Obama’s repeat performance in Berlin… President talks Afghanistan, NSA surveillance, and Syria in press conference with Germany’s Merkel… House passes abortion-ban measure… CBO says “Gang of Eight” immigration bill will lower deficit by nearly $1 trillion over 20 years… Boehner: “I don't see any way of bringing an immigration bill to the floor that doesn't have a majority support of Republicans”… And Markey, Gomez spar in final debate.
Odd Andersen / AFP - Getty Images
President Barack Obama gives a speech on a podium in front of Berlin's landmark the Brandenburg Gate near the U.S. embassy on June 19, 2013.
*** Obama’s repeat performance in Berlin: Repeat performances of a winning act are never easy; just ask any sports team or musical group. The explanation is pretty simple: It’s difficult to replicate a smashing success, because circumstances always change after the passage of time. And that was President Obama’s challenge as he spoke in Berlin, Germany almost five years after his memorable speech in the city during the ’08 presidential campaign. (The speech also comes almost 50 years after John F. Kennedy’s famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” address.) Obama began his remarks saying, “Today, I’m proud to return as president of the United States.” Then he said: “For all the power of militaries, for all the power of governments, it is citizens who choose whether to be defined by a wall or whether to tear it down.” He emphasized curbing nuclear arms -- a subject that’s always been more popular in Europe than the United States, for obvious reasons. “So long as nuclear weapons exist, we are not truly safe,” Obama said, adding: “We can ensure the security of America and our allies … by [further] reducing [our arsenal] by up to one third.” And he once again called for the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay. “We must move beyond the mindset of perpetual war.”
*** Then vs. now: Of course, so much of the attention of Obama’s speech is comparing it with the one five years ago. Back then, he was an inspirational presidential candidate; now he has a record with its ups and downs. Back then, he addressed hundreds of thousands of Germans; now the audience is smaller (due to German Chancellor Merkel trying not to overly politicize it since she’s up for re-election). And back then, German elites adored him; now they’re more skeptical (though a Pew poll shows a whopping 88% of Germans say they have confidence in Obama to do the right thing in world affairs). The hope for the Obama White House is that, hours from now, more are focused on what he said TODAY rather than what he said FIVE YEARS ago.
***Obama talks Afghanistan, NSA surveillance, and Syria: Before Obama’s speech, he held a bilateral news conference with German Chancellor Merkel, where the American president made his first remarks after the Taliban had announced peace talks but also after an upset Afghan government broke off negotiations with the U.S. regarding military cooperation. Obama said the friction/conflict isn’t surprising given that the Taliban and Afghan government have been fighting for a long time and there’s an enormous amount of mistrust. On NSA surveillance (especially on those abroad under the PRISM program), Obama said, “This applies very narrowly to leads we have obtained on issues of terrorism or weapons of mass destruction… This is not a situation where we are rifling thru the emails of German citizens or American citizens… Lives have been saved and the encroachment on privacy has been restricted.” (It’s important to note that while Merkel is sensitive to how this program has been received domestically, the Germans have their own related programs.) And on Syria, Obama wouldn’t comment on what kind of arms the U.S. has given to Syrian rebels, but he added: “What I can say is we have had a steady, consistent policy -- which is we want a Syria that is peaceful, not sectarian, legitimate, tolerant, and that is our overriding goal.” More: “We want to end the bloodshed… The best way to get there is through a political transition.”
*** House passes abortion-ban measure: By a 228-196 vote last night, the GOP-controlled House of Representatives passed a measure that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. (The bill would allow an exception if the pregnancy poses a risk to the life of the mother, or if it's the result of a case of reported rape or incest.) Per NBC’s Frank Thorp, the vote was mostly along partisan lines, with just six Democrats voting in favor (Cuellar of Texas, Lipinski of Illinois, Matheson of Utah, McIntyre of North Carolina, Peterson of Minnesota, and Rahall of West Virginia. And six Republicans voted against the legislation: Broun of Georgia, Dent of Pennsylvania, Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, Hanna of New York, Runyan of New Jersey, and Woodall of Georgia.
*** CBO says Senate immigration will lower deficit by nearly $1 trillion over 20 years: Also yesterday, supporters of the “Gang of Eight” immigration legislation celebrated the Congressional Budget Office scoring of the bill, as it said the legislation would reduce federal budget deficits by $197 billion over the next 10 years (2014-2023) and an additional $700 billion over the 10 years after that (2024-2033), NBC’s Carrie Dann reports. Said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY): "This report is a huge momentum boost for immigration reform. This debunks the idea that immigration reform is anything other than a boon to our economy, and robs the bill's opponents of one of their last remaining arguments.” Added Marco Rubio: "The CBO has further confirmed what most conservative economists have found: reforming our immigration system is a net benefit for our economy, American workers and taxpayers.” And be careful what you ask for: “Conservatives had expected that an analysis of the second decade — when immigrants would begin to qualify for federal benefits — would bolster their argument that the costs of an immigration overhaul were unwieldy, but that turned out not to be the case in the economic analysis,” the New York Times says.
