Election 2008

McCain VP Pick Says Teen Daughter Is Pregnant

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GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin announces that her 17-year-old unwed daughter is five months pregnant. Political editor Ken Rudin discusses how the announcement will affect John McCain's campaign.


Hurricane Gustav may have come ashore west of New Orleans, but its effects are being felt as away as St. Paul, Minnesota, where Republicans are gathered for their national convention. Because of the hurricane, today's events have been downgraded to necessary party procedures, so there will be none of the usual pageantry and little of usual rhetoric. Earlier today, Senator John McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, made more waves as she announced her 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, is five months pregnant. That came out after the Internet was abuzz for several days that Palin's youngest son was not her's but her daughter's. Here to give us reaction from St. Paul is NPR political editor and political junkie Ken Rudin is at the NPR studios at the Republican Convention. Ken, nice to have you on the program.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal. Boy, it just doesn't stop with these stories.

CONAN: Well, this newest story obviously, so much has changed. President Bush was expected there in Saint Paul tonight to address the convention. He's now in Austin, Texas trying to monitor developments with Gustav, but everybody there must be talking about the Sarah Palin story.

RUDIN: Well, much - probably not everybody knows about it yet. Certainly the journalists who are covering it know about it, and for most part the delegates you run across are not aware of the latest story, that they're still very high on Sarah Palin pick. They think it's, you know she's good, she energizes the base, but of course as more the news about her family life - her Republican family values life comes out, it may be more interesting what the delegates have to say.

CONAN: Well take us through this story on Friday, Sarah Palin announced as the prospective running mate, the vice presidential nominee for the Republican party appears on stage with Senator McCain there in Dayton, Ohio. There with her family, including her daughter Bristol, who's holding that four-month-old baby, Trig.

RUDIN: Right, and then there were rumors on the Internet, of course, that said that this was actually not Sarah Palin's child, because rumors, I mean, I can't believe we're talking about rumors here, but again when you're in a convention like this. When everything is just - when Sarah Palin is just such fresh news to you, you just, you know, everything is bombarded on you at once. But the rumor of course out there was that it was not Sarah Palin's daughter, but it was - actually her son Trig, but it was Bristol's son. Bristol, of course, missed five months of school, according to the reports on the various blogs. But Bristol missed five months of school because she had mono. Sarah Palin didn't announce she was pregnant till she was seven months pregnant, so there a lot of whispering going on and everybody, the Republicans I talked to and all a lot of people I spoke to said we are having a Tom Eagleton moment all over again. About learning about something that we didn't expect and some kind of amazing thing could happen - explosion on the Republican ticket.

CONAN: We know that these rumors are just rumors. They're not verified and apparently today, the McCain campaign felt it necessary to release the news, which he had not decided to release earlier. That in fact, Bristol Palin is five months pregnant. Do the math. That would make it impossible for the son Trig to be hers. And that they were announcing that because of these are rumors on the internet.

RUDIN: That's exactly right. And the McCain campaign says that during the vetting process, and we're still wondering about how thorough the vetting process was, the McCain campaign did know about Sarah Palin's daughter being pregnant. And again, it was a private family matter as Sarah Palin said in the statement - as Palin said in the statement today, it is a family matter, please respect our family's privacy.

CONAN: A family matter yet, she paraded her family in front of the national media as part of her story.

RUDIN: That's exactly right, but if your 17-year-old daughter is unmarried and pregnant it's not something you want to announce to the national media either.

CONAN: And on the other hand, it's going to come out sooner or later, is it not?

RUDIN: It is, but at the same time you also have Gustav on the, you know, the 24/7 cable, on every newspaper on the country I guess. I mean, of course, it will be the news coming out of St. Paul, other than the fact that the president is not here tonight. Of course, it will be Cindy McCain and Laura Bush addressing the delegates briefly at the end of the two and half hour session calling for donations, Red Cross, things like that. But you know it would come out, but again it's just something that would have come out and you know - you just wonder about the vetting process and you always talk about how long, how long did John McCain know Sarah Palin, how well do they know each other, how much was Sarah Palin vetted? You just wonder about things like this, and exactly, this is exactly what - you know the maximum - the slogan for vice presidential running mate was do no harm and you still wonder whether that's still holds true, but you know we still have some days to go before we see what's happened.

