Guest: Aaron Schock, Josh Marshall, Tom Ricks, A.B. Stoddard, Kelly Goff, Ryan Lizza High: Over the next few days, the president will be signing the economic recovery bill, rolling out a mortgage foreclosure plan, dealing with more problems in the auto industry, and making his first foreign trip. Spec: Politics; Barack Obama; Congress; Economy; John McCain; Internet;
DAVID SHUSTER, HOST: Hello everybody. I‘m David Shuster.
Happy Presidents Day, and welcome to 1600 on this, the 28th day of the Obama administration.
Today, President Obama returned to Washington to kick off a huge week for him in the country. Over the next few days the president will be signing the economic recovery bill, rolling out a mortgage foreclosure plan, dealing with more problems in the auto industry, and making his first foreign trip.
This morning, however, like millions of other families, the president, the first lady and their girls spent part of the day traveling, taking advantage of a day off of school. Unlike other families, they did it with no lines and on board Air Force One. The trip from Chicago back to the White House lawn took them less than two hours.
The president then went straight to the office. His agenda including calling the president and prime minister of Turkey, the world‘s largest Muslim democracy, to discuss the rebuilding of Iraq and the situation in the Middle East.
And 12:46 p.m. Eastern Time today there was another highly anticipated arrival at the White House, the $780 billion stimulus bill. Congress passed it on Friday after a dogged and unsuccessful campaign last week for significant bipartisan support. President Obama will sign the bill tomorrow in Denver.
Also today, the Obama White House scrapped the idea of appointing one so-called “car czar” to oversee how U.S. automakers GM and Chrysler will implement $17 billion in loans. Instead, the Obama administration is putting together a committee. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and senior economic adviser Larry Summers will head that committee.
President Obama‘s team also made some news today on the timing of a key foreign policy challenge. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters aboard Air Force One that President Obama will “decide shortly” on how many more troops to send to Afghanistan. The U.S. commander in Afghanistan has asked for up to 30,000 more troops, nearly double the size of the force currently there.
So with the economic recovery plan needing only a signature, President Obama and his team are looking to the future and other challenges like Afghanistan. But the Republicans aren‘t likely to let the nearly $800 billion bill that won only three Republican votes fade into the background.
For more, let‘s bring in NBC News Political Director and Chief White House Correspondent Chuck Todd. He is live on the north lawn.
Chuck, as you know, you don‘t have to dig very far now in this city to find a deep partisan divide. Is the president‘s team concerned?
CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR: You know what? In some ways they‘re not. They are just trying to find out new tactics to deal with this, what they call a Washington echo chamber problem.
You know, they believe if you look at polling and you look at how the president‘s done when he has gone outside the Washington bubble, whether it was Indiana and Florida last week, or it‘s going to be Colorado and Arizona this week, if you look outside the bubble, they‘re doing fine with the public, they say. In fact, if you look at polling, they‘re doing very, very well.
It‘s inside the echo chamber they know they‘re in some ways losing the debate for some reason, particularly on this bipartisanship issue. So one of the things I think they are going to try to do is almost divide the Republican Party against themselves.
They‘re going to say, well, Washington Republicans may think X, but hey, Florida Republican Governor Charlie Crist stood up with the president in Ft. Myers to say Y. Or so-and-so out in Colorado.
They want to find Republicans in the states and create almost this divide and say, look, we are reaching across the aisle. It‘s just not always going to be Washington Republicans that we look for, it‘s going to be Republicans in Florida, in Indiana, in Colorado, and Arizona.
SHUSTER: Chuck, as far as the foreign policy, it had been sort of widely expected that this Afghanistan troop level would float a couple of weeks. And now there‘s every indication from Robert Gibbs it‘s going to happen sooner. Explain the political significance or strategy behind that.
TODD: Well, a totally cynical view would be to say they wanted to get the debate about the stimulus bill out of the way before this Afghanistan decision is made. But it‘s not even all that.
They‘re going to allow—you know, they‘re going to sign off on some troop increases, but this doesn‘t mean they have made a decision about what the new mission in Afghanistan is. They‘re in the middle of a review process on that, and they admit that could take weeks, and they want to have input from Afghanistan, input from folks on the ground in Afghanistan before they come out with a bigger policy decision. So this is, in a way, is to find middle ground.
Commanders on the ground have been wanting more troops for months, David, as you know. They‘re going to get some of those new troops. But I don‘t think the commitment is going to be as big as what some thought.
And before they put even more troops in Afghanistan, then they realize they‘re going to need a new mission from the president. And that‘s when we‘ll see sort of a commander in chief type of address, maybe an Oval Office address or something like that, where he would lay it out there for the American people and try to define what is the mission, what is victory, and when will troops start coming home?
SHUSTER: NBC News White House Correspondent Chuck Todd.
Chuck, thanks for the report. We appreciate it.
