Just to demonstrate the utter genericness of pre-Inauguration coverage, we begin today by noting that President Obama begins his second term "with challenges at home and overseas," in startling contrast to all the Presidents who had no worries to speak of domestically and a broad agreement from the rest of the world to chill out and leave us alone. But to talk about all this stuff, we'll have David Plouffe and Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who probably isn't a so much a guy "who will play a large role in Obama's second term" as he is "someone we could get booked on this show this weekend."
But we are going to start off with some news from Ed Henry, who is a White House Correspondent. He reports that there are a lot of people here in Washington to see the Inauguration. Also, there are challenges ahead. But first, many ceremonies -- swearings in, visits to cemeteries, appearances in specific rooms in the White House, the javelin, the hammer throw, a sandwich...it's like the decathalon of pomp and circumstance.
Okay, now we'll talk to David Plouffe, who I'm guessing is probably going to talk about how awesome Obama's second term is going to be, you probably can't wait to see it, et cetera. First off, a serious question about the recent terrorist attack in Algeria, where many people -- including Americans -- were taken hostage in a situation that came to a sad end, apparently. This is going to be one of those occasions where because I am starting an hour behind the shows because of extenuating circumstances, that the conversation that's about to transpire on my teevee may not have all of the current information.
Plouffe plays it close to the vest, saying that he has no additional information this morning and as soon as they do they'll fill people in. And then there is some boilerplate about the continuing need to confront terrorism. This is the post-Susan Rice era, where no one is going to come on a Sunday show in the immediate aftermath of an incident like this and report any current information. No more, "here's what we think happened" or "the situation, as best as we know, is like this." He doesn't totally blow up the Algerian response to the incident, saying only that we'll continue to bolster the counter-terror efforts of nations like Algeria so that they can continually get better at destroying terrorist networks before they have a chance to launch attacks
Wallace shifts with a good question, pointing out that in the past, Obama has referred to al Qaeda as "a spent force." But there's signs of life within that death cult, going into the second term. He shows footage of Leon Panetta being a resurgent threat while Obama was campaigning on "decimating" al Qaeda. (Maybe he just meant the classic definition of "decimation" where only 10% of al Qaeda got killed?) Plouffe says that "there's no question that the core al Qaeda leadership" in Afghanistan and Pakistan is "decimated" but now they're way into al Qaeda in Northern Africa and the Arab Peninsula, sort of the way everyone is now way into glossed up string bands like Mumford and Sons and whatnot.
Plouffe says that Obama is going to talk about how our "founding values and vision" are still applicable today and please please please someone be a mensch and find "common ground" with him, okay?
Wallace says that Obama has been "more combative and confrontational" with Republicans this year, which is the going notion inside the Beltway: by exposing the fact that the GOP is hopelessly divided, Obama is being terribly mean!
Wallace asks if it is fair to say that Obama has given up on the "inside game" of negotiating and is now just going to use Organizing for America to add pressure to every political fight in Washington, and Plouffe says that the President has to do both things, negotiate from within and activate the citizens beyond the Beltway. "We want to make sure that these debates aren't happening in Washington, exclusively."
But is it fair to say that the GOP has "suspicions" about things like Social Security? Plouffe demurs, and says that the GOP needs to sort out their internal strife and return to bargaining. Wallace says that the GOP would say the same thing about the White House, and Plouffe has to restate for everyone that the White House has done a lot of compromising they haven't gotten credit for -- including reforms and cuts to earned benefit programs and a trillion dollars in spending cuts. He asks why the GOP no longer wants to earn revenue from closing the loopholes they campaigned on in 2012.
It remains clear that after the tax rate debate was settled, the White House is happy to bargain cuts in revenue-neutral fashion, obtaining additional revenues through the same tax reform idea that Romney campaigned on. I imagine that they believe the "math" now works because of the tax rate deal -- but I don't profess to know myself whether that's true. It's fine to be skeptical.
