4:30 p.m. ET: What are the headlines coming out of President Obama's visit to Canada today? That Obama and Prime Minister Steven Harper sang in harmony on a variety of issues? That Obama accidentally said "Iowa" instead of "Ottawa"? That press conferences there regularly jump back and forth between English and French?
Perhaps it was Obama's concluding, almost-throwaway line thanking "some of the Canadians who came over the border to campaign for me during the election." A-ha! Foreign infiltrators, stealing our elections! Keep a close eye out for that storyline in blogosphere and on talk radio in the coming days.
On a more serious note, the Canadian press seems focused on the "clean energy dialogue" that is being formed by the two countries, Obama's soothing words on trade and his apparent non-pressure on Harper to put more troops into Afghanistan.
And, not surprisingly, Obama's professing "love" for Canada is going over very well. Some Canadians who gathered in the freezing cold to see Obama were disappointed that they only caught a fleeting glimpse of the man (sound familiar?). But all in all, a smooth first foreign trip for the new president. Seems likely that these trips will only get harder as he goes further afield
8 a.m. ET: The housing crisis. The global credit crunch. The auto industry meltdown. Afghanistan. Pakistan. Alex Rodriguez. With seemingly intractable problems stacked up one after the other, it would be understandable if President Obama just decided to flee the country, and that's exactly what he's doing today.
Obama heads to Canada this morning, supposedly for meetings with government officials and not, in fact, so he can change his identity and disappear, à la Jason Bourne. The White House claims he will be back in the U.S. by tonight. We'll believe it when we see it. So what's on the agenda in Ottawa? Trade and the environment. As The Fix points out, trade is a tricky issue for the new president. Obama was somewhat critical of NAFTA during the Democratic primaries but has softened his rhetoric since then; he seems unlikely to say or do anything today that would worry America's largest trading partner.
On the environment, the tar sands present a similarly delicate topic of discussion. Environmentalists complain about the greenhouse gases and toxic waste created by extracting oil from the tar sands, but the U.S. does import a huge amount of Canadian oil and our neighbor doesn't particularly want to hear Obama condemn such a vital industry. In an interview yesterday with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Obama signaled that he plans to smooth over differences between the two countries on the issue, pointing out that the U.S. -- "the Saudi Arabia of coal" -- has its own problems ahead balancing environmental and economic concerns. (By the way, 90 percent of Americans view Canada favorably. Take that, North Korea!)
Back on domestic soil, Obama's housing plan has drawn mixed reactions since he unveiled it yesterday. Bankers are relieved that Obama did not go further in promoting the idea that judges should be able to modify the mortgage terms of people who file for bankruptcy. But some experts wonder whether the plan is big enough or will work quickly enough to stem the rising tide of mortgage defaults. The proposal's chances for success are unclear, though at least it included a lot of details, unlike the financial rescue plan announced last week.
As long as we're unveiling sweeping reform plans, when should we expect the big health care speech? Obama needs an HHS secretary first, and there are conflicting accounts this morning over whether Kathleen Sebelius has the job in hand. The New York Times says she is "emerging as the president’s top choice" for the job, though the White House says "no decision has been made." (Maybe they're still combing through her tax returns.) As for Commerce secretary, there are names floating but no indication a choice is imminent. Since the holder of that position is in charge of trade policy, and Canada is our biggest trading partner, maybe Obama can bring someone back from Canada today for the job. Assuming he decides to come back at all.
February 19, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
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