America’s Collision Course With The Debt Ceiling
As the nation counts down to default, Diane talks to longtime Congress watcher Norm Ornstein about the debt limit negotiations, what's at stake and whether he sees a way forward.
The Democratic presidential candidates hold their last debate before next week’s New Hampshire primary. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton clashed over their progressive bonafides, campaign finance, and foreign policy. The U.S. unemployment rate ticks down to 4.9 percent — the first time it’s been below five percent eight years. President Obama promotes religious tolerance in his appearance at a mosque and at the National Prayer Breakfast. A bi-partisan energy bill in the U.S. Senate is held up by Democrats who want funding to address the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. And Florida declares a state of emergency in counties with the Zika virus. A panel of journalists joins guest host Tom Gjelten for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
MR. TOM GJELTENThanks for joining us. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR sitting for Diane Rehm, who's on a book tour. She'll be back next week. As the New Hampshire primary looms, Republicans brawl over the tactics that we used in the Iowa caucuses. The FBI joins the Flint drinking water investigation. And some good news on wage growth in January's job report.
MR. TOM GJELTENJoining me for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup, Jeanne Cummings of The Wall Street Journal, Olivier Knox of Yahoo News, and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report. And a good day to each of you.
MS. AMY WALTERGood morning.
MR. OLIVIER KNOXGood morning.
MS. JEANNE CUMMINGSGood morning.
GJELTENAnd we'd like you to join us as we go over this week's news. Call us at 1-800-433-8850. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can go to our website. You can find us on Facebook. You can send us a tweet. And one more thing. Remember, you can watch us because we're live-streaming this hour. It's on our website, drshow.org. Jeanne, back to back encounters between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton this week as sharp as any that we have seen so far, I think it's fair to say.
CUMMINGSAbsolutely. They went right at it. Martin O'Malley not in the middle to get either...
CUMMINGS...you know, to create a buffer, that's right. And so they just went straight at each other. It also reflects the Iowa results that were so close so Bernie Sanders really wants to win New Hampshire. Hillary Clinton wants to close the gap so she can continue some sort of sense of momentum. So they both have big stakes in New Hampshire. And they also, Bernie Sanders in particular, needs to truly define who he is.
CUMMINGSHe's got a lot of energy around him. That's great, but he has to persuade people that he's electable and that is a high bar. And so he had a separate mission in and of itself when he was in those meetings. The two events were so oddly different, though. The CNN forum was intimate and personal and, you know, questions about what kind of car do you drive and that sort of thing.
GJELTENYeah, that was the town hall on Wednesday night.
CUMMINGSYeah, that was the town hall. So we really saw two different sides of both of them.
GJELTENAmy, your takeaway? You know, I was caught by this whole battle, especially in the early stages of last night's debate over labels, you know. Who gets to call each other a progressive?
WALTERRight. I think Jeanne makes a great point, which is, you know, what the earlier town hall was supposed to be about was, what do voters in the state care about and it was. It was everything from, you know, what their lives are like, end-of-life care to faith issues. This debate was set up -- Olivier and I were joking about this earlier, but when you saw the intro to the debate last night, it was basically like, we're going to set these two people up to fight and let's see who comes out at the end.
WALTERLike, we have a cage match and somebody's gonna come out alive and maybe somebody not.
GJELTENAnd the moderators didn't intervene. They just let them go at it.
WALTERThey didn't, but they basically -- it's like having two lions in a pen and they threw meat out there and then said, go get it. And, you know, look, Hillary Clinton, it's clear this is a feistier, more aggressive Hillary Clinton than we've seen. This is a Hillary Clinton that feels backed up against the wall for sure, based on the results in Iowa. She's down anywhere from 20 to 30 points right now in New Hampshire. It was also a Hillary Clinton that was clearly looking beyond New Hampshire.
WALTERShe talked a lot about issues like racial injustice, the fact that she's leaving the campaign trail in New Hampshire to go to Flint, Michigan, overwhelming African American city that's obviously been impacted by this water crisis, suggesting that, you know, once we get -- this has been theory all along. Once we get beyond these overwhelmingly white liberal states of New Hampshire and Iowa and into places like South Carolina, into southern states or Midwestern states, I, Hillary Clinton, will do much better and so I'm going to try to focus more attention on those issues, rather than getting caught up in just the New Hampshire/Iowa-centric debate.
GJELTENOlivier, it seemed to me it wasn't just a debate between two candidates, but between two sets of issues. I mean, Hillary Clinton, when she talked about foreign policy, her experience stood out. When Bernie Sanders talked about issues of inequality and the economy and so forth, he used that plain language that clearly appeals to young voters in particular.
