Gun Laws, Gonzales and War Funds in the News

Will the Virginia Tech shootings drive Congress toward a change in gun laws? What does the future hold for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales? And what's up with war-funding legislation?

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Virginia's governor, Tim Kaine, has appointed an independent panel to examine issues raised by the Virginia Tech shootings. Congress may also take action, and NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams is following that. He joins us for some analysis. Juan, good morning.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: How likely is it that Congress is going to take up gun control?

WILLIAMS: Well it's very likely they'll take up gun control. Not to increase any kind of ban on owning guns, the emphasis here will be redefining the existing law. You have people like Senator Leahy, the chair of the Judiciary Committee, Carolyn McCarthy, Senator Schumer - what they want to do, Steve, is to close the gap between state and federal law on people who have mental illness, limiting their ability to buy a gun.

Seung-hui Cho was categorized by a judge to be a threat to himself after a psychiatric hospital evaluation in 2005. So under federal law, existing law, that would have disqualified him. But since he wasn't committed, the Virginia officials involved didn't convey any information to federal databases.

So that's likely to get some support from Republicans, so there's a real chance you could have some movement on that kind of change in gun control legislation.

INSKEEP: So we'll listen to see what state and federal officials do with that. And we'll also be paying attention this week as the top U.S. commander in Iraq comes to Washington. David Petraeus will be here. House and Senate negotiators are trying to work out differences on their Iraq war spending bills, the bills that provide Petraeus's troops the funding to do what they do. Any compromise likely?

WILLIAMS: Not right now. What you're going to see - the Democrats worked all weekend to try to get some language together for the negotiations that will take place between House and Senate officials this week. You're likely to see a timetable for withdrawal included in the $100-billion bill. But, you know, the House wants to have a September deadline in their bill. The Senate's a little softer, nonbinding with the March withdrawal in 2008. But what you're going to see, I think, is that that bill with the timetable goes to the president and then it's likely he will veto it.

Now you mentioned Petraeus coming in, and he's going to have a closed session with the senators on Wednesday, the same day I think it's likely the full House will vote to send the bill with a timetable to the president.

INSKEEP: So this negotiation is really about, it's among Democrats really about how best to approach this situation with the president. What happens if and when President Bush vetoes this bill, and he says he will?

WILLIAMS: Well, what you're seeing is that some Democrats are saying instead of sending the president a six-month bill funding the troops, let's give the president only two-months bill. And that will force him, then, to come back. And then when he comes back, say well where are the timetables, where are the benchmarks for success or progress in Iraq, and in a sense then put the president on a very tight timetable to show that there's some change.

In the Washington Post yesterday, General Petraeus said the surge so far has only produced moderate or modest progress.

INSKEEP: Is there some point at which this becomes dangerous for Democrats, Juan? You have Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, saying the war is lost, and you have Republicans capitalizing on that, saying that Democrats are waving the white flag.

WILLIAMS: Well, absolutely, Steve. You could be doing the analysis. And I think that there's danger. I mean the way the Republicans have set this up is you have General Petraeus coming in and the suggestion would be Democrats are not listening to the troops in the field, the commanders in the field, not supportive. And what you're seeing from the Democrats is to say no, we're very supportive; and they try to clean up Harry Reid saying that the war was lost by saying the war is not lost but they just want to make sure that we are not pursuing a lost cause by continuing to have troops in the middle of a civil war.

INSKEEP: So how important is it, then, that Democrats also this week will be having their first presidential debate of the 2008 election season? It will happen later this week in South Carolina.

WILLIAMS: Very important, and I think this is an opportunity for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to really lay out their ideas, and to make it clear that they are sincerely committed to the troops but not to the war effort.

INSKEEP: Very important, really, this many months ahead?

WILLIAMS: Yeah, I think because right now Hillary Clinton is fighting polls that show that her favorability ratings are uncertain. Obama has to prove that he has the kind of command and control of foreign policy specific war issues that would make him electable.

INSKEEP: Juan, good to talk with you, as always.

WILLIAMS: All right, Steve.

INSKEEP: Analysis on this Monday morning from NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams.

And here's another story we're following this morning. Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin has died. Authorities have not yet stated the cause of death. It was Yeltsin who went, in effect, signed the death warrant of the old Soviet Union.

In 1991, when Soviet hardliners staged a coup, it was Yeltsin who stood on a tank to defy them. When the central government later collapsed, Yeltsin as the elected president of the Russian Republic inherited the Kremlin.

During his presidency in the 1990s there were constant concerns about his health. It was often pointed out that in his sixties he had already lived longer than most Russian men.

In a 1994 memoir the president wrote of debilitating bouts of depressions, second thoughts and insomnia. But in the end, Boris Yeltsin lasted long enough to hand over power to Vladimir Putin, and he lived to the age of 76.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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