MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Coming up, a Faith Matters conversation about Obama's former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Is he a racist? Or a man who speaks his community's truth? We'll talk with two ministers about black liberation theology.
But first, our weekly political chat. Barack Obama remains at the center of the headlines with reports that State Department workers illegally accessed his passport files. And news that New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson plans to endorse him, not to mention the continuing fallout from his big speech. Meanwhile, Senator Hillary Clinton releases her schedule as first lady and suffers a setback in the delegate hunt.
And New York Governor David Paterson had some surprising news on his first day on the job and the Bear Stearns meltdown. What does this all mean? Joining us to talk about all of this are Robert George, editorial page editor for the New York Post and Anne Kornblut, political reporter with the Washington Post. Welcome to you both. There's almost too much to talk about.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. ROBERT GEORGE (Editor, New York Post): It's been an interesting week.
MARTIN: Yeah, that's an understatement. Robert, let's start with the Bill Richardson endorsement. Expected to happen later today. Important or not so much?
Mr. GEORGE: I think it's a very big endorsement for Obama for a couple of reasons. Now, Richardson, you know, didn't really get much traction when he was running in the presidency, but he brings a lot of credibility. He was a - obviously, he was a former cabinet member in the Clinton administration. He has a very solid body of work in terms of foreign policy experience in the context of being ambassador to the UN. Helping negotiate some of the North Korea crises. And if there's one area in Obama's resume that needs shoring up, it's in foreign policy, national security affairs, so this is a very big get.
MARTIN: Anne, what about you? The timing is certainly good coming off all the other sort of to-ing and fro-ing this week. What do think? Big deal?
Ms. ANNE KORNBLUT (Reporter, The Washington Post): There's absolutely no question. We've long said that endorsements don't matter, but it's turning out that in this campaign, especially when so many of the endorsees are also superdelegates, they really do matter.
Mr. GEORGE: Right.
Ms. KORNBLUT: The Clinton campaign has such a hard time getting new superdelegates on their side. In particular, this week they were pleased to announce that they got John Murtha. But Richardson is a much bigger "get" as they call it. Of course, Former President Clinton had flown out there to watch the Super Bowl with Bill Richardson in the hopes of trying to turn him their way. And so, it's another real setback for the Clinton campaign.
Mr. GEORGE: And there is, also...
MARTIN: What - I'm sorry. Go ahead.
Mr. GEORGE: Keep in mind, too, that Hillary Clinton actually won New Mexico - the New Mexico primary. That was the one that went on forever, in terms of counting it all. So that the fact that the governor, actually, is going with Obama is also significant, too.
Mr. GEORGE: Well, I mean, just in the sense, as Anne said, he is also a superdelegate. He is the governor of the state. His state went narrowly in the primary for Hillary Clinton, but he is endorsing Obama, so it sends a significant signal.
MARTIN: Also, the fact that he served in the Clinton administration, I think, is also important. Let's move along to the whole question of the Obama speech and whether, you know, the big speech this week - there are so many interesting reactions on so many levels. You know what I mean? It seems to, sort of, touch so many chords. But there was a political dimension that has to be dealt with, sort of apart from, kind of, what it touches in each of us individually or not. Robert, do you think that Senator Obama effectively - what's the word? - staunched the bleeding?
Mr. GEORGE: I think so, I mean, it's - you always have to be a little bit cautious in terms of making bold predictions, particularly this year. And - but - and the initial polls that have come out, some of these tracking polls suggest that he was in sort of free fall for a few days, and then in terms of the day, day and a half, when these polls started to measure the impact of the speech, he started to move back up. I think it's one of those things where it's going to have to, like, ripple out a little bit more.
But again, just getting back - mentioning Richardson, the fact that Richardson decided to make this endorsement now, two days after the speech, also sends, as Anne was pointing out about the superdelegates, sends a signal to some of them, that Richardson has looked at this and measured the impact of Wright's comments and figured that, OK, I think Obama has responded to this enough, and I'm willing to now come out and endorse him. So I would say that politically, it seems to have worked so far.
MARTIN: Anne, what do you think? That Senator Clintons response has been pretty tempered about it. She says, well, it was good that he gave that speech.
Ms. KORNBLUT: Yes, the Clinton campaign and Senator Clinton herself have been extremely circumspect, in ways that they aren't always, about some of these issues. Her muted response really reflects their feeling that anytime she's talking about the economy and about Iraq, especially in the states where they're campaigning, places like Pennsylvania and Indiana, they're happy to have Obama talking about something that they see as sort of lofty, not part of the bread-and-butter issues, and not really relevant to the lives of sort of lower, working, middle class Democrats that they are trying to appeal to.
So from the prospective of the Clinton campaign, this was just fine with them. They received some unfortunate news last night, in the form of a photograph that shows President Clinton with Reverend Wright at the White House back in the 1990s, and in particular, during a point in time when he was trying to apologize for the Monica Lewinsky event. Reverend Wright was apparently a guest at the White House when he invited a number of ministers there during his period of atonement.
Mr. GEORGE: That's an also...
