Russia's Move On Crimea Is A Pivotal Moment For White House

President Obama spoke to the leaders of Britain, Germany and Poland on Sunday, and together they expressed "grave concern" over Russia's move to assert control over the Crimea region of Ukraine.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

President Obama spoke to the leaders of Britain, Germany and Poland yesterday, and together they expressed, quote, "grave concern" over Russia's move to assert control over the Crimea region of Ukraine.

The seven top industrial nations - the G-7 nations - have condemned Russia in what they are calling a clear violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. And Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to visit there. He will be in Kiev tomorrow. All this adds up to a pivotal moment for the Obama administration.

Joining us with her perspective - as she does most Mondays - is Cokie Roberts. Good morning, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: So, for the Obama administration, what are the politics of Russia's move on Crimea?

ROBERTS: Well, the president is perceived by many of his opponents - and even some of his friends - as being weak. And Senator Lindsay Graham said yesterday that he should stop going on TV and trying to "threaten thugs and dictators" - I'm quoting here. He says it's not his strong suit. Everybody's eyes roll when he does it. So we have a weak and indecisive president that invites aggression. Now, that's the kind of criticism you're going to hear. And, of course, it harks back to his drawing blood red line in Syria and then ignoring it, and the sense that, among the president's opponents, that foreign dictators feel like they can do anything and get away with it.

WERTHEIMER: The president is also hearing some strong criticism from conservatives about his plans for the military. His budget is being released tomorrow.

ROBERTS: And they say that it "guts," quote-unquote, the military. It does propose to reduce troop strengths to below World War II levels, and the Navy to the levels of about 1915. But, Linda, you know, as well as anybody what happens with budget proposals that go to Capitol Hill: not much. And this one is likely to have even less effect than most. The president has tried, in the past, to do some bipartisan outreach in his budgets. That hasn't worked for him. So I think that he's just giving up on that, and instead, he's not doing things like saying that the way Social Security is calculated should be changed. He's much more going to things that Democratic voters will like in an election year - so closing the tax loopholes for the wealthy, boosting the middle class. Now, you know, as I say, none of this is likely to go very far, but it is an election year budget.

WERTHEIMER: I guess you could say, Cokie, that the election is starting tomorrow. The primary season starts with elections in Texas for several state offices and House seats.

ROBERTS: Yeah.

WERTHEIMER: How does that look?

ROBERTS: Already, 2014 is upon us. And in Texas, of course, Ted Cruz looms over everything. There are Tea Party challenges all around the state to various offices, including to Senator John Cornyn. He is not likely to be in any real trouble, but it does have the effect of everybody rushing to the right. And it affects their behavior in the Congress once they're there. Several House members are also having challenges - Pete Sessions, because he's in leadership. Congressman Mike Conaway says: I don't know how I could be more conservative. But he's being challenged that he's not conservative enough. Meanwhile, that conservative political action conference is scheduled for later this week, and that's always the place where people who are running for president show up to show just how very conservative they can be. So we can see what's going to happen there.

WERTHEIMER: And President Obama made a speech to the Democratic National Committee on Friday. The president described Republicans as old political relics, saying they are stuck in the past on issues like gay rights and women's rights and health care. How is that likely to play in the midterms?

ROBERTS: He's hoping to use those issues in this 2014 election. He says that they want to legalize segregation based on sexual orientation. And he joked that Republicans had outside aids tell them how to talk to women. Look, that's the big hope, is that they can get people organized out to vote in this election.

WERTHEIMER: Cokie Roberts, thanks very much.

ROBERTS: Thank you, Linda.

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