Obama heads west to help Reid
By Ben Pershing
If you want to gauge a president's popularity, you can always look at the polls. Or you can simply look at lawmakers from his own party. Do they want the president's help, or not?
For Harry Reid and Michael Bennet this week, the answer is yes. And both men need it. "President Obama dipped into two hotly contested Senate races on Thursday, flying out West to raise money and rally the Democratic troops for two struggling lawmakers," the New York Times writes, adding: "The Western swing ... comes as an anti-incumbent mood is threatening the strength of Democrats' hold on the Senate." ABC News says Obama's visit to Colorado and Nevada "looks like the start of a nine-month effort to save the Democratic majority in the Senate. ... An administration official noted that the Bennet event has been on the president's schedule for some time and cautioned against reading into it as a 'reactionary' trip because of recent political events or the state of the race in Colorado."
Politics Daily notes that "it's the third February in a row that Obama's visited" Denver, having signed the stimulus bill there in 2009 and attended a packed campaign rally in 2008. In 2010, "The president stumped for the rookie Democratic senator in front of about 2,700 people packed into Fillmore Auditorium, then cruised through town in his motorcade to a cocktail fundraiser at the downtown Sheraton," the Denver Post reports, with Obama raising $675,000 for Bennet along the way. "Obama rallied behind Colorado's junior senator and his entire reeling party Thursday, portraying Democrats as the leaders willing to 'confront the real problems' in a nation disgusted with partisan squabbling," the Associated Press writes.
In Nevada Friday, Obama is scheduled to do a morning town-hall meeting at a high school in Henderson, and then will deliver a midday speech at the Las Vegas CityCenter. (Fortunately for the White House message shop, neither appearance conflicts with the real newsmaker event of the day -- Tiger Woods.) The Los Angeles Times reports: "When the president visits Las Vegas on Friday he will find that Nevada is no longer the economic basket case he came to know during his frequent campaign stops. It's gotten worse. ... When the economy swooned and nearly collapsed in the fall of 2008, Obama was the political beneficiary. He won Nevada, a conservative-leaning state, by a startling 12 percentage points over Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona. More than 60% of voters surveyed said the economy was their uppermost concern and 3 in 5 of them voted for Obama. Now, fairly or not, many people blame the president for the bad times."
They also blame Reid, which explains why the Majority Leader wants help from the White House and anywhere else he can get it. Their relationship is clear: "Reid's own job is at stake, as is the fate of Obama's agenda in the chamber Reid controls," writes the Washington Post, while Politico says "Obama needs Harry Reid to get his legislative agenda through the Senate. Reid needs Obama for something more -- his political survival. ... Obama, whose administration was blindsided last week by Reid's decision to abort a bipartisan jobs bill, isn't holding a grudge but instead sees Reid's success as essential to his own." Reid "defended the Democratic Party's agenda and President Obama at two events this morning hours before Obama's arrival in Las Vegas," the Las Vegas Sun reported Thursday, as the Majority Leader made the case that the stimulus package has worked.
Obama didn't arrive in Nevada empty-handed. ""Obama will announce a plan Friday to direct $1.5 billion in taxpayer money to five state housing finance agencies to help them develop new programs for addressing the housing crisis in their communities," The Washington Post reports. Nevada is one of the five states set to receive the assistance. (You're welcome, Sen. Reid.) The Wall Street Journal says "the program ... is for states where the average home value for all homeowners in the state has dropped more than 20% from its value at the height of the housing bubble." The Associated Press says "Obama's move ... is the latest by a White House determined to show it is helping families rebound from a deep recession. The downturn is taking an election-year toll on Obama's party as voter frustration builds."
