Alito Hearings, Abramoff Scandal Scares the Hill NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams talks with Alex Chadwick about the week ahead in the nation's capital. Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Samuel Alito are scheduled to begin Monday in the U.S. Senate, and Capitol Hill copes with the implications of GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff's plea deal with federal prosecutors.

Alito Hearings, Abramoff Scandal Scares the Hill

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As Peter said, this is an uncertain time in Israel and there are repercussions in Washington as well. With us now is NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams, a regular guest here on Fridays, to explain and analyze what is going on.

Juan, welcome back to the program.

JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:

Good to be with you, Alex.

CHADWICK: Even if Mr. Sharon manages a recovery, as Peter said, there are grave doubts about his future and what role he will be able to play. What does that mean for the administration?

WILLIAMS: Well, it's quite serious already. What we've seen is Secretary of State Rice canceling trips overseas. I think they're anticipating that she will go and be the US representative if Prime Minister Sharon meets the misfortune of death. But in Washington, in the State Department particularly, what I'm hearing is that there's the sense that all of the effort to support the road map, which is essentially a two-state solution, is really in danger of unraveling without the presence of Ariel Sharon, and it begins with the Palestinians' election schedule for later this month. Who is going to ensure security? Who is going to ensure that there is the possibility of orderly elections taking place in the Palestinian side? And secondly, there's the question of how the Palestinians respond, so all of this is up in the air and that's why you see the Bush administration being very cautious, very concerned about Mr. Sharon's health.

CHADWICK: You know it's a question for the Israelis and the Palestinians, yes, but also for the White House, which I think felt that it had in Sharon a stable leader, a person, an individual that the administration thought it could count on in some way--or at least that it knew. Now who knows?

WILLIAMS: Well, I mean, your point's well-taken--at least that they knew. I never was told by White House officials that President Bush had a close relationship with Mr. Sharon, but it was--they knew exactly what his vision was and he had bought into this quartet plan of this road map and this, you know, two-state solution. And so now the question is: Well, who's coming next and will that person be reliable? They don't have that assurance.

CHADWICK: Staying in Washington, the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice nominee Samuel Alito. The hearings haven't even begun and already the Democrats have asked for a week's delay on the vote. What is going on there?

WILLIAMS: The hearings start on Monday, and, Alex, there was supposed to be a vote on the nomination as early as January 17th. Now already you're hearing from Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, that the Democrats will use their prerogative, which is to ask for at least a one-week delay because the sense is that Alito--or, as the Democrats regularly refer to him in conservations, Scalito, suggesting that he is the equivalent of Antonin Scalia--that he is a stealth candidate, that he is mild-mannered in demeanor but that he is a man who is strongly opposed to abortion, strongly opposed to affirmative action and a big supporter of presidential authority. So given the conversations that are already taking place in Washington at a high level over national security, wiretaps without warrants, his insistence in previous rulings and his work when he was at the Justice Department that the president should have ultimate authority is going to be a real point of controversy in his hearings.

CHADWICK: How about this meeting at the White House yesterday? Former Cabinet officers there at the White House to listen to Mr. Bush and talk to Mr. Bush about the subject of Iraq. I thought that was quite an extraordinary gathering.

WILLIAMS: Well, it was extraordinary. I mean, there's two ways to look at it, Alex. One is it's--just as a matter of history, it's extraordinary. You can think back, though, to Ronald Reagan, who in the '80s had a similar group in place to discuss whether or not you should sell AWACS with the radar planes to Saudi Arabia; or Jimmy Carter, who did it. But what really I think was striking from another point of view is that the administration now feels in terms of their public relations image that they need to create this image of the president being open and acknowledging mistakes that have been made in terms of the conduct of the war, which remains very unpopular, and if you ask most Americans, they think it was a mistake to go in there. So suddenly now there's a new effort to try to bolster public opinion by having the president open to many different points of view and different people.

CHADWICK: NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams, a regular Friday guest on DAY TO DAY. Juan, thank you again.

WILLIAMS: My pleasure, Alex.

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