By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
On the eve of the first Republican presidential primary debate — an event that most of the top-tier field of potential candidates will skip — former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is imploring his fellow Republicans to “get off the sideline” and get serious about taking on President Obama.
Pawlenty made the statement without a hint of irony despite the fact that he has not yet officially declared his candidacy. He does have a presidential exploratory structure up and running and he will be the only major candidate to participate in tomorrow’s debate in South Carolina. He appeared on Radio Iowa yesterday to send a simple message to his fellow potential candidates: “It’s time.”
“It’s going to require that candidates make the case for why Barack Obama should be dismissed from his position and that’s going to require a big effort, and it needs to start now,” Pawlenty said. “We’ve got to get off the sideline. We’ve got big challenges and it requires a big challenge and, you know, I think the time to engage President Obama is now.” http://bit.ly/mSXaqN
Given his single digit position in the polls, Pawlenty, of course, is desperate for this race to move beyond birthers and into the traditional early state stumping.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney did make a rare retail stop in New Hampshire yesterday where he was clear that his goal was for the the economy — not the killing of Osama bin Laden — the be the focus.
After congratulating, “the president, the intelligence community, our military on this extraordinary accomplishment,” Romney moved right along.
“We’ve got two things going on in a day like today,” he said to a group of businesspeople in Nashua, NH. “One is the feeling of success and celebration and killing a very evil person, but at the same time, it’s individuals that have small businesses that want to grow their businesses and hire more people. A lot of Americans want to make sure our economy remains strong and that it adds jobs.” http://bo.st/jWkkZX
Former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman took a baby step toward a presidential campaign yesterday, by starting “H PAC,” a federal political action committee. But his team-in-waiting made it very clear that this is not an "exploratory" effort — just an “organizational step “ allowing him to raise money, "travel and discuss issues that are important to him, and support Republican candidates.” http://abcn.ws/mn0J8t
“If he decides to run for president,” said H Pac spokesman Tim Miller, “he'll make an announcement at that time.”
Also on Monday former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., who had already announced he was “testing the waters” said he has established a presidential exploratory committee, the formation of which was one of the requirements for participation in tomorrow’s debate sponsored by Fox News and the South Carolina Republican party.
Joining Pawlenty and Santorum on the debate stage in Greenville tomorrow night will be former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Tex., and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson.
Meanwhile, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels at a lunch with journalists yesterday in New York didn't sound anxious about jumping in, telling the assembled group that it's still a matter of weeks before he makes a decision. Representatives for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich say he plans on making some sort of statement about his presidential ambitions via the Internet next week.
Still, the moves by the potential field of GOP candidates still seem to be inch-by-inch rather than giant leaps. And while President Obama did get a bin Laden bump — 56 percent of Americans now say they approve of Obama's performance in office overall, according to a Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll out yesterday – the economy remains a drag for the president and an opportunity for the GOP. http://abcn.ws/krGC8s
Just look at the results from a fresh New York Times-CBS News poll out today, which showed a bump in Obama’s overall approval rating from 46 percent to 57 percent, but found his approval rating on the economy to be the lowest of his presidency — just 34 percent. http://nyti.ms/mj6WB0
NOTED: It's not just Republicans who are pushing the focus back on the economy. At 1 p.m. ET today, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Whip Steny Hoyer and other House Democrats will unveil their “Make It In America” agenda. House Democrats are counting the 119 days since House Republicans have had the Speaker's gavel and plan to criticize Republicans for, as they argue, "not bringing any jobs bills to the House floor since taking majority control last January." For their part, Republicans would take issue with that contention.
