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Week In News: Reaction To The State Of The Union


It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

Coming up, a weekly conversation with James Fallows and a new kind of leader for the Muslim movement in America. We'll also check out some Twitter poetry and hear our first Three-Minute Fiction entry for this round. And now...



PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Gabby Giffords deserves a vote. The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote.

LYDEN: That was President Obama at his State of the Union Address on Tuesday, delivering what might have been the most memorable part of the speech for a lot of people, naming the victims of gun violence and their families. James Fallows of The Atlantic joins us, as he does most Saturdays. Hi there, Jim.

JAMES FALLOWS: Hello, Jacki.

LYDEN: So this ending of the State of the Union was very emotional and certainly brought both sides of the aisle to their feet. You were viewing this. How do you rate the speech as someone who's observed more than a few?

FALLOWS: Yes. And I should disclose that once long ago, I was a speechwriter for Jimmy Carter and worked on some of these speeches. The ending was clearly the most emotional part of the speech, and also it exemplified something that's quite striking about Barack Obama's career as an orator. We know of him for his famous eloquence from his speech in 2004 at the Democratic Convention to a number of others. But it is really, really difficult to remember anything that he's actually said word by word.

His speeches are sort of long experiences as opposed to epigrammatic excerpts. And I think in this case, it was even - they deserve a vote is not so memorable for its actual phrasing, but for sort of the preacherly way in which the president managed the end of the speech.

LYDEN: Hmm. Let's move on, Jim, to the latest on Chuck Hagel's unending nomination it would seem for Defense secretary. As anyone who just checked in knows, it's being delayed, but Senate Republicans said just a week ago that they wouldn't try to filibuster. Now, they're rather proudly obstructing it. What's going on?

FALLOWS: The Republicans, because John McCain and others have said they would not support a filibuster of this nomination - there's never been a formal filibuster of a secretary of Defense's nomination - they're finding some way to avoid that actual term for the same effect, which is requiring a 60-vote supermajority to bring this up for a yes or no vote in the Senate floor.

The evidence is still that Chuck Hagel will be able to come up for a vote and that he will have more than 50 votes to win confirmation. But there seems to be an effort by his Republican opponents - most notably in this past week the new Senator Ted Cruz of Texas - just to drag this out and make it difficult for him and for the administration and perhaps to weaken him in future dealings he may have with the Congress when he's coming to explain defense cuts.

LYDEN: Is it dangerous in any way for this nomination to be delayed?

FALLOWS: Well, if you were looking at our country from a distance or even from inside as any kind of student of dysfunction, you would note that the North Koreans are setting off atomic bombs and Afghanistan is really, you know, descending into chaos. And meanwhile, we have no Defense secretary.

LYDEN: Hmm. And speaking of Congress dragging his feet, Jim, every single day, we're getting closer to these automatic spending cuts known as the sequester.

FALLOWS: This is a quite dramatic feeling and phenomenon in D.C. right now. You're right that in 2011, the negotiations over the debt ceiling had much more err of urgency to them because people were genuinely concerned what might happen if the federal government did not honor the interest on its national debt.

This time, both parties seem to feel either that it's in their advantage to let this sequestration happen or that there's nothing they can do about it. And so you find across a federal bureaucracy that federal officials have shifted from thinking, oh, this will never happen to resigning themselves to having to implement these cuts.

LYDEN: James Fallows is national correspondent with The Atlantic. You can read his blog at jamesfallows.theatlantic.com. Jim, thank you.

FALLOWS: My pleasure, Jacki. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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