Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Jon Meacham on the evolution of Abraham Lincoln's moral principles and political leadership -- and what the era of Lincoln can teach us about the state of our democracy today.
Guest Host: Indira Lakshmanan
President Obama names Merrick Garland as his nominee to the Supreme Court. But Senate Republicans refuse to meet with the appeals court judge as he began making rounds on Capitol Hill. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton solidify their leads in the latest round of state presidential primaries. Trump warns Republican party leaders not to try to block his path to the nomination. Bernie Sanders prepares for the long haul despite news that President Obama thinks the Democratic party should soon unite behind a single candidate to replace him. And lawmakers call on Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and EPA administrator Gina McCarthy to resign over the Flint water crisis. A panel of journalists joins guest host Indira Lakshmanan for analysis of the week’s top national news stories.
- Karen Tumulty National political reporter, The Washington Post
- Olivier Knox Chief Washington correspondent, Yahoo! News
- Jeff Mason White House correspondent, Reuters
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANThanks for joining us. I'm Indira Lakshmanan sitting in for Diane Rehm. Senate Republican leaders stand firm on their vow to block a hearing for President Obama's Supreme Court nominee. Donald Trump warns of riots if Republicans try to thwart his path to the nomination. And lawmakers call for heads on the chopping block over contaminated water in Flint, Michigan, while Democrats plead for an aid bill for the victims of the crisis.
MS. INDIRA LAKSHMANANJoining me today for the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup, Olivier Knox of Yahoo News, Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post and Jeff Mason of Reuters. Welcome to all of you.
MS. KAREN TUMULTYGood to be here.
MR. OLIVIER KNOXThanks.
MR. JEFF MASONThank you.
LAKSHMANANAnd welcome to all of you listening out there. We know that you want to get in on the conversation, talk about politics, the Supreme Court and all the rest and you can call us anytime this hours, 1-800-433-8850. You can send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join us on Facebook or send us a Twitter to @drshow. And for those of you politics and news junkies out there for whom the dulcet tones of my guests are not enough, you could get in on the action by watching talk live.
LAKSHMANANAnd that is all on the live stream @drshow.org so click on it and get in our conversation. All right, guys, first of all, I want to start out by talking about the Supreme Court nomination. That was the big news that broke into everybody's newscast in the middle of the day on Wednesday. Merrick Garland has now been nominated by Obama to the Supreme Court. The president says he has fulfilled his constitutional duty to nominate and eminently qualified judge.
LAKSHMANANHe called on the senators to do their duty by giving him a hearing. Merrick Garland began his rounds on Capitol Hill yesterday, but Republicans, for the most part, have refused to meet with him, Olivier.
KNOXStarting with Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who said that he spoke to Garland by phone, but there was really no point in a face to face meeting since he's not going to get hearings and he's not going to get a vote. We've seen some number -- I think we're up to eight now, Republican senators, who have said they'll meet with him, but I don't think that this amounts to a fissuring quite yet, of Republican opposition to beginning the process of confirmation.
LAKSHMANANKaren, tell us a little bit about Merrick Garland. Why did the president choose him out of a long list of qualified people?
TUMULTYMerrick Garland is an eminently qualified judge, a centrist, has been on the short list for every single Supreme Court vacancy for quite a while now, was confirmed to the appellate court in, I think it was 1997, overwhelming. A number of the people who are now saying they will not even meet with him were singing his praises during his confirmation before.
LAKSHMANANDidn't Charles Grassley say, at the time, that nobody could even oppose him if he were chosen for the Supreme Court?
TUMULTYOh, and Orrin, yeah, everybody. I mean, he's just well respected on both side of the aisle.
LAKSHMANANOrrin Hatch, yeah.
TUMULTYBut he's -- so the president was sort of strategic in this and beyond his qualifications, the president picked somebody who was a centrist politically or at least in his judicial leanings, somebody who is relatively old, in his early 60s, for a Supreme Court appointee, in other words, somebody who under any other circumstance probably would've sailed right into the job. And you know, now you -- the Republicans in the Senate, you know, this is going to be an election issue. It's going to be an issue in the campaigns of a number of, I think, you know, vulnerable Republican senators.
LAKSHMANANAll right. Jeff, Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has insisted that in an election year, the voters need to be allowed to weigh in on the Supreme Court nominee. President Obama's argument is the American public already weighed in by electing him in 2012 and that his mandate isn't over yet. So tell me, how much of a risk is there for Republicans in refusing to meet with Garland or give him a hearing?
MASONWell, it depends on which Republican you are and whether or not you're running for reelection later this year in November. I think you can tell by some of the -- the list of Republican senators who have said that they would meet with Garland, a little bit of an answer to your question. That includes Susan Collins of Maine, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Jeff Flake of Arizona, the list goes on.
MASONMark Kirk of Illinois, Rob Portman of Ohio.
LAKSHMANANHis home state.
LAKSHMANANMerrick Garland's home state, who's in a tough reelection battle.
MASONIndeed. And so, you know, some of those senators are not wanting to sort of tow the party line that McConnell has lead about not meeting with him because it could hurt them with voters. It could hurt them with independent voters. It could hurt them with people who do object to this partisan fight going on in Washington. On the other hand, McConnell has, you know, came out pretty forcefully against it within, what, an hour of Scalia's death and he's pushing that hard because he doesn't want to give the president such a big victory in his final year.
