Frank Fights Back In Dartmouth And Delay Dances

GUESTS:
Ron Elving, NPR's senior Washington editor
Robert Kuttner, founding co-editor of The American Prospect
Al Hunt, Washington bureau chief for Bloomberg News

In this week's Political Junkie, the news includes Rep. Barney Frank's (D-MA) passionate response to a constituent at a health care town hall. Also, an argument for capitalizing on the populist anger, and a remembrance of columnist Robert Novak.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Linda Wertheimer in Washington. Neal Conan is on vacation this week, and Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor, is, too. But it's Wednesday, and the show must go on. It's time for another visit with the Political Junkie.

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.

President RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): Lipstick.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: But I'm the decider.

(Soundbite of scream)

WERTHEIMER: In just a minute, we'll turn to our guest junkie, Ron Elving, NPR's senior Washington editor, Ken Rudin's partner in podcast crime. With the Congress on the loose, we've got a lot of talk about. Those health-care town halls are still the hottest tickets in town. The president visited the not-all-that-wild West. The mayor of Milwaukee gets a Political Junkie Good Guy Citation, and the Hammer goes all light on his feet and signs up for "Dancing with the Stars."

Representative TOM DeLAY (Republican, Texas): The conservatives can let their hair down and open their collar and put on some dancing shoes so you can get out there on the floor just like the rest of them.

WERTHEIMER: Former Congressman Tom DeLay. Later this hour, we'll ask the editor of the American Prospect magazine why the left is not doing their share of the yelling in the health-care debate. Where is the rage? And we'll remember columnist Robert Novak, who died yesterday.

NPR's Ron Elving joins us here in Studio 3A, and Ron, you have a trivia question.

RON ELVING: I have a difficult trivia question, Linda, and this is what we call an organic question. It has arisen from actual head-scratching in the process of journalism.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ELVING: We all know that Kay Bailey Hutchison is leaving the Senate this fall, has not set a resignation date yet, but she's leaving in order to challenge Rick Perry, the two-term governor of Texas, her home state. He is a Republican, just like Kay Bailey Hutchison. She expected him to step aside after two terms. He is not doing it. He is seeking an unprecedented third term, so Kay Bailey is willing to leave the Senate in order to challenge him, a sitting governor of her party. When was the last time that happened?

WERTHEIMER: Okay, so if you think you know the last time a serving U.S. senator challenged a sitting governor of the same party, give us a call. Our number is 800-989-8255, and our email address is talk@npr.org.

Okay, Ron, the Congress is on recess now. Things may be quiet on the Hill, but they're not all that quiet in home districts. Last night, Democratic Representative Barney Frank attended a town hall meeting in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, and a woman there asked him why he supported health-care reform, which she called, quote, "a Nazi policy."

Representative BARNEY FRANK (Democrat, Massachusetts): When you ask me that question, I am going to revert to my ethnic heritage and answer your question with a question. On what planet do you spend most of your time?

WERTHEIMER: The woman was holding a poster with a picture of Barack Obama with a small Hitler-style moustache. Representative Frank continued.

Rep. FRANK: It is a tribute to the First Amendment that this kind of vile, contemptible nonsense is so freely propagated.

WERTHEIMER: Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts at a town hall meeting on health care yesterday in Dartmouth, Massachusetts. So Ron, what do you think?

ELVING: You know, there have been these town halls all over the country over the past couple of weeks while Congress has been home. And at many of them, there have been extraordinarily angry people with a range of angers to express, much of which has to do with health care, much of which does not. And these are people who have felt frustrated over the last seven or eight months, I suspect, as they watched the new president carrying forward his agenda, many of the elements of which they oppose. And they feel that the news media locked them out, and they can't find any place to express themselves except, perhaps, on talk radio programs or here or there. But they don't really feel represented in what they see in the media.

They don't see themselves represented in what goes on in Washington, and they're enraged. And they have been this way for quite some time. It didn't just begin this summer or back in the spring. Some of them, I think, were seen in the campaign. We heard from many of them during the campaign last fall, and they have felt squelched since then.

WERTHEIMER: Well, they do appear to be recovering from that experience. We'll talk more about that health-care debate, that kind of health-care debate, in a bit, but I wanted to ask you about President Obama's trip West, which had, of course, a lot do with health care. He had a few town hall meetings himself.

