The Note, 2/19/09: Long Way from Ohio -- Canada-Bound Prez Softens NAFTA Stance


Barack Obama heads to Canada today on his first foreign trip as president. But "the hammer" he promised to wield on NAFTA negotiations has been left in Ohio.

Obama would still prefer to move labor and environmental standards from "side agreements" to the core of US trade pacts. He is no longer, however, holding open the threat of withdrawing the United States from NAFTA in order to get his way.

During a Cleveland, Ohio, debate moderated last year by the late Tim Russert, Obama joined Hillary Clinton in threatening to withdraw the US from NAFTA in order to bring pressure to bear on the Canadians and Mexicans.

“I think we should use the hammer of a potential opt-out as leverage to ensure that we actually get labor and environmental standards that are enforced,” said Obama. “And that is not what has been happening so far.”

But now that he doesn't have to worry about primary votes in Ohio, Obama has developed new "sensitivities" for Canada, America's No. 1 trading partner.

"I think there are a lot of sensitivities right now because of the huge decline in world trade,” Obama told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. earlier this week.

Obama's softening on NAFTA is already being criticized by populist blogger David Sirota.

The author of "The Uprising" charges that Obama is “starting to prioritize the Washington status quo over real change.”

But despite Sirota's misgivings, the president is expected to get a pass on NAFTA from his supporters for three reasons: (1) his labor backers have other fish to fry, (2) the president has not undergone a total reversal (as noted above, he still wants tougher standards, he's just not threatening withdrawal from an existing trade pact to get his way), and, last but not least, (3) Austan Goolsbee prepared folks for the eventual shift by talking out of school last year.

Relive Obama's 2008 populist high-water mark HERE.

Relive Goolsbee's kerfuffle HERE and HERE.

Read today’s New York Times story on Obama de-emphasizing NAFTA HERE.

Read the Washington Post’s story on Obama’s plans to finesse the “Buy American” provision in the stimulus legislation HERE.

Morning TV: ‘Is It Fair to Everyone? Perhaps Not. But We’re Beyond That’FDIC chair Sheila Bair appeared Thursday morning on ABC’s “Good Morning America” to defend Obama’s mortgage relief plan.

“Is it fair to everyone? Perhaps not. But we’re beyond that,” Bair told ABC's Diane Sawyer. 

“There are moral hazard issues everywhere,” she added. “We have to stop the reinforcing cycle.”

The Bush appointee who has won praise from Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., for her work on the housing crisis, predicted that the U.S. would see an “immediate impact” on loan modifications in March.

“Circle the date,” said ABC’s Diane Sawyer on “Good Morning America,” “March 4th is the date you will hear details.”

This is how HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan answered the fairness question on NBC’s “Today”: "There are those who can't be helped or shouldn't be helped.  Investor-owners won't be eligible.  Those who have gone way beyond their means in terms of being so far under water that they can't be successful in the house.  We're going to help transition them to rental housing or something else.  There are clearly a number of homeowners around the country who shouldn't benefit and won't benefit from this plan."

Obama's Mortgage Relief Plan: 'Underwater but Ineligible'?:I'm still waiting for my guy at Chase to weigh in on whether the president's plan can help me unload my condo.

But the Wall Street Journal reports that “underwater but ineligible” Americans are “riled up” about the president’s plan.

The Washington Post writes that the mortgage plan “goes beyond what some analysts had expected” while noting that it drew criticism from some housing experts and consumer advocates who argued that it does not go far enough.

Joe Pounder-style, here are the principal concerns with Obama’s plan as laid out by the Post: (1) it does not include a plan for dealing with second mortgages, (2) the program would be voluntary for many lenders, (3) the plan does not require lenders to lower the principal owed by homeowners, (4) the plan ignores the fact that investors accounted for as much as 40 percent of home sales during the peak of the housing bubble, (5) and homeowners would not be eligible to refinance under the program if their mortgage exceeds 105 percent of the current value of their property.

The local coverage is decidedly more positive.

The Arizona Republic writes that Obama's Tuesday visit to the state “electrified locals” and his proposal is described as delivering “hope” to “millions of uneasy homeowners.”

2010: Senate: Roland Burris:Sen. Roland Burris (D-Blagojevich) came under new scrutiny late Wednesday from White House press secretary Robert Gibbs and fellow Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin.

Gibbs told reporters that Burris should clarify any contact he has had with Blagojevich or his associates. “I think in many ways he was seated based on those representations,” said Gibbs, “and I think that the people of Illinois deserve to know . . . the full extent of any involvement.”

Durbin said that Burris’ failure to fully disclose his ties to Blagojevich has put his future in the Senate “in question.”

ABC’s Z. Byron Wolf notes that Durbin issued his statement while on a CoDel to Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus with Illinois state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, a potential 2010 Democratic primary rival to Burris.

The Los Angeles Times gauges how likely it is that the Senate would oust Burris. (Answer: Don’t bet on it any time soon).

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on Wednesday installed as his chief operating officer an appointee of ousted predecessor Rod Blagojevich who also has close ties to convicted fundraiser Tony Rezko, reports the Chicago Tribune

Burris had more pre-appointment contacts with Blagojevich’s chief of staff than disclosed in his most recent affidavit, reports the Chicago Sun-Times.

