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Sun June 23, 2013

Obama Promises To Address Climate Change

Originally published on Sun June 23, 2013 11:19 am

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Snowden's flight from Hong Kong will be at the top of the agenda for many in the Obama administration this week. The U.S. had been pressing Hong Kong to surrender Snowden to American law enforcement officials. This comes on the heels of President Obama's trip to Europe, where he discussed the NSA's surveillance scandal, as well as the global economy and the war in Syria. He's off for another big trip in a few days, this time to Africa. For more on the president's busy and the political implications of Snowden's departure, we called up NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Mara, is a diplomatic snub? I mean, President Obama just recently met with the Chinese President Xi Jinping.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Well, the Hong Kong government has a certain amount of autonomy. It's unclear exactly how much. They didn't want him there, but they did refuse the U.S. request. So, I think, yes, you would have to count it as a snub. He didn't get what he wanted in cooperation from the Hong Kong government or the Chinese.

MARTIN: So, the president returns this past week from a trip to Europe where he attended the G8 Summit. And after just a couple days at home he's leaving again for Africa. It is a lot of travel. What did he accomplish on the trip to Europe, Mara?

LIASSON: Well, he didn't get a lot of deliverables, as they say. There weren't supposed to be a lot of deliverables. But it's interesting, we always say that in a second term, presidents turn to foreign policy when they're frustrated at home. They can get some accomplishments if they travel around the world. But that's really not the case anymore. The trip to Europe was difficult. He couldn't get an agreement with Russia on what to do about Syria. He encountered a lot of criticism in Germany about the NSA surveillance programs. So, although he will do a lot of foreign travel this term, certainly a trip to Africa for the first African-American president is historic. It's harder for presidents to wring accomplishments out of foreign policy.

MARTIN: So, the White House announced this weekend that the president is going to give this big speech about climate change this coming Tuesday. This has been a longtime coming, right?

LIASSON: It's been a longtime coming. The president said in his State of the Union address that if Congress failed to act on climate, he would. And on Tuesday, he will explain how he plans to use his executive powers on a wide range of energy-producing sectors - existing power plants, energy standards for appliances, more investment in solar power, wind power. And this is something that the environmental community has been waiting for a long time. One thing they will still have to wait longer for, however, is a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline. That will not be part of Tuesday's speech.

MARTIN: OK. Pivoting to another issue that's important to the president, immigration. How close is Congress to a bill at this point?

LIASSON: Well, the Senate is very close. There was a breakthrough this week on border security, which seems to have gotten the bill, the big bipartisan majority that its sponsors wanted. So, if it does get out of the Senate with 70 votes, then the question is will that put any pressure on the House to act. And so far, it seems as if the answer to that question is no. The House of Representatives is less than enthusiastic about comprehensive immigration reform. A lot of Republicans think that you don't need a big comprehensive bill. A lot of Republicans are against a path to citizenship in the bill. So, it's unclear what's going to happen in the House. But it does look like the Senate will pass an immigration reform bill before July 4th.

MARTIN: President Obama is personally very invested in immigration reform. He made that very clear during the campaign. But Mara, he has kept a low profile on the issue recently. Was that intentional?

LIASSON: Yes. The sponsors of the bill said it would be better if he kept a low profile. He has given some speeches. His staff has a war room on Capitol Hill. He's met behind the scenes. But there are lot of Republicans who find it politically impossible to vote for anything that the president is for. So, he's kept his head down. And that seems to have been the right strategy. He certainly - if the bill ever gets out of Congress, he'll sign it. He'll get lot of credit for it. It wouldn't have happened if he wasn't re-elected. And this would be, if it happens, a big part of his legacy.

MARTIN: NPR's Mara Liasson. Thanks so much, Mara.

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

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