Specter Party Switch A Boost To Obama

Correction April 29, 2009

In some broadcasts, we said, "Just remember, 100 days is only one-tenth of [President Obama's] term." In fact, 100 days is about one-fifteenth of a four-year term.

Sen. Arlen Specter's switch to the Democratic Party came on President Obama's 99th day in office. On Wednesday, Obama marks his 100th day in office with a trip to St. Louis and a prime-time news conference.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

We asked some Pennsylvania voters for their take on Senator Specters announcement. For Democrat Laurie Sinclair(ph) of Harrisburg, the move was a surprise.

Ms. LAURIE SINCLAIR: I am shocked by it, but I think with this administration coming in, he sees that he can play a vital role.

MONTAGNE: Bill Schaeffer(ph) of Tower City is a registered independent.

Mr. BILL SCHAEFFER: I always thought him as a Democrat, anyway. So, I think his ideology and his just his voting record, I think, has been more along the lines of a - as a Democrat.

MONTAGNE: Emily Bennett(ph) of Hershey describes herself as a moderate Republican.

Ms. EMILY BENNETT: I dont think anyone is going to voice the Republican side anymore. I think its just all going to be Democratic, and I dont want it to be like that.

MONTAGNE: Now lets bring in another voice from Washington. Mara Liasson is NPRs national political correspondent, and she joins us now. Good morning.

MARA LIASSON: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: A nice surprise for the president this week.

LIASSON: It certainly is. What a gift on his 100th day in office. President Obama is pretty close to getting a 60-vote filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Now, once Specter becomes a Democrat and if Al Franken from Minnesota is seated, once Norm Coleman finishes all his legal challenges to that election, the Democrats will have what they need to choke off a filibuster. And so, at least on level of measurement politically, President Obama ends his 100 days with a lot more clout than he started with.

MONTAGNE: How does the president intend to mark this 100th day?

LIASSON: Well, hes going to do everything he can to control his own 100-day report card. This morning, hes going to be flying off to give a - to attend a town hall meeting in Missouri. Thats a nice swing state. And then hes flying back to Washington for a primetime news conference, which will be carried live on most NPR stations.

And, you know, just remember, 100 days is an arbitrary and pretty meaningless deadline. But there are a lot of things that the president can and will point to as accomplishments. Hes passed the biggest spending bill in history. Hes started bailouts for banks, the housing industry, the auto industry. Hes made two successful foreign trips. Hes laid out an extremely ambitious comprehensive agenda on health care, energy, education.

So, certainly, hes had the most active 100 days since Franklin Roosevelt. And on that level, he can claim a lot of success.

MONTAGNE: And though this may be an arbitrary day, pollsters have taken note, how do Americans think hes doing?

LIASSON: Well, Americans are pretty happy with him. The Wall Street Journal is coming out with a poll today that shows he has an 81 percent personal approval rating. His average job approval rating is lower, 62 percent, but thats still right on par with other presidents at this time in their term, whether its Bill Clinton or George W. Bush. Jimmy Carter actually had 70 percent job approval ratings right about now.

So hes got some political capital. Americans like the president personally a lot. They like his policies a little bit less and his opponents a lot less. So, hes in pretty good shape at this 100th day.

He also - one other thing thats changed in the polls is that right track/wrong track number - Americans are asked whether they think the countrys going in the right direction or the wrong direction - has flip-flopped. It was 80/20. Eighty percent thought the country was on the wrong track before he was elected. Now its 60/40. Still, in the face of a terrible economic situation, the right track/wrong track numbers have improved tremendously.

MONTAGNE: And a lot of attention, of course, going into this and getting to this 100th day today. But how about whats in store for the next couple of hundred days?

LIASSON: Well, its true, the next couple of hundred days are going to be the real hard part. He has to actually get Congress to pass his agenda, and he has to get other countries to do what hes asking them to do. He has to try to figure out how to turn his popularity into real political leverage.

And I think the real measure for him is going to be at the end of this Congressional term. He has to get his health care bill passed - some kind of health care bill passed before the 2010 election year begins and starts to complicate things. Hes going to have to make a lot of hard choices that he hasnt had to make so far, figuring out with Congress how to pay for the health care bill.

He has a very different idea about how to pay for it than the Democratic Congressional leaders do. And we dont know yet how hard he is willing to fight his fellow Democrats to pass his initiatives. How hard will he fight to really get rid of the private student loan industry - something he proposed, Congress doesnt really like. How hard will he fight to get rid of subsidies to private insurers for Medicare - something else that he proposed, and Congress doesnt necessarily like.

So, theres a lot ahead.

MONTAGNE: NPRs Mara Liasson. Thanks very much.

LIASSON: Thank you.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Related NPR Stories

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: