Thursday, February 12, 2009

GOP 'Jumping Off Electoral Cliff' By Opposing Stimulus Bill, Poll Finds

A Strong 59 Percent of Americans Support President Obama's Stimulus Bill -- and 64 Percent Approve of His Performance as President So Far -- While GOP's Approval Rating Remains Dismal at 31 Percent, According to New USA Today/Gallup Poll; House GOP Whip Cantor in Controversy Over Profanity-Laced Web Video

Irreversible Death - The End of the Republican Party - Part 1Irreversible Death - The End of the Republican Party - Part 1Irreversible Death - The End of the Republican Party - Part 1

After taking back-to-back losses to the Democrats in the 2006 and 2008 elections, Republicans should be feeling pretty blue these days. Yet Republicans on Capitol Hill (with the notable exceptions of Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania) appear to be heading toward electoral oblivion by fiercely opposing President Obama's economic stimulus packacge, despite a new poll showing that a 59 percent majority of Americans support the president's stimulus proposal and a 64 percent majority approve of his overall performance as president -- while Capitol Hill Republicans have drawn a dismal 31 percent approval rating. (Image courtesy

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EST Thursday, February 12, 2009)
(Updated 5:00 a.m. EST Saturday, February 14, 2009)



WASHINGTON -- Handing the new administration a huge Valentine's Day gift, Congress gave final approval Friday to a $787 billion recovery package that President Obama hopes will help boost an economy in freefall with a combination of government spending and tax cuts and credits.

Approved without a single "yes" vote by House Republicans and with only three "ayes" by GOP senators, the plan -- which went through multiple permutations as it bounced back and forth on Capitol Hill over the past week -- now goes to Obama's desk, where he plans to sign it into law by Monday -- Presidents' Day.

The bill was approved 246-183 in the House and 60-38 in the Senate. With Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) absent, the vote by the Senate took several hours longer than the usual roll call of its 100 members generally would, to allow Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) to return to Washington on a government plane from his home state after he attended a wake for his mother.

Only three Republicans -- Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania -- supported the measure in the Senate. Their support was needed to give the plan the 60 votes needed to keep it from being shut down by a Republican filibuster.

-- Associated Press and CNN

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Republicans opposed to President Obama's multi-billion-dollar economic stimulus package may find themselves jumping off a political cliff to electoral oblivion, for they're also bucking the will of a strong 59 percent majority of the American people who support the measure, according to a newly-released USA Today/Gallup Poll.

The public gives Obama a strong 67 percent approval rating for the way in which he is handling the government's efforts to pass an economic stimulus bill, the poll finds, while the Democrats and, in particular, the Republicans in Congress receive much lower approval ratings of 48 percent and 31 percent, respectively.

Meanwhile, the office of newly-elected House Republican Whip Eric Cantor has come under fire for posting an obscenity-laced video on the Web in response to a hard-hitting TV ad that attacked the Virginia Republican and other GOP leaders for encouraging his colleagues to "just say no" to the president's economic recovery plan.

Cantor's Web ad depicted the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the union representing public-service workers -- and one of the two main sponsors of the anti-Republican TV ad -- as bullies, complete with a foul-mouthed narration supposedly by a union spokesman.


The new Gallup findings, based on interviews conducted February 6 and 7, underscore the degree to which Obama appears to be maintaining the upper hand over his GOP opponents from a public opinion perspective as he and congressional leaders wrangle over the precise form and substance of the economic stimulus plan.

They also underscore the increasingly difficult political climate that House and Senate Republicans are finding themselves in after the drubbing they took in last November's election -- and the growing risk that their continued opposition to the stimulus package could result in their party being branded obstructionists standing in the way of the voters' mandate for a change in direction from the Bush administration.

Moving with lightning speed, the House-Senate Conference Committee reached agreement Wednesday on a final consensus version of the stimulus bill, with a $789 billion price tag. The measure, designed to preserve and create millions of jobs in a nation reeling from recession, could reach Obama's desk for his signature as early as Saturday.

The House is scheduled to vote on the compromise bill today (Thursday), with the Senate likely to follow suit on Friday, before Congress takes a one-week President's Day holiday recess. Obama set a deadline of President's Day on Monday for the bill to reach his desk.

