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First thoughts: Another whirlwind day

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Abby Livingston
*** Another whirlwind day: It's another busy day for President/World Traveler Obama. He will be in Strasbourg, France, and Kehl, Germany, where he has already met with France's President Sarkozy, gave a speech on transatlantic relations (including acknowledging American "arrogance" in its treatment of Europe but also reminding Europeans of their anti-American tendencies) and took questions on that speech from students. Still ahead on the docket: he meets with German Chancellor Merkel at 9:45 am ET. Sarkozy was, perhaps, more gushing over the president than Gordon Brown was a couple of days ago. It was one effusive adjective after another, according to a translation of his remarks. While both Sarkozy and Merkel have been vocal critics of some of Obama's plans, Sarkozy didn't spend a second criticizing the American president. To that point. Even though all politics is local, and there was lots of chest beating for the audiences back home, don't expect any Love, Actually moments. Also, that these leaders disagree on some things isn't surprising. After all, these are Europe's conservative-leaning leaders. (Remember, Sarkozy was praised by the likes of Rudy Giuliani heartily during the 2008 presidential campaign.) And when it comes to stimulus', they already have lots more safety nets in place than the U.S. For an example of why these meetings won't live up to the hype, remember when Obama and Sarkozy met last July. They were, well, Sar-cozy. And today, call them Sar-cozier.

Video: Speaking before a French and German audience at a town-hall style gathering, President Obama pledged to repair damaged relations with Europe.

*** Cocky vs. confident: This line struck us from President Obama's G-20 news conference yesterday. "I would like to think that with my election and the early decisions that we've made, that you're starting to see some restoration of America's standing in the world," he said. "And although, as you know, I always mistrust polls, international polls seem to indicate that you're seeing people more hopeful about America's leadership." This was an odd thing for him to say of himself. It's confidence bordering on, well, you know… it's a fine line; obviously, he wanted to let folks know at home that America is getting treated differently on the world stage, but he needs to be careful not too sound cocky. Every president is cocky in their own way or they wouldn't have gotten elected, but you just can't let it show in a preening manner. It's that confidence, though, that apparently impressed fellow world leaders, when it came to the shuttle diplomacy he played with France and China.

Video: CNBC's Steve Liesman discusses the dismal U.S. unemployment rate.

*** Measuring success: Back home in the U.S., unemployment crept up to 8.5% in March, according to numbers out this morning -- up from 8.1% last month, shedding another 663,000 jobs. The White House is happy with what it got out of the G-20. There is the New York Times front-page headline: "World Leaders Pledge $1.1 Trillion to Tackle Crisis" with a confident-looking Obama pointing in front of world flags. But every world leader wanted to paint the summit a success, at least for them (see Sarkozy taking credit). But Obama's success is foggy. We really won't know for months whether specific things that happened here help folks back home. And that's ultimately how he'll be judged. The president tried to explain how the developments would help at the news conference, but as AP noted, "When asked, however, he could not point to an individual summit accomplishment that would help recession-battered Americans beyond general points such as fighting protectionism and making the global economy work together."

Video: President Obama lands in Strasbourg, France, for a meeting marking the 60th anniversary of NATO. NBC's Savannah Guthrie reports from Strasbourg.

*** A truer test? Even on his trip abroad, overshadowed, incredibly, has been his war policy. Today's agenda is, perhaps, more challenging and the truer test of the president's world political skills: convincing NATO that Afghanistan is their war too. Last Sunday, the president said Afghanistan was "America's war"; however, a senior administration official acknowledged that one of the challenges they have is to convince other countries that success in Afghanistan is in their own national security interest, not just NATO allies, but also Pakistan, for example. No doubt, the White House believes it's got enough orchestrated in advance to be able to claim some success, but the real test will come in, well, another six or nine months when or if he decides to go back to NATO allies for more help. Obama got one symbolic gesture this morning: Sarkozy offering to take Guantanamo detainees if it would facilitate its closing, because, he said, the camp "was not in keeping with U.S. values." 

*** The budget battle: The House and Senate passed the trimmed versions of Obama's budget late last night along party lines. The stage now is set for a new fight, NBC's Ken Strickland notes. The Senate version will have to be will have to be married to the House version; and that new version will have to be passed anew by both chambers. Because Congress starts a two-week vacation next week, any drama involving merging the two bills would likely unfold at the staff level behind closed doors. The House voted 233-96 for the budget with 20 Democrats voting against it; The Senate voted 55-43 with two Dems voting no. While House Republicans are pointing to unity in its opposition of the budget, Democrats point out that more Republicans, 38, voted against the GOP alternative. The biggest fight in merging the two budgets will be whether to use the complicated procedure known as "reconciliation" or if the two sides can come to some compromise. By the way, Vice President Biden was on the floor, in his role as President of the Senate, just in case he had to break a vote. (The two Dem senators, by the way, who voted against: Indiana's Evan Bayh and Nebraska's Ben Nelson.) 

*** Sanford's dilemma: By the way, today is the deadline for South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford to decide "whether to accept $700 million of federal stimulus money that he considers wasteful, or risk the wrath of residents in a state with the nation's second-highest unemployment rate," the Wall Street Journal noted. With a large chunk of the money coming from education, Sanford has faced protesting teachers, chanting, "Take the funds." They argue teachers will be laid off and class sizes could double if the funds are not accepted. Even the Republican head of the state's budget committee criticizes him for it, as NPR reported yesterday. Politics certainly seems at play, at least in part. Sanford standing by his principles on a philosophical level has been praised by national fiscal conservatives, and he'll certainly need them in his corner if he decided to run in 2012.

*** Seeing through NY-20 spin: By one count, Jim Tedisco has pulled ahead of Scott Murphy by 12 votes. The spin, though, in the hours and days following the results of NY-20 has been almost nauseating. No one will know who wins this race for at least another two weeks when absentee ballots are counted. But bottom line: This is a swing district that leans slightly to the right, plain and simple. In specials, the person with the most name recognition who most fits the ideological profile of the district is supposed to win. That person was Tedisco. If this election proves anything, it's that he wasn't a great candidate. He couldn't figure out a stance on the stimulus -- even though it was the biggest subject during their campaign. He fought with the national committees publicly and the RNC poured in hundreds of thousands of dollars in this race. That was in just two months. The Democrats didn't have any of that drama. The DNC didn't invest as heavily as its Republican counterpart (though Murphy and outside groups did outspend Republicans overall). Few had ever heard of Murphy when his name was raised as a candidate, and national Democrats weren't exactly thrilled about his chances after New York Gov. David Paterson plucked out Gillibrand from what would have been a safe Dem seat. But still, Murphy wound up in a tie. The more people got to know him, the more people chose him over Tedisco, as polls closed in three weeks. Again, this was, if anything, more of a referendum on Tedisco, not Obama. And, in the end, people were split on whether they wanted him.

*** Dear diary: By the way, cockiness isn't reserved for world leaders. There have been a number of odd moments that deserve their own travelogue but we thought we'd share one. The Chinese journalist who was so aggressive in his nationalistic question of President Obama certainly has a sense of himself. He was overheard telling a security official just before the news conference, something along the lines of either: "I broadcast to one-fifth of the world's population" or  "I broadcast to one-fifth of the planet" or "I am seen by one-fifth of the world." Multiple accounts have a different version of this quote. The sentiment is, well, priceless.

Countdown to Obama's 100th day: 26 days 
Countdown to NJ GOP primary: 60 days
Countdown to VA Dem primary: 67 days
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 214 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 578 days

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