Diane talks with Theodore Johnson, a senior fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice and an expert in race and electoral politics.
Guest Host: Susan Page
President Barack Obama is no stranger to Congress putting up roadblocks to his policy agenda but that opposition typically comes from members of the other party. That was not the case last week as Democrats held firm against Obama’s push to move forward with an expansive trade deal with Asia. The rift highlights what some say is a party struggling with internal dissent on a number of issues like income inequality and environmental regulation. Guest host Susan Page takes a look at divisions among liberal and centrist democrats and what it means for the party.
- Charlie Cook Columnist for National Journal, and editor and publisher of "The Cook Political Report."
- Ryan Lizza Staff writer, The New Yorker.
- Senator Bernie Sanders Member, U.S. Senate, (I-VT).
- Donna Brazile Democratic strategist; adjunct professor at Georgetown University; nationally syndicated columnist.
- Robert Draper Freelance writer, a correspondent for GQ and a contributor to The New York Times Magazine.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. Diane will be back later this week. Policy divisions have always existed among Democrats just as they have with Republicans, but following the disastrous showing for Democrats in last year's midterm elections, some progressives have responded by pushing the party left.
MS. SUSAN PAGETo discuss the state of the Democrats, I'm joined in the studio by Donna Brazile, the democratic strategist, Charlie Cook, editor and publisher of "The Cook Political Report," and Ryan Lizza, staff reporter at "The New Yorker," who is long time listener of the show, but the first time to be on it. Welcome, Ryan.
MR. RYAN LIZZAThanks for having me.
PAGEAnd joining us from the studios at "The New York Times" in New York City, Robert Draper, who's a contributor to the "New York Times" magazine. Robert, thanks for being with us.
MR. ROBERT DRAPERMy pleasure, Susan.
PAGEWe welcome our listeners also to join our conversation later in this hour. You can call our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850 or send us an email at email@example.com or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, Ryan, let's start with you. You did a piece for the "New Yorker" on Elizabeth Warren, the senator from Massachusetts, talking about what she's come to represent in the Democratic party. How divided do you think the party is now when it comes to policy?
LIZZAWell, a lot of the debates, the ones we're gonna talk about today, are not new. They stretch back several decades. I think what is interesting is you have a politician in the race, Hillary Clinton, who has been around so long, that she has been on different sides of these debates. Her husband, when he was coming of age politically, was coming into national politics after the democrats had lost three presidential elections in a row.
LIZZAAnd that 1992 primary and election, a lot of the pressure on the Democrats was to move to the center and a lot of the project of the Clinton years was to moderate and change the image of the Democratic party. The Democratic party's in a much different place in the Obama era. Its coalition has changed. It has become younger. It has become less white and it relies on more voters who are further to the left of the political spectrum and, I think, on a number of issues, as Hillary Clinton, tries to assemble that coalition that elected Obama twice, she realizes that the center of gravity in the Democratic party has moved to the left on immigration, on trade, on criminal justice reform, same sex marriage and some other big economic policy issues.
PAGEWell, the whole party could move to the left, Charlie, and still not be divided, right, if Hillary Clinton just reflects changes in the party. Is there, in fact, you think a pretty significant divide among Democrats or not so much?
MR. CHARLIE COOKNo. I would argue that there's less division among Democrats now than any time in my lifetime. I mean, when I came to Washington in 1972, you had blue dogs, conservative Democrats. They're gone. You had a Democratic leadership council developed over time that was sort of the centrist pro-business wing of the Democratic party. It no longer exists. And even when you sit down the so-called -- the new dogs, which is sort of the least liberal member of the Democrats in the House, I look at them and say, gosh, I -- some of them, I thought, were just pretty much liberal.
MR. CHARLIE COOKAnd so I'd say the Democratic Party is more ideologically cohesive now than it's ever been but that's a problem 'cause it's moved left just as the Republican Party has moved four notches over to the right.
PAGEWell, Robert Draper, you had a piece that was published yesterday in "The New York Times" Sunday magazine that talked about the Maryland Senate primary on the Democratic side as kind of representing a divide in the party. Tell us briefly about what's happening there.
DRAPERSure. And let's make this clear. Maryland is a very blue state, Susan. There's no war taking place in Maryland between moderates and progressives. This is, instead, an election not about scratching and clawing for every available vote, but for about defining what a true Democrat is and the question then is it enough to cast reliably progressive Democratic votes in the manner of Congressman Chris Van Hollen, who's one of the candidates running for Senate, or is it a requirement, at least in the view of progressives, that you be a fighter, that you draw lines in the sand, that you say we're not gonna compromise one iota on the things that we care about.
DRAPERAnd that's more in the mold of the person running against him, Congresswoman Donna Edwards. One thing I'd like to say quickly about what Charlie just said, it's true that, I think, in a lot of ways, the party has become ideologically more cohesive, to use his phraseology, but that's come at a price. The Democrats in the House have only 188 members. They have not had so few a membership since 1930 and there's a lot of disquiet amongst a lot of what Charlie's called the new dogs, the sort of so-called new Democrats that they may be in the minority for a decade or more.
DRAPERAnd that's gonna have consequence as well. In fact, when you look all the way up and all the way down the ballot, the Democrats are not showing strongly. Not in the state legislature, where they control only 11 of the 50 states. Not in the governors' houses. They have, I think, 13 of 50. And then, as I mentioned, the congressional membership, which is at the lowest since the Hoover administration.
DRAPERSo at least at the sub-presidential level, the Democrats have a real crisis and the ideological cohesiveness is obviously not helping their cause.
PAGEWell, Donna, you are, in fact, a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee. Are you concerned that the party has become more united, but, in part, because the membership has -- especially the elected officials who belong to the party, the numbers have gotten smaller? It makes it easier to be cohesive.
MS. DONNA BRAZILEWe've had a couple of bad elections and that's just stated mildly. Not just at the federal level, in terms of the Senate and the House, but also at the state level with governors and state law makers. So there's no question that the Democrats have to do a better job of not just defining ourselves, but also tackling some of the major issues that concerns most Americans. Look, the Democrats share many core values.
MS. DONNA BRAZILEWe believe in opportunity for all Americans, prosperity, economy growth, security. We also have taken tough positions on everything from the Keystone pipeline, the climate change, to income inequality. Of course, there's a healthy debate going on inside the Democratic party. We have an open seat for the presidency, and although everyone knows Hillary Clinton, they know her name, they know where she stands on many of these issues, we will have a healthy debate, whether it's Bernie Sanders who will try to have an engaging conversation on trade, Elizabeth Warren, who may not be a player, she might be on the bench or on the sideline, but I do believe that there's a growing number of Democrats who believe that we have to take strong positions on Wall Street and income inequality.
MS. DONNA BRAZILEThese are debates that we should have. We have Senator Webb, who -- Jim Webb from Virginia, who's considering running for the presidency. Of course, former governor, Martin O'Malley, from the state of Maryland. So there's no reason why Democrats shouldn't have a conversation that is as big and large as the Republican party field is.
LIZZAWell, can I just add one thing. I feel like we did maybe paper over some of the differences in both my answer and Charlie's answer. I think there are significant policy debates going on that this primary, as Donna just eluded to, will play out in the primary. A big one is on -- I think a lot of them have to do with the Democratic coalition. The Democratic coalition is more of a coalition of labor and corporate interests than the Republican party is because there's not much labor support on the Republican side so the tensions are inherent in the voters and the funders of the Democratic party.
LIZZAOn Wall Street influence in the Democratic party, that is a big important issue that Senator Elizabeth Warren has pointed out and talks a lot about. And I think there are significant difference where people like Elizabeth Warren are on that issue, and we'll hear from Bernie Sanders later and Secretary Clinton. And Hillary Clinton is going to have to deal with that. She was a senator from New York.
LIZZAWall Street's based in New York. She had very good relationships with Wall Street. We know about all the stories about what interests have funded the Clintons since they have left the presidency. That puts a lot of pressure on her to respond to those economic interests and some like Elizabeth Warren is gonna be out there saying, I don't want you advised by the same old Wall Street crowd that advised Bill Clinton.
LIZZAI want you to bring in more labor-oriented advisors or more people on the left. That's a big important debate that's gonna play out.
PAGESo Charlie, is this trade bill that's -- this big Pacific trade deal that's being negotiated and will go back to Congress to approve or disapprove, is this a problem for Hillary Clinton because it is one of the issues that divides her party?
COOKWell, I think for Hillary Clinton, practically speaking, there are only two possible positions and that is opposition or not saying anything and getting hit for that. I mean, coming out in favor of it, even though, you know, her husband, you know, got NAFTA through, and I suspect she's probably in favor of TPA, coming out in favor is just -- it's not an option. But...
PAGEShe called it the gold standard in her recent book.
COOKWell, I mean, to be honest, I think this is less driven by organized labor and more by the left. I mean, organized labor, they were lobbying or many unions were lobbying as hard as they possibly could against TPA, but let's face it, where is the energy in the party? The energy is on the hard left and part of that is that, you know, a big chuck and growing chunk of organized labor doesn't really care about trade.
BRAZILEOh, they do.
COOKI mean, public employee unions, service employees, they don't -- I mean, the building construction trades, industrial, absolutely. But the thing is, it's more sort of the -- for lack of a better term, moveon.org, Elizabeth Warren, that's where the sort of real oomph in this, I think, is coming from.
PAGEWell, the Republicans worry about their primary process pulling the nominee so far to the right that they can't be elected. Donna, do you worry that this primary process and the energy of the progressives risk pulling Hillary Clinton far enough left that it makes it harder for her to win the general election?
BRAZILENo, because the yardstick between the so-called left and where the middle is in America, in terms of the Democratic party, is not that far. We don't have far left positions. I mean, everybody believes that we have to do something about stagnant wages. Everyone believes that we have to address climate change. These are not issues that, I think, will divide the Democrats from the rest of America.
BRAZILEWhat's happening in the Democratic party is that we need a vigorous debate. I just want to tell you, Richard Trumka is a strong and fierce opponent of the trade deal and he's let it be known, not just to the president, but also to the Democrats in Congress.
