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The Obama Doctrine on full display

BY Domenico Montanaro, Terence Burlij and Rachel Wellford  May 28, 2014 at 9:04 AM EDT
President Obama greets U.S. troops during a surprise visit to Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan May 25. Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

President Obama greets U.S. troops during a surprise visit to Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan May 25. Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • Continuing foreign policy push, Obama goes to West Point
  • More questions than answers on Afghanistan
  • The first incumbent loses this cycle – oldest member of Congress
  • White House feels there’s a chance for immigration to pass the House this summer
  • The home stretch in Iowa … Late GOP rep.’s widow to run for his seat – as a Democrat … Outside spending and bird poop.

Implementing the Obama Doctrine: With President Barack Obama’s speech at West Point at 10 a.m. ET Wednesday begins the implementation of the Obama Doctrine of a light footprint and multilateralism in a post-Bush world. The major entanglements of Iraq and Afghanistan are not this president’s wars. He feels he was elected, in part, to end them, especially now that al Qaeda’s footprint has been largely cleared in Afghanistan and bin Laden is dead. In announcing Tuesday that 9,800 troops would remain in Afghanistan through 2014, be halved in 2015, and completely out, save an embassy security force, in 2016, Mr. Obama declared it was “time to turn the page after a decade in which so much of our foreign policy was focused on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.” He added, “Americans have learned it’s harder to end wars than to begin them.” And doesn’t that essentially sum up Obama foreign policy goals post-Bush? At West Point, the president said he will “discuss how Afghanistan fits into our broader strategy going forward,” but “we’ll also be able to begin a new chapter in the story of American leadership around the world.”

Questions on Afghanistan policy: The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal editorial pages, both of which supported going into Iraq, criticized President Obama’s announcement Tuesday, in particular his announcement of a clear timetable. The hawkish trio of Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., called the president’s announcement “short-sighted.” It’s easy to dismiss some of these criticisms, but others, like the Council on Foreign Relations’ Richard Haas, who has defended Obama’s foreign policy in the past, are also asking why the president chose a hard timetable. Afghanistan is a complicated problem. The prospects for a lasting peace are bleak. Americans are largely against continued intervention with a substantial troop presence, and it’s not the usual Hawks vs. Doves/Republicans vs. Democrats split. But there are some real questions: Can the U.S. conduct counter-terror operations properly with just an embassy security force in the country in two years? Is a year or so enough time to make sure the Afghan national security forces are fully up to speed as a new government takes over? Why not wait until the new government is fully operational and standing up on its own — and not just tie a full exit to the end of Obama’s presidency? And what happens if the Taliban takes over again? On counter-terrorism, the White House argues that the threat has moved beyond where it was in 2001 to North Africa, Yemen and elsewhere. By the way, this is not the “2024 and beyond” American presence that Obama signed with Hamid Karzai in 2012. A lot has changed.

The first incumbent falls and the tea party gets a win: Texas GOP Rep. Ralph Hall, who at 91 is the oldest serving member of Congress, became the first incumbent House lawmaker or Senator to lose a primary challenge this year. Incumbents had been 139-for-139 until Tuesday, when former U.S. attorney John Ratcliffe defeated Hall 53 percent to 47 percent to win the GOP nomination in the Lone Star State’s 4th Congressional District. According to Smart Politics, Hall also becomes the first Texas GOP House member to lose a renomination bid, ending a streak of 256 successful campaigns that began more than 140 years ago. Ratcliffe, who had the support of the Club for Growth, the Senate Conservatives Fund and the Tea Party Express, made Hall’s age an issue in the campaign, calling for a “new generation of conservative leadership.”

