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Obama Gets A Political Boost From ISIS Strikes

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Congress will continue to debate whether or not the president's actions were constitutional. But after a week of airstrikes against the Islamic State and a forceful speech at the UN, how are the American people evaluating the president? Here to help us answer that question is NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Hi, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: So the president has had a big week. He is now a war president. How's the public reacting to that?

LIASSON: Well, the president appears to have gotten a bit of a boost with the public. As you said, he gave a very forceful speech about ISIS at the UN. There was no more ambivalence and hesitation, no more leading from behind. Instead he used really muscular rhetoric.

He said there's no negotiating with this brand of evil. The only language they understand is the language of force. And his approval ratings, which had been in the low forties - not very good for a president whose party is trying to hang on to a slim Senate majority in the November elections - now is in the mid-forties - not great but better.

WERTHEIMER: Does this bump hold up do you think?

LIASSON: Well, that's a good question. We have to assume the bump is because of foreign policy. His approval ratings weren't great, but they were stable. But then over the summer, as the world looked like it was falling apart, his foreign policy approval ratings dropped. Now he's gotten a bump. I think that will continue as long as the fight against ISIS looks like it's working, as long as Americans aren't dying, as long as ISIS isn't taking over more territory and as long as Syrian President Assad isn't winning. Now those are a lot of ifs.

WERTHEIMER: Republicans have been saying that President Obama was not being forceful enough in his response to the Islamic State. Do you think airstrikes will satisfy these critics?

LIASSON: Well, there are still some Republicans who say he should be doing more or that this has come too late or that he shouldn't have ruled out ground troops. But there are no critics who are saying we should be re-occupying Iraq or occupying Syria with ground troops. And more importantly, as you just heard from David Welna, Congress is in no rush to vote on this military action. They'd rather go home and campaign. And the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, says after January, the new Congress will debate on this info.

WERTHEIMER: Well, what about the midterms? The president has sort of been a drag on the Democrats. Do you think that this will affect the midterms?

LIASSON: Well, I think that the midterm landscape is pretty set. I don't think this is going to have a big effect on the midterms, although anytime the president's approval rating goes up, it's good for Democrats. ISIS is just not a big issue on the campaign trail.

And don't forget, the battleground this year are red states, where the president's approval ratings are lower than they are nationally. They're in the 30s in most of these battleground states.

WERTHEIMER: In terms of Senate races, what is the - what's the landscape looking like right now?

LIASSON: Well, it still looks very bad for Democrats. Republicans need to net six pickups to take control of the majority in the Senate. There are three races where the Republicans are way ahead - South Dakota, West Virginia and Montana. Two more - Louisiana and Arkansas - where Republicans have a clear lead. So that gives them five. They need just one more.

So the Democrats would have to hold Alaska, Colorado, Iowa and North Carolina - the kind of next tier of competitive states. Or if they lost one of those four, they would have to pick up another seat. That could be Kansas, believe it or not, or Georgia - two red states. And that will be very, very tough. It doesn't mean it's not doable for Democrats, but it's a real steep uphill climb.

WERTHEIMER: Mara Liasson, NPR's national political correspondent, thank you.

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

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