The Note, 1/23/09: Bye, Partisanship? — Maybe Not So Fast

By Caitlin Taylor

Jan 23, 2009 8:39am

By RICK KLEIN Where’s the most likely spot for a flare up in the early days of the Obama administration — the left, the right, or the press corps? Who will be most in demand among TV bookers Friday — reporters who can get you to $825 billion, or reporters who know how to pronounce "Gillibrand"?  Who will be in most demand at the White House stakeout Friday morning — John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Harry Reid, or Nancy Pelosi? Here’s the thing about shattering the old kind of politics: Not everyone and everything is ready and willing to be broken. With Washington now made up of anxious liberals, coalescing Republicans, and an active new president who is turning symbols into substance, President Obama’s pledge of a new era in government gets its first major test Friday, with a 9:45 am ET bipartisan, bicameral meeting of congressional leaders at the White House. While the press shop figures out that e-mail system, and the president figures out his new Berry, taking stock of the first three days:  The first major announcement of Obama’s presidency — the closing of Gitmo — ran into fierce and quick opposition from a Republican Party that’s finding its ways of testing the president. The first major legislative push — the stimulus package — is fast becoming a one-sided document, in what could end up as a narrow vote, not a sweeping one. (And good luck with stimulus/bank boost No. 2.) The record will reflect that the Obama administration was able to wait a full three days before pressing ahead on a divisive social issue that feels suspiciously like the politics of the past.  (Plus — what should have and could have been a smooth move to replace Hillary Clinton in the Senate has turned into a made-for-the-tabs drama, with Kennedys and Cuomos and bruised egos and primary challenges. Another chink in the Democratic armor?) Battle lines drawn, bipartisanship is going to require give as well as take. Going into Friday’s meeting: "Just days after taking office vowing to end the political era of ‘petty grievances,’ President Obama ran into mounting GOP opposition yesterday to an economic stimulus plan that he had hoped would receive broad bipartisan support," Paul Kane writes in The Washington Post. "Republicans accused Democrats of abandoning the new president’s pledge, ignoring his call for bipartisan comity and shutting them out of the process by writing the $825 billion legislation. The first drafts of the plan would result in more spending on favored Democratic agenda items, such as federal funding of the arts, they said, but would do little to stimulate the ailing economy." Watching the goals shrink: "If it’s passed with 63 votes or 73 votes, history won’t remember it," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. (There are at least two different ways to read those words.) David Brooks labels the stimulus push the "first test": "President Obama is clearly going to have to show the hard way that he meant what he said about bringing change. He didn’t run for president just to sign whatever bills the Old Bulls put on his desk," Brooks writes in his New York Times op-ed. "He’s going to have to prove the hard way that he meant what he said about being pragmatic and evidence-based. . . . He’s going to have to show that his plans have credibility, that a stimulus bill is really a stimulus bill, and not a Christmas tree for every special interest desire."  Your new kind of politics: The stimulus package may land on the House floor without a single Republican voting for it in committee. "Congressional leaders and President Barack Obama are having a hard time finding common ground on an economic recovery plan as Republican resistance to the stimulus package emerges in the House," the AP’s Jim Kuhnhenn reports. Better luck in the Senate? "On Friday, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus was expected to unveil a Senate version of the tax cutting portion of the bill. The legislation could have a more bipartisan look in the Senate, where it takes 60 votes out of 100 to overcome procedural blocks," Kuhnhenn reports. It’s very possible Obama will be asking for more money — sooner rather than later. "The White House’s economic team is under pressure from Congress to finalize its financial rescue plan within a week amid a growing realization among lawmakers that they will have to find extra money to fund the new administration’s program," Jonathan Weisman and Deborah Solomon report in The Wall Street Journal. "The scale of the effort is almost certain to be larger than the $350 billion secured last week through the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Lawmakers say that means they need a proposal from the White House within days so they can appropriate more money."  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is George Stephanopoulos’ headliner on ABC’s "This Week" Sunday.  On Gitmo: "President Obama is facing growing criticism from Republicans over his order to close the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with his decision to fulfill a well-known campaign pledge bringing an early test of his promised bipartisan cooperation," per ABC News. "A group of House Republicans quickly filed a bill that would prohibit federal courts from ordering the transfer or release of Guantanamo detainees into the U.S."  Poor timing: "The emergence of a former Guantánamo Bay detainee as the deputy leader of Al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch has underscored the potential complications in carrying out the executive order President Obama signed Thursday that the detention center be shut down within a year," Robert F. Worth reports in The New York Times. "The development came as Republican legislators criticized the plan to close the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, detention camp in the absence of any measures for dealing with current detainees. But it also helps explain why the new administration wants to move cautiously, taking time to work out a plan to cope with the complications."  Plus, the Band-Aid comes off slowly: "On a day meant to demonstrate a clean break from the policies of his predecessor, Obama put off many of the most difficult decisions about what the U.S. will do with detainees, and left room to revisit whether the CIA still should have permission to use coercive methods when questioning captives," Greg Miller and Julian E. Barnes write in the Los Angeles Times.  