In it, but not of it. TPM DC

President Obama has for the most part given Congress a wide berth as it crafts a health care reform bill, popping up now and again to remind party leaders of the importance of the initiative, which he now describes as his highest legislative priority. But yesterday that all seemed to change.

First, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs suggested that Obama might ask the House or the Senate or both chambers to delay recess if either hasn't passed its own reform bill. And later, at a meeting with congressional leaders, Obama turned up the temperature on Senate Finance chairman Max Baucus (D-MT), whose committee is now weeks behind schedule, saying he wants the committee to have a bill ready for mark up by the end of the week.

Clearly the White House is beginning to worry that the House and the Senate may leave for recess without voting on legislation. But why does that matter? For many reasons, actually, but a couple stand out more than others: First, a floor vote on health care is a big vote. Bigger than a vote on a health care conference report. It's a vote that will likely become an issue in battleground districts during the 2010 congressional elections. And as a rule of thumb, when election season approaches, vulnerable members become more risk averse--less willing, in other words, to vote for controversial legislation.

But there's another potential issue, too.

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You wouldn't think this would take a lot of explaining, but apparently if you're Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), it does.



I suppose Republicans worry that there's a slippery slope between "they're taking our nunchucks!" and "they're taking our guns!" Or something.

A little more on yesterday's Las Vegas Sun report on Ensign's intent to run for re-election in 2012. This part of the story caught our eye:

When asked Monday whether he had any thoughts about stepping down, Ensign said his supporters are sending one message: "They say, 'Don't.' "

... [Ensign said] his support is coming from his fellow senators as well as those "on both sides" of Senate leadership.

Ensign said his supporters are telling him, "Keep your head up. This thing will pass."


We were curious about this alleged support from Senate leadership, so we asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) whether he's urged Ensign to keep his Senate seat.

"These are the kinds of personal decisions that Senator Ensign will have to make," said Reid's spokesman, Jim Manley.

New Jersey Governor John Corzine has some catching up to do if he's going to win re-election. A new Quinnipiac poll finds that his Republican challenger Christopher Chritie has opened up a significant lead.

According to the poll, 53 percent of likely voters favor Christie while only 41 say they would vote for Corzine. That's a slightly wider margin than Christie enjoyed a month ago, the last time Quinnipiac asked this question.

Not much more to say beyond the headline. On hand to field questions will be Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House leaders, along with the chairmen of the relevant committees of jurisdiction: Charlie Rangel of Ways and Means; Henry Waxman of Energy and Commerce; and George Miller of Education and Labor.

Congressional Quarterly is reporting that two Republican congressmen, Eric Cantor of Virginia and Mike Pence of Indiana, could be looking to make a presidential run.

One of our favorite Cantor memories was when he missed one of President Obama's prime time press conferences on the economy. Where was the House minority whip? At a Britney Spears concert.

But Cantor's apparently fueling speculation by scheduling listening tours and raising money. He's added $637,000 to his PAC -- called Every Republican Is Crucial (or ERIC).

Just goes to show: In the new Republican Party, no one's too obscure or too weird to be considered presidential material.

Despite admitting to having an affair and having his parents pay off his mistress, Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) yesterday said he plans to stay in office -- and run for re-election in 2012.

Ensign told the Las Vegas Sun he's been getting emails and phone calls from supporters urging him to stay put. Those supporters, he said, include senators on both sides of Senate leadership.

"I fully plan on running for reelection," Ensign said. "I'm going to work to earn their respect back."

He quoted his supporters as saying, "Keep your head up. This thing will pass."

Under increasing pressure from the White House, and to meet their self-imposed deadlines, leaders in both the House and the Senate recommitted yesterday to meeting their goal of passing separate health care bills before the looming August recess.

At an event anticipating today's release of House reform legislation, Speaker Nancy Pelosi reaffirmed, "We will be on schedule to do as we have planned to vote for this legislation before we leave for the August recess."

Later in the day, after a long meeting with President Obama, Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid echoed the same sentiment. "We are going to do health care before we leave," Reid said.

Because of the peculiarities of the Senate, Reid will have a harder time matching word to deed than will Pelosi, despite the fact that the Senate isn't scheduled to adjourn until a week after the House does. For its part, the White House suggested yesterday for the first time that it would consider asking either or both houses of Congress to delay their recesses if they haven't prepared legislation for a conference committee by the time they're set to depart.

In a meeting that lasted slightly over an hour yesterday, President Obama upped the pressure on congressional leaders--but particularly on the Senate, and Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D-MT)--to move a health care bill forward so that both chambers can individually complete work on legislation before the August recess.

Obama met with Baucus and Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY)--chairman of the Ways and Means Committee--along with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer yesterday afternoon, two days after returning from a long trip abroad. Specific details are scarce, but this account, provided by a knowledgeable official, dovetails well with better known facts, including that the Senate--particularly the Finance Committee--is significantly behind schedule, and that the White House appears to be turning up the temperature on Congress more generally as August recess approaches.

Obama also met yesterday with Blue Dog Democrats, who have successfully delayed the introduction of House health care reform legislation. More details on that meeting if and when they become available.

TPMDC's round up of the biggest initiatives on Capitol Hill:

  • Health Care: House leaders delayed the release of their health care legislation for yet another day as they paper over differences with more conservative members of the Democratic party. Meanwhile, with President Obama back from abroad, the White House is wading in to the debate on the Hill like never before.


  • Nominations: Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the first day of her week-long confirmation hearing. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) said her nomination could send the court down a "dangerous path". And Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) lashed out at those who would dare criticize one of the New Haven firefighter's who's been recruited to testify against her. Read TPM's live blog of the hearings, where Andrew Pincus is cataloging and analyzing just about every key moment.

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