*** Boehner: “I don't see any way of bringing an immigration bill to the floor that doesn't have a majority support of Republicans”: That was the good news for supporters of immigration reform; the bad news came from comments by House Speaker John Boehner, who suggested that he wouldn’t bring any legislation to the floor without the support from a majority of House Republicans. “I don't see any way of bringing an immigration bill to the floor that doesn't have a majority support of Republicans,” Boehner said during a press briefing yesterday, per NBC’s Luke Russert and Carrie Dann. He went on to say, “I frankly think the Senate bill is weak on border security, I think the internal enforcement mechanisms are weak and the triggers are almost laughable.” If you read Boehner’s comments carefully, he left himself SOME wiggle room (“I don’t see any way…”). But there’s another way to read his remarks: It’s very possible that he believes a majority of his GOP conference COULD vote for the legislation, especially if it gets sizable support in the Senate.
*** All about midterm politics? At his news conference yesterday, Boehner also argued that Democrats really don’t want to pass comprehensive immigration reform quickly because they’d rather have it as a midterm issue. "I'm increasingly concerned that the White House and Senate Democrats would rather have this as an issue in the 2014 election rather than a result,” he said. That might be more believable if this were 2015 and we were talking about a general presidential election coming up, but not as much in a midterm. Why? One, Latino turnout in midterms is lower than in a presidential, where they can make and have made a significant impact. And two, redistricting has led to fewer swing seats and solidified many Republican districts. “I don't think it makes much sense, either,” said David Wasserman, who covers House races for the Cook Political Report. “There are only 24 House Republicans in districts where Latinos make up more than 25% of the population, and only two of them -- David Valadao (CA-21) and Gary Miller (CA-31) -- sit in districts that are remotely competitive. So Boehner's contention that Democrats aren't negotiating in good faith is more an attempt to explain why those in his party fearful of a primary are causing delay.”
*** Markey, Gomez spar in final debate: Finally, one week out before the special Senate election in Massachusetts, Democrat Ed Markey and Republican Gabriel Gomez clashed in their third and final debate last night. Per the Boston Globe, Gomez continued to hit Markey as a Washington insider. “Nothing’s going to change if Mr. Markey wins this election,” he said. “We’re going to have the same D.C. down there and the same dysfunction. The only thing we’re going to have is him moving from one building to the next.” And Markey tied Gomez to the GOP and its political priorities. The two candidates, the Globe adds, also sparred “over Gomez’s decision to campaign with John McCain, a five-term senator, despite Gomez’s support for term limits for senators. ‘Did you ask John McCain to leave the Senate?’ Markey said. ‘No, Mr. Gomez, you did not.’ But Gomez argued that he did, in fact, tell McCain he should be barred from running for another term.” Yet if you want to know how difficult it is a for a Republican to run for the Senate in the Northeast, just check out this comment that Gomez gave to ABC: “I'm ashamed that only four Republicans voted for the expanded background check.”
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The New York Times: “The last time President Obama paid a visit here, as a candidate in 2008, he was cheered on by 200,000 Germans eager to see the back of George W. Bush and, as one member of that crowd recalled Tuesday, ‘full of wholly unrealistic expectations of what kind of miracles Obama could work.’ When he arrived here on Tuesday evening ahead of a full day of talks — capped by a speech at the Brandenburg Gate — the reception was far more restrained.”
Reasons for the change: The continuation of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, American drone use, and surveillance of foreigners.
USA Today: “As a candidate, Barack Obama was greeted here five years ago by massive crowds and media adulation for his strident criticism of the wartime policies of President George W. Bush. But when President Obama speaks here Wednesday, he may find a different reception due to controversy over his government's surveillance program and his decision to maintain many of the anti-terrorism policies of Bush so loathed by the German left that swooned for Obama.”
And: “President Barack Obama is expected to use his speech at the iconic Brandenburg Gate on Wednesday to renew calls for a reduction in nuclear weapons. It is not the first time the president has called for a reduction in stockpiles, but by addressing the issue in a major foreign speech, Obama is hoping to rekindle the issue, which was at the center of his early first-term agenda. Obama will address a crowd of 5,000 invited guests at the historic landmark in the center of Berlin almost 50 years after John F. Kennedy made his famous speech at what was then West Berlin at the Rathaus Schoeneberg (town hall).”
Obama’s on the front pages of German newspapers:
- The tabloid Bild, wondering what Obama will say,
- Der Taggesspiegel (with this subhead, translated from German: “The U.S. president is in Berlin - he travels directly from the G-8 meeting, which ends with no clear line on Syria,”
- Die Tageszeitung: In English so Obama can read it: “Mr. Obama, open this gate!” over a picture of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, and
- Die Welt: Over a photo of G-8 leaders (translated from German): “Syria - G-8 states require transition regime.”
Speaking of Syria, Jeffrey Goldberg reports that Secretary of State John Kerry wanted to bomb Syrian airfields controlled by Assad: “At a principals meeting in the White House situation room [Wednesday], Secretary of State John Kerry began arguing, vociferously, for immediate U.S. airstrikes against airfields under the control of Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime -- specifically, those fields it has used to launch chemical weapons raids against rebel forces.
“It was at this point that the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the usually mild-mannered Army General Martin Dempsey, spoke up, loudly. According to several sources, Dempsey threw a series of brushback pitches at Kerry, demanding to know just exactly what the post-strike plan would be and pointing out that the State Department didn’t fully grasp the complexity of such an operation. Dempsey informed Kerry that the Air Force could not simply drop a few bombs, or fire a few missiles, at targets inside Syria: To be safe, the U.S. would have to neutralize Syria’s integrated air-defense system, an operation that would require 700 or more sorties. At a time when the U.S. military is exhausted, and when sequestration is ripping into the Pentagon budget, Dempsey is said to have argued that a demand by the State Department for precipitous military action in a murky civil war wasn’t welcome.”
