The Note: Leadership Now — Obama urged by both sides to fill political void

By Caitlin Taylor

Aug 31, 2009 8:13am

By RICK KLEIN We now return you to your regularly scheduled politicking. President Obama’s vacation continues, but the political respite surrounding Sen. Ted Kennedy’s remembrances is over. At the end of this long August, we’re back to where we were. Which is to say, in the middle of partisan fights Kennedy himself would have among the first to engage. A former vice president is again suggesting that the current administration is making us less safe. Stalled health care talks are pretty much right where they were before the Senate lost its lion. (As for rifts healing — Tom Ridge, on “Good Morning America” Monday, regarding former Vice President Dick Cheney’s comments on a special prosecutor looking at CIA policies: “I think he’s right — pure and simple.”) Kennedy’s passing has provoked much commentary of eras coming to an end — of the Kennedy dynasty, of the proud, full-throated liberal voices, and of the outsized political dealmakers that have long made Washington run. But there was a political era that President Obama vowed to end that’s going strong as ever. Warm remembrances don’t change partisan math. Look who wants more presidential leadership . . . Former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., offers a way forward: “If I were a White House adviser, I would suggest that the day Congress reconvenes, President Obama's version of reform should be introduced by Democratic leaders in the House and Senate,” Dole writes in a Washington Post op-ed.  “Barack Obama is our president, not a commentator. . . . Obama's approval numbers would jump 10 points if Americans knew he was fully in charge,” Dole writes. “Once the president has staked out his position, which will provide room for amendments, the debate will narrow, and bipartisan bargaining and other political maneuvering can begin.” Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., actually agrees: “I think the president's got to decide, to step up and really frame this again for us.”  E.J. Dionne Jr.: “The road to compromise is not paved by offering premature concessions and vagueness. Having held back, the administration now needs to lay out clear and understandable goals, so it can bargain from a position of strength. Dare one say it? That was Ted Kennedy's way.”  The president is still down this week, but the vacation is really over: “Obama settles back into the Oval Office well aware his approval ratings have fallen,” the AP’s Steven R. Hurst writes. “He now must spend heavily from that shrinking fund of political capital — with a highly uncertain outcome — if his vision of a health care overhaul is to emerge from Congress.”  Stop us if you’ve heard this before: “President Obama's supporters hope to recapture the energy of last year's triumphant election campaign in a bid to regain control of the health-care debate, planning more than 2,000 house parties, rallies and town hall meetings across the country over the next two weeks,” Dan Eggen writes in The Washington Post. “Conservative activists have dominated the public debate in recent weeks with dire warnings and noisy disruptions at town hall meetings, while national polls show declining support for Obama's ambitious plan to widen health insurance coverage.”  Bring back . . . the Nixon era? “The Nixon era was a time in which leading figures in both parties were capable of speaking rationally about policy, and in which policy decisions weren’t as warped by corporate cash as they are now,” Paul Krugman writes in his New York Times column. “There was a lot of talk last year about how Barack Obama would be a ‘transformational’ president — but true transformation, it turns out, requires a lot more than electing one telegenic leader. Actually turning this country around is going to take years of siege warfare against deeply entrenched interests, defending a deeply dysfunctional political system.”  The Chicago Sun-Times’ Lynn Sweet offers some lessons from Obama’s past, from a 2004 fight in the Illinois legislature: “If the past is prologue, the episode involving Obama's successful bid to pass what became the ‘Adequate Health Care Task Force’ could be instructive. Obama won on a party-line vote,” she writes. “Obama ultimately watered down the original bill because the insurance industry feared that the state was going to mandate coverage. Instead, Obama called for a task force to study coverage options, cost containment and portability of coverage, among other items.”  