Foley, Iraq Cause Headaches for GOP

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NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams talks with Madeleine Brand about how the unfolding scandal surrounding disgraced former Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL), plus a spike in violence in Iraq, is causing Republican political candidates headaches as the November nationwide elections approach.


From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY, I'm Madeleine Brand. Coming up, the Catholic church may find that unbaptized babies get into heaven after all. The pope considers ending the concept of limbo.

First, Dennis Hastert may be getting out of some political limbo. He says he won't resign. Now leading Republicans are declaring their loyalty to him after a rocky week of dealing with a Mark Foley Congressional page scandal. NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams joins me now, as he does every Friday. Hi, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good day, Madeleine.

BRAND: Well, a lot of conservatives were asking for Hastert's head earlier this week. Is he now out of danger?

WILLIAMS: No. You know, despite all the statements of support, I think a lot of this is really a false face. This investigation that the FBI has launched really has some dynamite potential going forward, and it's worrisome to Hastert, to his aides. Kirk Fordham, who had worked for Foley, gone on to work for others in the House, is talking with the FBI. The FBI is talking to others who worked as pages, and we just don't know exactly what will be revealed. And so there's a sense of being on pins and needles among Republicans. And don't forget that Roy Blunt, who's a member of the Republican leadership, has said that Hastert should have done more. John McCain, the senator, is saying the Senate should investigate the House. These investigations and the political pressure are growing on Hastert, not receding.

BRAND: Well, he has apologized for handling - his handling of the matter. He has said the buck stops here with him. He's called for an investigation, for many investigations. So what more can he do?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think at this point what he has to do is understand some of the political dynamics. To some extent people want a head on a stake somewhere, and somebody has to be sacrificed. But is that really going to stop the bleeding? Could it be instead that he, you know, acknowledges when he knew about it, speaks openly about it, not just to the Senate ethics panel, not just to the FBI? I don't know how much of that is going to help, because remember, we're in a political season, Madeleine, and what you need from the Republican candidate's point of view is someone who can say it's over and Republicans, for all their, you know, protestation, truly have clean hands in this matter and are not open to the charge that they're hypocrites for having focused on morals and now allowed this scandal to take place.

BRAND: And as you say, we are in the midst of an election season, about a month away from Election Day. How is this playing outside the Beltway?

WILLIAMS: Well, it's not good. What you see is that when it comes to the Foley scandal, according to a new poll by Time magazine, 54 percent of American voters now say they're more likely to vote for a Democrat. That's up 11 percent since June. In addition to which 80 percent, Madeleine, say they're aware of the scandal.

I've got to tell you, as someone living in Washington in this political circle, what's amazing to me is the number of people who don't care about politics who say they're aware of this because it involves sex and children and homosexuality. This is a scandal that's penetrated deep into the American psyche.

BRAND: All right, and turning to another news item that has been bad news for Republicans, the war in Iraq. It's been a particularly bloody week this week. More than two dozen U.S. troops have been killed. What do polls say about that and how it will affect the outcome?

WILLIAMS: Just quickly, Madeleine, the Pew poll, the latest Pew poll, says 58 percent of Americans saying the U.S. military effort in Iraq is not going well. Forty-seven percent say the war is hurting, hurting the overall war on terrorism. And in the Time poll that I referenced earlier, only 38 percent now say they approve of the decision to invade. But 65 percent say President Bush's handling of the war has been done badly.

BRAND: NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams. Thank you, Juan.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Madeleine.

BRAND: Juan joins us every Friday to talk politics.

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