Roundtable: Katrina and the GOP

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Thursday's topics include President Bush's reaction to a push for an independent probe into mistakes responding to Hurricane Katrina, and how the disaster may cause a split in the Republican Party. Guests: George Curry, editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News; Dawn Turner Trice, a reporter and columnist with The Chicago Tribune; and Yvonne Bynoe, author of the book Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and Hip Hop Culture.

ED GORDON, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon.

Fiscal conservatives within the GOP are seeing red over spending proposals by the White House for rebuilding in the Gulf region. That's just one of the issues on today's Roundtable. To discuss this and other issues, we're joined in our Chicago bureau by Dawn Turner Trice, reporter and columnist with the Chicago Tribune. George Curry, editor in chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service joins us today from Maryland. And joining me here in Washington, DC, our studios here, Yvonne Bynoe, author of the book "Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and the Hip-Hop Culture."

Folks, thanks for joining us.

We want to get right into the idea of--particularly as we see Rita now bearing down on the Southwest region, we are going to see, whether we like it or not, even more monies having to be spent in recovery efforts as we're looking at this strong, strong storm and hurricane, which is projected to hit by this weekend. George Curry, when we think about the idea of the monies that have to be spent, we are now hearing grumblings from Republicans, frankly, fiscal conservatives, who are going to now look at re-election in about a year and a half who are concerned about money spent, particularly as it may affect inflation in this country.

Mr. GEORGE CURRY (Editor In Chief, National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service): Well, even more so than that, how it's going to affect their political re-elections. Bush's numbers are going down, but the reality is that if we were just to cancel one year of those tax cuts, we could pay for the whole Katrina and everything else. We're going to have to make some real choices.

GORDON: Yvonne, when you hear George talk about that--we've even heard President Clinton talk about canceling what he put in place, the tax cuts that retroactively kick back to people--do you believe we're going to see these hard-choice political cuts take place?

Ms. YVONNE BYNOE (Author, "Stand and Deliver: Political Activism, Leadership and the Hip-Hop Culture"): I really don't, Ed. I think that ultimately, certainly, what George said is the practical approach, that we should be looking at some of the spending that has already been done, especially the highway bill, all of that pork that was in there, but I think ultimately we're going to see a ratcheting down of the commitment to hurricane victims in New Orleans and Alabama, all the Katrina victims. I think ultimately people are going to start trying to shift that monies, the responsibilities to the states where these people are currently residing. They're going to look for more private monies. They're going to look for anywhere--where--any way that they can hold on to these promises they've made to their own constituencies.

GORDON: Dawn, I'm in Washington this week and the interesting point I'm finding being here, the kind of handholding, "We Are The World," that we saw immediately following Katrina is starting to go away on the Hill when you're talking about taking away some of that pork money. There are representatives who are just simply saying, `Look, you are not taking this money away from my state.'

Ms. DAWN TURNER TRICE (Chicago Tribune): Right. I think that what we're seeing, too, among the Republicans are the rifts that have always been there. And the hurricane is doing what it's done best so far and it's exposing those rifts. What we're also seeing, according to Gallup's most recent poll earlier this week, this is certainly the case where people have decided to stop towing the party line that the GOPers have. And this is something also that we're finding increasingly among Americans who have supported, let's say, the Iraq War and have supported paying for it, thus far upward $200 billion, and now in the wake of this hurricane, which may cost another $200 billion, and then Hurricane Rita, which is barreling toward us, and we don't know what the outcome will be there. And a lot of people are wondering: How do we pay for all of this and keep the tax cuts for the rich? And how do we pay for it and not cut social programs and not continue along this deficit spending track that we've been on for some time?

So, yes, I mean, this is something. So the pork--there are a lot of people--that seems to be an area that can sustain some cuts and politicians, Republicans, Democrats, they don't want to do that. I mean, that's where they get into a co...

GORDON: Yeah. You know...

Mr. CURRY: They're not going to cut that pork, but it's also important to notice that the Congressional Budget Office had already said before Katrina landed that we have serious problem. They said the deficit would exceed $300 billion a year for the next decade. By 2015, the deficit total cumulatively would be $4.5 trillion.

Ms. TRICE: Right.

Mr. CURRY: So this is a serious problem, and they, of course, are blaming it on Katrina.

GORDON: Well--and let's be honest and, Dawn, you touched on it, the idea of giving up pork. I don't see Democrats standing up, quite frankly, any quicker than I do Republicans when you're talking about taking away from their region. One of the interesting points, Yvonne, that I'm looking at is the idea of whether or not the American people are going to be strong enough as a collective and, by extension, I guess the leadership to finally say, `Look, the emperor has no clothes. We have to figure out how to pay for all of this, particularly if we're going to sustain a war in Iraq, a war in Afghanistan,' and we are early into the hurricane season. We don't know what the future holds as relates to these Category 4 and Category 5 storms, which experts say are growing in frequency.

