Guest Host: Tom Gjelten

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (L) and Hillary Clinton participate in the PBS NewsHour Democratic presidential candidate debate at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on February 11 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (L) and Hillary Clinton participate in the PBS NewsHour Democratic presidential candidate debate at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on February 11 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

“It is raining lead in Flint!” Hillary Clinton said – and the governor needs to go, Bernie Sanders told the crowd. The Democratic candidates debated in Flint, Michigan, last night, each focusing on the crisis of lead-poisoned water in the city. But they worked hard to differentiate themselves on other issues. Bernie Sanders, who’s trailing Clinton in the delegate count, went after Clinton on issues like trade policy and Wall Street ties. She hit back with the auto industry bailout, pointing out that it saved jobs in Michigan and that Sanders opposed it. They found common ground in criticizing the GOP race, noting how their debate was calmer and more substantive than the noisy Republican confrontations. The Democratic candidates: on the issues, how their campaigns have brought them to this point, and what’s coming next.


  • John Wagner Staff writer, The Washington Post; covering Bernie Sanders's campaign
  • Lisa Lerer National politics reporter, The Associated Press; covering Hillary Clinton's campaign
  • Margie Omero Democratic strategist, Purple Strategies; co-host of the podcast "The Pollsters"
  • Josh Gerstein Senior reporter, POLITICO; focused on legal and national security issues


  • 10:06:53

    MR. TOM GJELTENThanks for joining us. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR sitting in for Diane Rehm. When the Democratic presidential candidates took to the stage last night, location mattered. Debating in Flint, Michigan, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton responded to emotional questions from city residents about their plans to deal with the city's problems and how trust in government might be restored. The debate brought sharp attacks from both sides on issues from trade policy, to guns, to the auto industry.

  • 10:07:25

    MR. TOM GJELTENHere to discuss the Democratic candidates' take on the latest issues and reflect on the campaigns that have brought us to this point, Lisa Lerer of the AP. She's covering Hillary Clinton's campaign. Democratic strategist Margie Omero of Purple Strategies and Josh Gerstein of Politico. Also, by phone, from Annapolis, Maryland, John Wagner of The Washington Post, who's been covering Bernie Sanders' campaign. Hello to all of you.

  • 10:07:52

    MS. LISA LERERGood morning.

  • 10:07:53

    MR. JOSH GERSTEINGood morning.

  • 10:07:53

    MS. MARGIE OMEROGood morning.

  • 10:07:54

    MR. JOHN WAGNERMorning.

  • 10:07:54

    GJELTENAnd we're wondering if you saw the debate last night and what you think about the Democratic race. Call us with your questions and comments. Our number is 1-800-433-8850. Email us,, is our email address. You can also send in your comments or questions via Facebook or Twitter or our website. Lisa, let's begin with you. Flint, Michigan, as the site of this debate, I'm sure that was not chosen arbitrarily. A lot of symbolic significance to Flint as a venue for this debate.

  • 10:08:32

    LERERDefinitely, a lot of symbolic significance. Both candidates have been talking about the crisis in Flint quite a bit as a way, you know, obviously, because it's a major public health crisis that's been shaking the country, but also as a way of winning over minority voters who are a key part of the Democratic base. They've both been talking about it really in terms of -- not only in terms of, you know, rebuilding the country's crumbling infrastructure, such as water lines, but also as a -- giving it a racial element, saying this wouldn't have happened -- I believe they both said this, wouldn't have happened in an affluent, largely white suburb.

  • 10:09:10

    LERERSo this was a site that was picked quite intentionally and quite -- because of that political symbolism.

  • 10:09:17

    GJELTENAnd we've seen a lot of Republican activity in Michigan as well because of the primary coming up tomorrow and yet, it's interesting how the Flint situation has so dominated the Democratic discussion and is barely mentioned on the Republican side.

  • 10:09:31

    LERERYeah, it really shows how the conversations that are happening in these two primaries are totally different. I mean, one thing that really struck me last night was that foreign policy, national security, terrorism, even immigration, those issues didn't come up at all and those are really mainstays of the Republican debate. What the Democratic debate really focused on is are you better off than you were, you know, four years ago or eight years ago? What is your economic situation? How comfortable do you feel?

  • 10:09:58

    LERERAnd also, sort of the barriers that minority voters face. The Republican debate, it's just a totally different conversation not only in terms of tone, but also in terms of topic. And it will be interesting to see how those conversations come together once we get into the general.

  • 10:10:12

    GJELTENWell, Josh, you cover a lot of national security and foreign policy questions. I want to get to that a little bit later. But let's sort of stick with the Flint situation first. What was your takeaway there in term -- I mean, as Lisa suggested, the two candidates basically had the same take they both called for Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to resign or be recalled. Some of the people in the audience, somebody raised the question, for example, of are you trying to score political points off our situation. That might have been the only sort of semi uncomfortable moment in their discussion of the Flint situation. What were your thoughts about how they handled that Flint situation?

  • 10:10:49

    GERSTEINWell, I thought it was territory that Secretary Clinton clearly felt very comfortable with. She said, I think, within the first few seconds of the debate that this had been arranged at her request and she's tried to sort of own this Flint issue. I think Sanders brought up, at one point, that he actually had spoken to Flint people earlier. He alleged that he had spoken to them earlier, but it wasn't a big media event. There was some sort of suggestion that maybe Clinton is exploiting the issue. But I think the Clinton people felt very comfortable with the fact that this is a really practical problem.

  • 10:11:22

    GERSTEINIt underscores that part of Hillary Clinton's argument, which is, look, I'm a practical problem-solver. Give me any problem. I'll give you a five-point plan for solving it. Whereas Sanders is presenting largely an argument of anger when he was in the Senate, when he is in the Senate, he doesn't have a long record of legislative successes there, but he does have a significant modicum, let's say, of outrage that he can present about Wall Street and issues like that. I thought it was interesting, at one point, during the debate, there was a question about what was the role of government here and I think Anderson Cooper said, maybe more government isn't the answer since, clearly, the government screwed this up pretty badly.

  • 10:12:00

    GERSTEINAnd Senator Sanders managed to turn it into a question about Wall Street, saying, you know, well, certainly we wouldn't want Wall Street to come in and...

  • 10:12:08

    GJELTENHe got really sarcastic.

  • 10:12:08

    GERSTEIN...and solve this problem, but it does -- it did make commentators say, hey, you know, is Wall Street the answer? Are the ills of Wall Street the answer to every single problem that's afflicting America at this moment?

  • 10:12:20

    GJELTENJohn Wagner, your thoughts about the debates last night and in particular, it got around to some pretty substantive discussions when it came to bailouts, whether the bailout of the auto industry or bailout of Wall Street.

  • 10:12:35

    WAGNERRight. And I was going to say, I think the discussion of Flint was interesting and important, but in some ways, you know, the true differences aired later when they moved onto other topics, including those you just mentioned. And certainly, Secretary Clinton tried to make the case that Sanders was not sensitive to the needs of the auto industry, had voted against the bailout. He said that, no, he was voting against, you know, a bailout to Wall Street as part of a larger package.

  • 10:13:03

    WAGNERAnd then, that's really, you know, the message -- it is the message that he has been pushing all along, that, you know, Wall Street and corporate interests have an outsized role in the political process and the economy.

  • 10:13:16

    GJELTENNow, the discussion of Wall Street and Wall Street ties is so often abstract, but for voters in Michigan, it's perhaps a little bit -- the whole issue of bailouts is perhaps a little bit less abstract because there, you can actually talk about jobs coming back as a result of the auto industry bailout, right?

  • 10:13:37

    WAGNERYes. Most definitely. I think there is, you know, it is tangible.

  • 10:13:41

    GJELTENRight. Lisa.

  • 10:13:42

    LERERAnd I think it's worth pointing out that that was an argument that Democrats leveled quite successfully against Mitt Romney in 2012, that he did not support the bailout and it's one that has residents, not only in Michigan, but in places like Ohio where there's a lot of auto part suppliers who were also helped by those federal funds. So it's a powerful argument. It's clearly one that Clinton campaign had saved to drop in this debate. It's something we hadn't heard from her before and it's something that seemed to catch Senator Senators just a little bit off guard and put him on the defensive, really in the early moments of this debate so that was not exactly the place any candidate wants to be.

  • 10:14:18

    GJELTENIt didn't even seem like he responded to the accusation that he had no supported or the observation that he had not supported the auto industry bailout. He pivoted immediately to Wall Street.

  • 10:14:30

    GERSTEINYeah, I think he did, at one point, say that he had supported a version of the auto industry bailout earlier on and there is a record of that, that he voted for some legislation there. But it was, again, this question of practicalities, the practicality of how the auto industry was eventually going to be bailed out by the Obama administration, basically, was that it was going to be done through the TARP, through the bailout of Wall Street and the broader financial crisis. It was an awkward fit.

  • 10:14:55

    GERSTEINI think some people even argued it wasn't even legal to do it that way, but that was the way it was going to be accomplished, practically speaking, and when push came to shove, Sanders voted against authorizing that portion of the bailout. And, again, I think that's the argument Clinton was trying to make was that, you know, the practicalities meant voting for this legislation and he wanted to make a theoretical point that it was a bad idea and that the auto industry suffered as a result.

  • 10:15:18

    GJELTENMargie Omero, I don't think we've seen any debate on either the Republican or Democratic side where there were so many African-Americans in the audience and where issues of race were dealt with so prominently as in this debate.

  • 10:15:32

    OMEROYeah, I think it was really great to hear questions from folks who live locally in the area and what I wanted to hear a little bit more, from both candidates, although both made some attempts to this, is to not just address this -- address issues of Flint as African American issues facing African Americans but what does it mean for all of us, that our economy, overall, does better if we're all doing better. I mean, making that connection why having government get involved in some of these issues isn't simply about the water in one city, but about making sure we're all more productive and happier and healthier as a result of having stronger cities and stronger communities.

  • 10:16:12

    GJELTENThere was this interesting question from Don Lemon, the CNN moderator, about racial blind spots, what blind spots did they have where race was concerned, which I have to say, in the beginning, I sort of, like, wondered what that question was about, but it actually brought out some pretty interesting reactions.

  • 10:16:30

    OMEROYeah, it was interesting 'cause he really forced the issue, Don Lemon did, to make sure that the candidates, that they both answered it and didn't try to dodge and answer someone else's question. And it was interesting, I think, some saw it as potentially a weak point for Sanders where he said -- where it seemed like he was saying that only African Americans know what it's like to live in a ghetto. White voters don't. That's struck some as not hitting quite the right note.

  • 10:16:58

    OMEROI think it's still important to have this conversation and I think Clinton answered this well, but it's something that it's great to hear on the Democratic stage since we're not hearing it on the Republican stage, which is what does it mean to have privilege? What sort of privileges do some communities feel that other communities don't and what does that mean for all of us?

  • 10:17:17

    LERERIt's been striking to me how much race has been at the forefront of this campaign. I mean, I know, as someone who travels with Hillary Clinton quite a bit, she talks about it frequently and the way she talks about it is the way that I don't think we've heard in a presidential campaign since maybe Jesse Jackson. I mean, she talks about white privilege quite a bit. She talks about white voters need to have more humility on these topics and Bernie Sanders has had to increase the portion of his stump speech that deals with these issues as well to counter that. He tends to talk about more in economic terms which is what we saw last night.

