Pluses And Pitfalls Of Second-Term Presidencies

Retiring Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) reflects on his career. NPR's Political Junkie Ken Rudin recaps the week in politics — from the final election results in the House to the fiscal cliff — and discusses the advantages and pitfalls of second term presidencies.

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NEAL CONAN, HOST:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. The electoral sun sets for West, the former presidential candidate blames his loss on the president's gifts, but the Tea Party senator-elect from Texas blames that Romney cozied up in that third debate. It's Wednesday and time for a...

SENATOR-ELECT TED CRUZ: French kissed...

CONAN: ...edition of the political junkie.

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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 W. BUSH: But I'm the decider.

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CONAN: Every Wednesday, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us to recap the week in politics. Two weeks and a day later, and the election is almost over. A reluctant concession yesterday in Florida, but there may be a recount yet in North Carolina. More than 90 House Republicans oppose Susan Rice as secretary of state. A group of House Democrats call their charges racist and sexist. Of course the president hasn't nominated a new secretary of state, and the House doesn't get to vote on it anyway.

In a few minutes, retiring congressman Dennis Kucinich joins us for an exit interview. We'll look at the record of second presidential terms, and later in the hour, the gunner from Grinnell who set a new NCAA scoring record last night. But first political junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A. As usual, we begin with a trivia question. Hey Ken.

KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: Hi Neal, let's see if the Ken-Neal ceasefire holds, OK? Anyway, Senator John Kerry is being considered for secretary of state. Here's a good trivia question. He would be the first person to leave the Senate...

CONAN: That would be different.

(LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: He would be the first person to leave the Senate to take that job since, well, the last secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. But who was the last secretary of state who in his career ran for the Senate and lost?

CONAN: If you think you know the answer to this week's trivia question the last secretary of state who, in his career, also ran for United States Senate and lost, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And Ken, we don't...

RUDIN: What do they win, by the way?

CONAN: Oh, they win that fabulous political junkie no-prize T-shirt and, even better, the button. But in any case, the - we don't have actual votes to begin with. We have recount votes to begin with.

RUDIN: Well, that's the case in North Carolina. That's the 7th Congressional District, Mike McIntyre, who's been serving since he was first elected in 1996. He's a blue dog Democrat. He seems to have defeated David Rouzer, the state senator, Republican state senator, by 655 votes. Rouzer has asked for a recount. He said that one county has already admitted that they voted twice or they counted votes twice in one precinct, they should say, one precinct. So Rouzer wants all the votes to be counted.

But that's the only one that seems to be outstanding. The big news of course yesterday was Allen West, I guess the Tea Party leader, the first-termer from South Florida who was thought to win, he had $17 million in his campaign chest. He was basically the symbol of the Tea Party conservative, and he conceded defeat to Patrick Murphy yesterday.

CONAN: He also conceded defeat to Fox News.

REPRESENTATIVE ALLEN WEST: We brought up some incredible voting irregularities, not just in St. Lucie County but also some that we found in Palm Beach County. But now is not the time for the people down here in Congressional District 18 to be left in the lurch.

CONAN: Not the most gracious concession on the planet, but...

RUDIN: It was a very bitter, very bitter campaign, ugly campaign, yes.

CONAN: And what's to prevent Allen West from coming back and saying, two years from now, I might have a real shot?

RUDIN: Nothing, and of course if you look at the history of sixth year in a presidential term, this would be the sixth year in 2014, will be the sixth year of the Obama presidency, and the out party often, almost always, does much better, does really well. Of course in 2008 - in 1998 with Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, the Republican Party was thought to overreach, and the Democrats actually won. But for the most part, a sixth year in a presidency is bad news for the president's party.

CONAN: In the meantime, one more, Arizona Ron Barber, who replaced Gabby Giffords in a special election, that one came down to the wire, as well.

RUDIN: It was very close to it. Ron Barber was declared the winner. Kirsten Sinema, another Democrat in Arizona...

CONAN: Picture that, yeah.

RUDIN: You're so funny today. She was declared the winner. And also two Republicans in California, Dan Lundgren and Brian Bilbray since our last show, they were - it was announced that they had been defeated for another term. So basically now it's down to 234 Republicans, 200 Democrats, possibly 201 Democrats if North Carolina, which means that the Democrats only picked up eight seats. Of course they needed 25 to get a majority.