MASONWhat I also think is really interesting is the fact that some senators are saying openly that after the election in November, if Hillary Clinton were to win, that then they would consider that nomination then to avoid getting a more liberal nominee after January 20.
LAKSHMANANIs that even procedurally doable?
MASONYes. And the White House said, this week, when we asked Josh Earnest in one of the daily briefings, would you pull this nomination in November so as to allow a Democratic successor, be it Sanders or be it Hillary Clinton, to nominate his or her own judge and Josh Earnest said, no, no, we're gonna stick with Garland. So the president wants this nominee, be it now or be it in November, but they reject -- the White House generally rejects the Republicans refusal to hold hearings or to move forward with this now.
LAKSHMANANRight. Because, of course, if Hillary Clinton were elected in November, then presumably she could pick the most liberal justice she wants.
MASONEspecially if the Senate also...
MASONExactly. Especially if the Senate also came under Democratic control. She's have a lot more authority and a lot more power to do that.
LAKSHMANANInteresting. Well, Olivier, you said earlier that there are not signs yet of a Republican fissure on this, but there do seem to be some cracks in the façade. Is there any sign that Democratic pressure and these outside pressure groups who we're hearing from now, that any of that campaign against especially some of these vulnerable Republicans who Jeff was referring to, is it working?
KNOXIt's a little early to say. The White House has always said that having an actual nominee would change the dynamic of this fight. Remember when, as Jeff pointed out, when Mitch McConnell first said, nope, there was no nominee. The White House says that's gonna change. Having the nominee, especially having a Merrick Garland, is going to change this. You are seeing some -- I think it was Rob Portman of Ohio who actually had initially said no meetings, who then moved into the, sure, I'll meet with Merrick Garland camp.
KNOXNow, that does amount to a crack in the facade for sure. But if you talk to team McConnell, they'll tell you a couple of things. One is that McConnell's intransigence has made it possible for these other Republicans to be a little more flexible because they're gonna have to vote on Merrick Garland so they can meet with Merrick Garland. That's fine. They also say, look, we get this idea that you think that all the vulnerable Republicans are in trouble. They're not. They need their base to come out. They need their base to come out.
KNOXAnd this is a very intense issue for the Republican base. They argue that people like Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, like Rob Portman in Ohio, cannot make up, with independents, the voters that they would lose in the Republican base if they cave on this issue.
LAKSHMANANWell, let's talk about that base, Karen. What impact do you see of this nomination on the presidential race and the ability to get out the Republican base's vote?
TUMULTYWell, Supreme Court nominations have always been something that are much more energizing to the base of both parties. So usually, though, when we talk about -- in the Supreme Court and presidential elections, it's almost as a theoretical question. Would you want a president who would appoint a justice who would do this or that on abortion? Now, it's an actual live question. And not only is it a live question with a real opening on the Supreme Court, but it is an opening that could shift the balance of the court for, you know, a generation.
TUMULTYAnd so, again, what is normally a theoretical thing, is an actual, you know, issue, an actual opening. So I think the, you know, Supreme Court is going to be an issue in this presidential election unlike we've seen.
LAKSHMANANAnd I saw that Ted Cruz put out a statement about Merrick Garland, calling him exactly the type of Supreme Court nominee you get when you make deals in Washington. And he used it as a way to try to attack Trump, saying this is the kind of deal that Trump has said he would make. So everyone seems to be trying to make political hay out of it.
TUMULTYAnd, again, if you look at Merrick Garland on paper and his record, I think a lot of people would say, you know, that's not such a bad thing in a Supreme Court justice.
MASONIndeed. I mean, I think what's fascinating about all of this is this is actually, probably a terrific deal for the Republicans. If they didn't think they might be able to win the White House in November, this would be a very considerably more moderate candidate than would come under the next president. But they don't want to play ball because Mitch McConnell has set out a pretty tough line.
LAKSHMANANWe have an email from a listener in Washington, Nick, who says, what precedent is set in accepting, at face value, the argument Mitch McConnell and others are making that you shouldn't make a nomination of a justice in an election year. He says, why aren't they just more transparent and argue that they don't want what is a moderate justice to fill Antonin Scalia's seat?
KNOXWell, this is a great parlor game in Washington, actually, which is the why didn't Mitch McConnell just say we will take up whatever the nominee -- whoever the nominee is, we'll go through the process and then just, you know, kill the nomination with a vote, you know. It would be hard for Democrats to get the necessary votes to overcome a filibuster. Ted Cruz, whom you mentioned a moment ago, has said he will absolutely come back from the trail and filibuster the nominee.
KNOXSo there's a great parlor game, what's he doing? It turns out the precedent, obviously, there are so few other precedents for Supreme Court vacancies in election years that this would weigh very, very heavily on a process that the founders, by the way, designed to keep the people far, far away from. Remember, this is the president and the Senate. There's no plebiscite for the Supreme Court.
LAKSHMANANAll right. That's Olivier Knox of Yahoo News. I'm also joined by Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post, Jeff Mason of Reuters. We are talking about all of this week's domestic political headlines. You can join us by watching us live at drshow.org or calling us at 1-800-433-8850. We're gonna take a short break, but we'll be right back. Stay with us.
