Guest Host: Indira Lakshmanan

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a "get out the caucus" event at the Adel Family Fun Center on Wednesday in Adel, Iowa.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a "get out the caucus" event at the Adel Family Fun Center on Wednesday in Adel, Iowa.

Candidates make their final pitch to voters before Monday’s Iowa caucuses. Republicans clash during a debate in Des Moines while GOP frontrunner Donald Trump hosts his own event across town. President Obama tells Democrats at a congressional retreat that he’s confident their party will win in November. According the newly released emails, state workers in Flint, Michigan, got clean water several months before a lead advisory went out to residents. NASA remembers the crew of the Challenger space shuttle 30 years after its explosion. And the Obama administration is expected to propose new rules to close the gender pay gap. 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
  • Sheryl Gay Stolberg National correspondent, The New York Times.
  • Chris Frates Investigative correspondent, CNN

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Why Voter Turnout Matters More For Bernie Sanders


  • 10:06:54

    MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANThanks for joining us. I'm Indira Lakshmanan sitting in for Diane Rehm. Presidential candidates hold a final debate before the Iowa caucuses without the man whom a Fox News moderator called the elephant not in the room, Donald Trump. The FBI releases a video of a shooting death of an Oregon protestor and President Obama is expected today to adopt new rules aimed at preventing companies from paying women less for doing the same work as men.

  • 10:07:21

    MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANJoining me for today's domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup of a very busy week, Jeff Mason with Reuter's, Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times and Chris Frates of CNN. Welcome, everyone.

  • 10:07:33

    MS. SHERYL GAY STOLBERGGood to be here.

  • 10:07:33

    MR. CHRIS FRATESGreat to be here.

  • 10:07:33

    MR. JEFF MASONGood to be here.

  • 10:07:34

    LAKSHMANANAnd if you, the listener would like to join our conversation, you can always call us at 1-800-433-8850. You can send us an email at You can join us on Facebook or send us a tweet to @drshow. I also want to remind people that the first hour of the Friday News Roundup is live streaming so you can watch that video scream on -- screen on

  • 10:08:02

    LAKSHMANANAll right. So let's start with what feels like it has become the biggest show on earth, or was it, without the main attraction. I'm referring, of course, to the GOP debate last night without Trump. Smart move on his part or not, Jeff?

  • 10:08:15

    MASONYou know, he managed to keep himself in the lead of the story all day long yesterday by not going to the debate. Whether or not it was a smart move in terms of his ability to get voters out in Iowa or New Hampshire a week or so later is something that we won't know until the actual caucus happens and the primary happens. But he absolutely kept attention on himself by not being center stage last night and for that, I'm sure he'll view that as a big success.

  • 10:08:44

    FRATESAnd I...

  • 10:08:44

    LAKSHMANANAnd stole some ratings, right, from Fox News?

  • 10:08:46

    FRATESHe stole some ratings. I don't think he's going to compete with the debate. I mean, those numbers have not been released yet and it looks like the Fox debate is on track to attract less viewers than the first one, which was 25 million. It was huge. It was the biggest in cable news. So they were never going to hit that again. We've seen, you know, less and less people watch them. But he will certainly try to take credit, I think, by saying, oh, they got less rates because I was not there.

  • 10:09:09

    FRATESBut I think the other thing, politically, that was interesting to watch that we've talked about, was it good or bad for Trump. But the other thing he did is he forced the bulls-eye onto Ted Cruz's back. And Ted Cruz, I'm sure, was not happy with "The Des Moines Register" front page today which said that he had a rough night.

  • 10:09:27

    LAKSHMANANRough night for Cruz.

  • 10:09:28

    FRATESYou know, "Cruz's Rough Night." That was not the headline he was looking for coming out of this debate and, of course, Cruz being the top rival to Donald Trump, he, you know, Trump, by stepping out of the ring of fire, you know, put Ted into it. I think that was a pretty smart move as well as those two compete and are very ferociously trying to win Iowa. Cruz, of course, says that if Trump takes Iowa, it could be a runaway train and he will run off with the nomination and he is setting himself up as the firewall to stop a Donald Trump Republican presidential nominee.

  • 10:10:05

    LAKSHMANANYou know, as you say, he's trying to take credit for a drop in ratings. They might have dropped anyway for the debate. But Sheryl, give us a very quick reminder of why it is that he boycotted the debate.

  • 10:10:15

    STOLBERGSo he boycotted the debate because he is in a long-running standoff with Megyn Kelly, the Fox New anchor who asked him some tough questions about his treatment of women in the first Fox News debate. He came back and said he didn't like her questions and she had blood pouring out of her eyes, her ears, her wherever. It was widely interpreted as a remark referring to menstruation. They've been battling ever since.

  • 10:10:40

    STOLBERGDonald Trump said he wasn't going to participate in this debate unless Megyn Kelly was not a moderator. Fox put its foot down, said we're sorry. You don't get to pick your moderators. Not only that, issued a tweet saying "what is Donald Trump going to do when, you know, Putin or other world leaders or the Ayatollah, you know, challenge him? Is he going to run scared and not debate?" And so it was a big showdown. I also think, frankly, it was a moment of theater and a masterstroke on Donald Trump's part.

  • 10:11:13

    STOLBERGOne thing that he did that was brilliant was he commanded a lot of cameras. If you were clicking back and forth as I was last night, you could watch Fox, the debate, which was, frankly, kind of a snooze or you could switch to CNN and you could Donald Trump announcing that his show was kind of like the Academy Awards. Not only that, he got the two previous Iowa winners, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee, up on stage with him because they were in the undercard debate. They came over to try to get a little moment in the spotlight and he very smartly called them up on stage.

  • 10:11:43

    STOLBERGAnd you saw Rick Santorum sort of awkwardly say, oh, I don't really want to be here in front of this Trump sign. So all in all, it was, I think, an example of Trump's kind of master showmanship.

  • 10:11:56

    LAKSHMANANBrilliant, yes. Yeah, brilliant mastery of the moment. As you say, the undercard debate, meaning they were so low polling that they couldn't be in the main debate.

  • 10:12:02

    STOLBERGExactly, exactly.

