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.
Guest Host: Susan Page
Establishment Republicans grapple with how to stop Donald Trump. A political battle over the Supreme Court vacancy escalates. And the Senate reaches a bipartisan funding deal on the Flint water crisis. A panel of journalists joins guest host Susan Page for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. Diane is out sick with the flu. Establishment Republicans grapple over how to stop Donald Trump. A political battle over the Supreme Court vacancy escalates and the Senate reaches a bipartisan funding deal on the Flint water crisis.
MS. SUSAN PAGEJoining me for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup, Michael Scherer of TIME, Sheryl Stohlberg of the New York Times and Manu Raju of CNN. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. MICHAEL SCHERERHey, Susan.
MS. SHERYL GAY STOLBERGHi, Susan.
MR. MANU RAJUThanks for having us.
PAGEWe invite our listeners to join our conversation. You can call our toll-free number. It's 1-800-433-8850. You can always send us an email to email@example.com. Find us on Facebook or Twitter. And since this is the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup, you can watch us. We'll be livestreaming this hour on drshow.org. Okay, Michael, last night, smaller field for the Republicans, higher stakes and a much tougher tone from Marco Rubio. What happened last night?
SCHERERThere's a shift that's happened in this race. Up until now, all the other candidates in the Republican field have been focused on getting their own polling, their own voting numbers up, not on tearing Donald Trump down. And Donald Trump, with a shrunken field now, has something like 40 percent of the Republican electorate on his side. And Rubio and Cruz and the others have realized that the only path they have to even getting to a contested convention at this point is to bring Trump down.
SCHERERSo that -- it was a totally different strategy for Marco Rubio than we saw in South Carolina or any of the other debates. He was trying to take Trump down a notch and to get his voters and to make the argument in front of the Republican electorate that this guy just is not going to be a good president. In the past, Rubio sort of enjoyed the fact that he's not in Donald Trump's firing line and he stepped into it last night.
PAGESo Sheryl, do you think Rubio succeeded?
STOLBERGSo I think this is the big question and we'll know on Super Tuesday when the votes roll in. You know, this either a situation in which Rubio waited too late to come out swinging against Donald Trump or it was a brilliant strategy in which he waited until the field was narrowed and attacks on Trump could really stick and elevate and sort of seep into the public consciousness. Now, whether they have seeped into the public consciousness, I think it's too soon to tell.
STOLBERGAfter Nevada, Donald Trump came out of Nevada having broken his -- what we thought was his ceiling of about 30 percent of Republicans supporting him, got 49.5 percent of the vote in Nevada. He has won South Carolina. He has won New Hampshire. So the question is, can he be stopped and did Rubio do enough last night to stop him and will undecided voters who have swung toward Rubio, the late-breakers have tended to swing toward him in past voting, will that happen again? And we'll see.
STOLBERGAnd will it be a two-man race? Will Ted Cruz be pushed out? 'Cause Rubio hasn't won a single race yet.
RAJUAnd I think what we saw last night was the first real sustained character attack on Donald Trump and we've seen all these other criticisms coming from Cruz and others about him flip-flopping on a number of positions. But both Cruz and Rubio really launching over questions about who Donald Trump really is, everything from his tax returns to hiring undocumented immigrants at his Florida resort, over what he believes on healthcare, for instance. That's one thing that Rubio attacked him pretty relentlessly on.
RAJUAnd you start to saw that coming from the party establishment earlier this week when Mitt Romney raised the question about whether or not there was a bombshell in Donald Trump's taxes, sort of an ironic attack, given that Romney had his own tax issues in 2012. But I think for Marco Rubio's campaign, there's a real sense of urgency 'cause as Sheryl noted, there -- he has not won a state yet. He's at risk of not winning any states on Super Tuesday and a poll showed that on March 15, his home state of Florida, Donald Trump is running away with it right now.
RAJUAnd if Marco Rubio were to lose that, it's hard to see how he has a viable path going forward.
PAGEWell, in fact, there are three candidates who need to defeat Donald Trump in their home states. Marco Rubio in Florida, Ted Cruz in Texas on Tuesday and Ohio Governor John Kasich on the March 15 contest there. But in two of those cases, they are now trailing Donald Trump, in polls anyway, by some significant margin. That'd be in Ohio and in Florida.
SCHERERThat's right. And in two of those cases, they're winner take all contests so the stakes are even higher in Florida and Ohio. There's an argument to be made and some Republicans have been making it, that at this point, Donald Trump is so strong that the best way to defeat him is to allow the field to remain large so that Kasich can get Ohio, so that Rubio can get Florida, so that Cruz can hopefully come out of Texas, which is a proportional state with some advantage, just to take delegates away from Trump 'cause at this point, it's almost more likely that someone is able to stop Trump from getting to 50 percent than someone is able to get more delegates than Trump.
PAGESo if you stop Trump from getting to 50 percent of the delegates, 50 percent plus one of the convention delegates, the number you need to clinch your nomination, what'll happen then, Sheryl?
STOLBERGWell, I don't know. I guess it's possible that you could have a brokered convention, which is something that we haven't seen in, I don't know...
STOLBERG...does anybody know when the last time...