LAKSHMANANWelcome back. I'm Indira Lakshmanan sitting in for Diane Rehm. Happy Friday. We are talking about politics and all the top domestic news this hour, with Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post, Olivier Knox of Yahoo! News and Jeff Mason of Reuters. You can see all of our guests on the live video stream at drshow.org. And, of course, you can call us or email us as always, 1-800-433-8850 or email@example.com.
LAKSHMANANJeff, I know you had some last thoughts on the Supreme Court thing before we move on to politics.
MASONYeah. I just think it's worth pointing out as well that not all Democrats or progressives are happy with this choice. Garland is 63. If the president were to succeed in getting him confirmed, he would to some extent have missed an opportunity to put somebody in to Justice Scalia's seat who could stay on the court for decades. He doesn't have that with Garland. But that was part of the strategies to make him less offensive, "offensive" in quotation marks, to Republicans, to really encourage them to take this nomination seriously. And to inoculate the White House from accusations that it was playing politics with that choice.
LAKSHMANANAll right. Olivier, I want to move on to this past Tuesday's voting results, the third big Tuesday in a row. I think we can call it Super-Duper-Duper Tuesday. So, you know, it was almost a clean sweep for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Give us a rundown.
KNOXYeah. So we are seeing the field finally narrow to -- we can talk about definite frontrunners. Hillary Clinton now is really running the table against Bernie Sanders. Donald Trump's still the guy to beat on the Republican side. And we've lost Marco Rubio, which means that the Republican field is interestingly now down to two sort of insurgent candidates -- Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz. And the last remaining, governing Republican candidate, Ohio Governor John Kasich.
LAKSHMANANWho did manage to win his home state, unlike Marco Rubio who lost in Florida.
KNOXAnd that used to be the participation trophy...
KNOX...of primary elections, right? You win your home state, otherwise you get out of the race. Well, Marco Rubio lost his home state, got out of the race. And so we end up with a field that I wouldn't have predicted last year at this time, where the govern -- if you think of them as having -- as falling into two categories, you have really only one governor. You know, where are the Scott Walkers and the Jeb Bushes of the Republican field? They're gone.
KNOXOn the Democratic side, I think one thing to keep in mind is because Bernie Sanders is getting so much of his money in small donations, that his donors can keep giving again and again and again and again. Which means that even though the delegate math is pretty terrible for him right now, he can stay in the race pretty much as long as he wants.
LAKSHMANANKaren, I want to ask you, you know, Ted Cruz is the one who a lot of people who are in the anti-Trump camp have been banking on, even though they don't like him. It's one of those things I'm reminded, in the 2008 campaign, remember when Senator McCain's mother said of him, well, you know, they might not all like him, Republicans, but they'll hold their noses and vote for John McCain. What a great endorsement from one's own mother. But anyway, I'm thinking of that. Are people going to hold their nose and back Ted Cruz? And what is his path forward?
TUMULTYWell the most extraordinary example we saw of that this week was Senator Lindsey Graham, who himself had been a presidential candidate, who three weeks ago was telling jokes about murdering Ted Cruz.
LAKSHMANANSo bizarre. Lay that out for people who aren't familiar with that congressional dinner where he made that roasty comment that was so strange.
TUMULTYYeah, he had -- well, he had made a joke at a press dinner recently where, if someone murdered Ted Cruz, that...
LAKSHMANANOn the Senate floor.
TUMULTY...on the Senate floor, that you would not find a jury that would find him guilty if you held it among the United States Senate.
LAKSHMANANIn other words, that he's so unpopular.
LAKSHMANANHe has no friends on the Hill.
TUMULTYAbsolutely. And so, yet, what happened yesterday however is that Lindsey Graham announced that he will be helping to fundraise for Ted Cruz on Monday. That's as close to an endorsement without actually endorsing somebody as you can get.
LAKSHMANANLesser of two evils in his mind.
TUMULTYWell, he said, basically, he said, you know, Ted Cruz is the last thing standing between Donald Trump and the Republican nomination. He did not argue that he thought Ted Cruz would be a good president or any of those other things that you usually hear in an endorsement. He basically said, you know, this guy is our last hope.
LAKSHMANANHe had also said earlier that the party -- his own party had gone bats crazy, which was a pretty stunning indictment of his own party from Lindsey Graham. Jeff, fill us in -- the latest delegate estimates -- I've seen some from FiveThirtyEight -- they estimate, you know, the estimates kind of vary based on the news organization. Does it look like Trump is going to get enough to go into this nomination -- into the convention without it being a brokered convention?
MASONProbably not. He's going to, by far, have the most, a majority but probably not the magic number that he needs to. And that is what's leading to comments like he made this week that made a lot of -- they got a lot of attention, where he said, if I go into that convention and don't end up becoming the nominee, there are going to be riots.
TUMULTYAnd it's now the question of who these delegates are is becoming very interesting. A lot of people don't realize that hardly any, you know, we've got numbers of delegates for these candidates. But very few of the actual people who will be sitting on the convention floor in Cleveland have actually been selected yet. And these people will be bound to however their state voted on the first ballot. But after that, they essentially -- most of them become free agents. And so the makeup of these convention delegations will be decided in most cases over the coming months at a whole host of state and local party conventions, which are in many states basically controlled by the governor or the party chairman.