Okay, lightning round. What's the President's opinion of the three-month debt ceiling punt, that includes the link of a budget-to-ceiling raise, in which the punishment is Congress loses their pay. This is the right way to think about these swords of Damocles, by the way. Stop punishing us for your failings, Congress! Punish yourselves! Plouffe says that they're pleased to see the House GOP drop their earlier plan of just paying a few things as the economy convulses, but that the new plan still means three months of amorphous "uncertainty." Also: he'd like Congress to stop "careening from crisis to crisis." He thinks that basically, it should be easy to come up with a package that reduces spending and raises revenue through just the things the GOP campaigned on in 2012.
Moving to gun control, Wallace says that it was weak tea that Obama didn't more pointedly challenge his "friends in Hollywood" to "stop the video games." Now that sounds like something that someone who hated capitalism would do, but okay! Plouffe says that the study that the White House has undertaken is a really important facet of changing the culture -- but I'm pretty sure there have already been a lot of studies of video games.
Wallace asks about the implementation of Obamacare, and whether or not the full implementation will be delayed to allow states to have more time to put together all the things they need to put together. Plouffe says that no one is getting an extension, but that the Department of Health and Human Services will do their best to advise the people doing all the implementing.
So, now here's Roy Blunt, to discuss the "new combativeness" that Obama is apparently going to pursue, because if you remember there was never any combativeness thrown his way during his first term, so where does he get off? Blunt says that he remembers that Obama said you can't change Washington from within, but really he is the only person who can "lead" Washington. Ol' Roy Blunt and the rest of the legislators can't even wipe their asses, that's how much they hunger for leadership. Anyway, he says that it's amazing to him that Obama would rally a grassroots effort to pressure Washington to do things, because "the lesson of the first term is that it didn't work out very well." (Actually, it worked out great -- for Roy Blunt, see also "FreedomWorks/Tea Party Inc.")
Wallace points out that Blunt and his co-horts have done a lot to "block his agenda," and Blunt counters by saying that Obama "likes the executive order approach more than the legislative approach," and I mean, come on: I appreciate, and even want there to be, a robust political debate, but it's simply surreal to sit there and pretend that Obama eschews a legislative approach. If anything, he prefers a complicated and tortured legislative approach. Remember the process of passing the Affordable Care Act? SO MUCH EFFORT TRYING TO WIN OVER CHUCK GRASSLEY? So many Gangs of Six or Seven or Eight or whatever? Obama never said, "Shut that down," he was like, "Cool, look forward to hearing what they have to say." No matter what, he was accused of "ramming it down people's throats," and I was like, "Dude, that is being rammed down your throat SO SLOWLY that maybe you need to check and make sure you still have teeth to chew or amylase in your saliva."
Blunt says that he's frustrated by the lack of a budget, which I can understand, I suppose. But I'm not on board with him calling the debt ceiling a "tool." It's never been used as a tool. It's not supposed to be used as a tool. Cripes, we just shouldn't have it at all.
The good news is that if Blunt wants to cut spending in a "targeted way," instead of the dull, dumb way that the sequester would cut, then I can introduce him to this dude called "Barack Obama" who totally agrees with that approach.
Moving to guns. Blunt has accused Obama of "trying to take away the Constitutional rights" of gun owners and he has countered by saying he's protecting other rights, and maybe that's not the best way of describing this debate at all, Mr. President? I think the case you want to make is that an "assault weapons ban" doesn't take away "rights," it just takes away "assault weapons." Blunt isn't willing to write off the possibility of a ban on high-capacity magazines, but it seems clear that he's not entirely amenable to the idea -- he at the very least wants to do other things (some of which are smart, like improving background checks).
I think the real question is whether or not there's going to be some omnibus gun reform bill, or if Obama will try to work each part through Congress on its own. This is where things get interesting -- Blunt seems to want a "big proposal on guns" that can "possibly work." So, he's actually endorsing the whole "executive order" approach, so long as it doesn't trouble any Republicans at all! If Obama goes piecemeal, he can always say, "Hey, everyone complained that I didn't take this approach my first term, so I'm meeting y'all halfway and doing it the way you want this time." The end result of that is that on the parts where the House GOP goes bughouse, they'll take the hit for it. I wonder if they'll appreciate that!
Blunt says that "Chuck Hagel has some questions to answer," but the good news is that there will be hearings and stuff and he's even going to meet with Blunt, so that process is obviously still wending on the way you'd expect it to. (I sort of wonder if Blunt really has any authentic problems with Hagel, or if he's just talking a good game right now. Honestly, with a few exceptions, I don't know if some of these GOP Senate veterans really have their heart in all this Hagel criticism. Maybe I'm naive!)
