GOP Struggles To Find Itself

Members of the Republican Party are working on defining the GOP. There's a dynamic going on inside, and outside, the Washington beltway. In Washington, things have been friendlier than they've been in a while.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Joining us now is NPR news analyst Cokie Roberts. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And as we've just heard, Republicans will have an uphill battle in opposing President Obama's high court nominee. Hearings will likely come at a time when Republicans are struggling to define themselves as a party. How is that all likely to play out?

ROBERTS: Well, yeah, it's interesting. There's a dynamic going on inside and outside of the Beltway. Inside the Beltway, it's more friendly than it's been in the lot of years between Democrats and Republicans. Outside the Beltway, you've got the conservative radio talk show hosts trying to say to Republicans hang in there, don't abandon your conservative principles - liberal bloggers saying the same thing to the Democrats.

And Republican leaders - former leaders, especially - seem to be coming forward and siding with the talk show hosts. Yesterday, former Vice President Dick Cheney was asked on CBS which kind of Republican he liked better, Colin Powell or Rush Limbaugh, and he said he'd take Rush, politically.

That just gives, of course, more fodder for the Democrats. At the White House Correspondents Dinner Saturday night, President Obama joked that the Republican Party does not qualify for a bailout. Rush Limbaugh does not count as a troubled asset, he said. And Dick Cheney, the president went on to say, was supposed to be here, but he's busy working on his memoirs tentatively titled, "How to Shoot Friends and Interrogate People." So they're providing some nice laugh lines for the Democrats.

MONTAGNE: President Obama also joked about all the fuss over his first 100 days and sort of looked forward to his next 100. Let's listen to a short clip.

President BARACK OBAMA: Finally, I believe that my next hundred days will be so successful, I will be able to complete them in 72 days.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Pres. OBAMA: And on the 73rd day, I will rest.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONTAGNE: Well, Cokie, on a more serious note, it seems the president has managed to keep health care reform alive, despite all of the skepticism.

ROBERTS: And today - his big day today is to meet with the people the White House is calling the health care stakeholders: the insurance plans, the medical association, the hospital association, the big pharmaceutical association and the service employees unions.

And we were told in a conference call yesterday that they are going to announce that they are voluntarily holding down health care costs by 1.5 percent. Now, health inflation's been at about 6 percent a year, so that's not such a big deal. But the administration is saying that it could really close the deficit.

Look, what we have here, Renee, is a lot of health insurers and others in the industry worried that Congress is going to set up separate competitive government-run insurance program, and they're trying to stave that off. So we've see the health insurance companies already say we'll cover preexisting conditions. We won't discriminate against women. So they're moving to try to stave off what they fear could be worse.

MONTAGNE: And now is Congress likely to respond to all those plans?

ROBERTS: Well, that plan of a separate government-run program has been running into all kinds of trouble in Congress, anyway. So there's likely to be something of a sigh of relief if they think that the insurance companies will help them out here. But the big problem is enforcement. Who is going to guarantee that these health care costs really are cut? And that is something no one is answering right now.

But the president is planning to have a speech about this midday today. Maybe there will be some answers then.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much. NPR's Cokie Roberts.

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