Guest Host: Indira Lakshmanan

John Boehner waves Thursday after giving his farewell speech as speaker of the House.

John Boehner waves Thursday after giving his farewell speech as speaker of the House.

The Senate passed a budget agreement early this morning that will avert a government default and raise the nation’s debt ceiling through March 2017. Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan becomes the new Speaker of the House, ending John Boehner’s five-year tenure in the top leadership job. A disappointing third quarter GDP report may impact the Federal Reserve’s decision on whether to raise interest rates later this year. Republican presidential candidates rail against the media – and each other – in their third debate. Bernie Sanders calls for an end to the federal prohibition on marijuana. And a South Carolina police officer is fired for throwing a high school student across a classroom. A panel of journalists joins guest host Indira Lakshmanan for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.


  • Jeff Mason White House correspondent, Reuters
  • Olivier Knox Chief Washington correspondent, Yahoo! News
  • Molly Ball Staff writer, The Atlantic

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Were Republicans Fair In Criticizing The Format Of This Week's Debate?

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Full Video


  • 10:06:54

    MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANThanks for joining us. I'm Indira Lakshaman sitting in for Diane Rehm. She'll be back on Monday. The White House and Congress agree on a budget to avert a government default. John Boehner hands over his Speaker's gavel. And reaction to the latest Republican presidential debate. Joining me for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup, Olivier Knox of Yahoo News, Molly Ball of The Atlantic and Jeff Mason of Reuters.

  • 10:07:18

    MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANWe'll be taking your comments and your questions throughout the hour. We want to hear your thoughts about the new budget, about the change of leadership at the Speaker of the House and everything else. So call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email at or you can join us on Facebook or Twitter. Thanks for being here, everyone. Good morning.

  • 10:07:42

    MR. JEFF MASONGood morning.

  • 10:07:42

    MS. MOLLY BALLGood morning.

  • 10:07:42

    MR. OLIVIER KNOXGreat to be here.

  • 10:07:42

    LAKSHMANANAll right. So listen, we should get right started with this two-year budget deal that the Senate signed off on this morning, putting the brakes on what had been described this week as a looming and potentially cataclysmic government default. So the budget's on its way to the president's desk. So disaster averted, Olivier?

  • 10:08:02

    KNOXWell, the debt limit disaster is averted. The budget itself, of course, is a nonbinding framework. Even if the president signs it, it doesn't actually become a law, but it does give members of Congress sort of overall spending levels. So the next test is going to be in December when actual funding needs to be passed or else the government shuts down. But what this really does is it has the very strong potential of booting the risk of a government shutdown and the risk of a default until well after the 2016 election.

  • 10:08:31

    LAKSHMANANOkay. Molly, tell us the details of the deal and who got more of what they wanted, the president or the Republicans?

  • 10:08:38

    BALLIt is seen as pretty much a compromise. This deal increases government spending by $80 billion. It was objected to mainly by Republicans. We say mostly Democratic votes to pass it in both the House and the Senate with several Republicans, coincidentally, happen to be running for president, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz in particular, going to the floor of the Senate last night and speaking against the bill in very strong terms.

  • 10:09:07

    BALLTed Cruz gave this very fiery speech in which he called Mitch McConnell the -- I believe he called him the most successful Democratic leader. So...

  • 10:09:17

    LAKSHMANANWow. And this was all happening at 1:00 AM?

  • 10:09:18

    BALLThis was happening late into the night. I tuned in around 10:00 PM tonight and they were still talking. But so you did have a split between Republicans because this deal does undo a lot of the sequestration cuts to the federal government. It increases military spending. It takes some of the caps off of domestic spending as well. It's paid for by a bunch of gimmicks and kicking the can down the road, which is the way Congress tends to find ways to pay for this.

  • 10:09:51

    BALLSo, for example, there are some decreases in Medicare payments, some tweaks to Social Security disability eligibility requirements, but, you know, this is sort of a legacy accomplishment for John Boehner. He referred to it as cleaning out the stable, with the sort of obvious implication of that metaphor being he's getting all the stuff out of the...

  • 10:10:17

    LAKSHMANANWith a big shovel.

  • 10:10:18

    BALL...out of there so that his successor, Paul Ryan, can start with a clean slate and could have at least some technical hope of being able to do something other than manage crises.

  • 10:10:32

    LAKSHMANANAll right. So we have a budget. You were mentioning that increase in discretionary spending by $80 billion over the next two years that's going to be split equally between defense and domestic programs. But, you know, you make the point that this gives John Boehner a smooth exit, a so-called crowning achievement. So what's his legacy going to be as Speaker, Jeff?

  • 10:10:51

    MASONWell, I think that probably depends on who you ask. Certainly, his legacy of essentially getting kicked out by the right flank of his party will be the coda to any story about John Boehner going forward. I think from the White House perspective, he might come down as a figure who did try on some level to make compromises on budget and other issues, but just was outmaneuvered by the right flank of his party and not able to do so.

  • 10:11:17

    MASONI think the White House is optimistic about Paul Ryan. I wouldn't say they're particularly sad to see John Boehner go, but they also weren't especially critical of him on his way out the door, either.

  • 10:11:29

    LAKSHMANANSo Olivier, Boehner. Terrible failure, terrible failure, but not his fault, or made the best of a terrible situation?

  • 10:11:36

    KNOXI think the latter. I think he came in with a majority that quickly proved, actually, ungovernable rather than governing. And, you know, one of this legacies is with the exception of, I guess, of one government shutdown of about two weeks long, he kept things open and functioning, which may be setting the bar really low, but he has a large part of his caucus who opposed him on all of those efforts.

