Strategic Reserve: Obama Hones Governing Style — With Few Natural Allies

Apr 1, 2010 8:15am

By Rick Klein

Maybe it works as a symbol for a presidency: an olive branch, dipped in oil, dangled to the bafflement of both allies and enemies — mostly to whip up some politics around a stale issue. President Obama gets more specific in his salesmanship of the health care bill on Thursday. He’s already gotten a lot more specific when it comes to his governing style. The Obama brand is shifting in the public rendering, as governing challenges and political realities force decisions on a president who’s less green than he used to be (in more ways than one). In that context, the drilling decision is a classic example of the emerging Obama style, risky in its politics, bold in its ambition and quite possibly something that will leave the president in a lonely spot. Liberals view him more skeptically than ever — naïve at best, untrustworthy at worse. In that worldview, the president is again giving away the store before it’s open for business. Then again, given the alternatives, particularly in the energy policy world — where the politics might be even more complicated than on health care — maybe this gets something moving again. First, your backdrop — blame games: “Americans anxious about unemployment and the economy increasingly blame President Obama for hard times, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds, amid signs of turbulence in November’s midterm elections,” Susan Page writes. “Last week’s jubilant signing of the health care overhaul, Obama’s signature domestic initiative, seems to have given the president little boost. Instead, his standing on four personal qualities has sagged, and 50% of those surveyed say he doesn’t deserve re-election.” And what if this is the post-health care bounce? “Registered voters now say they prefer the Republican to the Democratic candidate in their district by 47% to 44% in the midterm congressional elections, the first time the GOP has led in 2010 election preferences since Gallup began weekly tracking of these in March,” per Gallup’s Jeffrey M. Jones. This juices things up: “President Obama, after delaying and deliberating for a year, unveiled a controversial offshore drilling plan Wednesday that was driven largely by the politics of his agenda on energy and climate change — not by hopes of changing the nation’s energy supply,” Jim Tankersley and Richard Simon write in the Los Angeles Times. “Now, the White House sees its new drilling plan as a way to curry favor with Republicans and moderate Democrats whose support will be critical if Obama is to steer his energy and climate change legislation through Congress.”  “In proposing a major expansion of offshore oil and gas development, President Obama set out to fashion a carefully balanced plan that would attract bipartisan support for climate and energy legislation while increasing production of domestic oil,” John M. Broder and Clifford Krauss write in The New York Times. “It is not clear that the plan announced Wednesday will do either.” “The policy’s framework fits Obama’s governing style: To accomplish a liberal goal, in this case climate change legislation, take a centrist stance that may appeal to enough Republicans to win some bipartisan support, or at least justify action without bipartisan support,” McClatchy’s Margaret Talev and Kevin G. Hall report.  “President Obama’s decision, announced Wednesday, to approve new oil and gas drilling off U.S. coasts for the first time in decades reflects a high-stakes calculation by the White House: Splitting the difference on the most contentious energy issues could help secure a bipartisan climate deal this year,” Juliet Eilperin and Anne E. Kornblut write in The Washington Post. “What Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called “a new direction” in energy policy amounted to an offshore political gerrymander in which the administration barred drilling near states where it remains unpopular — California and New Jersey — and allowed it in places where it has significant support, such as Virginia and parts of Alaska and the Southeast.”  They’ll love this on the left … “The [oil and gas] industry was heartened by the president’s rhetorical embrace of fossil fuels, which they viewed as a change from an earlier more dismissive stance,” Russell Gold reports in The Wall Street Journal.   Back among the base: “President Barack Obama’s decision to open the nation’s coastline to offshore drilling has set up a fracas with Senate Democrats,” Alexander Bolton reports for The Hill. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.: “I have let the administration know that if they do not protect New Jersey from the effects of coastal drilling in the climate change bill, then my vote is in question.” Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.: “Giving Big Oil more access to our nation’s waters is really a Kill, Baby, Kill policy.” Your new slogan, courtesy of White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton: “I would say that this comprehensive approach is a lot less ‘Drill, baby, drill,’ and more drill where it’s responsible, promote efficiency, invest in clean energy and create jobs of the future.” Paging your maverick: “Throughout the 2008 presidential campaign, Republican nominee John McCain called himself a political maverick with ‘the record and the scars’ to prove it, in contrast to a rival he portrayed as a spineless party man who never challenged Democratic leaders or interest groups. At this point, as President Obama launches a new era of offshore oil and gas drilling, the two men have largely reversed roles,” Jill Lawrence writes for Politics Daily. Enough to get things moving? “Credit Obama with pulling off a small political coup – one you could even call triangulation lite,” Politico’s Glenn Thrush and Lisa Lerer report. “The price he paid in political terms was relatively small: Angry blowback from environmental activists who still support his overall climate change policy.  