The Note, 02/10/09: No Shortcuts — Obama can control a message — but now things get more complicated

By Caitlin Taylor

Feb 10, 2009 8:22am

By RICK KLEIN So the campaign continues — a president who ran against Washington gets to Washington to keep running against Washington even as he needs Washington to come through for him. Change didn’t get there with him — not immediately, anyway. President Obama can still dictate a message — as Monday’s hour-long primetime news conference (just 13 questions, with answers as mini-lectures) clearly showed. But he has a long way to go before Washington will be his — as the narrow Senate vote, and the tenuous compromise that’s emerging out of Congress, show equally well. As for what he needs Washington to come through on — that gets even more complicated Tuesday. Now the president needs the nation to swallow not just an $800 billion stimulus package, but more help for banks (rivals of Congress in the race for low approval ratings these days). With an 11 am ET speech, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is poised to outline new bank bailout rules — including a lending initiative, a public-private partnership to rid banks of bad investments, a new program to keep people in their homes, and strict conditions on banks getting assistance, to ensure that tax money supports lending.  “Instead of catalyzing recovery, the financial system is working against recovery, and that’s the dangerous dynamic we need to change,” Geithner plans to say, according to excerpts provided to The Note. “I want to be candid: this comprehensive strategy will cost money, involve risk, and take time,” he will add. “We will have to adapt it as conditions change.  We will have to try things we’ve never tried before. We will make mistakes. We will go through periods in which things get worse and progress is uneven or interrupted.” No pricetags Tuesday — but these are bills that can’t be put off for long: “The gravity of the financial crisis confronting the Obama administration will come into stark focus today when officials unveil a three-pronged rescue program that may commit up to $1.5 trillion in public and private funds, and possibly more, lawmakers and other officials said,” David Cho and Lori Montgomery report in The Washington Post.  “The expanded effort could see as much as $2 trillion in financing flowing through the system, according to Congressional officials briefed Monday night. The expanded Fed facility and the ‘bad bank’ could each reach $1 trillion in size, both of which would be seeded with bailout funds,” The Wall Street Journal’s Deborah Solomon and Damian Paletta report.  Now the president needs public buy-in more than ever. Spending more and cutting taxes was supposed to be the easy part. “By Monday, he sounded like a candidate back on the trail, railing against the status quo and dismissing critics as apostles of a failed philosophy,” Peter Baker writes in The New York Times. “Authoritative and unsmiling, gloomy rather than inspirational, Mr. Obama cast the nation’s economy in dire light and offered a barbed point-by-point critique of the Republican argument that his plan would just create more government jobs and authorize a raft of new wasteful spending.” Frustration: “By all external measures, the Washington political universe that President Obama now oversees still looks and acts very much like the city he ran against for two years on the campaign trail,” Time’s Michael Scherer writes. “But Obama’s performance at the podium is something else entirely, a study in relative candor and nuance. . . . The power of the presidential pulpit has rarely been so well used. The only question is how far it can take us.”  ABC’s George Stephanopoulos gives Obama an A on the sale, a B on reaching out, and an “incomplete” overall grade: “The president has been able to make his case in his first four weeks. But he’s also had the kind of stumbles that most presidents have in their early days,” Stephanopoulos reports. “The president even acknowledged that he can’t even say yet whether he’s going to have to come back and ask the country for more money, or whether this is going to work.” “The president took only 13 questions; he was loose, conversational,” ABC’s Jake Tapper reported on “Good Morning America, ” . . . loquaciously professorial. His longest answer — almost eight minutes — for a question on bipartisanship.” “No drama with Obama. No joking with Obama,” AP’s Ron Fournier writes. “In his first prime-time news conference, Americans saw a determined, deadly serious President Barack Obama make his case for a historically huge economic recovery plan — pledging to push it through Congress in record time, even if he and fellow Democrats must steamroll Republicans to do it.” “Barack Obama has a tough act to pull off. He must simultaneously petrify people and also restore their confidence. He must scare us to death and calm our fears,” Politico’s Roger Simon writes. “So where is the guy who once symbolized hope? Well, he is still there. Roughed up a little already, but still there.” 