  • 10:17:49

    GJELTENLisa Lerer is national politics reporter at the Associated Press. She's covering Hillary Clinton's campaign. My other guests are Marjorie Omero, democratic strategist Josh Gerstein from Politico and John Wagner from The Washington Post. We're gonna take a short break. When we come back, more on the Democratic race. Stay tuned.

  • 10:20:02

    GJELTENAnd hello again, I'm Tom Gjelten from NPR, I'm sitting in for Diane Rehm today. We're talking about the race on the Democratic side and the debate last night in Flint, Michigan, between Senator Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. My guests here in the studio are Lisa Lerer, national politics reporter at The Associated Press, she's been covering Hillary Clinton's campaign, Margie Omero, Democratic strategist at Purple Strategies and co-host of the podcast "The Pollsters," also Margie, your husband, I understand, works for the Bernie Sanders campaign as, what, a media consultant?

  • 10:20:38

    OMEROYes, his firm, Devine Mulvey & Longabaugh, is handling the media for the Sanders campaign.

  • 10:20:43

    GJELTENOkay, well thanks for pointing that out, Josh Gerstein, senior reporter, at POLITICO, he focuses on legal and national security issues. And on the phone from Annapolis, John Wagner, who's been covering Bernie Sanders' campaign. And John, let's go to you. Just before the break, we were talking about how race and the concerns of African-American voters were featured much more prominently in the debate last night than they have been in really any debate so far.

  • 10:21:11

    GJELTENNow of course one of the conventional points that's often made about Senator Sanders' campaign is that he's got this big gap with African-American voters, his strength has been with white votes. What was your sense of his handling of those issues last night and whether you see him making any headway or made any headway toward closing that gap with African-American voters?

  • 10:21:34

    WAGNERWell, there certainly is a gap, and it's played out in state after state with, you know, any state that has a sizable African-American population. Secretary Clinton has won, and won most often by large margins, and it's really not for a lack of effort on the Sanders' campaign's part. He's, you know, managed to bring on board a number of fairly high-profile supporters, including Ben Jealous, the last head of the NAACP, and has developed, you know, an agenda on criminal justice that's a regular part of his stump speech.

  • 10:22:13

    WAGNERBut there -- but there remains this disconnect, and, you know, part of the -- his account of it is that, you know, he comes from a state that's 95 percent white, Vermont, and has never really had to court African-American voters before and just isn't that well-known. I think there's also an aspect to it, though, that he's pitching an economic plan that really isn't specific to race, that it's kind of a rising tide lifts all boats, and there's been some criticism that he hasn't touched enough on what's unique about the African-American experience economically.

  • 10:22:44

    GJELTENNow as Margie pointed out, when they were asked about racial blind spots, Senator Sanders said a lot of white people don't know what it's like to be poor and live in a ghetto, and some people reacted to that comment as though Senator Sanders was kind of stereotyping being black as being associated with being poor and living in a ghetto. Do you think that might have hurt him at all among black voters?

  • 10:23:09

    WAGNERI think that was somewhat of a cringe-worthy moment. I don't know that the broader characterization is necessarily true. But he -- you know, he freely acknowledges that he just hasn't been around that many African-Americans in Vermont. Now he does have a long history with the civil rights movement, which he touched on last night, as well, dating back to his days as a college student in Chicago, when he protested segregated university housing and the segregated schools and actually got arrested as part of a protest.

  • 10:23:43

    GJELTENYeah, and actually photos of that have come out recently, haven't they? Yeah. Josh?

  • 10:23:45

    GERSTEINAnd Tom, Secretary Clinton's history on this issue came up, as well, which I thought was interesting.

  • 10:23:51


  • 10:23:51

    GERSTEINWith a discussion of the crime bill that was passed in the 1990s, and, you know, there were -- there are so many questions embedded in that, how responsible is former first lady Hillary Clinton for legislation that her husband passed, people have pulled out these video clips of her using the term super-predators, which was raised again last night and had led to a protest a couple weeks ago at one of her events, where someone unfurled a banner or a sign and asked her about these comments that she -- where she used the term super-predators at a time when there was great concern that, you know, the inner cities were falling apart and that there were crack babies, and there was this general almost panic in the early '90s, mid-'90s, about the crime issue.

  • 10:24:30

    GERSTEINAnd it's a fascinating issue because even the crime bill that was brought up, it turns out it's not quite as simple as I think that question put forward, that that led to the mass incarceration in America and the mass incarceration of African-Americans. The truth is, as someone who covered that issue and covered the Clinton White House, that trend was well underway well before Bill Clinton came into office. In fact, what he was doing was sort of harnessing the political power of that trend and trying to inoculate Democrats against Republican attacks on that issue, but the mandatory sentences and things along those line at both the state and federal level had really already come into play, and the crime bill was almost icing on the cake, although it probably led to more Democrats emulating the Clinton playbook on that issue and saying, you know, crime is something where we can be as tough as the Republicans.

  • 10:25:21

    GERSTEINThat probably did hurt people. So it's such a complex issue for her to have to wrestle with 20 years down the road.

  • 10:25:28

    GJELTENTwenty years later, I mean, that's...

  • 10:25:28

    LERERAnd Sanders, of course, also voted for that bill, and, you know, his -- what he said when questioned on it was that, you know, there were good things in that crime bill and bad things in that -- things that he didn't like in that bill. But, you know, that's why it's hard to run for president when you've been in Congress, right, is legislation is complicated, and that's a problem they both have.

  • 10:25:47

    OMEROAnd they had that conversation on a variety of different bills.

