8:15 a.m. ET: Mystery solved, apparently. The State reports: "Gov. Mark Sanford arrived in the Hartsville-Jackson International Airport Wednesday morning, having wrapped up a seven-day visit to Buenos Aires, Argentina, he said. Sanford said he had not been hiking along the Appalachian Trail, as his staff said in a Tuesday statement to the media."
Sanford told the paper that he had decided to go to South America "at the last minute" and added that he didn't know why his staff said he was hiking the Appalachian Trail, though he acknowledged telling aides he might take such a trip. Sanford says he was alone on the trip. We suspect this story is not quite over yet.
8 a.m. ET: President Obama called his press conference yesterday for a reason, and the headlines from the event mostly reflected the message he wanted to project -- he's taking a tougher stance against Iran. But beyond that basic point, there was a wide variety of opinion on how significant Obama's statement really was and how much difference it will make at this stage of the Iran showdown.
Tough talk aside, "Obama refused to threaten any consequences and stopped short of freezing a major foreign policy goal: wooing Iran into diplomatic contacts over its nuclear program, its support of Islamic militant organizations and other contentious issues," the Los Angeles Times reports. Roger Simon accused Obama of delivering "another Goldilocks performance. ... He can’t be too hot — there can be incredible repercussions both at home and abroad regarding anything he says and how he says it — but he can’t be too cold." Critics of Obama's past Iran comments, who were pleased by the president's initial statement, were unhappy with what came next. "Obama's made the least out of his strong opening statement on Iran," Fred Barnes complains. "Having used the word 'condemn' -- for the first time -- and 'appalling' as well, the president followed up mostly with mush."
Dan Balz noted that despite Obama's sharp rhetoric on Iran and health care, "he also carefully left himself room to maneuver" on both fronts. While Iran got lead billing at the event, Obama's words on health care were just as notable. In particular, Obama defended the idea of including a "public option" in a reform bill without necessarily making a firm commitment to it. The public option is turning out to be the biggest sticking point in the Senate debate. "Judging from the advocacy ads released in the past week, there’s nothing else to the health care debate but the public insurance option," Politico says, analyzing campaigns by Health Care for America Now, MoveOn.org and Conservatives for Patients’ Rights. (MoveOn is also launching ads against Dianne Feinstein over her gloomy comments on health care. Knowing Feinstein, she will likely be unbothered by the effort.)
Along with the substance of his comments, Obama also drew notice for his sharp, occasionally frustrated tone during the press conference. George W. Bush believed that the press was often out to play "gotcha" when it questioned the president, and Obama seemed to think the same thing yesterday. (Except when it came to Huffington Post, which stuck to the script.) Questions on human rights in Iran, on the public option and on his smoking habit seemed to get under Obama's skin. Unhappy that he keeps having to address his need for nicotine, Obama presumably won't like that most of the major papers keep writing about the topic. We're guessing that "95 percent cured" comment will come back to bite him at some point.
In the House, the chamber is ready to move forward on a climate change bill this week after Henry Waxman and Collin Peterson cut a deal last night. The climate change debate is a test for Nancy Pelosi, for whom this bill is an even bigger priority than health care. Pelosi has been courting the votes of moderate Republicans, though some observers wonder whether there is a veiled threat behind her efforts. With or without GOP support, the vote on final passage is expected to be close, and there's no indication at this point when the Senate will pick up the ball on this topic.
And finally, we are contractually obligated to end with a Mark Sanford update. The South Carolina governor is expected to return to work today, though it's not completely clear from where he's returning. While his staff insists he was hiking the Appalachian Trail, other reports place him at or near various airports (Columbia? Atlanta? Minneapolis??). Forget Obama -- we're looking forward to Sanford's next press conference.
June 24, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
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