Political Week in Review

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Notable political events of the past week include the leaking of the National Intelligence Estimate and the authorization of military tribunals.


Congress left town after passing a flurry of legislation: funding for Afghanistan and Iraq, new guidelines on the Geneva Convention against torture, authorization of military commissions to prosecute suspected terrorists, and money to build a 700-mile fence on the U.S./Mexico border.

Republicans hoped this final sprint before November's midterm elections will bolster their tough on terror image and help them shake off the criticism of leading a so-called do-nothing Congress.

But in that final day of the session, the media's attention was caught by the abrupt resignation of a long-time Republican House member who allegedly sent inappropriate e-mails and text messages to a teenaged congressional page.

Joining us to get a handle of the politics and policy shifts of the last couple of days is NPR's senior Washington editor, Ron Elving.

Good morning, Ron.

RON EVLVING: Good morning, Andrea. Good to have you back.

SEABROOK: Thank you. Let's start with policy. Some big important bills were passed all at once, last minute. Tell me about those.

ELVING: Yes. And that's usually the case, isn't it? They pass a lot of things right before they go home. They got the military commissions and the interrogation package. They also decided on a 700-mile fence for the Mexican border as a kind of substitute for the more comprehensive immigration program that the president wanted and that they couldn't agree on, House and Senate. They even passed a little bit of money, relatively speaking, a small down-payment for paying for that fence.

And they did two big spending bills out of a dozen that they're supposed to do, which is a big source of the do-nothing label for this Congress. But the two that they did were defense and homeland security, which are the themes for the Republican Party in this fall's campaign.

SEABROOK: Mm-hmm. So at first glance it looks like some major wins for President Bush. Are things all patched up between him and those high-profile Republicans who had opposed a lot of that legislation, including Senator McCain of Arizona, of course?

ELVING: I would not say patched up. The White House is still resentful of that resistance from these senators and their defiance that went on for several days. And on the other hand, in the end the White House did get so much of what it wanted, a lot of it after the senators had backed down. So the senators have generated a lot of resentment on both sides of the issue, both among people who supported their little rebellion, and among those who thought it was disloyal to the president and to the party.

So in the end, I don't know if they built a bridge so much as the steamroller of the White House made a roadblock into a speed bump.

SEABROOK: Hmm. It wasn't all good news for Republicans, of course, that what you just were talking about, and some major distractions, including a new book by Bob Woodward on the Bush presidency called State of Denial.

ELVING: Yes. And this is the third of Bob Woodward's books on the Bush presidency. The first two were pretty friendly and respectful books.


ELVING: This was one is primarily about the war in Iraq and the deterioration of the unity within the administration on that subject. Lots of deep divisions within the administration, most of them swirling around Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense. A lot of unhappiness in the military over what's going on in the war and what kind of force levels they had. The book also reports repeated efforts to remove Rumsfeld on the part of other senior officials in the White House, big resistance coming from Vice President Cheney to that.

You know, the first two books, the president and vice president cooperated in the writing of the book. This time they chose not to participate. The White House said they sensed a change in Woodward's attitude. And they may be regretting that now.

SEABROOK: That's after details came out this week from the National Intelligence Estimate that says global terrorism may have been made worse by the war in Iraq.

ELVING:. Yeah. I see a real relationship here between that intelligence estimate and some of the things that are detailed in this book and in another book that's about to come out from another Washington Post editor, Karen DeYoung. It's about Colin Powell, his life. And all of these things come down to an assessment of what was going on in Iraq and whether or not we were making the right decisions there.

And the National Intelligence Estimate that you mentioned came out of - were leaked out about a week ago. It's a report from 16 different American intelligence agencies. These are our spies and our intelligence analysts. And they said Iraq was making the global terror threat worse. That forced the president to declassify some more of the document, only about 10 percent of it overall, saying that those portions of it support the case for staying the course in Iraq.

SEABROOK: And then, of course, this week there was the sudden resignation of Florida Congressman Mark Foley. There's new details on that story this morning. It seems to be taking on a life of its own.

ELVING: Well, I think it's moved well beyond Mark Foley.


ELVING: Of course he's the central figure and he's done what he's done, and he's going to have to pay a great price for that. But it now is clear that the leadership of the Republican Party and the House was getting signals about Mr. Foley at least a year ago, or about a year ago, and again in the spring. And while they clearly had not seen all the details - they hadn't seen these IMs, these instant messages that are much more explicit - they knew there was a problem.

And apparently their first concern was to talk to their campaign committee chairman. And they did seem to be protecting of themselves and protecting of their position, and protecting Mr. Foley at the initial arrival of that information.

SEABROOK: Now, there were two top Republicans this morning saying that - so far that have said that Speaker Hastert knew about that as early as early this year. So...

ELVING: And this after he had said he did not know.

SEABROOK: Exactly. So now these 435 members of the House, 33 senators are back in their home districts. Americans may actually see their members of Congress. It's the final push to the election season.

ELVING: Yes. The Democrats need 15 seats, that in the House and six in the Senate. And lets just put it this way: there are very, very few seats that the Democrats look to be defending right now. They're down to a handful in the House. Maybe one endangered seat in the Senate. Whereas they are attacking seven Republican seats in the Senate that look vulnerable and 30 to 35 Republican seats in the House that look vulnerable. That's a very uneven playing field.

SEABROOK: Thank you, Ron. NPR's Washington editor, Ron Elving.

ELVING: Thank you Andrea.

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