The Note: Obama At The Gate

Image credit: Michael Kappeler/AP Photo

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )


  • WHAT A DIFFERENCE FIVE YEARS MAKES: In Berlin five years ago, Barack Obama addressed one of the largest and most enthusiastic crowds he's ever seen. He was treated as such superstar that the McCain campaign responded with a TV commercial using footage of the Berlin speech to brand Obama as a celebrity, not a leader, comparing him to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, ABC's JONATHAN KARL reports from Germany. This time around the longest lines here at the Brandenburg Gate are those for water - it's hot, almost 90 degrees. Where 200,000 came out to see Obama speak in 2008, today's audience will be just 4,000 - invitations doled out by the German government to students and various political figures. Obama is a still a relatively popular figure here, but he now finds himself under fire over some of the very policies that made President Bush so unpopular with the Europeans.
  • WHAT HE WILL SAY: Today President Obama will invoke two of the most memorable presidential speeches in modern history - Kennedy's 1963 "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech and Reagan's "tear down this wall" speech - which both happened here in Berlin, Karl reports. The idea, White House officials say, is to tap into the energy and legacy of those great Cold War moments, calling for the kind effort that won the Cold War to be made to confront today's major challenges - especially climate change and nuclear proliferation. On nuclear proliferation, Obama will call for reducing US and Russian nuclear stockpiles in Europe by 30 percent. That would be significant - but he needs to get the Russians to agree.
  • WHAT HE ALREADY SAID: Earlier today, President Obama defended his administration's "narrow" phone and internet surveillance, saying that "lives have been saved" because of the programs, ABC's MARY BRUCE reports. "We know of at least 50 threats that have been averted because of this information, not just in the United States, but in some cases, right here in Germany," the president told reporters at a joint press conference in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
  • BACKSTORY: The president will be giving his speech in Germany from where he wanted to speak in 2008: The east side of the historic Brandenburg Gate. In 2008, he was denied the right to speak here by German Chancellor Angela Merkel because she didn't not want this sacred site exploited for political purposes. This year, Merkel - now facing her own reelection campaign - will join Obama here, speaking just before he does.


ABC's JEFF ZELENY: It may be difficult to overstate the significance of the CBO report on immigration, which found that the legislation would boost the economy and cut billions of dollars from the nation's debt over the next two decades. But that does not mean passing an immigration bill will be easy, a point that was highlighted yet again by Speaker Boehner's pledge to not bring up a bill unless it has the backing of a GOP majority. The declaration wasn't new, but the fact that he had to say it publicly to cool down the heat he was feeling from inside his caucus, underscores the long road ahead for immigration reform that can only start with a big vote in the Senate.

ABC's RICK KLEIN: Did John Boehner just kill comprehensive immigration reform? Was he just pronouncing its death? Or is he playing a long game that, while Hastert actually ruled, never had to be played? The House speaker's announcement that doesn't "see any way of bringing an immigration bill to the floor that doesn't have the majority support of Republicans" - coming barely a week after pointedly not going there in response to a question - is a statement on his inability to bring his colleagues along for a ride not all of them agree they should be on. Actually, there's almost certainly a majority of his majority that doesn't think a pathway to citizenship should be part of an immigration overhaul. Boehner knows that when he makes a promise like the one he did yesterday. Yet this may be the only way past the immediate mini-revolt he's facing inside his caucus. Without this announcement, and without adhering to the Hastert rule at least for now, Boehner might no longer have been speaker (in title, or in practice) by the time any final vote came to the House floor.

ABC's MICHAEL FALCONE: Marco Rubio remains at the center of the immigration debate in Washington, D.C. but how is he doing in his home state of Florida? A New Quinnipiac University poll out today found that when it comes to his handling of the immigration issue as a member of the Senate's "Gang of 8?, voters by a 41 to 33 percent margin disapprove of the work the Florida senator and potential 2016 presidential contender is doing. Rubio's vote against a bi-partisan deal to implement expanded background checks for gun purchases did not earn him high marks: 49 percent of Florida voters said they think less favorably of him because of it, according to today's poll. "Sen. Marco Rubio has a tightrope to walk between keeping the folks back home happy and serving as a high-profile symbol for the GOP nationally," said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. But there is a bright spot: A majority of voters in the Sunshine State still approve of the job Rubio is doing - 51 percent to 35 percent.

ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: Another Republican joined the GOP primary fight this week for the U.S. senate seat in Alaska: The state's Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell. He will take on Tea Party activist and attorney Joe Miller for the right to challenge incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Begich, a top target for Republicans in the 2014 cycle. He told ABC News in an interview that despite being a Democrat in Alaska he's an independent voice for the 49th state. "Sometimes, being the only Democrat, if it's good for Alaska, it doesn't matter who's sponsoring [the legislation]. I look for issues that matter to Alaska," Begich said. He added that, unlike Treadwell or Miller, he was born and raised in the 49th state. "It's been for all my political career something I've strived for: where the common ground is," Begich said. "I think it's being born and raised in Alaska. That's how you grow up. We don't look what party you are from … we look at what you can do for Alaska." Alaska political observers say Miller would be a much easier opponent than Treadwell. Ivan Moore, a pollster in the state, noted that post-election polls showed that more than half of Alaska voters viewed Miller negatively after he lost to Lisa Murkowski in a historic write-in campaign in 2010. "What that tells you is he is categorically unelectable in a general [election]," Moore said. "Mark Begich is sitting there rubbing his hands at the prospect of running against Joe Miller in the general. He could close his eyes and do it."


THE WHITE HOUSE THAT NEVER WAS: A BEHIND-THE-SCENES TOUR OF THE WOULD-BE ROMNEY ADMINISTRATION. Though Mitt Romney's candidacy never turned into a presidency, there was a temporary Romney White House complete with a fully operational staff who were building the blueprints for the early days of a Romney administration months before the election that decided his defeat. In this special edition of Top Line, hosted by ABC's RICK KLEIN and Yahoo's OLIVIER KNOX, the chair of the Romney transition efforts, Gov. Mike Leavitt, R-Utah, takes us on a tour of the White House that never was - where he says the Romney transition team built "a federal government in miniature." "If you had walked down these halls in the day before the election, you would see the State Department, the Treasury Department, the Department of Defense," Leavitt says, standing inside what was the former transition headquarters in Washington, D.C. The space was provided for the Romney campaign by the federal government under the guidelines of legislation passed in 2010 to allow for smooth presidential transitions. Leavitt says his team was already working on plans for how to turn Romney's campaign promises into policies, and had even created "inter-agency task forces" to work through anticipated conflicts. "There were regulations that were being developed," he said. "There was a list of things we wanted to change. There was a checklist. It was a tick-tock, if you will, of things we wanted to see unfold in a very orderly way."


IMMIGRATION REFORM WOULD BOOST ECONOMY, CBO REPORT FINDS. The immigration reform bill drawn up by the Senate Gang of 8 would boost the economy and lower the deficit, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says in a report out yesterday, ABC's JIM AVILA and SERENA MARSHALL report. The newly released, and highly anticipated, report from the government's nonpartisan bookkeeper comes as the Senate debates the bipartisan immigration legislation offered by the Gang of 8 and the House moves forward on a more piecemeal approach. The report, "The Economic Impact of S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act," says overall the legislation would lead to increases in the labor force, wages, and productivity. Along with that, the CBO report says, there would be a huge decrease in the federal budget deficits over the first 10 years of implementation: $197 billion. The second decade after implementation the bill would save roughly $700 billion, with an additional $300 billion deficit reduction possible through what the report called "economic impacts not included in the cost estimate." The cost of enacting the immigration overhaul would be far less than the financial benefits, according to the report. Implementation would cost estimated $22 billion over the 2014-23 period and $20 billion to $25 billion over the period 2024-33.

HOUSE COMMITTEE WOULD CRIMINALIZE BEING UNDOCUMENTED. One small step for immigration in the Senate, one giant leap backward in the House? While the Senate was working to amend the bipartisan immigration bill on the floor, the House Judiciary Committee was busy late Tuesday night passing its piecemeal approach to immigration overhaul, ABC's JIM AVILA and SERENA MARSHALL report. First step, making it a federal crime (misdemeanor) to be in the United States with undocumented status and repealing DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), better known as the DREAM Act, that provides temporary status to people brought to the United States as children and were younger than 31 as of June 15, 2012. Similar amendments were passed last week as part of the 2014 Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill. So the committee action was no surprise. But for a Republican Party that is trying to win back Latino voters, it could be trouble. The committee approved 20-15, along party lines, the SAFE Act (Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act), making unlawful presence in United States a federal crime, as well as an effectively killing the DREAM Act.

