CBS 'Early Show' Touts Obama's 'Big Win;' Claims He's 'The Comeback Kid'

On Saturday's Early Show fill-in co-host Russ Mitchell saw passage of the tax deal as a possible "turning point for Mr. Obama's presidency" and speculated that it was "perhaps setting the stage for another victory as the Senate takes up the repeal of the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' law."

In the report that followed, correspondent Whit Johnson declared that with the deal "President Obama could finally declare victory." The headline on screen read: "The President's Big Win; More Success Before The Holiday Break?" Johnson explained "that after months of debate, they [Democrats] finally have the votes to repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'" In a report on Sunday Morning, Johnson touted the eventual repeal of the policy on Saturday as a "major victory" for Democrats.    

Following Johnson's Early Show report, Mitchell spoke with CBS political analyst John Dickerson, wondering: "They are calling President Obama the comeback kid. How big a victory was this for him yesterday?" Dickerson proclaimed: "It's pretty fast. You know, the election was supposed to be a repudiation of the President, now just five weeks later he's coming back already."

However, Dickerson did caution: "In the long-term, though, really the only thing that matters is the economy. This might help with that but we'll have to wait and see how that turns out to really know if this is a big turning point." Mitchell followed up by pointing out the President's problems with the Democratic base: "How much damage control does the President have to do in his own party?" Dickerson acknowledged: "He's got some damage control to do because he's going to need those folks for votes going down the line."

Mitchell also mentioned the Republicans getting a boost from the deal: "Speaking of Republicans, how big a win was this for Republicans?" Dickerson explained: "It's a big win....they were able to say to their constituents, 'Look, we have enough power, you gave us the power in the election, here we're exercising it for something you care about,' so it was a big win for them, too."

Moving back to Obama, Mitchell described how "health care was bulldozed through Congress" and lamented that the President "will not have that luxury" in the new Congress. He therefore wondered: "Are we seeing a new President Obama, in terms of his political prowess here?" Dickerson portrayed Obama as the "adult" among squabbling children: "He's going to have to do what he did on this one, which is say, 'Ideologues on the left and right want two things and if they are left to their own devices we're going to have a crack-up. I'm going to step in the middle here and be the adult.'"

Mitchell highlighted another potential "victory" for Obama: "Let's move on to the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'....Looks like it's going to pass. Another big victory for the President?"Dickerson concluded: "It will be a victory for the President, not as big as the tax cut, but a very important victory for his base." He then added: "...victories are victories, and for a president, again, who is seen damaged by the last election, it's nice to be able to just chalk these victories up on the board."

In his final question to Dickerson, Mitchell asked: "The President's poll numbers are still down. Does the average voter take a look at this and say, 'You know what, this guy is now doing a good job,' my – his poll numbers may go up? How does the average person look at that?" Dickerson concluded: "I think, particularly on the economy, they like to look at the President doing something, and doing something on the issue they really care about. And that's why this tax deal is important because the President said, 'Look, I'm fighting here for the American people and the middle class.'"

Here is a full transcript of the December 18 segment:

8:00AM ET TEASE:

RUSS MITCHELL: Victory on tax cuts and today the Senate is set for a vote that might end the ban on gays in the military. Are we looking at a new era of cooperation?

8:01AM ET TEASE:

MITCHELL: A lot going on today, going to begin the day in Washington DC, where, of course, President Obama had that huge day yesterday, signing the tax cut bill, he also – today the Congress also will take up the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy, we're going to have the latest on that and our John Dickerson's going to be here to sort it all out for us.

REBECCA JARVIS: Yes, a lot to discuss, a lot of historic moves taking place on Capitol Hill.

8:01AM ET SEGMENT:

MITCHELL: Let's begin with our top story, as we told you, big doings at the nation's capital. President Obama signed an $858 billion tax cut into law on Friday. The deal could be a turning point for Mr. Obama's presidency, perhaps setting the stage for another victory as the Senate takes up the repeal of the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' law, this in a rare Saturday session. CBS News correspondent Whit Johnson is live in the nation's capital with the latest. Whit, good morning.

WHIT JOHNSON: Hey Russ, good morning. Good to see you again. By the way, for the next two years, doesn't matter how much money you make, your taxes will not go up. Long-term unemployment benefits they'll be extended for another 13 months. Still, the Democrats have a new more items on their wish list that they hope to check off before Christmas.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: The President's Big Win; More Success Before The Holiday Break?]

After a series of lengthy debates and negotiations with both Republicans and fellow Democrats, President Obama could finally declare victory.

BARACK OBAMA: It's a good deal for the American people. This is progress. And that's what he they sent us here to achieve.

JOHNSON: Remaining on the agenda for this lame duck Congress is the ratification of the START nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia, it's a top priority for the White House. But a vote has yet to be scheduled.

