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Politics Today: After The Speech, What Now?

Politics Today is CBSNews.com's inside look at the key stories driving the day in Politics, written by CBS News Political Director Steve Chaggaris:

5299270There was no question that President Obama's much-anticipated speech to a Joint Session of Congress last night had its share of fireworks. From a re-energized president to an unprecedented heckle from Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., the night had the feel of a campaign speech with a sprinkle of the summer's town meeting tension.

The big question, however: did the president's speech work? Are Democrats now unified? Will moderate Republicans jump on board? Are Americans' concerns quelled and are their questions answered? Did Americans even watch or is there a sort of health care reform fatigue?

Only time will tell.

Overnight, the pundits and the partisans weighed in. Today and over the weekend, Congress will have their say. Mr. Obama delivers another speech on health care in Washington D.C. today. The Nielsen TV ratings will be out later to answer the question of whether people tuned in. And the real indicator of success or failure lies in the next round of detailed polling.

WHAT HE SAID: "President Obama, offering some concessions to Republicans and yielding some of his own ground on healthcare, maintained tonight that a 'public option' of government-run insurance is only one option open to debate in the weeks ahead," reports the Los Angeles Times' Mark Silva.

"Insisting that lawmakers approve an overhaul of healthcare debated for decades by the end of this year, the president told a joint session of Congress in a nationally televised address that 'the time for games has passed....Now is the season for action.'...

"The president, while maintaining that some elements of his proposal were essential, made a pitch for his public option offering government-run healthcare for those who cannot find private coverage, but stopped short of demanding a plan imperiled in the Senate.

"'Let me be clear: It would only be an option for those who don't have insurance,' Obama said. 'We should remain open to other ideas that accomplish our ultimate goal.'

"Obama reiterated three long-stated requirements: improving health insurance for those who have it, offering coverage to those who lack it, and paying for it all without worsening the federal budget deficit.

"The Democrat also reached out to Republicans by embracing some GOP-inspired ideas for a healthcare overhaul.

"He announced an initiative to contain the costs of medical malpractice lawsuits, endorsing a Bush administration-inspired demonstration pilot project with alternatives to lawsuits.

"And he embraced a plan put forward by his opponent in the 2008 presidential election, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, to insure people against catastrophic illnesses."

"Mr. Obama chastised Republican leaders who talked of death panels," reports the Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Weisman and Janet Adamy. "The president called it 'a lie, plain and simple.' He warned, 'I will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that it's better politics to kill this plan than improve it....If you misrepresent what's in the plan, we will call you out. And I will not accept the status quo as a solution, not this time, not now.'

"Republicans in turn held aloft copies of health-care bills they have drafted in a quiet rebuke to a president who has said they have offered nothing constructive. One, Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina, shouted 'lie' when Mr. Obama said his plan wouldn't cover illegal immigrants, though the Democratic bills circulating in Congress do exclude illegal immigrants from eligibility for subsidies. Mr. Wilson late Wednesday issued a statement apologizing to Mr. Obama for 'this lack of civility.'"

(CBS/ AP)
"Obama also called for new regulations on private insurers to protect patients," add McClatchy Newspapers' Margaret Talev, David Lightman and William Douglas. "He told Americans that any plan he signs will: Ban insurance companies from denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions; Prevent insurers from dropping or watering down coverage during illness; End arbitrary annual or lifetime coverage caps; Limit out-of-pocket expenses; Require insurers to cover routine check-ups, mammograms and colonoscopies."

"Joint sessions of Congress have their own pomp and etiquette; even the more fervent opponents tried to be polite and applauded for the cameras. So, it was a measure of just how much anger swirls around health care that one Republican congressman, Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina, couldn't contain himself and shouted 'You lie' during Mr. Obama's speech," adds the New York Times' Alessandra Stanley.

"Throughout the night, there were Republicans frowning in their seats, but also many happy Democrats — none more radiant than Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who worked the room joyously in a fire-engine red pantsuit — relieved, perhaps, to see someone else take the heat on health care reform. Mr. Obama, in a somber dark suit and fire-engine red tie, was perhaps more sympathetic to Mrs. Clinton's travails in the 1990s, kissing her before and after the speech.

