The Din: Afghanistan Looms for Obama, but Palin Dominates Another News Cycle

By Gorman Gorman

Nov 13, 2009 8:24am

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: Think President Obama misses being on American soil?

Democrats, in November, are looking for new ideas to pay for health care… and Republicans are now warring over abortion, too… there’s rumblings inside the top levels of the administration… a major Gitmo announcement is coming Friday… we’re about to get in deeper in Afghanistan, but only if it brings us closer to the way out… George W. Bush wants smaller government…

But this is Sarah Palin’s world — and that’s really all we can see from our porches right now.

There may be no better example of the power and perils associated with the former governor of Alaska than what we’ll see over the next week.

There is precisely one superstar in the Republican Party — and she happens, by choice, not to hold elected office, or feel as if she owes much of anything to anyone in the party establishment. (And you thought tea parties might be dangerous?)

On this Friday the 13th, the Palin craze is starting a few days earlier than anticipated — with Oprah and an early copy of the book coming before the Barbara Walters interviews next week.

According to the AP, which got hold of a copy of “Going Rogue” a few days early, Palin writes she was “bottled up” by the McCain campaign, and decries the “jaded aura” of political operatives.

This breaks some china — and is specific enough for dispute: “She says that most of her legal bills were generated defending what she called frivolous ethics complaints, but she reveals that about $50,000 was a bill she received to pay for the McCain campaign vetting her for the VP nod,” the AP’s Richard T. Pienciak writes. “She said when she asked the McCain campaign if it would help her financially, she was told McCain’s camp would have paid all the bills if he’d won; since he lost, the vetting legal bills were her responsibility.”

And, cue: “To my knowledge, the campaign did not receive any bill from Gov. Palin for legal expenses connected to her vetting, nor did the campaign ask her to pay any vetting-related expenses,” Trevor Potter, a lawyer for the McCain presidential campaign, told USA Today’s Kathy Kiely.

Drudge has an excerpt from the section on Nicolle Wallace pushing for the Katie Couric interview: “She just has such low self-esteem,” Wallace is quoted as saying of Couric. “Katie [wants] people to like her… She wants you to like her.”

Writes Palin: “Hearing all that, I almost started to feel sorry for her. Katie had tried to make a bold move from lively morning gal to serious anchor, but the new assignment wasn’t going very well.”

ABC’s Kate Snow, on “Good Morning America” Friday: “Last year, she had a campaign bus; this year, the bus will be wrapped with the front cover of her new book. . . . It’s payback time.”

ABC’s George Stephanopoulos: “There’s no question that this book tour can put her in a position to run.”

Get set: “The rollout for former Alaska governor Sarah Palin’s highly anticipated and score-settling memoir began Thursday with all the orchestrated stagecraft, wild accusations, inconvenient leaks and media fascination that characterized her campaign as Sen. John McCain’s running mate during the 2008 presidential race,” Jason Horowitz and Michael D. Shear write in The Washington Post.

The responses from former McCain aides are mostly anonymous — so far: “John McCain offered her the opportunity of a lifetime, and during the campaign it seems that, for all of her mistakes, she is searching for people to blame,” said one former senior official in the McCain campaign. “We don’t need to go through this again.”

Another broadside, in Palin’s interview with Oprah, on the fallout from the Couric interview: “The campaign said, ‘Right on. Good. You’re showing your independence.  This is what America needs to see and it was a good interview,’ ” Palin said. “And of course I’m thinking, if you thought that was a good interview, I don’t know what a bad interview is, because I knew it wasn’t a good interview.”

(She goes easy on Levi Johnston, and Levi thinks he knows why: “She knows what I got on her. It’s a smart move on her part,” Johnston said Thursday, at the Fleshbot awards. Yes, it is what you think it is. You absolutely, positively, cannot make this stuff up.)

The president is in Japan Friday, and held a news conference with Prime Minister Hatoyama Friday morning.

On Afghanistan: “I don’t think this is a matter of some datum of information I’m waiting on,” the president said. “It is a matter of making certain that when I send the young men and women into war, and I devote billions of dollars of US taxpayer money, that it’s making us safer.”

And on the Gitmo announcement: “I’m absolutely convinced that Khalid Sheikh Mohammad will be subject to the most exacting demands of justice. The American people insist on it. My administration will insist on it.”

More on that front, per the AP: “An Obama administration official says accused Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other Guantanamo Bay detainees will be sent to New York to face trial in a civilian federal court. The official tells The Associated Press that Attorney General Eric Holder is scheduled to announce the decision later Friday morning.”

On the president’s agenda Friday, per ABC’s Sunlen Miller: “The White House says that it is likely the President and Prime Minister will discuss the controversial Futenma base issue, but did not anticipate an agreement coming out of their meetings today.”

Looming over everything is Afghanistan.

Getting out, as we get deeper in: “President Barack Obama is seeking an approach to eventually ending U.S. involvement in Afghanistan even as he weighs a possible expansion of the American military role in the conflict,” Bloomberg’s Edwin Chen and Viola Gienger write.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates: “How do we signal resolve and at the same time signal to the Afghans as well as to the American people that this isn’t an open-ended commitment?”

AP dispatch from Friday morning: “President Obama aimed Friday to shore up relations with a new Japanese government vowing to be more assertive with its U.S. ally, even as he grapples with sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.”

