Guest Host: Tom Gjelten

FBI director James Comey is sworn-in before giving testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on the encryption of the iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino attackers on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on March 1.

FBI director James Comey is sworn-in before giving testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on the encryption of the iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino attackers on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on March 1.

Former G.O.P. presidential nominee Mitt Romney leads the charge of establishment Republicans against Donald Trump. In a speech yesterday, Romney sharply criticized the G.O.P. frontrunner and called for the party to rally around one of his rivals. The Justice Department grants immunity to a staffer who set up Hillary Clinton’s private email server. Republican senators meet with President Obama but don’t give ground on a hearing for his potential Supreme Court nominee. And the U.S. economy grew by 242,000 jobs in February, keeping the unemployment rate steady at 4.9 percent. A panel of journalists joins guest host Tom Gjelten for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.


  • David Leonhardt Editor, The Upshot, a New York Times website covering politics and policy.
  • Molly Ball Staff writer, The Atlantic
  • Naftali Bendavid Editor and reporter, The Wall Street Journal

Live Video


  • 10:06:54

    MR. TOM GJELTENThanks for joining us. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR sitting in for Diane Rehm. The four remaining Republican presidential candidates have another raucous debate. The FBI chief faces tough questions from lawmakers over his agency's encryption battle with Apple. And the Supreme Court hears arguments in a major abortion case.

  • 10:07:14

    MR. TOM GJELTENJoining me for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup, Naftali Bendavid of The Wall Street Journal, Molly Ball of The Atlantic and David Leonhardt of the New York Times. It's an all-star panel and we know this is your favorite part of "The Diane Rehm Show" each week and the great thing is, this is the one hour we live stream on our website,

  • 10:07:37

    MR. TOM GJELTENAnd as always, you can, of course, call in with your questions or comments, 1-800-433-8850 is our number. Our email is And you can send us messages on Facebook or Twitter or our website. David, Molly, Naftali, great to see you.

  • 10:07:56


  • 10:07:56

    MS. MOLLY BALLGreat to be here.

  • 10:07:56

    MR. NAFTALI BENDAVIDGood morning.

  • 10:07:57

    GJELTENSo we're seeing history made here with this Republican presidential race, aren't we? Someone writing in The Atlantic this week said the Republican party is experiencing a paroxysm of abject terror. Molly Ball, those are your words.

  • 10:08:14

    BALLThat was me. Yes.

  • 10:08:16

    GJELTENAnd that was before Romney's anti-Trump blast before last night's rather contentious debate. What's the world today?

  • 10:08:24

    BALLI would say abject terror remains apt description, possibly even more so. You know, I've been covering the Republican civil war for many years now. I sort of consider myself a war correspondent. And there was time when these fractures were much more subdued and when they could be denied and when you would hear party leaders say, oh, this is just the liberal media blowing things out of proportion.

  • 10:08:52

    BALLEvery party has different factions, but we all come together and we do what's best. The Donald Trump candidacy has blown that to smithereens and we have seen the party fracture in a lot of really interesting ways. I think we have seen that there are even more fault lines than we previously knew. In the years of the Tea Party, it was very much about there was a Republican establishment and there was a conservative movement and they were at odds and sometimes one of them would win or the other.

  • 10:09:20

    BALLThere are many more factions and they are motivated by different things, I think, than we previously assumed, particularly the Trump vote. And as Trump has pointed out, he is expanding the base of the Republican party. He's bringing in a lot of new people, a lot of people who weren't previously Republican primary voters. I've met a lot of them at his rallies. And so the party has to grapple with how it is going to, first of all, whether he's going to be the nominee, whether the leadership of the party is going to be able to prevent an outcome that most of them do not want.

  • 10:09:56

    BALLAnd then, if that happens, what that means for the future of this political party.

  • 10:10:02

    GJELTENWell, David, can this political party survive this revolt by its own leadership, its establishment leadership? I mean, what Mitt Romney said yesterday was just extraordinary.

  • 10:10:14

    LEONHARDTIt was. It was, right. We have the last nominee of a party giving an absolutely blistering series of criticisms of the leading candidate in the very next cycle. Sure, there is a scenario in which the Republican party survives a Trump nomination. Trump's the nominee. He loses badly. Next time around, the party figures a way to avoid this kind of situation.

  • 10:10:33

    GJELTENWait. So you're saying Republican party survives only if it loses?

  • 10:10:36

    LEONHARDTYeah. I think it -- I mean, I think there is a scenario in which he's the nominee, it loses and it still survives. But I also think there's scenarios in which it doesn't survive. I mean, there has long been a strain of populist, nativist feelings in this country, right? If you do a map and look at George Wallace's performance in 1968, it actually maps quite closely to where Trump is doing well now.

  • 10:10:55

    LEONHARDTSo parts of this aren't new. But it has been turbo-charged by two developments. One has been the really disappointing performance of the economy over now, the last 15 years. Wages have essentially stopped growing for much of the country. Particularly less educated parts of the country. And two, the sense among a lot of people that America is changing. Now, many people welcome those changes, right?

  • 10:11:19

    LEONHARDTGay marriage is now legal. Racism still exists, but there's much less of it than there used to be. We are a less religious nation than we used to be. And so people who've always been attracted to this more populist, nativist brand of politics, I think, have real worries that the country is getting away from them and I think that is a tension that it is very hard for the Republican party to grapple with when it gets very severe because the party has always depended on their votes without quite doing what those voters actually want.

  • 10:11:50

    GJELTENWell, Naftali, on the other hand, all four -- or I should say all three non-Trump candidates last night said they would support Trump if he is the nominee.

  • 10:11:59

    BENDAVIDYeah, they did. It was put to them very directly. They didn't seem to really want to answer it, but they all grudgingly sort of said yes and he sort of grudgingly said he'd support the nominee if it weren't him, although he added that he could barely imagine such a scenario ever unfolding. But I think, to get back to the Romney thing, I think that was fascinating from a few perspectives.