TUMULTYSo you're going to have the, you know, so-called Republican establishment -- what is left of it -- really having a heavy, heavy hand in picking these delegates who, again, if it goes past a first ballot, things are -- can go any direction.
LAKSHMANANIt's up in the air. They are then freed and can vote the way they want, essentially. Is that right?
TUMULTYThat's right. For the vast majority of them that is the case.
TUMULTYAnd, you know, again, it's -- so what you're going to see is essentially hand-to-hand combat at all these state and local party conventions, which really mostly start getting underway next months.
LAKSHMANANBecause Trump essentially needs three out of every five delegates that remain in the rest of the primaries to secure the nomination outright. Without that, we're talking potentially about this brokered convention. This is the real parlor game, Olivier, in Washington, that everyone is betting on.
KNOXIt's still doable, mathematically, for him. There are a lot of winner-take-all primaries coming up. Still very doable. You know, in a normal election year, party officials would be telling reporters to stop speculating about a brokered convention. As my colleague Matt Bai has pointed out, normal is not on speaking terms with the 2016 election. And so now party officials are trying to game out. They're pinning their last hopes on a brokered convention, which is something I'd never thought I would see.
LAKSHMANANOlivier, meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is definitely setting her sights on a November showdown with Trump. She seems to be the only person who's happy about it, she and her supporters, because they see him as someone who's beatable by her.
MASONYeah. I'll take that one. This -- it's good for Hillary Clinton in many ways. The fact that she has done so well on this week, on Tuesday, she swept all five of the states and is pivoting -- to use that lovely Washington word -- towards a general election. And using, you know, saying things like, we want a presidential candidate who doesn't embarrass the United States of America.
LAKSHMANANAlthough he then turned around and put it back on her, that same word, saying she's an embarrassment. And he, of course, released this video this week...
LAKSHMANAN...which is now notorious, just essentially making fun of her, showing a clip of her at some town hall where she was barking as part of a joke. And she's trying to make -- he's trying to make Hillary look embarrassing.
MASONIndeed. And so you see these two frontrunner candidates, who actually have not locked up their nominations, battling the other person pretty directly, one on one. Which, again, is a sign of this race definitely moving in that general direction.
LAKSHMANANDoes anyone know what the latest national polls show, if there were a head to head between Clinton and Trump, who would win?
KNOXNo. And I don't find them especially compelling.
LAKSHMANANBecause so many have been wrong in the primaries as it turns out.
KNOXThat's part of it. But also, these are hypothetical scenarios and I don't think -- I think so many voters tune this in so much later than any of us do. I just don't...
TUMULTYAnd the national polls don't mean anything, in that -- the real question with Trump, in particular, is whether he puts any states in play for the Republicans that wouldn't normally be in play for them. And I just -- that, right now, is so theoretical. But this really is, I mean, we still are talking about the Electoral College here.
LAKSHMANANWhat about Bernie Sanders, who says he still has a path to the Democratic nomination?
MASONYeah. Bernie Sanders is not ready to get out of the race. And even without the math on his side, he still sees a lot of momentum from the young, progressive base that has been helping his candidacy. One of the strategies that his people apparently are now looking at is appealing to the super delegates, which are these delegates on the Democratic side who can chose to vote for either candidate. Hillary Clinton already has a lot of pledged super delegates, so that also would be an uphill climb for Sanders. But she is also, you know, not calling on him to get out of the race and is thinking, you know, back to 2008, when she went all the way until June against Barack Obama and then, of course, lost that primary.
LAKSHMANANAnd graciously conceded at that point...
LAKSHMANAN...with her speech that was probably the best speech of her campaign, the 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling speech.
MASONIt was a very good speech, indeed. And she's leaving room for Bernie Sanders to do the exact same thing. Meanwhile, starting to put her sights on Donald Trump and the general election.
LAKSHMANANWell, is it surprising, Karen, that Sanders' team is now talking about courting super delegates, after having had such a focus on a grassroots campaign and having essentially mocked Hillary Clinton for having super delegates already locked up?
LAKSHMANANAnd tell people what super delegates are.
TUMULTYSuper delegates are people who, by virtue of their positions -- because they are elected officials, because they are party officials -- get to be delegates to the convention. They don't have to reflect the -- how their state votes or anything like that. And all of this was put into place in, I think it was the 1970s or 1980s, because the Democratic Party decided they did not want to be nominating another George McGovern. They wanted to sort of put in these kind of establishment, cooler heads. It is a very undemocratic aspect of the Democratic primary process.
TUMULTYAnd so Bernie Sanders, because of his situation, it's -- a lot of people are now paying attention to these super delegates and who they are. And let's face it, they could swing -- they want to go with a winner and they want to go with somebody who is electable. So, again, most of those super delegates were with Hillary Clinton in 2008 as well, at least initially.
KNOXYeah. It sounds more like a rationale for him staying in the race than it does an actual strategy to me, as I listen to it. And if you listen to Senator Sanders, from my great home state of Vermont, Senator Sanders and his surrogates, you increasingly hear things that sound like, even if the campaign were over today, we are proud of what we achieved. We did more than we expected. Which all sounds like -- I mean, to use another cliché D.C. term -- a premortem, like he's almost ready. He thinks he's achieved his goals. He's built this big, progressive machine. So I think it's more of a rationale.
