The Note, 1/26/09: The Big Sale -- Obama Searches for GOP Support


Will Gov. Rod Blagojevich, D-Ill., still be in office by the time we get a new nominee for Commerce Secretary? (By the time we have a second senator from Minnesota?)

(How close were we really to Senator Oprah?) 

Would Gov. David Paterson, D-N.Y., have been better off trying to pull a Blagojevich with the Senate seat? (What -- were there no Roosevelts or Rockefellers available to upset, too?)

Would Team Obama rather win 50 Republicans or lose 50 Democrats on the stimulus vote? (Is it possible to do both?)

What does “bipartisanship” mean? (Is it people from two distinct political parties actually casting votes on the same side of a matter of big national significance?) (What would that make “postpartisan,” then?)

Of all the balancing involved in the stimulus bill -- spending vs. taxes, impact now vs. impact later, way too much vs. not nearly enough -- the one that matters most to President Obama is that old one we’re all used to: Democrat vs. Republican.

The president said he wanted ideas, and now he’s getting them. Republicans dealt themselves back into the game with Friday’s White House meeting, and Obama’s return to the Hill Tuesday is another two-way opportunity. And GOPers offer something that Obama really, really wants: votes.

Not votes that this new White House crowd needs -- that would make this easier, in a way. These are votes the president wants -- so the stimulus bill doesn’t belong to Democrats alone, and so the luster of Obama’s leadership doesn’t fade with the crowds that have already left Washington.

The bill will be judged a political success not simply if it becomes law, but if it’s deemed “bipartisan” -- with joint ownership that takes a first step toward the new brand of politics Obama has promised.

“President Barack Obama proved he could win over Republican voters. Now he’s trying to show he can do the same with the party’s lawmakers,” Bloomberg’s Laura Litvan writes. “Obama’s effort may determine whether his calls for bipartisanship during the presidential campaign will translate into support for the White House’s broader legislative agenda on issues from energy to health care.” 

“This week, the hard work of selling of the stimulus goes into high gear, as President Obama prepares to head to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to talk reluctant Republicans into getting behind the $825 billion economic rescue package,” ABC’s John Hendren reports

“Obama and his circle have engaged in an ambitious campaign to win over congressional Republicans, including what many describe as more direct outreach from the president than they ever received under the Bush administration. This week, Obama plans to address House and Senate Republicans at their regular caucus luncheons,” Sasha Issenberg reports in The Boston Globe.

“President Obama must now prove himself to be salesman in chief,” per the New York Daily News’ Michael Saul. Said Vice President Joe Biden, on “Face the Nation”: “There will be, I'm sure, more compromise.” (Does Nancy Pelosi agree?) 

As for your definitions -- know that the House may pass the stimulus package this week without a single Republican vote.

“Because the Republicans don't vote for it doesn't mean they didn't have an opportunity to,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “This Week.” 

“Bipartisanship should mean more than having the opportunity to vote on Democrat bills,” Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., told CNN’s John King Sunday.

One potential ally who won’t be: “Sen. John McCain said Sunday he would not support President Obama's $825 billion economic stimulus plan in its current form because the House Democrats' bill contains too much unnecessary spending and not enough tax cuts,” per ABC’s Tahman Bradley. Said McCain, on “Fox News Sunday”: “I'm opposed to most of the provisions in the bill. As it stands now, I would not support it.” 

When is a win not really a win? “If it gets no Republican votes -- a growing possibility -- the plan could trigger the kind of ugly, divisive partisan fight that Obama has been trying mightily to avoid,” McClatchy’s David Lightman and Kevin G. Hall report

This is a campaign -- in every sense.

“For Barack Obama and fellow Democrats pitching an $825 billion stimulus package, here’s what sells: Describe the plan as ‘bold.’ Don’t mention the eye-popping amount but play up job creation, according to Democratic pollster Peter Hart’s research,” Politico’s Carrie Budoff Brown reports. “Sure enough, in his radio address Saturday, Obama followed the script. He spoke of acting ‘boldly,’ focused heavily on jobs and never once mentioned the cost.”