  • 10:12:16

    BENDAVIDFor one thing, you'd think he's the worst possible messenger. I mean, this is the guy they're rebelling against. I mean, why put up there the guy who is very establishment, who lost the last presidential election for the Republican party. It didn't seem right. But as I was watching it, I was wondering if there wasn't another goal here and that is to preserve the Republican brand through what might be a very troubled time for them. I mean, there's going to be a post Trump era and the questions are going to be asked, did Republican leaders stand up to this guy when it mattered.

  • 10:12:44

    BENDAVIDAnd I think there are some of them, and I'd include Paul Ryan in this category, too, that want to be able to say yes, we did, and that's going to matter not only for upcoming Senate and House races, but for elections in the future as the Republican party tries to build. And there's this war over whether Trump will be the nominee, but I think there's another war over whether the Republican party is the party of Trump. You know, the Democrats are increasingly calling the Republicans the party of Trump every opportunity they get.

  • 10:13:06

    BENDAVIDThey try to tie every possible Republican candidate to something Trump did or said. And Republicans have this much more delicate task of trying to disassociate themselves from the guy who is now their leading presidential candidate and that's something that I think you're seeing playing out all the time right now, as well.

  • 10:13:20

    GJELTENWell, Molly, how did this story advance with the debate last night? And as we just said, you know, the other candidates said they would support Trump. They didn't want to. In fact, Marco Rubio was on NPR this morning almost walking back that commitment. But did the debate change anything last night?

  • 10:13:36

    BALLWell, I think we have seen that these debates have not tended to alter the shape of the races only because the race has been remarkably stable. Since Trump entered the race, he's been on top, period, end of story. There has been some roiling under the surface and we've seen the different candidates run up against Trump and fall backwards and expire, for the most part, 'cause nobody has managed to do anything to really dent him.

  • 10:14:00

    BALLBut I think the debate a week ago was the first time Rubio and Cruz went really aggressively after Trump. That continued last night. It also went into, frankly, surreal territory for a presidential debate with some of the...

  • 10:14:14

    GJELTENLet's not go there, Molly.

  • 10:14:16

    BALL...some of the...

  • 10:14:17

    GJELTENThis is "The Diane Rehm Show."

  • 10:14:17

    BALL...literally below the belt conversation on the part of Donald Trump and just another way in which this refreshing candidate breaks the rules of political discourse, right? But, you know, I think we have yet to see Trump be deflated, but what you will hear from some of these Republicans who are still trying to mount aggressive efforts to take him down, is that no one has really tried.

  • 10:14:46

    BALLThe amount of television advertising against him has been very small. The fact that Rubio and Cruz had barely attacked him at all until a week ago, well into the primary season, also tells you that while other candidates have certainly tried to criticize him, there has not been a real, strong unanimous attempt to sort of coalesce an anti-Trump sentiment and get voters on board with it. So this is going to intensify and I think that's what we learned from the debate.

  • 10:15:16

    GJELTENWell, David, is it a foregone conclusion that Trump is going to be the nominee? We just had these Super Tuesday results where Trump won all but four states. And yet, he's still a long ways from the delegates totals, isn't he? So what is the scenario? What is the non Trump scenario that still is viable?

  • 10:15:37

    LEONHARDTYeah. So my colleague at the New York Times, Nate Cohn, just posted a really nice piece on this, which is if people continue to vote as they have, demographic groups, political groups, if things continue on the path they've been, Trump will easily clear the bar of getting 50 percent of the delegates. So I think that's the first thing to keep in mind.

  • 10:15:55

    GJELTENBut most of the primaries have been in the South, right?

  • 10:15:57

    LEONHARDTYeah, so that's analysis takes that into account, right?

  • 10:16:00

    GJELTENOkay, okay.

  • 10:16:00

    LEONHARDTBasically, it takes the northern states that have voted so far and imagines other northern states votes, then takes into account education, religion. However, there's no guarantee that people will continue to vote as they have voted and I think Molly's point is a really good one. The attacks are now intensifying. And on the one hand, it is true that nothing has brought down Trump, at this point. On the other hand, attacks often work in politics.

  • 10:16:23

    LEONHARDTAnd so I still think there is a substantial chance that Trump fails to clear 50 percent. Maybe there's even a chance that someone overtakes him, but I think it's more likely that there's a substantial chance that he fails to clear 50 percent. We then have a brokered convention and the Republican party then has the ability to pick a nominee other than Donald Trump.

  • 10:16:40

    GJELTENNaftali, what are you looking at next?

  • 10:16:41

    BENDAVIDI mean, I just -- well, what's, I think, in terms of significant milestones is perhaps the March 15 primaries when both Florida and Ohio, as well as a couple other states, vote. But also, it's the beginning of the winner-take-all portion of the primary season. Something that is actually hurt Trump, I think, is that the votes have been proportional to this point so that he could win a bunch of states, but the guys who came in second and sometimes third also get some.

  • 10:17:05

    BENDAVIDAnd there's the obvious point, too, that Florida is Rubio's home state. Ohio is Kasich's. They both need to win those so I think that's a pivotal point. But I just find it very difficult -- I'm not saying there's no path for anyone else to defeat Trump, but it's really hard to see. I mean, for example, a lot of money is being poured into Florida right now with the goal of having Rubio win in Florida. But if he does, I'm not sure what that gets you. I mean, so then he's won one state and then, Trump has still won a bunch of states.

  • 10:17:31

    GJELTENJohn Kasich has to win Ohio, I guess.

  • 10:17:33

    BENDAVIDAnd I also think that getting to the convention with, you know, Trump having more delegates than anyone else and the rest splintered among other candidates and then they take it away from him, I'm not sure that's a practical scenario either.

