Political Junkie: Bolten; Immigration; a Bush Censure? There's a new White House chief of staff; there's a vigorous debate on Capitol Hill and in the streets of major cities over U.S. immigration law; and a proposal to censure President Bush for a warrantless domestic surveillance program continues to divide Democrats. Political editor Ken Rudin, author of NPR.org's "Political Junkie" column, tackles those topics in his weekly visit.
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Political Junkie: Bolten; Immigration; a Bush Censure?

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Political Junkie: Bolten; Immigration; a Bush Censure?

Political Junkie: Bolten; Immigration; a Bush Censure?

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. And joining us for his, here in studio 3A for his regular weekly section is our political junkie, known as NPR Political Editor Ken Rudin. Ken, thanks very much for being here.

Mr. KEN RUDIN (Political Junkie and NPR Political Editor): Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: And I guess the first topic has to be immigration. Let's listen to some tape. This, Senator Dianne Fienstein and Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama.

Senator DIANNE FINESTEIN (Democrat, California): I've had growers, I've had farmers say just let me permanently hire the people that have been working for me.

Senator JEFF SESSIONS (Republican, Alabama): Some studies show that earnings reductions for low-income people can drop as much as 10% as a result of large amounts of immigration. And this is a real deal.

CONAN: Split there between a Democrat and a Republican, but the real split on this, Ken, is inside the Republican party.

Mr. RUDIN: Well, exactly, and among the American people too, because the conflict is basically there are people, there are 11 million illegal immigrants, or undocumented immigrants, in this country who the overwhelming number want, you know, a good paycheck and a good job and support their family. And many Republicans support that. The President of the United States supports that. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted out a couple days ago, a bill that supports that. But there are other Republicans, led by Tom Tancredo, a Colorado Republican from the House, Jim Sensenbrenner the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and they say that, you know, border security's the most important issue. That, you know, it's fine for these people to be here, but, but the fact that they're illegal immigrants means exactly that they're illegal and they should not be here. So Bill Frisk is basically structuring his 2008 presidential candidacy on this issue.

CONAN: And is he going to put out to vote on the Senate floor, the bill that was reported out of the Judiciary Committee or his own version, which is much closer to the House bill.

Mr. RUDIN: Well, that's still in debate. And I have a feeling both will come out. There are people, they're a lot of lawmakers who say that, that the one that came out of Senate Judiciary led by Arlen Specter's committee is a much more bipartisan and much more, has a much more wide support in Congress, whereas Frisk is mostly the conservative wing of the Republican party.

CONAN: And this is a critical issue, if it's setup for nothing to happen, if the two bills are so wildly opposite, it's very likely that nothing would get done as they try to reconcile these two bills to get one to present to President Bush.

Mr. RUDIN: Well, the House Majority Leader John Banner, who supports the House bill, of course, which has the 700-mile border fence between Texas and Mexico, more restrictive stuff towards the immigrants. Banner said that he's willing to compromise with some language that's included in the Senate Judiciary bill. So there is some effort of compromise here. But again, just like, you know, social security overhaul, it's something that splits the American people and there really is no consensus.

CONAN: Next subject is the shuffle at the White House a couple of weeks ago...

Mr. RUDIN: The big shakeup.

CONAN: The big shakeup? Well, big, so far the White House Chief of Staff, Andy Card, resigned. Just a couple of weeks ago people at the White House were saying, well, talk of a change was just political babble inside the beltway. Now, the sense that there could be more changes in the cards.

Mr. RUDIN: Right, oh the cards...

CONAN: No, no, no, that's okay.

