From Chuck Todd and Mark Murray
*** Showdown over security: Last year was the first presidential contest since 1952 when a sitting president or vice president wasn't on the ballot. But what if Dick Cheney had run to succeed the term-limited Bush? That's a question New York Times columnist Ross Douthat raised last month, arguing that Cheney as the GOP nominee would have been good for the Republican Party, in general, because he would have been a more down-the-line conservative -- giving the right a look at how the campaign would have turned out in that case. Douthat also said that Cheney as the nominee would have been good for the country, because it would have settled the debate once and for all over the Bush administration's interrogation practices; McCain, of course, opposed them. Alas, we never got that Obama-Cheney presidential race. But we get the next-best thing today: a debate between the two over torture and security policies. Obama speaks at 10:10 am ET from the National Archives, home to the U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Declaration of Independence. And then about 30 minutes later at the American Enterprise Institute, a neoconservative think tank, Cheney delivers a competing speech to defend the Bush administration's interrogation practices and policies toward terrorist suspects in general.
Video: President Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney are set to give competing speeches on national security and the president's plan to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.
*** Previewing Obama's speech: According to an administration official, Obama's speech will stress that keeping Americans safe is his paramount responsibility ("That is what the president thinks about every morning when he wakes up and every night when he goes to sleep"); that the previous administration's policies weren't effective or sustainable and "failed to trust in our institutions, and … failed to use our values as a compass"; that enhanced interrogation techniques aren't effective and undermine the rule of law; and that the prison at Guantanamo Bay has weakened U.S. security ("For over seven years, we have detained hundreds of people at Guantanamo. During that time, the system of Military Commissions at Guantanamo succeeded in convicting only three suspected terrorists," the official says.) As for what Obama plans to do with the Gitmo detainees, the official explains: 1) when feasible, try those who have violated U.S. laws in federal courts, 2) when necessary, try those violate the rule of war through military commissions, and 3) when possible, transfer detainees who can be transferred to third countries. One issue you should NOT expect the president to mention: Nancy Pelosi.
*** Previewing Cheney's speech: Meanwhile, Politico's Mike Allen gets a heads-up of what Cheney will say. The gist: "When President Obama makes wise decisions, he deserves our support. And when he mischaracterizes the national security decisions we made in the Bush years, he deserves an answer. The point is not to look backward. But a truthful telling of history is necessary to inform our choices going forward." Allen also notes that Cheney will defend the effectiveness of Gitmo and enhanced interrogation techniques. Finally, Cheney will "say the American people deserve to see the whole picture as they assess the policies of the past -- not just half the story." We've also gotten a heads-up on what the former VP will say. It's our understanding that among the praise Cheney will dish out will be the administration's decision to rescind releasing those military prison abuse photos. For his part, Cheney believes his role is helping keep the Obama administration from capitulating to the left on these national security issues, which he believes is its natural instinct. Cheney also will continue to make the case that the prosecution of the war on terror should be kept out of the hands of law enforcement and should stay in the hands of the military.
*** Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear: The hoopla over today's dueling speeches on national security, however, is a bit ironic. As Jack Goldsmith, who served as Bush's assistant attorney general, writes in the New Republic, many of Obama's recent decisions on national security are much closer to the late Bush practices than many expected. Goldsmith offers a few reasons why the practices are similar: 1) that the Bush policies "were woven into the fabric of the national security architecture" in ways that are difficult to unravel; 2) that Bush's policies reflected longstanding decisions on some executive powers; and 3) that governing is much harder than campaigning, especially when it comes to protecting the country. All that said, Goldsmith explains that the biggest difference between the Bush and Obama as it relates to terrorism is packaging. "The Bush administration shot itself in the foot time and time again … by indifference to process and presentation. The Obama administration, by contrast, is intensely focused on these issues." He adds that the biggest mistake Bush and Cheney made: going public with their belief that executive power should be expanded.
*** The context: Today's Obama and Cheney speeches come amidst some new national security developments. First, per NBC's Pete Williams, Obama administration officials say they've decided on the first Guantanamo Bay detainee, Ahmed Ghailani, who will be brought to the U.S. to stand trial on terrorism charges. Ghailani is under indictment for his role in the Africa embassy bombings in 1998, and federal prosecutors would put him on trial in New York. Williams says that makes sense, because other defendants in the embassy bombings were tried and convicted there. Second, NBC's Williams also reports that federal and local authorities said last night they've defeated a plot to attack several targets in the New York City area, including synagogues. They say it was the plan of four men who have long been under investigation. Third, the New York Times gets its hands on an unreleased Pentagon report concluding that "one in seven of the 534 prisoners already transferred abroad from the detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has returned to terrorism or militant activity."
