Jake Tapper, Mensch

Kevin's gone for a few days. He says he's in NYC, but I wonder if he's off hiking with South Carolina Republican Governor Mark Sanford. During this brief sabbatical, I will be filling in. Feel free to let me know how you think I'm doing in the comments section. By the way, I should let you know this: I'm allergic to cats. -- David Corn

An event happened yesterday at the White House that warrants notice and a hat tip to Jake Tapper of ABC News.

I know, bloggers are usually supposed to hold MSMers in disdain—especially White House correspondents. But during the presidential press conference, Tapper did what few White House reporters do: when President Barack Obama didn't answer another reporter's question, Tapper held him accountable.

Environment, science, and health news tidbits for today:

Michelle's soft sell: While President Obama touts the cost-saving benefits of healthcare reform, the first lady talks wellness, nutrition, and prevention. Why isn't she getting into the political nitty gritty? Watch David Corn debate the issue on Hardball.

Waxman-Markey or bust: Looks like the big vote's back on for Friday. The League of Conservation Voters gave members of the House an ultimatum: Support the American Clean Energy and Security Act, or kiss any 2010 endorsement from us goodbye.

Why whales shouldn't summer in Europe: Since the 1986 international ban on commercial whaling, Japan has done most of the world's whale killing, often with the transparent excuse of "doing research." But this season, Europe might actually out-whale Japan.

Today's three MoJo picks:

1) Can Michelle Obama Save Health Care Reform?

David Corn: On a day when the politerati focused on President Obama's press conference (Iran, health care, Iran, health care, the economy, smoking, Iran), Chris Matthews, Richard Wolffe, and I went off-topic to discuss whether Michelle Obama can help her husband sell the health care bill now under construction in Congress. Watch the video.

 

2) Barney Frank to F-22: Drop Dead

Rachel Morris: Rep. Barney Frank has authored an amendment that would remove funding for the extra F-22s that the House Armed Services committee slipped into the defense budget authorization bill last week. Here's the story so far.

 

3) Will Europe Out-Whale Japan?

Jen Phillips: The International Whaling Commmission is meeting in Portugal this week, and there's a small Japanese fishing town that gives dead whales Buddhist names. Really! Read more.

Vacation Time

Remember I said a few weeks ago that I'd be taking a short vacation in New York City in a few weeks?  Well, the future is now, and that means I'm officially on vacation.  David Corn will be guest blogging here during my absence, and other folks from our DC bureau may chime in from time to time as well.  Be nice to 'em.  I'll be back next Tuesday.

Jay Newton-Small reports that Rep. Collin Peterson (D–Minn.) has finally managed to insert enough rapacious farm welfare language into the Waxman-Markey climate bill to satisfy himself and has now agreed to let the bill come to a vote on the House floor.  Then there's this:

Peterson, who said he represents the voting power of 45 Blue Dogs and House Agriculture Committee Democrats, told reporters late Tuesday that he didn't think they'd get a deal. “It was touch and go,” he said, shaking his head. Strikingly, Peterson said he dealt little with the Administration in the negotiations — speaking instead with Waxman and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Obama pushed for the legislation in remarks Tuesday, but the Administration has been markedly less involved in the climate change bill than in the stimulus, budget or health care reform. Once the global warming bill clears the House, though, it faces a far from certain future in the Senate where Obama's support will be more keenly needed.

Ugly, ugly, ugly.  Still, if that last part is true, let's hope Obama decides to get a little more involved in things going forward.  The Senate is not exactly the place were mediocre bills are sent to get better, after all, and this one really can't afford to get much worse.

And while we're on the subject of legislation, if you're the kind of person who contributes money to Democratic candidates and fundraising groups, Jonathan Zasloff has some pretty good advice for you.  Click here to read it.

Military Industrial Complex 2-Robert Gates 0

Barney Frank's amendment removing money for the F-22 got shot down by the Rules Committee last night and won't come up for a vote. That was the House's last chance to take the extra F-22 funds out of the defense budget authorization bill.

