Tea Service: Energy served in unequal portions, as health care vote approaches

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports:

Does someone control an army around here?

Another day, another public display of disaffection with your government: As the House stands on the verge of approving a sweeping health care reform measure, the biggest show in town has the distinct scent of tea.

Thursday's "House Call" gathering, on the East Front of the Capitol, comes at a critical time in the health care debate -- sandwiched between those mixed-bag election results and the first vote by a full congressional chamber on health care.

It's not the kind of event (even if it reaches proportions some organizers are predicting) that's likely to change many minds.

But if you need evidence of where the political energy and excitement has gone, one year since Grant Park, a lunchtime midday rally in Washington isn't a bad place to start.

(Try to imagine the old Obama campaign army pulling off something roughly comparable in as short a time, with as little formal planning -- or even with spreadsheets and call lists and marching orders, for that matter.)

Telling, particularly in the wake of NY-23: House Republican leaders -- including Leader John Boehner, Whip Eric Cantor, Conference Chairman Mike Pence, and Republican Study Committee Chairman Tom Price -- plan to speak. (Not that they necessarily what to make of the energy that will be on display Thursday, either.)

But the day belongs to Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn. From the release out Thursday: "On the heels of an election arguably reminiscent of 1993's reaction against HillaryCare, nearly one thousand activists with Patients First--a project of Americans for Prosperity -- traveled to Washington on Thursday to say once again, ‘Hands Off Our Health Care!' Joining other Americans participating in Rep. Michele Bachmann's ‘House Call on Health Care,' Patients First activists from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia will participate in a rally at the Capitol before visiting their Congressmen to express opposition to the government takeover of our America's health care system."

A different kind of army, perhaps: "Democratic sources tell me that AARP – easily the most influential seniors lobby – will endorse the health reform legislation put together by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats," ABC's George Stephanopoulos reports. "A public announcement is expected tomorrow or Friday, in advance of a vote by the full House likely to come on Saturday."

Behind Thursday's noise: "Rep. Michele Bachmann isn't going down without a fight," Eric Roper reports in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "The Republican lawmaker has been on a media blitz promoting tomorrow's rally against the Democratic health care proposal on the steps of the Capitol, which she has dubbed ‘The Super Bowl of Freedom.' Actor Jon Voight and author Mark Levin are expected to attend in addition to Republican House leadership."

"Nothing scares members of Congress more than freedom-loving Americans," Bachmann, R-Minn., told bloggers and activists Wednesday night, per Politico's Daniel Libit.

"Don't bring your pitchforks," Bachmann said, "bring your video cameras."

(Odd timing: "The aide who helped turn Rep. Michele Bachmann into a controversial mainstay of cable news has informed colleagues that she's quitting -- just as the firebrand Republican congresswoman prepares for her biggest media moment yet," Politico's Jonathan Allen reports. "Multiple sources have confirmed that Michelle Marston, a veteran Hill aide, is leaving Bachmann's office.")

How big could this get? "Some conservative groups said they were responding to Ms. Bachmann's request. In a statement, Tony Pessaro, the founder and chairman of a ‘tea party' antitax group in Bel Air, Md., said he had filled two buses and was working on a third," The New York Times' David M. Herszenhorn reports.

It had been a while since Republicans had a good Election Day: "There's a political rebellion going on in America, and what we saw last night was just a glimpse of it," Boehner, R-Ohio, told ABC News in a joint interview with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

"Another tea party group in Arkansas said it was encouraging members who could not visit Washington to fax their elected officials at precisely noon Thursday, and they singled out Representative Mike Ross, Democrat of Arkansas, as a target."

McConnell, R-Ky., handicapping health care: "You've got a lot of newly elected Democrats -- as they had two good years in a row -- who are hanging on by their fingernails, and being pushed by the speaker and the majority leader to support legislation that they now know for sure their constituents don't approve of."

(Watch "Top Line" at noon ET at ABCNews.com for more from Boehner and McConnell, plus a live interview with RNC Chairman Michael Steele.)

Interesting counterpoint, from David Plouffe, reacting to Tuesday's results: "I think there's some notion out there among some that we can press a button on a computer and turn people out. It doesn't work that way. None of this is transferable," Plouffe tells ABC's Aaron Katersky.

Where's the energy? "It's not a resurgent right wing that should trouble Obama's party," E.J. Dionne Jr., writes in his Washington Post column. "But for the moment, the thrill is gone from politics, and that is very dangerous for the mainstream progressive movement that Obama promised to build."

