Obama's August Blues: No One's Listening

National Journal Staff

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Obama's August Blues: No One's Listening

Every president suffers "second-term blues," as Norm Ornstein wrote this week.

But rather than being beleaguered by scandal—although he's had his share of those—President Obama's biggest problem right now is that he can't seem to get anyone to listen. Not the Republicans, who tried to dismantle Obamacare for the umpteenth time before leaving town rather than take up immigration and other issues. Not the Egyptian junta, which is still murdering protesters wholesale despite repeated pleas for moderation. Not Vladimir Putin, who gave a year's refuge to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.

The question is: How long can this go on before Barack Obama is permanently stigmatized as a weak president who lacks credibility? This guy badly needs a win—any sort of win.

We may, in fact, be seeing a reprise of Obama's first-term blues: He is failing to set the agenda, and instead he's being forced to react to events rather than shape them. Back then, he survived because of victories such as Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, and the dramatic takedown of Osama bin Laden.

He'd better hope there's another such victory on the horizon.

Michael Hirsh
mhirsh@nationaljournal.com

TOP NEWS

DOZENS MORE EGYPT PROTESTERS KILLED IN 'DAY OF RAGE.' Protests by the Muslim Brotherhood across Egypt again turned violent today, with varying reports of around 50 killed in Cairo, Reuters reports. Islamists had called for a "Day of Rage" following the military's bloody crackdown earlier this week on demonstrators protesting the ouster last month of President Mohamed Morsi. In a joint statement, Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., again asked President Obama to suspend military aid to Egypt. "The interim civilian government and security forces – backed up, unfortunately, by the military – are taking Egypt down a dark path, one that the United States cannot and should not travel with them," they said. Read more

  • The Wall Street Journal has created a photo timeline chronicling Egypt's power struggle since January 2011, as well as a map tracking the country's current wave of violence.

NSA VIOLATED PRIVACY LAWS THOUSANDS OF TIMES, POST REPORT CLAIMS. A lengthy Washington Post analysis of documents, supplied by National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, shows NSA infractions ranging from obvious violations to accidental intercepts from typos, the Associated Press summarizes. In 2008, for instance, a "large number" of calls to area code 202 were mistaken for 20-2 (which is Egypt's). House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the revelations "extremely disturbing," while NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines attempted to calm the storm. "When NSA makes a mistake in carrying out its foreign-intelligence mission, the agency reports the issue internally and to federal overseers—and aggressively gets to the bottom of it," she said. Read more

  • The chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court told ThePost that his court must "rely upon the accuracy of the information that is provided" and is limited in its ability to provide oversight of the surveillance programs. Read more

RNC VOTES TO BAR DEBATES FOR NBC, CNN OVER HILLARY CLINTON PROGRAMS. The Republican National Committee on Friday voted to bar NBC or CNN from hosting GOP primary debates in 2016 unless the networks discontinue plans to produce, respectively, a miniseries and documentary on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But the vote could also be an attempt by party brass to gain some control over a process that has led to a proliferation of primary debates, which clocked in at 20 for the GOP last cycle, Politico reports. "It's all related," said RNC Chairman Reince Priebus. "It's pretty clear that our primary system, both on the calendar side and the debate side, is a mess and it has to be fixed." Fox Television Studios has canceled plans to produce the NBC miniseries, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Read more

OBAMA WILL CONTINUE JOBS AND ECONOMY TOUR NEXT WEEK. President Obama will travel to Pennsylvania and upstate New York as part of his economic speaking tour, the Scranton Times-Tribune reports. The president will speak on August 22 at the University at Buffalo and at Henninger High School in Syracuse, N.Y., and also is scheduled to appear in Binghamton, N.Y. On Aug. 23, he is expected to deliver remarks on college affordability Lackawanna College in Scranton, Pa. Read more

HEZBOLLAH LEADER VOWS CONTINUED INVOLVEMENT IN SYRIAN CONFLICT. Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah vowed to expand the group's engagement in the Syrian conflict on Friday, after accusing radical Sunni Islamists of being behind a Thursday blast that killed 24 in an area of south Beirut where the militant group is well-established, Reuters reports. Lebanon has been embroiled in sectarian violence for months, in part because of Hezbollah's support of Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime and the Lebanese-based group's intervention against Sunni Muslim rebels in the Syrian conflict. Nasrallah said, "If you think by killing our women and children … and destroying our neighborhoods we would retreat from the position we took [in Syria], you are wrong." Read more

CONSUMER CONFIDENCE SLIPS IN AUGUST. U.S. consumer confidence retreated to its lowest level in four months, according to a Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan index. The reading of consumer sentiment of 80.0 fell from a six-year high of 85.1 in July. Additionally, residential construction grew slightly less than expected in July, according to a Commerce Department report. "People have been shocked by how much mortgage rates have risen in the past couple of months. The chatter about the Federal Reserve is also a big deal," said Christopher Low, chief economist at FTN Financial in New York. The numbers could frustrate hopes for a second-half acceleration of economic activity. Read more

