The Note, 6/26/09: Caps and Tradeoffs: Energy bill takes political temperature

ABC News’ RICK KLEIN reports:

Here's the thing about all that criticism of doing too much at once: It starts to go away if what you're doing actually gets done.

Friday brings (or maybe even won't bring) one of those votes that matters quite a bit for politics, policy, and posturing.

In another, say, news climate, this would be a very big deal. The cap-and-trade bill is a marking point in the debate over energy and climate policy. How it's being handled is a marking point in deal-making and arm-twisting under the leadership of President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

At a time when health care reform and the domestic agenda are in the balance -- while the president struggles with his left, the right finds its way, and the center finds a louder voice -- losing a vote really isn't a good option.

(There's no real scenario under which Democrats don't win in the House. And yet -- if you think it's an ugly road in the House, just wait until it snakes through the Senate.)

Obama put some heat on himself (even as Al Gore took some off) with a Rose Garden statement Thursday, in addition to those phone calls he's been making on the Markey-Waxman bill.

All that outreach has got to mean something at some point. This would be one of those points.

"Passage of the bill would be a major victory for Obama at a time when the president's poll numbers have dropped slightly and his administration is juggling efforts to overhaul healthcare, reform financial regulations, and deal with Iran, North Korea and other foreign policy challenges," Jim Tankersley and James Oliphant write in the Los Angeles Times. "But as the vote neared, Democrats still were going their separate ways."

"If this goes down, it shows we can't govern," said senior White House adviser David Axelrod, according to one person at the House whip meeting, per The Hill's Jared Allen.

"From the White House lawn to the bowels of the Capitol to the hills just east of Nashville, Democrats pulled out all the stops and employed their biggest guns to whip dozens of still-undecided members," Allen writes.

(Did Al Gore really not get on a flight from Tennessee because the speaker didn't want him to be wasting time? Or is it possible that the image of Pelosi and Gore side-by-side on television wasn't going to help moderate Democrats make up their minds? Or that Gore really doesn't want to be there if the bill isn't a sure thing?)

The biggest gun: "Make no mistake, this is a jobs bill," President Obama said in the Rose Garden Thursday, per ABC's Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller. "We cannot be afraid of the future, and we can't be prisoners of the past. We've been talking about this issue for decades, and now is the time to finally act."

Fitting the narrative: "Every administration wants to do great things. Or, rather, it wants greatness," Peggy Noonan writes in her Wall Street Journal column. "There is a persistent sense of extraneous effort, of ambitions too big and yet too small, too off point, too base-pleading, too ideological, too unaware of the imperatives. And there is the depressing psychological effect of seeing government grow so much, so big, so fast. This encourages a sense that things are out of control and cannot be made better."

Your White House day: President Obama sits down with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with Rose Garden Q&A to follow at 11:30 am ET.

But the action will be down the street a bit: "Several Democratic moderates said they continue to harbor reservations about the bill. Their concerns ranged from the general -- as lawmakers struggled to get familiar with a complex and sprawling measure that clocked in at 1,201 pages -- to the parochial," per Roll Call's Tory Newmyer reports.

Who's on the line? "It wasn't supposed to be this way. Global warming has long been a Democratic priority -- and with House Speaker Pelosi and President Barack Obama behind it, many didn't think Democrats would have had such a hard time reaching a consensus on legislation," Time's Jay Newton-Small reports. "More than anyone on Capitol Hill, Pelosi has staked her reputation on the bill."

"Speaker Pelosi hopes to have a vote on the bill [Friday], or possibly Saturday, but she is unlikely to call for a vote until she is sure the bill will pass," ABC's Jonathan Karl reports. "Gore's call list includes liberals who think the bill has been watered down too much -- as well as nervous moderates who are concerned about Republican attacks that a vote for the bill is a vote to hike energy taxes."

Will it take anything else to get the vote? "House Democratic leaders Thursday weighed tough trade penalties on countries that don't cap so-called greenhouse-gas emissions, while President Barack Obama sought support from wavering lawmakers ahead of a vote on a climate bill," Stephen Power and Greg Hitt write in The Wall Street Journal. "The inclusion of the trade-related provisions is meant to appease lawmakers from heavy industry states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan who worry that limits on U.S. emissions would put domestic industries at a disadvantage to competitors in countries like China that don't limit emissions."

How close are they? "Democratic aides and lawmakers suggested the legislation was still short of the 218 votes needed to ensure passage. It was unclear by how much, but individuals familiar with the vote-counting suggested Democrats were lacking 15 to 20 votes and perhaps more," Power and Hitt write.

"By late Thursday, aides and lawmakers said Democrats were within a dozen of the 218 votes needed to pass the legislation," Politico's Lisa Lerer and Patrick O'Connor report. Best detail of the day: "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi plied undecided members with chocolate-covered Dove bars in a series of small group meetings."

Keeping in mind what this doesn't do: "It's not too late to hope for a cleaner cap-and-trade bill -- such proposals are circulating on Capitol Hill -- or a properly designed carbon tax that would send the right market signal to spur green-energy innovation while also leading to vital changes in behavior," per The Washington Post editorial. "Given that congressional action could set a template for years or decades, we think it's too soon to settle for something that falls so far short of ideal."

