Relevance vs. Resurgence: GOP Matters Again — And That Cuts Both Ways

Feb 10, 2010 8:15am

By Rick Klein Which party is happier right now that every day isn’t Election Day? (Or, at least, that any of the days in the immediate future aren’t Election Day?) No, this has nothing to do with the weather. No, you don’t need notes on your hand to figure this one out. But attention palm readers: For Republicans, the missing piece is starting to form itself. The new ABC News/Washington Post poll shows that — beyond turning on Democrats — voters are starting to turn to Republicans. And as President Obama’s latest attempt at courtship guarantees, Republicans are relevant again. Yet that actually cuts both ways for a party that’s benefited from being the one on the outside looking in. “The Republican Party has grown dramatically more competitive in public trust to handle the country’s most pressing issues, capitalizing on seething economic discontent and doubt about President Obama’s performance to challenge the Democrats in midterm election preferences,” ABC polling director Gary Langer writes. The poll shows a 48-45 GOP lead in the generic congressional ballot, and the president with a 51 percent approval rating — 46 among independents. “Democrats’ lead in trust to handle the country’s main problems has dwindled to a slim 6 points, 43-37 percent, down from 33 points — a record in a generation of polls — after Barack Obama’s election,” Langer writes. “Disapproval of Congress, at 71 percent, matches its highest since 1994, when the GOP swept to control in a midterm rout of the Democrats. Americans by a 20-point margin say they’re inclined to look around for someone new to support for Congress.” “On the big domestic issues — the economy, health care, jobs and the federal budget deficit — bare majorities of Americans disapprove of the job [Obama] is doing,” the Post’s Dan Balz and Jon Cohen report. “When compared with the early months of Obama’s presidency, the GOP’s overall gains are striking. A year ago, Democrats held a 26-point advantage on dealing with the big issues; that lead is now six points. At the one-month mark, Obama’s lead over the Republicans on dealing with the economy was 35 points; it’s now five points.”   As for what this means for Republicans — there is a lot of time to go between now and November. Assuming Washington can dig itself out to get a few things done between now and then, that’s plenty of opportunities for the GOP to either cooperate or obstruct — with uncertain consequences for both paths. President Obama’s push for bipartisanship — at least so far — seems more designed to exploit and highlight the newfound GOP relevance than it does to influence individual votes. Who’s ready for counseling? “Being bipartisan cannot mean that Democrats give up everything they believe in, find the handful of things that Republicans have been advocating for, and we do those things, and then we have bipartisanship,” the president said at his news conference, per ABC’s Jake Tapper. “That’s certainly not how it works in my marriage with Michelle, although I usually do give in, most of the time.”  Been here before? “The two-hour session was part of a renewed drive by the White House to create legislation by consensus, regardless of party label. Obama tried the approach after he took office, but it did not take hold,” The Washington Post’s Shailagh Murray and Paul Kane report.  Glimmers, on jobs: “Democrats embraced some GOP-backed ideas, including new help for small businesses, which in the past have led the way toward recovering lost jobs,” Janet Hook and Christi Parsons report in the Los Angeles Times. “According to a draft outline of the bill circulated by Senate Democrats, the cornerstone would be a proposal to give businesses that hire unemployed workers this year an exemption from the 6.2% Social Security payroll tax. If they keep those workers more than a year, employers would get an additional $1,000 tax credit per employee.” “But GOP leaders exiting the meeting gave no sign that they are prepared to sign on to a bipartisan jobs bill, support Obama’s call for a debt commission or help jump-start health care reform,” Roll Call’s Jennifer Bendery reports. “At one point, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R., Ohio) argued that Congress’s rewriting of health care, energy and tax policy is creating uncertainty for business and stalling job creation, according to aides from both parties,” The Wall Street Journal’s Laura Meckler reports. “Mr. Obama suggested that Republicans would like to just kill those initiatives, but Mr. Boehner replied that this wasn’t the case.” From ABC’s Jake Tapper’s account of the meeting: “The president also criticized McConnell for statements he made against the bipartisan debt reduction commission, which he had voiced support for in the past. McConnell said he’d said that before the president’s ‘spending binge.’” Look who else wasn’t thrilled: “At a closed-door White House session, [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi expressed skepticism over an administration proposal to offer tax breaks to businesses that create new jobs,” Politico’s Manu Raju and Patrick O’Connor report. “The White House session with congressional leaders was supposed to be a step toward bipartisanship, with a focus on jobs. But Pelosi made it clear that there’s disagreement, even among Democrats.”  