It is not glib or inaccurate to invoke Oklahoma City in this context, because the acrid stench of 1995 is back in the air. Two days before Stack’s suicide mission, The Times published David Barstow’s chilling, months-long investigation of the Tea Party movement. Anyone who was cognizant during the McVeigh firestorm would recognize the old warning signs re-emerging from the mists of history. The Patriot movement. “The New World Order,” with its shadowy conspiracies hatched by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission. Sandpoint, Idaho. White supremacists. Militias.
Barstow confirmed what the Southern Poverty Law Center had found in its report last year: the unhinged and sometimes armed anti-government right that was thought to have vaporized after its Oklahoma apotheosis is making a comeback. And now it is finding common cause with some elements of the diverse, far-flung and still inchoate Tea Party movement. All it takes is a few self-styled “patriots” to sow havoc.
Finally, Rich gets in a shot at Sarah Palin by concluding that her association with the tea party movement is “enough to make you wonder who is palling around with terrorists now.” Here Rich is referencing Sarah Palin’s campaign 2008 comment that Obama is “palling around with terrorists” based on Obama’s relationship with Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dorn. Ayers and Dorn admitted engaging in terrorist acts in the 1960’s and 1970’s, while there are no tea party terrorists, despite what the NYT and James Carville would have you believe. The smear of Palin as palling around with terrorists because of her speech at the tea party convention is truly over the top, and should have never made it past the NYT’s editors. Here’s Rich’s conclusion in full:
In his Times article on the Tea Party right, Barstow profiled Pam Stout, a once apolitical Idaho retiree who cast her lot with a Tea Party group allied with Beck’s 9/12 Project, the Birch Society and the Oath Keepers, a rising militia group of veterans and former law enforcement officers who champion disregarding laws they oppose. She frets that “another civil war” may be in the offing. “I don’t see us being the ones to start it,” she told Barstow, “but I would give up my life for my country.”
Whether consciously or coincidentally, Stout was echoing Palin’s memorable final declaration during her appearance at the National Tea Party Convention earlier this month: “I will live, I will die for the people of America, whatever I can do to help.” It’s enough to make you wonder who is palling around with terrorists now.
It appears from Pelosi’s “astroturf” smear today, and the two NYT editorial pieces that explicitly label tea party members as terrorists, the Carville demonization strategy is in full gear, using the tragedy of Stack’s horrific suicide attack as the “evidence” to back the terrorist smear. Considering the recent even-handed reporting by other mainstream media sources about the tea party, it will be interesting to see if the “tea partiers are terrorists” smear gains life beyond the pages of the NYT editorial page and left wingnew mediasites.
UPDATE: Welcome to the readers of theAtlantic.com who came over from the “Defining the Tea Party” post, thanks for the link John Hudson. Please take a look around, leave a comment or two and let’s have a debate. Thanks.
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appears to be reading from the summer of 2009’s talking points, smearing the tea party movement as “directed” by the GOP and “astroturf, as opposed to grassroots” this morning on ABC in remarks taped earlier this week, echoing her remarks from the summer of 2009:
And Pelosi still believes Washington Republicans are trying to quietly influence the tea party movement through well-funded, fake grassroots organizations, referred to as “astroturf.”
“The Republican Party directs a lot of what the tea party does, but not everybody in the tea party takes direction from the Republican Party,” Pelosi said. “So there was a lot of, shall we say, Astroturf, as opposed to grassroots.”
And she said she’s not worried about the threat the movement present to her party.
“We’re fully prepared to face the American people with the integrity of what we have put forth, the commitment to jobs and health care and education and a world at peace and safe for our children and with the political armed power to go with it to win those elections,” she said.
Her audience waved flags and erupted in cheers during multiple standing ovations as the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee gave the keynote address Saturday at the first national convention of the “tea party” coalition. It’s an antiestablishment, grass-roots network motivated by anger over the growth of government, budget-busting spending and Obama’s policies.
Palin’s 45-minute talk was filled with her trademark folksy jokes and amounted to a pep talk for the coalition and promotion of its principles.
An AP story this morning also outlines the Pelosi claim on ABC’s This Week that the tea party movement is not an authentic grassroots movement:
WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is questioning whether the conservative “tea party” coalition truly represents a grass-roots movement.
In a broadcast interview, Pelosi calls tea party voters the “astroturf” movement. She says many of those voters have good intentions but that the Republican Party has hijacked the movement for its gain.
Speaker Pelosi is also forgetting the impact the tea party movement had in pushing the GOP to victories in Virginia, New Jersey and most recently Massachusetts, all of which occurred after her original “astroturf” comments in the summer of 2009. If the tea party movement actually was just an artificial, shallow creation of the GOP, and not a true, broad-based, grassroots movement, the surge in voting for GOP candidates since the tea party emerged probably would not have occurred. As tea party activists from all around America contributed to Scott Brown’s Massachusetts Senate election campaign, and when some even made the trek to Massachusetts to work in phone banks, knock on doors and plant signs all around Massachusetts, it is unreasonable to claim such a movement is artificial and fake as the facts simply do not support the claim.
Amazingly, despite smearing them as astroturf, Pelosi also claimed that the Democrats are on the side of the tea party movement at one point in the interview as well:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi believes the tea party movement shares a common enemy with Democrats — the entrenched special interests that feed money into the political system.
