America’s Collision Course With The Debt Ceiling
As the nation counts down to default, Diane talks to longtime Congress watcher Norm Ornstein about the debt limit negotiations, what's at stake and whether he sees a way forward.
Hillary Clinton holds her ground against sharp questioning in a day-long House Benghazi hearing. Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan end speculation about their next moves: Biden announces he will not run for president while Ryan says he is ready and eager to be Speaker of the House. Donald Trump spends 100 days atop the Republican presidential field but Ben Carson takes the lead in a new Iowa poll. And law enforcement officials meet with President Obama at the White House about reforming the criminal justice system. A panel of journalists joins Diane for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Hillary Clinton testifies on Benghazi and her emails. Paul Ryan declares his intention to run for House Speaker. And Vice President Joe Biden bows out of the 2016 presidential race. Joining me for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup, Susan Page of USA Today, Naftali Bendavid of The Wall Street Journal and Michael Scherer of TIME magazine.
MS. DIANE REHMAs always, you are welcome to join us, 800-433-8850. Send your email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. It's good to see all of you.
MR. MICHAEL SCHERERIt's great to be back.
MS. SUSAN PAGEGood morning.
MR. NAFTALI BENDAVIDThank you.
REHMThank you. Michael Scherer, what was your takeaway from yesterday's Benghazi hearing?
SCHERERSo there were two different trials going on yesterday. One was whether Hillary Clinton would be found to have done anything wrong with Benghazi and the other was whether Trey Gowdy would be found to have created a political effort, not a real investigation and I think the outcome of that hearing was Hillary won and Gowdy lost.
SCHERERYou know, it was 11 hours long, hundreds of questions. Just as Barack Obama was fantastic in 2007 in front of massive crowds, Hillary Clinton is fantastic in terms of her performance in a hearing -- a committee room like that. You know, she had the facts mostly on her side. She was able to point out very clearly where the Republicans were going with their questioning when it had nothing to do with Benghazi and it was just trying to embarrass her.
SCHERERAnd Trey Gowdy said at the end of the hearing that there was nothing new that came out of it. So, you know, I don't think there's any Republican in town today saying that was a win for us.
BENDAVIDYeah. I think it's hard to underestimate -- it's hard to overestimate how much conditions changed right before this hearing. This was going to be Hillary's moment in the hot seat. She was going to be exposed and vulnerable. And, instead, what happened is that several people, including several prominent Republicans raised the question of whether the committee was overly political just in the days leading up to her testimony.
BENDAVIDSo you had a situation where the Republicans were under a lot of pressure, too. It wasn't just Hillary Clinton. And so that was reflected, I think, in their approach and they were trying to be careful not to seem political while continuing to go harshly after her. And it ended up, you know, for her to come out ahead, she basically just had to not make any big mistakes, not give them any sound bites and, I think, that clearly happened.
PAGEYou know, I don't think she did herself a lot of good. I think she did herself no harm and maybe that was the best possible outcome 'cause there continue to be some questions. There's still questions about her email server. You know, this is something that this committee was responsible for bringing to light. That's been damaging. She still has an FBI investigation related to that that could be troubling. But that said, look at the context of ten days.
PAGEIn ten days, she had a great Democrat -- the first Democratic debate. She was great in that, very commanding. She had Joe Biden decide not to run. That was important. And she survived these Benghazi hearings. So she is in a much better, stronger, more commanding position now than she was just two weeks ago.
REHMWere there any special moments that stood out for you, Susan?
PAGEEleven hours, you think there would be more, but I tell you, there was one that got a lot of laughter where Congresswoman Roby asked Hillary Clinton, and trying to go through the events of the evening of the Benghazi attacks, I think trying to make the point that she had been unfeeling or callous in her treatment. "Did you go home?" "Yes, I did," Hillary Clinton said. "Your aide stayed at the office." "Yes, I did."
PAGE"Were you home alone?" "Yes, I was." "All night?" And that got a big laugh from Hillary Clinton and from people in the crowd.
SCHERERI mean, I think it's telling that one of the notable moments, the most impassioned, was between Democrats and Republicans. And Hillary was sitting there watching it with a bemused smile on her face. And this had to do with Sid Blumenthal and emails that he had sent and the Democrats were saying, well, if you think Sid Blumenthal was such a nefarious influence, release the transcript of our interviews with him.
SCHERERTrey Gowdy didn't want to do that and they were shouting and going after each other. I don't think that's by accident. I think that's the spectacle the Democrats wanted to create. But as it was, she ended up appearing above the fray and like the professional in the room. They appeared like the politicians in the room.
REHMHelp us to understand what the Sidney Blumenthal memos were all about and how they figured in here.
SCHERERSo Sidney Blumenthal's a long time aide of Hillary Clinton. If you go back to before the impeachment, the Monica Lewinsky stuff, he was right there with her in the White House helping her through all of that, helping to build strategy for the White House and he's always been sort of her pit bull strategist, like the strategist who deals with the real fights against Republicans over politics.
