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First Thoughts: Unity at last

NBC/WSJ poll shows the country is united at last -- against the deficit-reduction proposals… Other findings in the poll: The country is pleased by the midterm results, but doesn’t think they’ll produce real change… Obama’s standing and attitudes about the economy improve… Divided on what to do with the Bush tax cuts, while 50% want gays to openly serve in the military… And a majority want Congress to take the lead in setting policy… Other news today: Gitmo politics erupts again… GM’s big IPO… Congressional Dems (sans their GOP counterparts) meet with Obama at 10:45 am ET… AP calls Murkowski’s apparent win a “poke in the eye” to Palin… And previewing the second (and final) day of the RGA meeting in San Diego.

*** Unity at last -- against the deficit-reduction proposals: Want to know why the Bowles-Simpson, Domenici-Rivlin, or Schakowsky plans to reduce the deficit/debt are unlikely to go anywhere? Just look at these results from our new NBC/WSJ poll. While 66% of voters in the survey say cutting spending was a "major" reason in their support of a candidate in the midterms, a whopping 70% of adults say they are uncomfortable with cuts to Medicare, Social Security, and defense programs -- which just happen to be the biggest sources of federal spending. Another 59% say they're uncomfortable about raising taxes (on gasoline, for example) or changing the tax code (like eliminating deductions on home mortgages) to reduce the deficit. And another 57% are uncomfortable about raising the Social Security retirement age to 69 by 2075 to reduce the deficit. Said NBC/WSJ co-pollster Bill McInturff (R): “We found a way to unite everybody -- which is producing a deficit commission that managed to irritate every different political constituency.” What was even more amazing about this data: Fully 36% of EVERYONE we surveyed said they were uncomfortable on all THREE facets of the debt commission proposals. Nearly half of that 36% are African-American (46%) and the other half, self-described conservatives (46%).

*** Pleased about the midterm results, but pessimistic that change is going to come: The poll also shows a combined 61% of adults feel "very positive" or "somewhat positive" about the election results, from which Republicans gained control of the House and picked up seats in the Senate. In addition, 68% of those who participated in the midterms say their vote was more about hoping to change things over the next two years, versus 17% who say it was more about opposing things from the last two years. On the other hand, a combined 73% believe the elections will produce "just some change" or "not that much change," compared with only 22% who think they will spur "a great deal" or "quite a bit" of change. And three-quarters (76%) believe next year will be a period of division and disagreement on Capitol Hill, even though plurality (47%) wants the candidates they elected to make compromises. Said NBC/WSJ co-pollster Peter Hart (D): “Americans want to hit the Washington reset button, but they’re skeptical cooperation can replace combat and that progress can supplant gridlock.”

*** We're back to May: Another set of findings from the NBC/WSJ poll is that attitudes about the White House and the economy have largely returned to where they were in May, before the impact of the BP spill was felt and before the Greek debt crisis turned into big problems for the administration. Obama's approval/disapproval stands at 47%-47%, which is the first time since May when his job-approval hasn't been a net-negative. Also, his fav/unfav crept up to 49%-39%, which is nearly identical to where it was in early May. And the percentage believing the economy will improve in the next 12 months (37%) is the highest since May (when 40% said that). Perhaps the biggest news in the poll as it relates to 2012: 60% say the worst of the recession is behind us, which is up 15 points from August. A more optimistic public is very good news for both Team Obama and the new Republican majority in the House...

*** On the Bush tax cuts and DADT: Also in the poll, the country is divided on what to do with the expiring Bush tax cuts. A plurality of 39% share the president's position and want to eliminate the cuts for those earning more than $250,000 but keep them for everyone else, and another 10% want to eliminate all the Bush tax cuts. That's compared with 23% who share the position of many House Republicans who want keep the tax cuts for everyone permanently, and another 23% who want to keep all the tax cuts in place for just one to three years (the position of some moderate Democratic senators). To put in simpler terms: 49% of respondents picked an answer that would eliminate tax cuts for the wealthy, and 46% in our survey picked a position that would KEEP the tax cuts for everyone, at least temporarily. And for the first time in our poll, support for allowing gays to openly serve in the military is 50%, which is up 10 points from when this question was asked in 2000. Meanwhile, 38% favor allowing them to serve under the current DADT policy, which is up four points from 10 years ago. And 10% oppose allowing gays to serve at all, down 12 points.

