The Politics of Katrina and Roberts NPR Political Editor Ken Rudin says now is not the time to say that the Bush administration's slow response to Hurricane Katrina is part of some "hidden agenda." And he handicaps the Roberts nomination hearings.
NPR logo The Politics of Katrina and Roberts

The Politics of Katrina and Roberts

Morris didn't get the Democratic nomination in '88, but he made sure the wife of his party's prez nominee that year was called "Kitty." hide caption

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Protesting the Nixon inaugural in 1969, Yippies held their own ceremony and inaugurated Pigasus the Pig for president. hide caption

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Years before taking the helm at FEMA, Michael Brown was the 1988 GOP nominee for Congress in Oklahoma against Rep. Glenn English, taking just 27 percent of the vote. hide caption

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It's the No. 1 topic in America, as it should be: the horrific loss of life, the heartbreaking destruction of possessions and homes and businesses, the indescribably tragic displacement of hundreds of thousands of people, the surreal disappearance of one of the most fascinating cities on earth. There is no way to describe the ache and utter sadness of watching what happened to the residents of New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

At the same time, there is just no way we should at this point be proclaiming that this is all part of some hidden agenda, or what it means politically. One day for sure, but not right now. I'm not saying that casting blame or pointing fingers is out of line. Government leaders are supposed to lead, and when decisions are wrong or policies are questionable or actions are late, being held accountable is not only necessary, it is mandatory.

Having said that, I would rather not devote this column to how Katrina will affect the 2006 mid-term elections, or the race for the White House in 2008 -- or for that matter, the Corzine-Forrester contest in New Jersey. There is plenty of time for that.

This is not part of any effort to protect the Bush administration from criticism. If you've listened to National Public Radio over the past two weeks or so, you've heard forceful, dramatic indictments of the government's response to Katrina, and rightly so. But if it's okay with you, I'd like to wait a little bit before we look at what it all "means."

Still… this has to be the only place where you can see a campaign button for former FEMA director Michael Brown from his 1988 campaign for Congress.

Q: How many votes will there be against the nomination of John Roberts for the Supreme Court? -- Arthur Taylor, Nyack, N.Y.

A: Your question came before Roberts went from potential successor of Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor to potential successor of the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, and that could make a difference in the number of "no" votes. There is a sense in Washington that replacing a solid conservative like Rehnquist with a conservative like Roberts is far less consequential than if Roberts succeeded O'Connor, a pro-choice swing-vote who has become something of a moderate. Some speculate that the left may hold its fire and wait to see whom Bush picks to replace O'Connor, a choice that apparently will come after the Senate vote on Roberts.

I think it's safe to say that the vote against Roberts will be closer in the Judiciary Committee than in the entire Senate, though I have no reason to suspect that the nomination is in any trouble. (I'm mindful, of course, that that was the conventional wisdom about Clarence Thomas in 1991 until Anita Hill came along. So let's not jump the gun in advance of the Judiciary Committee hearings, which begin today.)

The committee is made up of 10 Republicans, eight Democrats. The only Republican on the panel who is not an automatic Roberts vote is the mercurial chairman, Arlen Specter, but ultimately I think he votes in favor. Of the eight Dems, the sure "no" votes are Edward Kennedy, Russ Feingold, Charles Schumer and Dick Durbin. I suspect Pat Leahy is another opponent. Joe Biden is ostensibly running for president, and if so, he knows he will have to answer to a liberal primary electorate if he votes for Roberts. Dianne Feinstein is a thoughtful liberal, but as the only woman on the committee (and one who favors abortion rights), could she in good conscience vote for someone who could turn out to be a key Roe opponent? I think not. That leaves Herb Kohl; he's not someone who usually bucks the party. So it's not out of the realm of possibility to see all eight committee Democrats voting no, although again, that could change if the Dems' plan is to hold their fire for O'Connor's successor. Still, a straight-party line vote of 10-8 on the Judiciary Committee to send Roberts to the full Senate is my prediction.

And here is my early call for the final Senate tally, assuming everyone votes: 71-29 in favor.

