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Obama Returns To U.S. To Face Prisoner Release Issue


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. President Obama returned last night from a four-day visit to Europe centered around a meeting of the G7 and the 70th commemoration of the D-Day invasion that began the liberation of western Europe in World War II.

Now such occasions usually allow a president a few days of warm and positive coverage back home. But scenes of President Obama at the summit had to compete with coverage of the return of the American POW, Bowe Bergdahl, and the controversial prisoner swap that freed him.

We're joined now to talk about the president's political standing with NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

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

SIMON: President's had to deal with a lot of difficult new stories in recent weeks. Have his poll ratings reflected that?

ELVING: He is still about where he has been through the spring, Scott. He's, in the Gallup poll right now, about 43 percent approval. And an average of all national polls shows him also at 43 percent. Rasmussen generally thought - it was a Republican poll - has had him as high as 51 percent approval. And that was just taken in this past week after the Bergdahl story had broken. That puts him back about where he was when he was reelected. So he has generally slipped, and we don't know yet what full effect the stories we've seen in recent weeks are going to have.

SIMON: For context, how does that compare with some of his predecessors?

ELVING: Well, George W. Bush, in year six, was under 40 percent approval. President Clinton, in your number six, was generally over 60 percent approval despite the fact that he was impeached.

SIMON: What do these - difference do these numbers make to a second term president?

ELVING: They reduce his leverage with Congress and with other world leaders. And they also tend to embolden the president's opponents, especially around the country in election years such as this one.

SIMON: Do you see the Bergdahl story as this week's story and maybe next week's story or something that will have staying power?

ELVING: That depends on what Sgt. Bergdahl has to say when he starts to speak in public, depending, of course, on what his mental state might turn out to be. And in the longer run, what damage may be seen as being done by the five Talibani who were released in exchange for him or what other kinds of actions may be taken against the United States in the hope of negotiating for hostages in the future.

SIMON: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has a book coming out. I understand you have a copy.

ELVING: I am a person who has had the opportunity to see some of the pages of the galley.

SIMON: OK. All right. Let's couch nicely. Does it open up some differences with the administration?

ELVING: It seems to be working quite assiduously not to open up differences with the current administration. The book begins with Hillary Clinton talking about how she mended fences with President Obama right after the primaries in 2008 and then her agreeing to be his Secretary of State after some reluctance, which she talks about. And also then going on to have disagreements with other elements of the administration - famously, Vice President Biden on the Afghanistan question.

SIMON: Syria too, right?

ELVING: That's right. And on Syria, she wanted to take a somewhat different tack - go after the Assad regime more aggressively. So there doesn't seem to be a lot of new ground being broken here in terms of her deviations from what was ultimately the Obama policy.

SIMON: And I gather she says that she opposed a swap for Sgt. Bergdahl when she was secretary of state.

ELVING: That's right. He was taken captive in 2009 when she was still secretary of state, which she was through 2012. It's not clear whether she would've taken the deal that was offered this spring. That will, of course, be one of the questions we'll be expecting her to answer when she takes questions about her book. And that's going to include an interview with Renee Montagne on Morning Edition next week.

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

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

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