“We share some of the views of the tea partiers in terms of the role of special interest in Washington, D.C.,” Pelosi said in a taped interview airing Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “It just has to stop. And that’s why I’ve fought the special interest, whether it’s on energy, whether it’s on health insurance, whether it’s on pharmaceuticals and the rest.”
All told, Pelosi’s appearance today on This Week, with the renewal of the “astroturf” smear of the tea party movement, is unlikely to bolster Democratic fortunes in the short term or in the November 2010 election. While Pelosi puts on a brave face and declares the Democrats will retain their majority in the November 2010 elections, the continued smears of America’s most vibrant political movement as of today will probably move the needle in the opposite direction.
The promotion of Julianna Smoot to White House Social Secretary is good news for wealthy donors to President Obama’s campaign, for whom Smoot — the chief campaign fundraiser — is friend and point of contact.
Smoot, who had been working in the relative obscurity of the U.S. Trade Representative’s office, will now be the key gatekeeper to the kind of social functions from which donors have complained that this administration, unlike President Clinton’s, has barred them.
But the choice to unite money and access in the person of Smoot — a career political fundraiser whose efforts were downplayed by a campaign eager to focus on small donors — cuts against both President Obama’s broader message of change and against the talking points of her departing predecessor, Desiree Rogers.
Rogers told Lynn Sweet that she saw her role as turning the White House into the “people’s house,” and Michelle Obama praised her in a statement for “welcoming scores of everyday Americans through its doors, from wounded warriors to local schoolchildren to NASCAR drivers.”
Smoot may have the same goal, but her credentials and relationships point in the opposite direction: To ensuring access and satisfaction for the ultra-wealthy elite who will, incidentally, be called on to finance President Obama’s next campaign.
A White House official says appointing a fundraising staffer Social Secretary isn’t “outside the norm” because one of President George W. Bush’s Social Secretaries, Lea Berman, had been such a staffer, though not one of Smoot’s centrality.
On a frigid day in early January, Barack Obama rode the three blocks from the Capitol to a nondescript, four-story, white-brick building where he had rented a spartan office suite.
Obama pulled out a folding chair and sat down with Julianna Smoot, the veteran Democratic fundraiser he had hired to raise the millions of dollars he would need for a presidential bid. Smoot thumbed through a thin list of potential donors that Obama had gathered during his 2004 Senate bid in Illinois and as he helped other politicians raise money for elections in 2006. She frowned.
“It wasn’t much to work with,” Smoot recalled. “But that was how we started. He asked me what he should do, and I said, ‘Start calling. And don’t forget to ask for their credit card numbers.’ “
That was the beginning of a fundraising juggernaut that, perhaps more than any other single factor, helped transform Obama into a serious contender for the presidency. By the end of September, the senator from Illinois had raised more money for his primary bid than any other candidate in either party — more than $75 million. He did it not simply by using the new possibilities of the Internet, for which he has received considerable attention, but by creating almost overnight a network of “bundlers” — a core group of motivated supporters with the Rolodexes to bring along friends and associates.
Obama’s campaign offices are spread across the entire 11th floor of a Chicago high-rise. The finance team’s desks are scattered around a Ping-Pong table. Tabloid headlines — “Record Haul for Obama,” “Run for the Money” — are taped to the walls.
As the summer wore on, Smoot sat in the middle, tracking dozens of events around the country on her laptop. In a rolling series of phone calls with her regional fundraisers, she pushed and prodded them to hit their goals, then updated her spreadsheets so she could keep tabs on the quarter’s target.
Smoot apparently has little problem with associating with unsavory characters, such as now-imprisoned Democratic fundraiser Norman Hsu. The two were quite close, has mutual “respect” for each other as Hsu served as one of Smoot’s “most reliable donors from her tenure as finance chair for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.” Smoot aggressively pursued Hsu on behalf of the Obama campaign, as noted by the 2007 WaPo “$75 Million Dollar Woman” piece:
Smoot knew Obama was not alone in pursuing potential fundraisers. Some were getting daily calls from presidential candidates. One potential bundler contacted by Smoot was Norman Hsu, one of the most reliable donors from her tenure as finance chair for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Hsu would later become mired in scandal as a top bundler for the Clinton campaign, but he was regarded at the time as a prime target because of his reputation for producing a steady flow of campaign cash.
In an interview — before it was reported that Hsu was a fugitive trying to outrun a 15-year-old conviction for running a Ponzi scheme — he recalled his call from Smoot. She asked what he thought of Obama’s bid and whether he might consider helping. “I told her, ‘You’re asking for an unbiased opinion from someone who is very biased.’ She knew I was loyal to Senator Clinton. I told her she was asking the wrong person. We both respected each other well enough not to talk about it after that.”
The NY Daily News detailed the various campaign fundraising crimes that Hsu was convicted of after his May 2008 trial, and at his sentencing (he received 24 years in jail), presiding Judge Victor Marrero declared that “Hsu’s dishonest use of political campaigns to perpetuate his fraud strikes at the very core of our democracy.” CNN reports on the sentencing:
NEW YORK (CNN) – A former Democratic fund-raiser who contributed to the presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama was sentenced Tuesday to 292 months, or more than 24 years, in prison for fraud including campaign finance violations, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara announced.
“Norman Hsu betrayed the trust of his victims by stealing their money with false promises of fake returns in order to finance a luxurious lifestyle…Today’s sentence underscores our commitment to stop swindlers like Hsu in their tracks and bring them to the bar of justice,” Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement.
