Today's Power Play:Growing TSA Troubles Overrun Obama Administration

Backscatter Shot

The Obama administration is belatedly grasping the political liabilities from the TSA screening uproar, but seem to have few options in dealing with the problem.

The new talking point word from the White House on the controversy is "balance" - with the suggestion that the Transportation Safety Administration would keep the same policies but look for ways to demonstrate more sensitivity.

President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other top administration figures rolled out a empathy offensive over the weekend, expressing solidarity for those passengers who are given the choice between being seen naked by screeners and being patted down like they were being booked into a county jail.

"Now that's a tough situation," Obama told reporters in Portugal. "And I understand people's frustration."

Clinton said on "Face the Nation" that she wouldn't want to get patted down herself. "Who would?" she asked.

The consensus in the administration seems to be that the Department of Homeland Security didn't do a good enough job of getting out in front of this story and communicating to travelers. This is the default position for the administration when political troubles arise: The product was fine, but the marketing was poor.

But the story has gone too far to be reeled back in with an admission that more could have been said and some empathetic murmurs.

The first reason that this story will cook off for at least another week is that videos are shocking. The children being patted down, the women being humiliated, the wheelchair-bound being dragged out of their seats - it all seems so degrading.

The story has so perfectly captured a long-standing public frustration with the arbitrary screening process in America's airports, that the media discussion has now atomized.

Looking around today, one can find "FOX & Friends" talking about the holiday gift angle - the underwear with a polymer "fig leaf" to cover up your naughty bits in the backscatter machine.

Over at The Hill, economists weigh in on how many more traffic fatalities there will be because people opt to drive rather than fly to avoid the indignities of commercial air travel.

"Driving is much more dangerous than flying, as you are far more likely to be killed in an automobile accident mile-for-mile than you are in an airplane," Steven Horwitz, a professor of economics at St. Lawrence University, told The Hill. "The result will be that the new TSA procedures will kill more Americans on the highway."

The administration is dealing with a high-interest, zeitgeist-surfing story about airline travel that happens to coincide with the busiest travel week of the year. This one's not going away quietly.

Charles Krauthammer has written that "don't touch my junk" is 2010's version of "don't tread on me," and the stepped up PR response from the administration suggests that Team Obama may be concerned that he is right.

But the travelers' current double bind - Do you prefer to be pictured nude or manhandled? - is the result of the Obama administration's reaction to the 2009 Christmas bomber. As much as the president does not want to be seen as the manhandler in chief, he cannot afford to be seen as lackadaisical on security.

Administration officials do not want a repeat of last Christmas when the public was aflame with questions about how Obama's organization let a radical Muslim with a bomb in his undies nearly blow a hole in the side of a Detroit-bound airliner. Given the pounding the president took then, he likely feels unable to back down on the new security measures.

But if another attack were to take place, would people be more understanding about the junk touching they had to endure or would they conclude that plan was both invasive and ineffective?

Thanks to today's Power Play crew: Wes Barrett, April Girouard, L.A. Holmes, Gretchen Giley, Lee Ross and Jason Donner.

The Day in Quotes

"I sat next to her once, thought she was beautiful, and I think she's very happy in Alaska -- and I hope she'll stay there."

-- Former first lady Barbara Bush on Sarah Palin in an interview with Larry King set to air tonight.

"He was looking to be able to accommodate the needs of those coming down looking to set up shop here for campaigning in the coming years."

-- Rabbi Yossi Jacobson of Des Moines, Iowa to The Guardian (U.K.) explaining that a Sarah Palin staffer who keeps kosher had contacted him to find out about accommodations in the state.

"It would probably even would make Mr. Ponzi feel bad, if he was still alive."

-- Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX), new head of the Republican Governors' Association, talking about Social Security on "FOX News Sunday."

"I hope somebody should stand up and run for the president of the United States and say ‘I want to be as inconsequential in your life as I can.' That is a winning strategy."

-- Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) on "FOX News Sunday."

"We are following the lead of President Karzai and the Afghans who have set 2014 as the year during which security will be transitioned to the Afghans."

-- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on "FOX News Sunday."

"[W]hen you look at the success record in civilian courts of convicting, sentencing, detaining in maximum security prisons by the civilian courts, it surpasses what yet has been accomplished in the military commissions."

-- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on "FOX News Sunday" defending domestic, civilian trials for terror suspects.

"Not if I could avoid it. No, I mean who would?"

-- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when asked on "Face the Nation" if she would submit to an airport pat down.

"The best thing about being secretary of State is representing the United States around the world. The second best thing is I'm out of politics."

-- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on "Meet the Press."

"I've been worried about North Korea and its potential nuclear capability for a long time. This certainly gives that potential real life, very visible life that we all ought to be very, very focused on."

-- Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen on "This Week" discussing reports that North Korea is making highly enriched uranium.

"I've been down to Guantanamo. There are facilities in place there - a (civilian, federal) court can sit there. You don't have to bring them to the United States."

-- House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) on "Face the Nation."

"I don't think we can put the genie back in the bottle."

-- Senior White House Advisor David Axelrod to the Washington Post explaining why the president has reversed course and is encouraging outside groups on the left to support his reelection.

"Congressional Democrats are pissed. We just lost 60 seats. And we lost 60 seats for a lot of reasons ... One of those reasons was the president"

-- Democratic strategist Liz Chadderdon to Reuters on friction between congressional Democrats and the White House over tax rate strategy.

"In the 20 years that I've been involved politically, I've never had the misfortune of working with such sheer, utter incompetence."

-- Former National Republican Senatorial Committee political director Chris LaCivita to Politico on Sharron Angle's campaign.

"I would not participate if it was a hostile reporter asking 'gotcha' questions with a certain time limit."

-- Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on C-SPAN's "Washington Journal" Sunday stating his criteria for participating in 2012 presidential primary debates.

"This is going to require compromise, even from someone as conservative as me."

-- Sen. Tom Coburn to the Washington Post on the strategy for dealing with the debt.

"We've got to show in two years we're worthy of being a majority party by cutting spending back to historic norms, cutting tax, getting the private sector economy growing. Let the pundits figure out who's running in 2012... What's more important is to show the American people we've learned our lessons, we deserve to be the majority party again."

-- Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) on "Meet the Press."