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First thoughts: The Obama ocean-liner

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** The Obama ocean-liner: More than anything else, Obama's news conference last night resembled a campaign TV ad -- one in which the serious candidate talks directly to the camera (although this one went on for nearly an hour, and it sometimes was interrupted by tough questions from the press). Indeed, how many times did we hear Obama mention his budget's top priorities: education, energy, health care, reducing the deficit? Perhaps the most striking thing was the president linking his budget to the current economic crisis. ("The budget I submitted to Congress will build our economic recovery on a stronger foundation, so that we do not face another crisis like this 10 or 20 years from now.") He preached persistence and pleaded patience. ("We'll recover from this recession, but it will take time, it will take patience.") Rahm Emanuel's grin, in fact, might have said it all at the end of the news conference, when Obama turned a question on Middle East peace back into a defense of his first two months in the White House. "I think that you look back four years from now, I think hopefully people will judge that body of work and say, 'This is a big ocean-liner. It's not a speedboat. It doesn't turn around immediately. But we're in a better, better place because of the decisions that we made.'"

Video: Obama asks for patience on his plan to fix the economy at his new conference last night.

*** With friends like these…: Of course, Obama is going to need a lot of persistence and patience when he sits down with Senate Democrats on Capitol Hill at 1:00 pm ET today (closed press). His budget is not going over well some of his own party's deficit hawks, who are already signaling that they want to cut major portions of his budget like his middle-class tax cut. Also today, Obama meets with the UN Secretary General at 10:45 am; he and Biden deliver remarks to commemorate Greek Independence Day at 5:05 pm; and then he hits two DNC fundraisers in the evening -- his first two fundraisers since becoming president.

*** Other quick thoughts about last night: Despite all the past week's attention on the AIG bonuses, that subject barely came up at last night's press conference… The only true foreign policy question came at the end (re: Middle East peace)… He took several questions from non-traditional media outlets (Univision, Ebony, Stars and Stripes) and bypassed some of the big newspapers (NYT, WashPo, LATimes, WSJ)… His answer on the race question was very interesting ("At the inauguration, I think that there was justifiable pride on the part of the country that we had taken a step to move us beyond some of the searing legacies of racial discrimination in this country, but that lasted about a day")… And his defense of paring charitable tax deductions for the well-off might have been the most fascinating exchange of the evening.

*** Card check's death? Did the legislative battle over the Employee Free Choice Act (a.k.a. "card check") end before it truly began? GOP Sen. Arlen Specter's decision yesterday to oppose the bill, even though he voted for cloture on the measure in '07, dealt a blow to organized labor, denying them the 60 votes they need to end debate -- even if Al Franken ends up joining the Senate. We can tell you this: The White House appears to be happy (but very quietly so) to have this debate out of the way. No doubt they were for it. But it was always more of a Biden cause than a Barack cause. At this point in time, with everything else on their plate, sticking a finger in business' eye wasn't something the White House was looking forward to. Would Obama have signed it? Yes. But he doesn't have to worry about it now, at least maybe not until 2011.

*** Specter in trouble? Even though Arlen Specter supported the card-check legislation in '07, there's a reason why he isn't now -- he likely has a tough GOP primary on his hands next year. And, according to a new Quinnipiac poll, that primary might be even tougher than we imagined. The poll shows conservative Pat Toomey topping the more moderate Specter by a whopping 14 points in a hypothetical Pennsylvania GOP primary, 41%-27%. Overall, Specter gets relatively high marks from Pennsylvania voters. His fav/unfav is 45%-31%, but among Republicans, it's just 29%-47%; among Democrats, it's 60%-16% (who would have thought that?). Per the poll, the reason why Republicans are upset with Specter: his support for Obama's stimulus. Specter, of course, narrowly beat Toomey in a GOP primary in 2004. And while he has said he will remain a Republican, does Specter start second-guessing that decision after this poll? And with the prospect that Toomey might defeat Specter in a GOP primary, how many Pennsylvania Democrats will now start thinking about jumping into this Senate race?

*** AIG, yeah you know me: Be sure not to miss the letter in today's New York Times from Jake DeSantis, executive VP of AIG's financial products unit, who tells AIG CEO Edwards Liddy 1) that he's resigning from AIG; 2) that he's giving his bonus money to those suffering from the economic downturn; and 3) that he and his co-workers have been unfairly maligned. "I am disappointed and frustrated over your lack of support for us. I and many others in the unit feel betrayed that you failed to stand up for us in the face of untrue and unfair accusations from certain members of Congress last Wednesday and from the press over our retention payments, and that you didn't defend us against the baseless and reckless comments made by the attorneys general of New York and Connecticut." It's a fascinating read.

*** South of the border: Also today, Secretary of State Clinton travels to Mexico, where she meets with President Calderon. There's also a Senate hearing on the border violence. Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano, as well as Deputy Secretary of State Steinberg and Deputy Attorney General Ogden testify at 9:30 am ET. Clinton's visit comes one day after Obama unveiled his plan to help curb the drug violence in Mexico, and as the New York Times front-pages that the administration's next big foreign policy challenge could be next door. "Mexico's economy is being dragged down by the recession to the north. American addicts have turned Mexico into a drug superhighway, and its police and soldiers are under assault from American guns. Nafta promised 15 years ago that Mexican trucks would be allowed on American roads, but Congress said they were unsafe."

Video: Obama discusses how the U.S. is helping control the border with Mexico. 

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