First Thoughts: Trying to sell health care - again

Obama tries to sell health care -- again -- with remarks at 11:25 am ET… Dissent in McConnell’s ranks… Bernanke to Congress: Please don’t screw this up… NYT on Syrian rebels continuing to lose… Dazed and “Confused” in Wyoming… Breaking down last night’s House health-care votes… NBC’s Andrea Mitchell interview Pelosi… And dueling Virginia polls.

*** Trying to sell health care -- again: Today, President Obama makes another attempt at what has become his greatest domestic challenge: selling the health-care law to the American public. Yes, it’s a complex subject. Yes, an entire political party remains adamantly opposed to it. And, yes, the media’s coverage has often emphasized what’s not working rather than what is. But here’s the P.R. reality for the Obama White House: Since health care’s passage in 2010, one side has been lobbing grenades on a daily basis (see yesterday’s symbolic House votes to delay the individual mandate), while the other side has been mostly quiet. That’s a big reason why our NBC/WSJ poll last month showed just 37% of the public thinks the law is a good idea, versus 49% saying it’s a bad idea. In fairness to Team Obama, they have started to respond. The president has delivered recent remarks on health care’s implementation (though those speeches got overshadowed by other stories). And Obama’s Organizing for Action has begun to air TV ads to promote the law (like here and here). But if the White House’s biggest implementation worry is that the law’s unpopularity and complexity could keep Americans from signing up for insurance, it has a lot more work to do.

President Barack Obama speaks in Washington, Monday, July 15, 2013. Carolyn Kaster / AP

*** Dissent in McConnell’s ranks: By now, you know that Speaker John Boehner has had a difficult time managing his House GOP troops. But is the same thing now happening to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell? Here’s Roll Call: “A meeting of Senate Republicans on Wednesday grew tense as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told his members he could have gotten a better deal on nominations than the one negotiated by rank-and-file Republicans. McConnell’s tone, according to multiple sources, implied that he had been kept in the dark about the talks between some in his own ranks and Democrats. However, those same Republicans say they kept McConnell updated throughout their negotiating process. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., got so frustrated with McConnell’s presentation of events, that he called ‘bull$&!%’ loud enough for the room to hear, nearly a half-dozen sources said.” A question to ponder: Is this what happens when the Senate GOP’s top two leaders -- McConnell and John Cornyn -- are in an election cycle? Is there tension because some Republicans believe McConnell and Cornyn are so concerned about their own re-elections that they no longer look out for the best interests of the party? It’s never easy being in leadership and being vulnerable to re-election, because it creates this exact concern: confused priorities or the PERCEPTION that their priorities are out of whack.

*** Bernanke to Congress: Please don’t screw this up: Another Capitol Hill story from yesterday: Testifying before Congress, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said that the growing U.S. economy has only one impediment -- Congress. (Of course, Bernanke said it in only the way a Fed chair could say it, indirectly and without punch.) “The economic recovery has continued at a moderate pace in recent quarters despite the strong headwinds created by federal fiscal policy,” he told the House Financial Services Committee, per Roll Call’s David Hawkings. “The risks remain that tight federal fiscal policy will restrain economic growth over the next few quarters by more than we currently expect, or that the debate concerning other fiscal policy issues, such as the status of the debt ceiling, will evolve in a way that could hamper the recovery.” In other words, Bernanke was essentially saying: “Congress, you’re the only ones who can screw this up with another fight over the debt ceiling.”

*** Rebels with a cause (but without aid): This New York Times story is a reminder that the rebels are still losing in Syria, and that the U.S. and other Western countries haven’t truly helped them. “In recent weeks, rebel groups have been killing one another with increasing ferocity, losing ground on the battlefield and alienating the very citizens they say they want to liberate. At the same time, the United States and other Western powers that have called for Mr. Assad to step down have shown new reluctance to provide the rebels with badly needed weapons.” The president has said numerous times that the United States’ official position is that it wants Assad to go, but Obama does not have a policy that supports that position. Politically, it’s clear why aid to Syrian rebels has gone nowhere. There’s little appetite in EITHER party for another military conflict in the Middle East. But this is not putting the president in a very good or strong light. Clearly, the White House wishes the president never used the “red line” phrase when it came to Assad and chemical weapons. Because when it was proven, it meant he had to act. The action he’s taken (or agreed to) is VERY minimal… and even that MINIMAL reaction has little support on Capitol Hill. But what are the unintended consequences to what the lack of action means in the long run in Syria in other Arab Spring uprisings?

