By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
In politics as in physics, nature abhors a vacuum, and with so many unanswered questions, the situation in Libya feels like that vacuum.
Happy to fill that void are Republicans eager to take advantage of the opportunity to push President Obama off his stride.
“I respect your authority as commander in chief and support our troops as they carry out their mission,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, wrote in a letter to the president yesterday. “But I and many other members of the House of Representatives are troubled that U.S. military resources were committed to war without clearly defining for the American people, the Congress and our troops what the mission in Libya is and what America’s role is in achieving that mission.”
Boehner added, “In fact, the limited, sometimes contradictory, case made to the American people by members of your administration has left some fundamental questions about our engagement unanswered.”
Not so says the White House. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters aboard Air Force One last night that “what we are doing is enforcing a resolution that has a very clear set of goals.”
According to Rhodes those goals include, “protecting the Libyan people, averting a humanitarian crisis, and setting up a no-fly zone. Obviously that involves kinetic military action, particularly on the front end. But again, the nature of our commitment is that we are not getting into an open-ended war, a land invasion in Libya.”
No matter when “command and control” gets handed over, it's clear that the United States will continue to play a role in the Libya — and pay for it. Some estimates show the potential for a $1 billion price tag. Time Magazine’s Fareed Zakaria calls it the “Goldilocks military plan” — “Not too much, not too little, not too unilateral, not too American. The operation against Muammar Gaddafi's regime in Libya mirrors the moderate temperament of its architect, Barack Obama. But will it work in the rough realities of international politics?” http://ti.me/gCWLY9
Another question now is when the president will address Congress and the country about the mission and scope of American involvement and what is the strategy going forward with the other Middle Eastern hot spots like Yemen, a country that has been besieged with protests as support for Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh seems to be eroding.
While traveling in the Middle East yesterday Secretary of Defense Robert Gates acknowledged that Saleh has been an “important ally in the counter-terrorism arena, but clearly there's a lot of unhappiness inside Yemen.”
“We will basically just continue to watch the situation,” he said. “We haven't done any post-Saleh planning, if you will.”
And potential 2012 presidential candidates continue to weigh in on Middle East. Sarah Palin told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren that there is a lot of confusion," when it comes to the White House goals in Libya. “Are we really ready to turn over command and control to Arab League and the to the British and the French? When do we get to reclaim command and control over our troops?" she asked.
“As long as we are in it, we better be in it to win it,” she last night. "And if there [is] doubt, get out.” More on Palin’s comments from ABC’s John Berman: http://abcn.ws/g3uiOw
NEWT’S LIBYA FLIP-FLOP. ABC’s Z. Byron Wolf points out that Newt Gingrich yesterday morning said he would not have sent American forces to help institute a no-fly zone. Earlier this week he called the President’s decision to involve the U.S. in the imposition of a no-fly zone in Libya as “amateur opportunism.” It turns out that Gingrich, who is a potential Republican candidate for President, was for a no-fly zone before he was against it. … Yesterday afternoon, in a Facebook post, Gingrich tried to further clarify, arguing that in between the statement of his own two positions, the President said that Gadhafi must go. This changed everything, according to Gingrich. It turns out he now thinks the US must “support the mission and see it through.” A Democratic aide tells the Note, “The significance of Newt’s Romneyesque flip-flop on Libya and nonsensical attempt to clean it up — it doesn’t just make Gingrich look foolish, it taints nearly of all the Republican criticism of the President’s policy as disingenuous and political.” http://abcn.ws/dEOFQT
ABC NEWS ANNOUNCES IOWA GOP DEBATE IN DECEMBER: ABC News will co-sponsor a Republican presidential caucus debate in Iowa with local affiliate ABC5/WOI-DT and the Iowa Republican Party over the weekend of December 10, 2011. This debate, to be moderated by ABC News anchors Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos, will be come at a key moment in the Republican nomination process — just weeks ahead of the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses. The debate will air nationally on the ABC Television Network, will be live-streamed on ABCNews.com and air locally on ABC5. The exact date and location of the debate will be announced at a later date. ABC News already announced that it would host a Republican presidential primary debate in New Hampshire between the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire’s 2012 primary.
“Republicans all across Iowa have repeatedly asked their party leadership to take a greater role in presidential caucus debates. I am pleased for the first time, the Iowa GOP will have both a cable and network debate partner during the First-in-the-Nation Caucus process,” Iowa GOP Chairman Matt Strawn said in a statement. The state party has also partnered with Fox News for debates in Ames and Sioux City.
