8 a.m. ET: Are liberals growing restless with President Obama?
This week alone, the president has announced a troop surge in Afghanistan that was greeted tepidly by fellow Democrats; the Senate health-care bill's public option is likely to be watered down even further; and the White House convened a job summit amid complaints that he hasn't done enough to address unemployment. Add it all up, and you have a Democratic base for whom nothing is going quite right. The question for Obama is whether events in the coming months -- enactment of a health-care bill, further signs of an economic rebound -- can sufficiently reassure liberal activists so they feel motivated to work for Democratic candidates in advance of a tough midterm election.
The New York Times looks at Obama's intraparty problems, writing that his Afghanistan decision "is straining a relationship already struggling under the weight of an administration agenda that some Democratic lawmakers fear is placing them in a politically vulnerable position." On the campaign front, Politico writes that Obama's Afghanistan strategy "has complicated an already hazardous political landscape and introduced a highly combustible element into scores of House and Senate races." Democratic candidates now face a choice: Back Obama's plan and possibly anger their liberal base, or oppose it and irritate both the president and at least some general election voters.
Gallup is out with the first major poll since Obama's announcement, finding that the new strategy "has not left Americans overly confident that it will succeed -- 48% say the U.S. is certain or likely to achieve its goals in the war, while 45% say the U.S. is unlikely to do so or is certain not to achieve its aims." The poll did find that 51 percent of respondents support Obama's policy, but even among those supporters, a full 35 percent said they were pessimistic that it would work. USA Today points out that while "independents were the most skeptical" of the strategy, "Fifty-six percent of Republicans and 58% of Democrats support Obama's plan" an unusual example of both parties giving roughly the same responses.
On the second day of all-star Cabinet testimony on Obama's Afghanistan plan, new details emerged about the pace of both the troop surge and the possible withdrawal in 2011. The Washington Post notes that Robert Gates said the withdrawal "will 'probably' take two or three years," and reports "slippage on the front end of the 30,000-troop deployment" that will mean a timeframe of longer than six months for the troops to arrive. Hamid Karzai, meanwhile, told the Associated Press, "For Afghans it's good that we are facing a deadline. We must begin to stand on our own feet." But Karzai also said that the U.S. needed to be more open to negotiating with the Taliban, and complained about international criticism of corruption in his government. (For a different take on that subject, see The Onion.)
Charles Krauthammer, shockingly, was not a fan of Obama's speech this week, summing it up thusly: "We shall fight in the air, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields, we shall fight in the hills -- for 18 months. Then we start packing for home." Karl Rove says the speech "deserves to be cheered," and while he criticizes elements of Obama's address, Rove writes that victory in Afghanistan "is now within his grasp." Tina Brown complains that Obama's skills as a communicator appear to be eroding.
Thursday was a crucial day in the Senate health-care debate, as "Senate Democrats closed ranks yesterday behind $460 billion in politically risky Medicare cuts at the heart of health care legislation, thwarting a Republican attempt to doom President Obama’s sweeping overhaul," the Associated Press writes. The Washington Times says the Senate turned back "a potentially lethal stab" at the bill. The chamber also approved an amendment to require insurance plans to cover more preventive services for women, and defeated a GOP effort to ban government reliance on the health-care advisory panel that recommended controversial changes in mamography guidelines.
Roll Call reports that the Senate is likely to consider this weekend an amendment on the reimportation of prescription drugs, authored by Byron Dorgan, rather than an abortion amendment by Ben Nelson. The Hill writes that Nelson's measure "does not appear to have enough support" to pass, as it is unlikely to attract the 20-plus Democratic votes it would need. If Nelson's amendment fails, is his vote on cloture lost? Bloomberg writes that Nelson "threatened to join with Republicans to vote against the final measure unless he’s satisfied with language preventing federal funds from being used for" abortion. On the public option, a group of Democratic moderates led by Tom Carper met Thursday evening to discuss compromises, but there's no sign that a breakthrough is imminent.
The Washington Post contrasts Reid's handling of the economic stimulus package earlier this year with the current health-care talks. On the former bill, "Reid called on President Obama to act as salesman in chief for the legislation, closing every deal with high-voltage White House charm. Ten months later, as the president juggles a full slate of challenges, Reid has opted to confine health-care negotiations largely to the Senate chamber and his adjoining suite of offices, urging colleagues to negotiate compromises among themselves and to bring their concerns directly to him." The schedule may be Reid's biggest headache. The Wall Street Journal writes that "the Senate's slow-moving health bill is colliding with other legislative priorities on the economy, raising chances that Democrats won't meet their goal of pushing a health-care overhaul through the chamber this month."
On the economic front, Obama is scheduled to give a speech focused on job creation Tuesday. "The challenge posed by the perception of a jobless recovery is that he must simultaneously seek to instill confidence in Americans by citing so-called 'green shoots' of progress while not appearing to be too ebullient about the financial fate of the country for fear of appearing out of touch with the concerns of everyday Americans," The Fix observes. At his jobs summit Thursday, Obama "offered no promise that he could do much to bring unemployment down quickly even as he comes under pressure from his own party to do more," the New York Times writes. Michael Scherer takes a dim view of such White House summits: "They are all, to put it bluntly, somewhat painful exercises--long, monotone and repetitive. If you want to get a teenagers interested in public service, do not suggest they watch any of the breakout session videos, which the White House is sure to post soon on YouTube."
December 4, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
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