  • 10:12:02

    LAKSHMANANSo this was a way for them to get some primetime attention without going so far as to endorse Trump. But Jeff, let's go a little bit deeper on this questions about without Trump, Ted Cruz, the Texas senator who had been leading polls in Iowa, has gotten himself center stage, but did he help himself? We heard about the "Des Moines Register" front page story saying he didn't.

  • 10:12:24

    MASONYeah, which was a, as Chris said, definitely not the headline he was looking for the morning. He did come under a lot of fire last night. He was center stage. He was pressed a lot on his shifting views on immigration. He gave back fire, but the incoming that he took seemed to be greater than the other way around. You know, on the one hand, it's probably good, you know, no attention or no bad attention or good attention -- it's all good attention when you want to get eyeballs on your website or eyeballs on your candidacy.

  • 10:12:54

    MASONBut for sure, not having somebody else for some of that to go to and not having the chance to directly attack Donald Trump and make it sort of a two-man show, which is what Cruz would've like to have had, was not what he was looking for.

  • 10:13:06

    LAKSHMANANBecause Cruz, of course, is, himself, a prize-winning college debater, has really mastered the sort of debate format so he wanted to have a chance to go mano a mano with his big rival, Trump.

  • 10:13:17

    MASONExactly. And he's been asking for a one on one with Trump since Trump did not come last night.

  • 10:13:22

    LAKSHMANANRight, which Trump has, so far, not agreed to. So Chris, how did the other candidates, who we're not talking about, how did they do without Trump on the big stage?

  • 10:13:30

    FRATESWell, I think what was interesting was to watch Marco Rubio who had a pretty standout night. He had always performed well in previous debates, but to see him last night really kind of go after Ted Cruz -- 'cause remember, you know, they're gonna be -- the Rubio campaign is kind of shooting for a strong third place showing. They know that they're not going to win, but the way that the delegates are proportioned, you know, nobody's gonna come out of there with a majority of the delegates so they think if they can come in with a strong third, that puts them in a good place to go on to New Hampshire.

  • 10:14:00

    FRATESAnd it was interesting to watch Rubio because he kind of did, you know, you got to see him take on Cruz a little bit more and get into that thing that those of us who have covered him has kind of see him get, he gets kind of yellie, you know, when he's making a point. He gets more and more kind of like pumped up about it. So it's like, it's about America, right? And so, you know, watching that and then, you know, the back and forth on immigration in particular, him attacking Ted Cruz, saying you've changed your position, Ted Cruz saying, well, no, it's Rubio who's the guy who's really for amnesty and to watch that battle play out, I think, helped guys like Marco Rubio.

  • 10:14:38

    FRATESAnd also, I think, when you saw Jeb Bush, I think that was Jeb Bush's strongest debate. Now, a lot of us have stopped talking about him because he's polling so badly, even in a place like New Hampshire where he really has to, you know, break out and become the mainstream, you know, choice and that's the lane that Marco Rubio is in right now and he needs to take out Rubio. But I thought that Bush was stronger than he'd ever been. He seemed on point, energized. You didn't see that low energy candidate the way Donald Trump always talked about him. So I thought, you know, he also had a good night.

  • 10:15:08

    FRATESSo I thought it was an ability for some of these other guys to get more minutes and I think you saw that. You know, you had Cruz and Rubio had more minutes and then even Bush had more minutes than he had without Trump in the room.

  • 10:15:20

    STOLBERGYou know who -- what also struck me, Rand Paul and John Kasich. Rand Paul was forced off the stage in the last debate. Rand Paul, though he's polling very low numbers, had a very good night to articulate and have the time to articulate his libertarian point of view. The other thing that jumped out at me was the way the Fox moderators used video clips of Rubio and Cruz's past statements on immigration reform to show how their positions had changed. And it was tough for both of them to have to look at those clips and then defend the positions they had taken previously.

  • 10:15:51

    LAKSHMANANAnd say they weren't flip-floppers.

  • 10:15:52


  • 10:15:53

    FRATESThat was really nicely done.

  • 10:15:53

    STOLBERGI thought it was, too. And I was surprised because oftentimes campaigns will negotiate that kind of thing out of a debate and they'll say, you know, you can't play these clips. And so, obviously, that was not negotiated out of that.

  • 10:16:05

    LAKSHMANANSo did the debate change any minds?

  • 10:16:07

    STOLBERGI don't know. I don't know that it changed the state of play. I'd ask my -- I defer to my gentlemen colleagues. What do you think?

  • 10:16:13

    FRATESI mean, I agree with you, Sheryl. I don't know that we know that, but the question was, this was the last chance for Iowa voters to see the whole field in a debate setting and there are people who are still making up their minds and we know that people in Iowa, you know, wait till the last minute to hear things and then the caucuses are very different than a primary. You don't go into a voting booth by yourself and cast your vote in private. You caucus. You meet with your friends. There's peer pressure involved.

  • 10:16:39

    FRATESThere's some horse trading that goes on. That's a different experience and this will be one of the last times they see all the candidates together and that's the enduring image that they're taking.

  • 10:16:50

    LAKSHMANANYeah, it wasn't closing argument.

  • 10:16:50

    MASONAnd that's also the potential, I mean, and I'm going to be the last person to say this is gonna hurt Trump because every time anyone has said it's gonna hurt Trump, it doesn't. But it might, in so far as that last image that those voters have or caucus-goers have going into their heads does not have him on the stage.

  • 10:17:06

    STOLBERGAnd the words of Cruz saying, at least we, meaning the candidates up on the stage, had the respect for Iowa voters to show up here.

  • 10:17:15

    LAKSHMANANTo show up.

  • 10:17:15

    MASONAnd that's something they could remember and that's something that they could punish Trump for when they go into those caucus debates.

  • 10:17:21

    LAKSHMANANWell, you guys make a really important reminder point to listeners about how the caucus process is different from a primary. You don't just go into a booth and pull a lever. You actually have to go into a room and negotiate with your neighbors and sometimes in a small precinct, one family could swing the vote. We actually did an entire hour yesterday on voter turnout in the early states and why it matters so listeners can go to our webpage at, if they want to hear about that.

