Obama: It Doesn’t Matter Who I Run Against

 It doesn’t matter who the GOP nominates next year, President Obama says. He tells 60 Minutes whoever it is will have values and a vision that are starkly different than his own. 

 If Americans buy into that GOP vision more than his own, “I’ll lose,” Mr. Obama says.

 Ahead of last night’s wide-ranging interview, a CBS poll showed the very real possibility of Mr. Obama being defeated: 54% said he doesn’t deserve to be re-elected, and just 33% approved of his handling of the economy – a new low for him, CBS says.

 Why does he deserve to be re-elected? Mr. Obama cited, among other things, preventing another depression, saving the auto industry, reforming health care and killing Osama bin-Laden.

 Speaking of his Republican opponents – former House Speaker Gingrich continues to gain momentum, and a growing lead, over former Mass. Gov. Romney. Romney was unable to knock Gingrich off his pedestal in the latest GOP debate over the weekend. 

 By the way, it’s not too late for another Republican to enter the race. Here’s why:

Unlike 2008, delegates in every GOP primary prior to April 1 are awarded proportionately - not winner take all

·      In 2008, McCain locked up the nomination early because GOP primaries were winner-take-all. Not the case now. The delegate fight could drag on.

·      In theory, someone else could STILL enter the GOP race as late as February and compete for the lion’s share of the delegates.

Iraq

The President hosts Iraq Prime Minister al-Maliki today, as the U.S. military presence there winds down. This wasn’t Obama’s preference – talks to keep several thousand Americans in Iraq broke down this Fall. This means that after 105 months, $757 billion and 4,483 U.S. lives, the final U.S. troops will leave no later than New Year’s Eve.

The war’s real cost? That $757 billion is for direct spending on the war – but this does not include interest on money borrowed to finance the war - or taking care of veterans. A Brown Univ. study this summer said it may also cost $1 trillion more (through 2050) to care for those who served.

In addition to the 4,483 dead, the Pentagon estimates 32,200 Americans were wounded in Iraq (through September). The number of Iraqis killed is impossible to determine: 100,000, say some studies, though others are much higher than that. “We don’t do body counts,” the first U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. Tommy Franks, said.

Beyond the numbers, the Iraq war eliminated a dictator, but what will follow for that nation of 23 million people - and the long-term regional implications – will continue to play out for years.

 

-Paul Brandus at the White House 

Real Spending Cuts? Americans Say No Thanks

By now the sound of metal on asphalt is well known to Americans. It’s the sound of the can being kicked down the road by our feckless lawmakers. The latest can to be booted, of course, is that $1.2 trillion in debt reduction the super committee was supposed to have come up with by Thanksgiving.

Now, supposedly, an automatic budget ax will drop in a year, cutting $600 billion from defense and $600 billion from domestic spending, most of it from Medicare.

The less-than-surprising inability of the committee to do what it was tasked with doing set off the usual snarky headlines and contemptuous utterances from the commentariat. Super failure, some sneered. And: Why can’t our politicians do what the voters sent them to Washington to do?

I think many of the pundits have it wrong. Americans did not send their elected leaders to Washington to cut spending – at least not in a meaningful way. And I think the cuts as currently outlined, are unlikely to occur.

Let me explain, and I’ll start with the domestic side of this equation. By meaningful, I mean the big three entitlement programs: Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Any truly meaningful debt reduction plan must include, at its core, these programs. Why? For the same reason some rob banks: It’s where the money is. Entitlements today gobble 41% of federal spending, and with baby boomers beginning to retire and living longer, the cost of these programs, at current trends, will become unsustainable. No serious deficit reduction can be possible without including entitlements. This is a fact, which as John Adams was fond of saying, can be a stubborn thing.

The politicians understand this. Entitlement reform has been addressed in every major deficit reduction plan put forth in recent years. Simpson-Bowles. Domenici-Rivlin. The Gang of Six. Three panels, three similar conclusions (since the super committee – thrown together in a hurry and politicized from day one – issued no formal recommendations, I’m excluding it from this list). So why hasn’t there been meaningful entitlement reform?

