Welcome Home, Mr. President

BY David Chalian  March 24, 2011 at 8:36 AM EST

The Obamas; Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Obama returns from a trip to Central and South America with daughters Sasha, left, Malia and the first lady. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

President Obama’s schedule on his first day back at the office since launching U.S. military strikes in Libya has him behind closed doors throughout the day…for now.

The external pressure is clearly mounting for President Obama to address the nation with a progress report on Libya, and that pressure isn’t just coming from the press or his political opposition on Capitol Hill; it’s coming from some his most stalwart allies.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, sent a letter to President Obama Wednesday (nicely timed to Air Force One touching down on the tarmac at Andrews Air Force Base) laying out a series of unanswered questions about the U.S. mission in Libya.

Here’s an example of a portion of one area of unresolved questions from Speaker Boehner’s letter:

“[I]s it an acceptable outcome for Qadhafi to remain in power after the military effort concludes in Libya? If not, how will he be removed from power? Why would the U.S. commit American resources to enforcing a U.N. resolution that is inconsistent with our stated policy goals and national interests?”

President Obama’s Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough said Wednesday night that he thought the speaker’s questions were legitimate.

He wasn’t the only one.

On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Thursday, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, made clear that the president has some explaining to do.

“I think he needs to face the nation and tell the nation and tell Congress what the end game is and how this is going to play out,” he said, adding, “He needs to explain to the country, what the goals are here, why he did this.”

“I think the questions Speaker Boehner asked were generally legitimate questions. I mean, they were legitimate questions. I think they were generally the right questions. I think it’s what people are asking, analysts are asking, the public’s asking, Congress is asking. I expect the president to answer them in some detail,” Sen. Brown said, concluding, “That’s what he needs to do.”

As for Sen. Brown’s call for a description of the endgame, PBS NewsHour’s Gwen Ifill put that very question to McDonough on Wednesday night:

IFILL: “The success of this mission, then, is not necessarily whether we leave or whether we stay. It’s what? I guess I’m trying to figure out, what is the exit strategy?”

MCDONOUGH: “Well, we’re not talking about an exit strategy. As I said, the president defined it very clearly the other night in terms of our initial efforts in this undertaking.”

NEWT VS. NEWT

The U.S. response to the situation unfolding in Libya has drawn an array of responses — including a few just from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

During an appearance on Fox News two weeks ago, Gingrich criticized President Obama for not moving quickly enough to take out Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s air defenses:

“All we have to say is that we think that slaughtering your own citizens is unacceptable and that we’re intervening. And we don’t have to send troops. All we have to do is suppress his air force, which we could do in minutes,” Gingrich said.

On Wednesday, Gingrich did a 180:

“I would not have intervened,” Gingrich told NBC News. “I think there were a lot of other ways to affect Gadhafi. I think there are a lot of other allies in the region we could have worked with. I would not have used American and European forces.”

As news organizations began to pick up on the apparent contradiction, Gingrich sought refuge in the world of social media, releasing a statement Wednesday afternoon on his Facebook page.

Gingrich said his earlier statement to Fox News reflected the reality of the situation following the president’s declaration on March 3 that “it’s time for Gadhafi to go.”

He explained that his comment Wednesday to NBC News came after the president “wasted weeks trying to get approval from the United Nations instead of Congress, the result of which was a weak mandate from the UN that changed the mission to one of humanitarian intervention.”

Despite his disagreement with the president’s handling of the engagement, Gingrich argued the United States should finish what it started. “Now that we have US forces engaged, any result less than the removal of [Gadhafi] from power will be considered a defeat. For that reason, I believe we must support the mission and see it through,” Gingrich wrote.

We’ll get another opportunity Thursday to hear from Gingrich about Libya; he has a press conference scheduled for 12 p.m. ET in South Carolina, following a visit to the Greenville County Republican Women’s Club.

If Gingrich has one thing going for him, it’s that he made the remarks at a time when relatively little attention is being paid to the 2012 race. But it’s a safe bet that his competitors will be making note of Gingrich’s seemingly shifting stances on Libya for when they meet him on the debate stage later this year.

ROMNEY’S PATH

The Wall Street Journal’s Jonathan Weisman and Patrick O’Connor deliver a must-read on the Romney 2012 effort.

But make sure you look past all the McCain 2008 bundlers Romney is scooping up this time, and also look beyond the 15-city tour that Romney is doing to make sure those donations are ready to pour in at a moment’s notice.

What might be most telling in the story is Romney’s discussion with his deep-pocketed supporters about his potential path to the GOP nomination:

“Mr. Romney said he needed to do well in the New Hampshire and Florida primaries and Nevada’s caucuses, while emerging from those early states with enough money to convince undecided voters that he would have the financial firepower to get to the finish line.

“He said he expected to win in Nevada, as he did in 2008, and that he saw Florida’s primary as pivotal, with only two candidates likely to emerge from that state able to compete in the later primaries. Less clear was his thinking on the nation’s first nominating contest — the Iowa caucuses — where socially conservative voters dominate and where Mr. Romney placed a distant second in 2008.”

Romney’s envisioned path makes clear that the Florida GOP has a very strong card to play in helping to determine the shape of the nomination calendar in the months to come.

For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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