Libby Trial Begins, Kerry Won't Enter Presidential Race

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In this week's Political Junkie, Ken Rudin talks about the State of the Union address, the Scott Libby perjury trial and John Kerry's decision not run for president in 2008.

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: Tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION, it's Science Friday. Guest host, Joe Palca will be here with the look at the importance of infections, and why need them to live, plus, the latest news on the search for new cancer treatments. That's all, tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION: Science Friday.

And now, a special edition of the Political Junkie.

(Soundbite of Political Junkie Segment Introduction)

President RONALD REAGAN: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.

President JOHN F. KENNEDY: Ich bin ein Berliner.

Mr. LLOYD BENTSEN (Former Senator, Texas): Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: But I'm the decider.

Governor HOWARD DEAN (Democratic, Vermont): (Screaming)

CONAN: We thought there'd be no better way to conclude NPR's special, Crossing the Divide, series, and with a dose of the week in partisan politics. Besides, Ken Rudin was lost in West Virginia yesterday. And what a week it is. John Kerry announced he will not run for president, the Scooter Libby trial begins here in Washington, Dick Cheney gets feisty with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, plus, the State of the Union according to George W. Bush.

If you have questions or comments about the week in politics or the race for 2008, give us a call. 800-989-8255, e-mail is talk@npr.org.

And with us is Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor and political junkie. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal.

CONAN: Also, still with us are Ed Gillespie, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, now with Quinn, Gillespie and Associates, a bipartisan public affairs firm - that's nice to hear that - here in Washington, and Donna Brazile, the campaign manager for Al Gore in 2000, currently, chair of the Democratic National Committee's Voting Rights Institute. In the audience at studio 4A, we have students from universities in Washington D.C. area. And we'll be hearing from them as well.

But Ken, from Ed, it was almost president. John Kerry chose a very understated forum, at which, to make his announcement. There was no more than two or three senators on the Senate floor when he -

RUDIN: This is not unusual for a debate, I mean, unless there's a vote, you'll often have two or three senators. But Kerry's announcement came, I guess, a couple of months after his botched joke and two years after his botched campaign. But it's pretty interesting.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And did it really come as a surprise?

RUDIN: No. Not really, because somehow, we've anointed - from the beginning, it was Hillary versus the non-Hillary. And once Barack Obama announced that he was going to run, basically many candidates - Evan Bayh of Indiana, perhaps Mark Warner of Virginia - have said that there's no room for a third candidate. Now, John Edwards doesn't agree with that calculation. But Kerry, the money wasn't there, the support wasn't there. He wanted to run. He probably thought he could've won it.

He should've won if many Democrats feel. Had 60,000 votes in Ohio switched, he would've been the next president of the United States. So he felt - coming that close, he felt another chance. But the support wasn't there for him and neither was the money.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. There are few other people who think that there's room for another candidate - Dennis Kucinich, Tom Vilsack among others.

RUDIN: Yeah. But don't leave anybody out or they'll kill you. But that's true. But the fact is that given the fact that Hillary Clinton that she's going to, you know, not abide by any kind of federal campaign finance laws, that she'll raise as much as she wants for both the primary campaign and the general election campaign. You either have to be extremely rich or accessed to a lot of money to run.

So all the others - the Vilsacks, the Bill Richardsons, the Bidens, the Dodd's, all those people - they have a tough, you know, road ahead of them. Plus the fact that these giant states - the California, New Jersey, New York - may move early in the process, early at February. You have to have a lot of money upfront, really early, to be considered as a serious candidate.

CONAN: And Illinois, which maybe doing it to help their home son?

RUDIN: Well, except they have two favorite sons because Hillary Clinton was born in Illinois so you have…

CONAN: Really?

RUDIN: Yes.

CONAN: Thought she was a Yankee fan?

RUDIN: A lifelong Yankee fan.

CONAN: Let's talk about the trial of Scooter Libby, the former chairman - the former aide to Vice President Cheney. The defense's opening statements had very little to do with whether Libby lied to the FBI agents or not and a whole lot to do with Karl Rove?

