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GOP Likely To Keep Pressure On Obama Over Controversies


On a Monday, it's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm David Greene.

President Obama today is playing host to the president of Myanmar. It's the first visit by a Myanmar head of state in 47 years. After years of being shunned by the world, Myanmar is slowly being embraced by the West.

INSKEEP: Now, the White House may welcome this as a change of subject. The president and his team have spent much of the past week answering questions or deflecting questions about three controversies. They center on last year's attack in Benghazi, Libya, on the IRS targeting of groups with names suggesting links to the Tea Party, and on the Justice Department subpoenas for the phone records of reporters. Democrats and Republicans are asking the Obama administration about who knew what and when.

GREENE: The narrative in the news media is that the White House is under siege, which has some Democrats already fretting over what all this could mean for them in the next election.

Cokie Roberts joins us on most Mondays, and is with us. Good morning, Cokie.


GREENE: So yesterday, the White House seemed to go on the offensive, sending out the senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer to appear on, I think, almost every Sunday talk show. I mean, is this a sign that the administration is really concerned about fallout from all of this?

ROBERTS: Sure it is, and with good reason. Look, the White House was able to dismiss the Republican investigations into what happened in Benghazi as, quote, "a political sideshow." But then when you get the IRS going after the Tea Party and the Justice Department seizing Associated Press records, you know, you start to get what Mitch McConnell - the Senate Republican leader - called a culture of intimidation.

Now, the Democrats think that's the way over the line, and point to the fact that the president's approval ratings haven't taken a hit so far. But they are fearful that this could be deep water here.

GREENE: Well, Cokie, supporters of any president at a moment like this will ask if we're keeping everything in perspective. I mean, so much of the coverage is not about the facts, but really the narrative. I mean, a culture of intimidation, I saw a headline on CNN this morning: Obama's Three-Headed Beast.


GREENE: I guess - I mean, I just wonder, is there a point where the narrative actually starts to affect policy decisions?

ROBERTS: Sure it does. And, look, it's not just the narrative. I mean the Tea Party members feel now that they - their conspiracy theories are justified. And they have showed up in town, and they have flooded the phones and emails of members of Congress since all of this has come out. And, look, the Republican leaders had really kind of dismissed the Tea Party after the 2012 election, you know, where demographics were clearly on the Democrats' side and the issues were on the Democrats' side.

And so the Tea Party looks like a danger to them, being too far to the right. But now they're, you know, they're absolutely reenergized, and they're going to show up in Republican primaries next year. And that's going to have an effect on public policy between now and then.

I mean, Republicans running for office are already facing a very energized, pro-gun group of people, with the NRA getting everyone riled up on the gun control. Then you add to this the Tea Party being very active again, and it becomes extremely difficult to vote, particularly on immigration - the president's a policy issue - to vote for that, and for any kind of budget deal. So it starts to affect public policy.

GREENE: And we could say, we have seen how the Tea Party can certainly impact Republican primaries around the country. And I wonder, as we look at 2014, I mean, could these controversies sort of stay there and make a difference in that election?

ROBERTS: Sure, absolutely. And, look, the Democrats in the Senate particularly are in deep trouble already. They've got six retirements, four of them in states that are going to be hard for the Democrats to hold, plus four Democrats running for reelection in red states. So, you know, they could face very active Republican opponents. In off-year elections, the electorate is whiter, older, richer, more Republican. And, you know, if the president loses the Senate, his last two years are going to be very difficult, indeed.

GREENE: All right, Cokie, always good to talk to you. Have a good week.

ROBERTS: You, too.

GREENE: She joins us most Mondays here on MORNING EDITION. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Cokie Roberts was one of the 'Founding Mothers' of NPR who helped make that network one of the premier sources of news and information in this country. She served as a congressional correspondent at NPR for more than 10 years and later appeared as a commentator on Morning Edition. In addition to her work for NPR, Roberts was a political commentator for ABC News, providing analysis for all network news programming.