The bitter partisan divide between Republicans and Democrats is clearly a major, if not principal culprit, we all know that. But the media keeps missing another reason, and it is this: Americans simply don’t want meaningful cuts:

  • March 3: “Americans across all age groups and ideologies said by large margins that it was “unacceptable” to make significant cuts in entitlement programs in order to reduce the federal deficit. Even Tea Party supporters, by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, declared significant cuts to Social Security “unacceptable.” (NBC-Wall Street Journal)
  • April 20: “78 percent oppose cutting spending on Medicare as a way to chip away at the debt. On Medicaid — the government insurance program for the poor — 69 percent disapprove of cuts.” (ABC-Washington Post)
  • And on July 21, with debt talks between the White House and Republican lawmakers dominating the headlines, a CNN poll said resistance to cuts was even greater, with 87% of Americans opposing Medicare cuts, and 84% Social Security.

Even after the once-unthinkable downgrade of U.S. government debt by Standard & Poor’s, I’ve yet to see a survey any different than the above. A steady drumbeat of ominous warnings, images of rioting in debt-ravaged Greece, nothing seems to have gotten through. As Erskine Bowles, the Democratic half of President Obama’s (largely ignored) deficit reduction commission has observed, America has to have “an adult conversation” about deficits. “The solutions,” he warned, “are painful.”

Don’t get me wrong. Americans understand we’re up to our neck in debt. They know cuts have to be made. But this perception is often in the abstract, and when it comes to specifics, the classic NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) mentality rules. We just don’t want anything cut that directly impacts us. This is why polls also show things like foreign aid are popular suggestions for cuts; most folks don’t know that foreign aid is only about 1% of the budget. Another old saw: the triple bugaboo of “waste, fraud and abuse.” No doubt there’s money under the cushion here, but not nearly as much as folks think.

Meantime, hard as it is to cut entitlements, what about the other half of the automatic budget ax – defense? Surely that’ll be easier to cut. Perhaps not.

Like the alleged domestic cuts, slashing defense spending would occur over a decade – based on the ludicrous premise that the next five Congresses would leave the cuts intact. Next five Congresses? The cuts are unlikely to survive even the current one. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is busy working on a deal to scale back Pentagon reductions, for example, in return for the Democrats getting an extension of both the payroll tax break and jobless benefits for the unemployed.

The broader problem with automatic defense cuts – aside from the impact on security, which is an important discussion on its own – is the impact it would have on jobs. Wily defense contractors have been preparing for this moment for years, sprinkling jobs across all 50 states and most Congressional districts, thus making it awfully hard for lawmakers to support cuts.

Some states are particularly vulnerable to this clever form of extortion. Let’s bring Cantor back into the discussion. His state, Virginia – home to both the Pentagon and the world’s largest naval base (Norfolk) – is dependent on federal spending for 38% of its economy. George Mason University economist Steven Fuller recently told Congress that if the automatic ax were to fall, the state would lose 122,000 jobs. Only a third of these are actual defense jobs; Fuller says the other two-thirds would be jobs supported by defense paychecks: restaurants, shops and so forth. This kind of job loss would then erode Virginia’s tax base, threatening its pristine AAA credit rating and designation (by CNBC) as the best state in the country in which to business.

This is what you might call a dilemma for the anti-spending Cantor. And it’s not just him: Fuller estimates more than a million jobs would be lost nationwide if the defense cuts went through. That’s why many lawmakers are fighting them tooth and nail.

Domestic spending, military spending: Do Americans really want their representatives in Washington to cut these in a meaningful way? Sure doesn’t look that way. So when does the adult conversation begin?

-Paul Brandus at the White House

One Year to Go

ELECTION COUNTDOWN

Exactly one year to go now - ‘til the Presidential election - how are things shaping up for the President & his Republican rivals?

Make NO mistake: this is a pocketbook election — more than anytime, probably, since Jimmy Carter 1980. And we know how that turned out.

