Political Wrap: Republicans on Iraq, Democrats on Democrats

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News analyst Cokie Roberts discusses Republican divisions over progress in Iraq and behind-the-scenes conflict among Democrats and their party chairman, Howard Dean.


Some lawmakers here in Washington are paying more attention to Iraq. They're debating whether the situation is getting better or worse. Joining us now is NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts.

Good morning, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS reporting:

Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So members of the House of Representatives, including some Republican members, are talking about a resolution calling for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. What led them to that?

ROBERTS: Well, the situation there, which they have some skepticism about administration assurances that the situation is getting better when they see the news reports every day and the polls which are showing that voters are saying that the war isn't worth the cost either in terms of dollars or lives. Look, any kind of resolution like that, if it happens, would be more symbolic than anything else, but it's interesting that at least some Republicans are considering going on the record saying, `Let's set a deadline for getting out of there.'

INSKEEP: Now when Democrats look at the situation in Iraq and look at the economy at home and look forward to the 2006 elections, do they think they have a chance to make some gains?

ROBERTS: Well, there is some sense of optimism. As one senior Democrat said to me the other day, `Things are looking good for us because they're'--meaning the Republicans--`are screwing up,' and there is a sense that with Social Security, the president's once again going to be touting his Social Security plan this week but it seems to be going nowhere, the problems of Majority Leader Tom DeLay, that these are the things that will be working for Democrats in the next election. But as we've talked about before, Steve, there are, of course, these problems with the districts being so safely drawn that there are not that very many seats in play and the luck of the draw in the Senate is that it's going to be much tougher for Democrats to gain seats than Republicans.

But there's an additional problem here which is that the Democrats have really had trouble finding a voice. They do think that they can oppose the Republicans and that they have some good material there, but they have not found something to say other than, `Those guys are bad.' And that question of whether they can just be the opposition is one that they haven't really been able to get around.

INSKEEP: Howard Dean, the Democratic chairman, doesn't seem to have any trouble finding his voice.

ROBERTS: Well, true enough, and that is causing a good many problems inside the party. He has said in recent weeks that people who were waiting in line to get into the polls in Florida, Republicans didn't understand why this was a problem because Republicans had never done an honest day's work in their lives. And he also has said that Congressman DeLay should go home to Houston where he can go to jail. Now Congressman DeLay has not been accused of any crimes, and as the Republican National Committee chairman said yesterday, insulting people in red states is probably not the way to win them over.

Now Mr. Dean has said that he was talking about Republican leaders, not regular Republicans, but yesterday, Senator Joe Biden said Dean doesn't speak for him. John Edwards, the vice presidential candidate last time around, has said that Dean doesn't speak for him. Even Dean's own spokeswoman has said he is a voice for the Democratic Party, not the voice of the Democratic Party. So this question of whether he is being helpful to the party is very much up in the air. I think he's playing to the party's base and trying to rev people up, but the question is: Does that win over, which is what they need to do, some people who've voted Republican in the last couple of elections?

INSKEEP: Cokie, thanks very much as always. That's NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts joining us as she does every Monday.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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