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Obama To Speak At Tucson Memorial Service

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Obama To Speak At Tucson Memorial Service

Obama To Speak At Tucson Memorial Service

Obama To Speak At Tucson Memorial Service

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Host Michele Norris speaks with NPR's Southwest correspondent Ted Robbins and national political correspondent Mara Liasson about President Obama's trip to Tucson. He'll speak at a memorial service this evening.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

In Tucson, they're lined up for blocks. Thousands of people wait patiently in the southwest sun for a seat at this evening's memorial for the victims of last Saturday's attack. President Obama is the draw for Mario Zickarelli.

NORRIS: I know it's a huge issue throughout the country - the amount of media attention that's been paid, it's just been unreal and rightfully so. And I really want to hear the president's views on it.

NORRIS: And Ernestina Talib said she's grateful the president is attending.

NORRIS: Everyone is like all crazy and scared and angry, and I think he, you know, it's his job kind of, to kind of lead this memorial service and start to give people the beginning of closure a little bit, so.

NORRIS: NPR's Ted Robbins is also outside the arena on the University of Arizona campus. He joins us now.

And, Ted, describe for us the scene and the mood there ahead of this memorial.

TED ROBBINS: Michele, the lines began forming this morning, and the students - as I walk along the line, students mostly seem to be upfront as you'd expect because it's on campus. And then as you go farther back, there are more and more people who might have taken off work or younger, say, high school students.

And the main question on people's minds right now - lips, I should say, is whether they're going to get in. And there will be an overflow. There's reports that they will put people in the football stadium right next door.

As I walked along the line, you know, it's a genial atmosphere as you'd expect on a college campus. But there's also a good deal of thoughtful discussion, especially about the media amplifying the partisan political views in the result of this - in the wake of this tragedy, which is really interesting for me to hear, and also especially online.

One young man said that there is that - he spends a lot of time online and hears nothing but heaven and hell, as he put it, you know, extremes on one side or the other. As he put it, there is no purgatory online, only heaven and hell.

People who are from here talk about the individuals affected. Everybody seems to know somebody who knew somebody who knew somebody. A couple of students from Colorado we talked with spoke about Columbine, and they were young then, but they feel the need to be around others. And that seems to be the main mood tonight...

NORRIS: And that's...

ROBBINS: ...today, I should say.

NORRIS: And that's Ted Robbins there at the site of tonight's memorial. We're joined here in the studio by national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Mara, has the White House given us any indication as to what President Obama might say this evening?

MARA LIASSON: Well, the White House says that he's going to be talking about healing, not politics. He'll be focusing on the victims' lives, not unlike the way he did in the memorial service for the Fort Hood shootings. He also told us on Monday what he wanted to say. He kind of read the stage directions or at least the instructions to his speechwriters, including him, when he said I think it's important for the country as a whole and the people of Arizona to feel as if we are speaking this directly to our sense of loss but also speaking to our hopes for the future and how out of this tragedy we can come together as a stronger nation. That is what he wants to do tonight.

NORRIS: He wants to talk about healing. But, Mara, I imagine there are some who might be disappointed that the president doesn't make an issue of the political environment, does not at least touch that.

LIASSON: Well, there might be some who are disappointed, but I don't think he intends to wade into that debate. You know, in 2008, the president ran to change the political tone. I think White House aides see that he now has a chance to do that again. They've been eager to get back to what they call first principles, to go back to that 2004 speech even in Boston where he talked about, you know, there are no red states or blue states, it's just United States. And I think that he was once seen as the antidote to polarized political discourse. And now, here's his chance to inhabit that role again.

NORRIS: Ted, I've only got a second or two to give you. Is there any one thing that people there say they want to hear from the president?

ROBBINS: They want to hear calm healing come together, and I think really pretty much what Mara just said.

NORRIS: Thank you, Ted. That's NPR's Ted Robbins in Tucson and Mara Liasson is with us here in the studio. Thanks to both of you.

LIASSON: Thank you, Michele.

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