By Rick Klein
Everyone says they want to play together. But really, nobody wants to get played. (And it’s easier to call for the other side to stop scoring political points when you’re winning the game.) President Obama on Friday lays the choice out for Republicans as starkly as a Democratic president can: He travels to Baltimore to lay out a jobs bill stuffed with tax breaks, and then meets with the House Republican Conference, on their own turf. (And, just maybe, with Republicans able to declare a victory, as the White House crafts pursues plans for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s trial.) The reach across the aisle raises intriguing questions for both sides, with few real incentives for cooperation, and then again — in a post-60 Senate world — all the incentive in the world. The first major push out of the State of the Union is a jobs bill that maybe only a Republican would like — sending a powerful message about how the president wants Washington to work in 2010. But the other side has to want it to work the same way, too. It helps if Republicans think the White House is sincere. It helps even more if Republicans don’t have to worry about base-fueled backlashes if they play nice with Democrats. Talk about your deficit of trust: Previous efforts like this have gone nowhere, prompting grumbling from Democrats about a White House getting used. That was before Republicans had voters’ evidence to bolster the argument they were shaping about 2010. It’s White House truth or dare — daring Republicans to say no, but with neither side believing the other side is telling the truth: “With Mr. Obama’s health care overhaul stalled on Capitol Hill, Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, said in an interview that Democrats would try to act first on job creation, reducing the deficit and imposing tighter regulation on banks before returning to the health measure,” Carl Hulse and Sheryl Gay Stolberg write in The New York Times. “But Mr. Obama quickly got a taste of how difficult it would be to bring the opposition party on board. One day after the president upbraided Congress in his State of the Union address for excessive partisanship, Senate Republicans voted en masse against a plan to require that new spending not add to the deficit (it passed anyway as all 60 members of the Democratic caucus hung together). And some Republicans peremptorily dismissed Mr. Obama’s main job-creating proposal, expressing no interest in using $30 billion in bank bailout money for business tax credits.” Said Emanuel: “One party was for fiscal discipline, the other party wasn’t.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. (perhaps finding bipartisanship by making both parties happy): “If we can’t find a bipartisan way to do it, we are not going to say, ‘Well, if it is not bipartisan, we are not going to do it.’ We are going to do what we believe.” Dare time: “It’s time to put up or shut up,” White House senior adviser David Axelrod told a group of reporters Thursday, per Christina Bellantoni of Talking Points Memo. “We will put the other party to the test and they will have to explain why they are standing in the way.” The argument for shut up: “Republicans have little incentive to cooperate. Only three of the 37 most competitive House races in 2010 feature a Democratic challenge to a Republican incumbent, according to the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report,” Paul West writes in the Baltimore Sun. “The greatest electoral threat Republican officials face may not be from Democrats; instead, it’s the potential for backlash from their party’s most conservative wing, where anti-Obama sentiment is intense.” Early reaction: Rep. Mike Pence, chairman of the House Republican Conference, is calling the president’s tax proposals “small ball.” “The real way to get the economy moving is across-the-board tax relief … plus real fiscal discipline now in Washington, D.C.,” Pence, R-Ind., told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America” Friday. “We’re gonna hear from the president, George, for a few minutes, but he’s gonna hear for quite a while about our alternatives,” he said. “Republicans are going to continue to stand on the principles that we were elected to advance. …We’re going to remind him that this ‘fight the party of no smear’ of the last year — that we’ve offered substantive alternatives on every single major issue.” “Most Republicans in Congress doubt the president really wants to hear their ideas,” ABC’s Jonathan Karl reported on “GMA” Friday. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, to Karl: “I like the man. And I like a lot of the people around them — I know them all, and I like them. Do I agree with them? Hell, no.” The argument for put up: “Republican lawmakers are likely to be receptive to a tax-relief proposal that focuses on a politically popular constituency,” the Los Angeles Times’ Don Lee reports. Said a Republican Senate aide: “We want to make sure it’s properly targeted … but our side has been saying this is the kind of thing we should have been spending stimulus money on from the get-go.” The realities: “Obama’s emphasis on civility was a nod to political reality. He needs Republicans more than ever to get his agenda passed, and he is getting saddled with more public blame for the partisanship he promised to change,” the AP’s Ben Feller writes. “Party divisions arise less over goals — the main one for both parties is jobs — then how to achieve them. Those policy discussions are even more difficult in this midterm election year, when leaders weigh what’s better: working together or targeting the other for defeat.” Playing for 2011: Asked by Politico’s Mike Allen the first action his caucus would take if it regained the majority, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., replied, “I think that we’re going to have to talk about jobs…. Certainly, we’ll have a much bigger seat at the table with this White House.” Reasons for less optimism — some of what’s waiting for the president in Baltimore: “Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) carried a poster-board size copy of the ‘Declaration of Health Care Independence’ with him in an effort to collect signatures from his colleagues — perhaps Obama,” The Hill’s Molly K. Hooper writes. Since we’re playing in 2010 — scenes like this are bound to happen again, and again: “Did [Florida Gov. Charlie] Crist dodge another bout of controversy by eluding Obama’s embrace? Only time will tell. As of late Thursday afternoon, there was no public outcry from Republicans,” the St. Petersburg Times’ Kim Wilmath reports. “But CNN devoted several minutes to visuals, contrasting February’s man hug to the more reserved handshake. Pundits agreed Crist did the right thing in greeting the president. But there was fun to be had.” Complicating the GOP messaging in Baltimore: “The day after President Barack Obama urged members of Congress to be more transparent about their interactions with lobbyists, the House Republican Caucus headed up Interstate 95 for a retreat where they will be able to mingle privately with… lobbyists,” ABC’s Matthew Mosk reports. “The vast majority of the Institute’s board is made up by top Capitol Hill lobbyists whose clients include leading drug manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and such major corporations as American Express and Verizon.” And, of course, Hawaii is no paradise for the RNC, at its winter meeting: “However understandably jubilant the mood may be, committee members, party strategists, and activists are keenly aware of potentially harmful divisions that exist within Republican ranks,” ABC’s David Chalian reports. “A proposed resolution from a group of conservative members of the committee which would have required any RNC endorsed and financially supported candidates to agree with at least eight out of ten specific policy positions was never formally introduced after RNC Chairman Michael Steele made clear he did not want it to pass.” Even a press conference is a production: “Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele angrily jousted with reporters Thursday, turning a news conference into a testy defense of his controversy-pocked tenure at the helm of the GOP,” Politico’s Jonathan Martin reports.
“Republican strategists fret that his unorthodox approach to his job could leave the party short of cash — and short of the electoral gains that it might otherwise achieve,” Reid Wilson writes for National Journal. “Republicans, even those who have never been fans of the outspoken Steele, have concluded that trying to oust him would cause the party more pain than it’s worth. Still, the RNC’s freewheeling spending in the year since Steele’s appointment worries many GOP officials.” Far from Hawaii (isn’t everything?), a backup plan: “The White House ordered the Justice Department Thursday night to consider other places to try the 9/11 terror suspects after a wave of opposition to holding the trial in lower Manhattan,” Ken Bazinet, Adam Lisberg, and Samuel Goldsmith report in the New York Daily News. “The dramatic turnabout came hours after Mayor Bloomberg said he would ‘prefer that they did it elsewhere’ and then spoke to Attorney General Eric Holder.” A senior administration official, to ABC’s Ann Compton: “Conversations have occurred within the administration to discuss contingency options should the possibility of a trial in Lower Manhattan be foreclosed upon by Congress or locally.” On health care — what was up, is down again: “Democratic leaders on Thursday shelved plans to push through a major health care overhaul, casting aside President Obama’s top legislative goal, which has bedeviled congressional Democrats for more than a year,” the Washington Times’ Jennifer Haberkorn reports. Ready for sticker shock, again? “Though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is saying she thinks she can pass the Senate version of the health care bill if the House and Senate can agree on changes by using the budget process, the price tag for those changes could approach $300 billion, Democratic sources tell ABC News.” Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich. (who attended his first State of the Union address in 1933!): “Remember that the longest couple hundred yards in the world is the distance between the House of Representatives in Washington and the United States Senate.” If it didn’t get revived in the State of the Union… “The president’s speech may have been his last high-profile opportunity to resuscitate his signature domestic priority,” Politico’s Carrie Budoff Brown and Meredith Shiner report. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, trying to get everyone to relax: “I don’t see it as a delay. It’s a question of letting things settle, shifting to talking about jobs, and then doing this when there’s an opening,” he told The Plum Line’s Greg Sargent. Waiting (and wondering), on that other Sen. Brown: “Senator-elect Scott Brown, hailed as a savior for the Republican Party, pledged yesterday that he would not always vote the party line, saying he would chart his own course in Washington,” Matt viser and Eric Moskowitz write in The Boston Globe. His message to Senate leaders: “With all due respect, I really don’t know a lot of you people, and you don’t know me. But maybe that’s good, because I’m going to vote how I want to vote,” Brown, R-Mass., said he told GOP leadership. Don’t forget: Barbara Walters interviews Brown this weekend, on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday. And the roundtable: George Will, Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes, Paul Krugman, and Arianna Huffington. Second thoughts: Not running for his uncles’ former Senate seat “wasn’t the greatest decision I ever made in my life,” former Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II, D-Mass., told reporters Thursday. Tracking T-Paw… Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s, R-Minn., Freedom First PAC will report this weekend that it raised nearly $1.3 million in the fourth quarter of 2009, from over 2,750 donors, per information provided to The Note. The committee spent some $395,000 during that period, including contributions to the campaign committees for Scott Brown, Rob Portman, Doug Hoffman, Sen. Richard Burr, and the Minnesota congressional delegation.
Phil Musser, senior adviser to the PAC: “He’s an optimistic, authentic leader with a conservative record of balancing budgets and passing innovative reforms. The PAC is off to a solid start, and we look forward to playing a big role in the ideas debate, and in supporting the next generation of Republican leaders.” (Next generation!) Teeing up Tuesday: “If the Massachusetts special election was a kick in the shins for President Barack Obama, the political turmoil in Illinois, his home state, is a pain in the neck that never seems to go away,” the AP’s Christopher Wills reports. “His former Senate seat, already stained by an ethics scandal, is a major takeover target for Republicans. So is the governor’s office. Going into Tuesday’s Illinois primary, the first of the 2010 campaign season, Democrats are in disarray, with no political heavyweights in their lineup for the Senate seat that Obama gave up for the White House.” Getting ugly in the Democratic gubernatorial primary: “Mr. Hynes ought to be ashamed of himself,” Gov. Pat Quinn, D-Ill., said of his opponent, Dan Hynes. Hynes’ campaign had begun airing a TV ad featuring decades-old video of the late Chicago Mayor Harold Washington calling Quinn “a totally and completely undisciplined individual,” ABC’s Teddy Davis reports. White House on the line? The AP’s Liz Sidoti: “The list of White House failures is growing: It hasn’t galvanized the legions of 2008 Obama backers in three major statewide losses. It hasn’t prevented primary challenges for at least two vulnerable Senate Democrats even though Obama endorsed them. And it hasn’t recruited strong candidates for Senate seats once held by Vice President Joe Biden and the president himself.” SOTU SCOTUS fallout: “It was an impromptu moment of political theater with a constitutional lesson at the heart of it,” ABC’s Terry Moran writes. “It wasn’t exactly “YOU LIE!” — Rep. Joe Wilson’s (in-)famous outburst at the president last year. But it was exceptional, and for those of us who are fascinated by our constitutional traditions and norms, it was a riveting moment and, perhaps, a sign of these times.” “Bravo, Justice Alito,” writes The Wall Street Journal editorial page.
End of an era? “I’m willing to bet a lot of money there will be no Supreme Court justice at the next State of the Union speech,” author and law professor Lucas Powe, a Supreme Court historian, told ABC’s Jake Tapper. A McCain, handicapping a Palin: “Oh sure,” Meghan McCain said, when asked whether Sarah Palin can win the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, per ABC News on Campus reporter Miles Doran. “I honestly haven’t seen another candidate so far that I believe has the panache.”
The Kicker: “I’d probably have to do it for Mature Senior AARP Magazine.” — Sen.-elect Scott Brown, R-Mass., to Jay Leno, about whether he’s thought about recreating his nude pose at age 50. “My style is not something you get used to very easily.” — RNC Chairman Michael Steele.
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