Political Junkie and Congressmen on the War Vote Political editor Ken Rudin, Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) discuss the nonbinding deadline voted on by the Senate to implement a timeline for U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq.
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Political Junkie and Congressmen on the War Vote

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Political Junkie and Congressmen on the War Vote

Political Junkie and Congressmen on the War Vote

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Democrats in the Senate surprised even themselves yesterday. They got just enough votes to hang on to a timetable for a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, part of the latest emergency bill that would fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Senate deadline, March 31, 2008, is non-binding. The promised presidential veto would be.

It's another busy week in politics. On top of the Iraq vote, a staffer for Blue Dog Democrat Senator Jim Webb is arrested for taking a loaded gun to the Capitol. He says it's the senator's. The senator neither confirms nor denies.

The attorney general hangs on as one of his key aides takes the Fifth and another one gets set to testify tomorrow. And as always, there's plenty of news about the race for the presidential nominations in '08. We figure it's about time for another giant-sized edition of the Political Junkie.

President RONALD REAGAN: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.

President JOHN F. KENNEDY: Ich bin ein Berliner.

Senator LLOYD BENTSEN (Democrat, Texas): Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

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

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

CONAN: We'll talk with our resident junkie in just a moment. And later in the hour, a doctor takes your questions on the recent study that found that heart patients may not need angioplasties and stents. Drug treatment and healthy living prevent heart attacks just as well for many patients.

But first, our Wednesday visit with the Political Junkie. Is the vote on a timetable for Iraq just political theater? What does it mean for the president, for Democrats and Republicans? And would Democrats vote against a military-funding measure if it does not include a timeline?

Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation. And let's bring resident political junkie Ken Rudin into the conversation. Ken's with us here in Studio 3A as usual. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal.

CONAN: This vote in the Senate comes after the House passed its own version of a timetable for withdrawal last week. It brings us another step closer to a showdown with the White House. Again today, President Bush said he would not accept any bill that includes a deadline for withdrawal.

(Soundbite of applause)

President BUSH: And I have made it clear for weeks, if either version comes to my desk, I'm going to veto it.

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: President Bush speaking earlier today at the National Cattlemen's Association meeting here in Washington, D.C. Ken, where does this leave everything right now? Of course, one thing to begin with, I guess, that vote yesterday in the Senate is still preliminary.

RUDIN: Right. Yesterday's vote was a 50 to 48 defeat on a Republican amendment that would strip language talking about a date certain, a non-binding date certain for a timetable to pull out. But the question you asked earlier, would Democrats vote against the bill if it didn't include a timetable? The same question could be asked of Republicans. Would Republicans vote against a bill that included basically the funding for the war in Iran - Iraq - Iran, not yet - Iraq and Afghanistan.

So both parties are on tenterhooks about what to do because they have tremendous policy implications, as well as political implications.

CONAN: And there is a certain class of Republicans, people who want to put their position down as opposing the war but don't want to endorse a date certain.

RUDIN: Exactly, and that's why I think - I think that's why you only saw two Republicans really break from the Republican ranks for yesterday's vote. It was Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, it was Gordon Smith of Oregon. Both are up for re-election next year. Chuck Hagel's probably safe in Nebraska, maybe less so for Gordon Smith in Oregon. But - and two Democrats, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and a nominal Democrat, Joe Lieberman, a Democratic independent of Connecticut, voted with the Republicans.

We talk about how unpopular this war is and how much anger there is around the country about the war, and yet for the most part the vote in House last week and the Senate yesterday were pretty close.

CONAN: Well, let's see if we can get another voice into the conversation. Joining us now is Senator Richard Shelby, Republican from Alabama. He was co-sponsor of the Cochran Amendment in the Senate yesterday that would have removed language about a troop withdrawal. Senator Shelby joins us from a studio at the Capitol. It's very nice to have you on the program today.

Senator RICHARD SHELBY (Republican, Alabama): Thank you for inviting me.

CONAN: And what was the meaning of yesterday's vote, as far as you're concerned?

Sen. SHELBY: Well, I thought it had some meaning. Otherwise, we wouldn't have been voting the way we did. It was a close vote, but it's not the end of the day. I think it had substantive meaning because it had that timeline in it that we've all been discussing. What will happen now with the House and the Senate conference and ultimately when it comes back, we don't know.

CONAN: When it comes back, you mean after the president vetoes it?

Sen. SHELBY: That's right. We don't know what's going to happen.

