Prosecutors, Pelosi Stay in Political News

As Congress returns from its spring recess, the uproar over the firing of eight U.S. attorneys persists. And Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is still shaking off criticism for her visit to Syria.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep. Renee Montagne is on assignment.

Your representatives have been outside Washington the last few days, but they're not out of the news. Democrats are pressing to change President Bush's policies in Iraq and elsewhere. And that is just one the development that NPR's Juan Williams is tracking. He's got some analysis on this Monday morning.

Normally you give lawmakers a few days off, they go home, but this time we have a lot of lawmakers who went abroad during their recess.

JUAN WILLIAMS: well, the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, was off to the Middle East, specifically to Syria. And she went there to talk with Bashar al-Assad, the leader of Syria, but didn't get too good a reaction. The Washington Post said it was a foolish trip. President Bush said it was unfortunate; Vice President Cheney said it was bad behavior. All because she was trying to get the Israelis to talk with the Syrians, and of course U.S. policy has been not to talk with the Syrians.

And then the Israelis said, well, we didn't tell her that we were willing to talk to the Syrians. And Pelosi had to say that, well, she's simply trying to do what the Iraq Study Group recommended, which is to get some negotiations going between Syria, the U.S., and Israel.

INSKEEP: Okay, on one level this is a challenge to the White House, right? Because the White House hasn't been talking to Syria and Pelosi thinks that they should be. Let's talk about another challenge to the White House, this appropriations measure that's passed both the House and the Senate in different forms demanding that the president withdraw troops from Iraq by a specified time. How are the negotiations going with the White House on that?

WILLIAMS: Well, they're going nowhere. But what you're seeing at the moment, Steve, is intense leverage play by the Democrats to try to force the president's hand. The president has said he's going to veto any bill that comes forward that has anything in the way of a deadline for withdrawal of U.S. troops. As a result, what you see is that the majority leader, Harry Reid, has said that if president vetoes it, then Harry Reid will go with the bill that calls for an absolute deadline for withdrawing U.S. from all combat operations by march of '08.

Some Democrats are peeling back and saying, well, it's not quite that we would abandon the troops, but simply limit operations to anti-terrorist, supporting training of military and police, and the like.

INSKEEP: Is the president in any weaker position because of the scandal that continued to develop over the weekend involving the Justice Department in the firing of those eight U.S. attorneys?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, last week Monica Goodling, who had been a Justice Department's liaison to the White House, said that she was going to resign. And she's already said she was going to take the Fifth Amendment and not offer any testimony before Congress.

And what you see now, Steve, is that lots of Republicans - I'm thinking of John Sununu of New Hampshire, Gordon Smith of Oregon - saying that they really don't see that there's any possible future now for Alberto Gonzales, the attorney general. Newt Gingrich, possible presidential candidate for the Republicans, said much the same thing over the weekend.

INSKEEP: Newt Gingrich has his own problems.

WILLIAMS: He does, you know. Last week, refereeing to bilingual education as the language of living in the ghetto. And then, he tried to explain himself and I'm not sure it helped.

Mr. NEWT GINGRICH (Former Speaker of the House): (Speaking foreign language)

INSKEEP: That's Newt Gingrich on YouTube saying we've seriously been considering the needs of Latinos in the United States. Who's this we, by the way?

WILLIAMS: Well, that was the problem, sort of a royal we, the editorial we. But in that situation just becomes so racial, Steve. It's as if, you know, Latinos are not part of the American family, having been here for generations. And I think it just offended people in the Latino community greatly, which is why we've seen the response. And seen, again, you know, Republicans having trouble with immigration, immigration legislation, and now Newt Gingrich has kind of put the cherry on top of that problem.

INSKEEP: Well, he said - just try to check his explanation here. He says, I wasn't trying to denigrate Spanish by saying it's the language of the ghetto. I was trying to emphasize that people who learn English get ahead in life. That what he says, anyway.

WILLIAMS: Well, I mean - and that's - if he had said that, that would be fine. But when you suggest that somehow that, you know, we have been considering helping in the needs of Latinos as if they are a separate and maybe even a subclass, and then you talk about Spanish as a language of the ghetto, I think you might understand how people would say, you know, in a country where there's a need for, in fact, more languages to be spoken and more bilingual education, people would say, hey, you know what, I think you didn't quite get your message across.

INSKEEP: Juan, good talking with you.

WILLIAMS: All right, Steve.

INSKEEP: Some analysis there from NPR's Juan Williams.

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