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First Thoughts: External affairs

The Egypt story is yet another reminder how external events can knock the White House off course… Obama sits down for YouTube interview at 2:30 pm ET, and holds monthly Af-Pak meeting before that… Obama’s Reagan role model… Bachmann’s near “You lie” moment… Romney blasts Obama… And Daniels watches college hoops instead of the State of the Union.

Egyptian riot police clash with anti-government activists in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday. Egyptian anti-government activists clashed with police for a second day in defiance of an official ban on any protests but beefed up police forces on the streets quickly moved in and used tear gas and beatings to disperse demonstrations.


*** External affairs: Just when the Obama White House feels it can focus on selling its State of the Union message -- just note how many times Obama talked about “winning the future” in Wisconsin (on top of the 10 references in the SOTU itself) -- comes another reminder that external events always have the potential of interrupting those plans. That reminder: the political unrest in the Middle East. “The Egyptian government intensified efforts to crush a fresh wave of protests on Wednesday, banning public gatherings, detaining hundreds of people and sending police officers to scatter protesters who defied the ban and demanded an end to the government of President Hosni Mubarak,” the New York Times writes. Egypt has yet to become an all-consuming story (the way the BP spill was, for example), but it easily could. There might not be a more important Arab ally to the U.S. and to Israel. And of course, if Mubarak falls, then who's next? The King of Jordan? The King of Saudi Arabia? Bottom line: This is a reminder how events always have the potential to change the story, and knock the White House off its planned focus on the economy. 

In this screen capture, President Obama is seen live on the White House YouTube channel last year answering video and text questions. He will take part in a YouTube interview today.

*** Obama’s actual YouTube moment: Two days after his State of the Union address, President Obama will surely try to advance his winning-the-future message when he participates in a YouTube interview at 2:30 pm ET. And with the Dow flirting with 12,000, it should give him something to use to sell the idea that we're in a more stable position for Phase 2 of the recovery. Vice President Biden will be participating in a similar interview with Yahoo that will air tomorrow. Earlier in the day, at 11:00 am, Obama and Biden will hold their monthly meeting on Afghanistan and Pakistan. By the way, we could have a new White House press secretary (along with a handful of final senior staff announcements) announced today, though due to the weather issues in D.C., that announcement could be delayed until tomorrow.

*** The Reagan role model: It’s always been clear that Barack Obama has admired Ronald Reagan’s presidency -- though not necessarily his policies -- whether it was during his primary battle against Hillary Clinton, with him reading a Reagan biography over Christmas, or even Tuesday’s “shining city on a hill”-like State of the Union. And the latest issue of Time magazine picks up on this theme. “At a glance, it's hard to imagine a President who had less in common with Reagan than the Ivy League lawyer from Hawaii who seeks larger federal investments, a bigger social safety net and new regulations for Wall Street and Big Oil. But under the surface, there is no mistaking Obama's increasing reliance on his predecessor's career as a helpful template for his own.”

*** Changing the trajectory in American politics: Beyond wanting to follow Reagan’s political script -- the president, during high unemployment, takes a beating in the midterm but then wins re-election as the economy improves -- Obama has been interested in the way in which Reagan’s presidency changed American politics. "I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that, you know, Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not," Obama said during his primary campaign. Writes Time: “No one was unclear about Reagan's guiding philosophy: ‘Government is the problem,’ he declared on his Inauguration Day, and by then he had been saying it for nearly 20 years. Obama's is more complex. He wants to reset the public's attitude toward government, reverse 30 years of skepticism and mistrust and usher in a new era in which government solutions are again seen as part of the answer to the nation's ills.” So far, though, that push hasn’t been successful.

*** Bachmann’s near “You lie” moment at the State of the Union? Bloomberg News: "It wasn’t exactly a 'you lie' moment, though on a night designed to showcase bipartisan civility Representative Michele Bachmann had a few choice words for President Barack Obama. 'He’s absolutely shameless,' the Minnesota Republican could be seen saying to her seatmate, Representative Jean Schmidt, an Ohio Republican, according to a video taken in the U.S. House chamber during Obama’s State of the Union address two nights ago. Bachmann, 54, who later gave a televised response to the president on behalf of the Tea Party Express, turned back to face Obama and repeated, 'Absolutely shameless!' She spoke as the president was saying the government should balance its budget more like average American families."

*** Romney blasts Obama on FOX: Turning to the emerging 2012 presidential race, Mitt Romney last night took a shot at Obama on FOX. “He’s trying awfully hard,” Romney said of the president, per the Boston Globe. “The problem is, he just doesn’t know what to do.” Romney also said “it was important for the field to have a businessman,’ the Globe continues. “’I don’t know who all is going to get in the race, but I do believe that it would be helpful if at least one of the people who’s running in the Republican field had extensive experience in the private sector – in small business, in big business,’ he said.”

*** Daniels picks college hoops over the State of the Union: As we’ve written before, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has given many mixed signals about his White House intentions. On the one hand, he’s made it clear that his family isn’t interested with the scrutiny that comes with a presidential campaign. On the other hand, Daniels has worked to increase his national profile. Well, file this under the he-probably-won’t-run column: While touring a middle school yesterday, Daniels admitted to a reporter that he hadn’t watched President Obama give the State of the Union address, opting rather to watch the Purdue-Ohio State basketball game. “You caught me. I didn’t watch it. I was watching the Purdue game as long as it was watchable,” he said.

Countdown Chicago’s mayoral election: 26 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 285 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 375 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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