The Note, 2/13/09: Democrats’ Dawn -- Does another bump on the road to bipartisanship give Obama an opportunity?


What perfect valentines they’d make -- it’s not me, it’s you, says Judd Gregg. No, no -- it’s not me, it’s YOU, says the Obama White House.

In the short term, the “irresolvable conflicts” that Sen. Gregg said forced him to change his mind about becoming Commerce secretary represent a political challenge to a president who just can’t find a groove.

The drama is everywhere now, in three jettisoned Cabinet appointments, in the continuing scramble for bipartisanship, in the explanation of what this stimulus package actually does, in the spin that offers explanations for all of this and more.

But in the long term, might President Obama and his fellow Democrats have an opportunity here?

What the past few weeks have made clear (and what Gregg’s announcement made jarringly clear as well) is that Republicans aren’t going to just give President Obama his post-partisan vision -- not without a fight.

As Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others are right to point out, the Democrats won. Republicans are taking a real political risk in their united opposition, and Obama is getting public credit for at least trying to do things differently.

And so maybe the path forward is one of partisanship, at least for now. So long as it’s governing -- and the stimulus package is still on track for passing Congress Friday -- that’s not necessarily a bad thing (and it may be the only thing for a while anyway).

Gregg, R-N.H., as exclamation point on a rough stretch: “The partisan divide in Washington looked as wide as ever, and Obama had suffered another setback in building his administration,” Peter Wallsten and Janet Hook write in the Los Angeles Times.

But as the stimulus bill stands on the verge of becoming law, Democrats know something important: They don’t need many Republicans (though they’ll get a little bit more support in the House this time on the stimulus) to make things move.

“This week is a real test of the president’s famous cool -- and ability to take the long view,” Politico’s David Rogers writes. “In fact, the White House has shown plenty of that in shepherding the recovery bill through House-Senate talks this week; more than ever the president and his men stepped forward to put their stamp on the final product.” 

Both parties are still figuring out new realities, but self-interest, as always, reigns: “Important as winning GOP support seemed to the administration, Washington Republicans are operating according to a very different set of incentives. One of the few luxuries they enjoy is that of not being responsible for governing,” Scot Lehigh writes in his Boston Globe column. “And the national interest notwithstanding, it's in their own raw partisan interests to see Obama and the Democrats fail.” 

“I have to say even I am a little taken aback by the force of the Republican assault,” The Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan blogs. “Even in a downturn as swift and alarming as this one, even after an election that clearly favored one approach over another, even after the most conciliatory efforts by an incoming president in memory, these people have gone to war against the president.” 

Measuring successes -- better than Clinton? “Some may call it amateur hour. Having been in two separate White Houses, I'm more than -- and within our third week given this set of accomplishments -- measure them up,” said White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, per the Washington Times’ Jon Ward. “Let's be honest: Will the economic recovery or Judd Gregg be a bigger discussion point a week from now?” 

Think Emanuel gets a message out of this? “White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel conceded President Barack Obama and his team lost control of the message for selling their massive stimulus bill last week, fixating on bipartisanship while Republicans were savaging the legislation,” per The Wall Street Journal’s Jonathan Weisman

“But, he said, Washington should have learned something about Mr. Obama as well, with the shift from bipartisan overtures to outright mockery of his opposition,” Weisman continues. “He has an open hand, Mr. Emanuel said. But he has a very firm handshake.”

But this one needed more than a handshake: “The stunning move further erodes Obama's effort to forge a bipartisan approach to governing and enables Gregg -- who had recused himself from all Senate votes while his nomination was pending -- to vote against the stimulus bill,” Michael Kranish and Lisa Wangsness report in The Boston Globe. (And won’t that be an interesting vote.)  “No drama Obama is no more,” Bloomberg’s Julianna Goldman writes. “The surprise withdrawal of Senator Judd Gregg as the nominee for U.S. commerce secretary was the latest setback in a turbulent start for President Barack Obama’s administration after a campaign marked by operational discipline.” 

“The Obama White House, three weeks old, is having trouble duplicating the well oiled Obama campaign,” Lynn Sweet writes in the Chicago Sun-Times

“This was more of a question of just being me,” Gregg told New Hampshire reporters, per the Union Leader -- but this time he spoke for more than himself. 