WHITE HOUSE SKEPTICAL ABOUT RELEASING ‘GRUESOME’ BIN LADEN PHOTO. ABC’s Jake Tapper breaks the news this morning that President Obama is increasingly doubtful there's a compelling reason to release a photograph of Osama bin Laden's corpse. Sources tell ABC News that Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are advising the president about concerns at the Pentagon and State Department that releasing a photograph could prompt a backlash against the US for killing bin Laden where one does not seem to currently exist. The internal debate at the White House is then informed by this question: why are we releasing this photograph if no one seems to really doubt his death and releasing it could cause more harm than good? "The only skeptics are extremists and they wouldn't be convinced by a photograph anyway,” one U.S. official told ABC. “So the president has to weigh the potential negatives and they're huge, there's a tremendous risk of the photo becoming a rallying cry for attacks against US soldiers, government personnel, and Americans in general." http://abcn.ws/k8wCQe
HOUSE INTEL CHAIRMAN ALSO ‘RELUCTANT’ TO RELEASE PHOTO. The head of the House’s Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America” this morning that he’s hesitant to make the images of bin Laden’s corpse public. “I have to tell you I think I’m more where the president is on this. I’m a little bit reluctant, I’ll tell you why. The conspiracy theorists are going to see the pictures, find ten reasons why they think it’s someone else,” Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich. said. “I think it’s pretty common knowledge. The wives are talking, ‘Yes it was Osama bin Laden. Yes he’s dead.’ I don’t know what we gain by showing this.” http://abcn.ws/iSTOCl
BUSH SAYS ‘NO’ TO OBAMA’S GROUND ZERO INVITATION. “President George W. Bush declined an invitation from the White House to join President Obama in a visit to Ground Zero Thursday,” ABC News’ Russell Goldman reports. “‘President Bush will not be in attendance on Thursday. He appreciated the invite, but has chosen in his post-presidency to remain largely out of the spotlight. He continues to celebrate with all Americans this important victory in the war on terror,’ according to a statement released by Bush spokesman David Sherzer late Tuesday. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said, ‘the invitation was last minute, of course, and we completely understand that he is not able to attend.’ Obama will visit the World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan Thursday to meet with the families of 9/11 victims, four days after bin Laden was captured and killed by Navy SEALs in Abbottabad, Pakistan. However, Obama and Bush will attend the ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of 9/11 at ground zero, officials said.” http://abcn.ws/koZUaD
BIDEN’S FIRST WORDS ON BIN LADEN. In a speech last night, Vice President Joe Biden made his first remarks on the “staggering undertaking” that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden, ABC News’ Arlette Saenz notes. “Those brave professionals who tracked and killed Osama bin Laden, it was just actually breathtaking,” Biden said in a keynote address at the Atlantic Council Dinner. “It was a staggering undertaking, even with no one else other than the American group of military warriors who could do it. The world is a safer place today not only for the American people, but for all people.” http://abcn.ws/mvj4LH
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE.”ABC’s ABC’s Rick Klein and Jonathan Karl interview Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. On Monday Collins accused Pakistan of “playing a double game” with terrorist leader Osama bin Laden hiding nearly in plain sight. Also on the show: Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine
TOP LINE REPLAY: REP. JOE HECK. The Republican Congressman from Nevada spoke to “Top Line” yesterday about the debate over the release of photographic evidence of Osama bin Laden’s death. “The photos have to be released,” Heck said. “Most definitely — to make sure we get rid of any conspiracy theorists that think that we didn't take care of bin Laden.” Heck also held off on condemning Pakistan for not helping locate bin Laden. “I don't think we need to cut off aid just yet. We need to further clarify our relationship with Pakistan,” Heck told “Top Line.” “We certainly have had some challenges with sharing of information, with being allowed access to execute missions. But they are still a critical asset and ally in the fight against terror and we need to continue to maintain that relationship.” http://abcn.ws/m39tDi
INSIDE THE BIN LADEN ESCAPE PLAN. “Osama bin Laden appeared to be ready to run at any time with money stitched into his clothes on the day he was shot dead by elite Navy SEALs,” ABC’s Martha Raddatz, Jake Tapper and Jessica Hopper report. “Bin Laden's clothing had 500 euros sewn into it, sources told ABC News. Intelligence officials are also analyzing 10 cell phones, 10 computers and a 100 thumb drives confiscated from the sprawling compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, during the 40-minute raid that resulted in bin Laden's death. The cell phones and thumb drives were likely used by the two couriers living with bin Laden. Officials are going through each computer running keyword searches using words like ‘explosives’ or ‘weddings.’ Weddings is a word often used by al Qaeda to signify a bombing. They are also tracing the phone numbers found.” http://abcn.ws/kDMCnH
