8 a.m. ET: President Obama may or may not have lost weight so far in office, but there's no question he feels a heavy burden as challenges mount at home and abroad.
Speaking to CBS News during a round of interviews in China, Obama denied suggestions that he has dropped many pounds in the White House, but did acknowledge a tough year so far: "You just don't have a comparable set of circumstances -- with two wars, a financial crisis as bad as anything since 1933, a host of regional issues that have to be dealt with, a pandemic; you have a convergence of factors that have made this a difficult year not so much for me, but for the American people. And so, absolutely that weighs on me, because whenever I visit Walter Reed or other military hospitals, I see the sacrifice young people are making. That is a heavy weight. But it's an extraordinary privilege, as well, and I wouldn't trade my job for anything."
Obama's current trip has turned out to be difficult in its own right, as much of the coverage of his China visit has focused on what the president didn't accomplish. "The busiest day in President Obama's three-day trip here, which included a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao, failed to immediately yield major breakthroughs on issues ranging from the economy to nuclear proliferation," USA Today reports. The Los Angeles Times echoes that theme: "When it came to China, President Obama's famous powers of persuasion failed to persuade. He came bearing a long shopping list, including Chinese support for tougher sanctions on Iran and more flexibility by Beijing on currency exchange rates, but Obama was met with polite, yet stony, silences." The Wall Street Journal calls it "an awkward summit with some achievements but a long list of unfinished business," while the New York Times says Obama "was confronted, on his first visit, with a fast-rising China more willing to say no to the United States." The White House has announced that Hu will be returning the favor, visiting the U.S. in 2010.
Afghanistan is also weighing on the president. Obama told CNN he was "very close to a decision" on the way forward in Afghanistan, and added that he would prefer "not to hand off anything to the next president." On CBS, Obama said he was "even angrier than Bob Gates" about the leaks that have come out of his decision-making process, and that they are "absolutely" a firing offense. The Los Angeles Times looks at the corruption issue, finding "cronyism, graft and the flourishing drug trade have destroyed public confidence in the government of President Hamid Karzai and contributed to the resurgence of the Taliban by driving disaffected Afghans to side with insurgents and protecting an important source of their funding." The Washington Post says Obama "has been curiously quiet" about Afghanistan on this trip. Hillary Clinton arrived in Afghanistan Wednesday on an unannounced trip to attend Karzai's inauguration.
Back home, Politico reports on the "mounting evidence that independent voters have soured on the Democrats," both in the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial elections and since, as "a flurry of new polls makes clear that Democrats are facing deeper problems with independents—the swing voters who swung dramatically toward the party in 2006 and 2008 but who now are registering deep unease with the amount of spending and debt called for under Obama's agenda in an era of one-party rule in Washington." Along those lines, the new Washington Post-ABC News poll found that approval for Obama's handling of Afghanistan among independents "has slipped to 39 percent, a new low."
In the Senate, Harry Reid is expected to unveil his version of the health-care bill at a party caucus meeting Wednesday evening. The Hill writes, "Senate action on healthcare reform before Thanksgiving is in serious jeopardy as the upper chamber still doesn’t have a final version of the bill," noting that Tom Coburn is planning to slow the process further by mandating that the entire bill be read aloud on the Senate floor. The Washington Post notes that Reid said Tuesday he was "cautiously optimistic" that he could get 60 votes for his plan, and added that Ben Nelson and Mary Landrieu "appeared to be warming to Reid's strategy, Democratic aides said, provided certain concerns are addressed." The New York Times looks at Nelson, Landrieu and Blanche Lincoln, writing that the procedural vote on health care "is fast becoming a test of the leadership abilities of" Reid and "is providing a case study of the Democrats’ difficulties in managing high expectations fueled by large Congressional majorities."
Roll Call writes that Reid "may prevent his Members from ever having to vote on the House-passed health care reform bill," choosing an unrelated tax bill instead to serve as the vehicle for the Senate's measure. The Wall Street Journal examines the reform bills' coverage mandates, as "some conservatives have seized on the issue as a symbol of what they see as government overreach in the health bill approved by the House earlier this month." Jonathan Cohn reports on a McKinsey and Company study on how reform will impact various sectors of the health-care industry.
Admitting what had long appeared obvious, "Senate Democratic leaders said Tuesday they would put off debate on a big climate-change bill until spring, in a sign of weakening political will to tackle a long-term environmental issue at a time of high unemployment and economic uncertainty," the Wall Street Journal reports. (Even if there was the political will to do the bill this year, there simply isn't time.) Here's another reason the measure is being put off: "Clear differences have emerged among the Democratic chairmen of the six Senate committees with jurisdiction over climate change legislation," the Hill reports. David Corn says Obama is lucky health care is distracting from the subject of climate change, where "he has fallen short."
November 18, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
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