She continues: “Obama promised to end the perpetual campaign in Washington but in the first test of his administration, he’s pulling out all the tactics of one -- conducting polls, prepping lawmakers with carefully honed talking points and taking in research by outside groups.”

What does the research say about this term? “Only five days into the Obama presidency, members of the new administration and Democratic leaders in Congress are already dancing around one of the most politically delicate questions about the financial bailout: Is the president prepared to nationalize a huge swath of the nation’s banking system?” David E. Sanger writes in The New York Times

“So far, President Obama’s top aides have steered clear of the word entirely, and they are still actively discussing other alternatives, including creating a ‘bad bank’ that would nationalize the worst nonperforming loans by taking them off the hands of financial institutions without actually taking ownership of the banks. Others talk of de facto nationalization, in which the government owns a sizeable chunk of the banks but not a majority, with all that connotes.”

Obama is set to get a boost Monday. The Senate is expected to confirm Timothy Geithner as Treasury secretary. 

Helping it sell: “President Obama's stimulus package would give the Big Apple $3.4 billion over the next two years to help close its massive budget gap, officials announced last night,” per the New York Post. “In announcing the $3.4 billion in anticipated aid, Mayor Bloomberg, Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Charles Rangel said it would alleviate, but not eliminate, the city's budget crunch.” 

And: “Kids, particularly those with disabilities or who come from poor families, could benefit if the federal government follows through on plans to salvage the economy by funneling billions into public programs and projects around the country,” Meg Heckman writes in the Concord Monitor.   

Not helping it sell: “There are plenty of suggestions for bridge repairs, road paving projects, new buses, trolley, garbage trucks and school improvements on the list. But there is also $886,000 to build a 36-hole ‘disk-golf’ course -- think Frisbee throwing meets golf -- in Austin, Texas, and $33,725 for automatically flushing toilets in Sumter, S.C. And don't forget the $1.4 million children's water park requested by Pine Bluff, Ark., and the $500,000 that Chula Vista, Calif., wants for a dog park,” ABC’s Scott Mayerowitz writes. “As the stimulus plan works its way through Congress, every group from the mayors to road builders to zoo operators is looking for their piece of the pie.” 

There’s broader implications for all of this, too. If there’s going to be a new kind of politics, it has to start somewhere.

Peter Nicholas, in the Los Angeles Times: “Obama's stimulus -- an early test of his skills in winning a major legislation victory -- is on track to pass before the congressional break in mid-February. What remains unclear is whether it will attract significant Republican support. In effect, the White House and congressional Republicans are engaged in the early stages of a political negotiation in which Obama seeks to pass his stimulus program with at least a plausible claim of bipartisan support.” 

Does he need to negotiate? “The most encouraging thing I’ve heard lately is Mr. Obama’s reported response to Republican objections to a spending-oriented economic plan: ‘I won.’ Indeed he did -- and he should disregard the huffing and puffing of those who lost,” Paul Krugman writes in his New York Times column

Bringing the personal to the presidency: “In his first week in office, Obama is giving clear signs that he is willing to trade on his own popularity, personal suasion and loose-limbed ease in the spotlight to help him lead the nation,” Michael Fletcher reports in The Washington Post. “For now, Obama seems confident that he can use his personal appeal to help effect change.” 

Reality checks: “President Obama showed up for his first full day at work on Wednesday determined, as he later told the nation, to make ‘a clean break from business as usual.’ But it did not take long for the new president to discover that there were limits to his power to turn his campaign rhetoric into reality,” Sheryl Gay Stolberg wrote in the Sunday New York Times. “He wrestled with fresh challenges at every turn, found some principles hard to consistently apply and showed himself willing to be pragmatic -- at the risk of irking some supporters who had their hearts set on idealism.” 

