Is Blagojevich Scandal A Distraction To Obama?

President-elect Barack Obama has sought to distance himself from the scandal in Illinois involving Gov. Rod Blagojevich. But is the scandal affecting Obama's transition? At the very least, some say the scandal has become a distraction.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Joining us to talk now more about that controversy and other political developments is NPR news analyst Cokie Roberts. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, there's been a lot of talk since this story broke about how it might affect President-elect Barack Obama and his transition. How does that stand as of this morning?

ROBERTS: Well, the Republican National Committee is trying to make something of the Illinois connections, but the Republican candidate in this past election, John McCain, said yesterday, with all due respect to the Republican National Committee - when John McCain says that, you know something else is coming - he says it's not the time for this. It's time for everybody to come together and support the new president.

Reports of contacts between Governor Blagojevich and Chief of Staff-designee Rahm Emanuel were released over the weekend. But there was no indication that there was anything untoward in those conversations. And the U.S. attorney has gone out of his way to say that Obama and his team have not been part of this investigation. And also, Renee, Blagojevich seems, shall we say, displeased with the Obama camp's unwillingness to play ball with his ideas.

MONTAGNE: Right. According to - you can hear him on tape being displeased, with expletive-laced displeasure.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROBERTS: Right.

MONTAGNE: You know, at the very least, though, Cokie, the scandal seems to have become at least something of a distraction for Mr. Obama.

ROBERTS: That's certainly true. And look, Barack Obama is somebody who likes things well-planned, smooth. He likes the script to go according to script. And clearly the whole transition has been knocked off by this whole scandal story. I mean, last week, for instance, when the president-elect named his health and human services director - Cabinet officer Tom Daschle - the press conference following it was all about this, all about Blagojevich.

I think there was exactly one question about health care, which Obama hopes to be a central part of his administration. And today he similarly will have an energy and environment announcement of Cabinet officers and other high-ups. And it's likely to be the same. It's likely to be another, you know, long session on what's going on in Illinois. But even with all of that, Renee, he is doing very well. The American people definitely don't seem to be focused on this. His approval ratings are staying at about 70 percent, and he is keeping up his whole grassroots operation that was going throughout the campaign.

So he's keeping people interested in him through the Web, through all of his campaign operation, and hoping to not only keep them interested in him as president, but also interested in the legislation that he hopes to put forward, starting right away when we come into the new Congress with that big economic stimulus package that we expect to see.

MONTAGNE: Well, meanwhile, the man who is still president, George W. Bush, returned from his weekend trips to Iraq and Afghanistan to continuing bad economic news. What's happening with the bailout of the auto industry?

ROBERTS: Well, over the weekend we got reports that the White House is having some trouble coming up with that bailout. As you recall, when the Senate defeated the 14 to 15 billion dollar bridge loan that the car companies were asking for, the White House said, well, they would step in to save the car industry. But some Republicans in the Senate have said to the White House that they need to pay much more attention to the demands of autoworkers and put limits on them.

There was a story in the Washington Post today saying that the financial services bailout has not really checked executive pay. So these measures are much tougher to write than they seem. And the president, though, has a problem with if he doesn't act, what effect it will have on the markets with only 10 more shopping days till Christmas.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, thanks very much. NPR news analyst Cokie Roberts. And you are listening to Morning Edition from NPR News.

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