Press Pushes Obama Pivot Even When He Doesn’t; Watching For More Terror Attempts in Egypt; Boehner’s Turn on Spending; Winning the Future Gets a Black Eye in Dallas; Relishing Rummy

Press Spins Obama Pivot Better Than He Does

"I think he got a performance review two years into his job and he's trying to act on it.”

-- John Stroup, CEO of leading wire and cable manufacturer Belden, previewing President Obama’s Speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

President Obama offered a flat “no” when Bill O’Reilly asked him Sunday whether he had moved to the center since his party’s blistering defeat in November, and there is much reason to take the president at his word.

His agenda for his third year in office calls for more of the same action items that drove conservatives batty in the first two years -- new spending, global warming regulations, enacting his universal health-insurance law and putting in place new rules that protect openly gay soldiers, sailors and marines.

What Obama told O’Reilly is that he hasn’t changed, but is trying to overcome a misunderstanding that arose from drastic steps he was forced to take in the first two years in office. Obama talked about the “funhouse mirror” distortions of his image and repeated his oft-stated lament that so much government involvement was necessary during 2009 and 2010, but that he had no choice.

But, as is so often the case, the best lens through which to understand the Obama presidency is the health-care law that dominated 2009 and 2010. It was a war of political opportunity that Obama chose to fight, now, he must protect it.

Since much of the law won’t go into effect for three or four more years, it would be hard to argue that it was part of a crisis response plan or somehow aimed at addressing the current state of the economy. Instead, the motivation for moving ahead on the law was the understanding that Democrats were in complete control of Washington after the 2008 elections and unlikely to retain such supermajorities for very long. The window was open and Obama jumped through it.

As Obama now looks to defend his law and rehabilitate his image in advance of the 2012 elections, he is emphasizing the parts of his agenda that are helpful to some businesses. His speech today at the Chamber of Commerce is a big part of that effort since the president needs to show he is not an adversary of the job creators in America.

Coming after the ugly fight between the president and the Chamber during the 2010 campaigns – they lambasted his health law and he accused them of funneling Chinese cash into American elections – today’s speech is a pivot within the pivot. It’s been hyped and re-hyped.

But this is not exactly Henry IV kneeling it the snow at Canossa, begging to have his excommunication lifted.

One should remember that the Chamber supported Obama’s 2009 stimulus spending plan and is on board with Obama’s current proposal to “invest” billions more in infrastructure and technology that would benefit Chamber members through government contracts. The Chamber is not a conservative group, it is a member-driven organization that seeks the best outcomes for the companies that populate it.

Obama today will talk about the need for business and government to cooperate and collaborate on “winning the future,” but be wary of suggestions that this represents any shift on his part or that of the Chamber.

While the president’s staunchest critics spend much time parsing his statements for hidden meanings, he has been very open about what he is up to these days. It is not a shift in his thinking, but instead a shift in public emphasis. He talked in the fall about the need for better salesmanship and public relations. This is it.

Fortunately for his re-election effort, many in the press don’t understand that.

Islamists May Seek to Bring More Chaos to Egypt

"I think that the Muslim Brotherhood is one faction in Egypt. They don't have majority support in Egypt.” 

-- President Obama talking to Bill O’Reilly.

Neither President Obama nor anyone in his administration has ever called for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step aside immediately. What Obama and his team have said is that the “transition process” must begin “now.”

And, in fact, the transition process has begun. Mubarak has named a successor, said he will not seek “reelection” and allowed his lieutenants to begin negotiations with previously banned opposition groups.

Had Mubarak suddenly fled the country or been deposed violently, there is little doubt that the only possible outcomes would have been either chaos or a military junta. Now, the long, slow work of forging some kind of coalition government to replace the corrupt, authoritarian regime of Mubarak’s ruling party has begun.

And just as in Lebanon, Gaza, Iraq and Afghanistan, Americans have welcomed Islamist fundamentalists into the political process, arguing that it is better to have them in negotiations than fighting in the streets.

The results have mostly been unhappy. Islamists don’t do well in coalitions and care little about the incremental improvements in the earthly lives of the governed that are the main ambitions of most secular governments.

Bringing the Muslim Brotherhood into the process, with U.S. sanction, in Egypt may provide more time for legitimate opposition groups to take shape and speak up. Today, the other opposition groups banded together as the Revolutionary Youth Movement to decry the Brotherhood for selling out and negotiating with Mubarak still in power.

