Discuss as:

First thoughts: Petraeus and July 2011 in the spotlight

Petraeus and (more importantly) that July 2011 date take center stage beginning today at 9:30 am ET… 30 minutes earlier in the Senate building next door, Kagan and the senators can't read from a script from anymore; it's question time… Senate Democrats face another tough climb to get to 60 votes on the financial reform/Wall Street legislation… The importance of race and geography in the upcoming midterms… Obama discusses energy with bipartisan senators at 10:50 am… West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D) gets to appoint a replacement for the late Robert Byrd through 2012… And Mark Kirk meets the press in Illinois.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Petraeus and July 2011 in the spotlight: It probably won’t feature the theatrics (or histrionics) of the Kagan hearings, and there’s no doubt about its eventual outcome, but Gen. David Petraeus’ Senate confirmation hearing today to replace Stanley McChrystal as the U.S. commander in Afghanistan promises to be the day’s must-watch Washington event. The reason: There is a serious Washington disagreement about what should happen in Afghanistan come July 2011. On the one hand, you have House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying that there will be a “serious drawdown” by then, and that she would even use the power of the purse to ensure the drawdown occurs. (Of course, she might not be speaker then.) On the other hand, you have Sen. John McCain, who said on “Meet the Press” this past Sunday: “We need the president just to come out and say, ‘Look, this is condition-based and condition-based only. We will leave tomorrow if the conditions are--allow for it. But we're not going to set an arbitrary date for withdrawal.’”

*** Déjà vu all over again: As for Obama, he has not used McCain's words -- but has all but said their meaning, especially in his press conference on Sunday, when he said he doesn't think about pulling troops out but about how can we be successful. For those who remember the Iraq debate of 2005-2007, it’s déjà vu all over again.

*** Kagan takes questions: Of course, the other big confirmation hearing today -- Elena Kagan’s -- begins its second day at 9:00 am ET. Yesterday’s action, as expected, was pretty uneventful and shows Washington in the worst light with long-winded statements and a flurry of press releases. (As TPM’s Josh Marshall asked, isn’t it time for comprehensive opening-statement reform?) Democrats (for the most part) praised Kagan; Republicans (for the most part) criticized her record and (bizarrely at some points) Thurgood Marshall’s; and Kagan (not surprisingly) gave opening remarks that emphasized her belief in judicial modesty, deference to Americans and their elected officials, her family’s immigrant past, and country, flag, and apple pie. The actual Q&A that begins today will surely bring us a fuller view of what Kagan believes. After all, she wrote 15 years ago that the public should be able to learn something significant about a Supreme Court nominee at these kinds of hearings. She has her own standard to meet, and we bet her words from 15 years ago are used in just about every attempt that ANY senator makes for a follow-up.

*** Another tough climb to get to 60: As was the case with health care, Senate Democrats getting 60 votes for final passage of financial reform hasn't been an easy exercise. First came word that GOP Sen. Scott Brown, who joined the Democrats in the eventual 60-40 cloture vote last month, is re-thinking his vote to fees and taxes in the conference bill. Then Sen. Robert Byrd, who also supported the legislation, passed away. Those losses could be made up if the two Dems who joined the GOP filibuster because it wasn't liberal enough -- Russ Feingold and Maria Cantwell -- change their minds from last month. But yesterday, Feingold said he was willing to block the conference bill.

*** Race and geography matter: There are a few reasons why Democrats are more likely to lose the House than the Senate, but one reason that hasn't received as much attention is the issue of race and geography. As it turns out, much of the competitive House battlefield is in mostly white and mostly rural congressional districts. And President Obama's numbers aren't strong here: According to our most recent NBC/WSJ poll, just 36% of whites and 31% of rural Americans approved of the president’s job (By the way, those numbers are about where George W. Bush was with whites from 2006 through 2008). On the other hand, Obama may very well be able to help in several Senate races that could determine the control of that chamber -- California, Pennsylvania (Philly), and Washington state, thanks to the fact his numbers are holding up with urban and minority voters.

*** Obama’s day: At 10:50 am ET, President Obama holds a meeting with a bipartisan group of senators to discuss energy/climate change legislation (which some are more pessimistic about every day, by the way). In the early afternoon, he meets and has lunch with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah. And then at 3:40 pm ET, he visits with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus -- in what appears to be his second conversation in two days on the issue of immigration. Yesterday, after meeting with immigration-reform advocates, Obama said that he would soon deliver a speech on immigration. Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden today is headed to the Gulf to inspect the oil spill; he visits New Orleans and Pensacola.

*** Byrd, Rockefeller, Manchin, and ideology: When you think about it, it’s striking how much more liberal Robert Byrd was -- and Jay Rockefeller currently is -- than much of the rest of West Virginia, where John McCain won 56% of the vote in 2008. And if Gov. Joe Manchin (D) eventually runs for Byrd’s seat in 2012, and wins the race, he’s going to be much more conservative than those two men, a la Mark Pryor and Mary Landrieu. Still, it’s a trade that many Democrats would probably make in a state that’s not necessarily trending Democratic. Bottom line: Don't expect Manchin's caretaker pick to be someone with the ideology of Rockefeller or Byrd, but someone who is more of a conservative Dem. And this person might not be as open to a climate bill as Byrd had become late in life.

*** The next George LeMieux/Ted Kaufman? But before Manchin runs, he must find a replacement to fill the seat through 2012. Yesterday, West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant announced that the state would hold its election to fill Robert Byrd's Senate seat in 2012, not 2010. In 2012, there will be two different elections for the seat: 1) for the full six-year term, and 2) to fill the unexpired five weeks of the term that ends in Jan. 2013. Manchin has ruled out that he would appoint himself. But if he wants to run for the seat in 2012, he probably will pull a Charlie Crist or Joe Biden/Ruth Ann Minner and appoint a caretaker. Some of the possible appointees: former state Democratic Party Chairman Nick Casey, current Democratic Party Chairman Larry Puccio, state Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, former Gov. Gaston Caperton, and former Gov. Bob Wise.

*** More midterm news: In Illinois, embattled GOP Senate nominee Mark Kirk will finally address reporters today at a hotel in Northbrook. "Kirk will lay out the contrast in the race and the choice between his record and Alexi Giannoulias's, speak to the big issues confronting the state of Illinois … and acknowledge mistakes that have been made concerning his record," a Kirk strategist told Politico… In Ohio, a new Quinnipiac poll shows Gov. Ted Strickland (D) leading John Kasich (R) by five points (43%-38%) in that state’s gubernatorial contest, though Strickland is well below 50%.

Countdown to AL run-off: 14 days
Countdown to GA primary: 21 days
Countdown to OK primary: 28 days
Countdown to KS and MO primaries: 35 days
Countdown to CO and CT primaries: 42 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 126 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.