TUMULTYAnd he can still get things. So...
TUMULTYThings like commitments on the types of people she might appoint to her administration.
LAKSHMANANOr even an appointment for himself.
LAKSHMANANTo who knows, HHS or education or something like that.
MASONAnd he has some favorable states coming up -- Idaho, Utah, Alaska.
LAKSHMANANSome very white states, is what you mean to say.
MASONAnd caucus states, in which he has done very well.
LAKSHMANANThis is Indira Lakshmanan and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Well, President Obama, meanwhile, has told Democratic Party donors in private remarks, that the time is coming for Democrats to come together around Hillary Clinton.
KNOXThe White House is denying that the president explicitly said, you know, Bernie's got to go and let's all rally around Hillary Clinton. But no one who's covered this White House is under any illusions of where his -- about where his preference lies. It lies with Hillary Clinton. He's made it very clear. His aides have made it very clear. There's just really no mystery here.
KNOXIf I could just take one quick moment to talk about a Sanders point. He's already changed the chatter about who Hillary might pick as a vice presidential candidate. He's already...
KNOXMeaning that all of a sudden you're hearing a lot more chatter about Labor Secretary Tom Perez. And that was not true at the beginning of this race. At the beginning of this race, it was going to be someone younger, from the center of the party.
TUMULTYI also think he could have a lot of influence on who she might pick as a treasury secretary.
KNOXThat's a great point.
LAKSHMANANAnd you think Tom Perez would be a good choice for her, potentially as a way to motivate not only Latinos, but?
KNOXBut the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. Absolutely.
LAKSHMANANMore progressives. Okay. President Obama, though, has also been getting pretty candid lately in some long riffs on why Trump, he thinks, would be a disastrous leader for the country.
MASONHe really is not holding back on Trump and has said, for some time now, that he doesn't think Trump would win the White House. That he thinks the American people will reject his type of politics. But then, earlier this week at a reception on Capitol Hill, he went even really further and said, you know, just really attacking the type of politics that Trump has represented -- in the middle of a session with Republicans and Democrats to celebrate St. Patrick's Day on Capitol Hill.
MASONAnd also, in fact, getting personal and saying, look, we've all said things we regret. I certainly can think of things I've said that I regret. But we all have the responsibility for fixing this political mess that the country now finds itself in. And that is directed very much at the Republican frontrunner.
LAKSHMANANAnd yet Donald Trump himself, to go back to him for a moment, you know, he has gained all this momentum. And I feel as if some of the same Republicans -- we mentioned Lindsey Graham earlier -- but some of the same Republicans who have opposed Trump all along -- unlike Lindsey Graham -- are now jumping on his bandwagon. And I'm wondering, is this just because they're grudgingly resigned that there's no one else they can get? Or they're wanting a political reward for joining him now, like Chris Christie might get? Karen.
TUMULTYI really can't explain Chris Christie. But I do -- I mean, there is the fact that if he is going to be the nominee -- first of all, the -- their -- it -- the question in the minds of a lot of establishment Republicans is, would it be more damaging to overturn the will of the majority or of the plurality of Republican voters by doing something at a brokered convention? Or would it be more damaging to have Donald Trump at the top of our ticket this fall?
TUMULTYAnd if you decide that he's going to be at the top of the ticket, then you are going to then have to face the prospect of, you know, what are we going to do to help get him elected and, just as importantly, what do we need to assure that the transition would be orderly and that he would come to Washington essentially equipped to govern?
LAKSHMANANAnd with Mike Bloomberg now saying that he is not going to run as a third-party candidate, is there any serious campaign by Republicans or Trump opponents at this point to put forward a third-party candidate?
KNOXThere's a lot of serious conversation about it. And you see other steps to mitigate the Trump phenomenon. There's a new Super PAC now that's designed to help down-ballot Republicans who are thought to be the most likely victims of a Trump nomination. But the number I've always watched with Trump is the number of Republicans who claim that they would never, ever vote for him. And it was in the high 60s when he announced. And then it's fluctuated since. I think it's back up to something, you know, in the 50s. But it keeps fluctuating.
KNOXI think there actually would be a rally around the Trump phenomenon. I think you're going to see a lot of the thinkers in the party who are now saying, never, impossible, I can't possibly do it, find a way to say, you know, upon further reflection, you know, we definitely would not control Hillary Clinton. Maybe we would exert some influence over Donald Trump so he wouldn't be so bad, you know, Republican Party. I think there's going to be an element of that in -- if -- if -- if he's the nominee.
LAKSHMANANQuickly, before we go to our next break, Trump on his end is warning of riots if the GOP tries to block him in any way at the convention.
MASONYeah. And interesting how quickly other Republicans, including the RNC, tried to play down that comment and say that he was just speaking figuratively. But that's kind of been Donald Trump's MO. He will say...
LAKSHMANANHe threatened Bernie's people by saying, if you bring your supporters to my rallies, you know, my people are going to go to your rallies and cause ruckus.
