Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Jon Meacham on the evolution of Abraham Lincoln's moral principles and political leadership -- and what the era of Lincoln can teach us about the state of our democracy today.
The U.S. economy added 173,000 jobs last month, fewer than expected. But at 5.1 percent, the unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been since April 2008. President Barack Obama wins critical backing for the Iran nuclear deal as the August congressional recess nears an end. A county clerk in Kentucky is in jail after refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses. A former staffer says he will invoke the Fifth Amendment to avoid testifying about Hillary Clinton’s State Department emails. Donald Trump pledges loyalty to the Republican Party. CNN amends its debate criteria, making space on the stage for candidate Carly Fiorina. And Pope Francis says he will make it easier for the Roman Catholic Church to forgive women who have had abortions. A panel of journalists joins guest host Tamara Keith of NPR for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Olivier Knox Chief Washington correspondent, Yahoo! News
- Jeanne Cummings Political and White House editor, The Wall Street Journal.
- David Rennie Washington bureau chief and Lexington columnist, The Economist.
MS. TAMARA KEITHThanks for joining us. I'm Tamara Keith of NPR sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's out for a voice treatment. President Obama secures enough support in Congress to save the Iran deal. A county clerk in Kentucky defies the Supreme Court on same-sex marriage and goes to jail. And CNN opens the next Republican debate to late-surging candidates like Carly Fiorina.
MS. TAMARA KEITHJoining me for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup, Olivier Knox of Yahoo News, Jeanne Cummings of The Wall Street Journal and David Rennie of the Economist. Welcome.
MR. OLIVIER KNOXMorning.
MS. JEANNE CUMMINGSGood morning.
KEITHAnd this is Friday and that means that we are live-steaming on the web so you don't just have to listen to our guests, you can watch them talk, too. Go to drshow.org. And I want to start with the economy. This is jobs Friday, which is one of my favorite days of every month. So Jeanne, what does the report tell us?
CUMMINGSWell, the report showed that there were 173,000 jobs created in August, which is a little lower than around 220,000 that many economists had expected. However, the report's mixed because while the job growth isn't quite up to what they anticipated, the jobless rate dropped to 5.1 percent and that's about the range that the Fed had expected it to be by the end of the year. And so there's good news and, you know, medium news.
CUMMINGSSo it's not a slam dunk to predict what the Fed might do. The Fed was inclined to start beginning to raise rates at its meeting later in the month. This doesn't close the case. They have things they have to weigh here. However, given that most economists think that the August job creation report will actually be revised upward, that may then give them everything that they need to go ahead and start taking action.
CUMMINGSIt's typically the August report is one that grows upon revision.
KEITHAnd David Rennie, there are -- down under the hood, in the jobs report, how are wages or participation rates, things like that?
MR. DAVID RENNIESo you're seeing dueling partisan messages coming straight out of the White House. Chief economic advisor put out something saying, look at the underlying numbers on wages. They're looking healthy. You know, we're getting into a world where people are getting paid a bit more. You know, you would expect that as it gets harder for companies to find new people to hire, there should be tightening of the labor market.
MR. DAVID RENNIEYou're seeing Republicans saying fundamentally, too few people are looking for work. If the reason that the unemployment numbers are going down is 'cause people are just giving up. They're no longer bothering to go to work ad so this is a sick economy. I think the big picture here, and this is what will influence the federal reserve's decision a couple of weeks, is what we're really saying is, is the American economy ready to move from one hospital ward to, like, sort of outpatient care.
MR. DAVID RENNIEYou know, if you're saying that kind of critical disaster of the recession and we're out of intensive care and we're now looking much more like a normal, recovering economy, can it take a little bit of a rate hike? Because the Fed's normal job is when the employment numbers tighten, that's usually a sign that you're gonna get a bit of inflation in the future. If we're in that normal world, then the Fed's normal job is to raise interest rates. And I think the big debate inside the Fed is will that terrify America too much?
MR. DAVID RENNIEAre we ready for the shock of even a tiny rate rise? And there are people in the Fed, important people in the Fed saying, off the record, that they think it's good to teach America that they can have a little bit of rate rise and we won't all die overnight. So we're kind of moving back into that normal world. That's the big picture from these numbers.
CUMMINGSAnd that the only other piece of news or information that got to factor in is sort of the global instability.
CUMMINGSLike China, yes.
CUMMINGSSo that will be a factor for them to consider as well
KEITHOlivier, China, certainly stock market rocking and rolling all over the place creating uncertainty.
KNOXYeah, absolutely. And on the question of the unemployment numbers, you know, David pointed out the partisan response. I think Chris Christie was out there today suggesting that the numbers are cooked, that there's somebody throwing darts at a dart board and decide this stuff. This is a recurring Republican theme and it has been since Obama took office, that somehow these numbers just can't be trusted so good news is not actually good news. It is something else.
KEITHI have fond memories of 2012, right, to the lead-up of that election where suddenly the jobs numbers were looking better and there was this feeling, this thought from Republican candidates, from Mitt Romney's team, like, whoa, how is that possible?
