ARI SHAPIRO, host:
This is Morning Edition from NPR News. Steve Inskeep is on assignment in Cairo. I'm Ari Shapiro.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
President Obama had a busy week dealing with two conflicts - one at home and one abroad. The fighting in Libya is continuing with no end in sight. Later this morning, the president will hold a press conference where he's sure to be asked about Libya.
Domestically, Democrats and Republicans are no closer to a resolution of the budget impasse that threatens to shut down the government by next Friday. Joining me now to talk about all of this is NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson.
MARA LIASSON: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: On Libya, the president has been criticized for not doing enough to hasten the departure of Moammar Gadhafi. Can we expect to hear anything new on this front today?
LIASSON: Well, we can certainly expect the president to address this at his press conference this morning. The White House says the purpose of the press conference is to discuss rising energy prices - gas prices, which, of course, is what ordinary Americans are paying more attention to than the conflict in Libya.
MONTAGNE: Although bound up in Libya.
LIASSON: Yeah. But Libya will be a main topic. The president has been hammered in the editorial pages for shunning leadership, sending conflicting messages, putting himself in a straight jacket, saying all options were on the table but then having administration officials shoot down each one, such as the no-fly zone.
And the White House has been frustrated by this criticism. They point out that this situation has only been going on for a little more than three weeks. This can't be solved immediately. They're also very wary of keeping the U.S. profile low, acting only in concert with the international community. They don't want to make it seem that the U.S. is orchestrating events in the Middle East.
White House officials say the president wants to be judged by his actions on Libya by results, not by what he says or didn't say or when he said it. Still, words do matter. And no one's words matter more than the president's. And I guess he decided that it was time for him to say something about Libya today and not just leave it to his surrogates.
MONTAGNE: And, Mara, do you have any sense of what are the next steps for the White House on Libya?
LIASSON: Well, the White House is still consulting with NATO allies. Hillary Clinton is going to actually meet with the rebels in Libya. She's also going to visit Tunisia and Egypt. Those are countries where democratic forces have been successful, at least for the moment.
The administration is also trying to assess who exactly the rebels are. They say they need to know more before they support a transitional government in Libya. They're not quite as ready as some European governments have been to recognize them.
The memory of the mujahedeen for the White House is very fresh. Obviously the mujahedeen started out as fighters against the Russian invasion in Afghanistan and ended up as the Taliban in many cases. So they are proceeding cautiously. But they are moving on a lot of different fronts.
MONTAGNE: And turning to the budget. The president has also been criticized by both Democrats and Republicans for not leading on that - laying out his plan to cut the spending on this budget year. Moving closer to a resolution there?
LIASSON: Not yet. We will hear more about that at the press conference today, too. On the budget, the president is getting criticized in a similar way for hanging back. Republicans and Democrats have been criticizing him. Democrats haven't been able to come together on a plan of their own other than opposing the Republicans' initial bill of $61 billion in cuts for the rest of this year.
The White House says they are talking to Republicans. Vice President Biden talked by telephone from Russia this week with House Speaker John Boehner. But at some point, Renee, the president will probably have to sit down with Republican leaders and resolve this.
The latest temporary spending bill ends next Friday. There's likely to be another short term one, otherwise the government would shut down. But the White House keeps saying it doesn't want to do this toll booth approach to funding the government. Every two weeks you have to pass another bill. And, of course, that approach does help the Republicans, because every two weeks they can say they are cutting more spending.
And there has been concern on the part of Democrats that they've been losing control of this debate. Republicans focus on the quantity of cuts. How big is the number? The president wanted this debate to be about the quality of cuts -where to cut and where to invest. And he needs to get that back on track.
MONTAGNE: Mara, thank you very much.
LIASSON: Thank you, Renee.
MONTAGNE: NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson.
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