SCHERERThe Obama administration wouldn't allow her to hire him into the State Department and so he continued to advise her in this informal way from his -- I think it was an AOL address, sending sort of sycophantic praising emails regularly and then also he had friends who were working and business partners who were working on Libyan issues, during the Libya -- the beginnings of the revolution after Gadhafi fell.
SCHERERAnd he would send her these regular memos that kind of looked like intelligence briefing memos, but he didn't have clearance. He wasn't an intelligence officer and, in some cases, she would forward these onto aides. And Republicans have made the case with some credibility that some of these memos could've actually personally benefitted Sidney because he had this business relationship on a consulting firm there.
SCHERERBut none of it actually spoke to Hillary doing anything wrong. You know, her forwarding an email from a friend about something that's happening in Libya is not the same as Hillary taking her marching orders from Sid Blumenthal.
REHMAnd what about the FBI? To what extent do we know why the FBI is going in here?
BENDAVIDWhy they're going in -- why they're looking at Hillary's emails?
BENDAVIDWell, there's a real question about, I mean, one of the things that was interesting about the hearing is it didn't focus on the server. It didn't focus on the private email server that Hillary Clinton used during her tenure as Secretary of State, which is a very unusual arrangement and there are some questions about it. But it was felt that that would look political and so, therefore, the focus was much more on what happened in that attack that killed these four Americans.
BENDAVIDBut the FBI is looking very closely at the security set up of that email server, whether there was potential for leaking classified information and that's become the secondary investigation on top of the Libya stuff that's also going on.
REHMAnd Susan, I know you wanted to add something on Sid Blumenthal.
PAGEWell, my -- there was a lot of focus on Sid Blumenthal. You'd think Sid Blumenthal was running for president, you know, which so far as we know, he's not. And it seemed like such a side journey for Republicans to put so much attention on Sid Blumenthal. I'm from Kansas. If I was home and said, what did you think about the Sid Blumenthal disclosures, I would get, I think, blank looks.
BENDAVIDBut I think the goal of that wasn't Sid Blumenthal, who most people have never heard of, it was to paint a picture of a state department under Hillary Clinton that was allegedly rife with cronyism and self dealing. It wasn't about Sid Blumenthal, per se. It's about what they were trying to say about Hillary Clinton. But my takeaway of the whole thing is that if you went in thinking that Hillary Clinton was a manipulative, lying type person, you probably still thought that at the end of the hearing.
BENDAVIDAnd if you went in thinking that the Republicans were terrible and political and manipulative and Hillary was great, you probably ended thinking the same thing.
REHMSo you don't think those hearings really changed anything as far as even the presidential race is concerned?
BENDAVIDI really don't. I think that, first of all, Benghazi, to some degree, has become a muddle to a lot of people. They know that four Americans died, that that was terrible, that security should've better, but the back and forth about emails and talking points and memos and servers, I'm not sure it means a lot to a lot of people. I don't think yesterday changed that, except to the degree that it helped Hillary Clinton get passed what could've been a dangerous moment unscathed.
BENDAVIDAnd I think in that sense, it did solidify her position.
PAGEI think Benghazi continues to be an issue that animates base Republican voters. That probably doesn't change. But she did not produce either disclosure or an exchange that helps them, that produces an attack ad that Republicans could use against here.
SCHERERAnd I would say that over the summer, Hillary stumbled repeatedly in trying to explain her email situation and that hurt her. It showed in the polls. It showed in the percentage of Americans who saw her as someone who they could trust. The Hillary Clinton that appeared yesterday before the House was not someone stumbling. I mean, she had corrected the errors, the sort of stumbling interviews she had through the summer.
SCHERERAnd I think if she can maintain that sort of authoritative, knowledgeable, combative and sometimes tough presence, that'll help her enormously going into the nomination fight and the general election. If she returns to the sort of defensive crouch she had this summer in which even her answers weren't true -- I mean, a lot of the problem she had this summer as she was trying to explain her email situation, she kept saying things that weren't exactly true, that we would then all call out.
SCHERERShe's going to have a problem. So I think she's evolved in that way and she's maybe moving beyond that.
REHMSo, Susan, you mentioned she's had a good last ten days, but you think these hearings change anything?
PAGEI think her path is just much clearer than it was because we've seen Jim Webb and Lincoln Chaffey get out of the race. Lincoln Chaffey just this morning. Martin O'Malley continuing to get no traction. We see Bernie Sanders, a pretty strong challenger, but Hillary Clinton clearly leading this field, kind of finding her footing, I feel like. I feel that she's become a more confident candidate.
PAGEShe had a terrible summer. She's having a great fall.
REHMAnd what about Bernie Sanders? How did these hearings have an impact on his candidacy?
SCHERERWell, I mean, he continues to be the main challenger to her. That's all the more emphasized, of course, with the non announcement of Biden and with withdrawal of Jim Webb and Lincoln Chaffey. But I mean, he was the guy who was sort of saying, you know, the American public is sick of your emails. These hearings weren't precisely about the emails, but it's about a related event and I think that, you know, he's always been sort of a policy, you know, substance guy and so I think having her move beyond this, will enable him and her to sort of have maybe some more direct confrontations about policy issues with a little bit less of the distractions that have taken place up to now.
