'Shop Talk': Ex-Rep. Chris Lee Resigns Amid Craigslist Scandal

Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's resignation and resignations on Capitol Hill are two topics up for discussion in this week's Barbershop roundtable. Weighing in with host Michel Martin, is author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar, columnist Ruben Navarrette and NPR's political editor Ken Rudin.

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MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

Now it's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in their chairs for a shape-up on this very busy news week are author Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar, columnist Ruben Navarrette and NPR's political editor Ken Rudin.

And we've just heard the - just momentous events in Egypt, where longtime President Hosni Mubarak has agreed to step down after days and days of demonstrations. Arsalan, you've been following this closely. Tell us your thoughts.

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Well, hide your kids, hide you wives, hide your Hosni Mubaraks because the people of Egypt are free tonight. You know, this is, you know - what I recently wrote in a CNN column, I called it democracy renaissance that we're starting to see in the Arab world. About a month ago, we saw it in Tunisia; you know, today we see it in Egypt. And you know, many analysts say that, you know, tomorrow and in the weeks forthcoming, we might see it in places like Yemen, Bahrain and Jordan.

And so, you know, it'll be interesting to see what kind of transition will be made now. You know, obviously President Mubarak has handed off his authority to his vice president, Omar Suleiman, who essentially was the head of the Mukhabarat, the secret police, and essentially their torturer in chief. And so, you know, it's still part of the old guard.

And so, you know, the September elections that are going to come up, you know, the role of, you know, coalition leader Mohamed Elbaradei, 2005 Nobel Peace Prize winner and former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency - all these things are going to come into play. But you know, it was a big step forward today with the stepdown of Hosni Mubarak.

MARTIN: Ruben, what about you? What do you think about this? Now, it's interesting because you've been covering these issues around the world as well, in other parts of the world.

RUBEN NAVARRETTE: Right. This is a, you know, a story we couldn't take our eyes off, obviously, for the last few days - yesterday, in particular, as it seemed to reach a climax. The - I would think that the questions remain.

I mean, even this idea of sort of, will it be enough. Will it be enough, as Arsalan said, to pass the torch simply to your vice president who has, likewise, a spotted history - who likewise, if in fact - and we heard this renunciation of the Mubarak regime - is it enough to say that Mubarak has to choose his successor? And I don't think the crowd's going to go for that, frankly, given everything we've seen from them.

I also don't think that the questions are resolved in terms of whether or not we can keep power away from the Muslim Brotherhood, and whether or not - you know, obviously, our friends in Israel are very occupied with this and very concerned with this. They're not sure where this is all going to go.

I was struck, though, by one thing I heard in the last couple of days. I haven't been able to shake it off. When Chris Matthews at MSNBC - who is normally, you know, obviously, not a harsh conservative. He's someone who is center-left or left, depending on your perspective, loves the Obama administration, talks about Obama giving him a thrill up his leg. He criticized the Obama administration for abandoning Mubarak, because he said that we - our human relationships, our relationships with people built up over decades, used to mean something. And he says now in the United States, all we do is, we watch things happen. We're no longer loyal to our friends.

Now, the easy retort to that is yeah, but what happens when your friend is a dictator?

IFTIKHAR: Right.

NAVARRETTE: The retort to that is, he was a dictator last week, last month and last year.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NAVARRETTE: So we've been in bed with this dictator all along. And that, I think, is a very complicated narrative that Chris Matthews has started. I can't shake it off because, I think, I don't want to be part of a country that simply waits on the sidelines for things to happen, and that's where we are.

MARTIN: Ken, what do you think about that?

RUDIN: Well, actually, I was not surprised by the resignation at all, because I knew once Mubarak took off - posted a shirtless photo of himself on Craigslist, I knew his days were over.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NAVARRETTE: That was the end. That was the beginning of the end.

RUDIN: I knew that his days were over.

MARTIN: No. No. That was a skit on "Saturday Night Live." I'm sorry.

RUDIN: But yeah, look, the obvious question is: Does Egypt become Iran following the fall of the shah, or does it become the Philippines following the fall of Marcos in '86? Does it lead to democratic rule - which it seems like the crowd in Tahrir Square is calling for - or does it turn into an Islamic republic? And that's what the United States - as Ruben says, we're sitting back and watching, and all we can do is just watch, to see what happens.

MARTIN: Jimi, what do you think about what Ruben said? I'm just curious about what you say about that. He says he doesn't want to be part of a country that sits on the sidelines. On the other hand, you know, I think Americans are very ambivalent about this, of just - about how much they really feel we should be involved in other people's affairs. I mean, obviously, we have kind of an organic, you know, visceral reaction to this.

