Analysis: The Week In Politics

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NPR news analyst Cokie Roberts speaks with Renee Montagne about the latest on the earthquake in Haiti, the Massachusetts Senate election and President Obama's dropping poll numbers.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And when President Obama turned to two of his predecessors to lead private fundraising efforts for Haiti, he was carrying something of a tradition. Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush embraced the challenge of getting Americans to help, not just in the weeks ahead, but in the long term. Mr. Clinton is making his first visit to Haiti since the earthquake today. And joining us now, as she does most Mondays is NPR news analyst Cokie Roberts. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So, President Obama is reaching out to previous presidents, and in fact, one-time rivals, in a way that George W. Bush first did.

ROBERTS: Right. It's the first time we're seeing that President Bush called on since his presidency, and after the awful bitterness at the end of his presidency, it was nice to hear him make a joke about his relationship with President Clinton. Here's former President Bush on ABC's "This Week."

Former President GEORGE W. BUSH: I used to talk to President Clinton during my presidency. And then, of course, called upon he and President 41 - my dad - to work together on the tsunami and then Katrina. And then when you're both retired you kind of hang around the retirement center together. And so he and I have become friends.

ROBERTS: I think that's something not many Americans expect to hear, but it does seem to happen with ex-presidents. I remember interviewing George H.W. Bush soon after he left office and he said, you know, I can't imagine that Bill Clinton and I will ever become friends the way Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter have. But in fact, it did happen, and over those relief efforts that they did together, but also over just the shared experience of a very small club of people.

And we're seeing it now with the former minority and majority leaders of the Senate - Tom Daschle and Bill Frist - also together working on infant mortality and international development. It kind of gives a hollowness, Renee, to all of this bitterness that we see around us in Washington when they leave office and seem to be best of friends.

MONTAGNE: Well, that bitterness that you speak of seems to be in display in Massachusetts, where there is, of course, a fight over a key Senate seat. An election tomorrow - what's your prediction on the outcome there?

ROBERTS: Oh, I'm not going to make that one. It's just really...

MONTAGNE: No predictions. Well, tell us how it's shaping up.

ROBERTS: It's very, very tight and, of course, the fate of Obama's program, President Obama's program rests on it because it is that crucial 60th vote in the Senate that we've talked about all year. The president was there yesterday; former President Clinton was there. Millions and millions of dollars have gone in.

This is a huge shock to the Democrats that it should even be close, much less in doubt. And the Republicans has played on a populist theme, which is not at all hard this year with this economy, but now this election is seen as a straight referendum on President Obama's health care bill. And somewhat ironic, given the fact that it's based a lot on a health care plan that's in place in Massachusetts that the Republican Scott Brown voted for.

But the Republicans are now framing this health care not as the bill itself but as an arrogant disdain for the will of the people. They keep saying that, you know, the American people are screaming don't pass this health care bill and that the Democrats are going to do it anyway. And that's how they're portraying the Democratic Party as kind of a deal-making pols out to fulfill their own agenda regardless of the people - and that's a real problem for the Democrats in this election in Massachusetts, particularly if you look at the economy -people are mad.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Cokie Roberts.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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