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Immigration, Gun Legislation And The Shakeup In Iowa


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. An African-American governor appoints an African-American senator; immigration moves to the front burner, and Bobby Jindal scolds the GOP. It's Wednesday and time for a...

GOVERNOR BOBBY JINDAL: The stupid party...

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 BENTSEN: Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

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

SARAH PALIN: Lipstick.


PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: But I'm the decider.


CONAN: Every Wednesday, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us to review the week in politics. And this second week of the second term saw a possible breakthrough on immigration, high drama as hearings on guns get underway. John Kerry sweeps to Senate confirmation. Chuck Hagel's hearings start tomorrow. Tom Harkin and Saxby Chambliss open Senate seats in Iowa and Georgia. The once unthinkable sequester may now be inevitable.

Fox News parts ways with Sarah Palin, and Ray LaHood will step down as transportation secretary. In a few minutes, we'll focus on what could be a game of electoral musical chairs in Iowa, and later in the program we'll talk with Aaron David Miller on the Hagel hearings.

But first, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us here, as usual, in Studio 3A. And as usual, we begin with a trivia question. Hey Ken.

KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: Hi Neal. Well, you just mentioned that Iowa Senator Tom Harkin announced on Saturday he will not seek a sixth term. Now he's - that would end the partnership he's had with a fellow Iowa senator, Chuck Grassley, since 1985. Grassley was elected in '80; Harkin was elected in '84.

CONAN: With Harkin's upcoming departure, which state senators will now be serving together the longest?

If you think you know the answer to this week's trivia questions: Which state's senators will now have been serving the longest after the departure, the impending departure of the...

RUDIN: Tom Harkin.

CONAN: Tom Harkin in Iowa, the junior senator from Iowa, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email The winner gets that fabulous no-prize T-shirt for free in exchange for a promise to send us a digital image for our Wall of Shame, including that fabulous political junkie no-prize button. Ken, that's your name, whoever you are, talking about the Senate, a new senator appointed today.

RUDIN: Yes, the very famous Mo Cowan. He was - he was Deval Patrick's former chief of staff. He will be the interim senator in Massachusetts now that John Kerry has been confirmed by the Senate yesterday, 94 to three, to be...

CONAN: With one abstention, Kerry.

RUDIN: Right, and what's interesting is that John Kerry spent 25 years - it took him 25 years to become the senior senator in Massachusetts. It's now taken Elizabeth Warren three weeks.


RUDIN: That's interesting. But anyway, Mo Cowan will serve until the June 25th special election. What's interesting I guess for trivia folks is that Mo Cowan is African-American, and this is the first time in history that two blacks are serving in the Senate at the same time, which is one of these days we're not going to be worried, talking about things as silly as this. But it is, at this point at least, a little historic.

CONAN: And of course the trivia question based on Mr. Harkin's impending departure, much more on Iowa a bit later in the program, and of course Saxby Chambliss is going to be leaving as the senator, Republican senator from Georgia.

RUDIN: Yeah, now he said he's not going to seek a third term. Harkin's announcement came Saturday. Chambliss announced it on Friday, it was back to back. And, you know, of course, there's a lot of talk about conservatives mounting a primary challenge to Chambliss because Chambliss has, you know, said critical things about Grover Norquist and said, look, I care more about this country than I do about a pledge I made 20 years ago about no taxes.

And he's worked with Democrats like Mark Warner on trying to solve the budget deficit. But there are some Republicans in the House like Tom Price, like Paul Brown, perhaps other Republicans, who were threatening a primary challenge. And I think Chambliss is not leaving because he's avoiding a fight. I think he's just had enough. He said this is dysfunctional. And it almost sounds exactly like what Olympia Snowe said last year when she retired, said I just - it's just not working.

CONAN: Iowa will be a dogfight. Georgia would expect to be a Republican hold. So that's probably not going to change.

RUDIN: Right, they're talking about John Barrow, who is one of the few white House members, Democrats, from the Deep South. He says he may not run, but he would probably be the strongest Democrat to run. Kasim Reed, who is the mayor of Atlanta, his name has also been mentioned, but people are not sure if he'd do it, either.