CONAN: So this risks the prospect of - the president says he needs this passed within a matter of just a few weeks or else funding is going to run out to pay for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Sen. SHELBY: Well, I think what most of us are trying to do is make sure that the troops are funded, and that's very important. And I believe that putting a timeline on the beginning of a withdrawal is the wrong message at the wrong time.

It's an ambiguous message because we have said we're not going to do this two weeks ago. Now we're saying yes, we are going to put a timeline; and we're saying we support you, but we don't have confidence in you. We don't think you can succeed, and that's the wrong message.

I think that we all realize that we're in a quandary in Iraq. We don't know what's going to happen there, but General Petraeus, who a lot of us have a lot of confidence in, is the new commander, personally met with a lot of us and I was very impressed. And he says basically to us that he needs some time, and I believe that he is making progress on the margin as we speak.

Seven, eight months from now, say Labor Day or a little after, we will know for sure, and so will the president. But I believe we ought to give our troops every chance in the world to succeed, that is to bring stability to the area, and then perhaps we can ask the diplomats to get involved, maybe find some political resolution to the area because none of us want to stay in Iraq forever.

CONAN: Success or even progress is an elusive thing.

Sen. SHELBY: Progress, yes. It's how you define success. You know, we don't want to stay there. We do want to bring stability. We do want them to be able to have a strong police force and an army, but the Iraqis themselves now are going to have to step up. They're going to have to accelerate what they're doing.

CONAN: There are, Senator…

Sen. SHELBY: If they don't, then we'll know. But 120 days, four months, is clearly not enough time.

CONAN: There are some signs of progress already in Baghdad. Yet just a year ago people were saying the situation in Tal Afar, a city in the northwestern part of Iraq near the Syrian border was - that's the model that we should be following, yet just today we find reports of 50 Shiite policemen in Tal Afar going around and shooting Sunni residents, that this is as bad as ever.

Sen. SHELBY: Well, it's a tough neighborhood. We all know the history of Iraq, how it was created. We know the ethnic and religious divisions there, and a lot of those things aren't going to be settled by us in six months or 60 years. But if we can bring stability, we have a lot at stake here, and I think we should give our troops and General Petraeus, our commander, every opportunity to succeed.

RUDIN: Senator, not to deal in hypotheticals, but if we have to here - assume the president does veto this bill that comes to his desk. And let's assume that he Democrats still insist on a date certain to withdraw and they will not fund the war without this date certain. How do Republicans vote against it if that's what the language is going to be, if majorities of both the House and Senate call for that timetable?

Sen. SHELBY: Well, I think we'll reach that bridge when we get there, but at the same time I believe that the president means what he says, that he's going to veto it. Because if he didn't after saying all the things he said, nobody would believe him any more. But I believe he will veto it, and I believe we will sustain the veto. And after that, we start negotiating, and I think that puts the Republicans in a stronger position than we are today.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get a caller in on the conversation. By the way, if you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255. E-mail talk@npr.org. Matt's on the line with us from Chicago.

MATT (Caller): Yes, thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

MATT: Senator Shelby didn't give the argument, but a couple Republican senators gave the argument yesterday that this bill, by setting a timeline, sends the signal to the insurgence to wait us out, that there is now all of a sudden a date in the future to wait us out and then from there then they can start their attacks anew.

Unidentified Man: No, no, no, I was just, you know…

MATT: No, not Senator Shelby, Senator McCain said that yesterday. Isn't that exactly what we're hoping for to give the Iraqi army some breathing…

Unidentified Man: I can't possibly say that. All I can say is earlier this week a new study found that a healthy lifestyle and drug treatment...

CONAN: We're having some technical difficulties. We're getting some signal from some other place. I'm sorry, Matt, your question got interrupted.

MATT: Sorry about that. Yeah, Senator McCain yesterday and some other senators had said that this, you know - it sends a signal if we have this date in the future. It sends the signal that the insurgence can wait us out. They can wait a year or four months or however long it is, go into hiding and then come back once we're gone. But isn't that the whole point of our training is that we're training the Iraqis to take control on their own. And if the insurgents go into hiding, that's great. Isn't that the most optimal outcome that we - you know, they get a year, you know, scot-free.

You know, the insurgents, they think that they're going to outsmart us and wait us out, but in effect it's a perfect scenario for our trainers to go over there and help the Iraqi army and police force…

CONAN: Let's give Senator Shelby a chance to respond.