The House passed its version of the stimulus bill last week without a single "aye" vote from the 178 House Republicans. The Senate version passed on Tuesday with only three GOP senators -- Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania -- voting in favor.

All three GOP senators who voted yes represent heavily-Democratic states where Obama won easily last November. The moderate Specter, Pennsylvania's senior senator, is up for re-election next year -- and already is facing the threat, for the second consecutive election, of a bruising primary fight with a right-wing challenger for the GOP nomination.

Republican Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, nominated by Obama to be the next commerce secretary, abstained from Tuesday's Senate vote on the stimulus bill -- but stunned Washington on Thursday when he abruptly withdrew his nomination, citing "irresolvable conflicts" with Obama over the stimulus bill.

Gregg's withdrawal immediately sparked speculation that he would vote against the compromise stimulus bill when it comes up for a final vote in the Senate either Friday or Saturday.


The new polling data released by Gallup shows the sharp divide between the public's positive views of how Obama has handled efforts to pass the stimulus bill and its negative views of how the Republicans have handled this -- a divide that has grown to a stunning 36-point chasm that could prove dangerous to the GOP in the 2010 midterm elections.

The president's overall job-approval rating (64 percent as of February 8) is very close to his approval rating on the stimulus. Only 25 percent disapprove.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll released Friday gave Obama even higher marks, with 76 percent of respondents approving the president's job performance, while only 22 percent disapprove.

The poll found that an overwhelming 80 percent of respondents say the president is providing strong leadership for the country, 76 percent say he's doing a good job handling foreign policy, 72 percent say Obama's doing a good job dealing with the economy and 68 percent give the president a thumbs-up when it comes to handling policies on terrorism.

In sharp contrast, the Republicans in Congress receive a much lower approval rating of 31 percent in the USA Today/Gallup Poll, while 58 percent disapprove. The GOP's approval rating is nonetheless six points higher than its 25 percent approval rating in a previous Gallup survey in Demcember.

These relatively positive sentiments toward Obama were reflected in recent Gallup polling that asked Americans whether their confidence in Obama's ability to improve the economy and manage the government had gotten better or worse since his inauguration.

At least 50 percent of Americans said their confidence had increased, while only 17 percent to 18 percent said they had less confidence.

Congressional Democrats, however, didn't fare as well, with only 48 percent approving of the way Democrats on Capitol Hill are handling the economic crisis, while 42 percent disapprove.


A spokesman for Cantor apologized late Wednesday afternoon amid a firestorm of controversy over an obscenity-laced video he included in an e-mail he sent out on Tuesday in response to a hard-hitting TV and radio advertising blitz by AFSCME and the labor-backed Americans United for Change demanding that Cantor and other GOP leaders get behind the president's stimulus package and "stop saying no."

Spokesman Brad Dayspring, who initially stressed he had sent out as a joke, issued a written apology for the video, which he insisted his boss knew nothing about in advance and that "in no way" was it an official response from the Virginia Republican to the stimulus TV ad.

"Let me be clear," Dayspring wrote, "we know people are hurting in these trying times and House Republicans completely agree that we must pass an economic recovery bill that preserves, protects and create jobs for Americans facing these economic challenges." It was not clear as of early Wednesday evening what disciplinary actions, if any, would Cantor take against Dayspring.

The video is an altered version of a 1970s TV ad promoting the public-employee union. The audio portion, which originally extolled the virtues of the union, was redubbed to a voice reminiscent of Peter Paul (Paulie Walnuts) Galtieri -- mobster Tony Soprano's chief enforcer in the highly-popular HBO drama, "The Sopranos" -- that says the following:

"On your way to work tomorrow, instead of sittin' around with your finger up your [bleep], look around," the voiceover says. "There's a union out there called AFSCME and they're bustin' their [bleep]s doin' a lot of [bleep] work you take for granted.

"For example, we pick up your [bleep]in' garbage," the voiceover continues. "We've got broads [crossing guards] out there who keep your kids from gettin' rolled by some [pervert]. . . We plug up the holes in the roads so that you don't [bleep] up your car. . .We make sure your kids don't drink [urine] from the [bleep]in' water fountains. . .

