Politics Today: Bill Clinton's N. Korea Mission

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:

**Bill Clinton heads to North Korea to negotiate release of U.S. journalists..

**Protests heat up on health care...

**Obama closes door on middle-class tax hike...

**Senate mulls future of 'Cash for Clunkers'...

**Sotomayor debate begins in Senate...

(AP Photo/Korean Central News Agency )
BILL CLINTON TO N. KOREA: "Former President Bill Clinton arrived in North Korea Tuesday, state media reported, in an effort to gain the release of two American journalists who were arrested in March and have been in the North's custody ever since," reports McClatchy Newspapers' Warren P. Strobel. "The Clinton mission was earlier reported by South Korea's Yonhap news agency, and an Asian diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the situation's sensitivity, said that sending the former U.S. president as an envoy was discussed within the Obama administration last week.

"Yonhap reported that Clinton was en route to Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, where he'd try to secure the release of the two journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee…

"The Obama administration has had back-channel talks with North Korea for several weeks over sending an envoy to resolve the situation, according to U.S. officials."

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said this morning in a written statement: "While this solely private mission to secure the release of two Americans is on the ground, we will have no comment. We do not want to jeopardize the success of former President Clinton's mission."

Bloomberg News' Heejin Koo adds, "Clinton was met at Pyongyang airport by Kim Kye Gwan, the country's chief negotiator at talks to dismantle North Korea's nuclear capability, Korean Central News Agency said today. The mission to secure the release of the journalists would not last long, an official traveling with Clinton's wife, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said during a stopover in Spain."

(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Washington Post's Glenn Kessler writes, "His arrival was announced by the North Korea's official news agency, which reported, 'A little girl presented a bouquet to Bill Clinton.' The journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, were seized near the Chinese border while working on a story, and they immediately became pawns in a rapidly deteriorating relationship between Washington and Pyongyang. They were sentenced in June to 12 years of hard labor.

"The communist state declared the women -- who were working for San Francisco-based Current TV, co-founded by Clinton's vice president, Al Gore -- were convicted of 'grave crimes' and 'slander' against the nation, and Ling recently told her sister by telephone that she and Lee broke North Korea's laws.

"Following that conversation, the Obama administration has signaled a shift in tone regarding the reporters, calling for their 'amnesty,' in contrast to earlier demands for a 'humanitarian release.'"

The Wall Street Journal's Jay Solomon and Evan Ramstad add, "Mr. Clinton took a special aircraft from Anchorage, a person familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal. Mr. Clinton was likely sent to take the final steps for the release of journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee of Current TV LLC, who were detained and arrested by North Korean soldiers on the border with China March 17. North Korea over the past eight months has engaged in a series of provocative statements and actions, culminating with its second test of a nuclear explosive on May 25.

"Mr. Clinton's entrance into the North Korea crisis comes as the Obama administration has been taking an increasingly hard line on Pyongyang's nuclear program. In recent weeks, the U.S. and United Nations have enacted sanctions on a wide range of North Korean arms companies, as well as senior North Korean officials involved in the nuclear program.

"Senior U.S. officials said the sanctions are aimed at cutting off Pyongyang's ability to buy and sell nuclear-related materials. But these officials also said the sanctions could undercut Pyongyang's ability to enter into the global financial system, as the companies are major foreign-currency earners for Kim Jong Il's regime."

New York Times' Derrick Henry, "Bill Clinton's Novel Role: the Spousal Envoy"

5192100HEALTH CARE: Today, President Obama has lunch with Senate Democrats, where health care is among the topics they'll discuss before Senators leave town on their August recess.

The House recessed last week and, as CBS News' Wyatt Andrews reports, members of Congress are getting an earful from constituents back at home.

"The debate over health care reform has been raging in Washington for weeks. But outside the nation's capital, this healthy discourse has grown loud with vocal protests. ...

"It's happening almost everywhere as Democrats try to defend their plan for health care reform. Angry protestors in Philadelphia shouted down both Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Sen. Arlen Specter.

"On Saturday in Texas, demonstrators against what they called government-run health care surrounded Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett and followed him out to his car, shouting 'just say no.'"

"[I]n Morrisville, Pa., Representative Patrick J. Murphy, a Democrat, expected 25 people at a 'Congressman on Your Corner' event on Saturday. Instead he was met by a boisterous crowd of about 150 and a barrage of questions on health care," add the New York Times' David M. Herszenhorn and Sheryl Gay Stolberg. "The protests, organized by loose-knit coalition of conservative voters and advocacy groups, were a raucous start to what is expected to be weeks of political and ideological clashes over the health care overhaul President Obama is trying to push through Congress.

