Political Wrap: Bush Names Snow as Press Secretary NPR's political editor, Ken Rudin, talks about Tony Snow being named the new White House press secretary, the New Orleans mayoral race and the politics surrounding oil prices.
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Political Wrap: Bush Names Snow as Press Secretary

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Political Wrap: Bush Names Snow as Press Secretary

Political Wrap: Bush Names Snow as Press Secretary

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More than a thousand victims of the 9/11 attacks in New York remain unidentified. The recent discovery of bone fragments near ground zero offers new hope to their families. I'm Neal Conan.

It also adds new uncertainty on how best to memorialize the tragedy and honor the remains of the dead. Join us, next TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington and here are the headlines on some of the stories we're following here today at NPR News.

In an unannounced visit, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld met with leaders of Iraq's emerging government today in Baghdad. Rumsfeld said some American troops may be able to leave in the next few months.

And there were two more bombings in Egypt's Sinai Desert today. A pair of suicide bombers killed only themselves in an attack near the main base of the multinational peacekeeping force near Egypt's border with the Gaza Strip.

Details on those stories and, of course, much more later today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION, gas prices 101. Why does gas cost more than $3.00 a gallon in many places? Can we actually do anything about it? If you have questions about the price of fuel, e-mail us. The talk is--the address rather is talk@npr.org. Put--Gas Price--in the subject line if you would and then join us for the conversation tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Today, President Bush announced that Fox news commentator and Fox radio host, Tony Snow, will be the new White House press secretary.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Tony already knows most of you and he's agreed to take the job anyway.

(Soundbite of laughter)

President GEORGE W. BUSH: And I'm really glad he did. I'm confident that Tony Snow will make an outstanding addition to this White House staff.

CONAN: Tony Snow will replace outgoing press secretary, Scott McClellan. With the president's approval ratings at a record low, a new public face may help the White House boost its image. The president also announced a four-point plan to ease rising gas prices earlier this week. Will that make a difference? And the primary results are in for the New Orleans mayoral race. Joining us now is NPR's political junkie, Ken Rudin. Always good to have you on the program Wednesday's, Ken.

KEN RUDIN reporting:

Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: If you have questions for Ken about this week's political news, either give us a call, 800-989-8255 or zap us an e-mail, Talk@npr.org.

And Ken, Tony Snow, former NPR commentator, too.

RUDIN: That's true and former speechwriter for the first President Bush. And anybody that could write speeches for the first President Bush must be a very qualified guy. An interesting choice in the fact that he's basically an ideologue. He has not hesitated to criticize President Bush over the last, you know, last couple of years over what he feels has been a betrayal of conservative causes. Betrayal may be too strong of a word, but so, and again, you don't usually see an ideologue in that kind of a position.

But he has a good reputation with the press and he knows a lot of these reporters first-hand, and Scott McClellan was really kind of, you know, over his head a lot of ways. He didn't lie to the press, but he didn't have much credibility because I don't think he was told much from the White House. I don't know if that will change with Tony Snow, but they'll certainly be more affable face.

CONAN: You wonder, Tony Snow has made comments, and these are being, of course, gleefully sent around Washington, D.C. by Democratic operatives today, he's described the president as something of an embarrassment, a leader who's lost control of the federal budget, and the architect of a listless domestic policy. This is the guy who's on his side.

RUDIN: Right, but you know, he'll probably say, well, you should see what I said about the other guy, so--look, Tony Snow is well-liked by the Bush supporters and, again, I have a feeling the next--the final two years of the Bush administration will be much of an Us versus Them mentality and who better to do Us than Tony Snow.

CONAN: E-mail question. Mike(ph) in Iowa City wants to know, “the White House press secretary often must refuse to answer questions even after being asked the same question time after time. Will it be difficult for a columnist who's used to speaking his mind to say, ‘I can't comment at an ongoing investigation?'”.

RUDIN: Well, that's a good question, but you know, Mike McCurry did this very, very well. Mike McCurry, when he was put in--brought in as the Clinton press secretary in the middle of Watergate, he just said, look—Watergate? Instead of Monica-gate.

CONAN: Oh yeah, yeah.

RUDIN: Or other gates.

CONAN: Keep those straight, will you, Ken?

