From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Time to come home? President Obama's previous overseas jaunts (to Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East) have helped to bolster his domestic image. But his current trip doesn't seem to be doing that. For one thing, the settings (Russia, earthquake-torn Italy) aren't as friendly. Also, his top two domestic priorities -- the economy and health care -- are becoming increasingly problematic. Just take a look at these headlines: "Power of Stimulus Slow to Take Hold" (Washington Post), "Democrats Stuck in Stimulus Jam" (Politico), "Report: States Aren't Using Stimulus Funds as Intended" (USA Today), and "Health Deals Could Harbor Hidden Costs" (New York Times). For the White House, the sooner Obama gets home, the better. In fact, the last thing the president wants is for T-shirts like this famous one the DNC made for George H.W. Bush in 1991: "George Bush Went to Rome … And All I Got Was This Lousy Recession."
*** The Stimulus PR problem: When it comes to the stimulus, it's interesting that it has become more of a P.R. problem rather than an economic one. After all, most economists agree that the stimulus' true benefits won't come until later this year or next (which raises the question why the previous administration didn't try to kick-start the economy in '08). But with the unemployment rate increasing, the economy still stagnant, and White House officials not on the same page (Biden's "misread" comment and Laura Tyson raising the possibility of a second stimulus), the $787 billion recovery act -- at least in the short-term -- has become an image problem for the White House, especially as the GOP pounces on every piece of bad economic news. As Obama told NBC News and First Read yesterday, "What we always knew was that: A) this recession was going to be deep, B) it was going to last for a while, and C) even when the economy pulls out of recession that you are going to see jobs emerging only at the end of that process rather than the beginning."
Video: NBC's Chuck Todd talks about President Obama's trip to Italy and how the G-20 summit has surpassed the outdated G-8 summit in terms of getting real work done.
*** What the White House wishes Obama could talk about today: At 10:30 am ET, Vice President Biden and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will announce another positive development for the administration in the health-care effort: Hospitals are committing about $150 billion in savings to help pay for reform. Indeed, chatting with NBC yesterday, Center for American Progress chief John Podesta argued that paying for health care isn't going to be as problematic as some once thought it would be. "The cost of the bill is not going to be the hurdle it was a month ago," he said. (The Center has published a report laying out how to pay for a $1.2 trillion bill that doesn't require Obama to break his promise of not raising taxes for those making less than $250,000 per year.) The bigger questions, Podesta says, are these: How bipartisan will be the bill be? Will there be a public/government option. And if so, what will it look like? By the way, just how desperate are the White House folks about having their boss back in the U.S.? They felt compelled to send a "reminder" email about Biden's announcement today. Meanwhile, on the GOP side, Sen. John Cornyn holds a conference call at 11:30 am ET to discuss health care.
*** With strings attached? Today's hospital announcement, of course, is the latest example of the health-care industry striking a deal with the Obama administration. But as the New York Times asks today, what is the industry getting in return? "'I'm delighted to hear that people are stepping up to help reduce costs,' said Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, who is leading the Senate health committee, 'but I want to know what the ask is, and the ask sometimes can exceed the value of your cost savings.'" Here's another health-care question: Can the White House strike a deal and still keep its base happy? MoveOn yesterday blasted out a release criticizing Rahm Emanuel's trial balloon of a "trigger" for a public/government option. "Can you call the White House switchboard and tell them you're disappointed in Chief of Staff Emanuel's comments supporting the 'trigger'? Tell them voters want a strong public health insurance option—not half-measures like the 'trigger.'"
*** When in Rome… : President Obama today has already arrived in Rome and met with President Napolitano. At 9:00 am ET, he was scheduled to take his class photo. Afterward, he attends a G8 meeting and then the leaders, including Obama, tour the earthquake damage in L'Aquila. Just askin, but is the G8 a relic of the 20th Century? The simple fact is that at the G8, they have to hold something called the G8+5+1 (which adds China, Mexico, India, Brazil, and South Africa). And then there's Egypt, simply because Italy invited them. Bottom line: Let's just get to the G20 already; that's the 21st Century.
*** What to do about Iran? The one agenda item Obama hopes to truly accomplish on this trip is to get a tough statement from the G8 (which includes Russia!!!) on Iran. Watch the wording of this carefully. Here's the AP summary on the VERY watered down statement from the meeting of the G8 foreign ministers: "IRAN: Deplored post-election violence, urged Iran to respect human rights and to reflect the will of the Iranian people in the electoral process." Will the words be ANY tougher? Clearly, the key on this is Russia, and how tough this statement ends up being today will be a clue as to just how much Obama accomplished in Moscow earlier this week.
*** Putin as Hamlet: Speaking of Russia, a White House adviser said yesterday's nearly two-hour private meeting between Obama and Putin was dominated by a 50-minute soliloquy from Putin on the state of U.S.-Russia relations. If Obama didn't get it before he got to Russia, he gets it now: Russia wants respect, and Putin has made that clear ever since he took power. By the way, our sources also made it clear they didn't view Putin's monologue to Obama as a "lecture" or a "rant." So there were no eye rolls and placating. The key will be whether this is the start of a meaningful alliance or just another false start.
Video: In a continuing effort to win over the hearts and minds of Russia, President Obama met with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Tuesday and leaves Moscow with an appeal to Russia's people to let go of old "Russia versus the U.S." attitudes. NBC's Chief White House Correspondent Chuck Todd reports.
*** Polling Palin: A USA Today/Gallup poll conducted on Monday finds that little has changed for Sarah Palin since her surprise announcement last week that she would be resigning as governor at the end of the month -- Republicans love her, while Democrats and independents don't. According to the poll, 72% of GOPers said they were likely to vote for Palin for president. But 81% of Democrats and 53% of independents said they were unlikely to vote for her. As GOP consultant Alex Castellanos, who worked for Romney's presidential campaign, told USA Today, "For independents and Democrats, she's already not their candidate, and with Republicans her support is not based on her record as governor of Alaska." Also in the poll, 17% said her announcement gave them a less favorable impression of her, 8% said it gave them a more favorable impression, and 70% said it had no effect.
Video: MSNBC's Richard Wolffe talks about why Sarah Palin's political future no longer looks so promising.
*** Deposing Rove: NBC's Kelly O'Donnell and Mike Viquiera confirmed that Karl Rove was deposed yesterday before the House Judiciary Committee as part of the panel's investigation into the Bush administration's firing of U.S. attorneys. Per Politico, Chairman John Conyers "would not comment on what Rove told congressional investigators, what the next step in the long-running Judiciary Committee investigation would be or whether Rove would face additional questioning. 'He was deposed today,' Conyers said in an interview. 'That's all I can tell you.'"
Video: NBC's Savannah Guthrie and Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post join MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan to discuss the impact of the proceedings involving Karl Rove.
*** Other odds and ends: Also today, Rep. Patrick Murphy (D) and the Human Rights Campaign hold a press conference at 10:00 am ET in DC to announce the launch of a nationwide tour to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Jeb Bush speaks on immigration reform at 9:00 am before the Council on Foreign Relations in DC. And Bill Clinton keynotes the Center for American Progress' "Campus Progress National Conference," which begins at 8:00 am.
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 118 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 482 days