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First thoughts: The week that was

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** The week that was: Let's be honest: This has been a pretty tough week for an Obama White House that so far has seen more good days than bad ones. Republicans and conservatives -- including now Paul Wolfowitz! -- are criticizing the administration for not speaking out more forcefully about what's happening in Iran (even though many experts side with the White House's wait-and-see approach). New polls, including the latest NBC/WSJ survey, showed the public's concern about the rising deficit and the government's intervention into GM. Gay-rights advocates remain disappointed at the White House. And last, but certainly not least, congressional Democrats and liberals are now beginning to panic about their chances of passing health-care reform this year. As a result, Republicans are feeling more emboldened than ever to go after the president. 

*** A turning point or an over-hyped blip? Of course, we've been here before, right? During the presidential election, the media continually asked, "Why isn't Obama leading by more in the polls?" and he went on to win by the widest margin for a Democrat since 1964. Also during the campaign, there was the thought that disappointed Hillary supporters wouldn't vote for him, which didn't turn out to be true in November. And earlier this year, Democrats worried about the fate of Obama's stimulus, which ultimately passed. So the current round of doubts hasn't fazed the White House. "These days happen once every couple of months," a senior administration official told the Atlantic's Marc Ambinder. "They are almost like clockwork." That said, now five months into office, Team Obama has now entered a new -- and more difficult -- phase in which the glow from the campaign and the inauguration is gone. As NBC/WSJ co-pollster Peter Hart (D) says, "There is no more smooth sailing for the administration. They are going to have to navigate in pretty choppy waters." The campaign was easier for Obama to recover from a rough patch because there was an opponent. But who is the opponent now? 

*** Well, we guess that's settled then: In Iran today, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told a gathering at the Tehran University that the presidential election was fair and transparent and that all four candidates stand firmly behind the Islamic Republic, NBC's Ali Arouzi reports. The supreme leader said the candidates' arguments were only on policy, and he said enemies of the state are trying to break people's trust in the system and are doing this with the help of the foreign media. Khamenei went on to say that the election was free and transparent and absolutely free of any fraud whatsoever. And he issued this warning: The protesters are acting illegal and will be dealt with if they continue. What's more, Arouzi notes, the thousands of people in the crowd were ardent supporters of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, and they were shouting death to America and death to the United Kingdom after the supreme leader blamed outside forces for fueling the protests.

Video: Ayatollah Ali Khamenei defends his country's recent presidential election and blames Western countries for trying to stir up chaos in Iran. NBC's Richard Engel joins the Morning Joe gang to discuss the latest developments.

*** The administration's pushback: Meanwhile, back in the U.S., Reps. Howard Berman (D-CA) and Mike Pence (R-IN) have introduced a bipartisan resolution expressing support for the Iranian dissidents and condemning the violence there. The House will vote on the resolution today. More congressional Republicans, in fact, appear comfortable criticizing the administration's position here. Of course, events over the next few days could determine whether we see the president ramp up his rhetoric. But the White House is privately pushing back on the growing perception that the president's isn't speaking out enough, and it reminds us they talked plenty about democracy in the Middle East (see the Cairo speech). Yet what's happening in Iran, the administration says, is organic democracy. But the United States intervening in Iran -- even rhetorically -- undermines that organic democracy, it says. Any association to the U.S. opens up the dissidents to charges that they are pawns of the United States.

Video: Sen. John Kerry, D-Ma., and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., discuss the tone President Barack Obama should take with regard to events in Iran.

*** If you wish upon a Starr: Now that Ken Starr is now supporting Sonia Sotomayor, is there anyone in America who thinks she won't get confirmed? Per NBC's Pete Williams, Starr, the conservative lawyer who led the Whitewater prosecution against Bill Clinton, confirmed news reports that he backed Sotomayor during a question-and-answer session in California. "I stated that I supported the nomination," he said in an email to Williams. "I also indicated that a variety of issues needed to be explored at the confirmation hearings including her comments about policy making and her -- now famous -- 2001 speech at UC Berkeley." That speech, of course, was when Sotomayor said a wise Latina woman would more often then not reach a better conclusion in judging then a white male. 

*** Pelosi's poor poll numbers: Here's a final thought for the weekend: Lost in the news about Obama's job rating and the concern about deficit were the abysmal NBC/WSJ numbers for Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She and Rush Limbaugh now share similar negative personal ratings. That's fine for a talk radio personality (maybe even helpful), but it's a disaster for a speaker of the House. Simply put, this is not sustainable for her politically. Sure, the White House and others will say, "Relax, she's taking the arrows for the president." And there's lots of truth to that, but she's also letting a lot of these attacks stick. And she isn't fighting back publicly. And one wonders if that lack of public pushback is allowing this negative perception to gel. Her margin of error, politically, continues to shrink. Washington isn't a loyal town and when the going gets tough, the unpopular baggage gets tossed under the bus -- something the speaker may know. But so far, she's seems content to let these negatives rise without pushing back. Does that need to change or is it in the best interest of the president's agenda?

*** Obama's day: At 9:30 am ET, the president delivers remarks at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast. Later, he visits a non-profit organization (at 1:00 pm ET) and then delivers remarks at the White House (at 3:15 pm) to promote and discuss fatherhood and mentorship. Among the folks participating with Obama are professional athletes DeWyane Wade, Antwan Randle El, and Etan Thomas. (Of course, we have to ask -- who is vetting these guys? Wade has separated from his wife, who has accused him of infidelity and abandonment of their children.) Obama also has penned an essay in Parade magazine on Father's Day. Finally tonight, Obama addresses the Radio and TV Correspondents Dinner. 

Countdown to Election Day 2009: 137 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 501 days

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