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First Thoughts: Feeding the beast vs. starving it

On feeding the internet beast vs. starving it… Obama’s decision to release his long-form birth certificate was a personal one… President unveils his new national security team at 3:10 pm ET… On the Fed, the Ryan budget, and those Medicare town halls… Death and destruction in the South… Will Mitch Daniels sign anti-Planned Parenthood legislation into law, or will he veto it?... And Santorum, in DC, talks foreign policy.

From NBC’s Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Feeding the beast vs. starving it: Back in 2008, the Obama campaign created a “Fight the Smears” page on its Web site to combat the internet suspicions about Barack Obama’s race, his name, and his upbringing. The rationale: It needed to feed the Google beast to knock down the rumors and conspiracy theories. But in their two-plus years in the White House, Team Obama -- perhaps due to everything else on their plate -- tended to ignore the beast, hoping it would starve. That is, until yesterday. President Obama’s extraordinary release of his long-form birth certificate won’t satisfy the conspiracy theorists. As Joel Achenbach writes in the Washington Post, “the nature of a conspiracy theory that all information must pass through a very discerning, yet simple, filter. Information that is confirmational is accepted; that which is contradictory is rejected.” But release of the birth certificate and the president’s remarks about it weren’t intended for those people. Rather, they were aimed at everyone else and the news media.

*** A personal decision: It’s important to note that the decision to release the long-form birth certificate didn’t come from his staff or advisers. Per our reporting, Obama himself made the decision; it was personal to him. (After all, the politics of this week or the moment etc., would not have dictated a need to do this now.) By the way, he did his best to joke about the entire episode at a fundraiser last night in New York City. "My name is Barack Obama. I was born in Hawaii," he said to applause. "The 50th state of the United States of America. No one checked my ID on the way in." And in a taping on "Oprah Winfrey," which will air next week, Obama said, “Can I just say: I was there. So I knew I was born. I remembered it.” 

*** The new national security team: Birth Certificate Day, of course, overshadowed a bigger story that will actually impact U.S. lives: the news of Obama’s new national security team, which includes a lot of familiar faces; it's more of a "staff shuffle" than "shakeup." At 3:10 pm ET, the president will make a personnel announcement, at which he’s expected to name CIA Director Leon Panetta as the new Defense secretary replacing Robert Gates (who is retiring); Gen. David Petraeus as the new CIA director replacing Panetta; Gen. John Allen as the commander in Afghanistan replacing Petraeus; and Ryan Crocker as the new ambassador to Afghanistan. Per NBC’s Courtney Kube, Gates is leaving his Defense secretary post on June 30, and assuming he’s confirmed, Panetta will take over on July 1. Petraeus, meanwhile, will retire from the U.S. Army after nearly 37 years as an officer, giving Allen several months to prepare. And it means Petraeus will lead the CIA as a civilian.

*** Opting for continuity: On a conference call yesterday previewing the national security announcement, a senior administration official said, “The president has put in place here those nominees that provide the strongest possible team to execute our strategies and policies. I stress the word ‘team.’” As the Washington Post puts it, Obama "opted for continuity in a major reshuffle of his national security team, choosing familiar names to help him complete the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, define the endgame in Afghanistan and give the Pentagon its fair share of budget cuts." 

*** On the Fed, the Ryan budget, and those town halls: So what other stories did Birth Certificate Day overshadow yesterday? Well, there was Bernanke’s first press conference and the announcement that the Fed’s $600 billion bond purchase will end in June and that interest rates will remain low for a while longer. There was the news that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid plans to hold a Senate vote on the House budget plan (which means that Dean Heller will have to vote for it again). And there was the story about some rowdy GOP town halls, especially in senior-rich Florida. In fact, Obama releasing his birth certificate squashed that town hall story, about which a lot of Democrats were giddy -- because they felt as if they were finally hitting critical mass on the issue.  

*** Death and destruction in the South: Of course, the biggest story today is the tornadoes that ripped through much of the South yesterday. Per the latest numbers, the storms killed 172 people, including 128 in Alabama. Folks, these are death tolls that FAR surpass most hurricanes. Some might wonder if President Obama heads to Alabama to inspect the damage. Immediately after something like that -- due to the wreckage and clean up -- the last thing residents and emergency officials want is for the president and his entourage to show up. But if the logistics are doable and it wouldn't get in the way of the cleanup, would it be a surprise if Obama makes a stop there on his way to or from Florida tomorrow?

*** What will Mitch do? As National Journal says this morning, we’re about to find out how Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels defines his “truce” and how serious is he about running for president. The Indianapolis Star: “A bill cutting off funding to Planned Parenthood of Indiana is headed to the governor's desk after the House approved it 66-32 on Wednesday. House Bill 1210 would take away about $2 million of the $3 million Planned Parenthood receives annually in government funds and make Indiana the first state to prohibit the use of Medicaid at Planned Parenthood centers. Supporters of the bill say they do not want their tax dollars going to an organization that provides abortions.” More: “Daniels has not said whether he will sign the bill into law. But on a radio show earlier this year, he described his administration as ‘the most pro-life’ in Indiana history.” But the fiscal hawk in Daniels may dictate him to veto it, since the bill would cost the state MORE money to implement.

*** On the 2012 trail: Santorum delivers a speech on foreign policy at the National Press Club in DC at 1:30 pm ET… Donald Trump’s in Las Vegas… And Ron Paul is in Reno, NV.

Countdown to NY-26 special election: 26 days
Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 106 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 194 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 284 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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