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Tucson Provides Obama An 'Oklahoma City Moment'

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

Joining us now to discuss some of the other political news in a very busy week is NPR's Mara Liasson. Good morning.

MARA LIASSON: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: President Obama wanted to give a healing speech. Did he succeed?

LIASSON: I mean, conservatives who are ardent opponents of the president said he did strike the right tone, he did pull it off. And I think for Mr. Obama it was a chance to get back to what the White House sometimes refers to as first principles, to that image that he projected back in 2008 when he ran for president as someone who could bridge the partisan divides, and even in 2004 when he gave his maiden speech at the Democratic Convention in Boston and talked about how we're not a bunch of red states or blue states, we're the United States.

MONTAGNE: And one of the most significant figures in the Republican Party, Sarah Palin, also weighed in this week on the Tucson shootings. She was rather forced to, in a way.

LIASSON: But still, there are many Republicans even, who thought that Sarah Palin sounded defensive in that video like she was the victim. And there's - the video itself, as most of what Sarah Palin does, caused a lot of controversy. Some people thought it was aimed too much at her ardent base and not at the center.

MONTAGNE: Well, a lot has been made about how the shootings might though tone down the shrill political discourse that we've been hearing. What do you think? Do you think it will last?

LIASSON: Now, the Congress did suspend regular business this week, but next week the health care debate will resume, there will be a vote on repealing the president's health care bill in the House of Representatives, and that I think will be the first test. How do people discuss this extremely polarizing and controversial piece - law actually, not just piece of legislation when they do debate this next week?

MONTAGNE: And Mara, what about President Obama's presidency, I mean, could his handling of this tragedy have a significant and lasting impact on his presidency?

LIASSON: Like all ambitious presidents, President Obama had become a polarizing figure, but he's had some opportunities to turn that around since the elections, starting with the bipartisan compromises in the lame duck, and now his - what many people consider to be pitch-perfect response to the Tucson shootings. The question is how is he going to build on that. He has a chance very soon to build on the themes in that memorial address because in very short order, just 11 days from now, he will give the State of the Union address, which is the highest profile event any president gives in the course of a year.

MONTAGNE: Mara, thanks very much

LIASSON: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Mara Liasson. You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.