Nine years ago, former FBI agent Robert Levinson disappeared in Iran while on a mission for the CIA. The story of his secret journey to Iran, the CIA cover-up that followed and efforts to rescue the longest-held U.S. hostage.
Guest Host: Tom Gjelten
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki testifies before Congress on treatment delays at health clinics. The FCC votes on a net neutrality proposal. And more state high courts rule in favor of gay marriage. A panel of journalists joins guest host Tom Gjelten for analysis of the week’s top domestic news stories.
- Christina Bellantoni editor-in-chief, Roll Call.
- Major Garrett chief White House correspondent, CBS News.
- Juan Williams political analyst at Fox News. He is also a columnist at The Hill.
Watch A Featured Clip
As the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education approaches, some say the same precedents that helped dismantle separate but equal could also pave the way for gay marriage.
Juan Williams, a political analyst at Fox News and a columnist at The Hill newspaper, said the 14th Amendment was written to give equal rights to citizens of all races, but also guarantees equal treatment of Americans in any kind of subgroup–in this case, those who want to marry a partner of the same sex.
Christina Bellantoni, the editor in chief of Roll Call, said a high-ranking Republican official recently told her the issue would likely be dead in two years, predicting that, like most recently in Idaho and Arkansas, all state courts will just “let [the issue] go.”
For the full discussion, watch the video below.
Watch Full Video
Watch full video of our Domestic News Roundup.
MR. TOM GJELTENFrom WAMU and NPR in Washington, I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR sitting in for Diane Rehm. Diane is out with a cold. At the FCC, commissioners vote to move ahead with a controversial net neutrality proposal. A Tea Party candidate for the U.S. Senate wins a primary in Nebraska. And more court decisions in favor of same-sex marriage in Idaho and Arkansas.
MR. TOM GJELTENTo discuss the week in news, I'm joined in studio by: Major Garrett, chief White House correspondent for CBS News, Christina Bellantoni, editor-in-chief for Roll Call, and Juan Williams, political analyst at Fox News. Hello, everyone.
MS. CHRISTINA BELLANTONIHello.
MR. JUAN WILLIAMSGood morning.
MR. MAJOR GARRETTHello.
GJELTENLots interesting stories to go over today. And you can join us. Call us at 1-800-433-8850. You can send us your emails at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can send in comments or questions via Facebook or Twitter. And, by the way, if you want to see us on the radio, this hour of the News Roundup is being video streamed.
GJELTENThis is your one chance all week to watch "The Diane Rehm Show" and go to our website and see the video streaming. So, Christina, let's begin with Eric Shinseki's testimony on Capitol Hill yesterday, the Veterans Affairs secretary defending his agency's record on treatment of veterans. How did that testimony go?
BELLANTONIIt was really uncomfortable. And he -- I've been talking to people who say that he's deeply offended by this sort of criticism that is coming out of him because he is a veteran and because of everything that he has experienced. But at the same time, him telling everyone to wait for the inspector general's report -- I mean, these inspector general's reports pretty much always confirm what we've been hearing.
BELLANTONIAnd so what more information do they really need? I mean, it seemed, to lawmakers, like an unwillingness to act and sort of a slow walking of a response of something that's really, really a tragedy in this country.
GJELTENWell, it's a tragedy, and it's a tragedy that really touches Americans. How did he perform, in a sense? Did he -- because there was one news account that said he sort of was there impassive. Now, how does that go over?
BELLANTONII've seen a lot of people testify before those committees. I wouldn't say -- you know, he wasn't combative, and I wouldn't have used the word impassive. I mean, for me, it seemed like he was upset. And he wanted to express that he was upset.
BELLANTONIBut it was very much a let's wait and see approach. And lawmakers felt like that wasn't enough.
GJELTENJuan Williams, do you think that Eric Shinseki will have to resign? The American Legion, a very powerful veterans' organization, has already called for it. Some other veterans' organizations are sticking with him for the moment at least. But he's under a lot of pressure, isn't he?
WILLIAMSHe's under pressure. But don't forget that, Tom, that, you know, he's a four-star general, former four-star general. He's a Vietnam hero. He's been here from the very start of the Obama Administration. And he is able to take credit for undoing some of the backlog in terms of requests for help coming from veterans.
WILLIAMSSo even as we approach this Memorial Day holiday next week -- and there's such compassion for our veterans -- it's not the case that Shinseki has a bad record. Even if you look at polling -- and there's been some recent polling done -- you know, it varies in terms of what veterans have to say. You still get a majority saying, you know, we think the VA could be doing more.
WILLIAMSBut there are substantial numbers up in the 40 percent-plus -- this is from Pew -- that say they think VA does either an excellent or good job. So the president has sent over one of his top political aides, the former congressional aide, Rob Nabors, to help Shinseki. But the problem goes back to this question about the inspector general's report.
GJELTENMm hmm. And the long delays in getting treatment for veterans.
WILLIAMSThere's pressure now coming from Democrats on the Hill. And I think Democrats are being very careful here to position themselves as totally in sync with wanting some fast response from VA, that they're not going to let the Republicans say, oh, we're the true patriots and we're rallying to our troop side.
WILLIAMSSo you get people like the Connecticut Sen. Blumenthal saying, well, maybe we should get the Justice Department and the FBI involved here to supplement whatever the inspector general is doing because we're not sure that they have the capacity not only to act quickly but to fully investigate.
