Politics with Juan Williams: Exiting Iraq

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NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams talks about the week's political news. Among the topics: calls grow for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq; and the debate continues over prewar intelligence.


President Bush is back at his home in Crawford, Texas, taking a break from official business this Thanksgiving week. Also returning to Crawford, Iraq War protesters, including Cindy Sheehan, whose son died in Iraq last year and who attracted hundreds to her anti-war vigil outside the president's ranch back in August. Even with the president and Congress out of town, the Iraq debate continues to dominate official Washington this week. Joining me now is NPR senior correspondent and regular DAY TO DAY contributor Juan Williams.

Hi, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:

Hi, Madeleine.

BRAND: OK, so it seems that this issue, the Iraq War protest, the growing dissent on this war, is continuing to dog the president.

WILLIAMS: Yeah, it's persistent. The polls don't seem to shift, Madeleine, and then not only do you have Cindy Sheehan again dogging the president as he goes down to Crawford, but just yesterday you had people killed in bombings and gunfire in Iraq, even as US troops were trying to share some of the Thanksgiving holiday spirit with Iraqis. And then here in Washington, you still have bad feelings all around over the kind of fireworks we saw last week between the new congresswoman from Ohio, Jean Schmidt, and the long-time congressman from Pennsylvania, the Democrat John Murtha, with Schmidt having read on the House floor this letter from a Marine colonel that indicated that Murtha was something of a coward for calling for an immediate withdrawal of US troops. So the debate continues. And then you have reports coming out of the White House about possible troop reductions going into '06, which seems as if they're now trying to lean in that direction; you know, send up test balloons, if you will, to see how the American public responds to that possibility.

BRAND: So meanwhile the president does have a second-term agenda. What does he need to do to try to refocus the attention to that?

WILLIAMS: Well, everybody in Washington is really focused on State of the Union as the new point of ignition, if you will, for the Bush administration's car. You have the hearings that will continue--start, I should say, on the Supreme Court nomination for Samuel Alito. And so there are lots of issues about how that goes forward and whether or not that puts any hurdles in the president's way as he heads toward the State of Union. But once he gets to the State of the Union, you've got to look at things like, again, is he going to try once more with Social Security, which has gone down the tubes so far? What about continuing efforts in terms of tax cuts? He has backed off on the estate tax cut, but maybe you want to make permanent some of those other tax cuts. We're still having discussions here in Washington, when the Congress gets back, about detainees and their treatment, about the Patriot Act. But the final thing, I think, Madeleine, will be immigration. I think that will be a mainstay of what the president's going to try to do as he begins the remainder of his term.

BRAND: And what does he want to do with immigration?

WILLIAMS: You have to understand the power of this issue in the Congress. Let me just say that before I begin on the White House proposal. It has become a dominant issue, especially with the Republican base, concern over the weight of illegal immigration, particularly, again, in the Southwest. And it's--and they add to this what--the notion that this could be a way the terrorists would make their way into the country. Having said that, the White House proposal is one to establish a temporary worker visa program that would allow illegal workers to stay in the United States for as much as six years, but it would not give them the opportunity necessarily--it wouldn't guarantee them the opportunity to become citizens.

BRAND: So this an enormously controversial issue. Why would he take this on?

WILLIAMS: Well, again, because it's a populist issue, Madeleine, and it's seen as one that would speak to his base. It's one in which he feels that he can get something done, unlike Social Security. This has almost become personal. I think he felt, you know, you come to Washington to get things done and he was going to get something done on Social Security. He has not been able to do it. Here is another big-ticket item. Here is another item that you could say, `I really accomplished something during my time.' So his aides at the White House and the president himself are quite enthusiastic about this.

BRAND: NPR senior correspondent and regular DAY TO DAY contributor Juan Williams. Thanks a lot, Juan.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Madeleine.

BRAND: Stay with us on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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