Politics with Juan Williams: DeLay, Katrina and the GOP

The indictment of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on a conspiracy charge and criticism of the sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina has created some big headaches for Republican politicians. Madeleine Brand talks with NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams about these issues and how they're playing out inside the Beltway.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

The Valerie Plame case and the scrutiny it's bought Lewis Libby and President Bush's adviser Karl Rove is just one of many problems Republicans are facing. This week, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was indicted and forced to step down as majority leader. Former FEMA Director Mike Brown was grilled on Capitol Hill. And the president himself is still trying to recover from low public opinion polls.

With us now to discuss the GOP's grueling week is NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams, and he talks politics with us every Friday on DAY TO DAY.

Welcome, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:

Hi, Madeleine.

BRAND: So let's start with Tom DeLay. How much of a blow is that to the president?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think it is a blow, in part because Tom DeLay was so effective. His nickname the "Hammer" is really about his ability to get people to vote with the president and to get the president's legislation through the House. Just last week it was Tom DeLay who was making the argument in the House that the Bush administration's plan for spending, etc., you know, is something that the House would have to support even as they've had a number of people who wanted to rebel against the White House increase in the deficit and increase in spending plans for New Orleans and the whole Gulf Coast region.

So it hurts, and I think it also hurts in terms of just a raft of what appear to be scandal and corruption. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House, calling it a GOP culture of corruption that surrounds not only what's happened with Tom DeLay, but Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist being probed for his stock sales; Jack Abramoff, GOP lobbyist with close ties to DeLay, already under indictment for wire fraud in Florida. So what you get here is really the political player, the top political player in the House, the president's right-hand man, suddenly being out of the game.

BRAND: And let's turn to Iraq, another distressing week with more than 200 people killed there this week. So how is public support here for the war holding up and how is that affecting the president?

WILLIAMS: Not well, Madeleine. I think what you see is that now it's consistent--over half the American people think it's time to bring the troops home, to pull out of Iraq, which is exactly the opposite of what the president's been saying; in fact, the opposite of what he said last weekend when you had anti-war protesters--Cindy Sheehan and the like--in Washington. So it's kind of a direct contradiction to the president, and I think it adds to the notion there's a build-up of public sentiment opposed to him.

Even as the numbers seem to increase in terms of his handling of this recent Hurricane Rita, what you see is concern growing over rising gas prices, over the possibility that Karl Rove or one of the president's other top aides may get indicted as a result of this ongoing Valerie Plame investigation. So what you have is this just looks like a tough period. You even had the president's top procurement officer under investigation--arrested--again for possible corruption. What seemed to be a period when the GOP could really have been in ascendency with control of the White House, the Senate, the House of Representatives, has now become a rocky road. It looks like he's tumbling downhill.

BRAND: Well, politically this would seem like a gold mine for Democrats. How are they counting their blessings?

WILLIAMS: Well, you would think so, wouldn't you, Madeleine?

BRAND: You would think, yeah.

WILLIAMS: But it's not. The Democrats have not been able to take advantage of it. And you see this in the polls as well, that the Democrats aren't exactly picking up steam. And then you have just yesterday a lot of talk in Washington about a piece in The New York Times Op-Ed page by Nora Ephron saying, you know, `Where's Bill Clinton--having all these international conferences, but yet to raise his voice in opposition to the ongoing war in Iraq? Why is it that the Democratic Party seems to lack a spine, lack a voice on this critical issue?' That kind of sentiment is all over. And you have the Democratic leadership in the House and in the Senate saying, `We're trying to find ourselves. We're trying to establish where it is that the American people want us to go.' And one possibility is that they would be the party that would say, `We're going to clean up corruption and ethical abuses on the part of the Republicans.' We haven't seen that so far in the polls, but that may be the Democrats' only hope.

BRAND: NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams. He talks politics with us every Friday here on DAY TO DAY.

And thanks a lot, Juan. Have a great weekend.

WILLIAMS: See you, Madeleine.

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