GJELTENWell, Major Garrett, as Juan said, the White House has sent Rob Nabors over to help him. How do you engage the support that the White House is giving Eric Shinseki?
GARRETTSolid for the time being.
GJELTENSolid for the time being.
GARRETTThere's a political backstory here. When Democrats began to really make the case against the Iraq War, one of the ways they did it to protect themselves from the accusations that they were trying to undercut the president on national security was make a concerted effort to identify veterans' issues. Starting back in 2005, it's something the Democratic Party would try to take away from the Republican Party in legislative creativity, in dollars demanded, and in oversight.
GARRETTAnd Democrats did a very solid job over years, identifying veterans' issues, putting the party on the side of better management, improved outcomes, and there is a story to be told there about the VA getting much better and more responsive across its entire range of services, which are not just about healthcare. They're a wide range of services. And veteran satisfaction has increased.
GARRETTThat is the good side of the story. The politically vulnerable side of the story is, when that begins to break apart under your watch or with your president, the political backlash becomes more acute. And the fear becomes more pronounced. Now, there's one issue that's sort of central to this, that has brought it to the fore.
GARRETTIt's the idea that, in order to reduce wait times, some VA centers put together these secret lists, off-the-book lists, where you'd have one list that was showing you were moving through the waitlist competently and in a relatively quick manner but then the reality of people waiting forever to get in to see their doctors. Well, no one can defend that.
GARRETTThat's a bureaucratic response to a declaration from Washington that you need to clear the backlog. You need to prove -- move up your service time lag. That has to be ironed out of the system. It has to be ironed out quick. And I don't think anyone needs an inspector general's report to happen -- to be filed for that to happen.
GARRETTThe other vulnerability of the Veterans Administration is there really isn't way now to fire people who are incompetent, and not only that. Bonuses are often paid in ways that look inconsistent with the actual performance in some of these VA centers. The White House is trying to get its arms around all of this. It doesn't want to replace Shinseki right now because trying to solve the problem will only get more difficult if he's sacked...
GARRETT...and you still have all these bad administrators that they -- the White House believe are principally responsible for this problem.
BELLANTONIAnd what you haven't seen yet is President Obama come on and put this real human touch on it. We know that he tends to do this, where he'll -- whether that's coming out with a really strong statement or making some big show that we do know is for the cameras. But you haven't seen that, and in part because they're trying not to undermine Shinseki just yet at this point. And this is a different kind of veteran.
BELLANTONIYou know, it's a younger group of people. It is the people coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan that have, you know, whether that's limbs missing or traumatic brain injuries in ways that the VA just has had to really shift in the way that they approach this. And that's something that the White House is really concerned about.
GJELTENJuan, when is this IG -- inspector general report supposed to come out? And, I mean, how much time here does the administration have to sort of get it together on this one?
WILLIAMSWell, we don't know exactly what the date is. So, I mean, the idea is, clearly, given the political pressures right now, make it quick. But I think that Shinseki's position is they're trying to determine if there is, in fact -- and I think this is the core issue here, Tom -- was there, as a result of the secret list being kept -- and, again, to reiterate something Major said, in other words, they were put under a new timetable for responding to someone's request for medical appointments. Some of the administrators, apparently wanting to avoid this, had a second secret list.
GJELTENDo we know how long that's been going on, the keeping...
WILLIAMSWell, no, but the new requirements came in about three years ago.
WILLIAMSAnd so what you have now is the question of, one, who was -- who put in place these secret lists? Was it a matter of just a hospital in Phoenix or some other VA hospitals around the country? Was it linked to Washington? But I think the bigger issue here then is, did some veterans die because they didn't get medical attention in proper time?
GARRETTAnd the reports of that in Phoenix gave this...
GARRETT...gave this story tremendous velocity. But there had already been reports of that in Pittsburgh a year before. It was a GA report that came out in 2012. In some instances, this is not a new issue. But you have a vast complex VA bureaucracy. And you mentioned the American Legion. It is powerful but not nearly as powerful as it used to be.
GARRETTMan, these veterans' organizations, like the military itself, are going through a tremendous transition period from older, Korea, World War II veterans to those from Iraq and Afghanistan that may have their allegiance to these sort of veteran's organizations and the political clout they once yielded. That's another part of this veterans' story, that it's harder to place acute political pressure on these issues of veterans' dissatisfaction the way that it was 20 years ago.
BELLANTONIAnd when you compound that with the problems we're having with the economy and the Obama Administration's attempts to sort of juice the jobs that veterans are eligible for and help make sure that veterans are getting hired throughout the country, this is a bad economic situation. That makes it even worse when you're not getting good care.
GJELTENLet's move on to the Federal Communications Commission dealing with an issue that's very controversial, net neutrality. Juan, briefly fill us in on what the commission decided yesterday.
WILLIAMSSo the commission said that they are in favor of net neutrality. And what net neutrality means is that all content coming over the Internet would be treated the same. And the contrary point of view or policy prescription would have been, Tom, to say that, for example, people that are putting things up that require a lot of bandwidth and input, that that could be treated differently by the Internet providers, Verizon, Comcast, whoever.
WILLIAMSAnd the fear was then, gosh, you know, there could be preference given to one provider over another, and you could see then that something that you want to watch might be slower because it's not coming from one of the preferred companies on your provider -- you know, in terms of their relationship with your Internet provider.
