Many say the current presidential race is the most uncivilized in modern American history. Civility in public discourse, why it seems to have hit a new low and long-term implications for the democratic process.
Tom Daschle, former U.S. senator from South Dakota, was one of the longest serving Senate Democratic leaders in history and the only one to serve twice as both majority and minority leader. His new book, “The U.S. Senate,” is a guide to how the institution works. Sen. Daschle joins Diane for the hour.
- Tom Daschle former Democratic senator from South Dakota; senior policy adviser to the law firm of DLA Piper; co-founder of the Bipartisan Policy Center; and member of the Health Policy and Management Executive Council at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Read An Excerpt
From “The U.S. Senate” by Sen. Tom Daschle and Charles Robbins. Copyright © 2013 by the authors and reprinted by permission of Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, LLC.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Tom Daschle's new book titled "The U.S. Senate" explains in simple terms how the institution works. It also offers some practical advice on what lawmakers can do to overcome the partisanship that troubles the Senate today.
MS. DIANE REHMFor starters, he says keep the lines of communication open. Tom Daschle, former Democratic Senator from South Dakota, joins me. We welcome you into the conversation. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to you, sir. It's good to see you again.
SENATOR TOM DASCHLEGood morning, Diane, good to be back.
REHMYour new book is all about how government works, how the Senate works. Government is not working well right now. What's gone wrong?
DASCHLEWell, Diane, a number of things have gone wrong. We've evolved away from what has been the traditional respect for the institutions that we've long had. We've begun to elect people whose purpose it is to stand their ground, that is not to compromise.
DASCHLEThere are two kinds of electorate out there today. There are those in the country who really want their legislators just to go out and make a point and keep making that point however long. Then there is the other group that I would say are the majority of the people in this country who say, no, I want you to make your point, but at some point, I want you to govern. I want you to find common ground.
DASCHLESo it's the stand your ground versus the common ground standoff and, unfortunately, those who maintain that view that standing your ground is essential are in a much stronger position than they've ever been today and we can go into how it was that they got there, but I think that's, in large measure, the dimension we're working with in the Senate especially today.
REHMSo we're facing sequestration by the end of the week. What do you think the Democrats should do? What do you think Republicans should do to get to that place of compromise?
DASCHLEWell, I think it all starts with relationship-building and it's a little too late to be looking at relationships now...
REHMThat's for sure.
DASCHLE...but it's very critical that you, as you mentioned just a moment ago, that the lines of communication be open. I don't think we hold -- this is a little bit more in the waves than probably needs to be, but we don't hold joint caucuses. It seems to me that having everybody in the same room in an informal setting instead of having the Democrats across the hall and the Republicans in another room where it becomes really a pep rally. It becomes sort of a stand-your-ground test.
REHMWell, give me an example of how it used to work and where in those joint caucuses you did come out with a good solution to a particular issue.
DASCHLEWell, it's interesting. The history of caucuses is a recent phenomenon. Lyndon Johnson had one caucus every year. He had it at the beginning of the year and after that, he was on his own to work deals and to reach across the aisle. He didn't have everybody together.
DASCHLEIn my day, it has now evolved to where caucuses meet at least twice, sometimes three times a week and they always meet individually, separately from Republicans and Democrats. The one time when it changes is when there's a real crisis. Usually, it's a crisis involving national security.
DASCHLEWe did have joint caucuses right after 9/11. We did have joint caucuses during the impeachment crisis. We did have joint caucuses right after the anthrax attack in my office. And interestingly, when those joint caucuses occurred, we got things done. Now, in part, it was because of the crisis environment, but you'd argue that we have a crisis environment today with sequestration and that still isn't what is happening.
DASCHLESo it's not a simple solution. There is none, but having those joint caucuses and bringing everybody in the same room and keeping them there to create the kind of dialogue and communication environment that you need to start working out some way with which to resolve these things seems essential. It's just a tragedy, in my view, that it doesn't happen.
REHMAnd right now, there does not seem to be communication going on. The president is traveling. Members of Congress are staying in their own places. Do you think there is any chance that they'll find some way to resolve this issue before sequestration hits?