The New York Times: “The Taliban signaled a breakthrough in efforts to start Afghan peace negotiations on Tuesday, announcing the opening of a political office in Qatar and a new readiness to talk with American and Afghan officials, who said in turn that they would travel to meet insurgent negotiators there within days.”
So much for that? AP: “Afghanistan's president says he will not pursue peace talks with the Taliban unless the United States steps out of the negotiations and the militant group stops its violent attacks on the ground.”
The Hill: “Domestic intelligence programs run by the National Security Agency (NSA) have ‘disrupted’ more than 50 potential terrorist attacks against the United States and its allies, NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander told Congress on Tuesday.
The plots included a previously undisclosed plan to blow up the New York Stock Exchange, Alexander said.”
Scandal? USA Today: “John Shafer, a manager in the IRS' Cincinnati field office, has told congressional investigators that the scrutiny of tea party bases started as ‘normal business’ in early 2010 when one of his agents came to him with a difficult case, according to a transcript released by Democrats on a key House committee Tuesday.”
Pallin’ around? “Bill Ayers believes President Obama should be put on trial for war crimes at The Hague, the Weather Underground co-founder told Real Clear Politics in a [video] interview posted Tuesday,” The Hill writes. “Ayers told the website he ‘absolutely’ believed the president was engaged in terrorism for his use of drone strikes in fighting the war on terror. ‘Absolutely. Every president in this century should be put on trial, every one of them,’ Ayers said. ‘For war crimes. Absolutely.’”
John Harwood notes that Obama skips over many red states.
Obama at the G-8: It could have been worse… Germany visit: 2013 vs. 2008… Obama on Syria, NSA surveillance, and Bernanke… McCaskill backs “Ready for Hillary” Super PAC… House to vote on abortion ban… Biden to talk gun control… Not-so Great Scott… And revenge is a dish best served … by running for office.
*** It could have been worse: As President Obama today wraps up his G-8 meetings in Northern Ireland before heading to Germany later this afternoon, it’s safe to say that this hasn’t been a very successful overseas trip for President Obama. At least so far. He was hoping to get a big show of early support on a free-trade agreement with Europe (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), but he got some pushback (especially from France). And regarding Syria, there wasn’t much of an agreement on anything, especially from Russia. Of course, it could have been worse -- the U.S. will still host the first round of talks on the trade partnership next month in DC, and Obama’s meeting with Putin was at least cordial (yet still awkward). At least Putin didn’t make any cannibal references while sitting next to the president. That said, the White House is hoping to turn things around with a successful speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Germany tomorrow. But even that seems like an uphill climb. Der Spiegel doesn’t exactly roll out the welcome mat for Obama like they did in 2008.
Ian Langsdon / AP
President Barack Obama, left, and French President Francois Hollande attend a round table meeting of G-8 member countries at the G-8 Summit at the Lough Erne golf resort in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, on Tuesday, June 18, 2013.
*** 2013 vs. 2008: NBC’s Andy Eckhart notes: “Germany meets the superstar" was the headline on the cover of Der Spiegel weekly before his visit during the 2008 campaign. Some 200,000 Germans cheered him on. In this most recent issue of Der Spiegel, Eckhart notes the cover features Obama in Kennedy’s shadow with the tagline, „The Lost Friend“ and then it has an „angst-ridden report about fraying ties. "Kennedy's visit to Berlin was an almost ecstatic celebration of a protective alliance," it wrote. But it said nearly 70 years after World War II and two decades after the end of European communism, "the trip of (JFK's) no-less-charismatic successor will likely be a prosaic family gathering." Commentators note that Germans, like other ardent Obama supporters, are frustrated by impasses on slowing climate change and closing Guantanamo Bay prison.“ Needless to say, expectations are a LOT lower for Obama’s reception in Germany than they were five years ago.
*** Obama on Syria: So what did we learn from Obama’s Charlie Rose interview from last night? Well, he outlined his Syria policy (or as some argue, his non-policy) a bit more. “We know what it's like to rush into a war in the Middle East without having thought it through. And there are elements within the Middle East who see this entirely through the prism of a Shia-Sunni conflict and want the United States to simply take the side of the Sunnis,” he said. “And that I do not think serves American interests.” He went on to say, “And we have a legitimate need to be engaged and to be involved. But for us to do it in a careful calibrated way sometimes is unsatisfying, because what people really typically want is a clean solution, a silver bullet, ‘Here's what we're going to do,’ and we just move forward.”
*** Obama on NSA surveillance: In his interview with Charlie Rose, the president also commented on the controversies surrounding the NSA surveillance programs. “The way I view it, my job is both to protect the American people and to protect the American way of life which includes our privacy,” he said. “And so every program that we engage in, what I've said is ‘Let's examine and make sure that we're making the right tradeoffs.’” He went on to say, “If you're a U.S. person, then NSA is not listening to your phone calls and it's not targeting your emails unless it's getting an individualized court order.” Obama’s comments came as a new Pew poll shows that Americans are split on the NSA surveillance story, with 49% saying that Edward Snowden’s release of the classified information serves the public interest, versus 44% who say it harms the public interest. (Strikingly, younger people strongly say that the NSA leak serves the public interest, which might not be that surprisingly given that the younger generation has a greater expectation that things are more open and transparent.) Also today, the House Intelligence Committee holds an open hearing at 10:00 am ET with NSA Director Keith Alexander.
