Week In Politics: Obama's Economic Speech

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Renee Montagne talks to NPR's Cokie Roberts about President Obama's planned economic speech in Illinois this week and other political news.


On this Monday, it's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

President Obama is about to refocus on the issue Americans cite is their number one priority, the economy. He'll be making that turn after a surprise speech that had people talking all weekend. On Friday, during the White House briefing usually held by the press secretary, it was President Obama who approached the podium to address the Trayvon Martin verdict. This coming week, the president will travel to Knox College in Illinois to deliver what's being billed as a major speech on the economy.

Joining us now for this and other political news is commentator Cokie Roberts. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: Now the last time, Cokie, that the president dealt with the economy through legislation was the big stimulus package, passed in his first year in office. Since then, I think it's fair to say he's felt thwarted by Congress on the economy. Has that changed at all?

ROBERTS: Well, probably not in terms of legislation. But Wednesday's speech in Illinois is just the first of three that he's going to make this week on the economy - another in Missouri, another in Florida. And I think what is happening here is he wants to shape the debate as we head into the end of the fiscal year, and we're going to have fights in Congress over spending and the debt limit.

But it is also true that he does have a reason to think things are better on Capitol Hill. The Senate came to at least a temporary bipartisan deal on that so-called nuclear option on the filibuster last week. That followed on a bipartisan deal on immigration. Then they came to a deal on student loans, and another one on a shield law for reporters. And some Democrats and Republicans are joining together on how to handle sexual assaults in the military. So there is movement going on in the U.S. Senate.

MONTAGNE: Well, it's going on but what is going on?


MONTAGNE: I mean a new spirit of friendship and the U.S. Senate?

ROBERTS: I wouldn't go that far. But look, Renee, Republicans have a very good shot at taking Senate next year if they don't blow it. And they need to have some record of accomplishment. They know the voters are angry with Congress. Polls show that they're angrier with Republicans than Democrats. So it's in the Republicans' interest be able go home and say, look, we're working for the American people.

That's a particularly appealing message to voters who are in the middle, who don't care much about ideology but do care about getting the job done. Republicans had trouble with those voters in several Senate races last year, partly because of the candidates who were nominated; but partly because of the messages they conveyed. And they simply just don't want to make that mistake again. And so they are being careful to appear to be cooperative.

MONTAGNE: Although House speaker John Boehner said something interesting yesterday, that voters should judge Congress by the number of bills they repeal rather than pass.


MONTAGNE: He doesn't seem to think that getting things done is a key to victory.

ROBERTS: Well, this gets back to something we've been talking about all year, which is the difference between the House and Senate; the fact that the House districts have Republicans in the base makes them want to stay very much to the right, and the Democrats the left. But that doesn't work very well statewide in a Senate race to just talk to the people who are in your base. And it certainly doesn't work at the national level. So that is a continuing problem for the Republicans.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much, commentator Cokie Roberts.

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