Unsteady Pace

By RICK KLEIN ( @rickklein )

Has there ever been a year where so much happened, with so little actually happening? (Or a year that everyone - in both parties - would just as soon forget?)

The best that might be said about President Obama's year is that he ends it with a measure of relative stability. His signature health care law isn't getting any more unpopular, and neither is he, according to the new ABC News/Washington Post poll out this morning.

It's a 43 percent approval rating for the president, with 55 percent disapproving - steady as she goes since a month ago, when he reached the low point of his presidency. (Yes, there can be good news in very bad numbers.)

"Public opposition to the new health care law has eased in the past month, enough to help level off Barack Obama's falling popularity - but not to turn it around," ABC's GARY LANGER writes in wrapping the poll. http://abcn.ws/1fzIARR

The worst that might be said? The long view is not the president's friend, not as this year comes to a weary close.

"His position is all the more striking when compared with his standing a year ago, as he was preparing for his second inauguration after a solid reelection victory. That high note proved fleeting," writes THE WASHINGTON POST's DAN BALZ and SCOTT CLEMENT. "Approval rates of both parties in Congress remain worse than Obama's. Still, it is the president who has suffered the most damage from his administration's self-inflicted wounds and a year of partisan conflict that included a partial shutdown of the government." http://wapo.st/1bLOY3C

As for superlatives - if not overstatements - it's this sense that may be most damaging to a presidency: "Obama needs to shatter the cycle of dysfunction (his and history's) or risk leaving office like Bush, unpopular and relatively unaccomplished," NATIONAL JOURNAL's RON FOURNIER writes. http://bit.ly/1bMg4Yl

A budget deal moves closer to conclusion on Tuesday. President Obama holds an awkwardly timed meeting, after an awkwardly timed - and sharply worded - judge's ruling. And Scott Brown loses any sense of subtlety with his slow journey northward.


  • SLAPPED DOWN. From US District Court Judge RICHARD LEON's OPINION, declaring that NSA surveillance programs are likely unconstitutional: "There is the very real prospect that the (NSA) program will go on for as long as America is combatting terrorism, which realistically could be forever!" … "I believe that bulk telephony metadata collection and analysis almost certainly does violate a reasonable expectation of privacy." … "I have serious doubts about the efficacy of the metadata collection program as a means of conducting time-sensitive investigations in cases involving imminent threats of terrorism." http://abcn.ws/1kRsmUR
  • THINK HE DISAGREES? "The president himself has said point blank that this program saves lives," ABC's JONATHAN KARL reported on "Good Morning America" Tuesday. "Nobody doubts that this will ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court."
  • JUDICIAL REVIEW. "The case is the first in which a federal judge who is not on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which authorized the once-secret program, has examined the bulk data collection on behalf of someone who is not a criminal defendant," per THE NEW YORK TIMES' CHARLIE SAVAGE. "It also marks the first successful legal challenge brought against the program since it was revealed in June after leaks by the former N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden." http://nyti.ms/1cOdJR8
  • SNOWDEN STATEMENT: "Today, a secret program authorized by a secret court was, when exposed to the light of day, found to violate Americans' rights," the statement said. "It is the first of many."
  • WHAT TIMING, PART 1. "In political terms, it comes at a critical time for the NSA and President Barack Obama," POLITICO's JOSH GERSTEIN writes. "Obama was initially expected to dig through the reform proposals before Christmas and announce which ones he would adopt. However, the White House now says that process won't be complete until sometime next month. The delay gives Leon's decision time to resonate and gives surveillance skeptics more time to pressure Obama to endorse significant reforms after Edward Snowden's revelations about NSA surveillance practices." http://politi.co/J1WoZw
  • WHAT TIMING, PART 2. From the White House, guidance for Tuesday's 10:45 am meeting: "President Obama will meet with executives from leading tech companies to discuss progress made in addressing performance and capacity issues with HealthCare.Gov and how government can better deliver IT to maximize innovation, efficiency and customer service. The meeting will also address national security and the economic impacts of unauthorized intelligence disclosures…"
  • FLIPPED POSITIONS - more from the ABC/POST POLL: "Preference for the GOP approach over Obama's in handling budget cuts vs. maintaining needed programs has risen since the shutdown by 18 points among independents and also by 18 points among adults younger than age 30, customarily a strong Obama group but one in which he lost ground sharply last month," GARY LANGER writes. "Trust for the GOP on funding issues also has risen since the shutdown by 16 points among women and by 14 points among adults with lower and lower-middle incomes, two other consistently better groups for Obama, and therefore surely a cause of concern to Democrats." http://abcn.ws/1fzIARR
  • TIES GO TO... "Americans divide evenly, 41-41 percent, on whom they trust more to handle the nation's main problems, Obama or the Republicans in Congress. A year ago, still celebrating his post re-election boost, Obama held a 15-point advantage on this measure. And on another key issue in the midterms, the public also divides evenly on which political party has better ideas about 'the right size and role of the federal government,' " per LANGER. http://abcn.ws/1fzIARR
  • FOR HISTORY. More from THE WASHINGTON POST write-up: "Obama ends his fifth year in office with lower approval ratings than almost all other recent two-term presidents. At this point in 2005, for example, former president George W. Bush was at 47 percent positive, 52 percent negative. All other post-World War II presidents were at or above 50 percent at this point in their second terms, except Richard M. Nixon, whose fifth year ended in 1973 with an approval rating of 29 percent because of the Watergate scandal." http://wapo.st/1bLOY3C


