President Obama arrives from a Latin America tour with his family, front right to back, daughters Malia and Sasha, first lady Michelle Obama, and mother-in-law Marian Robinson, at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on Wednesday.
No red carpet rolled out for the president in Washington … Obama’s Doctrine of pragmatism … Day 6 of ‘days not weeks’ … Obama takes his licks from the late-night shows … Gingrich’s no-fly flop … Huckabee, Bachmann in Iowa, Newt in Carolinas, Ron Paul in NH.
From NBC's Chuck Todd, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Welcome back, Mr. President: On his Latin America trip, the red carpet may have been rolled out (literally) for President Obama, but there were no ceremonial trumpets playing for him when he returned to Washington. He's facing a growing bipartisan chorus of criticism from Congress. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) sent a letter minutes after President Obama landed with what Boehner says are a slew of unanswered questions regarding a "clearly defined mission." And House DEMOCRATIC leader Nancy Pelosi put out her own statement of support that wasn't exactly ringing; It may wind up sending two messages -- one to the White House that House Democrats are on the verge of fracturing on this issue, and one to skeptical members that she's still giving the president some benefit of the doubt and they should, too. What it means essentially is that Pelosi is saying she hears both sides, telling members to keep in mind that the U.S. is preventing a humanitarian disaster, but that the president needs to keep Congress informed or the problems will get bigger.
*** You can’t always get what you want: The White House maintains they have consulted Congress the entire time and plan to continue to do so. Congressional leaders, however, on BOTH sides of the aisle, believe they've been more "informed" -- NOT consulted. And catch this line from White House national security adviser Ben Rhodes in the White House briefing yesterday responding to criticism that the White House doesn’t have congressional support: “First of all, we would like congressional support.” “Would like?” An admission (or Freudian slip) that the White House doesn’t have it?
*** Not very doctrinaire: We wrote of the “Obama Doctrine” last week and how the president’s action on Libya are fairly consistent with the broad themes of his foreign policy that he laid out in April of 2009. Yesterday on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews, Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough was asked about the president’s “doctrine” and where the line is -- why Libya and not Bahrain or Yemen, for example. Here’s what he said, in part: “[T]he president`s doctrine is not an ideology. He’s not an ideological guy. He’s very pragmatic. And so he’s for -- as he said in the Situation Room, he’s for what works. … What I can tell you is that when we’re presented with the kind of language that Khaddafy presented, seeing the kind of history that he brings to this kind of threat, and knowing that this is a moment of great opportunity in that region, he thought it was a good opportunity for us to take.” McDonough also said the president will “make sure that we can hand off to our allies to run this no-fly zone in the days ahead.” We’re now on Day 6 of “days not weeks.” Tomorrow, it becomes a week. By the way, in an interview right after his TV hits, McDonough told NBC News that the main difference between Libya and the situations in Bahrain and Yemen is that in the latter two countries, a reform process (even if not as fast as some want) has begun. That's never been the case, he says, in Libya.
*** Late-night licks: We warned a week ago that this was possible and here it is. Jokes about Libya and a perceived mixed message, his overseas travel, and, yes, Obama’s basketball bracket have all made it into the comedy mainstream -- from Leno and Letterman to Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, and even the usually Obama-friendly Jon Stewart. Here’s a sampling this week, per our friends at The Hotline:
- Fallon: "Everyone's been following march madness, but it's been a few days without any games. It's been so boring, President Obama said he actually wants to focus on situations in Libya and Japan."
- Leno: “We know more about President Obama's basketball picks than we do about his Libya plan right now.” … “You remember when President Obama ran for president saying we couldn't fight two wars and he would change our policy? Well he has, now we're in three wars. Ok, we're in three wars. Now I guess you know why...that's why they call him President O-bam-a.”
- More Leno: “As you know President Obama took a lot of heat for filling out his NCAA tournament bracket thing there and I guess they thought he should be focusing on more important things. Anyway, here is filling out the Men’s bracket. Okay, you probably saw that. Okay, then after this he filled out the Women’s bracket and if he would have stopped there he would have been okay. But then he went on to, here take a look, to do the Pee-Wee basketball. And then he switched over to TV doing the Biggest Loser. And the last one, Sexiest Man Alive. There's no reason he needs to be involved in that.
- Stewart: "We're at war!? Again? I don't want to be a pain in the a--, but don't we already have two wars. You know, wars aren't kids, where you don't have to pay attention to the youngest one 'cause the older two will take care of it." *** UPDATE *** On cue, the Republican National Committee sent out a video wrapping this:
*** Washington echo chamber… or going mainstream? Many times, the White House argues that this echo-chamber criticism is more of a Washington obsession and not something that regular people are paying attention to. But when late night goes with it, it gets mainstreamed. Bottom line: The White House has a short-term P.R. problem on Libya that, at this point, only gets solved by the president’s pledges coming to fruition: mainly, the handover to international forces to enforce the no-fly zone; and perhaps, more importantly, that they remove Khaddafy. By the way, the White House has no plans for any primetime or Oval Office address on Libya anytime soon, at least that's what they said yesterday.
*** Speaking of muddled messages: In the past two days, Newt Gingrich has been clear that he thinks the Libya no-fly zone was a mistake. Yet, on March 7 he seemed to express support for a no-fly zone in Libya. The New York Times’ Shear: “President Obama should establish a no-fly zone over Libya ‘this evening,’ [Gingrich] said on Fox News. “All we have to do is suppress his air force, which we could do in minutes,” he said. Yet on TODAY yesterday, Gingrich said, “I would not have intervened. I think there were a lot of other ways to affect Qaddafi. I think there are a lot of other allies in the region we could have worked with. I would not have used American and European forces.” That won this headline from the Times: “Gingrich Calls For No-Fly Zone, Then Attacks It.” The Seattle Post-Inetlligencer: “Gingrich: Flip-Flop on No Fly.” Then, he attempted to deflect in a “clarification” on his Facebook page with a post titled, “My Position on Libya.” His opening doesn’t address his own apparent inconsistency, but the president’s: “It is deeply troubling that there is so much confusion, lack of foresight, and little resolve coming from the President and his administration about what our mission and goals must be in the Libya engagement.” Conservative blog Hot Air, for one, isn’t necessarily buying it. By the way, it’s never a good thing that after a controversy you have to put out a statement titled, “My position on” whatever that topic was.
*** Gates in Israel: A day after a bombing in Jerusalem, Defense Secretary Gates traveled from Cairo, Egypt, to Israel, where he meets and holds a news conference with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. He will also meet with President Shimon Peres at 9:30 am ET. … President Obama has a light public schedule today: He lunches with Vice President Biden at 12:45 pm ET and then meets with Treasury Secretary Geithner at 2:15 pm ET.
*** On the trail: Mike Huckabee and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) are in Iowa, where they will address the Pastors’ Policy Briefing, a meeting hosted by the group Iowa Renewal Project, in Des Moines. … Later in the day, Bachmann holds a Facebook town hall from the Hawkeye State. … Newt Gingrich heads to South Carolina, where he will address the Greenville County Republican Women’s Club. He is slated to take questions afterward at noon ET, and then heads to North Carolina, where he will speak to the Wake County Republican convention in Raleigh at 6:00 pm ET… and Rep. Ron Paul gives a speech at the University of New Hampshire at 3:30 pm ET.
Countdown to continuing resolution’s expiration: 15 days
Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 141 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 229 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 319 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up