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White House Cheat Sheet: Obama vs. Congress

The capitol, which has seen a lot of action since convening in January, will be quiet for the next two weeks as Congress takes a break. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Even as President Obama continues his whirlwind tour of Europe today with stops in France and Germany, Congress wraps up business and heads off for its first extended break since convening in early January.

The first six weeks of the 111th Congress have been dominated by the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate pushing through Obama's agenda -- from the $787 billion economic stimulus plan last month to the budget blueprint approved by the House and Senate last night.

Republicans have played their role as the loyal opposition, unanimously opposing the economic stimulus package on the House side but watching three GOP Senators defect to secure passage. The budget has been a rockier road as House Republicans faltered somewhat in the rollout of their alternative budget proposal last week.

So, what have we learned about Obama's attitude toward Congress -- and its efficacy -- in these first months? The Fix spoke with a variety of staffers -- Democrats and Republicans, aides in the House and Senate -- looking for answers to that question.

Here's what we found out:

Style Points: Even Republicans who disagree with Obama on every policy matter applaud his outreach efforts as genuine. Early in the fight for the economic stimulus plan Obama courted Republicans through a variety of means -- from appearing at their conference meeting to inviting many of them to the White House for cocktails. At issue for Republicans is that while Obama and his senior aides are accessible, many GOP members don't believe their ideas are fully heard. "Republican Senators appreciate hearing from him, but what they would appreciate more is some indication that their concerns and ideas were actually heard," said one senior Republican leadership aide. Still, in a body as based on collegiality as Congress, Obama has made strides.

Attention Has Been Paid: Unlike President Bush, who largely sought to empower the executive branch at the expense of the (Republican-controlled) Congress, Obama has been attentive to its needs -- particularly those of Democrats. "In reaction to the previous regime ... his team's touch comes across as lighter and more expansive with a wider array of members than the Congress has seen in the past several years," said Eric Ueland, a former chief of staff to then Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.). The explanation? Obama, despite his outsider profile as a candidate, spent four years in the Senate before being elected to the White House and his chief of staff -- Rahm Emanuel -- is a former member of Congress who was on the fast track to becoming speaker before accepting his current post. Aside from Emanuel, Obama's senior staff has a heavy dose of Hill experience -- particularly deputy chief of staff Jim Messina, Sen. Max Baucus's (D-Mont.) longtime consigliere, and Pete Rouse, former Sen. Tom Daschle's (D-S.D.) right hand man. One senior Democratic House aide cautioned, however, that Obama risked "overexposure" with his frequent contact with the Hill. "He's gotta be careful not to take the shine off of the presidency," said the source. "If members get too much attention, than taking his call might not be as impactful."

We're All in This Together: During a meeting with House Democrats on Monday night, Obama told the members: "If you think you can run away from us [meaning himself and House Democratic leaders], I'm sorry, that's not the way it works. We are all in this together." (The quote is a paraphrase from a source in the room.) Obama's emphasis on team -- that Democrats are only as strong as their weakest link -- is an interesting strategy aimed at trying to keep his party cohesive on the major ticket items of his agenda. It's also a recognition of the political reality that as Obama goes so go Democrats in 2010. One needs only to look back at people like former Rep. Chris Shays (Conn.) who regularly voted against President Bush but ultimately couldn't escape being labeled as a rubber stamp for an unpopular agenda. (Shays was defeated for reelection in 2008.) Will it work? On the budget proposal, just 20 House Democrats voted "no" -- the vast majority of which sit in districts carried by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) last fall.

What to Watch For:

Friday Day Lights: When the lights go up tonight, you'll want to have read these stories.

1. President Obama calls the G20 summit a "turning point" in the global economic recovery, and then poses for the greatest picture of all time.
2. The Dow rises again.
3. Pay-Rod: Indicted.
4. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) plans an attack on former Rep. Pat Toomey's (R) past support for deregulation of the financial industry.
5. "Friday Night Lights" -- the best show on television -- has been renewed for two more seasons. Slate's David Plotz and Mrs. Fix rejoice!