  • 10:17:45

    GJELTENNaftali Bendavid is an editor and reporter with The Wall Street Journal. I'm also with David Leonhardt with the New York Times and Molly Ball at The Atlantic. We're talking about this crazy Republican race. And remember, you can watch us. Our live video stream is at We're gonna take a short break right here. When we come back, we'll pick up with this discussion of where things stand in the 2016 presidential race. Stay tuned.

  • 10:20:02

    GJELTENWelcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten, I'm sitting in for Diane Rehm today. This is the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup, where we review all the big domestic news stories of the week. My guests are David Leonhardt, he's an editor at The New York Times, Molly Ball, who's a staff writer at The Atlantic, and Naftali Bendavid, he's an editor and reporter with The Wall Street Journal. Remember, you can call us, 1-800-433-8850. You can watch us on your computer, because were live-streaming this hour at And of course you can email us,

  • 10:20:40

    GJELTENLarry from New York writes, I'll be leaving the Republican Party this fall if Donald Trump is the standard bearer. Any Republican should ask whether they want to support a man who will not disavow and renounce the likes of David Duke, the KKK, and Louis Farrakhan. I've been a life-long Republican and this is the end of the party as I see it. Well, Donald Trump has totally changed this conversation. And, Molly, you said something really interesting during the break, which I want you to share with our listeners, which is that even if Trump is not the nominee, he doesn't disappear from this conversation.

  • 10:21:15

    BALLThat's right. I mean unless the Republican Party actually manages to assassinate Donald Trump...

  • 10:21:19


  • 10:21:19

    BALL...which I think some of them would probably like to do, he is going to continue to exist. And if they find a way to wrest the nomination from him, I think, at the convention in Cleveland in July, it will be a tremendously messy and ugly spectacle. But there certainly are a lot of people in the party who feel that it's got to be done because it's the only way. And then Donald Trump is still out there. And his movement, as he likes to call it, of sort of disaffected voters, is still out there. And I don't think he's going to go quietly and just tell them all to come into the fold and vote for, you know, Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan or whoever they've tried to hand the nomination to.

  • 10:21:57

    GJELTENWell, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie dropped out and said his supporters should vote for Donald Trump. But, David, how many of his supporters have actually been swayed by that argument?

  • 10:22:07

    LEONHARDTYeah, and there weren't that many of them to begin with. I mean, I think, I'll respectfully disagree that anyone wants to assassinate Donald Trump. But I think part of what Romney was doing yesterday was trying to set this up as a Trump or not Trump.

  • 10:22:21


  • 10:22:21

    LEONHARDTRight? And if you do that and you get to the convention and Trump has by far the most delegates, but he still doesn't have 50 percent of it -- and I think Naftali disagrees a little bit with this and none of us know -- but I think then the party can make the argument. This was a Trump or not Trump race. Yes, Trump got 40, 45 percent of the delegates. Yes, that was vastly more than anyone else. But still the majority of the party doesn't want him. He was the dominant figure in this race. And then they would say, we can go out and go get someone else who's not Rubio, who's not Cruz, who's not Kasich -- hey, it might be Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan -- and say that's essentially our consensus candidate.

  • 10:22:57

    LEONHARDTThe risk would be you turn off all the Trump supporters. The reason why you might do that confidently is we've seen from history, when there are really nasty primaries, people often fall in line. Remember how much the Hillary Clinton supporters were angry at Barack Obama in 2008? Well, when Obama got to a general election, they fell in line.

  • 10:23:13


  • 10:23:13

    LEONHARDTAnd if the Republicans could run someone against Hillary, there's a chance they lose a lot of Trump supporters. There's also a chance that at the end of the day, those people say, ugh, Hillary Clinton. I'm going with generic Republican.

  • 10:23:25

    BENDAVIDI think if there's that kind of a contested convention scenario, it would -- I mean, Donald Trump's supporters are impassioned, they're angry, they feel strongly about their guy. I just think there would be an absolute rebellion within the party. And I -- and if they did decide to go it that route, somehow -- that is to say they would go outside the primary process and pick a leader of the party, a John McCain or Paul Ryan or somebody like that -- I think that would be more about preserving the dignity and the name of the Republican Party than it would be about winning the next election.

  • 10:23:53

    BENDAVIDBecause I think there'd be so much outrage on the part of people who have participated in the primary process and even if their guy didn't get the majority, if he got more than anyone else, it would just bolster their feelings that the system's rigged...

  • 10:24:05


  • 10:24:05

    BENDAVID...and that the establishment is against them and doesn't care about ordinary people. And I think it would be an incredibly risky thing to do. And it might be a gamble they would take to preserve their brand, but not necessarily as a winning strategy.

  • 10:24:15

    GJELTENWell, Molly, let's pivot to the general election. Hillary Clinton is now nearly half way to clinching a majority, because of all the super delegates that she has brought to this. Last night, Donald Trump made one of his questionable assertions, which is that he is the only one who can beat Hillary, when in fact my reading of RealClearPolitics shows that he's the furthest behind Hillary of all the candidates. But how confident can Hillary Clinton's campaign be about a contest in the fall against Donald Trump?

  • 10:24:45

    BALLWell, I would say, first of all, don't read head-to-head polls in March...

  • 10:24:49


  • 10:24:50

    BALL...and think they mean much. It is true that these are two candidates that the electorate knows very well. And so I do think a lot of impressions of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are baked in. But something we know about Donald Trump is that he's very unpredictable and he has the ability to assemble different coalitions of voters than we've ever seen before. I was talking to Hillary Clinton's communications director, Jenn Palmieri, on Saturday night in South Carolina, when she won a very resounding victory -- one that I think has set her on an almost unstoppable path to the nomination. And she had -- she'd begun at that point to pivot toward a general election argument, talking about healing the country and not being divisive.