GJELTENJuan Williams is political analyst at Fox News. He's also a columnist at The Hill. My other two panelists this morning are Major Garrett, chief White House correspondent at CBS News, and Christina Bellantoni, editor-in-chief at Roll Call. We're going over all the domestic news this week. We've just mentioned the ruling on net neutrality at the FCC yesterday. We're going to pick up with that and other stories. But first we're going to take a quick break. Stay with us. I'm Tom Gjelten. This is "The Diane Rehm Show."
GJELTENAnd welcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR, and I'm sitting in for Diane Rehm today on the Friday News Roundup, the domestic hour of the Friday News Roundup. And just before the break, we were talking about this very important vote at the FCC yesterday. Christina, this is an issue that really winds people up, isn't it? They had protestors there. In fact, I think one guy actually had to be dragged out of the hearing. Why is it that people care so much? What is the issue here that riles people up so much?
BELLANTONIYeah, that's an interesting question. It's hard for me to understand because you do. You get these floods of -- whether that's comments any time you post a story about this or these very intense debates online about it. And I was going to say that they've opened up the open comment period on it. And they should be prepared for a flood of comments. So it's hard to understand exactly why, but people look at the Internet as a sort of democracy, a grounds where everybody should be equal.
BELLANTONIAnd you've heard this similar strain and debates about where should broadband access be. You know, should rural communities have as fast of broadband as possible. Like, it's about providing opportunity to people. And so, especially when it comes to the younger people that are following this issue, that's what they're fighting for.
BELLANTONIAnd it's a tiny bit inside baseball, but I will mention, for me, it's interesting, this -- there's a race between two democrats who want to hold the ranking membership on the Energy and Commerce Committee in the House, right. And this is something most people in America would never think of. But between Anna Eshoo from California and Frank Pallone of New Jersey, this is going to be an issue that they're going to have to sort of address among their democratic colleagues as they choose who is going to be the foil to the energy and commerce chairman.
GJELTENWell, Major, it seems that the FCC tried to strike a balance here with this ruling. I mean, on the one hand, strict net neutrality would mean that you can't slow down websites, which they didn't go that far.
GJELTENBut they did allow content providers to speed up to some traffic. And is there really a difference?
GARRETTAnd it's important to note that this is just a proposed rule. This is not a declaration. This is something the FCC is trying to work through because its original take on this was struck down by a federal district court. So you've got to go back to the drawing board on this. And the two Republican members of the commission said, really, this should not be a regulatory decision made by the FCC in the first place.
GJELTENAt all. Mm hmm.
GARRETTYou should throw this to Congress. And I can tell you -- and I think Christina would agree with me on this -- there are many members of Congress who may not want to deal with the issue legislatively. But we'd certainly like to deal through -- from a fundraising perspective because everyone in the industry would come to the members of Congress and say, what's your perspective on this?
GARRETTStrict net neutrality comes from a philosophical point of view that the Internet has grown as a largely unregulated environment. And because it has been unregulated, it has adapted, moved sinuously through marketplaces providing customers with services they want. People understand, or generally understand, their upfront costs, willing to pay them.
GARRETTAnd this thing has flowered before our very eyes. And what is the point of clamping down any kind of regulatory mechanism around it at all? The other point of view is -- and this is the one the three Democratic members of the FCC adopted was, if in fact there's a request to put together this special highway of high volume intense content, which -- write this down -- video and music together.
GJELTENIt's kind of like on a freeway. If you want to go in the fast lane, you pay a toll -- an extra toll.
GARRETTAn extra toll, precisely. Now, if someone like Netflix says, wait a minute, why should my customers have to pay an extra fee when they're already paying $50 or $60 a month to RCN or Comcast or Verizon for what they think is a high speed lane in the first place?
GARRETTAnd the providers say, well, hey, if it's an extra fast lane and we can make a few more bucks on it, why shouldn't we try to do that? And the FCC is really caught in the middle of this philosophical construct. Let the Internet grow as it has, and providers will say, we can give consumers more of what they want. And if they're willing to pay, why shouldn't they have that chance?
GJELTENWell, Juan Williams, there's yet another position which the activists advocate, which is that the Internet should be treated as a public utility, reclassified as a public utility. What would that mean?
WILLIAMSWell, if you have it as a public utility, then you can regulate it precisely. And if you start regulating it, now we come into, I think, the real heart of this problem politically which is, you know, some people see the Internet as you described it earlier, Tom, you know, just open, freer range. You know, it's the democratic form.
WILLIAMSAnd now you have people who say, but, wait a minute, is the Obama Administration trying to, in fact, control or cede government control of the Internet as you watch other governments, the Chinese most notably, get involved in trying to control how the Internet functions. And so you have Republicans who this week on the Hill have been complaining, oh, this is an Obama Administration effort to take over the Internet, which is kind of odd given the decision because the decision was, we're not getting into this really. We're going to stick with net neutrality.
WILLIAMSBut the other point to be said here is that if you have someone who's putting a lot of content on -- we were talking earlier -- Major was talking about music videos. Well, gee, they're eating up a lot of space here. And they're putting a lot of demand on the Internet that might slow down other content. So it's not irrational to say, your business is putting out high volume, high-level content. Why shouldn't you pay more?
BELLANTONIBut it's also an argument about television because so few -- not so few, but more people are trending away from television and just using their Internet through, whether that's a computer or a monitor or Apple TV or any of these systems, to be able to consume entertainment, be that news in our industry or shows or movies. And so there's a lot of -- people feel threatened in this case. And so there's just -- when there's this much money involved and this much interest and, you know, all these questions about whether it's political or not, it's going to continue to be a major issue.