(Kids, take note: “There are no shortcuts,” the president said.) The sale continues Tuesday in Ft. Myers, Fla., with a noon ET event featuring special guest Gov. Charlie Crist, R-Fla., who will introduce the president. Obama sits down with ABC’s Terry Moran in Florida, in an interview to air on “Nightline” Tuesday. Look for excerpts before then on “World News” and ABCNews.com. The president closes down his evening with a meeting with Blue Dog Democrats, at the White House. The Senate chugs toward final passage of the stimulus bill Tuesday — but this is only a start. Three Republican senators hold the keys to the entire package; lose any of them, and Obama not only loses bipartisanship, he might lose the vote. “Obama is finding that old politics die hard in the building where he served just four years — with much of the last two spent on the campaign trail,” The Boston Globe’s Susan Milligan writes.  Bowing to realities: “The president’s tones alternated between bipartisan outreach and tough words for Republicans who, he said, backed failed policies that helped drive the country into economic distress. Mr. Obama set benchmarks for his economic recovery plan, saying its success should be judged by whether it creates or saves four million jobs, stabilizes the housing market and gets credit markets operating again,” Laura Meckler and Jonathan Weisman write in The Wall Street Journal. Getting tough: “Urgency was the obvious message Obama was trying to convey to millions of Americans in the hour-long session,” Politico’s Jonathan Martin writes. “But to a smaller Washington audience — to both Republicans and skeptics in his own party –there seemed to be an equally unmistakable subtext: He is not a patsy or a pushover.”  A return: “Tacitly acknowledging that he had little to show for hosting bipartisan talks, appealing for bipartisan compromise and even hosting a bipartisan White House cocktail party for members of Congress, Obama returned to tactics that worked for him in last year’s campaign,” The Los Angeles Times’ Christi Parsons and Peter Nicholas report. “He appealed directly to the public for support against what he portrayed as partisan paralysis in Washington.”  But what of paralysis inside the Democratic Party? The New York Times editorializes: “[Obama] is absolutely right that Congress needs to quickly pass a stimulus bill. But a bill that is merely better than nothing won’t be nearly good enough. The economy is too fragile. And the numbers are too huge. When members of the House and Senate sit down this week to craft a final version of their differing bills, they must include the most-effective provisions — those that provide powerful stimulus and help those Americans who are most in need.”  Mark the day: “The Senate’s vote on — and the likely approval of — an $838 billion economic-stimulus plan Tuesday will signal a decisive new expansion of the government’s role in the economy,” McClatchy’s David Lightman reports. “The negotiations promise to be tense but probably not hopeless, because the Democratic majorities in both houses will have voted to expand the government’s role in a wide variety of social and educational programs. Compromise should be on Democratic terms, because Republicans don’t have enough votes to impose their preference for less spending and bigger tax cuts.”  ABC’s Jonathan Karl points out that Obama seemed to weigh in on the side of House leaders at his press conference — voicing support for school construction and energy efficiency in federal buildings and public housing, which were items removed in the Senate compromise. “The conference committee will be a small one, likely to include only the leadership and the chairman of the key committees. For Democrats it will include Sen. Max Baucus, Sen. Daniel Inouye, Rep. Barney Frank and Rep. David Obey,” Karl reports. “The Republican troika that crafted the compromise –  Sens. Susan Collins, Arlen Specter and Olympia Snowe — won’t be there, but their presence will be felt.  If the bill changes much, Democrats will lose their support and, therefore, will not be able to pass it in the Senate.”  “Staff from both chambers have begun discussing the differences between the two bills, but the principals have not been in the same room since the most dramatic changes were made,” Paul Kane writes in The Washington Post. “Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) spoke by phone with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Saturday while Pelosi was leading a three-day retreat for her caucus in Williamsburg. Aides declined to detail the conversation, but it came a day after Pelosi suggested that the Senate cuts in spending, which Reid endorsed, would do "violence" to struggling families. Pelosi and her leadership team have signaled their inclination to fight to restore some spending that the Senate stripped out.”  