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Obama To Address Nation On Strategy Against Islamic State


Congress is coming back from summer vacation, and lawmakers had planned to focus over the next eight weeks on the issue of immigration and, for most of them, also on getting reelected. But instead the question dominating Washington right now is how the United States should deal with militants who call themselves the Islamic State. President Obama will address the nation about this on Wednesday night. Before the speech, he plans to meet with congressional leaders to try to map out a role for the legislative branch. Joining us now, as she does most Mondays, is Cokie Roberts. Cokie, good morning.


GREENE: So help me sort this out. The president has said that he is not planning to announce that that the country is going to war here when he speaks Wednesday. But he seems to be and his advisers seem to be creating a lot of buildup for this address.

ROBERTS: Well, I think we're still dealing with the president having said, famously, in that press conference before he went off to the NATO summit, that we don't have a strategy yet. So now he wants to make clear he does have one. And he believes that it's been thoughtfully put together. It's a strategy of engaging the countries around Iraq and Syria, shoring up Sunni moderate groups and getting a new government in Baghdad that Sunnis feel that they can buy into, all as a way of fighting the Islamic state.

And he's just returned from a NATO summit where he says, quote, "the entire international community understands that this is something that has to be dealt with." You know, you had heard there'd been a lot of concern before now that the president himself had not believed that this group had to be destroyed rather than contained, even though his national security team had been saying that. Now they all appear to be on the same page. The president gave a lengthy interview over the weekend to the NBC program "Meet the Press."

GREENE: Right.

ROBERTS: And he emphasized that he's not talking about ground troops, it's not the equivalent of the Iraq war and that the Islamic state is not an immediate threat to this country.

GREENE: OK. So given all that, do we know what sort of role he sees Congress playing here?

ROBERTS: Well, it's really interesting because some of the biggest supporters of U.S. taking a more robust action, like New York Rep. Peter King say, don't go to Congress because they don't know what might happen there. And you know, remember, that's part of the reason the president backed away from airstrikes in Syria in the first place because it wasn't clear that there was Congressional support.

GREENE: Right.

ROBERTS: Now, that's probably different now. Polls for the first time are showing that the American people think we should be doing more in the world, not less. Here's what the president himself had to say about why it might be might make sense to present a plan to Congress.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I'm confident that I'll get the authorization that I need to protect the American people. And I'm always going to do what's necessary to protect the American people. But I do think it's important for Congress to understand what the plan is, to have buy-in, to debate it.

ROBERTS: And that buy-in is very important. Also, the president might need some money. And he might also need money 'cause he wants to use the U.S. military to help fight Ebola in Africa. So a lot of calls for Congress to act. One place the president might still be ready to go around Congress is on that issue of immigration.

GREENE: But the White House said over the weekend that the president would not be issuing any executive orders before the end of summer on immigration, as he originally pledged. And critics came out and said, this is really a cynical political move for the president to back away from that.

ROBERTS: Well, they certainly did. And Hispanic groups are up in arms about it, saying that he made a promise, and he's broken it. Look, we know the Democratic candidates in red states didn't want him to do this before the election. In those close races, the Hispanic vote is less than ten percent.

And the president himself was pretty frank in the interview about how the politics had shifted on the issue because of the number of kids coming over the border this summer. He said that that had caused the public to believe that there's a problem with border security. He still wants to do something. He clearly doesn't want to do anything to make it harder for Democrats get elected to the Senate. Whether he's right about this political calculation or not is another question, but that's the calculation that he's made, at least in the time being.

GREENE: All right. Well, it'll be an interesting week to watch in Washington. Cokie, always good to be with you.

ROBERTS: Thank you, David.

GREENE: Commentator Cokie Roberts. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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.
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