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RealClearPolitics Politics Nation Blog

 

Blog Home Page --> July 2009

Dodd's Message To Supporters

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who announced today an early diagnosis of prostate cancer, sent this message to supporters on his campaign e-mail list under the subject line, "I wanted to tell you myself":

Dear Friend,

I wanted to let you know that I've been diagnosed with an early stage of prostate cancer.

This diagnosis is very common among men my age. In fact, one in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point during their life.

Luckily, a routine test allowed my doctor to catch it at a very early stage, and my prognosis is excellent - we expect a full and speedy recovery.

I want to assure you that I'm feeling fine. As you know, we've been working hard to pass health care legislation and reform our nation's financial system to protect consumers, and that hard work will continue.

After the Senate adjourns at the end of next week, I'll have surgery to remove the cancer. After a week or two of recuperation, I expect to be right back to work.

After all, as a Member of Congress, I have great health insurance. I was able to get screened, seek the opinions of highly skilled doctors, consider all the available options, and choose the treatment that was right for me.

And I know you'll agree that every American deserves the same ability.

We have health care legislation to pass - and an election to win. And I can't thank you enough for your support.

Sincerely,

Chris

In Connecticut today, Dodd said he would still be running for re-election. As of the daily press briefing, Robert Gibbs said the president had not yet spoken to Dodd but planned to today.

Back To The Economy

Today I wrote on the main site about how President Obama's once-effective sales pitches are facing greater skepticism as his second hundred days come to an end.

Even Obama advocates would concede that the administration needs a game changer. But heading into the dog days of August, a time that has bedeviled past administrations, it's unclear if that's possible.

What's especially troubling for the White House is that the current down patch comes after a sustained public relations push by the president himself, a tactic it had used successfully to navigate out of trouble even as far back as the campaign.

I also related the argument from some that part of the skepticism over his health care push is rooted in sense that the stimulus bill, pushed through with similar force from the president, has not produced results as advertised.

Well today, President Obama took to the cameras to respond to a slight drop in the nation's GDP, calling it "better than expected."

"As many economists will tell you, that part of the progress is directly attributable to the Recovery Act," he said. "This and other difficult but important steps that we've taken over the last six months have helped us put the brakes on the recession."

As further proof of a renewed focus on the economy, Obama next week will return to Elkhart, Ind., where he made his first trip outside of Washington as president last February. The town had one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation. Robert Gibbs said today that he'll again speak on the economy there, while also making an announcement on Recovery Act funds.

"I think there is absolutely no doubt that the recovery plan ... cushioned that downturn," the press secretary said today.

NRCC Memo to GOP Candidates

The National Republican Congressional Committee sent out a memo to GOP candidates nationwide with issues and ideas to focus on during Congress's five-week recess.

"Vulnerable Democrats are limping into the August recess in their most-weakened condition since the inception of their majority," the memo reads. "This presents a prime opportunity for Republican candidates to spend the next five weeks on the offensive."

The NRCC wants its candidates to focus on a lack of job creation from the economic stimulus bill, health care as a "massive government takeover," and the climate change bill as "nothing more than a tax that will affect anyone who turns on a light switch."

"Democrats are leaving Washington on the defensive, and as a Republican challenger candidate, you must do everything you can to own the issues and frame the debate," the memo concludes. "Keeping these themes in mind, Republican candidates can effectively communicate and frame the debate. If your opponent wants to stand by their support for failed economic policies, then you might consider asking them: 'Where are the jobs?' "

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced this morning what it's calling a "major advertising and grassroots offensive" on health care in some two dozen GOP districts. The campaign will focus on Republicans siding with health insurance companies "at the expense of affordable health care."

"This August we are going district-by-district to hold Republicans accountable for trying to obstruct health insurance reform through their scare tactics and just-say-no protection of big insurance companies," said DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen.

Strategy Memo: See Ya In September

The day after an over-hyped beer summit, President Obama has a low-profile day at the White House. After morning briefings, he hosts business leaders for lunch. He later meets with Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Clinton. Tonight, he'll convene top advisers and members of his Cabinet for a mid-year retreat at Blair House.

While House Democrats were not able to get a health care bill to the floor prior to the August recess, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and fellow leadership members are holding a news conference this afternoon to tout what they did accomplish over the last seven months. House Members take off tonight for five weeks, while the Senate remains in session for another week.

On the chamber floors, the House will take up the Corporate and Financial Institution Compensation Fairness Act, and the Senate resumes consideration of the Agriculture Appropriations bill. Debate on Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation will likely begin Tuesday, with a vote by the end of the week.

**Health Care
*The Hill: "House Democrats have started to pick up the pieces on healthcare reform, but they face a difficult month at home defending their legislation to skeptical constituents. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday laid the groundwork for their defense. She blamed the health insurance industry and urged her members to do the same during their four-week break."

*Politico: "A day after some unexpectedly positive signs for health care reform in Congress, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said Thursday that his committee would be unable to complete work on a bill before the August recess.

*"The pressure is on Waxman's Energy and Commerce Committee to finish Friday because that's when the House is scheduled to recess for a month. The goal is more modest than President Obama's initial deadline of floor passage by this week, but at least Democrats could go home and report progress toward a plan," Politics Daily reports.

*The DCCC announced this morning it "is launching a month-long major advertising and grassroots offensive against more than two-dozen targeted Republicans on health insurance reform." The offensive is called "Health Care ER" and includes radio ads (at saturation levels in 8 districts), live calls, robocalls and e-mails.

*New York Times: "It took Representative Dan Maffei of New York two tries, $4 million and the retirement of a Republican incumbent to win his House seat last year. After all that, he wants to avoid becoming a one-term wonder because of an unpopular vote on health care ... Of 35 first-term Democrats, Mr. Maffei, who represents the Syracuse area, and 25 others occupy suburban, small-town and rural seats they took out of Republican hands, seats Republicans are eager to take back. As a result, junior Democrats want to be sure the emerging health care plan is one they can embrace, particularly after they have already had to cast a difficult vote on climate-change legislation."


**President Obama
*AP: "With mugs of beer and calming words, President Barack Obama and the professor and policeman engulfed in a national uproar over race pledged Thursday to move on and try to pull the country with them."

*After the meeting, Henry Louis Gates posted a statement. "The national conversation over the past week about my arrest has been rowdy, not to say tumultuous and unruly. But we've learned that we can have our differences without demonizing one another. There's reason to hope that many people have emerged with greater sympathy for the daily perils of policing, on the one hand, and for the genuine fears about racial profiling, on the other hand."

*At his post-game press conference, Sergeant Crowley said no one apologized. Mike asked if Obama expressed any further regret for having said the police acted "stupidly." "Parts of that conversation are private," he said. "We understood that going into it. It would be best to honor that agreement." He also said Biden "was just a great man," and mainly shared stories unrelated to all this.

*Time's Scherer has a good write-up. "The photo op can be a particularly nefarious beast for a healthy democracy. ... They really did sit there drinking beer at a table--but something entirely contrived to look uncontrived. Consider the dozens of journalists milling about a few dozen feet away, the aides herding them like cattle. The four men pretended it wasn't happening. Obama snuck some peanuts. Biden cracked a smile. Crowley adjusted his tie. Gates spoke. None did the obvious thing by acknowledging the absurdity of pretending not to be watched. None broke the allusion of the fourth wall."

*Meanwhile, real news: "The U.S. general in charge of turning around the war in Afghanistan is likely to recommend significant changes to U.S. and NATO operations, military officials and others familiar with his forthcoming report said. Those changes could include additional U.S. troops despite political headwind against further expansion of the war."

*A new Daily Kos/Research2000 poll puts Obama's favorability at 62 percent. The real interesting number: 77% of Americans believe President Obama was born in the United States, while 11% do not. Among Republicans, only 42 percent think he's a citizen, while 28 percent do not.

*Jules Witcover looks at Joe Biden's role six months in. "He has from all appearances made a good start, if only because nobody is suggesting, as often was the case with Cheney, that Biden is really running the country. Nor has there been talk of the vice president stealthily at work from an "undisclosed location," whispering conspiratorially into the ear of the president."

*Too much of a good thing? Wall Street Journal: "White House officials and lawmakers were studying late Thursday how to keep alive the government's cash-for-clunkers incentive program because of concerns the program's $1 billion budget may have been exhausted after just one week." But Bloomberg reports that U.S. auto sales "may reach a 2009 high" because of the program.

**Campaign Stuff
*According to National Journal's bi-weekly Congressional Insiders Poll, 54% of Democrats in Congress say moderate Dems are hurting their re-election prospects by resisting President Obama's legislative agenda. Forty-one percent of Dems said they were helping their prospects, as did 86% of Republicans.

*Tim Pawlenty was the headliner yesterday at the RNC meeting. "To rouse the crowd, Pawlenty took some serious shots at the party's nemesis: President Barack Obama," the hometown Star Tribune reports. "In the eyes of many, President Obama is cool, cool, cool. But the American people are figuring out that he is wrong, wrong, wrong," Pawlenty said.

AP: "To move forward at a time when Republican numbers are shrinking in many states, the party should show 'respect of those who don't agree with us,' Pawlenty said." "Let's make sure that we welcome others who are not yet Republicans," he said.

Jonathan Martin adds that Pawlenty "sat with the Chairmen of the Iowa and New Hampshire state parties at the lunch and courted party leaders behind the scenes."

*Meanwhile, more staff confusion? CNN: "Despite an earlier announcement from a California Republican womens group, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin will not be speaking to an event sponsored by the group scheduled for next weekend at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, a spokeswoman for her political action committee said Thursday night."

*The Hill's Reid Wilson, likely enjoying his expense account while in San Diego, writes about some lingering tensions at the RNC gathering. The flashpoint: "Jim Greer, chairman of the Florida Republican Party and a key ally of RNC Chairman Michael Steele, is running to head the party's influential Rules Committee, with Steele's backing. That doesn't sit well with some conservatives, who see Greer as a centrist." Former South Carolina GOP chair Katon Dawson told the Washington Times: "Greer is the single most disliked guy on the RNC -- that would be my guess."

*NC Sen: "Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy has been talking with political consultants and potential supporters about the idea of his running for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican Richard Burr," the Herald Sun reports.

**TV Alert: The cast of "Seinfeld" will reunite on Larry David's "Curb Your Enthusiasm." The new season starts September 20.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

White House Happy Hour: The Photo Op

The White House press pool has just returned after only a minute or so in the Rose Garden, where they found President Obama and Vice President Biden -- both in shirt-sleeves -- seated with Sergent James Crowley and Professor Skip Gates -- each still in full suits. An aide brought a frosty mug to the table for one of the participants, who also reached occasionally from bowls of pretzels and peanuts.

According to one of the pool reporters who was outside, it Gates seemed to be doing most of the talking at the time. No one made any statement to the press. The White House will likely issue a brief readout on the conversation when it breaks up.

Gates' and Crowley's families were invited, and were going to be given West Wing tours, Robert Gibbs told reporters earlier. Representatives of the Fraternal Order of Police were also reportedly going to come to the White House. That may explain Biden's presence -- during his career, he has developed close relationships with police officers and other first responders.

UPDATED: Here's a pool photo showing how far the press was positioned from the beer-drinkers.

beersummit.jpg

Top GOP Recruit Declines to Challenge Himes

Freshman Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) has escaped a potentially formidable challenge in his first re-election campaign. State Sen. John McKinney, a top Republican recruit, said in a local newspaper interview yesterday that he was choosing family over running for the seat his late father Stewart held for 16 years.

In 2008, Himes knocked off the last remaining Republican in Connecticut, Chris Shays -- who had taken over the seat following Stewart McKinney's death in 1987. Himes won with just 51 percent of the vote in the 4th District, the state's wealthiest. John Kerry and Al Gore both won the district, though by far less than the 20 points President Obama carried it by last year.

National Republicans have targeted Himes' district and were hoping a familiar name could help win back the seat. Other potential GOP candidates include state Sen. Dan Debicella and Rob Russo, a former state Senate candidate, according to the Stamford Advocate.

Himes isn't taking his re-election lightly, though, so any challenger would likely need to come close to matching his so-far impressive fundraising haul. He's raised nearly $1 million through six months of the year. To win this expensive, New York City-area district in the last cycle, Himes spent $3.9 million against Shays, who spent nearly as much.

16 "Teachable" Moments

I mentioned how the beer summit was the main topic today at the White House press briefing. Now that the transcript is out, we have a final count.

  • 16 references to "teachable" and/or "teachable moments."

  • 3 references to "beer"
  • By comparison, the words "health care" were used 22 times by either Gibbs or a reporter, while the word "economy" came up four times. Only two references apiece for Iraq or Afghanistan.

    Read the full transcript after the jump.

    PRESS BRIEFING BY PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

    MR. GIBBS: Pink day in the front row. Nice.

    Q Where's your pink dress

    MR. GIBBS: I was going to say, I should have -- certainly did not get the memo, and I wouldn't want to -- snappy tie, that is -- somebody get a picture of that, just for --

    Q Someone already did.

    MR. GIBBS: I can only imagine. Take us away.

    Q So, polls. Two of them, one on health care, showing 46 percent disapproving of the President's handling of health care, and then on the Gates issue, with 41 percent disapproving -- different poll, but 41 percent disapproving of how the President is handling -- handled that incident. Is this something that --

    MR. GIBBS: Forty, I'm sorry --

    Q Forty-one disapproving of how the President has handled the Gates incident. Is this something that you are all worried about? They're coming at the same time. The Gates incident is pulling away from attention on health care; even the President has said that. How are you -- how are you going to get past this?

    MR. GIBBS: No, I think he -- well, I think he said that last week. I don't -- I haven't noticed that --

    Q Actually he said -- I believe it was yesterday, didn't he? That people aren't talking about health care as much?

    MR. GIBBS: I don't remember that.

    Q Maybe I'm wrong.

    MR. GIBBS: I know he said that last Friday. I don't think the President believes that that incident has posed a distraction; here we are next Thursday.

    Q Well, it's pulling down his approval rating, particularly among working --

    MR. GIBBS: The Gates situation?

    Q Yes, among working-class --

    MR. GIBBS: I think that's a lot to extrapolate into one --

    Q I'm just telling you what the poll has said, so I'm wondering if you're worried about it and what you guys can do about it.

    MR. GIBBS: I neither believe the premise nor am I worried about it.

    Jeff.

    Q Robert, two questions. First, in an interview that was released with the President in "Business Week," he said, "We now have even more potential for moral hazard where financial institutions think to themselves, we can continue to take extraordinary risks because we know that we are too big to fail." Does the President believe that big financial institutions are still taking extraordinary risks?

    MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President is rightly concerned, as millions of Americans are, that the hard work of many people and the hard-earned tax money that was used to ensure that we didn't have catastrophic bank failures last fall and this winter and spring should not, now that we are seeing different earnings reports denote profits, that the President believes that we should not return to what some in that industry might think were the good old days.

    I think that's one of the reasons the President has forwarded to Congress a very detailed and robust plan for financial reregulation to ensure that many of the things that caused the economic downturn as it related to financial institutions aren't repeated, and that we take those steps now in order to prevent that from happening.

    Q But do banking profits mean that banks are taking extraordinary risks?

    MR. GIBBS: No, I think the President -- not necessarily, but I think the President -- the President continues to want to ensure that the decisions that companies are making is done based not on short-term -- not with simply short-term profit-taking in mind but sound long-term investment, which I think will get America back on a path toward growth.

    Q And just briefly, can you give us a flavor for what you expect the meeting with President Arroyo today to accomplish?

    MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think obviously this is a historic relationship. The Philippines have been a friend to the United States. They'll discuss a number of issues. We'll have a readout -- or you'll obviously get a chance to go in there and they'll have a statement to say about what they did discuss.

    You know, I think that -- one of the things that Secretary Clinton came back just recently from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, I think it demonstrates that not only is the administration focused on the bigger foreign policy issues that we all discuss in here each and every day -- nuclear proliferation, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, things like that -- but also on cementing and firming up the relationships that we've had with traditional partners like the Philippines.

    Yes, sir.

    Q Two questions, Robert, first one having to do with the Gates-Crowley meeting today. If we're not going to be able to listen to the conversation and the three men are not going to talk to the press afterwards --

    MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't know -- the decision by Sergeant Crowley or Professor Gates to talk to the press is entirely up to them.

    Q Okay, but you're not going to orchestrate it here at the White House is all I meant.

    MR. GIBBS: Again, I've not talked to them or their representatives. If they want to go to the stakeout they're certainly welcome to do that.

    Q Okay. But I guess the question, as the President said -- the President said he wants this to be a teachable moment. How do you envision this being a teachable moment?

    MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the -- I think many people would have hardly imagined something like this happening this time last week. I think having them get together to talk -- the President talked to both of these men last week. They're decent, honorable, good men. To get together and talk about what's going on in this country is a positive thing, even if you're not able to hear each and every word of it. I think that kind of dialogue is what has to happen at every level of -- every level of our society if we're going to make progress on issues that have -- we've been dealing with for quite some time.

    Q I guess I could just request I'm sure on everybody's behalf that we find out and have as thorough a debrief from you as possible so that we can make it as much of a teachable moment as possible.

    MR. GIBBS: I will try to get that -- like I said, I won't be there, but I will endeavor to see what I can get.

    Q Right, but you're close with one of the guys who will.

    MR. GIBBS: I know the President, yes.

    Q All right. The second question has to do with the exportation of electronic waste to other countries. The General Accounting Office -- I'm sorry -- the Government Accountability Office last year said the U.S. lets this electronic waste, which can be toxic, flow virtually unrestricted to other countries such as Ghana, where we just were a few weeks ago. A critic of the EPA a year ago, Democratic Congressman Gene Green of Houston, says the current EPA is not doing any better job of monitoring the exportation of its electronic waste. As I'm sure you know, the United States is one of the few industrialized countries that lets this exportation happen.

    What steps does the Obama administration intend to take to prevent this from happening?

    MR. GIBBS: Jake, let me talk to EPA and try to get back to you on that.

    Q On Afghanistan, how does this administration view a victory there? I mean, it's not removing a leader from power. It's sort of -- (laughter) --

    MR. GIBBS: No. That would be novel.

    Q Well, but, you know, it's not like in Iraq. How will this administration be able to say "mission accomplished," although we don't like that term -- but how will that be done?

    MR. GIBBS: Well, I was going to say, we haven't hired any banner makers, if that's what -- look, I think the President has discussed -- first of all, obviously the administration began by reviewing our policy and the President believing -- long having believed that we needed additional security in that country. The review denoted that the security environment was such that an increase in troops leading up to the elections was very important. We have a new commander, General McChrystal, who is also identifying and reviewing the policy. Our goal is to deal with the terrorist elements that are in that country and are making life for Afghans and potentially life for millions throughout the world more dangerous through their activities. Obviously the policy developed will have benchmarks in order to mark that progress.

    Q But that could be long term. I mean, this could be very long --

    MR. GIBBS: Well, I think it's safe to bet that this is not something that -- not only are we not printing banners, but I wouldn't schedule a ceremony, say, this year.

    Q And back to the Gates event today at the White House, why not allow the press to get closer to the table to be able to at least have some sort of conversation or something with the parties involved?

    MR. GIBBS: Again, I think I mentioned to Jake, if those two gentlemen want to talk to you guys, there's no prohibition --

    Q Right, but that's if they want to, but typically when you have events --

    MR. GIBBS: In other words, shouldn't I just simply make them talk to you. (Laughter.) I appreciate the -- that's --

    Q Well, no -- no, I do want to follow up on that. I mean, specifically, there are events that happen here at the White House, we're invited in, we get a chance to either ask questions of the parties there, and if they choose to come out we can get additional information from them. In this case, we won't have anything there and most likely won't get anything when they come out.

    MR. GIBBS: Well, you'll have to ask them on the latter part.

    Q But what about on the earlier part?

    Q What about the President? I mean, why is the President in a cone of silence on this? (Laughter.) You're saying those two can come out and talk, but he can't.

    Q He wants to make it a teachable moment. Why --

    Q What's the lesson he wants to teach?


    Q We're students, we're his students, Robert.

    MR. GIBBS: The President feels comfortable with the way this is laid out, and looks forward to --

    Q But why doesn't he see this as an opportunity, if he wants to make it a teachable moment, to come out and talk and teach what he learned, what he wants the nation to learn?

    MR. GIBBS: You guys will have a chance to talk to the President -- one of you will later today, and maybe you can ask him.

    Yes.

    Q On polling --

    Q You mean in the Rose Garden?

    MR. GIBBS: No, no, I think the -- isn't there a one and one with Arroyo?

    Q Is he taking questions?

    MR. GIBBS: Well, yes, one and one, sure. Teachable moment to learn the schedule. (Laughter.)

    Q -- put it out. That's not on the schedule.

    MR. GIBBS: Why not?

    Q Well, that's happening before, which doesn't really help all that much.

    Q It's news to me that it's -- that we're going to get questions.

    MR. GIBBS: Go ahead.

    Q Well, just to stay on it for one second, I mean, not that I'm arguing against any coverage, but you are availing yourself of the picture, so presumably you want the photo but not --

    Q Any substance.

    Q -- any further content or substance?

    MR. GIBBS: I feel comfortable and the President feels comfortable with our coverage plans as they're currently aligned.

    Q Okay, now for my real question. On health care, I think we all can acknowledge the President has really vamped up his publicity efforts, trying to get this message out. And yet in our most recent poll, it shows that support for health care has dropped 10 percent just in the last month, essentially coinciding with that public relations effort. And I wonder what you make of that and how you reconcile those two things, especially when I'm sure you feel that he's your most effective advocate.

    MR. GIBBS: Well, I think he is, and I think yesterday was a pretty good example. I think the President gave strong lift to things that I think in all honesty probably haven't gotten a lot of coverage -- insurance reforms, not allowing insurance companies to discriminate based on preexisting conditions, not allowing insurance companies to drop their coverage if somebody gets too sick.

    Q But he just started emphasizing that yesterday.

    MR. GIBBS: Well, but -- but that's been in the bill the whole time, right? So, you know, look, I do think the President is an able communicator, to say the least. I think there has been a lot of misinformation about the legislation, I think some of it unintentional; some of it, as we've talked about in this room, I think somewhat intentional. We talked about those examples.

    Look, the President doesn't spend a whole lot of time focused on polling.

    Q I was going to ask you, how often do you guys poll?

    MR. GIBBS: We don't poll. I think the DNC polls. The President isn't fixated on the ups and downs in polling. If we were, we'd have quit two years ago this summer, if ever even run for President.

    Q Does it cause any -- to the extent you do pay attention to it, is there any sort of soul searching? In other words, are you thinking maybe our message isn't effective, or is there any sense that maybe what we're trying to sell is not resonating and not --

    MR. GIBBS: No, because I think in your -- I think in your poll, if you -- you know, in your polling, if you read the plan, what's one the numbers -- 56/38, right?

    Q I don't have the exact numbers here -- (laughter.)

    Q I thought you guys don't follow the polls. (Laughter.)


    Q Yes, exactly.

    MR. GIBBS: Once again, a series of teachable moments. Well, I watch NBC for God's sakes, Chip. (Laughter.) Chip missed the opportunity to ask me about his poll.

    Q Forty-two percent now say the President's plan is --

    MR. GIBBS: Yes. I think if you read the full poll, it's different than the executive summary.

    Q I did kind of give you that one.

    MR. GIBBS: Yes, I sort of took it. But I think -- a couple things, and I talked a little bit about this this morning. Obviously we've been having a series of these debates for decades. I think many of the same lines of attack that you see in some cases being used today are the same that were used as we debated the creation of Medicare, you know, big government-run health care program; doctors won't be able to make decisions.

    So we understand that -- and you can go back 16 years ago, you can go back 40 years ago -- you know, there's a series of fairly tried and true phrases that are currently being employed by either people that don't want to see the American people get health care reform or special interests that have a vested political or monetary interest in the status quo that are using their megaphones, as well.

    The President will continue to push on this because he knows it's the right thing to do for the American people. And I think whether it is explaining, as he did in the news conference, that doing nothing means thousands more without insurance, families are guaranteed to pay more money in premiums, continued discrimination on the basis of preexisting conditions; whether it's emphasizing in the bill insurance -- for insurance reforms for people that are lucky enough to have insurance that they like that's already affordable to them.

    So I think the President will continue to do this and I think he believes he'll be successful.

    Yes, ma'am.

    Q Robert, today the New York AG's office released a report detailing 2008 bonuses paid by the original nine TARP recipient banks, and that totals some $18 billion. I wondered if you folks had a reaction.

    MR. GIBBS: Eighteen?

    Q Billion.

    MR. GIBBS: I have not seen the report, but I'll ask somebody to pull it so I can take a look at it. Again, I think -- I think the President has and continues to believe that we -- the American people don't begrudge -- don't begrudge people making money for what they do, as long as, as we talked about earlier, this is not -- we're not basically incentivizing wild risk-taking that somebody else picks up the tab for. I think that's what the President wants to make sure changes. I think you've seen the House take important steps in considering legislation that includes the President's proposal to provide a say on pay for that legislation -- or say on pay for executive comp legislation that he believes would use the very powerful -- will use the power of public opinion to dissuade outlandish salaries.

    Q Shareholder opinion, right? Isn't it shareholder --

    MR. GIBBS: Yes, shareholders would be allowed to, through a non-binding vote, register their approval or disapproval of the pay that was set on the companies in which they're investing.

    Yes.

    Q Following up on that, will the President sign the House's executive compensation bill?

    MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean, obviously this has got to go through the -- this will go through the process, go through the Senate. Obviously we're encouraged by many of the provisions that are in the House legislation, because I think it was just a little -- just about a month ago where we sent parts of this legislation to the Hill to act on, and we're pleased that it's moving forward.

    Yes, sir.

    Q If you could provide us with some more logistics of the event this evening, apparently you decided you don't want to splash beer on Malia and Sasha's picnic table -- probably a smart thing. Can you talk about --

    MR. GIBBS: Well, I -- (laughter) -- I don't -- yes, for any number of probably good reasons, that's a -- I don't know if -- I know there were a couple of different locations that were being talked about -- some of this, weather permitting. Obviously there's a couple of different tables, one right out by the Oval Office and then one down a bit in the Rose Garden, and I'm not sure where we landed on that yet.

    Q The picture we're going to get appears to be the three principals, but there are a number of people coming here, by my understanding. Are they all going to get together? What are you doing with the other guys?

    MR. GIBBS: I don't know what -- I know that each of -- each -- Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley have family that are coming with them. I know there -- they will arrive here, be greeted, taken on a tour. They'll have a chance to get some pictures, they'll see the President. And I don't know if -- I don't know if the President will meet together with all of them as a big group or not. I can certainly check on the logistics of that.

    Q You've got police union officials coming, as well?

    MR. GIBBS: They may be coming certainly with Sergeant Crowley.

    Yes, sir.

    Q To follow a little on a question Jake asked a day or so ago, yesterday it became clear what kind of legislation is going to be coming out of the Senate and the House, with the Senate having a co-op, the House with its public option. Heard Senator Conrad this morning saying that there are not -- there just will never be votes for anything with a public option in the Senate. How will those two pieces of legislation be reconciled?

    MR. GIBBS: Delicately. (Laughter.)

    Q Are you planning for it? Who are you talking to?

    MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean --

    Q This will happen in conference?

    MR. GIBBS: Right, well, no, I think -- you know, look, obviously we're going to -- well, I'm glad you fast-forwarded to the point where we've got the two pieces of legislation.

    Q The contours look fairly clear.

    MR. GIBBS: I mean, obviously we're going to -- we will continue to evaluate each of those proposals, see what commonality there might be. Obviously the President's main goal -- you heard him reiterate his support for a public option yesterday at the town hall meeting in North Carolina -- is to ensure increased choice and competition in what can be and have been very restrictive private insurance markets, in order to provide Americans with the choice that they need and deserve. But this is part of an ongoing process that will take place over the next several weeks.

    Q Do you believe there's any possibility of getting the votes in the Senate for a public option?

    MR. GIBBS: I know the President and the team are in touch with the senators and their staffs about what's politically feasible up there, but I have not heard them come down on that one way or the other.

    Yes, ma'am.

    Q Robert, going back to Sergeant Crowley and Professor Gates, what do you hope, tomorrow morning when you wake up, what do you hope you will have accomplished?

    MR. GIBBS: No more questions about what kind of drink they're going to drink? (Laughter.)

    Q Okay, but besides that, what do you hope you will look back --

    MR. GIBBS: Small expectations.

    Q -- what do you hope to -- what's your best-case scenario for looking back and seeing, we accomplished this last night; we were able to --

    MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't think -- let me answer this not as the press secretary to the President but as a -- just as an average American citizen. I'll take my tie off and I'll be right back. Look, I think, again, just as the President said, this is -- obviously you had a situation many days ago that got a lot of attention, not the least of which was because of his word choice, which he's come out and said he wishes he hadn't used those words -- or that word; that each of these two individuals, again, are accomplished at what they do; they're honorable, decent men; that he believes this entire situation -- if we step back and have a better dialogue amongst each other and have a conversation about common hopes and common opportunities and common dreams, that we can make headway on some of the issues that have -- that we've been wrestling with for a long, long time.

    And I think the President hopes that -- I don't think the President has out-sized expectations that one cold beer at one table here is going to change massively the course of human history by any sense of the imagination, but that he and the two individuals -- Sergeant Crowley and Professor Gates -- can hopefully provide a far different picture than what we've seen to date of this situation, and hopes, again, as I've said both today and before, that this is a conversation and a dialogue that happens not just because it's sponsored by or at the invitation of a participant or the President, but happens in communities, large and small, all over the country, in order to make progress through better understanding. And I think that's what the President wants to do today.

    Q Robert, two quick ones about --

    MR. GIBBS: You're usually sitting between Thelma and Louise up here. (Laughter.)

    Q A couple quick questions about tomorrow. The policy retreat involving the Cabinet secretaries, et cetera, what's the purpose of it, the logistics of it? Does this indicate the need or the judgment that there is a need for a six-month course correction?

    MR. GIBBS: No, no. This is something that's long been on the docket. This has happened virtually -- with virtually every President since Eisenhower. The retreat for us is probably a little less scenic since it's across a closed street.

    It's an opportunity for the President, the Vice President, senior White House staff, and Cabinet officials all to get together and talk about the agendas both past and forward; how we can work -- how we can continue to work together to make progress. But it's not a mid-course correction or a report card or -- it's just an opportunity for everyone to get together on hopefully a little bit less hectic pace. Rather than seeing each other at a meeting for 15 or 30 minutes, it's an opportunity I think tomorrow to have dinner and then have a little longer discussion on Saturday over at Blair House.

    Q Can I follow on that?

    MR. GIBBS: Hold on one second --

    Q Yes, I just wanted to also mention that tomorrow we have GDP figures for the second quarter coming out. The President was saying yesterday how shocked he was to see this -- the news magazine, the cover saying the recession is over. Can I assume that means he and you expect further contraction?

    MR. GIBBS: Well, let me, for my friends at the Council of Economic Advisers, repeat to you that they haven't gotten the figures and I haven't seen and neither, to my knowledge, has the President. So I want to just -- that's my caveat so that they can breathe easier over there.

    Look, I think -- I don't want to get into the realm of predicting. Obviously -- you know, I think as the President said in North Carolina, we, in taking office in January, were hurtling toward the edge. I think he quoted yesterday economists that discussed what the likelihood or chances are that we would go over the edge and end up in a depression.

    I think -- but again, I don't want to get into predicting figures -- but the -- by all accounts, we've pulled back from that edge, yet we still have a very damaged economy that has lost millions and millions of jobs since this recession began in December of 2007. We saw for a long, long time a retrenchment from lending. We saw small businesses that were closing simply because they had -- even despite having a good credit record, couldn't get loans because you had a financial system that was seized up. You have a -- you had a housing market that was deteriorating rapidly.

    We've seen some progress on getting that financial system restarted again and we've seen some positive figures recently on housing, that maybe we've hit a bottom on that. And I think as -- again, as the President said yesterday, we are -- we've probably stopped the bleeding, but in many ways you still -- I'll use a health care analogy -- you still have a very sick patient in the American economy; in North Carolina with 11 percent unemployment rate, gives you just one example of many of people that are continuing to struggle.

    So obviously whatever tomorrow shows, I think it will denote that our economy has taken a tremendous hit, that the recovery plan has cushioned that blow, and that we're on the path towards laying that foundation for long-term economic growth, understanding that all this is going to take quite some time.

    Ann.

    Q Can it be a teachable moment if the American people do not hear something that several of them -- several sides have asked for, including Professor Gates, I think, and that's the word "apology" during the conversation today?

    MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I don't want to get ahead of what may or may not be talked about. I think that's a bit premature, and I'd leave it obviously to individual participants, to Mr. Gates and Mr. Crowley, to make those comments and conversation.

    Q You don't expect them to --

    MR. GIBBS: I have not talked to either of the individuals so I can't even surmise on what to expect.

    George, do you have a follow-up?

    Q I just want a logistical follow to Mark's first question. Are you planning any kind of readout or briefing of any kind on the Cabinet get-together?

    MR. GIBBS: Let me see. I think it's going to be somewhat mundane, but we'll be happy to provide such a mundane readout.

    Q I've a question on the health care event yesterday. But on the Gates thing, the President has said he wants this to be a teachable moment. Regardless of who --

    MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry, are we on health care or Gates -- I'm sorry.

    Q Gates.

    MR. GIBBS: Okay, I'm sorry.

    Q So he said he wants it to be a teachable moment. Regardless of who first proposed it, he, through his surrogates called these guys to the White House. But is he the teacher in this teachable moment?

    MR. GIBBS: I think all of us are participants in a moment that we hope can teach all in this country that dialogue and communication will always improve the situation. I don't think today is -- I don't think the President looks at himself as, and I don't think today the President believes or the situation will be that one will be the teacher and others will be the students. I think the President believes that, hopefully through the example of communication and dialogue, that that can be a positive and lasting lesson for others.

    Q Dialogue about what?

    MR. GIBBS: About the situation that happened in Cambridge.

    Q But how is that teachable for everybody? How is that teachable for the nation if it's just an incident between two men?

    MR. GIBBS: Jake, it's something that's been covered quite a bit. I think it's something that has been -- you all have spent an awful lot of time covering. I don't think it's about an incident just involving two men. I think if it was an incident involving just two men you might not have done so many stories.

    Q Well, some people think it's an incident about racial profiling; some people think it's an incident about disrespect for police; some people think it's -- I mean, there are a million different things that it could be a teachable lesson about, and we're not getting any --

    MR. GIBBS: Not a million, but I don't doubt that there are more than just one.

    Q We're just not -- you say it's a teachable moment. About what? Communication? I mean --

    MR. GIBBS: No, I think it's a -- well, I think communication will help be part of -- I don't think -- again, Jake, I hate to surmise -- I hate to sort of move backwards in a hypothetical. I doubt you could have imagined a week ago in reporting this story that you'd have these two individuals here drinking beer with the President, right?

    Q But we wouldn't have imagined that they'd be here and we wouldn't hear anything that's going to happen -- from the President. (Laughter.)

    MR. GIBBS: I think you're feigning surprise on that one, Mr. Reid. But I think --

    Q No, I really -- he's not using this as an opportunity.
    MR. GIBBS: Well, I appreciate --

    Q The only thing we're hearing that's a teachable moment example is we're going to get a photograph out of it or some film. I don't understand -- I mean --

    MR. GIBBS: We don't have to do that.

    Q Do you think the coverage has been -- it's been good that people have been covering this issue? You said there's been a lot of coverage. Is that a good thing?

    MR. GIBBS: Some of it I think has, sure. I think --

    Q Think how much more you could get if he came and talked to us.

    MR. GIBBS: I feel like I'm trying to -- I feel like I'm buying a car.

    Q Was the President speaking literally yesterday when he said that he would go over the health care bill line by line? Because there's a representative from Tennessee, if I'm not mistaken, who sent out a press release saying he'd like to take up the President on that offer in September.

    MR. GIBBS: I will forward -- if you'll give me that letter I'll forward it to scheduling so we can get that done. Unclear if it will be pool coverage.

    Kurt.

    Q Thanks, Robert. Two questions, one on Sotomayor. Is the White House disappointed that only one Republican on the Judiciary Committee backed her and only five in the Senate appear to be --

    MR. GIBBS: I think it's six in the Senate now.

    Q Six in the Senate.

    MR. GIBBS: I don't know if that included Senator Alexander today. You know, I think, without getting into whether or not we're disappointed, I think the President believes, rightly, as many have said, Democrat and Republican, that this is a judge with a tremendous amount of legal experience as a prosecutor, as a judge on two different levels of federal court; somebody who has that very background that is eminently qualified to serve as a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court and hopes that she's evaluated that way.

    Q But any reaction to the failure to attract more Republican support?

    MR. GIBBS: No, I think that's a question to ask some of those who have decided, for whatever reason, to vote whatever they want -- whatever way they wish to vote. But I think the President feels like he has as experienced a nominee as anybody has sent forward in a long, long time; somebody whose rulings from the bench show that she follows the rule of law. And I think soon we'll have a new justice and somebody that all of America can be proud of.

    Q On health care, assuming legislation is passed and the President signs it, will the American public be feeling positive results from that before November 2010?

    MR. GIBBS: Will they be feeling positive results --

    Q Yes, either in terms of cost, in terms of --

    MR. GIBBS: Well, I think in many ways I'd answer that when we have a better sense of what the President is about to sign and some of the deadlines for when that's ultimately implemented, whether it's on the insurance side or the cost side or even on the coverage side.

    Q You've said before that you're not drawing any line in the sand as far as the mechanisms for meeting this goal of choice and competition, and that you're going to be evaluating the non-profit co-op as well as the public option. So are you saying if the non-profit network or any other mechanism meets this goal, that it would be acceptable to the President and it would have to be --

    MR. GIBBS: Wouldn't that be drawing a line in the sand the other way? I don't want to get ahead of the policy people doing said evaluation and getting a sense of where we are on this legislation.

    Deb.

    Q There was a bill introduced today in the House to extend by an extra 13 weeks unemployment benefits in hard-hit states with unemployment rates above 9 percent, obviously Michigan being one of those. Would the President support that bill?

    MR. GIBBS: I can certainly have our guys evaluate the specifics of legislation. Obviously one of the things that is contained in the Recovery Act, as you heard the President describe yesterday, is an extension of unemployment benefits. It also helps -- the recovery plan also helps those struggling with -- be able to keep their health insurance when they're unemployed.

    Obviously I think -- obviously Michigan is a poignant example, with an unemployment rate now, I think, at over 15 percent, that dealt with economic distress far before a recession officially started. You've got the tremendous amount of pressure that that puts on an infrastructure that can be helped with extending unemployment. I'd have somebody look at the specifics of the exact legislation, but I know the President believes that one of the most effective things that we can do to get toward recovery and to stimulate the economy is to ensure that those that are unemployed continue to get benefits.

    Q Well, the advocates say that -- of the bill on the Ways and Means Committee say that without the additional 13 weeks, that unemployment benefits are going to start running out by the end of the year.

    MR. GIBBS: Right. I mean, there's no question you've got over the course of the next several months folks that are going to be bumping against even extended deadlines. I think the President would agree with them, and we'll certainly look at the specifics.

    Q Robert, I know that the White House doesn't pay attention to polls, but one of the defining features of the numbers I counted yesterday is that fewer people now think the President is ably working with the Republican Party. The White House obviously prides itself on --

    MR. GIBBS: Which polls?

    Q The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. Do your people now think that --

    MR. GIBBS: Can you read me the question?

    Q Can I read you the -- I don't have it in front of me unfortunately, but the question essentially said, rate the President's ability to do X, Y and Z. One of the questions was, work with the opposition party. Fewer people now than one month ago think that the President can work ably with Republican officials.

    And obviously you pride yourself on bipartisan outreach, especially on health care. I'm wondering why you think fewer people think you're doing a good job on that.

    MR. GIBBS: I blame the media. (Laughter.) No. (Laughter.) No, I'd have to look at the specifics of the question, but I do think, as you said, that the President -- I think without having seen it, I don't know the exact data or what the deterioration is, but I know that when it's come to dealing with particularly the Finance Committee in the development of a health care -- a piece of health care legislation that can go through that committee and get to the floor of the Senate -- I think the President has spent a lot of time reaching out to Republicans on the committee, calling them -- and Democrats, quite frankly, and calling them regularly about hoping to make progress.

    I think the President believes if you look at the HELP Committee, I think that's a good example of -- despite the fact, as we've covered, that there weren't Republicans that supported the vote to move the bill out of committee, you did have more than 160 amendments offered by Republicans to improve that bill accepted by Democrats on that committee. The President believes that -- and will continue to work with anybody that's interested in reforming health care to meet the principles that he's outlined.

    Margaret.

    Q Both in the AARP appearance a couple of days ago and yesterday's town hall, the President began to lay out sort of some guarantees for Americans about things that would be in whatever the ultimate bill was, whether they be the preexisting condition, end of that -- or whether it be the idea that you couldn't get dropped if you got sick, the idea that they're looking into lifetime --

    MR. GIBBS: See, it's working. (Laughter.)

    Q That I do know. (Laughter.) So I guess my question -- are these lines in the sand now for you guys? I know you don't like to talk about veto threats. There's going to be two essentially shell bills that will come out of conference, but are there a couple of hard and fast lines that you absolutely will not sign if these things are in there?

    MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the -- the only word I'd use -- the only thing I'd use veto on today is some of the House -- is the House defense legislation that's come out with continued spending for the presidential helicopter, the additional jets, additional F-22 jets that Secretary Gates doesn't want, as well as the F-35 engine.

    In terms of health care, I think the President has been clear both in the principles that he sent to Congress, but also in these discussions -- and I've said this before, too -- the President is not -- this is not about just getting something done; this is not about just making sure there's something at some point on his desk to sign; that if we're not making genuine progress in dealing with costs, in dealing with insurance reforms, in dealing with coverage for the uninsured, then he's not interested in either calling that reform or signing that.

    I think when it comes to -- I think the President's been clear about the fact that the plan can't add to the deficit. That's another thing I think the President has talked about over the course of this time that's important -- is an important part of any piece of legislation that ultimately works its way through the process and gets to the President.

    Q Sometimes rhetoric has some wiggle room. Like when the President has said that you wouldn't have to give up your own doctor, he's acknowledged that what he means is the government wouldn't make you give your own doctor, but if your company dropped your coverage, you'd have to look for a doctor. What I'm asking --

    MR. GIBBS: In many ways, Margaret -- not to interrupt, but in many ways, Margaret, that's exactly what the President -- that's what the President is trying to fix, because in many ways --

    Q But I'm trying --

    MR. GIBBS: I just want to pull my soapbox out for 10 seconds -- well, probably more than 10 seconds. But the reason that -- why are companies dropping coverage for individuals?

    Q Because it's too expensive.

    MR. GIBBS: It's too expensive. They have to change the way we pay for health care.

    Q -- tell the public, under what Congress is going to do, you will not be able to be denied coverage for blah, blah, blah; you will not be dropped for blah, blah, blah. That doesn't intimate wiggle room. What that intimates is, there are some places where I'm going to take a stand. And what I'm asking you for is clarification. Is that where he's going to take a stand -- co-op, public option, whatever --

    MR. GIBBS: No. No, again, without getting into the co-op/public option debate that we've had, the President is very clear and was very clear yesterday that there are insurance reforms that must be and need to be in a final product that he considers to be called health care reform.

    Q Or he won't sign it?

    MR. GIBBS: Or it's not going to be reform and he's not interested in enacting it.

    Q Robert, you said that the President's program had kept us from going over the cliff. We've spent trillions of dollars in trying to beef up the stocks on Wall Street and things are going pretty well for them. But in the country as a whole --

    MR. GIBBS: -- spent trillions of dollars to beef up stocks.

    Q Well, it's effectively the so-called recovery, which has not made its way to Main Street. You've got the unemployment figures. You have probably 40 out of 50 states which are in a state of bankruptcy. And between now and October, at the end of the fiscal year, you're going to see firemen get laid off and policemen get laid off and schools get shut down, and the President has said no second stimulus package. What does that say to the American people in terms of the intentions of the administration to really deal with this depression, effectively a depression, that people are feeling when everything is falling apart around them?

    MR. GIBBS: Well, let's -- this could be a longer answer. Don't make any afternoon plans.

    Let's take a few of the examples. The President -- you mentioned that states that are struggling with potential layoffs, cutting back of important services, health care -- that's one of the reasons the President wanted a third of the stimulus that was passed to effectively be aid that goes directly to states to ensure that it's aid for education so we're not losing teachers; aid to states for Medicaid so they're not having to make as drastic a cut as they might have to. Understand states are dealing with the very same problems that we are and the very same problems that families are.

    So, look, the President understood that in many ways those states are going to be struggling, and has acted effectively to ensure as much as he could to prevent the types of things that you're discussing. I think the President -- in terms of the second stimulus, the President has discussed that -- or has said that the economic team will evaluate where we are. We do that each and every day. Our main focus is on implementing the recovery plan as we've passed it to ensure that the states that you mentioned get the aid that they deserve; to make sure that extended unemployment is paid for; to make sure that the assistance that people get through extending their COBRA benefits when they're -- when they unfortunately lose their job; ensuring that we continue to get out the door the tax relief for 95 percent of working families.

    If somebody on the economic team -- or that the team or the President believed that there's other things that we can do, we'll certainly evaluate them. Nobody has ruled anything in, nobody has ruled anything out. But I think the President has taken steps not just in the recovery plan but, as we talked about, to unfreeze the credit markets, to stabilize our housing market, and to do a series of things to prevent the car from going over the cliff.

    And I think there's no doubt we have a long way to go. There's no doubt that millions and millions of people are hurting. We see those each and every day. The President reads their letters. He sees them at events and as we're going to events, and understands the tough times that they are going through, and is working each and every day to make it -- to make this downturn less severe and get us back on a track toward economic growth as soon as possible.

    Thank you, guys.

    GOP's Three-Step Program

    Sitting around a conference table in the GOP's Capitol Hill headquarters yesterday with a group of political reporters, Texas Republican Rep. Pete Sessions, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, broke down his organization's strategy for winning back control of Congress. After the loss of more than 50 House seats in two election cycles, the re-energized NRCC is pushing challengers and incumbents to earn its support.

    The retooled "Young Guns" program for well-organized GOP challengers in Democratic districts is broken down to a three-part process where goals such as volunteer recruitment, fundraising, and a set number of door knocks must be met to enter the program and then advance.

    "We want every single candidate to be in [the program], even when there's a competitive primary," Sessions said. "We believe that if you follow the three steps, you will find yourself maybe the winner of the primary -- though we don't guarantee that."

    Thirteen challengers are already in the Young Guns program, including former Reps. Steve Pearce in New Mexico and Steve Chabot in Ohio, and two have already been endorsed -- Adam Kinzinger in Illinois's 11th District and Dennis Ross in Florida's 12th District. Democrats picked up the Illinois seat last year, and GOP Rep. Adam Putnam is retiring from the Florida district, which John McCain barely won in 2008.

    Sessions said there would be at least twice as many challengers needed to defeat 40 Democratic incumbents for control of the House, though he refused to predict how many the GOP would pick up this year. The overarching theme will be "the effectiveness of the economy" and the way Democrats have conducted their aggressive agenda.

    "We are going to work the angle that it is Democratic members who support Nancy Pelosi and empower her to do business the way she is," he said.

    One Beer Won't Change "The Force Of Human History"

    Today's White House press briefing was dominated by questions about the impending "beer summit" between President Obama, Cambridge Police Sergeant Crowley and Harvard University Professor Skip Gates. One bone of contention that fits in the category of media process were repeated quibbles with the accessibility of the gathering to the press. Right now, it's only open to the small pool and not the entire press corps, and even that group will be present for a few moments, with no planned comments.

    "If they want to go to the stakeout they're certainly welcome to," Gibbs said, meaning Crowley and Gates are free to speak to reporters after if they want.

    Beyond that, the phrase "teachable moment" was used seemingly dozens of times by reporters and Gibbs trying to understand what the encounter will produce.

    "I don't think the president has outsized expectations that one cold beer at one table here is going to change massively the force of human history by any sense of the imagination," Gibbs said. "He and the two individuals ... can hopefully provide a far different picture than what we've seen to date of this situation."

    He said that only a week ago, it would have been hard to imagine Gates and Crowley sitting down together this way. This sort of meeting is representative, Gibbs said, of Obama's larger goal when it comes to changing the level of dialogue.

    "I think all of us are participants in a moment we hope can teach all in this country that dialogue and communication can always improve a situation," he said. Obama doesn't see himself as the "teacher" in this situation.

    UPDATED: President Obama weighed in during a quick Q-and-A during his meeting with the president of the Philippines. Excerpt from the pool report after the jump.

    Obama says this is not a "beer summit" - "It's a clever term, but this is not a summit, guys." He said he is "fascinated with the fascination about this evening." Instead, it's three folks "having a drink at the end of the day," and giving themselves a chance to "listen to each other." The goal is to lower the temperature on an event that has become "so hyped and so symbolic." Try to reduce the "anger and hyperbole," and promote "self-reflection."

    Kennedy, Kemp Among Medal Of Freedom Winners

    The White House has released the list of the Medal of Freedom honorees for 2009. It's a bipartisan list that also includes a number bold-faced names from the world of science, sports, and culture. They'll be honored at the White House on August 12.

    "These outstanding men and women represent an incredible diversity of backgrounds," President Obama says in a White House statement. "Their tremendous accomplishments span fields from science to sports, from fine arts to foreign affairs. Yet they share one overarching trait: Each has been an agent of change. Each saw an imperfect world and set about improving it, often overcoming great obstacles along the way.

    Here's the list:

    • Nancy Goodman Brinker, Founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure
    • Pedro Jose Greer, Jr., physician
    • Stephen Hawking, theoretically physicist
    • Jack Kemp, former HUD Secretary, Congressman and VP nominee
    • Sen. Edward Kennedy
    • Billie Jean King, tennis star
    • Rev. Joseph Lowery, civil rights leader
    • Joe Medicine Crow, Native American author
    • Harvey Milk, first openly-gay public elected official
    • Sandra Day O'Connor, former Supreme Court justice
    • Sidney Poitier, actor
    • Chita Rivera, entertainer
    • Janet Davison Rowley, geneticist
    • Desmond Tutu, former Anglican Archbishop
    • Muhammad Yunus, anti-poverty activist

    Strategy Memo: Audacity Of Hops

    Two new polls offer more bad news for the Obama administration in the midst of its health care fight. But what's the biggest story out of the White House today? The presidential "beer summit" with Skip Gates and the Cambridge police officer who arrested him. It happens tonight at 6, with Red Stripe, Blue Moon and Bud Light the drink of choice for the participants. Also today, President Obama meets with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of the Philippines. And he'll have separate sessions with Treasury Secretary Geithner and Vice President Biden.

    The House will likely leave for five weeks after the close of business tomorrow without consensus on a health care bill and certainly without a vote on one, though a deal between Democratic leaders and Blue Dogs showed some progress is being made. Today, the House will vote on the Department of Defense Appropriations Act.

    The Senate, having its own trouble with health care, will begin considering the Highway Trust Fund and Agriculture Appropriations bills. At 1:00 p.m., members of the House and Senate will hold a committee hearing on cap-and-trade in the Senate Environment and Public Works hearing room.

    **Health Care
    *"President Obama's ability to shape the debate on health care appears to be eroding as opponents aggressively portray his overhaul plan as a government takeover that could limit Americans' ability to choose their doctors and course of treatment, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll."

    *"Support for President Barack Obama's health-care effort has declined over the past five weeks, particularly among those who already have insurance, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found, amid prolonged debate over costs and quality of care."

    *The Hill: "A House leadership deal with Blue Dogs and an aggressive marketing push by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) shifted the healthcare debate sharply toward centrist positions Wednesday, sparking threats of rebellion from the left. The day's events left the Senate Finance Committee's emergent bill as the most viable vehicle on Capitol Hill, but also made clear that House Democrats are still riven by bitter disagreements. Democrats postponed a floor vote until after the August recess, meeting a top demand of centrist Blue Dogs."

    *Washington Post: "As Senate conservatives pressured their Republican colleagues to back away from the emerging finance panel's package, House Democratic leaders tried to tamp down an uprising from liberals who complained that the plan's central plank -- a government-financed "public option" for insurance -- had been watered down by the deal with party moderates."

    *Politics Daily: "The White House and the congressional Democratic leadership are too committed to passing a bill to ever admit defeat. So whatever ungainly, mud-caked mess finally emerges from the legislative quagmire, Obama and Company are going to face an irresistible temptation to declare victory and call it health care reform."

    *USA Today: "Lawmakers who count pharmaceutical companies among their biggest contributors lead the opposition to a health care proposal that would cut costs by allowing generic drugs to compete sooner with pricey biotechnology drugs, campaign-finance records show."

    **President Obama
    *Chuck Todd, on "Morning Joe", with another take on the NBC/WSJ poll: "He is still the most popular politician in the country. It's just that he is now being judged by the public as just a politician."

    *AP headline: "'Beer summit' distracts Obama from health care." Obama "must once again hit the pause button in his drive to overhaul health care to revisit the racially charged issue that stole the spotlight from his top legislative priority -- the arrest of his Harvard professor friend."

    *A Democratic strategist tells "The Fix" that this Gates incident "chipped away at the air of reasonableness and even infallibility that surrounds the President."

    *Well that's all that matters. Roanoke Times, on yesterday's health care event in Bristol: "Several of the Kroger employees said they walked in with reservations about Obama's plans to change health care, but left feeling like they had a new understanding of the plan."

    *She's out of debt. What will Hillary do with $3 million in the bank? CBS: "Clinton does have a relatively large staff - eight people - but that doesn't mean she's gearing up for a campaign, which doesn't make much since considering her current position. She has said pointedly that she is "out of politics" and that she is not considering a run for office."

    **Congress
    *Remember the EFCA? CongressDaily reports, "Senate efforts to compromise on a watered-down version of the Employee Free Choice Act have been put firmly on the chamber's back burner -- perhaps for the rest of the year -- as senators, aides and lobbyists focus on health care and other legislation, participants said."

    **Campaign Stuff
    *Tim Pawlenty gets an AP profile as he builds a national profile. The story notes that "the two-term fiscal and social conservative is taking necessary steps toward a possible presidential bid," while he says he's focused only on the party. But: "his track record of GOP building in Minnesota is less than stellar. Republicans have lost ground in every election since he became governor in 2003. He is the sole statewide GOP officeholder and his party controls its fewest legislative seats since 1992. Pawlenty himself narrowly survived a three-way election contest to win his second term."

    *NRCC: In a pen-n-pad session with reporters yesterday on Capitol Hill, NRCC chair Pete Sessions (Texas) announced that the committee would be making its first two endorsements of the 2009-'10 election cycle: Adam Kinzinger in IL-11 and Dennis Ross in FL-12. "These are candidates who actually, even though it's slightly early in this season, have gone and performed at such a high level that we are sending a direct signal back to not only that campaign but also to those areas -- remembering, we got to go win. And it does not do us any good to wait, wait, wait and not get behind a candidate and give them our full support," said Sessions.

    (Speaking of Sessions, Politico has a story today on a questionable earmark the congressman requested last year.)

    *TX Gov: "The Republican race for governor devolved into a schoolyard taunt of who should be the quitter Wednesday, after Kay Bailey Hutchison said that she would resign her Senate seat within four months to challenge Rick Perry full time...Hutchison said she was basically forced to make the decision to resign because Perry refused to realize that seeking 15 years in the governor's office was too much," Dallas Morning News reports.

    *UT Sen/Gov: "Rep. Jim Matheson, seen as the Democratic front-runner if he chose to run for governor or the U.S. Senate next year, announced Wednesday that he instead will seek a sixth House term in 2010," Salt Lake Tribune reports.

    *LA Sen: Perhaps the best lede ever for a story on a Senate race: "It's been a tough week for porn actress Stormy Daniels -- complete with a domestic violence charge and a car explosion -- as she continues to mull a U.S. Senate bid that could make life uncomfortable for incumbent first-term Louisiana Republican David Vitter, still recovering from a sex scandal," AP reports.

    *In the wake of corruption busts in New Jersey, two Democrats in the state Assembly "are using the turn of events to recount a controversial episode that they hope will take some luster off" Republican gubernatorial nominee Chris Christie, PolitickerNJ.com reports.

    --Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

    Pelosi, Hoyer Joint Statement on Health Care

    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer released the following joint statement this afternoon on the progress of health care legislation:

    "Congress is closer than ever before in history to passing comprehensive health insurance reform. Already, the House Ways and Means Committee and the Education and Labor Committee have reported out this critical legislation. This afternoon, the Energy and Commerce Committee will resume its markup and will report out a bill this week. Over August, the three House committees will work to reconcile their versions and produce strong legislation.

    "We are pleased with the full participation of all our Members, who have reviewed the legislation and proposed significant changes. At this time, we want to particularly recognize the valued leadership of the Blue Dog Coalition to lower costs, to make the legislation work better for their constituents, and to assist small businesses. These are goals shared by all Members of the Caucus. At the request of the Blue Dog Coalition, in order to allow more time to carefully review the additional proposed legislative language, we will bring the bill to the House floor in September.

    "Health insurance reform directly touches every American life and we need to get this right. It is crucial to our nation's fiscal health and for our businesses to be competitive in a global marketplace.

    "In September, Congress will pass legislation that puts Americans and their doctors back in charge, holds insurance companies accountable, guarantees stability and peace of mind, lowers costs, and provides more choices for higher quality care."


    Dems Outraise GOP in Swing Districts

    Here is my piece today on fundraising in districts won by incumbents with 55% or less:

    As Democrats gear up for 2010, they face a daunting historical fact: since Abraham Lincoln, only two newly-elected presidents have seen their party gain seats in Congress in their first midterm election.

    Aside from the weight of history, there are other ominous signs for Democrats, who now have complete control of the government and are laboring to govern through an ongoing economic recession: Obama's approval ratings are slipping, unemployment remains high, Congress is taking up a string of big-ticket items in health care reform and climate change, and the gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia look favorable for the GOP.

    A bright spot for Democrats, however, is the strength of their fundraising in congressional swing districts.

    A RealClearPolitics analysis of fundraising by some of the most vulnerable incumbents shows Democrats in good shape. And the campaign finance reports released this month offer fresh data for the Democratic and Republican campaign committees as they refine their search for vulnerable incumbents in 2010.

    Read the rest here.

    DCCC: Where's the GOP's Health Plan?

    As Republicans are busy pounding Democrats for the health care plan that still remains in flux, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is asking: Where are your bright ideas? In a press release sent to 39 targeted districts, the DCCC notes that it's been 41 days since the GOP promised a plan.

    "Instead of hiding behind some secret Republican health care plan that may or may not exist, Representative Thaddeus McCotter should help set the record straight by confirming whether or not he has seen it, what its price tag is, and how it ends the status quo of skyrocketing health care costs," DCCC spokesman Ryan Rudominer says in the release sent to McCotter's Detroit-area district.

    Democrats are also hitting McCotter and more than 30 other Republicans in a separate release for voting against the economic stimulus package. The releases cites yesterday's announcement by the White House that $1 billion is being used to hire and re-hire police officers around the country.

    VA Gov Poll: McDonnell +15

    A new SurveyUSA poll of the Virginia gubernatorial race finds Republican Bob McDonnell leading by 15 points over his Democratic opponent, Creigh Deeds. This represents the largest margin either candidate has enjoyed in any poll since the June 9 primary.

    The GOP candidates for lietenant governor (which is voted on separately from the governor) and attorney general also lead by double digits.

    Deeds led in the first poll taken following his darkhorse primary victory, but McDonnell has led in every other head-to-head survey taken over the last seven months. McDonnell defeated Deeds in the 2005 attorney general race by just more than 300 votes.

    McDonnell 55
    Deeds 40
    Und 5

    McDonnell now leads by 6.3 points in the RCP Average for Virginia

    At Health Care Event, Obama Defends Stimulus

    President Obama went to North Carolina to sell health care, but spent nearly 20 minutes at a town hall meeting there defending his first major legislative effort, the economic stimulus plan.

    Obama referred skeptically to the Newsweek cover story declaring that the recession is over, but did argue: "We've stopped the freefall. The market is up and the financial system is no longer on the verge of collapse. We're losing jobs at nearly half the rate we were when I took office six months ago."

    He defended efforts to stabilize financial and housing markets, and the auto industry. He then went through a detailed explanation of what the Recovery Act was intended to do, answering what the "misinformation out there." The first two thirds of the plan went into tax relief, the extension of COBRA and unemployment benefits, and direct aid to the states. The final third, he conceded, has been controversial: the "short-term and long-term investments."

    "This money is not being wasted," he said, citing specific projects around the Raleigh area. To those who say the pace of implementation, he said it would have been impossible to break ground immediately.

    "It will take time to achieve a complete recovery. We're not gonna rest until anyone who's looking for work can find a job. But there is little debate that these steps, taken together, have helped stop our economic freefall," he said.

    And to those who have criticized his spending, he again called hypocrisy.

    "We shouldn't have a selective memory," he said. "You're handing me a $1.3 trillion bill, and then you're complaining six months later that we haven't paid it all back?"

    These are the same people who passed two tax cuts for the wealthy paying for them. And those who criticize his efforts on health care? "You passed a prescription drug plan and didn't pay for it! Handed the bill to me."

    For all the detail of his economic defense, his comments on the health care front covered little new ground.

    "The reforms we seek will bring stability and security that you don't have today - reforms that become more urgent and more urgent with each passing year," he said.

    Strategy Memo: Swing State Travel Continues

    Good morning, Washington, where the forecast is for extreme humidity. President Obama takes off from the South Lawn at 10 am for a day of health care reform stumping in red states he turned blue last fall. First, he'll hold a town hall meeting at Broughton High School in Raleigh, N.C. Then he flies to Bristol, Va., where he'll speak at a Kroger Supermarket and take questions from employees.

    Democrats in both chambers of Congress continue to struggle for a consensus on a health care plan, in which some Senate moderates appear willing to leave out a public option -- a priority for Democratic leaders.

    Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination was sent to the full Senate yesterday on a 13-6 Judiciary Committee vote. The Senate will vote on her confirmation by next Friday. Today, the Senate continues consideration of the Energy and Water Appropriations bill, and will likely next consider the Agriculture Appropriations bill. The House will begin considering the Department of Defense Appropriations bill.

    **Health Care
    *"His health care vision and political clout on the line, President Barack Obama is using virtually every tool available in a publicity campaign to pressure Congress for swift legislative approval and to rally a public wary of the ongoing Washington tussle over his top domestic priority," AP reports.

    *Time's Tumulty sat down with the President yesterday, and posted excerpts. A headline: "The truth is we've actually, I think, provided more guidance than has been advertised," Obama said.

    *AP notes that despite Obama's salesmanship, much of the tough dealmaking is on the shoulders of Sens. Max Baucus and Harry Reid. Both conservative Democrats "are deep in multidimensional and simultaneous negotiations taking place among senators of both parties, countless coalitions, interest groups, their own constituents and the White House." Reid: "I have a responsibility to get a bill on the Senate floor that will get 60 votes. That's my number one responsibility and there are times when I have to set aside my personal preferences for the good of the Senate and, I think, the country."

    *The Hill: "A House fight among Democrats on overhauling the nation's healthcare system has spread to the Senate, where centrists and liberals are clashing over the direction the legislation should take. Trouble is brewing now that a bipartisan group of senators -- led by Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) -- has signaled it will exclude a government-run insurance option from the committee's draft legislation that could be marked up next week."

    *Gallup: "Forty-four percent of Americans believe a new healthcare reform law would improve medical care in the U.S., contrasted with 26% who say it would improve their personal medical care. Forty-seven percent of Americans believe reform will expand access to healthcare in the U.S., while 21% say it will expand their own access to healthcare."

    **President Obama
    *Gallup reports Obama's "job approval rating registering 56% for the seven-day period ending Sunday, down from 59% the previous week. This three percentage point drop is the largest week-to-week decline seen in Obama's job approval thus far in his presidency, and punctuates a gradual descent from his 66% rating in early May. The current week is starting off no better for Obama than the previous one. His job approval score in Gallup Poll Daily tracking, conducted July 25-27, is 54%; this is his lowest individual reading to date. Thirty-seven percent of Americans currently disapprove of the job he is doing and 9% have no opinion."

    *A new NPR survey finds Obama's approval rating even lower -- at an eye-popping-ly low 53%. Obama now has just a 54.1% approval raring in the RCP Average.

    *The Washington Post reports that this weekend, the Cabinet will hold a retreat at Blair House to look back at the first six months. "Two sources characterized the session as an attempt at 'bonding.' Another said the gathering, which a top aide said has been long-planned, would be modeled after similar corporate events designed to provide an assessment of how the administration is doing halfway through the year."

    *New York Times reports, "The fate of one of the youngest detainees at the Guantánamo Bay prison is emerging as a major test of whether the courts or the president has the final authority over when prisoners there are released."

    *Blurring the lines? Washington Post's Kurtz reports that the Huffington Post has hired David Axelrod's son. "The younger Axelrod started yesterday as editor of the Huffington Post's new local edition in Denver, the third of a dozen planned sites that have already launched in New York and Chicago and will next target Los Angeles. He applied for the job, was interviewed by Arianna Huffington along with other candidates, and was tapped after submitting a mockup of the Denver home page. The site goes live in September. "

    **Ethics: "U.S. Rep. Laura Richardson's rundown Sacramento house, which became the scourge of the neighborhood and a sore point with an investor who thought he had bought it out of foreclosure, has drawn the interest of a House ethics panel," L.A. Times reports.

    **Campaign Stuff
    *A good big picture look from Politico: "Democrats giddy with possibilities only six months ago now confront a perilous 2010 landscape signaled by troublesome signs of President Barack Obama's political mortality, the plunging popularity of many governors and rising disquiet among many vulnerable House Democrats." It might be too soon to say "that the Democratic congressional majorities are in serious jeopardy. ... Yet the possibilities GOP officials now imagine are a dramatic shift from the bleak prospects that the 2010 midterm elections presented for the party at the beginning of the year."

    *"After keeping silent for a month" on the stimulus decision by Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison "has opened up a vocal offensive on the issue, hammering Perry for refusing to accept $555 million in federal unemployment stimulus money. Perry is standing firmly behind his decision, saying taking the money would have subjected Texas employers to taxes long after the benefits expire," the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports.

    *Speaking of gubernatorial primaries, The Observer reports: "in his first scheduled bout of Capital-region shmoozing since an April appearance at the Democratic Rural Conference, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo spoke to about 50 party activists at the Desmond Hotel in Colonie. More significantly, as far as his audience was concerned, they spoke to him."

    *Mark your calendars: Iowa's 2010 caucuses are moving to a weekend: January 23, 2010 at 1 p.m. It's an experiment of sorts, and perhaps could change the calendar for 2010.

    *In attacking the Democratic health care plan in Washington, Tim Pawlenty took a shot at Mitt Romney's legacy in Massachusetts, CNN reports. The Minnesota gov said the Bay State plan "has succeeded in expanding the ranks of the insured but has raked up much higher than expected costs in the process and resulted in higher taxes and fees."

    --Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

    Will Obama Sign A Bill With No Public Option?

    During his town hall meeting at AARP headquarters, President Obama mainly worked to build support for the overall reform effort by warning seniors that inaction could threaten the Medicare program.

    "We all know that right now, we've got a problem that threatens Medicare and our entire health care system, and that is the spiraling cost of health care in America today," he said. "As costs balloon, so does Medicare's budget. And unless we act, within a decade -- within a decade -- the Medicare trust fund will be in the red."

    But Obama also again argued in favor of a public option, as the Senate Finance Committee is reportedly ready to dump it.

    "This is controversial, and I understand some people are worried about this," he conceded. But, "we do think that it makes sense to have a public option alongside the private option. ... I think that helps keep the insurance companies honest because now they have somebody to compete with." He also denied that it would be a Canada-style, "socialized" plan.

    And yet, at today's White House press briefing Robert Gibbs seemed reluctant to weigh in as to whether a plan for health care co-ops in lieu of a public option would be acceptable to the White House.

    "I know the president's test is, do we have adequate choice and competition for private insurance?" he said, later adding: "Without having seen the finance committee bill, it's hard for us to come down and fully evaluate it."

    Gibbs did deny the notion that Obama would be happy to sign any reform bill at this point, saying "that could not be farther from the truth."

    NJ Gov Poll: Christie Leads By 14 Head-To-Head

    Public Policy Polling (D) finds that Chris Christie (R) is holding on to a strong lead over incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine (D).

    General Election Matchup
    Christie 50 (-1 from 6/30 survey)
    Corzine 36 (-5)
    Undecided 14 (+5)

    The survey does not include an independent candidate who has qualified for public financing, Chris Daggett. As the survey was being conducted, Corzine also announced his choice for a running mate, state Sen. Loretta Weinberg.

    Asked the certainty of their choice, 75 percent of voters said they were solidly committed, while 25 percent said they could still change their mind. Adding to the uncertainty for Corzine is the fact that he's still viewed unfavorably by a majority of voters, 56 percent, while 33 percent have a favorable opinion. Christie's has a 10-point net favorability rating, 42-32 percent.

    The survey of 552 likely voters was conducted July 24-27, and has a margin of error of +/- 4.2 percent. The result pulls Christie's lead in the RCP average to 12.2 points.

    Senate Judiciary Approves Sotomayor Nomination

    The Senate Judiciary Committee approved today the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court, voting 13-6 in her favor. All 12 Democrats on the committee and one Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), voted to report the nomination to the Senate floor.

    "As her record and her testimony before the Committee reinforced, she is a restrained, fair and impartial judge who applies the law to the facts to decide cases," said Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy prior to the vote. "Ironically, the few decisions for which she has been criticized are cases in which she did not reach out to change the law or defy judicial precedent - in other words, cases in which she refused to 'make law' from the bench."

    He continued, "I have every confidence that she will be that kind of Justice of the United States Supreme Court."

    The Senate is expected to confirm Sotomayor to the bench within the next two weeks, before it leaves for August recess.

    As Gates Controversy Lingers, Biden Praises Cops

    Vice President Biden seemingly had two goals today as he visited Philadelphia for a Recovery Act event. First, to continue defending the administration's economic plan as even he conceded some "have a lot of reason" to criticize the pace of recovery. But perhaps more importantly, to utilize his strong ties with the law enforcement community as President Obama continues to face criticism for his criticism of the actions of Cambridge police.

    "We know the bravery you display simply by pinning on that badge, by doing nothing more than going to work," Biden said, surrounded by uniformed police officers. "We can't achieve the goal of a stronger community without a stronger police force."

    Biden, along with Attorney General Eric Holder, were highlighting $1 billion that will go to cities through the COPS program, created by Biden himself as a senator.

    "We're investing deeply in all of you, not only because you deserve it but because we need you," he said.

    He offered some simple math to explain how this provides an economic boost: "Cops plus roads plus teachers equals a community, and equals a better future."

    "Ladies and gentlemen, the Recovery Act is making a difference," he argued. "Yes we still have a long, long way to go. But we are moving in the right direction. Our critics who have a lot of reason to go out and say in four months we haven't remade the world and corrected this recession which was eight years in the making, or maybe longer. I ask them, what would you do?"

    That pitch comes with another request for patience, saying the administration "would be fairly judged" in about two years "when this act has run its course."

    "Did it keep us from falling deeper in the hole? Did it save people's lives? Did it save people's sanity?" he said. "I think it will. I'm absolutely confident. In the meantime, notwithstanding the criticism, President Obama and I are not going to relent."

    Fox Poll: Palin's Place Is In The Home

    Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee have swapped spots on top of Fox News' latest test of the 2012 Republican presidential field.

    2012 Primary Election Matchup
    Romney 22 (+4 from May)
    Huckabee 21 (+1)
    Palin 17 (+4)
    Giuliani 13 (+1)
    Gingrich 9 (-5)
    Jindal 3 (unch)
    J. Bush 1 (-2)
    Pawlenty 1
    Sanford -- (-4)

    Ten percent said it was too soon to decide, while 2 percent were undecided.

    The poll asked voters what would be the best job for Sarah Palin now that she's resigned. Among all voters, the top choice (32 percent) was homemaker; 17 percent said she should be a talk show host, 14 percent said vice president, while just 6 percent said president. Among Republican voters VP was the top choice at 27 percent, followed by homemaker (18 percent), talk show host (14 percent) and then president (12 percent).

    The generic 2010 ballot test shows Democrats still ahead, though their numbers have slipped. If the election were held today, 43 percent would vote for a Democratic candidate, while 38 percent would pick the Republican -- a 5 point gap, down from a 12 point advantage in May. Congress' job approval rating has dropped 11 points to 30 percent, while 60 percent disapprove. The split was 41/49 in May.

    The telephone survey was conducted July 21-22, with an overall sample of 900 registered voters and a +/- 3 percent margin of error. The Republican primary sample of 303 voters had a margin of error of +/- 6 percent.

    After the jump, see some Fav/Unfav ratings for government figures.

    Favorable Ratings
    Obama 62 / 33
    Democratic Party 50 / 41
    Republican Party 36 / 53
    Sotomayor 41 / 24
    Pelosi 29 / 47
    Palin 38 / 51

    Strategy Memo: Sotomayor Gets A Vote

    It's back to health care for President Obama today. He heads to the AARP headquarters this afternoon for a tele-town hall meeting where he'll take questions from the organization's members. Later, he'll again talk China with the leaders of the summit he spoke to yesterday, which include Secretaries Clinton and Geithner from the U.S. side. In Philadelphia this morning, Vice President Biden makes an announcement awarding stimulus dollars to cities through the COPS program.

    House Democrats are still struggling for a compromise on health care legislation in the Energy and Commerce Committee, where Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and seven Blue Dog Democrats continue to negotiate. The Senate Finance Committee could be close to an agreement, though neither chamber of Congress is expected to vote on a health care bill until after the August recess.

    The Senate Judiciary Committee will vote today on whether to send Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination to the Senate floor. Just one Republican on the committee, Lindsey Graham (S.C.), has announced he will support her, though every Democrat is expected to vote her way. The full Senate will vote by the end of next week.

    **President Obama
    *NYT: "Will it be Budweiser? Or Pabst Blue Ribbon? Whatever the beer, a senior White House official said Monday night that the Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Sgt. James Crowley of the Cambridge Police Department will be sharing that promised brewski at the White House with President Obama on Thursday at 6 p.m."

    *SurveyUSA: 38 percent of voters approve of how Obama has handled the Gates controversy, while 50 percent disapprove. Another 60 percent say he was wrong to take a side.

    *The state of Hawaii has again declared that Obama is in fact a native-born U.S. citizen after reviewing his birth certificate.

    *More VP fallout: "The Obama White House's vaunted message machine has been thrown off-track with increasing regularity by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., whose five verbal missteps in the past three months have created obstacles at home and abroad," the Washington Times reports.

    *AP: "The Obama administration will dole out $1 billion in aid to help cities and states keep police officers on the beat during the economic downturn -- but most of those who sought the help will be disappointed." Through the COPS program,, only $1 will be awarded for every $7 in requests. "Four major U.S. cities are finding this out the hard way: New York, Houston, Seattle and Pittsburgh are among those that will not get money because the Justice Department decided other parts of the country simply needed it more."

    *The Star-Ledger reports that today's Recovery Act announcement in Philadelphia was originally scheduled for New Jersey, moved perhaps because of last week's corruption bust in the Garden State.

    **Health Care
    *Gallup: "Americans view themselves as more knowledgeable than members of Congress regarding the current debate over healthcare reform. Nearly half (48%) say they personally have a good understanding of the issues involved, while only 27% say so about members of Congress."

    *AP: "After weeks of secretive talks, three Democrats and three Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee were edging closer to a compromise that excludes a requirement many congressional Democrats seek for large businesses to offer coverage to their workers. Nor would there be a provision for a government insurance option, despite Obama's support for such a plan, officials said."

    *WaPo: "With lawmakers just days away from a five-week break, members of the Senate Finance Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee huddled on opposite ends of the Capitol, trying to come to terms with the scope of the legislation and how to pay for revamping the health-care industry. Democratic leaders have lowered their ambitions to getting those two panels to reach agreements before departing for the summer break, backing away from President Obama's goal of passing comprehensive legislation by Aug. 7."

    *WSJ: "Top Democrats had hoped to bring the legislation to the House floor before lawmakers leave town Friday for a monthlong recess. But House Democrats are sharply divided over core issues, including how to finance the bill costing $1 trillion or more over 10 years and how to contain the rapid growth in health-care costs."

    *CNN reported that the RNC is planning a $1 million ad campaign against the Democrats' health care effort, targeting 60 Democrats on the issue.

    *Washington Times: "President Obama and his Democratic allies, scrambling to broker a health care deal Monday, finally got an upbeat assessment from Congress' official scorekeeper when it said the plan for government-run coverage would not force out private insurers."

    *L.A. Times: "With House leaders struggling to reach agreement on healthcare legislation, aiming toward a possible vote this week, a new hurdle has emerged: abortion. Some conservative Democrats are threatening to pull their support from the massive healthcare bill unless their concerns over potential federal funding of abortion procedures are met. They fear that the Obama administration will take advantage of an expanded government role in healthcare to increase the availability of abortions nationwide."

    **Congress
    *Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), the last outstanding Republican vote on the Judiciary Committee, tells the Oklahoman he'll vote no today. Coburn "said he was dissatisfied with Sotomayor's responses to questions about the right to bear arms and whether she would consider foreign law in developing her positions on legal issues." Only Lindsay Graham will vote yea from the Republican side.

    *AP: "Republicans are divided on the politically perplexing question of how to vote on Sotomayor. Many are eager to please their core supporters by opposing her but fear a backlash by Hispanic voters, a fast-growing part of the electorate, if they do so."

    *AP also reports on testimony coming today from Rob Feinberg. The headline: "Two influential Senate committee chairmen were told they were getting special VIP deals when they applied for mortgages, an official who handled their loans told Congress in closed-door testimony. Democratic Sens. Christopher Dodd and Kent Conrad had denied knowing they were getting discounts when they negotiated their loan terms."

    **Campaign Stuff
    *KY Sen: "Sen. Jim Bunning's decision to bow out of his tough Senate race gives the GOP new life in Kentucky, as the irascible senator succumbed to a quiet pressure campaign by top Republicans to push him out of the 2010 midterm elections.

    *Former North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall sat down with DSCC officials to talk about possibly challenging Sen. Richard Burr (R), Cillizza reports. She had told the Hotline recently that money was the biggest factor in her decision.

    *VA Gov: "President Obama will be addressing Virginians about health care at a town-hall style meeting on Wednesday, but he should not look for the state's Democratic nominee for governor at the event," NYT reports.

    *MN Gov: Former Sen. Norm Coleman (R) won't announce whether he's running for governor in 2010 until next March or April, the St. Paul Pioneer-Press reports.

    Scenes From The White House: WNBA Champs Honored

    President Obama hosted the WNBA champion Detroit Shock today at the South Portico, paying special praise to the 12-year old women's professional sports league.

    "It's hard to believe," the president said of the WNBA life span. "That means that my daughters have never known a time when women couldn't play professional sports. They look at the TV and they see me watching SportsCenter and they see young women who look like them on the screen."

    WNBA2.jpg

    Obama, a Chicago Bulls fan, joked as he also welcomed former Detroit Piston Bill Laimbeer, now the Shock head coach.

    "I never imagined that I'd be saying: Congratulations, Bill Laimbeer. Or, congratulations, Rick Mahorn," he said. "If I knew I was President then, to think that I'd be inviting them to the White House is hard to take. But let's face it, these guys are winners."

    Obama was given the customary team jersey (don't think he'll wear the "Obama" #8, though) and signed ball. "If anyone wants to play HORSE ..." he said after accepting it.

    WNBA1.jpg

    As he made his way back to the Oval Office, the baller-in-chief was seen showing some skills -- a quick dribble and hook pass to an aide.

    Bunning Not Running for Re-election

    Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning (R) announced today he will not seek re-election to a third term. The 77-year-old Hall of Fame pitcher had been considered one of the most vulnerable incumbents this year. Little money and tenuous support from party leaders led to much speculation that he would either retire or face a primary defeat.

    Bunning announced his decision in a statement released by his Senate office.

    "Unfortunately, running for office is not just about the issues," said Bunning. "To win a general election, a candidate has to be able to raise millions of dollars to get the message out to voters. Over the past year, some of the leaders of the Republican Party in the Senate have done everything in their power to dry up my fundraising. The simple fact is that I have not raised the funds necessary to run an effective campaign for the U.S. Senate. For this reason, I will not be a candidate for re-election in 2010."

    Bunning had just $600,000 in campaign funds through the second quarter of this year -- a miniscule amount for a statewide campaign. He spent 10 times that in 2004 and won by just 2 points. Stealing away some of his donors has been Secretary of State Trey Grayson (R), who raised $600,000 through his Senate exploratory committee last quarter -- twice Bunning's total.

    Grayson is the party favorite, though whomever the eventual GOP nominee is will face stiff competition in the general election. Attorney General Jack Conway (D) outraised the field in the second quarter with more than $1 million. Also running is Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo (D), who lost the close race to Bunning in 2004.

    Grassley Voting No On Sotomayor Nomination

    For the first time in his Senate career, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) will cast a no vote on the confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee. He explained his decision in an interview with the Des Moines Register:

    Grassley said Sotomayor did little to dispel his suspicions that the federal appeals court judge would not defer to the role of Congress in making law and the separation of powers. He said that has been a nagging concern for him about retiring Justice David Souter, whom Sotomayor would succeed on the court.

    "And consequently, I don't want someone succeeding him who doesn't have a clear role of what the Supreme Court is," Grassley told The Des Moines Register.

    Of the seven Republican members of the Judiciary Committee, all but one so far is voting against Sotomayor. Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) is the only yes vote; Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has not yet announced his choice.

    Biden A Distraction?

    Once Sarah Palin was named to the Republican ticket last fall, it was very hard for Joe Biden to get any attention. His press plane had more empty rows than reporters, and only a handful of perceived gaffes got any widespread mention.

    Now the vice president, however, it seems that the former Delaware senator is garnering more headlines for alleged conflicts with the rest of the Obama administration. At today's White House press briefing, Robert Gibbs was asked point blank if Biden was becoming a distraction. "No," was his initial one-word answer.

    "He's an enormous asset to the administration," he later added when pressed specifically on whether he was "freelancing" with comments about Russia during his trip to Ukraine and Georgia last week. Gibbs cited his work on the stimulus plan to his counsel on the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq as examples of work he's done.

    A new Washington Post poll out today puts Biden's job approval rating at 55 percent, with 33 percent disapproving -- similar, it points out, to a 2001 reading on Cheney. Looking closer, the Post notes:

    Among those who are confident the president's plan will improve the economy, 80 percent approve of Biden, dubbed the stimulus' watchdog by the president, who said, "Nobody messes with Joe". But among those with doubts about the economic package, just 25 percent approve of Biden's work thus far.

    A Gallup survey last week showed Biden's numbers a bit lower, at 48 percent.

    Strategy Memo: Former Governor Palin

    President Obama starts the week talking about U.S.-China policy during the first U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. He'll return to the White House for his briefings, and then meets has two sports items on the agenda: a meeting with FIFA President Joseph Blatter, and an event to honor the WNBA champions, the Detroit Shock to the White House. Tonight he hosts a reception for ambassadors, which may look like a reunion of top fundraisers.

    Both chambers of Congress are in session today. There is no major business scheduled in the House, though Democrats are holding a five-hour caucus meeting late this afternoon to discuss health care. The Senate takes up the Energy and Water Appropriations bill.

    Sarah Palin, elected in 2006 as Alaska's youngest and first woman governor and selected in 2008 as the Republican vice presidential nominee, stepped down Sunday from her post. Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell was sworn in to replace her for the remaining 18 months.

    **Check out all the Sunday talk show highlights you missed at RealClearPolitics Video.

    **Health Care
    *"Democratic and GOP officials acknowledged Sunday that Obama's ambitious plan would not pass without the aid of a doubtful GOP, whose members are almost united against the White House effort," AP reports. On CNN Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said; "The only thing bipartisan about the measure so far is the opposition to it."

    *WaPo: "Defying skeptics in her party, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) vowed Sunday to overcome lingering obstacles and pass healthcare reform in the House, restoring momentum to President Obama's top domestic priority and order to her own unruly Democratic caucus. 'When I take this bill to the floor, it will win,' Pelosi said on CNN's 'State of the Union.' 'This will happen.' "

    *WSJ: "So-called Blue Dog Democrats continued to resist key aspects of their party's health-care overhaul Sunday, despite pressure from party leaders who fear they will endanger President Barack Obama's most ambitious legislative effort. A leader of the fiscally conservative group of representatives said he expects any vote on the House's health proposal would have to wait, likely until after Labor Day."

    **President Obama
    *AP: "Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton stood fast Sunday behind the administration's readiness to engage with foes like Iran and North Korea and heaped praise on China in advance of two days of critical talks aimed at easing the global economic downturn." She also was asked about another presidential run. "I have absolutely no belief in my mind that that is going to happen, that I have any interest in it happening. You know, as I said, I, I am so focused on what I'm doing."

    *"Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates and police Sergeant James Crowley will probably join President Barack Obama for a beer within the next several days, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Sunday. Bloomberg has David Axelrod's take as well: "I think he understood that the debate was veering off in the wrong direction. He felt a responsibility to step forward and kind of cool the situation down and acknowledge that fact that he had, as he said, calibrated his words poorly."

    *When Obama "speaks extemporaneously, he often pauses before he speaks and appears to be thinking his answers through even as he gives them. But his comment last week on the case of Henry Louis Gates Jr., a Harvard professor, was not a slip of the tongue, advisers said. Mr. Obama said what he wanted to say. The question is whether presidents can really do that," The New York Times says.


    **Sotomayor: Senate Judiciary ranking member Jeff Sessions (Ala.) writes in USA Today this morning that he will not support Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court. "I don't believe that Judge Sotomayor has the deep-rooted convictions necessary to resist the siren call of judicial activism. She has evoked its mantra too often. As someone who cares deeply about our great heritage of law, I must withhold my consent," he writes.

    **Republicans
    *Palin Steps Down as Gov: "Sarah Palin stepped down Sunday as Alaska governor to write a book and build a right-of-center coalition, but she left her long-term political plans unclear and refused to address speculation she would seek a 2012 presidential bid. In a fiery campaign-style speech, Ms. Palin said she was stepping down to take her political battles to a larger if unspecified stage and avoid an unproductive, lame duck status," AP reports.

    *WaPo's Balz: "Whether her ultimate goal now is to seek the presidency in 2012 or later is not known. Those who have some insight into her frame of mind believe she departs elected office without a real plan to make that happen -- or even a plan for what to do with the next six months of her life."

    *Brand of Republicanism -- Arnold vs. Mitch: "While Mr. Schwarzenegger exhorts the White House to "never give up," Mr. McConnell criticizes the president's push to "raise taxes in the middle of a recession" to cover those without insurance. Six months after President George W. Bush left the stage, neither brand of Republicanism fares especially well with the public. But there is no doubt which holds more midsummer box-office appeal among the party faithful -- and it is not the Terminator's," NYT's Harwood writes.

    *The Republican Governors Association will name Tim Pawlenty as its vice-chair Monday, "giving the Minnesota governor a national leadership post he can use to advance his presidential ambitions," Politico reports.

    **Democrats
    *"House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is one of the most despised political figures in the country. And, frankly, she doesn't give a damn. 'No, I don't care,' Pelosi told POLITICO last Thursday, laughing heartily as she walked beneath the Capitol dome and plunged into a crowd of tourists."

    *The Hill: "Since late June - when Democrats defied convention wisdom and passed the climate bill by their self-imposed deadline -- the stubborn realities of Washington have blunted and possibly even derailed the president's signature domestic efforts."

    **Campaign Stuff
    *CQ: "Sixty-six weeks from the 2010 election, neither Democrats nor Republicans have a clear advantage in the all-important races for the Senate, where Democrats for now have a working but sometimes fractious "supermajority" of 60. Each party will be defending 18 seats next year, and only seven races are, at this point, considered tossups."

    *PolitickerNJ.com reports: "In front of an audience packed with both her long time loyalists and former foes within the Democratic Party, state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) joined Gov. Jon Corzine on stage today as a take-no-prisoners, unapologetically progressive and ethical grandmother who, as Corzine's new pick for lieutenant governor, hopes to boost Corzine's now underdog bid for reelection."

    *How bad is it for Corzine? "Top Democratic lawmakers were even discussing in private the possibility of replacing Mr. Corzine on the ballot this November, and candidates for other offices were talking about breaking publicly with him to maintain their own election viability," the Times says. U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone "let it be known he would step in should Mr. Corzine bow out."

    *Chicago Tribune reports that in his campaign kick-off, Alexi Giannoulias, 33, "frequently invoked Obama in launching his bid for the Democratic Senate nomination. He portrayed the race as a choice between the politics of the future or the 'tired politics that voters rejected in 2008' -- a veiled slap at a recently announced GOP contender, North Shore U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, 49. Asked by reporters whether someone with little more than two years in public office was qualified to sit as a senator, Giannoulias said, 'They said the same thing about Barack Obama.'"

    *Joe Sestak talks to the Philly Daily News.

    *OH Sen: The Dayton Daily News reports that both Bush administrations are represented in former Rep. and OMB Director Rob Portman's most recent FEC report. "Former President George H.W. Bush, former first lady Barbara Bush, and former vice president Dan Quayle from the elder Bush's administration have given money to Portman's Senate bid. So have White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and vice president Dick Cheney's daughter Mary from President George W. Bush's administration."

    *The Louisville Courier-Journal reports that 164 former donors to Jim Bunning have contributed to Secretary of State Trey Grayson. "Bunning, who began accepting contributions for the 2010 race in 2005, shortly after he was elected to his second term, has only $595,000 on hand for his re-election bid, according to his latest campaign finance report. That and sagging popularity ratings have made some question whether Bunning should seek a third term, and he is widely viewed as the most vulnerable Senate Republican incumbent."

    --Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

    No "Apprentice" For Corzine: NJ Gov Picks Weinberg

    New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine has chosen his running mate for the fall campaign, state Sen. Loretta Weinberg. A previous report had indicated that the governor was leaning toward former "Apprentice" winner Randal Pinkett; even some in Corzine's own party rejected the trial balloon.

    With the selection, the state is assured that a woman will serve as the state's first-ever lieutenant governor. Chris Christie (R) has tapped Monmouth County Sheriff Kim Guadagno as his running mate. Weinberg brings to the Democratic ticket a record of independence and potentially votes in what has been the swing county in recent state elections, Bergen County.

    After the jump, read Corzine's announcement of his running mate pick.

    This November, for the first time in our state's history, New Jerseyans will have the opportunity to vote both for Governor and for the newly-created office of Lieutenant Governor.

    I am proud to announce that I have selected State Senator Loretta Weinberg as my nominee to serve as New Jersey's first Lieutenant Governor.

    I hope you'll join both of us tomorrow, Saturday July 25th, at 2 p.m. at the Bergen Performing Arts Center at 30 North Van Brunt Street in Englewood.

    Those of you in Bergen County probably already know Senator Weinberg well. She has served the Bergen County community with honesty, honor, and distinction since she was first elected to the State Assembly in 1992 and, then, as a State Senator since 2005.

    For those of you who may not know Senator Weinberg, I know that you will be impressed by her legislative experience, the significant and positive change she's brought to our state, and by her personal values and unquestionable integrity.

    Often called the "conscience of the Legislature" because of her principled stands on issues large and small, Loretta Weinberg isn't afraid to take on the tough fights:

    Loretta has been leading the charge on ethics reform for years. She's passed legislation to require greater financial disclosure by local government officials, toughen regulations for lobbyists, strengthen anti-nepotism rules on campaign contributions and limit public contracts to businesses that make political contributions.

    She has put the safety of our children and New Jersey residents first. Loretta battled the powerful gun lobby to protect our children by mandating safety locks on all handguns and fought to lower the blood alcohol level state-wide for which a person can be considered to be guilty of drunk driving.

    She is a tireless advocate for protecting New Jerseyan's health. Against stiff opposition, Loretta took on Big Tobacco and sponsored the law making indoor public places smoke-free. She stood up to insurance companies and succeeded in forcing hospitals to provide longer stays for new moms and their babies. And she has made combating autism a primary focus as the sponsor of several laws funding treatment, education and research for autistic children.

    The list goes on and on. For over forty years, Loretta Weinberg has been an advocate for better health care, honest government, environmental protection, women's rights, and protecting the pocketbooks of New Jersey's working families.

    She shares my commitment to our state and my vision for what New Jersey can be, and I cannot think of a better person to serve as New Jersey's first Lieutenant Governor. I'm confident that as you get to know her you will become as big a fan of Loretta Weinberg as I am.

    I'm confident that Loretta's steadfast commitment, her deep legislative experience, and her personal integrity will prove to be invaluable as we continue to build on the remarkable successes of my first term. I know that Loretta will be a partner that I can trust and will become a unique and important voice in the next Corzine Administration.

    I'm confident that she will set the highest standard for what New Jersey's Lieutenant Governor can and should be, and I'm looking forward to working side-by-side with her over the next four years.

    I know that together we will continue to do great things for the state of New Jersey.

    Governor Jon Corzine

    Obama Talks With Crowley, Gates

    President Obama made a surprise appearance at the White House daily press briefing today and discussed a conversation he had with Cambridge, Mass., police officer James Crowley. Shortly after, he called Harvard Prof. Louis Gates. Here is a statement from the White House on that call:

    The President called and connected with Professor Gates at 3:15 this afternoon. They had a positive discussion during which the President told Gates about his call with Sgt. Crowley and statement to the media. The President also invited Gates to join him with Sgt. Crowley at the White House in the near future

    Obama Discusses Race Relations at Daily Press Briefing

    President Obama addressed reporters at the daily White House press briefing today to discuss the controversy surrounding his comments regarding Harvard Professor Louis Gates being arrested at his home in Cambridge, Mass.

    Here is the transcript of the president's remarks. He did not take questions.

    I wanted to address you guys directly because over the last day and a half obviously there's been all sorts of controversy around the incident that happened in Cambridge with Professor Gates and the police department there.

    I actually just had a conversation with Sergeant Jim Crowley, the officer involved. And I have to tell you that as I said yesterday, my impression of him was that he was a outstanding police officer and a good man, and that was confirmed in the phone conversation -- and I told him that.

    And because this has been ratcheting up -- and I obviously helped to contribute ratcheting it up -- I want to make clear that in my choice of words I think I unfortunately gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department or Sergeant Crowley specifically -- and I could have calibrated those words differently. And I told this to Sergeant Crowley.

    I continue to believe, based on what I have heard, that there was an overreaction in pulling Professor Gates out of his home to the station. I also continue to believe, based on what I heard, that Professor Gates probably overreacted as well. My sense is you've got two good people in a circumstance in which neither of them were able to resolve the incident in the way that it should have been resolved and the way they would have liked it to be resolved.

    The fact that it has garnered so much attention I think is a testimony to the fact that these are issues that are still very sensitive here in America. So to the extent that my choice of words didn't illuminate, but rather contributed to more media frenzy, I think that was unfortunate.

    What I'd like to do then I make sure that everybody steps back for a moment, recognizes that these are two decent people, not extrapolate too much from the facts -- but as I said at the press conference, be mindful of the fact that because of our history, because of the difficulties of the past, you know, African Americans are sensitive to these issues. And even when you've got a police officer who has a fine track record on racial sensitivity, interactions between police officers and the African American community can sometimes be fraught with misunderstanding.

    My hope is, is that as a consequence of this event this ends up being what's called a "teachable moment," where all of us instead of pumping up the volume spend a little more time listening to each other and try to focus on how we can generally improve relations between police officers and minority communities, and that instead of flinging accusations we can all be a little more reflective in terms of what we can do to contribute to more unity. Lord knows we need it right now -- because over the last two days as we've discussed this issue, I don't know if you've noticed, but nobody has been paying much attention to health care. (Laughter.)

    I will not use this time to spend more words on health care, although I can't guarantee that that will be true next week. I just wanted to emphasize that -- one last point I guess I would make. There are some who say that as President I shouldn't have stepped into this at all because it's a local issue. I have to tell you that that part of it I disagree with. The fact that this has become such a big issue I think is indicative of the fact that race is still a troubling aspect of our society. Whether I were black or white, I think that me commenting on this and hopefully contributing to constructive -- as opposed to negative -- understandings about the issue, is part of my portfolio.

    So at the end of the conversation there was a discussion about -- my conversation with Sergeant Crowley, there was discussion about he and I and Professor Gates having a beer here in the White House. We don't know if that's scheduled yet -- (laughter) -- but we may put that together.

    He also did say he wanted to find out if there was a way of getting the press off his lawn. (Laughter.) I informed him that I can't get the press off my lawn. (Laughter.) He pointed out that my lawn is bigger than his lawn. (Laughter.) But if anybody has any connections to the Boston press, as well as national press, Sergeant Crowley would be happy for you to stop trampling his grass.

    All right. Thank you, guys.


    Christie Drops Ad, Obama E-mails Supporters

    One day after 44 people were arrested on corruption charges in New Jersey, Chris Christie, the GOP nominee for governor, released a new TV ad highlighting his work in the U.S. Attorney's office, where he prosecuted corrupt politicians from both parties.

    "As U.S. Attorney, I put corrupt public officials in jail -- Republicans and Democrats," Christie says in the ad. "If you want partisan politics as usual, well I'm not your guy. But if you really want to change Trenton, let's start by changing governors."

    The ad is Christie's first of the general election campaign. He faces Gov. Jon Corzine (D) in November.

    Also today, an e-mail was distributed from President Obama to supporters in New Jersey requesting volunteers for the Corzine campaign.

    I'm proud to have Jon as a partner as we all work to get our economy back on track, and I hope to work with him for years to come. But if I learned one thing from my campaign last year, it's that none of us can do it alone. It will take thousands of people like you coming together and working as one to build a better future for New Jersey.

    Hatch, Cornyn Won't Support Sotomayor

    Two Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans announced today that they will not support Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court. Senators Orrin Hatch (Utah) and John Cornyn (Texas) said that her judicial philosphy -- which they gathered from her statements, speeches and decisions -- was not up to par.

    The senators' announcements come two days after fellow Judiciary Republican Lindsey Graham (S.C.) announced he would be voting in favor of Sotomayor. Graham became the fifth GOP senator to support her, following Susan Collins (Maine), Richard Lugar (Ind.), Mel Martinez (Fla.) and Olympia Snowe (Maine). Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who sits on Judiciary, announced his opposition Wednesday.

    The Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled to vote on Sotomayor's nomination Tuesday, but Republicans asked for one more week to review her record and submit additional written questions to her. The vote will now be held the morning of July 28. With a large Democratic majority on the committee and full Senate, Sotomayor is expected to be confirmed with votes to spare.

    Reactions to Minimum Wage Hike

    Members on opposite sides of the Congressional aisle had opposite reactions to the national minimum wage rising today to $7.25 an hour. Here are excerpts from Members who released statements...

    Speaker Pelosi: "Tomorrow, millions of hardworking Americans will be getting a raise. As the final step of the minimum wage increase goes into effect, studies have shown we are also stimulating the economy by giving hardworking Americans the income they need to buy groceries, fill up their gas tanks, and get their children ready to head back-to school."

    Majority Leader Steny Hoyer: "Tomorrow's increase in the minimum wage couldn't come at a time when it was more needed--for our families or our economy. For minimum-wage workers and their families, the raise will make it easier to make ends meet. And our economy will benefit from the increased consumer spending that will result, which, in turn, can help preserve jobs."

    Republican Study Committee Chairman Tom Price: "America is often called the Land of Opportunity, but misguided policies like minimum wage mandates make job opportunities harder and harder to find. This wage hike will hurt the very same Americans it is intended to help by putting strain on the payrolls of the small businesses that drive job creation. When employers can't afford to pay the higher wages, they will respond by cutting workers' hours, laying off employees, and refusing to make new hires."

    Strategy Memo: Palin's Swan Song

    Happy Friday, Washington. Health care negotiations continue on both sides of the Capitol. With the House scheduled to go on recess a week from today and the Senate leaving town the following Friday, neither chamber is expected to bring a health care bill to the floor until September -- though House Democrats are still trying.

    At the White House, President Obama does his part to keep negotiations moving in a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus. He then has lunch with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. This afternoon, he'll give an education speech at the Department of Education. Clinton will then introduce the President back at the White HOuse as he signs the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Tonight, he and Mrs. Obama will attend the Marine Corps Evening Parade.

    Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood, Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack, and Interior Sec. Ken Salazar will appear before a House Budget Committee hearing on the economic stimulus package. Also on the Hill are Treasury Sec. Timothy Geithner, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, and FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair, who will go before the House Financial Services Committee.

    This weekend, Gov. Sarah Palin officially steps down and hands over power to Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell at the annual governor's picnic in Fairbanks.

    **President Obama
    *Gallup: "Solid majorities of Americans believe U.S. President Barack Obama is a strong and decisive leader and say he understands the problems Americans face in their daily lives. The president gets slightly lower marks on two other personal characteristics -- being able to effectively manage the government and sharing Americans' values."

    *Gallup, on Biden: "In contrast to U.S. President Barack Obama, whose current favorable rating among Americans is similar to what it was just after the November election, Vice President Joe Biden has seen some erosion in his rating. As a result, Biden lags significantly behind Obama in popularity, and, at this stage of the new administration, has the lowest favorable rating of any of the most recent vice presidents."

    *An annual Pew survey finds that "President Obama is so popular that he's making the rest of world soften their harsh, Bush-era attitudes toward the most powerful nation on Earth," Politics Daily reports.

    *Today, Obama "is expected to tell states ... what they need to do to qualify for part of a $5 billion pool of new federal funding," the Wall Street Journal reports. "Created as part of the $100 billion stimulus fund targeted for education earlier this year, the so-called 'race to the top fund' was designed to fuel innovation in the classroom. Of the related funding, $4.35 billion will be distributed to states and $650 million will be reserved for school districts and nonprofit groups."

    *The NY Times: For all his complaints about the news cycle, "after six months in office, perhaps no other president has been more attuned to, or done more to dominate, the news cycle he disparages. Mr. Obama has given roughly three times as many interviews as George W. Bush and held four times as many prime-time news conferences as Bill Clinton had by comparable points in their terms."

    *The Hill notes how Obama's comments on the Gates arrest stepped on his message. Here's what he said yesterday: "I have to say I am surprised by the controversy surrounding my statement because I think it was a pretty straightforward commentary that you probably don't need to handcuff a guy, a middle-aged man who uses a cane, who's in his own home."

    *Obama sounded like he was on the campaign trail at a Chicago fundraiser last night. The Times: "Let me tell you something," Mr. Obama said, speaking to a cheering hometown crowd. "I'm from Chicago. I don't break."

    **Health Care
    *L.A. Times: "A day after President Obama made an aggressive public appeal for swift healthcare reform, the Senate officially gave up on the notion that it can pass a comprehensive package before its scheduled recess early next month."

    *The Hill: "Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) dropped her position that the public wants lawmakers to work into the August recess to finish the bill, and brushed off the concerns of many Democrats that leaving town would give the bill's opponents more time to rally opposition. 'I'm not afraid of August,' Pelosi said. 'It's a month.' "

    *"In a Capitol Hill meeting that lasted over three hours Thursday afternoon, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and several Blue Dog House members discussed the issues that Blue Dogs are concerned about in the health care reform package," Politico reports.

    *"Obama planned to meet in the Oval Office on Friday with Reid and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., who is leading a group of a half-dozen Democratic and Republican senators laboring to produce a bipartisan bill," AP reports.

    *Just 19% of Democrats in Congress would give Obama an "A" for his handling of health care reform, according to National Journal's bi-weekly Congressional Insiders Poll. Half give him a B, and more than a quarter a C. As for Republicans, none gave him an A -- 43% gave him an F, 33% a D and 20% a C. On Republicans' effectiveness as the "loyal opposition" this year, more than half of Democrats graded them as an F or D, while three-fourths of GOPers gave themselves an A or B.

    **Campaign Stuff
    *"As Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin prepares for the next stage of her political career, a majority of Americans hold an unfavorable view of her, and there is broad public doubt about her leadership skills and understanding of complex issues, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll."

    *As he prepares to take over as governor, Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell "is asking Alaska's attorney general to recommend ways to stop people from leaking confidential information in ethics investigations," the Anchorage Daily News reports. Parnell said: "If we allow public officials to be tried and convicted in the press through abuse of the legal process, then the executive branch is at risk. The rule of law is threatened."

    *Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) makes a trip to Iowa this weekend. From the Des Moines Register, his trip is being delayed by House business and he "will have to miss an afternoon tour of Cedar Rapids' flood recovery areas Friday, but still plans to headline an evening GOP picnic, state party officials said."

    *On Fox News (via GOP12), Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) said Obama's health care plan is "scamming the American people."

    *NY-23 special: State Sen. Darrel Aubertine (D) "released a statement Thursday saying he has a duty to his Senate constituents and would not seek the House seat in the heavily Republican district," Albany Times-Union reports.

    *More trouble for Marco Rubio's (R) Senate campaign. St. Pete Times reports: "Campaign manager Brian Seitchik will leave the payroll in a week, while fundraising consultant Ann Herberger will no longer be Rubio's chief money raiser. With Republican frontrunner Charlie Crist trouncing Rubio in fundraising and Rubio trying to bat down rumors he'll drop out to run for attorney general, the staff shakeup is likely to fuel new questions about Rubio's long-term viability."

    *Former Gov. Doug Wilder (D) has apparently rejected an overture from the White House to endorse Democrat Creigh Deeds in Virginia's governor race, Politico reports. Wilder "made it clear that he remained far from endorsing Deeds and was in no hurry to weigh in on the closely-watched race -- all the while outlining with his typical brutal candor what he thought some of the party's challenges were and what was at stake." He said of Deeds: "Tell me what the man has done? I haven't heard it."

    *MO Sen: "Republican state Sen. Chuck Purgason, who is known for his colorful style and fiscal conservatism, will kick off his campaign for the U.S. Senate this week by lashing out at Washington's spending habits," St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.

    **New Jersey Corruption
    *Really, New Jersey? 44 charged, really? This is not going to help your reputation. Check out this front page picture and article in the New York Times.

    *In an unrelated corruption case, State Sen. Wayne Bryant (D) will be sentenced today for his bribery and fraud conviction.

    *And Mike takes a look at the corruption's connection to this year's gubernatorial race.

    --Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

    Jersey Corruption Sting And The Governor's Race

    Though Gov. Jon Corzine (D) doesn't seem to be personally involved at all, it would seem that today's arrest of several New Jersey state and municipal officials on bribery charges can only add to the incumbent's woes.

    "New Jersey's corruption problem is one of the worst, if not the worst in the nation," Ed Kahrer of the FBI said today. "Corruption is not only pervasive, it has become ingrained in New Jersey's political culture."

    Corzine has pursued tougher ethics standards in his first term, but combine the fact that this went on on his watch and the crime-busting image that Republican Chris Christie burnished as U.S. attorney, and you see how what was already an uphill race just got tougher. The governor had to pull out of a scheduled conference call with so-called grassroots donors to the Democratic Governors Association because of the news.

    "Any corruption is unacceptable - anywhere, anytime, by anybody," Corzine said in a statement. "The scale of corruption we're seeing as this unfolds is simply outrageous and cannot be tolerated."

    He asked for the resignation of a Cabinet member, Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Joseph Doria, after his home was raided. Christie released a statement calling on one of the Republican officials involved, state Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt, to resign.

    "Now more than ever, New Jersey needs elected officials who are committed to honesty, integrity and a higher standard of ethics," he said. "Assemblyman Van Pelt has failed the people he was elected to serve and has violated their trust. He has no other choice but to resign immediately and allow the people of Ocean County to elect an official who will put the people before personal self-interest." 

    Asked about the developments at an event today, Christie chose not to make overt political hay.

    "I can't see this day in a political context," he said, according to PolitickerNJ.com. "This matter started while I was at the U.S. Attorney's office, and as I found out this morning while it was culminating, I can only think of it in terms of what it means in a law enforcement perspective. There will be others who can judge this politically. ... But today, candidly, given all the hard work that I know went into this by the prosecutors and FBI, I'm having trouble getting myself out of that mode."

    Obama Takes Credit For Buerhle No-No

    President Obama learned en route to Air Force One today that Mark Buerhle of his beloved Chicago White Sox pitched a perfect game today. Here's Robert Gibbs during a gaggle on Air Force One today:

    The President called Buehrle. They pulled the pitcher out of the media room and into Jerry Reinsdorf's -- into his office. The President congratulated him, said it was an unbelievable achievement, something that everyone will always remember. The President told him, maybe it was because he wore the White Sox jacket at the All-Star Game. (Laughter.)

    GOP Women to Hold Health Care Presser

    The ladies of the House GOP will hold a press conference tomorrow morning at the Capitol "to highlight the consequences of Democrats' health care legislation," according to a press release from the House Republican Conference.

    "The press conference will also be attended by working mothers who will share personal stories about how the Democrats' health care legislation will hurt women and affect their day-to-day lives," the release states.

    Senate Democrats brought in "real" people today to a press conference on health care to explain why the Democrats' reform plan is necessary, and yesterday House Dems included doctors and other health care industry workers at a press conference hosted by Members who work in health care in their other lives.

    Attending tomorrow's GOP event: Conference vice chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Judy Biggert (R-IL), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Mary Fallin (R-OK), Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Kay Granger (R-TX), Lynn Jenkins (R-KS), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Candice Miller (R-MI), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Jean Schmidt (R-OH).

    In Ohio, Obama Takes Health Care Delay In Stride

    President Obama shrugged off the announcement from Congressional leaders today that his deadline for health care legislation would not be met, claiming that his ultimate deadline has always been to sign a bill this fall.

    "If there's not a deadline in Washington, nothing happens. Nothing ever happens," he said. "We may not be able to get the bill out of the Senate by the end of August or the beginning of August. That's okay. I just want people to keep on working."

    He attacked the argument that this process was moving to quickly, saying Washington has been debating health care since the days of Harry Truman.

    "Reform may be coming too soon for some in Washington. But it's not soon enough for the American people," he said. "We can get this done. We don't shirk from a challenge."

    He compared that challenge to the effort to put a man on the moon, accomplished 40 years ago this week.

    "There were those at that time who said it was foolish, even impossible. But President Kennedy understood, and the American people set about proving, what this nation was capable of doing when we set our minds to doing it," he said.


    During a Q&A at the Cleveland-area high school, Obama was asked again about too much happening too quickly. He revisited the Congressional deadline, saying that the House and Senate could still reconcile differences in the coming months and meet the real deadline.

    "Our target date is to get this done by the fall. That's the bottom line," he said.

    He also said that even when reform becomes law, "most of these changes would be phased in over several years."

    "So it's not as if you're going to wake up tomorrow, and suddenly the health care system's all changed completely," he said. "We are going to phase this in in an intelligent, deliberate way."

    DNC Airs Health Care Reform TV Ad

    The Democratic National Committee will begin airing a TV ad tomorrow promoting the need for health care reform and slamming Republicans for attempting to block progress.

    "What's the cost of not reforming health care? Premiums rising faster than your paycheck," the announcer says. "But some leading Republicans, playing politics, have vowed to kill reform. Tell Republicans the cost of doing nothing on health care is just too high."

    The ad comes as Democrats appear unlikely to get bills passed in either chamber of Congress before leaving town for a month. Speaker Pelosi indicated today that she's "not afraid of" waiting until after the August recess to complete a bill, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that's exactly what the Senate will do.

    The 30-second ad will air on national and D.C. cable stations for the next two-and-a-half weeks.

    Reid Won't Rush Health Care Bill

    At a midday press conference, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said, "Something has to get done," and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said, "This is our chance." At an afternoon press conference, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) said, "The present situation is unsustainable" and "we don't have the luxury of not getting it," and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said, "The current costs [of health care] cannot be sustained."

    However, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) said today, the urgency to pass a health care reform bill is not great enough to rush a bill before the Senate recesses in two weeks.

    "It's better to have a product based on quality and thoughtfulness rather than try to jam something through," he told reporters today. "The decision [to not rush a bill to the floor] was made to give the Finance Committee more time to get a bipartisan bill."

    "All this is no big surprise to anyone," Reid continued. "The president wants something done by the end of the year."

    Chamber of Commerce Endorses Sotomayor

    The U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed today Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court. The usually-Republican leaning group joins four Republican senators who have already announced their support for President Obama's nominee.

    In a letter to Senate Judiciary members, R. Bruce Josten, the Chamber's executive director of government affairs wrote:

    "Pursuant to our long-standing endorsement policy, the Chamber evaluated Judge Sotomayor's record from the standpoint of legal scholarship, judicial temperament, and an understanding of business and economic issues. Based on the Chamber's evaluation of her judicial record, Judge Sotomayor is well-qualified to serve as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Her extensive experience both as a commercial litigator and as a trial judge would provide the U.S. Supreme Court with a much needed perspective on the issues that business litigants face. Consistent with her Senate testimony, the Chamber expects Judge Sotomayor to engage in fair and evenhanded application of the laws affecting American businesses."

    Census Process Begins

    The 2010 Census forms entered the printing process today, and the U.S. Census Bureau says it's being done in an eco-friendly way. The printing begins one day after Robert Groves was sworn in as the 23rd Census director.

    "The Census Bureau has gone to great lengths to make the printing process as efficient and eco-friendly as possible," Groves said in a press release today. "The printing of 2010 Census questionnaires uses 30 percent less ink than 10 years ago and will be printed on 30 percent recycled paper."

    The forms, which Census says is one of the shortest and simplest since the first one in 1790, will begin being distributed in March 2010. More than 13 million of the forms will be bilingual in an effort to improve response rates in areas of high concentrations of Spanish speakers.

    As the Census begins, so begins reapportionment of congressional districts and strategizing for redistricting.

    CT Sen Poll: Dodd Trails Simmons

    He's playing a leading role in the health care negotiations. But if the election was held today, Chris Dodd would be looking for work. A new Quinnipiac poll shows the Connecticut senator and former presidential candidate trailing former Rep. Rob Simmons, the likely Republican nominee, in his bid for a sixth term.

    General Election Matchups
    Simmons 48 (+5 from May)
    Dodd 39 (unch)
    Don't Know 10 (-5)

    Dodd 42 (+1)
    Caligiuri 40 (+1)
    Don't Know 15 (-2)

    Dodd 42 (+7)
    Foley 42 (-1)
    Don't Know 14 (-2)

    Dodd 43
    Schiff 38
    Don't Know 16

    Several of his potential rivals have low name ID at this point. In a potential Republican primary, Simmons is clearly ahead, at 42 percent, with Foley and Caligiuri at 5 percent each.

    Favorability Ratings
    Dodd 40 / 50
    Simmons 39 / 12
    Caligiuri 12 / 4
    Alpert 3 / 1
    Foley 17 / 5
    Schiff 7 / 3

    Dodd's job approval rating is at 42 percent, up four points from May. Asked if Dodd is honest and trustworthy, only 35 percent of voters said yes, compared to 55 percent who say no. But asked if he's a strong leader, 62 percent say yes.

    As President Obama has showered Dodd with praise, the Quinnipiac poll shows that 71 percent of voters say that their vote won't be swayed even if he campaigns actively on Dodd's behalf. The president's job approval stands at 57 percent, down 5 points from March.

    The survey of 1,499 registered voters was conducted from July 16 - 20, with a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percent.

    Strategy Memo: Primetime Leftovers

    President Obama starts his Thursday with briefings at the White House, then boards Marine One to start a journey to Ohio. There he'll tour the Cleveland Clinic and hold a town hall meeting on health care reform. Later, he heads to Chicago where he'll raise money for the DNC at the home of Penny Pritzker, and later at the Hyatt. He returns to DC late tonight.

    House Republicans are holding a Health Care Solutions Group Hearing that will include a press conference, and House Democrats are holding another health care press conference as well -- calling for an end to denial of coverage based on pre-existing conditions.

    The Senate resumes consideration of the Department of Defense Authorization bill, while the House takes up the Department of Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act.

    **Obama News Conference
    *NY Times: "On a day when the leader of fiscally conservative Democrats said a deal was a long way off and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi insisted that she had the votes to push a bill through, Mr. Obama used the news conference to take his message over the heads of lawmakers and straight to the public. Conceding that "folks are skeptical," he sought to convince Americans that overhauling the nation's health care system would benefit them and strengthen the economy.

    *Wall Street Journal leads with: "President Barack Obama, looking to pay for his ambitious health-care plan and shore up public support, endorsed a surtax on families earning $1 million a year for the first time Wednesday."

    *Ben Smith: "The president's remarks on his chosen subject, health care, were cautious and choreographed, hemmed in on one side by the calculations of his professional wordsmiths, on the other by the delicacy of negotiations with two houses of Congress. He never detailed his own plan, or named a single victim of America's broken system, and he spoke largely in the abstractions of blue pills, red pills, and legislative processes. It's not easy to turn delivery system reform into a rallying cry for change, but at times, it was as if Obama wasn't even trying."

    *Howard Fineman writes: "His prime time press conference was worse than a waste of time. He spent an hour (with the aide of a soporific White House press corps) pouring sand (one grain at a time) into the already-slowing gears of the machinery of health-care reform. He made no real news on health care, but DID make news on race relations with his discussion of the Skip Gates case - thereby obscuring the topic he supposedly wanted to feature."

    *How's it playing in Boston? Check out the Globe's front page: "Obama scolds Cambridge police."

    *WaPo's Tom Shales: "As usual, Obama turned in an admirably effective performance at the news conference, even if it did seem a little too tidy -- and even rehearsed -- for nearly all the reporters to fall in line and stick with the matter at hand rather than pursue their own little butterflies as in many administrations past."

    **Other Obama Stuff
    *The Washington Post's Fred Hiatt interviewed Obama yesterday. An interesting quote on the deficit: "What I think has to happen is if we can show that we have a disciplined health care reform package that is serious about cost savings and is deficit-neutral, you combine that with the pay-go rules that we have been promoting and I believe that we can get through Congress, and you are imposing some discipline on the appropriations process ... then I think we're in a position to be able to, either at the end of this year or early next year, start laying out a broader picture about how we are going to handle entitlements in a serious way. It may start with Social Security because that's, frankly, the easier one."

    *"In an act that officials from previous administrations call 'highly unusual', President Obama met with the head of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Douglas Elmendorf and others for about an hour in the Oval Office on Monday," Fox News reports. On his blog, Elmendorf "suggested that the meeting would not affect his ability to do his job."

    *This topic was covered last night: transparency. But Politico reports, CREW said the White House's disclosure of meetings Obama held with executives "doesn't go far enough." CREW's statement: "The actual visitor records likely would indicate with whom each official met, the administration official who requested clearance for the visitor, the time of the meeting, the duration of the meeting and, in some cases, the purpose of the meeting. In addition, no information was provided regarding any visits to the vice president's residence."

    *The Plain Dealer on today's visit to Cleveland: "His choice of the Clinic for a short visit underscores the complicated task of selling his health-care reform plan. It allows him to highlight an influential medical institution that has already achieved technological advancements and cost savings that Obama says his health plan will foster elsewhere. At the same time, though, his appearance there reinforces that the Clinic -- like many other prominent hospitals -- has not embraced some elements of the plan, most notably a proposal to offer Americans an option to purchase health insurance through the government. "

    *Even as the Chamber of Commerce wages a campaign against Democrats' health care plan, "there are signs that employers around the country are divided on the issue, reducing the force of an opposition push," Washington Post reports.

    **Health Care
    *"As Democratic Congressional leaders try to round up the votes to remake the health care system, they face a range of concerns about the cost and scope of the legislation among centrist lawmakers in each party whose support is vital to a deal. Many of the centrists said they shared the same concerns: that the legislation proposed so far is too expensive; does not sufficiently reduce health care costs over the long term; and would raise taxes too much, or in ways they oppose," NYT reports.

    *Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), chariman of Ways and Means, "appears to be playing second fiddle" on health care, Roll Call reports. "It's not the first time that Rangel, who has been entangled in a yearlong ethics inquiry that he called into his personal finances, has appeared to be outmaneuvered by the Speaker and Waxman."

    **Congress
    *Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.): "A big chunk of the House climate change bill is in the hands of Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer -- and some of its supporters are worried that she's not up to the task. In private conversations, Senate staffers say that Boxer's abrasive personal style helped tank the climate bill that Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and former Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) sponsored last year. And several recent embarrassing episodes involving the California Democrat have them worried about a repeat performance," Politico reports.

    *"House Republicans plan to unveil on Thursday their answer to Democratic efforts to overhaul the financial regulatory system. The 101-page draft bill circulated late on Wednesday includes efforts to beef up the bankruptcy code to deal with failing firms, reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and tighten oversight of the Federal Reserve," The Hill reports.

    *"The Senate on Wednesday narrowly defeated an effort to allow gun owners to carry their concealed weapons across state lines. ... The legislation would have allowed people who have concealed-weapon permits in their home states to take their firearms into other states -- including California and others that currently prohibit the practice," L.A. Times reports.

    **Campaign Stuff
    *The Union Leader: "Fred Tausch of Merrimack has taken himself out of consideration for the U.S. Senate." This eliminates one obstacle for former Attorney General Kelly Ayotte (R). Ovide Lamontagne (R) "will soon be facing what one key Republican activist called 'enormous pressure' not to proceed with a candidacy, and it could get very difficult for him to raise money.

    *Via GOP12.com, apparently trouble with Mike Huckabee's HuckPAC. "Documents filed by the committee with the Federal Election Commission appear to reveal a quadrupling of debt in the last six months of 2008. As of June 30, 2008, Huck Pac reported a debt of $15,000 compared with a debt of $62,293.14 as of Dec. 31, 2008, the latest full report available."

    *A day after Charlie Crist said he wouldn't support Sonia Sotomayor if in the Senate, challenger Marco Rubio said that his last judicial appointment -- Justice (James) Perry -- "is by far much more of an activist judge than Sotomayor. ... So I think that needs to be examined. Your actions speak louder than your words in politics."

    *The Hotline reports that Republicans have picked a candidate in the NY-23 special election, Assemb. DeDe Scozzafava (R). "Some elements of the GOP haven't been so welcoming of the socially liberal Scozzafava. She's pro-choice and voted for NY's same-sex marriage bill in the legislature. In the past, she has earned the liberal Working Families Party line, and Conservative Party chair Mike Long told Hotline a few weeks ago that Scozzafava's support of the gay marriage bill would eliminate her from consideration for his party's support in the special."

    *"Embattled Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) has begun a media campaign to rehabilitate his reputation, but his poll numbers haven't improved much at all over the last two months. A newly-released Quinnipiac poll shows Dodd still trailing Republican Rob Simmons by nine points, 48 to 39 percent - a worse margin than his six-point deficit in the firm's last poll on May 28," Politico reports.

    --Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

    DCCC Slaps GOPers For Fiscal Hypocrisy

    The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is calling out Republicans for not walking the talk of fiscal responsibility.

    House Democrats passed a budget rule called PAYGO today that requires new entitlement spending bills passed during this Congress to be deficit neutral -- meaning paid for. Under the statutory pay-as-you-go rule, theoretically a tax cut would be offset by a spending cut and a spending increase by a tax increase.

    PAYGO passed 265 to 166, with all but 24 Republicans voting against it and all but 13 Democrats supporting it. A press release was distributed to media outlets in 40 GOP districts, including party leaders John Boehner (Ohio), Eric Cantor (Va.), Mike Pence (Ind.) and Pete Sessions (Texas).

    "Today, when given a chance to match all her tough talk about fiscal responsibility with a vote on restoring pay-as-you-go policy, Representative Mary Bono Mack just said no," DCCC spokesman Ryan Rudominer said in a release to the California Republican's district. "Representative Bono Mack's vote against Statutory PAYGO after all her rhetoric about the need for fiscal discipline proves yet again that Bono Mack will say one thing at home and do the opposite in Washington."

    Republicans, though, said the bill would do little to offset what they call out-of-control spending during this session of Congress and expressed reluctance to support a plan that could lead to tax increases. Republican Study Committee Chairman Tom Price (Ga.) called the bill "fraudulent" and a "sham" with "loopholes a trillion dollars wide."

    President Obama had called for the House to pass the bill and released a statement after the vote saying it was a sign of "strong support for fiscal discipline."

    "For several years, the federal government was stalled in a pattern of fiscal irresponsibility," he said. "No more."

    Presidential Presser: First Take

    I'm not sure that President Obama said much tonight about health care that he hasn't already said in the past week during his public events and multiple network interviews. But, as NBC's Chuck Todd pointed out, the remarks coming as they did in a prime time, widely-broadcast event reached a much wider audience.

    But what was notable was how in his opening statement, and especially later during the Q&A, the president did make a more forceful case about that reforming the health care system is fiscally responsible, while defending other budgetary decisions.

    "The American people are understandably queasy about the huge deficits and deficits we're facing right now," he said. "Legitimately, people are saying, 'Look. We're in a recession. I'm cutting back. I'm having to do other things. And yet all I see is government spending more and more money.'"

    That argument, he conceded, "has been used effectively by people who don't want to change health care." But after reiterating past comments about the significant deficit he inherited, he said that the debt and the deficit "are deep concerns of mine."

    "Everybody who's out there who has been ginned up by this idea that the Obama administration wants to spend and spend and spend, the fact of the matter is that we inherited an enormous deficit, enormous long-term debt projections," he said. "We have not reduced it as much as we need to or as I'd like to, but health care reform is not going to add to that deficit. It's designed to lower it."

    Obama took just 10 questions (He would have taken one fewer if not for an awkward moment where a reporter misheard who Obama called on and stood in his place). One of his shortest answers came in response to one of the toughest questions -- whether his administration has lived up to its promise of transparency. In response to a Los Angeles Times story that his administration denied a request for logs of health care executives who have met with White House officials, Obama said that his administration was releasing a full list, and that most if not all of these meetings have included pool sprays for the press. On a campaign pledge to televise health care deliberations on C-SPAN, he noted that his opening health care session was televised, and that many committee hearings have been as well.

    "I don't think a lot of secrets are going on in there," he said.

    Finally, expect this to be a hot topic on cable news tomorrow. Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times asked the president for his reaction to an African-American professor from Harvard being arrested by Cambridge police while attempting to enter his own home. Obama said that Professor Gates is a friend of his, so he's a little "biased." He joked that if he was attempting to "jigger" his way into his home, he'd "get shot." But when Gates was arrested after presenting proof that he was in his own home, the police "acted stupidly."

    "There is a long history in this country of African Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. That's a fact," he said. "That is an example of how race remains a factor in society."

    Obama Excerpts: What's In It For You

    The White House has released excerpts of President Obama's opening remarks at tonight's prime-time press conference. Not much in the way of news just yet, but there is an effort by the president to sell the American people on his health care plan by explaining what is in it for them.

    "If you already have health insurance, the reform we're proposing will provide you with more security and more stability," he will say. "If you don't have health insurance, or are a small business looking to cover your employees, you'll be able to choose a quality, affordable health plan through a health insurance exchange."

    He also will repeat his pledge that the legislation "will not add to our deficit over the next decade." And, as polls show he is weakest for his handling of the budget deficit, he'll say that if health care costs are not controlled, "we will not be able to control our deficit."

    Expect as well to hear more talk of the Republican opposition being more interested in scoring political points than doing what's right for voters.

    "This isn't about me. I have great health insurance, and so does every Member of Congress," the prepared remarks read. "This debate is not a game for these Americans, and they cannot afford to wait for reform any longer."

    Read the full excerpts after the jump.

    That is why I've said that even as we rescue this economy from a full-blown crisis, we must rebuild it stronger than before. And health insurance reform is central to that effort.

    This is not just about the 47 million Americans who have no health insurance. Reform is about every American who has ever feared that they may lose their coverage if they become too sick, or lose their job, or change their job. It's about every small business that has been forced to lay off employees or cut back on their coverage because it became too expensive. And it's about the fact that the biggest driving force behind our federal deficit is the skyrocketing cost of Medicare and Medicaid.

    So let me be clear: if we do not control these costs, we will not be able to control our deficit. If we do not reform health care, your premiums and out-of-pocket costs will continue to skyrocket. If we do not act, 14,000 Americans will continue to lose their health insurance every single day. These are the consequences of inaction. These are the stakes of the debate we're having right now.

    I realize that with all the charges and criticisms being thrown around in Washington, many Americans may be wondering, "What's in this for me? How does my family stand to benefit from health insurance reform?"

    Tonight I want to answer those questions. Because even though Congress is still working through a few key issues, we already have agreement on the following areas:

    If you already have health insurance, the reform we're proposing will provide you with more security and more stability. It will keep government out of health care decisions, giving you the option to keep your insurance if you're happy with it. It will prevent insurance companies from dropping your coverage if you get too sick. It will give you the security of knowing that if you lose your job, move, or change your job, you will still be able to have coverage. It will limit the amount your insurance company can force you to pay for your medical costs out of your own pocket. And it will cover preventive care like check-ups and mammograms that save lives and money.

    If you don't have health insurance, or are a small business looking to cover your employees, you'll be able to choose a quality, affordable health plan through a health insurance exchange - a marketplace that promotes choice and competition Finally, no insurance company will be allowed to deny you coverage because of a pre-existing medical condition.

    I have also pledged that health insurance reform will not add to our deficit over the next decade - and I mean it.

    ...

    I understand how easy it is for this town to become consumed in the game of politics - to turn every issue into running tally of who's up and who's down. I've heard that one Republican strategist told his party that even though they may want to compromise, it's better politics to "go for the kill." Another Republican Senator said that defeating health reform is about "breaking" me.

    So let me be clear: This isn't about me. I have great health insurance, and so does every Member of Congress. This debate is about the letters I read when I sit in the Oval Office every day, and the stories I hear at town hall meetings...This debate is not a game for these Americans, and they cannot afford to wait for reform any longer. They are counting on us to get this done. They are looking to us for leadership. And we must not let them down. We will pass reform that lowers cost, promotes choice, and provides coverage that every American can count on. And we will do it this year.

    GOP Leaders Preview Obama's News Conference

    President Obama will address the American people tonight in a primetime news conference that will focus on health care reform. In recent days, Obama has called out Congressional Republicans for attempting to block his efforts for reform and chalked it up to playing politics.

    In anticipation of Obama's remarks, the Republican leaders of the Senate and House held their own news conference at the Capitol this afternoon. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) said to expect Obama to repeat his criticism of the party, which they say is unfounded.

    "I continue to hear suggestions that members of the Republican Conference in the Senate are not for health care," McConnell said. "I can't find a single member who is not for trying to improve America's health care system."

    "Tonight we'll hear the president likely repeat some of the myths that he's been repeating over the last several months," said Boehner. The "myths" he listed included that Americans would be able to keep their health care plan if they want to; that the bill would reduce costs; that it will not add to the deficit.

    Boehner also said he heard the president would likely say he "rescued the economy."

    "If they try to fix our health care system like they're trying to rescue our economy, I think we're in really, really big trouble," he said. McConnell brought up the stimulus bill as well and criticized the speed it went through Congress. "We don't need a do-over of that kind of procedure," McConnell said.

    Asked whether he thinks Speaker Pelosi has the votes to pass the health care bill in the House, Boehner said, "Well I don't know whether she has the votes are not. I'm not quite sure she knows whether she's got the votes or not." He added that what's clear is Democrats will push the bill to the floor next week.

    Tonight, Obama will do his part in selling the plan to Members' constituents.

    Graham Will Support Sotomayor

    Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) announced on the Senate floor today that he will vote to support Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation to the Supreme Court.

    "I choose to vote for Judge Sotomayor because I believe she is well-qualified," Graham said.

    I wrote last week about the likelihood of Graham voting for the nominee and his reasons for doing so. From the floor, Graham railed against -- in his calm voice -- the filibusters Democrats placed on President Bush's judicial nominees. He hopes Democrats will offer future conservative nominees and presidents the same deference that he's showing.

    "What am I trying to do today? I'm trying to start over," Graham said today. "I hope we can get back to a more traditional sense of what the Senate is all about."

    Graham becomes the fifth GOP senator to announce his support for Sotomayor.

    Pelosi Has the Votes, NRCC Looks for Flip-Floppers

    From Roll Call:

    Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Wednesday that she has the votes to pass a health care overhaul in the House, even as the bill remains stalled in the Energy and Commerce Committee.

    "I have no question that we have the votes on the floor of the House to pass this legislation," Pelosi told reporters.

    The Speaker said she still intends to put the package to a vote next week but left open the possibility of keeping the House in session past the chamber's scheduled adjournment of July 31. The Senate is poised to adjourn one week later on Aug. 7, but that date also may slip because of health care reform.

    The National Republican Congressional Committee is already trying to pinpoint who may have changed their minds. Here is an excerpt from a press release the NRCC distributed just after Pelosi made the announcement:

    "After expressing serious concern over a government takeover of the health care industry, has Jason Altmire suddenly changed his position? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) is suddenly claiming she has the votes. With the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) stating that the Democrats' government-run health care bill will increase costs, run up the deficit and raise taxes, Jason Altmire's constituents can only hope that he isn't planning on supporting such a disastrous policy."

    GOP Leaders Pre-empt Obama Newser

    With President Obama set for a primetime news conference tonight on health care, Congressional Republican leaders have announced their own news conference for mid-afternoon.

    In a rare joint appearance, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader John Boehner will meet the press at 3:30 p.m. in the Capitol "to discuss the need for health care reform," according to a press release.

    The move comes a day after Obama blasted Republicans who "openly declare their intention to block reform."

    "These opponents of reform would rather score political points than offer relief to Americans who've seen premiums double and costs grow three times faster than wages," he said.

    At the daily briefing, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs followed up Obama's point that Republicans are politicizing the debate. "I think there are some Republicans that have decided that this isn't about health care, it's about politics and it's about scoring political points and it's about perpetuating the political games that have dominated Washington for far longer than even the debates on health care reform," Gibbs said

    McConnell took to the Senate floor this morning, previewing what he may say later.

    "All of us recognize the need for reform," he said. "That's not in question. And that's why day after day, I have come to the floor of the Senate and proposed concrete, common-sense reforms that all of us can agree on, reforms that would increase access, decrease costs, and guarantee that no one in this country would be forced to give up the care they currently have."

