Politics Today is CBSNews.com's inside look at the key stories driving the day in politics, written by CBS News Political Director Steve Chaggaris:
** Finding a middle ground on Afghanistan...
** Tallying votes for a Senate health care bill...
** Looking for jobs from the stimulus package...
5299270PRESIDENT OBAMA TODAY:
On the eighth anniversary of the start of the war in Afghanistan and a day after consulting with Congressional leaders about the war, the president meets with his national security team in the White House Situation Room at 3:30pm ET to discuss Afghanistan and Pakistan. Today's meeting is expected to focus on Pakistan's role in the Afghanistan war, per White House spokesman Robert Gibbs; Mr. Obama and his national security team will also meet on Friday.
Separately today, Mr. Obama will meet with other senior advisers and with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
Before the meeting with his national security team, the president will speak to the winners of the National Medal of Science and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. And continuing on the science theme, the president and first lady Michelle Obama will host a "stargazing" event with local middle school students tonight. The event on the South Lawn is designed to highlight science, engineering and math education.
AFGHANISTAN: CBS News' special coverage
, "Afghanistan: The Road Ahead":
"President Obama told Congressional leaders on Tuesday that he would not substantially reduce American forces in Afghanistan or shift the mission to just hunting terrorists there, but he indicated that he remained undecided about the major troop buildup proposed by his commanding general," report the New York Times' Peter Baker and Jeff Zeleny
"Meeting with leaders from both parties at the White House, Mr. Obama seemed to be searching for some sort of middle ground, saying he wanted to 'dispense with the straw man argument that this is about either doubling down or leaving Afghanistan,' as White House officials later described his remarks.
"But as the war approached its eight-year anniversary on Wednesday, the session underscored the perilous crosscurrents awaiting Mr. Obama. While some Democrats said they would support whatever he decided, others challenged him about sending more troops. And Republicans pressed him to order the escalation without delay, leading to a pointed exchange between the president and Senator John McCain of Arizona, his Republican opponent from last year's election."
The Washington Post's Scott Wilson
writes: "'I think a lot of senators and congressmen need to ask themselves how much money they are willing to put on the table, for how long and for what strategy,' said Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who attended Tuesday's meeting. 'This is a tough set of interrelated questions. And I think there have been some unfortunate straw men set up.'
"Obama told congressional leaders that he is not contemplating reducing troop levels in the near term under any scenario, according to several participants, and White House press secretary Robert Gibbs reiterated Tuesday that withdrawing from Afghanistan is 'not an option.' A complete U.S. troop withdrawal is one of the straw men to which Kerry -- and the president, in the meeting -- referred.
"The partisan split evident after the meeting, which 30 lawmakers attended, illustrated the political challenge Obama faces in Congress over this conflict. Opinion polls show that only a minority of Americans believe the battle is worth fighting, and much of that opposition is rooted in the Democratic Party."
For those keeping tabs on the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, former Gov. Sarah Palin, R-Alaska, she weighed in on Afghanistan on her Facebook page
"We can win in Afghanistan by helping the Afghans build a stable representative state able to defend itself. And we must do what it takes to prevail. The stakes are very high," Palin wrote.
"Our allies and our adversaries are watching to see if we have the staying power to protect our interests in Afghanistan. I recently joined a group of Americans in urging President Obama to devote the resources necessary in Afghanistan and pledged to support him if he made the right decision. Now is not the time for cold feet, second thoughts, or indecision -- it is the time to act as commander-in-chief and approve the troops so clearly needed in Afghanistan." Wall Street Journal's Peter Spiegel and Jonathan Weisman
, "Behind Afghan War Debate, a Battle of Two Books Rages": "The struggle to set the future course of the Afghan war is becoming a battle of two books -- both suddenly popular among White House and Pentagon brain trusts.
"The two draw decidedly different lessons from the Vietnam War. The first book describes a White House in 1965 being marched into an escalating war by a military viewing the conflict too narrowly to see the perils ahead. President Barack Obama recently finished the book, according to administration officials, and Vice President Joe Biden is reading it now.
