Sticky Politics: Unexpected Events Scramble Agenda, Again

May 3, 2010 8:08am

By Rick Klein Where do you find room to drive an agenda again? Another week, another lesson in the unexpected for President Obama — with events outside (or, perhaps more dangerously, barely inside) his control driving the news. Just when he thought it was safe to get down to the Gulf Coast, a Manhattan scare called the nation’s attention back northward. Toss in that Supreme Court vacancy (a nominee late this week?) and a Greek economic crisis and immigration flare-ups in Arizona and an Iranian president in New York and an Afghanistan policy that needs some attention — and those winds off the waters seem fierce again. The legislative agenda — led now by financial regulatory reform, and with energy and immigration waiting not-so-patiently in the wings — is moving as slowly as we are approaching environmental calamity. That would be the one that lingered just off the president’s shoreline, until it was suddenly everywhere. “For a White House that was focused on health care for many months, it has seemed, at moments, as if the floodgates have opened,” Anne E. Kornblut writes in The Washington Post. “The moment underscored the very nature of the presidency, which is unpredictable and always requires juggling multiple major events simultaneously. But it also demonstrated how challenging it has been for Obama to get his timing right. By the time he reached Louisiana — 12 days after the initial oil-rig explosion and just two days after the White House insisted Obama had no plans to alter his schedule and go — the focus of most headlines had shifted to the next day’s news, in this case a potential terrorist attack four miles from Ground Zero.” “Obama has halted any new offshore drilling projects unless rigs have new safeguards to prevent another disaster. On Sunday he called the spill a ‘massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster,’ and made clear that he was not accepting blame,” the AP’s Cain Burdeau and Ray Henry write. “Let me be clear: BP is responsible for this leak. BP will be paying the bill,” Obama said. “But as president of the United States I’m going to spare no effort to respond to this crisis for as long as it continues and we will spare no resource to clean up whatever damage is caused.” “That is why the federal government has launched an all-hands-on-deck, relentless response to this crisis from day one,” the president said. (With White House photo and everything — including bipartisanship for posterity.)  Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, on “Good Morning America” Monday: “I think it could be a very large cost, indeed. I think the cash register is still going.” “Obama on Sunday used his most forceful language yet, pledging the full resources of the federal government for as long as it took to fight the massive oil leak that threatened the environment and economy of the Gulf of Mexico region,” the Los Angeles Times’ Ashley Powers and Jim Tankersly report. “While he did not criticize the company in his public remarks, Mr. Obama’s comments reflected increased frustration in the administration with BP’s inability to plug the oil leak. The president again reiterated that American taxpayers would not foot the bill,” The New York Times’ Campbell Robertson and Henry Fountain write. No K-words: “Mr. Obama and other administration officials were vigorous in detailing federal assistance efforts to contain the spill, which was caused by an explosion of a BP-owned offshore oil rig that killed 11 people on April 20,” the Washington Times’ Kara Rowland reports. “Although Mr. Obama did not make his first public statement on the situation until nine days later, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano dismissed comparisons to the Bush administration’s handling of Hurricane Katrina, saying Mr. Obama has been on top of the situation since ‘Day One.’ ” Encouraging? The efforts are like performing “open heart surgery at 5,000 feet in the dark with robot-controlled submarines,” BP America’s Lamar McKay told ABC’s Jake Tapper on “This Week” Sunday.  Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, on “This Week”: “Worst-case scenario, this thing could keep going on for 90 days.” For larger meaning: “It’s true that Mr. Obama isn’t as well positioned to make this a teachable moment as he should be: just a month ago he announced a plan to open much of the Atlantic coast to oil exploration, a move that shocked many of his supporters and makes it hard for him to claim the moral high ground now,” Paul Krugman writes. “But he needs to get beyond that. The catastrophe in the gulf offers an opportunity, a chance to recapture some of the spirit of the original Earth Day. And if that happens, some good may yet come of this ecological nightmare.” More larger meaning, from Sarah Palin: “Speaking to a crowd of mostly Republicans at the Independence Events Center, the former Alaska governor called the oil spill ‘very tragic’ but added: ‘I want our country to be able to trust the oil industry,’ ” Steve Kraske reports in the Kansas City Star. “We’ve got to tap domestically because energy security will be the key to our prosperity,” Palin