From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Kelly Paice
*** A good week for health care? Was this a good week or a bad week for health care? This might be the most fascinating Rorschach test in Washington today. If you listen to many Democrats involved deep in the process, they sound like Kevin Bacon in "Animal House": "Remain calm! All is well!" And they very well could be right. After all, there was real progress in that both the House and Senate have merged bills, which are potentially days away from making it on the floor -- something that's never happened before on health care. That's the good news for the Democrats and the White House. The bad news? It seems all the progress that was made in winning over Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe and in lining up the moderate/conservative Dem senators has been lost. Both the House and Senate bills seem to push things toward the left of the party, suddenly putting focus (and nervousness) on those moderates. They are the ones, remember, on the 2010 election frontlines.
*** Fighting the good fight: Then again, perhaps both Senate Majority Leader Reid and Speaker Pelosi are doing what they have to do -- fight the good fight for the base and push as hard as they can until they are forced to compromise. (That's what you're supposed to do when negotiating, right?) Bottom line: Last week, there was little doubt health care was going to get done. At the end of this week, that's probably still true. BUT it certainly seems like the process, for Democrats, is going to politically painful for quite some time. Of course, as we've said before, the sausage-making process always was going to painful -- and ugly.
*** Another Afghanistan meeting: The big news today is President Obama's closed-door meeting on Afghanistan with his national security team and Joint Chiefs of Staff at 1:30 pm ET. Today's meeting has the feel of a strategy implementation meeting -- more so than simply strategic review. Clearly, the president's review is winding down; this week has been FILLED with trial balloons leaked to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the AP about various scenarios, all of which end up with the president OK-ing more troops. The question is how many…
*** Quite the work ethic in the House! A leaked summary of ethics inquiries in the House confirms the suspicion that many in this town already have: The Democrats have a growing ethics problem, and it took them just three years back in power to do that. Interestingly, if you dig deep into the Washington Post story, you'll see this ethics issue really is about one subcommittee and seems to have one person at the center of it all -- John Murtha. Couple him with the ethics cloud hovering over Ways and Means Chair Charlie Rangel and you've got yourself a ready-made issue for NEW, non-Washington Republican candidates to run on. (Should we expect Hoffman in NY-23 to turn a quickie ad over the weekend?) Don't forget the ethics clouds of '91-94 (Post office and bank) helped derail the Democrats as did the ethics clouds of '04-'06 for the Republicans. And what really hurt both parties in power at the time was the slowness with which the leadership handled the problems. How will this Democratic leadership team handle this? Rangel and Murtha, in particular, have lots of "old bull" friends in the House. At one point does the White House and Mr. ("Change the ways of Washington") Obama say, "Enough is enough." He's totally steered clear of this mess for some time and passed it off as House business. But if it's creating a cloud over Washington, then doesn't he have to step in?
*** The fight over the stimulus continues: Later today, the Obama administration says it will post data showing the stimulus has created or saved some 650,000 jobs. And because this data reflects only half of the stimulus spent through Sept. 30 -- money for education, construction and roads, but not money for tax cuts or Pell grants -- administration officials say these numbers "confirm government and private forecaster's estimates that overall Recovery Act spending has created and saved at least 1 million jobs." More: "Analysis by both the Council of Economic Advisers and a wide range of private and public-sector forecasters indicates the Recovery Act contributed between 3 and 4 percentage points to real GDP growth in the third quarter, suggesting that in the absence of the Recovery Act, real GDP would have risen little, if at all, this past quarter." However, House Minority Leader John Boehner counters with this statement: "The trillion-dollar 'stimulus' isn't working, and no amount of phony statistics can change that... While Washington keeps spending and piling more debt on the backs of our children and grandchildren, out-of-work families keep asking, 'where are the jobs?'" By the way, the fact the administration is trying to SELL two sets of numbers (650,000 vs. 1 million) is leading to confusion already, and only underscores the P.R. problem the administration has in selling the stimulus; it's been a problem from the get-go.
