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First Thoughts: A leap of faith that needed to be tried

On the deal with Iran: A leap of faith that needed to be tried… What kind of additional sanctions will Congress send Obama?... Republicans are saying Obama is wagging the dog… The health-care success story in the Bluegrass State… Website deadline day is approaching (Nov. 30)… Obama rakes in the fundraising bucks, West Coast style… And a reminder that immigration reform isn’t dead -- yet.

*** A leap of faith that needed to be tried: It’s understandable why so many are skeptical about the nuclear deal that the United States and other Western nations cut with Iran over the weekend. Iran in the past hasn’t been trustworthy actor in the Middle East; no one disputes that. The deal also has upset Israel and its allies. But here is a point that many are overlooking: You had to test the Iranians and its new leadership at some point, right? And you had to test whether the tough sanctions were truly changing the regime’s behavior. Remember, this is a six-month deal, and if nothing is accomplished after those six months, then everything reverts back to the status quo -- or is supposed to revert back to the status quo. So even if you’re a neo-conservative hawk favoring military action against Iran, the deal gives everyone a date certain (late May 2014) that dares Iran to either put up or shut up. In other words, we’ll find out six months from now if we’re on the road to dismantling Iran’s nuclear-weapons development, or if we’re on the road to war. But that date certain didn’t exist before this weekend’s deal. Yes, it’s a leap of faith. But it’s a leap that needed to be tried if you were ever going to justify military action. And don’t forget about this in all the political back-and-forth: This is the first true dialogue the United States has had with Iran in 34 years. That’s extraordinary.

*** What kind of additional sanctions will Congress send Obama? The other actor in this deal is Congress, and make no mistake: Congress is going to send President Obama additional sanctions hitting Iran -- ASAP. The only question is whether these sanctions force the president to use his FIRST veto (so as not to derail the talks over the next six months), or if they’re constructed in a way that serves as a trigger if Iran doesn’t change its behavior AFTER May 2014. Congress has the ability to be the bad cop to Obama’s good cop here, which may help strengthen the president’s negotiating hand. But it also has the potential to scuttle the talks, too. What we’ve noticed overall is that for those who view this as a temporary deal, they are willing to see it through. For folks who fear this deal is what the final deal will look like, then they are panicking.

*** Wagging the dog: Here’s a final point we want to make about Iran and Congress: Some Republicans were arguing that the entire deal was a ruse to distract the country from the woes associated with HealthCare.Gov. Our friend Chris Cillizza calls it Republicans embracing “Wag-the-Dog-ism.” If you are a Republican using this as a talking point because you’re facing a primary challenge and want to sound like you’re talking tough about the Obama administration, then fine. We get it, politics is politics. But if you REALLY BELIEVE this, then we have some oceanfront property in Lincoln, Nebraska that we’d like to sell you. Folks, the politics surrounding the health-care law isn’t going away -- regardless of what happens in Iran or the Middle East. And if you thought something could “step” on this issue, you are incredibly naïve. The folks promoting this talking point endlessly as somehow a serious strategy ought to know better.

*** The success story in the Bluegrass State: Given all the problems with the HealthCare.Gov website and given all of the other negative stories associated with the health-care law, the Washington Post reported on one of its clear success stories -- in Kentucky. “Places such as Breathitt County, in the Appalachian foothills of eastern Kentucky, are driving the state’s relatively high enrollment figures, which are helping to drive national enrollment figures as the federal health exchange has floundered. In a state where 15 percent of the population, about 640,000 people, are uninsured, 56,422 have signed up for new health-care coverage, with 45,622 of them enrolled in Medicaid and the rest in private health plans, according to figures released by the governor’s office Friday,” the Post wrote. “If the health-care law is having a troubled rollout across the country, Kentucky — and Breathitt County in particular — shows what can happen in a place where things are working as the law’s supporters envisioned." 

*** Deadline day is approaching: Of course, one of the chief reasons why Kentucky is a success story is because it has a well-functioning website. And by Saturday (Nov. 30) and Sunday (Dec. 1) after Thanksgiving, we’ll find out if the administration delivered on its self-imposed promise that the federal website would be fixed for the “vast majority” of Americans who want to use it. Last Friday, the administration said that the site will be able to serve 50,000 simultaneous users. If that’s true, then the website could be able to handle the traffic that’s expected to come in December. If not, then the administration has an ever bigger political problem on its hands.

*** Raking in the fundraising bucks -- West Coast style: Meanwhile, President Obama is on the second day of his West Coast fundraising trip. After attending fundraisers yesterday in Seattle, the president delivers remarks on immigration reform at 2:35 pm ET in San Francisco before hitting two finance events in the city (both for the Democratic National Committee. Then he heads to Los Angeles for a joint fundraiser benefitting the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Tomorrow, Obama holds one more fundraiser in Los Angeles and will also speak on the economy at Dreamworks Animation.

*** Immigration reform isn’t dead yet: Given Obama’s remarks on immigration today, it’s worth reminding everyone about the developments last week. First, the president said he would accept “a piecemeal approach to overhauling the immigration system… as long as the end result is the same,” the Wall Street Journal wrote. "If they want to chop that thing up into five pieces, as long as all five pieces get done, I don't care what it looks like," he said. "What we don't want to do is simply carve out one piece of it…but leave behind some of the tougher stuff that still needs to get done." Second, House Speaker John Boehner immediately grabbed that olive branch. “I was encouraged that the president said that he wouldn’t stand in the way of a step-by-step immigration reform,” Boehner said. “As you know, that’s the approach the House Republicans have taken.” Folks, immigration reform is dead for this year. But it isn’t dead for this Congress.

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