Time to panel with Brit Hume and Liz Marlantes and Bill Kristol and Juan Williams.
What does everyone expect from the Inaugural address? Hume says that he'd be surprised if Obama spent the whole speech harshing on the GOP and being combative. Marlantes agrees and says that his big challenge is to "give the country a sense that something is going to get done in Washington." It is probably easier for Obama to just "give the country a sense that they will be getting a pony."
Kristol thinks it's pretty amazing that Obama has made "gun control a top priority" of his second term, given that he didn't campaign on the issue. Arguably, he could have done so! Williams says that Obama's "core base" would like to see Obama spend the next term defying GOP obstructionism, and that the recent movement on guns is a "heartfelt" initiative. Was Gabby Giffords not enough to make everyone feel things?
Brit Hume, who is just about as dumb as a box of tulip bulbs on the matter of the debt ceiling, grouses that the issue has become a loser for the GOP, because of a sustained campaign from the White House, and the media, to point out that breaching the debt ceiling would be a huge disaster for the global economy. Hume -- and I guess I don't know if he's just lying or is simply stupid -- says that the notion that we'd default is "false information." Believe me, it's not. I've been very glad to continually inveigh against breaching the debt ceiling, because it is bad bad bad bad for living things, men and women, Democrats and Republicans, people of all races and colors and creeds. And it's nice that the White House took the time to point out that it was a bad thing too, but they should have never, EVER suggested that the raising of the debt ceiling was an opportune occasion to do budget-bargaining in the first place.
Anyway, Hume has been insane and irresponsible on this issue, and you should think of him as the debt ceiling equivalent of Brody assisting Abu Nasir on Homeland, please be mindful of the fact that I've only seen the first season of that show, so it's not my fault if that metaphor doesn't hold up, in fact I've heard the second season is just like a bowl of pico de bonkers but my colleague Elyse Siegel ASSURES me that I will like it. (ALSO: NO SPOILERS, OKAY.)
And once again somehow this has become a Liveblog of My Homeland Feelings.
More paneling, with the panel. Wallace, citing a Fox News poll notes that there is big time support for universal background checks on guns, robust support for armed guards in schools, and a majority supports a ban on high-capacity clips and assault weapons. Kristol predicts that universal background checks will be the only thing that passes. I sort of think we're going to get more armed guards in schools, and unfortunately for everyone, this will be done as cheaply as possible.
I hold out some, teensy, tiny dim hope that we can get high-capacity magazines off the shelves, which seem to me like they are born into this world with no other purpose in mind than to kill human beings -- and specifically, innocent human beings who have not earned such a fate -- quickly.
We will be stuck with assault weapons. I wonder if we'd be closer to the spirit of an assault weapons ban if those of us (including me) who talk about assault weapons could speak with greater clarity about what they are. I still think we use a lot of terms -- like automatic and semi-automatic -- interchangeably, and ignorantly.
Moving to new and fun foreign entanglements in Mali and Algeria. Kristol says that it's proof that al Qaeda is far from decimated, and he is of course, bugged that the French are doing more to intercede in Africa than we are at the moment. Of course, the last time I checked we were having a huge argument about whether or not we could intercede on behalf of people who live in New York and New Jersey who are homeless and freezing because of a hurricane that hit them, because do we even have money to spend on that? So, I don't know, it seems to me that if France wants to pick up the tab on that for a little while, we should be thankful?
Kristol is also upset that we are pulling out of Afghanistan, while at the same time, no one is calling us for help with their problems. Maybe the Algerians have learned that when they call us for help, they are going to get a hold message that says, "All of our operators are currently hopelessly bogged down in an unwinnable war in the Graveyard of Empires, please stay on the line and your call will be answered in the order that it is received, if we have any money and/or troops left."
THE CHRIS MATTHEWS SHOW
The occasion of Inauguration is a good time to check in with the Sunday Morning genius bar of political chit chat, so let's join Chris Matthews, who is hanging out with Joe Klein and Katty Kay and Nia-Malika Henderson and David Leonhardt.