Says David Axelrod: “Obviously, you can’t solve problems overnight. But what you can do is signal a sense of motion, a sense of ferment and activity and direction. And I think that he is doing that.”

Says Newt Gingrich: “I think they are right at the cusp of either sliding down into a world where their words have no meaning or having to follow up their words with real behavior.”

Your stakes, per Bill Kristol (in his last New York Times column): “Liberalism’s fate rests to an astonishing degree on his shoulders. If he governs successfully, we’re in a new political era. If not, the country will be open to new conservative alternatives,” Kristol writes. 

“Obama's rhetoric suggests that he understands this issue. But does Congress? Can the American political system rise to the challenge?” Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria writes. “The United States will have to enact extraordinary measures, many of them unpopular, run up huge deficits, then just as quickly start to unwind these guarantees and commitments, get onto a path of strict fiscal prudence, reform entitlements and bring our financial house in order.” 

The Bush legacy is a cushion -- but it won’t always be there. “There will be a time when just being the non-Bush won’t be sufficient. Results will be expected; programs and initiatives will be analyzed on their own merits,” Bloomberg’s Al Hunt writes. “Obama has won plaudits for moving to close Guantanamo. What he does with the few dozen really bad guys remains uncertain. He inherits deficits from Bush this year; by 2012, they will be Obama’s.” 

Another piece of the sales push Monday, per ABC’s Jake Tapper: “The president will also deliver brief remarks in the morning that deal with the creation of green jobs in his stimulus package: - modernizing 75 percent of federal buildings and 2 million homes; - doubling enough renewable energy generating capacity to power 6 million American homes; - modernizing the nation’s electricity grid will result in more than 3,000 miles of new or modernized transmission lines and 40 million ‘Smart Meters’ in American homes; - and launching the Clean Energy Finance Initiative to leverage $100 billion in private sector clean energy investments over three years.”

Also Monday, a White House push on the environment: “President Obama will direct the EPA today to reconsider a Bush-era decision that stopped California and more than a dozen other states from setting their own stricter limits on auto emissions, according to sources familiar with the matter,” report Ken Bensinger and Jim Tankersley, in the Los Angeles Times. “Should the agency allow a waiver from federal rules, states could require automakers to increase the fuel efficiency of cars and trucks far above current limits. It also would fulfill a long-held goal of environmentalists, as well as one of Obama's campaign promises.” 

“The move will signal a major policy break from his predecessor on an issue that has divided key Democratic Party constituencies,” Stephen Power and Laura Meckler write in The Wall Street Journal. “Mr. Obama's announcement is almost certain to spark a war between two key Democratic constituencies: environmentalists and state officials who want power to set greenhouse-gas rules, and auto makers and unions who say such rules would exacerbate the industry's woes following the worst year of U.S. vehicle sales in more than a decade.” 

“Obama, who has consistently urged U.S. automakers to produce more fuel-efficient cars, is likely to accelerate the timeline for raising the nation's corporate average fuel economy for cars and trucks,” Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson report in The Washington Post.

Blago’s back -- and talking to everyone except the state Senate that’s putting him on trial starting Monday.

“Setting the stage for a momentous act of political repudiation, the state Senate prepared to open the first impeachment trial of a governor in Illinois history on Monday and disgraced Gov. Rod Blagojevich acknowledged his days in office were numbered,” Rick Pearson and Ray Long report in the Chicago Tribune. “With senators serving as Blagojevich’s judge and jury, House representatives prosecuting the case, and the governor mounting no defense and likely not attending, the Senate trial is expected to conclude within days.” 

Blagojevich will be a no-show at the trial, and he had other plans . . .

“They took snippets of conversation completely out of context,” the governor told ABC’s Diane Sawyer on “Good Morning America” Monday. “The effort was to work to have a senator who can best represent Illinois.”

