August 28, 2014

Nebraska native, NY Times reporter talks Obama legacy, D.C. tone (AUDIO)

NY Times correspondent Jeff Zeleny speaks to Lincoln Chamber/Photos taken by Corey Rourke Photography and provided by Lincoln Chamber of Commerce.

NY Times correspondent Jeff Zeleny speaks to Lincoln Chamber/Photos taken by Corey Rourke Photography and provided by Lincoln Chamber of Commerce

A Nebraska native who has become the national political correspondent for the New York Times says it appears President Obama will focus on immigration in his second term.

Jeff Zeleny says the president seems focused on immigration reform.

“I think as he thinks forward to his legacy, and of course he thinks it’s probably the right thing to do, but he wants to get something accomplished and I think this is one thing where there’s an imperative for Republicans to do something as well,” Zeleny says. “And, I think it’s clear the immigration system is broken.”

Zeleny spoke to the Nebraska Radio Network after addressing the annual luncheon of the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce.

Zeleny grew up in Exeter and graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a degree in journalism and political science. He joined the Washington bureau of the New York Times in the fall of 2006.

Zeleny says the president won’t have total control of his legacy, because how presidents respond to outside forces play a major role in how they are evaluated.

“Look how President Bush’s legacy was determined by Hurricane Katrina. That was something that was unexpected at the beginning of his second term,” Zeleny says. “So, I think a president can only control some things.”

Much talk has centered on the tone in Washington. National public opinion polls consistently disclose the public holds Congress in low esteem. Political bickering seems to be on the rise.

Zeleny speaks with Brent Martin/Photos taken by Corey Rourke Photography and provided by Lincoln Chamber of Commerce

Zeleny speaks with Brent Martin/Photos taken by Corey Rourke Photography and provided by Lincoln Chamber of Commerce

“The tone in Washington is a problem,” Zeleny says. “I think Republicans and Democrats both agree with that. Now, the question is how do you change that without changing your principles? How do you, sort of, turn down your opposition to things without changing your principles?”

The issues that cause so much strife on the campaign trail seem to follow members of Congress as they work to resolve the nation’s issues when they arrive in Washington.

“It’s no longer OK in liberal circles for a Democrat to side with a Republican. It’s no longer OK in conservative circles for a Republican to side with a Democrat,” according to Zeleny. “The primary elections actually are probably a bigger root than general elections, because Republicans, for example, are afraid of Republican primaries.”

Zeleny joined the Times after working for the Chicago Tribune, the Des Moines Register, the Associated Press and the Lincoln Journal Star. He jokes that his first job in journalism was with the York News Times, making nice bookends for his career.

AUDIO: New York Times political correspondent Jeff Zeleny’s speech to Lincoln Chamber of Commerce. [35:40]