CONAN: In the meantime, some people might look ahead to 2014, as we just did, or 2016, but what about 2013?

RUDIN: Well, the news in Virginia, of course there's two gubernatorial contests, and of course as we always say, we like to know who the next gubernors(ph) will be in Virginia and New Jersey. And in New Jersey, Chris Christie is running for a second term, and perhaps a lot of what he did with Hurricane Sandy may have been more about 2013 and less about 2016...

CONAN: Chilly reception for Chris Christie at the Republican Governors Association.

RUDIN: Yes but a very good reception back home. They all feel that he did his job, and the polls show him doing a very good job in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. But the news this week is in Virginia where Senator Mark Warner, former governor of Virginia, announced once and for all that he would not leave the Senate to return to the governorship. And that's good news for Terry McAuliffe, the former DNC chair who is the only announced Democrat in that race for the governorship.

CONAN: And the attorney general, a conservative figure there, Mr. Cuccinelli, seen as the favorite for the Republican nomination, but he will not go unopposed.

RUDIN: Right, Bill Bolling, Bill Bolling is the lieutenant governor. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is the conservative choice, and of course in Virginia, the only state in the country you cannot succeed yourself as governor, so Bob McDonnell after one term has to retire.

CONAN: And Chris Christie could face significant opposition if Corey Booker, the mayor of Newark, decides to oppose him.

RUDIN: That's exactly right. I mean, those numbers are very, very close in New Jersey. That's why Sandy, you talk about - aside from all the horror that it committed, it also has political calculations, as well.

CONAN: In the meantime, we have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question, the U.S. secretary of state who also ran for U.S. Senate and lost, the most recent one in any case, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. And we'll start with Bob(ph), and Bob's on the line from Rochester, Minnesota.

BOB: Hi, this is Bob Sixta(ph), hello, happy Thanksgiving to you both.

CONAN: Thank you.

RUDIN: Bob, first-time caller?

(LAUGHTER)

BOB: Pardon?

CONAN: Don't worry about it, Bob. How about your guess? James Baker.

RUDIN: James Baker actually did run for attorney general in the state of Texas, but he never ran for the U.S. Senate.

BOB: Oh, OK, thanks.

CONAN: All right, Bob, thanks very much. Let's see if we can go next to John(ph), John with us from Little Rock.

JOHN: Was it James Burns?

CONAN: James Burns of course served for President FDR and Harry Truman.

RUDIN: Right, and James Burns was governor of South Carolina. I don't even know if he ran for the Senate. I don't believe he ran for the Senate, but in the event, I'm looking for the last person...

JOHN: Someone since then. OK, thanks so much.

CONAN: OK, nice try, though.

JOHN: Happy Thanksgiving.

CONAN: So long. Let's see if we can go next to another Bob(ph), this one calling from Sacramento.

BOB: Yeah, I'll try Henry Cabot Lodge.

RUDIN: Henry Cabot Lodge was - let's see. He was never secretary of state.

BOB: Yeah, wild guess, thanks.

CONAN: Nice try, though.

RUDIN: He was U.N. ambassador but never secretary of state.

CONAN: Was a senator, though.

RUDIN: He was, from Massachusetts, defeated by John F. Kennedy in 1952.

CONAN: Let's try Bob(ph), and this Bob is calling us from Kansas City.

BOB: John Foster Dulles?

RUDIN: John Foster Dulles is the correct answer.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: He was Eisenhower's secretary of state, but before that, he ran for the Senate from New York in 1949 and lost to Herbert Lehman.

CONAN: So stay on the line, Bob, we will collect your particulars, and we'll send you that fabulous political junkie T-shirt. That is, by the way, for sale if you want to go to the NPR shop. Anybody can buy one. But Bob, nobody but winners like you will get the fabulous no-prize button.

BOB: Thank you.

RUDIN: And if you look at the people who called, we had Bob, Bob, Bob...

CONAN: Barbara Ann - I was going to say, there you go. In the meantime, this is one of the most curious things I've seen in recent times in the Senate. There is no nominee to be the next secretary of state. There is a secretary of state. She's winning plaudits in the Middle East even as we speak. In the meantime, Susan Rice has come under fire as one of the speculated about being the next secretary of state.

