3:45 p.m. ET: President Obama's campaign was all about hope, but at this hour it's tough to tell just how much hope there is that a stimulus package will be ready for the Senate to vote on tonight.
Around midday, the prospects of a deal were looking up, with Harry Reid telling the press he was hopeful one would get done tonight. But now George Voinovich has reportedly dropped out of the stimulus talks, leaving just three Republicans in the room. One of the three, Susan Collins, was asked how she felt about whether the bill could get done tonight. She said, "Not as good as I felt earlier."
Obama, "restless soul" that he is, has been making travel plans. He's doing town hall meetings in Indiana and Florida, and also has a short trip to Camp David planned. How much of that time will Obama have to spend on the phone with recalcitrant lawmakers, begging them to get a stimulus measure passed. Maybe that won't be necessary. Obama can always hope.
8 a.m. ET: Since he was sworn in, President Obama has tried to walk a very fine partisan line, appealing to supporters in his own party while also reaching across the aisle to Republicans.
On the stimulus package, in particular, that strategy has proven to be something of a mess. Democrats wanted a bigger bill than Obama proposed, with more spending, while Republicans wanted a smaller bill with more tax cuts. Throughout the House debate and the Senate debate so far, Obama has at times bounced between the two sides like a tennis ball, without clearly articulating what he wanted in the measure. The result: A House bill that didn't attract a single Republican vote, and now a Senate bill that appears to be bogged down short of the 60 votes needed to proceed.
But last night, at the House Democratic retreat in Williamsburg, Obama finally seemed to come down off the fence. He called out Republicans for wanting to go "back to the same policies" of the last eight years, and blamed the Bush administration for leaving "this national debt, doubled, wrapped in a big bow waiting for me as I stepped into the Oval Office." He even returned to the call-and-response of the campaign trail, asking the assembled members whether they were "fired up?!" ("Ready to go!) Obama made similarly strong remarks to Energy Department employees earlier in the day. And his grassroots supporters loved it. Obama will reportedly "leave Washington early next week to hold campaign-style events" to rally more support.
So, Obama the consensus-building, bipartisan-cocktail-party-throwing president has left the building, at least for the moment. And Obama the candidate is back. But to what end?
Even as Obama was in Williamsburg throwing red meat to his fellow Democrats, a group of about 20 centrist Senators was huddled in the Capitol, trying to strike a deal that would cut more than $100 billion from the stimulus package and smooth the path to passage. If Obama is trying to attract a few Republican votes in the Senate, was last night's speech the way to go? Perhaps a few in the GOP will resent Obama's sharpened tone. Or, on the other hand, maybe the Williamsburg speech reminded moderate Republicans that Obama still has a huge reservoir of political goodwill, so they should think twice before voting the wrong way on a popular bill.
Speaking of popular, it looks as though the controversies surrounding the nominations of Tom Daschle, Nancy Killefer and Tim Geithner haven't eroded public confidence in Obama. Polling on Wednesday, after the Daschle and Killefer news was out, Gallup found that 50 percent of respondents were more confident in the Obama administration's ethical standards than they had been before the Inauguration, while only 19 percent were less confident. Respondents were similarly confident of Obama's "ability to manage the federal government," and his approval rating remained essentially unchanged (65 percent) from when he took office.
What will happen to that approval rating after the stimulus passes (assuming it does)? And if it passes with almost no Republican votes, will that affect the way the public views Obama? All of this comes before Obama unveils his plans for fixing the financial system, which could require another heavy lift for passage if it's perceived to be "another bailout." (Especially since the last one seems to be drawing more and more criticism.)
Of course he wants to appear bipartisan, on both the stimulus and the financial rescue, but if Obama the candidate really is back, then he'll know that the only thing that counts is winning.
February 6, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
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