Obama delivers a speech at 1:45 pm ET making his final push for health care… Did the White House win the battle over appearances from last week's Blair House Project?... How appearances and process have become weapons in the health-care debate… Bunning ends his blockade… Democrats wrangle with Rangel over his chairmanship… Rick Perry trounces KBH in Texas, and will face Bill White in the general election… Mort Zuckerman says no to Senate bid in New York, leaving the GOP without a real candidate… Jerry Brown's back… And the RNC picks its date for the 2012 GOP convention.
From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** The final push: At 1:45 pm ET, President Obama will deliver a speech at the White House on how to move forward on health care. To put it simply, today is the LAST ... FINAL ... PUSH by Obama on this issue. (He swears.) The new deadline to get this done -- have the House pass the Senate bill plus the fixes to that legislation, and then have the Senate pass the fixes via reconciliation -- is Easter (or even the day the president leaves for Indonesia on March 18). If Democrats can't get a vote in the House by then, we'll know if this last push is in trouble. Also, at 5:30 pm, Obama hosts a reception at the White House thanking members of Congress for their efforts to pass pay-as-go legislation. Translation: This is an opportunity for the president to give some love to the Blue Dogs who back PAYGO and whose arms will need to be twisted to pass health care.
*** Appearances matter: Of course, little has changed -- surprise, surprise -- after Thursday's Blair House Project health-care summit. In his letter to congressional leaders yesterday, Obama offered to consider four GOP ideas (medical malpractice pilot programs, expanding HSAs, cracking down on fraud, and increasing Medicaid payments to doctors). Republican leaders summarily dismissed the offer ("There is no reason to lump sensible proposals into a fundamentally-flawed 2,000-page bill," John Boehner said). And in his letter yesterday, Obama vowed to press on with reform (both parties "should agree that it's just not an option to walk away from the millions of American families and business owners counting on reform"). Still, appearances matter, and the White House seems to have gotten what it wanted, even if these GOP ideas are small bore. One, they got this headline in the Washington Post: "Obama reaches out to GOP on health-care bill." And two, the gesture to Republicans seems to have resonated with conservative Democrats. "I like the idea that the president is working with Republicans and trying to find common ground," said Sen. Mark Pryor told the AP. "I think that's a good place to be for him, I think that's what the American people want to see." A tad bit of irony: These new GOP ideas the president's embracing can ONLY be passed into law via reconciliation.
*** Process as a weapon: Why all the attention on appearances and process? It's because appearances and process have been surprising weapons in the health-care debate. In politics, the maxim has usually been: If you're talking process, you're losing. But that's no longer the case -- whether we're talking about reconciliation, sweetheart deals like the so-called "Cornhusker Kickback" and the "Louisiana Purchase," and the cry for all negotiations to be broadcast on C-Span. To be sure, President Obama upped the ante on process when he promised to change the ways of Washington, which he has been unable to do in his first year-plus in office. Still, it's amazing that commonplace activities like reconciliation, securing pork for districts and states, and offering sweetheart deals to on-the-fence lawmakers have become so politically toxic. It's the equivalent of NFL fans and opposing teams suddenly railing against trick plays (reverses, flea-flickers, surprise on-side kicks) when they're legal and used by everyone. But this is where the Republicans deserve credit; process has been a BIG political loser for the president and not hurt the out-of-power GOP.
*** Bunning ends his blockade: Speaking of process and appearances, GOP Sen. Jim Bunning dropped his blockade last night on legislation extending unemployment benefits and paying for transportation programs and personnel. Roll Call says the standstill "tied Republicans in knots: Some defended him, some criticized him and still others -- like Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) -- just wanted the whole thing to go away. Bunning ultimately dropped his demands Tuesday night that the $10 billion package be fully paid for, but not before causing a major headache for his party. And equally troubling for Republicans was that it reminded them of Bunning's erratic behavior of last year, when he repeatedly clashed with his leadership over whether he should retire or run for a third term."
