Political Drama Of The Week – Richardson, Burris or Gupta? Politics and lots of drama dominated news this week, and the guys of the "shop" are in place to share their opinions on some of the big stories. Jimi Izrael, Nick Charles, Arsalan Iftikhar and Ruben Navarrette take notice of New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson's surprising departure as an Obama cabinet nominee, Roland Burris' dramatic attempt to be seated in the U.S. Senate, Dr. Sanjay Gupta's nod from Obama, and NFL playoff predictions.

Political Drama Of The Week – Richardson, Burris or Gupta?

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I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. It's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shapeup this week are freelance writer Jimi Izrael, freelance editor Nick Charles, civil-rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar - he's the editor of themuslimguy.com - and syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette. And Jimi, if you don't mind - you normally kick things off - but if you don't mind, I just did want to briefly ask Arsalan. Is it hard for you in a time like this with the conflict in Gaza so much in the news? I just wondered what it was like for you.

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Well, you know, I think for many people in the world, the unfortunate, tragic situation going on in Gaza between the Palestinians and the Israelis really is at the forefront of, you know, everybody's hearts and minds this week. You know, we're entering into the, you know, the end of the second week of fighting. I wrote a column for cnn.com, basically condemning both sides and calling for an immediate ceasefire. I think that the humanitarian toll on civilians, both Israeli and Palestinians, cannot be underscored. The United Nations estimates 25 percent of the people who have been killed thus far have been civilians. And now, we're starting to see an Egypt-France's initiative to try to broker a ceasefire, and much of the world is sort of resting its laurels, hoping that this France-Egypt initiative, you know, brings an end to the bloodshed in the region.

MARTIN: And before we move on to other things, I did want to ask you what kind of response you got to your column.

IFTIKHAR: It's actually been resoundingly positive reaction in that, you know, people really appreciate the objectivity in the valuing of human life on both sides. And I think we've lost that culture of humanity in many parts of the world, especially in that region where, you know, the moral equivocation starts to become, you know, one life is worth more than the other. And I'm saying, listen - black, white, brown, Christian, Jewish, Muslim - every human life is worth the same, and we need to end the bloodshed of innocent civilians everywhere.

MARTIN: OK. Well, I'm sorry, I didn't want to take over the thing. Jimi, if you would take it away. Thank you, Arsalan.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thank you, Michel, and thanks for the insight, bro. Yo, fellas, merry New Year. Welcome to the shop. How we doing?

IFTIKHAR: Hey, hey.


RUBEN NAVARRETTE: Good, man. Good.

IZRAEL: Good, good. Well, you know what? Man, after a lot of waffling and stutter stepping, it looks as if, you know, the Democrats are kind of coming around to the idea of supporting former Attorney General Roland Burris, you know, who was disgraced Rod - what's the dude's name? I always messes his name up.

IFTIKHAR: Blagojevich.

IZRAEL: Blagojevich. Thank you.

CHARLES: Blagojevich.

NAVARRETTE: Blagojevich.

IZRAEL: Dude's pick for Obama's...

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: Barack Obama's empty Senate seat. And we've got some tape on that, is that right?

MARTIN: Yes. This is after Roland Burris made this very dramatic appearance on the Capitol. He went up there; he was surrounded by the scrum of reporters. It was pouring rain. It was just this crazy scene. And then after all of that, he was turned away, and he finally got to sit down with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. And here he's giving an interview where he's talking about, you know, what he hopes to accomplish. Here it is.

(Soundbite of interview)

Mr. ROLAND BURRIS (Former Attorney General, Democrat, Illinois; Appointee, U.S. Senate): I'm happy. My whole interest in this experience has been to be prepared, Roland, to represent my great state. And that is my love, that is my desire, and very shortly, I will have the opportunity to do that as a junior senator from the fifth largest state in this great country of ours. Isn't it great?

IZRAEL: Aw, snap. That's a lot of swagger, man.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: Holy crap. Thanks so much for that, Michel. Now, lest we forget, you know, Burris has served as comptroller of Illinois from '79 to '91 and AG from '91 to '95. But dude, I don't know how he expects to govern effectively in this kind of farclough(ph). Yo, A-Train, my man.