Mr. RUDIN: I'm gonna use it. Well actually talking about a shakeup, I think is premature too, because if you look up the words shakeup in the dictionary you're not gonna see Josh Bolten's picture or name. Really, it's, I mean, given the fact that the president's numbers are so, so low on the war, on the response to Katrina, on the reaction to the Dubai Ports, on the split over immigration. So, I mean, what happens in Washington is you fire the chief of staff. Now, but nothing really changes. The policies don't change. The war suddenly doesn't become more palatable. Relationship with Congress certainly doesn't become more agreeable given the fact that so many Republicans are running for their own lives in the November elections. So, ultimately, I mean, if there are major changes to come, if they get rid of the Secretary of Defense, that's a possibility that's been mentioned, actually that's been mentioned for five years now, and I don't know if that's going to happen. Other than that, I think it's just really window dressing.

CONAN: Let's get a caller on the line. This is Rob. Rob with us from Driggs, Idaho.

ROB (Caller): Hi. Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

ROB: Do you think Andy Card fell on his sword? And just did it for Bush?

RUDIN: Well, that's a good question. And I think there's a, the problem with Andy Card is he's not entirely blameless. He should have known the political ramifications of what happened with the Dubai Ports fiasco. He should have known that conservatives would have been outraged over the Harriet Myers nomination for the Supreme Court. So whether he's responsible or not, he should have had the political antenna to at least allow the administration to know what was going on.And so whether he was pushed or he fell on his own sword, I mean, you know, I buy the argument that, you know, it was time for him to leave, and he knew it, and he decided to leave on his own. But again, the numbers didn't look good for keeping him there.

ROB: Okay, thanks.

CONAN: Thanks Rob. Joining us now is Leon Panetta, a former White House Chief of Staff himself. He served President Clinton. He's now director of the Panetta Institute in Monterey, California, where he joins us now from his office. And Leon Panetta, very nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.

Mr. LEON PANETTA (former White House Chief of Staff): Nice to be with you, Neal.

CONAN: As it turns out, we know what the political advisor does, what does a Chief of Staff actually do?

Mr. PANETTA: Well, it's a tough job. You know, you're not only serving the President, obviously as the closest staff member, but there are long hours associated with it, you're probably working 24-hours, seven days a week in that job. You've got to run the staff and make sure they stay focused on whatever mission they've got to accomplish that day. You've got to run the policy-making operation in the sense of presenting policy to the president. You should be running the president's schedule to know what he's going to do, not only now but in six months from now. And in many ways you ought to be a spokesman, both for the president not only with the public, but obviously in dealing with Capital Hill. So, it really does cover a number of very important responsibilities.

CONAN: I think John McCain said yesterday this is a job that begins at four in the morning and ends at midnight. After four and a half years it's pretty easy to accept how somebody might get burned out.

Mr. PANETTA: Oh, I don't think there's any question. I was a little surprised, frankly, that Andy didn't make this decision to get out after the first term, going into the second term. Which I think would have been more appropriate to bring somebody new in at that point, bring some other new individuals into the White House and try to bring some new energy. Because there's no question when you're working that hard, when you're working under crisis, when you're working under pressure, you're going to get burned out.

RUDIN: Mr. Panetta, it's Ken Rudin here. Thank you for joining us. When you got, when you joined the Clinton Administration, you had been Budget Director, but then you joined as Chief of Staff. And basically the word is that you really instilled discipline, and some call that a sense of order, in the White House. So what happens to a Chief of Staff when one day he's picking up the newspaper and sees that a Monica Lewinsky scandal breaks. I mean, what, what can you do? And what limitations are there in your job?

Mr. PANETTA: Well, you know, it's a tough job to walk into, no matter whether you're walking in from OMB or from outside. Because, you know, you've immediately got to establish, obviously, a relationship of trust with the president, you've got to get staff loyalty, and as you know, in the White House, there are all kinds of little power-centers that develop in a White House. You know, the first thing a Chief of Staff has to do is watch his back. He's got to establish chain-of-command, he's got to establish discipline, and he's got to establish focus. So, you know, he's got to take charge. Now, it depends on the style that the president wants to engage in with the Chief of Staff. John Kennedy had this kind of approach of spoke of the wheel, where all of the staff people kind of dealt with him directly. He really didn't use a Chief of Staff. On the other hand, people like Jim Baker, myself, others, kind of had a control center that, in which, you know, most of the issues went through that Chief of Staff. Under President Bush, I get the impression its been more kind of two or three people that have operated as Chief of Staff, not only Card, but Rove is obviously in a very top position, and Karen Hughes was probably in a top position before she left. So it all depends on how the President wants to use a new Chief of Staff.

