Talking Politics: U.S. Attorneys, Iraq, Edwards

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Recent political developments provide fodder for discussion, from the continuing flap over the dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys to the future of John Edwards' presidential campaign.

RENEE Montagne, host:

We're joined now by our political analysts, NPR Washington editors Ron Elving and Ken Rudin. Good morning.

RON ELVING: Good morning.

KEN RUDIN: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: This week the controversy over the firings of the U.S. attorneys has consumed official Washington. But what is the public reaction to this story, especially now at the end of the week?

ELVING: Renee, may I just take a moment and say, as Mr. Rudin's attorney, he has generously made himself available to be interviewed by NPR as long as there's only a single interviewer and no transcript.

MONTAGNE: And we want him under oath, Ken Rudin.

ELVING: Well, I admit that we do not appreciate these klieg lights and this show trial atmosphere.

RUDIN: We don't want a fishing expedition, but neither do we want Dick Cheney on a hunting expedition. The point is the public reaction to this is really kind of minimal. I mean, if you look at polls, not many people are paying attention to it, but those who are are really outraged. Not so much at the legality or the fact that the administration has the right to fire these attorneys, but the conflicting stories this administration has given for the releasing of the attorneys, that there's a lack of public confidence in them.

First, they talked about performance issues, which we found out wasn't true. Then they said that it was Harriet Miers' idea, the former White House counsel, that it was her idea. That wasn't true. Just yesterday they found out that it was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's idea to fire the attorneys; that wasn't true either. The point is that the administration's on the defensive because they have not given an honest answer for the firings of these attorneys.

MONTAGNE: And Ken, you're saying that last not under oath?

RUDIN: That's correct.

ELVING: And if we can return to planet journalism for just one moment. I think there's a substantial number of people in the country who do care a great deal about this story. And as it goes on and as more allegations of political manipulation are made against the Justice Department, I suspect that substantially more people will care about it.

RUDIN: Could I just say one thing? There was one thing in Scott Horsley's piece that was very interesting. Alberto Gonzales led the piece off by saying it's nice to be out of Washington; given the fact that more and more Republicans, let alone Democrats, are unhappy with the attorney general, he may be out of Washington sooner than he thinks.

MONTAGNE: Now why did Democrats pick this issue for a test of wills with the Bush administration, or did the issue pick them?

ELVING: I'm not sure anyone picked this ground for the fight. I don't think either the White House or the Democrats in Congress would have chosen this issue first. But it kept bringing itself back up. It was kept alive largely by bloggers, people in the Internet, people who cared more than the conventional media did, more than the traditional media did, and that's really been driving this story through much of the time it's been in the news.

MONTAGNE: Okay. So we're now at the point where the House and the Senate have authorized subpoenas. What happens next?

RUDIN: We don't have the subpoenas actually issued by the chairs yet, so there's going to be further negotiation between the chairs and the counsel for the White House. He is a very skillful negotiator, Fred Fielding, and he's going to have some good ideas for how they might be able to work out some sort of a compromise.

MONTAGNE: Let's turn to the war in Iraq. The House is expected to vote today on a bill that funds the war but also sets a date for withdrawal. Do the Democrats have the votes that they need?

RUDIN: Well they say they do. Obviously there were a lot of problems on both liberal and conservative wings of the Democratic caucus on this. The liberals said that yes, we do want troops out yesterday, if not today. And of course this bill calls for all troops out by September 1st, 2008. They insist that the 2006 midterm election was a referendum on the war and they want this out. But many liberal Democrats don't like the fact that this still includes $100 billion for further funding of the war and they're against that further funding.

Conservatives, on the other hand, are a little squeamish a little bit about the fact that there is a date certain to pull out. Some of them have been elected in conservative districts and they are a little nervous about trying to tie the commander in chief's hands on this. But I think Nancy Pelosi feels that she does have the votes. The Democrats have 233 seats in the House and they need 218 to pass. It'll be very close. The feeling is that they will have enough votes to pass it today.

MONTAGNE: And in other news, the wife of Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards announced yesterday that her breast cancer has recurred. Elizabeth Edwards' doctors say it's treatable, not curable, but he's staying and the two of them are staying in the race.

ELVING: Yes, it is a mutual decision, as indeed this has been a mutual tandem campaign for the two of them. You know, it's not really realistic for them to suspend the campaign. They either have to go or no go. If you tried to just step out for a time, you couldn't stay competitive in fundraising. And so as they said, they refuse to cower in the corner, they're going for it.

RUDIN: John Edwards said from the beginning that the only thing that would keep them out is his wife's health. He is leading - of course, we're talking about 10 months away, but he's leading in the Iowa polls. He's doing very well in Nevada, and he could be a very strong alternative to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

MONTAGNE: Thanks to both of you for joining us.

ELVING: Thank you, Renee.

RUDIN: Thanks, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR Washington editors Ron Elving and Ken Rudin. Their weekly podcast is called, "It's All Politics." You can subscribe to it at

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Elving: Watching Washington

Rudin: Political Junkie

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