NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.
In the Senate, Jim Bunning plays Mr. Smith. In Albany, one governor's star falls, another's rises in Austin. And it could be time for a remake in Sacramento. It's Wednesday and time for an Oscar edition of the Political Junkie.
Former President RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.
Former Vice President WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad. Wheres the beef?
Former Senator BARRY GOLDWATER (Republican, Arizona): Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.
Former Senator LLOYD BENTSEN (Democrat, Texas): Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.
President RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.
Former Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): Lipstick.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: But Im the decider.
(Soundbite of scream)
CONAN: Every Wednesday, NPR political editor Ken Rudin joins us to talk about politics, and this week, there is an abundance of riches. No Texas two-step as Rick Perry and Bill White cruise into the governor's race. Jerry Brown finally declares for the state house in California. Blanche Lincoln gets a challenge from the left in Arkansas. Another Kennedy won't run for Congress in Massachusetts while two Republican representatives depart in Georgia and may change the calculation on health care.
In a bit, the once and perhaps future Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney will join us, and New York, New York, New York - we'll go to Albany to talk with Danny Hakim of the New York Times, where Senator Gillibrand's prospects brighten as fast as Governor Paterson's dim.
But first, as usual, we begin with a trivia question. Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A. Ken, how are you?
KEN RUDIN: Neal, we're going to fit this in one hour?
CONAN: We're going to try to.
RUDIN: Okay, well, Mitt Romney is on the program later, and as you know, he ran for president in 2008, may run again. His father, George Romney, was governor of Michigan. Okay, that's the setup. Here comes the convoluted part.
Besides the Romneys, who was the last father-son combination in which the son ran for president, the father ran for governor.
CONAN: So besides the Romneys, do you know the most recent father-son combination where the son ran for president, and the father ran for governor. If you think you know the answer, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. The winner, of course, gets a fabulous no-prize T-shirt, political junkie T-shirt.
But Ken, just a few...
RUDIN: A brainwash T-shirt.
CONAN: A brainwash T-shirt. Big political news in Washington today. The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Charlie Rangel, who's been caught up in a swirl of ethics questions, decides to step down - at least temporarily.
RUDIN: Well, and I suspect he was pushed rather than doing it voluntarily. Charlie Rangel is under a whole bunch of ethics investigations. The House Ethics Committee admonished him last week for accepting corporate-sponsored trips to the Caribbean, but he also has other problems regarding a rent-free apartment, rent-controlled apartment that he used for work, soliciting contributions that he may not have reported on his financial reports.
And the Republicans clearly wanted to push a vote in the House to force him out as Ways and Means chairman. He had a meeting with Speaker Nancy Pelosi last night. He came out kind of defiantly, saying I'm not stepping aside. Today, he changed his mind.
CONAN: And the question that you mentioned, this was sponsored - corporate sponsorship for trips to the Caribbean for himself and other members of Congress. The Ethics Committee found out they were not liable because they didn't know. Apparently, Congressman Rangel didn't know, either, but members of his staff did - and this is how he explained the situation last week.
Representative CHARLIE RANGEL (Democrat, New York): Common sense dictates that members of Congress should not be held responsible for what could be the wrongdoing or mistakes or errors of staff, unless there's reason to believe the member knew or should have known. And there's nothing in the record to indicate the latter.
CONAN: And the Ethics Committee felt differently; the congressman is responsible for his staff.
RUDIN: Yes, and it's not just the trip to the Caribbean. That's the whole thing. There's much more going on with the investigation into Charlie Rangel that's been going on for a long time.
It's like with David Paterson - and we'll talk about that later - but you know, the fact that he may have gotten free Yankee tickets, and of course, absent of everything else, Neal, you and I probably would have made jokes about that, but obviously, there's so much far more involved with David Paterson. At the same time, there's so much more involved with Charlie Rangel, allegedly, at least.
CONAN: And in the meantime, there were actual votes cast yesterday, in the state of Texas. Now, this is one of those states where unless one candidate gets a majority, more - 50 percent plus one of the vote - there's a runoff, but there's not going to be a two-state primary in either the Republican or Democratic Party. The incumbent governor, Rick Perry, celebrated last night in Austin.
Governor RICK PERRY (Republican, Texas): There were a string of victories that have come along here lately. There was a victory in New Jersey. There was a victory in Virginia. There was a victory in Massachusetts.
(Soundbite of applause)
Gov. PERRY: And now there has been a victory in Texas.
CONAN: Well, of course, he was only running against Republicans.
(Soundbite of laughter)
RUDIN: Well, that's kind of funny. I mean, we're talking about the big victories in New Jersey, Virginia and Massachusetts, where Republicans defeating liberals or Democrats, and I don't know if Rick Perry decided that his victory yesterday against Kay Bailey Hutchison and the Tea Party activist Debra Medina counts as victories against liberals.
But you know something? Give it to Rick Perry. He's been governor of Texas longer than anybody else in history, and yet he ran as an outsider. Ronald Reagan kind of did that in 1984, ran as an incumbent but the outsider. And Rick Perry, basically, for all that Kay Bailey Hutchison did in her 17 years in the Senate, she was part of the Washington insider crowd. Me - or I, it depends on if you speak English well - Rick Perry - I'm the outsider, I'm not beholden to any interests - and yet he's been in Austin for - since 2000.
CONAN: The other party, the Democratic Party, they held a primary, too, and this was an absolutely crushing victory for the mayor of Houston, Bill White.