The numbers President Obama is facing – are daunting. For him to win re-election, he’ll have to overcome some hurdles that no other incumbent president has been able to do.

Let’s start with the ONE data point that rules the roost – the unemployment rate. 9.0% for October. No president in modern times has been re-elected with a number like that.

Then – you add inflation to that – 3.8% last year – and you get what’s called the “Misery Index” of 12.8%

When Carter lost – it was far higher – nearly 21%. His goose was cooked.

Now what’s interesting – is that at this point in Reagan’s presidency, the misery index was actually HIGHER for him – than for Obama now. But the difference is – it was dropping like a stone for Reagan. Not the case for Obama.

In fact the last time the misery index was in double-digits was in 1992 – that was too bad for George Bush Senior. He was sent packing.

So recent history – the last three decades – says unmistakably that there is a clear and present danger for the president. Now he CAN point to an economy that’s now growing at a faster pace – but this is NOT translating into the kind of job growth that’s needed to bring that 9.0% number down.

Obama’s troubles do NOT necessarily mean a Republican bonanza. The GOP is lukewarm about Romney, there are 999 reasons why Cain can’t win a general election – Perry is struggling. The Republicans don’t know what they want. Now when the dust settles, the White House is convinced Romney’s the guy – they’re focusing like a laser on him.

Latest polls – and the caveat of course is that they don’t mean all that much right now – but nevertheless – they show Obama and Romney essentially tied – and Obama ahead of Cain & Perry by maybe 5, 6 points.

Right now – it’s fair to say these numbers say MUCH more about Obama than they do any of his rivals. Keep in mind – elections SHOULD be about the future – but they’re very often about the current guy. 2008 was in many ways about George W. Bush for example – and 2012 will certainly be about Mr. Obama.

ELECTORAL VOTES - 270 NEEDED  

Some analysts count 13 swing states. Others narrow that down further into even fewer – about seven super-swing states – that really hold the cards. 

Colorado (9), Florida (29), Iowa (6), Nevada (6), New Hampshire (4), Ohio (18) and Virginia (13).

Since jobs and the economy is the top election issue, what is unemployment in the Super-Seven Swing States?  
Unemployment is below the natl. avg. in four key swing states:

Colorado: 8.3%    
Iowa: 6.0%
New Hampshire: 5.4%
Virginia: 6.5%

These four states control 32 electoral votes. 
 
But unemployment is above the national average in three key swing states
 
Ohio: 9.1%
Florida: 10.6%
Nevada: 13.4%

These three states control 53 electoral votes. 

Now you can dig much deeper of course — in the case of Virginia – 6.5% unemployment suggests a pretty healthy economy – but it’s still trending away from the Democrats. They’re expected to lose the State Senate on Tuesday and that’s a big warning for the White House about the overall mood in the Commonwealth. 
Bottom line: President Obama is in trouble. But a Republican field - currently weak and in disarray - is his saving grace. The president and whoever wins the GOP nomination - and the White House is convinced that it’ll be Mitt Romney - will have to work very hard to close the sale in these super seven states - whose 85 electoral votes are likely to decide the presidency. 
-Paul Brandus at the White House

Ghouls and Goblins…Another Typical Washington Day

Trick…or treat? President Obama signs another executive order today – as his strategy of bypassing what he calls the “do-nothing Congress” continues.

Today’s order is designed to prevent drug shortages. The U.S. faces critical shortages of many key drugs that are used to treat life-threatening illnesses, among them several forms of cancer.

Using his new campaign mantra that “We can’t wait” any longer for Congress to act, Obama is instructing the Food and Drug Administration to speed its reviews of applications to begin or alter production of key drugs, broaden reporting of potential shortages, and pass along information on alleged price gouging to the Justice Department.

Legislation on these things has been held up in Congress since February.

Today’s order follows a series of them in recent days, dealing with everything from housing, student debt and helping veterans find jobs. 

Republicans think the “We can’t wait” strategy is a joke and a stunt – they point to nearly a score of bills that the Democratically-controlled Senate has failed to act upon.