"Moderate Republicans joined with Democrats in jumping to their feet and applauding when Mr. Obama promised that his plan would not add to the deficit. At those moments the camera was so intent on Senator Olympia J. Snowe, the moderate Republican from Maine who could be a pivotal vote for Mr. Obama, that it looked a little like a Washington version of a Fox reality show — 'So You Think You Can Cross Party Lines.'

"Mr. Obama tried to appeal to reason, but he didn't stint on emotions, describing Mr. Kennedy not as the liberal lion of the Senate, but as a father who watched two of his three children battle cancer. As the camera froze on the senator's widow, Victoria, struggling to keep her composure, Mr. Obama said, 'He never forgot the sheer terror and helplessness that any parent feels when a child is badly sick; and he was able to imagine what it must be like for those without insurance.'"

"Moderate Democrats responded positively, while Republicans said Obama came up short, even if he showered them with attention," reports the Associated Press' Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar. "Liberals seemed to take it in stride that Obama signaled flexibility on the government-sponsored plan they want to create to compete with private insurers.

"'If the details live up to the quality of the speech, then it's a good plan,' said Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., one of the fiscally conservative 'Blue Dog' Democrats.

"Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said he believes Obama is still out of step with the kind of health care changes most Americans want because his plan entails too much government.

"'The White House changed its sales pitch tonight,' McConnell said. 'But Americans weren't looking for a new sales pitch. They're looking for a new proposal.'"

(AP)
Politics Daily's Patricia Murphy and Lynn Sweet roundup the congressional reaction to the speech: " On CNN, Sen. John McCain told Larry King there were 'many things we can agree on' in the speech, though he was concerned about costs and the public option. ...

"Politics Daily has learned that moderate Democrats, including Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mary Landrieu of Lousiana, are meeting Thursday with Obama at the White House. About 15 of them met Wednesday with Rahm Emanuel, the president's chief of staff.

"Sen. Landrieu was not completely won over, but she did say 'he made a legitimate effort to say, 'Let's try to find common ground.' That is what we're sent here to do. That's what the American people want us to do. And we owe it to them to make our best effort.'

"In terms of what she can vote for in the future, Landrieu said tonight the idea of a trigger option, which has been floated recently, 'might be something we can work with,' adding, 'We need more clarity, but it's a start.' A so-called trigger provision would create a public option only if insurance companies fail to provide broad, affordable coverage over the next several years.

"She has been opposed to a public option in the past.

"Snowe released a statement saying Obama should have left the public option off the table entirely tonight.

"'I appreciate that President Obama shared many of the details of his vision for health reform at this pivotal and historic moment, and signaled a willingness to work across party lines,' Snowe said. 'At the same time, as I continue to oppose the inclusion of a public option in any package, I would have preferred that the issue were taken off the table as I have urged the President -- given that any bill with a public option will not pass the Senate.' ...

"President Obama goes to Minneapolis on Saturday for a campaign-style health care rally designed, it seems, to keep the Democrats in line, since the chance for GOP cross-overs at this stage is slim.

"The reaction that will resonate in progressive corners came from Steve Hildebrand, the Obama presidential campaign deputy manager, who has been a public critic of Obama on health care. Hildebrand told Olbermann, 'I think tonight was a game changer.' Obama 'hit it out of the ball park.'

"So, the bottom line?

"Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) said, 'The speech will only be as good as what happens tomorrow and the day after. We have to go to work immediately on this or it will just be remembered as a good speech. . . . We've got a lot of work to do and the hard work begins tomorrow.'

"Did Obama get any Republican votes with it? 'I don't know,' said Dodd. 'There might be some. But I think there are people, a lot of Republicans, who might be willing to move at some point on this. They don't want to be on the wrong side of this. They enjoyed August, but August is fading. They're going to have to go home at some point and this issue is there. Having done nothing and just said no, I don't envy anybody who thinks that's a great political position to be in.'"

Washington Post's Shailagh Murray and Paul Kane, "Congress Gets Nudge Down a Long Road"

New York Times' Robert Pear and Jackie Calmes, "Obama's Plan Builds on Others' Ideas"

Associated Press' Jennifer Loven, "Obama willing to deep-six public option"

Politico's Patrick O'Connor and Glenn Thrush, "Can Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer keep lid on public-option tensions?"

