House Debates and Bush Responds; Candidates for 2008
NEAL CONAN, host:
It's Wednesday, and time for another edition of the Political Junkie.
(Soundbite of applause)
President RONALD REAGAN: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.
President JOHN F. KENNEDY: Ich bin ein Berliner.
Former Senator LLOYD BENTSEN (Democrat, Texas): Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: But I'm the decider.
Mr. HOWARD DEAN (Chairman, National Democratic Committee): Aaaaaagh!
CONAN: There's a layer of ice here in Washington, D.C. that even Ken Rudin could not melt, but it did not stop the debate over Iraq in the House of Representatives or a presidential news conference this morning at the White House, and the 2008 presidential hopefuls continue to sprout around the country.
In lieu of Ken Rudin, we're joined today by the hardier Mara Liasson, NPR's national political correspondent. Mara, good of you to be with us today.
MARA LIASSON: Well, thanks. It's great to be here.
CONAN: If you have questions about the debate over the debate on Iraq, Mitt Romney or Giuliani's bid for the Republican nomination, or the rest of the week's political news, give us a call: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. You can send us e-mail: email@example.com.
And Mara, we've been talking about Barack Obama for much of the hour, but he made what may have been his first verbal gaffe of his young campaign earlier in the week when he described the lives lost in Iraq that said that they'd been wasted - a remark for which he's now had to apologize.
LIASSON: Yes, he did. But, you know, I was at the rally where he said that, and it wasn't something that was caught by reporters there. I think he was immediately attacked by the RNC on that, and he couldn't have apologized more quickly. He even gave what I would consider a pretty abject apology. He said in an interview, I was angry at myself for using that word. That isn't what I meant.
So I think he's probably put that one to rest, but you know what? He is new, and he is under a microscope, and I'm sure there'll be many more.
CONAN: And got himself involved in a verbal tiff with the prime minister of Australia - again, over Iraq.
LIASSON: Well, I think that - I don't know if - that might - yeah. That's a verbal tiff. That's certainly not a gaffe. As a matter of fact, the prime minister of Iraq - the prime minister of Australia said that everyone should be…
CONAN: So easy to confuse.
LIASSON: …circling - the terrorists should be circling the date of March 31, 2008, because that's the date that Barack Obama wants all troops to be out of Iraq, and saying and hoping and praying for an Obama victory, or a Democratic victory.
And Barack Obama had a pretty good answer. He said, well, if the prime minister of Australia's so ginned up, I understand he has about 2,100 troops there. Why doesn't he put in 21,000? So I think that probably - he even said he was flattered by that attack, and he should be. He's being noticed by world leaders as a real contender.
CONAN: But let's get back to the main subject, and that is Iraq, which is, of course, being debated in the House of Representatives this week. Democrats ultimately decided not to put two resolutions to the test, but to exclude the Republican ideas and debate just one resolution that, though it supports the troops, also says it does not agree with President Bush's decision.
Of course, this is a non-binding resolution. Republicans are having a bit of a field day at being the repressed minority.
LIASSON: Yes. And, you know, Democrats did promise - Nancy Pelosi did promise a new era of openness, and minorities were going to get a chance to have their bills on the floor. That hasn't happened yet, but it's interesting that the president in his press conference today pretty much brushed over this debate.
He said, yes. They're debating this non-binding resolution, but what's coming up next is a binding piece of legislation about funding. And he framed the debate as that's going to be the more important piece of legislation, because, he said, if you don't vote for funding, then you're not supporting our troops.
And I think Republicans are quite eager to get on to the next phase of the Iraq debate, where we're not debating non-binding resolutions disapproving the president's policy, which I'm sure will get a majority in the House of Representatives. And the only question is how many Republicans will vote for it.
We know a fair number will, but then the Democrats are going to have a slightly more difficult debate for them, which is about whether or not they want to vote against funding for the troops.
CONAN: And the president did also say at one point that - several points, in fact - that those who disagree with him doesn't mean that they're not patriots or that they're seeking to undermine the United States of America. It's just a disagreement. However, the president also pointed out that there are a lot of people watching this debate. Let's listen.
President BUSH: People are watching what happens here in America. The enemy listens to what's happening. The Iraqi people listen to the words - the Iranians. People are wondering. They're wondering about our commitment to this cause…
CONAN: And the president then went on to say that it's perfectly fine to oppose his policies, as long as you didn't vote against them, which -
LIASSON: Yeah. Or at least vote against paying for them.
LIASSON: Or paying for the troops. Look, the Democratic Party is definitely split on the issue of funding. They're much more united on this non-binding resolution of disapproval. The country is in support of that - majorities are in support of that. But I think that's where the debate is heading, and that's where the president feels he's on firmer political footing.
CONAN: If you'd like to join our conversation with the Political Junkie, subbing this week for Ken Rudin is Mara Liasson, NPR's national political correspondent. Give us a call: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
And let's get Gwen on the line. Gwen's calling us from Cambridge, Massachusetts.
