Happy Monday folks. Here's what's going on tonight…
ABC NEWS/WASHINGTON POST POLL-HOW’S PRESIDENT OBAMA DOING?-Is the bloom off the rose? Since taking office six months ago, President Obama has maintained an enviable personal approval rating over 60 percent. Not anymore. In our latest ABC NEWS/WASHINGTON POST poll, the President’s personal approval rating stands at 59%, down 6 points from where it stood just one month ago. Numbers for how the President is handling key issues-the economy, health care, the significant uptick in debt we’ve taken on-are down even further. George Stephanopoulos, talking with Charles Gibson on WORLD NEWS, explains: “If you look at the big building blocks of (President Obama’s) agenda, you do see the slippage. Earlier this year, he had (an approval rating of) 60% on the economy. That’s down 8 points to 52%. On the deficit, a nine point drop from 52% to 43%. And on his signature issue, health care, 57% (approval) earlier this year, (now) only 49%.” Stephanopoulos notes that those opposing the President on issues are getting more intransigent. Stephanopoulos: “For the first time the number who strongly disapprove on those big issues outnumbers those who strongly approve.” Don’t assume that a fall in the President’s popularity means a similar uptick in Republican approval ratings. Stephanopoulos: “The President still has a wide advantage over the Republicans on the big issues-more than 20 points on the economy and on health care.” But it’s also apparent, Gibson noted, that today’s poll indicates “the Republican arguments on health care and deficit may be hitting home.” Partisans aside, Stephanopoulos notes that independents “are the real bellwether”. The number of people identifying themselves as independent for this poll-41%-is the highest since the poll began back in 81 (the 41% figure was also reached back in 1996). Their approval rating of the President is down about 9 points from 67% to 58%. Gibson noted that “it does seem like the more (President Obama) talks about health care, the more his ratings drop.”
HEALTH CARE/PBS INTERVIEW WITH PRESIDENT OBAMA-Looks like even President Obama has resigned himself to a possible delay in the health-care reform timetable he had envisioned for Congress. In an interview with PBS’ Jim Lehrer, the President told Lehrer “I want this done now. Now if there are no deadlines, nothing gets done in this town. You’ve been around here long enough to know that you have to say ‘get this done’. If somebody comes to me and says it’s basically done, it’s going to spill over by a few days or a week-you know, that’s different.” President Obama noted that whatever differences may be out there between House and Senate versions are not insurmountable. Obama: “The gap, though, is one that I think can be closed relatively easily if everybody is committed to making sure that we get this done.” “Getting this done” doesn’t mean agreeing to Republican calls to tax health care benefits. Tapper notes that in the interview with PBS, President Obama “issued his first health care-related veto threat, saying he will not sign a bill that taxes health care benefits”. Also in the interview, the President talks up the support his health-care approach has with doctors, nurses, the AMA, the AARP and adds “We’ve got the hospitals saying we’re supportive.” The Mayo Clinic apparently didn’t get that memo from the White House. Jake Tapper, filing for WORLD NEWS, notes :”some bad news came for the President from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, which the President has repeatedly praised as a hospital where high quality health care is offered at a lower cost. The clinic criticized the health-care reform bill pushed by House Democrats for not being patient-focused or results-oriented.” Earlier tonight, Max Baucus (D-MT), who’s part of a bi-partisan effort amongst moderates on the Senate Financing Committee, gave an update on where they were. Zach Wolf was at the presser and reports: “Sen. Max Baucus said negotiators have tentative agreement on four of the ten or so major issues they're wrangling with. So we're nowhere near this Committee cracking champagne. And he wouldn't say what the four issues they have tentative agreement on are. But he did say they are not all offset with measures to pay for them (tax increases).”
RADDATZ INTERVIEW WITH SEC OF STATE CLINTON-Martha Raddatz spoke to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today in India. Some highlights-
–NORTH KOREA-Raddatz, filing for WORLD NEWS, reports that “Sec of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged today there has been a significant shift away from strong condemnations of North Korea, a tactic the Secretary said she learned from parenting.” Clinton: “Maybe it’s the mother in me or the experience that I’ve had with small children and unruly teenagers and people who are demanding attention. Don’t give it to them. They don’t deserve it.”