  • 10:12:06

    KNOXI think he was a little bit surprised to the extent to which he ended up fighting with President Obama. He once said he didn't take the job to go mano e mano with the president of the United States. But the fact that we only had one government shutdown in light of who's in Congress today is actually notable.

  • 10:12:21

    LAKSHMANANWell, it is incredible, you know, you're sort of alluding to the radicalization of GOP politics that has made it impossible so far for anyone to be an effective Speaker over the last four or five years at least. So now that Boehner is out and Ryan is in, does he really have a clean slate, Molly?

  • 10:12:39

    BALLWell, what I think we're going to find out, now that Paul Ryan is Speaker is exactly what Olivier's talking about. Whether the situation was impossible or whether a smarter, more strategic, more clever, more conservative leader could actually get a different result. Now, it is a little unfair to say that because Paul Ryan is starting without all these crises on the table so he does have a little bit more room to maneuver.

  • 10:13:05

    BALLBut, you know, if he gets the same kind of rebellion on his right flank that John Boehner does and he is equally unable to handle it, then that's a good argument to say, well, see, it didn't matter who was in that chair. It was just inevitable. If we see Ryan actually able to come up with a strategy, able to come up with some way of managing this, then, I think, we have to revise our view of John Boehner and say, okay, maybe he wasn't up to the job and maybe someone who had a little bit more of a strategic sense, you know, could've made something else out of it.

  • 10:13:36

    LAKSHMANANWell, this rebellion within the ranks is exactly what Paul Ryan was fearing and wanting to avoid. And, at first, of course, he told us he was not going to run for Speaker of the House and once he finally did, when the party was desperate for any leader, he put down all these conditions, which actually, you know, became the butt of jokes of late night comedians, his long list of conditions before he would come to the floor.

  • 10:14:01

    LAKSHMANANBut now that he's in, is he even going to be able to enforce party unity that he demanded as a condition of his entering the job, Jeff?

  • 10:14:08

    MASONWell, I think that's a good question. That's something we'll only be able to judge in the next coming weeks and months. But I think in terms of the strategy that Molly was referring to, that was manifested in those conditions. I mean, he learned from John Boehner. He saw what John Boehner went through. He had a chance to say, this is unacceptable. If you really want me in this job, then these are the things that I -- these are the conditions that I require in order to take it.

  • 10:14:31

    MASONSo -- and now in his first couple days, he's made good, to some extent, on those promises by saying, we're wiping the slate. We're going to make it -- return the power to committee chairs to draft legislation, which was one of the main sticking points between conservatives in the House and John Boehner. So Ryan is making good on some of those promises in exchange for the conditions that were met. And he's, you know, trying to learn from those lessons that are a part of John Boehner's legacy that he does not want to be a part of his.

  • 10:15:02

    LAKSHMANANAnd, of course, he didn't have to have his beginning so-called tainted by this budget deal. He allowed Boehner to deal with that so he can start from scratch. But I was struck, Olivier, that a majority of Republicans, 167 out of 247, voted against this budget accord in the House and it seems like a potentially worrying sign that rancor and dysfunction are going to return anyway.

  • 10:15:25

    KNOXWell, return, I mean, if they ever left. I mean, over at Yahoo, we talked about how if you watched the proceedings yesterday and you watched Democrats saying nice things about Republicans and Republicans saying nice things about Democrats and all of them talking about how important the House is and how important public service is, you might wonder where have these guys been the last six years.

  • 10:15:44

    KNOXI don’t know that that dysfunction is actually gone away, but this is the gift that Boehner is giving Ryan. He's taking, well, potentially taking, a lot of these regular crises off of, I guess, out of Ryan's stable -- stall? What's our image here? But he's taking it off the table, essentially, and that's really, really, really important. It's also important to note that Boehner could only d this on his way out the door.

  • 10:16:06

    LAKSHMANANWell, Yahoo News actually said that the House Freedom Caucus members are now seeking an overhaul of House rules that would enhance their power and decrease the Speaker's power. So how is that going to play out.

  • 10:16:19

    KNOXThis is going to be one of Ryan's big tests. I think it's mostly going to play out in the early phases behind closed doors. But they want enormous power at the expense of the Speaker's power over committee assignments, over steering committee -- some of the main Republican decision-making bodies inside the House. The demands are really remarkable, given that this is actually, you know, a cluster, not a majority of the House. And so we're going to see how Paul Ryan handles that.

  • 10:16:47

    KNOXAnd going down the road, we're also going to see whether he's willing to challenge -- it's not really a rule. It's sort of kind of a tradition, this notion that Republicans want to pass legislation with a majority of their majority. That's what you sort of alluded to in your question. We're going to see whether Ryan is willing to buck that trend. My guess is that he won't be, but...

  • 10:17:09

    BALLWell, and he did pledge in his election yesterday that he would continue to abide by the rule, which I think we're still looking for a new name for so we don't have to call it the Hastert Rule anymore, which sort of always bedeviled John Boehner. I mean, one thing I think we did see with Ryan's election is that he does come in with a tremendous amount of credibility among conservatives. There were fewer votes against him than I think many people expected.

  • 10:17:32

    BALLOnly nine votes for Daniel Webster, the other Republican running for Speaker and Ryan is someone whose hard work on policy since he got to the House and whose reluctance to ascend to the Speaker's chair, he's seen as someone who is earnest, who is not in it for reasons of personal ambition and someone who conservatives, I think, really trust. So, you know, we've seen how easy it is for someone to go from conservative to rhino sellout in this climate. But I do think he comes in with a tremendous amount of credibility.

