Bush's Leak Double-Speak, Christian Coalition
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
I'm Farai Chideya, and this is NEWS AND NOTES.
For a recap of the big news from inside the Beltway, we go now to NPR's senior correspondent Juan Williams, in our political corner. Juan?
JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:
We're joined now by Ron Walters, Professor of Political Science at the University of Maryland. Professor Walters' latest book is called, Freedom is not Enough.
Also with us is Reverend Joseph Watkins, member of the government relations group at Buchanan Ingersoll, and a member of the first President Bush's White House staff. Reverend Watkins joins us from WPHT in Philadelphia.
Thanks for joining us, gentlemen.
Professor RON WALTERS (Political Science, University of Maryland): Good to be with you.
Reverend JOSEPH WATKINS (Member of Buchanan Ingersoll, Former White House Staffer): Thanks, Juan.
WILLIAMS: I understand the two of you were on a panel at the Urban League. What were you discussing?
Rev. WATKINS: We were discussing the election in 2006.
Prof. WALTERS: Yeah, that's right.
WILLIAMS: and, so any quick predictions? Ron Walters?
Prof. WALTERS: Well, it looks like the Democrats teed up to turn back the House to the Democratic Party, if they don't mess it up. But the prospect of them messing it up is very good.
WILLIAMS: And what about the Senate?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Prof. WALTERS: I think it's going to be much tougher in the Senate. If I had to bet, I would bet that they may be able to move enough seats in the House, but the Senate is going to be very difficult.
WILLIAMS: Reverend Watkins, did you have a contrary prediction at the Urban League?
Rev. WATKINS: Well, it's always hard to sound smart when you're talking with--when you're talking on the other side of Ron Walters. So, I just did the best that I could. But I tried to explain where I thought we were headed in 2006. And I think that Republicans have a fair chance. Democrats are in a very good position this year, but Republicans, if they can get their message out, I think have a very good chance.
WILLIAMS: All right. Let's move on to topic one, gentlemen, which is the demise of the once mighty, as described by The Washington Post, Christian Coalition. You know, was founded long ago, Ralph Reed, Pat Robertson, both major political players in Washington. And they had a huge budget, more than $2 million. The article in The Washington Post describes them as having more than a dozen lobbyists on Capitol Hill, but today, it's down to one lobbyist at most. And what you see is that people like Pat Robertson and Ralph Reid have had their reputation stained: Ralph Reid tied to the Jack Abramoff scandal, Pat Robertson, for some of his controversial statements, such as saying that Ariel Sharon's stroke was an act of God.
Reverend Watkins, when you see that a powerful, evangelical force has gone away, such as the Christian Coalition, what do you make of it?
Rev. WATKINS: Well, certainly there are a lot of other strong Christian organizations that are out there right now. The Family Research Council is one that comes immediately to mind. But I wouldn't count the Christian Coalition out just yet. I mean, they've had some difficult times. They've had their funds depleted by virtue of trying to fend off some of the legal challenges that they've had in the last several years. And they've had, certainly, a change of leadership with Pat Robertson stepping down in 2001, and Ralph Reed, of course, having exited some time ago, but now being a candidate for lieutenant governor of Georgia.
But I wouldn't count them out. I think that, certainly, a lot of the things that they were talking about, if they don't continue--if they don't have a chance to continue to address them, it will be addressed by other organizations.
WILLIAMS: So, when you hear about this, Professor Walters, when you hear about sort of an evolution on the right, I mean, in terms of these lobbying groups going from the once-mighty Christian Coalition to now something more like the Family Research Council or the Southern Baptist Convention, do you see them coming into line in terms of maybe better representing African-American interests?
Prof. WALTERS: Well, not really. I think the best answer, Juan, for the reason why the Christian Coalition has met its demise has to do with the change in the revenue stream. The revenue stream, of course, coming out of the White House into some of these organizations, but more importantly, into churches. So that when you look at some of the campaigns around the country--the gay marriage would be a good one. Go back to 2004 and look at the grassroots efforts. You don't see necessarily the Christian Coalition. What you see is the evolution now of a number of local religious organizations and churches that are carrying on that campaign. So what we see, really, is the diversification of this, and the fruits, really, of the faith-based initiative funding going on.
WILLIAMS: Finally, just quickly, gentlemen. What about President Bush's acknowledgment that he authorized the release of classified information as part of an effort to let Americans know that Joe Wilson, the former ambassador who had returned from Africa and said that Saddam Hussein had not obtained uranium in order to pursue his nuclear ambitions, was wrong and that, in fact, according to the Bush administration, Saddam Hussein had been seeking just that? Now the president comes out and says yes, I authorized that release of information, and because I authorized it, it wasn't a leak, because if I authorized it, it can't be a leak.
Is this something that should concern anybody politically, and will it have any political ramifications, Professor Walters?
Prof. WALTERS: Yes. It goes into the discussions about the limits of presidential power and authority. Presidents obviously have the capability and responsibility, in some cases, to declassify information. The question is, here again, you know, what did the president do? When did he do it? President--this president maintains, in effect, that what he did was to declassify information by leaking it. And that is not something that previous presidents have done with respect to using this kind of method of declassifying information.
Rev. WATKINS: Well, you have to consider, of course, that presidents do have the right, by virtue of executive order, as Bill Clinton exercised, as Jimmy Carter exercised, as Ronald Reagan exercised, and as this president, George W. Bush, has exercised, they have the right by executive order to declassify information as they see fit, as long as it doesn't hurt the national security of the United States…
Prof. WALTERS: Not by leak.
Rev. WATKINS: And that's what this president did.
(Soundbite of laughter)
WILLIAMS: All right.
Rev. WATKINS: And that's what this president did, he…
(Soundbite of laughter)
WILLIAMS: Well, and on that point of discord, between our two analysts…
(Soundbite of laughter)
WILLIAMS: Reverend Joseph Watkins is a member of the government relations group at Buchanan Ingersoll, a member of the first President Bush's White House staff. He joined us from WPHT in Philadelphia. And Ron Walters, professor of political science at the University of Maryland. His latest book is called Freedom is not Enough. He joined me here in the studio in Washington, DC.
Gentlemen, thank you very much for joining us. Thanks to both of you.
Prof. WALTERS: Thank you.
Rev. WATKINS: Thanks so much, Juan.
WILLIAMS: Back to you, Farai.
CHIDEYA: Thanks, Juan. Join us every Thursday for Juan Williams and his Washington insiders right here, on Political Corner.