KNOXYes, that somehow several hundred, maybe several thousand government employees would get together and agree to cook the books. I remember that fondly as well.
CUMMINGSWhich is not at all the way that these numbers are developed, nor have they -- has the pattern and practice been changed at all during either Republican or Democratic administrations.
RENNIEAnd, of course, if you're Hillary Clinton's camp, there's a trap here. We saw this in 2012, too, which is that even if the numbers are telling you that things are getting better, if the American public does not feel that, then you can get yourself into a world of pain by seeming to be more cheerful than they are. You look out of touch. You look insensitive. So that's -- it's very difficult for her, too.
KEITHWell, and Donald Trump's motto is make America great again, which somehow implies that America isn't that great right at this moment and a lot of people...
RENNIEAnd that's the fuel driving his surge.
CUMMINGSRight. But that's why the wage number matters. Wages did go up. Not a lot, but they did go up a little bit and that's the number that I think if you look at public opinion polls, that lack of wage growth is what's driving so much of the pessimism among Americans about the state of the economy. And if wages begin to go up, even incrementally over the next year, that could actually be really good for Obama and Hillary Clinton if she becomes the Democratic nominee.
KEITHWe want to take your comments and questions throughout the hour. Give us a call at 1-800-433-8850. You can send us an email at email@example.com or tweet at us. Our handle is @drshow. And I want to talk about the Iran deal now. This week, several more Democrats came on board saying that they would support the deal. Olivier Knox with Yahoo News, where do things stand for President Obama on the Iran deal?
KNOXWhen Senator Barbara Mikulski became the 34th senator -- she's a Democrat from Maryland -- 34th senator to say she would support the Iran deal, we had the magic number, the number that the White House needs to sustain President Obama's veto. Just take a quick step back. The House and Senate are going to vote later this month on what's called a motion of disapproval. That would stall critical parts of the Iran deal.
KNOXPresident Obama will veto it and then he needs 34 senators to sustain that veto. He now has that number.
KEITHAnd a few more.
KNOXAnd a few more. And now the White House is cautiously looking at the possibility of getting to 40 or 41, a number that would enable Democrats to actually prevent a vote on the motion of disapproval entirely. This is not entirely comforting to the White House. This is his signal second term foreign policy achievement and it's going to survive because they have the numbers to sustain his veto. Jeanne Cummings.
CUMMINGSYeah, I mean, this is really a remarkable achievement. I mean, we have -- I know I've been here plenty of time when we've talked about how this administration has bad relations with Congress and they don't get along and all of that. I mean, when this started, the White House's fallback plan was that the House would be the backstop, the House would make sure that his veto held. So it's remarkable that he even got the 34 Democratic senators.
CUMMINGSHe's now at 37. It is remarkable that they are going to try to go to 41. He needs four more votes. There are seven Democrats who haven't committed. He has a real shot at getting 41. If he gets there, then they can stop the vote from even taking place. So that is pretty remarkable. And there have been some great reporting by The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, The Post on the coordinated effort behind this, using all sorts of diplomatic resources to get to where they are today.
CUMMINGSAnd they go there in the face of, like, $13 million in advertising that was all anti-Iran deal. So it's a pretty remarkable achievement.
KEITHDavid Rennie, is there any risk in this, in trying to filibuster it?
RENNIEAbsolutely. I mean, I think what you can see now is the forces that tried to stop the deal are now regrouping. They know the numbers are going against them and they're saying we're going to hang this around the neck of every Democrat up for reelection in 2016. They're going to be the, you know, any attack by Iran anywhere in the world, any attack by a terrorist group funded by Iran anywhere in the world is going to be fault of congressional Democrats.
RENNIEAnd I think what's really interesting is, over the summer, you saw town hall meetings by certain members of Congress. I went and wrote a column for The Economist from a town hall meeting in New Jersey with a lot of Jewish voters there. What was fascinating was it wasn't really a debate about whether this was a good or a bad deal and a lot of people who were unhappy said, maybe you couldn't do a better deal.
RENNIEWhat they're really miserable about is a world in which Iran gets lots more money to spend on terrorism and a world in which America can't stop them. So it's kind of sort of a real kind of visceral gut bellow of unhappiness at the idea that this president and this America seems unable to constrain Iran. And it's not actually an academic detail about, you know, is this a good or a bad way of stopping Iran getting nuclear bomb.
RENNIEPeople talk much more about terrorism than they did about nuclear weapons. I think it's kind of unhappiness at the way the world is.
KNOXAnd by the way, that was actually a core part of the Israeli, you know, directly the Israeli ambassador. That was a core part of his lobbying effort on the Hill. When he went up in early August to the Hill to talk to Congressional Republicans, they came out and they said that he told them, don't pay so much attention to the agreement. Don't pay so much attention to the details of the agreement. This is about Iran and Iran's a bad actor and you just can't do any kind of dealings with them.
