Bush Administration's Hunting Accident Uproar

The Bush administration faces serious criticism from Capitol Hill and the press for its handling of Vice President Dick Cheney's recent hunting accident. Alex Chadwick talks with NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams about how both Democrats and Republicans are responding to the latest White House actions to quell the uproar.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams joins us now, as he does every Friday for a look back at the week in Washington. Juan, busy there these days.

JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:

It's hard to catch your breath, Alex. Snow storms and political storms.

CHADWICK: The story dominating all week, I guess, is Vice President Dick Cheney's hunting accident, which happened last Saturday. The Vice President finally broke his silence on this on Fox News in an interview Wednesday. Is this over for him now, his explanation kind of settling this?

WILLIAMS: I don't think so, Alex. I think sort of the first wave has passed because he came out and in Washington-speak had his Oprah moment where he said, you know, he's the one who pulled the trigger and shot his friend in his face. But the story continues to have legs around here, and I nationally, because of its power as a metaphor, if you will. It crystallizes, I think, the perception of this administration as one, you know, with bad aim, impulsive, trigger-happy. I think the whole notion of the poor media management conveyed arrogance, sort of an imperious attitude on the part of the Vice President.

And that's what's given this story continuing life. I think that even a friend of mine on the left said to me the other day, on the Hill, that it was Christmas and her birthday all wrapped in one, what's going on with Dick Cheney.

CHADWICK: Well, it's not just Dick Cheney. The Administration had a tough week with public scoldings on a number of key issues, and not just from the Democrats. Wednesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, up before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and here's what Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel had to say to her.

Senator CHUCK HAGEL (Republican, Nebraska): I don't see, Madame Secretary, how things are getting better. I think things are getting worse. I think they're getting worse in Iraq. I think they're getting worse in Iran.

CHADWICK: Difficult moment for the Secretary. I don't know if she was expecting that from a Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

WILLIAMS: Exactly right, Alex. I think that Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska's often one who goes his own way and challenges the Administration. But I think they were surprised at the strength with which he did it, and this is sort of a critique that's been a theme this week. You've had members of the Republican Party, the President's party, emboldened in a way that has rarely been seen in the first six years of this presidency.

For example, Lincoln Chafee, the senator from Rhode Island, in his remarks to Rice about the Hamas victory, said, you know, the United States policy in essence helped Hamas to win that election. And then you had Michael Chertoff, the head of Homeland Security, absolutely excoriated before the Senate for his handling of Hurricane Katrina. And then you have a number of Republicans voices in opposition to the Administration on the warrantless wiretaps, and you had two former press secretaries, to get back to the Cheney story we discussed earlier, Marlon Fitzwater and Ari Fleischer, both criticizing the communication strategy, the way the White House and the Vice President's office handling the release of information with regard to this shooting incident.

CHADWICK: Well, something must be going on right for the Administration this week. It can't be all bad news, or is it?

WILLIAMS: No, they're actually, they've had a victory. But it's a victory that's come at a cost. And the victory is pretty much appearing at this moment to avoid Senate hearings on the warrantless wiretap, the domestic surveillance program. Senator Pat Roberts, the Republican from Kansas, is making the argument that the Administration is now cooperating and that this is not the area that the Senate needs to look into. Roberts has previously blocked investigations into intelligence that led to the war in Iraq.

And so the Democrats, Senator Rockefeller and others, are screaming bloody murder, Alex, and promising that this will not stand. But for the moment, the Administration can claim victory from avoiding that Senate hearing.

CHADWICK: NPR senior correspondent and regular DAY TO DAY contributor Juan Williams.

Thank you, Juan.

WILLIAMS: Always a pleasure, Alex.

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