Obama Takes Stimulus Campaign to Indiana

President Obama holds his first prime-time news conference at the White House Monday. He will spend the day in Elkhart, Ind., pressing for his economic stimulus package, which the Senate debates on Monday.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

President Obama is taking his case for a huge economic stimulus package directly to the American people. He travels today to Elkhart, Indiana, a city suffering from one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. Tonight he holds his first primetime news conference at the White House.

The president's direct appeal comes ahead of what's likely to be a difficult week in Congress. Joining us now to set the stage is NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, just for the news, the Senate is expected to vote on the stimulus bill tomorrow and it appears to have enough votes to pass.

ROBERTS: Well, the key vote will come this evening on cutting off debate and seeing if they've got the 60 votes to do that. And people seem to think they do, because over the weekend a compromise, an $827 billion compromise, was worked out with the two moderate Republican senators from Maine and with Arlen Specter, the Republican from Pennsylvania, who has an op-ed today in the Washington Post saying why he supports the bill.

And he says it's because we've got to do something, and that's what the president's people were out over the weekend saying over and over again. The economy is scary, very, very scary, they were essentially saying, and just pass this bill. The differences don't matter. The Republicans are saying the differences do matter, that this is a bad bill. And they seem to be getting some traction on that, so that's why the president is going out to Elkhart, Indiana with double-digit unemployment and a mayor saying that he's got some infrastructure projects that are shovel-ready - the word of the moment.

And the president's also getting a little tough on the Republicans, saying these are the failed programs of the past that got us to this point in the first place. So I think that it will pass. It's an enormous piece of legislation. It's been a tougher slog than the president expected. It might not pass exactly by the Presidents Day recess, and it probably will not have the Republican support that President Obama wanted, but I think he will get this enormous piece of legislation through.

MONTAGNE: Well, the president has quite publicly reached out to Republicans, but most of them are basically saying: like him, don't like the stimulus package.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONTAGNE: You know, these are serious times, but is there some gamesmanship here?

ROBERTS: Sure. Sure, there is. And look, the president is very popular; the Democrats in Congress less so, even though Republicans in Congress even less so than that. The stimulus package itself only gets a bare majority in most polls, and it's very unpopular among Republicans in most polls.

So Republicans really don't see the need to sign on. They say that they're going to stick with their small government principles, and they also think the Democrats have left them out, regardless of the outreach from the president.

MONTAGNE: Well, where to put the blame for this lack of bipartisanship?

ROBERTS: Well, of course, as with most things, there's plenty of blame to go around. The Democrats are of a mood: we won, we don't have to negotiate. Republicans are kind of going through an identity crisis after the election. But look, President Bush had the same problem. He came to Washington trying to have a new tone and to reach out to the Democrats. His very peculiar tied election in 2000 made that impossible.

I must say I thought that with President Obama, with his big win and with so much good will, would have an easier time of it. And it is true that 81 percent in the Gallup poll give him credit for trying to be bipartisan. But even so, he has had some distractions here, distractions on some of his Cabinet and other appointees, mistakes there after what had seemed a picture-perfect start.

So you know, he's had his problems there.

MONTAGNE: So that bit of damage that's been done in his first, well, gee, couple of weeks of the presidency, any chance that'll be permanent?

ROBERTS: I don't think so. Look, he didn't need these problems of his appointees not paying taxes, and people are angry over the sense of entitlement that, you know, we pay taxes, why aren't these people paying taxes? But you know, I look at the late night comedians here and they're joking about Pelosi and Daschle, but they still haven't gone after Obama. So I think he's probably still all right.

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

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