Video: Under questioning on Capitol Hill, FBI Director Robert Mueller sides with Republican critics of the Obama administration concerned that terror detainees will end up on U.S. soil. NBC's Pete Williams reports.
*** Republicans making hay out of Gitmo: In recent days, the controversy over the prison at Guantanamo Bay has proven to be perhaps the most frustrating issue for the young Obama administration. And for that, the Obama folks can thank congressional Republicans, who have made considerable political hay out of this. As the AP puts it, Republicans "have searched mightily for a good political issue this year as their traditional three Gs — gays, guns and God — have lost some steam. Now a fourth G — Guantanamo Bay — is handing them big boost, forcing President Barack Obama on the defensive." Yet NBC's Ken Strickland points out that the debate over where to put Gitmo detainees is a question that shows fractures inside both the Democratic and Republican caucuses. Some Republicans (like Mitch McConnell) don't want to close Gitmo at all, arguing that it's a safe and secure prison. But some Republicans (like John McCain) and most Democrats want to close Gitmo but see an Obama plan first. There are other Democrats (like Harry Reid) who want to close Gitmo but ensure that the detainees don't come to the U.S. And then there are Democrats (like Dianne Feinstein) who want to close Gitmo and think detainees can be housed in U.S.-based prisons.
Video: MSNBC's Ed Schultz joins the Morning Joe gang to discuss President Obama's campaign promises, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's charge that she was misled about the use of waterboarding, and the future of the Guantanamo Bay prison.
*** Don't miss this…: Very quietly yesterday, the Obama administration did something the previous Bush administration could never do: issue a memo to all federal agencies to be mindful of states rights. That's right -- Obama's administration issues a pro-states rights memo. Believe it or not, according to NBC's Pete Williams, the Bush 43 administration never put out a basic guiding memo to federal agencies on how to handle state regulations when they potentially conflict with federal regulations. Williams says that Reagan, Bush 41 and Clinton also issued a memo like this, but Bush 43 never did. The wording of this memo may seem contradictory to those on the right who want to believe that the Obama administration wants to concentrate MORE power with the federal government. And for those who love irony, keep reading...
*** Pot meet kettle: Yesterday afternoon, the Republican National Committee -- avoiding embarrassment -- watered down its resolution renaming the Democratic Party the "Democrat-Socialist Party," and instead passed a resolution saying that the Democrats are "dedicated to restructuring American society along socialist ideals." RNC Chairman Michael Steele then released this statement: "The Republican Party strongly believes that a government which spends without restraint, incurs record amounts of debt, owns banks and makes cars is not the right kind of 'change' America needs." But here's the problem for Steele and the GOP, and here's why Steele was a bit premature saying the party no longer needs to look back: Steele's sentence -- sans the line about the cars -- could also apply to George W. Bush's presidency.
*** Courting Wood: The buzz about Diane Wood for the open SCOTUS slot reached a bit of a fever pitch yesterday, as it's clear from multiple sources and reports she sat down with Obama in a one-on-one interview for the job. Perhaps the only thing keeping the president from having already named Wood: her age, 58. Many on the left would like to see the president nominate someone to the courts who's a bit younger, a la John Roberts.
*** Meet Johnnie Rawlinson: Our latest profile of Obama's potential SCOTUS picks is Johnnie Rawlinson, 56, who currently sits on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, nominated to the position by Bill Clinton in 2000…. As a black female, she checks the boxes of what Obama might be looking for (either a woman or a minority)… Was Harry Reid's choice -- though second choice -- as a federal district judge in 1997, and has known Reid since he was on the Nevada Gaming Commission from 1977-1981… Has said this about race relations: "I can say truthfully, race relations have improved a thousand fold in the U.S. However, when I'm outside this building, people are taken aback that I'm a judge who's African-American. I think that's a testament to the fact that it has not become commonplace and evidence of the work we need to do, so that there is no surprise when there's an African-American judge, or a judge of any other ethnicity or a judge who's in a wheelchair."… Before being selected to the bench, worked in Clark County's (NV) DA office… Earned law degree from University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law (1979)… Earned undergraduate degree from North Carolina A&T State University (1974).
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