The Note: Little Hurts — Obama Guards Against Angst on Left

By Caitlin Taylor

Jun 29, 2009 8:04am

By RICK KLEIN It is either President Obama’s great good fortune or terrible bad luck that the battles that are defining his agenda aren’t between the parties but inside his own. The splits haven’t reached crisis stage. But while the White House may be able to make progress without either the left or the right of his party, he can’t do much of anything if he loses both. One benefit (if you’d call it that) of one-party control of Washington: When things don’t get done, there’s no one else around to blame. On gay rights, on immigration, and even on health care and energy, the votes may break down along party lines. But the tensions inside the Democratic Party are providing the real drama. (And Monday brings the term’s last Supreme Court rulings — including, presumably, the New Haven firefighters’ case. If Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination battle is going to get interesting again, this might be why.)  Monday’s late afternoon reception with gay and lesbian leaders at the White House is the latest in a series of attempts by Team Obama to smooth over some tensions. Here’s guessing that, six months into 2009, a meeting and a proclamation or two won’t be enough. “The conflicting signals from the White House about its commitment to gay issues reflect a broader paradox: even as cultural acceptance of homosexuality increases across the country, the politics of gay rights remains full of crosscurrents,” Adam Nagourney writes in the Sunday New York Times. “The Obama White House in particular is reluctant to embrace gay rights issues now, officials there say, because they do not want to provide social conservatives a rallying cry while the president is trying to assemble legislative coalitions on health care and other initiatives.”  The reception, in the East Room, will take place around 4:25 pm ET, with some 250 LGBT leaders and activists in attendance. Coming in the evening: Obama attends a reception with DNC National Finance Committee members. Among those who’ll be in the room this afternoon: “I have to admit I was ambivalent when I received the invitation, with its fancy curlicue script (truly, just like my sister’s wedding announcement) and a return address that read simply ‘The White House.’ The problem is that I haven’t been as excited as I’d like to be about President Obama. I’d been excited by Candidate Obama,” Jarrett Barrios, incoming president of Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (and husband of former Gore and Hillary Clinton spokesman Doug Hattaway), writes in a Washington Post op-ed.  “As President Obama, he has presided over an administration that has stumbled — sometimes symbolically, sometimes substantially — in its commitment to include us on the agenda,” Barrios writes. There will be movement, one way or another: “House Democratic leaders are starting to show signs that they are now ready to push key aspects of the gay rights agenda,” Roll Call’s Jennifer Bendery and Steven T. Dennis report. “Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her leadership team met privately last week with Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) — the three openly gay Members of Congress — to chart a strategy for advancing gay rights issues this Congress.”  More party drama ahead: “As Congress tackles President Barack Obama’s top two domestic priorities — climate change and health care — he faces some of his most serious challenges from fellow Democrats,” Naftali Bendavid and Greg Hitt write in The Wall Street Journal. “The question is whether the self-identified centrist Democrats will end up thwarting Mr. Obama’s key priorities, or mainly act as an influence in scaling them back.”  “The rising tensions between Democratic legislators and constituencies that would typically be their natural allies underscore the high hurdles for Obama as he tries to hold together a diverse, fragile coalition,” Ceci Connolly writes in the Sunday Washington Post.  A new take on the Obama army: “We must make Obama do the right things,” Robert Reich blogs at “E-mail, write, and phone the White House. Do the same with your members of Congress. Round up others to do so. Also: Find friends and family members in red states who agree with you, and get them fired up to do the same.”  On the energy bill victory — the president met newspaper reporters in the Oval Office Sunday to offer his take on Friday’s House vote. Remember, now, what it took to get to 219 . . . Obama “cast doubt Sunday on the bill’s call for tariffs on goods from countries that don’t match U.S. efforts to combat global warming,” The Wall Street Journal’s Greg Hitt reports.  