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Power Lunch: Obama Summit With Hill Leaders Is All About Setting Tone

Image: US-POLITICS-OBAMA

A November 5, 2014 photo shows the White House in Washington, DC. After Tuesday's election drubbing, President Barack Obama will face a Congress fully controlled by Republicans critical of his foreign policy, and who could rebel against any eventual Iran nuclear accord, although in limited ways. Aside from the war against the Islamic State (IS) group, Tehran's nuclear program is undoubtedly the top foreign policy order of the day in Congress, with negotiations involving the six world powers known as the P5+1 expected, at least in theory, to conclude by November 24. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGANMANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images AFP - Getty Images

Now that Mitch McConnell, Barack Obama and John Boehner have each had separate press conferences to draw their public lines in the sand, the president sits down with 16 congressional leaders behind closed doors today. And for all the talk about big moves on health care and immigration in the new Congress, there’s short-term business that both sides have to address first during the lame-duck session, including authorizing more money to combat the Ebola outbreak, addressing authorization for strikes against ISIS, and – most pressingly – keeping the government funded, again. (The current spending bill expires December 11.) It’s been a long year, and at least a part of the GOP leadership would like to clear the decks now -- although, of course, it’s not clear if the rank and file will go along. We’ll get a key indicator of how well the two sides will work together, at least until the new Congress, after the meeting’s over. If either side is running to the microphones this afternoon to stake out ground, it’ll be a bad sign. The less we hear about this meeting, the better it probably went.

But Boehner and McConnell have to strike different notes

After Tuesday, Boehner’s conference has gotten bigger and more conservative. To keep his right flank and the talk radio crowd from rebelling, Boehner’s public remarks are always going to be more antagonistic than McConnell’s, who is always going to have to hunt for crossover votes in the new Senate. Compare Boehner’s immigration comments yesterday (“When you play with matches, you take the risk of burning yourself”) to McConnell’s tone in his first post-election interview with the Lexington Herald-Leader’s Sam Youngman. Using the president’s Wednesday press conference as an example, McConnell seemed to concede that a lot of the post-election bluster is just that. “I know the spin after his press conference yesterday was he's not going to change. We'll see,” he said. “You could dismiss everything that was said yesterday, if you were a cynic, by saying 'after an election that's what they always say.' And it is probably what's always said afterwards. So I wouldn't read too much into what he said yesterday. The question's going to be not what he says, but what he does.”

Both sides have a weapon, but will they wield them the same way?

As we heard Boehner say yesterday, the Republican position is that, if the president takes unilateral action on immigration reform, it’ll “poison the well” for all legislative action going forward. And the White House COULD say the same of Republican votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which McConnell and Boehner have promised despite knowing that any legislation that strikes at the core of the ACA just means a veto from a defiant president. Democrats could certainly point to anti-ACA votes as reason enough to dismiss any other efforts at compromise. But it’s not clear that they will. Obviously, some of this talk from Boehner and McConnell is about appeasing their bases – and many of those Republicans who won Tuesday night feel that immigration was as much a part of their victories as health care.

ACA ‘Not a Significant Vote Factor’ in 2014?

Speaking of ACA repeal, here’s what House Speaker John Boehner said yesterday: “The American people have made it clear: they're not for Obamacare. Ask all those Democrats who lost their elections Tuesday night.” But our polling partners at Public Opinion Strategies say that the health care law simply wasn’t the factor on Tuesday that it was in 2010. Nearly six out of ten voters this cycle said their congressional vote was NOT a message about the ACA, while – in 2010 – a plurality (45 percent) said their vote was in opposition to the health law. And fewer than a third of voters recalled seeing ads about Obamacare this cycle, compared to almost 70 percent who did in 2010. Was it a factor for Republicans? Absolutely. But for the electorate overall, this election was far from a referendum on health care alone.

Unemployment edges down again.

The first post-election jobs report is in, showing that the unemployment rate edged down again to 5.8 percent. The solid add of 214,000 jobs in October means that employers have added at least 200,000 jobs for nine straight months, the longest such stretch since 1995. (Still, as Tuesday’s exit polls showed, that healthy hiring still isn’t being felt by most Americans; only a third of voters said they believe the economy is improving.)

Southern Discomfort

For all Southern Democrats’ efforts to distance themselves from Obama – (ie refusing to say whether they voted for the president, pushing pro-gun and pro-coal policies) it’s notable that NONE of the Democrats in ’14 ran significantly better in the South (including West Virginia and Kentucky) than Obama did in ’12. And in some cases, they were worse. Here’s a look at the share of the vote Democrats were able to capture, versus Republicans:

Georgia

Obama in 2012: 46%

Nunn in 2014: 45%

North Carolina

Obama in 2012: 48%

Hagan in 2014: 47%

West Virginia

Obama in 2012: 35%

Tennant in 2014: 35%

Arkansas

Obama in 2012: 37%

Pryor in 2014: 40%

Kentucky

Obama in 2012: 38%

Grimes in 2014: 41%

The Leftovers

Via the NBC News Decision Desk, here are the races that have NOT been called yet: Alaska Senate (Begich v. Sullivan), Alaska Governor (Parnell v. Walker), Arizona House 2 (McSally v. Barber), Louisiana House 5 (runoff), Louisiana House 6 (runoff), Maryland House 6 (Delaney v. Bongino), New York House 25 (Slaughter v. Assini), Washington House 4 (Newhouse v. Didier), California House 7 (Bera v. Ose), California House 9 (McNerney v. Amador), California House 16 (Costa v. Tacherra), California House 17 (Honda v. Khanna), California House 26 (Brownley v. Gorell), California House 31 (Aguilar v. Chabot), California House 52 (DeMaio v Peters), Washington Advisory Vote 8.

'New Urgency’ in Clintonworld?

Noted: The New York Times reports today that, before the Democrats’ bad night on Tuesday, some Clinton advisers had been pushing for the former Secretary of State to delay a presidential announcement until next spring. But – already under scrutiny and being pressured to give a depressed Democratic Party a shot in the arm – many say there’s now no reason to put it off too much later than the December 6 Senate runoff in Louisiana.

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