Week Brings Positive News for Bush, Huckabee

The Bush administration has had a tide of good news in Iraq, while a scientific breakthrough in the field of stem cell research also provides the president a political break. Meanwhile, public opinion polls show that GOP presidential contender Mike Huckabee is gaining ground on the top Republican candidate, Mitt Romney.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

President Bush is at Camp David preparing for a Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland next week aimed at peace that is. And this holiday weekend, he may also be giving thanks for some good news his administration has received in recent days.

Joining us now is NPR News analyst Juan Williams.

Good morning.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Hi, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Juan, there is, first of all, some good news from the world of science this week with the discovery that scientists could make cells with all the properties, as the embryonic stem cells, without destroying human embryos. And what exactly does this particular breakthrough mean for the president?

WILLIAMS: Well, it's very political because it's vindication. And I'd say it's a large-scale vindication in the minds of many in the Republican Party, especially forces that oppose abortion in American life. Because the president, as you know, Renee, vetoed two stem cell research bills and it sparked great controversy in the party. If you'll recall, Nancy Reagan - former President Reagan's wife - and some leading Republican senators opposed the president on it. You've had governors, like Arnold Schwarzenegger in California, supporting the idea of stem cell research, funding it.

And suddenly, here is an opportunity for the president to sidestep this issue altogether because science now says you don't need to get in to the whole issue of, you know, embryos whether or not they've been discarded. You don't need to broach the whole difficult issue of whether or not that's human life in terms of trying to help people, who may have difficult diseases that would be helped by stem cell therapies.

MONTAGNE: Hmm. And there are developments in Iraq that bolster the Bush administration as well. What's happening on that front?

WILLIAMS: Well, apparently, the surge of U.S. troops, by all accounts, seems to have quieted the level of violence, Renee. And so there's opportunity here for neighborhoods to rebuild. The difficulty is - and this is the remaining kind of catch - is that even with political equilibrium at risk, there doesn't seem to be much progress by the Maliki government. And the question then becomes what happens when you have troop withdrawals, which are scheduled to begin early next year, what happens then, and how many troops could be left in place. And if there is no political stability achieved by the various factions - the Shia, the Sunni, the Kurds, then what does that mean in terms of American accomplishments and the Bush legacy there? But there is support - you know, support for the war is not surging if you look at American polls and the president's level of support is not surging.

But the good news for the president is - and the Republicans - that Iraq is not on the front page as a negative every day.

MONTAGNE: And that Middle East peace - that Middle East conference called by President Bush is aimed at getting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process back in track. What are the chances it will actually do better, or could the meeting itself be a kind of breakthrough?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think the meeting represents a breakthrough. I think you're right, Renee, because the president, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has succeeded in getting other Syrians and the Saudis to agree to attend this meeting in Annapolis next week. There is a great deal of questions as to exactly what is possible here. The perception is described in some newspapers that it's really a grand photo opportunity but a group hug, but nothing more.

And so the idea is, wait a second, there are some possibilities. And when you think about the Bush administration's foreign policy legacy, they really are putting a great deal of emphasis on this and hoping that, you know, in some ways, history will not focus so much on Iraq and say, well, look what happened at the end. The Bush administration might have made some tremendous erodes in terms of Israeli-Palestinian peace.

MONTAGNE: Juan, in the few seconds we have left, the few seconds of the domestic economy. News that there isn't so good.

WILLIAMS: Hasn't been good - not terrible, but things haven't collapsed yet, Renee. But the potential for real recession going into next year at least in economic slowdown is something that scares the White House, scares Republicans.

MONTAGNE: Juan, thanks very much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR News analyst Juan Williams.

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