Week in Review: Rita, Roberts, War Protests
SCOTT SIMON, host:
And NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr is away this weekend, so we're joined by John Dickerson, chief political correspondent for slate.com.
Thanks very much for being with us, Mr. Dickerson.
JOHN DICKERSON (Chief Political Correspondent, slate.com): Sure; thanks for having me.
SIMON: And after all the criticism of the federal government's slow response to Hurricane Katrina, has, as happens in the practical world, ironically, an opportunity opened for this administration to behave--to respond notably, visibly differently with Hurricane Rita?
DICKERSON: That's right. And we see it most strikingly with the president. I mean, he's been getting briefings. It's been a very public show of the briefings he's been getting. Yesterday he visited FEMA. He's out in Colorado Springs now, watching the federal response, and, as he has said, what's interesting is he says he needs to learn about the relationship between the federal authorities and the local authorities. So he's making a show of being in command and making a show that they've got the system fixed, or at least partially fixed, since Katrina.
SIMON: Let me ask about what seems to be a mounting price tag, though. Two hundred billion dollars is what the administration wants, really just in the first few installments for recovery from Hurricane Katrina. I would imagine that there will obviously be more costs for Hurricane Rita. Does--is Congress going to go along with these expensive plans?
DICKERSON: Well, they seem to be inclined to go along. The president's first requests were acceded to pretty quickly. There has been a little bit of--there's been certainly resistance on how he's going to pay for it all. As the images of Katrina that so horrified people start to recede a little bit, the president may get more resistance on the actual checks that he's writing, but for right now it's really on how he's going to pay for it, not the checks themselves.
SIMON: Well, tell us a little bit about that. Because the president says that he is still determined that there--that this is going to be done by cost reductions. There's not going to be--he still believes in tax cuts as a way to stimulate the economy.
DICKERSON: That's right. The conversation has not gotten very serious in Washington yet about what to do about all this money that's flowing into the disaster relief. There have been--fiscal conservatives are very angry that the president hasn't talked about spending cuts, and they've even suggested in--the House Republicans have suggested going after two very popular programs. One is the prescription drug program that's part of Medicare that's going to come out in January of next year, and also the transportation bill. These aren't going to get touched. So where's the money going to come from? No one's come up with a good answer yet.
SIMON: Is there going to be possibly the formation of debate that isn't, perhaps, between Republicans and Democrats or liberals and conservatives, but between people who live in some of the states affected in those areas adjacent and people in the Midwest and people in the Northwest, who say, `Look, the whole--I don't wish anybody ill, but the whole idea of investing billions of dollars of the federal Treasury in areas that might perhaps only get smacked again by a hurricane doesn't make sense to our taxpayers'?
DICKERSON: Well, that's exactly right. If you live outside the affected area, there are a number of responses that get more aggressive as the days pass, after the hurricanes hit, and that is if the federal government is handing out assistance, `Well, why isn't it helping me?' And we're going to go through a budget season in which there will be--there are painful cuts scheduled. People are going to wonder why. As bad as they may feel about those affected in the Katrina and Rita areas, well, why are they getting so much more than I am? And also there is this notion that's growing that the money's just kind of being thrown out of Washington and nobody's really overseeing how it's spent, but that it's really just to fix a political problem and that the checks are being sort of wasted.
SIMON: The nomination of John Roberts for chief justice of the US seems--cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. He seems to be on track to be confirmed. What signs do you see and hear that would portend any kind of indication of what might happen to the next nomination?
DICKERSON: Well, it's hard to read the tea leaves. This--for all the horrible things that are happening to the president at the moment, this was a big win. Roberts sailed through so easily. And what's happening now is Democrats are the ones--it's very hard to tell what the White House is going to do. They're very good at keeping secrets. But the Democrats have resolved that they're going to be a little quicker on the next nominee, and they're going to define the man or woman very quickly, because they didn't do that with Roberts as well as they might have liked.
SIMON: Thousands of protesters are assembling, as we speak, in Washington, DC, today to protest the war in Iraq, the American presence in Iraq. It must be noted that protesters supporting that presence are also coming into Washington, DC. Are the terms of that debate being joined or have they changed from whether or not to withdraw to when to withdraw?
DICKERSON: Well, it--that's right. We have competing protests here this weekend. I--it's hard to tell where the public is that--two things we know for sure. One, people have really lost their faith in the president's prosecution of this war. He has--32 percent of the public approves of the way he's handling Iraq. But it's hard to tell exactly--when you ask people the question, `Well, what should we do now?,' the answers are not as clear. We have 63 percent saying, `Troops should be drawn down or removed altogether.' But the more you educate people, the less they're apt to support the notion of pulling troops out right away. So the president's in a tough spot but there's not a lot of options, alternative options, that people are rallying around.
SIMON: Mr. Dickerson, thanks very much for being with us.
DICKERSON: Thank you.
SIMON: John Dickerson is the chief political correspondent for slate.com.