"We're hard-workin' taxpayers like you and we don't take [bleep] from nobody," the voiceover finishes. "You got that, [bleep]hole? AFSCME -- the [bleep]in' union that works for you!"

Brad Woodhouse, the head of Americans United for Change, denounced the video as "a childish and disgusting response to one of the most serious crises facing America in our lifetimes."

AFSCME President Gerald McEntee also denounced the video. In a statement, McEntee said that Cantor "may think the greatest economic crisis in seventy years is a joke, but we don’t. He should talk to the people in Virginia who are losing their jobs, health care and homes."


There was no direct comment from Cantor on the video furor. As House GOP Whip, Cantor -- along with Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Caucus Chairman Mike Pence (R-Indiana) -- have more important things to worry about -- Namely, whether they can maintain the unanimous "no" vote when the compromise version of the stimulus bill comes to the floor of the House for final passage.

To vote "no" a second time — after concessions were made in the final House-Senate compromise bill — carries heavy political risks. House Republicans already getting pummeled by ads branding them the “No” party -- especially those from the hard-hit Midwest -- have to be worried about being seen as obstructionist at a time of the nation's most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Not to mention bucking a highly popular president who's staked his still-fledgling tenure in the White House on turning the economy around and has waged a full-court press for Congress to act -- and the legions of the president's supporters are bombarding Republicans with e-mails, faxes and phone calls demanding that they support the bill.

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Volume IV, Number 12
Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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Monday, February 09, 2009

Obama Facing Stiff Pentagon Resistance to His Iraq Troop-Withdrawal Timetable

Pentagon Brass -- Who Never Accepted Bush's Agreement With Iraq to Pull U.S. Combat Troops Out of Iraqi Cities by Next Summer -- Lobbied Obama in Vain to Abandon Campaign Promise to Withdraw All Troops From Iraq by the Spring of Next Year; Now Sources Say Pentagon Plans Public-Relations Drive to Force Obama to Back Down

US President Barack Obama greets members of the US Armed Forces ...

President Obama greets members of the Armed Forces after meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon on January 28. Obama said he had "difficult decisions" to make on Iraq and Afghanistan after his first meeting as commander-in-chief with military brass. But sources are now saying that the military's top brass -- who never accepted an agreement reached last November between the outgoing Bush administration and the Iraqi government to withdraw U.S. combat troops from Iraqi cities by next summer -- are resisting Obama's timetable to withdraw troops from Iraq completely by the spring of next year and are even considering a publicity campaign to force the president to back down. (Photo: Saul Loeb/Agence France-Presse)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EST Monday, February 9, 2009)


Inter-Press Service

WASHINGTON -- General David Petraeus, commander of U.S. military operations in the Persian Gulf region -- supported by Defense Secretary Robert Gates -- tried to convince President Obama at a White House meeting on his first full day in office January 21 that he had to back down from his campaign pledge to withdraw all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by the spring of 2010.

But Obama informed Gates, Petraeus, and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that he wasn't convinced and ordered Gates and the military leaders to come back quickly with a detailed 16-month withdrawal plan, according to two sources who have talked with participants in the meeting.

Obama's decision to override Petraeus' recommendation has not ended the conflict between the president and senior military officers over troop withdrawal, however. There are indications that Petraeus and his allies in the military and the Pentagon, including General Ray Odierno, now the top commander in Iraq, have already begun to try to pressure Obama to change his withdrawal policy.

A network of senior military officers is also reported to be preparing to support Petraeus and Odierno by mobilizing public opinion against Obama's decision.


Pentagon officials have made it clear through public statements and deliberately leaked stories in recent weeks that they plan to violate a central provision of a U.S.-Iraq withdrawal agreement that requires the complete withdrawal of all U.S. combat troops from Iraqi cities by next summer by reclassifying combat troops as support troops.

The scheme to reclassify U.S. troops in Iraq represents both open defiance by the Pentagon of the agreement reached last November between the outgoing Bush administration and the Iraqi government and a determined effort to force Obama to back away from his campaign promise to pull all U.S. combat troops from Iraq completely by the spring of next year.

