Letterman Apologizes And Jefferson Trial Begins After cracking a joke about Gov. Sarah Palin's (R-AK) daughter, Late Show host David Letterman has apologized. Also, former congressman William Jefferson's trial has begun. He was charged with corruption after federal agents found $90,000 in cash in his freezer.
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Letterman Apologizes And Jefferson Trial Begins

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Letterman Apologizes And Jefferson Trial Begins

Letterman Apologizes And Jefferson Trial Begins

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. A rising Republican senator admits adultery, reportedly to avert a payoff. The evidence against a Democratic congressman includes 90 grand found in a freezer, and both parties stage a spectacular standoff in the New York State Senate. It's Wednesday, another ho-hum edition of the Political Junkie.

President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

Vice President WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad: Where's the beef?

Mr. BARRY GOLDWATER (Former Republican Senator, Arizona): Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

President RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): Lipstick.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: But I'm the decider.

Mr. HOWARD DEAN (Former Chairman, Democratic National Committee): Aaagh!

CONAN: On Wednesdays, NPR political editor Ken Rudin updates us on the latest in politics, and there may be more than usual this week as liberal Democrats defect on the war bill, gay funders withdraw from a Democratic dinner, apologies offered and accepted from Letterman and Palin, West Virginia contemplates the future without Robert Byrd, John Ensign admits an affair.

In a bit, we'll get updates on the legislative debacle in Albany and opening of the William Jefferson trial, plus "American Idol" in Afghanistan, a documentary on a TV talent show in Kabul. But first, Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A. And Ken, let me wish you a happy Watergate Day.

KEN RUDIN: Happy Watergate. It's only been 37 years, of course, well before well before we were born.

CONAN: Of course, of course.

RUDIN: But it - on this day in 1972, the burglars broke into the Watergate office building where the Democratic National Committee was then held. Then…

CONAN: I think they crept in.

RUDIN: They crept in, or they bolted in, and - but nothing ever became of it. It was a third-rate burglary…

CONAN: Third-rate burglary, yeah.

RUDIN: And Richard Nixon is still the president - in as president. Anyway, on this day - speaking of which, speaking of Watergate, Hillary Clinton - who back then was a staffer on the House Watergate Committee, now, of course she is secretary of state, last night she met with every living former secretary of state except for one, and who was that?

CONAN: If you think you know who that former living secretary of state - that former secretary of state still living who did not meet with Hillary Clinton last night, give us a call: 800-989-8255.

RUDIN: Formerly living…

CONAN: John Jay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And you'll get, of course, a fabulous no-prize T-shirt if you should be the first with the right answer. The email address is talk@npr.org. And Ken, yesterday Republican Senator John Ensign of Nevada traveled to Las Vegas to make a brief public statement.

Senator JOHN ENSIGN (Republican, Nevada): Last year, I had an affair. I violated the vows of my marriage. It's absolutely the worst thing that I've ever done in my life. If there was ever anything that I could take back in my life, this would be it.

CONAN: Republican Senator John Ensign of Nevada, speaking to reporters yesterday. And today we get word that he's resigning his leadership post.

RUDIN: Right. He is the number-four senator in the - Republican in the leadership, the Republican Policy Committee chairman. And of course, Mitch McConnell - he offered his resignation to Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who quickly accepted it. He said that look, you know, you have to apologize to your family and to your constituents and to everybody else, and that's what Ensign has done.

In my Political Junkie blog - did I tell you I write a blog?

CONAN: Really?

RUDIN: It's called Political Junkie, yeah.

CONAN: And where might you go get to see it?

RUDIN: I have no idea. At Political Junkie - npr.org/junkie. Anyway, today I wrote about - basically, I'm always torn about whether this becomes news or not. I mean, if somebody - there's always rumors about people. There were Larry Craig rumors for years. There were Bill Clinton rumors for years. There were John Edwards rumors in the National Enquirer.

But you don't go with rumors, and so much of the blogosphere is filled with rumors. And even when the story does break as the Ensign story breaks, you wonder whether it's a big story or not. And I - part of me says it's not a big story, that personal life and private life is exactly that. But having said that, when John Ensign stands up and says that Bill Clinton should resign because of his affair with Monica Lewinsky, infidelity…

CONAN: With Monica Lewinsky. Yes.