ELVING: Yes. He started, of course, earlier in the week in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. They expected that up there, in the Live Free or Die state, there would be a lot of anti-tax people, a lot of Second Amendment people who would come out to challenge the president. There were, but most of them stayed outside. They didn't have tickets for the event. And while the White House had made some sort of an effort to get more of those folks inside, the tickets had been primarily distributed to supporters, people who show up on the president's Web site looking for tickets. And that was more or less the case when they got out to Montana, in the Bozeman area later in the week on Friday, and again in Grand Junction, Colorado, on Saturday afternoon, where they had a lot of people showing up who clearly were opposed to the president.

Many of them were, in fact, actually carrying guns at a couple of these events, but they stayed in their designated areas. They didn't try to crash the program. And while the president clearly looked around the audience looking for people who might be opponents and called on several who asked some tough questions about taxes and government takeover and talked about Second Amendment rights and guns, the main theme of each of those events out West was still people wanting to get more information and people being interested in some kind of health-care changes.

WERTHEIMER: The president has another town hall meeting planned, and this one will be online.

ELVING: Yes, the president's going to take questions from people online tomorrow. And this is an increasingly popular thing for members of Congress, as well, to do. They can have teleconferences, as we're going to hear more about on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED tonight, in which they take calls from all over the country, or they take email messages, much as we do here on TALK OF THE NATION.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: Where hardly anybody holds up a poster, or maybe they do, and I just don't know about it. Don't forget that we're looking for the answer to the question about a serving U.S. senator challenging a sitting governor of the same party.

Just - let's just go back a little bit and pick up some of the threads of some other conversations. Last week, Neal and Ken talked about the Senate seat currently held by Kirsten Gillibrand in New York.

ELVING: Yes, and she was appointed to the seat, of course, just this year, when Senator Hillary Clinton resigned to become secretary of state. And she got the appointment largely through the sponsorship of the state's other senator, Chuck Schumer, and he has continued to press for her to be alone on the ballot in 2010 to hold onto the seat when she has to run for confirmation as the appointee. And there have been several other members of the large New York Democratic delegation - which is more than two dozen members now, it's a record high - and these people have come forward and said no, I think maybe someone who's more representative of the city of New York or perhaps the borough of Manhattan ought to be the Democratic nominee in 2010, rather than someone from out west of the Hudson, like Kirsten Gillibrand from upstate. But each one of them, in succession, has stepped back and said well, no, maybe not, under pressure from Chuck Schumer and under pressure from, in some cases, other people in the Obama administration calling up to say we want Kirsten Gillibrand to have a clean shot.

WERTHEIMER: Carolyn Mahoney(ph), who was a member of Congress, was the last one to step back. Anybody new coming up?

ELVING: I haven't seen anyone of note or significance stepping forward. Remember, when you're trying to run for the Senate from, you know, the state of New York, you're talking about raising not a few million dollars, not even $10 million, but tens of millions of dollars in order to be competitive in the primary and in the general election. And only a handful of candidates can conceivably do that. If they're trying to do it without the support of the national party and the state bigwigs, it's pretty much impossible.

WERTHEIMER: Okay, Ron, the trivia question: We're going to listen to some of the folks who think they may have the answer to the trivia question. Let's see, shall we try Tammy(ph), who is in Hot Springs, Arkansas? Tammy?

TAMMY (Caller): Hello.

WERTHEIMER: Hi.

ELVING: Hello, Tammy.

TAMMY: I've just got a wild guess, simply because I think he served in everything, including as our president at one point, but I think before then, he served just about every position in our government, and that's John Quincy Adams.

WERTHEIMER: Well, you're absolutely right that he did - that he was all over the place, but you're not right…

TAMMY: Oh.

WETHEIMER: …about challenging the governor of the same party.

ELVING: And, you know, being from Arkansas, Tammy, I thought for a moment you were going to refer to Bill Clinton.

TAMMY: Oh, no.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ELVING: He was our president, too, and he probably would have been willing to leave the Senate to come home and challenge a governor, but neither he nor John Quincy Adams had that in their resume.

TAMMY: Okay.

WERTHEIMER: Thank you very much, Tammy. Let's check out Phil(ph) in South Bend, Indiana. Phil, are you there?

PHIL (Caller): Yeah.

