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Obamacare Crashes President's Polls, Does It Matter?


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, it's been nearly 50 years since President John F. Kennedy was murdered in Dallas. Many people still remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news. We asked Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights icon, for his memories of the day. And we'll also look at the bigger picture of John F. Kennedy's role in The Civil Rights Movement. That's coming up.

But first, we wanted to talk about some of the big political stories making headlines now. President Obama's approval ratings are at their lowest yet after the botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act. A CBS News poll released today puts that approval rating at just 37 percent. And we also wondered whether the public spat between former Vice President Dick Cheney's daughters, over a same-sex marriage is just a family thing or is it bigger than that? Here to tell us more is Keli Goff. She is political correspondent for TheRoot.com. Welcome back Keli, thanks for joining us once again.

KELI GOFF: Great to be back.

MARTIN: Also with us, Callie Crossley. She's an Emmy award-winning journalist and host of WGBH in Boston's Under the Radar with Callie Crossley. Callie, welcome back to you. Thank you so much for joining us once again.


MARTIN: So Keli, let me start with you. Fifty-seven percent of the people polled by that CBS News poll we just mentioned say that they have an unfavorable opinion of President Obama. Do you think - is the primary driver of that the botched health care rollout? And I also want to know if this is a problem for him that goes beyond that issue?

GOFF: Well, to answer your first question in a very deep and complicated way, yes. It is a product of the botched health care rollout. I mean, I don't really know how we could dress that up. I mean, it's been an unmitigated disaster, Michel. And so, you know, not to be too dramatic about it, but, yes, that's the truth. You know, look, what I will say is if there is a silver lining, besides the fact that the CBS poll has his disapproval rating at 37 percent and National Journal has him all the way up with much better numbers of 38 percent for his disapproval. If there's any silver lining, it's that the congressional disapproval rating is - Congress' approval rating is somewhere at 9 percent.

I mean, I think there are dictators with better numbers than those. So the only thing I could liken it to is it's sort of like that old, bad hunting joke where, you know, two hunters encounter a bear and one says run and the other one says I can't outrun - we can't outrun a bear. And the other one says I don't have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you. I really think that the only thing he can kind of hope for at this point is that Congress continues to make him look slightly less bad heading into midterms. I genuinely believe that's the real only hope here.

MARTIN: Callie? Callie Crossley, what about you?

CROSSLEY: I agree with what Keli has said and will add this - this other silver lining, perhaps, is that he's still holding on to a little modicum of trust, but that's slipping away. And that's going to be an issue for him. In the past, even when he's messed up bad or perceived to have messed up bad, the disapproval is all about the handling of a certain issue. But there is complete trust, or a lot of trust there has been, you know, for him handling - you know, being who he is and I believe him. Now we're seeing some of that eroding. So the best that he can look at is look at those numbers and say some people still trust in me. I've got to build on that and I've got to mean what I say when I apologize.

MARTIN: Callie, Callie Crossley, staying with you for a minute, is this a problem beyond the health care bill - or law, rather?

CROSSLEY: It can be because now what happens is it just perceives that you can't handle anything - that you are not equipped to pay attention to two or three huge issues. And that, by the way, since you haven't fixed this one thing that still looms, I'm not ready to hear what you have to say about other issues. I'm thinking about immigration and how that's pretty much just dead, I think, as a result of other issues but also this was the final stake.

MARTIN: Let me play a short clip from a statement that he made last week or a press conference that he gave last week. I just want to play it - and Keli I'll go to you on this and just see. What do you make of the tone that he's taking in addressing this? Here it is.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Regardless of what Congress does, ultimately I'm the president of the United States and they expect me to do something about it. So in terms of how I intend to approach it, I'm just going to keep working as hard as I can around the priorities that the American people care about. And I think it's legitimate for them to expect me to have to win back some credibility on this health care law in particular and on a whole range of these issues in general.