DASCHLEWell, you asked the question, is there any chance? There's always some chance. I would put the odds today at something way less than 10 percent, Diane. I don't think that the prospects are very good. There doesn't seem to be any real interest, especially on the part of the Republicans and I don't mean that to be partisan, but I think they want to test it.
DASCHLEThey want to see just how bad sequestration is. Their view is that this 5 percent cut isn't that consequential and that we can live with it.
DASCHLEThe problem is we're halfway through the fiscal year so it's more than a 5 percent cut. And it starts with most agencies at 10 percent, but then agencies contrary to conventional wisdom, it really isn't a cut across the board. There are many things that are more directly cut-a-bull, if I can use that term, than others and so they have to find within those agencies where they can cut.
DASCHLEThat means furloughs. That means things having to do with employment in particular because you can regulate the number of people employed and that has a huge impact on the budget for any agency.
REHMSo an article in The Atlantic magazine last week was titled "It's Been 951 Days Since the Senate Passed a Major New Law." What does that tell you?
DASCHLEWell, that tells me that we're in a very dysfunctional state today, Diane, and it's very, very troubling to me for a lot of reasons. Obviously, we're not getting the work of government done, but that's the first and in some ways most important level, but not the only level.
DASCHLEThe other is people's lack of trust in the institutions of governance and that troubles me a great deal. As the trust continues to decline, peoples' willingness to consider radical proposals, I think, are very possible. And then finally the message it sends to the rest of the world.
DASCHLEI've had to travel quite a bit in the last six months or eight months and I'm amazed at the number of people who ask me, how is it that you've gotten to be this dysfunctional and do you really want us to be like you? Do you want us to have these democratic institutions that just don't function today?
DASCHLEAnd so it's a dangerous message that I think we send abroad. But so at all three levels, you know, just not getting the work done, our own trust in the institution and the perception it sends abroad all lead me to believe that this is as serious a time as I can recall in my dull lifetime.
REHMAnd I would certainly agree, but then the question becomes if people continue on the paths that they're on, continue to go out and campaign in the same way, continue to raise money from special interest groups, what hope is there for reform and you have some actual ideas for reform, talk about those.
DASCHLEWell, I think, obviously you have to start with the way we campaign. We have a system that's terribly broken. My last race in 2004 was the most expensive in the country and...
DASCHLEAbout $50 million.
DASCHLEThat was $25 million on either side.
DASCHLEIn the last election, we had two races that exceeded $80 million, money spent on both sides.
DASCHLEMassachusetts and Virginia.
DASCHLEA typical senator, Diane, has to spend, has to raise $5,000 every single day he or she is in office and obviously they don't so they have to make up for it in those last two years and it's not uncommon to spend two-thirds of your time doing nothing but raising money.
REHMThat must feel pretty degrading on your part.
DASCHLEIt's degrading. It's frustrating at so many levels. It's you're asking people for money and you know that there's, in some cases, there's an expectation. You can't put your finger on it. You don't what it is. It's access if it's nothing else.
REHMIt's coming. It's coming.
REHMAnd Citizens United, how did that affect the issue?
DASCHLEWell, Citizens United just blew the top off. Now it means virtually unlimited resources can be spent on political campaigns and it could even get worse. Now there's a challenge, as you know, for the individual limit as well. So there's a real possibility that we could go limitless with regard to contributions in coming elections, which would be an absolute disaster.
REHMSo one of your reforms would be?
DASCHLEWell, it's pie-in-the-sky right now, unfortunately, but I believe we need a constitutional amendment that distinguishes speech from money. That's what the Supreme Court has decided, that speech is money and I think it's just as erroneous a decision and interpretation of the Constitution as you can get.
DASCHLEBut I would settle for public financing. I would settle for almost any accommodation that would allow us more of an opportunity to limit money. But that's really part of it. You know, the redistricting has to be addressed. We redistricted in such a way that only about 35 seats were competitive in the last election out of 435.
DASCHLEAnd states themselves now, with this new primary process we have, even in states where you, like mine, where we only have one Congressional district, it's becoming more and more the case that the primary is the election that matters, not the general. And when the primary becomes more important, what happens?
DASCHLEThe interest groups, the groups with the real agenda on the far right especially, but also on the far left, have the ability to nominate and ultimately elect a member for Congress. And that, to me, is where this whole stand your ground dilemma begins. It's the election process itself that we're going to have to address.
