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In a Rose Garden health care speech this afternoon, President Obama reiterated a couple of key themes--that the House and Senate need to pass legislation before they break for recess in August, and that the White House isn't going to keep quiet until that time.



"We are going to be continually talking about this for the next two or three weeks until we've got a bill out of the Senate and we've got a bill out of the House," Obama said. "Then we'll deserve a few weeks rest before we come back and finally get a bill doen so we can sign it right here in the Rose Garden."

It seems as if the White House will be a constant presence in the lives of the senators and congressmen responsible for completing legislation until they make good on their commitments. See, for instance, his network news interviewed scheduled to air tonight.

You can read his entire remarks here.

I'm pleased to be joined today by representatives from the American Nurses Association on behalf of the 2.9 million registered nurses in America - men and women who know as well as anyone the urgent need for health reform.



I should disclose right off the bat that I have a long-standing bias towards nurses. When Sasha, our younger daughter, contracted a dangerous case of meningitis when she was just three months old, we were terrified. But it was the nurses who were there with us, explaining what was going on, telling us it would all be okay.



So I know how important nurses are, and the nation does too. Nurses aren't in health care to get rich; they're in it to care for us from the time they bring new life into this world to the moment they ease the pain of those who pass from it. If it weren't for nurses, many Americans in underserved and rural areas would have no access to health care at all.



That's why it's safe to say few understand why we have to pass reform as intimately as our nation's nurses. They see firsthand the heartbreaking cost of our health care crisis. They hear the same stories I've heard across this country - of treatment deferred or coverage denied by insurance companies; of insurance premiums and prescriptions that are so expensive they consume a family's entire budget; of Americans forced to use the emergency room for something as simple as a sore throat just because they can't afford to see a doctor.



This is a problem we can no longer wait to fix. Deferring reform is nothing more than defending the status quo - and those who would oppose our efforts should take a hard look at just what it is they're defending. Over the last decade, health insurance premiums have risen three times faster than wages. Deductibles and out-of-pocket costs are skyrocketing. And every single day we wait to act, thousands of Americans lose their insurance, some turning to nurses in the emergency room as their only recourse.



So make no mistake: The status quo on health care is not an option for the United States of America. It is threatening the financial stability of our families, our businesses, and government itself. It is unsustainable.



I know a lot of Americans who are satisfied with their health care right now are wondering what reform would mean for them. Let me be clear: If you like your doctor or health care provider, you can keep them. If you like your health care plan, you can keep that too.



But here's what else reform will mean for you: you'll save money. If you lose your job, change your job, or start a new business, you'll still be able to find quality health insurance you can afford. If you have a preexisting medical condition, no insurance company will be able to deny you coverage. You won't have to worry about being priced out of the market. You won't have to worry about one illness leading your family into financial ruin. That's what reform means.



The naysayers and the cynics still doubt we can do this. But it wasn't too long ago that those same naysayers doubted that we'd be able to make real progress on health care reform. And thanks to the work of key committees in Congress, we are now closer to the goal of health reform than we have ever been.



Yesterday, the House introduced its health reform proposal. And today, thanks to the unyielding passion and inspiration provided by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, and the bold leadership of Senator Chris Dodd, the Senate HELP Committee reached a major milestone by passing a similarly strong proposal for health reform. It's a plan that was debated for more than 50 hours and includes more than 160 Republican amendments - a hopeful sign of bipartisan support for the final product.



Both proposals will take what's best about our system today and make it the basis of our system tomorrow - reducing costs, raising quality, and ensuring fair treatment of consumers by the insurance industry. Both include a health insurance exchange, a marketplace that will allow families and small businesses to compare prices, services and quality so they can choose the plan that best suits their needs; and among the choices available would be a public health insurance option that would make health care more affordable by increasing competition, providing more choices, and keeping insurance companies honest. Both proposals will offer stability and security to Americans who have coverage today, and affordable options for Americans who don't.



This progress should make us hopeful - but it shouldn't make us complacent. It should instead provide the urgency for both the House and the Senate to finish their critical work on health reform before the August recess.



America's nurses need us to succeed, and not just on behalf of all the patients they sometimes have to speak up for. If we invest in prevention, nurses won't have to treat diseases or complications that could've been avoided. If we modernize health records, we'll streamline the paperwork that can take up more than one-third of a nurse's day, freeing them to spend more time with their patients. If we make their jobs just a little bit easier, we can attract and train the young nurses we need to make up a nursing shortage that's only getting worse. Nurses do their part every time they check another healthy patient out of the hospital. It's time for us to do ours.



We're going to get this done. These nurses are on board. The American people are on board. It's up to us now. We can do what we've done for so long and defer tough decisions for another day - or we can step up and meet our responsibility as leaders. We can look beyond the next news cycle and the next election to the next generation, and come together to build a system that works not just for these nurses, but for the patients they care for; for doctors and hospitals; for families and businesses - and for our very future as a nation.

He may doubt the Senate's ability to pass health care reform legislation before the August recess, but he's optimistic that the Senate Finance Committee can move legislation soon.

"We'll be in markup in the Finance Committee next week," he said, according to Jeff Young of The Hill.

