Obama's Victory

By Dan Froomkin
12:26 PM ET, 02/12/2009

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announcing the agreement on the stimulus package yesterday. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Obama is getting a stimulus bill that's more or less what he wanted, right when he wanted it.

Sure, the bill is hideously complicated, enormously messy, and not entirely to anyone's satisfaction -- but for goodness sakes, it's nearly a trillion dollars big, and it's the result of the legislative process. Remember the legislative process? As I argued on Friday, those who think Obama should have told Congress exactly what to do seem to be holding him to the standards of George Bush's imperial presidency. Wouldn't you rather Obama treated Congress like the co-equal branch it's supposed to be?

And, sure, it isn't the triumph of bipartisanship that Obama once had in mind. But I found Obama's comments to Terry Moran of ABC News on Tuesday somewhat persuasive. Republicans, in this case, "made a decision that they want to continue the same fights that we've been having over the last decade," he said. But that doesn't mean it will always be that way. "[O]ld habits break hard and, and you know, I, I understand that and so we're going to keep on reaching out and eventually, I have confidence that it's going to pay off."

Consider what Obama accomplished. Congressional leaders have come to an agreement on a nearly $790 billion package yesterday, and as Shailagh Murray and Paul Kane write in The Washington Post that "the legislation is set to arrive on President Obama's desk no later than Monday -- the target Democratic leaders set last month for enacting it into law....

"[A]s a deal emerged from the tumultuous negotiations of the past two days, the bill followed remarkably closely to the broad outline that Obama had painted more than a month ago. The overall cost is just $14 billion more than his original top-end target, while the portion of tax cuts comes to 36 percent, only slightly below his initial goal...

"Obama called the bill 'a hard-fought compromise that will save or create more than 3.5 million jobs and get our economy back on track.' But despite the acknowledgment of ceding some ground, the president secured many of his biggest priorities in the legislation, including the longer-term health-care and energy investments that the administration views as a down payment on broader reforms....

"[M]any economists remain highly skeptical about its potential for providing a significant boost to the sagging economy. But in the near term, the compromise stands as the first major achievement of the new administration."

Greg Hitt and Jonathan Weisman write in the Wall Street Journal: "Congress and the White House reached accord on a $789.5 billion economic-recovery package that would shower hundreds of billions of dollars in tax relief on individuals and businesses and spark an infrastructure building boom, from the nation's ports and waterways to its schools and military bases. The deal all but clinches passage of one of the largest economic rescue programs since Franklin Roosevelt launched the New Deal....

"Defying two decades of mostly Republican-led efforts to diminish federal authority and focus on lifting the economy through tax cuts, the legislation would expand unemployment insurance, tilt federal assistance to the poor, launch major efforts to streamline health-care delivery and give Washington a larger hand in local education spending."

Via U.S. News: "On MSNBC's 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, John Harwood of the New York Times and CNBC said, 'We shouldn't underestimate the magnitude of this early victory' for Obama. To 'get an $800 billion stimulus package in your first couple weeks in office, that's not bad for a start for Barack Obama.' On CNN's The Situation Room, Gloria Borger said 'if you look at the broad sweep of history,' the Obama Administration is going well: 'When you go back to President Bill Clinton, he had trouble getting a stimulus package passed six or seven months into his term. And that was $16 billion.'"

Still, Richard W. Stevenson, political editor of the New York Times, declares in a news analysis that "this was hardly a moment for cigars."

Stevenson describes the package as "a quick, sweet victory for the new president, and potentially a historic one." But he quickly asks whether it was "the opening act for a more ambitious domestic agenda...or a harbinger of reduced expectations." He then essentially argues the latter.

"While it hammered home the reality of bigger, more activist government, the economic package was not the culmination of a hard-fought ideological drive, like Lyndon B. Johnson's civil rights and Great Society programs, or Ronald Reagan's tax cuts, but rather a necessary and hastily patched-together response to an immediate and increasingly dire situation...

"In cobbling together a plan that could get through both the House and the Senate, Mr. Obama prevailed, but not in the way he had hoped. His inability to win over more than a handful of Republicans amounted to a loss of innocence, a reminder that his high-minded calls for change in the practice of governance had been ground up in a matter of weeks by entrenched forces of partisanship and deep, principled differences between left and right."

Obama has been trying to recast his political goals as vital to improving the economy, Stevenson writes. "He has been framing rising health care costs not just as a social issue, but as one affecting the viability of American industry. Cleaning up the environment and weaning the economy from its dependence on oil are opportunities to create new, well-compensated jobs. Education is an investment in the economy's long-term competitiveness.

"But those assertions will run up against a variety of countervailing forces: a rapidly rising national debt, a strain of populist anger, a smaller but energized Republican minority and divisions among Democrats about priorities, to name a few. Getting past them promises to be as tricky for Mr. Obama as was this first victory."

And Charles Mahtesian and Patrick O'Connor write for Politico: "So much for post-partisanship....

"While no one expected Obama's pledge to fix our 'broken politics' would be met quickly or easily, the first month of the new administration has been marked by extreme polarization, with hints of more to come....

"[D]espite Obama's campaign call for an end to 'the smallness of our politics' and his criticism of the 'preference for scoring cheap political points,' that's exactly what's happened during the first big legislative test of his administration."

Then again, as Obama suggested in an interview with ABC's Terry Moran on Tuesday, maybe his honeymoon is still going strong -- just not in Washington.

Susan Page writes in USA Today that the key to Obama's success was getting out of town: "En route to what looks to be the first major victory of his presidency, Obama had some stumbles. His team allowed congressional Republicans to cast the stimulus bill as laden with wasteful spending, and faced distracting questions over why some Cabinet nominees hadn't paid all their taxes....

"Under fire in Washington, he scheduled campaign-style town-hall meetings to make the case for his huge economic stimulus bill to folks in Elkhart, Ind., and Fort Myers, Fla. He dismissed the Republican opposition as the business-as-usual crowd. He relied on his rhetorical skills and popularity....

"The news coverage was just what the White House wanted: TV footage of Obama surrounded by citizens who pleaded for government action on the economy and thanked him for listening."

And it seems to have worked. "Obama managed to boost public support for the plan when he hit the road during the past week. A USA Today survey of 1,021 adults taken Tuesday showed support for the bill rising to 59%, up 7 percentage points from a week earlier."

Indeed, Steven Thomma writes for McClatchy Newspapers: "Nearly seven in ten Americans approve of the way President Barack Obama is doing his job, giving him enormous political capital as he pushes Congress to give him unprecedented tools to fight economic crisis, according to a new McClatchy-Ipsos poll.

"Obama outpolls Congress by more than 30 points, and he also can point to an uptick in the number of people who think the country's headed in the right direction even as a majority thinks the worst is yet to come in the economy.

"The survey found that 69 percent of Americans approve of Obama's performance — with a robust 38 percent 'strongly' approving....

"Notably, the solid approval was recorded Feb. 6-9, after Obama admitted that he 'screwed up' in the ill-fated nomination of former Sen. Tom Daschle to be Health and Human Services secretary."

More Obama Interviews

By Dan Froomkin
12:22 PM ET, 02/12/2009

President Obama sat down with reporters from 16 regional newspapers yesterday.

Thomas Fitzgerald writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer: "Obama said yesterday that he was confident that his economic-recovery legislation, the subject of intense final negotiations yesterday on Capitol Hill, would save or create three million to four million jobs even with spending cuts required to get Senate approval.

"'I would argue what's most likely is we undercount jobs,' Obama said during a 55-minute interview in the White House Roosevelt Room....

"If aid to states in the bill saves a teacher's job, for instance, 'you're probably not counting the fact that that teacher is still going to the dry cleaner down the street,' Obama said. 'I think the ripple effects of this package won't be entirely documentable, but I think it will be significant.'...

"On the cusp of the first major achievement of his young presidency, Obama was calm and relaxed in the interview, joking afterward: 'You ran me through my paces pretty good. I'll wipe my brow.'"

Jonathan Riskind writes in the Columbus Dispatch: "Some of the changes in spending and tax cuts that led to the final agreement by congressional leaders make sense to him and others do not, Obama said.

"But 'my bottom line has always been, is it creating jobs? And this bill creates jobs,' Obama said. 'Is it providing relief to states? It provides relief to states. Is it laying the foundation for long-term economic growth? It is. No president expects to get 100 percent of what they want, and I'm no different.'"

Todd Spangler writes in the Detroit Free Press: "President Barack Obama says he remains committed to giving the domestic auto industry 'serious help' in the future, but only if it proves its longtime viability and makes the changes necessary to turn the business into a profitable one going forward....

"'Get me a plan that works,' the president said....

"He also discussed legislation pushed by labor that could make it easier to organize. A supporter of the 'Employee Free Choice Act' decried by business, Obama said he believes there is no economic risk to workers organizing and making a living wage – especially if workers understand, as he says they seem to, that unreasonable demands on the part of labor would only serve to destroy jobs in the long run. He said he hoped to see in coming weeks forces on both sides talk about common ground which could be reached on the legislation."

