To: Interested parties
From: John King, CNN chief national correspondent
Re: Monday Memo
President Obama shakes hands with Mexican President Felipe Calderon in Gaudalajara, Mexico, on Sunday.
(CNN) -- Interesting tests for President Obama on the world and domestic stages top the look at the week ahead, but the nation's political mood could be shaped just as much by the earnings reports from a few big retailers.
Last week, Obama found a glimmer of hope in the Labor Department report showing a small dip in the national unemployment rate and a less drastic bleeding of jobs from the economy. To be clear, 247,000 more Americans were thrown out of work in July. But the number of job losses had been double that or more in some months of late, so the White House saw the change as evidence the worst is over.
But consumer confidence remains low, something Republican pollster Bill McInturff believes will be a drag on Obama's political standing for some time.
As McInturff put it: "I've done a lot of work looking at consumer confidence, and there's only been four times since post-World War II that numbers have been this bad. Every other time that they've been this bad, it's taken between two to four years to improve.
"We've had 17 months. We have a long, long way to go, historically, before these numbers get better. And the problem for the president is not this year but next summer. And by next summer, people are going to have, kind of, a fuzzy memory of George Bush, and it will be the 'Obama Administration economy'."
With that in mind, it won't just be Wall Street looking deep for any evidence of an uptick in spending when Wal-Mart, Macy's and JC Penney, among others, release their earnings.
Obama opens the week in Mexico for a summit with the leaders of Mexico and Canada. The economy will be the top issue, and other items on the agenda include preparations for the next wave of the H1N1 flu virus and efforts to help Mexico deal with its drug cartel violence.
By Tuesday, it will be back into the trenches of the health care reform debate and back to New Hampshire for his first visit as president.
With the health care debate crackling at meetings being held by members of Congress home for the August recess, what Obama says at a town hall of his own will be closely watched.
More topics to watch:
• Whether the president will add anything publicly to what some of his advisers are discussing more and more privately -- the possibility the votes aren't there to pass a so-called "public option" in the Senate.
Obama has long held out such a government insurance option as critical to compete with private insurers and drive down costs, but finding the votes is proving difficult.
Obama's closest friend in the Senate, Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin, told CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday that he's open to legislation without a public option if Democrats can't find the votes to pass a bill more to his liking.
"Just understand that after we pass this bill, and I hope we do in the Senate, it will go to conference committee, we'll have a chance to work out all of our differences," Durbin said. "So we'll see how this ends, but I don't want the process to be filibustered to failure, which unfortunately, many senators are trying to do. I want to make sure we do something positive for the American people."
• Whether Obama has anything to say about the vocal complaints and disruptions at many town halls hosted by Democrats. Watch senators discuss town hall meetings »
Top House Democrats have called these "manufactured" outbursts coordinated by foes of the president's approach, but other Democrats have said they see little to be gained by such attacks and should try to turn the focus back to the policy choices.
The week will close with additional government data for the debate over whether the economy is beginning to bounce back:
• On Thursday, the Commerce Department releases its report on retail sales in July.
• On Friday, the Labor Department offers its latest Consumer Price Indexes report -- the government's barometer of inflation.
If you are looking to see what the president has to say about those numbers at week's end, look west.
The first family will be visiting Montana before heading to scenic areas of Wyoming, Colorado and Arizona over the weekend, including Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Canyon.