It’s important to remember that executive actions are pretty limited in their scope. Unlike Congress, executive actions can’t appropriate money – courts can nullify them. So if the Republicans don’t like these executive actions, they can take the fight to a different arena, the court system.  

ALSO THIS WEEK

The president heads to France this week for the G-20 summit. It’s a gathering of leaders from the world’s biggest economies. 

It’ll be a difficult meeting. Debt crises plague both sides of the Atlantic – and both European leaders and the U.S. say each is making things more difficult for the other. President Obama said last month that the Europeans were scaring the world,” prompting European leaders to tell the White House to butt out and focus on its own problems. Toss in a slowdown in China – the world’s second-largest economy – and it’s a recipe for confrontation.

SUPERCOMMITTEE UPDATE

Remember the “Supercommittee?” The bipartisan group of Senators and Congressman that are supposed to come up with $1.2 trillion in budget savings? You’d be shocked to know that with the clock ticking on the Nov. 23 deadline, they apparently haven’t come up with squat.

Hard to believe, isn’t it?

Not for lack of trying. Last week, Democrats offered to cut $3 trillion in future debt. But $1.3 trillion of this as from taxes, so Republicans rejected the deal. The GOP continues to insist on 100% spending cuts.

If the supercommittee can’t come up with the $1.2 trillion in savings, an automatic budget ax will cut that much - with half from national security.

-Paul Brandus at the White House

Housing & Jobs: Joined at the Hip

President Obama heads West today for three days of campaigning (not that the White House calls it this), fundraising & rolling out new ideas to get the economy rolling. He’ll stop in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco  and Denver. Also does The Tonight Show on Tuesday. Returns to White House Wednesday PM.

Housing & Jobs
Many people fail to connect the dots on this very important point: The housing crisis and jobs crisis are joined at the hip. Each feeds the other. In Las Vegas today, the President will propose changing rules that would allow more homeowners with little or no equity in their homes to refinance and avert foreclosure.

Why is Obama doing this in Las Vegas? It is ground zero for the housing bust - and because Nevada has the highest unemployment in the country (again, housing & jobs are joined at the hip). 

The administration also scheduled this event after noticing that during last week’s GOP debate - in Vegas - that housing was essentially ignored. In that debate, the word “Jobs” was mentioned 36 times. “Housing” four times, but none of those four were ideas or solutions.

WWR’s Housing “Fun” Facts

  • Housing peaked in U.S. 5 1/2 yrs ago. Neither Bush nor Obama fixed it - and no ideas have been presented in the campaign thus far
  • Neither Bush nor Obama took on the banks on housing; they continue to carry toxic assets that haven’t been marked to market
  • Banks have little incentive to mark down their toxic assets - and no one (like Financial Accounting Standards Bd) is forcing them to
  • In postwar economic recoveries, real estate has accounted for 19% of GDP growth in first two quarters of a recovery. Now: 7% (per a Harvard study)
  • The housing collapse, which began w/subprime, spread to Alt-A & option adjustable mortgages - is now also being fueled by unemployment
  • The housing collapse, now in year six, exposed millions of over-leveraged Americans to life-altering losses. 1q: 23% of mortgages underwater

Real estate prices, on a national basis, have now fallen further than they did during the Great Depression of the 1930s. 

-Paul Brandus at the White House

Obama’s Plan B on Iraq

First things first. A total American withdrawal from Iraq – all 39,500 troops - is not what President Obama wanted. The White House and Iraqi government had been talking for months about keeping several thousand U.S. troops there to keep an eye on things. A tripwire force if you will, not unlike the troops America has garrisoned in Korea. As recently as Monday, Leon Panetta, the new Defense Secretary, said he hoped there would be an agreement.

But the Iraqi government had had enough of the Americans. Abu Ghraib, Blackwater and all the rest. It wanted us out. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki refused to grant any U.S. troops immunity for their actions – and that was the deal breaker.

Thus Plan B: the president’s appearance in the White House briefing room announcing a total pullout (except for security contractors) by the end of the year.

