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First Thoughts: Watching and waiting

White House is reduced to spectator watching today’s protest in Egypt… Domino effect reaches Jordan: King Abdullah asks for a new cabinet… Have the country’s federal courts become as partisan as the halls of Congress?... On judicial activism and political P.R…. It looks like it’s going to be Tester vs. Rehberg in Montana’s Senate race… And Mitt Romney’s big media day.

AP

Demonstrators hold banners in Tahrir, or Liberation, Square in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Watching and waiting: Right now, the Obama White House has been reduced to a spectator watching today’s rally/protest in Egypt. As the New York Times puts it, “more than one hundred thousand people crammed into Cairo’s vast Tahrir Square on Tuesday, seeking to muster a million protesters demanding the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. Their mood was jubilant, as though they had achieved their goals, even though Mr. Mubarak remained in power a day after the Egyptian military emboldened the protesters by saying they would not use force against them.” The biggest development on the U.S. side of things is that the White House, per a senior administration official, has dispatched former Ambassador Frank Wisner to go back to Cairo to consult with the Egyptian government on its behalf. So Wisner is the point of contact between the White House and Mubarak’s government and any potential "orderly transition," as Secretary of State Clinton put it Sunday.

*** The Domino effect reaches Jordan? And now NBC'S Moufaq Khatib in Amman has confirmed this Reuters report: “Close U.S ally Jordan's King Abdullah on Tuesday asked his former ex-military adviser Marouf Bakhit to form a new cabinet, an official said. The official said the monarch officially accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Samir Rifai, a wealthy politician and former court adviser, and asked Bakhit to form a new government.” Does this simply buy the King time, or will this have to be the first in a series of moves? And who's next? Yemen? Saudi Arabia? Syria?

AP

Senior U.S. District judge Roger Vinson in a May 2007 photo. Vinson declared the Obama administration's health care overhaul unconstitutional on January 31st.

*** On judicial partisanship: The most striking conclusion from the court rulings on the health-care law is that some of the country’s federal courts are almost as partisan as the halls of Congress. So far, two federal judges -- appointed by a Democratic president -- have found the law’s individual mandate constitutional, while two other judges -- appointed by Republicans -- have disagreed. In fact, yesterday’s ruling by Roger Vinson, a Reagan appointee, went as far as saying the entire law is unconstitutional. Of course, accusations of judicial partisanship are nothing new (see: Bush vs. Gore or even the overturned Illinois appellate ruling on Rahm Emanuel’s residency). As Politics Daily’s Jill Lawrence observes, “The ruling Monday … fuels the impression of a policy debate devolving into an ideological standoff in the courts. If the Supreme Court strikes down the law, it will be hard to escape the conclusion that elections have few consequences other than who a president puts on the bench.”

*** On judicial activism and political P.R.: By the way, we surely aren’t the only ones who’ve noticed that the folks who often complain the loudest about judicial activism celebrated yesterday’s court ruling. But the definition of judicial activism is a judge overturning decades of precedent -- whether it’s broad interpretations of the Commerce Clause or campaign finance -- on laws passed by elected representatives. (And, of course, one person's judicial activism is another person's strict constructionism.) But it’s also pretty clear that the Obama White House has a P.R. challenge on its hands. Just see these newspaper headlines (here, here, and here). Team Obama knew this lower-court decision was coming, but didn’t try to discredit it as politics before the ruling came out. And we can report that Senate Minority Leader McConnell is going to use the ruling as momentum to have a vote (even if it's a procedural motion) on repealing the health law perhaps in the next few weeks.

*** What’s next? In the short term, it appears the Obama administration is going to be forced to ask for some sort of stay in the Vinson ruling, because of the argument he made that appears would remove Florida -- and the other state plaintiffs -- from the law's jurisdiction. Don't be surprised if the 11th Circuit is asked to do this. And then, of course, at some point, the Supreme Court is going to have to rule. NBC's Pete Williams says it's unlikely the high court could hear it THIS term, so perhaps next year (in the run-up to the presidential election?). By the way, spend some time reading Vinson's ruling; he takes on the issue and powers of the Commerce Clause in a very accessible way. It's one thing for the Obama administration to lose this court case; it's another for their opponents to find a judge who makes the best argument to date against the use of the Commerce Clause, specifically on the issue of economic INACTIVITY. Then again, this inactivity argument wasn’t even in the mainstream of legal thought until the health law passed…

*** Tester vs. Rehberg: Per Roll Call, Montana Rep. Denny Rehberg (R), the state’s lone congressman, will announce on Saturday that he’s challenging Sen. Jon Tester (D). “It’s happening Saturday,” a knowledgeable Montana GOP political operative told the Capitol Hill newspaper. “He’s running. There is a lot of support and enthusiasm back home, and Denny knows he can win.” Rehberg’s entry will undoubtedly set up one of the more competitive Senate contests of the 2012 cycle. It’s also another coup for John Cornyn’s NRSC, which has recruited top challengers in Nebraska (Jon Bruning) and Virginia (George Allen). This will be a toss-up to the end, pure and simple. By the way, the opening of the Rehberg House seat does give Democrats a shot at a pickup if they find a decent recruit. Montana is a MUCH more competitive state between the two parties than folks may realize. It seems as if no party ever holds every major office in the state at the same time.

Former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney is seen in Dallas in this November photo.

*** Mitt’s big day: While Mitt Romney has kept a relatively low profile the past few months, that changes today when he appears today on “The View,” CNN, and Letterman (where he unveils the daily Top 10 list). A Romney adviser tells First Read that this mini-PR blitz is tied to the paperback release of Romney’s book, “No Apology.” In other 2012 news, Rick Santorum is in New Hampshire… Tim Pawlenty is in Georgia on his book tour… And Newt Gingrich and Howard Dean debate at 7:00 pm ET at George Washington University.

*** Romney criticizes federal health law: By the way, Romney already appeared on ABC this morning, saying that President Obama’s needs “to ‘press the pause button’ on the federal health care overhaul in the wake of a judge's decision declaring it unconstitutional,” the AP writes. Romney said, "We don't need the government imposing a one-size-fits-all system" on the states. But “Romney acknowledged that his own health care law in Massachusetts contained the same kind of individual insurance mandate that a judge in Florida found unconstitutional in the federal law, but says he isn't apologizing for it.”

Countdown Chicago’s mayoral election: 21 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 280 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 370 days

* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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