The sentencing breakdown includes 240 months in prison for wire and mail fraud charges and 52 months in prison for charges of campaign finance fraud. Judge Victor Marrero, who issued the sentence Tuesday afternoon at a Manhattan federal court, said in a statement, “Hsu’s dishonest use of political campaigns to perpetuate his fraud strikes at the very core of our democracy.”
Hsu, 57, was convicted in May on four counts of campaign fraud – one for each year from 2004 to 2007.
Earlier this year, Hsu also was found guilty on 10 counts of mail and wire fraud surrounding his investment practices.
He was indicted in 2007 after an investigation into his two investment companies.
When he was convicted in May, prosecutors said that Hsu not only swindled investors out of at least $20 million but also told some investors to make campaign contributions to the candidates he supported, and suggested that their investments could be jeopardized if they didn’t do as he asked.
Hsu has pleaded guilty to orchestrating the Ponzi scheme.
Tuesday, Barack Obama’s spokesperson said the Senator would not give up the donations received from Norman Hsu.
… spokesman Jen Psaki said Obama, who has criticized Clinton for taking contributions that could undermine her independence, had no plans to return Hsu’s donations.
Today, he’s had a change of heart.
A spokesman for Senator Barack Obama, the Illinois Democrat who is a rival of Mrs. Clinton for the party’s presidential nomination, said Mr. Obama intended to give away $7,000 that Mr. Hsu contributed to his committees.
Interestingly, the Newsday story quoting Jen Psaki used by Talkleft above is no longer an available link. Considering the return of the money raised by Hsu after the explicit Obama campaign acknowledgment to the Washington Post in September 2007 that Hsu brought a “major fundraiser” to Obama in the mid-2000’s, Hsu’s links to Obama were not insubstantial, making the choice of Smoot, who herself is closely tied to Hsu, an odd choice by Obama. Hsu received the longest prison sentence for campaign finance crimes in recent history, according to our searches, between the time Obama’s campaign returned some Hsu money in September 2007 and the appointment of Julianna Smoot today. Indeed, as Obama has railed against the “broken” Washington lately over the stalling of his health care plan (and as that battle heats up), the appointment of this fundraiser Smoot, who made Obama into a “serious contender” by using her stellar insider connections in 2007, and considering her not so stellar insider connections folks like Hsu, must be disappointing to those who are true believers in Obama’s “hope and change” mantra as well to centrist fans of good governance.
Obama’s comment on the Smoot appointment touches these familiar claims, saying that Smoot shares the Obamas’ commitment “to creating an inclusive, dynamic and culturally vibrant White House.” In response to Ben Smith’s article, an anonymous White House official played the familiar “Bush did it” card by defending Smoot’s appointment as not “outside the norm” because a Bush social secretary, Lea Berman, had been a low-level fundraiser. Of course, Berman was a not the central, chief fundraiser for Bush, like Smoot was in for Obama and as Smoot apparently will be for Obama 2012. Further, the White House Social Secretary’s job has never been filled by the top fundraiser of the President’s campaign, creating another “unprecedented” development from the Obama White House. We can only hope that Obama is correct in his assessment of Smoot, and that Smoot’s appointment does not signal an increase special interest and wealthy donor influence in the Obama White House as we approach the 2010 and 2012 elections. If Smoot couldn’t sniff out an ongoing campaign finance criminal enterprise that Hsu was engaging in as he served as one of Smoot’s “most reliable donors from her tenure as finance chair” of the DSCC for the 2006 election cycle, a reasonable question can be asked as to whether Smoot should be in charge of access of other bundlers and everyone else to the Obama White House.
With two days of polling completed after Thursday’s health care summit, President Barack Obama’s overall job approval fell to the lowest level of his Presidency amongst likely voters today, just 43% approval, with only 21% strongly approving of the President’s job performance. Strong disapproval of the President, conversely, has risen to a near all-time high of 43%, meaning that the President’s strong and soft supporters combined are now equal in number to his strong detractors amongst likely American voters. Overall, 55% of likely voters are either strong or soft opponents of the President as of today. The intense focus on the comprehensive health care reform package being pushed by Obama and Congressional Democrats appears to be taking a toll on the President’s support, similar to the prior low in support reached around the time of the Senate’s passage of Obamacare right before Christmas 2009:
The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Saturday shows that 22% of the nation’s voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Forty-three percent (43%) Strongly Disapprove giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of -21. That matches the lowest Approval Index rating yet recorded for President Obama.
The only other time the Approval Index was this low came in late December as the U.S. Senate prepared to approve its version of health care reform (see trends). Most voters continue to oppose the proposed health care plan.
The Presidential Approval Index is calculated by subtracting the number who Strongly Disapprove from the number who Strongly Approve. It is updated daily at 9:30 a.m. Eastern (sign up for free daily e-mail update). Updates are also available on Twitter and Facebook.
Overall, 43% of voters say they at least somewhat approve of the President’s performance. That is the lowest level of total approval yet measured for this President. Fifty-five percent (55%) disapprove. The President earns approval from 76% of Democrats while 86% of Republicans disapprove. Among those not affiliated with either major party, 38% approve and 61% disapprove. The President earns approval from 37% of men and 49% of women.
Data for these updates is collected via nightly telephone interviews and reported on a three-day rolling average basis. As a result, just two-thirds of the interviews for today’s update were collected following the President’s health-care summit. Tomorrow morning (Sunday) will be the first update based entirely upon interviews conducted after the summit.
