8 a.m. ET: In the midst of a major international trip, with the economy still teetering and his biggest domestic priorities hanging in the balance back home, you'd think President Obama has enough on his plate. But on Tuesday, he had to spend some precious time cleaning up the messes made by his two top subordinates.
First, Obama paused in the middle of his visit to Russia to clarify the words of his No. 2, emphasizing that the U.S. had "absolutely not" given Israel the green light to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities. The question arose after Vice President Biden's appearance Sunday on "This Week With George Stephanopoulos," when he repeatedly made the point that Israel is a sovereign nation and the U.S. can't stop it from defending itself. That may be technically true, and the White House swore that the vice president did not misspeak. But Biden also had ample opportunity to say that an Israeli strike would be problematic or destabilizing for the entire Middle East, and he didn't. (Michael Mullen did make that exact point Tuesday.)
Obama didn't just feel the need to clarify Biden's remarks, he also gave Rahm Emanuel an assist in repairing the damage from the chief of staff's own controversial comments. Many Democrats were upset to read in yesterday's Wall Street Journal that Emanuel was open to compromise on whether the health care reform package should include a public option. He also spoke favorably of a public option "trigger," which most liberals oppose.
Obama himself attempted a bit of damage control, releasing a statement calling the public option "one of the very best ways" to achieve meaningful reform (though still not firmly committing to the idea). Then Emanuel went to Capitol Hill to meet with the House Democratic Caucus and reassure them, essentially, that he didn't really mean what he said. "He doesn’t stand by that trigger,” Henry Waxman said after meeting with Emanuel, which is odd, since just one day earlier, the WSJ reported, "Emanuel said the trigger mechanism would also accomplish the White House's goals."
Neither Biden's nor Emanuel's comments really ended up taking much of Obama's time; he commented on each, and then moved on. But they were distractions, at a time when the administration has so many balls in the air that it does not want to have to spend extra political capital reassuring its own allies on subjects like Iran and health care. And as Dan Balz writes, when it comes to the public's assessments of how Obama is handling the economy, "there are political warning lights flashing."
The White House got some happier news on another front Tuesday, when the American Bar Association pronounced Sonia Sotomayor "well-qualified" to serve on the Supreme Court. The rating was expected, and probably won't do much to assuage conservative critics who aren't always impressed by the ABA. But it still gives her candidacy an extra bit of momentum in advance of next week's confirmation hearings. Those sessions will take place, the New York Times writes, before a reshaped Senate Judiciary Committee, full of lawmakers playing different roles than they have in past confirmation fights.
Up in Alaska, Sarah Palin is facing yet another ethics complaint over her requests for reimbursement for travel expenses. See, this is exactly the kind of thing she is quitting to protect Alaskans against, or something like that. Actually, Adam Nagourney writes, Palin's resignation speech may have been "overanalyzed, imbued with more motive, forethought and political calculus than might really be there." So Nagourney probably wouldn't approve of this graphic, which helpfully attempts to diagram Palin's "full-court press" metaphor. Enjoy.
July 8, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
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