Obama Takes Vacation, Perry Shakes GOP Race

Aug 19, 2011
Originally published on August 19, 2011 10:11 am
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I'm Tony Cox, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm sitting in for Michel Martin today.

Coming up, we'll talk about a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There's good news about HIV infection, not so good news for young black gay and bisexual men. The CDC says urgent action is needed now. We'll explain why in a moment.

But first, it is our weekly political chat. President Obama's vacation is riling his political opponents who say he should stay in Washington and focus on job creation. And his administration's pledged to deliver a new jobs program hasn't quieted those critics.

On the Republican side, Texas Governor Rick Perry has quickly established himself as a leading GOP presidential candidate despite controversial comments about evolution, treason, and others. And the administration's call this week for the resignation of Syria's president has some foreign policy observers questioning the timing of the announcement.

For more on the hot topics in politics this week, we are joined by Mary Kate Cary. She is a columnist for the U.S. News and World Report, and Jonathan Capehart, a columnist for The Washington Post. Welcome both of you.


MARY KATE CARY: Great to be here.

COX: Question number one, today is President Obama's first full day of vacation and with his family in Martha's Vineyard. Mary Kate, he's been blasted by Republicans who argue that it sends the wrong message when so many Americans are out of work. We hear this over and over and over again no matter who's in the White House, no matter what party they are from. Is it much ado about nothing?

KATE CARY: Well, you make a good point, Tony, that we hear this all the time. And I think if this is a Republican president, the screaming would be even louder going to such a wealthy hotspot. But...

CAPEHART: I don't think it could get any louder.

KATE CARY: The White House addressed this earlier this week, put out numbers on the number of days various presidents have taken vacation. They point out that the White House is plugged in with the president no matter where he is in the world, that all families need to have time together. All of which is true enough.

But this time to me it feels different. At the beginning of the week, I started writing a blog of alternate places the president could have gone, you know, maybe a national park or the Gulf Coast. By the end of the week, it was very clear to me that the tide had turned. The stock market 400 points yesterday, opening down I believe today. And 200 - no, excuse me - 23 billion the first 10 days alone being taken out by Americans out of their 401k accounts. That sends to me a very different message than just sort of tough times.

The pictures last night on the nightly news that Atlanta job fair were heartbreaking.

COX: Right.

KATE CARY: And they were immediately followed by the yachts bobbing in the background up in Martha's Vineyard as the president arrived. It just - it's not the right time to go on any vacation, I think. And that goes for Congress as well.

COX: Yeah.

KATE CARY: I think Congress shouldn't have left town either.

COX: Well, you know, the jobs thing that she's referring to of course is the CBC's jobs fair part of a five-city tour they held in Atlanta. And there were, as you would imagine, Jonathan Capehart, a lot of people there. Questions, though, given what Mary Kate has just suggested, maybe this is going to be the vacation from hell for the Obamas?

CAPEHART: Well, look, the summer has never been good for President Obama. Every August, something happens and they sort of have, you know, dark humor about it in the White House that what's it going to be this year that's going to cloud our August?

But, you know, the lines at the job fair at the CBC event in Atlanta and what happened in Detroit, where people were very vocal about their anger and anxiousness and frustration about not being able to find work that, you know, there not being many solutions, if any, coming out of Washington for the problems that people are facing. I think, you know, you had Maxine Waters there saying, you know, please, quote, "unleash us" to challenge the president.

And finally, I think, a lot of members of the Congressional Black Caucus heard what they've been longing to hear which was you are now unleashed to challenge the president and to have him do what you believe he needs to do to put us back to work.

COX: If you're just joining us this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Tony Cox, sitting in for Michel Martin.

It is our Friday political chat. We are talking with Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart and U.S. News and World Report columnist Mary Kate Cary.

Talking about challenges, Mary Kate, this opens the door for us to not only talk about the Democrats who are challenging the president, but the Republicans. Rick Perry's probably at the top of that list this week. It led to an interesting exchange between the president and one of the Republican challengers Rick Perry. Here's what it sounded like.


BARACK OBAMA: Mr. Perry just got in the presidential race. I think that everybody who runs for president, it probably takes them a little bit of time before they start realizing that this isn't like running for governor or running for senator or running for Congress. And you've got to be a little bit more careful about what you say. But I'll cut him some slack. He's only been at it for a few days now.


RICK PERRY: The president said I needed to watch what I say. I just want to respond back, if I may. Mr. President, actions speak louder than words.

COX: So, Mary Kate, Rick Perry has only been in the race, what a week now?

KATE CARY: Yeah, yeah.


COX: How has his presence, you know, affected the dynamic of the race?

KATE CARY: Oh, it's been a great week, yeah.


KATE CARY: The last time I was here, which I believe was a week ago today, the Iowa straw poll had not happened yet. Rick Perry was not in the race. Pawlenty was still in. All kinds of things happened this week. Michele Bachmann won the straw poll, got completely drowned out. I don't think she got any sort of bounce out of it. Pawlenty's now gone. Perry jumped in and has had quite a week with, as they would say in Texas, he's got a whole lot of giddy up going on right now.


