STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
In Washington this week, Republicans in Congress have a chance to start showing what they stand for. They will take control of both the House and Senate. So while Democrats still have considerable power, the most interesting debates may be among Republicans. Party leaders want to prove they can get things done. And some even talk of raising money for infrastructure through tax hikes. More conservative members would rather not. And that's where we start our regular Monday conversation with Cokie Roberts. Hi, Cokie.
COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: First issue here, electing a speaker. Is John Boehner in any trouble at all?
ROBERTS: No, but there are a couple of guys who are talking about challenging him. Over the weekend we heard from representatives Ted Yoho of Florida and Louis Gohmert of Texas, that they think that Boehner is - you know, compromised too much on things like the big spending bill in the lame-duck session, on immigration reform, that he's too much for it. And it could be awkward on opening day, which is usually a very ceremonial day and a love fest really. All the members' children come on the floor, and they're dressed in their Christmas velvets. And so whether they're, you know - a challenge, that could be quite awkward. And it more seriously gets in the question of whether this is a significant group who will object to any compromise and get in the way of the Republicans' pledge to get things done, which of course requires compromise.
INSKEEP: OK. You just used the word awkward. Let me invoke it again for a member of Boehner's leadership, who - Boehner is still supporting Steve Scalise from your state of Louisiana, which is where he now admits he spoke to a white supremacist group years ago.
ROBERTS: Yes, but he seems to have support anyway, even though, again, some conservatives are objecting, saying that it gets in the way of Republican outreach to African-Americans. But Steve Scalise apparently spoke to a group backed by David Duke, the Ku Klux Klanner. Duke says that Scalise didn't know who the group was. And yesterday Mia Love, the first African-American Republican woman ever in the House, voiced her support for Scalise.
But, you know, much more important, Steve, the only remaining Democrat in the House from Louisiana, who is also an African-American, Cedric Richmond, has offered his support. He says that he and Scalise have worked together in the House of Representatives just like they did in the state legislature and that they can get things done together.
INSKEEP: Getting things done, there's that phrase. Let me ask about that because we mentioned infrastructure, which could be paid for with a higher gas tax. What are the odds of Republicans allowing that?
ROBERTS: Well, it's going to be very tough, obviously. But Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, has proposed a 12-cents-a-gallon increase in the gas tax. And of course this is a good time for that since gas is low, is cheap. And he says it's revenue-neutral, that other taxes would be cut to pay for it.
But look, there's a big highway bill expiring at the end of May, and there's a huge shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund that pays for infrastructure. So the Republicans now have to deal with that. They are in the majority, and they understand that. And highways are something that affect everybody.
So they spent yesterday all over the airwaves saying, look, we're going - we're not going to have any drama like government shutdown. We're going to get things done. And, you know, it's a time when they really could get things done. The presidential approval rating has gone up, Steve, as a result of the economy getting better. After the election, this is happening. So they're going to have some challenges against the president, certainly.
INSKEEP: That's Cokie Roberts on this Monday morning. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.