- The Washington Times - Monday, June 22, 2009

‘HE’S DONE WELL’

Sen. John McCain has given President Obama - his opponent in last year’s presidential election - overall high marks during his first five months in the White House, but said the president has failed on a promise to bring bipartisanship to Washington.

The Arizona Republican, speaking Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” said Mr. Obama so far has achieved all his legislative goals.

“I think he’s done well,” Mr. McCain said, using a legislative scorecard to judge the presidency.

But the president’s legislative success has come as the result of ramming Democratic measures through Congress with minimal Republican support.

“Unfortunately, it’s [been achieved] by picking off a couple of Republicans - it’s not been bipartisan,” Mr. McCain said. “So there really hasn’t been that change in the climate in Washington.”

On the issue of national security, the Arizona senator has given Mr. Obama a grade of incomplete, saying it’s too early to tell how the administration’s handling of North Korea, Iran and other international trouble spots will pan out.

“The president is facing a major challenge here,” he said.

DIAL DOWN

Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, warned the public against getting its hopes up for a comprehensive health care reform package done this year.

“So we’re in the position of dialing down some of our expectations to get the costs down so that it’s affordable and, most importantly, so that it’s paid for because we can’t go to the point where we are now of not paying for something when we have trillions of dollars of debt,” the senator said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

The Obama administration’s proposal to provide health insurance for at least some of the tens of millions of Americans who lack it has become a contentious point for a Democrat-controlled Congress struggling to pass a bill Mr. Obama desperately wants.

Much of the concern came after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the plan would cost $1 trillion over 10 years but cover only about one-third of those now lacking health insurance. Democrats protested that the estimate overlooked important money-savers to be added later. But Republicans seized on the costly projection and the bill’s half-finished nature, throwing Democratic leaders on the defensive.

Mr. Grassley said he anticipates paying for the health care overhaul through “some savings and Medicare, and from some increases in revenue.”

Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican, while also appearing on “State of the Union,” agreed, adding that he prefers health care reform done in “incremental steps.”

“What I would suggest is we hang on now for a period of study so that we find literally what the alternatives are,” Mr. Lugar said.

TOUGH TALK

Stephen F. Hayes and William Kristol, in the current issue of the conservative Weekly Standard, accused President Obamaof taking a weak stance against Iran’s recent crackdown on demonstrators protesting the outcome of the country’s contested presidential election.

“All week, the Obama administration bent over backwards to avoid questioning the legitimacy of the Iranian regime. In this, Obama became a de facto ally of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Although Obama finally spoke about the protesters - ‘the whole world is watching,’ he said - he never expressed real support for them.

“Obama supporters defended his silence. Anything he said to endorse the protests, they argued, would taint the protesters’ message and damage their cause.

“The protesters, many of whom held signs written in English, seemed to disagree. ‘On several occasions, I’ve had supporters of [reform leader Mir Hossein] Mousavi say, “We need President Obama,” ‘ reported CNN’s Reza Sayah, from Tehran. When Wolf Blitzer asked Sayah directly whether the protesters want Obama to speak out in support of their cause, Sayah responded: ‘I think they do, but they’re realistic.’ ”

BIGGER NEGATIVES

President Obama’s job-disapproval ratings are higher than his approval ratings for the first time in his White House stint, a survey released Sunday reported.

“The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Sunday shows that 32% of the nation’s voters now Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as President. Thirty-four percent (34%) Strongly Disapprove, giving Obama a Presidential Approval Index rating of [minus 2]. That’s the President’s lowest rating to date and the first time the Presidential Approval Index has fallen below zero for Obama,” wrote Rasmussen at the page for its daily presidential tracking poll.

The split was deeply partisan, with 60 percent of Democrats strongly approving of Mr. Obama’s performance, but only 8 percent of Republicans doing so. On the other hand, 61 percent of Republicans strongly disapprove.

The three-day rolling survey of 1,500 likely voters [-] 500 are polled per night [-] had [Note] an error margin of 3 [/NOTE] a margin of error of three percentage points.

NEOCON QUANDARY?

Speaking of neoconservatives and Iran …

Leslie Savan, writing in the liberal magazine the Nation, accused neoconservatives of hoping that Iran’s incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad survives the contested presidential election this month, in which he declared victory, “for fear that a more reasonable face on the Islamic Revolution might preclude future opportunities for either us or Israel to bomb Iran back to the 7th century.”

Ms. Savan continued that, “worst of all, if the demonstrations bring about a regime change in Tehran, the world might well ascribe it, as they have the election of moderates in Lebanon, to the Obama Effect and his Cairo speech. That would be a neocon catastrophe, quite possibly sweeping us toward a moderate, compromised resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well.”

She added that “there’s a special Tehranian tic buried deep in the Republican Party.”

“It was, after all, the 1979 hostage crisis that paved the way for Ronald Reagan’s presidency, and it was his decision to sell arms to the ayatollahs in order to raise a slush fund to fight the Sandinistas that shattered faith in his honesty.”

CHANGE UNCERTAIN

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahusaid Sunday that he wasn’t sure whether the unrest in Iran over the contested presidential election would spur lasting change in Tehran’s policies.

“I have no doubt everybody in the world is sympathetic to the Iranians’ desire for freedom,” Mr. Netanyahu said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” when asked about ongoing street protests that have erupted in Iran since the disputed June 12 election.

But, he said, “it’s too early to say what’ll transpire both in Iran and on the international scene. As I said, I think something fundamental is taking place here.

“But I did speak to President Obama about the question of engagement before this happened, and he made it clear that engagement [with Iran] is not an end in itself; it’s a means to an end. And the end has to be to prevent this regime from developing nuclear weapons capability, and he said he’d leave all options on the table. And I’d say if it was right before these demonstrations, well, it’s doubly right now.”

Israel views Iran’s nuclear development as a threat, partly because of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s repeated calls for the Jewish state to be destroyed and his vocal Holocaust denial. Israel is believed to possess the only atomic arsenal in the Middle East.

“I don’t subscribe to the view that Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons is a status symbol. It’s not,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “These are people who are sending thousands and thousands of missiles to their terrorist proxies Hezbollah and Hamas with the specific instruction to bomb civilians in Israel.”

c Sean Lengell can be reached at 202/636-3208 or [email protected]

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