Discuss as:

First thoughts: The Blair House Project

Yesterday's Blair House Project was an extraordinary (if unproductive) exercise… House Ethics Committee admonishes Charlie Rangel… GOP Sen. Jim Bunning launches one-man filibuster against extending unemployment insurance… Hillary Clinton makes news -- and few notice… First Read's Top 10 primaries… David Paterson sees political buzzards circling above him… And Sanford vs. Sanford to be televised.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** The Blair House Project: We learned that televising all congressional proceedings clearly isn't the solution to Washington's ills, huh? Still, yesterday's Blair House Project was a pretty extraordinary exercise. President Obama, who essentially served as moderator-in-chief, used the health-care summit to make the case that the Democratic health-care bills aren't radical (if they don't have a public option, how do they represent a government takeover?), and that they included a fair number of GOP ideas. Much like he did at his State of the Union, Obama also tried to elevate himself above the partisan fray, even if he engaged in it himself (example: his testy exchange with McCain). As for Republicans, they used the summit to produce their ideas on health care, as well as voice all of their complaints about the Dem health-care bills in one setting.

*** The silly clock and the partisan Old Bulls: One thing that was crystal clear: The Republicans' prep session helped them stay on the same page, while there was an uneven relationship between the president and congressional Democrats. But the GOP's beef about Obama (119 minutes) and Democrats (114 minutes) getting more combined time to speak than they did (110 minutes) was pretty silly, given that everyone got to talk plenty at the seven-hour summit. Overall, the congressional leaders -- Pelosi, Reid, Boehner, McConnell -- acted the most partisan, while less high-profile members -- like Paul Ryan, Tom Coburn, George Miller -- came across as more appealing.

*** Moving forward: All that said, we're not sure what the summit accomplished from the White House's perspective other than -- as NBC's Savannah Guthrie pointed out yesterday -- to cleanse the process for the public, so the White House and congressional Democrats could push the final reform through via reconciliation and not have it look like they did it behind closed doors. Obama himself said that the public doesn't really care about process (although the furor over the "Cornhusker Kickback" is evidence to the contrary. "I do think [the American people] want a vote on how we're going to move this forward," he said. "A majority vote makes sense." In his concluding remarks, Obama asked for the GOP to do "some soul-searching" to see if they would come up with compromises to insure more Americans. And after a month or so, if they were unable to do so, he said that Democrats would go ahead with their plans. In one sense, the entire summit was a debate, complete with both party committees sending out fact-checks and "what they're saying" about the performances.

*** Rangel gets admonished: One of the participants at yesterday's summit, Charlie Rangel, got some unwelcome news afterward. Roll Call reports that Rangel "acknowledged Thursday the House ethics committee has admonished him for accepting privately funded travel to the Caribbean in 2007 and 2008 that apparently violated House rules -- but he denied wrongdoing on his part. The House ethics panel announced Thursday night that five other Members who attended the same trips inadvertently violated House rules, and said all six lawmakers must repay the costs of the trip. Rangel announced in a Thursday night press conference that the ethics committee is admonishing him for the trips, concluding that the he is responsible for two of his staffers who failed to report that corporate money helped fund them." Does Pelosi stand by Rangel, especially if more ethics news comes out about him? She's always been loyal to the old bulls, stubbornly so. Remember, this is only the beginning of Rangel's problems, there's more to come on this investigation.

*** Bunning goes for a shutout: Roll Call also notes that GOP Sen. Jim Bunning launched a one-man filibuster last night against legislation aimed at extending unemployment benefits and health insurance help for the jobless, many of which expire on Sunday. "Although Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill) is expected to resume attempts to pass the extensions Friday morning, Bunning has said he will continue to object, and with lawmakers gone for the weekend, there is little chance the bill will pass before Sunday. Bunning refused to allow the bill to pass unless Democrats agreed to pay for it with unused stimulus funds. Although Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had worked out a deal to vote on Bunning's funding plan, Bunning refused to go along with it." 

