The Note, 1/27/09: Giving Season? Obama courts GOP — but compromise will mean pressing his own party

By Caitlin Taylor

Jan 27, 2009 8:17am

By RICK KLEIN The focus will be on President Obama’s relationship with Republicans on Tuesday, as the president travels to Capitol Hill to begin to make good on his campaign’s well-known pledge to remake politics as we know it. But the real dynamic to watch: Obama’s relationship with Democrats. Why? The stimulus bill is making its way to the House floor Tuesday, and it appears likely to get off the floor Wednesday without even a handful of Republicans supporting it. The president has the votes he needs — but not yet the number and type of votes he wants. If that’s going to change, it’s going to require convincing Democrats who are pretty happy with the package they have — and are (slightly) happier with the new Congressional Budget Office analysis they have to back it up — that they would be even more pleased if they include a few extra Republican ideas. A large number of Republican votes may not be available to Obama, not really. Plus, at a certain (not too distant) point, the bill becomes about policy above politics (shouldn’t priority one be that its authors believe the package will actually work?). But if the president is going to make his bipartisan pledge mean something, it’s going to require more than personal persuasion. He’s going to have to use his pull with Democrats to change this train’s direction — to make it possible for Republicans to come on board. Here’s a start: “House Democrats are likely to jettison family planning funds for the low-income from an $825 billion economic stimulus bill, officials said late Monday, following a personal appeal from President Barack Obama at a time the administration is courting Republican critics of the legislation,” the AP’s David Espo and Andrew Taylor report. “Several officials said a final decision was expected on Tuesday, coinciding with Obama’s scheduled visit to the Capitol for separate meetings with House and Senate Republicans.”  The president meets with the House and Senate GOP caucuses on Tuesday — outnumbered, though maybe not outmatched. And what he doesn’t finish at lunch, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel may finish at dinnertime.  “In the first month of 2009, President Barack Obama seems like he’s spending more time on Capitol Hill than he did the last two years he served in the Senate, and he’s definitely spending more time with Republicans,” Roll Call’s Emily Pierce reports. “But Republicans said Obama will have to do more than flatter them by agreeing to appear at their luncheons today, even as they give him credit for trying to change the overtly partisan tone that has gripped Washington for two decades.”  Said a Senate GOP leadership aide: “What remains to be seen is whether the president’s vision of bipartisanship can be accomplished by Democrat leaders in Congress.” The House package isn’t going to change much at this point — so watch the action in the Senate, where the committees get cranking Tuesday. What constitutes bipartisanship, anyway? “The unanswered question: whether the new Democratic president will actually listen to GOP concerns about the amount of spending and the tax approach — and modify his proposal accordingly,” the AP’s Liz Sidoti writes. “Getting a significant number of Republicans to back the measure would be a triumph for Obama that would set a bipartisan tone for his presidency and signal that he values Republican ideas — and is willing to give a little to get a little.”  “This is the week when we’ll begin to see whether that tender sapling called bipartisanship can take root in the Era of Obama,” Gerald Seib writes in The Wall Street Journal.  Slate’s John Dickerson: “In the face of increased opposition, how much will Obama work for bipartisanship as an end in itself? Will he agree to GOP modifications to buy votes, or will he accept puny GOP support because he knows that, in the end, voters are more interested in action than whether he lived up to some standard of bipartisanship that he set for himself?”  To that point: “This is 1936 economics,” Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the top Republican on the Budget Committee, tells The New York Times’ Carl Hulse. “But it reflects [House Budget Chairman David Obey]‘s ideology and his economic doctrine. They took everything in their file cabinet that has been piling up for 100 years, threw it in this bill and called it economic stimulus.”  The Financial Times’ Edward Luce: “Unless he comes up with a new incentive for Republicans to change their position, Mr Obama’s bipartisan aspirations could go up in smoke before he has completed a week in office.”  Are there other goals at work — well beyond the stimulus? “So far, his gestures have shown few signs of success, as Republicans have continued to snipe at his signature initiative — legislation to stimulate the economy — and even to question the sincerity of his efforts,” Janet Hook and Peter Nicholas write in the Los Angeles Times. “But whether or not he picks up support from Republican lawmakers, Obama has already accomplished one important aim: He is winning over more Republican voters than he did on election day. If that continues, the president’s hand could get stronger on Capitol Hill.”  “He will be searching for support for his stimulus plan and trying to foster a spirit of openness that might come in handy for future legislative battles,” CQ’s Edward Epstein and Kathleen Hunter report. “Congressional historians say the new Democratic president’s trip to Congress to speak to the opposing party’s members might be historic.”  Rahm works it too: “The president’s top aide, Rahm Emanuel, has invited a group of moderate Republicans to a private White House meeting Tuesday amid a Democratic push to add bipartisan flavor to an $825 billion economic stimulus package making its way through Congress,” CQ’s Jonathan Allen reports. “The smaller confab is scheduled to take place after Obama and Emanuel meet separately with large caucuses of congressional Republicans and congressional Democrats on Tuesday.”  