The Note: Road Marks: White House plays hardball — but soft spots reveal themselves

By Gorman Gorman

Sep 22, 2009 8:19am

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: While we try to find some order in the Obama agenda — and try to sort out when a tax isn’t a tax, and when advice from your generals on the ground isn’t necessarily welcome — let’s pause for some politics.

We can let the president do the honors — as he shows decisiveness in determining who should run for office, in the manner he isn’t quite displaying in his push for health care reform.

We can let him handle it on the late-night circuit — as he seeks to defuse some tension with a laugh: “It’s important to realize that I was actually black before the election,” the president told David Letterman.

We can let a former president weigh in on the same subject: “Some of the extreme right who oppose him on health care also are racially prejudiced. And if you listen to some of the — look at some of the signs, or listen to some of the rhetoric, there’s no question that that’s true,” former President Bill Clinton told ABC’s Robin Roberts, on “Good Morning America” Tuesday. “But I believe, if he were not an African-American, all the people who are against him on health care would still be against him — because they were all against me, too.”

Or we can let the vice president chart the political roads — with some prognosticating suggesting that Charlie Cook and Stu Rothenberg have job security.

“Vice President Joe Biden said [Monday] that if Democrats were to lose 35 House seats they currently hold in traditionally Republican districts, it would mean doomsday for President Obama’s agenda,” ABC’s Karen Travers reports.

Said Biden: “If they take them back, this the end of the road for what Barack and I are trying to do,” the vice president said at a fundraiser for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., in Delaware. But if Democrats can hold on to those seats, “it will break the dam and you will see bipartisanship,” Biden said. (How long has the vice president been in Washington again?)
While we figure out that math — this civics lesson is easier to understand for a Democratic establishment that did, after all, envy the party discipline displayed in the GOP’s salad years of George W. Bush.

This is an uneasy fit with post-partisanship. But with matters foreign and domestic chipping away at Democratic unity, it may not hurt the White House to leave the impression that discipline matters.

The era of bipartisanship starts right after we get past some partisanship: “The White House’s intervention in the race for New York governor is the latest evidence of how President Obama and his top advisers are taking an increasingly direct role in contests across the country, but their assertiveness has bruised some Democrats who suggest it could undercut Mr. Obama’s appeal with voters tired of partisan politics,” Jeff Zeleny and Adam Nagourney write in The New York Times.

“The overt involvement of Mr. Obama’s team in New York, where they have tried to ease Gov. David A. Paterson out of the race, has made clear that this is a White House willing to use its clout to help clear the field for favored Democratic candidates and to direct money and other resources in the way it thinks will most benefit the administration and help preserve the Democrats’ majority in Congress,” they report.

Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., still running for Senate against Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa.: “The Democratic Party under Barack Obama did not come into office because of political calculation; it got there because of audacity.”

“This was particularly ham-handed,” Karl Rove says. “They shouldn’t have tried this unless they can make it happen. Even then, they should have acted in a way that was subtle, not messy and ugly.”

The message: “Call the purging of Paterson post-racial politics or just plain politics, but in either case the lesson is clear: When you become a problem for Obama, don’t get too close to a window,” Richard Cohen writes in his Washington Post column.

SEIU President Andy Stern tells The Note: “Many of us applauded George Bush’s and Karl Rove’s ability to clear races.”

The AP’s Liz Sidoti: “A full year before the 2010 elections, the president clearly has embraced his other job, party standard-bearer. To varying degrees, every White House puts its hands in political races. But presidents before Obama didn’t face a 24/7 news culture that seemingly has the spotlight shining much brighter on the White House — and presidential maneuvering in electoral politics.”

“An administration that came to Washington promising to rise above politics has quickly immersed itself in trying to influence an array of state-level elections,” The Washington Post’s Anne E. Kornblut and Rosalind S. Helderman report. “A senior Democratic Party official close to [Gov. David] Paterson said that while the White House pressure on Paterson amounted to a serious blow, the governor is likely to continue weighing his options until he can determine whether he still has support among Harlem’s black political elite.”

In New York Monday: “The usually affable Paterson appeared glum, as if he wanted to be anywhere else but with the President,” per the New York Daily News’ Glenn Blain and Kenneth Lovett. “By contrast, state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, the man many Democrats want to run instead of Paterson, was ebullient.”