Biden in the Budget Fight: A strange set of circumstances led to Vice President Biden sticking around the Senate all last night for the sounds-like-more-fun-than-it-is vote-a-rama on the budget. With the Minnesota seat still vacant and Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) still battling brain cancer and not voting, there were 98 Senators in attendance -- bringing up the possibility that there could be a tie on any of the many budget amendments. (It takes only simple majority to accept or reject the amendments.) And so, Biden who as vice president is tasked with breaking ties in the Senate spent the evening with his old colleagues -- just in case. (Hat tip: the omniscient Paul Kane who covers Congress for the Post.)

Census Fight Brewing: The nomination of Robert Groves, the director of the survey research center at the University of Michigan, to be the next head of the Census Bureau could well spark a partisan fight in Congress. Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) immediately released a statement saying that the Groves pick makes "clear that he intends to employ the political manipulation of census data for partisan gain." At issue is Groves's support for something called statistical sampling which seeks to use mathematical modeling to approximate the number of people missed by the door to door count. Many Republicans oppose sampling -- citing the need to count every vote without the use of any sort of formulas or calculations. Although Groves immediately came under attack from some GOP circles, the survey research world jumped to his defense. Mark Blumenthal, a Democratic pollster who runs the pollster.com site, wrote "For those tempted to label Groves as the pawn of partisans in the White House or the Democratic party, I have a warning: The notion of Bob Groves yielding to partisanship is laughable."

Timing is Everything: On the same day that an independent poll showed him ahead of Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd (D) by 16 points, former Rep. Rob Simmons (R) formally announced his candidacy via video. "Senator Dodd has lost touch with the people of Connecticut," says Simmons in the video, noting that Dodd has "presided over the collapse" of the financial and housing markets before bashing the incumbent over his ties to Countrywide. "This isn't public service, it's self service," says Simmons. This race is going to be very nasty.

Alaska Republicans Call for Redo: Less than 24 hours after the Justice Department dropped its case against former Sen. Ted Stevens (R), the Alaska Republican Party called on Sen. Mark Begich (D) to resign and for a special election to be held. "The only reason Mark Begich won the election in November is because a few thousand Alaskans thought that Senator Ted Stevens was guilty of seven felonies," read the release from the state party. "A special election will allow Alaskans to have a real, non-biased, credible process where the most qualified person could win, without the manipulation of the Department of Justice." Interesting idea. Chances of it happening? Zero percent.

Click It!: Ever wonder what the heck happened with polling in the run-up to the New Hampshire Democratic primary? The American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) -- the coolest nerds we know -- have released a 123-page research document that provides exhaustive answers to any and all of your questions. The basic conclusion? Because of a small level of undecided voters in every poll, the estimates for each individual candidate were generally lower than the proportion of votes they received," reads the document. "And these underestimates tended to be greater for the first place
finisher than the second place finisher." Translation? Undecideds broke heavily to then Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Mack Out: Florida Rep. Connie Mack IV, once considered a near-certain candidate for the open Senate seat in the Sunshine State, removed himself from the race Thursday in a letter to Florida Gov. Charlie Crist(R). Mack notes that public reports suggest Crist is considering a run for Senate and that rather than potentially run against the governor, he is seeking reelection to his House seat and endorsing Crist. "As you contemplate your own political future, I will be your strongest supporter and champion -- regardless of whether you seek re-election or election to the Senate," wrote Mack. Mack's decision to step aside will ramp up speculation, which is already considerably ramped, that Crist is running to the Senate -- a race that, if he pursues, he would be heavily favored to win. Crist has essentially frozen the Republican field although former state House Speaker Marco Rubio has formed an exploratory committee.

Say What?: "Let the air out of their tires and do not let them out of their driveway on Election Day." -- Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) offers "advice" to Virginia Republicans on keeping opponents away from the polls during an appearance for gubernatorial nominee Bob McDonnell.