RUDIN: You're absolutely right. The president has not announced a successor to Hillary Clinton, who has said that she will not serve in a second Obama term. But last week, or was it - I guess it was just last week, it was last week, when President Obama was asked at his news conference about the Republican opposition mostly led by Lindsey Graham and John McCain, he really defended his secretary of state, I'm sorry his U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice, in saying that if you have trouble with her, you bring it to me.

CONAN: And this might sound familiar.

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MICHAEL DOUGLAS: (as President Shepherd) You want a character to debate, Bob, you better stick with me because Sydney Allen Wade is way out of your league.

CONAN: Well, that's not Susan Rice, obviously, that's Michael Douglas, "The American President."

RUDIN: Well, there is a little comparison.

CONAN: Who would make such a comparison?

RUDIN: Well, we did, we actually. But it really has become political because the Democrats are saying look, this is nonsense. This is all about fighting the election that they've already lost. And I think the Republicans feel that perhaps the administration, certainly Susan Rice, bamboozled the country in deciding that what happened in Benghazi may or may not have been a terrorist attack, this is of course the September 11th attack, which resulted in the death of four Americans, including the ambassador, Christopher Stevens.

But the Republicans feel that this was a little playing of politics by Susan Rice and the administration, and they're determined to defeat her should she be nominated for secretary of state.

CONAN: And the determination by Lindsey Graham and John McCain and Kelly Ayotte, among others, they say they would do anything in their power to block this nomination. Of course, they could any individual one of them block that nomination.

RUDIN: Sure, I mean, they could have a filibuster, and of course there's certainly no 60 seats, so...

CONAN: They could put a nomination on hold.

RUDIN: They could absolutely do that, as parties have done that in the past, yes.

CONAN: In the meantime, this has drawn some criticism. We mentioned 97 members of the Republican caucus said Susan Rice...

RUDIN: In the House, in the House.

CONAN: ...is unacceptable to them. In the meantime, the Congressional Black Caucus has issued some complaints, as well. This is Representative Jim Clyburn expressing frustration about the criticism of Rice on CNN, said using words like lazy or incompetent is offensive.

REPRESENTATIVE JIM CLYBURN: These kinds of terms that those of us, especially those of us who were born and raised in the South, we would hear these little words and phrases all of our lives, and we'd get insulted by them.

CONAN: And this is powerful political stuff.

RUDIN: Oh it is, and both sides are not going to back down. I mean, I think both sides really want that fight. Certainly Obama - maybe perhaps a first-term President Obama would perhaps maybe acquiesce and say OK, look, I don't want to give up my negotiations about immigration, about the deficit, maybe I won't go so far to have a confirmation fight about Susan Rice.

But this is a different president and coming off a re-election.

CONAN: We also have to note the passing of one of the giants of the United States Senate, Warren Rudman.

RUDIN: Yeah, I mean, he only served two terms, a Republican from New Hampshire, but he was very big on the problems of fiscal deficits. He was a gruff and grumpy kind of guy, but he was usually right. And again only 12 years in the Senate, but he was very highly respected. His first name I always thought was Graham because we always talk about the Graham-Rudman Budget Deficit Act, but he had a lot of influence in the Senate.

CONAN: After a short break, Congressman Dennis Kucinich will join us. He's been in politics since he was elected to Cleveland City Council at the age of 23. He'll join us to reflect on more than 40 years serving the state of Ohio. Back with him in just a minute. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. It's Wednesday, that means political junkie Ken Rudin is with us. We'll get on with the regular business of junkie day, including that ScuttleButton winner, a little bit later in the program. But first, in a moment we'll be joined by Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich, who's retiring from Congress after more than 15 years. He's been serving the state of Ohio in various capacities more than 40 years.

We want to hear from you. What's Dennis Kucinich's legacy? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION. Congressman Kucinich joins us now by the phone from here in Washington. Nice to have you with us today.

REPRESENTATIVE DENNIS KUCINICH: Good afternoon, great to be with you, thank you.

CONAN: It must feel a little strange to be in this lame-duck session of Congress and not looking forward to another term.

KUCINICH: This duck is not lame. I'm still flying. I'm still working every day and out there on all the issues that matter to my constituents and our country. And, you know, I've had a sprint here for 16 years, and my day today isn't any different than any day that I've had in the last 16 years.

CONAN: Are you packing up?

KUCINICH: Look, I stay very mobile at all times.

(LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Traveling light.

