Dysfunction Junction: Hostile climate drives retirements, paralysis

By Jonathan Blakely

Feb 12, 2010 8:01am

By Rick Klein: So it was that, in a single week in President Obama’s second February in office, everything basically broke down, or at least froze in place. Tracking a chaotic couple of hours… A former president was hospitalized for a heart procedure… The Kennedy political dynasty moved toward a quiet close… A blizzard sparked a climate debate… Health care reform waited out another week… Glimmers of bipartisanship were promptly extinguished in the Senate… And we filled our snow-stuffed days with visions of Sarah Palin and David Paterson and John Edwards… This is Washington at its most dysfunctional — leaving aside the monstrous snow piles cutting down on the parking spots. The prospects of actual governance emerging in this environment have rarely seemed bleaker. And yet — doesn’t someone have to be the grown-up around here? A public that’s basically soured on everybody: “At a time of deepening political disaffection and intensified distress about the economy, President Obama enjoys an edge over Republicans in the battle for public support, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll,” Adam Nagourney and Megan Thee-Brenan report in the Times. “The poll suggests that both parties face a toxic environment as [they] prepare to face voters in November,” they write. “The percentage of Americans who approve of Mr. Obama’s job performance, at 46 percent, is as low as it has been since he took office.” Eight percent of respondents said they want members of Congress reelected. Eight. You don’t have to go far to find the frustration: “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s increasingly public disagreements with President Barack Obama are a reflection of something deeper: the seething resentment some Democrats feel over what they see as cavalier treatment from a wounded White House,” Politico’s Mike Allen and Patrick O’Connor report. “Though Pelosi and other House Democrats have made it clear that they’re angry with the Senate, they’re also frustrated with the president, upset that he hasn’t come to terms with the problems of getting legislation through the upper chamber — or done enough to overcome them.” Out of the wreckage — anything? “The original Obama project, the third Democratic wave, is dead,” David Brooks writes in his column. “The next challenge is to find a new project, a new one-sentence description of what this administration hopes to achieve. It is obvious: President Obama will show that this nation is governable once again. He should return to the other element in his original campaign.” Peggy Noonan, in her Wall Street Journal column: “Mr. Obama is left with America, and he does not, really, understand it. That is why he thinks moving to the center would be political death, when moving to the center and triangulating, as Bill Clinton did, might give him a new lease on life.” Washington is a hostile place right now. That may be the biggest factor driving the recent round of retirements — not necessarily fear of reelection, but a calculation about whether it’s worth it to try to come back for … this. “Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, the last member of his famous family still serving in elective office, has decided not to seek a ninth term in Congress,” John E. Mulligan reports in the Providence Journal. ” Kennedy’s surprise decision spells the end of an era in American politics, instantly raises the prospects for the congressman’s Republican opponent, state Rep. John Loughlin III, of Tiverton, and may spur a fight among Democratic contenders for the seat.” Says an emotional Kennedy,in a TV ad airing in Rhode Island Sunday weekend: “Illness took the life of my most cherished mentor and confidant, my ultimate source of spirit and strength.”
“I’m not going to be afraid to leverage my political value,” Kennedy tells Rhode Island Monthly’s Mark Arsenault. “I just won’t have to do it twenty-four/seven.” “Rep. Patrick Kennedy's decision not to seek re-election will leave Washington without a Kennedy in political office for the first time in more than 60 years,” Andrew Miga and Michelle R. Smith report for the AP. “The decision comes less than a month after a stunning upset by Republican Scott Brown in the race for the Massachusetts Senate seat his father held for almost half a century. Last week, as Brown was sworn into the seat, Patrick Kennedy called Brown's candidacy a ‘joke’ and predicted Brown would betray his union supporters.” But is the retirement story on the other side? Ten percent of House Republicans are now choosing not to run for reelection in 2010. “A trio of House Republican retirement announcements over the past 10 days have sparked a debate between the leaders of the two major parties over whether the GOP is losing momentum in its quest to score major gains at the ballot box this fall,” The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza and Paul Kane report. “With the three latest lawmakers choosing not to seek reelection in November, Republicans will have to defend 18 open seats and Democrats 13.” One retirement that makes actually two, with one brother giving up his seat to run for the now-open one next door: “Lincoln Diaz-Balart, the passionate defender and architect of measures to strengthen the Cuban embargo, said Thursday that he won't seek reelection to Congress, setting off a political scramble that reached from Tallahassee to Miami,” per The Miami Herald’s Lesley Clark, Luisa Yanez, and Beith Reinhard. Coming Sunday — when veeps attack: Jonathan Karl hosts ABC’s “This Week,” with exclusive guest former Vice President Dick Cheney, in a rare Sunday appearance. The roundtable: George Will, Peter Beinart of The Daily Beast, Paul Gigot of The Wall Street Journal, and the New Yorker's Jane Mayer. Sorry, Mr. Holder: “President Obama is planning to insert himself into the debate about where to try the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, three administration officials said Thursday, signaling a recognition that the administration had mishandled the process and triggered a political backlash,” Anne E. Kornblut and Carrie Johnson report. “Obama initially had asked Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to choose the site of the trial in an effort to maintain an independent Justice Department. But the White House has been taken aback by the intense criticism from political opponents and local officials of Holder's decision to try Khalid Sheik Mohammed in a civilian courtroom in New York.” On the Hill — bipartisanship, briefly: ABC’s Z. Byron Wolf: “Democrat Max Baucus of Montana and Chuck Grassley of Iowa introduced their draft for a bipartisan $85 billion