  • 10:17:49

    LAKSHMANANI want to just read an email from Peggy who says "the best thing I've read about the debate is by Glenn Thrush in 'Politico.' It was the worst possible time, on the eve of the deadlocked Iowa caucuses for Cruz to stumble and Trump dug that pothole." She says "that sums up the entire debate for me." So we're gonna take a short break now. I look forward to hearing other questions and comments from you. Stay with us.

  • 10:20:01

    LAKSHMANANWelcome back. I'm Indira Lakshmanan sitting in for Diane Rehm. This hour, for the Domestic News Roundup, I'm joined by Jeff Mason, White House correspondent for Reuters, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, national correspondent at The New York Times, Chris Frates, an investigative correspondent with CNN. And I want to remind you that you can see all of our guests on our live video stream at

  • 10:20:24

    LAKSHMANANYou can also join us by telephone, 1-800-433-8850, send us an email at or send us a Facebook message or a tweet. So, Jeff, I want to start with you and ask about how, you know, okay, we talked about this final debate in Iowa. And the candidates are making this sprint. We're talking about voting in Iowa on Monday. And then we're going to have New Hampshire just a week past that. Why is voter turnout so important in this race and for whom does it matter most?

  • 10:20:55

    MASONTurnout shows whether or not the polls are right. So if -- you can have great polling numbers, you can have momentum for candidates like Donald Trump, candidates like Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side. But if those voters, or in this case caucus goers, don't show up and raise their hands, then you're not gonna win. And so it is -- you ask which candidates does it matter for the most. It matters the most for those two.

  • 10:21:18

    MASONIt matters the most for Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side because he's had a lot of momentum. He's been rising against Clinton. But if those folks just say hey, I really like this guy, I like his liberal policies, I like his progressive attitude, but don't show up on Monday night then that could be the end of a lot of the momentum that he's had. And the same for Trump.

  • 10:21:38

    LAKSHMANANAnd the polls that we've seen show that actually Hillary Clinton has the advantage over Bernie Sanders among definite caucus goers. And I think the same is true for Cruz's advantage over Trump, in terms of people who say they will definitely be voting. Is that right, Sheryl?

  • 10:21:53

    STOLBERGRight. And so -- and that's one reason why it's so important, especially for Sanders, for voters to come out. Because we are no -- we know that Sanders is really quite far ahead in New Hampshire. He's far ahead of Hillary Clinton. So he needs a good win in Iowa because once this debate or this race swings past New Hampshire and Iowa to South Carolina, that's where Hillary Clinton is gonna be very strong.

  • 10:22:16

    STOLBERGBernie Sanders has a weakness with African American voters. And if Hillary Clinton does lose both Iowa and New Hampshire, she's gonna come back very strong in the South there. So I think, you know, Bernie's gonna need to really turn people out and try to pull an Obama of 2008 in Iowa.

  • 10:22:36

    FRATESAnd it's interesting because he was asked this question just this week. Do you think you can do what Barack Obama did in 2008? And he said, I don't think so. He kind of copped to it. I mean, President Obama put together what was a pretty unprecedented coalition of young voters, non-traditional voters, first-time voters. And he really fired them up and then had an operation to get them to the polls. And they started that operation very, very early in the campaign.

  • 10:23:01

    FRATESAnd what Bernie Sanders didn't do was put that kind of get-out-the-vote operation on the ground. These are staffers. These are people who get caucus goers into vans and busses and take them to the caucusing locations. And he has built that, but he was at a disadvantage always to Hillary Clinton, who started on the ground immediately with that. 'Cause remember, and Sanders, you know, will tell you this over and over again, you know, he started at the polls in Iowa at 3 percent.

  • 10:23:28

    FRATESI mean, he, you know, he kind of built a movement around his candidacy in the same way that Obama did, but was a little later to the game on the organization. And we saw the same thing for Trump. Ted Cruz has a whole dormitory in Iowa of people who have come in from Texas and other places across the country to help get those voters to the caucuses in Iowa. Donald Trump, while he got started in the fall building that. There's a big question about whether they can bring those voters out.

  • 10:23:59

    MASONWorth noting as well that Hillary Clinton inherited or hired a lot of people from the former Obama campaign.

  • 10:24:05

    LAKSHMANANAnd so they have a lot of experience with getting out the vote, getting people to polls.

  • 10:24:07

    MASONOn that ground game, exactly.

  • 10:24:09

    LAKSHMANANThat's right. Getting the ground game. But, of course, on the Republican side right now, I think a lot of these candidates, particularly the ones who aren't in first and second place in Iowa, meaning anyone whose name is not Trump or Cruz, is looking beyond Iowa.

  • 10:24:20

    MASONFor sure.

  • 10:24:21

    LAKSHMANANAnd they're trying to look for strong finishes in New Hampshire and beyond.

  • 10:24:24

    MASONYeah, you've got, particularly, people like Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, if he can make it, wanting to have a strong finish in New Hampshire. Some people saying, you know, if they don't finish strongly both in Iowa and New Hampshire that will -- they'll start seeing people drop out of the race. And, you know, Jeb Bush, who has so much money, despite the fact that he's spent quite a bit of it, probably has the cash to stay in. But that -- those types of questions will start being asked after these races. And that will be hurtful to the ones who are not polling well.

  • 10:24:55

    STOLBERGYeah, this is where the (unintelligible) is gonna come. First of all, John Kasich, for instance, the Ohio governor, has really poured everything he has into New Hampshire. So that primary is do or die for him. Rand Paul is running for Senate back home in Kentucky. And he's just gotten a competitor in the race.

  • 10:25:15

    STOLBERGLexington Mayor Jim Gray has just jumped in the race. Rand Paul has engineered a March 5th Kentucky caucus, a Republican caucus in Kentucky for president, so that he could run for both president and the Senate at the same time. He's gonna have to, you know, turn his attention, you know…

  • 10:25:34

    LAKSHMANANA lot of competing demands.

  • 10:25:35


  • 10:25:36

    LAKSHMANANAll right. Chris, I want to talk about President Obama's role in this race and where he is putting his weight. There was an interview he did this week with Politico's Glenn Thrush, who was mentioned earlier. He said that Hillary Clinton was battle-tested and ready to go essentially, ready to start on day one because of her experience under him. Something that he could not say of Bernie Sanders. Is the President finally embracing Hillary Clinton full on? Was this a sort of unspoken endorsement?