Sen. SHELBY: Well I don't think we should put any deadline on anything dealing with war, and this is what we're dealing with. we'll know how we're doing on this surge by - and I say by Labor Day. That's not far off. That's six months. And by Thanksgiving, we shouldn't have any doubts as to how we're doing. Let's give - we owe that to them. In the meantime, we're sending the signal to the Iraqi government that you've got to build up your own army. You're going to have to control your own country. You are going to have to do your own battles because we're not planning to stay there forever.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Matt. Senator Shelby, if come September, October, November, Thanksgiving, things are not working out the way people would hope that they would - and General Petraeus is hoping that they will and then we all hope they will. At that point, what's Plan B?

Sen. SHELBY: Well, I think we have to wait and see what happens. I'm hoping, and I think a lot of us are, that General Petraeus's new leadership, his new attitude, his new tactics will work and bring some stability. But as you just raised the point, if say by Thanksgiving if we're where we are today, then we're going to go have to reassess this thing and say, my gosh, you know, we tried. But until then, let's put everything in it we can. There's nothing like success.

CONAN: Senator Shelby, thanks very much for your time today.

Sen. SHELBY: Thank you.

CONAN: We appreciate you joining us. Richard Shelby, Republican of Alabama, speaking with us from a studio up on Capitol Hill. Ken Rudin is here. We have a special expanded edition of the Political Junkie. Given the votes in Congress these past couple of weeks on funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, both houses of Congress have now passed measures that include deadlines for withdrawal, not binding in the Senate. It would be binding in the House. We're going to have to wait and see when a final vote is taken in the Senate, that reconciliation with that House bill, and what happens if the president vetoes the bill.

When we come back from a short break we'll be speaking with Congressman Jim Cooper, a Democrat from Tennessee, about his difficulties with all of these decisions. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

One day after the Senate voted its support for troop withdrawal deadline, we're talking about the politics of the war in Iraq and what the recent votes in the House of Representatives and the Senate mean for the president and for both political parties. This is a super-sized edition of the Political Junkie. Of course, Ken Rudin is with us here in Studio 3A.

And you're welcome to join us. If you have questions about the politics of the war, about the rest of the political news this week, the attorney general, the campaign for 2008: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org. You can also read what other listeners have to say at our blog, npr.org/blogofthenation.

On the line with us now is Representative Jim Cooper, a Democrat from Tennessee, a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of generally more conservative Democrats in the House and Senate. He's with us by phone from his office here in the capital. Nice to have you with us, sir.

Representative JIM COOPER (Democrat, Tennessee): Thank you, Neal. Good to be with you.

CONAN: And we just heard Senator Shelby argue against any sort of a public timetable. You voted in favor of a House bill that included a firm deadline for withdrawal. Why?

Rep. COOPER: Well, I actually agree with Senator Shelby. It would have been better if we didn't have a public timetable in the bill, but I was willing to go along with the House effort. I think it does put pressure on the Maliki government in Iraq to shape up. They have many shortcomings. It also sends a message to the president that he needs a series of strategy changes. Bob Gates is certainly an improvement over Donald Rumsfeld, but we've got a lot more work to do. General Petraeus is a great general, but our entire Middle East strategy has been flawed.

CONAN: And so if the president vetoes the bill, what happens then?

Rep. COOPER: Well, you know, the president's threatened hundreds of vetoes in the last six years and he's only delivered one on stem cell research. So there are many skeptics as to whether he'll follow through on this threat. Already talks have begun now that the Senate's passed their nonbinding deadline about what exactly should be in a bill. My prediction has been along that we'll end up with a much cleaner supplemental than we voted on so far, because I think whether it's Senate conferees or the president, a lot of the extra stuff on the bill will be stripped out.

CONAN: What the president describes as pork - the president and a lot of other people.

Rep. COOPER: A lot of it was legitimate emergency money, but it was bad optics to have it as part of a war supplemental. So I think that, you know, those issues will be handled.

CONAN: Was part of the reason you supported this measure to support your leader, Nancy Pelosi?

Rep. COOPER: That was part of the reason, but the main reason was to support our troops. We've got to get this money passed and within a month. We can't dilly-dally around. Not every Congressman could get his or her own first choice on these bills. We've got to get something passed because our troops are literally running out of money.

CONAN: What happens, again - let's say the president does veto it, hypothetically, and then says look, we're going to run out of money for funding the war in Iraq and Afghanistan in a couple of weeks unless I get a bill on my desk, and I'm not going to approve one that has a date for withdrawal.

