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First Thoughts: Framing the fall debate over the economy

Obama to frame the fall debate over the economy… In fact, he’ll speak three times on the economy this week (in IL and MO on Wednesday and in FL on Friday)… Boehner’s stunning admission… Silence (mostly) from GOP politicians on Obama’s race speech… Susan Collins IS running for re-election… And on Saturday’s Cuccinelli-vs.-McAuliffe showdown in Virginia.

*** Framing the fall debate over the economy: For as surprising and impromptu as President Obama’s statement on race and Trayvon Martin was on Friday, the economic address he’s set to deliver this Wednesday at Knox College in Illinois is being carefully planned to frame the fall battle over the budget and debt ceiling. “[I]n a couple of months, we will face some more critical budget deadlines that require congressional action, not showdowns that only serve to harm families and businesses -- and the president wants to talk about the issues that should be at the core of that debate,” White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said in a mass email. On the one hand, this seems like déjà vu. How many times have we been here before as the Obama White House says it’s returning to talk about the economy? That’s a point Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s top spokesman said in an email to reporters last night: “Remember, as the president launches another ‘pivot to jobs this week,’ that they’ve been urging patience for four years, telling you that their policies will start working soon—honest.” On the other hand, Team Obama is following a script that worked for them in the 2012 race they won: frame the debate early. “White House officials liken Wednesday’s speech to one he gave in 2011 in Osawatomie, Kan., where he articulated the theme of economic inequality in American society that became a leitmotif of his re-election campaign,” the New York Times says.

In this July 15, 2013, photo President Barack Obama speaks during a ceremony to present the 5,000th Daily Point of Light Award to Floyd Hammer and Kathy Hamilton, from Union, Iowa, in the East Room of the White House in Washington. Carolyn Kaster / AP file photo

*** But will the public be listening? At a minimum, the White House is signaling that it’s not planning to hunker down in Washington for the fall fights over the budget, a la summer 2011 and debt ceiling. Instead, the White House believes its only chance at “winning” any policy fight with congressional Republicans is to somehow win the public debate. Of course, does the public even want to engage? That’s the biggest wild card for this set of fights -- how engaged is the casual middle of the American electorate? By the way, Obama’s speech on Wednesday at Knox College in Galesberg, IL, won’t be the only economic address he’s delivering this week. He’ll also speak on the economy on Wednesday from Warrenburg, MO, and on Friday from Jacksonville, FL.

*** Boehner’s stunning admission: It’s striking that the man who’s second in line to the presidency -- House Speaker John Boehner -- said yesterday that he won’t take a personal position on immigration, especially over whether there should be a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. ”It's not about me. It's not about what I want,” he said on CBS on Sunday. “What I've committed to, when I became speaker was to a more open and fair process. And as difficult as this issue is, me taking a hard position for or against some of these issues will make it harder for us to get a bill... If I come out and say I'm for this and I'm for that, all I'm doing is making my job harder.” These are Boehner’s most explicit comments yet that he sees his job not to shape his GOP caucus but rather let his GOP caucus shape him. It’s a stunning admission from the man who, like it or not, is the current leader of the Republican Party. (Are we really to believe he doesn’t have a position on a path to citizenship? His answer suggests that he might have a position, but that it doesn’t matter because he can’t impose his will.) Also in his CBS interview, Boehner rejected the premise that the 112th Congress he presided over was the most unproductive Congress on record (in terms of legislation passed). “We should not be judged on how many new laws we create,” he said. “We ought to be judged on how many laws that we repeal.”

*** GOP silence on Obama’s race speech: Three days after Obama’s remarks on Trayvon Martin and race, almost everything has been said. It was a return to race (and that 2008 speech in Philadelphia) for a president who often has been reluctant to discuss the subject. It was more personal that than ’08 speech, as the Washington Post’s Dan Balz said. It was Obama speaking out as a black man addressing white society, as David Maraniss wrote. But here is something that has been underreported -- the mostly silent reaction from Republican politicians. While some conservatives took to Twitter to criticize Obama’s speech, we don’t recall receiving a single press release from a Republican congressman or senator about the speech. That’s pretty extraordinary when you think about it. In fact, the only noteworthy reaction from a GOP politician was Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who called Obama’s remarks “very impressive” and agreed with the president to review the so-called “Stand Your Ground” gun laws. "I can also see that Stand Your Ground laws may be something that needs to be reviewed by the Florida legislature or any other legislature that has passed such legislation," McCain said on CNN, per NBC’s Mike O’Brien. Bottom line: It sure looks to us the establishment wing of the GOP has no interest in being involved in this debate.

*** Susan Collins IS running for re-election: NBC’s Jessica Taylor notes that Senate Republicans are touting additional good news after former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer passed on running for the state’s open Senate seat -- Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has shot down speculation she might be interested in becoming Obama’s next DHS secretary and will run for re-election. That’s significant, because Collins stepping down (or not running for re-election) would imperil the GOP’s chances of holding onto that seat and thus winning a Senate majority in 2014.

*** Oh, Canada: In his interview on ABC yesterday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) gave his response if he’s qualified to be president given that he was born in Canada to one U.S. citizen (mother) and one non-citizen (Cuban father). “My mother was born in Wilmington, Delaware. She’s a U.S. citizen, so I’m a U.S. citizen,” he told ABC. “I’m not going to engage in a legal debate. The facts are clear,” he added. “I can tell you where I was born and who my parents were. And then as a legal matter, others can worry about that. I’m not going to engage.”

*** On Saturday’s showdown in Virginia: Traditionally, the first gubernatorial debate in Virginia has been a relatively cordial affair, with the candidates not engaging until later in the campaign season. But the first Cuccinelli-vs.-McAuliffe showdown on Sunday was about as negative -- and personal -- as you might have expected in this war-of-attrition race. And the following debates are only going to get nastier and nastier. The Washington Post: “From the start, Cuccinelli accused McAuliffe of looking out only for himself. ‘Instead of putting Virginians first, you put Terry first, a common theme for you,’ Cuccinelli said. McAuliffe called Cuccinelli the ‘true Trojan horse of Virginia politics.’ ‘You come in pretending to be one thing, and you end up being something else,’ he said. More: “McAuliffe said that Cuccinelli had spent four years pursuing a ‘social, ideological agenda’ and that the Republican had broken past campaign promises to focus on economic issues. And: “Cuccinelli fired back that ‘the only candidate in this race who has chased business out of Virginia is Terry,’ citing the GreenTech plant. Later in the debate, McAuliffe said that he ‘would love to have put a plant in Virginia’ but that companies have a ‘fiduciary’ duty to investors. ‘Okay, you picked Mississippi, so run for governor of Mississippi,’ Cuccinelli said, prompting a rare burst of laughter from the staid audience.”

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