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:
**President Obama's approval numbers down in new poll...
**As rhetoric heats up, health care inches along in Congress...
**Sotomayor expected to be confirmed today...
**Mr. Obama heads to Virginia to help gubernatorial candidate Deeds...
"After 199 days in office, President Barack Obama has a 50 – 42 percent job approval rating from American voters, down from 57 – 33 percent July 2 to its lowest level since Inauguration Day," the press release from Quinnipiac reads. "Voters disapprove 49 – 45 percent of the way the President is handling the economy and disapprove 52 – 39 percent of the way he is handling health care, but approve 52 – 38 percent of the way he is handling foreign policy.
"Independent voters split 45 – 45 percent in their overall approval of President Obama, down from 52 – 37 percent in a July 2 poll."
The poll was taken during the controversy over the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates.
The poll's release states: "Obama acted 'stupidly' in the dispute between a black professor and a white police officer, American voters say 49 – 33 percent." President Obama suggested the Cambridge, Mass., police acted "stupidly" in arresting Gates.
"White voters say 54 – 27 percent that he acted stupidly, while black voters disagree 61 – 16 percent. Hispanic voters split 42 – 43 percent. By a 62 – 26 percent margin, voters say the President should not have intervened in this matter. Black voters split 44 – 42 percent on whether Obama should have intervened."
Politico's Alex Isenstadt, "John Cornyn embraces declining President Obama polls"
5058008HEALTH CARE: The president will meet with members of the Senate Finance Committee at 11:30am at the White House to continue talks over how that committee will move forward on health care reform.
"Senate negotiators are inching toward bipartisan agreement on a health-care plan that seeks middle ground on some of the thorniest issues facing Congress, offering the fragile outlines of a legislative consensus even as the political battle over reform intensifies outside Washington," report the Washington Post's Shailagh Murray and Lori Montgomery.
"The emerging Finance Committee bill would shave about $100 billion off the projected trillion-dollar cost of the legislation over the next decade and eventually provide coverage to 94 percent of Americans, according to participants in the talks. It would expand Medicaid, crack down on insurers, abandon the government insurance option that President Obama is seeking and, for the first time, tax health-care benefits under the most generous plans. Backers say the bill would also offer the only concrete plan before Congress for reining in the skyrocketing cost of federal health programs over the long term.
"Three Democrats and three Republicans from the Senate Finance Committee will brief Obama on Thursday about the progress of their sometimes arduous talks, which are now set to extend through the August recess. The negotiators are holding the details close as they continue to debate key issues, and it could be a challenge for them to meet the Sept. 15 deadline set by the committee's chairman, Max Baucus (D-Mont.), for a deal."
5215995Meantime, the Wall Street Journal's Greg Hitt reports that Finance Committee member Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., says he's in no rush to get health care passed.
"A key Republican senator said Wednesday he wouldn't be rushed into backing bipartisan health legislation, and suggested some Democratic priorities -- such as a public health-insurance plan -- couldn't be part of any bill that wins his support," Hitt writes.
"In an interview, Sen. Mike Enzi, a Wyoming Republican, said he was committed to forging a bipartisan consensus on legislation that overhauls the U.S. health-care system.
"'We're past due for doing it, and the American people want it,' said Mr. Enzi, one of three Republicans negotiating with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D., Mont.). The Baucus-led talks are the only bipartisan health-bill effort on Capitol Hill.
"But Sen. Enzi said voters so far didn't seem impressed by what the Democratic majority on Capitol Hill has come up with, and predicted members of the House and Senate are in for 'some nasty, nasty town meetings' over the August congressional recess. 'I don't think they like what they see so far,' the senator said of voters."
Speaking of "nasty" town hall meetings, they've already begun, reports the Los Angeles Times' Janet Hook.
"An effigy of Rep. Frank Kratovil Jr. was hung outside his office on the eastern shore of Maryland. Rep. Steve Kagen of Wisconsin was shouted down by angry constituents. Rep. Timothy H. Bishop of New York had such a raucous experience with critics on Long Island that he avoids town hall meetings for more manageable settings.
"The spark for political firestorms around these back-bench Democrats has been President Obama's effort to overhaul the healthcare system. The debate has gotten especially ugly now that Congress is adjourning for a monthlong summer recess and critics are mobilizing in force.
"Much of the fiercest opposition has been fanned by talk radio and conservative advocacy groups. But the bitter intensity is a pointed reminder of how hard it will be for Democrats to sell voters on a broad reworking of the healthcare system, even though they hold commanding majorities in the House and Senate."
5192097"Amid the rancorous partisanship, some political figures have tried to find a middle ground," write the Washington Post's Philip Rucker and Dan Eggen. "Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) said Wednesday, 'We have to be careful we don't just jump to the conclusion and label every bit of opposition above a certain decibel level as organized and contrived.' And White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said this week that the opposition includes voices that are genuine.
"'Look, I don't doubt that there are people that come to ask their members of Congress honest questions about the direction of the country,' Gibbs said. 'I also have no doubt that there are groups that have spread out people across the country to go to these things and to specifically generate videos that can be posted on Internet sites.'
"Obama, meanwhile, called for support Wednesday from the 13 million people on his e-mail list, asking them to commit to attending at least one health-care event this month.
"'This is the moment our movement was built for,' Obama wrote in the message, distributed by Organizing for America. He continued: 'There are those who profit from the status quo, or see this debate as a political game, and they will stop at nothing to block reform. They are filling the airwaves and the Internet with outrageous falsehoods to scare people into opposing change. And some people, not surprisingly, are getting pretty nervous. So we've got to get out there, fight lies with truth, and set the record straight.'"
Associated Press' Erica Werner, "Activists say no letup for health protests"
Politico's Victoria McGrane, "Town hall trouble from both sides now"
CBSNews.com's Brian Montopoli, "Steele: Don't Send Angry Liberals Our Way"
NY Times' David D. Kirkpatrick, "White House Affirms Deal on Drug Cost"
CBSNews.com's Stephanie Condon, "10 Health Care Reform Myths"
5168028SOTOMAYOR: "Sonia Sotomayor is poised to make history as the Supreme Court's first Hispanic justice despite staunch opposition from Republicans who call her ill-suited for the bench, a pending victory for Democrats who believe her confirmation will pay off politically," reports the Associated Press' Julie Hirschfeld Davis. "The Senate is ready to vote Thursday to confirm President Barack Obama's high court nominee, a 55-year-old appeals court judge of Puerto Rican descent who was raised in a New York City housing project, educated in the Ivy League and served 17 years on the federal bench.
"Sotomayor picked up more GOP support Wednesday even as nearly three-quarters of the Senate's 40 Republicans said they would vote 'no' and contended she would bring liberal bias and personal sympathies to her decisions. With all Democrats expected to back her, she has more than enough votes to be confirmed, barring a surprise turn of events, in one of the Senate's last actions before it breaks for the summer.
"Democrats, praising her as a well-qualified judge and a mainstream moderate, are warning Republicans that they risk a backlash from Hispanic voters — a growing part of the electorate — if they oppose her…
"GOP senators say their opposition to Sotomayor is based on her speeches and record, pointing to a few rulings in which they argue she showed disregard for gun rights, property rights and job discrimination claims by white employees. They also cite comments she's made about the role that a judge's background and perspective can play, especially a 2001 speech in which she said she hoped a 'wise Latina' would usually make better decisions than a white man."
The Wall Street Journal's Kristina Peterson adds that the GOP is looking to the future. "Republicans are expected to vote overwhelmingly against Judge Sonia Sotomayor in the Supreme Court confirmation vote set for Thursday with an eye toward a potential next pick from President Barack Obama, according to party lawmakers and strategists.
"Republicans say the show of party unity will discourage Mr. Obama from choosing a more liberal candidate in future picks and that the arguments they developed against Judge Sotomayor set a precedent for rejecting what they see as 'activist' judges.
"Democrats reject that analysis and say the president is getting what he wants: the first Hispanic justice on the Supreme Court, approved with relatively little disruption in the Senate."
"In the Senate, freedom apparently comes with retirement," writes the Los Angeles Times' James Oliphant. "On Wednesday, three Republicans who are not seeking reelection next year broke with their party and announced they would support Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.
"The most notable was Christopher S. Bond, the four-term senator from Missouri. Joining him in backing President Obama's first high court pick were Sens. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and Mel Martinez of Florida.
"The Senate scheduled a vote for 3 p.m. today.
Washington Post's Amy Goldstein and Paul Kane, "Democrats Rally for Sotomayor"
Politics Daily's Patricia Murphy, "What We Still Don't Know About Sonia Sotomayor"
Politico's David Rogers, "Sonia Sotomayor tops Senate sprint to recess"
5216266VIRGINIA GOVERNORS RACE: Tonight, President Obama campaigns for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds in McLean, Va.
Virginia is one of two states holding gubernatorial elections this year (New Jersey is the other) and the Republicans are hoping to make a statement by winning one or both; the GOP is spending big bucks to make that happen.
The latest polls in both states have the Democratic candidates trailing badly: in New Jersey, a poll out this week has Gov. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., down 15 points to his GOP challenger Chris Christie – and that's after Mr. Obama went to the Garden State to campaign for Corzine last month.
"Deeds, after emerging from a stunning primary victory, is now struggling to reproduce the spikes in Democratic enthusiasm that followed both his come-from-behind nomination two months ago and Obama's victory in Virginia last year," writes the Washington Examiner's Michael Neibauer.