The next stop is the Senate, where Armed Services chair Carl Levin and ranking member John McCain both oppose buying more planes than Gates requested—although House Armed Services backed the F-22 over the objections of its chairman, Rep. Ike Skelton. Of course, the appropriators also get to weigh in, too. In the Senate, that means this guy.

So, lawmakers have now come out swinging for two big programs that Defense Secretary Robert Gates wants to cut. In addition to the House's backing for the F-22, the war supplemental passed by Congress earlier this month included $2 billion for C-17 cargo planes that Gates says the DoD doesn't need.

 

Obama and the Press

Walter Shapiro, after watching Barack Obama reply sharply to a couple of questions at today's press conference, offers up a theory:

In response to the next question — about the potential consequences if Iran continued to suppress demonstrations — Obama said with a sharp edge in his voice, "We don't know yet how this thing is going to play out. I know everybody here is on a 24-hour news cycle. I'm not. Okay?"

Now I am not going to claim that the First Amendment requires presidents always to wear smiley faces when taking questions from reporters. Nor am I going to deny that occasionally — very occasionally — the short-term mindset of the press pack can be irritating for presidents with a more transcendent view of global events.

Instead, I am bringing this up because I want to tentatively advance a larger theory about the president's public moods. Obama tends to drop his cool veneer and sound exasperated when he knows that he is in the wrong.

Hmmm.  I suppose there might be something to this, but I have a different theory: the press only really gets disturbed by Obama's occasional acid tongue when it's aimed at the press.  On a later question about Obama's struggle to quit smoking, Shapiro says, "Words alone cannot convey Obama's mocking tone and his obvious disdain for this 'human-interest story,'" but I watched that part of the press conference and it seemed like a pretty mild dig to me.  You can judge for yourself above.

There's a convention in American politics that says politicians can manipulate the press behind the scenes as much as they like, and for the most part no grumbling is allowed.  It's all part of the game.  On camera, the rules are supposed to be same: the president is expected to pretend that every reporter is serious and well-briefed and every question is smart and penetrating.  But Obama doesn't always like to play by those rules.  He's occasionally willing to pull back the curtain on the media's inanity and to call a dumb question a dumb question.  Unsurprisingly, reporters don't like this much.

Shapiro headlined his post, "Pushing the President's Buttons."  But I think it might have been the other way around: the president was pushing his.

On a day when the politerati focused on President Barack Obama's press conference (Iran, health care, Iran, health care, the economy, smoking, Iran), Chris Matthews, Richard Wolffe, and I went off-topic to discuss whether Michelle Obama can help her husband sell the health care bill now under construction in Congress. We then moved on to the "disappearance" of GOP South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford.

 

You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances on Twitter.

 

For a mainstream green group, the League of Conservation Voters took a fairly radical step today.

In an unprecedented move, the LCV sent letters to all members of the US House with this promise: Vote against the American Clean Energy and Security Act (HR 2454), and you can forget about getting the conservation group's endorsement in November, 2010.

"The stakes could not be higher," Gene Karpinski, president of the bi-partisan group, explained in the letter. "A safer, healthier planet and a new energy economy hang in the balance."

Osha Gray Davidson covers solar energy for The Phoenix Sun, and is a contributing blogger for Mother Jones. For more of his stories, click here.

Nearly two decades ago, lyricist Ellen Fitzhugh and composer Jan Hammer wrote a ditty called "Torture" for a Star Wars musical that never came to light. The tune was supposed to be crooned by a robot controlled by Darth Vader. Instead, it's being released to lament the robotic torture policies controlled by Vader's doppelganger, Dick Cheney, for Friday's U.N. International Day in Support of Torture Victims and Survivors.

Today, the words ring eerily true. Sample lyric: "For you it's just a pain/For us it's justified/But you're too self-absorbed/To see it from our side."

Watch the song's YouTube treatment—set to creepy old cartoons—here: