Politics
3:31 pm
Wed May 22, 2013

With White House Bogged Down By Scandal, GOP Looks For Boost

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Transcript

NEAL CONAN, HOST:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington. Immigration reform heads to the Senate floor, ex-congressman Weiner guns for Gracie Mansion, and Senator Inhofe on the distinction between disaster aid for a superstorm and tornados. It's Wednesday, and time for a...

SENATOR JAMES INHOFE: Totally different...

CONAN: ...edition of the Political Junkie.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDINGS)

PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

VICE PRESIDENT WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad: Where's the beef?

SENATOR BARRY GOLDWATER: Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

SENATOR LLOYD BENTSEN: Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

SARAH PALIN: Lipstick.

GOVERNOR RICK PERRY: Oops.

PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: But I'm the decider.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAM)

CONAN: Every Wednesday, Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us to review the week in politics. This week, it's a mayoral election in L.A., a mayoral primary in Pittsburgh and a mayoral redemption plan in New York City. No apologies from the White House as we learn of another reporter targeted in another leak investigation. LGBT left out as the Judiciary Committee approves the immigration bill, and an IRS official pleads the fifth.

In a few minutes, how the scandals have reignited Republican grassroots, and later in the program, where courts of law turn to define the language of the street. But first, Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us, as usual, here in Studio 42, and we begin, as usual, with a trivia question. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: Hi, Neal. Well, you know, of course, lots of talk about mayoral elections in the news today: Los Angeles, you mentioned Pittsburgh, New York City. Of course, no mayor has reached the White House since Calvin Coolidge, the former mayor of Northampton, Massachusetts, in 1923.

So the trivia question is: Since World War II, which former mayor received the most votes in the presidential primaries in one year?

CONAN: If you think you know the answer to this week's trivia question - the last former mayor to receive the most votes in the presidential primaries in one year, the mayor to receive the most votes in presidential primaries in one single year - give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. Of course, the winner gets a fabulous Political Junkie no-prize button and a free Political Junkie T-shirt. So, Ken, actual votes in Los Angeles. We'll start there.

RUDIN: Well, that was a big one. Of course, it was - Antonio Villaraigosa is retiring. He's term-limited after two terms. And it was - there was election of Eric Garcetti, who's a member of the city council. He defeated the city controller, Wendy Greuel. Wendy Greuel was hoping to become the city's first female mayor. Eric Garcetti now becomes the first elected Jewish mayor, and also at the age of 42, is the youngest mayor in more than a century. There wasn't much of a big difference between the two candidates.

CONAN: And a lot of money spent, but not much of a turnout.

RUDIN: Well, right, exactly. First of all, a lot of money was spent mostly on - by Greuel and her labor allies, and apparently Garcetti hit that, hit the fact that Greuel was supported by labor unions to his advantage. Both are basically moderate, both are mainstream. They're non-ideological. But there are, you know, the same pothole problems, and there are budget gaps that they have to do.

So, anyway, Garcetti will take over...

CONAN: The son of the former district attorney.

RUDIN: Right, during the OJ Simpson trial, exactly. He will take over on July 1st.

CONAN: And then in Pittsburgh, this was a runoff for the Democratic nomination for mayor in Pittsburgh. Of course, the Democratic nomination in Pittsburgh is tantamount to...

RUDIN: Tantamount, well that's right. The last Republican, as you well remember, was in the early 1930s in Pittsburgh. But Bill Peduto, a longtime city councilman, won the Democratic nomination. Luke Ravenstahl, that has-been at the age of 33...

(LAUGHTER)

CONAN: We'll never hear from him again.

RUDIN: Exactly right. He's retiring, and Peduto will probably be the next mayor. Democrats have a two-to-one lead in registration in Pittsburgh.

CONAN: In the meantime, in New York City, a new entry into a very crowded race for the Democratic nomination to be the next mayor of New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL ADVERTISEMENT)

ANTHONY WEINER: Look, I made some big mistakes, and I know I let a lot of people down, but I've also learned some tough lessons. I'm running for mayor because I've been fighting for the middle class and those struggling to make it my entire life, and I hope I get a second chance to work for you.