Rep. COOPER: Well, the president has whip hand in this debate because no one thinks we could override a presidential vetoed. And Democrats need to realize what slender majorities we have in both houses. We lost 14 Democrats on this vote in the House, and it only passed 218 to 212. In the senate, it passed with the help of Republican Senator Chuck Hagel with a slender one or two vote majority. So we do not have the majorities we need to set U.S. foreign policy. And the Congress is institutionally incapable of setting effective foreign policy because we're a committee of 535 people.

RUDIN: Congressman, I was struck by the 14 Democrats who voted against the bill last week. Half of them were - the far left of the party basically felt that the war should not be funded at all, and others were conservatives who felt that there should be no timetable. Is the party united on this war?

Rep. COOPER: I think it was a remarkable achievement for Nancy to get 218 votes because both the left and the right wings of the party are upset about various parts of this bill. I think the vote is a testament to the fact she found the political center of the party. Nancy is a very adept politician. She's a remarkable leader, and she's had a great three months as first female speaker in American history. But these are very tough issues. I think if you have a historical perspective, you'll see we're behaving much better than the Republican majority did when Clinton was president and we were involved in Bosnia.

And it's much, much better than it was in the late days of the Vietnam War. So we're trying to pressure the president in appropriate and fair ways. He is showing signs of listening. Look at his reversal on North Korean policy and his change in Iranian and Syrian policy. So I think we're making progress. It's not always easy or pretty, but I think we're making progress.

CONAN: Let's get a caller on the line. This is Richard. He's calling from Tennessee. I'm not sure if he's in the Fifth District or not. But Richard, go ahead. You're on the air.

RICHARD (Caller): Thank you. Question for you: Is it such a good - I support the idea of moving a bill through that will support the troops. I stand behind them myself. But if it's going to be a problem and the president's going to veto something that he doesn't like in there, why couldn't the Congress pull out the withdrawal terms and simply vote for a censure, which has never been done in probably the last hundred years or so for a president.

CONAN: Censure the president?


CONAN: Congressman, is that on the table?

Rep. COOPER: It's not on the table right now, nor is impeachment. I think most people want to see a strong U.S. president. Many people are disappointed with President Bush's various failures, but it doesn't help America to have these internal censure movements. I think we've got to move forward, support our troops, and let's do the best we can to have successful foreign policy.

CONAN: What do you - thanks very much favor the call, Richard. How do you respond to people who say look at the opinion polls? We Democrats were elected last November by people who wanted a change in policy in Iraq. You look at the opinion polls, a substantial majority of people say it's time to set a deadline for withdrawal.

Rep. COOPER: But the Constitution is something we swear to uphold, and the founders gave us a process that is cumbersome, has checks and balances. Not everyone gets his or her way, but it's been pretty darn successful over the last 230 years. Our challenge is to make the constitutional structure work in this case and in all cases, and I think it's working.

CONAN: Let's talk with Robert(ph). Robert's with us on the line from Novato in California.

ROBERT (Caller): Yeah, I was just going to ask the question - Ken Rudin before said - how can we not put in a timeline if we expect to ever get out of here because this - we've already lost the war. If you read enough, you have to assume that there is no coalition. There's just the United States paying the whole way. And no one wants us there. So what is the purpose of this other than something they're not telling us that they're there for? It's not for our standing in the world, that's for sure.

CONAN: Congressman?

Rep. ROBERT: I think the caller's being unduly negative. There's certainly been a lot of bad news, but there are many Iraqis who not only want us in the country to stabilize the situation, they're desperate for our help. Read the New Yorker article last week, "Betrayed" by George Packer. We owe an obligation to the folks who have supported us and we've got to honor that obligation. Parts of Iraq are doing very well. The Kurdish area is remarkably stable and calm. There are other signs of hope, and we just can't - unless we want to become isolationists - give up on the rest of the world.

I would certainly agree with the caller, our standing in the world is much lower than it's been probably in American history, and there are a lot of reasons for that. Hopeful that we're starting to correct some of those reasons, because most people do not blame the American people for these problems. They might blame particular leaders that we have, but most folks have generally good feelings toward the average American.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Robert. I think you were listening earlier when Senator Shelby said look, let's give it until September, October, Thanksgiving. If by Thanksgiving it's not working, it's time to really reconsider. Is that basically something that you would agree with?

