The Tea Party's Texas Strategy For 2012

Jul 25, 2012

Transcript

NEAL CONAN, HOST:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. W will skip the GOP convention, the presidential rivals vie for the vet vote, and Romney lambasts White House leaks. It's Wednesday and time for a...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Contemptible...

CONAN: ...edition of the Political Junkie.

PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

VICE PRESIDENT WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad: Where's the beef?

SENATOR BARRY GOLDWATER: Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

SENATOR LLOYD BENTSON: Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

SARAH PALIN: Lipstick.

GOVERNOR RICK PERRY: Oops.

PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: But I'm the decider.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAM)

CONAN: Every Wednesday, Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us to recap the week in politics. Romney takes his act on the road to London, Jerusalem and Warsaw, which means his veep choice will wait a while. Michele Bachmann doubles down on Democrats in the Muslim Brotherhood. Senate Republicans face an awkward vote on the middle class tax cuts that might look bad in a campaign ad.

And as a Tea Party upstart challenges a Republican regular for the Senate nomination in Texas, a look at the movement given so much credit for the GOP sweep two years ago.

And later in the program, the Boy Scouts' gay exclusion prompts an Eagle Scout to return his badge. But first, Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A, and as usual we begin with a trivia question. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: Hi, Neal. Well, Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, died on Monday. It's hard to believe she was 61 years old. So here's a space-related trivia question. Of all the U.S. politicians who became astronauts before, during or after their political career, who was the first to walk on the moon?

CONAN: If you think you know the answer to this week's trivia question, the first U.S. politician to walk on the moon before, during or after a political career, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org.

RUDIN: Oh, Neal, by the way, the winner wins the constellation prize.

CONAN: The constellation prize?

RUDIN: I thought that would be funny.

CONAN: Oh, the...

RUDIN: Constellation.

CONAN: Constellation. Instead of a Political Junkie T-shirt? A promise of a Political Junkie T-shirt. In any case, if you think you know the answer, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. And Ken, the VFW held their convention this week, and both the GOP candidate, Mitt Romney, and the president visited.

RUDIN: They did, and of course most of the attention was on Mitt Romney because Mitt Romney has - even though the campaign is really ostensibly about the economy and who's going to do a better job about the economy and the sluggish unemployment rate, foreign policy is playing a role.

President Obama by all accounts seems to have a very solid foreign policy record: getting Osama bin Laden, getting Gadhafi, things like that. But at the same time, Mitt Romney says that...

CONAN: Getting out of the war in Iraq.

RUDIN: Well, getting out of the two wars, you know, doing the best he can to get out of two wars. Of course there's some complaints about what he is or not doing in Syria...

CONAN: And in Iran too.

RUDIN: And in Iran, and especially regarding Israel, because that's - I think that's part of Romney's visit to Israel, he'll talk about what Obama is not doing vis-a-vis Iran.

CONAN: In the speech to the VFW convention yesterday, Mr. Romney criticized the president's foreign policy decisions.

MITT ROMNEY: And in dealings with other nations, he has given trust where it is not earned, insult where it was not deserved, and apology where it is not due.

CONAN: And of course he left on that trip to London, his first stop today, there for the Olympics. Of course we do remember that he was not at Bain Capital, he was running the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City all those years ago. But of course he landed amid a controversy where an anonymous aide was quoted in the Daily Telegraph, one of the big papers in London, as saying that Mitt Romney shared the Anglo-Saxon view, which was not shared at the White House.

RUDIN: Yeah, well, I think for Mitt Romney to be complaining about leaks coming out of the White House, I mean he should worry about the leaks that are coming out of his own campaign staff. But the thing is, is that, one, the problem with Mitt Romney is, one, he still has to say where he differs with the president other than just criticizing him.