MASONRight. And he says things like, I'd like to punch that guy out or I'd, you know, other things that people interpret as calling for violence, and then later says, well, I don't think I'm encouraging violence. So, yeah. That certainly rattled a lot of people, after those remarks.
LAKSHMANANAll right. We're going to take a short break now. And when we come back, we'll be talking more about the presidential campaign, where we are now, the Supreme Court nomination. And we're going to turn to the Flint water crisis as well. So stay with us.
LAKSHMANANWelcome back. I'm Indira Lakshmanan, sitting in for Diane Rehm. I'm joined today by Jeff Mason, White House Correspondent for Reuters, Karen Tumulty, National Political Reporter at the Washington Post. And Olivier Knox, Chief Washington Correspondent for Yahoo News. You can see all of our guests on our live video stream at drshow.org and you can, of course, call us at 1-800-433-8850. Or send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. So, what has been, essentially, this tragedy in Flint, Michigan, over contaminated water filled with lead, affecting children, has now turned into a partisan fight that morphed into an actual verbal brawl on Capitol Hill yesterday. What happened, Jeff?
MASONWell, you had testimony from Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan, who is a Republican, and also EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, who works for President Barack Obama, obviously. And both sides blamed the other. Governor Snyder blamed bureaucrats in Washington and in Michigan. The EPA faulted him and other state officials for not doing enough. Snyder did apologize, whereas the EPA Administrator, despite pushes to apologize, did not. Although she did admit that the EPA could have been more aggressive in urging the state to take action.
MASONBut it's a big deal. As you mentioned, a lot of kids, some 8,000 children under the age of six were exposed to lead. And it is tragic. There's no other word for it.
LAKSHMANANWell, let's take a call from someone who's actually in Flint, Michigan. Bryce, you're on the air.
BRYCEHello to your panel. I've been following this closely as a resident of Flint. And I watched the hearings the other day, hoping to get some real information, and not just political grandstanding, which it turned out to be. But the big question that I have, which I have yet to hear, be heard, answered in any of the coverage of this crisis is who, in fact, made the decision to switch to Flint water and who approved that decision? You know, we've heard from Darnell Earley, who was the City Manager at the moment that that happened that this decision was made before he became the city manager.
LAKSHMANANAll right, Bryce, good question. So, does anyone know? Is it in the lap of Rick Snyder, the Governor, and his people? Or the EPA? I mean, who should have known what and when should they have known it?
MASONWell, what McCarthy said is that it was the decision, in fact, of the city manager, and that that was approved by the state. And that was the primary reason why she didn't apologize yesterday. She said this is something that is a result of your management of the city. And therefore, the blame lies there.
LAKSHMANANWell, I thought what was interesting was that the Republican lawmakers and Chairman of that committee, Jason Chaffetz, a Republican of Utah, really spared no, you know, words in criticizing Gina McCarthy. The Republicans are calling for her to step down. The Democrats on the committee are calling for Governor Rick Snyder to resign.
TUMULTYYeah, and it was an interesting point in the New York Times story on this this morning. That this was really kind of a party role reversal, that Democrats, who normally would argue for a heavy federal regulatory hand were complaining about the local government and the Republicans, who argue that responsibility should be, you know, put on the local -- the most local levels, were, you know, criticizing the feds. So, you know, again, it was like, it just sort of showed the politicization of this.
LAKSHMANANAll right. What about solutions? What is next here, Olivier? The Michigan Democrats are pleading with fellow Senators for a vote on a Flint aid bill. Is that going anywhere?
KNOXThat's not in great shape right now. It's, it's not clear that it's going to get through, and so the next step, and we're going to see more of the sort of the partisan finger pointing. We're going to see more federal aid flow into Flint filters and drinking water and the rest of it. But I don't know, I find it hard to wager on concrete achievement with this Congress. And so I would guess that...
LAKSHMANANSo, more hearings.
KNOXWell, definitely more hearings, because they're not done, the committee's not done with its full investigation. And so we're definitely going to get more hearings, we're definitely going to get more reports. But at the end of the day, I don't know how quickly the federal government is going to respond with more aid.
LAKSHMANANAnd even an aid bill, we're talking about the Senate packing up for a two week recess. And so, you know, that adds on an extra delay if there even is going to be any kind of an aid bill.
LAKSHMANANAll right. Let's go to the calls. We have Judy Kay on the line from Dallas, Texas. Judy Kay, go along. Go ahead.
JUDY KAYGood morning, everyone.
KAYI just had a comment on the Republican Party. They have set this up since the 1990s. '96, '97, the moral majority comes in and it's just religion and politics together, it's just always been a bad thing. Then you get to the 2000's, the Republicans have kind of pushed the Tea Party. Go out there and yell and complain and do all this stuff. They've taken down all the boundaries, and now they're -- and have to herd cats. They don't know what to do. And I just think it's pitiful for them to blame, oh, it's those damn liberals.
KAYNo. You all set this up forever. Now you've wound up scratching your heads, going now what do we do?
LAKSHMANANAll right, Judy says they've made their bed and now they have to lie in it. They created this problem themselves.
MASONWhat's interesting about the caller's comment is, I think President Obama would agree with that. And in many ways, even Marco Rubio, in his speech this week saying that he was suspending his campaign, said there is a lot of anger, and we shouldn't be surprised about where we are. And the President has said something very similar, that this is the result of years of action by Republicans. And now they have, what, in a potential Donald Trump nominee, basically what they deserve.
