In the Headlines: Iraq, Gonzales, Elizabeth Edwards

Among the stories currently captivating political observers: a congressional debate over a timetable for troop withdrawal from Iraq; GOP criticism of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; and the news that Elizabeth Edwards' cancer has returned.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

The Senate begins debate this week on a funding bill for the Iraq war. Last week, the bill was passed by the House with the timeline for withdrawing all U.S. combat troops by September 2008. For his part, President Bush has promised a veto.

Joining us now for some analysis is NPR's Cokie Roberts. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, the House has set this deadline, what is the Senate likely to do?

ROBERTS: Well, Speaker Pelosi, in her first really big test in the House, was able to eke out enough Democratic vote to set that deadline, and it was quite a victory for her. She lost some Democrats on the conservative side and on the very liberal side of the party but did get 218 votes, the minimum needed to pass that deadline.

Senate Republicans are now vowing to take any deadline language out of the funding bill. But yesterday, Republican Chuck Hagel, who has been a critic of the war in Iraq, said he and Democratic Senator James Webb are working on a compromise that restricts the way troops are deployed in Iraq. He didn't say whether it included a deadline. It doesn't seem to.

But it's going to be a big fight. And as you've said, the president says he'll veto anything that calls for a deadline for troops in Iraq. But meanwhile, the Pentagon is saying that it needs this money and needs it now. So it is going to be an enormous fight. But the Democrats at least had their moment of victory to savor.

MONTAGNE: And this Iraq debate comes as the Congress and White House are at an impasse over the firing of those eight U.S. attorneys with President Bush's longtime friend, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, right at the center of that controversy. What's likely to happen this week?

ROBERTS: Well, the e-mails that were released late Friday appeared to contradict Alberto Gonzales' earlier statements about his role in the firings. And now, over the weekend, three Republican senators voiced their skepticism about his ability to stay on the job. He really has minimum support on Capitol Hill.

Now, the president did use his radio address on Saturday to back his old friend Alberto Gonzales. And the White House is clearly worried that Democrats are tasting blood here, that they force the attorney general out, what happens next and who is called to Capitol Hill to testify next. So the White House is continuing to back the attorney general but they don't seem to be getting much support from Republicans on Capitol Hill.

MONTAGNE: Still, are the Democrats in danger of overplaying their hand on this one?

ROBERTS: Sure they can do that. And they know it was a problem when Republicans controlled Congress in the Clinton years. To spend a lot of time on investigation on issues that voters don't really care much about can be very damaging to a party in Congress.

But they feel the Bush administration had six years of essentially no oversight whatsoever with the Republican Congress, and they're trying to balance that with the problems of overstuffing their hands. And they're getting Republican backing when they can.

And on the question of testimony of administration officials, which the White House is trying to block on this U.S. attorney question, it looks like the Democrats are getting some Republicans to side with them on getting those administration officials to Capitol Hill to testify and at least to have transcripts of what they say.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, one other story. Last night Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards and his wife Elizabeth were interviewed on the CBS program "60 Minutes." John Edwards said that he doesn't want a sympathy vote because of his wife's cancer. What are people making of this generally?

ROBERTS: Well, she did say on the program that her cancer seems to have spread to a spot in her hip. It does seem to be somewhat worse than it appeared earlier last week. And as you know, Renee, this has sparked an enormous controversy in the country about what this couple should be doing. And I think that they were going on "60 Minutes" to try to address that controversy. And Elizabeth Edwards made it very clear that she does not want her cancer to be her legacy. And we'll see now what happens with the voter's response.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much. NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts.

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