Now, he does differ with the missile treaty with Russia, things like that. But he also - speaking of comparisons, you do remember 250,000 people cheering Barack Obama four years ago around this time during his trip to Berlin. Now, of course, Western Europe is not going to be a hotbed of Romney support, but I kind of think that he's obviously looking at Israel and perhaps some - taking over some of the Jewish vote, away from the president and the Democratic Party, and also in Poland because he's saying that President Obama is coddling Russia.

CONAN: And when President Obama addressed the VFW, as you mentioned, he has solid credentials. The VFW leans Republican, but it is not solidly Republican by any stretch of the imagination. The vet vote will be critical in places like, oh, Virginia and Florida, big swing states. And the president tried to make ground.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I will stand with our troops every single time.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: So let's stop playing politics with our military. Let's get serious and reduce our deficit and keep our military strong.

CONAN: And this is on to the sequestration cuts. This was, remember, the budget deal passed last year which ordered draconian cuts unless there was a deal for the United States military, and this is what Mitt Romney refers to as the president's cuts. Of course it was through Congress.

RUDIN: Well, that's exactly right, but there's also this talk about the leaks coming out of the White House we referred to earlier, and this is basically that the disclosure of U.S. operations to damage Iran's nuclear program through cyberattacks, and the leaks came out, and Romney and company are arguing that these leaks came out to make Obama look good.

CONAN: And leaks about details of the mission to kill Osama bin Laden.

RUDIN: That's exactly right, and also the role that the president may have personally had in ordering the assassinations of individuals with drone strikes. So anyway...

CONAN: Not helped by the fact that Senator Feinstein said indeed the White House was responsible for the leaks, not Mr. Obama but the White House.

RUDIN: Well, that's exactly right. Senator Dianne Feinstein, the chairperson of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on Monday that, look, some of the leaks had to be coming from the White House. And then when Romney said even Dianne Feinstein is saying this, Feinstein backed up and said, wait a second, I think he's misinterpreting what I said.

But again, that's what Romney's argument has been.

CONAN: And in the meantime, in terms of some party people embarrassing their leader, this is Michele Bachmann's turn a week ago, getting into trouble by talking about Democrats aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood. She's doubled down.

RUDIN: Well, now she's talking - now she's brought in Keith Ellison, the only Muslim - no, actually one of two Muslims, there's Carson...

CONAN: When he was elected, the only...

RUDIN: That's exactly right. There's also Carson of Indiana. But anyway, she, Michele Bachmann has now gone after Keith Ellison of Minnesota. And again, it's not so much that the Democrats are attacking Michele Bachmann for going so far, and her opponent. Jim Graves(ph), who's a hotel executive in Minnesota, is gaining more money and more support back home.

But the fact that - the fact is that John McCain, John Boehner, even Ed Rollins, a former campaign chair, said look, she's going too far. And this - I don't know if this hurts her back home, but it certainly hurts her standing in Washington, that's for sure.

CONAN: In the meantime, we have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question, and that is of the politicians who also doubled as astronauts, the first to walk on the moon, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And let's start with Rochelle(ph), Rochelle with us from Traverse City in Michigan.

MICHELLE: Hi, it's Michelle(ph).

CONAN: Hi, Michelle. Oh, I'm sorry.

MICHELLE: Oh, that's OK. My guess is John Glenn.

CONAN: John Glenn.

RUDIN: Well, John Glenn was the first person to - the first American, sorry...

CONAN: To orbit the Earth.

RUDIN: To orbit the Earth. But he never - he never went to the moon.

MICHELLE: Oh, he didn't.

CONAN: Never went to the moon. Did go to the United States Senate.

RUDIN: He - I think he felt like he went to the moon when he ran for president in 1984, but never the actual moon.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Michelle. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Michael, and Michael's with us from Binghamton, New York.

MICHAEL CALLER: Yeah, this is me. Shepard?

RUDIN: Well, Alan Shepard was the first astronaut, but he was never...

CONAN: He was the first American into space.

RUDIN: Right, the first American into space, unlike - and Sally Ride, of course, was the first American woman into space. But Alan Shepard was never a politician, never ran for office.