TUMULTYAnd where the anger is is that, you know, as they have brought these new groups into the fold, you know, the most recent being the Tea Party, they have won their votes, essentially, by promising them that Washington would operate differently. And so, you know, the Tea Party went out in the last couple of mid-terms, voted for Republicans, and all they saw was more of the same. So, where maybe Donald Trump doesn't fit with them on all the issues, and that's certainly true with the evangelicals.
TUMULTYI think, you know, the Republican Party has so frustrated these key elements of their base that they, at this point, are willing to drop a bomb on Washington, and that bomb would be Donald Trump.
MASONThere's another thread in the Trump campaign that I think we shouldn't overlook, which is the feeling among a lot of his voters that they have just been absolutely betrayed by the elites of the country, whether they are political or financial. And you hear them talk about the 2007, 2008 meltdown of the economy. They haven't recovered from that. They saw people go off to war in Iraq. They, a lot of people haven't recovered from that. Their wages have been stagnant for decades. They've watched other people get rich.
MASONThis is why Donald Trump, when he talks about entitlement spending, when he talks about Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, he says he's gonna protect them, which is not Republican orthodoxy, right? It's basically saying, this time, Washington is going to keep faith with you. I think it's a really important thread.
LAKSHMANANAll right. Let's take a quick call from Durham, North Carolina. Will, you're on the air.
WILLHi, thank you so much for taking my call.
WILLI've got a question, kind of, to your earlier question about the motives of Republicans grudgingly supporting Trump now. But first of all, I've got to say, I can't believe you guys haven't talked about the biggest news story of the week yet. Diane's brilliant cameo on "Younger" Wednesday night.
LAKSHMANANI'm still having to watch it on my iPad, so I don't get to watch TV in real time. I cannot wait.
WILLNo spoilers. No spoilers. But anyway, I think one reason that Republicans have started to grudgingly support Trump is that the Republican establishment takes Trump's threat to violence seriously. He's proven that he can suddenly incite his supporters to violence. Now, he's explicitly called for violence at the convention if they go with the Romney brokered convention plan.
LAKSHMANANAll right, so Will brings up a really important point. He says that we've glossed over this. He says it's, you know, this riot threat is a real one and has a meaningful line, essentially, been crossed in American politics? If the front running candidate for a major party can come out and essentially threaten violence if he doesn't get it?
KNOXI think they do take it seriously. I think that's one reason why they made an effort to play down those comments and to try and redirect the conversation. But I think another point that is related to that is they take the voters seriously who are voting for Donald Trump. And Trump has made a point of saying I'm bringing in new people to the party. I'm bringing in new people to the electoral process. And the Republicans want those voters. They want those people, even if they don't particularly want the candidate that they are coalescing behind.
LAKSHMANANWe have several emails on the Supreme Court issue like this one from Chuck in Washington, D.C., who says, if President Obama is supposed to do his job in his last year of service, can't GOP Senators and Congressmen in their last year also do their job?
KNOXWell, so I mean, I assume that this goes back to the idea that the President nominates and the Senate's supposed to do hearings and vote. I mean, I guess they're technically not required to. You know, they don't, they take the position that they are giving their advice and it's not consent. They're just doing it not in vote form. I do like the idea that the President's term, somehow, ends, you know, at some undefined point in the calendar, before it actually ends. That doesn't hold a lot of water with me, but I do see that happen on several other issues, including the war against the Islamic State, where the Republicans in Congress do not want to vote on an authorization for the use of military force until there's a new President with a new strategy.
TUMULTYWell, I think it should apply to all of us, so I'm just going to go home from work at three 'o clock today.
LAKSHMANANYour terms is over.
TUMULTYYeah, that's right.
LAKSHMANANOr go home after the show. What the heck? All right, you know, this is an email from Mike in Lansing, Michigan, who brings together two points here about both the Supreme Court issue and the election. He says, what happens if the 2016 election were to get tossed to an eight member Supreme Court. Interesting. I mean, he's thinking if there's a tie between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump and there are eight people on the Supreme Court. Then what?
MASONGreat question. I don't have the answer to that. I mean, it was clearly pretty unprecedented when that happened with George W. Bush and Al Gore. I think a lot of people hope that never happens again. But yeah, it's a fair question. If that were to happen, it would be, no doubt, a tie.
KNOXLet me raise my hand on the people who don't want that to happen. I actually hate that emailer a little bit, because I'm having complete flashbacks to Bush v. Gore court case. But it does bring up an interesting point, which is that it's not that Garland would make the Court that much more liberal. It's that the absence of Scalia makes it that much more liberal. The Court, right now, is more liberal than it has been in decades.
LAKSHMANANAnd, of course, the absence of Scalia makes it simply tied, and that, that is a problem. You know? I'm Indira Lakshmanan and you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. We have an email from Rob, who says with regard to Trump's nomination, what happened to the pledge to support the nominee? He says that all the Republican candidates signed on to it, and it's time for the Republican Party to show some integrity.
TUMULTYThat is a very good point. Essentially, they were trying to put Donald Trump in handcuffs with this pledge, and instead, they have found themselves in those handcuffs.
