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White House

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White House Political Operation In The Crosshairs

With a record that includes losses in gubernatorial contests in Virginia and New Jersey and the Massachusetts Senate seat, the White House already faced doubts about whether the Obama political machine could still deliver. But the controversy over political horsetrading with primary challengers in Pennsylvania and Colorado have created new headaches for an administration that promised to change the way Washington does business.

Early this morning, press secretary Robert Gibbs responded to Colorado Senate hopeful Andrew Romanoff's disclosure that he was presented with three potential administration posts should he decide to abandon his challenge to appointed Sen. Michael Bennet. Gibbs said White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina simply was contacting Romanoff because he had applied for a job during the transition, and that he "wanted to determine if it was possible to avoid a costly battle between two supporters."

Last week White House counsel Bob Bauer released a memo after an internal investigation of offers made to another candidate, Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak, in return for dropping out of the race against Sen. Arlen Specter. Bauer ultimately found that "allegations of improper conduct rest on factual errors and lack a basis in the law," adding that there "have been numerous, reported instances in the past when prior Administrations" acted in a similar manner.

At today's briefing, Gibbs said President Obama himself was never personally involved in any discussions involving primary politics dealmaking. But, he added: "The president as the leader of the party has an interest in supporters not running against each other in contested primaries."

Continue reading "White House Political Operation In The Crosshairs" »

Gulf Disaster Response Competed For President's Attention

Six weeks after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig sunk in the Gulf of Mexico, the White House still finds itself on the defensive amid questions about the president's level of attention and focus on the unfolding crisis. In a press conference last week, President Obama emphatically stated that he took "full responsibility" for the government's response, while challenging that those who say "we were either slow on our response or lacked urgency don't know the facts."

A review of the president's schedule since the rig sank finds that while the oil spill has been a regular part of the agenda, other priorities -- and some extended periods of R&R -- competed for time. April 22, the day the rig sank and two days after the first explosion, is indicative of this pattern. That morning, Obama traveled to New York City to deliver remarks on Wall Street reform. En route, press secretary Robert Gibbs was asked whether Obama had spoken with officials in the region about the rig explosion, responding, "I don't believe so." After returning to the White House, Obama held a reception to honor Earth Day and met with the crew of the Space Shuttle Endeavour.

But he also held his first meeting on the rig explosion with a dozen officials in the Oval Office. The White House released this photo, along with a statement that, "the President and First Lady's thoughts and prayers are with the family members and loved ones facing the tragic situation in the Gulf of Mexico."

The very next day, Obama and the first lady departed for a weekend getaway in Asheville, North Carolina. The trip would include visits to local eateries, a tour of the Vanderbilt's estate, and two golf outings. That Sunday, Obama also met with the Rev. Billy Graham and later spoke at a memorial service honoring coal miners who died in a West Virginia mine explosion.

Continue reading "Gulf Disaster Response Competed For President's Attention" »

Obama's Buck-Stops-Here Presser

In an effort to quell the growing stream of doubts about his administration's response to the Gulf oil spill, President Obama repeatedly said he takes full responsibility for the government response while seeking to dispel the notion that his team did not act aggressively enough.

"Those who think that we were either slow on our response or lacked urgency don't know the facts. This has been our highest priority since this crisis occurred," Obama said in a rare extended Q-and-A session with White House reporters, which comes on the eve of a holiday weekend and his second trip to the Gulf since the late-April incident.

presser0527.jpgThe White House called for today's event in part to allow Obama to re-assert leadership in the face of doubts about whether the federal government or BP was calling the shots.

"The American people should know that from the moment this disaster began, the federal government has been in charge of the response effort," he said. "Make no mistake: BP is operating at our direction."

He later said he wanted the American people "to understand is that not a day goes by where the federal government is not constantly thinking about" resolving the crisis and minimizing its impact on Gulf residents. And he was Truman-esque in taking a "buck-stops-here" tone, particularly in his closing remarks.

"In case you're wondering who's responsible, I take responsibility," he said. "It is my job to make sure that everything is done to shut this down."

Continue reading "Obama's Buck-Stops-Here Presser" »

Obama To Kagan: "Just Don't Trip"

Some great behind-the-scenes video from the past week at the White House from the new media team there.

Be sure to check at the 1:50 mark, where Obama jokes with Elena Kagan before heading out to announce her nomination. "Just don't trip," he says. "That'd be really embarrassing."

In Battleground States, Obama Job Rating Suffers

After reaching the lowest levels of the administration thus far a month ago, there's quietly been something of a mini-resurgence in President Obama's job ratings. While approval is still below 50 percent, disapproval has fallen to a nearly four-month low in the RCP average, and net approval near its best mark in two months.

The White House is beginning to highlight these statistics, pointing out to a friendly source Thursday that a "a trend seems to be emerging" with every new national poll. And if the trend continues, it is surely an auspicious factor for Democrats in the midst of an election year.

But a look at Obama's numbers on a state-by-state basis reflects the party's precarious state in the midst of a critical string of primaries and special elections. RCP compiled state-specific public polling over the past three months, and found Obama's net job approval rating is in negative territory in 28 of the 44 states where figures are available, including nearly all the battleground states critical to his and the Democrats' future success.

In Florida, the president's net approval rating is -1.7; in Colorado, it's -6.5; North Carolina, -2.7; Ohio, -7.8; Nevada, -5.0; and Pennsylvania, it's -3.0. These six states all feature critical Senate contests this year, with the Keystone State also home to a potential bellwether special Congressional race next Tuesday. And five of the six were red states that flipped into the Democratic column in the 2008 presidential election.

Continue reading "In Battleground States, Obama Job Rating Suffers" »

Full Plate Crowding Out Jobs Bill?

President Obama spoke in hard-hit Buffalo, New York, this afternoon, arguing that the steps his administration has taken are indeed boosting the economy.

"We can say beyond a shadow of a doubt we are headed in the right direction," he said. "Despite all the naysayers who predicted failure a year ago, our economy's growing again."

But he acknowledged that while a recession is technically over, Americans won't feel a recovery while so many struggle to find work. A billboard in the city timed for the visit declares, "Dear Mr. President, I need a freakin job. Period."

A jobs bill is before the Congress, but is stalled at a time when lawmakers have so much else on their plate. A new Supreme Court nominee this week alone is set to occupy considerable time in the Senate, while climate change, immigration and financial reform legislation are also on the front burner.

Continue reading "Full Plate Crowding Out Jobs Bill?" »

Sarkozy Visit Spotlights Obama's Diplomatic Style

President Obama welcomes French President Nicolas Sarkozy to the White House today, a visit that includes dinner in the private residence with their spouses. Beyond the wide range of issues on the agenda, the meeting calls attention not just to a strained relationship between Paris and Washington, but broader questions about the American leader's diplomatic acumen.

The treatment of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a White House visit last week had the White House playing defense again. Senior adviser David Axelrod claimed "there was no snub intended" when the president left a meeting to have dinner with his family, leaving the prime minister and his staff alone for hours before Obama was called to return. Just over a year ago, the British press were frenzied over perceived protocol slights on a visit by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, ranging from the lack of a Rose Garden press conference to Obama's choice of a personal gift -- a set of DVDs.

And Sarkozy himself reportedly felt snubbed last summer when Obama declined a personal invitation to dine together when the president visited France to commemorate the 65th anniversary of D Day. Analysts say Obama's seeming lack of a rapport with some of his overseas counterparts stands in stark contrast with the approach of his predecessor.

"President Bush prided himself on these personal relationships that he had with key foreign leaders, and that those relationships would see them through difficult bilateral or multilateral issues," said Heather Conley, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "I think particularly for Europe, as much as President Bush was divisive to Europe, so many of those leaders loved that relationship with him. They loved getting invited to Crawford or to Kennebunkport. And they're not finding that type of relationship with President Obama."

Obama, she said, seems to be a more "workmanlike leader" who seems satisfied with a purely professional relationship.

"He doesn't need the warm and fuzzy. He's about, 'Let's get the work done. I'm busy. I've got lots of things to do - if you can help me, great, if not, step aside,'" she said.

The relationship with Sarkozy is a bit more complicated considering the French leader's outspoken criticism of Obama's leadership at times. At the United Nations last fall, Sarkozy implied that Obama was hopelessly naive in his quest for a world without nuclear weapons, saying, "We are living in a real world, not a virtual world."

Continue reading "Sarkozy Visit Spotlights Obama's Diplomatic Style" »

A Bill Signing Becomes A Pep Rally

At times today, the East Room of the White House had the air of a high school gymnasium, as President Obama ended a more than year-long fight to pass health care reform by signing the historic bill into law.

The audience was primarily full of the Democratic lawmakers who have struggled with the sausage-making all year, and who may yet feel the wrath of voters. As the president and vice president made the walk from the Blue Room to the East Room, a campaign chant of, "Fired up! Ready to go!" picked up. Though Obama has said this effort was not about him, his campaign chant and the gushing praise of his vice president made it seem otherwise.

BillSigning.jpg

"You want me to stop because I'm embarrassing you," Biden joked. "But I'm not going to stop for another minute, Mr. President, because you delivered on a promise -- a promise you made to all Americans when we moved into this building. Mr. President, you are -- to repeat myself -- literally about to make history."

He was so excited that as he embraced the president following his introductions, he was overheard telling Obama: "This is a big f------ deal." The White House later had fun with the open-mic gaffe, with Robert Gibbs tweeting: "Yes Mr. Vice President, you're right."

Continue reading "A Bill Signing Becomes A Pep Rally" »

Biden In Demand For Vulnerable Democrats

Both President Obama and Vice President Biden were in Ohio Monday, a curious instance of the nation's top officeholders traveling on separate business to the same politically important state. While Obama was tending to his administration's battle for health care reform, Biden was making two political stops on behalf of two Democrats whose jobs may be on the line as a result of that battle - first-term Rep. Steve Driehaus and Gov. Ted Strickland.

More than a year into the administration, Biden has been tasked with a disproportionate share of the political responsibilities, earning at one point the title of "patron saint of freshman Democrats." It's hardly unusual for a vice president to be more active in party-building activities this early. But with the president's approval rating stagnant and support for his agenda slipping, might Biden ultimately be the more sought-after surrogate as the midterms heat up?

On the surface, that question seems rather silly. Even if Obama's numbers were to slip further below 50 percent, the benefits of a presidential visit, particularly as measured in dollars, cannot be surpassed. But the decision for Democrats on the ballot in 2010 is whether the potential harm outweighs the potential good. And some -- particularly the more than 40 remaining Congressmen running in districts won by John McCain in 2008 -- might prefer to keep their distance.

Continue reading "Biden In Demand For Vulnerable Democrats" »

As Obama Visits Missouri, Senate Candidate Heads To DC

In February, Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, the likely Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Kit Bond, released a statement strongly criticizing the Obama administration's proposed budget. She called it disappointing, and said it was "time Washington started making fiscal discipline and tackling the long-term budget deficit higher priorities." The next day, her campaign actually highlighted a series of articles that cast her statement as showing independence from the White House.

Today, President Obama comes to Missouri to sell his health care plan, but Carnahan won't be there to welcome him. Coincidentally, as Obama heads west Carnahan has come east to Washington. Her campaign says she's there on long-scheduled official business, "meeting with financial regulators and policymakers to demand strong federal action to hold Wall Street bankers accountable and better protect consumers."

While in Missouri, Obama is also set to attend a fundraiser benefiting the Show Me State's junior senator Claire McCaskill, a fierce advocate for Obama during the 2008 campaign. The event will also benefit the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, and both the White House and Carnahan's camp says those funds will indirectly support Carnahan's campaign. But Republicans are looking painting a different picture, saying the White House has "written off the Carnahan campaign."

Continue reading "As Obama Visits Missouri, Senate Candidate Heads To DC" »

Obama Hits The Road As Internal Strife Threatens Reform

So close to an important vote, President Obama might have been expected to be traveling Monday to the district of an undecided member of the House. Instead, Obama was outside Philadelphia, in a town shared by three Congressmen who voted for health care reform and show no signs of wavering.

"If you look at where we're going, it doesn't really have an impact on a particular member," White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton told reporters on Air Force One en route to the event. "I wouldn't say that this is about any specific targeting in that sense."

What the White House reportedly was hoping to do was create a sense of momentum behind his proposal, combining a supportive crowd with a particularly fiery speech from Obama.

"I ask you to help us get us over the finish line these next few weeks," Obama shouted at the end of the event, described by many to be reminiscent of the 2008 campaign. "The need is great. The opportunity is here. Let's seize reform. It's within our grasp."

In several interviews at the start of 2010, Obama said that if he were to point to one mistake in his first year, it would be that he and his administration were too focused on the inside game, making what were in some cases critical decisions, but overall failing to communicate with the public at large.

"What they've ended up seeing is this feeling of remoteness and detachment," Obama told George Stephanopoulos just after Scott Brown won the Massachusetts Senate race.

Events like Monday's, and another to come Wednesday in the St. Louis area, would seem to be part of the administration's answer. Sen. Arlen Specter (D), who joined Obama in his home state, said he was glad to see the passion from Obama, and that he wished he'd seen it sooner.

Continue reading "Obama Hits The Road As Internal Strife Threatens Reform" »

Latest Health Care Pep Talk Takes Feisty Tone

The lab coats were back. The East Room setting familiar. Even some of the rhetoric was the same. But President Obama's tone had a bit more edge to it today as he made yet another push to pass his health care reform plan -- one the White House hopes is among his last.

Obama tried simplifying his plan, saying it would make three changes to the health care system: ending "the worst practices" of health insurance companies; opening an insurance exchange to give Americans more options; and lowering costs generally. It's a plan, he says, that "has been debated and changed and I believe improved over the last year," and incorporates many Republican ideas.

obamahc.jpg

"I, therefore, ask leaders in both houses of Congress to finish their work and schedule a vote in the next few weeks," he demanded. "From now until then, I will do everything in my power to make the case for reform. And I urge every American who wants this reform to make their voice heard as well."

Obama himself will hit the road with events in the purple states of Missouri and Pennsylvania. And he activated his former campaign organization to join "the final march for health reform."

The political stakes are high, but Obama said he's not motivated by politics. In fact, he chastised the media for "a fascination, bordering on obsession" with the political ramifications of passing the bill.

"I do not know how this plays politically, but I know it's right," he said.

Presidential Travel Favors Blue, Purple States

President Obama's trip to Georgia tomorrow will be his first as president. According to data shared by the indispensable Mark Knoller of CBS News, it will mark the 31st state the president has traveled to since taking office last January.

Looking more closely at those numbers, a pattern emerges that is hard to ignore. Obama has visited 23 of the 28 states he carried in November 2008, but only six of the 22 states carried by Republican John McCain. Broken into three broad categories:

  • Obama has made 47 stops in the 19 states he carried by more than 10 points (including 16 in neighboring Maryland).
  • Obama has made 44 stops in the 16 states where the final result was within 10 points (including 19 in neighboring Virginia).
  • Obama has made 4 stops in the 15 states that McCain carried by more than 10 points.

And some of those visits to deep red states were more incidental. His only stop in Wyoming, for instance, was a family trip to Yellowstone National Park. He stopped in Alaska only briefly to speak with troops at Elmendorf Air Force Base, while Air Force One refueled for the remainder of his trip to Asia.

It's the battleground states that have clearly gotten special notice. After Maryland, Virginia and New York, Ohio has seen the most visits with five. Pennsylvania, Florida and Colorado have seen three presidential visits, while Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Indiana and Missouri have been visited twice.

That's not to say all things are motivated by politics. Among the 20 states that have yet to see the president are the deep blue Vermont, Rhode Island, and Maine, just as the deeply red Oklahoma, Utah and Idaho are on his to-do list. But after tomorrow's stop in Georgia, there will be no state where the margin of victory for either candidate was 5 percent or less that he will have failed to visit.

After the jump, a full list of the states Obama has visited, including the total number of visits. Thanks again to Mark Knoller for his data:

Continue reading "Presidential Travel Favors Blue, Purple States" »

Durbin: Democrats Will "Press Forward" On Health Care

Speaking to reporters during the lunch break at today's health care summit, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin hinted that Democrats are expecting to press ahead on health care through reconciliation, a tactic Republicans have decried for this legislation.

"I'm glad the president is trying, the American people want him to try," he said, according to a pool report. "If nothing comes of this we're going to press forward. We just can't quit. This is a once in a political lifetime opportunity to deal with a health care system that is really unsustainable."

The use of reconciliation was actually a flashpoint early on in today's summit, with Senate GOP Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander asking President Obama to renounce the use of the procedural tactic.

"You can say that this process has been used before, and that would be right, but it's never been used for anything like this," he said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid later responded.

"No one has talked about reconciliation but that's what you folks have talked about ever since that came out, as if it's something that has never been done before," he said. "The Speaker and I have not talked about doing reconciliation as the only way out of all this. Of course it's not the only way out. But remember, since 1981 reconciliation has been used 21 times. Most of it has been used by Republicans, for major things, like much of the Contract for America, Medicare reform, the tax cuts for rich people in America. So reconciliation isn't something that's never been done before."

Recalling Obama's Health Care Messaging

Republicans have been critical of today's health care summit as little more than a photo op. Well, it's just the latest in a long series of public events in which President Obama has tried to sell health reform to a skeptical nation and Congress. After the jump, take a walk down memory lane.

Continue reading "Recalling Obama's Health Care Messaging" »

The Week Ahead: Health Care Summit

Thirty years after the Miracle on Ice in Lake Placid, Team USA wins another upset in Olympic hockey. Our side defeated the Canucks (Team Canada, that is) in Vancouver Sunday night 5-3, thanks in part to a solid performance in goal by Ryan Miller. Both teams move on to the elimination round, but the Americans get a bye.

Here in Washington, it's another busy week.

White House: At 10 am today, the Obama administration will officially post its latest health care proposal. Early reports on the draft call for the federal government getting new power to regulate excessive premium increases, on the heels of Anthem Blue Cross of California's announcement of a 25 percent hike.

"The status quo is good for the insurance industry and bad for America," Obama said in his weekly video address. "And as bad as things are today, they'll only get worse if we fail to act."

This all comes ahead of a planned bipartisan summit on Thursday where the president has promised to give Republicans a chance to pitch their ideas. Today, President Obama is set to speak to the National Governors Association at the White House (the governors enjoyed a state dinner there last night). Wednesday he'll speak to the Business Roundtable in Washington.

Capitol Hill: House members never made it back to town two weeks ago as Washington was pummeled by snow, and last week was lost to the previously scheduled Presidents Day recess. So the House returns today -- a day early -- for a week in which health care heads back to the headlines. The president's health care summit is set for Thursday -- so far House Republicans haven't said whether they will attend, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday he and other Senate Republicans will be there.

On the docket in the House this week could be a portion of the Democrats' comprehensive health care bill -- removing health insurers' antitrust exemption. The Senate picks up on some leftover business from two weeks ago as well with a cloture vote on a jobs bill scheduled for 5:30 pm tonight.

Politics: This is the final full week of campaigning before the gubernatorial primaries in Texas on March 2. Gov. Rick Perry (R) seems to have a commanding lead in the Republican primary, but he's still short of the 50 percent threshold he needs to avoid a runoff, likely against Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. We haven't seen polling since a third candidate, Debra Medina, drew criticism for comments about the 9/11 attacks on Glenn Beck's radio show.

Speaking of Beck, his Saturday night speech capped off a busy weekend at CPAC. The biggest surprise was not Vice President Dick Cheney's unscheduled visit, but instead the victory of Ron Paul in a 2012 presidential primary straw poll. Expect that to lead to continued discussion of the role of the tea party movement as well as libertarians like Paul in the GOP ahead of elections this fall.

Governors also made their mark this weekend at the NGA meeting, with considerable discussion on Sunday shows from both leaders in both parties about the political environment in Washington. Check back here for more from an interview with Gov. Jack Markell (D) and conversations with other state leaders this weekend.

** Poll Watch:
Obama Job Performance: Approve 47.1 / Disapprove 46.0 (+1.1)
Congress Job Performance: Approve 20.4 / Disapprove 73.4 (-53.0)
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +1.1

**In Case You Missed It: Speaking of governors, New York's David Paterson kicked off his re-election campaign Saturday. Judging by the headlines in the Big Apple, it didn't go well. Oddly enough, Paterson sat at a table with White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel at Sunday night's state dinner, after the White House pushed him to announce he wouldn't run.

Speaking of strange pairings, here's video of Michelle Obama talking about her obesity initiative with Mike Huckabee on his Fox News Channel show.

Medal Count: U.S., 24; Germany, 18; Norway 12; Canada, 9; Korea, 9; Austria, 8; Russia 8.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

The Week Ahead: Olympic Recess

The Winter Olympics opened Friday evening under a somber cloud following the accidental death of a luger just hours earlier. The Vancouver-hosted games continued on, however, with an exciting first two days. Tops was the men's and women's freestyle skiing events. Canada's first gold medal on home soil was won last night in thrilling fashion by Alex Bilodeau -- who barely defeated Canadian-turned-Australian Dale Begg-Smith. America's Hannah Kearney turned in an equally awesome performance the night before to win gold ahead of Canadian favorite Jenn Heil.

White House: The threat of snow shortened what was to have been a long weekend for President Obama at Camp David. He is back at the White House today with no events scheduled on the holiday. His schedule for the rest of the week includes a mix of domestic and foreign policy, as well as some politics. Tomorrow he'll have another event focused on jobs in the DC area. On Wednesday, Obama welcomes Spain's King Juan Carlos I to the White House, followed Thursday by a meeting with the Dalai Lama.

Also Thursday, Obama will travel to Denver one year and one day after he signed the Recovery Act into law. This trip is about politics, though -- he'll be attending a fundraiser for Sen. Michael Bennet (D), appointed last year and facing a tough primary and general election this year. After the event, Obama travels to Las Vegas for a DNC fundraiser. Then on Friday, he'll have events to boost Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's re-election bid. Reid still faces an uphill climb, but he did get some good news with the decision of Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki (R) not to run, and the qualification of a Tea Party candidate.

Capitol Hill: Just before the weekend, Obama signed into law a bill raising the country's debt limit by nearly $2 trillion, as well as a requirement that any new spending or tax cuts by Congress must be offset by a corresponding spending reduction or revenue increase.

Both chambers of Congress are on recess this week in celebration of Presidents Day. Due to snow, the House was out all last week as well. Senators and Representatives will return next Monday, Feb. 22. The Senate will open with a reading of George Washington's Farewell Address by Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.), then take up a new jobs bill it was unable to compromise on last week.

Politics: Two big conferences are on the schedule later this week. The annual CPAC gathering starts this Thursday in Washington, with Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio delivering the keynote in the morning. Also due to speak are Glenn Beck, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Mike Pence, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul.

Then on Saturday the nation's governors descend on Washington for the annual NGA Meeting. NGA Chair Jim Douglas of Vermont had chosen health care as his policy focus for the year, so you can expect to hear the state leaders weighing in on the national debate. On Sunday night the governors have dinner at the White House.

** Poll Watch:
Obama Job Performance: Approve 47.6 / Disapprove 45.3 (+2.3)
Congress Job Performance: Approve 20.4 / Disapprove 73.4 (-53.0)
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +2.0

**In Case You Missed It: Today is Presidents Day, but Sunday was Vice Presidents Day on Sunday talk shows. RCP Video has clips from Joe Biden and Dick Cheney's dueling appearances, focused on the Obama administration's prosecution of the war on terrorism. This is a topic that will continue to be debated.

Medal Count: U.S., 6; Germany, 4; France, 3; Canada, 3; Korea, 2; Italy, 2.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Obama Says He's Open To GOP Ideas, Not Posturing

President Obama outlined his vision for a bipartisan approach to health care today, saying that while he was open to considering new ideas from Republicans, he had little patience for a prolonged process where parties were more interested in scoring political points.

"We can't afford grandstanding at the expense of actually getting something done," Obama said, arguing that Americans don't want "another year of partisan wrangling" and "posturing."

IMG_5323a.jpgAhead of a scheduled February 25 summit on health care, the president said he would "start from scratch" only in the sense of giving a new airing to constructive proposals.

"My hope is that we can find enough overlap that we can say, this is the right way to move forward even if I don't get every single thing that I want," Obama said. "Bipartisanship can't be that I agree to all of the things that they believe in or want, and they agree to none of the things that I believe in or want."

Obama's comments came in a surprise visit to the press briefing room, which was emptier than usual as fewer reporters had made the trek to the White House through a snow-covered city. He said today's bipartisan, bicameral shows he's making a genuine outreach, though Republicans argue the White House is only reacting to a new political reality after a year in which they were shut out.

"We're interested in a bipartisan conversation about health care. But a bipartisan conversation ought to be just that: bipartisan from the beginning," House Minority Leader John Boehner told reporters after emerging from today's meeting. "We've been asking to be involved in these health care conversations going back to a letter that we sent to the president last May, and we got no response to it."

Continue reading "Obama Says He's Open To GOP Ideas, Not Posturing" »

White House Health Care Meeting Met With Skepticism On The Hill

President Obama's recently proposed White House health care meeting was immediately met with skepticism on Capitol Hill -- Republicans are wary of the motives behind the move, while Democrats doubt the result will be any different than negotiations with the GOP over the past year.

Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, called it "a hollow PR blitz," adding, "Republicans welcome honest discussion, but this event reeks of political gamesmanship." GOP House leaders John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Eric Cantor (R-Va.) sent a lengthy letter to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel outlining their many concerns with the meeting.

On the Senate side, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) indicated a willingness to talk as long as the plans that passed the two chambers are scrapped and the two sides start from scratch, which Boehner and Cantor called for as well.

"If we are to reach a bipartisan consensus, the White House can start by shelving the current health spending bill," said McConnell.

Meanwhile, some liberal members aren't convinced Republicans are willing to negotiate and believe the opposing party has simply adopted an obstructionist political strategy -- and the event could provide a televised forum for political posturing.

"If there is an earnest effort to come to some kind of understanding, then it's worth the effort," Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Monday in an interview with RealClearPolitics. "Personally, I'm not optimistic."

President Obama announced the Feb. 25 meeting during an interview with CBS News just before the Super Bowl, hoping the televised effort will help bring transparency and solutions to the Democrats' stalled effort of reforming the health care system. Democrats and Republicans from the House and Senate will be invited, though it's unclear which of the many factions in the debate are willing to compromise their priorities to solve the impasse.

For instance, liberals are still pushing the public option, which was left out of the Senate bill after failing to receive enough support and assumed to be a nonstarter in bicameral negotiations. With weather permitting, Grijalva and other Progressive Caucus leaders will meet late this afternoon with several senators, including Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), to discuss the government-run insurance option, an insurance exchange and other reform measures.

"We don't think they're dead," Grijalva said of the progressives' priorities. "I hate to be pessimistic about the White House meeting, but regardless of what happens with that we're still working to get something done."

The Week Ahead: Digging Out, Digging In

We survived the Snowmageddon in Washington this weekend, but don't look now -- there's more coming this week. Meanwhile, what a weekend in New Orleans: a landslide mayoral win for Mitch Landrieu preceded a big win for the Saints in Super Bowl XLIV -- and Mardi Gras is just a week away. Laissez les bons temps rouler.

** White House: President Obama managed to sneak in some news during his pregame interview with Katie Couric last night. He's invited leadership from both parties for a health care summit at Blair House next week, all of which will be televised. The practical effect is a delaying tactic on health care legislation.

The leadership was already scheduled to come to the White House this week for a session that is due to focus on other legislative priorities, a jobs bill in particular. Also on tap this week: the president hosts another White House concert, this one in honor of Black History Month. Also on Wednesday, Vice President Biden will give a broad speech on nuclear threats facing the nation.

** Capitol Hill:: Congress will likely be slowed this week by the District's massive snowstorm, with more snow expected Tuesday. The House wasn't expected back until Tuesday anyway, while the Senate delayed votes until tomorrow that had been scheduled for today. With jobs the No. 1 priority for Democrats this year, the Senate -- now with 59 Democratic votes -- is having trouble coming to a concensus on a jobs bill that was supposed to be voted on this week. Meanwhile, the House may vote this week on a piece of their comprehensive health care reform bill -- ending the antitrust exemption for insurance companies, titled, "Health Insurance Industry Fair Competition Act."

** Politics: Is New York Gov. David Paterson (D) resigning? During last night's Super Bowl, a report indicated that he would, with a coming bombshell in the New York Times being the trigger. Paterson's office quickly denied it. If Paterson did resign, it would elevate a man most New Yorkers would be hard-pressed to identify -- Richard Ravitch -- to the state's top job. Ravitch was only appointed lieutenant governor after a court fight this year over whether that position could be filled by the governor. If Paterson resigned, or at least announced that he won't run for election, it could speed up Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's entrance into the race. It's quite a saga in the Empire State that began with Eliot Spitzer's surprising resignation in 2008.

Speaking of scandals, Illinois lieutenant governor nominee Scott Lee Cohen officially announced Sunday night that he would withdraw his candidacy -- a move that spares state Democrats of a potentially disastrous situation this November. Though Cohen won the nomination last week on his own, state law calls for him to run jointly on a ticket with Gov. Pat Quinn this fall. Now, the state Democratic committee gets the luxury of picking a new candidate for that slot -- which could provide an opportunity to find someone more electorally potent for the entire slate.

The Texas governor's race continues to heat up. Sarah Palin, fresh off her Tea Party Convention keynote address and Fox News Sunday appearance, joined Gov. Rick Perry yesterday for a rally. Meanwhile, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison paid for some Super Bowl ad space to air this attack on the incumbent.

** Poll Watch:
Obama Job Performance: Approve 48.4 / Disapprove 46.9 (+1.5)
Congress Job Performance: Approve 22.4 / Disapprove 70.2 (-47.8)
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +2.8

** In Case You Missed It: It was a somewhat lackluster "SNL" this weekend, but this gem late in the show saved it. Andy Samberg's imitation of Rahm Emanuel wasn't great, but he nailed the White House chief of staff's attitude.

A bonus note: this fascinating behind-the-scenes look at one of the few good Super Bowl ads, the Oprah-Dave-Jay spot for "Late Show."

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Obama, Giannoulias To Chat Today

President Obama has not yet spoken with Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, now the Democratic nominee seeking the president's former Senate seat. A spokesman for the Giannoulias camp says that the White House did send its congratulations last night via a text message, and promised that the commander in chief would be calling today. A White House spokesman confirms that Obama will likely call Giannoulias today.

Of course, Giannoulias was not the Chicago-heavy administration's preference to be the Senate nominee. Publicly they remained neutral, but state Attorney General Lisa Madigan was courted by administration officials. Here's what Robert Gibbs had to say last June:

"The president has a very long relationship with the attorney general dating back to their time in the state Senate, and has enormous respect for what she accomplished there and as attorney general. I think she'd be a terrific candidate. But we're not going to get involved in picking that candidate."

White House Making The Case For Divided Government?

Here's a sentiment you might expect to hear often in the midterm election campaign Republicans: Democrats alone can't be trusted to tackle the tough challenges facing the federal government. Oddly enough, though, it was White House press secretary Robert Gibbs who found himself making that argument today.

