The Political Purpose Of Obama And Boehner's Golf Game

Originally published on June 20, 2011 1:16 pm
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MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

I'll be sitting down in a few minutes to chat with both President Obama and former president, Bill Clinton. Well - sort of. They're actually two guys who actually impersonate past and present commanders in chief. It turns out that's a pretty good gig. And there are a lot of them here in Washington, D.C. We'll hear more about them coming up.

But, first, we wanted to check in on real political happenings. It's been a very busy week and weekend in politics, including some politics that took place on the golf course over the weekend. To give us an update, we've got Ron Elving with us. He's the Washington editor for NPR News. He joins us now in our Washington, D.C. studio. Welcome back, Ron. Thanks for joining us.

RON ELVING: Good to be with you, Michel.

MARTIN: This is an, apparently, an important week when it comes to the whole question of Libya. There are members of Congress who are increasingly very angry about the U.S. involvement there. Can you tell us, first of all, who's upset and why is this week important?

ELVING: There is a mix of people who are upset. It's kind of a loose coalition, to put it mildly, in the House, among some of the most liberal members - people like Dennis Kucinich, who have a big problem with foreign involvement by the president, particularly when the president doesn't come to Congress first for a declaration of war or for some other expression of support.

Then there are also a number of conservatives. Both libertarians, some of the Tea Party people, and people who are just implacably opposed to everything that the current administration does because it costs money and because they feel it's an abuse of the authority of the president. Now, this is kind of an old argument. Democrats and Republicans have been, generally speaking, on their own sides of the fence on this argument. But right now, with Barack Obama, who is a Democrat and who is someone that many of the Tea Party flavored people in the House have a big problem with, a lot of the folks who normally would've gone along with anything, say, George W. Bush wanted to do in terms of war powers, are suddenly putting up a lot of resistance.

MARTIN: Just yesterday, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham had this to say on NBC's "Meet the Press" about that. Here it is.


Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM: From my Republican point of view, the president needs to step up his game for Libya, but Congress should sort of shut up and not empower Gadhafi.

MARTIN: Which is interesting. But on the House side, House Speaker Boehner, where is he on this?

ELVING: He's in the middle. He would very much like not to interfere with the removal of Moammar Gadhafi. He would very much like not to embarrass NATO and see NATO fail. But at the same time, his Republican membership includes many people who have a big problem with this and want to have a vote at least. And they've already had one vote essentially rebuking the president for not having come to Congress for full approval.

Now, there's a clock that runs under the War Powers Resolution. The time for the president to have come and gotten some sort of formal acknowledgement from Congress has expired as of today. Also in the House they're going to bring another vote this week because a bill is coming to authorize and appropriate money for the Defense Department, which would include a lot of money that would probably wind up dropping onto Libya.

MARTIN: What's interesting here, is that, as you were saying earlier, that there are interesting political bedfellows on this. The New York Times editorial on Friday said, quote, Mr. Obama cannot evade his responsibility under the War Powers Act to seek congressional approval to continue the operation. That's Speaker Boehner's position. But the president says the War Powers Act does not apply here.

ELVING: That's right.

MARTIN: And that's their position. Where is this likely to end up?

ELVING: It's likely to end up in some degree in the courts, unless of course it all becomes moot because Gadhafi has been removed. If NATO succeeded, if the hostilities ended, this issue would go away. It would not proceed in the courts. It would not be the subject of floor debate in the House. And by the way, the Senate seems to be differently disposed here.

The Democrats are a little less restive in the Senate with the president. And as you mentioned, many of the Republicans, Lindsey Graham, John McCain, have been saying to their Republican colleagues, back off. I mean, this is the president of the United States. He's the commander in chief and you are making a mistake by challenging his authority to commit the U.S. in situations such as these.

MARTIN: Well, there is that argument there that Republicans, when they held the White House, had a very expansive view of executive authority.

ELVING: (Unintelligible)

MARTIN: And now some people say, what gives? Now that there's a Democrat in the White House, why is it that - and of course there are other people who say, well, actually, the real issue here is that Republicans control the House and that they're standing up for congressional prerogatives. So it's institutional as opposed to partisan, but I guess we'll have to see how that plays.

Speaking of - I was trying to find a segue to golf, but I can't. So I'll just say, Speaker Boehner and President Obama had this golf game on Saturday that - why was that a big deal that these two guys played golf?

ELVING: Because they generally don't have a lot of social contact. What they have is very formalized contact in ceremonial kinds of situations and then they fire and back and forth at each other in the media. That's not a good way to reach any kind of compromise. And even if you have a lot of people, as they do have, who are their representatives, who are negotiating with each other all the time, if you never get together face to face, it's very hard to reach the big decisions - the trillion dollar decisions.

And that's what we're really talking about here in raising the debt ceiling and bringing the Republicans on board by committing to large long-term spending cuts.

MARTIN: Finally, I understand that there's another potential Republican presidential candidate about to jump into the ring. Who is that? Tell us a little bit about him.

ELVING: Tomorrow we expect Jon Huntsman, Jr., from Utah, to jump in. And being a former ambassador is usually a little bit of a liability because it makes you seem like some sort of foreign policy wonk and in this case, Huntsman actually does speak Mandarin. So he is a very bright man. He's been very successful in business. He and his father made hundreds of millions of dollars in packaging, and he is a person who can present himself as an unusual, perhaps somewhat cerebral, alternative to the current Republican field.

And he's running some sort of intriguing ads in which you see a guy on a dirt bike riding through Monument Valley and we hear about some of his accomplishments and his rock band called Wizard, and how he's a different sort of Republican. And we'll see him in a little bit more conventional situation and perhaps a somewhat more conventional light, tomorrow, when he declares for president.

MARTIN: Ron Elving is NPR's Washington editor. He contributes to the It's All Politics blog. And he was kind enough to join us here in our studios in Washington, D.C. Ron, thanks so much for joining us.

ELVING: Good to be with you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.