RUDIN: Oh, some other gate, I'm sorry. In 1988, said, look, I'm not asking about information for this because I don't want to know about it. So I won't lie to you. But Tony Snow has never hesitated about talking about what he has to say. Could his mouth get him in trouble? Possibly, but it wouldn't be the first time a White House press secretary got himself in trouble.

CONAN: And let's turn to some local politics around the country. An important mayoral primary in the City of New Orleans over the weekend. This was to pick, as it turned out, two people who then have to run off against each other there; one of the victors, the current mayor, Ray Nagin.

RUDIN: You know what's fascinating, I mean, there's so many fascinating and tragic things about New Orleans. But four years ago, Ray Nagin was the choice of the white, conservative business establishment in New Orleans. He ran against a fellow African-American candidate and he won, again, with white support. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the white support just left him completely. There were three main candidates in the primary on Saturday. Ron Forman was a white businessman. He headed the zoo, the Audubon Society, and it got a lot of white conservative support. His wife had been--used to be Ray Nagin's press secretary. Ray Nagin was left with the African-American voter support, which was the complete opposite of four years ago. And the person who's going to the runoff with Nagin is Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu, the brother of Senator Mary Landrieu, the son of the last white mayor, Moon Landrieu, left office in 1978. Mitch Landrieu has put together a coalition of white and blacks and his--the whole Landrieu family has a history of putting--assembling coalitions of whites and blacks. So--and given the fact that Ron Forman endorsed Mitch Landrieu yesterday, or two days go, it's going to be a tough, really tough, probably nearly impossible for Ray Nagin to win a second term.

CONAN: And after the first vote in the primary, both successors came out and said, well, we hope this doesn't become divisive racially. Is that a realistic hope?

RUDIN: Well, you know, the candidates may--the candidates are not demagogues and they certainly will not demagogue race. But that's not to say that their supporters won't. We saw some candidates under both white and black candidates in the initial primary talk about race in stark terms. Reverend Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have clearly talked about how important having an African-American mayor in the once majority black city is important to them.

But you can't help but face the fact that after 30 years of black mayors, that time may be coming to an end.

CONAN: Next week, there will be primaries in three states: Ohio, Indiana, and North Carolina. In Ohio, televisions have been airing the usual run of political advertisements for and against various candidates. But one in Ohio's sixth congressional district, is a little different.

(Soundbite of television ad)

Unidentified Woman: Sewage dumps, cover-ups and dirty secrets. We know we can't trust Charlie Wilson to do what's right. And Bob Carr? A liberal Democrat, Bob Carr is too far to the left to work with Republicans in Washington. Carr hasn't even ruled out trying to eliminate President Bush's tax cuts and could fight for environmental regulations that would hurt businesses. Bob Carr, too liberal for congress.

CONAN: Now, you might think that was put out by somebody in their own party. Turns out, that's not true.

RUDIN: This is a wonderful political story. I think—as you said earlier, a Machiavellian story. The fact is, nobody in the world has ever heard of Bob Carr. The reason the Republican Party is going after Bob Carr in this district is that it's a district that Ted Strickland is giving up because he's running for governor. It's because the Democratic front-runner in this seat is a guy named--a state senator named Charlie Wilson.

Charlie Wilson had all the endorsements, all the money; he was clearly the favorite to win this seat. But he could not come up with 50 valid signatures to file for the primary. His son--he put his son in charge of it, that was his first mistake, and he wound up getting 98 signatures; most of them were from a different congressional district.

So Charlie Wilson now has to run as a write-in candidate. And a Democrat who's also on--already on the ballot is a guy named Bob Carr. The Republican Party is obviously afraid of Charlie Wilson. He's a good candidate. He'll be a strong candidate.

CONAN: As long as he keeps his son out of the campaign.

RUDIN: Exactly right. And so they're running these ads against this guy named Bob Carr. So if I'm a liberal democrat back home I'm going to say, wait, the Republican Party is running against this Bob Carr. He must be a neat guy, so maybe he's the guy I'm gong to vote for. Otherwise, nobody would have heard of his name.

CONAN: Well, joining us now is Bill Binning. He's chair of the political science department at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio. He's with us by phone from his office there.

Very nice of you to join us today.