  • 10:18:07

    LAKSHMANANAll right. We're going to take a short break. I look forward to hearing your questions and your comments. Stay with us.

  • 10:20:02

    LAKSHMANANWelcome back. I'm Indira Lakshmanan sitting in for Diane Rehm. And joining me in the studio today for our Domestic News Roundup, Jeff Mason, White House correspondent for Reuters, Molly Ball, a staff writer at The Atlantic, and Olivier Knox, chief Washington correspondent at Yahoo! News. Don't forget, you can see all of our guests on our live video stream at And you can also Facebook us, tweet us, email us at --

  • 10:20:30

    LAKSHMANANSo we need to talk about the economy. The third quarter GDP numbers that came out yesterday were pretty disappointing. The U.S. economy grew by only 1.5 percent in the third quarter. That's a deceleration from the second quarter's 3.9 percent. So, Jeff, tell us what does that mean? U.S. growth up to only -- up only 2 percent from last year.

  • 10:20:53

    MASONRight. It was disappointing and it was coming from a result of businesses cutting back on restocking their warehouses to work off an inventory glut. But there is solid domestic demand. And so I think economists are saying, don't read too much into this in terms of what the Fed will do. The Fed, which undoubtedly we'll talk about as well, did signal earlier this week that there might be a rate hike coming in December. Whether or not this will affect that decision is obviously something we still have to wait and watch. But probably fourth quarter growth is going to be a lot better and the third quarter, not quite as impressive of a number, will not derail things in terms of the Fed's thinking.

  • 10:21:32

    LAKSHMANANBut I saw economists saying that fourth quarter growth would have to be on fire and, you know, if the economy were to break out of this slow growth treadmill, this kind of sluggish treadmill that it's been on since the recession ended, right?

  • 10:21:45

    MASONRight. Right. And the truth is that's the reason why rates are still so low. The Fed has held rates near zero since the end of 2008. It's because the economy hasn't ever gotten right to that point where they feel comfortable...

  • 10:22:01


  • 10:22:01 it that sort of shot in the arm. And whether that comes in December or whether it comes maybe later next year is something that economists will be watching closely. And sure, the fourth quarter will play a role in that and the third quarter was disappointing.

  • 10:22:15

    LAKSHMANANOkay. So, Olivier, the Fed has said this week that it's keeping interest rates near zero for now. Do you think that all of this news is going to dissuade them from raising rates at all before the end of the year?

  • 10:22:27

    KNOXWell, I don't -- like Jeff, I don't know whether they're going to make that decision. And they've got a meeting in December and there's some other stuff early next year. They did -- the Fed did strip out some of the more concerned statements that they put in their minutes in the past. They took out a reference to global headwinds restraining the American economy. So they are sort of signaling that they are expecting better numbers coming up. And, of course, much better numbers would lead them to raise rates.

  • 10:22:57

    KNOXBut, again, you're right. We would need to see one heck of a fourth quarter. They're very happy with consumer growth, so maybe it will be a great booming quarter. But, come December, they're going to have to reevaluate all these factors.

  • 10:23:09

    LAKSHMANANYeah. We saw that job growth in September was a bit mediocre, 142,000 compared with 200,000 per month from May to July. And then we've also got the strong dollar that is dampening demand for U.S. exports.

  • 10:23:22

    KNOXIt's a good reminder that the American economy doesn't exist in a vacuum. It exists in a global economy where a lot of America's biggest trading partners -- whether it's China or Western Europe -- have not climbed out -- well, in Western Europe's case, have not climbed out of the recession as well as the United States has. And in China's case, they've seen a lot of volatility in the last six months. And there are a lot of questions about their own growth. This is more for the second hour of the show, they recently announced a new relaxing of the one-child policy, it's now a two-child policy. Setting aside the moral aspects of this, it's because they have a labor problem.

  • 10:23:55


  • 10:23:56

    KNOXAnd so, again, the American economy is not functioning in a vacuum and a lot of what happens in December is going to depend on what happens in Western Europe.

  • 10:24:03

    LAKSHMANANYeah. Good reminder. Okay, Molly, let's talk about the Republican debate. Any striking differences from this week's debate versus the last one? Any clear winners or losers in your mind?

  • 10:24:15

    BALLYeah, this was a very different debate I thought. You know, the first couple of debates were really defined by Donald Trump in the middle of the stage. You know, the flamboyant front runner willing to insult people and just sort of make a scene. He was not nearly as central in this debate. He was still literally in the middle of the stage but it didn't seem to revolve around him.

  • 10:24:38

    BALLA lot of the sort of hype and drama going into the debate was about Jeb Bush, whether this was sort of his last chance to come back and show himself to be sort of the alpha dog of the Republican primary. Interestingly, after every debate so far, Jeb Bush has fallen in the polls. He has just continued to underperform the expectations created by his name and his money. And this debate was pretty much a disaster for him. He telegraphed pretty far in advance that he was going to attack Marco Rubio, his former protégé. The attack, when it came, was pretty clumsy. It was on this issue of missed votes in the Senate that it's unclear how resonant that is.

  • 10:25:23

    BALLAnd then Rubio was extremely well prepared to sort of hit it out of the park. He had a very good comeback that sort of shrugged off the attack and he said well I, you know, it's clear that you're only doing this because you feel politically threatened by me.

  • 10:25:39


  • 10:25:40

    BALLAnd then, as he has before, Jeb Bush did not have any effective way to come back from that. He just sort of accepted it and moved on.

