Week in Review: Iraq, Immigration

A discussion of the week's news events touches on President Bush's speech on Iraq, the continuing debate over immigration, legal problems for various Capitol Hill figures and Judge Alito's past views on abortion.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

(Soundbite of hands clapping)

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Some are calling for a deadline for withdrawal. Many advocating an artificial timetable for withdrawing our troops are sincere, but I believe they're sincerely wrong. Pulling our troops out before they've achieved their purpose is not a plan for victory.

SIMON: President Bush speaking at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, on Wednesday. NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us.

Hello, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR reporting:

Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And the president outlined what he called a strategy for victory in Iraq, and, in fact, urged Americans--we'll pass this note along, too--to read more about it on the whitehouse.gov Web site.

SCHORR: Right.

SIMON: Did the president's speech have a perceptible political impact?

SCHORR: Well, if you want to go by polls, there was a Gallup Poll that was taken shortly after his speech in which 54 percent gave a poor or very poor rating to the president for his handling of Iraq. On the other hand, it must be said that 59 percent said they were against setting a specific timetable for withdrawal of troops. The president has this document--35 pages, which I've looked through--as you say, called National Strategy for Victory in Iraq. But I don't know what his strategy is. This strikes me as more a public-relations document than a military-strategy document.

What the speech did not do was what some had thought it might do, was to mark some kind of turning point in the American involvement in Iraq. It didn't really. It said, you know--it was really very much we're going ahead, we're--it is--that `stay the course' was the basic idea.

SIMON: Did you notice in the president's words any sort of compromise on the question of a timetable or a deadline for withdrawal with people who have called for that?

SCHORR: No, on the contrary. First of all, he ...(unintelligible) completely to Congressman Murtha, who wants to pull out the troops within the next six months; that, he hardly seemed to dignify at all. But then there were ideas that had come up. There was the Senate, which had passed a bipartisan resolution asking at least to have a kind of a report every three months on how things are going. They would talk about maybe we can just set benchmarks. Maybe we could just get some way of looking at and give us a chance, at least, of getting troops out. No, none of that. The president was not going to play around with any of those things, and that's where you are.

SIMON: I want to ask you about a story I guess the Los Angeles Times originally reported this week, that US military officials in Iraq have been paying Iraqi newspaper editors to run stories...

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: ...that they give them.

SCHORR: Yeah.

SIMON: There's been no confirmation from the Pentagon.

SCHORR: Well, Senator John Warner, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, seemed to be so exercised that he went to the Pentagon to get an explanation of what this was about. And then he gave a long news conference afterwards in which he said that they are trying to get their facts themselves. The Pentagon is waiting to get facts. But in any event, he clearly didn't want to talk about it now. It really is quite an amazing thing, you know, when we recall that only a few months ago we were talking about the Bush administration paying people to give the right commentaries on the radio or to do television news reports on their education program, all paid for by the government. My God, it's as though they're saying, `We say we're spreading democracy to Iraq. Well, we'll spread to them the idea of how you get good press.'

SIMON: Immigration is an issue where the president is actually--seems to be torn between some members of his own party. And in appearances this week, he pledged to tighten border security and called for the creation of a guest worker program...

SCHORR: Right.

SIMON: ...that would allow legal immigrants to hold jobs in the US for limited periods of time...

SCHORR: Three months.

SIMON: ...that could lead--exactly--which successively could lead to residency. Does this program, in your estimation, seem to offer...

SCHORR: Oh...

SIMON: ...a resolution to those problems?

SCHORR: ...I'll tell you, no president has ever really been able to come up with a policy on immigration that would please everybody. There are two basic sides. There is business, which likes to have low-wage labor. And then there are the people who are very security-conscious and who think it's terrible to let all these people come in illegally. And trying to fashion a bill that would accommodate both of these people has proven in the past to be rather impossible. So now what are they doing? The president went to Arizona, he went to New Mexico, he went to places near the border and says, `Yes, we're going to really build fences and better fences. We're going to have more people watching everything.' And there will be a resolution introduced in Congress probably next week saying that border security comes first. That was Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader. But nothing was said about the guest worker program.

SIMON: Randy Cunningham, Republican congressman from San Diego, resigned on Monday after he had pled guilty to accepting $2.4 million in bribes from defense companies in exchange for his influence in the awarding of contracts. Now of course this resignation occurs at a time when we could begin to list them. There's the investigation into Congressman DeLay's dealings with the lobbyist Jack Abramoff...

SCHORR: Yup.

SIMON: ...and Michael Scanlon. And also the SEC is investigating Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. What do you make of this collection of investigations at this point? If there is any general thread between them.

SCHORR: I had a very good name, Phil Stern, who wrote a book some 15, 20 years ago, the title of which was "The Best Congress Money Can Buy." And I wish that Phil were around today to see how true that has become. There is something that people call a culture of corruption, and it seems to go very far and very deep. Now somebody said to me--I may not be able to uphold this in detail, but somebody said to me, `Why is it that the Republicans have all the money scandals and the Democrats have all the sex scandals?'

SIMON: I don't know. I can recall plenty of Democratic money scandals.

SCHORR: All right.

SIMON: But don't ask me to recall Republican sex scandals.

SCHORR: Oh, I wouldn't...

SIMON: My memory might be a little more dim on that one.

SCHORR: I would not ask you to do that.

SIMON: The National Archives this week released a 1985 memo written by Judge Alito, Samuel Alito, who's been nominated for the Supreme Court. He was then assistant solicitor general in the Reagan administration.

SCHORR: Right.

SIMON: And the memo outlines what amounts to a legal strategy to weaken--ultimately, perhaps, overturn--the Roe vs. Wade decision. Do you think this presents a confirmation problem for Judge Alito that hasn't been presented so far?

SCHORR: Well, yes, I think it does represent a confirmation problem. I think you put it very well. But I don't think it's a confirmation problem that he will not necessarily be able to answer. The Republicans have made very clear that they want Alito confirmed. If at times he wrote things which indicated that--what his views were on abortion, if that's a problem for people who believe in the right to abortion, undoubtedly there will be a great deal of fuss made over it when the hearings are held. But I think in the end that it's very difficult for Democrats to really stop it because if they try to filibuster--and the word `filibuster' has not yet hardly been mentioned, but you're beginning to...

SIMON: Not in these...

SCHORR: Not in this...

SIMON: Yeah.

SCHORR: ...context, but, you know, first beginning to hear that they will consider whether they want to filibuster. But they know that if they do, that, in the end, the Republicans have the weapons of being able to end the filibuster. And so while it would cause a lot of fury and fuss, it may not get very far. But I think there will be a lot more trouble before this all happens.

SIMON: All right, thank you very much. Dan Schorr.

SCHORR: Sure thing.

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