Top of the Heap

By Dan Froomkin
1:40 PM ET, 02/24/2009

Obama at the fiscal responsibility summit yesterday. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

President Obama goes into tonight's big event in a commanding position, despite the enormous challenges he and the country face.

He is vastly more popular than the members of Congress he is addressing, and the American public strongly supports the policies he has advanced so far.

In fact, two new polls show not only that Americans are resoundingly behind him, but that they want his political opponents to back down and let him govern.

On the issue of bipartisanship, something of an inside-the-Beltway obsession, the public actually thinks Obama has gone too far, while Republicans haven't gone far enough. According to the New York Times/CBS News Poll, a whopping 79 percent of Americans think working in a bipartisan way is more important for Republicans than sticking to their party's policies. By contrast, 56 percent think it's more important for Obama to stick to the policies he campaigned on than to reach out.

Obama's approval rating is dropping slightly because support from Republicans is plummeting. But overall, the numbers suggest that the Republican Party's decision to redefine itself in opposition to Obama and his stimulus package may simply accelerate its transformation to a regional party without much of a national foothold.

Michael A. Fletcher and Jon Cohen write in The Washington Post: "Large majorities of Americans in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll support his $787 billion economic stimulus package and the recently unveiled $75 billion plan to stem mortgage foreclosures. Nearly seven in 10 poll respondents said Obama is delivering on his pledge to bring needed change to Washington, and about eight in 10 said he is meeting or exceeding their expectations. At the same time, however, the bipartisan support he enjoyed as he prepared to take office has eroded substantially amid stiff Republican opposition to his major economic initiatives.

"Thirty-seven percent of Republicans now approve of how he has done his job, a sharp drop from a month ago, when 62 percent gave him good marks for his handling of the transition...

"Americans put far more faith in Obama than in congressional Republicans: Sixty-one percent said they trust Obama more than the GOP on economic matters; 26 percent side with the Republicans in Congress. On that question, Obama's advantage is bigger than George W. Bush, Bill Clinton or George H.W. Bush ever had over the opposition party in the legislature.

"Overall, Democrats maintain an edge of nearly 2 to 1 over Republicans as the party that Americans prefer to confront 'the big issues' over the next few years."

Here are the complete results.

Jeff Zeleny and Megan Thee-Brenan write in the New York Times: "President Obama is benefiting from remarkably high levels of optimism and confidence among Americans about his leadership, providing him with substantial political clout as he confronts the nation's economic challenges and opposition from nearly all Republicans in Congress, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

"A majority of people surveyed in both parties said Mr. Obama was striving to work in a bipartisan way, but most Americans faulted Republicans for their response to the president, saying the party had objected to the $787 billion economic stimulus plan for political reasons. Most Americans said Mr. Obama should pursue the priorities he campaigned on, the poll found, rather than seek middle ground with Republicans....

"A month into Mr. Obama's term, with his first big accomplishments, setbacks and political battles behind him, more than three-quarters of Americans said they are optimistic about the next four years with him as president. Similar percentages said they think he is bringing real change to the way things are done in Washington and that they have confidence in his ability to make the right decisions about the economy."

Here are those results. Obama's 63 percent approval rating is precisely the mirror image of Congress's 63 percent disapproval rating. And consider this: 74 percent think Obama is trying to work with Republicans in Congress in order to get things done, while 57 percent think the Republicans aren't doing the same; 79 percent think that, for Republicans, working in a bipartisan way is more important than sticking to their party's policies, while 56 percent think that for Obama, sticking to the policies he campaigned on is more important than reaching out; and 76 percent are either somewhat or very confident in Obama's ability to make the right decisions about the economy.

Susan Page of USA Today has more from a Gallup Poll: "As President Obama outlines his priorities to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night, Americans overwhelmingly support new spending to help individuals — including creating jobs and rescuing struggling homeowners — but oppose bailouts for automakers and banks."

I wrote about the expectations for tonight's congressional address in this post yesterday.

Tom Brune writes for Newsday: "There are a lot of moving parts to the way he is addressing the economy, and he has to explain, in clear language to Congress and the nation, just how they fit together and work."

Ben Feller writes for the Associated Press: "Barreling ahead on a mammoth agenda, Barack Obama is ready to offer a detailed sketch of the first year of his presidency, casting the nation's bleeding economy as a tangle of tough, neglected problems....

"White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Tuesday that Obama will provide more details about his financial stability plan and measures to help the economy while delivering 'a sober assessment about where we are and the challenges we face.'

"'He'll say we're on the right path to meeting these challenges, and there are better days ahead,' Gibbs said."

Feller notes: "Daily followers of Obama's rhetoric are not likely to be surprised by Obama's words, some of which will be repeating. He is trying to reach millions of people who don't get to hear him every day.

"So Obama will say that the crises facing the nation are so large they can only be solved in bipartisan ways. He will be blunt about the country's woes but try to balance that talk with optimism. He will talk about his travels as president so he can focus on the stories of communities outside Washington."

There's a lot of focus in today's coverage on the proper balance between hope -- and fear.

Edwin Chen and Kim Chipman write for Bloomberg: "President Barack Obama, who spent the last month warning of the dangers facing the U.S. economy to win support for his recovery plan, is under pressure to begin fostering public optimism.

"Obama has rolled out three major initiatives -- a $787 billion stimulus bill, a bank-rescue plan, and an effort to limit home foreclosures. Now, as he addresses his first joint session of Congress before a nationwide audience tonight, he must encourage lawmakers and voters to believe the plan can work, political analysts and economists say."

Jonathan Martin writes for Politico that Obama's primary challenge is "how to balance inspiration and exhortation with detail and specifics....

"Obama aides say he'll use the prime-time setting — his most high-profile platform since being sworn in last month — to delve into a broader range of issues that he has not yet devoted significant attention to because of the focus on the stimulus package.

"He'll key in on education, health care, energy and reducing the budget deficit — and attempt to tie them together into a larger discussion about his vision for the economic growth of the country."

Michael Scherer writes for Time about five themes to look for tonight, including Obama's continued differentiation of himself from George W. Bush. Being the "anti-Bush" allows "Obama to reemphasize that he has not been in office long enough to be held responsible for the dizzying array of crises that the nation now faces."

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