–US JOURNALISTS BEING HELD BY NORTH KOREA-Raddatz notes that “the message to North Korea about Euna Lee and Laura Ling, the two American journalists imprisoned since March, has shifted as well. Gone is the outrage, replaced by…an apology asks Raddatz? Clinton: “No it’s a recognition that they’ve gone through the legal process in North Korea. They have been convicted and sentenced to prison. We hope that the North Korean government will exercise amnesty. The young women themselves have apparently admitted that they probably did trespass so they are deeply regretful.”
–IRAN-Raddatz: “despite the highly disputed election, and deadly crackdowns on demonstrators, the Obama Administration is still willing to talk…but Clinton warns that time is running out.” Clinton: “President Obama has said the Fall. It’s just clear that we are not leaving it open forever, it’s not indefinite.”
US/INDIA AGREE ON NUKE/DEFENSE PACTS-From Kirit Radia: “Secy Clinton agreed to deals with her Indian counterpart today ensuring American companies access to do business with Indian civil nuclear sites, a move paved by a Bush 43 era civil nuke deal that allowed the sale of nuclear technology to India. Clinton said Delhi had approved two nuclear sites where US companies will be allowed to build nuclear power plants in the country. Clinton also secured Indian agreement on a defense pact that would enable greater arms sales and defense cooperation down the road, something called the ‘end-use monitoring’ pact that is required by law to prevent proliferation of weapons technology. The deals provide some tangible outcome for Clinton at the tail end of her visit to India, in stark contrast to yesterday's rebuff by India on climate change concessions the US sought but were denied. While she was largely welcomed warmly in India, her visit was overshadowed by Indian concerns about US support for archrival Pakistan's war on terror.”
SMALL TOWN AMERICA AND CAPTURED SOLDIER: The Pentagon is using all its resources to search for captured soldier Bowe Bergdahl. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said today, “Our commanders are sparing no effort to find this young soldier…” In the town of Hailey Idaho they knew the secret the military was keeping and Laura Marquez reported on World News, “The military tried to keep the identity of Bergdahl a secret as long as they could. Many in this close knit community knew but never said a word. That was until his captors broadcast the video of Bergdahl to the world.” The family has been trying to maintain their privacy and asked the Sheriff to speak on their behalf, “Our sole focus is seeing our beloved son Bowe Safely home.” The question is where is Pfc. Bergdahl and the “Blotter” writes up, “According to a person actively involved in the search, a top Afghan insurgent commander has taken credit for capturing the soldier and has now moved the soldier to South Waziristan, Pakistan. U.S. armed forces are not permitted to operate inside Pakistan except under extreme circumstances. (thanks to Faisal Jamil for this entry)
TEMPORARY INCREASE IN ARMY STAFFING-From Luis Martinez: ““At the start of his Pentagon briefing today, Defense Secretary Gates announced that he was increasing the size of the Army by 22,000 for the next three years to ease the strain on the force. The Army’s current end-strength is 547,000 it will temporarily grow to 569,000. The idea is to bring in more soldiers that will ease the strain created by eliminating stop-loss, ongoing deployments overseas and non-deployable troop levels. A senior Defense official said later that initially the Army will take 15,000 more soldiers and see if that eases the strain, but they’ll be able to go to the full 22,000 if needed. Gates said the Army had been reaching a point of ‘diminishing returns’ that posed a challenge of heightening the level of “acceptable risk” in gathering troops for overseas. The Defense official said that some units may have been deployed with as little as 75 percent of their force levels. No new units will be created by the increase. No extra funds will be needed to fund the increase from FY09-10 dollars, but will be needed for the following two years.” President Obama has endorsed the increase.
