Party Leaders No Longer See 'Compromise' as Political Art
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
This holiday weekend is a working weekend for many of your elected representatives. Many are in their home states checking in with voters after an especially contentious few weeks here in Washington. Joining us now is NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts.
Good morning, Cokie.
COKIE ROBERTS reporting:
Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: Well, since we spoke to you a week ago, there was a compromise in this effort to avoid a battle over judicial nominees. Is that compromise likely to hold up?
ROBERTS: Well, the day after the deal was made, which was last Monday night, the Democratic leaders said, `Well, now the so-called nuclear option, the Senate moving to change the rules by a majority vote, was off the table.' The Republican leaders said it was absolutely on the table. Look, what the deal-makers agreed to was that they would not filibuster a judicial nominee except under extraordinary circumstances, and they purposefully did not define `extraordinary circumstances' because if they had, they would have never gotten a deal.
But the operative question remains: What does the Senate really want? Does it want a fight, or does it want a compromise? The notion that `compromise' is a dirty word is something that we've come to expect in Washington in recent years, but what's new here, I think, is that the leaders of the political parties now believe that `compromise' is a dirty word and that was not true in the past. And it's interesting--the leadership was essentially wrested from them on this deal by the gang of 14--seven Democrats and seven Republicans--who have forged the compromise.
INSKEEP: Do you see any surprises as you look at the names of those 14 senators?
ROBERTS: Well, there's some surprises about who wasn't in the list. Chuck Hagel, for instance, of Nebraska, who has been interested clearly in running for president, who often does side with the moderates and who after the deal was made issued a statement saying `It's a bad deal.' Richard Lugar also had made some noises about how he was opposed to the nuclear option; Arlen Specter, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, none of them were there.
The Democrats, for the most part, were Democrats from red states, except for Joe Lieberman from Connecticut, who could face some grief at home because of signing on to this, and Dan Inouye of Hawaii, who cares about the institution of the Senate so much.
The real profiles in courage, though, Steve, are Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John Warner of Virginia and Michael DeWine of Ohio, who are all likely to have primary fights against them. Already someone has said he's going to run against Graham, because the conservatives are up in arms over this deal.
INSKEEP: Bill Frist, who you mentioned, seems to have been criticized by both moderates and conservatives in the Republican Party.
ROBERTS: Well, you know, leading the Senate has been compared to herding cats and it is true, though, that the conservatives are furious at the deal. They say there's no sense in winning the presidency and the Congress if you can't rein in the judiciary, which in their view is out of control. And Bill Frist has been trying to play to that group of people and has not really shown a tremendous concern about the institution of the Senate.
That's very different from past majority leaders of either party. Bob Dole, who has criticized this view of the Senate, Howard Baker, when he was the Republican majority leader, had a view of leading the Senate of working inside of circles. You'd grab a group of people and then convince them to go along and then have them widen the circle to another group of people and convince them to go along, and convince the Senate to his point of view rather than bring up something to the floor and let everybody fight it out. Now that's not the way it is today on either side. I mean, the Democrats, as soon as this deal was done, objected to the nomination of John Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations. So, you know, it's battles royal.
INSKEEP: And one other item, Cokie. President Bush took a hit last week from the House of Representatives. Normally, they would agree, but the House voted against him on stem cell research. What happens now?
ROBERTS: Well, the question is whether the Senate brings it up as a free-standing bill. If they do, they'll pass it and if--the president has vowed to veto it. It would be his first veto and probably a fairly unpopular one, so the Senate might try to save him that by hiding the legislation, attaching it to something else.
INSKEEP: Thanks very much. That's NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts, joining us, as she does, every Monday.
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