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White House invites you to get that flu shot

Last week was National Influenza Vaccination Week. Also, Obama turns a healthcare meeting at the House into an intramural campaign rally.

January 17, 2010|By Andrew Malcolm

And you thought last Monday was just another ordinary winter Monday.

Nearing the end of his first year's reign, President Obama issued a presidential proclamation declaring the entire week as National Influenza Vaccination Week, inviting all Americans who have not already done so to take a needle in the arm or a dose up the nose.

Polls earlier in the fall, when the vaccine was in short supply, indicated many Americans had no intention of getting the vaccine, amid rumors over lack of testing and fears of unanticipated side effects. Those adverse side effects have not materialized. But neither has a rush for the vaccine, now in ample supply. (Obama waited on getting his until just before the family's holiday trip to Hawaii.)

An uptick in reported cases of H1N1 flu the week after Christmas, when millions returned to work, raised concerns about widespread complacency leading to a renewed wave of the sometimes-deadly illness this winter.

With that concern and an abundance of the vaccine on hand (an estimated 136 million doses now), officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are urging even seniors to get the vaccine. Because of their lifelong exposure to more flu strains, seniors were believed less likely to catch H1N1, and many postponed immunizations when supplies were scarce.

"We think it's time now for seniors," said one senior CDC officer. So, apparently, does the president.

Obama's House campaign rally

Amazing how the need for votes will cause a pro politician to travel.

So Thursday night the president of the United States brought the full power and majesty of his office -- not to mention the armored motorcade -- back up the Pennsylvania Avenue he triumphantly marched down as a brand-new president more than 300 days ago. To an auditorium in the Capitol Visitors Center.

The Big Man is in the House. Or next door anyway.

It was for Obama basically a deferential campaign speech to the folks he will soon call on to vote for his beloved healthcare legislation that will contain some things his party people won't like and won't contain some things they do like. He will need their votes and might have to fight and bargain even more for some of them in a precarious political equation. And, unexpectedly, the visit was returned later in the evening.

Most of all, Obama needs the Democrats' House Leader, San Francisco's own sweetheart, Nancy Pelosi, to herd this House-full of cats to defy mounting pressures from the party's real left and come along with him.

Although America's voters in 2008 gave Democrats an impressive majority of 85 House seats, on its fragile healthcare bill, Pelosi's party won by only five votes. That's way too close for comfort in a midterm election year that will force all House members to face the folks back home -- including the one in 10 with no paycheck, despite the much-ballyhooed Pelosi economic stimulus bill of $787 billion from last winter.

A loss in coming days of just three of those House votes, frightened by Obama's southbound poll numbers and the northward movement of the public's deficit and spending concerns, would cause a devastating defeat for the White House, Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Now, everyone on Capitol Hill knows that nothing softens Pelosi up like telling her how tough she is. Steel, she is. Absolute steel. Shiny absolute steel. In fact, tempered shiny absolute steel. With nerves to match.

Of course, after Obama's 20-minute speech, reporters and transcribers were ushered out of the auditorium while the audience got its one-hour Q&A time with the chief. So there may have been some rebellion expressed privately. And later in the evening, top congressional Democrats returned the visit for ongoing healthcare negotiations on the taxing tax issue with Obama himself, seeking to dispel grumblings he's been too detached from the sausage-making.

Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, didn't grow up also apprenticing within the Chicago Democratic machine for nothing. As a House member from Rod Blagojevich's old Chicago Northside district, he helped recruit and train many of these newer House members. As a result, Obama knows the squeaky wheels and their needs.

So the skilled ex-senatorial talker from Illinois really laid it on Pelosi in what became, in effect, an intramural campaign rally for the hopefully faithful.

He could have been a coach before a playoff game (no, of course not the Raiders!).

As the transcript of the event shows, he ran down what they've already completed this season (knowing, of course, people like you might be reading this too), how they've worked together and what they've accomplished for themselves and the crowd, and how just a little bit more effort, more commitment, more drive can get them all over the goal line -- together.

And how they'll then remember that not just for this year. (Applause.)

Not just for next year. (More Applause)

But for all the years to come in this wonderful country. (Even More Applause.)

Or something like that.

andrew.malcolm@latimes.com

Top of the Ticket, The Times' blog on national politics ( www.latimes.com/ticket "> www.latimes.com/ticket ), is a blend of commentary, analysis and news. These are selections from the last week.

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