From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Iran's secret facility: You can now add one more pressing problem that the Obama White House must deal with: Iran building a secret plan to make nuclear fuel. Just moments ago, President Obama, surrounded by British Prime Minister Brown and French President Sarkozy, said while the international community remains open to working with Iran, that country must show its intentions or "be held accountable." He added that Iran is not living up to its "international responsibilities," that the size of this facility is inconsistent with a peaceful program, and that there's a "sense of urgency" about the upcoming Oct. 1 meeting with Iran and that it must be prepared to cooperate and "take concrete steps." The New York Times broke the news on this story, with lots of senior administration quotes in it: "The revelation … appears bound to add urgency to the diplomatic confrontation with Iran over its suspected ambitions to build a nuclear weapons capability." Indeed, this news today will overshadow a G-20 summit that had already become something of an afterthought. The president's news conference at 4:40 pm ET in Pittsburgh will probably be two-thirds about Iran, one-third about Afghanistan. When is the last time that has happened?
*** We've known about this for a year: Per NBC's Andrea Mitchell, officials say it was U.S. intelligence that learned of the secret plant more than a year ago -- before President Obama's election; Israel also knew about it, too. They most likely would not have gone public if Iran had not discovered that the U.S. was onto them and had it not notified the U.N.'s international inspection agency on Monday. By the way, Mitchell adds, the site is 30 kilometers outside of Qum, Iran's holy city. That means that any military strike would be very difficult politically, because it would around huge reaction throughout the Muslim world. Also today, watch for Russian and Chinese reaction. Yes, they were notified of our intelligence this week, but their reaction is unknown.
*** Gitmo and money woes? The Washington Post has today's other big news. First, it reports that the White House is going to be "hard-pressed" to meet its goal to close Gitmo within a year. "Even before the inauguration, President Obama's top advisers settled on a course of action they were counseled against: announcing that they would close the facility within one year. Today, officials are acknowledging that they will be hard-pressed to meet that goal." (How numbered are Greg Craig's days? He clearly fell on his sword on this, so he's being given plenty of running room to make his own exit timetable.) Here's the other buzz-worthy Post story: "Democratic political committees have seen a decline in their fundraising fortunes this year, a result of complacency among their rank-and-file donors and a de facto boycott by many of their wealthiest givers, who have been put off by the party's harsh rhetoric about big business." Dem sources tell us to expect to see the president step up fundraising for individual candidates later this year. He can be an effective draw for, say, a Senate candidate in Missouri or Colorado, as opposed to trying to do it in DC for the DSCC.
*** Sticking up for Goliath? Here's the latest back-and-forth in the fight over health-care, per the AP: "The Senate's top Republicans said Thursday they wouldn't allow President Barack Obama to fill health posts until his administration stops barring insurers from telling the elderly how Democrats' health overhaul could affect their benefits." At issue is the GOP's anger after the HHS Department asked private insurer Humana to cease sending mailers to seniors that were critical of the health-care reform efforts moving through Congress. Honest question: Are Republicans explicitly sending the message that they're sticking up for the big guy (Humana's PAC has given lawmakers nearly $150,000 so far this cycle) over the little guy in this debate? A Senate GOP aide disagrees: "It's about free speech and big government intimidating people with an alternative point of view. And this is a perfect of example of why big government scares the hell out of people."
*** Public option vote: Meanwhile, the Senate Finance Committee begins its fourth day of marking up its health-care bill. Per NBC's Ken Strickland, the committee today will consider amendments to install a public option to the legislation -- which will likely fail. In a conference call with reporters yesterday, Democratic Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Chuck Schumer were effusive in their belief that a public option will eventually become law, and each said he would offer his own amendment on it. "[Friday] is the opening day in our big fight," Schumer said, "but it's going to be a fight that goes down all the way to the wire." If moderate Democrats on the committee like Max Baucus, Kent Conrad, and Blanche Lincoln vote in line with their public statements against the public option, the amendments should fail. They prefer the non-profit cooperative model which is already included in the bill. Strickland says that it's unclear when the Finance Committee will finish its work marking up the legislation. It could very well be pushed into Monday or Tuesday or next week. Also, the Congressional Budget Office might report on its findings about the bill today or tomorrow.
*** Bucking up the Blue Dogs: A Democratic source has sent First Read a poll conducted by Anzalone Liszt (D) for the liberal group Health Care for America Now (HCAN), which argues that there's still plenty of appetite for health-care reform in 91 Blue Dog/conservative/swing congressional districts. Excerpts from the poll's analysis: "With 58% of voters believing the healthcare system requires either major reform or a total overhaul and 59% concerned that Congress won't pass reform this year, supporting the status quo is a risky proposition for swing district Dems." Also: "[W]hen voters hear a paragraph of information about what the plan supports (including a public option, mandates for individuals and businesses, and higher taxes on high-income households), a majority in these districts support it (53% favor/41% oppose)." And it also argues that, despite the media's attention to the contentious town-hall meetings over the summer, polling in Blue Dog districts has remained relatively stable from June to September.
*** Ginsburg taken to hospital: According to NBC's Pete Williams, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was taken to the Washington Hospital Center last night after feeling ill in her chambers earlier in the day. She felt ill after receiving an iron sucrose infusion to treat an iron deficiency anemia that was administered at the Office of the Attending Physician. Williams updates that Ginsburg stayed overnight at the hospital as a precautionary measure, and it's expected that she will be released from the hospital today. In short, her illness yesterday isn't thought to be serious.
*** A lack of muscle? Yesterday's decision by former Democratic Virginia Gov. Doug Wilder NOT to endorse Creigh Deeds (D) in Virginia's gubernatorial race -- even though the Obama White House had leaned on Wilder to back the Democrat -- spurred one GOP operative to remind us how unsuccessful the White House has been when flexing its political muscles. Other examples: The inability to get Lisa Madigan to run for the Senate in Illinois, the failure to convince North Carolina AG Roy Cooper to challenge Richard Burr, and the fact that New York Gov. David Paterson has yet to bow out for 2010. What's more, the source said, Senate Democrats have primaries in CO, PA, and IL. To be fair, however, the White House WAS able to essentially clear the field for Kirsten Gillibrand, it got Arlen Specter to switch parties, and the Paterson story has yet to fully play out (does anyone really think he sticks it out?). Also, while not desirable having primaries in CO and PA actually provides a silver lining for the White House, because it forces Specter and Michael Bennet to be more reliable votes.
*** Today's sked: Elsewhere today, Vice President Biden travels to Georgia (the state, not the country) to survey the flood damage there. And at 3:15 pm ET, Paul Kirk gets sworn in as temporary senator replacing Ted Kennedy. GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said this about the Kirk appointment: "What the . . . totally Democratic-controlled Massachusetts state government should have done is just be honest about it. They should have written a law this way: If there's a Republican governor, there's no appointment. And if there's a Democratic governor, there is an appointment."
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 39 days
Countdown to MA Special Primary: 74 days
Countdown to MA Special Election: 116 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 403 days