Gibbs was discussing the president's plan to appoint a bipartisan deficit commission, which, as part of the budget rollout today, would be expected to find billions in savings to bring the deficit to within 3 points of GDP. Why, he was then asked, can't Democrats find those savings on their own, given their strong majorities in both chambers? Gibbs' exact response: "One party is not going to get -- one party is not going to be able to solve all these. The American people want both parties to work together to solve these. We can make those tough decisions if people are willing to work together to do that."

NBC's Chuck Todd quickly jumped on that remark, pointing out that the remark seemed to be at odds with the political message before elections. "I'm going to vote for a Democrat in November," Gibbs responded. "But, Chuck, the American people want -- today is an election day, okay? Go back to what the President said: If every day is election day, then I can assure you we'll never solve any of the big problems."

In response to a tweet from yours truly about this exchange, White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton took issue with the characterization that Gibbs was making Republicans' case for divided government. "[W]hat gibbs explained is that americans sent people of both parties here to do is actually govern," Burton responded via Twitter.

The Week Ahead: Spotlight Illinois

This week will be capped off Sunday with what should be an excellent Super Bowl between the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints -- two teams with high-powered offenses and underrated defenses. Until then, our attention will be on Democrats' continued efforts at passing health care reform, a forthcoming jobs bill and President Obama's new budget blueprint. The most exciting moment, though, will be Tuesday night when Illinois primary election returns come in.

** White House: Today is budget day at the White House, and the administration's plan for fiscal 2011 will set the tone for the week. The $3.8 trillion budget is highlighted by the three-year discretionary spending freeze President Obama announced in last week's State of the Union address. Obama and administration officials will be highlighting the plan today. Also, Obama continues his State of the Union sales job with a "YouTube interview," where he takes questions submitted from users and selected by YouTube officials. Tuesday, Obama travels to New Hampshire for an event on the economy. Looking ahead, he'll meet with governors on Wednesday to talk energy policy, and speak at the National Prayer Breakfast Thursday.

** Capitol Hill: The week on the Hill begins at 8 a.m. today, when the president's budget arrives. Meanwhile, health care remains the big question mark, as it's unclear if anyone knows what's going to happen -- if Democrats do attempt to pass a bill, how will they do it? Try reconciliation? Break it up in pieces? Or could House Democrats pass the Senate bill, even though Speaker Pelosi has said the votes aren't there? As the L.A. Times reports, conversations between Democratic leadership in both chambers is happening quietly, while the public focus is on creating jobs. We'll find out where unemployment is on Friday, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its January report.

The House will also vote this week on statutory PAYGO legislation, which the Senate passed on a party-line vote last week. The bill requires any new spending to be offset by spending cuts elsewhere.

** Politics: Tuesday is Election Day in Illinois! It's the official start to the 2010 midterm elections, and it couldn't come any sooner. We were spoiled with the exciting Massachusetts special election two weeks ago, but the primaries for House, Senate, and governor in Illinois mark the beginning of what looks like it will be an eventful year. To see all the candidates running in Illinois, click here.

Of the House primaries, there should be some drama in a few districts, including the 10th, which Republican Mark Kirk is vacating to run for Senate. In the 14th, former House speaker Dennis Hastert's son, Ethan, faces a GOP primary in his quest to win his father's seat, which has been held by Democrat Bill Foster for a term-and-a-half. Also up for grabs this year is Obama's former Senate seat and the governor's race, still stained from the memory of Rod Blagojevich -- with competitive primaries in both races.

And don't forget, campaign finance reports were due last night. The latest reports will show how much money candidates have to begin the year, and will indicate which incumbents are vulnerable and which challengers have a chance.

** Poll Watch:
Obama Job Performance: Approve 49.3 / Disapprove 46.3 (+3.0)
Congress Job Performance: Approve 26.3 / Disapprove 66.3 (-40.0)
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +3.2

** In Case You Missed It: Obama had two straight days of favorable national TV time. On Friday, Obama stood before the House GOP Conference at their annual retreat in Baltimore and answered questions for more than an hour. The Q-and-A was televised live and covered by all the nightly news programs. By Saturday, Organizing for America had emailed its millions-strong list of supporters with a link to the entire session, which can be found here.

In a far less political appearance, Obama and Vice President Biden attended Saturday's Georgetown-Duke basketball game at Verizon Center in downtown D.C. (Georgetown won!) In the second half, Obama sat with the play-by-play announcers for a brief period of time and even analyzed one of the plays -- which drew rave reviews from the broadcasters. You can see video of that here.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

GOP To Obama: Pelosi's The Problem

BALTIMORE, Md. -- President Obama and House Republicans had a rather candid, at times combative, but overall a fascinating and rare public exchange on the successes and failures of the administration's first year in office here today. Republicans came in determined to show that they in fact have been more than the "party of no" that Democrats portray them as, while Obama called on the opposition to tone down what he deemed as hyperbolic attacks.

In the end, what emerged from the session was a clear sense of how Republicans could potentially frame this year's midterm elections. Multiple Congressmen rose to hail the president's promises and intentions but argued that he has been ill-served by an obstinate House Democratic leadership, and specifically Speaker Pelosi.

That point was driven home most effectively, perhaps, by Rep. Pete Roskam (R-Ill.), a former colleague of Obama's in the Illinois state Senate. He said he had enjoyed collaborating on tough issues with Obama in Springfield, but wondered what had changed.

"You've gotten the subtext of House Republicans that sincerely want to come and be a part of this national conversation toward solutions, but they've really been stiff-armed by Speaker Pelosi," Roskam said. "The obstacle is, frankly, the politics within the Democratic caucus."

Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), the GOP conference chairman, was more blunt, waving a compilation of his party's ideas, and saying to the president that the summary "is backed up by precisely the kind of detailed legislation that Speaker Pelosi and your administration have been busy ignoring for 12 months."

Continue reading "GOP To Obama: Pelosi's The Problem" »

The Campaign Begins

President Obama ended his state of the union address Wednesday by lamenting the state of affairs in Washington, where he said it seems that "every day is Election Day."

"We can't wage a perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about the other side -- a belief that if you lose, I win," he said.

The irony is that the president's entire speech was perceived by some as a campaign speech more than a traditional state of the union message. It seemed tailored for independent voters, with a hodgepodge of policy announcements one might not have expected to hear from a liberal Democrat. Even the reaction inside the august House chamber - occasional hooting and hollering instead of simple applause -- added to that sense.

Now, Obama has embarked on the traditional post-State of the Union road show. But if there was any doubt about the political nature of the president's travels, his early itinerary speaks volumes: a stop Thursday in the ultra-important I-4 corridor of central Florida, and next week a visit to the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire.

"I seem to remember coming to Tampa two weeks before the election," Obama recalled at Thursday's town hall meeting. The St. Petersburg Times lead on the event said Obama had "returned to campaign mode," and was "revving up an adoring crowd." Vice President Biden joined him, the first time they were together in a setting like this since they traveled to Denver to sign the stimulus bill in Denver last February.

Much has changed since then, particularly the political environment. Thursday's State of the Union was seen as a chance to hit the "reset" button and strike a new tone. But Obama bristled at the notion, lambasting press coverage that claimed he was. He recalled a quote from that October 2008 rally in Tampa: "I said, 'Change never comes without a fight.' That was true then. It's true now."

If there is a change in approach, it's the belief on the part of the White House that the constraints of the White House itself has diminished the Obama brand, that he's less of an extra-Beltway change agent behind an East Room podium than he is at a town hall in Tampa.

"It's always nice to get out of Washington ... and spend a little time with the people who sent me to Washington," Obama told the Florida audience.

Today, rather than rolling out more details of a small business lending initiative from the West Wing, he's making a short trip to an actual small business inside the other Beltway in Baltimore. Obama is expected to make more such stops in the weeks ahead, as are members of his Cabinet. He's also dipping back into the new media playbook, with a plan to field questions submitted through YouTube next week.

Alluding to the Massachusetts result in Wednesday's speech, Obama said that it's "clear that campaign fever has come even earlier than usual." Clearly.

Obama Targets A Deadlocked Senate

President Obama's first State of the Union had many messages for many audiences, and one of the ones he seemed to target Wednesday night was none other than his former home, the United States Senate.

On at least four occasions, the president made specific mention of the Senate for its failure to act on a piece of legislation approved by the House.

On jobs:

"Now, the House has passed a jobs bill that includes some of these steps. As the first order of business this year, I urge the Senate to do the same, and I know they will. They will. People are out of work. They're hurting. They need our help. And I want a jobs bill on my desk without delay.

On cap and trade:

And, yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America. I am grateful to the House for passing such a bill last year. And this year I'm eager to help advance the bipartisan effort in the Senate.

On a deficit commission:

Now, yesterday, the Senate blocked a bill that would have created this commission. So I'll issue an executive order that will allow us to go forward, because I refuse to pass this problem on to another generation of Americans.

And on pay-go:

And when the vote comes tomorrow, the Senate should restore the pay-as-you-go law that was a big reason for why we had record surpluses in the 1990s.

In a speech where Obama conceded that he has come short thus far in his mission to change the nature of politics, he also targeted the Senate in particular for the kinds of delaying tactics that have stymied his agenda.

And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that 60 votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town -- a supermajority -- then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it's not leadership.

Knowing full well that he faces hurdles in both chambers on health care, he instead made an appeal to his own part at large, making the argument his former campaign manager articulated in a weekend op-ed - no "bed-wetting" - with a bit more presidential gravitas.

"To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve problems, not run for the hills. And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that 60 votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town -- a supermajority -- then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it's not leadership. We were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions.

Continue reading "Obama Targets A Deadlocked Senate" »

The State of the Union

The State of the Union address, as delivered by the president tonight, can be read in full after the jump. For the record, it ran about 7,500 words and took one hour and nine minutes to deliver, including applause.

Continue reading "The State of the Union" »

SOTU Excerpts: Obama "Will Not Walk Away" From Health Reform

The White House has released excerpts from tonight's State of the Union address. One of them signals how the President intends to frame health care. It's the shortest of the passages they've released, but in it, President Obama talks about the fact that more Americans will have lost insurance by the time he finishes his remarks.

"I will not walk away from these Americans. And neither should the people in this chamber," he will say.

More excerpts after the jump.

Continue reading "SOTU Excerpts: Obama "Will Not Walk Away" From Health Reform" »

Speech Tests Obama's Ability To Set Agenda

With interest in the new president still high, more than 50 million Americans watched Barack Obama deliver his first speech to a joint session of Congress last February. That audience will likely slip some as he makes his first official State of the Union address tonight, but it still represents his best opportunity in some time to speak directly to a wide audience. The question is: for how long will Americans be listening?

According to CBS News' Mark Knoller, President Obama delivered remarks of some length 411 times in his first 365 days in office, including not one but two speeches to joint sessions of Congress. He also was made available for 158 interviews, far more than his recent predecessors, and held four prime-time news conferences. It's part of a communication strategy based in the belief that Obama is the administration's best advocate, and that the press and the public would pay attention.

The risk now is that as Americans grow more skeptical of the administration and its policies, they may start to tune out that messenger. A CNN poll released Tuesday found that six in 10 Americans believe Obama to be a strong leader, but only 45 percent say he has the right priorities. The State of the Union address is seen as an opportunity for the president to better communicate those priorities, something Obama has conceded recently he has failed to do.

"We've been so focused on just getting things done that I think that we stopped giving voice to the frustrations that people have about the process here in Washington," Obama told ABC's Diane Sawyer Monday.

Tonight may be the last chance Obama gets to set the agenda in a way that commands the attention of lawmakers, the press, and voters watching at home. Part of the rationale for the "big bang" approach of the first year was the recognition that the reality of politics sets in during the second. Sure enough, Democrats and Republicans have already spoken critically of new proposals that have been leaked before the speech, most notably a freeze on discretionary spending. How well Obama uses the bully pulpit tonight, and when he hits the road after, will test whether he can still convince the public at large.

Obama's effectiveness in selling the message has indeed declined throughout the year. He saw only a modest bump on health care after his last address before Congress in September. A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll out Tuesday night found that only 31 percent of those surveyed thought Obama's health care plan was a good idea, while 46 percent said a bad idea. In September, it was a closer 39/41 split. Forty-four percent also said Obama has paid too much attention to health care, while more than 50 percent say he hasn't focused enough on the economy, despite assurances of a "hard pivot" to the economy.

On the stump, Obama has also failed to seal the deal. Thousands jammed venues to see the commander in chief, but each of the three Democrats he's campaigned for since October losing. Obama conceded to an audience in Ohio last Friday that he had hit a "buzz saw," particularly after a defeat in Massachusetts. He's expected to accept some responsibility for the missteps that led to leaving unfulfilled some of the promises he made for his first year. The challenge tonight is to give Americans reason to follow along to avoid an even worse outcome this fall.

State of the Political Landscape

As President Obama prepares to deliver his first State of the Union address tonight, few Democrats expected the first year of his presidency to end with the party in such poor shape politically heading into this year's midterm elections. So before we hear about the overall state of the country, here is a quick rundown on the state of its politics:

• House Democrats hold a 256-178 majority in the House, with one vacant seat (Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., resigned this month), while Senate Democrats hold a 59-41 seat advantage following the Massachusetts special Senate election of Scott Brown (R).

• Nearly 20 percent of Democrat-held congressional districts (49) are listed as competitive races by the Cook Political Report; 5 percent of Republican seats (10) are competitive.

• After losses in New Jersey and Virginia last November, Democrats' advantage in governors' offices is down to 26-24. In the 2010 elections, 11 Democrats are retiring or term-limited, as are 11 Republicans. Of 14 races rated as "toss-up" by the Cook Political Report, 10 are Republican-held seats.

• In 2008, John McCain won 49 congressional districts where a Democrat was elected to the House; one such Democrat, Parker Griffith, recently switched to the Republican Party. Barack Obama won 34 districts that elected a Republican.

• Ten Democrat-held congressional districts are competitive open-seat races, where the incumbent is retiring. Republicans so far have two such seats.

• Seven of Democrats' 18 Senate seats up for re-election this year are considered competitive, according to Cook; four of 18 Republican seats are competitive.

• Democrats are in serious danger of losing both President Obama's and Vice President Biden's former Senate seats. In both cases, the appointed senator is not running for re-election (in Illinois, that's a good thing), and the party failed to recruit its top choice candidates -- Attorneys General Lisa Madigan of Illinois and Beau Biden of Delaware.

• Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is in deep electoral trouble, trailing two Republicans who may not even end up on the general election ballot. The GOP is reportedly still seeking a top-flight candidate to take on the vulnerable Reid.

• Arkansas is a microcosm of Democrats' troubles. Its congressional delegation currently stands at five Democrats and one Republican. With Reps. Marion Berry and Vic Snyder retiring and Sen. Blanche Lincoln facing a potential GOP knock-out, Republicans could hold four of the six seats in the 112th Congress.

• Democrats' best news this year has been the retirement of five-term Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, who was likely to lose in November. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal currently holds big leads over his potential GOP opponents.

• Pennsylvania is one of the more awkward situations, as the White House and Democratic leadership promised Sen. Arlen Specter significant support if he switched parties. Now, he's up against Rep. Joe Sestak in a bitter Democratic primary and trailing Republican Pat Toomey in early polls. Plus, he no longer represents the 60th vote.

• Democrats are looking at four GOP-held Senate races in particular as potential pick-up opportunities, all of which the Republican incumbent is retiring: Kentucky, Missouri, New Hampshire and Ohio.

• The national Democratic House and Senate campaign committees had great fundraising years, outpacing both Republican counterparts. This will certainly help in protecting its many incumbents in GOP-leaning districts, while some Republican challengers may not get significant monetary assistance from the national party.

While the landscape looks rough for Democrats, party leaders say they were not caught by surprise as they were in 1994, when Republicans dominated the midterm elections two years after Bill Clinton won the White House. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, maintains that the party was expecting a tough political environment, as history shows the party that wins the White House often loses congressional seats in the following midterms.

"Even as the president was being sworn in -- and we were all still celebrating the election of President Barack Obama and even bigger majorities in the Congress -- we told our members to prepare for a very challenging cycle," Van Hollen told reporters in December, adding, "This is not going to be 1994 all over again."

Some Republicans, however, think it could be, and put the blame squarely on Democratic congressional leaders who "overreached" on their agenda last year. In a memo last month, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said the party expects "to make significant, if not historic, gains" in the House this year.

Biden And The Supermajority

You can take the man out of the Senate, but you can't take the Senate out of the man.

Vice President Biden seems to be quite concerned with the state of his former stomping grounds of late, particularly the requirement of 60 votes to move most legislation of late. At a Florida fundraiser last week, Biden decried the supermajority requirement.

"As long as I have served ... I've never seen, as my uncle once said, the constitution stood on its head as they've done. This is the first time every single solitary decisions has required 60 senators," he said.

Biden took a somewhat different approach today at another event for the DNC.

"I'm not so sure what a blessing 60 votes was," he said, with Democrats now having lost that margin. "When we had 60 votes there was the expectation left, right, and center that we could do everything we wanted to do, which was never realistic. Never."

He also noted that the party only got to 60 midway through 2009, when Al Franken was finally seated after a protracted recount dispute. Before then, "no one though that somehow we were destined to fail ... Nobody thought we would not be able to get anything done."

But with the party heading back to 59 seats as soon as Scott Brown is seated, he spun it as a positive, that now Republicans "are going to have to be accountable as well."

In Speech, Obama May Set Reaganesque Path

There's considerable theater surrounding President Obama's first State of the Union address tomorrow night, coming as polls reflect increasing skepticism about his presidency and the Democratically-controlled Congress. With a fresh rebuke from the voters of Massachusetts, Obama will enter the House chamber seemingly humbled, and also very much aware of the political stakes.

"I'd rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president," the president told ABC's Diane Sawyer in an interview Monday.

Exactly what tone he'll set from the rostrum is yet to be seen. But there are two interesting parallels to be drawn with two of his predecessors with whom he's compared often.

In 1995, President Clinton delivered his second State of the Union address before the first majority-Republican Congress in generations. He immediately set a conciliatory tone, with a line that bears striking similarity to the sentiment Obama expressed after Scott Brown's victory last week.

"If we agree on nothing else tonight, we must agree that the American people certainly voted for change in 1992 and in 1994," he said. "As I look out at you, I know how some of you must have felt in 1992."

Reflecting on a political climate that is often compared to today's, Clinton also said that the American people were not "singing," but "shouting. "And now all of us, Republicans and Democrats alike, must say, 'We hear you. We will work together to earn the jobs you have given us. For we are the keepers of a sacred trust, and we must be faithful to it in this new and very demanding era.'"

Continue reading "In Speech, Obama May Set Reaganesque Path" »

The Week Ahead: State Of The Presidency

Championship Sunday in the NFL gives way to a very busy week in the world of politics. Congratulations to the AFC Champion Indianapolis Colts and the NFC Champion New Orleans Saints, who will face off in Miami in Super Bowl XLIV. Hard not to root for the Saints, whose first-ever Super Bowl appearance comes less than five years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans.

** White House: The main event in Washington is on Wednesday, when President Obama delivers his first official State of the Union address. It's actually his third address to a joint session of Congress; a year ago he delivered a "budget address," and then a September speech on health care. Obama hunkered down at the White House this weekend working on drafts.

We always tend to say these are critical moments, but in the wake of the Massachusetts Senate result and with health care in the balance, it's safe to say this is. The White House is clearly feeling the heat, as shown by the announcement this weekend that David Plouffe, campaign manager of Obama's successful 2008 campaign, is taking a more formal role in the White House's political operation. In Sunday's Washington Post he wrote: "If Democrats will show the country we can lead when it's hard, we may not have perfect election results, but November will be nothing like the nightmare that talking heads have forecast."

Obama starts the week with a meeting with the Middle Class Task Force today. The hoopster-in-chief will also meet with the NBA Champion Lakers this afternoon. After Wednesday's address, the president and vice president will have a rare joint event outside Washington, in the key swing state of Florida. Friday, Obama will head to Baltimore to join Republicans at their issues conference.

** Capitol Hill:: The House will only be in session two days this week, with Monday off and Republicans holding their issues conference Thursday and Friday. The Senate this week will continue work on raising the debt limit, and also is expected to vote on the confirmation of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, who's four-year term is up at the end of the week. Both chambers will, of course, welcome the president on Wednesday evening.

** Politics:: Another busy week in politics. The RNC is meeting in Obama's home state of Hawaii starting today, where Michael Steele's leadership will be a hotly-debated topic. On Thursday, the House GOP's Issues Retreat kicks off in Baltimore, with the title of "Winning Back America." There will be considerable focus Obama's visit on Friday, but former House Majority Leader Dick Armey also gives a keynote on Thursday. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who delivers the GOP response to Obama's State of the Union address, will also speak at this retreat.

Democrats are reeling with yet another retirement, this time Arkansas Rep. Marion Berry. It's the first such retirement since Brown's victory. Another potential sign of Democrats' midterm anxiety is in Delaware, where some in the party fret that Beau Biden may not seek his father's old Senate seat as expected. A Wilmington News Journal report quoted Joe Biden as saying he thought his son would not make the race, but the VP's office said the author misquoted him.

And don't look now, but there's another election on the horizon. This is the final week of campaigning in Illinois, where voters head to the polls to choose nominees for the Senate and gubernatorial races on February 2. A Chicago Tribune poll out Sunday showed Alexi Giannoulias and Mark Kirk leading in the Senate primaries.

** Poll Watch:
Obama Job Performance: Approve 49.6 / Disapprove 44.9 (+4.7)
Congress Job Performance: Approve 26.0 / Disapprove 66.2 (-40.2)
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +2.5

** In Case You Missed It: Is this the first time someone has ever used, "I'm giving the State of the Union address this week" as an excuse to get out of jury duty? AP reports that President Obama received a summons at his Chicago home to appear at a suburban courthouse Monday. "A White House official said Sunday that the president has alerted the court he won't be able to make it," the report says.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Obama Meets The "Buzz Saw"

During a town hall meeting in Ohio this afternoon, President Obama will acknowledge the new political challenges he faces in the wake of the Massachusetts Senate special election, but promise to keep "fighting" for those struggling in a tough economy. Framing his struggles in populist terms, he says the hurdles he's run into are a result of the strength of "special interests" and "their armies of lobbyists," as well as "partisan politics."

"I have to admit, we've run into a bit of a buzz saw along the way," the president will say, according to prepared remarks released by the White House. "The longer it's taken, the uglier the process has looked."

And while "folks in Washington" are in "a little bit of a frenzy" over the victory of Republican Scott Brown, Obama will downplay to some extent the impact of the race on his goal of health care reform.

"I didn't take up this issue to boost my poll numbers or score political points - believe me, if I were, I would have picked something a lot easier than this," he will say. "No, I'm trying to solve the problems that folks here in Elyria and across this country face every day. And I am not going to walk away just because it's hard."

The visit to Ohio is part of Obama's "White House to Main Street" tour. In his remarks, the president follows up on a point he made in an interview with ABC this week, that perhaps his administration has not communicated sufficiently its efforts to help Americans.

"The truth is, being President is also a little confining," he'll say. "I can't just walk around and visit people like I used to. I can't just go to the barber shop or sit at a diner."

To that end, Obama's trip included an unscheduled stop at a local diner, where he picked up the tab for one man's chili. A reminder of days on the campaign.

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Obama Blasts Campaign Finance Decision

A strong statement from President Obama on today's Supreme Court ruling that frees corporations to spend unlimited sums on political campaigns:

With its ruling today, the Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics. It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans. This ruling gives the special interests and their lobbyists even more power in Washington--while undermining the influence of average Americans who make small contributions to support their preferred candidates. That's why I am instructing my Administration to get to work immediately with Congress on this issue. We are going to talk with bipartisan Congressional leaders to develop a forceful response to this decision. The public interest requires nothing less.

It's worth noting, of course, that as a candidate Obama broke a pledge to stay within the matching funds program for presidential candidates. Sen. John McCain (R) had this warning when he made that decision:

"Barack Obama is now the first presidential candidate since Watergate to run a campaign entirely on private funds. This decision will have far-reaching and extraordinary consequences that will weaken and undermine the public financing system."

Obama's First Year By The Numbers

CBS Radio White House correspondent Mark Knoller, considered the unofficial historian of the press corps, has a must-read story giving a detailed review of President Obama's first year in office.

One number Knoller flags as "striking" is the number of interviews the president has done over the course of the year: 158 in total, including 90 televised Q-and-As. Knoller claims that this is "far more than any of his recent predecessors in their first year," and reflects a strategy of the White House that Obama "can best respond to questions in an interview setting." He also conducted 42 news conferences, compared to 21 in President Bush's first year.

Some other notable stats:

  • Obama attended 28 fundraisers this year, far more than the six Bush held in his first year. But Bush raised more money at those events: $48 million, versus just under $28 million for Obama.
  • 52 of his 411 official remarks this year focused on health care, or about one of every eight. All this for a legislative initiative that hangs in the balance after Scott Brown's shocking win in Massachusetts yesterday. The TelePrompter was used for 178 of those statements.
  • He's traveled to 58 cities in 30 states, covering less ground than Bush (38 states) but more than President Clinton (22) in their first years.

You can read more from Knoller's accounting here.

White House Playing The Expectations And Blame Games

Gone are the optimistic pronouncements from White House aides that Martha Coakley will win. Instead, some subtle blame-shifting and no signal yet that the Obama administration plans to give up on health care despite an expected loss in Massachusetts tonight.

As late as Sunday, as Air Force One returned from Boston, press secretary Robert Gibbs was predicting victory. Today at the daily press briefing, Gibbs did his best to push off any comment on the situation in Massachusetts until the results were in. But he acknowledged there is still "a tremendous amount of upset and anger" about the nation's economic situation, implying that said unease continues to be a motivating factor for voters.

Still, Gibbs said that President Obama himself is "both surprised and frustrated" at the predicament the party finds itself in, trailing in the race for a Senate seat in the bluest of blue states. He declined to specify where that frustration was directed.

But senior adviser David Axelrod was a bit more transparent in criticizing the Coakley camp for a lackluster effort. In a gathering with regional reporters today, he said the White House "did everything we were asked to do" to help Coakley, adding: "I think if we had been asked earlier, we would have responded earlier."

Continue reading "White House Playing The Expectations And Blame Games" »

Obama Gets Official Invite to Congress

Congress officially invited President Obama today to give the State of the Union address, which is scheduled for Jan. 27 at 9 p.m. ET. It's a traditional formality, but one we like to report anyway.

Here it is:

January 19, 2010

The Honorable Barack Obama
The President of the United States
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

Over the past year, the Congress and your Administration have worked together to address the urgent needs of the American people. Many challenges remain in the weeks and months ahead to strengthen our national security and our economy, create jobs, and address other important priorities. We look forward to continuing to work with you toward these goals.

We would like to invite you to deliver a State of the Union address to a Joint Session of the Congress on Wednesday, January 27 to share your vision for addressing the many critical challenges our country faces at home and internationally.

Thank you for considering this invitation to speak to the Congress and the nation. We look forward to your reply.

Sincerely,


NANCY PELOSI HARRY REID
Speaker of the House Majority Leader of the Senate


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State Of The Union Set For January 27

President Obama will deliver his first official State of the Union address on Jan. 27, White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton tweeted this afternoon.

The timing had been in flux for some time, with some speculating that the White House had hoped to hold off the major address until after the health care reform package was a done deal. By setting it for next Wednesday, it would seem the administration believes that goal is no longer possible. Health reform itself could be in jeopardy, as Democrats face the very real possibility of losing their 60-vote supermajority tomorrow.

With his signature legislative initiative unlikely to be accomplished at this milestone, the speech would only take on greater significance. Consider what former President Clinton had to say about this a few months ago:

"We need to put a bill on the president's desk and he needs to sign it, so at the State of the Union he's not explaining why we haven't done health care."

The Week Ahead: Election En Mass.

Martin Luther King Jr. was born 81 years ago. Today we celebrate all of his and other Civil Rights leaders' accomplishments, which were made even more obvious last year when Barack Obama was sworn in as president. As we look back to the past, it's impossible not to wonder what the future holds -- specifically tomorrow's special election in Massachusetts and its impact on comprehensive health care reform in Congress.

** Politics: Polls clearly show the momentum in the Massachusetts Senate special election race quickly moving toward Republican Scott Brown, who just a couple weeks ago was still considered a longshot. A palpable shift in the mood of the country is on display as the seat held by Edward M. Kennedy and John F. Kennedy since 1952 (except for two years and some change) is in danger of going Republican.

The stakes are so high that President Obama himself went to Massachusetts Sunday. It's worth noting how health care seemed to be barely mentioned in his remarks, as instead he relied on the party's push on the so-called bank fee, which was just announced last week. Returning from the event, press secretary Robert Gibbs reaffirmed the belief of the White House that Coakley would win. "That was the theme of what this race has been, I think what the President will talk a lot about for the next year," he said.

If Brown wins, look for one major topic to be how soon he's sworn in. We've written about the potential delay Democrats could seek to take advantage of, which would then raise the question of whether they can still muster 60 votes needed to pass the bill quickly. A defeat for Democrats in Massachusetts of all places certainly would raise the possibility that one of the wavering votes -- Ben Nelson or Blanche Lincoln, perhaps -- feel pressure to change sides.

It's a bad mojo weekend for Democrats leading up to the vote, as there are fresh reminders of other defeats. Bob McDonnell (R) was sworn in as Virginia's governor Saturday. And as Massachusetts voters go to the polls Tuesday, New Jersey will see its new Republican governor, Chris Christie, take office.

** White House: What could make a Coakley loss so damning for the White House is the timing -- on the eve of the one-year anniversary of President Obama's inauguration. Just think back to the president's 100th day in office -- it came just after Arlen Specter switched parties and handed Democrats what, pending the Al Franken result being made official, would be their 60th vote. Now, if Brown wins, they'll lose that supermajority on another milestone day.

The White House is not marking the anniversary in any formal way. Monday, the president marks Martin Luther King Day with an event featuring African American seniors and their grandchildren. Thursday, a delegation from the U.S. Conference of Mayors will visit the White House. On Friday, Obama heads to Ohio for another stop on his "White House to Main Street Tour."

** Capitol Hill: The Senate returns to official business Wednesday after a much-needed break. It seems like a year ago, but less than a month ago the senators gathered on the chamber floor Christmas Eve to vote on health care reform. It passed, and negotiations between the House, Senate and White House on a compromise bill has been in the works ever since.

A week ago, many Democrats in Congress still weren't taking the threat of a Republican win in Massachusetts seriously. Remember -- the big news last Monday was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's awkward comments about Obama's skin and speaking pattern. By the end of the week, however, the White House announced that the president would indeed be deployed to the Bay State, while Democratic leaders in Congress were trying to figure out a contingency plan in case they fell below 60 Democratic seats in the Senate. The Capitol awaits Tuesday's results.

