The Note, 5/8/2009: Party of Maybe: Forget the GOP — Democrats’ worst enemies are themselves

By Theresa Cook

May 8, 2009 8:22am

Who needs an opposition party when the party in power is doing a decent job opposing itself?

Forget the future of the Republican Party — it’s the present for the Democratic Party that’s problematic for President Obama’s agenda. (From the Manny Ramirez school of self-destruction?)

On healthcare, on cap-and-trade, on budget-cutting, on Guantanamo Bay — the president is mediating (or may be in the process of losing) old battles inside his own party. (And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has her own battle — mostly against herself.)

It doesn’t always take ideas to stop ideas; that’s not how Democrats blocked Social Security reform, or how immigration reform blocked itself.

With new job numbers coming Friday (they won’t be good), economic perceptions are again wrapped up with political realities. The classic quest for 60 Senate votes is intertwined with the nation’s quest for a recovery — with the Obama agenda in the balance.

“Pushing an ambitious agenda during a tepid economic rebound will require money and presidential muscle that even the popular president might find in short supply,” the AP’s Jim Kuhnhenn reports. “A slow recovery heading into the 2010 midterm congressional elections will probably make Democratic lawmakers especially cautious.” 

“It might dampen some enthusiasm about trying to find a health care solution that costs money,” said Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb. (But feel free to be enthusiastic about the free solutions.)

“The $3.6 trillion budget unveiled in detail by President Obama on Thursday will set off fiscal, ideological and political battles with Congress,” USA Today’s Richard Wolf reports.

