MICHEL MARTIN, Host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Coming up, as the race for the Republican presidential nomination heats up, the candidates are increasingly being asked about their religious beliefs. For many people, faith is a private matter but for others they say it's the guiding force in their lives. So, just how much should a presidential candidate have to disclose? How much does Republic have a right to demand? We'll talk about that in our Faith Matters segment in a few minutes.
But first, it's time for our weekly political chat. And this week was a busy one inside and outside Washington. We had House Speaker John Boehner offering his plan to stimulate the economy. Republicans won both special congressional elections in New York and Nevada, and the woman who was tasked with setting up a new regulatory body to address financial industry excesses announces her bid for U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts.
So, joining us to talk about all this and more is Cynthia Tucker. She's a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. She's now a professor of journalism at the University of Georgia. She's back here with us in our Washington, D.C. studio. Welcome back, thanks for coming.
CYNTHIA TUCKER: Thanks, Michel.
MARTIN: Also with us, Ron Christie, Republican strategist who worked for both Vice President Dick Cheney and President George W. Bush. And we caught up with him at Harvard University studios in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Ron, welcome back to you as well.
RON CHRISTIE: Always a pleasure to join you.
MARTIN: So, let's start with that speech by House Speaker John Boehner. He outlined his vision for how the country's economic troubles should be addressed. This was on Thursday, of course, just a week after President Obama spoke to a joint session of Congress to talk about his plans. This is Speaker Boehner addressing the Economic Club of Washington. Here's a clip.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
JOHN BOEHNER: Well, let's be honest with ourselves. The president's proposals are a poor substitute for the pro-growth policies that are needed to remove barriers to job creation in America.
MARTIN: You know, Cynthia, semantics aren't everything but they are something. How do you think we should evaluate Speaker Boehner's speech? The core of the speech was tax reform as a way to jump start the economy. So, do you think it's fair to sort of look at this kind of side by side with the president's job creation proposals or is this something else? Is this mainly a conversation about taxes and tax reform?
TUCKER: I think it is absolutely fair to look at it as both. It is a response to the president's jobs plan, which he said he would try to pay for with tax increases on the wealthy. Boehner made it absolutely clear that he is not interested in that. But it's also a message to the supercommittee, which is currently trying to do some long-term deficit reduction. Clearly Boehner, the speaker, has made it clear that the Republicans that he has sent to that committee are not to consider tax increases as an option.
The most - the funniest part of Boehner's speech to me came if you juxtapose his insistence that there be no tax increases with his saying that, oh but, you know, we should abandon this my way or the highway approach. Clearly that was a reference to President Obama, but he has laid down a my way or the highway approach as well. There will absolutely be no tax increases.
MARTIN: And it's also the Republicans were the ones who walked out of the deficit reduction talks last month. So, that's the other thing people say, well, gee, when is it my way or the highway? Ron, it's my way or the highway, it's your turn.
CHRISTIE: Well, I think it's a very interesting contrast. You look at the president's proposal that he outlined to the American people, finally that he put in writing I might add. And it's nearly half a trillion dollars of temporary spending that will be financed by permanent tax increases. And I think when you juxtapose that to what Speaker Boehner outlined earlier this week, you see a plan that says that the American business community is overtaxed, over-regulated, and needs to have a more simplistic approach to the tax code.
I don't have any problem with that. I don't have any problem with the fact that while President Obama says that he wants a Free Trade Agreement to be ratified by the Congress, the president's not yet submitted them for ratification.
So, I look at what President Obama did last week, and what Speaker Boehner has done this week. It's sort of a start in a serious really negotiating that's going to have to take place over the next several weeks of can the administration and the Congress come together in a bipartisan manner somehow someway and pass some form of legislation aimed at stimulating the American economy?
MARTIN: Now, some people call...
TUCKER: What negotiation?
MARTIN: Well, let me just ask, some people some Republicans criticized the president for his tone last week saying that he was saying my way or the highway. On the other hand, he said that his proposals were ones that had been submitted previously by both Republicans and Democrats, so that whatever you thought of his tone, the substance of his proposal should have bipartisan support. Was there a similar nod, Ron, in John Boehner's remarks? Was there any glimmer of hope for a bipartisan accord in his remarks? And if so, where was it?
CHRISTIE: I think so. I think there are a number of Republicans and Democrats talking about the need to have free trade agreements with Colombia, with some of our allies around the world to stimulate American job creation.
The only thing I would point out, Michel, is there was an interesting note in the Washington Post earlier this week by Glenn Kessler in his Fact Checker segment that noted that the president's claims that all these proposals have received bipartisan support or are well likely to be supported by Republicans was a rather specious comment at best.
And he went in a very lengthy examination of many of the proposals that only received support by the two senators from Maine, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, and that in fact many other measures did not receive any Republican support. So, it's hard to say that all the president's initiatives have strong bipartisan support.
MARTIN: And just - and speaking of fact checking, I just want to clarify that the Republicans walked out of the debt reduction talks in July, not last month. But, you know, we're all getting older. The time is encapsulating right as we speak.
