White House Cheat Sheet: Obama Moves to Foreign Affairs
After a first month focused almost exclusively on domestic policy, President Obama is turning to foreign affairs this week, announcing yesterday that he would send more troops to Afghanistan and making his first foreign trip tomorrow when he is scheduled to travel to Canada.
Circumstances to date -- most notably the near-collapse of the American economy -- have largely dictated the issues on which Obama has been able to focus but with the economic stimulus bill now passed through Congress and signed into law, the president appears ready and able to turn some of his attention to a variety of pressing foreign policy concerns.
In announcing the deployment of additional Marine and Army brigades into Afghanistan on Tuesday, Obama insisted the situation "demands urgent attention and swift action" and repeated his assertion from the campaign trail last year that the situation in "has not received the strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires."
Then, in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation released late last night by the White House Obama spoke more broadly about his vision for America's role in the world through the lens of Afghanistan.
"I am absolutely convinced that you cannot solve the problem of Afghanistan, the Taliban, the spread of extremism in that region solely by military means," said Obama. "We're going to gave to use diplomacy [and] we're going to have to use development."
The troop increase represents something of a shift for the Obama administration, which, as Post polling director Jon Cohen points out, has had significant public support for most of its agenda to date. In the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, barely more than a third (34 percent) supported an increase in U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, while almost the same number opted for a decrease (29 percent) or no change at all (32 percent).
Added to that, foreign policy is somewhat uncharted water for Obama as he rarely had opportunity to deal with that particular set of issues during his meteoric rise from the Illinois state Senate to the presidency.
During the primary and general election campaigns, however, attacks on Obama's alleged naivete -- particularly on his willingness to engage in dialogue with leaders of rogue nations -- fell flat.
And, other recent polling affirms the notion that the American public has high levels in Obama's ability to represent the country on the world stage and his judgment when it comes to dealing with tricky foreign policy matters.
In a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll conducted earlier this month 76 percent of the sample said they thought Obama was doing a "good job" on foreign policy, slightly larger than the 72 percent who said he was doing a "good job" handling the economy.
A Washington Post/ABC News survey from January affirms the confidence in Obama; roughly seven in ten said he "can be trusted in a crisis" while 62 percent said they believed he would "be a good commander in chief."
One other intangible likely to work in the president's favor on matters of foreign policy is that the American public had badly soured on former president George W. Bush and his seemingly "go it alone" approach to foreign policy -- particularly in Iraq.
The more Obama can draw a bright line for Americans -- and the rest of the world -- between the Bush Administration and his own when it comes to the U.S.'s role in the global community, the more likely, in the short term at least, he is to succeed in winning over the public on foreign policy matters.
Sked Stuff: President Obama delivers a speech laying out his plans to stem the tide of home foreclosures this morning at Dobson High School in Mesa, Arizona. The plan will allow people to refinance or reconfigure their home loans in order to make their monthly mortgage payments as well as call on lenders to build in some level of flexibility into the system, according to one Democrat familiar with the proposal. "The plan will reward people for playing by the rules," added the source.
Burris Brouhaha, Part 78: In the "story that won't die" category, Illinois Sen. Roland Burris continues to acknowledge that he had far more contact with close associates to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich than he initially told an Illinois state House committee charged with investigating allegations that Blagojevich had sought to sell President Obama's Senate seat. In a sign that his political future is growing more dim, the Senate Ethics Committee -- led by California Sen. Barbara Boxer (Calif.) -- opened a "preliminary investigation" into Burris' past statements on Tuesday, a move recommended by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) in a statement. Burris has been purposefully vague about whether he will seek a full term in 2010 but the recent controversy suggests that even if he does choose to make that bid he will face a serious primary challenge. The leading candidate? State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias who received a vote of confidence last week from Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.). If Burris resigns or is removed from office, Gov. Pat Quinn (D) would be charged with appointing a replacement with state Attorney General Lisa Madigan the leading name.
