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First Thoughts: The re-elect argument

Did Obama yesterday preview his argument for re-election?... Contrasting how Obama sold the stimulus vs. how he's selling health care… Senate vote-a-rama could begin today on the health reconciliation bill… How much appeal does repeal have?... If you thought health care was tough, just try Middle East peace… And Condi Rice endorsed Carly Fiorina in California's Senate race.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Obama's re-elect argument: Yesterday, did we hear the line that could very well serve as the basis for President Obama's re-election in 2012? Here's what he said in his second event (at the Interior Department) touting the health-care bill he signed into law: "Despite decades in which Washington failed to tackle our toughest challenges, despite the smallness of so much of what passes for politics these days, despite those who said that progress was impossible, you made people believe that people who love this country can still change it." Translation: The health bill largely fulfills his promise of change -- despite his inability to change the tone or the partisan divide in Washington. It's one of those message frames that actually is similar to Bush's in 2004, implying that he's tough even in the face of opposition and that you know where he stands even if you don't always agree with him.

*** Lesson learned: It also appeared yesterday that the White House learned its lesson from how it sold the stimulus a year ago. Here's what President Obama said upon signing it into law: "What makes this recovery plan so important is not just that it will create or save three and a half million jobs over the next two years, including nearly 60,000 in Colorado. It's that we are putting Americans to work doing the work that America needs done in critical areas." By comparison, Obama yesterday was much more specific what health reform would mean for Americans, even using the refrain "this year" over and over. "This year, we'll start offering tax credits to about 4 million small businesses to help them cover the cost of coverage," he said. "And that means that folks like Ryan will immediately get a tax break so that he can better afford the coverage he's already providing for his employees."

*** Selling the law: Obama continued, "This year, tens of thousands of uninsured Americans with a preexisting condition and parents whose children have a preexisting condition will finally be able to purchase the coverage they need… This year, insurance companies will no longer be able to drop people's coverage when they get sick, or place lifetime limits or restrictive annual limits on the amount of care they can receive. This year, all new insurance plans will be required to offer free preventive care. And this year, young adults will be able to stay on their parents' policies until they're 26 years old. That all happens this year."

*** The vote-a-rama: The Senate, according to The Hill newspaper, adjourned at 10:30 pm ET last night after completing seven hours (out of the mandatory 20) of debate on the health reconciliation bill. It gets back to business at 9:00 am, and the voting on amendments -- the "vote-a-rama" -- could begin as early as this afternoon. As NBC's Ken Strickland reports, Republicans plan to offer a dozen amendments that are designed to attract Democratic support. Why? Adding an amendment would be a victory of sorts for Republicans, because the reconciliation "fixes" bill would have to go back to the House for another vote. For example, GOP Sen. Tom Coburn is offering one amendment banning erectile dysfunction drugs for sex offenders, and GOP Sen. John McCain is offering one to eliminate any remaining "sweetheart deals" in the health legislation, like the so-called "Louisiana Purchase" benefiting Dem Sen. Mary Landrieu. Strick adds that Republicans also claim they're offering amendments to correct what they see are flaws in the legislation. Many of these amendments are worded so that they can easily be turned into 30-second TV ads.

*** The appeal of repeal? Many of the NRSC's top Senate candidates this cycle have signed the Club for Growth's petition to repeal the health-care law: Kelly Ayotte (NH), Roy Blunt (MO), John Boozman (AR), Trey Grayson/Rand Paul (KY), Mark Kirk (IL), Sue Lowden/Danny Tarkanian (NV), and Pat Toomey (PA). But others haven't: Mike Castle (DE), Dan Coats (IN), John Hoeven (ND), Jane Norton (CO), and Rob Portman (OH). A Coats spokesman tells First Read that the GOP candidate favors repeal but wants to replace it with bipartisan health legislation. Norton also has embraced the "repeal and replace" campaign. But note that there's a big difference between signing the Club petition and arguing for the "softer repeal and replace." Here's how Mitch McConnell is putting it, which appears to be an attempt to have a middle ground on this repeal issue: "No one that I know in the Republican conference in the Senate believes that no action is appropriate. We all think there are things that should be done." 

*** Palin's 20 targets: Sarah Palin isn't only getting into the reality-show business; she's also targeting House Democrats who voted for health care on Sunday night. "We're paying particular attention to those House members who voted in favor of Obamacare and represent districts that Sen. John McCain and I carried during the 2008 election," she wrote on her Facebook page. "Three of these House members are retiring – from Arkansas's 2nd district, Indiana's 8th district, and Tennessee's 6th district – but we'll be working to make sure that those who replace them are Commonsense Conservatives. The others are running for re-election, and we're going to hold them accountable for this disastrous Obamacare vote. They are: Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-1), Harry E. Mitchell (AZ-5), Gabrielle Giffords (AZ-8), John Salazar (CO-3), Betsy Markey (CO-4). Allen Boyd (FL-2), Suzanne M. Kosmas (FL-24), Baron P. Hill (IN-9), Earl Pomeroy (ND-AL), Charlie Wilson (OH-6), John Boccieri (OH-16), Kathy Dahlkemper (PA-3), Christopher Carney (PA-10), John M. Spratt, Jr. (SC-5), Tom Perriello (VA-5), Alan B. Mollohan (WV-1), and Nick J. Rahall (WV-3)."

*** And you thought health care was tough: While it was under the media's white-hot intensity, last night's meetings between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu may have been the most dramatic and important to date. Netanyahu came to the meeting, according to sources, with a list of detailed steps he was willing to take to help jump start the peace process. The White House WASN'T unimpressed with the series of steps. But there is a "trust but verified" aspect to the relationship right now between the two sides. Translation: the U.S. isn't convinced that what Netanyahu says he'll do is what he'll do once he gets back home.

*** Bibi gets a second meeting: And it turns out that Obama had a second meeting with Netanyahu yesterday. Per NBC's Athena Jones, the president met with Netanyahu from 5:34 pm to 7:03 pm ET, but Netanyahu didn't leave the White House until 9:04 pm. So what was he doing for all that time? A White House official responds that Netanyahu requested a second meeting. "After the (initial) meeting, the president went to the residence. PM Netanyahu remained at the White House to consult with his staff in the Roosevelt room. PM Netanyahu requested another meeting with the President, who returned to the Oval office to meet with PM Netanyahu from 8:20pm to 8:55pm." Details of what exactly the two sides are negotiating are being kept close to the vest. We're told talks between the two sides continued well past midnight and will continue this morning on a staff level (those participating on the American side include George Mitchell, Tom Donilon and Dennis Ross). There's optimism on both sides that something about "next steps" can be announced before Netanyahu leaves the country. That said, there was no photo-op or even an official White House photograph of the meeting(s).

*** Midterm news:  In California, Condi Rice has endorsed Carly Fiorina (R)… In Indiana, Hotline reported that Evan Bayh gave $1 million of his campaign cash to help Brad Ellsworth's (D) Senate campaign… In South Carolina, the Dem and GOP gubernatorial candidates participated in a debate on education… And in Utah, state residents took part on their caucuses.

Countdown to IN, NC, and OH primaries: 41 days
Countdown to NE and WV primaries: 48 days
Countdown to AR, KY, OR and PA primaries: 55 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 223 days

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