REHMSo you believe it will be two of them on the stage at the end. Do you think Martin O'Malley will stay in for more debates?
PAGEI think Martin O'Malley stays in the race. If nothing else, he'd be the alternative to two, but that is not a very big field and she is in great shape.
REHMSusan Page of USA Today. Don't forget, when you come back, you can see the Friday News Roundup as we video stream. Go to drshow.org and click on Watch Live.
REHMWelcome back to the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup, this week, with Susan Page, she is Washington bureau chief at USA Today, Naftali Bendavid is editor and reporter for The Wall Street Journal, Michael Scherer is Washington bureau chief with TIME Magazine. And we have one email on Hillary. I hope your guests will comment on the fact that Hillary Clinton was grilled for over eight hours. That takes stamina. I think they just put to rest the issue of her age as a factor in the presidential campaign. Michael Scherer.
SCHERERYeah, I would agree that she clearly looked presidential there. And when I said earlier that Obama's talents in 2007, 2008 were able -- his ability to inspire huge crowds of people in public settings -- that's never going to be Hillary Clinton's strength. What Hillary Clinton's strength -- where it shines best, is in these government settings and, you know, working -- it's the grueling work of government that she seems to shine. And here she was, on live television, for off-and-on 11 hours.
SCHERERAnd the country got to see it.
PAGEAnd, you know, members of Congress, they'd be on and then off -- even the chairman would be on and then off. She was the focus of attention for those entire, you know, 11 -- over 11 hours of hearings, more than eight hours of actual testimony. That is a really long time to not make a mistake.
REHMAll right. And, Susan, you mentioned that Vice President Biden has dropped out of the race, so has Lincoln Chafee, so has Jim Webb. But we have Paul Ryan, who has decided he will declare his bid to run for House speaker. So what are the conditions in place here?
PAGEWell he set some conditions because he wanted to negotiate, as best he could, a situation where he gets not caught in the same dynamic that made things so tough for John Boehner to serve as House speaker. Now I'm not sure he got commitments from anybody to meet the demands he set out. But he clearly has -- he's announced his candidacy. We assume he's going to be elected without too much trouble, with support both from moderate Republicans and form a super majority of the so-called Freedom Caucus of the very conservative Republicans.
PAGEAnd so he'll come into this difficult job in a pretty strong position. But there's still, for instance, no agreement not to use a procedure called vacate the chair, which is basically to oust the speaker, something -- a tactic that was used to embarrass John Boehner and contributed, I think, to his decision to retire.
BENDAVIDYeah, it was a pretty interesting dynamic. I mean, he came out at the beginning of the week saying, I will only serve if I get the full support and endorsement of the Freedom Caucus and if they get rid of this motion to vacate the chair. And they said, no and no. And he said, okay, that's good enough for me. I mean they sort of talked about how well -- he got a super majority, a lot -- but they have a very specific criterion. If you don't get 80 percent of their voters, they're not going to have an official endorsement and he didn't get it.
BENDAVIDBut I think the stakes were so high -- I mean, maybe for the country, but certainly for the Republican Party. This would have been a real implosion, not just in the House, I think it would have spilled into Senate races, into the presidential. And there was just high stakes for both sides so they went along. But what we're going -- the most interesting thing is going to see how the next few weeks play out when he and/or John Boehner or some combination need to raise the debt limit...
BENDAVID...they need to pass a spending bill. It's not at all clear how those things are going to happen.
REHMI want to know about his work-life balance. How is that going to come into play here, Michael?
SCHERERWhat he said when he said he was considering running for speaker was, unlike John Boehner, he wasn't willing to spend all his weekends and all his nights on the road raising money. John Boehner was terrific at basically traveling all year round raising money for his caucus. And what Ryan said -- and no one really doubts this to be true, he's always talked a lot about his family, he always tries to go home to Wisconsin to spend time with his kids -- is that he was willing to take the job, but he wanted to warn everybody in advance, he wasn't going to be that guy who works all Saturday...
REHMSo who's going to raise the money for the Party, which is what Boehner has been so good at doing, Naftali?
BENDAVIDWell, there's certainly people like Kevin McCarthy and others and, you know, who can step into that role. But there's never anybody who is quite as much of a draw or a fundraiser as the speaker, when it comes to the House of Representatives. So that is something of a downside for the caucus in choosing him. But I think it's reflective of the role he wants to play. He's always wanted to be the big thinker, the idea guy, the guy who sends out the big message, not the guy who does the day-to-day, dirty work, deal making. And it'll be interesting to see if that can work in a job like speaker, which requires a lot of that sort of thing.
REHMYou know, there's also been talk, Susan, about his unwillingness to take on this job because he has the White House in mind. Now what does the speaker's job provide as an obstacle to moving toward the White House?
PAGEYou know, this is sort of interesting. The two people who ran for vice president in 2012 -- Joe Biden really wanted to be president, wanted to run for the White House, decided this week he couldn't. Paul Ryan decided not to run for president this time -- he was considered certainly a potential contender -- because he wanted to focus on that, being chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and probably trying to produce a really serious tax overhaul but also because he's got some time to run for president. I don't doubt that Paul Ryan wants to be president. He saw a path through the House Ways and Means Committee. It's harder to do it through the speakership, excuse me, because it's a tougher, more political job.
