Tales from the Trail

The First Draft: Obama’s bad news Thursday

FINANCIAL REGULATION/President Barack Obama woke up Thursday to find two new polls — the NBC News/Wall Street Journal and CBS News/New York Times — showing growing public concerns over the high rate of government spending and ballooning federal deficits.

Meanwhile, his big-ticket initiative to revamp the U.S. healthcare system hit a road bump in Congress, where a key Senate committee slowed its schedule for consideration of the measure in order to find a bipartisan approach to rein in its huge projected costs — more than $1 trillion and counting.

For Obama, the news was a sign, perhaps, that the public is beginning to hold him accountable for the many thorny issues he inherited from former President George W. Bush and becoming concerned about the mounting price tag — the Congressional Budget Office estimates the federal deficit could top $1.8 trillion this fiscal year.

Obama, who had a full day of meetings at the White House and no public events until an evening fundraiser, remains personally popular but has seen his approval rating slip slightly to 56 percent, down from 61 percent in April, according to the NBC poll. Among independents it fell even more sharply, from nearly 2-to-1 to closely divided. He stayed steady at 63 percent approval in the CBS poll.

But Republican criticism might be gaining at least a toehold, with nearly 70 percent of respondents in the NBC poll saying they were worried about federal intervention in the economy, including the government’s ownership stake in General Motors and potential government involvement in healthcare.

The First Draft: Obama recipe – take crisis-filled agenda, add one Iran

There is a new crisis on the agenda for President Barack Obama.

While trying to revitalize a nosediving economy, rebuild the collapsing auto industry, rein in North Korea’s unpredictable Kim Jong-il and overhaul the costly healthcare system, Obama now can ponder his response to an Iran reeling from a disputed election and the biggest street protests since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Several leading Republicans have hammered Obama for what they say is a too cautious approach to the disputed vote that gave hardliner President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a big win over former Prime Minister Mirhossein Mousavi. Obama said on Monday he was “deeply troubled” by the post-election violence but it was up to the Iranians to work out who their leaders will be.

Republicans say that is not good enough.

“He should speak out that this is a corrupt, fraud, sham of an election.  The Iranian people have been deprived of their rights,” Senator John McCain said on NBC’s “Today” show on Tuesday.

The First Draft: Healthcare, Take 1


It’s healthcare week at the White House — the first of what promises to be many.

With debate on a healthcare reform package beginning to take shape, President Barack Obama heads to Chicago this morning to make his case for it to the American Medical Association, an audience of skeptics who will be on the frontline of the battle to overhaul the sprawling U.S. healthcare system.

The AMA, which represents 250,000 doctors, said in a statement last week it would oppose a public government insurance plan that Obama says will drive down costs by creating competition with private insurers. Critics say it would limit choice and amount to a government takeover.

The First Draft: Showdown in Virginia

No major events are on the calendar today in the Federal City, but on the other side of the Potomac River there’s plenty to chew over.

Virginia Democrats on Tuesday night picked State Sen. Creigh Deeds, an unpolished moderate from the rural Shenandoah Valley, over better-funded rivals in the state’s gubernatorial primary.

This normally wouldn’t be big news, but the Virginia governor’s race is sure to get lots of national scrutiny as one of only two major electoral contests this year (along with the New Jersey governor’s race).

The First Draft: Safety day – cyber security and hurricane preparedness

Though North Korea and the the looming bankruptcy of General Motors are at the top of many minds in Washington, today President Barack Obama turns his public focus to cybersecurity and hurricane preparedness.

At 11 a.m. Obama speaks at an event at the White House about the country’s cyber infrastructure. He may give some explanation of how powerful his new “cyberczar” may be – a question that has concerned the tech industry, which wants to top cybersecurity person to be based in the White House to assure access to the president.

The cybersecurity program is aimed at organizing federal agencies to better share information KATRINAand ensure better security of government computers and networks. Holes in U.S. cybersecurity defenses have allowed major incidents of identity and intellectual property theft. Sensitive military information has also reportedly been stolen by cyber-spies.

The First Draft: Navel gazers no more

USA/Republican Party chairman Michael Steele yesterday urged his fellow GOPers to stop “navel gazing” and go on the offensive against President Obama and his Democrats, and it appears they are getting right to it.

Today, the party votes on a resolution to ask the Democratic Party to rename itself “The Democrat Socialist Party.”

And Newt Gingrich, the former Republican House speaker, said current House speaker Nancy Pelosi should step down for accusing the CIA of lying to Congress about torture.

First Draft: Specter gives Obama anniversary gift


As he marks his 100th day in office, President Barack Obama has a new reason to celebrate — the defection of a senior Republican to his Democratic party.

Calling Arlen Specter “one tough hombre”, Obama appeared at the White House with the long-time moderate Republican and welcomed him as the “newest Democrat from the state of Pennsylvania.”

“I know that the decision that Senator Specter made yesterday wasn’t easy. It required long and careful consideration and it required courage,” Obama said.

First Draft: Air Force One’s Big Apple photo op

USA-POLITICS/No matter what kind of day you’re having, it’s probably not as bad as the one Louis Caldera had yesterday. Caldera is director of the White House Military Office, and he approved what might well be one of the most criticized photo op choices of all time: a low-level flyover of Manhattan by a plane often used to transport the president as Air Force One.

Caldera said federal authorities informed the appropriate officials in New York and New Jersey beforehand, but many New Yorkers were instantly reminded of the 911 attacks when they saw the blue and white passenger plane flying by their skyline, trailed by an F-16 fighter jet carrying a photographer. The idea was to get a picture of Air Force One with the Statue of Liberty.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg excoriated the plan, and Caldera reportedly got a dressing down from a “furious” President Barack Obama. Caldera apologized profusely, saying federal authorities took “the proper steps” but “it’s clear that the mission created confusion and disruption.”

First Draft: It’s Earth Day — The Green and the Red

President Barack Obama  heads to Iowa later today for an Earth Day tour of a former Maytag plant which has been reconfigured to produce wind energy equipment, lining up the “green jobs” that the Obama administration is pushing as part of the future for the American heartland.


OBAMA/Green is on the menu back in Washington, too, where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will talk about “Greening Diplomacy” at an Earth Day event, but only after she testifies at the House Foreign Affairs Committee about more down-to-earth aspects of U.S. policy around the globe.

Another key player on Obama’s environment team — Energy Secretary Stephen Chu — will also be on the Hill talking green at a hearing on energy and climate change legislation.

First draft: Back home, back to the economy

Back from his first international tour, President Barack Obama jumps back into his FINANCIAL/MORTGAGESgovernment’s efforts to help the struggling American economy.

First order of business is a roundtable discussion at the White House about low interest rates. The meeting will include members of Obama’s economic team and in an effort to draw attention to the benefits of low interest rates, Obama will also meet some homeowners who have refinanced now that rates are at historical lows.

During his meeting with his top economic advisers, Obama is expected to discuss the progress of “stress tests” of the 19 largest U.S. banks to see how they would withstand even tougher economic times.