What’s the context? “I can’t go into the details of that case. . . . The whole story will come out.”

He confirms that he was considering naming Oprah to the Senate: “She probably wouldn’t take it,” Blagojevich told Sawyer.

Think he doesn’t know politics? He says he still wants to call Valerie Jarrett, Rahm Emanuel, and Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., as well as a “whole bunch of senators” as witnesses.

And Monday’s poet of the day: Rudyard Kipling.

Next up: Blago is on ABC’s “The View” Monday, then does Larry King.

“Barbara Walters is not on his jury,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. (And just imagine if she was . . . ) 

“The trial will be held even if no one representing Blagojevich is present, said Eric Madiar, the Senate's chief legal counsel and parliamentarian. It takes a two-thirds vote -- 40 of the 59 state senators -- to oust the governor,” USA Today’s Judy Keen reports

Also Monday -- a new phase for the Minnesota Senate contest. “Today, the Great Minnesota Recount gets turned over to a new cast of characters,” Kevin Duchscehere writes in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “ In place of the state Canvassing Board, a three-judge panel will begin what could be a weeks- or months-long trial to decide who won Minnesota's U.S. Senate race.” 

Fallout from New York: Hil and “Gill” broke bread Sunday, with Paterson and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. But the fun continues. 

“Democrats are increasingly pessimistic about Gov. Paterson's political survival,” Kenneth Lovett reports in the New York Daily News. “Paterson's handling of the U.S. Senate appointment has even his allies critical of the governor -- and fearful that erosion in public confidence in him could impact efforts next year by Democrats to keep their tenuous control over the state Senate as well as the controller's office.”

“In the end, it wasn't Caroline Kennedy who was out of her weight class. It was Gov. David Paterson,” Mike Lupica writes in his New York Daily News column

Damage control? “Caroline Kennedy's ‘personal reasons’ for withdrawing from Senate consideration were not connected to damaging claims from Gov. Paterson's camp that she owed back taxes, had a nanny problem or faced a marital scandal, two sources close to her have told The Post,” Fredric U. Dicker reports in the New York Post. “The source said that Kennedy, who had been touted as the leading candidate to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton for some two months, would have taken the job if Paterson had moved more swiftly to make a decision, and would have said yes even as late as Monday or late Tuesday -- because the family problem had not yet arisen.” 

Snap judgments, from Quinnipiac University polling: “Caroline Kennedy and her aides are more to blame than Gov. David Paterson and his team for the controversy surrounding her failed bid for New York’s U.S. Senate seat, voters say 49 – 15 percent in a Quinnipiac University poll released today. . . . New York State voters approve 46 – 30 percent, with 24 percent undecided, of Gov. Paterson’s selection of Albany area U.S. Rep. Kirsten Gillebrand for the Senate seat. . . . Republicans back the selection 56 – 27 percent, a wider margin than the 41 – 35 percent among Democrats.”

Who better to change the spectacle of senators appointed by governors than senators appointed by governors? “From a tactical standpoint, these new Senators will inoculate themselves against charges of cronyism when the time comes for them to actually face voters,” Phil Singer blogs. “The fact that they are all Democrats would also send the message that the Democratic party’s rhetoric about reform is sincere and backed by action.”

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., likes the idea: “I plan to introduce a constitutional amendment this week to require special elections when a Senate seat is vacant, as the Constitution mandates for the House, and as my own state of Wisconsin already requires by statute,” Feingold said in a statement released Sunday

The Kicker:

“If I knew they were listening, I wouldn't have used those words.” -- Rod Blagojevich, on Patrick Fitzgerald’s tapes. (He added, however, that when he was cursing, “There were no women on the phone.”) 

“I thought about Mandela, Dr. King and Gandhi and tried to put some perspective to all this and that is what I am doing now.” -- Blagojevich, digging himself in deeper

“I’ve done virtually everything right on behalf of the people.” -- Blagojevich, on “GMA” Monday.

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