STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Now, whoever wins the Republican nomination has to face President Obama, who got some meaningful news on Friday, when unemployment figures improved again. For that part of the story, let's turn to NPR's Cokie Roberts, as we do most Monday mornings. Cokie, good morning.
COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: How important are those job figures?
ROBERTS: Everything, those job figures are everything when it comes to re-election of an incumbent president. Now, President Obama's also got to be happy that finally the Republicans on Sunday morning started to beat up on Mitt Romney, the front-runner. Up until now they seemed like they were, you know, trying out for cabinet positions.
But that unemployment number is really the most important number to watch going forward because it affects everything. It affects how people feel about the president. It affects consumer confidence. It affects that number we always talk about - is the country going in the right direction or is it off on the wrong track?
Those are all the measures that tell us about an incumbent being re-elected, and they are all dependent on that unemployment number.
INSKEEP: And can an improvement in that number change the election even though unemployment is still very high?
ROBERTS: Yes, because if perceptions are that it's getting better, and particularly those perceptions starting right now at the beginning of an election year, we've seen in election after election that that makes all the difference in the world.
INSKEEP: Now there's a new book out about the Obama family and the inner workings of the White House, Cokie Roberts, which is getting a lot of attention for its focus on Michelle Obama. This is a subject you've written about.
ROBERTS: Well, yes. This book, "The Obamas," talks about Mrs. Obama being at odds with White House staff, particularly when Rahm Emanuel was the chief of staff. And it's somewhat sort of wide-eyed, I must say, Steve, because the truth is that is hardly unusual. The first lady has only one interest, which is the president's success, and no other agenda. And often the staff does have other agendas going on, and they think the first lady shouldn't be in there involved and mixing them.
There's a certain amount of sexism there as well; who's that woman there involved in this men's work? But the truth is the first lady is always the most powerful woman in the land. That has been true from the beginning. It will be true probably until there's a female president.
And they've always been involved in policy - from Martha Washington on. Martha Washington was very involved in trying to get veteran's benefits for those Revolutionary War soldiers she had been at camp with for all those winters of the Revolution.
And so I think to say, oh my goodness, isn't this unusual and surprising that Michelle Obama is involved in policy and wants to have some impact on her husband's administration is something that I find somewhat naive.
INSKEEP: In a couple of seconds, is she though in many ways an unusually - is there something unique about her role as first lady?
ROBERTS: No, I don't think so. I think that she is playing the traditional role of being there to protect her husband's interests.
INSKEEP: OK. Cokie, thanks very much. That's NPR's Cokie Roberts. She's in Washington now. We'll see her in New Hampshire before too long.
Now, it's going to be a busy news year, and let's take this chance to note a change in personnel at MORNING EDITION. David Greene, who's covered everything from campaigns like this to the White House to most recently Russia, now joins MORNING EDITION as a backup host and correspondent. David, welcome to the program. Good to have you aboard.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Thank you, Steve. I appreciate that. You know, you and Renee often talk about the great team of people who put this show together every single day and it's really going to be an honor to work with them and also with you and Renee. So I really appreciate it.
INSKEEP: We look forward to hearing your great work. David, why don't you take it out?
GREENE: I will take it out. It's an honor. And, Steve, later on this week we're going to be talking a lot about my trans-Siberian trip, the last voyage I took across Russia before leaving that beat. And it's an honor to say now: you're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.