  • 10:25:49


  • 10:25:49

    BALLAnd sort of, just like when he tried to attack Donald Trump for insulting his wife. And Trump said, no, I won't apologize. And Bush sort of took it, you know. So I think there's a lot of nervousness in the Jeb Bush camp. There's been a very negative sort of media narrative for Jeb coming out of the debate that things may be over for him. It's certainly too soon to say that. But Rubio looked good out of the debate. Ted Cruz had a lot of strong moments. There was a lot of criticism of the media, CNBC, hosting the debate and the questions that were asked. But I think the big take away from the debate is that Jeb is sort of on the edge.

  • 10:26:29

    LAKSHMANANAll right. Well, specifically -- we'll come back to the criticism of the media -- but, specifically on the question of whether Jeb is out of the race, Jeff, how do you see overall the state of the Republican race for president right now, in the wake of this latest one? Are any of the first or second-tier candidates likely to drop out? Of course, all the speculation has been on Jeb but tell us your view.

  • 10:26:49

    MASONWell, I don't think Jeb's going to drop out. He certainly, as Molly referenced, has -- despite the fact that his debate performances have been lackluster -- he's still got a lot of cash. And until the donors totally flee the Bush campaign, he's certainly going to stay in.

  • 10:27:03

    LAKSHMANANSo reports of his demise are greatly exaggerated?

  • 10:27:05

    MASONI think he would certainly say that. Yeah. I mean, he's got the money and he's got the structure to stay in for a while. The campaign is cutting costs, for sure, and that's not a good sign in late October, early November. But he's going to stick around. In terms of the others, you know, it was interesting that The New York Times called on Chris Christie to jump out of the race and come back home. Certainly, from the lower tier, at some point money is going to run out for them.

  • 10:27:35

    MASONRand Paul, I know there's been speculation about whether or not he might jump or drop out, simply because of -- he's not getting a lot of traction and also not really offering debate performances that differentiate himself in a way that you would need to, to increase your poll numbers.

  • 10:27:53

    MASONOn the other hand, there's been a lot of resilience among these candidates, despite the fact that there are still so many on that stage. There has not been a rush to jump off...

  • 10:28:06


  • 10:28:06

    MASON...despite the fact that they're not -- many of them aren't gaining traction.

  • 10:28:09


  • 10:28:10

    MASONAnd, as Molly said, even the two front runners -- Ben Carson and Donald Trump -- didn't exactly shine this week. But their poll numbers are still doing really well. So for the people in the establishment who are hoping that the outsiders will finally step aside and allow some of the more establishment figures like Marco Rubio now to ascend, I don't think that's going to happen any time soon either.

  • 10:28:34

    LAKSHMANANWell, I heard the analysis, Olivier, that the candidates who have really put a lot of money into their campaign, like Jeb Bush, I mean, who have a lot of money lined up, that there is more pressure on them to drop out if they're not moving, like Scott Walker. Whereas those who have very sort of low-funded campaigns, more like Carly Fiorina or some of the undercards, that there's no real pressure on them to get out of the race at this point.

  • 10:28:58

    KNOXI think the pressure is if you're spending a lot of money, not if you're raising a lot of money. I think, what we call the, you know, the burn rate -- how much of the money that you raise are you spending -- if your operation is a very large operation that needs a lot of money just to keep breathing, obviously that's going to increase a lot of -- that's going to increase the pressure on you, if you do really badly, if your poll numbers are terrible. Because, as Jeff alluded to, there's a chance that some of your donors are going to start looking around for Plan B. And so it is way too early to count Jeb Bush out. But I bet you we're going to see a wave a stories in the next couple of weeks that look at donors who give money to his campaign, looking for their Plan B.

  • 10:29:35

    LAKSHMANANAll right. Well, let's talk about that media criticism, Molly. Certainly, the GOP, the RNC chairman took the opportunity as the moment that the debate was over to pounce on the moderators from CNBC and accuse them of being unfair and saying that the debate should not have been handled that way. The conservative media jumped up in arms and also accused CNBC of holding an unfair debate. What's your take on that?

  • 10:30:00

    BALLWell, and this happened during the debate as well. And I think we should be a little bit skeptical of attacks on the media from Republican candidates because it is just a sort of time-tested, crowd-pleasing line. We saw Newt Gingrich four years ago get a lot of traction over criticizing the debate moderators. And it's really just a gimmick to appeal to the audience to say, oh, they're -- this darn liberal media beating up on me. On the other hand, a lot of these questions were not substantive. A lot of them were things we've heard before.

  • 10:30:31

    BALLI think just from the perspective of wanting the debate to be a mechanism for us to understand the candidates better and hear them answer questions they haven't been asked before -- to ask Donald Trump for the 50th time about his record of corporate bankruptcy, when we know exactly what he's going to say because he said it in the first debate, strikes me as a little bit artless. And you saw the moderators just not being prepared when they were challenged on their evidence for some of the questions.

  • 10:31:00

    BALLThe RNC now is getting some blowback from the candidates because it's a little bit rich for them to be attacking the debate structure, when the RNC, this time around, asserted a lot of control over the debate structure. That was one of their big reforms after 2012 was to take control of the debates, say we're not going to let the networks be in control. Because there were too many debates last time and it made our candidates too vulnerable and it led to too much of the campaign being taken up with debates over and over and over again. And that hasn't seemed to work.

