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Congress Is Back. Now What?

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

House Republicans this morning start another week looking for a candidate to unite behind for speaker of the House. And later this week, the House committee investigating the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi will hold its long-anticipated session with Hillary Clinton. Joining us now to talk more about that is Cokie Roberts. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Let's start with former Secretary Clinton's testimony, which is scheduled for Thursday. Should we be expecting any bombshells during this session?

ROBERTS: Well, yesterday the committee chairman, Trey Gowdy, hinted that he might have some new explosive emails to reveal. But he was quickly rebutted by his Democratic counterpart, the top Democrat on the committee, Elijah Cummings. Look, Gowdy is obviously on the defensive since two other Republicans have cast doubts on the fact that the committee is actually investigating what happened in Benghazi, Libya and in fact going after Hillary Clinton politically. You know that Kevin McCarthy famously said that the committee had brought down her polling numbers. And then Representative Richard Hanna of New York said something similar. Yesterday, Trey Gowdy said that the Republicans should, quote, "shut up." But it was really too late in terms of producing fodder for the Clinton campaign, who says this is all politically motivated. Interestingly, the public is split on this. Only half of Republicans in a recent poll say that this is a serious investigation. But only half of Democrats think it's politically motivated. Hillary Clinton is a very experienced testifier before congressional committees. She's done it 29 times as first lady and secretary of state. And, of course, she's been on the other side of the dais as a senator. And the only time she's ever not done well in one of these situations was on Benghazi, when she lost her temper right before she left office of secretary of state. She's not likely to let that happen again.

MONTAGNE: Well, another aspect of this appearance, some political operatives have speculated that Clinton's performance at the hearing could help determine Vice President Biden's decision about getting into the race. What do you - what do you think of that?

ROBERTS: I think that's unlikely because I think Vice President Biden is very much doing this on his own inner gut. And, you know, there was lots of discussion after Mrs. Clinton's good performance in the Democratic debate that that shut out any opportunity for the vice president. And then he opened that door. One of his closest advisers, Ted Kaufman, who was briefly in the Senate from Delaware after him, sent out a letter basically telling Biden supporters to hold their fire; don't sign up with anybody. The vice president talked to the head of the firefighters union at the end of last week. And that gentleman believes that this campaign could be going forward. And over the weekend, the vice president quoted his son, Beau, as a saying, just keep moving forward. So I think he really has not made up his mind and that nothing that happens outside of himself is going to make this decision for him.

MONTAGNE: Well, just briefly, there's more happening than the Benghazi committee. Lawmakers have some pretty important legislative business facing them.

ROBERTS: Yes, that debt ceiling is looming again. And the treasury secretary says that we will run out of money November 3 if the Congress doesn't do something to allow the country to pay its debts. This talk of kind of a half-baked bill to pay some of the debts and Social Security payments - but that's not likely to go anywhere. The real question is whether in his waning days, which may be taking a lot longer than he wants, Speaker John Boehner is able to put something together where the Republicans don't go over the cliff on this debt limit bill. We don't know the answer to that yet.

MONTAGNE: Well, thank you very much. That's Cokie Roberts. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.