REHMDo you believe there's any chance that the Supreme Court would even entertain another case regarding money and campaigning?
DASCHLEAs I understand it, they are. They've just announced that they're going to take up the case of -- a case brought before them. I believe it's from Texas where the individual, the Plaintiff, is alleging that his 1st Amendment rights are being violated because he has a limit on how much he can give as an individual to a particular candidate.
REHMTom Daschle, former Democratic U.S. Senator from South Dakota, former U.S. Senate majority leader, he's senior advisor at the law firm DLA Piper, co-founder of the Bipartisan Policy Center, author of "The U.S. Senate."
REHMAnd if you've just joined us, Senator Tom Daschle is with me. He served in the senate as majority leader, then minority leader. He's now written a book titled "The U.S. Senate" all about the "Fundamentals of American Government," which at the moment does not seem to be working very well. You are invited to join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or send us a Tweet. Senator Daschle, talk about the filibuster and the recent reform that Harry Reed, Mitch McConnell put forward. Does it go far enough?
DASCHLEI don't think it does, Diane, and yet I applaud them for making the effort. Basically what it does is eliminate one of the opportunities to filibuster a bill prior to the time it's considered. As you know that there are a number of stages upon which a filibuster can take place. The first is called the motion to proceed. That is a vote on whether we should take up a certain piece of legislation. That filibuster, by this agreement, was eliminated.
DASCHLESo we will now -- it'll be up to the discretion of the majority leader to bring a bill to the floor without any debate. And there still could be a vote but there'll be no debate about the vote. And ultimate the legislation can then be pending. Now you still have several bites at the apple. You can filibuster the bill, you can filibuster an amendment to the bill, you can filibuster the cloture motion about going to conference. And you can filibuster the bill when it comes back after conference.
DASCHLESo you have at least four stages of filibuster opportunities that will continue. The interesting thing is though, from 1917 to 1967 we had 49 filibusters, 49 cloture votes. In the 112th Congress, that is the two years prior to this one, we had 115. So that gives you some indication of the degree to which the filibuster today is a totally different animal than it was all through that historic time from 1917 when we started cloture votes. We didn't have them before then.
DASCHLEWoodrow Wilson was the -- actually the motivator. He wanted to ensure that we had the ability to deal with the ramifications of World War I. And he had written a thesis against the filibuster, against cloture when he was in college. And ironically was the leader of the effort to instill a filibuster in 1917. But from then all the way through the Civil War -- I should say the voting rights and civil rights acts, the environmental bills that we took up in the '60s, the great society, we had 49 cloture votes.
REHMBut now you can simply threaten a filibuster and nothing goes forward.
DASCHLEExactly. Exactly. people have this ubiquitous hold. A hold is a threaten to filibuster and it's used excessively today. I can't tell you today how many holds are on nominees, how many holds are on different bills. It's far greater than it's ever been before and...
REHMDo you think that the talking filibuster should remain in place?
DASCHLEThere are two things that we needed, in my view, and obviously it's subject to debate. But we did something back in the '70s that we thought was actually a reform. What we said in the '702 when we passed the new budget act was that we would be able to set aside a bill. We called it duo tracking. If there was a filibuster, let's put it aside, let it ripen while we'll take up another bill.
DASCHLEWell, we now double track, triple track, quadruple track, quintuple track, putting these bills aside while they ripen. Well, that's a mistake. You know, it's counterintuitive but to say, no we're going to stay on this bill like Lyndon Johnson said when we dealt with the civil rights laws, he said, we're going to be on this bill for whatever length of time it takes to get it done. And it invokes the pain and the frustration that is required. That's number one.
DASCHLENumber two, you have to hold the floor and if you don't hold the floor there's no pain. And so those two things...
REHMYou got to have pain.
DASCHLEYou do. You've got to -- people have to go through a couple of sleepless nights. And they say, wait a minute, I don't -- do I really want to do this? And they come up with all kinds of excuses as to why we can't do it through the night, health reasons, campaign funding, just a lot of things. I have to be in California. I've got a big fundraiser. And so there's all kinds of reasons not to do it but they've got to be on the floor. You got to bring out the cots, you've got to stay there and speak.