  • 10:31:34

    BALLAnd one persistent criticism from the conservative media has been, the RNC required all of these debates to have a conservative media partner, but the conservatives have sort of seemed to be more or less window dressing. You know, you had Hugh Hewitt, for example, was part of the CNN debate, but you barely heard from him. So there's a desire for the debate questions to better represent the interests of the conservative primary electorate.

  • 10:32:01

    LAKSHMANANWell, Jeff, I mean, on the criticism of the media, it was actually Ted Cruz who seemed to score the most points with his very pointed criticism, which, you know, who knows whether he came up with it advance. It seemed very well said. He got big applause. So what exactly did he say and how many points did he gain for it?

  • 10:32:18

    MASONWell, I think, in some ways, he couldn't have come up with it in advance, because he had -- he used specifics in that question. He said, hey you're asking Donald Trump, you're asking Jeb Bush, you criticized another candidate, you're asking whether it's a comic book campaign for Donald Trump -- I mean, he used specific things that the moderators had used in their own language of the questions as criticism. And yeah, as Molly said, it was really successful. And I think that it's absolutely true that this is something that Republican candidates in particular have used to their advantage in previous campaigns, is to turn the spotlight on the media.

  • 10:32:52

    MASONBut for this particular debate, there was a lot of material to be thrown at the media. I mean, even the first question of asking, from the start of a serious economic debate, about your personal weaknesses was not a strong way to get going, and also not sort of maintaining control of the debate, not allowing some of the candidates to debate each other, which is, you know, what people want to watch and the opportunities to actually learn from the candidates. Those are weaknesses that were shown by the moderators that the candidates very adeptly used against them.

  • 10:33:29

    LAKSHMANANI'm Indira Lakshmanan and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We want to hear from you and, if you'd like to join us, call 1-800-433-8850. You can send us an email to You can follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And we do have an email from Jim in Washington, D.C., who says of the debate, style of questioning aside, many substantive questions were asked on bankruptcy, tax proposals, personal finance incompetence, and on and on. And yet none of these non-answers from the candidates were pursued during the debate by the moderators, or afterwards in the media criticizing itself. Lost in both was the empty answers that candidates use to evade questions. Olivier.

  • 10:34:14

    KNOXWell, you saw that a little bit in the debate when, at the end of Ted Cruz' peroration against us -- and I quickly add, the media, we are uniters, not dividers, everybody hates us. I sort of respect him for doing that. But he'd been asked a question about his position on, I believe, the debt limit. And, instead, he spent his time weighing in against the media, which is effective but a little bit annoying if you want to know where Ted Cruz stands on the debt limit. And then, at the end of it, he got huffy and said, you don't want an answer to your question. Well, you just spent your allotted time, under the ground rules that you agreed to, weighing in against us. That's your privilege, that's your right. But don't complain about not being able to tell us, you know, where you stand on the debt limit.

  • 10:34:55

    KNOXThe follow-ups are always a problem, I think, in these debates, because when you have a platoon of candidates on that stage and they've agreed to a really complicated set of protocols for who gets to ask what of whom, how, how long, who can speak about what topic. I mean, my nine-year-old needs fewer rules about what to say and when...

  • 10:35:16

    LAKSHMANANOh, you're lucky.

  • 10:35:17

    KNOX...than the candidates do. But, so it's an unwieldy structure. There are a lot of people on that stage. And all of this is happening months before we've even seen the first proper organizational test of these campaigns. And that kind of makes me a little crazy.

  • 10:35:30

    LAKSHMANANAll right. We have one quick question here about -- well, a couple quick questions actually -- about how the debate was only available to those who are paying for cable on CNBC and how CNBC was charging top dollar for its ad spots. And so a question about whether CNBC had to pay the Republican Party in any way to air the debates. This, John, is asking. Molly.

  • 10:35:55

    BALLThat's -- I don't actually know what the financial arrangement is in terms of sponsorship of the debate. But, I mean, there is no American right to watch presidential debates. These debates are sponsored by networks. And the point is that you will go watch their network. So, you know, CNN had done cord-cutters like me a favor by offering a free Internet live stream of the two debates that they've hosted so far. But Fox News didn't do that for the first debate and CNBC didn't do it for this debate. And, you know, it's just like, if you want to watch sports, you got to get cable.

  • 10:36:32

    LAKSHMANANWell, we have an email from Steve, who says that having to pay to watch a presidential debate reminds me of a modern-day 21st century poll tax. Jeff.

  • 10:36:42

    MASONI have a lot of sympathy for that because I'm like Molly, I don't have cable at home. And so I was struggling to find a live stream as well, as the debate was starting. But it's true, these are businesses and these are arrangements that are being made between the networks and the RNC in this case. But, I mean, the other question that I think is worth asking on that level is, these networks want to have good ratings, they want to have lots of eyeballs on their debates and so allowing a live stream or allowing more people to see it, in the end, is probably helpful to them. But those are decisions that they make and that we have no control over.

  • 10:37:18

    LAKSHMANANAll right. We're going to take a short break now. When we're back, we'll take more of your calls and your questions. Stay with us.

  • 10:40:01

    LAKSHMANANWelcome back. I'm Indira Lakshmanan, sitting in for Diane Rehm. With me in the studio, Olivier Knox, Chief Washington Correspondent at Yahoo News, Molly Ball, Staff Writer at the Atlantic, and Jeff Mason, White House Correspondent for Reuters. So, let us talk, we were just talking about the GOP debate. Let's talk about the GOP's nemesis, Hillary Clinton. She had her birthday on Monday and she seems to have gotten a very nice present, momentum, coming out of the Benghazi hearing last week. So, how's she doing on the trail, Jeff?