CONAN: Ken said right before you came on that the Chief of Staff should have had his political antenna out on the Harriet Myers situation, Dubai Ports. Do you think that's right?

Mr. PANETTA: Well, that's part of the job of Chief of Staff, is to make sure that, at the very least, the president is aware of what the political implications are. I mean, I'm a little astounded that nobody kind of looked at that soundbite that came out of that issue. I mean, there's a 30-second soundbite that basically says the Arabs are taking over our ports, you know, that won't even let you get to the substance of that issue. And somebody should have said to the president, look, once that soundbite takes hold, we're going to be in deep trouble. And I do think that part of the responsibility, I don't know, you know, whether that issue when through Andy, whether it went through National Security Council, whoever, you know, looked at that issue, should have immediately said to the president, this is real trouble.

CONAN: I wonder what did you do when you left the job? Did you sleep for a week?

Mr. PANETTA: You don't leave that job! Oh, you when you leave, finally, at the end?

CONAN: Yes. Yes.

Mr. PANETTA: Well, yeah. No, it's a little bit like, you know, coming up from the deep. You go through a decompression period where, you know, you're waiting for the president's call. I mean, I used to get calls from Bill Clinton sometimes at two or three o'clock in the morning, because he was either watching something on C-Span or something was bothering him and he called and wanted to, you know, complain about what was going on. And you know, you're waiting for that kind of call. You're waiting for, you know, an issue to blow up on you. I mean, one of the great fears as Chief of Staff is that, you know, something is going to happen that, you know, that is going to be your responsibility. And, I can remember when I first when into the Chief of Staff job, there was somebody who jumped over the White House fence, and there was somebody who then started shooting at the White House, and somebody in the Washington Press finally wrote, there was somebody seen jumping away from the White House, and we think it's the new Chief of Staff.

CONAN: Leon Panetta, thank you so much for your time today. We appreciate it.

Mr. PANETTA: Nice to be with you.

CONAN: Leon Panetta, former Chief of Staff to President Clinton, now director of the Panetta Institute in Monterey, California. We're talking with Ken Rudin, our Political Junkie, and you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.And let's see if we can get a caller on the line. This is Ken. Ken's calling from Canton(ph), Michigan.

KEN (Caller): Yes, Mr. Rudin, do you foresee any further charges being, or any further indictments sought towards Jack Abramoff after today?

RUDIN: Well, he has pleaded guilty to two instances, one, the...

CONAN: The SunCruz...

RUDIN: The SunCruz issue in Florida, and of course, the corruption scandal that's going on in Washington. The reason, Neal mentioned this earlier, the reason he got the minimum sentence, the reason why we think he got the minimum sentence, is that he's still talking to the government, still talking to prosecutors. If what he has to say about what's going on Capital Hill is what many people think is going to happen, then there are a lot of Republicans that they're talking about, Tom De Lay, Congressman Bob Ney, of Ohio, they could be in some serious trouble. So...

CONAN: A couple of Democrats too.

RUDIN: They're, well, you know, I mean, not to the same, I mean, Democrats will make the argument that while they gave, you know, Abramoff's clients and tribes gave to the democrats whereas Abramoff gave directly to Republicans. That's something the two parties are fighting over. But the sense is that De Lay and Ney are two, at least two members of Congress who face some legal difficulties.

CONAN: So, the shoes on the other side of the centipede have yet to drop.

RUDIN: That's correct. It is a centipede, right.

CONAN: Ken, thank you.

KEN: Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. Let's go to, this is Clay. Clay calling from Pinecrest in California.