KUCINICH: When I was growing up in Cleveland, we lived in 21 different places by the time I was 17, including a couple cars. So, you know, moving to another location is not a burden for me.

CONAN: And there are some important issues to be resolved before this Congress makes its exit.

KUCINICH: Yes, there are, you know, notably some of the financial issues dealing with the so-called fiscal cliff. But what I like to focus on is what we're going to do to create jobs. And, you know, people are working, they're paying taxes, and we should be, I think, focusing more on that than looking at what kind of tax increases can we pass.

And the other thing is we need to look at changing America's role in the world. We spend a lot of money on wars, unnecessary spending I might add. And America should not be in a position of trying to determine the fate of nations. We have a job to do here at home, to take care of things, to make sure that people have housing and jobs and health care and education, retirement security.

We've got a lot of work to do here, and I - as someone who led the effort in challenging the Bush administration's march towards war against Iraq and now seeing a $5 trillion bill that will eventually come due for that, I think I'm in a position to talk about what's the appropriate role for America.

CONAN: Can we go back a little bit just to the redistricting that happened of course after the census that comes every 10 years, and the Republicans of course were in control in Columbus. They redrew the congressional district lines. Do you think they drew them trying to get you out of Congress?

KUCINICH: No, it's not commonly known what actually happened in the redistricting in Ohio. Actually there were three different attempts at redistricting. The first one would have eliminated the district I represent. The second one preserved my district. And that was done with the help of Republicans. The third one changed the district and cut it up into four pieces, and that came about as a result of Democrats in the state legislature.

So people have to understand that, you know, when you might think there's some partisan activity at work, in this case this was the result of what Democrats in the state legislature did to - that resulted in my district being cut up into four pieces.

CONAN: You were then thrown into a primary against Marcy Kaptur, the - another incumbent, and that didn't work out so well.

KUCINICH: Well look, I - my career goes back, as you've stated, a number of years. I first started in politics in 1967. In that time, since '67, I've had something like 40 elections, counting primaries and generals. I've won 32; I've lost eight. Winning and losing are opposite sides of the same coin. The question is: Do you have a commitment? What do you stand for? Are you ready to take a stand no matter what the consequences are?

And so, you know, I have plotted a consistent course throughout my life of commitment, of a willingness to stand up and speak out, and whether I win or lose, that's who I am.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Congressman, we know what you stand for, but I guess my question is: What impact do you think Dennis Kucinich made in his years in Congress? I mean, we know you ran for president twice, you stood up to wars. What impact did you make, and what impact are progressives making given the fact that there are still drone attacks in Pakistan, there's still wars going on, and it's a Democratic president?

KUCINICH: Well, most of these issues that have come up in the last 16 years I've had a chance to weigh in, particularly those relating to matters of war and peace. I led the effort in stopping the bombing of Serbia by helping to defeat Senate Joint Resolution 21, I think it was in 1999.

I was able to lead the effort in challenging the Bush administration's march towards war in Iraq. I pointed out in an analysis in October of 2002 that every single claim that was being made for war was not true, and my analysis holds up to this day. That war was based on lies. All the lives that were lost on both sides and the money that was spent constitutes an outrage and a tragedy.

On the matter of drones, I've been leading the effort to try to force the administration into some accountability on this. The president's taken enormous power to be able to decide who lives and who dies with - actually without any constitutional restraints. I've raised the same constitutional issues with respect to U.S. intervention in Libya.

To me it's about standing up for the Constitution, the appropriate role of Congress, which under Article 1, Section 8, is Congress has the power to decide whether to commit this nation to a war or not. Under Republican and Democratic administrations, we've seen the role of Congress eroded. That does not work to the favor of the American people.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get a caller in on the conversation. We're talking with Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who leaves at the end of this term. Your number is 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. And we'll start with Travis(ph), Travis with us from Louisville.

TRAVIS: Yes, it's an honor to talk to you, Congressman Kucinich. I first of all want to ask a question, and it's unfortunate even under Obama. We take such a rather arrogant attitude towards Latin American leaders who clearly by this point, from Venezuela to Nicaragua, to Ecuador to Bolivia, clearly these leaders are very popular with their people, including Argentina.

Is it time that we start turning over a new leaf and start treating these leaders with some respect?

KUCINICH: Well, I mean, that question, you know, implies the answer and the answer is of course. We have a sorry history in Latin America of trying to choose the leaders for the people. Self-determination and sovereignty are two principles that we prize in this country, and we should afford other people the opportunity to exercise those principals, as well.

