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Obama Looking for Reasons to Delay Response on Syria

National Journal

IN THE NEWS: Administration believes chemical weapons used in Syria … Boston bomb suspects planned NYC attack … Bush feted at presidential library opening … Exemptions for Hill staffers on insurance exchanges? … Bill Clinton joins Twitter – for real

THE TAKE

Obama Looking for Reasons to Delay Response on Syria

It would seem to add up to certain U.S. military action: On Thursday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the United States now believes “the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically, the chemical agent sarin."

That finding appears to be a direct violation of the “red line” and “game-changer” for action that President Obama has set.

In truth, the same game is still going on, and the administration appears to be equivocating over a response while all the “facts” are established. “We want to continue to investigate above and beyond those intelligence estimates,” a senior administration official told reporters on Thursday afternoon, in order to gain “a definitive judgment for whether a red line has been crossed.”

Some of the usual U.S. hawks called for immediate action, and even Obama ally Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., issued a statement indicating the administration’s credibility was at stake on the matter.

The administration remains very leery of getting directly involved in Syria, but the question is, at what cost? Read more

Michael Hirsh
mhirsh@nationaljournal.com 

TOP NEWS

HAGEL, WHITE HOUSE FIND SOME EVIDENCE OF SYRIAN CHEMICAL-WEAPON USE. In a letter to lawmakers on Thursday, the Obama administration said it had seen some evidence that government forces have used the deadly chemical sarin in the Syrian civil war, Bloomberg reports. But the assessment is “not sufficient” to take action, the letter reads. In Abu Dhabi, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made similar statements. Intelligence officials have determined in the last 24 hours, “with varying degrees of confidence,” that Syria has used small amounts of chemical weapons. In Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry clarified, saying there was evidence of “two instances” of chemical weapon use. Read more

TSARNAEV TOLD AUTHORITIES: NEW YORK CITY WAS NEXT TARGET. New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev told authorities that he and his brother planned to use their remaining explosives in New York City, the Associated Press reports. The answers came during the 16 hours of interrogation before Tsarnaev was read his Miranda rights, after which he stopped responding. Officials were able to question the suspect without reading him his rights under an immediate public-safety exemption.

  • Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports the CIA pushed to have Dzhokhar’s older brother and second suspect, Tamerlan, placed on a U.S. counterterrorism watch list more than a year before the attacks. Read more

FIVE LIVING PRESIDENTS ATTEND GEORGE W. BUSH CENTER DEDICATION. President Obama and the four living former presidents came together in Dallas today for the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center on the campus of Southern Methodist University. Bush closed his remarks by saying, “It was the honor of a lifetime to lead a country as brave and as noble as the United States.” Read more

SENATE WEIGHING END TO AIR-TRAFFIC CONTROLLER FURLOUGHS. Senate leaders are negotiating a potential solution to flight delays caused by furloughs of air-traffic controllers, Reuters reports. A measure could be attached to pending legislation on Internet sales taxes, and could come up for a vote as early as today. Possible solutions involve authorizing the Federal Aviation Administration to transfer money within its budget to fully fund the salaries of the air-traffic controllers. Read more

HOUSE, SENATE LEADERS NEGOTIATING WITH WHITE HOUSE OVER INSURANCE EXCHANGE EXEMPTIONS. Congressional leaders from both parties, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and administration officials are engaged in discussions on the possibility of exempting members and their staffs from the health insurance exchanges established by the Affordable Care Act, Politico reports. Lawmakers are concerned that the Hill will experience a “brain drain” if the government does not subsidize staffers’ insurance premiums. According to a source, “Everyone has to hold hands on this and jump, or nothing is going to get done.” Read more

  • @ChadPegram: Reid spox: There are not now..nor will there ever be any discussions about exempting members of Congress (from the Affordable Care Act).

HOUSE JUDICIARY CHAIR: COMMITTEE WILL TAKE ‘STEP-BY-STEP APPROACH’ TO IMMIGRATION REFORM. The House is set to tackle immigration reform, but it will take a piecemeal approach rather than the comprehensive one favored by the Senate “Gang of Eight,” The Hill reports. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said Thursday that Republicans would introduce two pieces of legislation this week -- one that would establish an employment-verification system and another to create a guest-worker program for agriculture. Read more

  • National Journal’s Shane Goldmacher reports that Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., believes the immigration bill needs more than 60 votes to get traction in the House.

