Politics with Juan Williams: AFL-CIO Splinters, Roberts

Juan Williams discusses the impact of the apparent split within the AFL-CIO, as well the civil rights background of President Bush's Supreme Court nominee. Guests include Ron Walters, an adviser to the presidential campaigns of Rev. Jesse Jackson and professor of political science at the University of Maryland, and Rev. Joseph Watkins, a Bush campaign adviser in 2004 and the pastor of Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church in Philadelphia, Penn.

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ED GORDON, host:

I'm Ed Gordon and this is NEWS & NOTES.

Today on Political Corner, NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams and his guests discuss the civil rights background of the president's Supreme Court nominee, and the impact of this week's organized labor split.

JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:

I'm joined by Ron Walters. He's a professor of political science at the University of Maryland, and advised Reverend Jesse Jackson's presidential campaign, and we're also joined by Reverend Joseph Watkins. Reverend Watkins was an adviser to President Bush's 2004 campaign.

Gentlemen, thanks for taking the time and joining us.

Dr. RON WALTERS (University of Maryland): Good to be with you.

Reverend JOSEPH WATKINS: Glad to be here.

WILLIAMS: What do you think is going to be the political fallout from this week's AF of L-CIO split? Can Democrats keep the union family together, as a political powerhouse, or does the rift offer Republicans an opportunity to win over dissatisfied Democrats? So what does this mean, Dr. Walters?

Dr. WALTERS: Some people think that it's a difference of actual power, one faction, led by the Teamsters, and the SEIU actually wants to run the labor movement. Others say that it may be a philosophical difference. I think that the political effect of it is probably going to be minimal because both sides, I think, when all is said and done, will vote--still vote heavily for the Democratic Party, and urge their affiliate unions to do it.

But there's some outside things here. One has to do with the fact that SEIU wants to push smaller unions, that's in the service industry--has given more money to Republican governors than any other union. So they are sensitive to the changes that's going on in the economy and that could be a way of actually pulling them a bit more into the Republican camp.

WILLIAMS: Joe Watkins, Ron Walters points out that he expects that these union members will continue to vote for Democrats. Do you anticipate that there could be any change because of the split?

Rev. WATKINS: This is an opportunity for Republicans. For years and years now, of course, the Democrats have been able to rely heavily on unions voting in lockstep with them. And that may not necessarily be the case anymore. Now I don't think that anybody is expecting a widespread falling-away on the part of labor folks, and to see them running over to the Republican side, but you will see, I think, instances where labor unions support Republican candidates for political office and, certainly, it does mean that that vote could be up for grabs in '06 and '08.

WILLIAMS: What about inside the labor movements? Here I'm thinking about the minimum wage, protecting worker safety, negotiating international trade agreement, NAFTA, GATT, CAFTA, all that. Ron Walters, is any of that going to be impacted by the potential of a split and possibly weakened labor movement in the country?

Dr. WALTERS: I don't see that. When you look at the demonstrations that have been taking around--taking place fairly recently around the opposition to CAFTA, you've seen a very interesting coalition. Both of these factions have been involved, as well as Republicans. So it's been a very interesting sort of bipartisan labor, and, some places, even corporate opposition to CAFTA, in that respect. So, here again, I don't think this is going to be much change with respect to the basic position of labor, with respect to issues like that.

WILLIAMS: Joe Watkins?

Rev. WATKINS: Well, clearly, everybody's in the same boat. I mean, obviously, it's in the best interest of the United States to have the jobs numbers continue to move the way they've been moving. Remember, over the last 25 months, we've had 25 straight months of increasing job numbers, which is--that's good news for all Americans, whether you're Democrat or Republican. And the idea of protecting American workers and providing an environment that allows American workers to flourish, of course, is something that I think any candidate and any candidate for political office wants to uphold. I think this is, again, a great opportunity for Republicans. It means that for labor folks, if they aren't necessarily in the hip pocket anymore of the Democrats, that they'll be looking more closely at Republicans, as well as Democrats.

WILLIAMS: All right. ...(Unintelligible).

Dr. WALTERS: Juan, let me mention one other possible...

WILLIAMS: Certainly.

Dr. WALTERS: ...political fallout has to do with the 527s. Organized labor, of course, is the strongest contributor to those on the Democratic side.

WILLIAMS: Now, Doctor, let's explain to the listeners.

Dr. WALTERS: Yeah.

WILLIAMS: The 527 groups are the political arm, oftentimes special interest groups funded sometimes by labor money.

Dr. WALTERS: That's right. And here you may see a difference in the kind of contributions that are available to 527s coming from labor. Labor unions contribute about $120 million overall. This breakaway faction is going to take away probably $20 million. That $20 million could be subtracted from the kinds of moneys that flow into political participation.

WILLIAMS: Let's go on to the Supreme Court nomination of federal appeals court Judge John Roberts. On civil rights, his record is attracting increasing attention, especially opposition to busing, to affirmative action, as part of the Reagan administration's Justice Department. Ron Walters, does the White House have any reason to worry that Judge Roberts might not be confirmed?

Dr. WALTERS: Well, I think that he probably will be confirmed. I don't think that's the worry. I think--there is something here. For example, I think if you go back to 1980 and the Reagan administration, you had a case, Supreme Court case, Mobile vs. Bolden. That was a case which said that the violation of Voting Rights Act you had to prove that there was intentional discrimination. The Congress in 1982 amended the Supreme Court decision. All you had to prove was the effect was discriminatory. Roberts, in his role then, as associate counsel in the White House, rejected what the Congress was saying about the Voting Rights Act. He's been an opponent, very strong opponent of civil rights.

Rev. WATKINS: To try to categorize Judge Roberts as somebody who is narrow or who is anti-civil rights is particularly unfair. Different clients have different interests. But John Roberts, clearly, I think is a very, very strong nominee and it's going to be very, very hard for the opposition to easily categorize this man as something that he is not.

WILLIAMS: Gentlemen, I want to thank you very much. Ron Walters is a political science professor at the University of Maryland and the author of eight books, including "White Nationalism and Black Interests." And Reverend Joseph Watkins--Reverend Watkins is pastor of Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church in Philadelphia. He was an adviser to President Bush's 2004 campaign.

Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us today.

Dr. WALTERS: Thanks for having me.

Rev. WATKINS: Thanks very much, Juan.

GORDON: Join us every Thursday to hear more from Juan Williams and our Washington insiders, right here on Political Corner.

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