said. Meanwhile, in New York: “No matter who turns out to have been responsible, the Obama Administration has an opportunity to atone here for some of the botched communication that followed the more serious Christmas Day attack. Like the oil spill in the Gulf, this is a teachable moment — but it requires leaders to rise to the occasion,” Steve Coll writes for The New Yorker. “The very amateurishness of the attack — unlike the Christmas Day attack, for example, it does not immediately call into question the competence of the government’s defenses — offers President Obama the opportunity to start talking back to terrorists everywhere in a more resilient, sustainable language than he has yet discovered.” ABC’s Jake Tapper: “Homeland Security Janet Napolitano told me that right now there is no evidence that car bomb found in New York’s Times Square last night is ‘anything other than a one-off.’ … Napolitano said the explosive device ‘doesn’t look like it is a very sophisticated one, quite frankly.’” Mayor Michael Bloomberg, I-N.Y., on “GMA” Monday: “So far there’s no legitimate evidence that the Taliban or al Qaeda or anybody else had anything to do with this.” Checking in on some divisive issues, coming out of May Day weekend: “The shooting of a law-enforcement officer in Arizona’s South Central Desert by people officials suspect are drug smugglers has fueled further disagreement over Arizona’s new immigration law,” The Wall Street Journal’s Lauren A.E. Schuker reports. “Proponents and critics of the legislation have used the crime, committed Friday by people who the Pinal County Sheriff’s office say may have gained illegal entry to the U.S., to argue their sides in a growing debate over how the state, and the country, should control its borders.”  You thought it was a hot issue before? “If Sheriff Joe Arpaio decides to run for governor, he’ll add his name to an already crowded field in the Republican primary,” Tim Vetscher reports for ABC-15 in Phoenix. “Sources say Arpaio took the weekend to decide whether to run for governor and will announce his decision Monday. Those sources suggest the Sheriff will indeed throw his hat in the ring.” Smart take, off to your right: “Internal GOP politics are profoundly affecting major policies such as immigration, health care and deficit spending, as elected Republicans shift right to fend off challengers in primary elections,” the AP’s Chuck Babington writes. “The moves may leave a lasting imprint on society long after flashy political events, such as Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s decision to abandon the GOP in hopes of winning a Senate seat, are minor memories. They show that conservative movements such as the tea party phenomenon are influencing the nation well ahead of the November elections.” Six months out… ABC’s David Chalian takes stock of the midterm landscape: “It took Democrats 12 long years to fight their way back to the majority after their stinging defeat in 1994. And the party is in danger of handing control back to the Republicans after just four years at the helm. Six months from now, a restive electorate suffering from economic anxiety, continued high unemployment, and a strong distaste for the ways of Washington will head to the polls in what is shaping up to be a particularly brutal midterm election for the party in power.” With Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arriving in New York (he speaks in the morning, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks in the afternoon) … “A global nuclear conference that opens Monday is shaping up as a showdown between Iran and the United States, with each side jockeying for allies in the escalating dispute over the Islamic republic’s nuclear program,” The Washington Post’s Mary Beth Sheridan and Colum Lynch report. Former UN Ambassador John Bolton, in The Wall Street Journal: “The further pursuit of sanctions is tantamount to doing nothing. Advocating such policies only benefits Iran by providing it cover for continued progress toward its nuclear objective. It creates the comforting illusion of ‘doing something.’ Just as ‘diplomacy’ previously afforded Iran the time and legitimacy it needed, sanctions talk now does the same.” Checking in on Wall Street reform — from someone lawmakers have listened to in the past: “Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Sheila Bair has urged lawmakers to scrap a controversial Senate plan that would force banks to spin off their derivatives businesses, saying it could destabilize banks and drive risk into unregulated parts of the financial sector,” Damian Paletta reports in The Wall Street Journal. “Coming from the head of the agency in charge of protecting deposits in the U.S. banking system, Ms. Bair’s comments could command attention, particularly because she has often been critical of big banks, and has called for curbs on their activities. In this case, however, she’s suggesting proposed curbs might go too far.” Ammo: “As Democrats close in on their goal of overhauling the nation’s financial regulations, several prominent experts say that the legislation does not even address the right problems, leaving the financial system vulnerable to another major