KNOXBernie's been talking about income inequality for 40 years. Yes, he's very clearly not only much more comfortable with the economic issues, but he's just better at it. You know, people were remarking on his foreign policy comments last night as being a little bit wobbly, not demonstrating the kind of expertise that she has. But at the same time, you know, it's not just these two sets of issues. It's also two radically different approaches. You have an argument between -- on foreign policy, you have Hillary Clinton expertise and experience and him -- Bernie Sanders arguing judgment.
KNOXYou know, he turns in on the 2002 vote to authorize the war in Iraq. You had that whole fight over, you know, being an idealistic progressive versus someone who can get things done. It was a completely fascinating debate on all those different terrains, I thought.
GJELTENMeanwhile, Jeanne, a lot of sort of after action talk about the Iowa caucuses on both sides. Bernie Sanders saying that he agreed with an editorial in Des Moines Register that maybe those results on the Democratic side were questionable. And, of course, we saw some questioning of the Iowa results on the part of the Republicans as well.
CUMMINGSYes. On the Democratic side, to be honest, I have a -- I don't have much patience for those arguments. I mean, there are also reports that, you know, Hillary's internal people were handering 'cause they wanted a clear victory. That is so much the drama that Obama would not allow his campaign to go through. It's a W, okay? Move on. Ugly, yeah, but Hillary might have to win this ugly if she's gonna get to the nomination because Bernie has the money. He has some momentum and he can last.
CUMMINGSHe can last deep into states. So if they, as much as they denied it, if they thought they were looking at a coronation, they aren't. And so, you know, they just need to grit it out now. The Republican side, now that was -- there were outrageous things that happened on the Republican side.
GJELTENTell us about what Ted Cruz did, for example.
CUMMINGSOh, Cruz himself didn't do it. His people did it.
CUMMINGSBut new reports came out that Ben Carson was going to leave the campaign trail after Iowa, go and...
GJELTENWere there, in fact, news reports to that effect?
CUMMINGSThere were, yeah. CNN reported it and, you know, I mean, I think if a traditional campaign, a Rubio or, you know, one of these experienced guys, they would have, like, glossed over this whole thing. But Ben Carson's not a traditional campaign. He just told it like it is and he didn't just quietly leave the field and let people guess. He said, I'm going home for a little bit. So the word got out about that. But the real crime or the real outrageousness was starting with Steve King, a congressman in Iowa, tweeted before the caucuses began to their supporters, Carson is leaving the race, in effect. Know this before you vote. Vote for Cruz.
CUMMINGSAnd so -- and Mrs. Carson, representing her husband inside of one of the caucuses, was confronted by someone who said, but Carson is dropping out of the race. We've got to -- we're gonna go with Cruz. And she was enormously frustrated 'cause she couldn't convince them that, no, it was just a small delay.
GJELTENAmy, where did this rumor that he was actually gonna drop out, not just leave Iowa, but actually drop out, come from?
WALTERWell, it -- you make the -- it was an assumption being made that if a candidate who needs to win Iowa or do well in Iowa, as Ben Carson does...
GJELTENJumping to conclusions.
WALTER...if you take time off to, what was it, to get fresh clothes, which literally was in the press release...
KNOXYeah, it started out as a CNN report saying that he was gonna -- he was not going directly to New Hampshire. He was going to Florida for some R&R.
WALTERAnd fresh clothes.
KNOXThe fresh clothes thing came after.
WALTERYes. So you make -- the assumption is not unrealistic, right? A candidate does not do particularly well. That candidate says I'm taking time off, which is a nice euphemism for I'm going to drop out, as Rand Paul did pretty quickly afterwards after Iowa, as Rick Santorum did pretty quickly after Iowa, after they both had poor results. But I think this -- what's happening in Iowa, though, once again, reminds us what a ridiculous process Iowa is. This whole caucus system is a big hot mess. It is every four years. I feel I leave that place going, why is it that we do it this way and we give them the first in the nation status? Because there is always a problem, always a problem.
GJELTENMeanwhile, Olivier, bring us up-to-date on what's going on on the Republican side. Debate on Saturday night, which I'm sure everyone will be looking forward to and then the primary.
KNOXOh, I get to be the first one to say the words, Donald Trump, on this program. Excellent, excellent. So I thought, actually, I thought it was real interesting. Donald Trump is, you know, stirring the pot and saying that Ted Cruz stole Iowa and my sense, watching him from a distance, which probably is the best way to look at Donald Trump, is that he's trying to keep his supporters angry rather than dispirited by what happened in Iowa and trying to keep them pumped up because since he doesn't really have a turnout operation, he needs to rely on that kind of angry sentiment.
KNOXYou have Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio who were the other two in this -- I mean, it's not quite a three-person race yet. Coming out of Iowa, it certainly looked like one. Ted Cruz is now with a win under his belt is now happily going after Donald Trump, which he wasn't really doing very much before Iowa. And Marco Rubio is -- I don't know if you want to call it surging, but he certainly seems to be getting a big...
