Politics Today: Dem Divisions Exposed in Health Reform

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:

** Will Obama be met with protests at Texas A&M today?...

** Reid tries to meet his party's needs on health reform...

** A possible compromise for Afghanistan emerges...

PRESIDENT OBAMA TODAY: President Obama makes his way back east, after a DNC fund-raiser in San Francisco last night, and will attend a presidential forum on community service at Texas A&M University, hosted by former President George H. W. Bush.

In a letter to the historically conservative A&M "family", former President Bush writes, "I am honored that The President, our President, is taking the time and making the effort to come to College Station on October 16th to talk about an issue that unites all Americans — namely, community service and its vast importance to our continued well-being as a Nation... This is not about politics. This is about the importance of service to our communities and our country."

"Organizers said it will also be a celebration of the 20th anniversary of Bush's Points of Light Initiative, which was an effort he spearheaded to promote and support volunteerism among U.S. citizens," adds the Bryan-College Station Eagle's Matthew Watkins. "Bush introduced the idea of U.S. volunteers as being 'a thousand points of light' in his acceptance speech for the Republican nomination for president in 1988."

Of course, a presidential visit is never complete without dissent.

"[T]oday's forum on community service won't be entirely the nonpartisan event that Bush and Obama had envisioned," writes the Houston Chronicle's Jeannie Kever. "'President Obama is protested everywhere he goes, so I think it would be odd if he came to one of the most conservative campuses and there wasn't a protest,' said Justin Pulliam, a sophomore at A&M and a member of Young Conservatives of Texas, one of several groups planning protests in conjunction with Obama's visit.

"Pulliam expects hundreds of protesters — Aggies, students from other campuses and others in the conservative movement — although he hopes they will be respectful."

NY Times' Michael Brick, "At A&M, a Dance of Decorum for Obama Visit"

Last night in San Francisco, following his day trip to New Orleans, "President Obama was met with cheers and jeers Thursday in his first visit to San Francisco as commander in chief, telling a friendly crowd at a sold-out Democratic Party fundraiser that while 'some of our opponents think they can wear us out, I'm not tired - I'm refreshed,'" reports the San Francisco Chronicle's Carla Marinucci.

"'Iraq was hard. Afghanistan is harder,' Obama told supporters. 'Iran, seeking to develop nuclear weapons, is hard. The Middle East peace process, that's hard. These are not problems that are going to be solved overnight. They're not going to be solved in nine months. They're not going to be solved in 18 months' and 'maybe not in 36 months,' he said. 'We're just getting started.'

"[House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi, who introduced the president, said that 'health care is the issue of the hour.' Obama, she said, has been a president who knew that reform wasn't 'about the details of the policy, it was about something bigger. It was about our moral responsibility ... social responsibility and the character of our country.'"

Coverage of President Obama's New Orleans trip:

CBS News 'Chip Reid, "Obama Focuses on New Orleans"

New Orleans Times-Picayune, "President Barack Obama: 'We will build it stronger than before'"

HEALTH CARE: "Deep fissures among Senate Democrats became evident on Thursday as lawmakers moved closer to a floor debate on legislation to remake the health care system," report the New York Times' David M. Herszenhorn and Robert Pear.

"The divisions involved two issues: whether the government should sell health insurance, in competition with private insurers, and whether Congress should offset any of the cost of legislation to increase Medicare payments to doctors.

"At a luncheon behind closed doors, Democrats said, liberals made impassioned pleas for a new government insurance plan, and they challenged the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, to defend his bill, which has no such public option.

"Among the outspoken champions of the public plan were Senators Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio; Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa; and Bernard Sanders of Vermont, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats.

"Senator Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska, said the discussions were only 'slightly less raucous than the town hall meetings' that erupted in many states in August."

The Politico's Ben Smith and Kenneth P. Vogel, "The White House's unlikely union with health lobby": "At a meeting last April with corporate lobbyists, aides to President Barack Obama and Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) helped set in motion a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign, primarily financed by industry groups, that has played a key role in bolstering public support for health care reform.

"The role Baucus's chief of staff, Jon Selib, and deputy White House chief of staff Jim Messina played in launching the groups was part of a successful effort by Democrats to enlist traditional enemies of health care reform to their side. No quid pro quo was involved, they insist, as do the lobbyists themselves.

"The result has been a somewhat unlikely alliance between an administration that came into power criticizing George W. Bush for his closeness to Big Business and groups such as the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and the American Medical Association."

5377715AFGHANISTAN: "An investigation of allegedly fraudulent ballots in Afghanistan's troubled election has reduced President Hamid Karzai's portion of the vote to about 47 percent, an outcome that will trigger a runoff between him and his closest competitor, according to officials familiar with results," the Washington Post's Karen DeYoung and Joshua Partlow report.

"The tally by the U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission, which one official called 'stunning,' is due to be finalized Friday. Preliminary results by Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission had given Karzai 54.6 percent of the Aug. 20 vote.

"The findings have major implications for the Obama administration's ongoing deliberations over Afghanistan war strategy and could eventually help remove the cloud of illegitimacy hanging over its partner government there. But a new election could also make a difficult situation worse, particularly if fraud is once again alleged or if the vote has to be delayed because of the onset of winter. ...

"For the Obama administration, much of the delay in determining a way forward in the faltering war has been tied to the uncertain outcome of the Afghan election."

Wall Street Journal's Yochi J. Dreazen, "Sen. Levin Crafts Afghan Compromise": "Three U.S. officials familiar with the Obama administration's deliberations over Afghanistan said Sen. [Carl] Levin's [D-Mich.] proposal is attracting high-level backing and could form the core of a compromise approach to the conflict.

"Sen. Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, wants to send as many as several thousand additional U.S. military trainers to Afghanistan while refocusing the broader U.S. mission there on mentoring the Afghan army and national police.

"The lawmaker says he believes his approach could be incorporated into either of the two strategies being debated by President Barack Obama's war council: a counterinsurgency campaign that would try to protect the Afghan population with greater troop numbers, and a narrower counterterror push that would aim to kill or capture individual militants."

McClatchy Newspapers' Nancy A. Youssef and Jonathan S. Landay, "'Low-risk' Afghan option calls for troop levels U.S. may not have": "The U.S. military can send only about 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan in the next three months without putting excessive strains on the Army and Marine Corps, but the top Afghanistan commander has said he needs more than twice that number to have the best chance of success, military and administration officials told McClatchy.

"Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal has said that even if it sent 30,000 additional troops, the U.S. would risk failure in Afghanistan under the current strategy. His resourcing plan offers President Barack Obama three options based on the estimated risk, said two U.S. military officials, who requested anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly and because the proposal remains classified.

"The low risk option, which McChrystal has said offers the best chance to contain the Taliban-led insurgency and stabilize Afghanistan, calls for 80,000 additional U.S. troops, while his medium risk option puts the number at 40,000 to 45,000, the officials said."

Politics Daily's Jill Lawrence, "Who Will Save the Women of Afghanistan?"

4762464REPUBLICAN PARTY: The New York Times' Jackie Calmes reports, "The numbers are striking: Of the 217 Republicans in the House and the Senate, only one, Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, has publicly supported a health care overhaul along the lines President Obama seeks.

"The Republicans' opposition is a remarkable display of the unity emerging against the broader Obama agenda as a dangerous expansion of government. That stance is popular with, even demanded by, the party's narrowed conservative base.

"But it also exposes Republicans to criticism that they have become political obstructionists with no policy agenda of their own. And that could keep them from extending their appeal to the centrist voters who are essential to rebuilding the party's strength nationally.

"Republicans' naysaying on health care, after their nearly unanimous opposition to Mr. Obama's economic stimulus package, has already drawn rare rebukes from an array of prominent party figures outside Capitol Hill, who say the party should be for something, not just against. Among the critics have been three former Senate Republican leaders: Bob Dole, Bill Frist and Howard H. Baker Jr."

Meantime, "The rise of conservative "tea party" activists around the country has created a dilemma for Republicans. They are breathing life into the party's quest to regain power. But they're also waging war on some candidates hand-picked by GOP leaders as the most likely to win," writes the Wall Street Journal's Naftali Bendavid.

"Republicans are poised to pick up a number of seats in next year's congressional elections, pollsters estimate, on the back of a deep recession, public unease about the growth of government and the size of the nation's deficit. Anti-Obama activism manifested in rallies and town-hall meetings has galvanized conservatives, injecting enthusiasm into the Republican base.

"But these newly energized conservatives present GOP leaders with a potential problem: The party's strategy for attracting moderate voters risks alienating activists who are demanding ideological purity, who may then gravitate to other candidates or stay at home. It's a classic dilemma faced by parties in the minority -- tension between those who want a return to the party's ideological roots and those who want candidates most likely to win in their districts."

2009 GUBERNATORIAL RACES: Gov. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., who's struggling in his re-election bid, has really lined up a star-studded list of in-person endorsers for next week, reports the Newark Star-Ledger's Chris Megerian.

"Corzine has added former president Bill Clinton to the list of national Democrats who will appear with him in New Jersey during the final weeks of the gubernatorial campaign.

"Vice President Joe Biden will attend a rally at Middlesex County Community College in Edison on Monday. The next day, former president Bill Clinton will make appearances at two separate events, first with Corzine running mate Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) in Collingswood and then with Corzine at Rutgers University in New Brunswick.

"President Barack Obama will then stump for Corzine on Wednesday at Fairleigh Dickinson University at the Hackensack campus.

"After Obama's event, Caroline Kennedy will appear with Corzine that evening at an Irish-American festival in Belmar. ...

"The latest survey on the governor's race, from Quinnipiac University, shows Christie holding 41 percent against Corzine's 40 percent, with independent candidate Chris Daggett attracting 14 percent."

Meantime, the Star-Ledger reports, "Democrats [Thursday] renewed their charges that Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie politicized his office as U.S. attorney, saying he used his taxpayer-funded travel around the state to lay the groundwork for a future campaign.

"Christie denied any impropriety and accused Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine of manufacturing controversy to distract from his record.

"During his tenure as a federal prosecutor, Christie was reimbursed for the mileage on visits to an anti-tax group in Denville, a dinner dance in honor of a Republican state senator, and an array of business and academic groups, according to documents released by the Corzine campaign. The documents, including Christie's reimbursement forms and mileage from 2002 to 2008, were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act."

"Gov. Jon Corzine (D-N.J.) criticized Republican rival Chris Christie Thursday for living by a different set of rules than everyone else," adds Politico's Andy Barr.

"On a Democratic Governors Association donors conference call, Corzine said recent news reports about Christie's travel expenses during his tenure as U.S. Attorney offered further evidence that Christie is not 'operating the same way that he has argued others should behave.'

"Travel documents obtained by Corzine's campaign and distributed to numerous media outlets this week showed that Christie on several occasions billed taxpayers more than $400-a-night for hotel rooms in various cities.

"'I think that there is a pattern,' Corzine said. 'We think that pattern needed to be exposed and that's the values contrast we're going to focus on.'"

In Virginia, "Republican Robert F. McDonnell entered October with $1.8 million more to spend on his bid for governor than his Democratic opponent, R. Creigh Deeds, a figure that helps explain why his ads have been more prevalent in recent weeks and that provides McDonnell a significant advantage for the campaign's final sprint," reports the Washington Post's Rosalind S. Helderman and Anita Kumar.

"McDonnell has had more to spend throughout the general election campaign, particularly because Deeds came out of a tough three-way primary for his party's nomination in June nearly broke…

"Money doesn't guarantee electoral success -- Kilgore outraised Kaine in 2005, and Deeds won the Democratic nomination despite being significantly outspent. But McDonnell's advantage has been extended by an aggressive independent effort on his behalf by the Republican Governors Association, which has aired $4 million worth of ads for the former attorney general in recent weeks."

And while Deeds gets campaign help from former VP Al Gore at a closed fund-raiser today, President Obama has kept his distance - for now, apparently.

"For the second time in week, Democrat Creigh Deeds has virtually promised that President Obama will be back to campaign for him before the Nov. 3 election, even though no date for such an event has been set," writes the Post's Helderman.

"In an interview with Ryan Nobles of Richmond's NBC12, Deeds said, 'President Obama will be back in Virginia.' Nobles asked the candidate, 'Within the next 19 days, we will see you and Barack Obama, standing on a stage in Virginia?' And Deeds answered, 'You will, yes.'

"Deeds told Mark Plotkin something similar last week on WTOP. Yet, Obama has announced a rally for New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine and so far, no such love for Deeds."


Washington Post's Michael A. Fletcher, "Obama Criticized as Too Cautious, Slow on Judicial Posts"

NY Times' Michael Cooper and Ron Nixon, "Job Program Found to Miss Many States That Need It Most"

LA Times' Jim Puzzanghera, "House committee approves new rules on derivatives trading"

Sarah Palin writes in The National Review, "Drill - Petroleum is a major part of America's energy picture. Shall we get it here or abroad?"

Wall Street Journal's Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg and Michael M. Phillips, "Big Sales Expected for Sarah Palin Memoir"

NY Times' Jim Rutenberg, "Acorn's Woes Strain Its Ties to Democrats"

The New Republic's Lydia DePillis updates on what Wes Clark is doing these days: ethanol salesman, "The Supreme Allied Commander Of Corn"

  • Steve Chaggaris

    Steve Chaggaris is CBS News' senior political editor.