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First thoughts: Back to Copenhagen

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Back to Copenhagen: President Obama's last trip to Copenhagen -- to help get Chicago the 2016 Olympics -- didn't end in success. Will today's stop in the Danish capital have a different outcome? (And if not, will Obama ever return there?) "We come together here in Copenhagen because climate change poses a grave and growing danger to our people," he said at the conference earlier this morning. "You would not be here unless you -- like me -- were convinced that this danger is real... Unchecked, climate change will pose unacceptable risks to our security, our economies, and our planet." Obama continued, "I believe that we can act boldly, and decisively, in the face of this common threat. And that is why I have come here today." (By the way, this is the president's SIXTH separate trip to Europe this year…)

*** Mad Libs time! Then, in remarks he also could have said about the health-care debate -- or even immigration or financial reform -- back home, Obama argued that, while imperfect, the climate accord they're working on would signal progress. A little Mad Libs fun from Obama's speech today… "We can embrace this [climate accord/health bill], take a substantial step forward, and continue to refine it and build upon its foundation. We can do that, and everyone who is in this room will be a part of an historic endeavor, one that makes life better for our children and grandchildren." More: "Or we can again choose delay, falling back into the same divisions that have stood in the way of action for years. And we will be back having the same stale arguments month after month, year after year – all while the danger of [climate change/rising health costs/Medicare insolvency] grows until it is irreversible."

*** Will we get a deal? At the moment, the New York Times writes, the prospects for any kind of agreement look shaky -- due to Chinese concerns about establishing monitoring systems to measure whether countries are complying with emission cuts. "Within an hour of Air Force One's touchdown in Copenhagen Friday morning, Mr. Obama was in a big meeting with a high-level group of leaders representing some 20 countries and organizations. But the meeting was most notable in that Chinese premier Wen Jiabao elected not to attend, instead sending Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei, a snub which left both American and European officials seething." That said, "An American negotiator, weary from a night of negotiations, expressed confidence early Friday that the talks would produce some form of an agreed declaration, even if it falls short of the ambitions of many delegates and lacks specifics on some of the toughest issues." Obama did meet one-on-one with Wen Jiabao, and the White House says their climate negotiating team has now split in two -- half negotiating multi-laterally and half negotiating SOLELY with China. Looks like the U.S. wants to get some deal with China and the two countries (along with India?) will dictate the terms of whatever comes out of Copenhagen. 

*** The survey says…: What are Americans' thoughts on climate change? In our new NBC/WSJ poll, a majority (54%) believes that climate change is either a serious problem or is occurring, and that action should be taken. But that percentage is down from the 59% who said that in 2006 and the 64% who said it in 2007. And the party split here is HUGE: 77% of Democrats believe climate change is a serious problem or is occurring and action should be taken, but just 33% of Republicans believe this. Also in the current poll, nearly three-quarters of all respondents (74%) agree with the statement that global warming is caused more by human actions, versus 20% who say it's caused more by naturally occurring forces.

*** Reid's bill clears last night's hurdle: At 1:20 am ET last night, the Senate voted 63-33 to block a GOP filibuster on the Defense Appropriations bill, with Republicans Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, and Kay Bailey Hutchison joining all 58 Democrats and the two independents. Per NBC's Kelly O'Donnell, this rare overnight vote helped keep Democrats on schedule to meet their own Christmas deadline to vote on health-care reform. Democrats argued that the filibuster was a GOP delaying tactic to stall the health bill. As the Washington Post says, "After years of criticizing Democrats for not supporting the troops, just three Republicans supported the military funding." "Rarely has the Senate seen such a sad statement," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid last night. "Rarely have I seen such brazen irresponsibility. And rarely have our nation's citizens received such little regard from their leaders." At 1:06 am, in fact, 92-year-old Sen. Robert Byrd (D) arrived to cast his vote, O'Donnell reports. The ailing Byrd was brought inside the chamber in a wheelchair, and his colleagues reacted by applauding. During that applause, Byrd raised his hand with a thumbs-up to signal an "aye" vote as he was heard saying, "Shame, shame."

*** Krugman backs the bill: Outside the Senate, liberals continue their back-and-forth over the bill. Today, in a response to Howard Dean and others who want to kill the Senate legislation, Paul Krugman -- joining other liberal voices on health care like Ezra Klein and Jon Cohn -- argues for its passage, despite all its flaws. "Bear in mind … the lessons of history: social insurance programs tend to start out highly imperfect and incomplete, but get better and more comprehensive as the years go by," Krugman writes. "Thus Social Security originally had huge gaps in coverage… But it was improved over time, and it's now the bedrock of retirement stability for the vast majority of Americans." On the other hand, David Brooks said he would vote against the bill, if he were a senator.

*** An appeal to the Ayatollah: As NBC's Andrea Mitchell reported on TODAY, one of the mothers of the hikers being held in Iran, has made a video appeal directly to the Ayatollah.

*** An eventful year: Despite the president's declining poll numbers, his setbacks (the missed deadlines on health care, the Olympics), and all the challenges he still faces (the economy, health care, Afghanistan, Iran), it's worth stepping back to remind ourselves how eventful President Obama's first year in office has been. It started with a legislative fight over the stimulus and is ending with a historic debate over health care. It has included some very big trips (Europe, Egypt Russia, Asia), big speeches (Cairo, the address to Congress on health care, West Point, Oslo), and more press conferences than we can count. Even his harshest critics would acknowledge that Obama has set out to do big things, to be the kind of transformative president he has said he admires. "I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that, you know, Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not," he said during the primaries.

*** But much more to accomplish: Yet unlike Reagan and even Nixon and Clinton, Obama has yet to accomplish something really big. Health care still has some high hurdles to clear before passage. The stimulus has yet to stop the monthly job losses. His Afghanistan gamble won't be known for years. And it's unclear whether his work on climate change in Copenhagen will lead to a breakthrough. Still, it's very early -- tomorrow concludes his 11th month in office -- and there's plenty of time to begin racking up major accomplishments. But this probably won't be one of them: ending the partisan fighting in Washington. "On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord," Obama said at his inaugural. "On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics." Bottom line: It's been a consequential first year of Obama's presidency. But it may not be for years or decades until we know for sure if this has been a successful first year.

*** A final note: With Christmas and New Year's approaching, we won't be publishing our morning and afternoon notes beginning on Monday; they'll return on Jan. 4. However, we'll be updating the blog and our twitter feeds regularly -- especially with the Senate still debating health care -- so be sure to check in often. Happy holidays!

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