Should Governors Name Senators For Vacant Seats? NPR's Political Editor Ken Rudin talks about the growing economic stimulus package, cabinet confirmations and the swearing in of New York's new junior senator. Also, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) discusses his proposal to end gubernatorial appointments for senate vacancies.
NPR logo

Should Governors Name Senators For Vacant Seats?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Should Governors Name Senators For Vacant Seats?

Should Governors Name Senators For Vacant Seats?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. A cinematic impeachment, a messy appointment, a couple of confirmations, a quick party line vote on the stimulus package. It's Wednesday, and time once again for a visit with 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, "Where's the Beef?"

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

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

Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): Lipstick.

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

(Soundbite of Howard Dean scream)

CONAN: On Wednesdays, NPR political editor Ken Rudin joins us to talk politics amid the grief over Senate appointments in New York and Illinois. Senator Russ Feingold joins us in a few minutes to propose a constitutional amendment. Of course, his state tried to choose a senator the old fashioned way and there's still no winner in Minnesota. Tim Geithner joins us to - wins his confirmation. Looks like Eric Holder's is on the way and it looks like politics, as usual, on the stimulus bill. We begin first, as always, with a trivia question. Political Junkie Ken Rudin is here with us in Studio 3A. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal.

CONAN: And what's the trivia question?

RUDIN: Well, first, you know, two things that I never thought would happen in my lifetime - the election of an African-American president and the Arizona Cardinals going to the Super Bowl, and both are happening within two weeks of each other - pretty remarkable. OK, Super Bowl is Sunday. Who was the last player to play on a Super Bowl and later run for Congress?

CONAN: If you think you know the identity of the last Super Bowl participant to run for Congress, give us a phone call, 800-989-8255. Email us, You can also join the conversation on our Web site, Just click on Talk of the Nation.

So Ken, Illinois gets more and more bizarre.

RUDIN: How come? In what way? You know something, we keep saying this every week - you can't make this stuff up. And you can't make this stuff up, but while the Illinois state Senate, all of - I guess 49 members of - 59 members of it are trying to decide not if to convict Rod Blagojevich, but when and by what number. The governor himself is doing this national - his magical mystery tour of all the TV shows, trying to proclaim his innocence.

CONAN: And getting some of the real tough questions like here on "The View."

(Soundbite of "The View")

Ms. JOY BEHAR: He does a fabulous Nixon impression. Do it for us.

Governor ROD BLAGOJEVICH (Democrat, Illinois): Who said that?

Ms. BEHAR: Somebody told me. Come on.

Gov. BLAGOJEVICH: Well, no...

Ms. BEHAR: Just say I am not a crook. Do it.

Gov. BLAGOJEVICH: No. I'm not going to say that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: The governor, refusing to be drawn on that. He complained continually on these television shows that well, his comments were being taken out of context.

(Soundbite of television show clips)

Gov. BLAGOJEVICH: You can take all kinds of things out of context, make them sound a certain way.

Again, there's full context in all of those conversations, but you can interpret it one way.

They took snippets of conversations completely out of context and now provide all of the tapes that tell the whole story.

CONAN: Snippets all out of context, Ken Rudin. And in the meantime, they're proceeding with this. There's no lawyers there representing Rod Blagojevich. He's not there. They could vote on this as soon as today.

RUDIN: Well, actually, you know, the old - speaking of comparing himself to Richard Nixon, Nixon's slogan - campaign slogan in 1972 was Four More Years, and I think it looks like four more days for Rod Blagojevich. I'm hearing that the - first, you need two-thirds of vote in the Senate. So you need 40 of the 59 state senators to convict him. He's been - the impeachment vote was 117 to one, so I suspect you can get 40, and he could be gone as early as Thursday. So Rod Blagojevich may be former governor by Thursday.

CONAN: And of course, that case could then end up in court, which is of course, (laughing) where the Minnesota Senate race is still in ensconced.

RUDIN: Right. One more thing about Blagojevich is - I mean, he is still yet to be indicted on anything, but they expect an indictment to come as late as April, so he'll be a former governor when he goes to trial on this. Remember, impeachment often is a political trial and not a legal trial.

CONAN: Well, one question then, before we get on to Minnesota and then on to New York. And that is, can he then appealed his conviction on an impeachment case to the Illinois State Supreme Court.

