Terry. Terry writes, "Some like Elizabeth Warren are saying that the process applied to this trade bill, secrecy, the point in the overall process which authorization is requested and so on, is much different than either the past or the ideal. Others like Senator Orrin Hatch seem to be saying, this is the process. What is the difference? And is this normal? Who can respond to that? Is this the way these big trade deals always work?
GARRETTWell, so there are two issues here. Trade promotion authority provides this framework, and Elizabeth Warren says, why can't the public see the final deal? Not on trade promotion authority, which is a framework by which a future trade deal, in this case the Trans-Pacific Partnership will be debated and voted on. Why can't we see the deal? The White House says, well, the Trans-Pacific Partnership isn't fully negotiated. Why? Because some of the partners, specifically Japan, are not going to sign onto the dotted line on all provisions of that trade deal until they know what has passed.
GARRETTTrade promotion authority, which means Congress cannot amend the final product. It can only vote up or down. That's the whole framework for this. And Japan and others say, look, we're not going to fully negotiate whatever the contours of our trade relationship is until we know Congress has one decision and one decision only to make. Because they don't want to agree to something that Congress then can later amend and take away or in some ways interfere with what they've already negotiated. That's the parameters.
GARRETTIn that respect, it's exactly the same. And the White House would argue, it is a more transparent process because Elizabeth Warren and any other curious lawmaker can go to a room on Capitol Hill and read what's been negotiated so far, and have an understanding of where negotiations are heading, and what are the underlying agreements so far. The White House says, that's more transparent than has been historically true. It has yet to be politically persuasive.
PAGEYou know, this is a president who's not only in his second term, he's in the second half of his second term. And one of the things that seems to be happening that is so interesting to me is that we're seeing the president and Mrs. Obama talk about in a more serious way what they are both planning to do after they leave office. And I know Bloomberg's Margaret Talev had a piece about this this morning. Just think about this week. First on Tuesday the Barack Obama Foundation announced that his presidential library would be located on the south side of Chicago. Not really a surprise, but there were some competitors for that.
PAGEWe also heard the president talk on a panel discussion at Georgetown University, which was moderated by E.J. Dionne, our friend at "The Diane Rehm Show," about poverty and the need to address poverty. And this is after two presidential elections and six years of a presidency, where he has not talked that much about poverty. He's talked a lot about the middle class. Is this a new chapter do you think, Jeanne, in his presidency?
CUMMINGSYeah, I think we've seen him open up in other ways as well. I think when all of the riots over the shootings of black young men, his responses there. Not that he didn't talk about race before with similar incidents, but I think you saw both he and Michelle Obama talk again more openly about the race relations in America. And in some of the coverage this week there were indications that he wants to go out. He said he wants to get back into kind of a community organizing sort of role for himself.
CUMMINGSSo you could tell they are starting to layout in their minds or maybe even on paper a very active role. They're going to be very young, and they obviously want to be very active in the coming years. And it looks more domestic oriented at the moment. Whereas the Clintons went out and did international. And Jimmy Carter is very -- his center is very foreign policy focused. And so that could be an interesting and something new entity for us to see.
WALTERWell, and the first lady as well dipped into this with a speech last week, a commencement speech at Tuskegee University where she was very open, probably the most open she's been...
WALTER...in talking about race, what it's like to be an African American female in this society. And, you know, there has been some talk about it. I don't think enough talk about it, quite frankly, probably because we've been overwhelmed with all the other series of events. But this was a woman who's clearly ready to start talking about a lot of these issues and may be talking about them a lot more.
GARRETTIt feels to me, Susan, and to my colleagues, having covered Senator Obama in the Senate and then the campaign, 2007, 2008, and a good deal of his presidency, that he and the first lady are more -- are feeling a bit more freedom to talk about their experience with these issues personally, as opposed to presidentially or institutionally.
GARRETTAnd I think it will be something our country will learn over many, many years after this presidency how difficult it was to be the first African American president, the first African American first lady, and to try to navigate all of the institutional expectations and weigh them against the prerogatives and weigh them against the responsibility, cultural, ethnic and otherwise that fell on their shoulders uniquely as it never had before in American history.
GARRETTAnd I think you're beginning to see them feel at least a little bit more comfortable talking about some of those pressures as it affected them personally. I believe that's a conversation that will be much more florid and revealing after the Obama presidency. But I think it is significant and worth noting that they're moving in that direction even as the presidency continues.
PAGEAnd Mrs. Obama talked about how she's so often viewed through a racial prism and how hard it's been to navigate that, that people either see her as being too tough or too soft. I'm sure that's -- it will be interesting to hear more about that conversation. Let's talk to Keith. He's calling us from Fort Worth. Keith, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
KEITHYeah, I've got a question about, why should I be so concerned as a citizen that the government is collecting my phone data when private companies collect my data all the time on general purchases, from my email or, you know, my phone number? Why do I even care if the government's collecting my data if I'm not calling to make plans to attack anybody?
PAGEOkay. Thanks. So should Keith care?
CUMMINGSWell, I think the people who are opposed to it, it's the big brother sense, that, you know, it's the authority that's looking at your phone records or can. It's not -- you could choose your telephone company. You could drop your telephone company if they did something that offended you. You can't necessarily just drop out of the government.
