Obama shows signs of life
By Ben Pershing
Just as reports of President Obama's political demise may have been premature, so too are suggestions that his comeback is firmly underway.
Still, the signs are there that Obama's fortunes might be improving. As of Wednesday morning, Gallup's tracking poll had the president's approval rating at 51 percent, the highest it's been since the first week of January. Other surveys paint a mixed picture, but there's little doubt that Obama has enjoyed a week of relatively good press for the first time in recent memory. With the State of the Union, the unusual "question time" with House Republicans and the unveiling of his budget, Obama has regained the ability to establish and then drive the defining political narrative of most days. That wasn't the case during the health-care debate, when the White House's agenda was at the mercy of Bart Stupak, Ben Nelson, the Congressional Budget Office and then the voters of Massachusetts.
Can Obama stay on offense? The president spoke at a town hall Tuesday in New Hampshire, which the Boston Herald points out is right next door to the state that robbed Democrats of their supermajority: "Obama came to GOP U.S. Sen.-elect Scott Brown's backyard yesterday, looking to reverse Republican momemtum before midterm elections while insisting he heard the message from alienated Bay State voters. ... Obama focused on jobs and the deficit, topics that resonated with the suburban, middle-class voters. ... Obama also chastised Republicans in Congress for failing to work with him - specifically citing a recent GOP-endorsed plan to reduce the deficit that ultimately failed because it lacked Republican support." The Boston Globe says Obama spent the town hall "defending his proposals to cut deficits and ease unemployment even as lawmakers back in Washington picked apart his budget blueprint" and notes "the setting was reminiscent of an Obama campaign event." The Washington Post looks at Obama's difficulties in reaching out to the middle class, despite his own relatively humble roots.
During his New Hampshire appearance, the New York Times observes, Obama "refused to abandon his embattled health care legislation, vowing to 'punch it through' resistance in Congress." Politico reports "Nancy Pelosi plans to take a shot at the health insurance industry next week by scheduling a vote on a smaller bill to revoke its half-century-old exemption from antitrust laws. The vote is part of her new two-track strategy to tackle things that won't be included in a more sweeping bill -- if Congress ever passes one -- while giving her members something politically popular to vote on." The Wall Street Journal says the antitrust vote "underscores growing doubts on Capitol Hill that Democrats can pass their ambitious plan to expand health insurance to more than 30 million Americans. After focusing intensely on health care for months, Democratic leaders have removed completion of the overhaul from their agenda indefinitely, and even talk of the subject is scarce. Instead, House Democrats are turning to a targeted provision with populist appeal in search of a small victory." Ezra Klein interviews Paul Ryan on the GOP's health-care proposals.
The president will address and take questions from Senate Democrats at their annual issues conference at the Newseum Wednesday morning, an event unlikely to generate the same buzz as Obama's appearance at the House GOP's retreat. Mike Allen reports that a motley group of "bloggers, commentators, techies and politicos" are urging Obama and Republicans "to hold regular, televised Question Time." (Could a reprise ever be as lively as the first, relatively spontaneous meeting, given that both sides in the future would make sure to script every moment? It's the same reason why a second season of Jersey Shore can't possibly replicate the magic of the first.)
In past cycles, the idea of Democrats pushing to overturn the military's policy barring openly gay soldiers in a perilous election year seemed far-fetched. But the Obama administration doesn't seem to fear the issue. "The nation's top two defense officials called Tuesday for an end to the 16-year-old 'don't ask, don't tell' law, a major step toward allowing openly gay men and women to serve in the United States military for the first time," the New York Times reports. The Washington Post cautions: "Despite the remarkable shift in position by the Pentagon's leaders Tuesday, there remained serious questions about whether Congress and the White House are ready to keep pace. ... The Senate, which invited Gates and Mullen to testify Tuesday, is moving cautiously. Worried that they lack the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster, Senate leaders said they might try to add a temporary moratorium on discharges of gay service members to a defense spending bill, whose passage would require only majority approval."
Maureen Dowd praises Mike Mullen for his strong statement in favor of chanding the policy, writing that "the craggy chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff showed that a lifetime in the military has not knocked all the showbiz pizazz out of him." Andrew Sullivan calls Mullen's statement "a stunner." Newsweek says "the conservative media seem to be shying away from the subject this week." William Kristol frets that Obama is subjecting the military "to an untested, unnecessary, and probably unwise social experiment."
The Obama administration is seeking to take the initiative on another front -- terrorism. "The Nigerian man arrested on Christmas Day for allegedly trying to explode a bomb on a plane arriving in Detroit has begun talking again to authorities, officials said Tuesday, a development that is likely to ratchet up the debate over whether he should be tried in federal court or before a military tribunal," the Los Angeles Times writes. The Wall Street Journal reports that "family members of ... Abdulmutallab traveled to the U.S. in recent weeks and persuaded him to start talking again to federal agents." Dana Perino and Bill Burck decry the administration's "systematic leaking" of the suspect's cooperation and wonder: "It will be interesting to find out what kind of deal Abdulmutallab has received in exchange for his "cooperation." Less prison time? A room with a view? Who knows?" On an even less cheery note, "The nation's top intelligence officials warned Congress on Tuesday that terrorists are "certain" to attempt another attack on the U.S. within the coming months," The Hill writes.
In Illinois, Mark Kirk and Alexi Giannoulias won their respective primaries for Obama's old Senate seat. The Wall Street Journal writes that "Kirk wasted no time in evoking" Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts as a blueprint for how a Republican can win in a blue state. Noting Giannoulias' relationship with the president, Bloomberg headlines its piece "Obama Basketball Buddy to Defend His Old Senate Seat." In the gubernatorial contest, the Chicago Tribune says "Illinois' fast-moving primary isn't over yet." On the Democratic side, Pat Quinn led Dan Hynes by fewer than 6,000 votes, while Republicans Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard were within 1,500 votes of each other.
In the neighboring Hoosier State, Howey Politics Indiana scoops that Dan Coats will announce a comeback bid to the Senate against Evan Bayh. The Fix writes that the GOP "scored a major coup" by getting Coats to run, as "national Republicans are convinced that Bayh is vulnerable due to his vote in favor of President Obama's health care plan and economic stimulus package."
February 3, 2010; 8:10 AM ET
Categories: The Rundown
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