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President Obama ... All Talk, No Action?


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Later in the program, we'll talk about a sensitive issue. Many people believe that students who are suspended from school are being taught a lesson, but there's a new report that suggested that, in fact, many of them are actually being set on a path to academic failure. We'll talk more about that in just a few minutes.

But we'd like to continue our focus on the first 100 days of President Obama's second term. According to the latest Gallup poll, President Obama's job approval rating is at 50 percent. Disapproval is at 43 percent. We wanted to talk a little bit more about what might be behind those numbers, so we are going to turn now to two people who've been keeping a close eye on the Obama administration.

Aracely Panameno is a self-described independent Democrat. She's the director of Latino affairs at the Center for Responsible Lending. She's here with us in our Washington, D.C. studio. Also with us is Tracey Winbush. She's the assistant treasurer of the Ohio Republican Party. She's also the host of "Afternoons with Tracey and Friends." That's a daily radio program in Youngstown, Ohio and she's with us from there.

Welcome to you both. Thank you both so much for joining us.

ARACELY PANAMENO: Thank you for having us.

TRACEY WINBUSH: Thanks for inviting us.

MARTIN: Aracely, I know, also, people will recognize you and your voice and your name from our moms' conversations. So, using whatever metric you want, how do you grade the president's first 100 days as a mom, as a person who cares about, you know, financial security, as a person who works with the Latino community? Put any one of those hats on. How do you grade it?

PANAMENO: As a Virginian and as a resident of Prince William County that has been impacted severely by the housing crisis, I grade him with a B-minus.

MARTIN: OK. And because?

PANAMENO: And I think that he has done tremendous effort to actually put the issues that are of importance to the community and to the country front and center, but I don't think that he went far enough to actually galvanize the support that he needed to get the things through the Congress.

MARTIN: You think there was a passion gap?

PANAMENO: I think so. I think that - and even as we speak today about whether it is sequestration or whether it is Social Security proposed changes or whether it is immigration reform, he verbalizes and articulates a particular position, but there are certain things within the proposals that have emerged from the Congress, whether it is the gang of eight in the Senate or whether it is the House proposal, that are completely unacceptable that actually set a number of people that have been an integral part of our community for more than 10 years on average as second class human beings in our society and that's unacceptable.

MARTIN: Tracey, what about you? What grade do you give the president from whatever vantage point you use?

WINBUSH: You know, I give him a D and if not a...

MARTIN: A D? Harsh.

WINBUSH: Yes. Extremely. It's about execution and it's about leadership and there are too many things that are going on throughout the United States and the world and we are not getting great leadership. We still are in a economic spiral demise no matter what people say because there are so many people that have come (unintelligible).

We are looking at a bill to deal with crime and guns, but we're not being honest with the American electorate when it comes to it because you still are not dealing with illegal guns. You're dealing with people who are going to go through the process of getting guns and that's not how our guns are really getting the crime off the streets.

We are dealing with a situation that is not going to advance us and then we have global issues and foreign policy issues that we don't even want to discuss right now that we're trying to explain away or hopefully make go away in a press conference that's going on right now.

MARTIN: Are your grievances, disagreements with the president, do you think, mainly philosophical and ideological? You just don't agree with him on his point of view on a lot of these issues or do you think it's - are there issues in which you do agree with him? You just don't think he's executing well?

WINBUSH: They may be well-intended, but he's not executing from a power - a seat of leadership. You've got to step out and you can't make everyone happy. You are the president of the United States of America and so you have to stand up and then do what's right and say what's right.

MARTIN: Well, OK. But the people - Tracey...

WINBUSH: And he doesn't always do that.

MARTIN: Sorry, Tracey. People disagree about what's right, so what I'm asking you is, do you agree with him on some of his philosophical perspectives and you just don't think he's executing or you just don't think he's got the right ideas for the right time?

WINBUSH: He's got the wrong ideas for the wrong time, for the wrong group of people and they don't know it yet.

MARTIN: OK. So I take it he wasn't your candidate.

WINBUSH: Definitely not.

MARTIN: OK. All right. Having established that - OK. Aracely, is it fair to say he was your candidate? OK. And I know you already referenced immigration. Give me a sense of how you feel that it's being pursued. You think that it's not being pursued with enough vigor or you think that it's a negotiation phase and are there any other issues that you are particularly interested in that you're keeping a close eye on?

PANAMENO: So, as it pertains to immigration, the president has been a cheerleader. I mean, clearly, as it was previously discussed, the immigration issue sort of like has been emerging over the last several years and it crystallized during the election. And the new body politics says that the diversity of the country has changed and, therefore, we need to pay attention to the emerging population and segments within our population. Over 70 percent of Latinos and over 70 percent of Asian-Americans voted for President Obama.

There is nothing like threatening to deport your grandmother or your relatives to actually unify a community and so, in that regard, we appreciate that sense of leadership and that sense of vision and to actually acknowledge that we need to value the contribution that these communities bring to our society. But there are some proposals, the proposals - the actual details of the proposals that have emerged. You know, they're pandering to the right of the right.

The latest proposal from the House of Representatives actually would like the 11 million undocumented immigrants, most of whom have been in our society for over 10 years and have been contributing to our economic well-being - I would share this by the fact that we have been in a recessionary period. They would like for these people to go in front of a court and admit to being on probation for 10 years before they actually become eligible to apply for legal status.

And so that creates a segment - you know, that would admit and say it's OK to create a segment of our population that is on a second class status and that can be exploited.

MARTIN: OK. So we have a couple of minutes left. I just wanted to ask each of you in the time that we have left. When you sort of think about where you think the country is, do you generally feel optimistic or pessimistic, Tracey?

WINBUSH: I'm very, very pessimistic because, if you really look at what's going on, the drain of the economy and the lack of leadership and the lack of cooperation and the lack of common sense - we are not going to come to a balance because you have to have execution.

We've got the Affordable Health Care Act that's going to come in in 2014, which we're not prepared for. The states aren't prepared and neither is the federal government. We have immigration. We can't afford to take all the illegal immigrants, put them on the rolls and give them amnesty and then start all over again if we don't solve the problem of illegal aliens coming in to the American borders.


WINBUSH: And we don't want to deal with that. There's too much that we don't wan to deal with because we don't want to deal with the hard questions. We only want to deal with the easy ones and then let everyone be happy and that's just not how this works.

MARTIN: OK. Aracely, a final thought from you? Optimistic or pessimistic?

PANAMENO: So I actually - I feel optimistic. I think that we have, you know, a bright future ahead of us. I think that we actually need to get work together. I feel that redistricting has done a tremendous disservice to our country, obviously, because we have segregated ourselves and so, therefore, we are just talking among those who think just like ourselves and we are incapable of actually coming to a compromise for the good of our country. And so that needs to be undone.

We need to actually get our priorities together and the Congress actually needs to get something done, so you know, again, I think that the president has done good, but he can do better. And the Congress most definitely needs to get itself together.

MARTIN: OK. All right. Well, we'll talk again. Thank you both so much for speaking with us. Aracely Panameno is director of Latino affairs at the Center for Responsible Lending. She was here in Washington, D.C. with me. Tracey Winbush is assistant treasurer of the Ohio Republican Party. She's also the host of "Afternoons with Tracey and Friends." That's a daily radio program in the Youngstown area and we were kind enough to peel her away from her studio to join us from there.

Thank you both so much for joining us.

WINBUSH: Thank you.

PANAMENO: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.