You know, as Nick Kristof - one of the women he interviewed in Tahrir Square said to him, you know, we want what you have. We want to be able to pick our leaders. You know, we want to be able to be full citizens in our own country and have a role. But Jimi, what do you think?

IZRAEL: I think that makes sense to me, but I'm also opposed to America always playing Robocop. You know, and I think the other piece of this is - I don't know. I think there's a term for when you step down from a position and you hand the position over to your crony, I think the ancient Africans called that a puppet regime, you know...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: Right.

IZRAEL: ...and that actually scares me more than anything. You know, I have this vision of Egypt kind of being this car, you know, speeding down the highway, and you may not like where the car is going, but somebody at least has the wheel. You don't kick him in the head and then kick him out, you know, while they're driving and then, you know, say, OK, now we're good to go. I mean, somebody's got to get a hold of the wheel and, you know, we've got to know where we're going.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

IZRAEL: So I don't know. I think there's a lot going on there, and I think time will have to tell if this was the move. I mean, personally, I was hoping we could wait 'til September but evidently, you know, the revolution can't wait. I'm - hey, you know, power to the people.

MARTIN: Well, yeah. Well, it's true. (unintelligible)

NAVARRETTE: Mubarak hasn't left the country. That's important. He left the city, as far as I know.

IFTIKHAR: Right. He went to...

MARTIN: Yeah. He went to Sharm El-Sheikh...

IFTIKHAR: He went to Sharm El-Sheikh...

MARTIN: ...which a lot of people will remember, because a number of diplomatic conferences have been held there.

NAVARRETTE: And he's got this big palace.

IFTIKHAR: Which is basically Egypt's version of Martha's Vineyard, you know, and...

NAVARRETTE: He's got this big palace there, and that's where he's holed up. And so, this notion somehow, the crowd is like, OK - and I really love the crowd, I've got to say, because the crowd is saying: What part of this do you not understand, OK? You don't get to call the shots. You don't get to decide the terms of your exit; we do. And I applaud them for that. But he's not listening.

MARTIN: Well, but, you know, in this country, you know, we have put all kinds of brakes on mob rule, too. I mean, let's just also be clear about that. I mean, Jimi's right, that chaos often doesn't redound to the benefit of the vulnerable. For example, I mean, at some point, people do need stability in order to grow, in order to live, in order to really live freely.

IFTIKHAR: Right. Right. But...

NAVARRETTE: Well, the British...

MARTIN: And stability and freedom to go hand-in-hand in some ways.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah but...

MARTIN: Go ahead, Arsalan.

NAVARRETTE: In 1776, the British would've called what we did here the mob rule.

MARTIN: Well, they did. It was. It was.

NAVARRETTE: Well, more power to the people.

IFTIKHAR: And let's not forget...

MARTIN: It was.

IFTIKHAR: Hosni Mubarak has had the nation of Egypt under emergency rule, as a police state, for the last 30 years. Do you know any country that's had emergency rule for a 30-year period?

NAVARRETTE: Right.

MARTIN: Yeah, but a number of countries have had kind of fake democracy - I mean, essentially, one-party democracy - I mean, Mexico being one, you know, with one-party rule, essentially, for some years; Japan, essentially one-party rule for 40 years. So there are countries that have democracy in name only.

But you know what? It's an exciting time. I mean, to be part of some - to be, you know, alive when something like this happens. When you see people - we talked to a young woman earlier in the program, and you could just hear the excitement and the joy in her voice.

IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: I mean, today is a day to...

RUDIN: Let's just see how long this excitement and joy lasts when this vacuum is filled by...

IZRAEL: Yeah.

MARTIN: Well...

IZRAEL: Car crashes are quite exciting.

MARTIN: Well, OK. Thank you for that uplifting thought, Jimi.

If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News, and we're here in the Barbershop with "Debbie Downer" Jimi Izrael...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: ...civil rights attorney Arsalan Iftikhar, columnist Ruben Navarrette, and NPR's political editor Ken Rudin.

Well, you know - and speaking of democracy, right, that - Jimi, you know, a lot of these resignations, it's kind of interesting, right?

IZRAEL: Yeah. News from Capitol Hill. It's practically becoming a revolving door up there with a steady stream of resignations, or those who said they're not going to run again. And then there's that one forced resignation, but we'll massage that point a little bit later.

MARTIN: Oh, nice.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Let's talk about - we'll talk about the antiseptic ones for now, Michel.

MARTIN: Well, yeah, there was - Ken, I'm interested in - is this kind of normal, this kind of churning? It's just interesting for a lot of people that so soon after elections, that all of these people are stepping down. Just to recount: Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, Republican, says he's going to retire after his current term. He's the fifth open Senate race of the 2012 cycle. He's the Senate's second-ranking Republican.

