Obama Looks to Shift Focus to Drone Strikes As Scandals Swirl

BY Terence Burlij and Christina Bellantoni  May 23, 2013 at 9:20 AM EST

REUTERS/U.S. Air Force/Lt Col Leslie Pratt/Handout
Undated image courtesy of the U.S. Air Force shows a MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft. Photo: REUTERS/U.S. Air Force/Lt Col Leslie Pratt

The Morning Line

On the defensive over a trio of controversies, President Barack Obama will attempt to refocus the debate Thursday with a speech laying out his administration’s rationale for the use of unmanned drone strikes against terrorism targets abroad.

The president’s address at the National Defense University in Washington comes as the administration has faced mounting pressure at home and abroad to provide greater transparency when it comes to its counterterrorism policies. In his remarks Mr. Obama is expected to outline a legal and policy justification for conducting drone strikes and respond to questions raised by the use of targeted killings, according to a White House official.

The administration took an initial step Wednesday in its revamped approach to the sharing of information related to national security operations when Attorney General Eric Holder sent a letter to members of Congress acknowledging the killing of four U.S. citizens in overseas drone attacks.

Holder also outlined for lawmakers when the use of lethal force would be warranted, indicating the first option should be to capture a terrorism subject. “When capture is not feasible, the policy provides that lethal force may be used only when a terrorist target poses a continuing, imminent threat to Americans,” Holder added.

Charlie Savage and Peter Baker preview the president’s remarks in Thursday’s New York Times:

In his first major speech on counterterrorism of his second term, Mr. Obama hopes to refocus the epic conflict that has defined American priorities since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and even foresees an unspecified day when the so-called war on terror might all but end, according to people briefed on White House plans.

Savage and Baker go on to write:

A new classified policy guidance signed by Mr. Obama will sharply curtail the instances when unmanned aircraft can be used to attack in places that are not overt war zones, countries like Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. The rules will impose the same standard for strikes on foreign enemies now used only for American citizens deemed to be terrorists.

White House officials also said Wednesday that the president would renew his call to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“The president is considering a range of options for ways that we can reduce the population there and move toward ultimate closure, some of which we can take on our own, but some of which will require working with the Congress, which we hope will engage more productively on this process in the future than it has in the past,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said during a briefing with reporters.

In his speech the president will seek to “align our counter-terrorism strategy with our values” and announce “a number of specific steps to advance that goal,” according to a White House official.

The NewsHour will livestream the 2 p.m. ET address here.

IRS INTRIGUE

Lois Lerner’s refusal to answer questions was the highlight of the House Oversight Committee’s hearing Wednesday on the IRS’ scrutiny of conservative groups, the third such probe over the last week.

The NewsHour reported on the committee meeting — filled with fireworks — and used the news as an opportunity to dive into the definition of tax-exempt groups and how campaign finance law created opportunities for hundreds of tea party activists to ask to be granted such status.

Jeffrey Brown talked with Kim Barker of ProPublica, who has a piece outlining things missing from the IRS debate, and Duke Law professor Richard Schmalbeck. Watch the segment here or below:

 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell used the IRS dust-up to argue against new campaign finance legislation championed by Democrats in a Washington Post op-ed.

INSIDE IMMIGRATION

The NewsHour on Wednesday began a new series examining the particulars of the legislation lawmakers are considering to overhaul the immigration system.

Gwen Ifill kicked off the discussions by taking a look at the efforts by Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., to include same-sex couples within the legislation, which would create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The hot-button issue could have derailed the bipartisan agreement forged by the so-called Gang of Eight, explained USA Today’s Alan Gomez.

“They all urged Leahy to back off … they worried it would sink the whole bill,” Gomez told Ifill. Watch here or below:

 

The Washington Post’s David Nakamura writes that gay rights groups were upset with the decision not to include same-sex protections in the bill passed out of the Judiciary Committee:

Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) agreed Tuesday night to withdraw an amendment to the immigration legislation that would allow foreign, same-sex spouses and partners to apply for visas after it became clear that fellow Democrats would vote against it to preserve Republican support for the bill.