  • 10:26:04

    FRATESI think that this is a fascinating question because both the President and some of the people around will say that that was not an endorsement. But so many of the loyalists around Obama will tell you on background that of course he sees Hillary Clinton as his natural successor. It was his secretary of state, they grew a strong a relationship, and you see that on the trail with Hillary Clinton. I mean, she is all but hugging the President.

  • 10:26:33

    FRATESAnd you might ask why would she do that when this President has such unfavorable ratings across the country. More people dislike where -- what's he doing than like it. But within the Democratic base, Obama is still very, very popular. So that was a big deal that he said the she was battle-tested, ready to go, and said that he didn't see a lot of similarities between his 2008 movement and Bernie Sanders. He said they were different.

  • 10:26:58

    FRATESAnd now, of course, Sanders met with the President earlier this week, went to the White House. And came out and said I don't think the President put his finger on a scale. I think he's been very even-handed. And I don't get that sense at all. But it was also interesting to watch the optics of that. Bernie Sanders outside the White House at the mics doing a press availability to talk about his meeting with President Obama, to signal to all those primary voters, hey, I'm cool with the President, too. He's seeing me, I'm getting face time, it's not just Hillary who is buddy-buddy. I'm cool, too.

  • 10:27:32

    FRATESWhat you didn't see was Hillary Clinton come to any microphones on December 7th when she had lunch with the President, because she doesn't have to.

  • 10:27:38

    LAKSHMANANShe doesn't need to.

  • 10:27:39

    STOLBERGShe doesn't need to do that.

  • 10:27:39

    LAKSHMANANShe doesn't need to. She gets plenty of face time with the President and they have these regular lunches. And so that was not her only lunch with the President or her only chance to get him on the phone. And, as you say, interesting that Bernie Sanders made a point of saying the President has not endorsed anyone and I commend the President for having, you know, maintained neutrality.

  • 10:27:57

    MASONAlso interesting from the White House perspective. The White House, when Hillary Clinton came over for lunch, did not announce it until afterwards. This one they announced in advance that it was happening. So…

  • 10:28:09

    FRATESAnd made a point to say that it was scheduled before Thrush's…

  • 10:28:13

    MASONThey did.

  • 10:28:13

    FRATES…article came out in Politico that really kind of got this conversation going all week long.

  • 10:28:17

    MASONBut still a little sensitive to the idea that the President might be putting his thumb on the scale.

  • 10:28:20

    STOLBERGBut look, let's not forget that a sitting president is never gonna pick sides in advance of a Party having a nominee. But the President has been sending signals. A couple of weeks ago he said he wouldn't support any candidate who didn't agree with him on gun control. Big issue.

  • 10:28:36

    LAKSHMANANWell, certainly President Clinton chose Gore outright.

  • 10:28:40

    STOLBERGWell, that's true. His vice president.

  • 10:28:41


  • 10:28:41

    STOLBERGBut in this case, this didn't seem like…

  • 10:28:47

    FRATESAnd the Hillary people jumped on that.

  • 10:28:47

    MASONHe clearly likes Hillary Clinton.

  • 10:28:48

    STOLBERGRight, the gun control.

  • 10:28:48

    FRATESTo suggest, look, we have the President's backing. We're…

  • 10:28:52


  • 10:28:52

    FRATES…with the President. And ran an issue ad saying we're with the President, and forcing Sanders to reconsider his position.

  • 10:29:00

    STOLBERGAnd now he's cosponsoring the bill that the -- that would reverse the bill that he previously voted for.

  • 10:29:05

    MASONThe most important thing to President Obama in this election is that somebody wins who can keep his legacy. And he believes that to be Hillary Clinton. He's not going to say that ahead of -- before the primary's over. Surely if Bernie Sanders were to win he will support him. But the White -- he and his advisors believe Hillary Clinton is the most likely person to keep his legacy going.

  • 10:29:25

    LAKSHMANANJeff, give us a very quick review of the clashing that we saw between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in this town hall earlier this week. We've seen more and more of them clashing, rather than being kind of palsy, as they were on the debate stages earlier on, as their poll numbers have gotten so much closer.

  • 10:29:41

    MASONRight. And that's the reason, because their poll numbers have gotten so much closer. Both sides are or both candidates are more willing to go on the attack against the other one. You had Sanders saying he liked Hillary Clinton, but experience isn't everything and saying that this is somebody who will be your friend only when it matters. And he listed things like Wall Street reform. He listed things like on guns, on the Keystone Pipeline, on free trade.

  • 10:30:06

    MASONHe also really highlighted her vote for the Iraq War, which is still a sensitive topic among the liberal base. And that's something that he's sort of using to really go against her on a weakness there. Hillary Clinton, on the other side, really is talking a lot about her experience and saying, you know, Sanders' ideas were fantastic or his ads -- one of the ads that they showed was fantastic, but she was the one who could actually lead and was prepared to lead.

  • 10:30:36

    LAKSHMANANSheryl, quickly, The New York Times, your paper, reported of a possible presidential run by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg. If it's true, what are the implications?

  • 10:30:46

    STOLBERGWell, I think it's very interesting if it's true. I think Michael Bloomberg is figuring that in perhaps a Trump/Sanders or even a Trump/Clinton year, you know, he can sort of appeal to the middle. I think it's -- I think if it were Trump/Clinton or any Republican and Clinton, I think Bloomberg pulls away from Clinton. He goes for people who are experiencing Clinton fatigue. He is someone who has been very strong on gun control.

  • 10:31:13

    STOLBERGHe's an Independent now, was a Republican. Very strong on gun control, very strong on immigration reform. So he touches those kind of liberal touchstones. But he also is a businessman, an experienced businessman. So if on the Republican side you have a Trump nominee, he's got the business base. He certainly no Democratic…

  • 10:31:32

    FRATESIn case you need another billionaire.

  • 10:31:33

    STOLBERGRight. In case you need another billionaire. Not -- and speaking of billionaire, he said he's willing to put a billion dollars of his own money into financing his own campaign. So this is not, you know, this is a serious politician with money behind him.

