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White House And GOP-Controlled House Appear To Agree On ISIS Strategy

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

There was some rare agreement this weekend between the White House and the Republican-controlled Congress. House Speaker John Boehner said he was ready to bring Congress back into special session if necessary to give President Obama the authority to wage a full-out fight against the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, militants in Syria and Iraq.

Even without a special session, Congress is poised to return after the November election for a lame-duck session, and one of the items on the agenda could likely be the confirmation of a new attorney general. For more, we're joined, as we are most Mondays, by Cokie Roberts. Hey, there, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.

CORNISH: So President Obama appeared last night on the CBS news program "60 Minutes." He admitted to underestimating the threat that he says the U.S. is now facing from ISIS.

ROBERTS: He did. He said the intelligence community underestimated what was taking place in Syria and overestimated the ability of the Iraqi army to deal with the terrorists. Now, of course the president's critics say that's because he disengaged with both countries and left them to chaos. But he said no; it was the fault of the Iraqi government under Maliki. He said we left them with a democracy, with a strong military and he was more interested in his Shia base than in pursuing democracy. And he said it was just mythology that we should have gone into Syria two years ago. But right now, Audie, as you were saying, it looks like the president's critics are ready to give him the benefit of the doubt.

CORNISH: Now House Speaker John Boehner also spoke out yesterday, and it sounds like he's ready to agree with what the president is doing and also potentially pressing Congress to weigh in.

ROBERTS: Well, he said on ABC he doesn't believe that the strategy the president has outlined will defeat ISIS. And he said he thought there would probably have to be, quote, "boots on the ground." When he was asked whether those would have to be American boots if no other country stepped up to it, his response was that there would be no choice. These are barbarians, and they intend to kill us. If we don't get them first, we'll pay the price. And he said if the president asked him, he would be ready to call Congress in next week if that's necessary to make it clear that the president has the authority to put those boots there.

And by the way there's a new NBC, Wall Street Journal poll out today that shows that 72 percent of Americans believe the U.S. will end up using ground troops in this war. Boehner thinks the president already has the authority to pursue this military action. So Congress is off the hook, but he says if the president wants him to, he's willing to reinforce that authority.

CORNISH: But given that idea that Congress is off the hook, I mean, do we really think that Congress would come back before the election?

ROBERTS: No, certainly not. There's going to be just straight out campaigning for the next couple of weeks, but there will be a testy, lame-duck session after the election. And this issue is likely to be first and foremost before that session and possibly also the naming of a new attorney general.

As you know, Eric Holder resigned last week. There's already a fight going on about whether the new designee, as yet unnamed, should be decided by the old Congress or the new, depending on what happens in the election. Meanwhile this weekend, the Attorney General Eric Holder gave an exclusive interview to NPR's Carrie Johnson where he said he thought that had a big piece of unfinished business. Let's take a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: And my regret is that the horror that we saw personally did not result in the formulation and passage of reasonable gun safety measures.

ROBERTS: Now, he was talking about the response to the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. But, you know, the political climate just is not there to do something on guns. The question going forward is whether there is even a political climate there to do something about confirming a new attorney general. And that will be totally dependent on what happens in these elections in terms of control of the Senate.

CORNISH: Right, that climate could easily change. And looking at the number of states considered tossups, it seems like control of the Senate is anything but a slam-dunk for either party.

ROBERTS: Yeah, I mean, it really still looks like the Republicans' to lose because they're in so much better position in so many states. But the polls are just moving up and down and tied in so many places that you're going to see a right down to the wire and maybe after the wire because there could be runoffs in both Georgia and Louisiana after Election Day that could be the elections that determine the outcome.

CORNISH: Cokie Roberts. She joins us most Mondays to talk about politics. Thanks so much, Cokie.

ROBERTS: Thank you, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.