Dog days of summer in Washington

It’s family vacation elsewhere, but they’re feeling the heat in and around Washington.

July doesn’t bode well for President Obama in yet another summer of discontent, according to NBC News.

In the five years we’ve been covering Barack Obama on the national stage — first as a presidential candidate, now as the president — he’s always experienced his toughest months in the summer, particularly in July. In the summer of ‘07, he was trailing Hillary Clinton in the primary horserace, and donors were whining about lack of movement; in the summer of ‘08, he saw his poll lead over John McCain narrow as he struggled not to look like he was being coronated; in the summer of ‘09, we saw those health-care town halls; and in the summer of ‘10, the Greek debt crisis and the BP spill helped lock in what was going to be a brutal midterm season for the Democrats. You’ve been able to see it in his poll numbers, too. The summer of ’09, according to the NBC/WSJ survey, was when Obama’s approval rating declined from the 60s to the low 50s. And in the summer of ’10, it went from the low 50s to the mid-40s. He’s now at 49%, per our latest poll.

How the White House is trying to minimize any summer pain: And this summer has the potential to be another summer of Barack Obama’s discontent, especially with the polarizing and high-stakes debate over the debt ceiling. But the White House is doing a few things to try to minimize any damage. For starters, they’re not traveling overseas as they did in the summers of ’09 and ’10; don’t underestimate the impact of the president’s absence and the impact of him being in DC this year to be more responsive to Capitol Hill madness. In addition, they’re trying to reframe the debate on their terms — something they never were able to do on health care. Wednesday’s news conference was the first try to be on offense; it’s why it took many by surprise. All that said, Obama IS headed to Camp David for the weekend after scolding Congress to roll up its sleeves on the debt ceiling…

Will Geithner leave? Bloomberg News was the first to report it yesterday. “[Geithner] signaled to White House officials that he’s considering leaving the administration after President Barack Obama reaches an agreement with Congress to raise the national debt limit, according to three people familiar with the matter.” But in an appearance with former President Bill Clinton at a Clinton Global Initiative event last night, Geithner said he would remain in his position for the “foreseeable future.” Bottom line: We’re told it’s accurate that Geithner is “thinking about it,” but we’re also told not to read as much into it as some others are…

But it would be a big surprise if Geithner did actually leave before the election. Why? Do note that confirming a new Treasury secretary would be very difficult — and painful — for the White House, because the confirmation hearings would only serve to re-litigate the administration’s economic policies at a time the presidential campaign is getting started. Obama cannot afford this, period.

(well that’s an interesting admission)

And if Geithner did leave, other cabinet secretaries who also may be burning out would raise their hand, too. It’s a snowball effect that would take a toll on the West Wing.  Of course, the West Wing is still struggling with USING its Cabinet secretaries effectively; perhaps this Geithner scare will re-focus those efforts.

Anybody getting the sense that this country acted on the visceral reaction to sheer slogans in the last election? And that it’s been painfully obvious and getting clearer for a long time?

Arizona, Immigration, Justice and Obama

How to sort out what years of congressional sessions have failed to do and politics have further entangled….?

In 2006, a series of huge immigration rallies were staged across the country as Congress battled over President George Bush’s ‘pathway to citizenship’ plan, and people on both sides of the emotinally divisive issue demanded some resolution. It didn’t happen.

It is to the great discredit of the U.S. government that essentially nothing has happened, one way or the other, to get a grip on the massive immigration problems in this country. Left unchecked and practially ignored, people are suffering while the very human realities behind the laws and rhetoric get kicked around like a political football.

Speaking of laws and rhetoric…the Justice Department is suing Arizona over its new immigration law that Secretary Eric Holder hadn’t even read when he began the process of preparing the federal lawsuit against it….for what it might do, allegedly. Never mind that it was written to apply existing federal law. And never mind that other states are violatating federal law and the feds know that and choose to ignore it.

It’s all political. Obama had to address it and his speech reflected political urgency, and disarray.

He criticized the “ill conceived” Arizona law authorizing state and local law-enforcement officers to ascertain the legal status of those stopped for other reasons, just as federal officials already can, and presented two serious arguments against it — that it discourages cooperation with local police and subjects Hispanic-appearing Americans to questions others would not be asked.

But he also said it would put pressure on state and local budgets without stating how (isn’t that Arizona’s problem?) and seeks to “enforce rules that ultimately are unenforceable.” But federal law has required legal immigrants to carry proof of status for decades, and if that law is unenforceable, we might as well throw up our hands.

The Obama administration’s slapdash approach to immigration is, as even The Economist noted, not good enough. It’s not that he didn’t have a plan.

…Mr Obama’s plan is both the only practical and decent plan and, in essence, the same one the Republican administration of George Bush pushed for.

(though Mr. Obama and his team make a policy of blaming Mr. Bush and the Republicans for everything wrong)

So why the cynicism? Because making a speech, and having a plan, are not the same as doing something. And Mr Obama does not intend to do anything right now. He is not proposing a particular piece of legislation. At most, his speech is a promissory note, a reminder to America’s Hispanic voters that they can at some point count on the Democrats to do the right thing.

Spot on.

Hispanics voted in droves for Mr Obama in 2008 but their ardour has cooled: the proportion approving of his performance fell from 69% in January to 57% in May, says Gallup.

