Earmark Ban May Indicate Congress's New Direction

Guests

Ken Rudin, political editor, NPR
Rep. Bart Stupak, retiring Democrat from Michigan
Libby Casey, Washington correspondent, Alaska Public Radio Network

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — known for bringing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of pet projects home to Kentucky — has changed course and promised to ban earmarks. It could indicate what's to come in a more partisan Congress, under the growing influence of the Tea Party.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

Lisa Murkowski takes the lead, Rahm Emanuel stars there, and Sarah Palin wins word of the year. It's Wednesday, and time for a refudiate edition of the Political Junkie.

(Soundbite of Political Junkie montage)

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?

Mr. BARRY GOLDWATER (Former Republican Senator, Arizona): Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

Mr. LLOYD BENTSEN (Former Democratic Senator, Texas): Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

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

Ms. SARAH PALIN (Former Republican Governor, Alaska): Lipstick.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: But I'm the decider.

Mr. HOWARD DEAN (Former Chairman, Democratic National Committee): Yeah.

CONAN: Every Wednesday, NPR political editor Ken Rudin joins us to recap the week in politics. This week, we begin with a pop quiz. Senator Lisa Murkowski could be the first write-in candidate to win since...

KEN RUDIN: Strom Thurmond, 1954.

CONAN: New York's Charlie Rangel is the first member of Congress found guilty on ethics charges since...

RUDIN: Neal Conan, 2007.

CONAN: (Makes buzzing noise)

RUDIN: Ethics charges?

CONAN: Yeah.

RUDIN: Or the first ethics - well, of course, Traficant was removed. He was ousted from Congress.

CONAN: Yes. That would've been the right answer.

RUDIN: So - oh, okay.

CONAN: Okay. Thank you very much, Ken.

RUDIN: Okay. Take care. Take care of yourself.

CONAN: (Unintelligible) San Francisco, Chicago welcome new mayors in different ways. And it won't be earmark business as usual, at least for Senate Republicans, as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell vows before the Tea Party and Jim DeMint.

Later in the program, English chef Jamie Oliver's tour of American cooking. But first, as usual, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A. And as usual, we begin with a trivia question. Ken?

RUDIN: I have a trivia question for you now.

CONAN: Okay.

RUDIN: A lot of British stuff on the news lately.

CONAN: The royal wedding.

RUDIN: Right. There's Prince William is engaged to Kate Middleton. I have Prince Albert in a can - that's an old joke.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: We also have the Beatles...

CONAN: (Unintelligible)

RUDIN: Beatles made their music available on iTunes. And by coincidence, I had an English muffin for breakfast this morning. But going back to the Beatles, the Beatles-related trivia question: What Beatles song referred to two heads of government within a few lines of each other, and who were the political leaders mentioned?

CONAN: If you think you know the answer to this week's trivia question, the Beatles song that referred to two heads of government within a few lines of each other and the political leaders mentioned, give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. The winner, of course, wins a fabulous No-Prize T-shirt. Ken, we have one new member of the House of Representatives.

RUDIN: Well, we have a member-elect certainly, and that is what happened yesterday in Illinois' 8th Congressional District. Melissa Bean, first elected in 2004, defeated Phil Crane, longtime Republican veteran. Of course, if he's longtime, he would be a veteran too.

CONAN: Veteran, too, yeah.

RUDIN: ...words right there. But Melissa Bean was not expected to be on - at an endangered list, and she lost by fewer than 300 votes to Joe Walsh - not the singer, but the Republican backed by the Tea Party. And so now the...

CONAN: Are you telling me there was a Bean count in Illinois?

RUDIN: There certainly was, and there are now 61 - a net gain of 61 more Republicans in the new Congress. With a possibility of three more, there are at least - there are six House races still outstanding, three of which - Tim Bishop in New York, Dan Maffei in New York State and Sullivan Ortiz in Texas. Those are three Democratic incumbents who were trailing their opponents. So the Republican lead could go up to 64 seats.

CONAN: We're going to talk about the Alaska Senate seat, which also remains undecided, at least formally - later as Libby Casey of Alaska Public Radio will be joining us. But in the meantime, there's a mayoral race under way in the city of Chicago.