TODD: You got it, David.
SHUSTER: As the president returns to Washington, Republicans of course have been celebrating their nearly unanimous opposition to the $787 billion stimulus package that President Obama will sign into law tomorrow.
And joining us now is one of those Republicans, Congressman Aaron Schock, who traveled on Air Force One with the president last week.
First of all, Congressman, what‘s your impression of the president? Because we‘re hearing a lot of criticism that he‘s not bipartisan. What‘s your view?
REP. AARON SCHOCK ®, ILLINOIS: Well, you know, President Obama is an Illinoisan, I‘m an Illinoisan. I like the president. He‘s a very likeable guy, very hospitable to me to invite me to go with him to my hometown of Peoria last week.
But, you know, I think many of us are disappointed that not more was done to reach across the aisle. A lot of talk, but not a lot of walk.
And despite his effort to have three separate meetings with the House Republican leadership to try and build a bipartisan bill, Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats wanted nothing of it. And they really designed this bill, wrote the bill, and ran it through the House on a really partisan vote.
And I really thought this was the president‘s opportunity to fulfill his campaign pledge of working in a bipartisan way, bringing us together, melding ideas so that we had Republicans and Democrats voting for this bill. The only thing bipartisan about this bill, unfortunately, was the opposition against it.
All the House Republicans and I believe seven Democrats—and one Democrat voted present—voted against this. So I think it‘s disappointing. The American people are disappointed with the outcome.
SHUSTER: Congressman, you were undecided as of last week. And I want to play for you what President Obama said when you were both together in Peoria when it appeared that you were still undecided.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK H. OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Aaron is still trying to make up his mind about our recovery package. So, you know, he has the chance to be in the mold of Bob Michael and Ray LaHood. And so we know that all of you are going to talk to him after our event because he‘s a very talented young man. I‘ve got great confidence in him to do the right thing for the people of Peoria.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Congressman, what specifically was in this bill that you didn‘t like?
SCHOCK: Well, a couple of things.
First of all, the process was terrible. We had less than 24 hours from the time this bill was filed to vote on it. And the president said in New Hampshire, when he was in the primary, that he would require at least five days of sunlight on any bill that comes before Congress. So it was in violation of his own campaign pledge to give the American people—I believe there are two valid reasons to go out and borrow money to stimulate the economy. One, to invest in infrastructure. And two, for targeted tax cuts that incentivize research, development, entrepreneurialism, risk-taking that will lead to long-term economic growth.
This bill, when I...
SHUSTER: But Congressman, did you believe that there was pork that was in this bill as some of your Republican colleagues suggested? And if so, what would you specifically identify as having been problematic?
SCHOCK: Absolutely. You know, really much of the money being spent in this was not stimulative. Less than six percent of it in the final bill actually went to infrastructure and roads. You had Senator Reid‘s rail line that he wanted to build between Las Vegas and L.A. You had Speaker Pelosi‘s pet projects and so on.
SHUSTER: All right. But Congressman, let‘s stop right there with that example. Let‘s stop right there with that example.
How is that not stimulative? I mean, if you‘re spending money on building a train, even if you don‘t like the priority in terms of, maybe that money should go somewhere else, would you acknowledge that when you spend money on a train going some place, you have to hire people to build the tracks, the construction? That that creates jobs; right?
SCHOCK: Sure. Absolutely. Absolutely.
And with that mentality, sir, you would spend all $800 billion on infrastructure. But the president said no. The president said he only wanted infrastructure dollars spent on shovel-ready projects.
SHUSTER: But wait a second, Congressman. Right. But Congressman, Republicans also said...
SCHOCK: And that is not a shovel-ready project.
SHUSTER: Right. But Congressman, aren‘t Republicans trying to have it both ways?
I mean, Republicans said only shovel-ready because they don‘t want these pet projects or pork projects. But when you look at only shovel-ready, you could only come up with $90 billion or so that was shovel-ready; right? So aren‘t you—are you trying to have it both ways, that it wasn‘t enough infrastructure, but if they had said, OK, to heck with shovel-ready, let‘s just throw in whatever in we want, then you guys would be really upset, right?
SCHOCK: Well, this bill falls far short of the shovel-ready projects. I endorsed the $90 billion for infrastructure with Chairman Oberstar, who‘s the Democratic chairman of transportation. And this bill only had $40 billion in it, less than half. So there were plenty of other worthwhile projects that could have been funded, as opposed to the pork that was in this bill.
SHUSTER: Congressman Aaron Schock, one of the younger members of Congress, but also, I would say, one of the brighter ones.
And Congressman, thanks so much for coming on. Good of you to join us tonight, and we appreciate it.
SCHOCK: Thanks for having me on.
Up next, John McCain says the Obama administration is off to a bad beginning. The progressive blogosphere is infuriated that some members of the media are taking John McCain seriously. We will speak with Josh Marshall of talkingpointsmemo.com.