Former Mayor BILL WHITE (Houston; Democratic Texas Gubernatorial Candidate): Texans deserve a new governor who will work harder to keep kids in school than he will just to keep running for office every single election.
CONAN: And of course, Rick Perry was saying: When they find out his liberal record, they'll say - Houston, we have a problem.
RUDIN: Well, of course, Bill White is a former mayor of Houston, recently left. Annise Parker is the new mayor of Houston. But um - I guess he's - White is probably the best Democrat that the party has had to run for the governorship since Ann Richards won in 1990.
The question, if you looked at the numbers yesterday, more than twice as many people turned out for the Republican primary than the Democratic primary. I still think if he can keep the party together, Perry wins in November.
CONAN: So again, we have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question. That is, again, besides the Romneys - and Mitt Romney's going to be with us a bit later - who was the last father-son combination where the son ran for president, and the father ran for governor. And we'll start with Laurie(ph). Laurie's with us from Traverse City in Michigan.
LAURIE (Caller): Would it be Pat and Jerry Brown by chance?
RUDIN: Well, that's a very good guess because Jerry Brown did run for president, and his father, Pat Brown, did run for governor, but...
CONAN: And got elected, too.
RUDIN: And got elected. He defeated some guy named Richard Nixon in 1962, lost to some guy named Ronald Reagan in 1966. But that is not the last combination.
CONAN: Very nice, though, Laurie.
LAURIE: Thank you very much.
CONAN: Bye-bye. Of course, we should mention Jerry Brown finally announced for governor in California, 27 years after he left the governor's - do you suppose he left his stuff in storage down there?
RUDIN: Well, of course, he never left the office because he's still state attorney general, and what's interesting, if he's elected this year, he'll be not only the youngest governor in California history, but the oldest.
CONAN: Let's go next to Patty(ph), Patty with us from Elkhart, Indiana.
PATTY (Caller): Hi, yeah. My guess is Birch and Evan Bayh.
RUDIN: Well, Birch Bayh is the father of Evan Bayh, and while Evan Bayh was governor, it was Birch Bayh who ran for president. I'm looking for the son who ran for president. But the point is, Birch Bayh never ran for governor. He was a three-term senator from Indiana, never ran for governor.
CONAN: Your mind is as convoluted as Ken's but just a little bit in reverse.
RUDIN: But we're both bipartisan.
CONAN: Okay, Patty, thank you very much for the phone call. Let's go next to -this is Brian(ph), Brian with us from Akron.
BRIAN (Caller): Well, this is just an obvious guess. Would it be Al Gore and his father?
CONAN: Dorothy by email made that same nomination.
RUDIN: Oh, I was going to say his father was named not Dorothy. It was Al Gore, Sr. But Al Gore, Sr. was a senator from Tennessee, never ran for governor.
BRIAN: Okay, thank you.
CONAN: Thanks. Another email answer, this from Jordan(ph). Bush for president then Bush for governor.
RUDIN: Except the father never ran for governor. The son, George W., ran for governor. George H.W. ran for Congress, ran for the Senate and was president but never for governor.
CONAN: Let's go to Douglas(ph), Douglas with us from Tulsa, Oklahoma.
DOUGLAS (Caller): Hubert Humphrey ran for presidency. His son ran for governor of Minnesota and was defeated by Jesse Ventura.
CONAN: Ken is looking shocked.
RUDIN: Oh man. Well, that is - you know something? That is...
CONAN: Yeah, I think he just won a surprise T-shirt.
RUDIN: That is the correct answer that I didn't - wait, wait, wait. Not the most recent.
DOUGLAS: Oh, shucks.
RUDIN: Not the most recent. I forgot about the Humphreys. That's true. The father ran for president. Humphrey ran for president twice.
CONAN: Douglas, we're going to put you on hold. You're going to get a T-shirt anyway. You deserve a T-shirt.
RUDIN: That's not the last one, but he stumped me because I didn't think of that.
CONAN: You stumped Ken. That - you were correct, Douglas, and you're going to get a T-shirt for that. Hold on. We'll put you on hold, and our producer will get your information.
RUDIN: Wow, I like that.
CONAN: That's very good. And let's make sure I'm pushing the right buttons.
RUDIN: But not the most recent.
CONAN: Not the most recent. So let's go next to Ed(ph), and Ed with us from -is it Weiner, Arkansas?
ED (Caller): Yes, sir.
CONAN: Go ahead, please.
ED: I was going to guess the Rockefellers, with Nelson being the son.
CONAN: Nelson being the son. Did his father...
RUDIN: Well, no. His father was John D. Rockefeller and he never ran for anything.
CONAN: He owned the world.
RUDIN: Right. As a matter of fact, he bought his son a few blocks to play with it. It was Madison Avenue, Park Avenue and - Fifth Avenue. But no, his father never ran for president.
CONAN: Thanks very much, Ed. Let's go next to - This is Lea(ph), Lea calling from St. Louis.
LEA (Caller): Hi.
CONAN: Hi, Lea.
LEA: I don't know if it's the most recent, but I'm thinking maybe the Udalls, Stuart and Mo?
CONAN: Stuart and Udall - well, the Mo Udall, one of the Three Stooges, of course, never ran for governor. None of the Udalls ever ran for governor. They ran for Congress, and they ran for president, as Mo did, and for the Senate -his son is in the Senate now - but never for governor.
CONAN: All right, we're going to put this - thank you, Lea.