** Poll Watch:
Obama Job Performance: Approve 49.1 / Disapprove 44.5 (+4.6)
Congress Job Performance: Approve 26.3 / Disapprove 67.5 (-41.2)
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +2.0

** In Case You Missed It: Three of the top four top seeds in the NFL playoffs -- AFC's Colts (1), and the NFC's Saints (1) and Vikings (2) -- all advanced to this weekend's NFC and AFC championship games, which will decide the Super Bowl contenders. Missing from that list: the San Diego Chargers, who were upset in the only competitive game of the weekend by the New York J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets. Those Jets only got into the playoffs thanks to the Colts pulling their starters in the second half of their Week 16 matchup. Now they'll get a test of the team at full strength for four quarters.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

The Week Ahead: Game Changers

Sunday made for a great day of TV -- the Arizona Cardinals topped Green Bay in overtime after combining to score nearly 100 points, and one of our favorite shows of all time turned 20. Now let's take a look at what Monday and beyond holds in store for us in The Week Ahead:

The White House: What happened to the "hard pivot" back to the economy? The Christmas terror plot delayed that somewhat, but it is expected to be on display this week in the White House. At the same time, President Obama will make a visit to Capitol Hill midweek to meet with Democrats on health care. There is sure to be some increased pressure to move quickly, with the yet-to-be-scheduled State of the Union address looming, and perhaps some nervousness about the potential for a Republican upset in the Massachusetts special election next week.

The President's schedule for the week is light on details for the week, but today's rundown includes a meeting with labor leaders. Thursday, he'll speak at a forum on modernizing government. Also on tap: a Tuesday meeting between the president and female golfers. Vice President Biden remains in Wilmington, where services are scheduled Monday and Tuesday for his late mother, Jean Finnegan Biden.

The Capitol: "Vacation" is officially over for representatives in the House, which opens for business again Tuesday at noon. Of course, Democratic leadership has been back for a week continuing the push for a health care reform compromise with the Senate, which doesn't return to session until next week. A few outside factors -- which we delve into in the next section -- have added increased incentive for Democrats to get something done quickly.

As for the year ahead, no matter what happens with health care, the president and Congress have indicated that jobs will be a legislative priority in the second session of the 111th Congress. Another issue to watch for is immigration reform -- 80 House Dems introduced a new resolution in mid-December.

Politics: So much to talk about -- where to begin. The fallout from "Game Change," a new book from Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, has rocked the political world with salacious details about the 2008 presidential campaign. Harry Reid is looking to put controversial comments about Obama's race behind him. Politico reported on a claim in the book over tension between running mates Obama and Biden. An excerpt about John Edwards will bring his scandal back to the forefront. And "60 Minutes" featured new-ish details about Sarah Palin's chaotic run as John McCain's vice presidential nominee.

Michael Steele, plugging his own new book, will continue to be in the headlines as well. Reid's troubles made for a convenient distraction from increasingly public concerns from GOP types about his leadership. In the run-up to the RNC's winter meeting in Hawaii next week, look for more talk about his role.

State of the races: by week's end, we should have an official accounting of the fundraising totals for all the candidates for Congress this fall. FEC reports for the final quarter of 2009 should be public by Friday. Open Secrets had a good post this week using some already public numbers outlining some of the races on the House side where challengers had outraised incumbents.

Finally, this is the final week of campaigning in Massachusetts in the special election to finish Ted Kennedy's unexpired term. New polling this weekend showed very different results, but most Democrats will concede that it's closer than they'd like it to be. Make no mistake: if a Republican upset happens here with Scott Brown victorious, it will make the Democratic retirements this week look like the good old days. It also could mean health care never gets approved, at least in its current form. Bill Clinton headlines a Martha Coakley rally Friday. Perhaps Biden will be dispatched, or the president will record a TV ad. The candidates have one more debate tonight at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute.

Poll Watch:
Obama Job Performance: Approve 48.8 / Disapprove 46.0 (+2.8)
Congress Job Performance: Approve 27.4 / Disapprove 65.8 (-38.4)
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +2.8

In Case You Missed It: Last night Fox marked the 20th anniversary of "The Simpsons," and the 450th episode. In honor of the great cartoon show we recall one of its great episodes, and what The Hotline (where both of us once worked) once called one of the greatest political satires ever: the season two show called "Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish." That's when Mr. Burns runs for governor. No clips online, but here's a good summary.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

RIP, Jean Finnegan Biden

In a statement this afternoon, Vice President Biden announces that his mother, Catherine Eugenia "Jean" Finnegan Biden, "passed away peacefully" today at her home in Wilmington today, "surrounded by her children, her grandchildren, her great-grandchildren and many loved ones."

At 92, she was the center of our family and taught all of her children that family is to be treasured, loyalty is paramount and faith will guide you through the tough times. She believed in us, and because of that, we believed in ourselves. Together with my father, her husband of 61 years who passed away in 2002, we learned the dignity of hard work and that you are defined by your sense of honor. Her strength, which was immeasurable, will live on in all of us."

During his campaign for vice president, which I covered full time as a reporter for NBC, Biden spoke of his mother at almost every event. The whole Biden family is very close, and even after becoming vice president, Biden traveled home to Wilmington often to be with her, since she did not want to move to Washington.

He also spoke movingly of the role she played in his life as he accepted the nomination for VP in Denver:

I wish that my dad was here tonight, but I am so grateful that my mom, Catherine Eugenia Finnegan Biden, is here. You know, she taught her children -- all the children who flocked to our house-that you are defined by your sense of honor, and you are redeemed by your loyalty. She believes bravery lives in every heart and her expectation is that it will be summoned.

Failure at some point in everyone's life is inevitable, but giving up is unforgivable. As a child I stuttered, and she lovingly told me it was because I was so bright I couldn't get the thoughts out quickly enough. When I was not as well dressed as others, she told me how handsome she thought I was. When I got knocked down by guys bigger than me, she sent me back out and demanded that I bloody their nose so I could walk down that street the next day.

After the accident, she told me, "Joey, God sends no cross you cannot bear." And when I triumphed, she was quick to remind me it was because of others.

My mother's creed is the American creed: No one is better than you. You are everyone's equal, and everyone is equal to you.

My parents taught us to live our faith, and treasure our family. We learned the dignity of work, and we were told that anyone can make it if they try.

That was America's promise. For those of us who grew up in middle-class neighborhoods like Scranton and Wilmington, that was the American dream and we knew it.

Two Presidents Meet, With Campaign Clashes Behind Them

We've come a long way from the days of the Obama "fairy tail."

Two years to the day that Bill Clinton launched into one of the most infamous tirades of the 2008 campaign, the former president was sitting with his wife's formal rival in the Oval Office. Aides to both President Clinton and Obama claim it was just a courtesy call, with the 42nd president in town on other business. Clinton was also to greet Rahm Emanuel, a former aide in his White House and now the chief of staff.

But undoubtedly Clinton's visit was an opportunity to buck up his successor; for the great tactician-in-chief to give some advice -- solicited or not -- about Obama's many predicaments as he approaches the one year mark in office.

The situation Obama finds himself in is in many ways similar to the one Clinton's 16 years ago -- in the polls especially. Gallup this week released numbers showing that Obama holds the second-lowest approval rating of any president entering his second year, just behind Clinton, and slightly better than Ronald Reagan.

Obama took on the health care challenge earlier than did Clinton, who ran on the theme of, "It's the economy stupid." Just before the Christmas holiday, as the White House faced new criticism of their plan from their own left flank, led by Howard Dean, the administration appealed to the former president to issue a statement in support of the latest proposal. He complied.

"Does this bill read exactly how I would write it? No. Does it contain everything everyone wants? Of course not. But America can't afford to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. And this is a good bill," Clinton wrote.

Make no mistake: there was bad blood between Clinton and Obama during the hotly-contested Democratic primary. It was at its fiercest in the weeks after the then-Illinois senator shocked many by winning the Iowa caucuses. On the eve of the New Hampshire primary that his wife would win, Clinton told an audience at Dartmouth College that the image Obama had cultivated, particularly as the anti-war candidate, was the "biggest fairy tale" he'd ever seen.

As the campaign went on, Clinton would claim Obama's impending victory in South Carolina was based, as Jesse Jackson's was decades before, simply on race. He bristled at perceived slights of his record from Obama, particularly when he said that Clinton's presidency had not been "transformational" in the way Ronald Reagan's had. Various accounts since the campaign reveal that the wariness of Obama aides of Clinton was a leading factor in Hillary Clinton being ruled out as a serious vice presidential contender.

But since Obama took the oath of office, Clinton has proved to be a loyal and understated ally, keeping mostly to the work of his foundation and doing some political events for his wife's biggest supporters. He has been called on by the White House several times, most famously when he flew to North Korea to personally arrange for the return of American journalists being held by the oppressive regime. The two presidents have met in person at least three times now, be it at the White House or at a New York restaurant. They've consulted by phone other times as well, developing a collegial relationship grounded in the unique status each holds as the elected leader of the free world.

By close of business Thursday, neither the White House press office nor a Clinton aide had much to say about what the two leaders discussed in their latest meeting. As the current president readies his first State of the Union address, looks to close the deal on health care, and faces a new, unforeseen challenge in the war on terror, there was, of course, no shortage of material.

Aloha, Vacation; Aloha, Full Plate

President Obama is now back at the White House, perhaps a bit jet lagged and regretful that his working vacation is officially over.

Aides won't rule out a public appearance, but say it's unlikely we'll see him today. But he will jump right back to work with more briefings on the attempted Christmas Day airline attack and the threats from al Qaida in Yemen that are increasingly in public focus. He'll have a larger meeting with his security team tomorrow at the White House. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, was the public face for the administration today, calling instability in Yeman "a threat to regional stability and even global stability."

The economy will also stay in focus, particularly with a jobs report due at week's end. Before Air Force One touched down in the Washington area, deputy press secretary Bill Burton talked about the full plate welcoming the president as he returns.

"When you're President of the United States you've got to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time, so you can anticipate there's going to be a very heavy push to get Americans back to work, to get the economy as strong as it can be, along with some of the other things that we left behind at the end of the year to get finished up here -- health care, financial regulatory reform," Burton said. "Then also along with what's happening on these counterterrorism measures and Yemen, we've also got issues to deal with with Iran and North Korea and Pakistan. And you can bet that the President and his principals and deputies will all be taking on their full plates of work with rested minds hopefully and we'll be able to make some good progress here right out of the starting gate."

Continue reading "Aloha, Vacation; Aloha, Full Plate" »

The Week Ahead: Welcome To Election Year

We love Washington and all, but -- no matter your political stripe -- one almost feels bad for President Obama's return home. It was nearly 80 degrees when he stepped on Air Force One in Honolulu Sunday night and likely will be in the high 20s when Marine One touches down on the White House lawn this morning. But all vacations must come to an end, so check out what to watch in RCP's Week Ahead:

The White House: President Obama and the first family was due to officially return "to the Mainland," as Hawaiians put it, at 11:30 am when Air Force One lands at Andrews Air Force Base. The White House has not put out a full schedule for the week, but one issue is sure to have found its way on to the president's crowded desk in the Oval Office: terrorism. Obama's counterterrorism czar was on the Sunday shows talking about the new threats from al Qaida, including those that led to the closure of the U.S. Embassy in Yemen.

The Capitol: The House and Senate remain on break this week, while Democratic leadership aides continue backroom negotiations on a compromise health care reform bill. As Reuters reports, the difficult task is highlighted in the two chambers' differences "over the use of federal funds for abortion, new taxes to pay for the plans, a government-run insurance option and the level of subsidies and penalties for the uninsured." Politico notes that, as it did during the August recess, the GOP has been trying to win the media war over the winter break as well.

Politics: Welcome to midterm election year 2010, when history and polling now stand on the Republican Party's side. AP's Liz Sidoti broke down the landscape in a great piece published over the weekend:

"But they face an incumbent-hostile electorate worried about a 10 percent unemployment rate, weary of wars and angry at politicians of all stripes. Many independents who backed Democrats in 2006 and 2008 have turned away. Republicans, meanwhile, are energized and united in opposing Obama's policies."

The first election in 2010 happens in just over two weeks, when Republican Scott Brown and Democrat Martha Coakley compete for the Senate seat in Massachusetts once held by Ted Kennedy (and now being kept warm by Paul Kirk). There are two debates this week, with another scheduled for a week from today at the Kennedy Institute.

The first regularly-scheduled primary is February 2, when the gubernatorial and Senate nominations will be decided in Illinois. For a full rundown of the primary calendar for the new year, check back to this post.

Look for Democrats this week to focus on the growing number of open seats that Republicans will need to defend next year. There are now 14 Republican congressmen not seeking re-election -- Rep. Henry Brown (R-S.C.) is expected to announce his retirement this afternoon, and Rep. George Radanovich (R-Calif.) announced his exit last week.

Poll Watch:
Obama Job Performance: Approve 49.8 / Disapprove 44.6 (+5.2)
Congress Job Performance: Approve 27.4 / Disapprove 65.8 (-38.4)
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +1.7

In Case You Missed It: While most have focused on Democratic incumbents not seeking re-election next year, there is a growing number of Democratic recruits that have opted against running. This past week, freshman Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kans.) lost an opponent in state Sen. Laura Kelly (D), the fifth Dem challenger to drop out in recent weeks.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

The Week Ahead: Working Vacation

Are you ready for the Eagle Bank Bowl? UCLA vs. Temple is about all that you can count on this week in the nation's capital. Here's the RCP Week Ahead.

The White House: Mahalo! President Obama is enjoying a "working vacation" in the nation's 50th state this week. It's a week away that became less of an escape when a Delta flight was subject to an attempted terrorist attack. While the Obama family hit the beach on Sunday, Obama himself is on guard monitoring the new situation in airline travel. He'll make a statement to the press on camera this morning.

Members of Congress are already talking about hearings to look into the new potential threat. From the administration, an unfortunate gaffe by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. "The system worked as it should," she said on CNN this Sunday, responding to the incident on a Detroit-bound flight.

The Capitol: Members of Congress are at home this week, but the leadership of both chambers is hard at work negotiating differences in the House and Senate versions of health care legislation this week. Senators claimed Sunday that the final draft will more closely resemble the Senate's version of the complicated legislation.

"If we are going to have a final law, it will look a lot more like the Senate version than the House version," Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said on "Fox News Sunday." "I'm sure there'll be some compromises, but at the end of the day, I would expect that it will look very much like the Senate version."

Politics: As we mentioned last week, the pressure is on vulnerable incumbents and top GOP recruits to make a show of strength in their campaign fundraising for the period that ends this Thursday night. Don't be surprised to see a retirement or party switch this week, Rep. Parker Griffith's decision to become a Republican is likely the biggest blow for Democrats this month.

On "Fox News Sunday," Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Chris Van Hollen said Democrats are "not going to be surprised like in 1994." "We've been preparing from day one," he said. "Is this going to be a tough year? Yeah, and we're ready to fight. Is it going to be another 1994? No."

** Poll Watch
Obama Job Performance: Approve 49.5 / Disapprove 45.1
Congress Job Performance: Approve 27.4 / Disapprove 65.8
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +2.5

** In Case You Missed It: For this final week of the decade (the '00s? the oughts?), our friends at "First Read" have a good round-up of "Best of" lists, including Best Speech, Biggest Risers, Biggest Downfalls, and Statewide Races.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Obama Praises Senate Health Care Vote

President Obama gave the following remarks this morning from the State Dining Room in the White House in response to the Senate passing health care reform:

Continue reading "Obama Praises Senate Health Care Vote" »

Gibbs' Podium Playbook Keeps White House On Message

Today's press briefing will likely be the last for Robert Gibbs in 2009, a long first year at the podium for the White House press secretary. As the year comes to a close 'tis the season for reflection, and after more than 130 jousting sessions from the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, an informal survey of regular working members of the White House press corps provides a predictably mixed picture of the administration's chief spokesman.

To be sure, reporters are often dissatisfied with the information flow of a new administration that promised historic transparency, and confrontations were common and at times tense in the cramped quarters of the press room. But there was also a grudging respect of Gibbs' performance at the end of his first calendar year behind the podium.

Most of all, reporters credit Gibbs for having the one thing that is of perhaps most value to them: regular access to and the trust of the president himself. Gibbs has been at Obama's side throughout his rise in national politics, including most of the campaign. "I trust him completely," the president told the New York Times a year ago.

Continue reading "Gibbs' Podium Playbook Keeps White House On Message" »

The Week Ahead: Snowy Capital, Chilly Partisanship

The Senate worked through one of the biggest snow storms in D.C. history over the weekend, and it will continue cranking during this holiday week -- when members, staff and reporters all are wishing they could fly home. In the meantime, this is what to watch for this week in Washington:

The White House: President Obama's only scheduled public event Monday focuses on government efficiency. He'll also meet with his National Economic Council. On Tuesday, Obama will again meet with bank CEOs, this time representing small and community banks, with an eye on the economy and loosening the credit markets. Obama is due to head out with his family to Hawaii for the holidays, as is their custom. He's expected to return after the New Year.

What remains to be seen is whether health care legislation will be passed by the Senate before his departure. David Axelrod, senior White House strategist, did his best to spin the apparent compromise that should give Democrats 60 votes it needs to get there. "I think that we're going to have some work to do when we come back," he said of the conference committee process that will begin after the holidays.

The Capitol: Should things fall in line and Republicans continue to filibuster, the Senate will take a final vote on health care reform Thursday, the evening of Christmas Eve. After a procedural vote early Monday morning -- 1 a.m. -- Democrats proved they had the necessary 60 votes to end the filibuster and bring the reform bill up for final adoption.

The vote schedule this week is likely to look like this: a second cloture vote Tuesday morning at 7 a.m., a third Wednesday at 1 p.m., and voting on final passage of the bill Thursday at 7 p.m.

The party-line debate and votes has put on display the level of partisanship that still exists in Congress. As a New York Times story put it this morning: "A year that began with hopes of new post-partisanship has indeed produced change: Things have gotten worse."

After Christmas, the majority staffs from the House and Senate will begin negotiations on a conference report -- the next major hurdle for health care reform.

Politics: In the final days of 2009, there may not be much activity on the surface but it's an important week behind the scenes. There's incredible pressure on candidates to keep raising big bucks for the fundraising quarter that ends December 31. And, with all the focus on the holidays, don't be surprised in the weeks ahead to see more retirement announcements from House and potentially even Senate Democrats.

Michael Steele continues to bang the drum on his "Listen To Me" anti-health care campaign, with a conference call today with Dick Armey. And speaking of health care opposition, here's a reminder that one shouldn't make any snap judgments about anyone's political fate: Mike Huckabee drew 1,800 people in Omaha, just across the river from Iowa, for a rally on Sunday meant to pressure Sen. Ben Nelson to vote against the final health care bill. Also, its quotes like this, from an interview on "Hannity" Friday. Speaking of the president, Huckabee said: "I would almost venture to say he's broken more promises than Tiger Woods, and I'm not sure we can give him a mulligan."

** Poll Watch
Obama Job Performance: Approve 49.3 / Disapprove 44.9
Congress Job Performance: Approve 27.4 / Disapprove 65.8
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +2.3

** In Case You Missed It: Depending upon where exactly in the Washington area you lived, you may have seen as much as 20 inches of snow this weekend in what was the worst December storm ever. How's this for a whopping stat: 25 million pounds of snow needs to be cleared from FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, before tonight's big Monday Night Football matchup between the Redskins and the Giants. The Redskins Blog has the story on getting the field ready.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

White House Takes Issue With Dean Criticism

New White House communication director Dan Pfeiffer is responding directly to Howard Dean's critique of health care legislation, posting on the White House blog that the Senate bill is hardly a "dream for insurance companies."

If that's the case, though, it must be news to them. The insurance industry has been leveraging its considerable resources in a ferocious effort to defeat this bill, including producing a report the day before the Senate Finance Committee vote that was so misleading the firm behind it had to walk away from it. And that's not surprising, because this bill will finally wrest power away from the insurance industry and put it in the hands of American consumers.

...

It's also important to remember that, while none of us are shedding any tears for the insurance industry, the primary goal of health insurance reform isn't to punish insurers - it's to give every American the ability to find affordable coverage while controlling the unsustainable cost growth in our current health care system that is crushing families and businesses. On that front, this bill is hugely successful.

Press secretary Robert Gibbs has already taken a number of questions on Dean's comments as well. At one point in today's briefing, he argued that no "rational person" would claim that killing the bill now is a good idea. That prompted an immediate follow up to ask if Gibbs was charging that Dean is "irrational," which he said was not the case.

Dean had been largely supportive of the legislation as it worked its way through Congress this year, even if he conceded it wasn't perfect. But of late it seems there have been one too many compromises for his taste. In April, Dean did say to RCP that Obama should not back down on the public option. "If it doesn't [have the public option] all we have is the same old stuff, and I don't think it's worth spending $634 billion on what we've already got," he said.

The Week Ahead: Crunch Time In The Capital

It's the last full week of business before the holidays. Here's RCP's Weekly Planner with what to watch in politics.

** This Week At The White House: On Monday, President Obama meets with representatives from the financial industry, "to discuss economic recovery, small business lending, improving lending practices for homeowners and the Administration's plans for financial reform," the White House says. The gathering comes after Obama bluntly criticized Wall Street executives in a "60 Minutes" interview Sunday night.

"The people on Wall Street still don't get it," Obama told Steve Kroft. "They're still puzzled, why is it that people are mad at the banks. Well, let's see. You guys are drawing down $10, $20 million bonuses after America went through the worst economic year that it's gone through in decades, and you guys caused the problem. And we've got ten percent unemployment. Why do you think people might be a little frustrated?"

The other main item on Obama's schedule this week is a trip back to Europe Thursday night, where he'll take part in the Copenhagen summit on climate change as it wraps up.

** This Week On Capitol Hill: The Senate had a busy weekend, working overtime to pass a $446 billion omnibus spending bill that includes six of the 12 annual appropriations bills that will fund the federal government in fiscal year 2010. The bill now heads to the White House, where President Obama is expected to sign it this week. Congress had already passed five appropriations bills, leaving only the Defense Appropriations bill, which the House is scheduled to take up this week.

The Senate went back to work on health care legislation on Sunday, and Democrats will push to complete a compromise this week. On "Face The Nation" yesterday, Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell highlighted the trouble Democrats are having coming to terms. "It's noteworthy that you had to have three Democrats on to explain the Democratic position," he said, referring to previous guests Sens. Jay Rockefeller, Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman. "In fact, there are more Democratic positions than you'd find in a stack of newspapers, and therein lies the problem."

Be sure to check out the RCP Video page for more highlights from the Sunday shows.

**This Week In Politics: There was a noteworthy milestone in Texas this weekend, as the nation's fourth-largest city elected a lesbian as mayor. Annise Parker won Saturday's runoff with just under 53 percent of the vote. "Parker's name identification and experience as a candidate and elected official were too much for the well-connected Gene Locke," the Houston Chronicle reported. Expect that to get some national focus, coming as it did in a red state and at a time when gay marriage efforts have stalled in several states.

Also worth watching this week: Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) makes his first visit to New Hampshire as a potential 2012 candidate. He'll speak at a fundraiser in Concord for the state Senate Republican fundraising committee. Iowa has seen its share of Republican hopefuls in this very early going, but this is one of the first big forays in the home of the first-in-the-nation primary.

** Poll Watch
Obama Job Performance: Approve 48.6 / Disapprove 45.2
Congress Job Performance: Approve 28.8 / Disapprove 63.3
Generic Ballot Test: Republicans +0.8

** In Case You Missed It: Check out Sarah Palin's surprise appearance on "The Tonight Show," where she turned the tables on William Shatner by reading portions of his autobiography.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Gingrich Praises Obama's "Historic" Nobel Speech

Reaction is trickling in to President Obama's Nobel acceptance speech this morning in Oslo, and it appears the surprising tone -- focused on the idea of just war -- is drawing praise across the ideological spectrum.

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich had this to say on WNYC radio's "The Takeaway" show:

"I thought the speech was actually very good. And he clearly understood that he had been given the prize prematurely, but he used it as an occasion to remind people, first of all, as he said: that there is evil in the world. I think having a liberal president who goes to Oslo on behalf of a peace prize and reminds the committee that they would not be free, they wouldn't be able to have a peace prize, without having force... I thought in some ways it's a very historic speech.

And the President, I think, did a very good job of representing the role of America which has been that of -- at the risk of lives of young Americans -- creating the fabric of security within which you could have a Martin Luther King Jr. or you could have a Mahatma Gandhi."

Obama To GOP: Stop Scaring American People

Today's meeting with Congressional leadership at the White House was intended to be a demonstration of bipartisanship as officials look to stimulate the economy. To President Obama, bipartisanship came in the form of a request to GOP lawmakers to quit knocking what he feels is an economy that is in recovery.

"One of the things he told my Republican friends, is stop trying to frighten the American people," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters after the meeting. "He said it would help a lot if people would talk more positively about what is going on."

Republicans said that they came to the meeting with their own proposals for the White House to consider. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor said the meeting was actually "more in depth than usual," and that the president promised to consider them. But the party held firm to its view that any new jobs plan not include new spending.

"He challenged us to bring an economist to make the case that we ought not to be spending right now. We think that we've spent enough," Cantor said. "We think that spending money we don't have brings uncertainty, and in fact small and large businesses have reacted to that and have a whole lot of hesitancy about job creation."

To the point Obama made about scaring the public, House Minority Leader John Boehner said it's Obama's agenda that concerns business.

"The president wants to blame us for informing the American people about what's happening here and how it will effect them. But it's not what we're doing," he said. "It's the policies that they're promoting here in Washington."

No "Silver Bullet" In Obama Jobs Speech

Though reluctant to "step on" his own speech President Obama today offered some hint of his planned remarks on the economy tomorrow, saying it'll focus on the need to ensure job growth "matches up with economic growth."

"What we've seen is, is that companies shed jobs very quickly, partly induced by the panic of what was happening on Wall Street, and they are still tentative about hiring back all those people who were laid off," Obama told reporters after an Oval Office meeting with Turkey's prime minister. He also said companies may have become more efficient after doing more with less for so long "that they may feel that they can produce the same amount of goods or services without as many employees."

Press secretary Robert Gibbs said that the president also intends to send a message to Main Street that "help is on the way." To that end, Obama is expected to call for using some funds originally allocated for the TARP program for new stimulus measures.

"It sends the message that your economic vitality is just as important as anybody that lives or works or breathes on Wall Street. That's the message the President has hoped and wanted to send for his entire administration, and that's what he's done in the recovery plan; that's what he'll continue to do tomorrow in his speech," Gibbs said.

Don't expect to hear any grand cure-all for the nation's persistent unemployment problem, however.

"The President is not going to unveil the silver bullet idea ... [where] all the jobs that will be made up by the loss in the economic downturn and then some," Gibbs said. "If there was one idea to do this, I assume it would have been done sometime in the intervening 22 months."

Gibbs also declined to call any new programs announced tomorrow a "second stimulus." Meanwhile, some have questioned whether Obama can and should use funds originally allocated for the TARP program for any new initiatives. Gibbs said that the White House "is looking at" that possibility, especially given the unexpected $200 billion coming back to the Treasury coffers as financial institutions repay their federal bailout.

"The president again, and the team, as well as members of Capitol Hill are looking at these questions to see what are the important and necessary next steps, some of which, but not all of which, the president will discuss tomorrow," Gibbs said.

Excerpts of President Obama's Afghanistan Speech

Fresh from the White House, here's what they want network news audiences and reporters to focus on in the 90 minutes before the full speech is delivered:

"The 30,000 additional troops that I am announcing tonight will deploy in the first part of 2010 - the fastest pace possible - so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers. They will increase our ability to train competent Afghan Security Forces, and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight. And they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans."

...

"Because this is an international effort, I have asked that our commitment be joined by contributions from our allies. Some have already provided additional troops, and we are confident that there will be further contributions in the days and weeks ahead. Our friends have fought and bled and died alongside us in Afghanistan. Now, we must come together to end this war successfully. For what's at stake is not simply a test of NATO's credibility - what's at stake is the security of our Allies, and the common security of the world."

...

"Taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground. We will continue to advise and assist Afghanistan's Security Forces to ensure that they can succeed over the long haul. But it will be clear to the Afghan government - and, more importantly, to the Afghan people - that they will ultimately be responsible for their own country."

Obama and His Speechwriters Tackle Another High Stakes Address

In both his campaign for the presidency and his first year in office, Barack Obama has made countless speeches billed as "major addresses." There is no doubting that tonight's speech outlining a long-awaited policy decision on America's engagement in Afghanistan rises to that level, and marks another test of his, and his speechwriting team's, reputation for rhetorical flourish.

According to the White House, President Obama worked throughout the weekend on tonight's speech with Ben Rhodes, his top wordsmith on national security issues. Polishing the speech will continue throughout the day today -- something not necessarily uncommon for this kind of speech, veterans of presidential speechwriting say -- but particularly so for this president.

"There aren't that many speeches in the course of a year that rise to the level of the speech that the president's going to give [Tuesday]," said one former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton. "There is a much more careful weighing of the words in a speech like this than in just about any other speech that a president will give."

Tonight, Obama faces the pressure of not only announcing a complicated strategy to an increasingly skeptical public, but also explaining the decision, and most likely outlining an end game as well.

"The president now not only needs to explain his case, but to try to rally public support and hold off criticisms in his own party," said Peter Wehner, a member of the speechwriting team for President George W. Bush as the Afghanistan war was launched in 2001. "It's politically complicated as well as morally important. When you take all of those things together, it's a pretty high stakes speech."

Continue reading "Obama and His Speechwriters Tackle Another High Stakes Address" »

The Non-Decider Decides

Three months after he took the McChrystal report with him to Camp David for a weekend read, and 10 months after taking office, President Obama said Tuesday that he is ready to announce a new strategy for the United States in Afghanistan.

In confirming the news during an East Room gathering with India's prime minister, Obama immediately talked of how his administration's lengthy review of its options was "comprehensive and extremely useful," while taking a thinly veiled swipe the Bush administration for not always having a clear strategy.

"It is my intention to finish the job," the president said.

That line seemed a deliberate attempt to sound forceful in teasing his long-awaited announcement, which comes after nine meetings of his "war council." The public nature of his long deliberation, as illustrated through photo releases and press office readouts, has been portrayed by the White House as the commander in chief giving this solemn decision the careful consideration it deserves.

But critics, most famously former Vice President Dick Cheney, have called it "dithering," and say the delay in reaching a conclusion not only undercuts the military leadership, but unnerves allies and shows some measure of weakness to enemies. Regardless of one's opinion, it's a notable departure from the frequent modus operandi President Bush, who famously called himself "The Decider" in 2006.

Continue reading "The Non-Decider Decides" »

Gibbs: Election Defeats Would Not Hurt Obama

Press secretary Robert Gibbs took a cautious approach when asked at today's White House briefing what the political repercussions would be for President Obama if Democrats are swept on Tuesday.

"We'll have time to dissect whatever those results are on Tuesday, " he said. "Whatever the results are, I don't think they portend a lot in dealing with the future."

He noted that Democrats won both governor's races in Virginia and New Jersey in 2001, in former President Bush's first year in office. "I don't think anybody thought that when they looked at the election results in 2002, they thought President Bush was significantly hampered by that."

Polls point to a big Republican win in Virginia on Tuesday, while New Jersey's governorship is still a toss up. President Obama campaigns there on Sunday, with stops that will guarantee coverage in both the Philadelphia and New York media markets that reach New Jersey homes.

When asked what he thought the impact would be, Gov. Jon Corzine (D) told RCP last week that a victory "would enhance the credibility of the party."

"What I don't think is going to happen if the opposite would happen, I don't think it hurts them," he added. "People can look at what the polls were in July."