PAGEWe're gonna take a short break and when we come back, we'll continue our conversation with our panel and we'll hear from Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont, who is challenging Hillary Clinton for the presidential nomination. And we'll take your calls, 1-800-433-8850 is our toll-free number. Our lines are now open. You can always send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page, of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. And joining us now by phone from Burlington, Vt., is Senator Bernie Sanders. Sen. Sanders, thanks so much for joining us.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERSGreat to be with you, Susan.
PAGESo tell us, we're trying to talk this hour about whether there is a policy divide among Democrats that's significant. Do you think there is one?
SANDERSWell, sure there is. And I think you're seeing it play out in terms of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. My view, and I think the view of the vast majority of the Democrats in the House and the Senate, is the TPP is a disastrous trade agreement. It follows on the footsteps of trade agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA and permanent normal trade relations with China, which have cost us millions of decent paying jobs. And have been one of the reasons why we've lost almost 60,000 factory in this country since 2001.
SANDERSSo I think you're seeing all over this country, the trade union movement, the environmental community, grassroots America saying no, we don't want to continue down the path of disastrous trade agreements. Let's defeat it. Now, there are some people, obviously, in the Democratic caucus and elsewhere who want to see this passed. The president of the United States wants to see it passed. So we have some serious disagreements on this.
PAGESo the president supports it. You oppose it. Hillary Clinton has mostly not made it clear where she stands when it comes to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Does she need to clear that up and say where she stands?
SANDERSI think she does. Look, you know, Susan, when we talk about what's going on in America today, economically, what's the most important thing to deal with? And that is for the last 40 years, despite a explosion of a technology and a huge increase in worker productivity, what we have seen is the disappearance of the American middle class. So you have millions of people today who are working longer hours for low wages.
SANDERSAnd at the same time there's been a massive transfer of wealth from the middle class working families to the top one-tenth of 1 percent. So today you have 99 percent of all new income going to the top 1 percent. And the top one-tenth of 1 percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. Now, how did that happen? Well, I think -- I'm not gonna tell you trade is the only reason, but I will tell you that when you lose millions of decent paying manufacturing jobs, and those jobs are replaced by Wal-Mart jobs or McDonalds jobs, yeah, that is a factor.
SANDERSAnd I don't see how any serious candidate for president, whether it's Hillary Clinton, whether it is the Republicans, can avoid this issue. You can be for it. You can tell us why you think it's a great agreement. Or you can be as I and Sherrod Brown, Elizabeth Warren and many others are against it. But I don't know that you can sit this one out. It's just too important an issue.
PAGEWe've seen the Democratic Party generally moving to the left, moving in your direction, certainly from the days of President Clinton in 1992 and 1996 when he was elected. Why do you think that has happened?
SANDERSWell, I think it's precisely for what I just said a moment ago. The American people are looking at the world in which they're living. And they're sitting around and they're saying, wait a minute. I'm working longer hours for low wages. I am more productive. And yet, virtually all of the new income being created is going to the top 1 percent. The greed and recklessness and illegal behavior on Wall Street caused this enormous recession. We bailed out Wall Street. The rich are getting richer. What about me? How come my kid can't afford to go to college?
SANDERSHow come I'm working class person, I can't afford decent quality child care? How come half of the people in this country have less than $10,000 in savings, which is not a heck of a lot of money when you're contemplating retirement? So people are looking around them and they are seeing the rich getting richer, everybody else getting poorer and they're saying, you know what? Maybe establishment politics has not worked. Maybe we need to come up with some ideas and a movement which says enough is enough. The billionaire class can't have it all.
SANDERSAnd on top of all of that, it's not just economics, it's politics. And what you're seeing every day you pick up the paper, you know, whether it's the Koch brothers, whether it's Sheldon Adelson, whether it's some other billionaire, what American democracy is now evolving in to is a war between billionaires and the ability of billionaires to buy elections. So I think there's a lot of discontent upon the part of millions of workers. And they want members of Congress, and specifically Democrats, to say hey, let's stand up. Let's create a government that works for all of us and not just a handful.
PAGESo, Sen. Sanders, one last question. There's a critique among some centrist Democrats that say that progressives in the Democratic Party now risk being like the Tea Party in the Republican side -- and that is lots of energy, foot soldiers, fervent beliefs, but basically on the fringe of the American political system -- pulls the Party in that direction, makes it harder for the Party to prevail in president elections, gubernatorial elections and others. What do you say to that critique?
SANDERSI categorically disagree, Susan. Everything, virtually every issue that I and many other progressives talk about has the support of the vast majority of the American people. Question, do we invest in rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure and create millions of decent paying jobs? You know what, Democrats, Republicans, Independents think that's a good idea. Do we ask the wealth, the largest corporations in this country -- some of which, by the way, pay zero in taxes because they -- federal taxes -- because they stash their money in the Cayman Islands and other tax havens.
SANDERSShould we do away with those loopholes? And ask large, multinational corporations and the wealthiest people in this country to start paying their fair share of taxes? You know what the American people say? Yes, we should. Should we raise the minimum wage to a living wage? American people say yes. Should we have pay equity for women workers? The American people say yes. Should we make college affordable? And tomorrow I'll be introducing legislation to do away with tuition at public colleges and universities.