GJELTENWell, one poll shows him in second place in New Hampshire.
WALTERYeah, our poll released today has got him moving...
KNOXHas him in second place in New Hampshire or generally?
KNOXOkay. So he is doing better in the polls and he seems to be going after the establishment vote in New Hampshire and beyond, which is why people like Chris Christie and Jeb Bush are going after him hard.
GJELTENOlivier Knox, he is the chief Washington correspondent for Yahoo News. My other panelists are Amy Walter, national editor with Cook Political Report and Jeanne Cummings from The Wall Street Journal. We're gonna take a break. When we come back, we're going to turn our attention to some other topics. We'll get back to political news later in the hour. Also, remember you can watch us on live video at drshow.org. We'll be right back.
GJELTENWelcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten from NPR. I'm sitting in for Diane Rehm today. This is the first hour of our Friday News Roundup. This is the hour where we discuss domestic news. And I have an all-star cast with me here in the studio: Jeanne Cummings, political and White House editor at The Wall Street Journal. Olivier Knox, chief Washington correspondent for Yahoo! News. And Amy Walter, national editor with the Cook Political Report. Jeanne, it's the first Friday of the month of February, which means that we have the January jobs report. What caught your attention there?
CUMMINGSWell, it's very mixed. The jobs are good but not great, 150,000. Most economists thought it'd be 20,000, 30,000 higher. But wages did go up...
CUMMINGS...a little bit. A 12...
GJELTENAnd wages is something that we've been watching very closely for the last couple of years.
CUMMINGSIt -- yeah, the lack of improvement on the wage front, many people attribute to the consumer confidence staying low...
CUMMINGS...and the general frustration with people -- with the economy and where it's going. So it's a 12-cent increase in average hourly wages. So not huge but a good indicator. You put those things together with lower gas prices and some think that consumers could start to feel a little more comfortable about where the economy is going in the U.S. At the same time, as The New York Times reported today, the economy remains at risk and shaky...
CUMMINGS...because growth is not -- is good, again, but not great. And there are other parts of the world that are slipping. And we are in a global market.
GJELTENOlivier, do you sense any concern at the White House about the prospects of a recession. I mean, it's one thing to have these sort of periodic slowdowns. It's something else to have a full-fledged recession, especially in an election year.
KNOXWell, they're watching. Jeanne made a very good point about the global market because the White House is looking very carefully at a slowdown in China, at trouble in Latin America and at other -- and, frankly, at European stubbornly low growth and is worried that the combination of all of these factors actually could be -- I mean, the typical term is headwinds but this is more than that. And they are very concerned that all of these things could come together in one -- in a storm -- an economic storm situation and could actually really hurt the American economy.
KNOXThey still say that they handled -- they've handled the economy well. That's not very surprising. But they're -- they make the point that you could do everything right at home and, if a really big economy like China starts spiraling downward, it's still going to have an effect at home.
CUMMINGSAnd just one quick note. What makes it -- us particularly vulnerable is there are no tools left...
GJELTENThat, and the fact that we're -- that we never had a really robust recovery from the last slowdown. It was sort of, you know, middling, right?
GJELTENAmy, what do you think about -- what does all this suggest or portend as far as the economy being, once again, a big issue this year?
WALTERRight. It's still a big issue. And it is always a driver of presidential elections. The interesting thing is that the president's numbers on handling the economy are as good as they've been in a long time. Certainly, if you go back to where things were in 2010 and even 2012, he's now pretty -- people are pretty evenly divided on his handling of it. Where they've given him lower marks, of course, are on the handling of terrorism. And that has been his weaker point at this point.
WALTERBut I think, if you get a global slowdown, we've got potential for a big bubble-bursting on credit, right? What -- that's the issue in China. They're talking about $5 trillion of debt that is potentially devastating. And to Jeanne's point, that there's -- there are no tools left here.
WALTERI guess in China they can always -- the government can always try to prop things up. But it is causing a slowdown in the rest of the world. And, you know, for a lot of Americans who already feel as if they have been running in place for the last 10 years, the idea that things could actually get worse again would be devastating and absolutely drive the narrative of this campaign.
GJELTENWell, speaking of narratives, every issue in an election year gets inflated because it is seen through this political lens. Islam and Muslims have been a really big issue, Jeanne, this year, in the aftermath of the Paris and San Bernardino shootings. President Obama tried to address that by going for the first time in his presidency to a U.S. mosque this week. Tell us about that and what it meant.
CUMMINGSWell, it was, you know, it was largely symbolic. But symbolism is important, especially in -- when we're talking about something as hard to get your hands around as just prejudice and that -- and fear. And that's what we need to cope with in this situation. I mean, his message was a message we have heard. That he said, you're not either a Muslim or an American, you are a Muslim and an American. And he urged tolerance, religious tolerance across the board. He spoke of Jewish-Americans as well. So he urged broad tolerance. And then, at the same time, encouraged the Muslim community to help fight back against combating any domestic folks who may be turning.
