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Blagojevich Scandal Pumps Up GOP


This is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand.


And I'm Alex Cohen. In a few minutes why it's time for TV talk shows to ditch the desk, the couch, and, yes, even the coffee mugs.

BRAND: But first despite Vice President Dick Cheney reportedly warning Senate Republicans that it could be Herbert Hoover time if they didn't approve an auto industry bailout, they did just that. They refused to go along with the leader of their party, President Bush. Now the White House wants to use some of the Wall Street bailout money to save the auto industry. For a look at all the politics behind these moves, I'm joined now by NPR news analyst Juan Williams. And Juan, this is really striking that the White House couldn't get the Senate Republicans to go along with the deal that they wanted?

JUAN WILLIAMS: It really is, Madeleine. And at this point what's striking is the amount of divide between the White House and the Senate Republicans. Clearly, they don't have the same agenda anymore. It's really evident on the bailout bill where the - if you talk to the Senators up there on the hill they feel that the White House fooled them, and when it came to the auto bailout, which is something that White House felt was now necessary that they had to deal with the Democrats, once again we see the Senate Republican saying no, we don't buy into it because we don't trust you.

BRAND: So what's the downside for these senators for saying no to the White House?

WILLIAMS: Not much at this point, I mean, I don't think there's any question that President Bush is a lame duck in terms of financial matters. His ability to punish anybody is negligible. His ability to talk about anything but his legacy has no moment. So, from their perspectives there was no downside to challenging President Bush, and I guess it's just another sign that all we're doing here in Washington is waiting for President Obama.

BRAND: Now, all the no votes, or most of the no votes came from the southern senate side and these are senators from right to work states, senators from states that have manufacturing plants run by foreign automakers. What does this say to you about the political cloud of organized labor which is based in the north?

WILLIAMS: Well, obviously the cloud of organized labor has been on the downslope for some time, but in regard to the auto industry, Madeleine, this is really fascinating because what you look at and see if you just pick up a map is that BMW is down in South Carolina, Mercedes Benz in Alabama, Toyota in Kentucky and other southern states and it just quickly becomes apparent that they have a very different perspective than the auto industry and its labor organizers in the north, who have much better contacts, much better deals.

Part of a problem here for those southern senators was an insistence that the automakers break their contractual obligations right now with the unions and go to the kind of labor payments that are prevalent throughout the southern states for non-unionized auto manufacturers. And they couldn't get an absolute deal and promise from the UAW and from the automakers, and so that's why they decided that they had good grounds to vote against it. So what this does portend, though, is that you're going to see more division between southern Republicans, and that's where this Republicans party is based now in the south, and northerners and especially northern Democrats who have been the biggest supporters of the auto industry and, of course, the northern Democrats are big - are greatly supported by unions.

BRAND: Alright let's turn to another big political story of the week, and this one involves the Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, who is accused of all sorts of corruption and some of it maybe involving Congressman Jesse Jackson. Now what is the latest with that?

WILLIAMS: Well, the latest is that the Chicago Tribune has reported that in fact some of Jackson's biggest financial supporters had meetings with Blagojevich and his aids over this election of the next U.S. Senator and, as you know, Representative Jackson has been identified as candidate number five, so now we have people on the ground who are saying, yes, they were involved. They were trying to raise money for Blagojevich in exchange for the promise that he would put Jesse Jackson in as the temporary U.S. Senator from Illinois.

BRAND: And what is Jesse Jackson saying about that?

WILLIAMS: Well, Jesse Jackson had a press conference earlier in the week, Madeleine, in which he said he sent no message and he sent no messenger with regard to payments in exchange for that seat. But even so it's just hard to believe that the U.S. attorney who is a sharp-eyed and vigilant prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, made some mistake on this tape about candidate number five, even Jesse Jackson Junior's own lawyer say he's candidate number five. So I think Jackson has been severely damaged in terms of his political prospects by the scandal, and he can disavow any involvement, but I think for most of the public and especially the Illinois public, it's hard to imagine Jesse Jackson, Jr. ever becoming a U.S. senator.

BRAND: NPR News analyst Juan Williams, thanks. Have a great weekend.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Madeleine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.