“White House sources tell me that another nominee for commerce secretary could be announced quite soon, maybe in the next few days,” per ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, who calls it “an embarrassment” to both Gregg and Obama. 

The stimulus drama isn’t done, either: “President Obama [Thursday] repeated the claim we asked about yesterday at the press briefing that Jim Owens, the CEO of Caterpillar, Inc., ‘said that if Congress passes our plan, this company will be able to rehire some of the folks who were just laid off,’ ” per ABC’s Jake Tapper. “But after the president left the event, Owens said the exact opposite. Asked if the stimulus package would be able to stop the 22,000 layoffs or not, Owens said, ‘I think realistically no. The truth is we're going to have more layoffs before we start hiring again.’ ”

Is it playing in Peoria? “Whatever political challenges Obama faces in Washington as he tries to shepherd his economic recovery plan to passage this week, the hardest people to win over in the weeks and months to come may be on the plant floors and assembly lines and in the office buildings around the country,” the Chicago Tribune’s Christi Parsons writes

The battle to define the stimulus has barely begun: “The deal provides $8 billion for high-speed rail projects, for example, including money that could benefit a controversial proposal for a magnetic-levitation rail line between Disneyland, in California, and Las Vegas, a project favored by Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.). The 311-mph train could make the trip from Sin City to Tomorrowland in less than two hours, according to backers,” Dan Eggen and Ellen Nakashima report in The Washington Post

“A new alliance of battery companies won $2 billion in grants and loans in the stimulus package to jump-start the domestic lithium ion industry. Filipino veterans, most of whom do not live in the United States, will get $200 million in long-awaited compensation for service in World War II,” they continue. “The nation's small shipyards also made out well, with $100 million in grant money -- a tenfold increase in funding from last year, when the federal Maritime Administration launched the program to benefit yards in places such as Ketchikan, Alaska, and Bayou La Batre, Ala.”

And Gregg’s decision, based on politics, itself became a political issue: “Gregg's sudden reversal immediately became a partisan issue on the day before Congress is to vote on the $789 billion stimulus package, one of the issues on which the senator, in announcing his withdrawal, said he had ‘irresolvable conflicts,’ ” Paul Kane writes in The Washington Post. “Despite Gregg's assurances that he was to blame, leading Republicans said the move amounted to a repudiation of Obama's liberal agenda and a rebuke of his bipartisan outreach.” 

Here’s guessing this won’t lead anywhere productive: “There were hints of culpability. Obama's chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., first suggested Gregg for the job. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Gregg ‘reached out to the president and offered his name for secretary of Commerce.’ Gregg said his name was suggested by an intermediary,” USA Today’s Mimi Hall and John Fritze write

“Obama's senior advisor, David Axelrod, told reporters that the president learned about Gregg's withdrawal from the senator's press release. Later, Gibbs said that Obama had spoken with Gregg on Wednesday and was informed then that he was withdrawing,” per the Los Angeles Times account

Or, was it . . . “Few White House staffers knew that Gregg told chief of staff Rahm Emanuel on Monday he was going to withdraw, and affirmed that decision in a meeting with Obama on Wednesday,” Ken Bazinet and Richard Sisk write in the New York Daily News

Learning, on the Hill: “Some of the missteps have been tactical, and fairly easily straightened out. It would have been wiser, administration officials concluded later, to have made sure that a House leader was on hand for the pivotal final negotiations on the $789 billion economic package given that many House Democrats had made clear they disliked the idea of cuts being made by the Senate,” The New York Times' Carl Hulse and Jeff Zeleny write

They continue: “Others were more fundamental, leaving the White House to live with the consequences. Some members of Congress said Mr. Obama’s team would have also been better off taking a much stronger hand in writing the original House bill, keeping out provisions that Republicans would later use to portray it as stuffed with pork and programs that had little to do with the economy, though top administration officials said they had sound strategic reasons for not doing so.”