Today’s all-time low of 43% in likely voter approval of Obama’s Presidency can perhaps be explained in part by the Obama/Democrat strategy to push ahead strongly with their Democrats-only comprehensive health care proposal in the face of universal GOP opposition. About 60% of American voters disapprove of that tactic as only 34% agree with the President that the comprehensive health care bill should move to final passage without any GOP support. The President also faces a twenty point net deficit in approval of his specific handling of the health care issue (Fox News poll:37%/56%; NYT/CBS poll: 35%/55%), and those polls were taken before the disappointing health care summit. CNN also found that a nearly three quarters (73%) of Americans want the President and Congress to either start from scratch on health care reform (48%) or stop work altogether (25%). Interestingly, CNN’s initial release on of these numbers omitted this critical finding, and CNN noted this finding only three days after the release of their numbers in the context of a preview of the already-taped Sunday show interview of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi:
Washington (CNN) – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is dismissing Republican claims that recent polls support their opposition to the current health care proposals, countering that the real problem is that the American people don’t have a bill to judge.
“When we have a bill, which we will in a matter of days, then that is the bill that we can sell,” Pelosi told CNN’s Candy Crowley in an interview Friday. She added that the final legislation will settle differences between the House and Senate bills, and that Americans will be more supportive once the bill is released.
“I feel very confident about what’s in there,” she said.
The latest CNN/Opinion Research poll shows that nearly three quarters of respondents believe Congress should either start over on a new bill or drop health care reform altogether.
Earlier Friday, Speaker Pelosi told reporters she’s asking the Senate to “act upon” reconciliation to move forward, a legislative procedural tool that allows bills to pass with a simple majority.
Editor’s Note: Watch Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s interview with Candy Crowley on State of the Union this Sunday at 9am ET.
Further, Gallup’s daily tracking numbers released today confirm a downward slide in approval and surge in disapproval post-summit, with 49% of all adults (not likely voters as measured by the Rasmussen polling noted above) approving of the Obama Presidency while 45% disapprove. It should be noted as well that Gallup’s surveys are done during the day, while Rasmussen’s are done only in the evenings, meaning Gallup’s numbers today are only showng one day of impact from the summit, while Rasmussen’s show two days worth. Overall, the RCP (47.2%/47.1%) and Pollster.com (48.1%/46.8%, not including today’s Gallup/Rasmussen updates) averages of all Obama job approval polls show the President at about 47%-47% approval/disapproval. Finally, the overall voter approval of the health care plans before Congress stands at approximately 40%.
It could be that at times of intense focus on the Democratic plan to pass comprehensive health care reform, President Obama’s approval numbers tend to slide towards the level of public support that exists for Obamacare. Today, President Obama issued yet another Saturday message on Obamacare, keeping the public’s focus on this issue, this time imploring Americans and Congress with “lets get this done.” Considering the overall unpopularity of his comprehensive health care reform plan, and the findings of the CNN, NYT/CBS, Rasmussen, Fox and Gallup polls listed above, it appears that Americans may disagree.
UPDATE: Ed at Hotair covers the Saturday morning Obama message of “so lets get this done” on Obamacare, and notes Obama’s odd usage of Olympic spirit in support of his unpopular bill:
I … did not see this coming. But after a thousand speeches and interviews on this subject, it stands to reason that he’s running low on material. So here’s his entry, I guess, in the local junior-high “What the Olympics Mean to Me” essay contest. Hope you win those Miley Cyrus tickets, champ. For bonus fun, try to imagine the left’s reaction if Palin had touted the Games as inspiration for the Dems to, say, abandon reconciliation. Oh, those simple-minded, pandering teabaggers…
It’ll be sweet watching him back away from this hosanna to national unity next week after he gives the order to nuke the GOP’s filibuster. (One of Pelosi’s top aides claims they’re “reasonably confident” they can get a bill through the House if Reid can get 50 in the Senate.)
In a move that is sure to result in increased partisan acrimony, President Barack Obama today appointed longtime political ally and SEIU union boss Andy Stern to the new deficit commission that Obama created by executive order a few weeks ago. The new media left is predictably ecstatic about the Stern appointment, and the appointment is serving as a good pick-me-up after yesterday’s disappointing health care summit. Early leaks that Stern was in the running were met with consternation by many in the new and old media, and today’s announcement of the Stern appointment is sure to stir controversy about Stern’s qualifications to sit on such a board and questions as to whether the Stern appointment is simply a political payoff to the SEIU, a critical ally of the President who endorsed him in February 2008 at the height of the primary battle with Hillary Clinton.
President Obama has appointed four members to the bipartisan deficit commission he established last week, an administration official said. The appointees are: Andy Stern, the president of SEIU; David Cote, the Honeywell International CEO; former Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Alice Rivlin; and Ann Fudge, a former Young & Rubicam Brands CEO.
Obama said in a statement: “For far too long, Washington has avoided the tough choices necessary to solve our fiscal problems. I am proud that these distinguished individuals have agreed to work to build a bipartisan consensus to put America on the path toward fiscal reform and responsibility. I know they’ll take up their work with the sense of integrity and strength of commitment that the American people deserve and America’s future demands.”
Mr. Stern’s appointment to the panel triggered quick criticism from a conservative group. Katie Packer, executive director of the Workforce Fairness Institute, said in a statement that putting Stern on the panel “doesn’t pass the laugh test.”
“It appears we have moved from the state of the surreal to the land of outright insanity if our leaders are now taking advice from Big Labor bosses who have run their own programs into the ground,” Ms. Packer said.