By Chris Cillizza  |  April 3, 2009; 5:55 AM ET
Categories:  Cheat Sheet Share This:  E-Mail | Technorati | Del.icio.us | Digg | Stumble Previous: Should Norm Coleman Concede?
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"Can we just get the Jokes out of the way now:

Obama is messiah from KING OF ZOUK
Obama is socialist from KING OF ZOUK
Obama uses teleprompter from KING OF ZOUK
Obama is surrendering to Europe from KING OF ZOUK
Obama spends a lot from NEWBEEBOY
OBAMA has middle name HUSSEIN from KING OF ZOUK
OBAMA failed today at whatever he is doing because he did it from KING OF ZOUK

You guys need new material like FOX needs sanity

Posted by: tallertapas311 | April 3, 2009 9:19 AM"
What he said. Great Herr Hannity-type stuff.

Hannity almost exploded in anger yesterday over BHO's resoundingly successful European tour. With his usual bigoted reverse logic, Hannity says the universal adulation received by BHO from world leaders proves BHO's a bad guy. Do you think Herr Hannity and Rush would be different if they had graduated from college?

Posted by: broadwayjoe | April 4, 2009 8:56 AM | Report abuse

i agree.
87 years old. this is a bit outrageous.
perfect example of bow ties/greatest generationERs...time to go guys and gals.

Yes grandpa, this is what is called a keyboard.
Yes, and this is a blackberry. Oh, your fingers have too much arthritis to work them? Too bad.
Yes grandpa, it is called the INFORMATION SUPERHIGHWAY and the INTERNET.
Can you spell that with now grandpa?
I know papa...it's hard, but this is the 21st century. As in 2009.

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | April 3, 2009 1:59 PM | Report abuse

Obama should be indicted along with his good friends Blago, Emmanuel, Rezko, and all of the rest of Chicago's mob.

Posted by: armpeg | April 3, 2009 1:55 PM | Report abuse

You children are still tossing insults at each other while the country melts down. Look Wall Street is looting the last few pockets of money they can get at. Right now, that is pension funds. The banks, with Obama's much ballyhooed mortgage assistance, are actually increasing the misery of home owners - *most* of those participating in the program are seeing an *increase* in their mortgage payments and no reduction whatsoever for penalties.


The same is true of credit card companies. In the corporate world, the rate of job outsourcing has increase, nearly doubling, since January and this White House just issued 165,000 new H1-B visas which will inevitably result in 165,000 American loosing their jobs to cheap Indian guest workers. In an unannounced executive order, ICE issues work permits to any illegal immigrant discovered, only deporting those with certain felony convictions. That new policy was made with no public input, no Congressional input or oversight, it was an executive fiat not unlike the worst of what Bush did. In the last election, we simply replaced one collection of clueless fanatics with another. If you trust Obama any more than you trusted Bush, you're a moron. If you supported Bush and blather about the wreckage crated by Obama, you're being a lot less than just dishonest, you're contributing to the problem. So long as we place any trust in government, have any hope or the ratbags and thieves that run and ruin our lives, things aren't going to get any better.

Posted by: mibrooks27 | April 3, 2009 1:55 PM | Report abuse

can these folks even get any loonier?

"Will Sarah Palin face a primary challenge from Ted Stevens in 2010?

WASHINGTON (CNN) – Now that the corruption case against former Sen. Ted Stevens has been dropped, Alaska Rep. Don Young wants Stevens to run for governor — a move that would set up a Republican primary between the veteran lawmaker and Sarah Palin, if she decides to seek a second term in 2010.

"Personally I'd like to see him run for governor, and that's my personal feeling," Young told the Alaska Public Radio Network on Thursday. "So, we'll see what happens down the line. He probably won't, but I think that would be a great way to cap off a great career as being the governor of the state of Alaska."

Stevens will be 87 years old by the time the next governor takes office in January 2011.