RUDIN: When he goes on and says that we should have - you know, that gay marriage - we should not support gay marriage because the sanctity of marriage between a man and woman is what it's all about, then you get the questions of hypocrisy. You get the questions of whether he's saying one thing and doing another, and then you wonder whether it should be in the public discourse. And in this sense, I think it should.

CONAN: Another sad announcement, and that is that Robert Byrd, the Democratic senator from West Virginia, the long-serving Democrat from West Virginia…

RUDIN: Longest in history.

CONAN: …and that, well, he's been in the hospital now for just about a month, and I gather people in West Virginia are starting to look ahead to the future.

RUDIN: Well, there's talk about that actually Robert Byrd is getting better. He had some kind of an infection, and they're saying there's some kind of - will get better, but there have been discussions. A local reporter in Charleston, West Virginia, has reported that Governor Joe Manchin, the Democratic governor, has met with top Democratic leaders there, including the Democratic State Party Chairman Nick Casey. And if something - in the worst-case scenario, if Robert Byrd was unable to return to the Senate, they're talking about possible a succession. Byrd has been elected since, you know, 1958. He's been there longer than any other senator in history. And Nick Casey may be the choice of the Democrats, should Byrd not be able to continue.

CONAN: In the meantime, we have some people on the line who think they know the answer to the trivia question. And again, that is all living secretaries of state, former secretaries of state, met last night with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton except for one, and she's still living, too.

RUDIN: And she's still living too, right?

CONAN: Who was that one living secretary of state, former, who did not go to that meeting last night with Secretary of State Clinton? 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. Joe joins us from Charlotte, North Carolina.

JOE (Caller): Hey, guys. First of all, I got your joke there, too, Neal, about the guys creeping in - or you said crept in Watergate.

CONAN: Crept in. Yes, there was the Committee to Re-elect the President, known as CREEP.

JOE: Exactly. Very good. But it was George Schulz that wasn't there, perhaps?

RUDIN: George Schulz was there. He was too busy during the "Peanuts" - no, that was different - that was Charles Schulz. George Schulz, who was a former secretary of state, was there, Reagan's secretary of state was there meeting with Hillary Clinton yesterday.

CONAN: Joe, thanks for the call.

JOE: Thanks.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go next to Chris, Chris from Charlottesville, Virginia.

CHRIS (Caller): Yeah, I'm here.

CONAN: And that's, of course, the home of the first secretary of state, who was Thomas Jefferson. But he wasn't there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHRIS: Yeah, Jefferson was not there. I don't think Henry Kissinger was.

CONAN: Henry Kissinger, of course, famously secretary of state under the aforementioned President Nixon, but…

RUDIN: And Henry Kissinger was there.


RUDIN: He was there. I wonder who's Kissinger now?

CONAN: All right. Thank you, Chris, and we apologize for the joke. Let's move right along to Bob, Bob with us from Rochester, Minnesota.

BOB (Caller): Cyrus Vance.

CONAN: Cyrus Vance, secretary of state under Jimmy Carter.

RUDIN: Cyrus Vance, I don't believe, is still alive.

BOB: Oh, okay.

RUDIN: And so that could be one reason…

BOB: He wasn't there. Do I get half a T-shirt?

RUDIN: No, no.

CONAN: You get the ghost of a T-shirt.

RUDIN: Cyrus Vance is no longer alive.

CONAN: All right. Thanks very much for the call.

BOB: Yeah.

CONAN: Let's see if we can go now to Ryan, Ryan with us from Charlotte, North Carolina.

RYAN (Caller): Hi, how are you doing?

CONAN: Go ahead.

RYAN: I'd like to guess Madeleine Albright.

CONAN: Madeleine Albright, the previous female secretary of state.

RUDIN: Actually, it was held at Madeleine Albright's house.

CONAN: So she was there.

RUDIN: So she was actually there. Interestingly enough, Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright are the only two who could not have run for president, by the way.

