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First thoughts: P.R. offensive, part 2

Yesterday's press conference was Part One of Obama's P.R. offensive (or defensive). Today's visit to Louisiana is Part Two… The president makes a statement at 1:30 pm ET… The light bulb for Obama finally turned on at the end of yesterday's presser… Obama says the White House's response to the Sestak issue is coming soon… House repeals "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and Senate Armed Services Committee follows suit… McCain's border victory… First Read's Top 10 issues… And Bill Clinton stumps for Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas at 1:30 pm ET.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** P.R. offensive, part 2: Yesterday's White House press conference was the first part of President Obama's P.R. offensive (or defensive) regarding his administration's handling of the oil spill. Today -- with his visit to Louisiana and his statement at 1:30 pm ET -- comes the second part. In yesterday's presser, Obama rejected any suggestion his administration hasn't done enough to fight the growing disaster in the Gulf ("The American people should know that from the moment this disaster began, the federal government has been in charge of the response effort"). But he also acknowledged shortcomings ("Are we doing everything perfectly out there? Then the answer is absolutely not. We can always do better"). And he refused to acknowledge the Katrina comparisons ("I'm confident people are going to look back and say this administration was on top of what was an unprecedented crisis").

*** The light bulb finally turns on: But it was only at the end of the press conference that Obama moved from often bureaucratic-sounding answers to a more passionate and personal response; it was as if a light bulb had turned on in his head. He acknowledged the frustrations about the spill by telling an anecdote involving his daughter Malia. "I'm shaving and Malia knocks on my bathroom door, and she peeks in her head and she says, 'Did you plug the hole yet, Daddy?'"  And at the end, he made it absolutely clear he was in charge and taking responsibility. "It is my job to make sure that everything is done to shut this down. That doesn't mean it's going to be easy. It doesn't mean it's going to happen right away or the way I'd like it to happen. It doesn't mean that we're not going to make mistakes. But there shouldn't be any confusion here: The federal government is fully engaged, and I'm fully engaged." The shift we saw from Obama is the president's ongoing cerebral-vs.-gut tension.

*** Handcuffed: The reality is that the White House does feel handcuffed by this 1990 oil spill law, and one wonders if there is going to be an effort to change it. The president himself suggested a path yesterday where the oil companies might end up funding a government agency (think FDIC?) in order to make sure the GOVERNMENT can call the shots and be involved more directly in future disasters.

*** On Sestak: The other news that President Obama made yesterday is that his administration will be issuing a response very soon to the allegation that the White House offered Joe Sestak a job to keep him from challenging Arlen Specter. "I can assure the public that nothing improper took place," he said. First Read later learned that the White House counsel's office is preparing this report, and it will be released in the next few days. Indeed, this sort of reminds us of the report that the White House had to release about its contacts with then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) over the charges that Blagojevich tried to sell Obama's old Senate seat. With the White House expected to release this report, however, we've got to ask: Why isn't there more pressure on Sestak -- the person who originally said he was offered a job -- to explain his side of things? Sestak isn't doing Team Obama any favors by telling reporters yesterday that the White House reached out to his brother in the last week.

*** On repealing DADT: On Capitol Hill last night, the House -- by a 234-194 vote -- passed an amendment to the annual Pentagon policy bill that repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The amendment was a compromise under which the repeal won't occur until after a Pentagon review is completed by Dec. 1, and after it is determined that the change won't be disruptive to the military. The Senate Armed Services Committee -- by a 16-12 vote -- approved a similar amendment. Obama released a statement last night saying: "I am pleased that both the House of Representatives and the Senate Armed Services Committee took important bipartisan steps toward repeal… This legislation will help make our Armed Forces even stronger and more inclusive by allowing gay and lesbian soldiers to serve honestly and with integrity." By the way, there's a chance the president might have to veto entire bill if Congress defies Defense Secretary Gates' recommendation on a few key Defense contract cuts.

*** McCain's border victory: One vocal opponent of the DADT repeal, John McCain, won a victory after the Senate Armed Services Committee adopted an amendment to send 6,000 National Guard troops to the U.S. border. "Deploying the National Guard is essential to securing our U.S.-Mexico border," he said in a statement. "Families living in Arizona should not suffer from the daily threats caused by illegal immigration, drug trafficking, and human smuggling. It is the Federal government's obligation to protect all Americans by securing the borders, and deploying 6,000 National Guard is a critical first step."

*** First Read's Top 10 Issues: If it's Friday, it means another First Read Top 10 list. Today, we take a look at what we consider to be the Top 10 issues of this midterm cycle. The number in parentheses is our ranking from last month.
1. Washington (1): As reflected by this month's losses by Bob Bennett, Alan Mollahan, and Arlen Specter, this isn't a good time to be an incumbent. Running against Washington is perhaps the most powerful political message out there.
2. Establishment vs. anti-establishment (7): As Trey Grayson found out in his primary against Rand Paul, it's also not a good environment to be considered the establishment-backed candidate. A warning to Dino Rossi in Washington state?
3. Economy/jobs (2): This remains the overarching macro-political issue, but we're seeing more candidates run against Washington and the establishment than on the economy.
4. TARP/Wall Street bailouts (4): Want to know why Republican South Carolina gubernatorial candidate is airing a minute-long TV ad justifying his TARP vote? Because there's hardly a more toxic word in the political lexicon than "bailout."
5. Immigration (10): Last month, we said this could be a sleeper issue, and it now it's wide awake after the passage of the Arizona law, especially in GOP primaries. John McCain, Meg Whitman, Steve Poizner, and even Tim James are running provocative TV ads on immigration or English-only laws.
6. Barack Obama (6): The president is still an issue in GOP primaries -- remember Rubio's TV ad hitting Crist on the Obama hug? -- but his approval rating holds steady around 50%. Perhaps the bigger question is whether the president can mobilize his base for the midterms.
7. Health care (4): Remember when this was the only issue people were talking about? It still remains a potent topic, but not the same way it was two months ago. 8. Competence (9): Last month, we listed this issue because candidates were touting their competence -- in government or business -- and questioning their opponents'. But this issue now takes on added weight with the Gulf oil spill.
9. Ethics (unranked): This is a sleeper issue, although the ethical allegations/revelations surrounding Rangel, Massa, Deal, and Souder have constructed a ready-made narrative. And as we learned in the 2006 cycle, ethics can play a big story in the battle for Congress.
10. National Security (8): Despite fighting two wars, having two failed terrorist attacks, and witnessing a tense situation in North Korea, national security ranks at the bottom of our list. We've come a long way since 2001-2007.

*** More midterm news: In Arkansas, Bill Clinton appears at a rally for Blanche Lincoln at 1:30 pm ET in downtown Little Rock.

Countdown to CA, IA, ME, NJ, ND, SC, SD, and VA primaries, and AR run-off: 11 days:
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 158 days

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