GJELTENAnd, Major, as Christina said earlier, the comment period is open, and it appears the commissioners are open to being pushed in one direction or another. They haven't closed the door yet.
GARRETTOh, I would anticipate probably 5 million to 10 million comments on this just because Keystone, the pipeline proposed to come from Canada through the Gulf of Mexico, has gotten 2.5 million. And the interesting thing -- the reason I mention Keystone is Pew did a research poll on news coverage of this issue. Now net neutrality is actually an issue that affects almost every consumer of content in this country. There's almost no systemic coverage at the network level or major newspaper level of this regulatory issue. But there's a substantial amount of coverage of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which is an interesting issue.
GARRETTBut if you were to ask most consumers, is it going to affect your life, they would probably say no, and they would be absolutely right. So this is an issue that sort of percolates deeply under the surface. And the FCC -- now that the comment period is open, you just better have some bandwidth to take it.
GJELTENWell, we're going to be in a period of public education. We're going to get our public informed on this issue. It is an issue with a lot of political implications. And, speaking of politics, let's talk about some of the developments this week beginning with the Nebraska primary, a race to see who would be the Republican candidate in this upcoming election in the Senate. Juan Williams, tell us who won, and what does it mean?
WILLIAMSSo the Tea Party candidate Ben Sasse -- I'm always tempted to say Sassy, but I'm not allowed to, it's Sasse -- who's the president of Midland University, won. And he won in convincing fashion, and he won over -- I think it's Shane Osborn who was the leader and sort of the establishment GOP candidate for the longest time. There was a last...
GJELTENOsborn came in third actually.
WILLIAMSYeah, 21 percent, I think. And there was also a last minute surge that pushed Osborn to third by a Nebraska banker. But the point here is that you had so many of the Tea Party groups come in and back Sasse. And Sasse is known as a guy who wants to take on Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader in the Senate. He is a Tea Party guy ,and it's a victory for them that comes in the aftermath of what happened with Tom Tillis in North Carolina, where Tillis, who is not a Tea Party -- very conservative but not a Tea Party candidate, was able to win and defeat the Tea Party.
GJELTENWell, Christina, as Juan says, Sasse wants to take on Mitch McConnell, and Mitch McConnell made his preferences known in this race, didn't he?
BELLANTONIYeah. And, you know, there are a couple of elements. I will point people toward a column that we ran on Roll Call's front page from Stu Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report, just explaining, who is Ben Sasse. A lot of people haven't actually met him in Washington. Everybody -- all the candidates come through Stu's office. He met him. He sort of explains, he's not necessarily going to be this, like, Ted Cruz Tea Party Republican.
BELLANTONIThere are a lot of positions that are more pragmatic where maybe it's going to be a little more nuanced. He might be a little bit more like a Tom Coburn, you know, a leader in that sense, you know, very conservative and possibly a firebrand or a blockade where he wants to be, but making compromises in others.
BELLANTONIAnd the other important dynamic to point out is that this is the first person of the election season this year we know for sure is going to be coming to Washington. I mean, Nebraska is a very Republican-safe state. This is a safe Republican seat. So Ben Sasse is among the next members of the Senate. And, by the way, he's fairly young, which is again about this sort of shifting culture and thought bubble of the Republican Parties becoming a lot more young in Congress.
GARRETTI mean, Ben Sasse is a hybridization of Tea Party and Republican strains right now. He worked in the Bush Administration. He worked on Capitol Hill. He graduated from Harvard, and he went through Oxford. That is not what you would consider the prototypical resume of a Tea Party-inspired Republican, OK.
GJELTENAlthough it's not far off from Ted Cruz's profile in a sense.
GARRETTTrue, but Ben Sasse doesn't have -- it doesn't offer Nebraska Republicans or the Senate writ large a sort of Ted Cruz-like firebrand approach to politics.
GARRETTHe has written favorably about Medicare Part D, prescription drug benefit program, put together by the Bush Administration that many Tea Party-inspired Republicans consider to be a government overreach, maybe worked out in its implementation, but something that should not have been done in the first place.
GARRETTAnd so Ben Sasse is kind of in between these sort of classical -- if there are -- if you can have a classical Tea Party definition after only four years, maybe you can't -- but we sort of tried to shorthand what it means to be a Tea Party Republican. I've always thought that was somewhat ill-conceived or ill-advised because not -- you really can't find necessarily too precisely identical Tea Party-inspired Republicans. But Ben Sasse represents something that's different.
GJELTENBut the issue here is -- is it an ideological issue here, or is it the issue of who supported whom? Because Mitch McConnell...
GARRETTWell, look, the Conservative Victory Fund, which supports Mitch McConnell's Republican primary opponent in Kentucky, also supported Ben Sasse. So McConnell said, you have bad friends, and because you have bad friends, you're not my friend. And I've heard that you're going to be against me if you get elected. So Ben Sasse came to Washington to meet McConnell face to face.
BELLANTONIThere are only...
GARRETTAnd they had a little showdown and...
BELLANTONIYeah, there are only a few places where this can play out too, where it's like these open seats because some of the members like Ted Cruz are saying, well, I'm not going to get involved and back Chris McDaniel over Thad Cochran for example.
GJELTENChristina Bellantoni is editor-in-chief at Roll Call Magazine. I'm Tom Gjelten. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Well, Juan Williams, let's move on to other developments. We're now looking at 2016, the president race, and Hillary Clinton edging every closer to a candidacy, it would seem. And this week her health became an issue, or her age, I guess you could say.
