President Pushes Gay Marriage Amendment

The California primary and President Bush's revival of calls for a constitutional amendment in "protection of marriage" headline this week's political news. Renee Montagne talks to NPR news analyst Cokie Roberts.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Tensions along the U.S. border with Canada usually have not had the same impact on domestic politics as the southern border. Tomorrow, eight states hold primary elections, and immigration is a key issue.

Joining me now for some analysis is NPR's Cokie Roberts. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS reporting:

Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, both Democrats and Republicans are looking with great interest this week at a special Congressional election down in San Diego. Talk to us about what's going on there.

ROBERTS: Well, this is to replace Duke Randy Cunningham, who is in jail for accepting bribes; and the Democratic school board member, Francine Busby, is running even in a very Republican district with former Republican Congressman Brian Bilbray.

Now, she's been trying to turn this into a referendum on what the Democrats are calling the culture of corruption in Washington, and on President Bush's handling of his job. Former Congressman Bilbray has been trying to make immigration the main issue in this election, although there is a minority party candidate in the race who is more for cracking down on immigration than Bilbray is.

If the Democrats win this very Republican seat, they will declare that this is a trend that shows that they will take the House in November. The Republicans will say, though, that it's just a peculiar election with peculiar circumstances happening there. But, the truth is if the Democrat wins, it will terrify the Republicans.

You will probably see resignations of some members of Congress who just don't want to run in this kind of environment; and I think you can safely say that there will be no immigration bill passed this year, because it will show Republicans that they just need to get tougher on that issue rather than compromise on it.

MONTAGNE: Well, immigration is an issue, of course, in other elections tomorrow - one in Iowa.

ROBERTS: Well, and that's surprising because, of course, San Diego is right on the border and illegal immigrants have drawn heavily on their social services; but in Iowa, where Jim Nussle is retiring from Congress to run for governor, his district is a very competitive district in Congress - one of the few - and immigration is the big issue among the Republican contenders there, each one trying to get tougher than the other.

And that's surprising, Renee, because Iowa is a state that is 94 percent white, as opposed to the rest of the country being about 75 percent; and only three percent Hispanic, as opposed to the rest of the country being somewhere between 13 and 15 percent. So it's this very white area that doesn't really have any immigrants, making immigration the focus. And this is all about, of course, getting out the Republican base in a year when that's the only people that people expect to be voting, is the base in both parties.

MONTAGNE: But, Cokie, all the talk about get out the base in 2006 seems to be getting something of a mixed reaction from the Bush White House.

ROBERTS: Well, sure, because the president has been for a comprehensive immigration bill and with the guest-worker program, which is not what the base is calling for, and he'll be out this week talking up that bill again.

But meanwhile today, he is speaking in favor of a Constitutional amendment against gay marriage, and the Senate will be taking that up this week. The president used his radio address on Saturday to talk about gay marriage. And, again, this is something that no one expects to pass in the Senate - a Constitutional amendment - but that the whole conversation about it is, again, geared at getting the Republican base energized and angry and out and ready to vote in November.

MONTAGNE: Well, just briefly, Democrats are looking to 2008, and they're wondering whether two former political allies will end up as political enemies.

ROBERTS: Well, because Al Gore has suddenly been all over the airwaves because of his new movie, An Inconvenient Truth; and there are cartoons and speculation that Hilary Clinton is sort of looking at him and thinking that he's an inconvenient truth if she wants to run for president and he wants to run for president.

He, yesterday, said that he was not thinking of running for president, but he said I am not making a Sherman-like statement - in other words, that he will not run and will not serve. Unless he does that, there'll be speculation that Al Gore is running for president.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much. NPR News analyst, Cokie Roberts.

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