Ms. BYNOE: I think that's true, but I'm really reluctant to believe the American people are going to be on the side of sacrifice. I think in all actuality, the faces that we continually saw with Katrina were black faces. They were poor faces. And I think that has informed a lot of the dialogue on how to spend money. We're now having conversations about escaped convicts that got loose from jails. We have a lot of conversations regarding the Katrina victims that have nothing to do with their needs in the wake of this storm. So frankly, I think, well, poor and black put together is going to be less incentive for people to want to make the sacrifices and basically call the administration on its bluffs of these plans that really have no details in them.

GORDON: All right.

Ms. TRICE: But, Ed, I think one of the things that the Gallup Poll showed--it asked, `If you had to choose, which of the following would you say would the best way to pay'--I'm sorry, `best way for government to pay for the problems caused by Hurricane Katrina?' Fifty-four percent of the respondents said, `Cut spending for the war in Iraq. Few people wanted to increase the federal budget or raise taxes or even cut spending for domestic programs. And I think that what we've seen so far with the donations that have reached the American Red Cross, there are a lot of Americans that are very sympathetic to the plight of the folk in Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama and are willing to even have a tax increase to pay for that, but maybe are unwilling now to have the tax increase to pay for the Iraq War or some other things.

GORDON: George Curry, how realistic is that if, in fact, the president even looked that way, which I doubt very seriously they would, if the body count then went up, you would hear a glorious chorus suggesting that we are not providing these troops what they need; how could we take that money away?

Mr. CURRY: Yeah. Well--but I think we're in Iraq. We've committed ourselves to that and that's just simply not going to happen. But I see what's happening, though, within the Republican Party is this is a real problem for Bush, because you've got Tom DeLay saying, `We are not going to cut the estate tax.'

Ms. TRICE: Right.

Mr. CURRY: `We're going to continue to extend the tax cuts we had earlier,' and you just can't do both. So I see this as a real political problem for the Republican Party because you hear people like McCain and the rest of them saying, `You've got to tell me how you're going to pay for it. You've got to find some way.' And most people are not saying, `You just simply make all this up in cuts.'

GORDON: All right. In all of the headlines...

Ms. TRICE: And again, there...

GORDON: Real quick for me, Dawn.

Ms. TRICE: Yeah. Yeah. Well, again, there have been the moderate Republicans all along who have been unhappy about the whole estate tax measures and the big tax cuts, but they've been quiet until now.


Ms. TRICE: Now they're speaking up.

GORDON: All right. In all of the headlines of the hurricane, the aftermath, the new hurricane, Rita, and even the landing, for those of you who were watching news last night--the landing of that plane that went awry in Los Angeles, we are quietly seeing the ascension--and soon-to-be-nominated Supreme Court Justice John Roberts. Much of what would have been front-page news is being lost. Is this a win for Republicans, Dawn?

Ms. TRICE: Well, it's a--yesterday, a key Democrat said that he was going to vote for Roberts, and that was the Senate Judiciary Committee's senior Democrat, Patrick Leahy. I don't think that--yes, we would like to know more about what's going on here, but they've got--the Republicans have the numbers to--from the very beginning had the numbers to confirm him, and anything right now, any vote against, for the Democrats, would be more symbolic than anything else. So he's pretty much in there.

GORDON: George, would this be a good time to hurry the name for this second seat with the idea that if the aftermath continues with that kind of coverage and if, God forbid, Rita hit with any kind of force we're going to see the same kind of wall-to-wall coverage? Would this be a good time to float a stealth candidate in there that may attract some heat otherwise?

Mr. CURRY: Not necessarily. I just think that this second nominee, that's where the real fight is going to be, that everybody's making their little public stands, but the reality is everybody knows Roberts is going to be confirmed. They'll really fight on the second one. But the reality is this: When George Bush got re-elected, everything was preordained at that point. You're going to get more conservatives on the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court as we once knew it will not exist anymore in our lifetime. We don't want to hear that, but that's the reality of it.

GORDON: Yvonne, you've got that look. It is in accepting reality that most people have to--you know, if a Democratic presidential candidate had been elected, we would have seen a more liberal court. It is just the way of the world politically.

Ms. BYNOE: No, I certainly understand that, and I don't disagree with what has been said. I think the real issue, however, is that I don't think the Republicans are particularly that comfortable with Roberts, either. I watched the proceedings, and as an attorney, I felt that he was very vague. A lot of his answers, he could have gone either way. And I think that, as George stated, they're going to be looking for somebody who's a little hard-hitting and a little more vocal in terms of...

GORDON: Yet they continue to get the assurances by those who know this man. It's continued to be leaked out of the White House that, `He's fine. He's fine. We're going to keep him quiet for now, but he'll be in your corner when it counts.'