Biden During Veepstakes: "Last Thing I Should Do"

Time runs some fascinating excerpts from the forthcoming book by David Plouffe, President Obama's campaign manager in the 2008 race. There's much focus this morning on Plouffe's recollection of how seriously Hillary Clinton was considered by then-Senator Obama as a potential running mate. But worth noting are the views of the man he ultimately chose, Joe Biden.

The then-Delaware Senator conceded in a meeting with Plouffe and David Axelrod last August that he initially "wasn't sure" about Obama, but had become convinced. He talked of how he would never have run for president himself if he "knew the steamroller you guys would put together" in Iowa. He also offered pros and cons for himself as the VP, at first saying the job was "the last thing I should do," but also arguing that he could "be a good soldier and could provide real value."

The least surprising thing about this meeting: Plouffe writes, "Ax and I couldn't get a word in edgewise." But ultimately, Obama's top strategists concluded that "this dog could not be taught new tricks." Obama made the choice on August 17, just after his return from a week-long vacation in Hawaii.

The full excerpt on the Biden meeting is after the jump.

Continue reading "Biden During Veepstakes: "Last Thing I Should Do"" »

Romer Hails GDP Growth

The White House has released this statement from Christina Romer, chair of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, reacting to news this morning that the GDP grew 3.5 percent in the third quarter.

"Data released today by the Commerce Department show that real GDP grew at an annual rate of 3.5 percent in the third quarter of the year. This is in stark contrast to the decline of 6.4 percent annual rate just two quarters ago. Indeed, the two-quarter swing in the rate of growth of 9.9 percentage points was the largest since 1980. Analysis by both the Council of Economic Advisers and a wide range of private and public-sector forecasters indicates that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 contributed between 3 and 4 percentage points to real GDP growth in the third quarter. This suggests that in the absence of the Recovery Act, real GDP would have risen little, if at all, this past quarter."

"After four consecutive quarters of decline, positive GDP growth is an encouraging sign that the U.S. economy is moving in the right direction. However, this welcome milestone is just another step, and we still have a long road to travel until the economy is fully recovered. The turnaround in crucial labor market indicators, such as employment and the unemployment rate, typically occurs after the turnaround in GDP. And it will take sustained, robust GDP growth to bring the unemployment rate down substantially. Such a decline in unemployment is, of course, what we are all working to achieve."

A Transparency Test For The White House

Today's Washington Times story documenting how top donors to Barack Obama's campaign and the DNC received some serious presidential perks became the latest challenge on whether the administration living up to the fundamental campaign promise to change the culture of Washington.

Robert Gibbs was asked repeatedly about the story at today's White House briefing. He denied that any quid-pro-quo is at play, while defending the administration's credentials on transparency by reminding reporters of a soon-to-be-released log of all White House visitors.

"This President has [instituted] the very toughest ethics and transparency rules of any administration in history," he said. "I think the President has returned to a stance of transparency and ethics that hasn't been matched by any other White House."

He did acknowledge that there is some degree of reward, stating that "contributing doesn't guarantee a visit to the White House, nor does it preclude it." At the same time, he pushed back on the RNC which has criticized the administration in the wake of the Times story.

"There's two ... major political parties in this country. One party doesn't accept contributions from registered federal lobbyists. That same party doesn't accept contributions from political action committees," he said, referring to the DNC.

Asked specifically if there was any quid pro quo, Gibbs said: "No, of course not."

The White House had announced in early September that it would release a full list of White House visitors starting in mid December. But that first accounting will only include guests in the previous three to four months. You can be sure when that first list is disclosed, it will be cross-referenced with Obama and DNC donors.

Biden: Cheney "Absolutely Wrong" On "Dithering" Charge

In an interview with pool reporters accompanying him on a trip to Eastern Europe, Vice President Biden strongly disputes the view of his predecessor that the Obama administration is "dithering" as it considers a shift in military strategy on Afghanistan, calling Dick Cheney "absolutely wrong."

"I think what the administration is doing is exactly what we said it would do, and what I think it warrants doing. And that is making an informed judgment based upon circumstances that have changed ... to come up with a sustainable policy that has more than one dimension," he said.

At one point, a pool report notes, Biden seemed ready to dismiss Cheney's views altogether, starting to say, "Who cares what" he thinks. But he "stopped himself to find another way to put it," the report said. "I can see the headline now," he said. "I'm getting better, guys. I'm getting a little better, you know what I mean?" Biden also called an assessment left by the Bush administration "irrelevant."

Biden's trip in part is meant to reassure Eastern European allies about the U.S. decision to scrap a missile defense arrangement there, something Cheney also criticized. The current VP admitted the decision could have been communicated better, but said that on this trip allies "have no doubt" about the American commitment to their security.

The full pool report of Biden's comments is after the jump.

Continue reading "Biden: Cheney "Absolutely Wrong" On "Dithering" Charge" »

Obama: Afghan Runoff Will Ensure Credible Process

President Obama this morning praised the announcement by Afghan President Hamid Karzai that he will accept the certification of the nation's election commission requiring a runoff vote, calling it "an important step forward in ensuring a credible process for the Afghan people which results in a government that reflects their will."

"While this election could have remained unresolved to the detriment of the country, President Karzai's constructive actions established an important precedent for Afghanistan's new democracy," Obama said. "The Afghan Constitution and laws are strengthened by President Karzai's decision, which is in the best interests of the Afghan people."

The announcement comes as the White House was preparing to announce a new military strategy, following weeks of meetings the president held with his so-called war council. Any announcement now will likely be delayed until the runoff takes place.

The rest of Obama's statement is after the jump.

Continue reading "Obama: Afghan Runoff Will Ensure Credible Process" »

In Brief NOLA Stop, Obama Sells His Agenda

President Obama was only scheduled to be on the ground for about four hours in New Orleans today. But in his only town hall meeting there, he used a sizable portion of his remarks to talk not just about recovery efforts, but his administration's agenda as well.

"I know that, for a lot of you, the questions and concerns you have aren't limited to the Recovery Act and the efforts that are taking place here on the Gulf. You're also wondering about the recovery effort that's taking place throughout America," Obama told a very friendly audience at the University of New Orleans. "An economic storm hit about nine months ago, 10 months ago, caused this recession that is as bad as anything we've seen since the Great Depression. And obviously, it hasn't left behind the death and destruction that Katrina and Rita left behind. But it's caused incredible pain and hardship for communities all across this country."

Alluding to the promising signs on Wall Street, Obama said he's working for an economy "where our stock market's not only rising again, but our businesses are hiring again and people's incomes are going up again."

"If we want a recovery that lasts, if we want an economy that really grows again, we've got to rebuild stronger than before, just like you're doing here in New Orleans," he said. "We need to come together and meet the challenges that were with us before this recession hit."

He mentioned efforts toward renewable energy, improving education and, of course, health care as key projects.

Continue reading "In Brief NOLA Stop, Obama Sells His Agenda" »

Obama: Snowe Vote Shows "Political Courage"

President Obama tonight praised the Finance Committee for voting out health care legislation, but signaled that a new fight is just beginning.

"This bill is not perfect, and we have a lot of difficult work ahead of us," he said in a brief Rose Garden statement. "There's still significant details and disagreements to be worked out over the next several weeks as the five separate bills from the Senate and the House are merged into one proposal."

Still, the Finance Committee's vote represents a "critical milestone" in his reform effort. He portrayed the Finance bill as a bipartisan one that includes Republican ideas, even though just one Republican voted for it. That Republican, Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, again drew special praise from the president.

"I want to particularly thank Senator Olympia Snowe for both the political courage and the seriousness of purpose that she's demonstrated throughout this process," he said.

For the celebrations in some corners today, Obama cautioned that now is "not the time to pat ourselves on the back," but instead "to dig in and work even harder to get this done."

"In this final phase, I hope that we will continue to engage each other with the spirit of civility and seriousness that has brought us this far and this subject deserves," he said.

White House Hails 'Bipartisan' Finance Committee Bill

There may have been only one Republican vote, but the White House is welcoming the Senate Finance Committee's action today as a bipartisan endorsement of health care reform.

"[We] are pleased that the likely outcome appears that we'll be one step closer to reform; that all five committees that have and share jurisdiction over the important issue of health care will have reported a bill out which will be the first time that that's ever happened in -- in our history," Robert Gibbs said at his briefing today. "Obviously having the vote of Senator Snowe is important. [Obama] believes that she's worked constructively throughout this process to address a problem that Americans face and her constituents in Maine face."

Gibbs said Obama last spoke with the Maine senator last week. The president himself praised Snowe for being "extraordinarily diligent" in her work.

UPDATE: Obama will make a public statement on the Finance Committee vote from the Rose Garden after 5 pm.

Obama Surprised, But Did Not Consider Refusing Nobel

Robert Gibbs would not share much about President Obama's reaction this morning to the news he won the Nobel Peace Prize, other than to say he was surprised. He also said he was unaware of whether there was any consideration given to refusing the award, adding that the president does plan to travel to Oslo to accept it.

Asked whether, in recognition of some of the reaction to the award, the White House was intentionally downplaying any internal celebration, Gibbs said the staff is obviously "enormously proud of the work we're trying to do every day."

"He hopes that what comes of this is galvanized action on behalf of the entire world to make good on the ideas and the ideals that we've talked about," Gibbs said. "I think that's important going forward, and I think we'll continue to use avenues as a chance to do that."

He would not react to the partisan response of some, and urged pundits who think this honor will worsen the partisan divide to spend some time outside of the Washington Beltway.

"It's a good thing. It's an important thing. I don't think it's a partisan thing," he said.

Obama: Don't Think I Deserve Nobel

obamanobel.jpgPresident Obama's statement accepting the Nobel Peace Prize reflected the shock, even in the White House, that he won the award with so few tangible accomplishments on the world stage.

"This is not how I expected to wake up this morning," Obama said in the Rose Garden, adding that his daughter told him not only about the Nobel win, but their dog's birthday.

Obama said he was "surprised and humbled" by the decision of the committee, and views it not as a personal award but an "affirmation of American leadership." In a rare moment of modesty, he continued: "To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize, men and women who've inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace."

The president will travel to Norway to accept the honor, "as a call to action, a call for all nations to confront the common challenges of the 21st century." In his six-minute address, he also reflected difficult decisions ahead on Afghanistan, and also in confronting a global economic downturn. The RNC had earlier dissed the honor, saying Obama "won't be receiving any awards from Americans for job creation."

White House Unhappy With McChrystal "Campaign"?

Robert Gibbs tried his best today to downplay talk that the White House is unhappy with General Stanley McChrystal making a very public case for particular Afghanistan strategy, chalking such speculation up to the standard Washington parlor game.

"The general made an assessment and we're going through a series of decisions, including that assessment," the press secretary said. "That's what these meetings are about. That's the process that the president is going through in meetings three and four this week, to try to get this strategy right and to do it not based on the back-and-forth or rumors about this or that, but on what he thinks is best -- in the best national security advice and posture of the United States of America and how it can best protect us."

National Security Adviser Jim Jones seemed to send something of a message in an interview yesterday, saying recommendations should typically work their way through the chain of command and not be made publicly. Tangling with CNN's Ed Henry today, Gibbs denied that the White House was unhappy with McChrystal "campaigning" for his recommendations. "I get that the Washington game is to do the back-and-forth," he said.

Though Gibbs was not present for Obama's one-on-one meeting with McChrystal in Copenhagen last week, he said it was "very constructive" and focused on "what's going on in Afghanistan, not what's going on on cable television." He repeatedly stated that Obama is "comfortable with where the process and how it's moving forward."

Continue reading "White House Unhappy With McChrystal "Campaign"?" »

Obama Leans On Doctors For Reform Push; No "Public Option"

President Obama returned to the health care debate with a familiar set of talking points, but omitted one phrase in his remarks: public option.

Standing in the Rose Garden flanked by a group of doctors from states represented by senators with swing votes, Obama talked about the health care debate that's stretched on "for months" now, including "crazy claims about death panels to misleading warnings about a government takeover of our health care system." He said what's "most telling" is that doctors and nurses who know the system best are among the "most supportive" of reform.

"These men and women here would not be supporting health insurance reform if they really believed that it would lead to government bureaucrats making decisions that are best left to doctors. They wouldn't be here today if they believed that reform in any way would damage the very critical and sacred doctor-patient relationship," he said.

Continue reading "Obama Leans On Doctors For Reform Push; No "Public Option"" »

Obama: Always Worthwhile Endeavor To Boost U.S.

President Obama congratulated Chicago for its Olympic effort, but conceded he was disappointed that his hometown would not host the 2016 Summer Games. He offered his congratulations to Brazil, and expressed no regret about his personal trip to Copenhagen.

"I believe it's always a worthwhile endeavor to promote and boost the United States of America and invite the world to come see what we're all about," he said. "We obviously would have been eager to host these games, but, as I said, this nation and our athletes are still very much excited to compete in 2016."

While Obama said little more about the politics of it, press secretary Robert Gibbs earlier did shoot back at Republicans who seemed to be reacting with a measure of delight at the bad news.

"I want to know what was Michael Steele doing about 1:50 a.m. when we landed," he told reporters on Air Force One, arguing that his trip did not overly distract the president from the pressing business of state. "You know, there's people trying to solve problems and there's people playing games, and I think we know where a bunch of that is."

Obama also addressed the new jobs report, calling it "a sobering reminder that progress comes in fits and starts and that we're going to need to grind out this recovery step by step."

Political Ops Split On Troop Increase Consequences

Seven-in-ten Democratic political operatives believe sending additional troops to Afghanistan would be a political minus for President Obama, according to this week's National Journal Political Insiders Poll.

Two Democratic ops quoted said it would hurt Democrats in the midterm elections, whether it is a necessary move or not. "The Democratic base doesn't want to see more troops. And, right now, it looks like we are about to go into a midterm with the Republican base energized while our base has nothing to rally around," said one Democratic political insider.

"He's in a real box here. Expanding the war is probably the right thing to do militarily, but it will be very unpopular and will hurt Democrats in the midterms," said another Democrat.

More than half of Republican insiders, meanwhile, said adding more troops would have a positive political impact for Obama. They say he should ignore the left wing of his party, as fulfilling campaign promises and showing a toughness in the war on terror would ultimately lead to more electoral success.

"If he refrains from taking the advice of the military, he owns the outcome," said a GOP insider. "If he takes the advice of the military, then he is positioned to do whatever he wants at a later date. Stevie Wonder could see what to do here."

For Democratic operatives, 27 percent said it would be a political plus and 70 percent said it would be a minus. Fifty-two percent of Republicans said it was a plus and 42 percent said a minus.

The Politics Of Chicago's Olympic Failure

To say that Chicago's elimination from the Olympic voting in the very first round was a stunner would be a significant understatement. The Windy City was the odds-on favorite in Vegas, with Rio de Janeiro a close second.

But President Obama's last-minute decision to appeal to the International Olympic Committee in person makes today's loss a political issue for the White House. The RNC had already criticized Obama for leaving the country when the work of health care is unfinished and the economy still struggling. A win, as expected, would have muted those complaints.

Here's how David Axelrod spun the loss, during an appearance on MSNBC. "Obviously it's a disappointment. It would have been great to have the Olympics in Chicago," he said. "The President of the United States will go anywhere to promote the interests of this country, to make the case for this country. I think it was worth the effort. And we move on."

He went on to emphasize that it was a short trip on the president's part, and that he still thinks it was worth it. "It was well worth the effort. I'm not worried about the politics of it," he said.

The reaction on Twitter from conservative pundits is an interesting case study. Newt Gingrich weighed in, noting the loss comes on the same day that new unemployment numbers were released. "President Eisenhower had a rule that Presidents of the United States went to the meetings after success had been assured," he also wrote.

Scott Stanzel, a former Bush administration spokesperson, was more cautious, urging Republican consultants and officials to "resist the temptation to pile on about Chicago losing the Olympic bid just because Obama made the pitch."

Obama To Democratic Governors: Tough Choices Still To Come

At a fundraiser meant to boost the Democratic Party's chances in upcoming gubernatorial elections, President Obama acknowledged how the down economy has made it tough on state leaders, and warned that "the tough choices they'll have to make will not end anytime soon."

dga2.jpg But he praised the work of the 28 Democrats who hold governor's offices across the country, adding: "What I hope has made their job easier and will continue to make their job easier is knowing that they've got a full committed partner in the White House." He also said the stimulus program has cushioned the blow somewhat, while arguing that health care reform was "absolutely critical" in continuing on the road to recovery.

As evidence, he cited a Robert Wood Johnson study that found that even in a best-case scenario, employers would see premiums rise 60 percent in the next decade.

"That kind of future is bad for entrepreneurs, it's bad for businesses, it's bad for the United States of America," he said. "We can't afford a health insurance system that hampers America's economy in the 21st century. We need a health system that unleashes its potential."

Continue reading "Obama To Democratic Governors: Tough Choices Still To Come" »

White House Jumps On Jindal Interview

Press secretary Robert Gibbs, facing questions about the White House's outreach to Republicans on health care, cited a new interview with Bobby Jindal in proposing that the Republicans need to show greater comment to bipartisanship.

"I saw one of the more popular governors, Republican governors, Bobby Jindal, say today that it was time for Republicans to offer what they're for, not just talk about what they're against," he said. "So, look, the president is happy to and will meet with Republicans."

Gibbs noted that this was the same Jindal who the Republican National Committee put forward to deliver the response to the president's first joint session address to Congress, and said he hopes the House GOP leadership will listen to him now.

Here's what Jindal actually told Politico in an interview:

"I think now is the perfect time to pivot and to say, not only here's what we're against, and not only here's how we're going to contrast ourselves, but here's what we're for."

At NIH, A Brief Pitch For Health Care

Quick quiz: when was the last time you heard President Obama trying to sell health reform?

It hasn't come up at a presidential event since he visited upstate New York more than a week ago, followed by some discussion on the David Letterman "Late Show" couch. Since then he, has been preoccupied with international affairs, at the United Nations, the G-20 Summit, and behind the scenes talks about Afghanistan.

Today the president visited the National Institutes of Health for an event that focused on money the facility will receive through the long-ago passed Recovery Act. He touted the job-creating potential of those funds for "conducting research in manufacturing and supplying medical equipment and building and modernizing laboratories and research facilities all across America." And yes, health reform did come up.

"Decades of research make no difference to the family that is dropped from an insurance policy when a child gets sick, and breakthroughs with the potential to save lives don't matter when your insurance doesn't cover a preexisting condition," he said. "As costs rise and rise, that leaves less and less for the kinds of investments in health care and in basic research that will actually improve our well- being. That's why we're working so hard to pass long-overdue reform."

Left unmentioned were yesterday's failed votes on the public option. The White House released just this statement. Obama did resist today the idea that reform would lead "to a takeover by the government of the health care sector."

White House Statement On Public Option Votes

Hours after the failure of two votes to include a public option in health care legislation from the Senate Finance Committee, a somewhat ambivalent statement from the White House:

"As the President said in his Joint Session address, health insurance reform legislation must provide more choice and competition in the health insurance market in order to drive down costs and provide affordable options to Americans who are uninsured or forced to shop in the expensive private or small group market. He believes making a public option available on the insurance exchange is a good way to achieve those goals. He has said he is open to other constructive ideas of increasing choice and competition. He will work with Congress to ensure that under health insurance reform, Americans who cannot find affordable coverage will always have a choice."

Obama Being 'Very Deliberative' On Afghanistan

Though much of today's White House briefing focused on the late announcement that President Obama will travel to Copenhagen to pitch Chicago's Olympic bid, Robert Gibbs addressed two major issues related to what was once called the "Global War on Terrorism." In both cases -- the planned closure of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and new policy on Afghanistan -- the White House is holding off on key decisions.

Gibbs repeatedly used the word "deliberate" or some variation thereof in describing the president's mindset on Afghanistan after receiving an assessment from the top commander there. As some call for a stronger stand now, the spokesman played off what he implied were impulsive decisions made in the previous administration.

"We have seen the movie before, where you put a bunch of resources in a place and then you decide your strategy," he said. "I don't think the output that we've seen in those decisions has all together been good for this country or for our military. Instead, I think the president wants to evaluate and assess where we are, what's changed in the past few months, what's needed and necessary as part of this strategy going forward, and then eventually we'll have a discussion about whether or not the resources that are there are adequate to the task of that strategy."

On Guantanamo Bay, Gibbs essentially conceded that the White House would not be meeting its self-imposed deadline for closing the detention facility.

Continue reading "Obama Being 'Very Deliberative' On Afghanistan" »

Nothing New: Biden's Words Used Against Him

As he's been known to do, Vice President Joe Biden made a remark that the GOP has pounced on. Biden was touting the success of the economic recovery package in a conference call yesterday with governors from around the country, when he said this...

"In my wildest dreams I never thought it would work this well."

Biden was referring to the amount of money that's been dished out to the states -- "$150 billion bucks" -- so far, though House Republican leaders beg to differ with his metric for success. Here are a couple quotes from them:

Minority Leader John Boehner: "Vice President is wildly out-of-touch if he thinks the trillion-dollar 'stimulus' has worked when the nation's unemployment rate is the highest it's been in decades. ... Some 2.4 million jobs have been lost since the Democrats' plan was enacted. Now, Democrats in Washington are claiming it is working even while predicting an extended period of severe joblessness. They can't have it both ways."

Conference Chair Mike Pence: "Unless the Vice President's measure of stimulus success is the highest unemployment rate in 26 years, then it is hard to fit his wildest dreams with reality. The reality is the Obama Administration promised that borrowing $787 billion would keep our nation's unemployment below 8 percent. Now, after eight months of stimulus spending, more than two million jobs have been lost and unemployment is quickly approaching 10 percent. Never in our wildest dreams did we expect the Administration's forecasts to be so far off."

Biden: Even My Mother Worried About Death Panels

Vice President Joe Biden sought to reassure seniors about health care reform today, promising that Medicare will remain strong while rebutting scare tactics he said opponents are responsible for.

Biden, speaking at the Leisure World retirement community in suburban Washington, said he saw the power of the talking points of his foes on a recent visit with his mother in Delaware.

"I walk in, give her a kiss. She says, 'Joey, what about these death panels?' And I said, 'Mom, I'm trying to kill you,'" Biden related. "She said, 'I'm serious, Joey. What about these death panels?' I said, 'Mom, it's hokum. It's a bunch of malarkey."

Speaking to the audience, he argued that "no one in the government, nobody anywhere, no panel is going to sit down and tell your doctor anything about how to care for you." Common sense should dictate that such a claim -- made often by his former vice presidential foe, Sarah Palin -- is false, Biden thought. "But my mother, it got through."

Biden, who called himself "a simple guy from Delaware who speaks plane old English," spent more time countering Republican warnings that the Democratic plan would weaken Medicare. An interesting claim, Biden said, coming from a party that once opposed creating the program in the first place.

Continue reading "Biden: Even My Mother Worried About Death Panels" »

Biden Steps Up Health Care Role

With President Obama focused on foreign policy this week, Vice President Biden is carrying the torch on health care with several events in the Washington area this week. Today, he spoke to a conference of state insurance commissioners, armed with a new White House report outlining how the rise in health insurance premiums beyond wage growth has hurt American families.

The vice president singled out the state with the largest gap between premium increases and wage growth: Alaska. And it's not just families who are suffering, he said.

"The soaring premiums are not only hurting families and killing small businesses, they're also hurting our competitive position all around the world," Biden told the rather quiet audience at a hotel at Maryland's National Harbor. "They're hurting our whole free enterprise system, hurting the business of business - competing internationally. ... To state the obvious, this is simply an unsustainable position. Families, businesses, state budgets, our national economy, all demand a significant change."

Biden said that if he asked the state officials for woeful tales of health care they could compile a "literal saga." The health care "crisis" extends even to those who have insurance. But, he sought to rebut claims that reforms the administration is pursuing would unduly harm the insurance industry.

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Top 10 Reasons Obama Did Letterman

From a pool report, here is David Letterman's Top 10 list tonight -- Reasons why President Obama agreed to do "Late Show."

10. Heard the lady with the heart shaped potato was gonna be here. (a reference to a woman in the audience).

9. Thought it would be fun to watch someone else get heckled. 8. Something to do with that whole cash for clunkers deal.

7. Every president since Teddy Roosevelt has done it.

6. Someone offers you 600 bucks you take it ladies and gentlemen.

5. We told him Megan Fox would be here.

4. Needed some time to hang out before check in time at his hotel.

3. I have no idea.

2. Said yes, without thinking, like Bush did with Iraq.

1. Wanted to congratulate Dave on the big Emmy win.

During the interview with Obama, Letterman asked him about Jimmy Carter's race comments. Obama quipped, "It's important to realize that i was actually black before the election." Sidestepping it somewhat, he continued: "So the American people, I think, gave me this extraordinary honor. That tells you a lot, I think, about where the country is at."

Biden: If Dems Can Hold GOP Seats, Bipartisan 'Dam' Breaks

Raising money for a top GOP target in 2010, Vice President Biden predicted that if Democrats can hold on to traditionally Republican-leaning districts, Americans will see more bipartisanship in the nation's capital as "hidden" Republican votes emerge.

"It's not that Republicans are bad guys. This is just the bet they've made," Biden told a few dozen people at a fundraiser for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) near his home in Delaware today. "They're going to put their chips on movement in the 35 seats in the House that have been traditionally Republican districts and trying to take them back. If they take them back, this the end of the road for what Barack and I are trying to do."

Republicans are "moribund in terms of ideas," Biden said, and winning seats like Giffords' in the midterms is "their one shot." If they fail, "the dam is going to break" he said.

"If they don't break the back of our effort in this upcoming election you're going to see the things we said we're for happen," he said. "All the hidden Republicans that don't have the courage to vote the way they want to vote because of pressure from the party ... it will break the dam and you will see bipartisanship."

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Pataki: Obama Wrong To Pressure Paterson

George Pataki said today that the White House pressuring Gov. David Paterson to not to run for re-election further undermines his ability to right New York's economy in challenging times, and he suggested President Obama's time was better served focusing on policy and not politics.

"I just think it's wrong," Pataki said when asked about reports that Obama aides are urging Paterson not to run for a full term in 2010. "New York state is facing very difficult times. We're going to have an extraordinarily difficult challenge in dealing with the state's financial situation. ... To weaken and undermine the governor beyond the weakness that already exists, at a time when he will be the governor for the next 15 months, to me just doesn't serve the interests of the state, doesn't serve the interests of our country."

Pataki, who served as New York's governor for 12 years, said on a conference call hosted by the RNC to rebut Obama's visit to the Albany area that any officeholder or potential candidate's decision to run is a personal one, and should be made not just based on the likelihood of winning, but because a person has the "ideas" and "vision" to lead.

"That's what this decision should be made on, not on poll numbers," said Pataki, who is a potential U.S. Senate candidate.

Asked if he was, indeed, considering a bid, Pataki said he's been flattered by people urging him to run for office again, but would not say what if any office he might seek. He also indicated a decision won't come soon.

Continue reading "Pataki: Obama Wrong To Pressure Paterson" »

In Speech On The Economy, A Health Care Plug

It's become one of the White House's favorite new talking points on health care. Today, President Obama again posited that his reform effort is part of the cure for an ailing economy.

Speaking at Hudson Valley Community College, Obama said that rising health care costs leave small and large businesses at a competitive disadvantage, particularly in a global economy.

"We will never know the enormity of the costs of our economy to the countless Americans unable to become entrepreneurs or to start a small business, to follow their dreams, because they're afraid of losing their health insurance," he said. "So, to lead in the global economy, we must pass health insurance reform that brings down costs and provides more security for people who have insurance, and offers options to people who don't have health insurance."

Obama, joined by Dr. Jill Biden, a community college professor in Virginia, also made a pitch for his elements of his education policy, and also pushed for an effort to end subsidies to banks who provide student loans.

"If we just cut out the middle-man, the banks, and lent directly to the students, the federal government would save that money, and we could use it for what's actually important: helping students afford and succeed in college," he said.

Paterson and Cuomo With Obama In Troy

Word of President Obama delving into the New York governor race could not have come at a more awkward time, as he now speaks within miles of the state capital in Albany. Gov. David Paterson (D) met Obama at the airport when he arrived, and is now attending his event at Hudson Valley Community College.

As he began his remarks, Obama did acknowledge Paterson, calling him a "wonderful man." He had a bit more to say about the man state and national Democrats might prefer to be on the ballot in 2010: Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. The president jokingly called him "shy and retiring," and said he's doing great work as the A.G.

When Paterson greeted Obama at the Albany airport, the two "had a brief exchange that looked cordial," according to a pool report. "The shook hands, Obama did a kind of half-embrace with his back to the press corps, and said something to Paterson, who listened for a moment and then said something back."

En route to New York, Robert Gibbs addressed the reports that Obama has asked Paterson to step aside.

"I think everybody understands the tough jobs that every elected official has right now in addressing many of the problems that we have, and I think people are aware of the tough situation that the governor of New York is in," he said. "I wouldn't add a lot to what you've read, except this is a decision that he's going to make."

Gibbs would not say whether anyone has asked Paterson not to run. But he acknowledged that Obama, as head of the party, has been involved in politics.

"To quote Paul Begala, not to be involved in politics would be like taking the math out of physics," he said.

Also joining Obama at his event today is Rep. Scott Murphy (D-N.Y.), who won a special election to represent the region earlier this year.

Obama To Raise Money For Democratic Governors

President Obama will do his part to assist the Democratic Party's efforts to hold its majority of the governorships when he headlines a fundraiser for the Democratic Governors Association next week. A DGA spokesperson said the organization expects to raise about $500,000 at the October 1 event at Washington's St. Regis Hotel.

DGA chair Brian Schweitzer of Montana and DGA vice chair Martin O'Malley of Maryland will be joined by at least four other Democratic incumbents -- Delaware's Jack Markell, Missouri's Jay Nixon, Kansas' Mark Parkinson and Kentucky's Steve Beshear -- for the event. Of that group, only O'Malley is on the ballot in 2010.

On Sunday, the New York Times reported that Obama aides last week asked New York Gov. David Paterson, who assumed the office after Eliot Spitzer's resignation in 2008, not to run for a full term in 2010. Paterson, who trails potential opponents in both the primary and general election in early polling, says he plans to run anyway, and recently hired Richard Fife to run his campaign.

The DGA is maintaining policy to support all Democratic incumbents. DGA press secretary Emily DeRose said Paterson is welcome at the Obama fundraiser, as are any of his fellow officeholders. The DGA has raised record funds this year, though Republicans have as well. The party holds 28 of the 50 governorships, with 20 of its seats up for grabs in 2010 in addition to the party's defense of New Jersey and Virginia this year.

ACORN Conduct 'Indefensible,' White House Says

Asked for the first time today about the infamous ACORN footage, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs called the conduct of some of the organization's employees "indefensible."

"The administration takes accountability extremely seriously," he said. The U.S. Census Bureau's decision to sever ties to the group reflects that, he added, with their view that the group "could not meet the bureau's goal of achieving a fair and accurate count in 2010."

Gibbs would not say, however, whether President Obama would, as the leader of the Democratic Party, urge the DNC and other campaign committees to sever ties to the group.

