What Brown Did: Democratic Agenda in Tatters, as Obama Strikes Humble Tone

Jan 21, 2010 8:27am

By Rick Klein Wait — did we miss something? Did Scott Brown’s truck run over the entire Democratic Party this week? Math has a funny way of imposing humility — if not utter chaos. If Sen.-elect Brown wanted to bring change to Washington, he’s too late: He arrives Thursday morning, but change was already upon us. (Plus, just what a party in crisis needed this week — something Democrats want to talk about less than Massachusetts: John Edwards news — maybe the only piece of news he had left to commit, or so Democrats hope. “I am Quinn’s father,” the statement from the former senator reads.) (Meanwhile, the NRSC might need some new folks answering phones, as “Scott Brown Republicans” like what they see: Senate recruiting news is bubbling up out of Nevada, Indiana, and Wisconsin, just for starters.) As Mr. Brown comes to town on Thursday — he’s flying, not driving — this from the party in control of Washington, on the No. 1 domestic priority for much of the last year: President Obama, to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos: “I would advise that we try to move quickly to coalesce around those elements of the package that people agree on.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: “The problems out there is [sic] certainly more than health care. … First of all, we are not going to rush anything.”  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “We will move forward with those considerations in mind — but we will move forward.”  House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer: “You could do it in an individual new bill.”  Sound like a plan? Maybe not so much. (ABC’s Jake Tapper: “President Obama apparently told George Stephanopoulos more than he was supposed to about the strategy for health care reform in today’s interview.” Tapper quotes Dan Pfeiffer’s WhiteHouse.gov blog: “But let’s be clear that the President’s preference is to pass a bill that meets the principles he laid out months ago…”)  Maybe the president was just looking down the road a bit — with the knowledge that, by dint of the loss of a Senate seat and the fear of the loss of many more, health care reform as we’ve known it no longer has a path. Even if the president didn’t intend to strike a chastened tone on Wednesday, that’s where we are: The president starts his second year a diminished political force, standing ready to sacrifice the biggest goal of his time in office when he couldn’t have been any closer. And Democrats are beyond frightened that it’s all going to get worse. Getting a message — and owning it: “Here’s my assessment of not just the vote in Massachusetts, but the mood around the country. The same thing that swept Scott Brown into office swept me into office. People are angry, and they’re frustrated. Not just because of what’s happened in the last year or two years, but what’s happened over the last eight years,” Obama told Stephanopoulos.  And: “What [people have] ended up seeing is this feeling of remoteness and detachment where, you know, there’s these technocrats up here, these folks who are making decisions,” the president said. “And I think that I can do a better job of that and partly because I do believe that we’re in a stronger position now than we were in a year ago.”  All that plus another hit to the Democratic brand… From the statement released Thursday morning (after Andrew Young talked to ABC’s Bob Woodruff for an interview that will air next Friday on “20/20″) signed “John R. Edwards”:  “I am Quinn’s father. I will do everything in my power to provide her with the love and support she deserves. … It was wrong for me ever to deny she was my daughter and hopefully one day, when she understands, she will forgive me. I have been providing financial support for Quinn and have reached an agreement with her mother to continue providing support in the future.” Flashback: August 2008, Edwards to Bob Woodruff: “I know that it’s not possible that this child could be mine.”  Back on the legislative front — which dynamic is in control? “President Barack Obama suggested he’s open to Congress passing a scaled-back health-care bill, potentially sacrificing much of his signature policy initiative as chaos engulfed Capitol Hill Wednesday,” Janet Adamy and Laura Meckler write in The Wall Street Journal. “Several Democrats said Mr. Obama’s suggestion of paring the bill was a top option, and perhaps the only one.”  “It was not clear that even a stripped-down bill could get through Congress anytime soon,” Sheryl Gay Stolberg and David M. Herszenhorn write for The New York Times. “Throughout the day, White House officials and Democratic Congressional leaders struggled to find a viable way forward for the health care bill and to digest the reality that much of their agenda, including an energy measure and an overhaul of banking regulations, had been derailed by the outcome in Massachusetts.” Might it sound easier than it is? “But moving incrementally has its own dangers, since so many parts of the healthcare system are interrelated,” the Los Angeles Times’ Noam N. Levey and Janet Hook write.  Adjusting to new math — and new fears: “Underlying the new legislative reality is a political threat even more disconcerting to the majority Democrats: If the party cannot even hang onto the seat once held by liberal stalwart Edward M. Kennedy, are they safe anywhere?” Susan Milligan writes in The Boston Globe.  “Not in decades has the election of a single new senator caused such an upheaval in the capital’s political calculations,” USA Today’s Susan Page, John Fritze and Kathy Kiely write.  “It seems he has singlehandedly changed the agenda, even before he’s sworn in,” ABC’s Jonathan Karl reported on “Good Morning America” Thursday. “Administration officials … said Mr. Obama would put more emphasis on issues like deficit reduction and job creation,” Peter Baker writes in The New York Times. “He already was assembling a bipartisan budget commission and officials acknowledged that some proposals would probably take a back seat now, like a market-based cap on greenhouse gas emissions and liberalized immigration rules.” What to get the man who had everything, on the first anniversary of his inauguration: “What President Barack Obama needs most is obvious: a new political strategy — ideally one more grounded in the realities of governance than the one he embraced a year ago Wednesday,” John F. Harris and Carol E. Lee write for Politico.  Joe Klein, in the Time cover story, on the president one year in: “The question, a year in, is whether it has been politically tone-deaf — and why the best presidential orator in a generation finds it so hard to explain himself to the American people … He will have to understand that in the poisonous atmosphere of American politics, triumphs are no longer a realistic possibility; survival is as good as it gets.”  