Troop Levels, Ney and Foley

NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams talks with Alex Chadwick about the week's top political news stories — U.S. Army officials announce plans to maintain current troop levels in Iraq through 2010, and more turmoil for former Republican congressmen Bob Ney and Mark Foley.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And now to Washington, where we're joined by NPR senior correspondent and regular DAY TO DAY contributor Juan Williams. Juan, welcome back to the show.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good day, Alex.

CHADWICK: So General Dannatt's U.S. counterpart, the Army chief of staff at the Pentagon, Peter Schoomaker - General Peter Schoomaker, I should say - told reporters this week that he is planning for U.S. troops to stay in Iraq at current levels through 2010. Now, it's a month to election day - not even. Control of Congress is at stake. What do you make of General Schoomaker's timing here?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know what's interesting about this is he not only said that he was making plans - the emphasis is on plans, and of course there are all sorts of contingencies that may come into play - but he also spoke about - in political terms, Alex - spoke about tepid, tepid public support for the war. It said that the U.S. people, the American people, respect the military, but they're not giving it sufficient funding because they don't have a proper sense of the danger. It sounded like he was making a political statement much as we hear the British are interpreting the statement coming from their army chief of staff.

So it sounded very political, and then George Casey, General George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, who had a meeting with President Bush Thursday, with Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, came out and said he's not comfortable with what's going on in Iraq at the moment, that things are tough, there's going to be an increase of violence over the holiday period. But he said he had no plans - this is General Casey speaking - no plans to boost the number of American troops. He said if needed, he'll ask, but he's worried about the long-term consequences because it could both antagonize the ongoing violence in Iraq and slow the development of an independent Iraqi government.

CHADWICK: Do you know the context of General Schoomaker's remarks? Was this something - did he have to make a - kind of a statement to reporters this week on what troop levels are going to be, or is this something that he came out and said?

WILLIAMS: No. He was at an Army convention, and when he made the comment, the general comments - and so he was talking to other Army officials, and then reporters picked it up.

CHADWICK: Yeah. Okay, also the House Ethics Committee has been behind closed doors most of the week hearing from key players in the scandal around former Florida Republican Congressman Mark Foley, his inappropriate communications with congressional pages. Have you heard what's coming out of that, and where, generally, how is this Foley matter playing at this point?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, it's interesting. If you look at the polls, what you're seeing is that it's not having much impact on Republicans or Democrats, and that's not necessarily good news for Republicans, because according to the polls, right now you have a high level of turnout anticipated, with people paying a lot of attention to this mid-term election. It's at the levels now where people were talking about the turnover that took place back in '94 when Republicans gained control. It's that kind of intensity on the Democratic side.

And you know, when you get to that level, Alex, it really - the pollsters around town in the political circles right now are just counting on the fact that we have, you know, four or five weeks before Election Day. Otherwise, they say if the election was held today, it would be just a tsunami in terms of wins for the Democrats, and so they're just - they don't know what to do at this point except to hope that the dynamic shifts.

CHADWICK: Well, you know, they can be grateful that everyone's forgotten about Jack Abramoff, the disgraced lobbyist, but one of his - one of his friends in corruption, Ohio Republican Congressman Bob Ney entering a guilty plea today on corruption charges. Maybe this scandal will be revived.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Well, it looks like it, because then Ney has said he doesn't have any plans - immediate plans to resign. He plans to just wait until the - his term expires January 3rd. But you see here from the Republicans that they want to get him out as quickly as possible. So there's going to be lots more talks about Abramoff and Bob Ney.

Juan Williams, senior correspondent for NPR joining us on Friday to talk about politics.

Juan, thank you again.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome.

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