KNOXSo it fits to that, fits that argument. One thing about the politics, though, I think there is virtually zero political risk for Democrats in the filibuster and I think that because...
KNOX...if you watch the at-risk Democrats, the ones who are in tossup states, they're all coming out in favor of the deal. Why? They're not going to pick up Republican voters. They're not. They need the Democratic base to turn out for them and the White House has quite cleverly phrased this as you cannot, you absolutely cannot go against this priority. The danger for them of losing Democrats is much greater than the potential, the distant, distant remote possibility that they might pick up Republican voters or even independents.
KEITHComing up, more of our conversation with Olivier Knox and Jeanne Cummings and David Rennie. The Friday News Roundup when we come back.
KEITHWelcome back. I'm Tamara Keith of NPR sitting in for Diane Rehm. And if you are just joining us, you should know that you can also watch us live. Live video @drshow.org. I'm joined in studio for the Friday News Roundup by Olivier Knox, who's the chief Washington correspondent for Yahoo! News. Jeanne Cummings is a political and White House editor at The Wall Street Journal. And David Rennie is Washington bureau chief and a columnist at The Economist. This week, President Obama was in Alaska. He was posting videos and using a selfie stick and he was also trying to draw attention to his climate-change agenda. Olivier Knox, a little bit more about that trip?
KNOXClimate-change news stories tend to be relatively dry, no pun intended. They tend to be about the average global temperature going up X-degrees or X-fractions of X-degrees. They tend to be about thousands of metrics tons of ice melting. It's a completely different story when you have the president visiting communities that year by year now are sinking into the ocean. This is a very -- or glaciers receding dramatically -- and first-hand accounts of people on the ground describing how climate change is affecting them. And that's a completely different story.
KNOXSo it was a very good approach for the White House to give this a very visual, a very relatable element, ahead of a December climate summit in Paris, where they're going to try, yet again, to hammer out a legally binding global treaty restricting emissions.
CUMMINGSYeah. It was -- I agree completely with Olivier. It was all about the optics. It was trying to make climate change real. The interesting thing, I thought, also about his trip was that the politics of Alaska itself are actually quite complicated. It's a state that is really dependent on oil revenue. And so the -- many people there are conflicted. They see the impact of climate change in their everyday life, but their financial future still lies with oil. So you had the president, before he went there, approve some drilling up in the Alaska Arctic area for Shell. And he didn't go anywhere, of course, near the rig that is being placed up there.
CUMMINGSBut the other thing I thought was interesting is that the consensus is growing around climate change within the public, enough so that on the campaign trail you can see that Hillary Clinton can actually veer left. And so she is -- she has been critical of that new drilling that Obama approved for the Alaska area. So the politics around climate change are changing.
RENNIEI think Jeanne actually completely nailed it. And you can see the places that he chose. I mean, there's that amazing footage of him on a beach with these Native American -- Native Alaskan fisher women pulling salmon out of the sea. And he makes the point that this is a bay where they make a lot of money selling salmon, where they were trying to draw for oil and they had decided not to draw for oil in this particular area. And what that's telling you -- that kind of brilliant presidential show and tell, that when he's in a good mood and relaxed, he does so well -- is there are tradeoffs.
RENNIEAnd people on the far left say there are no tradeoffs. This is all about protecting the environment and oil and gas doesn't matter. People on the right say there are no tradeoffs because there is no global warming and we need to be energy independent. And the fact there's all this oil and gas is America's secret weapon. And this president, which I don't think he gets enough credit for, is actually very good at saying: these things are hard, there are tradeoffs, there's two sides to this. And he stood on a beach and had a salmon either pee on his shoe or spawn on his shoe -- we're not sure which -- to make the point -- it was a dramatic footage to make the point that he was standing in a place, as Jeanne says, where there are tradeoffs for these very people.
KEITHJust very quickly about the Alaska trip, also, Olivier. The president renamed Mount McKinley -- renamed it Denali, which many people in Alaska would say, he renamed Denali, Denali. But it caused some political flap back here.
KNOXJust to be clear, he restored the name Denali to Mount McKinley. I -- let me -- permit me a shameless plug. I have a story going up later today, "Dateline Boring, Maryland," in which I examine the way in which Americans name and rename their cities, their towns and their natural features. So I had to dig into this quite a bit. Secretary Jewell actually did the restoring of the name, not President Obama. She did it...
KEITHHe gets all the credit.
KNOXShe did it under a 1947 statute that allows her to act when something called the Board on Geographic Names fails to act in a timely manner. Alaska had petitioned the Board to change the name back in something like 1975. Sally Jewell declared that 40 years probably met the reasonable time standard. And so she restored the name. Now the reason this has caused a political flap is that Mr. McKinley, the late president, is from Ohio, which you may recall from past elections, plays a bit of a role.
KEITHAnd happens to have produced the speaker of the House.