CONAN: And you'd expect the first six or so questions to each of these candidates will be about these rather than what they're doing in there. Anyway we have...

RUDIN: Barack Obama was asked about that today he said look I want to touch this, this has nothing to do whether she's qualified to be vice president or her qualifications to be governor of Alaska, this is not something we should be focusing on.

CONAN: And of course there will be much more on this later today, and Ken, very briefly as you mentioned the Republicans are taking the opportunity of Hurricane Gustav to take off their Republican hats and put on their American hats and try to raise money for victims.

RUDIN: Absolutely, I suspect that the beginning of the end for the Republican Party was not so much the Iraqi war or the gas prices but it was Katrina, the lack of coherent administrational response to it three years ago. Republicans are making sure that does not happen again. They seem well prepared and they're pulling - putting politics aside, and in some ways for this tragedy.

CONAN: Ken Rudin, thanks very much.

RUDIN: Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: NPR political editor Ken Rudin with us from NPR's headquarters there in St. Paul, Minnesota at the Republican National Convention. Live coverage of the events on the Republican Convention will be heard on many of these NPR stations, you can also go to npr.org. I'm Neal Conan, this is Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

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Palin's Teen Is Pregnant; News Overshadows RNC

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Palins' Reaction

The announcement that Sarah Palin's unmarried, 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, is pregnant, came in a statement released by the McCain campaign. The statement, made in Sarah and Todd Palin's name, said:

"We have been blessed with five wonderful children who we love with all our heart and mean everything to us. Our beautiful daughter, Bristol, came to us with news that as parents we knew would make her grow up faster than we had ever planned. We're proud of Bristol's decision to have her baby and even prouder to become grandparents. As Bristol faces the responsibilities of adulthood, she knows she has our unconditional love and support.

"Bristol and the young man she will marry are going to realize very quickly the difficulties of raising a child, which is why they will have the love and support of our entire family. We ask the media to respect our daughter and Levi's privacy as has always been the tradition of children of candidates."

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McCain visited a disaster-relief center in Waterville, Ohio, on Monday. i

On Monday, McCain visited a disaster-relief center in Waterville, Ohio, and helped pack cleaning supplies into plastic buckets that will be sent to the Gulf Coast area. Joe Raedle/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Joe Raedle/Getty Images
McCain visited a disaster-relief center in Waterville, Ohio, on Monday.

On Monday, McCain visited a disaster-relief center in Waterville, Ohio, and helped pack cleaning supplies into plastic buckets that will be sent to the Gulf Coast area.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images
John McCain and his running mate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin attend a campaign rally in O'Fallon, Mo. i

John McCain and running mate Sarah Palin attended a rally in O'Fallon, Mo., on Aug. 31. The Republican convention was suspended as Hurricane Gustav hit the Gulf Coast Monday; convention officials are taking a day-by-day approach. Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
John McCain and his running mate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin attend a campaign rally in O'Fallon, Mo.

John McCain and running mate Sarah Palin attended a rally in O'Fallon, Mo., on Aug. 31. The Republican convention was suspended as Hurricane Gustav hit the Gulf Coast Monday; convention officials are taking a day-by-day approach.

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Republican officials in St. Paul, Minn., devoted the first day of their national convention to fundraising and relief efforts for victims of Hurricane Gustav, tossing aside overt political appeals in favor of requests for help scheduled by first lady Laura Bush, and Sen. John McCain's wife, Cindy.

But overshadowing activities on the floor was a surprise statement from the McCain campaign that running mate Sarah Palin's unmarried, 17-year-old daughter is pregnant.

The Associated Press reported, meanwhile, that Palin has hired an attorney to represent her in the so-called "troopergate" investigation. The Alaska legislature is investigating whether Palin improperly fired the state public safety commissioner after he refused to fire a state trooper who had divorced Palin's sister.

In her remarks, Laura Bush, who walked onto the podium at the Xcel Energy Center to a standing ovation, said the effects of the hurricane were still being measured. When such events occur, she said, "We're reminded that first, we're all Americans. Ideals will always transcend parties and partisanship. People on the Gulf Coast will know that we're here to assist them."

Mrs. Bush introduced a video of governors from Gulf Coast states who could not attend the convention because of the storm. She then returned, accompanied by Cindy McCain, who was also greeted warmly by the GOP delegates. McCain urged people to visit a Web site, www.CauseGreater.com.