Matthews cites a poll that apparently says that 59% of "strong Republicans" dislike both Obama's policies and the President personally, and to my estimation, that is a surprisingly low number! Perhaps there is a thawing in the land that's underway! But this is a grave matter to Matthews.
Klein says that "strong Republicans" are going to be upset, then, because he will have a "governing majority in the House" to do lots of things -- like reform immigration and raise the debt ceiling. (Though probably not on guns.) Henderson says that this is what the Obama administration suspected would happen -- the fever would break, the GOP caucus would move in Boehner's direction, and the "Hastert rule" (which is where Boehner only brings to the floor things that have a majority of his party's support) would fall by the wayside.
This may be very very optimistic, and premature to boot.
Kay says that while public opinion indicates that the conservative movement has taken a sharp right turn, Obama is able to make use of the fact that they are, naturally, increasingly out of step with the mainstream. She cites, for example, the NRA's response to Sandy Hook and the proposals to prevent such tragedies as an example of the right sowing the seeds of its own backlash. If that was what this whole game of politics was about, of course, that would paint the Obama White House as successful. But the game is about passing policies that benefit the American people, not winning an inter-party beauty contest.
The panel digs in to that response from the NRA. Henderson says that the NRA isn't actually even trying to participate in a debate. She also points out that the NRA has claimed a membership increase since all this hullabaloo began, but one reason that is happening is the steep membership discounts they are offering.
Kay, however, says that she's spoken to actual NRA members who profess that they've had a new willingness to support things like universal background checks since the Sandy Hook shooting. Leonhardt, counters by saying that just because people are offended by the NRA doesn't mean you get new gun control advocates.
On the debt ceiling matter, there's consensus that breaching the ceiling has become a political loser for the GOP, which is welcome news -- it's the same thing as saying that getting whacked on bath salts and killing your familt with your bare hands has become a "political loser." ("Don't know how Representative Zany McWerewolf comes back from that time he murdered his family in a naked rampage with a bottle opener.") Leonhardt says that the GOP is starting to understand that they can actually apply leverage to the negotiations without resorting to threatening global calamity.
We shift to some soft focus of the Inauguration ceremonies. In case you didn't know, we have a rich tradition of making a big to-do about inaugurating presidents. One president even died, because he couldn't handle our brutal regime of dragging middle-aged men (and one day, we hope, middle-aged women) up and down the streets of Washington DC in the middle of winter.
Leonhardt points out the flukes of circumstances will make it so Obama is the first President to have four swearings-in (official and unofficial) since FDR. Let's hope that Obama is as good at protecting working class Americans as he is at getting sworn in, I guess!
We are going to talk about how the pressure of being President hasn't seemed to affect the President's family in adverse ways. I imagine that knowing that in four years time they will all go off to live a life of absolute affluence regardless of what happens in Washington does a lot to alleviate those pressures. It's good to note that President Obama is in favor of loving his wife and kids, but of course it's terrible the way he didn't get the House GOP to buy in to his plans to have a stable marriage. He didn't even listen to any of their ideas, because tyranny. Anyway, the panel spends about five minutes commenting on this topic, for some reason.
Things that Chris Matthews does not know includes the following:
1. There was a "remarkable and pathetic spectacle" in New York this week, where a handful of legislators from both parties took a vow to "talk to each other," this was all done by No Labels, the world's leading organization in spectacles that are pathetic to the point of being remarkable. In terms of pathetic spectacles in New York City, the one organization that really owes No Labels their gratitude is the New York Jets. (via Joe Klein)
2. Obama talked about climate change thrice during his first Inaugural, and it's going to come up none times in his second. (via Katty Kay)
3. Ted Cruz is going to bloviate over the whole Chuck Hagel nomination. (AND HE WAS BORN IN CANADA? WHAT? HOLY COW, IT'S TRUE HE IS FROM CALGARY!) (via Nia-Malika Henderson)
4. I missed whatever David Leonhardt said because I was too busy getting my brain around Ted Cruz being Canadian! How did I not know this?
Matthews asks if the second Obama Inauguration is more significant than the first -- everyone has a reason to say it's significant: Klein says it enforces the diminished status of Republicans, Kay notes that it means the first black president wasn't a one-termer, Henderson says it's a big deal, and Leonhardt says that it's "enormous from a policy perspective."