KNOXSo for decades, using the same sort of statutory authority, Ohio lawmakers kept introducing legislation to block the name change, which prevented the Board -- this Board on Geographic Names -- from acting. So, yes, there's a political -- bit of political controversy here. One, Republicans hate pretty much everything that President Obama does. And, two, the Ohio delegation is not especially happy about seeing the nation's tallest peak being stripped of their native son.
KEITHNow to Kentucky. There was a hearing yesterday on whether Kim David, she's the county clerk in Rowan County, Ky., whether she should be held in contempt of court for denying marriage licenses. Jeanne Cummings, what did the judge decide?
CUMMINGSWell, the judge did, in fact, hold her in contempt and jailed her. She is still refusing to issue any of the marriage permits. She says she'll stay as long as it takes to protest what is happening in terms of the issuance of gay marriage permits. Now, they are being issued this morning. I think it's five of her six deputies have agreed to go ahead and issue those marriage permits. And so it's unclear what happens to the clerk because it -- I mean, she could stay there forever, I suppose, based on her religious beliefs, in protest. But -- or at least until the next election. I'm not quite sure how this ends. But that is the state of play today. The law of the land, the rule of law won-out the day.
KEITHAnd we have an email here from Corky in Florida. Corky writes, the Kentucky clerk is not new. Years ago, clerks refused to issue licenses to biracial couples on the same basis. So perhaps, David Rennie, there's some historical precedence here for this. And also, just want to toss to you a question about whether this is the sort of religion versus the law debate that many people were warning might happen?
RENNIEAbsolutely. And you're seeing organizations whose life's work is to get these things into the courts and to fight these and to say that this religious liberty. I was proud that The Economist this week quoted Immanuel Kant -- so we can go back to Immanuel Kant on this -- who actually addressed this question. He said, to public servants, he said, you absolutely have a religious right to believe what you want and to argue as much as you want on a point of principle. But when you are acting as a public official, he said, argue as much as you want and about what you want, but obey. Because where they don't have choice is in the -- is the execution of the law, because that's their job.
RENNIEAnd, of course, her choice, if she wants to exercise her religious beliefs about marriage, is to resign and get a different job. She didn't get to sit in this seat. And the weird thing about Kentucky is, I thought my country had got rid of hereditary political posts, she turns out to have inherited this job from her mother and the only one of the six deputies who is not obeying the law is her own son. So we have a hereditary clerkship in this particular county.
KEITHI have a tweet that has come in here from Jonathan. He writes, what really chaps me about Kim Davis is that she could have quit in protest. She seems to want to have her cake and eat it too.
CUMMINGSWell, and the headlines, and the legal precedent. I mean, I think David's right, all of these things are going to be litigated at some point. And so, you know, as long as she can help develop various points of law, then it would enhance a lawsuit in the future. I mean, she's, you know, she is quite sincere about this being a violation of her religious beliefs. And obviously, she is passionate about it and, you know, willing to take a stand in the way that she is. And I do think we will see it in the courts eventually.
KNOXTo say nothing of the challenges to Obamacare on what's called religious-freedom or religious-liberty grounds, right? We're going to see more of that. I think it's going to be interesting to see how Pope Francis navigates that when he comes to Washington, D.C. and is talking about things where religion plays a pretty big role.
RENNIEAnd stand by for the next Republican debate on September 15. This will come up, I'm sure.
CUMMINGSAnd they are split on it. I mean Lindsey Graham has come out and said she should follow the law. And others, I think Marco Rubio has come out in favor of the clerk. So...
KEITHAnd Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee...
KEITHSo, Olivier, we can expect this to play out in presidential politics a little bit?
KNOXOh, boy. Yeah, this -- I mean, this and the other issues -- this and the, you know, the contraception mandate and other things like that linked to Obamacare, absolutely.
CUMMINGSI think gay rights is the civil rights of our time. We're going to see lots of debates along this road.
KEITHJust because the Supreme Court rules, doesn't mean it's all over.
KEITHNext topic, Hillary Clinton and emails, which I think could be a topic every single week from now until forever. The latest is that her former IT staffer, who helped her set up the private server, says that he'll invoke the Fifth Amendment, refusing to testify before the House Benghazi Committee. David Rennie.
RENNIEIt's never great optics, is it, when one of your staff invokes the Fifth. I mean the public is struggling to understand this story. But each time that they see a headline, it's bad for her. Because it speaks to -- it speaks to her being, you know, thinking, are the rules -- don't apply to her, that she's arrogant, that she's secretive. This is really bad. And I think the thing that is really striking is that when people like us talk to senior Democrats off the record, they're not complacent that this is going to go away and that this is nothing. They just don't know.
KEITHThey just don't know what to do next.
RENNIEThey just don't know how, you know, they say, you know, maybe she'll just implode. We have no idea. She probably won't but maybe she could.
CUMMINGSWell, the campaign is actually telling their supporters, buckle your seatbelts. Because this is going to be a bumpy ride. And they have -- it has shaken some of her core supporters. We outline in a story today about how -- speaking of shameless plugs...
KEITHIn The Wall Street Journal.