RUDIN: Well, see, I don't believe he can because I'm thinking of the Mecham stuff in Arizona. Once he was convicted by the Arizona State Senate, he was gone from governor - as governor, so I suspect that will decide his fate. To Minnesota, it's the same thing. Nothing has changed. Al Franken still has his 225-vote lead. Norm Coleman, his case is still before the Minnesota Supreme Court. Three judges are looking at it. He still says - Coleman still says that there are 12,000 absentee ballots that have been improperly rejected from the count. It was a 2.9 million vote hand count, and Coleman says that it's just too soon to declare anybody the winner. And of course, the governor - the Republican governor and the Democratic Secretary of State of Minnesota, for that reason, have refused to certify a winner, letting this go out in court. But we may not have an answer until March.

CONAN: All right. And finally, there is a selection finally made in the state of New York. Of course, Hillary Rodham Clinton, the junior senator from New York, is now confirmed as Secretary of State and here's the - Governor Paterson, announcing his selection.

Governor DAVID PATERSON (Democrat, New York): So with all of that work, she is dynamic, she is articulate, she is perceptive, she is courageous, she is outspoken. I am appointing her to the United State Senate, representing New York today. Please welcome, our next senator and current congresswoman, Kirsten Gillibrand.

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: Kirsten Gillibrand. Who could have possibly picked Kirsten Gillibrand?

RUDIN: Well, I confess, I have been saying that from the beginning.


RUDIN: But the amazing thing is, as weird as the Illinois situation has been, New York is even worse. The fact is, is that this was going on for far longer than it should have. David Paterson lost a lot of allies, a lot of goodwill. Of course, he was the accidental governor, becoming governor when Eliot Spitzer was embroiled in a prostitution ring scandal last year. And basically, Caroline Kennedy, who was an iconic figure throughout her whole life or at least our whole lives, and yet she came out pretty tarnished in this whole thing, and I suspect that a lot of it had to do with the way that Paterson dealt with it. He liked her, that he didn't like her. He supported her, but he didn't support her. He kept giving different kind of signals and then ultimately, it looked that there was some stuff about Caroline Kennedy that was coming out, that she was either a tax fraud, or she had troubles with a nanny, or she had problems with her marriage. It was all in innuendo coming out of the governor's office, so a lot of people are saying that he just was so disingenuous if not dishonest in the way he treated these candidates, especially Caroline Kennedy. He's going to have a tough time in 2010, assuming he runs for governor. Andrew Cuomo, the state attorney general, who was on the list of a possible senator, is hinting or has been hinted as a possible primary challenger. And Gillibrand, who has a 100-percent NRA voting record, has now been challenged - suspected to be challenged by perhaps Carolyn McCarthy, who lost her husband to this terrible Long Island Railroad massacre...

CONAN: Massacre, yeah.

RUDIN: In 1993. So the Democratic Party, it looks kind of messy in the state of New York and all because of this opportunity to appoint the U.S. senator.

CONAN: Well, lets see if we can get some people in on our trivia question and that was, if we can remind you, who was the last player in the Super Bowl to run for Congress? And let's start with Mike and Mike is with us from Oklahoma City.

MIKE (Caller): Yes.

CONAN: Go ahead, Mike.

MIKE: Good afternoon.

CONAN: Good afternoon.

MIKE: It's Steve Largent.

CONAN: Steve Largent, elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but Ken?

RUDIN: Well, never ran - never played the Super Bowl. I mean, he did run for Congress. He was elected in Oklahoma, ran for governor, he was defeated, but he never played in the Super Bowl.

CONAN: Nice try, Mike.

MIKE: All right.

CONAN: Thanks very much. Let's go now to Ed. Ed is with us from Greensboro, North Carolina.

ED (Caller): Hey, guys. How are you?

CONAN: Good.

ED: Good. Was it Heath Shuler?

CONAN: Heath Shuler, a flop as a quarterback with the Washington Redskins and elected to Congress from the State of North Carolina.

RUDIN: He's a member of the Congress from North Carolina but never played the Super Bowl like - as with Steve Largent.

ED: All right. Thank you.

CONAN: Ed, thanks very much. Let's see if we can go to Chris(ph), and Chris is with us from the Hardware City, New Britain, Connecticut.

CHRIS (Caller): Yes, this is Chris from New Britain in the New Britain Herald, and I believe that it was Lynn Swan.

CONAN: Lynn Swann of the Pittsburgh Steelers, course, did play in the Super Bowl but...

