The Note, 5/4/2009: Obama Seeks Restart of Agenda

By Nitya

May 4, 2009 8:32am

By RICK KLEIN In the spirit of long shots . . . Chance that the vote on Justice David Souter’s replacement will lose more Democrats than it will draw Republicans: 10-1. Chance that H1N1/swine flu gets another new name before allergy season ends: 25-1. Chance that the Republican Party found its way to a successful future in an Arlington, Va., pizza shop. 50-1. Chance that Sen. Arlen Specter would have delayed his party switch had he known he would have been ranking Republican for a Supreme Court fight: 3-2. Chance that "empathy" is the new "litmus test." 2-1. Chance that President Obama’s old words on the Alito nomination get repeated at the pace of once a day through the summer: 1-10. Coming off one of those weeks that made you long for the manageable pace of the campaign season, President Obama has a window — though a narrow one — to set the agenda again. We may be at one of those moments where so much is going on — the looming Supreme Court fight, the flu, pressure from the left, two wars, bank stress tests, and domestic initiatives all at early, delicate stages — that only the president can hope to make some sense of it. No agenda item can happen now without taking into account the Souter retirement — and nothing can be done inside the Obama White House that doesn’t keep that in mind. But if the first 100 days was about laying down markers, the second 100 days may be about picking them up. There’s enough out there to keep this White House busy for a while. “Mr. Obama currently holds the upper hand, riding high in the polls while Republicans appear chaotic and hapless,” John Harwood writes in The New York Times. “But he is racing to capitalize for good reason. Political history, and some early signs this spring, suggest that time is not on his side.” And Rahm Emanuel explains an old quote — but picks a new fight: “It’s not like we are using this crisis to invade Iraq. You can ask the right-wing blogs about that.” Guess what the president gained last week: “In the span of a single week — from the day Arlen Specter turned Democratic to the moment Congress passed the White House’s budget blueprint and on through the opening of a spot on the Supreme Court — President Obama crossed a fateful line: From now on, it’s his country,” the Los Angeles Times’ Peter Nicholas writes. The president’s Monday: “This morning, President Obama and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner will announce that they are cracking down on tax laws that encourage corporations to send jobs overseas and allow the corporations to hide money in international tax shelters,” ABC’s Jake Tapper, Sunlen Miller and Matt Jaffe report. “The announcement ‘reflects the realization of two commitments President Obama made during the campaign,’ a senior administration official told reporters in a conference call Sunday night.” Time to press? “In the second 100 days, one administration official told me, Obama may be somewhat less deferential toward [C]ongress — at least with respect to certain issues,” The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder writes. “While Congress works out details behind the scenes, the White House will use the opportunity to set the overall agenda — taking advantage of what incoming communications director Anita Dunn calls a ‘strategic window’ in which the administration can define ‘where we are going’ and ‘why we are going.’ ” Who really matters now: “The country’s philosophical fault lines don’t disappear when one party is in power; they just appear as internecine battles,” Newsweek’s Howard Fineman writes. “If and when the Democrats get to 60, the party’s core liberal-progressive interests are likely to demand prompt action on a host of topics. But if every action requires 60 — and that’s becoming the norm in the Senate — the ironic result will be to empower the party’s centrist wing.” “The prospect of having that kind of control might have some Democrats dreaming of sending Obama’s agenda — on health care, the environment and a new Supreme Court nominee — sailing through Congress,” ABC’s John Hendren reports. “History, though, tells a different story.” Sixty votes means Democrats are “going to have a lot of responsibility on their plate,” Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., said on “Fox News Sunday.” The big fight: “With the retirement of Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter, President Obama has another opportunity to define his young presidency,” writes Dan Balz of The Washington Post. “After a series of inflamed confirmation fights over judicial nominees, will the president be effective in lowering the temperatures on the left and the right as the confirmation process plays out? On this, Obama’s record is contradictory.” “Even as Obama wrestles with economic and foreign policy challenges that could lead to major changes in America, a court appointment could become one of the most significant acts of his tenure,” Joan Biskupic writes for USA Today. (And no one in the White House is operating under the assumption that this will be his last pick.) Some early boxing in: “The buzz in Washington is less about political ideology and more about getting diversity on the bench,” ABC’s Theresa Cook writes. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos”: “Having only one woman on the Supreme Court does not reflect the makeup of the United States. I think we should have more women. We should have more minorities.” Anything else he or she needs to be able to do? “President Barack Obama is likely to seek a nominee for the Supreme Court who will not only defend the liberal jurisprudence that reshaped American society in the mid-20th century, but who may also aim to build a progressive legal vision for the century ahead,” Jess Bravin writes in The Wall Street Journal. What are the chances this satisfies everyone? Obama “is likely to seek a judicial version of himself: a moderate coalition-builder,” Greg Stohr and Tina Seeley write for Bloomberg. “Choosing a relative moderate would square with Obama’s campaign promise not to seek Supreme Court ‘activism,’ while leaving open the possibility of a bolder nomination for a future vacancy. It would also help ensure an easy Senate confirmation, burnishing Obama’s centrist credentials while he seeks support for a health-care overhaul and other priorities.” “Empathy” as flashpoint: “When President Barack Obama said last week that he’d be looking for ‘empathy’ in his Supreme Court nominee, he gave both liberals and conservatives a launching point for their Sunday-show debates,” Politico’s Josh Gerstein writes. “Some top candidates could drag Obama into high-profile battles on issues such as affirmative action and gay rights that are not high