CLAY (Caller): Yeah, hi. Good day, gentlemen. I'll try to be as brief as I can, and concise. Getting back to the immigration issue, it seems like this issue comes up every so often, like so many issues, it never really gets resolved. And the fact that it gets portrayed with these polar extremes of, you know, it's a law enforcement issue, or it's a humanitarian issue, or it's a race issue, doesn't do the public any service in getting through this debate. And, how can we get the debate going in a sincere manner so that we talk about issues such as impacts to services, crowding and congestion. An open border seems like a beautiful idea, but let's face it, you know, we'll be a third world country if we keep that up too long.

CONAN: Well, Ken...

CLAY: The thing about it, you know, it's a blue collar issue. It's not just a republican issue, this is labor. This definitely has a depressing impact on the lower labor jobs.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Ken, we, one way to just really John McCain really mad is to call this an amnesty bill, and that's the shortest of short-hands.

RUDIN: Well, you know, but there's a good point. The caller makes a very, very good point in the fact that this is exactly the issues that are coming up. We heard Jeff Sessions talk earlier, I think it was Jeff Sessions earlier in the piece, that if, you know, if we, if the guesswork a program goes forward and we give so-called amnesty to these people, then basically the cost, the jobs that these people will be taking, the money will be far less. I mean they'll be making much less money than they would now if there was a scarcity of jobs, so cost of living goes down. African-Americans have clearly said that they resent the fact that many, they're having to compete now. They finally made it into the mainstream of the American workspace, and now Latinos are coming and fighting them for jobs. Labor is upset about a lot of the allowing some kind of a blanket amnesty. So, all the issues you mentioned are there, and then given the fact that we can't forget the fact that in seven months there's going to be an election, and everybody's just, you know, put their heads between their tails and they're afraid to take drastic actions here.

CONAN: Clay, thanks very much for the call.

CLAY: Okay. Thank you.

CONAN: On Friday, the motion introduced by Senator Russell Feingold, of Wisconsin, to censure President Bush for authorizing warrantless wiretaps. Senator Feingold and a lot of other people think that was illegal. That's going to come up before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

RUDIN: Well, we think its going to come up. I mean, Arlen Specter, the Chairman, said yesterday that its very possible that the immigration bill may push it off to next week. But we talked about this split in the Republican Party, about immigration, and that split is definitely there. There was a split in the Democratic Party about this Feingold measure to censure. There is the so-called democratic base, and you see it in the bloggersphere, saying that President Bush should be held accountable, given the war, given the illegal, what they say is illegal wiretapping, there should be some kind of an action, whether its censure or impeachment or what. Lawmakers, Democratic lawmakers, are much more nervous about this. They're very much more cautious, they feel that they have President Bush and the Republicans on the run anyway, why add this wrinkle to it? And they really don't think they're going to, you know, they don't have, they certainly don't have the votes in Congress. Only Barbara Boxer, of California, and Tom Harkin of Iowa, are the only two Senators who've signed on to the Feingold measure. So Democratic lawmakers are very, very nervous about this. And the split, we can see a clear split in the Democratic Party.

CONAN: Just briefly Ken, does that mean the republicans, like Senator Specter on the Judiciary Committee, are going to try to find a way to make democrats vote one way or the other?

RUDIN: Well, that's, actually, that's what the republican leader, Frisk, wants to do immediately, once Feingold first announced the measure he said let's have a vote right away. But apparently it will go to the Judiciary Committee, where it's likely to be defeated in committee.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Ken. Ken Rudin is NPR's political editor. You can read his Political Junkie column on our website, npr.org. This week's column focuses on Andy Card; the problems he faced, his White House Chief of Staff, and the political history of that job going back to Sherman Adams. Something about a Vikunic(ph) code in there? All right. Vikunic codes, Sherman Adams, and Ken Rudin: who could want more? Political Junkie at npr.org. He'll be back with us next Wednesday. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

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