PAGENot impossible, if he does a good job as speaker. That sets him up for a future presidential race.
REHMDo you agree?
SCHERERWell, I think there are a lot of pitfalls. The speaker's job is all about making deals. And that's why it's a problem for John Boehner and that's why it's a problem I think for almost anybody. But if -- he's going to have to make deals with the hard right of his caucus and he's going to have to make deals with the Democrats. And both of those things are potentially dangerous in a presidential run where people can air ads talking about the compromises and the sacrifices and the times you were squishy. So I think there are some real dangers for him. And he's got this idea, I think, of being speaker in a different kind of way. And we're going to see if he can pull it off.
PAGEBut let me just say, in today's world, it's hard to be the person to make compromises with this Republican Party. Politics changes, you know? And you can't calculate how things will look in four years or in eight years. You know, I think there's going to be a time in American politics where, once again, Americans are looking for somebody who can actually deliver on something, who can cut a deal, who can take a more bipartisan stance. And that is, you know, I think of Paul Ryan, you know, he was an -- as a young man, he was an aide to Jack Kemp. I really think of him as being very Jack Kemp like in this, in believing that it is possible to make deals, work with the other side, get things done and still prosper politically.
REHMInteresting you mention Jack Kemp, because Mort Kondracke has just written a new book about Jack Kemp and the kind of politics he tried to carry on. Is Paul Ryan in the image of Jack Kemp?
SCHERERHe's clearly a policy wonk who's very innovative. The only real bipartisan budget deal we've had in recent memory in the Obama years was something that Paul Ryan negotiated with Patty Murray, who is no conservative-friendly Senator, that both parties were basically happy with. He found a way, in 2013, to actually thread the needle and get a budget deal that Democrats and Republicans could agree to, which, I mean, is even now hard to believe happened.
SCHERERAnd I think that's why you saw, this week, people like Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, saying Paul Ryan's not that bad a choice. I mean Democrats feel like they can work with him, even though he is a very conservative person. No one doubts that. Paul Ryan is not a squishy moderate by any means. But he is someone who is really willing to get down in the weeds and is willing to go line by line to figure out how to cut deals. And he is very respectful of the other side.
REHMAnd speaking of someone who knows how to cut deals, I want to ask you all a bit about Vice President Joe Biden. Because it was such a poignant moment, it seems to me, in the White House Rose Garden, that he stood before reporters and said he would not run for president with his wife Jill by his side, saying that time had run out. I must say, I was really, really moved by his statement and by the photographs on the front page of The Washington Post and The New York Times. I've never seen such love in a man's eyes, as he looked at his wife Jill. It was really beautiful.
BENDAVIDWell, he is unusual, I think, in American politics in that his private life has to some degree been lived publicly. And I think that's in part a function of that it's marked by tragedy. Both...
BENDAVID...both ends of this long career, when he was first elected to Senate as a 29-year-old, one of the youngest people ever, and then, at the end, when his son Beau, of course, succumbed to cancer, it's been marked by this tragedy that was very much in the public eye. And I think -- and he's spoken about these things publicly, over and over again. And that puts him in a very rare and unusual category. And there was a poignancy. This is a guy who, of course he's been a politician his whole life and has clearly wanted to be president. He's run twice. And then he spent the last eight years being as close to the president as you can be without being president.
BENDAVIDAnd you could tell that this was difficult. He was conflicted to the very end. I mean a lot of people joked that his, you know, withdrawal speech sounded a lot like an acceptance speech...
BENDAVID...but for the first sentence. You could tell he continued to be conflicted. He'd said things and done things in the preceding weeks that made it sound like he was going to be in. Real preparations were made, comments were made. And I think it surprised people. But I think that's emblematic and representative of the real conflict that he felt and it was played out publicly.
REHMSome people said that speech at the White House was the best one he's ever made.
PAGEHe made the case for -- he basically made the case for why he would run, right?
PAGEBut he began the speech by saying he'd decided not to run. I mean, I think from the start, his heart said he wanted to run. I think that's been true for eight years. People discounted the idea that he would run for president in part because of his age. He's 72 years old. He never, I think, shelved those ambitions. But at the end of the day, there wasn't the opening to do it, both because of the death of his son and also because of the strength that Hillary Clinton has shown.
REHMSo how does his decision affect the race?
SCHERERWell, it -- the polls show that most of the support he would have taken would have been from Hillary Clinton, at least initially. I think, over time, he probably would have eaten into Bernie Sanders as well, as he created himself as the alternative to Hillary. But it's a huge relief for Hillary Clinton, I think. And Clinton now is basically in a two-person race for the nomination, against someone who she can just look at and say, I love you, Bernie, but I'm not a Socialist, and then win the debate. I mean, it's a sort of ideal situation for her.
BENDAVIDIt also swings the White House fully behind Hillary Clinton in a way that wasn't possible before. And it's not that she wasn't doing just fine but the president can now openly speak in her favor. And the mechanism and the machinery and all the fundraising networks and the contacts, they all swing, I think, pretty fully behind her. So even in some of those unseen ways, it helps her candidacy.
