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As Ferguson unrest boils, Obama returns from vacation

BY Domenico Montanaro, Rachel Wellford and Simone Pathe  August 18, 2014 at 9:22 AM EST
A man with a skateboard protesting Michael Brown's murder walks away from tear gas released by police Sunday in Ferguson, Missouri. Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images

A man with a skateboard protesting Michael Brown’s murder walks away from tear gas released by police Sunday in Ferguson, Missouri. Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • Obama returns to Washington to deal with Iraq, Ferguson
  • McDonnell’s day in court
  • Perry’s indictment
  • More about Hillary’s money
  • Cantor’s last day

Ferguson turns into full-blown national political story: We noted one week ago, just after the news broke of an unarmed black teenager fatally shot by police outside St. Louis, that it was something that could become political quickly. And the reason that’s important is when something gets caught in the political machine, it morphs into something more with a white-hot spotlight attached. Violence looked like it might quell late last week after the installation of Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, who is black and from Ferguson. But the respite was short-lived. When police simultaneously released the name of the police officer who shot the killed teen, Michael Brown, along with a video of Brown allegedly robbing a convenience store, the wound was reopened. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon ordered a curfew. When that was violated, there was more tear gas — and violence toward police — over the weekend. Nixon has now ordered in the Missouri National Guard. Although, Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights icon, said in an interview on MSNBC that President Barack Obama should “declare martial law” and “federalize the Missouri National Guard to protect people as they protest.” The Justice Department is not only conducting a concurrent investigation — the FBI is going door to door — but it will conduct its own autopsy. An autopsy conducted by former New York Medical Examiner Michael Baden — for the family — showed Brown was shot six times from the front, including once near the top of his head.

Vacation all I ever wanted: President Obama has spoken on Ferguson already from his vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, but is back in Washington for an ambiguous two-day stop. Obama will be briefed on the situation in Iraq at 10:35 a.m. ET and then meet with Attorney General Eric Holder on Ferguson at 1:15 p.m. ET. There are pool sprays — where cameras briefly catch a glimpse of meetings, but then are ushered out — scheduled for both. It wouldn’t be surprising to hear something from the president on Ferguson. Anytime a president takes a “vacation,” he stands to be criticized. It’s easy to paint a president as out of touch when he’s enjoying leisurely activities while something somewhere is in crisis. And presidents have to be aware of those optics and not appear callous. It’s worth noting, though, the reality that presidential vacations just aren’t vacations. Mr. Obama has had to deal with unexpected events and crises on several vacations, including Ted Kennedy’s death, the underwear bomber, and even flying back to Washington to try and deal with the “fiscal cliff” negotiations. Other presidents have had to deal with crises, too — from Ronald Reagan when a Korean jetliner was shot down to Bill Clinton after the Kenyan and Tanzanian embassies were bombed to George W. Bush and Katrina. According to CBS’ Mark Knoller, President Obama has taken 125 vacation days, while W. Bush took 381.

Problems, they had a few: Some Republicans are criticizing Democratic Gov. Nixon’s management of the crisis in Ferguson. One pointed to Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s handling of Detroit flooding with pictures showing him with a carpet slung over his shoulder, helping out on the ground. But GOP governors are dealing with their own problems this week. Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell is expected to testify this week in his corruption trial after a federal judge denied a motion to dismiss the charges. The amazing thing is the defense is trying to draw a wedge between McDonnell and wife Maureen. Put another way by VCU professor Robert D. Holsworth to the AP, “This defense is extraordinary. An essential part of it is to throw Maureen under the bus.”

About ham sandwiches: Meanwhile, Texas Gov. Rick Perry was indicted for abuse of power by a Democratic prosecutor in liberal Travis County for threatening to veto funding to her office after she was picked up for DUI. Perry defended himself on Fox News Sunday, saying, “If I had to do it again, I would make exactly the same decision.” Most don’t expect the indictment to stick. Former Obama adviser David Axelrod called the indictment “pretty sketchy.” Even liberal writer Jonathan Chait calls the indictment “unbelievably ridiculous” and concludes this way with a play on the old adage that a prosecutor could indict a ham sandwich: “Perry may not be much smarter than a ham sandwich, but he is exactly as guilty as one.” But slightly-right-of-center former Bush adviser Mark McKinnon writes, “The problem for Perry is that a Travis County jury can also find a Republican ham sandwich guilty.”

