Week In Politics: Oil Spill, Crist, Immigration

Melissa Block speaks with E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution and Amy Holmes, guest co-host of America's Morning News and former speechwriter for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, about the week in politics.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And drilling is where we begin our regular Friday conversation with our political commentators, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution is here. Welcome back, E.J.

Mr. E.J. DIONNE (The Washington Post, Brookings Institute): Thank you.

BLOCK: And this week, sitting to your right, Amy Holmes, sitting in David Brooks' chair. She's a conservative commentator and she was a speechwriter for former Republican senator Bill Frist. Amy, welcome.

Ms. AMY HOLMES (Conservative Commentator): Thanks for having me.

BLOCK: And let's start with you. Given this mess headed toward Louisiana, does the Republican call to drill, baby, drill now sound really off key?

Ms. HOLMES: Well, the question is, can we drill after the spill? But I think what was important and interesting about this is what you just heard from Mark Warner, that this was always going to require a study, that the drilling would happen seven to ten years from now. So while it's making headlines and it's a rolling story as the oil rolls into the coast, what we're seeing is Democratic senators from coastal states -Mary Landrieu, Mark Warner - are still supportive of drilling.

BLOCK: E.J., what do you think? Of course President Obama has said, as we heard, that he wanted to expand offshore drilling. Do you think he'll have to now modify that?

Mr. DIONNE: Well, I think he's already showing signs of modifying that. I mean, this is a problem for Obama for calling for offshore drilling, but it's a problem for all advocates of offshore drilling. And it's worth remembering that Obama came out for this as a bipartisan concession, as a concession to Republicans, so all that is bipartisan doesn't glitter.

But I think this raises larger questions. Bill Cohen, the former Republican senator from Maine, once said government is the enemy until you need a friend. We condemn regulation and then turn around and say, where was the government? And I think this raises questions about how do we regulate these rigs? What kind of regulations do we have for worker safety? Eleven people have died here, 17 have been injured. That's a big issue. And who is going to pay for all of this? Governments are spending a lot of money here. Are we going to recoup this from private industry? So there are a lot of issues that are going to be on the table now.

BLOCK: Oil heading toward Louisiana. Let's move along the Gulf to Florida. There was big news out of there - that state yesterday. Republican governor, Charlie Crist, making news that he will in fact drop out of the Republican primary. It had been rumored for some time. He's running for U.S. Senate. He's going to run instead now as an independent.

Of course he had been plunging in the polls, losing a lot of ground to the conservative opponent Marco Rubio. Amy, you had interviewed Charlie Crist not so long ago and he was singing a very different tune.

Ms. HOLMES: I did indeed interview the governor and he was unequivocal. He was committed that he would be running as a Republican - my, how things change. But something about this story, a storyline that is being pushed, is that this is an example of a fringe conservative element of the Republican Party pushing out an electable moderate.

I actually think the polling data shows something very different. If you look at the three-way matchup between Crist, Rubio and Meeks, in fact, Rubio is ahead in statewide polling. Rassmussen has him and it's a right-leaning polling organization, I'll concede that, but it shows that Marco Rubio does have statewide appeal. So the constituency that he's representing is one that is not a fringe element, but apparently popular in Florida.

BLOCK: Meeks is Kendrick Meeks, the likely...

Ms. HOLMES: Yes, the Democrat. And apparently a billionaire is about to jump in the mix. Jeff Greene, who is a real estate developer and a very colorful character. So this story is far from over.

BLOCK: Well, E.J., what do you think? I mean, Republicans are now saying Charlie Crist is a traitor. You see Senate leaders withdrawing their support who had previously endorsed him. We talked last week about the loyalty oath. Republicans were supposed to now ask for their money back since Charlie Crist is now running as an independent.

Mr. DIONNE: We'll have to compare their statements about independent Charlie Crist to what they said about independent Joe Lieberman a few years back. I mean, I think this is striking that there isn't a lot of room in the Republican Party unless you are very, very conservative. I mean, in those polls that Amy referred to, Rubio is getting about a third of the vote. A conservative can't even get 35, 40 percent of the vote.

But Charlie Crist was a stronger general election candidate. And I think the Republicans face a real problem. They're driving out not simply moderates, but moderate conservatives. We talked before about Senator Bennett in Utah, who's a very conservative Republican, who'll probably be denied a renomination. In England, in Great Britain, David Cameron is ahead in the polls, having moved to the center. The Republicans don't seem to be following that strategy here.

BLOCK: I want to end on one last topic and that's immigration. We saw the toughest immigration law in the country go into effect now or get passed and signed in Arizona. There are calls now for an economic boycott of that state and some Republicans, including Marco Rubio in Florida, who we've been talking about, are expressing concern about how far that law goes.

Amy, do you think this issue helps Republicans or hurts Republicans?

Ms. HOLMES: You know, I think it actually cuts both ways. And I don't mean to equivocate, but these rallies that are planned for this weekend, there is a real danger that in the folks who are going to be massing in streets in Los Angeles to oppose this law, that they wave Mexican flags. That was a disaster in the 2006 rallies. And that they seem to be protesting the idea of American citizenship generally and that they are protesting for open borders.

Now, for Republicans, we know this is an issue that cuts both ways because a lot of members of the business community are happy with the status quo, while conservatives would like tougher border enforcement. But I think it's also a danger for Democrats.

BLOCK: And E.J., a lot of call now for comprehensive immigration reform. Do you think there's any room for agreement on that?

Mr. DIONNE: I think it's going to be very hard to get through this year, but I think this, I think, outrageous law that was passed in Arizona has put it back on the agenda in a way that it wasn't. And the problem with this law, it's really splitting the Republican Party.

You have people like Jeb Bush who say this raises serious civil liberties problems. It's really unsafe to look like a Hispanic in Arizona now because the standard in this law is so loose. And I think it's going to remind a lot of Latino voters about why it's very important to vote in - this fall. Democrats were worried about Latino turnout before.

BLOCK: E.J., thanks. And Amy, thanks for joining us today.

Ms. HOLMES: Thanks for having me.

BLOCK: Conservative commentator Amy Holmes and E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution.

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