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First Thoughts: Rock bottom for Obama?

Was yesterday rock bottom for Obama?... We’ll get a clue around 12:30 pm ET, when the House votes on the Upton legislation… 20 or 30 red-state Dems voting for it is one thing; 60 to 100 would be a rebuke… Still, so much hinges on whether the administration meets that Nov. 30 deadline to fix the website… Obama yesterday: “There is going to be a lot of evaluation of how we got to this point”… Obama to meet with insurance CEOs… Our weekly 2016 wrap… Jeb Bush: Don’t you…forget about me… Bevin to make it official in Kentucky… And Pelosi to appear on “Meet the Press.”

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*** Rock bottom for Obama? Was yesterday President Obama hitting rock bottom? The White House and Democrats certainly hope the answer is yes, and that every day going forward is better. Yesterday, we saw the president as contrite as we’ve ever seen him since he stepped on the national stage. “We fumbled the rollout on this health care law,” he said at his impromptu news conference yesterday. Opponents piled on in statements and on Twitter. The New York Times wonders if the botched health-care rollout is Obama’s Katrina, while the pro-Obama Andrew Sullivan and anti-Obama Matthew Continetti draw parallels to Iran-Contra. Bottom line: In what has been a difficult past month for the White House on health care (really ever since the government shutdown ended), yesterday might have been the worst day. And today’s vote on the legislation sponsored by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) might give us a good idea if today gets better for the White House -- or worse. The question is how many Democrats vote for the legislation, which would allow folks to keep their canceled health-insurance plans and allow new customers to buy the same plans. Twenty or 30 red-state Dems voting for it is one thing; but double or triple that amount would be a rebuke and would signal that House Dems weren’t satisfied with the supposed fix Obama announced. (What the White House has going against it right now: The fix is unenforceable.) The vote will take place around 12:30 pm ET, per NBC’s Frank Thorp.

*** A lot hinges on meeting the Nov. 30 deadline: Yet the true test if things ultimately get better for the White House is whether or not it meets its self-imposed Nov. 30 date to fix the website for a majority of Americans. A better-functioning website cures a lot of problems -- enrollment numbers will go up, those with canceled plans might be able to find better deals, the negative feedback loop might come to an end. But not meeting that deadline could be disastrous. After all, if you think Democrats are skittish now, just think how they’ll be if the website isn’t significantly improved by Nov. 30. Given that, there are two ways to look at Obama’s news conference yesterday. One, he was offering Hill Democrats a “pound of flesh” to curtail the Democratic freakout. That’s why he was so apologetic, so introspective. (He said “that’s on me” three times, according to our count.) Two, he was trying -- with his announced fix -- to buy some time to get the website working. “If I fumbled the ball, I’m going to wait until I get the next play, and then I’m going to try to run as hard as I can and do right by the team,” Obama said. But the way you recover from a fumble is later putting points on the board to get back into the game. And Obama needs to score some points on Nov. 30. He and his team have two weeks.

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*** “There is going to be a lot of evaluation of how we got to this point”: The other thing that struck us about Obama’s news conference was his suggestion that there will be an after-action report on the botched health-care rollout -- and that some heads might roll. “I think there is going to be a lot of evaluation of how we got to this point,” he said yesterday. “And I assure you that I’ve been asking a lot of questions about that.” To us, those words signal that the president realizes he wasn’t well-served by his team. Is he looking at HHS? Is he looking inside the West Wing? The point is, those remarks were not planned, they seemed completely front the gut, a human reaction from a principal who is likely in the midst of second-guessing himself in a number of ways right now. And while it was just coincidental, there was something else that was quite striking on the staff front yesterday, just one senior adviser accompanied the president to the briefing room -- Jay Carney. Nobody else was there. Take a look at other press briefing pressers, they are much more well attended by senior staff. Again, it could all be chalked up to an accident of timing, but the picture only added to the “president seems isolated” narrative. 

*** Obama to meet with health-insurance CEOs: A final health-care note: NBC’s Peter Alexander reports that health insurance industry CEOs will be meeting with President Obama and senior administration officials today "to discuss ways to work together to help people enroll through the Marketplace and efforts to minimize disruption for consumers as they transition to new coverage," the White House says. Remember, some industry leaders say they were NOT consulted on the president’s fix beforehand and are upset that the president simply shifted the blame to them.

*** Our weekly 2016 wrap: Hillary Clinton spoke on Thursday to the National Defense University Foundation, emphasizing the importance of advancing and empowering women around the world, Politico writes… Also on Thursday, Ted Cruz spoke to the conservative Federalist Society, blasting the Obama Justice Department… Rand Paul took another shot at New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. "His victory was, in large form, based on that he got a lot of federal money for his state,” Paul said. “Unlimited spending is sort of, you could call it moderate, or even liberal, to think that there’s an unlimited amount of money, even for good causes.”… Elizabeth Warren had tough questions for Janet Yellen at her Senate confirmation hearing yesterday to become the new Fed chair. “The truth is if the [Fed] regulators had done their jobs and reined in the banks we wouldn’t need to be talking about” stimulus, Warren said, per the New York Times… And Paul Ryan heads to Iowa on Saturday, when he’ll headline Gov. Terry Branstad’s (R) birthday bash.

*** Don’t you … forget about me… don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t: But to us, perhaps the biggest 2016 news of the week was former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush letting folks not to forget about him as a potential presidential candidate. Politico: “Several top GOP sources on Wall Street and in Washington said this week that Bush has moved from almost certainly staying out of the 2016 race to a ‘30 percent chance’ of getting in. Several sources mentioned the precise 30 percent odds as up from closer to zero just a few months ago.” This came as Bush told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: “I’m going to not think about it until the middle of next year, then I’m going to think about it really hard,” he said. “The thinking part is not really related to the politics of all this, but whether I can do it with joy in my heart and whether it’s going to be right for my family. Those are the two considerations.” Bush still might not run, but there are too many smart people in Washington who are assuming things about Jeb. It’s easy to assume he won’t do it, since he’s passed this up before. But realize this: If he’s ever wanted to be president (and it sure seems like he has that ambition) then 2016 is probably his LAST shot. And while there is plenty of evidence indicating that his last name isn’t a help, one could argue that the best way to neutralize that negative is to run in a year when the other party is also thinking about nominating a famous name from the past. 

*** Bevin makes it official in Kentucky: In 2014 news, Republican Matt Bevin formally files his candidacy to run for Mitch McConnell’s Kentucky Senate seat. He holds a news conference at noon ET.

*** Pelosi to appear on “Meet”: And on “Meet the Press” this Sunday, NBC’s David Gregory will interview House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

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