GWEN (Caller): Hi. My question is why is the House not voting on a pre-emptive resolution saying that we will not fund a war with Iran, because it looks like that's what the White House is preparing us for?
CONAN: Mara Liasson, the Congress having a difficult enough time dealing with Iraq, but Gwen's point - there certainly has been a drum beat of information about Iran.
LIASSON: Yes. Well, first of all, I haven't heard any Democrat talking about something like that. The president today said, you know, there's all this talk about me looking for a pretext for military action against Iran, and that's just not the case.
I don't think that the Congress is quite there yet. I mean, the president hasn't talked about invading Iran, and some Democrats have talked about precluding military action against Iran, but it's unclear what kind of military action they're thinking of. They certainly don't want regime change at the point of a gun like what happened in Iraq, but I don't know if they draw the line at pursuing Iranian operatives across the border. It's unclear.
But I don't hear that preemptive resolution against military action against Iran being discussed on Capitol Hill.
CONAN: Gwen, thank you.
CONAN: Let's turn next to - this is Rita. Rita's calling us from Edgewood. Is that in Colorado?
RITA (Caller): Kentucky.
CONAN: Kentucky. I think there's one in Colorado, too. But go ahead, please.
RITA: Thank you for taking my call.
RITA: My comment is that it seems to me that the Republicans in the House of Representatives and the Senate, everywhere, should want to get the Iraq War settled, because the only platform that any of the Democrats are running on is the Iraq War. So this is going to - you know, taking care of the Iraq War is going to be to their favor in the 2008 elections.
LIASSON: No doubt about that. You are absolutely correct. And every Republican I talk to say we do not want to run in 2008 with this war going on. I mean, she's absolutely right, and I think every Republican hopes and prays that it's over.
RITA: But they don't seem to…
LIASSON: Every Republican up in 2008 hopes and prays that it's over as soon as possible.
CONAN: But Rita, you were saying?
RITA: Well, the comments that I've heard on - everybody gets their five minutes in the House of Representatives - doesn't seem to say that.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. They're supporting their president of their party. Isn't that right, Mara? Also, a lot of votes that they've cast in the past.
LIASSON: Yes, but the people who are on the floor are not the people who are up in '08 and not the people who were elected by a very narrow margin of votes in 2006. And it's really interesting. I can direct the caller to Dana Milbank's column today in The Washington Post, where he actually listed the margin of victory of everybody who was speaking on the floor the other day, and they all were way above 55.
In other words, if you're in a safe seat, it's more comfortable and safer for you to be on the side of the president in this case.
CONAN: Rita, thanks for the call.
RITA: Thank you.
CONAN: We're talking with our Political Junkie. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And there was an interesting Harris Poll on presidential preferences of 2008 -again, very early in this race, Mara Liasson, but a couple of interesting names on that list of people who aren't even running. On the Democratic side, I think the fourth favorite on the Democratic side was former vice president and former presidential candidate Al Gore. There is, of course, a petition drive on the Internet to draft Al Gore.
LIASSON: Yes. Al Gore hasn't said he wants to run, and I think that a lot of early polls are really measuring name recognition or general popularity. But you know, when people really poll about Al Gore, he also has pretty high negatives still, even though yes, on the Internet, I think it might even be a moveon.org poll. I'm not quite sure who's sponsoring that. He is getting a fair number of votes.
But I don't see any signs that he's going to run. The Democratic field is not only big, but it's filled with very big personalities, big celebrity candidates. And I think if Al Gore was going to get in, he would be a different kind of candidate. He could go from, you know, zero to 60 miles an hour in very short order, but I don't - I haven't talked to any Democrats who think he's actually going to run.
CONAN: And I guess the same factor in the Republican side is the name of General Colin Powell, former secretary of state - his name right up there with Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, and, of course, Senator McCain.
LIASSON: Yeah, now that's interesting because Colin Powell, even though he has - he left office with a little bit of a different kind of reputation than he had before, he still remains to be an extremely popular, admired person in American politics.
But you know what, Neal? We've been through this. There was a draft-Powell movement before. He was - people were pleading for him to run. He decided not to, and I think that decision was pretty final.
CONAN: And perhaps the decisive vote cast in that by his wife, who…
LIASSON: His wife, who did not want him to run at all. Yeah.
CONAN: Mara Liasson, thanks very much. We hope and expect that Ken Rudin will be able to shovel out of his driveway by next Wednesday, when we'll have another edition of the Political Junkie. But thanks very much for sitting in with us.
LIASSON: Thank you, Neal.
CONAN: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson, with us from here in Washington, D.C. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
(Soundbite of song, "I Want To Grow Up to be a Politician")
Mr. ROGER MCGUINN (Singer, Songwriter): (Singing) …and take over this beautiful land, and take over this beautiful land, and take over this beautiful land.
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