STOLBERGBut, you know, Susan, I actually want to pick up on something Manu said about Mitt Romney. I think Mitt Romney was the most important person not on the stage last night because after Mitt Romney dropped this "bombshell," and said -- we learned something from Trump last night. What did we learn? We learned that he's being audited by the IRS and he says that's the reason that he is not releasing his tax returns. And Mitt Romney was unleashing a stream on Twitter last night, #whatshehiding, which is kind of ironic, as Manu said.
STOLBERGBut it is, you know, at this stage, where the field is narrowing, it is possible that voters will start to focus on these kinds of things, on business deals and on Trump's taxes and the what's he hiding and, you know, we may learn a few more things.
RAJUThe Romney factor is really fascinating because he's actually been very cautious up until this point. He has really not said a whole lot. His endorsement has actually meant a lot and there was a lot of speculation after South Carolina that he was gonna get behind Marco Rubio. He has not done so yet and that's one of the reasons why is 'cause Rubio needs to show that he has a path to the nomination and that John Kasich is still in the race. And the longer that Kasich's in the race and that Rubio's in the race, they sort of divide up that support among the establishment lane, so to speak, and that could presumably help Donald Trump.
SCHERERI think what this is symptomatic of is that a lot of people in the Republican consultant class, the Republican establishment, have watched this primary play out with great dismay because they feel like the other candidates have fumbled their chances and are handing the party to someone who is just not a traditional conservative in any way and has an unknown chance of winning a general election. Stuart Stevens, who was Mitt Romney's top strategist in 2012, was out a week before Romney started, unleashing this stuff, saying you need -- we need surrogates on every one of these talk shows every day, raising different issues.
SCHERERThis needs to be a sustained coordinated attack. Why isn't anybody doing it? And it looks, with the Romney attacks, like Stuart is organizing it himself.
PAGEHere's my question, though. Do the voters who are supporting Donald Trump, are they unaware of some of these -- some past positions he's taken or what's happening with his taxes? Are they unconcerned with...
STOLBERGThey don't care. They don't care. So the question is, who's not...
PAGEOr at least they haven't cared.
STOLBERG...they haven't cared and I've -- my gut tells me they are unlikely to care. They are supporting Donald Trump because he's an outsider. They like an outsider candidate. The question is, has he tapped out, maxed out at, say, 30 percent of the Republican electorate? Was Nevada an aberration and can one of these other candidates start raising policy issues and concerns about character to a point where now that the other candidates have dropped away, we'll see some solidification behind them.
STOLBERGAnd very interesting story in my own paper this week by my colleague, Jennifer Steinhauer, headline something like "Trump and Ryan Are On A Collision Course." And she laid out all the ways in which Republicans in Washington, like Paul Ryan, the Speaker, who have plodded careful, conservative philosophy over the last decade or so, are terrified by Donald Trump because he is at odds with their version of Republican orthodoxy, so.
PAGEYou know, there's another way in which Donald Trump and Paul Ryan could be on a collision course and that is the dream of some establishment Republicans that there'll be a contested convention, as Sheryl suggested there might be, and that the convention will turn to somebody who has not even run for president and that would be Paul Ryan. What are the odds of that, Manu?
RAJUI think it's pretty slim right now. We've asked Ryan about that actually on several occasions and he essentially rules that out. I think that it's the dream of folks in the party establishment that Donald Trump will just cap out at 30, 325 percent. But what we're seeing in these early states is he has appeal across the board. I mean, he won with Evangelical Christians in South Carolina. He won with independents and moderates in New Hampshire. He won out west in Nevada and he could do...
STOLBERGAnd as he himself, notably, said with the over-educated and the under-educated.
PAGEThe poorly educated. I love the poorly educated.
STOLBERGThe poorly educated. I love the poorly educated.
RAJUHe loves the poorly educated, too.
PAGEAnd, in fact, Marco Rubio has a new ad out.
STOLBERGBut not Latinos.
PAGEA new add out that says, Donald Trump loves the poorly educated. He thinks you're a fool.
SCHERERYeah. I think the question here with Trump is, his message and his strategy has been to paint himself as a winner. And the more he looks like a winner, the stronger he is. Have you watched that speech he gave after winning clearly in the Nevada, he said the word winning like eight times in two sentences. And so what these character attacks are doing, what they onslaught that's coming over the coming weeks will test is not whether people care about whether he ripped people off with his Trump University or sold bad steaks when he was selling Trump Steaks.
SCHERERIt's whether people feel that there is some fracture here in the facade that Trump has put forward that he is the winningest winner that politics has ever seen. And I think if people begin to think, wait, there may be something more to this, then there is a route, but it's a very narrow route for his challengers.
PAGEYou know, I would just say that it's not like Trump created this electorate. This electorate created Trump. It's because people are so unhappy that they're receptive this message that Donald Trump has sold with very surprising success so far. We're gonna take a short break and when we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Sheryl Stohlberg, Michael Scherer and Manu Raju.
PAGEAnd we'll take some of your calls and questions. You can call our toll-free number. It's 1-800-433-8850. Or send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. And, of course, you can watch all of our guests on our live video stream. That's at drshow.org. We'll be right back.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. Diane is out with the flu. I think she's listening this morning from home. And, Diane, we all hope you're feeling better soon. It's the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup. And with me in the studio: Manu Raju, congressional correspondent for CNN. Sheryl Gay Stolberg, she's national correspondent for The New York Times. And Michael Scherer, he's Washington bureau chief for TIME magazine.
