From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Drudge vs. Obama: We know we don't have to remind our friends in the media and those who follow American politics this simple fact: Matt Drudge isn't a fan of Obama. But his site's coverage of Obama has become even more negative as the president's poll numbers have declined. The latest example came yesterday, when Drudge hyped a sliced-up video (via conservative friend Andrew Breitbart) that savaged Obama on health care. The video purportedly showed Obama advocating the elimination of private health insurance, although the full transcript of that March 2007 event suggested no such thing. While the Obama administration has been hesitant to directly push back against Drudge, it made an exception yesterday with its own Web video on health care, starring its health-care spox, Linda Douglas. By the way, for those who love to complain about a liberal media, explain Drudge and its impact…
Video: NBC's Savannah Guthrie reports on Former President Bill Clinton's surprise trip to North Korea.
*** The roving ambassador: The breaking news overnight was that Bill Clinton has landed in North Korea to help release the two American journalists held there. As the Washington Post writes, "Former president Bill Clinton landed in North Korea on Tuesday on an unannounced mission to negotiate the release of two American journalists, marking his first diplomatic mission abroad for the Obama administration in a case that has deeply concerned his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton." White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs issued this statement: "While this solely private mission to secure the release of two Americans is on the ground, we will have no comment. We do not want to jeopardize the success of former President Clinton's mission." What to watch for: Bill isn't shy, so does that mean he'll try a little freelance diplomacy? Or has he been authorized to freelance? The diplomatic palace intrigue, especially considering how the North Koreans love to pomp and circumstance up visiting dignitaries, will keep Clintonologists busy for weeks.
Video: U.S. Sec. of Transportation Ray LaHood joins Hardball's Chris Matthews to explain why the Obama administration's "Cash for Clunkers" program's unexpected success is evidence that additional funding should be provided to keep the program alive.
*** A slam clunk? Majority Leader Harry Reid could try to pass the legislation pumping an additional $2 billion into the "cash for clunkers" program as soon as today, NBC's Ken Strickland reports. But Republicans senators are in the driver's seat over whether the program gets the money it needs to continue. An objection from a single member, Strick adds, could force Reid to delay the Senate's August recess, or force the "clunkers" vote into September. GOP Sen. Jim DeMint says he hasn't decided if he'll delay action, but his tone yesterday suggested otherwise. DeMint described the program as "mass chaos" after hearing complaints from home state car dealers. Other Republicans are against it ideologically; they consider it another bailout where the government gets to pick the winners and losers. GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham was on TODAY saying he supports the program. Obama will discuss "clunkers" and health care when he lunches with all Democratic senators later today -- which just happens to be his 48th birthday. Also at today's lunch, will conservative Dems like Ben Nelson complain to the president about the pressure they're receiving from the left on health care?
*** Primary colors: Just how focused is John McCain
on the primary challenge he's expected to get next year from Minuteman founder Chris Simcox? Enough, it seems, that he voted against Kathleen Sebelius back in April (when Republicans were criticizing her record on abortion). And yesterday, he announced his intention to vote against Sonia Sotomayor (arguing that she's a judicial activist). McCain now joins veteran GOP senators Orrin Hatch and Chuck Grassley who are voting against their first Supreme Court nominee, ever. All three had voted to confirm Breyer and Ginsburg. So why the change? There are a number of reasons, including that Obama and Clinton politicized Roberts and Alito, that the NRA decided to score the Sotomayor vote, and that the GOP primary electorate -- in, say, Arizona -- may treat Sotomayor as a litmus test. Still, McCain's no votes on Sebelius and Sotomayor appear to be head-scratchers to many in Washington, since he preaches bipartisanship and the idea of giving deference to a president.
*** Then and now: Speaking of, here's a line from a speech McCain delivered last year, per NBC's Chris Donovan: "When President Bill Clinton nominated Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsberg to serve on the high court, I voted for their confirmation, as did all but a few of my fellow Republicans. Why? For the simple reason that the nominees were qualified, and it would have been petty, and partisan, and disingenuous to insist otherwise. Those nominees represented the considered judgment of the president of the United States. And under our Constitution, it is the president's call to make… It is part of the discipline of democracy to respect the roles and responsibilities of each branch of government, and, above all, to respect the verdicts of elections and judgment of the people. Had we forgotten this in the Senate, we would have been guilty of the very thing that many federal judges do when they overreach, and usurp power, and betray their trust."
*** PhRMA and Obama: There has been very little reporting on what, exactly, various stakeholders have gotten in return for cutting health-care deals with the White House. Today, the L.A. Times delves into the deal the White House cut with PHRMA and its head, former Dem/GOP Rep. Billy Tauzin. The deal, apparently: "Tauzin said he had not only received the White House pledge to forswear Medicare drug price bargaining, but also a separate promise not to pursue another proposal Obama supported during the campaign: importing cheaper drugs from Canada or Europe. Both proposals could cost the industry billions, undermine its ability to develop new cures and, in the case of imports, possibly compromise safety, industry officials contend." Question: Would candidate Obama, circa 2008, attack a President Obama for taking off the table the Canada drug import issue?
*** Craig in trouble? Is White House Counsel Greg Craig's job in jeopardy? That's what the Wall Street Journal says. (Note that Craig represented Bill Clinton during the impeachment proceedings, but was a key foreign policy aide to Obama during the presidential campaign.) "Obama administration officials are holding discussions that could result in White House counsel Gregory Craig leaving his post, following a rocky tenure, people familiar with the matter said." However, the article doesn't really offer a reason why he would be ushered out, the White House is pushing back HARD on this rumor, and the piece really doesn't seem to characterize its sourcing.
*** Specter vs. Sestak: Joe Sestak will make his primary challenge against Sen. Arlen Specter official today, setting up one of the best primary races for next year's midterms. Sestak already kicked things off at 8:30 am ET in Folsom, PA. He then holds an events in Pittsburgh (at 1:30 pm) and Johnston (5:00 pm), and he will also appear on MSNBC's "Hardball."
*** The more things change, the more they stay the same…: One of us yesterday penned a piece about how Obama, who campaigned on changing the ways of Washington, has continued one its oldest traditions: rewarding top fundraisers with plum overseas posts. That this is still happening -- even after a campaign in which Barack Obama raised so much money from small donors -- suggests just how dominant money (and the people who can raise it) is in American politics. "As long as there have been big campaign contributions, big fundraisers have gotten plum assignments," said Georgetown professor Clyde Wilcox, who studies campaign finance. He added, "Even during the Lincoln presidency, people who marshaled together political machines needed to be accommodated… Rewarding your political supporters is as old as the republic."
*** Do we need these posts anymore? Of course, this begs the question: Do these positions matter anymore? Should the American taxpayer pay for pricey residences in far-off lands that are far from danger zones? Most foreign policy observers say that, yes, they do matter, because removing these posts would reduce access to key leaders and be seen as a "slap in the face" to other countries. What's more, you never know when -- or where -- a crisis could happen. Still, they say, they wish the practice would change.
*** 2009 watch: As a new poll (Monmouth University/Gannett) shows Chris Christie with a 14-point lead in the race for New Jersey governor, the Corzine campaign has launched a TV ad featuring Obama from his campaign stop last month. (Hat tip: Cillizza.)
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 91 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 455 days