Erika Bolstad writes in the Anchorage Daily News: "President Barack Obama on Wednesday called Alaska's proposed natural gas pipeline 'promising' as a national energy resource and pledged to discuss it with Canadian leaders during his Feb. 19 trip to Ottawa....

"'As I mentioned during the campaign, I actually think that for us to move forward on the natural gas pipeline as part of a comprehensive energy strategy -- that includes both more production as well as greater efficiency -- makes a lot of sense,' Obama said.....

"During Wednesday's interview, the president also touched on other energy issues. He said he believes offshore drilling can be appropriate -- but only in limited circumstances and as part of an overall energy mix that includes an emphasis on greater efficiency. Obama said he prefers to hold out for a 'more comprehensive strategy' rather than proceeding with wide-scale drilling in the national's outer continental shelf.

"'In isolation I think it's shortsighted because it's not going to come on line quickly enough and provide enough oil to fill the hole that we're going to be seeing in the years to come,' he said.

"He also reiterated his support for the announcement this week by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who on Tuesday effectively slowed any new leases in the outer continental shelf for six months."

Jessica Wehrman of the Dayton Daily News, Dale Eisman of the (Norfolk, Va.) Virginian-Pilot and Deb Price of the Detroit News have more.

The Inquirer's Fitzgerald noted: "At the end of yesterday's interview, someone asked Obama about a wooden box with a gold presidential seal and a red button on the table in front of his chair.

"'If any of you really got me mad, I would press the button, and...' Obama joked. Seriously, he said it was a panic button to summon the Secret Service in an emergency. 'No bombs,' he said.

"And on at least one matter, the president refused to take a stand: Who would win last night's basketball game between the University of North Carolina and Duke? He honestly didn't know, he said. Besides, Obama said, he would not want to go against his personal assistant, Reggie Love, a player on Duke's 2001 national championship team.

"'If I said anything contrary to Duke,' Obama said, 'I might not be able to find my BlackBerry.'"

And here is the transcript of an interview Obama conducted earlier this week with Black Enterprise magazine Editor-In-Chief Derek T. Dingle.

Dingle: "What do you tell our readers, many of whom are hurting and anxious? What should they do while they wait for all of these programs to roll out?"

Obama: "Don't wait. People have to continue to innovate, look for new customers, try to find creative ways to turn crisis into opportunity, retool for the future. But I want them to know that help is on the way."

Records Wanted

By Dan Froomkin
12:19 PM ET, 02/12/2009

Marisa Taylor writes for McClatchy Newspapers: "The Obama administration, which vowed to usher in a 'new era of openness in our country,' either has delayed action on requests for access to government records or refused to disclose them in three early, high-profile tests of the pledge.

"This week, Justice Department lawyers announced that they'd continue to assert the state secrets argument made by the Bush administration in a lawsuit alleging that five men were tortured abroad in U.S.-run prisons.

"In a separate case, the Obama Justice Department has agreed with the Bush administration — at least initially — that the news media shouldn't have immediate access to court records in the ongoing Guantanamo detainee litigation.

"In another example, the administration on Wednesday told the American Civil Liberties Union that it needed more time to decide whether to release undisclosed Bush Justice Department memos that justified harsh interrogation practices. A federal judge already had given government lawyers more time in the matter, which has been pending for five years....

"Justice Department officials say they intend to be more open than the last administration was, but that they need more time to find the right balance between openness and security."

Raymond Bonner writes in the New York Times: "Lawyers for a Guantánamo detainee at the center of a diplomatic stand-off between Britain and the United States are appealing directly to President Obama as part of a stepped-up campaign to have classified information about his treatment while in American custody made public.

"The lawyers have faxed a letter to the White House asking Mr. Obama to review the case of the detainee, Binyam Mohamed, who they say was tortured 'in truly medieval ways' over a period of more than two years after rendition to secret prisons overseas....

"The case could potentially be embarrassing for the new administration, which came to power promising a shift in policy on the issues of torture, rendition and state secrets. Advocates for Mr. Mohamed and other detainees have been counting on a sharp break from the approach taken under the Bush administration.

"Those hopes appeared to suffer a blow earlier this week, however, in a separate civil case in San Francisco in which Mr. Mohamed and four other detainees filed suit against a subsidiary of the Boeing Company, claiming that the subsidiary arranged for rendition flights. At a hearing Monday before a panel of appeals judges in Federal Court, a lawyer for the Obama administration seemed to surprise the judges by advancing the argument for preserving state secrets that was originally formulated by the Bush administration."