DASCHLEStrom Thurman's record of 26 hours and 37 minutes I believe is still the record. I want to see that record broken if there's going to be a filibuster. None of this stuff where you just set the bill aside.
REHMBut you take me to the question of leadership. You talk about Lyndon Johnson, how he could move from one place to another, how he could put his hand on one person's shoulder of the opposing party, how he could cross the aisle to make deals. Is nobody doing that anymore?
DASCHLEWell, there's some of it going on. Unfortunately, in the name of reform, there've been a lot of unintended consequences. And it used to be in the '50s you had a very powerful leadership structure. The two leaders, Everett Dirksen and Lyndon Johnson, had enormous power. Over the years in the name of reform we've minimized that power. Leaders today don't have the power that Lyndon Johnson does -- did. And I think that is also...
REHMYou mean they have taken it away.
REHMGive me an example.
DASCHLEWell, Lyndon Johnson really had the sole authority to put people on committees and take people off of committees. He had the sole authority really to decide what bills come to the floor, and nobody ever contested it. And it was just -- that was a given. He had the sole authority to decide when and if there would be a caucus. And none of that occurs today. Now it's stipulated with the caucuses are going to be. It's stipulated that he's got to get the approval of the steering committee in order to appoint people. And taking people off of a committee is unheard of.
DASCHLEAnd so those kinds of things have really changed, the leadership capacity that Lyndon Johnson had that most leaders since have envied, but it is what it is. The problem is that because it's a more Democratic institution and because grass root senators have so much more authority than they had before, that is when I say grassroots, I'm talking about newly elected senators, back benchers, if you will. They have -- Rand Paul's a good example, Mike Lee, all of the -- Ted Cruz from Texas. They've all made themselves very visible, very vocal, even though they have no seniority. That never happened in the Lyndon Johnson era.
REHMDo you think television has changed things radically?
DASCHLETotally. Totally. Television has changed things first in the caucus and in the senate itself because you're speaking out of the camera oftentimes and not speaking to each other. It's really remarkable. In the old days people came to the floor to listen. Now they don't have to come to the floor. They can see it on television and they can watch.
DASCHLESo, first of all, they're not engaged on the floor like they used to be. But secondly, most members today don't speak to their colleagues. They speak to that national audience. So it's had a profound effect on a change in the environment and the chemistry among the members themselves. And unfortunately there are many people that are prone to hyperbole. And when it comes to speaking to those national audiences they're speaking to their constituencies. And so it becomes almost theatrical at times and that's unfortunate because we've lost...
REHMAnd it gets in the way of making progress.
REHMIt gets in the way of people coming together, looking at each other in the eye, really making any kind of effort to find a way out or a way forward. And I must say an awful lot of people wonder about how well Senate Majority Leader Harry Reed is doing. What's your estimate?
DASCHLELet me just say one more thing. It also minimizes candor, you know, the thing that you have to have when you legislate. You've got the -- have to have the ability to express yourself saying, well I really can't do that because or yes I can do that but don't hold me to it right now. I've got to clear it. I mean, there's a lot of work that has to go on that's nuanced. And if all of it's recorded, if all of it's televised, your ability to speak in a very candid way with the colleagues with whom you're trying to reach some legislative compromise is almost impossible.
DASCHLENow as to Harry. I have to say every leader has his challenges. Harry Reed has enormous loyalty among his caucus members. They -- he looks out for them. He really cares for them. He tries to accommodate them. I don't think that the two leaders today have the same degree of chemistry and the same relationship that I had with the three leaders that I worked with for a lot of reasons. Times are different, the circumstances involving the two leaders are vastly different.
DASCHLEBut I had Bob Dole, who's probably as good a leader as you could've ever hoped to have worked with. Trent Lott and I worked in so many ways -- in a number of ways together. Bill Frist and I had probably not quite the same relationship but we've since worked on so many things at the Bipartisan Policy Center together. That chemistry is so critical to making the senate work and I don't think it exists very much today.
REHMWell, when you had President Obama first elected and you had statements from Republican leaders about President Obama, it seemed to set the whole disintegration of relationships in motion immediately.
