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White House focuses Firmly On Foreign Policy


With Congress closing up shop until after November's midterm elections and the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria taking center stage, the White House is focused firmly on foreign-policy. The Obama administration sent Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, on the Sunday TV show circuit yesterday. She was laying some groundwork for the president's appearance before the U.N. this week. Now, for more analysis on what role U.S. military action against ISIS might play in the upcoming elections, we're joined, as we are most Mondays, by Cokie Roberts. Hey there, Cokie.


CORNISH: So when it comes to confronting the threat of ISIS, what is the message out of the White House at this point?

ROBERTS: I think they're trying to get more countries lined up behind the United States, particularly if we take any action in Syria. And that's what the U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power was saying yesterday. She said she'd be surprised if the United States was the only country conducting airstrikes against Syria, if that is what the administration decides to do. And the president said in his radio address this weekend it's not America versus ISIL, or the people of the region versus ISIL or the people of the world versus ISIL. And so that's what he's trying to get the Security Council and the whole U.N. behind. There's also a meeting on Wednesday that President Obama will lead, looking for a resolution to stop the influx of foreign fighters into terrorists groups and fundraising for those groups. Of course, any question about what happens in Syria at the U.N. is - there's an issue hanging there, which is Russia, which of course has veto power in the Security Council and no one is sure what Russia will do.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, before breaking for recess, Congress did manage to vote on the administration's request to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels. Is that the kind of vote that might come into play in the upcoming election?

ROBERTS: Well, clearly members of Congress think so. I mean, the fact that 85 House Democrats voted against the president on this means that they think that their voters are not behind it. There was more interest really in the Congress as members looked around to see what the potential candidates for president in 2016 were going to do. And they tended to vote against this authorization, with the exception of Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. But, you know, as administration figures have sounded the alarm, the issue of homeland security has definitely risen among the ranks of voter concerns.

CORNISH: But looking back, is there a sense that voters concerned about security tend to stick with incumbents or go for newcomers or what?

ROBERTS: What we do know in the past is that it has been hard on women, when women candidates - when national security issues come to the forefront. In 1990, there was a whole group of very substantial Republican women running for Senate. And then Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and they just fell off the radar screen as people got much more concerned about security. This time around, there are women candidates for the Senate in Iowa, Oregon, Kentucky, Michigan and Georgia and women defending seats in Louisiana, North Carolina, New Hampshire - so it's not clear what this issue will mean for them. It's a question of whether, you know, the electorate's changed over the last quarter-century. As you've seen more women in office and three female secretaries of state, maybe there is a shift in voter attitudes about whether women can handle national security.

CORNISH: What's your view of this though? I mean, are you seeing people acting differently, kind of taking proactive steps in this election cycle?

ROBERTS: Well, we saw the president going to a women's leadership conference on Friday and talking as if he were talking to a group of men. It wasn't just about, quote-unquote, "women's issues." He did talk about national security. And I think that that is instructive. Now, whether that means that the voters have gotten there or not, is something we won't know until after the election. And of course, there are lots of other factors at play here in each one of those elections. But it is something that we have seen in the past that when national security rises in the voter concern, it has been damaging to female candidates.

CORNISH: Cokie Roberts, thanks so much.

ROBERTS: OK, Audie. 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.