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First thoughts: Obama's war?

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Obama's war? USA Today's front page must have been quite the eye-opener for President Obama this morning, since it's the one paper he most likely read while on the road in Phoenix to deliver his home foreclosure plan. The headline: "Obama's War." Despite no presidential verbal statement about the troop increase to Afghanistan and despite the fact the president is here in Phoenix today to talk housing, it's the issue of Afghanistan that dominates America's hotel paper of record. After all, the addition of 17,000 troops by the summer is a 50% increase in the U.S. commitment. This headline is another reminder to an Obama team that may be thinking about the following question: How many times during this presidency will Afghanistan step on planned policy and political rollouts (like today's home foreclosure plan)? What's more, the announcement of the 50% troop increase came without any presidential explanation or new policy announcement. And that's got some anti-war advocates very upset. But remember, Obama's rhetoric on Afghanistan was always as a response to Iraq questions. It was always the "right" war vs. Iraq as the "wrong" war.

Video: The Obama administration's "remissioning" of more than 10,000 troops to Afghanistan could be the first of several deployments. 

*** Obama's home loan: As we mentioned above, President Obama unveils his plan to address home foreclosures at an event in Phoenix at 12:15 pm ET. According to sources, the main goal of the plan is simple: prevent avoidable foreclosures by first helping homeowners who owe more than their house is now worth, and who currently can't refinance. The Obama plan will allow homeowners to either refinance at a lower interest rate or extend the life of their loan. The government will subsidize mortgage companies who work with these so-called underwater homeowners. But if private lenders won't help, the Obama plan would turn to government-sponsored mortgage giants Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. The plan also tries to help homeowners who have mortgages too large for their income. The initial cost of this plan: a little more than $50 billion, taken from the second $350 billion in TARP funds. Unlike last week's bank bailout -- or even the various explanations for the just-passed stimulus plan -- housing is a much easier issue for the public to grasp. And unlike the bank bailout, the administration is using its best spokesman to unveil the plan: Obama. Some questions include: Will $50 billion be enough? How are good borrowers rewarded in this system? And can the government get in the game of re-valuing properties?

Video: The president is expected to unveil a plan today that could help homeowners.

*** The ideas race: With the stimulus now signed into law, here's our question of the day: When will the GOP begin being an idea factory the way they've become an opposition factory? (This morning alone, the RNC has blasted out five newspaper clips that raise questions about Obama and his administration.) During the fight over the stimulus, we heard Republicans champion more tax cuts, fiscal discipline, and a laissez-faire economic philosophy. The problem: Those ideas aren't necessarily new, and the Bush years in particular damaged the GOP brand on fiscal discipline. So what are the Republicans' ideas moving forwards? Ironically, since becoming RNC chair, Michael Steele has scrapped a fledgling in-house think tank, the Center for Republican Renewal, that ex-chair Mike Duncan had established. The Republicans are doing a great job on the political war front, but they are going to have to offer up counter-proposals that are hyped up in the same way the party hypes up Obama missteps.

*** Dead pol walking? Meanwhile, it now seems like Roland Burris' decision whether or not he'll run in 2010 has become the least of his worries. The Senate Ethics Committee has opened a preliminary investigation into Burris' changing stories about his contacts and conversations with Blagojevich associates, and a downstate Illinois prosecutor is investigating whether the U.S. senator committed perjury. What's more, Burris' hometown paper -- the Chicago Tribune -- is now calling for resignation ("There's only one honorable action for Burris: resign"). As is the Washington Post ("The people of Illinois have suffered enough. Mr. Burris should resign"). Harry Reid has to be muttering, "I told you so." Who will be the first senator to threaten expulsion?

Video: Burris is being asked to step down after admitting to fundraising efforts for Blagojevich. 

*** Paging Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton: Here's an idea that will catch like WILDFIRE with members of Congress. JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon is calling for a 9/11-style commission to investigate Wall Street and the financial mess. Now here's a fun game this morning: Try and come up with a competent list of panelists who don't have potential conflicts of interest? 

*** What happened to that fastest transition in history? Here's also a story the GOP might jump on today: the lack of staff at various administration departments to implement the stimulus bill. "The once efficient Obama transition has ground to a near standstill after tax problems bedeviled several of his nominees, leaving the top echelon of his government largely unassembled. Three cabinet jobs remain unfilled, only 2 of the 15 cabinet departments have deputy secretaries confirmed, and the vast majority of lower-level political jobs remain vacant."

*** Sarah smile?

 It isn't easy running for president after being your party's defeated VP nominee. (See: John Edwards and Joe Lieberman.) And, for Sarah Palin, it doesn't become any easier when you find that your day job in Alaska isn't the same as it was before you became your party's running mate. Under the headline, "Back Home in Alaska, Palin Finds Cold Comfort," today's Washington Post writes: "A number of factors seem to have contributed to the bumpy homecoming: a residual anger among Democrats for the attack-dog role Palin assumed in the McCain campaign, lingering resentment from Republicans for the part she may have played in McCain's defeat, and a suspicion crossing party lines that the concerns of Alaska, at a time of economic crisis, will now be secondary to her future in national politics. Nearly every move that Palin makes or does not make, acknowledges Joe Balash, one of her closest aides, is analyzed through a new political prism, scrutinized for its effect on a possible 2012 presidential candidacy. 'There's nothing we can do to stop it,' he said. 'People wonder why she's doing something or not doing something.'"

*** The NHL has some work to do with the First Fan: And speaking of America's most famous hockey mom, did anyone else catch Obama's revelation to the CBC that he's never attended a hockey game? He never attended a Blackhawks game?

Countdown to NJ GOP primary: 104 days
Countdown to VA Dem primary: 111 days
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 258 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 622 days

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