Seven thick hours of substantive policy discussion, preening and low-grade political clashes had Hill staffers nodding at their desks, policy mavens buzzing — and participants declaring the marathon C-SPAN-broadcast session a draw.
But in this case, the tie goes to Republicans, according to operatives on both sides of the aisle — because the stakes were so much higher for Democrats trying to build their case for ramming reform through using a 51-vote reconciliation tactic.
“I think it was a draw, which was a Republican win,” said Democratic political consultant Dan Gerstein. “The Republican tone was just right: a respectful, substantive disagreement, very disciplined and consistent in their message.”
The White House and Hill Democrats had hoped congressional Republicans would prove themselves to be unruly, unreasonable and incapable of a serious policy discussion — “the face of gridlock,” as one Democrat put it hours before the summit.
Obama clearly failed to gain a clear advantage over the GOP, like he did a few weeks ago at the House Republican retreat in Baltimore. Thrush also notes that the Democrats tended to talk about stories they’ve heard on the campaign trail about health experiences, as opposed to actually defending the legislation they were there to discuss:
Obama wasn’t able to dominate them like he did last month during an encounter with House Republicans in Baltimore, when he delivered zingers high above the GOP from a conference room podium.
All of this makes it tougher — though not impossible — for Democrats to make the case that they need to abandon talks with the GOP and immediately proceed with a plan to ram health reform through the Senate using a 50-vote reconciliation tactic.
“He didn’t create the predicate for passing this through reconciliation,” said a senior Senate GOP staffer.
That’s not to say the gathering of 40 House and Senate members wasn’t a shaggy, bumptious, sometimes testy affair. Democrats were less eager to discuss legislative process than present case stories of constituents denied coverage by health insurers — often without explaining how their own bill would benefit those people.
Chris Cilizza of the Washington Post, also a well-known Obama sycophant, managed to rationalize the naming of Obama as his #2 winner on his winners/losers list, despite the fact that the entire Obama strategy, to make the GOP look clueless and obstructive so as to justify the use of reconciliation, completely failed today. Of course, Cilizza did not address the overall strategy coming into the summit nor the effect of the summit on that strategy in his article, instead choosing a simplistic winners/losers formula so as to avoid what he must know is the truth – today was a very bad day for President Barack Obama. Indeed, Cilizza seemed more interested in whether CSPAN or the cable networks “won” today than the effect of the summit on Obamacare’s chances of passage.
Across the cable and network dial, and in the new media on the internet, even strongly left-leaning folks admitted that today was a total bust for the Obama Reconciliation Strategy and a veritable disaster for the Democrats who are facing reelection in 2010. For instance, leftist John Dickerson at Slate, while also in denial regarding the disaster today was for his hero Obama personally, admits in his writing that the GOP looked very good and fence-sitting Democrats facing the 2010 electoral buzzsaw saw nothing that would encourage them to jump off the cliff with Obama on Obamacare:
Republicans came out ahead for the same reason: They did not look like hell-bent obstructionists….
This is why it wasn’t a good day for congressional Democrats. According to strategists involved in 2010 races, fence-sitting Democrats needed to see Obama change the political dynamic. He needed to show how health care reform could be defended and how Republicans could be brought low. He did neither. White House aides and the president himself said he was going to press Republicans for how their plans would work, but he did that only twice—and mildly. There was no put-up-or-shut-up moment.
The political world watched the proceedings at Blair House looking for theatre: instead, a policy fight broke out. This time, both sides came armored, and there was no referee. It was a wash — and the tie goes to the Republicans.
The key question on the table was not whether Democrats and Republicans could come up with ways to compromise; it was whether the White House could move public opinion in a way that helps Nancy Pelosi get the votes she needs to pass the Senate bill in the House. That’s unlikely.
All told, the old halcyon days of “Hope and Change” in 2008, when “journalists” like Thrush, Ambinder, Cilizza and Dickerson could freely cheer lead for their hero Obama without any concern about appearing in the tank for Obama because the entire media was providing Obama with unerringly positive coverage at that time, are gone. Now, with Obama on year two and his signature initiative Obamacare on life support, these Obama sycophants are now being forced to admit that the momentum behind Obama’s agenda has completely collapsed. The failure of Obama to produce a GOP “gotcha” moment for his crew of “journalist” sycophants to write about tonight, combined with the steady and professional GOP performance, could be the death blow to the “last best chance” to pass Obamacare via reconciliation. An objective journalist would be outlining those possibilities in their piece tonight, it is unfortunate the American media is so enamored with Obama and the Democratic establishment that they have to be pulled kicking and screaming by indisputable facts, such as the GOP’s clear win in today’s summit, into reporting anything even approaching the facts on the ground.
Other, less biased, mainstream media sources stated with absolute clarity that today was an indisputable victory for the GOP, not least of which was CNN’s centrist analyst David Gergen, who blunted declared that for the GOP, this was “the best day they’ve had in years.” Gergen went on to explain that the GOP got tons of airtime today to show the public they have solutions in health care and are not obstructionist, perhaps undercutting the Democratic talking point of “Party of No” to some degree. Somehow even James Carville managed to praise the performance of GOP Senators today, and Politico also chimed in on the afternoon session by noting that “by the afternoon, however, both sides took a more substantive approach that played to the Republicans’ benefit, given Democratic attempts to portray them as unreasonable and partisan.”