MARTIN: You know, it's always interesting to hear people's reactions to the president's kind of affect and demeanor. I mean, you always have heard people, particularly his supporters, who want to hear him show more heat and passion...

GOFF: Right.

MARTIN: ...Around some of these issues. I'm wondering among the people who generally support him, Keli, is he giving them enough reason to continue to support him?

GOFF: Well, that's - you worded that question so perfectly, Michel, because what I kept thinking of during this conversation is something that we've discussed quite a bit on your show - I'd say over the last couple years, which is his likability. Right? That that often kept him afloat. You would him see poll after poll, that even from people who said I don't approve of the job he's doing, I don't approve of his handling of the economy, but he seems like a really nice guy. I like him, I like his family. He seems trustworthy, just like Callie was saying.

And that's the real problem with this - is that he always kind of had a competency question mark, particularly with the sizable chunk of independent voters. But what kept him afloat is he's likable and he's credible and he's trustworthy. And that is the real problem with this - is that the question mark now is not just was it handled in an incompetent fashion - the rollout - but is he being completely forthright in whether or not he knew that it was not going to be a hundred percent ready to go?

MARTIN: You had a - you wrote a column that - I just want to sort of move on along a little bit here - and you said - you had a column, you said four things the president can do to save Obamacare and his credibility. You say, fire someone - let everybody know you did, get some of your allies to spend some of their war chests highlighting how Obamacare has actually helped Americans since becoming law of the land, use Michelle Moore, stop apologizing - start leading. Just pick one or two of those two things and just tell me why he needs to do that in your opinion.

GOFF: Well, I think the first one's hugely important because he keeps saying, buck stops with me, buck stops with me. We all know that the president is not sitting there doing computer coding. I mean, that's just - we know for a fact that's not what he's doing. But as stupid as I do believe the conservative attempts to compare this to Katrina, which is ridiculous, the one parallel I would draw in terms of how the leadership was bungled - it's always the aftermath, not the actual incident, that is usually reviled and criticized - is we all remember George W. Bush, President Bush, saying, you're doing a heck of a job, Brownie.

There's a little bit of that here with President Obama. Not that he said, you're all doing a heck of a job with this website, but that we all know that someone did something wrong. Someone handled something badly. And yet, we don't know yet who's been held accountable for that. I mean, that - and I think that's a really jarring image for the American public that's problematic and is making it hard for him to dig out of this hole.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we're speaking with journalist Keli Goff and Callie Crossley. We're talking about some of the important political stories of the week. And I know that you - actually, the next story I want to talk about in the time we have left - I think you may disagree about whether this is important or not. So, Callie Crossley, I'll start with you. Another story that a lot of people are talking about is this feud that's become public between former Vice President Dick Cheney's daughters. Liz Cheney is currently campaigning for the Senate seat in Wyoming. She was asked about her views on same-sex marriage on Fox News on Sunday, and this is a clip of her talking to host Chris Wallace.


CHRIS WALLACE: You talk about your position against same-sex marriage. Your sister, Mary, who is married to a woman, put out this post. She said, for the record, I love my sister - you - but she is dead wrong on the issue of marriage.

ELIZABETH CHENEY: Yeah. And I - listen, I love Mary very much. I love her family very much. This is just an issue on which we disagree.

MARTIN: And then Mary Cheney and her wife, Heather Poe, quickly took to Facebook to criticize her. Mary telling her sister, quote, Liz, this isn't just an issue on which we disagree, you're just wrong and on the wrong side of history. So Callie Crossley, let me start with you. So, you know, it's interesting because we talked to reporters in Wyoming who say this really isn't a big story in Wyoming. We're more interested in, you know, other things. But nationally, this has gotten a lot of attention. And I wonder if you think it merits that attention?