REHMAll right. And on the Republican side, Donald Trump has spent 100 days at the top of the polls. However, in Iowa, you now have a little change going on. And you, Susan Page, spent how much time with Donald Trump yesterday?
PAGEOn Wednesday night...
PAGE...I met with him in Bloomington, Iowa. We sat backstage and had an interview and then I watched him onstage with a crowd of -- a capacity crowd, more than 2,000 people in this ancient auditorium in downtown...
REHMLet me stop you for just one moment to remind our folks, you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And you can watch this program by going to wamu.org, click on watch live. Sorry to interrupt, Susan.
PAGEAnd he was feeling great. This was the 100th day he'd been at the top of the polls. But after the interview, the next day and this morning, two new polls out of Iowa that for the first time since June show him not ahead, show Ben Carson ahead. And I also watched a focus group that Peter Hart did in Indianapolis this week with Republican voters -- where voters who liked Donald Trump, likes what he had to say, were worried he's too controversial -- were heading toward Ben Carson. And that is certainly what we saw in those polls in Iowa.
REHMHow did you feel about being with Donald Trump?
PAGEHe's very engaging. He's kind of charming. And even as he says some things that seem pretty extreme...
PAGE...he says them in really an engaging way. Well, like I said, Jeb Bush has been attacking him as someone who doesn't really have the credentials to be commander in chief. No, I'm a leader, he said. I'd be a better commander in chief than Jeb Bush. He made fun of the idea of Jeb Bush sitting down and negotiating with Vladimir Putin.
REHMHe also talked about Boehner.
PAGEHe said that John Boehner made a mistake. I asked him if the government should -- if the Republicans should be willing to shut down -- to have the debt ceiling not raised and have the United States at risk of defaulting on obligations that it's already incurred. And he didn't address whether that ought to happen but he said that Boehner had made a mistake in giving away the idea that you were willing to do that, because that's not how you make a deal.
REHMAnd did he talk about his own language, his own presentation?
PAGESo I asked him about the focus group that I had watched and this feeling that perhaps he was too hot. And he said, I'm in a different stage of the campaign. I'm going to dial down my rhetoric just a bit. But he said, I don't want to dial it down too far, because that's gotten me where I am today.
SCHERERAnd then yesterday he retweeted a tweet from a supporter making fun of Iowa voters. The tweet said something along the lines of, well, all that genetically engineered Monsanto corn in Iowa must be hurting their intelligence...
SCHERER...or making them dumb.
SCHERERWhat's interesting about it is what we don't know yet about Donald Trump is how he will perform when he's not winning everything and whether he will start reacting in ways -- he later sort of apologized for the tweet and tried to blame it on an intern. Even -- we have no idea whether an intern actually tweeted -- retweeted that or not. But it's very possible that, you know, a lot of why people like Trump is that he's the winner. And if he's no longer winning, what is Donald Trump? And we're probably going to see that in the next few weeks.
REHMAnd it's a lot of blue-collar folks who are pushing and saying, yes, he's a winner, even though, look at the wealth difference between where they are and where he is. Is that why they think he's a leader?
BENDAVIDI think that that's absolutely one reason. I mean he puts himself forward as a guy who's been successful at everything he's done. He contrasts that with what he calls the losers in Washington and he has his billions to show for it. And I think, for a certain segment of people, that's persuasive. I do think the Ben Carson phenomenon is in some ways even more, I guess, surprising, unorthodox, you might say, than the Donald Trump phenomenon. Here's a guy who's demeanor and tone is extremely soft spoken, yet he says these incredibly inflammatory, incendiary things. It's an unusual combination. He's trailing Trump by a little bit in a lot of places. Now he seems to be leading him in Iowa. Part of it's, I think, the appeal to evangelicals.
BENDAVIDBut there's something else going on. His very difference, his willingness to say these things that other people consider outrageous. But it suggests that if something happens to make Trump somehow implode or explode, you know, his voters might go to Ben Carson. So this wouldn't necessarily solve the Republican Party's problem.
REHMWhat has Ben Carson been saying?
SCHERERA lot of different things. He often uses -- I mean, if you want to look at the controversial stuff, he often uses Hitler, Nazi metaphors to express things. He's compared America under Obama to Germany during the Second World War. He is at once -- you know, what's interesting about Carson is his main message is, I am a very intelligent person. And he is a very successful pediatric brain surgeon who no one doubts is a very intelligent person. What is interesting about him is the intelligence expresses itself in ways that are very unorthodox. You know, there are not many professors anywhere who hold the views he has. You know, the Ivy League tends to be a very liberal place and he's an extremely conservative person.
SCHERERAnd I think that is really the appeal because for conservatives who are told often by institutions of intellectual authority that they're wrong and -- on the facts, and are misled or being misled by their leaders, they have someone here, who has all the credentials you could possibly have, telling them exactly what they want to hear.
REHMMichael Scherer of TIME Magazine. Short break here. And when we come back, we'll take your calls and talk about Rand Paul under a certain amount of pressure. Stay with us.
