The Week in Politics

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Host Alex Chadwick speaks with NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams about the week in politics, including last night's Democratic presidential debate, and the ongoing confrontation between Congress and the White House over Iraq war funding.


This is DAY TO DAY. Coming up on TV shows like "24" - torture works for fictional interrogators and for real ratings - but the Pentagon is asking Hollywood for a different message. I'm Alex Cohen.


I'm Alex Chadwick. First, we're joined again by regular Friday guest, Juan Williams, NPR News senior correspondent and DAY TO DAY news analyst. Juan, welcome back.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good to be with you, Alex, from rainy New York.

CHADWICK: I know you watched the Democrats debate last night, the first debate of the eight candidates running for president. Let me ask you the dumbest question you'll get this week, who won?

WILLIAMS: Well, I mean, the obvious answer is Hillary Clinton because she went in as the frontrunner. She comes out as the frontrunner. She had no errors. In fact, she seemed charming and relaxed and in command. Barack Obama, I think, suffered some slight damage leakage, if you will, on the left because of that exchange with Dennis Kucinich in which Kucinich challenged him on the idea of going after Iran and possibly U.S. military involvement there. John Edwards suffered no damage but really didn't make much of an impression.

CHADWICK: So let me go back to this thing you mentioned between Senator Obama, who is running as an anti-war candidate, in his exchange with Congressman Kucinich, who is running as an even more anti-war candidate. Here they are. They're talking about possible confrontation with Iran over acquiring nuclear weapons and we start with Senator Obama.

(Soundbite of recording of first Democratic 2008 Presidential Debate)

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): I think it would be a profound mistake for us to initiate a war with Iran. But, have no doubt, if Iran possessing nuclear weapons will be a major threat to us and to the region, I understand that. But they're in the process of developing it. And I don't think that's disputed by any expert. They're the largest state's sponsor of terrorism.

Representative DENNIS KUCINICH (Democrat, Ohio): It is disputed by a…

Sen. OBAMA: …Hezbollah and Hamas.

Rep. KUCINICH: It is disputed.

Sen. OBAMA: And there is no contradiction, Dennis, between…

Rep. KUCINICH: It is disputed.

Sen. OBAMA: Let me finish.

CHADWICK: So, well, he did go on to finish but what about that exchange?

WILLIAMS: What you have is Dennis Kucinich is used to running from the left and running from the position that the U.S. military involvement, not only in Iraq but in - potentially in Iran - is simply misbegotten and that the U.S. needs to be pulling out altogether, versus Barack Obama who needs, because of his inexperience, to make the case that he understands the larger implications; that he can be trusted with the U.S. military, trusted with the war against terror.

Now he finds himself pushing against Dennis Kucinich who is saying you're not far enough to the left. And I think that some way damages Barack Obama as the independent voice standing apart from Clinton, Edwards and others who in the past had supported the war effort.

CHADWICK: Well, Senator Obama, I think has done well with the left of the Democratic Party especially because many there have some questions about Senator Clinton and her vote to authorize the war and that was a subject for a debate last night as well. Here she is.

(Soundbite of recording of first Democratic 2008 Presidential Debate)

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): I take responsibility for my vote. It was a sincere vote based on the information available to me. And I've said many times that if I knew then, what I now know, I would not have voted that way.

CHADWICK: Senator Clinton doesn't seem to be backing away from that stance - I'm not going to apologize for that vote or say that it was a mistake.

WILLIAMS: She can, Alex. Part of the concern inside her campaign is that she would the first woman candidate. And there are many questions as you approach a general election about whether a woman could be strong enough, resolute enough, tough enough to fight against terrorists and she can't apologize from their - from the way that her campaign leaders are thinking.

CHADWICK: You know, Juan, four people on that stage yesterday had come from a vote in the Senate on this Iraq war funding bill that sets timetable, the one that President Bush swears he's going to veto when it gets to him next week.

The reality for Democrats and Republicans is they have to come up with some kind of Iraq war funding bill. And from what I read in here, there's no consensus on what that's going to be.

WILLIAMS: No, although there is an immerging consensus, because what their thought is is you'd like to get more Republicans with you to further put pressure on the White House. Two ways to do that, one is to go with benchmarks that don't necessarily speak to military progress but speak to political progress on the part of the Maliki government, in particular revenue sharing of oil funds in Iraq, more kind of a settlement in terms of the peace with how the political process would work among the warring ethnic groups - the Kurds, the Shiia and the Sunni.

The other thought is - and this is the one coming from John Murtha, the congressman who has really led the anti-war effort in the House - is to say let's fund the troops two months and then go back and put the president under pressure, yet once again. So he knows he's on - in this, I'm using their language here - a short leash. And the final thought, although it's one that has - is really in the minority at this point, is to simply keeps spending the bill back, forcing him to have to veto again and again and raising the political stakes.

CHADWICK: We'll see what happens next week and talk to you again on Friday, Juan. Thank you.

WILLIAMS: Always, Alex. It's a pleasure to be with you.

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