The issue, after heavy coverage on Fox News and widespread conversation online, has only now broadened to other media outlets to the point that it was addressed at the daily White House briefing today.

And it's not just the White House reacting to the criticism of the group. Today, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), a potential 2012 aspirant, issued this letter urging state officials to stop any payments to ACORN.

"The recent reports of questionable behavior and potential illegal activity by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now are of great concern," he writes to the state commissioner of Management and Budget. "I am directing you to stop all state funding to ACORN unless the state is legally obligated to provide such funding."

Lukewarm White House Reaction To Baucus Bill

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs called Sen. Max Baucus' (D) draft health care bill "an important building block and gets us closer to comprehensive health care reform." But it seems the White House was not rushing to embrace the legislation.

"There will be a continued legislative process that will tweak and change legislation, as there always is," he said. "I don't think the president looks at today as the end."

Gibbs even was sure to deny the premise of a question about whether, of the various bills passed by Congressional committees, this came closest to the legislation President Obama envisioned. "I don't think this is a mirror of what the president has talked about. ... I don't think that would be accurate," he said.

With few, if any, Republicans embracing what was sold as a compromise piece of legislation, Gibbs was asked whether the White House regrets not simply starting out the process with its own draft and pushing it through early on the strength of Democrats' strong majorities in each chamber.

"I don't think the president looks back and thinks we should have done things differently. This is all part of the long process," he said. "I don't think that Senator Baucus or President Obama or others asking Republicans to be involved, to give us their ideas is time poorly spent at all. I think the American people want to hear both sides' ideas on this."

Is Obama The Antichrist? 'Extremism' Tested In NJ

The Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling included some charged questions in its latest survey of New Jersey voters, designed to strength of what the firm called "political extremism" in the state.

The most outrageous question: do you believe Barack Obama is the anti-Christ? If you believe the poll, one in five New Jerseyans think there's a chance. Eight percent said no, while 13 percent said they're not sure. Only two-thirds of self-described conservatives flatly denied the notion that the president of the United States was, in fact, the anti-Christ.

On the "birther" question: 64 percent of New Jerseyans say they think Obama was born in the United States, while 21 percent said no and 16 percent weren't sure. "Truthers": 19 percent of voters said they think former President George W. Bush had advanced knowledge of the 9/11 attacks, while 11 percent weren't sure. Forty percent of self-described liberal voters think he did.

On a more serious note, 39 percent of Garden State voters say they support Obama's health care plan, while 50 percent oppose it. His approval rating in the state is at 45 percent, with 48 percent disapproving and 7 percent not sure.

The survey of 500 likely New Jersey voters was conducted September 11-14, and had a margin of error of +/- 4.5 percent.

Obama: Specter 'Even Better Senator' As Democrat

President Obama followed through on his pledge to support the newly-Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter in his re-election bid, saying he's consistently put the interests of Pennsylvanians ahead of any particular ideology during his time in Washington.

"He was a great senator when he was a Republican; he's going to be a even better senator now that he's a Democrat," Obama told supporters at a Philadelphia fundraiser that was attended by most of the state Democratic establishment. "That's why you are all going to work just as hard as you can to make sure that he gets reelected and is continuing to help me move this country forward."

Obama praised Specter's "decisive" vote on the Recovery Act, a vote that preceded his party switch.

"At the time, this was not an easy vote for Arlen to take. You can imagine the pressure he was under from the other side," Obama said. "But Arlen knew that it was more important to answer to the people who sent him to Washington than to the party he belonged to. That's why you should send him back to Washington for six more years -- because you know he's going to fight for you regardless of what the politics are."

Noting his cancer battle, Obama said the health care fight is also not about politics, but was personal. "This is a man who has seen the health care system up close -- the good and the bad. This is a man who courageously battled cancer, and is here today because he was able to receive some of the best health care available in the world -- and also because he's a tough son of a gun," he said.

Specter expected to raise more than $2 million at the event, which would help build a warchest already over $7 million. He raised $1.7 million in the most recent fundraising quarter, but has had to return donations he received before his party switch.

Obama Again Makes Health Care Case To Labor Crowd

President Obama gave a familiar speech at the AFL-CIO's conference this afternoon, rebutting critics he said have "selective" memories while touching on two of the union's priorities: a public health care option, and the Employee Free Choice Act.

The speech focused more on health care, however, and Obama repeated many of the arguments he made before Congress. The tone, to paraphrase a White House line before the speech, was more labor hall than House chamber, however.

"When are we going to say, enough is enough?" he said, to applause. "How many more workers have to lose their coverage? How many more families have to go into the red for a sick loved one?"

In a new argument, the president cited a report out today from the Kaiser Family Foundation that showed health care premiums rising three times faster than wages. Reforming health care means rising wages, Obama claimed.

"When you go in to negotiate, you can't even think about negotiating ... a wage increase because the whole negotiation is about trying to keep the benefits you already have," he said. "That's not just the fault of the employer, it's the fault of a broken health care system that's sucking up all the money."

Though the Employee Free Choice Act is a labor priority Obama gave it much briefer attention, part of a string about why they are part of the solution. "That's why I stand behind the Employee Free Choice Act, because if a majority of workers want a union, they should get a union," he said.

Continue reading "Obama Again Makes Health Care Case To Labor Crowd" »

First Jay, Now Dave

CBS' "The Late Show" has announced that President Obama will be David Letterman's guest next Monday. Obama will be in New York for the UN General Assembly.

From CBS:

President Obama's appearance will mark the first by a sitting U.S. President on the LATE SHOW and his first visit back to the show since his election. In total, this will be President Obama's sixth visit to the broadcast -- he last appeared on the LATE SHOW September 10, 2008 during the height of his 2008 Presidential election campaign.

It's a comedic turn that comes the day after Obama's Sunday show blitz. And Letterman has been a friendly liberal-leaning voice in late night television, drawing attention in the campaign for his remarks critical of John McCain when he canceled a scheduled appearance last fall, and of course his more recent controversy over a joke about Sarah Palin's daughter.

Obama became the first sitting president to appear on late night television earlier this year, when he appeared on "The Tonight Show" with then-host Jay Leno. He got into some trouble then, when he made what was later described as an "offhand remark" about the Special Olympics, which the White House had to clarify.

White House: Wilson Rebuke Is 'House Business'

From a gaggle on Air Force One today with Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton:

Q Actually, Bill, do you have a comment on the resolution on Joe Wilson -- now on the floor today?

MR. BURTON: I don't. That's House business. The President has already -- Congressman Wilson called the White House to apologize. The President accepted his apology. And this is something that the House is doing.

Strickland Again Absent From Obama Event

For the second straight week, Gov. Ted Strickland (D) was nowhere to be found as President Obama came to Ohio. Today, the president was meeting with auto workers at a GM plant in Warren, giving a pep-talk on the economy.

"As long as I have the privilege of being your president, I'm going to keep fighting for a future that is brighter for this community, and brighter for Ohio, and brighter for the United States of America," Obama said, after highlighting the impact of the Recovery Act.

Last week, Obama was in Cincinnati, giving a fiery speech on health care to a crowd full of union workers. Strickland wasn't there, either. So, with a potentially tough race ahead and Obama's numbers down in the Buckeye State, is the governor keeping his distance? Not so, his office said.

An execution is scheduled in Ohio today, and Strickland's policy "is to remain in his office and available" to prison officials until the execution has occurred. "Had his schedule permitted, the governor definitely would have been with President Obama today," Strickland press secretary Amanda Wurst tells RCP.

As for the Cincinnati event, Strickland chose to go ahead with previously-scheduled personal time that Labor Day weekend, coming at the end of a grueling budget process.

"The governor appreciates that President Obama is highlighting the work being done at the state and federal level to pull Ohio's working families out of the recession that started one year ago today with the collapse of Lehman Brothers," Wurst said.

Continue reading "Strickland Again Absent From Obama Event" »

Obama's 'Full Ginbsurg' An Effort To Control Debate

The White House has confirmed that President Obama will appear on the Sunday shows for five networks -- ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC and Univision. It's a variation, sans Fox, of the fete referred to as the "Full Ginsburg," a reference to Monica Lewinsky attorney William Ginsburg, who was the first to do so.

It comes as Obama's effort to sell health care becomes hindered by other items on his schedule -- the upcoming G-20 Summit and UN General Assembly foremost among them. The full-court press, though rare for a president to do, gives him a direct line to those Americans who are most tuned-in to the health care debate, says Martha Joynt Kumar, an expert in presidential communications.

"The audience for these shows tilts towards news junkies who are not worried about seeing too much of the president," she said. "Appearing on all of these shows assures that the administration has the best voice and image presenting their ideas."

Also to the White House's benefit, Kumar adds, is that the president's interviews will dominate the shows, leaving less time for the opposition to present their views. The inclusion of Univision, rather than Fox, is the latest sign of this White House's outreach to Hispanics.

"For the Obama White House, Univision is becoming the fifth television-radio network, not Fox," Kumar said.

It's rare for presidents to appear on one Sunday show, let alone five. More common is a president granting interviews for each of the nightly network newscasts; Obama has done that twice this year already, on February 3 and July 7.

Obama, Clinton Have "Strong Relationship," Gibbs Says

Former President Bill Clinton often found himself in the headlines during the 2008 campaign for his comments about the candidacy of Barack Obama. Eight months into the Obama presidency, the two have huddled a handful of times now, most notably to discuss the situation in North Korea.

Today, the two presidents had lunch in New York City after Obama's speech on the state of the financial industry. The two split the check, press secretary Robert Gibbs said. But what was on their minds?

"He said most of the conversation was about the economy, particularly the global economy, and ways to transition where we are into something that works better for the American people in the 21st century," Gibbs told reporters on board Air Force One as they returned to Washington today. Health care did come up, but Obama didn't share the specifics with Gibbs, the spokesman said.

So how is their relationship? "I think President Obama values the type of advice that President Clinton has," Gibbs said. "I think you saw the economy in a lot of ways transform during his administration, not unlike what the economy has to do to meet the demands of the 21st century, to create good paying jobs. So I think they have a very strong relationship and I know the President is -- President Obama is always happy to talk with President Clinton and hear his thoughts."

Today's lunch came about after the two met at the White House last month on North Korea. Obama mentioned then that they should sit down together as soon as their schedules allowed to discuss a range of issues. Originally they planned to meet last week after both attended Walter Cronkite's funeral, but it was postponed once the president decided to speak to Congress that night.

The White House announced that Obama will speak at the Clinton Global Initiative conference taking place around the UN General Assembly next week.

Obama: Wall Street Owes A Debt To American People

President Obama's "major speech" in New York this afternoon was less about unveiling new policies as is was about urging the financial sector to, one year after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, act responsibly to avoid future crises.

"The reforms I've laid out will pass and these changes will become law. But one of the most important ways to rebuild the system stronger than before is to rebuild trust stronger than before -- and you do not have to wait for a new law to do that," Obama said, speaking at Federal Hall in the heart of New York's financial district.

He said the economic crisis came about because of "a collective failure of responsibility in Washington, on Wall Street, and across America." But Wall Street owes a particular "debt" to the American people, the president argued, as some firms begin to show profits again.

"Though they were not the cause of the crisis, American taxpayers through their government took extraordinary action to stabilize the financial industry," he said. "They shouldered the burden of the bailout and they are still bearing the burden of the fallout -- in lost jobs, lost homes and lost opportunities. It is neither right nor responsible after you've recovered with the help of your government to shirk your obligation to the goal of wider recovery, a more stable system, and a more broadly shared prosperity."

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One Year Ago, A 'Fundamental' Turning Point

President Obama will be speaking in the next hour about the road forward in restoring confidence in the nation's financial markets. He makes this speech as president in large part, one can argue, because of a single comment that his campaign rival, John McCain, made last year in the wake of the Lehman Brothers collapse.

"The fundamentals of our economy are strong, but these are very, very difficult times," McCain said at a town hall meeting in Orlando on Sept. 15, 2008.

McCain's remark, abridged simply to, "The fundamentals of our economy are strong," instantly became to the Obama campaign a symbol of his being "out of touch" with the realities of the crisis.

"It's not that I think John McCain doesn't care what's going on in the lives of most Americans. I just think doesn't know," then-Sen. Obama said in Colorado that day. "He doesn't get what's happening between the mountain in Sedona where he lives and the corridors of Washington where he works."

His running mate, Joe Biden, echoed that, saying in Michigan: "Ladies and gentlemen, I could walk from here to Lansing, and I wouldn't run into a single person who thought our economy was doing well, unless I ran into John McCain."

RCP's polling average of the presidential race showed McCain at the downslope of a brief lead at this point in the 2008 campaign. It was at 1.6 points on Sept. 15, but in just a week, it was Obama who led, by 2.7 points. It was a lead that continued to grow right through Election Day.

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Coast Guard: Potomac Incident Was "Misconstrued"

The U.S. Coast Guard released a statement on its training exercise on the Potomac River this morning, which caused a brief scare after media reports of shots being fired near the location of this morning's Pentagon memorial service. The statement says today's exercise was planned "in advance and was being conducted on a marine radio frequency reserved for Coast Guard training and operations." They are now "gathering information of how this training event might have been misconstrued as an actual incident," and promise a "thorough review."

In addition, the statement seems to defend the timing of today's exercise, saying that "the best way that we in the Coast Guard can remember Sept. 11 and our security obligations to the nation is to be always ready and this requires constant training and exercise." But it also says that the decision to hold an exercise this morning "will be reviewed."

Meanwhile, press secretary Robert Gibbs blamed some of the confusion on "erroneous reporting" by the media. Asked about the decision to hold a training exercise today, he told reporters that he would not question law enforcement decisions.

You can read the full Coast Guard statement after the jump.

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Obama's Speech Provided Bump In Support

Two new surveys released this morning find an increase in support for President Obama and comprehensive health care reform.

A CBS News poll reports a 12-point leap in approval of Obama's handling of health care since last week. Forty percent of adults interviewed last week (Aug. 27-31) said they approved, while 47 percent disapproved. When the same sample was surveyed the day after Obama's speech (Sept. 10, 648 A, MoE +/- 4%), 52% now approve of the president's handling of health care while 38% disapprove, which CBS reports is "the best marks of his presidency."

Also, more people now say that Obama has explained his health care reform than did last week. Just 33% felt the president had explained his proposals last week; 42% now say he has, though 43% still say he has not.

A Rasmussen survey (Sept. 9-10, 1000 LV, MoE +/- 3%) finds support for the Democrats' health care reform proposal at 46% -- up 2 points since the two days prior to Obama's speech. The speech appears to have had more of an impact on Democrats, though, as Rasmussen reports that the boost comes "entirely from those in the president's own party."

Obama: "Let Us Renew"

President Obama, in a pouring rain in Northern Virginia, made the following remarks at the Pentagon today:

Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen and members of the Armed Forces, fellow Americans, family and friends of those that we lost this day -- Michelle and I are deeply humbled to be with you.

Eight Septembers have come and gone. Nearly 3,000 days have passed -- almost one for each of those taken from us. But no turning of the seasons can diminish the pain and the loss of that day. No passage of time and no dark skies can ever dull the meaning of this moment.

So on this solemn day, at this sacred hour, once more we pause. Once more we pray -- as a nation and as a people; in city streets where our two towers were turned to ashes and dust; in a quiet field where a plane fell from the sky; and here, where a single stone of this building is still blackened by the fires.

We remember with reverence the lives we lost. We read their names. We press their photos to our hearts. And on this day that marks their death, we recall the beauty and meaning of their lives; men and women and children of every color and every creed, from across our nation and from more than 100 others. They were innocent. Harming no one, they went about their daily lives. Gone in a horrible instant, they now "dwell in the House of the Lord forever."

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Scenes From The White House: Lord Stanley

For the second time this year, President Obama found himself honoring a championship team from the Steel City at the White House. Today, it was the Stanley Cup Champion Penguins, who defeated the defending champion Detroit Red Wings this June.

obamacup.jpg

"I guess it's a good time to be a sports fan in Pittsburgh," he said, drawing applause from the East Room audience full of team employees, family, as well as local youth groups. "I was complaining about this -- it's been a while since Chicago won anything," he added.

Obama has shown plenty of love to pro football, basketball, and Major League Baseball this season -- but not so much to hockey. Still, he made an effort to show some knowledge of the sport. He said having team owner and hockey great Mario Lemieux at the White House was "a pretty big deal." He even gave a shout out to the hometown Washington Capitals, who lost a hard-fought playoff series to the Penguins in this year's playoffs.

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After Apology, Questions Over Coverage For Illegal Immigrants

With Rep. Joe Wilson's (R-S.C.) apology accepted at the White House, questions at today's briefing turned to the basis of his quarrel with the president: whether illegal immigrants would benefit from health care through reforms, if passed.

Press secretary Robert Gibbs was asked about a figure President Obama used: that 30 million American citizens are uninsured. The U.S. Census says that 46 million are currently uninsured.

"The proposal that the president outlined covers American citizens," Gibbs said. "His plan would not cover illegal immigrants. If you subtract a rough estimate from that 46.3 million, you get a number that's somewhat unknown, but in the 30s that represents American citizens, as the president pointed out."

That would still leave tens of millions of Americans uninsured, presumably driving up medical costs if they still sought care from hospitals. Gibbs was also asked about the possibility an illegal immigrant would seek to purchase insurance through the proposed exchange.

"I can't speak for somebody that's here illegally, but I would think it would be somewhat of a bad course of events if you're here illegally to alert people that you are here illegally and sign up for a government program," Gibbs said.

As for Wilson's outburst, Gibbs said the president took him at his word that he was sorry. For his part, President Obama seemed ready to move on.

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Kennedy's Letter To Obama

It was the moving flourish that started President Obama's somber finish. Now, the White House has released the full text of the letter Sen. Ted Kennedy wrote to Obama, that was delivered after his passing. You can read it in full after the jump.

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The President's Speech

Remarks as prepared for delivery are after the jump. Read along.

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Speech Excerpts: "The Time For Bickering Is Over"

The White House has released some excerpts of tonight's speech, which include some tough punches at his foes.

He'll note the progress that has been made at the committee levels in passing reform bills, "putting us closer to the goal of reform than we have ever been. But, he'll add:

"We have also seen in these last months is the same partisan spectacle that only hardens the disdain many Americans have toward their own government. Instead of honest debate, we have seen scare tactics. Some have dug into unyielding ideological camps that offer no hope of compromise. Too many have used this as an opportunity to score short-term political points, even if it robs the country of our opportunity to solve a long-term challenge. And out of this blizzard of charges and counter-charges, confusion has reigned.

The excerpts don't include too many specific new details on his plan. But it closes with Obama pledging to work with any and all who still bring ideas to the table. He won't, however, "waste time with those who have made the calculation that it's better politics to kill this plan than improve it."

Read more excerpts after the jump.

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WH: Obama Hopes To Shift Focus From Public Option

Previewing tonight's joint session address, a senior White House official said this afternoon that while President Obama will reiterate his support for the public option, he'll urge Congress to take a broader view of health care reform.

The official said the "fascination" with the public option is understandable, but Obama "wants to make clear what the place of the public option in this debate is."

"This is not a national debate about whether we have a public option for the tens of millions who are uninsured. It's about how we bring security and stability to hundreds of millions of Americans, most of whom won't ... be participating in this marketplace," the official said. "The public choice is a means to an end. It's not an end in and of itself. So he will make that clear."

In discussing the president's address tonight, the official also took issue with the notion that the administration lost ground in the health care debate in the month of August. "Any downward movement frankly occurred in June and July," the official said, at the height of legislative activity prior to Congress' recess. "I think that was a consequence of the focus being very much on this legislative process, lots of committees doing work, a lot of focus on the trees and not the forest," the official said. "Tonight's the night when he can describe the forest in terms that people can understand, and bring some clarity to this process."

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What To Watch For Tonight

On the main site I write about some things to look for tonight.

For the sixth time since taking office, President Obama tonight appears in prime time to address the nation. This time, however, he'll be speaking directly to Congress in what is a rare, non-State of the Union speech by a commander-in-chief on Capitol Hill. It's only the 18th time in the last half century that a president has addressed a joint session of Congress for something other than a State of the Union address, according to the House historian. Coverage leading up to the address has included terms like "make-or-break," and some are even calling this Obama's most important speech as president.

White House aides have declined to say too much about what the president will say, other than to promise that he will finally "answer many off the big questions" that have lingered months into this debate. Whether Obama lives up to that billing will be the headline. But there are a number of subplots we'll be monitoring as well.

You can read the rest here.

Obama Still "Tinkering" With Speech

President Obama is still working on tonight's speech, and will continue "tinkering" through the day press secretary Robert Gibbs said this morning.

Work began in earnest when the president came back from Camp David Monday "with many handwritten pages of notes that he gave to the speechwriters," Gibbs said. He reviewed a draft last night, and met with speechwriters at the White House before he left for New York today. "My sense is this thing will be locked sometime this afternoon," Gibbs said.

The spokesman would say little about new about the content of the speech, reiterating the broad overview he gave yesterday.

"He President will talk tonight about the public option and about the necessity for choice and competition, but I don't want to make all his news now. Then what will we do later tonight?" Gibbs joked.

He did say that Obama spoke with Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus yesterday, and hopes his committee "can get something done in a bipartisan way."

Toomey Praises Obama's School Speech

One of the most conservative candidates for Senate this year released a statement of praise regarding the speech President Obama delivered to school children across the nation today. The White House felt a ton of heat last week from conservatives due to both the speech and follow-up materials distributed to school systems by the Department of Education.

Pat Toomey, a former Republican congressman and former head of Club for Growth, is challenging Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) for the second election in a row. He said today that Obama's message is "exactly" what kids in this country should be hearing.

"Education is the cornerstone of our country's future and it is important that we relay that message to our young students. The President's emphasis on responsibility and the personal stories about his own education are exactly the kind of inspiring messages our children need to hear from our country's leaders. "I know that I would not have had the opportunities I have today if not for the education I received as a young student. My parents and my teachers instilled in me the importance of hard work and education, and it is a message I try to instill in my own children. It is important that we make sure all students are similarly inspired."

Obama Gets "Fired Up" On Health Care

President Obama, sounding more like he did in 2008 than he has for much of 2009, used a speech at a labor gathering in Ohio to kick off his latest health care offensive, saying that after months of debate, "it's time to decide."

Though he signaled the reform effort was reaching a critical stage, there was not much in the way of new details from the president on what he wants. He, of course, teased his speech to Congress Wednesday night and said he will have more to say then. But he did reframe the discussion somewhat, using new language to describe his goal:

"[Here is] what we're talking about: security and stability for folks who have health insurance. Help for those who don't -- the coverage they need at a price they can afford. Finally bringing costs under control."

Speaking at the largest union gathering on this Labor Day, an AFL-CIO picnic in Cincinnati, Obama did include the words "public option" in his remarks. But it was no clearer today what the final outcome will be for what is considered by many on the left to be a critical, potentially deal-breaking component of reform.

"I see reform where Americans and small businesses that are shut out of health insurance today will be able to purchase coverage at a price they can afford; where they'll be able to shop and compare in a new health insurance exchange," he said. "And I continue to believe that a public option within the basket of insurance choices would help improve quality and bring down costs."

After two weeks vacation, Obama showed a greater passion in his speech today, even breaking from prepared remarks to recall the origin of his "Fired up, ready to go!" slogan. Before discussing health care, he also defended his record seven months into his term, saying in the battleground state: "Some people have already forgotten how bad it was just seven months ago. ... They've sort of got selective amnesia."

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President Obama's Address To Students

The White House has released prepared remarks for President Obama's televised address to America's students tomorrow. It appears to be focused mainly on encouraging students to work hard in order to reach their full potential.

"I'm calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education - and to do everything you can to meet them," he'll say. "Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending time each day reading a book. Maybe you'll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in your community. ... Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it."

You can the full remarks after the jump.

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Gibbs Chalks Up Education Protests To "Silly Season"

President Obama's speech to school children next week is an opportunity to encourage them at the start of the new year, the White House says, calling objections "silly."

"I think we've reached a little bit of the silly season when the president of the United States can't tell kids in school to study hard and stay in school," Robert Gibbs told a group of reporters this morning. "I think both political parties agree that the dropout rate is something that threatens our long-term economic success."

Obama's speech is being released a day early, and some of the content of suggested lesson plans has been changed in response to complaints. As for school districts boycotting the materials, Gibbs noted that "there are some school districts that won't let you read Huckleberry Finn."

Unemployment Rate Climbs To 9.7

Yesterday, Vice President Biden gave an upbeat assessment of the economy, saying the Recovery Act had exceeded expectations and created or saved between 500,000 and 750,000 jobs.

This morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the national unemployment rate, after a slight decline last month, had increased again, from 9.4 to 9.7. "Although job losses continued in many of the major industry sectors in August, the declines have moderated in recent months," a BLS release states.

Total nonfarm payroll employment declined by 216,000 in August; since December 2007, employment has fallen by nearly 7 million. The overall number of "unemployed persons" increased by 466,000, to 14.9 million nationwide.

UPDATE: With President Obama still vacationing at Camp David, Biden will make a statement on the unemployment numbers at the start of a scheduled event on energy grants.

Obama Approval Dips Below 60 In Home State

Illinoisans still generally support their senator-turned president, but are skeptical his policies, a new Tribune/WGN poll shows.

The statewide poll puts Obama's approval rating at 59 percent, with 33 percent of voters disapproving. Obama carried his home state with 62 percent of the vote in November. But on the economy, just under half of voters think his economic policies have had little or no impact on employment, while 45 percent say they have helped some or a lot.

Turning to health care, voters are even more divided: 42 percent approve of how he's handled the reform effort, 43 percent do not. A whopping 75 percent of those surveyed said that under Obama's proposed reform, their own health care would likely stay the same or get worse; only 16 percent say it would change for the better.

Still, when asked which party voters sided with on health care, 48 percent said Obama and the Democrats, while 28 percent said Republicans in Congress. Sixteen percent said neither.

The telephone survey of 700 voters was conducted by Market Shares Corp from August 27-31, and has a margin of error of +/- 4 percent.

Biden: Prospects For Health Care Deal "Very High"

biden.jpgVice President Biden offered a bit of a preview of President Obama's message to a joint session of Congress next week, saying Americans can expect to hear "specifically" and in "understandable, clear terms what our administration wants to happen." He also sounded extremely confident that a reform bill will pass, while noting that similar legislation of this magnitude also passed only narrowly.

"We're going to get something substantial. There's going to be an awful lot of screaming and hollering before we get there. But I believe we're going to get there," he said.

Biden headed to the Brookings Institution to give what was billed as a major speech on the Recovery Act at the 200-day mark. When asked at the end of the event to comment on the status of health care reform, Biden was sheepish at first. "I do foreign policy. I don't do health care," he said. "The reason I choose foreign policy - it's a lot easier than health care. And a lot less complicated."

After assuring the crowd he was joking, he said he didn't want to step on Obama's "major" speech next Wednesday. He did discuss investments made in modernizing medical records through the Recovery Act to transform an "absolutely archaic" system. "If we modernize health care record-keeping, we will save tens of billions of dollars," he said. "That's what I meant by you've got to spend some money to save a lot more money."

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Reid, Pelosi Invite Obama to Address Congress

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to the White House today inviting the president to address a joint session of Congress on Sept. 9.

Here is the full text of the letter, as provided to reporters:

September 2, 2009

President Barack Obama
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

Our nation is closer than ever to achieving health insurance reform that will lower costs, retain choice, improve quality and expand coverage. We are committed to reaching this goal.

We would like to invite you to address a Joint Session of the Congress on Wednesday, September 9 on health insurance reform.

Thank you for considering this invitation to speak to the Congress and the nation.

Sincerely,


HARRY REID NANCY PELOSI
Majority Leader of the Senate Speaker of the House

Obama Will Make His Case To Congress

Multiple outlets now confirm that President Obama will use the bully pulpit of a joint session to Congress as part of his renewed push on health care. The prime time speech next will be next Wednesday, Sept. 9.

An Oval Office address was also being discussed. But taking the fight directly to Congress may have been more impactful in the White House's mind; after more than a month of public debate, the final battle now is on Capitol Hill, after all.

All this brings to mind President Clinton's health care speech, almost 16 years to the date, on September 22, 1993. "At long last, after decades of false starts, we must make this our most urgent priority, giving every American health security, health care that can never be taken away, heath care that is always there," he said that night.

You can see a portion of that address here:

Obama Marks Ramadan At The White House

President Obama hosted a traditional Ramadan dinner at the White House tonight, celebrating the American Muslim community as one "of extraordinary dynamism and diversity."

"Islam, as we know, is part of America," President Obama told guests in the State Dining Room tonight, which included the first two Muslim members of Congress, administration officials and members of the diplomatic corps. "Indeed, the contribution of Muslims to the United States are too long to catalog because Muslims are so interwoven into the fabric of our communities and our country."

Obama made sure to note that tonight's event was continuing "a long tradition of hosting iftars here at the White House." President Clinton hosted the first dinner to mark the celebration of Ramadan.

He highlighted the stories represented by several attendees as examples of "how much Muslims have enriched America and its culture." Among them, a soldier who was killed in Iraq, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetary. Kareem Khan, whose mother was at the dinner, was called a hero by the president.

The Beginning Of The End Of Bipartisanship?

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs seemed to lay the groundwork for a Democratic go-it-alone strategy today by seizing on what he said were "unfortunate" comments from Republican senators who had been part of health care talks. In particular, he cited the Republican weekly address delivered by Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), who had been part of the Finance Committee team working on a bill.

"It doesn't help to have Republicans who say they're for bipartisanship and say they're at the table to try to find a solution repeating Republican Party talking points about what they know is not true in the bill," he said. "It's tremendously unfortunate that it looks like Republicans are stepping away from seeking a bipartisan solution. I think it's bad for this town but it's much worse for this country."

If the White House can successfully portray the Republicans as having been first to abandon a bipartisan bill, it could pave the way for President Obama to come in after months of Congressional sausage-making and push for a bill tailored more to his party's liking. But for now, Obama thinks a bipartisan outcome is still possible, Gibbs said.

"It appears that, at least in Senator Enzi's case, he doesn't believe there's a pathway to get bipartisan support. The president thinks that's wrong," he said. "I think that Senator Enzi's clearly turned over his cards on bipartisanship and decided that it's time to walk away from the table. I think that what somebody has to ask Senator Enzi and ask others, every member of Congress, is: are you satisfied with the way the system is working right now?"

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Blago: Rahm Wanted My Help Holding House Seat

Consider the source, as they say. And as we see in the case of Tom Ridge, anyone promoting a new book needs to toss out a few attention-grabbing claims.

But former Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D-Ill.) claims in his forthcoming book that White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel sought his help in potentially orchestrating a return to the House of Representatives.

AP reports:

Blagojevich says Emanuel was interested in his own career because he had to give up his congressional seat to work in Obama's White House. Blagojevich writes that Emanuel dreamed of being speaker of the U.S. House and wanted to know if Blagojevich would work with him to name a successor to "hold" his seat until he wanted it back.

Blagojevich says he told Emanuel he didn't think he could do that and the House vacancy would have to be filled by special election. But Emanuel reportedly told him "his lawyers thought there was a way."