Eric Holder: The Attorney General grabbed headlines on Wednesday when he marked African-American history month by saying that the United States is a nation of "cowards" when it comes to race.

National Review’s Jonah Goldberg quickly took to “The Corner” and blasted the remarks as “hackneyed and reprehensible.”

Sebelius to HHS?

Reid Cherlin's in-box filled up late Thursday when the New York Times posted a story saying that Obama had settled on Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as his choice for HHS secretary.

As Jake Tapper reported on Feb. 8, Sebelius is a “leading contender” to become Obama's nominee for HHS secretary.

But the president has not made a final decision and no announcement is expected this week.

If Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) were to leave her post to become secretary of Health and Human Services, Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson (D) would replace her as governor and appoint someone to become the state's new lieutenant governor.

Parkinson is a former chairman of the Kansas GOP who switched parties and became a Democrat in order to run with Sebelius when she sought re-election in 2006.

Sebelius is barred from seeking a third term as governor in 2010 due to the state's term limits law.  Gov. Sebelius had been eyeing a run for the US Senate in 2010 to replace the retiring Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS).  She was basically the only hope Democrats had for picking up that seat.  If Sebelius does indeed head to HHS, Democrats will likely no longer be looking to the open seat in Kansas as potential fertile ground in 2010.

Gov. Sebelius will be in Washington, DC beginning Saturday for the National Governors Association annual winter meeting. 

Clintons of Chappaqua:Hillary Clinton confirmed Thursday that she will attend an international conference next month in Egypt to help rebuild Gaza after the Hamas-Israel war.

2009: Bloomberg's Soft Launch:Mike Bloomberg quietly launched his bid for re-election yesterday with an e-mail to supporters from campaign manager Bradley Tusk which touts the billionaire mayor as “independent, honest, effective.”

The New York Times reports this morning that Bloomberg is now wooing political parties after having previously dismissed them as a “swamp of dysfunction.”

2010: Senate: Missouri:Two of the biggest names in Missouri politics are headed for a potential showdown in the Show Me State. Rep. Roy Blunt, the former House Minority Whip, is planning to announce his bid for United States Senate today at 10:30 am ET. The top candidate on the Democratic side is Secretary of State Robin Carnahan. They are running for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Kit Bond (R). National Journal has MORE.

2012: Republicans: Sarah Palin: “Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin on Wednesday announced spending cuts of $445 million in next year's proposed budget to cope with reduced revenues from continued low oil prices,” reports the AP.

California On The Brink:From the Los Angeles Times: “Aiming to end a three-month impasse, the California Senate prepared to vote early this morning on a deal Democrats and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger reached with a GOP holdout to resolve the state's fiscal emergency.”

“Under the deal, Sen. Abel Maldonado of Santa Maria agreed to provide the final Republican vote needed to pass a spending plan with billions of dollars in tax hikes. In exchange, Democrats would rewrite election rules that Maldonado says are stacked against moderates like himself.”

“But even as legislative officials raced to put together the details, it was not assured that the deal would win over enough Democrats to get through the state Assembly.”’

VPOTUS:  Vice President Joe Biden is slated to perform the ceremonial swearing in of Feinstein friend Leon Panetta as CIA director Thursday afternoon. In the evening, Biden is holding a dinner at his the VP’s residence for six foreign policy experts: Amb. Richard Holbrooke, NSC’s Bruce Riedel, the New America Foundation’s Steve Coll, RAND’s Jim Dobbins, NYU’s Barnett Rubin, and Petraeus adviser David Kilcullen.

FLOTUS: Michelle Obama continues her tour of federal departments on Thursday with a stop at the US Department of Agriculture. She will be joined by Tom "The Courage to Create Change" Vilsack, her husband's one-time rival and former governor of Iowa who now heads USDA.

HUD:HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan is holding a 2:00 pm ET teleconference to make a major homeless funding announcement.

Fiscal Responsibility Summit: Liberal Prebuttal:In advance of Monday's fiscal responsibility summit, the liberal Campaign for America's Future (CAF) is holding a 2:30 pm ET conference call with reporters to encourage Obama not to restrain spending on entitlement programs. The media advisory announcing the call singles out former Nixon Commerce Secretary Pete Peterson, a summit participant, as a "billionaire Wall Street baron" and "budget hawk elite" that Obama should ignore. A Peterson spokesperson responded to CAF by telling ABC News that Peterson's foundation is non-partisan and is headed by former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker, a Clinton appointee. CAF wrote in an email to reporters that Peterson is "rumored to be the lead speaker at the summit." Although Peterson is planning to attend, his spokesperson says he is just one of several participants in the summit which includes House members, senators, and outside experts.

Valenti: The sexuality of the late Jack Valenti was a topic for the FBI, reports the Washington Post's Joe Stephens.

The Kicker:"See all these people, they will leave if I sing."  --Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declining to sing while appearing Wednesday on a youth-oriented variety show in Jakarta, Indonesia

Bookmark the link below to get The Note’s daily morning analysis:

For up-to-the-minute political updates check out The Note’s blog . . . all day every day:

Follow The Note blog on Twitter:

Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...