NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
Of course today it's Wednesday and time for our weekly dose of the Political Junkie.
(Soundbite of Political Junkie intro)
President RONALD REAGAN: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.
President JOHN F. KENNEDY: Ich bin ein Berliner.
Senator LLOYD BENTSEN (Democrat, Texas): Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: But I'm the decider.
Mr. HOWARD DEAN (Chairman, Democratic National Committee): Aaaaaagh!
CONAN: The Senate stalls on debate over the war in Iraq, but the war in Congress has not yet abated. A little later we'll speak with a co-sponsor of the out of Iraq congressional caucus about what's next.
In election news, the Boston Globe gets its hands on a memo from the Mitt Romney campaign about the Republican candidates strengths and weaknesses. To paraphrase: France and Hillary Clinton, bad, slightly disheveled hair, good.
If you have questions about any of that, the brief presidential campaign of Tom Vilsack or other political news, give us a call: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Or zap us an e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
NPR political editor and our Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A. Hey, Ken.
KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal.
CONAN: And before we get started on the other stuff, I guess I should mention that the people of Chicago have elected Mayor Daley to serve a sixth term as mayor. Who'd have thunk it?
RUDIN: Well, actually, those corruption charges are really making a big difference, because he did not get 100 percent of the vote.
RUDIN: No, he only got 71 percent of the vote, winning reelection. And as you know, if he serves out his term by December 25, 2010, he will be the longest serving mayor in Chicago history.
CONAN: At the top, we mentioned that leaked memo from the Mitt Romney campaign staff. What did we learn about Governor Romney's vulnerability (unintelligible) in this campaign, or what he things his vulnerability are?
RUDIN: Well, again, this is not from the campaign, this is from a Republican consultant, Alex Castellanos, who does work with the Romney campaign. But it shows that the Romney people are very aware of the negatives, or at least the potential drawbacks. The concerns about his Mormon religion, the fact that he has shifted positions on issues like gun control and stem cell research and abortion. Having run twice in Massachusetts, one for the Senate and once for governor, and then now having to run a national campaign.
At the same time, he's also aware of his competition. So he stacks up his rivals, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, as well as Hillary Clinton, and how he can run against them.
CONAN: But it never looks good when you say, you know, that slightly rumpled hair, that's what we should focus on. You know, the people think they're concerned about Iraq or healthcare or a lot of stuff. Slightly ruffled hair, I don't know, doesn't sit well.
RUDIN: Well, there's a lot in that memo to find out, of course. If you want to look at hair, you have to look at YouTube. You have to watch John Edwards preparing for a TV interview. John Edwards combing his hair for 45 minutes on YouTube. That is a classic act.
But, no, obviously there's much more that Mitt Romney has to be concerned about besides his hair.
CONAN: Let's see if we can get some callers in on the conversation. 800-989-8255 if you'd like to join us, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is email@example.com.
And let's begin with Larry. Larry's calling us from Iowa.
LARRY (Caller): Hello.
CONAN: Hi, Larry.
LARRY: I am 65 years old, a born-again Republican as far as I'm concerned. And this year I am going to vote for a Democrat if Tom Vilsack is not on the ticket anywhere. What's the chances of that?
CONAN: Tom Vilsack, in other words, we now know he's not going to be the top of the presidential ticket.
CONAN: So you're wondering could Tom Vilsack, the former governor or Iowa who quit the presidential race I think earlier this week - Ken Rudin, is he a viable vice presidential candidate?
RUDIN: Well, he was on John Kerry's short list in 2004, and apparently he'll be on somebody's short list in 2008. Obviously, I think you saw him Sunday night at the Oscars. He was known as "The Departed." He got the Academy Award for that.
CONAN: Candidates or non-candidates got two Oscars that night.
RUDIN: That's correct. And speaking of "Inconvenient Truth" when you have a guy, Ken Rudin, on your show all the time. But Tom Vilsack is on the list of short. But again, he didn't really distinguish himself as far as look at all the candidates out there. So sometimes you look at somebody who gave a valiant effort, like John Edwards in 2004, and Kerry decided that would be a good match to put on the ticket.
But Vilsack is really the only guy from the Midwest who really seemed to, you know, sparkle. And given the fact that the Midwest is territory that the Democrats could certainly could, you know, do well in. They have the East, they have the West Coast - the Republicans have the South and the Rocky Mountain West. It's the Midwest that's really going to be fought over. Perhaps, Vilsack could help. But again, he didn't do much in his brief campaign to make much of a difference.
LARRY: I would love to vote for the Democrats this time but I can't take the chance that he could become president.
CONAN: All right. Thanks very much, Larry. And good luck to you. I don't think there's much of a chance that he'll become president but you should check out the (unintelligible) of the man at the top of the ticket, or the woman.
Thanks very much for the call. Let's see if we can go to - this is Jeff(ph). Jeff is calling us from Las Vegas.