CALLER: Ah, OK.

CONAN: Thanks very much, and let's go next to - this is Theran(ph), is that correct, in Oklahoma City?

THERAN: Yeah, that's right.

CONAN: OK, you're on the air, go ahead.

THERAN: My first guess was Buzz Aldrin, but I'm actually thinking...

CONAN: No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. You only get one guess.

THERAN: Buzz Aldrin?

CONAN: Buzz Aldrin?

RUDIN: Never ran for office.

CONAN: Never ran for office, but nice try.

THERAN: Thanks.

CONAN: All right, let's see if we go...

RUDIN: We'll never know what he wanted to say.

CONAN: I know, but maybe Paul will voice that for him. Paul is calling us from Smithtown on Long Island.

PAUL: Hi. Gus Grissom.

RUDIN: Gus Grissom, one of the original seven astronauts who died tragically in a fire, but he never ran for office.

PAUL: He didn't?

CONAN: No, he didn't.

All right, let's go to David, David with us from Little Rock.

DAVID: Was it Harrison Schmidt?

RUDIN: Harrison Schmitt is the correct answer.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: Harrison Schmitt went to the moon in December 1972. He served one term in the U.S. Senate, Republican from New Mexico. And he was defeated after one term. But I do have some interesting - a sidebar to this. Do we have time?

CONAN: Go ahead.

RUDIN: Even though he is a correct winner. Jack Swigert, the congressman who served...

CONAN: Jack "Rusty" Swigert.

RUDIN: Well, who was elected to Congress in 1982 and actually died before he could take office, but he was on the Apollo 13 trip to the moon in 1970 that had an oxygen tank rupture and had to come back to the United States, never got to the moon. But Jack Swigert, when he was elected to Congress in 1982, defeated Steve Hogan, who is currently the mayor of Aurora, Colorado.

CONAN: You didn't want to save that for a trivia question? That was too simple for a trivia question?

RUDIN: Nothing I say is simple...

CONAN: In any case, David, if you stay on the line, we'll collect your particulars, and we'll eventually send you a Political Junkie no-prize T-shirt.

DAVID: Thanks a lot.

CONAN: Congratulations.

RUDIN: He didn't sound that excited, did he?

CONAN: No, he's very excited. He's just a low-energy kind of a guy. Alright, but wait till he gets that T-shirt, you'll see something different.

RUDIN: That's a long wait.

CONAN: In the meantime, every once in a while campaign ads that are just a little bit difficult to understand - a unique ad for a Senate race. Democratic Representative Mazie Hirono reaches across the aisle for an appearance and endorsement from the Republican congressman, Don Young of Alaska.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

REPRESENTATIVE DON YOUNG: If you're looking for a United States senator who doesn't just talk about bipartisanship but actually knows how to work with both Republicans and Democrats to get things done, Mazie Hirono will be that senator.

REPRESENTATIVE MAZIE HIRONO: Thank you, Don. I really appreciate that.

YOUNG: But can I say just one more thing about Nancy Pelosi?

HIRONO: Don't push it, Don.

YOUNG: One more?

HIRONO: Don't push it. Otherwise I won't be able to say I'm Mazie Hirono, and I approved this message.

(LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: It's a very bizarre ad. First of all, I don't know why anybody in Hawaii cares what Don Young has to say. But the Republican Party has a viable candidate, Linda Lingle, in that Senate race. Of course, Mazie Hirono still has a primary to win, but it was a very odd kind of a pairing of a Democrat and...

CONAN: I wanted to look in the background and see if there were red-eyed sheep back there.

(LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: Right, one of those kind of commercials.

