Political Corner: This Week in Politics

For a wrap-up of the week in politics, NPR Senior Correspondent Juan Williams is joined by political consultant Rev. Joseph Watkins and Democratic political consultant Donna Brazile.

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ED GORDON, host:

I'm Ed Gordon, and this is NEWS AND NOTES.

It's Thursday, and that means NPR's Senior Correspondent Juan Williams is back with a recap of the news from inside the Beltway on our Political Corner. Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:

Thanks, Ed. I'm joined now by Donna Brazile, former campaign manager for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000. Ms. Brazile now runs her own political consulting firm here in Washington. And joining us from WPHT in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is Reverend Joseph Watkins, a member of the Government Relations Group at Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney. Rev. Watkins was a member of the first President Bush's White House staff.

Donna, Rev. Watkins, thank you for joining us.

Ms. DONNA BRAZILE (Political Consultant): Thank you, Juan.

Reverend JOSEPH WATKINS (Member, Government Relations Group, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney): Thanks so much, Juan.

WILLIAMS: Let's start by discussing a controversial statement made my Maryland Senate candidate Michael Steele. Steele was off the record, or I should say on background, with The Washington Post and said that running as a Republican was a burden, that he would not want President Bush to campaign for him. Given what's going on with black candidates being wooed and supported by the Republican Party, how damaging is this, Reverend Watkins?

Rev. WATKINS: Well, of course, candidates say things during the heat of the campaigns and during quiet moments when they may have their guard down. I think that this - Michael Steele has proven himself to be a strong Republican, a strong supporter of the president, somebody who really wowed Americans at the Republican National Convention back in 2004, which really helped catapult him to national stature and is somebody who is expected the Senate race in Maryland in November.

I think he has a great chance of winning. I think that in order to win he has to bring Democrats to his side, and I think that's he's going to do that effectively. But I wouldn't put too much on the comments that he made.

WILLIAMS: Donna Brazile, but it does look, at least from, you know, an outsider looking in, as if Michael Steele is biting the hand that's been feeding him, that's been lifting him up in terms of political circles. What's going on?

Ms. BRAZILE: I believe this was a strategic move on his part to separate himself from the president, almost like George Bush ran in 2000 as a different kind of Republican. So I think this was a good move to tell voters that he's his own person, that he has his own views, his own positions and don't tie him to President Bush. On the other hand, I think it has everything to do with poll numbers, and he doesn't want to go down a sinking ship.

WILLIAMS: Well, if President Bush is not going to go campaign for Michael Steele because Michael Steele doesn't want to be too close to him, the president does have a welcome mat extended from Pennsylvania gubernatorial nominee Lynn Swann, again a Republican, a black Republican.

Joe Watkins, why does Lynn Swann want President Bush coming into Pennsylvania?

Rev. WATKINS: Well, Lynn Swann is a great candidate. The only thing that he lacks right now is really the money that he needs to be able to compete with Ed Rendell in the fall campaign. A presidential visit for a gubernatorial candidate means a lot of money; it means an immediate boost to one's campaign coffers of maybe one or two or three million dollars.

WILLIAMS: Speaking about the president, the Republican Party and African-Americans, Paul Krugman, a columnist in The New York Times, had a column this week headlined, Black and Blue: African-Americans and the GOP. And writing in the aftermath of the president's address to the NAACP for the first time, Mr. Krugman says that there's a reason that black Americans distrust the Republican Party.

And what he goes on to say is that you still have an administration that does things like politicize the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, a president that is all for repealing a estate tax and high taxes but not paying attention to issues of poverty in the country.

So, Donna Brazile, is Paul Krugman right? Is that the reason that black Americans, despite the Michael Steeles and the Lynn Swanns, still don't believe that the president is worth their vote?

Ms. BRAZILE: It took Democrats over 40 years to attract the black support that it currently enjoys. And I think for Republicans, they have to come to grips with the fact that many African-Americans have been turned off by their lack of follow through.

WILLIAMS: When do you think that there will be a competition for the black vote?

Ms. BRAZILE: I think it will come when there's a serious person running for the presidency that somehow (unintelligible) make an overture to African-Americans throughout the process. I think it will come over years of African-Americans hearing from Republican presidents and Republican Congress and Republican governors that African-Americans are wanted, that African-Americans will have a seat at the table to help shape public policy.

But we're a long way from that period. Right now what we have is we have good African-Americans who are serving in the Bush administration. We have excellent black candidates who are running for public office for the first time. So this is the beginning of a period that will take many years for the Republicans to enjoy black support.

WILLIAMS: Joe Watkins, do you think Donna Brazile is being pragmatic, or is she daydreaming?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Rev. WATKINS: No, she's not daydreaming. What I would say is that things are changing slowly. Not perhaps as quickly as some people on the Republican side might like to see them change, but they are changing. There is certainly in some circles a greater interest and more awareness of the Republican Party for African-Americans.

And this is good. We saw it, of course, in the 2004 election, and we're likely to see it again this coming November. I think the Republicans will be able to capitalize in some of the disappointment that African-Americans have had with Democrats taking them for granted in some instances. And they'll look more closely at Republicans.

And regarding the Krugman article, if it has to do with economics, certainly the message is getting better and better. If you look at the rate of unemployment in the country, it's at an all-time low; it's lower than it's been in four decades, under five percent. And if you look at the rate of homeownership and the rate of growth of small businesses and minority small businesses, these are certainly strong indicators that some things are beginning to change to for people of color.

That's a good message. There is still a long distance to travel, but that's a good message.

WILLIAMS: Donna Brazile was campaign manager for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000, and now runs her own political consulting firm in Washington when she's not advising the president. And Reverend Joseph Watkins, a member of the Government Relations Group at Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney. Joe Watkins was a member of the first President Bush's White House staff, and he joined us from WPHT in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Thank you, Donna. Thank you, Joe. Appreciate your time for Political Corner.

Ms. BRAZILE: Thank you, Juan.

Rev. WATKINS: Thanks, Juan.

GORDON: Join Juan Williams and his Beltway insiders for the week's top issues from Capitol Hill every Thursday on Political Corner.

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