*** Obama closer than ever to replacing Bernanke? Perhaps the biggest news that Obama made in the Charlie Rose interview was that Ben Bernanke isn’t going to serve another term as Fed chairman. Why? Because Obama spoke of his service in the past tense. ROSE: “Some people would like to see you announce that you are reappointing Ben Bernanke as chairman of the Fed.” OBAMA: “Well, I think Ben Bernanke's done an outstanding job. Ben Bernanke's a little bit like Bob Mueller, the head of the FBI where he's already stayed a lot longer than he wanted or he was supposed to.” ROSE: “But if he wanted to be reappointed, you would reappoint him?” OBAMA: “He has been an outstanding partner along with the White House, in helping us recover much stronger than, for example, our European partners, from what could have been an economic crisis of epic proportions.”
*** McCaskill backs “Ready for Hillary” group: In 2016 news today, the group “Ready for Hillary” announced the support of Sen. Claire McCaskill, whom it says is the first member of Congress to get on board of the Super PAC that’s supporting Hillary’s candidacy (though that doesn’t have official ties with the former Secretary of State). It’s also notable because McCaskill was an early Obama supporter in ’08. This McCaskill news comes after former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm has been assisting Ready for Hillary, too. One thing that was clear to us yesterday, there seems to be a concerted effort to recruit prominent Democratic women early to Hillary’s side. That said, let’s everybody take a deep breath and realize, the only “news” a top Democratic official can make now about 2016 is announcing their intention NOT to support Clinton. At this point, announcing support for her is not exactly NEWS.
*** House to vote on abortion ban: Remember when, right after the 2012 election, Republican establishment types wanted to move beyond abortion and the culture war? Well, months later House Republicans today hold a vote on a measure that would prohibit abortion after 20-22 weeks of pregnancy. The New York Times: “Aware of the risks inherent in abortion politics, Republican leaders have moved to insulate themselves from Democrats’ criticism that they are opening a new front in the “war on women.” Representative Marsha Blackburn, Republican of Tennessee, will manage the debate on the bill when it reaches the House floor, a role that would customarily go to the sponsor, Representative Trent Franks of Arizona. And in a last-minute revision, House leaders slipped in a provision that would allow for a limited exception in cases of rape or incest, but only if the woman had reported the crime.” Those limited exceptions come after Franks drew criticism for saying that the incidents of pregnancy from rape were “very low.” Per NBC’s Frank Thorp, the vote takes place around 6:00 pm ET.
*** Biden to talk gun control: Meanwhile, at 1:00 pm ET, Vice President Biden delivers remarks on reducing gun violence. But after the administration’s defeat on the Senate background-check vote, Biden’s focus will be on the executive orders that the administration has pursued on guns. “Senior administration officials said the vice president will deliver a ‘progress report’ touting completion of a slew of executive actions — including writing emergency management plans for schools and churches and training police to respond to active shooters,” the Washington Post reports. “Sure, these steps might make communities safer and better prepared to respond to gun violence. But, gun-control advocates said, they are baby steps that do relatively little to prevent the next mass shooting.” More: “Biden plans to announce that the administration has completed or made significant progress in 21 of 23 executive actions first rolled out on Jan. 16, according to senior administration officials.”
*** (Not so) Great Scott: Folks, the fact that this new Quinnipiac poll is being touted as good news for incumbent Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) shows just how endangered he is come 2014. Yes, his approval rating has increased from 36% to 43% from 36%. And, yes, he’s now trailing Charlie Crist by 10 points (47%-37%) instead of 16 (50%-34%) in a hypothetical gubernatorial match up. But those are rough, rough numbers for a politician facing re-election next year. You never want to see your approval rating below 45%, and you never want your ballot number to be in the 30s…
*** Revenge is a dish best served … by running for office: After it became pretty clear that Senate Republicans wouldn’t allow Elizabeth Warren to officially head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Warren decided to run for the U.S. Senate, and she beat incumbent Republican Scott Brown. (It raises the question if Brown might still be in the Senate if Republicans had been willing to accept her appointment.) And now Donald Berwick -- who headed Medicare and Medicaid for the Obama administration as a recess appointee but who never even received a Senate confirmation hearing -- is following the Elizabeth Warren route. Yesterday, he announced he was running for Massachusetts’ open gubernatorial seat in 2014 as a Democrat. In addition, it’s possible that Richard Cordray, Obama’s recess appointment at the CFPB, could run for Ohio governor. As one plugged in Hill Democrat emails us, “Remember, there’s historic precedent for blocked nominees seeking revenge through future elected office. If things had gone differently in the 80s, Jeff Sessions would currently be toiling as an obscure federal judge in Alabama, not leading the charge against the immigration bill.”
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Here’s President Obama’s interview with Charlie Rose. It ranged from Syria and Iran to China and the NSA.
On Syria: “We know what it’s like to rush into a war in the Middle East without having thought it through.”
On Iran: "I do think that there's a possibility that they decide - the Iranians decide - to take us up on our offer to engage in a more serious substantive way," Obama said.
On China: “We had a very blunt conversation about cyber security.”
On the NSA, Obama said it “cannot and have not” listened to phone calls and “not targeting” phone calls, emails unless they get a warrant.
Asked if the program should be transparent, Obama claimed, “It is transparent, that’s why we set up the FISA court.” (Depends on your definition of transparency then.)