CONAN: Well, the message went out on tweet.

RUDIN: Yes, well, actually, it was on Facebook, as well, and YouTube. You remember Anthony Weiner. He was the guy who was hiking down the Long Island Expressway while he was tweeting.

(LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: But, you know, he - everybody knows that New York voters are very crotchety. So maybe perhaps they could...

CONAN: Oh, Ken.

RUDIN: What? No, I meant, you know...

CONAN: Curmudgeonly. I think that's the word you're looking for.

RUDIN: Yeah, exactly. So anyway, but Anthony Weiner, of course, does have over $4 million in the bank, but he also has at least four high-profile Democrats who are also in the race, who also have big organizations already well-staffed, and the primary is September 10th. And, of course, even if Weiner makes it into the top two, there's a runoff, and the question is whether he can succeed in the runoff, and the guessing is no.

CONAN: Well, anyway, we'll find out. In the meantime, there is an unusual candidate for lieutenant governor in the state of Virginia.

RUDIN: Well, they don't have a primary. The Republicans don't have a primary in Virginia. They have a state convention. And we had the state convention last Saturday. As expected, Ken Cuccinelli, the attorney general, will be the - is the Republican nominee for governor. Mark Obenshain will be the candidate for attorney general.

But the Reverend E.W. Jackson, who has run for the Senate before, was thought of as, like, a no possible chance of - you know, he's a black preacher. He had no money. But he made this rousing convention speech, and he will be the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor. And the Democrats love this because Jackson says...

CONAN: This is from the Herman Cain wing of the party.

RUDIN: Well, but even so, I mean, this is a quote of his, when he was running last year for the - he was running for the Republican Senate nomination. He said: "Planned Parenthood has been a far more lethal - been far more lethal to black lives than the KKK ever was."

These are the kind of things that Jackson is known for saying. He says that gays are perverted, that he compared them to pedophiles. And, you know, Cuccinelli, who is very, very conservative himself, but he's been trying to move more towards the middle, get away from social issues...

CONAN: He's now going to have to run away from his own lieutenant governor.

RUDIN: Well, you wonder about that. You wonder about. Even though they are elected separately, they're not part of a ticket. But the Democrats love the fact that Jackson is the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor.

CONAN: In the meantime, we have people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question, and that is the former mayor to get the most votes in a presidential primary - in presidential primaries in one year. 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. Amy's on the line with us from Shinglehouse in Pennsylvania.

AMY: Hi, Sarah Palin?

RUDIN: Sarah Palin, of course, was the former mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, but never ran for president. So she never entered any of the primaries.

AMY: Oh, that's so true. Sorry, thank you.

CONAN: Oh, thanks for the call. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Mason, and Mason with us from Tallahassee.

MASON: Rudy Giuliani?

RUDIN: Ruly - Rudy Giuliani...

CONAN: Ruly, ruly, unruly Giuliani.

RUDIN: Of course, now, that's a good guess. He was a former mayor of New York City who was actually, in 2008, was trying to become president of Florida, but no, he didn't make it that far. He didn't get that many votes.

CONAN: Mason, thanks very much.

MASON: Thank you.

CONAN: Let's go next to - this is Andy, another caller from Tallahassee.

ANDY: Gentlemen, the one-time mayor of Minneapolis, Hubert Humphrey.

RUDIN: Hubert Humphrey is the correct answer.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: Now, of course, he was the Democratic nominee in 1968.

CONAN: Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold on, just a second. We have - this is a triple giveaway, because through the miracle of electronics, we have two emails at the exact same time who also win with the guess Hubert Humphrey: Terry from St. Louis and Kurt from Renton in Washington. We've got to get rid of these T-shirts.

RUDIN: No, they're very valuable. Anyway, in 1972, Hubert Humphrey got over four million votes in the Democratic primaries. Of course, George McGovern won the nomination that year, but Hubert Humphrey, the former mayor of Minneapolis. And if anybody can - Dennis Kucinich was a possible guess.