CUMMINGSSo, you know, it was a comprehensive message that hit on all points. Something the -- and in an area where the president is particularly good at delivering this kind of message. What surprised me was the Republicans running for president attacked him for it. And it's a message of tolerance. Marco Rubio, in particular, was critical of the president delivering that speech. I don't know where the Republicans are going in this debate. I mean, obviously, Donald Trump took it to the extreme. And there were many who pushed back immediately against the things that Donald Trump proposed, including the ban on Muslim -- coming into the country. But it surprised me that anyone would go back to that well other than Donald Trump.
GJELTENWell, that surprised me a little bit too, Jeanne. President Obama, in that speech, quoted President Eisenhower visiting the Islamic Center here in Washington and putting out a message that, you know, religious freedom in America includes Islam. And it was -- and, of course, President George W. Bush, right after 9/11, said very similar things.
GJELTENSo the, sort of, the politicization of this is a relatively new phenomenon. How do you explain it, Olivier?
KNOXIf you look at the recent -- there's a Pew survey out...
KNOX...that shows that Republican voters have grown ever more hostile to Islam and Muslims and I think that's part of it. You raised President Bush. He spent an enormous amount of time, from about five days after the 9/11 attacks through his entire presidency, sending the message again and again and again and again that demonizing American-Muslims is wrong. That first visit to the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C., I think it was a six-minute speech. And he said the people -- Americans who scapegoat fellow Americans who are Muslim represent the worst of humankind. It was a very powerful message. And he delivered it throughout his administration.
KNOXPresident Obama came into office and, to me, it looked like he was shifting the terrain for the conversation a little bit. He started talking to Muslims about America. That was the Cairo speech -- the big outreach.
KNOXBut of late, I think in the last couple of years, he's shifted and now he's talking to America about Muslims. And that's really what he was doing at the mosque, making that plea. White House aides don't typically like to say it's because of Donald Trump's message. But in private they just -- they point directly to the political debate as forcing the president's hand, driving him to reaffirm American values like religious toleration.
GJELTENAnd that's a message that he picked up, Amy, one day later, yesterday at the National Prayer Breakfast.
WALTERThat's right. It was -- I was just about to say there's a similar message about tolerance and joining together as Americans. Don't let fear drive us, is what his message was as well at the Prayer Breakfast. But it is very clear, and you could see the difference between where the Republican primary is going and the Democratic primary is going. If you ask Democratic primary voters, most important issues to them: jobs, economy, number one issue. For Republicans, it's security, it's terrorism. These issues playing very differently among Republicans. And fear is driving -- and anxiety and anger is driving the Republican debate.
WALTERAnd so those issues that the president's talking about -- about don't let that become part of the, you know, the overall tenor for this country, it becomes very difficult to say that at a very polarized point, especially in politics. I think what we will see when we get to a general election is this will look quite different. It will be much harder though for Republicans who have been making the case about how dangerous the world that we live in is to then suddenly pivot and say, well, okay, I'm going to be a little more open minded.
GJELTENNow, at that -- the Prayer Breakfast in the past has been a relatively nonpolitical event. I think that changed, what was it, in...
WALTERWith Ben Carson, yeah.
GJELTEN...2013, when Ben Carson stood up in front of President Obama and criticized his health care initiative. Sort of interesting at a Prayer Breakfast. Now, yesterday, Paul Ryan spoke at the Prayer Breakfast and didn't give an overtly political message but he did talk about prayer shaming, which is something that came up in the aftermath of the shootings in San Bernardino, when Democrats were criticizing Republicans for calling on Americans to pray as opposed to taking action on gun control. So there was sort of implicitly a political message there, wasn't there, Jeanne?
CUMMINGSThere definitely was. And Paul Ryan -- I don't want to take anything away from him, he has a very -- he practices his faith vigorously and he's spoken of it before. And his point was, when you are praying, you indeed are doing something.
CUMMINGSThat that's not an idle act. And so he was pushing back against the notion that, don't just pray, do something, that praying is doing something.
GJELTENAnd that's a perfectly appropriate thing to say at the National Prayer Breakfast.
GJELTENOlivier, so Paul Ryan very delicately sort of -- and tacitly criticized President Obama. Now President Obama met with Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell this week. This is the first time that, I think, that President Obama has met with Ryan since Ryan became speaker.
GJELTENWhat are you seeing as far as sort of a different leadership style, different governing style, different political approach on the part of Paul Ryan? Is there anything that has sort of distinguished his style so far?