CUMMINGS...about, you know, what they are doing to try to keep their donors powder dry. Because the headlines are really bad, as David said. And so, you know, they know it's just going to keep getting worse because the State Department is going to release a batch of emails every month until January. She still has to testify in October before the House Committee. So there are many installments that are right there in front of us, quite apparent, that, you know, illustrate that this story isn't going away.
KEITHOlivier, this week we got some new emails, a big dump, something like 7,000 pages of emails. About 125 of those were redacted or classified in some way after the fact. What did we learn from this?
KNOXWell it -- we learned actually a fair amount. We learned that she is a copious consumer of shameless flattery. We learned that actually a fair amount of information that was being shared on this server was at least somewhat sensitive. Some of it was pretty garden-variety stuff: legal advice, for example, that naturally gets redacted, blacked out.
KNOXBut other things that suggested actually classified conversations. Notably, when she invited George Mitchell -- he was working as an envoy to the Middle East -- she asked him to email her on her private email when he's reporting conversations with world leaders. Well, that's not supposed to happen. There's actually a process at State for how that happens and it's, you know, an either in-person conversation or via cables or via the classified system at State.
KEITHAnd the classified system is you go behind several doors and walls and you go in a small room with a small computer that doesn't connect it to the others.
CUMMINGSRight. But we should be very clear, nothing was classified when it moved through her system or out of her system. These are all classifications that are being done in anticipation of these emails going public based on FOIA requests. And there's still great debate internally. The State Department position today is that these still shouldn't be classified. And it is the intelligence agencies that are saying, yes they should. So there is great debate.
KEITHI'm Tamara Keith of NPR. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And if you'd like to join us, please call 1-800-433-8850. And if you want to watch radio happen, you can go to www.drshow.org. And David Rennie, you were raising your hand over there.
RENNIEYeah. Because I think one of the big political things that is happening is not just that when opinion polls have asked, what do you think of Hillary, the first word that comes off is liar. Here's another bad thing that these emails do to her. She was going to run to the right of President Obama on foreign policy because she has a right to. Because, as secretary of state, she was more hawkish than he was. She was the secretary of state lining up with the Defense Secretary Gates and General Petraeus pushing for, you know, more muscular military action. I went to a Carly Fiorina event at a VFW hall in New Hampshire for a columnist week and -- did I mention my columnist week?
KEITHAnother shameless plug.
KNOXIs that in the Economist?
RENNIEYeah, it is. Yeah. And there was a guy there who said, you know, I spent 40 years working for the intelligence community and this is outrageous and she's betraying the country. And this is typical because this government, Obama, he doesn't take national security seriously. So she's losing all of that kind of hawkish vibe. She's now part of the Obama handwringing, incompetent, Jimmy Carter Democrats, can't-do-national-security kind of meme, is out there in full force. And that wasn't supposed to happen.
KEITHOlivier, just because I want to have a little bit of fun here, there were other emails in the batch -- things that just her campaign felt humanized her probably. Things about, like, hey, what time is "The Good Wife" on TV? Or I want to watch "Parks and Rec." When is that on? And then there was gefilte fish.
KNOXMan, this is the opposite of a shameless plug. This is me bemoaning the fact that my more joking tweets sometimes get a lot more attention than my more serious ones. I found and posted a tweet -- an email, the subject line of which was gefilte fish. And the body of the email was Hillary saying, you know, something like, where do we stand on this? And I said something like, if this isn't your favorite Hillary email from this dump, then I'm not sure we can be friends. Last I looked, 2,600 retweets. Thanks, everybody. I'm now the gefilte fish guy. But it turns out to be...
KEITHGefilte fish being the meatloaf of fish.
KNOXAt best. At best. It is a Passover -- I don't want to call it a delicacy, I'll just say a traditional dish. And it turned out to have a really great back story, a really proper, diplomatic dispute, back story. Hillary Clinton was asked in a hearing in 2010 to help the Illinois producer of gefilte fish based on Asian carp...
KEITHWait. There is gefilte fish made of Asian carp?
KNOXYes. It's a -- kind of a great, you know, you take the invasive species and you turn it into an export. It's actually American ingenuity at work. So she was asked in this hearing by then Representative Manzullo of Illinois to help this big producer in his district, because the Israelis were blocking a big shipment -- something like 400,000 pounds of Asian carp based gefilte fish. They were blocking it because they were -- because under a 1985 U.S.-Israel trade deal, they had to pay something like 120 percent taxes.
KNOXIt was real -- it was painful. He asked her, he practically begged her to help this producer. So she got involved. She, at first, laughed. But then she got involved. And ultimately it had a happy ending. The Israeli Ambassador to the United States got involved. At one point, apparently, Prime Minister Netanyahu asked the ambassador, what's going on with the fish thing? And, in the end, on a one-time, non-precedent-setting basis, the -- this giant shipment of, again, Asian carp-based gefilte fish was allowed into Israel.