HARRY REID [SEN. D-NV]: But, there is nothing, nothing more important than the START treaty. Because it has ramifications far greater than our own country. We know it is the holiday season, but this is something that we are going to complete before we leave here.

JOHNSON: This morning's session in the Senate is a rare one. Majority Leader Harry Reid and his allies, including independent Joe Lieberman, say that after months of debate, they finally have the votes to repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' the policy that bans gay service men and women from serving openly in the military.

JOE LIEBERMAN [SEN. I-CT]: I'm confident, let's for now, I'm confident that we've got more than 60 votes.

JOHNSON: A repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' could go to the President's desk as early as Monday. He's postponed his holiday travel to Hawaii while Congress is still in session and won't join the rest of his family until later in the week. Russ.

MITCHELL: Okay, Whit Johnson at the Capitol, thank you very much. Let's take a look at what this could all mean for the President and his relationship with Congress. For that we turn to our senior CBS News political analyst, Mr. John Dickerson. John, it's good to see you in person.

JOHN DICKERSON: Hello, Russ, it's good to see you this morning.

MITCHELL: They are calling President Obama the comeback kid. How big a victory was this for him yesterday?

DICKERSON: It's pretty fast. You know, the election was supposed to be a repudiation of the President, now just five weeks later he's coming back already. He gets blamed when things go  badly but when things go well, he gets the signing ceremony. So this is good for the President in the short-term, he gets to sort of be in control of the agenda. In the long-term, though, really the only thing that matters is the economy. This might help with that but we'll have to wait and see how that turns out to really know if this is a big turning point.

MITCHELL: What was interesting about this signing ceremony, as you take a look at these pictures right there, no Nancy Pelosi, no Harry Reid. How much damage control does the President have to do in his own party?

DICKERSON: Well, right, that's the new shape of things for the President. He put himself in the middle of what he said were two warring factions and some of the people who lost in this deal, Nancy Pelosi, the leader of the Democrats in the House, is one of them. And that's the way it's going to maybe look going forward. He's got some damage control to do because he's going to need those folks for votes going down the line. And he's going to have some fights with the Republicans and he's going to need his side behind him in those fights in the future.

MITCHELL: Speaking of Republicans, how big a win was this for Republicans?

DICKERSON: It's a big win. They said to the President, 'We're not going to move on this tax cut question. You've got to extend these Bush tax cuts for everybody or we're going home.' And they, it was a game of chicken and the President blinked a little bit on this. But the Republicans' big win, of course, was the election and they were able to say to their constituents, 'Look, we have enough power, you gave us the power in the election, here we're exercising it for something you care about,' so it was a big win for them, too.

MITCHELL: Of course health care was bulldozed through Congress. The President will not have that luxury, especially with the new Congress coming in. Are we seeing a new President Obama, in terms of his political prowess here?

DICKERSON: We are, by force. Because he – the Democrats lost a lot of these seats in Congress and the new Congress has a new shape. So he's going to have to do what he did on this one, which is say, 'Ideologues on the left and right want two things and if they are left to their own devices we're going to have a crack-up. I'm going to step in the middle here and be the adult.' The problem for the President going forward is this deal, basically, both sides decided to give the other what they wanted. Going forward, the budget deficit has to be taken into some account and in those kinds of fights, both sides won't be able to give the other side basically what they want and not worry about the cost and that will make the fights even harder going forward.

MITCHELL: Let's move on to the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' as we said, the Congress takes up a rare Saturday session today to take that up. Looks like it's going to pass. Another big victory for the President?

DICKERSON: It will be a victory for the President, not as big as the tax cut, but a very important victory for his base. It's something that a lot of Democrats care a great deal about. And it's something the President wanted to pass and, also, victories are victories, and for a president, again, who is seen damaged by the last election, it's nice to be able to just chalk these victories up on the board and particularly when you've got Democrats angry about the tax cut deal, it's nice to say, 'Hey, I'm delivering for you on this other thing that you care very much about.'

MITCHELL: The President's poll numbers are still down. Does the average voter take a look at this and say, 'You know what, this guy is now doing a good job,' my – his poll numbers may go up? How does the average person look at that?

DICKERSON: I think, particularly on the economy, they like to look at the President doing something, and doing something on the issue they really care about. And that's why this tax deal is important because the President said, 'Look, I'm fighting here for the American people and the middle class,' and that's what folks tell pollsters, is they want their politicians in Washington fighting for them and getting something done. And so, activity benefits the President again in the same way that inactivity hurts him. So, this is a good week, a good way for the President to end this year and he's got a tough one coming ahead of him.

MITCHELL: Okay, John Dickerson in New York, not Washington today. Thank you very much.

DICKERSON: Thanks, Russ.

MITCHELL: It's good to see you.
 

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC