White House to Defend Iraq Policy, Domestic Spying

The week in politics will see President Bush make a renewed push for support of his policy in Iraq, while the administration makes further attempts to defend domestic spying. Democrats seem focused on Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. President Bush travels to Kansas today where he'll begin a weeklong defense of his domestic spying program. Mr. Bush will speak at Kansas State University, the same campus where 35 years ago, another republican president spoke in the midst of war. We'll hear more about that speech in a moment. First, Washington spent the weekend reacting to a speech Friday by the president's Chief Political Advisor Carl Rove.

Joining me now is NPR's Political Analyst, Cokie Roberts, good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS reporting: Morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Carl Rove has kept a somewhat low profile during the ongoing CIA leak investigation. Does this signal his re-entry into the political fray?

ROBERTS: I think big time. And the coverage of it shows how important he is in the political arena. Of course, with the CIA leak investigation having to do with who gave the name of Valerie Plame to the press, and Carl Rove's name has come up repeatedly in that investigation, although he has not been indicted. But during all of that conversation, he was not coming forward and making speeches. But he went to the Republican National Committee on Friday and made a very hard-hitting speech about the plans for 2006, making it very clear that the Republicans will, once again, run on national security and the economy, which has picked up since the last election.

And on the question of domestic spying he said, and I am quoting here, "Let me be as clear as I can be. President Bush believes if Al Qaeda is calling somebody in America it's in our national security interest to know who they're calling and why." And then Rove said, some important Democrats clearly disagree. Now this, of course, refers to the program where the National Security Agency has been listening in on phone conversations between people who are suspected terrorists abroad and people in the United States. And that program has come under great fire with members of both parties, actually, saying that it's illegal. The President is clearly out defending that, as you said, out this week all over the place defending that program.

MONTAGNE: Well, defensive or defending, as you say, or is it also offensive?

ROBERTS: Well, that's a good question. I think that there are Republicans who now believe that this is working for the President. The polls show the nation somewhat divided on it. But I talked to a key Republican over the weekend who said, look the voters are for the president defending us. They pretty much don't want to know how and why, and the reason the President is out this week is to shore up that support. So, both defensive and offensive. And the Republicans do realize that terrorism and national security has been their trump card.

They think that the economy might work for them in this election. But the economy is always problematic. Oil prices are climbing once again. The situation in Iran can make that worse, as we saw the reactions to that with the stock market falling a couple of hundred points on Friday. So, security is what the Republicans fall back on. And it is certainly the reason the President won the last election.

The question is whether the Republicans still hold that trump card. The problems in Iraq make it difficult for them. The response to Katrina makes it difficult for them. So, I think they think very strongly that this is what they must do to secure their reelection.

MONTAGNE: And the Democrats, where are they in all of this?

ROBERTS: All over the place. And you have Democrats, like John Kerry, yesterday, saying on the ABC program, This Week, of the Rove speech, he's playing an old game. They always play the 9/11 card. And he said, we all support surveillance. You can protect the safety of the American people and you can protect the Constitution.

And that's what a lot of Democrats are saying is that this program is useful, but it has to be exercised within the law and that they're not sure whether the president is working within the law or not, that that needs to be investigated. Other Democrats say, wait a minute, you can't spy on Americans no matter what. So, then they really have not made a stand.

MONTAGNE: Well, Cokie, very quickly. Bottom line, will the Democrats be able to grab the issue of national security for the fall elections?

ROBERTS: They certainly hope so, but they have to make a lot of stands for the fall election. Tomorrow is the vote on Judge Alito and the Judiciary Committee. And they're trying to turn that into an argument about executive power. And so that is all going to be wrapped up together in a national security debate.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much. That's NPR Senior News Analyst, Cokie Roberts.

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