JEFF (Caller): Yes. I saw a recent poll here on the television that Romney was four percent on The Washington Post poll. And I don't understand how in a week or half a week's time he can raise $7.5 million. Is that special interest money? Because four percent doesn't seem to be much of a, you know, a population to be able to donate…
CONAN: It's not exactly a mandate, Ken Rudin.
RUDIN: Well, Mitt Romney does have a lot of strong, big financial backers, given the fact that he was, you know, the shepherd at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. He's a businessman before he was elected governor of Massachusetts. He does have strong connections. But again, these polls are very misleading.
Yes, he is four percent. He is well behind in the Republican race, again behind John McCain and Rudy Giuliani. But Bill Clinton at this time in 1991 was also way, way behind in the pack, also an asterisk if not single digits. And, you know, somehow he just came out of nowhere to become elected president. So I would not pay much attention to national polls and just watch to see how much they raised. That's really a better indicator.
CONAN: And the other part of Jeff's question is where is Romney's money coming from?
RUDIN: Well, a lot of it - I mean, I don't know the answer to that. I mean, I know he is very aggressive with fundraising, he knows he has to, you know, he has people he's been connected over the years. I don't know if it's special interest as much as it's people who've been supporting his campaign.
But let me just want to say this thing about the probability, the fear of overrating how much money you could raise. Remember Phil Graham in 1996 raising a ton of money and then he was out of the race even before the Iowa caucuses. So money does not equal a victory.
CONAN: Okay. Jeff, thanks very much for the call.
JEFF: Okay. Thanks.
CONAN: And let's get back to the stalled debate over Iraq in Congress. And to some degree, Democrats in both houses find themselves in a bit of a pickle, do they not?
RUDIN: We thought on November 7th, 2006 that the American people spoke, that they were angry about the war in Iraq and they gave the Democrats the stewardship in both the House and Senate and the Democrats would be able to do something.
But it's one thing to be in control, it's another thing to decide what to do. It's one thing to say that the war is wrong, that President Bush is wrong, that we need our troops out today, if not yesterday. But do you cut off the funding? Do you support a binding resolution that rescinds the 2002 vote that allowed President Bush to send troops to Iraq?
The Democrats are really, really torn on this. And it's very interesting we thought, you know, a lot of people thought that well, you know, the voters have spoken, the war is going to be over. It's not that simple.
CONAN: And the question is if you introduced those measures also, can you get them passed. Let's bring in somebody who knows a bit about this. Lynn Woolsey is a Democratic congressman from California, co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, one of the co-founders of the Out of Iraq Congressional Caucus. She joins us now by phone from her office in Washington. It's very nice of you to be with us today.
Representative LYNN WOOLSEY (Democrat, California): Thank you for having me.
CONAN: And Democrats have not been able to get through a resolution on a war in the Senate, though they passed the non-binding resolution in the House. House Democrats, though, appeared to be not of one mind on what I guess is being called the Murtha plan to insist that troops get their proper training and the proper rest between rotations. A measure that would effectively, John Murtha says, block the surge in Iraq.
Rep. WOOLSEY: Well, actually it would block the surge in Iraq if we were dealing with a president that had any respect for the three levels of government and we - but Bush doesn't. And he's not going to do anything that we say in that resolution, and I fully believe that in 2009 we're going to be having hearings saying, why didn't the president do what we told him to do in 2007?
CONAN: Well as yet, the Congress has not told him anything to do.
Rep. WOOLSEY: Well, actually, his own majority told him, listed some things in the past, and he hasn't lived up to any of those. And we've had all kinds of things that he had to come back and report to the Congress if this or that happens, and none of that happened. And that was under Republican rule.
CONAN: Well, and now that the Democrats are in charge, if Congressman Murtha submits his proposal, do you think it can - well, can it get out committee much less onto the floor?
Rep. WOOLSEY: I don't know about committee. I believe it will get out of committee. I believe that it will get onto the floor, but there is a lot of people who aren't going to vote for it. I know that because what we would like to have is a resolution dedicating funds to protecting our troops while we're planning to bring them home, and insuring that they get out of Iraq safely and that they get home.
CONAN: And when you say there's a lot of people who aren't going to vote for it, that includes a lot of Democrats.
Rep. WOOLSEY: Yes.
CONAN: And is that a particular problem for the party? There is a wing in the party that's going to say, look, you guys were elected, you guys were given control of the houses of Congress to end this war. Why aren't you doing it?
Rep. WOOLSEY: Well, that is the problem that we face. Many of us believe that on November 7th we were given the majority because the voters - certainly not in districts like mine, who have been against this war in the beginning, but Iowa and Ohio and northern New York - they elected Democrats in Republican seats because they believe the Democrats would actually do something to bring our troops home.
CONAN: And if the Democrats are unable to do anything to bring the troops home, is that not going to have bad effects next time around?
Rep. WOOLSEY: Well, yes, absolutely. Particularly if we don't try to do anything bold. But we do have control of the purse strings and that's what we have to be dealing with.
CONAN: Okay. So what's the next step as far as you're concerned?
