Obama Presses On With Administration's Plans

President Obama took questions from reporters for one hour Wednesday night, marking the 100th day of his presidency. Obama urged Americans to take precautions against the swine flu virus, thanked Congress for passing his budget and paid tribute to members of the armed forces.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The auto industry crisis is just one of the problems that President Obama confronted in his first 100 days. And last night a reporter asked the president what so far has troubled him most.

President BARACK OBAMA: Troubled? I'd say less troubled, but, you know, sobered by the fact that change in Washington comes slow.

INSKEEP: One change the president favored came quite suddenly this week. Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter switched parties, and Democrats are now on the verge of having 60 votes in the U.S. Senate. If they're united, that would be enough to keep Republicans from blocking Democratic bills.

NPR News Analyst Juan Williams is following this story. He's with us once again. Juan, good morning.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So what's the president say about the altered situation?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, he said last night politics in America changes very quickly. This is a quite a moment in American politics to have a possibly of a filibuster-proof Senate for the Democrats. And President Obama said, though, you know, he believes that things are never as good as they seem, never as bad. And he reminded people that he, at one point in his political career, not so long ago, was down by 30 points in an Iowa Caucus.

But what - with 60 votes, he acknowledge that the tension for votes now in the Senate may shift to wooing conservative Democrats, people like, you know, Ben Nelson of Nebraska or Bill Nelson of Florida. Here's President Obama at his press conference last night.

Pres. OBAMA: I am under no illusions that suddenly I'm going to have a rubber-stamp Senate. I've got Democrats who don't agree with me on everything, and that's how it should be.

INSKEEP: Maybe not on everything, but does he now have the votes and the power to push through his biggest priorities like health care?

WILLIAMS: He does. That's the big point here, Steve. If you look at the next 100 days, you're looking at major issues that really would have tied the Senate in knots if the Democrats did not have this filibuster-proof majority or the possibility of it.

Health care is one, as you mentioned, but also things like renewable energy, especially the whole proposal to have a cap on - cap and trade on carbon emission. Even immigration, something again, that has paralyzed the Congress in the past, not so long ago, there's now a possibly of quick crafting this majority to get it done.

You know, you've got to think about the idea that just a matter of days ago the Democrats were thinking about using a reconciliation procedure that would have forced it through with just the simple majority vote, and that was something that the Republicans were saying was a - to them a nuclear option. It was going to blow up the Senate.

Now, that doesn't have to be and what was required, though, as the president was saying, is keeping conservative Democrats in the tent and trying again to possibly reach out for some more liberal Republicans almost as a fig leaf to say we have some sort of bipartisanship at work.

INSKEEP: Now Juan, when I think about the situation of the Republican Party, I found myself looking up excerpts of that old Monty Python movie, "The Holy Grail"…

WILLIAMS: Yeah.

INSKEEP: …where the king comes up against the black night and he chops off his arm, his other arm, his leg, and his other leg, and the guy keeps saying, come on and fight, you coward.

WILLIAMS: Yeah.

INSKEEP: How low are the Republicans now?

WILLIAMS: Who are those guys? Well, you know, they're pretty low. I would say they're definitely on the defensive to justify themselves. I mean, they have to explain why someone like, you know, why Senator Specter would leave after 29 years, why Senator Specter says that they've really pushed him out because they're so tough in terms of justifying their conservatism, saying that everybody must be as conservative.

And so people are asking, you know, what are the Republican Party? But you've got to keep in mind cycle, Steve. I think - you remember Democrats were riding high in '92 with Clinton, Republicans were riding high after '04, and Grove was talking about a permanent majority. I think you'll see them come back.

INSKEEP: Juan, thanks very much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR news analyst Juan Williams.

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INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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