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Clinton To Spell Out Her Counterterrorism Strategy In Minnesota


The deadly attacks in Paris and San Bernardino have really upended the 2016 presidential race. Terrorism has vaulted to the top of the list of things that voters are worried about. And many Americans are worried that President Obama has not been doing enough about the threat posed by ISIS. Yesterday, the president visited his national security team at the Pentagon. And he offered an update on the fight against ISIS. And NPR's Scott Horsley was covering that and joins us on the line from the White House. Hey, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you, David.

GREENE: So anything new from the president?

HORSLEY: Not really, you know, he's been trying to reassure the American public. Yesterday, he again said the U.S. is intensifying its campaign against ISIS, or ISIL, as he calls it. And the president says the aerial bombardment is ratcheting up.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We are hitting ISIL harder than ever. Coalition aircraft, our fighters, bombers and drones have been increasing the pace of airstrikes, nearly 9,000 as of today.

HORSLEY: But polls suggest a lot of Americans are just not satisfied with the way the president is carrying out that fight. And that could be a drag on his fellow Democrats come November.

GREENE: Well, and I wonder if doubts about the president are something that Hillary Clinton is worried about and if that worry is what's driving her to really try and take this issue on, you know, in a forceful way right now.

HORSLEY: It looks like it. She's set to lay out her own counterterrorism strategy this afternoon. She's giving a speech on that in Minnesota. And last week, she told voters in Iowa it is understandable that people are afraid right now.


HILLARY CLINTON: When bad things happen, it does cause anxiety and fear. But then you pull yourself together - and especially if you want to be a leader of our country - and you say, OK, what are we going to do about it?

HORSLEY: Hillary Clinton has endorsed the president's call for stepped-up aerial attacks. And she also says she wants to see more of a Sunni ground force to take the battle to ISIS. That is happening in Iraq. We've yet to see an effective ground force in Syria, where ISIS has its big stronghold.

GREENE: You know, Scott, another Democratic candidate, Bernie Sanders - we had a story on the program from our colleague Tamara Keith last week, basically showing that Sanders has not really taken the issue of terrorism head on. He's really trying to keep the focus on the economy and his economic message. And I mean, is he banking on terrorism just being a temporary thing, and voters will sort of, at some point, return to, you know, more economic issues?

HORSLEY: David, that seems to be Sanders' strategy. And certainly a lot can change between now and Election Day. For the moment at least, though, terrorism and security appear to be very much on the front burner. The Gallup organization was out doing a survey in the days immediately after the San Bernardino attack. And they found a sharp spike in the number of people who cited terrorism as their number-one concern. Just a month earlier, before the Paris attacks, only 3 percent of Americans listed terrorism as their number-one worry.

GREENE: Well, that is quite a change.

HORSLEY: So - and this is a real challenge for President Obama because even though his overall approval ratings have held fairly steady, he gets low marks for his handling of ISIS. Even before these latest attacks, Frank Newport of Gallup says just 30 percent of Americans thought he was doing a good job handling the terrorist group.

FRANK NEWPORT: I think one of the reasons he gets the very low job-approval rating for handling ISIS is that ISIS is a situation that doesn't look like there's any light at the end of the tunnel in that situation getting better.

HORSLEY: Now, one thing, David, that's interesting to note, though, there was not a huge jump in the number of Americans who fear for themselves or their families in a terrorist attack in the Gallup survey. So while Americans see the general risk increasing, they're not necessarily internalizing that as a personal threat.

GREENE: When you talk about national security and fighting terrorism, Republicans often poll fairly well, which makes me wonder how vulnerable the president, Democrats, are right now in that regard.

HORSLEY: Well, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain was pressing the defense secretary just last week, saying the administration needs to act more aggressively against the ISIS stronghold in Raqqah, Syria.


JOHN MCCAIN: I know of no expert who doesn't believe that as long as this caliphate exists in Raqqah, they're going to be able to orchestrate attacks and metastasize.

HORSLEY: Now, of course John McCain is a Republican. But the president's getting similar heat from some Democrats in Congress and from some nonpartisan analysts as well.

GREENE: OK, NPR's Scott Horsley talking to us about Hillary Clinton giving a big speech on terrorism later today and also what we heard from the president yesterday. Scott, thanks a lot.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.