'This Week' Extra: The Roundtable's Pre-Show Thoughts

PHOTO: Major Garrett, chief White House correspondent for the FOX News Channel, is pictured in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, Feb. 26, 2010.
Charles Dharapak/AP Photo

Before "This Week" tomorrow, we asked our roundtable participants to tell us what they are looking forward to discussing. Here are their pre-show thoughts.

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Major Garrett: Pondering the Imponderable

What's imponderable?

How the Supreme Court will rule on the health care law?

How four national polls in four days could have President Obama leading Mitt Romney by 13 and 4 points and Romney leading Obama by 5 points and 1 point?

Why Kodak didn't invent Instagram or, for heaven's sake, Hipstamatic?

Why "Rock of Ages" was made?

Imponderables all.

But the imponderable on my mind is what bad or even vaguely bad economic news will do to the steel-belted self-confidence of Obama's re-election team.

I didn't think of imponderable myself – I'm not that cagey a wordsmith. A top Obama adviser invoked it this week when I asked if economic gloom could threaten or undercut the president's structural advantages (more on those in a minute).

I asked the question because team Obama believes it can relentlessly frame presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney as an economic threat. How? 1). By driving home attacks on Bain Capital's ability to profit even as some companies failed. 2). By accusing Bain of profiting from companies that outsourced jobs. 3). By highlighting Romney's mixed record on debt and job creation as Massachusetts governor.

According to top Obama advisers, non-aligned voters in their focus groups "do not buy the Republican dogma that we can cut our way to prosperity. They believe very much that we can invest in the middle class and that we can focus on creating good, solid middle class jobs. The point is to hold up to light his claim that he is some kind of economic oracle, that he is a job creator. We're not going to allow him to run around this country ... and masquerade as someone who has the secret sauce to get the economy moving again."

By this logic, skeptical swing voters should be inclined – and possibly more inclined – to back Obama if economic times get harder. If they believe Romney is a threat or a masquerading job creator, they shouldn't gravitate toward him as their economic fears intensified.

But team Obama is not so sure.

"I don't know what the calculus is and where the lines are," the adviser said. "The two things that concern me are externally that we can't control. One is super PAC spending. The other is, the situation in Europe. I believe that the economy will be at a place where we're going to have the debate we need to have. But, you know, that's an imponderable that I don't know the answer to."

Bad economic news or the mere threat of it stalk Obama's re-election prospects. For the first time, there is an imponderable. Obama and his team are nothing if not adept and elastic ponderers. This was a huge asset in Obama's 2007-08 campaign as then-Sen. Obama navigated more nimbly through the debates, primaries and caucuses than Sen. Hillary Clinton. The traits were magnified in the general election as voters decided Obama had the stuff to be president.

It's not that Obama and his team believe they can think of everything; it's that they think they can handle anything that comes along. Their sense of certainty is reassuring to supporters, galling to adversaries and astonishing to political novices.

Obama's team is convinced it has distinct demographic advantages over Romney with women, Latinos (intensified by Obama's DREAM Act-lite maneuver) and African-Americans. Their own data tells them Obama is more likable and his economic values more palatable. Focus groups tell them Romney is remote and vaguely threatening on economic matters (the Bain Capital message – profiteering and outsourcing – is Obama's way of trying to deepen this anxiety). If Obama has the "economic debate we need to have," his advisers consider a 51 percent to 49 percent victory virtually certain.

So, what's to worry about? From team Obama's point of view, the president holds the demographic card, the likability card, the economic values card and the incumbent card. Not four aces, but close.

Except for the imponderable trump card in the deck.

Bad economic news is very much on team Obama's mind. That, and Romney's potential to exploit it.

"That's plainly the bet the Romney campaign is making," said the Obama adviser. "They are putting all their chips on worsening economic news. They are rooting for it. That's their entire bet. It's not about Mitt Romney. It's not about people rallying to his message or his cause."

And for the first time, it seems, the "imponderable" of a slack or worsening economy suggests team Obama may not have the economic debate it seeks. At the most remote psychic edges where nerves begin to fray, some threads of certainty may be loosening. Such is the case when pondering the imponderable.

Major Garrett is a White House correspondent for National Journal.

Rep. Xavier Becerra: America's Middle Class Can't Wait

This Sunday, I look forward to discussing what this Congress should be focusing on: jobs. In my opinion, Congress hasn't made enough progress to help our economy recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression.

Instead of working around the clock to create jobs and strengthen the middle class, House Republicans continue to stall action to keep student loan rates from doubling – putting the economic security of millions of middle class students at risk – and refuse to bring up the bipartisan transportation bill (which passed the Senate 74-22) that would save or create two million American jobs.

There's a good chance that next week Congress will once again be overtaken by political theater. We may see more sound bites than solutions. As one Republican leader put it, the House GOP is more interested in sending election year "signals" than working in a bipartisan way to pass legislation and solve our nation's biggest problems.

With 190 days before the end of the year, Republicans have scheduled only 49 more days of legislative work. With millions of jobs at stake, this is not the time to pack it in and call it quits.

If House Republicans wanted to end the economic uncertainty, they would pass the transportation bill and take up President Obama's American Jobs Act. Between the two measures, we could help save or create more than three million American jobs. These are good paying jobs that would help rebuild our roads, repair our bridges, prevent teacher layoffs and keep cops on the beat.

America's middle class can't wait any longer. It's time for Congress to get to work.

Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA) is the Vice Chair of the House Democratic Caucus.

Peggy Noonan: Rob Portman 'Just Might Eviscerate' Joe Biden in VP Debate

I hope we talk about how speculation on who will be Mitt Romney's vice presidential nominee should accommodate the idea that this year, in a close election, the vice presidential debates can suddenly take on real importance.

Who, among the veep possibilities so far, is known as a sharp, able and accomplished debater? The name of Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio comes to mind. So good he has played, in GOP debate prep in previous cycles, the guys running against McCain and Bush and I think Dole.

He was said to be wickedly good at playing their challengers. It would be interesting to see a focused Portman up against the humorous, gaffe prone and unpredictable Joe Biden. He just might eviscerate him, which would give a boost to the growing meme that the administration is a house of cards – not serious, not substantive, merely political, and otherwise engaged.

But this brings a second question: Is Rob Portman as good at playing Rob Portman as he was at playing John Kerry and Barack Obama?

Peggy Noonan is a columnist for the Wall Street Journal.

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