Discuss as:

First Thoughts: Obama administration divided over Syria?

NBC's Domenico Montanaro discusses Sec. of State John Kerry's reported doubts about the administration maintaining its current policy on Syria. And while money continues to flow into Democratic campaign organizations, is another left-leaning group hurting the DNC?

Obama administration divided over Syria?... Where was Obama’s cabinet after the State of the Union?... President heads to nearby Maryland tout broadband/wireless initiative at 11:30 am ET… Is OFA diverting resources away from the DNC?... Wrapping all of the Christie-related developments from last night… On last night’s Sink-vs.-Jolly debate in FL-13… Top Obama operatives critical of Hillary’s early 2016 positioning… And Scott Walker heads to Texas.

*** Obama administration divided over Syria? For the past week, we’ve been writing about intra-party divides -- Republicans on immigration, Democrats on trade. But now here’s a different divide: One of President Obama’s top cabinet members is reportedly criticizing the administration’s handling of Syria, especially after the administration has touted Syria turning over its chemical weapons. Per the Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin: “Secretary of State John Kerry has lost faith in his own administration’s Syria policy, he told fifteen U.S. Congressmen in a private, off-the-record meeting, according to two of the senators who were in the room. Kerry also said he believes the regime of Bashar al Assad is failing to uphold its promise to give up its chemical weapons according to schedule; that the Russians are not being helpful in solving the Syrian civil war; and that the Geneva 2 peace talks that he helped organize are not succeeding. But according to the senators, Kerry now wants to arm Syria's rebels.” Kerry’s office has denied any split here. "At no point did he, during the meeting, did Secretary Kerry raise lethal assistance for the opposition," spokeswoman Jen Psaki said yesterday. "At no point did he state what, I think, was quoted, that the process has failed." And, of course, the two senators who were in the room with Kerry -- Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham -- are huge proponents of further U.S. intervention in Syria. But this is the latest Middle East headache for the administration. And if you are looking for the rationale for why U.S. policy on Syria MIGHT change and change soon, look no further than this overlooked comment from DNI James Clapper last week: “The Syrian militant group tied to al-Qaida, the al-Nusra Front, wants to attack the United States and is training a growing cadre of fighters from Europe, the Mideast and even the U.S., the top U.S. intelligence official told Congress.”

Rainer Jensen / EPA

US Secretary of State John Kerry, during the opening of the so-called Geneva II peace talks in Montreux Switzerland, 22, January 2014. Representatives of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a deeply divided opposition, world powers and regional bodies started a long-delayed peace conference aimed at bringing an end to a nearly three-year civil war.

*** Where was Obama’s cabinet after the State of the Union? Speaking of Obama’s cabinet members, observers have criticized the White House for often underutilizing the cabinet, especially when it’s trying to amplify a message. And this remains a legitimate criticism. Consider the activity (or lack thereof) after the president’s State of the Union address last Tuesday. According to a First Read review of cabinet secretary travel, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell today is holding a roundtable discussion on climate change at the University of Washington. Also today, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, and Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack are on a panel discussing the “Promise Zones” Obama touted in his State of the Union. And on Thursday, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and Vice President Biden attend a transportation-infrastructure event in Philadelphia. But that’s it for the State of the Union-themed cabinet activity since Obama’s speech last week. Yes, President Obama hit the road for two days after his speech (to Maryland, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Tennessee). Yes, he’s holding an event today on promoting broadband/wireless access for students (more on that below). And yes, some of the cabinet members are overseas (like Kerry), working on the debt limit (like Treasury Secretary Lew), or working on signing up folks for health-care coverage (like HHS Secretary Sebelius). But if you were expecting a full cabinet blitz after the State of the Union, you didn’t get it. And that’s been a mystery for some time, especially when you have some pretty big heavy hitters,

*** Obama heads to nearby Maryland tout broadband/wireless initiative at 11:30 am ET: Meanwhile, Obama today heads to Adelphi, MD to deliver remarks at 11:30 am ET on “connecting 99% of students to next-generation broadband and wireless technology within five years,” the White House says. This is his ConnectED initiative. But it’s worth remembering that it’s essentially a replay of announcement the White House did back in June 2013. See here.