WERTHEIMER: Okay, who do you think it is?

PHIL: Lawton Chiles.

WERTHEIMER: Lawton Chiles.

ELVING: Excellent guess, excellent guess. That's a very good guess. However, what Lawton Chiles did was a little bit different. He left the Senate in 1988 unexpectedly, but voluntarily, and popped up two years later running for governor of Florida. So he left the Senate in '88 and ran for governor in Florida in 1990, and he did not have to challenge a sitting Democrat for the nomination to be governor of Florida in 1990.

PHIL: Was he a Democrat?

ELVING: Yes, he was a Democrat, and he did win 1990 and again in 1994, defeating a young fellow by the name of Jeb Bush.

WERTHEIMER: Okay, well thank you very much. I'm sorry that you didn't get it, and we're going to go next to Albert(ph) in Littleton, Colorado. Albert, there you are.

ALBERT (Caller): Hi, actually, I'm in Lake Havasu. I don't know why I said Littleton. I just moved. Anyway, I'm going…

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: So we didn't get it wrong, but you did.

ALBERT: (unintelligible) California, they - Goodwin Knight was the governor, and Knowland was the senator, and somehow they switched places, and then anyway, they got creamed by Pat Brown in 1958.

WERTHEIMER: Goodie Knight. I haven't thought about him for a long time.

ELVING: I love this guess.

ALBERT: …switched places, and…

ELVING: And it was called the big switch out in California in 1958, and this is a great guess. Senator William Knowland was the Republican leader in the Senate in 1958, and he decided he'd have a better shot at eventually being president if he were first governor of California. So he would have had to have challenged Goodwin Knight as the sitting governor of California, and they were both Republicans at the time. And he was willing to do that, but this was distressing to a number of other Republicans, including the vice president of that time, Richard Nixon, also a Californian. And Richard Nixon brokered a deal by which instead Goodwin Knight ran for the Senate, and Knowland ran for governor, and they both got licked pretty bad.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: But you win. Congratulations.

ALBERT: I won?

ELVING: Well, he's the closest we've come.

WERTHEIMER: Okay, all right.

ALBERT: Wow.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ELVING: He's the closest we've come, but it is not the answer to my question.

WERTHEIMER: Oh, I beg your pardon. Okay.

ELVING: No, they switched jobs and did not challenge.

WERTHEIMER: All right, then Ron Elving, our political junkie du jour. He's in for Ken Rudin.

Up next, health care, anger and the left. Robert Kuttner argues it's time for the president to capitalize on all that rage, and we'll talk to him in a moment. So don't go away. I'm Linda Wertheimer, and it's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

WERTHEIMER: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Linda Wertheimer in Washington. There's no Ken Rudin today. The political junkie is out on furlough, but the political machinations go on, and so does our regular segment. Ron Elving, NPR senior Washington editor, is taking the helm for us today. You can find his podcast and read his columns at npr.org. In moment, we'll remember Robert Novak, but first we're going to focus on the debate over health care and the anger that we're seeing in my town halls around the country.

Robert Kuttner is the co-editor of The American Prospect magazine. He wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post yesterday called "Rage the Left Should Use." Talking about town hall meetings, he asks: Where are the liberal protestors? We'll talk with him in a moment, and if you consider yourself part of what he calls the reformist left, how do you think the left can take back the debate?

Give us call at 800-989-8255. Drop us an email at talk@npr.org, and Bob Kuttner joins us now by telephone from his home in Western Massachusetts. Bob, thank you for your time today.

Mr. ROBERT KUTTNER (Co-Editor, The American Prospect): Oh, thanks so much for having me.

WERTHEIMER: You write: Wall Street and the abuses of corporate America crashed the economy, leaving regular people anxious and financially insecure, not to mention critical, vocal, especially in the health-care debate, but also we hear people upset about bailouts going to Wall Street. Yet the far right, and not the reformist left, is getting the political windfall. Why do you think that is?

Mr. KUTTNER: I think it's partly because of President Obama's temperament and partly because of his policies. This is a man who took office, I think, very sincerely wanting to bridge differences, wanting to change the tone of debate in America, wanting to create consensus. It's awfully hard to do that when no matter how much you compromise, the other side is out to destroy you. And secondly, his style of governing has been to try and come to accommodations with the very same powerful interests who crashed the economy: Wall Street and the health insurance industry, which is substantially responsible for the insecurity that ordinary people feel.