CONAN: Bye-bye. And we'll put this on hold for just a minute. Meanwhile, there is still a ton of political news to get to, and that includes the departure of two Republican members of Congress in the state of Georgia.
RUDIN: Well, yes. There were two different stories here. First of all, John Linder is retiring. So he'll serve out his term and retire in November, likely to be succeeded by another Republican. The bigger story is Nathan Deal from the 9th District. He's resigning next Monday, and the reason that's important is because now you only need 216 votes to pass health care in the House because John Murtha is dead, Bob Wexler resigned in Florida, Neil Abercrombie resigned in Hawaii...
CONAN: To run for governor.
RUDIN: Right, to run for governor. But by losing another opponent, the Republicans feel that Nathan Deal has betrayed them. Deal wants to be governor, but they feel they need every vote they can get, because there's going to be a vote probably by Easter, which is four weeks away...
CONAN: Before he could be replaced in a special election.
RUDIN: That's correct. So the Republicans are going to lose that no vote, and they're very angry at Deal for that.
CONAN: And in Massachusetts, there was some thought that William Delahunt, caught up in the scandal over the prosecution of a woman who later allegedly shot six of her colleagues at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, well, he was the prosecutor in Boston when a case came up involving the death of her brother - and suggestions that he didn't prosecute vigorously enough - might have to step aside - thought that young Joseph Kennedy might run for that seat.
RUDIN: Joseph Kennedy III, now, Joseph Kennedy II is Bobby's son, who is a former congressman from Massachusetts - but Delahunt is not leaving, and Kennedy III is not running.
CONAN: So he's going to stay on as the assistant district attorney in the town of Barnstable, Massachusetts, a job he says he loves.
Well, Ken Rudin is with us for a super-sized edition of the Political Junkie. We're going a full hour today. Up next, Mitt Romney, the one time and maybe future candidate for president in the Republican Party. If you'd like to talk with the former governor, give us a call, 800-989-8255 or by email, firstname.lastname@example.org. Just that one Hubert Humphrey and son. That's going to be the winner. The real answer?
RUDIN: The real answer is Steve Forbes and Malcolm Forbes from New Jersey, ran for governor of New Jersey in 1957.
CONAN: Well, Ken Rudin, stay with us, and...
RUDIN: Do I get a T-shirt?
CONAN: No, you don't get a T-shirt. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington. It's Political Junkie day, and what a week for Ken Rudin. The only way to keep up with all the news is on his blog at npr.org/junkie. You can also download and listen to his podcast at the same site, indeed at the same time, if you'd like, while you're solving the ScuttleButton puzzle.
Ken Rudin, of course, is officially NPR's political editor. A bit later this hour, to New York and the unfolding scandal in the governor's office in Albany, but first, in 2008, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney traveled to Washington, to the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC, to make this announcement.
(Soundbite of archived audio)
Mr. MITT ROMNEY (Former Republican Governor, Massachusetts; 2008 Presidential Candidate): I entered this race because I love America. And because I love America, in this time of war, I feel I have to now stand aside for our party and for our country.
CONAN: Well, this year, Governor Romney went back to CPAC, leading many people to wonder if the former presidential candidate might be, well, a future presidential candidate. In his speech, he sharply criticized President Obama.
Mr. ROMNEY: His energy should have been focused on fixing the economy, creating jobs, succeeding in our fight against radical, violent jihad in Afghanistan and Iraq and keeping us safe. Instead, he applied his time and his political capital to his ill-conceived takeover of health care and to building his personal popularity in foreign countries. He failed to focus, and so he failed.
CONAN: Mitt Romney has a new book out called "No Apology: The Case for American Greatness." If you'd like to speak with him, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com.
Mitt Romney has been kind enough to join us in our bureau in New York today. Governor Romney, good to have you with us on TALK OF THE NATION.
Mr. ROMNEY: Thank you, Neal, good to be with you.
CONAN: And by our estimation, the Iowa caucus is just 23 months away.
Mr. ROMNEY: You guys are counting, not me.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Not you. Not you. So you don't want to make any news today.
Mr. ROMNEY: I'm afraid not. I'll be thinking about things like that probably well after the November elections. This is a time for us to concentrate on getting some good people elected this November and, in my opinion, getting Washington back on track.
CONAN: And a lot of people think Washington is broken and broken, well, due to the dire state of partisanship in both parties today.
Mr. ROMNEY: Well, actually during my campaign, I had big signs up that I would place at my rallies that said: Washington is broken. So I concur with the sentiment.
By the way, I don't think there's anything wrong with people standing up and saying no to bad ideas, and I think that the president's health care plan is a bad idea. It has not been put together in the way that the American people support, and I applaud saying no to that. But the thing I think is a real concern is that we have massive challenges in this country, particularly relating to our economy and getting people back to work, that we have not dealt with honestly and directly, and we've got to do that or America could end up becoming far less economically successful down the road than even we're suffering right now.
CONAN: In your book, though, you say you do agree with the idea of universal health care and that the government has to play a big part in that.
Mr. ROMNEY: Well, actually, one of the things I learned when I was governor is that we have universal health care in America already. Everybody in this country, if they become ill, goes to the emergency room, even without insurance, and is able to receive, under the law, free care.
What we decided was it was a better idea to help people get insurance than just to hand out free care at hospitals, which was very expensive and oftentimes came after somebody was already quite ill. So we found a way, we think pretty good way, to get all of our citizens insured. We think it's going to improve their health care. Not a perfect plan, but we believe a lot better than what we had in the past.