RUDIN: He was great, yeah.

CONAN: He was really good, and a member of the Hall of Fame.

RUDIN: But, although he did run for governor in Pennsylvania against Ed Rendell never was elected to Congress.


RUDIN: Oh, I'm sorry, never ran for Congress.

CONAN: Never ran for Congress.

RUDIN: Never ran for Congress.

CONAN: All right. Thanks very much.

ED: Thanks.

CONAN: Let's see if we can go now to - this is Joseph. Joseph is with us from Grand Junction, Colorado.

JOSEPH (Caller): I was going to say J.C. Watts.

CONAN: J.C. Watts - in - was a quarterback from Oklahoma, did run for and elected to Congress but, Ken...

RUDIN: I don't believe he ever played professional football, let alone play in the Super Bowl.

CONAN: I think you're right on both those accounts.

RUDIN: These are all great players, but not the answer we're looking for.

JOSEPH: Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks, Joseph. Let's see if we can go now to Andrew. Andrew with us, another caller from Greensboro, North Carolina.

ANDREW: Yeah. Trent Dilfer.

CONAN: Trent Dilfer played in the Super Bowl which he won, I think, for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but I don't believe, Ken...

RUDIN: Congress? I don't believe he ever ran for...

CONAN: I think he ran for commentator on ESPN.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ANDREW: (laughing) OK.

RUDIN: Trent Dilfer, I don't remember. There was a Trent Lott. I think it - it's...

CONAN: Different fellow, different fellow. Anyway, thanks very much and let's see if can we go to Bill. Bill, with us from Ann Arbor, Michigan.

BILL (Caller): OK, I'm going to guess it might have been Jack Kemp.

CONAN: Jack Kemp, the great quarterback for the Buffalo Bills, always handing off to Cookie Gilchrist. And, yes, he did run for - not only Congress and was elected and later for Vice President of the United States but, Ken...

RUDIN: He never played in the Super Bowl. As a matter of fact, I don't think he - there was a Super Bowl when he played, but he never played in there because he played for the Chargers and the Bills, neither of which went to the Super Bowl when he played football.

BILL: OK, thanks.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Bill. And let's see if we can go now to Mark. And Mark's calling us from Baltimore.

MARK (Caller): Yeah, I'm going to guess it was Phil McConkey, played for the Giants.


RUDIN: That is the correct answer.

CONAN: Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Mark, you win the No Prize this week.

RUDIN: Phil McConkey ran in 1990 in the Primary, New Jersey's 12th congressional district. Lost to Dick Zimmer, didn't win...

MARK: Won the Super Bowl but lost the congressional race.

RUDIN: So, he's two for two.

CONAN: (Laughing) Mark, thanks very much. You're the winner of this week's No Prize.


CONAN: All right. Thanks very much.

RUDIN: Neal, one of these days there has to be a prize for the No Prize.

CONAN: There has got to be a prize for this - there's got to be a prize for the No Prize. You got to get something for the No Prize. In the meantime, Cabinet positions, Eric Holder's nomination to be Attorney General approved today in committee. Tim Geithner, well, he did not get overwhelming support, but he is now the Treasury Secretary - Secretary of the Treasury.

RUDIN: Yes, either one. But the vote was 60 to 34 and again that was a lot of people, mostly Republicans, but a lot of folks who voted against him because they just were not satisfied with his answers or lack of answers why he failed to pay taxes or at least belatedly paid taxes when he worked for the International Monetary Fund. And while they were mostly Republicans who voted against him, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont, all voted against him. So, it wasn't just Republican - it wasn't just a partisan thing. The Democrats too had some questions about Geithner's insufficient answers, shall we say.

CONAN: And where do we stand now on the remaining Cabinet members?

RUDIN: Well, let's see. They're still going to have - there's still - first of all, regarding Eric Holder, the vote was...

CONAN: It's got to go before the whole Senate.

RUDIN: Seventeen to two was the vote today in the judiciary...

CONAN: That's rich, they said.


CONAN: That's rich, they said.

RUDIN: (laughing) That's exactly right. And the two - it was Tom Coburn and John Cornyn, two Republicans who voted against him. Leon Pineda, as CIA, still has to come up. And we still don't have a Commerce secretary since Bill Richardson withdrew his name in January. What I'm hearing is a guy named John Thompson who is a CEO of a company, a Silicon Valley company called Semantic. I don't mean to be anti-Semantic but I've - but anyway it's a secure - I'm sorry, Neal is shaking his head, but he may be the next secretary of Commerce.