Other top Alaska Republicans, including Palin and Alaska GOP chairman Randy Ruedrich, said Thursday that Democratic Sen. Mark Begich should step aside so a new vote can be held now that the charges against Stevens have been dropped by the Justice Department."

Posted by: drindl | April 3, 2009 1:29 PM | Report abuse

hold the phone:
the greatest picture of all time has been edited......

where's saudi arabia ?

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | April 3, 2009 1:22 PM | Report abuse


Journalist's account of "DEW attack":


Posted by: scrivener50 | April 3, 2009 12:32 PM | Report abuse

Regarding the Huckabee suggestion to Virginia Republicans: it's good to hear a Republican leader admit that they need to cheat to win.

Posted by: nodebris | April 3, 2009 12:18 PM | Report abuse

President Obama's "team touch"....
(((along with Mr. Rahm-a-nator)))
is what we call Total Quality Management.
Something Republicans hate because it would give up individual control and greed.

Welcome to the 21st century!

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | April 3, 2009 12:03 PM | Report abuse

my buddy king:
now tell me--
what is American Leadership, in your view?

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | April 3, 2009 11:54 AM | Report abuse

"I still think that MDH can become the conscience of the social conservatives."

By its very nature, Mark, movement conservatism has no conscience, or soul.

What i am gleaning from rightwing blogs is that Huckabee and Gingrich will run together in 2010 on a no-tax, Christian Nation platform.

You read it here first.

Posted by: drindl | April 3, 2009 11:41 AM | Report abuse

teleprompter teleprompter teleprompter teleprompter

---just to get it out of the way. it's a new drinking game, folks! jlust take a drink every time kouk posts about teleprompters. you'll be drunk in about 10 minlutes.

christ, what a pathetic joke. what a waste.

you ought to be out on the street with your tin cup, king of joke. do something positive with your life.

Posted by: drindl | April 3, 2009 11:36 AM | Report abuse

criminey chris:
i begin to read and i have to take issue with the first statement..
"Even Republicans who disagree with Obama on every policy matter applaud his outreach efforts...."

on EVERY policy matter....
on EVERY policy matter....

now see, this is counter productive --even for Repulsives.
it's a given, no? be a republican and be against every democrat policy.
and vice versus, correct?

and now tell me again, what's wrong with this country????

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | April 3, 2009 11:31 AM | Report abuse

I am the duke of zuke.

Posted by: mattintx | April 3, 2009 11:00 AM | Report abuse

and the reason the undecided broke so heavily for HRC in New Hampshire was "the tears" moment.
what a way to get the pity vote.

Posted by: gmail | April 3, 2009 10:47 AM | Report abuse

"When you see the abuse of power, you've got to speak."

-- VP candidate Joseph Biden, Aug. 27, 2008, Democratic National Convention


Bush-Cheney Constitutional Abuses Continue...





And federally-funded programs equip the "community gang stalkers" who are terrorizing their neighbors as police look the other way -- destroying their livelihoods and degrading their health with widely-deployed microwave radiation ("directed energy") weapons

A parallel array of federal "programs of personal financial destruction" slowly decimate the family finances of "target" families -- surely a factor in the mortgage meltdown that precipitated the global financial crisis.

When victims complain, they are told there is "nothing to investigate."

True -- because federal and local authorities KNOW ALL ABOUT IT.

Will the national press corps -- and Team Obama -- wake up and realize that democracy and middle-class wealth are being stolen at the GRASSROOTS?


OR (if links are corrupted / disabled):


Posted by: scrivener50 | April 3, 2009 10:38 AM | Report abuse

You guys forgot an "Obambi" joke from ZOUK.

Posted by: koolkat_1960 | April 3, 2009 10:30 AM | Report abuse

you're posts are going downhill, zoukie, and they weren't much to begin with. Yawn.

