White House Struggles with Independent Congress

Congress reconvenes following the July Fourth holiday. Renee Montagne talks to Cokie Roberts about the difficulty the White House is having with its agenda on Capitol Hill.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Good morning.

As angry as White House officials may be about the exposure of secret intelligence programs, one of the president's own allies says he hasn't heard enough. That's one of the issues lawmakers face with four months to go before midterm elections.

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

COKIE ROBERTS reporting:

Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: National security issues have dominated this Congress, and over the weekend there were more signs of tension between lawmakers and the president over intelligence.

ROBERTS: Well, that's right. Congress is going to be having a big debate as they come back after Fourth of July recess to try to deal with what the Supreme Court decided right before they left, which is that the way the administration deals with detainees is illegal. And there's a fight among Republicans, as well as between Democrats and Republicans, on how to fix that; whether to just legalize what the administration has been doing all along or whether to go to the military justice system or whether to go to something in between. But, as you say, this comes at a time when Congress is very wary about what they are learning from this administration. And one of the president's allies, Peter Hoekstra, a Republican of Michigan, who's chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said over the weekend that he had not been briefed as the Intelligence chairman on what he called a significant intelligence program.

Here's Congressman Hoekstra.

Representative PETER HOEKSTRA (Republican, Michigan): We can't be briefed on every little thing that they are doing, but in this case there was at least one major - what I consider significant activity that we had not been briefed on, that we have now been briefed on. And I want to set the standard there that it is not optional for this president or any president or people in the executive community not to keep the Intelligence Committee fully informed of what they are doing.

ROBERTS: Congressman Hoekstra spoke on Fox News Sunday and he said the administration might have broken the law by not briefing the Intelligence Committee. It's significant because he is a supporter of the president. What you're seeing here, Renee, is just no blank checks for the administration and Congress anymore.

MONTAGNE: Well, domestic issues are also dividing Republicans. Last week, both the House and the Senate held hearings on immigration. Have the two houses come any closer to resolution on that issue?

ROBERTS: No, not at all. And really the hearings were more like talkings than hearings. These were not designed to be listening, they were designed to support each house's position: the House of Representatives calling for law enforcement on immigration, the Senate saying a more comprehensive bill with a road to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

I talked, over the Fourth of July, to a conservative Republican Senator who said, you know, this could tear the Republican party apart the way that civil rights has torn the Democratic party apart in the 1960s. And that if the Republicans are seen by the growing Hispanic community as the party of discrimination against Hispanics, that it could kill the party for years to come. And that is what some Republicans are saying, and others are saying we've got an election in November and we're going to go with a tough stance on immigration.

There is, speaking of that civil rights of the '60s, voting rights - the landmark legislation - coming back up in the House of Representatives for extension this week, and there again, a big fight inside the Republican Party on how to handle that piece of legislation and what kind of signal they want to send on whether they are the party of discrimination on that issue as well.

MONTAGNE: Well, just briefly, the Democrats divisions include, especially, Iraq. Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman got caught in the crossfire

ROBERTS: And remains caught in that crossfire. He is in a very tough primary battle against an unseasoned political businessman, Ned Lamont, and Democrats in Connecticut furious with the president on the war, furious with Lieberman for backing the president on the war, and putting the Senator in a very precarious position. So much so, he has said that if he loses the Democratic primary, he will run as an Independent because he thinks he can beat the Republican in Connecticut. But then that has other Democrats backing away from him, saying they'll back whoever is the Democratic winner. It's a tough position for him to be in.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, thanks very much. NPR News Analyst Cokie Roberts.

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