Morning Bulletin – Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A roundup of news, schedules, and key stories from CBS News Political Director Steve Chaggaris:

(AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
Call it good fortune or a combination of skill and luck, but given the challenges President Obama has faced since taking office, he seems to be on a pretty solid winning streak. From his 66 percent approval rating – his highest yet – in last night's CBS News/New York Times poll to an overseas trip where he was greeted warmly by world leaders to his correct choice of the University of North Carolina as the winner of the March Madness college basketball tournament, the president seems to be riding high.

But as he heads home today, he still has enormous challenges – and unfinished business to deal with from his trip: the global economy and Afghanistan top that list. Upon his return, expect the president to continue his focus on the economy and getting his budget priorities moving forward in Congress, even as the reality sets in that not all of his priorities will succeed this year.

"Officials are most pessimistic about his energy and global warming plan, with many aides doubting he will win passage of a cap-and-trade emissions reduction system, which is strongly opposed by business and Republicans," reports Politico's Mike Allen.

"The White House is most optimistic for passage this year of his plans to overhaul the nation's financial regulations, and aides also see a strong chance that a gradual version of his health care overhaul will get through Congress this fall. Congressional and administration aides agree that none of his three biggest agenda items is likely to achieve final passage before this fall.

"The officials said none of this is catching them by surprise: Obama knew Congress has limited bandwidth, and he simply wanted to get the wheels of government turning on every big issue this year. A big part of their communication strategy will now focus on highlighting incremental progress on the Obama agenda, to show people Washington is working again.

"The White House's handicapping for three centerpiece proposals: Financial-services reform has 'a very good chance.' Health care 'has a lot of momentum behind it.' And energy 'got off to a great start' with the introduction last week of a model bill by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.). That's a best-case scenario. Obama aides admit they don't yet know the answer to one of the big questions of his first year: Can Capitol Hill swallow an agenda of this cost and heft, at a time when the country is suffering a catastrophic economic slowdown?"

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
TURKEY: Mr. Obama wrapped up his first overseas trip since taking office in Istanbul today where he met with religious leaders, visited the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque and held a town meeting with students at the Tophanne Cultural Center.

"President Obama sought to remake America's image in the Muslim world Tuesday, stoically touring centuries-old religious sites and telling about 150 students at a roundtable event that they should re-evaluate 'the country I love,'" reports USA Today's Richard Wolf.

"One student asked Obama how he differs with his predecessor, George W. Bush. Obama responded that he opposed the war in Iraq and is now moving to remove U.S. troops — but slowly and 'in a responsible fashion.' 'George Bush didn't believe in climate change. I do believe in climate change. I think it's important,' he said. But he warned that it will take time to change policies already in place. 'Moving the ship of state is a slow process,' Obama said.

"'States are like big tankers. They're not like speedboats.' On the other hand, Obama said he agrees with Republicans that al-Qaeda is a danger to the world and needs to be eliminated as a threat. 'I don't make any apologies for continuing the effort to prevent bombs going off and planes going into buildings that would kill innocents,' he said. ... His election, Obama said, showed how America has changed. 'I wasn't born into wealth. I wasn't born into fame. I come from a racial minority,' he said. Noting he even lived overseas (in Indonesia) and has Muslims in his family, he said, 'I might be able to build bridges with other parts of the world.'"

"Obama was asked at a roundtable discussion with Turkish college students Tuesday to say how he felt his historical election as president lifted the spirits of Americans," adds the Associated Press.

"The president said he thought that 'what people felt good about was, it affirmed the sense that America is still a land of opportunity.' Obama also said he is a minority and that 'my name is very unusual for the United States.' The president said he believes people 'saw my election as proof, as testimony, that although we are imperfect, our society has continued to improve.'"

Before his town meeting, Mr. Obama met with Istanbul's grand mufti and its chief rabbi, as well as Turkey's Armenian patriarch and Syrian Orthodox archbishop. In a separate meeting, the president met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians worldwide.

"The meeting follows a speech Obama gave the day before to the Turkish Parliament, in which he broached the subject of the rights of Turkey's minority Greek population," report Tribune's Christi Parsons and Laura King.

4924721"'Freedom of religion and expression lead to a strong and vibrant civil society that only strengthens the state, which is why steps like reopening the Halki Seminary will send such an important signal inside Turkey and beyond,' Obama told the parliament in an address in Ankara on Monday. The Greek Orthodox Halki seminary is located on Heybeliada Island, off Istanbul in the Sea of Marmara. It was closed in 1971 in a dispute between the Turkish government and leaders of the dwindling Greek Orthodox Community, with Turkish authorities requiring state supervision of the seminary before it is allowed to operate. Turkey has rejected repeated calls from the European Union for its reopening, and the EU considers it a test of religious freedom."

CBS News Chief White House Correspondent Chip Reid wraps up the president's speech on Monday to the Turkish Parliament where he declared that the U.S. "is not and never will be at war with Islam"

PRESIDENT'S SCHEDULE: President Obama is currently en route back to the U.S. and scheduled to arrive at Andrews Air Force Base late this afternoon. He's not expected to have any public events on Wednesday.

MINNESOTA SENATE RECOUNT: At 10:30am CT, Minnesota elections officials will sift through 387 absentee ballots to determine the winner of the race between Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken. And while Franken, who currently holds a 225 vote lead, is expected to prevail after this final count, this story is far from over. Coleman is expected to appeal the result to the Minnesota Supreme Court, further delaying the official declaration of a winner.

