Hillary ’07 Battles Hillary ’93

Want to unite the country? Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., has the answer -- or maybe it's just that she IS the answer.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's plan for universal healthcare allowed Democrats and Republicans to join forces for the day. All it took was one little (OK, $110 billion) healthcare plan by one particular presidential frontrunner to bring together the 2008 field.

Clinton's plan is "European-style socialized medicine" (Mitt Romney); straight out of Michael Moore's "Sicko" (Rudy Giuliani); an "imitation" advanced by a flawed saleswoman (John Edwards); inadequate and advanced by a flawed saleswoman (Barack Obama -- but how would he cover more people without requiring coverage?); and automatically bad because Clinton herself "set back our ability to move toward universal health care immeasurably" back in 1994 (a very aggressive Chris Dodd).

All the attention is a form of flattery; just about any other candidate would have had himself hospitalized (maybe even in Cuba) to be attacked like this when he offered his plan. The obsession with "Hillarycare 2.0" speaks to the control that Clinton exerts over the entire field, as the one person who at this moment looks like she has the best shot of being elected president (and who represents the match-up the Republican base craves the most).

"Obviously I've got a lot of experience in tackling this issue -- I've taken on all of these special interests for 15 years," Clinton, D-N.Y., told Diane Sawyer on ABC's "Good Morning America," rising above the attacks (as is her wont -- and her luxury). "The real issue is, who has the best plan? Who has the experience and the commitment of a lifetime to healthcare?"

This was going to happen whenever and however Clinton introduced her healthcare plan, but the other '08ers could not wait to weigh in yesterday. "Swift condemnations of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's healthcare plan Monday attested to her less enviable role as the No. 1 target for Republican attacks," writes the Los Angeles Times' Michael Finnegan. "GOP presidential candidates rarely mention Democrats in the race -- except to invoke with dread the prospect of another Clinton presidency."

The attacks from candidates in both parties feed an argument that's becoming a growing part of the Democratic debate: That Clinton is too polarizing a figure to govern effectively (if not to get elected in the first place). "The real battle will be convincing Democratic primary voters which candidate can actually turn his or her plan into reality," Time's Karen Tumulty writes. Clinton's rivals "aimed their own criticisms less at any aspect of her message than at the messenger herself."

Clinton is addressing (and spinning) her past failures in her rollout. She's launching a new ad today in New Hampshire and Iowa that describes the 1993-1994 failure thusly: "She changed our way of thinking when she introduced universal healthcare to America." (That's one way of putting it.)

Forget Hillary vs. Obama or Edwards or Giuliani or Romney -- the real battle is Hillary '07 vs. Hillary '93. "Hillary Clinton seemed more focused on distinguishing herself from herself Monday than from her opponents for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination," writes Thomas Beaumont of the Des Moines Register, who counted at least six references to her failed attempt as first lady in her speech yesterday.

It's "this year's most daring act of political jujitsu," Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. writes. "This time, she will coax and charm the country toward universal health coverage. Cold analysis has given way to warm persuasion."

By Clinton's own admission, the plan is influenced more than a bit by the last go-around. "Mrs. Clinton promised to cover everyone without big new bureaucracies, without a complicated reorganization of one-seventh of the American economy and without affecting people who are insured and happy with their coverage -- all features that helped doom the Clinton administration's plan 14 years ago," Patrick Healy and Robin Toner write in The New York Times.

"In what her advisers hoped would be the final stage of a long political rehabilitation on the issue, Mrs. Clinton told her audience here that she had been scarred by the old battle but had gained some valuable lessons," Healy and Toner continue. Said Clinton: "I learned that people who are satisfied with their current coverage want assurances that they can keep it."

Clinton herself is as conscious of the symbolism as she is of the substance: This is a proposal that shows the country her "scars." Clinton "aims to be bolder than the plan offered by Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., while still being more pragmatic than her failed 1993-94 effort to reform the nation's health-care system," ABC's Teddy Davis reports.

The first poll on the subject is encouraging for Clinton. And her rollout continues with an 8 pm ET Web chat.

As for the GOP, Romney, R-Mass. -- the Republican candidate who knows more about the issue than anyone else in the field -- chose to give a political response rather than a policy one (and did it in front of a New York City hospital that boasts the Rudolph W. Giuliani Trauma Center, per ABC's Jake Tapper).

Romney was quick to condemn Clinton's proposal as "a European-style socialized medicine plan." But the plan isn't all that different from what Romney did in Massachusetts, The Boston Globe's Lisa Wangsness reports: "The central premise of Clinton's plan -- an 'individual mandate' requiring that every American have health insurance -- is precisely what Romney proposed in the Bay State, in what was seen as a bold approach to attaining universal coverage. The idea became a pillar of the law, which he signed in April 2006."

Romney responds that he didn't propose tax increases, and that it's wrong to impose a one-size-fits-all solution on all states. But how long before this factoid makes it into a Republican debate? Clinton's plan "does not open any new government agency, according to the campaign, unlike the Massachusetts law, which created the Health Connector to help uninsured people obtain insurance," Wangsness writes.

Back on the Democratic side, Edwards had an unusually harsh response to Clinton's plan: "The cost of failure 14 years ago isn't anybody's scars or political fortune, it's the millions of Americans who have now gone without health care for more than 14 years and the millions more still crushed by the costs."

But four years ago, when Edwards was running for president the first time, he was critical of other candidates who offered universal healthcare, per ABC News. "What we ought to be doing is something that number one is achievable and number two is responsible,"target="external" Edwards said in 2003.