  • 10:25:49


  • 10:25:50

    OMEROThey had that, well, parts of it said this, and then this other part I liked, whether it was trade or the crime bill. It's something that happens a little bit less frequently on the Republican side, or you hear it occasionally, but then you would have Chris Christie sort of shout out that it didn't matter, right, but this is now the mechanics of having a civil Democrat -- this is what you have a civil Democratic debate between two experienced policy folks is that they end up really talking about the mechanics of each bill.

  • 10:26:15

    GJELTENWell, it's interesting, and many people have pointed this out, how much the debate focused on stuff that happened in the '90s.

  • 10:26:21


  • 10:26:22

    GJELTENWhether it's the crime bill or the welfare reform or NAFTA, trade policy. Of course both of these, we're talking about two candidates here, John, who are either in their late '60s or early '70s. So they can talk with some authority about what happened back in the 1990s, whereas someone like Marco Rubio might have a harder time. What was your sense, John, of how much the issues of the '90s, you know, sort of came back now, last night?

  • 10:26:50

    WAGNEROh, a great deal, and they've, you know, been playing out for the last several weeks now. Sanders has this riff in his stump speech where he'll list his differences with Clinton, and most of them do date back to the '90s. I guess one we haven't mentioned is the Defense of Marriage Act that was signed by President Bill Clinton.

  • 10:27:09

    GJELTENGood point.

  • 10:27:10

    WAGNERThat Sanders tags Hillary Clinton for having supported, and we're getting out of the '90s, but the other issue that he continues to bring up is the Iraq War, which was, you know, some time ago now, too, that she voted for as a New York senator, and he opposed it while he was a member of the House. So it is interesting. A lot of their differences, you know, are from the past, and there's in some ways less discussion of what's going on in the present in terms of what divides them.

  • 10:27:37

    GJELTENYou know, John, one of the things that caught my attention or that has caught my attention throughout this -- on the Democratic race is this divide between pragmatism and idealism. And it seemed like Bernie Sanders really sort of last night grabbed that idealistic mantle. I mean, he said at one point that his campaign is about thinking big, not thinking small, and he said, you know, and Hillary Clinton has said -- charged that he's a single-issue candidate, and he actually embraced that in saying yes, I am a single-issue candidate, my issue the disappearing middle class.

  • 10:28:15

    GJELTENIt seems as though he's perfectly happy to stay on this kind of theoretical, abstract, idealistic level and not get down into the weeds of policy proposals, where Hillary Clinton seems to be more comfortable.

  • 10:28:29

    WAGNERWell, it's interesting, I know particularly coming out of South Carolina, where Sanders got trounced by Clinton, his advisors thought one reason that happened is that the Clinton people were very successful in portraying him as a dreamer and versus her as a pragmatist. And so it's interesting that since then, though, he really seems to have embraced this to a greater degree, as you say, though at the same time, I mean, he brings up, in every rally that he has, his plans for a single-payer health care system, which I think almost anyone would acknowledge is going to be a real challenge to get through Congress, certainly a Congress that looks like this one.

  • 10:29:08

    WAGNERBut, you know, he keeps saying this is not a radical idea and ticks off countries around the world who have done similar things, and that is one of his continuing challenges, to try and convince people that his agenda is not as radical as others are trying to portray it to be.

  • 10:29:23

    GJELTENSo Lisa, you know, there -- he faces an uphill fight to get enough delegates to win the nomination. If he doesn't win the nomination, will he at least be able to say that he has pulled Hillary Clinton enough to the left that he could actually declare his candidacy a success in having achieved what many people, you know, thought might not have been possible?

  • 10:29:47

    LEREROh, there's no question he's had a profound influence on the Democratic race. He's definitely forced her to talk more directly about her plans for regulating Wall Street, about income inequality, I would argue even about race, as she really had to work her advantage with African-American voters. But look, this is really hard for him. He needed to make a really big impact last night. Our latest delegate count has Hillary Clinton up by 650 delegates or so. Now that of course counts super-delegates, who are, you know, the party insiders who can opt to support either candidate.

  • 10:30:19

    LERERAnd in 2008 we saw a lot of those people switch sides. It feels a lot less likely that we'll see this this time around because they are party insiders, and he is not. I mean, he really is someone who came to the Democratic Party just before this race, actually. So it's -- they feel a sense of loyalty to the party that he doesn't, and we saw that in the debate last night, where he talked about Democrats getting things wrong.

  • 10:30:43

    LERERSo, you know, because of how the delegate allocation works, it's proportional, it's hard to catch up once someone has a big lead on you, and she has a pretty significant lead. So it's hard to see how he does it at this point, even if he's able to string together a whole bunch of wins, which is possible. So I wouldn't say it's out of the question that he could get the nomination, but gosh, it sure looks hard. So I think the question now becomes how does he begin getting out of this race, what is his impact, what does he demand from the party at the convention in terms of the platform and other issues like that.

  • 10:31:19

    LERERSo we'll just have to see how this all unfolds, but it looks really improbable that he gets the nomination.

  • 10:31:23

    GJELTENWell Josh, what has -- what do you think has been the effect of running for national office been on Senator Sanders? I mean, he's been kind of a lonely voice. He comes from a little state, Vermont. He hasn't had to talk about things like national security issues and foreign policy. You know, there was a moment in New Hampshire where somebody asked him, you know, what's your plan for fighting terrorism, and he said, well, we've got to crush ISIS. But this is kind of new territory for him, isn't it?

  • 10:31:47

    GERSTEINIt is. You know, the issues he's talking about and the audiences he's speaking to, as Margie was saying earlier, like he hasn't necessarily always had to speak to African-American audiences. Some of his positions on guns are probably a little bit somewhat out of step with the mainstream of the Democratic Party because, you know, Vermont on that issue is somewhat out of step.

