John King, USA

The latest political news and information on the most important stories affecting you.
March 9th, 2011
07:45 PM ET

NPR host: Some federal funding will survive

(CNN) – Longtime public radio host Diane Rehm told CNN's John King on Wednesday that congressional Republicans pushing to cut all federal funding for National Public Radio are really "looking at a way to silence public broadcasting."

In an exclusive interview on "John King, USA," Rehm told King that a recently released undercover video of an NPR executive had "given those who don't believe in public funding for public broadcasting, more and more
ammunition."

In the hidden-camera footage, NPR's senior vice president for fundraising Ron Schiller was recorded saying that his company would "better off without federal funding."

"Initially this young man Schiller did not even investigate who these people were," Rehm said, referring to the conservative activists who caught Schiller on a hidden camera. "[He] went out and said such things. If I had known you for 10 minutes John, would I have said those things to you? These were the views of one individual making foolish comments that are now reflecting on the entire organization."

Schiller had announced before the undercover video surfaced that he would be leaving NPR for another position this spring, but said on Tuesday that his resignation was effective immediately in light of the damaging video.

But despite all the attention Schiller's comments have received, Rehm expressed confidence that some funding for public radio would survive.

"I won't say how much," Rehm said. "I don't think public broadcasting is going to be zeroed out because I don't believe people across this country want to see public funding zeroed out. I think they may feel that like every other institution it needs to be reduced because of the deficit but not zeroed out."

Rehm, who has hosted The Diane Rehm Show from WAMU in Washington for more than 25 years, also laid out the difficulties her station would face if it lost federal funding, saying that it would "have to find 8,000 more listeners who will not only contribute once, but continue to contribute year after year."

"Now that's Washington, that's Baltimore," Rehm said. "What happens across the country to smaller stations? Washington is not all of public radio. You got to think about what's going to happen to the rest of the system."

February 17th, 2011
09:35 PM ET

Mother's milk stirs unlikely political debate

Washington (CNN) - First lady Michelle Obama found herself at the center of an unlikely breast-feeding debate this week when three prominent conservative women criticized her for encouraging the creation of a "nanny state."

Conservative radio talk show host Laura Ingraham on Tuesday asked Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, about an announcement by the Internal Revenue Service that the purchase of breast-feeding equipment would be considered a medical expense. Ingraham suggested that the first lady's advocacy of breast-feeding as a way to fight childhood obesity might have been "coordinated" with the IRS decision.

Bachmann, a frequent critic of the Obama administration's policies, was quick to point out that the decision falls in line with the "hard left" agenda.

"I think this is very consistent with where the hard left is coming from," Bachmann said. "For them, government is the answer to every problem. So government got us in this problem, and so they think government is going to get us out of the problem.

"I've given birth to five babies and I breast-fed every single one of these babies, and to think that the government has to go out and buy my breast pump for my babies. I mean, you want to talk about the nanny state? I think you just got a new definition of the nanny."

At an event in New York on Thursday, Sarah Palin joined the conversation - although somewhat lightheartedly.

"No wonder Michelle Obama is telling people to breast-feed their babies, because the price of milk is rising so high," Palin joked, later warning reporters, "That better not be the takeaway here."

The controversy stems from an IRS announcement earlier this month that breast pumps and other breast-feeding supplies would qualify for reimbursement as a medical expense under federal tax law.

Previously, new mothers who set aside pre-tax money in health savings accounts, or who itemized their medical expenses at tax time, were prohibited from filing claims for money spent on breast-feeding equipment.

As for the question of whether politics played any role in the IRS decision, spokespeople for the IRS and the Treasury Department said the decision was a legal one made by the IRS general counsel's office.

Two days before the IRS announcement, Obama held a lunch with print reporters to celebrate the first anniversary of her "Let's Move" campaign to fight childhood obesity. When asked what plans she had for the campaign's second year, the first lady said, "Breast-feeding. Kids who are breast-fed longer have a lower tendency to be obese."

Five months earlier, she used nearly identical language in a speech to the Congressional Black Caucus' annual legislative conference.

"Because it's important to prevent obesity early, we're also working to promote breast-feeding, especially in the black community, where 40% of our babies never get breast-fed at all, even in the first weeks of life," she said in September. "And we know that babies that are breast-fed are less likely to be obese as children."

While the extent to which breast-feeding affects obesity is still unknown, some connection between the two is largely accepted.

In 2009, the American Academy of Pediatrics lobbied the IRS directly on the matter because of what it says are the "diverse and compelling advantages for infants, mothers, families and society from breast-feeding and use of human milk for infant feeding."

More specifically, the academy's 2005 policy statement on breast-feeding found that "some studies suggest decreased rates of ... overweight and obesity... in older children and adults who were breast-fed, compared with individuals who were not breast-fed."

A 2007 report on breast-feeding from Tufts-New England Medical Center found that "there is an association between a history of breast-feeding and a reduction in the risk of being overweight or obese in adolescence and adult life," along with a variety of other health benefits.

