Politicians Increase Visibility as Congress Prepares for Recess

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Congress is headed for its summer break, and the Democratic candidates may be headed for another confrontation. Blogger Faye Anderson and Carl Jeffers with the Seattle Times discuss the week in politics.

CHERYL CORLEY, host:

It's time for a look back at the week in politics. Congress is heading for its summer break, and the Democratic candidates may be headed for another confrontation. Illinois Senator Barack Obama spoke out about foreign policy, and New York Senator Hillary Clinton opened up a bigger lead in a new poll. Joining us to talk about it is political blogger Faye Anderson. She is with us from NPR's New York Bureau. Also with us is Carl Jeffers. He is a contributing editor to the Seattle Times and Huffington Post Online. He is with us by phone from Seattle. Welcome to the program.

Mr. CARL JEFFERS (Contributing Editor, Seattle Times and Huffington Post Online): Hi. Good to be here.

FAYE ANDERSON: Thank you. Good to be here.

CORLEY: Faye, let's begin with you. Congress begins its summer break next week. Members are headed home to their constituents. Are Congressional Democrats going to get a warm welcome?

ANDERSON: I rather doubt it. I think the Pew Research poll that was released yesterday says it all: the summer of discontent in Washington. Speaker Pelosi was on PBS last night, and she talked about the House's achievements. She rattled off a series of bills that were passed in the House. The fact is, of all the bills that she listed - whether it's implementation of 9/11 Commission recommendations, the farm bill - only one has been enacted into law, and that's the minimum wage bill. I think Americans want real accomplishments, not just best efforts.

CORLEY: And what about Republicans? What can they expect to hear when they are back in their districts?

ANDERSON: Oh my god, probably a lot of profanity. I don't think there will be too many happy campers among Republicans at their town hall meeting.

CORLEY: Carl Jeffers, are Democrats vulnerable to charges that they have a do-nothing Congress?

Mr. JEFFERS: Well, to some degree they are, but we have to remember the source. The vulnerability comes primarily from the left, and as a result, that is something that can be overcome.

The reality is, is that any list of items that have not been passed or not been enacted is somewhat specious because we all know that's not really the heart of why there's so much discontent with Congress. The reality is, is that this is one of the rare times where Congress has upset both sides of the political spectrum at the same time for different issues.

And that's rare, and when you have that, that's the reason why the resulting poll numbers for the Congress are so low. On the left, Democrats, liberals and progressives - many of them confusingly so, I might add - because it's really not the Democrat's fault, but many on the left are upset that the Democrats haven't somehow already ended the war.

And that is reflected in their feelings about Congress not having acted as what they expected from last November, when, of course, anyone who understands the politics knows the Democrats were never going to be able to end the war, and that was not what the American people sent them to control Congress for last November.

CORLEY: Hold that thought, Carl Jeffers. We'll talk more politics in just a moment. Also just ahead, a dearth of supermarkets leaves Detroit feeling shortchanged.

Ms. FATIMA BOGAN CAMPBELL: Oftentimes, he's paying more money for the items than he should because of the fact that there aren't any chains within the city.

CORLEY: That's coming up next on TELL ME MORE.

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CORLEY: The conversation continues on TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

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CORLEY: I'm Cheryl Corley in for Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, we'll take you to Detroit, Michigan where mom and pop grocery stores are the standard. Do residents deserve a national chain?

But now, we're going to continue our political chat with Faye Anderson, a political blogger who is joining us from NPR's New York Bureau. And Carl Jeffers writes for the Seattle Times and the Huffington Post. He is joining us by phone from Seattle.

Carl, we were talking about Congress. And if the Democrats were kind of vulnerable to charges that they weren't doing much, will Republicans get labeled as obstructionists?

Mr. JEFFERS: Well, that was my second point, was that the Democrats are vulnerable to discontent among their own because of the failure to end the war, even though they're not responsible. And the reason why Congress and congressional Republicans are getting a lot of heat is that the Republicans are still upset about the immigration issues.

CORLEY: I want to shift real quickly to the presidential race. Faye, Barack Obama fell further behind Senator Clinton in the latest poll from the Wall Street Journal. What does Obama need to do to catch up?

ANDERSON: I think Obama actually hurt himself this week with his foreign policy address. After the CNN-YouTube debate, Obama had accused Senator Clinton of being Bush-Cheney lite. Well, I think now with his pledge to invade an ally -an ally with nuclear weapons no less - has really pushed Cheney supersized. So I don't know how he catches up.

CORLEY: What do you think about that, Carl?

Mr. JEFFERS: That's an excellent point. The fact that we completely agree on that one shows you the kind of problem that Barack Obama has right now in this area. I was doing an interview yesterday where I said that for some time, the key strength that Barack Obama had with respect to foreign policy was to just concentrate on one issue: the war in Iraq, and his position that of all the major democratic candidates that he never supported the war from the very beginning and never voted for it.

Now, despite the fact that that's somewhat disingenuous, because I still believe that under the pressures that one would be under, it is not completely convincing if you were not in the Senate at the time to be able to say I never voted for it when people like Joe Biden, John Edwards, Hillary Clinton all voted for it.

And you have to remember the mood of the country and the intimidation of the Karl Rove White House. So I'm not sure today that if Barack Obama really were in the Senate at the time that he would have also not voted for it. He may have. As long as he stayed on that, he could separate himself from the other candidates and not have to focus on his own experience problem. Now that he moves into these other areas, the reality is is that - and this is not a knock on Barack Obama, it's to say the same was true for John Edwards four years ago.

CORLEY: Let me…

Mr. JEFFERS: One term in the Senate, you don't have the time to acquire the kind of experience that would have probably tempered his comments this week so that he would have not have made a statement about the possibility of invading a country that, as they pointed out, that is an ally, and that supposedly is one of the democratic countries in the world. So he's got some problems there.

CORLEY: Yeah. Let me ask you just a yes or no from both of you. Would-be Republican contender Fred Thompson announced his fundraising numbers this week, and they fell short of expectations. Is his candidacy over before it's even started? Yes or no? Faye?

ANDERSON: Yes.

CORLEY: Okay, and Carl?

Mr. JEFFERS: No, it's not over, because John McCain's still in the race and Thompson's ahead of McCain. So no, it's not over.

CORLEY: Okay. All right. Well, there we have the answers. Thank you so much. Faye Anderson, political blogger, she joins us from NPR's New York bureau. Thank you.

ANDERSON: Thank you, Cheryl.

CORLEY: And Carl Jeffers Write for the Seattle Times and the Huffington Post, and he joined us by phone from Seattle. Thank you, Carl.

Mr. JEFFERS: Oh, it was great to be here with you, Cheryl.

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