THE MORNING LINE -- May 5, 2011 at 8:48 AM ET
As GOP '12 Hopefuls Prepare to Debate, President Obama Heads to Ground Zero
President Obama will participate in a wreath laying ceremony at the site of the World Trade Center in New York. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.
The split screen Thursday could not be starker.
In Greenville, S.C., five Republican presidential hopefuls will take to the stage at 9 p.m. EDT for what will be the first of many debates as the battle for the GOP nomination moves into its next phase.
With only one top-tier contender participating, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, the debate will do little to help shape the field or expose the real dividing lines among the candidates. (Because of coverage rules, the Associated Press does not plan to cover the debate which begs the tree-falling-in-a-forest question.)
More than drawing distinctions with each other, the candidates will be viewed in contrast to the powerful image most viewers will have seen earlier in the day.
At 1:25 p.m. EDT, President Obama will participate in a wreath laying ceremony at the site of the World Trade Center in New York to commemorate the 9/11 victims who died there, just days after ordering the successful operation that killed Osama bin Laden.
The president does not plan to speak at Thursday's ceremony.
"The president thinks it's entirely fitting and appropriate to visit the site of Ground Zero in the wake of this significant and cathartic moment for the American people," said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.
"And he wants to lay a wreath to honor the victims, to honor the first responders who so courageously rushed to the scene and, in many cases, gave their own lives to try to save others; to honor the spirit of unity in America that we all felt in the wake of that terrible attack," Carney added. "I think the power of that requires no words. And he will also meet with families of the victims and first responders in private."
The image of Mr. Obama making his first trip as president to the historic site is about as presidential an image that exists. For the five presidential candidates on the stage in South Carolina Thursday night, it will be a tough act to follow.
In his column, Roger Simon of POLITICO writes that the clock is ticking for Republicans to field some credible opponents to President Obama. Simon seems less than impressed by the current crop of GOP offerings.
The ticking clock has also been Pawlenty's primary message this week. In Iowa on Tuesday, he urged his fellow likely Republican presidential candidates to get off the sidelines.
And Thursday, Pawlenty raises the curtain on his first presidential debate performance with an op-ed piece in the Daily Caller.
"Some candidates are skipping tonight's Republican debate in South Carolina because they believe it's "too soon" to begin the presidential campaign against Barack Obama. I only hope that it's not too late.
"After two and a half years of Barack Obama's presidency, nearly one in five American workers are consistently unable to find full employment, our national debt continues to skyrocket, and inflating energy and food prices are eating away at families' budgets.We can do better. But first we need a new president -- which is why tonight's Republican debate is so important."
Joining Pawlenty on the stage Thursday will be former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, businessman Herman Cain and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson.
All eyes, though, will be on the former Minnesota governor, who is eager to become better known among Republican primary voters. However, until he shares a stage with Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, Newt Gingrich and perhaps Mitch Daniels, it'll be tough to size up his vision and skills.
THE BIDEN COMMISSION
Vice President Joe Biden will convene a bipartisan group of House and Senate lawmakers Thursday morning at the Blair House in Washington to begin work on a comprehensive plan to address the country's long-term fiscal problems.
For Mr. Biden, the assignment represents the third time in the last six months he's been called to lead negotiations with members of Congress on behalf of the White House. It follows the efforts earlier this year to find agreement on a budget deal to avert a government shutdown and the compromise on extending the Bush-era tax cuts in late-2010.
The bar has been raised high this time around, as both parties enter the talks with their visions for dealing with the debt and deficits fairly well entrenched. Republicans refuse to raise taxes, while Democrats have spent the better part of the last month tearing apart the House GOP budget, especially its reforms to Medicare.
Leaders on Capitol Hill also appeared to give the panel an early brush off, appointing just six lawmakers, instead of the 16 that President Obama had called for when he announced the effort last month.
The participants at Thursday's 10 a.m. EDT gathering will include four Democrats -- Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye, Montana Sen. Max Baucus, South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn and Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen -- and just two Republicans -- Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Va.
Sen. Kyl and Rep. Cantor released a statement in advance of the talks saying the president must first lay out his request for increasing the debt limit, including "policy proposals to reduce spending and reform the budget process," in order for the discussions to be productive.
The negotiations already seem to be off to a rocky start, as the Washington Post's Lori Montgomery reported Wednesday evening that Republicans were willing to abandon an effort to overhaul Medicare as part of the budget negotiations and would instead focus on areas where they had common ground with Democrats.
Rep. Cantor's office pushed back forcefully on that account, reports the Huffington Post's Sam Stein, quoting an aide to the House majority leader who says, "The starting point is the Ryan budget, period."
Rep. Dennis Kucinich's congressional website says he's proudly serving Ohio's 10th District, but the veteran lawmaker might soon be looking for a new state to call home.
Ohio will lose two congressional seats next year because of redistricting, and the veteran Cleveland-area lawmaker has refused to deny reports that he has his eyes on Washington state, which stands to gain one seat.
In fact, Rep. Kucinich's office has said the congressman has "received requests from people in 20 states, including Washington state, encouraging him to move and run in their area."
Meantime, voters in the Ohio 10th are left with the possibility their congressman holding a prime-time news conference in which he announces plans to take his legislative talents to Pike Place Market.
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