Petraeus was visibly unhappy when he left the Oval Office, according to one of the sources. A White House staffer present at the meeting was quoted by the source as saying, "Petraeus made the mistake of thinking he was still dealing with George Bush instead of with Barack Obama."

Petraeus, Gates, and Odierno had hoped to sell Obama on the reclassification plan that they formulated in the final months of the Bush administration that was aimed at getting around the U.S.-Iraqi withdrawal agreement, which effectively gave the green light for Obama to deliver on his campaign promise.

Gates and Mullen had discussed the scheme with Obama as part of the Petraeus-Odierno plan for withdrawal they had presented to him in mid-December, The New York Times reported on December 18.

Obama decided against making any public reference to his order to the military to draft a detailed 16-month combat troop withdrawal policy, apparently so that he can announce his decision only after consulting with his field commanders and the Pentagon.

The first clear indication of the intention of Petraeus, Odierno, and their allies to try to get Obama to amend his decision came on January 29 when the Times published an interview with Odierno, ostensibly based on the premise that Obama had indicated that he was "open to alternatives."

The Times reported that Odierno had "developed a plan that would move slower than Mr. Obama's campaign timetable" and had suggested in an interview "it might take the rest of the year to determine exactly when United States forces could be drawn down significantly."


The apparent determination of the military leadership to defy Bush by ignoring the U.S.-Iraq agreement and to pressure Obama on his withdrawal policy was clear from remarks made by Mullen in a news conference on November 17 -- the day after then-U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker had signed the agreement in Baghdad.

Mullen declared that he considered it "important" that withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq "be conditions-based." That position directly contradicted the terms of the agreement. Mullen was asked whether the agreement required all U.S. troops to leave Iraq by the end of 2011, regardless of the security conditions. He answered "Yes," but then added, "Three years is a long time. Conditions could change in that period of time..."

Mullen said U.S. officials would "continue to have discussions with them [the Iraqi government] over time, as conditions continue to evolve" and said that reversing the outcome of the negotiations was "theoretically possible."

Obama's decision to keep Gates -- who was known to be opposed to Obama's withdrawal timetable -- as defense secretary confirmed the belief of the Pentagon leadership that Obama would not resist the military effort to push back against his Iraq withdrawal plan.

A source close to the Obama transition team told IPS last December that Obama chose to keep Gates -- who replaced the controversial Donald Rumsfeld in 2006 -- as defense secretary for a frankly political reason: Obama and his advisers believed the administration would be politically vulnerable on national security and viewed keeping Gates as a way of blunting political criticism of its policies.

Pentagon planners were proposing the "re-labeling" of U.S. combat units as "training and support" units, the Times reported on December 4. The planners projected that as many as 70,000 U.S. troops would be maintained in Iraq "for a substantial time even beyond 2011," despite the U.S.-Iraq agreement's explicit requirement that all U.S. troops would have to be withdrawn by then.

Odierno flatly told reporters at a Baghdad press conference on December 13 that U.S. troops would not move from numerous security posts in Iraqi cities beyond next summer's deadline for their removal, saying "We believe that's part of our transition teams."


The opening argument by the Petraeus-Odierno faction against Obama's withdrawal policy was revealed the evening of the January 21 meeting when retired Army General Jack Keane, one of the authors of the Bush troop surge policy and a close political ally and mentor of Petraeus, appeared on PBS's "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" to comment on Obama's pledge on Iraq combat troop withdrawal.

Keane, who had apparently been briefed by Petraeus on the outcome of the Oval Office meeting, argued that implementing such a withdrawal of combat troops would "increase the risk rather dramatically over the 16 months." He asserted that it would jeopardize the "stable political situation in Iraq" and called that risk "not acceptable."

The assertion that Obama's withdrawal policy threatens the gains allegedly won by the Bush surge and Petraeus' strategy in Iraq will apparently be the theme of the campaign that military opponents are now planning.

Keane, the Army vice-chief of staff from 1999 to 2003, has ties to a network of active and retired four-star Army generals, and since Obama's January 21 order on the 16-month withdrawal plan, some of the retired generals in that network have begun discussing a campaign to blame Obama's troop withdrawal from Iraq for the ultimate collapse of the political "stability" that they expect to follow U.S. withdrawal, according to a military source familiar with the network's plans.

