Durbin: A Call for Change as Midterm Nears
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
From NPR News, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand. Alex Chadwick is on assignment. Coming up, election analysis from NPR senior political correspondent Juan Williams.
First, though, just a year ago, only the most optimistic Democrats thought their party might have a chance of taking back a majority in the House. Now a weekend away from Tuesday's midterm elections, some Democrats believe they can take the House and possibly the Senate. We'll talk with Senate leaders on both sides of the aisle today. We begin with Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois. He's the Democratic minority whip, and welcome to the program, Senator.
Senator DICK DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): Good to be with you.
BRAND: Democrats need six Senate seats to take control. What do you think the prospects are today, Friday.
Sen. DURBIN: I would only amend your statement by saying six Senate seats out of eight red Republican states. So we've known from the beginning that this was an uphill climb. We felt, along the way, that about four of these seats were within our grasp, but the others were in play and still remain that way today.
BRAND: So where are your best chances?
Sen. DURBIN: Well, the best chances are Pennsylvania and Ohio, Rhode Island and Montana. Montana is now a little closer, but we feel good about the candidate, John Tester, and the organization. And then the four states that are still remaining, of course, are Missouri, which is a toss-up; Tennessee, where we've been down a few points and now Harold Ford has recovered a little bit; and Virginia, where surprisingly we've been ahead a few points - over George Allen, with Jim Webb. The other state, the eighth state, is Arizona - where Jim Pederson has run a spirited campaign and we haven't given it up.
BRAND: I suppose a lot of people might wonder why you wouldn't walk away with this. This is a period of time when the country - when many Americans are simply fed up with the ruling party, and prospects haven't looked so good for a long time.
Sen. DURBIN: Take a look at the president's map, see where he's going this weekend. He's going to the states that he carried with the biggest margins when he ran for president. He's not getting near a blue state, even a purple state. He is trying to keep his base together, and we are fighting him at his base. The eight states that I've talked to you about - with the exception of Rhode Island and perhaps Pennsylvania, as you think about it - are basically states that have done well for the Republican Party for a long time. And we have to beat Republican incumbents or take seats away that were once recently held by Republicans. So that's why it's not a slam-dunk, as George Tenant would say.
BRAND: Now, the president has said that approving a Democratic Congress, if voters vote in a Democratic Congress, that would weaken the U.S. war effort in Iraq. What do you think about that?
Sen. DURBIN: I can tell you it would change the U.S. war effort in Iraq, and that is the number one issue. Americans haven't missed the fact that October was the bloodiest, deadliest month for our soldiers in years for Iraq, 104 died - in our state of Illinois, 109 - two more in the last week or two. Americans understand that if we're going to change direction and move in a different direction in Iraq, we need different leadership in Congress.
So I would say yes, the president's policies will be challenged. We're going to look for a new way to bring our troops home with their mission truly accomplished.
BRAND: And what would that new way be?
Sen. DURBIN: Well, I think it comes down to dealing with the Iraqis, straight up. I mean, we've done everything they could ask for. We sent in our soldiers who risked and gave their lives to depose a dictator; dig him out of a hole in the ground, put him up for trial; let the Iraqis write a constitution, hold free elections, form a government - and now it's time for them to stand and defend their own country.
For us to hear from the prime minister of Iraq that we shouldn't pressure him to assume control of his own country, I think that's the wrong approach. It's time for them to take control so American soldiers can come home.
BRAND: And when should they come home?
Sen. DURBIN: Well, we've got to start bringing them home so the Iraqis know we're serious about it. When President Bush gives a blank check to the Iraqi government and says just don't worry about it, we'll stay here indefinitely. We'll let the next president - that's what he said - the next president worry about bringing troops home. That's exactly the wrong message. It puts no pressure on the Iraqis. We owe it to our soldiers to make sure that we're moving toward the day when they start coming home.
BRAND: And yet, Senator, with all due respect, Democrats seem to be all over the map on this one. They do not have a unified plan for getting out of Iraq.
Sen. DURBIN: And neither do Republicans. And if you listen to this campaign, you'll see a lot of Republicans who are now saying maybe the president is wrong. You know, let's be very honest about. When we decided to invade Iraq, the president drove a bus into a cul-de-sac and now challenges anyone to figure out how to turn it around. There is no easy answer, and unfortunately as he just says we're going to stay the course and get touch, we lose more and more soldiers. This is unacceptable.
BRAND: Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, a Democrat. Thank you very much.
Sen. DURBIN: Good to be with you.
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