3:20 p.m. ET: Is Rahm Emanuel a micromanager? For your consideration, three stories:
Story No. 1, by Howard Kurtz in today's Washington Post, chronicles Emanuel's constant outreach to the press, noting that he returns phone calls and serves up quotes for even the most routine stories. "Perhaps no White House chief of staff in modern history has worked the media as aggressively and relentlessly as Emanuel," Kurtz writes.
Story No. 2, by Matt Bai in the June 7 issue of The New York Times Magazine, covered the Obama administration's relationship with Congress as it seeks to pass health care reform. "Obama's aggressive courtship of Congress is plotted and directed by Emanuel," Bai asserts. He adds that "Emanuel has taken an unusually personal role in handling Congress," that he keeps track of which members come to the White House for social events and that he personally harassed lawmakers to vote for Obama's budget and stimulus package.
Story No. 3 appeared in the Wall Street Journal back on May 1, detailing how the White House had taken firm control of the Treasury Department's operations after some early PR stumbles. "White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has been so involved in the workings of the Treasury that 'Rahm wants it' has become an unofficial mantra among some at the Treasury, according to government officials," the story noted.
So, to recap, Emanuel speaks constantly with reporters, runs the White House's Hill operation and -- in his spare time? -- gets deep into the daily grind at Treasury. Even if some of these tales are a bit exaggerated, it's worth asking whether Emanuel might run the risk of getting overextended. After all, the White House chief of staff has about 1,000 other things to do in addition to all the activities detailed above.
When Emanuel ran the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, he was legendary for getting into the weeds of nearly every House race and speed-dialing reporters. That worked. But will it work on such a large stage? We'll try to figure that out, just as soon as we return this phone message from Rahm.
8 a.m. ET: President Obama is in unfamiliar territory. The headlines are mostly bad and have been for about a week, a dynamic he hasn't faced more than a handful of times since he lost the New Hampshire primary more than 500 days ago.
No one inside or outside the White House would say Obama faces a real political crisis, but for a president who has enjoyed buoyant poll numbers and mostly positive media coverage for months, this rough stretch represents a genuine challenge. And so Obama will use the bully pulpit, calling a midday news conference (the networks must be thrilled it's not in prime time) in hopes of regaining the initiative on Iran, health care and the economy.
"You can't score points on D," Andrew Malcolm points out in the Los Angeles Times. Obama's need to play offense has been illustrated by a series of recent polls, the latest being the Washington Post-ABC News survey that showed confidence in the effectiveness of the economic stimulus measure ebbing. Overall, Obama's average job approval rating has been ticking down steadily since late April.
Events in Iran will be front-and-center for Obama today, as he faces increased pressure to speak out more forcefully against the repression of dissent there. John McCain's fiery Senate speech yesterday about the slain protester "Neda" has raised the stakes for Obama. Yet even as critics call for Obama to do more, it's becoming less clear what either he or the protest movement can accomplish, as the Guardian Council in Iran says it absolutely will not nullify the presidential election results.
On health care, Obama's press conference today is only one part of a larger public relations blitz that will include a Wednesday night "town hall" meeting and rallies by pro-reform groups. The effort needs some momentum, as the Senate HELP committee has acknowledged it won't meet a July 4th deadline to complete its bill, while a House panel pushes forward with its own measure likely to get zero public support. Even Obama's most positive news in recent days -- pharmarceutical companies' voluntary agreement to cut Medicare drug costs -- is getting some scrutiny, as Robert Pear notes in the New York Times that "it was not immediately clear how much the government would reap in savings" from the deal.
While health care is moving slowly, Nancy Pelosi has decided to speed up action on another priority -- climate change legislation. The Speaker, whose own poll numbers aren't so hot, has decided to "roll the dice" and bring a measure to the House floor this week "despite strong misgivings from her rank-and-file and an outspoken chairman who remains a major impediment," Politico writes. There is no agreement between the Democratic players on the bill yet, but Pelosi's spokesman says they hope to have one by Friday so the measure can get a vote. The move is a gamble -- Pelosi's decision might force a deal, or it might just mean an unnecessary PR hit for Democrats if they have to pull the bill later this week.
As for the latest round of "Politicians Behaving Badly" (or strangely), John Ensign is expected to address his Senate Republican colleagues at their weekly luncheon today. What should he say? "Whoopsie" comes to mind. If you have other suggestions, sound off in the comments section below. Mark Sanford, meanwhile, has apparently been found -- sort of -- hiking the Appalachian Trail with his phone switched-off, ending a four-day mystery over his whereabouts. Presumably Ensign wishes he had joined Sanford on that trip.
June 23, 2009; 3:23 PM ET
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