So yesterday was all about healthcare, but here's one story that could matter more in the race for the White House: Clinton yesterday joined Obama (and Dodd) in saying she would vote against funding for the Iraq war if the bill doesn't include a timetable for withdrawal. "I have voted against funding this war and I will vote against funding this war as long as it takes," Clinton told the Service Employees International Union in Washington, per ABC's Teddy Davis, Jonathan Greenberger, and Donna Hunter. And so the transformation of Hillary Clinton from pro-war senator into anti-war candidate is complete. (And is anyone willing to doubt the pull of MoveOn.org?)

Also in the news:

In an appearance that's drawing comparisons to his Detroit speech challenging automakers, Obama was on Wall Street yesterday to play the anti-Gordon Gekko. "Obama had harsh words Monday for Wall Street, blaming a crisis in consumer confidence on those in 'certain corners' of politics and business who take 'free market' to mean 'a free license to take whatever you can get, however you can get it,' " writes the Chicago Tribune's Christi Parsons.

Next up from Obama today, at a 12:45 pm ET speech in Washington: "more than $80 billion in annual tax relief for workers and seniors funded by an increase on wealthier investors," per AP's Nedra Pickler. (Tacking left, are we?)

This just in on Michael Mukasey's glide path to confirmation: "Two Senate Democrats warned Monday that the Judiciary Committee would delay confirmation of President Bush's choice for attorney general unless the White House turned over documents that the panel was seeking for several investigations," report Sheryl Gay Stolberg and David M. Herszenhorn of The New York Times. Do Democrats really want to make this a fight, now that it's clear that President Bush doesn't want one?

A GOP "Values Debate" was held last night in Florida -- and you didn't hear about it because none of the Big Four candidates were there. Sort of a shame, since we would have loved to hear them expound on their "personal relationship with God." "Who would have taken that one first?" writes David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network. "You think Mitt Romney wants to get specific in front of a predominately evangelical Christian audience? Giuliani, Thompson and McCain are reluctant to talk about their faith so that's a non-starter. Instead, you had Mike Huckabee coming up with this line: 'The greatest thing in my life was coming to know Jesus Christ.' Cha-ching!"

Is he John the Baptist? Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is having more trouble explaining his religion: He said in South Carolina over the weekend that he's long been a Baptist, but his own staff identified him as "Episcopalian" in a questionnaire prepared for ABC's August 5 debate, per ABC's Bret Hovell. Here's McCain hoping it will go away: "The most important thing is that I'm a Christian. And I don't have anything else to say on the issue."

McCain may not be eager to voice his support for the current president these days -- but there is a President Bush he's happy to feature. George H.W. Bush taped a video greeting featured by the McCain campaign yesterday in South Carolina: "I'm proud to be with you at the 'No Surrender' rally," he said. Campaign manager Rick Davis says it wasn't an endorsement, telling The New York Times' Jennifer Steinhauer, "The optics are wonderful for John McCain, but it wasn't meant for political purposes." OK, but why is McCain on the campaign trail if not for "political purposes"? Is it the room service, or the long bus trips?

On balance, the "No Surrender Tour" was a success, writes the Arizona Republic's Dan Nowicki. It "could fuel his resurgence," he writes. "The pro-war tour comes at a time when McCain is starting to recover in the national polls."

The Las Vegas Sun profiles the campaign managers of the leading Democratic contenders, and J. Patrick Coolican and Michael J. Mishak nail it with this line about their staffs: "Clinton's circle can seem almost Cosa Nostra-like in their demands; Obama's staff lives on a steady diet of Kool-Aid; and Edwards' team is deeply focused on issues, even at the expense of the campaign's prospects."

What would we do with the license plates? The Senate votes today on a bill that would give the District of Columbia voting representation in the House of Representatives. "It will be tight," ABC's Z. Byron Wolf reports on the Senate, where 60 votes are needed. "And even if it passes, President Bush has threatened to veto the bill."

Another GOP retirement in another inconvenient place: Rep. Jim Ramstad, R-Minn., "becomes the sixth Republican House member to retire this cycle and leaves an open seat in a bona fide swing district," per The Hill's Aaron Blake.

Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, may not have a single friend left in the Republican Party, but the ACLU claiming the stall by his side.

This is more electricity than we've seen at a John Kerry speech in a while. "A vocal audience member was hauled off by police and shot with a Taser gun" at Kerry's speech at the University of Florida yesterday, reports Jack Stripling of the Gainesville Sun. (Worth the click for the video.)

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which is conducting an inquiry of Karl Rove and other White House political operatives, is running out of money, ABC's Justin Rood reports. "Without a last-minute infusion of nearly $3 million, the special task force may be unable to pay its staff and buy the kind of technical equipment it needs to investigate allegations that White House political operatives may have improperly injected politics into government activities," Rood writes.

Forget Norman Hsu -- here's the scofflaw video that's making the rounds in Republican circles this week. (Hint: His first name is Orenthal -- and the good stuff starts 30 seconds in.)

Here's what the GOP's been looking for, and it's . . . Alan Keyes? He only lost by 43 points to Obama -- does that give him Clinton-like scars? "I'm like a lot of folks, who have just looked at [the Republican field] and been unmoved," Keyes said in announcing his candidacy on a radio program, per the AP.

The kicker:

"The truth amnesty disclosure project is reportedly recommended by the participating extraterrestrials themselves." -- Alfred Webre, of the Institute for Cooperation in Space, at a press conference at the National Press Club, per The Washington Post's Dana Milbank.

"I'm still worried about all those men who don't wash their hands. . . . That's going to be part of my healthcare plan." -- Clinton, on "Good Morning America," responding to this story.

"The reason they did it is not just because they thought I was cute." -- Obama, on why the Service Employees International Union backed him in the 2004 Democratic Senate primary in Illinois.

"Thank you AFSCME!" -- Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., after appearing before the SEIU.