So instead of seeing this president as an instrument of reform, regular people are coming to see him as part of the problem, and the far right capitalizes on that.

WERTHEIMER: Do you - what do you think people are really angry about? I mean, in fact we already have a substantial amount of government health care, and most people approve of it, in the form of Medicare. You call it, in your piece in the paper, a little island of socialized medicine. Do you think it's really health care that people are upset about?

Mr. KUTTNER: Well no, I think it's part of it, but I think it's a proxy for broader economic distress. So you know, the average American right now has probably lost a lot of the money in his or her retirement savings because of the financial collapse, may be at risk of losing his or her home, has lost a lot of equity in their home through no fault of their own, is at risk of losing their job, at risk of losing their health insurance.

People are very frightened. People are insecure and not quite sure who to blame. So the political far right is on the march. The number of people who have confronted congressmen and -women at these rallies is a very small number of Americans, but they get a lot of play in the media, and this becomes a kind of lightening rod. It becomes a way of articulating the anger, the mistrust, the unease that people feel. And if unlike, say, Roosevelt, Obama is not mobilizing that anger to really defeat the special interests, that anger is going to turn on him.

WERTHEIMER: So how should he do that, do you think? Should liberals become more vocal generally? Should people stand up and start shouting at these meetings, or would that just mean that the whole thing looks even more ridiculous than it already looks?

Mr. KUTTNER: Well, you asked exactly the right question. I have two responses. First of all, I would be much happier if the president were saying Wall Street is the problem instead of throwing $1 trillion at bailing out Wall Street. I would be a lot happier if this president were putting $75 billion into direct relief for mortgage holders who are at risk of being foreclosed upon instead of giving that $75 billion to banks as a kind of incentive payment to modify mortgages.

I would be a lot happier if this president were saying, you know, if you are feeling insecure, if you're worried about death panels, if you're worried about some people who you have no control over, deciding what treatments you get and what treatments you don't get and whether insurance is affordable and whether you have a pre-existing condition, the people you ought to be mad at are the HMOs, not the government.

WERTHEIMER: Okay.

Mr. KUTTNER: Because the most secure form of health care right now is Medicare.

But instead, Obama's tactic has been to try and cut a deal with the health insurance industry. It's absolutely bizarre that the health insurance industry is running commercials saying support the Obama plan.

If I were advising him, I would say take the case to the people, and make it clear that the problem, not the solution, is the power and the policies - in both senses of the word - of the private insurance industry.

WERTHEIMER: Okay.

Mr. KUTTNER: Because he's equivocated, the public is not sure who to blame.

WERTHEIMER: Ron Elving, the president did try, at one point, to sort of demonize the industry, to talk about the insurance industry as a very big part of the problem. It didn't seem to catch, somehow.

ELVING: They did try to start saying health insurance reform instead of health-care reform. That does not seem to have caught, and everyone is already addicted to the other phrase. Also, the president has not really moved the insurance companies out of their current position. Even the public option, which was only a competitor as opposed to a successor to the current private insurance model, has now been to some degree undercut. It's not clear if the administration is going to fight for a public option in the bill.

So if that's the case, and we don't know what kind of competition is going to be set up against the private insurance model, then perhaps the private insurance model is going to prevail here. It gets a little hard to rail against them if you're going to let them remain in place.

Mr. KUTTNER: Well, exactly.

WERTHEIMER: Okay, now, Bob, Ron, we're going to go to a caller. This is Nancy(ph). She's in Berkeley, California, and I understand that you have been at a town hall meeting.

NANCY (Caller): I was at a town hall meeting in Alameda, California, on Saturday. There were 150 people. There were hundreds and hundreds of people who couldn't get in. We were all given numbers. Pete Stark, wonderful, wonderful man…

WERTHEIMER: And a California liberal.

NANCY: Yes, yes. And he, you know, he's 70, and he is sharp and witty and patient. Out of 150 people in the chamber, there were six crazies - and I mean crazies. One was a Lyndon LaRouche supporter.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NANCY: One was a survivalist. One was a young woman, actually an African-American.

WERTHEIMER: Well, so how did it all work?