KNOXWell, you know, at the end of last year I was talking about how outgoing Speaker John Boehner had kind of opened a path for Speaker Ryan to work with the White House a little bit more and feel less pressure from the right. And what we're actually seeing is that, in this budget fight that's coming up, Paul Ryan's margin to maneuver has already shrunk. He's not John Boehner, that's for sure. The White House is still being very, very cautious about how they interact with him and is looking to see whether he passes tests. And what I mean by that, is whether he can defy the right flank or not and to what extent he can defy the right flank or not.
KNOXAnd they're looking at this budget fight, this fight over the budget as a defining moment in Paul Ryan's leadership. Can he, in fact, buck the Freedom Caucus? Can he buck the Tea Party wing of the Party? Which is an amazing thing considering that the Paul Ryan budget itself was in some ways the blueprint for the current thinking in the Republican Party.
GJELTENOlivier Knox, he's the chief Washington correspondent for Yahoo! News. I'm Tom Gjelten. I'm sitting in for Diane Rehm. This is "The Diane Rehm Show." And remember you can call us and join our conversation, 1-800-433-8850. You can email us, email@example.com. Amy, I'm curious about your sort of assessment of what's going on on Capitol Hill on the Republican side. Mitch McConnell was in that meeting with President Obama this week. Now, Mitch McConnell himself has come under very sharp attack from the, sort of, the Ted Cruz wing of the Republican electorate. What are you seeing in terms of the dynamic on Capitol Hill among the Republicans themselves?
WALTERRight. Mitch McConnell is in a very difficult position. Because on the one hand he is getting pressure from the Ted Cruz wing of the Party to fight harder against President Obama. There was a lot of talk late last year and we still hear it in conservative circles that using the so-called nuclear option, basically saying, don't let the president get away with this stuff, get away with cloture votes. Use your majority to actually put the president on the defensive. McConnell has been very reticent to do that, saying, it sets a precedent. That's not going to do us very much good if we're in the minority. We don't want to do that sort of thing.
WALTERHe's also, though, getting pressure from his more moderate members. Remember, this is, of course, an election year. And in 2016, Republicans have a lot of vulnerable Senate seats at stake...
WALTER...in swing states, some very blue states, like Illinois, Wisconsin. And those members are looking at the possibility of either a top of a ticket that if it's, for example, Donald Trump, which could create -- that creates a whole lot of angst for them. And the frustration bubbling among so many voters about a dysfunctional Washington. So they'd be fighting those two pressures too. So McConnell trying to figure out how do you look like you're standing up to President Obama, but also how do you give your more moderate members from swing states an opportunity to show that they're getting something done and they're not just obstructionists.
GJELTENNow what's, Jeanne, what's your reading that yesterday, I think it was, Democrats in the U.S. Senate blocked an energy bill that had been -- it was a bipartisan energy bill and it looked like it was going to pass. But they were asking for money to address the water crisis in Flint, Mich., and that blocked passage of the bill. How significant was that?
CUMMINGSWell, it's -- the Republicans are going to hold firm on money. That's just -- Mitch McConnell has been really very clear about this -- and he was yesterday after the White House meeting -- that, you know, they're not going to bail out Puerto Rico, which has a lot of financial problems right now. And so, you know, are there ways to help Flint without, you know, throwing money at it? The Republicans might consider that. But that -- he -- that is one area where I think he's drawn a bright line.
CUMMINGSNow, to those members, though, that want to show they are getting things done, there were a couple of things that were discussed at the White House, chief among them being the reform of the criminal justice system, that actually can -- has a decent shot at passing. Because support for that kind of change stems from President Obama to the Koch brothers to Rand Paul. I mean, it's just -- it's got this huge, broad coalition pushing for it. And so that could be something that the senators then could run on and feel like, you know, they could say that they passed something.
GJELTENOlivier, we have to talk a little bit more about this Flint -- the awful situation in Flint, Mich. Now, Hillary Clinton is going to go to Flint, is it on Sunday, I believe?
GJELTENAnd it shows how seriously people are taking this on a national basis and not just in Michigan itself.
KNOXAbsolutely. And it wraps up all these interesting issues of, you know, of American poverty, of the fate of a predominantly African-American city, of environmental regulation, of the relationship between the federal government and the state governments. This is a -- it's -- it touches every level of American politics. And for Hillary Clinton, this is a -- it's a big issue for Democrats across the board, but it's a big issue for Hillary Clinton. I think Amy mentioned this before, she's looking past these early, fairly uniform states to the more diverse voter population of the -- of states beyond the New Hampshire contest. She is -- she's going to be making a case for an activist response to this crisis.
KNOXAnd we're sort of still trying to watch, see what -- how Bernie Sanders is going to respond to this. But it touches every single level of government and of polity. And that's one of the reasons it's been -- I mean, and actually, you know, as a parent obviously it's also -- it's touching every American in the sense of, you wouldn't want your kids...
CUMMINGSIt's tragic. It's just tragic.