CONAN: More with Political Junkie Ken Rudin in just a moment. We're also going to talk about the influence of the Tea Party in the 2012 election cycle. We want to hear from conservatives. What's happening where you live? What's the influence of the Tea Party right now? Conservatives, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan. It's Wednesday, Political Junkie day, and our very own constellation prize, Ken Rudin, is here with us in Studio 3A, as he is in most weeks. And Ken, speaking of prizes, a winner last week in the ScuttleButton?

RUDIN: We do have a winner. It was kind of a convoluted puzzle, which is so strange.

CONAN: Unusual.

RUDIN: But there was a Kim for Congress button. There was Model-T Ford for president button. Of course Gerald Ford. And there was a Dashing Dan; he was the Long Island Railroad commuter guy.

CONAN: I remember Dashing Dan.

RUDIN: Right, so when you combined the Kim for Congress, the Model-T Ford, the Dashing Dan, you have Kim Kardashian.

CONAN: Ewww.

RUDIN: Wait, did you say eww? Because Carole Lane(ph) of San Francisco, who is the winner, she wrote eww. Ewww.

CONAN: Yeah, there you go.

RUDIN: So she agrees with you.

CONAN: She agrees with me. Well, that's not hard.

Any case - she will get a Political Junkie no-prize T-shirt eventually.

RUDIN: They're coming, they're coming.

CONAN: They are coming, and of course if you'd like to see the new ScuttleButton puzzle and Ken's Political Junkie column, you can see both at npr.org/junkie.

In the months leading up to the 2010 election, we saw the Tea Party movement gather more and more momentum. They're credited with helping the GOP gain a majority in the House that year. The group saw that momentum and its influence wane after those early successes, though, at least in the public opinion polls, though it continues to score victories over establishment GOP candidates in some of the latest primaries.

Conservatives, we want to hear from you today. How has the Tea Party movement changed the Republican Party? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Joining us now from his office in Austin is Professor Bruce Buchanan. He teaches in the Department of Government at the University of Texas at Austin. Nice to have you with us today.

BRUCE BUCHANAN: My pleasure.

CONAN: And Bruce, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison's seat is open. There is a runoff next Tuesday in the Republican Party. The Tea Party candidate, Ted Cruz, kept Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst from advancing in May. Was this race supposed to be this close?

BUCHANAN: No, there's some circumstances that conspired to help Cruz turn it into a real horserace and now even to pull ahead a little bit, most notably the redistricting fights, which postponed the date of the first primary. It gave Cruz a chance to get organized, get funded and to get his message out.

And so those circumstances helped to put him into a position now to possibly defeat the favorite.

CONAN: And Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst is not known as a radical Republican.

BUCHANAN: No, he's not, although he is, as most establishment Republicans, is one way to refer to non-Tea Party Republicans, like most of them, he is embracing many of the positions, at least at the rhetorical level, that the Tea Party espouses. There's very little difference, for example, in the debates down here that Dewhurst and Cruz have had concerning their respective positions on issues.

CONAN: And so is it simply a case of, hey, let's throw the bum out?

BUCHANAN: No, it's more a case of the Tea Party group being energized behind a very bright and attractive young man who has a real chance to take power, and at a time when we're coming into a runoff later in the year than we've ever had, and so turnout is very uncertain, and this is an energized group because of the enthusiasm and the anger that's been stoked, a lot really by unhappiness over such things as the Supreme Court decision in Obamacare, which keeps the fires burning for the Tea Party folk in a way that the more establishment types might not be able to match.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Professor Buchanan, we saw earlier this year in Indiana, we saw a longtime Republican incumbent, Dick Luger, who had voted with the Democrats and Obama on many issues - not that many, but some issues - and the Tea Party picked up with Richard Mourdock, and he defeated him handily.

With everything I've seen about David Dewhurst, he's a reliable conservative. Rick Perry strongly backs him, and Rick Perry's hardly, you know, as Neal just said, a radical Republican. But I did see somewhere that Dewhurst is accused of cooperating with Democrats. Is that a sin? Is that what part of the problem is?

