Bin Laden's Death Is A Triumph For President Obama

The White House started calling members of Congress late Sunday night to let them know Osama bin Laden had been killed in a raid in Pakistan.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host: Cokie, good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Extraordinary morning...

ROBERTS: Exactly.

MONTAGNE: I understand the White House started calling members of Congress late last night to inform them of what had happened. What do you know about that?

ROBERTS: Well, yes. Members of Congress, and they have responded. And, of course, the responses - by way of statements - have been congratulatory. And Republican leaders in Congress have said, you know, that not only is the American military and intelligence forces to be commended but the president as well.

Republican presidential candidates or probable presidential candidates have not all been so gracious to the president, confining their congratulations to the military.

MONTAGNE: Yeah. Cokie, remind us though just how much the attacks of 9/11 changed the government.

ROBERTS: Ah, well, there were some changes there. But, you know, look, the real change coming here, Renee, now is likely to be a game changer politically. This could really make a tremendous difference. The fact is, is that we have been in a real silly season, both politically and in terms of media coverage with all the business of Donald Trump and the president's birth certificate. And, you know, this reminds people of what's really important.

The president was already scoring well in the polls and in handling terrorism. But Republican presidential candidates were trying to portray him as somebody who was very weak on terrorism, weak on national security. And the American public had really almost given up on capturing or killing bin Laden.

Back in 2004 in the Gallup polls, two-thirds thought that bin Laden would be captured or killed. By last year, that was down to one-third. So I think that the public is likely to see this as a triumph. The stories of excited troops, of excitement in the intelligence community, and the law enforcement community, it's all likely to be seen as a triumph for the president.

After all, it was the White House where people gathered as news spread about bin Laden's death last night. It was the White House where people went to shout, USA, USA, not the Capitol. So I think that you have, you know, you have a score here for President Obama.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Well, it's interesting when you talk about a game changer politically, Cokie Roberts, where you can recall the early part of President Bush's term after 9/11 when the war went very well in Afghanistan. His approval ratings soared and that seemed to bleed over into other issues. It gave him credibility on other issues for really quite some time. Is it possible the same thing could happen here now for President Obama?

ROBERTS: Yes, I think it is possible. It is - now, look, it doesn't shift the deficit and the debt limit away from center stage because there are some deadlines looming there. But I do think that it shifts the tone of debate on those things.

And I think that, also, I mean you've just heard from Mr. Bynum, you know, there could be terrorist threats facing us now. And that also tends to focus people's attention on what's really important, which is life and death. And I think that that is something that we just have to watch for as we go forward.

And it's going to be tough for these Republican presidential candidates who have a debate coming up this week, how they handle this.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, thanks very much. NPR analyst Cokie Roberts.

And you are listening to special coverage on the death of Osama bin Laden from NPR News here on MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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