By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
It’s likely to be another day of more questions than answers from the White House on the Obama administration’s strategy and end game in Libya.
And the growing bi-partisan chorus of discontent — and in some cases outright opposition — to the U.S. missile strikes aimed at dismantling Moammar Gadhafi's military assets may grow even louder today after the crash of an American fighter jet in Libya.
Both crew members were safely recovered after the U.S. Air Force F-15 suffered a mechanical problem last night and went down 25 miles east of Benghazi. Still the incident underscores the risks involved in the expanding military operation at a time when it seems like no one country has its hand firmly on the steering wheel.
“The biggest obstacle to the Libyan intervention right now isn’t the Arab world but rather differences among France, the U.K. and the U.S. about who’s in charge,” Jan Techau, director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Brussels and a former NATO defense analyst, said in an interview with Bloomberg News.
The Obama administration continues to emphasize the operation will be short in duration and scope, and that the U.S. will hand over authority to its coalition partners soon. The transition will happen in a “matter of days, not a matter of weeks,” President Obama said on Monday. “How quickly this transfer takes places will be determined by the recommendations of our commanding officers.” (More from ABC News’ Jake Tapper, Martha Raddatz, and Huma Khan: http://abcn.ws/hDNG76)
Meanwhile, as ABC’s Z. Byron Wolf points out, some conservative Republicans like Newt Gingrich are criticizing the President for not having a coherent policy. Sarah Palin is frustrated that he’s apologizing all the time. And some lawmakers, including moderates like Sens. Jim Webb, D-Va., and Richard Lugar, R-Ind., are also expressing their concerns.
“There needs to be a plan about what happens after Gadhafi,” Lugar said yesterday. “Who will be in charge then, and who pays for this all? President Obama, so far, has only expressed vague hopes.”
Lugar’s comments were more tempered than those of his GOP colleague, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., who said yesterday that the president’s “unilateral choice to use U.S. military force in Libya is an affront to our Constitution.”
“The United States does not have a King's army,” Bartlett said in a statement yesterday.
Some liberals are fuming too. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, called Obama’s authorization of force an “impeachable offense.”
BOTTOM LINE: Despite some loud voices of discontent on the left and right, President Obama’s decision to intervene will likely be supported by most in Congress unless it drags on or goes terribly wrong, ABC’s senior political correspondent Jonathan Karl notes. The voices of outrage have been the predictable ones. There’s a silent majority that might not be thrilled about it — and would like to see the president do more to inform Congress and explain to the public why this action is necessary — but is more than willing to give the commander-in-chief the benefit of the doubt, at least for now.
Also worth noting are the economic costs of the military action at a time of tense negotiations over the budget and debt ceiling. As The Hill’s Russell Berman and John T. Bennett point out today, “U.S. military operations in Libya could wipe out a significant chunk of the budget cuts won by congressional Republicans in recent weeks, defense analysts say. GOP leaders have trumpeted enacted spending reductions that amount to more than $285 million per day since the beginning of March. … [The] Pentagon could be burning through more than $100 million per day in Libya, putting those budget savings at risk.” http://bit.ly/gOggvx
And what do the American people think about all of this? According to a new CNN/Opinion Research poll, 70 percent of Americans support the enforcement of a no-fly zone in Libya, while just half — 50 percent — support President Obama’s handling of the situation.