NANCY: Well, it worked very well. Everybody, except these five people, were in favor of single-payer. Everybody that - we were all given numbers, and everybody whose number was called had a chance to talk, and Pete Stark even listened, you know, let these crazies talk. And when they got out of line and started talking out of turn, us wonderful liberals, instead of screaming, we all clapped.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NANCY: And we clapped until they sat down and shut up, so…

WERTHEIMER: So you think that kind of thing has, it does have a chance of working, a sort of gentle challenge?

NANCY: Yes. And he said that he had been in Fremont and San Leandro before he came to us, and he said that, you know, 95 percent of the people were, you know, in favor of the plan - were in favor, of, you know, single-payer, but of course, this is Northern California.

WERTHEIMER: Right.

NANCY: Thank heavens for Northern California.

WERTHEIMER: Well, Nancy…

NANCY: And I just wanted to say I think Obama is a coward. And I am furious that he has not stood up for what he said in the campaign, and to hell with the Republicans is my, my…

WERTHEIMER: Well now, taking a very tough line there in Berkeley, California, but Bob Kuttner, I think she's expressing some of the same things you have. But before you come back in, I want to talk to Steve(ph), who is in South Bend, Indiana. Steve, are you there?

STEVE (Caller): Yeah, I'm here. I went to - I've been to a health-care forum, and I think the difference is that those of us in favor of reform are not doing - wouldn't use those tactics, and therefore, we're not getting as much media play. That's number one.

But it was evenly split, for the most part, in a very swing district of a Democratic representative. But I think we take it back by doing exactly what we're doing, which is a lot behind the scenes. And that is lining up votes in the House for the public option, getting a commitment from our representatives and senators and then holding them to it. And that's pretty much the stand, I think, that's been taken that isn't - only recently getting reported.

WERTHEIMER: So that's political activism of a quieter sort?

STEVE: Absolutely, and I think that's the reasonable way to approach it. We're not going to be yelling at meetings and taking over and obstructing the rights of others to speak up because I support the right of anyone to gather at meeting and speak their mind as long as they don't interfere.

WERTHEIMER: Okay. Let's pick up one more caller here. And this is Barbara(ph) in Medford, Oregon. Barbara, you have some thoughts on how this ought to work?

BARBARA (Caller): Absolutely. I think the pro-reforms folks need to loudly call out the lies that are being spun out by Red Meat Radio. I think their mode of operation is if you can't beat them, cheat them. And so, they'll cheat them through lies and spinning the untruth.

WERTHEIMER: So, to just keep countering, as counterpunching as this thing goes on, is that the idea?

BARBARA: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, Read Meat Radio is spinning out so much false information that they, you know, they just keep on hearing it and they need to hear the correct information.

WERTHEIMER: Okay. Thank you very much, Barbara of Medford, Oregon. Before we leave this subject, I do want to - before we, I should say, leave off of our conversation with the Political Junkie, Ron, I want to ask you about the trivia question. Did we ever settle it?

ELVING: We have…

WERTHEIMER: I thought we have.

ELVING: …found some interesting cases from the past, including that 1958 California case that was such a great story. But it was not a case of someone actually leaving the Senate to challenge a sitting governor of his own party. The closest we can find to that, going back - and I've spoken to the associate Senate historian about this, and he's puzzling about it too.

The closest we can find for a precedent to what Kay Bailey Hutchinson is doing in Texas, would be Jon Corzine four years ago, wanting to be governor of New Jersey, being in the Senate at that time, and being willing, apparently, to challenge the acting governor who never left his job as Senate president there in New Jersey, Richard Cordey(ph) - Codey rather. And he's still on that job today, I believe. And Richard Codey did not actually run for governor in 2005. He was acting governor for awhile after Jim McGreevey resigned, remember, after owning up to having an affair with a man and leaving the office.

So, Corzine never had to directly challenge Codey for that particularly office. And he might have been willing to but technically it wasn't necessary. So, we are looking for a precedent, and we are really eager to see if any of our callers can come up with one around the country and all the history of the United States in the 50 states.

WERTHEIMER: Okay. Thanks very much, Ron.

And Robert Kuttner who is the co-editor of the American Prospect magazine. Thank you very much for joining us.

You can find a link to Mr. Kuttner's piece on - in the Washington Post called "Rage the Left Should Use." We've put it up on our Web site at npr.org.