When asked if her problem with the IRS decision stemmed from a belief that breast-feeding shouldn't be in the same category as other medical expenses, Bachmann's office issued a statement that refocused her criticism on the federal tax code.

"The issue Americans have with the tax code isn't with one specific tax deduction," the statement said. "Instead of social-engineering through select tax breaks, the government should scrap the current tax code and put all Americans on the same playing field."

The IRS has a fairly broad interpretation of the term "medical expenses" in the federal tax code, including wigs, acupuncture, artificial teeth, eyeglasses, contact lenses, certain home improvements, lead-based paint removal and television equipment for the hearing-impaired as deductible expenses.

The cost of the IRS announcement is hard to estimate. Although the IRS provides broad instructions, individual insurance companies set their own guidelines for what is covered under health savings accounts. Additionally, only one-third of taxpayers itemize their deductions, and medical expenses need to exceed 7.5% of income in order to qualify for deduction.

Congress' Joint Committee on Taxation called the announcement a "regulatory decision" and has not prepared any public information on the issue. A 2010 cost analysis of low breast-feeding levels published in the American Academy of Pediatrics' medical journal Pediatrics found that if 90% of U.S. families followed medical recommendations to breast-feed for six months, "The United States would save $13 billion per year and prevent an excess (of) 911 deaths, nearly all of which would be in infants."

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October 12th, 2010
01:25 PM ET

What is the DISCLOSE Act?

On last night’s show John mentioned that an effort led by congressional Democrats to require disclosure of donors among independent political groups had fallen victim to partisan gridlock in the United States Senate. Known as the Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections Act – or the DISCLOSE Act – Senate Democrats have filed for cloture on their bill twice but both votes were blocked by unified Republican opposition.

The bill first failed 57 to 41 along party lines in a roll call vote on July 27. Senators John Ensign (R-Nevada) and Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut) did not vote.

After the July vote, Republicans accused Democrats of trying to protect their congressional majorities by carving out exceptions in the new legislation for groups sympathetic to their causes. In response, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) tried to win over Republicans by promising to postpone enactment of the new disclosure legislation until after November’s midterm elections.

Nonetheless, a cloture vote on the bill failed again along party lines on September 23. This time the Democrats rallied their entire caucus in support of the legislation, securing 59 votes, but no Republicans defected. Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) did not vote.

In the run-up to the September vote, Democrats focused much of their efforts on moderate Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, a frequent target of Democratic bargaining. In the end she voted with the rest of her caucus, releasing this statement explaining her opposition:

“I am deeply disappointed that the legislation currently before the Senate is a 117-page wide-ranging bill that does not apply equally to everyone who is engaged in campaign advertising, contains provisions that are clearly unconstitutional, and has never benefitted from full public review and vetting at even a single committee hearing… “When we first considered this measure in July, the American Civil Liberties Union – which opposes the bill – wrote to me that ‘this legislation would fail to improve the integrity of our campaigns in any substantial way while significantly harming the speech and associational rights of Americans.’ Given the fact that we’re now considering identical legislation, there is no reason to believe this bill will do otherwise.”

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September 29th, 2010
03:02 PM ET

Tonight on JKUSA: Walmart Moms

In 2004, George W. Bush relied on the support of soccer moms throughout the country to help secure reelection. In 2008, a new voting bloc of middle-class mothers emerged and again proved crucial in helping propel Barack Obama to victory. Dubbed “Walmart Moms,” these moderate, middle-class women make up more than 15 percent of the electorate and favored Obama over John McCain by five percentage points. Tonight on John King, USA we’ll talk to two pollsters from  firms Public Opinion Strategies and Momentum Analysis, who have important new findings on how these women feel about the direction of the country now, and how congressional candidates can win their vote in November.

For a look at the new research, check out the links below.

Key findings Walmart Moms

Walmart Moms National Data Poll

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September 7th, 2010
06:17 PM ET

Presidential vacations

Last night towards the end of our show, Offbeat Reporter Pete Dominick made an important point about the power of perception versus the power of facts.

“Yesterday, a friend of mine told me, well, Obama took more vacation days than President Bush…It is perception,” Pete said, during his last question to John. “The facts sometimes don't really matter in elections.”

John quickly corrected Pete’s friend, but the point that Pete was trying to make about the importance of perception is one reason why arriving at an accurate number of presidential vacation days is so difficult.

According to CNN's White House Unit, President Obama has spent 82 days on “vacation” since his inauguration. This includes 18 trips to Camp David, along with trips to Chicago, Hawaii, Martha’s Vineyard and other family vacation spots. At the same point in his presidency President George W. Bush had spent over 200 days on “vacation,” including more than 40 trips to Camp David and nearly two whole Augusts on his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

But one weekend trip in September of 2002 proves how difficult it is to determine what the word “vacation” actually means to a President. On Friday, President Bush left the White House with his wife Laura for a weekend at Camp David. On Saturday, the couple was joined by British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The Prime Minister and the President held a brief press conference on Saturday, and then the President and his wife returned home to Washington, D.C. on Sunday.