  • 10:25:29

    BALLAnd I asked Jenn, well, you've got to feel pretty good about running against Donald Trump. And what she said was, no, because this is a very unpredictable scenario. It potentially puts a lot of the Rust Belt states in play, a lot of the states where Mitt Romney was not able to get close but where Republicans have been winning in midterm elections -- states like Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania. That's where this base of sort of disaffected, white, working-class men is. And it's a state that did not -- that -- where Obama underperformed his polling, even as he barely won Ohio in 2012. So there are potentially new states on the map with a Trump candidacy, new coalitions.

  • 10:26:11

    BALLOne of the reasons Republicans don't like Trump is that he's not particularly conservative. So this ideology that says that we're going to have a protectionist trade policy and protect Social Security benefits and health care for everybody in some strange way and maybe even taxes on rich people, that potentially has a broader appeal than some -- than an ideology like that of Ted Cruz in a general election.

  • 10:26:37

    LEONHARDTI think the Clinton people are right to take Trump seriously because he is an extremely skilled performer, politician. Extremely skilled. I think absent a surprise, Hillary Clinton would be an overwhelming favorite against Trump. And I think there are two big potential sources of surprise. One is the investigation into her. And two is the fact that there's a Democratic president that she's chosen to align herself with very closely. And therefore, if there is a recession, if there is a war, if there is a terrorist attack, there's a way in which it could break against her.

  • 10:27:05

    LEONHARDTAbsent that, I agree that some of those Midwest Rust Belt states are places where Trump could be surprisingly strong. But I think we've seen that his brand of politics generally doesn't play nationally outside of the Republican Party. And I also agree with Molly that head-to-head polls in March are generally -- you shouldn't put much weight on them. But I think there's a lot of evidence that, absent a surprise, Trump would be an overwhelming underdog against Hillary Clinton.

  • 10:27:30

    GJELTENDo you agree with Molly that Hillary Clinton, at this point, is -- did you say nearly unstoppable?

  • 10:27:36


  • 10:27:36

    GJELTENSomething like that.

  • 10:27:37

    LEONHARDTAbsolutely. I mean, yeah, Hillary is winning the nonwhite vote in such overwhelming numbers. Iowa and New Hampshire look nothing like America, right? They are overwhelmingly white states with no large cities, where the Democrats...

  • 10:27:50

    GJELTENAnd so is Colorado, for example.

  • 10:27:51

    LEONHARDT...are -- but Colorado at least has -- yes, Colorado has -- exactly. But Colorado still has a larger Latino population, it has Denver. And so because Iowa and New Hampshire, these rural, very white states go first, we think they are more representative of the country than they are. Hillary Clinton, barring a surprise...

  • 10:28:07


  • 10:28:08

    LEONHARDT...has -- is well on her way to the nomination.

  • 10:28:11

    GJELTENWell, Naftali, barring a surprise, a big development this week, one of Hillary Clinton's staffers, the guy who apparently set up her private email server, has gotten immunity. He had previously pled the Fifth Amendment when asking about this. How big a development is that? And is there, you know, can we rule out the prospect of a big surprise?

  • 10:28:32

    BENDAVIDWe certainly can't rule it out because we just don't know what's -- what the FBI is coming up with. But I guess I would caution against reading this as some sort of clear sign that Hillary Clinton's in trouble. A very plausible reading of this is that the FBI just wasn't getting anywhere and they needed to give this guy immunity so they could talk to somebody and find out a little more details about how this server was set up in her house and so forth. So it is an interesting and sort of, you know, pivotal moment. I -- even more so is going to be that Hillary Clinton's going to probably talk to the FBI, has said she would willingly do that in the next few weeks. That's going to be a big moment too.

  • 10:29:05

    BENDAVIDBut I guess I would caution against a reading that, oh, my god, this guy pled the Fifth. Now Hillary's in trouble. There's some of those sort of signals coming out of the Republican side. But that's not necessarily what this means.

  • 10:29:16

    GJELTENMolly, you said that you spoke this weekend with Jennifer Palmieri from the Clinton campaign. Do you sense any -- how much anxiety do you sense in that campaign about this FBI investigation?

  • 10:29:28

    BALLYou know, this would be a much bigger story if the Republican Party weren't a series of explosions. And so one of the ironies of this cycle is that this email story has been tremendously bad for Hillary Clinton. The revelations keep coming. We keep getting new information. They have desperately tried to put it behind them and they can't because it is ongoing and she still has no good explanation for a lot of these things. But it's been so obscured, I think, mostly by the Republican race but also by the fact that Bernie Sanders has declined to attack Hillary in very strong terms. He's preferred to attack her for, you know, her ties to the big banks and so on and on policy.

  • 10:30:12

    BALLSo we've seen her really skate. The question is, does that come back in a general election? There was a time when the Democratic Party was really panicked, when Hillary's own supporters were really panicked and people in the campaign knew that this had gotten bad. But that was sort of in the fall. And since then, I think, the story has sort of flown under the radar. And their best hope is that the drip of revelations becomes their best defense, that there are so many new developments that voters start to feel like, oh, this again.

  • 10:30:47


  • 10:30:48

    BALLAnd they're over it. But that -- I don't think that's happened yet.

  • 10:30:50

    GJELTENMm-hmm. David, one of our listeners, who is also named David, writes, I just do not think the GOP gets just how bad -- I guess he's assuming to the GOP leadership here -- gets just how bad we, the people, are sick of Washington as usual. And there's something about this email story, even, that sort of reeks of Washington as usual, right? Sort of the in -- the sense of entitlement among elite politicians and so forth. Do you think that both parties are underestimating sort of how sick people are of politicians like Hillary Clinton, who represent official Washington?

  • 10:31:30

    LEONHARDTThe best predictor of voter dissatisfaction and anger, I would argue, is the state of the economy and particularly how people themselves have done. And as I mentioned before, we're now at the end or in the middle the end of 15-year period, maybe in the middle of a longer period, in which most people are seeing very slow increases in their standard of living. And that makes people angry. And so I do think people are very sick of Washington. I don't think there are easy answers, right? People are sick of Washington but they also keep electing their congress members for the most part, right?