IFTIKHAR: What's up?

IZRAEL: What's up with that?

IFTIKHAR: You know, we have to remember Roland Burris is 71 years old. And this is sort of Custer's political last stand. I think that this is his sort of final opportunity to serve the people of Illinois. I think that his tenure will be tainted. I think that in 2010, we're going to see a whole plethora of Democrats in the primaries: Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky. I don't really, and many people from Illinois, don't really expect Burris to win the nomination in 2010. But you know...

MARTIN: But how do you even know he wants to run?

IFTIKHAR: That's true, I mean...


MARTIN: And why would it be necessarily tainted? I mean, his whole argument is that he didn't do anything wrong and that the people of the state deserve representation. Whether people like Blagojevich or not, he hasn't been convicted of a crime and he's still the governor.

IFTIKHAR: Right. I mean, you know, but you know, that's one of the reasons that Congressman Danny K. Davis turned down the position, was because of the fact that he knew that it was going to be tainted. And I think that many people aren't going to forget, you know, the political circumstances that surrounded his appointment.

IZRAEL: Yeah, no doubt, Michel. I mean, you know, if a crook picks you to be down - I mean, what's up with that, you know?

NAVARRETTE: Hey, hey, an alleged (unintelligible)...

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: An alleged crook, I'm sorry.

NAVARRETTE: I mean, this was a raw - Jimi, this was - this is really...

IZRAEL: OK. Go ahead.

NAVARRETTE: This is a raw deal from the beginning for Roland Burris. This is somebody who was chosen by an individual who is empowered to make that choice. He got hit with some really insane and unfair questions from the press. People asked him, isn't this just about your ego? Hello? I want to be part of the U.S. Senate. You don't think there are egos in the U.S. Senate?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I was going to say - I'm sorry.

NAVARRETTE: I think I am.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NAVARRETTE: You know? I really do belong there.

MARTIN: No ego there.

NAVARRETTE: Somebody asked him, you know, would you commit to serving beyond - maybe say, you're not going to serve beyond 2010; you're not going to run. Who else is being asked that? Who else is having to set that kind of condition? And the fact that, Dick Durbin and Harry Reid go before the cameras, and Dick Durbin feels it really important to inform me that Jesse White, who is the Illinois secretary of state, is in fact a black man, because Durbin wants to know - wants me to know that's not just white folks who are holding up the process here, but also an African-American in Illinois. Clearly, Reid and Durbin were really vulnerable and susceptible to the charge of racism, at least the notion that they are running the most exclusive, private club in America, the U.S. Senate. There are no African-Americans there at present. What a coincidence.


IZRAEL: Mr. Charles?

CHARLES: I think, you know, whether he runs in 2010, it's not matter. He has two years to serve the people of Illinois. He may do a great job and people may go, wow. And I'll be honest; he has more experience than some folks being mentioned for the New York senatorial position.

IZRAEL: True that.

NAVARRETTE: I guess, man. Well...

MARTIN: Well, Jimi - do you mind? What do you think?

IZRAEL: I don't.

MARTIN: Do you think he should be seated?

IZRAEL: I think - no, man. I wouldn't take that seat at gunpoint, because he's not going to be able to operate. How do you come - I mean, your seat's tainted, bro. I mean, how can you govern effectively?

CHARLES: I predict in two years, within the next two years, there'll be a vote in the Senate that they will need his vote to be a deciding vote, and you'll see how much love he gets.

MARTIN: OK. I just have one more thing to say, to borrow Arsalan's phrasing here, but don't you think that was gangster of him to roll up on the Hill?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: And just try to say, here's my papers, take them.

IFTIKHAR: It was gangster.

IZRAEL: He's like the dolomite(ph) in this joint, man.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: He's got a lot of swagger, man.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: He just walks up and just wham, and you know, it's crazy.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News. I'm speaking with Jimi Izrael, Nick Charles, Ruben Navarrette and Arsalan Iftikhar in the Barbershop. Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. In more political news to make you go, hmm, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson opts out of Barack Obama's Cabinet amidst a federal investigation. Now, you know, there are allegations - the feds are alleging that there may have been some contract steered to some big-name, big-money contributors to Richardson's failed bid for president. Yo, I know the Latino community wasn't particularly happy with the second-fiddle position, but I wonder how they're feeling right about now.

