Good morning from the White House press room...
After yesterday's historic signing of the health care bill - a "big (expletive)-ing deal" as Vice-President Biden was overheard saying - it'll be a much quieter day at the White House. The President has no publicly-scheduled events on his agenda. He'll sign an executive order this afternoon limiting the use of federal funds for abortion. This was, of course, the deal he made with Michigan Congressman Bart Stupak to secure the winning votes for the health care bill.
Meantime, the first polls are in on passage of the health care bill. USA Today says 49% of Americans say passage of the landmark bill is a "good thing," while 40% say it's a "bad thing." Republicans, who failed to stop the bill in Congress, are now rolling out Plan B: an effort to "recall and repeal" the bill through legal challenges at the state level.
Obama also meets with Senators John Kerry (D-Ma.) and Richard Lugar (R-In.) this morning on START talks (reduction of strategic nuclear arms) with Russia; a recent START pact with the Kremlin expired in December and both Washington and Moscow have indicated that agreement on a new pact is near. Kerry and Lugar would help win Senate approval of the treaty.
The president also will sit down with Senator Christopher Dodd (D-Ct.), Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, and Congressman Barney Frank (D-Ma.), Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, in the Oval Office to discuss financial reform.
On the foreign policy front, yesterday's health care hoopla overshadowed a low-key West Wing visit by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. A 3 1/2 hour meeting came and went with no comment from either side. No media coverage, not even the usual pool photo of the leaders chatting in the Oval Office. This is no accident: Netanyahu's last visit here, in July, was also kept as low key as possible.
Netanyahu - descrbed last night as looking somber - has been blasted by U.S. officials over plans to construct housing in East Jerusalem. White House efforts to stop it show the limits of American power over its closest Mideast ally, casting an ever-darkening shadow over efforts to forge a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. The United States sees such a deal as crucial to a broader regional effort to sway Arab/Muslim opinion, tamp down terrorism and bolster America's national security. But Netanyahu bluntly rejected U.S. demands to end the housing project.
Unspoken, at least publicly, during the Netanyahu visit is what to do about Iran. Israel sees Iran as a mortal threat - Iranian leaders have taunted that Israel should be wiped from the map - and has made no secret about contingency plans for a possible strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. The U.S. dilemma is a difficult one. Washington also says Iran will not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons. But it desperately wants to avoid military action against Tehran. At the same time, its preferred tactic - ratcheting up economic sanctions against Iran - seems to be going nowhere. The Chinese aren't on board and say they won't be, and recent comments from the Kremlin indicate that the Russians are skeptical of American efforts as well. Diplomatic spats between Washington and Moscow over anti-missile sites in Europe, and between Washington and Beijing over the Dalai Lama, arms sales to Taiwan, and trade and currency matters aren't exactly inducements for China and Russia - which hold veto power in the U.N. Security Council - to help the Americans.
9:00AM THE PRESIDENT meets with Senator Kerry and Senator Lugar
9:35AM THE PRESIDENT and THE VICE PRESIDENT receive the Presidential Daily Briefing
10:15AM THE PRESIDENT meets with Senator Dodd and Representative Frank to discuss financial reform
2:30PM THE PRESIDENT signs an executive order reaffirming the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s consistency with longstanding restrictions on the use of federal funds for abortion
12:30PM Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs
"I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have."
- Thomas Jefferson