Earlier this week, Virginia Senator Jim Webb, Democrat, said he's out. And then congresswoman Jane Harman of Venice, California, says she's resigning her House seat, which means a special election. And then on the Republican side, what Jimi was alluding to, is Representative Chris Lee, a Republican from Buffalo. But he - well, we don't know what he's going to do next. But this was after he was busted for sending pictures of himself...

IZRAEL: He's going to Disney World.

MARTIN: ...on Craigslist. What is up with that? So is this kind of normal, sort of?

RUDIN: You're asking me what normal is? No, first of all, everything is different. The Jim Webb thing was expected. He wasn't raising money. He was kind of an odd duck. He never was very comfortable with being a senator: very serious, strong opponent to the war in Iraq - obviously, remember when he beat George "Macaca" Allen...

IFTIKHAR: That's right.

RUDIN: ...in 2006? That's what gave the Democrats their majority there. I mean - but he was never comfortable, wasn't raising money. Not a surprise.

IFTIKHAR: Right.

RUDIN: Jon Kyl is a surprise. He's the number-two ranking Republican in the Senate, very powerful, a leader among the conservatives - unlike John McCain, a fellow Arizonan, who was very - very - has a national constituency. Back home, Jon Kyl's much more popular, is much more accessible. I'm very surprised that with the Republicans likely to take the Senate back in 2012 - I mean, anything could happen, but they only need three seats to do it - three or four seats, and they probably will do it. I'm surprised that Kyl...

MARTIN: Well, he'll probably be a - but a Republican would be favored there, wouldn't it, given that politics of that state right now?

RUDIN: Yeah, the...

NAVARRETTE: Not necessarily. Not necessarily.

MARTIN: No?

NAVARRETTE: No. No. No.

RUDIN: Yeah. No Democrat has won since 1988. Janet Napolitano is talking about perhaps...

IFTIKHAR: Correct.

RUDIN: ...leaving. You know, she went from the governorship to the Cabinet to the Senate, which has happened before in different states. She's a possibility.

NAVARRETTE: Right. Right.

RUDIN: Gabby Giffords has even been mentioned. I think that's kind of crazy, a little too soon for Gabby Giffords to run statewide, but she...

MARTIN: That's the congresswoman who was...

RUDIN: Who was shot in Tucson, right, of course.

MARTIN: ...who was grievously shot in Tucson. Yeah.

RUDIN: And I think...

MARTIN: And is still recovering.

RUDIN: And the thing with Jane Harman - Jane Harman first of all, she was always on the outs with Nancy Pelosi, of course, who is no longer speaker. But Pelosi and Harman never liked each other. There's a big battle between the two California Democrats. Also, she's been...

MARTIN: So what?

RUDIN: Well, she couldn't move up. As a matter of fact, Nancy Pelosi still controls the Democrats in the House - if anybody can control the House, the Democrats in the House...

NAVARRETTE: You know, what Ken's talking about here, there's always a back story, and I love hearing what he's talking about.

RUDIN: You know, there's...

NAVARRETTE: There's always - and this idea of Jane Harman and Nancy Pelosi, that dynamic. In Virginia, you have George Allen, who said he's going to run again...

MARTIN: Yeah.

NAVARRETTE: ...and that had to have played in Jim Webb's thinking. Webb is a smart guy. He gets bored easily. He's a good writer. He's written a number of good books, and he wants to go off and do other things, I'm sure. And with Kyl, I lived in Arizona for two years during the '90s. I wasn't so surprised that Kyl left. When the rumor got out last week that Janet Napolitano was thinking about going back to Arizona, I think she could beat him, and I think that Arizona's one of those places that has Democratic pockets throughout the state, and that she could beat him. And he probably weighed that into his calculations as well.

RUDIN: And Republican Party could find itself split with the Tea Party primary as well.

IFTIKHAR: Right.

RUDIN: Jeff Flake, who's very conservative...

NAVARRETTE: Right.

RUDIN: ...may be outflanked by the right. So it's very interesting times for the Republican Party as well.

MARTIN: You know, briefly - because I do want to talk about the CPAC convention, which is a big convention of conservatives meeting here in Washington. And if we have time, we might boo-hoo a little bit over the sad tale of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Oops, sorry, Jimi.

But the Chris Lee story, you know, I know that a lot of people are sort of tut- tutting about this, but what is up with that? What is up with that - you know, sending like, pictures of yourself to some woman on Craigslist with - using your real name, lying about your marital status.

IFTIKHAR: Mmm. Right.

RUDIN: Michel, that's how you and I met.

MARTIN: So, right.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Oh, no.

IFTIKHAR: Ken, please.

IZRAEL: Oh, no. Billy Martin is on line one.

NAVARRETTE: Those records are permanently sealed. No, that's not supposed to come out.

RUDIN: Thank you, Ruben.