crisis,” The New York Times’ Binyamin Applepaum and Sewell Chan write. “Some point to specific issues left largely untouched, like the instability of capital markets that provide money for lenders, or the government’s role in the housing market, including the future of the housing finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Others simply argue that it is premature to pass sweeping legislation while so much about the crisis remains unclear and so many inquiries are in progress.” Pelosi, the powerful… The Washington Post’s Paul Kane profiles the House speaker: “Pelosi is a towering figure, perhaps even a historic one. Capped by her central role in passing the landmark health-care bill in March, the California Democrat, 70, has transformed herself from the caricature of a millionaire liberal with impeccable fashion taste into a speaker on par with the revered Sam Rayburn, according to historians, pollsters and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle,” Kane writes. He continues. “Almost every key negotiation in the last three years has been settled at her conference table in the Capitol. She always takes the middle seat with her back to the window overlooking the Mall, with a 2005 portrait of Abraham Lincoln hanging above. A firm believer in the prerogatives of the House, Pelosi’s portrait is of Lincoln during his one congressional term, not from his historic presidency.” In Florida — blame Lieberman? “Florida Gov. Charlie Crist tells National Review Online that a conversation with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I., Conn.) helped to convince him to run for U.S. Senate as an independent. ‘[Lieberman] told me that [going independent] is the most liberating thing,’ Crist says. ‘He was right. I’m much happier now, to be perfectly candid,’” National Review’s Robert Costa reports. And does he go D or R for majority leader? “I might not vote for either one. I’m going to vote for who I think would be best for the people of Florida. And if that happens to be a Democrat, so be it. If it happens to be a Republican, so be it. But I’ve got to look out for the people of my state,” Crist told David Gregory. In Hawaii — the worst-case scenario for Democrats, in a new poll: “Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou has the advantage in the special election for Congress, a new Hawai’i Poll has found, giving Republicans the best opportunity in two decades to claim the urban Honolulu district,” Derrick DePledge reports in the Honolulu Advertiser. “Djou leads with 36 percent, former congressman Ed Case is chasing at 28 percent, and state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa is trailing with 22 percent. Thirteen percent were undecided. The poll, taken for The Advertiser and Hawai’i News Now, confirms fears among Democrats that Case and Hanabusa could split the Democratic vote in the winner-take-all election and help Djou score a rare Republican upset.” Making both of this month’s high-profile specials more interesting: “[Sen. Scott] Brown has written a letter to his list of Hawaii donors for Honolulu City Council member Charles Djou, the Republican candidate in the state’s 1st Congressional District. Brown will also travel to southwestern Pennsylvania this month in support of businessman Tim Burns’s campaign for that state’s 12th District seat. Brown will appear at two events for Burns on May 14: a fundraiser in Canonsburg, Pa., and a rally in Washington, Pa.,” The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza writes. Staffing up … From the release going out from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Monday: “Jennifer Pihlaja, who currently serves as the DCCC’S Director of Incumbent Retention, will expand her responsibilities to become the committee’s new Political Director. Robby Mook, the current Political Director, will run the DCCC’s 2010 Independent Expenditure (IE) program. John Lapp – former DCCC Executive Director and IE Director – will be a senior advisor to the DCCC Independent Expenditure Program.” Just maybe back in the mix sooner than anticipated: “President Barack Obama essentially sidelined a potential 2012 challenger last year when he dispatched Republican Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman to Beijing. But Obama also might have unwittingly done his ambassador to China a favor — giving Huntsman a place to wait out the GOP soul-searching that has upended once-promising careers of moderates like him,” Politico’s Carol E. Lee reports. “Huntsman still has his eyes on the political landscape back home and isn’t shy about his possible interest in running for office. ‘That’s an option we will always hold open,’ he said in a telephone interview from Beijing, where he said he expects the coming months to be a critical part of his time in China.” The Kicker: “Washington creates the atmosphere where bad words are necessary.” — Bill Maher, asked on the red carpet whether politicians are taking away the curse words.  ”Who is Michael Steele?” — Chris Tucker, moments after Michael Steele walked the red carpet at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner “with my buddy Chris Tucker.”
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