Slow Walk: Events overtake Obama, as pace worries Democrats

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports:

Think Harry Reid would have rather been on that balloon? He gets Vice President Joe Biden in to campaign for him Friday -- but only Falcon is answering (or not answering) tougher questions this week. Reid, D-Nev., could begin to concentrate on his reelection fight (and he's got TV ads up already) if he could begin to get 60 votes together for a health care bill that liberals don't like and conservatives still aren't sold on (those negotiations not coming to a cable channel near you). So Reid and his team are left to sort out some of the intricacies the White House has avoided. And for President Obama, the charge and the challenge have inverted themselves: He's gone from trying to do too much to not being able to finish much of anything at all. There's continuing indecision on health care; tinkering with the stimulus; slow-moving judicial confirmations; and a strangely public debate over Afghanistan policy (shouldn't that be the one that's deliberated in secret?) where events have a tendency to subsume discussions. It helps to know if the Afghan government can be a true partner if you know what the Afghan government will be (and whether its leaders deserve to be there in the first place): "An investigation of allegedly fraudulent ballots in Afghanistan's troubled election has reduced President Hamid Karzai's portion of the vote to about 47 percent, an outcome that will trigger a runoff between him and his closest competitor," Karen DeYoung and Joshua Partlow report in The Washington Post. "The tally by the U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission, which one official called ‘stunning,' is due to be finalized Friday."

They continue: "The findings have major implications for the Obama administration's ongoing deliberations over Afghanistan war strategy and could eventually help remove the cloud of illegitimacy hanging over its partner government there. But a new election could also make a difficult situation worse, particularly if fraud is once again alleged or if the vote has to be delayed because of the onset of winter."