Later, is President Obama‘s plan for Iraq starting to change? We will talk live with Thomas Ricks, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter from “The Washington Post.”
Plus, do you have questions for Rick or for our panel? We will incorporate Twitter into all of our discussions in the back half-hour. Go to twitter.com/shuster1600.
Also tonight, why was this woman screaming?
All of this and “Hypocrisy Watch” ahead on 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: It was a bad beginning. It was a bad beginning because it wasn‘t what we promised the American people, what President Obama promised the American people, that we would sit down together.
Look, I appreciate the fact that the president came over and talked to Republicans. That‘s not how you negotiate a result.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Welcome back.
That was Senator John McCain on the Sunday talk show circuit taking aim at President Obama‘s stimulus plan. The man who led his party to defeat in November has reemerged with a vengeance in the past few weeks as a leading voice against the stimulus bill, but how much credibility does the maverick and former media darling have since his own ideas were rejected resoundingly by voters in the fall? Progressives say none.
Every day at this time we‘re going to bring you a key issue in the progressive blogosphere. And joining us today is Josh Marshall founder and publisher of the blog talkingpointsmemo.com.
Josh, on the issue of bipartisanship, which is what John McCain was complaining about, when is it important and when is it not, in your view?
JOSH MARSHALL, FOUNDER & PUBLISHER, TALKINGPOINTSMEMO.COM: Look, I think the American people don‘t want the parties to come together and just disagree for the sake of disagreeing, but sometimes they actually think differently. And if that‘s the case, there‘s really nothing wrong in people voting their beliefs. And sometimes that ends up in a case like this where you have a—you know, something close to a party line vote.
The problem is, is that compared to what we saw in the ‘90s, and compared to what we saw for most of this decade, President Obama actually went out of his way to court Republicans. He went up to the Hill a few times, talked to them, he had them over to the White House. He actually put a lot more in this bill to appeal to Republicans than a lot of Democrats wanted.
But the thing is, a lot of the Republicans just didn‘t think—you know, notwithstanding that almost every economist thinks something like this is necessary, a lot of Republicans, they didn‘t agree with this. And more than that, they decided that there was really no political angle for them in supporting the president.
So what they did was to keep saying, you know, oh, we want everything to be bipartisan, but actually shot him down or refused to—you know, to come to any kind of compromise at all. They wanted it to be like this. They wanted to completely oppose it.
So basically, John McCain just doesn‘t have—or, frankly, any of the Republicans—have any credibility on this, you know, crocodile tears concerns rolling about how they were hoping President Obama would do a little better on the bipartisan front but he‘s having a hard time. I mean, it‘s just silly. And John McCain, he‘s kind of just become a whiner at this point.
SHUSTER: Why do you think the media puts John McCain on? Do you think it‘s because there‘s some sort of a collusion that the media has because of inside Washington, or just because of, to a certain extent, the media, let‘s be frank, does like conflict?
MARSHALL: I think the media likes conflict a lot. And you know, that‘s just how things are.
I think that, you know, John McCain, since the mid-‘90s, especially since the 2000 election, has been this darling of the media. You saw that through most of last year‘s presidential election until the end, when his credibility was just kind of shot.
So a lot of people, a lot of journalists like John McCain. There‘s this idea that, you know, he‘s a—still that kind of maverick idea, and a straight shooter and all that kind of stuff. So I think that‘s basically it. A lot of the reporters like John McCain.
And frankly, this is what he does. He plays up to the beltway media and whines a lot. And I think that‘s why.
SHUSTER: Josh, what about the argument McCain made that Barack Obama, himself, said that the public would have five days to look at any legislation before he signed it? It‘s going to be four days when he signs the bill tomorrow. If you look at SCHIP or some of the legislation, Obama signed it immediately.
What about that argument though that, regardless of whether it‘s McCain or somebody else, when Obama says or Congressman Schock says, hey, Obama promised five days, he‘s not keeping that promise, is that important or not?
MARSHALL: You know, compared to the other things the country‘s dealing with now, I don‘t think it‘s the most important. But I think this is actually a legitimate issue.
You know, back in the last administration, you had a lot of bills where the people who voted on it only had like an hour to read, like, 1,000-page bill. And then a lot of stuff like this about process where things got kind of screwed up. So I think that‘s actually a legitimate point. And I don‘t remember the precise promise that Obama made, but I think, you know, this is legit.
The idea that Republicans are really just, you know, kind of upset that Obama is having a hard time with bipartisanship is really just a crock. They went into this wanting this resolved. They decided that, again, there was no angle for it for them in supporting him, because if he does well, it won‘t accrue to their benefit. So their only political hope is that this fails badly.
And if that‘s the case, they don‘t want any of their caucuses in the
House or the Senate to have supported it. It‘s really that simple
SHUSTER: The Web site is talkingpointsmemo.com.