CONGRESS QUESTIONS U.S. ROLE IN PAKISTAN. “Lawmakers from both parties questioned the need to sacrifice American lives and provide U.S. aid for Afghanistan and Pakistan following the death of Osama bin Laden,” Bloomberg News’ Nicole Gaouette notes. “As President Barack Obama prepares to unveil by July his plan for drawing down forces in Afghanistan, Republicans challenged the need to continue the mission at all, while Democrats sought a clearer sense of the administration’s goals. ‘With al-Qaeda largely displaced from the country, but franchised in other locations, Afghanistan does not carry a strategic value that justifies 100,000 American troops and a $100 billion per year cost, especially given current fiscal restraints,’ said Indiana Senator Richard Lugar, the senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In the House, California Representative Jackie Speier, the leading Democrat on the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, described doubts about Pakistan as ‘the elephant in the room.’ … Those questions were among many raised in Congress as the world absorbed the news of bin Laden’s death at the hands of U.S. special operations forces. The event has created what Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called ‘a seminal moment’ for U.S. foreign policy and security interests.” http://bloom.bg/kRXvYc
NOTED: POLL FINDS CONTINUED CONCERN OVER AFGHANISTAN. “The number of Americans who see success ahead in Afghanistan has spiked since Osama bin Laden was killed Sunday in Pakistan, but few see the news as an end to the threat of terrorism facing the United States, according to a new poll by The Washington Post and the Pew Research Center,” according to the Post’s Jon Cohen and Peyton M. Craighill, “Nearly seven in 10 see the U.S. killing of bin Laden as a boost to the long-term security of the country, but barely one in five sees it as a big help. Just five percent say bin Laden’s death ends the terrorism threat in general; 85 percent see further military action as necessary.” http://wapo.st/kfnV9E
A POST-BIN LADEN DEBATE ABOUT TORTURE. “As intelligence officials disclosed the trail of evidence that led to the compound in Pakistan where Bin Laden was hiding, a chorus of Bush administration officials claimed vindication for their policy of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ like waterboarding,” The New York Times’ Scott Shane and Charlie Savage write. “Among them was John Yoo, a former Justice Department official who wrote secret legal memorandums justifying brutal interrogations. ‘President Obama can take credit, rightfully, for the success today,’ Mr. Yoo wrote Monday in National Review, ‘but he owes it to the tough decisions taken by the Bush administration.’ But a closer look at prisoner interrogations suggests that the harsh techniques played a small role at most in identifying Bin Laden’s trusted courier and exposing his hide-out. One detainee who apparently was subjected to some tough treatment provided a crucial description of the courier, according to current and former officials briefed on the interrogations. But two prisoners who underwent some of the harshest treatment — including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times — repeatedly misled their interrogators about the courier’s identity.” http://nyti.ms/jDg9Ob
DEMOGRAPHICS, THEY ARE A CHANGIN’. “For the first time, Americans 45 and older make up a majority of the voting-age population, giving older Americans wider influence in elections as the U.S. stands divided over curtailing Medicare and other benefits for seniors,” the Associated Press’ Hope Yen reports. “Along with the information about the growing influence of older adults, preliminary census estimates also show a decline in the number of married couples with children, slight growth in household size and a rapid rise in the number of Mexicans. The findings, based on the latest publicly available government data, offer a preview of trends that will be detailed in the next round of 2010 census results being released this month that focus on age, household relationships and racial subgroups. As a whole, the numbers point to a rapidly graying nation driven largely by the nation's 78 million baby boomers, who are now between the ages of 46 and 65 and looking ahead to retirement. ‘The center of American politics gets older,’ said E. Mark Braden, a former chief counsel to the Republican National Committee who now advises elected officials and state legislatures. ‘Given the current fiscal concerns, it's going to be a test case whether Republicans or Democrats can talk about entitlement reform without getting killed’ politically.” http://bit.ly/mw5Ymc
* Mitch Daniels will deliver a speech on education at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC at 12:30 p.m. The address is titled, “Creating First-Rate Education in Indiana.”
*Mike Huckabee will be in Washington, DC for meetings on Capitol Hill as well as a private fundraiser for his political action committee.
* Tim Pawlenty delivers remarks to the Westside Conservative Breakfast Club at 7:30AM CDT in Urbandale, Iowa. At 9AM, he will visit with employees at the Pioneer Hi-Bred Research Center in Johnston, Iowa.
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