CNN’s DAVID GERGEN: “The folks in the White House just must be kicking themselves right now. They thought that coming out of Baltimore when the President went in and was mesmerizing and commanding in front of the House Republicans that he could do that again here today. That would revive health care and would change the public opinion about their health care bill and they can go on to victory. Just the opposite has happened.” (CNN’s “Live,” 2/25/10)
CNN reports that the Democrats used 70% of the overall speaking time, more than double (257 minutes) the speaking time afforded to the Republicans (111 minutes), as the GOP speakers came in at under two hours of total time while the Democrats totaled over four hours. CNN reports its findings on speaking time at the Health Care Summit:
Washington (CNN) – Thursday’s health care summit at Blair House was billed as an opportunity for members of both parties to share their proposals for reform, but one party had far more time to put forth their ideas.
A CNN analysis of the meeting shows that Democrats – including President Obama, who helmed the meeting – were granted more than twice the amount speaking time as Republicans.
Democrats spoke for a total of 135 minutes while President Obama spoke for 122 minutes, for a total of 257 minutes. Republicans, meanwhile, spoke for just 111 minutes, about 30 percent of the total speaking time.
CNN’s David Gergen, a centrist who has advised four Presidents of both parties, had glowing praise for the GOP, stating that today was the “best day they’ve had in years” and explained that the various claims that the GOP had no ideas or policy knowledge were put to rest today as new blood in the GOP, such as House Rep. Paul Ryan, performed very well in the debates with Obama and the Democrats. Gergen concluded his remarks by stating that while the Democrats had done better in the afternoon, the GOP “evened the score and kept it even.” If mainstream media coverage follows the lead of centrist analysts like Gergen, the health care summit may end up being the day that Obamacare died but for the time being Democrats have set a new deadline for passing Obamacare by the end of March.
NOTE: CNN has updated their numbers on the minutes for each party, and that update was reflected in changes to this article.
Over six hours of debate and discussion between Republicans and Democrats, with Democratic President Barack Obama moderating and commenting frequently, ended just now with little indication that a deal between the GOP and Obama over health care reform is forthcoming. Obama himself stated that he is unsure that “gaps can be bridged.” The parties essentially talked past each other for hours, reciting their respective scripted commentary and talking points regarding health care reform, with the GOP generally favoring a smaller, incremental health care plan while the Democrats favored a large, comprehensive health care plan.
Media reaction has been generally favorable for all involved, with an interesting surge in praise for the Republican performance from mainstream news sources such as CNN and MSNBC. For instance, CNN’s centrist commenter David Gergen, who has advised four Presidents from both parties, stated as follows this afternoon:
CNN’s DAVID GERGEN: “The folks in the White House just must be kicking themselves right now. They thought that coming out of Baltimore when the President went in and was mesmerizing and commanding in front of the House Republicans that he could do that again here today. That would revive health care and would change the public opinion about their health care bill and they can go on to victory. Just the opposite has happened.” (CNN’s “Live,” 2/25/10)
CNN’s left-leaning commentator Gloria Borgen also praised the GOP’s performance, stating that “the Republicans have been very effective today. They really did come to play. They were very smart.” (CNN’s “Live,” 2/25/10). Considering the scolding the GOP took after the last live-TV encounter with Obama at the House Republican retreat from the media, such positive reactions are surprising but indicative of a much more polished and substantive performance by the GOP today. Another commentator, centrist reporter A.B. Stoddard from The Hill, also had kind words for the GOP:
THE HILL’S A.B. STODDARD: “I think we need to start out by acknowledging Republicans brought their ‘A Team.’ They had doctors knowledgeable about the system, they brought substance to the table, and they, I thought, expressed interest in the reform. I thought in the lecture from Senator John McCain and on the issue of transparency, I thought today the Democrats were pretty much on their knees.” (Fox News’ “Live,” 2/25/10)
Ace rounds up analysis from conservative journalists who argue that the GOP “suckered” Obama into believing they were lifeless dupes at the House Republican Retreat encounter, and that Obama’s skills did not mesh well with the negotiated format today. Obama also appeared to be the lone effective Democratic participant, with other Democrats focusing more on anecdotal stories about individual health care stories instead of doing the hard work of defending and selling the legislative language.
In what may become the most memorable exchange of today’s affair, GOP House Leader John Boehner sparred with President Obama over why the Administration would not accept a bipartisan deal over incremental health care reform legislation on issues such as medical malpractice reform, insurance reforms and the allowance of interstate competition between insurance companies. Obama responded in non-committal fashion as follows:
“John, you know, the challenge I have here, and this has happened periodically, is every so often we have a pretty good conversation trying to get on some specifics and then we go back to the standard talking points that Democrats and Republicans have had for the last year and that doesn’t drive us to an agreement on issues.”
All day long, the Democrats attempted to downplay the issue of the use of reconciliation, as epitomized by Harry Reid’s obviously untruthful statement that “nobody is talking about reconciliation” in his opening comments. Obama also danced around the issue, asserting that the American people are not that interested in the “procedures inside the Senate”:
PRESIDENT OBAMA: “You know, this issue of reconciliation has been brought up. Again I think the American people aren’t always all that interested in procedures inside the Senate. I do think they want a vote on how we’re going to move this forward.” (President Obama, Health Care Summit, 2/25/10)
Obama’s comments run counter to several polls released in the last few days, including Fox’s finding that 59% reject moving forward with Obama’s Health Plan unless a deal is reached with the GOP and Gallup’s finding that 52% of the American public reject the use of reconciliation by the Senate to pass Obamacare, while only 39% are in favor.
