MICHEL MARTIN, host:
We've been hearing a lot of talk this week about possible staffing changes at the White House. Today we had this announcement from White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan.
Mr. SCOTT MCCLELLAN (White House Press Secretary): Good morning everybody. I'm here to announce that I will be resigning as White House Press Secretary. Mr. President, it has been an extraordinary honor and privilege to have served you for more than seven years now, the last two years and nine months as your Press Secretary. The White House is going through a period of transition. Change can be helpful, and this is a good time and good position to help bring about change. I'm ready to move on. I've been in this position a long time. Our relationship began back in Texas, and I'll look forward to continuing it, particularly when we are both back in Texas.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: That's right.
Mr. MCCLELLAN: Although, I hope to get there before you.
MARTIN: White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan with the President earlier today. Do you have questions about the shakeup in the white House, or comments about political happenings this week? Join the conversation. Call us at 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And joining us now to tell us what this all means is our Political Junkie, NPR political editor Ken Rudin. Welcome Ken.
KEN RUDIN, reporting:
MARTIN: Did he jump or was he pushed?
RUDIN: Yes. No, well, actually, that's what it was. When Josh Bolton came in as the new White House Chief of Staff, he said there will be changes. And one of the clear changes that everybody thought had to be was Scott McClellan had to go. Now, Scott McClellan has said in the past he was very anxious, you know, he's done his penance at the White House and it was time to go. But what's interesting here, it doesn't seem to be a change of policies, it seems to be a change in communicating those policies. And I think Scott McClellan's credibility took a big hit over the conversations he had with Lewis Libby and Karl Rove regarding the CIA leak. And I think with his credibility shot for the most part, even though he's a nice guy, a likeable guy, the White House knew it was time for him to go.
MARTIN: Is this a big deal, or is this just a big deal to reporters?
RUDIN: Well, that's a very good question. I mean, everybody's talking about a shakeup, and the wires say shakeup, it could be window dressing for all we know. Is it to placate Republican voters? Is it to placate Republican candidates who are trying to win in November? Is it to placate reporters who say, oh, the White House is changing its act? But again, you know, the policies don't change, and Donald Rumsfeld is not going anywhere, so its hard to say that any major thing has happened here.
MARTIN: Do you find it strange though that the person who's been your public face now, with the 2008 elections 18 months ago, mid-terms coming up, do you find it odd that the White House would change their, kind of, chief spokesman at a time like this?
RUDIN: Well, given the fact that President Bush's numbers are at an historic low, they're in the 30s, mid-30s, and perhaps going downward, given the fact that the war is extremely unpopular, given the fact that the Republican control of Congress is not doing so well in the polls either, I think it makes complete sense to have a new face pushing, even though it's the same policies, given the fact that the elections are coming up so soon.
MARTIN: In other words, Michel, that was a really dumb question that, you know, Stevie Wonder could have seen that coming. Is that what you're trying to tell me?
RUDIN: I didn't say that. No. No.
MARTIN: Any idea who his successor might be?
RUDIN: Well, they're talking about Tony Snow, the Fox contributor. They're talking about Tory Clark, who's a former Pentagon spokesman, spokesperson who worked for John McCain. She's now a CNN contributor. Dan Senor, who's a White House aid as well. Those names were thrown out. The President, I think...
MARTIN: Anybody in the office now? I mean, any chance of a deputy moving up? Or is there a sense that these are such serious challenges that you need a big name to kind of change the dynamics?
RUDIN: Well, you have an administration that's not wild about its relationship with the press. You have an administration that's not wild about disseminating information with members of the press. So, I think given the fact that the people there now is not, are not so wildly thought of, I think it's going to be somebody from outside.
MARTIN: Let's switch gears now and talk about New Orleans. They've got a mayoral election coming up this weekend. They've already had some early voting. Do we know anything about how the voting is going? Is there a lot of interest in the election, and do we know anything about how Katrina evacuees are voting and how they're voting?
RUDIN: We don't know how they're voting because, you know, those votes will not be revealed until after the votes are counted on Saturday. But this is, I mean, as tragic as what's happened to New Orleans is, this is a disaster of an election. Given the fact that you, once upon a time had a 70 percent African American city, then post-Katrina you have now a majority white city, and race has always been a part of New Orleans politics from the get-go. You've had black mayors since Moon Landrieu was the last white mayor, who left in 1978. And the black political establishment, not only locally, but led by Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, said that there are going to be hundreds of thousands of African-American voters disenfranchised. They were evacuated. It's interesting how, you know, you can vote in the Iraqi election in Michigan, but you can't vote in Texas or Mississippi for the New Orleans election, and that's a big cause that Jackson and Sharpton are going around the country. But again, the way it looks now, it's going to be hard to get many of those voters to come back and vote in time for Saturday.
