The Note, 4/8/2009: Foreign & Domestic -- While he was out, agenda piles up for President Obama
April 08, 2009 8:08 AM
Klein By RICK KLEIN
Welcome home, Mr. President. (Your press corps will be back with you soon.)
While President Obama was busy remaking the nation’s image, rebuilding alliances, and restaging photo-ops, the to-do list back home was growing.
There’s the budget, of course, and all its various components.
Add to that pressure to move fast (and he will) on Cuba policy; gay-marriage movements that are spreading virtually by the hour; a new fight or five on Defense cuts; plus renewed pressure from labor on its top priority of the year, and Obama’s agenda isn’t all his own now that he’s back stateside. (Not that he’s back for that long.)
For an administration that’s gotten used to walking and chewing gum and filling out brackets at the same time, the not-engaged-enough tag isn’t likely to hold.
But you may detect the start of a shift in perceptions of the president’s governing style -- helping the GOP critique, and also maybe limiting his effectiveness in his own party.
Sometimes foreign trips bring you more than jetlag:
“It's the sort of thing that can get a political leader into trouble, jetting out of town while the home front suffers,” Peter Nicholas and Mike Dorning write in the Los Angeles Times. “Even some of Obama's supporters are nervous about the timing of the trips. They worry that meetings with the queen and other bits of stagecraft may suggest a detachment from the concerns of ordinary people.”
How it begins? “James Carville, an architect of former President Clinton's victory in 1992, said his guess was that the weeklong, multi-country visit would be a ‘neutral’ to ‘a slight positive’ for Obama but could turn out to be a mistake,” Nicholas and Dorning continue.
“Carville said people had been calling White House aides to deliver the message that ‘foreign trips aren't what they used to be. We got a recession back here!’ ”
Another souvenir: “While the nuance is intellectually welcome and politically beneficial -- Americans appreciate its display on the world stage -- it operates alongside another Obama trait: He's also a nuance-free exaggerator,” Slate’s John Dickerson writes. “Obama exaggerates to free himself from the demands of the news cycle . . . When it comes to the economy, polls show that people are very patient. What Obama hopes to do though this exaggerated description is make all criticism seem like an irrational rush to judgment.”
Yet another takeaway that matters at home: “He has united Democrats and united Republicans -- against each other,” Michael Gerson writes in his Washington Post column. “Polarization in American politics has its own disturbing momentum, aided by some strident Republican voices. But that does not require a president to make it worse. And it is a sad, unnecessary shame that Barack Obama, the candidate of unity, has so quickly become another source of division.”
“With almost universal support from Democrats, Obama doesn't have to worry so much about keeping his base happy. But the fact that he has so little support from Republicans means that he can't afford to lose his standing with independent voters,” Amy Walter writes for National Journal. “At this point, independent voters are showing signs of disenchantment with the Democrats, but Republicans still need to give them a reason to support them and their policies.”
Unless: “Having more political capital than when he left for the G-20 summit and additional stops along the way, Obama has the opportunity to face down Democrats on Capitol Hill as major bills on energy, healthcare and education work their way through Congress,” The Hill’s Sam Youngman writes. “Some believe Obama will seize the moment and become more of a legislative force, instead of deferring to seasoned congressional Democrats.”
Back home: “The pile of problems on Obama's desk was high before he left, and remains so now that he's home,” AP’s Jennifer Loven writes.
While you were out . . . “Gay-rights groups say that momentum from back-to-back victories on same-sex marriage in Vermont and Iowa could spill into other states, particularly since at least nine other legislatures are considering measures this year to allow marriage between gay couples,” Abby Goodnough writes in The New York Times. “New York, New Jersey, Maine and New Hampshire are among the states where such proposals have gained legislative support in recent months.”
Coming to a Congress near you: “The vote in Vermont came on the same day the Council of the District of Columbia gave preliminary approval to a plan recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. Since Congress has the option of overriding that vote, the battle over same sex-marriage could end up on the federal stage this year.”
In Vermont, a turning point? No slamming unelected judges this time: “Vermont is not the first state to adopt same-sex marriage. But it is the first state to adopt same-sex marriage through non-judicial means,” ABC’s Teddy Davis reports. “While Vermont is more liberal than many other states, Tuesday's vote is significant nationally because of the way in which it changes the contours of the debate.”
What about DOMA? “If signed by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, the D.C. bill would allow same-sex couples in the city to marry in states such as Iowa and Vermont and then return to the District and have that marriage recognized,” the Washington Times’ Gary Emerling writes.