So on some level the White House is being disingenuous about all this.  But most Americans, preoccupied with the economy, don’t know or probably don’t care about this; they only see the headline or tweet that we’re out – and in a tough campaign, that’s just fine with the White House.

It’s also fine by them that the announcement came just 24 hours after Libya’s Muammar Qadhafi, “the mad dog of the Middle East,” as Ronald Reagan famously branded him, met his demise. Two historic Mideast milestones in as many days allows the administration to change the narrative, albeit briefly, away from the economy - the one issue that Americans DO care about – and towards something the president at this juncture would prefer to talk about: his tough guy foreign policy. 

So the question is: What does this mean for the president? And what about 2012?

Iraq is clearly the big-ticket item here. The second longest war in American history (only Afghanistan has lasted longer) and the second most expensive one (at $808 billion, it trails only World War II, according to the non-partisan Congressional Research Service), President Obama can now say he delivered on one of the biggest promises he made in 2008: to end what he said was a huge mistake by his predecessor, George W. Bush.

By the way, it may very well be that were it not for Iraq, Barack Obama might still be the junior Senator from Illinois.  His well-known opposition to the war, combined with Hillary Clinton’s awkward explanation as to why she voted for it, helped thrust Obama into the limelight four years ago. He vowed to end the war, and disingenuous though the ending may be (wars are usually harder to end then start of course) end it he has.

Promise made. Promise kept. This is good stuff for any politician.

But whether the pending withdrawal from Iraq is good policy, of course, is far from certain. Republicans have already decided that it’s not. John McCain, the GOP nominee in 2008, calls the Iraq pullout “a harmful and sad setback…which will be viewed as a strategic victory for our enemies.” Mitt Romney, likely to be the GOP’s choice next year, blasts it as an “astonishing failure” that “has unnecessarily put at risk the victories that were won through the blood and sacrifice of thousands of American men and women.” The hypersensitive White House “Attack Watch” team (yes, there is such a thing folks), issued a quick response: "Mitt Romney’s foreign policy experience is limited to his work as a finance executive shipping American jobs overseas." Meow.

Ditto to a lesser extent Libya. “We did what we set out to do,” the president said Thursday. He reminded reporters that Qadhafi was taken down “without putting a single U.S. service member on the ground,” and that by working “together as an international community…we are able to leverage greater resources, more effectiveness, at lower cost.”

But Libya, although it appears to have ended successfully, is also a target of Republican criticism. Among the GOP’s complaints: letting the British and French do much of the heavy lifting, with the U.S. playing something of a supporting role. The administration had a phrase for this: “leading from behind.” Republicans called it something else: weakness and an unconscionable abrogation of America’s traditional role as the world’s only superpower (by the way, these Republicans who were unhappy about the French stepping up – aren’t they the same ones who called the French pansies for their hesitancy to get involved in Iraq?) Just asking.

In the last few months alone, Osama bin-Laden, Anwar Awlaki, and now Muammar Qadhafi are all gone because of decisions made in one form or another by President Obama. This, combined with extending certain Bush-era policies – indefinite detention of prisoners and renewing key provisions of the Patriot Act for example – make it awfully hard for Republicans to argue that Mr. Obama lacks a spine when it comes to national security.

Still not convinced? Then consider something else lost amid this week’s momentous news. In Pakistan, Secretary of State Clinton, accompanied by CIA chief David Petraeus and others, said the U.S. would keep bombing the terrorist Haqqani network that is linked to numerous attacks on Americans in Afghanistan – and supported, Washington claims, by elements of the Pakistani government. You can help or you can hinder, Clinton bluntly told her hosts. Drone attacks are up sharply on Mr. Obama’s watch – no one should doubt his willingness to keep using them.

In the wake of these foreign policy developments, the president will enjoy a bump in the polls. But if his bin-Laden bounce is any judge, it is will be modest and short-lived. In the aftermath of the raid on Abbottabad - “One of the most courageous calls - decisions - that I think I’ve ever seen a president make,” said former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who served many of them - Mr. Obama quickly jumped from 42% to 50% in the Gallup poll. But with 9.1% unemployment weighing on Americans’ minds, it was back to 42% by mid-July.

