Senate Preview: Homeland Security Funding, O'Connor Vacancy

Cokie Roberts talks about the week ahead in politics. This week, the Senate takes up funding for homeland security. But senators are talking most about who will be nominated to succeed Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Joining us now is NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts.

Morning, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS:

Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: The bombings in Britain already are having repercussions politically here at home. What do you think the fallout will be?

ROBERTS: Well, you know, it's going to be very interesting to see that, Renee. What we've seen in the past is that when there is a resurgence of terrorism, that the president's approval ratings go up, and, of course, terrorism has been the issue that has been his strongest issue throughout the time since September 11th, and in the most recent Gallup polls, for instance, he had a 55 percent approval rating on terrorism, handling of terrorism, as opposed to only about a 40 percent approval rating on the handling of the war in Iraq. And we saw during the election, during the campaign, that when those awful terrorist attacks happened on that school in Russia, that that very much drove up the president's approval ratings and drove people to the president as the person that they think can keep them safe.

Now Britain might be another story, because, of course, the president and his great ally, Tony Blair, have been saying that the purpose of the fight in Iraq is to fight the terrorists there so that you don't have to fight them at home, and all of a sudden, there they were at home for the ally in London. And so it's going to be interesting to see how that plays out in this country over the next few weeks.

MONTAGNE: And isn't this coming week also a week that the Senate considers financing for the Department of Homeland Security?

ROBERTS: Yes, and, of course, that's likely to have an effect as well, particularly financing for protection of mass transportation systems, which I think you can safely say will suddenly see some money added. You know, Democrats have been complaining for a while that they don't think that the infrastructure in this country is properly defended, the ports, things like oil refineries. And so I think you're likely to hear some conversation about all of that, although, of course, they'll be asking for more money and there isn't any more money.

The other issue that is likely to--that is before the Senate that is likely to be affected by all this is the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, and that could be a very hot debate, indeed.

MONTAGNE: And on another subject overriding all other concerns, it would seem, in the Senate is the pending debate over the Supreme Court nominee to take the place of Justice O'Connor. What's happening there?

ROBERTS: Well, it's been very interesting, you know. Since Justice O'Connor announced her retirement as the Congress recessed for the Fourth of July--and now they're back, or will be back today, and what we've been hearing is the president has been reaching out. The White House has been calling--White House staff has been calling the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, and they seem somewhat heartened by that. Yesterday you heard on the Sunday talk shows Senator Schumer, who had been quite feisty the week before, saying `Well, look, a consensus candidate would be great.' He had been reached out to. Senator Arlen Specter threw in--he is the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, the man who will be holding the hearings on the nominee. He threw in an interesting idea, which is that if Chief Rehnquist resigns, as is widely expected, Senator Specter suggests that the president name Justice O'Connor as the chief justice and someone else to fill her seat. Now that certainly would shake things up around here.

MONTAGNE: Well, you know, talking, though, about a consensus candidate, how do you think the interest groups on the left and the right would respond to that, since they both have very intense interest in getting candidates in their direction?

ROBERTS: Well, I think you're quite right. Both, Renee, are certainly ready for a fight, and they both want to raise a lot of money. But I think the left is so fearful of who the nominee might be that if it is a consensus candidate that everybody can agree on, they'll be greatly relieved. I think the right is likely to feel that it would be a sellout. The question here is what does the president want? What does he really think about the Supreme Court? He doesn't need to play so strongly to his base. He's never going to run again, but does he want to do that?

And we have another element here, which is that his political adviser, Karl Rove, must be distracted. He has his own problems with the case about Valerie Plame's name and the reporters, having been revealed as a source to Matthew Cooper, the Time reporter, although Rove's lawyer said that Rove never mentioned the CIA agent, Valerie Plame's, name.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, thanks very much.

ROBERTS: Mm-hmm.

MONTAGNE: NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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