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First thoughts: Like Tiananmen Square?

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Iran's Tiananmen Square? We can't say that yet, but the pictures coming from Tehran are striking; it's truly one of those moments when a picture is worth 1,000 words. But now what? The international community is still rather muted in its response. President Obama seemed to be attempting to strike a balance in his tone, showing support for the protestors but not yet overtly attacking the current regime. "It is up to Iranians to make decisions about who Iran's leaders will be," Obama told reporters at the White House yesterday. "We respect Iranian sovereignty and want to avoid the United States being the issue inside of Iran." Obama continued, "Having said all that, I am deeply troubled by the violence I've been seeing on television. I think that the democratic process, free speech, the ability of people to peacefully dissent -- all those are universal values and need to be respected." He concluded, "Whenever I see violence perpetrated on people who are peacefully dissenting, and whenever the American people see that, I think they are rightfully troubled. I think it would be wrong for me to be silent about what we've seen on the television over the last few days."

Video: At least seven people have been killed as new violence erupts over Iran's presidential election results. NBC's Richard Engel reports.

*** A delicate situation: Obama's statement isn't dissimilar to how the Bush 41 administration handled the violence in China in 1989. It's a delicate situation, and no doubt the Obama White House will find itself being criticized by some in Congress who believe he isn't being defiant enough. Indeed, on TODAY this morning, Sen. John McCain called Iran's election "corrupt" and said Obama should speak out that this is a "fraud" election. And yesterday, before Obama spoke, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor said Obama's "silence" represented "a step backwards for homegrown democracy in the Middle East." Of course, it's a lot easier for members of Congress to show outrage on this front than it is for the official head of state. However, something makes us think Obama's language will be tougher today when CNBC's John Harwood interviews him, or when he holds a joint press avail with South Korea's President Lee at 11:35 am ET. By the way, here are some of the latest developments in Iran: The country's top legislative body says it's ready to conduct a limited recount; a pro-Ahmadinejad rally took place in Tehran; and, per NBC's Ali Arouzi, violence has begun to break out at that rally, as plain-clothes militia have begun to beat protestors with sticks. 

Video: Sen. John McCain says the president isn't talking tough enough about the disputed presidential election in Iran.

*** CBO vs. Kennedy's bill: Turning to domestic politics, lots of hay is being made out of the Congressional Budget Office's scoring of Ted Kennedy's health-care proposal. This -- again -- is one of those tough political issues for the White House to deal with. The Kennedy bill is respected by many involved with this effort in Congress and the White House, but no one close to the situation has ever believed it was going to be the centerpiece of the eventual legislation that ends up on the president's desk. And yet the news that Kennedy's bill would add to the deficit -- and not even eliminate half of the country's uninsured -- is giving critics of the president's plan plenty of ammunition. The White House tried last night to remind reporters that the Kennedy bill isn't the president's bill, or even the bill that comes out of the Senate. They stopped short of criticizing the bill publicly, but may find themselves forced to if more folks get carried away with blurring the lines between the Kennedy bill and the president's effort.

*** We're going to party like it's 1993? Writing in The New Republic, Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg -- who was Clinton's pollster during his early years as president -- says polls show that the public's attitude towards health-care reform is about the same as it was in 1993. And that, he argues, isn't good news for the Obama White House. Of course, Obama is more popular now than Clinton was at this point in '93, and he was elected with a clear majority (as we like to ask around here at First Read, would Clinton have won in '92 had Ross Perot not been on the ballot?). But whether or not health care passes this year will likely come down to these questions: Did Obama learn from Clinton's mistakes? Did he do a better job of selling it to the public than Clinton did? And is the Democratic Party more unified than it was during the 1990s? Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee tells First Read that it will be releasing a Web video later today that forecasts what could happen if there's a public/government option to compete with private insurance. "When President Obama says he wants a 'public option' in health care reform, what he means is that he wants a government-run plan," the announcer will say in the video. *** UPDATE *** Here's the video.

*** Letterman apologizes; Palin accepts -- kind of: Although we earlier said that a politician never wants to get into a fight with a comedian, it looks like Gov. Sarah Palin is having the last laugh in her back-and-forth with David Letterman. Last night, Letterman apologized in full to Palin and her family. "I told a bad joke. I told a joke that was beyond flawed, and my intent is completely meaningless compared to the perception," he said. "And since it was a joke I told, I feel that I need to do the right thing here and apologize for having told that joke." Palin has since released a statement accepting Letterman's apology. But read the whole thing carefully; doesn't it prove that she's trying to milk this controversy for all it's worth? "Of course it's accepted on behalf of young women, like my daughters, who hope men who 'joke' about public displays of sexual exploitation of girls will soon evolve," Palin replied. "Letterman certainly has the right to 'joke' about whatever he wants to, and thankfully we have the right to express our reaction. And this is all thanks to our U.S. military women and men putting their lives on the line for us to secure America's Right to Free Speech - in this case, may that right be used to promote equality and respect."

*** Promotion or demotion? Dennis Ross is coming to the West Wing, according to multiple reports. While he's losing his Iran portfolio with the State Department (one that was never completely defined), Ross will have more access to the president than he would have had as a special envoy. Although some are trying to paint this as some sort of negative fallout regarding Ross (see the Israeli press), it's clear that anyone who gets West Wing clearance is getting a promotion -- not a demotion. This Ross move actually furthers the narrative that this administration is putting together the most powerful West Wing in modern presidential history. The heft of personalities with West Wing access only grows, leading some to even wonder if this White House is diminishing the influence of actual cabinet secretaries.

*** When a full plate can be a good thing: Just askin', but where has all the GOP and media scrutiny of Sonia Sotomayor gone? Yes, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell discussed her (and the possibility of filibustering her) on Sunday. Yes, there have been some recent news reports about her. And, yes, there will be much more to come between now and July 13, when her confirmation hearing begins. But as the political world turns its focus from health care (Monday's topic) to North Korea (today's topic), and to the administration's financial regulation plan (Wednesday's topic), it does seem that Obama's full plate benefits him in this respect: It makes it more difficult for his critics to focus their fire on all the different targets. Indeed, it's Rahm Emanuel who's the big believer in taking on a number of issues at the same time, so that the opponents can't concentrate on one thing. The possible downside? The administration could lose momentum on an issue or two. But, overall, they get a lot more done.

*** Regulate this: Speaking of the financial regulation, Obama will unveil his proposal in interviews on CNBC, Bloomberg TV, and the Wall Street Journal. The L.A. Times curtain-raises the policy. The plan would give the government new powers, but won't combine some entities, allowing for the streamlining that both Treasury Secretary Geithner and Fed Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke had originally proposed. 

*** Could the end Be near? Here's a final just askin': When are we going to hear from the Minnesota Supreme Court on the ongoing Coleman-Franken race? It's got to be soon, right?

*** Elsewhere today: In DC tonight, Bill Clinton headlines a gala honoring DLC founder Al From. And, in federal court in Alexandria, VA, opening statements begin in the trial of former Democratic Rep. William Jefferson (he of the $90,000 in cold, hard cash in his freezer).

Countdown to Election Day 2009: 140 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 504 days

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