MICHELE BACHMANN ON 2012: “I’M IN.” Well, not quite. “I'm in for 2012 in that I want to be a part of the conversation in making sure that President Obama only serves one term, not two, because I want to make sure that we get someone who's going to be making the country work again. That's what I'm in for," Bachmann said in an Iowa version of ABC News' "Subway Series" shot on the Des Moines city trolley yesterday. The Minnesota Republican told ABC's Jonathan Karl that she hasn’t “made a decision yet to announce, obviously, if I'm a candidate or not, but I'm in for the conversation." She said the feedback she has gotten thus far about a possible White House run has been "encouraging." And she thinks the president is beatable. "I think that right now if the election were today I don't think that the president would be re-elected," she said.
In the wide-ranging interview, Bachmann portrayed GOP leaders in Congress as weak-kneed moderates more eager to compromise with the president rather than confront him. "We need to go toe-to-toe, eyeball-to-eyeball with the president and say, Mr. President, you are wrong on the government takeover of healthcare." As a new member of the House Intelligence Committee, Bachmann had some stinging criticism for the Obama's handling of the situation in Libya. "I look at the Libya situation and I think it's very concerning because the president essentially decided that American air sorties, air strikes, would be made with American soldiers and because of that, we're committed now," she said. (h/t ABC’s Matthew Jaffe and Gregory Simmons) http://abcn.ws/efsVRx
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE.” ABC’s Rick Klein and Amy Walter talk to Representative Eliot Engel, D-NY, who has expressed his support for the military action against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who he recently called a “brutal thug.” Also on the program, Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., who ABC’s Jonathan Karl caught up with yesterday in Iowa (preview above). Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine
“TOP LINE” REPLAY: JOHN SUNUNU. The Former New Hampshire governor offered up some candid comments on the current field of 2012 presidential candidates. Sununu, a former White House chief of staff under President George H.W. Bush, told “Top Line,” yesterday, “I suspect it will be one of the four governors and former governors that have a good track record: [Mitt] Romney, [Tim] Pawlenty, Haley Barbour or Mitch Daniels.” Sununu said of Ambassador Jon Huntsman: “I've never met him, but I’ve seen some of the positions he took. I think he's rather liberal on a number of positions. … New Hampshire is a conservative state … and I will end up probably supporting a conservative candidate.” http://abcn.ws/fyoztJ
DEMOCRATS TAKE ON CROSSROADS. Democrats are pushing back today after Crossroads GPS, the Republican advocacy group with ties to Karl Rove, launched an online clearinghouse for Obama administration documents to expose what it says is a failure by the president to be as transparent and open as promised. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is unveiled a new website today with a database of the donors funding Crossroads GPS: http://wikipocrisy.org/ “Karl Rove and Crossroads GPS preaching transparency is like Sarah Palin teaching geography — it’s just not right,” said the DCCC’s executive director Jennifer Crider. “Crossroads GPS has spent millions of dollars from secretive, hidden donors on misleading campaigns. If Crossroads GPS wants to be taken seriously on transparency it must practice what they preach and the names of their secretive donors.”
As ABC’s Devin Dwyer reported yesterday, the Crossroads database, Wikicountability.org “allows registered users to upload and search information obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, much as they would at sites like Wikipedia or Wikileaks. Thousands of pages of information already in the wiki reveal expenses incurred by the administration in promoting its health care overhaul, dozens of meetings between Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and union leaders, and the pay and travel of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's Elizabeth Warren. All the documents have been legally acquired, the site says.” http://abcn.ws/evebkC
ROMNEY MONEY WATCH. “Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has quietly launched a 15-city push to secure financial commitments from big-money ‘bundlers,’ hoping to reveal a fund-raising network that would establish him as the prohibitive frontrunner for the Republican nomination for president,” the Wall Street Journal’s Jonathan Weisman and Patrick O’Connor report. “Mr. Romney and top aides will meet Thursday in New York with nearly 100 donors—many from Wall Street— at the Harvard Club. Attendees are being asked to raise between $25,000 and $50,000 for Mr. Romney within 90 days, in an effort to post large fund-raising totals quickly, one person familiar with events said. … Finance meetings are also scheduled for March 30 in Los Angeles, as well as in Detroit, Dallas, Houston and Atlanta, people familiar with plans said. Romney fund-raisers are set to converge on Las Vegas on May 16 for a final push ahead of the first financial filing deadline. The Las Vegas meeting will include a marathon phone-a-thon to reach donors, according to one fund-raiser involved in the plan.” http://on.wsj.com/eFTNIT
