Scandalized And Scattered: This Week In Politics This week we saw a prominent member of Congress brought low by salacious behavior on Twitter. We also saw a shift in the batting order of Republican candidates for president in 2012. Guest host Jacki Lyden talks politics with NPR National Political Correspondent Mara Liasson and NPR's Andrea Seabrook.

Scandalized And Scattered: This Week In Politics

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JACKI LYDEN, Host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

It's been a week to remember in national politics, and the week to come promises to be another. We've seen a prominent member of Congress brought low by salacious behavior on Twitter. We've seen a shift in the batting order of Republican candidates for president in 2012. And tomorrow brings the first debate among those candidates in New Hampshire, the state that will hold the first primary early next year.

Joining us now for updates on these stories and more are NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson, and congressional correspondent Andrea Seabrook.

Thanks to both of you for being with us.

MARA LIASSON: Good morning, Jacki.

ANDREA SEABROOK: It's a pleasure.

LYDEN: Andrea, let's start with you and the unfolding drama of Congressman Anthony Weiner. As is well known, the New York Democrat has admitted to online contacts with a number of women. Over the weekend, we've seen some dramatic developments in this case. For example, he has asked for a leave of absence from his job.

SEABROOK: He has. He asked for a leave of absence to enter treatment. Now, right before he made this public, Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House, as well as several other top Democrats, all in a coordinated fashion called for him to resign. They made it clear that they knew he was going to ask for leave of absence when they decided to go ahead and call for him to resign.

The point is that asking for that leave of absence means he is really saying, I'm not leaving. And I know from senior Democratic aides that Pelosi and several other top Democrats have been talking to him all week, trying to get him to come to the right decision - in other words, to resign. But he has put his foot down. He says he's not going to go. And so now the question is can he survive calls from his own top leadership to resign.

Leaves of absence are usually granted. But the question is, with a wife who is reported to be pregnant, how does he sort of juggle the pressures of being a congressman with his family life?

LYDEN: Mara, turning to the Republican presidential hopefuls, we've got the first debate New Hampshire tomorrow night, and there's bound to be a lot of hostile fire directed at Mitt Romney, who looks more and more like a traditional GOP frontrunner.

LIASSON: That's right. He's leading in all the polls. He's the only Republican running even or ahead of President Obama in the latest Washington Post poll. So he has a big target on his back in this debate tomorrow night and he needs to make sure that he doesn't do anything tomorrow night to jeopardize his frontrunner status.

You can expect the other candidates to be competing to be seen as the chief alternative to Romney, especially Tim Pawlenty, who wants to be seen as the establishment alternative to Romney. I also think you can watch for some kind of big gesture in the debate from Newt Gingrich, who is now the candidate without a campaign. His entire senior staff and key state teams resigned en masse last week. And he stays he's staying in the race. He wants to run what he calls a non-conventional campaign. So we'll see what that means tomorrow night.

LYDEN: What about the Iowa straw poll?

LIASSON: Well, Mitt Romney announced that he's not going to participate in the Iowa straw poll which occurs in Ames in August; brings in a lot of money to the state, doesn't always predict the winner of the Iowa caucuses. He says he's not going to participate in any straw polls. And that's probably a smart move on his part, since he spent a lot of money on the Iowa straw poll last time and came in a pretty disappointing third. He won the straw poll but he came in a disappointing third in the Iowa caucuses.

So I think what this does is it possibly could diminish the place that Iowa has in the nominating process. But it also puts more pressure on Tim Pawlenty because he has to do really well in that straw poll now.

LYDEN: Andrea, as we mentioned, it's been quite a week and we're looking ahead to another big week. Do you think this could be the week of a deal between Republican leaders and the White House to raise the debt ceiling and cut future spending?

SEABROOK: I'm very skeptical that we would actually see a deal. We may see a deal floated, but I don't think we'll see a final deal. I mean really how this works is with divided government - the Democrats controlling the Senate, the Republicans controlling the House - really the only things that pass are the things that sort of everyone agrees with. You know, commemorating whoever for something. Or absolute must-pass legislation. What comes into that category absolutely is the debt ceiling - raising the debt ceiling. Because if not, we default on our debts, big financial crisis and so on.

So what happens is, because the White House has set the alarm clock basically to go off at the beginning of August, they'll use up pretty much all of that time on this to try and negotiate - both sides - and get what they want out of this.

LYDEN: Mara, the president will be in North Carolina, Florida and Puerto Rico this week, trying to counteract the effects of all these bad economic numbers that we've been seeing for the past two weeks. And he'll be talking about jobs and growth. And of course those concerns look like he's ever more vulnerable in 2012.

LIASSON: Yes, it certainly does. His approval rating fell back down to 50 percent in most polls, that has the Republican Party very, very optimistic about beating him. The markets headed back down, unemployment back up over 9.1 percent. So this is his number one issue and the problem for the president is - other than taking trips like this and talking about it - he has very few tools left to counteract these economic problems. There is not going to be another stimulus plan passed by Congress.

LYDEN: Well, here's a question for both of you. What about the biggest question mark candidate of all? Sarah Palin is all over the news yet again this weekend. Of course that's because the State of Alaska just released 24,000 pages of emails from her first 21 months as governor. So we've all been reading these with great anticipation but not a lot of surprises there. Andrea...

SEABROOK: Apparently a lot of it is sort of, you know, her dealing with gossip about he family and her marriage. Her dealing with the rise of becoming the vice presidential candidate under John McCain. And I think that we'll see that in some cases, it will sort of bolster how she looks in the sense that she talks in - at least one email - about praying for strength. And in others, she looks like a pretty fierce governor who took a lot of her energy, and sometimes even aggression, out on her staff. We'll see how that plays.

LYDEN: Mara...

LIASSON: I agree with Andrea. I think in the end, this release does not seem to have done her much harm, may have done her some good. And I think the bottom- line is still the same: despite her proclamation that she has the fire in the belly, there are very few signs that she is planning to be a candidate for president. More signs still that she wants to maintain her position as a potential king-maker in the Republican field and as a political celebrity.

LYDEN: Thank you, NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson and congressional correspondent Andrea Seabrook. Thanks for being with us, ladies.

SEABROOK: Thank you, Jacki.

LIASSON: Thank you, Jacki.

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