Obama Visits Virginia Shipyard to Put Sequester Squeeze on GOP

BY Terence Burlij and Christina Bellantoni  February 26, 2013 at 8:56 AM EDT

President Obama will visit Newport News Shipbuilding, the largest manufacturing employer in Virginia, Tuesday. Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

The Morning Line

President Obama will visit a Virginia shipyard Tuesday to warn of the negative consequences from automatic spending cuts set to take effect later this week, in a bid to pressure congressional Republicans to accept a deal to replace the sequester that includes a mix of revenues and reductions.

The visit to Newport News Shipbuilding, the largest manufacturing employer in Virginia, is the latest in a series of public calls by the Obama administration to rally support behind what it has framed as a “balanced” approach to averting the $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts.

But as of Monday, House Republicans remained unmoved by the effort. “The president says we have to have another tax increase in order to avoid the sequester,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters at a Capitol Hill press availability. “Well, Mr. President, you got your tax increase. It’s time to cut spending here in Washington.”

Boehner also countered that job creation could be stifled if lawmakers fail to address the country’s deficit. “If we don’t solve this spending problem here in Washington, there will be tens of millions of jobs in the future that won’t happen because of the debt load that’s happening on the backs of our kids and grandkids. I came here to save the American dream for my kids and yours. This debt problem and the president’s addition to spending is threatening their future.”

House Republicans appeared set to move forward with a plan that would leave the sequester in place, but give the president greater flexibility to determine where the cuts are made.

The New York Times’ Jonathan Weisman and Michael Shear explain the strategy behind the GOP’s move:

Seeking to shift responsibility for the cuts to Mr. Obama and to defang attacks by the White House, Republicans were expected to unveil legislation on Tuesday that they said would mitigate some of the biggest concerns. The measure would let agencies and departments cull programs that were long ago proved to be ineffective, and would make sure critical federal functions like air traffic control and meat inspection were spared.

But White House budget officials are leery. If Congress grants the White House the authority to protect air traffic controllers, Border Patrol agents and national parks, the administration’s carefully devised high-pressure campaign that has been mounting for weeks could deflate. Moreover, the White House would take on the responsibility of deciding which programs to protect and which to expose — and the political consequences that go with that.

But White House officials aren’t alone in expressing skepticism about the House GOP’s tactics.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called the approach “a complete cop-out” during an appearance Monday on CNN.

“We will criticize everything he does,” Graham said. “We’ll say it’s to make it easier for you, but every decision he’ll make we’ll criticize. To me, this is a bipartisan problem.”

Graham, who is scheduled to meet with the president at the White House on Tuesday to discuss immigration reform, said he hoped budget issues would also be on the agenda. “Now is the time to grow up. Both parties need to grow up. We need to find a chance to do the big deal. I’ll challenge the president: Mr. President, let’s do things that will straighten out the long-term indebtedness of the country. Stop talking about between March and October. Talk about the next 30 years.”

But for Tuesday, at least, the president’s focus will likely remain on the more immediate crisis, and using the Newport News stop to squeeze Republicans politically, even as he is joined by one member of the House GOP Conference, Rep. Scott Rigell of Virginia. The shipyard sits in Rigell’s home district.

A White House official said the large Virginia employer’s plight “illustrates how these indiscriminate, across the board cuts would have potentially harmful effects industry wide, impacting jobs, economic demand and our military readiness” and highlighted the state-by-state details released over the weekend.

In Virginia alone, approximately 90,000 civilian Department of Defense employees would be furloughed if the sequester was to hit, reducing gross pay by around $648.4 million in total.

As well, it would cancel the maintenance of 11 ships in Norfolk, defer four projects at Dahlgren, Oceana, and Norfolk, and delay other modernization and demolition projects.

The Washington Post curtain-raises the president’s visit with a look at anxiety in shipyards across the region.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal labeled Mr. Obama’s actions “political theater” and that the president is “trying to scare the American people,” reports NewsHour’s Kwame Holman, who was at the White House Monday as the nation’s governors met with the president.

And as the president faces intensified GOP criticism for campaign-style events, the Rothenberg Political Report’s Stu Rothenberg gets to the nitty gritty in his column for Roll Call: could it all about trying to win back the House for Democrats in 2014?

He writes that it’s “far too early to know whether Democrats will have some, or even any, chance to win back the House next year; candidate recruitment has just begun, the number of retirements (and open seats) is uncertain and the president’s popularity more than 20 months from now is an open question.”

“Going back to the election of 1862, the only time the president’s party gained as many as 10 seats was, well, never. Even in 1934, the best showing by the president’s party in House elections since the Civil War, the president’s party gained only nine seats,” Rothenberg wrote.

