From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Diplomatic decathlon: In just a few hours yesterday, President Obama completed the equivalent of a diplomatic decathlon -- from pledging nuclear disarmament with the Russians, to facing down critics about the American economic way of life. It was a week's worth of international diplomacy packed into 12 hours, and he's back at it again today. Already, Obama has met with Korean leaders, participated in G-20 breakfast, took a G-20 class photo, attended a plenary session, and attended a G-20 leaders lunch. His challenge today: to convince an American public, a skeptical press corps, and a VERY skeptical European leadership that something meaningful is coming out of the G-20 other than flowery language that is so watered down, it appears to make no policy. After the G-20, the focus shifts from the economy to foreign policy, in particular Afghanistan -- where the president is already tamping down expectations for how many troop commitments he'll get at the NATO summit. And if the president fails to convince more allies to send more troops, will there be hesitance in Congress to fulfill the latest 10,000-troop request that Gen. David Petraeus revealed has been requested.
*** Press conference alert!!! Later today, Obama meets with the Saudi king (at 10:45 am ET), meets with Indian leaders (at 11:30 am ET), and then holds a news conference (at 12:45 pm ET). So what will come up at the president's news conference today? Could it be Cuba, thanks to GOP Sen. Richard Lugar asking for a review of the policy? What about the firing of more CEOs? G-20 accomplishments (or lack thereof)? North Korea missile launch? Afghanistan?
*** Tough questions for Sebelius? Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, President Obama's pick to head HHS, testifies before the Senate Finance Committee at 10:00 am ET for her confirmation hearing. Here's the AP's table-setter: "Senators are expected … to ask Kathleen Sebelius … more questions about her policies and politics than about the $7,000 worth of mistakes she made on her taxes. The Senate Finance Committee may well ask the Kansas governor if she thinks the federal government should influence what treatments health insurance companies pay for, or whether she will deal with Republican concerns as she sets out to overhaul the health care system. Her views on abortion rights also might be brought up during her confirmation hearing." Indeed, some prominent conservatives have released this statement: "Gov. Sebelius may not pay her own taxes, but has no qualms about using tax dollars to pay for others' abortions."
*** Mr. President, are you looking for a new Peace Corps director? A brand-new Quinnipiac poll is the latest evidence showing that Chris Dodd is REALLY in trouble for 2010. The survey shows him trailing Rob Simmons (R) in a hypothetical match-up by 16 points (50%-34%), as well as trailing two lesser-known Republicans. Moreover, his approval/disapproval among Connecticut voters is 33%-58%. Ouch. Says the Quinnipiac pollster, "A 33% job approval is unheard of for a 30-year incumbent, especially a Democrat in a blue state. Sen. Christopher Dodd's numbers among Democrats are especially devastating. Since the AIG controversy, his approval rating among Democrats is down to 51%, and only 58% of Democrats say they will vote for him against Simmons." Bottom line: This poll will start more serious chatter about pushing Dodd into retirement.
*** Irony watch: Did Karl Rove, in his Wall Street Journal op-ed today, really accuse Obama of, gasp, practicing politics? Really?
*** 2012 watch: With one other potential 2012 presidential contender sending mixed signals, it seems, about her desire to do fundraisers for the GOP's House and Senate campaign committees, another one -- Mitt Romney -- was the featured speaker last night at an NRSC fundraiser in DC, which raked in more than $2 million. Per NBC's Abby Livingston, Romney stressed several times that Obama and the Democratic Party were using the economic crisis as "cover" to advance their agenda. Two other noteworthy Romney comments had him assailing universal health care (although he didn't mention his own work on that issue as Massachusetts governor), and applauding Obama's recent tough moves with the auto industry, which Romney said needs to "fundamentally restructure." Livingston reports that Romney also said the GOP shouldn't be resentful and should recognize that -- at times -- Obama can be right.
*** 2012 watch, part 2: By the way, Vice President Biden completed the trifecta yesterday: Now President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and the VP all have done separate events in North Carolina since inauguration day. And it isn't because Obama picked the Tar Heels to win the Final Four…
Countdown to Obama's 100th day: 27 days
Countdown to NJ GOP primary: 61 days
Countdown to VA Dem primary: 68 days
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 215 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 579 days
Click here to sign up for First Read emails.
Text FIRST to 622639, to sign up for First Read alerts to your mobile phone.