MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Later in the program, we're going to check in with the leader of a group of Catholic nuns who are heading out on a bus tour to protest budget cuts to programs that help the poor - this, even as the Vatican singled them out for paying too much attention to social justice issues, and not enough to social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. We'll ask why they're doing it, and what they say about the Vatican's rebuke. That's our Faith Matters conversation in just a few minutes.
But first, we want to talk politics. Another Democratic bill was blocked by a threatened Republican filibuster in the Senate. It was called the Paycheck Fairness Act, and supporters said it was an important effort to try to close the wage gap between men and women.
Republicans argued it was a stunt to attract women voters. And as the presidential campaign heats up, President Obama has been rubbing elbows with a few of his well-heeled celebrity friends, and there's some finger-wagging about that, even as new numbers show Mitt Romney picking up some major cash from his fundraising effort.
We wanted to talk about all this, so we called Mary Kate Cary. She's a columnist and blogger for U.S. News and World Report. She's also a former speechwriter for George H. W. Bush. Welcome back. Thanks for joining us.
MARY KATE CARY: Great to be here.
MARTIN: Also with us once again, Connie Schultz. She won the Pulitzer Prize as a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. She's now a syndicated columnist. Thank you so much for joining us once again.
CONNIE SCHULTZ: It's great to be back, Michel.
MARTIN: Connie, I'll start with you.
MARTIN: The Paycheck Fairness Act got 52 votes in the Senate this week. That wasn't enough to overcome the filibuster threat from Republicans. Pretty much every bill in the Senate needs 60 votes to pass these days, which is another topic for another day.
MARTIN: But not a single Republican senator voted for the Paycheck Fairness Act, and you said you're disappointed by that. Why?
SCHULTZ: Well, because it's - first of all, I'm disappointed that anybody would cast it as a stunt. This would create more transparency of salaries, so women would know whether they're being paid less. That goes to the heart of this bill. And the thing we have to consider is it's not just about the current job she has. It's about the lifetime worth of money we're talking about, the money that she would earn, the benefits she would gain, the Social Security payments that she would make, which - it affects her payments after she retires. This is a huge bill for women, and I think it's interesting that you only had one Republican willing to say anything about it publicly.
I would loved to have been a fly on the wall at that caucus meeting, because this - there is no justification for not doing it, in my view, if you actually want the support of women in this presidential campaign.
MARTIN: Mary Kate, what Connie's talking about is only one senator actually spoke against it on the Senate floor. The presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney has pretty - been pretty much quiet on this issue. So tell me why you think that this bill didn't attract any support, even from moderates like, for example, Olympia Snowe, or someone like that.
CARY: Right. All five Republican women in the Senate voted against it and did not join the Democrats, which is why they couldn't get 52 votes.
CARY: And I think the reason is they see what the rest of us see, which is, in the words of the great American philosopher Yogi Berra, this is deja vu all over again. If it's an election year, the Democrats are going to put an equal pay bill. And it's already illegal, since 1963 in the United States, to pay women and men different levels.
The Lilly Ledbetter Act, which was the first thing President Obama signed as president, removed the statute of limitations for suing. So he, as recently as March, was saying there is equal pay in the United States because of the Lilly Ledbetter Act. This was a...
MARTIN: But this is a reporting bill. I mean, wouldn't some men like to know what other men are being paid? I don't know. I mean, what's wrong with finding out what pay is?
CARY: My understanding is they can. Ever since 1935, the National Labor Relations Act made that legal. You can find out what everybody else in your office is making. So that was sort of a straw man, I thought. This is a big burden on businesses in a fragile economy, which is why I think the women in the Senate voted against it.
Because of the reporting requirements, it was going to open the doors to more frivolous lawsuits. It was a trial lawyers' bonanza. And when you think about the number of businesses in the United States that are owned by women - a 54 percent increase in the last 15 years - this was going to fall on women business owners, would also be hit by this. So I think that the senators who voted against it were concerned more about business than about anything else in this economy.
