By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
Is Tim Pawlenty this week’s comeback kid or was his belated attempt to keep the pressure on rival Mitt Romney’s health care record too little too late?
Last night in an interview on Fox News, the presidential candidate conceded that he should not have pulled his "ObamneyCare" punch directed at Romney, which he had used a day earlier on a Sunday morning news show. (The term, of course, is an attempt to link the health care reform plan Romney signed into law as governor of Massachusetts with the one that Obama pushed as president.)
“I should have been much more clear during the debate,” Pawlenty told Fox’s Sean Hannity last night, referring to his refusal to take direct aim at Romney at Monday night’s debate in New Hampshire. “I don’t think we can have a nominee that was involved in the development and construction of ObamaCare and then continues to defend it. And that was the question. I should’ve answered it directly.” http://abcn.ws/lVCUq0
Pawlenty has been roundly criticized for using the line of attack one day, but refusing to own it the next. And his opponents have pointed out that his criticism is at odds with past statements the former Minnesota governor has made that seem to express at least some support for elements of the health reform plan Romney enacted.
Romney, himself, has been doing an awkward dance trying to reconcile the policies he supported during his years at the helm of state government in Massachusetts and his position now that he is leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination.
Romney has not engaged directly with Pawlenty, but the health care issue has all the hallmarks of an emerging skirmish between two of the top GOP candidates.
Still, the Romney camp is continuing to set its sights not on other Republicans, but on President Obama, releasing a new web video today called “20,000,000 Bumps In The Road,” highlighting the nation’s high unemployment rate and, as Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul put it, “the devastation caused by the President’s mistakes and failed leadership.” (Obama recently delivered a speech to auto plant workers acknowledging that there would be “bumps in the road” to recovery.)
But yesterday Romney was also put in the position of defending his own words after Democrats pounced on him for joking to voters at a campaign stop in Florida that he, too, was among America’s unemployed. http://abcn.ws/kZzcxc
“I should tell my story, I’m also unemployed,” Romney said to a gathering at Buddy Brew Coffee in Tampa, Florida. “I have my sight on a particular job.”
The Democratic National Committee sent out a missive accusing Romney, a multimillionaire former businessman, of being “out of touch” with regular Americans. Later in the day, at an appearance in Georgia, Romney attempted to correct the record.
“You know, I will always make light of myself, and self-deprecating humor is part of who I am,” he said, “but the reality is that we have a president that doesn’t understand the plight of the unemployed.” http://bit.ly/mgIeVP
It's been a rough week for Republicans. ABC's Jake Tapper took a look at some of the early missteps on the campaign trail on "Good Morning America" today: http://abcn.ws/j4qhMa
BREAKING: MAN WITH SUSPICIOUS PACKAGE DETAINED NEAR PENTAGON. “Police detained a man near the Sept. 11 memorial at the Pentagon this morning after he was reportedly found carrying a suspicious device and pro-al Qaeda literature, officials said. The man appears to be a U.S. citizen of Ethiopian ethnicity. He would not make any admissions to the police,” ABC’s Richard Esposito, Pierre Thomas and Huma Khan report. “The man's backpack contained what officials believe is ammonium nitrate and spent 9mm shells as well as written material that contained statements including: ‘al qaeda taliban rules,’ sources told ABC News. One source told ABC News that they need final confirmation on whether it is ammonium nitrate and it's not clear whether this was a workable device.” http://abcn.ws/iwdrUq
FEAR AND LOATHING IN MINNEAPOLIS. “The frustrations and the fears that progressives feel about President Obama were on full display Thursday as thousands of them flocked to Minneapolis for the sixth annual Netroots Nation conference,” ABC’s Matthew Jaffe reports. “Former Wisconsin senator Russ Feingold said he hoped that Obama will be re-elected, but he urged the president to stand up to corporate interests, demanding that the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling become a focal point of the 2012 campaign. ‘Sometimes we have to be very direct with the Democratic Party. Just as you have long pushed our Democrats to stand up for their ideals, I’m here this evening to ask you to redouble your efforts because I fear that the Democratic Party is in danger of losing its identity,’ Feingold said in his keynote address to a crowd of around 2,400 progressive activists and bloggers here at the Minneapolis Convention Center, the most ever for the event. Specifically, Feingold ripped Priorities USA, a super political action committee started last spring by former White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton. ‘I think it’s a mistake for us to take the argument that they like to make that, ‘Well, what we’re going to do now is, we’re going to take the corporate money like the Republicans do and then after we win, we’ll change it.’ When’s the last time anyone did that? Most people don’t change the rules after they win by them. It doesn’t usually happen. It never happens,’ Feingold said. … Former DNC chairman Howard Dean also addressed the opening day of the conference, noting that “grousing about the president is a stage we have to go through.” Dean said he will continue to support the president, but rather than focus on Obama, he suggested, people should focus on what they can do in their own communities.”