on his political agenda.” Why wait for an actual vacancy? “Senate Republicans and conservative organizations got to work Friday on their battle plan for President Barack Obama’s first nominee to the Supreme Court — compiling dossiers on likely candidates, developing strategies for the vetting process and powering up their network of grass-roots activists,” Roll Call’s John Stanton writes. Also Monday: Vice President Joe Biden “will attend the official kickoff event for the restoration and renovation of the Wilmington Train Station,” per the White House. (Yes, he’ll be on a train.) GOP mojo watch: The National Council for a New America launched Saturday in Arlington, with House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., and former governors Mitt Romney, R-Mass., and Jeb Bush, R-Fla. “Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Saturday that it’s time for the Republican Party to give up its ‘nostalgia’ for the heyday of the Reagan era and look forward, even if it means stealing the winning strategy deployed by Democrats in the 2008 election,” Joseph Curl writes in the Washington Times. “It felt less like a town hall meeting and more like a therapy session for conservatives in crisis,” per ABC’s Rachel Martin. “Audience members packed into a small pizza joint in Arlington to listen and to be heard.” James Carville, quoting Mark Shields on “Good Morning America” Monday: “Do you want to be in a church that’s chasing out heretics, or do you want to be in a church that’s trying to bring in converts?” There’s one GOPer who can still draw dollars: “Longtime financial backers of the 43rd president have raised more than $100 million for a presidential library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas that will house his official papers, sources close to Bush told TIME,” Michael Weisskopf and Michael Duffy report. “Much of the money was collected in the 100 days or so since Bush left the White House, a pace much faster than that of his recent predecessors.” And watch the agenda crowd in. . . . Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., says no more waiting on healthcare: “All other nations feel the impact of the economic crisis. But no other advanced nation treats its citizens who lose their livelihoods as poorly as we do,” Kennedy writes in a Politico op-ed. “It’s time to end this tragedy in America — forever.” On immigration: “Obama has been sending two signals simultaneously: Yes we can, but not quite yet,” E.J. Dionne Jr. writes in his column. “Emanuel and Obama know that most of those same Democrats still represent competitive seats and continue to worry about the costs of a vote for immigration reform. That’s why the administration has settled on a strategy of slowly building consensus rather than moving fast.” On climate change: “Tensions over the direction of a sweeping climate change bill boiled over in a House Democratic leadership meeting Thursday, as Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (Calif.) lashed out at Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) for appearing to publicly downgrade the measure’s chances this year,” Roll Call’s Steven T. Dennis and Tory Newmyer report. “The exchange appeared to clear the air between the lawmakers, leadership sources said, but it did not resolve their conflicting views about how to proceed.” “Congressional Democrats headed into the weekend without an agreement on a climate change bill, raising doubts an accord will be found in time for a scheduled markup this week,” The Hill’s Jim Snyder reports. Torture memos. “This then is one of those rare occasions that necessitate a special commission of prestigious members with full authority to issue subpoenas. Its jurisdiction should include the use of torture and other cruel or inhuman treatment that violate the Geneva Conventions, as well as rendition and surveillance,” Bloomberg’s Al Hunt writes in his column. Attention, census-watchers: The Washington Post’s Lois Romano sits down with Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. “The United States Supreme Court has actually ruled that we are not allowed to use sampling apportionment. Nor do we have any plans to use sampling for any other purpose connected with the 2010 census,” Locke said. “The census director reports to me, and, of course, I serve at the pleasure of the president. . . . It will not be politicized, and the White House assured me that it has no interest in politicizing it.” Looking for promotions: “Four months into their new terms in Congress, 13 House members are seeking promotions to the U.S. Senate or statewide office — as lawmakers give up their posts at a faster rate than they have for the past three elections,” USA Today’s Fredreka Schouten writes. “By comparison, five House members had announced plans to leave their positions by May 2007, the most recent non-election year.” Among those candidates — it doesn’t sound like Specter has avoided a primary: “I’m kind of disappointed in the Democratic establishment in Washington, D.C.,” said Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., on CNN, per the Philadelphia Inquirer. “What I need to know is what he’s running for. If he has the right answer, so be it. We move on . . . I’m not sure he’s a Democrat yet.”  Just enough of a hint to keep us watching the general, too: “Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge is considering running for the Republican Senate nomination in his home state, according to a senior Republican aide with knowledge of the situation,” Shira Toeplitz reported for Roll Call. The stories around former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., aren’t going away: “Federal investigators are sifting through the records of money that helped John Edwards’ presidential campaign to determine if any was used to keep quiet his affair with Rielle Hunter,” Mandy Locke reported in Sunday’s Raleigh News & Observer. “Edwards, a Democrat and former U.S. senator, acknowledged the investigation to The News & Observer.” The Kicker: “The message of this party is this is a big table for everyone to have a seat. I have a place setting with your name on the front. . . . Understand that when you come into someone’s house, you’re not looking to change it.” — RNC Chairman Michael Steele, on the big tent — as long as it’s his tent. “You can’t beat something with nothing, and the other side has something.” — Former governor Jeb Bush, R-Fla., offering something to the discussion.

Don’t miss “Top Line,”’s daily political Webcast, hosted by Rick Klein and David Chalian, at noon ET. Monday’s guests: Richard Trumka, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, and ABC’s Jan Crawford Greenburg. 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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