SANDERSYou know what the American people say? Yes. So I think anyone who thinks that these are fringe ideas are sorely mistaken. These are ideas that appeal to people across the political spectrum, who, in my view, are just tired of seeing the billionaire class get it all.
PAGESen. Sanders, thank you so much for joining us on "The Diane Rehm Show."
SANDERSThank you very much. Take care.
PAGESen. Bernie Sanders. He's a presidential candidate on the Democratic side and the senator from Vermont. Well, Robert Draper, let me ask you the question -- the final question I asked Sen. Sanders, which is is there any equivalency between this new progressive force on the Democratic Party and the Tea Party on the Republican side?
DRAPERWell, one can take it too far, Susan. I mean, in the Republican Party, maybe two-thirds of the House members cast pretty much every vote looking over their right shoulder, fearing that if they don't go with the Tea Party they're gonna primaried. And that hasn't happened yet with the Democrats, though that's clearly the goal of some of the national progressive groups. Not just to bring in their own, but to weed out the ones who they consider to be milquetoast. You know, DINOs, Democrats in name only.
DRAPERIt's -- it was so interesting to hear, by the way, what Sen. Sanders said. Because on the one hand he was saying to you that -- he was agreeing with you, Susan, that the Party has moved leftward. At the same time he was categorically rejecting the notion that the Party has been hurt down the ballot as a result of it moving to the left. And yet, the numbers don't lie. They do show that there is a, you know, a diminished influence at the sub-presidential level amongst the Democratic Party.
DRAPERHe said that all of these policies are things that Americans are in lockstep with. And surveys, policy surveys do indicate that. But these surveys, you know, they never ask the follow-up question of -- that would be the very thing brought up in the electoral marketplace, the exchange of ideas, of how would you pay for it? Would this come at the expense of businesses being regulated, more thus perhaps meaning people put out of jobs. And that's why, you know, the notion that the progressives -- the progressive argument is basically where the people are is something that has yet to be fully tested.
PAGESo, Charlie Cook, tell us, it'll be tested in the elections next year. What do you expect to see?
COOKWell, I mean, first let me respond and second to, I mean, I agree with what Robert said. But I would say that the Democrats that would be looking over their left shoulder -- and a lot do, but the ones that would be most looking over the left shoulder are no longer members of Congress. I mean, the people -- the centrists are basically gone. And, you know, you look at the last election. You look at Mary Landrieu losing and -- down in my home state of Louisiana, Mark Pryor in Arkansas, Mark Begich in Alaska, and to a certain extent Kay Hagan in North Carolina.
COOKWell, let me just say Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina. I'm 61. I hope to live another 30, 40 years. I do not expect to see a Democratic senator in my lifetime in any of those five states. Now, that's, I mean, when I moved to Washington, 9 out of the 10 senators from those five states were Democrats. And it's gone. I mean, unless there's just some horrific scandal, it's gone. And, you know, we're gonna have a Republican governor in Louisiana elected this year. There's just not much doubt at all about that. The only question is which one. And so this is come at a terrible, terrible price for the Democratic Party.
PAGEDonna, what do you think?
BRAZILEI don't think it's necessarily philosophical or ideological. Some of it's structural, some of it is the fact that we don't have good quality candidates running down in the South that could attract the kind of broad support. Some of it's cultural. There's no question that we've had to navigate some tough cultural issues at time when the -- when many of our friends and family who we grew up with no longer believe that the Democrat Party represent their views on guns and maybe marriage and other issues.
BRAZILEBut, Charlie, I want to give you some hope. 'Cause I know you will live a long time. We will, I think in my lifetime and your lifetime, too -- we're only a couple years apart. We will see the reemergence of the Democratic Party in the South. It's not gonna look like our grandparents' or our parents' party. It's gonna be different.
BRAZILEIt's -- we're going to have to track and recruit new candidates, younger candidates, but like Steve Beshear, who is basically chairing one of -- along with the national chairwoman -- a Democratic task force on messaging and what we need to do structurally. I do believe that we will be able to make a surprising comeback within the next 5 to 10 years.
LIZZAAnd given some of the views of our grandparents' Democrats in the South, I don't think anyone in America wants the Democratic Party in the South to look like our grandparents' party, right?
LIZZAI mean, let's be honest, whether it's (word?) we're talking about, Charlie, was…
DRAPERMaybe Donna's grandparents, but, okay, I'll give you mine.
BRAZILEMy grandparents and parents fought for the Voting Rights Act 50 years ago. So we have faith. I still believe.
LIZZABut I do think that this is the elephant in the room of the Democratic Party moving to the left over the Obama era, is how -- at the same -- the Party has been completely decimated at the state and local level. Right? The midterm elections in 2010 and 2014 were -- just wiped out Democrats in state legislatures. They wiped out Obama's Senate -- hold on the Senate and his hold on the House. And so any Democrat, like Sen. Sanders, who's making the case that America has moved to the left and America is with him on these issues, has to grapple with the fact that there's been a lot of damage done to Democrats at the state and local level.