AT FUNDRAISER, OBAMA VOWS TO KEEP REACHING ACROSS AISLE. Speaking to a group of Democratic donors Wednesday night, President Obama pledged to continue reaching out to Republican lawmakers, despite criticism he has weathered from some Democrats who think he is too acquiescent, The New York Times reports. “Occasionally I may make some of you angry because I’m going to reach out to Republicans, and I’m going to keep on doing it,” he said. “Even if some of you think I’m a sap, I’m going to keep on doing it because that’s what I think the country needs.” The fundraiser was held for 60 donors who paid between $10,000 and $32,400 to attend. Read more

BILL CLINTON JOINS TWITTER FOR REAL, GETS LESSON FROM COLBERT. Former President Clinton, appearing on Comedy Central’s Colbert Report via video on Wednesday, joined Twitter, adopting the handle @BillClinton. Clinton selected the moniker over the one host Stephen Colbert had chosen for him during Clinton’s trip to the show earlier this month, @PrezBillyJeff. Clinton received a tutorial from Colbert during Wednesday’s show. Read more

TOMORROW

GDP TO BE RELEASED. First-quarter gross domestic product figures will be released by the Commerce Department Friday morning. Economists are forecasting growth of about 3 percent. The Washington Post’s Neil Irwin writes that while the report is expected to be strong, “beware its weak underbelly.” Read more

OBAMA TO ADDRESS PLANNED PARENTHOOD, HOST KING OF JORDAN. On Friday, the president will address the Planned Parenthood gala. He will also host King Abdullah II of Jordan at the White House.

APPROPRIATIONS SUBCOMMITTEE TO HOLD FDA BUDGET HEARING. A House Appropriations Subcommittee will hold a hearing on the budget for the Food and Drug Administration. FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg will be a witness, among others. Read more

QUOTABLE

"He's by far the best qualified man, but no. I really don't. I think it's a great country, there are a lot of great families, and it's not just four families or whatever. There are other people out there that are very qualified, and we've had enough Bushes." — Former first lady Barbara Bush, on whether she wants her son, Jeb Bush, to run for president in 2016. (NBC’s Today)

BEDTIME READING

INSIDE THE KILLING OF ANWAR AL-AWLAKI. “At the White House, President Obama was faced with a decision—not of morality or legality, but of timing. He had already sentenced Anwar al-Awlaki to death without trial,” writes Jeremy Scahill for The Nation. The United States had tracked the “radical cleric” to a house in Jawf, Yemen. But officials knew there were children in the house, possibly including Awlaki’s son. “ ‘Bring it to me and let me decide in the reality of the moment rather than in the abstract,’ Obama told his advisers, according to author Daniel Klaidman.... ‘In this one instance,’ an Obama confidant told Klaidman, ‘the president considered relaxing some of his collateral requirements.’ ” Ultimately, the U.S. did go forward with an attack on the home, and Awlaki’s son was there. Both died in the attack. Scahill takes readers behind the scenes of the lead-up to -- and fallout from -- the attack, which rankled legal activists and sparked a public debate about U.S. drone strike policy. Read more

PLAY OF THE DAY

LOOKING BACK AT BUSH, LOOKING FORWARD TO MARS. In anticipation of the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, late-night hosts have been dusting off jokes from the previous decade. David Letterman spent most of his monologue on Bush, showing the audience a highlight reel of physical Bush gags. He also examined recent polling that suggests the American public misses the 43rd president and showed an illustration of what Dick Cheney’s library might look like. This week, photos of NASA’s Mars rover’s track marks on the red planet took the Internet by storm. On Comedy Central, Stephen Colbert found the craft’s suggestive pattern to be a triumph around which Americans can unite. Watch it here

TODAY’S CHART

THE ONE CHART THAT COULD SEVER OBAMA’S COALITION. What could dissolve the powerful electoral coalition that powered both of President Obama’s victories? The latest Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll points to the greatest risk: continuing economic dissatisfaction. Read more

TOP TWEETS

 

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