8 a.m. ET: With so much going on at home and abroad, with the public anxious and the economy still struggling, it's difficult for the president to field an hour's worth of questions from an eager press corps in the heart of prime time and not make news or shift the current terms of political debate in any substantive way. Yet it seems that's exactly what President Obama did last night, drawing some good reviews for his performance and some mediocre ones but dazzling no one.
The Fix thought Obama "struggled badly" at the start of the presser, with his gaze below camera level as he "sped through" his opening statement. Tom Shales also noted the poor start but felt that while Obama "wasn't quite as energetic as in many of his other TV appearances, he still came out victorious." Peter Wallsten thought Obama "looked as though he would have preferred to be someplace else," provided "no memorable moments" and brought "no special energy" to his answers. Mike McCurry and Dana Perino agreed that the event lacked drama, with McCurry suggesting that the days when networks will block out a valuable chunk of prime time may be coming to an end.
On the substance, many observers were surprised that there were no questions centered on Iraq, Afghanistan or the overall fight against terrorism. Foreign policy in general got very little attention, though it's not clear whether that was really the fault of Obama or his questioners. Speaking of the latter, does Obama think newspapers are not just dying but already dead? Lots of love last night for reporters from the networks, radio and magazines but relatively little for the dead-tree brigade. Presumably Obama will not be backing this bill.
If Obama thought last night's audience was tough, just wait until he gets up to the Capitol today for his meeting with Senate Democrats. Obama's former colleagues -- particularly Kent Conrad -- seem prepared to slash his budget proposal. The Budget panel chairman wants to cut Obama's proposed discretionary spending increase in half, and there's a good chance the Senate won't give the president exactly what he wants for his middle-class tax cut or his "cap and trade" program, two items he refused to commit to fully during last night's press conference. And when it comes to spending overall, everyone's a critic; the Czech prime minister calls Obama's economic plans "a way to hell."
Getting all of Obama's priorities through will require a lot of floor time in the Senate, but that chamber's calendar got a little clearer Tuesday. Arlen Specter's announcement that he would vote against cloture on the Employee Free Choice Act, or "card check" bill, all but dooms that measure's chances for consideration in the near future. Obama never did make it completely clear whether he supported the bill in its current form, and now he won't have to, at least for awhile.
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March 25, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
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