"THE REAL LEGEND BEHIND 'ANCHORMAN,' " the latest from the ABC News/Yahoo! News "Power Players" series. With "Anchorman 2? hitting theaters this week, we'll have a good laugh with Ron Burgundy. But underneath the laughter is the reality of discrimination that female and minority television reporters confronted during the 1970s. At the Newseum, where a new "Anchorman" exhibit celebrates the movie series, the museum's director of collections told ABC's JIM AVILA that Will Ferrell and his creative team took inspiration for the satirical movie from the true stories of pioneering television reporter Jessica Savitch. "They were watching an actual documentary about Jessica Savitch and were struck by not just her story but by the overt and over-the-top sexism that her male co-anchors, counterparts were willingly discussing," curator Carrie Christofferson said. "And they thought you know we can have a little fun with this and poke some holes through some of the ideas." Savitch broke down gender barriers over her career, becoming the first woman television news anchor in the South, and later the first woman to anchor a weekend network newscast at NBC News. She died in a car accident in 1983. http://yhoo.it/1gDt6Q1


WILL CONGRESS COMPLETE ITS TO-DO LIST? The holiday season is officially upon us, and members of Congress are packing up and heading home for a long break. But will everything get done before the last lawmakers leave Washington for the holidays this week? With the House already gone, ABC's ARLETTE SAENZ takes a look at the legislative items on the Senate's plate for the week - and a few issues that will be left hanging until 2014. http://abcn.ws/1cxacTG

AN END. The key vote on the budget compromise comes Tuesday in the Senate: "The sharp Republican divisions over the $85-billion deal, which was approved last week by the House with a robust bipartisan majority, has turned the Senate procedural vote into a high-stakes battle between the Republican tea party wing and establishment conservatives," LISA MASCARO writes for the LOS ANGELES TIMES. "The conservative organizations that vehemently oppose the package are putting tremendous pressure on Senate Republicans, their last line of defense. Opposition is likely to come from the top tier of the Republican leadership, as well as some Democrats." http://lat.ms/1cyo6oJ

WHAT BROWN'S DOING. "Former Massachusetts senator Scott Brown has sold his house in the Bay State and will move to New Hampshire, ABC news has confirmed, a clear signal that he may seek his political comeback across state line," ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE and ABBY PHILLIP report. "An aide to Brown confirmed to ABC News that Brown will close on the sale of his Wrentham, Mass., home this week and will move to New Hampshire." http://abcn.ws/1bWTmRA

WHAT'S BEING DONE FOR BROWN. "Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is being targeted in the first ads of the New Hampshire Senate race next year by an outside group that is transparent about the fact it is as much about opposing Shaheen as it is hoping that former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown gets in the race," WMUR-TV's JAMES PINDELL reports. "The group Ending Spending Inc. says they are spending a little over six figures in total for web ads promoting the Draft Scott Brown movement and now in television ads that will run on WMUR-TV and on cable in New Hampshire. Some $43,000 will be spent on WMUR-TV for commercials that will start Tuesday and run through Sunday." http://bit.ly/JCoH24

KING PAC. Rep. Peter King is forming a new political action committee, "American Leadership PAC," to promote an alternative to the GOP wing led by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. "I want to create a presence for those like myself who feel Rand Paul and Ted Cruz are out of touch with the American people," King, R-N.Y, told ABC's ALEX LAZAR. "This is highlighted by the government shutdown, which was one of the worst political disasters we've ever had." "It's basically to meet Republicans and find others who share my views," said King, who refers to Republicans of his ilk as "blue collar conservatives." King, 69, also told the New Hampshire Union Leader that the PAC is "going to be a vehicle to enable me to help build a stronger Republican Party and work with Republicans that I feel I have more in common with." http://abcn.ws/1diabEW

NEWS MAN. "Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee will launch a news publication "Huckabee Post" in January 2014," ABC's ANNETA KONSTANTINIDES reports. "The site will cover a range of topics from news and politics to sports and pop culture, according to the former governor's son, David Huckabee." http://abcn.ws/1jcKrkJ

THE SCRAMBLE. "For tens of thousands of Americans, the race to complete Obamacare enrollments is on. Just under a week from today, by 11:59 p.m. ET on Dec. 23, anyone seeking health insurance coverage effective Jan. 1, must have completed an application, chosen a plan and transmitted that enrollment form to their selected issuer," ABC's DEVIN DWYER writes. "Only 365,000 Americans had successfully signed up for plans in the state or federal insurance marketplaces through Nov. 30. The Congressional Budget Office projected 7 million people would enroll by March 31, 2014." http://abcn.ws/18TiQ11

