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Politics In The News: Patriot Act

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And in Washington, D.C., a big debate is coming over the future of the Patriot Act. That's the law passed right after 9/11 aimed at thwarting future acts of terrorism in the U.S. Just last week, U.S. military bases were put on heightened alert in response to ongoing threats from ISIS. At the same time, a federal court ruled that a controversial intelligence program, which sweeps up the phone records of millions of Americans, is illegal. Each of these developments is the sort of thing that could impact any new legislation and the politics surrounding it. For more, we're joined now, as we are most Mondays, by Cokie Roberts. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, I just cited the National Security Agency's massive collection of phone records of U.S. citizens, famously revealed by Edward Snowden. How is the federal ruling against it likely to affect the congressional debate over renewing the Patriot Act?

ROBERTS: Well, obviously, it gives the opponents a lot of ammunition. But it comes at the same time, as you just said, as the military bases have been ordered to raise their force protection levels due to the threat from ISIS. So it becomes hard to press the case against doing anything possible to thwart the enemy. Many current and former members of the national security establishment are talking about very high levels of danger. Yesterday, the Department of Homeland Secretary Jeh Johnson said that we're in a new phase in the global terrorist threat. So they say the ability of the government to gather these phone records is helpful. They can't give you an example of how it's helpful, but then they say it's all secret.

MONTAGNE: Well, even so, the House of Representatives is expected to vote this week on a bill that would eliminate the phone record surveillance. Though, interestingly, opposition to that move in the House by the Republican leadership in the Senate is quite fierce.

ROBERTS: That's true. The majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and the intelligence chairman, Richard Burr, want to re-authorize the bill the way it is. But there is a compromise that passed almost unanimously out of the House Judiciary Committee and is supported by President Obama oddly enough. And that would have the telecommunications company keep the data, giving it to the government only when a court says to do so. So there's still a lot to go on this Patriot Act renewal.

MONTAGNE: And big issues like this always have political consequences, and I'm wondering if you see any of the 2016 presidential candidates benefiting from this particular set of issues.

ROBERTS: Oh, yeah. I think this helps Hillary Clinton. She's the person who has foreign policy experience, and whenever issues of national security come up, you see the Republican field not being expert in the area. And so I do think that that is helpful to her. And it reminds people that she has much more on her resume than the controversy about her emails or the paid speeches and all the conversation about the Clintons and what the former president's going to do in the coming campaign, which have somewhat cast her back into the role of wife rather than her own role, which she's been stepping out of that role for years.

MONTAGNE: And, Cokie, speaking out of stepping out of the role of first lady, Michelle Obama gave the commencement address at the historically black Tuskegee University over the weekend. And I take it she spoke quite frankly about her experience over these last several years. Tell us more about what she said.

ROBERTS: Well, she said, you know, that she was - as the first black first lady that some people thought she was too loud. Some people thought she was too soft. Some said she was not enough of a career woman, too much of a mom. She said she had sleepless nights worrying about people thought of her. But she decided to be true to herself and the rest would work itself out, which, of course, was her message for the graduates. But she referenced both Baltimore and Ferguson and said together we could overcome the deep-rooted problems. So she is stepping out clearly and finding her own voice on these issues.

MONTAGNE: Cokie Roberts, thanks very much.

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