Week in Review: Hopefuls, Iraq Debate, Brrrrr Highlighting the news this week: A rash of presidential candidates, including Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL); Harvard's first woman president; the Senate's efforts on Iraq; and the cold, cold weather.
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Week in Review: Hopefuls, Iraq Debate, Brrrrr

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Week in Review: Hopefuls, Iraq Debate, Brrrrr

Week in Review: Hopefuls, Iraq Debate, Brrrrr

Week in Review: Hopefuls, Iraq Debate, Brrrrr

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/7338532/7338533" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Highlighting the news this week: A rash of presidential candidates, including Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL); Harvard's first woman president; the Senate's efforts on Iraq; and the cold, cold weather.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): It was here in Springfield, where North, South, East and West come together, that I was reminded of the essential decency of the American people, where I came to believe that through this decency we can build a more hopeful America.

SIMON: Senator Barack Obama of Illinois standing in front of the Old State Capitol building in Springfield, Illinois to announce that in fact he's running for president.

NPR's senior news analyst Dan Schorr is out today so we're pleased to be joined by our friend, NPR senior correspondent Linda Wertheimer. Linda, thanks very much for being with us.

LINDA WERTHEIMER: Thank you for inviting me.

SIMON: And during this week of political news - no one we'd rather to talk to than you - Barack Obama is the story of the day, really. Remind us what he's bringing to the table in this field, large field of candidates at this point.

WERTHEIMER: He's talking about youth. He's talking about the new generation; let us be the generation, he says, that ends poverty, that shares the wealth of this country, that - and then he also said let us be the generation that ends this war in Iraq, within a year, he suggested.

He talked about hope. He talked about this being a hopeful campaign. I think that he brings little experience. He compared himself to Abraham Lincoln, who he also said was inexperienced. But he is very, very -

SIMON: And there's no one around to say I knew Abe Lincoln. I served with him, and Senator - yeah.

WERTHEIMER: He is - I think he's a brilliant guy and a very attractive candidate. His is a compelling story. It's a story that asks the question, is the country ready to think about a black man in the White House? And he himself called it a quest. I think it's a rather romantic thing. It's trying to imagine ourselves a country that would do something we have never done before.

SIMON: Romantic as it is, there are an awful lot of people with money who were deciding that he's the answer for the Democrats in the 2008 too.

WERTHEIMER: Like Hillary Clinton, he's not going to have any trouble raising money. I've talked to some of the Democratic fundraisers around the country and they say that, you know, you have a party, raise a million dollars, it's not that hard to do.

SIMON: I want to ask about the Republican side of the ledger, because this week, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani more or less officially entered the race for the Republican nomination in 2008, and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is expected to enter the race on Tuesday. Now, because of various positions he has on gun control, abortion rights, gay rights, it's often said that Mayor Giuliani is just unelectable in a Republican convention. On the other hand, he certainly is either at the top or just below Senator McCain in public opinion surveys.

WERTHEIMER: Yes, but the public does not vote in the Republican primaries and caucuses. That's a very small, tiny, tight of very conservative core Republicans. And so it is those people to whom he would have appeal, and that is as why we have seen, for example, Senator John McCain tacking to the right as he tries attempts to burnish his credentials with that group.

I think, you know, Giuliani has a bit of a past. I think we can all tune in to YouTube and see some interesting Giuliani clips, and I just don't know - I don't know that's going to work?

SIMON: Of all the things to see on YouTube. Usually it's cats scampering on top of the toilet and not Mayor Giuliani. What about if the primary - if the primary - if the primaries that are held earlier are changed so that let's say New York, California, Illinois and Florida all have earlier primaries, does that give Mayor Giuliani a better chance?

WERTHEIMER: I'm not sure that it does. But of course we have no idea how that would work. No matter what changes have been made in the primary system, you know, Arizona moved up, South Carolina moved up in the last time, it didn't change the influence of Iowa and New Hampshire. And they are determined to be first if they have to be the Day of the Thanksgiving. So I think that - I think it remains to be seen how that would work.

He certainly would play better to a general crowd in New York. But you know, it's not a general crowd he's looking at.

SIMON: Also there is a woman president already. The new president apparent of Harvard University is Drew Gilpin Faust.

WERTHEIMER: A woman with three last names. But I guess - I think the lead - it's like - I mean Nancy Pelosi, the first woman speaker of House. Drew Gilpin Faust, the first president of Harvard in - since 16 - what - 36?