NAVARRETTE: Probably worse.

IZRAEL: Ruben?

NAVARRETTE: Yeah. I mean, this is Ruben again. This is probably worse. And I think that it is possible, given how this story is shaking out, that the people who are charged here - this is a California company that donated $1.5 million, around $1.5 million, to various political action committees that advocate for various causes close to Bill Richardson.


NAVARRETTE: They said they've been doing this for some time. They got in return from the state of New Mexico, while Richardson was still governor, a contract for - they contributed, is it $150,000? Excuse me. They got a contract for $1.5 million, and this is all being looked at now. It's possible that this shakes out in a way where the governor and his staff are not culpable. It doesn't matter. In the era of Blagojevich, this was a nonstarter. Richardson did the right thing by dropping out. This thing would have gone on beyond the confirmation hearings. I think that he or Obama, somebody dropped the ball here, clearly.

CHARLES: Oh, oh, then there's...

NAVARRETTE: Either he doesn't force...

CHARLES: Hold up.

IZRAEL: Hold on a second. Let me...

NAVARRETTE: Either he wasn't forthcoming...

IZRAEL: Push back a little bit. Hold on.

NAVARRETTE: Or Obama wasn't doing a good enough job vetting them.

CHARLES: Oh, ho, ho.

IZRAEL: Check - check this out. What about the people that are saying, do you know what? Maybe this was his opportunity to bow out gracefully of the position he wasn't too crazy about anyway. What do you think about that?

NAVARRETTE: I think he wasn't too crazy about the position. But he clearly always wanted secretary of State or a couple of other things he had talked about. He was offered Commerce. I wrote it, in such a way, for a column at cnn.com, calling this chopped liver, because somebody else had been offered this position and had turned it down. So, it was leftovers. Having said all that, somebody, as I said before, he needs to put that stuff out there or it needs to be dug up. And I'm shocked that this sort of stuff happens, you know, with the inauguration being tomorrow relative to that.

IZRAEL: Or maybe he's just bowing out so he can regroup and come hard in 2012. That's your boy; that's all I'm saying.

CHARLES: Dude...

IZRAEL: Let's keep it in motion, doc.

MARTIN: Wait. Can I just say one important thing? I just cannot let Ruben - this Commerce secretary is chopped liver.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I'm sorry. But this is a...

NAVARRETTE: It is just so chopped.

MARTIN: Major auto - there is a major American industry on the ropes, which is the auto industry.

CHARLES: Chopping school.


MARTIN: And I just can - I will not be convinced that that is not an important job at a time like this, especially with a guy with that kind of international experience. Ruben and I, we're going to fight about this to the grave.

IZRAEL: All right. Keep it in motion. CNN, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, he - now, there's a rumor around, and it's been substantiated in a few corners. I just - you know what? Dude is Obama's pick for surgeon general.


IZRAEL: Gupta himself has made no comment, but I believe there's some - we've got some tape of what, you know, Gupta does...

MARTIN: Well, yeah.

IZRAEL: Best. Is that right?

MARTIN: Yeah, and I just have to say that - well, you guys can talk about this - but the idea that this is not a serious guy because he's on television, I'm sorry, this is just so wrong. I mean...

IFTIKHAR: It's redunculous(ph), is what it is.

MARTIN: You can make...

(Soundbite of laughter)


MARTIN: Well, anyway...

IZRAEL: Redunculous.

MARTIN: Here's, here's...


MARTIN: Dr. Sanjay doing his thing. Here it is.

(Soundbite of TV show "House Call with Dr. Sanjay Gupta," January 3, 2009)

Dr. SANJAY GUPTA (Chief Health Correspondent, CNN; Appointee, Surgeon General, Barak Obama Administration): Hope you get your flu shot this season. Maybe you already did. Unfortunately, that's all the time we have for today. Tune in next week when we're finding out how to stop smoking for good. So many people asked us about that. Email us your questions, your struggles, your successes, housecall@cnn.com. Remember, this is the place for the answers to all your medical questions. Thanks for watching. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. More...



MARTIN: Which is what?

NAVARRETTE: We have a patient for you, you know.