REHMWelcome back. Let's go right to the phones to Alice Essex, Connecticut. You're on the air.
ALICEYes, thanks for taking my call. As a Democrat, I was very disappointed that the Democrats on the Benghazi panel did not ask Hillary more constructive questions. Instead, they made speeches aimed at making Hillary look like Joan of Arc. What's troubling me is that Ambassador Chris Stevens sent 600 emails requesting more security and was ignored. Yet Sidney Blumenthal had unfettered access to and fro from Hillary regarding Benghazi.
PAGEWell, you're certainly right that there were lots of concerns expressed from the people in Libya, including the Ambassador about the security there. And it, clearly, there are no question that their requests should have been taken more seriously. We can tell that because of the tragic events. But this is not -- and the point that Hillary Clinton made over and over and over again yesterday was that this is not the area in which she, traditionally, is the person, the point of contact. You know, questions about security at embassies go to the people at the State Department who are dealing with that.
PAGEThey make the decisions on those issues. They're not issues that appropriately -- she made the argument, not only was she too busy to handle them. That's not the point she made. That it's more appropriate for the professional people who deal with that day in, day out. Administration in, administration out to make those kinds of calls.
SCHERERAnd there are a lot of changes that she did implement after the attacks in Benghazi to address embassy security and there is no evidence that the committee has produced or anybody else has produced that Stevens ever raised the security issues with her. Or that those issues ever rose to her level. Now, maybe that was a mistake of her management, but it does, it does, you know, if the issue is fixing agency security, the Republicans have not been successful in making that something that she failed at doing.
REHMAll right. Let's talk about Rand Paul. He has been urged to focus on his Senate seat, which some people say he's in danger of losing.
BENDAVIDYeah. I mean, I'm not sure he's in danger yet, but it's a possibility. You know, he is perhaps along with Scott Walker the person who has, in the most dramatic way, failed to live up to expectations with his Presidential race. I mean, he's really, in terms of fund raising, in terms of the polls, he really has not been very successful at all. And it's just, you know, there's only so much room in this Republican Presidential race. And there's already two other outsider Senators and maybe there wasn't room for a third.
BENDAVIDBut this is potentially a good year for the Democrats in terms of Senate races. You know, we focus so much on the Presidential, the Republicans could lose the Senate. Again, I'm not sure Rand Paul's in danger right now, but if he were, that would be the last thing the Republicans would need in a year that could be tough for them.
PAGEOne of the concerns that has -- one of the things that has created concerns, I think, for Republicans is that he hasn't raised very much money for that Senate race. He's raised I think about 156,000 dollars, which is not enough for a Senate race, even in Kentucky, which is not one of our, you know, biggest states. And Kentucky's also a state that could elect a Democrat, right? It's not a solidly red state, so I think there's some feeling that he's not doing well in the Presidential race. He ought to focus on making sure he's got his re-election set.
BENDAVIDAnd really, what this comes down to is a fight about money. Mitch McConnell doesn't want to take money he could spend in other competitive races and bring it back it back to Kentucky to defend Rand Paul. It's not that Rand Paul is likely to lose his seat, but he may need backup. You know, it's interesting, if you look at the polls right now, Rand Paul was bragging this week that he had, I think at five percent in one of the polls in Iowa. Meaning he's in fifth place with five or six percent. His father won a little more than 20 percent of Iowa in 2012.
BENDAVIDRand Paul's entire thesis for running for President is I will take my father's coalition and I will expand upon it. I will take it into new communities and grow it greater. There's just no evidence that he's been able to do that at this point. In fact, his father's coalition has dramatically shrunk.
SCHERERMy guess is that he is counting on some of the upcoming weeks on the Senate floor to try to, one more time, break through. He's had a tremendous amount of success. That's, perhaps that's overstating it. But he's had some success holding filibusters on issues that catch peoples' attention and give him a bump. And my guess is that he'll hold out for a little bit longer, see how that goes in the next couple months, and then perhaps take another look.
REHMAll right, a lot of people are talking about the possibility of a government default. We've got to have that vote before November 3rd. What's your take on it?
SCHERERWell, I think the most likely outcome is that John Boehner will do what he did before and take some Republicans and almost all Democrats and pass a clean debt limit increase. But it's more interesting this time, because that would infuriate the very people on the right that deposed him, that blocked Kevin McCarthy, that are now going along with Paul Ryan. So the role that Ryan plays in that whole thing is going to be interesting to watch. Does he oppose it, does he support it? This will be his first big task.
SCHERERDoes he play the role of the constructive Governor or the guy who really understands the concerns of the right? And I think that, in a way, might be the most interesting thing to see.
PAGEBut it is a big present that John Boehner presumably will try to give to his successor, because think about the possibility, if that doesn't happen. If the debt ceiling is not raised and Paul Ryan comes in and the first thing he needs to do in like his first 48 hours as Speaker is deal with this very difficult issue.
BENDAVIDYeah, he could take over as Speaker, I guess, theoretically, on the 29th. And the debt limit is supposed to be breached on November 30th. So, there's not a lot of time in there. And a lot of things have to happen in the next week and a half that will be very important for the future.
