The Note: Obama’s Unanswered Questions On Libya: What Will He Say?

Mar 28, 2011 8:56am

By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER

President Obama speaks to the nation tonight to update the American people on the situation in Libya — an address that the White House says will cover U.S. military action there so far, the transition to NATO command and where we go from here.

ABC News' White House correspondent Jake Tapper hears from a senior administration official that President Obama will “discuss how our efforts in Libya have advanced our interests and averted a catastrophe.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates tried to respond to the chorus of criticism on Libya on the Sunday shows, but they also left a lot of questions still on the table for the president to address Monday night during his 7:30 p.m. ET address at National Defense University in Washington, DC. Here are a few:

-What is the “Obama Doctrine” for U.S. military engagement? Does intervention require an imminent threat or serve a vital national interest? Not really, it seems.

Secretary Gates told Jake Tapper on “This Week” that Libya "was not a vital national interest to the United States, but it was an interest." If the U.S. and other countries had not intervened it would have allowed Gadhafi to slaughter his own people and ultimately destabilize this fragile region. So, does this mean we'll see more involvement in other fragile parts of the world where dictators are abusing their own people?

It depends. Also on “This Week,” Secretary Clinton, when asked why U.S. and coalition forces were not getting involved in Syria or Ivory Coast, said: "There's not an air force being used. There is not the same level of force. The situation is significantly different enough that the world has not come together."

-What’s the time frame? Here’s what Secretary Gates told Taper yesterday on that score: "I would say for all practical purposes the implementation of the no-fly zone is complete." Tapper: "Will the mission be over by the end of the year?" Gates: I don't think anybody knows the answer to that." The president should spell out exactly what U.S. involvement means and how much is this going to cost in both dollars and military personnel.

-What’s the proper role of Congress? Despite the fact that both then Senators Obama and Clinton spoke out against a president unilaterally authorizing a military action, Secretary Clinton said yesterday: “I don't think that this kind of internationally authorized intervention where we are one of a number of countries participating to enforce a humanitarian mission is the kind of unilateral action that either I or the President were speaking of several years ago. I think this had a limited time frame, a very defined mission, which we are in the process of fulfilling.”

Somehow, we don't think that Congress is going to be all that happy with this answer. We’ll see how Obama tackles his delicate relationship with Congressional leaders in his remarks tonight.

 

LESSONS FROM IOWA. A day-long conference organized by Iowa Rep. Steve King brought several potential presidential contenders to Des Moines over the weekend. Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, Georgia businessman Herman Cain and even former Ambassador John Bolton, offered up pitches to Republican activists a little less than a year before the state’s caucuses are to be held. A few things we learned:

-It’s still early: Yes, the potential presidential candidates are lavishing more attention on Iowa and New Hampshire than virtually anywhere else in the country even at this early stage, but anyone who thinks that Hawkeye State voters have made up their minds about the GOP field is mistaken. Iowans are an open-minded bunch and it was evident that they are still in a wait-and-see mode. Many of them are adamant about meeting each one of the Republican contenders personally before picking sides and they take their early state vetting role seriously. Even potential candidates like former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (not on hand this weekend) who are already establishing campaign organizations in the state still have a long way to go to win over voters.

-Pocket book issues are still number one, but social issues will play a role: In interviews with Iowans in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and in other parts of the state, voters invariably cited the economy as their top issue for the coming election cycle. However, a core group of likely Republican caucus-goers also said that for them to even consider hearing out a candidate on fiscal policy they have to be saying the right things on key social issues like abortion and gay marriage. For some Iowa voters it’s just the price of entry.

-Being there is everything: Countless voters expressed a common theme: to get the respect of Iowans candidates have to be campaigning hard in the state. No shows aren’t going to go very far. There has been chatter among political observers about how much time former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will spend in Iowa as well as another likely candidate, Ambassador Jon Huntsman. Iowans said they won’t be writing either of them a ticket to New Hampshire unless they make an effort to court them.

