White House Race Gets Crowded Fast

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So many candidates have come out of the woodwork, that the question of who is running for president in 2008 has already overshadowed what is happening in the newly elected Congress.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

This week the Senate begins debate on competing resolutions on the president's policy in Iraq. Both of those resolutions would express disapproval. One declares that the president's plan to increase troops in Iraq is, quote, "not in the national interest."

Now the war has split both Republicans and Democrats and it's the defining issue in the 2008 presidential race, which NPR's Cokie Roberts has been following. She joins us, as she does every Monday morning, for some analysis.

Cokie, good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: I guess you get an idea of the various things on the Democrats' minds from where they are traveling. Hillary Clinton was in Iowa over the weekend; Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, was in Iraq and Afghanistan.

ROBERTS: And who got the most coverage about that, Steve? I think it's fair to say Hillary Clinton. In fact this morning she's on page A-1 of The New York Times and a little tiny wire service story about the Pelosi trip with chairs of the major committees of the House buried on A-10. The presidential campaign is drowning out everything already, remarkably so.

Thousands of people showed up for Hillary Clinton's events in Iowa this weekend, hundreds of members of the international and national press corps. And every word she said was analyzed. At some point someone asked her if, as a woman, she had any experience dealing with the evil, bad men who were running the world, and she repeated humorously, experience dealing with evil, bad men?

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROBERTS: And then everyone analyzed that. Who was she talking about? Was she talking about her husband? Was she talking about Bush? Was she talking - and she basically said, you know, lighten up here. Everybody tells me to lighten up; and I do it, and you all attack me.

But her real problem wasn't that. Her more serious problem in dealing with these Democratic voters was her vote for the war in Iraq. And she said, as many Democrats now do, if she knew then what she knows now, she wouldn't have voted for it.

INSKEEP: Well I guess plenty of senators now may face another vote on the war in Iraq - one of these two resolutions, or both of these resolutions, expressing disapproval in various ways about the war.

ROBERTS: One sponsored by Democrats, the other by Virginia Republican John Warner, a man very close to the military - former secretary of the Navy. And Republicans are saying that they are ready to oppose this build-up of troops. The administration is fighting these resolutions. It has sent out the new secretary of defense, Robert Gates, the vice president, to attack these resolutions, saying that they know that maybe members don't mean to do this but that they are undermining the troops by voting for these resolutions.

So it's getting to be hardball as they both come to the floor this week. But while the members of the administration were out talking to the press, there were demonstrators against the war by the tens of thousands on the Mall in Washington. And so there's pressure coming from both sides on these resolutions.

INSKEEP: And Cokie, can I just mention, I teased you last week by encouraging you to run for president. You're now just about the only person left who has not declared.

ROBERTS: I know. You and I might be it.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

ROBERTS: There are more candidates than voters, perhaps. Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, got into the race this weekend, saying that he thinks he can appeal to happy voters and to the Republican base. And no surprise to anyone, Joe Biden, now chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democrat from Delaware who ran once before, is getting back into the fray. I think there is the sense that among senior senators that when they see others, particularly very junior Senator Barack Obama, running, this sense if he can do it, I certainly can do it.

INSKEEP: And I can't let you leave without asking you about Robert Drinan, the first Roman Catholic priest to serve as a voting member of Congress. We learned last night of his death.

ROBERTS: I'm very sad, that is even though he was 86 years old. He came to Congress running against the Vietnam War in the 1970s in a tough election. He served as a liberal voice in Congress on the impeachment committee of Richard Nixon, but always a joyful voice. And he then taught at Georgetown Law School, where he was wonderful with the students. And just at the swearing-in of Nancy Pelosi, he said a special mass for her at her alma mater, Trinity College.

INSKEEP: OK, thanks very much. That's NPR news analyst Cokie Roberts.

Want to remind you that NPR's Juan Williams is interviewing President Bush at the White House today. You can hear it later today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. And if you can't wait for that, go to npr.org where you'll hear excerpts and you can read it as well.

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