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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
President Obama is taking his campaign against gun violence to the country, beginning today with a trip to Minneapolis and a visit to that city's police department. Many police organizations favor tougher gun laws. The president leaves behind a new Congress that's getting down to business. And consuming most of lawmakers' time: the budget and the deficit.
Joining us, as she does most Mondays, is Cokie Roberts. Good morning.
COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Renee.
MONTAGNE: The president seems to be ready to use his bully pulpit on a variety of issues as he begins his second term. Now, last night on CBS News, he promoted women in combat, gays in the Boy Scouts and anti-concussion measures in football. But, really, it is the gun issue that he's been concentrating on.
Cokie, is Congress actually likely to do anything about guns, other than talk a lot about them?
ROBERTS: It's hard to see them doing it, but maybe so. You know, the president's got a 60 percent approval rating right now, so he's riding it for all it's worth, as long as he can hold onto it. And guns is an issue that he's willing to put some force behind. It's a problem for Democrats in red states, like North Carolina's Kay Hagan, who's up for reelection in the Senate next year. So she's now co-chair of the Sportsmen's Caucus - making a point.
But I think there is some possibility of a background check - universal background check law getting passed yesterday. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid came out for that, and he is from the Western State of Nevada, and has not been a supporter of gun control.
And last night, during the Super Bowl, there was an ad that ran in the D.C. market of children with "America the Beautiful" playing in the background, children asking for that background check. And it was sponsored by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, but really paid for by Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York.
And there, Renee, something is interesting going on, because he is ready to have a political action committee that would challenge Democrats who do not support gun control. So he's taken a page from the conservative Republican playbook about running candidates in primaries. And we'll see whether that scares some Democrats.
MONTAGNE: And Congress does have an immediate problem ahead of it. That is across-the-board budget cuts are scheduled to go into effect on the 1st of March. Is there any reason to think Congress will act to avert those cuts?
ROBERTS: Well, lots of members on both sides seem to be ready to let them go into effect. And yesterday, Senator Reid said that deficit-cutting would mean more revenues. We know that Republicans have said they've done all they're going to do on that one. But also, Reid said that defense would not be spared from the budget ax, and that has a big cry coming from the Defense Department.
It's the reason given by some economists for the slowdown in our economy in the fourth quarter was the specter of defense cuts. And yesterday, Secretary Leon Panetta, on his farewell tour leaving the Pentagon, railed against them, saying that if Congress allows these across-the-board cuts to happen, it would be a shameful and irresponsible act that would, quote, "undermine support for our men and women in uniform, and weaken the United States, make it much more difficult for us to respond to the crises in the world."
MONTAGNE: Well, at the same time Panetta was out fighting against budget cuts yesterday, he found himself on the defensive about the killing of the American ambassador in Libya. He and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff faced repeated questions about American security abroad.
ROBERTS: Yes, and they expect to testify on that subject on Capitol Hill. Panetta basically said it was an intelligence failure, in particular. But in general, that we have to build up the capacity of the host countries, to protect our embassies.
Look, this question of what happened in Benghazi just seems not to be going away. It's going to be some heat for the administration for a while to come, I think.
MONTAGNE: Thanks very much, political commentator Cokie Roberts. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.