PAGEWell, before the break, we were talking about the Republicans. Let's talk about the Democrats. Sheryl, Hillary Clinton was on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" this morning, really looked confident and more at ease. It seems like she's hitting her stride after a rockier campaign than she might have expected.
STOLBERGWell, she has reason to be confident right now because tomorrow is the primary in South Carolina. And it's a -- she's heading into a Super Tuesday that is heavily Southern. And Hillary Clinton does better with minority voters, particularly African-American voters. So, you know, she is ahead in the polls in most of the Super Tuesday states, I believe with the exception of Vermont and Massachusetts, to be expected. They're going for Bernie Sanders. So she should feel comfortable about that. She is, though, getting hit on this issue of her Wall Street speeches and whether or not she will release them. And that is sort of the latest.
STOLBERGWe talked about, what's he hiding?, on Donald Trump and his taxes. That's the sort of, what's she hiding? And she's had a campaign that's been beset by controversies over her email releases. And how we're seeing demands for her to release these speeches. So she'll have to contend with those issues. But she's also racking up a pretty good delegate count. She's got, I think, more than 500 delegates so far. Bernie Sanders has about 70. So the math -- the delegate math is working in her favor right now.
PAGEAlthough I would say that delegate math is including the super delegates and they're really...
PAGE...that is really where she's getting her support. And of course super delegates aren't obligates -- super delegates can change their mind if they want. Oklahoma, another state that could be close. That's another state Tuesday where I think the Sanders people hope they can win. And Colorado and Minnesota, where there are caucuses, those may be good for Bernie Sanders. But they're places that are hard to poll. So we don't know quite where that stands. Manu Raju, what about Nevada? That was a loss for Sanders. Was it a big setback?
RAJUYeah, it was. Because, I mean, going into the race, I think that was one of the reasons why, as Sheryl was explaining, that Hillary Clinton feels a lot of confidence right now. Because she did pull off that victory in Nevada. And it's interesting that we're saying pulling off that victory, because a few weeks and months ago it looked like she had a pretty big lead. Then all of a sudden it was sort of a tossup, the Clinton people sort of downplaying the significance of Nevada and showing a little bit more focus on South Carolina, saying that's the real state that has -- a more diverse state, more like a Democratic coalition in South Carolina.
RAJUBut she ended up winning in Nevada. I mean, relatively narrow margin but still won. And that was a -- sort of a shot in the arm for a campaign that had been struggling. So if you look at -- she barely won in Iowa. She loses big time in New Hampshire. She wins in Nevada. She's probably going to win big in South Carolina. She takes three of the first four states, goes into Super Tuesday. It's going to be tough for Bernie to catch up if she does run the table on Tuesday.
PAGENow you had a scoop this week regarding Hillary Clinton and Harry Reid. Tell us what you found out.
RAJUYeah, I sat down with the Senate Democratic leader and he said that he was endorsing Hillary Clinton. He became the highest-ranking Democrat to throw his support behind Hillary. Not a total surprise, but certainly newsworthy in the sense that it showed that the party leadership was starting to consolidate behind Hillary. Now she has support of, you mentioned, those super delegates. They're very important in terms of the overall delegate count. She has 40 Democratic senators backing her at least. Bernie has zero. It just shows that the party really believes that they need to hopefully get behind her, push her over the finish line and fend off that sort of insurgent candidacy from Sanders.
SCHERERI think it's interesting to watch Clinton over the last few weeks because what's changed is not anything she's doing really in terms of performance or strategy. What's changed is who is voting. And we always knew she was going to have an enormous advantage among the voters that she has an advantage with. We always knew it was a big long shot for Bernie Sanders to be able to take the nomination. I think if you step back a little bit though, you still see significant weaknesses in the way Hillary Clinton has performed. She still is not able to get young people, who are crucial for her if she's going to retain the Obama coalition in a general election, which is very much part of her strategy.
SCHERERShe still has not really been able to answer these concerns about Wall Street and her -- whether voters trust her. So, you know, I -- a month ago I would have said she had a very good chance of winning the nomination. Today I would say she has a very good chance of winning the nomination. But the concerns about her in a general election I don't think have gone away.
PAGEYou know, you've mentioned -- you mentioned, Sheryl, this -- these questions she continues to face about her Wall Street transcripts, these high-dollar speeches she gave to Wall Street bankers and others. Do you think, at the end of the day, she's going to be forced to release those transcripts, which were created at her insistence when she gave these speeches?
STOLBERGHonestly, I can't see how she is not going to be forced to release them. When someone runs for president, everything is on the table, everything about their past. And the public expects to know. My newspaper editorialized -- I have -- we have a strict wall between the news side and the editorial side -- but I would note, The New York Times editorialized this week, saying she's got to release that information. I can't see how she gets around that. Maybe she can put it off long enough so that she will have locked up the nomination and it won't matter.
STOLBERGI think Michael also touched on something very important around Hillary Clinton and that is the enthusiasm gap. She's not a candidate who is thrilling people. She's the pragmatists' candidate. And Manu talked about the endorsements. I'm also not sure how big a deal it is -- how big a deal are endorsements, when what's animating voters are outsiders? We're seeing it both on the Republican side and on the Democratic side, where the enthusiasm on the Democratic side is with young people and with Sanders.
