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First thoughts: Bush vs. Obama, by proxy

“Meet the Press” turns into Bush vs. Obama, by proxy… Question for Republicans: Where’s the beef?... Examining the GOP’s checks-and-balances argument… What to watch for this week… Obama, at 10:30 am ET, to slam Senate Republicans for blocking the unemployment-benefit extension… NBC’s Andrea Mitchell interviews Hillary… McCain and Hayworth squared off in two debates over the weekend… Obama to stump for Giannoulias on Aug. 5… And Alvin Greene makes his first campaign appearance.

*** Bush vs. Obama, by proxy: Watching yesterday’s forum on “Meet the Press” -- featuring NRCC Chair Pete Sessions, NRSC Chair John Cornyn, DCCC Chair Chris Van Hollen and DSCC Chair Bob Menendez -- it appeared to be a Bush vs. Obama debate by proxy. Republicans blasted the Obama administration’s policies. “I think the public sees this as a long-term debt issue of big government, more spending,” Sessions said. Added Cornyn: “If there's one area where this administration has failed miserably, it's been in creating an environment where job creators will make those investments and create jobs and grow the economy.” On the other hand, here was Van Hollen: “During the whole eight years of the Bush administration, we actually lost over 600,000 private sector jobs…” And Menendez: “It's not just talking about President Bush; it's the policies that they espouse that are in essence Bush's policies. Those led us to a 72% percent increase in the debt from $5.7 trillion to $9.8 trillion when Bush left.”

*** Where’s the beef? But the biggest news that was made on “Meet” may have been what WASN’T said instead of what WAS. Over the course of several minutes, both Sessions and Cornyn were unable or unwilling to discuss what Republicans would specifically do on the deficit, etc., if they take back control of Congress. Sessions said that the GOP would: 1) ensure that the government live within its means, and 2) read the actual legislation. But when NBC’s David Gregory demanded specifics and details of painful choices Republicans were willing to make, Sessions didn’t offer a single one.

*** The GOP is waiting on Obama’s commission? When Gregory asked the same question to Cornyn -- what painful choices would you make to balance the budget? -- the senator replied, “Well, the president has a debt commission that reports December the 1st, and I think we'd all like to see what they come back with.” Gregory followed up with this: “But wait a minute, conservatives need a Democratic president's debt commission to figure out what it is they want to cut?” (Not only that, but as it turns out, many Republicans and several Democrats -- though Cornyn wasn’t one of them -- voted against Congress creating a similar task force on the debt/deficit. Obama then was forced to create the current commission via an executive order.) One of the critiques many are making of the GOP is that, unlike in ’94, the party isn't offering new ideas or fresh faces if they take back control of Congress.

*** The checks-and-balances argument: But do they need to? Perhaps the strongest argument the GOP made on “Meet” was this: Republicans in control of Congress will be a check and balance on the Obama White House. “I think what people are looking for … are checks and balances,” Cornyn said. “They've had single party government, and it's scaring the living daylights out of them.” As it turns out, our NBC/WSJ poll from May showed a whopping 62% preferring different parties controlling the White House and Congress. And as National Journal’s Ron Brownstein noted in his Friday column, that preference has played out over the last 40 years. “Since 1968, neither party has simultaneously controlled the White House and Congress for more than four consecutive years.” The "check" argument is most powerful with indie voters, who personally may have a favorable opinion of the president but have been disappointed in his policies. The "check" allows Republicans to make the pitch to a voter who isn't ready to give up on Obama's presidency but wants to send him a message.

*** What to watch for this week: It might be the middle of the summer, but this week is still packed with plenty of political activity. Tomorrow is primary day in Georgia, where there are competitive Dem and GOP primaries for governor. Tuesday also brings us the Senate Judiciary Committee vote on Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court nomination, as well as the swearing of new West Virginia Sen. Carte Goodwin (D). On Wednesday, Obama will sign into law the financial reform legislation that the Senate passed last week. And later this week, the liberal blogosphere confab, Netroots Nation, gets underway in Las Vegas.