  • 10:32:07

    GERSTEINSo he definitely has had to jump through some hoops here that he's not used to jumping through, but I do think along the way he has made some pretty significant points, and he has previewed some of the arguments that we might hear Republicans make against Hillary Clinton later in the year, even on some of those national security issues, for example I'm thinking of Libya, for example, which didn't come up last night because there were basically no national security issues discussed in the debate, but that's, I think, a very potentially live and cogent issue against Hillary Clinton, her being the aggressive advocate of intervention in Libya is going to be potentially something that will be debated in the fall, depending on who the Republicans nominee is.

  • 10:32:44

    GJELTENJosh Gerstein, senior reporter at POLITICO. I'm Tom Gjelten. You're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. And John Wagner, so Lisa, who's been covering Hillary Clinton, sounds like she's almost ready to write Bernie Sanders off.

  • 10:33:03

    WAGNERMaybe she just needs a vacation.

  • 10:33:05

    LEREROh thanks, John. I think -- I'm not the one out in -- it sounds like you're out in Annapolis, huh?

  • 10:33:10

    GJELTENYeah, and what's going on in Annapolis, politics-wise, yeah.

  • 10:33:12

    WAGNERIt's a rare day off.

  • 10:33:15

    GJELTENA rare day off. Well, thanks for joining us. So no, but do you get any sense that Senator Sanders is beginning to sort of look more towards the impact of his campaign on, you know, on the country, as opposed to, like, fighting for every delegate from here on out?

  • 10:33:29

    WAGNERWell, you're certainly not going to get them to admit that at this point, and I do think -- I don't disagree with anything that Lisa said about the delegate math, but the Sanders argument is that if you look at the pledged delegates, he's, you know, not nearly as far behind and that if you -- you know, it's less than 200, I believe at this point, and that if he does manage to catch Clinton in pledged delegates, then it becomes much more difficult for the party elite to, you know, throw the election to Clinton because of their own judgments and ignore the will of the voters, if you will.

  • 10:34:02

    WAGNERSo that's their scenario. I'm not suggesting it's a likely scenario at this point, but I think Michigan will be telling. If Sanders does not somehow pull out a win in Michigan, it becomes a lot harder to see how this works going forward. There are a number of big states left, but not only does he have to win these big states, he has to win them by pretty big margins to catch up.

  • 10:34:27

    GJELTENMargie, looking at the debate last night, did you get any sense that, you know, that both candidates, but Hillary in particular, Hillary Clinton in particular, might be sort of shifting to the general election conversation?

  • 10:34:38

    OMEROYou know, I didn't hear as much of that as I thought I would, and, you know, there's always this line in each debate, the Republican debates, if ever a candidate wants applause, they attack Hillary Clinton, and then everybody in the Republican hall goes wild. In the Democratic debates, if someone says, well, you know, this is really civil, we're a lot better off than whatever's going on on that side, which I think Clinton Said, that's always a good applause line.

  • 10:35:03

    OMEROIt's very much true. I mean, this is my Democratic hat here, but, I mean, what's going on on the Republican side is really a travesty, and so I think it makes sense for anybody, everybody to be talking about what's going on over there. It's very disturbing what's happening with Donald Trump. I think we all need to be having a conversation about what that means for our political system. It doesn't necessarily mean that somebody has an eye to the general, and when they're looking at the delegate count, they think X, Y and Z. I mean, that's a really troubling, horrific turn of events over there.

  • 10:35:32

    GJELTENJosh, Donald Trump keeps making the point that we can't assume that Hillary Clinton is going to be the candidate in the fall not only because Bernie Sanders -- of where she's running against Bernie Sanders but also because of this email issue. Where does that stand? It's very confusing, I think, for a lot of us on the outside to get a sense of how serious this is, how important this is, what might happen between now and the fall.

  • 10:35:55

    GERSTEINWell, it's definitely going to be a continuing headache for Clinton over the next few months. You've got two different threads of investigation that are still going on. The FBI is investigating how so much classified information apparently ended up on Clinton's private email server. Of course her people dispute that it really was classified or should be classified, say it wasn't marked, but that's what the FBI's been looking into, and it seems like that investigation is coming to a head of some sort.

  • 10:36:20

    GERSTEINThey're apparently at the point where they're going to start speaking to her very senior aides. They've already interviewed a number of sort of mid-ranking people in the State Department, and they may eventually come to talk to Secretary Clinton, which hasn't happened yet. The question, of course, is does that result in anybody being charged criminally at the end of this. I remain doubtful that that's going to happen unless more facts come to light than have come to light so far.

  • 10:36:43

    GERSTEINAnd there there's also a whole other thread, which is there's ongoing lawsuits over these records, and a judge has said that he's going to allow a conservative group to take discovery, which means putting Clinton's aides under oath and asking them why this system was set up, was it done to defeat the Freedom of Information Act, for example, so that people couldn't get access to her records. And that's just, whatever happens, a very awkward thing to have going on in the midst of a presidential campaign.

  • 10:37:08

    GJELTENWell, I guess that's the issue, isn't it, that regardless of whether there's some resolution of this case from a legal point of view, just the attention, the dribble of stories about it, is likely to keep it alive as an issue in the campaign going forward. We're going to take a short break right now. Then when we come back, we're going to go to your phone calls. Remember, our number is 1-800-433-8850. We're with Lisa Lerer from The AP, Margie Omero, a Democratic strategist, Josh Gerstein and John Wagner from the Washington Post. I'm Tom Gjelten, stay tuned.