A senior White House official tells ABC's Jake Tapper: "The partnership Karzai wants not just with us but other international partners depends on his country seeing him as its legitimate leader." Tapper reports: "The crucial question for Karzai: what will he do? Will he accept the judgment of the ECC? Will he push the IEC to reject it? Will he reject its advice altogether?" "An outright Karzai victory could enrage Dr. Abdullah's supporters, trigger protests and further undermine the legitimacy of Mr. Karzai's government in the eyes of the Afghan public," Anand Gopal and Jay Solomon report in The Wall Street Journal. "But authorities also could have a tough battle proving that results of a runoff are legitimate." More complications: "A wave of attacks against top security installations over the last several days demonstrated that the Taliban, Al Qaeda and militant groups once nurtured by the government are tightening an alliance aimed at bringing down the Pakistani state," The New York Times' Jane Perlez reports. Meanwhile, back in Washington: "The pace of the policy review is causing worry in both parties on Capitol Hill," Dana Milbank writes in his Washington Post column. "There seems to be less urgency at the White House, where the president completed his fifth meeting on the subject this week. But the only thing that seems to emerge from these sessions are new adjectives the White House press office uses to describe the conversation. After the Oct. 6 meeting, the words ‘rigorous and deliberate' were used. The Oct. 7 session was described as ‘comprehensive.' The Oct. 9 meeting, by contrast, turned out to be ‘robust.' The Oct. 14 meeting was described as ‘fairly comprehensive.' " "Maybe there is some rhyme or reason to deferring to Nancy Pelosi on the stimulus, to everyone on health care, and to the White House seminars on a war," Jennifer Rubin writes for Commentary. Filling the void -- the national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, in a statement: "In Afghanistan, the extremists are sensing weakness and indecision within the U.S. government, which plays into their hands, as evidenced by the increased attacks in Afghanistan as well as Pakistan. I fear that an emboldened enemy will now intensify their efforts to kill more U.S. soldiers." From the other side: "Democratic and Republican politicians -- and pundits -- pressing Obama to render a decision now ought to back off. Obama is merely following the advice of these strategy experts: investing time and energy," David Corn writes for Politics Daily. Tea leaves -- or just more leave? "In perhaps another sign of the improving security situation in Iraq, an Army brigade slated to replace a departing unit this January has received orders not to deploy, defense officials told ABC News," Luis Martinez reports. "The move frees up an additional combat unit that could be sent to Afghanistan should the Obama administration decide that more troops are needed there as has been recommended by top U.S. military commanders." The broad challenge on health care -- of speed, and of size: "Now the national terrain is thick with federal programs, and with state, county, city and town entities and programs, from coast to coast. It's not virgin territory anymore, it's crowded. We are a nation fully settled by government," Peggy Noonan writes in her Wall Street Journal column. "But we know the price now. This is the historical context." More tales of speed -- with rumbling felt on the left: "President Obama has not made significant progress in his plan to infuse federal courts with a new cadre of judges, and liberal activists are beginning to blame his administration for moving too tentatively on what they consider a key priority," Michael Fletcher writes in The Washington Post. "During his first nine months in office, Obama has won confirmation in the Democratic-controlled Senate for just three of his 23 nominations for federal judgeships, largely because Republicans have used anonymous holds and filibuster threats to slow the proceedings to a crawl. But some Democrats attribute that GOP success partly to the administration's reluctance to fight, arguing that Obama's emphasis on easing partisan rancor over judgeships has backfired and only emboldened Senate Republicans." The president on Friday travels to College Station, Texas, for an event on service with former President George H.W. Bush -- a first chapter in the 41-44 relationship. "President Barack Obama, on his first foray into Texas as president today, will face a unique mixture of warm, fuzzy bipartisanship and bitter protest at Texas A&M University," Todd J. Gillman writes for The Dallas Morning News. "Conservative activists from around the state, including members of the Tea Party movement that disrupted congressional town hall meetings this summer, plan to converge on campus to voice their displeasure with various Obama policies." "I cannot wait for President Obama to experience the open, decent, and welcoming Aggie spirit for himself," Bush said in a letter to the A&M community, per ABC's Matt Jaffe. On health care , enlisting a GOP governor... From the White House: "At 9:00am, Governor Jim Douglas of Vermont will hold a media availability at the stakeout location outside the James S. Brady press briefing room. The media availability will follow a meeting on pending health insurance reform legislation with Nancy-Ann DeParle, Director of the White House Office of Health Reform." The president is feisty, if not particularly rushed: "Grab a mop!" he demanded at a DNC fundraiser Thursday night in San Francisco, Jaffe reports. "Let's get to work!" (What's everyone been doing all year, then?) Back on the Hill: "Voices were raised, people spoke passionately," Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., told ABC's Z. Byron Wolf after Thursday's Senate Democratic caucus. "Unlike a lot of caucuses, this one proved to be rather interesting." Harry Reid's swarming caucus: "Like a cloud of mosquitoes, lawmakers are making their presence felt -- claiming a central role in the debate and suggesting a variety of legislative provisions and concessions they would like in return for their support when a final vote is taken," James Oliphant writes in the Los Angeles Times. Numbers out Friday: "Congressional budget analysts have given House leaders cost estimates for two competing versions of their plan to overhaul the health-care system, concluding that one comes within striking distance of the $900 billion limit set by President Obama and the other falls below it," Lori Montgomery writes in The Washington Post. We've heard this before, and we'll hear it again: "The forces in favor of a public health insurance option roared back Thursday on Capitol Hill after weeks when their cause looked bleak," Politico's Patrick O'Connor and Carrie Budoff Brown report. "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) looked closer than ever to including a robust U.S. government-run insurance program in the House bill . . . And in the Senate, a weekly policy lunch turned into a heated debate when liberals went after the Senate Finance Committee bill and made clear they won't roll over for legislation that doesn't include a public option." Capturing the left -- if they can find the money: "Senate Democrats may widen insurance coverage in sweeping health legislation, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus said Thursday, but they face a struggle to come up with ways to pay for the extra spending," Greg Hitt of The Wall Street Journal writes. Are any votes guaranteed? Without more individual choice, "the final bill is not going to have my support," said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said on's "Top Line" Thursday. Suggesting that the Finance Committee bill injects sufficient choice into the system, he said, is "not going to pass the smell test." That which doesn't kill a bill ... Paul Krugman sees AHIP's push leading to stronger insurance exchanges -- and, perhaps, a public option: "The insurance industry won't like these changes, but that matters less than it did a week ago," Krugman writes in his New York Times column. "Even with stronger exchanges and a public option, health reform would probably increase, not reduce, insurance industry profits. But the insurers wanted it all. The good news is that by overreaching, they may have ensured that they won't get it." "The insurance lobby's hard-line tactics may give President Obama and his aides a convenient foil just when critics on their left flank are mobilizing for more-dramatic reforms. If those more liberal lawmakers get their way, the insurers could take some more hits," Time's Michael Scherer and Jay Newton-Small report. More noise from erstwhile allies: "When it comes to the health care battle, President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats are learning that with friends like labor unions, they barely need Republicans to muck things up," the AP's Alan Fram writes. New from Health Care for America Now (already on the ad attacking new taxes on "Cadillac" plan): Another new ad campaign, this time making the case for a public option. "What's the real problem with health care costs? Lack of competition, " the TV ad says. "We need the choice of a public health insurance option." It all will come back to Reid: "He once made a name for himself there as an amateur boxer. But in what may be his biggest fight yet, Reid is playing referee," NPR's David Welna reports.

