This Week In Politics: Democrats Riled
SCOTT SIMON, host:
Busy week for Democrats in Washington, D.C. Our friend, NPR News analyst John -oh, John - Juan Williams joins us. Good morning, Juan.
JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Scott.
SIMON: Sorry about that mouthful. Did the Republicans take the week off?
WILLIAMS: Well, they might as well have in some ways. You know, the Republicans at the moment can best be described as sort of a rear guard political action at best. The key political fights that took place this week in Washington all are about Democratic initiatives; for instance, the White House looking at stress tests on banks or trying to pick a Supreme Court nominee, reacting to unemployment numbers yesterday, and Wall Street's pickup in terms of their performance.
And of course then Democrats sort of squabbling over Senator Arlen Specter and whether or not the senator from Pennsylvania's transfer from one party to another also then transfers his seniority from the Republican to Democratic caucus.
So Republicans are on the sidelines in almost all of the action.
SIMON: Yeah, Republicans have denounced Senator Specter as what amounts to he's always been a Democrat in Republican clothing and now Democrats are saying, no, no, he's still a Republican and voting that way.
SIMON: But what about Democratic opposition to the president's proposed budget cuts?
WILLIAMS: Very interesting. President Obama's White House is trying to take just 17 billion, Scott, out of a $3.4 trillion budget for 2010. So this is one half of one percent. It's really miniscule. But it's interesting nonetheless, because again, what you see is opposition forming among the Democrats to the president's initiative - in this case the budget cuts.
For instance, Maurice Hinchey, the Congressman from New York, saying, no, you've got to build that new helicopter for President Obama, even though it costs $835 million, which is what the White House is trying to cut. Or Dianne Feinstein out of California saying, oh no, we insist on being reimbursed for jailing illegal immigrants. Or Mike Ross from Arkansas saying there can't be any cuts in farm subsidies; farmers depend on these federal subsidies.
So the opposition is coming from Democrats who are saying we want to protect these spending packages as we go forward, not so much from Republicans.
SIMON: Who and what are some of the winners and losers you noticed in the proposed budget?
WILLIAMS: Well, I think one big thing that stands out is that Afghanistan now gets more funding for its military effort, the U.S. military effort there, than Iraq does. This is the first time that's ever happened - 65 billion for Afghanistan versus about 60 billion for Iraq.
And then you'll notice another winner here, it's interesting, Scott, is teachers, America's teachers. As a clear statement of policy now, the Obama administration is trying to make more money available for merit pay for teachers, teachers who have a proven record of success with students. So it's money available there. It's money available for Great Lakes cleanup, money available - more money available for food safety, especially after all the trouble we've had.
SIMON: Yeah. CIA report says that Nancy Pelosi was among the top Congressional leaders briefed in 2002 on the use of harsh interrogation methods - report was leaked. Will there be questions about what Speaker Pelosi and other Democratic leaders knew and when they knew it?
WILLIAMS: Well, yeah, exactly, and that's what this is all about. The suggestion being that in fact when she was briefed in September of 2002 - this is a year after 9/11 - she was told about the use of enhanced interrogation techniques and specific against Abu Zubaydah, one of the three CIA prisoners who was subjected to waterboarding.
Her initial response - Nancy Pelosi's response - was to say, I knew this might be used, and it was in the realm of possibility, but she said didn't realize that it had been used, and - it had been used. But I think, Scott, the larger picture here is Republicans trying to build a case that those who were briefed should be held responsible as well as those who Democrats are interested in probing for having written those memos that offer a legal rationalization for the use of what we now view as torture.
SIMON: I really need your shrewd political analysis. President and vice president had hamburgers for lunch - Ray's Hell's Burgers in Arlington, Virginia. The president reportedly had Dijon mustard. Is this kind - is this a signal to the Sarkozy government? To try and get them to commit more troops to Afghanistan, the French government?
WILLIAMS: I hadn't realized that. What happens then if he bought a pizza in Chicago, Scott?
SIMON: If he bought a pizza? He went to - he got one delivered from St. Louis. Could you imagine?
WILLIAMS: Imagine how a guy from Brooklyn feels about this.
SIMON: A Chicagoan gets in the White House and pizza from St. Louis.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIMON: All right. NPR News analyst Juan Williams. Thanks so much.
WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Scott.
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