CONAN: Yes, it was, and John Lindsay.

RUDIN: Right, John Lindsay, the great Sam Yorty.

CONAN: Speaking of mayor of Los Angeles.

RUDIN: Right, and if anybody can guess the Republican former mayor with the most votes, send me an email, and I'll get them a present.

CONAN: All right. OK. Any case Andy, stay on the line, and we'll collect your particulars and send you a Political Junkie no-prize button and a free Political Junkie T-shirt in exchange for a promise of a picture of yourself wearing said-same object so that we can post it on our wall of shame.

ANDY: I'm thrilled. Thanks so much.

CONAN: Congratulations. Stay on the line. And so, in the meantime, a major piece of President Obama's - well, what he hopes will be his legacy legislation made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee this week.

RUDIN: Right. That's what happened. The vote yesterday was 13 to five. And, of course, the big hang-up, the potential hang-up was that Chuck Schumer and Pat Leahy and a lot of the Democrats wanted to include an amendment that would include - that would add protections for same-sex couples. And the Republicans, Marco Rubio, who's not on Senate Judiciary, but a lot of Republicans said you do that, we're gone.

Lindsey Graham said I am pro-immigration, but I am also pro-family, and you want to keep my vote, you get rid of this thing. So, apparently, the White House pressured Leahy not to offer this amendment. So it passed...

CONAN: In committee. He may offer it on the floor.

RUDIN: Right, exactly. It goes to the Senate next month, perhaps June 10th. And, of course, it has to go through the House, as well, for it ever to reach the president's desk.

CONAN: But it picked up a big vote in Senator Hatch from Utah, when he asked for more visas for high-tech workers.

RUDIN: Exactly. That was a voice vote, and basically, he said: You give me this, I'll vote for it in committee. But he also has not promised to vote for it on the full Senate floor.

CONAN: In the meantime, President Obama's legacy is getting a beating on other fronts, particularly as scandals continue. Today, the IRS official at the heart of the investigation into the targeting of Tea Party groups appeared before a House Committee and took the Fifth.

(SOUNDBITE OF HOUSE COMMITTEE HEARING)

LOIS LERNER: Because I'm asserting my right not to testify, I know that some people will assume that I've done something wrong. I have not. One of the basic functions of the Fifth Amendment is to protect innocent individuals, and that is the protection I'm invoking today.

CONAN: That of course is Lois Lerner, and there yesterday, the former head of the IRS, under whose watch this occurred, and the former acting head of the IRS who'd been fired by President Obama, appeared before the Senate.

RUDIN: Exactly, and here's the thing. I mean, sure, Lois Lerner is exactly right. The Fifth Amendment does protect you, and it's constitutionally protected, of course. But given the fact that the Obama administration seems to be giving different answers about who knew what when, although we still - the president still insists he didn't know about this until...

CONAN: And no evidence that he did.

RUDIN: Right, exactly, until May of this year, although his chief of staff knew it a month before that. And there are some IRS officials and Treasury officials who knew about it in 2012. But having said that, you know, for somebody in the administration or in the IRS to stand up and say I'm taking the Fifth Amendment, this is not exactly what the kind of - the White House would have liked to have seen.

CONAN: In the meantime, the release of those emails seems to have defused a lot of the Benghazi steam, but nevertheless, another reporter now - this one from Fox News - targeted in another leak investigation.

RUDIN: Right, the Benghazi thing...

CONAN: Described as an aider and abettor.

RUDIN: Right. This is James Rosen of Fox News, and he was - basically, he was doing his job. He was talking to an administration official, learned about potential responses from North Korea, and he reported about it, which is exactly what reporters do. And so, you know, the - for President Obama to talk about I believe in the free press, I'm going to offer these shield laws, I think that what the press needs to do is have full and unfettered access to doing their job, yet this administration has gone after journalists and leakers more vociferously than any administration in history. So...

CONAN: Yesterday an op-ed by three former attorneys general on the leakers, saying you need to go after these leaks. These are very important issues. And, well, a lot of pushback today from reporters, saying not at the expense of the First Amendment.

