POLITICAL WIRE’S HEADLINES – 12/2

Afghanistan and Obama’s Approval Rate

Mark Blumenthal: “Will President Obama’s speech last night, announcing that he will send another 30,000 troops to Afghanistan now and start withdrawing American forces by July 201, turn public opinion in his favor? We will know better in a week or two, after Americans absorb the news and the usual suspects conduct another round of polls, but the short term prospects look bleak.”

But as the president reportedly told reporters yesterday: “I am painfully clear that this is politically unpopular. Not only is this not popular, but it’s least popular in my own party. But that’s not how I make decisions.”

Just 100 al-Qaeda Fighters in Afghanistan?

As he justified sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, President Obama’s description of the al-Qaeda “cancer” in that country “left out one key fact: U.S. intelligence officials have concluded there are only about 100 al-Qaeda fighters in the entire country.”

“A senior U.S. intelligence official told ABC News the approximate estimate of 100 al-Qaeda members left in Afghanistan reflects the conclusion of American intelligence agencies and the Department of Defense. The relatively small number was part of the intelligence passed on to the White House as President Obama conducted his deliberations.”

Bonus Quote of the Day

“Ideally, it would be better to pay for the war than not.”

— Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), quoted by The Hill.

Gay Marriage Up for Vote in New York

According to the Albany Times Union, the New York Senate “just put out a notice: yes they do plan to debate the same-sex marriage bill — passed again by the Assembly last night — today.”

Several analysts indicate Democrats have the votes to pass the measure and Gov. David Paterson has already pledged to sign the measure into law.

Gay marriage could be legal in New York by the end of the week.

Update: Watch the historic live debate here.

Read more…

So Much for Transparency

A few days ago we noted the House of Representatives finally put its quarterly expenditures online for anyone to see. However, Congress.org finds that “a vast array of details” are missing, “making it impossible to determine what much of the money was actually spent on.”

“As a result, while millions of Americans will for the first time be able to download and peruse the 3,400 pages detailing how Members spent their taxpayer-funded office accounts, they will no longer be able to see what items the Members purchased, which staffers were traveling on the taxpayer dime or where the Members are renting district offices.”

Is Gates the Most Influential Cabinet Member?

Mike Allen: “It didn’t leak, but 30,000 was the final number that Secretary Gates took to President Obama, in mid-October — a reminder that the Pentagon chief is the most influential member of the Cabinet, bar none. His argument with the president in this regard was dispositive. This gives POTUS an airtight alibi against claims that 30,000 is a triangulated, political number, not based on any specific brigade configuration… Plus if you’d gone the whole 40,000, you have no leverage over NATO to send more forces.”

How Republicans Hope to Tie Up the Senate

Roll Call notes that Senate Republicans “may not have the physical numbers to filibuster the Democrats’ health care reform bill, but they have wasted little time in using the Senate’s rules to their utmost advantage in their quest to trip up consideration of the measure.”

For instance, instead of offering a conventional amendment to the bill this week, Republicans used “an esoteric procedural tactic” that would send the bill back to committee with instructions to eliminate certain cuts. If successful, Republicans would force Democrats to “hold another filibuster-killing vote on whether to restart debate on the bill.”

“Republicans said they are likely to use the procedural tactic repeatedly during debate this month as they seek to make the point that the Senate should go back to the drawing board on the health care bill.”

Quote of the Day

“So if you’re trying to make a case that I’ve lived off the public tit all these years, I think you’re saying correctly in the years I’ve been in the Congress but not the years before I came to Congress.”

— Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), in an interview on C-SPAN.

When No One is Happy

First Read: “The hardest thing to do this morning is to find someone who is 100% pleased with both President Obama’s speech last night and his new Afghanistan policy. Many Democrats seemed hesitant to endorse the president’s plan in whole, but found ways to compliment him — either on the speech, or with the process, or by blaming the previous administration. Many Republicans gave cautious support for the policy, but found ways to criticize the president over the lengthy review or for entertaining a start date for withdrawal.”

