The Week Ahead in Politics

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This week, unofficial presidential candidate Fred Thompson will announce his second-quarter fundraising numbers and Congress will go on vacation. We discuss the Thompson announcement and what Congress will try to do before it takes a break.

ALEX COHEN, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Cohen.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

I'm Alex Chadwick.

In Washington this week, Congress wraps up its work before leaving on a one-month summer recess.

COHEN: The last week before recess usually means a flurry of activity. And with the Democrats in charge this summer, they're trying to put together something to brag about when they get home.

NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving joins us to talk about the week ahead. Welcome, Ron.

RON ELVING: Hello, Alex.

COHEN: So, we're coming to the end of the first seven months of the Democratic majority. Congress has just about five days to end with a bang. What do they have in store?

ELVING: They're going to try everything they can, in a short period of time, to improve the impression that they've left in those first seven months, Alex, because, as you know, the polls have been abysmal. They've been down on the 20s in some polls, down in the teens in some polls, running below President Bush in approval from the public, and I think there are a lot of reasons for that. People are mostly upset that Congress hasn't been able to turn the situation around in Iraq. So they're going to try to have a list of things they can tick off when they get back and talk to their constituents.

Last week in the House they finished the Farm Bill. They want to talk about that. This week they're turning to energy. They're going to have a number of things they want to do there to put pressure on oil companies and also to try to improve energy supplies in the country with ideas like the liquefaction of coal, which is a great idea, since the United States is the Saudi Arabia of coal. They're going turn to their ethics and lobbying overhaul, put some limits on former members becoming lobbyists too quickly after they've been in Congress. And they are going to turn to children's health insurance, which is a very popular issue on which they're at odds with the president. And probably both the House and Senate will renew the children's health insurance program that's run by the states called SCHIP.

COHEN: And speaking of at odds with the president, what about Iraq? Are they going to charge you anything there?

ELVING: This week they're going to - in the House - approve an amendment to a defense bill that would require a longer period of rest for both active duty and reserve troops when they come back from Iraq - to stay home longer. They are also going to try to put a requirement on the Defense Department to show the plans for bringing the troops home.

These are things, of course, the administration opposes, but it's another chance for them to signal their differences with the president on this one issue that is really leading to a lot of dissatisfaction among the people who voted for these Democrats back in November.

COHEN: Let's hope they're stocked up on coffee. That is a whole lot to take care of in just five days. Do you think it's going to be possible, even if they do get all that done, is it going to be enough to really change their image?

ELVING: I don't think they're going to satisfy people who really expected this Congress to be able to put a stop to the war in Iraq - to absolutely bring the troops home. That may never have been realistic, given that the president is pursuing his policy just as he always has and has not been willing to negotiate with this Congress any kind of new policy in Iraq.

And so the Democrats are trying as a bare majority in the House and Senate to reverse a wartime policy. There really isn't a lot of precedent for that happening in just a matter of months. It's going to take a longer period of time.

COHEN: Let's switch gears here for a moment, Ron. On the presidential fund, any big news to watch for this week?

ELVING: On the presidential front, I think the thing we're most watching for this week is a number from the exploratory committee of Fred Thompson. Now, of course he's a candidate for the Republican nomination for president but not an official one. He hasn't declared. He was going to do it in July then he was going to do it in August, now it's been put off into September. And we're waiting to see if his exploratory committee hit that $5 million number that they put out there as a target for their fundraising up to the first or the end of July.

If they don't, then a lot of questions are going to be asked about the Thompson campaign. Is he really serious? Is he working it hard? And how much have they been hurt by the turmoil internally that led to the change of leadership? Last week we saw with a campaign manager turning over and with a lot of other people leaving this task - some key campaigners, and a lot of questions being raised about the role of the candidate's wife, Jeri, who is apparently playing a very important role in running that campaign.

COHEN: NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Thanks so much, Ron.

ELVING: Thank you, Alex.

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