JAKE TAPPER’S WHITE HOUSE WATCH. The White House pushed back Tuesday against suggestions that the international coalition supporting Operation Odyssey Dawn is fraying, and that the White House didn’t adequately consult with Congress before launching attacks against the Libyan government on Saturday, Tapper notes. Amidst reports of potential partners such as Norway and the UAE hesitating or pulling back from contributing military assets to the effort, a senior White House official told ABC News that “on any given day of a complex situation there will be different data points, but the fact is we have effectively destroyed Gadhafi's air defenses, he has pulled back from Benghazi, and the coalition continues to grow.” The official also said that on Monday “allies flew more missions than the U.S. for the first time.” The government of Qatar is “moving in a positive direction,” the official said, with the Canadians, Spanish, Italians and Danes committing to join.” http://abcn.ws/eNyOCk
ROMNEY ON LIBYA. Mitt Romney offered his first words on the military strike on Libya last night — supporting the decision to intervene, but hammering President Obama for the way he made the decision. “I support military action in Libya. I support out troops there in the mission they've been given,” Romney said in an interview on the Hugh Hewitt radio show. “But let me also note that thus far the President has been unable to construct a foreign policy, any foreign policy,” he added. “He calls for the removal of Moammar Kadafi but then conditions our action on the directions we get from the Arab League and the United Nations.” http://abcn.ws/htj84E
PAWLENTY GOES EXPLORING. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced the formation of a presidential exploratory committee in a Facebook message to supporters yesterday. It’s already clear that Pawlenty will build his campaign around his blue-collar origins, a compelling personal story as the grandson of immigrants who put himself through college and became the conservative Republican governor of a relatively blue state. "We know what we need to do: grow jobs, limit government spending and tackle entitlements," he said in a video message. "Join the team and, together, we'll restore America. http://abcn.ws/fw79jg
Pawlenty faces a steeper climb than other potential rivals, such as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, as he introduces himself to voters. In a recent ABC News-Washington Post poll, for example, 58 percent of Republican-leaning voters had yet to form an opinion of Pawlenty compared to 19 percent for Romney and 5 percent for former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Another question Pawlenty faces is whether he can raise enough money to fund a successful campaign, especially when he will potentially be competing against candidates with the resources to pour large sums of personal money into their campaigns such as Romney and Ambassador Jon Huntsman. But sources close to Pawlenty have said that the past couple of months were about taking the pulse of donors: If the money wasn't there, he wasn't going to run. That he made this announcement yesterday suggests he and his team are confident about his ability to raise money.
AIR MCCASKILL GROUNDED. “Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill has made fighting government waste, pork barrel spending and corruption the focus of her entire political persona,” ABC’s Z. Byron Wolf and Matthew Jaffe note. “That’s why her admission that she may have improperly charged taxpayers for a flight to a political event on her private plane could be particularly troubling to her brand. McCaskill is up for reelection in 2012 and facing a likely tough campaign. She quickly repaid about $88,000 to taxpayers for all her flights on the plane, when she was asked about them by Politico earlier this month. But the resulting review of her plane unearthed something more troubling. McCaskill admitted Monday she had failed to pay four years of taxes on the plan — $287,000 worth. In a conference call with reporters McCaskill said she will get rid of the plane. ‘I have convinced my husband to sell the damn plane,’ McCaskill said. ‘I will never set foot on the plane again.”She said there was never a bill for the property tax sent by the state or county because, in an oversight, she had never reported to the county that the plan was being kept in St. Louis. The plane is owned by a Delaware corporation set up by her husband, the businessman Joe Shepard.” http://abcn.ws/gh8jQp
THE BIG PICTURE. Democrats argue that by coming clean voluntarily and in her trademark no-nonsense way (“sell the damn plane”), McCaskill helped limit the damage. But, is this really the end of this story or are there other shoes to drop? “Millionaire Claire McCaskill wants to simply write yet another big check and hope people won’t ask any more questions,” National Republican Senatorial Committee executive director Rob Jesmer said yesterday. “It’s high time for McCaskill to finally live up to the same standards of transparency and accountability that she demands of others by immediately releasing her shell company tax records.” Notably, Republicans need to pick up four seats — three if they win the White House — to take control of the Senate in 2012. And they've got plenty of good targets. Even Democrats admit privately that the North Dakota open seat is a goner. That means Republicans need to win just half of the Democrats’ 6 most vulnerable seats, to get to a majority: Montana (Tester), Nebraska (Nelson), New Mexico (open), Virginia (open), Missouri (McCaskill), and West Virginia (Manchin). Assuming, of course, that Republicans hold onto their two vulnerable seats in Massachusetts (Brown) and Nevada (open).
