Obama Grapples with Incidents Abroad

Aug 23, 2013 8:53am

By MICHAEL FALCONE (@michaelpfalcone)

NOTABLES

  • ‘GRAVE CONCERN’ ABOUT SYRIA: President Obama said the reported chemical attack in Syria this week is “clearly a big event of grave concern,” but that the United States needs to carefully “think through” its response, ABC’s MARY BRUCE reports. “When you start seeing chemical weapons used on a large scale; and again, we’re still gathering information about this particular event, but it is very troublesome,” Obama said in an interview with CNN that aired this morning — his first public comments since Wednesday’s reported attack. Reports of a large-scale, chemical weapons attack by the government of Bashar al-Assad cited mass casualties that ranged from 1,000 to as many as 1,800 Syrian civilian deaths. Syria has denied gassing its own people. The incident has challenged, once again, the president’s “red line” in Syria, putting increased pressure on his administration to escalate its involvement in the crisis. “Sometimes, what we’ve seen is that folks will call for immediate action, jumping into stuff, that does not turn out well, gets us mired in very difficult situations, can result in us being drawn into very expensive, difficult, costly interventions that actually breed more resentment in the region,” he said, an apparent reference to the Iraq war. http://abcn.ws/15gr1ma
  • ‘A FULL EVALUATION’ IN EGYPT: The Obama administration is also evaluating whether to cut off aid to Egypt in response to the interim government’s violent crackdown against supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi. “We have to be very careful about being seen as aiding and abetting actions that we think run contrary to our values and our ideals,” the president told CNN’s Chris Cumo. “So what we’re doing right now is doing a full evaluation of the U.S.-Egyptian relationship. “Ultimately, what we want is a good outcome there. But there’s no doubt that, at this point, we’ve got to take a look and see what’s in the long-term interests of the Egyptian people? What’s in the long-term interests of the United States.” http://abcn.ws/15gr1ma
  • THIS WEEK ON “THIS WEEK”: With chaos in Egypt and new accusations of chemical weapons use in Syria, we cover the latest on the Middle East in crisis and how the U.S. will respond, Sunday on “This Week,” with ABC News Chief Global Affairs Correspondent MARTHA RADDATZ on the ground live from Cairo. And the powerhouse roundtable debates all the week’s politics and reflects on the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech 50 years after the March on Washington, with ABC News’ George Will, Cokie Roberts, Donna Brazile, Byron Pitts, and The Washington Post’s Dan Balz. Check the “This Week” page for full guest listings. Be sure to use #ThisWeek when you tweet about the program. Tune in Sunday:  http://abcnews.go.com/thisweek
  • LOUIE GOHMERT TAKES THE “THIS WEEK” QUIZ: We asked Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tex., to fill out our show quiz. You’ll never guess his favorite movie or his “guilty pleasure.” Take a look at his handwritten answers and be sure to tweet us @ThisWeekABC and tell us who you’d like to be our next participant: http://abcn.ws/19M3fTm

 

THE ROUNDTABLE

ABC’s RICK KLEIN: What’s up with the I-word? Republicans across the country are facing pointed questions at town hall meetings, not just about immigration or Obamacare, but about why they don’t think it’s a bad idea to try to impeach President Obama. That’s when it gets interesting: The response, in at least three cases, has been to agree that impeachment is worth considering. It’s easy to dismiss such chatter as fringe talk with, of course, no possibility of actually turning into impeachment proceedings. But one of the reasons congressional recesses matter is that they inform the mindset lawmakers return to Washington with. We’re entering a period of heavy legislative lifting, in a year where – as President Obama told CNN yesterday – “There hasn’t been a legislative session as far as I can tell.” A House member or senator who’s just agreed that impeachment should be on the table is, let’s say, somewhat less likely to work alongside the president on immigration, or simply making sure the government isn’t shut down.