-Still room for a wild card: Barbour and Gingrich got polite applause from the crowd that gathered for the Conservative Principles Conference in Des Moines on Saturday, but Bachmann as well as Cain, really wowed the audience. Cain has a tougher road ahead, but Iowa Republican activists say Bachmann could end up being a force to be reckoned with come caucus season. And she’s got a pretty good message too: “I am an Iowan,” she declared on Saturday, noting that she was born in Waterloo in 1956. “I am a seventh generation Iowan — that’s even better.” Could lackluster enthusiasm for the rest of the field help propel someone like Bachmann into the top tier in Iowa in 2012? When asked that questios, many Iowa voters cite the case of another relatively long-shot candidate who went on to win the Iowa Caucuses last time around: Mike Huckabee.

-Is this the best we can do? That was the private sentiment of some GOP voters in Iowa over the weekend when asked about their level of excitement about the current crop of potential Republican candidates. That creates an opening in the crucial early state, and Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who delivered the conference’s closing keynote address even went so far as to suggest that  a “whole new cast of Republican candidates” might emerge.

 

PAWLENTY ANNOUNCES NATIONAL FINANCE TEAM. As he ramps up his likely 2012 presidential bid, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is turning his attention to building a robust fundraising organization. The Note has learned that on a conference call with major supports this morning, Pawlenty plans to announce a team of new finance consultants, including Brian Haley, who will serve as his National Finance Director. Haley recently served in the same position for Pawlenty’s Freedom First PAC and in a similar role at the Country First PAC, chaired by Sen. John McCain and Friends of John McCain, McCain’s reelection campaign.  Haley served as the Deputy National Finance Director for McCain-Palin 2008. Joining him will be Deputy National Finance Director Katie McBreen, who spent the last two years as the Finance Director for Sen. Jerry Moran’s successful race in Kansas last year. Before that she worked for Governor Mitt Romney's campaign in 2007 and 2008. Check out other key members of Pawlenty’s fundraising apparatus here: http://abcn.ws/fc7HRB

 

ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE.” ABC’s Rick Klein and Jonathan Karl talk to Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the ranking member of the House Budget Committee. Also on the program, Glen Thrush from Politico. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine

 

THE BUZZ

CAMPAIGN TO DEFUND PLANNED PARENTHOOD HITS THE AIRWAVES. The Susan B. Anthony List, a conservative anti-abortion group, announced it is launching a $100,000 radio ad campaign in Washington, D.C. They are releasing an ad tomorrow that will run through April 7 on local Washington radio stations in an effort to urge Congress to take away Planned Parenthood’s taxpayer funding. “There is no better testament to why Planned Parenthood must be defunded than the account of a former insider whose life work is to serve women and saw first-hand how it exploits them,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, said in a statement. (The ad features a former Planned Parenthood Clinic director who has some negative things to say about the organization.) Dannenfelser added, “If this Congress cannot find the moral courage to relieve taxpayers of the burden this scandal-plagued organization places upon them, it is not serious about budget reform.”

ROBERT GIBBS AND FACEBOOK: ‘IN A RELATIONSHIP?’ "Facebook is in talks to hire Robert Gibbs, President Obama’s former White House press secretary, for a senior role in helping to manage the company’s communications, people briefed on the negotiations said,” The New York Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin reports. “Facebook is seeking out Mr. Gibbs ahead of an initial public offering planned for early 2012, these people said. The talks are still at an early stage and no formal offer has been made, these people said, adding it remained possible that the discussions could collapse. Mr. Gibbs, who left the White House in February after two years on the job, had been planning to help establish President Obama’s re-election campaign before taking a private sector job, these people said. Facebook, however, is pressing Mr. Gibbs to consider the job more quickly, according to these people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the conversations were supposed to remain confidential. A job for Mr. Gibbs at Facebook could be worth millions of dollars. While details of his potential compensation package have yet to be discussed, people briefed on the talks said that he would receive a cash salary as well as shares ahead of the initial offering.” http://nyti.ms/fJlABR

