4 p.m. ET: Does President Obama use news and images of his family for political advantage? Sometimes yes and sometimes no, according to two lengthy stories on the topic released in the last 24 hours.
The Los Angeles Times writes that the "glimpses into the Obama household" that we've been given -- on the puppy, the girls' eating habits, and more -- "are far from spontaneous. Instead, they are part of a careful strategy that has helped bolster the new president's popularity and political clout." By doling out information to US Weekly and shows like "Extra," the Obamas are able to reach a different audience and ensure soft treatment. The effort, according to the LAT, is largely coordinated by Michelle Obama's office.
On that point, the First Lady's control of the message, Richard Wolffe agrees in his piece in The Daily Beast. But Wolffe also portrays the dispensation of information on the first family as less deliberate, at least in some cases. In particular, he writes that the precious moment when the whole family got together on the White House lawn to frolic with Bo the puppy was largely unplanned. And he says that Obama was particularly upset last July, when Sasha and Malia became the focus of an interview with Access Hollywood.
So which is it? Obviously, the answer lies somewhere in between the two portrayals. The White House certainly does decide to whom it will grant an interview or a scoop, but it doesn't -- and can't -- choreograph every photo or story about the family. As Wolffe puts it, "there is a gray area that remains unresolved." The White House has generally been strict about coverage of the Obama daughters, but does occasionally have the whole family pose for pictures, and allow the girls to participate in photo-ops like the Easter Egg Roll.
And at the same time, the president wants to be known best for the policies he crafts, not for the vegetable garden his wife plants or the breed of puppy they buy. The challenge for Obama going forward is knowing how to strike the right balance -- releasing enough information to "feed the beast" without exploiting his family, or cheapening his office.
8 a.m. ET: President Obama is back in town from globetrotting, and Congress returns today from a two week recess, just in time for everyone to get together and do what Washington does best -- fight about money.
Obama convenes his first (almost) full Cabinet meeting this morning, and will ask everyone present to find a combined $100 million to cut in the next 90 days. Obama will come to the meeting armed with examples of savings federal agencies have already begun to implement. For the record, that $100 million would be approximately .00003 percent of Obama's $3.5 trillion budget plan, versions of which the House and Senate will work to reconcile in the next few weeks. (Also for the record, The Rundown recommends against doing math this early in the morning.)
On tap for Congress: More vetting of Obama's supplemental spending request for Iraq and Afghanistan, credit card reform and ongoing negotiations on a measure that would allow bankruptcy judges to alter the terms of home mortgages. Initial work is also underway on some of Obama's biggest priorities -- health care, climate change and an overhaul of the financial regulatory system. Every one of those initiatives will require an awful lot of money (certainly more than the $100 million Obama is asking for this morning). But nearly all of the administration's revenue-raising proposals have hit a stiff wall of resistance on Capitol Hill.
Health care, in particular, has proven to be a tricky subject to navigate. Democrats are divided on both the details of a reform plan and how to sell it. The good news for the majority is that the minority is in worse shape on this topic. Republicans have yet to coalesce behind a plan or a leader in the health care fight, or mobilize their allies in the business community against Democrats' efforts.
At the White House, Obama may be back from his Latin America swing, but they're still talking about his encounter with Hugo Chavez -- the handshake and, of course, the book. For the record, "Open Veins of Latin America" is now the No. 2 bestseller overall on Amazon, just behind a "conservative manifesto" and just ahead of two teenage vampire books. Obama might have preferred any of those tomes to what he got, and Robert Gibbs noted that "the book is in Spanish" so it might be difficult for Obama to read it.
Also still percolating from last week -- the debate over the CIA's interrogation policies. Four days after the Justice Department released four memos outlining the Bush administration's justification for harsh interrogation tactics, Obama still faces attacks from both the left and right. Today we learn that the CIA used waterboarding "266 times on two key prisoners from Al Qaeda." But on the Sunday shows, Rahm Emanuel said the administration would not "use our energy and our time in looking back" at the actions for the purpose of "retribution." And both he and David Axelrod emphasized that terrorist groups were already using reports of the tactics as recruiting tools, well before Friday's release of the memos.
April 20, 2009; 4:00 PM ET
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