8 a.m. ET: Is President Obama on the rebound? Events from the last 24 hours provide a mixed answer to that question, suggesting the White House may have reason for optimism on the domestic front even as trouble brews abroad.
First, the Senate Finance Committee began its markup of health-care reform legislation, a concrete step toward passage of Obama's signature priority. Second, the new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll suggests the president's ratings on the issue are improving -- approval of Obama's handling of health care ticked up four points since August, from 41 percent to 45 percent, while the percentage who think Obama's plan is a good idea is up three points. (If no bill passes, 37 percent of respondents said they'd blame the GOP, while only 10 percent would blame Obama). "On the economy, Americans aren't euphoric, but the mood is clearly improving," the Journal writes, as the percentage of respondents who are "satisfied" with the state of the economy went up 10 points. At the same time, the survey provides a warning sign about a crucial voting bloc: For the first time in this poll, a plurality of independents (46 percent) disapprove of the job Obama is doing. (A new American Research Group survey pegged disapproval among independents even higher, at 57 percent.)
More worryingly for the White House, pessimism about the war in Afghanistan continues to increase. The poll found only 28 percent of respondents said they were "more confident" of a "successful conclusion" to the conflict, and 59 percent were "less confident." While 51 percent opposed sending more troops into battle, 55 percent opposed "an immediate and orderly withdrawal" from the battlefield. "Strikingly, the poll shows that there’s a generational split over whether to send more U.S. troops into Afghanistan," notes NBC's Mark Murray, pointing out that a majority of those over 50 supported expanding the war while younger respondents opposed it.
Those declining poll numbers as lawmakers from both parties are increasingly calling for Stanley McChrystal to appear personally on Capitol Hill and testify on the state of the war effort, a step the Pentagon is resisting. The New York Times reports that Obama "is exploring alternatives to a major troop increase in Afghanistan, including a plan advocated by Vice President ... Biden to scale back American forces and focus more on rooting out Al Qaeda there and in Pakistan." At the same time, "Obama might just be testing assumptions — and assuring liberals in his own party that he was not rushing into a further expansion of the war — before ultimately agreeing to the anticipated troop request from General McChrystal." The Washington Post writes that the military and Congress are concerned "over a sharp increase in U.S. troop deaths in Afghanistan."
At the UN today, Obama plans to deliver a stern speech calling on other countries to do more to help America tackle difficult problems like climate change and nuclear proliferation. The Associated Press writes that the speech excerpts released by the White House "carried a remarkably blunt tone. ... In essence, Obama's message is that he expects plenty in return for reaching out." Obama met with the leaders of Israel and Palestine Tuesday and urged them to work harder toward a peace deal. But after the meetings, George Mitchell "acknowledged that Obama's presence had not helped the Israelis and Palestinians bridge major issues, and others described the outcome as lackluster," the Los Angeles Times reports. On climate change, the Washington Times says that Obama's words on the subject were "upstaged" by the ambitious anti-pollution plan unveiled by Hu Jintao, the president of China.
Back in the Senate, USA Today observes that "lawmakers in both parties remained skeptical" of Max Baucus' health-care plan Tuesday. Republicans sounded more resolute than ever in opposition to Baucus' outline, with the notable exception of Olympia Snowe. The Hill notes that the stock prices of health insurance companies rose when Baucus unveiled his plan, and concludes: "Wall Street expects Washington to complete health-care reform. But it doesn’t expect a public option."
Most everyone now expects to have a new senator from Massachusetts soon, as the state senate approved a bill giving Deval Patrick the authority to name an interim replacement for Edward Kennedy. An appointment could come as early as Thursday, with former Kennedy aide Paul Kirk the most oft-mentioned candidate, along with Michael Dukakis.
September 23, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
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