*** Dazed and “Confused”: Well, the Enzi-Cheney primary race in Wyoming has begun pretty much as we expected. And we still have more than a year to go in this contest. Here’s the dispatch from NBC’s Mike O’Brien: “Liz Cheney launched her campaign for Senate on Wednesday by calling the 69-year-old Republican senator she's looking to unseat ‘confused.’ Cheney made official her Republican primary challenge in Wyoming to veteran Sen. Mike Enzi on Wednesday, calling for a ‘new generation’ of conservative leaders in Washington. And, in the first of two campaign stops [on Wednesday], she said the state's senior senator must have been ‘confused’ when he said Cheney had promised not to challenge him if he sought re-election. ‘I think Sen. Enzi may be confused. I think he may have me mixed up with Cynthia Lummis,’ Cheney said at a campaign stop in Casper, Wyo. ‘What happened is I called Sen. Enzi to tell him that I was considering a run. And I have always believed that that decision should be made irrespective of whoever else is in the race.’ She added: ‘It's not true -- I did not tell Sen. Enzi I wouldn't run if he did. I suppose he's just confused.’” This “confused” line has some wondering if Cheney is trying to play up the age difference between herself and Enzi a bit too much, and it has the potential to backfire.

*** The primary dog that hasn’t barked -- at least not yet: But speaking of primaries, here is something to consider: Mike Enzi is the only GOP incumbent who has a SERIOUS intra-party challenge on his hands. Mitch McConnell doesn’t; John Cornyn doesn’t; Lindsey Graham doesn’t yet (though we’re watching that one). A year ago, who would have thought that out all of the GOP Senate incumbents up in 2014, Enzi would be the only one (so far) facing a real primary fight?

*** Breaking down last night’s health-care votes: Sticking with 2014 politics, if you needed a cheat sheet of the House Democrats who believe they are the most vulnerable next year, just look at the 22 Dems who voted with Republicans on BOTH health-care repeal votes yesterday. They come from a who’s who of swing districts, Romney state, and Romney districts in blue states: Barber (AZ-2), Barrow (GA-12), Brownley (CA-26), Bustos (IL- 17), Enyart (IL-12), Esty (CT-5), Gallego (TX-23), Garcia (FL-26), Kirkpatrick (AZ-1), Maffei (NY-24), Maloney (NY- 18), Matheson (UT- 4), McIntyre (NC -7), Murphy (FL- 18), Owens (NY-21), Peters (CA-52), Peters (MI-14), Peterson (MN-7), Rahall (WV-3), Ruiz (CA-36), Schneider (IL-10), and Sinema (AZ-9). Meanwhile, one Republican, Virginia’s Morgan Griffith voted AGAINST both repeal votes. Why? He wants the whole thing repealed; not delayed.

*** Andrea Mitchell interviews Pelosi: In an interview with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on the launch of her initiative on women and families, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell asked the House Democrat about the anti-abortion legislation in Texas (expected to be signed into law today) and other states. Pelosi’s answer: “I'm Catholic, I go to church regularly, I had five children in six years… But what is at risk is the discretion of a woman to make judgments about the size and time, timing of her family. It's respect for the judgment of women about what is good for them, for their families, their health, which is important to their families. So I think that we have to … the reality is that people in our country do practice birth control and use contraception. I don't know if my colleagues need a lesson on the birds and the bees. I really don't get it.” Mitchell’s full interview with Pelosi airs on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” beginning at 1:00 pm ET.

*** Dueling Virginia polls: The newest Quinnipiac poll has Terry McAuliffe (D) leading Ken Cuccinelli (R) by four points among registered voters, 43%-39%, in Virginia’s gubernatorial contest. This also stands out to us from the poll: “The controversy surrounding Gov. Bob McDonnell will not affect their vote for governor, 70 percent say, while 14 percent say it makes them less likely to vote for Cuccinelli and 10 percent say it would make them more likely to vote for him,” per a release. However, another poll -- from Roanoke College -- has Cuccinelli ahead among registered voters, 39%-33%, but with a whopping 23% undecided.

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