    While the president and Congress go back and forth on the details of a health care reform bill, Gallup reported today that 16 percent of American adults do not have health insurance.

    GA Gov Poll: Oxendine, Barnes Lead Primary Fields

    Strategic Vision (R) has also polled again in Georgia, and finds state Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine building on his lead in the Republican primary field. Rep. Nathan Deal (R) has also swapped places with Secretary of State Karen Handel for second place.

    Republican Primary Election Matchup
    Oxendine 38 (+3)
    Deal 16 (+4)
    Handel 9 (-4)
    Johnson 5 (+1)
    McBerry 3 (+1)
    Scott 2 (unch)
    Undecided 27 (-5)

    In the Democratic race, former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes has dipped a few points since the June survey, conducted just after he entered the race. Attorney General Thurbert Baker is the only other Democrat with a shot at this point.

    Democratic Primary Election Matchup
    Barnes 46 (-3)
    Baker 31 (+1)
    Poythress 4 (-1)
    Porter 3 (+1)
    Undecided 16 (+2)

    Georgia's outgoing Gov. Sonny Perdue sees his job approval rating dip only a few points, as is the case for each of the state's senators. President Obama's approval rating has slipped nine points; more voters now dissaprove than approve.

    Job Approval
    Perdue 51/38
    Chambliss 48/39
    Isakson 54/37
    Obama 40/52

    The telephone survey was conducted from July 17-19 of 800 likely voters, with a margin of error of +/- 3 percent.

    NJ Gov: Strategic Vision Puts Christie Up 15

    A new Strategic Vision (R), conducted after President Obama's event with Gov. Jon Corzine (D), shows the incumbent falling only further behind.

    General Election Matchup
    Christie 53 (+2)
    Corzine 38 (-1)
    Daggett 5
    Undecided 4 (-4)

    Daggett, an independent candidate and former state EPA administrator, was not included in the June survey. Christie's lead in the RCP Average is now 10.5 points.

    Corzine's job approval has basically held steady, but President Obama's score has slipped six points.

    Job Approval Rating
    Corzine: 35/55
    Menendez: 51/38
    Lautenberg: 48/42
    Obama: 50/40

    The survey also found that only 24 percent of voters say the state is on the right track, a dip of four points since the last survey.

    The telephone survey of 800 likely voters was conducted June 17-19, and had a margin of error of +/- 3 points.

    PA Sen Poll: Specter, Toomey Tied

    Sen. Arlen Specter's (D-Pa.) sizeable lead over GOP challenger Pat Toomey has been erased and a plurality of voters now say he does not deserve to be re-elected, a new Quinnipiac survey finds (July 14-19, 1173 RV, MoE +/- 2.9%).

    Specter's 20-point lead in early May and 9-point lead in late May has dwindled to 1 point, as he leads the former congressman 45%-44%. Voters are split on his approval rating, with 47% approving and 46% disapproving -- his highest disapproval rating ever. Voters also split 45%-44% on whether they have a favorable opinion of him.

    Specter now leads Toomey by 7.0 points in the RCP Pennsylvania Senate Average.

    "Voters see Sen. Specter much less favorably than they once did and are net negative about giving him a sixth term in the U.S. Senate," said Peter A. Brown, Quinnipiac's assistant director. Independent voters have shifted narrowly to Toomey 46 - 42 percent and say 53 - 35 percent that Specter does not deserve reelection."

    Good news for Specter, though, is that he crushes his Democratic primary opponent, Joe Sestak, a second-term congressman from Philadelphia. Specter leads 55%-23%, with 19% undecided. However, 69% of voters said they haven't heard enough about Sestak to form an opinion of him.

    Toomey appears to have no trouble in the Republican primary, as he leads Peg Luksik 47%-6%. In other potential general election matchups, Specter leads Luksik 47%-40%, and Toomey tops Sestak 39%-35%.

    Strategy Memo: East Room Sales Pitch

    In one day, President Obama will confront his most pressing international and domestic challenges. After morning briefings and a meeting with Treasury Secretary Geithner, the president welcomes Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki to the Oval Office. After a one-on-one and expanded meeting he'll meet the press in the Rose Garden with the Iraqi leader. Then he'll prepare for tonight's prime time press conference, the fourth of his presidency, which is sure to be dominated by health care questions.

    The Department of Defense Authorization bill lives to see another day in the Senate after the McCain-Levin amendment stripping money for new F-22 fighter jets was approved yesterday. Sen. John Thune's concealed weapons amendment is up for a vote today. House Democrats are attempting to reinstitute statutory PAYGO legislation, which requires the net effect of all legislation passed during a session of Congress be deficit neutral. The House will begin considering the "pay-as-you-go" bill today.

    Also today in DC: former presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani gives a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, and potential future presidential candidate Newt Gingrich speaks at the National Press Club. Both are on the economy.

    **Health Care
    *"Urging lawmakers to move quickly to overhaul American healthcare, President Obama on Tuesday criticized the 'politics of the moment' and said some in Congress were trying to put off decisions on legislation 'until special interests can kill it,' " Los Angeles Times reports. "The remarks were part of a White House blitz to promote the president's healthcare agenda this week, a strategy that also includes television interviews, a prime-time news conference today and a Thursday town hall in Cleveland."

    *"House Democrats' drive to overhaul the nation's healthcare system sputtered Tuesday, fueling doubts that the complex legislation can be passed before lawmakers leave town for the August recess," The Hill reports.

    *House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer "left open the possibility that House members may leave town this month without voting on health-care legislation, saying lawmakers still need to reach a consensus," Bloomberg reports.

    *CNN's Dana Bash reports that a Democratic senator says he and others are "baffled" - a senior Democratic source says Democrats are "frustrated" that they're not getting more specific direction. The source: "We appreciate the rhetoric and his willingness to ratchet up the pressure but what most Democrats on the Hill are looking for is for the president to weigh in and make decisions on outstanding issues. Instead of sending out his people and saying the president isn't ruling anything out, members would like a little bit of clarity on what he would support - especially on how to pay for his health reform bill."

    *Sen. Jim DeMint refused to take back "Waterloo." AP: "Appearing on NBC's Today show Wednesday, DeMint was asked if he stood by that statement. He replied, 'It's not personal. We've got to stop his politics.'

    *"Drug makers, advocacy groups, biotechnology firms and insurance companies have ratcheted up efforts to offer their two cents -- and in most cases much, much more -- in influencing the health care legislation now working its way through Congress," NYT reports.

    *"A coalition of anti-abortion groups is set to open a new front against Democrats' efforts to restructure American health care, claiming the plans open a back door to publicly financed abortions," Politico reports.

    **President Obama
    *"Six months into his administration, President Obama is at a pivotal moment," New York Times' Stolberg writes. He's passed the stimulus plan, and "bailed out Wall Street. ... But the public, and lawmakers, are growing skittish over Mr. Obama's next big plan, to remake the American health care system. How he handles the issue over the next several weeks could shape the rest of his presidency, shedding light on his political strength, his relationship with both parties in Congress and the extent to which he is willing to bend in fighting for his agenda."

    *Wall Street Journal: "After weeks of allowing allies in Congress to shape the emerging bills, the White House signaled its intention to start spending more of Mr. Obama's political capital." Rahm Emanuel tells the paper: "We're going to have to wade in a little deeper into the nitty-gritty to keep the process going. We know that and accept that."

    *Responding to criticism from David Brooks, Obama tells Katie Couric: "I don't spend a lot of time reading columns, Katie. The fact is that - you know, I am confident in the work that we're doing."

    *Transparency: the Los Angeles Times reports, "the Obama administration has turned down a request from a watchdog group for a list of health industry executives who have visited the White House to discuss the massive healthcare overhaul." In its response, the Secret Service said "that documents revealing the frequency of such visits were considered presidential records exempt from public disclosure laws."

    *"U.S. concerns over the slow pace of political, religious and ethnic reconciliation in Iraq are expected to dominate President Barack Obama's talks at the White House with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki," AP reports.

    *The vice president is an ocean away from all of this, continuing a tour of former Russian Republics. He starts the day in Ukraine, before heading to Georgia for a meeting with President Saakashvili.

    **Congress
    *F-22s: "Defense Secretary Robert Gates scored a key victory Tuesday against the F-22 Raptor fighter in Congress, part of his battle to reshape Pentagon priorities. In a 58 to 40 vote, the Senate approved an amendment to cancel $1.75 billion that had been set aside by lawmakers to purchase seven additional F-22s in the 2010 Defense Department budget," WSJ reports.

    *Coburn: "If Senate Republicans are hoping Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.), one of their fiercest ideologues, is going to help them take on President Barack Obama on health care reform, they may not want to hold their breath. While Coburn has plenty to say about the president's proposals, he says he isn't going to play the partisan attack dog this time. That's because when it comes to Coburn and Obama, it's personal," Roll Call reports.

    *Freshmen: Politico reports that "with moderate Blue Dogs and vulnerable Democrats wavering on health care reform, the honeymoon might soon be over for the 32 freshmen who have been getting the kid-glove treatment from leaders who haven't needed their votes."

    **Campaign Stuff
    *Politico reports that the NRCC has "launched an early media blitz against one of the leading Democratic contenders" in the New York 23rd, state Sen. Darrel Aubertine. Rep. John McHugh is resigning to become Army secretary.

    *Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) is now virtually tied with Pat Toomey (R) in a new Qunnipiac poll, AP notes. We'll have more from the poll shortly.

    *Illinois: Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias will formally announce his bid for the Senate on Sunday, and Dan Seals, who lost the last two elections to Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), will run again for the 10th District seat -- though this time not against Kirk, Chicago Tribune reports.

    *Anchorage Daily News: "Gov. Sarah Palin appears to have broken state ethics law by asking people to donate money to a trust set up to pay her legal bills, an investigator hired by the state found."

    *"For a variety of reasons, like the economic problems crushing governors across the country and term-limit laws forcing out otherwise formidable Democratic incumbents, Republicans have a good shot at making gains in what is shaping up as a free-for-all for 39 governors' seats next year," Adam Nagourney writes.

    *A New York judge sided with Republicans and blocked Gov. David Paterson's appointment of lieutenant governor.

    --Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

    Blue Dogs Talk Health Cost With Obama

    President Obama spent an hour meeting with Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, talks a key conservative Democrat called productive, though no final decisions on a key concern -- cost containment.

    "There's a number of potential cost-cutting measures which I think the American people expect before we consider any kind of new revenue," Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), head of the Blue Dog Democrats' health care task force, told reporters after the meeting today. "They want us to squeeze every ounce of savings we can out of the current system. That's what we're demanding."

    Ross said the entire meeting focused "specifically on cost containment," and said there are "a lot of ideas out there." But he and his colleagues want to see another CBO score that factors in projected savings before agreeing to any specific terms.

    Energy and Commerce Committee chair Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said that Obama "expressed to us his great, strong, firm commitment that the legislation that he signed will have to be deficit neutral and will hold down the cost in the future."

    Meanwhile, the White House hinted today that it may be open to taxing a portion of health insurance benefits, on so-called "Cadillac" plans. Press secretary Robert Gibbs echoed comments the president made last night in an interview with Jim Lehrer, differentiating Obama's opposition to ending the deductibility of health insurance benefits altogether with such a limited exclusion being lifted on the most expensive plans.

    "He doesn't support what Senator McCain proposed in the campaign, which, as you know, wasn't a tax on a certain level of the exclusion but instead to remove the entire tax deductibility," Gibbs said.

    DNC: GOP 'Playing Politics' With Health Care

    The Democratic National Committee released a web video today accusing Republicans of "playing politics" with health care reform. The video highlights a oft-cited quote by Sen. Jim DeMint, who said recently that health care reform could be President Obama's "waterloo" if the GOP "is able to stop him on this."

    Obama has responded to the DeMint quote, which has also been cited today by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen.

    "While President Obama and House Democrats are offering solutions to fix America's broken health care system, Congressional Republicans are offering nothing more than the same old Washington finger-pointing and their just-say-no defense of the status quo," Van Hollen said in a press release that called out Republicans for "playing politics."

    Corzine Stays Negative As Voters Deliver Poor Marks

    As a new Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey poll shows that Gov. Jon Corzine (D) gets low marks from New Jersey voters on most issues, his campaign has launched another negative attack on former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie (R). It shows the Republican nominee leaving a recent Congressional hearing that investigated no-bid contracts his office awarded.

    It's notable that one week after a rally with President Obama, Corzine is still hammering away at what is a somewhat complicated set of allegations that ultimately tie Christie to the unpopular Bush administration. The new Monmouth "semi-annual report card" indicates he is unlikely to raise his standing with state voters.

    His job approval stands at 38 percent among registered voters, and only 30 percent among independents and 53 percent among fellow Democrats. Asked if voters thought Corzine had any significant accomplishments, just 13 percent said he had "major accomplishments," while 49 percent said he had only minor accomplishments. A third -- 34 percent -- said he had no real accomplishments. Here are his letter grades on specific issues:

    Cost Cutting: C-
    Property Taxes: D+
    Government Ethics: C-
    Cost of Living: D
    Schools: C
    Level of Effort: C
    Overall Grade: C-

    The survey of 923 adults was conducted from July 9-14, and had a margin of error of +/- 3.2 percent.

    Hoyer: Blue Dogs Not Alone With Concerns

    House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters today that conservative Democrats aren't the only members of the caucus with concerns about the health care bill currently being formulated in the House.

    "Members have concerns," Hoyer said, "but they're not just Blue Dogs. Progressives, Blue Dogs and everyone in between."

    The bill has already been approved by two of the three committees with jurisdiction over the plan, with the Energy and Commerce Committee still to go. Prompting concerns among freshmen members and Blue Dogs is a new tax that Democratic leaders are considering including to help pay for the massive plan.

    "Every Democrat I've talked to agrees we need health care reform," Hoyer said. "They have various concerns of how that ought to be accomplished."

    Hoyer deflected a question regarding whether Democrats had the votes to pass the bill, joking that reporters had asked him up until the last second whether the climate change bill would pass. It did pass June 26, but by a margin of only seven votes.

    The majority leader, who controls what bills hit the floor, said it was his intention to bring the bill up next week, but it's possible it could be delayed until after the August recess -- which begins August 1.

    Day After "Waterloo," Obama Highlights Health Care Consensus

    After a politically charged statement Monday, President Obama shifted tone today as he sought to highlight what he said was "substantial common ground" that has been reached on health care.

    Speaking in the Rose Garden, he did still criticize those who have "openly declared their intention to block reform," reading from a "familiar Washington script." But he said there "are many others who are working hard" to tackle the "crisis" of rising health care costs.

    "There is a tendency in Washington to accentuate the differences instead of underscoring common ground," he said. "But make no mistake: we are closer than ever before to the reform that the American people need, and we're going to get the job done."

    He outlined common principles in the bills working through Congress, and said the collaboration goes beyond Congress, including stakeholders like pharmaceutical companies, doctors and nurses. And the American people as well "understand that the status quo is unacceptable."

    "They don't care who's up or who's down politically in Washington," he said. "They don't care about the latest line of political attack. They care about whether their families will be crushed by rising premiums."

    Yesterday, it was White House trying to focus the country on the Republicans' line of attack -- Sen. Jim DeMint's "Waterloo" comment especially. But today, the president said that ultimately, when a reform plan is passed, history will focus not on the political fight but instead "the hard work done" to get it through.

    Obama opened his remarks by praising the Senate for rejecting an appropriation for F-22 jets, which he called an "inexcusable waste" of taxpayer money. Among those he praised for leading the charge against them was John McCain.

    LA Sen Poll: Could Be Worse for Vitter

    Louisiana Sen. David Vitter (R) doesn't enjoy great numbers in the latest PPP poll, but they could be worse.

    Thirty-eight percent think the first-term senator deserves to be re-elected, while 47% say it's time to give someone else a chance. Piling on, 44% approve of the job he's doing and 44% have a favorable opinion.

    That looks less than encouraging, until you see his numbers against the competition: Vitter leads a generic Democrat 44%-38%, and potential opponent Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.) 44%-32%.

    "David Vitter's polling in the mid-40s is a very similar position to where Mary Landrieu was a couple years ago at this time," said PPP president Dean Debnam. "Republicans were never able to translate that into a serious challenge, so it will be interesting to see if Democrats are better able to capitalize on Vitter's vulnerability."

    Governors Warn Congress On Health Care Efforts

    The nation's governors have sent a letter to Congress urging them not to impose "unfunded federal mandates and reforms that simply shift costs to states" as they consider health care reform. A House proposal would provide permanent funding for Medicaid expansions, which the governors support.

    Writing on behalf of the National Governors Association, chairman Jim Douglas (R) of Vermont says:

    Any unfunded expansions would be particularly troubling given that states face budget shortfalls of over $200 billion over the next three years. This gap persists even after the Recovery Act's temporary increases in the federal share of Medicaid, which was essential for avoiding dramatic cuts to critical state services and was greatly appreciated by governors.

    Governors welcome the opportunity to share and expand upon the innovative reforms we have instituted in our states to expand coverage, reduce cost and improve the quality of health care. These reforms should inform congressional efforts and must be preserved and encouraged as part of any national reform.

    We appreciate your willingness to work with us to pursue financing options that are sustainable at both the federal and state levels.

    Obama relied on the support of governors, particularly Republicans like Douglas and Florida's Charlie Crist, to sell his stimulus plan. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the former Kansas governor, was dispatched to this weekend's NGA conference to hear the state executives' concerns.

    Open Race For Pennsylvania Governor

    A new Quinnipiac poll finds now early favorites in the open-seat race for Pennsylvania governor, with most candidates unknown to state voters. On the Democratic side, Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato and state Auditor Dan Wagner have a slight lead over Philadelphia businessman Tom Knox.

    Democratic Primary Election Matchup
    Onorato 16
    Wagner 16
    Knox 13
    Don't Know 54

    State Attorney General Tom Corbett does have a double-digit lead over Rep. Jim Gerlach, who is vacating a competitive Philadelphia-based Congressional seat.

    Republican Primary Election Matchup
    Corbett 38
    Gerlach 15
    Meehan 9
    Don't Know 37

    In a generic matchup, 38 percent of voters said they'd pick the Republican candidate, while 37 percent would pick the Democrat. Independent voters backed the Republican by a 32-23 percent margin.

    Favorability Ratings
    Gerlach 16 / 6
    Onorato 16 / 6
    Wagner 18 / 4
    Knox 10 / 4
    Corbett 38 / 6
    Meehan 12 / 3

    Outgoing Gov. Ed Rendell (D) has seen his approval rating sink to its lowest level, with 39 percent approving and 53 percent disapproving. His approval dropped from 54 points just two months ago. Fifty-seven percent of voters say they are dissatisfied with the direction of the state.

    The survey of 1,173 voters was conducted from July 14 - 19, and had a margin of error of +/- 2.9 percent. The GOP subsample of 511 voters had a margin of error of +/- 4.3 percent, as did the Dem subsample of 512 voters.

    Strategy Memo: Health Care Offensive

    Today, President Obama will again make remarks about health care at 1 p.m. -- part of a media offensive that includes interviews with NBC and PBS yesterday, CBS tonight, and a conference call with liberal bloggers yesterday. Later, he'll meet with Democrats on the House Energy & Commerce Committee. Tonight, the Obamas host an event "celebrating country music," which will feature Charley Pride, Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss and Union Station.

    The Senate will debate and vote today on the controversial McCain-Levin amendment, which strips $1.75 billion to build seven F-22s from the Department of Defense Authorization bill. Obama supports the amendment and has threatened using his veto power should the money remain in the bill.

    Democrats in the House continue their push toward consensus on a health care bill. In the meantime, up to 30 suspension bills -- including honoring the life of former Phillies announcer Harry Kalas -- will be taken up on the House floor. The official photo of the 111th Congress will be taken on the floor at around 2 p.m.

    **President Obama
    *On "Today," Obama "remained noncommital" on a surtax to pay for the health care overhaul, repeating his idea that wealthier Americans, "such as myself," should pitch in and help reinvent the system to spread coverage to those now without it, AP notes. On the August deadline, he said: "The deadline isn't being set by me. It's being set by the American people."

    *Washington Post looks at the Republican pushback: "Lacking unity on an alternative agenda to Obama's health-care plans, Republicans have instead focused on a strategy of rallying public opposition and wooing the conservative Democrats in Congress, whose votes will ultimately determine the fate of any health-care bill. That plan depends in large part on Congress going on break before it votes on a bill. On Monday, though, Republicans made clear that they see an opportunity to derail the legislation now."

    *The administration last night said "it preferred that detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, be tried in criminal courts, but that some suspected terrorists in less-prominent cases or in cases with weaker evidence could go before military tribunals," Wall Street Journal reports. The interim report from the administration "could rile civil liberties groups, which prefer all detainees be tried in criminal courts."

    *Following up on yesterday's poll numbers showing Obama ranked third lowest at the six-month mark since WWII, USA Today reports: A president's standing after his first six months in office doesn't forecast whether he'll have a successful four-year term, but it does signal how much political juice he'll have for his second six months in office.

    *"The U.S. Secret Service has cut corners in ways that may have jeopardized the safety of President Obama, according to a new book by a veteran Washington journalist and author, Ron Kessler," Politics Daily reports. "But neither the publisher nor Kessler himself, in an interview, would say what corners were cut or what the laxness entailed and how they endangered the president."

    **Health Care
    *Washington Post: "Emboldened by divided Democrats and polls that show rising public anxiety about President Obama's handling of health care and the economy, Republicans on Monday launched an aggressive effort to link the two, comparing the health-care bills moving through Congress to what they labeled as a failed economic stimulus bill."

    *Politico: "But for all the fire pointed their way by the White House, Republicans are hardly Obama's biggest headache. His problems lately have come from within his own party, as divided House and Senate caucuses have shown a surprising willingness to buck Obama on his top domestic priority just six months into his presidency."

    *New York Times: "House and Senate leaders had been pressing for floor votes in each chamber before lawmakers depart for the August summer recess. But Congressional aides said that it was increasingly clear the Senate would not be ready to vote on its bill before its recess begins on Aug. 8, and that House Democrats seemed unwilling to vote to raise taxes without knowing where the Senate stood."

    **Congress
    *F-22 Fight: "The argument over whether spending $1.75 billion on seven additional F-22 jets makes good economic sense is coming to a head between Congress and the Obama administration ... An amendment to strip the F-22 money from a $680 billion defense spending policy bill is scheduled for a vote in the Senate on Tuesday. President Barack Obama has threatened what would be the first veto of his presidency if the F-22 money remains in the bill presented for his signature," AP reports.

    *Climate Change: "Climate change is the ticking political time bomb on the Senate's agenda this fall, and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has the timer set to go off in late September. With the debate on health care sucking up so much oxygen in the Senate these days, few are paying attention to the cavernous gulf among Democrats over how to tackle global warming and the lack -- so far -- of a way to bring Members together while also appealing to Republicans," Roll Call reports.

    **Campaign Stuff
    *GOP Hope in 2010?: "Unless you're a veteran from a rock-solid liberal district, it's a bit scary these days to be a Democrat in Congress. There's political risk in delivering the sweeping changes President Obama promised on health and energy policy, but there's also political risk in failing to deliver them," Politics Daily reports.

    *CT Sen: "Dodd, the acting chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, has branched out his fundraising operation by tapping healthcare-related companies for more than $112,000 in the second quarter of 2009. ... In addition, fundraising records reviewed by The Hill show that Dodd accepted contributions from 32 lobbyists representing healthcare interests."

    *IL-10: "Now that Kirk is vacating the northside Chicago 10th district seat to run statewide, several Democrats and Republicans are interested in running -- and it's unlikely either party will escape a primary fight."

    *PA Gov: Term-limited Gov. Ed Rendell (D)'s "job approval rating has shrunk to its lowest level ever, 39 - 53 percent negative, and voters see him as most responsible for the state's budget mess," according to a new Quinnipiac poll.

    *Politico: "Tim Pawlenty will deliver a major speech at the Republican National Committee summer meeting later this month, part of a stepped-up effort by the Minnesota governor to introduce himself ahead of a potential 2012 White House bid."

    *NY Daily News: "Rep. Carolyn Maloney's planned Senate bid isn't even officially off the ground and already she's scrambling to say sorry for using the N-word in an interview. 'I apologize for having repeated a word I find disgusting,' Maloney said in a statement Monday."

    *Former Pres. Bill Clinton raised $300,000 for her last night.

    *Hotline reports that North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall (D) is seriously considering a Senate bid. "Let's face it, it's hard to run a campaign in North Carolina," Marshall said. "You can't do it without some outside money. So these are the things I'm assessing."

    **Ethics: "Among the five House lawmakers known to be under investigation by the House ethics committee, only Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) has reported payments to attorneys in the first half of this year, according to Federal Election Commission reports," Roll Call reports.

    --Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

    Obama Third Least Popular President Since World War II

    A new USA Today/Gallup poll puts President Obama's approval rating at 55 percent, which ranks him 10th among 12 post-World War II presidents at the same point in the survey. His approval is down from 61 percent in late May.

    As he seeks to regain momentum on the health care front, the survey finds that only 44 percent approve of his handling of the issue, with 50 percent disapproving. Also, 59 percent say his proposal would lead to too much government spending, and 52 percent say it would "call for too much expansion of government power."

    During his briefing, Robert Gibbs referred the 59 percent approval rating in the Washington Post/ABC poll as a "pretty darn good number for six months in."

    The poll of 1,006 adults was conducted July 17-19 and had a margin of error of +/- 3 percent.

    President Softening On Health Care Deadline?

    Speaking at a children's hospital in Washington today, President Obama again took a forceful tone in his push for health legislation, saying "the need for reform is urgent and it is indisputable." And he gladly used a comment by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) -- suggesting failed legislation would be the president's "Waterloo" -- as a foil as he sought to portray opposition to bills working through Congress as solely based on politics.

    "This isn't about me. This isn't about politics," he said. "This is about a health care system that is breaking America's families, breaking America's businesses, and breaking America's economy. And we can't afford the politics of delay and defeat when it comes to health care. Not this time. Not now."

    Obama has repeatedly called for lawmakers to pass legislation before the August recess, with a final draft potentially reaching his desk by September. But today, he did not issue a specific deadline, calling for legislation only by the end of this year.

    "There's just a tendency towards inertia in this town, I understand that as well as anybody," he said. "But we're a country that chooses the harder right over the easier wrong. ... So let's fight our way through the politics of the moment. Let's pass reform by the end of this year."

    Asked if the president was indeed softening on an August deadline, press secretary Robert Gibbs said at his briefing, "I think Peter was pretty clear about this over the weekend," referring to OMB Director Peter Orszag.

    Gibbs also addressed DeMint's Waterloo comment, saying that bipartisanship must be a two way street.
    "We want to work with people that want to work with us," Gibbs said. Comments like DeMint's, and conservative commentator William Kristol, "perpetuate the same old Washington games."

    No Rest For the Weary

    After driving back-and-forth on the long, construction-filled Pennsylvania Turnpike this weekend, the news of Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine shuttering 19 highway rest areas tomorrow carries a special significance. Travelers along the overcrowded I-95 and I-81 corridors in Virginia will surely offer their disappointment with the decision soon.

    Even more interesting, though, could be its effect on the gubernatorial race, which features Republican Bob McDonnell and Democrat Creigh Deeds facing off November 3. However, both candidates announced today their opposition to the move as well as plans to reopen the facilities once inaugurated.

    McDonnell began the day with a forceful press release denouncing the move, and Deeds offered similar opposition in a conference call with reporters.

    "If the rest stops do close tomorrow, and remain dark in the months ahead, that will end when I am elected governor," McDonnell said. "I will work with the General Assembly to find a way to fund the operation of these facilities. And within 90 days of my taking office all 19 rest stops will be open again."

    Deeds countered, telling reporters he's indicated his position to Kaine and will reopen the rest stops within 60 days -- a full month sooner than McDonnell.

    "Here's the bottom line: We've got a law that says truckers can only spend a certain number of hours per day on the road," said Deeds, according to the Roanoke Times. "If we're going to be able to enforce that law, we've got provide rest stops."

    The Virginia Department of Transportation detailed its closure plans two weeks ago. While decreasing the number of rest stops in the state by nearly half, VDOT says it will increase the number of truck parking spaces at each facility and loosen restrictions for how long trucks can remain there.

    The closures will affect the two major truck and traffic corridors in the state. Four rest stops will be closed on I-95, which runs along the entire eastern seaboard, connecting Florida to Maine. Seven will close along I-81, which runs along the Appalachian Mountains in the western part of the state, from the Pennsylvania border to Tennessee.

    Had Deeds and McDonnell taken different sides on this issue, it could have played a decisive role in the November election. In the 2005 race for attorney general, the two were separated by less than 400 votes. The race this year could be just as close.

    At Half-Year Mark, Obama Leads Most 2012 Matchups

    Both Rasmussen and Public Policy Polling have put out surveys today testing President Obama's re-election numbers against potential Republican candidates.

    Rasmussen (1,000 LVs, July 16-17, MoE +/- 3 percent) gives us three matchups: Obama vs. Mitt Romney and Obama vs. Sarah Palin, and a third, with Palin as an independent: Obama vs. Romney vs. Palin.

    2012 General Election Matchups
    Obama 45
    Romney 45
    Not Sure 3

    Obama 48
    Palin 42
    Not Sure 3

    Obama 44
    Romney 33
    Palin 16
    Not Sure 4

    Only 21 percent of voters said they think Palin should pursue an independent bid if she lost the Republican nomination, while 63 percent said no.

    PPP (577 voters, July 15-16, MoE +/- 4.1 percent) tested Obama against Romney, Palin, Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich.

    2012 General Election Matchups
    Obama 50 (-2 from April)
    Gingrich 42 (+3)
    Not Sure 9

    Obama 48 (+1)
    Huckabee 42 (unch)
    Not Sure 10

    Obama 51 (-2)
    Palin 43 (+2)
    Not Sure 6

    Obama 49 (-1)
    Romney 40 (+1)
    Not Sure 11

    PPP puts Obama's approval rating at 50 percent, its lowest number yet; 43 percent now disapprove.

    RNC Hits Obama's Risky "Experiment"

    In a demonstration of how the battle over health care is won or lost in the Senate, the RNC launches a new TV ad today that will air in Arkansas, Nevada and North Dakota targeting key senators with the message that America can't afford health care reform of the kind President Obama is proposing.

    NARRATOR: "They've loaned Barack Obama their future, without even knowing it. Trillions for rushed government bailouts and takeovers, banks, the auto industry. The biggest spending spree in our nation's history. And they'll have to pay. The next big ticket item? A risky experiment with our health care. Barack Obama's massive spending experiment hasn't healed our economy. His new experiment risks their future and our health. The Republican National Committee is responsible for the content of this advertising."

    The health care fight, then, gives us the peculiar situation of both national committees targeting some of the same senators. Last week, Organizing for America also launched TV ads in Arkansas and North Dakota, as well as Indiana, Ohio and Florida. But while OFA aims to sway both Republicans and Democrats, the RNC ads target only Democrats, namely Arkansas' Lincoln and Pryor, Budget Committee chair Kent Conrad of North Dakota, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Reid and Lincoln are both targets for Republicans in Senate races in 2010.

    The visuals of the RNC ad -- full of children -- are in line with the party's renewed focus on America's fiscal situation. The Washington Post/ABC poll found today that Obama's most vulnerable issues appear to be his handling of the deficit, as well as health care.

    Ensign's Approval Rating Sinks

    Nevada Sen. John Ensign's (R) approval ratings have declined dramatically since last month, when he revealed an extramarital affair he had with a former campaign staffer.

    A new Mason-Dixon survey conducted for the Las Vegas Review-Journal finds 31 percent now approve of the job Ensign is doing in the Senate (July 14-15, 400 RV, MoE +/- 5%). That's an 8-point drop since the previous survey in mid-June, just days after Ensign made the announcement, and a 22-point drop since before the affair was made public.

    Further information about the affair emerged this month, including that Ensign's parents gave $96,000 to the family of his former mistress.

    "Ensign took about a 10-point hit with this latest round of revelations," Mason-Dixon pollster Brad Coker told the Review-Journal. "I think if another shoe drops, and he takes another 10 points' damage, that's probably the end of the line."

    Still, 54 percent continue to say Ensign should not resign, while one-third (34 percent) now think he should -- including a quarter of Republicans. On the second-term senator's side is the fact that he does not come up for re-election until 2012 -- 45 percent think he should seek re-election, while 43 percent think he should not.

    Christie Tweets Running Mate Pick

    (UPDATED with Corzine camp statement below.)

    Chris Christie today became the first of the New Jersey governor candidates to pick a running mate, announcing via Twitter that he's chosen Monmouth County Sheriff Kim Guadagno. The new Republican ticket will travel throughout the state today.

    In a Web video, Christie said Guadagno "has the executive experience New Jerseyans need in their first lieutenant governor." The position was created years ago after a series of gubernatorial vacancies elevated the state Senate president to serve as governor for extended periods of time.

    The sober tone of the video also seems to be a response of sorts to the rally Gov. Jon Corzine (D) held last week with President Obama.

    "If you're looking for boisterous rallies or overblown campaign events, you're not going to get those from us. You're going to get serious talk and real solutions," Christie says.

    In Guadagno, the sheriff and a former U.S. attorney like himself, Christie doubles down on his tough-on-crime persona, while also making a play for the women's vote. He does not, however, seem to be making a geographic calculation; Guadagno represents a fairly reliable Republican county. He had also reportedly been considering Kathe Donovan, County Clerk of Bergen County, which has been the key battleground in recent elections.

    Corzine has one week to make his selection for a running mate. He had reportedly been considering former "Apprentice" winner Randal Pinkett; other potential selections include State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D) of Bergen County.

    UPDATE: Here's the reaction from the Corzine camp:

    "While we applaud Christie for picking a woman, Republicans still have a top of the ticket that will not protect women's rights in Trenton. Whether it is refusing a woman's right to choose, denying handgun legislation that would protect our children and keep our streets safe, or opposing paid family leave that allows mothers to take time off and attend to their newborns, this Conservative Right-Wing Republican ticket is completely out of touch with New Jersey."

    Strategy Memo: Six Months Down

    Today the Obama presidency hits the half-year mark, and he'll spend it by focusing on his health care reform effort. After morning briefings, he'll leave the White House for an event at the Children's National Medical Center. After, he'll make a statement to the press. He'll return to the White House to meet with the head of the Mormon church, joined by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Then he'll mark the anniversary of the moon landing by meeting with the Apollo 11 crew, and new NASA Administrator Bolden.

    On Capitol Hill, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will continue markup on the Democrats' health care bill. The two other committees with jurisdiction over the bill approved it Friday, though it's still unclear how much support the completed plan will have when it reaches the House floor.

    House members will vote this evening on about a dozen suspension bills, while the Senate continues consideration of the Department of Defense Authorization bill.

    **Check out all the Sunday talk show highlights you missed at RealClearPolitics Video.

    **Health Care
    *Washington Post: "Six months into his presidency, Barack Obama may have no greater test of his ability to translate personal popularity into a successful legislative agenda than the upcoming two weeks." Because of that, the White House is launching "a new phase of its strategy designed to dramatically increase public pressure on Congress: all Obama, all the time."

    *And that test comes as the Post/ABC poll puts Obama's approval rating under 60 percent for the first time. It's dropped six points since June. Only 49 percent approve of his handling of health care, and 43 percent approve of his handling of the budget deficit.

    The Post's analysis: "The erosion in Obama's overall rating on health care is particularly notable among political independents: While positive in their assessments of his handling of health-care reform at the 100-day mark of his presidency (53 percent approved and 30 percent disapproved), independents now are divided at 44 percent positive and 49 percent negative. At the same time, there is no slackening in public desire for Obama to keep pressing for action on the major issues of the economy, health care and the deficit. Majorities think he is either doing the right amount or should put greater emphasis on each of these issues."

    *Sunday shows: "Facing independent budget predictions that contradict the White House's rhetoric, officials sought to refute Republican objections to massive changes in how Americans receive health care. They emphasized that Congress has not yet settled on an outline for health care legislation and reiterated Obama's desire for a bipartisan approach," AP reports. "This is a work in progress," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said.

    *OMB Dir. Peter Orszag "refused Sunday to rule out the possibility that federal tax money might be used to pay for abortions under proposed health care legislation," New York Times reports.

    The NYT also reports that Orszag "appeared to soften on the administration's insistence that a health care reform bill be delivered by August. 'It's still the goal,' Mr. Orszag said on CNN's 'State of the Union,' after he was asked if the president still wanted a bill on his desk before the summer recess. 'We think we can make that.' "

    *Last Friday, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said on a conference call: "If we're able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him." ABC: "You should expect to hear that quote this week from the White House as they use it to rally their troops."

    *Ted Kennedy writes about the health care fight in Newsweek.

    *At this weekend's National Governors Association Conference, some questioned the health insurance proposals in Congress. "The governors' backlash creates yet another health care headache for the Obama administration, which has tried to recruit state leaders to pressure members of Congress to wrap up their fitful negotiations," the Times reports.

    *Politico: "Trying to sell a historic health bill to a balky caucus, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told POLITICO in an interview that she wants to soften a proposed surcharge on the wealthy so that it applies only to families that make $1 million or more. The change could help mollify the conservative Democrats who expect to have a tough time selling the package back home. Their support is the single biggest key to meeting the speaker's goal of having health care reform pass the House by the August recess."

    *Today at the National Press Club, RNC chair Michael Steele will accuse Obama of conducting "risky experimentation" with his health care proposals, saying they will hurt the economy and force millions to drop their current coverag, per AP. He'll also say that Obama and Pelosi are part of a "cabal" that wants to implement government-run health care.

    *The Hill reports that "the biggest threat to the August goal - if not successful passage of the bill altogether - is coming from fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats, who have banded together in opposition to everything from Medicare reimbursement rates to an automatic public plan, and have hinted at bolting on the idea of taxes of any kind. The will of these Democrats, and the power of their leaders to cut deals with them, will be on full display starting on Monday when the critical Energy and Commerce Committee continues its markup of major portions of the House bill."

    *WaPo: "For his first feat this legislative session, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) staged a coup and deposed a sitting chairman and dean of the House. He followed that up with a nail-biter victory in the House for his beloved climate change bill. But on Monday, the hard work will begin for the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee as he labors to advance President Obama's endangered health-reform agenda."

    *WSJ: "A plan to end a program that would cut government payments to doctors is emerging as the flash point in the debate over whether President Barack Obama's effort to overhaul the health system would increase the federal budget deficit. The proposal was crucial to winning support from the politically powerful American Medical Association -- but it has also made it tougher to argue that the health overhaul would pay for itself."

    *AP: "The White House is being forced to acknowledge the wide gap between its once-upbeat predictions about the economy and today's bleak landscape. The administration's annual midsummer budget update is sure to show higher deficits and unemployment and slower growth than projected in President Barack Obama's budget in February and update in May, and that could complicate his efforts to get his signature health care and global-warming proposals through Congress."

    **Campaign Stuff
    *AP talks to Sarah Palin in her final week as governor, and she insists she won't ditch Alaska for good. "I am Alaskan. I've grown up here and I'm going to remain in Alaska," she said. "It's not farewell, it's more like thanks for letting me be here and I'll see you soon."

    *Cillizza reports that Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) prepares to re-emerge on the national stage, weighing in on the health care debate with op-eds in Politico and the Wall Street Journal, and cable news hits. "Governor Jindal has seen enough," said Curt Anderson, a consultant for Jindal. "As a health-care policy expert, he strongly believes that the House Democrat[ic] plan would be a disaster for the long-term health of the American people, and the long-term health of the economy."

    *Politics Daily sits down for an interesting interview with former Bush and McCain adviser Mark McKinnon.

    *A Nevada poll shows that a slight plurailty of sate voters don't think John Ensign should not seek re-election - 45-43 percent. Only 34 percent think he should resign (up from 29 percent in June), and his favorability rating is 31/38, compared to 39/37 in June.

    *Ahead in the polls, Republican Chris Christie "is sticking to a simple challenger's strategy of offering lots of headlines that grab attention and little fine print that can trigger trouble from critics, the Star-Ledger reports. "Christie has released plans on alternative-energy usage and revitalizing the state's urban centers. But Democrats insist Christie has given no clear explanation of how he would pay for his plans and what he would sacrifice in a state government perpetually in a fiscal crisis."

    *Out-of-state groups have spent $6 million already on the Virginia governor race, compared to just $61,000 at this point in 2005, according to the Richmond Times Dispatch.

    *Ethan Hastert, son of the former House Speaker, will seek his old seat, the Sun-Times notes. Rep. Aaron Schock will headline a fundraiser for him July 24.

    *In Kentucky, Gov. Steve Beshear has named his running mate - for an election that is still two years away. It's Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson. The current lieutenant governor, Dan Mongiardo, is running for U.S. Senate. And under state law, Beshear needed to name a new running mate now to raise funds for 2011.

    --Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

    Obama: Without Reform, No One's Insurance Secure

    In a late afternoon statement on his top legislative priority, President Obama tried to regain control of the health care debate by raising the stakes for lawmakers and the public.

    "We're going to have to get this done," he said in the Diplomatic Reception Room in a statement delayed nearly an hour. "If we don't get health care reform done now, then no one's health insurance is going to be secure."

    Without reform, he said premiums will continue to rise, out of pocket costs will go up astronomically, and anyone who changes jobs may be unable to get insured.

    "That's not a future that I accept for the United States of America. That's why those who are betting against this happening this year are badly mistaken," he said.

    Missing from the statement was any new specific commitment on financing the health care overhaul, which is the main issue right now. He did say that his plan to "cut hundreds of billions of dollars in unnecessary spending and unwarranted giveaways to insurance companies in Medicare and Medicaid" should cover two-thirds of the cost. And despite yesterday's testimony by the CBO director, he sounded confident that a reform effort could actually "bend the curve" of long term costs.

    "Make no mistake: if we step back from this challenge at this moment, we are consigning our children to future of skyrocketing premiums and crushing deficits. There's no argument about that," he said.

    Obama met today with a number of lawmakers, including freshmen members of Congress as he tried to keep lawmakers on a timetable to pass legislation before the August recess. He ignored a reporter's question about perhaps extending the deadline, but did say earlier that there would be some long days and nights ahead.

    What If Obama's Mother Had An Abortion?

    That's the hypothetical posed yesterday on the House floor by Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.), who is fighting against taxpayer-funded abortions in Washington, DC.

    From the Kansas City Star:

    "If that financial incentive was in place, is it possible that his mother may have taken advantage of it?" he said.

    Tiahrt reasoned, "If you think of it in human terms, there is a financial incentive that will be put in place, paid for by tax dollars, that will encourage women who are single parents, living below the poverty level, to have the opportunity for a free abortion. If you take that scenario and apply it to many of the great minds we have today, who would we have been deprived of? Our president grew up in a similar circumstance."

    He mentioned Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, too, asking "is it possible that we would be denied his great mind?"

    Tiahrt is running for the U.S. Senate in the home state of Obama's mother.

    McConnell To Oppose Sotomayor Nomination

    In a floor speech Monday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will announce his opposition to the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Here is an excerpt from what he will say:

    Judge Sotomayor's record of written statements suggests an alarming lack of respect for the notion of equal justice, and therefore, in my view, an insufficient willingness to abide by the judicial oath. This is particularly important when considering someone for the Supreme Court since, if she were confirmed, there would be no higher court to deter or prevent her from injecting into the law the various disconcerting principles that recur throughout her public statements. For that reason, I will oppose her nomination.

    Earlier today, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) became the first Republican to announce he will support Sotomayor's nomination. Joining him in announcing their support today was Sens. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). Democrats have said they expect "a number of Republicans" to support the nominee.

    House Dems: Health Care Bill Will Pass

    Democratic leaders are encouraged by the progress of a health care reform bill that is making its way through three House committees and are certain the full House will pass it. They held a news conference this afternoon to tout the still-evolving plan.

    "Over 100,00 people will have health insurance who didn't have it before," said Speaker Nancy Pelosi. "Over a hundred million dollars in meeting the needs of public health hospitals will be there. And just a very few people called upon to help with the revenue stream."

    Those "very few people" Pelosi was referring to are couples making more than $350,000 per year, whose taxes will go up to pay for the $1 trillion bill.

    The three committees involved in marking up the bill are the Energy and Commerce, Education and Labor, and Ways and Means. The latter two approved the bill this morning.

    Joining Pelosi at the news conference were Education and Labor Chairman George Miller (Calif.), Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (N.Y.), Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (S.C.), and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.), among others.

    "The American people are demanding health care reform," said Hoyer. "Do we have good health care in America? We do. But it's not accessible to many, and it costs twice as much as most countries of the world."

    "We are going to pass health reform," he said.

    Republicans For Sotomayor

    This morning, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) became the first Republican to announce his support for Judge Sotomayor.

