Scenes From A Foreign Trip

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )


  • OBAMA WARNS RUSSIA (AGAIN): In Japan today President Obama warned more U.S. sanctions on Russia are "teed up and ready to go," signaling that if Russia does not reverse course in eastern Ukraine it will face additional consequences "in days not weeks." But even as he threatened further sanctions, Obama acknowledged it is "entirely possible" that new economic penalties will not work to change Russian President Vladimir Putin's calculus on Ukraine, according to ABC's JONATHAN KARL and DEVIN DWYER. "So far the evidence doesn't make me hopeful," Obama said. "Assuming they don't follow through, then we'll follow through on what we said… which is tighter consequences on the Russians." Further sanctions, he said, are ready go. "We have been preparing for the prospect that we have to engage in further sanctions. Those are teed up," he said. "The fact I haven't announced them yet, doesn't mean they aren't teed up and ready to go," the president said.
  • OBAMA ALSO HAD TOUGH WORDS FOR CHINA: Obama made it clear that the U.S. security commitment to Japan extends to the Senakaku Islands, claimed by both China and Japan but currently administered by Japan, KARL and DWYER report from Tokyo. The Japanese fear China could move to militarily take over the islands. But a few minutes later, President Obama bristled at the suggestion that he was drawing yet another red line as he had done with Syria on chemical weapons and Russia on Crimea. "The treaty between the U.S. and Japan preceded my birth. So obviously this isn't a red line I'm drawing," Obama said. "This is an interpretation that has stretched multiple administrations about alliance. No shift in position, no red line that's been drawn. Simply applying the treaty."
  • OBAMA'S LIMO GETS JAPANESE PLATES: As President Obama's motorcade rumbled onto the Imperial Palace grounds in Tokyo today for a state visit, the U.S.-Japan bond was evident on the bumper of his U.S.-made limousine. The black Cadillac, shipped in from the United States by Secret Service, donned blue plates with a Japanese insignia. On the hood, U.S. and Japanese flags flittered in the morning sun. Obama greeted Emperor Akihito and his wife, lowering his head ever so slightly to shake hands with both royal highnesses, though it was a far cry from his full bow at the waist in 2009 that sparked much controversy.


-'TWO YEARS IS A REALLY LONG TIME IN POLITICS': Caroline Kennedy is endorsing Hillary Clinton for president in 2016 - "if she runs." The new U.S. ambassador to Japan endorsed Barack Obama in 2008, calling him an inspirational figure for a "new generation of Americans" akin to her father in 1960. "I think he's been a great president. And I think that this rebalanced Asia is a really good example of somebody who's taking the long view, advancing the United States interest," Kennedy told ABC's JONATHAN KARL in an interview in Tokyo. If Clinton decides to make a bid to succeed him, Kennedy says she's on-board. "If she runs," she said. "I know it sounds like a cliché, but two years is a really long time in politics," she said. "I'm sure she's looking forward to being a grandmother, I know she's got to decide soon. So, so you know I hope so."

-'AN UNBELIEVABLE TRIBUTE TO THE UNITED STATES': Kennedy is bringing history full circle. "I think that my story in a way is a great metaphor for the US-Japan alliance," Kennedy said. "Countries that were once adversaries and enemies in war are now the best of friends and allies. "That I could be here and receive the kind of welcome that I did, I think is an unbelievable tribute to the United States," she added.

-'THE REACTION WAS MIXED': Shortly after arriving in Japan, she stirred up controversy with a Twitter condemnation of the annual dolphin hunt, a Japanese tradition. She called the slaughter "deeply concerning" for its "inhumanness," raising eyebrows among many Japanese. "The reaction was mixed," she said of the spat, but "think that the whole point of being allies is that we can you know express our disagreements."

-KENNEDY ON DREAMY SUSHI: After a sushi dinner with President Obama and Prime Minister Abe at the best shop in town, Kennedy revealed that Jiro's nigiri are incomparable. More from ABC's DEVIN DWYER: "Travels With Obama: Behind-The-Scenes On The President's Asia Trip"


ABC's RICK KLEIN: It's the Ted and Sarah show - and it's coming just in time for the tea party. Sen. Ted Cruz and former Gov. Sarah Palin are teaming up today at a rally in Oklahoma, to support the Senate candidacy of T.W. Shannon. Cruz and Palin - along with Sen. Mike Lee - then head to Nebraska tomorrow, to boost the Senate candidacy of Ben Sasse. Shannon and Sasse are both in competitive Republican primaries; those mark Cruz's first two endorsements in races with multiple GOPers vying for the same seat. It's fitting way to curtain-raise a defining month for tea partiers: The first big wave of primaries take place in May. Can the establishment reclaim the party from a restive activist base? North Carolina and Kentucky will answer that question even more than Oklahoma or Nebraska.



HILLARY CLINTON HAS A PROBLEM WITH THE MEDIA. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed her frustrations about the current state of media on Wednesday night, describing what she sees as an "entertainment-driven" approach to news that is "not good for the country and not good for journalism," according to ABC's LIZ KREUTZ. The potential 2016 frontrunner, 66, made her less-than-flattering comments during a Q&A session at her first-ever appearance at the University of Connecticut following her keynote address at the Edmund Fusco Contemporary Issues Forum. Using questions submitted by students, University President Susan Herbst asked Clinton about the role journalists could play in resolving the gridlock in Congress. "I think journalism has changed quite a bit in a way that is not good for the country and not good for journalism," Clinton said, venting about her concern that a more ratings-driven approach to television has led to theatrics over facts. "A lot of serious news reporting has become more entertainment-driven and more opinion-driven, as opposed to factual. People book onto the shows political figures, commentators who will be controversial, who will be provocative, because it's a good show. You may not learn anything, but you might be entertained."