WALTERWell, and there's also the sense too that -- how do we know that -- you say -- and, Keith, I'm with you where I say, well, I don't do bad things, how could the government possibly pick me up, find my meta data and decide that I'm doing terrible things. Well, they can do that, and I don't know what sort of recourse I have if I get caught up, and they say, well, you know, based on this data we have about you, we have some assumptions based on you. I don't know what legal recourse I have against the government. Versus Banana Republic has all of my information and they keep spamming me with data.
PAGEBut, you know, Banana Republic can't audit your taxes. Banana Republic can't...
PAGE...put you in jail.
PAGEAll Banana Republic can do is sense somehow that you want to buy a pair of jeans.
PAGEAnd barrage you with that.
WALTERThey do. Oh, my gosh. How did they know that?
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today, and I'm sitting in for Diane Rehm. We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Let's talk to Florence. Florence is calling us from Thomasville, N.C. Hi, Florence.
FLORENCEHi, good morning.
FLORENCEMy question, you all were speaking about the electoral process, and last weekend there was a report from the lady that heads the election and regulatory commission that because of the political divisions within that body, that I think she used the words, it was highly unlikely that they would actually be able to regulate if there were improprieties. So I guess I'm wondering -- I mean, is that true? Is what she said true? And if so, what kind of an impact does that have on the electoral process.
PAGEFlorence, thanks so much for your call. The FEC, not really a functional body.
CUMMINGSNo, it is true what she said. Florence, the FEC, the Federal Election Commission, its board is evenly divided between the two parties. And so they just never agree with another, and so they can never pass anything. They can't pass new regulations. They can't agree to investigate some organization that may seem to be violating the rules. They have in at least one case did go after a group that did the most incredibly stupid things that they couldn't help but get caught. And that was just a small group in Virginia.
CUMMINGSAnd, you know, the organizations that are going to play at the national level and at the presidential level are not going to do stupid things. They have very smart lawyers. So really the only entity that could be a player in the enforcement front would be the IRS. And the IRS has also indicated that it's not going to take any action that could be viewed as trying to sway 2015.
PAGEWhile we're talking about ethics, the Washington Post had a story this week on a House ethics investigation. And it reported that Azerbaijan's state owned oil company had paid hundreds of thousands dollars for expenses for some members of Congress who went to a conference there, but they didn't know it. They hid the contributions.
WALTERThey hid the money through a nonprofit in Houston, and the lawmaker said, well, we didn't -- we thought this was a nonprofit bringing us over to Azerbaijan to help with Azerbaijan, U.S., Turkey relationships. And the Office of Ethics saying, well, you know, just ignorance of the fact that this money came from Azerbaijan. It's not a good enough excuse. The real issue here is the fact that the reason that Azerbaijan would like to get access to lawmakers is they want to build a really big oil pipeline. And there are sanctions. U.S. sanctions on Iran are linked to the building of this, and that ultimately those sanctions have included exemptions for this very pipeline.
PAGESo did they get what they wanted? Did they make any progress...
PAGE...by having this conference?
WALTERThe sanctions still include that exemption, yes.
GARRETTRight, and they did in August 2012 before this...
WALTERBefore they went.
GARRETT...conference occurred in May of 2013. They were extended in January of 2013. So twice before legislation passed that President Obama signed, and then he created an Executive Order five days after this conference also exempting these. Clearly it's an issue. The United States is supportive generally of this pipeline because it would reduce some of the energy clout that Russia possesses in that region. And the most interesting thing I think about this is the Office of Congressional Ethics, which is separate from the House Ethics Committee, took this on, and would not give it to the House Ethics Committee. Why? Because it assumed based on substantial history that the House Ethics Committee would do nothing...
WALTERWould be soft, yeah.
GARRETT...and punt on this. So it was brought to light in the old fashioned way, through some shoe leather investigative reporting.
GARRETTYes, which we're all in favor of.
WALTERThe old fashioned way.
PAGEAnd members of both parties involved in this, did they do anything wrong, Jeanne?
CUMMINGSWell, you know, I mean, the report says that they can't just say I didn't know. They have -- members of Congress need to guard themselves against this sort of thing. But did they do anything wrong? They say, no, because they didn't know that the oil company was financing their trip. They thought there was a nonprofit oil and gas outfit in Texas that was financing their trip. And so under those circumstances, the trip would've been fine.
WALTERMy favorite line though is they didn't report some of the gifts that they got, including these rugs. And one lawmaker said, well, I didn't even really like the rug, it was pretty ugly. So, I mean, you know, if you get an ugly gift, why report it?
PAGEAmy Walter of the Cook Political Report. Also joined this hour by Major Garrett of CBS and Jeanne Cummings of Bloomberg Politics. And let's just close by noting the passing of Blues legend B.B. King. President Obama has now put out a statement. He says, "The Blues has lost its king, and America has lost a legend." And the statement also says, "B.B. may be gone, but that thrill will be with us forever, and there's going to be one killer Blues session in heaven tonight." I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
Most Recent Shows
Veteran diplomat Richard Haass turns from foreign affairs to threats from within. He argues Americans focus so much on rights we forget our obligations as citizens -- and the country is suffering because of it.
Behind the lies of Congressman George Santos. Diane talks to the owner of the small weekly paper that first broke the story, and a Washington Post journalist who is following the money to see who financed Santos's political rise.
House GOP members launched a new committee this week to investigate the “weaponization” of the U.S. government. These lawmakers claim federal law enforcement and national security agencies have targeted and…