  • 10:32:07

    LEONHARDTAnd so I don't think there's only a, oh, well, if just we could do A, B or C, it's going to help. I do think it injects more uncertainty into politics than we now have. I think that if the Democratic Party had had a deeper bench, there's a really good chance that Hillary Clinton would have been denied the nomination again. But there was no really strong governor who could run and kind of claim the mantle of change. And, as a result, you left -- we're left with the situation with Hillary and this very dynamic, fascinating guy. But he's a 74-year-old socialist from Vermont and he's not going to get the nomination.

  • 10:32:38

    GJELTENDavid Leonhardt is an editor at The New York Times. I'm Tom Gjelten. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And, David, you mentioned the economy. And, Naftali, we now have the February jobs report, 4.9 percent unemployment. That's the level it's been at for a while. A big -- but a big jump, a surprisingly big jump in the number of new jobs created.

  • 10:33:03

    BENDAVIDYeah. There were about 242,000, I think it is, created in February. And it's actually a pretty good sign that the unemployment rate stayed the same because a bunch of new people are coming into the workforce. And so the unemployment rate, which of course measures people who are looking for a job, not people who have given up looking for a job, stayed the same. But there are more people who are coming in and starting to work. I mean, there have actually been several positive signs recently. There was a big jump in hourly wage earnings last month. This month it declined a little bit.

  • 10:33:32


  • 10:33:32

    BENDAVIDBut not enough to offset the January figures. So there has been sort of what there's been for a while I guess, which is this halting, unmistakable, but certainly sporadic improvement. But there's this ongoing sort of discrepancy that's always been there between these big numbers and what people feel in their ordinary lives and their ordinary wages. And that's something that I think both parties are struggling with messaging about. What's, you know, President Obama wants to say, look, things have gotten so much better since I've been president. But I understand that, for you, Mr. and Ms. Voter, things don't feel a whole lot better. And I sort of get that. But on the other hand, I've done great with the economy.

  • 10:34:07

    BENDAVIDAnd I think both parties are kind of struggling with that divide.

  • 10:34:09

    GJELTENDavid, I want you to do a little economic forecasting here...

  • 10:34:11


  • 10:34:11

    GJELTEN...since this is such an important year. The -- we're -- everybody's been watching the Fed...

  • 10:34:18


  • 10:34:18 see what's it going to do. What do you read from these numbers in terms of whether the Fed will try to tighten up money a little more, you know, raise interest rates, something like that?

  • 10:34:26

    LEONHARDTThe best thing about these numbers is that there were real reasons to worry that the risk of a recession was growing -- some of the international problems, some of the volatility and declines in markets. And so there was worry that business would get spooked, would stop hiring people. So far, the job market doesn't show that. We're basically where we've been, pretty good hiring, pretty weak wage growth. The Fed has made the same mistake again and again and again, since 2000, which is they have been too quick to take their foot off the gas. They just started taking their foot off the gas a few months ago and then we had all this volatility.

  • 10:34:58

    LEONHARDTSo my guess is that Janet Yellen, who understands the Fed has made the same mistake, is going to be extremely cautious. But she's in a tough spot because the job market points toward raising rates, the economic picture as a whole probably doesn't yet point toward raising rates.

  • 10:35:12

    GJELTENWell, I read somewhere this week -- and you're a political reporter, you probably know what it was I read, I don't remember where I read it -- that Mitt Romney, when he ran for president in 2012, guaranteed that at the end of his first term unemployment would be below 6 percent. Now it's in fact below 5 percent. What does that do to the Republican, sort of, message?

  • 10:35:32

    BALLWell, I think it is going to be very interesting to hear. Because, as Naftali was saying, there is still a lot of stagnation when it comes to wages. And so it'll be interesting to hear whether Hillary Clinton, in particular, is willing to really go out there and say, hey, things are getting better. Things are great. When still overwhelmingly people are dissatisfied with the direction of the country, people don't feel like things are great.

  • 10:35:56

    BALLSo -- and, as David said before, you know, how people feel about the state of the economy is the biggest predictor of how an election is going to turn out. So does she try to make that affirmative argument or does she continue to sort of argue the way Republicans are arguing, that we do need change to make people's everyday situation better? I mean, I think one of the most interesting things about this general election argument that Trump has started to unveil, is that it's an argument against Washington gridlock. And he's arguing that, as a dealmaker, he can get people together and make things happen.

  • 10:36:29


  • 10:36:30

    BALLThat's the source of a lot of people's dissatisfaction because they do feel like they keep voting for these politicians who make promises and then get to Washington and don't do anything. And the reason for that is that there's this partisan stalemate between the Republican Congress and the Democratic president. And there's no dealmaker in there who can get them together. You know, I was there on Tuesday night with Donald Trump when he said, look, of course the parties disagree on some things. But there are some things that Democrats and Republicans actually agree on and they can't even do those. He's right about that. And so I think that is a potentially strong general election argument for him as well.

  • 10:37:09

    GJELTENWell, speaking of strong general election arguments, certainly on the -- well, actually on both sides, we have a Supreme Court vacancy. And it is a -- this is an election where not just the executive branch or Congress, but even the judicial branch is up for grabs. And we're going to take a short break now. When we get back, we're going to talk about what's happening with this contest between the president and Republican senators over the Supreme Court nominee with David Leonhardt from The New York Times, Molly Ball from The Atlantic and Naftali Bendavid. Stay with us. I'm Tom Gjelten.

  • 10:40:01

    GJELTENHello again. I'm Tom Gjelten from NPR and I'm sitting in for Diane Rehm on this, the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup with David Leonhardt from the New York Times. Molly Ball from The Atlantic. Naftali Bendavid from the Wall Street Journal. And remember, this is your last chance to watch part of The Diane Rehm Show. We're live streaming this hour on our website, -- is our website. So, I have some emails here. First of all, Stephanie from Virginia's wondering about whether it's too late for an independent like Michael Blumberg to get into the race.

