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What Romney's Retreat Means For GOP Hopefuls


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The new U.S. Congress is in session, but the same old acrimony and the field for the 2016 election campaign got smaller already. Here to reflect on the month in politics is NPR's Washington editor, Ron Elving.

Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: Many wise people - pundits, et cetera, have said, of course he'll run. All this talk about decision, it's just for show. But then Mitt Romney said yesterday in fact he's not going to run for president. Near as you can tell, what happened? What's his thinking?

ELVING: It appears the reality of Romney's situation won out over the romance of Romney's imagination. Last year he traveled around the country in 2014, appeared for many, many Republican candidates. They did very well. And many of them told him that he should be president and that he had all the right answers back in 2012 and that by implication, he should run again. He took that seriously. But once he seemed serious about it, everything seemed to turn on him. He got a lot of pushback from members of Congress leaders in the party, governors, major funders, even some members of his own staff were signing on with Jeb Bush.

SIMON: Where does that leave the Republican field now? Because I gather in his remarks, Mr. Romney talked about a new generation of leadership, which would - well, wouldn't seem to be an endorsement of Jeb Bush, would it?

ELVING: No, Jeb Bush may see himself as a new generation of leadership, of course. But lots of other people may hear his last name before his first name. So yeah, a lot of us are going to hear that as a bit of a swipe - whether playful or not - at Jeb Bush. And I do believe Jeb Bush and his people, broadly speaking, were discouraging this rather effectively because the Republican field now looks a lot less complicated on the center-right moderate establishment side.

SIMON: Well, let's fill in some of the blanks. The moderate side - that's Jeb Bush, maybe Governor Christie.

ELVING: And this week, Lindsey Graham, Republican senator from South Carolina, made it clear that he's testing the waters. But the big part of the field is among more conservative, younger more populist senators and governors, and they're all fighting to be the main alternative to Jeb Bush.

SIMON: Let's ask about the new Congress. They've been in session for about a month. They've seen the State of the Union address, hearings for the next attorney general. This Congress has been issuing speakers invitations. Based on what you've seen so far, what's happened to all the talk of bipartisan cooperation?

ELVING: Reports of greater cooperation were greatly exaggerated. There probably was never going to be that great a chance that after the election they had in November, the Republicans were going to scale back. So they came after the president on a raft of issues and the president has responded essentially by threatening vetoes - nine of them so far. That's highly unusual for the beginning of a Congress. Many of them delivered personally, which suggests he doesn't really have any long-term agenda of trying to work out some kind of compromise. And the Congress has really gone after him on a full range of what would be called, in their minds at least, his vulnerabilities. They're holding up the confirmation of his new attorney general, Loretta Lynch, even though no one's actually raised any objections to her personally. They pushed through the Keystone pipeline, which he says he's going to veto. And they don't have the votes to override. They're also pushing ahead with their attempt to gut his immigration changes from December. All of these things are clearly veto bait from the standpoint of the president, so there doesn't seem to be much common ground at all.

SIMON: Ron Elving, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.