CONAN: Now you mentioned for the first time we now have two African-Americans serving simultaneously in the United States Senate, the other one in addition to Mo Cowan is Tim Scott, who was appointed, of course, in South Carolina. There could be another one, even if Mo Cowan is not going to survive in the Senate because he's a temporary. That could come from the state of New Jersey.

RUDIN: Well, that is absolutely true, and of course Frank Lautenberg is making sure that it doesn't happen. Frank Lautenberg, who is 89 years old, is up for another term next year. He has not indicated what he will do, but he has not hesitated about making clear his displeasure about Cory Booker, the African-American mayor of Newark, who is talking about running for the Senate whether Lautenberg runs or not.

He's talking about look, you know, when I have kids who have been disrespectful, they deserve a spanking, I give another spanking. So clearly that he has contempt for Cory Booker. He also said that, you know, Newark is not really working that well lately. Maybe he should pay more attention to his own job. The animus is very clear.

CONAN: It's interesting, but according to opinion polls, anyway, Cory Booker would defeat him handily in a Democratic primary.

RUDIN: That's correct. The last Quinnipiac, 51 to 30 was the last poll.

CONAN: In the meantime, dramatic testimony today in the Senate Judiciary Committee as they began the idea of gun reform legislation. This began with testimony earlier today and a surprise witness, not originally on the list, and that is former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who of course was injured terribly in the head in a mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona.

GABRIELLE GIFFORDS: We must do something. It will be hard, but the time is now. You must act. Be bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you. Thank you.

CONAN: That's Gabby Giffords, testifying. On the other side NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre, who said the federal government needs to vigorously enforce existing laws, and he pointed to statistics showing the Obama administration had not been doing that. But he opposed any new bans.

WAYNE LAPIERRE: Proposing more gun laws while failing to enforce the thousands we already have, it's not a serious solution for reducing crime.

CONAN: And Ken, Senator Dianne Feinstein re-introduced, I guess, her assault weapons ban. Some people say she doesn't have too much hope for that.

RUDIN: Well, not only does she not have much hope, she doesn't have hope with many of her fellow Democrats, as well, because just today Joe Donnelly, the new Democratic senator from Indiana, announced he would oppose an assault weapons ban. He was the guy who beat Richard Mourdock, and all the Democrats were cheering.

Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat from North Dakota, also says she would oppose it. And, you know, there was a big story in the New York Times today that talked about that Chicago, which has the strictest gun laws in the country, more restrictions on guns than anywhere else in the country, they've have 500 gun homicides last year, 40 already this month. So not supporting Wayne LaPierre in any way but just making the point, making the point that you can have all the gun laws in the world, it's not going to stop these mass murders.

CONAN: Well, those are not mass murders in Chicago, those are onesy-twoseys, mostly with handguns, which they're not talking about restricting at all. There could be breakthrough, though, on the background checks and maybe closing what's known as the gun show, the gun sales gap.

RUDIN: That's exactly right. And perhaps maybe Harry Reid's plan is look, I'll put it up for a vote. I'll let these pro-gun Democrats vote against the assault weapons ban, and then maybe there'll be some kind of vote on more background checks or limiting the magazine capabilities.

CONAN: And we have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question, and that is after the departure of Tom Harkin in Iowa at the end of 2014, who will have - which state's pair of senators will have served the longest? 800-989-8255. Email Chris(ph) on the line with us from Des Moines.

CHRIS: Hi, how are you?

CONAN: Good, thanks. What's your guess?

CHRIS: My guess is Alabama.

RUDIN: Well, that's not correct. I'm just trying to think, Jeff Sessions was first elected in I think 1998. So - or 1996 Jeff Sessions. So there's a tandem more...

CONAN: More senior than that.

RUDIN: More senior than that.

CONAN: All right, thanks very much, Chris, for the idea. Let's go to Nina(ph), Nina with us from Kalamazoo.


