Political Highlights February 10, 2009: Reactions to Obama First Press Conference and the Economic Stimulus Plan

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor / Features Editor at HNN. She has a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.

Also: February 9, 2009: President Obama’s First Press Conference


The First Lady read to children at Mary's Center in Washington,  D.C.

White House photo 2/10/09 by Joyce N. Boghosian

FLOTUS at Mary’s Center

That was Mrs. Obama’s message to a group of young people at a non-profit community organization in Washington, D.C. — where she spoke about her own humble beginnings.Watch the video

President Obama at a town hall in Ft. Myers, FL

White House photo 2/10/09 by Pete Souza

POTUS in Ft. Myers, FL

On Tuesday, February 10, 2009, President Obama held a town hall in Ft. Myers, FL — one of the towns hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis.See the slideshow

Mrs. Obama visits the Department of the Interior

White House photo 2/9/09 by Joyce N. Boghosian

FLOTUS at Interior

In a visit the Department of the Interior, Mrs. Obama spoke about how important it is to protect our natural resources and move towards a clean, sustainable energy future.Read the First Lady's remarks

President Obama addresses town hall in Elkhart, Indiana


In Focus: Stats

  • Gallop Poll: Feb. 6-7 Gallup poll released yesterday that shows 67 percent of the public approves of the way the president is handling the stimulus debate and only 31 percent approve of Republican efforts on the legislation, 48 percent approve of how Democrats are handling it. — Bloomberg, 2-10-09
  • FACTBOX: How Obama plan ranks against New Deal, other programs – Reuters, 2-10-09
  • Treasury Department Fact Sheet on the Rescue Plan Overhaul [PDF] – Download PDF


The Headlines…

  • House and Senate close in on compromise: Top lawmakers and White House officials ended more than nine hours of closed-door negotiations on the economic stimulus bill shortly before midnight Tuesday indicating a final deal on the roughly $800 billion bill is possible as early as Wednesday. – CNN, 2-11-09
  • $3 trillion! — Senate, Fed, Treasury attack crisis: On a single day filled with staggering sums, the Obama administration, Federal Reserve and Senate attacked the deepening economic crisis Tuesday with actions that could throw as much as $3 trillion more in government and private funds into the fight against frozen credit markets and rising joblessness.
    “It’s gone deep. It’s gotten worse,” President Barack Obama said of the recession at a campaign-style appearance in Fort Myers, Fla., where unemployment has reached double digits. “The situation we face could not be more serious.” – AP, 2-11-09
  • Bailout Plan: $2.5 Trillion and a Strong U.S. Hand: The White House plan to rescue the nation’s financial system, announced on Tuesday by Timothy F. Geithner, the Treasury secretary, is far bigger than anyone predicted and envisions a far greater government role in markets and banks than at any time since the 1930s. – NYT, 2-11-09
  • GOP group gets tough against Republicans who support stimulus: An influential conservative political action committee is pledging to support primary challengers to any Republican senator who supports President Obama’s stimulus package — the latest public show of dissatisfaction from the right over the massive measure before Congress. – CNN, 2-10-09
  • Deal on stimulus bills mired in details: The Senate approves its version of the economic stimulus package, but reconciling it with the smaller House bill will be no easy task. Obama stumps for his plan in Florida. – LAT, 2-10-09
  • Geithner’s bear of a day: The Obama administration’s revamped program to fix the nation’s ailing financial markets was met with harsh criticism Tuesday, as the stock market tumbled and lawmakers complained that it lacked details and missed essential targets. – AP, 2-10-09
  • For Geithner’s Debut, a Lukewarm Reception: For Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner as much as for the troubled government program to bail out the financial system, Tuesday amounted to a do-over. – NYT, 2-10-09
  • Angered by stimulus plan vote, Republican vows to oust Specter: U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter’s vote for the Senate stimulus bill is stimulating long-festering Republican opposition to his re-election. Mr. Specter, whose term expires next year, was one of three GOP senators who voted for the Senate version of the economic recovery measure. The vote prompted Glen Meakem, the CEO of the former Internet firm FreeMarkets, to declare his determination to play a still unspecified role in ousting the veteran Republican in the 2010 GOP primary. – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2-10-09
  • Stimulus, Partisanship Mean Obama Faces a Harsh New Reality Although the bill passed the Senate, only three Republicans signed on: It took only two weeks from Inauguration Day for harsh reality to overtake Barack Obama. But he is now facing a burgeoning list of challenges that have plagued his predecessors for at least a generation, starting with the intense partisanship of Washington and the difficulty of finding compromise on critical issues—coupled with a unique economic crisis that seems to worsen by the day. A massive economic stimulus package passed the Senate Tuesday after winning House approval earlier, but major compromises will be needed to reconcile the two versions of the plan, which Obama says is vital to economic recovery. “The realization hits pretty quickly. He is beginning to confront the enormity of the challenges of governing,” says Rutgers political scientist Ross Baker. – US News & World Report, 2-10-09