LIZZAAnd this comes back to, you know, as the -- do the Democrats have a sort of natural coalition in a presidential year? Because a lot of voters that don't vote in midterms come out and they came out and supported Obama. But in midterm elections a lot of those voters drop off and the Republicans have an advantage. And that's the…
PAGEI think it's hard for…
LIZZA…structural thing, I think, Donna was referring to.
PAGEI think it's hard for a lot of Americans to understand why the Party -- Democratic Party can seem so strong in presidential elections and, you know, the Democrats do have an advantage when you look through the electoral college. And yet suffer such devastating losses every place else.
COOKWell, I think it's a combination of two things. In presidential years or -- in presidential years the turnout is big, it's broad, it's diverse and it looks more or less like the country. But in midterm's years, the turnout is substantially less, maybe 60 percent or so of a presidential year. And it's older, it's whiter, it's more conservative, it's more Republican. And then you have an impact of gerrymandering. And then you have just sort of normal population patterns. I mean, where do Democrats live?
COOKUrban areas and college towns. Where do Republicans live? Everywhere else. The Democrats stack up their voters, highly concentrated. So they sort of waste a bunch of votes winning certain districts by enormous margins, votes that they could really use in some adjacent districts.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Let's start by talking to Nathan, who's calling us from Miami. Nathan, hi.
NATHANHello. Thank you for taking my call. Before I make my comment I just want to say I was a longtime paid Democratic campaign organizer, manager, researcher, you know, the whole toolbox. And my home state is Iowa. So I worked on a lot of Iowa campaigns. So I know what I'm talking about with national presidential campaigns here. And my observation is that while I agree with Ms. Brazile, that the (unintelligible) activists in the Democratic Party is not that great.
NATHANAnd I know that she has, you know, a lot of experience working with Democratic activists to her credit. And I completely agree with her, that (unintelligible) activism is not that great. I can say from years of firsthand experience in state and federal campaigns that Sen. Sanders is absolutely right, that among campaign donors and financiers, who, after Citizens United, have massive influence in these campaigns, really, there is a vast gap between wealthy corporate interests and traditional liberal activists. And that is playing itself out in the positions that candidates are taking when they want to fundraise and when they want to eventually govern and get themselves reelected.
PAGEAnd, Nathan, you're thinking about an issue like what?
NATHANI think that TPP and TPA, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Trade Promotion Authority, I think are a perfect example of this. I think also in the tax rates -- wealthy donors, obviously, you know, as much as they may be environmentalists or, you know, pro, you know, all sorts of other liberal -- classic liberal issues, they are interested in low taxes just as much as anyone else.
NATHANThere are, you know, a wealth of corporate interests that I think the Hillary Clinton campaign -- as much as I credit Hillary Clinton for being a good Democratic fighter, you know, she is amenable to having a lot of those interests looking very seriously at donating to her campaign. Not that that's her only reason for taking those positions, but it is certainly convenient…
NATHAN…for her campaign.
PAGENathan, thank you so much for your call. Donna, let me give you a chance to respond.
BRAZILEWell, first of all, Nathan, I hope you're still with us and still engaged and still an activist because we need more people like you. You know, this fight sometime remind me back in the 1990s when David Bonior and Dick Gephardt fought with Bill Clinton on the NAFTA deal. I mean, this is a -- this is -- this debate continues within our party about trade deals and standards, workers' standards and insuring that there are adequate protections. Look, every president since Roosevelt has had this authority. And there are many Democrats who believe that President Obama should have the authority.
BRAZILEBut there are also Democrats who want to see what's in the deal to insure that we are not undermining our own workers at a time when we know that many Americans are still recovering from the great recession.
PAGENathan, thanks so much for calling us. Well, Robert Draper, let me ask you, how much affect do you think the Citizens United decision has had on the Democratic side of things?
DRAPERWell, I think it's had significant effect. And by significant affect, it took a while for Democrats to catch up to this. I did a story about "Priorities USA" in 2012, for "The New York Times" magazine. And the story was essentially about how Democrats, having forever sort of condemned big money in campaigns, were beginning to learn to love it, albeit, you know, with some apprehensiveness as to whether it would, you know, cost them their soul. But then when they realized it may cost them at the ballot box, they went ahead with it.
DRAPERI also want to just go back to something that Nathan, the caller, was just talking about. And we've been talking about things like trade authority and Sen. Sanders has mentioned, as well, the stagnation of paychecks, the rising cost of college tuition. And those certainly seem to me to be winning bread and butter issues. One of the problems of the Democratic Party though is that while Democrats think of themselves as being on the side of those kinds of issues, it's been unclear to voters maybe that the Party can be trusted, that this will happen.
DRAPERThe last time the Democrats held the majority, after all, they did the economic stimulus package in 2009, but then they shifted over to cap and trade legislation, then they went to health care. And essentially abandoned what a lot of voters, you know, considered bread and butter issues. The riots of the Tea Party coincides with that. It's easy to just, you know, think that that happened in a vacuum, but it did not.
DRAPERIt happened in response to what the Democrats were doing. And so, you know, again, I think that the -- even as these things seem in isolation to poll well, among voters, it's really unclear whether, you know, when put out there in an electoral marketplace they're gonna succeed.