BUCHANAN: Well, I'm not sure exactly what they have in mind, because while there were some votes on which he could have been described as moderate in his relatively distant past, and maybe on some of those issues Democrats joined the side he was voting on, so did many Republicans. And since then, as has happened to almost all establishment Republicans - you know, think of John Boehner for example, how he's changed his tune on a number of things, trying to manage the, you know, the feisty coalition of newcomers, many of whom are Tea Partiers, in his group.

And so Dewhurst has attempted to adapt and is - I think the main sin that he commits in the eyes of many of these folks is that he's been around too long, he's been in office too long. Having been a longtime public servant is not a plus in that Tea Party calculus.

CONAN: And if Mr. Cruz is successful in this runoff, what message will that send to those other establishment Republicans?

BUCHANAN: Well, I think that this is part of the ongoing almost civil war between the establishment types and the Tea Party types, and they're very anxious now to, to the extent possible, paper it over. They're in the middle of the early stages of a presidential campaign. And Mitt Romney is also embracing positions that he never embraced before in an effort to defer to that movement and to harness some of its energy.

They're struggling to get along with them and to accommodate them as best they can.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: But Professor Buchanan, you also talked about the fact that Dewhurst was there too long. Rick Perry has been governor of Texas longer than anybody in history, and yet I don't see a throw-the-bum-out kind of mood regarding Rick Perry.

BUCHANAN: Wait till election day approaches, when Perry's term runs out.

CONAN: It could be another oops.

BUCHANAN: That could - you know, that's right. I think there may well be. It depends on, you know, what the lay of the land is by then and whether any kind of evolution has occurred. But they've been - they, the Tea Party group, has been remarkably consistent up until this point since 2010, with some ebbs and flows in influence but still able to pick off famous people, get in the headlines and drive the policy agenda to some degree at the national level.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: I've seen the two of them in debate, though. It seems like Cruz is far more animated, far more energetic than Dewhurst. That could be part of the problem too, maybe?

BUCHANAN: Oh, I think it very well might be because, you know, Cruz is a very articulate fellow, a champion debater, former editor of the Harvard Law Review, very smart, very articulate, very bright. He has a chance, if he gets to the Senate, to join that contingent that includes people like Marco Rubio and others who are rising stars in the party, and he's - you know, he's got the credentials to fuel that drive.

CONAN: We should - fair to mention that there will be a Democrat on the ballot come November. Of course Texas one of the redder states in the union.

BUCHANAN: That's right, it's Paul Sadler, who is running against a much less well-known fellow by the name of Grady Yarbrough, and Sadler will probably win. And Sadler's an interesting guy himself because he left the House - the Texas House in 2002 because his son was involved in an accident, but up until that time he had been instrumental in working in the years before his departure with then-Governor Bush on matters like education and was a rising star himself, now trying to make a comeback in the face of this movement, and is underfunded and, you know, up against the momentum that we've been discussing, here but also has some hope from the fact that nobody knows for sure what turnout is going to be like on July 31, since it's unprecedented in the state, and this is vacation time all over the country but especially down here where it's a little toasty.

CONAN: Bruce Buchanan, we hope you keep cool. Thanks very much for your time.

BUCHANAN: You bet, my pleasure.

CONAN: Bruce Buchanan, professor at the Department of Government at the University of Texas at Austin. And we'd like to hear from conservatives today. How has the Tea Party changed the Republican Party where you live? 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. Nick is on the line with us from Greenville, Ohio.

NICK: Yeah, hi, how are you?

CONAN: Good, thanks.

NICK: Good, good, good. The Tea Party in this area has, you know, certainly picked, you know, politicians more to the right. But there are some of us that are reluctant to jump on board with them, even though we agree with them. And I don't - follow me here and see if this makes sense. But, you know, intellectually, like, personally I'm against Obamacare, OK? I think that we're, you know, spending entirely way too much.