CONAN: Because they were not born…

RUDIN: There were not born in this country. She was born in - is it…

CONAN: You have to be born an American citizen.

RUDIN: You don't have to be born on the soil.

CONAN: But anyway, let's move on to - this is Allison(ph), Allison with us from Boulder, Colorado.

ALLISON (Caller): Hi, I'd like to guess Alexander Haig.

RUDIN: Alexander Haig is the correct answer.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: We don't know why Mr. Haig was not there, and, of course, he did run for president, or he tried to in 1988. But Alexander Haig was the one…

CONAN: And took control at the White House one day.

RUDIN: Yeah, after Reagan was shot in 1981. Alexander Haig is the correct answer.

ALLISON: Excellent.

CONAN: Allison, we will put you on hold, and you will be the happy recipient of a fabulous No-Prize T-shirt, designed beautifully, I must add.

ALLISON: Excellent. I'd like to say hey to our Congressman Jared Polis, while I'm on the line.

CONAN: Okay, well, you should tell him to give us a call sometime.


CONAN: All right. I'm putting you on hold, Allison. Moving on, let's see. For the first week - or for the last week or so, there has been a spat going between the late night talk show host David Letterman and vice president - former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. And, well, this was Sarah Palin's reaction - Sarah Palin's reaction to the comment by David Letterman - well, comments that he sort of admitted were in poor taste.

Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): It was a degrading comment about a young woman, and I would hope that people really start rising up and deciding it's not acceptable. No wonder young girls especially have such low self-esteem in America.

CONAN: Governor Palin, thinking the joke was about her 14-year-old daughter, Willow, as opposed to her 18-year-old daughter, Bristol, and last night, David Letterman, well, said mea culpa.

Mr. DAVID LETTERMAN (Host, "The Late Show with David Letterman"): I told a bad joke. I told a joke that was beyond flawed, and my intent is completely meaningless compared to the perception. And since it was a joke I told, I feel that I need to do the right thing here and apologize for having told that joke. It's not your fault that it was misunderstood. It's my fault that it was misunderstood. Thank you.

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: David Letterman on Monday, apologizing to Governor Palin and to the Palin children. Both sides seem to be playing to their base in this one.

RUDIN: This is such a silly story, and yet - you know, the headline's everywhere. Just to recap, in case people don't know this joke, and I think I can - I think I have approval to discuss this joke. But David Letterman said that when Sarah Palin was visiting New York…

CONAN: Yankee Stadium.

RUDIN: …Yankee Stadium with her daughter, the seventh inning, Alex Rodriguez, her daughter got knocked up by Alex Rodriguez. Those were David Letterman's words. As it turned out, Sarah Palin was at Yankee with her 14-year-old daughter Willow, not her 18-year-old daughter Bristol, which I don't know if it matters. I mean, the joke was tasteless no matter what. And so there was a lot of demand that David Letterman would apologize, and he said no, I'm not going to apologize. And, of course, his ratings went up and Sarah Palin got more and more attention. And then ultimately he did apologize for…

CONAN: What about Alex Rodriguez? Didn't he get an apology?

RUDIN: No, well, he's batting .228. He should apologize.

CONAN: That's fun to say. Now, there are a number of defections in the Democratic coalition this week. Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed a bill to continue funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with 32 Democrats voting opposed.

RUDIN: Well, yes, and that was down from 51 a month ago. What's interesting is that the Republican Party, which is seen as the pro-war party, voted against this measure. And the Democratic Party, which is seen as anti-war, voted for the measure. And, of course, the reason so many Democrats voted for it is to show a sign of strength - support for President Obama. Hillary Clinton, Rahm Emanuel, a lot of Democrats in the administration made calls to members saying, look - to Democratic members - saying look, we need your support on this.

CONAN: But 32 opposed because they don't want to be supporting the war in Iraq in particular, and that's signs of rising rebellion against President Obama from the left.

RUDIN: Well, rising - I don't know if rising is the right word. Thirty two sounds like very little. The Democratic Party is so opposed to the war, of course, they put in a sweetener. They put in $5 billion for the International Monetary Fund.