RUDIN: Yeah, I wonder how the American people are feeling about this. We know how they feel about the IRS. They don't like it. But a lot of Americans don't care for journalists, either. So...

CONAN: Even from Fox News.

RUDIN: Exactly.

CONAN: Ken Rudin is with us. It's Political Junkie day. Up next, are these political scandals - particularly with the IRS - giving new life to the Tea Party? Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan. It's Wednesday, Political Junkie day. Ken Rudin is with us, as usual, and Ken, a ScuttleButton winner this week?

RUDIN: There absolutely is, and thank you for asking, Neal. There was a great button puzzle last week. There were four buttons. The first one was a button that said appeal for Neal with your caricature.

CONAN: My goodness.

RUDIN: Yes. Audrey Kramer(ph) of Rochester, New York made this button. It says appeal for Neal, keep TOTN. Second button says Senator Dee Huddleston. The third button says Barb, B-A-R-B, delegate for Muskie. And the fourth button said David Duke for U.S. Senate. So when add Neal Conan, Senator Dee, Barb for delegate and David Duke, you have Conan the Barb-Aryan.

CONAN: Ooh, OK.

RUDIN: And Steve Kaufland(ph).

CONAN: You could have just had a Schwarzenegger button.

RUDIN: Well that would have been a little easier. But Steve Kaufland got it anyway, of Amherst, New Hampshire.

CONAN: And he will get a Political Junkie no-prize button and a free T-shirt. And is there a column up?

RUDIN: There is, about the history of L.A. mayor elections and why nobody cares.

CONAN: So read it...

RUDIN: Read it very fast.

CONAN: OK, so you can find all that wonderful thing, including the next ScuttleButton puzzle.

RUDIN: Which comes out right after this show, I've been a little slow today.

CONAN: At npr.org/junkie. Earlier today we heard an IRS official say she'd done nothing wrong and then plead the Fifth. The group she leads is under investigation for targeting conservative groups. It's just one of a handful of scandals that seems to have reignited Republican grass roots. The others, the administration's response to the Benghazi attacks and the Justice Department seizure of the phone records of two news organizations.

Combined, they're giving new life to Tea Party groups. If you identify with the Tea Party, well, what's changed? Given the scandals in Washington, what are you hearing from your friends and colleagues, more rallies? 800-989-8255. Drop us an email, talk@npr.org. Jack Pitney is professor of American politics at Claremont-McKenna College in California. He worked with both the Republican National Committee and the United States House Republican Research Committee. He joins us now by smartphone at his office in Claremont. Nice to have you back.

JACK PITNEY: Nice to be back.

CONAN: And Kellyanne Conway is a Republican pollster and the founder and president of the Polling Company Incorporated. She joins us by phone from New York City, and welcome to you.

KELLYANNE CONWAY: Hello, gentlemen, thanks for having me.

CONAN: And let's start with you, Kellyanne Conway. These scandals, in particular the IRS, how are they - how are the Republican grass roots reacting?

CONWAY: Well, the public in general seems a bit outraged because it plays into exactly what they think of the federal government, which is that it overreaches. It's either inefficient and ineffective or it's overreaching and lying to us about that overreach, and neither one makes people happy.

I mean the Washington Post poll yesterday was really telling in that it showed a majority of Americans thought that the Tea Party applications were held to higher scrutiny by the IRS, and in a separate data point 74 percent of Americans said that they feel the IRS had overreached. That's a - you know, that's a pretty hefty indictment because when you get to 74 percent, you're close to tripartisan agreement.

Certainly independents are joining with Republicans on most of these issues in expressing outrage, but you've got some Democrats in there too who are...

CONAN: Well, those Democrats include the president of the United States.

PITNEY: That's right. Well, yes, sort of. Yes, he did express a little bit of outrage. He said it's not acceptable, and then...

CONAN: I think the word he used was outrage.