They all predict that there will be fewer people in town tomorrow. Fingers crossed, anyway.
THIS WEEK WITH GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS
Today, George Stephanopoulos will have more Plouffe-stuff for us, and then PANEL MADNESS with George Will and Cokie Roberts and Matt Dowd and Rick Santorum and Jennifer Granholm -- ALSO FROM CANADA.
So, what is Obama going to talk about tomorrow? The same stuff that Plouffe already told Fox News Sunday. It's a monologue about our founding principles and how we can settle our differences and it's important to seek common ground and we all hope that John Wall will lead the Washington Wizards to more wins. Okay, that last one was mine. He says that Obama will "seek common ground" and "find ways to compromise" but will be upset if Washington stays "divorced" from the mindset of the rest of the country. Obama realizes that a lot of the country is still pretty significantly economically dislocated, right? I couldn't hear whether he knew that over all the trumpet voluntaries for Tim Geithner.
Meanwhile, even some Democrats aren't ready to go on the hard-charge for Obama's gun reforms. Plouffe says that they'll work to unwind the differences, and putting "together the legislative coalition" will be difficult, but he insists that it's all "common sense solutions" that have been proposed.
GSteph points out that there's widespread skepticism over the possibilities of the assault weapons ban being passed, and here Plouffe maybe gives away the game -- he suggests that it is an important component, but that "all these things deserve votes, we think a lot of them can pass." That primes me to expect this to be done in piecemeal fashion.
On the debt ceiling situation Plouffe says, once again, that the whole "three month punt" isn't the most virtuous idea in the world, in that it keeps the endgame more uncertain than it needs to be, but at the same time it's a big departure for the GOP to not be holding the debt ceiling hostage. However, he warns: the White House will be asking for new revenues. "Yes, it's got to be balanced," Plouffe says, once again citing the "close the loopholes" approach to raising revenue that the GOP has lately, fully, endorsed (until there was a need to be pigheaded about raising more revenue).
Moving to immigration, Stephanpoulos talks about Marco Rubio's comment that the White House hasn't reached out to him on the policy, despite the fact that Jay Carney has provided some overtures of praise. Why not team up, though? Is that plan in the offing? Plouffe doesn't say much more than noting that the "stars are aligned" and that the "moment is here" for immigration reform. Stephanopoulos says that a united front with a prominent GOP leader might be galvanizing, but Plouffe doesn't offer much to lay behind that idea other than to say the "process" is beginning.
I think a lot of this will depend on whether the Obama White House is focused on policy or politics. If you focus on policy, you recognize that Rubio is a respected member of the opposition who is not far removed from your policy position and you take the time to get it done -- recognizing that this might be what it takes to get John Boehner to break the Hastert rule and put the nativist side of the caucus in the freezer. If your focus is on politics, you do whatever you can to paint your opponents as unreasonable -- even when you have a perfectly reasonable partner to work with -- so that you can diminish their political power further. But then you sacrifice the policy!
Okay, it is already panel time, so let's get on with it.
George Will says that the problem that Obama faces on the gun legislation is that he's never been great at persuading the country -- citing lingering antipathy toward the Affordable Care Act, which isn't so much a matter of a lack of persuasion as it was just pure ineffectiveness at telling people what it does. Similarly, lots of Americans didn't know they'd received a payroll tax cut! That might be pretty problematic now that they aren't receiving it anymore.
Santorum says that "we should stick to our guns" because there is "increasing violence in our society" and so people need guns. But, no, violent crime in America is in a five-year free-fall, statistically. What is on the upswing is massive economic dislocation that causes financial desperation, combined with a lot of mindless, lunatic ravings about how the nation is about to tip into certain tyranny.
Granholm points out that one of the problems is that proper enforcement hasn't happened because the NRA keeps blocking the ATF from doing their job. There was a very good segment on the Daily Show about this, making up for their truly awful segments on the platinum coin.
Dowd frets that the needed improvements to our nation's mental health treatment system won't be made. Roberts cosigns that concern. Will points out that the last bill that Kennedy signed before he was murdered was a disinstitutionalization bill -- and that's "fun with trivia that's incidental to the discussion with George Will."