Josh Marshall, thanks so much for coming on. Great stuff as always.
The Web site is terrific.
Whether you agree with Josh or not, it‘s a terrific, terrific resource.
And we appreciate you coming on, Josh.
MARSHALL: Thanks, David. Appreciate it.
SHUSTER: Coming up, “Hypocrisy Watch.” Republican House lawmakers are bragging to their constituents about pet projects in the stimulus bill. But wait. Didn‘t they all vote against it?
Later, President Obama‘s treasury secretary is supposed to work with this Japanese finance minister. Sure, the global meltdown is tough, but hey, buddy, we may need to ask you to lay off the sake a little bit.
SHUSTER: Welcome back to 1600. Here‘s a look at what‘s on our radar, but apparently it wasn‘t on the radar.
A British nuclear submarine collided with a French nuclear sub in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The ships came into contact at low speed and no injuries were reported. The submarines are equipped with sonar to detect other ships, but it turns out the anti-sonar devices used to hide the subs from enemies were apparently too effective. Both countries insist that nuclear security has not been compromised.
The fireball spotted over the skies in Texas this weekend is now an IFO, an identified flying object. The FAA says the fireball was a natural phenomenon and not flying space junk. One astronomer explained it in these terms: “a pickup truck-sized meteor with the consistency of concrete.” The FAA originally believed the fireball may have been caused by falling debris from colliding satellites.
Also, we told you last week about the chaos in Zimbabwe, and here‘s an update.
The vigil continues for opposition leader Roy Bennett, who remains in jail after being arrested by police working for President Robert Mugabe. Some of the sham charges against Bennett, pictured here, have now been dropped.
Nonetheless, President Mugabe, who lost the election to the opposition party, still shows no signs of honoring a power-sharing agreement that called for Bennett to serve in the leadership cabinet. Bennett has now been in jail four days and counting.
Back here at home, as the debate continues of the president‘s economic recovery plan, you will recall that on Friday, not a single Republican member of the House voted for the bill. And that takes us to tonight‘s “Hypocrisy Watch.”
First the background.
The GOP argument against the $789 billion stimulus plan came up well short. The final vote was 246-183 in favor of the measure.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: The conference report is adopted. Without objection, a motion to reconsider is laid upon the table.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: While Democrats cheered, Republicans were upset. They complained the bill had been loaded with wasteful spending. But as McClatchy Newspapers first reported, moments after the bill passed, Florida Republican Representative John Mica issued this press release: “I applaud President Obama‘s recognition that high-speed rails should be part of America‘s future.”
That‘s right, he applauded something he had just voted against. So did Republican Congressman Don Young.
Young, from Alaska, issued a press release bragging that he “... won a victory for the Alaskan native contracting program and other Alaska small business owners.”
Later in the day, when confronted by McClatchy Newspapers, Representative Young fell back to the GOP talking points saying, “This bill was not a stimulus bill. It was a vehicle for pet projects, and that‘s wrong.”
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with supporting a few issues or projects while deciding in the end the overall bill is inappropriate, but press releases are a different matter. And in their releases, Congressman Young and Congressman Mica never mentioned they actually voted against the overall measure. That‘s right, they tried to hide their vote.
Congressmen, when you brag about projects in a bill you opposed, that‘s hypocrisy. And it‘s wrong.
Coming up, President Obama will be announcing a big decision about the war in Afghanistan very soon. The issue is related to troop levels in Iraq.
We will get the latest on the Obama administration‘s position.
Plus, how will history grade former President George W. Bush? The first numbers are out and they are not pretty.
And we know the airport can sometimes be a frustrating place. We‘ll tell you what put one woman over the edge.
All ahead on 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE.
SHUSTER: Welcome back to 1600. As President Obama gets ready to announce a decision about troop deployment to Afghanistan, 144,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, preparing to fight the seventh year of a war Obama has promised to end. But the new US embassy in Baghdad, the largest in the world, roughly the size of Vatican City, is a massive symbol of the permanent presence the U.S. may be planning in Iraq.
Joining us now is Tom Ricks, “Washington Post” senior Pentagon correspondent and Pulitzer Prize winning author of the new book, “The Gamble, General David Petraeus and the American Military Venture in Iraq, 2006-2008.”
Tom, first of all, welcome to the show. President Obama said in the campaign he wants combat troops out of Iraq in 16 months. You say in your book, you expect a significant US military presence in Iraq through 2015. I assume that is based on military commanders. Is this that where this policy is now is headed?
TOM RICKS, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: I think it is. General Odierno actually says in the book that he would like to see 30,000 to 35,000 troops in 2015 there. That‘s still several years out. I think there‘s a good chance that Obama‘s war in Iraq is going to wind up being longer than Bush‘s war in Iraq, which is five years, ten months. For example, Ambassador Crocker, who has been our top diplomat there the last couple of years, says in an interview in my book, that the events for which the Iraq war will be remembered have not yet happened.