  • 10:31:46

    LAKSHMANANSo at the end of the day, is it worse for the Democrats or worse for the Republicans if Michael Bloomberg enters the race?

  • 10:31:53

    FRATESI think it's…

  • 10:31:53

    STOLBERGWhat do you think, Chris? I think…

  • 10:31:55

    FRATESI mean I think it's probably worse for the Republicans. I think it siphons…

  • 10:31:58


  • 10:31:58

    FRATES…off, you know, some of that Trump vote. Particularly if it's billionaire versus billionaire, you know, smack down.

  • 10:32:01

    STOLBERGI think it depends on who the Republican is, though.

  • 10:32:04

    FRATESRight. If it's Trump.

  • 10:32:05

    STOLBERGIf it's Trump.

  • 10:32:05

    FRATESI mean, if it's Trump I think it would hurt Trump, in the same way that Republicans were so worried that Trump would strike out as an Independent candidate if he did not win that nomination. So I think that is the worry.

  • 10:32:16

    LAKSHMANANI'm Indira Lakshmanan and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." If you'd like to join us you can call us at 1-800-433-8850 or send us an email to or join us on Facebook or Twitter. You can also watch the live video stream of our conversation right now on So I want to move on to the question about Obama attending this Democratic Congressional retreat in Baltimore yesterday. What was his message, Jeff?

  • 10:32:46

    MASONHis message was kind of a rallying cry for Democrats. He did what has been sort of a continuous thing for him in recent months, a bit of a victory lap, talking about how the economy is much better, unemployment at 5 percent, the health care law that he -- this is his signature achievement on the domestic policy stage. And saying that no -- that Democrats are gonna win in November. So really sort of giving a pep talk to the Dems and giving, you know, pouring cold water on Republicans for their criticism about his policies on Islamic state and other foreign policy promises that he thinks are unrealistic.

  • 10:33:23

    STOLBERGI think we ought to look at the numbers, though. Democrats have had a tough ride under the Obama presidency. When President Obama addressed Democrats at this similar retreat in 2009, there were 259 of them in House. Today there are 188. All across the country -- it's not just Congress. Democrats now occupy 10 fewer governorships than they did when he took office. The GOP, the Republicans have 32 of the nation's governorships.

  • 10:33:53

    STOLBERGDemocratic losses in state legislatures during Mr. Obama's tenure have been practically unprecedented. The worst, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures, in 115 years. So, you know, I think this is, Democrats, frankly, have reason to feel dispirited.

  • 10:34:12

    LAKSHMANANAnd also the Democrat-in-chief himself is gonna have a hard time getting, you know, it's final year in the White House, he wants certain legislation through. Can he even accomplish that? Can Congress get that done in an election year?

  • 10:34:24

    FRATESNo. And they're not going to. And so that's why it was more pep rally than, hey, team, let's go do it. And remember, Democrats have never been really hot on President Obama. He has always held that branch of government at arm's length. And that has always bothered Democrats. I've talked…

  • 10:34:42

    LAKSHMANANYou mean Congressional Democrats?

  • 10:34:44

    STOLBERGCongressional Democrats, yeah.

  • 10:34:45

    FRATESYeah, Congressional Democrats in particular. I've talked to, you know, members, senators, members, chiefs of staff who say, you know, the President doesn't regularly reach out. You know, Democratic senators who haven't heard from the President in two years. I mean, those are the kinds of things that they saw him in the Senate for a couple years, then he left, and he never was a consensus builder.

  • 10:35:03

    STOLBERGThat's why Joe Biden has been so important a vice -- one reason Joe Biden has been a very important vice president for President Obama because Joe Biden had, you know, three decades worth of experience in the Hill, very deep relationships on both sides of the aisle. And so we've seen, whenever President Obama has needed something done on the Hill, because his own relationships are thin up there, he would send Biden.

  • 10:35:24

    LAKSHMANANJoe Biden kept the lines open to the Senate and the House.

  • 10:35:26

    STOLBERGYeah, he really did.

  • 10:35:26

    FRATESRight. And to McConnell.

  • 10:35:27

    MASONSpeaking of Joe Biden, he made kind of a cool quote last night by saying that the Republican race was a gift from the Lord for Democrats and in 2016 and the possibility of regaining control of the Senate and the House.

  • 10:35:40

    FRATESBut to Sheryl's point earlier, I think Democrats have a very thin bench. After Hillary Clinton, I mean, just look at this presidential. You didn't have anybody except Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley get in. There weren't other folks, like Amy Klobuchar, you know, a senator from Minnesota, other kinds of people even testing the waters here. And when you look at the bench all the way down to the state legislature, Democrats control, you know, fewer than they have since the Civil War. That's a problem…

  • 10:36:05

    STOLBERGRight. And that's a problem going forward.

  • 10:36:06

    FRATES…going forward, I think. And that's part of Obama's legacy, is that he did not build a bench. And that everybody looked upwards and said, it's great, we have President Obama. Okay, we lost the House, but we're still controlling things nationally. Across the country, Democrats have a lot of rebuilding to do. And that's gonna be a big job for the next president, if they're a Democrat.

  • 10:36:27

    LAKSHMANANOf course, what the President has managed to you (sic), is use his last year or so in office with a lot of executive orders, trying to take executive action if Congress couldn't. And one of the things he did this week had to do with juvenile justice, his efforts to reform juvenile justice, the criminal justice system in general. In the minute we have before we go to our break, Jeff, just quickly remind us what happened this week.

  • 10:36:47


  • 10:36:47

    LAKSHMANANWith the President and the Supreme Court, in fact.

  • 10:36:49

    MASONWell, both the President and the Supreme Court took different actions to help juveniles who are sentenced to life. In the case of the Supreme Court, the Court ruled that people who are convicted of murder and sentenced to or sentenced to life imprisonment, but who are under 18 when that happened…

  • 10:37:04

    LAKSHMANANWithout parole, life without parole.

  • 10:37:05

    MASONWithout parole, exactly -- would have an opportunity or should have an opportunity to receive parole. And on the other side of Washington, at the White House, President Obama issued an executive order banning the use of solitary confinement for juveniles. So two actions that could really help convicted criminals who -- but who are convicted at a young age in their time in prison.

