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First Thoughts: Deja Vu?

Déjà vu -- how the situation in Libya and $100-a-barrel oil seem like a flashback to the summer of 2010 (BP spill and Greek debt crisis)… The White House’s decision not to defend DOMA’s constitutionality draws plenty of health care comparisons… Daniels seems to change his tone in Indiana… McCain now the most conservative U.S. senator?... Rolling Stone’s eyebrow-raising Psy-Ops story… Huntsman spotted at the “Jasmine Revolution”… And Huckabee speaks at the National Press Club at noon ET.

A Gas price sign is seen at a station on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday. The national average for a gallon of unleaded was $3.19 on Wednesday.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Déjà vu? Is anyone else having flashbacks to the summer of 2010? As the Obama White House tries to focus on the U.S. economy -- the president holds a meeting at 1:45 pm ET with his Jobs and Competitiveness council -- external events are forcing him (as well as the media) to focus on other matters. The situation in Libya looks more precarious and dangerous than Egypt did. “Forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi were reported to be striking back in several cites surrounding Tripoli on Thursday, as rebellion crept closer to the capital and defections of military officers multiplied,” the New York Times says. Next, due in part to Libya, oil prices have now spiked above $100 a barrel for the first time since the summer of 2008. Beyond the violence in Libya, the fear at the White House is that it could end up doing what the Greek debt crisis -- in combination with the oil spill -- did in May of 2010: slow down the economic recovery. The good news for Team Obama is that this isn’t the summer of 2012… 

*** DOMA arigato, Mr. Roboto: One thing that ISN’T an external factor was the Obama administration’s decision yesterday to no longer defend the constitutionality of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which says that marriage can exist only between a man and a woman. It's a full-fledged flip by the president, though one he's been telegraphing. (Late last year, he said he was "struggling" with the issue of gay marriage.) Interestingly, much of the reaction -- from the right and left -- seemed aimed at the health-care law. Some conservatives were saying: If Obama loses re-election, would this give a Republican president the green light not to defend the law’s constitutionality? (Of course, it’s more than likely the Supreme Court will deliver a verdict on the law anyway.) House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith complained, “It is a transparent attempt to shirk the department’s duty to defend the laws passed by Congress.” (Then again, that hasn’t stopped Republicans from trying to eliminate -- and defund -- a law passed by Congress.) As usual, with heavy doses of spin, there's hypocritical holes in multiple arguments. But politically, beyond some folks in the base, will the public care that much after today?

*** Daniels changes his tune? Was someone able to change Mitch Daniels’ mind? Or are his presidential aspirations bigger than many think they are? A day after the Indiana governor called on state Republicans to drop their anti-union legislation, the Indiana governor referred to public employee unions “privileged elite.” And he released a statement calling the fleeing state Democratic lawmakers to come back to work. “The House Democrats have shown a complete contempt for the democratic process... You don’t walk off the job, take your public paycheck with you, and attempt to bring the whole process to a screeching halt. You know, if they persist, the Democratic Party of Indiana will need a rebranding effort because this is as anti-democratic as behavior can be."

AP

U.S. Senator John McCain during a visit to Tunisia. McCain was named among a group of most conservative senators in 2010.

*** McCain’s rightward shift: Is John McCain now the Senate’s most conservative member? So says National Journal, according to its annual congressional vote ratings. From “a comprehensive examination of 96 Senate votes taken in 2010, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., along with seven of his colleagues, voted most often on the conservative side. His 89.7 composite conservative score ties him with stalwarts like Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and gives him a more conservative score than Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.” More: “From 2002 to 2006, he bounced between the 44th- and 49th-most conservative member, giving him the maverick title. His 89.7 composite conservative score is the farthest to the right of any year he has served in the Senate.” Bottom line: This is what it took to for McCain to win re-election last year. Of course, he also kept opposing Obama initiatives (DADT, START) after he won re-election, which kept his score that high.

*** The Men Who Stare at Goats, Part II: This isn’t your average story -- by a long shot -- but it's already cable TV/internet/Twitter fodder. Rolling Stone writes, “The U.S. Army illegally ordered a team of soldiers specializing in ‘psychological operations’ to manipulate visiting American senators into providing more troops and funding for the war, Rolling Stone has learned - and when an officer tried to stop the operation, he was railroaded by military investigators. The orders came from the command of Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, a three-star general in charge of training Afghan troops - the linchpin of U.S. strategy in the war… Those singled out in the campaign included senators John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Jack Reed, Al Franken and Carl Levin; Rep. Steve Israel of the House Appropriations Committee; Adm. Mike Mullen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Czech ambassador to Afghanistan; the German interior minister, and a host of influential think-tank analysts.” By the way, was this all really psy-ops, or amateur political communication hour?

*** Huntsman spotted at the “Jasmine Revolution”: This isn’t your average story, either. NBC’s Adrienne Mong reports that U.S. ambassador to China (and potential presidential candidate) Jon Huntsman “was spotted last Sunday outside McDonald’s in the heavily-trafficked shopping district of Wangfujing in the capital. His appearance wouldn’t have generated much interest (Huntsman is known here for his unorthodox style as America’s top representative in China) except for the little fact that a would-be revolution [the “Jasmine Revolution”] was under way exactly where the ambassador was standing. In fact, Huntsman’s presence – which the U.S. embassy in Beijing says was part of a ‘family outing’ and ‘purely coincidental’ – has generated controversy on a number of fronts.”

*** More 2012: Mike Huckabee speaks at the National Press Club at noon ET… Rick Santorum is in Iowa, where he’s interviewed by the Iowa press corps in a forum moderated by Mike Glover of AP and Kay Henderson of Radio Iowa… And Newt Gingrich is in Florida speaking in West Palm Beach at 6:00 pm ET. By the way, check out this quote from Huck: “It doesn’t mean that I can wait indefinitely, but it certainly means that I’d be smart to wait for not only the field to develop, but to not walk away from a platform where I get to determine what I want to talk about.”

*** Foxx in the DNC hen house: The Democratic National Committee’s three-day winter meeting begins today in DC. Today’s highlight: In the evening, Charlotte (NC) Mayor Anthony Foxx will talk about plans for the 2012 convention in the city. On Saturday, DNC Chairman Tim Kaine and White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley will address the confab.

Countdown to continuing resolution’s expiration: 8 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 257 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 347 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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