Black Caucus Mulls Iraq Troop Withdrawal Topic: efforts by Democrats and the Congressional Black Caucus to end U.S. involvement in Iraq. NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams is joined by Lester Spence, an assistant professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University, and Robert Traynham, a Washington, D.C., political strategist.

Black Caucus Mulls Iraq Troop Withdrawal

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ED GORDON, host:

I'm Ed Gordon, and this is NEWS AND NOTES.

Now, for a recap of this week's news from inside the Beltway, we go to NPR Senior Correspondent Juan Williams in our Political Corner. Juan?

JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:

Thanks, Ed.

I'm joined now by Lester Spence. He's an assistant professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He joins us from WEAA in Baltimore, Maryland. And Robert Traynham, political strategist here in Washington. He joins us via phone from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He's a GOP political strategist.

And, Robert, Lester, thanks for joining us on Political Corner.

Professor LESTER SPENCE (Professor of Political Science, Johns Hopkins University): Oh, thanks for having me.

Mr. ROBERT TRAYNHAM (GOP Political Strategist, Washington): Thanks for having us, Juan.

WILLIAMS: The first topic today is the war in Iraq and where we see minority politicians, especially the Congressional Black Caucus, taking a stand here. Representative Harold Ford, who's running for the Senate, has a commercial running in which he announces, you know, it's time to start bringing the troops home and that he's in a difficult spot because, you know, he's running in a state that's been dominated by the Republican Party.

At the same time, you have Barack Obama, the Senator from Illinois, telling his constituents that it's a matter of American credibility and he doesn't support an immediate withdrawal, even though he believes that the decision to go to war in Iraq was ill conceived. What do you see as a coherent policy, if any, among minority members of the party, Lester Spence?

Prof. SPENCE: Well, this is what we know: we know that black citizens tend to be much more critical of the war in Iraq from its inception. And, at the same time, we also know that black representatives, particularly in the House, face a unique set of constraints, because the Republicans basically run the House. They run the Senate, too, but obviously, we only have one African-American Senator there. So to the degree that there is a coherent policy, it really hasn't been articulated.

Mr. TRAYNHAM: You also have, historically, the Congressional Black Caucus, particularly on the House side, have obviously always represented a liberal black constituency, if you will. And we also know that the black male, disproportionately, is affected in this war because there are a large number of black males that are in the military.

And so, again, you have a trifecta here were you have a lot of members of Congress, particularly on the Democratic side, that, frankly, do not know exactly where to go. They do not want to send mixed signals to our troops out of the field, and obviously to the enemy. But they also realize that they have a liberal constituency - and I'm talking of the Congressional Black Caucus here - back home that want an immediate withdrawal. So they're really in a bind here, in terms of what to do.

WILLIAMS: Well, Lester, does that open the door then to say we have an unlimited - sort of an infinite commitment to staying in Iraq. And, if so, when do you think the Democrats might form a coherent response and suggest an alternative policy.

Prof. SPENCE: Well, the Iraqi government, or officials within that Iraqi government, have actually said that they would like it if the U.S. could withdraw from Iraq or at least have significant troop reductions by 2007, 2008 at the latest. So I think it's important to bear that in mind. It's also important to bear in mind that it's not about - like wow, a president actually visited a country. I mean, if that's a measure of progress, then we're really, really in trouble.

With that said, I think that the Democrats will begin to articulate a coherent policy when - to be honest - when citizens exert more pressure on them. Right now, the Democrats are in a - they've been like perennial losers of several elections and they've got kind of a culture of - like a loser's mentality, where a number of them are trying to figure out, through polls and what not, what the right road to take, rather than just to say what most Americans feel: we should get out as soon as possible, because we have no business being there.

WILLIAMS: So, Robert Traynham, looking at the Democrats who are likely to contend for their party's presidential nomination in '08, who do you see as having a position in Iraq that will pose a problem for Republicans?

Mr. TRAYNHAM: Well, I think Hillary Clinton has obviously staked out the center. And she certainly has - I would argue - a very strong position of let's stay the course, let's make sure the job gets done and then let's leave. John Kerry, I really don't think he's going to go anywhere. I mean, recall, Juan, that he made an announcement earlier this week that he was for a timetable and then he changed that timetable. I mean, just the ultimate flip-flopper, in terms of sending mixed signals.

But it seems to me that, frankly, the person that you didn't mention that actually may have the upper hand in all of this, simply because he did not have to vote on any of this, and simply because he is seen, frankly, as an outsider, ironically, having been in Washington for almost 30 years, is Al Gore. He strikes me actually as a dark horse in this race. And it seems to me that he actually may be able to pull through this time and actually win the nomination and maybe even have a clear shot at the presidency almost unopposed.

WILLIAMS: Robert Traynham is a political strategist here in Washington working for the GOP. He joined us by phone from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. And Lester Spence, an assistant professor of political science at Johns Hopkins, joined us, again, from WEAA in Baltimore, Maryland. Lester Spence, Robert Traynham, thanks for joining us here on Political Corner.

Mr. TRAYNHAM: Thank you, Juan, have a good day.

Prof. SPENCE: Thanks for having me.

WILLIAMS: Back to you, Ed.

GORDON: Thanks, Juan. Don't forget, every Thursday you can join NPR Senior Correspondent Juan Williams right here on Political Corner.

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