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The Best of Obama—and the Worst
President Obama’s televised speech to youth in Jerusalem today showcased the strongest and weakest aspects of his leadership style.
He made plenty of threats to Bashar al-Assad and the Iranian government – “we will not tolerate,” and “we will hold you accountable,” and “time is not unlimited.” But they sounded empty, given how little Obama has done in Syria and the risks of doing more.
The president was at his best trying to inspire young Israelis to press their leaders for peace. Israelis have a right to be skeptical, he said, but Palestinians have a right to self- determination. “Look at the world through their eyes,” he urged. And then—shades of 2008—“You must create the change you want to see.”
Appealing to the better angels of our nature is Obama’s comfort zone. He should enjoy it while he can. He’ll be leaving it shortly if his ultimatums to Syria on chemical weapons and Iran on nuclear weapons come to naught.
IN ISRAEL, OBAMA DECRIES SETTLEMENTS. Addressing an audience of young Israelis in Jerusalem today, Obama spoke of ties of friendship with the Jewish state before encouraging Israelis to take risks in the name of peace, Bloomberg reports. “Israelis must recognize that continued settlement activity is counterproductive to the cause of peace, and that an independent Palestine must be viable – that real borders will have to be drawn,” he warned the audience. In a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Obama called for the resumption of peace talks, according to The New York Times. Read more
- After being interrupted by a heckler in Jerusalem, the president cracked, “I have to say we actually arranged for that because it made me feel at home.” (Washington Post)
BIDEN TALKS GUN CONTROL IN NEW YORK. Vowing to keep fighting for a renewal of the assault weapons ban, Vice President Joe Biden took to New York City today to hold a campaign-style event on gun control. As Roll Call notes, the choice of venue is telling: Rather than playing to key swing votes in the Senate, Biden is shoring up the gun control base. Read more
- Yoko Ono entered the gun-control fray, tweeting a picture of John Lennon’s bloody glasses from the night he was murdered, to punctuate her thoughts on gun violence.
CONGRESS APPROVES STOPGAP BILL TO AVOID GOV’T SHUTDOWN. The House voted 318-109 today in support of a continuing resolution to fund the government through the end of September, The Washington Post reports. The Senate passed the bill Wednesday, and it will now go to President Obama for approval. The short-term measure could set the federal government up for another crisis in six months. Read more
- The House also approved Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s Budget today by a vote of 221-207, with 10 Republicans joining the dissent.
NO AMERICANS ON KILL LIST – FOR NOW. No Americans are currently marked for death on the U.S. government’s terrorist strike list, according to the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. “There is no list where Americans are on the list,” Mike Rogers, R-Mich., told National Journal. Read more
- Here are some American terrorists who didn’t make the kill-list cut.
INTERIOR NOMINEE PASSES COMMITTEE VOTE. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 19-3 to approve the nomination of Sally Jewell to head the Interior Department today after administration officials struck a deal, Reuters reports. Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, had said she would hold up to the nomination over Interior’s intention to block a road through a wildlife refuge in her state. Interior agreed to review the preliminary decision not to allow the road, which residents of a small town say is necessary for emergency services. Read more
- Ever wonder what the Senate would look like viewed through the lens of Facebook? Yahoo! has an interactive graphic.
THE MARIJUANA DISPENSARY JUST BLOCKS FROM THE CAPITOL. Earlier this week, Reps. Jared Polis and Earl Blumenauer visited a marijuana dispensary. They were just blocks away from their congressional offices, and yet within months, certain D.C. residents will be able to come here to legally choose from more than a dozen strains of medical marijuana, from Master Kush to Blue Dream. The walls will be packed with vaporizers, water pipes, and pre-rolled joints. There will be THC lollipops, baked goods, and cookbooks. But for now, all the congressmen could see was an empty display case and a metal scale. National Journal’s Ben Terris reports on how the facility could become politically important in the fight to legalize marijuana. Read more
** A message from API: A tax on energy is a tax on everything. New energy industry taxes will cost jobs, undermine energy security and raise energy costs for everyone in this tough economy. Learn more at EnergyTomorrow.org.
OBAMA CONCLUDES TRIP TO ISRAEL, HEADS TO JORDAN. Obama will finish up his trip to Israel Friday. He’ll lay a wreath at the tomb of Theodor Herzl, founder of the modern Zionist movement, and former Israeli Prime Minister Yizahk Rabin. He’ll also travel to Israel’s Holocaust museum and the West Bank town of Bethlehem. The president will then fly to Jordan, where he will meet with King Abdullah II. Read more
"If things run really, really well, I'm going to be like 75 years old before the first undocumented person gets to vote." — Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-IL, 59, conceding that it will be a while before there's a pathway to citizenship (Yahoo! News).
NBC CORRESPONDENT RECOUNTS HARROWING KIDNAPPING. “Finish him,” a man named Abu Jaafar said. NBC’s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel and his group, travelling in Syria, had just been captured by pro-Syrian government shabiha (“shadow men”) militia. A bodyguard for a rebel commander was taken from a truck and awaited his execution. “The gunmen had their AK-47s set on burst,” Engel writes in April’s Vanity Fair. “They each fired four or five rapid shots, paused, then squeezed off another burst. The bodyguard didn’t scream or utter a word. He died too quickly for that. I heard his body hit the ground.” That scene in December set off five days in which Engel and his four-person crew were shuttled around as hostages, facing constant death threats and forced moves. Read more
* A message from API: New energy industry taxes will cost jobs and raise energy costs for us all. More at EnergyTomorrow.org.
PLAY OF THE DAY
MARCH MADNESS! The NCAA Basketball Tournament begins Thursday, so President Barack Obama filled out his bracket sheet before heading off to Israel. Both of those topics were key points in late-night TV, with The Tonight Show’s Jay Leno highlighting the Israel trip and the lack of Vice President Joe Biden on said trip. The Late Show’s David Letterman and Leno both went over the Republican Party’s soul-searching and need to find ways to court new voters. Watch it here
TWO MYTHS: GOP WON’T RAISE TAXES AND BUDGET DEAL IS DEAD. House Speaker John Boehner has stubbornly insisted he will not bargain with Obama one-on-one. He also says the House, after increasing taxes by $600 billion last year, will not raise new revenue. Don’t believe him, writes National Journal’s Ron Fournier, warning not to mistake a negotiating position for reality. House Republicans tell Fournier they are open to exchanging entitlement reform for new taxes – $250 billion to $300 billion, or approximately the amount that Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania proposed raising over 10 years under the guise of “tax reform.” That may not be enough new revenue to satisfy Obama, but it’s a start. As part of a deal, Democrats possibly could curb the worst of the sequestration cuts. Read more
FEWER PEOPLE KNOW WHAT OBAMACARE ENTAILS. Media coverage of the Affordable Care Act has declined drastically since the health reform law was originally passed three years ago. And as time goes on, the public is actually less aware of some of the law's provisions, according to a new tracking poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Compared with April 2010, the percent of the public who recognize that the law includes tax credits for small businesses to buy insurance has fallen by 14 percentage points. The shares of the public who realize the law provides subsidy assistance for individuals or the guaranteed issue of health insurance are also down by 13 and 11 points, respectively. At the same time, public support for the law has remained stagnant—a majority of the public say they have too little information to know how the Affordable Care Act will affect them. Read more