CONWAY: Well, then he ought to get to the bottom of it, and other people ought to resign, not just Steve Miller, the guy from the IRS. I mean, it's a pretty serious thing that apparently has been going on for a while, and I'm not going to - you know, I believe innocent until proven guilty, but certainly Americans are already outraged, and they have a reason to be because the IRS needs no introduction, do they, to the average American.

And there's something really important here. A year ago the Supreme Court upheld Obamacare under what - on what grounds? Congress' taxing power. The IRS itself is about to assume tremendous amount of control over who does and who does not get health care insurance eligibility. And people ought to feel very frightened that this is the same crew that searching for terms in law-abiding citizens', innocent Americans' applications, are now going to decide who gets health care insurance.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Kellyanne, twice you mentioned the word - or three times you mentioned the word overreach, and I'm just wondering, the fear on the other side of the aisle that perhaps Republicans who may just - a lot of people think that Republicans are just out to stop Obama no matter what the issue is, whether the Republicans overreach in their criticism of the president.

CONWAY: Well, I don't feel that way for a very simple reason. You know, this is - it happened on his watch. This is what leadership is. This is what a chief executive does. And it's ironic to me, Ken, that you have all these people in the (unintelligible) left always criticizing corporate America, what the CEOs do and don't do. This guy is the CEO of our country. Certainly he's the CEO of the IRS, if you will.

And people will expect leadership from him one way or the other. Just look, if Jay Carney, his press secretary, who's under fire from his former colleagues in the press now, and I've known Jay a very long time, he's a good guy, but he's not a very artful press secretary these days. If he's out there trying to parse and slice and dice the president's position and having a difficult time doing that, I'd say that the White House needs to, you know, go into a little corner and figure out what the truth is and come and tell us all what it is.

I disagree completely. Look, are there people who are always going to want to stop Obama? Of course. Were there people who always wanted to stop Bush? Of course. However, I'm not one of them, and I believe that it's always more difficult to run against Obama than Obama's agenda. And this will be on the Obama agenda in 2014. It'll definitely be on the ballot.

CONAN: Jack Pitney, as we look at these scandals, there is of course the IRS, then there are the investigations of the various reporters, and then there is the investigation of the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency's role in Benghazi. It seems the IRS, as we've been hearing, has a lot more resonance with voters and particularly Tea Party members than the other two ideas.

PITNEY: That's right. There's nothing that energizes a political movement like a direct threat. And people in the Tea Party movement see the IRS activity as a clear and present danger, a direct threat to them. And so just as civil libertarians mobilized during the second Bush administration, the Tea Party people are going to get very ginned up about this.

It's not going to be like the 2010 election, when you had massive rallies against individual members of Congress. But definitely the fervor is back, and we're already seeing that reflected in contributions to the Republican Party committees.

CONAN: And in part there's not going to be reaction against individual members of Congress because there's - I don't think any member of Congress who's going to support this.

PITNEY: No, and there - you already have, say, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who represents a conservative state, coming out strongly against the IRS. Of course Republicans are going into their files and finding Democrats who in the past called for IRS action against the Tea Party and other 501(c)(4) organizations.

But overall the main effect of this is to - is to energize the Tea Party groups and the Republican base.

CONAN: And as you reach out, I mean are there going to be a revival - is this going to be energizing? What kind of - what evidence of energy do you see?

PITNEY: Well, number one is the campaign contributions. The National Republican Congressional Committee saw a surge in the past week. You're probably going to see more campaign activity than you would have seen otherwise. And this is the gift that keeps on giving: You now have Senator Cornyn in various conservative publications actively soliciting people to come forward and tell their stories about IRS audits.

Now, in most of those cases the audits will probably turn out to be legitimate, but I bet that a number - that enough of them will be at least questionable to keep this story going for a long time.

CONAN: The scope of the questioning too. Ken?

RUDIN: Kellyanne, the Tea Party groups in 2012 raises these exact issues, saying that there's unbelievable scrutiny coming from the IRS and they are singling out conservative groups. Why did nobody, including Republican presidential candidates, why did nobody seem to pay attention to it in 2012?

