The Note, 4/9/2009: Left Behind — If Obama is polarizing, which pole should he fear?

By Caitlin Taylor

Apr 9, 2009 8:08am

By RICK KLEIN Just four questions that hint at why this day is different than all other days (or maybe not so much): Does it mean that we’ve run out of crises that President Obama is now dealing with pirates? Is this huge week for gay-marriage proponents exactly what they want right now, or the opposite of what they want right now?  If they open a door for Elijah the Prophet at the White House, will the Secret Service guard it? (Do prophets get White House hard passes?)  If — as one too-widely cited poll suggests — the president’s leadership has proven to be polarizing early on, what does it say that he may have more to fear from the ideological pole that he’s closest to? It’s back to business — Seder and all — for the president Thursday, who returns to the political home front with a fuller plate than when he left. The focus will be on the economy again — but any number of challenges could consume a week or 10. This president has never been one for ideological purity. Yet on fronts as diverse as healthcare, Iraq and Afghanistan, Cuba and Iran, immigration, union organizing, and gay rights, elements inside his own party are nudging him into places he may not want to go. It’s how Obama handles these fights (and which ones he seeks to duck) that will shape his legislative successes. Remember — since neither liberals nor conservatives in the Democratic Party forget it — who has the votes. Start on the Hill (since that’s where the president needs to start): “Easing off the speedy pace of the past three months, lawmakers will confront an arcane arena of long-term legislating, and the period could expose potentially deep fissures between Obama and some Democrats,” Paul Kane and Shailagh Murray write in The Washington Post. “Already, competing versions of climate legislation have been introduced in the House, Senate Democrats are still meeting with stakeholders in the health-care world, and the lending industry is battling a nascent effort to abolish private-sector loans for college tuition.”  On healthcare, an internal debate that will make it harder to win the external one: “For Democrats, one of the dangers of drawing sharp partisan divisions is that it would move the center of gravity to the left — a shift that could put Democratic moderate votes at risk. Many Democratic senators are beginning to privately voice concern that the House will produce a health-care bill that effectively traps people in a public federal plan, which also would risk the support of the almost 100 business-friendly House Democrats,” Kane and Murray write. “Rep. John B. Larson (D-Conn.), a member of the House leadership, estimated that more than 60 members of his caucus would prefer nationalized health care resembling the Canadian single-payer system. Along with getting the health industry to accept some public option, he said, ‘the biggest thing is people letting go of the notion that it’s going to be single-payer.’ ” Said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif.: “We have to come up with the savings in order to pay for health-care reform. . . . I don’t have the answer at this moment.” Move on to wars: “President Barack Obama plans to request new funding from Congress for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, but he risks a backlash from antiwar lawmakers. Mr. Obama is expected to seek congressional approval of $75.5 billion for the wars, perhaps as soon as Thursday,” Greg Hitt writes in The Wall Street Journal. “The emerging rifts present a new political challenge for Mr. Obama. As a senator, he voted against Iraq war funding bills. In his campaign for the White House, he criticized rivals Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries and John McCain in the general election for their hawkishness on the issue.”  Hitt writes: “Rep. John Conyers (D., Mich.) dismissed Mr. Obama’s plans as ‘embarrassingly naive,’ and suggested that the president is being led astray by those around him.” “He’s the smartest man in American politics today,” Conyers said. “But he occasionally gets bad advice and makes mistakes. This is one of those instances.” And immigration (catching Drudge’s eye in a big way): “While acknowledging that the recession makes the political battle more difficult, President Obama plans to begin addressing the country’s immigration system this year, including looking for a path for illegal immigrants to become legal,” Julia Preston reports in The New York Times.  “Mr. Obama plans to speak publicly about the issue in May, administration officials said, and over the summer he will convene working groups, including lawmakers from both parties and a range of immigration groups, to begin discussing possible legislation for as early as this fall. Some White House officials said that immigration would not take precedence over the health care and energy proposals that Mr. Obama has identified as priorities. But the timetable is consistent with pledges Mr. Obama made to Hispanic groups in last year’s campaign.” And cars: “Even if the president succeeds in getting domestic carmakers onto firmer financial ground, even if Detroit overcomes decades of consumer skepticism about the quality of its products and begins cranking out fuel-efficient cars that don’t damage the environment — even then the U.S. auto industry could die,” Jim Tankersley writes in the Los Angeles Times.  Don’t forget the banks: “President Barack Obama will get a progress report on stress tests at the 19 biggest U.S. banks when he meets tomorrow with his economic team,” Bloomberg’s Robert Schmidt and Roger Runningen write. “The exams, to conclude by the end of April, are designed to show how much extra capital banks may need to survive a deeper economic downturn. While the tests are a central element of the administration’s financial-industry rescue, both banks and regulators are wrestling with concerns over how the results will be revealed and what significance investors will put on them.”  The day ahead, per Politico: “Obama spends part of the morning in a session with homeowners, hosting a roundtable discussion in the Roosevelt Room with a group who have recently refinanced their mortgages. He’ll be talking about record-low interest rates, possibly reprising the salesman-like role he played at his auto announcement last week.” (That was only last week?)  And Cuba: “The real big steps that we have to take is looking at the embargo, and the question is, has the embargo worked for 50 years?” Rep. Laura Richardson, D-Calif., said on’s “Top Line” Wednesday.  Also coming sooner than anticipated to the president’s desk: “On Tuesday, the District and Vermont delivered a one-two punch that, combined with the recent Iowa Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage, has buoyed supporters and angered opponents,” Nikita Stewart and Tim Craig write in The Washington Post.  “The next battleground over gay marriage could be the U.S. Capitol,” the AP’s Brian Westley reports. “A preliminary vote by the District of Columbia city council to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere puts the issue on a path to Congress, which has final say over D.C.’s laws. That may force lawmakers to take up the politically dicey debate after years of letting it play out in the states.”  (Thursday on “Top Line,” we chat with the Human Rights Campaign’s Joe Solmonese about what’s next for Congress and the Obama administration on gay rights. Plus we talk all the week’s politics with Politico’s Jonathan Martin. Noon ET, at  Longtime Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom writes a Des Moines Register op-ed about what to expect in Iowa, now that gay marriage is legal there: “The next few years will not be happy times for the Hawkeye state. Battles lines will be drawn. Neighbors will be pitted against neighbors. Extremists on both sides will turn Iowa into ground zero in the nation’s culture wars. It’s a shame, because there are good people both for and against gay marriage. There’s just no middle ground. The first casualty will be respect and tolerance for people on the other side. In that kind of polarizing environment, an extra-human effort is required for a civil debate.”  Another battle worth tracking: “Some of the leading liberal bloggers are privately furious with the major progressive groups — and in some cases, the Democratic Party committees — for failing to spend money advertising on their sites, even as these groups constantly ask the bloggers for free assistance in driving their message,” Greg Sargent writes at his Plum Line blog.  As context — more fuel from that Pew Poll. Karl Rove joins Michael Gerson in writing that the political polarization is Obama’s fault: “His campaign promised post-partisanship, but since taking office Mr. Obama has frozen Republicans out of the deliberative process, and his response to their suggestions has been a brusque dismissal that ‘I won,’ ” Rove writes in his Wall Street Journal column.  