RUDIN: There is, and they've been talking about it for sometime now. Of course, this weekend, the filing period opened up for mayor of Chicago. Richard M. Daley is retiring for after 21 years. Rahm Emanuel threw his hat in the ring, filed signatures; along with former Senator Carol Moseley Braun; Danny Davis, who's a congressman from Chicago, is also in the race. Former school president Gery Chico is in the race. It's going to be a wide-open contest. The election -the deadline is November 22nd. The election is next February 22nd.

CONAN: And there will also be a new mayor in San Francisco.

RUDIN: There will be because Gavin Newsom was elected lieutenant governor under Jerry Brown. And now, San Francisco has never had an openly gay mayor or an Asian American mayor, and both groups are jockeying for power in the post - on the post-Gavin Newsom era.

CONAN: And I guess we're going to get a new mayor in Oakland as well? But that's another process entirely.

RUDIN: That's correct.

CONAN: Let's talk about the - well, we have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question. And that of course is that The Beatles song that name two heads of government, and the names of those heads of government: 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. Chris is on the line from Long Island. Chris, you're on the line.

RUDIN: And Neal Conan.

CONAN: I could hear him too. He's talking to some guy on the radio. Chris?

CHRIS (Caller): Yes. Neal, how are you?

CONAN: You have to listen on the phone, Chris. But go ahead, you're on the air.

CHRIS: Wonderful. The song is "Taxman."

CONAN: Well, that's - Ken?

RUDIN: The song is "Taxman" and who are the two leaders?

CHRIS: Edwards Heath and Wilson, if I remember right. I know it was Edward Heath and Mr. Wilson.

CONAN: I think we're going to listen to auditory evidence that you are correct, sir.

(Soundbite of song, "Taxman")

THE BEATLES (Band): (Singing) Don't ask me what I want it for, (ah-ah, Mister Wilson), if you don't want to pay some more, (ah-ah, Mister Heath) 'cause Im the taxman.

CONAN: So Chris, congratulations, ding, ding, ding. You'll be the happy possessor of a political junkie No-Prize T-shirt. We'll put you on hold and we'll send it to you in return for a promise to take a digital picture of yourself so we can post it on our wall of shame.

CHRIS: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: All right.

CHRIS: Thank you, Ken.

RUDIN: Neal - let me just say one thing, Neal. What's the line in "Moonage Daydream" by David Bowie, one of my favorite David Bowie songs. He says, keep your 'lectric eye on me babe. Put your ray gun to my head. That's not a Ronald Reagan (unintelligible)...

CONAN: Not a Ronald Reagan reference, okay. Well, speaking of Republican leaders, Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, the minority leader still - though the - he will have a vastly increased minority, but he will not be taking any more pork home to the state of Kentucky. He appeared on the Senate floor after a power play by Jim DeMint, senator from South Carolina, who said he had the votes in the Republican caucus to have all Republicans refuse to take earmarks. And this is what the minority leader then said the next day in the well of the Senate.

Senator MITCH McCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky): I have to lead first by example. Nearly every day that the Senate has been in session for the past two years, I've come down to this very spot and said that Democrats were ignoring the wishes of the American people. When it comes to earmarks, I won't be guilty of the same thing. Make no mistake, I know the good that has come from the projects that I've helped support throughout my state.

CONAN: And Mitch McConnell has been a prolific earmarker.

RUDIN: He have, and yet you could thank or blame either one - Jim DeMint - but you could also blame or thank the voters in 2010, because they were basically saying, look, earmarks may be a symbolic cut in spending. It's three-tenths of one percent of all federal spending, but it is a sign of government spending out of control, wasteful spending. And that was among the key messages that at least Tea Party voters voted on, on November 2nd, and I think Mitch McConnell recognized that.

CONAN: And indeed, the woman generally recognized as one of the leaders of the Tea Party, Sarah Palin, got famous for denouncing the bridge to nowhere.

RUDIN: Exactly right. And - but some Democrats are coming on board too. Claire McCaskill, for example, has broken with her Democratic brethren or sisteren(ph) or whatever it's called, womenren(ph).

CONAN: Sorority.

RUDIN: Exactly. And she also said she's going to call for a full Senate vote, banning earmarks.

CONAN: But the majority leader says, no, no, no, no, he's still in favor of earmarks.

