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Budget Battles And 2016 Bids: Recapping The Week In Politics


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Get ready for an un-Levin-ed Senate; the third generation Bush throws his 10-gallon hat into the ring; and the president charges up Capitol Hill. It's Wednesday and time for a...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Charm offensive...

CONAN: Edition of the political junkie.



CONAN: Every Wednesday, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us to review the week in politics. Senator Carl Levin joins the growing ranks of the ready-to-retire. Republican Paul Ryan and Democrat Patty Murray unleash budget plans. Virginia's lieutenant governor uncomplicates the GOP gubernatorial nomination. The Conservative Political Action Conference starts tomorrow with Sarah Palin but without Chris Christie. And the president claims no power over the Vatican.

Later in the program, former Governor Eliot Spitzer joins us to talk about second acts in American political life. But first political junkie Ken Rudin joins us as usual here in Studio 3A. And as usual, we begin with a trivia question. Hey Ken.

KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: Neal, where did you get that un-Levin-ed joke from?

CONAN: I got that from you.

RUDIN: OK, I just want to let the record show that. OK, it's a great joke, sadly. OK, the trivia question is, of course there's been a lot of speculation, a lot of talk about Jeb Bush the past week. Of course he's the son of a president, George H.W. Bush.

CONAN: How do you know that stuff?

RUDIN: I just - you know, I just - and he's also - you know, when Bush comes to shove. But and he's also the former governor of Florida, and of course another child of senior Bush G.W. was governor of Texas. So the question is: Before the Bushes, who was the last president whose child ran for statewide office?

CONAN: If you think you know the answer to this week's trivia question, the - before the Bushes the last president whose child ran for statewide office, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. The winner gets that fabulous no-prize T-shirt in exchange for a promise to send us a digital image of him- or herself wearing it for the wall of shame. There's a fabulous no-prize button, as well.

RUDIN: And they become pope.

CONAN: And they become pope. Well in fact I hate to interrupt, this is actually serious. There is a new pope. White smoke has just emerged at the Sistine Chapel chimney. They have elected a new pope, and we'll know who that is in about five or 10 minutes.

RUDIN: Somebody told me if it was orange smoke, Carrot Top would have been the new pope.

CONAN: No, that's - I don't think that's - that's just a rumor.

RUDIN: Just a rumor.

CONAN: Yeah, OK, anyway, Jeb Bush, as you mentioned, back in the news promoting his book, and, well, I think flip-flop is the word we keep hearing.

RUDIN: Well, the - certainly it was a convoluted explanation that Jeb Bush gave because for the longest time he was talking about the right to citizenship, the path to citizenship. In his new book about "Immigration Wars," he talks less about a path to citizenship and more about legal residency.

Now he's saying that it's not really a flip-flop, he wrote this book way, way, way back in the year 2012.

CONAN: Oh, ancient history.

RUDIN: Yes, when Mitt Romney and all the Republicans were basically doing everything they can to destroy any chances of getting any...

CONAN: Well, self-deportation and what Jeb Bush wrote about in his book sound remarkably similar.

RUDIN: Well, and the thing is Jeb Bush - for somebody who's been pretty reticent, you know, he hasn't run for office since 2002, he hasn't been in the news lately, he's certainly a power behind the scenes, but he's not somebody who just loves to go on talk shows. He's been on every talk show in the last couple of days basically not only saying that, well, I haven't ruled out running in 2016, not only talking about his new book but also saying well, here's what I really meant.

CONAN: Yeah, here's what I really meant to say. In any case, there has been another, well, potential presidential candidate in the news in the past couple of days, and that's the former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan.

RUDIN: Paul Ryan of course is the chairman of the House Budget Committee, and he's come up with a new budget which, in all honesty, sounds very much like the old budget. It's talking about repealing Obamacare, you know, getting rid of that, and I don't know how you do that with a...

CONAN: Democratic Senate and a Democratic president.

RUDIN: You could probably pass it in the House. And his budget of course cuts - talks about more cuts in Medicare and talks about a balanced budget I think in 2023. But again just like the Senate budget put out today by Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray, that also seems to be going nowhere. They're talking about $1 trillion in new tax increases or revenue enhancers, whatever you want to call it, and of course the Republicans say wait a second, we just raised taxes by $620 billion in January with the debt ceiling...

CONAN: Deal.

RUDIN: ...deal. So neither side seems to be talking to each other, even...

CONAN: Interesting Paul Ryan voted against that - those taxes in that deal. Of course they're in his new budget. It gets complicated.

In the meantime, we're going to break away to the other breaking story that's happening right now. As we mentioned, white smoke is billowing from above the Sistine Chapel. The great bell there is ringing. All that signifies the Catholic Church has a new pope. Phil Reeves is NPR's international correspondent. He joins us now from the Vatican. Good to have you with us, Phil.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: And it's good to be with you because the big bell is indeed ringing out over the city of Rome. The crowd that has been standing here in very poor conditions and relentless rain let out a big cheer the moment they saw the smoke spewing from the chimney on top of the Sistine Chapel roof, and this signifies one thing, of course, that we have a pope, the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church.