  • 10:37:29

    LAKSHMANANA couple thousand inmates who will be affected by the Supreme Court decision. And, of course, we, you know, it'll affect federal prisons in terms of the juveniles with Obama's decision on solitary confinement. We're gonna take a short break. We'll be right back. And when we come back, we'll go to your calls and your questions. Stay with us.

  • 10:40:00

    LAKSHMANANWelcome back. I'm Indira Lakshmanan, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Joining me this hour to talk about the top headlines in domestic news this week, Jeff Mason, White House Correspondent for Reuters, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, National Correspondent at the New York Times, and Chris Frates, Investigative Correspondent with CNN. You can see all three of them on our live video stream at You can call us at 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email, a tweet or a message on Facebook.

  • 10:40:28

    LAKSHMANANBefore the break, we were talking about an executive action by the President to ban, you know, solitary confinement for juveniles. There's another executive action that it seems he's going to be taking today, Sheryl, that your newspaper has written about, and that is to try to mend this persistent wage gap between men and women, which is currently 77 cents that the average woman earns in America for doing the same work as a man. Which I was struck, has only gone up by half a cent a year over the last half century.

  • 10:41:02


  • 10:41:02

    LAKSHMANANWhat is the President going to do about it?

  • 10:41:03

    STOLBERGWell so, this is actually coming out of the Department of Labor, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and it's going to be a new rule requiring companies that have 100 employees or more to report to the federal government what they pay by race, gender and ethnicity. So, in essence, it is an executive action by the administration requiring companies to give over that information so that this can be tracked. And what strikes me is that this really harks back to President Obama's very first days in office.

  • 10:41:31

    STOLBERGThe first bill he signed as President was the Lilly Ledbetter Act, requiring equal pay for equal work, growing out of a lawsuit filed by a woman of the same name, Lilly Ledbetter. And it's -- I think it's a theme that we're seeing, actually throughout the Obama administration, especially at the end of the President's presidency to push for equality, not only for women, but also, as Jeff talked about, on the criminal justice system, for African-Americans.

  • 10:41:58

    LAKSHMANANAnd then...

  • 10:41:59

    STOLBERGAnd again, and it will probably provoke a backlash, because Republicans, as we've said, are up in arms over the way this administration has used its executive authority.

  • 10:42:08

    LAKSHMANANWell, the idea is that the President is going to force companies with 100 employees or more to list their salary information on a form that specifies the sex, the age, the race and the job groups of its employees. I want to ask you, Chris, about another major thing going on this week, which is this Oregon standoff, that at first looked like it was going to be coming to a close between the FBI and protestors, and then what happened?

  • 10:42:36

    FRATESWell, and then we saw 11 militants, all together, of the folks who were holding that Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. They were arrested, one was killed in a standoff with the FBI and the police and we think there's still a small group, three or four who are still remaining there. They say that they want to leave, but they don't want to be arrested. You know, negotiators with the government saying, well, you know, we can't guarantee that if there were laws that have been broken. And Ammon Bundy, the kind of leader of this group, he has been arrested and called on this group to leave peacefully.

  • 10:43:14

    FRATESAnd if you remember, he took up this cause -- there was a land dispute with him and his father a few years ago over cattle rights. So, he was, kind of, he's kind of taken up this mantle of, you know, the federal government controlling federal lands and that this idea that it should be given back to the people. The people in the wildlife refuge were holding onto it, saying that it should go from the federal government to the local government and it should not be the federal land. Now the case of the matter is, it is federal land and they were trespassing on federal land and now we are seeing that play out in the courts.

  • 10:43:48

    FRATESBundy now taking a different tact, saying, look, end the siege of the refuge. We're going to take this to the courts and we will find out through discovery what the federal government knows, and that's another way to go. So we're seeing, kind of, you know, one person was killed but by and large, a peaceful end to what was a fairly long siege.

  • 10:44:07

    LAKSHMANANAlthough there are a couple of guys still holed up and negotiators have been going back and forth, trying to get them out. Also employing a woman who is just sort of a member of the public who supports the protestors, going in and out. Jeff, tell us about the video that the FBI has now released, showing the shooting of the one protestor who did die.

  • 10:44:25

    MASONRight. I think they're trying to show, with that video, that they did not act in a way that was irresponsible, that they tried very much to get him to surrender and the fact that he didn't surrender. And then, apparently, reached for his pocket is the reason that he was shot. And that's -- their, the reasoning for releasing that video is to show that, look, we wanted this to end peacefully too, and it couldn't or it didn't for this reason.

  • 10:44:48

    STOLBERGYeah, the FBI said yesterday that he had a 9mm gun in his pocket, that he was reaching for, and you know, this is a very tense situation.

  • 10:44:56

    LAKSHMANANAnd the video shows him reaching into his jacket.

  • 10:44:58

    STOLBERGYes, and the video shows him reaching. And let's not forget the history here of other sieges like Waco and Ruby Ridge. The government really wanted to avoid, you know, a lot of death and mayhem, but this has gone on for a long time. Oregon's Governor has pleaded with the federal government for some kind of resolution. Indian tribes in the area, also, an Indian tribe in Oregon views this land as sacred land and was growing increasingly disturbed that ancient remains and artifacts could be dug up, so there was also a feeling in a community out there that this needed to come to some kind of an end.

  • 10:45:35

    MASONAnd there was some criticism that the federal government did leave it go on too long.

  • 10:45:38

    STOLBERGRight. Too long.

  • 10:45:39

    FRATESAnd that, and while trying to make sure that they're negotiating something peaceful and there wouldn't be any kind of massacre at the end of it, the townspeople closest to that refuge were alarmed that armed men were coming in and out, that they were holding, you know, these kind of town meetings while they were armed at local high schools. So there was a lot of concern about how this was handled and if it was handled as quickly as maybe it should have been.

  • 10:46:01

    LAKSHMANANAnd Sheryl mentioned Waco and Ruby Ridge. And for listeners who may not remember those, the similarity, of course, is that those were protestors who were also deeply anti-government, suspicious of the federal government, and holed themselves up and ended up with really disastrous, tragic ends. Jeff, Bring us up to date on the latest in the Flint, Michigan water saga.