"As we have done for many months, we will continue to decline comment," Emanuel spokeswoman Sarah Feinberg said in an e-mail Monday.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was also asked about this at today's briefing, but declined to comment on the claim of the "indicted former governor," as he put it. Meanwhile, it's safe to say that new Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) probably hopes to keep his seat for the foreseeable future.

AP goes on to report that Blagojevich sought to appoint Attorney General Lisa Madigan to President Obama's former Senate seat "because he hoped to cut a deal on pet projects with her father, powerful Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan."

Vicki Kennedy Says No?

George Stephanopoulos reports this afternoon that Vicki Kennedy is out of the picture as far as replacing her husband on a short-term or long-term basis.

The trial balloon launched yesterday by Kennedy friends Chris Dodd and Orrin Hatch isn't going anywhere. A solid source assures me that Vicki Kennedy won't run in a special election to fill the Massachusetts Senate seat. She's not interested in an interim appointment if it becomes available.

Gov. Deval Patrick (D-Mass.) is set to make an announcement in about an hour about when a special election will be held. No word yet on whether the push for a temporary appointment will continue.

Politics Is "The Last Thing" On Obama's Mind After Kennedy Death

As some Democrats look to turn Sen. Ted Kennedy's death into a rallying point for health care reform, the White House is downplaying the potential political ramifications of the moment.

Speaking to reporters in Martha's Vineyard, deputy press secretary Bill Burton said that politics is the last thing on President Obama's mind at this point.

"We've all experienced a pretty big loss, and Americans are going to have different reactions and find different ways to memorialize his life," he said. "There'll be a time when it's appropriate to have discussions on different ramifications, but I don't think anybody thinks that now is that time."

Asked specifically about groups using this moment to renew a call for health care reform, Burton said Obama "isn't in a place where he's looking to referee what everybody's saying."

Obama will disrupt his vacation and travel to Boston tomorrow night to deliver the eulogy at Kennedy's funeral Saturday, with Burton saying Obama will deliver "a very personal statement." Weather permitting, he and the first lady will return to Martha's Vineyard Saturday night, and then to Washington on Sunday.

But next week also looks to be a light one. There are no public events planned for Monday, Burton said, adding that the first family will spend Wednesday through Sunday at Camp David. Have the events of this week disrupted what was to have been a relaxing time?

"The president when he ran for this office knew that there would be no days where he was completely down, and he's responded accordingly," Burton said. "I do think he's had a chance to spend some time with his family, play some tennis, play some basketball, dig in on his books a little bit, and actually do a little relaxing."

James Jones Statement on Kennedy

The White House released the following statement from National Security Adviser Jim Jones:

As a young Senate Liaison officer during the early 1980's, I had the opportunity to get to know Senator Edward Kennedy who was then a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senator Kennedy and his staff were among some of the best supporters the Marine Corps ever had on Capitol Hill. Despite his many responsibilities, he always made time for me on issues of importance to Marines and their families. Always gracious and well informed, the Senator was instrumental in the passage of the landmark legislation known as Goldwater-Nichols and military pay reforms, which ushered in the most comprehensive reforms of our military and defense establishment since the end of World War II.

Senator Kennedy, among the many things he will be remembered for, deserves to be honored for his genuine care and compassion for our men and women in uniform - his tireless work and his voting record clearly supports this distinction. While he never shied from challenging our senior military leadership during hundreds of committee hearings, he could always be counted on to be fair and open-minded in letting witnesses like me make our case to the committee and to the American people. He contributed a great deal to my "Washington education", and I'm sure he is most proud of the contributions many of his former staff members continue to make to our nation today.


Emotional Biden Remembers His 'Anchor'

Vice President Biden, a colleague of Ted Kennedy for 36 years in the U.S. Senate, broke from planned remarks at the Department of Energy this morning to pay tribute to the man he said was an anchor for him.

"He was never defeatist. He never was petty. Never was petty. He was never small. And in the process of his doing, he made everybody he worked with bigger -- both his adversaries as well as his allies," Biden said.

Choking up at times, Biden called it remarkable that "one of the most partisan, liberal men in the last century" was embraced so by his foes. He also said that it was his life's privilege to sit next to him throughout his tenure.

"I literally would not be standing here were it not for Teddy Kennedy. Not figuratively. It's not hyperbole. Literally," said Biden in his vintage style. "Every day I was with him ... he restored my sense of idealism and my faith in the possibilities of what this country can do."

He said his whole family was "distressed" by his passing. He quoted Kennedy's widow, who said he "was ready to go." "But we were not ready to let him go," he said.

Obama and Kennedy Last Spoke In July


White House photo: President Barack Obama and Senator Ted Kennedy walk on the grounds of the White House, before signing of the Kennedy Service Act at the SEED School in Washington D.C. 4/21/09.

White House spokesperson Bill Burton said that President Obama last spoke with Sen. Kennedy on July 10. That was shortly after the president delivered to Pope Benedict XVI a letter from Kennedy. The pontiff and the president concluded their half-hour meeting at the Vatican that day with a discussion about Kennedy, whose brother was the first Catholic president.

"The contents of the letter were not known to anybody that I know of except Senator Kennedy," press secretary Robert Gibbs said at the time.

Kennedy's last trip to the White House came in April, when Obama was set to sign the service bill named in honor of the Massachusetts senator. He was also there for a public event on March 5 as Obama held a forum on health care.

Continue reading "Obama and Kennedy Last Spoke In July" »

Obama: Kennedy Made It Possible For Me To Pursue Dreams

President Obama called Ted Kennedy a "singular figure in American history" who allowed people like himself to pursue their dreams.

He noted that Kennedy was often "the target of partisan campaign attacks," but was greatly respected by his colleagues in both parties.

"His seriousness of purpose was perpetually matched by humility, warmth, and good cheer," Obama said. "He could passionately battle others and do so peerlessly on the Senate floor for the causes that he held dear, and yet still maintain warm friendships across party lines. And that's one reason he became not only one of the greatest senators of our time, but one of the most accomplished Americans ever to serve our democracy."

Obama, vacationing in Kennedy's home state of Massachusetts, said he spoke with Kennedy's wife this morning, and offered his thoughts to the entire family. Though his passing was not unexpected, there was "no small amount of dread" in awaiting it, he said. But on a positive note, he said the time since his diagnosis to this day has allowed for "the opportunity we were denied when his brothers John and Robert were taken from us: the blessing of time to say thank you -- and goodbye."

Obama made no special mention of health care, which was the late senator's great passion. But his passing will no doubt color the discussion in the weeks ahead.

Obama Statement On Passing Of Sen. Kennedy

President Obama will speak at 8:30 am from Martha's Vineyard about the death overnight of Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.). Earlier, the White House released this statement:

Michelle and I were heartbroken to learn this morning of the death of our dear friend, Senator Ted Kennedy.

For five decades, virtually every major piece of legislation to advance the civil rights, health and economic well being of the American people bore his name and resulted from his efforts.

I valued his wise counsel in the Senate, where, regardless of the swirl of events, he always had time for a new colleague. I cherished his confidence and momentous support in my race for the Presidency. And even as he waged a valiant struggle with a mortal illness, I've profited as President from his encouragement and wisdom.

An important chapter in our history has come to an end. Our country has lost a great leader, who picked up the torch of his fallen brothers and became the greatest United States Senator of our time.

And the Kennedy family has lost their patriarch, a tower of strength and support through good times and bad.

Our hearts and prayers go out to them today--to his wonderful wife, Vicki, his children Ted Jr., Patrick and Kara, his grandchildren and his extended family.

OMB Explains Growing Deficit Forecast

The mid-session review released this morning by the Office of Management and Budget today is a case of good news bad news. As leaked previously, the forecast budget deficit for this fiscal year has dropped by $262 billion to $1.58 trillion, which represents a change of 1.7 percent of GDP.

But the long-term forecasts show a markedly different picture. The new 10-year projected deficit is $9.05 trillion, up $2 trillion from OMB's original estimate. As Peter Orszag explains in a blog post:

In line with the current consensus among professional forecasters, the Administration's economic projections show that we inherited a deeper recession than projected in February. These revisions are based on new data on the severity of the recession that weren't available last winter.

As a result of a deeper-than-expected recession, certain spending programs (such as unemployment insurance and food stamps) are projected to automatically increase and revenues are projected to automatically decline, compared to our previous projection. Although these effects help to ameliorate the economic downturn by stimulating demand, they also lead to higher medium-term deficits both directly and indirectly (through higher interest costs on a higher level of public debt).

Orszag continues to say that in an economic downturn, "one wants to allow the deficit to increase." Steps toward future deficit reduction will be taken in the future, he said. But he concedes that the current forecast means that deficits "hover in the range of 4 percent of GDP, which is higher than desirable."

He ends on a positive note, however:

On inauguration day, the Administration inherited the greatest economic crisis and the largest deficits since the end of World War II. The economic freefall has been arrested, and, while too many people remain out of work, the consensus among private forecasters is that the economy will return to positive growth in the second half of this year. As the economy recovers, the Administration is committed to putting the nation on a fiscally sustainable path.

Obama Stays The Course At The Fed

Announcing that Ben Bernanke will stay at the helm, President Obama today also defended his economic policies just minutes before the Office and Management and Budget releases a mid-session budget review that raises the projected deficit forecast to $9 trillion over 10 years.

"The actions we have taken to stabilize our financial system, repair our credit markets, restructure our auto industry, and pass a recovery package have all been steps of necessity, not choice," he said. "They have faced plenty of critics, some of whom argued that we should stay the course or do nothing at all. But taken together, this 'bold, persistent experimentation' has brought our economy back from the brink. They are steps that are working."

Obama noted that Bernanke was an expert in the Great Depression who probably "never imagined that he would be part of a team responsible for preventing another." "But because of his background, his temperament, his courage, and his creativity, that's exactly what he has helped to achieve. And that is why I am re-appointing him to another term as Chairman of the Federal Reserve," he continued.

Obama interrupted his vacation to make the announcement, speaking to reporters in a suit but no tie at a local school on Martha's Vineyard. He did not take questions on any of the other stories that sprang up yesterday, especially the new interrogation practices.

Though the president apologized for breaking a promised no-news week, it seems they may have anticipated he would speak to the press at some point. The White House brought with them to Martha's Vineyard the president's teleprompter.

Another Term For Bernanke

Remember when Bill Burton said this? "Nobody is looking to make any news, so he's hoping that you guys can enjoy Martha's Vineyard while we're there."

So much for that. The White House says he'll make a statement tomorrow at 9 am from Martha's Vineyard. AP has details on what's to come:

OAK BLUFFS, Mass. -- An Associated Press source says President Barack Obama plans to nominate Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to a second term. Obama is to make the announcement on Tuesday during a break from his vacation on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts. The source is a senior administration official who discussed the announcement late Monday on the condition of anonymity.

Obama was first named Fed chairman by former President George W. Bush. In his announcement, Obama plans to praise Bernanke as someone who led the country through a financial crisis.

Obama plans to note Bernanke's expertise on the Great Depression of the 1930s and his efforts to prevent another crisis.

You can expect the release of the OMB's mid-session budget review tomorrow morning as well.

Obama's Reading List

This morning, White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton shared these selections from the president's reading list during his vacation this week.

  • "The Way Home," by George Pelecanos
  • "Hot, Flat and Crowded," by Tom Friedman
  • "Lush Life," by Richard Price
  • "Plainsong," by Kent Haruf
  • "John Adams," by David McCullough

Let The Vacation Begin

President Obama arrived in Martha's Vineyard this afternoon, starting a week-long vacation that the White House insists will be just that -- a vacation. En route to the island, he gave some marching orders to the press through deputy press secretary Bill Burton.

"He wants you to relax and have a good time. Take some walks on the beaches," Burton told the reporters traveling with him on Air Force One. "Nobody is looking to make any news, so he's hoping that you guys can enjoy Martha's Vineyard while we're there."

Burton also asked that the White House press corps "respect the privacy of the girls" during the vacation, in keeping with a longstanding request that the media leave the first daughters some space. Obama's sister, Maya, and her family are joining them at their vacation compound, as is first dog, Bo. Burton said that at this point Obama had no plans to visit Sen. Ted Kennedy at nearby Hyannis, though some still suspect he may.

"There isn't a lot scheduled for this week. You can bet there's going to be some golf playing, maybe a little swimming, but a lot of time spent with his family," Burton said. He called talk that Tiger Woods would join the president on the golf course a "bad rumor."

Obama Praises Afghan Resolve After Elections

afghan.jpgIn his final public appearance before a week-long vacation, President Obama called the elections in Afghanistan an "important step forward" for the people to reclaim their future.

"We knew that the Taliban would try to derail this election," he acknowledged. "Yet even in the face of this brutality, millions of Afghans exercised the right to choose their leaders and determine their own destiny. And as I watched the election, I was struck by their courage in the face of intimidation, and their dignity in the face of disorder."

Echoing a refrain from his inaugural address, he talked of the contrast between "those who seek to control their future at the ballot box, and those who kill to prevent that from happening."

"I believe that the future belongs to those who want to build -- not those who want to destroy," he said.

He sought to emphasize the United States' neutrality, saying our interests were in continuing to work with whoever emerges to "strengthen Afghan security, governance, and opportunity."

As he stepped toward Marine One en route to Camp David, a reporter asked for his reaction to the "hero's welcome" that the Pan Am Bomber received in Libya yesterday. Obama called it "highly objectionable."

"Wee-Wee'd Up" Explained

It had to be a first in presidential rhetoric, the president of the United States referring to people in Washington being "wee-wee'd up" in August. He was referring to a trend in which he's been counted out before in August, and still found his way to the White House.

Today in the briefing room, press secretary Robert Gibbs explained just what that unique term means.

"I think wee-weed up is when people just get all nervous for no particular reason," Gibbs said, repeating Obama's view that this is an "August pundit pattern." He agreed with a reporter that "bed wetting" would probably be "the more consumer friendly" term.

Looking ahead, Gibbs said to expect the president to be out front in the health care debate when he returns from vacation, saying "we've made progress," in the past few weeks.

The press secretary also disputed the CNN branding that August was a "make or break month." "My hunch is that another cable network will make September an even more important month," he said. "I think that much is always made of where things are at a certain point in the process. The president's viewpoint, as he said in here, no to worry too much about the 24-hour news cycle and focus more on the overall process and the overall policy."

Gibbs continued to bat away questions about the precise status of legislative horsetrading, feigning a bit of ignorance about whether there are plans to "split" legislation to make passage easier for Democrats and saying the goal was still a bipartisan bill. But he did say that Obama would not just "print a banner and sign a bill just so somebody can say we reformed health care."

On Conservative Talk Show, Obama Reassures A Supporter

President Obama went on Michael Smerconish's radio show anticipating some tough questions from across the ideological divide. But one of the callers who got to pose a question to him was actually a supporter, who expressed concern that Obama was "buckling" to Republicans on health care when it was the Democrats who had the majority.

"It's very frustrating to watch you try and compromise with a lot of these people who aren't willing to compromise with you," the caller, Joe, asked.

Obama acknowledged the "hand-wringing," but said that passing a major bill like this is "always messy."

"My attitude has always been let's see if we can get this done with some consensus," he explained. But, he claimed, there was "early on a decision was made by the Republican leadership" to deny him a victory, so that "maybe we can have a replay of 1993-94," as he put it, referring to President Clinton's failed health care effort.

"I think there's some folks who are taking a page out of that playbook. But this shouldn't be a political issue," he said. "There are a bunch of Republicans out there who have been working very constructively. ... I want to give them a chance to work through these processes." He singled out Chuck Grassley, Mike Enzi, and Olympia Snow -- those working in the bipartisan group on the Senate Finance Committee.

"We're happy to make sensible compromises. What we're not willing to do is give up on the core principle that Americans who don't have health insurance should get it," he said.

Continue reading "On Conservative Talk Show, Obama Reassures A Supporter" »

Obama "Deeply Regrets" Pan Am Bomber Release

A statement from the White House on the announced release of the only Pan Am bomber to be tried and sentenced:

The United States deeply regrets the decision by the Scottish Executive to release Abdel Basset Mohamed al-Megrahi. Megrahi was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for his role in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which blew up over Scotland on December 21, 1988. As we have expressed repeatedly to officials of the government of the United Kingdom and to Scottish authorities, we continue to believe that Megrahi should serve out his sentence in Scotland. On this day, we extend our deepest sympathies to the families who live every day with the loss of their loved ones. We recognize the effects of such a loss weigh upon a family forever.

Obama: Opponents "Bearing False Witness" In Health Care Debate

President Obama made a faith-based pitch for his health care reform, urging religious groups to unite in this battle "between hope and fear" just as they did in the fight for civil rights.

Obama joined a teleconference organized by a coalition of religious groups as part of their "Forty Minutes For Health Reform" campaign. He didn't take questions, but in his six-minute pitch he also worked to dispel some misinformation about the legislation, accusing opponents of "bearing false witness."

He disputed that there would be "death panels," for instance, calling that an "extraordinary lie." He also denied that his plan would cover illegal immigrants. Lastly, he touched on a hot-button issue for religious groups: abortion.

"You've heard that this is all going to mean government funding of abortion. Not true," he said. "These are all fabrications that have been put out there in order to discourage people from meeting what I consider to be a core ethical and moral obligation, and that is that we look out for one another. That I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper. And in the wealthiest nation on earth right now, we are neglecting to live up to that call."

Before the president joined, participants on the call were encouraged to spend the next 40 days (an important biblical number) spreading the truth about reform and rallying support in their congregations. Obama said that faith groups have always worked "to promote justice," while others push to "preserve the status quo."

Continue reading "Obama: Opponents "Bearing False Witness" In Health Care Debate" »

Scenes From The White House: Taking The 48 For A Ride

The White House went all out for a Red State pastime today, honoring the 2008 NASCAR champion, Jimmie Johnson.

"NASCAR is a uniquely American sport," President Obama said, flanked by some of the sport's biggest names. "Since its humble beginnings, when moonshiners raced on the sands of Daytona Beach during prohibition, it's grown into a sport with tens of millions of fans here in America and around the world."

NASCAR2.jpgOff to the president's left was Johnson's 48 car. "You know, it is not every day that we have a championship stock car parked out on the South Lawn," he joked. In exchange for free parking, he continued, Johnson should let him take it for a few laps. The punch line: "He said that was fine -- but Secret Service didn't think it was fine."

Also on hand in addition to current drivers was "The King," Richard Petty. Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry (D) also made the trip; some Wounded Warriors from Walter Reed and Bethesda Medical Center sat in the crowd.

Unlike previous sport champions events under Obama, a full grandstand for the press was set up. NASCAR reporters from various outlets were on hand for the event; one cable network was also broadcasting live from the South Lawn. Another pic from the affair after the jump.

Continue reading "Scenes From The White House: Taking The 48 For A Ride" »

Obama Says He Hopes Reform Bill Is Bipartisan

As President Obama headed back to the Oval Office following an event honoring NASCAR champions, I asked him if he was giving up on a bipartisan health care reform bill. Here's his quick response:

"I am absolutely confident we are going to get a bill. And I hope it's bipartisan."

Gibbs Playing Good Cop? Says WH Wants Bipartisan Bill

Go ahead, just try to make sense of the conflicting messages coming out of the White House these days.

This morning, some targeted leaks, anonymous and on-the-record, in the New York Times saying that the Obama administration is ready to "go it alone" and pass a health care reform bill with 50+1 votes if that's what it takes. Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, said that "the Republican leadership has made a strategic decision that defeating President Obama's health care proposal is more important for their political goals than solving the health insurance problems that Americans face every day."

Contrast that with press secretary Robert Gibbs' message at today's press briefing. "The president believes strongly in working with Republicans and Democrats, independents, any that seek to reform health care," he said before the television cameras. "The president strongly believes that we're making progress, [and] has had conversations with members of the Finance Committee. ... Our preference is to work through -- work through this process and hopefully come out with a bill that has agreement among both parties on that committee."

He also downplayed the likelihood of ultimately using reconciliation to pass reform, saying again that they have not yet abandoned working with Republicans.

After the press widely reported this weekend that the White House seemed ready to abandon the public option, Gibbs has argued the contrary -- that they've had a "boring consistency" to their health care message. But today it seems like there's a bit of good cop, bad cop going on.

Secretary Clinton Comments On North Korea

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not join her husband for his meeting with President Obama this afternoon. But she did address the impact former President Clinton's visit to North Korea had on U.S. policy toward the nation.

"The briefing that my husband and those who traveled with him have provided to us is extremely helpful because it gives us a window into what's going on in North Korea," she said. "But our policy remains the same. Our policy is consistent. We continue to offer to the North Koreans the opportunity to have a dialogue within the Six-Party Talk framework with the United States that we think could offer many benefits to the people of North Korea. But the choice is up to the North Koreans."

She further said it is up to the United States "to us to determine whether there are some opportunities and some insights that can be used" to create a "positive atmosphere" for negotiations, but that ultimately North Korea must come to the table.

The comments came during a scheduled availability between Clinton and Colombian Foreign Minister Jaime Bermúdez. The White House explained that this event prevented Clinton from joining her husband at the White House.

White House Saying Little About Clinton Meeting

Former President Bill Clinton arrived at the White House just before 4 pm today for his meeting with President Obama, and left less than a half hour ago. The White House issued this readout to describe the conversation the two leaders had, first in the Situation Room and later in the Oval Office.

President Obama today met in the Situation Room with former President Clinton for nearly forty minutes to thank him in person for undertaking the humanitarian mission to secure the release of two American citizens who had been detained by North Korea for over four months. Former President Clinton described the process, including a meeting with Kim Jong-il, that culminated in the North Korean leadership granting "special amnesty" to the two journalists and permitting them to return to the United States. President Obama said he was gratified that the Americans had been safely reunited with their families. After the meeting, President Obama invited President Clinton to the Oval Office to continue their conversation for another half hour.

As you can see, the readout lists only North Korea as a topic of more than an hour of discussion. Earlier, Robert Gibbs could not say whether health care has come up between the two in the past, or might today.

UPDATE: Vice President Biden's office says he sat in on the Sit Room meeting.

Obama Holding Health Care Teleconference With Supporters

Members of the Obama for America e-mail list have been invited to join the president this Thursday for a teleconference in which he will take questions about the health care reform legislation.

From the e-mail sent out today:

The President will update us on the fight to pass real health insurance reform -- what's happening in D.C. and what's happening around the country. He'll lay out our strategy and message going forward and answer questions from supporters like you. And we'll unveil the next actions we'll organize together.

Those who received the e-mail are invited to submit their questions in advance with their RSVP. No doubt those who supported his campaign might be among the most concerned about a shift away from the public option (which, of course, the White House is denying the case).

The e-mail also contains a bit more media criticism as it thanks supporters for their grassroots efforts in support of reform.

The D.C. media has been trumpeting coverage of town halls disrupted by angry opposition to reform. But the reality on the ground is very different. Organizing for America supporters are showing up in huge numbers at these meetings all across the country -- outnumbering opponents of reform, often by overwhelming margins.

Gibbs Maintains No Shift On Public Option

Today's White House press briefing was a nightmare for those seeking clarity on the administration's stance on the public option, as Robert Gibbs stuck to his guns in arguing that the media misinterpreted his and Kathleen Sebelius' comments this weekend as representing a shift.

"We have a goal of fostering choice and competition in the private health insurance market. The president prefers a public option as a way of doing that," he said. "If others have ideas, we're open to those ideas and willing to listen to those details. That's what the president has said for months. Coincidentally that's what the secretary of Health and Human Services has said for months. It's what I've said for months."

Near the end of the briefing, however, Gibbs himself made a statement of the sort that has so ired liberals lately. Asked at one point whether competition must come from the government, he said, "It doesn't have to."

"The president's reform is built on a private insurance structure, where the vast majority of people receive their health care benefits through their employer from private entities," he said.

Earlier, a number of reporters tried to find daylight between previous public statements from the president and what Secretary Sebelius and the president himself said this weekend, but Gibbs repeatedly denied it. "Any suggestion somehow that anything that was said Saturday or Sunday as being new administration policy is just not something that I would agree with," he said, challenging reporters at times to re-read transcripts.

Asked why President Obama has not made any public statements since this weekend on health care, Gibbs noted it was mentioned yesterday during his VFW speech. Beyond that, "We don't think there's anything to clean up," Gibbs said. "What was said by the secretary on Sunday was completely consistent with what she said five weeks earlier. Why would I bring the president out today to clear up what she said five weeks ago?"

Continue reading "Gibbs Maintains No Shift On Public Option" »

Gibbs Feigns Surprise About Public Option "Shift"

Speaking with reporters on board Air Force One today, Robert Gibbs reacted with a bit of manufactured shock to questions about whether the White House is dropping the public option, calling today's chatter "the most curious things I've ever seen."

"I was on a Sunday show, I said the same thing about a public option that I've said for I don't know how many weeks. The Secretary [of HHS, Kathleen Sebelius] reiterated what the President said the day before, and you'd think there was some new policy," he said.

Gibbs said that if reporters compared the comments on Sunday shows that were interpreted as signaling a shift with others over the past months, they'd find a "boring consistency." Still, he continued to sound an indifferent note, saying it was a preference for President Obama to see one but not an indispensable one.

"The goals are choice and competition. His preference is a public option. If there are other ideas, he's happy to look at them," Gibbs said.

The fact that the White House let the meme that the public option was being dropped linger for so long yesterday indicates that it was at the very least testing the waters to gauge reaction from liberal allies.

Presidential Sit Room Summit Tomorrow

Listed at the end of tomorrow's White House's tick-tock with little fanfare: a meeting between President Obama and former President Bill Clinton.

The meeting has been anticipated since the 42nd president flew to North Korea to arrange for the release of two American journalists. It is now listed as closed to the press, in a venue that assures privacy: the White House situation room.

Obama tomorrow also meets tomorrow with Clinton's wife, the Secretary of State. The main event on Tuesday's schedule, however, is a visit from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Obama, Biden On The Fundraising Circuit

A White House spokesperson confirms that President Obama will head to Pennsylvania next month to raise money for Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.). The Philadelphia Daily News reported this morning that invitations to the Sept. 15 event were sent out by Comcast Executive Vice President David L. Cohen.

The event that Mayor Nutter, Gov. Rendell and Specter will attend features a $1,000 cocktail reception, another VIP reception for those who raise at least $10,000, and a dinner for which "an individual must write (not raise) a minimum of $10,000 or raise $50,000" to attend, Cohen's note says. The missive asks guests to make checks payable to Pennsylvania Senate Victory 2010, and promises that all dinner guests will have a picture taken with Obama and Specter.

Meanwhile, Vice President Biden is scheduled to visit Florida this week for an event to promote the Recovery Act. While in the state, he'll also be raising money for two potentially vulnerable Democrats, Reps. Alan Grayson and Suzanne Kosmas (D). On Thursday, he'll be in Chicago on Aug. 20 to headline a fundraiser for Rep. Debbie Halvorson (D-Ill.)

In VFW Speech, More Health Reform Debunking From Obama

In a somewhat subdued speech at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Phoenix today, President Obama reiterated his administration's commitment to support those who've worn the uniform, and his goal to end the war in Iraq this year. As expected, he also did a bit of stumping for his effort to reform the health care system, pledging that veterans would see no change in the benefits they're entitled to.

"There's been so much misinformation out there," the president said as he made the aside to defend his plan. "One thing that reform won't change is veterans health care. No one is going to take away your benefits. That is the plain and simple truth."

He said that even in tough budget times, his administration is actually "dramatically increasing funding for veterans health care." Several administration officials are also launching an effort to solicit ideas from employees of the VA system to further improve the system.

Continue reading "In VFW Speech, More Health Reform Debunking From Obama" »

Blaming The Messenger? White House Ramps Up Media Critique

One of the Obama administration's favorite punching bags, even dating back to the Obama campaign, has been what it calls the frivolous "cable chatter." But its media critique was stepped up significantly in the past week as the White House struggled to find an effective response to the town hall meetings dominating television news.

Press secretary Robert Gibbs fired a warning shot Wednesday as he faced questions about what some felt was an overly friendly town hall meeting in New Hampshire, where President Obama spent considerable time dispelling rumors about his plan. Asked if the White House lost control of the message, Gibbs replied: "Do I think some of you were disappointed yesterday that the President didn't get yelled at? Sure. I don't think there's any doubt about that."

In that briefing and in other interviews this week, Gibbs has also argued that the cable news culture means Americans are seeing only the angriest, most combative moments from the town hall meetings hosted by members of Congress. Some of the "misinformation" being repeated in these settings also proved, the White House argued, that the media had not done its job thoroughly reporting on the overall debate and fact-checking opponents' assertions.

The president himself levied that criticism as he took to the stump in Montana Friday. "What you haven't seen on TV -- and what makes me proud -- are the many constructive meetings going on all over the country," he said.

Continue reading "Blaming The Messenger? White House Ramps Up Media Critique" »

Move Over, Joe The Plumber: Meet Randy The Welder

Get used to seeing Randy Rathie on your television, folks.

The participant at today's town hall meeting with President Obama in Montana was right out of central casting as far as the kind of tough question the White House likely hoped he'd get. He said he was a member of the NRA, watched cable news and had a tough question about how the president would pay for his health care plan. No doubt a host of network producers have already approached him trying to book him. In fact, he's already been on MSNBC.

Here's the transcript of Randy's question. You can read Obama's answer after the jump.

RANDY: "I'm a proud NRA member. I believe in our Constitution, and it's a very important thing. I also get my news from the cable networks, because I don't like the spin that comes from them other places."

OBAMA: "You gotta be careful about them cable networks. But that's okay."

RANDY: "Max Baucus, our senator, has been locked up in a dark room for months now trying to come up with some money to pay for these programs. And we keep getting the bull. That's all we get, is bull. you can't tell us how we're going to pay for this. You're saving here, you're saving over there. You're going to take a little money here, you're going to take a little money there. But you have no money. The only way you're going to get that money is to raise our taxes. You said you wouldn't. Max Baucus says he doesn't want to put a bill out that will. But that's the only way you can do that."

Continue reading "Move Over, Joe The Plumber: Meet Randy The Welder" »

ICYMI: Obama's New Homeboy

Some softballs, but a fun interview of the President by Damon Weaver, an 11-year-old student from Pahokee, Florida.

White House Answers Grassley With Murkowski

The White House chose to answer Sen. Chuck Grassley's comments echoing concern with end-of-life counseling issues by quoting one of his Republican colleagues.

"I'd like to have him talk to Senator Murkowski," press secretary Robert Gibbs said today when asked about his comments in Iowa yesterday. He then quoted Murkowski, who was responding to former Gov. Sarah Palin's criticism of so-called "death panels, had said: "It does us no good to incite fear in people by saying that there's these end of life provisions, these death panels. Quite honestly, I'm so offended at this terminology because it absolutely isn't in the bill."

But Grassley never used the term "death panel," which was the substance of Murkowski's critique, though he did talk about unplugging "grandma." Despite this rhetoric, Gibbs said President Obama "is continuing to talk to lawmakers and hopes the Finance Committee can come to some agreement."

"I still think there is a possibility of getting bipartisan agreement," he said.

At today's press briefing, Gibbs was also asked about the potential political impact if the president's health care effort fails. He said that the White House wasn't looking at political ramifications. He acknowledged that the outcome may eventually play a factor in elections, though he noted the midterms are quite a ways off.