"The second describes a different administration, in 1972, when a U.S. military that has finally figured out how to counter the insurgency is rejected by political leaders who bow to popular opinion and end the fight. It has been recommended in multiple lists put out by military officers, including a former U.S. commander in Afghanistan, who passed it out to his subordinates.
"The two books – 'Lessons in Disaster,' on Mr. Obama's nightstand, and 'A Better War' on the shelves of military gurus -- have become a framework for the debate over what will be one of the most important decisions of Mr. Obama's presidency". Politico's Glenn Thrush
, "Sit-down thaws in bipartisan freeze": "For weeks, the top two House Republicans — Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio and Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia — have complained bitterly that they were being shut out of Democratic decision making on the two most pressing issues facing the Obama administration: Afghanistan and health care reform.
"But mutual political necessity is driving both parties together — at least this week — starting with a rare invitation to the White House on Tuesday, followed by a small flurry of bipartisan consultation not seen since the early days of the Obama administration."
"Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia is upset that a health care bill poised for approval by the Finance Committee would turn nearly a half-trillion dollars over to insurance companies, whose profits he says are 'out of sight,'" report the New York Times' Robert Pear and David M. Herszenhorn
. "Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine worries that the bill would require people to buy insurance they cannot afford. Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas fears that the bill would be too costly for the government. And Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon warns that the bill would lock many workers into health plans selected by their employers, without allowing them to shop for better, cheaper plans, an alternative that could help drive down costs for everyone.
"Those senators — three Democrats and one Republican, Ms. Snowe — have not indicated how they will vote on the Finance Committee legislation and said Tuesday that they were agonizing over the decision.
"White House officials and the committee chairman expect the Democrats to support the bill, if only to advance it to the next stage of the legislative process, the Senate floor, for what is likely to be a raucous, riveting and unpredictable debate.
"Taken together, the four senators represent the spectrum of concerns Democrats will face in trying to assemble the 60 votes they need to get a bill through the full Senate using regular procedure. Satisfying each of them, without alienating the others, is the challenge facing Democratic leaders."
5305933Meantime, reports the Los Angeles Times' Peter Nicholas
, "With congressional Republicans defying him on healthcare, President Obama is trolling for prominent GOP officials and independents outside Washington who will publicly endorse his plans as the legislative fight moves toward a crucial phase.
"On Tuesday, the White House rolled out its latest trophy -- a letter from Republican California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger saying he shares many of the same healthcare goals as the president, including 'slowing the growth in costs' and 'enhancing the quality of care.' The day before, the White House had contacted Schwarzenegger's office and asked if he would make a public declaration, and he agreed, according to the governor's aides.
"White House officials have also asked New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, an independent and former Republican, to state his views publicly, and the mayor has complied…
"Neither Schwarzenegger's nor Bloomberg's general views on healthcare were a secret. But the timing of their latest statements served a potentially important political function for the White House: Expressions of support from prominent Republicans and independents offered cover to any wavering lawmakers worried about a backlash back home if they voted for the bill." Wall Street Journal's Greg Hitt and Janet Adamy
, "State-Run Health Plans Garner Support": "Some influential centrist Democrats in the Senate are warming to a compromise that envisions health-insurance plans run by state governments, and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger added his voice Tuesday to a small group of Republicans expressing support for a Democratic-led overhaul plan."
The New York Times' Michael Cooper
writes, "The news that the unemployment rate rose to 9.8 percent last month prompted Republicans to step up their criticisms of the stimulus package, with many of them recalling that President Obama had sold it primarily as a jobs program.
"But even when the package was passed, it was clear that it would take a long time to create many of the promised jobs. The stimulus was never intended to be a put-shovels-in-the-hands-of-people-on-relief type of New Deal public works program: it was, rather, a combination of tax cuts, aid to states and money for infrastructure projects that would be put out for bid to private contractors and take time to get going.
"The White House and Congress always knew that only around a quarter of the $787 billion was likely to be pumped into the economy during the program's first year, and that in some cases there could be a delay of months before the money translated into new jobs…
"Now, some economists say, the stimulus spending to date appears to have had a bigger impact increasing the nation's economic output than in creating jobs. And with the recession far deeper than many policy makers believed it would be when they wrote the package, that built-in delay in spending and jobs creation is proving to be a bigger problem — both economically and politically — than they initially realized."
