Discuss as:

First thoughts: Obama's own town hall

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Obama's own town hall: No group of Americans takes the idea of town-hall meetings with politicians more seriously than New Hampshire residents do. And with rage at town halls all the, well, rage, President Obama's health-care town hall in Portsmouth at 1:00 pm ET today could become quite the spectacle. About a year ago, Obama traveled up to Unity, NH to hold his first campaign event with Hillary Clinton after she ended her presidential campaign. But as Obama heads back to New Hampshire today for his first event in the Granite State since becoming president, he's finding unity on health care to be much more elusive than reconciliation with Hillary or her supporters ever proved to be. Given enough time, most PUMAs were going to come around. But the same can't be said for Republicans and conservatives who are intent on defeating any type of health-care reform this year. By the way, the White House might catch a break regarding protesters today. Why? The weather… It's not just raining; it's pouring as of 8:45 am…

*** Focusing on pre-existing conditions: Per the White House, Obama plans to focus his remarks on health INSURANCE reform, emphasizing how his bill -- when it comes together -- will guarantee more protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions. In fact, on TODAY this morning, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the president will be introduced at the town hall by someone who was "discriminated against" because of pre-existing conditions. The DNC is reinforcing this message with a new TV ad (to air on DC and national cable) that says, "President Obama's plan will end unfair insurance practices, like denying coverage for a pre-existing condition." Also in his remarks today, don't be surprised if Obama goes out of his way to address the tone of the debate, which is the elephant in the room (no pun intended). This is a critical week for the president to somehow take the attention away from the town halls with other members of Congress. By holding three of his own between now and Saturday, he just might do that…Then again, he can't afford a fumble this week. The president today has to be able to set the example and become the backbone for congressional Democrats all over the country.

*** Time to send out the punting unit: Both the New York Times and the Washington Post played up Obama's remarks on immigration yesterday as a pledge to take up the issue in 2010. Others, like the L.A. Times, saw it as a political punt. Our take? It was a punt. Honest question: Do you really think immigration is going to be taken up seriously in a midterm election year, especially when Obama lost one of his biggest GOP allies on the issue to resignation (Mel Martinez)? At best, look for INCREMENTAL work on immigration reform. This could be the lesson the White House takes away from health care: on a politically red hot issue, go incremental. On the other hand, if the White House takes up immigration reform next year and the GOP opposes it, could that help Democrats lock in the Latino vote for decades?

*** No longer a toxic matter? The New York Times has a remarkable story about the toxic assets program. It's remarkable because it's UNREMARKABLE -- the program, which was hyped up big time in the spring, hasn't been used and might not ever be used. Was it a waste of political capital for Geithner and the Obama administration? Or by simply having it there as a backstop, did it jump-start the free market? Also, does the administration get credit for it not being used? Or is it not being used because the rules are so stringent? Your answer probably depends on your political persuasion. Bottom line: It's stunning that in August of '09 we have a story in the national paper of record about how the toxic assets program just hasn't been used.

*** "My husband is not the secretary of state": It raised our eyebrows when we first read about Secretary of State Clinton's reaction yesterday in Africa to a question she thought she was getting about her husband. But the video of it is definitely something to see. Here was the question: "We have all heard about Chinese contracts in this country, the interferences from the World Bank about this contract. What does Mr. Clinton think through the mouth of Mrs. Clinton…?" Hillary shot back: "You want me to tell you what my husband thinks? My husband is not the secretary of state, I am. You ask my opinion I will tell you my opinion, I'm not going to be channeling my husband." (As it turns out, the translator apparently screwed up; the questioner meant President Obama, not President Clinton.) Was the reaction a product of jet lag or a sign of tension with some of the attention her husband is receiving of late? On TODAY, NBC's Andrea Mitchell reported that it was probably both. Mitchell said it came during the halfway point of a 12-day trip through Africa. But: "She was doing serious stuff, and here she thought she was receiving a question about her husband." Of course, only a Clinton gets psychoanalyzed the way she's being analyzed this morning; it's the burden of the last name.

*** Palin veto gets overturned: One of the bigger ironies in American politics was how a former governor (Sarah Palin) of a state that depends so much on federal largesse (Alaska) later became such an opponent of pork-barrel spending and government assistance. It probably explains why the Alaska Legislature was able to muster the three-quarters vote yesterday to override Palin's veto of $28 million in federal stimulus money for energy cost relief. As the Anchorage Daily News notes, "Reversing a governor's appropriation veto requires a vote of 75 percent of the Legislature, a hurdle rarely met. The override passed 45 to 14 and if a single other legislator had voted against it or been absent from the special session, it would have failed."

*** Remembering Eunice Kennedy Shriver: Eunice Kennedy Shriver -- founder of the Special Olympics and sister to JFK, RFK, and Ted Kennedy -- passed away at 2:00 am last night. "She was the light of our lives, a mother, wife, grandmother, sister and aunt who taught us by example and with passion what it means to live a faith-driven life of love and service to others," her family said in a statement. It's been a tough year (that might only get tougher) for the Kennedy family. For all the drama the press likes to unearth about the Kennedys, the Shrivers have been drama-free. And no one can take away the fact what Shriver did for the mentally disabled and for parents of children who are mentally challenged. The Special Olympics is the type of gift wealthy Americans or children/siblings of means wish they could create or invent. It truly is one of the more remarkable programs and a legacy that would matter whether her last name was Kennedy or Shriver or Jones or Smith.

*** Remembering Cantor's town halls: By the way, remember Eric Cantor's National Council for a New America? Well, we certainly haven't since it launched last spring. Now Politico writes that it has "flamed out." From the article: "Since its launch, the National Council hasn't held a single public event, despite more than 5,000 invitations to take their show out on the road. Congressional ethics rules limit what Cantor can do with the group because he launched it from his leadership office, making it harder to organize events and recruit partners. Despite that caution, the group is still taking heat from outside watchdog groups that argue he is violating the spirit, and perhaps the letter, of those rules." Is part of the problem that Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush, prominent at the launch, haven't stepped up as private citizens?

*** 2009 watch: A new Quinnipiac poll shows that vulnerable New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine has made up a little ground on Chris Christie (R). Corzine now trails Christie by nine points, 51%-42%; last month, the deficit was 12 points, 53%-41%. Still, it's never a good situation for the incumbent to be stuck in the low 40s…

Countdown to Election Day 2009: 84 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 448 days

Click here to sign up for First Read emails.
Text FIRST to 622639, to sign up for First Read alerts to your mobile phone.
Check us out on Facebook and also on Twitter.