Growing restless: “Bipartisanship is safe and effective, when used as directed. In the present circumstance, however — dire economic crisis, hardheaded Republicans, time running out — bipartisanship is doing more harm than good. President Obama and the Democratic majorities in Congress can no longer afford to let comity defeat common sense,” Eugene Robinson writes in his column.  Watch for Republicans to echo: “What is puzzling is that with Congressional Democrats arguing amongst themselves, the President could have accomplished more last night by calling Speaker Pelosi and Leader Reid and leaning on them to craft a bipartisan bill that has no waste and actually creates jobs,” said Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va. On the TARP money — a win for Geithner? “In the end, Mr. Geithner largely prevailed in opposing tougher conditions on financial institutions that were sought by presidential aides, including David Axelrod, a senior adviser to the president, according to administration and Congressional officials,” The New York Times’ Stephen Labaton and Edmund Andrews report. “Mr. Geithner, who will announce the broad outlines of the plan on Tuesday, successfully fought against more severe limits on executive pay for companies receiving government aid.”  Early raves from David Brooks: “Geithner’s plan is huge but also disciplined. It’s designed by someone aware of government’s limitations,” Brooks writes in his New york Times column. “The whole policy is still unfolding. But one gets the sense that it is being designed to fit the crisis, not a prefab agenda. Geithner is proposing a huge intervention, but at least he seems to be running against his natural instincts. If we’re going to have a finance czar, he should at least dislike the role.”  It’s all connected: “The unprecedented stimulus package that President Barack Obama is trying to wrestle through Congress may end up being wasted unless the administration can find a way to restart stalled credit markets,” writes Bloomberg’s Scott Lanman and Craig Torres.  Mr. President, welcome to Florida: “President Barack Obama could be pitching his economic recovery plan in Michigan or Rhode Island, which reported the highest unemployment rates last month, or in South Carolina, which suffered the worst dip from the previous month,” Beth Reinhard writes in The Miami Herald. “But he chose Florida, where the free-falling real estate market received front-page treatment Sunday from The New York Times and was the subject of a major New Yorker article darkly titled, ‘The Ponzi State.’ Fort Myers, meet the national press corps.” “When President Obama arrives today in Republican-heavy Lee County to push his economic stimulus plan, he’ll be at the epicenter of Florida’s broken economy,” Evan S. Benn writes in the St. Petersburg Times. “The president is scheduled to speak to 1,500 people at noon in a town-hall setting at Fort Myers’ downtown convention center and will be introduced by Gov. Charlie Crist. The popular Republican governor could help buoy support for the stimulus package that the Senate is expected to vote on today.”  Careful on the left: “The Obama Administration today announced that it would keep the same position as the Bush Administration in the lawsuit Mohamed et al v Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc. The case involves five men who claim to have been victims of extraordinary rendition — including current Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed, another plaintiff in jail in Egypt, one in jail in Morocco, and two now free,” per ABC’s Jake Tapper and Ariane de Vogue. Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU, said of the decision: “Eric Holder’s Justice Department stood up in court today and said that it would continue the Bush policy of invoking state secrets to hide the reprehensible history of torture, rendition and the most grievous human rights violations committed by the American government. This is not change. This is definitely more of the same.” Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., wants a “truth commission” to probe Bush administration wrongdoing — building pressure on the president to accept something. The president’s non-committal response (to Huffington Post’s Sam Stein): “I will take a look at Sen. Leahy’s proposal, but my general orientation is to say, let’s get it right moving forward.” The Kicker: “Let me get this straight — this is coming from a guy who threw more than twice as many interceptions than touchdowns?” — Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, slapping down Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C.
  “I don’t remember exactly what Joe was referring to. Not surprisingly.” — President Obama, starting the tally of times the president slaps down the vice president in public.  Bookmark the link below to get The Note’s daily morning analysis:
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