CONAN: Which is why the Republicans senators voted against it.

RUDIN: Voted against it, exactly. But there is some unease on the left, of course, you know, a lot of talk about whether Afghanistan becomes the new Vietnam, or the new Iraq, for that matter. I suspect that the number of Democrats opposed to the funding will grow.

CONAN: Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor is with us. He's the Political Junkie. Coming up, the cold cash case. Former Congressman William Jefferson gets his day in court. And the coup and counter-coup and counter-counter-counter-coup in Albany. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of song, "I Wanna Grow Up To Be A Politician")

Mr. ROGER MCGUINN (Lead Singer, The Byrds): (Singing) And take over this beautiful land, and take over this beautiful land.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. It's Political Junkie day. We still have a lot of ground to cover. Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor, is with us. You can check out his blog, even listen to his podcast. That's at npr.org/junkie.

In a few minutes, we'll go to upstate New York and update the carnival in the state Senate there. If you'd like to get in on that conversation, give us a call at 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. But now let's bring in Audie Cornish, who reports on Congress for NPR News. Yesterday, she was in Alexandria, Virginia, covering the first day of the trial of former Representative William Jefferson. You'll remember him by his freezer. It was fill with $90,000 in, yes, cold cash. Audie Cornish joins us today from NPR's bureau on Capitol Hill. Nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION, Audie.


CONAN: And remind us. What charges does William Jefferson face?

CORNISH: Well, former Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson is facing a 16-count indictment, and the charges include not just taking bribes but also trying to bribe someone else, specifically bribing a foreign official, which is the first time a U.S. elected official has been accused of such a thing. Also money laundering and wire fraud and things of that nature, but bribery is the main thrust of this case.

CONAN: And I gather that the bribe, the alleged bribe, was paid in marked bills, which were found wrapped in aluminum foil in the congressman's freezer.

CORNISH: Yeah. The best-known part of this case would definitely be the cold cash, which his own defense in opening statements called the elephant in the room. He also said I should probably start with a joke about cold cash, because he's heard them all.

Essentially, the FBI created - the FBI had an informant that got involved with William Jefferson and, through their conversation, hatched a plan to bribe the vice president of Nigeria in order to do some sort of business deal there.

Jefferson agreed to take a briefcase, which they have him on videotape taking this briefcase of $100,000 in hundred dollar bills, all marked of course. And he took that briefcase, went home, broke it up into chunks, wrapped it in aluminum and stuffed into every Pillsbury dough pie box and Boca Burger box in his freezer and tried to hide it there. And pretty soon after, the FBI came and got the cash in a raid they had on his D.C. home.

CONAN: And all along, former - then congressman, now former Congressman Jefferson has said I have a really good explanation for this. I just can't tell it to you right now. Has he told the court?

CORNISH: You know, not really. He said he had a really good explanation, or I should say the term was an honorable explanation. What we heard from his attorney, Robert Trout, yesterday was that this money being in his freezer is the result of a failed FBI sting operation, that their witness essentially badgered him into taking the money, that he took it to kind of get her quiet and get this over with, but that not only did he not ever - or not bring the money over to the person he was supposed to bribe, but that he had no intention of ever bribing this elected official of Nigeria and that he was simply hiding the cash in his freezer for the time being, trying to prevent the - I think they said the housekeeper or intruders from seeing it, and that that's why the money was there.

But they argue essentially that the fact that the money was in his freezer and not in the freezer, say, of this vice president of Nigeria indicates he didn't go through with any bribe, and so he's not guilty of bribing any foreign official.


RUDIN: Audie, I know - but, of course, several members of Jefferson's staff have already pleaded guilty to this conspiracy and have already gone to prison. But what - the one thing I don't understand, it seems like the defense is saying that whatever Jefferson may have done, he didn't do in his role as a congressman but as a businessman. Can you explain that?

CORNISH: Yeah. I mean, essentially what they're - I guess the problem is the schemes that the prosecutors are accusing him of are actually pretty complex. They don't say that someone said hey, William Jefferson, do this for me and I'll give you $500, and he says thanks and walks away with the cash. That's not what they're implying.

