Congress Takes up Hot-Button Issues
JOHN YDSTIE, host:
These demonstrations, partly in response to congressional action on overhauling immigration laws, come during a week when Congress is anticipating significant votes on a variety of hot button issues. Joining me is NPR News Analyst Cokie Roberts. Good morning, Cokie.
COKIE ROBERTS reporting:
YDSTIE: Let's start with this issue we've been talking about: do you think there's actually going to be an immigration bill this year?
ROBERTS: Well, the new White House team seems to see action on immigration as a way to show that the president is engaged, that he's relevant, in face of his low poll numbers, and in the face of Republicans in Congress being very much--every person for him or herself these days. And Senate and Democratic Republican leaders do appear to be getting close to an agreement on an immigration bill. But many House Republicans seem to be firmly dug in against any guest-worker program--anything that smacks at all of amnesty. The Republican Whip, Roy Blunt, has said that the demonstrations, like we're going to see today apparently, have hardened the attitude of conservative constituents against immigrants.
So, the president is forced to walk a delicate line here. He wants to get a bill through the Senate and then deal with these House Republicans. And, Republicans are, frankly, weighing the short-term gain of getting out their conservative anti-immigrant base in this election year, versus the long-term gain of trying to woo a growing number of Hispanics to the Party.
YDSTIE: Mm hmm. The Senate is scheduled to take up a huge spending bill this week, that also has the Republican Party split down the middle. What's happening there?
Ms. ROBERTS: Well, this is the big “emergency spending bill" to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to keep funding the Katrina relief. And it's one of those bills that, of course, gets everything thrown onto it because it's a must-pass. Conservatives are saying that Congress has simply got to stop its spending--that its infuriating that base that we keep talking about in this iffy election year. But, of course, spending is generally good politics, so there's a big fight going on in the Senate.
YDSTIE: Mm hmm. Meanwhile, the House is expected to vote on a lobbying reform in response to the Jack Abramhoff scandal. What's likely to be the political fallout from that scandal in this legislation?
Ms. ROBERTS: Well, the whole issue of political corruption, and corruption in the Republican House of Representatives, is one that the Democrats are hoping to make a lot of in this election year. And they say this lobbying bill, that is being considered in the House, is essentially, meaningless.
Republicans are countering that there's plenty enough corruption to go around, and they're pointing to problems--ethical problems of various Democrats. It makes, John, for a very nasty election year, and one keen Republican observer said to me recently, if the Democrats can't win the House in this environment, they can't ever win it. It is really going to be a year when all of this stuff just gets thrown out there and nobody comes out of it looking very good.
YDSTIE: Cokie, all this legislative activity takes place against the backdrop of the war in Iraq--the big elephant in the room, I guess.
Ms. ROBERTS: Exactly. And it was three years ago today, John, that the president went across the--onto the aircraft carrier with the words, mission accomplished, behind him. And, of course, at that point, he was on top of the world politically, and now, it's the war in Iraq that is driving his negative poll numbers. And there's really very little that the administration can do about that and/or that Republicans running for office can do about that.
You, now, over the weekend, had a little flap between former secretary of state, Colin Powell, and current secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice--over whether the troop strength was ever enough, going into the war--with Powell saying no, Rice saying yes. And, you add to that, the gas prices, which also, the administration can't really do much about, and Republicans in Congress can't do much about, and you get for a very nervous-making year, indeed.
In fact, what Republicans have tried to do about gas prices—-this $100 rebate that the Senate has proposed—-is, according to today's New York Times, getting very negative responses. So, anything they're attempting to do, appears to be backfiring. So, all of this contributes to that nasty mood that I was talking about.
YDSTIE: Thanks very much. NPR news analyst Cokie Roberts.
YDSTIE: This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.
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