Said Obama: “At a time when the economy world-wide is still deep in a recession, and we’ve seen a significant drop in global trade, I think we have to be very careful about sending any protectionist signals out there.” “Obama sounded optimistic about its prospects in the Senate, where the House version will be the blueprint, he said,” Tribune Co.’s Jim Tankersley writes. “The proposal must navigate concerns from more than a dozen Democratic senators who represent oil, coal or manufacturing-heavy states.”  Speaking to the GOP on energy, Obama said: “Here they are having an argument about the 1990s and we’re in 2009 — and they’re making the same argument on health care. They’re doing the same thing. They are fighting not even the last war, they’re fighting three wars ago.”  (He’s a little more forgiving when it comes to the 44 Democrats who voted “no”: “They’ve got to run every two years, and I completely understand that,” Obama said, per The Hill’s Sam Youngman.)   Why it’s been slower-going than he would have liked: “When you start training again and you’re pushing your body a little bit harder, sometimes it hurts. But if you keep on at it, after a while your body adjusts. And I think that’s what’s happening to politics in Washington. Folks have been sitting on the couch for a while, and now they’re starting to feel like, hey, you know what, I can run. And that’s why we’re getting stuff done. That doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be times where it hurts a little bit.”  As the grassroots: The Repower America campaign Monday kicks off “Declare Your Energy Independence!” week, along with a series of nationwide events timed around the Fourth of July. 
Plus, the group has online ads, HERE and HERE.    On health care — a presidential town hall coming Wednesday. This won’t help with the center — or with Republicans: “White House senior adviser David Axelrod said the president won’t rule out a health care reform bill that includes a middle-class tax hike,” per ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. Axelrod told Stephanopoulos: “The president had said in the past that he  doesn’t believe taxing health care benefits at any level is necessarily the best way to go here. He still believes that. . . . But there are a number of formulations and we’ll wait and see.” 
“Axelrod declined to repeat Obama’s ‘firm pledge’ during the campaign that families making under $250,000 would not see ‘any form of tax increase, not your income tax, not your payroll tax, not your capital gains taxes, not any of your taxes,’ ” The Washington Post’s Michael D. Shear writes.  “President Barack Obama is signaling that he could drop some key principles of his campaign if necessary to jump-start negotiations, opening the door to broad tax increases and a plan that could, he now concedes, push people into a government-run insurance program against their will,” Steven Thomma and David Lightman write for McClatchy. Sounds easy enough: “The key is that no compromise should be allowed to undermine the long-term goals of covering everybody and containing costs. Concessions made for purely political reasons could produce an unworkable monstrosity of a bill,” E.J. Dionne Jr. writes in his column. “And that’s why Obama needs to weigh in now.”  Will being home over break help bridge any differences? “When lawmakers return on July 6 after a weeklong recess, the push will be on to overcome differences over issues ranging from whether to set up a new government entity to compete with private insurers to how much to tax the most generous employer- provided insurance plans to generate revenue,” Bloomberg’s Kristin Jensen and Laura Litvan report.  How’s it getting done? Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., is in regular touch with Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn.: “I was with him last Sunday, I spent an hour with him in Hyannis,” Dodd told the Hartford Courant’s Daniela Altimari.  On SCOTUS, waiting for the Ricci ruling: “A reversal Monday would give Republican critics an easy opportunity to highlight Sotomayor’s 60 percent reversal rate by the Supreme Court, while also providing Senate conservatives a narrative for explaining what they find troubling about Sotomayor’s views on ethnicity, race, affirmative action — and just how far government should go in righting old wrongs,” Politics Daily’s Patricia Murray writes. Plus — playing for time: “Just a day or so ago, we discovered that there are 300 or so boxes of additional material that has just been discovered from her time working with the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on “Fox News Sunday.” “The committee needs to have access to that material and time to work through it so we know all the facts before we vote on a person who is up for a lifetime job.”  