Los Angeles Times' James Oliphant and Tom Hamburger, "Obama says he will weigh medical malpractice reform"

Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown, "Barack Obama's health-care speech: What he said, what he meant"

Associated Press' Calvin Woodward and Erica Werner, "FACT CHECK: Obama uses iffy math on deficit pledge"

Washington Post, "FACT CHECKER"

Boston Globe, "Obama's speech invokes letter from Kennedy" http://www.boston.com/news/health/articles/2009/09/10/obamas_speech_invokes_letter_from_kennedy/

(CBS/AP)
PUNDIT REACTION: New York Times' Adam Nagourney: "For nearly an hour, Mr. Obama spoke strongly and passionately, pausing only to acknowledge the repeated cheers from his audience as he made what appeared to be his clearest and most concise case yet on a complicated issue that had repeatedly defied his communications skills."

"He managed to invest his case with both economic and emotional urgency — particularly when he invoked the memory of Senator Edward M. Kennedy, whose widow, Victoria, was in the audience — without getting bogged down in too many details.

"Mr. Obama had clearly decided to speak more to the American people watching on television than to the lawmakers arrayed in front of him in the House chamber. On this evening, at least, Congress was part of the political theater, both in the form of the constant applause from fellow Democrats and in the person of the Republican congressman who yelled out 'lie' when Mr. Obama asserted that nothing in his plan would provide coverage for illegal immigrants.

"It will take time to see if this works. ...

"In a recognition of the current political atmosphere, Mr. Obama used his speech to ease away from what had been another defining aspect of his candidacy: the promise to transcend the partisanship in Washington.

"He did offer gestures across the aisle, embracing an idea from Senator John McCain of Arizona that would insure the poor against catastrophic medical expenses and endorsing some sort of medical malpractice limits that Republicans have long championed.

"But in a climate where at this point he might be lucky to get more than one or two Republican votes from Congress, those were seen by Republicans and Democrats alike mostly as an effort by the White House to get credit for trying and so insulate the administration from criticism that it was trying to jam a bill through on its terms. For the White House, one of the more worrisome events of this summer has been an erosion of independent voters' support for this president and his health care plan.

CBS News' Mark Knoller: "At turns, forceful and gently understanding, Mr. Obama offered up some new rhetoric. But his basic arguments were largely the same we've heard in the 28 previous speeches he's given on health care reform. ...

"He said he was willing to compromise – but there was a limit.

"'I will not back down on the basic principle that if Americans can't find affordable coverage, we will provide you with a choice,' he said.

"And that brings the health care debate back to square one - still beset by issues that have defied resolution for decades even among members of Congress of the same party.

"It makes it clear that little was settled or moved forward in the conflict over health care in America – and the arguments go on."

(AP)
Washington Post's Dan Balz: "There was a sense of urgency in Obama's voice -- in apparent recognition of the problems he has encountered through months of congressional dickering, hostile and sometimes false claims hurled by opponents of reform, and the degree to which he has gambled his political fortunes on the outcome.

"It is rare for a presidency so young to have so much on the line. No single speech can create consensus on health-care legislation, and in that sense this was not the make-or-break moment described by some commentators. But Obama has staked his presidency on this issue, and his advisers knew it was long past time for him to assert himself in a more demonstrable way or risk seeing the entire enterprise slip away. ...

"The president had two overriding objectives for his speech. First was to reassure and ultimately rally a skeptical public to get behind the drive for comprehensive health-care reform. On this, it was clear he had in mind a pair of audiences whose support is vital: independents and senior citizens. Seeking to appease independents worried that his agenda threatens a fiscal disaster for the country, he promised not to sign a bill that would increase the deficit. Addressing seniors, he looked directly into the cameras and vowed, 'I will protect Medicare.'

"Obama almost certainly will get a boost in the polls from Wednesday's speech, as President Bill Clinton did when he gave a similar address to Congress in the fall of 1993. Obama's key to success is to use the space created by this moment to drive Congress, particularly his Democratic allies, toward consensus and action. The longer the debate continues, the more his gains from the speech will dissipate. ...

