With Sequester Looming, Obama Keeps Up Pressure on GOP

BY Christina Bellantoni  February 20, 2013 at 9:12 AM EST

President Obama; photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Joined by emergency responders, President Obama speaks about the sequester. Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

The Morning Line

Nine days, and the only thing certain is more uncertainty.

With competing proposals to stave off $85 billion in automatic cuts to domestic and Pentagon spending — set to take effect March 1 — no closer to becoming reality and Congress out of town, there’s more blaming than action.

President Obama on Wednesday will step up the pressure on Republicans in Congress by giving interviews to eight local television anchors in Boston; Charleston, S.C.; Baltimore; Oklahoma City; Wichita, Kan.; San Antonio; San Francisco; and Honolulu.

Sound familiar? Get used to it. The White House is mounting an all-out effort to, in the words of an administration official, “focus on the harmful local impacts that will be felt if Congressional Republicans refuse to compromise.”

The official said Mr. Obama will emphasize the “Fix it First” infrastructure program he mentioned in last week’s State of the Union address. But make no mistake, the interviews are political in nature. The official said:

The president will take the case directly to the American people in markets across the country about how their leaders in Congress must act to protect our nation from a self-inflicted wound that would hurt our recovery and the middle class. He will make clear that the only reason that these devastating cuts would hit is if Congressional Republicans choose to protect loopholes that benefit the wealthy and big corporations rather than compromise to reduce the deficit in balanced way and protect American families. Congressional Democrats have put forward a balanced proposal to avert these automatic budget cuts and allow both sides to work on a long-term plan to get us on a fiscally sustainable path, and the president urges Congressional Republicans to join the American people who overwhelmingly support a balanced approach.

As we noted Tuesday, Mr. Obama kept the focus squarely on Republicans, saying they were steadfast in a desire to help the rich instead of come up with a solution. He gave a similar line, saying it’s Democrats who have a plan to avert disaster. (That plan is, in essence, a tax hike for people who earn $1 million or more, closing corporate tax loopholes, ending subsidies for oil and agriculture companies, and ending tax breaks for firms that ship jobs overseas.)

Flanked by first responders and others on Tuesday, whom Mr. Obama said would lose their jobs if his plan isn’t embraced, he declared: “My door is open. …I am willing to work with anybody to get this done.”

The GOP’s leader, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, fired back a missive with his finger pointed at the White House. He joined other Republicans who criticized Mr. Obama’s campaign-style event.

“Today the president advanced an argument Republicans have been making for a year: His sequester is the wrong way to cut spending,” Boehner said in a statement. He noted the House has “twice” passed measures to avoid the cuts and that he rejects Mr. Obama’s calls for tax increases.

“Just last month, the president got his higher taxes on the wealthy, and he’s already back for more,” Boehner said. “The American people understand that the revenue debate is now closed. We should close loopholes and carve-outs in the tax code, but that revenue should be used to lower rates across the board. Tax reform is a once-in-a generation opportunity to boost job creation in America. It should not be squandered to enable more Washington spending. Spending is the problem, spending must be the focus.”

Boehner emphasized his argument in a Wall Street Journal op-ed Wednesday.

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza argued Wednesday that Congress won’t win a fight with Mr. Obama on this issue. Here’s why:

  1. Regular people have no idea what the sequester is right now and, even once it kicks in, aren’t likely to pay all that close of attention to it unless they are directly affected by it.

  2. Obama is popular with the American public

  3. Congress is not.

Still, all the bluster puts the nation no closer to a fix.

Politico looked at how sequestration is affecting congressional offices, which must craft contingency plans for when cuts kick in. Politico’s Scott Wong spotted lawmakers looking to protect their districts from the sequester.

The Washington Post outlined the impact on the D.C.-area’s local governments.

As if this weren’t tricky enough to negotiate with Congress, the White House is also attempting to soothe concerns from Republicans on immigration reform. White House press secretary Jay Carney insisted the legislative proposal leaked to USA Today was “not an intentional release.” (You can read that full plan here.)

Carney also said the White House was working with the staffs of GOP senators working on a deal. But Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio’s office insisted that wasn’t the case.

Mr. Obama on Tuesday phoned Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham, S.C., John McCain, Ariz. and Rubio. He couldn’t reach Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.

The White House said Mr. Obama wanted to “discuss their shared commitment to bipartisan, commonsense immigration reform and to commend the senators for the bipartisan progress that continues to be made by the Gang of Eight on this important issue.”

Mr. Obama met in person with the Democratic senators in the group last week.

(If a deal is indeed forged, by the way, could it be thanks to a new fitness kick?)