    "I have listened to the testimony of Judge Sonia Sotomayor before the Senate Judiciary Committee, carefully reviewed her public service record, and reviewed recommendations from Indiana constituents and colleagues here in the Senate. Judge Sotomayor is clearly qualified to serve on the Supreme Court and she has demonstrated a judicial temperament during her week-long nomination hearing. Judge Sotomayor has had a distinguished career of public service. She is well regarded in the legal community and by her peers. I will vote to confirm Judge Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to serve as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States."

    And now, though he doesn't have a vote and isn't even running for the Senate, Republican Chris Christie (R) issues a press release saying he'd support her nomination to the bench.

    "After watching and listening to Judge Sotomayor's performance at the confirmation hearings this week, I am confident that she is qualified for the position of Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Elections have consequences. One of those consequences are judicial appointments.  While Judge Sotomayor would not have been my choice, President Obama has used his opportunity to fill a seat on the Supreme Court by choosing a nominee who has more than proven her capability, competence and ability. I support her appointment to the Supreme Court and urge the Senate to keep politics out of the process and confirm her nomination. Qualified appointees should be confirmed and deserve bi-partisan support. ... This is a historic moment and her inspiring success story should not only make the Latino community proud, but all Americans."

    The New Jersey gubernatorial hopeful seems to be making a play for independent and even Democratic votes in the Garden State.

    House Leaders To Hold Health Care Presser

    Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (N.Y.), Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (Calif.) and other House Democratic leaders are scheduled for a 12:30 news conference to discuss the health care bill being marked up in committees.

    The Ways and Means Committee approved it early this morning on a 23-18 vote.

    State Unemployment Grows As Summers Hails "Remarkable" Progress

    In a speech this morning, National Economic Council director Lawrence Summers will say: "We were at the brink of catastrophe at the beginning of the year but we have walked some substantial distance back from the abyss. ... Substantial progress has been made in rescuing the economy from the risk of economic collapse that looked all too real 6 months ago." He'll also say that the distance traveled since January on the economy is "remarkable."

    That administration spin comes as new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that unemployment rates increased in 38 states in June, while only five states saw declines. In Michigan, the unemployment rate now tops 15, after increasing 1.1 points in the last month. There are now 15 states where unemployment is in double digits.

    Meanwhile Mississippi, whose governor, Haley Barbour (R), declined some stimulus dollars, saw the biggest drop, 0.6 points.

    After the jump, more White House excerpts of Summers' speech today.

    Let me begin in January. Though only a half a year ago, the distance we have traveled these past six months is remarkable... The economy was in free-fall at the start of the year with no apparent limit on how much worse things could get... Fear was widespread and confidence was scarce.

    ***

    To address the deep and severe crisis he inherited, President Obama started from two main premises. First, the most immediate priority was to rescue the economy by restoring confidence and breaking the vicious cycle of economic contraction and financial failure. Second, the recovery from this crisis would be built not on the flimsy foundation of asset bubbles but on the firm foundation of productive investment and long-term growth.

    The President was clear from the beginning that these two tasks needed to be dovetailed--that confidence in our ability to rescue the economy depended on a sense of our commitment to reform and a vision for rebuilding.

    ***

    We were at the brink of catastrophe at the beginning of the year but we have walked some substantial distance back from the abyss... Substantial progress has been made in rescuing the economy from the risk of economic collapse that looked all too real 6 months ago.

    ***

    The rebuilt American economy must be more export-oriented and less consumption-oriented, more environmentally oriented and less fossil-energy-oriented, more bio- and software-engineering-oriented and less financial-engineering-oriented, more middle-class-oriented and less oriented to income growth that disproportionately favors a very small share of the population.

    ***

    Yes, the President has an ambitious agenda. But it is an agenda comprised of measures that lay a foundation for future prosperity and for the confidence on which the current recovery depends.

    President Obama Reacts To Indonesia Bombings

    The White House just issued this statement from the president on the bombing of two hotels in Jakarta:

    I strongly condemn the attacks that occurred this morning in Jakarta, and extend my deepest condolences to all of the victims and their loved ones.

    The American people stand by the Indonesian people in this difficult time, and the U.S. government stands ready to help the Indonesian government respond to and recover from these outrageous attacks as a friend and partner.

    Indonesia has been steadfast in combating violent extremism, and has successfully curbed terrorist activity within its borders. However, these attacks make it clear that extremists remain committed to murdering innocent men, women and children of any faith in all countries. We will continue to partner with Indonesia to eliminate the threat from these violent extremists, and we will be unwavering in supporting a future of security and opportunity for the Indonesian people.

    There had been reports that Obama would visit the nation this year, though the White House has yet to confirm that. Obama, of course, spent some of his youth there.

    Strategy Memo: Health Care, Health Care, Health Care

    The President has a light Friday schedule, with just his usual morning briefings followed by lunch with Vice President Biden. National Economic Council director Lawrence Summers is speaking at the Peterson Institute "to provide a progress report on economic policy and Obama Administration efforts to rescue and rebuild the U.S. economy."

    Sonia Sotomayor completed four days of testimony yesterday, and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy scheduled a committee vote for Tuesday. However, Republicans have indicated they will delay the vote one week.

    House committees worked through the night on a health care plan, in a rush to complete and vote on the bill before the August recess. On the House floor today, votes will be held on a wild horses health and management bill, as well as the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act. The Senate has scheduled no roll call votes today.

    The National Governors Association meets in Biloxi, Miss., this weekend, though no more than 30 governors are expected to attend, due largely to state budget constraints.

    **President Obama
    *New York Times covers the president's NAACP speech, saying he "delivered a fiery sermon to black America." He was "one part politician and one part black preacher as he spoke in lilting cadences, his voice quiet at times, thundering at others, in unusually personal terms." He urged black parents to accept their own responsibilities by 'putting away the Xbox and putting our kids to bed at a reasonable hour,' and telling black children that growing up poor is no reason to get bad grades." Obama: "Your destiny is in your hands, and don't you forget that. That's what we have to teach all of our children! No excuses! No excuses!"

    *Joe Biden challenged Eric Cantor in his backyard yesterday over stimulus spending, the Richmond Times Dispatch reports. Without naming Cantor, Biden said: "The very guy who says this [stimulus] is not working wants to make sure you get high-speed rail. ... Now where do you think that money is coming from?"

    *But ABC suspects that the White House is shifting terminology on the stimulus plan, saying rather than boosting the economy it was primarily "designed to cushion the downturn," as Robert Gibbs put it. "When pressed about the change in terminology, Gibbs said he was not trying to temper expectations after the fact."

    *Speaking of Cantor: "Further fueling speculation that House Republican Whip Eric Cantor is mulling a bid for the White House, new federal election reports show the Virginia Republican recently spent big bucks on speech coaching," The Sleuth reports.

    *The final word: asked about her role in policymaking in the Obama administration, Hillary Clinton said: "I broke my elbow, not my larynx."

    **Health Care
    *AP: "President Barack Obama's top domestic priority is on an unpredictable, midsummer trajectory as the White House and Democrats struggle to bring the complex, controversial issue to a vote in both houses before lawmakers leave town for their August break. As a sign of the urgency, some House members worked through the night. The Education and Labor Committee debated amendments to health care legislation until about 6 a.m. Friday and planned to resume at 9:15 a.m."

    *After a "sobering" warning from the CBO director, senators involved in health care talks said they "are making solid progress toward a compromise they claimed would hold down costs, addressing the budgetary concerns. But it could take more time to work out difficult issues," AP says, "and that means that Obama's timetable for floor votes in the House and Senate before August would slip."

    *"Three tax increases proposed by President Obama and House Democrats on the richest Americans could produce the highest tax rates in a quarter-century," USA Today reports. "Shifting the cost of health care, Social Security and other budget priorities toward high-income Americans would mean an actual tax rate above 45% for the wealthiest -- 'levels never seen,' says Clint Stretch, a tax expert at Deloitte Tax LLP.

    *Harry Reid lashed out at the CBO director, who yesterday warned that the health care reform effort would only add to the government's long term costs. Per The Examiner: "What he should do is maybe run for Congress," Reid said. Speaker Pelosi, meanwhile, said Elmendorf did not take into consideration savings the administration expects. "I think we can bend the curve more," in terms of cutting costs from the bill, she said.

    *Politico: "It's tempting to say it was just that kind of day in health care -- except lately it seems like most every day goes a little like this in the up-and-down negotiations over a $1 trillion health care overhaul, where every hint of good news for Democrats is met by a clear reminder that success is still a long way off."

    *"As a divided Senate tangles over health care legislation, there is bipartisan consensus on one point: Ted Kennedy could make a big difference, if only he were here," NY Times reports.

    *"For a brief moment Thursday, Senate Democrats could celebrate. Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus suggested for the first time publicly he was hoping for a bipartisan deal to pay for health care reform by the end of the day. The good feelings didn't last long," Politico reports.

    *"The American Medical Association (AMA), which helped torpedo the Clinton administration's effort to revamp the nation's healthcare system 15 years ago, endorsed the House Democrats' health bill on Thursday," The Hill reports.

    *Politics Daily's Jill Lawrence: "It would be an understatement to say expectations were high when the Obama high command announced it was turning Obama For America into Organizing For America and moving it from Chicago to DNC headquarters in Washington. Yet for a while, the fabled grassroots troops that powered Obama to the White House appeared to be AWOL. It seemed that the "movement" and its massive 13 million name e-mail list had been lost in transition. Well, they're back, and the next three crucial weeks should give us some indication of whether Team Obama has successfully transformed an election campaign operation into an issue advocacy shop."

    **Sotomayor
    *"Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor won virtual assurance of rapid confirmation yesterday when Senate Republicans announced that they do not intend to block a vote that would make her the first Hispanic on the nation's highest court, concluding three days of intense questioning," Washington Post reports.

    *AP reports that the Sotomayor on display in the Senate this week was the same judge observers have seen at work in New York. "Sotomayor beamed warmth as she entered the hearing room each day and was greeted by a kiss from her mother. ... But as the chairman's gavel each day banged the committee to order and senators began firing questions at her, she transformed into the intensely focused 55-year-old jurist who chose each word as carefully as a diamond cutter works on a stone."

    *"Any prospect of a hitch to Judge Sotomayor's confirmation evaporated after the potentially most compelling witness -- Frank Ricci, the firefighter at the center of a controversial reverse-discrimination case she had ruled on -- declined to offer an opinion on her at all," WSJ reports.

    *"Sonia Sotomayor's success at her Supreme Court confirmation hearing has some Republicans in a tight spot, with conservative senators forced to weigh the political calculus of voting on the court's first Latina nominee, who also is the first liberal nominee in 15 years," AP reports.

    **Campaign Stuff
    *KS Sen: "Kansas Republicans no longer wonder whether 1 of the two veteran congressmen running for the U.S. Senate will drop out of the race. Jerry Moran and Todd Tiahrt are building statewide organizations, collecting endorsements and trying to raise several million dollars. That's crucial early work for the August 2010 primary election campaign," AP reports.

    *Former Rep. Jim Ryun endorsed Rep. Todd Tiahrt over Rep. Jerry Moran in the Kansas Senate GOP primary.

    *In the National Journal insiders poll, a majority of Democrats thinks Sarah Palin would be a liability for candidates in 2010, while "a smaller majority of Republicans thought she would be an asset."

    *The New York Times reports that Jon Corzine is for the first time in his political career reaching out aggressively for campaign donations. "Mr. Corzine is trying to raise upward of $15 million from donors, according to people involved, which he hopes to match with no more than $25 million of his own. He is calling wealthy donors personally to ask for money, holding receptions and staging larger events, like a performance by Jon Bon Jovi last month. On Thursday, President Obama joined him at a $5,000- to $10,000-a-plate luncheon expected to raise more than $1 million."

    *Rep. Mike Castle continues to battle his leadership over the already-passed energy bill, which The Hill suggests is another sign he won't be running for re-election in 2010.

    *Cillizza reports that Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who will announce his Senate candidacy Monday, plans to raise $25 million for the race.

    *Jim Bunning's fundraising total is called pathetic in the Cincinnati Enquirer. "Bunning was out-raised over the last three months by all of the other major candidates and potential rivals either in or considering next year's Kentucky U.S. Senate race." He raised just $302,466 during the second quarter, and has $595,571 in the bank.

    --Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

    Stumping For Corzine, Obama Also Sells Health Care

    In his first official campaign event since his own election, President Obama urged New Jerseyans to return Jon Corzine to the governor's office this fall, calling him "a leader who's been called to govern in some extraordinary times." But Obama spent as much, if not more time at the event pushing his own agenda, especially health care.

    "We have talked and talked and talked about fixing health care for decades. And we have finally reached a point where inaction is no longer an option -- where the choice to defer reform is nothing more than a decision to defend the status quo," he told tens of thousands at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel. "I will not defend the status quo."

    He conceded the effort is not easy, and his fiery speech reflected increasing skepticism that a deal can be reached on the timetable he originally sought.

    "You're going to hear the same scare tactics from special interest groups that have been used to kill health care reform for decades," he said. "You're going to hear a lot of nonsense." So he tried to sell his plan to an audience he conceded might already be "satisfied with their health care right now." To critics, he said people need to ask what their plan is.

    Corzine wasn't entirely overshadowed, standing behind the president throughout the speech and applauding throughout. Obama rattled off a number of accomplishments, saying he "has provided more property tax relief than any other governor in New Jersey history," and was "the first governor in 60 years who has reduced the size of government," among other things. But he acknowledged what's at the root of Corzine's challenge: a faltering economy.

    "He's been tested by the worst recession in half a century -- a recession that was caused by years of recklessness and irresponsibility and a do-nothing attitude," Obama said. "It was caused by the same small thinking that has plagued our politics for decades -- the kind of thinking that says we can afford to just tinker around with our problems, we can put off the tough decisions, defer the big challenges. We can just tell people what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear."

    Corzine's re-election strategy relies in part on him convincing voters in the increasingly Democratic state to again vote against the Republican, and Obama's rhetoric amplified that. But polls show that not only are voters more concerned with state issues, but that even presidential support won't tip the scales.

    Obama also helped raise $1 million for Garden State Democrats earlier. Tonight, he'll raise money for the DNC after speaking at the NAACP Convention.

    NH Sen Poll: Ayotte And Hodes Neck-And-Neck

    A DailyKos/Research 2000 poll of New Hampshire voters shows a close race for Rep. Paul Hodes (D) against two potential Republican opponents, soon-to-be-former Attorney General Kelly Ayotte and former Rep. Charlie Bass.

    General Election Matchups
    Ayotte 39
    Hodes 38
    Undecided 21

    Hodes 42
    Bass 37
    Undecided 19

    None of the three are well known statewide. Hodes defeated Bass in 2006 in the Second Congressional District; Ayotte was appointed to her post.

    Favorability Ratings
    Favorable / Unfavorable / No Opinion
    Hodes 34 / 21 / 45
    Bass 31 / 23 / 46
    Ayotte 36 / 13 / 51
    Obama 62 / 30 / 8

    Democrat John Lynch appears on safe ground if he chooses to seek an unprecedented fourth two-year term as Granite State governor.

    Lynch Re-Elect
    Vote To Re-elect 61
    Consider Alternative 24
    Replace 15

    The survey of 600 likely voters was conducted July 13-15, and had a margin of error of +/- 4 percent.

    Groups Question Sotomayor on 2nd Amendment

    Sonia Sotomayor completed three days of question-and-answer sessions today, and now must wait until July 28 to find out whether the Senate Judiciary Committee will approve her nomination. If she's approved, as expected, leaders in both parties have said a vote will come before the August recess.

    While members of both parties expect Sotomayor to receive bi-partisan support when the full Senate votes, some organizations are playing up her answers on the 2nd Amendment in a push for Republicans to oppose her.

    In a lengthy statement, the National Rifle Association announced today it opposes Sotomayor's confirmation based on her answers on the 2nd Amendment. The Republican National Committee released a web video, titled "Tough to Say," that questions what Sotomayor's stance on the 2nd Amendment is.

    Chu Can Get Comfortable

    Barring a serious challenge from within her own party, Democrat Judy Chu can look forward to a long career in Washington. The 56-year-old will become the newest member of Congress today after winning Tuesday's special election in California's 32nd District.

    Ms. Chu defeated Republican Betty Chu, her cousin by marriage, with 62% of the vote and replaces former five-term Congresswoman Hilda Solis, who now serves as the U.S. Secretary of Labor.

    The 32nd District, shaped like the state of Virginia and lying east of Los Angeles, is majority-Hispanic and friendly Democratic territory. President Obama won 68% of the vote in 2008, while Ms. Solis went unchallenged. In fact, the last time Ms. Solis faced a Republican challenger was 2002, when she won 69%. Betty Chu, a Monterey Park city councilmember who had switched parties to become a Republican, had only one hope of winning: a fluke victory due to exceptionally low turnout. But though winner Judy Chu ended up collecting a mere 15,238 votes, her tally was twice cousin Betty's.

    This was the second special election Ms. Chu has won in her political career. Before her election in 2006 to the California Board of Equalization, a state tax administration board, Ms. Chu was elected to the State Assembly in May 2001 and served three terms. Term-limited in 2006, she was succeeded by her husband, Mike Eng.

    Ms. Solis was a state legislator in her pre-Washington days as well. In 1994 she became the first Latina elected to the California Senate. After she's sworn in today by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Ms. Chu will become the first Chinese-American elected to Congress (for which she earned a Twitter message of congratulations from Barack Obama).

    Her election leaves just one remaining vacancy in the House. Former California congresswoman Ellen Tauscher left her 10th District seat last month after being appointed as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. A special election for her Bay Area seat will be held September 1.

    Pressure Building On White House Over Health Care Exclusion

    On several fronts today, the White House is facing pressure to abandon its resistance to taxing employer-based health insurance plans to finance a reform plan.

    That was a major campaign issue in 2008, and then-Sen. Obama's campaign harshly criticized John McCain for proposing to eliminate the exclusion that health insurance received. A TV ad said health care would "unravel" under McCain's plan. When the White House has been asked about any specific proposals with regard to financing health care it has generally declined to comment, with the exception of the exclusion.

    Today, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chair of the Finance Committee, told reporters today that Obama "is not helping us" by holding firm to his opposition to taxing benefits. "That is making it difficult," he said.

    Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who met with Obama at the White House today, said she understands Obama's concern about eliminating the exclusion, and said they'd have to "draw a very high line to make sure the average worker wasn't effected" by such a change. But, in an interview with NBC's Andrea Mitchell, she suggested that he may have to change course. "The president would obviously have to come out and express support or endorse that because obviously he was opposed to that during the presidential campaign," she said.

    But the most damaging blow to the White House came from Doug Elmendorf, head of the Congressional Budget Office. Testifying in the Senate today, he warned that rather than "bending the curve" of government health care spending, as the White House has repeatedly argued reform would, the proposals currently under consideration "significantly expands the federal responsibility for health care costs."

    "The way I would put it is that the curve is being raised, so there is a justifiable focus on growth rates because of course it is the compounding of growth rates faster than the economy that leads to these unsustainable paths," he said.

    Asked what would "bend the curve," Elmendorf suggested -- you guessed it -- eliminating the health care exclusion.

    "We have a subsidy for larger health insurance policies in our tax code, and that like other subsidies encourages more of that activity. Reducing that subsidy would reduce that," he said.

    The White House has not yet responded to requests for comment.

    Dem Leaders See GOP Support for Sotomayor

    Senators Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) believe Sonia Sotomayor won't need to rely solely on Democratic votes for confirmation.

    The three Democratic leaders, along with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), lavished praise on the Supreme Court nominee today in their weekly off-camera briefing with reporters and said they expect some of their colleagues from the other side of aisle to back President Obama's nominee.

    "I think that when it's all over, it's not going to be just Democrats who" vote for her, Reid said. "I think there's going to be a vote with a number of Republicans voting for her."

    Durbin said "a number of Republicans" have spoken with him, and it's his belief that "she will receive a substantial number of Republican votes. I can't tell you how many."

    Schumer, who formally introduced Sotomayor to the Judiciary Committee on Monday, concurred. "I think we're going to get a good number of Republican votes," Schumer said.

    "She's just wowed the committee," said Schumer. "A number of Republicans came over to me after the first day and then the second day and said, 'Wow, she is good.' They knew they didn't lay much of a glove on her."

    Reid said he hopes the committee hearings will "end soon" so Sotomayor's confirmation can be brought up for a vote "as soon as possible." He also indicated that before the Senate breaks August 7 for its month-long recess the chamber will vote on the Department of Defense Authorization Act, Sotomayor's confirmation and health care.

    Dems Hold Open Vote For Appropriations Bill

    Republicans on the House floor booed and hissed as Democrats held the vote open on the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill. H. Res. 644 ended up passing 216-213.

    The spending legislation appeared to not pass as time ran out on the vote, with the Nays up by two votes. However, the Democratic Nay votes began decreasing while the Yeas simultaneously increased, still with "0:00" remaining.

    Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) was the last to vote, as he hobbled on crutches to the front of the floor and turned in his green voting card, boosting the margin of passage to three votes.

    After a GOP parliamentary inquiry, asked to the acting speaker, regarding whether the vote was held open to change the outcome of the vote, the speaker responded: "The vote was held open for the minimum amount of time ... There is no maximum."

    The Republicans responded: "Boo!"

    RNC Raises $8M in June

    The Republican National Committee announced today it raised $8 million last month, leaving it with $23.7 million on hand and no debt as of the end of June. Last month's haul is a bump from previous months -- the RNC raised $5.7 million in May and $5.8 million in April.

    "The RNC had another month of strong fundraising," said RNC Chairman Michael Steele. "We are thankful to the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have contributed to the financial success of our Party. We have important campaigns this year and are able to be fully engaged through the generosity of our donors."

    NJ Gov Poll: Obama's Corzine Backing Has Little Impact

    Just in time for the President's visit to New Jersey, Monmouth University releases its latest survey of the gubernatorial race, again showing Republican challenger Chris Christie ahead of Jon Corzine (D).

    General Election Matchup (Likely Voters)
    (Overall / Dem / Ind / Rep)
    Christie 45 / 17 / 47 / 78
    Corzine 37 / 67 / 24 / 10
    Daggett 4 / 4 / 7 / 4
    Don't Know 13 / 11 / 20 / 8

    Christie's lead is 6 among registered voters, 43-37. That's an increase from a 39-35 lead in Monmouth's last survey in April. Among voters who say they are sure of their choice, Christie has a 29-25 edge among likely voters.

    Favorability Ratings
    Corzine 41 / 50
    Christie 43 / 24
    Daggett 6 / 9

    Voters overwhelmingly say property taxes are the most important issue -- 49 percent. Another 8 percent say income taxes, and 5 percent say sales taxes. But 23 percent say the economy is the top issue for them.

    Looking at President Obama, he has a 56 percent approval rating among likely voters, with 34 percent disapproving. Yet when asked if they are satisfied with how things are going in Washington, only 38 percent say yes and 54 percent say no. Though some say the 2009 gubernatorial elections could be a referendum on Obama's policies, 75 percent of New Jersey likely voters say they'll decide their vote based on state and local issues. Another 69 percent say that President Obama campaigning for Corzine will have no impact on their decision. Actually, 17 percent say it would make them less likely to support him, while only 13 percent say it would help him.

    The telephone poll was conducted by Braun Research from July 9-14, with a sample of 792 registered voters and margin of error of +/- 3.5 percent. The likely voter subsample of 527 voters had a margin of error of +/- 4.3 percent. Christie maintains a 10.4 point average in the RCP Average.

    Strategy Memo: Campaigner In Chief

    President Obama starts his day at the White House lobbying a conservative Democrat - Ben Nelson - and a moderate Republican - Olympia Snowe - on health care. From there, he becomes the partisan in chief, flying to New Jersey to campaign for Gov. Jon Corzine's re-election. The visit includes a fundraiser and a rally at the PNC Bank Arts Center. He then heads to New York to address the NAACP's 100th Anniversary Convention, followed by a fundraiser for the DNC at the Waldorf Astoria.

    Vice President Biden also has some campaign activity on his schedule in Virginia. But first, he'll hold a Middle Class Task Force event on health care in Alexandria, and then a stimulus-related event in Richmond. He ends the day with a fundraiser for Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Creigh Deeds.

    It's Day 4 of the Sonia Sotomayor confirmation hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will resume at 9:30 a.m. After continued questioning from committee members, the committee is scheduled to hear from outside witnesses called by both the majority and minority.

    The Senate will resume consideration of the Department of Defense Authorization Act. The House will vote on the Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill and also consider the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill. And Judy Chu, fresh off a special election victory Tuesday in California's 32nd District, will be sworn in today, leaving just one more vacancy in the House. Democrats now have a 256-178 seat advantage.

    **Sonia Sotomayor Hearings
    *L.A. Times: "Sotomayor, relying on her long judicial record, gave detailed explanations of her court decisions but steadfastly refused to engage Republicans who were interested in her views on abortion, the 2nd Amendment and same-sex marriage. She dismissed as "abstract" questions of whether a state could limit late-term abortions or whether advances in medical care for premature babies could curb the period of time when abortion is legal."

    *Broder: "The combination of an over-rehearsed witness and opposition senators fighting without much ammunition robbed the Sonia Sotomayor confirmation hearings of their expected drama. Those who watched the proceedings were left only with the occasional reminder of past Supreme Court battles and the promise of more to come."

    *NYT: "By forcing Judge Sotomayor to retreat from Mr. Obama's desire for justices with "empathy," Republicans have effectively set a new standard that future nominees will be pressed to meet. The Republicans hope their aggressive questioning of Judge Sotomayor on race discrimination, gun control and the death penalty will make it harder for Mr. Obama to choose a more outspoken liberal in the future."

    **Health Care
    *AP: "House Democrats are preparing to advance legislation that would deliver on President Barack Obama's promise to remake the nation's costly health care system and cover some 50 million uninsured."

    **President Obama
    *AP previews the NAACP speech: "Obama also planned to urge young people to aspire to surpass their role models and resist the lure of mediocrity during a speech Thursday to the NAACP. White House aides said the president did not intend to introduce new programs or policy, instead striking an inspirational tone on the 100th birthday of the civil rights groups."

    *The Hill: Obama's address will be a homecoming of sorts for many NAACP members who didn't think they would see a black man in the White House in their lifetime. Yet some NAACP officials say the president's general approach to the economy and unemployment has not gone far enough to address the specific concerns of the black community.

    *Unemployment: "The Federal Reserve raised its fourth-quarter unemployment forecast to as much as 10.1% and said the jobless rate would be higher than anticipated through 2011 but it also boosted its economic-growth projections, according to a report released Wednesday."

    *NY Times on the Hillary Clinton speech: "Faced with a White House that has tended to centralize control over policy, Mrs. Clinton is defending her prerogatives as an influential, but loyal, member of the president's team. ... Mrs. Clinton is said by her aides to brush off the scuttlebutt about her low profile. They note that she kept her head down early in her Senate career, too."

    **Fundraising Numbers
    *OH Sen: Rob Portman (R) raised $1.7 million in the second quarter, ahead of Democrats Lee Fisher ($900,000) and Jennifer Brunner ($228,000).

    *MO Sen: "Republican Roy Blunt posted a strong fundraising quarter to pull ahead of Democrat Robin Carnahan in cash available." Blunt raised $1.4 million in the second quarter and has $1.8 million on hand; Carnahan raised $1 million and has $1.4 million cash on hand.

    *CT Sen: The Day reports, Chris Dodd reported $1.2 million in new contributions, "putting him well in front of his most serious well-funded challengers, including former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons and former ambassador to Ireland Thomas C. Foley." But opponents are "already seeking to capitalize on what they portray as evidence of his close connection to the very industries over which he has oversight as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee and acting chair of the committee crafting a key health care reform bill."

    *NY Sen: Gannett reports that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) raised $1.5M in the 2ndQ and has $3.2M in the bank. Her potential Dem primary opponent, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, raised $577k and has $1.66M in the bank. CQ reports that Rep. Peter King (R) has $1.3M in the bank after raising $246k in the 2ndQ.

    *KY Sen: Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo (D) said he raised $302,993, putting him well behind Atty Gen. Jack Conway (D), who raised $1.3 million. Sen. Jim Bunning (R) did not publicly release his campaign numbers.

    *ND Sen: Sen. Byron Dorgan (D) raised $1 million for what could be a tough race if Gov. John Hoeven (R) decides to challenge him. "Hoeven has said he intends to decide by early September whether he will run against Dorgan, who is seeking his fourth Senate term."

    *TX Sen: Houston Mayor Bill White (D) raised $1.8 million, more than $800,000 of which is personal funds. Former state Comptroller John Sharp (D) raised $656,000.

    *CO Sen: Appointed Sen. Mike Bennett raised $1.2 million, and has $2.2 million cash on hand.

    *UT Sen: Facing several challenges, Sen. Bob Bennett raised $700,000 in the second quarter. Rep. Jim Matheson (D), who may run for Senate, has over $1 million in the bank.

    *AK Sen: Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) has $1 million in the bank, including $5k from Sarah Palin's PAC, AP reports

    **Other Campaign Stuff
    *Gallup: "About one in four Republicans and Republican-leaning independents make Mitt Romney their top choice for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, giving him a slight edge over Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is the choice of 14% of Republicans, with much smaller numbers choosing current Govs. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and Haley Barbour of Mississippi."

    *A Rasmussen poll of 373 likely Democratic primary voters in New York shows Rep. Carolyn Maloney leading Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand 33-27.

    *PolitickerNJ: "President Barack Obama lands on a stage today against the backdrop of a party frantically trying to figure out what to do about Gov. Jon Corzine's apparent number one choice for lieutenant governor," Randal Pinkett of "Apprentice" fame.

    The Newark Star-Ledger preemptively slams the choice. "It raises this question: Governor, are you serious? And this one: What, no one from "Survivor" is available?"

    *Marco Rubio denies a report from CongressDaily that he was considering dropping his Florida Senate bid and instead running for state attorney general. "It's not true," Rubio said before addressing a meeting of the Northeast Leon County Conservative Club.

    *Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) will announce his Senate candidacy on Monday, the Tribune reports. "Kirk's path became clearer when state GOP Chairman Andy McKenna said he wouldn't oppose the congressman in a Senate primary bid, a move he considered during Kirk's lengthy period of indecision. Kirk's bid also was aided by Democratic Illinois Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan's decision to seek re-election instead."

    **Outer Space
    *ABC News: "Apollo 11 launched from Cape Kennedy on July 16, 1969, carrying Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin. Four days later, the world watched as Armstrong stepped onto the moon and made his "giant leap for mankind." Where are the astronauts now? Click through to find out.

    *Buzz Aldrin, in WaPo: "Forty years ago today, Neil Armstrong, Mike Collins and I began our quarter-million-mile journey through the blackness of space to reach the moon. ... Much has been said recently about the Vision for Space Exploration and the future of the international space station. As we all reflect upon our historic lunar journey and the future of the space program, I challenge America's leaders to think boldly and look beyond the moon. Yes, my vision of "Mars for America" requires bold thinking. But as my friend and Gemini crewmate Jim Lovell has noted, our Apollo days were a time when we did bold things in space to achieve leadership. It is time we were bold again in space."

    --Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

    Rift? What Rift

    Robert Gibbs today discounted speculation of a frosty relationship between President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, calling such reports old news.

    "The Secretary of State is somebody who the president relies on greatly," he said. "She has an enormously important role in the development of, the execution of a foreign policy that changes our image in the world. ... The notion that there's some rift or disagreement is nothing more than silly Washington games."

    The president did not watch her speech today at the Council of Foreign Relations, but Gibbs said that the White House signed off on her remarks. Clinton "outlined very forcefully the concept for a framework of changing our foreign policy in the world," Gibbs said.

    Obama Stumping For Friend In Need

    Previewing tomorrow's campaign rally with the New Jersey governor, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said President Obama considers Jon Corzine a friend, and that despite tough times he has earned a second term.

    "Obviously [it's] a state that has been hit pretty hard, as many states have been, with economic difficulties," Gibbs said. "He thinks he's doing a good job and should be re-elected."

    Gibbs noted that Corzine, as a senator in 2004, headed the Democratic campaign committee that worked with Obama when he won election to the Senate. He's "a friend," and he even "has some affection for the fact that Corzine was a basketball player" in college.

    Gibbs also noted that New Jersey is a state where "the president did well" in 2008. Acknowledging that, Corzine's Republican opponent launched a Web video welcoming the president, and argued that the appetite for change that helped Obama carry the Garden State will also result in a change in Trenton.

    "Your election didn't end the people's hunger for change in New Jersey," he said. "People understand that high taxes, high spending, overzealous regulation and loss jobs is not the way they want New Jersey's future to be."

    He said he hopes that while riding on the Garden State Parkway, he hopes he listens to some Bruce Springsteen, and maybe even stops for some salt-water taffy.

    "After I'm elected in November and sworn in in January, you'll be getting an invitation to come back and visit with me," he adds.

    Obama Tries To "Buck Up" Health Care Effort

    With discernible progress being made in both the House and Senate, President Obama said that the goal of health care reform is within reach. Joined by nurses and key lawmakers, the president said that action on the Hill makes him "hopeful - but it shouldn't make us complacent."

    "It should instead provide the urgency for both the House and the Senate to finish their critical work on health reform before the August recess," he said.

    He said the Senate and House proposals both meet his general principles, specifying provisions for a health insurance exchange and "a public health insurance option that would make health care more affordable by increasing competition." And in a stern message to Republicans, Obama also chose to point out that legislation moved by the Senate HELP Committee included 160 Republican amendments, "a hopeful sign of bipartisan support for the final product," if Republicans are "serious about bipartisanship."

    "It's time to buck up Congress, this administration, the entire federal government" to pass health care now, he said.

    Among the lawmakers with Obama was Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who is moving health care legislation on the HELP committee in Sen. Ted Kennedy's (D-Mass.) absence. It was just the latest significant boost for the embattled Democrat as he heads toward a re-election year.

    VA Gov Poll: McDonnell +3

    GOP nominee Bob McDonnell leads his Democratic opponent by 3 points in the race for governor of Virginia, according to the latest Rasmussen poll (July 14, 500 LV).

    State Sen. Creigh Deeds (D) led by 6 points in the last Rasmussen poll, taken the day after the June 9 Democratic primary -- in which Deeds crushed his better-known opponents, Terry McAuliffe and Brian Moran. However, McDonnell -- who resigned as attorney general earlier this year -- has led every poll since.

    McDonnell leads with 44% to 41% for Deeds, and 12% undecided, and McDonnell's favorability rating (50% favorable/27% unfavorable) is slightly better than Deeds's (49% favorable/35% unfavorable).

    The candidates released their post-primary fundraising totals earlier this week, which accounted for the amount they raised from May 28 through June 30. Deeds raised $3.4 million in that time span, leaving him with $2.7 million in the bank. McDonnell raised far less, $1.8 million, but has $4.9 million cash on hand.

    GOP Senators Not Happy With Answers

    "I don't think the nominee's answers today are any clearer than they have been," Judiciary ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) told reporters during the 15-minute break in confirmation hearings this morning. "It's muddled, confusing, backtracking on issue after issue. I frankly am a bit disappointed in the lack of clarity and consistency in her answers."

    "We have not yet had satisfactory answers," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

    Republicans aren't happy with what Sonia Sotomayor has had to say today, through four questioners -- two Democrats and two Republicans. Unfortunately for the GOP, though, they're out of members.

    Just four Democrats are left to ask Sotomayor 30 minutes worth of questions, though Republicans will have a another shot at her in the second round, with 20 minutes allotted to each.

    Sotomayor Hearings, Day 3

    The Senate Judiciary Committee is closing in on two hours of question-and-answer with Sonia Sotomayor today. Starting 9:30 a.m., with 30 minutes alloted to each senator, Sotomayor's has faced questions from John Cornyn (R-Texas), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

    The remaining four members of the committee -- all Democrats -- will question Sotomayor today as well. They include, in order, Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Ed Kaufman (Del.), Arlen Specter (Pa.) and Al Franken (Minn.).

    Eleven committe members questioned Sotomayor yesterday -- the most tense moments coming in the afternoon during Sen. Lindsey Graham's (R-S.C.) 30 minutes. For more on Graham and his approach to the confirmation hearings, check out my story today.

    South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) has bigger plans for the Supreme Court confirmation hearings than simply scrutinizing Sonia Sotomayor's judicial record and credentials. Graham wants to show the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee that disagreeing with a nominee's ideology is not reason enough to vote against them.

    Watch the hearings live at RealClearPolitics Video.

    Talkin' Baseball: Ozzie vs. Rahm

    During yesterday's All-Star Game trip, President Obama also sat down with Bob Costas for an interview to air on the MLB Network.

    Obama talks about his first time at a Major League Game, as an 11-year-old watching the Royals play in Kansas City. He also jokes about similarities between the Chicago White Sox's manager and his chief of staff.

    "We were trying to figure out who curses more, Ozzie Guillen or Rahm Emanuel." He said he thinks Guillen "takes the prize."

    Talking about his beloved Sox, Costas asks Obama if he can prove he wasn't on hand for the infamous "Disco Demolition Night."

    "Is this Hannity?" Obama jokingly asks of the tough question. He wasn't there, for the record.

    Costas also pointed out that Obama's predecessor was a great first-pitch thrower. The president concedes he probably doesn't measure up, but points out that President Bush probably had plenty of practice during his days as owner of the Texas Rangers. But Obama says he has improved at another sport: bowling. He plays "every once and a while" at Camp David, recently posting a score of 161

    Per the White House Web site, the interview will air throughout the week on MLB Network.

    Strategy Memo: Clinton Speaks

    President Obama spends the full day at the White House making another big pitch on health care. He reportedly is sitting down for interviews with medical correspondents from the TV networks. He'll also speak publicly on the reform effort from the Rose Garden this afternoon. Later, he meets with Secretaries Clinton and Gates in the Oval Office.

    Speaking of Secretary Clinton, she is set to deliver a major policy speech today at the Council of Foreign Relations. A State Department spokesperson said she will "lay out some of our approaches to implement President Obama's foreign policy vision."

    Sonia Sotomayor faces questions from eight more senators on the Judiciary Committee today after hearing from 11 yesterday. The hearing begins at 9:30 a.m.

    House Democrats unveiled a $1 trillion health care plan yesterday, and this morning House Republicans will hold a press conference to denounce it. The House will consider the Energy and Water Development appropriations bill, and the Senate resumes consideration of the Department of Defense Authorization bill.

    In election news, Judy Chu (D) won the special election in California's 32nd Congressional District with 62% of the vote. Chu will become the first Chinese-American woman elected to Congress, and replaces former Rep. Hilda Solis (D), who resigned her seat to serve as U.S. Labor Secretary.

    **President Obama
    *Gallup: "Americans who approve of the job President Barack Obama is doing largely cite his leadership in attempting to solve the nation's problems as the reason for conferring their approval. This accounts for 54% of his supporters. By contrast, nearly two-thirds of those who disapprove of Obama's job performance mention policy areas where they disagree with the president."

    *In Michigan yesterday, Obama signaled not to "count on auto industry jobs that have been lost in the state" coming back. The Free Press: "With a shout-out to two autoworkers who are learning new skills, Obama unveiled his initiative to 'reform and strengthen community colleges ... so that they get the resources students and schools need -- and the results workers and businesses demand.' His plan would boost community colleges with $12 billion in federal money over 10 years."

    *At the All-Star Game, he then joked about the country going broke and even trashed the Washington Nationals.

    *The White House is also targeting Sen. Jon Kyl over stimulus spending. AP: "The White House on Tuesday released letters from four cabinet secretaries to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, citing Kyl's comments and outlining transportation, housing, Indian education and other projects in his home state they said would be eliminated if the senator has his way. Kyl, the No. 2 Senate GOP leader, has said the stimulus spending hasn't succeeded in boosting the economy and that it's adding to the deficit. He's suggested on his Senate Web site and in interviews that spending not already allocated be halted."

    *AP notes that in addition to Secretary Clinton's major speech today, she heads off for an extended foreign trip tomorrow. "Clinton is trying to retake center stage as the administration's top foreign policy voice after four frustrating, low-profile weeks during which a fractured elbow forced her to cancel two overseas trips. Her diminishing presence abroad and at home, followed by her startling public criticism of the White House this week for delaying a key appointment, has prompted a flurry of speculation about whether her influence is waning inside President Barack Obama's Cabinet."

    **Sotomayor Confirmation Hearings
    *WaPo's Ruth Marcus asks "...why should Republican senators weighing President Obama's nominee give him more leeway to name justices to his liking than then-Sen. Obama was willing to accord President Bush when he voted against both Bush nominees?"

    *Kyle wrote that Lindsey Graham has asked the same thing -- but the second term senator from South Carolina thinks Obama's standard was wrong. "Since he first met Sotomayor, Graham has maintained that a conservative would never nominate her to the Supreme Court -- but that the standard of supporting a judicial nominee once utilized by the president who nominated her is off-base."

    *NYT: "In calm, low-key and at times legalistic testimony, Judge Sotomayor rebuffed hours of skeptical questions and stuck resolutely to her message that if confirmed to the Supreme Court, she would not let personal bias influence her rulings. In the first two hours alone, she said she ruled by applying "the law" or some variation at least two dozen times."

    *WSJ: "Judge Sonia Sotomayor, parrying tough Republican questioning, distanced herself from President Barack Obama's comments about judicial empathy, saying, "We don't apply feelings to facts."

    *LA Times: Sotomayor "backed away from her 'wise Latina' speeches and the suggestion that ethnic identity might sway her decisions." "Our life experiences do permit us to see some facts and understand them more easily than others," she said. But the "law is what commands the result," she noted.

    *Milbank: "One slip of the tongue could doom her otherwise secure appointment -- and the pressure to avoid error was evident in her eyelids. When Leahy asked her to explain her controversial remark about the superior judgment of a wise Latina woman, she blinked no fewer than 247 times during her answer. When Sessions asked her about the same remark, she blinked an additional 146 times. Her overall blink rate appeared to be between 90 and 100 per minute in the morning, calming to about 50 in the afternoon."

    **Health Care
    *"Congressional Democrats moved the ball forward on healthcare reform Tuesday, introducing a $1 trillion bill in the House as a key Senate panel inched closer to a deal. Three House committees will begin marking up their legislation before the end of the week, setting up what would be a historic vote on President Obama's signature domestic issue in just over two weeks," The Hill reports.

    *The health care bill unveiled by House Democrats yesterday calls for a tax -- on families earning between $350,000 and $500,000, an additional 1% in income tax. For those earning more than $1 million: an additional 5.4% tax. USA Today: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the bill will move quickly and reiterated that the House will vote on legislation before lawmakers return to their districts for the August recess. "Inaction is not an option for us," Pelosi said.

    *"Democrats invoked 60 years of legislative futility and plenty of old ghosts Tuesday as they insisted that this is the year they'll make health care available to all Americans. But party leaders have a long way to go -- in a very short time -- before Pelosi, Dingell and the rest can say they've achieved this long-sought legislative landmark," Politico reports.

    *Obama's campaign arm, Organizing for America, launched a 30-second TV ad in eight states, including six that a moderate Senate Democrat represents, encouraging residents to tell their senator to support health reform. ABC's Rick Klein notes that "pressuring Democrats to follow the president on health care reform marks a strategic shift by the DNC -- and represents the biggest gamble yet by the president's old campaign apparatus to turn the campaign's 13-million-person-plus army into legislative action."

    **Palin Watch
    *Guess what: Another ethics complaint was filed against Sarah Palin. The 18th such filing alleges she abused her office by campaigning for the vice presidency while accepting her gubernatorial salary.

    *Jonathan Martin doesn't find many Democrats who want Palin to campaign with them, as she said she would. "Interviews with a number of the most conservative Democrats in the House and Senate induced an awkward, stare-at-your-shoes unease when the prospect of appearing with Palin was posed."

    *At Huffington Post, John Kerry responds to Sarah Palin's op ed. "She manages to write about the climate change action in Congress without ever mentioning the reason we are doing this in the first place. It's like complaining about the cost of repairing a roof without factoring in the leaks destroying your home."

    *Over to Palin's colleague from South Carolina. Some interesting reading from The State, which reprints e-mails from reporters trying to get a scoop on the Sanford story. Some outlets, like Fox News Channel and the Washington Times, claimed to offer a friendly outlet if the governor chose to make his case. But our favorite: ABC's Jake Tapper trashing a "Today" show piece, and later trying to throw David Gregory under the bus.

    **Campaign Stuff
    *CA-32 Special Election: "State Board of Equalization member Judy Chu has won the special election for the 32nd Congressional District seat to become the first Chinese American woman in the House of Representatives. With 100% of the ballots counted, Chu, a Democrat, had 62% of the vote in Tuesday's election for the San Gabriel Valley-based seat vacated when Hilda Solis became U.S. Labor secretary," L.A. Times reports.

    *IL Sen: What was Mark Kirk doing in the Senate GOP weekly luncheon?

    *PA Sen: The NRSC endorsed Pat Toomey, Politico reports.