"The longest, costliest U.S. Senate race in Minnesota history has come down to a decisive pile of under 400 absentee ballots that will be opened and counted today in yet another attempt to determine a winner in the case of Norm Coleman vs. Al Franken, Supreme Court File No. A09-65," reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune's Patricia Lopez.

"A mere 225 votes separate the two contestants, with DFLer Franken clinging to a lead that has been as stubborn as it is narrow. Now, the last few hundred ballots have been couriered from all corners of the state to Room 300 in the state's Judicial Building in St. Paul, and at 9:30 a.m [CT]. sharp, state Elections Director Gary Poser will once again begin the process of counting under the watchful eyes of the three judges who have been hearing the election trial and who could issue a final ruling within days. But few expect the decision to end a race that has left Minnesota as the only state in the nation with a single senator serving it at one of the most critical junctures in recent history."

"Coleman has become so convinced he will not win at this stage of the game that he and his team already have pledged they will appeal the results to the state Supreme Court," adds the St. Paul Pioneer Press' Rachel E. Stassen-Berger.

"In open court — the same state Supreme Court hearing room where the seven-week trial occurred — state officials will open ballot envelopes and separate the envelopes, which are identified with voters' names, from the ballots, which are unidentified. Elections Director Poser then will call out the votes on the ballots as he sees them. ... That final counting of votes is of ceremonial and perhaps political importance, said Edward Foley, an election law professor at Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law. More legally significant will be what's to come — the judges' final ruling. ... After that, what if Coleman is not ahead, as even he predicts? He will appeal to the state Supreme Court, he has said. That's a process that could take well into May."

ALSO TODAY: The special election to fill Rahm Emanuel's U.S. House seat in Chicago and its suburbs takes place today. Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley, a Democrat, is widely expected to win the seat.

FOREIGN POLICY

Associated Press' Will Weissert, "Raul Castro meets with 6 visiting US lawmakers"

Politico's Jonathan Martin, "Obama sells himself to sell U.S."

Financial Times' Edward Luce and Delphine Strauss, "Tone is key to Obama message and impact"

NY Times' Helene Cooper, "Obama Tours Istanbul as European Trip Nears End"

CBSNews.com's Brian Montopoli, "Despite Promise, No Recognition Of Genocide From Obama"

FINANCIAL BAILOUT

Washington Post's Zachary A. Goldfarb, "Plan to Expand Financial Oversight May Add New Risks"

Washington Post's Amit R. Paley, "House to Probe Adherence to Bailout Pay Rules"

Wall Street Journal's Deborah Solomon, "Bailout Man Turns the Screws"

Washington Post's Renae Merle, "Foreclosure Scams Are Target of Crackdown"

OBAMA ADMINISTRATION – PENTAGON

Wall Street Journal's August Cole and Yochi J. Dreazen, "Pentagon Pushes Weapons Cuts"

Washington Post's Greg Jaffe and Shalaigh Murray, "Gates Seeks Sharp Turn In Spending"

LA Times' Julian E. Barnes, "Pentagon chief takes aim at big weapons programs"

Washington Post's Dana Hedgpeth, "Contracting Boom Could Fizzle Out"

OBAMA ADMINISTRATION

Former RNC spokesman Alex Conant weighs in on White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod: "David Axelrod's appearance on the Sunday shows this past weekend made two things clear: There are no limits on his roles inside the Obama administration, and the White House has no qualms about raising his profile. While previous presidents' political advisers have walked a fine line between policy and politics and frequently tried to keep a low profile, Axelrod is doing just the opposite. ... Axelrod is now a pillar for Barack Obama, but he will likely become a lightning rod for public concern."

Wall Street Journal's Vanessa Fuhrmans and Jane Zhang, "U.S. Reduces Subsidies for Private Medicare"


NY-20 SPECIAL ELECTION

Associated Press' Valerie Bauman, "NY House race ballot counting to begin this week"

Politico's Josh Kraushaar, "Murphy wins court ruling"

FUTURE RACES

Wall Street Journal's Brody Mullins and T.W. Farnam, "Political Donations Slide Amid Slump"

2009 NYC Mayor: NY Times' Raymond Hernandez, "'Survey' Calls Attack Bloomberg Rival"

2009 NJ Governor: CQ Politics' Michael Teitelbaum, "Burgeoning Field in New Jersey Governor Race"

2010 NY Governor: NY Daily News' Bill Hammond, "Dave looks like a one-termer: Can Gov. Paterson recover before November 2010?"

2010 RI Governor: Providence Journal's Katherine Gregg, "Chafee prepares a run for R.I. governor"

2010 FL Senate: Tallahassee Democrat's Bill Cotterell, "Meek begins petition drive in run for Florida Senate seat"

2010 IL Senate: Associated Press' Jim Suhr, "Burris won't say if he'll seek full term"

2010 KY Senate: Associated Press' Roger Alford, "Mongiardo raises $420K for US Senate race in Ky."

ETC.

NY Times' Neil A. Lewis and David Johnston, "Dismayed Lawyers Lay Out Reasons for Collapse of the Stevens Conviction"

CBS News' Andrew Cohen, "Case's End Doesn't Mean Stevens Is Vindicated"

CBSNews.com's Brian Montopoli, "Hot Topic: A Gay Marriage Tipping Point?"
  • Steve Chaggaris

    Steve Chaggaris is CBSNews.com's Executive Editor, Washington.

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