Can Left And Right Work Together? Obama Means To Find Out

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President Barack Obama says he hopes an upcoming bipartisan summit will help Democrats and Republicans find common ground on health care overhaul. Host Scott Simon talks politics with NPR news analyst Juan Williams.


President Obama says that he hopes an upcoming bipartisan summit will help Democrats and Republicans find common ground on a health care overhaul.

President BARACK OBAMA: After debating this issue exhaustively for a year, let's move forward together.

SIMON: That's the president in his weekly radio address - well, an Internet address too. Our friend, NPR News analyst Juan Williams, joins us to talk about the week's political news. Juan, thanks for being with us.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Is there any reason to think that this televised health care summit with lawmakers from both parties will be an occasion for anybody to stray from their script any more than - forgive me - Tiger Woods did yesterday?

WILLIAMS: Well, yes. I think that there's a little bit of a difference with Tiger Woods. Here, both sides are now having to show their hands. And I think obviously what happened with Woods yesterday was pretty scripted. But for the moment, what you see is both sides digging in politically.

And what that amounts to is Democrats saying here's what we want: everything back from the Senate bill that was approved, the House bill that was approved. Here's what we're going to do to make our case to the American people in this public forum. Republicans on the other side saying this is ridiculous, let's scrap it and start over.

So what that means is, there's going to have to be some kind of compromise at some point.

SIMON: Now, Senator Reid says, apparently is now open to putting the public option back in.

WILLIAMS: Correct. And I think that's the most...

SIMON: Which was removed as a compromise, wasn't it?

WILLIAMS: Well, from the Senate bill.

SIMON: Yeah.

WILLIAMS: But it was in the House bill. But this is really the fascinating point - I say, they're digging in - the Democrats putting back things that previously were seen as unavailable or really unrealistic to them.

SIMON: Yeah.

WILLIAMS: But now they're putting this back in because they want to make the case in the public mind, much as Republicans want to make the case and have been making the case, that much of this health care reform bill is going to, you know, not only increase taxes but doesn't include things like selling insurance across state lines, tort reform and the like.

So, this is an opportunity to say to the American people they can get something done. I guess it's possible nothing will come of it, but both sides are invested in this gamble.

SIMON: Let me ask you about the Conservative Political Action Conference CPAC, as it's known - that's been going on in Washington, D.C. It can be a beauty pageant for presidential hopefuls, Republican presidential hopefuls. Any highlights that you noticed?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think Scott Brown introducing Mitt Romney - both out of Massachusetts. Romney being the former governor. And Romney did very well with an extremely large Conservative Political Action Committee meeting for Washington. It's the largest they've ever had.

There's definitely a tilt towards, you know, energy in a lot of the Tea Party arguments that have come against big government and against the Obama administration. Tim Pawlenty, former governor of Minnesota, did well in terms of making just that case.

Now, there's a big absence at the CPAC convention. That is Sarah Palin. I imagine if she showed up she would be quite the lightning rod. And the one odd point to mention here is that Vice President Dick Cheney showed up and he got some cheers of run, Dick, run. Of course he said knock it off.

SIMON: It's interesting, 'cause you bring up Vice President Cheney's name, who has been - maybe this has been under the radar - has become a proponent of gay marriage.


SIMON: There is a gay contingent at this CPAC conference and I wonder if there is a generational divide among conservative activists, or maybe something else going on here.

WILLIAMS: No, no. I think you're exactly right, and I think it's been evident all week at the CPAC convention. You see people who are there, you know, arguing old arguments, things that go back, you know, to the Reagan era and the like. And then you see younger people who are invested in things like let's end Don't Ask Don't Tell and making the arguments for more of the kind of anti-government low-tax issues that I think appeal to the Tea Party energy, you know, this new energy that's come to the party since Barack Obama's election and since Barack Obama's - President Obama's numbers began to fall.

SIMON: Which raises the announcement from Democratic Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana this week - he's not going to run for reelection. Matter of fact, he sounded like he'd rather have root canal surgery. So not - I mean, just a few months ago, analysts, including, God forbid, us, talked about how low the standing of the Republican Party was as a brand name on the issues. Now there are people saying that they actually stand a chance to take back the Senate in elections in a few months.

WILLIAMS: That's right. If you look at the generic ballot right now, Republicans are actually up slightly. It's within the margin of error, but what a change this has been over the course of the last year. And you start looking at - overall congressional disapproval remains very high and people are still saying the country is on the wrong track. And if you bore down into the numbers, people are particularly upset at the idea that Congress doesn't seem to get anything done.

And that's what you heard Evan Bayh complaining so bitterly about. But I would say overall the Republican brand is still a damaged brand. The question is whether to not it can ride the anger at President Obama in this midterm race.

SIMON: NPR News analyst Juan Williams, thank you.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Scott.

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