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Looming Presidential Race Divides National Governors Group

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Obama spoke to the winter meetings of the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Governors Association in Washington, D.C. on Friday. As you might expect, the president was a big hit at both Democratic events but he confronts a whole welter of controversies this winter, including ISIS and immigration. NPR's Ron Elving joins us.

Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: What message did the president have for his party?

ELVING: A remarkably upbeat message, Scott. He's stressing the recent good news on the economy - Wall Street scaling new heights, record close for the Dow yesterday, more jobs being created, Wal-Mart raising wages and lots of accents on the positive.

SIMON: National Governors Association meets in Washington, D.C. They're going to have a meeting with the president, in fact, at the White House. This is an annual event of course but, big themes you notice this year?

ELVING: You know, the governors come to town to talk about the problems that they share and to get more attention for those problems in Washington. They also like to raise their profiles with the national media, and several of them are mentioned as presidential prospects in this cycle. And traditionally, it's a unity exercise for the states standing together against the federal government. But nowadays, we have been seeing more emphasis on the Republican and Democratic subset organizations and emphasis on problems that divide them from each other - their approaches to Obamacare, their Medicaid programs, their immigration postures - and a lot less emphasis on the problems they share, like roads and bridges that need repair.

SIMON: And speaking of the Affordable Care Act, what do we make of the two announcements on Friday - one, that people who failed to sign up will get more time, and another, that those who did sign up on healthcare.gov were getting bad tax information from the IRS?

ELVING: OK, two stories, as you say. There's the penalty story, the good news about a second chance to sign up this spring and avoid the tax penalty next year. You still have to pay it for 2014. That was widely expected and it does relieve tension for a lot of people. The other story, the bad story about bad tax information, that's creating tension for the 800,000 people who are finding out they got the wrong information from the government about the value of that subsidy. So they're going to get corrected information in March. Some will owe more, some will owe less. This is a program that didn't need any more bruises, especially the self-inflicted kind.

SIMON: Let me ask you about immigration - seems to be approaching a decisive moment both in Congress and the courts.

ELVING: Yes. A federal judge in Texas hit the pause button for the deportation deferments that the president had ordered into effect. Now those are in limbo. Just yesterday, the White House said that the Department of Justice will seek a stay on that order, so families can go ahead and apply for the deferment as planned while the case is appealed. But this is going to bang around in the federal appeal system for months.

SIMON: Finally, our hometown of Chicago. Do you see Mayor Emanuel winning the primary with more than 50 percent to avoid a runoff?

ELVING: Fifty percent plus one vote is all he needs and that seems pretty likely. It does have some national implications if he is not because Rahm is the face of the Clinton-Obama power structure in the party. It's feeling a lot of pressure right now from the populist left. He has a real struggle to win a second term, Rahm Emanuel. It implies trouble for the Obama to Clinton handoff next year.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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