And unlike the president's plan, ours was a state program, not a federal program, so each state could create their own ideas. We did not have to raise taxes, and we did not cut Medicare.
CONAN: And you would urge other states do it on a state level if you were someday just possibly, maybe elected president?
Mr. ROMNEY: Well, that's been my position for some time, which is in terms of helping people get insured, the best thing the federal government could do would be to provide the funds they already do provide to the states to help the low-income individuals who are getting health care. Let them get those funds and use the funds to subsidize the purchase of those who need some help buying health insurance.
But the other problem in health care really is going to require some work at the federal and state level, which is: How do you rein in the excessive cost of health care? And having government take it over is really not the right answer.
Cost controls just don't work. We need to get health care to work more like a market, where the patient and the doctor have entirely different incentives than they do right now.
RUDIN: Governor Romney, right now as we're speaking, President Obama is having this kind of quasi-news conference, quasi-rally, pep rally, announcing what he's going to do with health care and, obviously, what it probably means is pushing it through through reconciliation, which means, I mean, the House will vote for the Senate version, and then reconciliation will be a majority of the Senate rather than the magic 60 we've seen in the past. What do you make of that tactic?
Mr. ROMNEY: You know, I think for something as important as people's health care, which is frankly one of the most important aspects of someone's life, that to have a highly partisan bill, which is vehemently objected by well over half of the American public who have expressed that view even in Massachusetts, that that's a real problem for the country and probably a political challenge, as well, for the president.
I think some of his colleagues are going to feel like they're walking the plank over this. I just don't think it's going to stand. Even if they pursue the nuclear option, I think you're going to find the American people will vote out those that did so and that you'll be able to rein back in the, what I think is a very excessive overplay of its hand by the federal government.
CONAN: Well, we'll give listeners a chance to talk with former governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, 800-989-8255. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Daniel(ph) on the line from Boston.
DANIEL (Caller): Hi, Governor Romney, thank you for answering questions. What I want to ask you about is you're talking about the health care plan, Obama's plan, as if it's a very radical plan, but it seems to me that it's very similar to what was passed in Massachusetts but sort of things like caps on - ban for pre-existing conditions with mandates for individuals to have insurance. And I want to say, like, how - I want to ask: How is it possible that you could support the plan in Massachusetts and still talk about how great of a plan it was just a couple seconds ago, but be so opposed to Obama's health plan? It seems inconsistent and hypocritical to me. I just want to ask about that.
Mr. ROMNEY: Well, pretty straightforward, and that is that first of all, we worked our plan out on a bipartisan basis. Republicans and Democrats came together. We had differing perspectives, but we worked out something where we both felt it was a positive advance.
And so when it went before the legislature, and we have 200 people in our Senate and House combined, only two people voted no. The business community supported it, the health care community did, the advocates for the poor did. We had pretty broad consensus. And I think if you're going to change something like health care, you need to have built that kind of consensus.
Secondly, we approached our needs on a state basis so that we could fashion a program that worked for Massachusetts. And what is working in Massachusetts would almost certainly not work in Texas because they have a very different number of uninsured in a state like Texas. So the plans need to be crafted state by state.
We also did not require increased taxes. And the president's plan requires a very substantial increase in taxes, almost a half a trillion dollars, and perhaps most importantly for our senior citizens, we certainly wouldn't have thought of cutting Medicare as part of the program to pay for our health care program. The president's instead, of course, cuts Medicare by some half a trillion dollars.
Finally, I'd note there's no government insurance in the Massachusetts plan. All of the insurance that's provided, that people are able to obtain, is from the private insurance companies that already exist in the state.
CONAN: There's no government insurance in the president's plan, either.
Mr. ROMNEY: Yes, that's right, and that's, in my view, the right course. He pulled out the public option. I think that was the right pullback. There's no question in my mind that there'll be an effort to try and stick it back in at some point, but early on, that was the most distinctive difference.
CONAN: All right. Daniel, thanks very much for the phone call, appreciate it.
DANIEL: Thanks for the answer.
CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go next to - this is Ben(ph), Ben with us from Columbus.
BEN (Caller): Hello, thanks for having me on. Hello, Governor Romney. My question to you is, I just wanted to have you comment on - about three weeks ago, we had a report released that said that the president's stimulus plan increased economic activity here over the last year from one and a half to - it's probably about one and a half to three and a half percent. And just based on your comments at the convention, you said that he had failed in terms of help stimulating the economy, and I just wanted to hear your comments based on the report that we've seen that he did have some impact on the economy.
CONAN: And the convention, you mean the CPAC conference.
Mr. ROMNEY: Right.
CONAN: Go ahead.
Mr. ROMNEY: Yeah, and the answer is this, which is that when the president came to Congress and said look, this is an emergency measure, you need to pass this stimulus bill, it's going to cost an extraordinary $787 billion, nothing of that scale ever passed that I know of in our congressional history.
He said look, if you pass this, we'll be able to hold unemployment at eight percent. If you don't, it's going to go to 10 percent. And so they passed it, and it went to 10 percent.
Millions of additional Americans are out of work, lost their jobs even though that extraordinarily expensive bill was passed. Now our kids and grandkids will have to pay the interest and, ultimately, the principal back on this obligation. It's an enormous burden, long-term for our economy. And in that regard, it failed.
Now at the same time, we all recognize that the American economy will turn back. If the president's going to get the credit for the economy turning around, well, that's a pretty easy job because, ultimately, the economy will turn around.