  • 10:40:44

    GJELTENAnd related to that, Joshua sent an email, wondering if there does turn out to be a brokered convention and Trump doesn't get the nomination, what are the chances that he runs as an independent and takes some of those Republican votes? Naftali, two scenarios here that are both sort of interesting.

  • 10:41:05

    BENDAVIDWell, as I said before, well, first of all, last night, he was essentially asked that question, that if he's not the Republican nominee, would he support the Republican nominee by implication, not running himself as a third Party candidate. He said that he would support the nominee. I wouldn't necessarily assume that that's going to hold. I mean, he could easily say that circumstances have changed. And I guess I'd repeat what I said before. If he goes in with more delegates than anyone else, even if he doesn't have the majority, it would be very difficult to take it away from him. I'm sorry, what was the other scenario?

  • 10:41:33

    GJELTENWell, the other scenario is just, you know, is somebody on Michael Blumberg, for example?

  • 10:41:38

    BENDAVIDOh, I see. I think -- right, because Blumberg has spoken about it. He's sort of let it be known, as he's want to do, that he's contemplating a third party run. My guess is he's not going to pursue that. If he did, I think it would be extremely hard for him to pursue successfully. There's just not a lot of evidence that there's a groundswell of support for a Mike Blumberg type character. I think he was imagining a situation where you have Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders and neither of them seem realistic, and he'd step in and kind of save the day. But I think that's not really how it's shaping up.

  • 10:42:04

    GJELTENWell, Molly, a lot of hostility against Donald Trump and the Republican Party. On the other hand, you wanted to clarify a joke that you made earlier about how badly some Republican leaders want him out of the picture.

  • 10:42:17

    BALLYes, I should not have said that anybody wants to assassinate him. I intended only to exaggerate to be colorful, but clearly, that's over the line, and no one should suggest such a thing. Another thing that I think is interesting in that regard is that we have talked a lot about the Republican resistance to Trump, but we haven't talked as much about the Republicans who are falling in line behind him. And you do have, not just Chris Christie, but another sitting Republican Governor, Paul LePage in Maine, former Governor Jan Brewer in Arizona.

  • 10:42:45

    BALLSenator Jeff Sessions from Alabama. Several members of the House of Representatives. Interestingly, many of them sort of moderates. Some, Chris Christie himself, I think, is considered a moderate Republican. And they're saying, look guys, how bad could it be? This guy is going to be our nominee, so all we're doing now, by objecting to him in such strong terms, is damaging him and if we all fall in line, maybe we can sort of shape him in our image and get him to be reasonable and clean him up in time to win the election.

  • 10:43:15

    GJELTENDavid, let's go back to the discussion we had just started before the break. And that is about the Supreme Court opening. So, Donald Trump says he's a deal maker. We have a real shortage of deal makers in Washington right now, it seems, because there's no deal on the horizon to get that ninth Supreme Court Justice approved before this election, is there?

  • 10:43:35

    LEONHARDTNo, there's not. And I think, look, it's very hard for those of us in the media to ever distinguish between the two parties. But I think it's important to say that the Democrats have been more interested in deals, in general. And the Republicans have been more interested in standing on principle. Or, if you don't like what they're doing in intransigence. And so this is an example, right, it's nearly unprecedented. Some Democrats and some Republicans have said things about this in the past, but we've never had a situation where Congress has actually refused to fill a Supreme Court vacancy because it's the last year of someone's term.

  • 10:44:04

    LEONHARDTAnd Republicans have said, and you can understand it, this is an enormously consequential appointment, but Republicans have said we have no interest in doing this. We're not going to pretend otherwise. And that makes the stakes for this election just incredibly high, because a swing from Scalia to a Democratic appointed jurist or a swing from Ginsberg or Breyer, who may not remain on the court through the next four years to Republican one, would have enormous consequences. And the abortion case that you mentioned this week is one example among many.

  • 10:44:35

    BENDAVIDYeah, I mean, this is not just a vacancy for Republicans. It's not even just a vacancy of a conservative jurist. This was Scalia, who was an icon to them, and not just for his positions, but the way he would put in zingers in his opinions, calling the opposition liberals, you know, he would use words like jiggery pokery and making things up out of whole cloth. They loved it and they feel betrayed by so many people who've been put on the Court, and that as they see it, betray their principles and become liberal.

  • 10:44:59

    BENDAVIDHere's a guy who stood fast, never backed down. He really meant a lot to them. And so, the idea of a Democratic President replacing him with a liberal nominee is an emotional issue. And I think it's one of the few issues where they're willing to take a few political hits. I mean, I genuinely believe they'd be willing to lose a couple Senate seats if it meant that they could get a conservative on the bench for the next 30 years. They feel like that would be much more important.

  • 10:45:20

    BENDAVIDSo, the White House strategy, obviously, understanding this, is to make them pay the biggest price they possibly can. And that's why you're seeing things like them considering this judge from Iowa, who Grassley has praised, who the Senate has approved 96-nothing, I think. They want to make them pay a price, if they can't persuade them to confirm a nominee, at least they can make them suffer the consequences.

  • 10:45:37

    LEONHARDTAnd they are right. This is worth more than two or three Senate seats for six years. It really is.

  • 10:45:41

    GJELTENYeah. Well Molly, as if we didn't understand already how important the Supreme Court is, we had this huge abortion case coming before the Court this week, to sort of underscore what's at stake here.

  • 10:45:52

    BALLThat's right. This is a case about abortion clinics in Texas. The Texas legislature passed these very restrictive laws, setting a lot of new requirements for abortion clinics, that they have, you know, basically surgical capabilities. There's regulations about the widths of doors and the lengths of hallways. And so, for abortion clinics, particularly in rural areas in Texas, these requirements require either -- require whole scale renovation or they're too expensive and the clinics have had to shut down. And so there has been a large reduction in the availability of abortion in Texas.

