By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
From the shores of Tripoli to the shores of Japan and the U.S. West Coast to gas stations around the country where the price of a gallon of gas is inching up by the day, President Obama will have his hands full at a press conference scheduled for this morning.
A new Gallup survey out this week found that 49 percent of Americans predict gas prices will rise to $4 or more a gallon this year and 27 percent believe prices will surpass the $5 mark. The American Automobile Association notes that prices have gone up, on average, 10 cents over the past week and 41 cents over the last month.
With numbers like that, calls — especially in Republican quarters — for tapping the country’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve have been louder, but White House has given no indication that Obama will support doing so.
“We remain confident that the global system has the capacity to deal with a major disruption,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said at his briefing yesterday, noting that “domestic oil production … was higher last year than in any year since 2003”
Not surprisingly, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, sees the situation differently, asserting in a statement yesterday that the “Obama Administration has consistently blocked American energy production that would lower costs and create new jobs.”
The Speaker’s office notes in a follow-up blog post that Obama’s press conference comes on the heels of the GOP’s announcement of their American Energy Initiative, which Boehner spokesman Don Seymour describes as an effort to “help lower costs and create new jobs by stopping government policies that are driving up gas prices, expanding American energy production, and promoting an ‘all of the above’ energy strategy.” http://bit.ly/eGDWk0
Boehner’s office argues that the president’s approach has actually “caused domestic oil production to drop by 16 percent versus projected levels.” Notably, several House Democrats, led by Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., introduced legislation to draw from the country’s oil reserves in an attempt to rein in gas prices.
“This is the time to deploy a responsible amount of reserves before it is too late,” Markey told reporters yesterday. http://bit.ly/id7jD2
Add to all of this yesterday’s stock market slip — the Dow closed below 12,000 on Thursday — and now the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the Pacific, not to mention the continuing unrest in the Middle East, and what you’ve got is a whole lot of uncertainty heading into a pivotal political year.
There’s no doubt that jittery traders on Wall Street aren't going to feel any more secure after watching the scenes from Japan this morning, and what if there is damage on U.S. soil? Any of this could upend an already fragile economic recovery and complicate matters on the political front too. Look for President Obama to address all of these issues at his news conference scheduled for 11:15 a.m.
EARTHQUAKE AFTERMATH. “President Obama was woken at 4 a.m. ET Friday to be told about the earthquake in Japan and the resulting tsunami in the Pacific,” ABC’s Jake Tapper reports. Meanwhile, “A Pentagon official said that US Pacific Command is sending P-3 Orion maritime surveillance aircraft to support the Japanese government by providing aerial reconnaissance. The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced that tsunami warnings and watches have been issued for the U.S. territories of Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, and portions of coastal areas in Hawaii, Alaska, California, Oregon and Washington state.” http://abcn.ws/hW7DIz
“The United States stands ready to help the Japanese people in this time of great trial," President Obama said in a statement. "We will continue to closely monitor tsunamis around Japan and the Pacific going forward and we are asking all our citizens in the affected region to listen to their state and local officials as I have instructed FEMA to be ready to assist Hawaii and the rest of the US states and territories that could be affected."