RUDIN: Exactly. That's Harry Reid, and he said that at a press conference yesterday with Democrats standing by his side.

CONAN: And there was a sad moment in the House earlier this week. The ethics trial for the longtime congressman from New York, Charles Rangel, who represents Harlem, of course. And he was convicted of corruption yesterday. Before he did, he pulled out the Hail Mary.

Senator CHARLES RANGEL (Democrat, New York): Fifty years of public service is on the line. I truly believe that I'm not being treated fairly and that history will dictate that, notwithstanding the political calendar, I am entitled to a lawyer during this proceeding.

CONAN: Charlie Rangel, then not - found he was not going to be given the time to, as he said, hire new counsel, and walked out of the proceedings and he was then found guilty on 11 counts of ethics violations.

RUDIN: Well, you know, as a guy who killed his parents and then pleaded for mercy because he's an orphan. He had attorneys. He had legal counsel until he parted ways with them in October and for him to say that I don't have legal counsel, well, obviously the members of the House Ethics Committee clearly -divided equally between Democrats and Republicans - didn't have sympathy for that comment.

The full Ethics Committee will decide on a penalty, tomorrow Thursday and then followed by a vote in the full house. Nobody thinks it will be expulsion as we said Jim Traficant and Ozzie Myers of Abscam fame were the only guys thrown out since the civil war. But it could be a reprimand or a rebuke or something like that.

CONAN: And, of course, Charlie Rangel overwhelmingly reelected.

Mr. RUDIN: 81 percent of the vote in his home district on November 2nd, right.

CONAN: But unlikely to be able to reclaim his leadership of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Mr. RUDIN: Well he, sure he stepped down voluntarily as chairman. Of course Republicans now control the house in the 112th Congress but there was some talk by his allies saying that he should be back to the ranking Democrat on the committee. I doubt if that will happen especially in the wake of these convictions.

CONAN: And there's another ethics trial still to come.

Mr. RUDIN: That's Maxine Waters, the end of November a different matter but, of course, she's a Californian Democrat, also has to do with personal finances.

CONAN: And as we're talking about the new Congress the new members of the members-elect of the House of Representatives showed up this week for orientation, including interestingly, an orientation from the Tea Party.

Mr. RUDIN: That's right they did and a matter of fact that could be one of the key interesting blocs in the new Congress. We always talk about whether the Tea Party may have cost the Republican party on the Senate side, perhaps a Delaware, the Nevada, the Colorado races but on the House side their numbers are strong and vibrant and they're going to have a big, you know a lot to say in the next Congress.

CONAN: And they may have also a new Republican Party chairman, Michael Steele is facing some opposition.

Mr. RUDIN: Well he's been a controversial figure from day one for the two years he's been chairman. And now Gentry Collins, who is political director of the RNC, resigned yesterday and sent out a scathing five-page letter to all members of the RNC saying that Steele mismanaged money, didn't take advantage of opportunities the Republicans had, even though they won control of the House. But they could have had three more House seats, five more governorships, 21 more House seats. Steele is up for re-election January 13th to the 15th, that's when the RNC has its next meeting.

He has not said whether he plans to run again but it was tremendous internal opposition succeeding himself as chair.

CONAN: And early nominees to replace him?

Mr. RUDIN: Well there's a mention of Haley Barbour who is of course talking about running for president and he's a former RNC chair who was very successful during the Clinton years. He's - of course, his nephew is an RNC member from Mississippi. He may run. Saul Anuzis, who is from Michigan, is talking about running. Even the former political director who resigned yesterday could be running.

Where a lot of people are waiting to see if Steele takes the hint and decides, announces that he won't run and then you'll probably see more candidates coming forward.

CONAN: Haley Barbour of course attending the Republican governor's conference at the moment, where I think there are no fewer than five potential candidates for president of the United States at that conference. Ken Rudin, stay with us, our political junkie is with us every week on Wednesday and he joins us in studio 3A. You can also read his blog and download his podcast at npr.org/junkie.

Stay with us, when we come back we're going to be talking with Bart Stupak who is retired as a Democratic representative and, well, has some words to say about moderates in Congress. Can they survive? Stay with us for that and we'll also get an update on Alaska. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News, I'm Neal Conan in Washington. It's political junkie day. Ken Rudin is with us. This is the closest he'll ever come to having his own reality show we hope. You can also find Ken uncensored on his blog at NPR.org/junkie. You can also take a shot there at his shuttlebutt and puzzle or download his podcast.

