Change comes to embattled White House
By Ben Pershing
A president that got elected promising change is making good on that pledge a year into his term, as the weekend brought a new White House political team, Wednesday's State of the Union address will bring a new message, and the coming weeks -- Democrats hope -- will bring a new legislative focus.
"Populist or professor? Contrite or uncompromising? President Obama will have a chance Wednesday to reintroduce himself to the nation," USA Today writes. So which course will he choose? The New York Times offers a preview: "President Obama will propose in his State of the Union address a package of modest initiatives intended to help middle-class families, including tax credits for child care, caps on some student loan payments and a requirement that companies let workers save automatically for retirement, senior administration officials said Sunday." Get ready for a new label: The story says Obama will focus on "'the sandwich generation' -- struggling families squeezed between sending their children to college and caring for elderly parents."
The Los Angeles Times explains why a shift is needed: "With congressional support eroding, his popularity falling and his renomination of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke potentially in trouble, President Obama faces an even more daunting task to save his entire domestic agenda -- convincing millions of angry Americans that his economic policies will bring them a brighter future." The Associated Press ledes, "A politically shaken White House promised Sunday a sharper focus on jobs and the economy, but key advisers were less sure-footed on health care reform," The Washington Times notes that Congress will also shift its focus, as "Democrats hope to release a jobs bill this week or next."
On the personnel front, the big news of the weekend was the formal return of David Plouffe to Team Obama, where he will occupy a still-undefined political role above/below/aside Jim Messina, Patrick Gaspard and the real political director -- Rahm Emanuel. The Fix says "no White House likes to admit mistakes but it's hard not to see the expansion of Plouffe's role as a direct reaction to the party's stunning setback in Massachusetts six days ago." Jake Tapper adds that "other mid-level operatives from the 2008 Obama campaign who helped bring candidate Obama victories in Iowa and in Feb. 5 'Super Tuesday' primary states, will be enlisted to work on campaigns to keep expected Democratic losses to a minimum."
The Washington Post looks at how and where Obama gets his information, finding that he "reveres facts, calling for data and then more data. He looks for historical analogues and reads voraciously. ... Obama is the first truly wired president, the first to have Internet access at his desk and to converse regularly via e-mail." Mark Steyn mocks the idea that Obama needs to communicate more with the public, since "he only gave (according to CBS News's Mark Knoller) 158 interviews and 411 speeches in his first year. That's more than any previous president -- and maybe more than all of them put together. But there may still be some show out there that didn't get its exclusive Obama interview -- I believe the top-rated Grain & Livestock Prices Report -- 4 a.m. Update with Herb Torpormeister on WZZZ-AM Dead Buzzard Gulch Junction's Newstalk Leader is still waiting to hear back from the White House."
On health care, Politico reports that Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi "have begun considering a list of changes to the Senate bill in hopes of making it acceptable to liberal House members, according to sources familiar with the situation. ... The effort also puts Reid and Pelosi on the side of giving a sweeping reform bill one more try, instead of adopting a course being floated by some Democrats in Congress and at the White House of adopting a scaled-back bill including popular reform provisions." The administration seems to favor a different option. The Wall Street Journal writes, "The White House, with its health-care initiative in doubt, on Sunday zeroed in on several elements it hoped would survive, including measures to extend the life of Medicare, lower prescription drug costs for seniors and cap consumers' out-of-pocket medical expenses." Roll Call frames it this way: "Democratic leaders in Congress insist they will pass a health care reform bill. They just have no idea how or when they will do it." The story adds that everyone agrees the onus is on Obama "to referee any negotiations between the House and Senate."
Under the headline, "Pass the Senate Bill, Please," Paul Begala writes to Democrats, "You're going to get the attack anyway, you may as well get the accomplishment. I don't mean to be rude, but if health care is the kiss of death, you've already been kissed." Ross Douthat observes that since Ronald Reagan's days, "nearly every major attempt at reforming the way our government does business has found itself where the Democratic health care bill is now -- losing altitude, shedding supporters and tailspinning toward defeat." He suggests "modesty, simplicity and incrementalism in legislative efforts. You can make big changes to small programs, and small changes to big ones. But comprehensive solutions tend to produce comprehensive resistance."
Is Ben Bernanke out of the woods? The Washington Post says the outlook for Bernanke "brightened over the weekend, as the Obama administration and key senators expressed confidence in his prospects." The Wall Street Journal agrees that "political winds appear to be shifting in" Bernanke's favor, though "confirmation wasn't a certainty. As of late Sunday, 31 senators were publicly committed to voting for Mr. Bernanke, with 17 opposed, according to a Dow Jones Newswires survey." Mitch McConnell predicted Sunday that Bernanke would be confirmed, and Robert Gibbs and David Axelrod did the same. AP warns, "A defeat of ... Bernanke's quest for another four-year term could raise the risk of a 'double dip' recession if political jousting over a successor were to drag on for months, economists warn. ... The chance of Bernanke's defeat has unsettled Wall Street, contributing to last week's 4 percent loss by the Dow Jones industrial average, its worst performance in 10 months. If Bernanke were rejected, uncertainty over a successor would further roil global markets, at least in the short run." Politico interviews Tim Geithner on Bernanke and other subjects.
Looking ahead to November, "Republicans are luring new candidates into House and Senate races, and the number of seats up for grabs in November appears to be growing, setting up a midterm election likely to be harder fought than anyone anticipated before the party's big victory in Massachusetts last week," the New York Times writes, while devoting a significant portion of the story to the preferred Democratic theme: "Republicans still face many obstacles, not least a number of potentially divisive primaries in coming months that will highlight the deep ideological rifts within the party." CQ Politics writes that "Democrats appear to be in political free-fall. Can they reverse the trend in nine months?"
The story adds that the GOP is benefiting from no longer being weighed down by President Bush, but "what gains Republicans make in this election will owe more to voters firing Democrats than hiring Republicans, whose party continues to have a poor public profile three years into minority status." Politico notes that Democratic candidates in New Jersey, Virginia and Massachusetts all tried "Bush-bashing," and "the strategy didn't resonate. Voters were more focused on the current administration or local political issues -- and the onetime Democratic magic formula seemed yesterday's news." James Carville disagrees, calling for the party to blame Bush even more.
Marion Berry -- the Arkansas one, not the D.C. one -- is expected to announce his retirement from the House today, the Fix reports, making him "the sixth Democrat in a competitive seat to leave in the last two months but the first to announce his retirement since the party's special election loss in Massachusetts last Tuesday." Ben Smith notes that since Democrats' loss in Massachusetts, "the feared floodgates of retirements haven't opened, at least not yet. But the drip-drip isn't soothing any Democratic nerves."
In Delaware, Vice President Biden seemed to say that his son would not run for his old Senate seat against Mike Castle. It turns out that's not exactly what he meant, but there are still doubts over whether Beau Biden plans to make the race or perhaps just wait until Castle retires. In Nevada, a Daily Kos poll finds that Oscar Goodman would have a better shot at holding the Senate seat for Democrats than Harry Reid does. The filing deadline is March 12.
January 25, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories: The Rundown
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