VOTERS VOTING TODAY - in Alabama. "Former candidate for governor Bradley Byrne has one challenge left in his political comeback - making sure voters turn out Tuesday in a rare holiday-season special election for the 1st Congressional District," per the AP's PHILLIP RAWLS. "Byrne, the Republican nominee, leads Democratic nominee Burton Leflore in campaign funds, endorsements and political experience. But Democrats are hoping that a low turnout could give Leflore a chance in the southwest Alabama district that has elected Republicans since 1964." http://on.mgmadv.com/1hYBoSN


ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: Quinnipiac is out with a new 2016 poll this morning in Iowa. It's too early for a serious look, but not too early for politics junkies to take a peek at the results. Chris Christie leads Hillary Clinton 45 to 40 percent in the state, but that reveals a gender gap; women back Clinton over Christie 49 to 39 percent, while men back Christie over Clinton 51 to 30. Independent voters back the New Jersey governor 44 to 35 percent. In another head-to-head, Clinton gets 45 percent, to 44 percent for Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. The former Secretary of State also tops Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, 48 to 41 percent, and leads former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, 47 to 40. As for who Iowa voters think would make a good president, they say 46 to 30 percent Christie would make a good president, and they say the same about Clinton 53 to 42 percent. Paul gets a negative 38 to 42 percent on whether he would make a good president. Cruz, Bush and Vice President Joe Biden all get larger negative than positive scores on how they would do in the White House.

ABC's JEFF ZELENY: It was always going to be a challenging year for Democrats facing re-election in 2014. When your party controls the White House, the sixth year of a presidency often has voters itching for a change. In the Democratic fight to keep their Senate majority, a standard line of defense has always been: We look good compared to the alternative. But those times may well be changing. For Democrats in the White House and on Capitol Hill, the most alarming finding of today's ABC/Washington Post poll should be this: Republicans are tied with President Obama at 41 percent when voters are asked who do you trust to deal with the nation's biggest problems. It's a 9-point fall for the president and a 6-point gain for Republicans, setting the stage for a very interesting mid-term election year ahead.


COLOR YOU CRUZ. It may be the oddest bestselling book out there: a coloring book for kids featuring a conservative politician. Politicians are not exactly a children's draw. But "U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz to the Future" is at the top of Amazon's Children's Coloring Books Best Seller list. ABC's NICKI ROSSOLL reports that the coloring and activity book is St. Louis-based Really Big Coloring Books Inc.'s newest release in its "Tell the Truth - Tell it Often - Tell the Children" series, which has previously released coloring books featuring President Obama and the Tea Party. Since its release on Dec. 6, the book featuring the tea party hero has been selling out. All 10,000 copies of the first print run were sold in less than 24 hours. http://abcn.ws/18vvC89


"Obama's Library, Advisers' Dream," by THE NEW YORK TIMES' JASON HOROWITZ. "This spring, a longtime staff member for President Obama, Alyssa Mastromonaco, let a friend in on a secret. Mr. Obama had assigned her to begin planning his post-presidential library and foundation," he writes. "But a few weeks later, White House staff members noticed that an even greater force in the Obama orbit was moving toward the action. Valerie Jarrett, the first couple's matchmaker, early political patron and undisputed Obama whisperer, sensed a hot property." http://nyti.ms/18TggYU

"The Exhausted Political Class," op-ed by MICHAEL GERSON in THE WASHINGTON POST. http://wapo.st/1kc8w9e

" The Endorsement: Breakfast at a Diner," by HOUSE SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER, for ESQUIRE. "It's an anchor to my day, a way to feel like I'm home in Ohio no matter where I am. That's why I endorse breakfast at a diner." http://1.usa.gov/1bMjpq9


WASTEBOOK DAY: "U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK) will unveil Wastebook 2013, his annual report on egregious federal spending, at a press conference on Tuesday, December 17, at 10 a.m. EST in Room S-325 of the Capitol."

DEMOCRATIC OFFENSE: "The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee today is launching FacesOfRepeal, an extensive online ad campaign in 44 competitive districts highlighting the cost of Republicans' repeal and the real stories of the millions of Americans who would suffer under House Republicans' reckless plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The web ads, video and website are filled with the stories of Americans who describe how Republicans' repeal would damage their lives - on top of taking the country back to a broken system that led hardworking Americans into bankruptcy and let insurance companies do whatever they want to raise rates, drop coverage and deny care."


@AaronBlakeWP : Haters gonna hate. But they plan to vote Republican. - Morning Fix wapo.st/1gDqEsC

@ThePlumLineGS : WaPo poll: 38% blame Obama for current economy; 50% still blame Bush. http://wapo.st/1elcvQG

@ByronYork : Is it OK to discuss Obama job approval? Other topics permitted? RT @ThePlumLineGS: Keep an eye on the poll cherry picking on the right today

@GDebenedetti : Just as the government shut down in October, Chinese hackers swarmed to the federal election watchdog agency. bit.ly/J295DH

@RobinRoberts : @JoshElliottABC and I have an excused absence from @GMA. We are together for a great adventure that we can't wait to share with you! :-)