*** Is OFA diverting resources away from the DNC? So far this 2014 election cycle, Democrats mostly have been outraising Republicans -- the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has hauled in almost $15 million more than the National Republican Congressional Committee, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has the edge over the National Republican Senatorial Committee. The DCCC also will release a memo today touting that its candidates have outraised GOP ones. But there is one exception to all of this: The Republican National Committee has outraised the Democratic National Committee, $73 million to $63 million. (And the DNC also has more than $15 million in debt compared with $0 for the RNC.) Yet here’s another figure to chew on: President Obama’s Organizing for Action raised $26 million last year, which raises this question -- is OFA taking money away from the DNC? Yes, OFA can accept unlimited checks from wealthy donors, while the DNC and RNC cannot (and some of the big-money checks OFA is getting are from maxed-out DNC donors). Then again, the average 2013 contribution to OFA was just $37, so not all of these donations are from big-money folks; in fact, they’re from Obama’s army of grassroots donors.  But that brings up another question: Why doesn’t OFA turn over that grassroots army to the DNC? The DNC has not been a great small-donor organization, and it appears Team Obama isn’t exactly helping the effort as well as it could.

*** All of the Chris Christie-related developments from last night: Participating in a radio Q&A, the governor “acknowledged that his office had been subpoenaed by the U.S. attorney in New Jersey in relation to the bridge scandal that has rocked his administration,” NBC’s Mike O’Brien reports. He also dismissed the questions about his knowledge of the Fort Lee, NJ lane closures as “just a game of gotcha.” Said Christie: "The most important issue is, did I know anything about the plan to close these lanes? Did I authorize it, did I know about it, did I approve it — did I have any knowledge about it beforehand?" But around the same time as the Q&A was being conducted, former Christie Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Kelley -- who wrote the words “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” -- invoked her 5th Amendment rights in refusing to turn over documents subpoenaed by state investigators.

*** House Republicans continue to want something in return for debt-ceiling hike: And here’s the latest in the debt-ceiling debate, per the Washington Post: “Several House members told The Washington Post on Monday that Republican leaders have narrowed their list of possible debt-limit strategies to two options: trading a one-year extension for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, or trading a one-year extension for repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s risk corridors. Both plans, which were first discussed last week at the House GOP’s annual retreat in Cambridge, Md., will be debated further Tuesday morning, when House Republicans meet at the Capitol. House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) is said to be open to either approach, as long as it can win heavy GOP support.” But here’s what House Republicans face in opposition: The White House maintains, as it has in the past, that it won’t negotiate over raising the debt limit.

*** About last night’s FL-13 debate: Want to know why so many political observers are paying close attention to the special FL-13 congressional election between Alex Sink (D) and David Jolly (R)? It’s because the two candidates in this swing district are test-driving many of the messages we could see in November. At last night’s debate, Jolly hit Sink on health care, per NBC’s Sarah Blackwill. “It was founded on a premise that now has been called the lie of the year, and how a candidate can favor Obamacare is beyond me. I would favor repealing it immediately.” Here was Sink’s response: “This Affordable Care Act has not been perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but my position is it should not be repealed because we cannot go to where we were before.” More: “We have to fix what's wrong with the act, and one of the reasons I'm running for Congress is to go to Washington and work with others -- work across party lines -- and fix them.” And here was Jolly defending his opposition to raising the minimum wage: “Barack Obama is not an economist and neither are most members of Congress. I think it's silly that we let Congress arbitrarily choose a wage rate. Let's decide on what the wage should be, index it to inflation, take it out of the hands of politicians once and for all.”

*** Top Obama operatives critical of Team Hillary’s early 2016 positioning: Turning to 2016 news, Buzzfeed has a piece with folks in Obama World criticizing Hillary Land’s positioning so far. “Top advisers and former aides to Barack Obama say Hillary Clinton is repeating the mistakes she made in 2008, building a machine in lieu of a message and lumbering toward the Democratic nomination with the same deep vulnerabilities that cost her the nomination eight years earlier.” The biggest problem in Hillary Land right now -- which we’ve noted before -- is that there are TOO MANY people involved. And the criticism that’s not becoming public has the message: “It’s time to rein in some of these people.”

*** Walker heads to Texas: Lastly, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker today heads to Dallas to raise money from Harlan Crow.

Click here to sign up for First Read emails.
Text FIRST to 622639, to sign up for First Read alerts to your mobile phone.
Check us out on Facebook and also on Twitter. Follow us @chucktodd, @mmurraypolitics, @DomenicoNBC