FIRST FAMILY GOES CYCLING ON MARTHA'S VINEYARD. After receiving a briefing on events in Egypt from National Security Adviser Susan Rice, President Obama joined his family for a bike ride around Martha's Vineyard this morning, The Hill reports. The president told a gaggle of reporters that he's "having a great time, as always" on vacation with First Lady Michelle Obama and their daughters, Malia and Sasha, who arrived Thursday afternoon. This is the president's sixth full day of vacation. Read more

  • Some nearby businesses on Martha's Vineyard are benefiting from the president's visit, while others are facing some frustrating and unanticipated challenges, Bloomberg reports. Read more

ELECTION TRENDS TO WATCH AS PARTIES HOPE FOR SENATE MAJORITY.For both Democrats and Republicans, the dream of a Senate majority after the 2014 elections could hinge on three key factors, Roll Call reports. For Democrats, these include contested or weak GOP primary fields in states such as Kentucky, Alaska, and the Carolinas; the ability to mobilize Democratic voting bases in midterm elections; and the fact that historically, Democratic incumbents do not lose. For the GOP, hopes lie in getting electable candidates through primaries without any damaging gaffes that can be used as fodder in a general election; the unpopularity of the Affordable Care Act; and the favorable location of many seats in historically red areas. Read more

PENTAGON ADDRESSES SEXUAL ASSAULT; SOME IN CONGRESS REMAIN SKEPTICAL. The Pentagon on Thursday introduced a set of provisions designed to crack down on sexual assaults in the military, but some lawmakers said the efforts came up short, National Journal's Michael Catalini reports. The seven measures—discussed with some lawmakers ahead of time, according to aides—came in a statement from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Thursday and include creating a program that will aid sexual-assault victims during the judicial process and will direct the Pentagon's inspector general to review closed cases. But some lawmakers panned the announcement, arguing that the Pentagon's "new" measures were actually already on the books. Read more

DEPORTATION DEFERRED FOR 400K YOUNG IMMIGRANTS IN FIRST YEAR OF DACA. About 400,000 "Dreamers" have been allowed to stay in the United States in the year since the Obama administration began accepting applications for young illegal immigrants to defer deportation proceedings and receive work permits, according to data compiled by the Brookings Institution and released on the anniversary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The numbers show that out of more than a half-million applicants for deferred action, more than three-quarters were accepted and just 1 percent denied, National Journal's Rebecca Kaplan reports. The applications were concentrated in states with large immigrant communities, such as California, Texas, New York, Illinois, and Florida. On the East Coast, the applications were from a more diverse set of countries, while in the West, Midwest, and South the vast majority of applicants were from Mexico. Read more

SUNDAY TV

Please note: This is not a comprehensive list of Sunday show guests, and lineups are subject to change. Please consult network websites for details.

  • New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly will discuss a recent ruling on the NYPD's "stop-and-frisk" policy on NBC's Meet the Press.
  • Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., will weigh in on the conflict in Egypt on CBS's Face the Nation, while Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., will discuss the Pentagon's handling of military sexual assault. NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly will discuss mandatory minimum sentencing and stop-and-frisk, and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., will share their thoughts on immigration reform, NSA surveillance, and other issues.
  • Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., will appear on CNN's State of the Union.
  • Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., will discuss the Affordable Care Act on Fox News Sunday, while Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., will address the turmoil in Egypt.
  • Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., former White House senior adviser David Plouffe, former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, and The Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol will join the roundtable on ABC's This Week.

QUOTABLE

"She hasn't announced anything, so I'm certainly not going to get ahead of her." -- First Lady Michelle Obama, on a potential 2016 presidential run by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (Parade)

BEDTIME READING

THE HUMAN ELEMENT. In 2007, the U.S. military launched the Human Terrain System, sending social scientists into Iraq and Afghanistan to do what one former member of the program called, "that touchy-feely thing that no one understood," Vanessa Gezari writes, adapting part of her book, The Tender Soldier, for Newsweek. In reality, HTS trained recruits to go into an unfamiliar place, record information quickly, and turn it into something useful for the Defense Department. Though it was praised by some in the military, staffing for the project was a mixed bag; until 2010 members received no operational security training, and the program grew much faster than anticipated. "The problem with the Human Terrain System," Steve Fondacaro, who previously led the program, said, "is that we have too many humans." Read more

REALITY CHECK

NO RAIN MAN. Want to avoid natural disasters? Trulia, an online real-estate service, can help you with that, The Atlantic Cities reports. The company has scoured the country and come up with the top 10 places to live if you want to avoid hurricanes, floods, forest fires, earthquakes, and/or tornadoes. (If you want to avoid snow, you'll have to look elsewhere.) Most are fairly reasonably priced, though none are on the country's two coastlines. Syracuse, N.Y.; Cleveland; and Akron, Ohio top the list. See the rest here

THE QUIRK

NOT HAPPY? THEN DON'T 'LIKE' THIS. Facebook has been getting a bad rap lately, with a new study out suggesting use of the social-networking site can predict a decline in happiness. But people who find misery between photo streams and "likes" aren't using the platform correctly, The Atlantic's James Hamblin writes. Technology use in lieu of real, meaningful human interaction is never a good idea, Hamblin argues, and Facebook can be, if not a drug, an enabler for retreating behind a computer screen like a shrinking wallflower at a party. "Facebook probably isn't making you lonely or unhappy, or vampiric, unless you're using it to replace real interactions and things that give life meaning." Read more

 

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