The Hill: “President Obama defended his administration’s domestic surveillance programs on Monday, arguing he has not abandoned freedom and is not just ‘Bush-Cheney lite.’ In an interview with PBS’s Charlie Rose, Obama argued it’s a ‘false choice’ to suggest freedom must be sacrificed to achieve security, a phrasing that echoes comments he made on the campaign trail in 2008. ‘To say there’s a tradeoff doesn’t mean somehow that we’ve abandoned freedom,’ Obama said.”
Obama defended U.S. action (or inaction) in Syria, per NBC’s Mike O’Brien: “[T]his argument that somehow we had gone in earlier, or heavier in some fashion, that the tragedy and chaos taking place in Syria wouldn’t be taking place, I think is wrong.”
The Hill: “President Obama failed on Monday to resolve disagreements with Russian leader Vladimir Putin about the proper international response to Syria's civil war.
Obama vowed after the two-hour meeting to not let his “differing perspectives” with Putin get in the way of closer cooperation on counter-terrorism, arms control and other issues.”
“President Barack Obama brought a campaigner’s mindset to the White House — but the roll-out of Obamacare marks the first time he’s adapted his campaign’s groundbreaking grassroots tactics to the task of turning policy into reality,” Politico writes. “A trio of Obama’s most experienced campaign operatives — one in the West Wing, two others in outside groups closely allied with Obama — are overseeing an effort to ensure that the Affordable Care Act, the president’s biggest legacy project, doesn’t turn into the failure the GOP predicts it will be.”
David Hawkings: “States may not demand proof of citizenship from people registering to vote, the Supreme Court ruled by a decisive 7-2 today. The majority signaled it would also be ready to strike down any requirement tougher than what’s set out in the 1993 federal “motor voter” law, which was designed by Congress to simplify registration. The decision, and the language behind it, is therefore a significant victory for mainstream Democrats, who want to expand access to the polls in part because they’re confident they’ll win most of the new voters. And it’s a defeat for mainstream Republicans, who express intense concern about the potential for election fraud but also know that polls show them doing poorly among groups underrepresented on the rolls — ethnic minorities, immigrants and older people.”
The court reconvenes Thursday and has 14 more decisions to hand down dealing with issues ranging from gay rights to affirmative action to voting rights.
But Ted Cruz says he’s not giving up the fight. In a tweet after the decision: “I'll file amendment to immigration bill that permits states to require ID before registering voters & close this hole in fed statutory law.”
“The White House is reporting progress on President Barack Obama’s initiatives to reduce gun violence, but says the most important step would be getting a reluctant Congress to pass new firearms laws,” AP writes. “Vice President Joe Biden was announcing Tuesday that the administration has completed or significantly advanced 21 of the 23 executive actions that Obama ordered in January in response to the Connecticut elementary school shooting that killed 20 first-graders and six staff members.”
She's not a presidential candidate yet but Hillary Clinton is already starting to pile up the endorsements.
Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill Tuesday added her support to a growing roster of Democratic activists pushing the former secretary of state to make another bid for the White House in 2016. The nudge gives Clinton a marquee, swing-state backer and could be an early glimpse at a major source of support for any potential campaign -- Democratic women in the U.S. Senate.
McCaskill announced her support for Clinton on the website of the group "Ready for Hillary," a super PAC which has looked to build grassroots fervor for a potential Clinton candidacy in 2016. The group is not tied directly to Clinton but has been aggressive in gathering support for a potential candidacy.
Larry Downing / Reuters file
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., speaks about pending legislation regarding sexual assaults in the military at a Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 4, 2013.
"Hillary Clinton had to give up her political operation while she was making us proud, representing us around the world as an incredible Secretary of State, and that’s why Ready for Hillary is so critical,” McCaskill said in a statement. “It’s important that we start early, building a grassroots army from the ground up, and effectively using the tools of the Internet – all things that President Obama did so successfully – so that if Hillary does decide to run, we’ll be ready to help her win.”
Speculation has grown in recent weeks about Clinton's political future. Just weeks after stepping down as Obama's Secretary of State, she started to re-enter public life. While she has been deliberately coy about her intentions in 2016, Clinton launched a Twitter account last week teasing her "to be determined" future plans. Her profile reads: "Wife, mom, lawyer, women & kids advocate, FLOAR, FLOTUS, US Senator, SecState, author, dog owner, hair icon, pantsuit aficionado, glass ceiling cracker, TBD..."
And in a major new policy push, she outlined new initiatives involving access to education and advancing women's issues at last week's "Clinton Global Initiative," another nod at her unique position as the most high-profile woman in American politics.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talks about holding onto the core belief of the American dream while speaking Thursday in Chicago.
While she has endured criticism from Republicans over last fall's terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya in which four Americans were killed, Clinton received a rare send-off from the president when she left office that included a joint interview that some observers saw as a passing-of-the-torch moment.
McCaskill is one of 16 Democratic women serving in the Senate, many of them representing key swing states like Michigan, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Minnesota. Regarded as a relative moderate, McCaskill won re-election to her second term in 2012. Though Missouri has trended slightly toward Republicans in recent statewide and presidential elections, it is still considered a "swing state" in relative terms — a state whose 10 electoral votes are important to winning an election.
McCaskill's early support for Clinton is even more noteworthy for the fact that she was an early supporter of Barack Obama's during the 2008 Democratic primary versus Clinton. The Missouri senator's support for Clinton reflects the manner in which a number of Obama supporters have now turned their sentiments to Clinton, who served as Obama's top diplomat during his first term.
