Week in Review: Nominees, Base Closings, Iraq
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Scott Simon is away. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
Storm clouds are gathering over the Capitol as the Senate prepares to decide on whether filibuster should be banned from the judicial nomination process, whether John Bolton will be the next US ambassador to the United Nations, and how to react to the Bush administration's proposed military base closings across the nation. NPR's senior news analyst, Dan Schorr, joins us.
DAN SCHORR reporting:
WERTHEIMER: Now the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, is saying that, as a matter of courtesy, President Bush's judicial nominees should receive an up-or-down vote on the floor of the US Senate, and soon. That, of course, would call for a rules change, which the Republicans have taken to calling `the nuclear option.' Are we headed there?
SCHORR: Well, we seem to be headed for a showdown on the subject, yes. I mean, everybody is sort of getting ready and saying, `Well, I'm ready for the fight. Are you ready for the fight?' They will propose confirming at least two, maybe four nominees for appeals court and district court judges. The--there will be a filibuster started. The move will be made to break the filibuster by a rules change. That could be done by a majority, and it may well be that that's going to happen. Then, of course, the Democrats threaten to do terrible things.
WERTHEIMER: Filibuster, to be precise, legislation that the administration wants to pass, if they're prevented from filibustering judicial appointments. So does that mean more gridlock?
SCHORR: It does apparently mean more gridlock. I don't know exactly to what extent the Democrats will carry out the threats that they have made because clearly the--if you really tie up the Senate in knots, which is all too easy to do, you tie up the Senate in knots and you have to worry about what your people back home think of it, so that in the end you start it and you see if it works, and you see what you hear from home constituencies.
WERTHEIMER: Dan, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has made way for an up-or-down vote on John Bolton to be the ambassador to the United Nations.
WERTHEIMER: The committee did not endorse Mr. Bolton for the job.
WERTHEIMER: But is there any doubt that he will be the next UN ambassador?
SCHORR: Yes, well, that strange device they chose in order to make Senator Voinovich happy and make sure that he didn't stop the thing altogether was to say, `Let's send it on, but without endorsement or any other kind of approval.' I'm not sure it changes very much. The chances are that they have the votes in the Senate in order to be able to do that. What is very sad, though, having watched these weeks of back-and-forth, and all the exposure of the past record of John Bolton--what's unhappy is that he goes to the United Nations, and bringing along with him what looks like the fact that he's only--a very small majority of Americans want him there. That will not help him in his negotiations at the UN.
WERTHEIMER: Moving right along, the Pentagon has released its list of recommendations to close military bases around the country. If the Base Realignment and Closure Commission accepts those recommendations, Clovis, New Mexico, will lose the most jobs. Other hard-hit communities will be in Martin County, Indiana. There's Rapid City, South Dakota. Some of the areas that would benefit would be St. Marys and Columbus, Georgia; Lawton, Oklahoma; Manhattan, Kansas. Does this list tell you anything?
SCHORR: Well, let me--it's a very big list and it is very complicated; no expert on military bases and so on. I found two things interesting. One was, you mentioned South Dakota, Ellsworth Air Force Base. Senator Thune campaigned against Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader, saying he would save Ellsworth Air Force Base. Ellsworth Air Force Base is not being saved. So he has some troubles back in South Dakota when he goes there. Secondly, they are closing, they want to close, the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, as famous an installation as America has had all these years.
WERTHEIMER: And one which is at the moment packed to the roof with wounded from Iraq.
SCHORR: Exactly, and--but I guess the actual closing would take a lot longer than this war, hopefully.
WERTHEIMER: This week Congress approved an emergency war spending bill for Iraq and Afghanistan. That bill totals $82 billion. Iraq's interim prime minister, Ibrahim Al Jafari, has extended Iraq's state of emergency for another 30 days, effective from May 3rd, and insurgent violence is continuing to escalate there despite a dramatic US-led offensive this week that reportedly killed scores of would-be attackers. Mr. Al Jafari is suggesting that martial law might be put in place. Would that be a symbolic blow for democracy, do you think, in that country?
SCHORR: Well, when you have to declare martial law, it means you really have a grave problem. It is alarming, it is something to worry about, that after all this time Iraq finally has a government that took a long time to get. The government's supposed to try to keep order in the country; that, it has significantly failed to do. It is amazing that after all this time the insurgency seems to be growing. And there are more people each week killed, and not many Americans, so much, but Iraqis, people--especially people who want to get into the police or into the national guard. And we are further and further away, it seems to me, from the kind of solution that would make it possible for the Americans to come home.
WERTHEIMER: There was trouble in Afghanistan: more and more demonstrators in Kabul protesting US treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Apparently a tiny article in Newsweek magazine...
WERTHEIMER: ...reporting that US interrogators were disrespectful to the Koran set all this off.
SCHORR: Yeah, a little story of a few paragraphs in Newsweek, and it said that Newsweek had learned, indeed, that in Guantanamo that an interrogator had flushed a copy of the Koran down the toilet. But I must say it is most distressing in a place where they thought they had pretty well solved their problem, they were on their way towards being a representative democracy and all, that it doesn't take more than a few paragraphs in Newsweek to set the country aflame again. That is distressing.
WERTHEIMER: We had our own incident this week in Washington, DC. A single-engine plane's 20-minute escapade into airspace over Washington set in motion an evacuation of the Capitol and the White House, fighter jets over the city. The mayor of Washington was not notified until after the fact, nor, apparently, was the president of the United States. What do we learn from that whole experience, do you think?
SCHORR: What we learn is that you can establish a Department of Homeland Security, you can spend billions and billions of dollars, and then when something happens, you aren't quite ready for it. It is really quite remarkable. This was a little plane, apparently, had lost its way, but you sat looking at television and seeing the White House emptying out, Congress emptying out, everybody going, and they stopped in the middle of a congressional debate and all, and you sort of say, `Gee, is this the way life is going to be in this country from now on?'
WERTHEIMER: NPR's senior news analyst, Daniel Schorr. Thank you very much, Dan.
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