CONAN: Hi Nina, what's your guess?

NINA: My guess is Levin and Stabenow from Michigan.

RUDIN: No, Debbie Stabenow was first elected in 2000. So they've only been together 12 years.

NINA: Oh sorry.

CONAN: Breaking news, they're together. Anyway, let's see if we can go...

RUDIN: This just in.

CONAN: Go next to Brad(ph) and Brad with us from Fort Wayne.

BRAD: Good afternoon.

CONAN: Good afternoon. What's your guess?

BRAD: California.

RUDIN: California is the correct answer.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: And not only have Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer served together since 1992, they were both elected in 1992, Feinstein in a special election and Boxer in the regular election. So that is the most breaking, surpassing the Harkin-Grassley tandem.

CONAN: Who has just surpassed the Hawaiian tandem.

RUDIN: That's right, Akaka and Inouye, but of course the longest of ever, I believe, was Strom Thurmond and Fritz Hollings. Fritz Hollings was a junior senator for 36 years before Thurmond retired in 2002.


RUDIN: At the age of 419.

CONAN: Brad, stay on the line, we'll collect your particulars and send you that political junkie T-shirt and of course the no-prize button for your efforts here and in exchange for your promise of a digital picture of yourself wearing those to be posted on our Wall of Shame.

BRAD: Absolutely. I have three of the old shirts, looking forward to one of the new.

CONAN: All right, congratulations.

BRAD: Thanks.

CONAN: All right, in the meantime not just gun legislation, another area thought to be taboo for a long time, Ken, has been immigration reform. And this was Marco Rubio, the junior senator from the state of Florida, an Hispanic himself, a Republican, a Tea Party darling but nevertheless a strong voice for reform on immigration laws, part of the Gang of Eight.

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: But none of this is possible if we don't address the reality that there are 11 million human beings in this country today that are undocumented. That's not something that anyone is happy about, that's not something anyone wanted to see happen, but it is what has happened. And we have an obligation and the need to address the reality of the situation that we face.

CONAN: Four Republicans, four Democrats outlined their proposals. Yesterday in Las Vegas, President Obama outlined his proposals, similar but not exactly the same as the Senate's proposals. Here is the president.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: For comprehensive immigration reform to work, it must be clear from the outset that there is a pathway to citizenship.


CONAN: Clear from the outset is the operative phrase.

RUDIN: That's exactly right. I mean, everybody's talking about the fact that four Democrats and four Republicans have gotten together. This is a good sign. The Republicans are saying that for President Obama to now come in while the senators are working together is a typical Obama move and try to grandstand and sabotage the deal or potential deal.

And the Democrats will say what the Senate is talking about is that there will not be a pathway to citizenship until, quote, the border is secured. And Obama is saying what does that mean, how long will that take, and...

CONAN: And who decides?

RUDIN: Exactly.

CONAN: All right, so there's going to be a lot of questions about this, who decides what, and there are some other poison pills that could wind up in this legislation. Well, it ain't legislation yet. Nobody's marked it up, as we say. More on that in coming weeks, but in the meantime, in a few moments we'll be talking about Iowa, where every seat, it seems, is up in the air. Iowans, what's next? 800-989-8255. Email Stay with us. This is NPR News.


CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Political junkie Ken Rudin is with us, as he is every Wednesday. Normally, Ken, I ask if there's a new ScuttleButton puzzle. I understand your dog ate it this week.

RUDIN: Well, it's a long story, but it'll be up tomorrow morning. But there...

CONAN: You can believe it if you want.

RUDIN: Well, one of the buttons fell out of my bag, (unintelligible).

CONAN: Oh yeah, right.

RUDIN: But anyway, but there is a winner from last week's button puzzle. There were four buttons. There was a button that says Ken Rudin's - celebrating Ken Rudin's first 50 years. Some jerk thought - thinks that I'm that old. I don't know, it's preposterous. So anyway, you have Ken Rudin is 50, you have viva Che Guevara button, you have two hands holding up a dove from Vietnam War, and you have a Gray Davis California.