WILLIAMSWell, her age is 66, but that, you know, is kind of in the backdrop. It's really her health that became the issue, and it did so courtesy of Karl Rove, President Bush's former top political advisor, who raised the issue as to whether or not she was one of the walking dead -- is the way The New York Post put it.
WILLIAMSBut what Karl said was that, you know, she had this head injury sometime in the past and then emerged from it wearing thick glasses that are an indication possibly that, you know, people -- worn by people who may have had brain damage. So he said he didn't quite say that she had brain damage, but what he did was raise the specter that maybe, at 66, her health needs to be reviewed quite intensely before we would trust her as a president.
GJELTENWell, the truth is that I remember when Ronald Reagan was elected president, and his age was an issue. John McCain's age was an issue, wasn't it, Major, in 2008?
GARRETTAbsolutely. When Ronald Reagan ran in 1980, he was 69 years old.
GJELTENAnd they're the same age. Right.
GARRETTWhen Hillary Clinton, if she decides to run and if she's elected, she'll be 69 years old. And as everyone who covers a presidential campaign knows, it is a 10-year commitment. Once you announce your campaign, you are looking at, if you are successful as you tell the country you want to be, to a 10-year commitment. That's two years to run, four years, and then a re-election campaign.
GARRETTAnd the American public, I think, would be invited with anyone of that age to at least measure that and evaluate this. What Karl Rove, who was, let us remember, a mentee of Lee Atwater, did was exactly what Lee Atwater loved to do. Lee Atwater was the agent provocateur for President George H.W. Bush. And he would love to throw things in the water, in the media stream and see what all of us -- I'll describe myself this way -- the piranha will do with it, OK.
GARRETTAnd we all did exactly what Karl Rove thought we would do, elevate the issue, make it a huge issue, and force Hillary Clinton and then Bill Clinton to respond publicly. And Bill Clinton said something that I don't think had been put on the record before, that, because of this concussion, Hillary Clinton, according to Bill Clinton, not me, required six months of therapy to deal with.
GJELTENThat caught my attention, too.
GARRETTThat caught my attention. That is not -- that is a previously undisclosed fact. Now the American public has it, and I guarantee you Karl Rove looks back at that and says, I threw some chum in the water. The sharks or piranha went after, and that forced something to the service that wasn't there before. Whether you -- I know many Democrats consider that a completely illegitimate and, you know, indefensible approach to politicking. Karl Rove does not.
BELLANTONIWell, and Democrats do it, too. But let's not forget here Karl Rove is not a neutral observer of politics here. This is someone who is intimately involved in groups that are actively working to make sure Hillary Clinton is not the next president of the United States. And then, going back to Major's point about, you know, being a 10-year commitment for a campaign, this is not a well-rested candidate.
BELLANTONIThis is not a candidate that's been able to sort of gear up and get sort of -- I mean, this is someone who has had a grueling 25 years really, you know, with her husband in office, with everything that they went through with her own campaign, with being Secretary of State. I mean...
GARRETTAnd the Senator.
BELLANTONI...incredible amount of pressure, and being a Senator. So what was interesting to me was the very forceful response from, you know, you can't even really call it the Hillary Clinton campaign but from team Clinton going after this. But it also raises the issue -- anybody who thinks that we're not going to relive the Clinton years, if she does decide to run, is foolish. We've already seen Monica Lewinsky. Bill Clinton himself brings up Whitewater. I mean, these are going to come up again and again.
WILLIAMSWell, I think that Bill Clinton though was very forceful in saying, this is part of a Republican attack on a candidate that looks at this point as if she would steamroll to the presidency in '16.
GJELTENThe polls show her running strongly against every Republican, right?
WILLIAMSThere is no Republican that's even close. Jeb Bush would be the closest. Chris Christie has appeal to independents, but that has been sagging, especially in recent days with all the budget troubles in New Jersey. And, you know, I'm not even mentioning the Bridgegate scandal. But the larger point here is that Republicans are looking for every way in which they can undermine the potential Hillary Clinton candidacy.
WILLIAMSSo I think we've been very kind here to this move by Karl Rove this morning, but the fact is that Republicans have raised Benghazi again for a potential 14th investigation on Capitol Hill. Why? Because they can subpoena Hillary Clinton. You talk about the Nigerian girls missing, and the first thing you hear on conservative talk radio is, why didn't Hillary Clinton label them a bunch of terrorists?
WILLIAMSI mean, everything is directed at Hillary Clinton. And don't forget that, when Hillary Clinton -- this is what Bill Clinton said -- when they asked her to come testify and she -- at the time, that's when she had the concussion -- you know, they said, oh, she's faking it. She really doesn't have a concussion. But now they're saying, oh, yeah, now -- she had a terrible concussion, and she may be damaged. So it goes both ways, but it always comes back to the central point, Tom. They're attacking and undermining a potential candidacy by someone who looks as if -- as the potential first woman president would be a steamroller.
GJELTENYeah, well, it's still two years away -- two-plus years away, so it may be too early to jump to that conclusion. But I think you may be right. Juan Williams is political analyst at Fox News. He's also a columnist at The Hill newspaper. We're going to take a short break right now. And when we come back, we're going to go to the phones. We still have other stories to cover. Please stay tuned. You can join our conversation.