Interpreting a legacy: Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., tells ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that Sen. Kennedy would fight for a public option — but would not let a bill die over it. “He would fight for it, and he would do everything in his power to get it, just like he did for the minimum wage or like he did for children's health care,” Kerry said on “This Week.” “But if he didn't see the ability to be able to get it done, he would not throw the baby out with the bathwater. He would not say no to anything because we have to reduce the cost.” Another read on legacy: “You’re not going to get this big, broad Democrat spending bill — you’re not going to get Republican support,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Sunday.  The Washington Times’ Matthew Mosk reminds us that it’s not just health care that has the left concerned: “We're being ignored,” Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., said regarding “don’t ask, don’t tell.”  Mosk: “The president won't be able to ignore the simmering discontent within his own party much longer, the congressman said, not on this military policy or on a range of other issues on which the president appears to be charting a course that veers away from his political base.” Town-hall of the day: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., joins Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in Kansas City for a health care discussion hosted by Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo. This is the second McConnell-McCain health reform event, and they’ll be in North Carolina and Florida this week as well. Former Vice President Dick Cheney, swinging again: “If they're now going to be subject to being investigated and prosecuted by the next administration, nobody's going to sign up for those kinds of missions. It's a very, very devastating, I think, effect that it has on morale inside the intelligence community,” Cheney said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I guess the other thing that offends the hell out of me is we had a track record now of eight years of defending the nation against any further mass casualty attacks from al Qaida.”  (Plus, this tidbit — on Iran: “I was probably a bigger advocate of military action than any of my colleagues,” Cheney said.) That rift with former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge? Maybe not so much… “I think he’s right — pure and simple,” Ridge said of Cheney’s comments, to ABC’s Diane Sawyer on “Good Morning America” Monday. “I think it’s wrong, it’s chilling, and it’s inappropriate.” But: “We are safer, we’re smarter, we’re better,” Ridge said. USA Today’s Mimi Hall: “Former Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge, speaking for the first time about accusations made in his new book, says he did not mean to suggest that other top Bush administration officials were playing politics with the nation's security before the 2004 presidential election.”  “I'm not second-guessing my colleagues,” Ridge said in an interview about “The Test of Our Times.” “This was one of several times where the process worked,” Ridge said on “GMA.” (Ridge will be on’s “Top Line” Tuesday, noon ET.) Swinging back: “Dick Cheney has shown through the years, frankly, a disrespect for the constitution for sharing of information to Congress and a [dis]respect for the law and I’m not surprised that he’s upset about this,” Kerry said on “This Week.”  Also swinging back: “U.S. Senator John McCain, a torture survivor from his days as a captive during the Vietnam War, says his private comments about harsh interrogation methods were misrepresented by the Bush Administration in a recently released legal document intended to justify a six-day-long course of sleep deprivation for one CIA detainee in November of 2007,” Time’s Michael Scherer and Bobby Gosh report.  Not swinging back: “The White House did not return a request for comment. The Justice Department, when asked for comment, referred to Mr. Holder's statement last week announcing the inquiries,” per the Washington Times’ Sean Lengell.  Not just Cheney fueling this fire: “Officials in the C.I.A. and the Justice Department remain sharply divided about Mr. Holder’s decision to appoint a federal prosecutor to determine if a full criminal investigation into the conduct of agency employees or contractors is needed. On Sunday, it became clear that such concerns were also emerging among some Democrats in Congress,” Rachel L. Swarns reports in The New York Times.  Succession battles ahead, for Ted Kennedy’s seat: “All eyes now are on Joseph P. Kennedy II, the former US representative, with family members and political allies expecting him to make a decision very shortly on whether to enter the Democratic primary,” Frank Phillips reports in The Boston Globe. “Joe Kennedy’s decision is likely to determine the plans of the dean of the Massachusetts congressional delegation, US Representative Edward J. Markey, who is telling associates he is seriously considering running, and US Representative Michael Capuano, a Somerville Democrat who is also thinking of joining the primary race,” Phillips writes. Vicki lingers — in the public mind, at least: “Vicki Reggie Kennedy has told family friends she does not want to succeed her late husband in the Senate, but that didn't stop two of Sen. Edward Kennedy's close associates from talking up the prospect Sunday,” per USA Today’s Kathy Kiely.  “She's expressed to me her own sort of reluctance to do that, but she could change her mind,” Dodd said on CNN. Hatch: “Vicki ought to be considered. . . . She’s a very brilliant lawyer. She’s a very solid individual. I have nothing but great respect for her.” From the Sarah Palin files (but the hosts may want to quadruple-check): “Former U.S. vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, once questioned about her lack of foreign policy experience, will make her first trip to Asia in September,” per the AP. “The former Alaska governor will visit Hong Kong to address the CLSA Investors Forum, a well-known annual conference of global investment managers, the host announced Monday.”  For the T-Paw files: “The Democrats ended their presidential hiatus in 1992 and 2008 with a similar formula: Nominate a candidate not associated with Washington’s wars, who doesn’t belong to the party’s ideological base though is acceptable to it, and who can attract independent voters,” Bloomberg’s Al Hunt writes. “It is a formula Republicans would do well to replicate next time. If so, there is an aspirant who may fit the bill: Tim Pawlenty.”  Gov. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., on the firing line over the weekend: “Gov. Mark Sanford had no defenders when South Carolina House Republicans discussed his fate Saturday at an annual retreat,” The State’s John O’Connor reports.  “Republican legislators fumed Saturday over Gov. Mark Sanford's affair and questionable travel, though they stopped short of trying to force his resignation or impeachment before they return to the Statehouse in January,” per the AP’s Jim Davenport. “Still, the House GOP Caucus that dominates the lower chamber with 73 of the body's 124 members made two things clear — they want Sanford gone and they want to act soon. However, lawmakers are waiting to make any decisions until the state ethics commission finishes its investigation. And starting impeachment proceedings now could require a costly and special session.”  With 500 days left in his term, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dwight Drake is up with “(500) Days of Sanford” — think “(500) Days of Summer.” “We can end this movie now,” says the voice-over. (Bonus points if you can identify the disgusted moviegoer at the end.) 
Bailing out the federal treasury? “Nearly a year after the federal rescue of the nation’s biggest banks, taxpayers have begun seeing profits from the hundreds of billions of dollars in aid that many critics thought might never be seen again,” Zachery Kouwe writes in The New York Times. “The profits, collected from eight of the biggest banks that have fully repaid their obligations to the government, come to about $4 billion, or the equivalent of about 15 percent annually.”  Another read: “Through more than 50 deals known as ‘loss shares,’ the FDIC has agreed to absorb losses on the detritus of the financial crisis — from loans on two log cabins in the woods of northwestern Illinois to hundreds of millions of dollars in busted condominium loans in Florida. The agency's total exposure is about six times the amount remaining in its fund that guarantees consumers' deposits, exposing taxpayers to a big, new risk,” The Wall Street Journal’s Damian Paletta reports.  Trevor Potter and Marc Elias, teaming up for modernized voter registration: “The Committee to Modernize Voter Registration will be formally launched Monday. Its aim is to replace the country's cumbersome, paper-based system of voter registration with one that uses new technologies and government databases to build a more lasting roster. It wants to shift the burden so that states try to register all eligible voters, rather than waiting for individuals to come to them,” per The Washington Post editorial.  Talk about ending eras: “Has the carnival of cable partisanship finally reached its limits, and can the traditional (and many would say true) news operations remain above the fray?” Ted Johnson writes in his Variety column. 
The Kicker: “I hope you go out of business.” — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to a Las Vegas Review Journal advertising executive, per columnist Sherman Frederick.  “A lot of people are hyperventilating about that passage.” — Tom Ridge, to ABC’s Diane Sawyer, on the passage in his new book where he writes of a press to raise the terror-threat level, “I wondered, 'Is this about security or politics?' ”
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