BASHAR AL-ASSAD'S DEADLY LOOPHOLE IN SYRIA DEAL. The Obama administration's top accomplishment on Syria - a deal in which President Bashar al-Assad would surrender his chemical weapons - risks being undermined by substantial, potentially deadly loopholes in the agreement, according to ABC's ALI WEINBERG. Secretary of State John Kerry touted on Tuesday the fact that Syria had given up almost all its declared chemical weapons and would finish the process by the end-of-April deadline. "We now have the majority percentage of chemical weapons moved out of Syria, and we're moving on schedule to try to complete that task," he said at a State Department event. But events in Syria paint a more complicated picture of Assad's continued ability to kill civilians with chemical weapons.

NEW POLL BUOYS SOUTHERN DEMS' HOPE WITH TIGHT SENATE RACES. Senate Democrats in the South received some welcome news yesterday from a New York Times-Kaiser Family Foundation poll showing tight U.S. Senate races in Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana and North Carolina, but the poll also highlighted some potential warning signs for Democrats when it comes to health care and President Obama's sagging approval ratings, ABC's ARLETTE SAENZ notes. Sen. Mark Pryor, largely considered the most vulnerable Democrat in this year's election, holds a 10 percentage point lead over his Republican opponent, Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark. Forty-six percent of registered voters in Arkansas said they'd vote for Pryor while 36 percent said they'd vote for Cotton. Pryor, who has served two terms in the Senate, has an approval rating of 47 percent. The poll found that the two closest races in the Southern states are in Kentucky and North Carolina.

HUMANOID ROBOT CHALLENGES OBAMA IN SOCCER. President Obama today got up close and personal with the latest in Japanese science and technology, including an encounter with a humanoid robot named "ASIMO." During a photo op at the Miraikan museum, which showcases Japanese emerging science and innovation, Obama and the robot bowed at each other and even had a conversation in English, ABC's DEVIN DWYER notes. "It's nice to meet you," ASIMO said in an electronic voice. "I can kick a soccer ball, too." "OK, come on," Obama said in wry disbelief. ASIMO accepted the challenge, fetching a ball, stepping back, then punting it toward the president. Obama deftly trapped the ball with his foot. "How about that, that was pretty impressive," he said.

BROADENED CLEMENCY RULES COULD AFFECT THOUSANDS OF INMATES. Prison inmates serving sentences for nonviolent crimes have been offered broader guidelines for seeking clemency, the Department of Justice announced yesterday, ABC's MATTHEW LAROTONDA reports. The new rules, only eligible to prisoners who have already served 10 years behind bars, will focus on people who would be handed a lesser punishment if they were charged with the same crime yesterday. It's unclear how many of the nation's 216,000 federal inmates will be affected. The decision is part of a broader effort by the Obama administration to reduce the U.S. prison population by turning back the use of harsh sentences for drug crimes.


ERIN BROCKOVICH SURFACES AT THE SUPREME COURT. Environmental activist Erin Brockovich and dozens of military veterans rallied outside the Supreme Court yesterday as the justices heard arguments that an electronics company was responsible for polluting drinking water at Camp Lejeune that sickened thousands of Marines, notes ABC's KATHERINE FAULDERS. The case, CTS Corporation v. Waldburger, claims that CTS Corporation, a global manufacturer of electronics, contaminated the camp's drinking water with trichloroethylene, a known carcinogen, between 1953 and 1987. "It's probably one of the largest pollution problems we have in the country. We have service men and women coming home to their families who had no idea the land they were living on was polluted, that their families have been poisoned, that their children are dying," Brockovich said at the rally.


MEET ONE OF THE MOST INTERESTING PEOPLE ALIVE TODAY. Not only did Col. Joe Kittinger set the record for the highest and longest skydive in history in 1960, but the 85-year-old retired Air Force colonel was also the first person ever to observe the curvature of the Earth from the edge of outer space, and the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean in a helium balloon. Kittinger sat down with "Politics Confidential's" JONATHAN KARL to discuss his life's many adventures and what it was like to help break his own skydiving record in 2012 as part of the Red Bull Stratos project, during which he served as a mentor and capsule communicator to the current highest skydive record holder, Austrian Felix Baumgartner. WATCH:


@MarquardtA: Follow our guys @MuhammadLila and @mattmcgarry right now in Sloviansk #Ukraine

?@ktumulty: Congressional investigation discovers that DHS watchdog's favorite trick was to roll over. Via @CarolLeonnig

@DavidMDrucker: In the battle for women voters, Repubs are acknowledging that Dems have been winning & trying to do something abt it:

?@samsteinhp: As Obama reconsiders deportation policy he faces a HUGE revolt against a key program. A must read by @elisefoley

@devindwyer: Dessert on the menu at Japanese state dinner for @BarackObama - "ice cream in the image of Mt. Fuji"

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