So if you have Ken Rudin is 50, viva Che Guevara, the dove and Gray Davis, you have 50 Che-dove Gray, which is what I was reading until the show started.

CONAN: Until buttons started - anyway...

RUDIN: But Becky Howard of North Syracuse, New York, is the winner.

CONAN: And she will get a political junkie no-prize T-shirt and that fabulous button that hasn't fallen out of his bag. In the meantime, if you'd like to see the new ScuttleButton puzzle, which will be up tomorrow morning, we believe, and Ken's column, go to

Now let's turn to Iowa. Democratic Senator Tom Harkin has announced he will not seek re-election in 2014, which gives Senate hopefuls in the state an opening. In two years, one Senate seat, three of the Hawkeye State's four congressional seats could be vacant. What a possible change.

So Iowans, what's next? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Send us an email, And to talk about the shake-up in Iowa politics, Kathie Obradovich joins us, political columnist for the Des Moines Register. She's with us from the studios at Iowa Public Radio. And nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.

KATHIE OBRADOVICH: Great to be here, Neal, thanks.

CONAN: And well, Harkin's announcement: A, ends an era; but B, opens up a brand new one.

OBRADOVICH: Yeah, definitely. It's hot politics on a cold day in Iowa. Just about everybody who has ever thought about higher office is definitely putting their name out there.

CONAN: And this is not just the Senate seat, but first let's concentrate on who is thinking about running for that Senate seat in Iowa.

OBRADOVICH: Yeah, well, I mean, if I start naming names, we're going to be here all day, but...

CONAN: Got the Des Moines phone book for us? Yeah.

OBRADOVICH: Yes, really. We can start listing who's not going to run for it. But the top names, of course, are: Iowa's Congressman Bruce Braley, a Democrat from Northeast Iowa. He is clearly thinking about running. Just this week, he's been up at the statehouse to talk to Democrats. He's starting to make the kind of moves that you would make when you're seriously considering a statewide run.

On the Republican side, Congressman Tom Latham and Congressman Steve King are both prominently mentioned. Congressman Steve King has been talking for a while about the possibility of a statewide run. I'm not sure that those two would actually run in a primary against each other. I think it will be one or the other.

So, but either way we're still talking about the potential for two open congressional seats in what is normally an off year in Iowa.


RUDIN: Well, that's a good question, Kathie, because we always talk about whether - we know about that Tea Party conservatives obviously want the most conservative candidate in the race, and of course that would probably be Steve King on the Republican side.

But there's also the so-called the establishment Republicans, who feel they'd rather win the seat than make an ideological point. And that would be Tom Latham. Why would those two not run against each other? Because we've seen these kind of primaries in the past in recent years.

OBRADOVICH: Well, Steve King and Tom Latham had the opportunity to run against each other in 2012. Tom Latham actually moved to Clive out of Ames in order to avoid a run against Steve King because of redistricting. Our districts were thrown together.

I'm not sure why they - why he would be any more eager to take on a fellow Republican of that stature running for a statewide office.

RUDIN: Well, except a Senate seat doesn't open in Iowa very often. Obviously, this is 30 years we're talking about.

OBRADOVICH: Yeah, it is a prime opportunity, except that, you know, when you think about it, you know, Senator Charles Grassley has been in Iowa. He has served for even longer. He is older than Senator Harkin. He may run for another term, but it's pretty unlikely that he would run for another - for two more terms.

RUDIN: One other question, the - this is interesting because you have Harkin, a liberal Democrat by any stretch of the imagination, Charles Grassley a conservative Republican in the same state, yet they both keep getting re-elected and pretty handily.

OBRADOVICH: Yeah, this is a mark of Iowa being a swing state. You have obviously groups of voters, big groups of voters, who have voted for both Tom Harkin and Chuck Grassley at different times over the years. And, you know, as the years have gone on, obviously the seniority of both of these gentlemen, you know, add to the power that Iowa has in the Iowa Senate. And so that has been, I think, part of the reason why some people might be willing to, you know, set aside, perhaps, some of their personal political opinions and keep voting for these guys.