Solis Doyle Lands: Patti Solis Doyle, campaign manager for much of Hillary Clinton's presidential bid and later chief of staff for vice presidential nominee Joe Biden, is joining the law and lobbying firm Utrecht & Phillips as a partner, she confirmed to the Fix on Tuesday. "I am very proud to join a firm filled with old as well as new friends," said Solis Doyle. Utrecht is a longtime Democratic campaign lawyer -- serving as general counsel to Clinton's 2008 presidential bid as well as former president Bill Clinton's campaigns. "I have known Patti and worked with her for many years," said Utrecht. "She will be a great asset for the firm and our clients." In January, Utrecht and William Phillips broke off from the firm Ryan, Phillips, Utrecht & MacKinnon to form their own legal and lobbying shop.
House GOP Hammers Perriello: The National Republican Congressional Committee will go on the air in Virginia Democratic Rep. Tom Perriello's 5th district with ads that slam the freshman Democrat for allegedly "stretching the truth" in explaining his vote for President Obama's economic stimulus package. The ad, which is running in the Roanoke-Lynchburg media market, details some of the spending in the stimulus plan -- "smoking cessation, arts funding, treatments for STDs" -- and urges viewers to call Perriello and "tell him to stop wasting our money." NRCC communications director Ken Spain described the ads as a second phase of a campaign begun last Friday with radio ads in the districts of 30 Democrats who voted for the bill. "Struggling middle-class families in Virginia need a leader who will work to deliver immediate relief during tough economic times, not a politician who refuses to be honest about how he wants to spend their hard-earned tax dollars," said Spain. Perriello, who defeated Rep. Virgil Goode (R) in 2008, is a top target of House Republicans given the Republican lean of his Southside Virginia district.
Paterson's Problems: New York Gov. David Paterson's public indecision over who to appoint to replace Hillary Clinton in the Senate appears to have badly damaged him as he considers whether or not to run for a full term in 2010, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll. A majority (52 percent) said they disapproved of the way Paterson handled the appointment process that saw Caroline Kennedy emerge as a frontrunner only to remove her name from consideration days before Paterson opted for then Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D). And, in a hypothetical Democratic primary matchup Paterson trails state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo by a 55 percent to 23 percent margin -- a stunning deficit for an incumbent. Cuomo leads former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) 51 percent to 37 percent in a general election race while Giuliani and Paterson are knotted at 43 percent. Conventional wisdom in the Empire State had assumed that Cuomo could not challenge an African American Democrat twice for his party's gubernatorial nomination (Cuomo against ran state Comptroller Carl McCall in 2002 and dropped out one week before the primary) but if several more polls show the seat in real jeopardy if Paterson is the nominee, there could be justification for Cuomo to get into the race.
RNC Up on the Air in New York Special: Speaking of Gillibrand, her ascension to the Senate has created a competitive special election for her Albany-area 20th district seat. Sensing opportunity, the Republican National Committee launched an ad on Tuesday touting the credentials of state Assemblyman Jim Tedisco (R). The commercial, which cost the RNC approximately $80,000, was touted by national Republicans as evidence that newly-elected RNC Chairman Michael Steele was making good on a commitment to ensure the party was competitive nationwide. "The Republican Party will no longer ignore the Northeast," pledged Steele. "Our conservative principles are applicable to every county and corner of this country."
Podcast Recs: Yesterday on "TheFix" Twitter feed (Haven't signed up yet? Um, do it now.) we asked folks for their recommendations for the best podcasts out there. We couldn't keep all the great suggestions to ourselves so here are some of the most commonly mentioned: "This American Life," "RadioLab," Slate's "Political Gabfest," "New Yorker's Fiction," Harry Shearer's "Le Show," "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me," "Music PopCast," "Planet Money," "The Moth," "All Songs Considered," "This Week in Tech," "Stuff You Missed in History Class" and last but not least "Flight of the Conchords."
Say What?: "He should resign immediately." -- Cook County Commissioner Billy Quigley, one of the frontrunners in Illinois' 5th district special election, on topic du jour -- Roland Burris.
February 18, 2009; 6:03 AM ET
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