Professor BILL BINNING (Political Science Department Chair, Youngstown State University): Glad to be here.

CONAN: Now, this ad--this--is it working? Is all of a sudden is Bob Carr the candidate to beat in the sixth district?

Prof. BINNING: Well, I don't know how effective the ad is, but yes, for Charlie Wilson, Bob Carr's on the ballot. And many Democrats, we assume, are going to go in, not see Charlie Wilson's name, and they'll be voting for Bob Carr. So Charlie Wilson's challenge, who is--as was pointed out, the favorite of the party and the person who is seen as the one who can win, he needs to get more write-in votes than Bob Carr gets as a ballot candidate.

So what's going on here is that the Republicans are trying to dampen Charlie Wilson's vote by running a negative ad and building up, you know, sort of a backhanded way of building up Carr's vote by saying he's too liberal. Many of my colleagues at the university would be looking to vote for the most liberal candidate, so maybe they'll be taken on by that.

CONAN: Well, we here in distant Washington can't be the only people who have figured this out. Surely, people in Ohio are talking about this.

Prof. BINNING: I'm not sure that there's a lot of talk about it. It--I think, you know, actually this race, there seems to be more interest at the national level than locally. The local news doesn't seem to give a great deal of attention to what is a very significant race. Because if next Tuesday we find out that Charlie Wilson is not the candidate, then it may very well be the Republicans are going to pick up a seat and make it even more difficult for Democrats to get their 15 or 16 seats they need to get the majority. Because this, currently this seat is being held by a Democrat who's vacating.

CONAN: To run for governor. Yeah.

Prof. BINNING: Right. Bush only won the district by 1 percent. So it's one of the few very competitive seats in the country. So it's a big national story, but locally there doesn't seem to be a lot of interest. In fact, a local radio station called me today and talked about the low absentee voter turnout, that the requests for absentee ballots were pretty low in Mahoney County, which, you know, and we're a pretty Democratic county. So there doesn't seem to be a lot of interest in this.

RUDIN: Professor, its Ken Rudin here. You know, what's fascinating to me about this is if you listen to all the headlines about Ohio in the past couple of months, it's just woes for the Republican Party. It's a financial scandal that Governor Taft is in big trouble. I mean, he can't run again, but he's very unpopular. Senator Mike DeWine is in trouble, that Bob Ney could be indicted. And so, you know, you think that this is a great opportunity, a great state for pickups for the Democrats, and here they have somebody who can't fire off 50 valid signatures.

Prof. BINNING: Yeah, that was a huge mistake. But it's made for a wonderful story. We're writing a paper on it that--apparently what they did in the collecting of the signatures is they collected them in parts of the county's--of particular counties that are in the district, but they didn't get the signatures from the part of the country that's actually in the district. So he only had 47 valid signatures and couldn't make the ballot.

That was the beginning of what has been a really great story. His choice was to file as an independent or try to make it as a write-in. It's estimated by the--I don't think anybody knows, but it's estimated in the papers he needs 20,000 write-in signatures to win. I don't know if that's a valid number, but that is a great task.

RUDIN: Could he lose the primary and still run as an independent in November?

Prof. BINNING: No, we have a sore loser's law. He has to file as an independent the day before the primary in Ohio.

CONAN: And I guess if he does win, Ohio voters in the sixth district don't have to worry about a family dynasty there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. BINNING: Oh, I don't know how big that is--that--you mean, in terms of his son?

CONAN: His son, the guy who didn't get the votes. Yeah.

Prof. BINNING: That really didn't get the big play here. I think, of course, realistically, what Ohio is facing is that if we are going to lose two seats, which is what is predicted after the next census, this could be a pretty short career for Charlie Wilson or whomever wins that seat. If we're going--if Ohio's going to go down two more congressional seats, it may very well that person will be drawn out of his career.

CONAN: And that's why the battle for the legislature matters a lot, because they get to redraw those district lines, as well.

Professor, thanks very much for being with us today. We appreciate it.

Prof. BINNING: Glad to talk to you. Thank you.

CONAN: Bill Binning is chair of the political science department at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio, and he joined us from his office there in Youngstown, Ohio, here on the Political Junkie segment on TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

CONAN: And Ken Rudin, let me ask you another big political question this week. In part, the president's polls are suffering as a result of high gas prices. He announced a four-point plan earlier this week to try to drive prices down, amidst a sort of consensus amongst most observers that anything the president does at this point is not going to have much effect on these prices.

