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First thoughts: Losing the message war?

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Losing the message war? Perhaps the biggest thing that stood out to us at President Obama's AARP town hall yesterday was that the White House appears to be losing the message war on health care. How do we know? Just listen to the questions the AARP callers had. Several of them asked about "rumors," and they also brought up GOP talking points on "rationing" or the government coming to your house to ask how you want to die (!!!). Also, Obama's closing statement at the town hall was particularly telling. "Sometimes I get a little frustrated because this is one of those situations where it's so obvious that the system we have isn't working well for too many people and that we could just be doing better," he said. "We're not going to have a perfect health care system; it's a complicated system, there are always going to be some problems out there. But we could be doing a lot better than we're doing right now."

Video: President Obama says that the skyrocketing cost of health care is one of the reasons Americans need health reform urgently at town hall meeting sponsored by AARP.

*** Pushing back: Also at the AARP town hall, Obama tried to push back more directly at the criticisms aimed at his health-care push. "So this is not like Canada where suddenly we are dismantling the system and everybody's signed up under some government program." More: "You know, I guarantee you, first of all, we just don't have enough government workers to send to talk to everybody, to find out how they want to die… I just want to be clear: Nobody is going to be knocking on your door; nobody is going to be telling you you've got to fill one out. And certainly nobody is going to be forcing you to make a set of decisions on end-of-life care based on some bureaucratic law in Washington." And here he was channeling Jon Stewart: "And I got a letter the other day from a woman. She said, 'I don't want government-run health care, I don't want socialized medicine, and don't touch my Medicare.' (Laughter.) And I wanted to say, well, I mean, that's what Medicare is, is it's a government-run health care plan that people are very happy with."

Video: Can GOP scare tactics prevent Congress from voting on the health care bill? Rachel Maddow is joined by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT.

*** More tweaks are coming: Bottom line: The president is showing his frustration, and he appears to be TRYING to tweak his messaging. And more tweaks are coming today when Obama holds town halls on health care in Raleigh, NC (at 11:55 am ET) and Bristol, VA (4:15 pm). In fact, the White House is now talking about health INSURANCE reform, not health CARE reform. As an administration spokesperson emails NBC News, "At events in North Carolina and Virginia today, the president will lay out for Americans why health insurance reform means more security and stability for them and their families. Building on the theme that he outlined at the start of last week's press conference, the president will make it clear that when he signs a reform bill into law, the discrimination, dropping, and coverage gaps that riddle today's health insurance system will be a thing of the past."

*** NBC/WSJ poll day! Just how is the president's health-care push playing with the American public? What about his new job-approval numbers? And how is the nation viewing Sarah Palin after her resignation on Sunday? Well, beginning at 6:30 pm ET, be sure to tune into NBC Nightly News or click on to MSNBC.com for the answers from our brand-new NBC/WSJ poll.

Video: The Huffington Post's Sam Stein discusses why some Blue Dog Democrats in Congress are holding up health care reform legislation.

*** Slowly but surely? Turning to the health-care work on Capitol Hill, the Senate Finance Committee wrapped up its work yesterday with no agreements but more progress, NBC's Ken Strickland reports. (Sound familiar?) The panel's Democrats met in the morning and the bipartisan working group of six met in the afternoon. The G6 talks (among three Dems and three Republicans) resume today at 10:00 am ET. After yesterday's Democratic meeting, Strick adds, Sen. John Kerry suggested a deal could be close at hand. "There's probably a consensus, an agreement on almost 80% of this," he said. "And I think in the next hours and days, that gap is going to close very, very significantly." Committee Chairman Max Baucus said he thinks finding ways for the pay for the reform "are pretty well nailed down." On the other hand, while Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow noted the panel was "moving in the right direction," she also said there were still "lots of details to workout." One of her top concerns was trying to establish a stronger public/government insurance option than the co-op path the Finance Committee seems it will take.

*** Triangulate this: Speaking of public option vs. co-op, the Finance Committee plan is either going to be the most brilliant piece of triangulation ever, or it's going to open up a fight on the left that is U-G-L-Y. Clearly, the White House is VERY open to a co-op. It is trying hard NOT to bash the public option or show preference to a co-op. But Team Obama definitely has an open mind.

*** The sausage factory is never pretty to watch: By the way, regarding all of this breathless reporting about no House vote on health care this week: HELLOOO!!! It's been reported this way for the past four days. Now, however, House Democrats apparently keep telling a new reporter that they won't vote -- but they wring their hands about it creating yet another bad process story. This is what makes the president's challenge so difficult. He's not selling a plan, but the idea of creating a plan. The plan is being shaped by Congress, and that's where the focus is. And watching the sausage factory is never a pretty sight.

*** On the Glenn Becks and Howard Beales: The White House doesn't want to give Glenn Beck a bigger platform or extra oxygen -- especially regarding his remark yesterday that the president has "a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture" -- so they won't comment, even off record. Beck, after all, is a radio DJ who somehow ended up getting a national platform to give his opinion on politics. What's most amazing about this episode is that what Beck said isn't a fireable or even a SUSPENDABLE offense by his bosses. There was a time when outrageous rants like this would actually cost the ranters their jobs. But not anymore; if anything, it's now encouraged. And all of this could turn ACTUAL journalists into the next Howard Beales. It's getting nuts that the folks who are creating the perception of an ideological/polarized media world are people who have never really spent their lives being journalists. Whether it's former political consultants-turned-TV execs or former radio DJs, or former California socialites, the folks helping to accelerate the public's perception of the media off a cliff made their livings trying to do other things. Of course, Beck's crazy language could have one unintended consequence: It could cost him bookings with any Republicans who want to be popular outside Beck's hard-core bizarro-land viewers.

Video: Fox News host Glenn Beck says President Obama has a 'deep-seated hatred for white people" and accuses him of being a racist. The NAACP's Hilary Shelton discusses with MSNBC's Contessa Brewer.

*** Fighting back on the stimulus: Democrats, meanwhile, are fighting back on the stimulus. The DNC is going up with a TV ad (on national and DC cable) and radio spots targeting GOPers Mike Pence, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Mitch McConnell, and Jon Kyl. The TV ad goes, "They supported the Bush policies that sank our economy into recession. They broke it -- now they refuse to fix it. Tell Republicans leaders to stop playing politics with our economy."

Video: Democratic Mayor of San Antonio, Julian Castro talks about the renewed debate over the stimulus plan and its effectiveness on the economy.

*** Napolitano in the news: Finally today, at 9:00 am ET, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano

delivers a major address on homeland security. Per the Wall Street Journal, she's "expected to outline Wednesday the Obama administration's domestic approach to preventing terrorist attacks -- a strategy that will rely in large measure on refining and expanding initiatives launched under President George W. Bush."

Countdown to Election Day 2009: 97 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 461 days

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