NAVARRETTE: Family radio here.

MARTIN: Arsalan, could you please escort him out, please? Thank you.

IFTIKHAR: Well, Ken, you need to...

MARTIN: But, go ahead.

NAVARRETTE: Look, I haven't had breakfast yet. I got to picture Ken without his shirt on?

IFTIKHAR: I was going to say, Ken needs to put his shirt on first.

MARTIN: Well, Jimi, Jimi, you know what? I'm going ask Jimi a question, here.

RUDIN: Thank God for radio.

MARTIN: Do you think - I just wonder why he felt the need to resign instantly. And I do have to wonder, forgive me, whether race played a part of this, because the lady in question that he was, you know, pursuing was an African- American woman, single black female on the - was the ad. And I just - I don't know. Do you think race was a part of that? That he felt that he couldn't - that maybe he could survive it if it were one, but not the other? I don't know.

IZRAEL: I don't know if race played a part but race...

MARTIN: Ken, doesn't think so? Ken's saying no. What do you think, Jimi?

IZRAEL: I don't know if race played a part, but race certainly doesn't help. You know, it's one of those types of things. It reminds me of in "The Birdcage," where the senator is taken down because he got caught in a room with an underage black prostitute. You know, and the fact that she was under age is bad, but the fact that she's black really was kind of problem for his constituents, you know. So that said, it could...

MARTIN: Well, see, this lady was not a prostitute. I just don't want to have people think...

IZRAEL: No she wasn't.

MARTIN: ...that she's just a - she's just a single lady on - looking to, you know...

IFTIKHAR: Right.

IZRAEL: Yeah. She's...

MARTIN: ...like a - she works.

IZRAEL: Yeah. Yeah. She's a single sister wonk, you know, on Craigslist looking for a date.

MARTIN: Yeah.

IZRAEL: So all that in, I don't know what to make of it, but I think all the facts haven't come out. And I do think he resigned too quickly.

MARTIN: Well, you do.

IZRAEL: And I don't know why. I mean, I think there's more to it.

MARTIN: Because this isn't France.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: I think there's more to it. I think there's way more to it than this.

MARTIN: It's called the United States of America, and we don't play that.

RUDIN: Let me tell you.

MARTIN: Go ahead, Ken. Go ahead, Ken.

RUDIN: First of all, the headlines for the House Republicans have been really bad. John Boehner didn't want a distraction.

NAVARRETTE: Right.

RUDIN: He didn't want what's going on in the Senate with John Ensign, that's been going on for years...

NAVARRETTE: Boehner forced him out. Boehner forced him out.

RUDIN: ...or David Vitter. He wanted him out. He didn't want another distraction.

NAVARRETTE: Right. Absolutely.

MARTIN: OK, fine. Ken, we only have a minute left but, you know, CPAC is here - big conservative convention. What's the significance of that? I do think it's interesting that, you know, the keynoters here are all officeholders, unlike last time, when they were the talk show hosts: Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh.

RUDIN: And of course, everybody's talking about the people who are not here, like Sarah Palin and you know, people like that. But look, the Republicans - the conservatives are very anxious for the 2012 race to get under way. It has not started yet, and they really want to see who these would-be presidents are. For all their talk about how beatable Barack Obama is, the president's numbers are - have jumped up considerably since the November elections, and the Republicans seem to be flailing. So they really - the Republican conservatives really want to see this - their world turned back - right side up, and they want to - they're looking to see who the possible candidate will be, at the CPAC convention.

MARTIN: And finally - because I know Jimi is kind of all choked up about this - Arsalan, what happened to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have like, what is it, in the history books now for the longest losing streak...

IFTIKHAR: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...in the...

NAVARRETTE: Curse! I curse thee.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IFTIKHAR: It's - you know, the Cleveland Cavaliers are a sad, cautionary tale in sports. When the - LeBron James, you know, left, they went from a title contender to the Bad News Bears. You know, they've lost 26 consecutive games now and...

NAVARRETTE: Right. Wasn't the owner the one who said that LeBron was going to take his curse with him to Miami?

MARTIN: Oh, dear.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, in that crazy...

NAVARRETTE: Now that he's doubled down and left it in Cleveland, I love it.

MARTIN: Oh, well. I guess not. All right.

Arsalan Iftikhar is the founder of themuslimguy.com. He was here with us in our Washington, D.C., studio along with Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Ruben Navarrette's a syndicated columnist who writes for the Washington Post Writers Group and CNN.com. He was with us from San Diego. And Jimi Izrael is author of the book, "The Denzel Principle." He was with us from member station WCPN in Cleveland.

Thank you so much, guys.

IFTIKHAR: Peace.

RUDIN: Craigslist.

NAVARRETTE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: Yup, yup.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Let's talk more on Monday.

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