CONAN: And don't we still have Dennis Blair to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency coming up?

RUDIN: That's right. And he's in good as well.

CONAN: All right. Coming up after Blago and Burris, Paterson and Gillibrand and all the brouhahas along the way. Do we need a Constitutional Amendment to require that vacant Senate seats be filled by special election rather than gubernatorial appointment? Senator Russ Feingold will join us to talk about that when we come back. Stay with us. It's the Political Junkie. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

It's Wednesday which means political junkie, Ken Rudin, is with us, and the post-election brawls over Senate appointments might begin to die down despite the Blago media blitz, but some people are brainstorming solutions to prevent future drama. Senator - Democratic Senator Russ Feingold plans to introduce a Constitutional Amendment to require that vacant Senate seats be filled by special election rather than appointment. He'll join us in just a bit, but we also want to hear from you. Do you think we need to rewrite the Constitution to end gubernatorial appointment? You can join us on that or if you have any other questions on the political news of the week, give us a call. 800-989-8255. Email us, You can also join the conversation on our Web site. Go to and click on Talk of the Nation. Meanwhile, while we await Senator Feingold, there's a couple of other political developments we could talk about, Ken, including the fact that, well, people in Virginia this year were barraged by political ads, unusual in a presidential election year that the State of Virginia was a battleground. In fact, it became a Blue State for the first time. But some people pretty tired of political advertising. Nevertheless, they're starting to hear more political advertising. This is an ad for one of the candidates in the democratic primary for the gubernatorial seat in Virginia.

(Soundbite of political ad)

Mr. TERRY MCAULIFFE (Gubernatorial Candidate, Virginia): Make our ports more competitive. Invest in renewable energy to create jobs. Keep our carriers here in Virginia where they belong. I'm Terry McAuliffe. These are just some of the ideas I've heard from you in Hampton Roads. It goes to show the best ideas don't always come out in Richmond. I've spent four decades building businesses and creating jobs. Now, I'm running for governor because I know we can create thousands more right here. I'll make it my job to protect your job and get Virginia's economy moving.

CONAN: So what do you think is his issue going to be, Ken?

RUDIN: Jobs and the economy?

CONAN: Could be.

RUDIN: You know something, he sounds very much like Mark Warner, another business entrepreneur who was elected governor, I guess, eight years ago and was very, very successful. Terry McAuliffe is not known as a Virginia Party person but certainly a fund raiser who did very well when he was a Democratic National Chairman under the Clinton Administration. And of course, Terry McAuliffe is perhaps best known for the fact - how much money he could raise. It still is a primary, there's two other Democrats challenging him. The primary is in early June, but right now, you know, it looks very good for McAuliffe who has so much money. Of course, when you mentioned that the first time the state went blue, of course, the first time since '64.

CONAN: '64, right, first time in most of our listeners' lifetime anyway, but the - and you might wonder - governors in the state of Virginia are term-limited, so Tim Kaine, the incumbent and in fact the new Democratic National Committee chair, he cannot run for re-election.

RUDIN: Right. And also if you go back to Lyndon Johnson, and I think for the last 40 years or so, every time there is a Republican in the White House, Virginia elects a Democrat governor. Every time there's a Democrat in the White House, Virginia elects a Republican governor so that it could be good news for the Republican Party this year.

CONAN: And you mentioned a couple of other democrats running against Terry McAuliffe, but who might be up on the Republicans' side.

RUDIN: It would be the State Attorney General Bob McDonald who is unopposed for the nomination.

CONAN: All right. Speaking of the Republican National Committee chair, there still isn't one. There's supposed to be an election, I think, next week.

RUDIN: There is on Friday, actually, this Friday. The RNC meets today, starts meeting today for three, four days. There is still a chairman. It's Mike Duncan who was appointed in 2007 by President Bush and that's his problem because he was appointed by President Bush. I suspect that many Republicans, if not most Republicans would like to turn the page, go on to a new phase. So, there were six candidates running for the nomination for the elect - for the chairmanship of the RNC including Mike - in addition to Mike Duncan. It's Michael Steele who was the former lieutenant governor of Maryland, who's African-American. Another African-American candidate is Kenneth Blackwell, the former Ohio Secretary of State, Katon Dawson, my personal prediction, who is the chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, Saul Anuzis, who is the Michigan chair and Chip Satlzman, who was Mike Huckabee's campaign manager last year.