Full coverage of the earthquake and tsunami: http://abcnews.go.com/
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE.” ABC’s Rick Klein and Jonathan Karl interview Rep. Andre Carson, D-Indiana, one of two Muslims serving in the House of Representatives who said that yesterday’s hearings on the “radicalization” of American Muslims amounted to a setback for the country. (Watch a clip of Carson’s testimony: http://abcn.ws/igC83r). Also on the show: Michael Cohen, executive vice president and special counsel at the Trump Organization who recently traveled to Iowa to discuss a possible Donald Trump presidential run. Cohen is the co-founder of the Web site, ShouldTrumpRun.com. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine (h/t ABC's Kristina Bergess)
TOP LINE REPLAY: SEN. ORRIN HATCH. The long-time Utah Republican lawmaker accused President Obama of being a “soft leader” in an interview with ABC’s Jonathan Karl. Hatch told Karl: “He always sits back and let's Congress do the dirty work and he doesn't get involved. It takes Presidential leadership to work on the entitlement programs and he's unwilling, totally unwilling to do anything about it." Referring to Obama’s approach to the recommendations of the presidential debt commission, Hatch said, “He ignored everything that they did. Tell me he didn't. He did. He didn't take one idea out of budget commission and it's just a joke. It's just another way of saying you do it, I don't want to do it because I don't want to face the consequences if I do it.” http://abcn.ws/gmDfrD
WISCONSIN UPDATE: BILL HEADS TO GOV’S DESK. “After an epic month of political struggle and three final hours of bitter debate, Republican lawmakers in the Assembly on Thursday gave Gov. Scott Walker his bill to repeal most collective bargaining by public employee unions,” the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Jason Stein, Patrick Marley and Lee Bergquist report. “Legislators voted 53-42 along largely partisan lines to pass the budget-repair proposal, but only after police carried demonstrators out of the Assembly antechamber. But even with the battle won by Republicans, a wider war now remains for both sides, one expected to be fought in the courts and through recall efforts against 16 state senators. … In a sign of the national implications of the vote, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Thursday that President Barack Obama is mindful of state budget problems but opposes using those ‘to denigrate or vilify public sector employees.’” http://bit.ly/fp7XbN
NOTED: The Democratic Governors Association released a video today “calling on Republican governors to say whether or not they stand with Governor Scott Walker’s union-busting power grab in Wisconsin.” ABC’s Amy Bingham notes that the video is a mash-up of news reports indicating how some GOP governors have previously expressed support for collective bargaining. “Now Walker has ignored the will of the people of Wisconsin by ramming through his union-busting, power-grabbing agenda that will do nothing to balance the budget or create jobs,” reads text on the screen. “Republican governors didn’t ‘Stand with Scott’ the first time. What will they do now?” The video features a clip of New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie saying, “In fact, I love collective bargaining” Watch: http://bit.ly/eIaBEy
CLAPPER COMMENTS CRITICIZED. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was asked yesterday for his best assessment of the military situation on the ground in Libya. “This is kind of a stalemate back and forth, but I think over the longer term that the regime will prevail,” Clapper said. As ABC’s Jake Tapper notes, “Clapper predicting that Gadhafi will prevail — despite the opposition of the international community, including the U.S. — surprised even Obama administration officials. Clapper was also asked which nation poses the greatest threat to the US — whether militarily or economic. “Certainly the Russians…still have a very formidable nuclear arsenal,” Clapper said, “which does pose, you know, potentially a mortal threat to us. I don't think they have the intent to do that. Certainly China is growing in its military capabilities.” That answer as well raised Democratic eyebrows, given the Obama administration’s great efforts to forge alliances with China and Russia. On a conference call Thursday afternoon, the White House national security adviser Tom Donilon said President Obama has confidence in Clapper but called his analyses "static and uni-dimensional" — not taking enough other factors into account. http://abcn.ws/dYi0rt
THE KING HEARINGS. “[Rep. Keith] Ellison's testimony was the emotional peak of a dramatic, long-awaited hearing [that examined radicalization among American Muslims] in which Congress was in the spotlight as much as Islam. During more than four hours of testimony, there were other moments of touching depth: Two men told personal stories of seeing loved ones seduced by Islamic extremism,” the Washington Post’s David A. Fahrenthold and Michelle Boorstein report. “But, this being Capitol Hill, there also were moments of pure theater and genuine acrimony. A freshman Republican asked the Los Angeles County sheriff if he had been hoodwinked into trusting a Muslim advocacy group that some regard with suspicion. And Democrats used much of the hearing to angrily bash the idea of holding a hearing at all. ‘It has already been classified as a way to demonize and castigate a whole broad base of human beings’ said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.). She waved a copy of the Constitution and said the hearing might be a violation of laws prohibiting religious discrimination: ‘This hearing today is playing right now into al-Qaeda, around the world.’” http://wapo.st/dGIX6V
HALEY BARBOUR, MITCH DANILES TAKE CENTER STAGE. Two potential 2012 candidates, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour take on starring roles this weekend and early next week. Daniels, who is in the middle of his own budget battles — and protests — at home in Indiana, lands in DC this weekend where he'll join the chattiest of the chattering class at Saturday night's Gridiron dinner. The next morning he'll be grilled by NBC's David Gregory on "Meet the Press" Barbour, meanwhile, who has been quietly staffing up his non-campaign makes his unofficial official Iowa kick-off at Scott County GOP dinner on Monday. It is expected to be a business-minded crowd, and Iowa Republican sources believe that with these initial visits, Barbour has an opportunity to make real inroads in this crucial early state. Barbour added two top communications staffers to his political action committee this week — veteran political operative Jim Dyke and former Republican National Committee staffer James Richardson.
