Anti-terror storyline to be supplanted by jobs, health-care reform
By Ben Pershing
The terrorism storyline that has dominated political headlines since Christmas Day will likely be off the front page soon, as President Obama took responsibility Thursday for intelligence failures and the economy and health care return to prominence.
Obama on Thursday "ordered intelligence agencies to take a series of steps to streamline how terrorism threats are pursued and analyzed," the New York Times reports, also calling for new passenger-screening equipment at airports as well as changes to the State Department's visa policies. The Wall Street Journal calls Obama's statement "his strongest and most detailed response to the Christmas Day attempt to blow up an airliner bound for Detroit." Brian Ross reports: "In a revealing admission, President Barack Obama said today he was directing U.S. intelligence agencies to begin to do something many had assumed they were already doing: '[A]ssigning specific responsibility for investigating all leads on high priority threats so that these leads are pursued and acted upon aggressively.'"
Obama's new orders came after he received the results of a hastily-produced review of the events leading up to the Detroit attempt. The review found that "by concentrating on the strategic threat posed by the al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen and its plans for attacking U.S. targets there, U.S. intelligence agencies failed to focus on the group's preparations for a direct strike in this country," the Washington Post writes. Several outlets emphasize Obama's statement that "the buck stops with me." Politico says "aides to Obama signaled that he was consciously seeking to be the anti-Bush, airing the administration's dirty laundry and stepping up to take his share of the responsibility." The Los Angeles Times notes that Obama "avoided blaming any particular agency or official for the breakdown," that "the remedies he ordered ... mostly were modest steps, and the report ... concluded that another round of sweeping intelligence reorganization 'is not required.'" Newsweek suggests the Christmas incident could even be "a blessing in disguise," since no one was hurt but all these important changes are coming as a result.
So what's next for Obama? Mike Allen writes: "Hours after the 8:30 a.m. December unemployment release, President Obama launches his promised hard pivot to jobs with a 2:40 p.m. 'statement to the press' in the East Room" on using stimulus funds to create new technology jobs. Eric Holder will then give a midday speech in Palm Beach on financial security. In the Senate, The Hill writes, "Democrats are crafting a job creation bill that would boost funding for small businesses, public services, infrastructure projects and energy efficiency programs." The measure will likely be more modest than the House's jobs bill, which was hastily assembled and then barely passed the chamber before December's recess. Financial reform also awaits Congress, and Paul Krugman makes his recommendations for what that measure should accomplish.
On health care, House Democrats assembled on a conference call to plan their negotiating strategy while a handful of key Senators did some strategizing of their own. Politico reports that Ben Nelson is in "serious discussions" with Democratic leaders to extend the same deal he got on Medicaid to other states, a move that would significantly increase the cost of the bill. Roll Call notes that "Nelson has spent the holiday recess trying to explain the provision, even launching a statewide television ad buy to push back against the criticism." Given that, what if the language is dropped altogether from the final bill rather than being expanded? Would Nelson still vote for passage? The senator got some key backing from a fellow Nebraskan Thursday, as Warren Buffet praised Nelson for voting for the Senate bill: ""I think he did the right thing. I think he did the courageous thing."
From the Department of Republican Infighting (open 24/7) comes news that a host of unnamed GOP strategists and donors are once again irritated at Michael Steele, this time for saying Republicans won't win back the House in 2010 and for allegedly spending too much time promoting himself rather than his party. The Los Angeles Times frames the last few days this way: "It seemed like a banner week for Republicans. Two veteran Senate Democrats announced their retirements. Hopes grew for major GOP gains in November's congressional elections. And polls showed the president's popularity at a low ebb. But for Michael Steele, the flamboyant chairman of the Republican National Committee, that was the perfect moment to throw cold water on his party." The Washington Post reports, "Believing that Steele's off-the-cuff remarks threaten to damage the party's brand -- at the very time when Republicans are trying to capitalize on a national political environment that may hurt Democrats -- senior aides to top Republican leaders confronted Steele's staff on a conference call Wednesday." The Washington Times, which got this ball rolling Thursday by reporting on GOP donor concerns, points out that Steele gave two different radio interviews suggesting his critics should fire him or "shut up."
In happier news for the GOP, the Washington Post reports that the party is having some success on the recruiting front: "In races for the House and Senate, Republicans have found credible candidates that range from intriguing first-timers ... to ambitious politicians." ABC News reports on the Tea Party movement, and how its coup against Florida's Republican chairman may be a harbinger of more such revolts to come. Politico surveys the nation's key races with 10 unresolved questions about 2010. Peggy Noonan diagnoses the ills of both parties, writing that "Passage of the health-care bill will be, for the administration, a catastrophic victory," but that Republicans could have a catastrophic victory of their own "if they seize back power without clear purpose, if they are not serious, if they do the lazy and cynical thing by just sitting back and letting the Democrats lose."
January 8, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories: The Rundown
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