From an electoral standpoint, Republicans should be thankful for that 9.1%. Shovel-ready jobs, the “recovery summer” and all the rest – that number was supposed to be much lower by now. In fact, it wasn’t even supposed to go above 8%, the administration vowed. Promise made. Promise not kept. And that, of course, is the albatross that may send Mr. Obama packing next year. But it certainly isn’t “weakness” on the national security front.

-Paul Brandus at the White House

Occupy - the 2012 Election?

Occupy Wall Street, which has now spread across the country, is based on a broad undercurrent of economic dissatisfaction, fear and resentment, with big financial institutions and pin-striped bankers painted as the villains. Some politicians have poo-pooed the movement, but  their smarter brethren know better. In fact, the emotions supporting the Occupy movement are a political gold mine, according to a weekend survey in the Washington Post: 

  • 68% of independents have unfavorable attitudes towards big financial institutions
  • 60% of Republicans do 

And further proof that conservatives shouldn’t be denigrating Occupy: A survey by Washington’s WTOP radio showed that even among Virginia conservatives, there was more support for Occupy (30%) than the Tea Party (23%). Little wonder that Mitt Romney, likely to be the GOP nominee, appears to be aligning himself with the movement, saying he’s a champion of the middle class. Whether this gains traction or not remains to be seen, but Romney knows a trend when he sees one. 

President Obama, his advisors and campaign team also seem to understand that the Occupy message can be a big 2012 opportunity. 

In many respects, the Occupy movement is a natural issue for Obama. He has been hammering Wall Street for years – calling them irresponsible and reckless to their faces. He can point to things like the Dodd-Frank law designed to curb Wall Street excess and the new consumer protection agency. He can also mention how financial industry lobbyists are trying to erode these things before they can even take root.

He could also point out how the Wall Street crowd has shifted the bulk of their campaign contributions to the Republicans – proof enough, he could say, that he’s not one of them. And he could make this point, by the way, not by making yet another carefully staged teleprompter speech – but by dropping in unannounced on one of these protests – cameras rolling. A risky move in an unscripted setting, but the president, down in the polls and struggling, needs to show some empathy. 

But Mr. Obama has other risks as well. He has deep ties with corporate America. His Chief of Staff Bill Daley is an ex-JP Morgan executive. The head of his jobs council is Jeff Immelt, the CEO of General Electric – which paid no taxes last year. So the president is associated with part of what these protestors say is the problem.  

Also, many protestors say there’s little distinction between Democrats and Republicans. Both, they say, are under the influence of corporate America. Both are heavily dependent on corporate donations – and thus, on some level – they’re all for sale. True that. 

Nevertheless, the battle is on to tap into this movement, which like the Tea Party of the recent past, began as a somewhat ragtag, disorganized phenomena with no discernible  leadership. But like the Tea Party, the Occupy movement seems more likely than not to coalesce into something - that could influence the 2012 vote. 

What does this group want, by the way? Perhaps the better question: what don’t they want? 

  1. Unemployment. The broad measure of unemployment is 16.5%. It’s even higher for students & teens. The average student also has some 23 thousand in loans – a huge burden even if you DO have a job.
  2. Disparity. Corporate profits are at an all-time high – both in absolute terms and as a share of the economy. One reason for this: wages, as a percentage of the economy, are at an all-time low. Now there are many reasons for low wages – globalization is driving them down — but this isn’t India or China – the cost of living here is high.
  3. This plays into the third point  – the wealth gap is at its highest point since the Roaring 20s – and we know what that led to.

 So this is an incredibly important issue – and will resonate well beyond 2012. 

-Paul Brandus at the White House

Iran’s Terror Plot and 2012

What does the President mean when he says Iran will “pay the price” for the stunning terror plot it allegedly was planning to pull off in the streets of Washington?