"Obama, who will join Deeds and Gov. Tim Kaine at the McLean Hilton, is expected to make the case for why a win in Virginia is critical to Democrats, in the hopes of rallying a base of suburban Washington Democrats who fueled the recent gains in the commonwealth."
It's harder to quantify how much trouble Deeds is in; polling in Virginia is notoriously unreliable, however, there are some signs that Deeds is in for an uphill battle against Republican Bob McDonnell, perhaps none more important than the tepid support Deeds is receiving from prominent African-Americans.
Businesswoman Sheila Johnson, a lifelong Democrat and co-founder of Black Entertainment Television, has already endorsed McDonnell in person and in a Washington Post op-ed.
"For me, this isn't about party," Johnson, the president of the WNBA's Washington Mystics wrote last week. "This is about policy and the person. Bob McDonnell is the right person to serve as Virginia's next governor."
"As I said when I joined Bob in Richmond to announce my endorsement: I'm a Democrat. I'll always be a Democrat. But this Democrat is very impressed with this Republican candidate for governor."
On top of that, former Gov. Douglas Wilder, D-Va., has said kind words about McDonnell without endorsing him and has been quite critical of Deeds. Wilder told the Politico last month: "Tell me what [Deeds] has done? I haven't heard it," adding that "I do" think he'll have trouble with African-American voters this fall.
And that's why White House political director Patrick Gaspard met with Wilder last month and one of the major reasons why President Obama is heading to Virginia today.
On another note, McDonnell will have an opportunity to counter the president's visit when he delivers the weekly response to the president's radio address this weekend.
Washington Times' Sarah Abruzzese, "Obama loses favor in Va., could hurt Deeds"
Richmond Times-Dispatch's Tyler Whitley, "McDonnell to deliver GOP response to Obama"
Washington Post's Rosalind S. Helderman, "Tour Shows Deeds Is a Little Bit Country"
LA Times' Jim Puzzanghera, "Senate to vote on more 'cash for clunkers' funding"
Wall Street Journal's Gary Fields, "Clunkers Plan Deflates Mechanics"
A Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee looks into "The U.S. Postal Service in Crisis." Witnesses include Postmaster General John Potter and Fredric Rolando, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers.
Washington Post's Ed O'Keefe, "Post Office Reports $2.4 Billion Quarterly Loss"
BILL CLINTON & N. KOREA
NY Times' Mark Landler, "After Clinton Trip, U.S. Studies Signals From N. Korea"
Wall Street Journal's Jay Solomon, "Broader Issues on Table in Pyongyang"
LA Times' Paul Richter, "North Korea effort renews key U.S. political relationships"
NY Times' Adam Nagourney, "Clinton and Gore, Together Again"
Washington Post's Glenn Kessler, "Special Contacts Aided Release"
Associated Press' Matthew Lee, "Clinton recalls US embassy attacks in Africa"
NY Times' Jeffrey Gettleman, "Kenya's Volatile Politics Shadow Clinton"
Washington Post's Stephanie McCrummen, "In Somalia, a Twist on 'Handshake Diplomacy'"
ECONOMY / STIMULUS / FINANCIAL INDUSTRY
Elkhart Truth's Josh Weinhold, "The president brings billions to push forward alternative energy"
Washington Post's Zachary A. Goldfarb and David Cho, "U.S. Considers Remaking Mortgage Giants"
Washington Post's Spencer S. Hsu and Joby Warrick, "Obama's Battle Against Terrorism To Go Beyond Bombs and Bullets"
NY Times' Nina Bernstein, "U.S. to Reform Policy on Detention for Immigrants"
FMR. REP. BILL JEFFERSON
New Orleans Times-Picayune's Bruce Alpert and Jonathan Tilove, "William Jefferson guilty verdict ends long political career"
Kiplinger's Richard Sammon, "GOP Hopes Rise as 2010 Senate Races Heat Up"
2009 NJ Governor: Newark Star Ledger's Claire Heininger and Trish Graber, "N.J. corruption scandal takes centerstage in governor's race"
2010 CA Governor: Long Beach Press-Telegram, "S.F. Mayor Newsom making campaign stop in Long Beach"
2010 CA Governor: Ventura County Star, "GOP governor candidate Meg Whitman to speak in Ventura"
2010 NY Governor: NY Daily News' Kenneth Lovett, "Union bigs push Cuomo for gov run"
2010 TX Senate: Ft. Worth Star-Telegram's Maria Recio, "Cornyn is confident that Republicans could keep Hutchison's seat"
2012 Presidential: Cincinnati Enquirer's Howard Wilkinson, "Pawlenty to keynote GOP event in Mason"