Groups formed to oppose the political process, though, can be brought into the political process. You can’t negotiate with a guy hurling chunks of cement at you, but when all the cement chuckers pick a leader, you can talk to him.

There remains the longer-term concern that whatever government does form will be co-opted by the Islamists. That’s certainly the hope in quarters hostile to liberty and the West. And on that count, many believe the Obama administration is insufficiently vigilant.

But the serious short-term danger is that the exhausted calm that seems to have fallen over Egypt will be disrupted. We know of a failed assassination attempt on Egyptian Vice President Suleiman and we’ve also seen a terrorist attack on a major natural gas pipeline.

Calm is bad for the aims of the Islamists and the same malign forces that have tormented modernizers in Iraq and Afghanistan may seek to plunge Egypt into deeper chaos in order to have a greater crisis to exploit.

Flipping Egypt has long been the frustrated aim of the Islamists. It stands to reason that they would use the current moment to try to get what they want.

Time for Boehner to Show His Hand on Spending

“If there is a vote put forward to increase the national debt ceiling and that is all the legislation does, I think it will fail overwhelmingly.”

-- Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., the president of the House freshman class, talking to The Hill.

This is the crucial week for House Republicans on spending.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan is out with his ambitious plan for trimming spending for the rest of the year, but rank and file House members are still anxious about the larger issues looming – the 2012 budget and, more urgently, the pending request from President Obama for an increase in the federal debt limit.

The administration has been ratcheting up the pressure on the debt ceiling, holding firm to the line that there is no choice but to increase the limit and that there can be no negotiating about it. But, of course, that itself is a negotiating position.

Speaker John Boehner and his team have been publicly quiet on the negotiations but have been working behind the scenes to get the sense of their members on what they would and would not tolerate when it comes to a trade off for increasing the debt ceiling.

There are a range of proposals on the table. One is to tie the raising of the ceiling to the passage of a balanced budget amendment. That’s the most audacious proposal out there, but the other options are still pretty tough.

At the very least, Republicans will insist on Obama signing off on Ryan’s proposal for the rest of the fiscal year – that would be $74 billion less spending than Obama called for in the same period and $59 billion less than the current, stopgap spending measure would provide if it were extended.

But remember, the president’s budget for 2012 is due out in one week and Republicans may push for something in between the short term cuts and the balanced budget amendment. The GOP wants to roll spending back to 2008 levels, and this could be their chance.

Having listened to their members grouse for weeks and heard increasingly audacious proposals, Team Boehner must start showing its cards on spending. By the time Obama’s budget drops on Valentine’s Day, the Republican plan must be ready to go.

“Winning the Future” Jumps the Shark at Super Bowl

“In America we need to get things straight. Obama, let’s get these kids educated. Create jobs so the country stays stimulated.” 

-- The Black Eyed Peas singing in the Super Bowl halftime show.

If President Obama needed further proof that his Winning the Future agenda was not going over, he got it when Black Eyed Pea Will I. Am gave the plan a shout out in the midst of the Super Bowl halftime show.

The Peas’ widely panned performance included a line in support of Obama’s State of the Union call for more spending on education, infrastructure and research. It was a weird moment in an already weird spectacle.

With robot-head go-go dancers who seem to have escaped from the set of a Japanese remake of an Austin Powers movie thrusting their hips in time, Am briefly made his case for the president’s agenda.

If Toby Keith had done the same for George W. Bush on Social Security in 2005, it would have been almost as weird.

Political Book Actually Anticipated

"My Lord, he's the guy who had more experience than anyone else. He worked hard with George Tenet, with Condi Rice. He prepared his speech. He went up to the U.N. He made his case. And he wasn't lying. The idea that he was lying or duped is nonsense."

-- Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to ABC News on Colin Powell’s speech to theUnited Nations warning of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

When important people write important books, it usually means bad news for those who populate Official Washington. The books are almost always boring, self-congratulatory tomes that must be sifted through for the relevant nuggets.

Sure you can wait for the papers to do it for you, but those who really want to be in know must wade through hundreds of pages of blather just to find out which scores are being settled and which subtle snubs are being dished out.

Not so with the book out this week from Donald Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld is a good writer, very blunt, old and rich enough to be beyond caring what Official Washington thinks. He’s also quite funny. Instead of being met with dread, Rumsfeld’s book is actually being anticipated.

His pre-release interviews give you the flavor, but Power Play highly recommends cracking the spine on this memoir. Candor is so rare in Washington that you want to soak up all you can.