  • 10:46:21

    MASONSo, a really sad story and the latest in that saga is that attorneys who are filing a class action suit are -- have subpoenaed emails from Governor Rick Snyder and other state agencies, dating back to 2011, about the Flint water crisis. The state has until February 9th to respond or to file a motion to prevent the release of those emails. The Governor has already released some emails from 2014 and 2015, but they were heavily redacted. And so, critics are saying that that's not enough. He also signed an order, an executive order creating a committee to work on the long term solutions to the water crisis.

  • 10:47:02

    MASONBut he's under a lot of political fire right now, and the question will be whether that's enough.

  • 10:47:08

    STOLBERGYeah, I think this is, this is really a, frankly an abject failure of government, right, to provide basic services to its citizens. Back in 2014, the city of Flint switched from Lake Huron water, which supplied Detroit, to Flint River water. Residents immediately began noticing that the water was brown. The local GM plant refused to use it. Said that it corroded its car parts. And officials kept saying, oh, it's fine. There's nothing wrong. There's nothing wrong. And then slowly, this has come out that there was lead in the water, unsafe levels of lead. This is, this is truly a horrifying...

  • 10:47:43

    LAKSHMANANAnd children have been tested with lead in their system.

  • 10:47:45

    STOLBERG...situation. And children, and children have been tested and Michigan's Governor said this week that we don't know how many more children are affected.

  • 10:47:52

    LAKSHMANANAll right. Let's go to the calls now. I want to bring in Samuel in Fort Washington, Maryland. Samuel, you're on the air.

  • 10:47:59

    SAMUELHi, how are you doing? Good morning.

  • 10:48:00

    LAKSHMANANGood. How are you?

  • 10:48:03

    SAMUELI'm fine. I'm an African-American and me and my friends have just been having fun with the Bundy situation where people just hold up guns against the, you know, the federal government and I was just thinking if a couple of African-Americans had done this, I wonder how it would have turned out to be. And it seemed like they just were doing whatever they wanted to do. They threatened -- they make a lot of threats with their guns and I feel like nothing was done. And me being black, I'm thinking in my head, I wonder if we do something like that. What the police department would have done to us. I'm just...

  • 10:48:31

    LAKSHMANANOkay. That's a good question from Samuel who wants to know about the Oregon, the protestors in Oregon who are holed up there. And had they been black, and not sort of white government -- anti-government separatists, what would have happened to them?

  • 10:48:44

    FRATESI mean, that's a fantastic question and one that has been raised and a lot of black activists, folks in the Black Lives Matter have used that as an example and said, if those were, you know, black men or black teenagers with guns, this could have turned out very differently. And they point to things like Baltimore and Ferguson and the way that the police have acted and they see a double standard. And that is part of, and will play into that whole discussion that we're still having as a nation about the role of the police and the role of race in enforcing our laws.

  • 10:49:17

    FRATESAnd the disparity between how different groups are treated. This is -- the caller's exactly right. This is an example of the differences in how people are treated and it will, I think, continue to be part of the political discussion.

  • 10:49:30

    STOLBERGAbsolutely. I think Chris put it perfectly. This is a very, very relevant question in a time when we are all focused on very complicated issues of race and policing. Not only how black...

  • 10:49:41

    LAKSHMANANNot to mention religion (unintelligible) Muslim.

  • 10:49:42

    STOLBERGI was going to say not only how would black people have been treated, had they been holed up there with guns, but how would Muslims have been treated?

  • 10:49:49

    LAKSHMANANAll right, let's take another call from Anthony in York, Pennsylvania. Anthony, you're on the line.

  • 10:49:54

    ANTHONYYes, I want to say, (unintelligible) but I'll just say quickly, I don't like the way the press, and I'm a longtime listener for 25 years to Diane Rehm in several states I've lived in. I lived in the D.C. area for 20 years.

  • 10:50:03

    LAKSHMANANOh, great.

  • 10:50:05

    ANTHONY(unintelligible) But I don't like the way -- most of the press is handling Donald Trump and some of the foolish and irresponsible things he may say. Not just about international, about national. I think you ought to question him more and have him to explain himself, but I think you're all giving him a pass. I would say more than 90 percent of the time with a few exceptions.

  • 10:50:21

    LAKSHMANANAll right.

  • 10:50:22

    ANTHONYRonald Reagan was saying the same thing back in the late 70s. I'm in my 60s and I remember that and he said a lot of foolish things. Eventually he came along and stopped saying some of them. (unintelligible) But this is a different generation of press people.

  • 10:50:32

    LAKSHMANANAll right, well, Anthony, thank you very much. So, he has a criticism for us in the media. He says that, you know, Donald Trump is saying a lot of crazy things and getting away with them, because the press is afraid to challenge him. Is that true?

  • 10:50:42

    FRATESI don't think the press is afraid to challenge him. I think we have challenged him, and it seems as if, you know, all the fact checks that we do do after these debates or about his policies, they don't seem to break through. It does not seem to move any needles. The people have not fallen off their support for Donald Trump, because the fact checkers have pointed out that some of what he's saying can't be done or wouldn't be done or is impractical. However, I do agree with the caller that, you know, the way we do cover Trump does tend to be more as an entertainment.

  • 10:51:12

    FRATESAnd less as -- any rally he has, we carry it as news, and I think, you know, the saturation coverage is something that the caller, you know, rightly points out, you know, kind of fuels what we're seeing in the Trump rise.

  • 10:51:27

    MASONAnd it's fair to note that Donald Trump has been very successful at manipulating his coverage. I mean, we saw that just this week with his choice not to go to the Republican debate and he got a lot of attention from that. For that, from the media. There's legitimate criticism out there...

  • 10:51:42

    STOLBERGAnd a lot of cameras though, turned out to cover him last night when he chose not to answer questions from the press. So, the media does play a role as well.

  • 10:51:48

    LAKSHMANANAll right, I'm Indira Lakshmanan and you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. All right, well let's take another call. This one is from Rich in Hudson, Ohio. Rich, go ahead.

  • 10:52:01

    RICHHi folks. First of all, I enjoy the Friday panel. It's…

  • 10:52:04

    LAKSHMANANThank you.

  • 10:52:05

    RICH...the best hour of my week.

