Iraq, Gonzales Still Prove Problematic for Bush
LIANE HANSEN, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.
It's been another tough week for the White House. In Iraq, casualties continue on the pace that made April the deadliest month of the year for U.S. troops. President Bush vetoed the bill Congress sent to him that would've funded the war through the next several months, because it says he should start to bring the troops home as of October. Now, the president is waiting for Congress to send a version of the funding bill he can sign, while Congress tries to decide what it can stomach. Overshadowed by all of these are the other issues struggling for a moment in the sun.
NPR senior Washington editor, Ron Elving, joins us. Ron, for months, the conventional wisdom has been that the Democrats in Congress eventually will climb down and give the president the money. Is that still the assumption?
RON ELVING: It is at the White House and in the military and among Republicans in general. But Liane, among Democrats, not so much. The Democrats in Congress are increasingly sensitive to the activists' voices that they're hearing from outside Washington - in their districts, and in their mail, and in their phone logs, and particularly on Internet blogs.
HANSEN: So, is it expected that the White House and the Hill are - can work something out this week?
ELVING: It's possible, but it's not inevitable. The president has designated his chief of staff, that's Josh Bolten, and his National Security adviser, Steve Hadley, and they're doing the negotiating for him. The Senate team is the elected leaders of the two parties there. The House team is led by the chief appropriators. But what's really messing here is the will to deal, and we're not seeing that from either side.
The president is as dug in as ever. And when you listen to the Democrats, well, out on the campaign trail John Edwards is saying that Democrats should send the same timetable back to the White House again and again and again, and make him veto it every time. That's not a formula for compromise.
HANSEN: There's a new iron in this particular fire, the idea of resending the authorization Congress granted for the war in October 2002. Can you elaborate on that a bit?
ELVING: I think that's an idea that's going to get more popular in the weeks ahead. Hillary Clinton jumped on it right away as a way of repudiating her vote for the war in 2002, without calling that vote a mistake or apologizing for it. And so that's an attractive alternative for her. I think some of the other candidates will go along with it as well.
HANSEN: Explain the difference between defunding the war and deauthorizing it.
ELVING: Well, Congress does it work in two phases. One is the granting of legal authority and the other is actual funding for the war. And of course, both of them are important. But as a practical matter, what really matters is getting that money out there to the troops. So that's really where Congress has its maximum leverage.
HANSEN: What has all of this doing to the opportunities for cooperation and progress on other issues like education, for example, or immigration?
ELVING: You know, it's an enormous obstacle. The No Child Left Behind Bill, which was an early symbol of cooperation between Congress and the president, is very much in the balance. And immigration - that was thought to be the best opportunity for the two parties and the two branches to work together in this second Bush term since the Democrats took over Congress, and that's really been hobbled by a lack of trust.
This week, the Senate majority leader hopes to bring some kind of an immigration bill to the floor in the Senate, but we don't know that they really have a package deal yet. It's probably just a chance to get it back in the public eye.
HANSEN: There are other irritants in this relationship between White House and Congress. No week seems to go by without more conflict over Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
ELVING: Indeed. And this week won't be any exception as it looks right now. He is coming before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday. They could be even rougher on him than the Senate Judiciary Committee was last month. And we also have a probe going on inside the Justice Department to see how much politicizing of the choosing of prosecutors was going on; how much they had to be a certain kind of Republican to get the job.
So it's probably going to be another rough week on the Gonzales front as well.
HANSEN: With all of these challenges, it must not be easy for the White House, particularly its political shop these days. I mean, they have to watch now all the Republican candidates for 2008, putting distance between themselves and President Bush.
ELVING: Yes. In that debate last week, you heard Ronald Reagan mentioned dozens of times, while the candidates were treating the current Republican president as if though he were some kind of political untouchable. That has to be bitterly painful and amazing to the White House political staff, given how sure they were two years ago that this was going to be an era of Republican realignment for the country behind the leadership of George W. Bush.
HANSEN: I want to ask you about one more thing, because in the midst of all of this tension in Washington, there was a moment of relief - maybe you could call it comic relief - when the ballyhooed story about the D.C. madam turned out to be dud.
ELVING: Well, it was certainly a dud on ABC's "20/20" show, Friday night. Now, the alleged madam says she has given her telephone logs to some investigators who specialize in going back into previous administrations. So we may have some more news about this in the future. And we may find these logs in the hands of people who have different standards of what's newsworthy, than what ABC apparently had.
HANSEN: NPR senior political editor, Ron Elving. Ron, thanks a lot.
ELVING: Thank you, Liane.
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