Power Play

Pakistani Problems; GOP Moves Ahead; RNC Strategies Emerge

Obama Welcomes Troubled Leader of a Troubling Ally


--Estimated number of Pakistanis killed in terrorist attacks since 2007.

Pakistan is a mess, and its president is coming to the White House today looking for a little help and a lot of money.

Asif Ali Zardari is only one bad day away from seeing his government toppled, either by a military junta backed by Muslim radicals or Muslim radicals in parliament backed by the military.

Zardari, once chased out of the country on corruption charges and disdained for his international playboy lifestyle, is the husband of the martyred Benazir Bhutto. Zardari was able to call on his wife’s family political machine and deep sympathy to form a coalition government in 2007. But now, the national parliament is in a constant uproar, the all-powerful military is strangely quiet and Islamists are carrying out attacks with impunity.

The latest dispatch from the nuclear-armed nation of 180 million is the story of Islamist militants murdering a woman and four relatives because she had joined the local police force in defiance of the Koran. They stormed her house and executed everyone inside. There is no expectation that the government will take any action against the killers.

Under a new law, Christians face death for proselytizing and the lawmaker who dared speak out against the rule was killed by his own bodyguard, who is now a hero in much of the country.

Secularist Zardari’s days would appear to be numbered, despite his efforts to placate the Muslim masses. The White House must be preparing for a replay of earlier this week when Lebanon’s prime minister lost his government at home to Hezbollah while in Washington to seek Obama’s help.

Zardari, though, probably would be somewhat relieved to have a coup take place while he was out of the country since it would better his chances of survival.

But, if he doesn’t become president in exile, Zardari will be looking for a big boost from Obama.
Zardari’s bind is that his problems stem from his alliance with the U.S., but so does his weakening hold on power.

As Obama steps up the American unofficial war effort against the Taliban in Western Pakistan and nudges Zardari for more help in rooting out al Queda, Zardari has come to be seen as a Western puppet. The military believes Zardari is knuckling under to Obama’s calls to make peace with their sworn enemies in India and the Muslim masses dislike the idea of using the country’s military to kill fellow Muslims at the behest of the Great Satan.

But at the same time, the billions of U.S. dollars dumped onto Zardari’s government in the form of foreign aid are about all he has going for him. It greases his political operation and allows him to curry favor with the nation’s desperately poor underclass.

If he’s not asking for asylum, Zardari will be asking for more money and for Obama to ease up on demands for Taliban hunting and peace with India. Obama will have to consider the idea because if Pakistan falls to the Islamists, it will make the problems in Afghanistan look like a church picnic.

The fear, though, is that the endangered Zardari will do what Afghan President Hamid Karzai has done – accept U.S. aid but seek a separate peace with radicals.


House GOP Marches On

"Is there a textbook on how to deal with this? No, but I think next week is time for the people's house to get about the people's business."

-- Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, to FOX News confirming that the House will take up repealing President Obama’s national health care law next week.

Democrats have mostly abandoned the effort to blame Republicans for the assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz. The suspect in the crime is just too crazy and initial efforts to link GOP rhetoric with the rampage left many liberals in disrepute.

But already taking shape is the effort to suggest that Republicans are besmirching the memories of those killed in the attack by returning to their agenda after a week of observant inaction.

Republicans put out the word Thursday that when Congress got back from their Martin Luther King Day break on Tuesday they would pick up where they left off on the bill to repeal President Obama’s national health care law.

The tut-tutting that greeted the GOP’s announcement in the mainstream press was only a foreshadowing of what will happen once Republicans actually get to work. But, one liberating thing about being a Republican Speaker of the House is that you know you’ll never be accepted by the Washington cognoscenti, so you don’t have to try very hard to make them happy.

But John Boehner must deal with anxious members of his own party who are concerned about the whipping they will take for taking up the repeal with Giffords still in recovery. The multiple zaps from Politico and other establishment outlets for Boehner opting not to attend Wednesday’s memorial event showed GOPers exactly how Democrats and media allies will treat the return to repeal.

This weekend, the House GOP will huddle in Baltimore where Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor will be trying to put some steel in their members’ spines. And while the Republicans may fear the lambasting they will take for not chucking their Pledge to America in the wake of the shooting, their greater fear is the wrath of the voters who sent them to Washington.