Several key gay rights groups did not accept that rationale, arguing that the issue was a matter of principle and fairness for the estimated 30,000 same-sex, binational couples that remain unable to unite in the country. They are currently barred from receiving a spousal visa under the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

And Mallory Sofastaii detailed efforts around a “virtual march” organized by the Organizing for Action offshoot of the president’s re-election campaign and other grassroots groups.

The Sunlight Foundation, meanwhile, looks at the immigration lobbying efforts.

The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Stateline project digs into the state of the U.S.-Mexico border and the conversation among governors about how to secure it.

And the Washington Post presents an incredibly detailed interactive that looks at the United States’ changing immigrant population. The feature uses population data going back to 1900.

LINE ITEMS

  • Mr. Obama travels to Oklahoma Sunday to thank first responders. Here is our report on the storm’s aftermath, and our interview with Gov. Mary Fallin.
  • Politico reports that retired U.S. ambassador Thomas Pickering will give a closed-door interview about his role as Benghazi investigator.
  • The House votes Thursday to keep student loan interest rates from increasing on July 1.
  • Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, running for governor in Virginia, appointed a special prosector to look into gifts received by the man he wants to replace, Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell.
  • Elizabeth Warren was worth at least $3.9 million in 2012, The Hill reports on the new Senate financial disclosures.
  • New Jersey State Senator and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono is releasing her first television ad this week. The biographical spot, which also hits Gov. Chris Christie on the economy, is more than a $1 million buy, according to a campaign official.
  • The House passed a bill green-lighting the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
  • Rep. Virginia Foxx topped potential primary rivals in a survey from the left-leaning Public Policy Polling of Republican voters ahead of North Carolina’s Senate race. Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan is considered one of the more vulnerable incumbents on the 2014 ballot.
  • Chris Cillizza keeps up his search for the best state-based political reporters.
  • Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., has taken a page from Newark Mayor Cory Booker, updating his tweeps on his food stamp challenge.
  • Elizabeth Wilner of CMAG writes for the Cook Political Report Thursday that guns and immigration are the big issues political groups are investing in ahead of presidential contests in 2016 — already. She examined television and radio ad spending in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. She writes that many of the ads are positive spots for Sen. Marco Rubio. R-Fla. Rubio has paid for his own ads defending GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire over her vote against expanding background checks for gun purchases.
  • WAMU investigates tax breaks for real estate developers in D.C., and finds many have yet to deliver on their promises to the city.
  • The Weekly Standard wanted readers to know that First Lady Michelle Obama once dated J. Russell George, the inspector general investigating the IRS scandal.
  • The Washington Post’s Emily Heil takes issue with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s objection to making key lime pie the official pie of the United States. Tweet @newshour with your choice for a national pie and maybe we will bake you one.
  • Freelance reporter Dave Catanese attempts to quit using Twitter for an Esquire piece.
  • Have cat, will travel? Meet the bike messenger and his amazing traveling feline.
  • And because we can all use a little pick me up, how about shouting “Opa!” right about now?

NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

  • The NewsHour lost a member of our family this week. Julian Dawkins was killed by an off-duty sheriff’s deputy in Alexandria, Va.. The investigation is ongoing.
  • Colleen Shalby collects family images lost in the aftermath of tragedies.
  • We explore the lessons learned from the tornado in Joplin, Missouri two years after it touched down.
  • Jenny Marder breaks down the science behind monster tornados.
  • In Judy’s Notebook, Judy Woodruff remembers growing up in Oklahoma’s extreme weather, and stresses the need to continue to push authorities to find out what went wrong in the aftermath of Monday’s tornado.

TOP TWEETS

 

 

 

 

 

 

Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.

For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

Sign up here to receive the Morning Line in your inbox every morning.

Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

Follow the politics team on Twitter: