Week in Review: Iraq Funding Compromise

This week in Washington the political action centered on funding for the Iraq war and changes to United States immigration law. Also, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards continues to face questions about the contrast between his wealth and his political message about helping the poor.

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JOHN YDSTIE, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Scott Simon is away. I'm John Ydstie.

This week, a war-funding bill is passed by Democrats, but Democrats lost the fight over deadlines for troop withdrawals. Struggles over an immigration bill continued, and Democrats scored victories in ethics perform and a minimum wage increase.

Dan Schorr is off this week, so NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams joins us. Good morning, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, John.

YDSTIE: A war-funding bill has passed both Houses on Thursday, but without the timetable for withdrawing troops Iraq. How big a loss for the Democrats?

WILLIAMS: Well, the president got the funding bill he wanted and beat back those demands for a deadline. But the Democratic leadership, John, in both the House and Senate are holding a strong political position, and this has come from both Republicans and Democrats.

Here is why. The war issue is still alive. It's very much alive. And this week, a New York Times/CBS poll show the public is more negative about the war than ever. And what you get is that the polls also show that close to 70 percent of the public, though want some, kind of, funding for the troops with benchmarks (unintelligible).

So that means the Democratic leadership in Congress is really in line with the American public. They allowed the funding to get through even if you have people like Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and the odd position of voting against the bill that she has allowed through.

You know, in terms of the presidential candidates, people like Senator Clinton, Senator Obama, Senator Dodd, all voted against it. So they are flying the flag establishing that they are opposed to this war. And President Bush and the GOP have ownership of an unpopular war. Even President Bush is trying to downplay expectations for any improvement.

YDSTIE: Yeah. He suggested that in his press conference from the Rose Garden on Thursday. Let's listen to him.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: We're going to expect heavy fighting in the weeks and months. We can expect more American and Iraqi casualties.

YDSTIE: Pretty ominous.

WILLIAMS: Yeah. So the president is predicting more violence and this morning, as New York Times reports, White House officials are looking at a possible 50 percent cut in U.S. troops next year.

YDSTIE: The president suggested at his news conference so that he may be revisiting the Baker-Hamilton report.

WILLIAMS: Yeah. He must have stumbled over coffee in the White House library. You know, this is the report that they were disparaging not so long ago.

YDSTIE: Yeah.

WILLIAMS: I think it's a sign of how, you know, they are troubled and they are looking for options.

YDSTIE: The Senate also started a debate on the immigration bill this week. They're under pressure from interest groups on both sides of the issue. How does it play on both sides of the aisle?

WILLIAMS: Well, obviously, it's a key issue for Republicans especially given the kind of animist to the idea of offering any legal path, so-called amnesty for illegal immigrants already in the country.

There were two key votes on the bill this week, John, that indicate, though, it has a chance to gain approval in the Senate. There was a vote to keep the guest worker program that allows immigrants to come into the country and work for two-year periods. They have no path to citizenship and that's caused alarm bells to go off for unions who worry that that program will create a class of workers with no rights and also depress wages.

And then there was a vote to keep a provision allowing illegal immigrants now in the country to become citizens, that's what you were talking about. So - but you know, there are some victories for the Democrats. This week, the House passed a pair of ethics bills on Thursday.

YDSTIE: Right.

WILLIAMS: And Congress passed the first minimum wage increase in 10 years. We'll take - it goes from $2.10 to $7.25 an hour.

YDSTIE: A little discomfort for Hillary Clinton. A leaked memo from her campaign suggests that she might skip the Iowa caucuses. According to the polls, she's behind John Edwards in Iowa and Barack Obama. Does skipping Iowa make sense?

WILLIAMS: Well, it's the new world, John. I mean, look at what's happening. I mean, obviously, 13, I think, it's 13 or 14 last nominees have won Iowa, so you'll think, hey, you have to get into Iowa. But in the new world, the Iowa caucus is on January 14th; New Hampshire primary, the 22nd; a week later, Florida; then, 20 states on February 5th, so why invest so much time and money in Iowa if you're having a national primary coming up? Why wouldn't you save your money for all the advertising that's needed in those big states? And that's exactly the point that was made in a memo by Mike Henry, who is Mrs. Clinton's deputy campaign manager. She rejected the idea, but you can't say it doesn't make sense.

YDSTIE: Mm-hmm. Yeah. And John Edwards has gotten into a little trouble. He was paid $55,000, it turns out, last year to give a speech on poverty at the University of California Davis.

WILLIAMS: You know, that's an odd time because his speech, I think, was the best speech of the last campaign - his speech about the two Americans. But here he is, $55,000 for his speech on poverty, $400 haircuts, and then it was reported he got half a million dollars cap from a hedge fund that he said he was just visiting to study economic issues. So for the guy who said he's so concerned about poverty, he's doing pretty well.

YDSTIE: Mm-hmm. NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams. Thanks very much, Juan.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, John.

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