Bob Kuttner, thank you very much for joining us.

Mr. KUTTNER: Thanks so much for having me.

WERTHEIMER: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And we're back. We're back with Ron Elving. And we're going to be joined in just a few minutes by Al Hunt of the - who is the Washington bureau chief of the - of Bloomberg News. Al Hunt is an old friend of Robert Novak.

Columnist Robert Novak died yesterday, a year after being diagnosed with brain cancer. He wrote the Inside Report column and a political newsletter with Rowland Evans who also is dead. Novak was a frequent guest on cable news programs, the "Capital Gang," "Crossfire." It was in 2003, in one of his columns, that Novak revealed Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA operative. And that triggered a criminal investigation into the link - into the leak.

Al Hunt, the Washington bureau chief of Bloomberg News, as I said, was a longtime friend of Novak's. And he is kind enough to join us now from a studio at Bloomberg. Al, good to have you with us on TALK OF THE NATION.

Mr. AL HUNT (Bureau chief, Bloomberg, Washington): Nice to be here, Linda. Thank you.

WERTHEIMER: And I'm very sorry that you've lost a good friend.

Mr. HUNT: I have and a dear friend. He had a great run though, didn't he?

WERTHEIMER: He certainly did. His trajectory was sort of started in a traditional manner at the Associated Press. You work - did you work with him when he was at the Wall Street Journal?

Mr. HUNT: No. I came to the Journal Washington bureau about six years after he had left. But one of the things I did in 1972, I was assigned - I was in my 20s, actually. I was assigned to cover what was a great beat at the Wall Street Journal of the Senate Finance Committee and the House Committee on Ways and Means.

And I went into the office one Saturday - this is of course well before computers - and I looked through these big Manila clips we had every year, of stories, and I noticed the tax file would be thick in 1967, '66, '65. And suddenly, I got back to '63 and '62 and it was about twice as big. And that's because that was the time that Bob Novak covered those committees. And I spent literally, literally, about seven or eight hours on a Saturday afternoon reading all about Novak's clips. And I'll tell you, he was one heck of a reporter.

WERTHEIMER: Well - and I think that's the way we all remember him, as one heck of a reporter. I - What about the column, the Inside Report, and the political newsletter? Where they influential? Who read them?

Mr. HUNT: Well, certainly the conservative movement read them over the last 20 or 25 years. And if you have a column that runs several times a week in Washington Post, that gives you a great venue. It was read mainly by insiders. That's what he intended it for. I agreed with about 4.7 percent of the columns he wrote.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HUNT: But I thought that about 90 percent were interesting. And as a columnist, I can say it's a pretty good percentage.

WERTHEIMER: Uh-huh. Now, what about that Valerie Plame column? He was very much criticized for that. That was one of the last big things that happened.

Mr. HUNTER: I think he got a bit of a bum wrap. I'm not sure that I would have written that column. I've talked to Bob about this, I suspect I would not have. However, I found it really quite offensive when some people, predominantly liberals, suddenly became anti-First Amendment types and saying that Bob should have to reveal his sources and that it was clearly a White House plant. Well, most leaks are plants, of one sort or another, and they can be good stories or bad stories or good columns or bad columns.

But I think there was a more fundamental issue involved and, of course, it ended up that it was not primarily a White House leak, but Rich Armitage, who was not a Bush-ee, over at the State Department. I wasn't crazy about the column, but I thought he took a lot of unfair criticism.

WERTHEIMER: I remember you were part of a tiny tight little group of basketball fans with Novak. Are those, do you think, maybe your favorite memories of him?

MR. HUNT: Well, doing a show - I did a thousand programs with Bob Novak…

WERTHEIMER: Right.

MR. HUNT: …actually, more than a thousand. And I'm sure some of those were my favorites. But we love going to basketball games together or talking about basketball. And, Linda, I can say really that we rarely agreed on basketball, so it was nice to have a consistency about our disagreement.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: Thank you very much, Al.

MR. HUNT: Thank you, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: Al Hunt is the Washington bureau chief for Bloomberg News and a longtime friend of columnist Robert Novak who died yesterday of brain cancer.

Ron Elving, who has been with us in the studio for the Political Junkie, joined us. Thanks very much, Ron.

ELVING: Thank you, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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