Conrad has been a pessimist, of sorts, since the Finance Committee began drafting legislation. He has been outspoken about his doubts that the Senate will endorse a public option, that Congress can pass health care reform through the reconciliation process, and now that the Senate will meet it's August deadline to pass health care reform legislation. But on his own committee's ability to finally mark up a bill, he's sounding more sanguine.

President Obama may be putting the screws to the Senate Finance Committee, whose health care reform draft bill is weeks behind schedule. But key members of that panel--members who, by pure coincidence, have been lukewarm to the idea of broad reform--think that meeting the dread August recess deadline will be difficult, if not impossible.

"It's hard to see how you do both," Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) told Politico, speaking of Senate leaders' desire to confirm Sonia Sotomayor before recess.

"It would be overly ambitious to attempt to do this before the August recess," said Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME)--a moderate whose support the White House has courted, but who remains opposed to offering a public option unless it's tied to a trigger mechanism, which would delay its implementation indefinitely.

Democratic leadership is by and large more hopeful, and the committee's chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) seems to be somewhere in between. "I think it's a lift but one we could accomplish, one we could handle," he said. "I'm not going to guarantee that it's going to happen."

House Minority Leader John Boehner, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have announced the four Republican appointees to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, rounding out the entire commission, which, by law, can convene and begin work immediately

In a statement, the Republican leaders write:

Boehner and McConnell jointly selected former House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas to serve as Vice Chairman of the Commission. In addition, Boehner appointed Peter Wallison, Co-Director for Financial Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and McConnell appointed former Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Director Doug Holtz-Eakin, and former National Economic Council Director Keith Hennessey to serve on the Commission as well.


More to come on these four appointees, as well as the six Democratic appointees, later today.

The Obama administration's request to delay releasing a key report on torture has reportedly been granted.

According to Spencer Ackerman of the Washington Independent, a judge has said the CIA can have until August 24 to release the declassified version of a 2004 inspector general's report on the Bush administration's interrogations program. The report's release has already been delayed several times.

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After lurking in the background for weeks as Congress moved slowly on health care reform, Barack Obama is stepping into the spotlight. Today at 1:05 p.m. ET, he'll deliver remarks on the topic from the White House Rose Garden. Then tonight both CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News will air health care interviews with the President for a much larger audience.

Since returning from abroad this weekend, his growing involvement in the process has been striking:

  • On Monday afternoon, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama might consider asking Congress to delay adjournment in order to pass legislation before the August recess.


  • Later that day, Obama met with House and Senate health care leaders and upped the pressure, particularly on Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) to get moving.


  • This morning, Obama's political arm, Organizing for America, launched an ad campaign directed at conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans, who are on the fence about key aspects of his health reform goals.


  • In a statement praising the advancement of the Senate HELP Committee's reform bill this morning, Obama reiterated the importance of passing health care reform legislation in both houses of Congress before the August recess.


And, as mentioned above, he'll take similar messages to network television this afternoon and this evening. It's pretty clear he's stepping up his game ahead of the August recess. That deadline is important to him for a number of reasons, and it's hard to imagine him stepping into the limelight like this if he wasn't worried that Congress might not meet it.

Despite the exhaustive back-and-forth in the Sonia Sotomayor hearings so far over the "wise Latina" comment, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) is actually the first to bring up a very relevant point: no senator made an issue of the now-controversial comments in Sotomayor's 1997 confirmation hearings. While Sotomayor most famously made the remark in 2001 at a Berkeley Law speech, she repeated the line in various, slightly altered forms from 1994 through 2005.

Here's the transcript of their exchange today:

Klobuchar: I did want to note for the record, that you did make a similar comment in another speech that you gave back in 1994, which you have provided not only in this proceeding, but you also provided it when you came before the Senate for confirmation to the circuit court in 1997...and no senator at that time, do you remember them asking you about it at the time?

Sotomayor: No.


The 1997 confirmation hearings were for Sotomayor's nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit by Bill Clinton. Sotomayor has remained on the Second Circuit court until President Obama nominated her to the Supreme Court this year. Republicans certainly grilled her back then - according to the Washington Post, especially on "the most sensitive issues of the time: mandatory minimum prison sentences, the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and gay rights" - but the "wise Latina" comments were never mentioned.

It took a few weeks longer than expected, but Democratic leaders have settled upon their six appointees to the 10-member Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, which will investigate the causes of the meltdown on Wall Street and its ripple effects throughout the economy.

California State Treasurer Phil Angelides will chair the Commission. He will join Brooksley Born, Chair of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission from 1996-1999; John W. Thompson, retired-CEO and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Symantec Corporation; Former senator and governor Bob Graham (D-FL); Heather Murren, a retired Managing Director for Global Securities Research and Economics at Merrill Lynch; and Byron Georgiou, who is a Las Vegas-based businessman and attorney.

Pelosi named Angelides, Born, and Thompson. Reid tapped Graham, Murren, and Georgiou. Republican House and Senate leaders will name four more members, including a vice chairman, and we'll bring you those names--and more background on the panelists--when we get them.

It looks like Jake Tapper doesn't feel like his network's response to the news that he sucked up to Mark Sanford's office by denigrating NBC's coverage of the missing gov story -- that Tapper was just "carrying some water" for a producer -- is quite sufficient.

This morning, Tapper has been tweeting further defenses of his catty email to a Sanford aide -- in which he called NBC's coverage "slimy" and "insulting."

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