More from Matthew Jaffe’s dispatch from Minneapolis: http://abcn.ws/l8NdfO
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE”: ABC’s Rick Klein and Amy Walter interview The New York Times’ Ashley Parker, a Metro reporter who has been covering the rise and fall of Congressman Anthony Weiner. Also on the program, conservative firebrand, Ann Coulter, author of the new book, “Demonic: How The Liberal Mob Is Endangering America.” Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine
OBAMA-BOEHNER GOLF SUMMIT SET FOR SATURDAY. “The world's top golfers are hitting the links in Washington this weekend at the U.S. Open, but the real power players will be on a different course in the nation's capital. On Saturday, President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner will put aside their partisan differences and face off on the green instead,” ABC’s Mary Bruce and Karen Travers note. “After weeks of tense negotiations on Capitol Hill have yielded little progress on raising the debt ceiling, expectations for the so-called ‘Deficit Open’ are running high. But don't expect a deal to be made during the much-anticipated game. ‘I think I can say with great confidence that they will not wrap up the 18th hole and come out and say that we have a deal,’ White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters this week. The White House is playing up the event as social, but doesn't deny that it could have political implications. ‘I think that for the broader purpose of the work that needs to be done in a bipartisan way in Washington, this social occasion is a good thing,’ Carney said, ‘because … spending a number of hours together in that kind of environment, I think, can only help improve the chances of bipartisan cooperation. It certainly can't hurt it, unless someone wins really big.’ … The venue for the much-anticipated golf game continues to be a secret, largely out of security concerns.” http://abcn.ws/kddDfz
TALKING POINT FOR THE LINKS: LIBYA. “Congress moved toward a confrontation with President Obama over funding for the military mission in Libya as Speaker John Boehner said the White House’s justification for the operation did not ‘pass the straight-face test,’” The Hill’s Russell Berman reports. “While House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) provided some cover by backing the president’s position that the Libyan intervention did not require congressional authorization, others in Obama’s party sided with Boehner, including the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate. Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday criticized the 32-page report the White House released on the Libya mission, in which the administration argued the U.S. military engagement in Libya doesn’t amount to ‘hostilities.’” http://bit.ly/iD1Mf1
OBAMA ON WEINER. “President Barack Obama had words of encouragement for disgraced former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner, who resigned yesterday in the wake of a sexting scandal. ‘I think it was just important for him to be able to focus on his family. And what's most important, I think for all of us, is, how do the people we love … how are we interacting with them? And this gives him some time to do that,’ the president said in an exclusive interview with ‘Good Morning America’ co-anchor Robin Roberts. The interview, which aired on the program today, touched on the economy, taxes, and jobs, but was focused on fatherhood. ‘I wish Rep. Weiner and his lovely wife well,’ Obama told Roberts. ‘Obviously, it's been a tough incident for him, but I'm confident that they'll refocus and he'll refocus, and they'll end up being able to bounce back.’”