SHUSTER: That would suggest, then, that obviously what happens in the next couple years will be more significant, in terms of what has happened the last seven. What‘s been the reaction in the military when Obama at least tried to push on that during the campaign? It sounds like, for whatever reason, the military commanders you‘re talking with are winning that argument with the Obama White House.
RICKS: I think they‘re worried that Obama is not breaking with Bush, but actually repeating Bush‘s mistake of persistent, unwarranted optimism about Iraq. Remember, the Bush administration‘s original plan for Iraq had us down to 30,000 troops by September 2003. Here we are more than five years later with more than four times the number of troops. They‘re saying, look, everybody wants to get out of Iraq. Bush wanted to get out of Iraq. But the way to get out of Iraq is slowly, recognizing it‘s going to be a long, hard road getting out, instead of again and again rushing toward failure and then having to revise your plans.
SHUSTER: I‘ve got a number of questions throughout the day on Twitter, people going to Twitter.com/Shuster1600, pointing out you were going to be on. Here one of the questions points out that you note in the book that the surge may have averted a civil war in the book, but you also quote a colonel who doesn‘t think the Iraqi civil war has been fought yet. Explain that.
RICKS: I think there are two big misunderstandings about the Iraq war in this country right now. The first is that it is somehow it‘s over. When I‘m saying it‘s not. The second is this whole notion of where we are now and how the war‘s going. People—put the question to me again. I‘m sort of losing my train of thought.
SHUSTER: The idea, the argument here is that the Iraqi civil war hasn‘t happened yet and that all we‘ve essentially done is essentially arm people to the teeth, so that when it does happen, it might be even more bloody and violent than it might have been three or four years ago.
RICKS: Thanks for reminding me. What I‘m trying to make the point here is that the surge failed. A lot of Americans think the surge worked because security improved. It did. Violence went down. The purpose of the surge was a larger purpose. It was to create a breathing space, the president said, in which a political movement could occur in Iraq, political break through could occur. That hasn‘t happened.
All the basic questions that faced Iraq before the surge are still there. How do you share oil revenue? What‘s the relationship between Sunni, Shia, and Kurds? Is the country going to have a tightly controlled government, based in Baghdad, or will it be a lose confederation? None of those have been addressed. All are hanging out there. All of them could end up in violence in Iraq.
SHUSTER: Thomas Ricks, Pulitzer Prize winner reporter of the “Washington Post.” Tom, thank you so much for coming on. We appreciate it.
RICKS: You‘re welcome.
SHUSTER: For more on Obama‘s Iraq strategy and what it could mean in Afghanistan, we turn now to our political panel. By the way, if any of you are watching at home, have questions for me or the panel, log on to Twitter.com/Shuster1600. Send me your thoughts. We‘ll try to work them in.
Joining us now, Kelly Goff, independent political analyst and author of “Party Crashing, How the Hip Hop Generation Declared Political Independence,” Ryan Lizza, “New Yorker‘s” Washington correspondent, and A.B. Stoddard, an associate editor for “The Hill Newspaper.”
A.B., let‘s start with you. It sounds like, based on what Thomas Ricks is reporting, that we‘re staying in Iraq, despite what President Obama said during the campaign. We‘re staying there for several years to come.
A.B. STODDARD, “THE HILL”: I think it was really telling that in his first week in office, he met with everything in the Pentagon, heard them out, but did not put pressure on beginning his plan for withdrawal. He had another significant meeting about ten days later, which, again, he expressed his views, but did not push for a specific beginning of his timetable for withdrawal. It‘s on pause.
I don‘t know what this means. Obviously, as they review their plans for Afghanistan, which I don‘t have the best sources in the military, but I have been told are already underway. I think they‘re going to have to look at those two things together. They are intertwined. It‘s going to become an incredible challenge, if he wants to raise the troop levels in Afghanistan and commit there on a semi-permanent basis, to keep troops long term in Iraq.
There‘s a very big concern that Afghanistan is another unwinnable war and will become Barack Obama‘s Iraq. It is going to be a very confounding situation for him.
SHUSTER: Ryan, aren‘t there huge political implications? I mean, so many people came into the Obama campaign, especially younger people, with the idea that this is a guy who‘s going to end the war in Iraq. And it doesn‘t sound that way.
RYAN LIZZA, “THE NEW YORKER”: You‘re right about the political implications. There are folks on the left, specifically MoveOn.org, other folks, who are waiting—are being very patient with the Obama administration. If he doesn‘t keep that promise, they will certainly put some pressure on him. MoveOn will be the most prominent voice doing that.
