DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Now, the very powerful Supreme Leader in Iran has been sending a two-part message, saying he supports his negotiators even though he doubts they will succeed. The United States is sending its share of mixed messages, and we're going to talk about that side of the equation now with Cokie Roberts, who joins us most Mondays. Cokie, good morning.
COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, David.
GREENE: So we should remember the administration has been negotiating with Iran here, but Congress deeply skeptical, and top administration officials have been urging lawmakers not to make sanctions on Iran even tighter at this important moment. How is that lobbying effort by the administration going?
ROBERTS: Well, it's tough. The House did pass tougher sanctions on some Iranian oil exports this summer and the Senate is considering the same thing. And as you say, the administration's asking them to wait and see how the talks go before they do that, and today the New York Times has an editorial making the same point. And also a very distinguished ambassador, Ryan Crocker, former ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan, the same thing.
But it's tough because of Israel, and Israel is very nervous about these talks. The U.S. negotiator, Wendy Sherman, was there this weekend reassuring them that no deal was better than a bad deal and that Israel would be consulted. But the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee says...
GREENE: AIPAC, the very powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, yeah.
ROBERTS: That there will be no delay in efforts to impose tougher sanctions. And today you see Marco Rubio, the senator from Florida, agreeing with that in an op-ed in the newspaper Politico. He says don't trust any Iranian officials. Look, David, you're not likely to have any anti-sanctions voters in your district or your state if you're a member of Congress.
And you are likely to have a lot of pro-sanctions voters because of the role of Israel here. And, of course, Israel has a point when it says that the question of nuclear weapons in Iran is an existential one for that state.
GREENE: Well, and you mention, I mean a lot of voters in this country, you know, might support more sanctions on Iran. I mean the backdrop to all of this, as we mentioned, I mean this is the anniversary of the hostage crisis and the takeover of the embassy, American diplomats held hostage for 444 days. That's always made it hard to engage with the regime in Iran over the years.
ROBERTS: Of course. And we had that wonderful movie "Argo" reminding us of that. And look, there have been some horrible experiences with so-called Iranian moderates during the whole Iran-contra Affair. National Security Advisor Bob McFarland went to Iran with a key-shaped cake and a Bible to try to, you know, open negotiations. But even with the sense that you can't trust Iran, voters consistently over the years in polling in this country say talk. Don't bomb. Talk.
Because - and it's not that they trust Iran. It's that they don't want another war in the Middle East, and so that is really - if you talk to the voters as a whole on this, the question of negotiations is very popular. Not that it is something voters are concentrating on at all, of course. It is very far from the top of voter concerns.
GREENE: It's worth asking what voters are concentrating on right now because tomorrow is an election day and in a few states, it's one of the off-year elections where there aren't so many elections happening. But still, you know, what are you looking for?
ROBERTS: Actually, this is what we call the off-off year election and this is really one that is always or usually a harbinger of a big national election to come, which is why we pay such close attention to the Virginia governor's race, the New Jersey's governor's race and the New York mayor's race. If they all go one way, it usually means that's the way the country's going.
This year that's not likely to happen, but it is likely to be something of a referendum inside the Republican Party, with Chris Christie in New Jersey saying if he wins, it shows moderates should dominate, and if Ken Cuccinelli also loses in Virginia, it could be a real blow to the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party.
GREENE: Cokie, it is always good to talk to you. Take care.
ROBERTS: Thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.