*** Rangel-ing with Rangel: Also in Congress last night, the House Democratic leadership thought it had a deal with embattled Rep. Charlie Rangel (D) to give up his chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee. And then Rangel got second thoughts. Still, we can confidently say that Rangel won't be running the committee by the end of the day. The only question is whether he goes willingly -- or gets his post stripped. He can't survive a vote, and that was made clear to him. By the way, as for whether Pete Stark or Sandy Levin replaces Rangel... Eventually, it's probably going to be Levin, but Stark may get it temporarily if Rangel simply gives it up temporarily. But for the long term, Levin is the preferred choice among the Dem leadership. And even if Stark gets the gavel, his health problems may prevent him for truly running the committee, giving Levin de facto control.
*** Perry trounces KBH: Last night in Texas, incumbent Gov. Rick Perry trounced Kay Bailey Hutchison in the GOP gubernatorial primary, winning a clear majority to avoid a run-off. With 98% of precincts reporting, per the Houston Chronicle, Perry captured 51% of the vote, Hutchison got 30%, and Tea Party favorite Debra Medina got 18.5% -- an impressive showing considering her remarks sympathizing with questions whether 9/11 was an inside job. In November's general election, Perry will face off against ex-Houston Mayor Bill White, who cruised to victory in the Democratic primary. Last night, Perry made it clear that he would use the same strategy against White that he used against KBH: tie him to Washington. "It is clear the Obama administration and their allies already have Texas in their cross hairs," Perry said in his victory speech. White countered with this at his own election night party: "They'll point fingers at Washington and talk about the alarming growth in government in Washington so you won't notice the alarming growth in government in Austin."
*** Sizing up Perry vs. White: While White gives the Democrats their best chance of winning the governor's mansion since Ann Richards in the 1990s, Perry starts out with the numerical advantage in this red state. Nearly 1.5 million voted in last night's GOP gubernatorial primary, versus 675,000 who turned out in the Dem primary -- a more than 2-to-1 advantage for the Republicans. Yet White got some help last night when former AFL-CIO leader Linda Chavez-Thompson won the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor, which puts an Hispanic woman on the ticket (and could lead to extra AFL cash in this race because the group will feel compelled to support a former national officer). White's path to victory includes mobilizing Hispanics, African Americans, Democrats, and disaffected Hutchison voters. But for all the talk we're hearing about KBH voters who might vote for White in the fall, remember that we heard the same thing about Hillary Clinton supporters voting for McCain in 2008. And that didn't happen.
*** Start spreading the news … the GOP (in NY) is leaving today: You'd think that Republicans would be able to capitalize in New York, given the Paterson mess and Gillibrand's potential vulnerability. But with Mort Zuckerman's decision yesterday not to challenge Gillibrand for the Senate, it leaves the GOP without a real opponent here in November. And in the governors race, the likely Republican nominee is … Rick Lazio. If Republicans can't win in New York in this environment, when can they win here? Actually, forget winning: If Republicans can't find credible CANDIDATES in this environment, then what's the point of the party in New York? Of course, there's still time; filing deadline is a ways away.
*** Guess who's back … back again … Jerry's back … tell a friend: The re-re-re-re-invention of Jerry Brown (D) -- who announced his bid for California governor yesterday -- is one of the more fascinating stories of 2010. Gone are the mock turtle necks; he had good 'ol suit and tie in his announcement video. He also had a no-new-taxes pledge (unless VOTERS approve), and he had a message that was aimed directly at tying Arnold to Meg Whitman...
*** 2012 watch: Last night, the Republican National Committee announced that it has picked the date for its 2012 convention: the week of August 27. The three cities under consideration to host the convention: Tampa FL, Salt Lake City UT, and Phoenix AZ. Looking at this list, is it fair to call Phoenix the frontrunner? One, the GOP needs to make a western and Hispanic comeback to win the White House. Two, does the GOP and potential nominee Mitt Romney want a focus on the Mormon church during a Salt Lake convention? Three, while Tampa hasn't been hit DIRECTLY by a hurricane in quite some time, it's the heart of hurricane season; can the Republicans risk that?
*** Programming note: MSNBC's "Daily Rundown" has former Reagan Chief of Staff Ken Duberstein on to talk about the Obama White House, as well as DSCC Chair Bob Menendez. MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports," which airs at 1:00 pm ET, interviews GOP Sen. Olympia Snowe.
Countdown to AR filing deadline: 5 days
Countdown to OR, PA filing deadlines: 6 days
Countdown to CA, NV filing deadlines: 9 days
Countdown to IA, UT filing deadlines: 16 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 244 days