In a moment, we'll talk with Representative Bart Stupak, a moderate Democrat who's represented northern Michigan since 1993. Earlier this year he found himself at the center of the health care fight and it got nasty as he found himself getting it from both sides. Now he's ready to retire in a few weeks at the end of the term.

There are a number of moderates long returning to Washington in January, so what role will moderates play in the next Congress? Give us a call at 800-989-8255. E-mail us talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website, that's at npr.org click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And Congressman Stupak joins us now on the line from his office here in Washington. Nice to have you on the program with us today.

Representative BART STUPAK (Democrat, Michigan): Well thanks.

CONAN: And I wonder if you're feeling a little nostalgic as the lame duck session gets underway?

Rep. STUPAK: A little bit but not, I was ready to leave. I mean it was a good decision for me and my family and I'm looking forward to starting a new chapter in my life.

CONAN: And how much did the health care debate and the vitriol that was directed at you from both sides, I have to say, how much did that play in your decision?

Rep. STUPAK: Very little. I had decided long before that that this was probably my last term. I had been going back and forth for a couple of terms but I had told my wife and a couple of others on election night in 2008 I was probably done but, you know, Id to wait until the whole health care vote was over before I'd make my final decision. But I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact I wasn't going to run anymore.

CONAN: And why was that, just you had had enough or that?

Rep. STUPAK: Enough, burned out, (unintelligible) a massive district. I never planned on staying as long as I did. I stayed 18 years and I just wanted out. So there were just a number of issues there. When I go home I'm never home and my district is half the state of Michigan. It's 600 miles from one end to the other, and so I'm just never, never home and I'm just getting tired of it. And so it was time to move on. And I always told folks I was never a lifer, if you will, that I wanted to do other things in my life. I didn't think I'd stay here as long as I did.

CONAN: Ken?

Mr. RUDIN: Congressman, you said the vitriol did not affect your decision to retire but clearly it had to take a toll on you and your family. If you think of all the anger that was directed at members of Congress this year, I don't think anybody was more symbolic of a target than you and you got it from both the left and the right.

Rep. STUPAK: Right, so obviously I was doing my job well, neither side was happy. But health care is something that I believe in strongly so I didn't mind taking some of the guff that you took. But, you know, the personal threats and when you look at it you know after I got all the way through to health care and I do it every year. Every two years when I sit down I always go to my family and make the list of positive and negative. The negativity of the health care just convinced me even more that it was probably time to leave.

Like I said I was going to do that to begin with. I was thinking about leaving anyways and then that was just sort of the icing on the cake was all the problems we had with health care.

And if both sides are mad at you, then that means you are probably moving in the right direction with your position because unfortunately, I know here in Washington, Congress has become more partisan, not less partisan. I can see the drastic change in the 18 years I was here. Now I'm afraid with the swing with the last election here with midterms that the House will even become more partisan, not less partisan.

CONAN: Well you seem to have a Democratic party that's more liberal and a Republican party more conservative. Your first district now represented by a Republican endorsed by local Tea Party groups and Sarah Palin.

Rep. STUPAK: We did you know. My district in history usually is, when it's. The history of the district has always been Republican. It's about 55, 45 Republican. So when someone like myself who holds the district and holds it for awhile or the opposite party retires, it usually goes back to its natural roots, if you will, or its natural leanings which in this case is Republican. How much the Tea Party or Palin had to do with it I think is somewhat limited.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get a caller on the line. I think we're starting with a caller from your district. Marty(ph) on the line from Traverse City in Michigan.

MARTY (Caller): Yes, hi Representative Stupak?

Rep. STUPAK: Hello.

MARTY (Caller): I'm just calling to say thank you so much for your service and we're really going to miss you.

Rep. STUPAK: Oh thanks, thanks I enjoyed it but it was time for me to move on.

MARTY (Caller): I know you had a many a quandary over voting for the health care bill but you did the right thing.

Rep. STUPAK: Thanks, I appreciate that.

CONAN: Marty, thanks very much for the call.

MARTY (Caller): Sure

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is another Marty(ph) as it happens but this one from northwestern Wisconsin.

