House and Senate buy two more weeks, but then what? … White House and Senate Dems have a failure to communicate… It’s NBC/WSJ poll day… Pragmatism vs. centrism and Obama’s event with Jeb Bush on Friday… Afghanistan and the GOP… The RNC goes up with ad in Wisconsin… Team Newt’s mixed signals… Huckabee’s incorrect statement about Kenya… Barbour addresses U.S. Chamber of Commerce… And Kerry and Lieberman to appear on “Andrea Mitchell Reports.”
From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Buying two more weeks: Circle March 18 on your calendars, because it will be the next deadline in the Republican-vs.-Democrat spending showdown on Capitol Hill. Yesterday, per NBC’s Shawna Thomas and Kelly O’Donnell, the House passed its short-term continuing resolution (containing $4 billion in cuts) to extend government funding for two weeks, which will expire on March 18. The vote was 335-91, with 85 Dems and six GOPers voting no. And today at 11:00 am ET, the Senate will take up the same measure. Once it passes, it will go to President Obama’s desk for his signature. And then … we’ll start this process over again. But this time, the burden shifts to Senate Democrats to come up with a plan to fund the government over the rest of the year. The House has already presented two plans -- 1) this two-week stopgap and 2) broader legislation containing $61 billion in cuts. Also, the New York Times reports that “one senior Senate Republican official predicted ... that at least one more temporary budget bill was in the cards before any final agreement.”
*** What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate: Yet here’s what we’ve learned this week: The White House and Senate Democrats don’t seem to be communicating well. This came out after the Obama White House floated an idea for a four-week continuing resolution. House Republicans complained that they heard about the request too late to do anything about, while the White House has claimed they've been involved in the process (though have been careful NOT to say they've been involved in the negotiations). No one will say for the record why the president called Speaker Boehner before the House vote yesterday. But here are a few questions worth asking: Was it the president asking the speaker for more time to develop a four-week CR? Was it the president trying to clear up confusion in communications between the Senate Dem leadership and the House GOP leadership? Here's what we do know: The call happened at lunchtime, and the House Republicans voted for the CR about three hours later. And we also know the communication between the White House and Senate Democrats was not great during the lame duck session, in particular, with Sen. Chuck Schumer. Draw your own conclusions.
*** NBC/WSJ poll day! What does the American public think about a government shutdown? Whom would they blame if it happens? Tune in to NBC Nightly News, or click on to MSNBC.com, beginning at 6:30 pm ET for the results from our new NBC/WSJ poll, which also will contain numbers on Obama’s standing and the 2012 race.
*** Pragmatism vs. centrism: We agree with the analysis that President Obama hasn’t really moved from the left (where he was in 2009-2010) to the center (for 2011-2012); instead, he’s pretty much been in the same ideological place. But what Obama has done is emphasize -- as we head into 2012 -- that he’s a pragmatist. It’s why he said he’s seeking to eliminate unnecessary regulations. It’s why he spoke at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. And it’s why, on Friday, he’ll meet with Jeb Bush to discuss education. There’s a difference between pragmatism and centrism. Reagan attempted the same balance, as did Bush 43. Clinton was more of a centrist from the beginning, so his shift was easier to sell at the time.
*** Afghanistan and the GOP: You know the sayings, “You never play poker against someone whose first name is a U.S. city,” and, “You never fight a land war in Asia.” Interestingly, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who also served under George W. Bush during the Iraq surge, made the latter point -- and more -- in a speech he gave at West Point last week. “Any future Defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should 'have his head examined,' as General [Douglas] MacArthur so delicately put it.” It was a similar line that got then-RNC Chair Michael Steele in trouble. And, privately, we’ve recently heard other prominent Republicans express doubts about Afghanistan. In our January NBC/WSJ poll, only a combined 31% of Republicans want U.S. troops to leave Afghanistan now or removed beginning on the July 2011 timetable (versus a combined 52% of Democrats). Republicans right now are the ones who are propping up the poll numbers in support of Afghanistan, but if they begin to start questioning the war…At a minimum, Gates' rather blunt remarks (which have been left open to interpretation by folks with their own agendas) haven't started a HIGH-profile debate about the war just yet, but they still might. Reminder: Later this month, Gen. Petraeus comes to Washington to update Congress on the war.
*** The RNC goes up in Wisconsin: The Republican National Committee now becomes the second national GOP party committee to air a TV ad in Wisconsin’s budget standoff. An RNC spokesperson says that the ad will air in Madison and Milwaukee for the rest of the week. (However, it doesn’t appear it’s as large of a buy as the RGA’s.)
*** Team Newt’s mixed signals: The bad news for Newt Gingrich: It appears that his team isn’t on the same page about his presidential announcement. The good news: Joe Biden proved that you can begin your campaign with rocky start and still be the VP pick. Yesterday, news organizations -- though not NBC News, despite making every effort to confirm it (but was repeatedly told they would NOT confirm the "explore" aspect of the story -- reported that Gingrich would announce the formation of his exploratory committee on Thursday in a media avail with Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R). Gingrich adviser Joe Gaylord told the Des Moines Register, “You can’t say that this is tantamount to an announcement of candidacy. It is the announcement of an exploratory committee that says, ‘Is it really feasible for me to do this? And let me check this out in the next six or seven weeks, because I want to find out if it’s real before I do it.’” Then, last night, Gingrich’s top spokesman sent this clarification: “To be clear, while Speaker Gingrich is in Georgia on Thursday, he will NOT announce the formation of an exploratory committee.”
*** Exploratory phase vs. exploratory committee? So what the heck is going on? Politico has a smart answer: It comes down to semantics. Gingrich might tell reporters that he’s “intending” to announce his presidential bid or that he’s entering an exploratory “phase.” Politico writes, “Untangling the web of business and political groups Gingrich is involved in has proven complicated and he’s not in a position just yet to take a more formal step toward running.” Remember, the SECOND you file a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission, you are legally a candidate for president. There is no such thing as an "exploratory committee." That said, you can "test the waters," but that's a longer explanation and one that DOES allow a presidential candidate to avoid being called a candidate and, say, violating a business contract. One thing is for sure, though: Newt will get a fair share of media attention on Thursday, no matter what he says.
*** Huck’s incorrect statement: All the attention Mike Huckabee received yesterday for stating -- incorrectly -- that Obama grew up in Kenya and is a reminder that presidential scrutiny is a different kind of scrutiny. (Remember when John McCain had to denounce folks for referring to Obama as “Hussein”?) That’s why conservative talk radio’s obsession with Kenya or Obama’s birth certificate is a potential tripwire for any Republican running for president. A Huckabee spokesperson later said that the former Arkansas governor misspoke and meant Indonesia, not Kenya. (But if Huck meant Indonesia, why did he talk about British colonialism in that radio interview? The Dutch were the colonialists in Indonesia.)
*** 2012 watch: Huckabee will be promoting his book in Tulsa and Edmond, OK, while Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour speaks before the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in DC.
*** Programming note: Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I) will discuss the situation in Libya on “Andrea Mitchell Reports,” which begins at 1:00 pm ET.
Countdown to continuing resolution’s expiration: 2 days
Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 163 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 251 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 341 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up