Ken Rudin on Politics: Gas Prices, Roberts Documents

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Alex Chadwick talks with NPR political editor Ken Rudin about the week's political developments, including how high gas prices are affecting Capitol Hill politics and the latest documents released detailing Supreme Court nominee John Roberts's legal past.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And joining us now for the politics of gas prices and other political matters, NPR political editor Ken Rudin from Washington.

Ken, what about political ramifications of the high gas prices for the Bush administration?

KEN RUDIN (NPR News): Well, Alex, there's certainly a lot of that. I mean, you know, unlike the controversy over Karl Rove or the appointment of John Bolton to the UN, this is something that affects just about everyone. And I think coming in tandem with a war that looks bleaker and bleaker every day, I think the political ramifications are huge. Consumer confidence is down. We've seen President Bush's numbers in a free-fall, some polling companies saying that it's at a record low. We already saw Republicans come very close to losing a safe congressional seat a couple of weeks ago in Ohio, blamed in part because of the high gas prices. I think the political ramifications for the Republican Party in 2006 and beyond could be huge.

CHADWICK: You know, there's a piece in The Washington Post today that I'm sure you saw, a front-page piece, saying really there's not that much room for politicians to do anything. You can't really cut the gas tax because that money's going to build highways in people's districts. There's not a lot of stuff that they can do.

RUDIN: Right, but I think there's an indication there's a feeling in Washington that nobody knows what to do. I think if somebody came up, stood up and said, you know, `Yes, we're in a crisis. Yes, sacrifices have to be made,' that would be one thing, but there's not even that coming out of Washington. I think that's why a lot of people feel very uneasy about this.

CHADWICK: In terms of politics, maybe things are going to get better for the administration in the coming weeks because the nation will turn--or some of its attention--to the nomination of Judge John Roberts to the Supreme Court. That's coming up--What?--two and a half weeks, something like that?

RUDIN: Right. The Senate Judiciary Committee begins hearings on September 6th.

CHADWICK: Thirty-eight thousand new pages of documents released yesterday. Has anyone found anything in there that is interesting?

RUDIN: Basically, what we see here in John Roberts is a conservative nominee, as to be expected coming from the Bush administration. He has had some--there are some interesting tidbits in these 38,000 pages. He has some skepticism about women's rights. He did criticize, which is very interesting--criticize an anti-crime bill years ago put forward by Arlen Specter, who just so happens is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee who will decide his committee hearings. Do we think that anything in these pages disqualifies Roberts? Not yet.

But again, remember 1991, at this point in the process, we thought Clarence Thomas was a shoe-in for confirmation. It wasn't until the Judiciary Committee hearings began and Anita Hill came forward that we saw that there was no such thing as a shoe-in for the nomination, and 48 senators voted against the Clarence Thomas nomination. My point is that until the nomination--until the Judiciary Committee hearings begin, you know, it's really silly, ridiculous, premature to say whether Roberts is a shoe-in or not. I think it'll be very interesting to see how all these Democrats in the Senate who are thinking about running for president in 2008--Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Evan Bayh, John Kerry--how they're going to vote on this nomination and how their constituencies feel about it.

CHADWICK: NPR political editor Ken Rudin. You can see his column, "Political Junkie," at our Web site, npr.org. There's a new column up today. Thank you, Ken.

RUDIN: Thanks a lot, Alex.

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