Syria Comes to Ireland for G8
PHOTO: President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron help students paint a mural during a visit to the Enniskillen Integrated Primary School in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, June 17, 2013.

Image credit: Evan Vucci/AP

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )


  • GAMING OUT THE G8: The civil war in Syria is expected to dominate much of the discussion as President Obama sits down with the Group of Eight leaders in Northern Ireland today, just days after the White House confirmed the use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, ABC's MARY BRUCE reports. "They'll clearly discuss the situation in Syria, to include the most recent chemical weapons assessment that we've provided, the efforts that are underway to support both the opposition but also a political settlement in the country," Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes told reporters Friday.
  • THE PUTIN PROBLEM: President Obama will also have to sway Syrian President Assad's allies, including Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russia has publicly questioned American evidence that Assad used chemical weapons and does not agree that Assad must step down from power for a political settlement to be successful. Obama and Putin's meeting today, their first in a year, comes one day after Putin publicly defended Russian arms sales to Syria. "I think you will not deny that one does not really need to back the people who not only kill their enemies, but open up their bodies and eat their intestines," Putin said. "Do you want to support these people? Do you want to supply these people with arms?"
  • EVEN MORE TO TALK ABOUT: While the Syrian crisis will overshadow much of the summit agenda, there are many other topics up for discussion, including economic reform, trade and the fight against terrorism. Obama is expected to defend his administration's phone and internet surveillance programs as vital counterterrorism tools. "He'll be able to discuss with the other leaders the importance of these programs in terms of our counterterrorism efforts in particular, the constraints and safeguards that we place on these programs so that they have oversight against potential abuses," Rhodes said.
  • TODAY'S AGENDA: President Obama began a series of meeting with foreign leaders today with Prime Minister David Cameron. He plans to deliver a statement to the media following a meeting with European Union Leaders on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. After a series of summit meetings, Obama sits down with Russian President Putin. Meanwhile, First Lady Michelle Obama and Malia and Sasha are spending the day in Dublin, exploring the Obamas' Irish ancestry. They visited Trinity College Dublin and will join Irish youth for a performance by a Riverdance company.


ABC's DEVIN DWYER: A scandal-saturated month has taken a toll on what had been unshakable: President Obama's personal popularity. A new CNN/ORC International poll finds only half of Americans (49 percent) think Obama is honest and trustworthy - down 9 points over the last month to the lowest level in his presidency. The president's job approval rating is also back underwater, plunging 8 points since mid-May to 45 percent today. The declines were led by a dramatic drop in support among young people under 30 and independent voters, according to the CNN poll. Presidents' poll numbers do ebb and flow. But this is a significant erosion of support at a key juncture in Obama's second term; it's also the first time in a year and a half that a majority of Americans hold a negative view of Obama.

ABC's RICK KLEIN: Maybe he wasn't the one they were waiting for. The Boston Globe's poll out yesterday in the Massachusetts Senate race, showing Democrat Ed Markey up 13 points over Republican Gabriel Gomez, probably ensures that the GOP's national cavalry won't come to support Gomez over the race's last eight days. Gomez's allies have been practically begging for the help, seeking to shame national Republican donors using their own post-election promises as fodder. For whatever variety of reasons - and "pond scum" has less to do with it than the automatic Democratic edge in Massachusetts - Gomez's impressive biography hasn't been enough to bring him resources to compete with the veteran congressman Markey. That isn't to say there won't be second-guessing, though: If this race comes in closer than the polls, it won't just be Gomez allies saying shoulda-coulda-woulda.

ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: There is little more than a week for Gabriel Gomez's campaign to make up the polling deficit with Democrat Ed Markey in the Massachusetts Senate race, but Gomez doesn't show the type of momentum Scott Brown had one week before he beat Martha Coakley. Yesterday's Boston Globe survey showed that Markey's ads hitting Gomez on guns and his pro-life stance have hurt the businessman and Navy SEAL, while Gomez's ads painting Markey as the ultimate Washington insider who has spent 37 years in congress really haven't. The only bit of good news for Gomez out of the poll? He's the candidate respondents find most likable and he holds the lead among un-enrolled or independent voters. It's an essential voting bloc, but the numbers don't seem to be enough to put Gomez over the top.

ABC's MICHAEL FALCONE: What are the chances that Michael Bloomberg will follow the advice of top Democrats like Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer who are urging the New York mayor to cease and desist his attacks against their fellow Democrats over gun control? Pretty low. Despite the criticism, Bloomberg signaled last week that he plans to stay the course. "I think at the moment we are running more ads against Republicans than Democrats but let me just point out this is not a partisan issue," Bloomberg said, according to the Washington Post, referring to the ads his group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, has been running against key senators. "If you vote to continue the carnage on our streets I don't care what party you're in." Not only that, last week Mayors Against Illegal Guns kicked off a 100-day, 25-state bus tour meant to both acknowledge lawmakers who voted for the bi-partisan compromise on expanding background checks on gun purchasers and ratchet up the pressure on those who did not. But, at least one Democrat pointed out that a public battle with Bloomberg might actually not be all that bad. "In Alaska, having a New York mayor tell us what to do?" Alaska's Sen. Mark Begich said in an interview with The New York Times last week. "If anything, it might help me."