What the prosecution is saying that he did time and time again is that he used his office and his influence as someone who knows a lot about West Africa and doing development there, and that businesspeople would come to him and say hi, Congressman Jefferson. I need help doing business, and he'd say great. Well, what you need to do is pay X amount of dollars to a consulting firm that happens to be owned by my wife and children. Or you need to set up some sort of company locally in Africa, and that company will share its shares with said consulting group, also owned by my family.

So what they're trying to argue is that these business deals were things he was brokering on the side as a private businessperson, and that there's no law against an elected official owning a business and doing deals with that business, and that there is no evidence of him actually casting some sort of vote in favor of these businesses, offering them a tax break, placing an earmark for them.

They point to the fact of - they point to the idea that there's no evidence of official legislative work in benefit of these firms as evidence that it was not bribery.

CONAN: Apparently, he did write some letters about this case on official stationery, mentioning his title, and that could certainly be construed - anyway, one other thing, Audie Cornish, is that there was an unprecedented action in this. In addition to raiding his freezer, the FBI raided his office on Capitol Hill, the very first time ever the FBI had raided the office of a serving member of Congress. That has been the subject of a celebrated case that's been in the federal courts. Any of that evidence showing up in this case?

CORNISH: Well, it depends on who's celebrating there. I mean, I think that a lot of law enforcement are not celebrating that ruling. I mean, essentially, the courtroom was packed yesterday, mostly with legal students, hardly any reporters. And that's because this case has had a lot of - has had a big ripple effect.

In terms of the raid, essentially, a D.C. district court said that you know, the way the FBI carried out this raid, just showing up, rifling through all the papers, sort of maybe separating the folks who were looking at the papers from the folks doing the investigation, was unconstitutional, mainly because there's a clause in the Constitution that protects the legislative branch from the law-enforcement arm, say, of the executive branch. And this is supposed to protect lawmakers from intimidation over their votes.

And this was the first time anyone had ever raided a congressional office of a sitting member. And who knows? It may be the last. It's something that has sort of put a freeze or had a chilling effect with law enforcement.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Audie, welcome to the world of double entendre…

CORNISH: I had to sneak it in. I mean, come on.

CONAN: …and live radio. Audie, thank you very much. And this case is expected to take about how long?

CORNISH: Oh, gosh, maybe a month? That's being charitable. Certainly, the judge in the case is looking for it to be within that time frame.

CONAN: And is the former congressman expected to take the stand in his own defense?

CORNISH: We don't know that, but we do know that the key witness against him is not taking the stand, which is something that was sort of eyebrow-raising for folks who'd been watching the case.

CONAN: NPR's Audie Cornish on Capitol Hill yesterday. She covered the opening day of testimony and argument in the case against former Congressman William Jefferson. Thanks very much.

CORNISH: Thank you.

CONAN: Next, we're going to go to Albany and the circus there. If you'd like questions about that or if you'd like to know more about what's going on in the state legislature in New York, give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. And joining us now from upstate New York in the studios of WAMC and Northeast Public Radio is Irene Jay Liu, a political reporter for the Albany Times Union. And it's good of you to be with us today.

Ms. IRENE JAY LIU (Political Reporter, Albany Times Union): Good afternoon.

CONAN: And last we left this story, the Democratic defector - one Democratic defector had re-defected back to the Democrats, and the state - the stakes were tied in the state Senate, 31 to 31.

Ms. LIU: Absolutely. That happened on Monday. I can't believe it's only Wednesday. This has just been a crazy, crazy week, it seems like. We are all having trouble keeping track of what's going on. But Senator Hiram Monserrate, who is a Democrat from Queens, he was one of the two Democrats to defect to the - to join a coalition, a bipartisan coalition, as they like to call it, with 30 Senate Republicans.

And on Monday - or Sunday evening, actually, he told the New York Daily News that he was going back home to the Democrats. And so as a result, the chamber is now split 31-31.

What has further complicated this is yesterday, Judge Thomas McNamara of Albany County basically ruled that he was not going to get involved. He was not going to settle this dispute, and he, in his ruling, left it to the Senate to come to some sort of agreement and to move forward.