On health care, is a compromise bill finally in the offing? Sort of. Roll Call explains: "The White House has developed its own version of a merged House-Senate health care reform package and plans to have it online for public review by Monday in advance of a bipartisan health care summit scheduled for Feb. 25. However, a senior Democratic aide said Thursday evening that the bill was assembled without any input from House and Senate Democratic leaders, and cautioned that it should not be viewed as an agreement to reconcile the two chambers' bills." The Los Angeles Times says Obama's "plan will probably offer the most detailed vision yet of where the president stands on a number of contentious healthcare issues that have divided Democrats, including how to pay for a major expansion of medical coverage. Administration officials and congressional Democrats are nearing such a compromise, according to Democratic officials. It is still unclear what, if any, concessions the president will make to Republicans, who have steadfastly opposed Obama's push for an overhaul."
Meanwhile, "a firestorm between the Obama administration and health insurers escalated Thursday," the Wall Street Journal reports, "as the Department of Health and Human Services pointed to double-digit price increases or attempted increases in six states to make the case for overhauling the health-care system." Here's another development insurers won't like -- the public option is still a possibility, as it could theoretically be created via reconciliation. Jonathan Cohn says " I'm a longtime, enthusiastic fan of the public option. And I am really nervous about its latest rise from the grave. ... Is it really possible to pass the public option? That's where I become skeptical." Ezra Klein looks at the pros and cons: "Not only are you throwing out any hope of appearing even slightly bipartisan, but you're also increasing internal dissension and adding unpredictability into a process that's collapsed into chaos already. But there's an upside, and it's not just that the public option is good policy. The public option is also popular policy."
At the Marriott Wardman Park Friday, the CPAC conference soldiers on. The Fix focuses on Tim Pawlenty's appearance -- "a coming-out-party of sorts for the little-known governor who has his eye on a presidential bid in 2012." AP looks at the Minnesotan's record: "Like most Republicans with eyes on the White House, Gov. Tim Pawlenty can boast that he's introduced a long list of conservative initiatives. In Pawlenty's case, many of them sank as soon their splashy news conferences were over." MinnPost.com says "the pressure is on" for Pawlenty Friday. In case you midded it, the governor's interview with Esquire was released last week.
The New York Times paints the scene from Thursday: "Mitt Romney, a likely Republican candidate for president in 2012, offered a systematic indictment of what he described as the failed presidency of Barack Obama. A little earlier, a crowd of conservatives whooped in delight as a speaker made coy allusions to Mr. Obama's youthful experimentation with cocaine." Romney drew wide notice. "Sounding like a potential rival for President Obama in 2012, Mitt Romney delivered a brutal critique yesterday of what he called American liberal 'neo-monarchists'' as he sought the favor of traditional conservatives and insurgent tea party activists at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference," the Boston Globe writes. Romney said Obama "fails to understand America," and Ben Smith observes that "Obama's 'Americanness' was the subject of a famous, and largely ignored, memo from Hillary Clinton pollster Mark Penn to the candidate that suggested Clinton exploit questions about Obama's specifically American values."
On the brighter side for Democrats, USA Today writes: "Amid sinking poll numbers and a spate of retirements by veteran lawmakers, Democrats have one early advantage heading into November's congressional elections: money. Democratic incumbents in the nation's most competitive races hold a substantial financial edge over their Republican challengers, a USA TODAY analysis of recent campaign reports shows." Stan Greenberg says "President Obama and the Democratic Party need to urgently revisit 1994. By paying close attention to the lessons of that year--lessons about presidential leadership, the consequences of congressional melodrama, the need for an economic narrative and for a defining choice in the election--the worst can be avoided."
Charlie Cook is pessimistic about both parties: "What we have seen in recent years is total dysfunction. Leading up to the 2006 election, we had a Republican-controlled Congress and a Republican president, and Washington was dysfunctional. Then for two years we had a Democratic Congress and a Republican president. That, too, was dysfunctional. Now we have a Democratic Congress and Democratic president, and the federal government is still dysfunctional. After November's midterm elections, we may very well have a Republican House and a marginally Democratic Senate to go with a Democratic president. My bet is that dysfunction will continue to reign."
February 19, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories: The Rundown
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