“At the event in Troy, Obama praised Paterson’s heart — calling him a ‘wonderful man’ — but he beamed at Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and effusively praised the work of the man whom many Democrats would like to see pursue the governor’s mansion next year instead of Paterson,” ABC’s Jake Tapper, Karen Travers, and Stephanie Z. Smith report.

“A knowledgeable source says the president expressed his regret at how the story leaked and became such a media spectacle,” Tapper reports. “(Not that said regret changes the governor’s 76% disapproval ratings, or the president’s view that Paterson can’t win and should cede the floor to someone who can for the good of the state and the party.)”

In Massachusetts, one push that will pays off soon: “Leaders of the state Senate expect to begin debate this morning on a bill that would let Governor Deval Patrick appoint an interim successor to Edward M. Kennedy, potentially paving the way for appointment of a new US senator later this week,” The Boston Globe’s Matt Viser reports. “If the state Senate approves the bill today, the governor would probably be able to sign it tomorrow.”

Where’s the party discipline here?

“Liberals in the House are prepared to buck President Obama and House Democratic leaders if they’re presented a healthcare bill without a public option,” The Hill’s Michael O’Brien reports.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., in an online chat: “The public option is still very much alive only because the progressives have stood together and held our ground and said that, regardless of what the President or Leadership says, we won’t vote for any bill [without] a public option.”

Ralph Nader, on’s “Top Line” Monday, rallying the left: Obama has “never invited progressive leaders to the White House, and they represent a huge constituency that elected him. But he invites CEOs to the White House, of health insurance companies and drug companies. You don’t win that way.”

And how’s this sounding for unity and cohesiveness?

“The leak of a secret assessment by the top military commander in Afghanistan laying out the need for more troops there has raised the question of whether President Obama is at odds with the Pentagon over the direction of the war,” ABC’s Luis Martinez reports.

Gotta figure this out first: “The Pentagon has told its top commander in Afghanistan to delay submitting his request for additional troops, defense officials say, amid signs that the Obama administration is rethinking its strategy for combating a resurgent Taliban,” Yochi Dreazen and Peter Spiegel report in The Wall Street Journal. “A senior Pentagon official says the administration has asked for the reprieve so it can complete a review of the U.S.-led war effort. . . . Gen. McChrystal’s call for quick action appears to be increasingly at odds with comments from President Barack Obama, who has insisted in recent days that he won’t be rushed into approving more U.S. troops for the war.”

Who’s making policy, and who’s carrying it out? “Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s grim assessment of the Afghanistan war has opened a divide between the military, which is pushing for an early decision to send more troops, and civilian policymakers who are increasingly doubtful of an escalating nation-building effort,” Karen DeYoung reports in The Washington Post.

“Obama’s public remarks on Afghanistan indicate that he has begun to rethink the counterinsurgency strategy he set in motion six months ago, even as his generals have embraced it. The equation on the ground has changed markedly since his March announcement, with attacks by Taliban fighters showing greater sophistication, U.S. casualties rising, and the chances increasing that Afghanistan will be left with an illegitimate government after widespread fraud in recent presidential elections.”

“I’m lost on President Barack Obama’s Afghanistan policy — along with most of Congress and the U.S. military,” Leslie Gelb writes in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.
“This is not the time for Hamlet in the White House,” former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., said Monday, per ABC’s Teddy Davis. “How in the world can he be saying at this stage the things that he is saying?”

Former President Bill Clinton, on “GMA”: “I think he’ll make a good decision. But what you want from your generals is to make an honest recommendation, based on what they believe the mission is, and then the president has to decide. That’s what they pay you the big bucks for.”

Can McChrystal be long for this job? Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin: “A senior Pentagon official said today that the leaked assessment of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, which says that ‘mission failure’ is a serious risk unless more U.S. troops are sent to Afghanistan, is just ‘one input’ into the administration’s thinking, as another senior administration source directly blamed McChrystal’s shop for the surprising leak and suggested that the general, who was installed by President Obama’s team in June, is out ahead of the White House over the resourcing of the Afghan war.”

The politics: “He can escalate an unpopular and open-ended war and risk a backlash from his liberal base or refuse his commanders and risk being blamed for a military loss that could tar him and his party as weak on national security,” McClatchy’s Steven Thomma, Jonathan S. Landay and David Lightman report.

“Regardless of what motivation the DOD may have had, a senior Democratic Senate aide said Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden will need to personally engage to persuade Democrats to back any increase,” Roll Call’s Steven T. Dennis and John Stanton report.

