The Note: Benefits of Boring — Sotomayor on track — Michigan’s economy, not so much

By Caitlin Taylor

Jul 14, 2009 8:14am

By RICK KLEIN We always knew Roe would be inside the hearing room — we just didn’t think she’d be escorted out that way.  And if that was the highlight of the day — that qualifies as a very good day for the Obama White House. So far, so blah, so good. Opening-statement day for Judge Sonia Sotomayor was the congressional equivalent of the Home Run Derby — am exhibition for the fans, a big showcase for a favorite with home-field advantage, but ultimately meaningless, so long as no one did themselves lasting damage. They didn’t. This is a president and an administration that benefits from boring — when the agenda is all his when the press can’t figure out what other stories to tell. That may begin to change Tuesday, a questioning begins at Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings, and the president himself hits the road again, in Michigan. (Have we heard the last of stimulus job claims for a while? Will we hear that the recovery act is doing what it’s supposed to, in a state with a 14 percent unemployment rate? Can the president go to Michigan and not talk jobs, jobs, jobs?) Round One for senators’ questioning of Sotomayor starts at 9:30 am ET, with 30 minutes controlled by each panel member. President Obama meets with Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende of the Netherlands in the morning, then hits Michigan for a 3:40 pm ET speech. He caps his evening by tossing out the first pitch at the All-Star Game in St. Louis.  The presidential backdrop for the speech is Macomb Community College in Warren, Mich., your most battered of states, where the president hopes to revive some battered policies — and offer some new ones. Per the White House, the president will outline a new goal of producing an additional 5 million community college graduates by 2020. Welcome back: “President Barack Obama returns to Michigan Tuesday 285 days after his last trip to the state, with a speech in Warren and a plan to pump up community colleges,” per the Detroit Free Press’ Todd Spangler.  “Barack Obama — battling to reverse the nation’s stubborn economic downturn — returns to Michigan on Tuesday to unveil an initiative to boost community colleges and worker retraining for jobs in growing industries such as energy and health care,” David Shepardson writes for the Detroit News.  “He is making his first visit here as the nation’s 44th president but also as the top official overseeing the government’s majority ownership in General Motors Co. — a struggling industrial giant that still serves as a reminder of the region’s economic woes and challenges,” Shepardson writes. “Michigan’s jobless rate leads the nation at 14.1 percent and the state’s Senate Fiscal Agency warns it could reach nearly 17 percent next year.” Welcoming him in Michigan: “Seems that Obama might do better to focus on encouraging folks here about how his policies — the stimulus package, in particular — are going to actually put people back to work,” the Detroit Free Press editorializes. “If it’s a teachable moment, it may be more of one for the president than for those he’s visiting.”  “President Barack Obama’s plan to attack the recession through massive deficit spending is not producing the results the president promised in February when he convinced the American people to go deep into hock in the name of creating jobs and boosting economic growth,” per the Detroit News editorial.  House Republican leaders attack the “government takeover of health care”: “We also have to ask, where will our jobs go if we say ‘yes’ to all the tax hikes, especially those on small businesses, in the Democrats’ plan?” House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich, write in a Detroit News op-ed. “Small businesses . . . are the foundation of job creation and economic growth. That should be clear to Democrats, whose trillion-dollar ‘stimulus’ — which focused on expanding government programs, not helping small businesses — is falling well short of the administration’s promises.” Plus — an ad from Americans for Job Security runs in the Macomb Daily Tuesday.  This means she was out of national politics for, oh, about 10 days. . . . Gov. Sarah Palin, R-Alaska, in a Washington Post op-ed: “Unfortunately, many in the national media would rather focus on the personality-driven political gossip of the day than on the gravity of these challenges. So, at risk of disappointing the chattering class, let me make clear what is foremost on my mind and where my focus will be. “I am deeply concerned about President Obama’s cap-and-trade energy plan, and I believe it is an enormous threat to our economy. It would undermine our recovery over the short term and would inflict permanent damage.” Really complicating everything: “The U.S. federal budget deficit broke through the $1 trillion mark in June, potentially complicating the Obama administration’s efforts to revive the economy and enact its longer-term policy agenda,” John D. McKinnon writes in The Wall Street Journal. “Surging deficits could also tie the administration’s hands in responding to the economy’s problems, by eroding support among voters and making Congress leery of adopting policies — such as an overhaul of the health-care system — that the administration believes are necessary for sustainable growth.”  Jobs, jobs . . . not so much: “It’s very hard to say exactly — you don’t know what the baseline is,” Christina Romer, chair of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, said on CNBC, about the job impact of the stimulus. “Because you don’t know what the economy would have done without it.”  “The White House will be forced to confront the disconnect between its original, upbeat predictions and the mainstream consensus about how the economy is likely to perform in a new budget forecast to be unveiled next month,” Politico’s Jeanne Cummings writes.  Tuesday brings the House health care bill (finally). And that means? “Concerns voiced by moderate Democrats prompted party leaders to delay release of details over the weekend and have spurred a round of high-level meetings on Capitol Hill to corral the restive members,” Greg Hitt and Laura Meckler write in The Wall Street Journal. “[Sen. Max] Baucus said Monday that for now, the House and Senate will focus on producing their own bills, and worry about reconciling differences — such as on financing — later. While the House is zeroing in on a surtax on high earners, the Senate is considering a wider range of ways to raise revenue, including possible levies on drug and insurance companies.”  Time for LBJ? “The tough talk in the Rose Garden gave way hours later to behind-the-scenes Lyndon B. Johnson-style lobbying, as Obama pledged in a pair of private meetings with Democratic lawmakers to stake his political capital on this year’s top agenda item,” Ceci Connolly writes in The Washington Post. “Obama devotes at least one hour a day to health care, often studying briefing memos about individual lawmakers and their pet issues, said one White House aide. The topic is woven into most of his public appearances, as he ‘makes the case that inaction has disastrous implications for the future,’ [David] Axelrod said.”  Sen. Baucus, D-Mont.: “The urgency barometer is up.” “I just want to put everybody on notice, because there was a lot of chatter during the week that I was gone: We are going to get this done,” Obama said Monday, per ABC’s Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller. “Inaction is not an option. And for those naysayers and cynics who think that this is not going to happen, don’t bet against us.”  Decision time: “Events are pushing Obama to a crucial decision: when and how to plunge more directly into the specifics of the sensitive negotiations,” the Los Angeles Times’ Noam N. Levey and Peter Nicholas write. “In particular, he is under mounting pressure to spell out where he stands on two of the most divisive questions confronting lawmakers: how to pay for an overhaul that will cost at least $1 trillion over the next 10 years, and whether it should include a new government-run insurance program as an alternative to private coverage.”  “The longer it takes for Democrats on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to coalesce around healthcare reform, the greater opportunity they provide Republicans and interest groups to mount a coordinated opposition — a fact not lost on the GOP,” per The Hill’s Sam Youngman and Jeffrey Young.  Throwing another ball into the economic juggle: “In a meeting with President Obama today at the White House, top labor leaders pushed for a second stimulus package to create more jobs,” ABC’s Karen Travers reports.  Tuesday’s White House proposal, per ABC’s Yunji de Nies, includes: 1. Community College Challenge Grants & Access and Completion Grants. . . 2. Helping Struggling Students . . . 3. Working with Other Institutions . . . 4. Modernizing Facilities, with $2.5 billion in seed money for a 10-year, $10 billion program. “His initiative is intended to stimulate renovations at schools, expand curricula and increase by five million the number community-college graduates in the country by 2020,” Bloomberg’s Nicholas Johnston writes.  On Sotomayor — Norma McCorvey’s arrest and Sen. Lindsey Graham’s musings counted as the only surprises of day one. “The start of hearings on President Obama’s nomination of Judge Sotomayor . . . was permeated with electoral politics, with Republicans taking pains not to offend Hispanic voters even as they sought to assure conservatives that they were vigorously challenging Judge Sotomayor and Mr. Obama on ideological grounds,” Peter Baker and Neil A. Lewis report in The New York Times. “The session also quickly became a proxy for a larger struggle over the court.”  “After weeks of public silence, Judge Sonia Sotomayor used the opening statement of her Supreme Court confirmation hearing today to tell members of the Senate Judiciary committee and some skeptical Republicans that she will not let her personal beliefs get in the way of her impartiality,” ABC’s Ariane de Vogue and Jan Crawford Greenburg report.  Playing it carefully: “Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings opened yesterday against the backdrop of demographic changes that continue to alter the nation’s politics. What drama exists this week is less the question of whether she will be confirmed than what the first Latina Supreme Court justice might contribute to those changing politics,” Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post.  On notice: “I find particularly shocking,” said Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., “the suggestion that she will be biased against some litigants because of her racial and ethnic heritage.”  “The only real suspense in the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor is whether the Republican Party will persist in tying its fortunes to an anachronistic claim of white male exceptionalism and privilege,” Eugene Robinson writes in his column.  “Skeptical Republicans warned that they would ask tough questions beginning today about her background and activism,” McClatchy’s David Lightman and Marisa Taylor write. “By the end of the day — a largely polite five hours of opening statements by the nominee and the committee’s 12 Democrats and seven Republicans — there were no obvious roadblocks to her confirmation to succeed retired Justice David H. Souter.”  (That was seven rapid-response documents from the Senate Republican Communications Center Monday — putting out a few times’ more text than Sotomayor herself spoke.) “If Sonia Sotomayor’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing were a trial, it would stand as evidence that nothing ever ends in the Senate, and proof that debates persist years after the votes are counted,” the AP’s David Espo writes.  Let’s see if this standard sticks: “The senators should bore in on Judge Sotomayor’s legal views, and she should answer substantively,” per The New York Times editorial. “Recent nominees have made an art of refusing to answer questions about the law. The Senate should not have accepted their evasions, and it should not allow Judge Sotomayor to decline to discuss her views.”  As for the arrest of “Jane Roe”: “With that, the culture wars that the Obama administration has so carefully tried to avoid forced their way back into full view,” Ann Gerhart writes in The Washington Post. “It was a rare eruption during a day that seemed choreographed to emphasize cordiality, even deliberate blandness.”  ”A secret Central Intelligence Agency initiative axed by Director Leon Panetta examined how to assassinate members of al Qaeda with hit teams on the ground, according to current and former national-security officials familiar with the matter,” Siobhan Gorman writes in The Wall Street Journal. “The plan was never carried out, and Mr. Panetta canceled the effort on the day he learned of it, June 23. The next day, he alerted Congress, which didn’t know about the plan.”  “Year after year, according to officials briefed on the program, the plans were never completely shelved because the Bush administration sought an alternative to killing terror suspects with missiles fired from drone aircraft or seizing them overseas and imprisoning them in secret C.I.A. jails,” Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane report in The New York Times. “Mr. Panetta scuttled the program, which would have relied on paramilitary teams, shortly after the C.I.A.’s counterterrorism center recently informed him of its existence.”  New details on the secret CIA program that never happened: “The secret CIA program that was withheld from Congress was designed to find and capture or kill senior al-Qaeda leadership at close range rather than through air strikes, government officials said,” ABC’s Jonathan Karl and John Hendren report. “Democrats on Capitol Hill say they will investigate the spy agency’s failure to inform lawmakers about the secret program.”  From a senior Republican strategist: “Do Democrats really want to engage on this? . . .
1. The Obama administration is doing this now in Pakistan through drones (and hopefully are pursuing al Qaeda anywhere they are) . . . 2. I think most people in most Congressional districts want the administration to kill terrorists. . . . 3.Dems prove that they leak classified information and it probably wasn’t a bad idea not to share with them and tip off those al Qaeda leaders.” Plus: “Former Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter, who has emerged as a fierce critic of President Obama’s foreign and national security policies, said Monday that she is seriously considering a run for political office,” Joseph Weber writes in the Washington Times.  “It’s something I very well may do,” Liz Cheney told the Times’ “America’s Morning News” radio show. It’s election day in CA-32, in the House special to fill Labor Secretary Hilda Solis’ old seat. “Judy Chu rose through the ranks of local politics and is on the State Board of Equalization,” Rebecca Kimitch writes in the Pasadena Star-News. “Judy Chu is the heavy favorite in the largely Democratic district.”  Watching the governors’ races: Christopher Christie is up 12 on Gov. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., in the latest Quinnipiac poll: It’s 53-41. Ready for the return of Hillary Clinton? “According to her aides, she is ready to articulate her own policy agenda, one that focuses in part on strengthening Americans’ capacity for what has been called ‘smart power,’ ” Ben Smith reports for Politico. “The speech she is scheduled to give Wednesday to the Council on Foreign Relations is expected to serve as an explanation and framework of the administration’s foreign policy and a tour of its busy first half-year. But it will sound some themes closely associated with Clinton’s former life as first lady and U.S. senator.”  And don’t be nervous, Mr. President: It’s only Albert Pujols on the receiving end: “Whether it’s draining a three-pointer for American troops in Kuwait or playing a pick-up game with the North Carolina Tar Heels, President Barack Obama has shown he’s got game on the basketball court,” writes ABC’s Karen Travers. “But can he throw some heat over home plate?” 
The Kicker: “Judges are like empires.” — Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., just missing the analogy of the day.  “I’d do just about anything for her. . . .But I really don’t think I’d vote for her if she ran for President.” — Levi Johnston (still getting network TV airtime), on Sarah Palin. 
Today on the “Top Line” political Webcast, live at noon ET: Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., and GOP strategist Kevin Madden. Follow The Note on Twitter: http://twitter.com/thenote For up-to-the-minute political updates check out The Note’s blog . . . all day every day:

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