This story was originally published on Tue Jun 18, 2013 8:29 AM EDT
Earlier action by the United States to arm rebels seeking Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad’s overthrow would not have meaningfully slow the violence in that country’s ongoing civil war, President Barack Obama said in his first extensive comments about the situation in Syria.
Obama defended his administration’s handling of the protracted Syrian civil war following the U.S. government’s announcement late Friday that it would provide military and economic aid to rebel groups looking to oust Assad.
The decision – following Obama’s determination that Assad had used chemical weapons, crossing the president’s “red line” for U.S. involvement – has been beset by criticism that the United States waited too long to act, and faces deep resistance among most Americans.
A look back at the conflict that has overtaken the country.
“[T]his argument that somehow we had gone in earlier, or heavier in some fashion, that the tragedy and chaos taking place in Syria wouldn’t be taking place, I think is wrong,” Obama told talk show host Charlie Rose in an interview which was taped on Sunday, but aired Monday evening.
The president went on to say, “I don’t think that anybody would suggest that somehow that there was a ready-made military opposition inside of Syria that could somehow quickly and cleanly defeated the Syrian army or Assad or overthrown it.”
The White House announced on Friday evening that it had decided to amplify its support for rebels in Syria – most notably the Supreme Military Council – after having determined with a high degree of Syria that Assad’s fighters had used weapons of mass destruction (namely, the nerve agent sarin) in its violent clashes with rebel groups.
The use of chemical weapons crosses the “red line” established by Obama in August 2012, which he said would prompt further U.S. involvement. But the administration’s pivot also follows acknowledgements earlier this year that Assad was likely to have used chemical weapons, which prompted some Republicans to push the administration to act sooner.
The issue of Syria is expected to be the central matter of discussion at this week’s G-8 summit in Northern Ireland. On that matter, the U.S. and its European allies faces stiff resistance from a lone G-8 member, Russia, whose leader, President Vladimir Putin, has been generally supportive of Assad.
In the interview on Sunday, Obama sought to defend his handling of the situation in Syria while straddle a delicate balance between committing to more involvement in Syria and justifying U.S. intervention in the first place.
“Unless you’ve been involved in those conversations, then it’s kind of hard for you to understand that the complexity of the situation and how we have to not rush into one more war in the Middle East,” the president said, describing the months of deliberations among his national security staff in the White House situation room.
Obama said that his team had long been frustrated by the lack of any “silver bullet” it could use against the Assad regime. The president explained that the U.S. lacked any discernible opposition group with which they could partner until recently.
President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin talk about their conversations regarding Syria at the G-8 summit Monday.
What prompted the U.S. to act, Obama asserted, was the use of chemical weapons, as well as frustration that a political solution to the civil strife in Syria had become much less likely. But Obama argued that the new, increased involvement by the U.S. was justified on both humanitarian and geopolitical grounds.
“[T]he fact of the matter is, is that we've got serious interests there, and not only humanitarian interests, we can't have the situation of ongoing chaos in a major country that borders a country like Jordan which in turn borders Israel,” Obama said. “And we have a legitimate need to be engaged and to be involved.”
The matter of Syria is just one of the delicate topics on the agenda at the G-8, and the issue is fraught with complicated politics back home for Obama, as well. Senior lawmakers in both parties have begun to openly question whether the administration’s decision to become more involved in Syria will make much of a difference.
“Last year, Assad was isolated, he had very few friends, he was hanging by a thread,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a proponent of increased action in Syria, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “This year, he's entrenched with Hezbollah, Iran, and Russia.”
Said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on CNN: “You can't just simply send them, you know, a pea shooter against a blunder bust at the end of the day. Our vital national security interests – you know, time is not on our side, and our vital national security interests will not be pursued.”
But Obama also faces countervailing pressure from the American public, only further putting the president in a difficult spot on the matter of Syria. A whopping 70 percent of Americans – including 71 percent of Republicans, 74 percent of independents and 66 percent of Democrats – said in a Pew Research Center poll released Monday that they opposed the U.S. and its allies sending arms to anti-government forces in Syria.
This story was originally published on Mon Jun 17, 2013 11:00 PM EDT
Organizing for Action -- the old Obama campaign apparatus -- is out with its first TV ad, and it defends the federal health-care law.
"What the impact of ObamaCare?" the ad's narrator asks asks. "The truth is, Americans are already seeing the benefits. She's seeing more seniors for free wellness visits. He received a $150 rebate from his health insurance company. And next year, she can expand her small business -- thanks to tax credits that cover up to half of her workers' health insurance."
The ad concludes, "Better coverage and lower costs -- that's what ObamaCare means for them. Get all the facts at BarackObama.com/HealthCare." NBC News has learned the ad is airing on national cable news, and it's part of a seven-figure ad buy over the summer.
This ad comes as the most recent NBC/WSJ poll found that just 37 percent of Americans said the health-care law was a good idea, versus 49 percent who said it was a bad idea.
That 49 percent on bad idea was the highest negative rating on that question since the NBC/WSJ poll began asking it in 2009.
It also comes as the law's opponents have outspent supporters on TV ads by a 5-to-1 ratio since 2010, per Kantar Media CMAG.
Cold War tensions are back as G-8 summit begins… A test of Obama’s international leadership… Cheney vs. Gore on NSA surveillance… New Yorker: Everything you wanted to know about the Gang of Eight... Boehner to abide by Hastert Rule on immigration?... What does Rowhani’s win mean for the U.S.?... Poll: Markey leads Gomez by double digits… And Manchin gears up … for 2018!!!
