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Politics In The News


And joining us now, as she does most Monday, is Cokie Roberts. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Renee. Happy New Year.

MONTAGNE: Happy New Year to you. So, Cokie, we seem to be getting the next year, or this new year, right back where we ended in the last Congress, and that's bickering over everything. And as we've just heard, that includes, big time, the president's cabinet appointment of a former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel. Tell us more about what's going on there, a little bit more history.

ROBERTS: Well, it's an interesting case. Yes, he's a Republican, but he's backed Democratic Senate candidates in the last couple of elections, candidates who lost. And as you heard from Tom, he's rubbed some of his former fellow senators the wrong way. Look, it usually works to appoint a senator as it seems to be with John Kerry as the nominee for secretary of State, even though he's not a beloved character in the Senate.

But it can backfire if to know a senator is not to love him and that, apparently is the case with some senators and Chuck Hagel. That happened with George H.W. Bush's pick in 1989, John Tower, a senator from Texas. He had been chairman of the Armed Services Committee and then after he left the Senate he headed the Tower Commission, which was very critical of Ronald Reagan's handling of the Iran-Contra affair.

He had been part of the strategic arms reduction talks in Geneva. I mean, you'd think, just looking at the paper, that this would sail through. The problem was that members of the Senate didn't like John Tower. They accused him of excessive drinking and womanizing and I was uncomfortably right in the middle of it because he came on the Sunday show, where I was a questioner, to defend himself and ended up making it worse. He went forward to the Senate for vote, did not withdraw his name and was defeated. His nomination for the cabinet post was defeated by his fellow senators, 53 to 47.

So it's a cautionary tale. Republicans were very loud and clear yesterday that they were against Hagel, many of them. Lindsey Graham saying it's an in-your-face nomination. And you have to keep in mind, when someone is accused of being anti-Israel, as some have said about Hagel, that that becomes an issue in the evangelical community, which is very pro-Israel and, of course, the base of the Republican Party.

MONTAGNE: And it's problematic for Chuck Hagel, is also that it's not just Republicans. He might have some trouble among Democrats as well.

ROBERTS: Well, the Democrats are sort of grumbling that why is the president going to the mat on this one when he didn't do it for Susan Rice for secretary of State. And there have been conversations about Hagel's comments about gays. Today, in the Washington Post, there's a full-page ad by the Log Cabin Republicans opposing Hagel's statements on gays. He has apologized for some of those.

MONTAGNE: Although many of them - the main one was years ago, 14, 15 years.

ROBERTS: But - and he has apologized for it. It was about a nominee for a diplomatic post. But it is something where people would normally, if they like the guy, be ready to forgive. But -and they once did like Hagel a lot better than they're liking him now.

MONTAGNE: Well, nobody in Washington seems to be liking anyone much these days. Last week at this time, we'll all remember a deal over the fiscal cliff was finally coming together. There was hope this might serve as a bipartisan template for Congress to confront the debt ceiling and another threat of across-the-board budget cuts...

ROBERTS: Yeah, not so much.

MONTAGNE: Instead, what?

ROBERTS: No. Instead, we heard yesterday all the same talking points over and over again. The Republicans saying that's it on taxes. We're not talking about taxes anymore. And why do we keep doing these last-minute things? And the Democrats saying, we've already given on cuts. We did that all last year. We can't just do this with cuts. Then there's always the question of other issues, Renee, gun control being at the top.

And the one person who does seem to be able to make deals these days and cross party lines is Vice President Joe Biden. He's been put in charge of the working group on guns and on gun violence. And I was struck yesterday by the number of Republicans and Democrats who said let's wait and see what the vice president comes up with before we decide on guns.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, thanks very much. Cokie Roberts joins us most Mondays to discuss politics. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
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.
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