Political Fallout from a Memoir

Former Bush administration Press Secretary Scott McClellan's memoir is highly critical of the administration, specifically its handling of the Iraq war. NPR News Analyst Juan Williams discusses this and Sen. John McCain's upcoming trip to Baghdad with host Madeleine Brand.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Two years ago, Scott McClellan resigned as White House Press Secretary. He received a warm goodbye from President Bush.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: One of these days, he and I are going to be rocking on chairs in Texas, talking about the good old days of his time as the press secretary, and I can assure you, I will feel the same way then that I feel now that I can say to Scott, job well done.

BRAND: Well, it's safe to say President Bush and Scott McClellan will not be rocking in chairs together anytime soon. This week, McClellan released his highly critical memoir of the Bush White House, and the White House fired back saying McClellan is a disgruntled former employee. I'm joined now by NPR News analyst Juan Williams. And Juan, what is the White House doing here? Are they mounting a very aggressive PR campaign against the former press secretary?

JUAN WILLIAMS: Well, they don't have to because everybody who considers himself a Bush loyalist, Karl Rove, Ari Fleischer, I could go on, Dan Bartlett. All people who are now, you know, out of the White House have done just that and they are on every news station, every TV news channel just constantly and saying, this is not the character they know. Scott McClellan has changed, something is wrong. And inside the White House, this is very interesting, Madeleine.

There are two competing theories. One is that Scott McClellan is mad because President Bush didn't properly support his mother when his mother was running against Rick Perry for the governor job down in Texas. And the second one is that, you know, he was the young guy. He's just 40 years old, he's weak, he was over his head in the job in the first place, and he had to be asked to leave and he, you know, held some bitterness in his heart about this. And so, he felt used - especially used on the Scooter Libby, Valerie Plame case. He feels as if he became a fall guy and that he's now paying back President Bush and the White House for all that happened with a book that is just, you know, a sensation at the moment.

BRAND: Well, OK. Let's go to another political fight, I guess if you will - the back and forth between John McCain and Barack Obama over Iraq. And visiting Iraq this week, I think on Memorial Day, Senator McCain said, well, Senator Obama, why don't you come with me?

WILLIAMS: What an invitation. Come, let the master show the rookie around. You can imagine why Senator Obama said no thanks. But clearly, John McCain sees an advantage in doing this because if you look at the polls, Madeleine, the one clear plus that he has - and it's a huge advantage - is in terms of protecting the United States and fighting the war on terror and fighting in Iraq. From Senator Obama's prospective, it's not a bad deal for him to go by himself and look around because he has made it clear that Iraq is a mess and is really - if the country was to elect John McCain, they'd be getting a third term of George W. Bush and more of the mess in Iraq. And he wants to illustrate that and play that up as a central theme of his fall campaign. So both sides see that there's something in it for them in terms of the political calculus.

BRAND: OK, Juan. Your best political conversation this week.

WILLIAMS: Well, everybody in Washington, Madeleine, is intent about this upcoming meeting of the Democratic Rules and Bylaws Committee this Saturday. But really, the interesting conversation is what happens afterwards? Is it possible that after Puerto Rico this weekend, Montana and South Dakota vote on Tuesday, that Hillary Clinton will say, yeah, you know what, I lost? Or is it the case that she is willing to continue the fight on to the convention. And it's so interesting because there's a fight inside her campaign about this, featuring in part Bill Clinton, who more and more seems to be an advocate of the idea of the dream ticket of Hillary Clinton as vice president. Meanwhile, there are people who are saying, Hillary Clinton is being disrespected and forced from the race and don't you dare ask her to get out people in her own campaign. So there's a lot of internal back and forth over the future of Hillary Clinton as this very moment.

BRAND: NPR News Analyst Juan Williams. Thank you, Juan.

WILLIAMS: Have a good weekend, Madeleine.

BRAND: Thanks. You, too.

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