  • 10:40:03

    GJELTENWelcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten from NPR. I've been sitting in for Diane Rehm. We're talking today about the Democratic race and the debate last night in Flint, Michigan. I'm joined by Lisa Lerer, National Politics Reporter at the Associated Press. She's been travelling with Hillary Clinton. Margie Omero, a Democratic Strategist, her company is Purple Strategies. She's a co-host of the podcast "The Pollsters." Josh Gerstein, Senior Reporter at Politico. He focuses there on Legal and National Security Issues.

  • 10:40:32

    GJELTENAnd on the phone from Annapolis, Maryland, where he's taking a rare and I'm sure well deserved day off, John Wagner from the Washington Post. He's been covering Bernie Sanders' campaign. And John, we are getting a lot of blowback from Bernie Sanders supporters, who think we are too quick to write him off. And, let's see, I have one -- the news media, there's one comment here from, let's see, which was it? That a listener thinks that the establishment media is basically in bed with the Clinton campaign and very quick to write Sanders off.

  • 10:41:14

    GJELTENWell, you're not in that category. You've been paying a lot of attention to Senator Sanders, and I'm assuming that you're going to continue to pay attention to him.

  • 10:41:23

    WAGNERI believe so. I mean, actually, I guess I should clarify I'm headed back to Michigan later today, so it's not a full day off, but...

  • 10:41:31

    GJELTENThat's all right.

  • 10:41:32

    WAGNERI'm attending a couple of his rallies later today, so we are, indeed, continuing to pay attention. But that's certainly a common criticism that we hear and, you know, some of it's fanned by the candidate himself. He speaks rather derisively of the corporate media pretty much all the time. And it's an interesting question. I mean, it's hard to completely write off a candidate who continues to win states, but if you do look at the map, I mean, there are certainly challenges for him. And there will have to be a tipping point if things are going to start moving in his direction overall.

  • 10:42:04

    GJELTENWell, I'm going to read a couple of emails here that zero in on particular issues. One from Clay Turnball said that the biggest applause -- pointed out the biggest applause last night was to Bernie's answer to a climate change question. Anderson Cooper asked, do you support fracking? Hillary gave a pretty extensive answer, basically saying that it needs to be regulated a lot more and if it's not regulated, she doesn't support it. Bernie Sanders just came back and said no. Josh, what did you think of that? I mean, fracking is a complicated issue. And on the other hand, Bernie Sanders' answer was pretty passionate.

  • 10:42:38

    GERSTEINI thought it was a perfect illustration of the contrast between the two candidates. You know, as I was saying earlier, Hillary Clinton has a four or five point plan. In that case, she had a three point answer of these things have to happen, the states and localities have to approve. And only in a certain area, and only if we can be sure that there's no impact on the water. And, you know, Sanders had managed to boil it down to a one word answer. And, you know, it struck me, there was a time later in the debate where the roles sort of reversed very briefly.

  • 10:43:06

    GERSTEINWhen Sanders was answering a question about why he voted against liability for gun manufacturers and suddenly, he had a three point complex explanation and Clinton had a very simple one. But most of the time, that's the appeal we're seeing. Sanders has a very simple, straightforward answer. The question is, is it realistic? Is it realistic that we're just going to stop fracking in all of America, even if he favors that or people that support him favor that?

  • 10:43:32

    LERERAnd I...

  • 10:43:33

    GJELTENWell, go ahead, Lisa.

  • 10:43:33

    LERER...there were two -- I think there were two moments in this debate that really illustrated Hillary Clinton's weaknesses and that was one of them. She's a lawyer and she litigates her answers. Sometimes, people just want to hear a yes or a no, particularly in a Democratic primary debate, like a real red meat question about fracking and the environment. I think the other moment that we'd be remiss if we didn't point out was when she was asked for transcripts of her speeches to Wall Street banks and other financial companies. You know, she said she will release those once everyone in the field releases their speech -- their, you know, transcripts of paid speeches.

  • 10:44:06

    LERERTo which Bernie Sanders threw up his hands and said, there ain't nothing there. Here, I have them. You can have them. He hasn't given any speeches. She doesn't have a strong answer to why she gave those speeches, what she said in those speeches. Her argument is, well, it hasn't impacted where I am. I'm still pushing a really tough -- tough policies to crack down and regulate Wall Street banks. But, you know, that's not really a -- she gave the speeches before her Presidential campaign, so I don't think that's an answer that's going to satisfy a lot of people. And it's something that's certainly going to come up in the general election, should she become the nominee.

  • 10:44:38

    OMEROAnd so...

  • 10:44:39

    GJELTENGo ahead, Margie.

  • 10:44:39

    OMERO...I mean, she does incredibly well, according to exit polls and entrance polls with people who prioritize experience. You see that in her fluency on a great variety of topics. She's able to drop the names of local businesses and so on while Sanders continues to do well with voters who say they prioritize someone who will share their values. And you see that -- I mean, he had a good weekend. I think it's a little premature to say how does he get out of the race? He won three states this weekend. He still has thousands of people showing up to his events.

  • 10:45:10

    OMEROFrom the Sanders point of view, they have the money and support, enthusiasm to keep going. I think the stylistic difference is not something that simply Democratic primary voters want. It's something that a lot of voters -- they want to be able to have -- to put their arms around what the message is, and I think Sanders is able to offer that.

  • 10:45:28

    GJELTENWell, yeah, but the world is complicated, isn't it? I mean, if you take the issue of fracking, for example, fracking has made possible much, much lower energy prices in the United States today. And that certainly benefits working class people. So, you know, there are two sides to a lot of these issues, and being simplistic may not necessarily appeal to everybody.

  • 10:45:47

    OMEROBut this is not a year that seems to want nuance, is it? This is an angry, frustrated electorate.

  • 10:45:53


  • 10:45:53

    OMEROThat's something we're seeing on both the Republican and Democratic sides. And people don't necessarily want to hear long complicated litigated answers.

