President Obama to address the earthquake in Haiti… The economy returns to the spotlight with the bipartisan Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission and Obama's event in Maryland… House and Senate still at odds over health care… DSCC goes up with TV ad against Scott Brown… Comparing Coakley-Brown to Schmidt-Hackett… And Harold Ford's helicopter ride.
From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Disaster in Haiti: Given its proximity to the United States, the 7.0 earthquake that shook Haiti -- causing so much damage and violence -- has inevitably become an issue that the U.S. government must deal with. Essentially, it will be America's disaster to clean up. Yesterday afternoon, President Obama released this statement: "My thoughts and prayers go out to those who have been affected by this earthquake. We are closely monitoring the situation and we stand ready to assist the people of Haiti." The White House says the president received an update on the situation in Haiti from his national security team, and he told them he expects an aggressive, coordinated relief effort from the U.S. government. And Obama will address the nation publicly about the government's response to the disaster at 10:00 am ET.
*** Returning to the economy: On Monday, we wrote that this week was going to be about the economy. And after two days dominated by Harry Reid, Sarah Palin, Martha Coakley, Scott Brown, and even Mark McGwire, we finally come to the subject. Today, beginning at 9:00 am ET, the bipartisan Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission -- looking into the causes of the financial collapse -- begins holding two days on hearings on Capitol Hill. Scheduled to testify today include Goldman Sachs' Lloyd Blankfein, JPMorgan Chase's Jamie Dimon, Morgan Stanley's John Mack, and Bank of America's Brian Moynihan. Also today, around 2:30 pm, Obama heads to Lanham, MD to talk about clean-energy jobs. What's more, the White House says that the economic stimulus has saved or created at least 2 million jobs, and that it will end up saving a total of 3.5 million jobs by the end of the year. Of course, Republicans are already disputing those findings. "It's interesting to see the same White House staff that sold its trillion-dollar spending plan by saying it would keep unemployment under 8% now claiming it created 2 million jobs -- especially when the unemployment rate is at 10%," emailed Sen. Mitch McConnell's communications director. This push back from the White House also seems to be in response to reports earlier this week about the lack of construction jobs created by the stimulus, despite the uptick in transportation projects.
*** AHIP and the Chamber, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G: Turning to the health-care debate, National Journal's Peter Stone reported this news yesterday: Health insurance companies funneled millions of dollars to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to run TV ads aimed at defeating the health-care legislation moving through Congress. "That money, between $10 million and $20 million, came from Aetna, Cigna, Humana, Kaiser Foundation Health Plans, UnitedHealth Group and Wellpoint, according to two health care lobbyists familiar with the transactions. The companies are all members of the powerful trade group America's Health Insurance Plans." Meanwhile, President Obama is set to meet with embattled Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at 9:30 am ET. Later, he sits down with other House and Senate Democratic leaders. The appears to be an attempt by the White House to see how much give there is with the House and Senate on the remaining sticking points in the legislation (how to pay for it, how the exchange will be set up, etc.).
*** House vs. the Senate: Today's meetings at the White House don't look like they're going to be easy -- or pretty. "We've got a problem on both sides of the Capitol. A serious problem," House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel told Roll Call. "Normally you're just dealing with the Senate and they talk about 60 votes and you listen to them and cave in, but this is entirely different." And then there's this blind quote: "The Senate is just a pain in the ass to everybody in the world as far as I can tell. I'm so angry that I just wish from now on that we'd just find out what it is that Lieberman and Nelson will let us have," the senior lawmaker said. "But we're not giving up on anything in the House." Senate Democrats fear that accepting the House way of paying for health care is that they'll be raising taxes on the wealthy not ONCE, but TWICE before 2012 (remember those Bush tax cuts expire next year). Of course, labor is very nervous about the tax on THEIR health care plans. Today is about the White House seeing how entrenched each side is on this issue.
*** Here comes the DSCC: In the clearest sign yet that national Democrats are getting involved in -- and concerned about -- next week's Coakley-Brown Senate race in Massachusetts, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is up with a new TV attack ad on Brown. "He drives around in a pick up truck, but you gotta look under the hood to find the real Scott Brown," the narrator in the ad says. "On health care, Brown wants to be THE deciding vote to kill Ted Kennedy's legislation. And on education, Brown voted against smaller class sizes for our kids. And voted to cut funding for public colleges and universities. That's the real Scott Brown. Don't let him take us -- or our kids -- for a ride."
*** A stroll down memory lane: For us, the Coakley-Brown race in Massachusetts brings to mind the 2005 special congressional election in Ohio between Jean Schmidt (R) and Paul Hackett (D). In that contest, you had a Democrat -- running against Bush and the Iraq war -- who ALMOST defeated the Republican in an overwhelmingly GOP-leaning district. The narrow GOP victory stunned the political world, with then-DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel calling it a "wake-up" call for the Republican Party. Well, like in 2005, the political environment no longer appears favorable to the party in power. "You can't deny that something is going on, and we are benefiting from that," a GOP strategist tells First Read. But unlike that '05 contest which caught everyone by surprise, the Coakley-Brown race is already receiving tons of national attention. Indeed, in this era of hyper-aggressive political coverage and constant robo-polling, it's unlikely that we'll see another race go under the radar the way that '05 contest did.
*** Nationalize this: And it probably doesn't help Brown that the contest has been nationalized. All the ads Democratic and conservative groups are now airing, all the money that's now flowing into the race, and all the reminders about how health care hangs in the balance will likely boost Democratic enthusiasm. Regardless of the outcome, however, Republicans are quite pleased to see Democrats drop money on this race in Massachusetts, as well as see Coakley travel to DC like she did last night -- one week before the election!!! -- to raise money from Democratic high-rollers. Even if she ends up winning this contest, this general election has turned into a disaster for Coakley. She and other Democrats thought the race was over after last month's Democratic primary. Well guess what…
*** More midterm news: In California, former Rep. Tom Campbell (R) appears to be switching from running for governor to running for the Senate… In Colorado, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper (D) yesterday officially announced his bid for governor… And in New York, Harold Ford Jr. (D) gave an interview to the New York Times, in which he lays out his themes against Gillibrand. And don't miss this: "Asked whether he had visited all five boroughs, [Ford] mentioned taking a helicopter ride across the city with fellow executives, at the invitation of Raymond W. Kelly, New York City's police commissioner. 'The only place I have not spent considerable time is Staten Island,' he said, adding that 'I landed there in the helicopter, so I can say yes.'"
Countdown to MA Special Election: 6 days
Countdown to IL primary: 20 days
Countdown to TX primary: 48 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 293 days