Columnist E.J. Dionne Jr.: “This problem goes directly to the tensions in Obamaism. As a candidate, Obama pledged to change the tone in Washington and restore amicable relations between the parties. But he also promised to accomplish large things, including a substantial reform of the health-care system, major action to ease global warming and a reshaped and more responsible financial system.”  Blogs Paul Krugman: “I have to say, I’m pretty close to giving up on Mr. Obama, who seems determined to confirm every doubt I and others ever had about whether he was ready to fight for what his supporters believed in.”  Rove v. Axe, part 3 (election results edition): “Team Obama has been on history’s biggest spending spree,” Karl Rove writes in his Wall Street Journal column. “Mr. Axelrod boasts Mr. Obama’s proposed health reforms will ‘not add to the federal deficit.’ But if that turns out to be true, it will only be because Massachusetts voters just elected a senator who promises to vote against those reforms.” Coming Thursday — part of the populist turn, per ABC’s Jake Tapper: ”President Obama will embrace financial regulatory recommendations from Paul Volker — chair of the Presidential Economic Recovery Advisory Board — to limit risk-taking by financial institutions considered ‘too big to fail.’ A few days ago as part of the Group of 30, Volker offered 18 recommendations relating to financial regulatory reform.‪ Among those recommendations:‪ ‘Large, systemically important banking institutions should be restricted in undertaking proprietary activities that present particularly high risks and serious conflicts of interest.’ ” “The president has mounted a rhetorical assault on the nation’s largest banks in recent weeks to build political support for changes that officials regard as necessary to improve the stability of the financial system,” The Washington Post’s Binyamin Appelbaum and David Cho report. “President Barack Obama on Thursday is expected to propose new limits on the size and risk taken by the country’s biggest banks, marking the administration’s latest assault on Wall Street in what could mark a return, at least in spirit, to some of the curbs on finance put in place during the Great Depression,” Damian Paletta and Jonathan Weisman write in The Wall Street Journal. “Voter anger worked for Scott Brown. Now President Obama is trying to make anger about the state of the economy work for himself once more,” Michael Kranish writes in The Boston Globe. “One of his first steps is preparing a public relations blitz to win support for a new tax on large banks and for the creation of a consumer protection agency.” Democrats agree — though that doesn’t mean they agree on how: “It’s got to be jobs, almost exclusive of everything else,” Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., tells The Washington Post’s Dan Balz and Paul Kane.  As Mr. Brown comes to Washington Thursday, who else wants to be Scott Brown? (Who doesn’t?) “Maybe there’s a new breed of Republican coming to Washington,” Brown, R-Mass., said Wednesday, per ABC’s Devin Dwyer. Maybe it actually means something to be a “Scott Brown Republican”: “Republican Scott Brown, who outhustled his opponent Tuesday to win a Senate seat that Democrats had held since 1953, became an instant brand name, with Republicans claiming to be ‘Scott Brown’ candidates in their own races and Democratic candidates trying to heed the lessons of his shocking victory,” Stephen Dinan writes for the Washington Times. How’s that landscape looking? “Every state is now in play,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., to Politico.  In Nevada, Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, R-Nev., to the Las Vegas Sun: “There are serious people making compelling arguments to me both in the state and out of the state to reconsider the Harry Reid race, and based on that pressure and those conversations, I am indeed looking at it.”  In Indiana: “Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) will meet with the National Republican Senatorial Committee Thursday to discuss a potential campaign against Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), GOP aides confirmed on Wednesday,” CQ’s Greg Giroux reports. In Wisconsin: “I’m not saying no,” former Gov. Tommy Thompson, R-Wis., told Politico’s Jonathan Martin, about a possible challenge to Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis.  As for Brown himself: “Two days after his win cost President Barack Obama his filibuster-proof 60-vote majority in the Senate, Brown was making his first trip to the institution he reordered and the city he set abuzz after Tuesday’s upset election,” the AP’s Glen Johnson writes. “The timing of his swearing-in remained in question. While Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin sent a letter to the Senate clerk Wednesday declaring Brown the unofficial winner of the seat, senators had to decide whether they were going to waive a waiting period for absentee ballot arrivals.”  “While pundits of both parties were ascribing his victory to discontent over the economy and a radical shift in the nation’s political mood since the 2008 election, Mr. Brown has dutifully separated himself from any grand cause. By Wednesday he seemed eager to put the symbolism of his win behind him,” The New York Times’ Mark Leibovich writes. Counting down until the DNC sends out… “While many are describing the election to fill the late Edward M. Kennedy’s Senate seat as a referendum on national health-care reform, the Republican candidate rode to victory on a message more nuanced than flat-out resistance to universal health coverage: Massachusetts residents, he said, already had insurance and should not have to pay for it elsewhere,” Alec MacGillis writes in The Washington Post.  A timely poll — from Public Strategies, releasing Thursday: “When it comes to identifying solutions to the nation’s problems, majorities now distrust both parties equally. President Obama’s trust rating remains steady at 54% — a number that has not changed since last July,” Dick Keil’s memo reads. “The economy — particularly job losses — continues to dominate the list of key issues.”
The Kicker: “I don’t want to be disrespectful, but I have had no sleep right now.” — Sen.-elect Scott Brown, asked if he was “presidential timber.” “I cannot believe he said that on national television.” — 21-year-old Ayla Brown, after her father announced she was “available” in his victory speech. 
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