There's nothing in America that suggests that a recession stays in on a permanent basis. The private sector reignites, inventories are rebuilt, and of course, throwing $787 billion out the window does have a stimulative effect. But it has not in any way been as successful as the president had promised or had hoped, and it's not as effective as it could have been had it been targeted in a way to actually create immediate jobs rather than funding, in many cases, programs that will take a long time to pay out.
CONAN: Ben, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.
BEN: Thank you.
CONAN: I wanted to ask you about another thing you wrote in your book, Mitt Romney, and that is you warn against the temptations of populism. And again, this is something that can afflict both parties.
Mr. ROMNEY: You're absolutely right, Neal. You know, when things are tough, as they are right now - and as I point out in my book, I'm concerned in particular over the next 10 and 20 years, and even longer, as to the course that America is on.
But in circumstances like this, people are apt - and we're all in this boat -to see if there's not somebody we can blame, whether it's a politician or whether it's Wall Street bankers or mortgage bankers - or mortgage brokers, that is - or immigrants, or some small group that can be scapegoated. And that's done both on the left and on the right. And I've seen people in both parties who've probably succumbed to that over the - over time. And we recognize that this scapegoating and demonizing of certain members of our society, that's never built a great country. It's never built a great economy.
We have to be honest about the real challenges we face and address them. It's going to be hard work to overcome some of those challenges. But at times like this, there are no easy fixes by just targeting some small sub-segment of our society and somehow accusing them of being the cause of all our problems.
CONAN: In that clip we played from your address to the CPAC conference, you said that President Obama was not paying enough attention to American security. What's wrong with his policy in Afghanistan?
Mr. ROMNEY: Well, let's talk about piece by piece, but Afghanistan first. I was pleased that the president made the decision to take action to root out the Taliban in Afghanistan. I think he made a couple of errors, even in doing so, that makes it a little more difficult - or potentially substantially more difficult for our troops to be successful there.
Number one, when the military came and said we need a minimum of 40,000 more troops, I would not have been inclined to cut that to 30,000. My inclination would be to give him at least 40 or maybe 50,000. Number two, I would not have announced the date we're going to start pulling people out. I think that makes it more difficult at the time you're just adding troops. And number three, one of the most essential ingredients for a successful counterinsurgency effort is for the people to believe in the credibility of their leadership.
And we were in the country at the time the elections for presidency were being held, and we did not do the job necessary to assure that those elections were seen as being fair and honest. And so President Karzai does not have the kind of universal support of his people that you would have hoped for in this kind of setting. So the - our troops have a much tougher job as a result of those errors.
But more broadly, the president's tour of apology, where he accused America of being dismissive and divisive and arrogant and having acted without the concern of others and even dictated to other nations, I think that has not encouraged other nations to draw closer to us. I think it's kindled fires of anger against America in some corners.
The president said he was going to meet with Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong Il, Chavez, Castro, all in his first year. His open hand has been met with a clenched fist. The - if you will, the Kumbaya approach to foreign affairs in dealing with some these very repressive regimes has not borne fruit.
CONAN: We're talking with Mitt Romney. His new book is "No Apology: The Case for American Greatness." You're listening to the Political Junkie on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Ken?
RUDIN: Governor Romney, can I switch topics for one second and talk about the state of the Republican Party? When you were governor, you basically governed as a moderate to moderate-conservative governor. And when - and you were on stage when Scott Brown won that historic - I thought, historic - victory on January 19th, and he also ran kind of a moderate to a moderate-conservative kind of campaign.
Now we see some - we see, you know, Tea Party activists going around the country. We saw at CPAC, where you won the last three straw polls. Ron Paul won the straw poll. I'm not putting that much significance in straw polls, but do you see a shift - there's a lot of anger in this country, and we've seen it festered in, you know, these protests, in these Tea Party protests. Do you think the Republican Party is moving too far away from that centrist, Scott Brown kind of coalition?
Mr. ROMNEY: Well, I don't know that I can characterize the party by any one individual. I do believe that the nation as a whole is a center-right nation, that it has not moved either to the left or to the right. But I think having watched this president, particularly in the area of spending and borrowing -you know, that's been a topic Republicans have talked about for decades without a lot of success. Most people don't pay a lot of attention of that. Now they are.
They've seen that people that borrowed too much lost their homes, that businesses that borrowed too much lost their way and lost jobs. And they're concerned about the trillion-dollar deficits that are being racked up, that...
RUDIN: Which were also racked up during a Republican president, as well.
Mr. ROMNEY: Yes. I - both. And I say Washington politicians, I'm referring to people Republican and Democrat. And so there's a movement of independents, Republicans and Democrats, and I guess you'd call it a conservative movement, saying stop spending so much money. But I hope liberals feel the same way.
Mr. ROMNEY: Don't spend money we don't have. And there's a lot of energy around that. I think a lot of that will be captured in my party. Some will be captured in the Democratic Party, and candidates will come forward that are - that if you - are, if you will, spending and borrowing hawks that will say no to that.
Mr. ROMNEY: I think that's a good thing. But I don't believe that you're going to see a dramatic shift in the nature of our respective parties.
CONAN: Let's get one more caller in. Anna joins us from Iowa City.