More pushback -- a 12-hour (!) online town hall -- "Pelosi Plan Exposed" -- organized by GOP leaders and campaign officials. Pushback to the pushback: Americans United for Change is up with "a rapid response TV ad" that renames the House health care bill: "The Health Insurance Industry Profits Protection Act." From a spokesman: "With the House vote now expected on Saturday, we're putting $17k behind this spot to air it heavily on DC area cable (CNN and MSNBC) by the end of Friday so lawmakers are sure to see it." Reverberations: "Democrats on Capitol Hill began a nervous debate Wednesday about the course President Obama has set for their party, with some questioning whether they should emphasize job creation over some of the more ambitious items on the president's agenda," The Washington Post's Michael D. Shear and Paul Kane report. "Moderate and conservative Democrats took a clear signal from Tuesday's voting, warning that the results prove that independent voters are wary of Obama's far-reaching proposals and mounting spending, as well as the growing federal debt. Liberal lawmakers, meanwhile, said the party's shortcoming came in moving too slowly on health-care reform and other items that would satisfy a base becoming disenchanted with the failure to deliver rapid change in government." Susan Milligan, in The Boston Globe: "Democratic moderates who will determine the fate of much of President Obama's domestic agenda heard an early warning from this week's off-year elections: Congress had better do something about the economy, or sitting lawmakers will lose their jobs in 2010." The New York Times' Carl Hulse: "Democrats still face the political dilemma that has dogged their health care efforts this year and will continue to face tough choices as they take up issues like curbing global warming. Should they concentrate on motivating their core supporters, many of whom appeared to stay away from the polls in New Jersey and Virginia, by taking a more liberal approach, for example by embracing a public health insurance option? Or do they try to write health, energy and fiscal policies that can attract independents, who broke for Republicans in Tuesday's voting, in order to protect more moderate Democrats in conservative districts where spending and the rising debt are top worries?" Surely the next election will be national, if this one wasn't... David Axelrod, to ABC's Jake Tapper: "I think that young people were energized by the President about the set of issues and concerns that he ran on. I think they'll be energized again in 2010. But you know some of it is a personal appeal and we are going to work hard over the next year to make sure that in these national elections that are coming up our voters and particularly young voters are strongly engaged." But what if the race in New York wasn't the only one on the ballot that mattered? "The Democrats' problems concern direction and mood; the Republicans' loss in the 23rd showed a weakness of tactics," Margaret Carlson writes in her Bloomberg News column. "As hard as it may be for the GOP to contain Sarah Palin (R-Facebook), Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and their various allies, it's a lot harder to deal with a public that's losing faith in government to improve their lot." "For Obama and the Democratic congressional leadership, the off-year results arrived at a moment when their fragile internal coalitions are facing severe tests," David Broder writes in his column. ":The White House is attempting to stage-manage a crucial vote-counting exercise in both the House and Senate to determine whether Democrats can risk bringing landmark health-care bills to the floor. And within weeks, Obama may precipitate a similar test of support on a new policy toward Afghanistan." Not that Democrats take cues from this particular pundit, but still: "Looking ahead, the bad news for Democrats is that the legislation that helped lead to the collapse of support for their party on Tuesday could yet inflict more pain on those foolish enough to support it," Karl Rove writes in his Wall Street Journal column. "The health-care bill House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants to vote on this week could sink an entire fleet of Democratic boats in 2010." Over on the Republican side -- behind the celebration, concerns: "The same conservatives who energized the party this year forced out a Republican nominee they considered too moderate; their candidate lost to Democrat Bill Owens," USA Today's Kathy Kiely reports. "There was no sign the family feud was ending Wednesday, as Republicans offered sharply different spins on Owens' victory." Adam Nagourney, in The New York Times: "Throughout the day Wednesday, Republicans grappled with the disappointing outcome of a special election for what had been a reliably Republican House seat in upstate New York. That contest became a battleground between the party establishment and a conservative insurgency demanding more ideological purity from candidates." Tending the grassroots -- particularly the breeds that grow in Florida: "We will not spend money in a contested primary," Sen. John Cornyn, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told ABC News. "The first lesson is that competitive primaries are generally a good thing." Lessons of NY-23: "It was just a disaster waiting to happen so I don't think it was so much about the Democrat got elected, it was that the Republicans really fumbled the ball and the Democrats fell on it in the end zone," former Gov. Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., said Wednesday on ABCNews.com's "Top Line." On health care -- a Saturday vote: "House leaders said that they were confident of reaching their goal in time for a Saturday debate on the most significant changes to the nation's health-care system since the creation of Medicare in 1965. They released 42 pages of amendments to the 1,990-page health package unveiled last week, a move that started the clock ticking on their pledge to make the legislation publicly available for 72 hours before lawmakers are asked to pass judgment," The Washington Post's Lori Montgomery reports. "Democrats tacked new provisions onto the legislation late Tuesday, clearing one of the final hurdles for bringing the bill to the floor," The Wall Street Journal's Janet Adamy and Martin Vaughan report. "But the changes didn't resolve sharp differences among Democrats over how the bill handles funding for abortion, with some saying they won't support the legislation until it addresses their concerns." Voting -- on Shabbos? "My rabbi said there's a Talmudic exemption for the public option," said Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., per The Hill. Who to watch: "Blue Dog Democrats face a dilemma this weekend: Should they oppose legislation they believe is flawed, or move the bill out of the House in the hopes of it changing in conference?" The Hill's Jared Allen reports. "Many Blue Dogs are expected to face the grimmest reelection prospects of any Democrats, and the upcoming healthcare vote is giving some significant pause." The president's day: "The president today will make good on his campaign promise to host a White House Tribal Nations Conference. Leaders from 564 federally recognized tribes will come to the Department of the Interior for an all-day forum discussing concerns in the Native American community," per ABC's Sunlen Miller. Canceled for... too MUCH hype? "Earlier today we were surprised to see promotion for a ‘debate' between former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton at Radio City Music Hall in February," ABC's George Stephanopoulos reports. "But now we are hearing that this event has been cancelled by the former presidents who say they never agreed to a debate, but back to back speeches. Clinton and Bush have done the joint appearance thing before – last spring in Toronto." The Kicker: "We got walloped." -- Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. "From my perspective, we won." -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. For up-to-the-minute political updates check out The Note's blog . . . all day every day: http://blogs.abcnews.com/thenote/
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