"The conservative groups, including FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity, are harnessing social networking Web sites to organize their supporters in much the same way Mr. Obama did during his election campaign. Democrats said they expected supporters of the health care overhaul to mobilize against Republican events later in the month."

Politico's Alex Isenstadt and Abby Phillip, "Democrats' break looking like a bad trip"

CBS News' Marc Ambinder, "Are Democrats In For An August Slaughter?"

Associated Press' Kimberly Hefling, "Public passions are rising on health care overhaul"

Bloomberg News' James Rowley, "Democrats May Bypass Republicans on Health Plan, Schumer Says"

Los Angeles Times' Tom Hamburger, "Obama gives powerful drug lobby a seat at healthcare table"

Wall Street Journal's Gerald Seib, "U.S. Psyche Bedevils Health Effort"

MIDDLE-CLASS TAX HIKE?: "The White House tried Monday to douse speculation that it might raise taxes on the middle class in violation of President Obama's campaign promise, just a day after two of his top economic advisers left the door open to such a move to rein in spiraling deficits," writes the New York Times' Peter Baker.

"Mr. Obama told his economic team in a meeting at the White House that he intended to stand by his promise not to increase taxes on families making less than $250,000, aides said. He then sent his spokesman out to repeat that message in front of the television cameras.

"'The president made a commitment in the campaign. He's clear about that commitment, and he's going to keep it,' said Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary.

"The renewal of the promise came a day after Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and Lawrence H. Summers, director of the National Economic Council, both refused to rule out tax increases on the middle class while discussing ways to pare the deficit. The two were speaking on separate Sunday morning talk shows, venues where administration officials are usually well prepared on the official line before appearing.

"'It's never a good idea to absolutely rule things out no matter what,' Mr. Summers said on 'Face the Nation' on CBS. Mr. Geithner, on ABC's 'This Week With George Stephanopoulos,' said, 'We can't make these judgments yet about exactly what it's going to take' to tame the deficit.

"Conservative critics interpreted those comments as laying the groundwork for trying to wriggle out of Mr. Obama's campaign pledge."

CBS News' Chip Reid, "White House Plays Down Tax-Raising Talk"

Associated Press' Philip Elliott, "Obama struggling to keep no-tax pledge"

'CASH FOR CLUNKERS': "The fate of the 'cash for clunkers' program remained uncertain on Monday even as sales figures from automakers demonstrated that people had flocked to dealers to trade in old gas guzzlers," write the New York Times' Matthew L. Wald and Nick Bunkley.

"The White House urged the Senate to add $2 billion to the program, as the House voted to do last Friday before leaving for its August recess. Still, dealers around the country stopped promising the rebates to car shoppers on Monday, because of uncertainty about how much of the $1 billion initially allocated had been used up, or when or whether more money would be available. The Senate begins its recess this Friday."

McClatchy Newspapers' David Lightman adds, "Senate Republican leaders railed against it Monday, calling the program a model of government inefficiency and out-of-control spending. The program originally got $1 billion, but all but exhausted that funding last week, its first. The House of Representatives approved another $2 billion on Friday, but the Senate's balking.

"'We were told this program would last for several months. As it turned out, it ran out of money in a week, prompting the House to rush a $2 billion dollar extension before anybody even had time to figure out what happened with the first billion,' said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
President Barack Obama plans to meet with Senate Democrats Tuesday at the White House to discuss several issues, including keeping 'cash for clunkers' alive.

"White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs explained the stakes: 'If it doesn't happen this week,' he said of Senate action, 'it's unlikely that we'll make it to the weekend with a program that can continue.'"

However, Bloomberg News' Angela Greiling Keane and Mark Drajem report, "Prospects that the U.S. Senate will add $2 billion to the 'cash for clunkers' program increased when two senators who had said the auto discounts provide too few environmental benefits changed their minds.

"Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, and Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, committed their support for more funds after the Obama administration said yesterday that the average fuel economy of vehicles purchased under the program increased 61 percent compared with the cars and trucks traded in.

"'This program has done much better than we ever thought it would for the environment,' Feinstein told reporters. 'The best solution is to continue the program as-is.'"