ANNA (Caller): Hi. My comment/question is right in that vein. I consider myself conservative when it comes to political and fiscal matters. I'm married to a very conservative Republican doctor. However, I'm very frightened by the tradeoff: in order to get Washington back on track, I'm going to have to vote for people who are going to take away my reproductive rights, who are going to impose - or continue to impose restrictions on who can marry in this country. And I was just wondering, you know, what Mr. Romney's stance is on that tradeoff.
CONAN: And we're going to give him 45 seconds to answer you.
Mr. ROMNEY: Well, you know, the plus of having two parties - and basically two candidates - run for office is that we don't have a highly fractured system where the most extreme vote can be the tiebreaker and where the country is required to bounce from guardrail to guardrail. The disadvantage of having only two parties is that the person that you vote for isn't going to agree with you on 100 percent of the issues. And so you have to make that tough choice of who do I agree with most? And most likely, the Republican nominee will be a pro-life nominee who believes - as President Obama does, by the way - that marriage should be between a man and a woman. But, hopefully, you'll line up with me and the Republican folks that I agree with and vote for conservatives like I will that'll bring the kind of financial sanity that our nation needs.
CONAN: In just 23 months' time, Anna.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. ROMNEY: Thanks, Anna.
ANNA: I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Thank you.
CONAN: All right. Bye-bye.
Mr. ROMNEY: Thank you.
CONAN: And Governor Romney, thanks so much for being with us today.
Mr. ROMNEY: Thanks so much, Neal. Ken, good to be with you.
CONAN: The name of the book is "No Apology: The Case for American Greatness." You can read an excerpt at npr.org. Just click on TALK OF THE NATION. Ken Rudin, stay right there. There's so much more left. This is NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: Right now, we're continuing with Ken Rudin, our Political Junkie and NPR's political editor. And Ken, we're going to New York shortly and, well, a lot of interesting stuff there. But nevertheless, we have to go first to Arkansas. Blanche Lincoln, a Democrat who helped give that 59 votes the Democrats enjoy in the Senate, now getting a big challenge from the left.
RUDIN: A big challenge, and the vehemence against Blanche Lincoln is just astounding. When Bill Halter, who was the lieutenant governor - of course, a Democrat in Arkansas. He used to work in the Bill Clinton administration when he was governor. When Halter announced his candidacy - first of all, Halter supports the public option. He supports a lot of the things that Blanche Lincoln has been shying away from. The vehemence from moveon.org and the old Howard Dean organizations were just blasting her as a corporate shill. It was really, really ugly.
So it's interesting, while the White House is professing support for Blanche Lincoln because they support Democratic incumbents - unless you're David Paterson. And yet, the Republicans are trying to take her out because she's so so-called liberal, she's being squeezed by both sides. But the anger from the left has been really surprising to me.
CONAN: Reminiscent of Connecticut and Joe Lieberman.
RUDIN: Absolutely, with Ned Lamont.
CONAN: Last Friday, New York Governor David Paterson stepped up to a lectern in Albany to douse the election campaign he'd announced just a few days earlier.
Governor DAVID PATERSON (Democrat, New York): There are times in politics when you have to know not to strive for service, but to step back. And that moment has come for me. Today, I am announcing that I am ending my campaign for governor of the state of New York.
CONAN: Governor Paterson vowed to finish the remainder of his term, a statement he's had to repeat almost every day since as the political climate in Albany grows less and less comfortable. Danny Hakim is the Albany bureau chief for The New York Times and the lead reporter on a series of stories that start with an alleged assault by one of the governor's aides on his then-girlfriend last Halloween, and continue on to reported attempts by members of the governor's staff, members of the state police and finally the governor himself to convince the woman to drop her complaint.
We'll ask Danny Hakim about that and some startling developments in the race for U.S. Senate in New York, as well. We want to hear from our listeners in New York. Based on what we know now, should the governor resign? 800-989-8255. Email: email@example.com. You can also join the conversation on our Web site. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Danny Hakim shared a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the Eliot Spitzer prostitution scandal. Over the past few weeks, he's been reporting on allegations of impropriety against the current governor, David Paterson. He joins us now from The Times bureau at the New York state capitol. Nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION today.
Mr. DANNY HAKIM (Albany Bureau Chief, New York Times): Thank you. Thanks for having me.
CONAN: And the latest news: charges of ethics violations - and this is not in The Times, I don't think, but that the governor accepted free tickets to the first game of the World Series for himself and others.
Mr. HAKIM: That's right. The state's ethics commission, the Commission on Public Integrity, came out and said that the governor had violated state ethics laws, and also are saying there's reasonable cause that he misled the commission under oath. That's a very serious matter, indeed. They've referred the case to both the Albany County district attorney and to the attorney general.
CONAN: And the attorney general - the state attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, already investigating the governor on the story that you've been writing about.
Mr. HAKIM: That's right. That's right. So I think the potential for two very serious investigations simultaneously is certainly not something that any governor wants to be dealing with.
CONAN: Well, here's a quote no governor wants to read on the - on the lead story in the New York Times in the right-hand column of this morning's paper, quote, "Tell her the governor wants her to make this go away."
Mr. HAKIM: Right. That's a - that was the - you know, according to our reporting, that was the message that the governor wanted delivered to the - you know, to a woman who had accused one of his top aides of domestic violence. So, you know, I think that's obviously a serious thing, a serious case.
CONAN: He denies saying that. He says, in fact, he only called the woman to express his concern because she was being pestered by reporters for the New York Times, who - I assume he means you.