GJELTENAnd welcome back. I'm Tom Gjelten of NPR, and I'm sitting in for Diane Rehm for this discussion of the week's top national news with my three distinguished panelists: Major Garrett from CBS News, where he's the chief White House correspondent, Christina Bellantoni, editor-in-chief at Roll Call, and Juan Williams, political analyst at Fox News and a columnist at The Hill.
GJELTENAnd you can join our conversation in this segment. We're going to be going to the phones very soon. Remember, our phone number is 800-433-8850. You can email us at email@example.com. But I want to just wrap up our 2016 discussion here first. We were talking before the break about the latest news on Hillary Clinton. Let's mention Marco Rubio and Rand Paul, the two very prominent Republican possible candidates.
GJELTENFirst of all, Major, Marco Rubio who's light, I think it's fair to say, had diminished somewhat as a result of his outspoken support for immigration reform, weighed in this week on climate change and appeared to be sort of moving a little bit more back to the right. Is that a fair assessment?
GARRETTYes, expressing what he described as rather intense skepticism about the manmade component of climate change.
GARRETTAnd this is the now sort of regularized formulation for conservative Republicans. Yes, the climate is changing. But, for God's sake, the climate has always changed. Change is constant in the universe. There're nothing new about that and particularly scientifically relevant. So what's the big deal? And the manmade component of climate change, they now want to say is still an unresolved scientific question. That does play very well with conservative Republicans far better than it does within the scientific community to be certain and the political community at large in this country.
GJELTENNow, is this any change in Marco Rubio's position?
GARRETTWell, I would say he was largely -- and Christina may -- I invite her to correct me if I'm wrong on this -- I don't think was not very well defined on this issue.
GARRETTBut climate change is an issue in Florida. It is an issue everywhere. But the climate change assessment that just came out, indicated that sea level rises in the next 20 to 40 years of two to four feet. That has enormous consequences for all of Florida coastline. It's an issue that any Florida politician, generally speaking, should conversant on. He had not weighed in very deeply on it. He did and came out on the skeptical, conservative Republican side of the scientific question.
BELLANTONIDemocrats had a field day with this. I read it a little differently in that there have been a lot conventional wisdom, if you will, that perhaps Rubio would not run in 2016 if Jeb Bush runs. But this, to me, felt like he was setting himself up to be a bit of a foil of Jeb Bush if he does run. You know, it doesn't mean...
GJELTENAnd what do you mean by that, Christina?
BELLANTONIWell, Jeb Bush is not out there saying, you know, please regulate all carbon emissions so that we can cool the planet. But he is a candidate that has appeal -- or a possible candidate that has appealed to the business community in a different way on issues like immigration and on climate. He's talked about the need to sort of address this issue in the bigger terms, and he's also from Florida.
BELLANTONIAnd so this isn't an issue where he's just positioning himself slightly differently. I will say that, among conservatives, you've got evangelicals who are concerned about climate change. You know, regardless of how they feel about the planet's origins, they are worried about this issue. That was an area that Democrats have tried to tap into. Those types of evangelicals and young people worry about this.
GJELTENOf course, as Major says, the issue is the manmade component. The reason that's an issue is because, if you accept there's a manmade component, you have to do something about it, and that brings up a lot of policy issues and economic implications.
WILLIAMSWell, not necessarily. I mean, there are people who make the case that, gee, you know, the United States is not even the biggest contributor to manmade pollution. It would be the Chinese. So what if we do something? Why would we put ourselves at a disadvantage economically by constraining our industries while you have industries in India and China going right ahead? So, I mean, also, it's levels to it. But the point is, you know, Rand -- that Marco Rubio took a strongly conservative position and then set off all the fireworks coming from the Democrat.
GJELTENOK. You're anxious to talk about Rand Paul because you've already mentioned his name. Where does he stand today on whether pushing for stronger voter ID is a good idea?
WILLIAMSWell, this was news this week. He said in an interview with The New York Times that he thought the Republican Party should get off this voter ID kick. He said it was just alienate...
GJELTENSo everyone's gotten crazy on it.
WILLIAMSYeah, that was the...
BELLANTONIAnd his campaign walked it back a little bit.
WILLIAMSWell, I don't know how far they walked it back, but they -- I mean, clearly, he stood out on this issue because, even as he was saying it, you have Republican legislatures who continue to insist that, you know, voter ID is just logical. The polls support it. The American people support it. They say you got to have ID to go in the airport. Of course, voting rights are your constitutional right.
GJELTENAnd, Christina, you said he walked it back.
BELLANTONIWell, essentially his campaign -- this is not anything different than he said before. He's really just out there, you know, maybe he said it in a little bit of different language. But this is an area where we need to be inclusive, right? This is the language he's using when he's going out there and speaking to U.C. Berkeley or speaking to different groups or going out to talk to young people. So it's more about appealing to the people than it is essentially on the issue.
GJELTENLet's go now to our callers. Crystal is on the line from New Albany, Ind. Hello, Crystal. Thanks for calling "The Diane Rehm Show."
CRYSTALGood morning to all of you and to everyone that is listening. I just have a quick comment about Shinseki and everything that is going on with the VA. I am completely disappointed in the government as far as what they have and have not done for the VA veterans that are in that particular hospital of their choice. Most of the time, it's near their home.
CRYSTALMy grandfather was a World War II vet, and he went to the VA religiously. He, on several occasions, would sit in the waiting rooms for hours. He sat there one day for a complete 24 hours. The last time that we ended up taking him to the hospital, he sat there for 10 hours. His vital signs were fine. However, he was coughing up fist-sized blood clots out of his lung.
