Political Roundup with Juan Williams: Poll Blues

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Several opinion polls show public support for the invasion and occupation of Iraq has eroded — as has approval ratings for President Bush and Congress. We talk about those poll numbers and other political events of the week, including President Bush's difficulties promoting his agenda on Capitol Hill.


This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, you're the leader of a country losing a war at the most dangerous moment in history. You are outgunned and desperate. What do you do? Well, listen again to Winston Churchill's memorable response that came 65 years ago this weekend.

First, more daunting political numbers for President Bush this week. A CBS/New York Times poll shows the war in Iraq is losing support, and so is he. Our regular Friday guest, NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams, is back with us.

Juan, hello again.

JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:

Good to be with you, Alex.

CHADWICK: I listened to MORNING EDITION this morning and heard this debate from the Senate floor that occurred earlier this weekend, then yesterday. This is about Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the number-two Democrat, reading an FBI report on the way prisoners were treated at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp. Here he is.

Senator DICK DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): If I read this to you and I did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis or Soviets in their Gulags or some mad regime.

CHADWICK: And then two senior Republican senators on the floor were quite critical of Senator Durbin. Senator Durbin came back and defended himself. The White House has gotten into this as well. What about that?

WILLIAMS: In that report, Senator Durbin read something that amounts to a prisoner being left on the ground for 18 to 24 hours, allowed to urinate, defecate on himself...

CHADWICK: And he wasn't just left there; he was chained there.

WILLIAMS: Correct. He was chained hand and foot. So Durbin is reading from this report, and it's his response that this is analogous to what took place, you know--the kind of repressive and torturous acts perpetrated by Nazis and Pol Pot and the like. This comes at a time of declining public support for the war effort in Iraq. This comes at a time with loud arguments about whether or not Guantanamo Bay should be closed down. And we had hearings on the Hill just this week where you had similar raucous conflict and argument about this whole idea. So I think what we're seeing here is that the war in Iraq and the necessary attention to what's taking place in Guantanamo Bay is now building to the point of frustration boiling over.

CHADWICK: There's response from McConnell, from Warner--two senior Republicans--and from the White House. Juan, what about that?

WILLIAMS: Scott McClellan, the president's press secretary, said it was way out of line for Senator Durbin to say this was in any way similar to what took place under Pol Pot or the Nazis. I mean, he made the point--and I think it's a point well taken--these people are terrorists. They're not state actors. They don't wear state uniforms. And the United States is trying to not only find a way to restrain them from going back and perpetrating further acts of terrorism, but trying to get information. Now the contrary perspective, of course, is that they've been held there for an extended period, and the question is `How long do you hold them?' And that leads to the whole argument about whether or not Guantanamo Bay should be closed.

CHADWICK: Well, just the kind of rhetoric that you hear on the floor of the Senate this week--this kind of sense that there are now Republicans participating in a resolution to bring the troops home, weakening poll numbers for the president's support for the war--it just feels as though things are kind of getting away. I know the president was speaking at a GOP fund-raiser this week and saying, `Look, congressional Democrats are the issue here.' Let's listen to Mr. Bush for a moment.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: We hear no to making tax relief permanent. We hear no to Social Security reform. We hear no to confirming federal judges. We hear no to a highly qualified UN ambassador. We hear no to medical liability reform. On issue after issue they stand for nothing except obstruction, and this is not leadership.

CHADWICK: So there you are. Mr. Bush is certainly hanging tough there. I see Condoleezza Rice this morning in the papers saying, `We're going to be out making the case for Iraq.' It's a hot political season there.

WILLIAMS: It's a hot political season for President Bush with a lot at stake, Alex. I mean, he is at the point, a tipping point, where people are starting to talk about lame duck quite openly because he has not had success on his signature legislative initiative, which is the Social Security issue. There's long conversations, both on Capitol Hill and in the White House right now, about an exit strategy on Social Security because it's very clear the president is not going to get these private investment accounts that had been at the heart of his effort to transform Social Security. And if you go and you look not only at Social Security, if you look for a second at his tax initiatives--very interesting--even his energy proposals, right now President Bush does not seem to be in the driver's seat, doesn't have the command in the way that he did just a short while ago. So you see him going off and doing things like fund-raisers to remind people, `Hey, I am the most prominent Republican in the country. I can raise money. I can hurt you.' And here he's talking to Republicans, not Democrats.

CHADWICK: Juan Williams, senior correspondent for NPR and regular Friday guest on DAY TO DAY.

Thank you, Juan.

WILLIAMS: Good to be with you, Alex.

(Soundbite of music)

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. There's more coming up on DAY TO DAY.

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