Q: Was the Kennedy-Johnson ticket of 1960 the first presidential pairing of two senators? I know that in 1920, Sen. Warren Harding (R-OH) was supposed to run with Sen. Irvine Lenroot of Wisconsin, but a spontaneous floor demonstration for Massachusetts Gov. Calvin Coolidge ended Lenroot's chances. -- Mark Bernkopf, Arlington, Va.

A: You are correct. Before John Kerry last year, only seven sitting senators ever received their party's presidential nomination: Henry Clay (who ran against Andrew Jackson) in 1832, Lewis Cass (vs. Zachary Taylor) in 1848, Stephen Douglas (vs. Abraham Lincoln) in 1860, Warren Harding (vs. James Cox) in 1920, John F. Kennedy (vs. Richard Nixon) in 1960, Barry Goldwater (vs. Lyndon Johnson) in 1964, and George McGovern (vs. Richard Nixon) in 1972. Of those, only Kennedy and Harding were elected.

(Note to those preparing to send a correction: Bob Dole was an ex-senator by the time he became the Republican nominee for president, having resigned his Senate seat in June of 1996.)

Other than Kennedy-Johnson, the Kerry-Edwards ticket is the only other presidential pairing of two senators. Initially the 1972 Democratic ticket was of two senators -- McGovern and Thomas Eagleton (of Missouri) – but Eagleton was forced off the ticket within days and replaced by Sargent Shriver.

Back to the almost Harding-Lenroot ticket. The nomination of Ohio Sen. Warren Harding in 1920 was pretty remarkable to begin with, given the fact that Gen. Leonard Wood, Illinois Gov. Frank Lowden and Sen. Hiram Johnson of California were the favorites going into the convention. But with the delegates deadlocked, the conservative Harding emerged the nominee out of a "smoke-filled room" on the tenth ballot. The VP nomination was first offered to Sen. Johnson, who turned it down. When Lenroot, like Johnson a progressive, was about to be offered the number No. 2 slot, a spontaneous demonstration began on the floor for Coolidge, the Massachusetts governor who won national acclaim when he put down a Boston police strike in 1919. Coolidge wound up with 674 delegates to Lenroot's 146. The Harding-Coolidge ticket won a landslide that year over the Democratic slate of Gov. James Cox of Ohio for president and some fellow by the name of Franklin D. Roosevelt for vice president.

Q: I read your Aug. 19 column where your questioner claimed that I "took credit" for Bush doing better with Arab-American voters in 2000. (You suggested that Bush did better with Arab-Americans because Joe Lieberman was on the Democratic ticket.) Some points:

(1) I worked on outreach to Muslims and Orthodox Jews. Not Arabs. There is a difference.
(2) Bush did much better with Muslim-Americans in 2000 than 1996. Tough to measure small voting blocs, but roughly up from 40% to 70%.
(3) Lieberman was the one senator consistently decent to Muslim-Americans. He did not cost Al Gore votes; Bill Clinton's support for "secret evidence" laws and Bush's opposition to same were key.

The good news is that you don't win Muslim or Jewish votes by being snotty to the "other." You deserve those votes by treating all groups with respect. -- Grover Norquist, Washington, D.C.

Q: I came across your Aug. 19 column that contained information about my mom, Anna Eshoo, the U.S. representative from the 14th district of California. In this particular article, you listed members of both houses of Congress who are female, and then further identified those who are African American, Asian, and Hispanic. You might want to know that our ethnicity is Assyrian, a Middle Eastern group that, incidentally, has a significant population in Iraq. My maternal grandparents were born in northern Iran and came to the U.S. early in the 20th century. So, given that history, does that mean my mom should be listed as a minority in the Asian category?

I am asking this not necessarily because I think you need to amend your article, but because I find this an interesting question in the larger context of how Americans identify Middle Easterners and how we Middle Easterners identify ourselves. Assyrians, for example, are an Indo-European people who came out of the Caucasus mountains. Growing up, my family usually identified ourselves as "white." But especially now, in a post-9/11 world, the Middle East has taken on a whole new meaning for Americans, as well as Middle Eastern Americans. What box do we check on the form? Are we going to be contemporarily continental about this and go with "Asian?" Are we going to go back to our roots in the Caucasus and choose "white?" Or do we embrace the lack of an obvious answer and go with "other?"

To be honest, I am not even sure how my mom would identify herself, especially for the purposes of a congressional census. But I do think it bears some thought as we continue to grapple with the "tossed salad" that is the United States. -- Karen Eshoo, Emerald Hills, Calif.

Q: In the question about women and minorities in Congress, you should have included Native Americans in your answer and how many there are in Congress, which is one: Tom Cole, Republican from Oklahoma. Too many times Native Americans are ignored, which contributes to them being viewed as an invisible minority. -- David Simmons, Director of Government Affairs and Advocacy, National Indian Child Welfare Ass'n, Portland, Ore.

Q: In your Aug. 19 list of women in Congress, you ID'd Congresswoman Drake as being from Texas; she is a Virginian in real life. -- Trent LeDoux, Holton, Kans.

A: Oops, that was an editing error, and it will be corrected in the Political Junkie archives. Thelma Drake is a freshman Republican representing the 2nd District of Virginia.

PET SOUNDS: A lot of interesting reaction, to say the least, to the Aug. 19 column that ran this cockamamie item about a cat running for president. I, of course, dismissed the notion because to the best of my knowledge, every president so far -- including Chester Alan Arthur, who admittedly had whiskers -- has been a person, not a cat.

But Janet Howe of Chicago writes that I was too quick with my dismissal. "Obviously you do not live with a cat. Have you ever tried telling a fur person that they are NOT a person? And as for your point that the Commission on Presidential Debates would never allow a cat to participate, don't worry. No self-respecting cat would ever debate anything with a non-fur person, so there is no need to involve a commission in that decision at all." Barry Casselman of Minneapolis, MN, reminds us that a cat has actually run for president before: Morris the cat, in 1988. "Serious presidential button collectors know that Morris ran on the slogan 'Vote 9 Lives.' I do not recall how many votes Morris received that year, though I do know he failed to get a single elector in the College." Barry adds that the column also "failed to cite the 1996 campaign for president by Socks the Cat, who used a stand-in named Bill Clinton, and according to the January, 1997 'Socks the Cat Fan Club' home page, was actually elected."

Steven Ury of Los Angeles wants to know why we "failed to mention the most famous animal presidential candidate" of all, Pigasus the pig, "whom the Yippies nominated for president during the protests outside the 1968 Democratic convention. While he was touted as a candidate who would really bring home the pork, my recollection is that Pigasus was somehow lost in the chaos of the convention, never to be found." Ken Bode of Depauw University in Greencastle, Ind., also thought of Pigasus, but figures the pig "may not count because I'm sure Abbie Hoffman didn't bother to set up a campaign committee."

Lest you think that everyone was enthralled by the pet stuff, along comes Roseanne Skarbrevik of Los Angeles County, Calif. She writes this was the first time she saw the column and looks forward to future editions. "But," she adds, "that cat thing has got to go."

Bringing us back to earth, Arthur Kilduff of Queens, N.Y., wants to know if Chester Alan Arthur ever ran for president. "I know that he succeeded to the presidency after Garfield's assassination," he writes, "but was he actually a presidential candidate himself?" Answer: Yes, but he was unsuccessful in his bid for the nomination. Arthur attempted to sell his nearly three years as president to the Republican convention in Chicago in 1884. He was popular with reformers but not the old-line leaders who ran the party. James Blaine, who at one point had been his Secretary of State, broke with Arthur and challenged him for the GOP nod. Blaine took the lead from Arthur on the first ballot at the convention and won the nomination handily on the fourth.

This Day in Political History: Commerce Secretary Henry Wallace denounces President Harry Truman's "get tough with Russia" foreign policy at a rally in New York. The speech causes an international uproar, and Wallace is ousted from the Cabinet eight days later. In 1948, he launches a third-party presidential campaign against Truman (Sept. 12, 1946).

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