Obama juggles summit and short lists
By Ben Pershing
Who says President Obama can't multitask? As the president wheels and deals on nuclear policy with dozens of world leaders at the Washington convention center, administration aides are back at the White House leaking a "short list" of Supreme Court candidates that may or may not accurately reflect the real universe of potential candidates.
Iran was the focus of the first day of summitry. "President Obama used an unprecedented summit on nuclear terrorism Monday to press global leaders to support further isolating Iran for its nuclear activities, and the White House said that China's leader had agreed to cooperate with tightening U.N. sanctions on the Islamic republic," the Washington Post writes. The Wall Street Journal says "Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao, meeting on the first day of a nuclear security summit, agreed to step up pressure on Iran for its nuclear program, the U.S. said, but the two nations still appear divided on how to apply that pressure. Just weeks before the Obama administration hopes to advance sanctions against Iran at the United Nations, the U.S. said the two presidents had instructed their governments to work together on potential sanctions designed to punish Tehran for its nuclear program. China described the outcome differently, emphasizing diplomacy as usual and avoiding any reference to sanctions."
The New York Times also reports a mixed verdict: "American officials portrayed the Chinese response as the most encouraging sign yet that Beijing would support an international effort to ratchet up the pressure on Iran and as a sign of "international unity" on stopping Iran's nuclear program before the country can develop a working nuclear weapon. Still, the session had distinct echoes of former President George W. Bush's three efforts to corral Chinese support for United Nations Security Council penalties intended to make it prohibitively expensive for Iranian leaders to enrich uranium and to refuse to answer the questions posed by international nuclear inspectors. In those cases, former American officials said, the Chinese agreed to go along with efforts to address Iran's nuclear ambitions but then used Security Council negotiating sessions to water down the resolutions that ultimately passed." The Los Angeles Times says "Hu's comments may have been short of a breakthrough, however, because Chinese diplomats have been actively discussing proposed new sanctions in New York for several weeks. A 'no' vote by China, which wields veto power at the U.N., would block new sanctions. Even an abstention would damage efforts by the West to show a united front against Tehran. Some analysts have predicted that China eventually will press to water down new sanctions during negotiations, then abstain from a final vote."
Obama did make progress on another front. Bloomberg reports: "Ukraine's agreement to relinquish its entire stockpile of highly enriched uranium gave President Barack Obama the first concrete result for a summit he convened on securing the world's atomic material. ... The move was announced yesterday after Obama met with Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych, their first face-to-face discussion since Yanukovych took office in February." The Associated Press says "Ukraine's decision will help fulfill Obama's goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear materials worldwide within four years, an objective that the White House hopes will be endorsed by all summit countries at a closing session today, even if the means to accomplish it are unclear." Gerald Seib says, "Though the summit meeting hasn't registered with many Americans more concerned about jobs and pocketbooks, and while its significance is discounted by some skeptics, it actually represents a significant change in the international nuclear agenda. This is one of those occasions when the specific things world leaders say is less important than the general topic they choose to talk about. International conversations about nuclear matters largely have been stuck on the two traditional topics that dominated during the Cold War: American and Russian nuclear arms limits and stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons capability to more nations. ... But the risk of nuclear materials on the loose--in an era in which the U.S. is waging two wars against extremist movements without flags or borders--hasn't gotten adequate attention."
On to the the Supreme Court: Is the White House really giving us its short list, or is this an elaborate head fake? The Wall Street Journal writes: "The White House said Monday it was considering a diverse list of about 10 candidates for the Supreme Court, including at least one Westerner, a former state court judge, two politicians and several women. The list was part politics, as the White House sought to show it was casting a broad net. ... Three of the names were already known and remain among the top tier of contenders: Solicitor General Elena Kagan, a former Harvard Law School dean, and federal appellate judges Merrick Garland of Washington, D.C., and Diane Wood of Chicago. The latest name to emerge was federal Judge Sidney R. Thomas of Montana, 56, who sits on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and would bring geographic diversity to a tribunal dominated by East Coasters. If nominated by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate, he would be the only justice who did not attend an Ivy League university." The Washington Post says "[t]he White House is pushing back against the notion that President Obama has narrowed his search to a trio of front-runners. ... [A]dministration officials say Obama is still in the early stages of deciding what kind of candidate he prefers, as opposed to a year ago, when Sonia Sotomayor became the early presumptive front-runner to replace outgoing Justice David H. Souter. This time, Obama is reviewing a larger number of options, including several who were not part of the process last year, aides said."
Mark Halperin takes the GOP's temperature: "If Republicans believe there is political hay to be made over the fight to replace Justice John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court, you wouldn't have known it from the speeches at this past weekend's Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans. ... So why would Republicans, particularly at a gathering of Bible-belt activists, avoid such a fresh platter of political red meat? The party's dominance starting in the Reagan era -- and, yes, Reagan was the most popular figure invoked in New Orleans, as has been the case at Republican gatherings for two decades -- was based on the three-legged ideological stool of smaller government, a strong national defense and family values. But in the past few years more moderate Republicans and up-for-grab independents have become increasingly turned off by the emphasis on that third leg." AP reports that "Conservative groups preparing to fight President Barack Obama over his next Supreme Court nomination are trying to recruit tea party activists to their cause, hoping their enthusiasm will help them beat back any nominee that could be too liberal for their taste. Bringing in the tea party movement -- known for its high-energy rallies and protests calling for small government, lower taxes and less spending -- would be a coup for conservatives, who were not able to stop the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor last year."
