Week in Review: Elections, Rumsfeld

The week's news is dominated by election results that put Democrats in charge of Congress and the impending departure of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

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LYNN NEARY, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary.

Governor TIM KAINE (Democrat, Virginia): By now you all know the news and the world knows the news. About an hour and a half ago, Senator Allen conceded...

(Soundbite of cheering)

Gov. KAINE: ...that Jim Webb had now won. And it is Virginia that turned the Senate blue, folks. It's Virginia.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

NEARY: Virginia Governor Tim Kaine addressing a crowd in Arlington on Thursday afternoon. Shortly after, Jim Webb was declared the winner of the last undecided Senate race. His win gave the Democrats majorities in both Houses of Congress.

NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us now.

Good to have you, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR: Yes, Lynn.

NEARY: Quite a week. The end of 12 years of Republican control of Congress. Obviously, this election turned a great deal on the issue of Iraq, voter dissatisfaction with the administration's policy in Iraq. But what else - what other factors were at play here?

SCHORR: Well, I think corruption began to play a big factor. They apparently, they managed to ride out the congressman who wanted to play games with pages and so on. But apparently when they went to the polls and began to think about it, they decided they really didn't like this kind of corruption. Then, I think, probably Katrina has left a mark that is still being felt. And I think those three together, although by all odds, the most of it, apparently, was the war.

NEARY: So would you interpret this as merely an anti-Republican vote? Or can the Democrats feel that they have some kind of mandate as a result of this?

SCHORR: Well, the first mandate I think they have is I think the public wants them very much to try to get together. And that was why I think the president began inviting in Speaker-to-be Pelosi and Senator Reid and offering let's work together, because they feel a lot of pressure from around the country to stop all this nonsense and all the politics and get something done for a change. So at least they'll start off on that tactic.

NEARY: You know, I've been reading a lot about the reaction within the Republican Party, Republicans trading charges, the conservatives blaming it on the moderates, moderates saying this is proof that we need to take the party to the center again. Who is to blame within the Republican Party?

SCHORR: Oh, blame can be apportioned very easily by anybody you want to. But I think if anybody is to be held responsible for the fix that the Republicans now find themselves in, it is the president. This was a referendum on the president along with other things; and that therefore you have to say that he is responsible for a great deal.

I'm looking here at a copy of the British magazine The Economist, and spread across the front page is The Incredible Shrinking Presidency. And that is the way, at least, the British newspapers - but I suspect others - are beginning to talk about this era.

NEARY: You know, another irony is that a lot of moderate Republicans lost their seats in this election.

SCHORR: That's right.

NEARY: So who the Democrats going to be talking to?

SCHORR: Well, that's it. If you want to get a certain number of people - say you get control - you have to take your votes where you get them. And so you have moderates, you try to get them on board. In certain cases they lost moderates, and that didn't do very well for them. It is no longer as simple as one party/another party. You have this business of independence coming in and changing the balance on all of this. And I think it's going to be that way for some time to come.

NEARY: You know, as big as this story of this election was, the really big news happened the day after the election...

SCHORR: Yes.

NEARY: ...when it was announced that Donald Rumsfeld is out as secretary of defense. This was really stunning.

SCHORR: It was very - it was quite stunning and the president helped to make it quite stunning, because he told a real flat-out deliberate lie when he was being asked about when he said - saying that he wanted secretary of defense to be with him until the end of his term, and they were going to work together, and he was doing fantastic things. And when asked later why he had told this lie, he said, well, because it might have had some effect. If you knew before the election that Rumsfeld was going, that might have affected the election.

So we now have a new reason for telling lies. It may change the balance and so on. And the fact that the president says these things with straight face and expects people to say, oh well, that's okay then, you know...

NEARY: Yeah.

SCHORR: ...that's what you call the incredible shrinking presidency.

NEARY: Well, the departure of Rumsfeld, does that really mean that the Iraq policy is going to change?

SCHORR: Well, the policy was going to change anyway. But you have that study group, who's about to report after the election, and apparently that will now go full speed ahead. We'll get a report from the Baker Study Group. And then everybody will start discussing it. And I suspect there will be some new elements in it. I think they're talking about an idea of calling a big conference.

Former Secretary Baker started the ball rolling for Palestinian peace by calling a big conference in Madrid of everybody involved. And I suspect, since he likes big conferences, that there will be a recommendation for some kind of big conference with Syria, with Iran, and everybody, as to what to do about the Iraqi situation.

NEARY: Well, how is the rest of the world reacting to the news of this election?

SCHORR: Well, on the whole, quite favorably. I mean, American popularity was at a very, very low ebb under the Bush administration. I suspect that a little of that will be abated if they can just see that Americans have talked back to the president, talked back to the government, and that things are going to change.

NEARY: And in Iraq, I get a sense that there's a little bit of nervousness...

SCHORR: Well, Iraq, what we have there is there are those people who want American troops to stay, and are worried that now with Rumsfeld gone and they're going to try to do something about that. There are also goes, I suspect, that the insurgents are probably sitting around drinking champagne and say, hey look, we drove a cabinet secretary out of office. We got the president all upset, and so on. This must look very good in terms of the rebels in Iraq.

NEARY: Some interesting months ahead.

SCHORR: I think there are some interesting months ahead, yes.

NEARY: News analyst, Dan Schorr. Thanks so much for being with us, Dan.

SCHORR: My pleasure.

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