KEITHAnd this sort of illustrates some of the minutia of diplomacy, I guess.
KEITHComing up, your calls and questions for our panel. We'll also talk about Vice President Joe Biden and, of course, Donald Trump. Please stay tuned.
KEITHWelcome back. I'm Tamara Keith of NPR, sitting in for Diane Rehm. And we're joined in studio by Olivier Knox of Yahoo News, Jeanne Cummings of the Wall Street Journal, and David Rennie of The Economist. And for our next topic, I just want to play a clip of tape. This is Joe Biden, he was at an event last night in Florida, and he was asked, of course, because he's often asked, or everybody wants to know, if he's going to run for president in 2016.
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDENI will be straight forward with you. The most relevant factor in my decision is whether my family and I have the emotional energy to run. Some might think that is not appropriate, but unless I can go to my party and the American people and say that I am able to devote my whole heart and my whole soul to this endeavor, it would not be appropriate.
KEITHThat was Joe Biden talking about whether he might run for president, and in the early months of this year, there were just a ton of presidential candidates who with sort of a wink and a nod would say, well, I haven't decided, I don't know, I'm making up my mind. Jeanne Cummings, it sounds like this is a man actually making up his mind.
CUMMINGSWell, he needs to make up his mind. He needs to make an announcement. His office has said he'll do it by the end of the month, so we will know ultimately what he's going to do. what I have found interesting is that -- we've all done the stories about his people doing outreach, and can he raise the money, and what does the map look like for him, and can he hire enough staff fast enough, and all the people around him are talking about that sort of thing. But when I first heard his voice, it was pretty shocking. We've listened to Biden for decades. He's a high energy, optimistic, full of enthusiasm kind of politician. He's in a very, very different place right now, a heartbreaking place, as he mourns the death of his son.
CUMMINGSSo when I heard his voice, I thought, huh, you know, the people can talk about yes, he can do this, and the donors are ready to raise their hands, but it looks to me like we are pretty far away, or he is pretty far away from a final answer.
KNOXThe thing I hear from every Biden insider that I've talked to when I broach this topic is, the very first thing I hear every single time is, he is still grieving.
KEITHAs well he should be.
KNOXAs well he should be. But they're making -- this is a big caveat to all of this technical talk. Jeanne put it very well. We can talk about all these technical questions, boy, he's got to get on the ballot, and there's the first Democratic debate. At bottom, though, this is a very personal choice he's got to make. My colleague Meredith Shiner dug out a really great piece of history. The Senate historian has an oral history project and part of that includes an interview with a very, very longtime Biden confidant, Ted Kaufman, who took Biden's Senate seat when Biden became vice president. And Kaufman described it in some length, the decision to wind up and later wind down Biden's 1988 bid.
KNOXAnd one of the things that Kaufman says is, people misjudge politicians the same way they misjudge professional athletes and other celebrities. They -- completely underestimate the extent to which family matters. And so when Biden said what he said yesterday, it really hit a chord, it really hit home. Yeah, it's gonna depend very heavily on, of course, his own personal mindset, but of course, whether he wants to put his family through the grueling experience of a presidential run.
KEITHDavid Rennie, and of course, he knows exactly how grueling it is also.
RENNIEAnd let's be clear, it's probably the hardest thing to do in the world is to run -- and the hardest political thing to do in the world is to run for the American presidency. It's a brutal process. Not to take away from any of what Jeanne and Olivier just said, it is clearly heartbreaking and listening to that, you think, you know, don't do it. Don't do it. You know, just go grieve. There's another factor here, which is, he might well do really badly. And, you know, if we're gonna be blunt, he's run two pretty bad campaigns before. He's not a fantastically disciplined campaigner, but Hillary has a ton of money, and does he really want the opening paragraph of his obituary to be, Joe Biden, whose career ended in humiliation when he chose to run for a third time after, you know, destroying what had been a rather successful vice presidency?
KEITHI want to go to the phones and David in Charlotte, North Caroline, welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
DAVIDHi, how are you doing?
KEITHGood, thanks. What's your question?
DAVIDI'd like to play the game, what if this were a Republican? And if Hillary Clinton were a Republican, I believe that she would have been disqualified from the race for the email scandal, and just picture if it were Dick Cheney that had his own server. What the uproar would be from, you know, the mainstream press, New York Times, NBC, you know, those kind of folks.
CUMMINGSWell I think if it was Dick Cheney who had a personal email server, there would be Congressional investigations. There would be a review by the Justice Department. The FBI would be looking into whether he got hacked or not. the news media would pour over every single email that got released, to try to find clues about law breaking. And the State Department would be forced by (word?) to release every one of his emails. That's what's happening now to Hillary Clinton. I think the same thing would have happened to Dick Cheney or another -- or a Republican.