So at the moment, we are in stalemate. And essentially, the court is not going to rule on whether or not the Monday coup from last week was in effect. And, of course, what has further complicated this is now, the chamber is split 31-31, which means that neither side can start session without someone from another side coming over.

CONAN: And normally, the lieutenant governor, like the vice president of the United States, would be there to break the tie. But, of course, the lieutenant governor is now the governor, after this - of course, Eliot Spitzer was elected governor. He resigned after the scandal where he was caught subscribing to a prostitution ring, and then - using the services of a prostitution ring, and his lieutenant governor, David Paterson, is now governor.

Ms. LIU: Absolutely. It's pretty interesting, I think, that we all, sort of as observers of this, have been looking back and trying to identify, you know, what was the moment? What thing happened that actually led to this, you know, crazy situation? But actually, it's just been a slew of events that all had to happen to make it work.

You know, Governor Eliot Spitzer had to resign to leave the vacancy of lieutenant governor. You know, Senator Dean Skelos - who was one of the architects of this, he is the Senate Republican leader - 10 years ago oversaw redistricting, which created - instead of having 61 members in the chamber, which is a nice odd number so that there wouldn't be a split, they - he created an additional seat so that's why we have 62 members.

So it's just been a whole slew of events that you can trace back all the way up to a decade. And here we are, in stalemate.

CONAN: And let's see if we can get some callers in on the conversation. David is calling from Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

DAVID (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, David.

DAVID: Great to talk to you.

CONAN: Go ahead, Dave.

DAVID: Well, it just seems to me that this Raoul Espada, who is an incredible criminal and sort of the worst of the bunch, really should be recalled by his constituents. Why did they elect him?

CONAN: It's - well, they elected him because he got the most votes. But the - is there a recall provision there in New York state?

DAVID: Well, (unintelligible).

Ms. LIU: We do not have a recall. And the Senate, or the legislature in general is - the only way that someone is removed by law from the chamber is if they are convicted of a felony. Then they're automatically dismissed.

The legislature has a history of not removing members - and let's just be clear. Senator Pedro Espada has - is - you know, there are a few investigations by the attorney general and as well as the Bronx district attorney. They are probing various aspects of his residency and other issues but he has not been convicted of anything, nor has he - you know, he was indicted in the past and he was acquitted. He has not been convicted of any crime.



RUDIN: Actually, this is - the question reminds of something - because the Democrat who went to the Republicans and then came back to the Democrats, Hiram Monserrate, has been indicted for slashing his girlfriend's face with broken glass. Now, if he is convicted of this crime, alleged crime, then he is removed from office. And then, the Republicans have the advantage again, right?

Ms. LIU: Well, not only do - would they have the advantage, they would actually have the majority because the way the rule works is that you have to have a majority of elected sitting members. So if he were to be convicted of a felony and evicted from the chamber, then you basically need a majority of 61 members.

RUDIN: It's just so funny that both parties are fighting over two people under an ethics cloud.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: But David, thanks very much for the call. Let's see. We go next to Gary, Gary calling from Utica, New York.

GARY (Caller): Yes. Good afternoon.

CONAN: Good afternoon.

GARY: Is this the best we can do? New York state is being viewed by the nation and quite possibly some parts of the world - and all the political science students that are out there are looking at this and wondering what's going on? I mean, we have elected these people to lead. We elect leaders. And there's no leadership in this state.

And that's - and put the politics of Republican or Democratic side - aside, they are equally as culpable of nonpolitical action as anyone there. Blaming each other has been part of the game. It's now become ineffectual to be a legislator in New York state. We have no government effectively at this point.

CONAN: And a lot of bills that await action...

GARY: Absolutely.

CONAN: ...including things that are important to the city of New York. And the Gay Marriage Bill is still out before the state Senate. The term is about to run out, isn't it?

GARY: Yeah. It's now - it's bad enough that it's happening at all. But the fact that it's happening at this juncture in their year, you know, they're already racing to go home to get to wherever they want to be outside of Albany. But the fact is, this really couldn't come, in a timing mode, any worse for the state.