Sayeth the Maverick: "So, the easy part, in all due respect, is to say we’re going to close Guantanamo," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told Larry King. "Then I think I would have said where they were going to be taken. Because you’re going to run into a NIMBY [not in my backyard] problem here in the United States of America." The opposition comes into focus a bit more on Friday. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has a 1 pm ET speech scheduled for the National Press Club — taking on interest groups, challenging the president, and chiding the media a bit. "I think reporters too often confuse being conservative with being partisan," McConnell, R-Ken., plans to say, per excerpts provided to The Note. "The good news is that most people think ideas should be assessed on their merits, not on the senator or the president who proposes them. Our new President seems to think the same thing. And as Senate Republican Leader, I also pledge to make this is a firm principle in my dealings with the Obama Administration." Politico’s Manu Raju has more from McConnell’s speech: "Every decision cannot be made based on a political calculation — because the usual interest groups so seldom agree," McConnell is planning to say. "President Obama seems to understand this. His campaign was based on the notion that ordinary Americans would have a seat at the table in his administration. And broadening the old constituencies is, as he has suggested, one sure way to uphold that pledge." A new era over on that side of the Capitol? "Perhaps nowhere was the new dynamic more striking than in the Senate on Thursday. Here were members of both parties, proposing and disposing of amendments before they voted 61 to 36 to approve a pay equity bill in line to be the first measure signed by President Obama," Carl Hulse reports in The New York Times.  Elections have consequences: "President Barack Obama will issue an order restoring U.S. funding for international family-planning groups involved with abortion. But he chose not to do so on Thursday, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade," The Wall Street Journal’s Laura Meckler reports. "His timing was unclear, though several advocates expected it soon."  As in very soon: "ABC News has learned that later today President Obama will sign an executive order overturning the ‘Mexico City Policy,’ which prohibits Non Governmental Organizations that receive international family planning assistance through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) from providing or actively promoting abortions as a method of family planning in other countries," ABC’s Jake Tapper reports.  Pledges have consequences, too: "Experts and watchdogs say they cannot fathom how President Obama’s choice for the Pentagon’s second-in-command, currently a lobbyist for a defense giant, could be nominated under the principles of his new ethics rules," ABC’s Justin Rood reports. "Obama’s executive order, which he signed Tuesday, would appear to ban lobbyists like Lynn from working in executive branch jobs related to the work of their former employers. Moreover, it would force appointees to recuse themselves from any business their former employers might have an interest."  The AP’s Jim Drinkard: "Already, there have been two prominent exceptions made to Obama’s no-lobbyists rule. William J. Lynn III, his choice to become the No. 2 official at the Defense Department, was registered until July as a lobbyist for defense contractor Raytheon. And William Corr, tapped as deputy secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services, lobbied through most of last year as an anti-tobacco advocate, according to public records. Corr has decided to take no part in tobacco matters in the new administration."  Among those confused by the new policy: Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin. "The committee will await the administration’s assessment as to whether the new rules will preclude Mr. Lynn, who was a registered lobbyist for a defense contractor, from participating in key Department of Defense decisions, and if so, whether a waiver will be forthcoming and what the scope of the waiver will be," said Levin, D-Mich. "As the Pentagon’s number-two official, Lynn, now Raytheon’s vice president for government operations and strategy, would have wide influence over decisions affecting the company, which relies on Defense Department contracts for much of its business," The Boston Globe’s Bryan Bender reports.  It sparked the first real testy exchange between the president and a reporter in the briefing room: "President Obama made a surprise visit to the White House press corps Thursday night, but got agitated when he was faced with a substantive question. Asked how he could reconcile a strict ban on lobbyists in his administration with a Deputy Defense Secretary nominee who lobbied for Raytheon, Obama interrupted with a knowing smile on his face," Politico’s Jonathan Martin and Carrie Budoff Brown report.  "Ahh, see," the president said, "I came down here to visit. See this is what happens. I can’t end up visiting with you guys and shaking hands if I’m going to get grilled every time I come down here." (Think he’ll be back anytime soon? And would most of the reporters there rather have an answer or a handshake?) Dana Milbank critiques the first Robert Gibbs White House briefing: "For the voice of an administration that came to office promising openness and transparency, he instead sounded, well, abundantly cautious," he writes. "The abundantly cautious spokesman referred regularly to notes as he worked his way through the questions. Gibbs uttered the name ‘Obama’ not once, instead slipping into the press secretary habit of saying only ‘the president’ — 70 times."  It’s "JIL’-uh-brand," and she’ll be announced as Hillary Clinton’s replacement by Gov. David Paterson, D-N.Y., at a noon ET press conference in Albany. "Gov. David A. Paterson has selected Representative Kirsten Gillibrand, a 42-year-old congresswoman from upstate who is known for bold political moves and centrist policy positions, to fill the United States Senate seat vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton, according to a person who spoke to the governor early Friday," Danny Hakim and Nicholas Confessore report in The New York Times.  