Iraq Report, Aide Testimony Make Busy Week on Hill With the defense spending bill, the Iraq report and the testimony of a former White House aide on the U.S. attorney firings, it has been a busy week on Capitol Hill.
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Iraq Report, Aide Testimony Make Busy Week on Hill

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Iraq Report, Aide Testimony Make Busy Week on Hill

Iraq Report, Aide Testimony Make Busy Week on Hill

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President GEORGE W. BUSH: I believe we can succeed and I believe we are making security progress that will enable...

Unidentified Man #1: This president cries progress. What progress?

Unidentified Woman: If we pull out now, it's going to say that the U.S. is weak.

Unidentified Man #2: This benchmark assessment report which we've received doesn't give us much hope.

DEBORAH AMOS, host:

Those were some of the voices we heard this week from Washington debating the war in Iraq. But those aren't the only fireworks flying between Capitol Hill and the White House. President Bush claimed his former aides did not need to testify before Congress about the firing of federal prosecutors because they qualify for executive privilege.

We're joined by NPR's senior correspondent Juan Williams to sort through this eye-popping week. Juan, welcome.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Always good to be with you, Deb.

AMOS: There were two votes in Congress already calling for withdrawal from Iraq. And these were within hours of a very mixed progress report from the White House about the region. The numbers in Congress still aren't enough to withstand a Bush veto. Has the president bought himself some time?

WILLIAMS: Well, he's still trying to buy himself some time. There are more votes coming next week. The question is whether or not the Republicans can hold the line here. The Democrats, as you know, this week had one vote in which they got 56 votes, so they're making some progress in getting Republicans to come with them. But they need 60 to end filibusters and get a vote on the floor.

Now, this week we've already seen one vote in the House in which Democrats were able to succeed in getting four Republicans to go along with them in a vote. And the vote really has tried to set a deadline, April 1st of next year, for getting troops out of Iraq. The president says he'll veto. The question is whether or not a similar vote could take place in the Senate, and next week the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, says he's going to make every effort to get that vote.

AMOS: At the same time, there was a showdown between Bush and the Senate Judiciary Committee. This one was over the issue of executive privilege that the president feels very strongly about. First, we had Sara Taylor appearing -she claimed she couldn't respond to most of the questions. Harriet Miers didn't even show up. Does this tell us something about how the Bush presidency is using power both on executive privilege and on Iraq?

WILLIAMS: I think it's evidence of the fact that they're trying to conserve power. They want the executive branch to be an island onto itself. Vice President Cheney has taken the lead on this, doesn't want people to see his records in terms of who visits him, who speaks to him, even who come to his home. And the whole effort is to say that executive privilege and executive power is to be preserved. And if it's not preserved, then it comes as a cost to the nation because it will weaken the presidency.

That argument is going to be tested on this - just this point about these subpoenas, Deb, because I think what you're seeing from the Democrats on the Hills is a willingness to challenge this White House in court. And if it becomes a court issue - I don't know who wins, obviously, but I do think that it puts pressure on the president and this presidency at a time when they're already weak, and especially weak at the polls. And that will have consequence for Republicans who - and the Republicans on the Hill then I think are going start to speak to the president about the damage he's doing to their prospects in '08.

AMOS: And finally, Juan, the real talk of Washington - David Vitter, a conservative Republican from Louisiana. We learned that he was on the clients list of the alleged Washington Madame. What kind of ripples does that have politically?

WILLIAMS: You know, on just a pure political basis, nobody thinks that David Vitter is going to be thrown out by the voters of Louisiana. Obviously he's going to have trouble at home and he's going to be the subject of great ridicule. He's been in hiding, I should tell you, Deb. You can't find hide or hair of him around Washington.

(Soundbite of laughter)

AMOS: He'll have to come out at some moment.

WILLIAMS: Well, and the cameras will collapse on him. But nobody thinks that the Republicans are going lose this seat or anything like that. There are lots of charges of hypocrisy flying around and lots of reminders of what's happened. Remember, Congressman Fowler and the pages, Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay, people who have acknowledged having affairs even while they were involved in the impeachment of President Clinton.

All of that now is out there, so lots of people are saying shame on you for having been so hypocritical and self-righteous while you were holding Clinton up to be pilloried. But in terms of actual political consequence, I would be surprised if it has anything but adding to the whiff of scandal that has been surrounding Republicans while they were in power in Washington.

AMOS: Thank you very much. NPR's senior correspondent, Juan Williams.

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