I mean, one of the reasons why we are in a long-term problem with Iran goes back to the fact that, you know, the geography is different, but we try - we overthrew Mosaddegh and set the stage for the shah and then for all the things that followed. I mean, the United States has a history of interventionism which has to stop. We have to stop it.

We have to start taking care of things here at home. We can't be the policeman of the world, and we should work with the world community to enforce structures of international law, whether it's the Biological Weapons Convention, the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Small Arms Treaty. We should join the International Criminal Court. We should work towards nuclear abolition. These are things we can and should do with the international community. But as far as ruling the world, just stop it.

CONAN: Travis, thanks very much for the call.

TRAVIS: OK.

CONAN: And let's see if we can go next to - this is Ravi(ph), and Ravi is from Dayton, Ohio.

RAVI: Hello, Congressman Kucinich, I just wanted to say it's an honor to talk to you. I'm from Dayton. Unfortunately I've never had the ability to vote for you, and I lament that this primary was run with you versus I believe it was Marcy Kaptur, who is also a great representative for our state and our country. But I just wanted to say I appreciate your stances on animal rights and on the work that you did for the single-payer health care system.

But more than anything, I appreciate that you've always stood for the working-class people of America and of Ohio. And I hope that you go back to Congress or whatever else you do, the best of luck in your endeavors because I know you'll do great things.

KUCINICH: Well, thank you for your kind remarks, thank you.

CONAN: Appreciate the phone call, Ravi, but congressman, that does raise the question: What are you going to do next?

KUCINICH: Well, you know, I have - I am putting all my focus into everything between now and January 2 and poring myself into the job. I mean, I haven't looked at other opportunities, and I will after January 2 when my term is over. You know, I really feel that the best preparation for tomorrow is to do today's work as best you can. And so, you know, I'll worry about that when I get to January 3. In the meantime, I am poring myself into my responsibilities, to do everything I can to - all the work that I have done over the years, whether it's international policy or domestic policy, to keep making an impact on a daily basis. And there's plenty of things to work on between now and January 2.

CONAN: Here's an email from Christopher in Bainbridge, Ohio. Being a lifelong Clevelander, the most obvious example of Mr. Kucinich's impact was his fighting for Cleveland Public Power while serving as mayor of Cleveland. That fight occurred many years ago, and Cleveland Public Power is still around today as a hedge against the tyranny of First Energy Corporation. Ken?

RUDIN: Congressman, I know that you'll leave office with so much - I'm sorry?

KUCINICH: Let me comment on that, briefly.

RUDIN: Sure.

KUCINICH: That battle to save the municipal electric system defined my career. I put my career on the line to challenge then what was Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company. Their successor is First Energy. It's really all about assuring that the public has a right to be able to determine the circumstances of their economic existence and that utility monopolies don't win. And we saved an electric system - a public electric system in Cleveland - years ago. And that battle, which you'll read about sometime in the next year or so, is something that is - was both a premonition for urban America and also a statement of what's possible when one person is ready to take a stand, no matter what.

CONAN: Have you been writing a book?

KUCINICH: Stay tuned.

(LAUGHTER)

CONAN: OK. I'll take that as a yes. Ken.

RUDIN: Congressman, of course, you'll leave office with a lot of things that you wish you could've gotten done and would love to see done. Are you optimistic about the future?

KUCINICH: I'm an optimist. I live optimistically. I think that we're here to change the outcome. I think we're here to think creatively, engage in possibility thinking, that's how America was founded, and we're heirs and heiresses to that tradition. And so, of course, I'm optimistic. I think that the whole nature of our existence is that we have to be ready to listen to the - to those mystic chords that are out there and, from that, summon the possibilities of the future and be architects of a new world. And we have - each one of us has that power. And when we have the opportunity to serve in public life, we have an even greater power and responsibility to be able to fashion that new world.

So am I optimistic? Yes. And as much as I've had when I first started, and perhaps even more so, because I've had a chance to participate in government in every level, I see the potential and I see that the people's not just yearnings but willingness to be able to be involved in charting their own future and their own fate.

CONAN: One last caller for Congressman Kucinich. It's Jason, Jason with us from Cape Cod.