Rep. COOPER: I think he's right and he's largely quoting General Petraeus, who's considered to be the best commander we've had in Iraq during the entire conflict. Of course, it's lasted already longer than World War II. The trouble is the administration doesn't have a Plan B, as you mentioned. Their Plan B is to make Plan A work. And if Plan A doesn't work, I think we're probably going to end up looking something like soft partition of the country because people seem to be moving that way themselves, with as many two to four million refuges already in the country. These people leave mixed neighborhoods and they go into safer havens.

CONAN: And at that point, what's our obligation to those people you mentioned George Packer wrote about, to the betrayed?

Rep. COOPER: Well, that's something we're going to have to sort out as a nation. It's my understanding that some Scandinavian countries are already welcoming Iraqi translators with open arms, the folks who helped our troops and our civilian officials maneuver around the country in the early days of the conflict. Many people have risked their lives and risked everything to help the U.S. in Iraq and we have an obligation to those people.

CONAN: Congressman, thanks very much. We appreciate your taking the time to speak with us today.

Rep. COOPER: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: That was Jim Cooper, a Blue Dog Democrat from the 5th District of Tennessee, joining us by phone from his office on Capitol Hill. And as we were hearing, Ken, this is not an easy vote for anybody in the Congress, I don't think.

RUDIN: No, and I was wondering, I was pretty much struck by what Senator Shelby said earlier. The fact is that he, a strong supporter of the war, would be willing to consider perhaps taking back some of that support if by September, October, Thanksgiving if it didn't work out. I'm just wondering if there may be some move after the president vetoes this bill, if the Democrats might say okay, we'll give you the funding for the war, we'll pull out our timetable. But if by September, October it's not working, one, I assume that that language would return to the bill, and two, I would assume that far more Republicans would support it than they do now.

CONAN: And those Republicans that we were mentioning earlier, people who are a little unconformable with this, or even more uncomfortable than Senator Shelby. People like Norm Coleman in Minnesota, the two Republican senators from the state of Maine, even John Sununu in New Hampshire. There's a bunch of Republicans who are facing difficult reelection battles in states where they can look at the polls and see how many are opposed to the war.

RUDIN: This war is very, very unpopular. And you will see people like Susan Collins, Norm Coleman, John Sununu, as you said, perhaps even John Warner of Virginia, those who may face very, very tough races in 2008 and see if their votes change on the war.

CONAN: Nevertheless, there was other political news this week in Washington, D.C. Let's not forget about the ongoing United States' scandal surrounding the attorney general. Kyle Sampson, the former chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, testifies tomorrow. And of course Monica Goodling, an aide to Gonzales, has already said that she, if called to testify, will plead the Fifth Amendment.

RUDIN: Monica Goodling apparently is a liaison between the Justice Department and the White House regarding the firings or the dismissals of these eight U.S. attorneys. What's amazing to me about this is that this is a scandal that probably didn't have to be. I mean, again, we've said this over and over again; the White House has the right to terminate these U.S. attorneys. They, quote, "serve at the pleasure of the president."

Now the fact that these U.S. attorneys may be involved in key delegate political investigations, if that's the reason they were let go, obviously that's why there were hearings. But Gonzales, it seems like he changes his mind every day and there's a new story why these attorneys have been dismissed.

First he had nothing to do with it, then e-mail showed that he did have some conversations about this. And, you know, he is scheduled to testify on Capitol Hill on April 17th. The guess in Washington is that he may not be attorney general by April 17th.

CONAN: The president continues, though, to vote his full support for the attorney general.

RUDIN: As he did for Donald Rumsfeld prior to letting him go right after the election of 2006.

CONAN: Looking ahead to 2008 in the political campaigns for the presidential nominations, obviously the big news within the past week since we've spoken to you revolved around John Edwards and of course the news that his wife, Elizabeth, her cancer had recurred and their decision to continue on with the campaign. We spoke about that at some substantial length earlier this week on the program, but nevertheless this has really changed things to dynamics on the presidential side.

RUDIN: It has. I mean, of course the caucuses - Iowa kicks it off 10 months from now, I mean, January 14th. So who knows what this means to John Edwards.

And I hate to talk about Elizabeth Edwards' health as a political concern but the fact is that John Edwards' support has increased. That more and more people have opened up their checkbooks to John Edwards. And I don't know if it's a sympathy vote. John Edwards clearly said he does not want anybody to vote for him because of what is going on with Elizabeth.

But it still looks like a three-candidate race. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards seems to be leading the pack, both in polls and money. We'll see, the 31st of this month is the deadline, the quarterly deadline for raising money. It will be interesting to see what candidates are in the top tier and what candidates have really not raised enough money to be competitive.