    *The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that Harry Reid's huge fundraising total -- $11 million through June, with as much as $25 million by November 2010 -- is deterring most potential foes.

    *Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) may be the subject of another probe, Washington Post reports.

    --Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

    Obama's All-Star Joke: "We're Out Of Money"

    Credit Fox's Joe Buck for this observation: the last time the National League won baseball's All-Star Game, Barack Obama was just running for election to the Illinois State Senate.

    The play-by-play man pointed that out to the president himself as he joined Buck and Tim McCarver in the broadcast booth tonight. Obama asked the announcers why that was, and as he gave his thoughts, Buck joked that there was "no bailout plan in place" for the senior circuit.

    "No man, we're out of money," Obama quickly replied, drawing a huge laugh from McCarver.

    A funny one-liner, to be sure. But perhaps not the smartest thing for a president to say in tough economic times, or on the same day he praised the House of Representatives for a health care bill that costs $1 trillion. Obama has gotten himself in trouble before for other one-liners, most recently a crack about the Special Olympics on "The Tonight Show," and an odd comment seeming to mock Nancy Reagan for astrology.

    Otherwise, it was a good visit by Obama to the All-Star Game, even despite a less-than-inspired first pitch. Sporting a White Sox jacket and jeans, he tossed a looper to Albert Pujols that bounced just in front of home plate.

    "I did not play organized baseball when I was a kid. And so I think some of these natural moves aren't so natural to me," Obama explained after.

    Talking baseball with the announcers, he declined to pick a favorite in the World Series, saying he preferred to wait til he had more information. He singled out Dodgers for playing great ball, but otherwise said it was great to see parity, giving fans everywhere hope.

    Oh, except for the lowly Washington Nationals -- they're "still young," said Obama, who has yet to visit the hometown team. Buck pointed out that they just fired their manager, Manny Acta. Just another unemployed American for Obama to worry about.

    First Fan Donning Sox Stripes Tonight

    When President Obama takes to the mound at Busch Stadium in about an hour, he'll be sporting the logo of his favorite club -- the Chicago White Sox.

    If Obama was a fan of the North Siders, he probably wouldn't be so bold in the stadium of the Cubs' biggest rivals, the Cardinals, especially in a red state he narrowly lost. But the good fans of the Gateway City are likely to be more accommodating of the Sox logo. So the real pressure is on that first pitch. Here's what the President said about it this morning.

    "I think it's fair to say that I wanted to loosen up my arm a little bit. You know, my general strategy the last time I threw a pitch was at the American League Championship Series and I just wanted to keep it high. Now, there was no clock on it, I don't know how fast it went -- but if it exceeded 30 miles per hour, I'd be surprised. But it did clear the plate."

    Robert Gibbs later told reporters on Air Force One that Obama practiced a bit with his personal aide, Reggie Love. Gibbs also noted that the last first pitch Obama threw preceded eight straight wins for the Sox, en route to their first championship in nearly a century.

    Pawlenty, Gingrich To Talk Health Care

    Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich pays a courtesy call to Minneapolis tomorrow, joining Gov. Tim Pawlenty for a discussion on the hot topic in Washington: health care. From Pawlenty's office:

    Governor Pawlenty and Speaker Gingrich, founder of the Center for Health Transformation, will present "The Future of Health and Healthcare in Minnesota," a conversation focusing on current opportunities and strategies within the state of Minnesota.

    Gingrich has been active on the health care front, even teaming up with Hillary Clinton during her time as senator on common ground: modernizing medical records. Now he shares the spotlight with another potential 2012 rival on an issue where the governor has less of a profile

    Confirmation Hearings Done for the Day

    Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has called into recess the hearings on the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Eleven of the 19 committee members questioned the nominee today, and questioning will begin again tomorrow at 9:30 a.m.

    Following the hearing's conclusion, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said Sotomayor put on "a bravura performance." Asked if he'd learned anything about the nomninee over the last couple of days of confirmation hearings, Leahy said, "Not really."

    Army Major: Obama Not Commander In Chief

    At Monday's press briefing, the one and only Les Kingsolving asked Robert Gibbs for at least the second time in recent weeks about what for some is the unresolved question of whether President Obama was, as the Constitution requires, born in the United States of America. Gibbs used the occasion for quite a bit of lighthearted sparring, while stating again unequivocally that Obama was the legitimate president.

    "Do all of your listeners and the listeners throughout this country the service to which any journalist owes those listeners, and that is the pursuit of the noble truth," Gibbs told Kingsolving. "And the noble truth is that the President was born in Hawaii, a state of the United States of America. And all of this incredible back-and-forth -- I get e-mails today from people who inexplicably can figure out very easily the White House e-mail address, and want proof of where the President was born."

    Now, courtesy of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, comes an example of one such person who believes Obama is not the president, and therefore not commander in chief.

    U.S. Army Maj. Stefan Frederick Cook, set to deploy to Afghanistan, says he shouldn't have to go.

    His reason?

    Barack Obama was never eligible to be president because he wasn't born in the United States.

    Cook's lawyer, Orly Taitz, who has also challenged the legitimacy of Obama's presidency in other courts, filed a request last week in federal court seeking a temporary restraining order and status as a conscientious objector for his client.

    More here.

    NRSC Endorses Toomey

    The National Republican Senatorial Committee endorsed Pennsylvania Senate candidate Pat Toomey today, three months after he announced his bid and 10 months before the GOP primary -- though he's facing no major challenger at the moment.

    The NRSC initially considered the former congressman too conservative to win statewide, though clearly changed its mind. The campaign committee received heat earlier this year for endorsing Florida Gov. Charlie Crist so early in a primary race against the more-conservative Marco Rubio. At that time, the NRSC said it endorsed so early because Crist best fits the state.

    Here is the full statement from NRSC Chairman John Cornyn:

    "Congressman Pat Toomey's life experience and public service make him uniquely qualified to serve Pennsylvanians in the U.S. Senate. Through hard work and self-reliance, Pat Toomey has successfully represented a Democrat-leaning district and accomplished much in his private sector endeavors. Congressman Toomey is a vigorous and determined advocate for the people of Pennsylvania, and he is clearly guided by principles instead of political opportunism.

    "As the Keystone State struggles in our nation's current economic crisis, I know that Pat Toomey will ably fight for less government and lower taxes on behalf of families and small businesses. Congressman Toomey will help restore the checks and balances in Washington that Pennsylvanians deserve, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee will fully support his bid to become the next U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania."

    The Toomey campaign released the following statement from the candidate in response to the NRSC's endorsement:

    "I am honored to have the National Republican Senatorial Committee's endorsement along with the wave of support I have received from people all across Pennsylvania. Pennsylvanians are looking for thoughtful policies instead of the extremism they are witnessing in Washington today. Over the next sixteen months, I will continue to bring my message of fiscal responsibility, political balance, and economic growth to voters across the Commonwealth."

    Spotted: Mark Kirk at the Senate GOP Luncheon

    Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who has reportedly gone back and forth in deciding whether or not to run for Senate, was spotted by RCP walking into the weekly Senate Republican luncheon early this afternoon. He was clearly in foreign territory -- on the Senate side of the Capitol -- as he and an aide had to ask someone where the room was.

    As he walked into the luncheon room, Kirk was welcomed by Louisiana Sen. David Vitter and former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan.

    "It's good to be here," RCP overheard Kirk saying, before RCP was shooed away from the door by Capitol Police.

    Illinois GOP Chairman Andy McKenna, who has been considering a run for the Senate as well, said last night that he would step aside should Kirk decide to run.

    Kirk has faced competitive challenges in recent years in his 10th district. Kirk won the last two elections in the swing district with just 53% of the vote against Democrat Dan Seals. In 2008, President Obama won the district with 61 percent.

    VA Gov Candidates Release Post-Primary Fundraising

    State Sen. Creigh Deeds (D) announced yesterday that he raised $3.4 million in one month, from May 28 to June 30 -- the most recent fundraising period in the Virginia gubernatorial race. Deeds now has $2.7 million cash on hand.

    "The key to winning this campaign will be to show who has the best plan to keep Virginia moving forward, and this month has shown that we are well on our way to having the financial resources to do that," Deeds said in a released statement.

    Deeds's Republican opponent, former Attorney General Bob McDonnell, announced today that he raised $1.8 million during the same time span and now has $4.92 million cash on hand.

    "Our campaign enters the final four months of the race in a strong financial position to carry our positive message of new jobs and more opportunities to every region of the state," said McDonnell campaign manager Phil Cox. "Despite the fact that we were on television for over half of the period, we maintain a nearly 2 to 1 cash on hand advantage over our opponent."

    Deeds defeated Terry McAuliffe and Brian Moran in the June 9 Democratic primary. McDonnell was unopposed for the GOP nomination, though he began advertising statewide in May.

    Sotomayor on 'Balls and Strikes'

    Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) asked Sonia Sotomayor about the "umpire calling balls and strikes" analogy used by Justice John Roberts during his 2005 hearings.

    "Few judges can claim they love baseball more than I do, for obvious reasons, but analogies are always imperfect," she said. A judge must "be impartial and bring an open mind to cases before them" and someone "who looks at the facts of each case, listens and understands the arguments of the parties, and applies the law to the facts at hand. And that's my description of judging."

    Asked whom on the current Court she could see herself agreeing with the most, Sotomayor declined to answer. However, she did say the justice she most admired from previous courts, based on "his great respect for precedent," is Benjamin Cardozo -- who was nominated to the Court in 1932 by Herbert Hoover to succeed Oliver Wendell Holmes.

    "His great respect for respect and deference to the legislative branch and the other branches of government and their powers under the Constitution," she said. "That is how I approach the law -- as a case-by-case application of law to facts."

    RGA Targets Corzine, Who May Have A Running Mate Soon

    The Republican Governors Association takes to the airwaves with a new 15-second ad targeting Gov. Jon Corzine on taxes.

    Jon Corzine said he'd cut taxes. He raised them by billions. Corzine said he'd bring jobs to New Jersey. Unemployment's up 73 percent. Now, he's spending millions falsely attacking Chris Christie. Corzine: Watch what he does, not what he says.

    Meanwhile, the Asbury Park Press reports this morning that Corzine could announce his choice for a running mate at Thursday's rally with President Obama. The choice? Randal Pinkett, a past winner of Donald Trump's "The Apprentice." An outside-the-box choice to be sure, arguably similar to what John McCain did when, trailing in the polls, he tapped Sarah Palin.

    PolitickerNJ.com's Wally Edge disputes the Press report that an announcement is imminent, but says Pinkett is high on the short list.

    Senators Asking Questions

    Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor is currently taking questions from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which she's scheduled to do for the remainder of the day. Each committee member gets 30 minutes.

    Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) kicked things off at 9:30 a.m., giving Sotomayor an opportunity to speak about the issues she's been criticized for the most -- her decision in the Ricci v. DeStefano case and her "wise latina" remark.

    Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) is now pressing Sotomayor on whether or not she looks at each case with impartiality -- which he says would be at odds with "seven speeches" she gave. Judges need to "put aside their personal biases and make sure that person gets a fair day in court," he said.

    "It's clearly not what I do as judge. It's clearly not what I intended," Sotomayor said. The speeches were "meant to inspire young Hispanic students and lawyers that their experiences" could help them in their careers.

    WATCH THE HEARINGS LIVE: RealClearPolitics Video

    Strategy Memo: A Midsummer Classic

    It's Day 2 of the confirmation hearings for Sonia Sotomayor. After hours of opening statements yesterday from the 19 Judiciary Committee members and Sotomayor herself, today the senators will get a chance to directly question the nominee.

    The full Senate will resume consideration of the Department of Defense Authorization bill, while the House could take up two dozen suspension bills. The House Oversight subcommittee on D.C. will examine the June 22 Metrorail crash.

    The highlight of President Obama's schedule today is throwing out the first pitch at the All-Star Game. But he starts the day in Washington, where he'll meet with the prime minister of the Netherlands. After additional briefings, he flies to Michigan, where he'll speak at Macomb Community College in Warren. Officially, he's there to talk about community colleges, but expect a health care push as well. Then, it's off to St. Louis for the Midsummer Classic. In addition to the first pitch, Obama appears in a video with five of his predecessors to promote his "United We Serve" initiative.

    **Sotomayor Confirmation Hearings
    *WaPo: "President Obama's advisers said months ago that he hoped to find a replacement for Justice David H. Souter who could both make history and lower the temperature of what have become judicial confirmations filled with partisan fireworks. Judging from opening day, he appeared to have accomplished both goals."

    *L.A. Times: "Monday's opening salvos over Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court involved more grandstanding than examination of her outlook and record, legal analysts said, predicting the real debate will unfold today when senators begin grilling the nominee who is poised to become the nation's first Latino justice."

    *The hometown New York Daily News' take: "Even wary Republicans heaped praise on Sonia Sotomayor. ... The first day was mostly an emotional lovefest for President Obama's Bronx-raised pick for the high court, and Sotomayor will face only a modest grilling today from her GOP critics - what few there are on the Senate Judiciary Committee."

    *WSJ: "As they talked, the senators kept returning to a comment made four years ago by Chief Justice John Roberts during his own confirmation hearing. 'Judges are like umpires,' Justice Roberts told senators then. 'Umpires don't make the rules, they apply them.' ... Since then, Republicans, and even some Democrats, have cited it to explain their view of a judge's role. Monday, the Democrats were having none of it."

    *NYT: "There were winding lines outside the hearing rooms on Monday, smatterings of protesters on street corners and about 150 reporters crammed along parallel tables. Several people in the gallery wore bright blue 'Sonia' buttons. Scattered pro- and anti-Sonia forces went jaw to jaw, sign to sign, outside the Hart Senate Office Building. It was a day of timeworn spectacle, if not high drama."

    **President Obama
    *The budget deficit officially topped $1 trillion yesterday, "potentially complicating the Obama administration's efforts to revive the economy and enact its longer-term policy agenda," the Wall Street Journal reports. "Surging deficits could also tie the administration's hands in responding to the economy's problems, by eroding support among voters and making Congress leery of adopting policies -- such as an overhaul of the health-care system -- that the administration believes are necessary for sustainable growth."

    *The Hill reports on yesterday's meeting on health care at the White House, where Democratic leaders "pledged to complete health care bills in their respective chambers before the August recess."

    *Obama will call for a $12 billion investment in community colleges in Michigan today, AP reports.

    *Steve Rattner is out as the auto czar. Could it be over ethical questions? New York Times: "Rattner, who has won plaudits for directing the rapid restructuring of General Motors and Chrysler, has been under a cloud since shortly after arriving in Washington in late February after it was disclosed that his firm, the Quadrangle Group, made payments to middlemen that helped it win state pension business. It is unclear whether Mr. Rattner's departure is directly connected to the inquiry, or whether he felt that it was time to leave because Chrysler and G.M. effectively had emerged from bankruptcy."

    *Politics Daily, on Dr. Regina Benjamin: "Presidents always tout their own appointees, but in this case he is hardly alone. The New York Times, in a memorable 1995 piece by star writer Rick Bragg, quoted various Alabama villagers whom Dr. Benjamin had treated over the years - regardless of whether they could afford it - as comparing her to an angel, an angel in a white coat. Since that time, Benjamin's legend has only increased in Alabama's bayou country, where she is known for making house calls in her pickup truck to remote fishing villages and building rural medical clinics - and, most of all, for refusing to allow little barriers like crushing poverty or natural disasters prevent her from delivering medical care to those in need."

    *None other than Willie Mays is flying Air Force One with Obama to the All-Star Game today, First Read reported.

    *No one messes with Joe - except Amtrak, of course. From USA Today: "Amtrak managers have improperly interfered with oversight of the railroad's $1.3 billion in economic stimulus funding, according to an independent report by a former federal prosecutor." The kicker, the final line: "Biden's son, Hunter Biden, was a member of Amtrak's board of directors from July 2006 through February 2009."

    *Watching this story: "The secret CIA program halted last month by Director Leon E. Panetta involved establishing elite paramilitary teams that could be inserted into Pakistan or other locations to capture or kill top leaders of the Al Qaeda terrorist network, according to former U.S. intelligence officials."

    **Palin Watch
    *Sarah Palin writes about cap and trade - "Cap and Tax" - in the Washington Post today. "Many in the national media would rather focus on the personality-driven political gossip of the day than on the gravity of these challenges. So, at risk of disappointing the chattering class, let me make clear what is foremost on my mind and where my focus will be: I am deeply concerned about President Obama's cap-and-trade energy plan, and I believe it is an enormous threat to our economy. It would undermine our recovery over the short term and would inflict permanent damage."

    *Her PAC raised $730,000 so far this year, CNN reports.

    **Campaign Stuff
    *TX Gov: "U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison had publicly vanished from the governor's race during the past several months, but burst back on the scene Monday with an announcement that she has $12.5 million for a campaign to knock Gov. Rick Perry out of office. Hutchison said she will formally announce as a candidate next month. She described the $6.7 million she raised during the first half of this year as a record for a Texas politician," Houston Chronicle reports.

    *Chris Christie is holding onto a strong lead over Jon Corzine in the latest Q poll of the New Jersey governor's race. But when the independent candidate is included, Christie's lead shrinks.

    *DE Sen: "If Delaware Republican congressman Mike Castle is gearing up for a Senate race, he's not showing it in his latest fundraising figures. The nine-term veteran only raised $125,000 in the second quarter - with just $14,600 from individual contributors, according to his new FEC report," Politico's Kraushaar reports.

    *Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.) has told the NRCC he's running for governor, the Allentown Morning-Call reports. "Gerlach's retirement from Congress gives Democrats an opening in the 6th District, a seat the party has been after for years only to fall short in every contest against Gerlach. In four straight elections, the party's candidate has lost by no more than 4 percentage points."

    *In the race to succeed Gov. Mark Sanford, Gresham Barrett (R) has pulled ahead in fundraising. Greenville News: "The Republican congressman reported raising more than $500,000 during the second quarter for a total of about $975,000 in his gubernatorial campaign account. He's got another $500,000 in his congressional campaign account, an aide said, which he can use to run for governor if donors approve." Atty. Gen. Henry McMaster has $1.1 million cash on hand after raising $230,000 in the latest period.

    *"In an unusually early television ad," the New Mexico GOP criticizes Lt. Gov. Dianne Denish for supposedly changing her position on gambling after joining Bill Richardson's ticket in 2002. AP: "The ad began Monday and will air for at least a week, on the heels of attacks by the GOP last week claiming Denish hasn't stood up to alleged corruption in the Richardson administration."

    *NY Gov hopeful Rick Lazio has an op-ed in the New York Times on the dysfunctional state of Albany - and calls for a unicameral legislature instead.

    --Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

    NJ Gov Poll: Christie Maintains Lead Ahead Of Obama Visit

    Days before President Obama comes to his aid, a reminder of the challenge confronting New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D). A Quinnipiac poll out this morning shows Chris Christie (R) maintaining a double-digit edge in head-to-head matchup with the incumbent.

    General Election Matchup
    Christie 53 (+3)
    Corzine 41 (+1)
    Undecided 6 (-3)

    Christie has stronger support among Republicans (89/7) than Corzine does among Democrats (76/19), which is one reason why Obama's visit is so important. Christie, the former U.S. Attorney, also holds a whopping 36 point lead among independent voters, 64-28.

    But this won't be a two-person race. Independent candidate Christopher Daggett has qualified for the state's matching funds program, meaning he gets $2 more to spend for every $1 he raises on his own. In a three way race, Christie's lead shrinks somewhat. Daggett served as an EPA administrator in the administration of Ronald Reagan, and as New Jersey's top environmental official under Gov. Tom Kean (R).

    General Election Matchup (Three-Way Race)
    Christie 47
    Corzine 38
    Daggett 8
    Undecided 8

    An overwhelming majority -- 92 percent -- of voters haven't heard enough of Daggett, but as a matching funds recipient he will be required to participate in any debates that are held.

    Christie's favorability rating (39/20) continues to rise with his negatives, as Corzine has gone up on the air attacking contracts he bid as the U.S. Attorney. Corzine's negatives are up five points as well, now at 34/48. The governor's approval rating also continues to dip -- only a third of voters approve.

    Job Approval Rating
    Corzine 33 / 60 (from 36/56 in June)
    Obama 60 / 34 (from 68 / 25)
    Lautenberg 43 / 40
    Menendez 39 / 37

    Though Obama's approval has dropped 8 points as well, it's nearly the exact opposite of Corzine's, one reason why the Democrat is so eager for the Thursday visit. But the poll suggests voters aren't buying Corzine's criticism of Christie that he's too close to George Bush -- 77 percent say he should focus on state issues instead.

    An only in New Jersey question: who would you rather stroll on the Boardwalk with? Forty percent said Christie, with 38 percent saying Corzine.

    In the RCP average of New Jersey polling, Christie's lead is 10.4 points.

    The telephone survey of 1,514 likely voters was conducted July 8-12, and has a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percent.

    RIP, TOTUS

    In what was an otherwise dry speech by the president about urban issues in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building today, a bit of levity. One of the two panels of President Obama's teleprompter (sometimes referred to jokingly as "TOTUS") came crashing down mid-speech. Here's the shattered remains:

    RIPTotus.jpg

    "I'm sorry about that, guys," Obama said after the impact made a loud noise.

    He continued on with the speech, relying on the one remaining panel to his right, and the draft of his speech that was placed on his podium. He occasionally did glance to his left where the panel once stood, but managed to finish without any noticeable issues.

    Recent Supreme Court Confirmation Votes

    Many, including some Republican senators, believe Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation is a foregone conclusion -- barring a "complete meltdown," as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) put it today in his opening remarks. However, it's unclear how much support Sotomayor, nominated by President Obama, will have among GOP senators.

    Here is a breakdown of the Supreme Court confirmation votes under the previous three presidents and how supportive the opposing party has been.

    (President George W. Bush nominated Samuel Alito and John G. Roberts. President Bill Clinton nominated Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. President George H.W. Bush nominated Clarence Thomas and David Souter.)


    Nominee....Nominated By....Roll Call...Opposing Party Yea Votes
    Alito.............Bush 43............58-42.............4 Dems
    Roberts........Bush 43............78-22.............22 Dems
    Breyer..........Clinton..............87-9...............33 GOPers
    Ginsburg......Clinton...............96-3...............41 GOPers
    Thomas.........Bush 41...........52-48.............11 Dems (1 GOPer opposed)
    Souter...........Bush 41...........90-9...............46 Dems

    Mixed Messages On Health Care From White House

    For those trying to get a sense of why the health care reform effort seems to be stuck in the mud, today's White House press briefing was instructive. Robert Gibbs faced a number of questions on the subject, and at times offered seemingly conflicting messages about the progress on legislation.

    Notably, the press secretary conceded that "maybe" the president's goal of having legislation on the floor by August could not be met. "Obviously there's a lot of legislative nitty gritty that's got to be hammered out in the next three or four weeks, but I think the president sees progress," he said.

    When Gibbs was asked where the president stood on specific proposals currently under consideration to pay for any overhaul, he repeated a long-standing policy not to comment. "The president is going to watch what plays out on Capitol Hill and see what happens," he said. Later, he added that the president "has outlined very strongly his principles," but that: "It's July 13, guys. We're not gonna get into drawing all these lines this early."

    And yet, when asked about what seems to be a hands-off role from the president, Gibbs pointed to a meeting taking place at the White House today with key lawmakers, including Speaker Pelosi. And he also pointed to the vigorous effort of his team. "Given the amount of time that staff spends on Capitol Hill, I'm not entirely sure that's the case," he said.

    After reacting somewhat indifferently to the idea that an August deadline might not be met, Gibbs later sounded greater urgency, hinting that the president would consider asking Congress to stay in session to finalize legislation.

    "I think the president feels we can't afford to wait," he said.

    Sotomayor's Opening Statement

    Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor delivered the following statement today, beginning at about 2:55 p.m. ET (as prepared for delivery):

    Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I also want to thank Senators Schumer and Gillibrand for that kind introduction.

    In recent weeks, I have had the privilege and pleasure of meeting eighty-nine gracious Senators, including all the members of this Committee. I thank you for the time you have spent with me. Our meetings have given me an illuminating tour of the fifty states and invaluable insights into the American people.

    There are countless family members, friends, mentors, colleagues, and clerks who have done so much over the years to make this day possible. I am deeply appreciative for their love and support. I want to make one special note of thanks to my mom. I am here today because of her aspirations and sacrifices for both my brother Juan and me. Mom, I love that we are sharing this together. I am very grateful to the President and humbled to be here today as a nominee to the United States Supreme Court.

    The progression of my life has been uniquely American. My parents left Puerto Rico during World War II. I grew up in modest circumstances in a Bronx housing project. My father, a factory worker with a third grade education, passed away when I was nine years old.

    On her own, my mother raised my brother and me. She taught us that the key to success in America is a good education. And she set the example, studying alongside my brother and me at our kitchen table so that she could become a registered nurse. We worked hard. I poured myself into my studies at Cardinal Spellman High School, earning scholarships to Princeton University and then Yale Law School, while my brother went to medical school. Our achievements are due to the values that we learned as children, and they have continued to guide my life's endeavors. I try to pass on this legacy by serving as a mentor and friend to my many godchildren and students of all backgrounds.

    Over the past three decades, I have seen our judicial system from a number of different perspectives - as a big-city prosecutor, a corporate litigator, a trial judge and an appellate judge. My first job after law school was as an assistant District Attorney in New York. There, I saw children exploited and abused. I felt the suffering of victims' families torn apart by a loved one's needless death. And I learned the tough job law enforcement has protecting the public safety. In my next legal job, I focused on commercial, instead of criminal, matters. I litigated issues on behalf of national and international businesses and advised them on matters ranging from contracts to trademarks.

    My career as an advocate ended--and my career as a judge began--when I was appointed by President George H.W. Bush to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. As a trial judge, I decided over four hundred and fifty cases, and presided over dozens of trials, with perhaps my best known case involving the Major League Baseball strike in 1995.

    After six extraordinary years on the district court, I was appointed by President William Jefferson Clinton to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. On that Court, I have enjoyed the benefit of sharing ideas and perspectives with wonderful colleagues as we have worked together to resolve the issues before us. I have now served as an appellate judge for over a decade, deciding a wide range of Constitutional, statutory, and other legal questions.

    Throughout my seventeen years on the bench, I have witnessed the human consequences of my decisions. Those decisions have been made not to serve the interests of any one litigant, but always to serve the larger interest of impartial justice.

    In the past month, many Senators have asked me about my judicial philosophy. It is simple: fidelity to the law. The task of a judge is not to make the law - it is to apply the law. And it is clear, I believe, that my record in two courts reflects my rigorous commitment to interpreting the Constitution according to its terms; interpreting statutes according to their terms and Congress's intent; and hewing faithfully to precedents established by the Supreme Court and my Circuit Court. In each case I have heard, I have applied the law to the facts at hand.

    The process of judging is enhanced when the arguments and concerns of the parties to the litigation are understood and acknowledged. That is why I generally structure my opinions by setting out what the law requires and then by explaining why a contrary position, sympathetic or not, is accepted or rejected. That is how I seek to strengthen both the rule of law and faith in the impartiality of our justice system. My personal and professional experiences help me listen and understand, with the law always commanding the result in every case.

    Since President Obama announced my nomination in May, I have received letters from people all over this country. Many tell a unique story of hope in spite of struggles. Each letter has deeply touched me. Each reflects a belief in the dream that led my parents to come to New York all those years ago. It is our Constitution that makes that Dream possible, and I now seek the honor of upholding the Constitution as a Justice on the Supreme Court.

    I look forward in the next few days to answering your questions, to having the American people learn more about me, and to being part of a process that reflects the greatness of our Constitution and of our nation. Thank you.

    Franken Speaks

    Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), the newest member of both the Senate and Judiciary Committee, just delivered his opening remarks at the Sonia Sotomayor confirmation hearings.

    "I may not be a lawyer, but neither are the overwhelming majority of Americans," he said. "Yet all of us regardless of our backgrounds and professions have a huge stake in who sits on the Supreme Court and are profoundly affected by its decision."

    On judicial activism and restraint, Franken cited a statistic that the late chief justice William H. Rehnquist voted to overturn more laws than liberal justices John Stevens and Stephen Breyer combined.

    "I am wary of judicial activism, and I believe in judicial restraint," said Franken. "Except under the most exceptional circumstances, the judicial branch is designed to show deep deferance to the Congress and not make policy by itself."

    Gallup: 53% Support Sotomayor Confirmation

    A new Gallup poll finds 53% of Americans support the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, largely unchanged from late May. The number of people with no opinion has gone down 6 points to 13%, while the number opposed to her confirmation has increased 5 points to 33%.

    Sotomayor's confirmation hearings take place this week, and Gallup's Jeffrey M. Jones writes, "There is not much evidence to suggest that Senate hearings change public support for Supreme Court nominees to a large degree."

    Senate Leaders' Floor Comments on Sotomayor

    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made statements from the Senate floor this morning regarding the opening of Judiciary Committee hearings on the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor. Here are excerpts of their remarks:

    Reid:

    "Today, July 13, is an historic day in America. Right now, Judge Sonia Sotomayor is testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee as President Obama's nominee for the highest court in our country. As we all know, she is the first Hispanic American to do so. Judge Sotomayor has a wide-range of experience not just in the legal world, but in the real world as well. Her understanding of the law is grounded not only in theory, but also in practice. Her record and qualifications are tremendous. She has worked at almost every level of our judicial system - as a prosecutor, litigator, a trial court judge and an appellate judge.

    "That's exactly the type of experience we need on the Supreme Court. And when she is confirmed, she will bring to the bench more judicial experience than any sitting justice had when they joined the Court. Judge Sotomayor has been nominated by both Democratic and Republican presidents. She has been confirmed twice by the Senate with strong, bipartisan support. Her record is well-known and well-respected.

    "We are committed to ensuring that Judge Sotomayor has a rigorous and reasonable confirmation hearing. We expect both sides to ask her tough questions, and we expect both the questions and their answers to be fair and honest."


    McConnell:

    "Republicans take very seriously our obligation to review anyone who is nominated to a lifetime position on our nation's highest court. That's why Senators have taken time to review Judge Sotomayor's record to make sure she has the same basic qualities we look for in any federal judge: superb legal ability, personal integrity, sound temperament, and, most importantly, a commitment to read the law even-handedly. At the beginning of this process, I noted that some of Judge Sotomayor's past statements and decisions raised concerns. As we begin the confirmation hearings, those concerns have only multiplied.

    "Boiled down, my concern is this: that Judge Sotomayor's record suggests a history of allowing her personal and political beliefs to seep into her judgments on the bench, which has repeatedly resulted in unequal treatment for those who stand before her.

    "But that's what these hearings are all about: giving nominees an opportunity to address the concerns that Senators might have about a nominee's record. In this case, the list is long.

    "So we welcome Judge Sotomayor as she comes before the Judiciary Committee today. And we look forward to a full and thorough hearing on her record and her views."


    Obama On Health Care: Don't Bet Against Us

    Back on duty at the White House after a week-long trip, President Obama used the announcement of his pick for surgeon general to send a message on health care reform, warning his critics: "Don't bet against us."

    The president praised the work of House and Senate committees thus far, and said he has no illusions about the challenge of getting a final bill over the finish line. But the cost of inaction is too high, he said, calling the current system "unsustainable."

    "I understand that people are a little nervous and a little scared about making change," he said during the Rose Garden announcement. "The muscles in this town to bring about big changes are a little atrophied. But we're whipping folks back into shape. We are going to get this done."

    Dr. Regina Benjamin, an Alabama family doctor, is Obama's choice for surgeon general, a long-delayed nomination for the nation's top doctor. He said Benjamin, because of her background, understand the need for reform "in a powerful and personal way." Benjamin called the selection "a physician's dream."

    Graham: You'll Be Confirmed, Save a 'Complete Meltdown'

    Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) began his opening statement by noting that no Republican president would nominate Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, but every Republican would have supported Miguel Estrada -- who was on the fast track to the Supreme Court before his nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this decade was halted by a Democratic filibuster.

    "The Hispanic element of this hearing is important, but I don't want it to be lost that this is mostly about liberal and conservative politics more than it is anything else," Graham said. "Now unless you have a complete meltdown, you're going to get confirmed. And I don't think you will, but the drama being created here is interesting. My Republican colleagues who vote against you I assure you can vote for a Hispanic nominee -- they just feel unnerved by your speeches, and some things you've said, and some of your cases."

    "I don't know how I'm going to vote, but my inclination is that elections matter," Graham said, indicating he was leaning toward supporting President Obama's nominee -- though he criticized Obama's standard for supporting a nominee when he was in the Senate.

    Following Graham's statement, Leahy attempted to correct the record of Estrada's nomination process, which Sessions politely disagreed with.

    CBS Poll: 4-in-10 Have Opinion of Sotomayor

    A CBS poll out this morning finds 23% of adults hold a favorable opinion of Sonia Sotomayor, with 15% unfavorable. More than 60% said they don't know enough about the Supreme Court nominee, though that may change as Senate Judiciary Committee hearings begin today.

    The survey, conducted July 9-12 of 944 adults with a margin of error of +/- 3%, finds Sotomayor's favorable number down from 30% last month, when her unfavorable rating was just 9%. Also, 30% now say Sotomayor should be confirmed, compared with 14% who say she shouldn't and 52% unsure.

    Dem Talking Points on Sotomayor Nomination

    Here are some talking points Senate Democrats have released on the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor:

    SOTOMAYOR'S NOMINATION IS A HISTORIC MOMENT:

    -Sotomayor is the First Hispanic American Nominated to the Supreme Court.
    -Sotomayor is the First Supreme Court Nominee in 52 Years to Have Both Federal District and Appellate Court Experience.
    -Sotomayor is the First Person Nominated by Three Presidents of Both Parties to All Three Levels of the Federal Judiciary.
    -Sotomayor is One of Small Group of Judges Nominated to the Federal Judiciary by Presidents of Different Parties.
    -Sotomayor is the First Person Since 1957 Nominated to the Supreme Court to Have Served on Federal District Court.

    SOTOMAYOR'S EXPERIENCE SETS HER APART FROM PREVIOUS NOMINEES

    -Sotomayor Will Bring More Federal Judicial Experience Than Any Jurist in 100 Years to the Bench.
    -Sotomayor Will Bring More Overall Judicial Experience to the Court Than Any Nominee in the Past 70 Years.
    -Sotomayor Will be the Only Current Supreme Court Judge With Trial Judge Experience.
    -Judge Sotomayor Has Both Corporate and Public Legal Experience.

    Sessions Starts With a Bang

    Senate Judiciary ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) just ended his opening remarks, in which he layed out his reasoning for questioning Sonia Sotomayor's judicial philosophy.

    "Judge Sotomayor, we are inquiring into how your philosophy -- which allows for subjectivity in the courtroom -- affects your decision-making," Sessions said, citing specific case examples when she ruled on abortion, gun control, private property and capital punishment. Sessions also noted the Ricci case, in which he said her ruling was prejudiced against the white petitioners.

    Sessions said he wants Americans to ask the following when the Sotomayor hearings conclude: "If I must one day go to court, what kind of judge do I wish to hear my case. Do I want a judge that allows his or her social, political or religous views to change the outcome. Or do I want a judge that impartially applies the law to the facts, and fairly rules on the merits without bias or prejudice. It's our job to determine which side of that fundamental divide the nominee stands."

    Leahy's Opening Statement

    Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) just completed his opening statement in the hearings to examine the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Here is his opening statement, as prepared for delivery:

    Today, we consider the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to be a Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Our Constitution assigns just 101 of us the responsibility to act on behalf of all 320 million Americans in considering this important appointment. The President has done his part and made an historic nomination. Now it is up to the Senate to do its part on behalf of the American people.

    President Obama often quotes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s insight that "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." Each generation of Americans has sought that arc toward justice. We have improved upon the foundation of our Constitution through the Bill of Rights, the Civil War amendments, the 19th Amendment's expansion of the right to vote to women, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the 26th Amendment's extension of the right to vote to young people. These actions have marked progress toward our more perfect union. This nomination can be another step along that path.

    Judge Sotomayor's journey to this hearing room is a truly American story. She was raised by her mother, Celina, a nurse, in the South Bronx. Like her mother, Sonia Sotomayor worked hard. She graduated as the valedictorian of her class at Blessed Sacrament and at Cardinal Spellman High School in New York. She was a member of just the third class at Princeton University in which women were included. She continued to work hard, including reading classics that had been unavailable to her when she was younger and arranging tutoring to improve her writing. She graduated summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, and was awarded the M. Taylor Senior Pyne Prize for scholastic excellence and service to the university, an honor awarded for outstanding merit.

    After excelling at Princeton she entered Yale Law School, where she was an active member of the law school community. Upon graduation, she had many options but chose to serve her community in the New York District Attorney's Office, where she prosecuted murders, robberies, assaults and child pornography.

    The first President Bush named her to the Federal bench in 1992, and she served as a trial judge for six years. President Clinton named her to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit where she has served for more than 10 years. She was confirmed each time by a bipartisan majority of the Senate.

    Judge Sotomayor's qualifications are outstanding. She has more Federal court judicial experience than any nominee to the United States Supreme Court in 100 years. She is the first nominee in well over a century to be nominated to three different Federal judgeships by three different Presidents. She is the first nominee in 50 years to be nominated to the Supreme Court after serving as both a Federal trial judge and a Federal appellate judge. She will be the only current Supreme Court Justice to have served as a trial judge. She was a prosecutor and a lawyer in private practice. She will bring a wealth and diversity of experience to the Court. I hope all Americans are encouraged by Judge Sotomayor's achievements and by her nomination to the Nation's highest court. Hers is a success story in which all Americans can take pride.

    Those who break barriers often face the added burden of overcoming prejudice. That has been true on the Supreme Court. Thurgood Marshall graduated first in his law school class, was the lead counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, sat on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and served as the Nation's top lawyer, the Solicitor General of the United States. He won a remarkable 29 out of 32 cases before the Supreme Court. Despite his qualifications and achievements, at his confirmation hearing, he was asked questions designed to embarrass him, questions such as "Are you prejudiced against the white people of the South?"

    The confirmation of Justice Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish American to be nominated to the high court, was a struggle rife with anti-Semitism and charges that he was a "radical". The commentary at the time included questions about "the Jewish mind" and how "its operations are complicated by altruism." Likewise, the first Catholic nominee had to overcome the argument that "as a Catholic he would be dominated by the pope."

    I trust that all Members of this Committee here today will reject the efforts of partisans and outside pressure groups that have sought to create a caricature of Judge Sotomayor while belittling her record, her achievements and her intelligence. Let no one demean this extraordinary woman, her success, or her understanding of the constitutional duties she has faithfully performed for the last 17 years. I hope all Senators will join together as we did when we considered President Reagan's nomination of Sandra Day O'Connor as the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court and voted unanimously to confirm her.

    This hearing is an opportunity for Americans to see and hear Judge Sotomayor for themselves and to consider her qualifications. It is the most transparent confirmation hearing ever held. Judge Sotomayor's decisions and confirmation materials have been posted online and made publicly available. The record is significantly more complete than that available when we considered President Bush's nominations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito just a few years ago. The Judge's testimony will be carried live on several television stations and live via webcast on the Judiciary Committee website.

    My review of her judicial record leads me to conclude that she is a careful and restrained judge with a deep respect for judicial precedent and for the powers of the other branches of the government, including the law-making role of Congress. That conclusion is supported by a number of independent studies that have been made of her record, and shines through in a comprehensive review of her tough and fair record on criminal cases. She has a deep understanding of the real lives of Americans, the duty of law enforcement to help keep Americans safe, and the responsibilities of all to respect the freedoms that define America.

    Unfortunately, some have sought to twist her words and her record and to engage in partisan political attacks. Ideological pressure groups have attacked her before the President had even made his selection. They then stepped up their attacks by threatening Republican Senators who do not oppose her.

    In truth, we do not have to speculate about what kind of a Justice she will be because we have seen the kind of judge she has been. She is a judge in which all Americans can have confidence. She has been a judge for all Americans and will be a Justice for all Americans.

    Our ranking Republican Senator on this Committee reflected on the confirmation process recently, saying: "What I found was that charges come flying in from right and left that are unsupported and false. It's very, very difficult for a nominee to push back. So I think we have a high responsibility to base any criticisms that we have on a fair and honest statement of the facts and that nominees should not be subjected to distortions of their record." I agree. As we proceed, let no one distort Judge Sotomayor's record. Let us be fair to her and to the American people by not misrepresenting her views.
    We are a country bound together by our Constitution. It guarantees the promise that ours will be a country based on the rule of law. In her service as a Federal judge, Sonia Sotomayor has kept faith with that promise. She understands that there is not one law for one race or another. There is not one law for one color or another. There is not one law for rich and a different one for poor. There is only one law. She has said that" ultimately and completely" a judge has to follow the law, no matter what their upbringing has been. That is the kind of fair and impartial judging that the American people expect. That is respect for the rule of law. That is the kind of judge she has been. That is the kind of fair and impartial Justice she will be and that the American people deserve.

    Judge Sotomayor has been nominated to replace Justice Souter, whose retirement last month has left the Court with only eight Justices. Justice Souter served the Nation with distinction for nearly two decades on the Supreme Court with a commitment to justice, an admiration for the law, and an understanding of the impact of the Court's decisions on the daily lives of ordinary Americans. I believe that Judge Sotomayor will be in this same mold and will serve as a Justice in the manner of Sandra Day O'Connor, committed to the law and not to ideology.

    In the weeks and months leading up to this hearing, I have heard the President and Senators from both sides of the aisle make reference to the engraving over the entrance of the Supreme Court. The words engraved in that Vermont marble say: "Equal Justice Under Law." Judge Sotomayor's nomination keeps faith with those words.

    Strategy Memo: Sotomayor, Day 1

    Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning for the first time. Commencing at 10 a.m., New York Democrats Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand will introduce the nominee to the committee, followed by a statement from Sotomayor.

    President Obama has a rather low-key day considering how much needs to be done with regard to health care. After his morning briefings, he meets with labor leaders. He then congratulates the MLS champion Columbus Crew, and finally speaks to the Urban and Metropolitan Policy Roundtable. Also this week: Obama gives a speech in Michigan tomorrow before heading to St. Louis to throw out the first pitch at the All-Star Game. And Thursday he'll hold his first campaign event as president, rallying the faithful for New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine.

    The Senate will vote today on the Department of Defense Appropriations bill and consider the nomination of Robert M. Groves to be director of the Census. The House will vote tonight on more than a dozen suspension bills.

    **Check out all the highlights from the Sunday talk shows -- including John McCain talking Sarah Palin; Sotomayor, CIA and Cheney discussions by Senate Judiciary Committee members; and much more -- at RealClearPolitics Video.

    **Sonia Sotomayor
    *Roll Call: "The Senate Judiciary Committee begins hearings on the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor today, but with her installment all but certain, Republicans are unlikely to put the nominee on trial. Rather, GOP Senators will use the high-profile forum to make a case for the direction of the judiciary and to set out their definition of an ideal jurist."

    *NBC's Chuck Todd, on "Morning Joe": "It's about her demeanor. How she handles herself under questioning from Republican senators. ... Barring anything that we don't know...these hearings are going to be fine as long as she keeps her cool. ... It's long, it's draining...it can be very frustrating. But a judge should be able to handle it more than most."

    *Washington Post: "Democrats are betting that an overly zealous assault on Sotomayor by Republican senators could anger Latinos and accelerate the shift of Hispanic voters away from the Republican Party, particularly in the South and West. Conservatives are hoping to use the Sotomayor hearings as a way to motivate their base if they can successfully portray her as an activist judge whose "empathy" for certain groups guides her rulings more than court precedent or the written law."

    *Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, in a statement yesterday: "President Obama called Judge Sotomayor from the Oval Office this morning to wish her good luck as she completed preparations for her confirmation hearing. He complimented the Judge for making courtesy calls to 89 Senators in which she discussed her adherence to the rule of law throughout her 17 years on the federal bench. The President expressed his confidence that Judge Sotomayor would be confirmed to serve as a Justice on the Supreme Court for many years to come."

    *Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) appeared together on "Face the Nation." Leahy: "I would hope it does not turn into a partisan fight for the good of the courts and the good of the Supreme Court." Sessions: "It's absolutely critical that who ever sits on the bench -- and no one should sit on the federal bench who is not committed to the principles of the oath."

    *Seven New York Times reporters write what to watch for in the hearings.

    *Politico offers a list of things to watch as well.

    *L.A. Times offers a history of Hart Senate Office Building Room 216, where the Sotomayor hearings will take place.

    *Judiciary member Ted Kaufman (D-Del.) writes on op-ed on the hearings for RCP. "Searching for and asking "gotcha" questions is a waste of everyone's time," Kaufman writes.

    *Be sure to check out National Journal's Ninth Justice blog, with excellent analysis from Stuart Taylor Jr.

    **President Obama
    *"After a week of international diplomacy, President Obama returns to Washington this week facing an even greater diplomatic challenge: nudging the large and controversial health-care reform package toward consensus on Capitol Hill," Washington Post reports. And this may be one key reason why they've hit trouble: "Part of the administration's success in keeping everyone involved, however, has relied on deferring the hardest decisions. Now, as the legislation nears completion in House and Senate committees, there is no way to avoid making choices, and that has disrupted the earlier momentum."

    *Politico on the status of health care: "A series of setbacks has made the task of completing floor votes in both chambers virtually insurmountable, given the plodding pace of the Senate. The official line from the White House and the congressional leadership is it's possible, but privately, there are a dwindling number of aides who would put money on it. And without a deal by August, the ripple effects could start to endanger the prospect of health care reform this year altogether."

    **CIA, Congress and the President
    *"After trying for months to shake off the legacy of their predecessors and focus on their own priorities, Obama administration officials have begun to concede that they cannot leave the fight against terrorism unexhumed and are reluctantly moving to examine some of the most controversial and clandestine episodes.

    "The acknowledgment came amid fresh disclosures about CIA activity that had been hidden from Congress for seven years, the secrecy surrounding a little-understood electronic surveillance program that operated without court approval, and word that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. favors naming a criminal prosecutor to examine whether U.S. interrogators tortured terrorism suspects," WaPo reports.

    *"A secret Central Intelligence Agency initiative terminated by Director Leon Panetta was an attempt to carry out a 2001 presidential authorization to capture or kill al Qaeda operatives, according to former intelligence officials familiar with the matter," WSJ reports.

    *The New York Times outlines pressure to come after new revelations about former Vice President Cheney and the Bush administration's surveillance program. "Leading Democrats on Sunday demanded investigations of how a highly classified counterterrorism program was kept secret from the Congressional leadership." That, and other possible probes "makes four fronts on which the intelligence apparatus is under siege. It is just the kind of distraction from Mr. Obama's domestic priorities -- repairing the economy, revamping the health care system, and addressing the long-term problems of energy and climate -- that the White House wanted to avoid."

    **Palin
    *Sarah Palin tells the Washington Times that she'll campaign not just for Republicans, but even likeminded Democrats as well. "I will go around the country on behalf of candidates who believe in the right things, regardless of their party label or affiliation," she said. "People are so tired of the partisan stuff -- even my own son is not a Republican," said Mrs. Palin, who stunned the political world earlier this month with her decision to step down as governor July 26 with 18 months left in her term.

    *The Los Angeles Times writes about the open season from Republican pundits on Palin of late. "What is remarkable is the contempt Palin has engendered within her own party and the fact that so many of her GOP detractors are willing, even eager, to express it publicly -- even with Palin an early front-runner for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination."

    **Campaign Stuff
    *AL Gov: "One city block in Montgomery, Ala., tells almost everything there is to know about the challenge facing Rep. Artur Davis in his bid to become the state's governor in 2010," reports Politics Daily.

    *Club for Growth president Chris Chocola interviewed by Roll Call: "The new president of the anti-tax group told Roll Call that he didn't plan to make any 'drastic' or 'substantive' changes to the way the club operates and said that he is still open to the idea of backing primary challengers against incumbent Republicans on a 'case by case' basis."

    *Chris Cillizza finally settles the Mark Kirk Senate speculation. "Seventy-two hours after informing several Republican strategists that he was not running for the Senate in Illinois due to concerns of a primary challenge, Rep. Mark Kirk looks almost certain to get a clear field after all. Illinois Republican Party chairman Andy McKenna is nearly certain to bow out in favor of Kirk today, according to numerous conversations with strategists close to the process. Kirk had made clear that he would not run if McKenna also ran."

    *KY Sen: "Secretary of State Trey Grayson takes over next week as president of the National Association of Secretaries of State, a position that could provide helpful political connections if he decides to enter next year's election for U.S. senator from Kentucky," AP reports.

    *While Obama is in New Jersey campaigning for Jon Corzine on Thursday, Biden will be in Virginia hosting a fundraiser for Creigh Deeds, Washington Times reports.

    *Corzine's internal polling shows him only trailing by four points, PolitickerNJ.com reports.

    *Something to watch in Florida. St. Pete Times: For the first time since 1996, the Florida Democratic Party outraised the Republican Party of Florida.

    **Engagement Alert: Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) is engaged to Hillary Clinton's personal aide, Huma Abedin.

    **Party Time: Gallup: "The percentage of all Americans who identified as Republican in June was 28%, but is higher at 33% among those who are married, and a lower 21% among unmarried Americans. On the other hand, Democratic identification in June was at 35% overall, but 31% among married Americans, and 41% among those who are not married. This marriage gap in party identification is evident across races as well as age groups."

    --Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

    Kirk Won't Run for Senate

    Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) has decided not to run for Senate -- a reversal from reports earlier this week that he was definitely jumping in. The news was first reported by the Washington Post.

    Kirk's decision not to run comes on the heels of the leading Democratic candidate's opting out of the race. Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced Wednesday that she would instead run for re-election, leading to reports later that day that Kirk would run.

    Left from the fallout is state GOP Chairman Alex McKenna, who had been considering running against Kirk, and two Democrats -- state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and businessman Chris Kennedy, son of the late Robert F. Kennedy. Giannoulias has raised $1.8 million so far after a dropoff in pace in the second quarter.

    Keeping Track Of Obama's Czars

    Much has been written about the number of so-called czars in the Obama administration. And some have questioned the constitutionality of such officials playing significant roles in policymaking when, unlike Cabinet secretaries and agency chiefs, they do not require Senate confirmation.

    A prominent critic has been Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.V.), long a guardian of Senate prerogatives and critic of executive overreaching. In a longer look at the Obama czars, I note a the approval Thursday by a Senate committee of language requested by Byrd meant to encourage greater accountability of the Obama czars. Here's the full provision:

    "The Committee expects officials employed in whole or in part by the Executive Office of the President, and designated by the President to coordinate policy agendas across executive departments and agencies, to keep Congress fully and currently informed of such activities."

    It's no explicit requirement that these czars do anything -- only expressing a wish that they testify regularly about their activities. But it does represent a gentle prodding of the executive branch to provide greater accountability.

    You can read my full piece here.

    Schakowsky Calls for Investigation of CIA

    Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), chair of the House Intelligence subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, has called for a congressional investigation into the revelation that the CIA misled members of Congress during Intelligence Committee briefings. In a letter released Wednesday, CIA Director Leon Panetta revealed the fact that the CIA had been misleading Congress since 2001.

    The Washington Post reported today that upon learning of a secret program the agency had hid from Congress, Panetta immediately canceled it and held a June 24 private meeting with members of the House and Senate intelligence committees.

    In an interview with AP, Schakowsky said, "The program is a very, very serious program and certainly deserved a serious debate at the time and through the years ... But now it's over."

    Schakowsky called for the investigation in a letter to Intelligence chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas):

    Dear Chairman Reyes:

    Over the course of the past eight years, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) leaders briefing the House Intelligence Committee have purposefully withheld information from Congress dealing with the national security of our country. The systematic deception by the CIA is a possible violation of the National Security Act and, at a minimum, a blatant disregard of this committee's oversight authority.
    ...
    It is inexcusable for the CIA to lie, mislead, or withhold information from the Congress. The Intelligence Committee depends on the presentation of reliable and complete information when deliberating important decisions that impact the national security of the United States. Past practices of the CIA compromise the integrity of this committee and undermine the ability of committee members to fulfill our oversight obligations as members to the Select Committee. To ensure accountability and restore faith in the system, I strongly urge you to promptly launch an investigation into this critical matter.

    MN Poll: Obama Tops Pawlenty In Gov's Home State

    No, apparently it's not too early for state-specific polls of the 2012 presidential race.

    Yesterday, we noted that a University of Texas survey put President Obama narrowly ahead of Mitt Romney in Texas. Today, a Public Policy Polling survey of Minnesota shows Obama leading incumbent Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), as well as outgoing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, in hypothetical matchups there.

    2012 General Election Matchup
    Obama 51
    Pawlenty 40
    Undecided 8

    Obama 56
    Palin 35
    Undecided 9

    Obama also has a stronger job approval rating than Pawlenty in the North Star State. But it has slipped since an April survey showed him with a 60 percent approval rating.

    Job Approval Rating
    Obama 54 / 39
    Pawlenty 44 / 48
    Klobuchar 56 / 30

    Pawlenty's approval split was 46 / 40 in April, representing a drop since he announced he would not seek a third term. Only 39 percent of Minnesotans have a favorable opinion of Palin, compared to 53 percent unfavorable.

    The automated telephone survey of 1,491 Minnesota voters was conducted July 7-8, and had a margin of error of +/-2.5%.

    Health Care On Hold

    The health care bill that was supposed to be finished today is still not ready, Roll Call reports, and it's now been "delayed indefinitely" so House Democratic leaders and the Blue Dogs can come to a consensus.

    Committee chairmen had planned to release their bill on Friday and begin marking it up on Monday, but notices were sent out this morning noting that both the release and markup would be delayed.

    Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), who chairs the Blue Dogs' health care task force, warned leadership in a two-hour meeting Thursday night that his group would bolt unless a series of demands were met, including altering reimbursement rates under a proposed public option so that they are not based on Medicare rates.


    The "Gubernatorial Annis Horribilis" Looms Over NGA

    When I covered the NGA's summer conference in Philadelphia last year, much of the focus was on the governors who found themselves on all the media "short lists" as potential running mate choices. Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-Minn.), then the NGA chair, was particularly in focus as a potential McCain pick. Govs. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Kathleen Sebelius (D-Kan.), thought to be at the top of Obama's short list, fielded questions all weekend about their relationships with the then-Illinois senator. I even spoke with a then-relatively-unknown governor, who told me: "I really doubt that such a thing would happen. ... I'm just a hockey mom from Alaska, do you really think that it is even in the realm of possibility?"

    What a difference a year makes. And it's been a tough year -- a "gubernatorial annis horribilis" for the chief executives of the 50 states, as NPR's Ron Elving points out:

    The economy is, of course, the main source of grief for governors of all stripes and in all regions. From Florida to Oregon, state governments are being forced to slash programs, lay off workers and, where possible, raise taxes as well.

    ...

    Many political scientists and other observers continue to view the states as the laboratories of good governance, a source of hope for civic success. But a combination of hard times and bad behavior has battered this belief. And it has done even more to damage the image of the governor as the glamorous executive, the can-do source of solutions.

    As a result, the sense that any gathering of the NGA is a casting call for president has faded.

    Domestic Agenda Faltering, Obama Admits Summit-itis

    Near the end of a week-long foreign trip, President Obama signaled that he might rather be back in the United States tending to his domestic agenda at what has shown to be a critical stage for the health care reform effort, in particular.

    During a press conference at the conclusion of the G-8 Summit in L'Aquila, Obama was asked about the future of these international bodies. He said leaders should consider refreshing and renewing institutions like the G8 and even the United Nations. "A lot of energy is going into these various summits and organizations in part because there's a sense that when it comes to big, tough problems, the UN General Assembly is not always working as effectively and rapidly as it needs to," he said.

    He continued by noting that in six months as president, he's already attended a handful of these international summits. "There have been a lot of these. I think there's a possibility of streamlining them and making them more effective," he said. "We need to I think make sure that there as productive as possible."

    He was asked somewhat in jest whether these diplomatic negotiations are tougher than dealing with Congress. "It's not even close -- Congress is always tougher," he said. And indeed, the health care reform effort seems bogged down as Democrats seem unable to reach consensus on funding methods and whether to include a public option.

    Asked when he would jump fully into these debates, Obama said he's already "jumped in with both feet," and called it his "highest legislative priority."

    "I think it's important juts to recognize, we are closer to achieving serious health care reform ... than at any time in recent history," he said. "That doesn't make it easy -- it's hard." He reiterated the parameters of any final bill: lowering costs, emphasizing prevention, and deficit neutrality, while gently chiding reporters for focusing too much on "the game."

    He also addressed the chorus of criticism from Republicans who are increasingly hammering him over growing deficits. After an initial reminder that he inherited "the worst recession since the Great Depression" with a $1.3 trillion -- he mistakenly said billion -- deficit, he conceded: "Fair enough. This is happening on my watch."

    But: "What cannot be denied is that the only way to get a handle on our medium- and long-term budget deficits is if we corral and contain health care costs," he added.

    He did not say the reform is "do or die" by the August recess, but said he "really wants" it done by then.

    A Swinish Slap

    The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is hitting House Republicans for their vote last month against the supplemental appropriations bill, which included $2 billion in funding to fight the H1N1 virus -- also known as swine flu.

    A press release went out to media in the districts of more than 50 GOP members, including party leaders Eric Cantor (Va.), Mike Pence (Ind.) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.). In all, 170 Republicans voted against the bill on June 16, as did 32 Democrats -- none of whom were included in this blitz.

    The release provided to RCP targets Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.). "Despite 111 confirmed and probable cases in Nebraska of H1N1 flu already, and with many scientists predicting a 'second wave' of the pandemic in the coming months, Representative Lee Terry joined fellow Party of No Republicans this year in opposing funds to help families, schools, and businesses prepare for the worst," the release states.

    "The message from this spring's H1N1 flu outbreak was loud and clear: planning needs to start now. Yet, instead of heeding this wake up call, Representative Lee Terry rolled over and hit the snooze button," said DCCC national press secretary Ryan Rudominer. "The families, schools, and businesses that are now racing against the clock to prepare for this fall's flu pandemic deserve better than Representative Terry playing politics with money that could help them get better prepared today."

    The backdrop for the campaign is the administration's H1N1 Preparedness Summit held yesterday at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.

    Strategy Memo: A Papal Audience

    Good Friday to you. The traveling White House press corps may be enjoying the Eternal City, but they're missing another fantastic day in the nation's capital.

    President Obama's stay in Italy continues today. As we speak, he's conducting his first extended press conference -- and can expect as many questions on his flagging domestic agenda as his diplomatic endeavors. Later this afternoon, he'll travel to the Vatican for an audience with Pope Benedict XVI. He'll fly to Ghana tonight for his final stop on the trip. In Washington, Vice President Biden shifts from the stimulus to health care, holding a roundtable discussion on rising costs.

    Both chambers of Congress are in session today, though the Senate will hold no roll call votes or committee hearings. In the House, members will vote on the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act, and Treasury Sec. Timothy Geithner will appear before a joint hearing of the Agriculture and Financial Services committees to discuss the administration's proposal to regulate the over-the-counter derivatives market.

    The Senate Judiciary Committee continues to gear up for hearings on the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Hearings begin Monday, with New York Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand introducing the nominee.

    **President Obama
    *Gallup: Obama "averaged a 58% job approval rating for the first eight days of July, down from an average of 61% for June. His approval rating is down most significantly among independents, to 53% so far in July from an average of 59% in June."

    *As his trip winds down, Obama is "particularly excited" to visit the Vatican, Time's Scherer reports. "He recognizes that this is much more than your typical state visit," said Denis McDonough, one of Obama's national security advisors. "The President, in both his words and in his deeds, expresses many things that many Catholics recognize as fundamental to our teaching."

    *Obama officials "expect a tumultuous reception" for the president in Ghana. The main public ceremony in the capital, Accra will occur Saturday, before he departs for Washington. AP: "He will become the third straight U.S. president to visit Ghana, a relatively stable democracy in a continent wracked by poverty and heavy-handed governments. But he is the first such president of African descent."

    *In Cincinnati yesterday, Vice President Biden "spent a good chunk of his speech defending the package from critics," the Enquirer reports. "I say to those who are critics who say we shouldn't do this, or in the neighboring congressional district ... I ask the rhetorical question, what would they do?," said Biden. "Ladies and gentlemen, would they do nothing? I hear nothing other than the criticism. I didn't take this job, Barack didn't take this job,l to do nothing. We took this job to rebuild America. That's what this job is about."

    *The Obama administration announced that a top fundraiser will be its German ambassador this week. And the Washington Times reports that the president, "unaware of historic norms, had been on track to give more than the usual 30 percent of ambassadorial jobs to political appointees until objections from career diplomats forced it to reconsider, administration officials say."

    *Prepping for next week: Judge Sotomayor "has been barraged by hostile questions" in mock hearings, while also reviewing her past writings, speeches, cases and legal opinions, AP reports. "Sotomayor also has been learning the quirks of senators who will do the questioning, and developing a thick skin for the barbs that might come her way. The point is to ensure that no question comes up that Sotomayor hasn't heard and hasn't answered in the mock exercises."

    **Cap-and-Trade: Nearly two-thirds of Republicans in Congress (64%) think the cap-and-trade bill passed in the House two weeks ago will not reduce global warming at all, according to National Journal's bi-weekly Congressional Insiders poll. No Democrats in Congress believed that -- 29% said it would help "a lot" and 40% said "some."

    **Health Care
    *"Democratic leaders in both chambers insist they will have healthcare legislation passed by the August recess, despite acknowledging significant obstacles ahead regarding how to pay for the plan," The Hill reports.

    *"House and Senate Democrats appeared on Thursday to be on a collision course over how to pay for a sweeping overhaul of the nation's health care system, with the House planning to propose an income tax increase on the wealthiest Americans, an idea that Senate negotiators have all but dismissed as unworkable," NYT reports.

    *"Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) emerged Thursday afternoon from a private meeting of key Finance panel negotiators on health care reform and expressed optimism that discussions toward a bipartisan bill remained on track. Baucus said Senators are continuing to review options to deliver legislation that is deficit-neutral, explaining that a renewed emphasis has been placed on developing additional cost-cutting measures in addition to new taxes as a means to pay for the health care overhaul," Roll Call reports.

    *More from Roll Call: "Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), the chairman of the fiscally conservative Blue Dogs' health care task force, warned leadership in a Thursday night meeting that lasted more than two hours that the vast majority of the group could not support the bill unless major changes were made. Forty Blue Dogs signed a two-page letter communicating a series of demands ranging from more aid to rural areas to more cost-cutting to protections for small businesses."

    *The Washington Post spells out the competing solutions to pay for the bill: "The House Ways and Means Committee is close to completing legislation expected to include a surtax of up to 3 percent on households with incomes that exceed $250,000, pushing the top rate over 40 percent, assuming President George W. Bush's 2001 tax cuts are allowed to expire next year as scheduled. The Senate Finance Committee is weighing a "millionaires' tax," a surcharge on health benefits for top earners and a Medicare tax on capital-gains income. And still on the table is Obama's proposal to limit deductions for wealthy taxpayers."

    **Campaign Stuff
    *Mike reported last night that Sarah Palin will be skipping next week's NGA Conference in Mississippi.

    *IL Sen: To the surprise of no one, Sen. Roland Burris (D) will not run for election in 2010, Michael Sneed reports. "Sneed is told Burris was planning to announce his decision today -- and initially planned to only issue a press advisory and not field questions from reporters. Stay tuned."

    Alexi Giannoulis, the leading Democrat in the Illinois Senate race now that Lisa Madigan has passed on the race, announced raising $1.8 million for his campaign.

    *FL Sen: Charlie Crist raised an "eye-popping $4.3 million" in just 50 days, St. Pete Times reports. "Crist averaged about $86,000 in campaign donations per day." (His GOP rival Rubio raised $340,000) Separately, the Times' Smith says: "Rubio's still a (limping) contender, but the next three months in the fundraising doldrums of summer are make-or-break. As much as we love the idea of covering this whole battle-for-heart-and-soul of the GOP stuff, the reality is you can't tweet your way out of 30-point poll deficit and eight-to-one financial disadvantage."

    *NV Sen: "The wealthy parents of Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) gave $96,000 last year to the staffer who was then his mistress and to her family, his attorney said yesterday." The husband of Ensign's mistress spoke on camera with Nevada politics reporter Jon Ralston two days ago.

    *How about this - Joe Sestak and Arlen Specter are arguing over who is the real Democrat. Specter points to the fact that Sestak only changed his party affiliation to Democrat to run for Congress. Sestak said he felt it was important to remain an independent while in uniform, and acused the former Republican of a "Swift-Boat" attack.

    *Joe Hoeffel, the Democrat who lost to Specter in the 2004 Senate race, is now considering a bid for governor, PA2010.com also reports.

    *MA Gov: Charles Baker's (R) campaign could bring "the party back to a brand of Republicanism that has proved to be politically successful in Massachusetts over many years, a blend of moderate social views and fiscal restraint," Boston Globe reports. "On the Democratic side, there are many who believe the party is experiencing the exact opposite dynamic. With total dominance over the state's governing structures, the party is awash in infighting."

    *What We Missed: Longtime St. Paul Pioneer-Press political reporter Bill Salisbury finally shaved his beard Tuesday after vowing Nov. 5 to not shave until a winner was confirmed in the Minnesota Senate race. (video included)

    **Almanac of American Politics 2010: OK, fellow junkies. Our favorite book and yours looks like it's set to be released soon. National Journal published an excerpt from Michael Barone's introduction to the new 2010 edition in this week's magazine issue (subsc. req'd).

    --Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

    Obama Rally For Corzine Moved To Bigger Venue

    In an e-mail, Jon Corzine's campaign tells supporters that due to significant demand, next week's event featuring President Obama has been moved to a bigger venue. Originally slated for the campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, the rally will now be more than 20 miles away via the Turnpike and the Parkway to the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel. The concert venue seats more than 17,000, but the campaign said more than 50,000 signed up to attend the rally.

    In the message to supporters, campaign manager Maggie Moran says those who RSVPd for the Rutgers event aren't necessarily guaranteed a spot at the new, larger venue. But she promises that there will be "many other opportunities" to attend events either with Obama, first lady Michelle Obama or "other members of the administration." It's unclear if that represents a firm commitment by the president to come back.

    The rally will be Obama's first public campaign event since taking office. RNC chairman Michael Steele, meanwhile, will reportedly travel to the Garden State for an event with Chris Christie. But Christie apparently is in no rush to appear with outgoing Gov. Sarah Palin. He told a radio station today that "he would decline to offer Sarah Palin an invitation to campaign with him because he wants to 'focus on what the New Jersey issues are.'"

    Palin Skipping NGA Meeting

    Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), with just two full weeks left in office before her resignation takes effect, will skip the National Governors Association's summer conference, her office confirms.

    This year's event is focused on the theme of "Strengthening Our Infrastructure for a Sustainable Future." Governors will also hold sessions on workforce training, economic recovery and energy security and independence, the latter being a subject Gov. Palin has claimed as a particular area of expertise. Palin chairs the NGA's Natural Resources Committee.

    Palin also skipped the NGA's winter conference in Washington, DC, this February, which included a meeting with President Obama at the White House. She did attend a session with Obama last December shortly after the election, however.

    The NGA's 101st Annual Conference is scheduled for July 17-20. It's being hosted this year in Biloxi by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R), who now chairs the RGA. Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) is the outgoing NGA chair, and will hand the reigns off to Vermont's Jim Douglas (R) at the end of the session.

    Obama Approval Remains Strong In New Hampshire

    We've noted polls in Ohio and Virginia this week where President Obama's approval rating has slipped. But a University of New Hampshire survey finds that he's maintained strong numbers in the Granite State, perhaps the only true battleground state left in the Northeast.

    Obama Job Approval
    (Overall / Dems / Rep / Ind )
    Approve 61 / 93 / 26 / 63
    Disapprove 33/ 6 / 67 / 25

    His approval has dropped just two points overall since an April survey by UNH, but has actually increased by one point among independents. That contrasts significantly with this week's Quinnipiac poll in Ohio, which showed major slippage in both categories. UNH pollster Andy Smith told RCP that a major reason why could be that New Hampshire's economy comparatively strong. The state's unemployment rate in June was 6.5, compared to Ohio's 10.5.

    A majority of New Hampshire voters approve of how he's handling the economy, though he does score higher on foreign affairs.

    Obama Handling Of ...
    Economy 57 / 39
    Foreign Affairs 63 / 29
    Iraq 65 / 24

    The telephone survey of 558 New Hampshire adults was conducted June 24-July 1, and had a margin of error of +/- 4.1 percent.

    Sotomayor Hearings Witness List Released

    The two senior members of the Senate Judiciary Committee released a witness list for next week's hearings on the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

    Included on the Republicans' list of witnesses is Frank Ricci, a New Haven firefighter that brought suit against the city for denying him and 16 other white firefighters (and one Latino) a promotion because too few minorities passed an exam. As a U.S. appeals court judge, Sotomayor ruled against the group, though the Supreme Court overturned that ruling last week. Also appearing is Ben Vargas, the lone Latino petitioner who filed suit along with Ricci.

    Democrats will call New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Major League Baseball pitcher David Cone, who played in New York a total of 13 seasons for both the Yankees and Mets.

    Click through to see the entire list.

    American Bar Association Witnesses
    Kim Askew, Chair of Standing Committee
    Mary Boies, Primary Reviewer

    Majority Witnesses
    Michael Bloomberg, Mayor, City of New York
    Chuck Canterbury, National President, Fraternal Order of Police
    David Cone, former Major League Baseball pitcher
    JoAnne A. Epps, Dean, Temple University Beasley School of Law, on behalf of the National Association of Women Lawyers
    Louis Freeh, former Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation
    Michael J. Garcia, former U.S. Attorney, Southern District of New York
    Wade Henderson, President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights
    Patricia Hynes, President, New York City Bar Association
    Dustin McDaniel, Attorney General, State of Arkansas
    Robert Morgenthau, former District Attorney, New York County, New York
    Ramona Romero, National President, Hispanic National Bar Association
    Congressman Jose E. Serrano, New York 16th District
    Theodore M. Shaw, Professor, Columbia Law School
    Kate Stith, Lafayette S. Foster Professor of Law, Yale Law School
    Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

    Minority Witnesses
    Linda Chavez, President, Center for Equal Opportunity
    Sandy Froman, Esq., Former President, National Rifle Association of America
    Dr. Stephen Halbrook, Attorney
    Tim Jeffries, Founder, P7 Enterprises
    Peter Kirsanow, Commissioner, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
    David Kopel, Esq., Independence Institute
    John McGinnis, Professor, Northwestern University School of Law
    Neomi Rao, Professor, George Mason University School of Law
    Frank Ricci, Director of Fire Services, ConnectiCOSH (Connecticut Council on Occupational Safety and Health)
    David Rivkin, Esq., Partner, Baker Hostetler
    Nick Rosenkranz, Professor, Georgetown University School of Law
    Ilya Somin, Professor, George Mason University School of Law
    Lieutenant Ben Vargas, New Haven Fire Department
    Dr. Charmaine Yoest, Americans United for Life

    Pelosi Talks Health Care, Stimulus, CIA, M.J.

    In her weekly news conference, Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the health care bill in the process of being brought to the floor "essential" and said it would not include a tax on health benefits. "I promised the president that we would have legislation out of the House before we went into the August break. That is still my goal," she said.

    The Speaker said she could not recall the last time she received an intelligence briefing from CIA Director Leon Panetta, who told Democratic lawmakers that the agency had "concealed significant actions" in previous briefings. She also said she does not believe a resolution that celebrates the life and career of Michael Jackson should be brought to the House floor.

    On the stimulus, Pelosi said she was "committed to seeing through the first stimulus" and that "this third quarter is a very important one for" it.


    TX Gov: Perry Leads Hutchison In GOP Primary

    A new University of Texas poll shows that Texans don't think much of what's going on in Washington, which may be weighing down Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) as she prepares to challenge Gov. Rick Perry (R) in the March 2010 primary. She had led Perry in the last UT poll conducted in February.

    Republican Primary Election Matchup (RVs)
    Perry 38 (+9 from Feb)
    Hutchison 27 (-10)
    Berman 1
    Undecided 26 (+2)

    A Democratic primary matchup shows entertainer and 2006 independent candidate Kinky Friedman ahead among registered voters with just 13 percent, followed by state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte at 7, with 64 percent undecided. In a poll of the special election that would occur if Hutchison resigns her Senate seat, Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Democratic former state Comptroller John Sharp leading with 9 percent, with Houston Mayor Bill White (D) at 6 percent.

    Perry is not overwhelmingly popular, and in fact won re-election in 2006 with less than 40 percent of the vote in a multi-candidate field. But President Obama has a net negative approval rating, while only 20 percent approve of Congress.

    Job Approval
    Perry 42 / 32
    Obama 43 / 46
    Congress 20 / 58

    The poll also tests a potential 2012 White House matchup between Obama and Mitt Romney, with the incumbent slightly ahead.

    2012 Presidential Matchup
    Obama 36
    Romney 34
    Don't Know 30

    The survey was conducted from June 11-22, surveying 924 adults with a margin of error of +/- 3.2 percent. The Republican primary subsample of 350 voters had a margin of error of +/- 5.2 percent.

    RNC Uses Biden To Rebut Obama

    The Web videos regularly produced by the campaign committees tend to be just more fodder for the echo chamber, viewed mostly by the reporters who receive them and the partisans who will seek them out. So the impact of this new RNC video probably is minimal. But what is so striking about it is how easy it was for the GOP to use Vice President Biden's words as a foil for President Obama's seeming stubbornness over his economic plan.

    The common refrain of the video is Obama saying, "There's nothing that we would have done differently," taken from an interview with ABC News this week. Compare that to Biden's now infamous "misread" comment in another ABC interview, and this comment from last month when he bluntly stated, "Some people are being scammed already." One can just imagine what the campaign ads might look like in three years, to say nothing of during the midterms.

    Here is Obama's full quote from that ABC interview, where he continues to express faith in his recovery plan:

    We needed a stimulus and we needed a substantial stimulus. Some of the money in the short term just to help stop the freefall and then some other dollars that were going to be designed to put people to back to work and we'll have more ripple effects in the economy, that money is in place and I think is going to make a big difference.

    MN Gov Poll: Coleman Takes a Hit

    Former Minnesota senator Norm Coleman (R), fresh off a losing battle for re-election in which he won half the votes, is now rumored to be considering a run for governor. However, Coleman's extended post-election legal battle to keep his former Senate seat has negatively affected his stance among voters, a new survey finds.

    The poll, conducted by PPP (July 7-8, 1491 RV, +/- 2.5%), finds 52% of voters have an unfavorable opinion of Coleman, and 54% said the way he handled his post-election campaign made them less likely to support him in a future campaign for governor.

    Coleman is less popular than former senator Mark Dayton (D), who declined to run for re-election to a second term in 2006 due to low poll numbers and no money. Dayton is viewed unfavorably by 37% of voters, 15 points less than Coleman.

    Matched up against potential Democratic oppponents, Coleman leads only State House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, who's unknown by nearly half of voters. Coleman trails Dayton and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak.

    Dayton 41 - Coleman 39 - Und 20

    Rybak 43 - Coleman 37 - Und 19

    Kelliher 34 - Coleman 42 - Und 24

    Study: Sotomayor Tough On Crime

    In the six years as a federal judge in the Southern District of New York, Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor was more likely than her fellow judges to send a person to prison, especially if it was a white collar crime, a new study finds.

    The study, released this morning by Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, analyzed 7,750 prosecutions handled by the 52 judges that served in the district from 1992 to 1998, when Sotomayor served there -- 261 of the prosecutions were handled by Sotomayor.

    "By a range of different statistical measures, Judge Sotomayor was -- across the board -- a comparatively stiff sentencer, a judge who imposed prison time more often than was typical for her colleagues in the same district," TRAC reports.

    Of the white collar criminals that went before Sotomayor, she sentenced 52 percent to some prison time -- nearly all of which were given six months or more. She handed out prison sentences of two years or more to 24 percent of all the white collar cases brought before her.

    Comparatively, the other judges sentenced 43 percent to some prison time, with 34 percent getting six months or more, and just 12 percent receiving sentences of at least two years -- half that of Sotomayor.

    Sotomayor was also tougher with drug convictions. Her fellow judges handed out sentences to 81 percent of those convicted, with 79 percent receiving at least six months in prison. By contrast, Sotomayor gave prison sentences more than 85 percent of the time -- and each received six months or more.

    Following her tenure as a district court judge, Sotomayor was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, in New York, where she has served for the past decade. This study was released as the Senate Judiciary Committee prepares to hold hearings on Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court. The hearings begin Monday.

    Strategy Memo: Stimulus, Or Stimuli?

    Today, the President's schedule is packed with meetings at the G-8 in L'Aquila, Italy. The leaders today are joined by five additional leaders from Brazil, China, India, Mexico, South Africa and Egypt. Obama will deliver a statement to the press toward the end of the sessions today; later he'll attend a working dinner. Meanwhile, Vice President Biden travels to Ohio and New York to promote the stimulus.

    On the chamber floors, the Senate will resume consideration of the Homeland Security Appropriations Act and the House will likely vote on the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act.

    Off the floors, a Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee will examine the EPA's clean air regulations one year after the CAIR and CAMR federal court decisions. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing on "The Rise of the Mexican Drug Cartels and U.S. National Security." Also, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader John Boehner hold their weekly press conferences this morning.

    **President Obama
    *Gallup: With a 56% job approval rating, Obama has reached a new low in the Daily Tracking Poll.

    *In a CNN poll conducted over a week ago, Obama has a 61 percent approval rating. Seventy percent call him a strong and decisive leader, down from 80 percent in February.

    *The G-8 nations agreed to cut their emissions 80 percent by 2050, "but failed to reach an accord on shorter-term targets -- a setback that could have repercussions for a major meeting on climate change in Copenhagen later this year," the Wall Street Journal reports. "Their failure prompted a larger group of nations -- including China, India, and other developing-country polluters -- to backtrack from their own commitment to numerical targets they had planned to announce Thursday."

    *Obama announced he will host a nuclear security summit in Washington next March. http://www.cbsnews.com/blogs/2009/07/08/politics/politicalhotsheet/entry5145531.shtml

    *Future GOP talking point alert: it's going to cost $18 million to redesign Recovery.gov, the Website that's supposed to track recovery act dollars.

    *Two new reports on the stimulus: USA Today says "billions of dollars in federal aid delivered directly to the local level to help revive the economy have gone overwhelmingly to places that supported President Obama in last year's presidential election."

    Meanwhile, "according to an analysis by The New York Times of 5,274 transportation projects approved so far -- the most complete look yet at how states plan to spend their stimulus money -- the 100 largest metropolitan areas are getting less than half the money from the biggest pot of transportation stimulus money. In many cases, they have lost a tug of war with state lawmakers that urban advocates say could hurt the nation's economic engines."

    *Cincinnati Enquirer explains why Biden is coming today: "The Factory Square development in Northside, which will turn a vacant factory into apartments and retail space, was suggested by the city for the vice president's stop because they say it is a good example of a how stimulus dollars can help rejuvenate a community."

    *Health care development: "An income tax surcharge on highly paid Americans emerged as the leading option Wednesday night as House Democrats sought ways to pay for health care legislation that President Barack Obama favors, several officials said. ... In addition, key lawmakers are expected to call for a tax or fee equal to a percentage of a worker's salary on employers who do not offer health benefits." But Senate Democrats have "edged away from their goal of passing ambitious health care legislation by early August amid heightening partisan controversy over tax increases and a proposed new government role in providing insurance to consumers."

    *Brazil's president twisted the knife, presenting Obama with an autographed soccer jersey weeks after a crushing defeat in the Confederations Cup.

    **Sotomayor
    *"A red-state Democratic rebellion based on gun rights may be the Republicans' best shot if they want to derail Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court. But so far, even the National Rifle Association has yet to engage in a serious lobbying effort to pressure centrist Democrats to oppose Sotomayor," Politico reports.

    *Washington Post: "Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor's opinions show support for the rights of criminal defendants and suspects, skepticism of corporations, and sympathy for plaintiffs alleging discrimination, an analysis of her record by The Washington Post found. And she has delivered those rulings with a level of detail considered unusual for an appellate judge."

    *Wall Street Journal quotes key senators on Sotomayor, judicial philosophy and the Court.

    **The Parties
    **In an interview with the AP, Chuck Schumer predicted an immigration bill to be on the table by Labor Day. "Schumer said the way to get the bill done is to be very tough on future waves of illegal immigration. He declared himself pro-immigration and said the U.S. should encourage legal immigration and find some kind of path for people now here to find a way to legal citizenship."

    *"Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has taken the job of shadowing Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), mimicking a strategy from the National Football League, where teams often assign a "spy" linebacker to key on the opponent's offensive threat. McConnell's staff says they have noticed Durbin taking a more forceful approach against the Republican leader in recent weeks, culminating in a pointed reproach of McConnell on the Senate floor this week," The Hill reports.

    *Roll Call writes that "change has come to the Republican Conference, where Sen. John Thune's (S.D.) rise to chairman of the Policy Committee and Sen. Lisa Murkowski's (Alaska) election as vice chairwoman of the Conference have marked a sudden shift to a younger generation of leaders."

    *"Public anxiety over the economy, stocks in decline, rising unemployment and a string of expensive Democratic initiatives are all encouraging high-caliber Republicans to compete in 2010. The GOP is enjoying its best candidate recruitment streak in years," The Hill reports.

    *"For a party that wants to dream big, Democrats keep tripping over the small stuff. This summer's agenda is historic: health care, climate change, financial regulatory reform. So why can't the White House -- with a 60-vote majority in the Senate -- win a simple fight over a $12 million bus security program targeted for termination?" Politico reports.

    *WSJ: "Central Intelligence Agency Director Leon E. Panetta has told lawmakers that the agency 'concealed significant actions' from Congress, according to a letter released Wednesday from seven Democratic lawmakers. The letter also contends that Mr. Panetta said CIA officials have misled Congress since 2001."

    **In the States
    *IL Sen/Gov: Atty Gen. Lisa Madigan's statement yesterday: "Over the past few months, I've thought about how I can best continue to serve the people of Illinois. The progress we have made and the work that can still be done have been foremost on my mind. ... So today, I am announcing that I will seek a 3rd term as Illinois Attorney General."

    Washington Times: "Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, Illinois Republican, has decided to run for President Obama's former Senate seat, after a top state Democrat turned down aggressive White House efforts to recruit her for a race shaping up to be a major battleground contest next year."

    *NY Gov: "In an unprecedented move, Gov. David A. Paterson Wednesday night sought to end the State Senate stalemate by appointing former MTA chairman Richard Ravitch as lieutenant governor. However, it was unclear how having Ravitch preside over the Senate would break the 31-31 deadlock that has stalled passage of key bills for four and one-half weeks," Newsday reports.

    NPR's Rudin points out one of those anomalies we love: the new lieutenant governor, if seated, would be the fourth statewide official who was not elected to that post (also Paterson as governor, DiNapoli as comptroller, and Gillibrand as senator).

    *MA Gov: "Charles D. Baker Jr. announced yesterday that he will resign as chief executive of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care to seek the Republican nomination for governor, a move that infused more drama into an already chaotic political week and paved the way for a potentially momentous 2010 campaign," Boston Globe reports.

    *Chicago Sun-Times on Lisa Madigan's decision: "Madigan did not relish a primary fight, and by staying where she is, she avoids one. She would have had to beat Quinn for the gubernatorial nomination and was not able to clear the field for a Senate bid."

    *Attorney General Jack Conway (D) in Kentucky raised $1.3 million in the latest quarter for his Senate campaign, what they're calling a record for state Democrats. Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo (D) has not announced his total yet, the Herald Leader adds.

    --Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

    NJ Gov Poll: Corzine Still Trails, But Help On The Way?

    This month's Rasmussen Poll of the New Jersey governor's race shows that incumbent Jon Corzine (D) still trails Chris Christie by double digits. About half -- 47 percent, to be exact -- of the state's voters say that a visit by President Obama this fall will help, while one third say it will have no impact.

    General Election Matchup
    Christie 53 (+2)
    Corzine 41 (+3
    Not Sure 5 (-1)

    In fact, Obama is coming to the Garden State next week as Corzine seeks to sure up support among Democrats, who other polls have shown haven't fallen in line yet. Obama has a 55 percent job approval rating in New Jersey, while Corzine's is at 40 percent. But even as Obama stumps for Corzine, he may need to continue bucking up his own administration's recovery efforts: only 26 percent say the stimulus plan has helped the economy, while 30 percent say it's made things worse, and 39 percent say it's had no impact.

    Christie is viewed much more favorably by state voters, with 57/36 split, compared to the incumbent's upside-down 43/56 favorability. Christie also has huge advantages on the issues of government spending, corruption and taxes -- sure to be his recurring themes going forward.

    The Rasmussen Poll was conducted July 7, surveying 500 likely voters with margin of error of +/- 4.5 percent. The RCP average in New Jersey has Christie maintaining a 10-point advantage.

    A Second Stimulus?

    The Atlantic is reporting that amid growing chatter of a potential second economic recovery package, "the White House is holding firm against the idea of a second major stimulus intervention" and will wait at least six months before deciding to move forward with another one.

    Whether they sustain this position will test Obama's ironclad commitment to hold steady in the face of regular congressional (and even public) panics. And lest you wonder, White House officials are very much watching the new statewide polling data showing a drop in support among independent voters.

    Republicans have been jumping on Vice President Biden's statement over the weekend that the administration had "misread" how bad the economy was, and it's criticizing Democrats for how relatively slow the money from the first stimulus is being spent.

    At his weekly off-camera briefing with reporters yesterday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said he would remain open to a second stimulus package, though he'd like to see how the first one turns out first:

    To the extent that we are, as I said, just 130 days out on the adoption of a very, very major effort to get the economy moving, certainly I don't think we can make a determination as to whether or not that's been successful, and certainly as successful as we want it to be or certainly not as quickly as we want it to be. We would all like to have plus numbers in terms of the growing employment rather than a loss of jobs. But I think we need to be open to whether or not we need additional action.

    Politico highlighted a difference of opinion on this among congressional Democrats.

    Has Obama Lost His Sway?

    First, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper opted out of challenging Republican Sen. Richard Burr, despite a White House sit-down with President Obama. Now, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has decided not to run for Senate, even after her own private White House visit.

    This begs an obvious question: Has Obama lost his sway?

    Obama seemed able to snag almost anyone he wanted to join his administration -- he tapped a potential 2012 rival in Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) to serve as ambassador to China, and even Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) hopped on board for a day or two before declining the nomination for Commerce Secretary.

    The president appeared equally adept at getting candidates to drop bids against incumbents he wants to protect -- a quick phone call was all it took to get Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) to drop any plans for a challenge to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

    However, along with his inability to sway Cooper and Madigan, the White House hasn't had any luck keeping Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) from challenging Gillibrand or Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) from taking on the second-newest Democrat in the Senate, Arlen Specter (Pa.).

    Madigan Won't Run For IL Gov, Sen

    Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan will announce today she is running for re-election, despite being recruited by the Obama administration to run for Senate and her own interest in running for governor.

    The Fix first reported the news.

    Madigan had long expressed an interest in serving as governor but the ouster of Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) and ascension of Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn (D) to the top job complicated her path.

    To be clear, Madigan would have been a favorite had she decided to run for either the Senate or for governor, a fact that makes her decision to run for neither office all the more puzzling.

    With Madigan out of the Senate race, expect businessman Chris Kennedy to quickly announce his candidacy, joining state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias in the Democratic primary. Madigan's no-go decision also makes it far more likely that Rep. Mark Kirk, by far Republicans strongest candidate, will make the race.

    A survey released in late April found Madigan leading Kirk by 15 points.

    Biden: Health Care Reform "On Track"

    The White House is trying to show more progress on the health care reform front even as it appears shaky on the critical details, with Vice President Biden announcing this morning a "major" deal with the hospital industry to lower costs.

    "Folks, reform is coming," Biden said in the EEOB today. "It is on track, it is coming." He said that a deal on reform has never been this close in his whole career.

    Hospitals, Biden says, are "cracking under the weight" of the cost of providing care for the uninsured, and will thus benefit from expanded coverage. Under the announced agreement, hospitals will contribute $155 billion in savings that will be applied to the total cost of health care reform. This after other deals with pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies to find additional savings represents real momentum, Biden argued. And, 'We have the American public behind us," he said.

    "We must and we will enact reform by the end of August," Biden pledged. "We can't wait."

    Stage Set for Sotomayor Hearings

    Here's a bit from my piece today on the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings set to take place next week on the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor:

    The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to begin questioning a nominee for the United States Supreme Court for the third time in four years. Hearings for Judge Sonia Sotomayor begin Monday, though backroom strategizing and public persuasion efforts have transpired for weeks.

    Senate Democrats, led by Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (Vt.) and Charles Schumer (N.Y.), are pushing the message that Sotomayor, a former prosecutor and federal appellate judge, has the judicial experience and mainstream record to warrant confirmation. She would become the first Latina to sit on the Supreme Court after being nominated June 1 by the first African American to serve as president.

    Read the rest here.

    Strategy Memo: On To Italy

    Good morning, Washington. The president has now arrived in Italy for the second leg of his trip. He met in Rome with President Napolitano, and now has moved to L'Aquila, site of the G-8 Summit. After today's sessions, Obama and Prime Minister Berlusconi tour the earthquake-ravaged town, before a working dinner of all G-8 leaders.

    Vice President Biden picks up the slack on domestic issues, and will make an announcement this morning on health care with representatives of the hospital industry. Tomorrow, he'll travel to Cincinnati and upstate New York State to promote the impact of the stimulus bill, which seems to be facing greater scrutiny each day.