But I don't want to be identified with a bunch of characters standing in protests dressed up like colonial people. You know what I mean? It's - there's almost sort of an anti-Tea Party embarrassment to say that you identify with this group, even though you may agree with them on a lot of issues. Does that make sense?

CONAN: I guess it does. It was referring back to what Bruce Buchanan was calling a civil war; this is in a sense a culture war within the Republican Party too.

NICK: Absolutely, and that culture war is alive and well in even very rural areas of Ohio, where I'm at, and I think that the Democrats could actually use that in this election.

CONAN: All right, Nick, thanks very much for the phone call.

NICK: Thank you.

CONAN: All right, let's go next to - this is Jim, and Jim's on the line with us from Ashville in North Carolina.

JIM: Yes, yes, sir, and thank you very much. The - obviously the Tea Party in North Carolina is to - least to say, scattered out. You know, there's not very many of us because this is generally a Democratic state. We have really looked more at executive privilege and constitutional powers that aren't being exerted that -so, you know, the president has been using the executive privilege instead of following the Constitution. I think that's one of biggest things that has galvanized the Tea Party so...

CONAN: Yes, the use of executive privilege to protect some documents in the Fast and Furious case that involved the attorney general.

JIM: Yes, sir. And there's - that's one of the - there's also other things involved besides Fast and Furious. I think the - well, I think that's about the end of it for me.

CONAN: All right.

JIM: I'm stopped on the side of the road and...

CONAN: Well...

JIM: ...I'm in a dangerous position there.

CONAN: Well, be safe.

JIM: Yes. Thank you very much.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the phone call.

JIM: And I'll be listening to you guys, OK? Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks very much. And, Ken, earlier you were citing some of the victories in Indiana, for example, that the Tea Party has enjoyed this primary season, not all victories, though.

RUDIN: Well, it's hard to say. I mean, a lot of people - I think the - it's overblown the thought of the Tea Party having reached its high point and influence. A lot of people who referred - look at Utah, where the Tea Party - Dan Liljenquist made a very concerted long effort to beat Orrin Hatch, but Orrin Hatch won handily. But I would make the case that Orrin Hatch became much more conservative because of this Tea Party challenge and maybe they didn't win in Utah, but certainly, the voting record of Orrin Hatch has satisfied Tea Party conservatives.

CONAN: And it's not new for Republican - establishment Republicans to be challenged from the right. This gives their challengers new momentum and a new platform on which to stand, and again, you see the effects on a politician like John McCain in Arizona.

RUDIN: Absolutely. Who's also threatened by a rightwing - further to the right challenger in 2010, and McCain also moved to the right. And earlier - regarding the earlier caller from Ohio who said that, you know, we're not - we don't want to be identified with people dressed up as - in this costume and everything. But if it weren't for the Tea Party, John Boehner would not be the speaker of the House. Tea Party excited the base in 2010, got a lot of victories for the Republicans in normally Democratic districts. And, of course, the question is whether they can keep their momentum this November.

CONAN: Let's get one more caller in. This is Brian(ph). Brian is with us from South Bend.

BRIAN: Hey. How are you doing?

CONAN: Good. Thanks.

BRIAN: I live in Indiana, and I've, you know, I guess, have typically been a more Republican voter historically, but, you know, more on a moderate end of that. And so this past fall when Dick Lugar and Richard Mourdock were facing off in the primary, it was really sad for me, actually, to see, you know, congressman Lugar kind of almost become a pariah from, you know, Richard Mourdock's party because he worked with Democrats. And it's, you know, as a voter, it's so frustrating for me everyday to see the gridlock in Washington because in my opinion of Tea Party Republicans absolutely refusing to shake someone else's hand and compromise.

CONAN: He later said his idea of bipartisanship is Democrats should agree with him.

BRIAN: Right, you know? But it's - I think it's a party-wide thing, and it's, you know, it's becoming more and more apparent. And, you know, I guess I'm kind of at the point where I'm wondering, is there going to be a breaking point in Washington? Is there going to be a point where we have elected officials that are willing to work with each other like adults?