Also, you know, frankly most of the time the quality of the challengers willing to take on a powerful sitting senator has, you know, in recent years, at least, you know, been - hasn't been a huge pool.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get a caller in on the conversation. Troy(ph) is with us from Iowa City.

TROY: Yes, I would like to see Jim Leach run for the Senate seat. He used to be a Republican. He endorsed Obama. He's a great choice. I have talked to him quite a few times. And he is the best choice that Iowa can make because he fits right in the middle of each field, Republicans and Democrats.

RUDIN: Troy, what party would he run...

CONAN: Exactly.

RUDIN: What party would he run under?

TROY: I would think the Republicans dislike him because he endorsed Obama, but he does come with a lot of Republicans' views. So I would have him run as a Democrat, though.

CONAN: Well, Kathie Obradovich, what do you think?

OBRADOVICH: Well, I don't think that Jim Leach has ever actually been a Democrat, even though he did endorse Barack Obama. And he certainly had a long political career representing some of the more liberal areas of Iowa, more Democratic areas of Iowa.

I have not heard his name mentioned as part of the mix. Let's just make that list a little bit longer, shall we?

CONAN: Thanks very much, Troy, appreciate it.

TROY: Great, thank you.

CONAN: Let's go next to - this is Jason(ph), Jason another caller from Iowa City.

JASON: Yes, sir, how are you doing? Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Good, thanks.

JASON: Huge fan of the show.

CONAN: Thank you.

JASON: I grew up, been living in Iowa city most of my life, and now I'm currently in the southwest part of Iowa, which is a very interesting dynamic. As the lady from Des Moines was saying, you know, the western part of - very, very conservative, and I'm a progressive. But I agree with Troy that I think that Jim Leach is a great - will be a great choice. I think he's independent-leaning.

I'm - Tom Harkin's a huge hero of mine, but I think it's time for the younger progressives to take over the movement.

CONAN: And who would that be?

JASON: Bruce - someone (unintelligible) Bruce Braley's name has been thrown around and some other people. So right now - but there's really no frontrunner at the moment. It's supposed to be interesting next couple of years in our political scene.

CONAN: I think it's going to be - I think you're right on that, it's going to be an interesting political scene. Jason, thanks very much for the call. Ken?

RUDIN: Kathie, whenever we talk about Iowa politics, there's always a little trivia footnote there that no woman has ever been elected to Congress from the state of Iowa, the Senate or the House. Not many states can say that. Is it an anomaly? What do you make of that?

OBRADOVICH: You know, part of the reason for that is that we keep on - keep re-electing our politicians for years and years and years. I mean, this is an opportunity that has not come along in the political lifetime of a lot of Iowans where you have the opportunity for a lot of open seats at the same time.

We just went through redistricting, and, you know, we had five - we had, you know, more congressmen than we had seats open. So we have, you know, a situation where there just hasn't been a lot of open seat opportunities. You know, will this be the year? It's a possibility. Most of the candidates we're hearing are, you know, are male.

But, you know, if those congressional seats in particular open up, there may be more opportunities for women to run. You hear the name of Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds. I think she's more likely to wait and try to run for governor after Terry Branstad finally decides to end his reign at the Iowa statehouse or Iowa capitol.

CONAN: And he would be up, as well, in 2014.

OBRADOVICH: He will, and so this will be a huge election cycle in 2014.

CONAN: And Christie Vilsack, the former first lady, also has been mentioned, also ran for Congress in 2012. If the seat opens up, maybe she does run again.

OBRADOVICH: Yeah, potentially she could run again, and I think that she would make a better statewide candidate than she did in the Republican-leaning district where she ran against Tom Latham. She has statewide name recognition and would be one of the few, probably, one of the few women who can say that.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller in. This is Julia(ph), Julia with us from Preston, Iowa.

JULIA: Yeah, Creston with a C. Yeah, I was going to mention Christie Vilsack, and I'm wondering if that's - we all wondered why they put her up against Steve King because I live in the western part of the district, I mean of the state, and we knew that, you know, she's a fantastic candidate, but what chance did she have against Steve King. But maybe what's the party intended was just to get her feet wet, get her name recognition out. That's probably what they were thinking long-term.

CONAN: That Vilsack might have been the name recognition part, too.

JULIA: Well, yeah, but it's the whole woman thing in Iowa. I mean, I worked - 20 years ago, I worked on the - a congressional campaign with her as a woman running and...

RUDIN: Lynn Cutler?

JULIA: No. What, who? No. Oh, I can't remember. She was a secretary of state for a while.

RUDIN: Elaine Baxter?

JULIA: Yes, Elaine Baxter.

CONAN: There you go, Ken.

RUDIN: I have no idea of my birthday, but I can tell you who ran for Congress in Iowa 1984.


RUDIN: It scares the hell out of me.

JULIA: Well - and, you know, she was an excellent candidate, but, oh, the mud-raking that they did because - and the stereotyping. And at least - well, I think there would be that again. I don't know why it is in Iowa we can pass gay marriage, but yet we can't elect a woman for a congressional seat. Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks, Julia, very much. And are there dates that we should look forward to, Kathie Obradovich, as we look at these - well, it's Brownian motion with the congressional seats Iowa.

OBRADOVICH: Well, first of all, I'm glad the caller corrected me. I misspoke and said that Christie Vilsack ran against Tom Latham, which, of course, she's right. She - he ran - she ran against Steve King. But, yeah, dates looking forward, you know, I think that just, really, in the next couple of months, we're going to start to see this race jell out, where, I mean, you know, you finally get some candidates' commitments to run. And once we have the Senate seats scheduled or set, then there will be trickle-down, where these congressional races candidates come out for those. The primary, of course, in June would be the big date in 2014. But I think we're going to have a lot of this stuff scheduled and settled in 2013.

CONAN: Well, Kathie Obradovich, thanks very much for your time today. We appreciate it.

OBRADOVICH: Thank you.

CONAN: Kathie Obradovich is the political columnist for the Des Moines Register, and joined us today from the studios at Iowa Public Radio in Des Moines. Ken, it sounds like - if there's snow on the ground, we're going to head back to Des Moines.


RUDIN: You know, I can't believe we're not talking about 2016. Isn't that what everybody's talking about?

CONAN: We are talking about 2016...

RUDIN: We are? Oh.

CONAN: ...because, well, that was the subject when, by just coincidence, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama - well, it may have been at Mr. Obama's insistence - joined for a joint interview on "60 Minutes." And they were asked - the president was asked whether - what he thought about Mrs. Clinton running for president in 2016.


OBAMA: You know, Steve, I've got to tell you, the - you guys in the press are incorrigible. I was literally inaugurated four days ago, like - and you're talking about elections four years from now.

CONAN: And, of course, Mrs. Clinton - as Secretary Clinton still, I guess, until Friday - is not being - going to be drawn on her plans as yet, other than to catch up on her sleep. You can give that some appreciation. But, of course, the president sitting there, he's got a vice president who wants to run.

Well, as the president correctly says - we don't have to talk about this for a long, long time - but there is political action committees that are not waiting. And there's a new superPAC, Ready for Hillary, that just started. They're going to raise money and try to do what they can to get Hillary Clinton for 2016. Look, she says, I'm not intending - I'm not inclined to run for president. I'm not thinking about it right now, and I think that's true. But, of course, being a Clinton and being the, you know, of course, how well she did in 2008, those questions will be repeated over and over again as we approach that magic number.

Political Junkie Ken Rudin is with us, as he is every Wednesday. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. And, well, there was a woman presidential candidate who did not run last time around and whose star seems to be dwindling rather rapidly: Sarah Palin parting ways with Fox News this past...