A new fight — positioning left against right: “The Justice Department has determined that detainees tried by military commissions in the U.S. can claim at least some constitutional rights, particularly protection against the use of statements taken through coercive interrogations, officials said,”The Wall Street Journal’s Jess Bravin writes. “The conclusion, explained in a confidential memorandum whose contents were shared with The Wall Street Journal, could alter significantly the way the commissions operate — and has created new divisions among the agencies responsible for overseeing the commissions.”   The Sanford affair now has the other woman in the open (sort of) — and just maybe a path for the governor to leave his seat.  “Some Republican state lawmakers are privately saying they want Republican Gov. Mark Sanford to step down — of his own volition — this week,” The State’s Gina Smith reports. “Meanwhile, Sanford has spent portions of the last few days phoning key lawmakers and Republican Party activists, apologizing for his affair with an Argentinian woman that left him out of touch with his staff and other state leaders for the better part of a week.”  Easing the political way? “On another note, a source close to Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer said Sunday that Bauer has approached members of the Senate to discuss the possibility that, if Sanford resigns, Bauer would only serve the remainder of the governor’s term, focusing on job creation, and would not run for governor in 2010 as Bauer had originally intended,” Smith reports.  “Mr. Bauer’s camp appears to have been orchestrating pressure for a resignation,” Shaila Dewan and Jim Rutenberg report in The New York Times.  “André Bauer is my client; I’ve been working this since Monday,” wrote Chris LaCivita, a political consultant on Mr. Bauer’s team, in an e-mail message to another Republican political operative that was provided to The New York Times by an opponent of Mr. Bauer. “I need to get this guy (Sanford) out.”
Dewan and Rutenberg continue: “But Mr. LaCivita stumbled into the mare’s nest of South Carolina politics, apparently unaware that he was sending the message to an ally of Mr. McMaster, who has declined to call for the governor’s resignation and said that any investigation of the governor should be free of political motivations.” Bring on the pressure: “Gov. Mark Sanford’s chief rival tells ABC News [Sunday] he’ll pursue a criminal prosecution of Gov. Mark Sanford — even if he has to go to Washington,” per ABC’s John Hendren.  “Republican state Sen. Jake Knotts last week asked South Carolina prosecutors to launch a criminal probe. Today, Knotts told ABC News, he plans to pursue an investigation in the state legislature, the state attorney general’s office – and possibly a federal probe.” “Somebody’s gonna look at this,” Knotts said. “Somebody’s gonna look to the bottom of it and somebody’s gonna give me some answers.”  With others falling, Mitt Romney rising? “For the Romney team, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that the campaign never really ended,” Politico’s Jonathan Martin reports. “In addition to the full-time employees the former Massachusetts governor has at his Boston-based Free & Strong America PAC, the early primary states and Washington are filled with former staffers and supporters who are in regular contact with one another.”  “Whenever Romney has a major TV appearance or pens an opinion piece, a PAC staffer, Will Ritter, circulates the news to an e-mail list of the former governor’s extended political family. The Washington-based alumni have a regular monthly luncheon, are working on another reunion-like event around a 2009 candidate later this year and always make sure their former candidate is briefed on the latest political doings,” Martin writes. Is the Obama church hunt over? “Now, in an unexpected move, Obama has told White House aides that instead of joining a congregation in Washington, D.C., he will follow in George W. Bush’s footsteps and make his primary place of worship Evergreen Chapel, the nondenominational church at Camp David,” Time’s Amy Sullivan writes.
The Kicker: “See, this is dishonest. And it’s been dishonesty and errors from the beginning.” — Huffington Post’s Nico Pitney, in a spirited exchange with Dana Milbank on Howard Kurtz’s CNN show Sunday. “Look, Howie, I can’t deal with fiction on this show.” — Milbank, firing back. 
Today on “Top Line,”’s daily political Webcast: Democratic strategist Tracy Sefl, Republican strategist Ron Bonjean, and Salon’s Mike Madden. 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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