You know, the inept of leadership being - leadership in New York state is really raising its ugly head. As voters in this state, I think it's time to clean house, right from one end of that group to the other. I...

CONAN: Gary, I...

GARY: Go ahead.

CONAN: I was just going to say thank you.

GARY: Oh, you're welcome.

CONAN: All right. Bye-bye. We're talking about politics in New York…

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: …on the POLITICAL JUNKIE. You're listening to NPR News.

And let's see if we can go one more call on this. And this is Owen. Owen with us from Long Island.

OWEN (Caller): Hello. How are you?

CONAN: I'm good. Thanks.

OWEN: I actually think that this is just democracy at work. This is what it is. And this is - if anybody reads "The Federalist Papers" - I was a political science student at SUNY Albany. I interned in the state Senate. And this is the best we can do. You have a - basically, a 31/31 split in the Senate and it needs to work itself out. And I love it. I think it's a lot of fun to watch.

CONAN: Well, you should write to Ken Rudin. Irene Jay Liu, is either party taking the lion's share of the blame in this?

OWEN: Well...

Ms. LIU: It's interesting...

CONAN: Go ahead.

Ms. LIU: ...at the moment...

CONAN: Go ahead, Irene.

Ms. LIU: At the moment, it's interesting because I think that, well, as of now, there really - there isn't a consensus one way or the other. I think that, you know, there's an acknowledgement that there is a 31/31 split, of course, each side is trying to point the finger at the other in this.

And you know, because the judge has basically put himself out of the equation, it's no longer a legal dispute but really a political one. And as time goes by, the Assembly, interestingly enough, is you know, working hours and hours.

It's funny. Actually, the press officer sent an email to all the reporters that basically gave a rundown of what the Assembly has done. They worked seven hours and 11 minutes last - you know, last night, yesterday - passed, you know, a number of bills.

And meanwhile, there are serious issues that need to be taken care of. And the Senate - you know, there are specific deadlines. Counties will not be able to continue to operate with sales taxes unless certain extenders that need to be passed by both the Senate and the Assembly are passed this year. There are deadlines to that.

In addition, mayoral control, which is an issue that is very important to New York City, needs to - the Senate needs to consider it, otherwise there will be an expiration and then the mayor will lose mayoral control over the school board. So there are serious issues. And I think that as we get closer and closer to those deadlines, something will have to break. Otherwise, there may actually be more litigation. We don't know.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get Fred on the line from Farmington Heights in Michigan.

FRED (Caller): Farmington Hills. Same difference.

CONAN: Oh, go ahead.

FRED: You know, the - because it happens in New York and the news networks are based in New York, it's therefore important to the rest of the nation. I'm in Detroit, where we've had a mayor who was indicted and went to jail. Yesterday, they are - they offered a plea bargain to the president pro tempore of the city council for taking bribes. We've been mired in this for four years.

CONAN: And that's the president pro tempore of the city council who also happens to be the wife of the, well, highly placed congressman.

FRED: Yes. And it may trickle up, or trickle down.

CONAN: We never know. Fred, you're right. You've been involved in this for a long time. Though you got Dave Bing there, so you've got a good point guard to run the city now.

FRED: And hope - and hopefully, the next election - this will be the third election in four months - will resolve who's going to be mayor for more than three months at a time.

CONAN: Fred, thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it.

FRED: Thank you.

CONAN: And Irene Jay Liu, thank you for your time today.

Ms. LIU: Thank you.

CONAN: Irene Jay Liu, a political reporter with the Albany Times Union with us from the studios at WAMC/Northeast Public Radio in Albany. Ken Rudin is with us every Wednesday. You can read his POLITICAL JUNKIE blog at npr.org/junkie. There's a podcast there as well.

Ken, as always, thanks very much for your time today.

RUDIN: Thanks, Neal. I'm sure the Illinois legislature is happy with what's going on in New York.

CONAN: Coming up, the reality television show that changed Afghanistan. We'll talk with the creators of a new documentary about the hit, "Afghan Star." Stay with us.

I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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