RAJUAnd that's going to be the challenge for Hillary. Even if she does rack up these victories, Bernie is getting -- raising a ton of money because of that enthusiasm. And he can be in this race for a very long time. So even when I talked to Harry Reid about it, he thinks that it could possibly go to the Democratic Convention in July. So...
STOLBERGYou could have two-broker convention.
SCHERERYou could have two-broker convention, a political reporter's dream.
PAGEWell, you know, and of course the Democrats require proportional representation, which sounds obscure I guess. But it means that even if you keep losing states, you can continue racking up delegates.
SCHERERThe other issue I think that's raised with the Wall Street transcripts is these are speeches she gave after she left the secretary of state's office. She says, I had no idea whether I was running for president at that time. That's just not true. She clearly was on the path to run for president at that time. She decided to make an extra few million dollars going around speaking to groups who, at the time, was very clear were very unpopular with the Democratic base she would need to court later on and unpopular with the country. This is a general election issue.
SCHERERSo I think there's a question of judgment here. I mean she made this decision knowing that she would pay for it later. And now she's paying for it.
STOLBERGAnd it taps into everything that people -- that make people uneasy about Hillary Clinton, which is the notion that she's not like one of us. She's rich. She caters to Wall Street. She's hiding something. She creates her own rules. All these things feed into a narrative about Hillary Clinton that is broader than just these speeches, but also involves the emails, the using a home server, different standards for her aides, you know, the whole gamut.
PAGEWell, Michael, you mentioned that this issue of the Wall Street transcripts is a totally self-inflicted wound. She doesn't need to be facing these questions at all if she'd made a different judgment then. Definitely also true of the issue over the emails that she sent and received as secretary of state. And now we know that there's been a -- this FBI investigation. But now we have word that a judge -- who, by the way, was appointed by Bill Clinton to the bench -- has opened the door to the possibility of subpoenas for her on this email issue. Tell us what the issue is.
RAJUWell, this involves a lawsuit over the -- whether or not -- essentially, the legal issue of the case is whether or not she tried to evade public disclosure laws, the FOIA law, Freedom of Information Act by including this home server -- the server in her home, having a private email service. Now the Federal Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that her aides could be questioned under oath as part of this -- the discovery process in this case. Now what does that mean going forward? It means that this could last for a very long time. This could stretch until November or beyond. And the questions will just continue to linger.
RAJUShe was asked about this at the CNN town hall earlier this week, should Democrats be worried about this email issue if you become the nominee? And she said, oh, this is just, you know, a right-wing -- now she didn't say conspiracy -- but part of the right-wing effort to go after her. But when a judge green lights this kind of investigation, this kind of case to go forward, that's a problem for her.
SCHERERThe issue here is motive. Was Hillary Clinton, when she set up this private email server, thinking about either not -- like, destroying government records, which, you know, she was able -- she was legally able to separate for herself what was a government record, what wasn't. But the definition, what is a government record, is fixed. She can't decide that herself. If she was discussing government business, she has to release it. So did she have a motive to hide something? Or did she just have a motive to make it more difficult to delay the release through the Freedom of Information Act?
SCHERERIf, in these depositions that come out, she ever told an aide, an aide ever discussed with another aide, oh, it'd be great if we had a private server because then we can delay FOIA, that becomes a problem for her.
STOLBERGAnd the idea that there's a -- she's on parallel tracks here, right? She's trying to get herself on the path to win this nomination at the same time as the FBI and independent lawyers for the Justice Department are investigating whether or not there was misuse of classified information on this private email server. So you've got these -- I guess a lot of Democrats are worried, is there going to be a train wreck at the end?
PAGEAnd we've talked about the concerns or the allegations about what her motives might be or why she did this. What is her explanation for why she chose to use it? Just briefly, to give her her say.
SCHERERHer explanation is that it was a matter of convenience. I had one device. And that other secretaries of state and government officials use private email regularly. And that there was no law explicitly banning it.
PAGELet's go to the phones, let some of our listeners join our conversation. We're going to go first to Bedford, Texas, and talk to Zachary. Zachary, hi.
ZACHARYHi. How you doing?
ZACHARYWell, I'm taking a little time out, skipping a little bit of class here, so I'll make this brief. Y'all have been talking about the Republicans like it's not going to be Trump. I mean, it's going to be Trump and we need to start talking about how we're going to beat him.
ZACHARYAnd the reason it's going to be Trump and it's not going to be anybody else that the establishment is trying to grasp at is because, as a former Ron Paul voter, I can say with confidence and pride that we destroyed the GOP. It's dead. There's four or five groups fighting over it now.
PAGESo, Ron -- just to quickly, Zachary, you voted for Ron Paul. You think Trump should be defeated now. Who are you going to support?
ZACHARYOh, I mean, I support Bernie Sanders. And I think the DNC will be destroyed also if the establishment does not get behind him.
PAGEAll right, Zachary. Thanks so much for your call. So here's a Ron Paul voter supporting Bernie Sanders. Is this a big universe of people?