More from Robin Roberts’ interview with President Obama: http://abcn.ws/jj4Qix
WORSE THAN WEINER: WHO STAYS AND WHO GOES? “Anthony Weiner screwed up. And he ultimately lost his job for it. But there are some things the former New York congressman could have gotten away with, including driving under the influence and crashing into a capital office building barricade in the wee hours of the morning,” ABC’s Devin Dwyer writes. “He also could have failed to pay his taxes, sought treatment for alcoholism, had a love child, married his lover, cheated with a staffer's wife, gotten caught by federal agents with hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribe money stuffed into his freezer or been found to frequent hookers. Members of Congress guilty of those transgressions and other crimes have served out their terms, often with few, if any, calls that they resign. …When Democratic Rep. William Jefferson of Louisiana was indicted on 16 federal counts in 2007, neither then-Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi nor Majority Leader Steny Hoyer ever explicitly called on him to step down. Jefferson, who denied wrongdoing, served out his term despite the swirling allegations and intensive ethics investigations, and was only later tried, found guilty and sentenced to prison. Pelosi and other party leaders also avoided public calls for the resignation of Rep. Jim Traficant of Ohio before he was expelled from Congress in 2002 after a felony conviction, or of Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, who was found guilty of 11 violations of House ethics rules and formally censured late last year. In 2006, after Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island smashed his Ford Mustang into a barrier near Capitol Hill under the influence of prescription drugs (police officers described him as ‘intoxicated’) colleagues encouraged him to seek treatment — not leave office for unbecoming behavior. And few political historians could recall when a sitting U.S. president so directly suggested that a member of Congress — much less one who had not been charged with a crime or violations of House ethics rules — step down, as President Obama did regarding Weiner earlier this week.” http://abcn.ws/iNhwBE
BIDEN ON BUDGET NEGOTIATIONS: ‘REAL HARD STUFF’: “After emerging from the eighth round of Biden-led deficit reduction negotiations to raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, negotiators made clear tonight that while the bipartisan, bicameral group is making progress, nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to,” ABC’s John R. Parkinson and Sunlen Miller report. ‘We’ve made progress on that but any progress on that is contingent on resolving other issues down the road. And I want to emphasize that,’ Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the ranking member on the House Budget committee, said. ‘Today was primarily going over some of the earlier issues we discussed in a rough way at the beginning of this process. And trying to pin down where we actually had agreements. And again I want to emphasize this, nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to.’ Van Hollen said that everything is subject to be reopened for re-negotiation ‘if we don’t get agreement on some of the big issues.’ Those big issues, the Maryland Democrat added, are still a ‘long way’ away from being worked out. Thursday’s discussion focused on non-health mandatory spending, which accounts for about 12 percent of the federal budget. But nothing had been agreed to yet, legislators leaving the meeting emphasized. … Vice President Biden said there are still differences that have to be bridged and that won’t occur until the end – a natural result of how the negotiating process works. The meetings up until now, Biden says, have been about the low-hanging fruit in the areas where they can identify mutual agreement on savings. The tough topics are what is left ahead of the Treasury Department’s August 2 deadline to enact a deal.” http://abcn.ws/ldePGQ
GINGRICH TURNS PROFESSORIAL. “In a speech that evoked rounds of laughter and applause, Newt Gingrich returned to his professorial style, lecturing the crowd on why President Obama’s policies are negatively impacting the country and how he plans to help Republicans return to power in the executive and legislative branches,” ABC’s Arlette Saenz reports. “‘I certainly want to win the presidency, but we want to win it as a team in which we have House and Senate candidates who are on the same page going in the same direction, and the team arrives in Washington, and on Jan. 20, 2013, the team begins to change everything,’ Gingrich said in his speech at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans. Gingrich, whose 41-minute speech was delivered without teleprompter or prepared notes, spent a large portion of the speech lambasting the ‘bad policies’ Obama has adopted as president. He criticized Obama’s energy policies for ‘killing jobs in Louisiana’ along with condemning Obama’s statement that “shovel-ready” projects weren’t as ‘shovel-ready’ as he anticipated.” http://abcn.ws/muOXwj
NOTABLE: PALIN FILM GETS SCREENING. Conservative media figure, Andrew Breitbart, will host a screening of the new Sarah Palin film, “The Undefeated,” today at the RightOnline conference in Minneapolis, Minn. It will be the first showing of the film, directed by Stephen Bannon, at a venue of this size. The conference, organized by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, had to move the screening to a 1,000-seat ballroom due to overwhelming demand. “The Undefeated” will premiere in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina beginning later this month and will be released in select AMC theaters nationwide starting on July 15, according to CRC Public Relations, the firm that is handling the film’s rollout.
@maghabepolitico: Over the past 10 days Huma's been said to be plotting Weiner's comeback and then forcing him to resign. Can't be both, and maybe not either
* Herman Cain, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, Ron Paul, Jim DeMint, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum speak at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans.
* Mitt Romney will attend a fundraiser at Lawry's Restaurant in Las Vegas, N.V.
June 17-18: Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Tim Pawlenty will address America for Prosperity's RightOnline 2011 conference in Minneapolis, Minn.
June 18: Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans.
June 18: Herman Cain, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich and Gary Johnson will attend the Deficit-Free America Summit sponsored by Strong America Now in Des Moines, Iowa at 9 a.m. CDT
The Note Futures Calendar: http://abcn.ws/ZI9gV
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