Iraq Spending, Debate Dominate Week's Hot Topics

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The Iraq spending bill and Thursday's debate by Republican presidential candidates formed the basis of serious political discussions this week, and then there was the titillating topic of the so-called D.C. Madam.


This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Alex Chadwick.


And I'm Madeleine Brand.

Senator Hillary Clinton has never apologized for voting to authorize the Iraq war five years ago. Today, though, a sort of apology or at least a repudiation. She wants to withdraw the authorization for the war. Senator Clinton is co-sponsoring a bill with West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd that would do just that.

Joining us now, as he does every week, is NPR's senior correspondent Juan Williams. Hi, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Hello, Madeleine.

BRAND: Well, what exactly are Clinton and Byrd proposing here?

WILLIAMS: Well, it would be sort of a sunset on the authorization, 2002, that gave the president the right to go to war in Iraq. Now, the issue here - and both Byrd and Clinton are on Armed Services and it really comes out of that nexus of connections - is wait a second, if we're displeased with the way that the war has been conducted, why don't we simply go back and remove the authorization that allows the president to go forward rather than get involved in the ongoing negotiations over funding for the war. They're looking for just another mechanism to make a statement.

They're also making, I think though, a political statement, in a large part a response to the fact that Mrs. Clinton, as you pointed out in the introduction, voted to give the president that authorization to go to war and has never apologized. It's an issue for her on the campaign trail. Now she'll be able to say, if this goes forward, that she has voted to try to remove that authorization from the president's hand.

BRAND: So it's no accident that this comes at the end of a week where there was a veto over the spending bill, a failure to override that veto, and just a lot of talk about continued funding for this war.

WILLIAMS: No. It's a lot of posturing, to put it bluntly, because the president can veto this as well, Madeleine.

BRAND: Right.

WILLIAMS: So what this comes down to is making a statement and it think it's a statement that Mrs. Clinton wants to make. By the way, lots of other presidential contenders are jumping of saying, wait a second, we proposed something similar but nobody ever acted at on it? But now Mrs. Clinton, with Senator Byrd's support, is trying to get it put on the floor for a vote.

BRAND: Okay. Turning now to the Republicans and to last night's debate, how did they compare with the Democrats last week?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, that's so interesting to me, because the Democrats clearly, if you look at the leading candidates there - Mrs. Clinton, Barack Obama - they had a need to assert that they could be tough in a time of war on terror, I think also to go against the kind of stereotypes that would apply to a female candidate, to an African-American candidate, as being overly concerned with social issues, potentially soft on foreign policy and on military issues.

Here you saw the Republicans come forward and the dominant issue of the night had to do not so much I think with the war as with values, in specific Roe v. Wade abortion issues, especially in the aftermath of the recent Supreme Court decision.

So what you saw was Rudy Giuliani saying, it's okay if the court was to overturn Roe v. Wade. But no, he still believes in a woman's right to choose. Similarly on stem cell research, you saw a number of the candidates trying to dance an odd dance. It seems to me that there's a great deal of discomfort among sort of doctrinaire conservatives with this group because their values don't always match up with the rhetoric that would please the far right.

BRAND: Finally, Juan, let's get to the real talk of Washington this week. And I'm talking about the world's oldest profession. This is Deborah Jeane Palfrey, the alleged Washington Madam, and her telephone records, which have a long list of names allegedly. What's going there? Is that the talk of the town?

WILLIAMS: It is the talk of - you know what, it's the talk of every cocktail hour this week, Madeleine. And it's interesting. It's everywhere. You just can't go somewhere and get away from it because everyone's like, well, do you think, do you think, do you think? And I think the direction has been moving more towards the idea that this could be another sort of Jack Abramoff-style scandal in which you see that women prostitutes here or call girls were given to people as part of lobbying efforts, part of efforts to, you know, persuade people to do things on Capitol Hill. So that's the direction of the talk.

All of it, of course, directed at an ABC News report that will air tonight on their "20/20" program. And the question is how many names will actually be named or will the names be held out and the potential kind of damage be done going forward.

BRAND: Well, I know what I'm doing tonight.

WILLIAMS: Oh, yeah? You're going to watch?

BRAND: Oh, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WILLIAMS: I didn't know you were that kind of person, Madeleine.

BRAND: Who isn't?

WILLIAMS: Oh, my gosh. National Enquirer.

BRAND: We're not above that sort of thing here at NPR. Okay.

WILLIAMS: All right.

BRAND: NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams. Thanks, Juan.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Madeleine.

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