JASON: Yes. Hi, Congressman. Thanks for taking my call. I've got a - I'd like to make this statement about third party, that nothing will change in American politics until we have a viable third party candidate. Do you - would you ever consider a third-party effort and would you support a third-party candidate?

KUCINICH: The implicit assumption of your question is that the - is that we have two parties. But for the sake of your discussion, let's assume that we have two parties where there's real differences. You know, I am not satisfied with the American political structure right now. I think that we have two parties that have really not offered really viable choices. Even this last election, it was a game that was played between the 40-yard lines. There wasn't that much difference on international policy. And, frankly, their, you know, except for the ads, you know, we still have candidates who didn't reveal what they'd do to put America fully back to work. And so I, you know, or change our trade policies, which have caused us tremendous amounts of jobs.

So, is there an opening? The opening is absolutely there. It's always there, but it takes a lot of work and time and effort, and people have to really see that you're ready to chart a difference. And, you know, I don't know if it will happen. But is the ferment there? Yes. Are people looking for more alternatives? Yes. Have the two parties really given America enough of a choice? Absolutely not, and I say this as someone who's been inside the Democratic Party my whole life.

CONAN: Congressman Kucinich, thank you very much for your time today. Thank you very much for your time. You've been very responsive to us over the years. We appreciate it.

KUCINICH: I appreciate being on. Thank you so much.

CONAN: Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Democrat of Ohio, who will be leaving at the end of this term. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And, Ken, it's interesting. The couple of things we didn't get to earlier in the program, among them the - I just wanted to draw - there are some positions on which Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul, the other retiree, former Libertarian Party presidential candidate, would agree. U.S. foreign policy, they have a lot of agreement. The size of the defense department, they would agree on that. There are many things on which they do not agree. I'm not going to put words in anybody's mouth, but a remarkable statement earlier this week from the retiring congressman from Texas, saying that secession, secession is a grand American - a noble American tradition, of course, and he said the United States had seceded from Great Britain or our Founding Father were secessionist. He skipped over that part in the 1860s.

RUDIN: Well, actually, he did talk about it. He said, well, of course, a lot of people don't like what happened in the 1860s, but we are founded on secession. Apparently, 115,000 people or so in Texas, and some other states as well, have sent petition to the U.S. government, suggesting that they secede from the government. Now, I also know from the United States...

CONAN: The Union, from the Union.

RUDIN: Now I also know that there are about 10,000 people in Austin, Texas, who have filed petitions that Texas secedes from the Union, then Austin wants to secede from Texas. But anyway, everybody is seceding. I think they're seceding in business without really trying.

(LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Another success story that we've overlooked the - Nancy Pelosi will stay on as minority leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives.

RUDIN: That's right. Even though they've lost in Congress two years in a row, they picked up some seats, but both Nancy Pelosi did (technical difficulties) Steny Hoyer, the number two, and Jim Clyburn, the number three, and the entire Democratic leadership stays in the House.

CONAN: And finally, we should note there was one interesting visit to Iowa this week.

RUDIN: Nothing to do with politics, of course. Nothing to do with 2016. But Marco Rubio was there Saturday in Iowa to celebrate Terry Branstad, the governor's 66th birthday. And stay tuned for 2016.

CONAN: When we come back, we'll take a look at presidents' second terms, some of those lucky enough to win, then they end up wishing they hadn't. Stay with us. Ken Rudin is with us as he is every Wednesday on the Political Junkie segment on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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CONAN: Across the country, people are preparing for Thanksgiving and prepping their meals. President Obama pardoned two lucky turkeys, Cobble and Gobble, earlier today. And here at TALK OF THE NATION, we're joined by our favorite turkey, Ken Rudin.

In just a minute, we'll talk about presidents' second terms. President Obama won another four years, but history shows re-election can be a mixed blessing. We want to hear from you. After re-election, whose second term surprised you? Give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. But first, Ken, ScuttleButton winner last week.

RUDIN: We do, and thank you for calling me a turkey. That sounds like a complete NPR propa-gander.

CONAN: Ooh.

RUDIN: Yes, so thank you. Anyway, yes, the ScuttleButton winner, Mike Douthit of Anchorage, Alaska. I could see Mike Douthit from my kitchen window. The last button puzzle was a Vote Row A, a PACA button, Political Action for Clean Air, Kiss Me I'm For Rothman with some lips on there, and an Out Now button. So, of course, if you add A, PACA, lips, Now, you will have a Francis Ford Coppolo - Coppola movie.

