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First Thoughts: Ending the month on a high note

Team Obama, after a rough start, ends the month on a high note… Obama the escape artist… Can Republicans still repeal the law?... And do they have the appetite to do so?... Roberts puts his stamp on the decision... Obama travels to Colorado (arriving at 1:55 pm ET) to inspect the wildfires there… Rothenberg Report doesn’t see a House wave coming… And “Meet the Press” will have Nancy Pelosi, Bobby Jindal, and Howard Dean.

*** Ending the month on a high note: Perception-wise, June started off as a rough month for President Obama and his allies. First came that disappointing May jobs report; then the Democrats’ loss in the Wisconsin recall; then more bad news out of Europe; Obama’s “the private sector is doing fine” remark; and finally the development that Team Romney outraised Team Obama in May. But the thing about perception is that it can change, and it did in the second half of the month. The president’s immigration/deportation announcement put Romney on the defensive; the Washington Post made the charge that Romney invested in firms that shipped jobs overseas; numerous polls showed that the overall fundamentals of the race hadn’t changed, suggesting that the Obama ads have been more effective in the swing states than the GOP ads; and yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court -- countering a lot of the conventional wisdom -- upheld his signature health-care law. So what started out as a rocky month for Obama ended in a better place for him, just as he embarks on his post-July 4 bus tour through Ohio and Pennsylvania next week.

*** The escape artist: Yesterday’s SCOTUS outcome was typical of what we’ve seen for Obama over the past four years: He finds his back against the wall -- sometimes due to his own doing, sometimes not -- and then escapes disaster. We saw this during the Dem primary season before Iowa (remember the summer of ’07); during Jeremiah Wright; during the ’08 general after the McCain-Palin bounce, during the 2009-2010 health-care fight; and now after the Supreme Court’s ruling yesterday, which easily could have gone the other way. And make no mistake: The decision upholding the law was something Obama and his allies NEEDED; they had to have something to show for the steep price they paid for the health-care law. This was a hurdle the president had to clear to get to November; but the ruling is no political booster rocket. He simply doesn’t have a new drag. Of course, as relates to his re-election, Obama once again finds his back against the wall. The unemployment rate is at 8.2%, and a majority of Americans think the country is on the wrong track. Can he again pull a rabbit from his hat here? We’ll find out in four months.

*** Can Republicans still repeal the law? As for Mitt Romney, his campaign made lemonade out of yesterday’s health-care lemons by announcing that it and its victory fund raised more than $4 million from 42,000 donors since Thursday’s ruling. (Although do keep in mind that Team Romney averaged $2.5 million per day last month.) And Romney made this argument after the decision -- vote for me because I will repeal the health-care law. But is repeal a realistic outcome? On “Morning Joe,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said that Senate Republicans could do it through reconciliation. But conservative writer David Frum argues that Republicans would no longer have the high political ground; they’d find themselves in the same position Democrats did in 2009-2010. “Suddenly it will be their town halls filled with outraged senior citizens whose benefits are threatened; their incumbencies that will be threatened.” The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza makes two other points: 1) the Congressional Budget Office, like it did last time, would probably rule that repealing the health-care would INCREASE the deficit, and 2) reconciliation can be used only for things that have a budgetary effect. “Much of the A.C.A., such as the insurance exchanges and subsidies, would fall under these categories. But a lot of it, including the hated individual mandate, does not.”

*** And how much appetite do they have? Here’s a separate question: How much appetite will Romney have in continually making this repeal argument? Indeed, Obama already had a rebuttal to this in his own remarks yesterday: Isn’t it time to move on? “The highest Court in the land has now spoken… But what we won’t do -- what the country can’t afford to do -- is refight the political battles of two years ago, or go back to the way things were.” There’s also the risk for Romney that talking about repealing health-care will only give Team Obama opportunities to show clips like this one, via American Bridge, of Romney touting his Massachusetts health-care law and its own individual mandate. And Romney’s folks may come to the conclusion that they don’t need to talk about health care because every other Republican will. He may have the luxury (and political necessity) to pivot off of health care, other than using it at rallies, while the various House and Senate GOP candidates pound away. This is one of those issues that could have less impact on the presidential but more on the downballot races.

*** Roberts puts his stamp on the decision: And, of course, we have to talk about Chief Justice John Roberts. Back in March, after the oral arguments in the health-care case, we wrote about the negative consequences of another 5-4 decision. But the 5-4 decision we got yesterday -- with the conservative Roberts joining the four reliable liberal justices – was something different: It made the court look less political. “The fact that the chief justice, a conservative appointed by Republicans, wrote the opinion today would and should give Americans a lot of confidence in the decision that it's not just a political thing," SCOTUSBlog’s Tom Goldstein told NBC’s Pete Williams yesterday. In the process, Roberts is getting lots of praise in the MSM (though also criticism on the right). Here’s Dana Milbank’s headline in the Washington Post: “The umpire strikes back.” For you conservative historians, we even saw some Twitter references to the old “impeach Earl Warren” billboards. That said, we’re fascinated by the contortions many more serious conservative commentators are doing re: Roberts. They are actually holding their fire.

*** Obama travels to Colorado: Transitioning from yesterday’s health-care decision, Obama heads to Colorado today to inspect the wildfires spreading throughout the state. He arrives in the state at 1:55 pm ET.

*** Team Rothenberg doesn’t see a House wave coming: The Rothenberg Political Report has updated its House forecast for November. Bottom line: It (like the Cook Political Report) doesn’t see a wave coming. “Our new projection for gains/losses in the House this November is now between a +1 gain for Republicans and a +6 gain for Democrats.” More: “We rate 201 seats a safe GOP, 161 safe Dem, 25 as Lean/Favored for the GOP, 19 for Lean/Favored for the Dems, and we have 29 total tossups. The 29 includes 9 pure toss-ups (CA-7, CO-6, IL-11, MN-8, NY-1, NY-19, NY-21, NY-27, PA-12), 15 Toss-Up/Tilt GOP (CA-52, CO-3, FL18, IA-3 moved this week toward the GOP, IL 12, IL13, MI 1 moved this week toward the Democrats, MI11, NH1, NV3, NY11, NY18, OH, 16, TX 23 and UT4), and 5 Toss-Up/Tilt Democrat (CA-41, NY24, RI1, WA1).”

*** On “Meet” this Sunday: NBC’s David Gregory will interview House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, plus have a debate between Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Howard Dean.

Countdown to GOP convention: 59 days
Countdown to Dem convention: 66 days
Countdown to Election Day: 130 days

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