SCHERERI think, you know, one of the other things to note is that Boehner is trying, and the Republicans are trying to push this debt limit debate. If they do pass something into 2017, the Republicans are sick of having this fight. And it's been a loser for them. Even though the Freedom Caucus, you know, tries every time it comes around to get something out of it, they haven't been able to get much out of it. Obama's in a very strong position here. The last time the debt ceiling was not raised in time, it ended up costing more than a billion dollars in just interest payments to the US government.
SCHERERAnd that's a tough thing to hang on Republicans in an election year, or not an election year. You know, these are fiscally conservative people who are just throwing away the American peoples' money to make a point. And then, they don't win in the end.
PAGEAnd remember, after you do the debt ceiling, even if you get through that, you've got a spending bill that comes up very quickly in the second week of December that Paul Ryan will be having to deal with.
BENDAVIDAnd Jacob Lew, the Treasury Secretary, is already worried -- he's already warned them not to get too cute and to not get too close to the date. You know, traditionally, what happens is the Republicans put forth a bill that couples a debt limit increase with huge spending cuts, doesn't go anywhere, but they get to vote on it. And then, eventually, in the waning hours, they vote on a clean debt limit increase. And Jacob Lew seems to be saying, don't play those games. Don't, you know, this could go wrong. You could make a miscalculation and the government, you know, could default.
REHMAnd the question of what the President wants to do with military spending sounds as though he wants to see a big cutback there.
SCHERERYeah, and there, he just recently vetoed a defense spending bill, which was sort of a big deal. It's something that ordinarily you wouldn't do lightly. He was very concerned about the way the funding for some of the overseas wars was being handled off books. But yeah, absolutely, this is going to be a big discussion that is going to go through the debt ceiling and then into these spending bills. And that may be Paul Ryan's big test. It's really hard to see how the next few weeks unfold without a tremendous amount of fireworks.
REHMPresident is also meeting at the White House, or met earlier this week with people in the Justice system, talking about reforming the criminal justice system, Susan.
PAGESo, this is a town that doesn't do anything together or across party lines, across ideological lines. Here's an exception when it comes to this debate over criminal justice. And what many people believe is the incarceration of too many people for minor offenses, for shoplifting, for drug offenses in particular. So the President met with 138 law enforcement officials, police chiefs and others who agree that too many people are being sent to prison. And on this, you know, it's not just Democrats and Republicans who are both working on this, which is true.
PAGEYou also have law enforcement working with prisoner advocates. You don't see that so much. You see evangelical Christians working with secular left leaning organizations on this issue. It's really an issue that has, where there is a substantive examination about whether we, as a community, and we, as a nation, are served by incarcerating so many people. And the conclusion, people are coming to the conclusion that efforts that date from the 1970s and the 1990s to get tough on crime have not worked to benefit the larger community.
BENDAVIDBoth the House and the Senate have introduced bills now that are bipartisan in nature. This should happen next year. Everything is moving in that direction. But don't be surprised if something goes wrong because, you know, even if everybody agrees on something doesn't mean they actually do it, because they hold it hostage to try to get something else out of it.
BENDAVIDSo, there's still this sort of risk in the air.
SCHERERWell, I think, I mean, I think arguably, the bigger shift in either party in the last 10 years has been the Republicans dropping some of their tough on crime policies and embracing reduced incarceration. And that's for a lot of reasons having to do with cost and so forth. But there is a potential glitch, which is that after decades of falling crime, there's at least some signs that it could be going back up. There are indications that violent crime and murders are going up in some cities, and that could slow down or even stop this reform movement.
REHMDo you see imprisonment moving away from the federal government more and more and into the private sector?
SCHERERWell, that certainly has been a big push for some time and it's an ongoing battle. I mean, you know, these things, they implicate peoples' bigger ideologies about who should be handling such a thing as locking up people and depriving them of their freedom. One reason that I think the reform movement has gained traction among conservatives is that it can be seen -- locking people up can be seen as the ultimate form of big government. And so, whether that should be transitioned to the private sector, I think it's not going to happen easily, but there is a push in that direction.
REHMI want to ask you all, also, there's been a lot of talk that since Bernie Sanders has run so hard and so well with so many people, should Hillary Clinton, if she becomes the nominee, select him as a Vice President?
SCHERERWell, I mean, I think that that would be a difficult thing to do. I mean, I think Bernie Sanders is a great guy, he's saying a lot of really interesting and important things.
REHMAnd moving people with his discourse.
SCHERERWell, I think that would be the argument is that she's good at a lot of things. She's not a passionate person. He is. I think that will be a problematic ticket nationally.
REHMAnd you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. Let's take a caller from Cincinnati, Ohio. Carlton, you're on the air.
CARLTONHi Diane. I just wanted to say, quickly, I listen to your show almost every day, and the Friday News Roundup, both domestic and international, are a vital part of how I get information. Thank you for that.
REHMI'm so glad.