jobs package earlier this morning. By this afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced he was going to break that package up and move smaller parts of it. … Republicans were scratching their heads as to why Reid would break up the Baucus-Grassley bill since it had, for now at least, bipartisan support.” Said Reid, D-Nev., unappetizingly: “I have a long list of disappointments where we start out holding hands and end up pointing fingers. The proof is in the pudding.” “His decision to embrace only portions of the bipartisan plan developed by Senators Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, and Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, caught some lawmakers by surprise and threatened to undermine Republican support for the proposal even as members of Congress and the White House sought ways of working together across party lines after months of deep partisan division,” Carl Hulse and David M. Herszenhorn report in The New York Times. Washington Times headline: “Reid puts his bill before bipartisanship.” Speaking of job preservation: “The Senate jobs-creation package that was unveiled Thursday and hailed by President Barack Obama may do more to help politicians who want to be seen trying to help the economy than it does to shrink the nation's unemployment rate,” McClatchy’s David Lightman and Kevin G. Hall report. Victory laps? “House Republicans won their televised debate with President Barack Obama last month, according to a GOP document distributed to lawmakers on Thursday,” The Hill’s Molly K. Hooper reports. “The document, obtained by The Hill, notes that Obama’s job approval ratings have dipped since the Jan. 29 meeting while Republican numbers have soared.” Stand-off defused — for now: “President Barack Obama dropped his threat to bypass the Senate and install nominees to their positions through recess appointments — at least for now,” Laura Meckler reports in The Wall Street Journal. “Recess appointments can be made while the Senate is out of session and are a way for presidents to get around the need for a confirmation vote. The president said in a statement Thursday evening that he is encouraged by confirmation earlier in the day of 27 high-level nominees.” Big Scare for the Big Dog: “Former President Bill Clinton was taken to a Manhattan hospital late this afternoon and two stents were installed in one of his coronary arteries,” ABC’s Emily Friedman and Brian Braiker write. “His prognosis is excellent,” Dr. Allen Schwartz, chief of cardiology at New York’s Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, said Thursday night. “Within two hours of the procedure, Mr. Clinton was up and walking again, and Dr. Schwartz said he planned to send him home on Friday and allow him to return to work on Monday,” The New York Times’ Peter Baker and Angela Macropoulos report. ABC’s George Stephanopoulos reported that Clinton was released Friday morning, and is headed home to Chappaqua. “Literally they were taking him into the room, hitting the double doors that open, he was on a conference call regarding Haiti,” Terry McAuliffe told Stephanopoulos Friday, on “Good Morning America.” “That’s just who he is.” Will he slow down? “Not going to happen. … If anything this will get President Clinton more energized. … To him, sleeping is taking time away from something he could be doing to help somebody.” Transitions: “Billy Tauzin, the chief lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry who forged a private deal with the Obama administration to push the healthcare overhaul forward, will announce his resignation Friday, further complicating the outlook for passage of comprehensive legislation this year,” Tom Hamburger reports in the Los Angeles Times. “He has come under increasing fire as the health initiative stalled on Capitol Hill following the Republicans' surprise Senate victory in Massachusetts last month that denied the Democrats a filibuster-proof majority.” The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn: “Tauzin's sudden departure, at a time when reform's prospects are shaky, has the look and feel of an ouster at the hands of these executives–and perhaps a prelude to something more drastic, like PhRMA turning around and opposing reform.” A chance for a thaw? All eyes turning to the bipartisan health care summit: “At best, it gives Democrats and Republicans a venue to find common ground on the issue that both sides say is most likely to break the deadlock: reducing costs,” Gail Russell Chaddock writes in the Christian Science Monitor. “It’s also giving House and Senate Democratic leaders a window – and a deadline – to negotiate differences between the Senate and House reform bills, so that the president comes to the Feb. 25 televised bipartisan meeting with a coherent plan to discuss.” From the OFA annals: “The grass-roots arm of the Democratic National Committee is stepping up its efforts to back lawmakers who support health care reform — and pile more pressure onto moderates still on the fence,” Roll Call’s Jennifer Bendery reports. Some Sarah Palin truth-telling, from Politico’s Jim VandeHei and Jonathan Martin: “Fox News has been making a serious charge about mainstream political reporters: They hate Sarah Palin. This is not just wrong, it’s absurd. The reality is exactly the opposite: We love Palin. And if Palin does not exactly love us, she’s smart enough to recognize how quickly reporters devour every provocative remark she utters.” National Journal’s Ron Brownstein sees Palin bringing beer and wine tracks to a GOP primary: “Palin, through cultural imagery as much as policy proposals, is positioning herself as the tribune of beer-track Republicans, who tend to be populist, socially conservative, and profoundly antagonistic toward Washington.” Gov. David Paterson, D-N.Y., still swinging back at shadows: “Gov. Paterson has a new scapegoat for the breathless rumors of womanizing and drug use that have dogged him the past few weeks – Eliot Spitzer,” the New York Daily News’ Glenn Blain and Kenneth Lovett report. “Nearly two years after Spitzer abruptly resigned as governor amid a hooker scandal, Paterson told CNN's Larry King on Thursday night that his recent problems are ‘a carry over from that situation.’ ”
The Kicker: “I hope he comes on your show tomorrow to dispel the latest rumor, denying that I had anything to do with his heart condition.” — Gov. David Paterson, inviting Bill Clinton onto Larry King’s show. “I have smoked pot. I don’t smoke pot now because it’s a decision that I’ve made. I think the country would be a lot better off if no one were allowed to drink, but we tried that, right?” — Former Gov. Gary Johnson, R-N.M., on ABC’s “Top Line.”
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