CROSSLEY: I do because I think that it mirrors what's going on inside the Republican Party around some issues that may threaten to inhibit its ability to draw the young conservative folk who are like, really? Are we still talking about this? You know, come on. And so here you have, really, folks from a dynasty in the Republican Party arguing about this, and in a very public way. And one of them, Liz Cheney, who is running in Wyoming, appears to have gone or changed what she had said to her sister before. So they haven't spoken since last summer. So to me, that also says, hey, I'll say what I have to say to get to where I need to get within this party because they won't accept it otherwise. So that's why it's a larger point to me.

MARTIN: Keli? Keli Goff, what do you think?

GOFF: I think I'm super relieved my grandmother does not have access to a Facebook page because, if she did, I think that I'd non-stop hear about how much she - my grandmother disagrees with every column I've ever written. What do you think about this, Keli Goff? You know, I think it's a little silly. I think this should have been a one-day story. I mean, I wrote a column for the Post about the fact that Anita Perry - the first lady of Texas, my home state - disagrees with her husband on abortion in the same way that George W. Bush and Laura Bush disagree. So what? Families disagree.

I think the only way this should have warranted being a national, major news story is if Liz Cheney herself were, perhaps, showing a measure of hypocrisy by being secretly gay. And then turning around and saying, but I don't believe gay people should have rights. That to me - sort of like the Republican congressman, remember? Who was pro-life in public but pressured his girlfriend to get an abortion, I think his name's DesJarlais. I don't know how to pronounce it. That to me makes it a major story. I actually think the only reason that this has become a major, national story, in some ways, Michel, just like they said in Wyoming - it hasn't become a major story there - is I think it shows a little bit of media bias. I that most people in media support...

MARTIN: Catfight, you think?

GOFF: ...Support same-sex marriage. I think it's the catfight thing, just like the Seinfeld episode, right?

MARTIN: Two women? Yeah.

GOFF: And then also, it's the fact that most people in media do support same-sex marriage. I don't think I know a single booker, producer, friend of mine, anchor who's not, you know...

MARTIN: But maybe it's that personal relationships with people have, in fact, influenced policy. I mean, I remember there's another member of Congress, who - I think it was Rob Portman, Ohio...

GOFF: Yeah.

MARTIN: Who opposed same-sex marriage until he realized that his own son was gay. And there have been a number - we've had a number of conversations with private citizens who were against same-sex marriage until they realize their own family member was gay. And it changed their mind. So maybe, the interest is that people...

GOFF: I think that...

MARTIN: ...Are just surprised that you could have such a close relationship with someone, who you know is a decent, loving, important person in your life and still - maybe that's more...

GOFF: ...And she's never said - but I think the reason that's important is because she's never said she's not. This, to me, isn't like the Richard Cohen column where he used the term gag reflex, right? Like I think they're disgusting. It is someone saying - look, if we switched issues and said that she said, on the record, I believe that kids should be born in marriage. I think there should be - I think kids should not be born out of wedlock. And her sister said, I disagree. I'm a single mother and I'm an awesome single mother. This would not be a major, national news story.

MARTIN: I disagree with you. I mean, Clarence Thomas had a

CROSSLEY: I do too.

MARTIN: ...Did a - was publicly - it was a matter of public discussion when he criticized his - one of his family members who had children out wedlock. And it was something that was discussed.

GOFF: Discussed, I just don't - I think this has become a major news story.


GOFF: Not a one-day story. And that's what I disagree with.

MARTIN: OK. Callie, final thought from you, very briefly?

CROSSLEY: I also think that it speaks to what folks will do to get elected. Remember this is - I got to say - the second thing that Liz Cheney has, you know, sort of dissed the guy that she's running against, which, by all accounts - who by all accounts was a family friend. And now he's not because she's running against him, so...

MARTIN: OK, more to come. Callie Crossley is an Emmy award-winning journalist and host of Under the Radar With Callie Crossley, which you can hear on WGBH in Boston. She joined us from their studios. Keli Goff is a political correspondent for TheRoot.com. She joined us from our New York bureau. Thank you both so much.

GOFF: Thanks.

CROSSLEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.