CONWAY: That's a great question. I think that everybody fell down on the job there. You're absolutely correct. And I read a report today that the first time it was mentioned - or there was a tiny little mention about it in a Huffington Post story, and it was the exact same day, if not week, that the Sandra Fluke controversy erupted, which of course consumed everybody's attention.

And so - so yes, you're right, everybody fell down on the job. But it also is because nobody takes the Tea Party seriously. You know, the Tea Party has become this negative, negativized, if you will, label by the mainstream media. They like to slap it on anybody they think is extreme or out of touch, usually on social issues, which is the irony because the Tea Party started because Tea stands for taxed enough already as an acronym.

They're all - they were all about the stimulus, the spending, the bailouts. They were the tip of the iceberg at the beginning of the Obama administration. Of course the tipping point was Obamacare. They were all about fiscal issues. They never even talk about social issues.

But it's become almost this label to denounce and dismiss and belittle just everyday people. So I have to say yes, everybody fell down on the job at the same time. You know, for many people who are covering, would be covering stories like this, gentlemen, the Tea Party doesn't pass the laugh test for them.

CONAN: And Jack Pitney, how does this affect the dynamic within the Republican Party, which is we see Karl Rove and others in his wing of the party trying to make various candidates more electable. As you get more energy on the right wing of the party and the Tea Party, that's going to be more difficult.

PITNEY: Yes, and the one thing that does work to the Republicans' advantage in all this, however, is that it's a unifying issue. That is, Republicans all across the spectrum, from Susan Collins, probably the most moderate Republican in the Senate, to the most conservative, are talking about the IRS issue and saying that this is a chilling effect. And so I'd expect Republicans to be talking about this a great deal. This is a way for moderates to solidify their conservative cred.

However, as you point out, one of the problems the Republicans are going to have to face is that some of the candidates supported by the Tea Party aren't necessarily the most electable. And that's a problem they've been aware of, and we'll see if the primaries produce results that we've seen in the past.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Kellyanne, not only when I was talking about overreach, we saw that like Michelle Bachmann and others - several others - have hinted about the I word, the impeach word, that's what I was really getting at about the overreach. I mean, clearly, we know how people feel about the IRS and to a lesser extent the intrusiveness with the journalists. But when they talk about impeachment, do people just roll their eyes now, or is that a tactic they should be employing?

CONWAY: Many people do roll their eyes and I - that's probably premature. Could impeachable offenses have been committed? Sure. But he did say that about almost anything that rises to the level of concern. And we just don't know. I certainly don't know, so I would not be prepared to use that word. It also diverts attention and, I think, quotable space, if you will, to what's really at hand here, which is, you know, does the same government that makes you take your shoes off and your belt off at security but - but denies law-abiding citizens their right to a livelihood and to liberty and to free - expression of freedom of speech, are they really equipped to stop North Korea from launching a nuke?

You know, I mean it really is - what if this is a distracted administration that really focuses on a lot of petty stuff. That's not impeachable. It's just concerning, and it's outrageous. But we should have hearings. I'm against the impeachment word because I think it distracts attention, and it makes this something that it currently is not, which is political. You've got a critical mass of independents and some - and a good number - a plurality of Democrats who say that the IRS overreached, and the Republicans should look at those as a gift.

As I've said today in The New York Times, the irony is the Republicans are trying to re-brand themselves, attract women and minorities and younger people, and they want to spend all this money doing it, and they may be able to do it for free if they investigate and pursue this diligently, but smartly.

CONAN: And I think you may have misspoken earlier, Kellyanne Conway, about the IRS and its role in health care. It is responsible for collecting the fine if somebody does not get health care. It's not responsible for whether somebody gets health care or not.

CONWAY: Well, that's only partly true, everybody should look at The Washington Post chart that was in there last week. It was an excellent article, and the charts and the information in there should scare everyone. Let me tell you something. Just as three years ago, the average American had no idea that health care - 2,000 pages of health care reform had no exclusion for taxpayers paying for abortion, which people don't like. They had no idea, because when they think health care reform, they don't think pay for abortion.