CONAN: Ken Rudin, our political editor, the author of the Political Junkie column, which you can read at our Web site, npr.org, and the Political Junkie here with us every Wednesday on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And speaking of the top three, you just named the top three on the Democratic side, top three on the Republican side, at least according to one new poll, has an interesting new name.

RUDIN: Well, that's true and, you know, we've talked to Congressman Jim Cooper. We've talked about of course Jim Cooper and his vote on Iraq, but Jim Cooper also was the Democratic nominee in 1994 for a Senate seat won by a guy named Fred Thompson. Fred Thompson, who has not given any indication that he's serious about running for president, but a few weeks ago he said, well, I would consider it.

And he went from not even asterisk to - in the latest USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll, he is like third place with 12 percent, which let's me know, one, that the - well, let's me know that the Republican Party is seriously looking for a new candidate. They have reservations about the ascendible three frontrunners: Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, John McCain. And maybe it's just the flavor of the week, the flavor of the day, but Fred Thompson could be that guy. Conservative, he's bona fides on conservatism are not questioned, and he's a kind of Reaganesque kind of character who might be the kind of candidate you want.

CONAN: And there are also some other developments. The first candidate to withdraw from the race, Tom Vilsack, the former governor of Iowa, hoped to get the Democratic nomination, and a couple of weeks later he decided he wasn't going to get the Democratic nomination and he's come out with an endorsement.

RUDIN: That's right. He endorsed Hillary Clinton, and we know how endorsements are very, very important in Iowa. We know that Tom Harkin in - 2004 endorsed Howard Dean, and Howard Dean finished third in the Iowa caucuses. So, I mean, it's nice. Hillary Clinton got a nice endorsement. She may have worked out some kind of deal where she can help retire his campaign debt, but ultimately I don't think endorsements mean that much.

CONAN: She also got more money in her Hollywood fundraiser than Barack Obama got in his Hollywood fundraiser.

RUDIN: She apparently is raising a ton of money. You don't see many of these candidates campaigning because the name of the game right now is making headlines with the amount of money they're raising. And apparently Hillary is doing very, very well raising money.

CONAN: Let me ask you also about an unfortunate situation, as Senator Jim Webb described it. He of course got elected last November to the United States Senate based on the gaffes principally of his opponent, who will forget the macaca moment. Nevertheless, yesterday one of - earlier this week, rather, one of Senator Webb's aides was caught trying to enter the United States' Capitol with a loaded gun in his briefcase.

RUDIN: This was very bizarre - a very close and trusted aide. Apparently, according to this aide, according to what he told authorities, that he dropped off Senator Webb at the airport. Senator Webb gave him this gun and he obviously forgot about it and put it through the x-ray machine at the Capitol.

But Jim Webb had a very bizarre press conference yesterday. He said, no, I did not give him the gun. And he spent most of the press conference not answering questions. It seems like a very odd way to introduce himself to the national audience, but Jim Webb, obviously, a lot of questions about what happens.

Ultimately, I don't know if it's not a big deal but Webb seemed very tight, very out of sorts watching him trying to explain something that he didn't fully explain yesterday.

CONAN: And finally, last week we mentioned or you mentioned Kathleen Blanco, the governor of Louisiana, deciding not to run for reelection. Democrats are hopeful that the former Senator Jim Breaux would run for that seat - John Breaux, excuse me. Now there's a question, is John Breaux a citizen of Louisiana?

RUDIN: Well, according to the state constitution you have to - the only way you could run for governor is that you have to be a citizen of the state, quote, "for at least the preceding five years." When John Breaux left the Senate after 2004, he became a lobbyist at Washington at Patton Boggs.

He lives in Maryland. He owns a car registered in Maryland. And Republicans are trying to say that he cannot run - he cannot legally be a candidate in Louisiana because he is a resident of Maryland. This will ultimately go to the courts in Louisiana but obviously the Republicans know that John Breaux will be a very strong candidate.

CONAN: Ken Rudin, thanks very much. We appreciate it. Ken Rudin, our Political Junkie, here with us in Studio 3A.

When we come back from a short break, your questions about stents, drugs and heart disease. A new study found that a healthy lifestyle and drug treatment could be just as good at preventing heart attacks and death as angioplasty and the insertion of stents.

If you have questions about that, we're going to have one of the leading heart surgeons in the country with us. Give us a call, 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail us, talk@npr.org.

I'm Neal Conan. We'll be back after the break. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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