From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Another crazy week: Last week was certainly an eventful one for President Obama (the Afghanistan speech, the jobs summit, the trip to Allentown, PA). And this week won't be much different. Yesterday, the president made a rare visit to Capitol Hill to rally Senate Democrats on the issue of health care. Today, at the White House, he meets with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan (at 11:30 am ET) where Iran will be on the agenda, and then with Gen. Stanley McChrystal and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry (at 3:30 pm). On Tuesday, he delivers yet another speech on the economy, which will include a new initiative for job creation. And in the middle of the week, he heads to Oslo to pick up his Nobel Peace Prize. This week was supposed to be even busier with Obama scheduled to participate in the Copenhagen talks on climate change, which begin today. But on Friday afternoon, the White House announced that Obama would fly to Copenhagen next week.
*** Yesterday's pep rally: Obama's visit yesterday to Capitol Hill on health care was more of a Democratic pep rally than anything else. "He reminded us why we are here. He reminded us why we run for office. And he reminded us how many people are counting on us to come through," said Sen. Dick Durbin, per the New York Times. "Decades from now," Obama also said, according to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, "this will be the kind of vote you remember. It will be written in the faces of children and families who are relieved of the burden of anxiety and sorrow." But what Obama DIDN'T discuss were two of the thorniest issues in the health-care debate: the public option and abortion. Today, Sen. Ben Nelson (D) is supposed to introduce an amendment -- identical to the Stupak one -- to place tight restrictions on any federal funds being used for abortion. The vote could take place today...
*** The Gang of 10: Perhaps the biggest development in Senate health-care debate over the weekend was the creation of a 10-member group (consisting of five liberals and five centrists) to hammer out a compromise on the public option, NBC's Ken Strickland reports. The group had several closed- door sessions over the weekend, but most of its members have been uncharacteristically tight-lipped on their negotiations. "I'm not going to get into any details of any type," said Chuck Schumer (D) following a meeting Sunday night. "Nobody in that room, neither me nor any of the others, have signed off on anything." Per Strick, the moderates are Blanche Lincoln, Mary Landrieu, Ben Nelson, Tom Carper, and Mark Pryor. The liberals are Schumer, Jay Rockefeller, Sherrod Brown, Tom Harkin, and Russ Feingold. "We have had a really intense three hours of discussion and we are not there yet by any stretch of the imagination," Schumer said. "But we're finding a good deal of give and take that leads to common ground." This Gang of 10 will again meet later this afternoon.
*** The OPM compromise: By the way, the latest potential public-option compromise is what many Americans say they want: the same access to health care that government workers and members of Congress have. "One potential alternative being discussed Sunday would create a national coverage plan operated by private insurers but run by the Office of Personnel Management, which administers health coverage for federal workers," the Washington Post says. "Senators participating in the talks said the OPM idea had been well received across the ideological spectrum, although details were sketchy. 'I think it has potential,' said Nancy-Ann DeParle, Obama's top health aide. Another key lawmaker in the mix is Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (Maine), the only Republican who has supported Democratic reform efforts. She called the OPM's approach 'a very novel and innovative idea.'" Is it just us, or did it take Congress a LONG time to come around to something like this? Many Americans are going to look at this and say, "Well, common sense suggests this should have been the framework for a public plan the entire time."
*** Baucus and his girlfriend: Here's something else that some believe COULD impact the health-care debate in Senate: a new controversy surrounding Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus. Over the weekend came reports that Baucus had recommended his girlfriend, Melodee Hanes, to be U.S. attorney for Montana. In March, Hanes withdrew her name from consideration and now works at the Justice Department. However, it's important to note that Baucus is no longer really the point man in the Senate health-care debate. This story would have been a bigger problem two or three months ago when Baucus' Senate Finance Committee was the epicenter of the action. Still, this news will only make the public more cynical about elected officials in general.
*** What will Obama's tone be in Oslo? Here's a question we have: What is Obama going to say when he accepts his Nobel Prize this week? What will the tone be? Here is what he said upon learning about winning the prize back on Oct. 9: "To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize -- men and women who've inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace. But I also know that this prize reflects the kind of world that those men and women, and all Americans, want to build -- a world that gives life to the promise of our founding documents. And I know that throughout history, the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it's also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes. And that is why I will accept this award as a call to action -- a call for all nations to confront the common challenges of the 21st century." Here's another question: Can he get something else done while in Europe this week? Maybe sign the new nuclear arms reduction pact with Russia (new START)? Maybe visit Afghanistan?
*** Previewing Tuesday's speech: Speaking of speeches, the White House is previewing Tuesday's on the economy. "[T]he President will outline some key priorities for encouraging businesses to invest and create jobs. This is another stepping stone in a continuous effort to jumpstart job growth," Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer writes on the White House blog. "The American people should be assured that until Americans are working again our focus will continue to be job creation. We don't think there is one silver bullet, one plan, one speech or a singular piece of legislation that alone will solve double-digit unemployment. And the President's speech will not represent the totality of our plans for continued economic recovery." While the White House is tight-lipped on details, here's what we do know: He'll call for using SOME of the $700 billion in TARP funds (the leftover portion) to pay for these new short-term job creation initiatives. It'll be a combination of tax breaks for business, more incentives to loan money to small businesses, and a major effort to help underwrite things like weatherization.
*** No, no, no: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D) today gives a speech at the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress, where he'll criticize the GOP for being a "Party of No." An excerpt: "No one expects Republicans to roll over for President Obama. But the 'Party of No' strategy is so disappointing because the history of Congress is full of loyal oppositions that shared responsibility for governing in trying times and shaped some of the most important legislation of their eras. It is not asking too much for today's Republicans to rise to those examples. Rather than working to shape the Recovery Act—at a time when the rest of the industrialized world was working on comparable stimulus measures as a matter of economic survival—Republicans chose a strategy that could only profit from failure. It's easy to say that Democrats actually want extremism to be the face of the opposition—that we would be happy for the 'Party of No' to keep saying no. But that's not true. When we say no to the work of legislating, we do real harm to the institution of Congress and our nation's future."
*** The special in Massachusetts: Finally, the special primary in Massachusetts to permanently fill Ted Kennedy's Senate takes place tomorrow. The Democratic race features four candidates: state Attorney General Martha Coakley, (the front-runner according to the polls), Rep. Michael Capuano, investor and Boston Celtics co-owner Stephen Pagliuca, and City Year co-founder Alan Khazei. The candidates -- save for Coakley -- have been invoking Kennedy in their TV ads. Here's Capuano's; here's Paliguca's; and here's Khazei's. While the winner of this Democratic primary most likely will be the eventual winner, there is a GOP primary going on -- between state Sen. Scott Brown and Jack Robinson. If Coakley wins, she would be the first woman in Massachusetts elected either to the Senate or as governor (although the state has had a women serve as governor by ascension. The general election is on Jan. 19. One other bit of news here: Bill Clinton is now endorsing Coakley.
Countdown to MA Special Primary: 1 day
Countdown to MA Special Election: 43 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 330 days