SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. NPR senior news analyst Dan Schorr is at home recovering from an illness. He plans to be back with us soon. So this week we're pleased to be joined by our friend, NPR news analyst Juan Williams.
Juan, thanks very much for being with us.
JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Scott.
SIMON: And, of course, it is health care weekend. And Steny Hoyer, the majority leader from Maryland, was on our program in the other hour. And he said we will have the votes - 216 votes - by the time we have to cast them. Which you don't have to be Richard J. Daley to know is not the same thing as saying we have the votes already. Where do you think that - how do you add things up now?
WILLIAMS: Well, it depends on how many people who've previously voted yes now have problems and might be going to no. And we're uncertain about how many those people are.
But by various news organizations around Washington right now I would say that on average you're either at 216, which is the number you need, as you said, or you're about within half a dozen. It's very close. And, of course, all the signs show that there's the momentum for the Democrats and the White House to get those 216.
SIMON: Have the Democrats - I'm thinking back to what Representative Kucinich said this week when he announced that he was changing his vote, and he said that he didn't want to harm the potential of the Obama presidency. Have the Democrats begun to use that argument, do it for the president? Which is kind of the other side of saying that if the president doesn't win this he's politically handicapped for the next few years.
WILLIAMS: Absolutely. You know, the president had over 36 members of Congress at the White House. He's spoken to 64, Scott. So this has been his total preoccupation. He's delayed his trip, you know, to Indonesia and Australia. This is the entire focus of his efforts. And as he's speaking to people, he's saying two things. One is - and I think this has been the refrain now for several weeks, you know, that this is the right thing to do. It's not about politics. And, of course, everybody looks at him and says you're in Washington, wake up.
And then the second thing is he says, is - and I think this is the one that really gets to their hearts is, look, this will be my presidency. This would leave me so mortally wounded that what will it - what will I be able to get done? This would end my presidency.
And in making that appeal, I think that everybody who is on the Democratic side is saying, well, wait a second, there's something larger at stake here. The president likes to talk about Teddy Roosevelt, you know, and the idea of a transformational president.
And he says that when it comes to issues ranging from immigration - and you know there's some on the Hispanic caucus side who are reluctant to go along because the illegal immigrants will not be covered by the health care plan - to people like Dennis Kucinich, who are concerned that there's not going to be a public option. The president's saying, hold on, let's look at the big picture, please.
SIMON: Is the group of anti-abortion representatives who are Democrats in the House, do they become very significant right now in these last few hours?
WILLIAMS: They are. They're critically - I mean, they would push it over easily if you were able to get what, you know, by various estimates is let's say a half dozen to 10 votes. So that's clearly within the margin of what every news organization is counting right now in terms of a vote count.
So the argument then becomes one about, you know, exactly is this about abortion? And that's the White House argument, that this is not a bill about abortion. We will accommodate you as much as possible without, again, antagonizing people who support abortion rights and who might therefore fall off the bandwagon and go to vote no, having previously voted yes.
But then the conversation is one in which you get Catholic nuns opposing Catholic bishops. You get people coming out and saying that with everybody covered by health care the need for abortion is going to be less. There'd be more contraception.
But the argument goes off in so many different directions, Scott, that at some point people like the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, your guest Steny Hoyer, get frustrated with it. And I think that's what you heard in your conversation with him. I mean, they feel like, you know, we've got - we've accommodated you as much as possible. Now let's see if you can work towards getting some deal with us.
SIMON: Juan, it wouldn't be cynical to suggest that congressmen in both parties are taking a look at opinion polls, both nationally and in their own district. And what do they disclose at this point?
WILLIAMS: The bill's unpopular. If you ask Americans why they oppose it, the number one reason is they don't believe that it's deficit neutral. They think it's an entitlement. They think it's going to drive up their health care costs personally.
And they suspect it may result in increased taxes down the line. When you tell them it's going to cover 32 million Americans, a lot of people who have health insurance - most Americans, obviously - think, well, gee, I don't want to change my plan. Seniors, in particular, Scott, think that there's risk to Medicaid and Medicare.
And, of course, they're right. Medicaid's going to expand. Part of the funding for the plan comes from reductions in Medicare spending. So, you know, there are lots of people who out of self-interest, you know, have doubts.
And I would say this, too, that the White House message machine really failed the president for most of the last year. I mean, what carried the day were things like town hall meetings, loud opposition, Sarah Palin talking about death panels and, you know, grandma's going to get the plug pulled on her. All that kind of stuff really has dominated the conversation.
So the overall bill - things like the deals the White House was making with specific senators in order to win their votes, that has become sort of a noxious smell around the entire process for many Americans. And I think that's why they oppose it.
Although it's key to say that when you ask Americans, does the country need health care reform, it's still overwhelming. More than 60 percent of them say, yes, we do.
SIMON: Let's wind up with some international news, if we can, before we slip away with you, Juan. Secretary of State Clinton was in Russia this week. She spent some of her time there trying to get their support for more stringent sanctions on Iran. Did she get anything?
WILLIAMS: No. And, my gosh, it looked like so uncomfortable for Secretary Clinton in dealing with the Russians this week, because she'd made it very clear that the United States has no point of opposition to delivering supplies to Iran when it comes to delivering nuclear power, energy, but that this is not the time to do it given that the U.S. and all the allies are seeking leverage over Iran to stop their development of nuclear weapons.
The Russians are not going down that path and the Chinese are not going down that path. But Secretary Clinton did not expect this announcement while she was standing right there, and clearly felt chilled by the announcement.
SIMON: Well, Juan, always nice talking to you. Thanks very much.
WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Scott.
SIMON: NPR news analyst Juan Williams, reviewing the week's news. Dan Schorr, let's just repeat, is home recovering from an illness and he plans to be back with us soon.
Thanks again, Juan.
WILLIAMS: You're welcome.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.