Republicans End a Week of Divisions
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Joining me now, two political observers who will answer some questions about this, David Brooks, columnist for The New York Times, and David Corn. He's Washington editor of The Nation magazine. David and David, thanks for being with us.
Mr. DAVID BROOKS (Columnist, New York Times): Thank you.
Mr. DAVID CORN (Washington editor, The Nation): Good to be here.
BLOCK: And, David Brooks, let me start with you. Is there some hypocrisy here, to have an administration that says, look, we want to prosecute people who leaked information about the NSA's program of domestic spying, domestic surveillance, but then say, but if the president wants to leak information, that's okay?
Mr. BROOKS: That's not a leak, it's open government, and I'm glad to see the Bush administration adopting open government. Yeah, of course it's hypocrisy. You know, Bush, when his enemies leak, it's bad, when he leaks, it's fine. There is some legal basis to it, but of course it's rank hypocrisy, just as it's rank hypocrisy on the other side. The Democrats don't seem to like these leaks about these scandals, but they do seem to like the leaks on the NSA scandal or when the Pentagon screws up, they like those leaks.
Everyone likes the leaks that are on their side. No one has a principled objection to leaks, or Washington wouldn't be the way it is.
BLOCK: David Corn of The Nation, when is a leak not a leak?
Mr. CORN: There are good leaks, and there are bad leaks. That's probably the essence of the argument in the Valerie Wilson case. There are whistleblowers who come out and say things that inconvenience the government, and then there's the government misusing information to punish or discredit whistleblowers. In this case, what's really important to note is that it was a selective leak. They didn't open up the National Intelligence Estimate to view to Judy Miller or anyone else about its dissents and the information that undercut their case.
They cherry picked the intelligence that was already cherry picked and tried to hand it out to Judy Miller, a reporter for The New York Times, who had written pretty supportively of the WMD case before the war, because they were trying to fight back. And so to add to the rank hypocrisy that David Brooks rightfully notes, I would say Scott McClellan today saying this was in the public interest, we just wanted to get information out, no, if you really want to do that, make the whole thing available, which they could have actually done even before the war.
BLOCK: David Corn, though, do you think there is some national security interest here, or is this really just all about information and disinformation in a campaign?
Mr. CORN: Well, I think it's more about information and disinformation and trying to spin a debate. The NIE, parts of which were then declassified and leaked to the rest of us about ten days later, you know, is not anything that would compromise national security. So this, I wouldn't say this was a leak that compromised national security, but it's playing politics with the essence of what they said their argument was for the war in Iraq.
BLOCK: David Brooks of the New York Times, you wanted to get in there.
Mr. BROOKS: Well, I mean, of course they did cherry pick. Of course, every administration, every politician I've ever met picks the information that's best for his argument and rarely gives you the information that's not so great. But when they handed out the NIE, I remember being in a group of reporters when it was handed out, and I think actually Scooter Libby was the one that handed it to me. When you looked at the NIE, or at least those parts that were handed, these were objective reports from the intelligence community. You read the whole thing, and it was many, many pages. And you said to yourself, if I was president, and someone handed me that document, I would think I had to take action, because it was a pretty scary document.
Now, there were dissents that may not have been included, but the parts that were included were pretty scary. So I thought the release of that document was a useful thing to do.
Mr. CORN: Well, that's what the aim was. The parts that were released did support their case. Of course, when they put it out back in '03, the White House conceded that the president himself had not even read the full document, which was 90 pages, which I would expect a commander in chief to do before deciding to go to war.
BLOCK: We're going to have to move on. We could spend a lot of time on this, but we're going to have to move on to immigration, which is another big story that's been going on all week. And a bill that seems to be dying, at least for now, in the Senate, a compromise bill that was stalled, and many people are now thinking it won't be passed before the mid-term elections.
David Brooks, what happened?
Mr. BROOKS: Well it's bizarre, and I think it's actually cause for anger. Because this was a bill after a lot of negotiation that had majority support. They had probably over 60 voters to support, senators to support this compromise, which was engineered by Chuck Hagel and Mel Martinez. And so, the votes were there, the support was there, and yet it got hung up despite having majority support.
And the reason it got hung up, there are reasons for each party. On the Republican side, there were a lot of conservatives who just hated the bill because they think it's amnesty or that it would lead to guest workers. On the Democratic side, there were a couple things at play. The first was, the unions were uncomfortable because they thought these guest workers would lower wages, there were some, and rightfully feel that the Senate bill would be destroyed in conference by the House, because the House, James Sensenbrenner is really vicious in conference and he destroys senators regularly. And then third, I think some Democrats were partisan and wanted the Republicans to be stuck with the cruel House bill.
So that all played to really a perversion to destroy a majority bill.
BLOCK: David Corn, of The Nation, this was a bill that the president had really wanted to see come out of Congress, and it doesn't seem to be moving forward. What's happening? Is he out of synch with the Republican leadership? Not being well served by leaders on the Hill?
Mr. CORN: Well, for all the problems there might be between Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans, the real conflict here is between Senate Republicans and House Republicans. The bill that was passed by the House Republicans, with the support of the leadership last December, is really a sort of, throw them back, keep them out, type of bill. Nothing about making people legal, the 11 to 12 million folks who are here already.
And the House Republicans hate, just hate any, the Senate compromise bill. And Bush is going to get caught between them. He had been in favor of the Senate bill, but he hadn't spoken out tremendously about it in the last day or two, although he clearly has in the past taken this approach. So for the moment he is saved from coming in and trying to negotiate between the two wings of his party, but if they come back and get this bill moving again, he'll have to deal with that issue.
BLOCK: Let me turn to -- David Brooks?
Mr. BROOKS: That's sort of an evasion, because the Senate Republicans really worked hard. They pushed this compromise. They were excited, they thought they were going to get it, and then it fell apart on the Democratic side. And the White House actually, for a White House that has terrible relations with Capital Hill, they actually did a good job over the past two days trying to actually get some sort of compromise.
Mr. CORN: But David, this was an instance where the Democrats cut a deal with the Republicans, they're the minority party, they've been very pushed around a lot, particularly, as you mentioned in the House conferences. And they wanted a bill without amendments. They didn't get that deal out of the Republicans.
BLOCK: I want to get to one last thing before we let you both go. This week we heard from Tom DeLay that he will be leaving the Congress. What do you think about that? Is there a second act for Tom DeLay?
Mr. BROOKS: No. Maybe he can go back to the bug business. No, I don't think there's, there's certainly not a political future.
BLOCK: You're referring to the fact that he's a former exterminator, there.
Mr. BROOKS: Exterminator, a noble profession, I should add.
Mr. CORN: I assume he'll make plenty of money on the lecture circuit, promoting the line, which he's already trotted out. That he's been persecuted because he's a Christian, and there will be people who will pay to hear him talk about that.
BLOCK: But what about working from the outside, as he's said he's going to do, to promote conservative causes?
Mr. BROOKS: Well, you know, he's different. You know, Newt Gingerich has been working very effectively from the outside, because Newt Gingerich was an ideas guy, whatever you thought of the rest of him. But Tom DeLay has always been a partisan machine hack. And so I doubt he'll have a big career outside.
BLOCK: David and David, thanks to you both.
Mr. BROOKS: Thank you.
Mr. CORN: Thank you.
BLOCK: New York Times columnist David Brooks, and The Nation's Washington editor, David Corn. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.