  • 10:40:29

    MASONWell, she's got a lot of momentum right now. She had the momentum of Joe Biden deciding not to run, she had good reviews from her testimony at the Benghazi committee, and on top of that, she's still riding a wave of having really rocked the first debate. To use the headline that Politico used after that. So, she's doing well. He poll numbers are going up. I think her campaign is probably feeling much more confident than at this point a couple of weeks ago. She only has two competitors, Bernie Sanders obviously still doing very well and still a concern for the Clinton campaign.

  • 10:41:04

    MASONAnd as Olivier noted, with regard at the Republicans, we're still a ways away from the actual first voting contest, the caucuses in Iowa. But the Clinton campaign has spent a lot of money and time setting up an organization, which isn't true for all the candidates that we've been discussing about today. So, building on this wave that she has gotten in terms of some momentum, she's gonna have her people go out there and start setting the ground work, as it were, for votes, and for people to come up and say they support her in the caucuses.

  • 10:41:39

    MASONIt's been a good period. That doesn't mean the bad times are over and her campaign manager made a note of that in celebrating her first week or two of good news in a long time. That more bad news and more bad weeks are, no doubt, going to be part of their future. But for the moment, she's riding high.

  • 10:41:59

    LAKSHMANANOkay. Well, she's gonna have a chance to spend more time campaigning and less time behind closed doors preparing for that all day Benghazi hearing. And I understand she's going to expand her focus beyond the four February early voting states into Super Tuesday states that vote in March. Olivier, there are reports that Hillary Clinton is going to call today for legislation to ban racial profiling by law enforcement. And for an elimination of the distinction between crack and powder cocaine and drug sentencing. Tell us about that.

  • 10:42:29

    KNOXWell, (unintelligible) about the decisions that she's made to roll out these policy announcements the way she's rolled them out. One of the things that we've seen over the course of the year is that her very serious public policy pronouncements on education and other issues have been drowned out by media coverage of Benghazi and the emails. And she's emerging from that now and she's gonna be accelerating the pace of policy proposals to try to refocus her campaign on the substance of this as opposed to the ongoing political firefight over Benghazi.

  • 10:42:57

    KNOXShe's also been recalibrating her older record to reflect the modern Democratic Party. People have called this moving left. What she's actually doing is she's moving to where the mainstream of the Democratic Party is right now. She's doing it under pressure from Bernie Sanders, for sure. He's come out and he has pushed for allowing states to legalize marijuana. He's pushed for steps against the death penalty. So, she's under some pressure of that. But I don't she's so much moving left as she is taking her record, long record in public life, and she's recalibrating it to reflect where the Democratic Party is today.

  • 10:43:33

    LAKSHMANANOkay, let's take a call from Carlton in Cincinnati, Ohio. Carlton, you're on the air.

  • 10:43:38

    CARLTONHi, thanks for taking my call Indira.

  • 10:43:40


  • 10:43:40

    CARLTONI wanted to get your panel's take on kind of what you just were talking about with Bernie Sanders calling for a reclassifying marijuana on a federal level. I'm from Ohio, and we actually have a ballot initiative that we're voting on next week, which would legalize marijuana in the state. And I'm wondering what your panel thinks legalizing, or maybe not, next week for Ohio, would do for the -- how that would change the conversation of the coming year, mainly between Presidential candidates.

  • 10:44:10

    LAKSHMANANOkay, thank you. Molly.

  • 10:44:11

    BALLThe Ohio Ballot Initiative is really interesting, because it's actually divided marijuana advocates, even those who call for legalization of marijuana are -- some of them are uncomfortable with the Ohio ballot Initiative, because it's structured to give a sort of quasi monopoly to a group of pre-set companies. So, there's this sort of internal fight going on in the marijuana movement. I don't know whether it is likely to pass or not. I do think it will be -- if it does pass, it will be kind of similar to when Iowa got gay marriage. It's always a landmark when one of these sort of heartland states gets one of these socially liberal policies.

  • 10:44:49

    BALLBecause then it's no longer sort of a phenomenon of the liberal coasts. It's no longer just the like crazy Pacific northwest or Colorado where I'm from, that has legalized recreational marijuana. It becomes a thing that like real America, as Sarah Palin called it, is interested in as well. And I do think that if you just look at the polling on marijuana, that is something that is evident, that this is a national trend toward acceptance of this.

  • 10:45:13

    LAKSHMANANOkay. There were a couple of police videos that went viral this week, that I want to talk about. One was the one that went viral in a really positive way here in Washington, D.C., for a female police officer who managed to break up a fight among some teens and then sort of turned it into a dance off. Where she was like dancing off with this young woman who refused to disperse and everything ended in laughter and smiles. And that got praised by the mayor of D.C. and many others.

  • 10:45:38

    LAKSHMANANBut we saw a very bad video, showing a uniformed school police officer throwing a teenage student across the room in Columbia, South Carolina. Jeff, tell us what happened.

  • 10:45:48

    MASONWell, that video definitely went viral. The officer's name was Ben Fields, and he was a school resource officer. He walked into a classroom where a student was being disruptive. And that part we don't see on the video. And then proceeded, when she didn't get up, apparently, when he asked her to, he ripped her out of this desk and essentially threw her across the room.

  • 10:46:10

    LAKSHMANANGrabbed her by her neck, right?

  • 10:46:12

    MASONYeah, I mean, it was really violent and really disturbing to see. And the racial overtones are that he's a white man and she was a -- is a black woman.