GJELTENNow, how long ago was that, Crystal?
CRYSTALMy grandpa died four years ago yesterday.
CRYSTALHe was diagnosed -- go ahead.
GJELTENSorry. Obviously, you're concerned that this goes back a ways that our veterans have not been well treated by the VA system.
CRYSTALAbsolutely. I think everybody, especially Shinseki, he's making it about him. He's being selfish -- well, I'm a vet, too. It has nothing to do with anything. He's going to get the best service because of who he is. But out of sight, out of mind. Everybody forgets about the other ones that did there first. If my grandpa hadn't gone to World War II, I wouldn't be here.
GJELTENRight. Well, just to set the record, I don't know if I should say straight, but my father was a World War II veteran. And he was treated for many years by the VA and was thrilled with the treatment that he got from the VA. So there are two sides.
GARRETTI have two cousins who fall into the very same category, who served in Vietnam. And one point I would say -- this goes back to my earlier observation -- that things have improved over the years. And even yesterday, in the second or third panel, after Shinseki testified, there were representatives from a wide array of veterans' organizations. And they were all asked a simple question by Bernie Sanders, the senator from Vermont.
GARRETTWould you classify the care, once you get in the system now, as satisfactory? And to a person, they all said, better than satisfactory once you get in. The question is and the political and policy question for the Veterans Administration now is getting them in and not running these fraudulent make-believe lists about how rapidly that's happening.
BELLANTONISo one thing that's happened since we've been in here this morning that Speaker John Boehner announced that next week the House is going to vote on the VA Management Accountability Act. This is a bill sponsored by Jeff Miller, and they hadn't said...
GARRETTChairman of the committee, of the Veterans Committee.
BELLANTONI...if they were going to put it forth on the floor. And so we're expecting that vote early next week.
GJELTENOK. I'm going to read an email now on another issue that we really should discuss today. This is Jake, and he writes, "Our local newspaper in Little Rock posted an editorial today supporting civil unions for gays and having marriage reserved for the religious folks. Wouldn't the same rulings that dismantled separate but equal" -- now, of course that refers to the Brown vs. Board Education issue, which we'll mention later. "Wouldn't the same rulings that dismantled separate but equal also apply in this case?" Juan Williams, a lot of action this week on -- court reaction around gay marriage issue. Fill us in.
WILLIAMSWell, what you have here is an argument, I think, in direct response to the email, Tom, is that, you know, the 14th Amendment calls for, you know, equal rights. And it's without regard to any subcategory here. But, I mean, 14th Amendment was written in terms of race. But what it requires is that all American citizens be given equal treatment.
WILLIAMSSo that could apply here. That's what was used to undo separate but equal in Brown and could apply here. Now, you've had repeated cases this week -- I don't have the list in front of me of states. I think Idaho was one of them -- if you guys can help...
WILLIAMS...that said, basically, the judge is ruling that they would not support a ban on gay marriage in their states.
GJELTENWell, the judge in Idaho said that the authorities in Idaho cannot deny marriage licenses to gay couples.
GARRETTLicenses, right. Right. Same thing in Arkansas.
BELLANTONIAnd so I talked to a very high-ranking Republican recently on this issue who said, you know, we're done fighting this. We recognize that the courts eventually in every state are going to just let this go and allow it to stand.
GJELTENIt's certainly moving in that direction.
BELLANTONII mean, the case I'm really watching is what's happening in Virginia where you've seen such a dramatic turnaround in a decade. The attorney general there is really, really taking a stand on overturning their pretty strict ruling against allowing any sort of civil union recognition or gay marriage recognition. So this Republican was just like, you know what, we're hands off. We think within two years, this issue is done. It's not an issue for us anymore clearly.
WILLIAMSI think the big news this week actually was cultural, which was the kiss, Michael Sam, the football player, kissing his boyfriend right in the middle of the draft, and I think...
GARRETTAfter being announced as a pick of the St. Louis Rams in the seventh round of the NFL Draft. Yeah.
WILLIAMSYeah. And I think lots of people were like, wow, right there.
GJELTENNow, do you think that ESPN made a strategic decision, that the country is, I mean, networks think about these things. Do you think they made a decision, Major, that the country was ready to see that?
GARRETTWell, I think -- I mean, I don't -- first of all, I don't know. So let me just put that out there. I don't know the internal thought process at ESPN. But everyone who's been familiar with the Michael Sam story -- and I'm slightly more familiar with it. I'm a University of Missouri graduate. I'm a proud Missouri graduate. I'm grateful for everything the program has done to support Michael Sam.
GARRETTI think he's a very important athlete. He's a very important American. He's a part of a new chapter in our history. So I feel a great sense of attachment to this story. And anyone who followed it not nearly as closely as I did had to know that this was a likely event. Because what happens when you're drafted in the NFL? It's the biggest moment of your life.
GARRETTThe very biggest. It's the culmination of everything that you've done. And for Michael Sam, it had all sorts of resonance, and, guess what, he expressed it the way he does as a gay man.
GJELTENAnd it looked like he wasn't going to get picked. I mean, this was a last-minute pick.
GARRETTWell, seventh round. He was seventh, I believe, from the end.
GARRETTAnd so he could have been a free agent acquisition. Lots of players get acquired that way. But being drafted in St. Louis by a club and by a head coach, Jeff Fisher, who is known as sort of a revolutionary risk-taking head coach, he's in a good organization. Now he has to make the team. And the one thing that's always been true about this, the team that drafted him had to be courageous enough to do it but also, if he's not good enough, courageous enough to cut him.