*** Hillary in the news: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made some interesting news in the past couple of days, which got lost in all the focus on the health care summit. First, in testimony on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, she argued that the political gridlock and partisanship was hurting America's image abroad. "People don't understand the way our system operates, they just don't get it," she said, per the Washington Post. "And their view does color whether the United States ... is in a position going forward to demonstrate the kind of unity and strength and effectiveness that I think we have to in this very complex and dangerous world." Then yesterday -- ironically -- she engaged in some partisanship of her own by criticizing former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan. "I served on the budget committee in the Senate, and I remember, as vividly as if it were yesterday, when we had a hearing in which Alan Greenspan came and justified increasing spending and cutting taxes, saying that we didn't really need to pay down the debt -- outrageous in my view," she said.

*** First Read's Top 10 Primaries: If it's Friday, it's time for another First Read Top 10 list. With Texas holding its primaries on Tuesday, we take a look at what we consider the Top 10 primaries. The number in parenthesis is our ranking from last month.

1. FL SEN -- R (1): The great Crist-vs.-Rubio primary has gotten even better for junkies, with the skirmish over Rubio's credit card statements and his upcoming travel to South Carolina.
2. TX GOV -- R (2): The Perry-vs.-Hutchison contest began as a primary for the ages. Does it end with a whimper on Tuesday?
3. PA SEN -- D (3): Specter vs. Sestak remains the best Democratic primary of the cycle, though Sestak has not yet done the push that some might have expected by now. 
4. KY SEN -- R (9): The Trey Grayson vs. Rand Paul primary is the biggest mover on our list. Grayson is on the offensive -- on the issue of coal.
5. AZ SEN -- R (5): McCain holds a sizable lead over J.D. Hayworth in the polls. But this primary is on our radar screen -- and others' -- because of McCain's prominence as the party's 2008 presidential nominee.
6. NY SEN -- D (7): Harold Ford Jr. still isn't officially in the race to challenge Kirsten Gillibrand. But it's providing plenty of conflict and entertainment. 
7. SC GOV -- R (6): The best primary Washington political reporters aren't talking about. But everyone will want to get to know the winner as the 2012 presidential race approaches.
8. UT SEN -- R (10): As we mentioned last month, this is the best GOP ideological fight no one is talking about. As Fletch once said, "The story IS Utah, Frank" 
9. NV SEN and GOV -- R (unlisted): The Senate field is lackluster, but both Sue Lowden and Danny Tarkanian are leading Harry Reid in general-election hypotheticals. And incumbent Gov. Jim Gibbons is trailing challenger Brian Sandoval.
10. KS SEN -- R (unlisted): GOP Congressmen Jerry Moran and Todd Tiahrt are duking it out to replace Sam Brownback, who's running for governor.  

*** Political buzzards circling over Paterson: It seems like it's just a matter of time before New York Gov. David Paterson (D) announces that he won't be running for election after all. Here are the latest developments since the New York Times reported that Paterson had personally intervened in a domestic violence episode involving one of his top aides: 1) Paterson's top criminal justice adviser has resigned; 2) New York Rep. Steve Israel (D) has called for him to drop out of his gubernatorial race, 3) Rep. Nita Lowey has called for him to resign, and 4) Paterson himself is mulling whether to quit his race. 

*** More midterm news: In Florida, a Florida Sun Sentinel editorial board writer reports that Charlie Crist is laying the groundwork for an indie bid… In Kentucky, Trey Grayson has another TV ad hitting Rand Paul… Today's the filing deadline in North Carolina… And in Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter is whacking Joe Sestak for "mistreating his staff with miserly salaries."

*** The revolution -- er, divorce -- will be televised: Finally, the Charleston Post and Courier reports that today's divorce proceedings between South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and Jenny Sanford will be televised. "Their divorce proceedings will be open to TV cameras and first lady Jenny Sanford will have to take the witness stand to say why her marriage to Gov. Mark Sanford is over. Court officials say various South Carolina television outlets have shown an interest in broadcasting the final hearing of Sanford v. Sanford live on Friday from the Charleston County Judicial Center, possibly live. She has to be there; he does not. Gov. Sanford has the option of filing an affidavit in lieu of an appearance."

Countdown to TX primary: 4 days
Countdown to AR filing deadline: 10 days
Countdown to OR, PA filing deadlines: 11 days
Countdown to CA, NV filing deadlines: 14 days
Countdown to IA, UT filing deadlines: 21 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 249 days

Click here to sign up for First Read emails.
Text FIRST to 622639, to sign up for First Read alerts to your mobile phone.
Check us out on Facebook and also on Twitter.