RUDIN: And I would just make argue that the conservatives have accused Republicans of acting like Democrats for years, and that, I think, explains why the Tea Party was so effective. They were tired of politics as usual.

CONAN: Brian, thanks very much for the call.

BRIAN: Thank you.

CONAN: Ken Rudin is with us as he is every Wednesday. You're listening to the Political Junkie on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And, Ken, there's going to be a fascinating vote in the United States Senate or series of votes. We had expected the Democrats to set up the Republicans for one of those symbolic votes this on the extension of the middle-class tax cuts, the lower half, if you will, of those Bush-era tax cuts. President Obama has been campaigning on this - extend the middle-class tax cuts but drop the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

RUDIN: People who make more than $250,000 a year.

CONAN: This has no prospect of passing Congress this year with a Republican House, and normally, you need 60 votes in the United States Senate, and it wouldn't have any prospect of passing there either. But...

RUDIN: Well, yes, but it seems like the vote is going to be today, and now, both sides, both the Republicans and Democrats, are going to be allowed to offer their tax-cut proposals, but it puts the Democrats in a very...

CONAN: On a straight up-and-down vote - 50...

RUDIN: Fifty votes, right, not...

CONAN: ...50-vote - 51-vote majority.

RUDIN: And we thought of - and we thought from the beginning that the Democrats had the advantage of this because it would paint the Republicans as the party of the rich and ignoring the middle class, but now, when we're talking about eliminating all tax cuts, which is what - basically, what the Democratic vote would do - let the Bush tax cuts expire. Many Democrats may now be too afraid - at least some Democrats who are up...

CONAN: You know, the Democrats would extend the middle-class tax cuts but not the ones for the wealthy. The Republican plan will extend them all.

RUDIN: That's exactly right.

CONAN: Right.

RUDIN: But I mean - but it puts both parties, especially the Democrats, in an awkward position right now.

CONAN: And it also puts the majority leader, Harry Reid, in a position - he's got 51 Democrats and two independents who caucus with the Democrats, but all of a sudden, he needs everybody.

RUDIN: He does, and he also has a lot of Democrats, perhaps a Claire McCaskill; perhaps a Jim Webb, who's retiring; perhaps Jon Tester in a tough race in Montana; people who may not be willing to buy the Democratic line because they're nervous about what's going on back home.

CONAN: In the meantime, there was, of course, the awful incident last Friday in Aurora, Colorado. The president of the United States was there. This is one of those things - he was also in Colorado a couple of weeks earlier, talked about the terrible fires in Colorado Springs. This is one of those advantages you forget about of an incumbent president of the United States whose job is to do these sorts of things but also looks very presidential in the process.

RUDIN: That's absolutely the case, and it will be even more apparent with Mitt Romney being out of the country the next six days, you know, doing his foreign trips with - hence the term out of the country...

CONAN: Out of the country.

RUDIN: ...but it doesn't mean foreign (unintelligible).

CONAN: He may even be abroad.

(LAUGHTER)

RUDIN: Well - or men. But also - you have to see Neal's face on that.

CONAN: I'm a C.

RUDIN: But also that Obama will have the headlines and will have the campaign rhetoric all to himself - at least for the next six days, at least in this country.

CONAN: Ken Rudin, thanks very much.

RUDIN: Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: And as always, you can go to npr.org/junkie to see the latest ScuttleButton puzzle and Ken Rudin's Political Junkie column, and he'll be with us here, right here in Studio 3A next Wednesday as usual. Coming up, a number of Eagle Scouts give back their badges in protest - Kelsey Timmerman among them. He'll join us next to explain his decision. We'd like to hear from those of you who were part of the Boy Scouts and how you react to the Boy Scouts' decision and to Kelsey Timmerman's decision to send back his Eagle Scout badge. 800-989-8255 is our phone number. Email us: talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.