2009 GOVERNORS RACES: Wall Street Journal's Elizabeth Williamson
, "White House Steps Back in Virginia Race": "The White House is stepping back from lending its heft to a bellwether gubernatorial race in Virginia, party strategists say, seeking to conserve its political capital and avoid close association with a candidate who might lose. ... After one appearance earlier this year, Mr. Obama hasn't committed to any further engagements in the state, despite repeated requests by the campaign of Virginia state Senator Creigh Deeds. Mr. Obama will make a second appearance on behalf of New Jersey Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine, on a date yet to be announced. 'They're looking at movement in the polls and calculating how far out in this race they want to see the president go,' said a Democratic strategist involved in both races. 'In New Jersey the path to victory is a little clearer, but I think in both cases they're making the calculation on how much of the win or the loss are they willing to own.'" Politico's Jonathan Martin
, "Deeds points finger at Washington": "Virginia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Creigh Deeds said in an interview that he was lagging in the polls entering the final weeks of the campaign in part because of voter concerns over his national party's agenda. 'Frankly, a lot of what's going on in Washington has made it very tough,' Deeds said in a 'Battleground Virginia' interview sponsored by ABC 7/WJLA-TV, POLITICO, Google and YouTube. 'We had a very tough August because people were just uncomfortable with the spending; they were uncomfortable with a lot of what was going on, a lot of the noise that was coming out of Washington, D.C.'" Newark Star-Ledger's Chris Megerian
, "N.J. gubernatorial candidates Gov. Corzine, Daggett, Christie spar in TV forum": "New Jersey's three candidates for governor hammered familiar themes but largely avoided taking swipes at each other in separate televised interviews [Tuesday]. Gov. Jon Corzine discussed expanding health care coverage, Republican challenger Chris Christie pledged to cut government spending, and independent candidate Chris Daggett reiterated his plan to slash property taxes." 2010 RACES: St. Petersburg Times' Adam C. Smith
, "With Marco Rubio raising nearly $1 million, it's game on in Senate race vs. Gov. Charlie Crist": "Former state House Speaker Marco Rubio says that in the last three months he raised nearly $1 million for his underdog campaign for the U.S. Senate. That's a huge improvement over Rubio's previous fundraising and puts a big crack in the aura of inevitability surrounding Gov. Crist's U.S. Senate campaign. ... Crist has not released his latest fundraising tally, but supporters are speculating he will raise at least $2 million. In the last fundraising quarter, Crist raised a record $4.39 million, and Rubio just $340,000. But Rubio's long-shot candidacy for the Republican nomination has been generating growing excitement among grass roots activists and conservative national media figures skeptical of Crist's sunny populism. Conservative columnist George Will predicted Rubio will win and William F. Buckley's National Review magazine put Rubio on its cover under the headline, 'Yes, HE CAN.' Karl Rove donated $1,000 last weekend, a contribution that won't even show up in the latest report. And Rubio has picked up endorsements from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville, U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C, and former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey." Wilmington News Journal's Ginger Gibson
, "Castle wants Senate": "Ending months of speculation, Mike Castle set up what could be the nation's most heated political race next year with his surprise announcement Tuesday that he will be running for the U.S. Senate. Standing in the shade with his wife, Jane, the 70-year-old Republican made the announcement at a low-key news conference in Wilmington's Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park in front of a small crowd of supporters and members of the media. One of Delaware's most popular politicians, the nine-term congressman had kept his decision secret even from top Republicans, many of whom thought he might retire. ... The only missing piece for a political clash that could become the most expensive in Delaware history and attract wide national attention is whether Attorney General Beau Biden, as expected, will also seek the seat held until last year by his father, Vice President Joe Biden." ALSO:USA Today's Joan Biskupic
, "Justices examine free speech issue in animal abuse case" McClatchy Newspapers' William Douglas
, "Another faux issue: Obama's 'czars' are nothing new" Washington Post's Michael A. Fletcher
, "Obama Sets Sights on Urban Renewal" Houston Chronicle's Andrew Dansby
, "Injury forces DeLay to give up Dancing"