Rep. WOOLSEY: Well, the next step that's going to be happening here is the supplemental would go through the committee and it will come to the floor. It's the largest supplemental in the history of the country and it will have everything in it that anybody ever wanted for their districts.
But it will also have - it will fund the surge and it will have the language that's added by Jack Murtha, which is good language. Who doesn't want our troops to be trained, rested, equipped? I mean, of course we want that. If that was a stand-alone resolution or legislation it would pass in a minute.
But the problem is the president will be given waivers and, you know, he'll -well, you don't know that. But experience tells us that he's not going to be truthful and he's going to say the troops are indeed trained, they are indeed equipped, and it's going to be years before we can challenge him on that. And in the meantime, our troops are dying, being wounded and they're not being brought home, and we're not returning Iraq to the Iraqi people so they can have their own sovereignty.
CONAN: It's sounds like to me that you certainly backed the effort but you, at this point, don't believe that this resolution can pass?
Rep. WOOLSEY: Oh, I don't. Well, it might pass but I don't believe that it will get us out of Iraq.
CONAN: And if it passes the House, will it pass the Senate?
Rep. WOOLSEY: That I doubt.
CONAN: So therefore, will voters, do you fear, hold Democrats responsible for this inability - in other words, culpable with the Republicans, all part of the same, you know, business as usual?
Rep. WOOLSEY: Well, actually, I believe that the voters right now believe this war belongs to the president, as it does. But I believe if we vote for this supplemental - I mean this is me, I'm just talking Lynn Woolsey, you know.
But I believe that if we pay for the wars, then the voters will say we are absolutely partners with the president. You pay for it; you own it.
CONAN: We're talking with Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey of California, co-founder of the Out of Iraq Congressional Caucus. You're listening to the Political Junkie on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
RUDIN: Congresswoman, there's a lot of talk about profiles and courage, and whether the Democrats exhibit those profiles and courage. And all the Democrats in the Senate who have talked about pulling out - they want to end the war today, if not yesterday, and yet they will vote for the supplemental. Is it fair to say that they are just as responsible as the Republicans? And two, what do you make of some efforts by some left-of-center groups who want to target moderate centrist Democrats who won't go along, like Ellen Tauscher of California?
Rep. WOOLSEY: Well, I'm going to answer to the second one first. I believe they're making a huge mistake. And to target an Ellen Tauscher, who represents her district very well, is setting up the scenario for the next member of Congress if this group prevails.
The next member of Congress from that district will be a Republican and what a shame. Ellen gets elected with great majorities in her district because she does represent that district very well.
RUDIN: Do you see a split in the Democratic Party? Remember with Lyndon Johnson and Eugene McCarthy over Vietnam. Do you see the people who are so pure against the war that they will not accept like people who are more willing to compromise?
Rep. WOOLSEY: Well, that's true and we do that, you know. We eat our own and get so far to one side that we can't see any compromise working. And I worked very hard to not be one of that kind of unapologetic liberal. But sometimes you have to, you know, pick your battles, and I don't think that going after Ellen Tauscher is a battle that we're going after.
CONAN: Congresswoman, thanks very much for your time today. We appreciate it.
Rep. WOOLSEY: Thank you for having me.
CONAN: Lynn Woolsey, a Democrat from California, a co-founder of the Out of Iraq Congressional Caucus. And Ken Rudin, it sounds like she says in two years time, if we've not managed to pass any legislation, if we've not managed to oppose the war, yeah, the Democrats will be part of the - it will be their war, too.
RUDIN: I mean there's a lot of Democrats who say this is still - they still have President Bush in the White House, and that is true. And you still have obstructionists, Republicans in the Senate who would not be willing to let something pass.
But having said that, voters - all voters know is that they made it, they sent the message on November 7th, 2006. If that message does not translate into action, they will hold both parties accountable.
CONAN: Let's switch to - we mentioned this earlier. Al Gore did that funny bit at the Oscars where his declaration of president was drowned out by the band. In case that wasn't enough, he told reporters afterwards he has no plans to run. Then this morning, James Carville tells Don Imus said that he thinks Al Gore is going to get into the race.
RUDIN: Well, I don't. And of course one reason is because he would have lost weight by now. I kind of think Al Gore…
CONAN: That's the rumpled hair equivalent for Al Gore.
RUDIN: Exactly right. I think the expression is wait, wait, don't tell me. I think that's the expression there. But no, I don't think Gore is running. He's made - his contacts have no money people. Not that he needs to raise money early.
He could wait into the last second, but challenging Hilary Clinton for the nomination will be the ultimate revenge of the Gore versus Clinton feud that we saw in the late 1990s. I say he doesn't run. But there are a lot of Democrats who like the fact that he was pure on the war from the beginning and remains so.
CONAN: NPR's political editor Ken Rudin. If you'd like to read his column called, "The Political Junkie," it's at our Web site, npr.org. He's also with us here every Wednesday on TALK OF THE NATION. Ken, thanks very much.
RUDIN: Thanks, Neal.
CONAN: I'm Neal Conan, NPR News in Washington.
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