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What you didn't see at the historic Obama economic bill signing

February 17, 2009 |  5:06 pm

President Barack Obama signing the economic recovery and stimulus act in Denver February 17, 2009

Lost in the heady professed optimism of the president signing the $787.2-billion stimulus bill today -- the largest spending bill in the nation's history -- was some appreciation for its extremely savvy staging and planning. Much of it unseen by Americans, yet silently polishing the image of the moment and its lasting effect. Some quick catchup ball for Obama's team after losing early weeks of the political propaganda offensive over the measure.

But first, the place:  Not Washington.  Presidential bill signings are old hat there. They're big, big news out in the country. Denver's not only a good choice for its alternative energy focus, but it recalls Obama's emotional convention triumph last summer. Being in Denver forced all the media big guns outside the Beltway and thus, effectively, denied them to the minority Republicans back in D.C. And it showed Obama out where most of us live -- for three days this week and four last.

Additionally, Obama's political advisor, David Axelrod, wants to keep the once-solidly Republican Rocky Mountain region in play as swing states.  Even if he doesn't win them all, he forces the GOP to play D on its homefield. Only 21 months until the next congressional elections, sooner for the campaign launches and fundraising.

Second, the stage: Not the raucous rally theater-in-the-round with precisely programmed ethnic and racial faces behind the president (and don't forget a male and female soldier in uniform). But still regular people in plain view, crowding the sides. So eager. The president, looking presidential, introduced by not another overly familiar Washington crony's face but by a private company president (and this one says he'll be hiring because of the legislation).

Third, the president signs the bill at a simple table. But look! No surrounding, jostling packs of tired-looking pols trying to crowd into the historic photo and grab a free pen. Just him. The president. With VP Biden off to the side, out of most photos. Obama decisively signing his trademark big B and O, even if upside-down-left-handed.

Fourth, the timing: While everyone's watching Denver and the excited citizens there near their president, the White House releases word that Obama has ordered more U.S. troops -- about 17,000 strong -- into Afghanistan, not a popular step, according to recent polls.  Especially on the Democratic left, which launched little-noticed protest e-mails this afternoon.

But it's one couched in a printed news release (no video to compete on-air with the signing -- scroll down for the full statement text and the Republicans' positive response) as part of the promised Iraq pulldown. That story will not be No. 1 on TV tonight or tomorrow.  Not accidental timing.

Fifth, what's next?  Arizona on Wednesday to talk about the hard-hit housing market. John McCain's home turf.  Shows the president even cares about states with two Republican senators.  Oh, btw, McCain is up for reelection next year.

Sixth, the Republicans are left talking the usual yada-yada some 2,000 miles away back in D.C., but they can only point to the awful deficit things that might happen down the road because of all this spending. The Obama communications team, armed with its oft-repeated, well-practiced theme of Main Street urgency, unveils websites for everyone that show the "estimated effect" of new jobs state by state and, in case anyone from Capitol Hill is watching, also for each congressional district.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo credit: Rick Wilking / Reuters

Statement by President Obama on sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan

There is no more solemn duty as president than the decision to deploy our armed forces into harm’s way.  I do it today mindful that the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan demands urgent attention and swift action.  The Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, and Al Qaeda supports the insurgency and threatens America from its safe haven along the Pakistani border. 

To meet urgent security needs, I approved a request from [Defense] Secretary Gates to deploy a Marine Expeditionary Brigade later this spring and an Army Stryker Brigade and the enabling forces necessary to support them later this summer.

This increase has been requested by Gen. McKiernan and supported by Secretary Gates, the Joint Chiefs and the Commander of Central Command.  Gen. McKiernan’s request for these troops is months old, and the fact that we are going to responsibly drawdown our forces in Iraq allows us the flexibility to increase our presence in Afghanistan. 

This reinforcement will contribute to the security of the Afghan people and to stability in Afghanistan.  I recognize the extraordinary strain that this deployment places on our troops and military families. I honor their service, and will give them the support they need.

This increase is necessary to stabilize a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, which has not received the strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires. That is why I ordered a review of our policy upon taking office, so we have a comprehensive strategy and the necessary resources to meet clear and achievable objectives in Afghanistan and the region. 

This troop increase does not pre-determine the outcome of that strategic review.  Instead, it will further enable our team to put together a comprehensive strategy that will employ all elements of our national power to fulfill achievable goals in Afghanistan.  As we develop our new strategic goals, we will do so in concert with our friends and allies as together we seek the resources necessary to succeed.  ###

Statement by Republican House Leader John Boehner, who recently returned from another Afghanistan visit:

“I support the President’s decision to send additional troops to Afghanistan to help root out terrorism and stabilize the country on behalf of its people. Republicans agree that a strategic review of the current situation in Afghanistan is warranted, and we will work to ensure that our commanders on the ground have all the additional troops they have requested.

“Afghanistan represents a complex challenge, and it will take time to achieve real, sustained results there. Republicans are committed to supporting our men and women in uniform and giving them all the resources they need to succeed in their mission there.”   ###

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