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Politics with Ron Elving: Hayden's Confirmation

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And maybe there was an edge in President Bush's voice as he announced his choice for the new CIA director today.

(Soundbite of Presidential Press Conference)

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Mike Hayden was unanimously confirmed by the Senate last year for his current post. And I call on the Senate to confirm him promptly as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

CHADWICK: The choice of General Hayden, and the manner of its announcement, followed a weekend in which pivotal members of Congress signaled their reservations about this choice.

Joining us now, NPR's Senior Washington Editor Ron Elving.

Ron, welcome back to the program.

RON ELVING reporting:

Hello, Alex.

CHADWICK: So this morning, the President said General Hayden was supremely qualified for the job and ought to have it. What is the style of the President's remarks, what does that tell you?

ELVING: Style matters. And this is a White House in which style has been consistent. They like to be sure of their aces. They like to show you that they're sure they're doing the right thing. And in this instance, I don't think there's any question they think it's an open and shut case. Mike Hayden is the perfect man for the job they want done in their minds. They see him as having the supreme qualifications, as the President said, his 20 years of experience. But also because he's already been working under John Negroponte. And they're sending the message that's the new CIA director job; working underneath the director of national intelligence, who's now the boss man. And that's what they want to get across here.

So in addition, he obviously has a great number of characteristics that are valuable, in terms of dealing with Congress. And normally, he's one of the most popular people up there, when it comes to getting a briefing from someone in the intelligence community.

CHADWICK: Well, but they put this name out over the weekend to see what kind of reaction they got. And it was not at all completely favorable. Still, they seem to be going into this maybe even eager for a battle over this, especially with Democrats.

ELVING: It's hard to avoid that impression. They think this is a winner for them. They think that this is a way that they can engage with the Hill, and make an issue that they think they win on with the American people come to greater prominence, come to greater preeminence. This has all the characteristics of the political strategizing of Karl Rove. We saw it in 2002 in getting the Republicans back into control of the Senate, largely by emphasizing the issue of national security and the new Department of Homeland Security. And in 2004, of course, we characterized the Iraq War as being a question of national security and patriotism and loyalty.

And these strategies have worked for Karl Rove, as the primary political strategist for the President. They make the Democrats look like there's something they care about more than national security.

CHADWICK: Okay, but what about the Republican critics, because there are quite a few of those?

ELVING: That's a wrinkle they may not have entirely anticipated. Suddenly they start hearing from people like Peter Hoekstra, Saxby Chambliss, the Senator from Georgia on the Senate Intelligence Committee, saying that they're bothered about having a four-star general take over the CIA. This implies that somehow the military is taking over what had been a civilian intelligence function.

And even if that's ultimately not the issue that this nomination turns on, it does raise question marks about whether or not these Republicans are still lock-step willing to do whatever the White House wants them to do. And that maybe something they weren't entirely prepared for. But, as we saw this morning, full speed ahead.

CHADWICK: Yeah. You know, you mentioned Karl Rove as the strategy guy on this. He has some difficulties himself, still, with regard to a story that has relevance to the CIA.

ELVING: Well, this is a holdover, really, from well before Porter Goss. But the pre-war intelligence flap that involved Joseph Wilson, his wife who turned out to be a CIA agent. The White House got that information out in several, sort of, backdoor ways. And Karl Rove has been explaining, five times now, before a grand jury how he didn't break the law and any of that. And he just had forgotten some conversations that he had had with some reporters.

There is still somebody else who is on the hook for this. But as it stands now, Karl Rove has not been indicted and the cloud has not been dismissed over his head. But it's still part of the overall relationship between the White House and the CIA.

CHADWICK: NPR's Senior Washington Editor Ron Elving. He writes the weekly column Watching Washington for our website, npr.org, and has the story there this week of why Porter Goss had to go.

Stay with us. You're listening to DAY TO DAY. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.
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