Obama Discusses Egypt In Fox Super Bowl Interview

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President Obama talked about the situation in Egypt in an interview with Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly during the pre-game coverage of the Super Bowl. Obama said he doesn't know if President Hosni Mubarak will stay or go in the coming days, but he did say he knows Egypt isn't going to go back to what it was.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

President Obama talked about the situation in Egypt yesterday in an interview with Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly. When asked about whether he thought Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak would stay or go in the coming days, here's what the president had to say.

President BARACK OBAMA: Only he knows what he's going to do. But here's what we know, is that Egypt is not going to go back to what it was.

MONTAGNE: For some analysis, we're joined now by NPR's Cokie Roberts. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, Cokie, why do you suppose President Obama chose the O'Reilly show to speak in some length about the administration's reaction to events in Egypt?

ROBERTS: A very simple answer: The Super Bowl was on the same network and that's where the viewers were. And so the president went to the belly of the beast.

But, you know, look. In a situation like this, everybody's on their best behavior. So it's a good thing for the president to do. It shows that he's serious about trying to reach out, whether it's to Fox News with Bill O'Reilly or to the Chamber of Commerce later today, and it puts the people who are his hosts in exactly that position. They're his hosts, so they can't really be rude to him or they can't demonize him.

O'Reilly did ask the president if it bothered him that people hate him and when the president had a big smile by way of answer, O'Reilly pressed him on it. Mr. Obama said they don't hate me, they hate some funhouse mirror image of me, and I don't take it personally. Now, he graciously did not say who was holding up that mirror, but the more he comes across as a regular guy in these venues, you know, obviously the better off he is.

And it's all part of a planned strategy to relaunch the presidency going into next year's election. But of course the best laid plans can't be carried out in the real world, where situations like the one in Egypt disrupt them, and obviously that's been frustrating to the administration.

MONTAGNE: Well, you mentioned his visit today to the Chamber of Commerce. The protests in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East have of course dominated the news, and it seems that the president would prefer to talk about domestic issues. Search(ph) of things he - like jobs - he outlined in the State of the Union address.

ROBERTS: Yes, and you see that even, for instance, in his radio address on Saturday. In the middle of all of this turmoil in Egypt, with many people in his administration talking to the press about it, and it's all, of course, that the press is talking about, he his address was completely domestic, nothing about Egypt or the Middle East, and he's really clearly trying to find a way to make us pay attention to the kinds of innovative businesses and schools he wants to highlight that he talked about in the State of the Union message. And he had planned after that message to have a couple of weeks to be able to convince Americans of the soundness of his spending priorities before the debate on his actual budget begins.

MONTAGNE: Well, the budget debate will begin quite soon. The president is getting ready to put forward his budget proposals for next year. What is he going to cut?

ROBERTS: Well, we had a little hint yesterday when his budget director, Jack Lew, had an op-ed in the New York Times which was titled "The Easy Cuts Are Behind Us." But he said the administration is ready to cut some things like community services, which was near and dear to the president's heart as a former community organizer, and that they would cut $350 million out of that, that they would cut $125 million out of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and another $300 million out of the Community Development Block Grants.

Now Renee, I remember the Community Development Block Grants being on the chopping block back in 1981, 30 years ago, when President Reagan was there, and they're still with us, because the president caught then a lot of flak from mayors and other local officers. And so these are not cuts that are easy to make, and even if they were, they would still just be chicken feed in terms of cutting the deficit, and Lew said that in his op-ed. But - so it's going to be a big fight ahead.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, thanks very much. NPR's Cokie Roberts, who joins us many Mondays for analysis.

And you're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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