Let me throw one piece of reporting out that I was doing some interviews this week in the White House. I did talk to one person, not a military or NSC person, but I was asking this question, what‘s going on with the commitment, the 16 month time table commitment. This person said, well, you know, the general comes with a recommendation. Say it‘s 18 months. Well, he doubts that Obama‘s going to deny that request. If it‘s 23 months, that may be pushing it too far.
He suggested there was a little bit of flexibility with the commitment, but not much. For what it‘s worth, I thought that was very interesting.
SHUSTER: Kelly Goff, how patient can the left be on this?
KELLY GOFF, INDEPENDENT POLITICAL ANALYST: There‘s a saying in politics, David, under-promise and over-deliver. I think the potential danger here for the Obama administration is perhaps having over promised on the campaign trail. But in all fairness to them, I think what you‘re going to see happen on the left, you know—partisan groups hate to hear this, but there‘s the quagmire of where else are you going to go? I don‘t think anyone fervently believe that MoveOn.org or any other organization is going to really try to ruin President Obama‘s chance at reelection. I think that‘s the reality they‘re all grappling with. That‘ why you see, perhaps, the Obama administration throwing bones on other issues, like Guantanamo, like he spoke on the issue with Afghanistan.
LIZZA: I think that‘s wrong about MoveOn. I think MoveOn is actually a group that‘s trying to look for ways to distinguish itself. They don‘t want to just become a part of the Democratic Party. They want to be in some way more pure than that. I think they‘ll actually look for opportunities to define themselves to the left of the current administration, not be part of the party.
GOFF: I would be willing to agree with that. I know MoveOn works very, very well. I would say is that they also don‘t want to become known as the Ralph Nader of the liberal grassroots organization.
SHUSTER: A.B. Stoddard, I‘m already a question from—I‘m getting a question from Twitter. Somebody wants to know about the financial side of this, in terms of the amount of money we‘re going to continue pouring into Iraq, and at the same time, ratcheting up the amount of money we‘re going to spend, by necessity, in terms of raising troops in Afghanistan. At a time when everybody‘s so focused on budgets, that becomes an issue, doesn‘t it?
STODDARD: Absolutely. There are so many people who believe this first stimulus package won‘t be enough, that the administration is going to be coming back, depending on what we see with unemployment numbers, maybe by the end of the year, for a second one. That‘s going to be a tough battle. We‘re going to be spending 50 billion on a bank rescue. We‘re going be spending money on increased troop levels. We don‘t know if it‘s going to be Afghanistan and Iraq.
There‘s going to be a huge deficit/debt burden on Barack Obama politically. That is what he‘s going to be fighting. The Republicans are going to remind every dollar that goes out what he‘s doing to our deficit and debt. It‘s going to become—once you start monkeying around with these numbers with troops, especially if you want to have good presence in both places, it‘s going to cost him and it‘s going to mean—it‘s going to cost him domestically if he wants to start letting those Bush tax cuts expire in 2010. He‘s going to be under incredible burden about this spending more than he is right now.
SHUSTER: Regarding the discussion over—regarding the discussion over MoveOn, I‘m already getting notes from people on Twitter who remind me that MoveOn has focused so far on health care. The issue remains sort of remains, right Ryan?
LIZZA: It does. On the point about Iraq, I remember during the campaign—I know a lot of numbers that are designed in a campaign don‘t mean a whole lot flow. But the way the Obama team put together their budget was you take savings by pulling troops out of Iraq, billions and billions of dollars, and that helps you pay for some of his promises. That was a major argument. Folks at OMB are writing that budget now. On February 24th, when we hear what Obama has to say about this, it will be very interesting to see if there‘s anything about Iraq in there. There might not be. They might deal with it in an emergency supplemental. They might sort of escape having to say much about it at the end of the month, when that budget comes out.
SHUSTER: Kelly, Ryan and A.B. are all staying with us. Coming up next, the economic stimulus plan is at the White House, ready for the president‘s signature tomorrow. What happened to all the talk that President Obama would never be able to get the bill through Congress? D.C. conventional wisdom wrong again.
Plus, the three things Bill Clinton bought for his wife, madam secretary, this Valentine‘s Day. All ahead.
SHUSTER: Welcome back to 1600 and tonight‘s Smart Take. In today—in actually Sunday‘s “New York Times,” Frank Rich pointed out that Washington conventional wisdom has conveniently reinvented itself in the last several days. “Am I crazy, or wasn‘t the Obama presidency pronounced dead just days ago? Just as in the presidential campaign, Obama has once again out-witted the puditocracy and the opposition. The same crowd who said he was a wimpy hope-monger who could never beat Hillary Clinton or get white votes was played for fools again. The stimulus victory showed that even as President Obama can ambush Washington‘s conventional wisdom, as if he were still an insurgent.”
Back with us for their take on whether Obama has one-upped the inside the beltway crowd are independent political analyst Kelly Goff, the “New Yorker‘s” Ryan Lizza, and A.B. Stoddard of “The Hill.” Kelly, it does seem like the Obama White House had a few problems, but on the smaller issues compared to the big picture, in terms of they got everything they wanted. Am I reading that correctly?
