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First Thoughts: Tapping the brakes on Syria

Washington taps the brakes on Syria… On implementing Obamacare… The FAA sequester fix -- Washington at its worst… Obama to nominate Anthony Foxx to be Transportation secretary… Sanford and Colbert Busch to debate tonight at 7:00 pm ET in South Carolina… And MA SEN primaries take place tomorrow.

George Ourfalian / Reuters

A general view shows damaged buildings in the old city of Aleppo April 29, 2013.

*** Tapping the brakes on Syria: Days after the Obama administration confirmed that Syria might have crossed President Obama’s red line -- using chemical weapons against its own people -- there’s collective agreement that something needs to be done. But there also seems to be collective agreement that the something needs to be small and limited, at least for now. On “Meet the Press” yesterday, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), one of Washington’s biggest hawks, called for arming the rebels in Syria, helping refugees, and securing the stockpiles of chemical weapons. But it also was notable what he DIDN’T CALL FOR. “[T]he worst thing the United States could do right now is put boots on the ground on Syria. That would turn the people against us,” he said. So as Obama seems to be trying to buy time, Washington appears to be giving him that. And here’s one of the reasons why: The rebels, as the New York Times wrote on Sunday, have ties to Al Qaeda. It’s a very tricky situation…

*** Implementing Obamacare: When it comes to implementing the new federal health-care law, Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus called it a “train wreck.” New York Times columnist David Brooks, citing supporters of the law, said that “things are going worse than expected.” And we have spoken with Democrats who are worried, too. But as Jon Cohn writes in the New Republic, none of this should be surprising: This is a complex process -- for the government, the states, and consumers. Yet among the Obama administration’s top concerns is ensuring that enough young men and women obtain insurance. (If the healthy uninsured 18 to 35 year olds don't sign up, the numbers don't work for anyone, for the government, for health insurance companies and for those of us who pay premiums.) And that was largely the pitch the president made at Planned Parenthood’s conference in DC last Friday. “So I’m here to also ask for your help, because we need to get the word out,” he said. “We need you to tell your patients, your friends, your neighbors, your family members what the health care law means for them. Make sure they know that if they don’t have health insurance, they’ll be able to sign up for quality, affordable insurance starting this fall in an online marketplace where private insurers will compete for their business. Make sure that they know that there are plans out there right now that cover the cost of contraceptive and preventive care free of charge.”

Chuck Todd talks about if we've reached a tipping point in Syria, and if it means military action, while many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are urging caution before committing troops to the region.

*** Washington at its worst: Also on Friday, Congress passed its legislative fix to prevent the air-traffic-controller furloughs under the so-called sequester. And in one single episode, it highlighted all of Washington’s problems. You had a divided and often-dysfunctional Congress -- which originally passed the sequester -- take extraordinary action ONLY after the airlines and business travelers complained about the flight delays. But the Congress didn’t do anything about the other budget cuts (to things like Head Start or the Meals on Wheels programs). Then you had a White House -- which signed the sequester into law -- give up its greatest piece of leverage in this debate and cave in its demand for a complete fix that includes additional tax revenue. Bottom line: This was Washington at its worst. And what’s an even bigger takeaway from the whole FAA fix? We are a long way away from a real budget fix. The idea of a grand bargain is as elusive today as it's ever been.

*** Obama nominates Foxx to head Transportation Department: As NBC has reported, President Obama today will nominate Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx to be his second-term Transportation secretary, replacing Ray LaHood. The White House event will take place at 2:10 pm ET. Meanwhile, the New York Times adds that the president “also appeared close to nominating Penny Pritzker, a hotel magnate, longtime friend and fund-raiser, as the next commerce secretary, and Michael Froman, his international economics adviser, as the United States trade representative, although neither nomination was scheduled to be announced on Monday.” So here is our updated look at Obama’s second-term cabinet:

John Kerry at State (replaced Hillary Clinton)
Chuck Hagel at Defense (replaced Leon Panetta)
Jack Lew at Treasury (replaced Tim Geithner)
Sally Jewell at Interior (replaced Ken Salazar)
Sylvia Burwell at OMB (replaced acting director Jeffrey Zients)
Lisa Jackson at EPA (Gina McCarthy nominated)
Steven Chu at Energy (Ernest Moniz nominated)
Hilda Solis at Labor (Tom Perez nominated)
Ray LaHood at Transportation (Anthony Fox nominated)
Commerce (N/A) (Pritzker appears to be the leading candidate)
U.S. Trade Representative (Froman appears to be the leading candidate)

And here are the cabinet secretaries who are remaining:

Janet Napolitano (DHS)
Arne Duncan (Education)
Tom Vilsack (Agriculture)
Eric Holder (Justice)
Kathleen Sebelius (HHS)
Eric Shinseki (Veterans Affairs)

*** Let’s get ready to rumble -- South Carolina style: A week before their general-election contest, Republican Mark Sanford and Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch will participate in their first debate. The AP: “The two meet Monday evening at The Citadel in a debate sponsored by the Patch news service, the South Carolina Radio Network and Charleston television station WCBD. The debate is being cablecast by C-SPAN. It's their first joint appearance in the campaign that started earlier when incumbent congressman Tim Scott was appointed to the state's vacant U.S. Senate seat.” The debate takes place at 7:00 pm ET.

*** Let’s get ready to rumble -- New England style: And the special Senate primaries take place tomorrow in Massachusetts. MSNBC’s Jessica Taylor recently examined the Democratic contest between Reps. Ed Markey and Stephen Lynch, especially in wake of the Boston Marathon bombing. And MSNBC’s Sarah B. Boxer looked at the Republican race featuring former U.S. Attorney Mike Sullivan, state Rep. Dan Winslow, and Navy SEAL-turned-businessman Gabriel Gomez.

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