The pushback, per Politico’s Ben Smith: “The National Organization for Marriage, a prominent backer of the successful campaign against same-sex marraige in Califorrnia, is launching a $1.5 million ad campaign this morning aimed at forestalling same-sex marriage support in other key states.”
Also coming out of Congress: “A ‘very healthy, very energetic’ Fidel Castro asked visiting Congressional Black Caucus members what Cuba could do to help President Barack Obama improve bilateral relations during his first meeting with U.S. officials since falling ill in 2006,” the AP’s Will Weissert writes. “Lee said the group would present its findings to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a fellow Democrat from California, and White House and State Department officials. . . . And it comes as Washington discusses whether to warm up long-chilly relations with Cuba. Obama has ordered an assessment of U.S. policy toward the communist nation and some members of Congress are pushing to lift a ban on Americans visiting the island.”
Feel the pressure? “We’ve been swimming in the Caribbean sea of delusion for 50 years,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., tells the Kansas City Star’s Steve Kraske.
“It was almost like listening to an old friend,” said Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., said of the meeting with Fidel.
Said Rep. Laura Richardson, D-Calif.: “He listened. He said the exact same thing” about turning the page “as President Obama said,” per Politico’s Alex Isenstadt.
(Rep. Richardson will be our guest Wednesday on “Top Line,” at noon ET at ABCNews.com/politics. Also Wednesday: Ana Marie Cox, of Air America and The Daily Beast.)
The president (back only since 3 am ET) has a quiet day planned and no public schedule.
Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden welcome troops back from Iraq at Fort Bragg in North Carolina Wednesday morning. (Lots of North Carolina visits by the principals these days . . . )
Awaiting the president in Washington: the remnants of an army. “They are the Obama-wannabes, many of them young and heady former campaign workers, frantically networking or waiting, just waiting, for the ultimate status symbol in their generation's caste system: a job in the Obama administration,” Ian Shapira writes in The Washington Post.
“Their collective purgatory highlights the unintended consequences of Obama's influential calls for service,” Shapira writes. “He has cultivated a yen for public service among this generation, but government jobs are limited, and the tight economy is squeezing nonprofit and charitable organizations and their donors. At the same time, the White House has an unprecedented number of applications and résumés to cull, lengthening the process.”
“The Obama administration, contending with the nation's economy and two wars, must sift through ‘hundreds of thousands’ of applications for more than 3,000 political or non-career slots, White House spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said in a brief e-mail.” (And Jen’s sister is among those who haven’t gotten a bite yet.)
As for the next foreign trip -- maybe we’re waiting on “preconditions”? “Despite growing speculation in recent days that President Barack Obama will hold a one-on-one meeting with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez at next week's Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, there will be no special meeting between the two leaders, U.S. officials said Tuesday,” Andres Oppenheimer writes in the Miami Herald. “In fact, Obama may not hold bilateral meetings with any of the 33 other leaders attending the April 17-18 meeting, well-placed U.S. officials planning Obama's trip say. Instead, Obama will hold just three separate group meetings in addition to the official closed-door session between all participating heads of government.”
A new national-security challenge: “Cyberspies have penetrated the U.S. electrical grid and left behind software programs that could be used to disrupt the system, according to current and former national-security officials,” Siobhan Gorman reports in The Wall Street Journal. “The spies came from China, Russia and other countries, these officials said, and were believed to be on a mission to navigate the U.S. electrical system and its controls. The intruders haven't sought to damage the power grid or other key infrastructure, but officials warned they could try during a crisis or war.”
Coming out of Europe: “Pragmatic, conciliatory, legalistic and incremental, he pushed what might be called, with a notable exception or two, an anti-Bush doctrine,” David Sanger writes in The New York Times, wrapping the European trip. “Tellingly, Mr. Obama talked about taking on terrorists but not tyrants. Al Qaeda had to be destroyed, he said, but Iran, North Korea and Cuba would all be engaged.”
“He has in bright, bold strokes revealed his signature on the world stage: He is Obama the rationalist,” Politico’s John F. Harris and Eamon Javers write. “A diverse set of Obama decisions in recent days have a common theme: a leader who sees himself building a more orderly, humane world by vanquishing outdated thinking and corrupting ideology.”
An insight you’ll see again: “It may be the sharpest philosophical turn in foreign policy since the Carter administration gave way to the Reagan administration 28 years ago.”