THE FISCAL NO-FLY ZONE. “April Fools’ Day this Friday makes it official: The government will have come a full six months without permanent appropriations for not just domestic agencies but the Pentagon and two wars overseas,” writes Politico’s David Rogers. “A significant new White House proposal — appearing to double the $11 billion offer on the table — was being reviewed by Senate Democrats over the weekend in hopes that an agreement can still be reached with Boehner on a top-line number. But the harsh rhetoric Friday night suggests GOP leaders still fear a tea party rebellion. And the continued absence of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) from the talks makes it harder to predict a final deal before the next shutdown deadline of April 8. When this fiscal year began last Oct. 1, the Congressional Budget Office was projecting a $565 billion baseline for nondefense appropriations — regardless of Obama’s requests. That’s already dropped this month to $540 billion, a $25 billion change worth $300 billion over 10 years. If Republicans succeed, the baseline would drop an additional $62 billion in 2011, or $690 billion through 2020, according to calculations by POLITICO.” http://politi.co/fQnZAC

OBAMA’S LOCAL STRATEGY. “As [President] Obama keeps the White House press corps at a distance, he has sat for more than a dozen interviews with their colleagues from local TV stations — with unpredictable and sometimes illuminating results,” notes Peter Wallsten of the Washington Post. “Obama has made such encounters with local news stations a staple of his communications strategy. Since December, White House aides have handpicked 13 stations, all in key cities in presidential battleground states, to reward with the biggest “get” in the TV news business: a one-on-one White House interview with the president. An additional interview was granted to Hearst Television’s Washington bureau, which serves more than two dozen local stations across the country. Each reporter is granted seven minutes with the commander in chief.” http://wapo.st/hGlNXd

TUSCON SHOOTING VICTIMS GET INVOLVED. Victims and families of the January shooting in Tucson are gathering today to pledge their support for a national campaign to encourage Congress to change the gun background check system. The event is part of the Fix Gun Checks Truck’s campaign across America that was launched after the Tucson shootings by the 550 bipartisan members of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. The group wants the system changed to ensure that all records are included in background checks and that every gun buyer passes an instant background check. The event will be held this afternoon in Tucson.

NOTED: REMEMBERING GERALDINE FERRARO. Funeral services for Ferraro will be held Thursday morning at 9:30am at the Church of Saint Vincent Ferrer in Manhattan, a spokeswoman for her family announced today. It will be a private service for family and friends and not open to the media. “In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in her honor to one of the following organizations: The Jerome Lipper Multiple Myeloma Research Center at Dana-Farber; The Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation; The Religious Order of the Sacred Heart of Mary in Tarrytown; and City Meals on Wheels.”

 

WHO’S TWEETING?

@dgordon52: The power of Facebook? #RobertGibbs is a trending topic today on Twitter.

@russellberman: Conservative Rep. Duncan Hunter is rare cong. backer of Obama#Libya policy, says critics are 'politicizing' http://bit.ly/f6xTxZ

@jeffzeleny: NYT's Jennifer Steinhaur takes a great look at Pizzaman-turned-Congressman Bobby Schilling in a dispatch from Moline.http://nyti.ms/fPsjWR

@HotlineReid: Good coverage on SOTUS hearing AZ case from AZ Republic (http://bit.ly/flcja1), WaPo (http://wapo.st/eF4b2o) and NPR (http://n.pr/f9tUdv)

@jonkarl: Obama wasn't the only one to fail miserably: 5.9 million people filled brackets on espn.com. Only two picked the final four correctly.

 

POLITICAL RADAR:

* Herman Cain will speak at the Allied Trades of the Baking Industry Breakfast in Washington, DC

* Rick Santorum is scheduled headline the Grafton County Lincoln Reagan Day Dinner in Lincoln, NH at 6:30 PM ET

The Note Futures Calendar: http://abcn.ws/ZI9gV

 

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* For breaking political news and analysis check out The Note blog: http://blogs.abcnews.com/thenote/ and ABCNews.com/Politics: http://abcnews.com/politics

 

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