DASCHLEWell, community has to be a two-way street. The President can reach out and I wish he'd even do more than he does. But there has to be some reciprocation. There has to be an ability to say, okay if you reach out -- I was very pleased today, Lindsey Graham and John McCain went down to the White House to talk with the president about immigration.
DASCHLEFrankly I think there should be a meeting every single week. My preference would be Tuesday mornings at breakfast where the president would say to the leaders, look even if it's something very small, maybe it's just a nomination, let's get something done this week to send the message that we can actually agree on something. Maybe the little things will grow to bigger things later on. But there has to be that weekly dialogue.
DASCHLEAnd on occasion, I've given that advice to three presidents and no one's taken me up on it...
DASCHLE...to any -- President Bush took me up on it right after 9/11 for about two months and then it died. But I think it really made a different during those two months. We met every Tuesday morning, the vice-president, the president, the four leaders. And we actually accomplished a lot. But it dissipated and we've not done it since. And I regret that. I think that that would really make a difference. I also think, you know, it's weekends at Camp David, it's trying to find ways to build a little bit more trust and relationship that just doesn't happen like it should.
REHMFormer Senator Tom Daschle. His new book is titled "The U.S. Senate: Fundamentals of American Government." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm sure one of the questions on people's minds is whether you think you could have made a difference with the Affordable Care Act as it finally came out and has been challenged in the courts and has all kinds of challenges across the country. Do you think you could have done something better?
DASCHLEI have to believe that the president had the best team that he could've hoped to have had. I only wish that there hadn't been all of the challenges, Diane. We really went through two near-death experiences with Affordable Care Act last year. We have first, of course, the Supreme Court decision last July and the second was the election in November. Those two near-death experiences are now behind us. There's still a number of court cases pending but we still have enormous work to do.
DASCHLEIf this were a football field we'd be on about the 30 yard line with 70 yards to go in terms of all that can and should be accomplished with health reform. And we can all make a difference. I'm hopeful that when it comes to improving access and reducing costs and really coming about with greater quality, there are a lot of things that we can do. And this holds out the greatest promise of doing those things that we've seen in all of American history. So I'm very excited about it. But so much more needs to be done. And of course, it will depend a lot on whether congress is prepared to support it.
REHMI'd like to ask you about the media and the structure that has evolved since you were in the senate, and what role you think the media in all of its configurations is playing in the discombobulation in which the congress is working.
DASCHLEWell, the media plays a very, very consequential role. And as one of the factors that I list when I talk about what's changed, it used to be by and large that the media was the referee. The media's now become the participant in many cases. And because they've become the participant, that is advocacy journalism is so much a part of the environment within which legislators operate today, it's the blogs and it's the Twitters and the social media and all that comes with it, there's a lot of good.
DASCHLEThat participatory democracy in some ways is a plus but it's unbridled. It's unedited and it's oftentimes wrong. But it is hyperbolic and because it's so hyperbolic I think it affects the tenor and the discourse that you see daily in congress. So it's had a profound effect. Not to mention the media scrutiny that comes and the attention that we've already talked about. The increased transparency, generally in a democracy, is a good thing.
DASCHLEBut the problem it presents, the unintended consequence is that it does create problems with regard to very candid exchanges of views. And the opportunities for people to say and to act in a way that does not get them in trouble back home or in some other way. And so those concerns I think are offsetting to a certain extent but it is what it is. The modern day media is not going to revert back. We're going to continue to see it evolve. But we just have to figure out a way to cope with it more effectively so that it doesn't have some of the negative effects that I think it has with the legislative process.
REHMLots of folks think we ought to bring back the Fairness Doctrine. What's your thinking on that?
DASCHLEI strongly agree. I think that -- I don't think that it would probably have the same effect that the fairness doctrine had when it was in effect up until the mid '80s but I do think it would have some opportunity to provide better balance. We don't have the balance that in my view is so critical. And so the more we can do as a federal policy to ensure better balance, I'm for it. I think that would be very helpful.
DASCHLEI think we've got to do more than that though. I think again it goes back to, you know, part of the -- we ran 1.5 million presidential television ads in the last cycle, 1.5 million ads just for president over the four-year period of time. We spend way too much money on television ads. We interrupt the ads with programs in the last month of the campaign season and that is a disaster.
