Jake Tapper breaks the news that the White House — and perhaps Obama himself — will later today propose a compromise in the contraception fight.
We should reserve judgment until the proposal is made public; details are scarce. But the key thing to watch is how far it moves in the direction of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ demand for a complete reversal on the White House’s part. The group insisted earlier this week that the White House must completely remove the new rule requiring employers (including religious institutions) to cover birth control coverage from the health care law.
Earlier this week, the White House laid down a hard line, claiming: “The commitment to make sure that all American women, no matter where they work. have access to the same health care coverage and same preventive care services, including contraception, is absolutely firm. “
A White House official reiterated this morning that the “core principle” is access to “free contraceptive coverage,” and that this won’t change.
Which, if true, means the political war will likely continue around today’s proposal. And as Jonathan Cohn notes this morning, this will turn on which side succeeds in framing the battle its own way: Is this a debate over religious liberty, as Republicans and other opponents of the rule keep insisting, or over access to contraception?
The question is whether the new compromise will undercut the opposition’s effort to frame the rule as an attack on religious freedom — marginalizing that opposition at a moment when the public broadly rejects the view that birth control is immoral — while underscoring that this debate really about access to contraception and, more broadly, about women’s health.
Many commentators have acquiesced to the opponents’ framing of it, which is why those same commentators keep telling us this is a certain political loser for the White House. It’ll be interesting to see if today’s announcement changes this.
* Romney and Santorum at CPAC: This is a big moment for the GOP nomination process, as Rick Santorum seeks to capitalize on the energy of his three wins earlier this week to cement a relationship with conservative activists who suddenly seem excited by his candidacy. Meanwhile, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins says the race could go down to the convention, and notes that Mitt Romney’s “conservative credentials” will be “on display” at CPAC.
This looms as yet another test of Romney’s authenticity problem. How can Romney persuade an audience that believes deeply in conservative principles that he’s one of them, given that — by all indications — he only began believing in those principles himself when he developed national ambitions?
* All eyes on Michigan as GOP panic about Romney grows: Advice has begun to pour in to the Romney campaign from Republicans who are deeply concerned that he isn’t gaining strength. Another big test:
The Feb. 28 primary in Michigan — his home state and the place where his father served as governor — is shaping up to be a much more difficult race for him. Despite his extensive network and widespread name recognition, Romney must contend with a new surge of popularity for Santorum, a former senator whose modest background in western Pennsylvania may resonate with Michigan’s embattled autoworkers.
And then there’s Romney’s opposition to Obama’s successful auto rescue. While in theory Republicans should still be opposed to it on ideological grounds, it’s plausible that even some Michigan Republicans view it as a success. It’ll be interesting to see whether his position — which Dems will aggressively highlight — will be a vulnerability for Romney among them.
* The GOP’s problem, in one sentence: Peggy Noonan gives voice to the rising worry in GOP circles about the base’s lack of enthusiasm for the presidential field, and sums it up with this:
One network anchor, on being urged to capture more of the joy and ferocity of the Republican contest, sighed. “Every time we show those guys, our numbers go down.”
* Independents turning on GOP candidates: Relatedly, as Doyle McManus notes, the longer the campaign drags on, the more the middle of the country will turn on the Republican candidates:
Millions of independent voters are tuning in to this campaign and learning about the potential Republican nominees — in some cases, for the first time. And many of them don’t like what they see.
* Resurgence of social issues hurts Romney: As Aaron Blake notes, the political conversation’s sudden new focus on social issues could give a boost to Santorum, since he is completely comfortable speaking the language of social conservatives. Romney, not so much.
Which is why, even if the contraception issue has been a tough one for the White House, it is perfectly happy to use it to continue giving Romney a social issues death hug. Watch for more of this.
* Another Super PAC truce? Montana Senator Jon Tester is now proposing a truce on outside spending, similar to the one Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown reached in Massachusetts. The move would be another blow to outside groups like Crossroads GPS, which had been gearing up to pump cash into the race. Will Tester’s GOP opponent, Rep. Denny Rehberg, honor it?
I had hoped the Warren-Brown truce would spread to other states; this is the first indication it might.
* Senate Dems bullish on Obama’s chances: Some Senate Democrats tend to run for their lives at the slightest sign of political travails on Obama’s part. But they’re now concluding that his rising approval rating and the positive economic signs could (gasp!) mean that he may actually not be such a political liability to them, after all.
* A deep dive into the Senate races: National Journal goes deep into the demographics to examine whether the growing minority population — and the expected minority turnout boost in a presidential year — will help Dems in Senate races across the country.
* And inequality is not about morals; it’s about money: Nice Paul Krugman column rebutting the latest conservative pushback on inequality. As he points out, the fact that both African Americans and now whites have undergone a bout of alleged social failings in the wake of a decline in blue collar jobs would suggest that the problems are caused by ... the decline in blue collar jobs
By the way: The growing economic and cultural travails of blue collar whites, and the true dimensions of the socio-economic wreckage the Great Recession could leave behind, were nicely detailed in “Pinched,” by Don Peck.