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Bush Needs Easy Confirmation of Attorney General


And let's bring another voice into the conversation, NPR senior news analyst Cokie Roberts who joins us every Monday.

Good morning, Cokie.


INSKEEP: We just heard Ari passing on the analysis that this particular nomination suggests the White House was not eager for a knockdown confirmation fight. Did they have any choice?

ROBERTS: No. In fact, I think, they really didn't have any real choice on the attorney general. They, first of all, have to clear somebody inside the Republican Party and find someone that conservatives would agree to as well as not have someone that the Democrats would not just see as a red flag. That wasn't particularly easy, but they seem to have crossed that barrier mainly because Mukasey is apparently someone that conservatives' trust to testify to Congress as they come with the new rules for surveillance.

But the Democrats haven't, you know, all signed on here. You have Senator Schumer who knows Mukasey from New York. But you could see - we have to see whether Democrats want to have a fight on this one or not. But this was not one where the president could have gotten through any of the people whose names he floated earlier and he just didn't try to do that. That was just - that's just going to be too hard.

INSKEEP: So if this proves to be a nominee who can just get straight through easily, could that add to - could that encourage cooperation on other issues?

ROBERTS: Well, everybody keeps talking about cooperation. But then, when it actually comes down to it, you don't see much of it. I mean the latest is that the Congress is working its way through trying to get a compromise on children's health plan. And the White House is talking about vetoing that. So that doesn't sound like a spirit of cooperation there.

And on Iraq, of course, the major issue still before the Congress. I think the administration is of the view at the moment that they've stared down to Democrats on that one, that the Democrats really can't come up with something that they can get enough Republican votes to pass. And so that there's no particular need for cooperation there.

INSKEEP: Well, you mentioned staring down the Democrats on the effort to set some kind of a timeline for withdrawal. But the Senate is going to debate a different proposal sponsored by Senator Jim Webb, a Virginia, a Democrat, whose son has been serving in Iraq. And this would require that U.S. troops spend at least as much time at home as they do in Iraq.

ROBERTS: And that's something that, on the phase of it, is just incredibly popular. Everybody knows how stretched the troops are, how many deployments they've had. There are many stories about the effects on families. It is also significant that this comes from Jim Webb, a military - a decorated military man. And when it was up before in the Senate, it got 56 votes.

And so the Democrats are kind of focusing their efforts on this one because they think it's a backdoor way to change the policy in Iraq. If you tell the military that the troops have to stay home, there are not enough troops to really be there.

The secretary of defense yesterday said that he would advice the president to veto any such proposal, that though it was well intentioned, he said, that it would be something that he couldn't manage, that it would make it very difficult for the defense department to even be able to manage the deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. So it'll be interesting to see how the Senate goes on that one. Various Republican senators, asked about it yesterday, did not commit to how they would vote.

INSKEEP: I suppose all this is a reminder that the president may be unpopular, the war may be unpopular, but if you're a Democrat, especially a Democrat running for president, you have to move carefully, don't you?

ROBERTS: You do, indeed. They were out yesterday in Iowa, at the traditional steak fry sponsored by Senator Tom Harkin. And you heard from Iowa Democrats how eager they are to end this war, and they don't want to hear nuance, they want to hear get out now. And that's tough for those Democratic candidates to find a place that they could agree with Republicans because they're going to have their Democrats to worry about. Senator Obama is right there with them, saying, you know, get a time certain for withdrawal. Others are trying to still find common ground with the Republicans on something they can pass. We'll see whether that's possible, Steve. It doesn't look like it at the moment.

INSKEEP: Okay. Thanks very much. Analysis on this Monday morning from NPR's Cokie Roberts. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. 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.

Cokie Roberts was one of the 'Founding Mothers' of NPR who helped make that network one of the premier sources of news and information in this country. She served as a congressional correspondent at NPR for more than 10 years and later appeared as a commentator on Morning Edition. In addition to her work for NPR, Roberts was a political commentator for ABC News, providing analysis for all network news programming.