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First thoughts: A snoozer conference

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** A snoozer conference: Last night's primetime news conference, President Obama's fourth since taking office, was as much a dry health-care symposium as it was a give-and-take with reporters. Honest question: Is there a point when the president knows too much about an issue? He got into the weeds a number of times on a number of different aspects of health care, which is what his diehard supporters love, but might not grab the attention of the average viewer. Still, in his opening statements and then in his answers, Obama made a direct appeal to those WITH health insurance. "This is not just about the 47 million Americans who have no health insurance," he said. "Reform is about every American who has ever feared that they may lose their coverage if they become too sick, or lose their job, or change their job. It's about every small business that has been forced to lay off employees or cut back on their coverage because it became too expensive." Still, he's selling the unknown to folks with health insurance, and that's no easy task.

Video: White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton joins MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan to discuss President Obama's primetime pitch for reform.

*** No game-changers: There were no game-changers on the politics of the debate -- or even the specifics -- although Obama seemed open the idea of the millionaire surtax (do notice the number he brought up; so that means he doesn't want the lower threshold, which was a subtle signal to Congress). Also, he used the word "mandate" and promised at least 97% of Americans covered, which would leave 9-10 million without insurance or 20% of the current 47 million uninsured (but a big chunk of those people are illegal immigrants). In addition, he signaled more flexibility on the August deadline, saying he won't sign a bill that isn't the right bill. And he bristled at the suggestion he was trying to blame Republicans for the current congressional roadblocks and instead claimed the Democratic disunity (so far) might be more regional than anything else. But let's not forget that he portrayed Republicans as roadblocks in his opening statement. One other thing: Obama hinted which stakeholder might be his chief opposition in August: the insurance industry. Obama had nice words for the pharmaceutical companies, but not insurers. And if it is the insurance industry that feels it's the most under siege when bills finally are passed in the House and Senate, they'll spend a LOT of money and this will be an even higher-stakes campaign.

*** Did Obama jump the gun? But beyond those things, Obama didn't seem he had anything new to sell. There was no new ground about what's acceptable and what isn't when it comes the public/government insurance option. (What happens if he has to start explaining the idea of a co-op?) There also was no new ground on his promise to reduce Medicare costs. (The White House had already rolled out its MedPac plan, but he did sell it more passionately than ever.) All of this raises the question: Did this press conference come too soon? No doubt, the White House probably thought they'd have the Senate Finance Committee bill to tout and explain by last night. Then again, he might have wanted to have a final conversation with the American public before it tunes out for the rest of the summer. (Still, maybe this presser should have happened NEXT week?) As the New Republic's Jonathan Cohn puts it, "All I know is that Obama wanted to speak to America like adults tonight--and make the case for the reforms he (quite rightly) believes are necessary. Time will tell whether that faith in the public's patience and judgment is well-placed."

Video: President Barack Obama outlines the money he expects his health care plan to save and how he intends to cover the plan's further costs.

*** Skip-ping to something else: But because Obama didn't have much new to sell and because of his answer to the final question of the night, that adult conversation about health care he wanted to have also got turned into a conversation about race. Indeed, the press conference's most memorable moment and Obama's most animated answer came when he was asked about the arrest of Harvard's Henry Louis Gates Jr. at his own home in Cambridge, MA. In his response, the president did something he rarely does: weigh in on an issue that he himself admitted he didn't know every fact. And his blunt commentary about the Cambridge police will inevitably lead to some to seek out the police officers in question, potentially stirring an odd political stew. (Who bets he wishes he never used the word "stupidly"?) In his past news conferences, Obama has usually ended on a high note for the White House's message team (remember that ocean-liner metaphor that made Rahm smile?). Right or wrong, Obama's answer to the Gates question didn't help him advance his health-care message.

*** Meet me in Ohio! Obama today takes his health-care show on the road today to Cleveland, OH. He tours the famed Cleveland Clinic at 1:15 pm ET, and then holds a health-care town hall at Shaker Heights High School beginning at 2:10 pm. Here's what Obama said about the Cleveland Clinic last night: "Part of the reason it works well is because they've set up a system where patient care is the No.1 concern, not bureaucracy, what forms have to be filled out, what do we get reimbursed for." Later tonight, the president hits a pair of fundraisers in Chicago, one of which has Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith and new QB Jay Cutler in attendance.

*** A'Huntsman we will go... : You might have forgotten about him, especially in the partisan back-and-forth over health care, but one of those moderate Republicans who is joining the Obama administration -- Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. -- has his confirmation hearing today before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Also today, Vice President Biden is in Georgia, where he meets with that country's president and speaks before Parliament; Hillary Clinton attends the ASEAN conference in Thailand and meets with the foreign ministers of Australia, Japan, and Indonesia; and First Lady Michelle Obama speaks at an event honoring National Design Award recipients at 12:30 pm ET.

*** Not on her radar screen: Speaking of Clinton, Thai reporters pressed the Secretary of State hard about future political plans. Per the Washington Post, "The questioners pressed Clinton on her run for the presidency and whether she still entertained the notion of running again. 'That's not anything I'm at all thinking about,' she replied. She was asked if she had ever given up hope, and she said: 'I don't know, but I doubt very much that anything like that will ever be part of my life.' Is it wait and see? 'No, no, no, no.' Finally, one questioner pressed, 'Never say never,' and Clinton seemed to shut the door. 'Well, I am saying no because I have a very committed attitude to the job I have and so that's not at all on my radar screen.'"

Video: Newsweek's Howard Fineman and Politico's Roger Simon join Hardball's Chris Matthews to discuss Hillary Clinton's political ambitions beyond serving as Secretary of State.


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