THE MORNING LINE -- May 2, 2012 at 9:05 AM EDT
Obama's Trip to Afghanistan Eclipses Bin Laden Debate
President Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai sign a strategic partnership agreement Tuesday. Afghan Presidential Palace photo via Getty Images.
Mitt Romney got a stark reminder Tuesday of just how difficult it is to run against an incumbent president who has command of the bully pulpit.
Appearing alongside former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Romney earned headlines early in the day by saying any American would have given the order to kill Osama bin Laden, keeping a few days' worth of debate afloat with a message that might have carried the presumptive Republican nominee through the news cycle.
That all changed just before 3 p.m. ET, when news outlets were allowed to report that President Obama had snuck away from Washington in the dark of night to visit Afghanistan. The president's trip zapped all other news, including Romney's remarks.
For the next five hours it was all about Mr. Obama, who signed a new pact with Afghan President Hamid Karzai outlining the long-term U.S. commitment to the war-torn nation and firming his plan to remove combat troops this year.
But it does not cement specific numbers of how many U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan after 2014. "Those are decisions that must be made by the U.S. Congress," an administration official told reporters traveling on the secret trip before the speech.
Mr. Obama's speech was timed for a U.S. audience, and it was the first-ever televised address to the nation delivered from a war zone.
"I will not keep Americans in harm's way a single day longer than is absolutely required for our national security. But we must finish the job we started in Afghanistan and end this war responsibly," the president said.
You can watch the speech here or below.
Before the speech, Gwen Ifill spoke with the Associated Press' Patrick Quinn from Kabul to outline what the new pact does and doesn't do. See that discussion here.
After the speech, Gwen discussed its significance with RAND Corporation's Seth Jones and Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress. They agreed that the timing of the speech was more about getting the agreement in place before the NATO summit in Chicago, but they each cautioned the implementation of the pact is more important than the words within it.
Watch the analysis segment here or below.
White House officials told reporters Tuesday that the administration believes the pact will boost the long-term security of the region and dismissed any suggestion the timing was political in nature. Officials said that Mr. Obama wanted to sign the agreement on Afghan soil, and given that it had been completed recently and that both the president and Karzai wanted to ink the deal before the summit, the date made sense.
That's not to say, of course, that Mr. Obama was not aware of the anniversary of bin Laden's killing. In fact, that was part of the consideration, the White House said. "It is certainly a resonant day for both of our countries," an official told reporters.
It's worth noting that the staff aboard Air Force One included the president's former campaign manager and top political aide David Plouffe.
After the speech, Romney issued a statement devoid of criticism, noting he was "pleased" that Mr. Obama had made the trip.
"Our troops and the American people deserve to hear from our President about what is at stake in this war. Success in Afghanistan is vital to our nation's security. It would be a tragedy for Afghanistan and a strategic setback for America if the Taliban returned to power and once again created a sanctuary for terrorists," Romney said. "We tolerated such a sanctuary until we lost thousands on September 11, 2001. Many brave Americans have sacrificed everything so that we could win this fight for a more secure future. Let us honor the memory of the fallen, not only by keeping them in our daily thoughts but also by staying true to their commitment. We are united as one nation in our gratitude to our country's heroes."
The battle for Virginia's 13 electoral votes gets underway in earnest Wednesday with Romney beginning a two-day campaign through Old Dominion.
The former Massachusetts governor's visit comes three days ahead of the president's rally in Richmond on Saturday, which, along with a similar event in Ohio, are designed to officially kick-off the Democrat's fall campaign.
A new survey released Tuesday by the left-leaning Public Policy Polling showed the president with a 51 percent to 43 percent lead over Romney in Virginia.
Romney starts with an event in Chantilly on Wednesday morning and will be in Portsmouth on Thursday, where he will be joined by Gov. Bob McDonnell, whose name has been mentioned as a potential running mate.
While McDonnell (the subject of the NewsHour's Divided by DC project) enjoys a 46/36 approval/disapproval rating, the PPP poll found that Romney's prospects would not benefit by adding the governor to the ticket. The Obama-Biden ticket holds an eight-point advantage over a Romney-McDonnell pairing.
While he's in the mid-Atlantic region, Romney is also expected to make his first visit to the Republican National Committee headquarters since becoming the presumptive GOP nominee, reports Roll Call's David Drucker.
In another sign of Virginia's importance, RNC chairman Reince Priebus announced Tuesday that Dave Rexrode will lead the organization's efforts in the state. Rexrode previously served as the executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia.
"Virginia is critical in the upcoming election, and Dave will play an important role in building our grassroots effort to ensure GOP victories in the state this November," Priebus said in a statement.
You can predict who will win Virginia's 13 electoral votes and all the rest in our Vote 2012 Map Center.
2012 LINE ITEMS
The Romney campaign released a web video Wednesday hitting the president for the country's unemployment rate.
Politico reports the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future has purchased nearly $4 million in ad time in key swing states.
