Politics with Ron Elving: Iraq, DeLay's Texas Map
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
Joining us now, NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving in Washington. Ron, welcome back to the show.
The president's now given three of four promised policy addresses on the subject of Iraq; I guess the fourth is coming on Wednesday. Tell me who is the target audience. Who is he speaking to?
RON ELVING reporting:
There are several different audiences, Alex, and today's most important one may have been the one in Iraq. As you've observed, this is the week of their crucial elections, and the president wanted to stand in solidarity with their democracy. He wanted to be sure to lay out the more idealistic side of our policy towards Iraq one more time. We don't know exactly how large that audience may be in Iraq, but it's critical to stabilizing that country and letting us get out.
And by the way, there's a new poll out by ABC and some other international organizations showing a remarkable degree of optimism there in Iraq. But at the same time, they would like to see the US troops withdraw, just as Americans would, and the question for them seems to be largely timetable.
When you turn to the United States, I think the audience here is actually quite a specific one for the president. He's trying not to convert the people who think we ought to pull out right away or the people who voted for John Kerry a year ago; he's trying to get back the voter who was with President Bush a year ago on Iraq in general, but who has grown weary of the war and disillusioned with Bush. So we're talking about one in maybe six or seven members of the US electorate. These are the people the White House believes it can woo back.
CHADWICK: OK. Other political news, Ron. The US Supreme Court has agreed to hear a challenge to the map that the Texas state Legislature drew up in 2003. This was a very interesting political development because that redistricting map helped elect about a half-dozen more Republicans to the House of Representatives last year. What's going on here?
ELVING: What's going on really is the taking over of the Texas congressional delegation by the Republicans. It had been going on for a long time and it reached fruition last year, and now the court is going to review the map that was used to do that. It'll hear the case early next year, and it could issue a ruling in time to affect the 2006 elections, which would, of course, be crucial to who controls the House in the next Congress.
The legal issue here says that the map, as it was drawn, dilutes the overall voting power of minorities in Texas--African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans--and that's constitutional grounds for it to be struck down. An earlier federal court upheld the map on this issue, and citing in part the US Department of Justice ruling on it. But we have since learned from a memo that was leaked to The Washington Post that the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division lawyers actually wanted to reject the map on that basis. They voted unanimously within their group to do that on the basis of its minority impact, and they were overruled by higher-ups during John Ashcroft's tenure as the attorney general.
CHADWICK: There's some participation here by the former House majority leader, Texas Congressman Tom DeLay.
ELVING: Yes, big time. This map was engineered by Tom DeLay, who is, of course, a Texas Republican, represents a district there. It was enacted by a state Legislature that he helped to elect back in 2002 specifically so it would accomplish this remapping. So he had a lot of impact, a lot of input in it and he also brought in Karl Rove and a lot of information that Karl Rove made available to the Legislature, and they rearranged the districts so that the Republicans would go from about half the districts to two-thirds of the seats.
And in a way, that was kind of Tom DeLay's insurance policy in the last election. It made sure that the Republicans would remain in the majority overall nationally. But now it's become something of a millstone around his neck because he's been indicted for the fund-raising he did to elect that Legislature back in 2002, and that's why he's facing trial in Texas early next year.
CHADWICK: All right. Well, we'll wait on the outcome for that. But what about the current Congress, all those Texas Republicans in it, trying to wrap up business for the year this week?
ELVING: Well, they hope to do that. It may take them into the weekend to accomplish it, but some of that business, in the end, may just be too tough to get to this year. One thing they really do want to do is the Patriot Act renewal, because 16 provisions of the Patriot Act will be expiring this weekend. There's been a deal between the House and Senate, but some senators are threatening to filibuster it. They're also hoping to get a deal on prisoner abuse. Remember John McCain's amendment on that subject.
ELVING: But the main business is really fiscal, trying to get the biggest spending bills of the year completed by this weekend so they can go home for Christmas.
CHADWICK: All right. We'll be following that and watching your coverage of it.
Ron Elving, NPR senior Washington editor. And you can read his column, Watching Washington. It goes up Monday at npr.org.
Ron, thank you again.
ELVING: Thank you, Alex.
CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. NPR's DAY TO DAY continues.
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