The day’s headlines aren’t all perfect for Team Obama: “The twin visits are an exceptional gesture for any president, but they follow two ominous signs late Monday,” Politico’s David Rogers reports. “First, Obama’s choice for treasury secretary and economic point man, Timothy Geithner, won Senate confirmation by just a 60-34 vote. Second, the Congressional Budget Office issued its final report suggesting that only about two-thirds of the money would reach the economy in the next 18 to 19 months, well short of the goal set by Obama.”  More from the CBO report’s finer print: “The total package — including tax cuts and direct aid to the poor and unemployed — won significantly better marks for speed than the portion of the package devoted to highways, schools and other infrastructure projects, which are among the Democrats’ top priorities. The CBO report predicts that only about 40 percent of the $356 billion dedicated to those projects would be spent by the end of 2010,” Lori Montgomery reports in The Washington Post.  “From $400 million for NASA climate-change research to $650 million for digital TV converter-box coupons, the unprecedented spending in President Obama’s economic stimulus plan is provoking questions about whether it can create jobs and jolt the country out of recession,” S.A. Miller writes in the Washington Times.  A new Treasury secretary, but not a great vote: “Partisanship is officially back,” declare Politico’s Lisa Lerer and Mike Allen. “The [Geithner] nomination vote gave conservatives an opportunity to rail against Geithner, as conservative talk radio rallied a flood of calls to Capitol Hill on Monday opposing his nomination. A majority of Senate Republicans heeded those calls, making it clear that Geithner may have a credibility gap with the GOP.”  “Geithner, who failed to pay more than $40,000 in Social Security and Medicare taxes from 2001-2004, survived a haranguing on the tax issue by Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee last week and will take over at Treasury as President Barack Obama initiates a multipronged strategy to pep up the U.S. economy,” per ABC’s Z. Byron Wolf.  On Geithner’s first day — helping for down the road: New rules Tuesday from the Obama administration (and its new Treasury secretary) on TARP spending: “In order to ensure that investment decisions are guided by objective assessments about the health and stability of the financial system, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, at the direction of the President, is announcing new, stepped-up rules to limit the influence of lobbyists and special interests in the EESA process. These new rules go beyond the approach taken under the EESA to date, and will help ensure a new level of openness and accountability going forward.” The White House is also weighing in on the $50 million jet purchased by Citigroup — on the government dole to the tune of $45 billion: “Their basic message was, ‘Are you kidding me?’ ” ABC’s George Stephanopoulos reported on “Good Morning America” Tuesday. “The White House made it clear that they need to see a different answer from Citigroup today.” Plus — the White House could be asking for more bank bailout funds as early as next week, Stephanopoulos said. The political stakes of Tuesday’s meetings don’t belong to Obama alone: “There are risks for Republicans as well. If they are highly critical of the popular president, Democrats could portray them as ‘childish’ — a pointed word used by Obama in his Inaugural address to denigrate political gamesmanship,” The Hill’s Molly K. Hooper and Jared Allen report.  Resisting the give (and take): “The Republican answer to this turmoil? Tax cuts. They need to go into rehab,” Bob Herbert writes in his New York Times column. “The question that I would like answered is why anyone listens to this crowd anymore. G.O.P. policies have been an absolute backbreaker for the middle class. (Forget the poor. Nobody talks about them anymore, not even the Democrats.) The G.O.P. has successfully engineered a wholesale redistribution of wealth to those already at the top of the income ladder and then, in a remarkable display of chutzpah, dared anyone to talk about class warfare.”  Writes Bob Shrum: “They went winless in November, but obviously not shameless, simultaneously complaining that Obama’s stimulus wouldn’t be fully felt for eighteen months or more, then suggesting that the package include extensions of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy — through 2013! They appear to oppose everything but lavishing tax breaks on the rich and invading countries on false pretenses.”  Keep in mind who Obama is dealing with on his own side of the aisle (and consider where following them would lead): “House Democrats renewed their effort to force former White House aide Karl Rove to testify in a probe into Justice Department controversies, presenting a challenge to President Barack Obama, who will have to decide whether to defend his predecessor’s legal arguments,” Evan Perez writes in The Wall Street Journal. “For more than a year, the Bush administration blocked congressional demands for testimony from Mr. Rove and other Bush aides. The White House’s assertion of executive privilege prompted the aides to refuse even to show up for a hearing.”  The new-policy-a-day policy of the new White House could also mean a new fight for every day. “Rolling back eight years of the Bush administration is not going to happen overnight,” Dan Eggen and Michael D. Shear report in The Washington Post. “Obama’s call for tougher vehicle emissions standards, for example, ran into immediate opposition from major business and auto industry groups. His plan to close the Guantanamo Bay prison has angered Republicans who object to transferring suspected terrorists to U.S. facilities. Many of those same Republicans are also fighting his economic stimulus proposal, arguing that it is too costly and would ultimately be ineffective, while others have attacked his plan to quicken the pace of troop withdrawals from Iraq.”  “President Barack Obama opened the door to state-level regulation of greenhouse gases, kicking off the first round of what promises to be a lengthy fight between major industries and his administration over how to combat global warming,” Stephen Power writes in The Wall Street Journal.  “The impending new regulations come at a time when US car manufacturers are barely surviving, and after the federal government loaned more than $17 billion to help them avoid bankruptcy and confront the combined pressures of increased competition from abroad, a deepening recession at home, and an evaporation of consumer credit worldwide. But Obama said that while industry’s problems must be fully considered, its future depends on building greener cars,” Lisa Wangsness reports in The Boston Globe.  Sorry, Matt Lauer: President Obama did his first formal TV interview Tuesday — with the Arabic cable TV network Al-Arabiya, ABC’s Jake Tapper reports.  Coinciding with the dispatching of George Mitchell to the Middle East: “All too often the United States starts by dictating — in the past on some of these issues — and we don’t always know all the factors that are involved,” Obama told al-Arabiya. “So let’s listen. He’s going to be speaking to all the major parties involved. And he will then report back to me. From there we will formulate a specific response.”  “In tone, his comments were a stark departure from those of former president George W. Bush, who often described the Middle East conflict in terms that drew criticism from Palestinians,” The Washington Post’s Michael D. Shear and Glenn Kessler write. “By contrast, Obama went out of his way to say that if America is ‘ready to initiate a new partnership [with the Muslim world] based on mutual respect and mutual interest, then I think that we can make significant progress.’ “  “The interview was the second time since becoming president that Obama has made a point to reach out to the Arab world. Last week, his first call to a foreign leader went to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas,” McClatchy’s Warren P. Strobel reports.  A new test for the new lobbying rules: “George Mitchell, President Barack Obama’s special Middle East troubleshooter, was chairman of a law firm that was paid about $8 million representing Dubai’s ruler in connection with a child-trafficking lawsuit,” Bloomberg’s Timothy J. Burger reports. “The DLA Piper law firm did legal and lobbying work on the case, which alleged that Dubai’s Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al- Maktoum and another official used children kidnapped from other countries to ride as jockeys in camel races. The firm lobbied federal agencies, members of the U.S. House and about two dozen Senate offices, including those of Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2006 and 2007, according to Justice Department foreign-agent disclosures.”  Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s impeachment trial, day two: “Senators expect to hear Tuesday a select segment of four covert recordings of the governor that federal and House prosecutors have said will allegedly show Blagojevich trying to shake down campaign donations from a horse-racing industry official in exchange for signing a bill to divert casino gambling revenues to horse tracks,” Ray Long and Rick Pearson report in the Chicago Tribune.  Tell us you won’t miss this guy: “His lawyer has quit, the mayor of Chicago calls him ‘cuckoo,’ and Blagojevich probably wasn’t helping his case with a media tour yesterday that included a taped appearance on the ‘Today’ show and live shots on ‘Good Morning America,’ ‘The View’ and ‘Larry King Live.’ But he just might establish himself as an unofficial poet laureate of the criminal justice system,” writes The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank.  Why the Kipling? “That poem to me really exemplifies the ups and downs and struggles of life, and the need to have perseverance and stick to things and come back, that really make you a person of character,” Blagojevich told ABC’s Russell Goldman. “You guys can mock the poetry, but they’re words I’ve known for a long time and believe in.”  Kirsten Gillibrand gets sworn in as a senator Tuesday — but the fallout continues in New York. Blisters Fredric U. Dicker, in the New York Post: “Gov. Paterson yesterday insisted he had no idea who did the slime job on Caroline Kennedy — although the source of the information is about as close to him during the day as his wife is at night. He’s a liar. The person responsible for the smear was an individual whose identity is well known to the press, whose full-time job is to do the governor’s bidding, and who is intelligent enough not to call reporters to damage Kennedy’s reputation without approval from the top — and that means Paterson.”  The sounds of silence: “So the new White House finally gets its e-mail up and running smoothly, and then what happens? The entire system crashes Monday morning,” per the AP. “The last e-mail from the White House press office before the breakdown arrived just before 9 a.m. Monday, advising that President Barack Obama’s event on energy independence in the East Room would be open to all media, instead of just the smaller group of reporters and photographers that typically follows the president.” The Kicker: “Compared to steroids, this is going to be a breeze.” — George Mitchell, taking on his new role as special envoy to the Middle East.  “Just say, ‘I am not a crook’ to us. Do it!” — Joy Behar, on “The View,” to Rod Blagojevich, who refused (though did start his next sentence: “But let me make this perfectly clear . . . “).

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