Is this war-weary country headed for a third active war -- in Libya? … The crisis in Japan deepens … Does Obama WH really not pay attention to the criticism? … CNBC (Hart/McInturff) poll shows economic pessimism jumps in past three months … Previewing Obama’s Latin America swing … What a week it was … What a week it will be … And our latest Senate rankings.
From NBC's Chuck Todd, Domenico Montanaro, Ali Weinberg, and Carrie Dann
*** A third war? The U.S. appears headed for military action in a third country (in addition to Iraq and Afghanistan) with the United Nations Security Council’s approval of a resolution authorizing the international community “to take all necessary measures … to protect civilians” in Libya. Russia, China, India, Germany, and Brazil (where the president is headed today) abstained from the vote, NBC’s Sarah Blackwill reports. But it’s notable that China and Russia, the only two Security Council members of that group with veto power, opted not to veto it. Russia and Germany expressed concern about the potential for what could become larger military action. The Pentagon has also warned of what it calls “Mission Creep,” that a “no-fly zone” might not be enough and would require further intervention. The U.N. vote came on the same day Libyan leader Moammar Khaddafy warned the people of Benghazi, in the rebel-held East, on a radio broadcast, “We are coming tonight” and “we will find you in your closets. We will have no mercy and no pity.” ***BREAKING: Libya’s Foreign Minister told reporters Libya has declared a cease-fire to abide by the U.N. resolution.
*** Laying out the U.S.’s role: British and French warplanes could take the lead on the attacks, according to some reports. The New York Times: “François Baroin, a French government spokesman, told RTL radio that airstrikes would come ‘rapidly,’ perhaps within hours” of the U.N. vote. Sometime today, expect remarks from President Obama, which should set the parameters of what the United States’ role will be militarily. How much will the Arab League participate vs. NATO? Who does the bombing of Khaddafy's forces in order to protect Benghazi -- Saudi and Egyptian air forces? At the press briefing Thursday, White Hosue Press Secretary Jay Carney didn't shy away from proclaiming the purpose of the U.N. resolution was to get the international community in support of ousting Khaddafy from power. That's a potentially lofty goal and one that may take months to meet, given Khaddafy's actions -- that he's backed in a corner and will fight to the death.
*** Japan, a deepening crisis: The nuclear crisis in Japan seems to be getting even worse as the threat of a meltdown and catastrophe looms. NBC’s Ann Curry reported on TODAY that the Japanese are considering burying the spent nuclear rods, trying to restore power to try and cool the reactors, and have abandoned the use of helicopters to dump water on the site. NBC’s Robert Bazell reports the burying of the rods will be tried as soon as possible. It’s a step that’s outlined in the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Agency’s document called, “Beyond Design Basis Accident in Spent Fuel Pools.” Prime Minister Naoto Kan told the Japanese people in a televised address, "We will rebuild Japan from scratch. We must all share this resolve."
*** Just noticing…: It’s amazing that one day after the president faced criticism from the right for being on ESPN to discuss his NCAA bracket and later speaking to DNC big donors, but said virtually nothing on Japan or Libya, he made an unexpected stop to the Japanese embassy in DC to pay his respects and then made a statement from the Rose Garden. But no, the White House doesn’t pay attention to this Beltway criticism….
*** Pessimism reigns: A new CNBC poll out this morning (conducted by NBC/WSJ pollsters Hart/McInturff) shows continued pessimism on the economy: “[T]he percentage of Americans who believe the economy will get worse in the next year spiking to 37 percent, a 15 point gain from December. It’s now just five points below the all-time high in the series of 43 percent in June 2008, which came in the midst of a surge in gasoline prices,” CNBC’s Liesman writes. “Those negative attitudes were registered just before the disaster in Japan and, if anything, could have worsened since then.”
*** Rio Bound: The president heads to Latin America today. He’ll make stops in Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador before heading back to Washington Wednesday. Trade, the global economy, and security are going to be issues of discussion. . The Washington Post says Obama and Brazil’s new president “will try to repair at times strained relations between the two countries.” And in El Salvador “drug-related violence is rising" and will be a key issue. But The Miami Herald’s Andres Oppenheimer, however, thinks the president should also talk about something else – education. “When President Barack Obama starts his much-awaited first trip to South America on March 19, he should take his recent State of the Union address on education, science and innovation with him, and turn it into a hemispheric cause. He needs that, as much as the region does.”
*** Reset: With yesterday’s passage of yet another short-term, stopgap continuing resolution in the Senate, the clock is reset three weeks to April 8. But as we mentioned earlier this week, that’s probably it for short-term resolutions. Yesterday, the bill passed 87-13, with nine Republicans (up from five two weeks ago) and four who caucus with the Democrats voting against the bill (the same number as two weeks ago.) But there were far fewer defectors than expected and it’s a reminder that it's far easier to find consensus in the Senate than the House -- even in these more polarizing times.
*** The week that was -- presidential edition: President Obama hit a major DNC fundraiser Wednesday, seen as a kickoff with big donors for his 2012 reelection; he did a round of local TV interviews in swing states (has three more today, which the White House claims is more about his trip to Latin America and less to do with the 44 electoral votes in Florida and North Carolina). And it was another eventful week on the GOP trail: Haley Barbour was the headliner, pronouncing if he runs, he’ll win Iowa and then breaking with the GOP field and touting support for fewer troops in Afghanistan. Barbour also made a big hire in New Hampshire, signaling the Mississippian won’t bypass the more moderate-friendly Northeastern state. Mitt Romney yesterday morning appeared to get some cover from conservative Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), who endorsed him in 2008, and then by yesterday afternoon, the cover was ripped off.
*** The week that was -- down-ballot edition: And there was big news in two Senate races that will be closely watched, first in Virginia and the next day in Nevada. On Monday, DNC Chairman Tim Kaine took a step closer to running for the Senate (look for an announcement perhaps in April). And then on Tuesday, Rep. Dean Heller (R), widely viewed as Republicans’ best statewide candidate, announced he was running for the Senate to replace retiring Sen. John Ensign (R). And this week also gave us the first sprinkling of 2012 catnip, when failed 2011 Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle (R) announced in a YouTube video she would run to replace Heller in the House.
*** The week that will be: Wednesday is the one-year anniversary of President Obama signing the health-care overhaul bill into law. … Does Tim Pawlenty announce his exploratory committee next week? Expect something perhaps by the end of the month. … Sarah Palin heads to India and Israel this weekend. … Congress is off, but will there be any progress at the staff level on the budget and spending cut negotiations? … And lots of GOP presidential hopefuls hit the trail. Watch for The Week Ahead today with one of your First Read writers -- and NBC’s Andy Gross, “reporting live” from Rio.
*** Today, on the Trail: Newt Gingrich speaks in DC at 10:00 am ET at the National Press Club on the health-care overhaul that passed last year. … Former New York City Mayor and failed 2008 presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani is in New Hampshire, where he speaks at the Manchester GOP Lincoln-Reagan Dinner at 6:30 pm ET.
Countdown to continuing resolution’s expiration: 21 days
Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 147 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 235 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 325 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up