Health Summit Provides Obama A Leadership Test When President Obama sits down with Republican leaders for his live health care summit Thursday it will look like he is trying once again to find that elusive commodity: bipartisanship. But, in fact, a lot more will be going on at Blair House, including an important test of presidential leadership.
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Health Summit Provides Obama A Leadership Test

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Health Summit Provides Obama A Leadership Test

Health Summit Provides Obama A Leadership Test

Health Summit Provides Obama A Leadership Test

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When President Obama sits down with Republican leaders for his live health care summit Thursday it will look like he is trying once again to find that elusive commodity: bipartisanship. But, in fact, a lot more will be going on at Blair House, including an important test of presidential leadership.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

As NPR's Mara Liasson reports, the president has to make sure his own side of the aisle is behind him.

MARA LIASSON: No one in Washington thinks there's much consensus to be found between the two parties at this point in the health care debate. Instead, the political purpose of tomorrow's meeting, for the president, is something else. As Mr. Obama explained it last week, he wants a contrast.

BARACK OBAMA: The Republicans say that they've got a better way of doing it. So I want them to put it on the table.

LIASSON: Dee Dee Myers, who was Bill Clinton's press secretary, says Mr. Obama is not the first president to be slow to understand the singular power of the office.

DEE DEE MYERS: President Obama is learning that. He thought he could sit down and reason together with some leadership of the House and the Senate, which were controlled by Democrats. And he's found out that he has to do more that. This is going to take him doing something that he's been unwilling to do so far, which is really hold certain wavering Democratic members' feet to the fire.

LIASSON: Bill Galston, who also worked for President Clinton, says to do that, Mr. Obama will have to get in touch with his inner LBJ.

BILL GALSTON: That very, very simple task will be at the center of the Obama administration's presidency for the next few weeks. And it's not too much to say that a substantial portion of the credibility of the president's leadership itself is riding on the outcome.

LIASSON: The fact that Mr. Obama has found himself in such a desperate situation is to some extent his own fault, says Galston. Time and again, he's tried to delegate big jobs to others and when they fail he has to come to the rescue.

GALSTON: That is the president's pattern. Call it mastery and drift, where there's an extended period of drift during which things aren't going so well. And then when it becomes clear to the president that they aren't going well, he tends to intervene, intervene quite strongly.

LIASSON: The president may have waited too long to take ownership of the bill, Galston says, but no one can say he isn't bold.

GALSTON: As president, Mr. Obama has hardly been risk-averse. And this is something oddly that he has in common with his predecessor, George W. Bush. He is quite impatient with small-ball politics. He wants to throw long passes, and if need be, he's willing to throw a Hail Mary.

LIASSON: But presidential scholar John Milton Cooper, who just wrote a biography of Woodrow Wilson, disagrees.

JOHN MILTON COOPER JR: And I think delegating and keeping his cool as - comes naturally to Obama, anyway. And I think he can turn that into something good.

LIASSON: Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House.

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