Wall Street Journal's Gerald F. Seib: "In his Wednesday night speech to Congress and the nation beyond, President Barack Obama was a man on a tightrope, performing a difficult balancing act.

"With one hand, he was trying to reassure Americans in the political center, who are scared by, but not actually opposed to, changing the health-care system. With the other, he was trying to motivate his party's activists, who have the passion to drive a bill through Congress -- but who also happen to want the kinds of big changes that scare those centrists. ...

"[F]or activists on the left wing of his party, who know how to beat the drums for action, the president said he still likes the 'public option,' or the government-run health-insurance alternative (even while suggesting he wouldn't fall on his sword to get it). More important, he implicitly urged his party's activists not to dwell on compromises he's prepared to make, but instead to grasp the chance for historic steps already within reach (hundreds of billions in government subsidies to help the uninsured, for example, and nearly universal coverage). And he offered a fair chunk of the fighting words partisans like to hear -- enough, in fact, to bring partisan tensions to the surface in the congressional chamber during his remarks.

"That mix of messages certainly was designed to shoot the narrow gap between right and left in Congress. But it also is structured to move through a similar opening for action in public opinion. ...

"[F]or those in the center, Mr. Obama's speech described his plan as anything but radical. It would bring 'security and stability,' and it 'incorporates ideas from senators and congressmen; from Democrats and Republicans -- and yes, from some of my opponents in both the primary and general election.'

"And for Democratic foot-soldiers, a more emotional rallying cry: 'I will not accept the status quo as a solution. Not this time. Not now.' So begins the fall tightrope walk."

Politico's Roger Simon: "The guy knows how to give a speech. Give him that.

"Barack Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress Wednesday night was both an elegant celebration of the American character and a strong denunciation of our current inability in this country to 'engage in a civil conversation.'

"But will it really help him pass health care reform? Did it really draw any lines in the sand or just add a few more squiggles in the mud?

"Most importantly, did the speech unite his own party? That was his true goal. ...

Coverage of Rep. Joe Wilson's outburst:

Bloomberg News' Ryan J. Donmoyer and Edwin Chen, "Republican Wilson Apologizes After Accusing Obama of a 'Lie'"

New York Times' Carl Hulse, "In Lawmaker's Outburst, a Rare Breach of Protocol"

Politico's Glenn Thrush, "Wilson's rallying cry"

Washington Post's Dana Milbank, "The Republican Response, Arriving a Little Early"



(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
KENNEDY'S SUCCESSOR: Boston Globe's Stephanie Ebbert, "Senator John F. Kerry joined dozens of residents, public officials, and labor representatives yesterday in urging state lawmakers to give Governor Deval Patrick the power to appoint an interim senator to fill Edward M. Kennedy's seat for five months. ... Kerry's testimony highlighted a packed hearing that lasted more than five hours in a State House auditorium, where lawmakers weighed the value of having full representation in the Senate - at a time of big-ticket policy proposals, chiefly President Obama's controversial health care plan - against the political consequences of almost certainly helping the Democratic majority on Capitol Hill tighten its grip on power. ... The bill could come to the floor of both the House and Senate within days, though its passage is hardly assured. House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray have been conspicuously passive on the issue."

Politico's Jonathan Martin, "Andy Card run for Kennedy seat?"

Boston Herald's Jessica Van Sack, "GOP flails amid opportunity"

Boston Globe's Travis Anderson, "Coakley rallies Medford crowd, details her top priorities"

2009 VA GOV: Richmond Times-Dispatch Jim Nolan and Jeff E. Schapiro, "Deeds campaigns at VUU; Minn.'s Pawlenty helps out McDonnell"

2009 NJ GOV: Newark Star-Ledger's Chris Megerian, "GOP candidate Chris Christie lays out top priorities in Paramus speech"

ALSO:
Wall Street Journal's Jess Bravin and T.W. Farnam, "Court Debates Campaign Law"

McClatchy Newspapers' Michael Doyle, "Supreme Court justices skeptical of campaign limits"

Washington Post's Robert Barnes, "High Court's Conservatives Skeptical of Election Law"

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