“The key sticking points appear to be timelines and mounting questions about the credibility of the Afghan government,” an administration official tells ABC’s Jake Tapper. “After years of substantial investments by the American people, governance in Afghanistan must improve in a reasonable period of time to ensure a successful transition to our Afghan partner.”

Anyone shocked that he’s after middle ground? “President Barack Obama wants to blend together elements of the different troop-increase options presented to him Wednesday to formulate a new strategy for the Afghan war, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday,” The Wall Street Journal’s Peter Spiegel writes.

What else Gates is saying, on all the leaks: “Everybody out there ought to just shut up,” he said, per ABC’s Kirit Radia.

What the president is saying: “We’ll give you the strategy and clear mission you deserve,” Obama said at his stop-off in Anchorage, per ABC’s Rachel Martin.

Casualties of the war over the war: “The Obama administration’s internal debate over Afghan policy has escalated into a battle of media leaks that’s straining relations between officials who’re seeking a major troop increase and those who want a more limited approach and a greater focus on domestic priorities,” McClatchy’s Jonathan S. Landay, Dion Nissenbaum and John Walcott report.

“The feud also has poisoned ties between the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan and the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, and left the administration struggling for leverage to press Afghan President Hamid Karzai to appoint untainted officials to his new government, attack corruption and share power with the parliament and provincial officials.”

RNC scrambling, then action: “The chairman of the Republican National Committee announced late Thursday that he is unilaterally ending coverage of elective abortion u nder the RNC’s Cigna health-care plan,” per ABC’s Teddy Davis.

“Money from our loyal donors should not be used for this purpose,” said RNC Chair Michael Steele in a written statement. “I don’t know why this policy existed in the past, but it will not exist under my administration. Consider this issue settled.”

Per Politico’s Jonathan Allen and Meredith Shiner, who broke the story Thursday: “Federal Election Commission Records show the RNC purchases its insurance from Cigna, and two sales agents for the company said that the RNC’s policy covers elective abortion. As of Thursday, the RNC’s plan covers elective abortion — a procedure the party’s own platform calls ‘a fundamental assault on innocent human life.’ ”

On health care — liberal groups targeting Democrats, again: Health Care for America Now has new TV ads launching, in Nebraska and Arkansas. From the release going out Friday: “The ads customized for each state and titled ‘Debate’ will run for one week starting today in Fort Smith, Jonesboro, and Little Rock, Arkansas and in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. The total advertising buy is approximately $310,000. The spot explains that while the nation has been discussing health care reform for months, it’s now time for the full Senate to begin its official debate.”

As first reported by the AP’s David Espo: “[Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid is apparently considering an increase in the Medicare payroll tax rate for workers with incomes of more than $250,000 a year, Senate aides said. One idea is to increase the tax rate by one-half of 1 percentage point, to 1.95 percent for high-income people, with an expectation that the government could raise $40 billion to $50 billion over 10 years,” Robert Pear reports in The New York Times.

W. speaks: “I went against my free-market instincts and approved a temporary government intervention to unfreeze the credit markets so that we could avoid a major global depression,” former President George W. Bush said at the unveiling of the George W. Bush Presidential Center at Southern Methodist University, per ABC’s Devin Dwyer and Evan Harris. They write: “And without mentioning President Obama by name the former President did have some rather pointed comments for the current Administration claiming that generally ‘history shows that the greater threat to prosperity is not too little government involvement, but too much.’ ”

“As the world recovers, we will face a temptation to replace the risk-and-reward model of the private sector with the blunt instruments of government spending and control,” Bush said, per Joseph Curl of the Washington Times.

More adieus: “The White House counsel, Gregory B. Craig, has told associates that he intends to step down from his post on Friday, putting to rest long-running speculation about whether he would remain as President Obama’s top lawyer,” Jeff Zeleny writes in The New York Times. “Mr. Craig had been at the center of controversial decisions over whether to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as well as revising administration policies on the interrogation and detention of prisoners. For months, questions have circulated inside the White House about his status, but an official said early Friday that Mr. Craig had made the decision to resign.”

ABC’s Jake Tapper: “Craig will be replaced by attorney Bob Bauer, who has served as President Obama’s private attorney. Bauer will start work in December, so as to help create a seamless transition.”

In Massachusetts, with few distinctions, some endorsements: “Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York, a Medford native, is endorsing City Year cofounder Alan Khazei,” per The Boston Globe’s Matt Viser. “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is set to endorse US Representative Michael E. Capuano, a coup for any challenger to [Martha] Coakley, who is seeking to become the first female US senator from Massachusetts.”

Boosting a 2012er — David Brooks really likes Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.: “If you wanted a Republican with the same general body type and athletic grace as Barack Obama, you’d pick Thune,” Brooks writes in his column. “Republicans are still going to have to do root-and-branch renovation if they hope to provide compelling answers to issues like middle-class economic anxiety. But in the meantime, people like Thune offer Republicans a way to connect fiscal discipline with traditional small-town values, a way to tap into rising populism in a manner that is optimistic, uplifting and nice.”

The Kicker:

“Are you tough enough to come here to Massachusetts … So Stephen, are you willing to come?” — Senate candidate Alan Khazei, D-Mass., in a challenge to Stephen Colbert — and looking for a way to get another debate.

“I wouldn’t say they’re making up numbers, but there are no standards or consistency.” –  Nevada Controller Kim Wallin, a Democrat, to the Las Vegas Sun, on how the stimulus is being tracked.

For up-to-the-minute political updates check out The Note’s blog . . . all day every day:

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