Ms. BYNOE: We've heard that before with other candidates, and when they got on the court, they did exactly what they wanted to do. So I think that they'd be more comfortable with a Bork, someone who was just going to come out there or that had his own problems at that particular time. I think they want somebody a little harder hitting than Roberts. I'm just not sold on him one way or the other. He's very neutral. Certainly if you are a Democrat or left-leaning, you're uncomfortable with his writings, but he was a very good candidate in terms of being an excellent lawyer, being evasive, playing both sides of the issue. So I don't think anyone really knows what to expect with him at the end of the day, but I do believe he will be confirmed and I think even if Katrina had not hit, it wouldn't have been that big of a fight.

GORDON: All right. Let us turn our attention to something that I found--I've spent some time as I'm here in Washington this week with a number of people, including Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and she brought up something interesting that we've talked about on this program from time to time, and just wanting to get your ideas on what she said. At an event, she suggested that the Republicans really had co-opted the idea of how to move the country and that far too many people had kind of turned in their liberal card, not paid their dues recently, not been loud enough and proud enough to say, `Hey, I'm a liberal. Here are the issues and stances I believe in and, doggone it, I'm going to stay with that.' George, do you believe that has been the case over the last few years, in particular, that liberals really have acquiesced to a great degree to the right and been almost afraid, outside of Ted Kennedy and Maxine Waters and a couple of others, to really stand up and say, `We're proud to be liberals'?

Mr. CURRY: Oh, yeah, they basically ran away from the L-word. There's no question about that. But the larger issue and the larger problem is, whether you like it or not, the Republican Party has a clear identity. You know what they stand for, whether you agree with it or not. You don't know what Democrats stand for, and I think that has hurt them. And I think it also has hurt them that any little group that come along they try to associate themselves with instead of taking some strong position. Until you really know and you really redefine what you are as a Democrat, they're going to continue to lose.

GORDON: So, Dawn, in order for them to come back swinging, do you believe, as Maxine Waters tongue in cheek suggested, that it's time to pay your dues for your liberal card and get back in the game? Can you do it without doing that?

Ms. TRICE: Well, I think that what the Democrats--if they're going to be smart about this, what they're going to have to do is try to get some capital from the rifts in the party, in the GOP right now, and I think that the point about the next Supreme Court nominee and using the energy right now to fight in that regard is a very important one. Right now the court is so closely divided, and given the magnitude of some of the decisions that will probably be coming down during the course of the court, it's really, really important to get some--to try to get some more balance there, and the court clearly is a very part--a big part of what we're doing here. So I think that if the Democrats--right now they've got to use this time to say, `Hey, here we are, and there's nothing wrong with being liberal, being moderately liberal'--or just, you know, acceptance of it.

Mr. CURRY: But they run away from that. They run away from that. That's exactly what happened with Clinton. You know, they had the double bubble there. You had Gore and Clinton, both from the South there, and they were the members who started the DLC, Democratic Leadership Council, to move the party to the right. So I don't see them running to embrace, to reaffirm that `We're liberals.' They're saying, `Oh, no, we're not liberals.'

GORDON: Well, it's...

Ms. BYNOE: But what is--I guess the question is I think they need to redefine for the 21st century what a liberal even is. I think a lot of them are caught up in the '60s. Some of those programs, some of that thinking has already been proven not to be useful. And I think that you can certainly support social programs, the underprivileged, the poor, whatever label you want to use this day, but I think that they need to get with the times. And I think too many of them sound wishy-washy, no backbone...


Ms. BYNOE: ...don't know what they're talking about and whichever way the wind blows that's where they are...

GORDON: Well, George...

Ms. BYNOE: ...and it's unattractive.

GORDON: ...what's the interesting juxtaposition of Clinton to all of this? And you bring up the point that the DLC, with Clinton, Gore, Gephardt and others, was really established to move away from, you know, this liberal leaning that had been so associated with the Democratic Party, and now we see the face of the Democratic Party, quite frankly, being Bill Clinton still, yet many might say that the reason that they're lost is because of this move spearheaded by Clinton and others.

Mr. CURRY: Well, I mean, I don't necessarily agree with that. I just think that what the Democrats have done is conceded too much to Republicans. They have not fall back while the Republicans built an infrastructure. They have the think tanks. They've got the foundations. They have policy institute and they have a clear vision of where they want to go. The Democrats have none of the above.

GORDON: All right. Well, it continues to be a problem for them and we'll see how they come out as we move toward those elections that everyone will be watching. Dawn, Yvonne and George Curry, thank you very much. Appreciate you joining us.

Mr. CURRY: All right. Thank you.

Ms. BYNOE: Thank you.

GORDON: You're listening to NEWS & NOTES from NPR News.

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