MARTIN: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Is there a realistic possibility that New Orleans may have a white mayor? And would that really be so alarming? I mean given Baltimore is a majority black city and they have a white mayor.
RUDIN: Right. And we saw, we've seen it in the past where, you know, Los Angeles went from Tom Bradley, who's African-American, to a white Republican, to a Latino mayor. So things do change. It will be a disaster for the black political community, certainly, given the fact that once upon a time, not that long ago, you had a majority black city. Mitchell Landrieu, who's one of the top white candidates running, he's Lieutenant Government, the brother of Mary, Senator Mary Landrieu. His family has worked with African-Americans for a long time. His father helped integrate the city, so the black community knows him. But again, you know, given the fact that an act of God is what may have turned the city from a black-control to a white-control, government-control, it's very disheartening for people who are just still trying to get political power.
MARTIN: Well is the issue on its face that these candidates are so objectionable or seen not to be sympathetic to the black community? Or is it more the circumstances of folks feeling that they were violently deprived of their home and that they can't participate? Is it more a sense of grief about all that happened?
RUDIN: Well, that's what it is. I mean, a lot of it is of course is what Ray Nagin, the current Mayor, who's African-American, his role in the evacuation of Katrina, whether he did it in time. And it's also rebuilding the city. Nobody seems to have a good idea of how to rebuild the city, and that seems to be unanswered by any of the candidates.
MARTIN: Is this a referendum on Ray Nagin in some way?
RUDIN: It is. It is. The New Orleans Times Picayune, the top newspaper, endorsed another white candidate, a fellow by the name of Ron Forman, who's basically running against challenging Landrieu. And he's having a kind of an ugly little spat with Landrieu to be, who's going to be the alternative, because if no candidate gets a majority of the vote on Saturday it goes to a May 20th runoff. The expectation will be Nagin and one of the two white challengers. There were 23 candidates in all, by the way, in this race.
MARTIN: That's remarkable.
RUDIN: It's very unwieldy. Right.
MARTIN: Well, we've got a lot to talk about on New Orleans. But let's just move on and maybe we'll come back to, you know, after the runoff that you expected to happen.
RUDIN: Well, I think I should have the second half of this show to talk about politics. I think...
MARTIN: I think you should have the second hour every day.
RUDIN: Oh, I love when you say that.
MARTIN: And, but let's talk about John McCain. A really interesting article in Slate suggests that he's really not all that conservative, he's just playing one on TV to get through the primaries. But that doesn't really strike me as a compliment. Is it? I mean to say that you're really not authentically who you say you are, you're just pretending in order to get through the primaries. I mean, how does that, how does an article like that play out?
RUDIN: Well, the reason that article's out is because there are other articles by The Nation Magazine, by Paul Krugman of the New York Times, who are saying, Oh my gosh, you're not going to believe this. John McCain really is a conservative. He's not a maverick. Why did we think we loved him four years ago, or eight years ago? He's really a conservative! The point is, he is a conservative. He supports the war in Iraq. In fact he probably articulates far better than the president. He's extremely anti, I don't know if he's extremely anti-abortion, but...
MARTIN: He has consistently voted pro-life, with the groups who set this as an issue. He's consistently voted with a pro-life position.
RUDIN: Pro-life, right. And then there's this talk like, perhaps he's flip-flopping, like he dismissed Jerry Falwell in 2000 when he ran for president. He called him, I think, an agent of intolerance. And now he's trying, you know, he's speaking at Liberty University next month, trying to maybe, perhaps make inroads with Christian conservatives. But look, John McCain is no longer the outsider. He may be the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, and he says this is the Republican Party that contains all factions, including the Christian right.
MARTIN: And, speaking of frontrunners, I understand we have a possible democratic frontrunner for President in 2008. Who is it?
RUDIN: We do. There is a Democratic frontrunner, and of all the candidates who've announced, he is the frontrunner. It's Mike Gravel, the former Senator from Alaska. And the reason he's the Democratic frontrunner is because he's the only candidate in the race. He's kind of a maverick guy. He's actually running on very important issues, nationwide ballot initiatives. You know, wherever I go in the country people say, Ken, why don't we have a president who calls for nationwide ballot initiatives. Well, Mike Gravel is the guy. I'm teasing of course. But Mike Gravel was this two-term Senator from Alaska in the ‘60s and the ‘70s, and he made national headlines when he stood up on the Senate floor in 1971 and tried to read the, you know, up to then secretive Pentagon papers into the Senate record.
MARTIN: So, a name we'll be hearing, at least a little bit.
RUDIN: A little bit. At least for the next 30 seconds.
MARTIN: Thank you, Ken. Ken Rudin is NPR Political Editor, and as always you can find his Political Junkie column at npr.org. Thank you, Ken.
RUDIN: Thanks, Michel.
MARTIN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin, in Washington.