After Summit, Obama Takes On Domestic Issues

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President Obama is back in Washington, after a four-day trip that took him to Latin America and a summit of Western Hemisphere leaders in Trinidad. Meanwhile, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are ending their recess.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

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

Steve Inskeep is on assignment in Detroit all this week.

President Obama is back in Washington after his mission to Latin America. As the president looks to push his domestic agenda, he has a delicate balancing act to perform. And joining us now to talk about it is NPR's Cokie Roberts. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: President Obama got quite a warm welcome at the Summit of the Americas, but he did have two big issues to deal with and that's Cuba and ongoing tensions with Venezuela. President Hugo Chavez included in that, of course, we hear so much from him. How do you think the president handled those issues?

ROBERTS: I think he did just fine. He is basically having an I'm not George Bush tour of the world and saying we're going to start over again in our relations with most of the world. And with Cuba, he did provide an opening for families to go back to Cuba to visit, and that seems to be very well received even by Cuban-Americans in Florida. Basically, everyone seems to know that the current policy, the long policy that we've had so far hasn't worked in terms of freeing political prisoners, etc.

And when it came to Venezuela - Hugo Chavez, the president, met with President Obama, who was essentially civil. And he's gotten some criticism from that, here - you know, why you are talking to that awful person? And which President Obama brushed off. He says look, the economy of Venezuela is 1/600th of ours, it won't endanger the United States to shake hands. And that really was his main message in Latin America, and the message apparently that he received - which is that the United States must still play a leading role in the hemisphere because of the size of our economy. And the president said even our critics were cheering us on because the need for the U.S. economic motor to be working in Latin America.

MONTAGNE: Well, now that the president is back home and wrestling with domestic issues, he's faced with something of a dilemma, which is how to convince consumers and business owners to spend more while keeping Congress convinced that there's a crisis that has to be dealt with so that he can push for his ambitious domestic agenda.

ROBERTS: Yeah, I really think that this is going to be fascinating to watch him try to walk this line, because we've heard him out there saying go refinance, go buy cars, you know, the chief salesman, and things are getting better, you're safe to do that, while trying to say to Congress, nothing's safe at all. We might still have more bank bailouts ahead. There's credit card companies to regulate, get the government into all kinds of areas of the economy and the economy's in such terrible shape that we have to have major overhauls of health care, education, energy.

I think it is very much a mixed message and one that I think you're going to see Congress having a lot of trouble dealing with.

MONTAGNE: And what do you think, is Congress going to go along with the president's big plans?

ROBERTS: You know, I think you are going to see problems from both parties. We saw the - last week on Tax Day, these tea parties that were staged around the country, and Republicans are taking heart from those saying our message that the president is spending too much and borrowing too much is getting through. And the president will have his first cabinet meeting today where he will ask for $100 million in cuts, that's in a $3.5 trillion budget, but I think it's a recognition that this deficit issue is taking hold and Democrats are fearful about that as well. So this is not going to be an easy path for the president ahead.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Cokie Roberts. And Cokie is the author of "We Are Our Mothers' Daughters," and a new edition has new stories including efforts by Michelle Rhee, the chancellor of Washington DC's public schools, to turn those schools around.

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