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First thoughts: Walking a tightrope

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Walking a tightrope: At 11:35 am ET, President Obama will deliver yet another major address on the economy -- this time at Georgetown University. The speech comes after Obama has talked optimistically about the economy in recent days. ("What you're starting to see is glimmers of hope across the economy," he said on Friday. "We're heading in the right direction," he said yesterday.) Previewing the speech yesterday, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the president would update the country on the current state of the economy, would discuss the actions that administration has taken to tackle the economic problems, and would lay out the steps it still needs to take. As we have pointed out before, the president has to walk a tightrope: giving people hope about the economy, but also not ignoring the real structural problems it's currently facing. In short, things for many Americans will get worse -- not better -- in the next few months. Obviously, the statistics that the White House sees are optimistic. Walking this tightrope is no easy task. By the way, for those wondering, the entire White House team is buying into Larry Summers' analysis right now. So while it's Barack Obama who publicly is putting himself on the line, inside the West Wing, it's Summers.

Video: The White House is calling President Obama's address from Georgetown University today a 'major speech' on the economy. NBC's chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd reports on the administration's progress to date.

*** When Congress is on recess: As Obama addresses the economy today and addressed the stimulus yesterday, we've got to ask: Where have all the GOP voices gone? The short answer: They're on recess. Indeed, if this Easter recess has taught us anything, it's that the principal Republican opposition to the White House has been the GOP Congress. But when they're on their CODELs, who else has stepped up to the plate -- outside the congressional leadership's communication teams? The RNC? Hardly. We haven't heard a peep from them (although the Washington Times reports that chairman Michael Steele has issued a fundraising letter accusing Obama of belonging to the "blame America first" crowd). The people who have stepped into the void include Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and Glenn Beck. And as one of us wrote last week, those folks might not be the GOP's best voices of opposition against this current administration. They could only be exacerbating the GOP's problems right now.
 
*** The never-ending recount: We'll say it again: The question increasingly is no longer whether Al Franken will be the next U.S. senator from Minnesota; it's when he'll be the next senator. Last night, 161 days since Election Day, a bipartisan three-judge panel confirmed that Franken received more votes in November than Norm Coleman did. Coleman now has 10 days to appeal the ruling to the Minnesota Supreme Court, a move his lawyers say he'll make. But after last night's decision, Democrats began ratcheting up the pressure for Coleman to bow out. "Enough is enough," said DNC chairman Tim Kaine. Added DSCC chair Bob Menendez: "Al Franken won the election, Al Franken won the recount, Al Franken won the contest, and now Al Franken should be allowed to get to work for the people of Minnesota." Indeed, Democrats argue that unless Coleman can demonstrate 1) that the recount and three-judge trial were biased and wrong, and 2) that he has a real and provable path to victory, then any further appeal would seem like he's putting his personal and his party's interests above his state's interests.

*** Franken's discipline: By the way, and it's a point we've made before, but it's been pretty impressive how Franken has been so disciplined during this recount period. Indeed, until last night, when had we heard from him. Clearly, the GOP thought they were dealing with the stereotype that was Al Franken -- not the guy who proved to be a candidate who, well, got more votes than Norm Coleman. In fact, this has been a problem for the GOP in general the last few years when it comes to dealing with Democrats: They believe their own stereotypes about their opponents, rather than actually dealing with their opponents at face value.

*** Going rogue: The pirate episode brings sunlight to another rogue state, which years ago was thought to be a safe haven for al Qaeda terrorists. Believe it or not, Somalia has had approximately 15 governments in the last 20 years -- with the U.S. most hopeful actually about the current one in power, which barely controls most of the country's capital of Mogadishu. And that government has been in power since January. Think about all of the headaches this current administration is facing on the foreign policy front: Most of them have to do with countries that are either rogue states or aren't completely in charge of everything within its borders. They include Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan, Iraq, and even Iran. All of these countries are or have been safe havens for terrorists or other bad guys like the Somali pirates. Can one doctrine or policy deal with all of these hotspots? It's unclear. The Bush administration hoped that would be the case, but each one of these countries has proven to be its own challenge. In many ways, all of them define the difficulty both the Pentagon and the State Department have in coming up with a coherent foreign and military policy. Conventional 20th Century foreign policy may not work.

*** The times, they are a-ahangin': Meanwhile, it's amazing this morning how easily accepted Obama's new Cuba policies have been. They're barely registering as a political blip. For those over the age of 50 -- or who spent significant time living in South Florida -- this must be quite surprising. Relations with Cuba have defined the lives of so many. For those over 50, it's the memories of the Cuban Missile Crisis; for those in South Florida, it's been a political defining part of life where kowtowing to the Cuban community has been tantamount to winning Miami-Dade county (or keeping it close). But as the New York Times points out today: Times, they are a-changin'. "In a sense, the policy shift is an admission that a half-century of American policy aimed at trying to push the Castros out of power has not worked — as the Cuban American National Foundation, the most powerful lobbying group for Cuban exiles in Miami, conceded last week."

*** How not to please a book publisher: Is the Rhodes Scholar and policy wonk Bobby Jindal really going use a co-author to help him write a book? Says Jindal, "One of the reasons I'm doing this with a co-author is to make sure there's somebody else doing a lot of the heavy lifting… This isn't something that will take a lot of my time." Something tells us that his book publisher won't be happy with those remarks. More importantly, this underscores that Jindal is still trying to compete with Sarah Palin to see which 2012 Republican wannabe is having the worst first 100 days of 2009…

*** Other odds and ends: Sometime today, the Obamas will formally introduce their new dog, Bo, to the American public… Also today, indicted former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) will be arraigned.

Countdown to Obama's 100th day: 15 days 
Countdown to NJ GOP primary: 49 days
Countdown to VA Dem primary: 56 days
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 203 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 567 days

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