  • 10:46:26

    BALLAnd the opponents of these laws say these are not legitimate medical requirements. These are just attempts to harass and shut down clinics. Make abortion less available. And so, this comes before a Supreme Court that, without Scalia, is likely stalemated on cases like this. There's a possibility that it wouldn't be, but, and you did hear Justice Kennedy, I think, expressing some skepticism about the laws in question in the arguments this week. But this is potentially a very consequential case because this is the strategy that abortion opponents have been using. Is creating more restrictions on abortion rather than just trying to outlaw abortion altogether.

  • 10:47:08

    BENDAVIDOne case I think particularly worth watching is the affirmative action case. Justice Kagan is recused because she worked on it when she was in the Obama administration. So, the Republican appointees still have a 4-3 majority. It is possible that that is the last case in many, many years in which the Republican appointees will have a majority. Because if, in fact, Scalia's replacement is appointed, either by Obama, or more likely, Hillary, if she manages to win, it will be interesting to see whether that -- you know, the Justices are human.

  • 10:47:36

    BENDAVIDAnd whether that possibility causes them to reach further on affirmative action than they otherwise might.

  • 10:47:43

    GJELTENWell, you know what, we don't want to hog this conversation, fascinating as it is, so let's bring some callers back in.

  • 10:47:48


  • 10:47:49

    GJELTENScott is on the line from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Hello, Scott. You're on the Diane Rehm Show.

  • 10:47:55

    SCOTTHello. Hi, can you hear me?

  • 10:47:58

    GJELTENYeah, we can.

  • 10:47:58

    SCOTTOkay, thanks. Listen, I think that one of the things that's lost in this whole Bernie thing is that Bernie not only won the Democratic primary out here. He also won the plurality of the vote. For every, for every Cruz vote, who won the Republican, Bernie got 1.5 votes more. So there's a question here about the white working class and there's an assumption that it's going to all go to Cruz and all go to Trump. But that's not necessarily the case. He beat Trump 1.7 for every Trump vote. So I think that we have to refocus that and as much as I respect Mr. Leonhardt, I think that the prospect of an American socialism is not so far-fetched.

  • 10:48:37

    SCOTTIn fact, Oklahoma, 100 years ago, had a socialist party. And so some of this progressive populism is coming out here. I just wanted to comment on that.

  • 10:48:45

    GJELTENAll right, thanks, Scott. And I'm going to add in two other comments here. One from Renee, who says NPR, don't discount drshow, don't discount Bernie Sanders so easily until it's done. He should be getting a fair discussion on being the nominee. Also, Charlie has sent in an email saying, please ask the panel to discuss Clinton and Sanders delegate count without the super delegates and what that tells us about the Democratic primary. Molly.

  • 10:49:16

    BALLWell, the super delegates are part of the process. That's how the Democratic Party is set up. You can call it un-Democratic, but parties are allowed to govern themselves as they see fit. And, you know, after Super Tuesday, Hillary Clinton has also taken a big lead in the regular, you know, quote unquote earned delegates as well. So, it's not as if this is a scenario that some were fearing where she would lead in super delegates, but not pledge delegates and then would be stealing the nomination from the voters of the Party.

  • 10:49:45

    BALLIt is true that Bernie Sanders did win several states. I believe he won four of the 11 states on Super Tuesday. So there is still a constituency and I think the Sanders phenomenon has taught us a lot about the base of the Democratic Party. It has been a rebellion that very few people saw coming and Hillary Clinton certainly did not expect that she would standing on the debate stage with Bernie Sanders and that he would be winning. I think, what the caller meant to say was a majority of votes in several states, not just a plurality. So, whereas Trump is winning a plurality, Sanders, because it's a one on one contest, has won a clear majority of the votes in these states that he's won.

  • 10:50:23

    BALLHowever, you know, as David was saying before, when you are not winning the non-white vote, and when the Democratic Party is increasingly dependent on minority votes in general elections and increasingly as a matter of philosophical -- philosophy and ideology is the party of diversity and inclusion and multi-culturalism, you cannot be a credible nominee of that party if your base is all white people. And that is what's happened for Bernie Sanders.

  • 10:50:47

    LEONHARDTThe caller is right that the race isn't over. And I don't want to imply otherwise. But the issue is if it continues as it's going, as we were talking about on the Republican side, Hillary is winning by a lot. And she's winning by a lot because she and Bernie are roughly splitting the white vote. Some places, Hillary's winning it, some places Bernie's winning it. And the non-white vote, Asian Americans, African-American, Latinos are overwhelmingly voting for Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders. And the Democratic Party's base is a very diverse base. And so, that means she is winning.

  • 10:51:19

    GJELTENNaftali, Shane wants us to discuss the voter turnout issues. Now, I think that the Democrats have been voting at lower rates than Republicans so far. Does that mean anything at all?

  • 10:51:31

    BENDAVIDWell, it might. I mean, they have, in some cases, been voting in dramatically lower numbers than they were, for example, in 2008, just plunges of like 50 percent and so forth, depending on the state. Whereas the Republican turnout has been higher and that's a point that Donald Trump likes to make, saying he's bringing more people into the party. But -- and so, ordinarily, you would say well, that's good for the Republicans and bad for the Democrats, because their voters seem more energized and they're coming out. But it's really hard to know how that's gonna play out in a situation like this where people are coming to vote for Trump, but also coming to vote against him.

  • 10:52:01

    BENDAVIDAnd I guess I'm much more reluctant to draw long term conclusions on what it will mean for the general election than ordinarily one might be. A lot of these voters might be coming out because they, for example, can't stand the thought of Trump being the nominee and then I don't think they're necessarily going to rally around behind him the way they would a more ordinary or more orthodox candidate.

  • 10:52:18

    GJELTENNaftali Bendavid is Editor and Reporter with The Wall Street Journal. I'm Tom Gjelten and you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. And let's go now to Sam, who's on the line from Miami, Florida. Hello, Sam, you are on the Diane Rehm Show.