“Obama had a number of goals for his speech, but the biggest one was with the American public: to buy, er, rent time from them on this war. Most Commanders-in-Chief get at least a temporary boost in the polls after delivering a major primetime address on matters of war and peace. But given the dire economic feelings in the country (something the president mentioned a few times in his speech, which in hindsight is quite striking given the topic), as well as the polarized nature of the electorate right now, will he even get a bump?”

Carper Crafting Health Care Compromise

Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) “has for years worked quietly to build consensus on some of the Senate’s most vexing issues,” Roll Call reports. “But this year, the two-term Delaware Democrat has finally achieved legitimacy as a deal-maker, being asked by his leadership to explore a critical deal on health care reform.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) “recently tasked Carper to help draft a compromise proposal on the public insurance option, the issue that most threatens to derail health care reform this year.”

Said Carper: “I’m not giving up on having a couple of Republicans vote for this bill.”

Atlanta Runoff Heads to Recount

Kasim Reed declared victory in the Atlanta mayoral runoff last night, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports. However, Reed leads Mary Norwood by only 620 out of 84,000 votes, virtually guaranteeing that Norwood, who took first place in the general election on November 3, will request a recount.

In a speech to his supporters, Reed asked, “Guess who’s going to be the 59th mayor of Atlanta?”

With a recount looming, no one knows for sure just yet.

Nation Building at Home

Tom Friedman: “Let me start with the bottom line and then tell you how I got there: I can’t agree with President Obama’s decision to escalate in Afghanistan. I’d prefer a minimalist approach, working with tribal leaders the way we did to overthrow the Taliban regime in the first place. Given our need for nation-building at home right now, I am ready to live with a little less security and a little-less-perfect Afghanistan.

Reaction to President Obama’s Speech on Afghanistan

Unlike most of President Obama’s speeches, it’s hard to feel positive after this one. He did not make the case for how a quick surge of additional troops, followed by their withdrawal starting just 18 months later, is going to dramatically change the outcome of this war.

The setting, in an auditorium of cadets at West Point, didn’t work. Weak applause from the audience — and the brief shot of a sleeping cadet — didn’t set the appropriate tone. A somber speech like this one needed to be done from the Oval Office.

Unfortunately, the speech didn’t do much to change public opinion on an increasingly unpopular war. It’s hard not to think this war will continue for many years to come.

Read more…

Another House Democrat Calls it Quits

Rep. John Tanner (D-TN), a leading Blue Dog Democrat, will retire at the end of his current term, sources tell Hotline On Call.

“Tanner has begun informing key House Dems of his decision — one that will make his seat a prime pickup opportunity for GOPers.”

Tanner will be the second Democrats to announce his retirement in recent days, following Rep. Dennis Moore’s (D-KS) decision late last week to step down.

Obama Lunches with Writers

Before his Afghanistan speech, President Obama had lunch with a group of top political writers at the White House, Politico reports.

Among those who attended: Joe Klein of Time, Fareed Zakaria or Newsweek, and Tom Friedman of the New York Times.

New Public Option Plan Considered

“A new measure on the public option will be unveiled next week, which Senate Democratic leaders hope will break the logjam on health care reform,” reports The Hill.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE.) was tapped by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) “to come up with a Plan B approach to the public option controversy that has divided Democrats” and “has been working closely with liberal and conservative Democrats, as well as Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME).”

“If it attracts widespread support, the Carper measure could be added to Reid’s bill, which is expected to be debated on the Senate floor over the next several weeks.”

Working this Weekend

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said Senators should expect to be in session this weekend to continue debating the health care reform bill, Roll Callreports.

Said Reid: “We’re going to see how things go the next little bit. We’re going to be working this weekend. I want people to feel that they’ve had an opportunity to understand the bill, offer whatever amendments they think will improve it.”

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