LAKSHMANANYeah. All right, and we have an email from Tracy in Dallas, who specifically wants Karen Tumulty of the Post to answer this question. You were talking earlier about the obligations for delegates at the convention. And Tracy wants to know what about the obligations on the first ballot for delegates who are pledged to candidates who have since dropped out, like Rubio?
TUMULTYIt's interesting. Every state has their own rules. So, for instance, Rubio has 16 delegates from the state of Virginia. And I talked to the Party Chairman there just the other day and he said they are going to cast those 16 votes for Rubio on the floor. Now, that's because Rubio has suspended but not ended his campaign. And again, it's -- the hard thing in figuring these things out is that every single state has a separate set of rules.
LAKSHMANANAll right. Let's quickly pivot to the economy. The Federal Reserve this week decided not to increase interest rates. Was this expected, Jeff?
MASONI think so. It was interesting. They said that moderate US growth and strong job gains would, however, allow it to raise rates again later this year, and projections suggest that there will probably be two quarter point rises, but that is half of what was expected in December. So there are risks that are affecting the economy. They made a point of mentioning those headwinds from abroad. But they also projected that the unemployment rate would fall to 4.7 percent by the end of this year. So, a lot of good news for the economy, but also some concerns lingering.
LAKSHMANANWhat about the implications for this, for both the US and the international economy? The Fed originally said it was going to raise interest rates four times this year, but now they've said they'll probably only raise interest rates twice this year.
KNOXWell, Jeff's right that this move was expected, but it is a shift from, as you point out, from what we thought was going to happen. And I think it shows that the Fed is watching things like slumping growth in China very seriously. And reflecting how that can have knock on effects for the US economy.
LAKSHMANANAnd, you know, the Feds said that although US labor markets are improving, the international economic situation is still shaky. So that's part of their -- goes into their decision making.
KNOXWell, if you look at Europe, it's shaky for sure. If you look at China, it's not doing as well as it had in past years. There are absolutely international headwinds and they can have really serious consequences for the US economy.
LAKSHMANANAll right, bring us back to the race. Fox has cancelled the upcoming GOP debate after Trump dropped out and then John Kasich said well, if he's not debating, I'm not debating. And you can't have poor Ted Cruz on the stage debating himself, although that might make for good television.
MASONI'm sure he'd be delighted.
TUMULTYActually, they offered Ted Cruz a town hall, and he turned them down on that, as well. So...
LAKSHMANANReally? Why would he do that? I thought he had said he would be willing to debate and Kasich or either one of them? Why turn down a town hall? It's free publicity.
TUMULTYWell, I think for one thing, all of them are going to be here in Washington, you know, because there's -- well, Ted Cruz has a fundraiser Monday night. It's that same fundraiser that...
LAKSHMANANThat's right, that Lindsay Graham.
TUMULTY...that Lindsay Graham's going to be at. At it's all tied to the American/Israeli PAC, Political Action Committee or whatever...
TUMULTYAPAC is meeting in Washington.
LAKSHMANANWell, you know, Trump skipped the Fox debate in January and some people said it cost him votes in the Iowa primary. Does skipping this debate for everybody matter at this point?
MASONNo, it's a much different time in the election now. And, you know, Trump said when he made his comment that he wasn't going to show up that we've had enough debates. And, probably, even though they are -- would be helpful to more of the underdogs like Ted Cruz and John Kasich, he's probably not the only one who feels that way.
LAKSHMANANAll right, let's take one quick last call from Chris in St. Louis, Missouri. Chris, go ahead.
CHRISHey, good morning. I'm honored to be on your show. I was calling because I'm trying to find out about these other parties, like the Libertarian, the, you know, Green Party. You know, seems like a third or fourth party would really break the bipartisan gridlock and really change the climate for the country. And really, people seem like they're looking for an alternative vote. And I haven't heard hardly anything about any of them. And I'm just curious, my question is is, you know, what does the third party need? I've heard like five percent vote or something to get like some better representation? And why haven't we heard from them?
LAKSHMANANAll right. In the minute we have left.
TUMULTYOnce again, every state has their own rules as to what it takes for candidates to get on the ballot. So, it's a very complicated process.
LAKSHMANANAnd there's no hope, really, that the parties he referred to could actually put forward a candidate that would have any hope of beating Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, or whoever the Republican and Democratic nominees are.
MASONI was gonna say, the other answer to that question is, you need a candidate. And you need somebody who has name recognition and somebody who could actually arrive on the political scene. And that's why the caller isn't hearing about those people, because other than Blumberg, and in the past, we've had Ross Perot.
MASONRalph Nader, exactly. But there isn't...
LAKSHMANANThere's no one with enough name recognition.
MASON...there isn't a figure like that right now.
KNOXAnd the system is designed to exclude third parties. The system is designed from, from the, sort of, the aftermath of the Soviet Revolution. It's designed so that it's extremely hard for a third party to get on the ballot, to have a viable candidate, to raise money and the rest of it.
LAKSHMANANOlivier Knox of Yahoo News. You also heard from Jeff Mason of Reuters and Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post. Thank you all so much for joining me. Thank you to all our listeners for sticking around and listening to the domestic news. And we'll be back on Monday. I'm Indira Lakshmanan and you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show.
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