  • 10:52:07

    LAKSHMANANThat is so touching. Thank you.

  • 10:52:09

    RICHAnyway, the panel made a comment about how the Democrats have lost a lot of Congressional seats during Obama's tenure, but I would contend that much of that is because of Republican efforts to gerrymander over the last 20 years. So my question is, why haven't the Democrats pushed more for the legislation that would require fairer redistricting processes?

  • 10:52:30

    LAKSHMANANAll right. Thank you very much, Rich.

  • 10:52:32

    FRATESWell, I think Rich raises a good question and part of that is, they have, you know, raised that and that has been an effort by Democrats across the country, but the fact of the matter is that they don't control the Governorships. They don't control the state legislatures and that -- and the Republicans do and Rich is right. They have gerrymandered some of those districts to make sure that they are safe Republican districts and safe Democratic districts. And we've seen less and less swing districts and there has been a move afoot to, you know, redistrict, you know, much of the country in a way that is more competitive.

  • 10:53:02

    FRATESHowever, whatever party has control of the Governorships and legislature, they're going to use that power to try to make their members of Congress as safe as possible. And in this case, it's been Republicans and they've been very successful at it.

  • 10:53:13

    STOLBERGWe also are seeing a proactive push by Governor Terry McAuliffe in Virginia to look ahead to the 2020 census to try to redistrict and reshape in a fairer way. But it's a long way off.

  • 10:53:26

    LAKSHMANANAll right, we're getting emails from listeners who want to point out a fact that came out today. I mean, came out this week, which was that emails that were newly released from Michigan show that Michigan State government employees were getting clean water while they were denying that there was anything wrong with the Flint water.

  • 10:53:44

    MASONYeah, I haven't seen those emails myself, but I think that that will all be part of these, this case that we were talking about earlier in terms of a potential class action suit and trying to get emails from the Governor. And other state agencies.

  • 10:53:58

    FRATESAnd one of the emails that did come out that I think was pretty damning for Governor Snyder was his then Chief of Staff who wrote, back in July of 2015 to the Health Department, warning of lead in the water in Flint. And of course, the Governor didn’t take any action until that started to happen in October. So, there was a lag there that also needs to be explained. And so that is part of what we'll start to see as these emails come out.

  • 10:54:23

    LAKSHMANANYeah, at least six months...

  • 10:54:24

    FRATESWho knew what when?

  • 10:54:25

    LAKSHMANANAt least six months when state employees were being given bottled water and the public was reassured that nothing was wrong.

  • 10:54:30

    STOLBERGYeah, this is a classic what did they know and when did they know it?

  • 10:54:32

    LAKSHMANANWhen did they know it? Exactly. All right, well, in the moments that we have left, I want to point out that yesterday marked the 30th anniversary of the Challenger explosion. There were a number of commemorations yesterday. Many of us who were alive 30 years ago remember it. I remember being a student and seeing it and the shock and horror of it. Jeff.

  • 10:54:51

    MASONI do too. I was in elementary school. And there was an elementary school teacher, Christa McAuliffe, who was on that shuttle and so all of the school kids, not to mention the rest of the country, were really excited about that particular launch. And just so devastated by its explosion. For, certainly for me and for others in my generation and others, it was like a John F. Kennedy assassination.

  • 10:55:13

    FRATESYeah, it was the first, it's the first news event that I remember, as, you know, living through as a child.

  • 10:55:16


  • 10:55:16

    MASONYou remember where you were. Exactly.

  • 10:55:18

    FRATESYou remember where you were.

  • 10:55:18

    STOLBERGThat's right.

  • 10:55:18

    FRATESAnd what you saw and the fact that...

  • 10:55:20

    LAKSHMANANAnd the whole country was glued to the television set.

  • 10:55:22

    FRATES...we were all watching and there were televisions in almost every classroom because it was, hey, a teacher's going to space. Isn't this neat? And I remember, when it blew up, thinking, wait, what just happened? And the adults, (makes noise) and wondering, what just happened? And having to process that.

  • 10:55:35


  • 10:55:35

    FRATESReally was a tragic moment for everybody.

  • 10:55:38

    STOLBERGThe name Christa McAuliffe will stick with me forever as will a description I read in a newspaper of the explosion someone wrote. Its cruel beauty, the picture of the Challenger exploding and white plume across the sky was described as cruel beauty and I've never forgotten those words.

  • 10:55:56

    LAKSHMANANWhat about the legacy for NASA and for science education?

  • 10:56:00

    FRATESI think that's a wonderful question. And part of what's been interesting about the Obama administration is that, you know, they have reshaped how NASA works. They scrapped the shuttle program and then have tried to make it more of a private/public partnership and, you know, expand the competition. Which was an interesting thing for a Democratic President to do and I think NASA is in a place right now where its role really is unclear and they're trying to chart a new path into the 21st century. We're talking about Mars, we're talking about, you know, some of these big goals.

  • 10:56:29

    FRATESBut there doesn't seem to be a national movement behind a Mars shot in the same way that there was for a moon shot.

  • 10:56:35

    STOLBERGBut NASA had a good year this year with the new Horizons flyby of Pluto and sending back those pictures. I actually have a neighbor who was the Chief Engineer on that project.

  • 10:56:46


  • 10:56:46

    STOLBERGAnd I was at the Jet Propulsion, or the JPL labs the night that those photographs came back and it was quite something to see. And sort of a reminder that we can reach beyond in the way that President Kennedy envisioned so many years ago when he talked about space exploration.

  • 10:57:07

    FRATESI would also add that you'll probably hear a lot more about this from the candidates, because Florida is a swing state and it will be at the top of the agenda at some point this year.

  • 10:57:16

    LAKSHMANANWell, one important thing is, of course, that scientists made something like 100 changes since then to the shuttle to make it safer and more reliable and I'm struck by how the whole Challenger disaster and then the Challenger Center has helped foster STEM education. Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, so that has been a big legacy of it. All right, thank you so much for joining us. Jeff Mason, White House Correspondent for Reuters, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, National Correspondent at the New York Times, Chris Frates, Investigative Correspondent with CNN.

  • 10:57:44

    LAKSHMANANThank you to all you listeners for spending this hour with us. I'm Indira Lakshmanan and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show."

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