If a vacation-tally counts every trip to Camp David, than this weekend trip would have to be included. But President Bush used this trip to meet with a foreign head of state. That certainly doesn’t sound like much of a “vacation.”

Similarly, much of the time that President Bush spent at his ranch included meetings with administration officials, media interviews, fundraising trips, and even the occasional town hall. President Bush’s month in Crawford in August 2002 included trips to 15 cities across the country, yet most tallies of his “vacation” days include the entire month because he stayed out of Washington.

By this count, President Obama has taken fewer “vacations” thus far – meaning he’s spent more nights in Washington, but the trips he has taken have been slightly more private. The First Family’s recent trip to Martha’s Vineyard included 11 days with no public events. On a weekend trip to Maine in July, the First Family hiked, biked, played tennis and toured a light house, but President Obama avoided any formal appearances.

Being President of the United States requires being on-call 24 hours a day, meaning that even the most private vacation is also work trip. But what’s clear by looking at these numbers is that the way in which a President chooses to take vacations has a big effect on public perceptions, which as Pete said, can often be just as important as the facts.

August 25th, 2010
01:45 PM ET

CNN 100: Iraq War vet faces rematch in Pennsylvania 8th

Editor's Note: In the final 100 days before Election Day, CNN has been profiling one race at random each day from among the nation's top 100 House races, which we've dubbed "The CNN 100." Read the full list here. Today's featured district is:

Pennsylvania 8th – Rep. Patrick Murphy(D) is seeking a 3rd term
Primary: May 18, 2010
Location: Northern Philadelphia suburbs
Days until Election Day: 69

With just less than ten weeks left until Election Day, Democrats in the northern suburbs of Philadelphia are hoping for a repeat of 2006. That's when former Army Captain Patrick Murphy defeated one-term GOP Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick in Pennsylvania's 8th district to become the first Iraq War veteran elected to Congress.

In November, Murphy will once again face Fitzpatrick, but he'll also be facing a much tougher political environment for incumbents in both parties. In 2006, Murphy defeated Fitzpatrick by just 1,518 votes – less than one percent of total votes cast. Murphy went on to win reelection by a much healthier margin in 2008, but then he also had the advantage of running on the same ticket as President Barack Obama, who beat John McCain in Murphy's district by nearly ten percent.

Although the 8th district has supported every Democratic presidential candidate since 1992, before Murphy took over it had more than a decade-long history of Republican representation in Congress.

The 8th has the highest median income of any district in Pennsylvania, but the recession hasn't been kind to the district's residents. With Republicans sure to make Democrats' handling of the economy a central issue in all of their campaigns, this race – like many others – may come down to which candidate voters believe can help turn a struggling economy around.

Without a national race to help drive turnout, Murphy will have to hope that his 2-to-1 fundraising advantage over Fitzpatrick through the end of June will continue until Election Day.

Or maybe the poorly-funded campaign of Libertarian Party candidate Eric Wisener will pick up steam, forcing Republicans to worry about a spoiler.

If not, Republicans see this district as one of their more promising opportunities to defeat an incumbent Democrat and pick up a seat in the House. The National Republican Congressional Committee has designated Fitzpatrick as one of its "Young Guns," meaning he's sure to get a lot of attention from the national party.

In addition to serving in Congress from 2005 to 2007, Fitzpatrick is also the former commissioner of Bucks County, which makes up the bulk of the 8th district. Fitzpatrick's campaign is touting his record on environmental issues, including a former endorsement from the Sierra Club, to help position its candidate as an independent Republican.

Fitzpatrick is careful to downplay social issues in this Democratic-leaning district,
avoiding the term "conservative" on his campaign website, and instead describing himself as someone who's spent his career "fighting for the interests of local residents and listening to their concerns."

Murphy is a member of the House Democrats' Blue Dog Coalition, a group of party moderates and conservatives whose focus is primarily fiscal responsibility. But as he's done in both of his previous campaigns, Murphy continues to emphasize his military experience, positioning himself as a candidate who is strong on national security and veterans issues.

After his election, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi selected Murphy to serve on the Armed Services Committee and the Permanent Select Committee for Intelligence, while also using him as one of the chief spokesmen for the Democrats' efforts to draw down troops in Iraq. But as the general election nears, polls show that national security is taking a back seat to the economy as the most important issues to voters.

Wisener, the Libertarian candidate, is a small-businessman and former Treasury Department employee. He literally had no money in his campaign account at mid-year, so it's hard to imagine him waging a credible campaign this fall. But if history is any indicator and a 2010 Murphy-Fitzpatrick match-up is as close as it was in 2006, a relatively small number of third-party votes could make an already tight race even tighter.

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