CONAN: And who gets to vote in this important election?

RUDIN: RNC members, and you need - I guess you need 85 percent - 85 votes, which is 50 percent of the RNC. And they are meeting at Washington, and the election is Friday. Now, I'm not saying that Pete - this is very, very important, but I guess with the fact that the Republican Party is out of power, there's really no national Republican Leader. I don't know if the RNC chair would be a National leader but he could certainly set the tone for what happens for the party.

CONAN: And joining us now is Senator Russ Feingold, a Democrat. And Senator Feingold, nice to have you with us today.

Senator RUSS FEINGOLD (Democrat, Wisconsin): Good to be in the show. Thank you.

CONAN: And you believe - just to reset for those who are just joining us - you believe that we need - after the debacles in New York and Illinois, that we need a Constitutional Amendment to mandate that vacant Senate seats be filled by special election.

Senator FEINGOLD: That's right. I mean, this isn't something that's completely new. We had a Constitutional Amendment, 17th Amendment back in 1913, that established the principal for the first time in this country that a senator should be directly elected by the people, not by state legislature. The only reason it doesn't happen sometimes is these vacancy situations. All House members are always elected by special election. It's always been required by the Constitution. You just have this one loophole, this one area where, unfortunately in four cases here, the people of the state didn't decide who a senator should be. It was decided just by one person, by a governor. And in a couple of cases it wasn't very pretty.

CONAN: Indeed. And it's not very pretty right now in Springfield. And don't you think that's going to convince a lot of states to say, hey, wait a minute, let's do this ourselves?

Senator FEINGOLD: I would think so. I mean, I understand the governors who have the power right now might not like it. Of course, the odds of having a Senate vacancy in your state are very small. It's a rare occurrence. I would think the legislators would be open to the idea of finishing the job and having the people of their state make this decision. We've had it this way in Wisconsin forever. We're one of the few states that never had the appointment, and so it's worked just fine. All our House races, of course, are by special election and when Joe McCarthy, the infamous senator died, a guy named Bill Proxmire was elected to replace him, became one of the best senators in the United States Senate and served for 30 years. So it's a system that can work and has worked in Wisconsin and I think would be a big improvement over the circus that we've been watching.

CONAN: Nevertheless, the Constitution is not something you rewrite lightly. Given that example and given the fact that many states do have, like Wisconsin, the special election, why should we tinker with the Constitution?

Senator FEINGOLD: Well, only three or four states have this Wisconsin system. Very few have it. And what you see here is a real significant example of how the Senate can be distorted from a place that involves people being elected to people that were appointed in the first place. It gets to be excessive. So the Constitution has already been amended in this general area, this is just basically tidying up, and the 17th Amendment would be a separate amendment. But that would be the effect. It it's not changing obviously, the structure of the Constitution in any significant way.


RUDIN: Senator, what are the arguments against this proposal is that it would cost upwards of tens of millions of dollars to run a special election.

Senator FEINGOLD: It's kind of a bizarre argument. We have elections - special elections for the House, we have elections in the fall for all the House and Senate races, governors. Why should people be suddenly concerned about the cost of an election? Why wouldn't people of the state want to be able to have a direct say on who's going to be their senator for the next six or 20 or 40 years. To me, it's money well-spent to have a democracy and have a democratic outcome. I think the cost argument is frankly a joke.

RUDIN: Well, you do have an election in November. But let's just say with Barack Obama leaving the Senate, you'd have a vacancy for up to 10 months then without a senator.

Senator FEINGOLD: No, they can call a special election into this.

CONAN: So anytime, it can be held.

Senator FEINGOLD: Yeah, we have our own rules in Wisconsin. We've had rules for years that make sense in this regard, and there's a time frame after the vacancy. There's a certification, and then there's a period for nomination papers for a primary and a final. And if it turns out, as it often does to that kind of works with an already scheduled election. For example, Wisconsin, we have a February primary, an April primary, a September primary and a November primary. So actually, you don't have to have you have usually in most of these cases a separate date. You can usually tie in with one of those, and that's the way it's generally worked in Wisconsin.

CONAN: Hugh(ph) has a question on this point. He's calling from Oakland.