MARTY (Caller): Wisconsin yes, we're bordering Mr. Stupak's district so it's kind of old home week. Well I'm really hoping the moderates can help slow down this moratorium on funding for local projects, the earmarks that the Republican caucus really, really wants to do. I just would like to make this little personal, here's what that would mean for my area of northwestern Wisconsin.

We have three federally-funded health care clinics here. Patients pay according to their income on a sliding fee scale which means if you've got a low income you pay $30 for services. That could be an annual exam, blood work, emergencies, whatever. They also have a dental clinic associated with them on the same sliding fee scale.

My husband just had a crown put in for $30. Our congressman was Dave Obey who really championed these clinics but my fear is that our new representative who is a Republican will fall in with the caucus and freeze funding for these really valuable facilities.

It feels to me that following the midterm elections the gap between the rich and the poor has widened hugely. It doesnt seem to me that the wealthy are being asked to sacrifice anything. They're going to keep many more of their millions because the tax cuts are going to stay in effect and again...

CONAN: Marty, are you declaring a run for Congress?

MARTY: Oh, my God.

CONAN: Because that sounds like a pretty good speech there. But let's see if we can get a response from Bart Stupak.

Rep. STUPAK: Sure actually I would argue that the federally-funded health clinics are really qualified health clinics, really a program not an earmark. Now if the Congressperson from your part of Wisconsin there - and Dave Obey was a champion of health care, fought his whole career, 34 years for health care -wanted something like let's put an addition on the clinic that the clinic could not pay for in its own budget, then that would be an earmark because it specifically went to our clinic for a specific purpose. And sometimes those earmarks are necessary.

But the funding for the programs to make sure that people have access to quality affordable health care should continue as funding as a program. So you can go to the clinic and, on a sliding fee scale, pay your fee. That's a program I would argue and I would argue that that is a program not an earmark. If you want something fancy for one specific clinic requested by a member then that would be considered an earmark. So I think the general funding for the federally qualified health clinics should continue under the program.

CONAN: Marty, thanks very much for the call, appreciate it and good luck.

MARTY (Caller): Thank you.

CONAN: Bye, bye, Ken?

Mr. RUDIN: Congressman, you know the Democrats suffered their biggest loss this month, the biggest loss since 1938. One, first of all, the Democrats are voting right now on their new leaders. One, how much of it was Nancy Pelosi's fault and two, should she be the leader of the Democrats in the 2011 Congress?

Rep. STUPAK: No, it's not Nancy Pelosi's fault. I mean I agree that they ran commercials and vilified her and everything but people then, I really find it hard to believe that people voted against a member of Congress because Nancy Pelosi is the speaker. You know, when Democrats, when Newt Gingrich was the speaker we tried to vilify him. And that's you know there's more to it than that. It's not just Nancy Pelosi, so no more than I think she'll still be leader of the Democratic Party after today.

Mr. RUDIN: She will be. She just got word from the Associated Press she's been re-elected leader of the Democratic caucus.

Rep. STUPAK: Right. It's not any one person. I think, you know, there was a mood. You have unemployment at in my state, 13.6 percent. Michigan was still unfortunately second highest. And if unemployment was five percent and they ran the same ads about Nancy Pelosi, Democrats would still be in charge. It wasn't Pelosi, it was the circumstances of the economy, the frustration, people didn't see it change fast enough and they wanted a change in direction of our government. And I know house members run every two years and people say why don't you change it? Why don't you make it four years, or six years or three years?

You've got to do something. You can't be doing it every two years. And I always argue back, no, the two, four, six year scheme we're under, two years for the House, four years for the president, six years for the Senate, we, that's where we take our frustrations out is every two years at the ballot box. And people voice that frustration and, you know, it'll swing back again. So it's not Nancy Pelosi's fault.

CONAN: One more caller, this is Cornelius(ph), Cornelius with us from Morganton in North Carolina.

CORNELIUS (Caller): Yes, thanks, Congressman Stupak I just admire you for being a pro-life liberal. I don't know if that means you're a moderate or not but I think that on the budget and taxes that a moderate would say right now we need more tax cuts and we need more spending and then we'll figure out a way to cut the budget later.