Nancy Pelosi’s final speaking period was marked by a sour note of attacks on John Boehner (about abortion funding in the Senate bill) and Dave Camp (about the over $400 Billion in Medicare cuts), repeating herself several times while claiming both GOP congressmen were essentially liars.
Obama’s closing argument focused initially on advocacy of strong new federal regulation of insurance companies with a sprinkling in of references to anecdotal stories of individual health outcomes. Obama also defended the national exchange idea as “not a government takeover” but failed to mention that all policies offered on the exchange would have to meet stringent federal benefits requirements and report to a new federal bureaucracy.
Another theme Obama returned to several times was his claim that his plan would provide coverage to all Americans along similar lines as Congress receives, which is a dubious claim at best considering the gold-plated nature of Congressional members’ health care coverage On selling insurance across state lines, Obama agreed in principle with GOP ideas there but his “philosophical concern” with that proposal is a “race to the bottom” that Obama claimed would result if interstate insurance sales were allowed. Obama again stressed his “pilot programs” for medical malpractice, however, as former Kansas Trial Lawyer Association Chief and now HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in charge of the effort, it is unlikely to make a serious dent in trial lawyer profits.
Obama continued in his concluding remarks by claiming that he put forward “substantial” policies that were previously put forward by Republicans, used the term “Obamacare” to refer to the comprehensive health care plan and discussed the “fair share” that employers must pay via the new employer taxes in Obamacare, while repeating that his plan is “consistent with a market based approach.” Obama then claimed that his Medicare cuts are a “Republican idea” and stated that “he will end by stating” that “I suspect that if the Democrats and the Administration were willing to start over and then adopt John Boehner’s bill, we’d get a whole bunch of Republican votes. I don’t know how many Democrat votes we’d get….the concern…on the Democratic side…after five decades of dealing with this issue, starting over, they suspect, means not doing much.” Obama then tweaked Republicans to “do a little soul searching” to find the inner strength to support his plans, and then quickly stated that “I dont know frankly if we can close that gap.”
Obama then moved towards the end of his final remarks with more anecdotes about how folks he talks to don’t want him to wait and that they can’t “afford to wait another five decades.” Obama partially recognized the unpopularity of his health plans by stating “I dont need a poll to know that most of Republican voters are opposed to this bill” and regarding the GOP’s demand to start over, “if we saw significant [GOP] movement, then you wouldn’t need to start over because essentially everyone here knows what the issues are.” The President than set a “a month or six weeks” deadline for additional talks with the GOP and implied that without progress by then, the President would proceed to attempt to push the present version of the Obama Health Plan through Congress and after that have the People decide via elections. On the way out the door, Obama told reporters it was a “terrific conversation” today. Politico sums up the summit as follows:
Thursday’s health care summit wound down with President Barack Obama making clear he couldn’t sign on to the Republican plan for reform, wouldn’t abandon reconciliation and had no intention of scrapping his own plan – capping the six-plus-hour session with a dig at Republicans for pitching a bill that covers just a fraction of the uninsured.
“Those steps don’t get you to the place people need to go,” Obama said of the Republican plan.
Republicans said the same thing in their closing comments that they said at 10 a.m. – start over. Obama won’t.
So the parties walked out of Blair House almost exactly the way they walked in – completely at odds over the best way to fix the health insurance system. That means Democrats are almost certain to go ahead with plans to short-circuit Senate rules to try to pass the bill with a 51-vote majority, as early as next week.
In the post-summit environment, it appears that Obama did not score a huge victory that many claimed he needed to keep the Administration’s plan to pass the Senate bill through the House and then pass another Senate bill via reconciliation to “fix” the problems with the prior Senate bill. Politico and others are reporting that Obama intends to discard any pretense of bipartisanship early next week and work on pushing Obamacare through both houses of Congress. The WSJ and others are reporting that Obama intends to scale back his present $950 Billion Dollar plan to a $250 Billion Dollar plan in the wake of the summit in order to get a win of some kind on health care. Furthermore, Obama appeared to set a new deadline by the end of March for passing a deal with the GOP before passing Obamacare via reconciliation.. The next few days are sure to be exciting as the fate of the Democratic attempt to pass the largest health care bill in American history hang in the balance.
Fox News just released new polling done on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week which shows the lowest approval (37%) and highest disapproval (56%) of Obama’s handling of health care than ever before, a 19% net deficit. The only other issue in which President Obama scores worse with the public than his handling of health care is Obama’s handling of the federal budget deficit, where Obama faces a thirty point deficit (31% approve, 61% disapprove) with the American public. Obama’s 19% net American public disapproval on his handling of health care in the new Fox poll is matched by the 20% net deficit in public approval of Obama’s handling of health care (35% approve, 55% disapprove) found by the latest CBS/NYT polling on the subject. Finally, 59% of the public think that Obama and the Democrats should scrap the health care bill and pass nothing if a bipartisan deal is not reached with the GOP while 34% believe Obama should push through his plan without GOP support:
If President Obama is unable to reach a deal with Republicans at the summit, 59 percent think he should start from scratch later. Some 34 percent think he should go ahead and try to pass the current bill without Republican support.
By a 50 to 40 percent margin, more voters think the health care summit is a “sincere effort” on the president’s part to work out a compromise than think it is “just for show.”
Nearly seven out of 10 voters feel “fed up with” the health care debate, including most Republicans (82 percent) and most independents (70 percent), as well as half of Democrats (50 percent).