MARTIN: Well, Connie Schultz, what about Mary Kate's issue around the timing, which is if it's such a great idea, why wasn't it a great idea a year ago, before it was an election year?
SCHULTZ: I agree that it should've come up sooner. Clearly, if women were - women are still making 77 cents to the dollar on what men are making. So clearly, the laws that are on the books are not enough. But I also take - I really object to the Yogi Berra attempt to make fun of this, frankly.
SCHULTZ: I do, because for a lot of women, this is really a serious issue, and it really matters that women get paid fairly. I have - and this is from my own personal life, my professional life. There was a big difference in my salary after winning that prize you mentioned, and it happened almost immediately. And until that moment, I had no idea how much less I was making than the male columnists whose salary they were suddenly going to match. I had no idea.
And so, for me, this feels very personal, because I know how easy it is for those - that kind of information to be kept from women, and I also know how they can be penalized. This bill would also have strengthened protections for women who sue for equity, and that, again, is not a laughing matter. It is very serious.
And if so many of these senators oppose it, I'm curious about the silence. All we're hearing are crickets. You know, Senator Heller also voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Act. So we know where he stands on this issue. If they believe that they're right to oppose this, why are they not speaking out more?
MARTIN: Well, let's talk a little bit more about money. I'm speaking with Connie Schultz, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer. That's the prize we were talking about, and I'm glad it had the important effect on your paycheck, Connie, that you said that it did. That's good to know, if I ever get one. I don't think I will, but if I do, good to know.
SCHULTZ: Call me. Right away. I'll set you up.
CARY: Same here. Same here.
MARTIN: And Mary Kate Cary, you need one, too.
CARY: Yeah, I need one too.
MARTIN: You need one, too, of U.S. News and World Report.
MARTIN: Let's talk about the fundraising. He's been campaigning. President Obama's been raising money. Some celebrity supporters have had some high-profile events, like George Clooney, Sarah Jessica Parker, Cher, for example, Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue. And, you know, there's been some finger-pointing about this. People are saying, you know, bad optics.
The Republican National Committee, conservative commentators said these events make the president seem out of touch with Americans' concerns about jobs. Interesting, Mary Kate, that this comes up just in the same week that it's been reported that Mitt Romney out-raised President Obama for the first - or rather, the Republicans out-raised the Democrats for the first time.
So it's kind of, like, OK, good for me, but not for thee? I mean, what's up with that?
CARY: In terms of celebrity endorsements, you mean?
MARTIN: Well, no, just in terms of raising money. Or you're just saying raise the money, but don't let anybody see you? Or what's the deal with that?
CARY: Oh, no. Yeah, no. I think in terms of the money-raising, what this says - to me, at least - is that Mitt Romney was already very close, within single digits, in a lot of polls for the past few months. Now he's closed the fundraising gap, as well, and I think this is now - this is the fight from now till the fall. It's mano a mano.
MARTIN: Connie Schultz, you know, Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post called this the president's terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad week, noting that Mitt Romney out-raised President Obama by nearly $17 million in May - the first time, actually. So what do you think? Terrible?
SCHULTZ: I think what this is really about is campaign finance reform. And we - and it's a very partisan issue. The Republicans are benefiting from Citizens United and the anonymous donors who can contribute to these giant PACs, and they're benefiting from the way campaigns are run right now. So, you know, I think it's really a distraction to talk about which celebrities are supporting these candidates.
They both are men who live lives of privilege. That's really not the issue here. They also have to spend an inordinate amount of their time raising money to be viable candidates in this country, and that's true of Senate and House candidates increasingly, as well, and it's a huge issue in this country that's not going to be resolved any time soon because the Republicans don't want to fix this.
MARTIN: Well, Mary Kate, you know, what about - you know, one of the other things that Chris cited as part of President Obama's terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad week was the resounding victory by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who survived a recall election, and also substantially out-spent his, you know, opponent.
