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First Thoughts: Remembering 9/11

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Remembering 9/11: On the eighth anniversary of the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil, President Obama and the first lady have already observed a moment of silence at the White House. Now Obama is heading over to the Pentagon -- one of the sites of the 9/11 attacks -- to lay a wreath and deliver remarks at 9:30 am ET. Vice President Biden also is making remarks in New York, near Ground Zero. And, at 9:45 am, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Colin Powell, Tom Ridge, and Tommy Franks attend a ceremony in Shanksville, PA honoring the victims of Flight 93. Obama also pens this op-ed in the New York Daily News: "As President, my greatest responsibility is the security of the American people. It is the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning. It's the last thing I think about when I go to sleep at night. That responsibility is the heart of the policies my administration has put in place. No one can guarantee that there will never be another attack; but what I can guarantee - what I can promise - is that we will do everything within our power to reduce the likelihood of an attack, and that I will not hesitate to do what it takes to defend America."

*** Remembering What Biden Said: Obama's op-ed, in fact, reminds us of what Biden said last October. "Mark my words. It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy," said Biden to a roomful of donors. "The world is looking. We're about to elect a brilliant 47-year-old senator president of the United States of America. Remember I said it standing here, if you don't remember anything else I said," Biden continued. "Watch, we're going to have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy. I promise you it will occur. As a student of history and having served with seven presidents, I guarantee you it's going happen. I can give you at least four or five scenarios from where it might originate." Bill Clinton in 1993 and George W. Bush in 2001 were both tested in their first years with attacks on New York City. It may explain the facts behind then candidate Biden's prediction.

*** Dem Doubts On Afghanistan: The country from where Al Qaeda's attack originated -- Afghanistan -- dominates today's political news. The New York Times front-pages that two top Democrats, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, have doubts about sending more U.S. combat troops to that country. Said Pelosi yesterday: "I don't think there is a great deal of support for sending more troops to Afghanistan in the country or in Congress." Meanwhile, Levin told the paper that "he was against sending more American combat troops to Afghanistan until the United States speeded up the training and equipping of more Afghan security forces… 'I just think we should hold off on a commitment to send more combat troops until these additional steps to strengthen the Afghan security forces are put in motion.'" It's one thing to have Nancy Pelosi voicing skepticism about Afghanistan since she's considered to be more doveish, but it's another thing having Levin doing it. By the way, at yesterday's daily press briefing, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs promised that the president would unveil an exit strategy; he didn't say when, but he reiterated the administration's belief in having one.

*** 'I'm Proud Of My Congressman': While that New York Times piece on Afghanistan contains today's most substantive political news, there's another Times article that will probably generate a significant amount of buzz. Per the paper, some of Joe Wilson's constituents in South Carolina are actually applauding the congressman's seemingly unprecedented outburst at President Obama on Wednesday night. "Yeah, it was rude, but somebody needed to say it," said one constituent. "I kind of want to defend Representative Wilson," said another. "The president has been trying to shove something down our throats, and Representative Wilson said, 'Hold on here.'" And then there was this: "Give Obama hell. I'm proud of my congressman."

*** The Elephant In The Room: At what point do what a bunch of folks in D.C. believe privately become more public -- that there is a dramatic divide between how people in the South view Obama versus the rest of the country? Sure, the South has always been more conservative and has been increasingly more Republican, so it shouldn't be a surprise this region is less open to a Democratic president's ideas; it's no different than folks in New York City and San Francisco not being open to a Republican president's proposals. But is it really the "D" next to Obama's name that has folks upset in the South? Yes, there was a "coastal" divide when it came to George W. Bush, and the election results of 2004, 2006, and 2008 proved that. But is it ALL just ideological? It's truly subjective... As defiant as some on the right are about the fact that this has nothing to do with race, there's an equal group of folks who believe it's ONLY grounded in race. Bottom line: Whether it's fair or not, there is a perception growing that race is driving some elements of the opposition to Obama. It probably means this tumult will only grow for the time being.

*** Is That Really An Apology? Meanwhile, Wilson has posted a video on his campaign Web site in which he again apologizes for heckling the president, but then he goes on to say: "On these issues, I will not be muzzled. I will speak up, and speak loudly against this risky plan. The supporters of the government takeover of health care and the liberals who want to give health care to illegals are using my opposition as an excuse to distract from the critical questions being raised about this poorly conceived plan. They want to silence anyone who speaks out against it." Also on Twitter, NBC's Sarah Rosefeldt notes, Wilson writes this: "Over 8,500 Americans are standing with me against the liberal attacks." On the other hand, Wilson's likely opponent in 2010, former Marine Rob Miller, has raised more than $700,000 -- a jaw-dropping amount for a congressional challenger -- from more than 20,000 grassroots supporters since Wilson's "You lie" outburst. The DNC also reports raising more than $1 million since last night. And finally, the liberal group Americans United for Change has produced a Web video seizing on Wilson's heckling to call the GOP "the party of no shame."

*** Just Askin': By the way, what does it say about the House GOP leadership that it couldn't convince Wilson to go to the House floor to apologize, even as they reportedly pleaded with him to do it?

*** Focusing On Snowe And 60: Turning to health care, NBC's David Gregory reports that, according to sources inside and outside the White House, President Obama is focusing on getting 60 Senate votes to pass health care, versus opting for reconciliation. "So the key here is Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine," says Gregory. "She could be that 60th vote and the lone Republican vote. One of the first calls the president made the morning after the speech was to Sen. Snowe. That's where the action is -- keep the Democrats in line, get Senator Snowe and try to get to 60. On "Meet the Press" this Sunday, Gregory interviews Sens. Dick Durbin and John Cornyn, Howard Dean, and Newt Gingrich.

Countdown to Election Day 2009: 53 days
Countdown to Primary to Replace Ted Kennedy: 88 days
Countdown to Special Election to Replace Kennedy: 130 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 417 days

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