STOLBERGOne of the most fascinating things to me in this election is how Trump and Sanders are sort of the flip side of the same coin. They're both populists. We have a capitalist and socialist, both populists. And, you know, I've run into voters who support -- who like both Trump and Sanders. I have run into people and say, who do you like for president? I like Trump and I like Sanders. There's that sort of feeling that the people want an outsider. As to whether or not Trump is in fact going to be the nominee, I do think that's still an open question and it's too soon to tell.
RAJUIt's still an open question but I also think that that caller hits on a -- what's becoming a growing sentiment within the Republican Party that, oh, Trump, who can stop Trump at this point after he's done so well and if he does run the table on Tuesday.
SCHERERI would just say that caller's a perfect caller for this conversation.
SCHERERI mean, like, when you're talking about someone, Ron Paul, who basically did not want a federal government, now supporting Bernie Sanders, who basically wants the federal government to take a significant chunk of the private marketplace over.
SCHERERAnd the reason it is a seamless transition is because, as the caller said, we have to take out the elites of this country. We have to take out the Republican Party. We have to take out the Democratic Party. And there's a huge part of the country that wants that.
PAGEWell, Zachary, if you wanted to reduce the influence of elites, that has certainly happened in this election on both sides. Thanks so much for your call. I'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. And you can actually watch us live. We're running live-streaming video of this hour of the show at drshow.org. Well, let's take another caller. We'll go to Florida, to Fort Lauderdale, and talk to Gary. Gary, thanks for joining us.
GARYThank you. I mean, you could put me in the same category as that last caller. I'm a registered Republican. I was for Trump up until last night. And my Facebook posts all the time say I also like Bernie Sanders. But what I told your screener was that they're all hypocrites. And my point to the screener was, if his -- Chris Christie was still on that stage, he -- in the past, he stopped the candidates, the Senate candidates from going after Trump, saying this is what Senators do. They argue. And that you need someone in position of leadership that was a governor, that gets things done. But we finally exposed Trump last night, thanks to Chris -- maybe Chris Christie not being there.
GARYBut really it's because the field was reduced. Because they all had a gimmick for getting the air time. And Chris Christie's gimmick was to point to the senators and say how they argue.
PAGESo, Gary, you're in a key state there. And Florida is going to vote on March 15. Who are you going to vote for?
GARYRight -- I just switched from Trump. Because I like troublemakers, I really do. And I have my good reasons for liking troublemakers. But he's just so crude. I mean why did he go after the moderator last night?
PAGESo you switched from Trump to who?
GARYOh, Rubio. Rubio.
PAGETo Rubio, okay. Gary, thanks very much for your call.
RAJUWell, there's a lot to chew on there. But I think the Chris Christie thing that he -- that the caller mentioned is fascinating. Because Christie, of course, dropped out after his poor showing in New Hampshire. And he's the one who really stopped Rubio's momentum by that really brutal exchange that they had during that New Hampshire debate. And that's probably helped -- the fact that Christie's out of this race has helped Rubio so much. The last two debates he's had a strong performance because Chris Christie hasn't been there.
PAGEThere are other issues we want to talk about. Let's talk about this Supreme Court vacancy. President Obama says he's going to make a -- he's going to put forward a nominee. Republican's say and the Senate said they won't even hold hearings on it. A name surfaced this week, which I thought was possibly mischievous. Who was it, Michael?
SCHERERYeah. Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, a former District Court judge who is a Republican who is prochoice, who would have been very difficult for Republicans to deny even a hearing for. He's, you know, becoming a very popular Republican governor coming from a swing state. The debate at this point is not even about whether or not President Obama should get a nominee to replace the Supreme Court. The debate is over the country should even be allowed to discuss whether or not President Obama should get a nominee at the Supreme Court.
SCHERERRepublicans have an enormous interest right now in not even having hearings, not even having this be a debate. And the president has enormous interest in raising this issue going into the election. And I think, you know, the pushback that you saw, Sandoval deciding to back out, I assume under enormous pressure.
PAGEYou think Republicans pressured him to pull himself out?
SCHERERI don't know.
STOLBERGI think he would have been a turncoat. I mean, I think this points up something very interesting, which is who wants to sacrifice him or herself to be this nominee? So basically, if you've got a job -- let's say, you're a governor, you’re a judge or attorney general, Loretta Lynch whose name has been mentioned -- who wants to be the nominee who goes up to the Senate and Republicans refuse even to shake the nominee's hand, much less hold a hearing. You know you're not going to be confirmed. Maybe there's a hope that Hillary Clinton gets elected and she revives the dead nominee from 2016. But this is hardball, really, like we have never seen before.
RAJUAnd the Sandoval thing sort of came up after a meeting with Harry Reid in Harry Reid's office on Monday. Sandoval actually expressed interest in being vetted for the position. Reid passed that information along to the White House. The White House said it was vetting him after that. And but then this uproar happened after his name leaked out. And he said -- his people were telling me privately that he did not want to be a political pawn, which was what was happening here.
PAGEWell, but a real change of heart there between Monday and Thursday. It makes you wonder who was urging him to withdraw his name?
STOLBERGWell, has seen a reaction. Yeah.
RAJUFrom his own party.
STOLBERGAnd some Democrats.
PAGEWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we're going to continue our conversation. We'll talk about the plan to close Gitmo and we'll talk about the bipartisan deal that's been reached to find help for the citizens of Flint, Mich., in that water crisis. We'll take your calls and questions. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. And with me in the studio this hour, Michael Scherer, Sheryl Stolberg and Manu Raju. It's the domestic hour of our Friday News Roundup. We have some listeners who have some comments on our previous conversations. Let's deal with two of them first. Lisa has sent us a tweet that says why is Hillary Clinton held to a different standard than other candidates? Is it because she's a woman? Now that's a complaint that we've heard from Hillary Clinton herself, that she's being held to a different standard. Is it fair, Sheryl?
STOLBERGWell, some would argue that Hillary Clinton has created different standards for herself. I think the question of is she being held to a different standard because she's a woman? Truthfully, I don't see that. Maybe my male colleagues want to weigh in on that one. But I think she's being held to a very tough standard. She's a politician with a very, very long record. And so, there's a lot of ground out there to examine and any time, as I said earlier, anyone runs for President, they are vetted and investigated and we -- you know, the press tries to do a thorough job.
RAJUYeah, I don't think the email issue, the Wall Street issue, anything that she's done in her past has anything to do with gender. It's about the fact that she's running for the highest office in the land.
SCHERERI would say the answer is by who and on what issue? I think, clearly, she's held to a different standard on some things. I think a woman running for an office that a woman has never held is getting different scrutiny. You still hear talks, you know, about when she raises her voice, she seems too angry. I don't think you would get that from Donald Trump -- that kind of criticism for someone like Donald Trump.
STOLBERGThat's exactly true. But not on these Wall Street, email issues.
SCHERERYeah, but, right. And I think voters are still, you know, we have three hundred and something million people in this country. I think a lot of voters are still grappling with the issue of having a woman President. And I think in some ways, it will benefit her and in some ways, it will hurt her. Very much like when Barack Obama ran in 2008, there were a lot of people who voted for Barack Obama because they were excited about having an African American President. And there were a lot of Americans who voted against him because they didn't want an African American President. So...
PAGEYou know, I think there's still something of a double standard for a woman running for the Presidency, but it's so much less than it was eight years ago. I mean, when you think about the contest eight years ago, it seems to me, Hillary Clinton's gender was much more of a factor in the scrutiny that she got. She argues that Republic -- why aren't we demanding that Republicans release, the Republicans release their transcripts when they spoke to Wall Street bankers. And maybe that's a fair point.
STOLBERGWell, I was just going to harp back, that I would say there may be a double standard with respect to her behavior, her personal style, her laugh, her presence and demeanor. But in terms of the vetting of her record, I don't think there's a double standard.
PAGENow, here's an email from Barry, who writes us in Virginia. He says, not surprisingly, the liberal news media are missing an important explanation for Trump's popularity. I am not an angry blue collar worker. I'm a comfortably retired college graduate and I'm not angry about the politicians. What I am is tired of being told what to think and who to support by conceited media mavens. I see voting for Trump as firing a shot across the bow of the establishment. Manu, what do you think?
RAJUYou know, that really, you know, speaks to Trump's appeal, in a lot of ways. I mean, he is not a politician. And you saw that on the debate stage last night. Even as he was under this withering assault from Cruz and Rubio, he just said, look, these are politicians. They're all talk. They're all talk. They're politicians. And look, maybe at the end of the day, even though he sustained a really tough debate, he may come out okay because of the fact that he is not a politician.
SCHERERThe American people feel like the elites of this country and the media and politics have failed them. On both sides.
STOLBERGAnd that's what's animating Trump.
SCHERERAnd you don't have to be blue collar. You don't -- that's a broad feeling that they have been ill served and whoever can tap into that will have a lot of influence.
PAGEWell, and given the dysfunction in Washington, the failure of Washington to deal with problems big and small, it's hard to argue that the elite, the political elite, and maybe you'd include the media in that too, hasn't failed them. Let's talk about an example of that from this week, which is the -- President Obama ran in 2008, promising to close Gitmo. Now the Pentagon has -- he's not succeeded in fulfilling that promise. The Pentagon sent out a four point plan to Congress this week to do that.
PAGEYou then had a video of Senator Pat Roberts from my home state of Kansas taking the plan, tearing it up, throwing it in a trash can. Which, Manu, I guess means this plan is not going anywhere.
RAJUYeah. Probably not. I mean, really, what the plan entails is transferring of 60 detainees onto US soil, either for trial or for detention. It needs an act of Congress in order to move forward. One of the, you know, Roberts, you'd expect him to oppose it, but the people that he could get support from are also opposing it, namely John McCain, who, of course, former prisoner of war. He came out and strongly repudiated the plan, saying it's sort of a vague menu of options.
RAJUAnd that the President has missed has missed his window by pushing it so late in his Presidency. And with the political climate, it's just so hard to see any action there.
SCHERERIt does need an act of Congress to happen, unless the President decides he can use his authority as Commander in Chief, under the Constitution, to do it unilaterally. Which he has not ruled out. I don't think it's likely that he would do this in an election year, but there is this potential there that, assuming Congress says to him, no, we're not doing this, he would then argue that the national security interests of the United States are so tied up in Guantanamo continuing to exist and continuing to be a motivator for terrorists, that he is going to make this move unilaterally, despite a law that says he cannot do it. Which would make a very interesting court case.