CONAN: The deficit yeah, but would you agree with that, Congressman?

Rep. STUPAK: No, no. I mean, if - you know, one of the big things that people wanted was less spending by government. If you lower taxes, first of all, who's going to get the tax break? The Bush tax breaks I did not agree with. And if I have a chance to vote on the same - completely on the Bush tax breaks with no changes, I think they'll be some changes, but if there are no changes, I'd vote again against them because that's $2 trillion. If we're so far in debt and everyone's saying we got to stop spending, how would you - why would you put further tax cuts and put the nation further in the hole?

CORNELIUS: Well, I would say that the tax cuts should be short term and a one-year cut on Social Security taxes and then maybe that boost the economy a little bit. And then, I think (unintelligible).

Rep. STUPAK: We did that. Ninety-five percent of the people in this country had tax break and a stimulus package. People seem to forget that.

CORNELIUS: Well, we need more stimulus.

Rep. STUPAK: Well...

CORNELIUS: We need more stimulus.

Rep. STUPAK: Where do we get the money?

CONAN: Good luck on that program, Cornelius. It didn't do so well in the last election. Finally, Congressman, a lot of people who retire from Congress move their offices from Capitol Hill down to K Street. Are you going to be staying in Washington?

Rep. STUPAK: No. Right now, I'm having discussions with Harvard, actually, to go teach at the Kennedy School of Government in the spring of this year. So we're in those discussions. Nothing is finalized. So I'll be having an office come January 1st in K Street, I doubt it.

CONAN: All right. Well, Congressman Stupak, thank you very much. We appreciate your time and good luck to you.

Rep. STUPAK: Thanks.

CONAN: Bart Stupak represents the first district of Michigan, joined us today from his office in Washington.

Joining us here in Studio 3-A is Libby Casey, the Washington reporter for the Alaska Public Radio Network. And, Libby, nice to have you with us again.

Ms. LIBBY Casey (Washington Correspondent, Alaska Public Radio Network): Thank you. Great to be here.

CONAN: And this could be the last time. There could finally be a result.

Ms. CASEY: Last time I'm here?

CONAN: No, no, no, the last time in this election, anyway.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CASEY: No, let there be more drama, so I can come join you guys again. No, Senator Murkowski is on her way up to Alaska as we speak. And she's expected declare victory, possibly as early as tonight. The write-ins are counted. All these ballots that had to be painstakingly looked at by hand have all been gone through. There's still about 600 ballots yet to be counted - absentees, late returns from overseas voters in the military. But, at this point, it's certainly her race.

CONAN: And last time I looked, her lead was something like 10,000.

Ms. CASEY: That's right - 10,000 in the lead. And if we take away the votes that the Joe Miller campaign - that's the Republican nominee - the votes that he's challenged, she's still ahead by 2,200 votes. So that's safe enough in Alaska.

CONAN: And is Joe Miller coming under pressure at this point to say enough is enough, I'm going to abandon any court fight?

Ms. CASEY: No. We're not sure yet when he will concede, if he will concede. He indicated that he wanted to wait till all the ballots are counted, and that, as we said, may happen today. So we may hear from him soon. But his camp has said they really want to see a recount here, and they've even asked maybe for a hand recount. They said since Lisa Murkowski got all her ballots counted by hand, what about ours? And that's not what happens.

I mean, if they do a recount in Alaska, they'll go through the sort of same optical scan system that happened previously. The state will only pay for a recount if there's a half a percentage, you know, split between them. But he may try to solicit funds and ask for a recount, but he would pay for it himself. Yesterday, Mike Huckabee was tweeting that he wanted to see people support Joe Miller, maybe contribute to the recount effort.

CONAN: We're talking with Libby Casey of Alaska Public Radio and Political Junkie Ken Rudin. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Ken?

RUDIN: Lisa Murkowski seems to be one of the few people who are openly disparaging Sarah Plain. She was on this interview show. She said she doesn't have the intellectual curiosity. Obviously, the enmity between Palin and Murkowski remains.

Ms. CASEY: Now, it took Katie Couric with the CBS interview a couple of pushes to sort of get Senator Murkowski to talk about Sarah Palin. And Senator Murkowski said, yeah, well, you know, we're not close, but I certainly think that we could work together on something if it was for the good of Alaska, for the good of the country. But she ultimately did say, when pressed, yes, I don't think that Sarah Palin has the intellectual curiosity, essentially, to be president.

