President to Address Nation on Libya

BY David Chalian  March 28, 2011 at 8:59 AM EDT

Photo by Jewel Samda/AFP/Getty Images

A man waves a Libyan flag during an anti-war demonstration in front of the White House on Saturday. Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

President Obama probably feels pretty good about making his big speech on Libya on a day when the lead headline in the New York Times is: “Rebels In Libya Make New Gains Amid Airstrikes.”

Last week, the president’s deputy national security adviser said House Speaker John Boehner’s list of questions about U.S. military involvement was legitimate. Over the weekend, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton repeated that there are valid questions and concerns about the U.S. role in Libya.

At 7:30 p.m. ET Monday, President Obama will take the stage at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., to address the American people and answer as many of the lingering questions about the third war in a Muslim nation in which America currently finds itself.

“The President will update the American people on our efforts in Libya — including the mission our men and women in uniform are bravely executing, the transition to NATO command, and what we will do going forward. Building on the remarks he has made over the last ten days, he will discuss how our efforts in Libya have advanced our interests and averted a catastrophe,” a White House official tells the Morning Line.

The president has two major objectives for his speech Monday evening. The first is a full commander-in-chief moment in which he will describe the successful American military operation thus far and precisely what is being asked of our men and women in uniform.

The second major objective is the far trickier one, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates didn’t do much to clear the path on the Sunday morning political talk shows.

“No, no. It was not,” Gates replied to ABC’s Jake Tapper when asked if Libya posed an actual or imminent threat to the United States. “It was not a vital national interest to the United States, but it was an interest and it was an interest for all of the reasons Secretary Clinton talked about. The engagement of the Arabs, the engagement of the Europeans, the general humanitarian question that was at stake. There was another piece of this though that certainly was a consideration. You’ve had revolutions on both the East and the West of Libya…Egypt and Tunisia,” Gates said.

“So you had a potentially significantly destabilizing event taking place in Libya that put at risk potentially the revolutions in both Tunisia and Egypt. And that was another consideration I think we took into account,” he added.

Monday night, the president will face the challenge of explaining to the American people why we are engaged in an active military mission in a country that does not represent a vital national security interest to the United States. That’s no easy sell, but expect President Obama to address that concern through the larger picture of an international coalition effort.

Secretary Clinton offered this preview Sunday to NBC’s David Gregory:

“You showed on the map just a minute ago Afghanistan. You know, we asked our allies, our NATO allies, to go into Afghanistan with us 10 years ago. They have been there. And a lot of them have been there despite the fact they were not attacked. The attack came on us as we all tragically remember. They stuck with us. When it comes to Libya, we started hearing from the U.K., France, Italy, other of our NATO allies. This was in their vital national interest.”

The White House plans to follow Monday night’s address with a trio of broadcast network evening news interviews with the president Tuesday. You should also be on the lookout for immediate congressional validators coming out after the speech in praise of President Obama’s clarity.

RETURN ENGAGEMENT

Lawmakers return to Capitol Hill this week following a 10-day recess that saw Democratic and Republican leaders move further apart on budget negotiations, reducing the chances a bipartisan deal on a long-term spending measure will be reached before the current funding agreement expires April 8.

The first public evidence that talks had begun to break down appeared Friday, when House Republican leaders issued a series of statements attacking Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., for a comment he made on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that “some progress” was being made in the talks.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., called the statement “completely far-fetched.”

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, accused Democrats of offering little in the way of compromise. “Washington Democrats continue to downplay the severity of their budget mess, and the uncertainty it’s causing job creators in America. We have been ready to do the people’s work, but we weren’t sent here to negotiate with ourselves,” Rep. Boehner said in a statement. “The status quo is unacceptable, and right now that is all Washington Democrats are offering.”

That led Sen. Schumer to respond with a statement of his own late Friday afternoon: “After days of positive negotiations, with significant flexibility shown by the Speaker, the House Republican leadership is back to agonizing over whether to give in to right-wing demands that they abandon any compromise on their extreme cuts. The Speaker knows that when it comes to avoiding a shutdown, his problem is with the Tea Party, not Democrats.”

Carl Hulse of the New York Times reports that Friday’s episode came after negotiations hit a impasse earlier in the week. “Congressional officials said the budget talks were set back significantly in a meeting Tuesday when the participants feuded over what legislation should serve as the benchmark for the talks — the House-passed spending measure with $61 billion in cuts for this year or an interim budget bill approved by Congress in early March that maintained financing for most programs at their current levels,” writes Hulse.

Felicia Sonmez, Paul Kane and Lori Montgomery of the Washington Post report Democrats refused to start with the original House-passed bill.

“Such a move would force Democrats to go on record defending programs that Republicans had identified as wasteful. In the meeting Tuesday, White House Budget Director Jacob J. Lew balked at the terms and the parties agreed to later return to the negotiating table, Democratic aides said,” the Post team writes. “Republican aides blamed Lew for the impasse, saying it was the White House that had demanded unreasonable terms.”

The two previous temporary stopgap measures contained $10 billion in cuts, so Democrats would need to produce about $20 billion more in reductions to meet Republicans half way. Republican leaders have yet to indicate how far they’re willing to move from $61 billion in cuts they started with.

With Republicans needing Democratic support to pass the last temporary measure after dozens of rank-and-file GOP lawmakers voted against the proposal out of frustration with the slow pace of cutting, the prospect for another short-term spending bill seemed to evaporate.

Whether such a possibility might re-appear could very well depend on how quickly party leaders are able to move past their now very public differences.

GIBBS TO FACEBOOK?

The New York Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin provides the cable catnip for the day with his reporting that former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs is in talks with Facebook to help manage the company’s communications.

When Gibbs left the podium in the briefing room, it was widely believed he would go on to make money from public speeches and help start building out the Obama re-election campaign effort getting underway in Chicago.

It appears Facebook wants Gibbs in place ahead of the company’s early 2012 initial public offering.

Sorkin reports:

“Facebook, however, is pressing Mr. Gibbs to consider the job more quickly, according to these people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the conversations were supposed to remain confidential.

“A job for Mr. Gibbs at Facebook could be worth millions of dollars. While details of his potential compensation package have yet to be discussed, people briefed on the talks said that he would receive a cash salary as well as shares ahead of the initial offering. Facebook is being valued by some investors at more than $60 billion and could be the largest offering in history.

“In recent weeks, Mr. Gibbs has consulted several of his former White House colleagues about whether he should take the job, including David Axelrod, President Obama’s former senior adviser, who is helping to head a re-election team, these people said.”

Stay tuned. Neither Gibbs nor Facebook commented for the story.

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