With the Labor Department numbers coming out at 8:30 am ET, the president talks job creation and training at 11:30 am ET. There’s a reason President Bush couldn’t make those budget cuts stick: “President Obama’s modest proposal to slice $17 billion from 121 government programs quickly ran into a buzz saw of opposition on Capitol Hill yesterday, as an array of Democratic lawmakers vowed to fight White House efforts to deprive their favorite initiatives of federal funds,” Lori Montgomery and Amy Goldstein write in The Washington Post. “The swift protest was a precursor of the battle Obama will face within his own party to control spending and rein in a budget deficit projected to exceed $1.2 trillion next year.” Going back to a shallow well: “Thursday’s plan — which called for fewer program cuts and terminations than President George W. Bush sought a year ago — was the fourth time in Obama’s three-month-old administration that he’s pledged to promote fiscal responsibility,” McClatchy’s David Lightman writes. “To date, the president’s rhetoric exceeds his results,” The Washington Post’s Dan Balz writes. New York Daily News headline: “You mean that’s it?” ABC’s Jake Tapper: “Whether or not $17 billion is a lot of money in spending cuts depends, of course, on what one compares it to — and who’s doing the comparing. . . . During the campaign last year, then-Sen. Obama discussed how Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, railed against earmarks, and pointed out that the $18 billion in savings from eliminating earmarks paled in comparison to the $300 billion in tax breaks McCain proposed.” (Did any of the news coverage take the $17 billion in proposed cuts with the seriousness President Obama said it deserved? Does that even matter to a White House that’s content — for now — to talk around and above Washington?) On Gitmo — Republicans have found another talking point, and Democrats have found another breaking point. “Now Democrats are ganging up on President Barack Obama’s plans to shut down the Guantanamo Bay prison. Or rather, the president’s lack of planning for how to shutter the prison and how to handle the detainees,” Politico’s Alex Isenstadt reports. “The Democratic doubts on Guantanamo come as Republicans have decided to run with a strategy of stoking parochial fears about terrorists being transferred to people’s home towns.” On cap-and-trade — this from fans of the bill: “The bill has been stuck in a House committee: uniformly opposed by Republicans; feared by rust-belt Democrats who think it will hurt manufacturers; regarded with suspicion by some environmentalists who think it offers too many escape hatches,” the New York Times editorial reads. “The truth is that no one knows how much this bill will cost. A lot depends on how it is structured, how the auction revenues are applied, how quickly new, job-producing technologies come online and how much the country can save through efficiencies.” Why even Six-Oh may not matter: “Specter was a key swing vote in the Senate when he wore a red jersey, and he will remain one now that he wears a blue jersey. Nothing has changed on that score,” Charlie Cook writes for National Journal.  And torture memos are back in the news — with intelligence records calling into question House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s contention that she was never told about instanced of harsh interrogation. “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was briefed on the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ on terrorist suspect Abu Zubaydah in September 2002, according to a report prepared by the Director of National Intelligence’s office and obtained by ABC News.” “The report, submitted to the Senate Intelligence Committee and other Capitol Hill officials Wednesday, appears to contradict Pelosi’s statement last month that she was never told about the use of waterboarding or other special interrogation tactics. Instead, she has said, she was told only that the Bush administration had legal opinions that would have supported the use of such techniques.” Opening up a can of something: “The records describe dozens of congressional briefings about CIA decisions that since have emerged as major sources of controversy — including the agency’s use of waterboarding and its destruction of videotapes of interrogation sessions,” Greg Miller reports in the Los Angeles Times. “The issue of what Pelosi knew and when she knew it has become a tussle on Capitol Hill,” The Washington Post’s Paul Kane reports. “The rot on this is not just Republican,” The Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan blogs. “Republicans have argued Congress was informed early-on about the CIA program and had an opportunity then to object, a contention designed to counter criticism of the Bush-era program from the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress,” The Wall Street Journal’s Siobhan Gorman reports. “The release coincides with a debate over terrorism matters, with Republicans accusing President Barack Obama of leaving the country vulnerable to a terrorist attack and Democrats calling for a commission to investigate the Bush administration’s controversial counter-terrorism programs.” On the stress tests, Paul Krugman is (surprise) still less than convinced: “What we’re really seeing here is a decision on the part of President Obama and his officials to muddle through the financial crisis, hoping that the banks can earn their way back to health,” he writes. “It’s a strategy that might work. . . . Given enough time, the banks could be flush again. But it’s important to see the strategy for what it is and to understand the risks.” Former Vice President Dick Cheney sees a way forward for the GOP: “I think it would be a mistake for us to moderate,” he tells a North Dakota radio host, per Politico’s Ben Smith. SCOTUS movement: “The White House has formalized its short list of Supreme Court contenders and asked six prospects to provide personal background information, with an intensive vetting process well underway, according to sources close to the process,” ABC’s Jan Crawford Greenburg reports. “The leading contenders on the short list: federal appeals court Judges Sonia Sotomayor and Diane Wood, and Solicitor General Elena Kagan, sources close to the process say. . . . Political officials like Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel are favoring Sotomayor, who would be an historic pick as the Court’s first Hispanic justice.” Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., starts could support a gay nominee (but per se?): “I don’t think a person who acknowledges that they have gay tendencies is disqualified per se for the job,” he said Thursday, per Newsweek’s Katie Connolly. Roiling the right — and, later, the left: “On the thorniest of political issues, President Obama has embraced the enforcement-first position on immigration that he criticized during last year’s presidential campaign, and he now says he can’t move forward with the type of comprehensive bill he wants until voters are convinced that the borders can be enforced,” Stephen Dinan reports in the Washington Times. “Having already backed off his pledge to have an immigration bill this year, Mr. Obama boosted his commitment to enforcement in the budget released Thursday. The spending blueprint calls for extra money to build an employee-verification system and to pay for more personnel and equipment to patrol the border.” Is Sen. Roland Burris, D-Ill., running for reelection? “I’m moving into a phase now where I will be talking to people and assessing the opportunities in terms of my ability to raise the funds and stay here,” Burris tells The Hill’s Reid Wilson and Aaron Blake. “I think I can be a very good candidate once I become understanding and be a good senator.” And, this classic: “Those rules kind of came up on me in terms of having to file a quarterly report,” Burris said. “Nobody told me that.” What does Chuck know, and how does he know it? “There is not going to be a primary!” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said at a recent fundraiser for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., per The New York Times’ Raymond Hernandez. Also fun in New York Democratic politics: “White House press secretary Robert Gibbs seemed to indicate today that President Obama would not endorse the Democratic mayoral candidate, whomever he or she may be, in the 2009 New York City mayoral race,” ABC’s Jake Tapper reports. “Then the White House walked that back . . . but just enough to suggest that it remained an open question.” Your card-check quote of the day: “It’s a fool’s errand to do this. I just don’t see an agreement happening,” said Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb. Swinging back, on healthcare: With Rick Scott being targeted by, a new ad Friday from Conservatives for Patients’ Rights. “Faces of Government Run Health Care.” Elizabeth Edwards came and went on Oprah (and who let them shoot footage of the basketball court?). “This is a really good man who really did a very, very bad thing, but if you take that piece out, I do have a perfect marriage,” she told Oprah, per the New York Daily News’ Michael Saul. Who looks good in all of this? “Elizabeth’s goal became the same as John’s goal: Get this guy to the White House, a job she undertook with particular relish, especially when it came to attacking his opponents,” Politico’s Roger Simon writes. “It was hard for John to talk about it because he wanted to maintain his boyish, butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-his-mouth likability while Elizabeth attacked on his behalf, a role from which she never shrank.” “Politicians often have affairs; that is not unusual. What makes this case different is that Edwards cheated on his wife, told her about it, continued the affair, allegedly fathered a child out of wedlock with his mistress, lied to scores of reporters, aides and donors about the affair for months, and yet still chose to run for president knowing that the affair was likely to come out,” Matt Mackowiak writes in a Chicago Tribune op-ed. It’s prom weekend in Washington: “Rosie, Trey, Tim, Nigel, Jess. . . . It’s OK if we call you by your first names, right?” Roll Call’s Emily Heil and Elizabeth Brotherton report. C-SPAN’s coverage of Saturday night’s White House Correspondents Association dinner will include Twitter feeds from those inside the hall (or all the Tweets the Hilton’s spotty cell coverage will allow for). Twitter with hashtags #WHCD and #WHCA, and you could be on television. (We’ll be providing updates, @thenote. Track all the goings-on — from guest-lists to party-crashing tips — at The Kicker: “Nuance has updated its dictionary, which we plan to include in an upcoming wireless update to Kindle devices.” — Andrew Herdener, Amazon spokesman, after the new Kindle was mispronouncing “Barack Obama.” “Those rules kind of came up on me in terms of having to file a quarterly report. . . . Nobody told me that.” — Sen. Roland Burris, D-Ill., on Federal Election Commission rules requiring regular fundraising reports. Today on "Top Line,”’s daily political Webcast: Wendy Long, of the Judicial Confirmation Network, and ABC’s George Stephanopoulos join ABC’s Rick Klein and David Chalian, at noon ET.  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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