STOLBERGI think he does so really at peril, though, because there has been such an uproar in this Presidency over the President's use of executive authority, by Republicans. They are completely exorcised about this in every regard, from the healthcare law to all kinds of other -- immigration, et cetera. So, for him to draw a line and use his executive authority to directly contravene a law that Congress has passed would, I think, be very difficult politically for him.
STOLBERGBut this is really unfinished business for Barack Obama. He campaigned on it in 2008. One of his first acts as President was to issue an executive order instructing that the government close down Guantanamo within a year. It hasn't happened. He's very frustrated about it.
PAGEBut there was a kind of pro forma feeling, I thought, to this plan.
STOLBERGI think so, too.
PAGEThere was no expectation by anyone, the people writing the plan and presenting it that it was going to go anywhere.
RAJUYeah, it was almost like him just laying down a marker, saying I tried.
STOLBERGAnd I have to check this box.
RAJUAnd I have to check this box. And I do agree that if he did this unilaterally, it would really energize Republicans. It would be a real problem for Democrats in a general election.
PAGEYou know, we've -- we do have Congress beginning to move ahead on the whole issue of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Which has inflamed people in both parties. A bipartisan group of Senators have a deal on how to help. What are they calling to do, Michael?
SCHERERIt's mostly loan guarantees. It's about between 220 and 250 million dollars that would go to help communities, Flint and others, who have problems with lead pipes, to replace those pipes. And it pays for it by taking the money from a different loan guarantee program for fuel efficient cars. It takes from one side and gives to the other.
PAGEManu, you cover Congress every day. Will this pass?
RAJUI think there's a very good chance that it passes, given the wide support among the different, pretty diverse coalition of Senators, getting behind this and there's some buying among House Republicans, too, to move this. What's so interesting, too, is that there is this battle, for years it's raged, over Congressional earmarks, which are money that's given to localities back home. And the fact that Republicans have ruled out this congressionally directed spending, these earmarks.
RAJUOr some people call pork barrel projects made it a little bit harder to move forward on this, because they couldn't just give money to Flint. They had to open this up to a wide variety of communities which forced a larger coalition and mostly if it actually passes.
STOLBERGAnd Susan, this is a reminder that members of Congress are up for election too and they can't go home empty handed. They have to show that they're addressing the nation's problems and that it's not all dysfunction and gridlock in Washington.
PAGEIs there anything else that you think gets done this year in Congress?
RAJUThat's a great question. So, there is an effort to deal with the opioid and prescription drug and heroin addiction crises in this country. There's an effort that's gonna begin in the Senate next week. There's a chance that that could be done. There's some various competing approaches. Potentially that. You know, but beyond, you know, some narrowly tailored legislative action, it's harder to see anything broader happening. One of the interesting things on the House side is that Paul Ryan is really struggling to get a budget through in the House.
RAJUYou know, this is, he's a former budget Chairman. But he's facing a lot of uproar from conservatives -- this division between conservatives who don't want him to spend more money and defense hawks who do want him to spend more money. And if Ryan doesn't get a budget through, that will be a big black eye in his speakership. Because he's wanted to change things up and do things through regular order.
STOLBERGI think what's interesting is that what we're seeing is what's likely to get done are things that are along non-ideological lines. So, Supreme Court nominee? No. But something like the water crisis, which affects Republicans and Democrats, heroin epidemic, which affects Republicans and Democrats and old and young, everybody in between, those are the kinds of things that we might see Congress tackle.
PAGEYou know, Michael...
RAJUAnd they're not -- I should just add quickly, they're not in session very often.
STOLBERGThey're busy running.
RAJUThey're, they're running for their re-elections.
PAGEI wonder if, in at least one case, inaction could become an issue for some of the Senators who are running, the Republican Senators who are running in swing states, Michael. I wonder if the failure, the unwillingness to even hold a hearing on a Supreme Court nominee could be troubling for Senators, Republican Senators to defend when they go back and talk to swing voters.
SCHERERI think it can. I think that's why Mitch McConnell came out hours after we found out about Justice Scalia's death and told the country and his members no way are we even considering this. Because he wanted to shut it down soon. I think what I said earlier, they don't, Republicans see a danger in this discussion. So, it's not just in the possibility that someone gets nominated, it's if this is a big issue through the summer and we're talking about why Republicans are not giving a hearing to sterling candidate x, then it could really affect Republicans in swing states.
STOLBERGYeah, I was in Ohio last week, reporting precisely this story, covering the race of Rod Portman, the Senator from Ohio. He is a fairly moderate, or moderate in demeanor, certainly, but has broken with his party, voted for Loretta Lynch to confirm her for Attorney General. And he is really feeling the squeeze. His base wants him to absolutely stand firm, no nominee should be confirmed. His likely Democratic opponent, Ted Strickland, the former Ohio Governor is making hay of this, saying that, you know, we've got to, you know, the President has the right to get his nominee through.
STOLBERGAnd at least get a hearing. And other Senators as well. Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania. Mark Kirk in Illinois. You know, swing state Republicans are in a squeeze over this, and that is why they want to stop this in its tracks and not even be confronted with a hearing.