GOFF: Pretty much. I think the most profound observation that rich makes in his column, which is 100 percent dead on, is it‘s a typical thing that you and I have both heard this—I‘m sure, we‘ve both gotten the emails when we‘ve said things on television, which is that real Americans out there, small-town Americans, I guess is what Palin might call them, feeling as though the people in the echo chamber in Washington really don‘t get it. Even though poll after poll has consistently showed that the overwhelming number of Americans—not overwhelming, but 50 percent to 60 percent of Americans were supporting the stimulus package.
But more than that, David, you had two out of three Americans saying they approved of Obama‘s handling of the negotiations over the stimulus, and two out of three saying they disapproved of how the GOP was handling it. If you turned on the television, you would think the Obama administration was sunk.
I literally had someone say this to me on another TV program the other day, that this administration is dead in the water. I thought to myself, meaning the one that‘s about a month old?
SHUSTER: Ryan Lizza, as part of the echo chamber, aren‘t we part of that? I mean, the media‘s desire for conflict, by putting on Republicans and Democrats. It‘s sort of inevitable, right?
LIZZA: The irony in this conversation. Look, cable thrives on what‘s happening that day, that hour. And if things are going bad for the administration that day, then it just gets projected, you know, eight years into the future, and the administration is dead in the water. If things are going great, it‘s going to be a fantastic presidency.
I think one thing that did happen—even Obama said this in an interview today, probably yesterday—is that they—one communications mistake maybe they made is they did define victory—or they allowed the sort of chatterers to define victory as bipartisanship, rather than getting the thing passed.
I think there‘s a very technical reason why that got away from them. Obama went up to the Hill to meet with the Senate caucus at the invitation of McConnell. He added the House caucus, because they wanted to meet with him too. He decided to do it on the same day. The following day was the House vote when every Republican voted against Obama. You had the pictures of Obama going up to the hill, extending his hand, talking to these guys. Really, Obama wasn‘t supposed to be going up there to whip votes. He was just supposed to be going there to talk to folks. The vote was scheduled the next day.
Those two things happening right on top of each other, I think, started the wave of coverage of everyone saying, you know, bipartisanship is not working.
SHUSTER: A.B. Stoddard, we‘re going to get to you in the next segment, I promise. I have a great Twitter question for A.B. that everybody is going to want to hear.
Coming up, a list of the best and worst presidents in US history. Bill Clinton gains some ground. George W. Bush makes his debut. We‘ll tell you who tops the list of residents at 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE.
SHUSTER: We‘re back on 1600, with a look at what‘s going on inside the Briefing Room. That was the scene at the Hong Kong Airport early this month after a woman missed her flight to San Francisco. The three minute video starts with the woman running towards the departure gate and then bouncing off a female security guard. She then bangs on the desk before collapsing on the floor. A man tries to comfort her, but without any luck. The woman eventually caught a flight to San Francisco.
Japan‘s finance minister says he is not resigning after this appearance at a G-7 news conference in Rome. Watch.
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SHUSTER: He also insists he was not drunk. He said his speech was slurred because he took a double doze of prescription cold medicine.
President Obama is now getting some tough requests from kids around the world. The Country Dear Mr. President, a free e-book, is being released today on Presidents‘ Day. It is filled with the hopes and expectations from 150 children. Ten-year-old Anthony Pate from Debuis, Pennsylvania writes, “I hope that we will have no war ever again. Why are we fighting? Why can‘t we all be friends?”
Destiny McLaurin, a 12 year old from Bedford, New York: “I hope Mr.
Obama will one day create a holiday for children around the world.”
And six year old Aaron Van Borkum of Pasadena, California, “Dear Mr.
Obama, please make it rain candy.” What kind, specifically? Candy Canes.
Special hard copy edition of the book will be sent to the White House.
A dentist is now on route to the Borkum household. Just kidding.
The president and First Lady celebrated Valentine‘s Day Saturday night at a restaurant in Chicago called Table 52. It‘s owned by Oprah Winfrey‘s former personal chef. Many people are inspired by the first couple‘s relationship. In fact, “Newsweek” calls is the model marriage, and suggest that young adults inspire to have a relationship like they do. That should be aspire. But, in any case, open, informal, in love, and even flirtatious.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will have to wait for her Valentine‘s Day gift until after she returns from her first over seas trip. But we already know what the former president got her.
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BILL CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I got her three things. The third thing I have not given to her yet. You can‘t—she and I had to leave. I sent her a bunch of beautiful red roses, and I got her two funny little Raggedy Ann dolls, singing “I‘ve Got You Babe,” the old Sunny and Cher. A got her a piece of jewelry, which I have not yet delivered.