Obama says all options are on the table. All presidents say this. You don’t want to box yourself in by ruling anything out – this is code for for military action, of course. It’s standard operating procedure to NOT rule that out.

But from a practical standpoint – what the president most likely means here is tightening the screws further on the sanctions front – and by trying to ratchet up international pressure on Tehran. No one – at this point – really expects the U.S. to use force against yet another Islamic country in the Middle East – even though the U.S has one, considered Iran a state sponsor of terrorism for decades, two, evidence of Iranian involvement in attacks on American forces in the region, and of course, three: ongoing concern about Iran’s nuclear program. Despite all this – the possibility of military action – at this point – still seems remote.

What of this and the 2012 campaign? The execution of foreign policy is one thing that Presidents can use to distinguish themselves from their rivals. It’s a command-and-control situation and it gives any President a stage and a power that cannot be matched. His GOP rivals can talk about Iran all they want – but this series of Republican debates have generally shown foreign policy to be not much of an issue for these candidates – so by default, their lack of interest and commentary plays into the president’s hands – he’s engaged with the world and they’re not. This of course is how it always is when you have an incumbent President running against a bunch of wanna-bes.

They may say that Obama is weak on foreign policy – but they have to admit that bin laden was taken down on his watch. He gave the order to go in. Former  Defense Secretary Gates – who has served many presidents – said it was one of the gutsiest calls ever made by an American president. Obama can also point to the fact that he has  maintained some key Bush policies on national security – like extending key provisions of the Patriot Act, for example.

Unfortunately for Mr. Obama, foreign policy is nowhere near the top of voter concerns. Just think how quickly his bin Laden bounce faded. But when you’ve got 9.1% unemployment — the more the president can talk about something else – anything else – is probably what he would prefer to do. 

-Paul Brandus at the White House

Scratch Another Terror Leader

One of America’s most wanted terrorists has been killed.

Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S. born al Qaeda cleric who is accused of plotting attacks on the United States, has been killed by a U.S. military strike in Yemen, according to administration officials. Military sources say they had been tracking al-Awlaki for months before taking him out in a drone strike. 

Al-Awlaki is believed to have inspired and even plotted a string of attacks on the U.S. - including the 2009 shootings at the U.S. Army base at Fort Hood, Texas, that killed 13 people, the failed Christmas Day bombing of a Detroit-bound passenger jet in 2009, and the unsuccessful plot to send mail bombs on planes from Yemen to the United States last Fall. 

President Obama may have something to say about al-Awlaki’s death today. He’ll speak at the ”change of office” ceremony for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as the retiring Mike Mullen gives way to Army General Martin Dempsey.

-Paul Brandus at the White House 

Trust & the Deficit

Is trouble brewing for the Tea Party?

  Their hardline stance on spending appears to be costing them support with voters, says a Pew Research poll. Public confidence  in congressional leaders – particularly Republican leaders – has plunged, with 35% saying they have a great deal or fair amount of confidence in the GOP to do the right thing when it comes to dealing with the federal budget deficit. That’s down from 47% in May. More ominously, perhaps: 62% say they have little or no confidence in the Republican leaders on this issue.

What about President Obama – painted by Republicans as an out of control spendthrift? That perception lacks “stickiness,” says Pew, with 52% of Americans expressing at least a fair amount of confidence in Obama to do the right thing when it comes to dealing with the deficit. That’s down slightly from 55% earlier in the year.

The news isn’t all good for Democrats. Public trust trust in Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid & Co. has also faltered – slipping to 43% from 51% in May.

The White House – well aware of deepening public distrust of Congress, Republicans in particular – has been hammering away. The president and his men openly accuse the few dozen Tea Party members in Congress of holding the rest of America hostage (their word) over everything from FAA funding to disaster relief; they’re now trying to pin the GOP into a corner on the jobs bill – asking them to choose between tax cuts for their friends on Wall Street, or fixing bridges and keeping teachers in the classroom. The populist wedge appears to be working thus far.

-Paul Brandus at the White House