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE.” ABC’s Jonathan Karl and Z. Byron Wolf interview Steven Cook, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, to talk about the situation in Libya as well as the broader unrest in the region. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine
“TOP LINE” REPLAY: NEERA TANDEN. The Chief Operating Officer of the Center for American Progress, who helped shape the one-year-old health care law as a top adviser in the Department Health and Human Services, predicted on “Top Line” yesterday that the law will grow more popular as its benefits continue to kick in. “It's obviously a sweet day because the law is actually delivering benefits — so it's a great day,” Tand3n told ABC’s “Top Line.” “I think it's unfortunate that there's been so much partisan give and take around the bill and that it continues to this day. But I think over the long haul, this bill will be seen as a crowning achievement for the president. And that's why he's going to defend it and he will defend it in the budget negotiations going forward.” http://abcn.ws/g20mvx
KEEPING UP WITH OBAMA. “Barack Obama raised $59 million for his presidential campaign during the first half of 2007. To match that, prospective Republican challengers to his re- election would need to take in roughly $590,000 a day until June 30 if they entered the race today,” Bloomberg’s Jonathan D. Salant writes. “‘It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the Republicans to raise as much money as Obama,’ said former Republican National Committee finance chairman Al Hoffman Jr., a North Palm Beach, Florida, real estate developer. Even so, that doesn’t mean the Republicans can’t mitigate an Obama funding advantage. Independent outside groups, such as Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, that helped the party win control of the U.S. House in 2010 are preparing for 2012. And prospective candidates are lining up major fundraisers and preparing efforts to attract small donors. ‘All of the potential serious candidates have been laying that groundwork for a long time,’ said former Republican Representative Bill Paxon of New York, a senior adviser at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP. ‘Just because they haven’t actually started collecting the resources doesn’t mean they haven’t been working on building the infrastructure that will allow them to collect the checks’ when needed.” http://bloom.bg/eFjnf3
DEMOCRATS TAKE ON GOP LAWMAKERS OVER SOCIAL SECURITY. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is rolling out another phase of its advertising and grassroots campaign to hold accountable House Republicans who support Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s plan to reform Social Security. Or as the DCCC, puts it, Ryan’s efforts to “radical scheme to privatize Social Security and dismantle Medicare as we know it.” The Committee is launching a new Web site, www.stopbenefitcuts.com, and will run newspaper ads, phone calls, and emails starting on Wednesday in districts of the following Republican members of the House: Paul Gosar of Arizona, Bill Young and Allen West of Florida, Dan Benishek of Michigan, Joe Heck of Nevada, Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania, Blake Farenthold of Texas, Paul Ryan and Sean Duffy of Wisconsin, and David McKinley of West Virginia.
IS HALEY BARBOUR REWRITING THE 2012 SCRIPT? “Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour can seem like a man from another time — out of step not only with the age of Barack Obama, but also with the era of the tea party movement,” The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty writes. “He is an insider’s insider — a backroom dealer, a trader of favors, a conservator of the establishment — at a moment when the Republican Party is in the grip of an insurgency against all three. But however abundant Barbour’s liabilities are, he would enter the 2012 race as a credible contender, even a formidable one, in a GOP field that is the most wide open and unsettled it has been in half a century. The former Republican National Committee chairman — and, yes, people call him Haley, like a one-name rock star — would start with a political network unmatched by any other potential GOP candidate, with the possible exception of former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.). Although Barbour barely registers in the polls, even among Republicans, it is hard to think of any other figure who could tap a deeper reservoir of affection and gratitude among the people who write the checks and run the party machinery.” http://wapo.st/eKG3bc
FORMER GEORGIA GOV BACKS GINGRICH. “Former Gov. Sonny Perdue said Monday he would back a Newt Gingrich bid for president next year, giving the former U.S. House speaker the early endorsements of the current and former chief executives of Georgia,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Aaron Gould Sheinin reports. ‘The idea of a Newt Gingrich candidacy is very intriguing,’ Perdue said of the former Georgia congressman who is currently exploring a potential campaign for the Republican nomination. Gov. Nathan Deal, the Republican who succeeded Perdue in office, has already endorsed Gingrich. … Perdue said he and Gingrich have kept in touch over the years and that the race to upset President Barack Obama will be about ‘ideas.’” http://bit.ly/f86BZV
NOTABLE: HEALTH CARE REFORM TURNS ONE. “It was a year ago that President Obama, after months of heated rhetoric, fiery debates and partisan wrangling, signed the historic health care bill into law,” ABC’s Huma Khan notes. “The Affordable Care Act includes a wide variety of changes to be rolled out piecemeal by 2014. Many have already been implemented, including those that benefit small businesses and Americans with pre-existing conditions. Others are targeted to people such as the poor, those under the age of 26 and senior citizens. … Overall, 13 percent say their family has benefited from health reform over the past year, while 20 percent report having suffered a negative effect.” Here’s a snapshot of the provisions that have already been rolled out and what they mean to you: http://abcn.ws/dLSFH9
@Reuters: FLASH: French govt says NATO will support coalition partners on Libya when U.S. scales back participation
@WestWingReport: The War Powers Resolution was vetoed by President Nixon back in 1973; Congress overrode his veto with a 2/3 majority
* Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour will travel to Carson City, Nevada to meet with GOP leadership, state legislators and Gov. Brian Sandoval.
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