By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
President Obama is riding high in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll. According to the new numbers, 54 percent of Americans now approve of Obama’s job performance — a gain of 5 points from last month and 8 points from September when his approval rating sunk to a career low. http://abcn.ws/gLJSAM
More than a week after the Tucson attack, 58 percent of American say the president “understands the problems of people like you” compared to 40 percent who do not.
But this week the focus is going to turn away from the President — who’s been able to command the spotlight during the successful lame duck session and the tragedy in Tucson — to the GOPers in Congress.
So what does America know about the new House Speaker besides the fact he can get weepy? Not much.
Boehner’s approval rating stands at 39 percent, while 33 percent have no opinion of him. The new House Speaker’s approval rating is lower than Nancy Pelosi’s when she took over as speaker in 2007 (54 percent) and about the same as Newt Gingrich’s starting mark of 35 percent in 1995, according to polling analyst Gary Langer.
On the eve of a vote in the House to repeal the health care law, Republicans will likely feel emboldened by the latest numbers in the ABC News/Washington Post poll. When asked who they trusted more on the issue, Obama and Republicans are tied — the first time ever that Obama hasn’t led on this question.
Trust in Obama on health care dropped 9 points since last month to a new low of 42 percent, the poll shows, and trust in the Republicans inched up 4 points to the same threshold.
But, Republicans should be wary of overestimating their mandate on the issue. The siren song of “winning” the health care debate caused huge problems for the Democrats in 2009-10. Can Boehner steer his party’s ship from those same shoals?
It’s the economy, not health care, that voters really want to see Washington to work on. Asked which issue they’d pick as the one Congress and the President should give their highest priority, 72 percent of respondents picked the economy. Coming in second place was the deficit at 50 percent. Forty-three percent of Americans chose health care as the highest priority for Washington.
Another important data point, Langer notes: “Overall, just 13 percent describe the nation’s economy positively — while still miserably low, that’s up 4 points from October to the most since February 2008. More significantly, the number describing the nation’s economy as ‘poor’ is down by 8 points since October, to 41 percent in this new survey.”
BOTTOM LINE: None of this is to say that the debate over repealing health care isn’t important, just that Republicans have to be careful to keep it in perspective. The more that one party looks like it’s distracted from voters top priority of the economy, the more likely that party will be punished at the ballot box next fall (see: 2010 elections).
More detailed results from the new ABC News/Washington Post poll: http://abcn.ws/gLJSAM and ABC News’ Jake Tapper’s analysis of what the new numbers mean for the White House on “Good Morning America” today: http://abcn.ws/i6ukRc
NOTED: The House of Representatives returns to business today and a vote on repeal of health care reform is likely to come Wednesday afternoon.
NEWT ON GMA. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich weighed in on President Obama as well as his new book, “To Save America” in an interview today with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. Gingrich praised Obama’s pick of new White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley. “I’ve worked with Bill over the years,” Gingrich said. “He’s a very solid, very competent guy who understands the business community — and in the great Chicago tradition — understands getting things done.” Gingrich also called the president’s Tucson speech “very effective.” On his presidential ambitions: Gingrich said he would be making some decisions by early March. http://abcn.ws/fuUutQ
EXCLUSIVE: GIFFORDS’ HUSBAND OPENS UP. ABC News’ Diane Sawyer sat down with astronaut Capt. Mark Kelly to talk about his wife Gabrielle Giffords’ recovery and the Tucson shooting that injured her and killed six people. “If I hold her hand, she’ll play with my wedding ring,” he said. “She’ll move it up and down my finger. She’ll take it off. … She’ll put it on her own finger. She’ll move it to her thumb. And then she can put it back on my finger. “The reason why I know that that means she recognizes me is because she’s done that before. She’ll do that if we’re sitting in a restaurant. She’ll do the same exact movements,” he said. … Kelly was struck by Giffords’ progress again when “she stuck her hand up on the side of my face” and began giving him a neck massage. “She spent 10 minutes rubbing my neck and I keep telling her, ‘Gabby, you’re in the ICU. You know, you don’t need to be doing this,” he said with a chuckle. http://abcn.ws/fNsuB7 Diane’s “Good Morning America” report: http://abcn.ws/fhDP9b