    The Senate continues consideration of the Homeland Security Appropriations bill. The Senate Finance and Foreign Relations committees hold hearings on the economic effects of climate change legislation. The House begins considering the Enhancing Small Business Research and Innovation Act of 2009 and the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration Appropriations bill.

    **President Obama
    *According to Gallup, "Obama averaged a 61% job approval rating for the month of June, down from his 65% average in May, and one point below his previous monthly low of 62%, recorded in March."

    *AP: "The G-8 meetings may lack the intrigue of Obama's sit-downs earlier in the week with Russia's top leaders, or the emotion of the reception the first black American president surely will get in Ghana Saturday. But they won't lack for ambition, on the surface at least, as the world's most powerful officials discuss the problems threatening the planet."

    *One focus of the G8 Summit is climate change. But en route to Italy, Robert Gibbs "declined to say whether Obama would endorse the drafted G-8 statement on climate reduction goal," Newsweek reports. Instead, he said "they are focused more on getting a bill through Congress, not on what an international summit can accomplish."

    *In Russia, some Obama aides "said they were struck by the low-key reception here, especially when compared with the outpouring on some of his other foreign trips," the Times reports. "Even Michelle Obama, who typically enjoys admiring coverage in the local news media when she travels, has not had her every move chronicled here."

    *Dan Balz argues, as the AP did earlier this week, that "Nothing may be more important to public assessments of President Obama's leadership than the state of the economy, and at this point there are political warning lights flashing." Senior officials tell him that they think the stimulus plan is on track, "despite criticism from Republicans and grumbling from some Democrats. Which is why they say it is premature to decide whether a second stimulus package is needed."

    *Is the problem in the states? USA Today reports on a GAO report that says, "many states are using the federal funds for short-term projects and to fill budget gaps rather than spending on long-term improvements."

    *The Hill notes that MoveOn.org "was so perturbed" by Rahm Emanuel's remarks about health care in the Wall Street Journal "that even after the White House issued Obama's statement, the liberal group sent a message to its massive e-mail list encouraging supporters to 'call the White House switchboard and tell them you're disappointed in Chief of Staff Emanuel's comments supporting the 'trigger.'"

    **Congress
    *"Al Franken, the funnyman who wrote the best-seller "Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot," was sworn in as the junior senator from Minnesota on Tuesday, without doing one single funny thing. ... Franken stepped into the ornate Senate chamber to take his oath of office in a charcoal gray suit from Men's Wearhouse, Bible in hand, surrounded by political allies eager to cast him as a serious addition to Congress," L.A. Times reports.

    *Murtha: "The Justice Department this week filed criminal charges against a defense contractor who has received millions of dollars worth of earmarks from Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), bringing together two parallel cases that are swirling around a host of firms with ties to the Congressman," Roll Call reports.

    *House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer "said Democrats are open to looking at a second stimulus package, but said it's still to early to judge the success or failure of the $787 billion package passed earlier this year," The Hill reports.

    *"Even as they continue to look for a smoking gun in the record of Supreme Court hopeful Sonia Sotomayor, leading Senate Republicans acknowledged on Tuesday that they have had a difficult time building widespread opposition to President Barack Obama's first high-court pick," Roll Call reports.

    *Harry Reid, meanwhile, "abruptly waded into health care reform negotiations Tuesday, telling Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) that Democratic leaders had serious concerns about a bill that would tax health benefits and nix a strong public insurance option."

    *Milbank sat in on the Judiciary subcommittee hearing on the BCS, led by Sen. Orrin Hatch.

    **Sarah Palin
    *Politics Daily's Carl Cannon: "Sarah Palin's rambling abdication speech was hard to follow, let alone acclaim, but in her abrupt announcement that she is withdrawing from public office, the Republican governor of Alaska was hardly the only player in a 10-month drama who demonstrated a lack of self-awareness. ... But the true villains in this political morality play may have been the press."

    *Washington Post's Kathleen Parker: "...can we stop pretending that Palin is interested in anything other than her own ambition? Can we also stop nodding assent every time she says the media are to blame for her self-inflicted wounds? The media invented Sarah Palin."

    *Gallup: "Palin herself has argued that she has been unjustly attacked by the news media, and most Americans seem to agree. The new poll finds 53% describing the news media's coverage of Palin as 'unfairly negative,' while just 9% say it has been 'unfairly positive' and 28% say it has been 'about right.' "

    *Politico: "Leading Republicans on Capitol Hill see Sarah Palin's bombshell announcement last week that she'll resign as Alaska governor as a potential win-win for her and their party. Their thinking: As a private citizen, she'll be free to raise big bucks for 2010 candidates and at the same time restore her credibility and stature within the bruised party."

    **Sanford: State lawmakers tell CNN that resignation no longer seems like a possibility. "If he decides to open his mouth again, and starts telling us about other revelations, then maybe something will come up," said Democratic state Rep. Boyd Brown. "But right now I don't see it."

    **Campaign Stuff
    *Campaign Finance: "Decades of lawmaking and court decisions restricting the flow of cash into U.S. elections are on the verge of coming undone, placing President Barack Obama in the unexpected position of presiding over the possible demise of the modern campaign finance regime," Politico reports.

    *Marco Rubio is slowly picking up steam with endorsements from key conservatives, but his second quarter fundraising report did not impress -- $340,000, compared to an expected $3 million haul from Gov. Charlie Crist. "It's hard to call him credible when he only raised that much in his first quarter. ... No candidate wins if they're outraised 10 to 1," Republican consultant Jamie Miller tells the St. Pete Times.

    On the Democratic side, Kendrick Meek raised about $1.2 million for his Senate campaign over the past three months, AP reports.

    *CT Sen: Greenwich millionaire Tom Foley (R) raised $530k in 26 days; Rep. Rob Simmons (R) raised more; and state Sen. Sam Caligiuri raised $125k, the Hartford Courant reports.

    *NY Sen: The Hill: "Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) says that GOP New York Rep. Peter King was 'off the wall' in calling Michael Jackson a 'pervert' " referring to a now-viral video clip of King from Sunday. Roll Call: "A spokesman for King said Tuesday that the office has gotten 'several threatening messages and turned them over to police.' "

    *SD Gov: "Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.) is running for re-election to her House seat, passing up an opportunity to run for governor of South Dakota," Politico reports.

    *In an interview with the Union Leader, Attorney General Kelly Ayotte confirmed that she had committed to serve out her full term when reappointed. "I would say that at the time of my reappointment, no one could have predicted the political future. The political landscape has changed drastically since then. Clearly, the intent was to continue serving," Ayotte said, "but I think in fairness no one could have predicted the changes that have occurred on the political landscape."

    *Concord Monitor: "Ayotte's announcement yesterday didn't clear the field of other Republicans who are openly looking at the race. Former congressman Charlie Bass and one-time gubernatorial candidate Ovide Lamontagne both reaffirmed yesterday they are still considering running."

    --Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

    Corzine Goes Negative In Latest TV Spot

    Behind in the polls Gov. Jon Corzine (D-N.J.) is shifting course with his ad strategy, taking to the airwaves with allegations state Democrats have been making for weeks about Republican Chris Christie involving contracts from the U.S. Attorney's office. One of those no-bid contracts, the ad notes, went to a "Bush Attorney General," John Ashcroft.

    Here's the script for the ad, which the Corzine camp says will be aired on network television in the state starting today:

    "A million lawyers in America. So who did Chris Christie give contracts to? The Bush Attorney General who was Christie's boss. He got a $52 million no-bid contract. The political pal got a $10 million no-bid contract. The prosecutor who let Christie's brother suspected of stock fraud off the hook. A multi-million no bid-contract. A million lawyers to choose from.  Christie's three pals who got millions.

    OH Sen: Brunner Slams "Insiders" Pushing Her To Quit

    There's probably no turning back now for Jennifer Brunner.

    Any hopes that the Ohio Secretary of State could be convinced to abandon her Senate campaign to avoid a primary with Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher (D) would seem to be dashed after Brunner excoriates Democratic "insiders," both in Columbus and Washington, for trying to push her out. Writing on her campaign Web site, Brunner repeats some of the entreaties she's heard -- including one from an unnamed Congressman who says she should quit even though he or she thinks Fisher can't win.

    "She can't raise the money," said many. "You shouldn't run for the Senate if the Governor supports Lieutenant Governor Fisher," warned some Washington insiders in January. "You need to take one for the team, even though I don't think the Lt. Gov. can win in the general election," one Congressman cautioned. "I think you have the political skills to win this election, but you need the money," said a political mentor.

    A poll released just today showed Brunner trailing Fisher by just three points, but Fisher is expected to build on his significant financial advantage when new reports are released. That factor is something Brunner confronts head on.

    Public service for me has never been about the money. I know I must raise it. I always have, deliberately, steadily and having enough in the end to get the votes I need to win. For me, public service at its essence is about standing up for the kinds of things we as Democrats believe in and taking the fight of my fellow Ohioans to Columbus or Washington or wherever I can best help people in need.

    And just as Ohio Democrats were thrilled when likely Republican nominee Rob Portman boasted in a recent interview of being a Washington "insider," Brunner hands the GOP a quote to fight back with in the event Fisher is the nominee.

    If this race for the U.S. Senate is about the trappings of insider politics, then I suspect Lee Fisher will be your man. But if Ohio's Democratic faithful are willing to look toward a new way that is really nothing more than the old way of the Golden Rule, then Jennifer Brunner will be the first woman from Ohio to be both nominated and elected to the U.S. Senate.

    She concludes her 1,300-word opus with references to the tough U.S. presidential primary Democrats saw play out in Ohio last March.

    Women voters will be energized by this election across our state, because many of their hopes and dreams were piqued by the candidacy of Hillary Clinton and fueled by the election of our first African-American president, Barack Obama. Rob Portman introduces himself to the voters of our state as a former Congressman, Bush trade representative and budget director. I know that Democrats will fight to make sure that all voting Ohioans know he is not their man, and that their next U.S. Senator must be a woman whose courage has been tested and who has only just begun to help Ohioans earn a new respect for their state.

    The last line: "I am in this race to stay."

    Jackson Lee Speaks at Jackson Memorial

    Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), who helped lead a recognition of Michael Jackson's life on the House floor two weeks ago, spoke today at Jackson's memorial service in Los Angeles.

    Jackson Lee said she was speaking on behalf of the members of Congress and the Congressional Black Caucus.

    "I can tell you as a member of the United States Congress, we understand the Constitution, we understand laws and we know that people are innocent until proven otherwise," she said, presumably noting the child molestation charges Jackson had been acquited of. "That is what the Constitution stands for."

    "America appreciates and thanks you for Michael Jackson's life," she said to the Jackson family, holding up a framed copy of a House bill. "For that reason, we have introduced into the House of Representatives this Resolution 600 that will be debated on the floor of the House that claims Michael Jackson as an American legend and musical icon, a world humanitarian -- someone who will be honored forever and forever and forever and forever."

    VA Gov Poll: McDonnell +6

    In the tight race for governor of Virginia, a new survey from Public Policy Polling finds GOP nominee Bob McDonnell leading Democrat Creigh Deeds by 6 points (June 30-July 2, 617 LV, +/- 4.0%).

    Two other polls conducted since the June 9 primary found Deeds leading by 6 points and McDonnell by 1 point.

    One-quarter of voters still don't hold an opinion of Deeds, a state senator who lost the 2005 race for attorney general to McDonnell. Both candidates have similar favorability ratings, with 48%/29% for Deeds and 51%/32% for McDonnell, for whom 17% hold no opinion.

    McDonnell now leads by 1.2 points in the RCP Average.

    Finally, The Fraternity Is Full

    As Al Franken stepped into the Senate chamber shortly after noon, his newest colleagues from both sides of the aisle gravitated in his direction offering hugs and congratulations. Franken then walked down the center aisle, accompanied by fellow Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D) and former vice president and Minnesota senator Walter Mondale, and stepped up to be ceremoniously sworn in by Vice President Biden.

    The Senate gallery was packed to the gills, with Capitol police forced to turn away visitors at the doors. Normally asked to be quiet, the gallery erupted in cheers and a standing ovation when Franken said, "I do," and Biden concluded, "Congratulations, Senator."

    The ovation lasted a few minutes as Franken received more handshakes and hugs from Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), John Ensign (R-Nev.), John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), to name just a few.

    The SEN fraternity is now complete.

    N.H. Attorney General Will Resign To Explore Senate Run

    New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte, a Republican, today announced her intention to resign so that she can explore a run for the U.S. Senate, the Union Leader reports.

    "Recently, many New Hampshire citizens have urged me to run for United States Senate. I appreciate their confidence in me," she said in a statement. "After discussing this matter with my husband, Joe, and our family, I have decided to resign as Attorney General in order to explore a campaign."

    She said that the attorney general's office "has a long tradition as a nonpartisan, independent office," and she's resigning to preserve that. Her resignation is effective July 17. "I do not intend to discuss my future plans or politics in any detail until such time as I leave the Attorney General's Office," she said.

    Democrats, including the governor who twice appointed her, John Lynch, have tried to pressure Ayotte not to run by holding her to a promise Lynch says she made when he reappointed her, that she would serve out the complete term. Ayotte has not addressed that claim.

    If she does indeed run for Senate, it would give Republicans a solid chance to hold retiring Sen. Judd Gregg's (R) seat. Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.) is the likely Democratic nominee. A recent poll showed Ayotte narrowly leading him.

    UPDATE: The New Hampshire Democratic Party is weighing in with a statement tying Ayotte to Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who announced her resignation Friday.

    "We're seeing a national trend where Republicans have abandoned their responsibilities to their constituents in favor of political gain," said state party chairman Raymond Buckley. "From Alaska to New Hampshire, Republicans just can't seem to honor their commitment to the public. Not unlike Sarah Palin, Kelly Ayotte has broken her promise to the people she represents and put politics before public service."

    Buckley also stated that Hodes will be successful no matter who wins the GOP primary.

    Sanford's RGA Outraised Dems

    The Republican Governors Association, led until late June by South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, announced this morning that it raised $12.2 million through June 30, and boasts $20.4 million cash on hand as the 2009 gubernatorial races get ready to heat up. The DGA announced earlier that it had raised $11.6 million in the first half of the year. Both committees say their tallies are new records; the RGA boasted having four times as much money as it did in the 2005 cycle, while the DGA said it only raised $10.5 million in all of 2005.

    As the RGA chair, Sanford had pitched the idea that a Republican comeback would begin with the gubernatorial races this year. "Republican governors are going to have a disproportionate level of influence in determining what comes next," he told donors in February at the committee's annual gala in Washington. Gov. Charlie Crist (R-Fla.) chaired that dinner, which accounted for at least $10 million of the fundraising total.

    "The RGA's ability to outraise the Democrats despite their control of the White House, Congress and majority of governorships, proves that more people than ever believe a Republican comeback begins with the 39 governors' races that are taking place over the next two years," RGA Executive Director Nick Ayers said in a statement.

    Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D-Mont.), chair of the DGA, said the fundraising is "even more impressive given the difficult fundraising climate, and builds on the strong foundation we have already laid to protect our majority."

    Bunning: Despite Grayson Tally, I'm Still Running

    On his weekly conference call with Kentucky reporters, Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) said he doubts that he can match Secretary of State Trey Grayson's (R) $600,000 fundraising quarter, but that he still has no plans to retire.

    From the Lexington Herald Leader:

    He said he does not have the luxury to spend every day raising funds but expects to have "more cash on hand than any other Republican in the race."

    Bunning had $375,747 on hand at the end of March. Grayson's committee said it has $572,103 on hand at the end of June.

    "This job keeps me a little busy," said Bunning, who started the conference by railing against the so-called "cap-and-trade" bill dealing with carbon emissions that the House passed last week.

    Grayson initially said he has no plans to run for the office if Bunning seeks re-election. He has modified that stance in recent weeks by saying he has no plans at this time to run if Bunning stays in the race.

    Clinton Meets With Zelaya Today

    The State Department announced that Secretary Clinton will meet with deposed Honduran President Jose Manuel Zelaya at Foggy Bottom today at 1 pm. It's closed press, but they will provide an official photo after.

    Zelaya said yesterday that he hopes the United States will support efforts to restore him as president, the AP reported.

    Obama Reaffirms Support For Public Option

    That didn't take long.

    As we noted in the Strategy Memo this morning, the Wall Street Journal ran a story based on an interview with Rahm Emanuel, in which the chief of staff seemed to indicate the White House was willing to compromise on the public option in a health care plan. "The goal is to have a means and a mechanism to keep the private insurers honest. The goal is non-negotiable; the path is," he said.

    That comment is fairly consistent with what has been said in the past. But the White House has just released a statement in the president's name reiterating his view that a public option is an important mechanism for keeping down costs.

    "I am pleased by the progress we're making on health care reform and still believe, as I've said before, that one of the best ways to bring down costs, provide more choices, and assure quality is a public option that will force the insurance companies to compete and keep them honest. I look forward to a final product that achieves these very important goals."

    The statement notably does not say a public option is the only way to bring down costs, just "one of the best ways." But the White House evidently does not want to seem too eager to compromise on that component, and perhaps Emanuel went too far in that regard.

    DNC TV Ad Slams McConnell

    The Democratic National Committee begins airing a TV ad today in the home state of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, calling the five-term Kentucky senator "Leader No."

    This is the latest salvo in a line of criticism against the Republican leader whose party is down 20 senators. In May, the DNC released a web video questioning McConnell's leadership.

    The ad's announcer states: "Call Mitch McConnell. Tell him after eight years of being part of the problem, it's time to be part of the solution."

    The ad will run this week on cable stations in Lexington and Louisville.

    Strategy Memo: Call Me Senator

    In Russia, President Obama has already had a breakfast meeting with Vladimir Putin, and a session with former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. He also spoke at the New Economic School graduation. Left on the schedule is a second meeting with President Medvedev. Later, he'll meet with Russian opposition leaders at his hotel.

    Back in Washington, Vice President Biden will swear in Al Franken (D-Minn.) just after noon as the final senator to be seated in the 111th Congress. He will then return to the White House to deliver remarks about food safety with Secretary Sebelius.

    The House returns today from July 4 recess, with votes not expected until 6:30 p.m. The Senate Judiciary antitrust subcommittee examines the fairness of college football's Bowl Championship Series at a 2:30 p.m. hearing, and the full Senate will begin consideration of the Homeland Security Appropriations bill.

    Not only did all of the networks interview Obama in Russia, but they also sat down with Gov. Sarah Palin in Alaska yesterday. Her interview with Fox will be airing at 9 am. They're also all expected to cover Michael Jackson's memorial service at the Staples Center in L.A. at 1 p.m.

    **President Obama
    *In a speech today on U.S.-Russian relations, Obama said that " wants a strong, peaceful and prosperous Russia." Earlier, Prime Minister Putin had told the president: "With you, we link our hopes for the furtherance of relations between our two countries."

    *The Caucus: "When he granted separate interviews in Moscow to each of the five major American television networks on Tuesday morning, what was the one thing all five made sure to ask about? The death of the pop star Michael Jackson."

    *In his interview with NBC's Chuck Todd, Obama walked back Biden's statement that the administration "misread" the economy.

    *Politico has the details on Biden's health care announcement today: three major hospital associations have agreed to provide as much as $160 billion in savings to pay for a health care overhaul.

    *In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Rahm Emanuel said it is more important that health-care legislation inject stiff competition among insurance plans than it is for Congress to create a pure government-run option. "Emanuel said one of several ways to meet President Barack Obama's goals is a mechanism under which a public plan is introduced only if the marketplace fails to provide sufficient competition on its own. He noted that congressional Republicans crafted a similar trigger mechanism when they created a prescription-drug benefit for Medicare in 2003."

    **Congress
    *Roll Call's Paul Singer has another piece on the Murtha earmark machine: "For the past several years, Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) has funneled more than $3 million in earmarks to a company in his district to build an underwater "swimmer detection" sonar system for the Navy to use to protect its docks and ships. But the company, KDH Defense Systems, sews bulletproof vests."

    *"Half a dozen members of the Senate Democratic Conference pose the biggest threat to President Obama's agenda, giving Senate Republicans a fighting chance to block the administration's major expansions of government. GOP leaders have begun reaching out to these centrists, hoping they will buck their party on Obama's two biggest initiatives: healthcare reform and climate change legislation," The Hill reports.

    *"President Obama's climate-change legislation begins a daunting march through the Senate this week, with supporters acknowledging they are as many as 15 votes shy of victory and well aware that deals to attract more votes could erode the bill's environment-friendly objectives," Washington Post reports.

    *Politics Daily's Jill Lawrence looks at why Speaker Nancy Pelosi is disliked. "She's a tough, well-organized manager with a stable family life and a record of delivering for her popular president. She could emerge in time as one of the greats. But history isn't judging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi right now. Americans are, and lots of them don't like her."

    *WSJ takes on the Senate Judiciary subcommittee's BCS hearings today.

    **Palin
    *Just like the president, Sarah Palin granted interviews to most of the TV networks, as well as the Anchorage Daily News. Asked if she'll run for president, she "squinted and shook her head, but then indicated she might." Palin: "I can't predict the next fish run much less what's going to happen in a few years. I don't know what I'm going to do. I'm going to keep working hard for Alaska, I'm going to be there for Sean Parnell when he needs me and if the staff and lawmakers, certainly any member of the public needs me, I'm going to do all I can for this state."

    *"I am not a quitter. I am a fighter," Palin told CNN, one of several interviews she conducted yesterday.

    *ABC got records of Palin's calls from the governor's office and found that in the weeks before she announced her resignation, "she spoke privately with a range of prominent Republican officials - including former Vice President Dick Cheney and former mayor Rudolph Giuliani."

    *Today, Palin will turn up in the village of Kotzebue for a bill signing; Kotzebue "is a town of about 3,000 people that is 550 miles northwest of Anchorage and lies on a spit of sand at the end of a peninsula," AP reports.

    *CNN's Hamby checked with both 2009 gubernatorial Republican campaigns and found that neither seemed in a rush to bring Sarah Palin to stump.

    **Sanford Censured: The State reports, "After nearly four hours of discussion Monday evening, leaders of the South Carolina Republican Party voted to censure Gov. Mark Sanford, reprimanding him for secretly leaving the state to visit his lover in Argentina." S.C. GOP chairman Karen Floyd: "Today has brought a large measure of resolution to a sad chapter in our state party's history. Republicans came together to speak with a unified voice, and now is the time for healing.

    **Campaign Stuff
    *The Democratic Governors Association announced this morning that it has broken its fundraising record for the first two quarters of the year, bringing in $11.6 million in the first six months of 2009. Its record had been $11.2 million.

    *FL Sen: "The only major Democrat seeking the seat of retiring U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., Meek said he took in about $1.2 million in contributions during the just-concluded quarter 'on top of about $1.5 million in the previous period,' " Ft. Myers News-Press reports.

    *KY Sen: "Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson's U.S. Senate exploratory committee said Monday that it has raised in excess of $600,000 since May -- more than twice what Sen. Jim Bunning raised for his re-election effort in the first quarter of this year," Louisville Courier-Journal reports.

    *IL Sen: "Illinois Republican Rep. Mark Steven Kirk raised more than $580,000 in this year's second quarter and has more than $1 million in his campaign account -- funds he could use for a U.S. Senate campaign," CQ reports.

    *AR-2: The NRCC is amping up its attacks on Rep. Vic Snyder, who refuses to raise money during off years, Roll Call reports. "If they are going to give the seven-term Democrat a real race this year, Republicans will have to field a top-tier candidate. After first winning a close election in 1996, Snyder has never been re-elected with less than 58 percent of the vote. Last cycle, Snyder went unopposed for the second time in his Congressional career."

    *New Jersey Republican nominee Chris Christie "took a page out of Obama's 2008 campaign playbook today" as he promised to push hard for renewable energy-related jobs in New Jersey. "It's a change that President Obama stands firmly behind. I couldn't agree more," said Christie in a web video, which even included a still shot of Obama inspecting a solar panel, PolitickerNJ reports.

    *A new Q poll shows close races for the U.S. Senate seat, with either Democrat leading Republican Rob Portman. Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher leads Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner by 3 points in a primary.

    *Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick's (D) road to re-election may have gotten tougher now that state Treasurer Timothy Cahill has switched parties, becoming independent. Boston Globe: "As an independent, Cahill will be positioning himself as an outside candidate at a tumultuous time on Beacon Hill; he will also be sidestepping an uphill primary fight against an incumbent in a possible gubernatorial race.Cahill, a fiscal conservative, did not respond to requests for comment yesterday."

    *MN Sen: MN Sec. of State Mark Ritchie writes on MPR: "I believe Minnesota has set a new standard of excellence not only in how we administer elections, but also in how we conduct fair and transparent recounts. I am not alone in that belief."

    *The Hill examines 10 top House races in 2010.

    --Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

    Biden Speaks, Markets Move?

    That, according to the Associated Press, is just what happened. Sectors of the market are reacting negatively, with Vice President Biden's statement that the Obama administration "misread" the economy as the main factor.

    Shares of major metal manufacturers traded sharply lower Monday, a day after Vice President Joe Biden said the White House "misread" the economy, prompting concerns that an economic recovery could be slower than expected.

    In an interview with ABC's "This Week" broadcast Sunday, Biden said the administration "misread how bad the economy was," but stood by its stimulus efforts.

    Those comments will likely dampen investor confidence, said David Silver, an analyst with Wall Street Strategies.

    BCS Heads Before Antitrust Subcommittee

    A Senate Judiciary subcommittee will examine tomorrow the legitimacy and legality of the Bowl Championship Series -- college football's controversial ranking and bowl system. And, in timely fashion, RealClearSports has just posted its interview with BCS Coordinator John Swofford.

    The hearing -- titled, "The Bowl Championship Series: Is it Fair and In Compliance with Antitrust Law?" -- will be run by Antitrust Subcommittee ranking member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who has been outspoken in his quest to place a congressional check on the multi-million dollar business operation that is college football.

    "Personally, I believe that these kinds of decisions should be made in the context of higher education," Swofford told RealClearSports. "The business aspects of college football are not new; they have been a factor in the regular season and post-season for over a half-century."

    Hatch recently made his case for holding the hearings in an op-ed in Sports Illustrated last week, in which he calls the BCS "biased" and "arcane" and writes that "there are serious questions regarding the legality of the BCS." RealClearSports also recently sat down with Hatch to discuss the BCS.

    Among the witnesses appearing before the subcommittee will be Michael Young, president of the University of Utah. Based largely on the fact that Utah is in a "non-BCS" conference, the Utes were left out of the BCS national championship game this year despite an undefeated record, while Florida and Oklahoma -- the two championship participants -- had one loss apiece. Utah went on to defeat Alabama (which had been ranked No.1 during the regular season) of the Southeastern Conference by two touchdowns in the Sugar Bowl.

    "These will be the fourth set of hearings since the BCS's inception 11 years ago," said Swofford. "Much of the time, the criticism of the BCS heats up when there's a particular school that feels it deserves the chance to play in the championship game and does not receive that opportunity."

    Also appearing before the subcommittee are attorney Barry Brett of Troutman Sanders; Harvey Perlman, chancellor of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; and attorney William Monts of Hogan and Hartson.

    Reid, Franken Deflect '60' Talk

    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and Senator-elect Al Franken (D-Minn.) both took the focus off the magic number 60 today in remarks to reporters inside the Capitol. Following a state Supreme Court ruling in his favor last week and former senator Norm Coleman's concession, Franken will give the Democrats a supermajority of 60 senators when he is sworn in tomorrow.

    "A lot has been made of this number 60. The number I'm focused on is the number 2. I see myself as the second senator from the state of Minnesota," Franken said. "I am going to work day and night to make sure our kids have a great future and that America's best days lay ahead. I'm ready to get to work."

    Reid called on his Republican colleagues to take this occassion to reach out further across the aisle.

    "Moving America forward will still require the cooperation of my Senate colleagues who are Repubclians," said Reid. "The last eight years have shown us the American people want us to work together. Democrats aren't looking to Sen. Franken's election as an opportunity to ram legislation through this body. In turn, Senate Republicans must understand that Senator-elect Franken's election does not abdicate from them the responsibilities to govern. That's why we have and will continue to offer Senate Republicans a seat at any negotiating table."

    "It's up to them," he said. "I would hope that the 'Party of No' is coming to an end."

    After two relatively short statements after their meeting, Reid said he and Franken would not take questions from the media until tomorrow.

    Obama: I Trust Medvedev

    Whenever President Obama has taken questions with a visiting head of state at the White House, inevitably a news outlet from the foreign delegation will ask him about his feelings toward that leader individually or their country as a whole. Rarely is anything useful gained from that discussion from the perspective of the American press.

    A similar question came from an American reporter today as Obama spoke with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in the Kremlin, but in this case the discussion was significant. Ben Feller of the Associated Press asked Obama not only whether he trusts his Russian counterpart, but whether he believes he's truly in charge. Obama tread carefully.

    First, he spoke of how productive their interactions have been, both in bilateral meetings and in multiple phone calls. "I've found him to be straightforward, professional," Obama said, saying they have found an ability to "work together extremely effectively. "So yes, I trust President Medvedev to not only listen and to negotiate constructively, but also to follow through on the agreements that are contained here today."

    On the matter of whether Prime Minister and former President Vladimir Putin is really calling the shots, Obama was even more diplomatic. He'll meet with Putin for the first time tomorrow, he noted.

    "My understanding is that President Medvedev is the president. Prime Minister Putin is the prime minister. And they allocate power in accordance with Russia's form of government, in the same way that we allocate power in the United States," he said.

    Obama primarily is interested in working "directly" with Medvedev, but said he'll reach out to Putin and others to "get a full picture" of Russians' true needs.

    "My strong impression is that President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin are working very effectively together, and our interest is in dealing with the Russian government as a whole in order to achieve the improved bilateral relationship that I think can be accomplished," he concluded.

    Obama and Medvedev also discussed the outcome of a framework deal to reduce nuclear arms, announced before their meeting. The president also said they had a frank discussion about Georgia, and is confident that Russia would like to avoid further military action.

    Cantor: Stimulus Isn't Working

    House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said the economic stimulus plan is not working and that some of the remaining money should be spent on assistance to small businesses.

    "The first attempt at a stimulus bill did not stimulate the economy -- I think we all can agree on that now," Cantor said this morning on a conference call with reporters. "I will be requesting a meeting with the president to perhaps go about redirecting some of the monies in the first go-around that haven't worked."

    Cantor's comments come on the heels of stimulus discussions on the Sunday talk shows.

    House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.), appearing alongside Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) on "Fox News Sunday," called the stimulus "essential," despite the fact that he doesn't "think anybody can honestly say we're satisfied with the results so far."

    On ABC's "This Week," Vice President Biden said the administration may have been too optimistic regarding the economy. However, regarding the stimulus package, Biden said, "We believe it is the right package given the circumstances we're in."

    Cantor disagrees. "We heard the vice president on the Sunday talk shows indicate that he felt the administration misread the economy," he said. "There wasn't any misreading. It is my belief they didn't misread the economy -- they miswrote the stimulus bill and got the prescription wrong."

    Cantor argued that the key was to provide access to more capital for small businesses, as did Boehner. "The way to help the economy grow is to help small businesses and American families keep more of what they earn because at the end of the day they're the ones who can get the economy going again," Boehner said.

    Strategy Memo: Back To Reality

    Welcome back from a long weekend. The new week finds President Obama in Moscow, where he has already begun meetings with his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev. They hold a joint press conference later today, and will then be joined by their wives for dinner. It's the first full day of a trip that will also include stops in Italy Wednesday through Friday, and then Ghana until Saturday.

    The Senate returns to session this afternoon and is expected to vote on the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill. Senator-elect Al Franken (D-Minn.) will likely be sworn in tomorrow. The House returns from a week-long recess tomorrow afternoon.

    And with everyone back at work today, expect that Sarah Palin's shocking announcement at the start of the long weekend will still be a hot topic. She's going to be at the helm as Alaska's governor until July 26, and then -- who knows?

    **RealClearPolitics Video: Check out all the Sunday talk show highlights you missed, including VP Biden saying the administration "misread the economy," as well as Karl Rove and others on Sarah Palin's resignation.

    **President Obama
    *USA Today lead says it: "As a freshman senator in August 2005, Barack Obama walked through Moscow's Red Square virtually unnoticed during a congressional trip to inspect former nuclear weapons sites. Today, Obama's face adorns Russian nesting dolls, which can be pulled apart to reveal smaller dolls with the portraits of previous American presidents.

    *The Tribune quotes Russian Pres. Dmitry Medvedev saying, "I believe that at present these relations have begun to revive. At the moment I think we are all moderately optimistic."

    *Is the White House happy about these words? VP Biden on "This Week": "The truth is, there was a misreading of just how bad an economy we inherited. Now, that doesn't -- I'm not -- it's now our responsibility. So the second question becomes, did the economic package we put in place, including the Recovery Act, is it the right package given the circumstances we're in? And we believe it is the right package given the circumstances we're in."

    *He also said the Iraqis are on their own if violence flares up now that U.S. troops have begun withdrawing from the cities. "That's going to be a tragic outcome for the Iraqi people. We made a commitment."

    *AP: "Politically and economically, the next three months are critical for Barack Obama's presidency. The pace of the economic recovery heading into the fall -- electric smooth or diesel rough -- will determine whether Obama can prod Congress on the key features of his agenda with momentum or from a defensive crouch."

    *The New York Times reports that while the location of Obama's summer vacation is not official, "it is hardly a secret to the people on Martha's Vineyard, several business owners and others said, where reservations have been made and preparations are under way for the Obama family's August arrival." A number of locations were considered, but "since the Obamas have previously visited Martha's Vineyard, and the Secret Service is accustomed to protecting presidents there, it became a top choice."

    **Congress
    *Roll Call: "After waiting eight long months for final confirmation that he defeated former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), Sen.-elect Al Franken (D) will have no time to spare as he seeks to get up to speed this week on two of the biggest debates facing the chamber. ... Franken, who last week declined most media requests besides home-state press, will likely be sworn in as the 100th Senator midday Tuesday, one senior Senate Democratic aide confirmed."

    *"But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) isn't feeling especially giddy -- and he's trying to bridge the gap between his herd-the-cats daily reality and rising expectations that he's just been appointed overlord of a filibuster-proof Democratic kingdom," Politico reports.

    *The Hill: "The House, in its first week back from the Fourth of July break, may vote on as many as three spending measures for next year: one to fund the Department of Agriculture, another for the State Department and foreign operations and a third that funds military construction and the Department of Veterans' Affairs. The House has already passed four appropriations measures, putting Democratic lawmakers in position to move the dozen spending bills out of the chamber by August, a goal of House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.)."

    *L.A. Times: "President Obama's landmark energy and global warming bill squeaked through the House only after the White House made dozens of concessions to coal, manufacturing and other interests. Now, as the battle moves to the Senate, Obama faces demands for even more concessions -- including pressure to open the nation's coastlines to offshore oil and gas drilling."

    **Palin Resigning
    *Anchorage Daily News: "The FBI is taking the unusual step of declaring that Gov. Sarah Palin is not under investigation. ... Palin's personal attorney, Thomas Von Flein, on Saturday denounced rumors that Palin resigned because she is under criminal investigation, and threatened legal action against anyone publishing such 'defamatory' material about the governor."

    *The AP says: "To many Alaskans, Palin has been off the job for awhile already, acting as a disengaged presence around the state Capitol since she returned from the presidential campaign trail last year." State Rep. Les Gara, a Democrat: "She had a surprising amount of disinterest in state government after November. This state has a lot of problems, and she showed a complete lack of interest in solving them."

    *Politico: "Former Bush adviser Karl Rove and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee both seemed to be scratching their heads over Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's decision to resign her office in an appearance along with Alaska Lt. Gov Sean Parnell on 'Fox News Sunday.' "

    *WaPo's Anne Applebaum takes on Palin's Saturday Facebook message in which she attacked the "main stream [sic] media." WaPo's Dionne called it "one of the zaniest moments in American political history."

    *The AP reports that Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell is Palin's "polar opposite."

    **Campaign Stuff
    *South Dakota: "U.S. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin still hasn't announced whether she will run for re-election to the House or seek the governor's chair in 2010. A third possibility, challenging Republican U.S. Sen. John Thune, is still mentioned in Democratic circles, but not with much conviction. The time frame for Herseth Sandlin's announcement is almost as much a topic of conversation as her ultimate decision. Most insiders suspect it will be another House run, but they also say she is clearly considering the governor's race," Rapid City Journal reports.

    *NV Sen: "A Reno attorney with a 'commitment to injustice' is the latest to float his name as a possible Republican opponent to Sen. Harry Reid. Chuck Kozak has formed an exploratory committee and hired consultants to feel out his possible candidacy. A campaign flier he's circulating describes him as 'a lifelong Republican, a distinguished attorney, an accomplished athlete, a proud veteran and a patriotic American,' " Las Vegas Review-Journal reports.

    *Las Vegas Sun reports that Rep. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) appears unlikely to challenge Sen. Harry Reid. And "Senate Republicans have told the Sun they cannot wait forever, and seem resigned that Heller is staying put."

    *Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) talked about his potential run for Senate in Northampton County. "This isn't something I wanted to do four months ago, but it has to be done. Someone has to be in this race that's credible."

    *In the Florida Senate race, Gov. Charlie Crist is expected to report he raised close to $3 million in just six weeks; Marco Rubio likely will report less than one-third of that, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

    *The Washington Post reports that Gov. Martin O'Malley (D-Md.) is again focusing on energy rates as he gears up for re-election. But successes in some fronts has "seemed relatively small to some in the face of still-rising bills."

    *TN Gov: "In the race to assemble a campaign fundraising team for next year's Republican gubernatorial primary, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam's apparent strategy is to recruit the same people behind the successes of others' recent statewide runs," Knoxville News Sentinel reports.

    *Ovide Lamontagne talked to the Union Leader about his potential run for Senate. "We've given full control of Congress and the executive branch to Democrats. I don't think the people of the United States realize the real, true direction the administration is taking us." Lamontagne said.

    *The Daily Advertiser catches up with Stormy Daniels, the porn star running for U.S. Senate in Louisiana. "Am I qualified to do this? No. Then, I thought, 'Maybe I've been handed an opportunity and it's my higher calling that I should bring attention to the problems in the Senate race here in Louisiana."

    **Gallup: "Despite the results of the 2008 presidential election, Americans, by a 2-to-1 margin, say their political views in recent years have become more conservative rather than more liberal, 39% to 18%, with 42% saying they have not changed. While independents and Democrats most often say their views haven't changed, more members of all three major partisan groups indicate that their views have shifted to the right rather than to the left."

    --Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

    Palin: Not Retreating, Advancing

    Speaking from her home in Wasilla, Sarah Palin quoted Douglas MacArthur as she explained why would resign as Alaska governor: "We're not retreating, we are advancing in another direction."

    Palin said that as she considered this move, she polled her family and put the choice to them this way: "Do you want me to make a positive difference and fight for all our children's future from outside the governor's office?"

    For everyone trying to read 2012 tea leaves from today's stunning announcement, those are just some of the clues. As for the decision to resign, she said that came about once she decided to not run for re-election in 2010. That would make her a lame duck, she said, something she's not "wired" to be.

    "Many just accept that lame duck status, and they hit the road, they draw a paycheck - they kind of milk it. And I'm not going to put Alaskans through that," she said. "I'm determined to take the right path for Alaska, even though it is unconventional, and it's not so comfortable."

    (Corrected) She addressed a list of accomplishments from her tenure -- especially a framework for constructing a natural gas pipeline. But she focused just as much on her general political style, of shaking up "politics as usual."

    And she used a sports analogy, using the current president's favorite sport, as she spoke of the unrelenting criticism she's faced since being catapulted onto the national stage.

    "You are naïve if you do not see a full-court press from the national press picking away right now a good point guard," she said. Talking of herself in the third person, she continued: "She drives through a full-court press, protecting the ball, keeping her head up because she needs to keep her eye on the basket. And she knows exactly when to pass the ball so that the team can win. And that is what I'm doing, keeping our eye on the ball."

    She did take one swipe at the Obama administration, as she encouraged others not to be dissuaded from entering politics by her experience today. "We need hardworking, average Americans fighting for what's right, and I will support you because we need you," she siad. "We need those who will respect our Constitution, where government's supposed to serve from the bottom up and not move toward this top-down big government takeover. But rather, will be protectors of individual rights, who also have enough common sense to acknowledge when conditions have drastically changed, and they're willing to call an audible and pass the ball when it's time so the team can win."

    In the end, this was a telling line from her remarks today: "Don't explain. Your friends don't need it and your enemies won't believe you anyway."

    UPDATE: Palin To Resign As Alaska Governor

    UPDATE: KTUU-TV in Anchorage reports that Palin not only won't seek re-election, but will resign later this month.

    ORIGINAL POST: Gov. Sarah Palin (R) has announced she will not run for re-election in 2010, CNN reports. She's scheduled to make an announcement shortly.

    The decision frees Palin to travel in the Lower 48 as she considers a potential run for president in 2012. A re-election campaign could also have been tough on the former vice presidential nominee; her approval rating has dropped from stratospheric highs, and a number of candidates in both parties are said to be considering runs. Even if she won, the race would have been dominated by the specter of a presidential bid, giving her adversaries an opportunity to wound her politically. She's still fending off ethics complaints, many spurred by the "Troopergate" scandal.

    OH Gov: Strickland Slipping Amid Budget Troubles

    It's becoming a more common story across the country: governors forced to make unpopular budget decisions taking a hit in the polls. Gov. Ted Strickland (D-Ohio) is today's example, as a new Quinnipiac Poll shows his approval ratings continuing to drop and Republicans neck-and-neck in 2010 matchups.

    Strickland Job Performance
    Approve 46 (-11 from May)
    Disapprove 42 (+13)

    Strickland's approval rating was as high as 63 percent just five months ago. His favorability number has also slipped, from a net +28 (53/25) to +5 (42/37) since May. Only 33 percent of voters approve of his handling of the economy, with 53 percent disapproving, and 32 percent approve of his handling of the state budget. But voters do support his proposed fix for the state budget, legalizing casino gambling, 60-36 percent.

    At this point, former Rep. John Kasich is the only Republican in the race to challenge him. Quinnipiac also polls a potential matchup with former Sen. Mike DeWine.

    General Election Matchups
    Strickland 43 (-8 from May)
    Kasich 38 (+6)
    Undecided 16 (unch)

    Strickland 41 (-7)
    DeWine 40 (+4)
    Undecided 15 (+1)

    Kasich now leads a potential Republican primary race over DeWine 35-32. DeWine had lead 35-23 in May, before Kasich kicked off his campaign.

    The telephone survey of 1,259 voters was conducted June 26-July 1, and had a margin of error of +/- 2.8 percent.

    NH Sen: Poll Shows Ayotte Leading Hodes (If She Runs)

    Courtesy of the University of New Hampshire, we get our first test of how state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte (R) polls in a hypothetical matchup for U.S. Senate against Rep. Paul Hodes (D). Ayotte has been the subject of speculation for weeks now, and as other candidates rule themselves out, she may be the best shot Granite State Republicans have to hold onto Judd Gregg's seat in 2010.

    General Election Matchup
    Ayotte 39
    Hodes 35
    Undecided 24

    Hodes 40
    Bass 38
    Undecided 20

    Hodes 45
    Tausch 25
    Undecided 29

    Former Rep. Charlie Bass (R) has not indicated his plans yet, with the Senate race among his options if he returns to politics. Fred Tausch (R) is signaling he's likely to run, and is now airing TV ads to build his name ID. UNH also tested Hodes against Sununu and found the former senator trailing 43-41; he announced yesterday he would not run for the seat.

    Fav/Unfav Ratings
    Gregg 53/24
    Shaheen 50/36
    Hodes 32/23
    Ayotte 40/8
    Bass 33/23
    Tausch 5/4
    LaMontagne 5/4

    Even Hodes, the second district congressman, has work to do to build his statewide profile. Forty percent of state voters were unfamiliar with Ayotte; the New Hampshire attorney general is an appointed position. Tausch and attorney Ovide LaMontagne, another potential Senate candidate, have almost no statewide profile.

    The UNH survey of 558 adults was conducted from June 24-July 1, and had a margin of error of +/- 4.1 percent.

    DCCC: GOP Still Party of 'No'

    The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chalked up today's job numbers as a result of "George Bush's failed economic policies," and said the Republican Party's response to helping fix the economy continues to be, "No."

    The economy lost 467,000 jobs last month and unemployment is at its highest point in a quarter-century, according to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Much of the jobs lost during this 16 months-and-counting recession took place during the Bush administration, though Republicans have focused their attacks on the fact that the Democrat-written stimulus plan doesn't appear to have slowed it down.

    "Times are tough, Americans deserve more than Republicans' no jobs and no solutions, and no progress commitment to the status quo," said DCCC spokesperson Jennifer Crider. "Republicans ought to roll their sleeves up and work with President Obama and House Democrats on turning the economy around."