Politico’s David Rogers: “Just when President Barack Obama has got Congress focused on health care again, Afghanistan keeps pulling him back in.”

President Obama is at the United Nations for much of the day. He speaks on climate change at 9:15 am ET.

Then it’s meetings with world leaders — Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel and President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, and President Hu of China — before appearing alongside former President Bill Clinton on the Clinton Global Initiative Tuesday evening.

“Also of interest — world leaders whom aides will try to keep away from the president, such as Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,” ABC’s Jake Tapper reported on “GMA” Tuesday.

Back in Washington — it’s mark-up day in the Senate Finance Committee.

“On public display will be all of the ideological and philosophical fault lines that have for decades stymied every President and every Congress that have tried to do something about this issue,” Time’s Karen Tumulty writes.

“Seeking to lock down votes before Tuesday’s meeting of the Senate Finance Committee, Chairman Max Baucus began reworking his health-care overhaul to ease the financial burden on middle-class Americans who would be required for the first time to have health insurance,” The Washington Post’s Shailagh Murray and Lori Montgomery write. “All of his changes, though, would add billions to the cost of a bill whose chief accomplishment was its relative austerity.”

Baucus “will expand subsidies for people trying to obtain coverage through an online exchange, said Senator Kent Conrad, a finance panel member. He’s also likely to cut back an excise tax on so-called Cadillac plans so fewer people would be affected, an issue important to labor unions,” Bloomberg’s Laura Litvan reports.

Pet project alert: “The Nevada Cancer Institute, in Las Vegas, may not have a national reputation as a clinic or a research facility. But it does have the ear of its state’s senior senator, Harry Reid, the Democratic leader. And that is why the four-year-old institute could reap a big gain in federal reimbursements as part of the health care overhaul,” The New York Times’ David D. Kirkpatrick reports.

For the budget hawks: “The cost estimates in Baucus’ bill, like those attached to many of the 500-plus amendments lined up for Finance Committee consideration, are shot through with magical math and budgetary sleight-of-hand — designed primarily to serve political ends,” the Chicago Tribune’s James Oliphant and Kim Geiger report.

Coming Tuesday from the health care wars: “Health Care for America Now (HCAN) partners will hold a ‘Big Insurance: Sick Of It’ day of action nationwide to highlight private health insurance industry abuses and call for reform that guarantees good, affordable health care and includes the choice of a strong national public health insurance option. . . . Three flagship events will be taking place outside major insurance company headquarters in Minneapolis (United HealthCare), Indianapolis (WellPoint), and Philadelphia (Cigna).”

ACORN wars: “Glenn Fine, the Inspector General of the Department of Justice today wrote to the Chairman and Ranking Republican of the House Judiciary Committee – Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Lamar Smith, R-Texas — informing them that his office is planning on opening a review into whether ACORN applied for or received any Justice Department grants or funds and whether or not the Justice Department ever carried out any audits or reviews of those funds,” per ABC’s Jake Tapper.

ACORN CEO Bertha Lewis will be a guest on’s Top Line Tuesday, live at noon ET.

Glenn Beck wars: Writes Peter Wehner, who ran the White House Office of Strategic Initiatives under Karl Rove: “Beck seems to be a roiling mix of fear, resentment, and anger — the antithesis of Ronald Reagan.”

Tom Delay’s “Dancing” debut: Heavy on the butt shakes, and he brought along a small whip for the promo segments — but he needs some work on the lip-synching. He placed third from the bottom on the judges’ scorecards — notwithstanding that online whip operation engineered by some of his former staffers.

“Tom DeLay was elected to the House of Representatives 11 times, but if his performance on Monday’s ‘Dancing With the Stars’ is any indication, he shouldn’t expect that kind of longevity on the hit ABC dancing competition,” per the New York Daily News’ Elliot Olshansky.

The Democratic Governors Association welcomes him to the dance floor, at (worth the click for the California Chicken Dance).

The Kicker:

“You’re crazier than Sarah Palin!” — “Dancing With the Stars” judge Bruno Tonioli, after Tom DeLay’s first dance.

“Wanted to congratulate Dave on the big Emmy win.” — President Obama, offering the No. 1 reason he wanted to appear on Letterman — a day after Jon Stewart won the Emmy in Letterman’s category.

For up-to-the-minute political updates check out The Note’s blog . . . all day every day:

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