RUDIN: Well - or vice versa. It seems like Fox News had - of course, there's no - nobody's come out and told us exactly what happened. And Sarah Palin, who always announces these things on her Facebook page or Twitter page, has been very silent about this. But it seems like that Fox News no longer wanted to pay Sarah Palin the million dollars a year that she had been being paid. And she was probably worth it in the beginning when she was exciting. There was rumors about her. There was excitement.

CONAN: Every tweet seemed to make headlines.

RUDIN: And that's absolutely true. And endorse - she would make an endorsement on her Facebook page, and that would be headlines and a lot of money. But when she decided not to run in 2012 - obviously, a smart decision - it seems like while her supporters are still there and there are millions of them, ultimately, her influence in the party seems to be dwindling. And what we heard Bobby Jindal in the beginning of the show talking about the stupid party, this was not a reference to Sarah Palin. But sometimes you need to elevate the conversation a little bit, and perhaps that leads to the lowering of Sarah Palin's influence.

CONAN: It might have been a reference to the Senate candidates, Akin and Mourdock, who made such...

RUDIN: That, too. Absolutely.

CONAN: ...dumb remarks about rape and cost the GOP two Senate seats, by anybody's calculation.

RUDIN: That's exactly right.

CONAN: All right. And then two words that need some definition, but are in the politics this week: sequester and filibuster. The first is, of course, those draconian cuts across the board that were put in in 2011 when they could not arrive at a debt ceiling deal. That was what was put off at the fiscal cliff - unthinkable, because there was just a straight percentage cut of all discretionary spending, i.e. everything but Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. And nevertheless, it now it looks like that's going to go through.

RUDIN: Well, we don't know for how long, but yes. We're approaching the March 1st deadline. Half of the cuts will come for the Pentagon, half of them will be domestic. And, you know, there doesn't seemed to be any urgency in Washington, which is so funny. But maybe everybody thinks that at the last minute, there will be a deal. And even if it does - even if we reach March 1st and there's no deal, we could have a deal on March 5th, or something like that.

But look, you know that the troops fighting overseas, they're not going to be shorthanded. They're not going to be without equipment. There will be plenty of money for that. So, again, this is Washington being Washington. We'll wait till February 30th.

CONAN: And filibuster, we were told...

RUDIN: There is no February 30th.

CONAN: There is no February 30th. Yeah, really?

RUDIN: Yeah.

CONAN: But we were told Harry Reid was considering the "nuclear option," quote-unquote, on filibuster, getting Democrats alone to change the rules to force everybody to do a "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." But, in the end, a lot of bang, no whimper.

RUDIN: Absolutely. He basically - the senior Democrat said, look. One day, we'll be in the minority, and we'll need a filibuster. So Harry Reid backed down from some of the more aggressive Democrats like Merkley and Udall and things like that, who wanted to make them stand up and hold up the filibuster. So there's very little reform. The only thing is that the majority party no longer needs to have 60 votes to force a bill to be brought to the floor. So that's a lot of power.

CONAN: Wow. Boy, that's a big deal in...

RUDIN: Hoo-ha.


CONAN: Ray LaHood, the secretary of transportation, Republican, member of the president's Cabinet, will be stepping down.

RUDIN: And that was a surprise, because the way he announced it - he announced it on his cell phone while he was driving. No, no. That's not true. No, no. No. Ray LaHood, one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet.


RUDIN: Until Chuck Hagel gets confirmed - he probably will get confirmed - the only Republican in the House, but Ray LaHood just said he can stay for the first term, and that's it. A wonderful guy.

CONAN: As mentioned, Chuck Hagel is up, his nomination to be secretary of defense goes before the Senate Armed Services Committee tomorrow. I believe we'll be talking about that after a short break. But Ken will be back with us next Wednesday, as he always is. Ken, thanks very much for your time.

RUDIN: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: You're welcome, Ken. The Political Junkie segment is produced by Laura Lee. After a short break, a look at one of those issues bound to come up as the Senate considers Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense. Aaron David Miller will join us to talk about the "Jewish lobby," quote-unquote. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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