The Note: Out of the Void — As Obama vacations, GOP courts seniors on health care

By Caitlin Taylor

Aug 24, 2009 8:14am

By RICK KLEIN Where once we had ubiquity, now we’ll have silence. (Maybe.) The health care debate can use some down time, since it’s easier for heads to cool when the temperatures turned down. (And August is usually more pleasant on the Vineyard than in Crawford.) But the incoming — from the right, and, more recently, from the left — doesn’t respect the boundaries of vacation. (And Washington has too many non-vacationing reporters for news cycles to ever stop turning anyway). For the first time in the Obama era, we’re about to experience politics without President Obama himself. What fills the void? For starters — this is looking backward, from a White House that’s always wanted to look forward. But at least the left is going to like most of what it hears this time. “The Justice Department’s ethics office has recommended reversing the Bush administration and reopening nearly a dozen prisoner-abuse cases, potentially exposing Central Intelligence Agency employees and contractors to prosecution for brutal treatment of terrorism suspects,” David Johnston reports in The New York Times.  “The report, significant portions of which are scheduled for release Monday, has been much anticipated in Washington. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is expected as soon as this week to decide whether to launch a probe to determine if guidelines were violated in some cases,” Siobhan Gorman writes in The Wall Street Journal.  And the RNC fills the gap, too: Chairman Michael Steele Monday morning unveiled Republicans’ “Seniors’ Health Care Bill of Rights” — an attempt to engage a critical constituency. “This is really another way to make sure we’re having the right debate here in America,” Steele told ABC’s Chris Cuomo on “Good Morning America” Monday. “I thought it was important for us to send an important signal that as we begin this debate in earnest this fall, that we keep in mind the Greatest Generation, and make sure that, at all costs, we do no harm to them and the benefits they’re currently receiving.” Plus: “No one’s talked about ‘death panels’ as a scare tactic,” Steele said. “My view of it is, I don’t need the government rationing health care. I don’t look at it so much as a death panel.” “Under the Democrats’ plan, senior citizens will pay a steeper price and will have their treatment options reduced or rationed,” Steele writes in a Washington Post op-ed. “We also believe that any health-care reform should be fully paid for, but not funded on the backs of our nation’s senior citizens.”  Almost sounding like a victory lap: “Republicans are discovering just how effective an opposition party can be in Washington,” Fred Barnes writes in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. “Their strategy is simply to aggressively and relentlessly oppose the liberal agenda of the president and the Democratic Congress. As a result, Barack Obama’s agenda is in jeopardy, and the president is disconcerted, less popular and on the defensive.” Ross Douthat, in his New York Times column: “If the Congressional Democrats can’t get a health care package through, it won’t prove that President Obama is a sellout or an incompetent. It will prove that Congress’s liberal leaders are lousy tacticians, and that its centrist deal-makers are deal-makers first, poll watchers second and loyal Democrats a distant third. And it will prove that the Democratic Party is institutionally incapable of delivering on its most significant promises.”  Almost sounding like an obituary: “It’s hard to avoid the sense that a crucial opportunity is being missed, that we’re at what should be a turning point but are failing to make the turn,” Paul Krugman writes in his New York Times column.  “President Barack Obama still may push through an overhaul of the American health care system, but political indicators point to a needed overhaul of his own tactics for selling reform,” the AP’s Steven R. Hurst writes.  Pity the vote-counters: “I think it’s a real mistake to try to jam through the total health insurance reform, health care reform plan that the public is either opposed to or of very, very passionate mixed minds about,” Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., said on CNN.  Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on how to get bipartisanship: “I think he’d have to abandon the public option and that I think is what a lot of Americans now are concerned about,” McCain told George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week.”  (And McCain isn’t a fan of the phrase “death panels,” but is standing by Sarah Palin: “Doesn’t that lead to a possibility, at least opens the door to a possibility of rationing and decisions made such are made in other countries?”)  Given the maneuvering — can the president stay completely down? “The temptation to speak his mind may be too much for the president to resist. Just because he’s taking a week’s break doesn’t mean the healthcare debate is doing the same thing,” Tribune Co.’s Christi Parsons and Jim Tankesley report. “Senior White House officials have not ruled out the possibility of a town hall — which, in Obama world, might qualify as a fun vacation activity.”  One potential cure: “Kennedy family sources tell ABC News that the Secret Service was at the family compound on Cape Cod [Sunday] and returned in the early evening, possibly preparing for a presidential visit with Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass,” ABC’s Stephanie Z. Smith, Yunji de Nies, and Karen Travers report. “Hyannis, where the Kennedy family has had homes for over 50 years, is just a short helicopter ride away from Martha’s Vineyard, where the president is staying on his week-long vacation. White House officials continue to say that there are ‘no plans’ for Obama to meet with Kennedy this week.”  “A family source says a visit might be in the offing, depending on the senator’s health, saying he has good days and bad days,” Yunji de Nies reported on “GMA” Monday. “A visit to the legendary senator — who has made health care a central focus of his nearly 47 years in the Senate — would almost certainly rally forces in favor of the health care legislation Obama is pushing Congress to adopt,” Susan Milligan reports in The Boston Globe. “But such a visit would be difficult to make without huge attention from both the public and the press, a scene the Kennedy family has sought to avoid since the lawmaker became ill last year.” Parting words, from Bill Burton, aboard Air Force One en route to Martha’s Vineyard: “I have specific instructions from the president for the press corps.  He wants you to relax and have a good time. Take some walks on the beaches. Nobody is looking to make any news.” Making news anyway: “President Obama has approved the creation of an elite team of interrogators to question key terrorism suspects, part of a broader effort to revamp U.S. policy on detention and interrogation,” Anne E. Kornblut reports in The Washington Post. “Obama signed off late last week on the unit, named the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, or HIG. Made up of experts from several intelligence and law enforcement agencies, the interrogation unit will be housed at the FBI but will be overseen by the National Security Council — shifting the center of gravity away from the CIA and giving the White House direct oversight.”  All those empty chairs: “Of more than 500 senior policymaking positions requiring Senate confirmation, just 43 percent have been filled — a reflection of a White House that grew more cautious after several nominations blew up last spring, a Senate that is intensively investigating nominees and a legislative agenda that has consumed both,” Peter Baker reports in The New York Times. “While career employees or holdovers fill many posts on a temporary basis, Mr. Obama does not have his own people enacting programs central to his mission.”  Obama’s war: “With the nation’s top military officer calling the situation in Afghanistan dire, President Barack Obama soon may face two equally unattractive choices: increase U.S. troops to beat back a resilient enemy, or stick with the 68,000 already committed and risk the political fallout if that’s not enough,”the AP’s Richard Lardner reports.  “American military commanders with the NATO mission in Afghanistan told President Obama’s chief envoy to the region this weekend that they did not have enough troops to do their job, pushed past their limit by Taliban rebels who operate across borders,” The New York Times’ Helene Cooper reports. “The possibility that more troops will be needed in Afghanistan presents the Obama administration with another problem in dealing with a nearly eight-year war that has lost popularity at home, compounded by new questions over the credibility of the Afghan government, which has just held an as-yet inconclusive presidential election beset by complaints of fraud.”  In Nevada — just waiting for a candidate: “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid famously ignores polls, but he might be paying attention to this one,” Lisa Mascaro writes in the Las Vegas Sun. “Results released today show not only does Reid remain unpopular in Nevada, he would be clobbered in next fall’s election by either of two potential Republican challengers.” “The poll shows Reid being beat by 11 percentage points (38 percent to 49 percent, with 13 undecided) by Republican Danny Tarkanian, a real estate professional who has run twice unsuccessfully for public office. His father was the legendary basketball coach at UNLV. If the matchup were today, Reid also would fall to Sue Lowden (40 percent to 45 percent, with 15 undecided), the chair of the state’s struggling Republican Party who has not yet entered the race. The former state legislator and television news journalist is expected to announce in the next few weeks if she will run.” In New Jersey — GOP gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie’s bad, bad stretch: “It is unclear what the misstep will mean for Mr. Christie, who quickly and profusely apologized. But the gaffe marked a pivotal moment, with both sides battling not only over the issue, but also about what this expensive, marquee governor’s race will be fought over,” The New York Times’ David M. Halbfinger writes.  Said David Plouffe: “”There’s a lot more optimism around Jon Corzine’s candidacy now.” Look who popped down to Florida: “Referencing the discontent within party ranks, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty Saturday night urged Florida Republicans not to miss the chance to seize on the political opportunity Democrats in Washington have given them by bickering internally,” per the Orlando Sentinel. 
The Kicker: “Can’t say anything about that really. But I can say it would be amazing.” — Edgartown School Principal John W. Stevens, telling the Vineyard Gazette that a team of locals is ready to take on President Obama and some friends if and when they want a game this week.  “We were hoping Bo would show up because Bryce really wanted to sniff his butt.” — Ellen Jacobsen of Albany, N.Y., a disappointed dog owner at the Martha’s Vineyard Dog Parade. 
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