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First thoughts: Liberal backlash

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Liberal backlash: So what's worse for the Obama White House -- that Republicans are aiming all their fire to defeat health-care reform, or that liberals are now up in arms over the idea that the president isn't 100% behind a public/government insurance option? Sen. Russell Feingold said that "without a public option, I don't see how we will bring real change to a system that has made good health care a privilege for those who can afford it." Rep. Anthony Weiner, who made the expedient decision not to run against Mike Bloomberg for NYC mayor, is threatening that 100 House Democrats won't support any health-care bill that doesn't contain a public option. And liberal pundits are upset, too. Jon Stewart, in fact, used a sledgehammer last night, mocking the White House for its inability to stay on message, like the Bush White House was able to do in the run-up to the Iraq war. Here's a fun little exercise: Find one, ONE, Republican (or even a conservative Democrat) who is publicly praising the White House's backtrack in any of the clips this morning.

*** Poll day! Just how is the health-care debate playing -- after the coverage of the rowdy town halls and after Obama's own three town halls last week? Well, NBC News has a new poll that answers this question and others, including what do Americans believe the health-care reform will do or not do. For the results, be sure to tune into MSNBC (and First Read) for a teaser result or two this afternoon. And then, beginning at 6:30 pm ET, be sure to watch NBC Nightly News or click onto MSNBC.com for the entire survey.

*** Grassley's huge admission: Lost in yesterday's intense focus about whether or not the Obama administration was backing away from a public/government option was a significant development in the health-care debate that COULD make it easier to pass legislation that would make most Democrats happy. That development: Senate Finance Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley admitting that he probably wouldn't vote for any type of bill -- even if he got everything he wanted in it. "I am negotiating for Republicans, and if I can't get something that gets more than four Republicans, I am not a very good representative of my party," he told one of us on MSNBC yesterday morning. When pressed if he'd vote against a bill that he considered a good deal, he replied, "It isn't a good deal if I can't sell my product to more Republicans." So this begs the question: Why is the White House still negotiating with him, unless Grassley truly believes he can whip up more GOP support than McConnell and Kyl.

*** "Democrats are going to have to do it themselves": If Grassley's comments last week on end-of-life counseling weren't the final nails in the coffin on being able to draft a bipartisan bill, then yesterday's admission yesterday definitely was. As Richard Kirsch, the national campaign manager of the liberal-leaning Health Care for America Now, puts it: Grassley acknowledged that he was sitting at the negotiating table, but not negotiating in good faith. "If they walk away," he said, "Democrats are going to have to do it themselves." And doing it themselves means that the negotiations will occur to win over centrist Democrats (like Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln, Mark Pryor, Kent Conrad) and not Republicans (like Grassley and Enzi). On the other hand, Grassley's admission yesterday may further upset some Democrats who believe the president has been too quick to cut a deal, like dangling the omission of a public option as a compromise.

*** The public option litmus test: Honest question: How did the debate over health turn into a debate over the public option -- a term that political reporters who covered the '08 presidential primaries and general election rarely ever heard from the candidates? According to Yale political science professor Jacob Hacker, who is a public-option proponent, progressives and reform advocates have seen it over the past few years as a mechanism to ensure accountability from a system centered on private insurance, and Obama, Clinton, and Edwards all included it in their health-care plans. But what also elevated the issue, Hacker says, was the opposition from the right, which then only stiffened the resolve from liberals. Kirsch raises a third reason: The back-and-forth over the public option is much easier for the media to understand than the debate over other health policy minutiae.

*** Who else knew Baucus once supported the public option? As we were researching the genesis of the public option in the current debate over health-care reform, we Lexis-Nexis-ed the term "public option" after the presidential contest. Guess who was the first person whose name came up associated with the term? None other than Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, who introduced a white paper after the election calling FOR a health-care framework WITH a public option. Per MarketWatch on November 12: "Max Baucus of Montana, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, released an 89-page 'Call to Action' that he said represents his vision for reform. The plan would: Create a new health insurance exchange that would guarantee coverage for individuals and small businesses. They could compare prices between private health plans and a new public option similar to Medicare and use a standardized form to enroll in coverage. Some individuals and small businesses would be eligible for subsidies to offset the cost." Just askin', but when was the last time Baucus praised the public option idea?

*** Obama and Virginia: In the 2008 election, no state was more representative of the national result than Virginia. So pay attention to these new Obama-Virginia numbers from the Washington Post. "Obama gets solid overall marks as president, but on his biggest domestic initiative, health care, Virginians are divided down the middle: 49 percent approve of his actions; 48 percent disapprove. On this and other issues, more Virginians are strongly opposed to his stewardship than fervently in favor." More: "Among all Virginians, 57 percent said they approve of the way he is handling his job as president. Among independents, Obama gets slim majority approval. On the specific issues tested in the Post poll -- health care, the deficit, taxes, energy policy and the economy -- he gets less than 50 percent approval in each category among independents."

*** Suicide attack in Afghanistan: Two days before the presidential election in Afghanistan, Reuters reports that a suicide blast went off on a major road east of Kabul. "Witnesses said a suicide car bomber had attacked a convoy of foreign troops on the road linking Kabul with the eastern city of Jalalabad road. The United Nations has a large compound in the area but a U.N source said it did not appear that was the target." Per NBC's Madeleine Haeringer, seven civilians were killed in the blast, and 53 were injured.

*** Bill, Hillary, and Barack: It's just an accident of scheduling, but Bill and Hillary each have separate meetings with the President Obama today, NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports. Bill will meet with Obama in the Situation room (presumably to debrief on North Korea), while Hillary will have her regular weekly one-on-one with the president. Also today, Obama meets at the White House with Egyptian President Mubarak.

*** Stop! Hammer time! Now that we've learned former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay will be a contestant on "Dancing with the Stars," it's worth reminding everyone that DeLay's indictments on money-laundering charges are still pending down in Texas.

Countdown to Election Day 2009: 77 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 441 days

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