  • 10:45:59


  • 10:46:00

    OMEROThey want yes's or no's. They want a feeling that -- they feel the system is rigged against them. And they want a feeling of, that change is going to happen. And that's part of why Sanders' message has had such a strong appeal.

  • 10:46:10

    GJELTENLet's go now to Matthew. He's on the line from Long Island, New York. Hello, Matthew. Thanks for calling The Diane Rehm Show.

  • 10:46:16

    MATTHEWThank you. So, question for the panel today. What are the possibilities of an open convention occurring? My wife thinks I watch House of Cards too much, but I'm curious if this possibility exists. Thank you.

  • 10:46:30

    GJELTENYou don't need to watch House of Cards. You just need to follow what's going on with the Republican side to wonder about that. Margie, do you have a thought on that?

  • 10:46:37

    OMEROI mean, you know, I think anything's possible. And certainly, Clinton has the advantages now. She has the advantages both in terms of infrastructure and insider establishment support and delegate count, whether you account for the super delegates or not. That doesn't mean that something unpredictable can happen. That doesn't mean that things can't change. I mean, in December, people had written off Sanders completely, before voting had begun. Then, all of a sudden, in January, people were surprised, even though polls had shown both Sanders and Clinton moving up slowly over the fall.

  • 10:47:10

    OMEROPeople were shocked when things started to really change in January. So, things could change again. Certainly as it stands right now, it looks like we have a steady drumbeat where, you know, it's kind of status unchanged and status unchanged with each contest means, you know, things get better for Clinton.

  • 10:47:26

    GJELTENDo any of you know what the situation is with the super delegates? Are they bound the same way that delegates who are elected as part of a primary process are bound? Or, Lisa?

  • 10:47:35

    LERERSo, they can switch their views. They're not bound at all in the same way that delegates primary process are. We saw in '08, some of them flipped from Secretary Clinton to then Senator Obama. So, that could happen again. It just seems a lot less likely. Her edge with super delegates is far bigger than it was in 2008. And, you know, super delegates are by the nature of their position, party people. They are elected officials. They are, you know, party officials. They are lobbyists. They are people who are deep in the Democratic Party.

  • 10:48:05

    LERERAnd Senator Sanders is not, so it's just hard to see a groundswell. Now, of course, as I think John pointed out earlier, you know, the Democratic Party doesn't want to be in a position where the nomination is decided basically in the modern day equivalent of a smoke filled room, right? By Party insiders. But, she has an edge now in pledge delegates, so it doesn't seem like they're headed towards that right now at least.

  • 10:48:26

    GJELTENLet's go now to John, who's on the line from Texas. Houston, Texas. Hello, John. You're on the Diane Rehm Show.

  • 10:48:31

    JOHNHey sir. Thank you for having me this morning. My question is in regards to the comment made by Bernie Sanders. When I was 17 years old, I was in high school and watched the towers fall. At 19 years old, I fought in the Battle of Fallujah with the United States Marine Corp. 22 years old, I filed bankruptcy and then I was homeless three times between the ages of 27 and 28. So, as a white male, when I hear something like Mr. Sanders comment, how am I supposed to get excited about voting for this individual?

  • 10:48:58

    GJELTENBecause he said, if you're white, you don't know what it's like to be poor.

  • 10:49:02


  • 10:49:02

    GJELTENRight. Josh, your thought about that.

  • 10:49:04

    GERSTEINWell, I mean, I think that's a difficult, obviously a difficult comment that he made, was probably not pitched exactly correctly. I remember in one of the earlier debates, there was also this question about white working class America. And I thought, Lisa was talking about how comfortable Secretary Clinton is talking about these racial issues now, but she even was willing to talk about this issue of white Americans, and the degree to which, you know, perhaps Donald Trump's appeal in certain swaths of the country, is reflecting a sense that there are pockets outside the cities.

  • 10:49:39

    GERSTEINParticularly in rural areas where white Americans feel left behind by the economic growth in the country, such as it's been since the Great Recession. And so, I do think that's another one of these elements that's lurking out there, both in the Democratic race and in the Republican race when you look at the demographics. That said, Bernie Sanders, when you look at the demographics, has done a lot better with white voters than he has courting minority voters. So, it's hard to suggest that there's some real defect in his coalition there.

  • 10:50:10

    GJELTENWell John, we certainly appreciate you going to war on our behalf and we're sorry to hear that you had some troubles afterwards. Can we ask how you're doing these days?

  • 10:50:20

    JOHNI'm doing much better these days. I love the state of Texas. It's the friendliest state in all my experiences, for veterans and veteran benefits and veteran networks. And I think it's important that we keep awareness going, you know, like movements like the 22 Kill, which highlights all these combat veterans and non-combat veterans who feel that they are left behind and don't have a place in normal society and, you know, unfortunately, go the route of taking their own lives as a last resort.

  • 10:50:46

    GJELTENNow, I'm sure you're very focused on veterans' issues, and of course, Senator Sanders was Chairman of the Veteran Affairs Committee. Are you, you know, you're saying that you're now reluctant to support Senator Sanders, but he has been pretty outspoken on veterans issues.

  • 10:51:00

    JOHNI've been a Sanders fan and supporter since the beginning. The majority of my family has been also, but, you know, little comments like these, you know, tend to hack away and stick at the back of my mind of, you know, am I villainized just because I'm white? And the, you know, majority of the media attention has been on black America in the past year, two years, which, you know, by all means, coming from the background I do, I fought next to people of all color, all ethnicities, all religious backgrounds.

  • 10:51:27

    JOHNAnd so, that's something that I think the rest of America could learn from us veterans is how to work as a team and see past those, you know, superficial, you know, skin colors and backgrounds, et cetera.

