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A Closer Look At Saturday's Iowa Freedom Summit

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Cokie Roberts joins us most Mondays to talk politics. And she's with us in this morning. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, Iowa is a - as a choosing ground for candidates has been problematic for both parties, especially for Republicans in recent years. But do you think it was smart for the candidates who stayed away from that event - or this event - to do so?

ROBERTS: Yeah, I do. If Bush or Romney - Jeb Bush or Mitt Romney - had shown up, they probably would have been booed because this was not a crowd that likes them. And this is really, actually, more of a tryout for folks that the Iowans don't know, like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

But doing well in a room like that one is a problem for the Republican Party because it can be disastrous in a national campaign. I mean, look at the Republican candidates who do well in Iowa. You just heard Don say Rick Santorum won last time. Pat Robertson did very well there, Pat Buchanan. They don't go on to win the nomination, but they do have the effect of pushing Republican candidates to the right in such a way that it's a big problem for them when they do face the general electorate. And some of the hot-button social issues that appeal to Iowan Republicans that we heard over in this forum can be a real problem. Take gay marriage - if they come out strongly against gay marriage, that turns off young people in droves.

MONTAGNE: And, Cokie, I know that you think that there's another group that's likely to be turned off by the events of the weekend, and that's Hispanics.

ROBERTS: Well, we saw immigration demonstrations there with young people holding up signs saying, Deportable?, but it's not just where the event was held but who held it. Congressman Steve King has become one of the outspoken politicians in the country on the subject of immigration. And his name is absolutely toxic among Hispanics. So one of the reasons the Republicans did so well in the midterms is because Hispanics had dropped off the Democrats by nine points from the 2012 vote. But since the president's executive order on immigration, that has completely turned around. Immigration is the key issue in this huge, growing voting group. And the president's numbers went up 22 points among Hispanics in the last ABC poll. If Democrats can hold onto that kind of momentum, it's very good for them in 2016 and something the Republican Party at the national level has been trying to combat, but not in Iowa.

MONTAGNE: Well, let's talk about the Republican Party at the national level. House Speaker John Boehner has invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress. White House officials say he has breached protocol by not discussing that invitation with the White House. What's that all about?

ROBERTS: Well, of course, the speaker would say that for a president who's ready to issue executive orders without consulting Congress, to then complain when Congress acts on its own is somewhat hypocritical. But look, what's going on here is the Republicans are making a point about sanctions against Iran because they think it makes Obama look weak. And some Democrats, notably Senator Menendez of New Jersey, the highest-ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, agrees with them that we have to be tougher on Iran. And they want to to take a vote saying that. The White House says that'll make it harder to de-nuclearize Iran, that the president will veto it. Republicans think that veto will look good for them politically, unlike another presidential veto that's threatened on the Keystone pipeline, where, right now, the president has the voters with him.

MONTAGNE: Thanks much. That's Cokie Roberts. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.