Bush Immigration Push, Senate Grills Hayden

President Bush received mixed reviews for his new immigration policy initiative, announced to the nation Monday. On Thursday, Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, the president's choice to head the CIA, weathered a full day of Senate confirmation hearings. Noah Adams talks politics with NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams.


The big news in Washington, D.C. this week was confirmation hearings for Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, the new nominee to head up the CIA. And joining us to talk about this and other talk of the town in D.C. is NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams. Welcome back, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:

Good to be with you, Noah.

ADAMS: The General was in dress uniform for his appearance in front of the Senate intelligence committee. And in an interesting way, he talked about his tie as a way to talk about his military ties. Explain all that for us.

WILLIAMS: Well, what you have is, you know, he had four stars on his epaulettes. And he talked about his relationship to the military. To some extent, it was a response to concern that a military man would be put in position of heading the CIA. You had Carl Levin, the senator from Michigan, asking quite explicitly, you know, are you able to express differences with your superiors, in this case, the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. Michael Hayden said, absolutely yes.

And you referenced the tie. I mean, he said, you know, he wears the tie, but it's not, that he's not tied and limited, choked in terms of what he can say to people at the Pentagon. And this is a casual way to refer to it, but the reality is that there's concern that Hayden wouldn't be sufficiently independent. And Hayden, I think, did a pretty good job of trying to speak to that issue, that he is able to separate himself out despite the uniform and the tie.

ADAMS: Now, the question of the NSA phone call surveillance that's come out. Gen. Hayden was running the NSA during that time when that started. We're going to hear, in just a moment, from our reporter Alix Spiegel about how people feel about it. But how is it playing on Capitol Hill and out in the country, that issue?

WILLIAMS: Two quick points. One is that on Capitol Hill there's real concern about his failure to divulge this information to the Senate Intelligence Committee, especially behind closed doors. There's an obligation on the part of government officials to let the Senate know for oversight reasons. But out in the public, Noah, there's a sort of a mixed response. And you can see it in the poll numbers. An instant poll taken after the U.S.A. Today story on this broke now more than a week ago found that about 63 percent said it was acceptable for the National Security Agency to collect and analyze phone records if they were going after terrorists.

But a Newsweek poll taken subsequently of a larger pool said 53 percent believes that the telephone program goes too far in invading people's privacy. That's a quote. Overall, a series of polls now taken back over several years since September 11th has found that about 50 percent of Americans say they would prefer that the government do whatever they can to protect the country against terrorism, including using telephone data.

ADAMS: At a week's end, we've seen the President with a lot of splash and dash out on the border with Mexico. Good photo ops there. But the big question, I suppose is, is Congress going to do anything about the immigration issue before the recess for Memorial Day?

WILLIAMS: I think the Senate's going to do something, Noah. And then they'll go into conference with the House where you have some real hardliners, the real people who are focused on border security and reluctant to embrace the larger notion of a comprehensive bill that also allows for guest workers and tries to deal with some of the issues inside the country, given that we have 11 or 12 million illegal immigrants, and we're not going to ship them all back home. So that's the big issue. And what you see is the President trying all he can to please, and some would say appease, the far right base in order to get enough votes in the Senate to get a bill out by Memorial Day so he can go into the conference over the summer.

But it's going to be some hard sledding to deal with the far right that's setting the tone and agenda on Capitol Hill as these negotiations over a bill go forward.

ADAMS: NPR's senior correspondent Juan Williams. Thank you, Juan.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome.

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