PAGEWe're gonna take another short break. When we come back, we'll go to your calls and take some of your questions and comments. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. With me here in the studio, Donna Brazile, a Democratic strategist, a contributor to CNN and a nationally syndicated columnist. And Ryan Lizza, a staff writer at The New Yorker. He's also a CNN contributor. And Charlie Cook, a columnist for "National Journal" and editor and publisher of "The Cook Political Report." And joining us from New York City is Robert Draper. He's a contributing writer for "The New York Times" Sunday Magazine. His article yesterday was titled "The Great Democratic Crackup of 2016."
PAGEWell, let's talk for a moment about 2016. Ryan, you have recently profiled Elizabeth Warren. A lot of progressive Democrats were really hoping Elizabeth Warren would run for president. You interviewed her. She's not running. Why isn't she running?
LIZZAShe doesn't seem to be running. I think she made a decision that she can have more of an impact on the policy debate from the sidelines, than actually running a campaign, running in the presidential primaries. If you look back to her campaign in Massachusetts, she didn't really relish the campaign trail. A lot of the time was spent with her talking about personal issues and all of the kind of crazy stuff that comes up in a campaign, rather than the wonky policy issues that she really likes to talk about.
LIZZAAnd I think she realizes, and Barney Frank, the former congressman from Massachusetts close to Elizabeth Warren who's also endorsed Hillary Clinton, one of the things he told me, which I think rings true, is that the second she entered the race, it would no longer be necessarily about Elizabeth Warren's policy ideas, but it would be Elizabeth Warren is now a candidate and she would have to deal with all the political issues you deal with a candidate. And I frankly don't think she was prepared for that, and she decided that she can use her platform in the Senate to push Hillary Clinton on certain issues.
PAGESome candidates, some politicians really yearn to be president. They think they ought to be president. They're smarter than the presidents they know. Is she one of those? Would she like to be president?
LIZZAYou know, I don't know. Her close friend, a guy named Camden Fine, he's a big community bank lobbyist in Washington is very close to her. He said to me, in his personal opinion, and he's talked to her quite a bit, she felt that she's not ready to be president.
BRAZILEWell, I don't know her that well, but I admire her from afar. I admire her because she's talking about issues that I think a lot of Americans care about. I care about home foreclosures and what happened with all of those subprime loans. I care about the debt that students face when they get out of college and cannot, you know, reorganize their debt. I care that she is trying to elevate the conversation on all of these issues and many more at a time when the country needs to have a very important dialogue on these matters.
PAGEWell, Robert Draper, we know that Hillary Clinton has an incredibly dominant position when you'd come to polling up Democratic voters nationwide or in the early states. But you still have candidates like Bernie Sanders, possibly Martin O'Malley, Jim Webb, and some (unintelligible) activists progressives about Hillary Clinton. Do you think she faces any kind of effective challenge next year for the nomination?
DRAPERWell, the short answer is no, but I totally agree with Ryan that -- or at least in Elizabeth Warren's assessment that she can probably have more of an impact on the sidelines. She has already succeeded in that sense. I mean, her sort of the game is rigged phrase that she -- the kind of us and them way of viewing Wall Street versus Main Street Americans has been effectively appropriated by Sen. Clinton. But, no, I think Bernie Sanders may also have some influence, though probably less than Sen. Warren on her rhetoric.
DRAPERMartin O'Malley has problems of his own. His chief problem being that his record, which is what he would run on presumably, was essentially repudiated at the polls back home in last November's Maryland gubernatorial election. So no. But I think that she is very -- Hillary Clinton is very mindful of the sway that Elizabeth Warren has over her own party, whether, again, it has much sway over the electorate, we don't know. But for now the language that she has been using on issues relating to income and equality were with apologies to those of her supporters who say she's been talking about this for years and years. She really has not. And Elizabeth Warren has a reason why she's talking about it now.
BRAZILEI have to tell you, I receive probably more emails than anyone around this table from so-called Democratic candidates. And Lincoln Chaffee is also out there as well. On a daily basis, I'm getting upwards of three to five emails encouraging Elizabeth Warren to run.
PAGEWell, why do you think that is?
BRAZILEBecause there's a lot of energy out there. There are activists who are not yet engaged with the Clinton campaign who haven't been called or reached out to. As you well know, social media, I call it the Dean Factor. You know, when Howard Dean ran for president, there were people who just showed up at town hall meetings, meetups and so forth. Even when President Obama ran, there was an organic campaign. It wasn't a traditional campaign. So I think Warren has a lot of grass root support out there. There's a lot of energy. But you know what, she says she's not running, and I take her at her word.
COOKYou know, I don't necessarily agree with Elizabeth Warren as much as Donna does. But let me give her one thing. I don't think she's another nakedly, ambitious craven politician like a lot of these other folks are, and that you have to be to run for president. And so I sort of really take her at her word. But, you know, when I look at the rest of this, you know, Bernie Sanders, Martin O'Malley, Jim Webb, Lincoln Chaffee...
PAGEI'm sorry, I forgot Lincoln Chaffee. Yes, he should've been on the list.
BRAZILEI brought him up.