“Leading House Democrats were smiling on Thursday, but some of them are furious with the Senate on its handling of the economic stimulus bill,” writes The Hill’s Jared Allen

Choices ahead: “For a new president beset with the most daunting combination of economic and national security nightmares in many decades, and with a recent run of bad luck, he's doing his job quite well,” Stuart Taylor Jr. writes for National Journal. “But before very long, the president will have to make a fateful choice, as New York Times columnist David Brooks points out, between yielding to the partisan polarization that animates both political parties and forming a durable alliance with congressional moderates.” 

What’s next? “The real question is what the Obama administration does for a follow-up. Unless the stimulus is accompanied by a successful twin effort to stem foreclosures and stabilize the banks, the downward pull of falling home prices and constrained credit will be too great to overcome,” The New York Times editorializes. “Unfortunately, after a botched rollout this week of their bank bailout plans, administration officials will likely need another few weeks to develop a coherent proposal -- and weeks thereafter to vet and implement it.” 

From the White House Friday morning, on the plane crash outside Buffalo: “Michelle and I are deeply saddened to hear of the tragic accident outside of Buffalo last night. Our hearts go out to the families and friends who lost loved ones. I want to thank the brave first responders who arrived immediately to try and save lives and who are continuing to ensure the safety of everyone in the area. We pray for all those who have been touched by this terrible tragedy to find peace and comfort in the hard days ahead," said President Obama.

The Plouffe files: “Obama campaign manager David Plouffe came under fire Thursday for insisting that a speech he delivered at the National Press Club as part of a two-day ‘Transitions 2009’ conference be ‘off-the-record,’ ” per ABC’s Teddy Davis and Ferdous Alfaruque. (And don’t miss the photo.)

Dana Milbank did his best: “It takes a certain amount of nerve to have an event at the National Press Club and then ban the press from covering it. It takes another level of chutzpah entirely to admit members of the general public to your event at the National Press Club, recruit a news organization as the co-sponsor and then tell the press they can't cover it.” 

“This sort of mess has become a trademark of the former Obama campaign manager. Plouffe still keeps his Obama ties -- over the weekend he sent out an e-mail in his name to millions from titled ‘Urgent message from President Obama’ -- yet he is also profiting from them. He is reported to have received as much as $2 million for his forthcoming book, ‘The Audacity to Win,’ and he can't give his material away in public speeches.”

(And Milbank handed out notebooks to attendees -- and got a pretty full readout of an event that would have been mostly ignored if it had been on-the-record.)

One way to profit in a down economy: “During a decade in Congress, California Representative Grace Napolitano has pocketed more than $200,000 of political contributions by charging as much as 18 percent interest on money she loaned to her own campaign,” Bloomberg’s Timothy J. Burger reports. “The suburban Los Angeles Democrat made the $150,000 loan in 1998, when she was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Through Dec. 31, her campaign committee has used donations to pay Napolitano $221,780 of interest while reducing the principal by just $64,727, a review of her Federal Election Commission filings shows.”

The RNC wants you to have a happy Valentine’s Day -- with new e-cards ready for the sending

A few offerings from President Obama:  “This Valentine card hasn’t been fully vetted.” “Guantanamo is romantic this time of year.” “Didn’t pay your taxes? Want a cabinet position? No problem!”

From Rod Blagojevich: “Aw shucks, did you say ‘I’M a PEACH’?”

From House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “How do I love thee taxpayer, let me count the 819 billion ways.”

A different kind of new offering from the DNC Friday -- a new Website highlighting the “real stories” sent in response to the meetings held on the economic recovery. 

From the book files: Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., is writing a book on the congressional bailout of the financial services industry: “Thirteen Days: How the Financial Crisis Changed the Politics of Washington.” Per Political Wire’s Taegan Goddard, “The book is obviously modeled on Robert F. Kennedy's Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis.”   

The Kicker:

“The truth, you know, Mr. Gregg approached us with interest and seemed enthusiastic.” -- President Obama, to the State Journal-Register.

“I did not campaign for the job.” -- Judd Gregg, offering a counterpoint.

“The conversation in there, at the university's request, is off the record. . . . It's not my choice.” -- David Plouffe.

“We are honoring his decision to be off the record.” -- Rob Manuel, dean of Georgetown's School of Continuing Studies, offering a counterpoint.

The Note’s morning analysis will not publish on Presidents Day, Monday, Feb. 16. We’ll be back Tuesday.

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