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE”: ABC’s Rick Klein and Jonathan Karl talk to Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, to discuss the GOP efforts to repeal the health care reform law (see a preview below). Also on the program: The Hill’s Sam Youngman will talk about Congressional and White House politics. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine
KING OF THE HILL. “Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, a leading proponent of repeal, says it was appropriate for [House Speaker John] Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor to postpone the legislative calendar in the aftermath of the [Arizona shootings],” ABC News’ John R. Parkinson reports. “But now, King says, the time has come to get back on track and overturn the health care reform law. … King, who introduced the repeal legislation immediately following health care reform’s passage last spring, dismisses suggestions that health care repeal will fail in the Senate and says that a vote in the House will put pressure on wavering lawmakers to support repeal. ‘The [Congressional GOP] leadership and the Republicans and a significant number of Democrats have come to this point where we understand that we have to pull Obama care out by the roots, that we can’t get this country back on track, nor can we fix our health care problems in America with the obstruction of this bad bill that was ideologically unsound,’ King said.” http://abcn.ws/eBOh4B
OBAMA vs. ‘DUMB’ GOVERNMENT. In what ABC News’ Jake Tapper calls “another proverbial move to the center,” President Obama plans to sign an Executive Order today to combat cumbersome and “dumb” government regulations. The order will “make clear the operating principle of the US government is to strike the right balance with regulations, neither ‘placing unreasonable burdens on business—burdens that have stifled innovation and have had a chilling effect on growth and jobs’ nor failing to ‘protect the public interest.’ The president made the announcement in an Op-Ed in the conservative opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal, in yet another sign his move may be based in part in moving towards the political center (or at least being perceived as doing so.)” http://abcn.ws/eQ3ZEH
PALIN: THE LEFT HATES MY MESSAGE. “Sarah Palin says that people on the left hate her message and will ‘do what they can to destroy the message and messenger,’ even as she insists that she will not be ‘sat down and shut up,’” ABC News’ John Berman reports. “In her first interview since the shootings in Arizona, Palin spoke last night with conservative commentator Sean Hannity on Fox News, where she is also a paid contributor. [The] former Alaska governor ardently defended her statements from both before and after the deadly rampage. She insisted that the map her political action committee used last year to place Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ district in crosshairs was hardly original political imagery. ‘Democrats have been using it for years,’ she said, adding that she had been ‘falsely accused of being accessory to murder.’” http://abcn.ws/hvtBLD
CHAMBER’S ROADSHOW. Following last week’s “State of American Business” address, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue is taking the Chamber’s jobs plan on the road, starting today with a keynote address to the Economic Club of Minnesota, according to a spokesman. Donohue is expected to address more than 200 of the state’s business leaders and say that “Minnesota begins 2011 in a lot better shape economically than last year,” and that “Our recovery – while it appears to have taken hold – is still fragile and uneven.” The state’s unemployment rate is two points below the national average, but still higher than preferred, and the state has a two-year, $6.2 billion budget shortfall. According to the Chamber: “[Donohue will] continue to focus on an agenda that grows the economy by restraining and reforming our regulatory system, expanding trade opportunities, reducing deficits, and rebuilding our infrastructure system.”
CHENEY ON BUSH. Former Vice President Dick Cheney said he and President George W. Bush “had some policy differences” and that he would be “forthright with my comments on those,” in a new book, according to an interview with NBC News. Karen Travers reports: “Cheney told NBC that his push to get Bush to pardon his friend and former chief of staff Scooter Libby strained his relationship with the president ‘a bit,’ but said that he thinks their relationship now is ‘pretty good.’ Cheney reiterated that he went to Bush three times in the lead up to the 2004 election and offered to drop off the ticket. ‘The reason I did it was I thought he needed to have the ability to do whatever was necessary — to make sure he won,’ he said. But he said that after the third time, Bush thought about it for several weeks and came back to him and said ‘No Dick, you’re my guy.’” http://abcn.ws/erLKkU
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