  • 10:52:32

    SAMYes, good morning. My question is in regards to Hillary Clinton's Super Tuesday victories in the South that were fueled heavily by the black vote. I'm a 25-year-old guy who was, you know, just out of diapers when Bill Clinton became President, so I may just be missing something, but what exactly is it about the Clintons, specifically, that black voters find so appealing? I hear a lot of generalities about how the Clintons have a long relationship with black voters. But I wanted to know how. Also, I just have a quick comment. I'm a Sanders supporter, but I agree with the panelist that, you know, the writing's on the wall.

  • 10:53:03

    SAMHe's pretty much, you know, I don't see him getting the nomination. So tomorrow, I'm taking my time to canvas and phone bank for Marco Rubio to try to stop Trump from winning Florida.

  • 10:53:11


  • 10:53:11

    SAMThank you.

  • 10:53:12

    GJELTENMolly, first of all, answer his question about Clinton's appeal to minority voters.

  • 10:53:17

    BALLYeah, you know, I spent the better part of last week in South Carolina, talking to African-American voters. And trying to understand. And the thing that you hear -- the Clintons, both the two of them, Bill and Hillary, have a very long and interesting relationship with the black community. I mean, Bill Clinton's candidacy started out as sort of an argument against Jesse Jackson's vision for the Democratic Party. However, he also, African-Americans responded to him on sort of a cultural level. He came from a poor, southern, broken home and that was something that a lot of black voters could relate to.

  • 10:53:50

    BALLHe played the saxophone. He sort of had this quality, you know, when Toni Morrison called Bill Clinton our first black president, it was not intended as a compliment. What she was saying was that he was oppressed by the power structure in a way that a lot of black people recognized and felt a kinship with. At the same time, some of the policies that Bill Clinton passed, particularly welfare reform, and the crime bill that set in motion a lot of today's incarceration crisis, were opposed by prominent African-Americans, and are still seen as having bad effects on that community.

  • 10:54:22

    BALLWhat I found in talking to black voters in South Carolina was that they felt that they had a long relationship with Bill and Hillary Clinton, that they trusted them, they felt they were familiar to them. They were not necessarily super liberal. A lot of them are socially conservative, and so this idea that Bernie Sanders is going to bring about a progressive revolution was not something they necessarily wanted. Very loyal to Barack Obama, who, as we've said, Hillary Clinton has aligned herself with very closely.

  • 10:54:46

    BALLAnd there is a feeling, in a lot of African-American communities, that their lives are improving. That because, you know, they can remember a time when they had dramatically fewer rights. And when they weren't as safe as they are today. And, you know, I talked to a lot of people whose parents were sharecroppers. And so, they can look at this country and say, things are getting better. We are making progress. And Hillary's the one who's going to continue that.

  • 10:55:09

    LEONHARDTRon, Ron Brownstein, oh, sorry.

  • 10:55:11

    GJELTENGo ahead, David. Make it quick.

  • 10:55:13

    LEONHARDTRon Brownstein has this great frame, the wine track, the beer track in the Democratic Party. And the beer track almost always beats the wine track. The wine track candidates, Paul Tsongas, Gary Hart, Bernie Sanders, tend to feel a little bit more like college professors.

  • 10:55:26


  • 10:55:27

    LEONHARDTThey almost always lose.

  • 10:55:28

    GJELTENNaftali, before we wrap up this hour, there's one or two other stories that we at least have to take passing mention of. One, we had this extraordinary confrontation between Congressman Darrel Issa and the FBI Director James Comey this week over encryption. How big an issue is this, and how does this resonate with people, do you think? This battle over whether our mobile devices should be encrypted, whether we can trust the privacy of our data there.

  • 10:55:51

    BENDAVIDI mean, I think it's a huge issue. I mean, if there are two things that are very much part of American society, it's fear of terrorist attacks and technology. And this is an area where they come together. And it was sort of an extraordinary hearing, because on the one hand, you had, sort of, the top G man, you know, the FBI Director, Jim Comey, and then you had the top lawyer for maybe the most recognizable and successful company in the world these days, Apple. And they really come from different cultures.

  • 10:56:13

    BENDAVIDAnd you could see sort of the distrust of each other's motives. You know, the FBI wants to be able to get companies to unlock their devices with a court order, if they're pursuing a criminal case. And Apple is extremely worried about the privacy of its customers. And you could just see that these guys from Silicon Valley think the people from Washington don't know what they're talking about, don't understand technology, don't care about privacy. And similarly, the folks from Washington, not even, I was going to say barely veiled, but it's not really veiled, feel like the Apple and others care about their marketing strategy.

  • 10:56:41

    BENDAVIDAnd that's all that they're concerned about. So, it was a remarkable clash. Ideally, Congress would sort it out and pass a law. I think that's unlikely. Because Congress isn't doing much these days, so it will probably play out in the courts.

  • 10:56:52

    GJELTENDavid, Darrel Issa is a conservative Republican. On the other hand, Donald Trump makes it very clear he does not sympathize with Apple in this situation.

  • 10:57:01

    LEONHARDTThat's right. And it's another example that Donald Trump isn't exactly a conservative Republican. He kind of crosses various ideologies within the party.

  • 10:57:08

    GJELTENGood enough. David Leonhardt is an editor at the New York Times. My other guests this hour for this discussion of the domestic news of the week are Molly Ball, a staff writer at The Atlantic and Naftali Bendavid, who's an editor and reporter with The Wall Street Journal. Thank you all for coming in. It's great to see you again.

  • 10:57:27

    BENDAVIDThank you.

  • 10:57:27

    BALLThank you.

  • 10:57:27

    LEONHARDTThank you.

  • 10:57:27

    GJELTENI'd like to thank our listeners. I'm Tom Gjelten. This is "The Diane Rehm Show."

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