"Together we can accomplish so much for those who have been affected," McCain said.

The convention opened for business Monday with adoption of rules and the party's platform. But most of the attention in St. Paul was elsewhere — on reports from the Gulf Coast, where Gustav made landfall, and on the news about Palin's daughter, Bristol, the eldest girl among her five children.

The campaign did not release the last name of the father or his age.

The McCain campaign said it was aware of Bristol's pregnancy when it named Palin as McCain's running mate on Friday. And it said it released the news in part to rebut bloggers, who had been writing that Palin's youngest son, Trig, who was born with Down syndrome in April, was actually Bristol's child.

News About The Pregnancy Spreads

The statement came on a day when it was likely to be overshadowed by news from the Gulf of Mexico.

The Anchorage Daily News reported on its Web site that it had asked Palin spokesman Bill McAlister about Bristol's pregnancy over the weekend. It said he replied he had "no evidence that Bristol's pregnant." He said he just found out Monday morning "like everyone else."

McCain announced his selection of Palin as his running mate on Friday. The response among social conservatives was enthusiastic, based in part on her self-proclaimed background as a regular "hockey mom" and her strong pro-life, pro-gun views.

Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, in a Michigan news conference, was asked about reports about Palin's daughter's pregnancy. He said the media should back off the story.

Obama told reporters that "people's families are off limits, and people's children are especially off limits." He said it has no bearing on Palin's performance as governor of Alaska or what kind of vice president she would be. Obama denied anyone in his campaign was responsible for spreading rumors about Palin, and added that anyone caught doing so would be fired.

Rallying Around Palin

James Dobson, founder of the conservative religious group Focus on the Family, issued a statement commending the Palins "for not just talking about their pro-life and pro-family values, but living them out even in the midst of trying circumstances." He added: "Being a Christian does not mean you're perfect. Nor does it mean your children are perfect. But it does mean there is forgiveness and restoration when we confess our imperfections to the Lord."

Reaction among GOP delegates to Palin's daughter's pregnancy was largely supportive.

Mike Knopf, 17, a delegate from Dubuque, Iowa, said the news "reaffirms the Republican strength of family values and great ethics." He said he had "no second thoughts about [Sarah Palin] being on the ticket."

"It shows that they've got normal things going on in their family," added Nancy Riley, a delegate from St. Petersburg, Fla. Rep. Peter King of New York's 3rd Congressional District agreed, saying, "There's not a family in America that doesn't worry about this. It's a different world we live in today, and there are fears like that in every family."

When asked if McCain should have vetted Palin more thoroughly, King replied, "If I were going to pick, I would still pick her."

Concern About Gustav

Palin arrived in St. Paul Sunday night, and is said to be working on her acceptance speech, which is still scheduled for delivery on Wednesday. But convention officials are taking a day-by-day approach to planning, which is contingent largely on events occurring some 1,200 miles south along the Gulf Coast.

McCain visited a disaster-relief center in Waterville, Ohio, helping pack cleaning supplies and other items into plastic buckets that will be sent to the Gulf Coast area. Reading from the business card of center director Linda Green, McCain said, "Each one should use whatever gift he or she has received to serve others faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms."

McCain added, "And as the hurricane strikes Louisiana as we speak, all Americans I know will be motivated by those words of serving others and using whatever gifts we have to help our fellow Americans."

Party officials say they will be assembling some 80,000 "comfort packages" with personal supplies for hurricane victims, with help from the Red Cross, Target and FedEx.

At a breakfast for the Louisiana delegation Monday, former Louisiana governor Buddy Roemer told delegates that "the early returns from Louisiana are good, to put it in political terms." But he added, "I've won and lost elections in the last hour and the same is true with hurricanes — it's not over 'til it's over."

First lady Laura Bush stopped in at a breakfast for the Texas delegation. She said she was proud that she'll get her wish to vote for a Republican woman on the presidential ticket. She also said she and President Bush had been surprised by McCain's choice. But she said of Palin, "We know what kind of women Alaska produces. We know how tough and strong she is."

In St. Paul, thousands of anti-war demonstrators marched from a rally at the State House to the site of the Republican convention. They were closely watched by police officers wielding batons and pepper spray.



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