CARLTONI did want to make point. I find it a little disconcerting -- even your most recent statement that Bernie Sanders is doing very well. So maybe Hillary should choose him for Vice President. Right now, Bernie Sanders and Hillary, as far as the election is concerned, neither have won a primary. Neither have won a caucus. They're in the same place, and there's a ground swell of support behind Bernie that doesn't exist for Hillary. I'm a Democrat. I grew up a Republican. I'm still connected with a lot of conservative, Christian, Republican people. They're not voting for Hillary Clinton.
CARLTONThey do like Bernie Sanders.
CARLTONThere's ground for him to move, and I'm sick of hearing people talk about it like there's just really not a chance for him. When you talk about polls with Ben Carson edging out Donald Trump, both of which are unelectable on a national -- in a national election.
REHMAll right. Michael Scherer.
SCHERERYou're -- the caller's absolutely right to say that we don't know how this is going to end. It's not right, though, to say that they're both in the same place. Hillary Clinton has as big a lead, at this point, in a Democratic primary, in national polls, as anybody in recent Democratic history has had. I mean, you have to go back to Al Gore, even, in 2000. I mean, she's a dominant frontrunner right now. The fact that Joe Biden's not in helps that. It's true that Bernie Sanders has far more grass roots momentum behind him, far more organizing interest.
SCHERERHe's fundraising incredibly well. He's leading in polls in places like New Hampshire. And so, I'm not saying, and if I said it otherwise, I'll take it back, that this is not gonna be a contested nomination fight. It's not over right now. But I think it is clear to say that Hillary Clinton is a real frontrunner here. And I think it's also fair to say that like the caller mentioned with Ben Carson and Donald Trump, in a general election, Bernie Sanders has yet to make the case clearly how he would win a general election.
SCHERERHis views, while very animating for Democratic voters, have not, in the polls or otherwise, translated very well to the rest of the country.
REHMAll right. I want to take one last call from Anthony on Long Island, New York. You're on the air.
ANTHONYYes, thank you. Regarding Paul Ryan, he wants to spend more time with his family? But he opposes the Family Leave Act. And another thing, he's gonna help, in 2012, he was supposed to help Romney win Wisconsin, he lost his home city, Janesville, 25 points to Obama. And plus, all his budgets are a moral disgrace.
REHMDo you want to comment, Naftali?
BENDAVIDI mean, only to say that that's a criticism that has been leveled against him, specifically this discussion about that he wants to spend more time with his family while he has opposed certain initiatives that are aimed to let other people do that. I mean, I can't comment on the validity of that criticism, but that's certainly one that's been strongly felt and articulated.
PAGESo, not a Ryan fan, I'd say, Anthony, of Anthony. On the other hand, hard to blame Paul Ryan for what happened to the Republican ticket in 2012. I think most people felt like he did a pretty credible job. And he's, I have to say he's one of those figures, respected in town by both Democrats and Republicans. Maybe that's not currency that counts for very much at the moment, but that's the fact.
REHMAt the same time, our caller points out he lost his own city.
PAGEJanesville, that's right.
BENDAVIDAnd it is an interesting dynamic to watch, somebody become Speaker. He's going to have to spend a lot more time messaging Republican talking points. His district is not gerrymandered enormously Republican. Meaning that he has to actually fight every time he comes up for re-election. I mean, he has been successful in the past. I expect he'll be successful in the future, but you also can fully anticipate the Democrats will throw a lot of money and try to get a really good candidate to run against him in a district that is just not naturally a dominant Republican district
SCHERERI mean, it's a big risk for him. He's created this personality of a guy who really cares about the issues and is a nice guy, whatever you think. It's a little hard to play that role at Speaker and I think that's one reason he was reluctant to do it and it will be very interesting to see if he comes out of this tenure with the same kind of reputation and image and well liked demeanor that he did going in.
REHMOn the other hand, if he is not elected, is there a possibility he might not get the Speakership?
PAGEYou know, anything is possible. We've certainly been surprised. We were, I think, stunned when Kevin McCarthy -- we thought his -- we thought he was on his way to being elected easily. So, it's conceivable, but there's not a real alternative to Paul Ryan, and with his now, his willingness expressed yesterday to take the job, I think it is hard to imagine that that doesn't happen by the time the news roundup meets here next time.
REHMAnd you agree?
BENDAVIDYeah, there's absolutely no alternative. Had he not done this, it's hard to say what would have happened to the Republican Party in the House, and I think that's one reason why it's happened. I mean, there just is no other way forward that you can see at the moment.
SCHERERYeah, I mean, the alternative is the chaos we've been used to over the last few weeks. So, I mean, everything could fall apart once again, but if that happens, then I bet John Boehner has to stay in the Speakership longer than he wants. Because there is no one else who can step up.
REHMAnd isn't that the irony, that the very person they wanted to get rid of would have to stay in longer.
SCHERERWell, there are a lot of ironies here. I mean, if there is another motion to vacate the chair after the next Speaker comes out, it's very likely that you would have an effort by moderate Republicans to unite with Democrats to keep the Speaker in office which would weaken the Republican conservative hand.
REHMMichael Scherer of Time Magazine gets the last word. Naftali Bendavid of the Wall Street Journal, Susan Page of USA Today. Thank you all.
SCHERERThanks very much.
REHMAnd thanks all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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