They write: "If Mr. Paterson was hoping to quiet the tumult over the selection process by picking Ms. Gillibrand, there were indications that he may not get his wish. Ms. Gillibrand, who has been endorsed by the National Rifle Association, is controversial among some of the party’s more liberal leaders downstate." "Representative Carolyn McCarthy, a Long Island Democrat and ardent gun control activist, said Thursday that if Ms. Gillibrand got the job, she was prepared to run against her in a primary in 2010." New drama for New York Democrats — and a pick that has to be seen through the Paterson lens. Meet the new senator: "Gov. Paterson, defying the liberal wing of his Democratic Party, has chosen little-known, NRA-backed, upstate Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton as New York’s junior senator, it was learned last night," Fredric U. Dicker reports in the New York Post. "Sources said ‘at least five’ members of the state’s Democratic congressional delegation called Paterson to protest the possibility of Gillibrand’s selection."  Ugly: "A nasty war of words erupted Thursday between loyalists to Gov. Paterson and supporters of Caroline Kennedy after she abruptly dropped out of the scramble to succeed Hillary Clinton as New York’s junior senator," Kenneth Lovett reports in the New York Daily News. "The Paterson camp contended Kennedy withdrew her name because of a ‘tax problem’ and a ‘potential nanny issue’ — while adding that the governor never really intended to name her because she wasn’t ready for ‘prime time.’ "  ABC’s George Stephanopoulos: "A source insists that the ‘private matter’ that caused Caroline Kennedy to withdraw from Senate consideration is NOT related to her uncle, Sen. Ted Kennedy’s health. It is a ‘very private family matter’ that came to light this week, after Sunday, a source tells me." Checking in on the RNC race: "Republican leaders’ efforts to select a new national party chairman are stirring concerns among a vital constituency: Republican voters," Bloomberg’s Heidi Przybyla reports. "Rank-and-file Republicans are telling their leaders they want more ethnic, gender and age diversity in a party that is dominated by white males. They also want party leaders to cooperate with President Barack Obama, according to surveys."  Stu Rothenberg judges it too close to call: "This year’s RNC race increasingly appears to be a three- or possibly four-person contest, with the current RNC chairman, Mike Duncan, holding a tenuous but not insignificant advantage over former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, with Michigan GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis and South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson fighting it out for third."  Gov. Sarah Palin, R-Alaska, at her state of the state: "2008 was the year when America looked to Alaska, and one of our own sprang to national attention," said Palin, per ABC’s Kate Snow and Teddy Davis. "There was political drama, controversy, lively debate, a few awkward moments, and, in the end, some disappointment. But what a glorious debut for a unique Alaskan — and we congratulate our former Senator Mike Gravel."  Nancy Pelosi’s morning headache: "Federal agents raided two small Pennsylvania defense contractors that were given millions of dollars in federal funding by Rep. John Murtha, chairman of the defense appropriations committee and one of the most powerful men in Congress," per The Wall Street Journal. "Kuchera Industries and Kuchera Defense Systems shut down for the day after the raid by officers from the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and an Internal Revenue Service criminal unit." From the hometown Johnstown Tribune-Democrat: "U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan said in a statement that the locations were searched as part of an ongoing investigation led by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania."  A win (along with that new job) for Norm Coleman: "Al Franken’s effort to block Norm Coleman’s lawsuit over the U.S. Senate recount was rejected Thursday by a three-judge panel, setting the stage for a trial to begin Monday on the Republican’s claims," Pat Doyle reports in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "State election law doesn’t undermine the Senate’s constitutional power to later judge the qualifications of its members, the judges said in denying Franken’s request to dismiss the election contest, as the lawsuit is called." Obama gets his Berry: "There is one addiction President Obama will not have to kick: his BlackBerry," Jeff Zeleny writes in The New York Times. The rules: "First, only a select circle of people will have his address, creating a true hierarchy for who makes the cut and who does not. Second, anyone placed on the A-list to receive his e-mail address must first receive a briefing from the White House counsel’s office. Third, messages from the president will be designed so they cannot be forwarded."  Part of the Bush legacy that isn’t: "It’s no secret that President George W. Bush never inserted himself into Washington’s social culture. So it should also be no secret that when his term lapsed Tuesday, he became the first president never to dine at The Palm since it opened during the 1970s," Jeff Dufour and Patrick Gavin report in the Washington Examiner.  The Kicker: “We will be having a press conference at which time you can feel free to [ask] questions. Right now, I just wanted to say hello and introduce myself to you guys — that’s all I was trying to do.” — President Obama, to reporters trying to do their jobs.  “We had Greg help you guys understand a little bit of that.” — Robert Gibbs, accidentally providing the first name of a senior White House official who was not to be named after briefing the press on Gitmo. (Later, he added: “I’m tempted to ask you to see if you can get one person’s name into the papers so people will think he might be a Brazilian soccer star.”)  Bookmark the link below to get The Note’s daily morning analysis: For up-to-the-minute political updates check out The Note’s blog . . . all day every day: Follow The Note blog on Twitter:

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