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First thoughts: When no one is happy

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** When no one is happy: The hardest thing to do this morning is to find someone who is 100% pleased with both President Obama's speech last night and his new Afghanistan policy. Many Democrats seemed hesitant to endorse the president's plan in whole, but found ways to compliment him -- either on the speech, or with the process, or by blaming the previous administration. Many Republicans gave cautious support for the policy, but found ways to criticize the president over the lengthy review or for entertaining a start date for withdrawal. Obama had a number of goals for his speech, but the biggest one was with the American public: to buy, er, rent time from them on this war. Most Commanders-in-Chief get at least a temporary boost in the polls after delivering a major primetime address on matters of war and peace. But given the dire economic feelings in the country (something the president mentioned a few times in his speech, which in hindsight is quite striking given the topic), as well as the polarized nature of the electorate right now, will he even get a bump? At best, the president has to hope he simply convinced the public that he had nothing but bad options in front of him, and picked the one that gives the military a final shot at trying to bring the war to some sort of successful or respectable conclusion.

*** What was left unsaid: A couple of things were still unclear after the speech. One, how will the government pay for this war? Sources in the administration say they are still trying to work with Congress on a plan, but the last thing anyone wants on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. is the war surtax idea to get taken too seriously by lawmakers. Two, what exactly is the "stick" (to use the carrot/stick metaphor) when it comes to Afghanistan and Pakistan? Is it the July 2011 transfer date? Speaking of, with Republicans criticizing this as setting a "date certain," does anyone else have flashbacks to 2007-2008? And where is the GOP criticism to the current withdrawal/transfer date in Iraq?

*** How quickly folks forget: Also, for those on the left who are pounding Obama for his troop increase, they apparently didn't hear the many times he pledged to either ramp up or focus on Afghanistan. In short, he's practicing what he preached on the campaign trail. Here's what he said in his speech back on Aug. 1, 2007: "The first step must be getting off the wrong battlefield in Iraq, and taking the fight to the terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan… Our troops have fought valiantly there, but Iraq has deprived them of the support they need—and deserve. As a result, parts of Afghanistan are falling into the hands of the Taliban, and a mix of terrorism, drugs, and corruption threatens to overwhelm the country. As President, I would deploy at least two additional brigades to Afghanistan to re-enforce our counter-terrorism operations and support NATO's efforts against the Taliban." Another part of the president's speech getting too little attention is how the July 2011 pledge is a signal to the American people that this is when they should judge him on this policy and whether it's working. And it means he's allowing his first term to be (partially) judged on this issue. It's certainly not a politically timid decision; it's quite gutsy considering how pessimistic so many are when it comes to Afghanistan.

*** The action moves to Capitol Hill: Today, the Afghanistan story moves from West Point to Capitol Hill, where Secretary of State Clinton, Defense Secretary Gates, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mullen testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee beginning at 9:00 am ET. The trio then testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee at 1:30 pm. For more congressional reaction to Obama's speech last night, MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports" will interview Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D), Joe Lieberman (I-D), and Orrin Hatch (R) beginning at 1:00 pm ET. Meanwhile, NBC's David Gregory will be anchoring the 3:00 pm hour on MSNBC, and he'll interview Afghanistan's ambassador to the U.S.

*** 2010 reaction: As it turns out, the most critical responses to Obama's speech -- from the right and left -- came from 2010 candidates in competitive primaries. Here was Marco Rubio (R) in Florida: "While I support the President's call for additional troops, I am concerned it falls short of General McChrystal's specific request. I am especially alarmed by the President's insistence on announcing a withdrawal start date." And here was Cheryle Jackson (D) in Illinois: "I respect and support President Obama but I disagree with the decision to commit more troops and resources to Afghanistan.  It is time to take care of America again and time to bring our troops home. Until we stop spending hundreds of billions on wars, we will not have the focus or money to solve the challenges we face at home." Clearly, both candidates are playing to the base. We've seen similar examples in other races.

*** The GM firing: Under the radar yesterday was a HUGE development, a decision by the government-supported GM board of directors to fire one of the last remnants of the OLD GM leadership team, CEO Fritz Henderson. Remember, GM is a symbol for the American public to track just how government intervention in the economy and the private sector works. The administration, on one hand, should be happy that their handpicked board is willing to move quickly if results are missing but it's a headline that will frustrate some who questioned the idea of rescuing GM in the first place, giving them an 'I told ya so' opportunity.

*** The CBO giveth … and taketh away: Several months ago, the Obama White House was seething at the health-care numbers coming from the Congressional Budget Office. Now it's celebrating the nonpartisan organization's figures. First came the CBO report concluding that most -- but not all Americans -- would see their health-care premiums slightly decrease or remain the same under the Senate health-care bill. Next was the CBO study stating the economic stimulus saved or created between 600,000 to 1.6 million jobs during the 3rd quarter, finally giving the White House some good news in a P.R. battle over the stimulus that it has been losing.

*** Tanner's out: Yesterday, Tennessee's John Tanner became the second House Democrat in the last two weeks to announce that he won't be running for re-election (Dennis Moore of Kansas was the other). Will others follow? As we've pointed out before, the current lack of Democratic retirements is what makes the prospects of Republicans winning back the House next year very unlikely. But does that start to change?

*** Establishment pushes back against purity test: We missed this yesterday, but Politico's Martin reports that establishment Republicans are pushing back against the proposal that GOP candidates must adhere to at least eight of 10 issue tests in order to receive support from the Republican National Committee. Said former Virginia Rep. Tom Davis: "We're becoming a church that would rather chase away heretics than welcome converts and that's no way to become a majority party." Added former New York Rep. Tom Reynolds: "I don't think national committeemen putting purity tests on the party is wise." And here's current New York Rep. Peter King: "I think it's dangerous to judge a candidacy just based on a questionnaire. You have to look at the person."

*** Reed appears to have won in Atlanta: In the run-off for Atlanta mayor, Kasim Reed (who is black) appears to have narrowly defeated Mary Norwood (who is white), 51%-49%. with 100% of precincts reporting. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Reed led Norwood by 758 votes out of a total of more than 83,000 cast – a margin of 0.92 percent. It is a sign of how hotly contested this race was that nearly 11,000 more voters turned out for the runoff than for the general election in November."

*** Cantor's economic speech: Serving to pre-but President Obama's job summit tomorrow, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor gives a speech on the economy at 2:00 pm ET. The title of the speech: "Does Creating Jobs Have To Cost Money?" The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is criticizing Cantor for earlier trying to take credit for stimulus spending. "Cantor needs to let his constituents know the truth -- does he favor canceling funding from the Recovery package in his congressional district that created jobs or does he plan to continue taking credit for the funding he fought against?" asked DCCC spokesman Jesse Ferguson.

*** DGA meets in DC: Finally today, Democratic governors and gubernatorial candidates are gathering in DC, and will attend a "Candidate and Strategist Luncheon" beginning at noon ET. Then, at 1:15 pm ET, leaders at the Democratic Governors Association will hold a press conference, where it will announce its new leadership for 2010 and also talk about next year's gubernatorial races.

Countdown to MA Special Primary: 6 days
Countdown to MA Special Election: 48 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 335 days

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