But the short-term benefits were large: By announcing the policy change, Obama defused a potentially potent Republican issue ahead of the summer gas spike and the fall midterms, while embracing major elements of the GOP’s ‘all of the above’ energy approach to kick-start a stalled climate change bill.” Back on the trail Thursday … remember when all that mattered were the senators from Maine? “President Barack Obama is promoting his health care law’s benefits for small businesses as he tries to rally public support for the massive overhaul,” AP’s Julie Pace writes. “During a speech Thursday in Portland, Maine — the second stop in a series of appearances to sell the reforms — Obama was to focus on the plan’s short- and long-term impacts on small businesses, many of which have suffered during the economic downturn.” From the White House fact sheet: “Starting today the WhiteHouse.Gov will feature a special section on the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit … In the coming weeks, IRS will send out postcards to millions of small businesses who may be eligible for the credit, urging them to look at the criteria and take advantage if they qualify.” Meanwhile: While Obama made flying visits across the country to tout the new legislation, a number of key Democrats, who led the charge for healthcare reform, seemed to keep a low profile and are doing little to beat the drum,” Reuters’ Dan Whitcomb reports. “Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, who fought for a year to muster the votes in his own party, had no plans to speak on healthcare during the spring break, his staff said.”  Kind of an important constituency … “Seniors aren’t celebrating President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul,” the AP’s Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar reports. “While Democrats hail the sweeping legislation as the greatest expansion of the social safety net since Medicare, they also fear that seniors won’t see it that way for this fall’s elections. Indeed, Republicans have portrayed the overhaul as a raid on Medicare — a bedrock of retirement security — to provide money to pay for covering younger, uninsured workers and their families.” Ed Gillespie, comparing the selling of health care reform to President Bush’s efforts to sell the war in Iraq to the public: “People had come to a conclusion,” he tells USA Today’s John Fritze and Kathy Kiely.  Not to spoil the punch line, but it is April 1, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee is not really touting -39 percent unemployment — or low-emission unicorns. Turning a critical corner, on jobs? “Nearly a year and a half after the United States fell into a severe recession, the Obama administration and many economists are confident that the country’s employers are poised to start adding hundreds of thousands of jobs to their payrolls,” ABC’s Matthew Jaffe and Karen Travers report. “When the nation’s jobs report for March is released early Friday morning, the consensus prediction is that around 200,000 jobs will have been created over the course of the month.” Big international development — perhaps: “China agreed today to begin talking with other world powers about sanctioning Iran over its nuclear program, a Senior State Department official tells ABC News,” Kirit Radia reports. Rejection: “A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the National Security Agency’s program of surveillance without warrants was illegal, rejecting the Obama administration’s effort to keep shrouded in secrecy one of the most disputed counterterrorism policies of former President George W. Bush,” The New York Times’ Charlie Savage and James Risen report. For RNC Chairman Michael Steele, the real blowback begins: “Tony Perkins, the president of the conservative Family Research Council, is telling FRC supporters not to give money to the RNC in the wake of the Voyeur controversy,” ABC’s Teddy Davis reports. Writes Perkins, in his e-mail update: “I’ve hinted at this before, but now I am saying it — don’t give money to the RNC.” As for the silence: “The club debacle spotlights the growing isolation of the RNC under Steele’s tenure. No elected officials have called for Steele’s resignation, but few have come to the chairman’s defense,” the Los Angeles Times’ Kathleen Hennessey reports. Filling that void: “As troubles at the Republican National Committee continue, a group of former Republican officials are starting an outside political group that could compete with the RNC for wealthy donors and prominence,” Brody Mullins reports in The Wall Street Journal. “The group, American Crossroads, hopes to raise $52 million from wealthy Republicans and corporations, according to officials involved with the organization. The goal is to mount an independent campaign to help Republican candidates win in the November elections.” Those involved include: Mike Duncan, Joanne Davidson, Ed Gillespie, Karl Rove, Steven Law and Jim Dyke. Rove with some advice to politicians who want to reach out to Tea Partiers: leave the birthers at home. “Politicians who hope to appeal to tea partiers must offer solutions that are heartfelt and well thought out. Tea party members may be new to politics, but they have a keen instinct for what’s authentic. Attempts to pander will fall flat,” Rove writes in his Wall Street Journal column. “The tea party movement must also distance itself from the ‘birthers’ who insist Mr. Obama wasn’t born in the U.S., the 9/11 deniers, and other conspiracy fans who make wild comments the media will seize on to undermine the movement’s credibility.” 2012 watch: Gov. Tim Pawlenty, R-Minn., used his Facebook town hall to make some news, endorsing seven GOP House candidates Wednesday night. “Pawlenty’s decision to get into the endorsement game in a major way comes hot on the heels of similar rollouts by former Govs. Mitt Romney (Mass.) and Sarah Palin (Alaska),” Chris Cillizza writes at “The Fix” blog. “All three are seen as potential 2012 candidates and are using the coming midterms to bolster their status within the party and accrue chits with rank and file Republicans in advance of the presidential race.” In Florida: “Gov. Charlie Crist’s handpicked former GOP chairman is the subject of a criminal inquiry concerning a secret contract that funneled party money to a consulting company he owned, the state’s top law enforcement agency disclosed Wednesday,” John Frank and Steve Bousquet report in the St. Petersburg Times. “But the investigation of Jim Greer is complicated by the subsequent disclosure that Republican Party officials offered him a severance package at the time of his departure that appeared to absolve him of any financial wrongdoing and pay him $124,000 to remain as a consultant for a year.”
The Kicker: “As it appears that Mr. Smith does not want to be associated with a program that could serve as an inspiration to others, we are cutting his interview from the special and wish him the best with his fledgling acting career.” — Fox News statement, pulling LL Cool J’s (James Todd Smith) interview from its Sarah Palin special, after the rapper objected to the repackaging of an old interview and presenting it as new. “We saw that spike with the election of President Obama … We had to employ a number of people to answer phone calls.” — Spokesman for Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., on why the congressman’s office expenses jumped 11 percent this year.
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