HARVARD SCHOLAR/RACIAL PROFILING?-Cambridge, Massachusetts police responded to a call Thursday about a man who was trying to force open the door of a house. When they got there they found a black man who, police say, refused to identify himself to them. Turns out it was Henry Louis Gates Jr., the nation's pre-eminent black history scholar. He'd been trying to force open the locked front door of his own home near Harvard. The police report says Gates called the officer a racist and said repeatedly, "This is what happens to black men in America." Gates was arrested on a disorderly conduct charge after police said he displayed "loud and tumultuous behavior." Gates himself isn’t speaking, apparently on advice from his attorneys. Dan Harris talked with Al Sharpton and reports that “Sharpton has spoken to Gates who is ‘clearly upset and in a state of disbelief’. Also not speaking on the matter-police and prosecutors. An arraignment for Mr. Gates is to be held on August 26th.
GITMO DETENTION POLICY REVIEW EXTENSION-Luis Martinez and Jason Ryan reported earlier today that “Guidance from officials is that the DOJ and the detention policy task force will seek a 2 month extension on their ongoing review.” Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller confirm: “Tomorrow, Tuesday July 21st, was the deadline for the task-forces instructed by President Obama to outline a long-term detention plan for detainees. Senior administration officials briefed reporters tonight ahead of that deadline to report back so far on their progress. The headline: The two task forces that are in charge of the review will not meet that deadline and have both asked for an extension for their review. The Interrogation task force has asked for a 2 month extension and the detention policy task force has asked for a 6-month extension. Also – administration officials refused to say Gitmo will definitely be closed by January, as the President has called for.”
AFGHANISTAN/U.S. CASUALTIES- NATO says four more American troops have been killed in Afghanistan. A NATO statement says the four died Monday when a roadside bomb exploded in eastern Afghanistan. The statement does not give nationalities, but U.S. spokesman Lt. Robert Carr confirms all four were Americans. At least 30 U.S. troops have died this month – three more than the death toll for September 2008 which had been the deadliest month for the American force in Afghanistan.
GAS PRICES-From Dan Arnall: “For the past month, gas prices have been falling – and in the midst of the summer driving season. Thank you recession! The latest report from the Energy Department shows an average gallon of regular unleaded fuel going for $2.46, seven cents lower than the previous week. Prices have come down $0.23 a gallon since the end of June – and they are an astounding 39% below the price level a year ago ($4.06).”
–CIT GETS FINANCING- Commercial lender CIT Group Inc. confirmed late Monday that it has secured a $3 billion bailout from its bondholders, saving the company from filing for bankruptcy protection. The lifeline for CIT, whose clients include Dunkin' Donuts franchises and clothing maker Eddie Bauer, aims to sustain the company long enough for it to restructure its heavy debt load, which includes $7.4 billion due in the first quarter of next year. It does not guarantee CIT will avoid bankruptcy. CIT said the rescue includes a $3 billion secured term loan with a 2.5-year maturity, which will ensure that its small and midsized business customers continue to have access to credit. Term loan proceeds of $2 billion are committed and available immediately, with an additional $1 billion expected to be committed and available within 10 days. (Matt Jaffe/Associated Press)
–SOTOMAYOR/SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE VOTE TIMING- Committee says that republican’s will likely ask in tomorrow’s committee meeting that the vote on Sotomayor be delayed until the following week. (Dennis Powell)
–CONTINUED AIRLINE WOES-The Air Transport Association reports a 21 percent year-over-year drop in June passenger demand, the eighth straight month of year-over-year declines. Cargo traffic was also down 20 percent year-over-year in June, the 10th straight month of negative numbers. The weak global economy as well as H1N1/Swine Flu fears are primary factors. (Matt Hosford)
–MICHAEL VICK A FREE MAN- Suspended NFL star Michael Vick ended his federal dogfighting sentence today, freeing him to lobby for a return to the field. Vick's attorney Lawrence Woodward told The Associated Press outside Vick's suburban Virginia home that the former Atlanta Falcons quarterback had been released from federal custody as scheduled. That means Vick no longer has to wear the electronic monitor he's had while under home confinement for the last two months of his 23-month sentence. (Associated Press)