CONAN: Coppola movie, yeah.

RUDIN: Yeah. Yeah. Coppola, yeah.

CONAN: That's apocalypse.

RUDIN: Yes, yes. "Apocalypse Now." And also, we also have another winner. We had a contest in September to predict in advance, of course, that's what - hence the term predict.

CONAN: Predict, yes. Predict.

RUDIN: Yes. The Electoral College vote. And this was early - mid-September, and actually 19 people, and I read all 19, 19 people got it correctly, but David Driscoll of Stanford, California, said early September, 332 to 206, and that's exactly what it was for Obama and Romney.

CONAN: And least - as long as we're not going to recount Florida again and again and again and again and again. In the meantime, I want to talk...

RUDIN: He gets a T-shirt.

CONAN: He gets the T-shirt and the ScuttleButton winner's puzzle - winner button. In the meantime, we want to talk about presidents' second terms. And it was, well, eight years ago that - excuse me, 12 years ago that George W. Bush, fresh off his re-election, issued...

RUDIN: Eight. Eight.

CONAN: Eight years ago. Yes, fresh off his - Ken, that's right. OK. Yeah, (unintelligible).

RUDIN: My understanding there will be no math.

CONAN: Yeah, there's no arithmetic. In any case, issued a statement about his second term as he reveled in his victory the day after his election.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

BUSH: I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it.

CONAN: And there was a long talk about privatizing social security, all the other ambitious programs that George W. Bush hoped to achieve.

RUDIN: Exactly, and we've seen the history. I mean, this may be - this could change. This doesn't mean that President Obama is...

CONAN: Yeah, history is not fate.

RUDIN: Exactly right. But we've seen in second terms, I mean, you could even go with the campaign, when Woodrow Wilson was running for re-election...

CONAN: Yeah, he kept us out of war.

RUDIN: He kept us out of war, and then five minutes later, we had World War I. And it's weird that they called it World War I, like as if they knew there would be another one.

CONAN: Predicting again.

RUDIN: Predicting in advance. So anyway, we've seen the history with Ronald Reagan, with Bill Clinton, with Richard Nixon certainly, even FDR who won a landslide, a second term in 1936 had his problems in the second term.

CONAN: Ronald Reagan?

RUDIN: Well, yes, of course. Ronald Reagan won 49 states in 1984, and then not long after, he was enmeshed in the Iran-Contra affair where he's selling, you know, he's selling arms to Iran and, of course, to free hostages, ostensibly to free hostages.

CONAN: But in part to get money to provide to the Contras who were fighting in Nicaragua, and money he could not get through Congress because Congress had a ban on.

RUDIN: And for all we know, this could have led to impeachment if more and more people had been, you know, focused on what was going on. But again, Reagan had this big, huge re-election victory, and he frittered away with Iran-Contra.

CONAN: Of course, there was one president who was impeached in his second term.

RUDIN: Right. And again, you know, he won a very sizeable re-election victory in 1996, that's Bill Clinton. And, you know, you could blame the Republican Congress or you could blame his own personal activities. I tend to blame the latter, but Bill Clinton, of course, was impeached by the House in 1998, not convicted by the Senate, but that's his legacy of his second term.

CONAN: So as you look at second terms, it's interesting. Let's listen to Barack Obama with a rather more circumspect message following his re-election.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I'm more than familiar with all the literature about presidential overreach in second terms. We are very cautious about that. On the other hand, I didn't get re-elected just to bask in re-election.

CONAN: So you want to do something, you got to feel like you're liberated. You're never going to run for office again, so you can irritate some - interest some people.

RUDIN: Yes, you can do that, but you're also immediately tarred as a lame duck. And, perhaps, Congress, especially with the Republican House, they could see you as a lame duck and feel that he can't go to the voters once again. Sometimes, the administrations run out of steam. There are a lot of the top people leave. But as we saw with Bush, there's a lot of hubris involved there and then, ultimately, that brings an administration down.

CONAN: Let's get a caller in on the conversation. If you - after re-election, who's second term surprised you? 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. And Mindy is on the line with us from Philadelphia.