Across the aisle, Politico reports that "Democrats hope to turn the upcoming Supreme Court confirmation hearings into a referendum of sorts on controversial recent decisions by the Roberts court -- portraying the conservative majority as a judicial Goliath trampling the rights of average Americans. ... the administration and congressional aides are gravitating toward a strategy that goes beyond the goals of a run-of-the-mill confirmation fight - to define a corporations-vs.-the-common-man battle between Democrats and the high court. In addition to building a defensive perimeter around Obama's pick -- whoever that may be -- Democrats will use the hearings to attack what they view as a dangerous strain of conservative judicial activism espoused by Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas." Speaking of Scalia, Richard Hasen writes that "Obama is using the Supreme Court to position himself for re-election in 2012 not with the Justice Kagan-Wood-Garland choice of 2010 but by raising the specter of the retirement of 76-year-old Justice Antonin Scalia after the 2012 presidential election. ... Kennedy and the Court's four stalwart conservatives--Alito, Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas--will almost certainly remain through Obama's first term. But things get much more uncertain after 2012. By 2016, Justice Scalia will turn 80 and Justice Kennedy will turn 78. It is certainly possible that they will stay past the 2016 elections--after all, Justice Stevens is pushing 90--but who knows?"
The Supreme Court fight isn't the only story animating the world of Democratic politics Tuesday. The Wall Street Journal reports: "Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union and one of the most prominent and powerful labor leaders in the country, is expected to resign his position with the union, according to an internal union email and one of the union's board members. Mr. Stern's departure would cause a major realignment of the balance of power within organized labor, from labor-management relations to Washington lobbying efforts. It's not clear when an official announcement of his resignation will come or when it would take effect." Ben Smith says "[t]he SEIU has emerged as a central political player and has grown rapidly under Stern's tenure, and some close to him had expected him to resign during the first term of the president he helped elect, and after the achievement he'd spent years focusing on, widening access to health care. But he's also waged a series of bitter battles inside the labor movement, one of the nastiest of which turned in SEIU's favor with a California court ruling last week. Stern also won a victory when Obama named his union's lawyer, Craig Becker, to the National Labor Relations board over Republican objections in a recess appointment last month. ... Change to Win executive director Anna Burger is widely viewed as Stern's heir apparent, and has been groomed for the post, though other union officials, including international executive vice presidents Mary Kay Henry and Gerald Hudson, are also sometimes mentioned." The Fix writes: "No matter the choice to replace Stern, the challenge for the president will be significant. There is talk that Change to Win may eventually return to the AFL-CIO fold -- a delicate dance with which the next head of SEIU will be tasked."
On the White House beat, The Washington Post profiles Robert Gibbs, who seems eager to shed his role as spokesman: "Gibbs serves two roles in the White House. He is the public face and mouthpiece of the administration, but he is also the consummate presidential confidant -- the Obama traveling buddy during the campaign and ever-trusted Oval Office adviser. The Alabama native, who has been shaped by the Capitol Hill fray and campaign knife fights, is considered, along with Obama's presidential campaign manager, David Plouffe, a top candidate to take the place of senior strategist David Axelrod when the Washington-weary keeper of the Obama message leaves to focus on the 2012 reelection. That isn't happening anytime soon, which means Gibbs is stuck on double duty. Gibbs is too discreet to say which job he prefers, but it's not hard to figure out."
The New York Times has a health-care story sure to be forwarded by Republicans: "It is often said that the new health care law will affect almost every American in some way. And, perhaps fittingly if unintentionally, no one may be more affected than members of Congress themselves. In a new report, the Congressional Research Service says the law may have significant unintended consequences for the "personal health insurance coverage" of senators, representatives and their staff members. For example, it says, the law may "remove members of Congress and Congressional staff" from their current coverage, in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, before any alternatives are available. The confusion raises the inevitable question: If they did not know exactly what they were doing to themselves, did lawmakers who wrote and passed the bill fully grasp the details of how it would influence the lives of other Americans?"
Remember how big premium increases -- particularly by Anthem Blue Cross in California -- helped fuel anger against insurers? The Los Angeles Times gives an update: "Public outrage over double-digit rate hikes for health insurance may have helped push President Obama's healthcare overhaul across the finish line, but the new law does not give regulators the power to block similar increases in the future. And now, with some major companies already moving to boost premiums and others poised to follow suit, millions of Americans may feel an unexpected jolt in the pocketbook. Although Democrats promised greater consumer protection, the overhaul does not give the federal government broad regulatory power to prevent increases." Frontline will provide a recap of recent history Tuesday night with "Obama's Deal." The Boston Globe says the show "delivers the goods. It gives us the large themes and nasty fights that dominated Capitol Hill over the past year."
April 13, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories: The Rundown
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