Dowd says that one thing Obama has done right is to allow doctors to ask people who present symptoms of poor mental health or suicidal ideation to ask those patients if they have guns in their homes. That is one of the suggested reforms that the crazies have specifically identified as "tyranny," too.
Roberts asks why people should even have high-capacity magazines, and Rick Santorum says that there weren't any restrictions on guns or magazine fifty years ago and there was less violence and what does that tell you, huh? (SPOILER ALERT: It tells you that in fifty years time guns and magazines have grown more capable of doing immense violence.) Roberts isn't having it, and continues to complain about armor piercing bullets being available, but Santorum is all "Hollywood violence! Hollywood violence!" I don't know. Seems to me that if anything, the original film canisters that the 1967 "Bonnie and Clyde" were encased in go a lot further to penetrating a Kevlar vest that the DVD of "Django Unchained."
Everyone is yelling. Granholm asks why should people have armor piercing bullets, and Santorum says that "having the right to defend yourself is a right in this country." I don't think it's occurred to him that the only reason to have an armor piercing bullet is to pierce the armor of the professionals who defend our rights on a daily basis.
More panelling, and I'm going to speed round this because once again I've gone long. Suffice it to say, there is a lengthy bit of panel thumbsucking in which everyone opines about the history of inaugurations and the pomp and the circumstances and the ceremonies and all that. What are your thoughts on Inauguration Day? They are probably not less interesting than anything I am hearing on these Sunday shows today.
Rick Santorum says that the inauguration speech will be all about guns and climate change. But what if we could fight climate change with guns? The NRA would be leading the way at shooting at clorofluorocarbons, with guns.
Dowd says that many people had great hope that Obama would "change Washington" and "bring people together" and he hasn't done that. Granholm is like, "Huh?" because it takes two to tango and the GOP was meeting on Inauguration Day four years ago to launch what James Wolcott correctly termed the Conspiracy To Commit Legislative Constipation.
Santorum is mad because Obama, apparently, is an ungracious winner. The idea, I guess, is that after dogging his every move and calling his every suggestion tyranny, Obama should have thanked the Republicans for it.
Here's how ungracious Obama was by the way. After all the lycanthropic behavior and the methed up howls of "tyranny" and "socialism" and "un-American" that came just as easy as breathing, he went and kicked his opponents' asses in the 2012 election and then he STILL TURNED RIGHT AROUND AND SAID, "Hey, you know, maybe I am being too firm and uncompromising with the whole 'higher taxes for everyone making above $250,000 thing,' so I'll tell you what I am going to do...I'm going to let my base down and raise that up to $400,000 and not take as much revenue as I can get and who knows? This might actually IMPERIL the things I want to do in my second term, but you guys are right, I think I should compromise yet again, because if I don't change the tone in Washington, who will?"
So, yeah, like Rick Santorum says, Obama is definitely history's most ungracious monster!
"Every day that passes from the inauguration is a loss of power for the President," says Dowd. Men must endure their going hence, even as their coming hither: Ripeness is all. Snowden is bleeding out in the back of the plane, the spirit gone, man is garbage. Now I want to read King Lear and/or Catch 22 again.
Will cautions, on immigration, that the GOP needs to "get to the left" on immigration, and that if they fall short, it will never be forgotten. Truly, I think that immigration is an issue that could bring more talented candidates into the 2016 mix, but they'll really have to bring their base back from the nativist extremes they reached in 2012, when they were willing to put a torch to Rick Perry, of all people.
Now they are talking about Lance Armstrong, who is a liar and a sociopath. He has the exact same sort of mental poisoning that the people who think it would be a good idea to breach the debt ceiling do -- it's a psychosis. At the same time, he really should have been forced to confess his sins to ordinary reporters under unflattering lighting, and not continue this weird ritual where Oprah Winfrey is our national confessor. Armstrong may be nothing more than an empty husk into which celebrity is poured, but he's gotten out of this with his shiny husk in tact.
I am gong to pass on what I'm sure will be a super important interview with Eva Longoria to let us get on with our lives. As always, thanks to all of you for joining me today. If you are coming in for tomorrow's festivities, I wish you luck! Dress warmly, because it could get even colder than advertised.