HUGH (Caller): Yeah. In California, whenever there have been special elections, they've been least well-attended. So ironically, wouldn't a special election be not very democratic?

Senator FEINGOLD: (laughing) Yeah, you're right. It's less democratic in the general election, but it sure as heck is a lot more democratic than just one guy making the decision. That's the governor. So clearly, it's not perfect, but it's enormously better than having just one person having backroom conversations, making a decision that cuts out the option of people to vote. At least for the special election, everybody has the option to vote and have - participate in the decision. And they cannot with gubernatorial appointment.

HUGH: And my second question is, how often has this situation presented itself in the past, that we would have a Constitutional Amendment...

Senator FEINGOLD: Well, there have been 184 Senators appointed to the United States Senate since the 17th Amendment was enacted. And, of course, there have been quite a few lately. So, no, it doesn't happen a lot, but sometimes it can determine who's going to be the Senator in place for decades. So it's a big deal, and I think people of the state only get two Senators. They really ought to have a direct say in who that Senator and who those Senators are going to be.

CONAN: Hugh, thanks very much for the call. And, Senator Feingold, we know you have to run off to a committee meeting, but I did want to ask you, how much support do you think you're going to have in the United States Senate?

Senator FEINGOLD: Oh, it's good already. Senator Begich, new senator from Alaska, called me up right away, said he wanted to be part of it. Senator John McCain has already signed onto it. I had some good conversations in judiciary committee this morning with other senators who, of course, are the ones that will have the first vote on it. It has to go through the Senate Judiciary Committee. So it all started to build support and I'm enjoying it.

RUDIN: And you mentioned Senator Begich in Alaska. Of course, Alaska is one of those controversial appointments, too, when the Governor Frank Murkowski appointed his own daughter to the Senate.

Senator FEINGOLD: Well, that's interesting, and that's why Begich is on board because he said after that happened Alaska changed its law. They had a state-wide initiative where they made a decision like Wisconsin to have a system where they have special elections. So, Alaska is the latest state to join this group. Massachusetts did it a few years ago, too, in 2004, but the states that have always had for the longest time, direct elections for Senate are Oregon and Wisconsin.

CONAN: And all that would solve is everything but Minnesota.

Senator FEINGOLD: Yeah. Minnesota, I don't think they have this.

CONAN: I don't think so. Senator Feingold, we thank you for your time, we know you got around. Appreciate it. Russell Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin on the line with us from his office on Capitol Hill. And well, we still have a couple of calls on this point, but why don't we take one - this from Paul, Paul with us from Reno in Nevada.

PAUL (Caller): Ah, yes sir. How you all doing today?

CONAN: All right, pretty good.

PAUL: Well, I have to disagree with the senator. I think number one that we should especially be considering the extra calls throughout now with the state governments all pretty much running budget deficits around that I don't think that they needed an unneeded mandate from Washington. Number two, we're talking about a state that's usually only held for a short time unless in an unusual case or to be a recipient of the senate seat proves to be a good senator and then it might go on. But the people will get a chance to elect them then. And third, I'm from Georgia, and we - when we lost senator...

RUDIN: Paul Coverdell.

PAUL: I forgot his name already.

RUDIN: Paul Coverdell.

PAUL: Yeah, right. Governor Barnes appointed former Governor Zell Miller, and most of the Conservatives are pretty upset about that, but Zell Miller trying not to be one of the Conservatives' best friends in the Senate. So often times, we would want special election because we don't want a governor to appoint someone, but it turns out he appoints the right person for the job anyway. So, I think it's a wonderful idea to be quote, unquote, a democracy, but we are Republic, and I think that we should let states decide instead of just another federal mandate.

CONAN: And it can, Ken, run about half a million, a million dollars to hold the special election.

RUDIN: That's true. But Paul makes a good point because if you don't like the person you've - the governor has appointed, you could even defeat him or her in the next primary election or the next general election. My column, My Political Junkie blog today...

CONAN: You write a blog?

RUDIN: I write a blog. Yes, it's very famous. But it goes state by state including the Coverdell-Zell Miller thing, every state and the last time it appointed a senator, what happened to those appointees?

CONAN: Paul, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

PAUL: Thank you.

CONAN: Our guest, of course, every Wednesday is NPR's political editor and our Political Junkie Ken Rudin is with us here in Studio 3A. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

And Ken, this week, it was President Obama going up to Capitol Hill to say, you know, let's put politics past us and go work on this stimulus bill in a bipartisan manner. And well, this is the reaction from Mike Pence, one of the leaders in the Republican Party in the House of Representatives.

