Trouble at Home Limits Obama Aims Abroad

Domestic Politics Hamper Obama's International Aims

"The president's actions have gotten him anger on all sides and gratitude on none. Israelis feel the president dislikes them. The Palestinians feel the president has gotten rolled by Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu and has not been able to protect their interests."

-- Jon Alterman, a Middle East expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, talking to The Wall Street Journal.

If President Obama likes to give high-stakes speeches, his scheduled remarks Wednesday at the United Nations should be right up his alley.

Obama has to explain how he remains a friend to the Palestinian cause and the revolutionary movement in the Muslim world he and other supporters call the Arab Spring even as his deputies work to prevent the Palestinians from being recognized as a sovereign nation.

But as Obama faces a lengthening list of political problems at home -- highlighted Wednesday by sour forecasts on home prices and retail spending -- he has little choice but to backtrack on his goal of being the American president who would midwife a Palestinian state.

He can't mount the dais there in the house that Adlai built and explain that given his dire political circumstances at home and the growing outrage of Jewish voters, a core Democratic constituency, that Palestinians must continue to wait. But, that's the shape of things for the president.

Obama still hasn't found bottom in his sliding political fortunes. A new poll by Marist College, conducted for McClatchy Newspapers, found that 53 percent of independent voters said they definitely planned to vote against Obama compared to 28 percent who said they were sure to support him. That's a disastrous level for a president who won in 2008 by taking 52 percent of the independent vote.

As the president works to re-energize his base by offering a major tax increase for wealthy Americans, a new stimulus package and a backtrack on previous calls for entitlement program changes, Obama can hardly afford to further alienate Jewish voters and donors. As the results of a special election in the 9th Congressional District of New York have shown, Jewish voters are willing to punish Obama for his Israel policies.

David Axelrod must have felt pangs when he saw Republican frontrunner Rick Perry in New York talking tough on Israel standing next to new Rep. Bob Turner and hugging it out with the rabbis.

The White House is promising a speech in which Obama will put in perspective the Palestinian issue and the turmoil in the region, including the ongoing U.S. intervention in Libya and the growing threat from Iran. That is a forecast for befuddlement, but Obama may have little choice but to be vague if his diplomatic team has yet to derail the ambitions of Palestinians and most other U.N. members to declare the archipelago of Palestinian territories inside Israel a nation of its own.

While Obama has spoken forcefully for Palestinians since his June 2009 speech in Cairo and called for Israel to withdraw to its borders established after the Six Day War of 1967, that's not an option he has today.

Romney, Perry: All in on Florida

"37 percent"

-- President Obama's August job approval rating in Florida, according to Republican pollster Magellan Strategies.

With just one day until the FOX News/Google debate in Orlando, Republican fronrunners Rick Perry and Mitt Romney are gearing up for a fierce fight, and it won't be the last one they have in Florida.

Sunshine State Republicans have gotten their wish: Florida has become the make or break primary for the GOP.

Florida is standing firm behind a bid to break the Republican National Committee's injunction against any winner-take-all contests before the end of March other than early primary perennials Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

The Florida GOP's goal is to make their state fifth in line, and with the RNC's 2012 convention set for Tampa, as many Electoral College votes as New York and the backing of rising star Sen. Marco Rubio, it looks like they will get their way.

Unlike 2008 when Republican and Democratic candidates expressed misgivings about campaigning in a state that was to be sanctioned at both national conventions for its primary claim jumping, the Republican heavyweights aren't holding back at all.

You can see it in their talking points: Romney has continued to hammer Perry for his stance on Social Security as "a Ponzi scheme" in a play to the state's many seniors and Perry is emphasizing his support for Israel, a big winner with the many Jewish voters in the state.

Both campaigns know that Florida is a make or break proposition for them as an early primary. If Perry can beat Romney here, where the former Massachusetts governor has previously looked dominant, there would likely be no keeping the Texas governor for the nomination.

Conversely, if Romney can pair a win in New Hampshire with a victory in Florida, he would be hard to turn back.

In a sign of the nature of the Republican pack leaders, neither is shying away from the fight. Unlike Obama in 2008, who shunned Florida and Michigan voters in an effort to keep the states -- both strong spots for Hillary Clinton -- from being counted against him in their nomination battle, Romney and Perry are all in for Florida.

Dems Toy With Shutdown Over FEMA Funds

"If the speaker has the votes, he doesn't have to worry about what we think."

-- House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi talking to Fox News colleague Chad Pergram.

Democrats would like to make House Republicans squirm by challenging the GOP effort to pay for additional disaster relief funding by cutting green car subsidies, but they will have to risk a government shutdown to do it.

Ever since House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said that Republicans planned to find offsetting cuts for additional FEMA funds, Democrats have been looking for a way to make his pay a political price for bringing budget concerns into what has previously been a zone for unrestricted spending.

House Republicans have teed up a spending bill to run the government from Sept. 30, when the current stopgap measure approved in April expires, until Nov. 18. The plan keeps to the budget boundaries set under the debt limit deal in August but adds $3.65 billion to refill FEMA's coffers, depleted by a disastrous spring and summer of tornados, wildfires and hurricanes.

But the plan pays for $1.5 billion of that new FEMA money by yanking it from a program that provides subsidized loans to automakers for producing environmentally friendly vehicles.

The spending plan adheres to the debt-ceiling deal's spending projections, a spending rate that prompted 66 Republican defections on the House, which meant Speaker John Boehner needed 42 Democratic votes to pass the plan. Boehner will likely need Democratic votes in the House, not to mention the Democratically controlled Senate, to pass the plan.

The discussion among Democrats is about whether to hold out until the Sept. 30 deadline and prompt another government shutdown countdown over the $1.5 billion green car offset. Some talk of precedent, saying that paying for disaster relief is a slippery slope toward tethering aid to fiscal limitations.

Congress is set to be in recess next week, so Democrats have until Friday to decide whether they want to restart the shutdown drama. If they balk this week, it's an emergency session and shutdown tickers next week.

But given the state of the economy and the nation's general weariness with Washington, Democrats would be hard pressed to gin up such drama over a green-car subsidy, even if they thought they could stick Republicans with the blame.

Solyndra Execs to Take the Fifth, Confirming White House "Optics" Worry

"I have advised Mr. Harrison that he should decline to answer questions put to him by this subcommittee based on his rights under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution."

-- Letter from Walter Brown, attorney for Solyndra CEO Bill Harrison, to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

When White House officials fretted over bad political "optics" if the subsidized solar-panel manufacturer Solyndra went bust as Obama's re-election campaign was revving up, Friday's House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing is probably the kind of thing they had in mind.

Lawyers for the failed company's executives, who are being called to testify about the timing and provenance of a half-billion-dollar loan obtained from the first Obama stimulus, have given committee members advance warning that while the executives will show up, they won't be talking and will instead invoke their constitutional rights to not incriminate themselves: they'll take the Fifth.

That's a plea more commonly associated with Jimmy Hoffa than green energy gurus, and the "optics" will be bad indeed. As Republicans ask about why the loan was delivered despite obvious problems with the company's business model and about the connections between the White House and Solyndra moneyman George Kaiser, a prominent backer of the president's campaign.

This comes as the committee is expanding the probe at the Energy Department and as the GOP's investigatory Torquemada, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., adds Solyndra to his growing pile of inquests, which already includes the botched Fast and Furious gunrunning sting and may yet include a general's claim that he was pressured to alter his testimony to help another donor's wireless company.