*** Other odds and ends in the poll: Nancy Pelosi’s fav/unfav is 24%-48% (and among indies, it’s 7%-57%)… Only a quarter of the public thinks Sarah Palin and the Republican Party represent the values of the middle class either “very well” or “fairly well,” versus 44% who say that of Obama and 36% who say it of the Democratic Party… And 52% say they want Congress to take the lead in setting policy for the country, compared with 39% who want Obama in charge. In Dec. 2006, 59% said they wanted Congress in charge, versus 21% who said Bush. And in Dec. 1994, 55% said they wanted Congress in charge, versus 31% who said Clinton.

*** Gitmo politics erupts again: The politics of Gitmo had remained dormant over the past several months, but they erupted once again yesterday. "The mixed verdict in the case of the first Guantánamo detainee to be tried in a civilian court on Wednesday quickly re-ignited a fierce debate over the Obama administration’s effort to restore the role of the traditional criminal justice system in handling terrorism prosecutions," the New York Times writes. "Ahmed Ghailani will face between 20 years and life in prison as a result of his conviction on one charge related to the 1998 embassy bombings in Africa. But because a jury acquitted him on more than 280 other charges -- including every count of murder -- critics of the Obama administration’s strategy on detainees said the verdict proved that civilian courts could not be trusted to handle the prosecution of Al Qaeda terrorists." Forget the Obama pledge to close GITMO in his first year or first term. Can the president keep the GITMO promise in eight years? The politics of GITMO may have taken a dramatic turn away from the Democrats thanks to this result.

*** GM’s big IPO: This, however, is a much better story today for the Obama administration: “General Motors Co. is on pace to sell $18.1 billion in shares in what likely will be the second-largest U.S. initial public offering ever, capping a remarkable two-year turnaround in which the car maker went from begging for a government bailout to posting its first steady profits in more than six years,” the Wall Street Journal says. “The proceeds will help pay back the U.S. government for the $49.5 billion it spent on its controversial rescue of GM, which has gone from losing billions of dollars a year to making $4.07 billion so far in 2010.”

*** Obama’s day: Today was supposed to be the day when the president wanted to host a bipartisan meeting with Congressional leaders but Republican leaders wanted to reschedule to Nov. 30. Democrats are keeping their meeting with the president. The meeting takes place at 10:45 am ET. Before that, at 10:00 am ET, Obama drops by a meeting to discuss the new START treaty. And later this evening, he departs for another overseas trip to Lisbon, Portugal.

*** “Poke in the eye” to Palin: The AP writes that Lisa Murkowski’s apparent victory yesterday “was a political poke in the eye” to Sarah Palin. The reason: Palin “and her husband, Todd, invested far more time and money for Joe Miller” than any other candidate and Miller losing to a write-in candidate really “was a rebuke for Palin on her home turf by voters who know her best” and “an embarrassment as Palin considers a White House bid.” Here's another way to look at it: These elections taught us what we already knew -- that Palin wields influence in Republican primaries, but that it is limited beyond a fairly narrow base, even in her home state.

*** Showing off the GOP’s new stars and diversity: Day One at the Republican Governors Association meeting in San Diego yesterday was all about showcasing the star potential -- and diversity -- of the GOP governors-elect who won their contests earlier this month. The first open-press event, entitled “The new face of the GOP,” featured Govs.-elect Tom Corbett (PA), Nikki Haley (SC), John Kasich (OH), Susana Martinez (NM), and Brian Sandoval. And a later press conference, led by Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, featured Haley, Martinez, and Mary Fallin (OK), all of whom will be the first female governor of their respective states. On today’s agenda, there’s a 1:00 pm ET session, entitled “Good policy = good politics,” with remarks by Govs. Haley Barbour (MS), Bobby Jindal (LA), Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels (IN), Bob McDonnell (VA), and Chris Christie (NJ). Then, beginning at 2:30 pm ET, there’s another session, “Saving America,” with speeches by Newt Gingrich, Fed-Ex’s Fred Smith, and others.

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