Mr. HAKIM: Among others. I think for a lot of people, certainly lawyers, any kind of contact that someone and certainly a governor would have with someone who has a pending domestic violence complaint is, you know, is something that raises some red flags and is a concern.
CONAN: Also, members of the state police from the governor's personal protection detail were also involved. The head of the state police has since resigned.
Mr. HAKIM: Yes, the head of the state police and the governor's - and as well the governor's top criminal justice official resigned. She said she could no longer in good conscience, that was her words, continue to serve in the administration.
CONAN: What has happened in Albany? Just last summer when the state Senate was making a joke of itself, Governor Paterson looked like the grownup in the room.
Mr. HAKIM: We've certainly have a string of lawbreaking. We had the - the longtime Senate majority leader Joe Bruno was just convicted on two federal corruption charges a couple months ago. We've had issues with two consecutive governors now. We've had a - you know, a string of investigations involving the legislatures, so it's - there's not a real high bar up here at the moment.
CONAN: Does anybody take your calls anymore?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. HAKIM: Sure. I mean, I think - yeah, they do.
CONAN: Okay. Ken?
RUDIN: Danny, you know, when the story - when the rumors first came out, and I know the Times hated that rumormongering that was going on for the longest time, everybody thought it was something in Paterson's past about a woman or a drug use or anything like that. But, you know, you won your awards for uncovering what Eliot Spitzer did.
But without making a judgment, it seems like what Eliot Spitzer did is far less odious than witness tampering, which it seems like - especially with the administration that has made violence against women such a concern, that witness tampering - it sort of like this seems far worse.
Mr. HAKIM: Well, I think, certainly, you know, if there is an obstruction of justice issue here, that would be a very serious thing indeed. And, you know, it would raise a lot of questions, especially when you have the state police getting involved. And the fact that the governor's - the head of the governor's security detail got involved in this case, actually talked to the woman.
Even though this domestic violence case was not in the state police's jurisdiction, it was a matter that happened in the Bronx. It was under the jurisdiction of the NYPD. So just the involvement of the state police in this matter really raises a lot of questions - should they have had any involvement at all? And certainly, the governor's top criminal justice official resigned, and when she did, she cited that as a major concern, the fact that they had involvement in this case, the state police did.
CONAN: One more question - we'll get some listeners on the line - and that has to do with a matter of reporting. You're using confidential sources, anonymous sources, who were telling you the material that you're publishing in the paper, regarding the investigation. There is - you say they can't speak because it's a matter under investigation by the attorney general's office. Who benefits from this? There are others who would like to be governor.
Mr. HAKIM: Well, I would just say that not all of the - you know, there are some people who've talked on the record. Certainly, when you have the top criminal justice official resigning and raising questions herself about what happened, I think that, you know, that has to raise some concerns. I also think that the governor himself has acknowledged that he did contact this woman - or he had contact with this woman the day before she failed to show up in court.
And, you know, as a result, her case was dropped. Again, the governor - you know, he's a lawyer by training. He worked for the Queen's district attorney. So I think for a lot of people, the idea that he had contact with a woman who had a pending domestic violence complaint against one of his top aides, and then the next day the matter was dropped, I think that does raise some questions. And that fact is not in dispute, that he did have contact with the woman.
CONAN: Now, let's get some callers in on the conversation. Let's go to Phil(ph), Phil calling from Syracuse.
PHIL (Caller): Yeah. I think two things. I think with - for both reasons, he has to go. First of all, the contact - the conduct that he did, if it's true, with the anonymous sources, is just - you know, if it's not illegal, it just shows incredible misjudgment and a question whether he deserves to be a governor.
And second of all, you know, we're facing, you know, an incredibly difficult budget with huge deficits, you know, threatening to cut everything under the sun - from parks to education, housing. We need someone who's effective, is gonna, you know, negotiate this upcoming budget. And Paterson had some difficulties with credibility before this all started - he has almost none now.
CONAN: Which raises a question on this, by email, from Cheryl(ph) in Jamaica Plain in Massachusetts, that's the eastern part of New York. New York is running out of governors. If Paterson resigns, who becomes the acting, acting governor?
Mr. HAKIM: Well, the lieutenant governor is Richard Ravitch, so he would become the governor if the - if Governor Paterson were to resign. I mean, it would be - I believe without a precedent in this state. I mean, Lieutenant Governor Ravitch was appointed by Mr. Paterson. It was a very controversial appointment. It had never been done - a lieutenant governor never been appointed in that way before.
CONAN: A controversy over the process, not over the nominee, okay.
PHIL: Okay, yes, yes, entirely over the process. No, Mr. Ravitch himself is a very respected, longtime public servant. He once ran the MTA, so he's very well regarded.
CONAN: And despite that, people like him.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: So, thanks very much for the call, Phil. Let's go next to - this is Ian(ph), Ian with us from Long Island.
IAN (Caller): Hi. How are you doing? Thank you for taking my call.
IAN: I'm just - this is killing me. I'm out in the, like, the suburbs of Long Island and it's breaking my heart, that every day, we get some more dirtier politician, and the bipartisan line just getting thicker and thicker and everybody is just becoming more and more filthy and corrupt. And it really -it's just breaking a young voter's heart.
CONAN: And do you think the governor should resign?
IAN: I can't - I want to say yes, but at the same time, I think if there's further evidence in the future, I believe we should wait for the further evidence.
CONAN: Well, I don't mean to ask you to scoop yourself, Danny Hakim, but are there other shoes to drop?