*** Battling over unemployment benefits: Today, however, President Obama will call on Republicans to stop blocking legislation extending unemployment benefits when he delivers a statement from the White House at 10:30 am ET. “The President will tell the stories of Americans in need of the extension and he will have strong words for Republicans who have previously supported unemployment extensions under Republican presidents, but refuse to offer relief to middle class families today,” an administration official emails First Read. “And he will point out that they are calling for hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans while telling working families that we can’t afford to help them when they need it most.” Republicans respond that they’re opposing the measure because it will add to the deficit. “Democrats have refused over and over again to extend additional unemployment insurance in a way that won't add to an already unsustainable national debt,” says Mitch McConnell’s top spokesman.

*** Goodwin’s longer-than-expected stay? The Senate vote on extending the unemployment benefits is supposed to occur right after West Virginia’s Goodwin is sworn in on Tuesday. (And we know the outcome of the vote. After the swearing-in, Democrats will have their 60 votes; the two Maine Republicans have pledged to vote with 58 other Democrats; Nebraska's Ben Nelson is expected to vote with the majority of Republicans on this vote.) Yet it appears that Goodwin might be a senator longer than folks expect. Politico writes, “Legislation to schedule a special election to fill the vacant seat of the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) hit a major roadblock Sunday evening when West Virginia lawmakers adjourned without passing the bill. The failure to pass the bill in a special legislative session left in question when and how the state would schedule what is expected to be a late August special primary and November special general election for the seat.”

*** Hillary on Pakistan: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell interviewed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has been in Pakistan. In the interview, Clinton acknowledged frustration with Pakistan's efforts against Al Qaeda, saying elements in Pakistan's government know where Osama bin Laden is -- and could get him if they wanted to. “I think there is a bit of a debate going within certain elements of the Pakistani government… Our argument is very simple: ‘Look, you’ve got to take on every non-government armed force within your country, because even though you think they won’t bother you today, there’s no guarantee. It’s like keeping a poisonous snake in your back yard.”

*** The McCain-Hayworth debate(s): Turning to 2010 news, John McCain and J.D. Hayworth debated on Friday and Saturday. Here’s the New York Times’ write-up on the Friday night debate: “Mr. McCain was first out of the box, immediately criticizing Mr. Hayworth, a former congressman, for his 2007 infomercial in which he hawked seminars teaching people how they could get federal grant money for free.” The Times adds that Hayworth “taunted” McCain “with statements like ‘You’re not a statesman anymore, you’re a simply a political shape shifter,’ (in reference to Mr. McCain’s position on immigration) and ‘shame on you’ (in reference to Mr. McCain’s attack ads against him). Mr. McCain largely deflected the attacks with a smile, once countering, ‘there you go again’ and later ‘there he goes again.’”

*** McCain vs. … Obama? Politico notes, though, that many of McCain’s attacks were aimed not at Hayworth but at President Obama. “When Hayworth attacked him for supporting the 2008 bank bailout, McCain blasted the Obama administration for ‘committing generational theft.’ When he was accused of supporting amnesty for illegal immigrants, McCain repeatedly blamed Obama for failing to secure the border. On Afghanistan, the Arizona senator called Obama an ‘uncertain trumpet.’”

*** More midterms: In Colorado, GOP gubernatorial hopeful Scott McInnis is vowing to stay in the race, despite the plagiarism charges he’s facing… In Illinois, Obama will campaign for Alex Giannoulias on Aug. 5… In Ohio, John Kasich (R) is up on the air responding to Ted Strickland (D)… And in South Carolina, Alvin Greene (D) made his first campaign appearance, the AP says.

Countdown to GA primary: 1 day
Countdown to OK primary: 8 days
Countdown to KS and MO primaries: 15 days
Countdown to CO and CT primaries: 22 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 106 days

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