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Congress Gets First Vietnamese-American Lawmaker

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Congress Gets First Vietnamese-American Lawmaker

Politics

Congress Gets First Vietnamese-American Lawmaker

Congress Gets First Vietnamese-American Lawmaker

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Three House races finally concluded over the weekend. We run through the winners and losers. Meanwhile, though the hand recount concluced in Minnesota, the challenges remain.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Believe it or not, the November election is still not over, although a number of congressional races were finally decided over the weekend. Joining me now for the rundown is NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving. And, Ron, let's start with Louisiana, where Republicans were the winners in two districts, and one was a surprise result, long-term Democratic Congressman William Jefferson actually beat by a new comer.

RON ELVING: Yes. William Jefferson, going for his 10th term in the New Orleans district, was defeated by Anh Joseph Cao - that's spelled C-A-O - who will become the first Vietnamese American to serve in Congress. He's a Republican. He's a lawyer, very little known about him, very little campaigning done.

He is, in a sense, a kind of accidental winner here. What happened was that they had several phases of this election to winnow down an enormous Democratic field. Out of that big field, William Jefferson still emerged the favorite of the Democrats. This is a very heavily African-American district, at least historically. And he emerged as the Democratic nominee, Joe Cao as the Republican.

And here in the end, in a terribly small turnout on Saturday, in a turnout where visually, it appeared that the African-American community was very under represented, very small turnout, maybe one in 10. In that situation and with a lot, also, of the black constituents there voting for the Republican, Billy Jefferson was narrowly defeated, and we have a new congressman from New Orleans, a Republican named Joe Cao.

BRAND: Well, we should note also that Congressman Jefferson is facing 16 federal indictments. Was that the main reason behind his defeat?

ELVING: Yes, absolutely. He was weakened back in 2005 in August, when they searched his home and found $90,000 in cash wrapped up in his freezer. This was, of course, tied to allegations that he had been engaged in corruption having to do with African trade deals. A lot of his associates have already been indicted.

And though he survived politically, and he would emerge with pluralities, you know, less than the majority but enough to get on to the next level and then win against Republican opposition, until this last weekend.

BRAND: Will Democrats still have a 79-seat majority in the house?

ELVING: Yes. It appears it's going to be that way. They won a seat in Columbus, Ohio over the weekend in a recounting going on there. Mary Jo Kilroy, a county commissioner there in Columbus, Ohio, is going to be the new representative, first Democrat to represent Columbus, Ohio in 42 years.

BRAND: OK. Now, I said that this election is still not over. It's not over mainly because of Minnesota, the Senate race there. What's going on with Al Franken and Norm Coleman?

ELVING: Last week, they finished the hand recount of every vote in the entire state. And it appears that Norm Coleman, the Republican incumbent, is still ahead by a 192 votes. But there are all kinds of disputes, and there remain about 6,000 ballots that are challenged by one side or the other.

And then, it'll probably all go to the courts, and there's a possibility that it could actually go to the Senate itself to make a determination of whether the Democrat or the Republican won in Minnesota in November. That's a nightmare scenario, but it could happen.

BRAND: Now, why would that be a nightmare scenario? At least why would it be a nightmare scenario for the Democrats?

ELVING: It would be because there is going to be some kind of result out of the state. It's going to appear that one candidate or the other won. For the Senate to then overrule the apparent judgment of the people of Minnesota would have tremendous negative impact on the impression that Minnesotans have of the Democrats in the Senate.

BRAND: All right. Ron, now turning what's going on in Washington regarding the auto bailout, there appears to be a deal now between the White House and the House?

ELVING: The White House is saying it has not seen the actual legislation, hasn't actually seen the language, doesn't want to commit to it yet. But there's seems to be a deal for something along the lines of $15 billion in emergency loan aid that would focus primarily on General Motors and Chrysler. Ford is just looking for some loan guarantees, a somewhat smaller amount of assistance.

And in exchange for the money in the short term, Congress would be insisting in the long run that there be a larger renegotiation after the new president takes office in January, and that there would be a person in the cabinet who had responsibility for overseeing this bailout, and there would be someone called a car czar, I suppose, like the old energy czar or drug czar.

And then there would be a larger group in the cabinet, including, for example, commerce, labor, energy, transportation, and also the EPA administrator, the Environmental Protection Agency head, would be part of this review board on what the car industry did. In other words, we would be telling the car industry it was going to become more fuel efficient.

BRAND: NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving, thanks as always.

ELVING: Thank you, Madeleine.

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