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Democrats Weigh Embracing Obamacare in Midterm Campaign

Do Democrats now fight back on health care?

With the federal website fixed and with eight million Americans enrolled on the exchanges, vulnerable Democrats now face this choice ahead of the November midterm elections: Do they ignore health care (and focus instead on women’s rights and the minimum wage)? Or do they fight back on health care with everything they’ve got? The former approach might be a long-term loser for the party. Democrats could lose in November regardless of which strategy they ultimately pursue, but they have to start figuring out how to make health-care a political winner for them -- and that starts on the campaign trail. If they don’t, then they’re going to be running away from health care another election from now and then the election after that. That essentially was the advice President Obama gave during his news conference late last week. “I think that Democrats should forcefully defend and be proud of the fact that millions of people like the woman I just described who I saw in Pennsylvania yesterday we’re helping because of something we did,” he said. “I don’t think we should apologize for it, and I don’t think we should be defensive about it. I think there is a strong, good, right story to tell.”

Running away from a president rarely works

Indeed, as we wrote on Friday, Democrats now have a rhetorical advantage they didn’t have a couple of months ago. What do you do with the eight million Americans who now have insurance on the exchanges, and with the 24 million Americans who are projected to be on the exchanges by 2017? What about the millions more who have insurance via expanded Medicaid or via their parents’ insurance? And remember, go back to 1994, or 2006, or 2010. Many of the politicians who ran away from their president (either Clinton, Bush, or Obama) lost anyway. But instead of running away, what if they fought back -- especially on social/economic policy they already believe in and voted for? Of course, there are still some unknowns about the health-care law, like will it be affordable in the long term? That will certainly influence the degree to which Democrats can fight back on health care.

Isolating Russia

On Sunday, the New York Times’ Peter Baker summed up the Obama White House’s current strategy regarding the crisis in Ukraine: Everything now is about isolating Russia and turning it into a pariah state. “Mr. Obama has concluded that even if there is a resolution to the current standoff over Crimea and eastern Ukraine, he will never have a constructive relationship with Mr. Putin, aides said. As a result, Mr. Obama will spend his final two and a half years in office trying to minimize the disruption Mr. Putin can cause, preserve whatever marginal cooperation can be saved and otherwise ignore the master of the Kremlin in favor of other foreign policy areas where progress remains possible.” More from the Times: “The prevailing view in the West Wing, though, is that while Mr. Putin seems for now to be enjoying the glow of success, he will eventually discover how much economic harm he has brought on his country. Mr. Obama’s aides noted the fall of the Russian stock market and the ruble, capital flight from the country and the increasing reluctance of foreign investors to expand dealings in Russia.” The territorial dispute here could resonate beyond Russia and Ukraine (see Asia).

Biden heads to Ukraine

Speaking of isolating Russia, Vice President Biden is currently on his way to Ukraine “Biden's visit comes a day after violence erupted in eastern Ukraine, despite an agreement last week aimed at easing tensions,” the AP writes. “A shootout at a checkpoint in eastern Ukraine manned by pro-Russia insurgents left at least three dead and Ukrainian and Russian officials trading accusations of blame.” Among those Biden will meet is Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who spoke on NBC’s “Meet the Press” over the weekend. Said Yatsenyuk when asked what he wants from the Obama administration: ‘We need a strong and solid state. We need financial and economic support. We need to overhaul the Ukrainian military. We need to modernize our security and military forces. We need the real support.”

What a GOP Senate would change…

With Republicans having at least a 50%-50% shot at winning control of the U.S. Senate in November, it’s important to note what a GOP-led Senate would change in Washington. And also what it won’t change. The first thing it will change is increase the number of vetoes President Obama has issued so far (just two) during his time in the White House. With Republicans controlling both the House and Senate, you can expect many more bills reaching his desk that he will oppose. Remember: It takes a two-thirds vote in each chamber for Congress to override a veto (so about 290 in the House and 67 in the Senate). A second thing a GOP Senate would change is the ability for Obama to make appointments to the executive branch and to the judiciary. Right now, it’s likely that the president’s pick to succeed Kathleen Sebelius to head HHS, Sylvia Matthews Burwell, gets confirmed because it now takes just 51 votes (given the changes to the filibuster rules). But if Republicans have 51 votes at their disposal, then slam-dunks for confirmation become A LOT harder. A third thing a GOP Senate will do is raise the profiles of the Republican and Democratic centrists -- like Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Joe Manchin, Angus King, Heidi Heitkamp. If legislation will need 60 votes to even reach Obama’s desk, then those centrists will become kingmakers.

… And what it won’t change

But here’s what won’t necessarily change with Republicans in charge of the Senate: Congress’ productivity, or lack thereof. With the 113th Congress on track to reach a historic low in the number of bills becoming law, the GOP controlling the Senate won’t really change that. What will change is that legislation will likely die via presidential veto rather than due to inactivity in the House or Senate.

Another delay on Keystone

On Friday, the Obama administration announced another delay in the approval process for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline -- which effectively moves President Obama’s ultimate decision AFTER the midterm elections. Per NBC’s Catherine Chomiak, the State Department extended the comment period for the eight federal agencies requires to weigh in on the proposed pipeline. The reason: A Nebraska lawsuit against the pipeline, which the state’s Supreme Court has yet to decide. Red-state Democrats weren't pleased by the announcement: "[Friday]'s decision by the administration amounts to nothing short of an indefinite delay of the Keystone Pipeline. This decision is unnecessary and unacceptable,” Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) said. But chew on this: Keystone happens to be a rare piece of leverage the Obama administration has with Republicans, who really want the pipeline to be approved. Is it conceivable that, after the midterms, the White House uses Keystone to wheel and deal with its own priorities (say immigration reform)? But let’s be honest here: This delay appears intended not to divide a Democratic base before the midterms.

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