A Tough Week To Be A Democrat

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President Barack Obama Saturday criticized a Supreme Court decision which removes limits on corporate campaign donations. Guest host Audie Cornish speaks with NPR news analyst Juan Williams about Republican Scott Brown's Senate race win in Massachusetts and the Court's controversial decision.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

President Barack Obama today criticized a Supreme Court decision which removes limits on corporate campaign donations.

President BARACK OBAMA: When this ruling came down, I instructed my administration to get to work immediately with members of Congress willing to fight for the American people to develop a forceful bipartisan response to this decision. We've begun this work, and it will be a priority for us until weve repaired the damage that has been done.

CORNISH: That's the president today speaking in his weekly address. And we're joined now by NPR News analyst Juan Williams. Juan, what's your impression of the Supreme Court's ruling?

JUAN WILLIAMS: Well, you know, to me, this is one of those where you just watch the faces of the Supreme Court justices. And John Paul Stevens' dissent in this case, I dont know how many people heard it but it was one of the most passionate, heartfelt, I mean, this is an old man speaking in a halting voice and saying that this is a violation of the integrity of the electoral process.

Of course, the other side of the argument, which carried the day from the conservatives, said the corporations are to be treated to individuals and individuals have free speech rights, and any attempt to limit their free speech is censorship.

So, what we see now is the door open, and the question is how far will the corporations and the unions go and where are the limits? They can contribute now to campaigns but not to candidates. And the question up in the air is about soft money that would go specifically to the parties.

And it just looks like for the moment, there would be no reason to imagine there would be any limits. And that's why you see the Democrats in the Congress trying to act quickly now to get some legislation in place before the midterms. I dont know if they'll be able to do it.

CORNISH: So, back in the 2008 election, most independent voters in Massachusetts backed President Barack Obama. But this week, they fueled Scott Brown's Senate win. How do you characterize the race?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think the key thing here is, first of all, to note that the state is heavily Democratic - it's three-to-one - but the largest sector of that electorate is independent. It's also that on so many issues, I think the liberal side of the Democratic electorate didn't turn out. It was a different electorate that voted in this election than the one that voted for Barack Obama.

And then you start to look at things like people who were discontented by the fact that there's no public option in the health care bill. There are people who are upset at President Obama for sending troops to Afghanistan, people who expected big changes and who just are not energized by the first year of Barack Obama. And I think that allowed then the more conservative independent voters and Republicans and tea party activists to really carry the day.

CORNISH: And you mentioned health care there. I mean, that overall legislation is, obviously, in question. What options do the Democrats have left?

WILLIAMS: Well, the number one option would be to try to get the Senate bill approved by the House. But Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi says right now she doesn't see that as realistic. So, what you get as a measure from both White House and Democratic leadership on the Hill is let's take a break.

CORNISH: I was going to ask about that, Juan, because, you know, in relationships sometimes when someone says, let's take a break, it actually means you're getting dumped.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WILLIAMS: Audie, I don't want to know about your life here but...

(Soundbite of laughter)

WILLIAMS: ...I mean, I think you're onto something that's a political truth that Democrats hold there. Which is that while some Republicans, including Scott Brown, the new senator from Massachusetts, say, oh, let's start anew, Democrats don't believe that Republicans really want anything to get done and that all that talk is just rhetoric to try to satisfy the fact that - or speak to the idea that most Americans want some kind of health care reform. They just are unhappy with the current form of the bill as it had come to be embodied in the packages in the House and Senate.

CORNISH: NPR News analyst Juan Williams. Juan, thank you for speaking with us.

WILLIAMS: My pleasure.

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