RUDIN: Well, it seems to be a very interesting little dynamic going on the White House between the Bush camp - which is of course, is Bush and his top political operative Karl Rove - and the Cheney camp, and of course, Lewis Libby, the long time, you know, heir apparent, not heir apparent, but the number two to Dick Cheney, saying basically that he was almost thrown overboard to protect Karl Rove. So there's kind of interesting defense going on there.

CONAN: On Tuesday, President Bush reached out to Democrats and gave a neater defense of the - measured defense of the Iraq war in his State of the Union speech. The next day, Vice President Dick Cheney used a very different tone on CNN (unintelligible) pronged attack.

RUDIN: You mean good cop, bad cop? Well, the point is that the administration is not backing down at all. What Dick Cheney said that was most interesting, if the Democrat Congress - not the Democratic Congress - if the Democrat Congress wants to cut off the funding for the Iraq War, let them go ahead and do it. I think that's almost what the Republicans would love to see happen, because I don't think the American people would support it. But clearly, they don't - it doesn't matter if it's going to be a binding resolution disapproving of the war or a John Warner Republican resolution disapproving of the war.

Dick Cheney basically said - not basically - he said that it really doesn't matter. We're going ahead with the 21,500 extra troops, and you know, that's our decision. We're sticking with it.

CONAN: Well, let's bring in our guests on this point. I really wanted to ask them about this, the politics of the Iraq War and this resolution - non-binding resolution in the United States Senate. Ed Gillespie, is this something that Republicans are going to resist on the theory that it's bad for morale, a bad moment to look divided in the world?

Mr. GILLESPIE: I think that is a real factor. I think it's the concern about looking like we are divided in the message that it sends around the world. But I have to say, you know, the fact is we have men and women, brave men and women in harm's way, and I don't - you know, the Iraq War and our approach to it is less and less a partisan issue.

It's a matter of conscience. And there are Republicans who have concerns about the execution of the war, and they're expressing those concerns. John Warner is one of them. He's supportive of the president. He's been respectful of the president and deferential to him, but he's also the former navy secretary-chair, former chairman of the Armed Services Committee. He's going to put forward the policies he believes are what's necessary for our national security interest.

CONAN: Donna Brazile, if Republicans use the filibuster to force the Democrats to get 60 votes for this resolution, are they being obstructionists, or are they sticking to the rules of the Senate?

Ms. BRAZILE: Well, they will use whatever legislative procedure they possibly can to prevent this resolution from going before.

But look, I think this resolution is a very important statement that these senators are trying to make to the president at a time when they believe the American people expressed themselves in November that it's time to transition our mission from combat to training and logistics and to help the Iraqi forces, you know, go ahead and defeat the insurgents. I think it's important that we have this debate next week on the Senate floor.

CONAN: All right. Let's get some question in from the audience here in Studio 4A. We'll go to the mic on my left.

Ms. MERCY THOMAS(ph) (Student, Howard University): Good afternoon. My name is Mercy Thomas, and I am a senior at Howard University. I had a brief comment about the rising level in independents and unaffiliated young people in the country.

What I see is there's a lot more people who are more comfortable in the grey area of politics, where they don't want to necessarily make a firm decision on a lot of the moral issues that Republicans and Democrats are very strongly about - for instance gay marriage, the death penalty and abortion.

But my question directly specifically at Donna Brazile is regarded with the rise in women and minorities in politics, and with the upcoming presidential elections and primaries, you have Senator Barack Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton who appear to be the frontrunners for the campaign.

So my question to you is what do you see in terms of the advancement of more minorities and females with regards to politics in the future?

CONAN: The Democratic frontrunners, I should add, but go ahead.

Ms. BRAZILE: Absolutely. Look, this is a very exciting time - nine female governors, one African-American governor, one Hispanic governor, 16 female senators. You know, if Martin Luther King was alive today and came back and saw Charlie Rangel heading Ways and Means, John Conyers heading up the Judiciary Committee and all of the other African-Americans and Hispanics and women -including Jim Clyburn, the whip of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi -he would be so proud. But he wouldn't - I think Martin Luther King would challenge to use their power to lift other people up to help the least of these and to ensure that more women and minorities are able to get into the pipeline in the future.