Hence, concludes the jaded half of Lexington, Mr Obama is merely pandering to an important segment of his political base. And this comes soon after a cynical manoeuvre by Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, who in April contrived to give the misleading impression that Congress intended to enact immigration reform before the end of this year.

Politics at the expense of people struggling for safety, security and rights. People on both sides of the divide.

Mr Obama is president; he chooses his own priorities. Had he not promoted health care above immigration, a comprehensive reform might have been put before Congress before the mid-terms made it toxic. But the bigger point is that if he cannot move on what he calls this “moral imperative” this year he must do so in 2011, before the presidential election of the following year casts an equally chilling shadow. That means he should be bending every sinew to preserve relations with the small band of senior Republicans who support the cause and whose co-operation will be no less essential in 2011.

Instead, Mr Obama in his speech and Mr Reid in his stratagem seem to have gone out of their way to inject immigration into the mid-terms and place exclusive blame on the Republicans—even though many Democrats in Congress are no less obstructive.

Few American media are so honest.

And nothing could be better calculated to alienate potential Republican partners than this week’s move by the Department of Justice to invoke the supremacy clause of the constitution and to strike down the new law in Arizona that gives the police wider powers to identify illegals.

…but suing Arizona will baffle and anger the 60% of Americans who say they support it. Only the federal government can fix what is wrong with immigration…but not with a lawsuit.

And so voters are baffled and angry, politicians are nervous and still nothing is getting done, especially by the federal government.

Some Democrats, even in Arizona, are fearing an election backlash over immigration, as President Obama sues Arizona over its new immigration enforcement law and pushes Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration overhaul.

“My concern is that the federal government is suing the state of Arizona, ironically, over the ability to enforce immigration laws — where if the federal government had been doing its job over the years, we wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place,” Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., said.

Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, the Democratic nominee for governor, urged the Obama administration to back off Arizona’s new law, which allows state and local authorities to ask people for immigration documents during unrelated enforcement encounters – such as traffic stops.

The president appears to be out of step with public opinion on immigration.

Will this ever come closer to resolution?

“Until Washington D.C. realizes that they are being absolutely and totally failures at border security, you can’t talk about immigration reform,” Texas Gov. Rick Perry said.

Yes, you can. At the polling place in November, if not sooner.

‘Chicago is in the House’

When Barack Obama was elected president, all kinds of memorabilia sprung up to celebrate the historic occasion. One seen around his hometown was a T-shirt with a drawing of the White House with the Chicago flag prominently flying on top its roof. The caption read: ‘Chicago is in the House.’ That has become clearer over time…

The latest reminder is the ‘Joe Sestak affair,’ the growing controversy over the White House exerting influence in the Pennsylvania primary in an effort to keep a candidate out of the Pennsylvania primary who threatened the incumbency of Sen. Arlen Specter. Media paying attention should know this is Chicago-style politics in action. Follow Rahm Emanuel…

The White House official behind the controversial offer to Rep. Joe Sestak is no stranger to hard-nosed political horse trading.

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who enlisted the help of his former boss Bill Clinton to approach a congressman about sitting out a Senate primary race, has been involved in several political controversies during his 20-year-plus career in Washington. And the current controversy is only the latest for Emanuel in the past 16 months, since he joined the Obama administration.

He was involved, somehow, with ousted Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich in discussions about who should get the Senate seat vacated by Obama.

Now Emanuel’s brand of bare-knuckled politics is back in the spotlight following Friday’s release of a White House explanation on Rep. Joe Sestak’s allegation of a job offer last summer.

At the behest of Emanuel, Clinton dangled an offer of an unpaid presidential advisory role to Sestak to help clear the field for the White House-backed Sen. Arlen Specter in the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary. Sestak turned down the offer and went on to defeat Specter in the primary last week.

Ben Stein, a top adviser in the Nixon administration, told Fox News the Sestak controversy has a “shoot from the hip, Rahm Emanuel look to it.”

Speaking of the Nixon administration….when the press got to ask direct questions about the Sestak affair, Obama said he could assure Americans that nothing improper was done by the White House.

And speaking of bi-partisan scandal, Democrats are on point across the media saying these kinds of deals are done all the time by both parties, and that’s just how Washington works. But even the AP is noticing this is precisely why Washington doesn’t work.

So much for changing how Washington works.

That’s the lead.

Crimping his carefully crafted outsider image and undercutting a centerpiece of his 2008 campaign, President Barack Obama got caught playing the usual politics – dangling a job offer for a political favor in the hunt for power.

They quoted Obama’s denial of impropriety.

True or not, Obama has a political problem.

Because what did take place was backroom bargaining, political maneuvering and stonewalling, all of which run counter to the higher – perhaps impossibly high – bar Obama has set for himself and his White House to do things differently.

Actually, what he did was create the illusion in the public mind that he was above those politics.

That was then.

This election year, angry voters have made clear they have little patience for politics generally and Washington politics specifically. And they are choosing candidates who promise to change the system – and ousting incumbents who fail to deliver.

But what may be even more troubling for the president is the question the episode raises: Has Obama become just like every other politician?

Actually, a more incisive question is: Are the media just starting to realize he always was? And that he and Emanuel and David Axelrod and their Chicago coterie are just better at gaming the system than politicians before them?

The White House tried to blunt the media maelstrom by releasing the report on the Friday before a long Memorial Day weekend, when fewer people are paying attention to the news.

But then, Tuesday is inevitable. And a lot of people are paying attention to the news.