BuzzFeed explains how early details of the president's clandestine Afghanistan trip hit the web early Tuesday.
Newt Gingrich released a web video Tuesday thanking his supporters ahead of his move Wednesday to officially suspend his campaign. "The issues are the same. We're still faced with a tremendous crisis of our country's future. The re-election of Barack Obama will be a genuine disaster," Gingrich says in the clip.
Gingrich told USA Today's Susan Page that he will officially endorse Romney at a joint appearance in the coming weeks. The former House speaker said Romney has in turn agreed to help him retire his campaign debt, which stood at $4.3 million at the end of March.
The Obama campaign, meanwhile, released a web video Wednesday that splices together statements Gingrich made during the primary critical of Romney.
Richard Grenell has stepped down as a foreign policy adviser to Romney's campaign.
Americans Elect, the group looking to put a bipartisan presidential ticket on the fall ballot, has hit a major snag in its efforts. The Associated Press' Brian Bakst reported that the group scrapped its first phase "because declared and draft candidates aren't mustering enough preliminary support" and that it canceled a virtual caucus that was planned for next week.
From the story: "Ileana Wachtel, a spokeswoman for the group, says no one gathered enough online 'clicks' to qualify. Candidates must show they have the backing of at least 1,000 people in at least 10 states. Some candidates must reach a threshold of 5,000 supporters in each of 10 states because they haven't held high enough office before under the Americans Elect bylaws."
Matea Gold reports in the Los Angeles Times about a conservative group looking to keep its donors secret.
Amy Walter of ABC News explains why Wal-Mart Moms aren't going to care about the bin Laden debate.
The Washington Post's Felicia Sonmez writes a front-page piece about Democratic Senate hopeful Richard Carmona in Arizona, and how the Obama campaign hopes his candidacy can help in the fall.
Democrat Governor of West Virginia "uncertain whether he'll vote for Obama" is.gd/W4C3PU— Joe Pounder (@PounderFile) May 2, 2012
Louisville fan Mitch McConnell has declined White House invite to celebrate NCAA champ UK Wildcats #HotlineSort— Reid Wilson (@HotlineReid) May 2, 2012
Heading BACK from Afghanistan on Air Force One. Link to slide show from the President's visit: 1.usa.gov/JLkseP— petesouza (@petesouza) May 2, 2012
Tonight's speech by Pres Obama comes 9 years to the day, almost to the hour, since Pres Bush's Iraq speech from USS Abraham Lincoln.— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) May 1, 2012
Waiting for Obama and Karzai@ Presidential Palace, Kabul instagr.am/p/KGGBEXkEmg/— Charles Dharapak (@CharlesDharapak) May 1, 2012
OUTSIDE THE LINES
Massachusetts GOP Sen. Scott Brown and Democrat Elizabeth Warren have raised a combined $30 million, making it the most expensive Senate race of the 2012 cycle. The Senate race in Texas, where there is a crowded GOP primary, placed second at more than $28 million.
The Washington Post's Dana Milbank points out that as of next week the House of Representatives will have worked "on just 41 of the first 127 days of 2012 -- and that was the busy part of the year."
The Post's Ed O'Keefe has more details on the Secret Service scandal, reporting that agents tied to the events in Cartagena, Colombia, "paid 10 of the 12 women they became involved with."
Roll Call's Joshua Miller reports that Connecticut state Rep. William Tong ended his Democratic primary bid and endorsed Rep. Christopher Murphy. That means it's a two-person race between Murphy and former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz in the Aug. 14 primary to replace Sen. Joe Lieberman. (Republicans have their own contest between ex-Rep. Chris Shays and former WWE CEO Linda McMahon.)
A new PPP poll has the anti-gay marriage amendment leading in North Carolina by a smaller margin than previous surveys, but it still expected to pass on Tuesday.
NewsHour Desk Assistant Alex Bruns writes about Brazil's Hacker Bus.
Herman Cain takes sides in the Florida GOP Senate primary, picking the establishment moderate.
Rep. John Lewis' new book will be released May 15.
Reuters reports that John Edwards' lawyer "attacked Andrew Young's credibility again on Tuesday, getting his wife to admit that her husband drank heavily while serving as a top aide to Edwards."
Actors from the "West Wing" do a "walk-and-talk" reunion for a new campaign supporting, what else, walking. Watch.
Cassie Chew contributed to this report.
ON THE TRAIL
All events are listed in Eastern Time.
President Obama returns from Afghanistan at 10:55 a.m. He holds a private ambassador credentialing ceremony in the Oval Office at 3:45 p.m. and then attends two campaign fundraisers in Washington at 4:30 and 5:30 p.m.
Vice President Biden delivers remarks at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., at 7 p.m.
Mitt Romney holds a campaign event in Chantilly, Va., at 10:30 a.m.
Newt Gingrich ends his campaign in Arlington, Va., at 3 p.m.
Ron Paul holds a town hall in Fullerton, Calif., at 10 p.m.
All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:
For more political coverage, visit our politics page.
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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.