RAJUYou know, I talked to Republican leaders about it. They actually feel pretty good, politically. Because they think that they can make the case that the Senate is the firewall to prevent against a liberal justice. That can really energize their base, particularly if the top of their ticket, starts to tank, they can say look, we can keep the majority and this is going to be so important to the Supreme Court going forward, when they look at the polls, they feel sort of a wash. Both bases will be energized on this. Independents are sort of divided.
RAJUSo, what does it mean at the end of the day? It could mean, you know, very little if both sides are benefit equally, relatively.
STOLBERGAnd polls show the country is divided, even split among Americans about whether a candidate should be -- go forward this year or wait until the next President. And not surprisingly, Democrats and Republicans, you know, view it in opposite ways.
SCHERERMy favorite part about all these court stories and fights is that everyone's principled stand would easily be reversed if the hat was on someone else's...
STOLBERGAs Chuck Grassley pointed out about Joe Biden this week.
SCHERERAnd you can go -- you go back through the years, you see Mitch McConnell saying there is not rule that we can't have a nominee. You see Joe Biden saying we can't have a nominee. I mean, like everybody takes a stand here, but really the court has become so politicized over the years that this is a political fight. It's as if you're appointing a politician.
RAJUAnd, and the one thing that I'd add to is that the judicial fights, each party does something else to sort of one up the other party. And they've done, you know, we never really saw filibusters before on Supreme Court nominees. Now, it's sort of gonna -- expected.
RAJUAlmost expected. And if the fact for the Republicans do not even hold a hearing, that's going to be the first time since the modern era of confirmation hearings that a Supreme Court nominee will have not even gotten a hearing. That's since 1955, when the modern era of that effort began. And you can only imagine what the next majority will do.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. Sheryl.
STOLBERGI think this is also a rare election in which, you know, three branches of government, really, are up for grabs, right? We have the Presidency up for grabs. The Senate, maybe. You know, Democrats, probably a long shot, but now the Supreme Court is also, in a way, up for grabs. The death of Justice Scalia leaves the Court divided four to four. Whoever replaces Justice Scalia will set policy and can set the course of the Court for generations. And I think, we also can't forget that this is really about one of our country's most august institutions.
STOLBERGThe Supreme Court, which has always, at least, many thought, until Bush v. Gore, in 2000, was above politics. So, to the extent that this further immerses the Supreme Court in the political rough and tumble of our country, I think, maybe both sides have lost.
PAGEAnd, you know, they're going to be reminded of this through the year if there are a series of 4-4 decisions out of the court. So essentially no decisions because...
STOLBERGOn some very important issues. Voting rights, the court's taking up this year.
PAGEWell, let's talk about another court case. This is the one between Apple and the FBI. Michael, bring us up to speed on what's happening there.
SCHERERThe -- Apple has made arguments that will be heard over the coming months, resisting the FBI's demand that they create a new operating system that would allow the FBI, through brute force, to try millions of passwords on this iPhone from the San Bernardino terrorist. Until they got the right one. Apple has built a system that not only gives the key to the lock box only to the owner, but makes it so you can't try the key more than 10 times. And so what the FBI is saying, essentially, is you have to build a new system we'll overlay on that old system so we can try the key a lot of times.
SCHERERThe issue here is really fascinating. We've gotten to a point now where technology has evolved to really, by design, prevent the longstanding tradition of courts and governments to be able with a specific subpoena, to basically open any box. And what Apple is saying is we have designed a system that cannot be hacked and if you make us write new software to do this, you're asking us to do something above and beyond. And if that precedent stands, then the future of technology and encryption will shift dramatically. Because there are lots of ways of building boxes that can't be opened.
PAGEHere's an email from Victor who's writing us from Texas. He says, if Apple allows the US government access to an iPhone because it belonged to a terrorist, what stops China and Russia from requiring access to an iPhone because it belonged to someone they consider a terrorist? That's very much the argument we're hearing from Apple.
STOLBERGThat is exactly the argument Apple is making. Apple hired Ted Olson, the noted Supreme Court advocate and former Solicitor General under George W. Bush to make precisely that argument. We're gonna see court papers, I believe, filed in the case today. Tim Cook, Apple's Chief Executive said this would be like a cancer. This, you know, requirement would be like a cancer.
PAGECreating a cancer.
STOLBERGCreating a cancer that nothing could stop it.
PAGEAnd Manu, this came up even in the debate last night, the Republican debate. They took a pretty unified stance. What did the Republican candidates say?
RAJUYeah, they sided with the government against Apple, which is, you know, been sort of the Republican response at large, saying that Apple should comply with what the government is doing. And what is interesting is that you're sort of seeing the -- not having Rand Paul on that stage, what impact that is having on the Republican debate. Because he almost certainly would have sided with Apple and its calls that this is protected by the First Amendment.
PAGEI guest hosted a show for Diane on Tuesday on this issue, and Michael Hayden, the former Director of the NSA and CIA, called in to talk about it and took the side of Apple and Silicon Valley and saying they should not be forced to create back doors for law enforcement to use because it opens it up to, as Tim Cook said, abuse by others. So an interesting stance from an unexpected voice there. Well, I want to thank our panelists for being with us this hour.
PAGEMichael Scherer from Time Magazine. Sheryl Gay Stolberg from the New York Times. Manu Raju from CNN. Thank you all for joining us on The Diane Rehm Show.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
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