ABC’s SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: It might be 2013, but the Republican National Committee is taking nothing for granted when it comes to 2016. They have already been pushing anti-Hillary Clinton messaging, but today they will launch a “Joe Biden 2016 kick off” to coincide with the president’s event in Scranton, Pa. where he will be joined by native son: Joe Biden. The RNC wants to frame a possible Biden presidency as an “Obama third term.” Noting Biden’s travel to Iowa for the Harkin Steak Fry next month, as well as his Pennsylvania stop today, the RNC has  a new video out that starts with that famous Obama flub when he first introduces Biden as his running mate by calling him the “the next president–the next vice president of the United States: Joe Biden!” A graphic then reads “This time it’s for real” in Obama blue and white, before saying today’s event is the beginning of the “Biden 2016 kick off tour.” ”With President Obama looking more like a lame duck every day with little to show for his time in office, Biden is finding it even harder to conceal his own presidential ambitions,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement. “And with the president appearing at Biden’s side, it looks like there’s at least two leading presidential candidates running for the Obama third term.” WATCH: http://bit.ly/153U27i

 

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

OUTGOING FBI DIRECTOR LOOKS BACK ON BOSTON BOMBING. FBI Director Robert Mueller recounted his reaction to the Boston Marathon bombing in April that killed three people and injured hundreds more in a rare interview with ABC’s PIERRE THOMAS. “Needless to say, anyone who looked and saw those pictures was horrified at the killing, and the devastation and the injuries, the number of people who lost their limbs and legs and the like. You could not help but be horrified,” Mueller said yesterday. Mueller acknowledged that the older suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, “had come to our attention before this occurred,” but he insisted his agency did a thorough investigation and could not do anything more. “In the future, we will have a case where the person has been on our radar screen, but we do not have the evidence and there is no outward evidentiary capability to bring the person into the criminal justice system,” Mueller warned. “That is going to happen.” For more of the interview with Mueller, including how he says the government has improved in responding to mass shooting incidents, check out this episode of “Power Players.” http://yhoo.it/17PFl3L

 

BUZZ

OBAMA’S COLLEGE ROAD TRIP CONTINUES: President Obama continues his education bus tour today with stops in Binghamton, N.Y., and Joe Biden’s hometown of Scranton, Pa., where he will be joined by the vice president. Today marks Biden’s first public appearance since spending the week tending to his son Beau’s medical needs, ABC’s MARY BRUCE notes. At 12:45 pm Eastern, the president participates in a town hall at Binghamton University. Later this afternoon, Obama and Biden deliver remarks on college affordability at Lackawanna College in Scranton.

U.S. INTELLIGENCE STILL TRYING TO ‘NAIL DOWN THE FACTS’ ON REPORTS OF SYRIAN CHEMICAL WEAPONS USE. U.S. intelligence is trying to “nail down the facts” about reports of a large-scale chemical weapons attack inside Syria by the Assad regime, ABC’s SHUSHANNAH WALSHE and LUIS MARTINEZ note. Some of those reports cite mass casualties that range from 1,000 to as many as 1,800 Syrian civilian deaths. “The most recent estimates we’ve seen range from a thousand to 1,800, which is obviously a broad range,” State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters at the State Department’s daily briefing.  Psaki said U.S. intelligence is taking the lead in trying “to nail down the facts” for the U.S. government.  “Clearly, we wouldn’t be doing that if we weren’t deeply concerned by these reports … or didn’t believe that they were worth looking into.” A U.S. official says Psaki is not citing an official U.S. number when she said “range of reports.”  Instead she was citing information coming to the U. S. from opposition sources and the United Nations, as well as press reports.   The official said the United States is talking to them to determine what exactly happened in Damascus. http://abcn.ws/1bXYsvq

FBI DIRECTOR WARNS OF AMERICANS TRAVELING TO SYRIA AND BRINGING TERRORIST TACTICS HOME. The outgoing director of the FBI gave a sobering assessment Thursday of the current threats facing the U.S. homeland: A biological weapon of mass destruction detonated inside the country and a plane downed in mid-flight are viable scenarios. Americans now traveling to war-torn Syria could bring terrorist tactics home with them. Terrorism has “changed so much since the days after Sept. 11th,” director Robert Mueller said in a rare interview with ABC’s PIERRE THOMAS. In particular, Mueller said, the threat emanating out of Afghanistan and Pakistan has now “migrated” to places like Yemen, Libya, Egypt and Syria. In Syria, a near-civil war has reportedly killed more than 1,000 people and is drawing fighters from around the world, including the United States. “[When] you have individuals traveling to those venues, you are concerned [first] about the associations they will make, and secondly about the expertise they will develop and whether or not they will utilize those associations, utilize that expertise, to undertake an attack upon the homeland,” Mueller said. “So, yes, we are concerned about that, and, yes, we are monitoring it.” http://abcn.ws/186NfEH