CUMMINGSAnd as for disqualifying, I think if you look at the Republican field, there are some who said Bridgegate should have disqualified Chris Christie. But ultimately, Chris Christie has not been accused of any wrongdoing, and so it is not been disqualifying, and he's out there fighting it out with all the rest of them. We don't know where this investigation of Hillary Clinton is going. It could end up in that nothing went through that was classified, there's no wrongdoing, but there's a process that's broken. And the process should not have happened, new rules will be in place that it will never happen again.
KEITHI want to move on to the Republican side of the political spectrum. And Donald Trump announced at a news conference yesterday that he has signed a loyalty pledge with the Republican Party, saying that he will, contrary to what he had said at the debate earlier this year, he will support the eventual Republican nominee, whoever that may be. David Rennie, you interviewed Trump recently.
RENNIEOh, this week, yeah, the cover story of The Economist this week is all about the Donald. I have to say, it is not the most positive cover story every written, but it's an interesting question, this question about, you know, was he gaining leverage by keeping open the prospect of a third party run? One of the other people I interviewed for this big cover briefing was Pat Buchanan, who, famously, you know, led the last kind of big pitchfork wheezing, you know, conservative charge in the primaries and then ran as an independent. Pat Buchanan says, if I were counseling Donald Trump, I would tell him to stick with the Republicans, because that is his only path to the presidency. I know, I tried, and I didn't have Donald Trump's resources. But as soon as you go third party, you split your base, between those who like you, and those who hate the Democrats more than anything else in the world.
RENNIESo Pat Buchanan's shrewd advice, ahead of this Donald announcement, was to stick with the Republicans. And I think the other thing is, when you talk to Donald Trump, and I spent 42 fairly epic moments, minutes, talking to him, he talks about his polls all the time. He is very fired up. He thinks he's on a roll. He tells you about these polls that are putting him 40 points ahead, that tell that, you know, he's ahead with Hispanics. I didn't have the heart to say that some of the polls he was citing are fairly junky. But, you know, he's very, very fired up about the fact that he's taking this race now.
KEITHYou know, I just, -- we need to move on from Trump, but the very end of your piece.
RENNIEThat was perhaps my favorite moment, was we'd been discussing his -- whether this was gonna be the cover story and I was saying that I thought it would be, certainly if I have an interview with him, I thought it would be. And he said to me at the end, he goes, write, well, write a nice, fair piece, though if it's the cover I don't care if it's not fair. I like covers.
KEITHThat's the, all press is good press?
RENNIEI think that's it, yeah.
KNOXCan I just add one thing to the -- I think this was an incredible show of strength by Trump, signing this loyalty oath, because if you look at his polls, it used to be, we said he wasn't for real because Republican voters were saying by lopsided margins that they would never vote for him. That's completely changed now.
KEITHHe's completely reversed his (unintelligible).
KNOXHe doesn't need the leverage of that third party bid because now he really has the Republican Party.
KEITHThere is a feud, I mean, I guess -- there's a new feud with Donald Trump and name next person. But right now, the feud is between Donald Trump and Jeb Bush. Jeanne, tell us a little bit about this.
CUMMINGSWell, this is largely a move by the Bush campaign. Trump has been fairly consistent, he's been critical, he's had the same line about Bush, he's a low energy kind of guy, for months now. So what changed this week is the Bush campaign. And what they realized, or what their internal analysis showed to them is that he had two options. He could not take on Trump, and look weak, and therefore, you know, reinforce the criticism of him, or he had to move off of his original game plan, and go on the attack. They took option B. And they sent a signal to the very flush superpac with its hundred million dollars, it's on the verge of going up with a new ad campaign.
CUMMINGSAll along, the plan was, the rollout would be all positive, because they want to define Jeb as a true conservative and different from the rest of his family. Well, they're gonna do that, but now they've got another assignment. And probably mixed in some of the ads are going to be attacks on Trump. And we saw a preview in a web ad in which they pulled all sorts of old interviews with Donald Trump in which he says he's very pro-choice, and he praises Hillary and all, and deviates from Republican orthodoxy all over the place. And that is one template for the kind of attacks that might be aired.
KEITHAnd of course, this will make the next debate, the next Republican debate extra interesting. CNN announced this week that it would amend its criteria for picking candidates for the next debate, scheduled for September 16th. Olivier, what changed?
KNOXWell, you're seeing Carly Fiorina, former Hewlett Packard CEO, surging, getting a lot of good press, getting a lot of good reviews from Republican operatives, and now she will be on the -- sort of the -- she will no longer be on the under card, she will be part of the main bout, the I think 11 person bout. I'm not proud of this, but I found that I think I can only name the names of all the Republican candidates about 60% of the time. I'm losing track. But she gets to be with Trump, notably, whom she's criticized. So watch for some Trump-Fiorina fireworks. But yeah, she's risen pretty sharply, starkly. This will be the first debate also since Ben Carson has had sort of a boomlet among the press. People are saying, wait, let's take a look at this guy over here. So it's gonna be an interesting debate.
KEITHAnd Davie Rennie?