REHMThe book is titled "The U.S. Senate: Fundamental of American Government. Senator Tom Daschle is the author. He's here with me. We'll take your calls right after a short break.
REHMAnd welcome back. Senator Tom Daschle is with me. He served both as Senate Majority and Minority Leader. He has written a new book. It's all about and titled, "The U.S. Senate: Fundamentals of American Government." We're going to open the phones now. We'll go first to Prescott, Ariz. Good morning, Jim. You're on the air.
JIMGood morning, Diane. Thank you.
JIMActually, you and the Senator have kind of already answered my question. Mine was kind of concerning reestablishment of the Fairness Doctrine because I feel like that is responsible for a lot of the polarization among rank-and-file citizens. I talked to these people who practically foam at the mouth with hatred toward President Obama because they think he's a Muslim from Kenya who hates America and hates white people. And they get that stuff from this pop radio and Fox News and Glen Beck and these babbling psychos like that. And…
REHMI'm not sure they're psychos. They do have very strong opinions. I don't think I'd characterize them as psychos, however.
JIMYeah, well, they're divorced from reality. That's the thing. They live in this parallel universe. And, you know, you can't talk to these people. And they stay in touch with their congressmen and you have a lot of these right-wing Republican congressmen that reflect that sort of view because these people, you know, they vote. And…
REHMOkay, Jim. Let's hear what Tom Daschle has to say.
DASCHLEWell, Diane, it probably won't surprise you, but I agree with a lot of what Jim said. You do have ideological fervor today, but what I think most people realize is this isn't new. We've had Father Coughlin. We had Joe McCarthy. We've had the John Bertz (sp?) society. I think what's different is that because of the media, because of the election process, because we've democratized our elections a lot more than we've ever had before--used to be that people in smoke-filled rooms picked the nominee.
DASCHLEWe don’t do that anymore. And that was viewed as a reform, but what's happened is that the primary process has now been captured by a lot of these groups. And it's made a huge difference in terms of who gets elected, especially when you consider the redistricting. So we're back to where we were in the '50s and in many cases with these ideological, stridently, very strongly-held views that are reflected in the rhetoric and in the actions of members of Congress today. That has to change.
REHMLet's go to Birmingham, Ala. Ken, you're on the air.
KENSenator Daschle, a couple of things. I totally agree with you that we have gone two-sided, the stand-your-ground and common ground. And I also agree with you on way too much money in politics right now. And just to reference, I'm the guy Jim's talking about. One of the things I'm really concerned about in politics today and certainly from your perspective, we have missed the third alternative. Where is the thinking that let's find where the common ground is? Let's find the criteria of how can we get our country back on the right track. And why does President Obama ask at fiscal cliff to, okay, make a concession for me and then I'll help you cut spending. And then he turns around and says, I'm not going to cut spending.
KENWhy doesn't he come across the aisle? President Clinton did a great job of coming across the aisle, I thought, at difficult times. And there's another guy I didn't like, but I agree that he tried to come across the aisle. I don't see President Obama trying to come across the aisle. I don't see a lot of Republicans trying to across the aisle to him, as well and there's this standoff. And until the American people get up in arms I don't see there's another way. Senator Daschle, what can we do as American people to help both parties come to a third alternative, to think differently about where our country's going?
DASCHLEWell, I think you ask a very important question. How do you change it? And I think the only way you can change it is to hold your members of Congress and your Senators accountable. It's to ask them the very question you're asking. Why haven't you reciprocated? President Obama, if you hold the view that he hasn't done it enough--he would argue--I've had conversations with him about this--I do it and I never get anything back. And so his view his he has reached across the aisle. He was just meeting this morning with John McCain and with Lindsey Graham on immigration.
DASCHLEI wish there'd be even more, but you're absolutely right. The fundamental change that needs to occur is that those lines of communication have to become more institutionalized. It can't be an occasional meeting. There has to be more of an opportunity to reach across the aisle. I was actually with President Clinton on many occasions when he reached across the aisle even with Newt Gingrich. We sat in the Oval Office for ten straight days working out the budget impasses that we had when the government was shut down in the '90s.