And this isn't even the topic domestic priority of the moment: "It has become the trillion-dollar question: can President Obama find that much in spending cuts and tax increases to keep his campaign promise to overhaul the health care system, without adding to already huge deficits? Mr. Obama and the Democrats running Congress are deeply split over the possibilities," The New York Times' Jackie Calmes reports.

Getting closer on health care? (Until there's some numbers and details for public digestion, maybe not yet.)

"Senate health-care negotiators said yesterday they were closing in on a $1 trillion health-care bill that would be fully funded by tax increases, Medicare cuts and new penalties for employers who do not offer health insurance," Shailagh Murray and Lori Montgomery write in The Washington Post. "As the contours of a bill begin to take shape, [Sen. Kent] Conrad said prospects for bipartisan support appear to have brightened."

"While Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus is beaming about the development, it's important to remember that all this is notional at the moment," ABC's Z. Byron Wolf reports.

One very good sign for progress: "I know you are very interested in the public component and I think Senator [Chuck] Schumer has the right idea about having a public component," Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., told a gathering Thursday, per the Allentown Morning Call's Josh Drobnyk.

And when is bipartisanship bipartisanship? When Rahm Emanuel says it is: "This will be bipartisan. There will be ideas from both parties and individuals from both parties in the final product," Emanuel said at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast, per the Monitor's Linda Feldmann. "Whether Republicans decide to vote for things that they've promoted will be up to them."

The Sanford fall-out:

"Facing questions over whether he used taxpayer funds to pay for trips to Argentina to see the woman with whom he admitted having an extramarital affair, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford said Thursday that he would repay the state for a 2008 business trip to Buenos Aires," per ABC's Huma Khan, Sarah Netter, and Eric Noe.

"Coming one day after Mr. Sanford confessed that he had spent his week's absence from the state in Argentina with the woman with whom he had been having a year-old affair, Thursday's admission was yet another blow to his reputation and led several fellow South Carolina Republican leaders to say he could no longer serve as governor," The New York Times' Jim Rutenberg and Robbie Brown report.

"Robert W. Harrell Jr., speaker of the Republican-controlled House, said the governor would now have to decide whether he could remain effective in office. Glenn McCall, one of the two Republican national committeemen from South Carolina, called on him to resign, as did two newspaper editorial boards in the state."

"Fellow Republicans issued sharp calls for the disgraced Sanford to step down -- a move he indicated he was not considering. And at least one campaign donor was drafting a letter asking for his money back," per the AP's Jim Davenport.

New questions: "When South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford added a stop in Argentina to his trade mission to Brazil last June, the side trip should've raised eyebrows because he was undertaking a trade mission that the U.S. government was unwilling to make," McClatchy's Kevin G. Hall reports.

Saved by politics? "But a flood of calls for Sanford's resignation from the state's political class might not materialize because of the impact such a move would have on next year's race to replace him," The State's John O'Connor writes. "Few opponents in the Republican field want to give Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer a test run before 2010 to prove himself in a potential field of U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett, state Sen. Larry Grooms, state Rep. Nikki Haley, Attorney General Henry McMaster and Furman University political scientist Brent Nelsen."

The LGBT fundraiser went on as scheduled: "Gay Democrats are using their wallets to pressure President Obama, while liberal groups are asking him to repeal ‘don't ask, don't tell' as a national security issue," Christina Bellantoni writes in the Washington Times. "As the gay rights efforts increase in size and scope, the White House seems to be responding. Mr. Obama will speak to gays and lesbians Monday and face questions about the next steps he's promised following the extension of some benefits to gay federal workers."

"President Barack Obama is taking heat from some gays and lesbians for not fulfilling campaign pledges. He's also taking their cash," per the AP's Philip Elliott.

"I hope you don't doubt the president's commitment," said Vice President Joe Biden.

Also on the left: Arianna Huffington doesn't love lobbyists. "Remember all that change Americans voted for in November? Well, there's been a change in the plans for change," she writes. "The detour has come courtesy of a familiar nemesis: DC lobbyists who, this year alone, have watered-down, gutted, or out-and-out killed ambitious plans for reforming Wall Street, energy, and health care. Remember all that change Americans voted for in November? Well, there's been a change in the plans for change."

Plus -- if it's good enough for the president . . . Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner answers Huffington Post reader questions.

You knew this was coming: From the DCCC's new radio ad campaign, to run in seven GOP-held congressional districts, timed for the Fourth of July: "Around here, we recognize Independence Day with parades … and picnics … maybe a few fireworks. But July Fourth is about more than that. It's about remembering those who fought for our freedoms. And those still fighting today."

"Congressman Lee Terry [R-Neb.] used to understand that," the ad continues. "When George Bush asked, Congressman Terry voted to fully fund our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, last year he said, quote, ‘We must give our military every resource it needs.' Seems like Congressman Terry is playing politics now … Last month Congressman Terry voted AGAINST funding for those same troops."

Also messaging around the Fourth: the Workforce Family Institute. From the packet being circulated for the recess: "As our nation celebrates its independence, small business owners across the country are threatened by a government takeover."

Coming up on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos": Senior White House adviser David Axelrod.

The Kicker:

"Sonofab-tch." -- White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, in the tank after CBS' Bill Plante gave him a good dunking.

"I just looked up and I caught this hairy eyeball by Bill." -- White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, getting a little too political for Bill Burton's comfort, at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast.

Today on "Top Line,"'s daily political Webcast: Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., and ABC's George Stephanopoulos. Noon ET.

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