–WHAT KEEPS MUELLER ‘AWAKE AT NIGHT’? Next month, Mueller is leaving the FBI after 12 years at its helm. James Comey, a former senior official in the Justice Department, will replace him. Mueller was on the job for about a week when the Sept. 11 hijackers changed the country – and the FBI – forever, ABC’s JACK CLOHERTY and MIKE LEVINE write. It’s “the possibility of a plane being taken down, and the possibility of a weapon of mass destruction in the hands of a terrorist or terrorist group who are not afraid to launch it” that “tends to keep us awake at night,” Mueller recounted. He said days like Sept. 11, 2001, and those with news such as the 2009 Ft. Hood attack, the Benghazi attack last year, and the Boston Marathon bombing in April are some of the most difficult for the FBI. “Anyone who looked and saw those pictures was horrified at the killing and the devastation,” Mueller said of the Boston Marathon bombing, which killed three, including an 8-year-old boy, and injured more than 260 others. http://abcn.ws/186NfEH

PRO-BRADLEY MANNING HECKLERS INTERRUPT OBAMA SPEECH. While making the pitch on his new college affordability plan for a second time, President Obama was interrupted by pro-Bradley Manning hecklers at Henninger High School in Syracuse, N.Y., Thursday evening, ABC’s ARLETTE SAENZ and MARY BRUCE report. Two women holding a giant “Free Bradley Manning” sign yelled at the president in the middle of his speech. It was unclear what the women were saying, but they were escorted out of the gymnasium to applause from the crowd. When the women started shouting, the president said, “I hear you,” and tried to calm down the crowd.  After the two women left, Obama called the hecklers “polite” before continuing with his college affordability speech. “Can I just say that, as hecklers go, that young lady was very polite. She was! And she brought up an issue of importance, and that’s part of what America is all about,” Obama said. “But what America is also all about is making sure that middle-class families succeed.” After stops Thursday in Buffalo and Syracuse, the president will continue his bus tour on Friday with a town hall at Binghamton University and a speech at Lackawanna College in Scranton, Pa., hometown of Vice President Joe Biden, who will join the president after spending the week in Houston with his son, Beau Biden, who underwent a medical procedure on Tuesday. http://abcn.ws/153JODW

FIVE RULE-BREAKING POLITICIANS TO KNOW. When Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst tried to use his position of power to get a relative out of prison for allegedly shoplifting, he joined a host of politicos who have gotten into hot water for unsavory activities in their official capacities. From using positions to get out of tickets to attempting a risky near-crash landing on a closed runway, ABC’s ALISA WIERSEMA and ABBY PHILLIP show you five politicians who weren’t on their best behavior: http://abcn.ws/17PvWci

SIX CHARTS SHOW WIDE ECONOMIC GULF BETWEEN RACES. Fifty years after Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, the economic gulf between whites and blacks in America is not only still in place — it’s getting worse, FUSION’s TED HESSON notes. A data set and poll compiled by the Pew Hispanic Center shows that in the lives of many people, racial inequality is just as present and problematic today as it was on August 28, 1963, when King gave the forward-looking speech at a civil rights march in Washington, D.C. Only 45 percent believe that the country has made substantial progress toward equality among people of different races. Blacks were most likely to think that only a little or no progress has been made. While 27 percent of blacks believe that, 23 percent of Hispanics and 11 percent of whites think the same thing. Pew put together some charts that show how in many economic areas, the gap between whites and blacks has only widened. Take a look: http://abcn.ws/1avr9Sx

 

THE PUPPY CHRONICLES

–OBAMA SAYS SUNNY ADDED AS PLAYMATE TO BO. The first family recently added a new member - a 1-year-old puppy named Sunny - but President Obama said it was as much for them as it was for Bo, who he said has been “down in the dumps” at the White House recently, ABC’s ARLETTE SAENZnotes. “Bo was getting lonely because the two other puppies are grown up. And they still have some responsibilities for him, but they’re not always around between school, sports practice, all that stuff. And so Bo was getting a little down in the dumps inside the house,” Obama told CNN. “Sunny, the new dog. she’s only a year old and the truth is she’s faster than she is, she jumps higher, she’s friskier,” he said. “He is trying to keep up. But I think that ultimately, it’s going to be great.” http://abcn.ws/178fiqq

