Letters: 'Nuclear Option' and St. Helens

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The Washington Post's Charles Babington talks about the origins of the 'nuclear option' and we read your letters about the explosion of Mt. St. Helens. Guest: Charles Babington, covers Congress for The Washington Post

NEAL CONAN, host:

On Mondays, we read from your e-mails. During last week's discussion of the brewing Senate showdown over judicial nominations, we received many e-mails disputing the origin of the term `nuclear option.' For the story behind the rhetoric, joining us now is Charles Babington. He covers Congress for The Washington Post.

Nice to talk to you again.

Mr. CHARLES BABINGTON (The Washington Post): Good to be here, Neal.

CONAN: Is it right that Republican Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska first uttered the words `nuclear option' in connection with this filibuster fight?

Mr. BABINGTON: Actually, we think the term that was used--associated with Ted Stevens was the Hulk, and that's because he has a necktie featuring the Hulk. He has, you know, the cartoon character...

CONAN: The Marvel cartoon character; a movie about him a couple years ago.

Mr. BABINGTON: Exactly. And Stevens is quite popular--likes to wear this tie a lot. And the day that he first, as far as we can tell, proposed this idea of eliminating filibusters for judicial nominees, he was wearing that tie.

Sometime later, best we can tell, Senator Trent Lott, Republican of Mississippi, called it the nuclear option. And that was mainly because it would be so explosive and so dynamite. Since that time, the thoughts about the origin are traded back and forth and some people think it was really the Democrats who used the term because they were going to blow up the Senate in return.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BABINGTON: Now it's like, a lot of people just--`Let's call it something else, the constitutional option or what have you.'

CONAN: Yeah, it's become one of those politicized terms.

Mr. BABINGTON: Exactly.

CONAN: And what do they call it in private? When they're actually talking with their staffs, what do they call it?

Mr. BABINGTON: The nuclear option.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BABINGTON: The term has stuck, believe me.

CONAN: Charles Babington, thank you very much.

Mr. BABINGTON: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Charles Babington, congressional correspondent for The Washington Post, and he joined us by phone from Capitol Hill.

Many of you wrote with recollections of the eruption at Mt. St. Helens 25 years ago last week. Kent Snyder was driving to Yakima, Washington, when the ash from the mountain filled the sky. Because his car lacked a radio--what a dreadful idea--he wasn't sure exactly what was going on. `It got so dense and dark that I ran out of windshield fluid trying to keep the dust off to see,' he wrote. `My wife, who grew up in a flat and dusty town in Oregon, said it was probably a dust storm. We pulled into a gas station, and I asked the attendant how often this happens here. He replied, "Oh, about every 700 years or so," and then we found out what had happened.'

Dick Bingham was living in Idaho at the time, but could still see the ash cloud as it approached his house. He wrote: `The next day, I went out on our deck and carefully removed all the ash collected on our picnic table and weighed it on the mail scale at work. Extrapolating the picnic table surface to one acre of land, we received about 3,900 pounds of ash per acre.'

And Caroline Aarons(ph) was sitting in her high school in Salem, Washington, when she heard the explosion. Strangely enough, she recalled, 1980 was also the year that Jimmy Buffett's "Volcano" song became popular.

(Soundbite of "Volcano")

Mr. JIMMY BUFFETT: (Singing) Now I don't know, I don't know, I don't know where I'm a-going to go when the volcano blows. Let me say it now, I don't know, I don't know, I don't know where I'm a-going to go when the volcano blows. The ground she's a-moving under me, tidal waves out on the sea. Sulphur smoke up in the sky, pretty soon we learn to fly. Let me hear you now, I don't know, I don't know, I don't know here I'm a-going to go when the volcano blows.

CONAN: You can e-mail your comments, questions, margarita recipes or Parrot Heads to us: totn@npr.org. Please tell us where you're writing from and how to pronounce your name.

(Credits)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan.

(Soundbite of "Volcano")

Mr. BUFFETT: (Singing) No time to count what I'm worth 'cause I just left the planet Earth. Where I go I'll hope there's rum...

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