Posted by: newageblues | April 3, 2009 10:03 AM | Report abuse

Let's see. The President shows up at a summit, and doesn't make America look idiotic. The White House is working with Congress, and not using them as a rubber stamp. The opposition is being treated as something other than a pack of un-American riff-raff. Professionals are being hired to do professional work, instead of filling those positions with conservative political hacks. And the wingnuts are frothing at the mouth in their indignation, needing bibs to keep the drool off of their "Rush Is My Co-Pilot" T-shirts.

Ahhhhh. It really IS 2009. Adult supervision really has returned to the White House. Thank God!

Posted by: WaitingForGodot | April 3, 2009 9:24 AM | Report abuse

re: "Say What?"

Huckabee has a good sense of humor and is easy to listen to and watch. He also has JB's "disease" of speak-before-you-think.

I still think that MDH can become the conscience of the social conservatives.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | April 3, 2009 9:21 AM | Report abuse

Can we just get the Jokes out of the way now:

Obama is messiah from KING OF ZOUK
Obama is socialist from KING OF ZOUK
Obama uses teleprompter from KING OF ZOUK
Obama is surrendering to Europe from KING OF ZOUK
Obama spends a lot from NEWBEEBOY
OBAMA has middle name HUSSEIN from KING OF ZOUK
OBAMA failed today at whatever he is doing because he did it from KING OF ZOUK

You guys need new material like FOX needs sanity

Posted by: tallertapas311 | April 3, 2009 9:19 AM | Report abuse


Already a teleprompter post and a MESSIAH post.

You got to wake up pretty early to beat this guy.


The best part is you dont even read the news, you make it up.

OBAMBI- get it like hes a weak fawn. Obama has been strong overthere and they all know it. Attack the strengths. Very Rovian, Mr. Beck.

You truly have a meaningful life.

Posted by: tallertapas311 | April 3, 2009 9:11 AM | Report abuse

Cut Taxes for the rich.Cut Taxes for the rich.Cut Taxes for the rich.Cut Taxes for the rich.Cut Taxes for the rich.Cut Taxes for the rich.How many times could I repeat that phrase before you blocked me out. If the Republicans want to be heard they need to say something different. The peat and repeat act that they have been doing has become very stale. Get some new ideas or shutup!

Posted by: vwallen@bellatlantic.net | April 3, 2009 8:37 AM | Report abuse

Obama and his teleprompters back on the stump.

Poor little barry desperately trying to fit in and be liked. What a damaging childhood.

I guess the new era of responsibility doesn't include domestic spending. Or reigning in rogue international players.

But we are comrades with Russia. And Zimbabwe will be watching over wall street so everyone should feel better.

Posted by: king_of_zouk | April 3, 2009 8:36 AM | Report abuse

We've learned that the GOP won't play ball with the Dems or Obama even as over 100 in their own party scoff at their "alternative" budget.


Posted by: parkerfl1 | April 3, 2009 8:27 AM | Report abuse

messiah is surrendering to France.

Posted by: king_of_zouk | April 3, 2009 8:21 AM | Report abuse

I only hope that on his return from fortress europa that he does not declare that his is now the King of North America...even if, by default, he might as well be.

Posted by: newbeeboy | April 3, 2009 7:37 AM | Report abuse

it is a shame obambi has abrogated American leadership in favor of world socialism.

On the other hand, bipartisanship has returned to congress, that is, even dems now vote against the lib splurge.

Obama has converted us into a banana republic.

What a complete failure on the world stage.

Posted by: king_of_zouk | April 3, 2009 7:29 AM | Report abuse

Obama appears to be in charge of his party and the agenda. The 'sit on their hands' Republicans haven't done themselves any favors so far and leave for the break with no positive press or image. I think Obama is genuine in his outreach efforts, evidenced by his demeanor at the G-20 meeting just concluded.

He's showing leadership at a time when the country needs to see it.

Posted by: RickJ | April 3, 2009 7:06 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: RickJ | April 3, 2009 7:02 AM | Report abuse

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