In a way, we were watching a very different president and Congress last night: a more subdued president, reaching out on a few domestic policy issues he knows may actually be doable (like immigration reform and energy conservation). And a president who clearly understands that the public and the Congress are not with him on his Iraq war plan and instead just asked the public to please give him some more time for it to work. Pretty please.
Here's the question: Will the president's overall lack of popularity (now at 28 percent) and the disapproval of the Iraq war spill over into other areas? Last night, the president proposed two things I think may be very doable: a deal on immigration reform, in which he agrees with Democrats more than members of his own party, as well as a way to curb gasoline consumption by 20 percent over the next decade by changing, among other things, fuel economy standards. The reason something could get done on these matters is simple: It's in the self-interest of both the Democrats (who need to show they can run the Congress) and the president (who is thinking of his legacy) to prove they can work in a bipartisan way and keep the public happy.
As for Iraq, the president has a little breathing room. The Democrats--and many of their fellow Republicans--are not ready to cut off funding for the war now. The money is in the pipeline, and there's no way to cut it off without looking as if you're not supporting the troops in the field. But here's the crunch: Next fall, when the Congress has to reauthorize money for the war, there will be trouble if no progress has been made.
There are 21 Republican senators up for re-election in 2008. They'll be the first to bail (about a half dozen of them already have)if Iraq continues to head south. And the president won't be able to ask for more time.
By Gloria Borger