Obama To Visit Singapore

For a president with summit-itis, another summit on his schedule.

Press secretary Robert Gibbs today confirmed that President Obama will attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in mid-November. With such a long trip, you can expect he'll stop elsewhere in the region as well -- there's been some speculation about Indonesia. But Gibbs said there were no other stops confirmed at this point.

Obama attends another meeting of the G-20 next month. But this time he plays host, as this summit is held in Pittsburgh.

Scenes From The White House: Medals Of Freedom

President Obama awarded 16 men and women with the Medal of Freedom, for a lifetime of work that has made them "an example of the difference we can make in the lives of others."

tutu.jpg
Desmond Tutu

Foremost among them was Sen. Ted Kennedy, who was unable to attend the ceremony but warmly praised by the president as someone whose life "has made a difference for us all." Referring to a story Kennedy tells about a man who throws starfish into the sea, he said: "For nearly half a century, Ted Kennedy has been walking that beach, making a difference for that soldier fighting for freedom, that refugee looking for a way home, that senior searching for dignity, that worker striving for opportunity, that student aspiring to college, that family reaching for the American Dream.

Some more photos after the jump.

Continue reading "Scenes From The White House: Medals Of Freedom" »

Gibbs: Media "Disappointed" Obama Wasn't Heckled

It seems that the White House has shifted its target. Rather than targeting conservative interest groups for an Astroturf campaign to disrupt town hall meetings, press secretary Robert Gibbs is ramping up a critique of the media, which he argued today was not doing enough to debunk false information out there.

"Let's be honest. You all, the media, tend to cover, 'X said this, Y said this,'" he said today. "Some of you -- but not everyone -- does an investigation about whether what X said is actually true."

But it's more than that. He went so far as to claim that the media was actually "disappointed yesterday that the president didn't get yelled at."

"I don't think there's any doubt about that," he said, referring to stories about yesterday's town hall meeting that he said dealt more with the "sideshow" than the substance of the debate.

Yesterday, the DNC, too, urged the media to show greater scrutiny of Republican attacks. The party's press secretary, Hari Sevugan, issued a "Memorandum Regarding Coverage of Republican Misinformation Campaign."

"There is no question as to the lack of credibility in these claims," Sevugan wrote. "The only question that remains is whether the media will challenge and hold accountable Republican leaders and the GOP echo chamber for the scare-tactics and lies they are passing off as truths."

But what about Obama's misstatements, particularly claiming that the AARP had endorsed the health care plan. Gibbs admitted that the president was "conflating" support generally for health care reform with an endorsement of his specific plan.

TOTUS 2.0?

At today's East Room event honoring Justice Sonia Sotomayor today, something was different. President Obama was speaking from a script, but the famous "TOTUS," or "Teleprompter of the United States," was nowhere to be seen.

Rather than the familiar glass panel setup that frames the presidential podium, the White House staff positioned two large LCD screens at the edges of the seating areas for him to read from. The difference is significant. The traditional teleprompter is very conspicuous, especially to the audience in the room. It also makes things difficult for photographers, who can find few positions to take pictures that are un-obstructed.

Consider these photos, first the traditional teleprompter used for much of his administration, and secondly the newer setup, with one of the television monitors positioned far across the room.

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The White House has used the LCD screen before -- just one screen positioned directly in front of the president -- at his prime time press conferences. Using two screens on opposite sides of the room allows Obama to continue "oscillating," turning from one side to the other, as he's apparently more comfortable with.

One of the criticisms of the traditional teleprompter is that it can make Obama look as if he's not really engaged with his audience, in addition to feeding the derision from some that he is overly dependent on a script. Using this less conspicuous setup eliminates to some extent that perception problem.

Obama Honors Justice Sotomayor

The East Room was filled to capacity this morning as President Obama took a victory lap with his first Supreme Court choice, celebrating what he said was "an extraordinary moment for our nation."

"We celebrate the impact Justice Sotomayor has already had on people across America who have been inspired by her exceptional life story," he said. "And we celebrate how, with their overwhelming vote to confirm Justice Sotomayor, the United States Senate -- Republicans and Democrats -- tore down yet one more barrier and affirmed our belief that in America, the doors of opportunity must be open to all."

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Justice Sotomayor, in very personal remarks, said she was "deeply humbled by the sacred responsibility" she now has, and asked Americans to "wish me divine guidance and wisdom in administering my new office." She also spoke of her background, the source of such debate during the confirmation process.

"I am most grateful to this country," she said, adding that her confirmation "would never have been possible without the opportunities presented to me by this nation."

She drew an extended standing ovation as she invoked the Constitution, saying it "draws together people of all races, faiths, and backgrounds from all across this country who carry its words and values in our heart. It is this nation's faith in a more perfect union that allows a Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx to stand here now."

The room was full of family and friends, as well as members of Congress who supported her nomination and home-state officials like Gov. David Paterson. Also on hand, two of the justices who may be next to step down from the Supreme Court: John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Winning The Message War?

Just where does the White House think it stands in the message war on health care today? Press secretary Robert Gibbs was asked about messaging problems several times during a gaggle on Air Force One en route to Portsmouth today. Here's one of his answers.

I think we are continually trying to let people know what this means to them.

...

Is there a constant struggle because you guys would rather cover Sarah Palin saying something that Johnny Isakson says is nuts? Sure, there's always a struggle in that. But for 40 years this has been tough going because there are a group of people -- we hear them, we seem them now -- that are for the same status quo; they're for the special interests that are making billions and billions and trillions of dollars on a system that works well for them, but not for millions and millions of Americans -- they want to keep that.

Our challenge each and every day is to go out and make sure people understand that doing nothing costs the American people more in health care -- more in health care spending; it makes our budgetary problems worse; it causes people to lose their coverage and lose their doctor. And we can change all that.

But really, you can sense how much President Obama is playing defense just by listening to his comments at the town hall itself. Even before a friendly audience, he was offering, sometimes preemptively, clarifications of his positions. Consider these phrases, just a quick selection from the transcript:

"Let me just start by setting the record straight on a few things I've been hearing out here ...
"Let me just be specific about some things that I've been hearing lately that we just need to dispose of here ...
"The rumor that's been circulating a lot lately ...
"Well, first of all, another myth that we've been hearing about is this notion that somehow ...
"I don't want anybody saying somehow that I'm pulling the bait- and-switch here ...
"Can I just say this is another example of how the media ends up just completing distorting what's taken place ...

Before Friendly Crowd, Obama Urges Civility

President Obama just wrapped up a town hall in Portsmouth, N.H., on his health care plan. It seems that the president found a pretty friendly crowd, and despite his exhortations for tough questions from skeptical citizens, handled mostly softballs.

As he finished his opening remarks, Obama addressed the rowdy scenes across the country by praising the "vigorous debate" but calling for greater civility in that discussion.

"That's what America's about, is we have a vigorous debate. That's why we have a democracy," he said. "But i do hope that we will talk with each other and not over each other. Because one of the objectives of democracy and debate is that we start refining our own views because maybe other people have different perspectives, things we didn't think of. Where we do disagree, let's disagree over things that are real -- not these wild misrepresentations that bear no resemblance to anything that's actually been proposed."

The statement was met by huge applause from the high school crowd. Later, a campaign "Yes we can!" chant. "I remember that," he said.

Launching into a Q-and-A, the president appealed for tough questions. "If i hear only from people who agree with me, I'm going to actively ask some folks who are concerned about health care, give them a chance to ask their questions." When he wasn't facing any, he openly admitted concern that viewers will think the town hall was full of "plants."

Based on some of the Twitter reaction, it seems many conservatives think that's just what happened.

Previewing Obama's Health Care Message

President Obama will be introduced in New Hampshire today by a woman who, the White House explains, was "discriminated" against when she tried to purchase health care because of a pre-existing medical condition. At the White House's blog, there's more on this new talking point.

12.6 million people.

That's how many non-elderly adults (36% of those who tried to purchase health insurance in the individual insurance market) were discriminated against because of a pre-existing condition in the past three years. You can read more alarming facts about the number of Americans being denied coverage at healthreform.gov.

The status quo that allows for discrimination based on pre-existing conditions has real consequences: millions of Americans do not have access to adequate health care. We've all heard the horror stories about people behind denied the care they need because of pre-existing conditions, which is why the President recently unveiled the Health Insurance Consumer Protections. These protections show how health insurance reform will provide security for you and your family, and guarantee you will never be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition.

You've probably heard the rumors out there that the health reform will lead to "rationing" of care, or will cut funding for our seniors. These stories simply aren't true.

You can read more here.

Obama Mourns Eunice Shriver

The White House released this statement from President Obama on the passing of Eunice Shriver, sister of former President John F. Kennedy and founder of the Special Olympics.

Michelle and I were deeply saddened to learn about the passing of Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Eunice was many things to many people: a mother who inspired her children to serve others; a wife who supported her husband Sargent in the Peace Corps and in politics; and a sister to her siblings, including brothers John, Robert, and Edward. But above all, she will be remembered as the founder of the Special Olympics, as a champion for people with intellectual disabilities, and as an extraordinary woman who, as much as anyone, taught our nation - and our world - that no physical or mental barrier can restrain the power of the human spirit. Her leadership greatly enriched the lives of Special Olympians throughout the world, who have experienced the pride and joy of competition and achievement thanks to her vision. Our thoughts and prayers are with Sargent; their children Robert, Maria, Timothy, Mark, and Anthony; and the entire Kennedy family.

White House Softens Tone On Health Care Town Halls

President Obama heads tomorrow to a state that values its town hall meetings as much as any -- New Hampshire. And leading up to to the Portsmouth event, the White House seems to be dialing back somewhat its attack on the "manufactured" outrage taking place around the country.

Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton, filling in for Robert Gibbs on Air Force One today, echoed Obama's own words today in taking a more positive spin on the interest in these forums, in contrast to the new criticism from Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer today.

"I think there's actually a pretty long tradition of people shouting at politicians in America," Gibbs said when asked about their op-ed. "The President thinks that if people want to come and have a spirited debate about health care, a real vigorous conversation about it, that's a part of the American tradition and he encourages that."

He did draw the line at truly disruptive behavior, saying the president "doesn't think that that's productive." As for the motivations of those who come, Burton again stepped back somewhat from comments last week in which Gibbs directly targeted conservative groups who were driving people to events.

"I think less important than the motivations or the organizations or who's putting it together is that there's a lot of energy out there on this issue, on either side," Burton said today. "The President views his role as getting health care reform done for the American people and in order to do that, that means going out there and being prepared to have a robust and vigorous discussion."

For the presidential town hall, 1,800 are expected and tickets were distributed through the offices of the local officials and some outside groups, Burton said. Obama's message will again meld the economy and health care.

Obama Calls "Vigorous" Health Care Debate "A Healthy Thing"

It was a Canadian reporter, believe it or not, who injected the debate over health care in the United States into a press conference following the trilateral summit of North American leaders today.

The reason? The fact that the Canadian system has been used as a "political football" in that domestic debate, as the reporter described it. And as the White House launches an offensive to counter what they say has been a flood of misinformation about the Democratic health care plan, President Obama offered a measured tone.

"We are having a vigorous debate in the United States, and I think that's a healthy thing," he said in Guadalajara today, while also praising the progress that's been made. He later added: "I suspect that once we get into the fall and people look at the actual legislation that's being proposed, that more sensible and reasoned arguments will emerge. And we're going to get this passed.

He said that the Canadian model "would not work for the United States" because of how the two nations' systems have evolved -- with the U.S. having an employer based system. "We've got to develop a uniquely American approach to this problem," he said.

Continue reading "Obama Calls "Vigorous" Health Care Debate "A Healthy Thing"" »

At Deeds Rally, Obama Knocks GOP Critics

McLEAN, Va. -- President Obama again used a campaign rally to lob some partisan firebombs in defense of his handling of the economy, challenging Republicans to quit complaining about a fiscal situation they helped create.

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"I expect to be held responsible for these issues because I'm the president," he said. "But I don't want the folks who created the mess doing a lot of talking. I want them to just get out of the way so we can clean up the mess."

Preaching to the choir at a rally for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds, he repeated: "I don't mind cleaning up after them, but don't do a lot of talking. Am I wrong, Virginia?"

Obama tied his discussion of fiscal policy to the "prudent" example of Democratic governors Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, saying Deeds would continue that.

"When I walked in, we had a $1.3 trillion deficit," Obama said within hours of the CBO announcing that the deficit had, in fact, reached $1.3 trillion. He claimed, actually, that "without my policies, we'd have an even higher deficit going forward," though he excepted the stimulus bill which he said "we had to do in order to get this economy moving again."

"You can't go out there and charge up the credit card, go on ... shopping sprees that didn't grow the economy, hand over the bill to us and say why haven't you paid it off yet. I got that bill from you!" he said.

Continue reading "At Deeds Rally, Obama Knocks GOP Critics" »

Brennan Outlines Terror Strategy, Rebutting Critics

John Brennan, the so-called White House counterterrorism czar, gave a broad overview of the Obama administration's strategy for combating what he said is a persistent extremist threat, and explaining a shift from the "Global War On Terror" to a strategy heavy on both a muscular offense and deep engagement with the Muslim world.

Brennan also directly targeted from the very beginning what he said were failed policies from the previous administration, noting that he was speaking eight years to the day when a Presidential Daily Brief warned of that Osama bin Laden was "determined to strike" the United States.

"We all have seen how our fight against terrorists sometimes led us to stray from our ideals as a nation," he said, singling out tactics like waterboarding that he said have "actually set back our efforts." "They are a recruitment bonanza for terrorists, increase the determination of our enemies, and decrease the willingness of other nations to cooperate with us. In short, they undermine our national security."

Brennan said he has been "deeply troubled by the inflammatory rhetoric, hyperbole, and intellectual narrowness" in the debate over the new administration's strategy. "Some like to claim that the President's policies somehow represent a wholesale dismantling of counterterrorism policies and practices adopted by his predecessor. Others claim that the President's policies constitute a wholesale retention of his predecessor's policies. Well, they can't both be right," he said.

Continue reading "Brennan Outlines Terror Strategy, Rebutting Critics" »

Romer Defends Stimulus Ahead Of Unemployment Report

Council of Economic Advisers chair Christina Romer said that despite another round of grim unemployment news expected tomorrow, the stimulus program is indisputably working and has likely saved a half-million jobs.

Romer said she had no sneak peak at tomorrow's unemployment report, with some predicting that for the first time the jobless rate will top 10 percent.

"Market experts are telling us is that we will lose hundreds of thousands of jobs," she said at a breakfast hosted by the Economic Club of Washington today. "It does emphasize the economy is still in a recession. We do think we are improving the trajectory, but there is just no denying the fact that we are still in tough times for the American people."

Romer gave a vigorous defense of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, likening the plan to treatment one would receive for strep throat. To critics who point to continued increases in the jobless rate, she furthered the analogy.

"Sometime after you get the prescription, and maybe even after you take the first pill, your fever spikes. Do you decide that the medicine was useless? Do you conclude the antibiotic caused the infection to get worse? Surely not," she said. "You probably conclude that the illness was more serious than you and the doctor thought, and are very glad you saw the doctor and started taking the medicine when you did."

Romer cited several estimates that indicated that without the stimulus, the GDP decrease in the second quarter might have been several points higher. In fact, it improved from a more than 6-point decline to just 1 percent. To put it another way, as Romer did: "The rise in GDP growth from the first quarter to the second was the largest in almost a decade, and the second largest in the past quarter century."

Continue reading "Romer Defends Stimulus Ahead Of Unemployment Report" »

Obama Pushes Economic Message At Indiana Factory

President Obama returned to the Elkhart area not for a town hall meeting, but for an announcement related to the Recovery Act on investing in renewable energy, specifically advanced battery technology.

The president broadly defended his economic strategy, while also promising to pass health care reform "by the end of this year." Acknowledging the tough fight ahead, he played up a message that was successful in his campaign for the office, attacking the culture of Washington.

"There are those who want to seek political advantage, they want to oppose these efforts. Some of them caused the problems that we got now in the first place, and then suddenly they're blaming other folks for them," he said. "They don't want to be constructive. They just want to get in the usual political fights back and forth. And sometimes that's fed by all the cable chatter on the media."

He also said it is easy to be cynical "when you see politicians say one thing and then do another. or say one thing and then do nothing. When you've seen decades of broken promises from broken politics," he continued. "But this is a rare moment in wheh we're called upon to rise above the failures of the past. this is the chance to restore that spirit of optimism and opportunity which has always been central to our success."

As the Democrats target the so-called "manufactured outrage" at town hall meetings, Obama simply spoke from a podium to workers at the RV factory. Press secretary Robert Gibbs said earlier that Obama simply wanted "to share that news with a county in Indiana that's been hit tremendously hard."

Obama Praises Clinton For N. Korea Role

Before leaving Washington, President Obama spoke for the first time about former President Clinton's trip to North Korea. He said he was "extraordinarily relieved" at the release of the two U.S. journalists, and has spoken with their families. He's also spoken with Clinton, he said.

"I want to thank President Bill Clinton ... for the extraordinary humanitarian effort that resulted in the release of the two journalists," he said. "I think that not only is this White House obviously extraordinarily happy, but all Americans should be grateful to both former President Clinton and Vice President Gore for their extraordinary work. And my hope is, is that the families that have been reunited can enjoy the next several days and weeks, understanding that because of the efforts of President Clinton and Gore, they are able to be with each other once again."

Statement from Bill Clinton

Former President Bill Clinton landed in L.A. this morning with the two journalists he helped free in North Korea. Clinton's office just released the following statement from him:

"I am very happy that after this long ordeal, Laura Ling and Euna Lee are now home and reunited with their loved ones.

When their families, Vice President Gore and the White House asked that I undertake this humanitarian mission, I agreed. I share a deep sense of relief with Laura and Euna and their families that they are safely home."

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Scenes From The White House: Happy Birthdays

As has been pointed out endlessly, today is President Obama's 48th birthday. Coincidentally Helen Thomas, the dean of the White House press corps, celebrates her 89th birthday on this August 4th as well. To mark the occasion, Obama made a rare cameo in the press briefing room to personally deliver cupcakes to Thomas, and lead the press corps in singing "Happy Birthday."

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Despite the tough questions she often lobs from her front row perch, the president had nothing but praise for the veteran reporter, even giving her a kiss on the cheek and sitting down next to her to pose for photos.

"Helen wished for world peace, no prejudice," Obama said. "But she and I also had a common birthday wish. She said she hopes for a real health care reform bill."

He then said it was up to Thomas to decide how to distribute the other cupcakes. He didn't take any questions and quickly exited. Thomas had also been feted earlier outside press secretary Robert Gibbs' office with cupcakes brought by a member of the press crops.

Obama had his own birthday cake as he marked the occasion during a luncheon with Senate Democrats. You can see a picture of the presidential birthday cake, obtained by NBC's Savannah Guthrie, after the jump.

Continue reading "Scenes From The White House: Happy Birthdays" »

Democrats Target "Orchestrated" Town Hall Opposition

Senate Democrats left a White House meeting singing President Obama's praises while echoing the latest party talking points by portraying rowdy town hall meetings as the result of an astroturf campaign by the leading opponents of health care reform.

"In spite of the loud, shrill voices trying to interrupt town hall meetings to throw a monkey wrench into everything, we're going to continue to be positive and work hard," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters after a luncheon with the president today.

"The American people do not like partisanship. But the American people also don't like groups of people trying to kill something that should be done," Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus said.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) listed potential positive outcomes from health care reform, then added: "We'll match that against their message of negativity."

Continue reading "Democrats Target "Orchestrated" Town Hall Opposition" »

Gibbs Won't Say If Obama Will Read Entire Health Care Bill

At one of his recent town hall meetings, President Obama said he would gladly welcome members of Congress to the White House to read through health care legislation "line-by-line."

Today, however, Robert Gibbs was less than clear on whether Obama would in fact read through a final bill in its entirety on his own.

"I assume the president will study the details of the proposal," the press secretary said. "He's a highly-informed individual."

He also joked that he didn't know what the president's "vacation plans are." After moving to take another question he -- perhaps realizing the potential pitfall -- backtracked quickly to challenge the reporter if he planned to read the entire bill, as well.

White House Luncheon: Health Care, Clunkers, And Cake?

Most of the 60-member Senate Democratic caucus will head to the White House tomorrow for their weekly luncheon, with plans to discuss a range of issues with President Obama on what happens to be his 48th birthday.

"Chuck E. Cheese was booked," press secretary Robert Gibbs joked today.

It's also in part a continuation of the White House's mid-year review. The president huddled with his Cabinet this weekend. Gibbs said he expected health care and the economy to be a focus, with Obama also likely pushing the upper chamber to act on legislation to continue the Cash for Clunkers program.

"Without some help from the Senate ... the program will have to be stopped by the end of the week," he warned.

Obama marked his birthday over the weekend by having some friends at Camp David for dinner, and to play basketball and bowl. Gibbs said Obama tallied 144 in the latter, including three strikes and a 9-of-10 in his final four frames.

"I told the president, if you had done this in Pennsylvania my life would have been a little easier last spring," he said.

Gibbs Says Obama Sticking To Commitment On Taxes

Robert Gibbs walked back the comments of top economic advisers that suggested the administration was open to broad-based tax increases, saying at his daily press briefing today that President Obama stands by promises he made in the campaign.

"The president was clear during the campaign about his commitment on not raising taxes on middle class families," he told reporters. "I don't think any economist would believe that in the environment we're in, raising taxes on middle class families would make any sense, and the president agrees."

Asked about Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's and National Economic Council chief Larry Summers' seeming refusal to rule out such tax increases, Gibbs said that while he hadn't seen the comments, he thinks based on transcripts that "they allowed themselves to get into a little bit of a hypothetical back-and-forth."

"The president has made a very clear commitment to not raise taxes on middle class families, period," he repeated.

Continue reading "Gibbs Says Obama Sticking To Commitment On Taxes" »

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.

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.

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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.

    Continue reading "16 "Teachable" Moments" »

    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.

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

    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

    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?"

    Continue reading "At Health Care Event, Obama Defends Stimulus" »

    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."

    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."

    Continue reading "Scenes From The White House: WNBA Champs Honored" »

    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.

    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.

    Continue reading "Obama Discusses Race Relations at Daily Press Briefing" »

    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.)

    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."

    Continue reading "Presidential Presser: First Take" »

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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."

    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.

    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.

    Continue reading "State Unemployment Grows As Summers Hails "Remarkable" Progress" »

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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 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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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."

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.).

    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."

    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.

    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.

    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.

    Continue reading "Obama: I Trust Medvedev" »

    The White House's $172,000 Men (And Women)

    The White House has submitted to Congress its annual list of staff salaries, which shows more of President Obama's top lieutenants earning top dollar.

    The information lists salary information for 455 White House employees, with the average salary clocking in at $77,320. The median wage is $62,000, which means that as many employees earn more than that as earn less. Fifty-one staffers earn the minimum, $36,000, while 22 earn the maximum: $172,200. That list includes the marquee names of the Obama West Wing, including chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, press secretary Robert Gibbs, senior adviser David Axelrod, and 28-year-old head of speechwriting Jon Favreau (full list after the jump). All told 123 employees, about one in four, earned six-figures.

    For comparison sake, 447 staffers in the Bush administration in 2008 earned an average of $74,257, with the median wage being $55,400. A White House official said that unlike past years, the Obama administration is including the salary information for members of the National Economic Council and Domestic Policy Council.

    Continue reading "The White House's $172,000 Men (And Women)" »

    Obama Promises To Do More For GLBT Community

    At a reception in the East Room this afternoon, President Obama acknowledged some dissatisfaction in the GLBT community over his administration's record so far.

    "I know that many in this room don't believe that progress has come fast enough," he told about 300 guests, according to a pool report. "We have made progress, and we will make more."

    Obama asked the audience to judge him by the promises his administration keeps, and said that by the time he leaves office, he thinks they will have "pretty good feelings about the Obama administration."

    He also listed what he said were his accomplishments so far, including the recent order extending benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees. He also listed urging Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, though the administration has come under fire for the language in a DOMA brief filed by the Justice Department.

    Has Obama Found A Church?

    Time reported this morning that President Obama would be following the example of former President George W. Bush and not select a church in Washington, DC, but instead worship in private at Evergreen Chapel at Camp David. A number of reasons were given, including this:

    White House aides say that security measures required by the Secret Service have become stricter since 9/11 and would cause significant delays for parishioners -- and at significant cost to taxpayers -- on Sunday mornings. Given Obama's popularity within the African-American community, the President also worried that if he chose a local black congregation, church members would find themselves competing with sightseers for space in the pews.

    But CBN's David Brody quotes deputy press secretary Jen Psaki in reporting that Time may have been premature.

    "The President and First Family continue to look for a church home. They have enjoyed worshipping at Camp David and several other congregations over the months, and will choose a church at the time that is best for their family."

    White House Mum On Sanford

    Gov. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) was one of the most high-profile critics of the stimulus bill, leading a charge among Republican governors to reject funds allocated to state governments. So I asked today whether President Obama has been following the developments this week, after his "disappearance" and then admission of an extramarital affair.

    "I'm sure he's read it in the paper but he's not given me any particular reaction to it," press secretary Robert Gibbs said at today's briefing.

    Gibbs did face several questions about the death of pop icon Michael Jackson -- a topic his spokesperson said he was surprised reporters did not bring up personally at today's press availability with Obama. The president told him that he thought Jackson "was a spectacular performer and a music icon."

    "I think everybody remembers hearing his songs, watching him moonwalk on television during Motown's 25th anniversary," Gibbs said. "But the president also said, look, he had aspects of his life that were sad and tragic. And his condolences went out to the Jackson family and to the fans that mourned his loss."

    Remember Iraq?

    President Obama was also asked today about a recent uptick in violence in Iraq, ahead of a June 30 deadline for U.S. forces to withdraw from major cities there. The issue has been largely under the radar as the administration and press have focused on Iran and major domestic policy battles.

    Obama said that any attacks on American forces is of concern, but pointed to what he said was a positive "overall trend" toward decreasing violence.

    "Despite some of these high-profile bombings, Iraq's security situation has continued to dramatically improve," he said.

    Still, he said there is "still some work to do," particularly by Iraq's own government in strengthening its own security and making progress on political disputes.

    "I haven't seen as much political progress in Iraq, negotiations between the Sunni, the Shia, and the Kurds, as I would like to see," he said.

    The president caught himself as he at first said there "are always going to be" incidents of violence in Iraq, quickly changing to say there "will continue to be" violence there for some time. The greatest challenges ahead will not be from al Qaida, he added, but in brokering agreements among the three ethnic groups in Iraq.

    "If those issues get resolved, then I think you will see a further normalization of the security atmosphere inside of Iraq," he said.

    Obama And Merkel Talk Iran, Energy Bill

    It's rare that a foreign leader would weigh in on legislation before Congress, but that's just what happened as German Chancellor Angela Merkel offered support for progress the United States is making on combating climate change.

    Speaking to reporters in the East Room with President Obama after the two held private meetings, Merkel said the cap and trade provisions of the energy bill represent a "sea change" from the United States.

    "That this really points to the fact that the United States is very serious on climate," she said. "The fact that with the United States we stand where we stand today is an enormous success, which I would not have thought possible a year ago," she later added, alluding to differences between the Obama and Bush administrations on this issue.

    Obama looked ahead, saying if passed the legislation "indicates enormous progress from where we have been," but that there is more to be done globally to reduce greenhouse emissions.

    "I'm the first one to acknowledge that the United States, over the last several years, has not been where we need to be," he said. "We're not going to get there all in one fell swoop, but I'm very proud of the progress that's being made, and I think that the energy bill that's being debated in the House is an example of that progress."

    Continue reading "Obama And Merkel Talk Iran, Energy Bill" »

    If A Tree Falls ... Poor Ratings For Health Care Special

    A sign of Obama fatigue? Or maybe a case of bad promotion, a late time slot, and people preferring a warm summer night to the boob tube. Whatever the reason, ABC News' prime time health care town hall forum with President Obama fared poorly in the ratings.

    The Hollywood Reporter:

    The one-hour ABC News special "Primetime: Questions for the President: Prescription for America" (4.7 million viewers, 1.1 preliminary adults 18-49 rating) had the fewest viewers in the 10 p.m. hour. The special tied some 8 p.m. comedy repeats as the lowest-rated program on a major broadcast network.

    (h/t Ben Smith).

    Obama Pushes Congress On "Jobs" Bill

    Since the passage of the stimulus bill in February, we haven't seen President Obama make the kind of last-minute pitch for a piece of legislation that he just made today for an energy bill on the docket in Congress.

    "I can't stress enough the importance of this vote," Obama said in a brief Rose Garden statement.

    He said he expects it to be close, "in part because of the misinformation that's out there that suggests there's somehow a contradiction between investing in clean energy and our economic growth." He said the energy bill is a jobs bill.

    "This legislation will finally make green energy the profitable kind of energy," he said, which will spur new industries that will create new jobs that can't be outsourced.

    "My call to those members of Congress who are still on the fence, as well as to the American people, is this: We cannot be afraid of the future. And we can't be prisoners of the past."

    Obama's First First Pitch: MLB All Star Game

    President Obama will throw out the first pitch at the Mid-Summer Classic, the Major League Baseball All-Star Game on July 14, the White House has just announced.

    It will be the first time Obama has thrown out the first pitch at a baseball game as president. And it should be noted that this year's All-Star Game is in St. Louis in the politically significant state of Missouri.

    The White House press release notes that Major League Baseball "is focused on community service during All-Star Week and throughout the summer in conjunction with the President's call to service through United We Serve."

    Before heading to Busch Stadium, Obama will hold a town hall meeting in the Detroit area. You can be sure the topic will be the auto industry.

    News Conference Reflects Obama's Tentative Style

    At the end of today's press conference, the White House wanted Americans, it seems, to have the impression that President Obama had toughened his rhetoric regarding Iran. But don't dare ask the president whether he's shifted his tone.

    "We've been entirely consistent," he said.

    Obama opened today's afternoon press conference, the fourth solo affair in just over five months, by highlighting "powerful images and poignant words" Americans have witnessed in Iran, paying special tribute to the "courageous women stand[ing] up to the brutality and threats."

    "The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, beatings, and imprisonments of the last few days. I strongly condemn these unjust actions, and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost," Obama said.

    Many, particularly Republicans, had criticized the president for a timid response. And even with stronger language, Obama did continue to walk a fine line by saying that the U.S. "respects the sovereignty" of Iran and is "not at all interfering" in its internal affairs.

    Asked bluntly by Fox's Major Garrett why it took so long to take a stronger stand, Obama bristled.

    "I don't think that's accurate. Track what I've been saying," he said. "My role has been to say the United States is not going to be a foil for the Iranian government to try to blame what's happening on the streets of Tehran on the CIA or on the White House, that this is an issue that is led by and given voice to the frustrations of the Iranian people."

    Simply making these points in the high-profile forum of a presidential news conference gives his views more weight, it should be noted. And in what has to be a first for a presidential news conference, Obama called on the Huffington Post to relay a question directly from an Iranian citizen, who asked under what circumstances the U.S. might accept the result of an election there.