*** Hillary's tough talk: NBC's Andrea Mitchell reported yesterday that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave Pakistan a dose of some tough medicine, charging it's hard to believe that no one in Pakistan's government knows where al Qaeda is -- and couldn't get them if they wanted to. She also leveled that al Qaeda has had a safe haven in Pakistan for seven years, and that there needs to be more of a two-way street between the countries. In an interview with Mitchell that aired on TODAY this morning, Clinton justified her tough talk, saying it was all part of her game plan. "I would not be representing my country if I were not to be as forthcoming with them as they have been with me," the secretary said. This isn't the first time Clinton has delivered a blunt message while traveling overseas. Interestingly, Clinton now heads to the Middle East, a region that could certainly use some tough talk. Be sure to catch more of Andrea's interview with Clinton on MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports" beginning at 1:00 pm ET.
*** Cook's warning about Tuesday: In his latest column in National Journal, political analyst Charlie Cook warns not to read too much into the handful of contests on Tuesday. "Whatever the outcome of this year's New Jersey and Virginia governor's races, the results will depend on conflicting factors that are unlikely to be replicated in many contests next year," he writes. "Beware, then, of drawing sweeping conclusions." He also applies that advice to the fascinating NY-23 special congressional election. "Losing the seat would be a bit painful for the GOP but would not signal much about the party's 2010 prospects elsewhere. After all, how many states have a viable Conservative Party and how many times next year will the GOP nominate someone as liberal as Scozzafava?"
*** Looking ahead to next year: Meanwhile, the person at Charlie's "Cook Political Report" who analyzes the House races, David Wasserman, argues that -- one year out -- Republicans are poised to pick up House seats in 2010, but maybe not enough to take back the chamber. "House Democrats face real dangers, foremost a less favorable midterm electorate… But Democrats have a financial advantage, and in the era of endless robo-polling, they will also have plenty of opportunity to diagnose and treat their problems. More than turnout needs to change for the GOP to make larger gains. Republicans need to change more minds and Democrats need to make serious mistakes, like failing to focus enough on jobs throughout 2010, to put the current House majority at risk. At the current rate, it's most plausible Democrats will lose between 15 and 25 seats next year." And 15-25 is close the average loss for a president's first midterm election.
*** The 2009 mayoral races: In addition to next week's NJ and VA contests, there also will be several mayoral races in at least 15 major cities across the country. The marquee ones are in New York and Boston. In New York, after billionaire Mayor Mike Bloomberg (I/R) convinced legislators to change the city's term-limits law to allow for a third term, his re-election became inevitable. Even with polls showing him leading Democrat Bill Thompson by double digits, Bloomberg has spent an extraordinary $85 million of his own money on the race -- and he's expected to eventually spend between $110 million and $140 million. (He even aired a negative attack ad against Thompson this week!?!?!) In Boston, Mayor Thomas M. Menino (D), the city's longest-serving mayor (of 16 years), is running for a fifth term against City Councilor Michael Flaherty (D). Menino is favored, but don't miss the nasty feud between Boston firefighters and the mayor. Elsewhere, there are notable competitive races in Seattle (where the incumbent mayor lost in the primary), Charlotte (where that city's 14-year mayor is stepping down), and Houston (which the New York Times profiles today).
*** Other 2009 odds and ends: A new Fairleigh Dickinson/Public Mind poll has Jon Corzine (D) and Chris Christie (R) deadlocked -- with Corzine at 44%, Christie at 43%, and Daggett at 6%... And in NY-23, GOP candidate Dede Scozzafava won the endorsement of the district's main newspaper, the Watertown Daily Times. The paper writes that Scozzafava is "best equipped" for the job, while Conservative Party challenger Doug Hoffman's "ideological stands could harm the district" and "the Democratic candidate [Bill Owens] has too much to learn about district issues and the job of governing." This endorsement comes a day after the Syracuse Post-Standard announced its backing of Owens because "he offers a clear and welcome contrast to both Scozzafava and Hoffman on major issues."
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 4 days
Countdown to MA Special Primary: 39 days
Countdown to MA Special Election: 81 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 368 days