RENNIEOh, this is one of the astonishing things about the polls at the moment, is if you look at Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina, the three people in the field who has never held political office, between them, they take basically half the vote. And all of the other senators and governors and Jeb Bush have to share the other half. That's pretty remarkable. And one of the interesting things about Carly Fiorina is that her shtick is to be one of the big outsiders, to be the kind of the tech boss from Silicon Valley, actually her real strength, having watched her on the campaign trail in New Hampshire recently, is she's just a really, really good retail politician. I mean, she's a pro. She's better at working a room, hitting her talking points, never being distracted, schmoozing a room. She's a real pro. She's better than a lot of senators and governors in this field.
CUMMINGSSo they're still gonna have the so-called happy hour debate, and I think it will be really fun if they just went ahead and took it to a bar.
KEITHJust add the booze.
CUMMINGSYeah, really, just have a good time.
KEITHI mean, it'll be at 5:00, right? Somewhere?
KNOXDo you remember "Mystery Science Theater 3000" at all?
KNOXYou know, I want the Republican undercard to be in a studio commenting live on the main debate.
KEITHI'm Tamara Keith. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's move on now to something entirely different, the Pope. This week, the Pope, on the eve of his visit to Cuba and the U.S., issued an edict on abortion, saying that he would allow priests, for the next year, discretion to absolve women who have had abortions if they seek forgiveness during this holy year. Olivier?
KNOXSo, the Archbishop of D.C. explained to a group of reporters earlier this week that -- so this is called giving faculty to these priests, permitting them -- in the past, these priests would have had to go to higher authority inside the church and say, I would like permission, I would like to be empowered with the right to do this. And Cardinal Wuerl told a bunch of us, actually this is standing policy in many, perhaps most, of the dioceses in America. So what the Pope really did here was he made it a universal grant of faculty to Catholic priests to forgive this, as long as the people show the proper contrition.
CUMMINGSYeah, I think it's particularly true for those who had more than one abortion, that the bishops are free now, as Olivier said, with all due show of remorse, to forgive those sins.
RENNIEI think what this points to is for a long time now, the American Catholic church has been both very important to the Catholic church, but a particular sort of thorn. It's a very, you know, America is a very individualistic country. Americans don't particularly like being told what to do by somebody far away. And so you can see that popes have been struggling with discipline in this church, that priests have been participating in for ages. Remember the previous pope, Pope Benedict, when he was in charge of discipline as Cardinal Ratzinger, he actually had to -- he kind of hauled all the American bishops over the coals about a decade ago, and said, the Catholic Church is not a democracy. You know, you Americans are out of control. So there's always been this tension between Americans and their Catholicism.
KNOXThe two things I took away from Cardinal Wuerl's briefing, one was he referred to ex-lapsed Catholics, which I really liked as an idea, people coming back to the church because of this pope. But the other thing he said that was fascinating was, he said, this pope makes my life easier. He makes my job easier, because we are -- it's still the same doctrine, but we are now able to emphasize, you know, the mercy and the forgiveness and these other things. And people, when I walk into a meeting with people, they are predisposed to listening to me.
KEITHI want to go to the phones now and Randy in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. Randy, welcome to the show.
RANDYHi, thanks for having me.
KEITHWhat's your question?
RANDYI was wondering, going back to talking about Joe Biden briefly, he had said that -- at that fundraiser he was at Wednesday, that Bernie Sanders was doing a great job of exciting crowds, and that he himself wasn't a populist like Bernie. And I just sort of was wondering how the panel would interpret those comments.
CUMMINGSWell, yeah, those comments actually were at a Democratic senatorial committee fundraiser. And one of the reasons they were so stunning is because here's a guy who supposedly is thinking about getting in the race, complimenting someone else who's in the race, in a room full of Hillary Clinton supporters. So in so many ways, it was kind of mind bending why he went down that road. But that's Biden, you know. We have a story today about how Biden is Biden, and he goes off script, and if he is gonna get into a race, his last two presidential races were harmed in part because of speeches, and because of things he said, that he would come to regret. And so that is -- but that is one of the things we also delight in with Joe Biden. He's, as they say, he is authentic.
KEITHKeeps it real. Olivier?
KNOXHe's also acknowledging one of the realities of this race, because Bernie Sanders is doing better than anybody really, anybody in D.C. really thought he would.
KEITHOr, including Bernie Sanders.
KNOXIncluding Bernie Sanders, although, you know...
KEITHI mean, Bernie Sanders did think that he could become president, but Bernie Sanders wasn't sure what would happen immediately when he got in.
KNOXBut you know, as a Vermonster, I've known Bernie and covered Bernie for a while and I've got to tell you, he's more organized than people think he is. He's got a better social media game than even the White House. He's a serious contender.
KEITHAnd that is all we have time for in this hour of "The Diane Rehm Show." Olivier Knox, chief Washington correspondent for Yahoo News, Jeanne Cummings with the Wall Street Journal, and David Rennie at The Economist. I feel like we could have gone on for another hour. Thank you all so very much for listening. I'm Tamara Keith for NPR, sitting in for Diane Rehm.
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