On the NewsHour Monday, Ray Suarez and Judy Woodruff examined both the practical and political motives behind Mr. Obama’s actions. Judy spoke with Weisman and Margaret Talev of Bloomberg News to get perspectives from both Congress and the White House.

Watch the segment here or below:

DAILY DOWNLOAD

The Daily Download segment exploring how the digital world affects not just politics, but the culture we live in, on Monday focused on the president circumventing the traditional press to speak directly to everyday citizens.

Christina Bellantoni discussed the phenomenon with Howard Kurtz and Lauren Ashburn from Daily Download, and the trio walked through the White House usage of Google Plus to “hang out” with people and answer a range of questions journalists might not ask, or at least not in the same way.

Consider this stat superstar historian Michael Beschloss shared with us Monday: President Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside chats reached as many as 54 million people in one sitting, but he hosted just a handful of them per year.

Watch the segment here or below:

And you can join our conversation. Did you watch the president’s Google Hangout? What would you ask him if you were on the other side of the laptop camera? Weigh in here.

The last Daily Download looked at Facebook fatigue. We solicited viewer stories about why they gave up on Facebook. Read those here.

Since the segment relaunched, we also have discussed workplace policies governing social media and Howie and Lauren interviewed Harper Reed about the Obama campaign’s use of social media.

LINE ITEMS

  • As of Monday evening, 75 “Republican officials and influential thinkers” had signed onto an amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court in support of striking down California’s proposition 8.

  • Voters in Chicago head to the polls for primary elections Tuesday. 16 Democrats and four Republicans are vying for former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s seat in the strongly Democratic 2nd congressional district in Illinois. The general election is set for April 9. Politics Production Assistant Allie Morris talked with Paris Schutz of WTTW to get the lay of the land. Listen here or below.

  • As mentioned above, Mr. Obama invited Graham and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to meet with him at the White House Tuesday about immigration reform.

  • Former surgeon general C. Everett Koop, known for his stances on smoking and safe sex, has died. Catch his 1989 interview on the NewsHour here.

  • Politico’s Alexander Burns reports that the Obama aides behind Battleground Texas go live Tuesday with the new effort.

  • Roll Call’s Steve Dennis has a handy guide dubbed “15 things you need to know about the sequester.”

  • The Daily Caller finds an escort who says Sen. Bob Menendez paid her for sex.

  • National Review reports that actress Ashley Judd, who’s considering a bid for U.S. Senate in Kentucky, hasn’t voted in every election. And the Daily Caller rounds up Judd’s previous “bizzare” comments that could haunt her during a bid.

  • Progressives are running this gun control-focused spot against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky.

  • Christian National Leaders have written a pastoral letter to Mr. Obama and Congress asking for the budget debate to be framed in moral rather than economic terms. They asked both parties to replace poverty with opportunity.

  • New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will not be speaking at CPAC.

  • The 10 biggest government contractors, which collectlively spent $115 million on campaigning and lobbying in 2012, could lose $13.6 billion in government contracts because of the sequester, according to the Sunlight Foundation’s calculations.

  • In his posthumously published memoir, Robert Bork writes that President Richard Nixon promised him the next Supreme Court vacancy after Bork complied with Nixon’s order to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox in 1973, the Associated Press reports.

  • Hundreds from Alabama and other states are expected to converge on Capitol Hill Wednesday to participate in a rally outside the Supreme Court as it hears arguments challenging the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation is organizing “freedom riders” who will depart from the Supreme Court Wednesday and hold press conferences at federal courthouses in seven southern cities Wednesday through Friday. The riders will begin a march from Selma to Montgomery on March 3, ending with a rally at the Alabama State Capitol on March 8.

  • Nine Inch Nails is getting back together.

  • Today’s tidbit from NewsHour partner Face the Facts USA: state governments earned $17.7 billion from official lotteries in 2010.

NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

  • Judy waded into the cost of health care with Steven Brill, who penned Time Magazine’s longest-ever cover story on the topic.

  • Margaret Warner interviewed Jason Horowitz from Vatican City about the pope’s final days of service and the search for the man to replace him.

  • Ray talked with Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., about his recent visit to Cuba and what the country could be like post-Castro.

  • Also on the NewsHour website, the Council on Foreign Relations provides a background report on the effects on the sequester on national security, exmaining U.S. defense spending over time and in comparison to other countries’ defense budgets.

  • On Wednesday the Supreme Court will examine a constitutional challenge to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The landmark case asks whether the act is still necessary and whether voters still risk disenfranchisement in certain parts of the country. The NewsHour will examine in depth the questions this case raises. And we’d like your help as we go even deeper. Get details about our Oral History project here. You can record your memory now using the button below, or call (703) 594-6PBS to share your story.

TOP TWEETS

Desk Assistants Simone Pathe and Sarah McHaney and Cassie M. Chew contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

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