4 p.m. ET: One of the lingering mysteries of President Obama's young administration has been whether he really does or does not support the Employee Free Choice Act, or "card check" bill. Obama has made general comments in support of the controversial legislation, but at other times has suggested he'd like to see some sort of compromise struck between labor and big business.
Well, Obama's real view of the bill may be a moot point, at least for awhile, as Arlen Specter delivered what could be a death blow to the measure today. The Pennsylvanian announced that he would vote against cloture on the measure, thus making it close to impossible for the bill to get the 60 votes necessary to proceed. Unions had pledged to help Specter win his reelection race next year if he backed the card check measure, but first he has to get through a tough GOP primary against conservative Pat Toomey. Specter chose the path that will help him most in the primary, and in the process seems to have shoved organized labor's biggest priority onto the Senate's back burner for this Congress.
Of course, lots of money is being spent on both sides of this issue, so it's in the interest of lobbyists and PR folks all over town for this fight to continue ad infinitum. We'll find out in the coming weeks how "dead" this bill really is.
8 a.m. ET: Twelve hours from now, President Obama will walk to the podium in the East Room of the White House for his second prime-time press conference, assuming the role he has been playing with increasing frequency -- salesman in chief.
Monday's economic narrative, positive as it was for Team Obama, served as a stark reminder that the administration has yet to find an effective pitchman for the president's policy proposals other than the president himself. The White House rolled out its plan for buying up bad assets from banks, and the markets responded happily, with the Dow climbing nearly 500 points. On Wall Street, reviews of the proposal were largely positive, and it may just be that -- regardless of its real merits -- the plan will work because everyone thinks the plan will work. But, notably, there was no public face for the blueprint. Tim Geithner laid out the details in an off-camera briefing and an op-ed piece, after the administration had leaked key tidbits on background over the weekend.
The Los Angeles Times frames it nicely this morning: "In assembling his economic team, the president gave first priority to technical skill and intellectual achievement. So far, none of his senior advisors has shown the extra ability to inspire as well -- both on Wall Street and Main Street." As a result, when there is on-camera selling to be done, it will be up to Obama to sell it. That may be a fine problem to have. Though it has dipped, Obama's overall approval rating is still around 60 percent, as is his approval rating for handling the economy.
But how often can the White House go to that well?
Tonight's press conference comes after Obama was on "60 Minutes" Sunday, and "The Tonight Show" last week, and he has also done a handful of campaign-style town hall meetings. Ideally, the White House might like to keep the president in reserve, using surrogates to do the daily messaging chores and then only rolling out Obama when a big gun is needed. But on the economy, that hasn't worked so well, as Geithner has been a magnet for criticism in most of his forays into the limelight. So what will happen when the administration turns to health care, or energy or Social Security reform? Will another effective public face emerge, or will it still be up to Obama to convince the public?
Even if he did stay behind the curtain, Monday was unquestionably a good day for Geithner. Now he'll have to keep it up, as he and Ben Bernanke are scheduled to testify this morning before the House Financial Services Committee and defend the government's performance so far in the bailout of AIG. From the department of well-timed good news, courtesy of an unlikely messenger, comes the update that at least $50 million of the bonuses handed out to AIG executives will be paid back. Geithner and Bernanke can take comfort from that, and from the Senate's decision to put off consideration of a bill to tax those bonuses.
With the AIG controversy seemingly on the wane and the bank plan unveiled, the administration can turn toward selling its next big product -- the budget. House and Senate panels will begin considering their own spending blueprints this week. And Senate Democrats will get a visit Wednesday from the administration's chief emissary to the Hill: Obama himself. Who else did you expect?
March 24, 2009; 4:00 PM ET
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