Plus, Boehner’s delay and calls for civil discourse continue to win plaudits among fair observers.


RNC Members Aim to Stop Steele, But With Whom?

“If Steele looks viable, members are going to quickly put aside their differences. The name of the game is stop Steele.”

-- Republican National Committee member talking to Power Play about today’s vote for chairman.

Starting at noon today, the 168 members of the Republican National Committee will start the voting for their party chairman. It takes 85 votes to win, and the balloting will continue until someone crosses that threshold.

The five candidates – embattled incumbent Michael Steele, Wisconsin party Chairman Reince Priebus, former Michigan party Chairman Saul Anuzis, former RNC Co-Chairwoman Ann Wagner and former Deputy Chairwoman Maria Cino.

Members heard the closing arguments from the candidates last night and two members told Power Play that the frontrunner in the race, Priebus, reinforced doubts about his ability to be a forceful spokesman for the party.

“He did not ‘wow’ anybody,” said one undecided member. “But we may not be looking for ‘wow’ after Steele.”

The bigger hurdle for Priebus is convincing members that he will be a departure from Steele. His opponents have stressed that as RNC counsel, Priebus signed off on Steele’s controversial decisions to give paid speeches and promote a book critical of the party as chairman.

The first ballot I expect to show Steele and Piebus neck and neck, Anuzis behind them and Cino and Wagner behind him. That’s when the horse-trading will begin. The strongest sentiment in the committee is the desire to prevent Steele from reelection. And if the early voting shows the requisite 85 votes between the Steele loyalists and Priebus backers, Steele might drop out and swing the election to his aide.

If, though, Steele and Priebus don’t have a combined 85, the question becomes whether Wagner, Cino or Anuzis will bow out. It could be a very long day.


Obama Looks for Tax Talk Ahead of State of the Union

"We have to create stronger incentives for investment in the United States, both by American and by foreign companies.”

-- Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner in a speech previewing negotiations with corporate representatives on potential changes to the tax code.

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner will meet today with the chief financial officers of several of America’s largest companies, including Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, Procter & Gamble and GE.

The goal is to find out what kind of rewriting of the tax code would supercharge capital investment and get money home from overseas and out of rainy day funds.

But, and this is a big but, the proposal has to be revenue neutral. Whatever companies save in one area must be made up for in higher rates on something else.

Obama, though, is eager to be able to have something to show for his outreach to big business in his State of the Union speech next week. And, a realignment of business taxes might make a good trial run for an overall overhaul of the tax code.


Obama Cracks Down on Coal

"When companies conduct business in the United States, they must be able to trust that commitments made to them by the government will be honored, not retracted."

-- Letter from Sen. Rockefeller, D-W.Va., expressing “outrage” at the Obama administration’s decision to revoke existing coal mining permits.

One of the nation’s largest surface mines will be idled because the EPA has decided to revoke a four-year old permit for the operation.

While the decision has a direct effect on fewer than 300 jobs and about a quarter-billion dollars in capital, the broader implications for the U.S. energy market and economy are significant.

By revoking an existing permit, the EPA has thrown the coal industry, responsible for about half of the nation’s electricity, into turmoil. The Obama EPA has long been an enemy of strip mining and refused to allow new operations, but this move suggests that the administration is looking to roll back the energy sector.

Combined with Obama’s extensive ban on offshore oil exploration, energy analysts worry that already rising energy prices could spike this summer because of the regulatory crackdown. That, in turn, would spur the inflation that economists fear could stifle the nascent recovery.

Higher energy costs, though, are seen as a plus to global warming foes who believe that higher prices will help push the country into investing in wind, solar and other alternative energy.

The permit fight is headed to court, where operator Arch Coal will argue that Obama doesn’t have the power to undo Bush-era decisions. But the worry in many companies in and out of the energy sector is that there is more regulatory uncertainty ahead.


And Now, A Word from Charles

“I think the boil has to be lanced. It is going to happen in 2011 and I think it will allow a recovery afterwards. But if you are losing the house and your family is going to suffer, it is no consolation. But economically, it's necessary.”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Bair” discussing the forecast that 2011 will see a new high for foreclosures.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.