  • 10:51:38

    GJELTENWell John, thanks very much for calling and thanks again for your service. John was calling from Houston, Texas. I'm Tom Gjelten. This is "The Diane Rehm Show." And let's go now to Ana, who's on the line from Miami, Florida. Hello, Ana.

  • 10:51:56

    ANAHow are you?

  • 10:51:57


  • 10:51:57

    ANAYeah, I have a couple of comments. First, a few minutes ago, one of the panelists were talking about that most of the differences that between the two candidates seem to be stemming from the 90's and, you know, different votes that they took. But there are very real differences right now between the candidates. One of them is fracking. Another one is her flip flop support for marriage equality, the trade, the TPP. Specifically, fracking, I think, is a big issue because while you guys were intimating that it basically shows that sort of simple and that this, you know, is a complicated issue.

  • 10:52:28

    ANAIt actually isn't. I was one of the co-founders of New Yorkers Against Fracking and I went to (word?) and I saw people who had no drinking water in their homes. It's not a difficult issue. And I think what voters are looking for are, you know, beyond Hillary's three point (unintelligible), which in a lot of ways, are used as, you know, excuses and sort of ways for her to, you know, do her corporate supporters' bidding. They're looking for somebody who's honest. So, maybe (unintelligible) not gonna pass.

  • 10:52:56

    ANAMaybe we won't be able to do a ban on fracking, but at the very least, we know that we have somebody in office who is sincere in his beliefs and not taking money from corporations.

  • 10:53:05

    GJELTENOkay. All right, thanks very much, Ana. Lisa, Ana mentioned, not only fracking, she also mentioned, which she characterized as Hillary's flip flop on trade issues. Let's talk about that. We haven't really talked about that too much. What do you see happening on trade issues, you know, as, of course, this is something that Donald Trump is focused on, as well. So, this is likely to be a big issue in the general election, isn't it?

  • 10:53:28

    LERERYeah, it may be a big issue in the general election, particularly if it is Hillary Clinton up against Donald Trump, because that's something that he's -- as you point out, he's been talking an awful lot about. And she has a really mixed record. She tends to be for trade deals when she's in office and against them when she's running for office. And, you know, she supported NAFTA during her husband's administration, then later, when she was running for her Senate seat, came out against it and said she had problems with it.

  • 10:53:52

    LERERShe supported TPP again and again as Secretary of State. She promoted it. Then, when she was running for President, said she had problems with it. So, you know, this is an issue where she has a really mixed record and one that does make her vulnerable. I think Ana brings up another important vulnerability that Secretary Clinton has, which is this whole issue of trustworthiness. And it all, you know, Republicans started, already, years ago at this point, trying to connect the dots between the Foundation and the emails and the paid speeches.

  • 10:54:21

    LERERAnd issues like trade and create an early narrative that she is not trustworthy. That she is in the tank for Washington, Washington interests and corporate interests. And try to drive that narrative really, really early so when she ran and should she become the nominee and be in the general election, that's already out there and floating in peoples' minds. And I think they have been somewhat successful and she's helped them along by failing to always have answers ready to go when these issues come up.

  • 10:54:46

    GJELTENLet's go to one more call. Mary, Sewickley, is on the line from Pennsylvania. Hello, Mary. You're on the Diane Rehm Show.

  • 10:54:52

    MARYHello, thanks for taking my call. I think we should look carefully exactly what Sanders is promising. As I understand it, he is for the American people paying for college for all, even those whose parents can very well afford to pay for their children's tuition. Also, he wants to do away with Obamacare. And substitute a single payer program when not one Republican voted for Obamacare. So, I think my question is, how is he going to get these programs through Congress? And I don't think the media has really examined his ideas very carefully.

  • 10:55:32

    GJELTENOkay, let's put that question to John Wagner, who's been covering Senator Sanders' campaign.

  • 10:55:36

    WAGNERWell, I think that is a common criticism that you hear, that he is floating ideas that have, you know, would have a very hard time getting through Congress. And he argues that if he is elected, we're going to be in a somewhat different environment and that he will be leading a political revolution and there will be, you know, as part of his ascendency, that there will be all sorts of people coming to Washington demanding that Congress be more responsive and do these things. Some which actually poll quite well.

  • 10:56:07

    WAGNERAnd just to clarify on the tuition, what he's proposed is that tuition be free at public universities and colleges. And he's proposed paying for it by a tax on Wall Street speculation. But, I mean, the caller certainly raises a fair point in terms of the challenge that he would have ahead in implementing any of these things. And even with the single payer health plan, if you talk to him, he acknowledges this is not something that's gonna happen on day one of his presidency. It sometimes seems like much more of an aspirational goal.

  • 10:56:42

    GJELTENWell, Mary was saying she doesn't think that the press has done a good enough job on vetting Senator Sanders' proposals, but we've had other listeners this morning also saying that the press is way too hard on Senator Sanders and way too close to Hillary Clinton. So, goes to show that it's hard to satisfy everybody and that's something that I think our entire panel, with all their experience, would agree in covering politics. Lisa Lerer is the National Politics Reporter at the Associated Press.

  • 10:57:15

    GJELTENJosh Gerstein is the Senior Reporter at Politico. Margie Omero is Democratic Strategist at Purple Strategies. And joining us by phone was John Wagner, Staff Writer at the Washington Post. Thank you all very much for joining in this conversation.

  • 10:57:29

    LERERThank you.

  • 10:57:30

    OMEROThank you.

  • 10:57:30

    GERSTEINThank you.

  • 10:57:30

    GJELTENAnd thanks to our listeners for calling in with your questions and comments. I'm Tom Gjelten. This is "The Diane Rehm Show."

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