This is a great moment for our country, and I hope, I hope and pray that the American people are up to the task and challenge next year of looking at these candidates, looking at their values and deciding based on those criterias - not the color of their skin or the gender - whether they're fit to serve as commander in chief.

CONAN: Thank you for that. Let's go to the mic on my right.

GAGE(ph) (Student, Georgetown University): Hi. Thank you, sir. I'm Gage from Georgetown, and my question is directed to Ms. Brazile, too. I was just wondering - it's pretty obvious that the Democrat's victory in November, a big key to that was them running moderates in the South, and I was wondering if the Democrats took the next step in the presidential in '08 and started - if their candidates picked a moderate position on these wedge issues like, say, abortion and maybe ran as pro-rights instead of pro-choice, do you think that would go over well in the South and maybe they could pick up some new ground there?

CONAN: And before the show's over, we're going to ask you who like in the Super Bowl.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Go ahead, Donna.

Ms. BRAZILE: First of all, we can good candidates across the country, not just in the South but in the Midwest and other parts of the country. I think the appeal this year of Democrats was that we focus on bread-and-butter issues, that we're about to capture a large segment of voters who were disenchanted with the way that the Republicans have run things in Washington, D.C.

So I'm optimistic about the future of the party and the fact that we're about to have moderates and progressives and others come together and to support a vision that really, you know, help Americans.

I mean, look at the policies that we've just voted on in the Congress: lowering tuition rates and raising the minimum wage. These are issues that all Americans can come together around. So this is a good strategy, and let me just say this.

I hope in 2008, the Democrats run a 50-state strategy and not a 15-state strategy. I'm tired of those 15-state strategies that preclude us from going into the South and preclude us from talking to people from across the country.

(Soundbite of applause)

RUDIN: One thing I - Ken Rudin, here. One thing I want to add, though, is that I think the Democratic Party, the Democratic - the electorate is angry. And where we saw Bill Clinton in 1992 running as a centrist campaign, I think that voters are far angrier. So talking about a moderate, centrist nominee coming out of 2008, I think that's less likely to happen. I think if they equivocate on Iraq and things like that, the voters will make them pay for it, and they'll go - I think the voters are far more to the left than many of the candidates are espousing right now.

Ms. BRAZILE: They may be on certain issues, but they also would like to see a candidate who can speak to the values and aspirations about our entire country. We're tired of the partisanship in many ways, and we want someone who's strong, someone who fight and defend our values, and someone who's not afraid to take on the challenges that our nation will face in the future.

CONAN: We're talking with Donna Brazile, the former campaign manager for Al Gore back 2000 and with Ed Gillespie, former chairman of the Republican National Committee. With us is Ken Rudin, NPR's political junkie. He's a former Political Junkie after this show, and his column you can read at npr.org called, strangely enough, The Political Junkie. It should have gone up yesterday, right?

RUDIN: That's correct.

CONAN: So it's there at npr.org. And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's go to the microphone to my left.

Mr. BRIAN KROGER(ph) (Student, George Washington University): My name is Brian Kroger, and I hail from Destin, Florida and attend George Washington University. My question is focused again on minorities playing a role in this next year's election. We saw immigration become a very big issue in the elections in '06, and a lot of people say that it'll play a large role in 2008.

I come from Florida, where the Cuban population is extremely conservative, and a lot of parties use immigration as a catalyst to sort of bring the Hispanic minority in this country to their side. To what role do you think that immigration will play a role in bringing Hispanics on the Republican side or the Democratic side in 2008?

CONAN: Ed Gillespie, why don't you start?

Mr. GILLESPIE: Well, I think immigration was a big factor in the '06 election cycle. The fact is we suffered a 15 percentage point drop with Hispanic voters on the Republican side. President Bush got 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004. We got 29 percent of the congressional Hispanic vote in 2006, and it cost us.

