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First Thoughts: Balancing act

The balancing act with the unrest in Egypt… Don’t forget Obama’s June 4, 2009 Cairo speech… The White House’s quick jobs pivot vs. the GOP’s slow one… Obama to deliver guns speech soon?... Bill Daley jokingly refers to Huntsman as the “Manchurian Candidate”… If Huntsman is planning to run, doesn’t he need to resign his ambassadorship -- now?... And watch Huntsman vs. Romney… Hatch still remains a top conservative target… DCCC gets off to an early start… And speaking of early, early voting begins today in Chicago’s mayoral race.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Balancing act: As the protests continue in Egypt, the Obama administration has been struggling to stay ahead of events and prepare for any possible outcome. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took to the airwaves Sunday to say the U.S. wants to see change -- now. "We have a very clear message: Long-term stability rests on responding to the legitimate needs of the Egyptian people, and that is what we want to see happen," she said yesterday on "Meet the Press." President Obama spent the weekend conferring with key allies in the region, including Israel, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. But he and his national security team have a clear challenge how to avoid abandoning a longtime ally, Hosni Mubarak, while at the same time trying to push him harder. Keeping some line of communication open with Mubarak is important if there is ANY chance the U.S. can still have influence on him to, for instance, call for elections and perhaps resign or pledge to resign.

*** Remembering the Cairo speech: Don’t forget: It was almost two years ago when Obama used Cairo as a setting to push the Muslim world toward democracy. “Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away,” Obama said in his June 4, 2009 speech. “Government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who hold power. You must maintain your power through consent, not coercion.” Cairo was in lock down during the president's visit; in hindsight, one wonders if it was almost suppression like to prevent any organized protests at the time. The story now turns to Israel. New York Times: “The street revolt in Egypt has thrown the Israeli government and military into turmoil, with top officials closeted in round-the-clock strategy sessions aimed at rethinking their most significant regional relationship.” Keep in mind, Egypt has been charged with keeping arms out of Gaza.

*** The quick jobs pivot: Turning to domestic politics, the White House has quickly pivoted to jobs after the president’s State of the Union -- even if it’s being overshadowed by the situation in Egypt. This week, the Obama administration will be holding several events tied to Obama’s call for innovation. And today, the White House is launching what it calls “Startup America” -- an effort to promote entrepreneurship across the country. Also today, Senate Democrats are holding a conference call to push for reauthorization of the nation’s aviation/airport programs, which they’re calling “the first jobs bill of the 112th Congress.” But as we’ve noted before, it’s striking how congressional Republicans haven’t made this pivot yet. There two big pushes this month (health care repeal and spending cuts) are, they argue, related to the jobs issue. But is that what the public in the middle of the electorate is hearing, or is it just the GOP base listening to that argument?

*** The Guns of February? Over the weekend, the New York Times reported that President Obama is expected to deliver a speech on the topic of guns -- in the wake of the Tucson shootings. “Mr. Obama,” the Times wrote, “has come under increased pressure to speak out from gun-control advocates, including urban Democrats in Congress and liberal activists and editorial writers. They would like him to at least support a bill that would restore an expired federal ban on the sort of high-capacity ammunition magazine that was used in the Jan. 8 shootings.” The question is whether such a speech would conflict with Obama’s attention on the center and independents, especially since any gun-control legislation likely won’t pass Congress with Republicans in charge of the House.

*** Obama on guns and gun control: It’s worth noting that Obama never staked much his presidential campaign on the issue of guns or gun control; in fact, he never mentioned the word “gun” in his presidential kick-off speech. But when he did talk about guns, he always stressed that gun-control measures that work for an urban city (like New York City) might not apply to a rural area (like Cheyenne). As Obama said in his 2008 convention speech, “The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than for those plagued by gang-violence in Cleveland, but don’t tell me we can’t uphold the 2nd Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals.” 

Jon Huntsman Jr., Ambassador of the United States to China and former Republican governor of Utah, is seen at a forum in Beijing, China in December.

*** The “Manchurian Candidate”? On Friday, we told you that a presidential bid by former Utah Gov. (and current U.S. ambassador to China) Jon Huntsman seems like a very real possibility. And today, Politico says that the Obama White House is bracing for a Huntsman run, and that a Huntsman PAC -- called Horizon PAC -- has been set up and is being led by Rick Scott’s ’10 campaign manager. Don’t miss this Politico anecdote from a Saturday off-the-record dinner, where Huntsman was present: “‘It’s also good to see Jon Huntsman, our ambassador to China,” [White House Chief of Staff Bill] Daley said, according to a source in the room. ‘Or as we call him around the White House: the Manchurian Candidate. I want Jon to know that the president has no hard feelings. In fact, he just did an interview with the Tea Party Express saying how integral he has been to the success of the Obama administration.’” Ouch.

*** How does Huntsman out-anti-Obama the others? If Huntsman really wants to run for president in 2012, doesn’t he have to resign his post right now (instead of this spring, as Politico speculates)? And doesn’t he have to announce his resignation in a blaze of glory? As the Atlantic’s James Fallows asked earlier this year in a post pooh-poohing the idea that Huntsman might run. “How exactly is he going to out-anti-Obama anyone else in the field, given that he has served Obama (and, yes, the country) so loyally?... What is the issue of principle so important that it compels him to challenge Obama's continuation in office, but has not justified any disagreement while he's serving now?” The White House had only expected Huntsman to serve for two years as ambassador, so if he leaves in the spring that would be close to that timetable.

*** Huntsman vs. Romney: While a Huntsman bid creates the obvious Huntsman-vs.-Obama drama, there’s also this conflict: Huntsman vs. Romney. If both men run, not only would there be two Mormons in the GOP race -- but also two men from VERY prominent Mormon families. How does that impact Nevada, a state Romney won in 2008 that has a sizable LDS population? And remember: In ’08, Huntsman backed McCain, not Romney (though Huntsman father backed Romney). There’s something more here…


Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah on Capitol Hill in Washington.

*** Hatch remains a prime target: Last week, we told you that the Tea Party Express’ Sal Russo said he wouldn’t be targeting Orrin Hatch. But Russo’s comments “were later ‘clarified’ by the group's chairwoman, Amy Kremer, who said that while Hatch is a ‘very kind and decent man ... he has also been a politician who has at times gone with the will of the entrenched political establishment instead of the will of the voters of his state,’” the Salt Lake Tribune reported. And Roll Call notes that the Club for Growth -- which targeted and helped defeat Sen. Bob Bennett last year – released this statement: “Orrin Hatch has done some good things over the decades, but six term incumbents who vote for [the Troubled Asset Relief Program], the Bridge to Nowhere, the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac bailout, [the State Children’s Health Insurance Program], and higher taxes are quite clearly not ‘as good as it gets.’”

*** Talk about an early start: Today, the DCCC announced it’s launching a “Drive to 25” campaign -- consisting of radio and Web ads and targeted phone calls -- targeted 19 House Republicans. Here’s the script of one ad: “Here in Central New York the recession is still hitting hard, good job openings are really scarce. So it was good to hear President Obama’s plan to make the economy work for the middle class again. Invest in education to train our children for the jobs of the future, maintain America’s lead in technology with more research and development, and reduce the deficit with an overall budget freeze. That plan makes a lot of sense. But Congresswoman Ann Marie Buerkle supports a plan in Congress that would cut education by 40 percent. And her plan would cut science and technology research by 40%, too.” Folks, this is very, very early in the cycle…

*** And an early start in Chicago: And speaking of early, early voting begins today in Chicago’s mayoral race. The election is on Feb. 22.

Countdown Chicago’s mayoral election: 22 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 281 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 371 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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