–NEW WHITE HOUSE PUPPY NOT ‘POTTY TRAINED’. Making a campaign-style stop for lunch on the drive from Buffalo to Syracuse yesterday, President Obama commented on the newest addition to his family, puppy Sunny, according to ABC’s MARY BRUCE. Greeting the crowd gathered outside Magnolia’s Deli and Cafe, in Rochester, the president was asked about the 14-month-old pup. Sunny’s “not completely potty trained,” Obama revealed. Sounds like Sunny won’t be joining the president on any long bus trips anytime soon. At the recommendation of Sen. Chuck Schumer, the president stopped at the Rochester restaurant for lunch with college students and parents to discuss his plan to make college more affordable.

 

WHAT WE’RE READING

“RUN, JOE, RUN!” a U.S. News and World Report Op-Ed by GOP strategist Ford O’Connell. “Hey, fellow Republicans, here’s an idea: Let’s dress for the occasion (no elephant hats, definitely no red, white and blue) and get out and whoop it up for Vice President Biden. He is making the early rounds of the 2106 presidential campaign trail, and, after that ‘put y’all back in chains’ display in Virginia and a lifetime of bad votes and questionable behavior, he certainly doesn’t deserve our actual support. But if we can help make him look like a strong candidate in the early stages of the campaign, it could redound to our benefit in a variety of ways. Hillary Clinton isn’t coming out of her ’holding pattern’ until someone forces her. And until she does declare her intentions, she is almost above attack. She can say what she wants, position herself as she likes for the campaign ahead, and Republicans can’t really lay a glove on her. But a strong early showing by Biden could be just the thing to force her decision. And if she does get in, nobody has more dirt on her or more reason to shovel it than Biden. He’s already 70, so 2016 is definitely his last shot. He’ll be fighting against history itself – the prospect of nominating and electing America’s first female president - and he relishes the underdog role. And Biden in the race neutralizes any coattails President Obama might be willing – or able – to provide.” http://bit.ly/12tNAme

 

IN THE NOTE’S INBOX

AMERICANS UNITED FOR CHANGE SAYS: ‘GOP UNDER PRESSURE’ THIS AUGUST. Brad Woodhouse, president of the liberal advocacy group, Americans United For Change, penned a memo out this morning. Here is an excerpt: “This third week of the August recess left the GOP under pressure as crunch time approaches on their ham handed effort to repeal Obamacare…. or delay it… or defund it and shut the government down if they don’t get their way (it’s hard to keep up) as the public sours on the GOP’s obsession with the issue. In stop after stop this week, defunders were confronted by young adults who now have coverage because they can stay their parents plans, doctors who see patients now being able to afford preventive care, and women who don’t have to worry about being being discriminated against simply because they are women. Even inside their events, these repealers couldn’t avoid questions about how they would actually replace the healthcare law – because they don’t have an answer.  But that’s not the only front they had to defend – in districts across the country this week … They have not forgotten about Sandy Hook or Aurora, Tucson or Virginia Tech, or the countless other communities that have been impacted by gun violence and they won’t let leaders in Washington forget that they can act to make our communities safer by passing measures have a significant majority of support. These supporters of gun violence prevention posed the simple question to Republicans – if the will of the American people and the voices of the families affected by all these tragedies aren’t enough–what will it take?” FULL MEMO: http://bit.ly/14nC1hI

 

WHO’S TWEETING?

@davidaxelrod: “I want to see policies that encourage every American to vote, not make it more difficult to vote.”-Colin Powell. http://bit.ly/13UXFGv 

@KristiNoem: Military Appreciation Night tonight at the Central States Fair Rodeo. I participated in the grand entry. pic.twitter.com/Hk2Lm1Uzgo

@mlcalderone: “Gingrich may be the only Republican in America who believed 20 primary debates in the 2012 campaign were too few.” http://nyti.ms/19AEZjx 

@JessicaTaylor: The race to replace Filner in San Diego is already on –and it could impact the battle for the House in 2014 http://tv.msnbc.com/2013/08/22/scrambling-in-san-diego-who-wants-filners-seat/ … #CA52

@mikememoli: 5 yrs ago was sitting in Biden driveway waiting for departure for VP ancmt. Now sitting in parking lot while POTUS at gym#livingthedream

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