White House Cheat Sheet: The Obama Mandate
In the early days of his presidency, Barack Obama has shied away from shoving his November victory in the faces of Republicans -- preferring to focus on the need for bipartisan compromise rather than the clear mandate (365 electoral votes) he received last fall.
That veil lifted a bit on Friday when in a meeting with Republicans to discuss his economic stimulus package, Obama reminded the GOP leaders "I won."
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs sought to downplay the statement during Monday's press briefing (REMINDER: Sign up for The Fix's White House briefing twitter feed today!), but it's clear that Obama believes he has significant political capital following his November victory and he is planning to wield it in the coming debate and vote on the stimulus package.
New Gallup polling suggests that by historical standards Obama starts his administration in with sufficient strength to do just that.
The president's initial job approval rating -- 68 percent -- is the second highest in Gallup polling since World War II, eclipsed only by (you guessed it!) John F. Kennedy who in a February 1961 survey had a stratospheric 72 percent job approval score.
Of the modern presidents, Obama's standing is far and away the strongest at this point in his presidency. George W. Bush had a 57 percent job approval rating in February 2001 and Bill Clinton had a similar 58 percent in January 1993. Times were even harder for George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan -- both of whom started their terms with job approval ratings of 51 percent.
Republican congressional leaders are well aware of Obama's current political strength and must weigh carefully how far to push him when it comes to concessions on the stimulus package. Being on the wrong side of Obama at this point (and probably on this issue) doesn't make for smart politics so watch for GOP Senators and House members being targeted in 2010 to think very carefully before casting a "no" vote on the package.
Of course, Gallup polling also offers a note of caution to Obama. In February 1977 Jimmy Carter's job approval rating stood at 66 percent; less than four years later he was defeated at the ballot box.
Popularity, like everything in politics, is fleeting.
Sked Stuff: President Obama descends on Capitol Hill today for separate meetings with House and Senate Republican leaders to discuss (what else?) his economic stimulus plan. He huddles with the House first at 12:15 p.m. and then the Senate an hour and ten minutes later. The first test for package comes Wednesday when the House will vote on (and almost certainly pass) it. The operative question is how many on-the-fence Republicans Obama can convince to support his main legislative priority. And, if the legislation winds up being approved on something close to a party line vote, how does the Obama team spin it?
News Nugget: Former Maine Senator George Mitchell, President Obama's newly named special envoy to the Middle East is now in the region -- making stops in Israel, the West Bank, Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, before going on to France and England, according to White House press secretary Robert Gibbs. Obama's inner circle has set low expectations for this trip -- casting it primarily as a "listening tour." Obama, himself, during an interview early this month cast America's role in the Middle East peace process thusly: "What we can to is to provide a space within which some trust can be built. And that will be, I think, an early goal."
A (Treasury) Bullet Dodged: The Senate confirmed Timothy Geithner as treasury secretary last night by a 60 to 34 vote -- ending a rocky few weeks that began with Geithner's admission he had failed to pay taxes (accidentally) for several years. Eight Republicans -- included the current and immediate past chairmen of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (John Cornyn of Texas and John Ensign of Nevada, respectively) voted for Geithner's confirmation; four Democrats -- Sens. Robert Byrd (W. Va.), Russ Feingold (Wisc.), Tom Harkin (Iowa) and Bernie Sanders (Vt.), who is technically an independent but caucuses with Democrats, voted against Geithner. Geithner was quickly sworn in and already has a communications team in place to handle what will be a wild ride over the next few years. Stephanie Cutter, a veteran of Sen. John Kerry's 2004 presidential bid and chief of staff to Michelle Obama last fall, will head up the communications shop while Isaac Baker, a veteran of Hillary Clinton's primary campaign, will be the chief spokesman at Treasury.
Feingold Seeks Special Elections: Following not one but two semi-disastrous Senate appointments by Govs. Rod Blagojevich (Ill.) and David Paterson (N.Y.) over the past few weeks, crusading Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) is trying to amend the Constitution to force special elections to fill Senate vacancies. "The controversies surrounding some of the recent gubernatorial appointments to vacant Senate seats make it painfully clear that such appointments are an anachronism that must end," said Feingold in a statement. Feingold quickly landed a cosponsor in freshman Alaska Sen. Mark Begich (D) who watched as then Gov. Frank Murkowski (R) appointed his daughter, Lisa, to the Senate in late 2002. Right now, 34 states allow the governor unfettered power to fill a Senate opening while eight require a special election be held, according to research done by Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn. The remainder are a mix of appointment and election -- depending on when the vacancy occurs and what other elections are scheduled in the state. Appointed Senators are a mixed bag: for every Walter Mondale (appointed in December 1964) or George Mitchell (appointed May 1980) there's a Kaneaster Hodges Jr. (of Arkansas, of course) or John D. Hoblitzell Jr. (of West Virginia).
Click It!: If Blagojevich does wind up being impeached by the Illinois state Senate later this week, the Fix will miss him. The Associated Press' video team got Blagojevich talking about his idea of appointing talk show host Oprah Winfrey to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Obama. "I felt it was an intriguing idea," acknowledged Blagojevich. Also, notice Pay-Rod's repeated use of the phrase "the fix is in" during the interview. Is he trying to send us a message?
The Macker Hits The Airwaves: Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe launched the first ad of his candidacy for Virginia's governorship -- roughly five months before primary voters head to the ballot box. The ad, which is running in the Hampton Roads area, casts McAuliffe as a businessman and an outsider -- the exact profile Sen. Mark Warner used to get elected governor of the Commonwealth back in 2001. "I'll make it my job to protect your job -- and get Virginia's economy moving," McAuliffe says at the commercial's conclusion. The challenge for McAulliffe's rivals in the Democratic party? Raise enough money to get out and define themselves (and the Macker) before he does both first.
Email Imbroglio: First, the powers-that-be took away instant messaging from White House press staffers who had grown dependent on it during Obama's campaign. Now, the email system has proven as unpredictable as the Fix's jumpshot. The White House press operation spent the entire day Monday in the dark -- technologically speaking -- waiting for IT to fix their broken email system. Working at triage, the press staff turned to the trusty email list of the White House Correspondents Association to distribute pool reports about the president's comings and goings. White House staff relying on reporters? Will wonders never cease?
Say What?: "I'll pick myself up and figure out a way to make a living and a good living for my family." -- Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich tells Fox News Channel that he is going to be just fine, thank you very much.
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