DASCHLEBut we did it by staying there every single day until we got the job done. I'd like to see that happen all over again with sequestration or anything else. Let's just hole up, let's not leave the room until we get this job done.
REHMThe fact that Lindsey Graham--and who else did you say?
REHMJohn McCain--are meeting with President Obama on immigration, you say, is there any chance that they're talking about other things like sequestration?
DASCHLEIt would be hard to believe that they could only speak about immigration with the looming sequestration and all of its impacts. So my guess is the main subject was immigration, but I would, you know, there are nominees that are pending that both Senators McCain and Graham have been very involved in. That had to have come up. I'm sure sequestration came up as well.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Pam, in Lansing, Mich. Good morning, you're on the air.
PAMGood morning, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
PAMSenator, I have two quick questions for you. One, do you think that Congress is guilty of misfeasance and malfeasance for ignoring their primary responsibilities to represent the best interests of all the people? We've had years of deadlock and that is not been in the best interest of the people, nor is it what members of Congress are paid for. That's question number one. Second, the sequestration allows for much smaller cuts in legislative branch operations versus cuts for the executive branch agencies. What do we do about that?
DASCHLEWell, I think you ask a couple of good questions. The second question is I think it's very, very important that the Congress not exempt itself, that they show that there is no double standard. And I fear that that perception could be created by the immunity that they have from some of the cuts that will happen beginning on Friday. So that is, I think, a public relations, as well as a very serious substantive concern that most likely will get more attention as the days unfold.
DASCHLEWith regard to the first question, they certainly aren't guilty of legal malfeasance, but I do think that from a legislative point of view one cannot help but be concerned about the implications, legally and legislatively with regard to the unfinished and unresolved questions pending before the Congress. The list gets longer. And, you know, it's very, very difficult when members of Congress leave on Thursdays, they come back on Tuesdays to run a country on Wednesdays is just impossible. But that's what's going on today.
DASCHLEAnd so we've got to keep them here. There has to be work from Monday through Fridays. There shouldn't be all of these recesses. Members of Congress shouldn't be allowed to sleep on their couches in their offices. That's public housing. They ought to be called on the carpet for that, too. You know, the old days, you actually spent some time here. And when you spend the time here you actually get things done here. We just aren't seeing that today and that's increasingly a serious problem with regard to the institutions themselves.
REHMHere's an email from Diane, in Texas. She says, "I was disappointed you withdrew yourself for the HHS Secretary in the first Obama administration. I wonder if you feel you would have been able to push a public option in the healthcare law or would the gridlock in Congress have prevented you from doing so?"
DASCHLEWell, I strongly support the public option and felt that there was a moment when the public option might have been able to be passed. At the time, ultimately, when they were able to bring all the pieces together, we had lost a couple of votes for the public option. And so the votes just weren't there. And so the president made the only decision he could, which was to move what he could pass, what would garner the 60 votes. That didn't cut it, unfortunately. We'll come back to the public option someday, but I believe that ultimately that's a very necessary part of the landscape as we go forward.
REHMTo Concord, N.C. Jessie, you're on the air.
JESSIEYes, Diane. I was calling in response to you disagreeing with the caller about the talk-show radio hosts being psychos. There's a well-documented explosion from one of them, Alex Jones, where he says that he believes that the big banks are poisoning our water and will eventually kill him for his views. Things like that are not said by people in the right state of mind.
REHMWell, he does seem to have a pretty extreme view of the banks and maybe he really believes that, but the problem is putting that out on the air because other people who may not have access to a full range of opportunities to read, to study, to know begin to believe that kind of thing. What do you about that, Senator?
DASCHLEWell, Diane, and repetition oftentimes becomes fact.
DASCHLEIt's just amazing. The more it's repeated, the more oftentimes it's believed. And that's really what's unfortunate. These radio manipulators really know oftentimes that simply by stating it over and over…
REHMOver and over.
DASCHLE…and over again it becomes part of the landscape and accepted as reality. And that's the danger. You're right. People aren't as discriminating as they should be with regard to where they get their information or the quality of the sources. So the more they hear something, the more likely it is they're going to believe it.
DASCHLEAnd that's why that Fairness Doctrine, in part, is so essential.