WHY THE SUPREME COURT MAY NOT SAY 'I DO' TO GAY MARRIAGE. With the Supreme Court expected to issue major rulings on same-sex marriage any day now, ABC News court watcher TERRY MORAN tells Top Line that the court will likely avoid making a monumental ruling on the issue. Moran says the justices "don't want to be the judges of America when it comes to this issue" and predicts that they will find a way to defer to the states in the two cases dealing with same-sex marriage. "They see this roiling democratic debate that's happening state-by-state, and the betting at the Supreme Court is that they'll find a way to decide this issue by getting themselves out of it," Moran says. "They won't declare gay marriage legal all over the country or illegal. They'll say, 'Let the states handle it.'" For more of Terry Moran's analysis on key cases awaiting a decision by the high court, including his explanation about why the court takes so long to issue rulings on cases related to race, check out this episode of Top Line.


OBAMA TELLS NORTHERN IRELAND'S YOUTH THE 'FATE OF PEACE IS UP TO YOU'. After decades of violence in Northern Ireland, peace there serves as a "blueprint" for ending conflicts around the world, President Obama said today, though cautioning that "there's still much work to do," ABC's MARY BRUCE reports. "You set an example for those who seek a peace of their own," the president told a gathering of young people at Belfast's Waterfront Hall shortly after arriving in Northern Ireland for the G8 Summit. "You are their proof of what's possible. Hope is contagious. And they are watching to see what you do next. "The terms of peace may be negotiated by leaders, but the fate of peace is up to you," he added. Obama urged the first generation to grow up in a time of peace to continue to break down barriers, telling them the work of peace "is as urgent now as it has ever been."

MARCO RUBIO: PRESIDENT'S INACTION HAS LED TO 'WORST POSSIBLE SCENARIO' IN SYRIA. During an exclusive interview on "This Week," Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio criticized President Obama for not intervening sooner in Syria's civil war, saying the inaction has led to the "worst possible scenario" in the war-torn country, ABC's BEN BELL reports. "It behooved us to kind of identify whether there was elements there within Syria fighting against Assad that we could work with, reasonable people that wouldn't carry out human rights violations, and could be part of building a new Syria. We failed to do that. This president failed to do that," Rubio told ABC News Chief White House Correspondent JONATHAN KARL. "The fact that it's taken this White House and this president so long to get a clear and concise policy on Syria has left us with the worst possible scenario right now," Rubio added. "So now your options are quite limited. Now the strongest groups fighting against Assad, unfortunately, are al Qaeda-linked elements. That doesn't mean that they all are, but it certainly - this group has become the most organized, the best armed, the best equipped. Our options are now really narrower than they were a few months ago," he said.

SARAH PALIN ON U.S. ON SYRIA: 'LET ALLAH SORT IT OUT'. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin criticized the Obama administration's decision to supply weapons to the rebels in the civil war in Syria, arguing that the U.S. should "Let Allah sort it out" until there is a stronger leader in the White House, ABC's ARLETTE SAENZ reports. "Militarily, where is our commander in chief? We're talking now more new interventions. I say until we know what we're doing, until we have a commander in chief who knows what he's doing, well, let these radical Islamic countries who aren't even respecting basic human rights, where both sides are slaughtering each other as they scream over an arbitrary red line, 'Allah Akbar,' I say until we have someone who knows what they're doing, I say let Allah sort it out," Palin said at the Faith and Freedom Coalition Conference in Washington, D.C. on Saturday.

PALIN VS. BUSH: Palin, speaking at the conclusion of the three-day event, also took a swipe at another speaker at the conservative forum, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who argued Friday that one of the reasons to support the Senate's immigration reform plan is because "Immigrants are more fertile." "I think it's kind of dangerous territory, territory to want to debate this whole one race's fertility rate over another, and I say this from someone who's kind of fertile herself," Palin said. "I don't think that's where we want to go in deciding how will we incentivize the hardworking responsible families who want to live in the light, follow the law, become Americans, versus those whose very first act on our soil is to break the law? There are different ways that we can debate this."

