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White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs today fired back at right-wing critics who have attacked President Obama's upcoming stay-in-school speech. From today's press gaggle:

"I think it's a sad, sad day that the political back and forth has intruded on anyone speaking to schoolchildren and teachers and parents about the responsibilities that they have as we enter a new school year. If one kid in one school hears one message and goes from being a D student to a C student, then the speech is worth it. If one kid decides not to drop out of school, then the speech is worth it. Right now nearly three in 10 kids in school will not walk across a stage and get a high school diploma. If anybody thinks that's the recipe for long-term economic growth, I've got news for them.

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Few have commented this Labor Day on Sen. Max Baucus' health care reform bill, which does not include a public option.

But it's fairly clear that the bill won't win the support of reform groups, many of whom see the public option as a necessary element of reform. Asked for comment, the reform campaign Health Care for America Now referred me to letters they sent Friday to Baucus, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and President Obama demanding that the Finance Committee pass a bill with a strong public option.

"Despite literally months of continuous outreach and effort by you in the Senate Finance Committee, the response of the Republican leadership has been to obstruct progress on achieving our shared goals," the letter to Baucus reads.

Across the four other congressional committees that have already acted on comprehensive health care legislation, a consistent outline has emerged.
It is now time the Finance Committee, and then the full Senate, move forward with a bill that contains...a strong public option...national (not a separate plan in every state), publicly operated and accountable, available on day one across the nation, and have the authority to establish payment rates that balance the dual goals of guaranteeing broad accessto providers and ensuring affordability.


Baucus, of course, didn't follow through.

You can read all three letters at this link. They were delivered Friday, amid news reports that the White House might deliver Congress a bill of its own, and that Baucus was finally ready to circulate a draft of his legislation.

A voice of sanity is now emerging on the right over President Obama's stay-in-school speech tomorrow: Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich put up this Twitter post this afternoon, after the White House released the text of the speech:

Just read President Obamas speech to students.white House posted it. it is a good speech and will be good for students to hear


And he followed it up with this:

Remember that Presidents Reagan and Bush also talked to students nationwide. As long as it is non political and pro education it is good


Gingrich also appeared yesterday on Fox News Sunday, and spoke out in favor of the speech.

During his speech now at the Cincinnati AFL-CIO Labor Day picnic, President Obama just got in an ad-libbed jab at the right-wingers who are speaking out against his back-to-school speech.

Obama said he was for "an America that commits to education, because the countries that out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow. And the best jobs will go to the best-educated. So we got to do a better job educating our sons and our daughters."

He then deviated from the prepared remarks -- and the crowd cheered quite passionately along with it: "And yes, I'm gonna have something to say tomorrow to our children, telling them to stay in school and work hard, 'cause that's the right message to send."

After the extended cheering quieted down a bit, Obama let out a brief laugh, and continued with his remarks.

Last week, Republicans intensified their calls for the ouster of Rep. Charles Rangel from his job as chair of the House Ways and Means committee. The Harlem Democrat has been under fire thanks to a string of revelations about irregularities in his personal financial arrangements. But Nancy Pelosi is so far unmoved, with her aides telling Politico she'll wait for the results of a House ethics investigation before taking any action.

The probe has been underway for almost a year, and it's not clear when the results might be made public. So while we all wait, it's worth a quick refresher on what the ethics panel is looking at, and what it might all amount to.

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In prepared remarks to the AFL-CIO, President Obama will say, "I continue to believe that a public option within the basket of insurance choices would help improve quality and bring down costs."

Not much meat there, though he will caution, "I'll have a lot more to say about this Wednesday night, and I don't want to give it all away."

But surely reformers--and AFL leaders who've vowed to oppose health care reform legislation that does not include a public option--were hoping to hear more.

You can read the full text of his remarks here.

Amidst the right-wing activists mobilizing against President Obama's national back-to-school address, there's also another narrative emerging: A backlash of sorts by relatively saner people, speaking out in favor of the speech, and against local officials who have decided to not show it.

The makeup of these groups differs from place to place. In some areas it's a county Democratic organization. In others, it's headed up by churches and civil rights activists.

All in all, it's a fun additional wrinkle to a very absurd story -- and it presents another side of the narrative that definitely deserves attention. Check out some examples, after the jump.

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[President Obama addressed the AFL-CIO Labor Day Picnic today in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he spoke on the progress of the Recovery Act and the hope for passing health care reform soon.]

"Hello Cincinnati. Hello Ohio. I can't think of a better place to be on Labor Day than at America's biggest Labor Day picnic-with the workers and families of the Cincinnati AFL-CIO.

First, give a big round of applause to Charlie. Charlie reminds us that in these tough times, America's working men and women are ready to roll up their sleeves and get back to work."

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This morning, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) called on President Obama to stop wasting his efforts on securing the votes of one or two Republican senators and instead pass a health care bill with a public option through the filibuster-proof reconciliation process.



As we've reported, passing health care reform in a reconciliation bill presents some procedural hurdles, but it seems likely that a public option would meet parliamentary muster if there are 51 votes in the Senate to pass it.

Former Rep. Jim Traficant (D-OH), who was released from prison last week after serving seven years for corruption charges, was greeted in Youngstown, Ohio, Sunday night by 1,200 supporters, including an Elvis impersonator, polka band and those vying for best Traficant look-alike.

Traficant reportedly reveled in the spotlight. He told the crowd the federal government "had to cheat" to convict him, he railed against the IRS, FBI and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and he promised to make "some significant statements" in an interview on Fox this Friday.

He even paraphrased Nelson Mandela, saying, "If you want to know the true nature of a country, you must go through its prisons. I know America. I've seen the other side of it, and I don't like it."

Fans, who had paid $20 a pop, chanted "Run for Senate!" and swarmed the stage, vying for Traficant's autograph.

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