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Politics In The News: Kidnapped Nigerian School Girls


The push to do more to rescue almost 300 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by militants received a high-profile boost over the weekend. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made a pledge on ABC's "This Week."

SECRETARY CHUCK HAGEL: We're going to bring to bear every asset we can possibly use to help the Nigerian government.

INSKEEP: That followed a special plea on Saturday by First Lady Michelle Obama to do more for the schoolgirls.

We're joined now, as we are most Mondays, by Cokie Roberts. Hi, Cokie.


INSKEEP: Let's just remind people that the girls were abducted weeks ago. Why so much American interest now?

ROBERTS: Well, there was initially a caution about going after these militants, the Boko Haram, because the Nigerian government didn't seem to want any help and humanitarian organizations were getting warned that if they did anything, made any noise, that it could be harmful to the girls.

But then it was obvious that the girls were in harm's way anyway, that it was a horrible situation, and the women of the Senate got involved. They said they could no longer sit back and say nothing. Now, this is the last little bastion of bipartisanship in Congress, Steve, the women of the Senate, and they organized.

Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, Barbara Mikulski, Democrat of Maryland, got together. Quickly they got all 20 women in the Senate signed onto a resolution calling for international sanctions and for the U.S. to respond quickly and definitively. Senator Mikulski said the women of the Senate won't be quiet. Senator Collins called for U.S. Special Forces to go in and other Republicans have taken up that cry.

But the women are making it clear that whatever happens, they will keep on the heat.

INSKEEP: And then there's Michelle Obama, who has rarely, if ever, weighed in on a foreign policy issue like this.

ROBERTS: And she was photographed with the bring back our girls tweet, which has now had more than two million hits, including the pope has sent out that tweet. The first lady's also making it clear she'll stay on the case. She took the unusual step of giving the weekly address and saying that in these girls, Barack and I see our own daughters.

She reminded us that the girls were in danger because they were going to school and she stressed the importance of girls' education. She took her cue in giving that address from Laura Bush, the only other first lady to have done it, and when Mrs. Bush, the first time she did it was to call for the rights of the women of Afghanistan, saying human rights are women's rights.

And she was so surprised, Steve, at the response to her talk that she did it again on women and heart disease when she learned of the power of a first lady's voice.

INSKEEP: Well, Cokie, I want people to know that you spent time with both of those first ladies, Laura Bush and Michelle Obama, in Africa and they talked about how first ladies can make a difference. What did they say?

ROBERTS: Well, it was interesting. It was in Tanzania last summer at a summit of African first ladies and they talked about how if they shine a light on something, people will see it. They joked that at first people just make comments about their hair and their dress, but then they look at what they're standing in front of, the issue that they're standing in front of, and that the people pay attention to that issue.

And they were encouraging other first ladies to do the same. And clearly this is one place where the first - this current first lady wants a whole lot of light shown.

INSKEEP: And then there's that other first lady, Hillary Clinton.

ROBERTS: And she has also been photographed with the bring back our girls, but she's getting a lot of criticism because when she was secretary of state, she did not name this group, Boko Haram, as a terrorist organization. Now, there are all kinds of complicated reasons for that that you hear from African specialists, but she is coming under heat on that.

Also, the new Benghazi committee is bringing a lot of heat against her as secretary of state. And rearing her head again after many years, Monica Lewinsky, the young woman who had a dalliance with President Clinton, all of this sort of reminding people of the drama around Bill Clinton's presidency and all of it something of a problem for Hillary Clinton, as she contemplates a run for president.

INSKEEP: Okay. Thanks very much. That's Cokie Roberts, who joins us most Mondays here on MORNING EDITION. And we are tracking some news about the kidnapped girls this morning. A video obtained by the French wire service AFP claims to show around 100 of the girls who were kidnapped. Boko Haram's leader says in this video the girls will not be released until all imprisoned Boko Haram militants have been freed. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cokie Roberts was one of the 'Founding Mothers' of NPR who helped make that network one of the premier sources of news and information in this country. She served as a congressional correspondent at NPR for more than 10 years and later appeared as a commentator on Morning Edition. In addition to her work for NPR, Roberts was a political commentator for ABC News, providing analysis for all network news programming.