Quick Takes

By Dan Froomkin
11:55 AM ET, 02/12/2009

Carrie Johnson writes in The Washington Post that the criminal investigation into the dismissal of nine U.S. attorneys during the Bush administration "appears to be intensifying." The prosecutor "will interview former White House political affairs deputy J. Scott Jennings as early as today, lawyers involved in the case said. Jennings worked alongside Karl Rove, a top aide to President George W. Bush....Through lawyer Robert D. Luskin, Rove also has said he will cooperate."

Barry Schweid writes for the Associated Press: "Israel's shift to the right could throw a monkey wrench into President Barack Obama's conciliatory overtures to Iran and his budding drive to promote Arab-Israeli peacemaking."

Tom Raum and Stevenson Jacobs write for the Associated Press: "That bomb of a bailout intro could make things tougher later on for the administration."

Here's White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs yesterday on the negative response on Wall Street to the bailout plans outlined by Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner on Tuesday: "Some of that market reaction may be based on what the plan does not do -- right? I'm sure many in the banking sector had hoped, presumably, that bad assets would be paid for either in an unreasonable way or at an unreasonable value, or that insurance that -- whose cost is borne primarily by the taxpayers but might primarily benefit shareholders isn't, in this case, part of that solution."

Gabriella Souza writes for the Fort Myers News-Press: "Henrietta Hughes spoke to Obama at Tuesday's town hall meeting at Harborside Event Center, telling the president that she and her son were homeless and in need of jobs. Both have been offered since Wednesday."

Brett Zongker writes for the Associated Press about last night's grand reopening of Ford's Theater: "President Barack Obama stood beneath the flag-draped box where Abraham Lincoln was shot...honoring the 'hallowed space' on the eve of the 16th president's 200th birthday....'For despite all that divided us -- North and South, black and white -- he had an unyielding belief that we were, at heart, one nation, and one people,' Obama said. 'And because of Abraham Lincoln, and all who've carried on his work in the generations since, that is what we remain today.'"

Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald puts the lie to the Wall Street Journal editorial board's expression of "doubt that President Bush...would have gotten away with prescreening his interlocutors."

Want to Be an Obama Appointee?

By Dan Froomkin
11:53 AM ET, 02/12/2009

The White House Web site this morning launched a new job application feature, which "enables people everywhere to apply to be considered for a political appointment in President Obama's Administration."

All you have to do is "fill out your information, upload a resume, and tell us what kinds of positions you’re interested in."

Obama's transition team previously accepted job applications online on its Change.gov Web site. Whitehouse.gov now explains: "We’re looking to fill several thousand politically appointed positions in the Executive Branch. We’re already interviewing for many of the upper level positions, but will be reviewing applications and making decisions on appointments over the next few months. Remember, the WhiteHouse.gov jobs application is just for politically appointed positions in the Executive Branch of the government. These are positions that serve at the pleasure of the President and so are by definition temporary, not permanent. We have received more than 350,000 applications to date for several thousand positions; the selection process is very competitive and rigorous."

Public Supports Investigations of Bush Misdeeds

By Dan Froomkin
9:34 AM ET, 02/12/2009

Jill Lawrence writes for USA Today: "The Bush administration's anti-terror policies have generated controversies, lawsuits and indelible images such as those of abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

"They've also given rise to multiple opinions on whether to investigate, prosecute or just move on."

President Obama showed no appetite on Monday night for Sen. Patrick Leahy's proposed truth and reconciliation commission to investigate Bush administration misdeeds. Obama said he'd rather look forward than backward. But the public appears to believe we can do both at the same time.

In a separate story, Lawrence writes: "Even as Americans struggle with two wars and an economy in tatters, a USA Today/Gallup Poll finds majorities in favor of investigating some of the thorniest unfinished business from the Bush administration: Whether its tactics in the "war on terror" broke the law.

"Close to two-thirds of those surveyed said there should be investigations into allegations that the Bush team used torture to interrogate terrorism suspects and its program of wiretapping U.S. citizens without getting warrants. Almost four in 10 favor criminal investigations and about a quarter want investigations without criminal charges. One-third said they want nothing to be done.

"Even more people want action on alleged attempts by the Bush team to use the Justice Department for political purposes. Four in 10 favored a criminal probe, three in 10 an independent panel, and 25% neither."

Cartoon Watch

By Dan Froomkin
9:22 AM ET, 02/12/2009

Jim Morin on high expectations, Rob Rogers on the state of the union, Stuart Carlson, Joel Pett, Mike Keefe, Adam Zyglis and Steve Sack on the GOP and bipartisanship, and David Cohen on Lincoln's happy birthday.

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