The source says the network, which includes senior active duty officers in the Pentagon, will begin making the argument to journalists covering the Pentagon that Obama's withdrawal policy risks an eventual collapse in Iraq. That would raise the political cost to Obama of sticking to his withdrawal policy.

If Obama does not change the policy, according to the source, they hope to have planted the seeds of a future political narrative blaming his withdrawal policy for the "collapse" they expect in an Iraq without U.S. troops.


That line seems likely to appeal to reporters covering the Iraq troop withdrawal issue. Ever since Obama's inauguration, media coverage of the issue has treated Obama' s 16-month withdrawal proposal as a concession to anti-war sentiment which will have to be adjusted to the "realities" as defined by the advice to Obama from Gates, Petraeus, and Odierno.

Ever since he began working on the troop surge, Keane has been the central figure manipulating policy in order to keep as many U.S. troops in Iraq as possible. It was Keane who got Vice President Dick Cheney to push for Petraeus as top commander in Iraq in late 2006 when the existing commander, Gen. George W. Casey, did not support the troop surge.

It was Keane who protected Petraeus' interests in ensuring the maximum number of troops in Iraq against the efforts by other military leaders to accelerate troop withdrawal in 2007 and 2008.

As The Washington Post's Bob Woodward reported in his book, The War Within, Keane persuaded former President George W. Bush to override the concerns of the Joint Chiefs of Staff about the stress of prolonged U.S. occupation of Iraq on the U.S. Army and Marine Corps as well its impact on the worsening situation in Afghanistan.

Bush agreed in September 2007 to guarantee that Petraeus would have as many troops as he needed for as long as wanted, according to Woodward's account.

Keane had also prevailed on Gates in April 2008 to make Petraeus the new boss of Central Command (CENTCOM). Keane argued that keeping Petraeus in the field was the best insurance against a Democratic administration reversing the Bush policy toward Iraq.


Keane had operated on the assumption that a Democratic president would probably not take the political risk of rejecting Petraeus' recommendation on the pace of troop withdrawal from Iraq. Woodward quotes Keane as telling Gates, "Let's assume we have a Democratic administration and they want to pull this thing out quickly, and now they have to deal with General Petraeus and General Odierno. There will be a price to be paid to override them."

Obama told Petraeus in Baghdad last July that, if elected, he would regard the overall health of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps and the situation in Afghanistan as more important than Petraeus' obvious interest in maximizing U.S. troop strength in Iraq, according to Time magazine's Joe Klein.

But judging from Petraeus' shock at Obama's January 21 order, he had not taken Obama's previous rejection of his arguments seriously. That miscalculation suggests that Petraeus had begun to accept Keane's assertion that a newly-elected Democratic president would not dare to override his policy recommendation on troops in Iraq.


The Petraeus-Odierno faction's effort to postpone a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq may have been further undermined by the remarkably smooth and almost violence-free provincial elections held last week under tight security by Iraqi -- not American -- forces, which saw Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's party score a landslide victory.

The relative absence of violence during the election campaign was attributed primarily to the participation of Sunni Muslim parties, in sharp contrast to their boycott of the 2005 elections. And so far, the results of the elections have been accepted by most Iraqis -- although charges of vote-rigging in volatile and Sunni-dominated Anbar province persist, raising the specter of renewed sectarian mayhem there.

The results were seen by most observers as a stunning vote of confidence by Iraqis in al-Maliki's government, which will likely make the prime minister and his party the odds-on favorite to win the national parliamentary election scheduled for December. As recently as 18 months ago, the al-Maliki government was considered weak and highly unstable while Iraq was torn asunder by violence, propped up only by the Americans.

Now, after reaching a deal with the Bush administration on a withdrawal timetable -- which Bush had for months said he would never accept -- combined with the peaceful outcome of the elections, it likely will be much harder for the Pentagon to convince Obama that his withdrawal plan should be revised.

# # #

(Gareth Porter is an historian and national security policy analyst. His latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was published in June 2005. Additional reporting by Skeeter Sanders.)

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Volume IV, Number 11
Special Report Copyright 2009, Inter-Press Service.
The 'Skeeter Bites Report Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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