The fact is we have to handle immigration properly as a party. I believe the president is largely right on this issue, that Senator McCain is largely right on this issue, that we do need to have a sane, rational policy that allows for guest workers to come here and be able to return to their countries. We need a path to citizenship - not for those who come here illegally, by the way. I don't support that, but I think we need to make it for people to be able to come into this country, contribute to our economy.

My father is an immigrant, came here from Ireland. And the fact is, as you know, a Floridian just became the general chairman of the Republican Party, Mel Martinez. And so I think he'll play a constructive role, I think, in helping us to shape that.

Immigration reform is one of the issues, maybe the only issue that became more likely to get enacted with the Democratic Congress taking control than a Republican Congress being in control.

CONAN: Do you think, Donna Brazile, that it's going to be - if there is legislation passed with Democratic majorities and a Republican president - do you fear that it's going to be demagogued in the next election from the right?

Ms. BRAZILE: Oh, no question. I mean, you've got Tom Tancredo on the Republican side. He's running for president, and he's running on practically one issue, immigration. So - but I think the president has offered the Democrats a carrot stick on this issue, and I hope that through legislative hearings and some other venues that we can come up with a comprehensive bill.

CONAN: Okay, let's get a question in from the mic to my right.

Ms. SARA ANZELMO(ph) (Student, George Mason University): Sure, hi. My name is Sara Anzelmo, and I'm in the master's MBP program at George Mason, but I'm also a seventh grade history teacher in Fairfax County. And my question is kind of based on that a lot of my seventh graders are watching the news already, paying attention to the blogs, and my first group of seventh graders that I had five years ago will be getting ready to vote in their first presidential campaign in 2008.

And my question is do you worry that - I know for us, many of us are turned off by the partisanship, but I kind of see them as the generation after. How much more burnout do you think they will be on partisan politics, and I guess how do we as adults and role models help them along the way, and what can we do to make that better?

CONAN: Ken Rudin, you're still in seventh grade, go ahead.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: My fourth year in seventh grade. Well, I mean, look. I heard the beginning of the show earlier. I mean, partisanship doesn't - I don't think it has turned off voters. I think the anger turns off voters. I mean, you could be very partisan. You can go to any classic Republican or Democratic national convention, and there are partisan speeches, but it's more uplifting. But to say that, you know, Bush sucks or impeach Clinton or get rid of - you know, if it gets nasty and stupid, then I think that's what turns off voters.

And there was an earlier question about more and more independents voting -more and more members of parties becoming independents. I think they also become fewer and fewer voters. I think that's one of the problems, plus the fact that given the fact that many voters or many people get their news from Jon Stewart who - you know, people like Jon Stewart are - they're very funny, but they're also very cynical about politics - understandably so. But the more cynicism that's out there, the fewer and fewer people go out to vote, and that's the big problem.

CONAN: And let's get one final question in by e-mail, this from Joan in San Francisco. Will Al Gore run for president in 2008? And Donna Brazile, I guess that goes to you, too.

Ms. BRAZILE: Well you know, first of all, I believe Al Gore was cheated out of the presidency in 2000…

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. BRAZILE: And if he decides to run, if he decides to run, I believe that he will be a top-tier candidate and could win the nomination. But for now, former Vice President Gore is concentrating on winning that Oscar.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: I, I…

CONAN: I think he's got a better chance, there.

Mr. GILLESPIE: Well let me just - first of all, he lost.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. GILLESPIE: Secondly, I think he'll probably win an Oscar, and we'll know if he's been on a diet when we see him go accept - if he's going to run.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Thank you all. Ken Rudin - NPR's Political Junkie - Donna Brazile and Ed Gillespie, who you just heard there at the end. Ken Rudin is NPR's political editor. You can catch his Political Junkie column and his podcast every week at our Web site at npr.org. Donna Brazile managed the campaign for Gore-Lieberman 2000. Ed Gillespie, former chairman of the Republican National Committee. All of them with us here in Studio 4A. And thanks to all of you students for showing up today. We thank you a lot. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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