SCOTUS

The NewsHour took two looks as the Supreme Court argued a case examining whether an Indiana farmer could use weed-killer-resistant seeds developed by agri-giant Monsanto. Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal walked through the nitty gritty of the case, and we examined the broader implications with Bert Foer of the American Antitrust Institute and Todd Dickinson of the American Intellectual Property Law Association.

Watch here or below:


Plus, Gwen Ifill interviewed Justice Sonia Sotomayor at the court Wednesday about her new book “My Beloved LIfe.” Tune in for that segment Wednesday night.

AFTER NEWTOWN

On Monday, PBS began a weeklong series exploring every facet of the societal debate over guns in the wake of the tragic shooting massacre in Newtown, Conn. The package features broadcast pieces on signature programs. On Tuesday’s NewsHour, Jeffrey Brown looked at violent video games.

In the piece, Jeff played “Call of Duty” and explored whether there is a link between that fantasy world and some of the mass shooters.

Watch Jeff’s report here or below:


The NewsHour excerpted some of Frontline’s coverage of Newtown shooter Adam Lanza. Frontline also posted a slide show of some never-before-seen images of him.

NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman talked with Colin Goddard, a survivor of the Virginia Tech shootings who is advocating for background checks and who is working with the Brady Campaign.

Watch here or below.


On Wednesday, we will air a NOVA piece from Miles O’Brien exploring the brains of killers.

“After Newton”includes robust online offerings you can check out here, and find all the details about which pieces are airing and when here.

LINE ITEMS

  • Vice President Joe Biden did a Facebook video chat with Parents magazine, and responded to a question that self-protection can be found in a “double-barrel shotgun,” not an assault rifle. He said that he told his wife she could fire two blasts, and “I promise you, whoever’s coming in is not going to — you don’t need an [assault rifle]. It’s harder to aim, it’s harder to use, and, in fact, you don’t need 30 rounds to protect yourself.”

  • Roll Call’s David Drucker reports that the NRA is spending up to $375,000 on a newspaper ad campaign ahead of the 2014 Senate contests. The ads will run in “three states with Democratic incumbents up in 2014: Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina. In West Virginia, Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller is retiring, but the race to replace him is competitive.”

  • Carney told reporters complaining about access that Mr. Obama has granted 591 interviews since he took office, and that 104 of those were with major television networks. It’s not clear where ESPN is included in that count.

  • The White House announced that Gen. John Allen, who led the NATO effort in Afghanistan, will retire instead of face confirmation hearings to become NATO supreme allied commander.

  • Democratic Sen. Max Baucus could be in trouble in Montana according to a new survey from the left-leaning Public Policy Polling, which found him with a 45 percent approval rating.

  • bqhatevwr was the result of pocket dialing, former Massachusetts GOP Sen. Scott Brown claims.

  • Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., took heat for suggesting that former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., is being used as a prop.

  • The ethics woes of Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., followed him to Afghanistan, The Hill reports.

  • Ken Vogel writes in Politico about the rebooting of the Koch Brothers.

  • Digital First Media’s Ryan Beckwith gives us a chart and notes that the House hasn’t increased its size since 1911, even though the nation’s population has since tripled.

  • A Democratic Colorado state lawmaker drew intense ire for an insensitive comment about women threatened with rape.

  • Longtime Obama political adviser David Axelrod will draw a paycheck for punditry. He officially joined MSNBC as a senior analyst.

  • Former N.Y. Democratic Gov. Eliot Spitzer will co-host a fundraiser for Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Ed Markey at the home of his sister in Washington, D.C., on March 13.

  • The Los Angeles Times’ Matea Gold writes about former Obama aides parlaying their campaign success into startup businesses.

  • Tiger Woods explains his outing with the golfer-in-chief. “It was an invitation that certainly you don’t turn down and especially being — he’s an avid golfer, and so am I, so we went out there,” Woods told sports reporters Tuesday. He added that Mr. Obama “hit the ball well.”

  • Drink up, folks! It’s the 80th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition.

  • Wednesday’s tidbit](http://www.facethefactsusa.org/facts/more-us-students-earning-high-school-diplomas/) from NewsHour partner Face the Facts USA looks at high school graduation rates.

NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

  • We led the show with a report on the Chinese hacking dustup. Watch that here.

  • Next week, 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 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

*Editors’ note: According to the Mercury News, the Toy Story rumors originated in Colombia.

Katelyn Polantz and politics desk assistant Simone Pathe contributed to this report.

For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

Sign up here to receive the Morning Line in your inbox every morning.

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

Follow the politics team on Twitter: @cbellantoni, @burlij, @elizsummers, @kpolantz, @indiefilmfan, @tiffanymullon, @dePeystah and @meenaganesan.