And she says that, you know, really, Sarah Palin is outside. She's not necessarily keyed in the state right now, and that Lisa Murkowski thinks that she herself is. So there is that split there. As you know, the history, Lisa Murkowski's father, Frank Murkowski, was defeated in the governor's race a few years ago...

CONAN: By Sarah Palin.

Ms. CASEY: ...by Sarah Palin. So there is that division there. But it is sort of interesting to watch the Katie Couric interview. It had B-roll footage of Lisa Murkowski walking around Capitol Hill with a backpack, sort of looking very Alaskan, I would have to say.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CASEY: And then contrast that to the big reality show that debuted on Sunday night of "Sarah Palin's Alaska," two women who represent the state. And Sarah Palin backed Joe Miller in this race. And the fact that Lisa Murkowski has been able to launch a write-in bid after losing the primary, after losing to the Sarah Palin-backed candidate, a win in Alaska is significant.

It shows that there is this voice for maybe a moderate, someone who's going back to the old school idea of, yeah, I'll bring home the bacon. Yes, I will bring home those federal dollars. I will fight for Alaska in that way. Whereas Joe Miller said more of this Tea Party line: We need to, you know, fight the deficit. We need to fight the problems, and he had more of the Sarah Palin ethos. It didn't work.

CONAN: Alaska receives seven federal dollars in return for every one it sends to Washington, D.C. But the other part of this is that Senator Murkowski said she may be somewhat less reliable a Republican next time around, given the fact that the party - hierarchy abandoned her.

Ms. CASEY: They did. They supported Joe Miller as the nominee that was - that the state - the voters had decided upon, but she was asked to leave the leadership. She was the only woman in the Republican leadership team in the Senate, asked to step down. She's no longer a part of that.

The fight right now is going to be to see whether she can keep her ranking spot in the energy committee, which is very important to her and very important to Alaska. She said that's her primary focus. There's not a guarantee yet that she will get to keep it, but that's what she's gunning for. Now, Lisa Murkowski is still a Republican. This is different than what happened with Joe Lieberman...

CONAN: Right.

Ms. CASEY: ...who ran as an independent. We see that I next to his name, even though he caucuses with the Democrats. Murkowski said I'm still an R. I still count myself as an R. I'll be in conference with them. Nothing is changing with that.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Just to say that that's exactly why the RSC, the Republican Senatorial Committee, backed Joe Miller because Joe Miller was its nominee. Remember when Robert Smith was a senator from New Hampshire, he quit the Republican Party, became an independent, but when he went back to the Republican Party, he became a chairman of the committee, so it's the R that's next to your name thats all determining what goes on there.

Ms. CASEY: There was one funny ballot. You know, the Joe Miller camp was challenging a lot of the ballots at every division of elections table up in Juneau, Alaska, where they were counting these ballots by hand, looking at each of them, there was a representative of Team Miller and one of Team Murkowski. And the Team Miller guy or woman would say challenge, and then, Team Murkowski would say, you know, counter your challenge. So it's sort of an interesting dynamic process, but one of the ballots they challenged where someone had written in Lisa Murkowski and an R next to her name. So...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CASEY: And the Murkowski camp said, no, that's still her. That's still our girl. So there's that sort of that dynamic playing out. But, you know, as she walked around Capitol Hill this week, some reporters and other folks have sort of questioned, well, what is your identity? And she says I am still a Republican, but I'm not going to kowtow to the leadership, and I am going to do my own thing.

And so she may be one of these people who can work across party lines, and that was the reputation she had. And a lot of Alaskans feel that she moved farther to the right in the last couple of years, so we'll see if she swings back to the center.

CONAN: Libby Casey, the Washington correspondent for Alaska Public Radio. Here with us in Studio 3-A. As always, thanks very much for your time.

Ms. CASEY: Thank you.

CONAN: Just an update, again, Nancy Pelosi re-elected as leader of the Democratic Party in Congress. And also, Steny Hoyer of Maryland will be the whip and James Clyburn of South Carolina will take a new role as the House number three Democrat. Thanks very much to NPR Political Junkie Ken Rudin, with us every Wednesday.

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