MASSACHUSETTS SENATE DRAMA: NATIONAL STAKES, WORRIES FOR BOTH SIDES. With barely a week left in the Massachusetts Senate special election to fill the seat John Kerry vacated when he became secretary of state, the race is giving both parties a chance to test-drive messaging and mobilization for next year's midterm congressional elections and beyond, ABC's RICK KLEIN notes. It's also revealing anxieties inside both parties about a still-turbulent political landscape. On the Democratic side, the clear sense is that the party won't allow itself to witness a rerun of Brown's stunning 2010 victory. "The takeaway is: We like to win elections. We don't take anything for granted," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee, who, herself, has made one trip to Massachusetts and has another on tap before the election. "The campaign and the candidate who ignores and lacks respect for the voters loses elections." Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee is putting some of its post-election data and research projects to a test drive in the state. RNC chairman Reince Priebus said he hopes the race sends a message that Republicans can compete - and win - in all corners of the country. "It's pretty clear from looking at all the Democrats going into Massachusetts, they're pretty concerned," Priebus said. "Being active and competitive everywhere helps us in every state in the country." It's that sentiment, plus Gomez's biography, that has some Republicans thinking the race could be winnable, if only Gomez could compete financially with Markey.

CHENEY: NSA MONITORING COULD HAVE PREVENTED 9/11. Former Vice President Dick Cheney defended the National Security Agency's surveillance programs yesterday, saying that had they been in effect over a decade ago, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks might have been prevented, ABC's ARLETTE SAENZ reports."Now, as everybody has been associated with the program said if we had this before 9/11, when there were two terrorists in San Diego, two hijackers able to use that program, that capability against the target, we might have been able to prevent 9/11," Cheney said on "FOX News Sunday." "If we had been able to read their mail and intercept those communications and pick up from the calls overseas the numbers here that they were using in the United States, we would then probably have been able to thwart that attack." Cheney's defense of the programs, which he advocated for following the attacks on 9/11, come shortly after top U.S. intelligence officials said the information obtained from the NSA surveillance program thwarted potential terrorist plots in the U.S. and over 20 other countries. Cheney described Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor who leaked details about the agency's surveillance programs, as a "traitor" and said this incident is one of the worst security breaches in U.S. history.

WHITE HOUSE WEIGHS IN: White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said on Sunday that the president does not believe the NSA program violates the privacy of Americans and said Obama will discuss the electronic surveillance "in the days ahead." "We find ourselves communicating in different ways, but that means the bad guys are doing that as well, so we have to find the right the balance between protecting our privacy, which is sacrosanct to the president, and protecting the country from the very real risks and threats that we face," McDonough said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

JEB BUSH CALLS HIS FATHER THE 'BEST MAN I'VE EVER MET'. In a special Father's Day edition of the Sunday Spotlight on ABC's This Week, former Florida governor Jeb Bush reflected on lessons he learned from his father and hinted about his own political future, ABC's KARI REA notes. In an exclusive interview with ABC's JONATHAN KARL, Bush spoke about Father's Days spent in the Bush household and called the 41st president "the best dad and the best man I've ever met." "He's a humble guy," Bush said. "Every day was Father's Day as I'm concerned." Bush said his father's lessons on humility have stayed with him. As Bush reflected on his loss in a 1994 Florida gubernatorial run, he recalled the resiliency his father taught him. "I ended up learning that losing actually turns out to be pretty good," Bush said. "It makes you better. You learn and grow."


"AT IRS, 'TEA PARTY' COULD MEAN 'LIBERAL,' OFFICIAL SAYS," by USA Today's Gregory Korte. When front-line tax agents in Cincinnati used the term "tea party," they didn't just mean conservative groups. Instead, a 'tea party' case could refer to an application for tax-exemption from any group - including liberal ones - believed to be engaging in political activity, one IRS official told congressional investigators. 'Since the first case that came up to Washington happened to have that name, it appeared to me that that's what they were calling it that as a shorthand, because the first case had been that,' said Holly Paz, the Internal Revenue Service's director of rulings and agreements. She said 'tea party' could mean any political group, just like 'Coke' is used as a generic term for soda, or people refer to tissues as 'Kleenex.' … Paz, the highest-ranking IRS official with knowledge of the targeting to thus far cooperate with the congressional investigation, spoke to House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and bipartisan committee staffers on May 21. USA TODAY reviewed all 222 pages of the transcript of her interview. Paz said liberal groups were mentioned by name, alongside the Tea Party, on an IRS BOLO - or 'be on the lookout' - list."


@JNSmall: My take: Four Ways Obama's Syria Gambit Could End via @TIMEPolitics

@jpodhoretz: So everybody thinking we're only going to be talking NSA this week: SCOTUS about to change the subject big time.

@RyanLizza: Now live: Inside the Gang of Eight's Immigration Deal …

@CPHeinze: Texas 2016 GOP prez primary: Ted Cruz in first place; Rick Perry in 4th place. …

@joanwalsh: Bragging about her fertility, mocking Jeb Bush on immigrants, Sarah Palin is the smiley face of white backlash …

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