Obama's Ratings Improve On Bin Laden Mission

May 9, 2011
Originally published on May 9, 2011 6:51 am
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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

President Obama is still riding high after last week's military operation that killed Osama bin Laden. The question now: Can Mr. Obama convert that success into increased clout as he addresses the economy and immigration while his team works with Congress on the budget.

Joining us now, as she does most Monday mornings, is NPR's Cokie Roberts. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: President Obama gave a long interview to CBS's "60 Minutes," which aired last night. What is your analysis of what he was hoping to accomplish?

ROBERTS: I think he wanted to show the country and the world that he was tough and decisive. And CBS highlighted that by teasing the whole interview with how resolute the president was. Let's listen.

President BARACK OBAMA: As nervous as I was about this whole process, the one thing I didn't lose sleep over was the possibility of taking bin Laden out.

ROBERTS: The president went on to say that anyone who questions that decision, quote, "needs to have his head examined." The Obama presidential campaign manager, Jim Messina, emailed a note out to the followers to watch the appearance. He clearly thought it showed the president as tough and decisive. Again, not some wishy-washy guy who couldn't make up his mind, as his opponents have portrayed him.

But Obama also made a huge point of trying to impress on those viewing that he didn't just come to this decision lightly, that he didn't shoot from the hip the way his predecessor has been portrayed; that he only made this decision to go in after a target that his intelligence team was only giving a 55/45 odds on that it might be Osama bin Laden.

But the president said he had such faith in the military. And over and over, he talked about how good our Special Forces are. Again, showing him as pro-defense. Again, an issue that the Democrats have had problems with and he in particular has been questioned about. So the president showing himself as being daring, decisive and pro-defense - all good things for him.

MONTAGNE: Well, also that successful mission against bin Laden has had an immediate effect on the president's personal approval rating. Is that likely to last?

ROBERTS: Well, it depends on what happens next, obviously. But this administration - just again, like the Bush administration - is trying to remind us about how much terrorism matters, how literally life and death it is. So yesterday, the White House sent national security advisor Tom Donilon out on most of the Sunday talk shows, to talk about how important it was to take down bin Laden, how much in charge and engaged bin Laden still was, that this was not some symbolic thing.

Donilon talked, over and over, about the amount of information garnered from the compound. He said repeatedly that it was the equivalent of the library of a small college. I'm not sure exactly what that means, but we get the idea that this is big - and why don't we pay attention to this for a while, instead of all of that messy deficit stuff.

MONTAGNE: Now, which is, of course, what Congress is paying attention to. It's clear the deficit is on the front burner. Are the negotiations over the budget affected at all by the killing of bin Laden?

ROBERTS: Well, sure - to the degree that it gives the president more clout. But the Republicans were already having trouble along these lines. They discovered the voters weren't all that crazy about their budget, when they went home for the last couple of weeks.

Today, speaker Boehner is going to New York to talk to the Economic Club. These are the Wall Street moguls where he has to reassure them that the Republicans won't send the economy into chaos when it comes to a debt ceiling vote. But Boehner also has to keep true to his caucus.

And also, the majority leader, Eric Cantor, is going to New York this week to ring the stock market bell. So, a lot of reassuring of Wall Street going on. And still various groups trying to get together: The Gang of Six, the not-so-bipartisan group at Blair House with Vice President Biden.

Nobody is able to reach consensus so far, Renee. I'd put my money on Biden more than anybody else being able to bring people together. But it's possible that they really won't come to an agreement on the deficit, and just have to go through the regular appropriations process. But they will have to figure out something on that debt ceiling.

MONTAGNE: Cokie Roberts, always good to talk to you. Thanks very much.

ROBERTS: Mm-hmm. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.