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Politics In The News: Republican Presidential Field Gets Crowded


We're joined next, as we are most Mondays, by someone who always has a blast on the radio, Cokie Roberts. Hi, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Steve. That's true (laughter).

INSKEEP: So the field gets just a little bit bigger than it was.

ROBERTS: Yes. You know, look. Part of what's going on here is there's no obvious next-in-line in the Republican Party, so everybody is saying, shoot, if he thinks he can run, then I can run. And you can particularly see this with Lindsey Graham. He's looking at these very junior senators - Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul - thinking, you know, give me a break. He's a genuine expert on foreign and defense policy. He's one of the foremost proponents in Congress of spending on foreign aid, arguing, as he puts it, there's nothing so threatening to a terrorist as an educated girl. So he has issues he wants to promote.

But it's also true that there's been a certain amount of people looking and seeing, is Jeb Bush going to really take over the field, be a formidable front-runner? And so far, the answer to that question has been no, except on raising money. And even that is likely to get scarcer if he keeps having weeks like he had last week.

INSKEEP: What happened to Bush?

ROBERTS: Well, he just couldn't answer the question about whether he would've invaded Iraq. He spent the whole week trying to walk back his first answer, which was yes, and it highlighted his problem with dealing with his brother's legacy. Now, Marco Rubio stumbled over that question in a Fox News interview yesterday as well. And to the degree that it brings up the question of Iraq, it's going to be a problem for several of these candidates. It's - the war is very unpopular among voters now, and it could be an issue for the very hawkish Lindsey Graham and, of course, for Hillary Clinton, who voted to go to war against Iraq.

INSKEEP: And not her only problem since we learned late on Friday that she and her husband have been earning a lot of money - about $25 million - in the last year for giving speeches.

ROBERTS: Yeah, an awful lot of money. And the number's - actually, their total numbers put them in the top .01 percent of Americans in terms of income. Almost all of their money is essentially in cash because they said they wanted no conflicts. And I think the Clintons are genuinely amazed that they are rich because they never did have any money before Bill Clinton was president.

But of course, it's gotten into all kinds of supposed conflict-of-interest issues having to do with foreign countries donating to the Clinton Foundation and whether it's benefited them or not or whether policy decisions have been made based on those donations.

INSKEEP: Let me ask about another thing about Secretary Clinton. She is increasingly being criticized for not taking questions from the press. We heard a story from Tamara Keith on this program last week in which we heard some of the very few questions she's even been taking from the public. Is this anything that's really going to bother voters?

ROBERTS: I think if the drumbeat gets loud enough on it, it might start to bother voters. Carly Fiorina, the Republican woman in the race, said over the weekend in Iowa that she has answered 372 questions since she entered the race. This is now - this is a new thing, counting the number of questions you've been asked. Secretary Clinton at some point is going to have to engage with the press.

But, you know, it's never been something that the voters care much about, whether - even though the press cares a great deal about it, the voters have never said oh, the terrible - it's so terrible that the press is not getting what they need from a candidate. We'll see. So far, none of these things have really nicked her much. She continues to run ahead in almost every poll, although it's closer in the swing states. So we'll see how all of these criticisms pile up.

INSKEEP: Thanks very much. That's Cokie Roberts. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cokie Roberts was one of the 'Founding Mothers' of NPR who helped make that network one of the premier sources of news and information in this country. She served as a congressional correspondent at NPR for more than 10 years and later appeared as a commentator on Morning Edition. In addition to her work for NPR, Roberts was a political commentator for ABC News, providing analysis for all network news programming.