MINDY: Yes, hi. I was only 12 when Nixon was re-elected and then was brought down by Watergate. But I think the thing that surprised me was how he had such a landslide, you know, winning, and how his fall kind of - was equated with the faith that everyone had in him.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: And what's so remarkable is that as he was winning his 49-state re-election in 1972, Watergate was already - it was also - still in the news. The Democrats were saying that they're bugging the DNC. They're trying to subvert the democratic process. And the voters just didn't pay - well, the voters in Massachusetts may have paid attention it, 'cause that's the one state George McGovern won. But for the most part, it was not a big issue. It was - most of the issue with he's getting us out of Vietnam and peace is at hand. And, you know, within a year and a half, President Nixon was out of office.

CONAN: And would have been impeached has he tried to stay in office.

RUDIN: Right.

CONAN: It turns out the historians may get to find out why they broke into the Watergate office in the first place; one thing we've never quite really known. And what kind of information were they looking for?

RUDIN: Well, I don't really know that. But all I know is that Richard Nixon felt that in 1968 he had a landslide, expected against Hubert Humphrey. He won by the barest of margins, 500,000 votes. And, perhaps, he was just determined that nothing would catch him off-guard in a re-election battle in 1972. And he just wants to get every advantage he can constitutionally or not.

CONAN: Mindy, thanks very much for the call.

MINDY: Can I ask one question?

CONAN: Sure.

MINDY: Which is, what is the - was there a standing president who decided not to run for re-election?

RUDIN: Well, Lyndon Johnson, of course, even though he was kind of re-elected in '64, filling JFK...

CONAN: He certainly was eligible constitutionally for re-election and decided against it.

RUDIN: And Harry Truman, too, in 1952. He could have run for another term in 1952, but his numbers were so horrific, 22 percent approval rating. Truman decided not to run for again in '52.

CONAN: And, of course, George Washington could have run for a third term but elected not to.

RUDIN: But he was named after that bridge in New Jersey.

CONAN: That's right. That's right. Mindy, thanks very much for the call.

MINDY: Bye-bye.

CONAN: In fact, it was many years after which was a tradition established by Washington but just a tradition. Presidents could run a term no more than two terms. It eventually was passed in the Constitution.

RUDIN: Right. And, of course, Roosevelt, of course, broke that tradition in 1940, winning a third term and then four years later, winning a fourth term.

CONAN: And as you look at second terms, though, one thing that presidents, well, really need to focus on - you hear as they become less and less powerful in domestic policy, they tend to focus more and more on foreign policy where a president has much more leeway, don't have to deal with that pesty(ph) Congress in the most part.

And that's true. We saw that with Eisenhower too. Eisenhower was very focused on it. I mean, we saw what was going on in incursions overseas, in foreign policies, stuff like that. Richard Nixon was a very involved in settling the second Arab-Israeli War in 1973. But again, it was the domestic policy that brought them down. Franklin Roosevelt packing the Supreme Court. Eisenhower was economy with the economy going down. Richard Nixon, of course, was Watergate. All those kinds of things just seemed to - the stuff at home was really what - what really damaged their second terms.

And, of course, Bill Clinton did get impeached. He was not convicted in the United States Senate and ended - left office with great popularity numbers.

RUDIN: Yeah, that's what I said. I mean, you know, we don't know whether we blamed Clinton or the Republican Congress for overreaching. We always talk about a second-term president overreaching, and there will be accusation about Obama's first term. But if the Republican Congress overreached in the impeachment of 1998, I think the American people felt that as well. And that's why he left number - left office with such high numbers.

CONAN: And before we leave you, Ken, it's being reported Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. resigned today in a letter to the speaker of the House. The congressman just won re-election after being largely out of sight for several months, undergoing treatment for mental illness.

RUDIN: Wow. I mean, that's breaking news here on TALK OF THE NATION. And, you know, they kept saying that he had certainly problems. There were investigations going on. And everybody was wondering whether he would show up, return to Congress in the next session. And, obviously, that's - there's your answer right there. So a special election will have to come very soon.

CONAN: And this is a solid Democratic district in Chicago. Is there any instant speculation - well, the first thing you have to speculate about is the congressman's wife, who's a politician in her own right.

RUDIN: That's right. She's a member of the city council. She's a councilmember in the Chicago City Council, and that's a possibility. But again, this is stunning, and yet not so stunning. Certainly, it's a sad news.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Ken. And, of course, the Political Junkie returns next Wednesday as he does every Wednesday on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

RUDIN: Happy Thanksgiving.

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