  • 10:46:21


  • 10:46:21

    MASONSo, adding to that discussion again that has been raised by lots and lots of incidents of police violence over the last several months about racial disparities in the US. So, it was very disturbing to a lot of people. He was fired. And there are investigations now being started into it.

  • 10:46:39

    LAKSHMANANOkay, so this officer, Ben Fields, also had two lawsuits filed against him over the last 10 years. In 2007, a couple accused him of using excessive force when resolving a domestic dispute, although the court ruled in his favor in 2010. But Olivier, do you see repercussions beyond this school district? Is there a civil rights case that could come out of this?

  • 10:46:58

    KNOXIt could. I mean, that one of the things that this does, as Jeff surely points out, is that it adds to this national conversation about the relationship between the police and the policed. And this was shocking, in part, not just because the racial overtones, but because, you know, she's a kid. This is a student in a school being disruptive, we're told. But obviously, at her desk, so probably what she was doing probably didn't warrant being manhandled, tackled.

  • 10:47:26

    LAKSHMANANWasn't criminal activity.

  • 10:47:26

    KNOXThrottled and the rest of it. And it's just going to add to that conversation, which, by the way, is getting more and more heated. Not less and less heated as police and police advocates argue that we're making their jobs a lot harder.

  • 10:47:37

    LAKSHMANANWell, when a student is being disruptive, in this case, it was refusing to give up her cell phone to the teacher. So, the student is being disruptive, but there is not a gun or a weapon or some sort of crime being committed, is that not the role of the teacher anymore to deal with disruptive students? They're now calling police officers into classrooms for this?

  • 10:47:55

    BALLThis is a long term trend, as well, the criminalization of school discipline, and this is something that has really taken over nationwide. Almost every school now has a police officer in it, even elementary schools. And you see even very young children being arrested for what I think people my age might think of more of a disciplinary infraction. Even, you know, a couple of middle schoolers getting into a slap fight now might very likely end in an assault conviction and someone going to, you know, going to juvenile jail rather than, you know, being sent to the principal's office to think about what they did and cool down.

  • 10:48:33

    BALLSo, this is something that education advocates have been talking about for years and years. I covered it nearly a decade ago, that I covered a case where a high school junior had mooned his class out of the school bus window.

  • 10:48:52

    LAKSHMANANSo, pulled his pants down.

  • 10:48:53

    BALLPulled his pants down and was arrested for indecent exposure, put on a sex offender registry, and, you know, potentially has his life ruined by what, you know, might have, in a more innocent age, been thought of as a childish prank.

  • 10:49:08

    LAKSHMANANYes, there was a lot of mooning going on when we were kids.

  • 10:49:09

    BALLSo there is this -- speak for yourself.

  • 10:49:12

    LAKSHMANANI'm not saying I took part. I didn't take part, but I certainly witnessed a lot of it.

  • 10:49:16

    BALLBut I, so I do think that like, there is this important conversation we're having about race and about justice and about discipline and about policing and all that intersects with the school issues. And then there's this parallel conversation going on about over-policing in schools and the increasing criminalization of school discipline.

  • 10:49:32

    LAKSHMANANAll right. All right, let's take a call from Brad in Flint, Michigan. Brad, you're on the air.

  • 10:49:37

    BRADHi Indira, thanks for taking my call.

  • 10:49:40


  • 10:49:40

    BRADI'd like to go back to the debates and make a short comment, if I may on, there was, one of your panel members who mentioned that, well, you know, if you want to watch the debates, get cable, and somebody earlier this week also made that same comment. And being one of those persons who got thrown out in the cold with the Great Depression, or Recession, excuse me, I don't have satellite TV anymore. And many friends of mine and people that I know who are poor don't have anything but aerial reception.

  • 10:50:11

    BRADAnd when these large networks charge these exorbitant amounts for ads and then it's only available on their networks, it seems almost like big money is taking control of even the debates. And it seems like poor folks don't get the information to make the proper judgments about who they want to run for office.

  • 10:50:29

    LAKSHMANANOkay, thank you, Brad. So, another form of big money taking over elections. It's gone beyond Citizens United. It's Citizens can't watch their debates on TV. Jeff.

  • 10:50:39

    MASONI think it's a legitimate concern. I think it's really hard to say that some people are allowed to watch debates, when you're making decisions about what candidate you want to vote for, and some people can't. And I, as I said earlier, have sympathy for it, as well, because when I was trying to watch the other night, I couldn't turn on the TV myself, and so I can relate to that. And I think it's something that will probably come up. On the other hand, as we, just to reiterate the point that we made before, these are decisions that are being made by companies.

  • 10:51:09

    MASONThey are allowed to do what they're doing. But if there is blowback, then I think of that as probably very fair and rooted in a legitimate concern.

  • 10:51:19

    LAKSHMANANSome of our listeners are pointing out on email that the debates were actually broadcast on radio. I guess that might not have been well publicized, so perhaps a lot of people didn't know about it. We have another comment from Marty in Middletown, Maryland who makes the same point, saying competition drives democracy and allows people to higher and better things, and he's horrified that the debates weren't available on regular, terrestrial television. All right. Well, we had another case that happened, completely unrelated to all of this.

  • 10:51:46

    LAKSHMANANOn Wednesday, a military blimp came unmoored in Maryland and floated up to Pennsylvania before it was finally shot down. What was this blimp doing and how did it break free? Olivier.

  • 10:51:56

    KNOXIt was making a break for it, I think.

  • 10:51:58

    LAKSHMANANYeah. They mystery blimp. Freedom.

  • 10:52:01

    MASONGo, go, go.