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SHUSTER: On this President‘s Day C-Span has now released the results of a presidential leadership survey involving 60 historians. Bill Clinton moved up on the list. He is now ranked 15th, up from 21st. The top ten presidents are: Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Franklin Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Thomas Jefferson, Dwight Eisenhower, Woodrow Wilson and Ronald Reagan.
Bottom ten, starting with number 33, Rutherford B. Hayes, Herbert Hoover, John Tyler, George W. Bush debuts at number 36, 37 is Millard Fillmore, Warren Harding, William Henry Harrison, Franklin Pierce, Andrew Johnson and the worst president, according to historians, James Buchanan. For the record, Grover Cleveland was only counted once in this survey. He was president for two terms, but not consecutive.
Let‘s now turn to our panel for their presidential daily thoughts. Kelly Goff is an independent political analyst. Ryan Lizza, Washington correspondent for the “New Yorker.” I‘m sorry, yes, for the “New Yorker.” A.B. Stoddard is associate editor for “The Hill.” Grover Cleveland, sheesh.
A.B., ElMels81 on Twitter writes, “why is Reagan number ten on that list? He started all the deregulation mess.” Your reaction?
STODDARD: Oh, I can‘t disagree or agree with Al‘s feelings about Ronald Reagan. I think it‘s interesting that Ronald Reagan budged up one point since the survey from ten years ago. I think it‘s more fascinating what George W. Bush‘s administration has done to the perception of other presidencies, like Bill Clinton, who jumped up six points, and also his father, who jumped up two. Because now obviously we see his father as someone more of a pragmatic leader and a steady hand, someone whose service across the government in many different jobs served him well, and obviously a different perception of the Gulf War.
Obviously now that we‘re in the economic crisis that we find ourselves in, a totally different view of Bill Clinton, who I wonder—you know, many, many years—maybe 50 years ago, could he have jumped six points in a nine-year period, a man who was impeached and admitted his moral failings? Obviously, it has to do with the fact that he created 23 million jobs. We remember a good economic time, government surpluses, et cetera. I‘m not going to pick on Ronald Reagan.
SHUSTER: Ryan Lizza, you want to pick on him?
LIZZA: I think it has to do with the criteria that the historians use. It wasn‘t specifically did domestic policy X—was it a great success or not? One thing, you know, the senior Bush owes the younger Bush a thank you, because in comparison I think the senior Bush is going up in these rankings, because of the comparison with his son. You know, probably on two big issues that the father got right. One is he helped fix the deficit by cutting that the deal with Democrats, raising taxes. It cost him his re-election, but it was probably the right thing to do. Two, obviously on Iraq, he looks pretty good in hindsight compared to his son.
You know, he probably owes—Bill Clinton probably owes George W. Bush a thank you too. Clearly, Clinton is going up because of how bad the last eight years have been.
SHUSTER: Kelly, your thoughts on the list?
GOFF: What‘s interesting is on that note, they‘re both correct. I actually pulled up the survey from ten years ago, the one where they didn‘t just poll historians, but also average Americans in the survey. Clinton didn‘t even crack the top 25. What was going on 10 years ago, which we know was the impeachment.
I think it is interesting that sometimes history can be kinder, particularly when you‘re judged next to successors who have left the country the way that it is.
Lastly, I would like to say that I would love to be a Roosevelt. They not only managed to produce two presidents, but two of the best five presidents we‘ve had in our history, according to this survey. Wouldn‘t we all like to be in that family, whatever their drinking there?
SHUSTER: I got a question on Twitter. I‘m not sure I know the answer to. Are James Buchanan and Pat Buchanan related? Pat is my office mate.
I don‘t think they are. To be sure, I‘m going to talk to Pat and we‘re
going to have an answer for you tomorrow. A.B., before we let you guys go
LIZZA: There are some views that they share.
SHUSTER: A.B., I‘ve gotten more e-mails and Twitter mails from people who want to know, ever since you were on yesterday, A—well, they say great things about you, A.B. But they also want to know if you Twitter? Let‘s just put it to our panel, do any of you guys Titter? If not, why not?
STODDARD: I do not. I find I have better things to do than write up 140 words with the fact that I made up a bagel. You have better things to do than to read about the fact that I just ate my breakfast. I don‘t have anything—I don‘t have anything brilliant to offer in 140 words or less. So I haven‘t found a reason to do it yet.
SHUSTER: Ryan? Yes or no?
LIZZA: No. I‘m socially—
SHUSTER: Kelly? Excuses later. Don‘t worry.
GOFF: My friends say I should, and I don‘t.
SHUSTER: We‘re going to work on all of you. That‘s the view from 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE. Thanks to our panel. I‘m David Shuster. Thank you for watching. We‘ll be back here same time tomorrow night. You can always go to Shuster.MSNBC.com or Twitter along with us. I‘m David Shuster. “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews starts right now.
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