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Week in Review: Congress in Transition

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Week in Review: Congress in Transition

Week in Review: Congress in Transition

Week in Review: Congress in Transition

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In this discussion of the week's news: new leadership for the Democratic Congress, and Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's visit to the White House.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Busy week in Washington, D.C. Both parties elect their leaders to the new Democratic Congress that starts in January. The old Republican Congress is still in session. Appropriations bills still wait for approval. The Iraq Study Group hears from President Bush and Prime Minister Blair. And Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert visits the White House.

NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us.

Hello, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR: Howdy, Scott.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Howdy to you, too. Good to be back with you. Nancy Pelosi of California, who will certainly be the next speaker, selected John Murtha to be the next House majority leader. But her own party voted against her, and instead picked Congressman Steny Hoyer of Maryland. What happened? How did she miscalculate?

SCHORR: Well, I'll tell you this. It would not have happened, I think, were it not for the fact that the balloting is secret. And if these people were going to vote and know that the speaker knew that they had voted against her, it might have gone differently. But with a secret ballot they're able to vote the way they wanted. They like Steny Hoyer. They've worked with Steny Hoyer. Some of them don't like John Murtha very much. He's had some problems of his own and...

SIMON: You're talking about ethical allegations?

SCHORR: Ethical. That's right.

SIMON: Yeah.

SCHORR: And in view of that, it is possible, thanks to the secret ballot, to say we're getting the people, the guy we want; you don't get the guy you want.

SIMON: Does losing this first battle within literal minutes of being elected the next speaker in any way lessen the strength of Speaker Pelosi's hand?

SCHORR: Well, we'll find that out. I mean, when you start out in this new career and the first thing that happens to you is you're defeated by your own caucus, that can't be very good for you. But still, somehow they hugged and kissed and did all the rest at the end of it. As though to say, all right, you had your chance, let's get back together again. I don't know. It may not be disastrous.

SIMON: New old Republican leadership in the Senate, Trent Lott, who used to be the majority leader, was elected by his party as Senate minority whip.

SCHORR: Well, it shows you that among Republicans there can be redemption. He got into terrible trouble four years ago by making remarks supporting Strom Thurman in his most segregationist period, and a result of that, he was muscled out of service. And after four years they decided we could use you. You know a lot. We forgive you. Come back.

SIMON: House and Senate have both recessed for Thanksgiving break without making much progress on appropriations. Nine of 11 spending bills haven't been passed. Are they calculatedly saving this unfinished business for the Democrats when they take over?

SCHORR: Oh, I don't think they calculatedly do anything in this Congress, I must say. No, I think what has happened is that in order to run the government you have to have appropriations for every one of the departments. Well, they have two, for veterans, for defense and so on. And the other nine, they haven't gotten around to. This has become a habit of the Congress.

They were in a year, a budget year, which started October 1st, and they have yet to pass the necessary appropriations to run the government. So what do they do? They have something called a continuing resolution, which continues at the old pace, and it may not be what people want to do right now but it's all that they can do.

And so the Congress came back for a short week, went away again. It's coming back again on December 4th. Their current appropriation expires on December 8th. And we will keep our fingers crossed this will have one of those situations where the government had to go out of business.

SIMON: Last time they went out of business, that's when President Clinton got a pizza delivered to his office by a non-salaried employee, wasn't it?

SCHORR: That's right. The White House staff was furloughed along with most of the rest of the government. And therefore when the president wanted a pizza, he had to ask an unpaid intern to go and get it. You may remember other things that happened then.

SIMON: Yes. And now you know the rest of the story.

The Iraq Study Group met with President Bush at the White House this week and also conferred with Secretary of State Rice and Prime Minister Blair of Britain. What do we know, which is a way of saying, what has been leaked so far about what the recommendations might be?

SCHORR: All that's really been leaked so far is that James Baker likes the idea of convening a conference, a large conference; we're going to attack the problems including Iran and including Syria. It is not clear whether the president will accept any such proposal. But the interesting thing is that on the very day that James Baker and company met with the president, he also met separately with Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, and came out and promised him that he would oppose Iran.

So I think something strange is happening, in which one side says this: we must deal with Iran. And then the other says: there is Iran, which has threatened to annihilate Israel, we can't really do business with them. And I don't know how this will come out.

SIMON: President Bush is in Asia this week. He's visited Singapore, Indonesia, and he's now in Vietnam, where he's attending an annual economic summit. What significance is there of a U.S. president going to Vietnam?

SCHORR: What significance? Well, first of all, he had hoped to be able to deliver a trade agreement with Vietnam, but the Congress didn't act on that in time. And so he had arrived there without that. There is a certain irony, Scott. There is a certain irony in President Bush being in Vietnam, a country that in the past he has tried so hard to avoid.

SIMON: Thanks very much, Dan Schorr.

SCHORR: My pleasure.

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