  • 10:52:02

    KNOXA 2.7 million dollar, high tech military surveillance blimp/phenomenal metaphor for military spending in America, broke free from its moorings and drifted, apparently unmolested by any military response, and wreaking havoc as its cables dragged along the ground. Severing power lines and hitting buildings. It gave us a really great, I mean, you could really attach any metaphor you want to this. Is this big government, is it runaway spending, is it, you know, the military industrial complex?

  • 10:52:37

    KNOXI think this was a, not to make light of the trouble of the people who lost power because of this giant, bloated thing. Or the people...

  • 10:52:47

    LAKSHMANANAnd some airports, I think, had interference because there was, you know, a fear about the blimp hitting airplanes coming in.

  • 10:52:52

    KNOX...and the first response from the military was entirely unrepentant. I mean, it was really was borderline, stuff happens, no, we're not shooting it down. Tough luck. And I think that's going to be interesting to see how that message evolves over time. But again, it gave, it does give us, on the lighter side, it does give us a fun metaphor. On the serious side, you know, someone crunched the numbers and said that if this blimp were a country's defense budget, it would be the 50th or so largest military budget in the world.

  • 10:53:19

    LAKSHMANANWow. The cost of just this one blimp.

  • 10:53:21

    KNOXJust the one blimp. It's about -- I think it was something like 2.7 billion dollars went into developing this thing. So, maybe not building the blimp, but certainly...

  • 10:53:27

    LAKSHMANANThe project cost 2.7 billion dollars.

  • 10:53:28

    KNOX...conceiving, right, conceiving, designing and building it. And, you know, you can add an element there of government surveillance. I mean, this was a...

  • 10:53:37


  • 10:53:37

    KNOX...this was a kind of a perfect storm of metaphors.

  • 10:53:39

    LAKSHMANANI think each blimp actually cost 182 million dollars, but Molly, tell us more about the kind of surveillance that the government was conducting with this blimp.

  • 10:53:46

    BALLOh, I don't know that part of the story. But I just want to add to Olivier's point and give a shout out to Mike Huckabee, who, in the debate, used the blimp as a metaphor for the federal government. He said it's out of control, it's full of gas, and it's wrecking everything in its path. So, that was well termed, I thought.

  • 10:54:06

    LAKSHMANANNice little impromptu thought. But I think it was put in the air near Aberdeen, Maryland by the Pentagon to protect Washington, D.C. from cruise missiles and other possible air attacks. That was the report. All right, I'm Indira Lakshmanan, and you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. All right, let's go back to the phones and take another call from John in Lansing, Michigan. John, from Michigan, you're on the line.

  • 10:54:30

    JOHNYes, hello.

  • 10:54:31


  • 10:54:31

    JOHNI wanted to talk about the debate and Donald Trump.

  • 10:54:36

    LAKSHMANANYes. Go ahead.

  • 10:54:38

    JOHNIn his truthiness, in his shading of facts, he was asked about his tax plan, which of course, calls for tax cuts, large tax cuts, but the moderator said it was going to cost, cause a huge hole in the budget. And Donald Trump makes misstatements and shades the truth. On Washington Post, the fact check, he's got pants on fire, I don't know, like, he's got the record number of pants on fire, you know, incorrect factual statements. So, last night, on his tax plan, he couldn't explain it. He couldn't say how he would pay for it. He couldn't say how it would balance the budget. I don't know.

  • 10:55:23

    LAKSHMANANOkay. Who would like to take that?

  • 10:55:25

    MASONLegitimate questions.

  • 10:55:26


  • 10:55:27

    MASONYeah, these are questions that voters are going to have to look at closely, like the caller just did. And I think it will be interesting to see at what point that enters into the polls. And at what point the more establishment candidates who I think would share the caller's criticism, will break through. But at this point, the words that Donald Trump says have been appealing to a big chunk of the Republican base who are driving up his poll numbers.

  • 10:55:53

    LAKSHMANANAll right, one last call. Lawrence in Birmingham, Alabama. We just have a few seconds left. So, if you could make your question fast please. Go ahead, Lawrence. You're on the air. Okay, we seem to have lost Lawrence. We'll go to Margaret in Fort Lauderdale. Margaret, you're on the air.

  • 10:56:10

    MARGARETThanks for taking my call. I just wanted to say, for some reason, the candidates are free to make things up and not take into consideration of (unintelligible) people, who have access to Google. You know, they can't just keep doing that. I mean, Marco Rubio (unintelligible) lied about his finances.

  • 10:56:33

    LAKSHMANANOkay. All right, so basically, she's making the point that Rubio, she's saying, lied at the debate and that the moderators let it go. Does she have, is there any validity to what she's saying? Molly?

  • 10:56:44

    BALLI couldn't really make out what she was saying or what exactly she was referring to.

  • 10:56:47

    LAKSHMANANShe was saying that voters and viewers of debates have access to Google and they can fact check people as they're talking and that even so, she was accusing Rubio of making some false statements during the debate.

  • 10:56:59

    BALLYeah, I mean, I think this is the free market of information in action. People are always, people can check and see if the candidates are telling the truth. And there's a whole, this whole industry, as Jeff referred to, of fact checkers out there, industriously checking to see if the candidates are telling the truth. So, we do have a recourse to find those things out.

  • 10:57:18

    LAKSHMANANAbsolutely. The truth will come out eventually. That's Molly Ball from the Atlantic. We also had Olivier Knox from Yahoo News. Jeff Mason from Reuters. Thank you all so much for listening and joining us. I'm Indira Lakshmanan, sitting in for Diane Rehm.

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