MARTIN: That's right. If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
We're having our weekly political chat with Republican strategist Ron Christie and the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and columnist and blogger Cynthia Tucker. She's also a journalism professor. Switching gears now, Republicans had some victories or were they key victories in Tuesday's special elections in Nevada. Nevada's 2nd Congressional District Mark Amodei easily won the seat to keep the seat in Republican hands.
But in New York this was a shocker to some, Cynthia. Republican Bob Turner won. It was a heavily Democratic district, formally represented by Anthony Weiner, who's considered one of the more liberal members of Congress. So, what does that say? Does this say anything? Is this an early referendum on 2012?
TUCKER: Yeah, I think the word referendum is much too strong here. But I think it is a very serious warning for President Obama and Democrats in general. Now, people have noted that there were some particulars in the Weiner's district, which don't apply more broadly. It is heavily Jewish. Many of the Orthodox Jews don't like President Obama's stance toward Israel. They think he is too soft on the Palestinians.
But the economy is the larger backdrop that the president and Democrats ought to be worried about. And I think the major message the Democrats ought to take is that they have been too complacent. They assumed that a Democrat would keep Anthony Weiner's seat because it's been Democratic too long. In this volatile election climate with the economy so bad, Democrats can't afford any complacency.
MARTIN: Now, Ron remember Democrats racked up a lot of victories in special elections before the midterms, and then were routed in the fall. So, referendum or not, these two races?
CHRISTIE: Well, I think certainly it was a referendum. But I would associate my remarks with my friend, Cynthia Tucker, to say that it was certainly a strong wake up call and a warning to the White House and congressional Democrats. And I agree with Cynthia. I think that they have been too complacent when it comes to dealing with the economy. There's been such a focus on health care reform and, you know, the horse trading and the who's up and who's down that I think a lot of the American people said: For goodness sakes, focus on the economy.
Looking at this specific district, this was a district, Anthony Weiner's district, New York 9 that President Obama carried by 11 points. And the Republican Bob Turner won by eight. So, that's a pretty significant turnaround from the president's election to what Mr. Turner was able to do earlier this week, a strong wake-up and a warning call that the American people all across the country are watching.
And if you're an incumbent, I might add, regardless of your party affiliation, if the economy's not in a stronger position next year, I think Republicans and Democrats in Washington have a lot to worry about.
MARTIN: Well, speaking of, you know, kind of upending the order of things, remember, it was such a shocker when - well, maybe it wasn't. I mean, but it was certainly attention-getting when Republican Scott Brown won the Senate seat that had been held for decades by the late Senator Edward Kennedy, and Democrats were anxious to win that back for all kinds of reasons, both political and symbolic reasons.
So, Elizabeth Warren may not be a household name, but she's a former advisor to President Obama. Remember, she was the one tasked with setting up that new regulatory body so contentious that was designed to address the factors that led to the sort of financial meltdown. Now, she's thrown her hat into the ring for this. And, Cynthia, what do you make of that?
TUCKER: Well, first of all, I'm still sorry that Elizabeth wasn't chosen to be head of that Consumer Regulatory Commission because I think she would have been a very fine head for it.
I think that she will be a formidable candidate. I think that she has a plain-spoken manner. She explains things very simply. She has this professorial look. She is a professor, but I think she will be a better candidate than that suggests.
Having said that, let me say that I think Scott Brown has done a masterful job of representing a liberal state as a Republican. He hasn't been one of these crazy Republicans who's always out there trying to throw red meat to the base. He has occasionally differed with the Republican orthodoxy. And I also think he's just a compelling candidate. He's warm, easy going and I think he'll be hard for her to beat.
MARTIN: Ron, how does it look from where you sit? You're actually up in Massachusetts at the moment. Is there a lot of excitement about this race up there?
CHRISTIE: I am. There is. I'm actually teaching at the Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School here at Harvard. And when the announcement came earlier this week, there was a lot of excitement. There are a number of folks who were, frankly, enthralled by her candidacy, who had been hoping that she was going to throw her hat in the ring and I think it was well regarded.
But again, this is going to come as a shock to all of us, but I agree with Cynthia once again. I think that Scott Brown has done a masterful job of representing Massachusetts. And it's very difficult, particularly in the northeastern part of the United States, to be a Republican and elected in statewide office.
And Scott Brown's going to be a very, very difficult candidate to knock off. He's the most popular statewide elected politician in Massachusetts. And while Elizabeth Warren will be able to raise the funds, Scott Brown has a several multimillion dollar war chest to draw upon and an amassing record that I think will be attractive to a lot of people.
MARTIN: Well, unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to talk about the GOP debate earlier this week, and I wanted to ask you guys whether anything was game changing there. Some really interesting issues came up, but we'll have to talk about it next time.
Republican strategist Ron Christie was with us. He was an aide to Vice President Dick Cheney and President George W. Bush. He joined us from the studios at Harvard University, where he's teaching at the Institute of Politics. Cynthia Tucker is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. She's also a professor at the University of Georgia. She joined us here in our Washington, DC studios. Thank you both.
TUCKER: Thank you, Michel.
CHRISTIE: Take care. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.