IFTIKHAR: That's what I'm saying, you know.

NAVARRETTE: To quit smoking.

MARTIN: Which is what the surgeon general does.

IFTIKHAR: Exactly.


IZRAEL: Now...

MARTIN: Hello?

IZRAEL: Now, wait a second. What - thank you, Michel. And you know what also makes dude the man, is that not only has he just got personality like that, but he's a working neurosurgeon. This is how he makes his mail.

IFTIKHAR: Right, right.

IZRAEL: This is how he makes his mail. It's not like Dr. Phil.

IFTIKHAR: Hey, Jimi.

IZRAEL: You know what I'm saying?

(Soundbite of laughter)


IZRAEL: Yo, A-train, kick it.

IFTIKHAR: Four words: Sanjay Gupta is gangster.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NAVARRETTE: Oh, under...


CHARLES: Oh, geez.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of applause)

IFTIKHAR: No, no, no. Listen, listen, listen.

(Soundbite of laughter)


(Soundbite of laughter)

IFTIKHAR: Gentlemen, undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Michigan, staff and faculty at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.


IFTIKHAR: He's been embedded with the U.S. Navy medical unit in Iraq. He went to Pakistan after the South Asian earthquake. As former DNC chair, Howard Dean, said on "Hardball" a few nights ago, the job of the surgeon general is to disseminate pertinent health-policy issues to the American public and do so in a way that all Americans will understand.


IFTIKHAR: No one, no one can do it better than Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

IZRAEL: So, that sounds like a co-signature from you, bro. Is that right?

IFTIKHAR: It's a double co-signature.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NAVARRETTE: This is a guy - Arsalan is right.

IZRAEL: Go ahead, Ruben.

NAVARRETTE: This is a guy to me who - and few people can say this - this was a guy who, while on assignment in a war zone for CNN, was filing reports by day and doing surgeries by night. I mean...


NAVARRETTE: This guy is real and the real deal. And I'm with Michel; just because he's on television does not mean that he's not qualified or he's an empty suit. I'll tell you what, though, he talks about getting people to quit smoking. I have a patient for him, and it's the president-elect.

MARTIN: Oh, cold.


NAVARRETTE: Apparently, Barack Obama does want to quit smoking...

MARTIN: Can I just...

NAVARRETTE: Has tried to quit smoking. I think this is selfish on his part. He wants Sanjay Gupta there to help him out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NAVARRETTE: But the bad news is...


NAVARRETTE: And here's how I'll end it - the bad news is, who lost out in all this deal? Obviously, Dr. Derrick McDreamy...


NAVARRETTE: From "Grey's Anatomy." That was your second choice right there.

MARTIN: Oh, see, that's wrong.

IFTIKHAR: Oh, come on.

(Soundbite of groaning)


MARTIN: OK, OK, this leads me to my point. This leads me to my point. I think - forgive me - that some of the criticism of Dr. Gupta is sexist. I think that good-looking men are sometimes subjected to the same kind of behavior as attractive women; we see people diminish their abilities, because it's like, oh, well, if you were really smart...

NAVARRETTE: That's my experience.

IFTIKHAR: Exactly right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Exactly. Ruben, you know about this, right?

NAVARRETTE: I hear you. Absolutely.

IZRAEL: I was just going to say, you know what? She's 100-percent right.


IZRAEL: That's my life.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Well, Jimi's right about it.

IZRAEL: OK. Well, check this out, check this out. Keeping it in motion. Yeah, it's NFL playoff season.


IZRAEL: Who do we like? Now, you know me, I'm just happy that Cleveland got rid of Coach Romeo Crennel. And now we've got - we needed a Harry Houdini, but we ended up getting Eric Mangini from the Jets. He stepped into C-town to repair the broken Browns. But so, they're not even - we can't even talk. We can't even say playoff and Cleveland Browns in the same sentence. A-train, who do we like?

IFTIKHAR: Well, myself, I'm picking both...

IZRAEL: Sorry, Cleveland.

IFTIKHAR: Baltimore over Tennessee and Pittsburgh over San Diego, and Pittsburgh in the AFC championship game, picking Philadelphia over the Giants...