Another Hillary money story: Expect more stories like this to dog Hillary Clinton, especially after her “truly well off” remarks. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that Clinton asked for $300,000 for an upcoming Oct. 13 speech at the UNLV Foundation Dinner. She got $225,000. She also travels in style, requiring stays in “presidential suites” of luxury hotels, and private jets for herself and an entourage of “travel aides.” The speech is also closed to the press, as mandated by her contract. It even spells out how many people she will take photos with. The Review Journal: “The size of Hillary Clinton’s fee has come under fire from critics who question the large expense in an era when students are hard-pressed to cover tuition and leave school saddled with massive debt.” What’s truly bizarre about all this is just how commonplace these kinds of contracts and speech fees are for a rarefied strata of politicos.

Cantor’s last day: Whose last day is on a Monday, anyway? Today is Eric Cantor’s last day as a member of Congress. He announced last month he would step down and vacate his seat, having lost his primary in the stunner of this election cycle to a little-known tea party opponent and having given up his majority leader post. Cantor’s expected to cash in on his Wall Street connections and get set up with a to-be-announced lucrative job. But he’s leaving his former constituents with a parting gift — ballot confusion on Election Day. Cantor’s resignation triggered a special election to take place Nov. 4, the same day as Election Day. That means there will be two separate races, with the same candidates, on the same ballot — one to serve out the two months of the lame-duck session, and the other for the new congressman for the next Congress. Third-party candidates are complaining because signatures to get on the ballot are due by Friday.

Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1938, the Thousand Islands Bridge was dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Where is the bridge located? Be the first to Tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. Congratulations to Ben Goodman ‏(@BenGoodman) and EmGusk (‏@EmGusk) for guessing Thursday’s trivia: What larger program was the Social Security Act a part of? The answer was: the New Deal.

LINE ITEMS

  • Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz defeated Rep. Colleen Hanabusa after final voting on the Big Island on Friday.

  • The White House is reaching out to business leaders to build support for Mr. Obama’s executive actions on immigration, and possibly, to expand them.

  • Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell is counting on his longtime Alaska residency and personal connections to get him through Tuesday’s GOP primary against front-runner Dan Sullivan, the former attorney general.

  • With John Walsh out of the race, Montana Democrats were forced to choose a new candidate. They landed on first-term state Rep. Amanda Curtis.

  • Roll Call’s Shira Center profiles three-time Arizona Republican congressional candidate Martha McSally, the first female fighter pilot to fly combat missions.

  • Iowa Senate candidate Joni Ernst told TIME that she was sexually assaulted while serving in the military, and because of her experience, is backing an effort to remove sexual assaults from the military chain of command.

  • Iowa Democrat Bruce Braley is up with a new ad touting his defense of National Guard pay for soldiers who served in Iraq.

  • Speaker John Boehner has brought in about one-fifth of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s cash and raised more than $43 million for accounts under his control. The prolific fundraiser is on a 14-state bus tour this August for House GOP members.

  • Sarah Palin finds herself in strange company, allied with some of her state legislature’s most liberal Democrats, in opposition to Gov. Sean Parnell’s tax breaks and incentives for oil companies. On Tuesday’s ballot, there’s a referendum on a proposal to reinstate the previous tax package, passed under Palin, which pushed oil tax revenues into the state’s general fund and eliminated the need for a state income or sales tax.

  • Florida’s state legislature may have approved a redistricting plan that “fixes” two of the state’s congressional districts, but the new map yields the same results.

  • A Gallup poll released Monday confirms voter negativity about Congress, with just 19 percent saying most members of Congress deserve re-election. The same poll shows the widest gap in midterm Gallup polling history between support for “most members” and voters’ individual representatives.

  • Louisiana is expected to have a $1.2 billion dollar budget gap next year, and that could really hurt Gov. Bobby Jindal’s chance of being a 2016 contender.

  • A new McClatchy-Marist Poll shows that 67 percent of Republicans’ votes would not be affected if they found out a well-qualified candidate for Congress was gay or lesbian. However, a majority of Republicans would be upset or very upset if they found out their child was gay or lesbian.

  • Arizona has a history of executioners making up protocol as they go along, in the execution room.

  • Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, is expected to endorse Independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler Monday, but the Cutler campaign is only confirming that they’re having two press conferences Monday.

  • Rhode Island Treasurer Gina Raimondo is banking on her pension fix to help her win Sept. 9’s Democratic gubernatorial primary. Her opponents have opposed the overhaul, and public sector unions sued against it.

  • The Washington Post reports that evangelicals no longer feel they have a place in today’s Republican Party.

  • Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan are helping to broker a deal between warring family factions of New England’s Market Basket grocery chain.

  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

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Questions or comments? Email Domenico Montanaro at dmontanaro-at-newshour-dot-org or Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

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Editor’s note: The headline of this post was updated to make it clear that President Obama did not cut short his vacation.