KNOXI mean, you watch the footage of people pouring -- filling up a glass from their taps and the water is this sort of pale yellow. And you just visceral.
GJELTENOkay. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we're going to go to the phone calls, which are lining up. I'm Tom Gjelten. This is "The Diane Rehm Show." Stay tuned.
GJELTENHello again. I'm Tom Gjelten from NPR and I'm sitting in for your regular host, Diane Rehm. Today, on the Friday News Roundup, we're talking about the domestic news of the week with Jeanne Cummings from the Wall Street Journal, Olivier Knox from Yahoo News and Amy Walter with the Cook Political Report. And you know what, I'm going to go, I'm gonna go straight to the phones here, starting with Thomasina, who is on the line from Florida. Thomisina, thanks for calling "The Diane Rehm Show."
THOMASINAYes. Thanks for taking my call. I watched the debate last night. You know, body language can reveal a lot during a debate. And Hillary has a characteristic of nodding her head when she's making a point or agreeing with someone. During last night's debate, Bernie talked about the poisoned water in Flint and the terrible impact on mostly black children. Hillary enthusiastically nodded her head, constantly in agreement. But, when Bernie said, and I quote, I suspect Hillary would agree that action would have come sooner if Flint were a wealthy white area, Hillary immediately stopped nodding her head. I wonder what message that sent to her African-American supporters.
GJELTENDid anyone else notice that?
CUMMINGSI didn't really notice that. I mean, she's right that Hillary does have a habit of doing that and -- but, I'm, I guess I don't -- I didn't notice that she stopped -- I, but if she did, it might have been the idea of injecting race. I mean, this is a tragedy.
CUMMINGSAnd I mean, these parents know their children have been poisoned, and there is nothing they can do about it. And I don't care what color they are. Their parents, it's awful. But, you know, I don't if -- I think Hillary has strong and enduring ties with the African-American community. She has spoken out very forcefully on this issue. There's no ambiguity about the horror that she sees there and the fact that she thinks the government should step in and help those people.
GJELTENRight. And as we mentioned before, she's actually going to go there in the next few days.
CUMMINGSAnd the Democratic debate now is going to be there.
CUMMINGSYeah. The new debate.
GJELTENNow, Thomasina has already hung up. She called from Florida, and I actually was going to ask her about the Zika virus, which has made its presence known in Florida. We actually had the Governor of Florida, Rick Scott, declaring a state of emergency. Now he's extended that to five counties after the discovery of Zika virus cases there. This is starting to take on some worrisome dimensions, isn't it, Olivier?
KNOXAbsolutely. The White House is taking pains to say that for most people, Zika virus symptoms are actually pretty mild, but the problem is that the people for whom it's worst are pregnant women.
KNOXRight? It's linked to birth defects. It is -- it's not quite, we're not quite seeing the same responses we did to Ebola, but it's taking on some worrisome aspects, including the fact that now they're looking at transmission vectors beyond just mosquito bites. They're looking at the possibility of sexually transmitted Zika virus. Transmitted through saliva and other means that hasn't been conclusively demonstrated yet, but yes, it's getting worrisome. And in a time when we all travel everywhere, there's no reason to think it's not going to keep spreading.
WALTERWell, and it will become, I think, a more pronounced issue and people will start talking about more and probably freaking out about it more if we have a case of this micro encephalitis here.
WALTERAnd the first case of that, it will be on the news, and then I think it will turn into a big, very big issue very, very quickly.
KNOXOr even just a government official saying to women, don't get pregnant for the next couple of years.
GJELTENWhich is what they're saying.
WALTERIf you plan on going -- yeah, if you were in a, you say, well, I'm not going to a Latin American country. I should be okay. Oh, actually, if you live anywhere in Florida or Texas or Louisiana, now that's getting to be some serious concern.
GJELTENWell, one of the things that Governor Scott said is that the particular mosquito that spreads the Zika virus is actually prevalent in Florida.
GJELTENSo, we're not talking here about...
WALTERThat's what I mean. You don't have to go to a country in Central America. You don't have to go to Brazil in order to be bitten by this.
GJELTENYeah. Let's go now to Brian who is on the line from Michigan. Hello, Brian. Thanks for calling "The Diane Rehm Show."
BRIANHello, Tom and guests. Thank you for taking my call. I have a comment and a question. My comment is the plumber protects the health of the nation and America needs to know that. Plumbers do more than all the doctors and nurses do to insure healthy living and longer lives. That said, about the Flint water crisis, my question is how is it that one of Michigan's Governors, Rick Snyder's top aides, knew about the legionella outbreak...
BRIAN...from the water. The Legionnaire outbreak from the water shift 10 months before the Governor report he knew it.
GJELTENDoes anyone know about the history of the Legionnaires outbreak? Jeanne.