CONAN: And it will be I guess some minutes before we know who that is.

REEVES: Yes indeed it will. According to procedure, after a successful election, and this one has come after five rounds of voting, the cardinals will - who have carried out this election locked inside the Vatican will pay an act of homage and obedience to the new pontiff, whoever it is. The pope is then dressed in his - the white robes and red shoes of the papacy. And then eventually a cardinal will appear on the balcony overlooking St. Peter's Square to announce the news with the words, the famous words habemus papam, we have a pope.

And that's when the world's 1.2 billion Catholics will discover what they're anxiously awaiting to know: the identity of the new pope. In between that moment and now, we can expect people to stream into this square. The Romans often watch this procedure, when it happens, they watch it on TV and then come down here to celebrate the pope, who will appear on the balcony, and it's at that point he'll I believe deliver a blessing to the city and to the world beyond. And that, as I say, is when we'll find out who he is.

CONAN: All right, well, we're going to keep you with us until we find out that name. What's the mood there in the square?

REEVES: Well, you know, it's very strange because it's a horrible evening. People have been gathering here under this - in these very cold conditions, relentless rain. But they were very feisty from the beginning, this crowd. They're pilgrims, they're Romans, they're tourists. Some of them are carrying flags. They came here despite those conditions and despite a certain amount of skepticism, as well, that this process would be completed quickly.

And they came to witness history, and they have indeed done that because they were here when the white smoke came out. And as I say, this great cheer rang out, and the crowd is now waving these flags. They're waving to the TV cameras, which of course are all around recording this very unusual moment in history. And the mood is very, very jubilant, I would say.

CONAN: Unusual in particular because for the first time in, what, 600 years, there are two popes, Pope Benedict XVI retired, is now the pope emeritus and, what is off at the Castel Gandolfo?

REEVES: Yes, we hear that he has been following these events very closely on TV. So we can imagine that that is what he is doing, watching the scenes here and I suppose like the rest of us waiting with great interest to discover who has been elected the next pontiff, the pontiff who will replace him after his surprising and sudden resignation last month.

CONAN: So as you're sitting there, we're awaiting, as you say, the cardinal to appear and say we have a new pope, of course he'll say it in Latin, and it will sound much fancier than that. And then we will find out who it is, and that is the moment when we find out which of the various factions amongst the cardinals has emerged triumphant. It's a two-thirds vote required for election.

REEVES: Yes, 77 votes, and up until now there's been no clear frontrunner, although no shortage of course of speculation. So it is very difficult to sit here and to say who is going to appear on - you know, in a short while to - you know, who will be revealed to be the next pope. And so there is obviously a great deal of anticipation and excitement here at St. Peter's Square as people wait to find that out.

CONAN: The various - there are regional groupings, too, but as I understand it, they're not always quite so clear-cut. Yes, American cardinals might like to see an American pope, but that doesn't necessarily mean American cardinals are going to vote in a bloc.

REEVES: No indeed. One dynamic that is at work here is that between the curiae, the Vatican administration, which has been particularly in the focus of much criticism recently following the leak of papers that revealed maladministration and corruption within the Vatican, and the rest of the cardinals.

There are big question marks here. Will the next pope be someone from the developing world, where in some areas the Catholic Church has been growing? Will it be an Italian or a European, where of course there are concerns about the decline of Catholicism in Europe? These questions will eventually be answered.

There has been, as I know you're aware, a certain amount of speculation about the possibility of an American pope. Vatican watchers tend to be very skeptical about that. And as I'm describing - talking about this right now, I can see more white smoke still pouring from the roof of the red chimney that is up there erected on the roof of the Sistine Chapel.

CONAN: It's a very plain-looking...

REEVES: So - and the bell is still ringing.

CONAN: It's a very plain-looking chimney for - of course the Sistine Chapel, one of the most ornately decorated places on the planet, painted by some fellow named Michelangelo. Nevertheless, there was, what, eight years ago when the smoke emerging, well, we couldn't tell against the dark sky whether it was black or white. It was signifying the election of Pope Benedict XVI, and of course now they've added the bell to make it clear to everybody that there has been the election of a new pope.

And, well, they've changed the chemical formula for what they burn in the little furnace there to create the smoke to make sure that that smoke is either very black, as we saw in the first four rounds of that balloting, and now after the fifth round of balloting very white.

We're going to be back with you in just a moment to explain - as we await the name of the new pope. Of course, Ken Rudin - if you've joined us to hear the political junkie is still with us, and we're going to get around to politics, as well. But, well, right now we're really interested in the politics of the Catholic Cardinal College and who they have elected as a new pope.

So stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.