Defending the old boss: “Mr. Obama has hastened the decline of Republican support with petty attacks on his critics and predecessor,” Rove writes. “For a person who promised hope and civility in politics, Mr. Obama has shown a borderline obsessiveness in blaming Mr. Bush. Starting with his inaugural address and continuing through this week’s overseas trip, the new president’s jabs at Mr. Bush have been unceasing, unfair and unhelpful. They have also diminished Mr. Obama by showing him to be another conventional politician. Rather than ending ‘the blame game,’ he is personifying it.” Counters House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “If you can’t find common ground, that doesn’t mean you’re partisan,” Pelosi, D-Calif., told E.J. Dionne Jr. “It just means you believe two different things.”  On Iran, a major shift: “The Obama administration will take part directly in international negotiations with Iran aimed at ending Tehran’s rapidly expanding nuclear program, the U.S. State Department said Wednesday,” Jay Solomon writes in The Wall Street Journal. “It is the latest move marking a shift in U.S. policy toward Iran.”  “The decision to join the talks occurs as the Obama administration wraps up a much-anticipated review of Iran policy, and as top diplomats from Britain, France, Germany, China, and Russia met in London and decided to invite Iran to join a new round of negotiations centered on curtailing its enrichment of uranium, which can be used as fuel for either a nuclear weapon or to create electricity,” The Boston Globe’s Farah Stockman writes.  Losing track of the foreign-policy challenges: “Hillary Clinton said there would be days — and nights — like this,” the AP’s Steven R. Hurst writes. “For the second time in four days and with less than three months in office, President Barack Obama has received the ’3 a.m. phone call’ that Clinton warned about. . . . His tests are coming early: first from the borderline rogue government in North Korea, then from stateless bandits preying on shipping lanes off the East African coast.”  ABC’s Jake Tapper has the guest list for the hottest Seder ticket around.  Why they can afford the good matzo: “Newly released disclosure reports show virtually all of the top Chicagoans serving in the West Wing had assets valued at a million dollars or more at the end of 2008,” John McCormick writes in the Chicago Tribune. “In several cases, the reports provide the first detailed look at the finances of some of the president’s top aides and friends from Chicago who have risen with him. They also show the salary haircut many have taken to be in the White House, at least until they return to the private sector.”  Others who might join the club soon: “About one-quarter of the House and Senate members who retired or lost elections last year have found new jobs with lobbying firms, where business is booming as Obama pushes for multitrillion-dollar changes in federal banking, health care, energy and military procurement policies,” Jonathan D. Salant writes for Bloomberg News.  Blago fallout: Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., is being investigated by the Office of Congressional Ethics. “I am cooperating fully with the preliminary review being conducted by the Office of Congressional Ethics,” Jackson said in an e-mailed statement,” per ABC’s Justin Rood.  “Jackson said in the statement that he was told of the inquiry last week. But his first public remarks about it — despite repeated calls from the Sun-Times — didn’t come until Wednesday, after the newspaper revealed he had fallen under scrutiny by the House panel,” the Chicago Sun-Times’ Natasha Korecki reports. “The board is investigating whether he or any of his representatives offered former Gov. Rod Blagojevich cash in exchange for a Senate seat appointment.”  Does this end this story? (No.) An RNC update on Gov. Sarah Palin’s clothing buys: “The amended report shows that the committee paid about $23,000 for clothing in the three weeks before and after Election Day — which is actually $7,000 less than previously reported,” Politico’s Kenneth P. Vogel writes. “That new report brings the total Palin clothing costs paid by the RNC down to about $173,000 and also makes it easier to spot clothing purchases that had previously gone undetected.”  The Kicker: “The President offered Coach [Roy] Williams his congratulations and thanked him and his team for vindicating him in front of the entire country.” — White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, leading the president’s victory lap. (But David Axelrod took the $320 prize in the White House pool.)  “Since when is an Afro racist?” — Joseph Pedott, founder of the Chia Pets empire, defending Chia Obama.  Don’t miss “Top Line,”’s new daily political Webcast, hosted today by Rick Klein and Karen Travers, at noon ET. Thursday’s guests: Joe Solmonese of the Human Rights Campaign, and Politico’s Jonathan Martin. Follow The Note on Twitter: For up-to-the-minute political updates check out The Note’s blog . . . all day every day:

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