KATE CARY: And he's raising eyebrows with all kinds of - depending on your position, you can call them gas or you could call them carefully aimed remarks at primary voters.

COX: Calculated.


COX: Let's talk about that, Jonathan Capehart. I noticed that your eyebrows sort of went up when I said: a leading candidate. I meant a leading candidate, not necessarily the leading candidate in talking about Rick Perry. These things that he is saying, these things that he is doing, are they completely calculated or is he slipping a little because this is a stage he has not been on before?

CAPEHART: I think it's both. I think you're both - I think Mary Kate is right.

COX: We're both right.

KATE CARY: There's a little bit of both.

CAPEHART: And, Tony, you're right. Look, yes, it's calculated in that when you talk about, you know, challenging the Fed chairman as being possibly treasonous, when you're questioning the love of country of the president of the United States. When you say things like members of the military would rather have a commander-in-chief who is a veteran himself, that plays well to primary voters. And you need primary voters in order to get the nomination. I just don't see how well that plays in the general election.

Now, where I think you were right is that the president's right when he says that running for president is completely different than running for governor, running for Congress, running for Senate. Rick Perry is the longest serving governor in Texas. He has a lot of political experience. But as we all know, the presidential campaign trail and the presidential spotlight burns very hot. And we have seen many experienced politicians burst into flames once they get out onto that presidential stage. And I think that what we've seen over the last week, Rick Perry trying to adjust to this new reality.

COX: You know, one more question about him before we move onto foreign policy is this. He seems to be trying to, Mary Kate, cut a path - Rick Perry - between Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann. You know, he wants to hold onto the conservative base and yet show that he's presidential and have that sort of, I don't know, stature perhaps would be the wrong word that Romney seems to have with regard to the standard bearers of the Republican Party. Do you agree that that's a path he is trying to walk? And if so, is it an effective path to walk?

KATE CARY: Well, I think there were - I agree with Jonathan. I think there were some rookie mistakes this week. I think the president was actually very kind to him in his cutting him some slack.

But, for example, if you look at the remarks that made the most hay, which was the calling Bernanke a traitor or treasonous, that was a word he should not have chosen and that was the rookie mistake. However, like some of the better candidates in the race, he is bringing up issues about the Fed and transparency and accountability and things like that. He shouldn't have said it the way he did it. It caused Ron Paul to come out and say, hey, he makes me look like a mainstream candidate. I only called them counterfeiters, you know.


KATE CARY: So, I think you're right. I think he's navigating between Michele Bachmann's sort of ability to throw stuff out there and Romney's a little too studied, you know, keeping the powder dry to the point of being kind of boring. So, he's got to get right between those two. And we'll see how he does next week. It's only been one week and it's been quite a ride.

COX: You know, it has been quite a ride. In fact, you know, do you remember a person that used to make all of the headlines that was a big part of this? What's her name?


COX: Sarah Palin. Yeah. What happened to her?

KATE CARY: Well, you know, there's an interesting contrast this last week between those two and how Sarah Palin would have acted if she had won that straw poll, and how Sarah Palin would have acted if she was on the cover of Newsweek as the Queen of Rage. I have a feeling she would have come out with both barrels blazing and (unintelligible) proved it true.

Michele Bachmann actually distinguished herself in a good way as the non-Palin candidate. I'd be very surprised if Palin got in the race. But I do think this week caused a lot of Republicans to still be yearning for someone to come in.

CAPEHART: No. I just want to go on record as saying I've been writing since April 2010 that Sarah Palin is not running for president.


CAPEHART: And that you have to view her, not as a potential presidential candidate, but as a star. And when you look at her as a star, everything she has done since she resigned the governorship of Alaska is all about, look at me, pay attention to me. I'm here. I've got books to sell. I want to give speeches. When you look at her like that, bus tours and, you know, crowding out other people makes a whole lot of sense.

COX: Yeah. Unfortunately, we're not going to be able to get to the foreign policy issues that I wanted to bring up because this stuff is just so fascinating that we have been talking about.


COX: One thing I can say, I think that you would agree with me that 2012 will be a lot different than 2008.

CAPEHART: Oh, absolutely.

KATE CARY: Oh, God, yeah.

CAPEHART: It's going to be very different.

KATE CARY: I think there's a clear contrast between the parties, and I think it's going to be a very interesting debate about size and scope of government.

CAPEHART: Absolutely.

COX: Mary Kate Cary is a blogger and columnist for U.S. News and World Report. Jonathan Capehart, a columnist for The Washington Post, joining us here in our Washington studios. As always, nice to have you. Good conversation.

KATE CARY: Thanks.

CAPEHART: Thank you, Tony.

KATE CARY: Thanks very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.