North Korea, Foley Scandal and Midterm Elections

The international community has responded vigorously to North Korea's reported nuclear test. The U.N. Security Council is expected to meet to discuss the test. The development may have repercussions for upcoming U.S. elections. Also, Republicans face an uphill battle in the wake of the Mark Foley scandal.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING Edition from NPR News. Renee Montagne is in Afghanistan. I'm Steve Inskeep.

(Soundbite of North Korean radio broadcast)

Unidentified Announcer: (Foreign language spoken)

INSKEEP: That's the North Korea Central Broadcasting Station in Pyongyang announcing today that North Korea carried out a nuclear test. The statement described this event as "a historic event that gave great encouragement and joy to our army and people."

Not surprisingly, countries around the world have a very different reaction. The reported test drew immediate and strong condemnation. Early this morning the White House issued a statement saying the test would constitute a provocative act in defiance of the will of the international community.

The people we have covering this story this morning include NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts. Cokie, good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Assuming the reports of this test are accurate - and it has not been fully confirmed by the United States yet - how is the international community likely to respond?

ROBERTS: Well, as you say, it hasn't been fully confirmed, although there are seismic reports that make it seem accurate. And the international community, as you've said, has already responded very strongly. Including, interestingly, South Korea, which has been very cautious in its dealings with North Korea of late, saying that it is now time to send the matter to the Security Council which only two days ago warned North Korea not to do this. So they are likely to meet and then figure out what happens from here.

But after years really of negotiation and trying to forestall this, obviously -again assuming these are correct reports - they have failed. And that becomes an enormous problem for the international community about what happens next.

INSKEEP: And what happens with the midterm elections, which are coming in just a few weeks?

ROBERTS: It will be interesting to see if this has any impact. If in fact it appears that the question of safety once again comes to the forefront and if it gets lumped into the whole sort of issue set of terrorism and the safety of the homeland, that could be useful for the president and the Republican Party. Because any time those issues do come front and center, it tends to help Republicans.

And that's what we were seeing for a while, Steve, as the president made some speeches, had some legislation on the whole question of terrorism. It had stopped the hemorrhaging away from the Republican Party and stopped the drop in his approval ratings. But then that all got drowned out in the last week or so by the scandal on Capitol Hill involving Congressman Mark Foley and pages, the congressional pages. And so I think that if in fact they can come back around from having the Foley scandal dominate the news, that that might be useful for the Republicans.

INSKEEP: Well, you keep waiting for the smoke to clear on Foley and it never does, or it hasn't yet. How bad is it for Republicans?

ROBERTS: It's pretty bad. And as you say, it hasn't cleared because more stories keep coming out. The Washington Post today reporting that as far back as 2000 Congressman Jim Kolbe was warning the leadership about Mark Foley. And the polls show - both Newsweek and Time magazines have polls showing the majority of people think that there was a Republican cover-up here. And the people who say they're going to vote Democratic in the coming election is up by a considerable amount. You know, it is looking very bad for Republicans at the moment.

Now, again, it has a certain advantage because talking about Foley is keeping Iraq out of the news. And the news from Iraq has been very bad over recent days. The casualties are way up. The percentage of people who think we're making progress in Iraq in the Newsweek poll is below 30 percent. So it's all looking very difficult for the Republicans a month out. Now everything can change and we'll see if Korea is one of those things that changes it.

INSKEEP: Okay, thanks very much. That's NPR's News analyst Cokie Roberts, who joins us every Monday morning.

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