The same thing is happening here. When they think of implementing Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, they're not thinking about the IRS having much to do with that. People forget why Obamacare was upheld by the Supreme Court last year. It was not upheld under the Commerce Clause. It was upheld under the taxing power for Congress. And so naturally, the same IRS that is playing politics with people's lives and their application will also have some kind of, you know, some kind of authority over what happens with health care.

CONAN: No, it won't. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Political Junkie Ken Rudin is with us, as he is every Wednesday, and Kellyanne Conway, founder and president of the Polling Company, Incorporated, is with us, also Jack Pitney, the Roy Crocker Professor of American Politics at Claremont McKenna College. And, Jack Pitney, as you look at the - as we're coming up to another midterm election, this is an opportunity, a lower turnout, non-presidential year.

We keep talking about all the demographics that skew in the Democrats' favor in presidential election years. It seems to go the other way the other two years.

PITNEY: That's right, and in the midterm election, you're going to get a whiter electorate. You're going to get a higher-income electorate. And that's why the IRS issue has resonance. A much higher percentage of people voting in the midterm will be people who itemize deductions and are very familiar with trouble from the IRS. These are folks who also have concerns about the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. So it's almost computer-generated to appeal to the very kinds of people who are going to be showing up to vote in November of 2014.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Jack, we've seen a lot of comparisons to Richard Nixon. We've seen, you know, the president using the IRS, the - pleading the 5th Amendment, the word...

CONAN: The enemies list.

RUDIN: The enemies list, exactly. But just because Barack Obama is not Richard Nixon, I would argue doesn't mean that these questions should not be asked about the use - going after journalists and the use of the IRS.

CONAN: And broadly, the use of presidential powers.

RUDIN: Right.

PITNEY: Yeah. I think, you know, we can stipulate right at the start, that this is not Watergate. However, there are some comparisons that are worth thinking about, the use of power against journalists. And if you look at accounts of Watergate, one continuing theme is that even though Nixon didn't order the break-in, he created the climate in which subordinates thought the break-in was the thing to do, and there is something of a parallel here. The question is: Did people in the administration create a climate in which people in the IRS thought that this was something that they should do? And that's the kind of question that the congressional committees ought to be looking at.

CONAN: And, Kellyanne Conway, the use of presidential power, it's not just the IRS. It's not just the investigations of leaks and going into the phone records of journalists. As Senator Rand Paul showed in his filibuster and the reaction to that, it's about the use of American presidential power in defining the role of drones and strikes overseas, even killing American citizens. And that's going to be coming up tomorrow in an important speech the president is going to be giving at the National Defense University.

CONWAY: Well, all of this is about competence. I know the president would prefer the agenda to be all the - about compassion, since the majority of Americans see him as compassionate. But a majority of the Americans do not see him as competent, and that's really what we're talking about here, whether it's the IRS, the use of drones, our economy and unemployment rate, surely about the president's competence and not just his power, but his ability to use and execute that power or to restrain the use of that power as necessary.

I mean, I'm just looking at a news story that you've got concern of leaders demanding compensation for IRS discrimination against the Tea Party. That's all other - again, let's see how the mainstream media covers that. Will they laugh them off and shoot them away as a bunch of too, you know, extremists who lack front teeth and couth? Or will they consider these claims and see if they actually owe compensation. But it is about presidential power, how to use it, but also when not to use it.

CONAN: Thanks very much for your time today. Appreciate it. Oh, OK. Kellyanne Conway, founder and president of The Polling Company Incorporated, editor and publisher of Woman Trends Online. Jack Pitney, thank you for your time today.

PITNEY: Thank you.

CONWAY: Jack Pitney, a professor of American politics at Claremont McKenna College and worked with the Republican National Committee and the U.S. House Republican Research Committee. Political Junkie Ken Rudin will be back with us a week from today with another edition of the Political Junkie. Thank you very much, Ken.

RUDIN: The ScuttleButton coming up soon.

CONAN: And the producer of the Political Junkie segment is Laura Lee. Up next, well, more of TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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