IFTIKHAR: Carolina over Arizona, and I'm picking an all-Pennsylvania Super Bowl.


IFTIKHAR: Pittsburgh over Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh Steelers win it all.

CHARLES: Oh, God, ugh. Stick to basketball.

IZRAEL: You might - Mr. Charles. Nick...

CHARLES: Stick to basketball.


MARTIN: I threw an empty water bottle at his head.

CHARLES: Thank you very much.

IFTIKHAR: And I ducked.

CHARLES: And we'd (unintelligible) - you and Bush.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHARLES: Giants, baby. Giants, baby.

IZRAEL: Giants.

CHARLES: I think, you know...

MARTIN: Thank you.

CHARLES: Giants have been laying in the cut. They had been - you know, there was some - you know, we had a little rough patch for a minute, but the Giants are going all the way in the NSC. And the NSC, and the thing about Pittsburgh is, you know, unless Roethlisberger is on his game, they can look very ugly. When they're winning games 11-10, that's a baseball score. So, I - you know, as much as I was very - I was dumbfounded last week about how the Chargers won, if Darren Sproles, better known as, according to Jimmy Despero(ph), can get through the offensive line...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHARLES: And again, stay away and not be detected by the defense because he's no damn small, I think that the Chargers can do it, because they have really (unintelligible) offense and that always says, that they always have a great offense. It's the defense that it is suspect, and they played really good defense last week.


NAVARRETTE: From San Diego, I'll limit my comments to the Chargers...

(Soundbite of laughter)

NAVARRETTE: Matchup. I'll tell you right now. This team is a surprise. I've been late to come around and follow these guys, I mean, obviously, an eight-and-eight season. the oddity of this whole season is that if they continue on this way, end up matched up against Baltimore, if they beat Pittsburgh, they could end up with a home-field advantage, and that's just - so, it doesn't really, you know, add up usually for a championship game for an eight-and-eight team. They play well in the post season. They've got some great surprises at offense. Their defense is impressive, too. Obviously, there was a real defensive battle with the Colts. I don't know. I think the Chargers are in good shape, and I think they're fun to watch. They deliver. It's entertaining.

CHARLES: They will need...

IZRAEL: Michel, I...

CHARLES: They don't need home field.

IZRAEL: I didn't mean to skip you, Michel.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: My fault. Who do you like?

MARTIN: I'm just so filled with rage right now.

CHARLES: Go ahead, Michel. Go ahead.

MARTIN: Sitting across from Arsalan, the way he dodged my Giants.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I just can't collect myself. I'm sorry.

IZRAEL: OK. Let's...

MARTIN: Well, you know, you know that every - my husband is. you know, is a die-hard Steelers fan. It almost, you know, it's almost not necessary to say that. Steelers fan, kind of by definition, means die-hard.


MARTIN: So, he'll be happy to hear about the...

NAVARRETTE: What's up, Billy?

MARTIN: About Arsalan's Steelers pick. But you know I have to go with my Giants, OK?

NAVARRETTE: Ending up with a...

IZRAEL: All right, well...

NAVARRETTE: Giants/Steelers matchup, and then look out in the Martin house, going to get ugly.

IFTIKHAR: That's true.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: That's not going to get ugly.

NAVARRETTE: That'll be fun. And Michel...

MARTIN: I would just change the locks.

(Soundbite of laughter)


IZRAEL: And with that, I think we're going to have to call it a wrap, ladies and gentlemen.

CHARLES: Run, Billy, run.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: Thank you so much for coming to the Barbershop. I have to kick it over to the lady of the house, Michel Martin.

MARTIN: Thank you, Jimi. Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist who writes for theroot.com and TV1 Online. He joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Ruben Navarrette writes for the San Diego Union Tribune and CNN.com, and he joined us from San Diego. Nick Charles is a freelance writer and editor. He joined us from our bureau in New York. And Arsalan Iftikhar is the founder of themuslimguy.com and a civil-rights attorney, and he joined us from our bureau in Washington. Gentlemen, thank you and Happy New Year.

IFTIKHAR: Happy New Year. Peace.

NAVARRETTE: Happy New Year. Thanks.

CHARLES: Happy New Year.

IZRAEL: Yup, yup.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today.

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