CLAIRE MCCASKILL JOINS EFFORT TO DRAFT HILLARY CLINTON IN 2016. Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill got a more than three-year head start on the 2016 election, lending her support on Tuesday to an effort to draw Hillary Clinton into the next presidential race, ABC's MICHAEL FALCONE reports. McCaskill signed on with the group Ready for Hillary, a super PAC that has emerged as a kind of campaign-in-waiting for the former secretary of state and potential Democratic presidential contender. "It's important that we start early, building a grassroots army from the ground up, and effectively using the tools of the Internet - all things that President Obama did so successfully - so that if Hillary does decide to run, we'll be ready to help her win," she said in a statement. Her announcement makes her the first current member of Congress to endorse the draft-Hillary effort, which has been accumulating an impressive list of backers, including Democratic strategist James Carville, long-time Clinton confidant Harold Ickes and former California Rep. Ellen Tauscher. McCaskill's early support of the group - and by extension, Clinton - also serves to put some distance between the Missouri senator and her decision to endorse Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential primary. The announcement also signaled a new chapter for the super PAC, which continues to build its team and brand. In late May, Ready for Hillary announced the formation of a National Finance Council and the addition of former White House political director Craig Smith, who served under Bill Clinton, as a senior adviser.

HOUSE PASSES BILL BANNING ABORTION AFTER 20 WEEKS. The House of Representatives voted last night to pass legislation to ban abortion after 20 weeks, except in what Democrats assailed as "narrow" cases of incest of a minor, rape, and health of the mother, prompting a partisan debate on the House floor as lawmakers grappled over the question of how soon a fetus is able to detect pain in the womb, ABC's JOHN PARKINSON reports. The bill, H.R. 1797 - Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, passed by a vote of 228-196. Six Republicans opposed the measure, while six Democrats crossed the aisle to support it. Republicans contend that a fetus is capable of detecting pain well before the current cut-off for abortions, at 24 weeks. "These aren't just fetuses, science now tells us that they can feel pain. These babies are just like the ones we see in Neonatal Intensive Care Units in hospitals in our area struggling for life, needing love," Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said in support of the bill. "This law will protect children." Democrats, on the other hand, called the legislation an assault on women's reproductive rights and an attempt to override the Supreme Court's 1973 ruling in Roe. v. Wade. "It is unconstitutional, and it is dangerous to the health and safety of American women," Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said. "It's a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade when the Court held that prior to viability, abortions may be banned only if there are meaningful exceptions to protect a woman's life and health."

TEA PARTY FIGHT BREWING IN ALASKA SENATE RACE. Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate in Alaska Tuesday, ensuring there will be a Republican primary in the race to run against Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat, ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE notes. Treadwell officially got into the race Tuesday after announcing an exploratory committee in November. He will face off against Joe Miller, the GOP U.S. Senate primary victor in 2010, who made his intentions clear when he filed paperwork to run last month. Miller lost in the 2010 general election when he faced off against Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who ran as a write-in candidate after losing the Republican primary to Miller. Treadwell, referring to Begich, told ABC News that it's time to "replace our senator," saying his campaign would focus on opening up of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR, to oil and gas drilling - a move Begich has supported, as well. Treadwell touted "conservative principals," including limiting spending and "fighting for Alaska." But, he knows he first needs to face off against Miller, an attorney who now runs a conservative website that also features conspiracy theories. "Alaska needs a credible candidate that can win 51 percent of the vote," Treadwell said. "I don't want to upset any of his supporters by saying he can't win, but a race this time needs to attract voters to replace the sitting senator, replace the incumbent. I believe we can get a credible Republican candidate. I have a record that I will lay up against Joe [Miller] any day."


VETERANS GROUP HOLDS EVENT ON REFORMING VETERANS AFFAIRS. Tomorrow, Concerned Veterans for America will sponsor a Weekly Standard hosted event to address what can be done to transform the bureaucratic culture at the Department of Veterans Affairs. (Roughly 900,000 veterans are awaiting their Veterans Affairs disability compensation claims, with 70 percent backlogged for more than 125 days, according to Concerned Veterans for America). Former VA Secretary Anthony Principi, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Sen. Richard Burr (NC) and Chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee Rep. Jeff Miller (FL-1) will keynote the June 20th event, which is entitled "Reforming Veterans Affairs: Preserving Promises to Those Who Serve." Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, will also lead a panel discussion including Darin Selnick of Concerned Veterans for America, Peter Gaytan of the American Legion, Tom Tarantino of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Mark Flatten of The Washington Examiner, and Stewart Hickey of AMVETS. For more information email Mary Vought at The EVENT will also be livestreamed: It takes place tomorrow from 8:00 - 10:30 a.m. ET at Charlie Palmer's Steak (101 Constitution Avenue, NW, Washington, DC)


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