“The trip was a symbolic triumph as Obama received enthusiastic welcomes from citizens and raves from fellow leaders. Substantively, he has less to show for his six-nation tour, having failed to persuade allies to pour more money into their economies or to commit extra combat troops to Afghanistan,” Hans Nichols and Edwin Chen write for Bloomberg News.
How’s this for a break from the past? “In what may prove to be an epochal development, Obama seems to have his [testosterone] under control. He doesn't strut, swagger or flex. He doesn't even notice the hydrant,” Kathleen Parker writes in her Washington Post column. “If George W. Bush was a cowboy, Obama is a group hug.”
“He made modest tangible progress, but left behind what he hopes are the seeds of more dramatic foreign-policy success to come,” The Wall Street Journal’s Jonathan Weisman writes. “Mr. Obama's pattern during the trip was to set lofty goals -- lifting the global recession, ridding the world of nuclear weapons, achieving peace in the Middle East --and then lay out a path of incremental steps to get there.”
Coming out of Iraq -- and where’d they get the idea for the surprise visit? “After a week spent assuring the world that he is the antithesis of his widely despised predecessor, President Barack Obama ended his first presidential overseas trip by doing a George W. Bush. In style, substance and photo ops, Obama's unannounced stopover in Baghdad was straight out of the Bush playbook,” Time’s Bobby Ghosh writes. “Unlike the Europeans, Iraqis saw nothing in Obama's visit to distinguish him from Bush -- though there was no opportunity to see whether an Iraqi reporter would hurl a shoe at him.”
No one says this crowd doesn’t get optics: “President Barack Obama went for the defining television shot in Iraq and got it -- pictures of hundreds of U.S. troops cheering wildly as he told them it was time for the Iraqis to take charge of their own future,” the AP’s Steven R. Hurst reports. “The war zone photo opportunity produced a stunning show of appreciation for Obama from military men and women who have made great sacrifices, many serving repeated tours in a highly unpopular war. And the televised outpouring of affection likely will prove critical to the credibility of a new and liberal commander in chief as he tries to sell U.S. warriors and the American public on the grim prospects now facing them in Afghanistan.”
A different kind of optics: “The stop also served to highlight the sharp policy change on Iraq that Obama has used to good effect in restoring relations with other world leaders. It was his first stop in a war zone as president,” Julie Mason writes in the Washington Examiner.
Also while Obama’s back home -- some veep-on-veep action: “I don't think he is out of line, but he is dead wrong," Biden said on CNN, regarding former Vice President Dick Cheney’s contention that Obama policies have made the nation less safe. “The last administration left us in a weaker posture than we've been any time since World War II: less regarded in the world, stretched more thinly than we ever have been in the past, two wars under way, virtually no respect in entire parts of the world.”
From “House” to the White House: Kal Penn joins the Obama administration. “Call it Hollywood's revolving door or a touch of glamour in the White House Office of Public Liaison,” ABC’s Nitya Venkataraman reports.
(The new image at the “front door” of the White House.)
Stimulus showdown: “U.S. Rep. James Clyburn said Tuesday South Carolina lawmakers should challenge Gov. Mark Sanford in court as to who controls $700 million in disputed federal aid,” The State’s John O’Connor reports. “Clyburn urged the General Assembly to use $350 million -- the portion of the money that is available this year -- to balance the state’s budget, spending the money on schools and law enforcement.”
Gee, have we seen this headline before? “Coleman team vows to appeal tally.” Al Franken’s lead is growing, and yet -- we’re nowhere close in Minnesota.
“It seemed like the beginning of the end to Al Franken's lawyers, while attorneys for Norm Coleman saw it as the end of the beginning. In Washington, Senate leaders crossed swords for a continuing duel,” Pat Doyle and Kevin Duchschere report in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “Not long after a decisive majority of once-rejected absentee ballots were counted and broke for Franken on Tuesday, attorneys on both sides were already jawing over the merits of an appeal in the 10-week-old U.S. Senate recount trial. Coleman spokesman Ben Ginsberg said the three presiding judges erred in permitting only 351 rejected absentee ballots to be counted.”
Ginsberg knows something about: “Republican Norm Coleman’s dwindling chances of reclaiming his U.S. Senate seat largely depend on a broad reading of the Supreme Court’s Bush v. Gore decision, a ruling the court itself said should be applied sparingly,” Bloomberg’s Greg Stohr writes.