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First Thoughts: Searching for 'clarity'

The search for ‘clarity’ in Libya… Obama skips tour of Mayan ruins, returns to Washington early to political storm … Trump to Iowa … RAND Paul testing the waters … Bachmann, RON Paul in Iowa … Gingrich in Houston … Palin in Florida … Barbour, Pawlenty, Romney together New Hampshire ... Today's the one-year anniversary of the signing of the health-care bill into law. See our expanded post on it.

From NBC's Chuck Todd, Domenico Montanaro, Ali Weinberg, and Carrie Dann
*** Searching for 'clarity': Speaking of events that have dominated since health care, Libya is the story (and war) du jour. The president on the final leg of his Latin America swing in El Salvador yesterday said he has “absolutely no doubt" that command of the Libyan operation will be handed over to an international coalition. And said nothing’s changed his mind on that being in “days not weeks.” He added that "clarity" would come in days. (By the way, it’s now been five days since “days not weeks” first appeared in print.) President Obama said there are already fewer U.S. planes involved in the Libya operation and added, "We've already saved lives" in Benghazi. "Unless [Khaddafy] changes his approach" and there are significant reforms in Libyan government, he's a threat to his people, Obama said. What would the U.S.’s role be once control is handed over? "It is not going to be our planes" enforcing the no-fly zone, Obama said; it's not going to be "our ships" enforcing the arms embargo. In what may be a recognition of the political difficulty back home, the president heads back to Washington earlier than scheduled. He’ll skip touring Mayan ruins -- and a political beehive awaits. (NBC’s Pete Williams examined whether President Obama violated the Constitution with his action on Libya.)

*** America's national interest in Libya: In response to a question from NBC's Savannah Guthrie, the president offered a rather expansive rationale for his actions in Libya. The first part of his answer was familiar: "[T]he American people and the United States have an interest first of all in making sure that where a brutal dictator is threatening his people and saying he will show no mercy and go (inaudible) hunting people down and we have the capacity under international sanction to do something about that, I think it's in America's international-- America's national interest to do something about it. That doesn't mean that we can solve every problem in the world. It does mean that when you have not only the United Nations but also the Arab League and also other countries in the Gulf who are saying we need to intercede to make sure that a disaster doesn't happen on our watch -- as has happened in the past when the international community stood idly by -- it is in America's national interest to participate in that."

*** It's the SECOND part of his answer that was new: "Now we've already seen what happened in Egypt and Tunisia, peaceful transitions. We have a huge national interest in making sure that those are successful, because if Egypt can make a transition from a[n] autocratic regime to a democracy, if Tunisia can make those same changes, they become models for a peaceful transition that at some point may be adopted by other countries in the region. If on the other hand, they spill into chaos, in part, because they've got a million … Libyans who are pouring into these countries, and their borders become less secure, and there's a breakdown of order -- that could have spillover effects in the entire region. So not only do we have a humanitarian interest, but we also have a very practical interest in making sure that the changes that are sweeping through that region are occurring in a peaceful, non-violent fashion, and when we can have some impact on that, with a relatively modest contribution as part of a broader international effort, then I absolutely believe that the costs are outweighed by the benefits, and that is what drove my decision, and that's why I think that we need to make sure that we see this through effectively."

*** On the trail: Donald Trump is heading to Iowa June 10 as the headline speaker for the Iowa GOP’s Lincoln Day dinner. (Trump said he would announce in June if he’s running for president.) By the way, if you want a good laugh, check out comedian Lewis Black making the case for Trump last night on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. … Catch freshman Sen. Rand Paul, who’s been in office not quite three months, yesterday in South Carolina: “The only decision I've made is I won't run against my dad.” Is this from the Department of Too Soon? Seriously. Paul has already visited several early presidential states, and his father is mulling another bid. (Hat tip: Taegan Goddard). … Elsewhere: It’s Iowa Homeschool Day -- Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Ron Paul (R-TX) attend … Newt Gingrich is in Houston, touring the Open Door Mission at 4:00 pm ET … Sarah Palin makes a paid speech in Naples, FL, at 6:00 pm ET … Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS), Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN), and Former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) all appear together in Concord, NH, at an event honoring freshman Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH).

Countdown to continuing resolution’s expiration: 16 days
Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 142 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 230 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 320 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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