The First Lady read to children at Mary's Center in Washington,  D.C.

White House photo 2/10/09 by Joyce N. Boghosian

FLOTUS at Mary’s Center

That was Mrs. Obama’s message to a group of young people at a non-profit community organization in Washington, D.C. — where she spoke about her own humble beginnings.Watch the video

President Obama at a town hall in Ft. Myers, FL

Political Quotes

  • Treasury Secretary Geithner speaking about the new Financial Stability Plan: “Our plan will help restart the flow of credit, clean up and strengthen our banks, and provide critical aid for homeowners and for small businesses. As we do each of these things, we will impose new, higher standards for transparency and accountability.” – WH Blog, 2-10-09
  • Liveblog: Ft. Myers, FL townhallWH Blog, 2-10-09
  • Obama: ‘There Is No Easy Out’ for Wall Street: In Exclusive Interview, President Warns of ‘a Perfect Storm of Financial Problems’ – ABC News, 2-10-09
  • Obama: No ‘Easy Out’ for Wall Street Transcript Excerpts: Terry Moran Interviews President Obama:
    Well, you know, Wall Street, I think, is hoping for an easy out on this thing and there is no easy out. Essentially, what you’ve got are a set a banks that have not been as transparent as we need to be in terms of what their books look like.
    And we’re going to have to hold out the Band-Aid a little bit and go ahead and just be clear about some of the losses that have been made because until we do that, we’re not going to be able to attract private capital into the marketplace…..Well, because ultimately, what happens is going to depend on how the markets respond over the long term, not today or the next day but a month from now or two months from now. How effective we are in actually cleaning out some of these bad assets out of these banks.
    If we’re doing a good job and we’ve got a template that creates transparency and accountability, clarity and consistency in terms of how we’re applying this program, then what we’ll end up seeing is private capital coming back into the marketplace.
    If we do a poor job, then private capital will continue to stay out and frankly, at, at a certain point, the government can’t replace all that private capital, so you know, our job is to get this right, get the model right….

    Well, you know, I’m constantly trying to thread the needle between sounding alarmist but also letting the American people know the circumstances that we’re in. And the fact of the matter is that we are in not just an ordinary recession, we are in a perfect storm of financial problems and now, a decline in worldwide demand that is resulting in huge numbers of jobs being shed, the lowest consumer confidence we’ve seen, credit locked up.
    And so this was a big difficult situation. Now, I think we’ve got to keep perspective. We’re not going through the Great Depression. I know there have been some analogies there but when FDR took over, unemployment at that time was 30 percent, as opposed to 7.5 or 7.6.
    And so, you know, I think it’s important to recognize we’ve still got enormous assets, we’ve got the same workforce that we did that’s as productive as it’s ever been, we’ve still got some of the best universities in the country and, you know, a wonderful infrastructure and some great companies.
    You know, I spoke with the CEO of International yesterday, who’s investing billions of dollars in opening up new plants in the face of this recession. And so some of what we need is just a restoration of confidence and people’s belief that in fact, we can harness all these resources to continue to be the most dynamic economy on earth.
    But we’re not going to get there by pretending that we don’t have some very big problems and I think the American people understand that.

    Let me, first of all, point out, I — I think there are a number of different arguments that have been leveled at, at this recovery package. There are a set of folks who just don’t believe in government intervening in the marketplace, period. I mean, they’re still fighting FDR and the New Deal and you have — these are the same folks who think we should be privatizing Social Security and you know, we — there’s no room for government to help people get health care and on and on and on.
    So there’s a big ideological battle that they want to fight. Frankly, I think that fight’s already been won, the American people certainly think so. That’s not the argument that makes much sense to them. There are then people who I think are making a sincere argument that if you look at the stimulus package, that maybe some things are more stimulative and some things are not….

