From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
CEDAR CREEK, Tex. -- At yesterday's public events at the Republican Governors Association's annual meeting here just outside of Austin, there wasn't anything resembling the boisterous Tea Party protests or those summer town halls. There weren't cries about President Obama's "radical" or "socialist" agenda. And there weren't any mentions of Sarah Palin (until a reporter brought her up at a press conference). Rather, the tone at this meeting to celebrate the GOP's gubernatorial wins earlier this month and to look ahead to 2010 was downright restrained and even conciliatory. Asked at the press conference how much national issues influenced his win in New Jersey, Gov.-elect Chris Christie answered, "New Jersey issues were the things that drove the race," while national ones were just "background music." Virginia Gov.-elect Bob McDonnell agreed, "We ran on Virginia issues" -- like jobs, transportation, and taxes.
*** GOP governors take the stage: Asked if they would work with the president, both men said yes -- especially on issues like charter schools, merit pay, and promoting fatherhood. "The problems in this country and the state of New Jersey are too big" not to find common ground, Christie said. And McDonnell stated that he hopes to work with Obama on issues where they agree, and to "disagree civilly" on issues where they don't. As for Palin, both men sidestepped questions why they didn't have the former Alaska governor campaign for them. Christie said he only had folks who were friends (like Giuliani) or who had won in a blue state (like Pawlenty and Romney) -- although Politico's Martin reminds us that Bobby Jindal and Jeb Bush helped raise money for him. Meanwhile, McDonnell said his campaign had contacted Palin early in 2009, but her schedule was booked. And by the time she had resigned as governor, his campaign had already finalized all of its events. (Really?)
*** Still plenty of red meat: In short, both Christie and McDonnell sounded like the men who won their races (in part) by hugging the middle. To be sure, there was still plenty of red meat for conservatives at the conference. At a plenary session to discuss state-based solutions, Texas Gov. Rick Perry -- the host here who's engaged in a primary battle against Kay Bailey Hutchison -- argued that "cap-and-trade will destroy the economy" and proudly raised the specter of the 10th Amendment to push back against that and health care. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal railed against Washington. "The DC model doesn't work, but the Republican model does work." And Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty called for lower spending, lower taxes, and fiscal restraint. More than anything, however, the RGA's message was that the party was making a comeback. "These elections are a springboard for us," RGA Chairman Haley Barbour told reporters, referring to the GOP wins in Jersey and Virginia.
*** Today's RGA agenda: And here will be a little more red meat today: The attending governors hold a press conference at noon ET to discuss the impact that the health-care legislation will have on their states. At 12:30 pm ET, there's a plenary session looking at next year's gubernatorial races. Speakers include Barbour, Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle, GOP pollster Ed Goeas, and the Cook Political Report's Jennifer Duffy. At 2:00 pm ET, Barbour and Pawlenty hold a news conference on 2010. And finally, at 8:30 pm ET, the RGA meeting concludes with a "Comeback Bash."
*** Summing up the Asia trip: Meanwhile, far away from the events in Texas, President Obama is already on his way back from his eight-trip to Asia. He will arrive at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska around 9:40 am ET, and then return to the White House at 6:25 pm ET. Before leaving, Obama summed up his trip from South Korea: "Today, I'm finishing my first visit to Asia as president. In Tokyo, we renewed and deepened the US-Japan alliance. In Singapore, we worked with leaders from across the Asia Pacific to strengthen the global economic recovery. And in China, we worked to advance the partnership between our town countries on global issues, because cooperation between the United States and China will mean a safer more prosperous world for all of us… In Seoul, President Lee and I reaffirmed the enduring alliance between our countries, an alliance rooted in shared sacrifice, common values, mutual interest and mutual respect."
*** And defending it: Senior White House adviser David Axelrod tried to answer critics who've argued that Obama didn't accomplish much on the trip. Per NBC's Athena Jones, Axelrod said the president had done what he set out to do -- lay a solid foundation for diplomacy and strengthen relationships. "We didn't come halfway across the world for tickertape parades," he told reporters. "We didn't have expectations that Barack Obama arrives in China or anywhere else and things change overnight." Indeed, it is striking to us how everyone seems to be writing Obama's history right now after he's been in office for just 10 months. They're making pronouncements about him -- on his foreign trips, on his economic policies, on health care -- that took many at least five or six years to make about his predecessor.
*** Losing the P.R. battle: While the final history on the stimulus hasn't been written, it's clear, as we've said before, that the White House is losing the P.R. war over it. The latest embarrassment was a GAO report noting that more than 50,000 jobs the White House said had been "created or saved" due to the stimulus came from projects that reported spending NO MONEY. A White House official responds to First Read. "Three months ago, the critics denied that the Recovery Act was making any jobs. Now as the evidence has proven that wrong, they are left to cast doubts about just how many jobs were made and where. Time is on our side: As late reports coming in, new data will shows the jobs total climbing, and the numbers getting more reliable. In the end, the data debate is frustrating, but a side show: the American people care a lot more about our success in creating jobs than our precision in counting them."
*** What's next for Reid's bill? On health care, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid received the score of his bill from the Congressional Budget Office. According to NBC's Ken Strickland, the cost is $848 billion; it covers 94% of all Americans and an additional 31 million; and it reduces the deficit by $130 billion over the first 10 years. What's next? Strickland says the timing on the big vote on the motion to proceed -- i.e., to get the bill on the floor with 60 votes -- could be as early as Friday but more likely on Saturday. And the prospect for 60 votes? Strick reports that Reid met with the three Dem holdouts yesterday: Ben Nelson, Blanche Lincoln, and Mary Landrieu. Nelson released a non-committal statement, but it sounded like he COULD be a "yes." Meanwhile, the DNC is launching its latest "Call'em out" campaign against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. "McConnell seems willing to use every trick in the book to delay a fair debate and vote on reform. Each day reform is postponed is another day for him to attack it with another distortion. It's a desperate gambit to confuse the American people, derail the effort in Congress, and block reform. Mitch McConnell, we're calling you out."
*** Palin in the Hoosier State: Palin-palooza today moves to Indiana. She'll be in largely GOP areas of the state -- Ft. Wayne (noon ET to 3:00 pm ET) and Noblesville (6:00 pm ET to 9:00 pm ET). Ft. Wayne is in Indiana's 3rd Congressional district, won by McCain, 56%-43%, and by GOP Rep. Mark Souder, 55%-40%. Noblesville is in IN-5. McCain won it, 59%-40, and GOP Rep. Dan Burton won it, 66%-35%. After the first stop on her "Going Rogue" book tour yesterday in Michigan, a state she promised to return to after the McCain campaign pulled out, Palin has returned to Twitter, under the handle @SarahPalinUSA, NBC's Adam Verdugo reports. Her first tweet: "Michigan-thx 4 Going Rogue! Perfect tour kickoff w/Kid Rock tune praising Northern MI humming in backgrnd @ Barnes/Noble. Above expectations."
*** Also in DC today: Beginning at 10:00 am ET, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee holds a congressional hearing on the massacre at Fort Hood. Also at 10:00 am ET, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner testifies before the Joint Economic Committee about the country's economic recovery.
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