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Hayden at CIA? Response Is Mixed

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. With Steve Inkseep in Baghdad, I'm John Ydstie.

President Bush may announce his choice to head the CIA as early as today. He's expected to nominate General Michael Hayden, now deputy director of National Intelligence, to replace Porter Goss, who surprised Washington last Friday with his sudden resignation.

Joining me now for some analysis is NPR's Cokie Roberts. Good morning, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS reporting:

Good morning, John.

YDSTIE: Judging from first reactions, it looks like General Hayden's confirmation process could be a tough one.

ROBERTS: Indeed. He has been the person on Capitol Hill defending what has been called by its critics domestic surveillance, by its supporters terrorist surveillance program, of listening in on people in this country talking to people abroad who are suspected terrorists. And it's -- Democrats have been very critical of that program. But it's not just Democrats. Arlen Specter, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he hasn't gotten enough answers about that program. This would be an opportunity to ask more questions of General Hayden. But there's also been a surprising amount of opposition on something that has nothing to do with the surveillance.

Take a listen here to the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Peter Hoekstra.

(Soundbite of Fox News)

Representative PETER HOEKSTRA (Republican, Michigan): I do believe he's the wrong person, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. We should not have a military person leading a civilian agency at this time.

ROBERTS: That was on Fox News yesterday. Now, the good news for the White House is that Congressman Hoekstra doesn't get a vote on confirmation. But he is closely tied in with the intelligence community and considered an expert on the subject. And there are others voicing similar concerns, both Democrats and Republicans, saying that another military person should not be at the top of an intelligence agency.

YDSTIE: Mm hmm. But General Hayden also has some strong supporters on Capitol Hill, doesn't he?

ROBERTS: Yes, and again, in both parties. He has been a briefer, he's a very personable man. He's reached out to the press, and he certainly got a strong endorsement yesterday from Republican from Arizona John McCain.

(Soundbite of CBS program)

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): General Hayden is a very highly qualified individual. He is the President's selection, and so I hope we can move forward with it because we are in a war.

ROBERTS: Senator McCain was speaking on CBS. Now Senator McCain is not disagreeing with President Bush on much these days, as he positions himself for a Republican, a possible run for President in 2008, and he's particularly not separating himself on issues of national defense.

YDSTIE: Mm hmm. Cokie, why would President Bush choose this fight at this time, given his weak poll numbers and the problems he's been having on Capitol Hill?

ROBERTS: Well, I think that's part of exactly the reason he is picking this fight. Part of it is more of the shakeup that we've seen going on at the White House. And so Josh Bolten came in to replace Andy Card as Chief of Staff. And this is the first time one of those shake-ups is related to the thing that most people are upset with in those polls, and that's the Iraq War.

The President clearly doesn't feel that he wants to, or can, fire the Secretary of Defense, Rumsfeld, who's been under so much criticism. And, of course, any attempt at replacing the Secretary of Defense, in terms of a confirmation battle, would really be a killer. But also, I think that there's a strong view in the White House that this, as they call it, terrorist surveillance, works for them, politically.

That the Democrats could hurt themselves in the hearings on the subject, that they could look like they are opposing a tool that is useful in the war on terror, and that the only -- and that is, you know, the issue where the President still remains in the strongest of all, John, is on that question of who do you trust more to counteract terrorism. And any time that the White House can remind the voters that there is a war on terrorism going on, they think that works for them. And they're ready to have a fight, and they think that winning a fight will be helpful for this president, who's been considered something of a lame duck.

YDSTIE: Thanks very much, Cokie.

ROBERTS: Okay.

YDSTIE: That's NPR News Analyst Cokie Roberts. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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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.