Washington Post's Dana Hedgpeth, "Cash for Clunkers Deal Drives Auto Sales"

Wall Street Journal's Kevin Helliker, "The Killer App for Clunkers Breathes Fresh Life Into 'Liquid Glass'"

Politics Daily's Patricia Murphy, "Cash for Hummers: Taxpayers Foot the Bill for Guzzler Upgrades"

SOTOMAYOR: "As the Senate begins debate today on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor with the outcome assured, the only remaining questions are whether the National Rifle Assn. can claim to have swayed votes against her and whether President Obama can claim a victory for bipartisanship," report the Los Angeles Times' David G. Savage and Tom Oliphant. "For the first time, the NRA has weighed in against a Supreme Court nominee, urging senators to vote 'no' on Sotomayor.

"So far, however, eight of the 36 senators who won endorsement from the NRA have said they will vote to confirm her. The most recent were Democrats Max Baucus and Jon Tester, both of Montana, and Ben Nelson of Nebraska. The others are Republicans Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Mel Martinez of Florida and Democrats Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania."

"Monday, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., became the 27th Republican to announce he will vote against Sotomayo," writes USA Today's Kathy Kiely.

"The GOP's 2008 presidential nominee joins others in his party from states with large Hispanic populations, including Texans John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison, and McCain's Arizona colleague, deputy Senate Republican leader Jon Kyl.

"Six of the Senate's 40 Republicans have announced they will support Sotomayor when the Senate votes this week.

"None of the 60 senators who caucus with the Democrats has announced opposition to Sotomayor, so the only question is her margin of victory. Democratic Senate leaders are planning to make the vote on Sotomayor the last thing lawmakers do before leaving town for a month-long recess. The timing is designed to give President Obama something to celebrate as he heads into a bruising debate on health care.

"Yet the vote appears likely to underscore a problem he faces as he tries to sell his top legislative priority: his limited ability to bridge the partisan divide."

ALSO TODAY: "President Obama will celebrate his 48th birthday Tuesday by spending at least part of the day working," reports the Washington Post's Cheryl W. Thompson. "Obama kicked off his birthday a few days early with a weekend trip to Camp David. Along with his wife, daughters and mother-in-law, he was joined Saturday by longtime Chicago pals Marty Nesbitt, chairman of the Chicago Housing Authority Board, and physician Eric Whitaker, along with several of the president's childhood friends from Hawaii, according to an administration official.

"At his Maryland getaway, the president played basketball and bowled. Obama, who was chided during the campaign for his unimpressive bowling skills, bowled a 144 over the weekend, Gibbs said -- a marked improvement from the 37 and gutter balls Obama rolled as a presidential candidate in March 2008 in Altoona, Pa. ...

One similarity to last year's birthday: he will be spending part of the week in Elkhart, Ind,, just as he did in 2008. Tomorrow, Mr. Obama heads to Elkhart County for a town meeting-style event. Almost a year ago to the day, last Aug. 6, he was in Elkhart to sell his energy plan.

Associated Press' Matthew Lee, "Clinton's Africa tour to highlight US commitments"

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CBS News' Mark Knoller, "$1 Trillion More in Debt Since Obama Took Office"

Wall Street Journal's Evan Perez, "White House Counsel's Job at Stake"

NY Times' Adam Liptak, "Obama Administration Weighs in on State Secrets, Raising Concern on the Left"

Bloomberg News' John McCormick, "'Lost' Obama Interview Provides Portrait of Aspiring Politician"

Wall Street Journal's Siobhan Gorman, "Security Cyber Czar Steps Down"

NY Times' Julia Preston, "Staying Tough in Crackdown on Immigrants"

Associated Press, "A look at Democrats targeted by House GOP"

Washington Times' Donald Lambro, "Republicans closing gap in polls"

Politico's Eamon Javers, "2010: Fight for the fickle"

2009 NJ Governor: Associated Press, "Christie widens lead over Corzine in new poll"

2009 NJ Governor: NY Times' David M. Halbfinger, "Big Donors Make End Run in New Jersey Campaign"

2009 VA Governor: Northern Virginia Daily's Garren Shipley, "McDonnell campaigns in downtown Winchester"

2010 CA Governor: Sacramento Bee's Tory Van Oot, "Twitter to join GOP fall debate"

2010 TX Governor: San Antonio Express-News' Peggy Fikac, "Transportation chair boosts Gov. Perry's road to re-election"

2010 TX Governor: The Port Lavaca Wave, "Schieffer: 'Time for change'"

2010 PA Senate: Philadelphia Inquirer's Tom Fitzgerald, "Sestak ready to announce he'll take on Specter"

  • Steve Chaggaris

    Steve Chaggaris is CBS News' senior political editor.