From Chuck Todd and Mark Murray
*** The week that was: In the first four months of the Obama presidency, these past seven days might very well have been the toughest for the young administration and the Democratic Congress. The president received flak from the right and left over his national security positions; he suffered his biggest congressional setback when Congress stripped his desired funding to close the Gitmo prison; and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had a rough week in her back-and-forth with the CIA (and tries to turn the page today with her weekly press conference at 10:15 am ET). But things this week were neither as bad for Democrats -- and good for Republicans -- as you might think. Although not in the spotlight, Congress passed two more pieces of legislation, on weapons acquisition reform and on credit cards, which President Obama signs into law today. (By the way, this is the umpteenth time the White House has broken its five-day review pledge.) Republicans can certainly say a lot of things about the Democrats in Congress and at the White House, but they can't criticize them for being unproductive. This is no do-nothing Congress. In addition, while Republicans obviously are enjoying putting Obama and Pelosi on the defensive, you have to wonder whether highlighting Michael Steele, Dick Cheney, and a resolution equating Democrats as socialists was a positive development for them, at least in the long run.
Video: In dueling speeches delivered Thursday, President Barack Obama defended his plan to close Guantanamo, but former Vice President Dick Cheney made it clear that he viewed things very differently. NBC's Andrea Mitchell, Pete Williams, and David Gregory report.
*** Buying time: As for Obama's speech yesterday, it was uncanny how similar it was to the one on race he gave a year ago in Philadelphia. It took place in a symbolic setting (the Constitution Center in Philly vs. the National Archives in DC); it touched on his own biography ("I stand here today as someone whose own life was made possible by these documents" -- the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Declaration of Independence, he said yesterday); and it came at a time when he found himself on the defensive (Jeremiah Wright vs. national security). Unlike his speech on race, however, yesterday's wasn't a homerun, though Obama's singles and doubles still look pretty. Also, as expected, it was short on details about what he plans to do with those Gitmo detainees. Finally, Obama was more defensive than we've seen in a while, and the nuance that he preached just isn't as accepted by partisans on either side of these thorny national security issues. But what the speech did do was buy himself time with Congress and the American public before Gitmo closes in January. And in the meantime, the administration hopes stories like this Washington Post piece sink in: "Thirty-three international terrorists, many with ties to al-Qaeda, reside in a single federal prison in Florence, Colo., with little public notice." What say you, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and Harry Reid?
*** Cheney's turn: As for Cheney's speech, the former vice president probably should have taken a few extra minutes to tweak his remarks. For instance, the part that hit Obama for not believing we're at war seemed odd, since the president spent a good chunk of his speech talking about just that -- we're at war. In fact, Obama's war rhetoric was so striking that Jon Stewart found it rather easy to compare Obama's words to, ready for this, former President Bush. As for the rest of Cheney's speech, the play it's getting is probably what the White House was gambling on when it decided to elevate the ex-VP by giving his speech on the same day. Bottom line: Cheney's positions on national security are more popular than Cheney himself, and that may explain the motivation on the White House part to pick Cheney. Another thing: The style contrast between Obama and Cheney was more striking than the issue differences -- Obama's nuance and search for the middle ground, versus Cheney's assuredness and black-and-white rhetoric. And don't miss this from David Brooks: "When Cheney lambastes the change in security policy, he's not really attacking the Obama administration. He's attacking the Bush administration. In his speech on Thursday, he repeated in public a lot of the same arguments he had been making within the Bush White House as the policy decisions went more and more the other way."
*** Changing the conversation: Back to Obama's speech, one of his other goals was to get the national security conversation to the point that it goes back to page A4. Indeed, while we're all fixated on the national security fight, check out all the other things Obama has accomplished this week:
-- May 18: Met with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on Middle East peace
-- May 19: Announced new national fuel efficiency standards
-- May 20: Signed the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act & the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act;
-- May 22: Signs the defense acquisition and credit card reforms into law. Also today, at 10:00 am ET, Obama gives his third and final commencement address this season -- to the Naval Academy's graduating seniors. As Politico notes, one of those graduating seniors is John McCain's son, Jack, and the whole McCain family will be in attendance.
*** Pure energy: Last night, the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed the long-awaited cap-and-trade bill. It's amazing the attention a committee passage for a bill got yesterday. The fact that some environmental groups (like Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Public Citizen) are against the legislation may be music to the White House's ears; when they get attacked from the left, it gives them the opportunity to look like the pragmatic compromisers. Maybe this energy bill has a better shot at passage this year than the developing C.W. had indicated a few months ago.
*** Mr. Deeds: Creigh Deeds getting the Washington Post's endorsement today might be the death knell for Brian Moran. Yet if Moran continues to launch negatives on McAuliffe, then watch out for Deeds. Everything is going exactly the way Deeds needs it to go in a three-way race: He gets the Post endorsement for Northern Virginia, and Moran and McAuliffe are butting heads.
*** Meet Leah Ward Sears: Today, we profile SCOTUS possibility Leah Ward Sears, 53, who currently serves as the chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court; she was originally appointed to the court by Gov. Zell Miller in 1992… Is an African-American woman, and the conventional wisdom is that Obama will pick a woman, a minority, or both… She and her husband, Haskell Ward, both donated to Obama's presidential campaign… Despite their opposing judicial philosophies, is friendly with Clarence Thomas; he reached out to her during her 1992 re-election bid when she was a target by some due to her race… In the widely reported case of 17-year-old Genarlow Wilson -- who was convicted of aggravated child molestation for having consensual oral sex with a 15 year-old girl -- wrote for the majority that Wilson's punishment was "grossly disproportionate" to the crime, which "did not rise to the level of culpability of adults who prey on children."… Before joining the Georgia Supreme Court, served on the state's Superior Court and on Atlanta's city court… Received her law degree from Emory University (1979) and her undergraduate degree from Cornell (1976).
Countdown to NJ GOP primary: 11 days
Countdown to VA Dem primary: 18 days
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 165 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 529 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.