COOKNone of these people can beat Hillary Clinton. There's only one person in this field that could beat Hillary Clinton, and that's Hillary Clinton. And she's kind of running against herself. And if she represents the future and big and bold ideas in energy and passion, she's going to do very well. And if it's sort of stale, old hat, not so much.
PAGEYou know, there's wide agreement around things like let's raise the minimum wage. But there's less wide agreement around an issue like, say, let's have a carbon tax to try to address climate change. Robert Draper, does that loom as a problem for her? I mean, the bolder you are, the riskier you are, right?
DRAPERWell, that's right. And it's clear that it does seem to be with almost palpable reluctance that we see Sen. Clinton have to take some stances. For instance, on trade authority we'll see if she's sort of thrust into talking about this in ways that she probably would prefer not to. I mean, I think the Clintons have been known over the years. And, in fact, this is part of the critique amongst progressives against the Clinton way, is to triangulate, to sort of split the difference. And the argument that the progressives make is that that has rendered the Democratic brand incomprehensible, this kind of obsession with the vital center. But, no, I do think that she's going to be moved leftward on this and it's sort of unfamiliar terrain for her.
LIZZAYeah, I think that's a big test for her is, look, on the issues that she's actually spoken about so far where she's been able to put some meat on the bone. Like immigration and criminal justice reform, she's moved to, you know, these labels got tricky, but she has moved to the left. She's moved farther than President Obama has gone. And not insignificantly, she's moved farther than her husband went in his administration. I mean, when she's talking about criminal justice reform, she is directly repudiating her husband's -- as far as I know, it's an achievement that Bill Clinton has been talking about ever since it was signed in 1994, which was the 1994 Crime Bill.
LIZZAHillary Clinton's criminal justice reform package would overturn a lot of that. That's a direct repudiation of a big part of the Clinton legacy. So on the environment, on what she's going to say about climate change, I think that's a big test. Obama's position early on was a legislative fix. You know, this thing called cap and trade. It went down to defeat a lot of political strategists, and I bet Charlie Cook would agree with this. I think that cap and trade vote that Democrats took in the House caused a lot of Democrats to lose in 2010. Then Obama moved to a regulatory strategy. It's pretty significant. A lot of environmentalists are very happy with it.
LIZZASo she's going to either say, well, I support what Obama's doing and want to continue it, or she's going to say, it's not enough. We're releasing too much carbon into the atmosphere. We've got to be bigger and bolder. We either got to go back to Congress and ask for cap and trade, or what a lot of economists like, but is not very popular if you poll it, let's do a straight up carbon tax.
COOKYou know, the interesting thing is, I mean, you say who is sort of the gold standard for the Democratic Party. And I'd say in some ways it was Franklin Roosevelt. And if faced with the recession that we had in 2008, 2009, the Franklin Roosevelt response would've been a massive infrastructure program from coast to coast. And, you know, the president did -- yeah, it was a little bit, but as it turned out, it wasn't nearly enough. And then sort of segue on into cap and trade.
COOKAnd let's face it, healthcare which might've been a better second term issue than first term issues, I suspect we'd be looking at Democrats possibly having majorities in the House and Senate right now had he done sort of the more classic Democratic response, rather than moving on to these other issues.
PAGEBut even with the stances he took and the priorities he chose, he is pilloried by Republicans as being a leftist, a socialist and out of the mainstream. And you're saying he's not nearly as far left as we would expect in 2016.
COOKWell, I'm not saying left, right is sort of, to me, the old...
PAGEOr cautious maybe versus bold.
COOKWell, or -- I mean, you know, I've talked to some labor folks, and it's -- you know the ones that are most disaffected with President Obama, the people whose -- the unions whose members work outdoors and sweat. They are the least happy with President Obama. Though people that work indoors, they're much happier with President Obama. And there's sort of a choosing up within the Democratic coalition of what things are more favored and what's not. You know, Keystone, you know, labor desperately wanted or certain elements of labor, industrial, building construction trades desperately wanted Keystone for the jobs, needed it. Didn't happen.
PAGELet's go back to the phones and talk to Anthony. He's calling us from Abingdon, Va. Hi, Anthony.
ANTHONYHi, Susan. Thanks so much so taking my call. Yeah, I ran for Congress, won the Democratic nomination in 2012 in a very, very red district, the heart of Virginia's Appalachian-al coal country. And so I lost, but made a fairly good showing in a very short and underfunded campaign. And couple things, a couple comments came out of that relevant to your discussion. First off, I think this idea that there's been this significant shift to the left in the Democratic Party perplexes me. I think it has happened on social issues. But on core economic issues, on tax rates, on Wall Street regulations, really the starting point for our debate is Ronald Reagan.
ANTHONYAnd so when people stray to the left of Ronald Reagan, we talk about it as if the party's moving to the left, when really it's barely a correction. My second point really came out of my campaign. So I ran in an area with a lot of coal miners, tobacco farmers and whatnot. I'm a farmer myself. And what I found was that very socially conservative people, Republican people, really resonated with my campaign, got behind it, because I spoke about bread and butter issues. And because I talked about the problems with globalization and trickle down and all of that, and spoke instead about building a bottom up economy.