BOEHNER-REID HOLD KEYS TO BUDGET IMPASSE. “Prospects for settling the U.S. budget battle hinge in part on the fledgling relationship between House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid,” Bloomberg News’ Laura Litvan and James Rowley write. “With the House and Senate about $50 billion apart on how much funding to cut this fiscal year, talks to reach an accord and avert a government shutdown are being conducted by the two lawmakers who until this year had few dealings with one another. Other congressional leaders say that along with the White House, it’s largely up to Boehner, an Ohio Republican, and Reid, a Nevada Democrat, to resolve the dispute. ‘They’re practical people, which helps,’ said Jon Kyl of Arizona, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican. ‘They’re both good at understanding what their limitations are, in terms of the people they represent. Both have their challenges, and they’re both a little bit different. But they’re both up to it, and will get it done because it has to get done.’” http://bloom.bg/eRcF0D
PASSING ON THE PAIN. “The state budget squeeze is fast becoming a city budget squeeze, as struggling states around the nation plan deep cuts in aid to cities and local governments that will almost certainly result in more service cuts, layoffs and local tax increases,” The New York Times’ Michael Cooper notes. “The cuts are widespread. Ohio plans to slash aid to Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati and other cities and local governments by more than a half-billion dollars over the next two years under the budget proposed last week by its new Republican governor, John R. Kasich. Nebraska passed a law this month eliminating direct state aid to Omaha and other municipalities. The governors of Wisconsin and Michigan have called for sending less money to Milwaukee, Detroit and other local governments. And it is not only Republicans who are cutting aid to cities: Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, a Democrat, decided not to restore $302 million in aid to New York City that was cut last year, while Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, another Democrat, has called for cutting local aid to Boston and other cities by some $65 million.” http://nyti.ms/h3k0bM
SOME STATE PARTIES HIT THE 2012 JACKPOT. “It turns out there’s a Republican constituency that isn’t at all bothered by the large and uncertain field of prospective 2012 candidates: the state parties themselves,” Politico’s Juana Summers notes. “For them, the frontrunner-free race is proving to be a cash cow, thanks to windfall fundraisers headlined by potential challengers to President Barack Obama. It’s the easiest kind of political transaction, one that can deliver as much as a six-figure return and almost no political downside risk. Candidates are happy to increase their visibility and introduce themselves to the rank-and-file. Cash-strapped state parties are eager to replenish their coffers with ticket revenues from high-demand events featuring top national politicians in the flesh. The pre-primary rubber chicken circuit isn’t a boon to every state party. GOP candidates aren’t anxious to spend their time in states that have little value in the nominating process—they’d prefer to spend their time in Iowa, rather than Idaho, or in South Carolina, instead of South Dakota. But in the states where it makes good political sense — the various presidential prospects have raised money for parties in nearly half the states since the start of the 2010 election cycle—the fundraising events have proven to be lucrative endeavors.” http://politi.co/gPwNMj
NOTED: WARREN CHRISTOPHER MEMORIAL SERVICE: The family of former Secretary of State Christopher has planned a private memorial service on Monday, March 28, at 11:00am to be held at Disney Hall in Los Angeles located followed by a reception at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. In lieu of flowers, the Christopher family requests that if you wish to honor Mr. Christopher, you might consider making a donation to the Warren Christopher Scholarship program through the California Community Foundation A family spokeswoman e-mails: “This program has already made it possible for almost 140 Los Angeles Unified School District high school students to attend college, and is a project that is very important to Mr. Christopher and his family.” In Time Magazine today, former President Bill Clinton said his former Secrtary of State had “the lowest ego-to-accomplishment ratio of any public servant I've ever worked with. That made him easy to underestimate. But all Americans should be grateful that he possessed the stamina, steel and judgment to accomplish things that were truly extraordinary.” http://ti.me/eRNd5X
WHITE HOUSE WATCH: Back from his trip to South America, President Obama has no public events today. At 4pm the president will meet with his national security team on Libya and he will meet privately with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner in the Oval Office.
@ktumulty: Which is more disturbing: that reagan airpt has only 1 controller on nite shift, or that it takes order from transp secy to rectify?
* Newt Gingrich will address the Greenville County Republican Women's Club at the Poinsett Club in Greenville, S.C. at 12 p.m. At 6 p.m. Gingrich will speak to the Wake County Republican Convention in Raleigh, N.C. Gingrich will also be a guest on two South Carolina talk radio shows: Radio Free Rocky D and the Bob McLain Radio Show on WORD-AM as well.
* Rep. Michele Bachmann hosts a Facebook town hall at 5 PM.
The Note Futures Calendar: http://abcn.ws/ZI9gV
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