    Continue reading "News Conference Reflects Obama's Tentative Style" »

    FIFA Head Says Obama To Attend World Cup

    President Obama will attend the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, FIFA President Sepp Blatter has announced. Reuters reports:

    President Obama, whose late father was Kenyan, has indicated he will attend the event on June 11 next year when the first World Cup to be staged on African soil begins.

    Blatter told a media briefing: "The World Cup in Africa will go well, there is no doubt. And the man who said, 'Yes we can do it,' will be there. President Obama has accepted an invitation to the opening ceremony. Of course the schedule of heads of state can change, but he has said he will be there if he can."

    Obama will make his second trip to Africa as president next month when he visits Ghana. The announcement comes as the United States national team surprisingly advanced in to the semifinals of the Confederations Cup, also in South Africa, with a 3-0 win over Egypt yesterday.

    UPDATE: Press secretary Robert Gibbs, a former goalie, says that the president has committed to meet with Blatter, but had not definitively scheduled a trip to South Africa just yet.

    Obama On Health Care: "Yes We Can"

    After a weekend when lawmakers from both parties expressed doubts about the health care reform effort, President Obama returned to a tried and true slogan to cast away doubts.

    "To those in Washington who have grown accustomed to sky is falling prognoses and the certainties that we cannot get this done, I have to revive an old saying we had from the campaign: Yes we can," Obama proclaimed this morning. "We are going to get this done."

    The White House is eager this week to recapture momentum on the health care front at a time when the American people, not just lawmakers, are expressing skepticism. Returning to another successful tactic, Obama will also hold an extended press conference in the Rose Garden tomorrow afternoon, the first such session since a prime time event on his 100th day in office.

    Obama's statement of confidence came during an announcement of a deal with pharmaceutical companies to cut costs of prescription drugs in the Medicare program, closing the so-called "donut hole." The president said the deal, endorsed by AARP, was a "significant breakthrough on the road to health care reform."

    He also praised members of the House who introduced a preliminary health care bill last week, and said he would continue to work closely with the relevant committee chairman, as well as (notably) Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Ct.), "and members of both parties who are willing to commit themselves to this critical task."

    Tip Your Waitresses

    The White House is teasing some of the president's comedy routine at tonight's Radio and Television Correspondents Association dinner. Targets: Rahm, the state of the journalism industry, and of course, a fly. Enjoy:

    I want to thank you for this opportunity to tell all the jokes that weren't funny enough for me to use when we did this five weeks ago.

    ...

    In Egypt, we had the opportunity to tour the pyramids. And by now I'm sure you've all seen the pictures of Rahm on that camel. I admit, I was a little nervous about the whole situation. I said at the time, "This is a wild animal known to bite, kick, and spit. And who knows what the camel could do?"

    ...

    Of course, most of my attention has been focused back home. As you know, we've been working around the clock on to repair our major financial institutions and our auto companies. But you probably wouldn't understand the concept of troubled industries, working as you do in radio and television.

    ...

    One problem we're trying to solve is the high cost of health care in America. And I'm pleased that in our quest to reform the health care system, I have gained the support of the American Medical Association. It proves true the old expression that it's easier to catch flies with honey. And if honey doesn't work, feel free to use an open palm and a swift, downward wrist motion.

    White House Message Unchanged On Iran

    Even in the wake of the Supreme Leader's comments this morning shutting down hope of a revote in Iran, the White House is sticking to its restrained message. Press secretary Robert Gibbs just said moments ago that the U.S. won't be lured into Iran's political debate.

    "The president has been clear on what he believes, that he believes strongly that people should have their voices heard," he said. "We're not going to be used as political foils and political footballs in a debate that's happening by Iranians in Iran. There are many people in the leadership that would love us to get involved, and love to trot out the same old foils that they have for years. that's not what we're going to do."

    Woodward At The White House

    As yours truly was leaving the White House a short time ago, I spotted famed Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward at the Northwest Gate making his way on to the grounds.

    "I'm Bob Woodward, and I have an appointment," he politely told the Secret Service agent, before being buzzed into the security shed.

    The New Republic reported just yesterday that administration officials were concerned about Woodward's plans to write a book about the inner workings of the new West Wing team, and that White House counsel Greg Craig has circulated memos dictating protocol for dealing with writers "researching books and articles on the White House."

    Officially, the White House says it is not adopting a press strategy to respond to Woodward. Ben LaBolt, an Obama spokesman, wrote in an e-mail that the Craig memo "was not issued in relation to any inquiry related to a specific reporter or author." Still, there is reason to think that Woodward might make the administration particularly anxious.

    One reason: "Obama's White House is known to hate process stories, exactly the sort of exhaustive, in-the-room descriptions of high-level debates at which Woodward excels," TNR notes.

    No word on who Woodward was meeting with.

    Gibbs: WH Not Picking Candidate In Illinois Senate Race

    At today's White House briefing, the Chicago Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet followed up on her report that Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan came to the White House to discuss a potential candidacy for the state's Senate seat. Sweet reported that the White House "is pushing to have" Madigan run, and that she offered some conditions she would want before making a decision, including a clear primary field.

    Today, Gibbs tried to make clear that the administration wants no part in primary politics, though his answer lead many to believe otherwise.

    "The president is not going to pick a candidate in the Illinois Senate race," Gibbs said. "The president has a very long relationship with the attorney general dating back to their time in the state Senate, and has enormous respect for what she accomplished there and as attorney general. I think she'd be a terrific candidate. But we're not going to get involved in picking that candidate."

    Why then praise her in that way, if the White House truly did not plan to get involved?

    "We're not picking a candidate. We're not going to endorse in this race," he repeated. "Does the president have enormous respect for the attorney general? Absolutely."

    But are administration officials working to facilitate a Madigan run?

    "The staff assistants aren't going to pick a candidate, the assistants to the president aren't going to pick a candidate, and the president's not going to pick a candidate," Gibbs said.

    He later said that the "president enjoyed meeting" with Madigan, and that if any other potential candidate wanted to meet with him, "The address is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."

    NBC/WSJ Poll: Indies Souring On Obama?

    Few polls can sway conventional wisdom like the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll does. So be on the lookout for a host of stories that question whether the Obama shine has begun to wear off, and the host of tough decisions he's made start taking their toll.

    The new poll out tonight shows that President Obama still has a strong approval rating, 56 percent. But it's down from the previous survey, just before his 100th day.

    Obama Job Performance
    Approve 56 (-5)
    Disapprove 34 (+4)
    Not Sure 10 (+1)

    The real warning sign seems to be the president's drop in support from independent voters. In April, these respondents backed Obama 60-31 percent. Now, that margin is much closer: 46-44 percent.

    Still, 60 percent say Obama is focused in taking on many different issues, while 37 percent think he has too much on his plate. On some of those issues, 46 percent say they are confident in the policies he's pursuing on the economy, while 53 percent say they're only somewhat or not at all confident. 48 percent support his decision to eliminate waterboarding, compared to 41 who oppose. By a 52-39 percent margin, voters oppose his decision to close Guantanamo Bay, and 56 percent of voters also oppose the General Motors bailout, compared to 35 percent who support it.

    White House Reacts To Former Senate Leaders' Health Care Plan

    Today, former Senate Majority Leaders Daschle, Dole and Baker released their own draft of a health care plan. As noted in the Strategy Memo this morning, the plan calls for a mandate that individuals have insurance, fees for companies that do not provide coverage for employers, and taxing benefits.

    The White House released this fairly neutral statement on the plan from Robert Gibbs:

    "The Bipartisan Policy Center, led by three distinguished former Senate Majority Leaders, has produced a serious and detailed proposal for health reform that reinforces the importance of the President's core principles: lowering costs for families, businesses and governments; guaranteeing choice of doctors and plans; ensuring quality and affordable health care for all Americans, and adhering to fiscal discipline that does not add to the deficit.

    "This group of extraordinarily experienced legislators agree with the President that health reform must be enacted this year because the status quo -- skyrocketing health care costs, rising premiums, swelling deficits - is unsustainable. With this report, they have demonstrated what can be achieved with bipartisan effort. The Bipartisan Policy Center has produced a significant report, and the White House applauds their efforts."

    White House: Coburn Stimulus Report "Flat Out Wrong"

    The White House responded to Sen. Tom Coburn's (R-Okla.) critical look at the stimulus program, calling the conservative senator's report "flat out wrong."

    The administration has released a point-by-point rebuttal to the 100 so-called wasteful projects that Coburn sited. In some cases, it outlines a claim as "FALSE," or more often, there is a detailed response defending the project or explaining how errors were corrected. On some of the more controversial expenditures, like the $800,000 allocated for repaving a backup runway at John Murtha Airport, the report says simply that the project is "still under review."

    "This President has taken historic steps to ensure that there is adequate transparency, and that this money is spent the way it's intended to be used," press secretary Robert Gibbs said today. "I think the report appears to be, in many, many cases, just flat out wrong."

    Ed DeSeve, a senior advisor to the president for Recovery Act Implementation, concedes in a statement that among 20,000 projects approved, "there are bound to be some mistakes." "When we find them, we have been transparent about it, and worked on a bipartisan basis to shut them down immediately," he said.

    DeSeve adds that if there are "problematic projects" in Coburn's report, they will be addressed "immediately."

    "But much of this seems to be little more than an objection to the Recovery Act itself, which Sen. Coburn opposed. As state officials in Sen. Coburn's own home state have noted, 'We have people working today who would not have jobs if the stimulus package hadn't passed,'" he said.

    President Sends Fundraising Pitch For Health Care

    For what may be the first time in his presidency, Barack Obama has sent an e-mail fundraising appeal to members of the Organizing for America database seeking financial help in promoting his health care effort. He compares the push for reform to his own uphill battle for the presidency.

    "The campaign to pass real health care reform in 2009 is the biggest test of our movement since the election," he writes. "Once again, victory is far from certain. Our opposition will be fierce, and they have been down this road before. To prevail, we must once more build a coast-to-coast operation ready to knock on doors, deploy volunteers, get out the facts, and show the world how real change happens in America."

    There's no specific dollar amount requested, just "whatever you can afford." Full e-mail is after the jump.

    Continue reading "President Sends Fundraising Pitch For Health Care" »

    Obama Defends Muted Iran Response

    President Obama held his first Rose Garden press conference today, a "two-and-two" with the president of South Korea. As expected, most questions focused on tensions with North Korea. But as the president prepared to leave, reporters shouted after him to discuss Iran.

    At first, he joked that he had just spoke about it "seven or eight hours ago." But perhaps aware of high-profile calls for the president to make a stronger statement of support for those protesting what many believe is a flawed outcome, Obama explained his caution at saying more.

    "It's not productive, given the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling -- the U.S. president meddling in Iranian elections," he said. "What I will repeat and what I said yesterday is that when I see violence directed at peaceful protesters, when I see peaceful dissent being suppressed, wherever that takes place, it is of concern to me and it is of concern to the American people."

    He added that he hopes the Iranian government will take "the right steps" to allow demonstrators to continue expressing their views, and again praised what he sees as a growing push for openness there.

    "I do believe that something has happened in Iran where there is a questioning of the kinds of antagonistic postures toward the international community," he said. "How that plays out over the next several days and several weeks is something ultimately for the Iranian people to decide. But I stand strongly with the universal principle that people's voices should be heard and not suppressed."

    On the issue of North Korea, Obama explained the rationale for new, tougher sanctions.

    "There has been a pattern in the past where North Korea behaves in a belligerent fashion, and if it waits long enough is then rewarded," he said. "The message we're sending - and when I say we, not simply the United States and Republic of Korea, but I think the international community - is we are going to break that pattern."

    The goal is to welcome North Korea back to the international community, he said. "But belligerent provocative behavior that threatens neighbors will be met with significant, serious enforcement of sanctions that are in place."

    Obama: Troubled By Violence At Iran Protests, Inspired By Turnout

    President Obama has finally commented publicly on the Iranian elections, saying that Americans are "rightfully troubled" by the violence that has occurred at protests since disputed results were announced.

    Speaking in the Oval Office, Obama did not himself question results, noting that there were no U.S. or international observers monitoring the vote. "But what I can say is that there appears to be a sense on the part of people who were so hopeful and so engaged and so committed to democracy who now feel betrayed. And I now think it's important that moving forward, whatever investigations take place are done in a way that is not resulting in bloodshed and is not resulting in people being stifled in expressing their views," he said.

    Obama also sent this message to the Iranian people: "I would say to them that the world is watching and inspired by their participation, regardless of what the ultimate outcome of the election was. They should know that the world is watching. And particularly to the youth of Iran, I want them to know that we in the United States do not want to make any decisions for the Iranians, but we do think the Iranian people and their voices should be heard and respected."

    The president signaled that he's prepared to continue pursuing "tough, hard-headed diplomacy" whoever is in power.

    "Specifically, making sure that we are not seeing a nuclear arms race in the middle east triggered by Iran obtaining a nuclear weapons, [and] making sure that Iran is not exporting terrorist activity," he said. "Those are core interests not just to the United States but I think to a peaceful world in general."

    Fox News Poll: Obama Not Tough Enough On Iran

    As protests over the Iranian elections continue, the White House continues to take a cautious approach.

    "Obviously we continue to have concern about what we've seen," Robert Gibbs told reporters earlier today on Air Force One. "Obviously the Iranians are looking into this, as well. We continue to be heartened by the enthusiasm of young people in Iran. But I think what's important is the concerns that we have about their nuclear weapons program, and the concern we have about their support for terror isn't any different than it was on Friday."

    President Obama himself is expected to make a statement shortly when he meets with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in the Oval Office. A new Fox News poll finds that most Americans think he needs to take a tougher line, with 66 percent saying he has not been tough enough. Only 5 percent say he's been to tough, while 17 percent say his approach is "about right." A similar majority feels Obama needs to be tougher on North Korea as well.

    The poll does find that a solid majority -- 55 percent of Americans feel that Obama's speech in Cairo was "necessary to build a bridge with Muslims." About one third, 36 percent, say it was an "inappropriate apology to the Muslim World."

    The poll was conducted June 9-10 surveying 900 registered voters, and had a margin of error +/- 3 percent

    Raising Health Care Stakes, Obama Defends Public Option

    President Obama made the case for significant health care reform before a skeptical organization of physicians today, balancing assurances to the American people with dire warnings about what could happen without reform.

    "The cost of our health care is a threat to our economy," he said. "It's an escalating burden on our families and businesses. It's a ticking time bomb for the federal budget. And it is unsustainable for the United States of America."

    When the president was selling his stimulus plan months ago, he offered a similarly gloomy picture of what could happen if the bill didn't pass, saying once that the economy might never recover. Today he said the United States could go the way of General Motors: "paying more, getting less, and going broke."

    "When it comes to the cost of our health care, then, the status quo is unsustainable," he said at the Chicago gathering in what was the longest speech of his presidency to date.

    Continue reading "Raising Health Care Stakes, Obama Defends Public Option" »

    In Iowa, Huckabee Calls For "Clarity Of Conservative Principles"

    On his third visit to Iowa since winning the caucuses last year, Mike Huckabee sounded an optimistic note during an interview with Radio Iowa's O. Kay Henderson.

    "A lot of people are wringing their hands and acting like it's the end of the world. I see things quite differently," he said. "I think there's a lot of excitement. People are reminded that when we stand for something, we win. It's when we get mushy and squishy -- that's when we lose and people are beginning to realize that."

    Huckabee said there needs to be "a clarity of conservative principles," and said he was "stunned when I saw many people who pretended to be conservative who went out there and supported everything from the TARP bill to the bailouts."

    "There's nothing conservative about that," he said.

    Asked about his organization in Iowa for a potential 2012 run, Huckabee said there's nothing formal yet. He's focused now on helping individual candidates like Bob Vander Plaats, who's seeking the governorship in the Hawkeye State. "We'll certainly see many of the people who helped us get back into the fray for him, and I'm certainly hoping for that," he said.

    From Stimulus To Paygo

    One day after announcing a ramping up of spending, President Obama today focused on efforts in his administration and by the Democrats in Congress to reinstitute fiscal discipline through the use of "paygo" rules.

    "It is no coincidence that this rule was in place when we moved from record deficits to record surpluses in the 1990s - and that when this rule was abandoned, we returned to record deficits that doubled the national debt," he said in the East Room, speaking to an audience of Blue Dog Democrats.

    When advised, the event was said to be focused on the role of paygo rules in entitlement reform. But the president only mentioned it briefly in that context: "Entitlement increases and tax cuts need to be paid for," he said. "Paying for what you spend is basic common sense. Perhaps that's why, here in Washington, it has been so elusive."

    Instead, Obama used the event to rattle off a series of initiatives already announced that the White House has said will put a dent in the nation's deficit. He repeated that within four years, the deficit will be halved - though he did not address longer-term projections that show it increasing beyond one term.

    He also announced that in the first round of TARP fund repayments, the government will turn a slight profit and the debt will drop $68 billion. He cautioned that there may be "some losses to the taxpayers" as other financial institutions repay government funds, however.

    Continue reading "From Stimulus To Paygo" »

    Obama: Building On "Modest" Recovery Efforts, Time To "Accelerate"

    The White House is in relaunch mode today, arguing at the same time that the stimulus program is working but that more needs to be done.

    President Obama, in a meeting with the Cabinet today, said that unemployment figures released last Friday were actually promising, coming below expectations and continuing a downward trend in monthly job losses. Obama called it "modest progress" that he wants to build upon during the summer months.

    "I'm not satisfied. We've got more work to do," he said. Thanking the secretaries for their initial efforts in their own departments, he added: "Now we're in a position to really accelerate."

    As had been widely reported, the White House wants to "create or save" 600,000 jobs this summer. Obama also repeated the goal of ensuring a transparent program, "so that taxpayers know this money is not being wasted on a bunch of boondoggles," he said, tapping his pencil on the table. "I think that sometimes good news comes in what you don't hear about, and you haven't heard a bunch of scandals -- knock on wood so far."

    Of course, Biden said last week: "Some people are being scammed already." Seated next to Obama today, he announced new efforts to ensure a successful program. "We want them knowing that what we're doing is fully transparent, we're fully accountable, and we want them to watch us closely, and we want their input. We want them to tell us whether they think it's working or not working and how it's affecting them," he said.

    Republicans are reacting on today's event by saying it's an acknowledgment that the White House's economic efforts have failed. "Today, the White House confirmed that the Democrat economic stimulus bill is simply not creating the jobs President Obama promised. Simply put, the White House spin doesn't square with reality," chairman Michael Steele said in an RNC release.

    Obama Transcript: A New Beginning

    Here's the full transcript of President Obama's speech in Cairo today, with our emphasis in bold.

    For the record, the speech was over 6,000 words, and ran 55 minutes long. The transcript reflects it was interrupted for applause 42 times.

    Continue reading "Obama Transcript: A New Beginning" »

    Long Meeting, Short Statement

    The White House statement on President Obama's meeting with King Abdullah is all of 77 words, even though the meeting reportedly went much longer than expected. Here it is:

    Readout of The President's Meeting with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia

    President Obama and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia met today and discussed a wide range of issues including Middle East peace, the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, energy, Iran and other matters affecting the region. The President and the King also discussed the President's upcoming speech to the Muslim world. The President and King pledged to remain in close contact in order to continue to make progress on these and other issues central to the US-Saudi relationship.

    Leach, A Republican Obama Backer, Gets Admin Post

    For the second day in a row, President Obama is appointing a Republican to a plum administration post. The White House just announced that former Rep. Jim Leach, an Iowa Republican who lost his seat in an upset in 2006, will be appointed chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

    Leach endorsed Obama in the 2008 campaign, heading up the "Republicans for Obama" committee. He also spoke at the convention in Denver. Some thought Leach would be tapped as the ambassador to China, a post that went to another Republican, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.

    "I am confident that with Jim as its head, the National Endowment for the Humanities will continue on its vital mission of supporting the humanities and giving the American public access to the rich resources of our culture. Jim is a valued and dedicated public servant and I look forward to working with him in the months and years ahead," Obama says in a statement.

    The NEH is "an independent grant-making agency of the United States government dedicated to supporting research, education, preservation, and public programs in the humanities."

    Biden Watch: Freelancing, And Waste

    Today at a roundtable in New York City, Vice President Biden admitted that some stimulus money is being wasted.

    "There are going to be mistakes made," said Biden, referred to as "The Sheriff" at the White House. "Some people are being scammed already."

    The remarks, reported by Reuters, were not included in a transcript provided by the White House. Transcripts of all of the president's public statements are sent to reporters, but the Vice President's office only sent Biden's opening remarks at the event.

    He did spend considerable time on the positive impact of the stimulus plan, however, noting that 14,000 teachers in New York City were still employed because of Recovery Act Dollars. "It's a big deal," he said.

    In other Biden news, the veep spoke at a fundraiser for the DNC in New York last night. According to a pool report, Biden had great praise for embattled Gov. David Paterson, calling him the "once and future" governor of New York. Today, Robert Gibbs was asked if the statement constituted an endorsement, or if he was "freelancing."

    "I have not seen the remarks, but let me go see if I can find that, and see what the context is," Gibbs said.

    Gibbs: WH Wouldn't Stop GM From Outsourcing

    Yesterday, reporters could not get a straight answer when they pressed Robert Gibbs to explain who the White House might act if a new General Motors board wanted to act in a way that might be contrary to the administration's goals. Today, the press secretary was posed with such a hypothetical: what if GM could save money by outsourcing jobs to China? Would President Obama, who promised the company would make more cars in the United States, allow that as the company's majority shareholder?

    "Yes," Gibbs answered simply.

    He had said that the administration would be involved with choosing the new board. "But business decisions are going to be made by General Motors - I don't want to get involved with making those business decisions for them."

    Again, he explained, the ultimate goal was to put the company on sound footing as soon as possible, so that the government can get out of the car business.

    "They'll be free to make a series of decisions as a new car company in a new auto world," he said.

    Gallup: 54% Approve of Sotomayor Nomination

    A new USA Today/Gallup poll finds Americans' initial support for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor "similar to what Gallup initially found for past nominees who were confirmed by the Senate, including Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Samuel Alito. Americans were slightly more positive toward John Roberts' nomination."

    For Sotomayor, 54% approve of her nomination, while 24% are not in favor of it and 19% have no opinion.

    SuprCrtNomsIntlSpprt.jpg

    NBC Goes "Inside The Obama White House"

    NBC has released several sneak peaks of tonight's "Inside The White House" special, including this look at President Obama interacting with his new puppy, Bo.

    Meanwhile, former RNC press secretary Alex Conant wonders why the press isn't scrutinizing this prime-time series the same way it did when the Bush administration welcomed NBC cameras inside the White House.

    "After that show, other media heavily criticized the network for producing what resulted in a very positive portrayal of a wartime President," Conant writes, linking to articles questioning whether administration officials artificially beefed up the president's schedule. "To be clear, the Obama White House similarly 'pumped up' the Obamas' schedule last Friday, when NBC filmed the latest special. To wit: Michelle Obama visited an elementary school, while the President met with his National Economic Council staff (in addition to his daily economic briefing), delivered remarks on cyber security, visited FEMA for a briefing, and found time to stop by Five Guys to get burgers."

    Robert Gibbs denied on Friday that the burger trip, at least, was planned for the benefit of the peacock crews.

    Check out more clips from the special after the jump:

    Continue reading "NBC Goes "Inside The Obama White House"" »

    Another Republican Joins Obama Administration

    The White House just announced some updates on today's schedule, giving the day an additional bipartisan flair.

    President Obama will announce his choice to be Secretary of the Army. A White House spokesperson confirms that it will be Rep. John McHugh, one of three remaining Republican Congressmen from New York. McHugh is currently the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee

    First elected in 1992, McHugh now represents the 23rd Congressional District, covering much of Northern New York. The district leans slightly Republican, meaning Democrats could potentially pick up another seat in a special election.

    Also, the White House has announced that former first lady Nancy Reagan will join Obama as he signs the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission Act.

    Tiller, Abortion Not Addressed In Daily Press Briefing

    Today's press briefing with Robert Gibbs was dominated by questions about General Motors. And as exasperated as the press secretary seemed at times, he may have preferred that topic to the hot-button social issue of abortion, propelled into the headlines by yesterday's murder of late-term abortion provider George Tiller.

    A quick count of the questions today finds that 52 were focused on the GM bankruptcy, while no other topic was asked about more than a handful of times. There were two on the president's "date night" trip to New York on Saturday, two more on his visit to Saudi Arabia, and four questions on a suspicious package that resulted in a lockdown of the White House grounds, among other topics (the exact count may vary depending on how you count follow ups and quick back-and-forths).

    But not a single question about Tiller specifically, or abortion more broadly. The specter of social issues returning to the forefront -- especially as the administration seeks a smooth confirmation for Judge Sotomayor on the Supreme Court -- was a hot topic this morning, making it that much more puzzling as to why it didn't come up.

    Continue reading "Tiller, Abortion Not Addressed In Daily Press Briefing" »

    White House Officially Nominates Sotomayor

    The White House officially sent the Senate today the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor for associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. The administration also released a list of senators Sotomayor will meet with tomorrow in her first official trip to Capitol Hill. From the White House press release:

    On Tuesday June 2nd, Judge Sotomayor will visit Capitol Hill to meet with the following Senators:

    Majority Leader Reid
    Republican Leader McConnell
    Senator Leahy
    Senator Sessions
    Assistant Majority Leader Durbin
    Assistant Republican Leader Kyl
    Senator Schumer
    Senator Hatch
    Senator Feinstein
    Senator Gillibrand

    Obama Defends Government Role In GM

    Calling the federal government a "reluctant stakeholder" in General Motors, President Obama said he's confident that by taking the right steps, bankruptcy could be just a minor bump in the road for the iconic American brand.

    "It's not just any company we're talking about," Obama said after attempting to justify the dramatic steps being taken. "If well managed, a new GM will emerge that can provide a new generation of Americans with a chance to live out their dreams, that can out-compete automakers around the world, and that can once again be an integral part of America's economic future. And when that happens, we can truly say that what is good for General Motors and all who work there is good for the United States of America."

    Obama, speaking in the Grand Foyer surrounded by members of the Cabinet and top economic advisers, actually said that the quick bankruptcy of Chrysler shows that government action can be successful.

    "[Some experts] predicted that Chrysler's decision to enter bankruptcy would lead to an immediate collapse in consumer confidence that would send car sales over a cliff. They were wrong," he said. "Chrysler sold more cars in May than it did in April, in part because consumers were comforted by our extraordinary commitment."

    The president repeatedly spoke of his administration's reluctance in taking what he said would be a 60 percent ownership stake in the company, requiring the commitment of billions of additional dollars. And despite that majority stake, he said the government would largely let a new board call the shots, while also promising the company would be making more fuel efficient cars.

    "There are a number of principles that are going to govern our behavior as a shareholder in this company and others, one of which is no involvement in day-to-day business matters," a senior administration official told reporters last night. "That will be a continuing principle for us."

    Gibbs: Sotomayor's Word Choice "Poor"

    At the tail end of a more than hour-long press briefing White House press secretary made a stunning admission about the administration's Supreme Court pick while discussing her controversial 2001 speech.

    "I think she'd say that her word choice in 2001 was poor," Gibbs said of Sonia Sotomayor's argument that a "wise Latina woman" would reach better conclusions than white men. "She was simply making the point that personal experiences are relevant to the process of judgment, that your personal experiences have a tendency to make you more aware of certain facts in certain cases, that your experiences impact your understanding. I think we'd all agree with that."

    Gibbs then tried to compare her comment to remarks from now-Justice Samuel Alito during his confirmation hearing, when he said that while hearing cases involving immigrants, "I can't help but think of my own ancestors, because it wasn't long ago that they were in that position."

    "I think if she had the speech to do it all over again, I think she'd change that word," Gibbs said.

    Asked how he came to that conclusion, Gibbs said he has been told as much from people Sotomayor has spoken with.

    A moment earlier, Gibbs had responded to a new attack from Rush Limbaugh, who compared Sotomayor to David Duke.

    "I don't think you have to be the nominee to find what was said today offensive," he said, pointing as well to other Republicans who have recently condemned Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich's claims that she's a racist. "It's sort of hard to completely quantify the outrage I think almost anybody would feel at the notion that you're being compared to somebody who used to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan."

    The Man Likes His Burgers With Mustard

    President Obama again headed outside of the White House grounds for a cheeseburger lunch, this time heading to a Five Guys near the Nationals Ballpark in Southeast DC. Joining him was the usual protective pool of reporters, as well as an NBC television crew filming the president's every movement today for a prime-time special next week.

    "I need one cheeseburger and one fries for me. Jalapeno, tomato, mustard. That's it for me," Obama said at the counter, later adding a request for lettuce.

    Full pool report, from USA Today's David Jackson, is after the jump.

    Continue reading "The Man Likes His Burgers With Mustard" »

    Obama: Now Or Never On Healthcare

    On a conference call organized through Organizing For America, the president lays down the marker on health care reform. Per the Associated Press:

    WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama says that if Congress doesn't deliver health care legislation this year, it will never happen.

    Obama on Thursday told his re-election campaign-in-waiting that volunteers must pressure lawmakers to support the White House's goal on health care -- or else the opportunity would be forever lost. He says delay is unacceptable.

    Obama's political organization, Organizing for America, plans a nationwide June 6 kickoff to pressure lawmakers and demonstrate support.

    RNC Bashes WH Stimulus Report

    Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele issued a statement of rebuke a mere 20 minutes after the White House released its "100 Days, 100 Projects" report on the 100th day since President Obama signed the economic stimulus package.

    "In the Obama administration the word 'report' must be code for 'PR,' " Steele said. "One hundred days after spending $787 billion of the taxpayers' money, President Obama is touting a second progress 'report' on the stimulus bill to convince voters his reckless spending plan is working. Let's be clear: 100 projects, nearly $1 trillion spent, and 1 million jobs lost doesn't sound like progress to me. The Obama administration may believe its own spin, but American families want jobs and to keep more of what they earn, not another 'report.' "

    According to the report, "In the first 100 days since President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law, we have obligated more than $112 billion, created more than 150,000 jobs."

    Republicans, though, would like to keep the focus on the current job numbers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported at the beginning of the month that 539,000 jobs were lost in April, increasing the unemployment rate from 8.5 percent to 8.9 percent.

    Obama To Announce SCOTUS Pick Today

    A White House official confirms that President Obama will announce his choice to replace Justice David Souter this morning at 10:15 am.

    UPDATE: AP reports that the choice is Judge Sonia Sotomayor of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. The White House now announces that the pick will be made in the East Room.

    Obama Reinforces Security Message At Annapolis

    President Obama again made his case that closing Guantanamo Bay is the right move, saying that Americans "reject the false choice between our security and our ideals."

    "As our national debate on how to deal with the security challenge that we face proceeds, we must remember this enduring truth: The values and ideals in those documents are not simply words written into aging parchment, they are the bedrock of our liberty and our security," Obama told the graduating class at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. "We uphold our fundamental principles and values not just because we choose to, but because we swear to; not because they feel good, but because they help keep us safe and keep us true to who we are."

    Obama's third and final commencement speech was, by tradition, at one of the military service academies. And there, the commander in chief also promised only to send these men and women into battle "when it is absolutely necessary, and with the strategy and the well-defined goals, the equipment and the support that you need to get the job done."

    He also payed special tribute to the work of Navy SEA