RUDIN: Not only will they probably not have an effect on the prices, but they probably won't have much effect on his 32 percent approval rating, and I think that could be part of it, too.

The fact is that the Republicans are very, very nervous about November. And given the fact that Iraq is not going well, given the fact that spending, according to conservatives, is out of control, the last thing they need now is another, you know, problem to inspire their voters to go to the polls. And $3.00 and-up gas prices is certainly going to be one of those problems.

CONAN: And spending, the president has now vowed to veto another bill, this one in the Senate. It's a must-pass measure, a lot of money for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. At this point, do his promises of veto carry much of a threat?

RUDIN: It's the child sitting in the corner of the room looking at, you know, throwing a tantrum, saying that, you know, I'm not going to eat; I'm going to starve myself unless I get my way. President Bush has promised a veto so many times already that I would imagine it would ring hollow.

CONAN: 800-989-8255, if you'd like to join us. Clark(ph) is on the line with us from Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

CLARK (Caller): Hey, how're you doing?

CONAN: Very well, thanks.

CLARK: I just had a comment. I wanted to know--I'm still hearing a lot of politics and a lot of politicians and conservative pundits referring to he's kind of parsing his words as Clintonian. I'm sure you've heard that before.

CONAN: I think it has to do with the meaning of is. Yeah.

CLARK: The meaning of is is, right. I was wondering when we're all going to be able that we can start referring to that kind of double-speak as Bushonian?

CONAN: I don't know. Have you decided? You're the decider, Ken.

RUDIN: Well, you know something, there was a Bush--there was a Bushism this week when basically he talked about the benefits--tax benefits to the oil companies. Now, in the past, when any republicans said that I'm not going to vote to take away tax benefits, because in effect that's a tax increase. So in effect what George Bush has done, what President Bush has done regarding the oil companies is that if you're taking back a tax benefit in a sense, are you raising taxes? And is that violating one of the tenets of the Bush presidency? So that, in itself, certainly could be a Bushism.

CONAN: I think we'd have to come up with a better term than Bushonian, though.

CLARK: Yeah. I just thought it was funny when you contrast the two and obviously these things that--these people in this administration are so much more severe than the kind of things we're talking about with the infraction that--where Clinton was saddled with that Clintonian thing. And they would like for us to say that forever, I think.

CONAN: Well, some people say lying to a grand jury, if that's what he did, that's pretty serious. But anyway, we'll let that go.

Clark, thanks very much for the call.

CLARK: Thank you.

CONAN: And speaking of the president's shakeup at the White House, Carl Rove's duties were somewhat restricted earlier this week. He's doing less on policy, more on politics. But, in fact, what he's actually preparing for this week is more testimony.

RUDIN: Well, actually today he apparently, he went to the grand jury in the Valerie Plame affair, the Fitzgerald investigation in Washington. It's my understanding that yes, he did testify before the grand jury today. But there's some question whether there was just some question that needed to be answered, or there's an impending indictment. You know, of course, Lewis Libby, Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff is under indictment in this case. But the Rove people are insisting that, no, there's just some misunderstandings. There's some things that need to be cleared up.

But the fun thing about Carl Rove is that the headlines everywhere around the country, even, say, major White House shakeup. It's just--I mean, Carl Rove is still Carl Rove. He'll still be in charge of trying to implement some kind of a plan to salvage the Republican gains, or salvage Republican control of Congress for November. And the thought of him--look, if he disappeared, or if Donald Rumsfeld was no longer defense secretary, that would be a shakeup. But, you know, replacing Andy Card with Josh Bolten, and, you know, things like that, it's hardly a major shakeup.

CONAN: As Steve Colbert, I think, said this week, it's just rearranging deck chairs on the Hindenburg. He's speaking this weekend at the White House Correspondent Association's dinner. Should be pretty interesting.

Ken Rudin, thanks very much.

RUDIN: Neal, thanks.

CONAN: Ken Rudin writes the Political Junkie column. You can read that at npr.org. He joins here every Wednesday.

I'm Neal Conan. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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