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The Week Ahead In Politics

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The Week Ahead In Politics


The Week Ahead In Politics

The Week Ahead In Politics

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A discussion of President Obama's challenges in Afghanistan and in domestic politics, including the health care overhaul and gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey.


While awaiting those final election results, President Obama is considering whether to send more troops to Afghanistan.

And joining us now for some analysis on Afghanistan and domestic political challenges, is NPR's Cokie Roberts. Good Morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good Morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, as this high level debate goes on and on, about what to do in Afghanistan, there are those who say the president has to make a decision soon. Has that decision become anymore clear?

ROBERTS: No, as you say, the debate goes on and on and now he's getting pressure as being called Hamlet-like and dithering.

Look, those - quote, those criticisms are coming mainly from people who want to see a troop buildup and do it fast. The breakdown on it is interesting though, Renee, because it's not necessarily along party lines - or at least wholly along party lines. So you had, yesterday, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, saying that you don't hire, quote, "a crackerjack, like General McChrystal, and then not follow his recommendations." So, she's ready to back him. The secretary of state was in Great Britain yesterday, and saying that the United States and the U.K. are committed to confronting the threat of al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan - so, holding firm there.

It's interesting, Republicans are ready to support that troop buildup in Afghanistan, but they are increasingly on the attack domestically. They'd been ridiculing - spent the weekend ridiculing the president's Nobel Prize for peace - now, it's not something he asked for after all - but saying no prize for job creation, improved economy, the things Americans really care about.

MONTAGNE: Well, as you just turned to domestic challenges, this is the week we expect to see a vote on health care. Any sense of what finally will come of that?

ROBERTS: Well, the White House attempt to claim Republican support, outside of the Congress, for a health care bill hit a roadblock yesterday, when former Senator Robert Dole said that an ad showing his support for health care reform was misleading and the White House was forced to take the advertisement down.

So, the push is really all on the Democratic side. And liberal Democrats think that they can pressure their moderate colleagues who have been, of course, you know, opposed to the so-called public option. Liberals think they can pressure those moderates by organizing the liberal blogosphere.

But I think that, Renee, that's not likely to have much effect. People like Ben Nelson of Nebraska, is likely to get much bigger grief from the right than from the left - from the birthers rather than the bloggers. Congress will get a real gauge of where the voters are very soon, because there are gubernatorial elections coming up in New Jersey and Virginia, and those races will really give an idea of what people are thinking in the electorate right now, and they are hanging over the deliberations that are going on on Capitol Hill.

MONTAGNE: Well, talk to us about those gubernatorial races that you mentioned -New Jersey, Virginia. They look close, but really - I mean, this is a very off year. How much can we really read into them in terms of national politics?

ROBERTS: Well, every off year - off, off, off year - we have these races, you know, Virginia and New Jersey governor and New York mayor. The New York mayor is off the table this year - Bloomberg is fine. But the other two are really quite worrisome for Democrats. And in the Virginia you can make the case that the Democratic candidate's not a particularly good candidate, the state is still a swing state, and especially without the enthusiasm of African-Americans and young people for Obama, the Democrat could be in trouble just because of the nature of the state.

But New Jersey shouldn't be in play. It's become essentially a Democratic state, the governor's got loads of money, the Republican's not a great candidate. But there, the big hope among Democrats is that the White House and the national party will see Virginia as a lost cause and pour its resources into New Jersey.

So, there's a real problem with the Democratic Party, and some of them think that the national party is a drag in statewide elections. So, it makes it hard for the White House to pressure and harder to get legislation through, because if the White House is seen as a drag, rather than a help. So, all these things influence each other.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, thanks very much. NPR's Cokie Roberts.

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