CUMMINGSDefinitely was a precursor to, and should have been, a flag. But as people have been reporting this, and investigations are going to go on for a while, I think what we're going to discover is that there were all kinds of moments that were missed. Right from the very beginning. I was listening to an interview on your, on this program, with the doctor who first started raising the alarms. And was really shocked to hear, on that program, that what made her go look to see what the lead levels were in the children, was that she was having a casual conversation one night with a girlfriend who used to work at the EPA.
CUMMINGSAnd so it was just a passing conversation that started to expose all of this. So we have a lot to learn about this.
GJELTENWe do, indeed. And it's going to, I think it's just going to get bigger and bigger, because as we have been saying, this is an issue that every parent, every parent can relate to.
GJELTENI want to read a couple of emails that we've gotten and then we'll go back to the calls. Greg writes, he's talking about the national prayer breakfast, when I heard Paul Ryan speak about prayer as action in itself, I'd like to remind him of the scripture in Matthew's Gospel of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting those in prisons. Those actions speak louder than words, and that Catholic tradition, especially as a practicing Catholic, he should know the long tradition of the Catholic church putting prayer into action and not just speaking words. Amy, are...
WALTERYeah. And to Paul Ryan's credit, he has tried to make that the centerpiece, and in fact, a lot of people talking about Paul Ryan as being through the next iteration of Jack Kemp, who was known as the Republican focused on poverty and issues in that realm. And that that is what Paul Ryan would argue that absolutely, we have to address these issues. But just because I have a different way of addressing those than Democrats do, doesn't make me wrong, number one. Or our party wrong.
WALTERAnd doesn't mean that one person has the correct way to handle this. We, as Republicans, I as Paul Ryan, he would say, have a -- think that this is very important, but I'm going to go about it in a very different way than many Democrats would.
GJELTENOlivier, the one Republican candidate who really talks often about poor people and about the responsibility of public officials to think about issues of poverty is John Kasich. And he's been doing that in New Hampshire. This could be his last stand. We're going to see whether that message resonates with Republican voters in New Hampshire.
KNOXWe are. We're also going to see whether John Kasich can sort of elbow out his rivals for the establishment lane of the nominating process. The other person who was doing that, until he dropped out of the race, was Rand Paul, who of course, traveled to a lot of African-American neighborhoods and was talking that up. There is a tradition in the Republican Party of having some of those kinds of candidates, those kinds of public officials. Because John Kasich, of course, Governor of Ohio.
KNOXYou know, I want to go back to the Paul Ryan thing. You know, he was directly addressing a wave of sentiment in the aftermath of San Bernardino, in which liberals and Democrats said you can, you know, take your thoughts and prayers. We want action on guns. He was specifically responding to that. I don't think he was laying out his comprehensive philosophy of government action.
GJELTENLet's go now to Jane, who's on the line from Delaware. Hello Jane. Thanks for calling us here on The Diane Rehm Show.
JANEThanks for taking my call. I want to know why Bernie Sanders is not attacking Hillary about the Clinton Foundation when she was Secretary of State. There's a book called "Clinton Cash" which everybody ought to read. But there was supposed to be something in place, while she was Secretary of State, to make sure there was no conflict of interest. And yet, there seems to be a lot of shady stuff there. Why isn't Bernie going down that road?
CUMMINGSWell, first of all, it's really, it's a complicated argument to make. And Bernie goes, Bernie is going after her for her Wall Street donations and her speaking fees, which are in the vein of the donations to the Foundation, but they're a lot easier to understand. I thought last night that Hillary Clinton came up, finally, after three tries, with a strong response, basically saying just his assumption is, if you take a donation, you've been bought, and that she rejects that. I think the response would be, similarly, to the Foundation donations.
CUMMINGSBut Jane is right. There are -- we at the Wall Street Journal have done a lot of reporting on this. There are major corporations, you know, there are foreign countries who were seeking things from the government who, the timing of when they were asking, coincided with big donations to the foundation.
WALTERAnd I think there's a bigger issue here, too, which is that Bernie Sanders fundamentally does not attack Hillary Clinton on some of her biggest vulnerabilities.
GJELTENThat's one, and emails.
WALTERWhether it's the -- that's one, and the emails. And he has made a point of, to Jeanne's point, yes, making claims about Wall Street and getting Wall Street money and can you really be tough on Wall Street if you're getting money from them? But never going directly at Hillary Clinton, asking her directly, did this influence you, or I think this influenced you. And saying, bottom line, Hillary Clinton has trust and honesty issues that show up in general election polls, a whole bunch of independent voters feel this way.
WALTERAs a general election candidate, she will be very vulnerable to those charges. That is an argument that he is just not willing to make and there are a whole bunch Bernie Sanders supporters, including many in his camp who wish he would. But it looks as if he's not going to take that.