The national telephone poll was conducted for Fox News by Opinion Dynamics Corp. among 900 registered voters from February 23 to February 24. For the total sample, the poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
More voters than ever now disapprove of the job President Obama is doing on health care — 56 percent. That’s 19 percentage points higher than the 37 percent who approve.
Furthermore, on only one other issue does the president receive lower ratings than on health care — his handling of the federal deficit (31 percent approve and 61 percent disapprove).
If a compromise isn’t achieved at the summit, by a two-to-one margin Democrats think the president should still try to pass the bill without Republicans. Even so, 31 percent think the president should start over in this scenario.
For independents, it’s just the reverse, by more than two-to-one they support dropping the current bill and starting over. An overwhelming majority of Republicans say the current bill should be dropped if the health care summit fails to find bipartisan agreement.
The consensus among American voters is Barack Obama is better at campaigning for the job than at doing the job, according to a Fox News poll released Thursday. In addition, half of voters say the Obama administration doesn’t “get it.”
As the president’s approval rating remains in the high forties, the poll finds that voters by a wide 62 to 17 percent margin think Obama is better at campaigning than at governing.
It isn’t surprising most Republicans feel this way (83 percent). What may surprise the White House is that nearly seven out of 10 independents say they feel the president is better at campaigning than governing, and so do more Democrats (albeit by a thin 6 percentage-point edge). More than one out of five Democrats was unable to choose between campaigning and governing and volunteered a “both” response (22 percent).
On Wednesday there were reports, dismissed by the administration, the White House is starting to make plans for its 2012 re-election campaign.
While 47 percent of voters approve of the job President Obama is doing, almost as many — 45 percent — disapprove.
Earlier this month the president received his lowest job ratings to date when 46 percent approved and 47 percent disapproved (February 2-3, 2009).
Vice President Joe Biden recently said the administration understands why American voters are angry and bluntly stated, “We get it.” Nearly half of voters agree with Biden (45 percent). Yet half — 50 percent — say no, the administration doesn’t get it. That includes over one of five Democrats (22 percent).
More than half of independents (52 percent) think the administration doesn’t “get it,” while 44 percent agree with the vice president that it does.
Finally, American voters disapprove of Obama’s handling of the economy by a 56%/40% margin, while also disapproving of Obama’s handling of job creation by a 52%/41% margin. Hotair points out that the latest Gallup polling show similar problems for Obama regarding the public’s approval of continuing with a comprehensive plan if he cannot reach a deal with the GOP. With these grim new personal approval numbers, all double digit net negative, on the key issues of the day such as the economy, job creation, the deficit and health care, Obama faces an uphill struggle in gathering the needed 218 Democratic House and 50 Democratic Senate votes to push through his comprehensive health care plan.
The president said that he believes there are areas where they are finding agreement, but did not out right answer a reporter’s question if he believes the first half of the summit had made progress yet.
“”I think we’re establishing that there are actually some areas of real agreement. And we’re starting to focus on what the real disagreements are,” Obama said, “ If you look at you know the issue of how much government should be involved, you know the argument that republicans are making really isn’t that this is a government takeover of health care but rather than, we’re insuring or we’re regulating the insurance market too much.”
The president called this a “legitimate philosophical disagreement” that he hopes to explore more in the afternoon sessions.
As noted earlier, a minor dust up over equal time between Senate Minority Leader McConnell (R-Ky) and President Obama culminated in an Obama quip that his time doesn’t count towards the equal division between the parties “because I’m the President.” Vice President Joe Biden interrupted Obama mid-sentence at one point to contradict the President and House Member Eric Cantor (R-Va) and argued that no serious philosophical difference existed between the parties over federal insurance regulation. GOP Senator John McCain (R-Az) got in a few rhetorical shots at the odious process around Obamacare to date, pointing out a few of the backroom deals between special interest groups and the President as well as deals with individual Democratic Senators. Obama reacted testily and scolded McCain, at one point advising the Senator that “the campaign is over” in reference to Obama’s victory over 2008 GOP Presidential nominee. An early dispute between Obama and Alexander over whether Obamacare would cause premiums to rise appeared to be a draw, with both sides making arguably accurate arguments based on the same data.
Obama also introduced two new talking points during the first half: analogies of health insurance to car insurance and health insurance regulation to the government’s regulation of food safety.
Finally, before the meeting began, Obama gave a cryptic response to a reporter’s shouted question, do you have a “Plan B”, which may have been in reference to the WSJ story last night which claimed the White House is preparing a scaled down, approximately 250 Billion Dollar plan (as opposed to the 950 Billion of the present Obama Health Plan). The AP reports the exchange:
A month after the Massachusetts election that cost Democrats their Senate supermajority and threw the health legislation in doubt, the White House has developed its own slimmed-down health care proposal so the president will know what the impact would be if he chooses that route, according to a Democratic official familiar with the discussions. That official could not provide details, but Democrats have looked at approaches including expanding Medicaid and allowing children to stay on their parents’ health plans until around age 26.
The slimmer backup plan was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
Obama himself hinted at a Democrats-only strategy. When asked by reporters as he walked to Blair House if he had a Plan B, he responded: “I’ve always got plans.”
The Politico is also reporting that Obama intends to abandon all bipartisan negotiations on Monday of next week, so it may be that the WSJ was false and Obama intends to attempt to push his comprehensive plan through the Senate via reconciliation after the summit.