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First thoughts: Hope makes a comeback

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Hope makes a comeback: One thing was absolutely clear from President Obama's well-received address to Congress last night: The hope that propelled him to the presidency was back. At the top of his remarks, Obama declared, "We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before." And then after a stern talk about our economy -- how we got here, and how we possibly fix it -- he ended his speech this way: "If we come together and lift this nation from the depths of this crisis; if we put our people back to work … then someday years from now our children can tell their children that this was the time when we performed, in the words that are carved into this very chamber, 'something worthy to be remembered.'" The address was also a report card of sorts. Obama touted to the public what he has achieved in his first month in office: the economic stimulus, ordering the closing of GITMO, passing the expansion of health insurance for children. Here's a final thought about the address: Obama is so comfortable delivering a speech. Even after he and Pelosi slipped up at the beginning, the president was fully in control. Also, when is the last time we've heard humor and laughs at a State of the Union (or its equivalent)? "Nobody messes with Joe."

*** A softer opposition: Republicans must have read the same polls we have because, overall, their tone in responding to Obama's speech last night was much softer than we've seen in the past several days. Mitch McConnell said Obama's "message was important and timely: America faces great challenges in the months and years ahead, and I was heartened to hear of his commitment to the millions who are struggling to hold onto homes and jobs and who are worried about what the future holds for themselves and their children. As we work to address all these concerns, we will have our differences… But one thing is clear: working through the current troubles will require a shared commitment as we address America's challenges ahead." And here was John Boehner before the speech: "Obama will make a compelling case that our nation can overcome the immense challenges before us… Republicans want to be partners with the President in finding responsible solutions to the challenges facing our nation, but thus far congressional leaders in the President's own party have stood in the way." 

*** Not the Jindal we know: As for Gov. Bobby Jindal's official GOP response, it appears someone gave him bad advice last night, whether it was his awkward entrance or his way-too-casual delivery. The Louisiana governor, a Rhodes scholar, is a serious guy who's known for sometimes being too wonky and even somewhat humorless. Well, he tried too hard NOT to look wonky and humorless. But it didn't work; he wasn't the Bobby Jindal we've seen before. Also, his speech seemed to be too much of a brochure about himself rather than about his party and its ideas. To be fair, Jindal got better as his speech wore on, and the good news is that past responders who also got poor initial reviews -- Tim Kaine and Kathleen Sebelius come to mind -- easily recovered. One other thing: Is it disingenuous for Jindal to slam the role of the federal government ("Democratic leaders in Washington place their hope in the federal government; we place our hope in you") when that said federal government is rebuilding New Orleans after Katrina?

*** I taw a Tweety bird: Your First Read authors have yet to get the Twitter bug. But we've got to ask: Are politicians and their offices beginning to embarrass themselves by Tweeting every thought in their brains? Aren't some things best left unsaid? According to Politico, early on during Obama's speech, Rep. Joe Barton's (R) office sent out this Tweet: "Aggie basketball game is about to start on espn2 for those of you that aren't going to bother watching pelosi smirk for the next hour." The office then fired off this CYA: "Disregard that last Tweet from a staffer." Meanwhile, Rep. John Culberson (R) sent this message: "We are at war -- seems to me honoring our troops should come on page one rather than the end of the speech." He then later Tweeted, "This is a great privilege to be here and I will try hard to find ways to work together while preserving my core principles." 

*** Fulfilling or breaking a campaign promise? It's more than likely, though, that last night's speech won't be the most memorable White House event this week. According to NBC's Jim Miklaszewski and Courtney Kube, President Obama is expected to announce later this week that more than half of the American troops will be withdrawn from Iraq within 19 months. The plan would draw down the number of forces from the current 142,000 to around 50,000. While that certainly would fall short of the president's campaign pledge to withdraw all U.S. combat forces within 16 months, one senior military official told Mik and Kube: "It's close." The official adds that the remaining force of 50,000 would still contain a sizeable "combat element" to provide rapid reaction assistance to Iraqi combat forces and force protection for the remaining American troops and U.S. government civilians. One other piece of White House news to watch today: At 11:00 am ET, the president is expected to announce former Washington Gov. Gary Locke as his nominee for Commerce secretary.

*** The abortion wars cometh? Be sure not to miss the piece by CBN's David Brody that anti-abortion groups are up in arms over Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius potentially leading HHS. The reason: abortion. Indeed, we have it on good authority that the reason the White House is hesitating on Sebelius is that they don't want an abortion fight now. They know one is probably coming in the summer -- with a Supreme Court vacancy -- and would rather punt. Then again, we suppose that any other person Obama might nominate to lead HHS would support abortion rights. And if it's not Sebelius, does that mean we the administration won't have an HHS secretary when it convenes its health-care summit next week?  
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