ANTHONYSo my point I want to make is that I think this question out of Bernie Sanders is that, yes, a lot of people are, in fact, in favor of the kinds of issues that Bernie and the left part of the Democratic Party favor, but so few Democrats run on those issues. Democrats have run more as a kind of muddled middle, afraid of the Tea Party, afraid of too much talk of pro-government. And so as a result working people feel abandoned by the Democrats.
PAGEAnthony, that's so interesting. So it's great to hear from someone who actually ran for office. Charlie, what do you make of Anthony's comments?
COOKWell, I don't know whether I agree or disagree with Anthony, but I do know that cap and trade, Environmental Protection Agency policies on coal basically made southwestern Virginia, West Virginia and eastern Kentucky a no fly zone for the Democratic Party, where it doesn't matter what positions Anthony took on anything else. Democrats aren't winning in any fossil fuel areas. I mean, that's not just happening anymore.
BRAZILEBut Steve Beshear, I know he's retiring, but Kentucky is still one of those states where Democrats can win statewide, not federal races, but, yes, at the state level.
COOKWell, a lot of Kentucky is not coal. And eastern Kentucky sure as heck is.
PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Ryan.
LIZZAI was just going to say, the caller's remark, similar to what Robert Draper was saying before, in that a lot of these issues at the superficial level poll really well. You get above 50 percent support. And a lot of the American public is sort of generally in line policy-wise more with the Democrats than Republicans on some of these big questions. Operationally though, when you get into office, the public is still -- has deep skepticism of government deep skepticism of government solutions, and skepticism of higher taxes and more regulation. And so rhetorically when Democrats get into office, Republicans have a lot of fire at.
PAGELet's go to Dallas...
DRAPERCan I jump in for just one second, Susan?
PAGEYes, Robert, go ahead.
DRAPERYeah, I was just going to say that actually Anthony, with all due respect to him, the caller, you know, provides the punchline to what he was saying. He lost. And, you know, he ran, as he said, on bread and butter issues. He said those seemed like resonating issues with Democrats, with voters there. And yet they still lost. And so, you know, some of that is because in some of these areas they feel like the Democrats are, you know, out of step with respect to social issues.
DRAPERBut it's maybe, you know, more broadly that they think Democrats are out of step with them at all. And so even when they -- even when they employee rhetoric of, you know, bread and butter economic issues, once again as Ryan was just saying, I mean, the follow-through, you know, is something that Democrats are not deemed trustworthy about, at least in certain swaths of the U.S.
PAGELet's go to Dallas, Texas and talk to Bill. Bill, hi, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
BILLHi, thanks very much. Early in the discussion -- there's been a lot of really relevant good comments on this discussion. Very early, Donna Brazile mentioned that it's about procedure rather than policy. One of the commentators talked about state and local elections where it's failed. That's what it looks like to me that the issue that's not really being -- it's the only issue that I think should be talked about, is the fact that 90 percent of whatever of House of Representative elections are not elections in a general election, but in the primary. So if you control the states and you control the gerrymandering and redistricting of all these congressional districts, you control Congress.
BILLAnd that's what the Republicans did so acutely starting about 20 years ago, took over so many things so they were able to redistrict both state and federal election cycles, and things looked fairly hopeless. And it's hard for me to see how the Democratic Party -- and I'd like to have the Democratic Party talk about the failure and what went wrong there. Forget all the policy related issues in the last election cycle which was horrible with some of the candidates. But just this basis of how they have really managed to turn over control of the House of Representatives.
COOKIf I could say something that I suspect Donna would agree with, but can't say. Well, that's the second point.
PAGEFeel free just to nod, Donna.
COOKThe first point is, Democrats -- our House editor, David Wasserman, has rated -- you know, we rate all the House races. And Democrats could win every single competitive race in the country and still come up short and not pick up 30 seats they need for a majority. But part of this -- and, yes, part of this is gerrymandering. But part of this is that you've got members of the Hispanic and black caucuses in Congress who will not discipline themselves, and they keep asking for higher and higher and higher minority district levels, far beyond the level of safe. So that it effectively bleaches out adjacent districts and makes them absolutely unwinnable.
COOKAnd, I mean, it's one thing for somebody to have, say, a 60 percent minority district, but getting over that, that's really just kind of greedy, and it's hurting their own party. And the thing about it is these minority caucus members that have safe districts, they're the ones that benefit the most when Democrats get a majority in Congress, because they have the seniority of these subcommittee and committee chairs.
PAGESo, Donna, do you agree with that?
BRAZILELet me just say this, in 1988 following that disastrous political year, I will start with going across the country to figure out what was happening with the Democratic Party, and I went south. And I wrote a report that said that we were creating super majority, minority districts that will one day hurt the party ability to find candidates in the middle. So I have no problem with that. I think we can find a way.
BRAZILEOne thing, trickle down politics, that's the problem we have. We spent a lot of money at the federal level, but not enough at the state and local level. That's our problem.
PAGEDemocratic strategist Donna Brazile, Charlie Cook of "The Cook Political Report," Ryan Lizza from "The New Yorker," Robert Draper from "The New York Times" magazine. Thank you all for being with us this hour on "The Diane Rehm Show."
PAGEI'm Susan Page sitting in for Diane Rehm. She'll be back later this week. Thanks for listening.
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