Actions, not talk: “As if to punctuate that the talk of bipartisanship goes only so far, Senate Republicans subsequently voted to block Mr. Obama’s choice of Craig Becker, a labor lawyer, for the National Labor Relations Board. The move by Republicans served to increase the prospect that the White House would use a recess next week to place stalled nominees in executive branch jobs,” The New York Times’ Helene Cooper and Carl Hulse write.  The optics: “The president pleaded with Republicans that ‘despite the political posturing that often paralyzes this town, there are many issues upon which we can and should agree.’ Lawmakers, by way of response, returned to Capitol Hill and resumed the posturing and the paralysis,” Dana Milbank writes in his Washington Post column. (Boston Globe headline — complete with picture of the newest senator next to the pickup truck he drove down on Sunday: “Brown’s first vote not the deciding one.”) And while we’re putting aside matters of party — this from the White House that doesn’t care about cable chatter, per ABC’s Karen Travers: “Oh I wrote a few things down,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said from the podium Tuesday, mimicking You Know Who. (And if you don’t know who, you’re reading the wrong column.)   On bipartisanship, Obama “often undercuts his overtures with his own jabs at Republicans. And there’s little indication the GOP is taking his comments as anything but political,” the AP’s Chuck Babington writes. “Both sides’ stances might be summed up this way: We’re ready to cooperate right now. All you need to do is go along with what we want.” Who to blame? More from the ABC News/Post poll: “A substantial 44 percent of Americans say Obama himself is doing ‘too little’ to compromise with the Republican leaders in Congress on important issues. But while that’s hardly ideal, the GOP leaders do worse; 58 percent of Americans say they’re not trying hard enough,” Gary Langer writes. “In that spread, lies a distinct, potential political advantage for the president,” Time’s Michael Scherer writes. On the Wednesday schedule — not a whole lot. Washington is still snowed in, with federal and DC workers getting another day off, and messy roads and delayed transit systems making the week waste away, but slowly. The Hill reports: “Washington’s latest snowstorm forced the House to cancel its voting schedule for the rest of the week, while the Senate voted Tuesday but canceled Wednesday’s votes. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said that votes in the Senate this week are unlikely because senators are having trouble catching flights to the Capital.” Planning afoot — on an issue Democrats aren’t sure they want still to be on their table: “Despite the blizzard gripping Washington, Democrats, Republicans and advocacy groups began intense maneuvering Tuesday in advance of the televised health care summit that President Obama has set for Feb. 25 in an attempt to bring new life to what had been his top domestic priority,” Carolyn Lochhead reports in the San Francisco Chronicle. House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, asks a really good question: “Why are we going to talk about a bill that can’t pass?” Prediction time: Speaker Pelosi, confident that Democrats will “definitely” retain the House, with “much more than a simple majority”: “I am not yielding one grain of sand,” Pelosi said in an interview with Roll Call. “My responsibility is to protect and preserve my incumbents and that’s what I intend to do… I’m fighting for every seat.” (Massachusetts, Pelosi said, happened in part because of new taxes in the Senate health care bill: “That was not a positive message. … We don’t have that in our House bill, so we don’t have to defend that position.”) Presidential populism, now — or maybe later: “President Barack Obama said he doesn’t ‘begrudge’ the $17 million bonus awarded to JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon or the $9 million issued to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. CEO Lloyd Blankfein, noting that some athletes take home more pay,” Julianna Goldman and Ian Katz report for Bloomberg BusinessWeek.  “The president, speaking in an interview, said in response to a question that while $17 million is ‘an extraordinary amount of money’ for Main Street, ‘there are some baseball players who are making more than that and don’t get to the World Series either, so I’m shocked by that as well.’ ‘I know both those guys; they are very savvy businessmen,” Obama said in the interview yesterday in the Oval Office. … ‘I, like most of the American people, don’t begrudge people success or wealth. That is part of the free- market system.’ ” ABC’s Jake Tapper: “As recently as just a few weeks ago, President Obama has called massive Wall Street bonuses ‘obscene,’ ‘the height of irresponsibility’ and ‘shameful,’ an ‘outrage’ and a violation ‘our fundamental values.’ ” More shots in the war on terror wars, from Dana M. Perino and Bill Burck, in National Review Online: “Someone isn’t telling the American public the truth. Either the heads of the intelligence community lied to Congress several weeks ago when they all testified, under oath, they were not consulted, or Brennan is fibbing now. We hope it’s the latter, because the former is a potentially criminal offense.” Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., wants Brennan fired: “A drastic change in policy is needed,” he says. “Our problem now is that we have to wonder whether we can trust [Brennan] after he has been a mouthpiece for the political arm that I thought only came out of the White House press office,” Bond, vice-chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, tells National Review’s Robert Costa.  The New York Times editorial: “The Republican propaganda is a distraction from the real issue: that the counterterrorism system is malfunctioning more than eight years after the Sept. 11 attacks. … Congress should be helping the president fix those problems, not piling up sound bites for November and trying to bring that shameful detention system home.” Time’s Massimo Calabresi, with some helpful framing: “The debate over counterterrorism tactics has seen a shift to the right over the past year. Republicans are now criticizing Obama for policies that were embraced by Bush during his last years in office … At the same time, Obama is touting the use of Bush-era tactics he once deplored, like the use of military tribunals, detention without trial and an expansive interpretation of the state’s secrecy doctrine.” A stimulus story with legs — and punch to get things changed: “Despite all the talk of green jobs, the overwhelming majority of stimulus money spent on wind power has gone to foreign companies,” ABC’s Jonathan Karl reports. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.: “It makes people lose faith in government, and it frankly infuriates me.” Keeping the faith — Garrison Keillor, writing for Salon: “It is a large moment for Democrats, learning to stick with a good man through a rough period when the people who crave disillusionment have become disillusioned. It’s like a winter vacation in the Caribbean when it rains buckets and you eat some bad shellfish and a shrieky teenager says you’ve ruined her life forever. You smile, take a shower and organize a volleyball game. You have to work at it.” Losing his faith — former Gov. Doug Wilder, D-Va., in a Politico op-ed: “I am an admirer of Tim Kaine, whom I backed in his current position as one of my successors as Virginia governor and even recommended for the vice presidency. But a spate of recent losses in races that Democrats should have won underscores what has been obvious to me for a long time: The chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee is the wrong job for him.” RNC Chairman Michael Steele plays a card: “I don’t see stories about the internal operations of the DNC that I see about this operation. Why? Is it because Michael Steele is the chairman, or is it because a black man is chairman?” he told Washingtonian, per The Plum Line’s Greg Sargent.  The Paterson comeback? Or at least until whatever was supposed to have been published already finally sees print? “A bizarre mix of speculation and innuendo involving sex and drugs has had a surprising effect on New York Gov. David Paterson’s reputation: It has made him a sympathetic figure for perhaps the first time in his troubled 22 months in office,” Politico’s Ben Smith reports. “In his response Tuesday, Paterson was clearly trying to capitalize on the same skepticism of the press, and revulsion at its intrusion into private life, that helped revive Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign in February 2008, when the Times, after weeks of similar speculation, reported on McCain’s relationship with a female lobbyist. That story was met with a storm of criticism.” Paterson, D-N.Y., on Tuesday, per ABC’s David Chalian: “The only way I’m not going to be governor next year is at the ballot box, and the only way that I will be leaving the office before is in a box.” Something new to drop? WPIX reports: “PIX News has learned that federal prosecutors are investigating Governor David Paterson’s awarding of a lucrative contract to a politically connected group to run a gaming center at Aqueduct Raceway. The embattled Governor who appears to have dodged the bullet of rumors and innuendo that had been circulating over a purported ‘bombshell’ story being prepared by the New York Times, is now part of a probe by the Eastern District U.S. Attorney’s office in Brooklyn.” House retirement coming Wednesday — a tea party casualty? “Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI 03) will announce his retirement at a 10 a.m. presser,” Tim Sahd and Reid Wilson write for Hotline On Call. “The 2/10 announcement will come a day after state Rep. Justin Amash (R) announced a primary challenge to Ehlers. … Ehlers will be the 17th House GOPer to announce plans not to run for re-election, compared to 11 Dems who have done the same.”  The Kicker: “And then I wrote down ‘hope and change,’ just in case I forgot.” — White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, doing his best Sarah Palin. “McConnell and Reid are out doing snow angels on the South Lawn together.” — President Obama, with a proposition we can all get behind. For up-to-the-minute political updates check out The Note’s blog . . . all day every day:

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