Nobel Doesn't Relieve 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' Pressures President Obama was the keynote speaker Saturday night at the annual dinner of the Human Rights Campaign, one of the country's best known gay rights organizations. The president embraced the goals of the group, but admitted he had yet to tackle the toughest items on its agenda. The president was introduced at the event as the newest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, an honor announced just the day before and a subject of raging controversy ever since. Host Liane Hansen talks to NPR's Ron Elving about the political implications of President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize award and what's coming up on Capitol Hill.
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Nobel Doesn't Relieve 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' Pressures

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Nobel Doesn't Relieve 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' Pressures

Nobel Doesn't Relieve 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' Pressures

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

President Obama was the keynote speaker last night at the annual dinner of the Human Rights Campaign, one of the country's best known gay rights organizations. The president embraced the goals of the group, but admitted he had yet to tackle the toughest items on its agenda.

President BARACK OBAMA: When you look back on these years, you will see a time in which we put a stop to discrimination against gays and lesbians, whether in the office or on the battlefield.

(Soundbite of applause)

HANSEN: The president was introduced at the event as the newest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, an honor announced just the day before and the subject of controversy ever since. Joining us to discuss the many facets of being president and the continuing conflicts in the Capitol is NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Good morning, Ron.

RON ELVING: Good morning, Liane.

HANSEN: Will the Nobel Peace Prize make a difference for the president in his dealings with people overseas or in domestic politics?

ELVING: Probably not a material difference. It does add to the legend of Barack Obama. The question is whether that legend is a pure asset or whether it's getting in the way. It's heightening the tension, at this point, with some of those other egos in Washington and it's certainly not helping him with conservatives, but it could give him - the Nobel could give him some added leverage in certain situations - dealing with critics on the left, for example.

HANSEN: Well, many of the people who were at the HRC dinner last night, and who are marching on the National Mall today are deeply disappointed in the president on their own issues. They say he hasn't moved to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell in the military. And his Justice Department has been defending the federal law that says marriage can only be between a man and a woman. The president spoke to these issues last night and here's some of what he said.

Pres. OBAMA: And while progress may be taking longer than you'd like as a result of all that we face, and that's the truth, do not doubt the direction we are headed.

HANSEN: Ron Elving, will that be enough to satisfy gay activists who worked hard for the Obama campaign last year?

ELVING: Placate, yes. And you heard the response in the hall - it was very enthusiastic last night, but satisfy - probably not. These activists are saying this is the same language that they heard in June. And you'll notice, the president didn't set any deadlines. No timeline. And he has done that on health care and closing Guantanamo. And even if deadlines slip, they represent a more concrete commitment.

HANSEN: We must talk about health care when it comes to deadlines. Where does the big bill stand at this point?

ELVING: It's poised for one its biggest votes yet. Coming Tuesday morning in the Senate Finance Committee, the Democrats, if they hang together as expected, are going to pass the compromise brokered by their chairman, Max Baucus, and the Congressional Budget Office says this won't add to the federal deficit over 10 years. So, it's got the go code. And it's heading for the Senate floor, possibly it could even get one Republican vote.

HANSEN: Headed to the floor when?

ELVING: Possibly in the week of October 19th. That is if Majority Leader Harry Reid and his small band of Democratic senators can work out a deal between the Baucus bill and the other Senate bill from the Health Committee. And don't forget, there are still three bills going on the House side, which Speaker Nancy Pelosi is trying to mash up. And she could possibly get a vote on the floor. Well, we're probably looking at November in both the Senate and the House for that.

HANSEN: Now, one more issue - talk a little bit about the request of General Stanley McChrystal for a larger force in Afghanistan.

ELVING: The president met again on Friday with his national security team, just the high level innermost group and they're reportedly considering some kind of a middle ground strategy. Something that wouldn't give the general everything he asks, but which would not lower the current troop level and augment it somewhat.

You know, the argument really here is over what is MacChystal recommending? Is it 40,000, 60,000 additional troops, some other number and it's important in framing the decision. Because the president will almost surely not go for the highest number that's out there, whatever it is. It's important for him to look like he's splitting the difference and finding some kind of middle ground.

HANSEN: NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Ron, thank you very much.

ELVING: Thank you, Liane.

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