    I think that they made a decision that they want to continue the same fights that we’ve been having over the last decade. The American people, on the other hand, realize that we want something different; hence, the results of the election.
    And, you know, I think if you look at how people are doing right now and how the Republicans have responded to a great deal of overtures by me, I think it’s pretty clear that the American people would like to see a different way of doing business. But old habits break hard and, and you know, I, I understand that and so we’re going to keep on reaching out and eventually, I have confidence that it’s going to pay off.

    I think there are going to be other areas where we can potentially work together and I’m still hopeful that some Republicans take their cues from Republican governors and Republican mayors like Charlie Christ down here in Florida who recognize that not doing anything is simply not an option…. – ABC News, 2-10-09


Historians’ Comments

  • Martha Kumar “Obama Press Conference”: According to Towson University presidential historian Martha Kumar, Obama held a prime time press conference earlier than any president in history, beating Richard Nixon by almost a month. Now, he needs to hold 31 more to pass Ronald Reagan for total number of East Room get togethers with the White House press corps. – Real Clear Politics, 2-9-09
  • Douglas Brinkley “Obama Adopts Elkhart as Everytown in Pitch for Stimulus Plan”: That’s what he should have done in the first place, rather than getting bogged down in negotiations with Congress, Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University in Houston, said. “Obama needs to show that he’s a leader of a movement, that a change isn’t just having a black man in the White House, that we really are in an era of clean government and progressive reform,” Brinkley said. – Bloomberg, 2-10-09
  • Allan Lichtman “Obama Adopts Elkhart as Everytown in Pitch for Stimulus Plan”: Obama’s news conference, broadcast live on major broadcast and cable news channels, was “highly forceful and successful and should help the president with the American people and the Congress,” said Allan Lichtman, a political history professor at American University in Washington. “He did not shrink from the magnitude of the crisis, but like FDR expressed confidence that the problem could be solved with decisive action.” – Bloomberg, 2-10-09
  • Charles Calomiris “What’s Missing in Geithner’s Bank Plan The Obama Administration’s Financial Stability Plan isn’t a clean break with the past, because it doesn’t spell out clearly who will lose “: Charles Calomiris, a Columbia University economic historian who has studied banking crises, says the key mistake of the Obama Administration is trying to come up with a plan that emphasizes political palatability over economic reality. To buy support, Calomiris says, the plan emphasizes “very careful investments over a period of time with a lot of upside potential for taxpayers, and with all sorts of limits on what bankers can do.” The problem with that approach, Calomiris says, is that it doesn’t do enough to make the banks truly healthy, and just prolongs the crisis. He favors taking strong action to improve banks’ health dramatically and quickly by guaranteeing them a floor price on their real estate assets, even though such action would be criticized as a giveaway. Says Calomiris: “What makes sense economically doesn’t make sense politically, so I’m not very optimistic.” – Business Week, 2-10-09
  • Charles Geisst “Vague rescue plan disappoints Dow plunges 380 points as Geithner rolls out stimulus package; investors say lack of detail sparked mass sell-off”: Charles Geisst, a financial historian and professor of finance at Manhattan College, said he doesn’t believe the public-private partnership will work, and suggested Mr. Obama’s team may be stalling with yesterday’s announcement. “It’s too vague, it’s not firm enough, and it’s just more of the same,” said Prof. Geisst, author of a forthcoming book called Collateral Damage. “I think they’re trying to buy time … I think what they’re trying to do is tread water until they can figure it out.” – Globe and Mail, 2-10-09
  • Richard Skinner: “Political Partisanship Deeply Rooted, Says Professor”: “If Obama thinks it will be easy to overcome these divisions, he’ll end up being disappointed,” notes Bowdoin Visiting Professor of History Richard Skinner. “Partisanship is an underlying part of our political system now and a lot of Republicans just don’t like the direction he’s taking the country.”
    “We need to move beyond outdated notions of presidents above party politics,” he writes, “and instead understand presidents who are passionately engaged in them and seek to use their parties as tools of governance.” – Bowdoin News, 2-10-09
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