Not the only key Democrat who's worried about reelection at the same time that he seeks to shepherd through a bill: "Two of the three Democrats charged with producing a Senate healthcare bill to take to the floor -- Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut -- face tough reelection bids in 2010," Gail Russell Chaddock reports in the Christian Science Monitor. "Senate leaders are used to being lightening rods. But the overhaul of the US healthcare system sets up a perfect storm of competing interests, especially for Democrats."

Self-preservation begins at home. ABC's Teddy Davis reports: "The Senate Majority Leader is launching two television ads a full 383 days before he faces the voters. Reid's campaign says that the ads were ‘long planned' to begin airing a year out from the election to introduce Reid to the 395,749 new voters registered in Nevada since his last election in 2004."

Coming up on "This Week": Senior White House adviser David Axelrod is George Stephanopoulos' exclusive guest. On the roundtable: George Will, Paul Krugman, Peggy Noonan, and E.J. Dionne Jr. The old slogan was hard to remember, anyway. Sarah Palin has an op-ed in the new National Review, with the one-word headline: "Drill." "The less use we make of our own reserves, the more we will have to import, which leads to a number of harmful consequences. That means we need to drill here and drill now," she writes. $4.4 million and counting, and counting: "The returns are in: Two words -- ‘You lie!' -- are worth roughly $2 million apiece," The State's James Rosen reports. "Republican Rep. Joe Wilson and Democratic challenger Rob Miller raised a total of nearly $4.4 million through Sept. 30 in their 2nd Congressional District rematch. Fourteen months before voters go to the polls, the Wilson-Miller contest is already the richest U.S. House race ever in South Carolina." ACORN gets The New York Times take, by Jim Rutenberg: "The relationship between Democrats and Acorn has always been as productive as it has been uneasy. In Acorn's 40-year history, its voter registration drives and policy proposals on behalf of mostly poor and minority constituents have often redounded to the benefit of Democratic politicians and policy makers. But its hot rhetoric, frequently heavy-handed approach and occasional legal stumbles have just as often proved an alienating liability easily exploited by Republicans." More details on the "Goatee Gamble," the NLCS bet between ABC's Jake Tapper and NBC's Chuck Todd. (Jake's Phillies took game one over Chuck's Dodgers, by a whisker or two.) For the $1,000 opt-out donations (in lieu of either shaving or growing, as the case may be), Chuck has chosen Samaritan Inns, which provides housing and recovery services to homeless and addicted men and women. A secure donation can be made on their Website: Jake has picked Dr. Shershah Syed, an ob/gyn who has devoted himself to saving impoverished women in his native Pakistan from complications due to pregnancy such as fistulas. Syed is building a new maternity hospital and training midwives. Tax-deductible contributions can be made through Dr. Shershah Syed, c/o National Health Forum, P.O. Box 240093, St. Louis, MO 63024. Put: "Dr. Syed's project" in the subject line of the check. Email is More on Syed's work in this New York Times column by Nicholas Kristof. The Kicker: "So I took a fun picture not thinking anything about what I was wearing but apparently anything other than a pantsuit I am a slut." -- Meghan McCain on the Twitter stir caused by a voluptuous photo she posted of herself. "First of all, I did get elected president, so not everybody hates me." -- President Obama, answering a New Orleans boy's question of "why people hate you." For up-to-the-minute political updates check out The Note's blog . . . all day every day:
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