MARTIN: Those pesky photographs.
Mr. GEORGE: Well, that's also an awkward juxtaposition, too, because we also this week had the release of the first lady's schedule from the White House years.
MARTIN: I was going to ask you about that.
Mr. GEORGE: What's...
MARTIN: What did we learn?
Mr. GEORGE: Well, one of the things that was interesting is that people started talking about the fact a number of times Monica and Bill were getting together were times when Hillary was in the White House. So that, along with the - Jeremiah Wright visiting the White House, has probably brought a few memories that Hillary Clinton didn't need. It also, frankly, kind of, I think, made shaky some of her claims of being fully engaged on a policy level on some of these big issues. So I think she may have to push back against some of the arguments that she may not have been as involved and have as much, quote, experience, unquote, as she's been claiming.
MARTIN: Anne, what do you think about that? What is the campaign saying about what they think her schedule shows? Setting the whole Lewinsky thing aside, because I don't know what you can say about that, you know? You know what I mean? I mean, what are you going to say?
Ms. KORNBLUT: The campaign, once again - there's very little they can say at this point. Senator Clinton has tried to use - to the extent, and it's been quite limited, that Lewinsky has come up as an issue. She has tried to use it as an example of how she, too, has had rough patches in her life but has overcome them. Again, the campaign is thrilled to be on the ground in places where they don't have to talk about any of this.
They've tried very hard to narrow their focus away from what's happening in Washington, back into Pennsylvania and, also, into Michigan where Senator Clinton went this week to try and press her case. They believe there's only a few things they can do to win this so they're to keep their eye on that ball, and that ball requires running up the numbers in states like Pennsylvania. So, they're trying not to get distracted by the message of the day. They've done, I would say, a decent job of it this week, given how much else there's been to talk about.
Mr. GEORGE: Well...
MARTIN: Hold on just one second. I just need to take a short minute to say that if you're just joining us, this is Tell Me More from NPR News, and I am speaking with Washington Post reporter Anne Kornblut and Robert George with the New York Post editorial board about the week in politics. Talk about, sort of, the money issues. Let's talk for a minute about the economy and the sale of Bear Stearns at a discount to J.P. Morgan with help from the Federal Reserve, the administration has characterized this as a market stabilization. You know, but now people are saying gee, if you can bail out the banks but not the homeowners, Robert, how do you think this plays in the campaign? It's interesting that it's almost on two different tracks, it's almost like there's the economic news and then there's the campaign, but how can they not connect at some point?
Mr. GEORGE: Well, and anytime you have a big event like this, it is definitely in the interest of the people challenging the White House, challenging the current administration to make that link. On the Bear Stearns sale in particular, I think the administration has a legitimate point even though there have been critics on both the left and the right about this idea of a bail-out. I think they do have a legitimate point because they have to recognize it's not just Bear Stearns - if it was just a case of Bear Stearns failing, I think the administration might say OK well, let it go under...
MARTIN: I get what you're saying, but let's about talk the politics of that. I mean how does this play in the presidential campaign when John McCain is admittedly not a person who believes that he has such a deep knowledge of economic issues, and Hillary Clinton has made such a message of them, I'm just wondering how you think this plays out on the campaign?
Mr. GEORGE: For one thing, I think, John McCain I think was perfectly happy to be overseas, going from Iraq, Israel, and to the U.K. to be bolstering his already strong foreign policy credentials, whereas Hillary Clinton was - this in a sense was definitely a gift for her who seems to have a slight edge on Obama on the issue of the economy, so I think it's definitely played to her strength as well. And I agree with the point that Anne made earlier on, that this week, Hillary was able to talk to about both Iraq and the economy, connecting it with Bear Stearns, and that's better for her than having - she's happy to have Obama talk about race. So, I think in a sense that bundle of issues has played to her strength this week.
MARTIN: OK, Robert - I'm sorry Anne, I don't mean to cut you out, but I have got to ask you, what is going on in New York with your governors? Governor David Paterson, the first day on the job, talking about his personal life. What's up?
Mr. GEORGE: Well, as we say here, it's a sorry state of affairs, if you pardon the pun.
MARTIN: We don't.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. GEORGE: Well, sorry. It is - it's been 10 days basically since we've had one governor being found out about prostitution then resigning, now this new governor on the first day admitting to serial affairs. I have a - my sense is, it is true that there were rumors about David Paterson's love life for several years. I think he felt it was better to try and make a proactive statement and try and get this out of the way. Unfortunately, it has really backfired in a terrible way, because it's created a number of other questions, and people have started asking well, was he using campaign funds. It seems that he may have been giving one of his mistresses money to help - to reimburse her for a campaign donation to another candidate.
MARTIN: So not a great start to his administration.
Mr. GEORGE: Not a great state at all.
MARTIN: OK. Robert George is editorial page editor for the New York Post. He joined us from our New York Bureau. We were also joined by Anne Kornblut. She's a political reporter with the Washington Post, and she joined us on the phone. Thank you both so much.
Ms. KORNBLUT: Thank you.
Mr. GEORGE: Thank you, Michel.
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.