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First thoughts: Quintessential Obama

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Abby Livingston
*** Quintessential Obama: Anyone who didn't think President Obama would give a speech that would aim to rise above the back-and-forth over his commencement speech yesterday at Notre Dame hasn't been paying attention over the last two years. It was quintessential Obama. He called for common ground to reduce unintended pregnancies, to make adoption easier, and to provide better health care for women who carry their children to term. But Obama also urged his audience for a more civil tone on thorny issues like abortion. "I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away… Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature." He added, "Open hearts. Open minds. Fair-minded words." Of course, those words didn't stop the protests. NBC's Athena Jones, who was in the auditorium covering the speech, notes that four men -- none of them appearing to be students -- interrupted Obama's speech and a handful of graduates decorated their mortarboards with images of baby's feet and a cross in bright yellow. Still, the crowd as a whole was overwhelmingly positive.

Video: Watch President Obama's full speech at the University of Notre Dame's commencement ceremony.

*** Fair-minded words for SCOTUS debate? In way, you could interpret Obama's remarks about "open hearts, open minds, fair-minded words" as the opening shot -- or better yet, a call for truce -- in the upcoming effort to replace David Souter on the Supreme Court, because it has the potential to be the latest salvo in the culture wars. On Sunday, the New York Times front-paged how conservative groups are stockpiling political ammunition for Obama's eventual pick to succeed Souter. And Sunday's Washington Post noted how conservatives are focusing on gay marriage, believing that the issue "could provide a road map to an Obama nominee's judicial philosophy." Still, today's New York Times says that some Senate Republicans might not be as eager as conservative groups are in wanting to pick a Supreme Court fight. "Those Republicans, including senior staff aides and some senators, suggested in interviews that they believed Mr. Obama's first nominee for the court would be confirmed without great difficulty no matter how they framed the issues during the confirmation process."

*** A-Huntsman we will go: Obama's nomination of Utah Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman to be ambassador to China seems to benefit two people: Obama and Huntsman. For Obama, it was yet another signal to independents and moderates that he's reaching across the aisle (Ray LaHood, Arlen Specter, and even the failed nomination of Judd Gregg are the other examples); it all but removed a potential 2012 challenger and an important moderate voice inside the GOP; and it showed that Obama's serious about China (Huntsman has sterling credentials -- he speaks Mandarin, did his Mormon mission in Taiwan, and served as George W. Bush's deputy U.S. trade representative). For Huntsman, the nomination gives him a job he obviously desired; it gets him out of the country at a time when his party is undergoing internecine warfare; and it possibly preps him for a presidential bid in 2016, bolstering his foreign affairs credentials. By the way, the cynical side of us is very impressed with how Obama has so cleverly tied up two of his biggest potential rivals in the future. First, he offered Hillary the plum job at the State Department, removing her as a potential obstacle from the Senate. Now he's taken Huntsman off the table for 2012.

Video: President Obama introduces Gov. Jon Huntsman, R-Utah, as the new U.S. ambassador to China.

*** One other point about Huntsman: Whether it is Specter switching parties, Judd Gregg accepting the Commerce post (even for a few days), or this appointment -- it's going to be hard for Republicans to make the public case that somehow Obama hasn't attempted to reach across the aisle. Of course, the White House has been very strategic in its attempts at bipartisanship, which no doubt frustrates many Republicans because the president isn't being bipartisan on everything. Moreover, there's plenty of evidence that things are sometimes just as toxic now as they were two or four years ago. One example: There's the Minnesota recount debacle. Seriously, why hasn't there been a compromise to seat Franken just temporarily, like Republicans did for Mary Landrieu in 1996? Isn't this getting a bit absurd? No doubt that Coleman has his right to keep fighting, but why not find some middle ground?

*** Barack and Bibi: Obama today turns his focus to the Middle East. He meets with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in the Oval Office at 10:30 am ET (closed press), and then again in an expanded Oval Office meeting an hour later (in which there will be a pool spray). And Obama and Netanyahu attend a working lunch at 12:20 pm. This is the start of three one-on-ones Obama will have in the next several days. Next up are Abbas of the Palestinians and Mubarak of Egypt.

*** The sprint to Memorial Day: This is the last week that Congress will be in session before its Memorial Day recess, and it may send the president a handful of bills (on credit cards, predatory mortgage lending, and Pentagon procurement). One thing you might expect from the White House this week is a bit of a look back -- a la what it did for the first 100 days. The first half of this congressional session was certainly busy, and the level of productivity is something the folks on the White House side of Pennsylvania Ave. would like folks to notice.

*** Tough times for Arnold? Tuesday will likely be another bad day in the political life of Arnold Schwarzenegger. If the polls are correct, he's going to lose every ballot initiative he's pushing. It could be another blow for Arnold and his attempt at being bipartisan. The good news for him: He has united Republicans and Democrats. The bad news: They're unified in disapproving of his job in office.

*** Meet Jennifer Granholm: The latest in our SCOTUS profiles is Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, 50… Has never been a judge or a law scholar, so there is no track record about her judicial philosophy… If selected and confirmed, would be the first non-judge to sit on the highest court in the land since William Rehnquist and Lewis Powell Jr. in 1972… Also would be the first Supreme Court justice to be born outside of the United States since Felix Frankfurter (who was born in Vienna, Austria)… Is pro-choice, but while governor signed a bill giving pregnant women considering abortion the option of viewing ultrasound pictures… Michigan has the highest unemployment rate in the nation (at 12.6%), and critics might seize on that to evaluate her tenure as governor… A Granholm appointment to the Supreme Court would elevate Democratic Lt. Gov. John Cherry to the governor's mansion… Endorsed Hillary Clinton over Obama during the Democratic presidential primary season.

*** More Granholm bio: Before becoming governor, was the first female to serve as Michigan attorney general… Also was Wayne County Corporation counsel (1994-1998) and federal prosecutor in Detroit (1990-1994)… Clerked for 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Damon Keith… Received her law degree from Harvard (1987) and her undergraduate degree in political science and French from the University of California, Berkeley (1984)… Won the Miss San Carlos (CA) beauty/talent contest… Tried to be an actress and was once a contestant on "The Dating Game"… Due to her beauty-pageant past, good looks, and considerable debating skills, played the part of Sarah Palin for Joe Biden's VP debate practice… Her Facebook page says Paul Simon and James Taylor are among her favorite musicians; "Life is Beautiful," Al Gore's "Inconvenient Truth," and "Patton" are her favorite movies; and "Profiles in Courage" and "Secret Life of Bees" are her favorite books.

Countdown to NJ GOP primary: 15 days
Countdown to VA Dem primary: 22 days
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 169 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 533 days

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