Mr. HAKIM: Well, I'm not going to talk about what I'm working on. I think - I mean, again, I would say - I think the main thing that the governor is probably going to wait for now is the results of Attorney General Cuomo's investigation. He obviously has subpoena power and we don't. So I think the results of that investigation will be quite interesting. And I think - my understanding is he's probably working on a very quick timeframe, so I think it'll be a number of - you know, a few weeks.
CONAN: Weeks rather than months. We're obviously...
Mr. HAKIM: Weeks rather than...
CONAN: ...in a political year.
Mr. HAKIM: Yes.
CONAN: Ian, thanks very much for the call. Political junkie Ken Rudin is with us. We're talking with Danny Hakim, the Albany bureau chief of the New York Times. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Ken?
RUDIN: Danny, what role is race playing in all this? It was a very interesting article in the Times the other day, talked about Al Sharpton's meeting on Saturday with African-American leaders. And they feel that it's an unprecedented move to force Paterson to leave when other governors may have gotten a pass. Obviously, racial tensions are playing a part - a role in this.
Mr. HAKIM: Well, if you think about it, it's more than just Governor Paterson. I mean, sort of, simultaneously, here we have problems with Governor Paterson and with Congressman Rangel. These are both, you know, arguably the two most powerful lights from the Harlem political world. And, you know, simultaneously, they're coming under severe trouble. So I think that is creating a lot of tension and concern among black lawmakers. It's certainly something they're all trying to wrestle with how to respond and what to do. But I think they're having, you know, every day, you know, when there are sort of new developments in these various stories, I think it complicates matters for them.
CONAN: Let me go through a brief political history. Governor Spitzer resigned so Lieutenant Governor Paterson takes over. He gets the opportunity to appoint a successor to Hillary Rodham Clinton when she becomes secretary of state, so he names upstate Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand. Then, the White House and the Democratic Party bigwigs in New York try to dissuade anyone who expresses an interest in running against her in the Democratic primary. Is that pretty accurate?
Mr. HAKIM: That sounds about right, yeah.
CONAN: And most recently, Harold Ford, Jr.
Mr. HAKIM: Yes.
CONAN: This was the former congressman from Tennessee who moved to New York some years ago, and was definitely brooding about a race. He said he thought he could run, but raising money was becoming increasingly difficult.
Mr. HAKIM: Well, and also I think when you have the, you know, the bulk of the Democratic Party apparatus against you from the White House on down, it becomes very difficult to run. I don't think - I also don't think he was getting that much traction in polls. I think it was - it would have been a difficult race for him, so I think ultimately he decided not to do it.
RUDIN: And Danny, what happened to the Republican Party? It seems - I mean, I can't - I think Bruce Blakeman is now the leading Republican...
Mr. HAKIM: Right.
RUDIN: ...for the Gillibrand seat and Rick Lazio, I guess, for governor. But you think, if there's any time...
CONAN: Because Mort Zuckerman, the billionaire publisher pulled out.
RUDIN: (Unintelligible). Right. I mean, he's - actually, he's a Democrat who would've run as a Republican.
Mr. HAKIM: Right.
RUDIN: But what's left of the GOP? Where's Malcolm Wilson when we need him?
Mr. HAKIM: I think that's one of the big surprises, really, in the state right now. Because as you said, you know, this year, as much as any year in recent history, you would think this would be the time when Republicans could really start to reclaim, you know, a hold in New York, where they've really been wiped out in recent elections. But the state part just hasn't been able to come up with high-profile candidates. That's not to say that someone like Rick Lazio couldn't make some noise this year in the governor's race. But, you know, there have been talk about a number of high-profile candidates from, you know, Rudy Giuliani to George Pataki, but none of them have materialized as of now.
CONAN: And you mentioned Rick Lazio. He, of course, lost to Hillary Clinton in her race for Senate the first time around. He, of course, would be going up against probably the strongest Democrat in the field, and that is expected to be, still, the current Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, the son of the former governor.
Mr. HAKIM: That's right, yes. He is sort of already planning his run for governor if, you know - pretty much a certainty at this point, that he will run for governor. And the state party chairman has already said that, you know, he'll be the likely nominee.
CONAN: Well, Danny Hakim, thank you so much for your time today. We appreciate it.
Mr. HAKIM: Thank you.
CONAN: Danny Hakim is the Albany bureau chief of the New York Times, got a Pulitzer for his stories about Eliot Spitzer, who had to resign as governor of the state of New York amidst a prostitution scandal; and now is writing stories about David Paterson, the - Spitzer's lieutenant governor who succeeded to the seat and now is facing pressure to resign himself, including an editorial today in The New York Times, the paper that Danny Hakim reports for, which appeared to call for him to resign. And that would mean Richard Ravitch, the appointed lieutenant governor, would succeed to the governor's chair. Ken, what a mess.
RUDIN: Also, I have - even more of a mess. I have a point of personal privilege here, the trivia question. The question was the son who ran for president, the father who ran for governor, that doesnt work with the Humphreys, because it was the father who ran for president, not the son.
RUDIN: Will give him the T-shirt, but...
CONAN: You'll give him the T-shirt anyway. Well, anyway, all right. I'm glad we got that straight.
RUDIN: My reputation is still in the toilet.
CONAN: Political junkie Ken Rudin goes in the toilet with us every Wednesday here on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Tomorrow, we'll be talking about small businesses and the economic difficulties they face in this economic climate. Join us for that. I'm Neal Conan, NPR News in Washington.
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