I don't know that that was the deciding issue, was the amount of money. He out-spent him seven-to-one, as I understand. So what do you think? What do you read into that race?
CARY: I think when Republicans do well and spend a lot of money, everybody says it's because they had the money. When Democrats do well and spend a lot of money, people say it's the message.
MARTIN: Oh, snap.
CARY: But the Wisconsin vote, to me, was huge. I was writing about it before it took place. I think it showed three things to people outside of Wisconsin, like we are. First, that it gives a roadmap for other governors in state economies that are struggling to see how they can balance the budget, lower unemployment and fully fund public employee pension funds. Fiscal conservative does not need to be extremism.
Second, it shows big trouble for the unions. They threw everything they had at Scott Walker and he's still standing. And, third, it exposes cracks in the Obama message, which is very similar to the message that was being used in Wisconsin. Angry populism is not selling. People want solutions. Scott Walker gave them solutions, and I think there is great hope for other states to be able to do the same thing.
MARTIN: Connie, how do you read it?
SCHULTZ: Well, as you know, in Ohio, we have a very similar law. The difference is it was a referendum vote on the law, not a recall election, and I think that made all the difference. It went down to a resounding defeat and a lot of people who disagree with what Scott Walker is doing don't agree with the notion that you just take a guy out of his office before, you know, he's up for reelection.
So I think it's telling that Obama - my understanding is President Obama's still ahead in Wisconsin. I also think there's a difference between angry populism that is a miscasting of a genuine outrage over the growing disparities of people, and an attempt to actually gut the ability for working men and women to collectively bargain for wages and benefits. That is not angry populism. That is a genuine outrage and it's a violation of workers' rights. And I really think it's important that we cast it as it truly is and not just depict them as a bunch of angry people out there who weren't happy with the way things are going.
MARTIN: Just one more thing, Connie. Can I ask you about this? Former President Bill Clinton made news this week as an Obama supporter. He called for extending tax cuts, including Bush era rates. He later apologized. I'll just play a short clip.
PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: Yeah. I'm very sorry about what happened yesterday. It was what - I thought something had to be done on the fiscal cliff before the election.
MARTIN: You know, this is the second one. I mean, first, there was Newark Mayor Cory Booker. What do you make of that? I mean, Mary Kate calls it kind of cracks in the Obama coalition. She was talking about something else, but what do you think?
SCHULTZ: Yeah. I think - you know, I - listen, I grew up in a union home. I was raised a Democrat. I've been a Liberal all my life. It is herding cats. It has always been hurting cats. Democrats don't walk in lock step and I don't see any point in going after the ones who disagree publicly. I think that's part of what it means to be a democracy.
I'm glad that the president didn't agree with President Clinton on this one.
MARTIN: Mary Kate's just smiling. She's just smiling.
SCHULTZ: We've got all these guys on our side who will also say things that are not in agreement, but Jeb Bush, for example - but no one ever goes after them. It seems to be more of towing the party line on the Democratic side. You get in trouble. We have the big tent. We welcome all opinions.
MARTIN: Oh, OK.
MARTIN: All right. Mary Kate Cary is a columnist and blogger for U.S. News and World Report. She's also a former speechwriter for George H.W. Bush. She was here with us in Washington, D.C. Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize winning writer and a syndicated columnist, with us by phone from Cleveland, Ohio.
Ladies, thank you both.
SCHULTZ: Thank you.
CARY: Great to be here.
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MARTIN: Coming up, the helmet and black cape - intimidating right? But have you ever wondered what Darth Vader would have been like as a dad raising young Luke Skywalker?
JEFFREY BROWN: The idea of giving Darth Vader this four-year-old who he can't strangle, he just has to kind of put up with it. A lot of that is things that maybe I went through with my own son.
MARTIN: Graphic novelist Jeffrey Brown tells us about his new novel, "Darth Vader and Son." That's just ahead on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.