GJELTENAmy Walter from the Cook Political Report. I'm Tom Gjelten, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." So Amy, do you think this means that in the back of his mind, Bernie Sanders thinks that he may not, and probably won't be the Democratic nominee and does not want to weaken her position as enough of a loyal Democrat that he doesn't want to weaken her potential position in the general election?
WALTERWell, it's funny, because he's not really a loyal Democrat. Right? He has been an independent for his entire political career. This is the first time that he has joined forces. Clearly, the Democratic Party has not been very helpful to him, both in the way that they set up the debates schedule. Just the way that the system works, it's definitely leaning heavily toward the establishment Democrat and benefiting the establishment Democrat. So there's no love lost there or any loyalty there. I think for Bernie Sanders, it is just fundamentally kind of who he is.
WALTERAnd he came into this race as a credible underdog. He wanted to inject the issue of income inequality into this debate, which he has. He has, on issues, helped to push Hillary Clinton to the left. And that is incredibly success -- so, he's been incredibly successful already there. And if the way to win is to get into a swordfight with Hillary Clinton or if you want to bring guns and flamethrowers and everything, he will -- not only does he not like to do that, but the flack that he will get back will be intense.
GJELTENYou know, each of the callers that we have on the board right now wants to talk about Hillary. I don't know what that means, but let's give Sarah the first crack at that. Calling from Virginia. Hello Sarah.
SARAHYes, thank you for taking my call. Yeah, I get a lot of other women telling me that they're going to support Hillary Clinton just because they're women. And I'm thinking, that's just not good enough. And I don't trust Hillary Clinton. I think there's a lot of...
GJELTENWhy not, Sarah?
SARAHI think there's a lot of hidden corruption with her, just like the previous caller said. And there's a lot of -- I just don't feel like she's, I don't trust her, and I wanted to know more. Like, why don't the candidates say, especially the ones who've been in public office for so long, why don't they talk more about their achievements? Like, what have they actually done for this country? Have they created jobs? Have they helped the average American? It just seems like a popularity contest, especially with the position and Trump, it's more like who can insult Muslims more and you get more popularity.
SARAHThis is not about voting. This is about being the highest office in the United States of America. And how to make it better.
GJELTENSo Sarah, so it sounds like you're disappointed with everybody in this race. Do you have a preferred candidate?
SARAHWell, I was thinking about Sanders, but then, I did a little research, and it said that he voted against the war, but he voted for the funding. So I wish we had more qualified candidates. It seems it's all about popularity and who can raise money.
CUMMINGSWell, I can understand, and I'm sure other voters are in the same boat with her, in terms of looking for a candidate with, who has a clean message and that matches right up with their record. You know, it's tough. It's tough. There are, we've got a lot of candidates out there. There are some who are talking about their records. John Kasich is. The Governors are talking about that, on the Republican side. So, Jeb Bush based everything on his two terms as the Governor of Florida. He thought that was his ticket in.
CUMMINGSAnd I found it amazing -- amazingly telling at an Iowan town hall, they had put out papers on all of the tables that had his record in Florida. And a woman picked it up, looked at it and said, I don't care what he did as Governor. I want to know what he's going to do for me now. And so, that message is just not gaining traction this year.
GJELTENWell Olivier, if voters wish they had more choices, they're going to be, they must be disappointed at the way candidates have been dropping out, not dropping into this race.
KNOXYeah, absolutely. I have to say, Sarah did sound a little bit like a Sanders supporter, even before you explicitly got her on there. Right. So, we need someone who is, who will agree with Americans that the system is rigged against them in some fashion, not getting the job done in some fashion. But who has a record and who has ideas for the future. And yeah, I can see why there would be some frustration with the 2016 field. I mean, we've had, especially in some of these debates, you know, we've had, we've had sort of insult-fests.
CUMMINGSWell, the Democratic side has really been much more policy oriented. But they're really unique characters, the two of them. You have Bernie Sanders, who's basically been an outsider in the Senate for a couple of decades, who has not a lot of legislative big victories to point to, because of the kind of role he played in the Senate. And then you've got a former Secretary of State, where again, you're not going to get the kind of record that the voters might be looking for.
GJELTENAmy, I'm going to give you the last word.
WALTERI had something really important that I wanted to say. No, but, I think that -- listen, there are a lot of choices in this race. I actually disagree a little bit here with the caller, only in that, especially if you look on the Republican side, there are many points of view here on where the country should go and the kind of role that the country should play. Both internationally and domestically. You may not agree with all of them, but there are a whole bunch of choices out there.
GJELTENAmy Walter is the National Editor with the Cook Political Report. I'd like to thank her and my other two panelists, Jeanne Cummings from the Wall Street Journal and Olivier Knox, Chief Washington Correspondent for Yahoo News. And thanks to all our callers. I'm Tom Gjelten. This is "The Diane Rehm Show."
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