REHMExactly. To Pullman, Wash. Seth, you're on the air.
SETHGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.
SETHYeah, I've got a couple concerns. One is the use of executive orders. I don't know if there's any congressional oversight on all of these. It seems to me like dozens--I don't know how many there are now--of executive orders that are coming from the White House. So that's a question for the Senator, if he knows if there's congressional oversight. It seems to me that there should be if we're following the Constitution approval or disapproval in the Congress of any executive order. I know that they have been used in the past, obviously, JFK and other presidents, Abraham Lincoln, have used that privilege. And we do have a balance of power.
REHMOkay. And your second question, sir?
SETHYeah, it seems to me that the power really resides in the Congress. The other point I want to make is that I do think that we need some kind of balanced budget amendment. I don't know how the Congress could approach that, but I think that that's very important. The states have to balance their budgets. And as far as I know in history, we've never had this kind of debt on the federal level. And whether people are conservative or liberal in their views, I think everybody in the country probably is concerned about that issue.
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Executive orders?
DASCHLEWell, the executive orders are oftentimes used by the president when he's been delegated the authority to begin with. Congress actually gives the president the authority because they can't possibly get into the minutia of the execution of a lot of these issues.
REHMBut give me an example.
DASCHLEWell, the executive orders that the president has done on climate, for example. These are authorities oftentimes given to the president because the Congress gives them some latitude to interpret the law and to execute the implementation of certain actions. The president has done that on EPA, on environmental issues. He's done it to a certain extent on gay issues, the don't-ask-don't-tell. Those are executive orders.
DASCHLENow, this president has not used it as much as his predecessors have, actually. He's not been as aggressive as some of those in the past, but nonetheless, it is a privilege that the president uses. I think the caller is right. There has to be oversight. There has to be some degree of checks and balance here. You can exceed that authority occasionally and that oversight is required by the Constitution. What the president is doing, what every one of his predecessors have done in past.
REHMWhat about the balanced budget amendment?
DASCHLEWell, I also am concerned about the debt, but to hamstring the Congress, the country, with an amendment that would simply outlaw a balanced budget would mock the Constitution. You can't possibly anticipate the circumstances, as we did with the Great Depression, as we did with World War II, when borrowing was absolutely essential to get the job done. And so we are in that situation again, recovering from the second most important recovery that we've seen in the last 100 years, after the great recession of 2008 and '09.
DASCHLEAnd so obviously we're in great debt, but we've go to make sure we have the levers available to us to respond. Bringing down the debt is critical, but a balanced budget is not the way to do it.
REHMYou've talked about climate change and the executive order. What about gun control? What do you foresee in this president's second term?
DASCHLEWell, unfortunately, Diane, I think it's really going to be very, very difficult. I’m not telling you anything you don't already know. I do think that there is a possibility for background checks. I wish we could eliminate the automatic weapons, the AR-15s and the others. I don't think that's going to happen, even the clips with 30 rounds. I think that's such an obvious way to begin to address the situation, but we're not going to do that. I just don't think the votes are there. The NRA has enormous power around the country.
REHMAnd the nomination of Senator Chuck Hagel?
DASCHLEChuck Hagel is supposed to be voted on today. There's a cloture vote. I think we're going to make cloture today and my guess is that he'll actually be confirmed either today or tomorrow.
REHMAnd the director of the CIA?
DASCHLEThat might take a little bit longer. Ultimately, I think we're going to get that one done, too. John Brennan's just a remarkable nominee. I think he deserves support and I think he's going to get it.
REHMYou lost your Senate seat in 2004. Do you miss it?
DASCHLEWell, in all honesty, you miss the power, you miss the opportunity to do things that you really believe you can make a difference in, you miss the intensity sometimes, you miss your friends, but life goes on. And I enjoy immensely many of the things I'm doing today.
REHMYou're here in Washington?
DASCHLEI am. I work with a law firm and a couple of think tanks, the Bipartisan Policy Center and the Center for American Progress. I'm the vice-chair with Madeline Albright with the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and enjoy it.
REHMFormer U.S. Senator Tom Daschle. His new book is titled, "The U.S. Senate: Fundamentals of American Government." Thanks for being here.
REHMAnd thanks all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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