Obama Approves Use Of Force Against Pirates

President Obama got involved in the pirate incident off the coast of Somalia. He had approved the action against the pirates that freed Captain Richard Phillips, who had been held hostage for five days.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

And the Easter weekend brought some big news - of course, pirates in an incredible ending to a hostage drama. But safety on the high seas is just one of the issues the Obama administration faces this week. NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us now with more on the political agenda. Good morning.

MARA LIASSON: Good morning Renee.

MONTAGNE: And lots to talk about Mara, but let's start - we'll get a first question in hear that we would get a first question in here about that first ever American ship seized by Somali pirates. An American captain held hostage. It presented an early foreign policy crisis for President Obama and the White House seemed to have managed it pretty well, don't you think?

LIASSON: Yes, they did. I agree. It was a small crisis, a small victory, but an important one, because if it hadn't gone as well as it did it would have been a big black eye for the United States and for President Obama. It was an incredibly dramatic rescue but the president handled it in his no drama Obama style. He did authorize the use of force if the captain's life was in danger and he had a series of briefings - he was briefed 17 times over the crisis -but he made no public in person statements about the crisis. And I think he handled in a very low key way. It was a classis asymmetrical war story.

I mean just as the U.S. has had to adjust to tactics to fight insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq, now they're going to have to adjust to fight these pirates on the high seas. Up until now, these ships have just paid the ransom as a part of the cost of doing business, but the president issued a statement saying that the U.S. is now going to work to prevent future attacks and to be prepared to stop acts piracy when they happen.

MONTAGNE: And in other news, Mr. Obama is going to Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago this week after just coming back from Europe and Iraq. That seems to be a lot attention to foreign affairs for a president who has such massive domestic challenges.

LIASSON: Yes, and he certainly has a massive domestic agenda that he's putting tremendous attention to, but he is going to the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad. He's stopping first in Mexico, where, on the agenda, will be drugs and guns - that is drugs smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico, and guns smuggled into Mexico from the U.S.; and also immigration, which the president will be talking to the Mexican president about.

MONTAGNE: You know, how about this question of immigration, I mean how much can this administration bite off? Can you add that to the plate that's already pretty full of challenges - fixing the economy, bank reform, health care, two wars?

LIASSON: Well, that's a really good question. You know, the White House is saying that it is going to start the conversation on immigration reform. It was a campaign promise of the president's. He said that he was going to try to pass a reform bill that would tighten the border but also put in place a process where the 12 million people who are here illegally could come out of the shadows, pay a fine, get to the back of the line, but eventually become legal. And the White House says they are going to start the discussions on this issue this year, not necessarily try to pass a bill by the end of the year.

It's not going to interfere with his top priorities, which are, as you say, health care and financial re-regulation, and education and energy. But this is a very important political promise because Hispanics are the fastest growing demographic block in the electorate, and it's something that he has to show that he is putting some energy into. Also, it's very important to Mexico.

MONTAGNE: Now, turning to the Easter weekend, there has been a lot of speculation about what church the Obama's would choose as their place of worship. Did they make that choice this past weekend?

LIASSON: No, they didn't. On Easter Sunday they were ready to go to church. The pools got in the van - the pool press got in the van at the White House, ready to see the answer to the question - and they drove all of one block to St. John's Episcopal Church, which is the traditional church of the presidents, just one block from the White House, and they attended the service there. So we still don't know what church, if any, they will chose as their regular church.

MONTAGNE: Okay Mara, we've saved the best for the last. The White House dog has arrived. And I think you might know something about it, what can you tell us about this most anticipated campaign promise.

LIASSON: And his most important campaign promise. He promised his girls they would get a dog if he won. And they have - it's a six month old Portuguese water dog, a gift from Senator Ted Kennedy, who has several of these dogs himself. The Obama girls have decided to name him Bo. And the most important thing about this dog is, it's six months old. And you know what that means - it's already trained, no newspapers.

MONTAGNE: In the White House.

LIASSON: On the floor.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONTAGNE: Mara, thanks very much.

LIASSON: Thank you.

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