Week In Review With Jake Tapper
SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Time now to review some of the major stories in the week's news. NPR's Dan Schorr still away. We're joined now by our friend, ABC News senior White House correspondent Jake Tapper. He's also the interim host of ABC's "This Week."
Jake, thanks so much for being with us.
Mr. JAKE TAPPER (ABC News): Oh, it's my pleasure. Thank you.
SIMON: A couple of weeks ago, pundits - maybe even on our respective programs -were comparing this administration's political skills to Carter or Hoover years. This week, President Obama is being hailed as some kind of Franklin D. Roosevelt. What is passing this, to misquote the vice president, big cussing bill say about the president's legislative skills? Does it strengthen him for other battles?
Mr. TAPPER: Absolutely it does. But as you know, Scott, this is a fickle town and with the 24 hour Internet, cable news channel, media culture, successes don't have the longevity that they once did. President Obama turned to an aide after the health care bill passed and said, I guess they'll think we're smart again for at least another four weeks. And the aide quipped, Maybe more like two.
But it's true that his is a big bleeping deal, as the vice president so artfully put it. A lot of presidents have tried to get health care reform passed and they have failed. And whether or not you think it's a good bill, this is a big legislative achievement. And it probably would have hurt him more than it will help him now if it had failed, because that would have been a really big defeat.
But I think without question the president is strengthened and perceived as having been able to achieve something that other presidents were not able to.
SIMON: We must note: Same week that health care overhaul was signed into law, the administration pledged changes to HAMP, the Home Affordable Modification Program. Now, this was supposed to help three to four million homeowners. So far has only helped 170,000. Is this the kind of thing that fuels skepticism out there about large federal programs?
Mr. TAPPER: I think so. And just to clarify on the HAMP program - you cited just over 100,000 individuals that have permanent mortgage modifications. The administration points out that there are lots of - more than a million who have temporary modifications. Although, as you pointed out, when the president introduced this plan in February '09, the three to four million that he said were going to be helped, that was permanent modifications.
But I think it does fuel skepticism, because you have these tens of billions of dollars in government programs that are introduced and announced to much fanfare, and then often they're not as successful as the administration would like. In some cases nothing actually ever happens with them. And then, you know, every few months you'll hear from the administration, oh, we're going to fine-tune this one.
This is the second time that HAMP - the housing program - has been fine-tuned. A few weeks ago, you might remember, the president went to Nevada and talked about adjusting it for the five states that are hit hardest by the housing crisis.
But the administration's position on this is, look, these things are not set in stone and the problems are changing and evolving. Right now the bigger problem than it was a year and a half ago is that there are more unemployed than we thought and there are more Americans underwater than we thought. Those who owe more on their homes than their homes are currently worth.
So at the end of the day, the administration will be judged in whether or not the programs work, not whether or not they had to fine-tune them.
SIMON: I have to ask you about some of the reaction to the health care bill being signed. Some representatives received threats. At least one brick thrown through a campaign office door late at night. Look, I don't make a habit of criticizing people that I don't listen to or read or follow a lot, but I had to note - Rush Limbaugh this week referring, forgive me, to the Democrats who voted for health care overhaul as bastards and saying we need to wipe them out.
Is this crank stuff or evidence of something larger?
Mr. TAPPER: Well, I think that there is an angry electorate. Obviously not all of the electorate - and certainly not even all of the conservatives who oppose health care reform, or independents or Democrats who oppose health care reform, for whatever reason.
I think in a different time, language - the language of politics, much like the language of comedy, is very much about fights and wars and battles and the language gets very heated. We talk about battleground states. We talk about targeted members of Congress. And we don't think anything of these things.
But when it's fueled by a little histrionics and when it's fueled by anger and then actual threats and actual violence starts taking place - we saw, in addition to the threats of violence against members of Congress, we saw some African-American members of Congress, including the legendary Representative John Lewis of Georgia, racial epithets were hurled at them. It becomes disconcerting. And I think a lot of people are very troubled by it.
SIMON: Finally, U.S. and Russia formalized a deal Friday to replace the strategic arms reduction treaty. You broke a story last night on ABC that suggests how President Obama may have nailed that argument down.
Mr. TAPPER: You know, it's so interesting. The deal almost fell apart last month, because the Russians at the last minute of these negotiations suddenly wanted to attach missile defense to the treaty.
And the president on a February 24th phone call after weeks and weeks of the Russians pushing said, If you persist on this - to Medvedev, his Russian counterpart - if you persist on this, we're going to have to walk away. And ultimately the Russians blinked and there was no direct linkage in the treaty. And it looks like a big success for the president.
SIMON: Defending a Reagan-era program.
Mr. TAPPER: Defending a Reagan-ear program.
SIMON: Jake Tapper, senior White House correspondent for ABC, interim host of "This Week."
Thanks so much.
Mr. TAPPER: Thank you, Scott.