TIM PAWLENTY, THE ‘PROBLEM SOLVER’. “Meet Tim Pawlenty, the seasoned problem-solver, ready to tackle thorny issues and show America how to get things done,” writes The Boston Globe’s Christopher Rowland. “‘We’re not going to freak `em out. We’re going to show `em a positive and constructive way forward,’ Pawlenty told a packed living room at the [New Hampshire] home of Ovide Lamontagne, a conservative Senate candidate who almost toppled the establishment Republican, Kelly Ayotte, in a primary last year. Asked in a brief interview how all these sides fit together — the Tea Partier at the ramparts, the Christian warrior, and now the pragmatic chief executive — the likely presidential candidate said he wants to unify a splintered GOP. ‘The conservative movement is a coalition,’ Pawlenty said. ‘I think we can pull the coalition together.’ Pawlenty’s multi-dimensional approach seemed to go down reasonably well last night, although hardly anyone in the crowd of about 200, gathered around trays of barbecued meatballs and sipping wine, was ready to support a particular candidate in the would-be primary field.” http://bo.st/h52ODw
SANTORUM, AN IOWA FORCE? “He barely registers in most early polling. He was crushed at the polls five years ago when he sought reelection. He even acknowledges the widespread belief that he can’t possibly win the Republican presidential nomination. And yet Rick Santorum could alter the course of the Iowa caucuses,” Politico’s Jonathan Martin notes. “National Republicans may scoff at the notion that Santorum — whose Senate career ended in 2006 with an 18-point loss — could be a player, but he’s signed up strategists here who know the state well, and veteran Iowa activists think he could have an opening. Recent history proves there’s a space for an unyielding cultural conservative. Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson, who took 25 percent of the Iowa vote to come in second place in 1988, and Mike Huckabee, who won the 2008 caucuses with 34 percent, are the best-known examples. But even in 1996 and 2000, when establishment Republicans Bob Dole and George W. Bush captured Iowa, candidates to their right drew roughly a quarter of the vote.” http://politi.co/eXiyQ6
MORTAGE HELP FOR MILITARY BORROWERS. “Bank of America Corp. said it would start reducing loan balances for military borrowers who are struggling to pay their mortgages as they leave active duty,” The Wall Street Journal’s David Benoit reports. “The announcement comes two days after bank executives said reducing principals creates a ‘moral hazard’ in the industry, and as banks fight back against a proposal from state attorneys generals that could affect how the mortgage-servicing industry works. The Charlotte bank said it is providing military homeowners who owe more than their houses are worth with a ‘waterfall of solutions.’ Also among the initiatives are further reductions in interest rates. The measures go beyond the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, or SCRA, a law that protects military borrowers. … For military members leaving active duty, and therefore about to lose protection from the SCRA, the bank will reduce the balance on home loans ‘to as low as 100% of the current market value.’ It will also offer reduced interest rates and extended periods to repay loans if that reduction isn't sufficient. Also, interest rates for active-duty military members will be cut to 4%, lower than the 6% required by SCRA.” http://on.wsj.com/goyBXf
NOTABLE: Former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee national press secretary Ryan Rudominer has joined the strategic communications firm, New Partners. Rudominer served a total of four years at the DCCC, which also included a stint as the DCCC’s Midwest Regional Press Secretary. “New Partners combines an incredibly talented group of partners and staff with a cutting edge approach to its consulting practice and I am excited about the opportunity to join the team,” Rudominer said in a statement. Before the DCCC, Rudominer served as communications director for congressional candidate Joe Sestak and as communications director for Congressman Steve Israel. Cara Morris Stern of New Partners said: “Ryan’s background and experience in the political communications realm will allow us to enhance and expand the services we provide to our growing roster of clients.”
@Reuters: FLASH: California emergency agency says sees tsunami between a couple of inches and 6 feet, depending on area
@jpaceDC: Latest update from our great AP team in Hawaii: Tsunami waves slam Hawaii, sweeping through islands after massive earthquake in Japan
@mikememoli: Gov Walker issues statement rescinding 1500 layoff notices
@MPOTheHill: Biden on Natalie Portman: "I know this isn't on the teleprompter, but she's a heck of a lot better looking than Rahm Emanuel"
* Tim Pawlenty will be in Manchester, New Hampshire addressing Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center's employees.
* Rick Santorum will headline the Strafford County's GOP Lincoln/Reagan Dinner Fundraiser in Durham, New Hampshire.
The Note Futures Calendar: http://abcn.ws/ZI9gV
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