President Obama has landed in Belfast, Northern Ireland, for this year's G-8 summit, where he and most of the nation's western allies are expected to discuss propping up Syrian opposition in the country's civil war. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.
*** Cold War tensions are back: As the G-8 summit in Northern Ireland begins today, we probably aren’t the only ones having flashbacks to the early 1980s. With Russia alone among the G-8 nations in backing the governing Assad regime, the old divides have resurfaced in dramatic ways. On Sunday, Russian President Putin publicly lectured British Prime Minister David Cameron on Syria in a joint appearance, saying, “As regards to the supplies of weapons to the Assad government, … I believe you will not deny that the blood is on the hands of both parties. ... And there’s always a question, who is to be blamed for that?” A new Snowden-leak story about how the U.S. and British intelligence agencies eavesdropped on world leaders -- including then-Russian President Medvedev -- at a London conference in 2009 is sure to add to the tensions. And if that wasn’t enough, there’s a new allegation from New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft who claims Putin stole one of his Super Bowl rings. All of this is the backdrop when President Obama meets with Putin at 6:30 pm ET.
*** A test of Obama’s international leadership: As we wrote on Friday, this G-8 summit has become a test of Obama’s second-term international leadership. Can he stare down Putin? Can he keep the Western allies on the same page when it comes to arming the Syrian opposition? Can he articulate exactly what the U.S. strategy is beyond just hoping Assad will step aside and allow a political peace process to begin? Bill Clinton’s criticism of the president’s Syrian policy wasn’t nearly as impactful domestically as it was internationally. All this comes at a time when the president appears, well, a tad smaller today than he the last time he was in Europe. Over the past month, little has gone well for the administration as it’s been nicked by several different cuts -- Syria, the NSA leaks and surveillance debate, and the IRS story. And now there’s a new CNN poll showing that Obama’s approval rating has declined to 45%. As Team Obama is fond of saying, everyone gets their turn in the barrel. And right now, the Obama folks are definitely in the barrel. The potential good for them: That situation can always change. Indeed, it was just a year ago when the Obama campaign suffered a tough spell in May and June (poor jobs reports, “the private sector is doing fine”), and that situation changed in July, August, and September. Perhaps it’s a June thing. What they have to hope it’s not is some sort of second-term pall setting over them because that can be hard to shake. Appearance or illusion of weakness only creates actual political weakness. Bottom line: Obama needs to some meaningful progress, and it must gall him that his fate, at least internationally when it comes to Syria, is in the hands of Putin.
*** Cheney vs. Gore on NSA surveillance: Here’s a fun exercise -- looking at the NSA surveillance debate through the lens of two former vice presidents: Dick Cheney and Al Gore. For starters, Cheney “told ‘Fox News Sunday’ the National Security Agency-led programs have to remain confidential to keep the information from enemies and that he and other U.S. intelligence officials were concerned about a nuclear attack. ‘It was 19 guys with box cutters and airplane tickets,’ but the next time it could have been a ‘nuclear attack,’ the 72-year-old Cheney said. He said former NSA contractor Edward Snowden exposing the gathering of information on phone calls and emails has done ‘enormous damage’ to the United States' anti-terror programs and called Snowden a ‘traitor.’” And here’s Gore, via National Journal: “In a long interview with The Guardian published on Friday, Gore said that the NSA surveillance is ‘not really the American way.’ And that's not the least of it: ‘This in my view violates the constitution. The fourth amendment and the first amendment—and the fourth amendment language is crystal clear...It is not acceptable to have a secret interpretation of a law that goes far beyond any reasonable reading of either the law or the constitution and then classify as top secret what the actual law is.’” It’s time for someone to step up and moderate a debate on surveillance between these two -- we are happy to moderate!
President Barack Obama gestures during a speech at the Belfast Waterfront on Monday, June 17, 2013, in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
*** Everything you wanted to know about the Gang of Eight: As the Senate begins another week debating the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” immigration reform legislation, don’t miss Ryan Lizza’s New Yorker piece. It has everything you needed to know about the politics inside the Gang of Eight -- the McCain-Schumer relationship and how it developed, the tension between McCain and Rubio, improved relations between Schumer and Dick Durbin, and even McCain taking some of the blame for the bad relationship with the White House. (Another sign the Old McCain is back?) Bottom line takeaway from this piece: This is Chuck Schumer's show, he put this team together, and he seems to be keeping them together.
*** Boehner to abide by the Hastert Rule on immigration? But that’s the Senate. When it comes to the House, the Washington Examiner’s David Drucker reports that Speaker John Boehner won’t bring any immigration-reform legislation to the House floor if it doesn’t have a majority of Republicans backing it, according to sources familiar with Boehner’s plans. From the piece: “One GOP strategist noted that Boehner is navigating a different set of dynamics than Reid in the Senate. In particular, House Republicans are likely to suffer a greater voter backlash in the 2014 elections is they back the wrong immigration reform bill than they would if they simply did nothing on the issue. ‘There is no national crisis with an artificial deadline the president can trump up and trot out on the nightly news,’ the GOP strategist said. ‘Boehner is under no pressure to put the Senate bill on the floor.’” Make no mistake: Boehner is facing two different pressures: 1) from Republicans who are convinced that the GOP must fix its problems with Latino voters; and 2) from conservatives in his caucus who are opposed to immigration reform -- and, frankly, anything President Obama is supporting. The question is: Which pressure will win out?
*** What does Rowhani’s win mean for the U.S.? Turning to international politics, there was a PRETTY BIG development in Iran over the weekend: In a surprise, the most moderate of the actual candidates Hassan Rowhani won that country’s presidential contest. The New York Times: “But while the election of the new president, Hassan Rowhani, a former nuclear negotiator who is considered a moderate compared with the other candidates, was greeted by some administration officials as the best of all likely outcomes, they said it did not change the fact that only the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, would make the final decision about any concessions to the West. Even so, they said they wanted to test Mr. Rowhani quickly, noting that although he argued for a moderate tone in dealing with the United States and its allies when he was a negotiator, he also boasted in 2006 that Iran had used a previous suspension of nuclear enrichment to make.”
*** Poll: Markey leads Gomez by double digits: Before next week’s special Senate election in Massachusetts, a Boston Globe poll released on Sunday shows Ed Markey (D) leading Gabriel Gomez (R) by double digits among likely voters, 54%-43%. One of the reasons why Gomez is trailing is that he isn’t running up the score among independents, which a Republican candidate needs to do in order to win in deep-blue Massachusetts. “Gomez is the candidate poll respondents find more likable and he holds the lead among unenrolled voters — the critical bloc of independents whose support he’ll need to top a Democrat in Massachusetts. But that margin is only 9 percentage points. Analysts believe that for a Republican to win in Massachusetts, he must win the unenrolled vote by a 2-to-1 margin.”
*** Manchin gears up … for 2018! Are we the only ones who think Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and his political team are overreacting a bit here? After all, Manchin isn’t up for re-election until 2018!!!! “Sen. Joe Manchin, co-author of a plan to expand background checks on gun sales, is launching a TV ad to defend himself from attacks by the powerful National Rifle Association,” Politico says. “Manchin will begin running the TV ad later this week, although details on how much the West Virginia Democrat will spend on the ad buy and its content were still being finalized on Sunday. Manchin will pay for the ad out of his reelection campaign.” If you were wondering if Manchin was going to run for re-election, well you have your answer -- 5 ½ years early!
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“President Barack Obama on Monday invoked America’s own struggles with tolerance as he praised the peace achieved so far in Northern Ireland and urged young people to play a role in shaping a positive future for their country,” Politico writes. “‘And I know because in America, we too have had to work hard over the decades, slowly, gradually, sometimes painfully in fits and starts to keep protecting our union,’ Obama said in a speech in Belfast ahead of meetings with G8 leaders. Citing the Civil War, segregation and laws banning interracial marriage — ‘my own parents’ marriage would have been illegal in certain states’ — he continued, ‘but over time, laws changed, and hearts and minds changed, sometimes driven by courageous lawmakers, but more often driven by committed citizens.’”
“President Barack Obama is taking a security, foreign policy and economic agenda to Northern Ireland for a meeting with heads of the leading industrial nations,” AP writes. “He’s looking for consensus on Syria while pushing for common ground on trade, economic growth and tax policies.”
CNN/ORC has President Obama’s approval falling to 45%, down eight points in a month. His “honest and trustworthy” score has dropped as well to 49%, down from 58%. Now, a majority (50%) say he’s not.
Friday dump alert: The White House released a list of five ambassador picks Friday afternoon. Two of the picks are, once again, major bundlers picked for plum posts, and one was the finance director for his 2012 reelection campaign. James Costos, who bundled $500,000 for Obama in 2012, was picked as ambassador to Spain. John Emerson raised at least $500,000 in 2012 and $100,000 in 2008, was named as the nominee for Germany (replacing another big donor), and Rufus Gifford was the finance chairman of Obama for America in 2011 and 2012, as well as the finance chairman for the Presidential Inaugural Committee. Two career Foreign Service Officers were named to posts in Brazil and Ethiopia and Ken Hackett, the ex-president of Catholic Relief Services, was named ambassador to the Vatican.
“The White House says President Barack Obama and South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye (goon-hay) have discussed North Korea’s proposal for high-level talks with the U.S.,” AP writes. “The two leaders spoke by phone Sunday evening ahead of Obama’s trip to Northern Ireland for G-8 meetings.”
Unlike former President George W. Bush, who has stayed away from criticizing President Obama (and has seen an uptick in his favorability ratings), Vice President Dick Cheney didn’t have a lot of nice things to say about Obama on FOX Sunday, despite defending the NSA policies. By the way, in 2010, Vice President Dick Cheney’s favorability rating was 36%/52%, according to Gallup.
Another ex-vice president, Al Gore, tells The Guardian he thinks the NSA surveillance is unconstitutional. "I quite understand the viewpoint that many have expressed that they are fine with it and they just want to be safe but that is not really the American way," Gore said. "Benjamin Franklin famously wrote that those who would give up essential liberty to try to gain some temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
More: "This in my view violates the constitution. The fourth amendment and the first amendment – and the fourth amendment language is crystal clear," he said. "It is not acceptable to have a secret interpretation of a law that goes far beyond any reasonable reading of either the law or the constitution and then classify as top secret what the actual law is."
Political Wire: New York Post: "New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft revealed the real story behind a 2005 meeting with Vladimir Putin, during which the Russian president pocketed his Super Bowl ring, worth more than $25,000. Kraft, at the time, claimed the diamond-encrusted bauble was a gift, but he now admits Putin stole it, and the White House intervened when he demanded it back."