SIMON: I don't know. I wasn't around to make the note in my diary.

WERTHEIMER: Be still my heart. I mean this is an amazing - this is amazing progress. She was head of what is left of Radcliffe College. Now she's head of everything.

SIMON: I want to ask you about the weather, Linda. And I don't want a weather report. But this is gripping much of the nation, this inclement or - I guess maybe hyper-clement weather. I began this week in Chicago, where it was 10 below zero, cold even for Chicago. I went to Idaho, which is supposed to be colder than Chicago; it was in a snowy area. And in fact it was 50 degrees.

WERTHEIMER: It is amazing. I mean we had the big report that said okay, global warming is happening. It's a scientifically supportable fact, says the big scientific report. And then it immediately got freezing cold in the northeastern part of the country. I am just stunned by the pictures of those little towns along the shores of Lake Superior in Upstate New York, where they are, I mean they've got 10 feet of snow; they've got - it's just unbelievable.

I think, you know, we're looking at some very wild weather, warm where it's not supposed to be, cold where it's not supposed to be. What is going on?

SIMON: Okay. Thanks very much. NPR's senior correspondent Linda Wertheimer.

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Iraq Debate to Dominate Second Week in Congress

First it was the Senate, tying itself in knots over the past week in its effort to tackle a resolution opposing President Bush's troop build-up in Iraq. Now the issue moves to the House of Representatives, which has scheduled three full days of floor debate on the matter, beginning Feb. 13. A vote on a resolution — as yet not fully written — is expected on the night of the 15th.

And in an unusual departure from House practice, all 435 members will be allowed up to five minutes to speak on the resolution.

The original idea had been for the House to wait for the Senate to adopt some kind of resolution — or resolutions — and bring them to the House for consideration. The Senate looked to be on track with a bipartisan resolution jointly offered by Senators John Warner of Virginia and Carl Levin of Michigan, the former and current chairmen of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

But on the first day the Senate turned to the Warner-Levin resolution, a procedural disagreement arose. The Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, said his entire caucus would vote against considering the Warner-Levin language unless the Democrats agreed to also consider other Republican alternatives — and to require 60 votes to approve any of them.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid refused both these conditions, so all but two Republicans voted against bringing Warner-Levin formally to the floor for debate (it takes 60 votes to ensure against a filibuster, and Reid could only muster 49). Through the rest of the week, negotiations between the two leaders continued, while individual senators took to the floor to present their individual views of the war and buildup. The week ended with Reid promising that his chamber would return to the resolution "before you know it" — but with the official agenda stuck on consideration of a budget measure for the rest of fiscal 2007.

So with the Senate in stasis, House Democratic leaders picked up the ball and ran. It is patterned after the House debate on the first Persian Gulf War in 1991. At that time, the body debated a measure approving the use of force by President George H.W. Bush against the invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi forces under Saddam Hussein.

This time, as then, each member of the House will get five minutes of floor time to state their opinions on the Iraq war and the president's strategies. Five minutes may not sound like much, especially if you're used to watching the Senate's seemingly limitless timelines, but in the House, rank-and-file lawmakers are lucky to get 30 seconds of floor time on any given issue.

Democratic leaders haven't released the final language of their Iraq resolution yet. The chairmen of the Foreign Affairs and Armed Services committees — Tom Lantos (D-CA) and Ike Skelton (D-MO) respectively — have been drafting the language and are expected to work on it through the weekend.

The Democratic leaders have said it will be non-binding, but will send a message to President Bush that Congress disapproves of his "escalation" of the war in Iraq, referring to the increase of combat troop levels by 21,500 (plus an undetermined number of support troops). The resolution will also include language stating full support for the troops. The House Democrats' resolution will be released on Monday.

Some Republicans, including Vice President Dick Cheney, have said that it is impossible for Congress to both support the troops and "undermine their mission" in the same debate. Several House Republicans have said terrorists will take comfort in seeing the division in Congress and in America over the war. But this week two top military officials, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter Pace, told a House panel they don't agree with that assessment. They said debate in Congress serves to strengthen democracy.

The floor debate will take up three extended sessions of the House on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of next week. One top Democrat, Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania, the chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, told NPR he expects the resolution will pass with bipartisan support: some 35 to 40 Republican votes, as well as those of all the Democrats.

And, Murtha says, Democrats won't stop there. If President Bush doesn't listen, Murtha says he intends to find ways through his subcommittee to redirect funds for the troop surge to other areas, including pre-deployment troop training.