Representative MIKE PENCE (Republican, Indiana): But as grateful as we are for the president's spirit, as I told him personally, House Democrats have completely ignored the president's call for bipartisan cooperation.

CONAN: And Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, of course a Democrat, responded by saying, well, the Republicans get to say some things but they don't get to say a lot.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democratic, California; Speaker of the House of Representative): So bipartisanship means giving them an opportunity to make their voices heard and maybe to persuade and prevail in the up - marketplace of ideas. That does not mean that we're going to have a continuation of the last eight years of failed economic policies that have taken us where we are today.

CONAN: Glad there's a new tone in Washington.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: Well, I'm - I mean, I'm not convinced that what Barack Obama is doing is necessarily looking for Republican vote, but I think he wants to point at a difference between himself and his predecessor, because George W. Bush really did not reach out to Democrats for much of his tenure in the White House. And I think Obama wanted to do that bipartisan at least reaching out, even if Republicans - I mean, you may have 10 Republicans who vote for at the vote in the House today is between six and seven o'clock eastern time, and so you may not get many Republicans at all. But I think Obama wanted to set the tone that at least he wants to listen, making the point that his predecessor did not want to do that, and perhaps try to build some goodwill when he'll really need those Republican votes.

CONAN: And he is inviting also, I think, six members from each party in the House of Representatives and five members of each party from the United States Senate over to the White House this evening for drinks and further talks about bipartisan issues. I suspect that's going to be after the House passes his stimulus package pretty much on a party-line vote. Let's see if we can get one last caller in. This is Leslie, Leslie with us from Ann Arbor in Michigan.

LESLIE (Caller): Hi. I just wanted to say that, first of all, I love your show.

CONAN: Oh, thank you.

LESLIE: But I want to say that I disagree with Russ Feingold for the first time probably ever. I think that Blagojevich has offered us a rare amount of comic relief in this otherwise rather dreary time following in the - following George Bush. I mean, I'm very worried about the death of irony and comedy and all of that, and now, when you hear Blagojevich talking about calling the ghosts of Martin Luther King and Gandhi and comparing himself to them, I just think that comic relief is priceless, and I would love to see other crazy politicians like him out more often.

CONAN: Generally, you like crazy politicians in somebody else's state.

LESLIE: Yes, absolutely.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LESLIE: They better not come to Michigan, that's all I can say.


RUDIN: But it's not just Blagojevich. And I think part of the reason that this may have more support is because David Patterson, by most accounts, botched the whole process in New York. And what happened in Delaware is interesting too. They picked somebody, when Joe Biden became vice president, they picked his top aide, and this aide said he's only - he's going to retire at 2010 conveniently when Joe Biden's son, Beau Biden...

LESLIE: Exactly.

RUDIN: Returns, and so this not only just Blagojevich there's seems to three out of four Senate appointees, excluding the one in Colorado, which seem to have gone well, but three of them are pretty controversial.

LESLIE: Right. But the comic relief is what I'm after. I just miss it so much now that Bush is gone. And I think Blagojevich offers us that. And it looks like for months to come.

CONAN: Leslie, thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it. Bye-bye.

LESLIE: Thank you.

CONAN: And we should mention, of course, that fourth appointee to the Senate this time around was Michael Bennett in Colorado.

RUDIN: Right. Who was, you know, completely unexpected choice, but didn't have the controversy that the other three choices did.

CONAN: And the reason this is controversial, I guess, you can be defeated in the next primary or the next general election. But the fact of the matter is you have an enormous leg-up in the next primary and the next general election. You can start fund raising now and you have all that name recognition.

RUDIN: That's true. But of the last - if you look at the states who have had this in the last couple of years, there's just as many people who've been defeated, as the one who've been reelected. So, it cuts both ways.

CONAN: Ken Rudin, as always, thanks very much.

RUDIN: Thanks, Neal. c CONAN: Ken Rudin, our political junkie, you can read his blog at Join us every Wednesday here on Talk of the Nation. Coming up, President Obama chose Arab satellite network Al Arabiya for his first formal interview of his presidency, to mixed reaction. We'll hear two views and we'd like to hear from you. If you listened to read the interview, what message did you receive? Give us a call. 800-989-8255, email us I'm Neal Conan. It's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.