GJELTENMajor Garrett is White House correspondent for CBS News. I'm Tom Gjelten. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Christina, do you want to add something?
BELLANTONIJust -- I was going to say that ESPN may have been tapping into how a country is changing a little bit, but there was a really intense response to this on both sides. There was a lot of, you know, nasty rhetoric out there and negative response to it that came in all directions and even the Congress about this issue.
WILLIAMSYou know what was interesting to me, Tom, was that I think he was the all -- SEC...
GARRETTDefensive Player of the Year.
WILLIAMSDefensive Player of the Year. He was a unanimous all-American.
GJELTENSo maybe he should have been picked higher.
WILLIAMSThat's what I think. I think he should have been picked much higher, and I think what you got here is the old boy network, high testosterone in the NFL. And so, you know, this guy's going to bring in a lot of media attention. There's going to be a lot big circus. Already, he's got some deal with the Oprah Network. We don't need it.
GARRETTWhich the Rams did not know about. I would just say this. He had a very bad combine, and that's one of the reasons he dropped three rounds.
GJELTENOK, this is turning into a sports talk show.
WILLIAMSForgive me, Tom.
GJELTENWe're supposed to be talking about politics. All right. Elisa's (sp?) on the phone from Florida. Hello, Elisa, thanks for calling "The Diane Rehm Show."
ELISAHi. Thanks for taking my call. Regarding the net neutrality issue, I don't own a computer. I have to admit it. And I don't understand the issue. I'm concerned my cable bill might go higher. But I did recognize Colin Powell's son Michael Powell on the panel being questioned by the Congress. Michael Powell is now the CEO of cable and telecommunications.
ELISABut 12 years ago, he was on the board of the FCC. And he supported large media corporations buying out smaller companies. The public really put out a pushback on that, and the proposal failed. But with Powell's new position, isn't there a conflict of interest here?
GJELTENHe's not in government. So, I mean, he certainly does have a position to advocate, and I guess that's his right.
GARRETTYeah. It's not a conflict of interest. He was on the FCC, was the chairman for a while. Everyone knows that. FCC knows that. But he is in -- and because he had that position, he then becomes incredibly valuable to those in the industry who would like a voice and advocate they never have.
BELLANTONIThere's not a revolving door on that end.
GJELTENExactly. Speaking of media issues, let's just take a moment to talk about the leadership change at The New York Times. Jill Abramson, the first woman executive editor of The New York Times was let go. People are trying to figure out why she was fired so abruptly, did not have a chance to address her own employees. Juan Williams, have you figured this out yet?
WILLIAMSI don't think it's a big puzzle. But I'm going to say the media attention to it is all about her pay and the idea that she was complaining that she was being paid less than Bill Keller, her predecessor. And so it's become an argument about hypocrisy in the part of The New York Times. You say there's a war on women, women aren't treated fairly, they should be paid equity, and yet it turns out you were not paying your executive editor as much.
WILLIAMSAnd the second part of it is she's an aggressive person. And are women held to different standards than men? Internally, what you hear is, gosh, you know, there was a report on how quickly The New York Times is moving towards becoming more of an Internet provider of content and that she was not on board. She was an old school journalist.
GJELTENWell, Christina, she is the first female executive, but she is being replaced by the first African-American executive to run The New York Times. So big times.
BELLANTONISomething people can be proud of. He has a very good reputation among journalists that I know.
BELLANTONIYeah. And, you know, in part because of his role at the L.A. Times and resigning in protest over layoffs there.
GARRETTJob cuts and some layoffs, yeah.
BELLANTONIBut, you know, this is a sensitive issue. And I will say that my -- people have asked me my opinion, being a female who leads a newsroom. I will say that I think that the journalists that are under management frequently are underpaid compared to management, period. You forget the actual -- whether a man or a woman is paid more or less, I think that you see management rise up and be able to get big raises. And the actual journalists move over quickly because you're not paying them as much as you probably should be.
GARRETTThe New York Times disputed the pay thing and also that this is a benign thing because if you're going to promote women, you're occasionally going to fire them. But the key issue here, alongside pay, is how women are perceived. And strength and courage is sometimes viewed negatively in women in ways that's simply not in men, and that's got to change.
GJELTENJuan Williams, I want to give you the last word. Today is the -- is it today? The 60th...
GJELTENTomorrow is the 60th anniversary of the passage of the Brown vs. Board of Education, which ended desegregation in America. A few years ago, you wrote, it's time to acknowledge Brown's time has passed. The decision in Brown vs. Board of Education that focused on outlawing segregated schools as unconstitutional is now out of step with American political and social realities. Your final thoughts.
WILLIAMSWell, I think what you see now is that the federal courts have moved away from bussing and other remedies, Tom, intended to somehow integrate -- racially integrate. What we've got to do now is focus on quality education for children. And the question is, how do you deliver that? This week, we had complaints filed about too many schools closing in big cities, especially in black neighborhoods. But the movement is towards these school reform options, charters, and vouchers. But the point should be, at this point, 60 years later, making sure that every child has the opportunity to get a quality education.
GJELTENJuan Williams is political analyst at Fox News. My other two guests this morning have been Christina Bellantoni, editor-in-chief at Roll Call, Major Garrett, chief White House correspondent at CBS News. Thank you all for coming in.
GARRETTThank you, Tom.
GJELTENThanks for listening. I'm Tom Gjelten.
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