‘Tea party folks love America’: In the GOP primary runoff for Texas lieutenant governor, as expected, tea party-backed state Sen. Dan Patrick toppled current three-term Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst by 30 points. “The people of Texas have given us a mandate tonight,” Patrick told supporters in Houston Tuesday night. “Tea Party folks love America. They love the Constitution. They love free markets. And they love the Second Amendment. And they love Texas.” The loss by Dewhurst is his second to a tea party insurgent in as many cycles, having been defeated by Ted Cruz in the Texas GOP Senate primary in 2012. Democrats hope to give Patrick a run — or at least highlight Patrick’s comments that there has been an “illegal invasion” of immigrants and he wants to “stop the invasion.” For someone so close to governorship, Patrick’s stance on immigrants represents a break from past Texas governors, including former President George W. Bush, who pushed for comprehensive immigration reform, and even Rick Perry, who was criticized for allowing undocumented immigrants to get in-state tuition.

So you’re saying there’s a chance: White House and Homeland Security officials confirm to Morning Line that President Obama has ordered DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson to delay his agency’s deportation revision recommendations until after the summer. The idea is to give House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, space to get an immigration deal done after many of the hotly contested primaries are over June 24. “The president’s priority is to enact a permanent solution for people currently living in the shadows and that can only come with immigration reform,” a White House official said, adding, “He believes there’s a window for the House to get immigration reform done this summer, and he asked the secretary to continue working on his review until that window has passed. There’s a bipartisan consensus. It’s time for them to act and the president didn’t want the discussion of the secretary’s review to interfere with the possibility of action in the House.” A DHS official echoed that. “While the review is ongoing, the president believes there is an opportunity for congressional action this summer and has asked Secretary Johnson to hold on releasing any results from his review while this window for congressional action remains open,” the official said. “Secretary Johnson continues to conduct the review, including meeting with stakeholders and his workforce to inform any final decisions.” Boehner’s office, though, isn’t indicating that anything is in the works. Instead, it criticized the president’s consideration of revising deportation policies. “Enforcing the law as written isn’t a ‘concession,’” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel told Morning Line, “it is the President’s solemn responsibility. Now isn’t the time to be playing politics with immigration enforcement or our national security.”

2014 watch – Hawkeye State in the homestretch: Iowa GOP Senate candidate Joni Ernst is getting a boost from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in the closing days before the Hawkeye State’s June 3rd primary. The AP’s Tom Beaumont reports the business group will run ads on her behalf, making Ernst “the first candidate this year to receive the support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Senate Conservatives Fund.” That coalition could help Ernst, who is already the frontrunner, separate herself in a crowded five-candidate field that includes former Reliant Energy CEO Mark Jacobs and radio host Sam Clovis. Ernst is also up with her closing television ad of the primary campaign that highlights her Iowa roots, personal faith and belief that “America’s greatness comes from people, not government.” It’s a more traditional spot, which gives the air of a frontrunner, than her two previous releases, which touted her experience castrating pigs, riding hogs and firing guns. Ernst will need to win 35 percent of the vote Tuesday to avoid the nomination being decided at a special convention. On the Democratic side, Rep. Bruce Braley, who does not have a primary opponent, released a positive ad playing up his background as a lawyer, saying his career choice was motivated by a desire to “fight for people.” Back in March, Braley found himself on the defensive over comments made to a group of trial lawyers disparaging veteran GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley as “a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school.”

Quote of the day: “You know, uh. It depends on what you’re asking me of.” — Rep. Michael Grimm in an interview with Politico after being asked if he’s innocent of the criminal charges against him.

Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1937, President Franklin Roosevelt pushed a button in Washington, DC, signaling that vehicular traffic could cross the Golden Gate Bridge in California. How many vehicles crossed the bridge the first day?
Be the first to Tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia, and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. No one guessed Tuesday’s trivia: President Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed an “unlimited national emergency” in response to threats of world domination by Nazi Germany- where did FDR deliver his speech? The answer was: at the White House in a radio address.

LINE ITEMS

  • A Club for Growth ad attacks Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor, who they accuse of “parroting” President Obama on the health care law. But the ad closes with a shot of bird poop, yes, bird poop, on the front page of the New York Times. It’s maybe the grossest ad of the campaign.

  • Michelle Obama Tuesday called Republican efforts to create exemptions to the first lady’s healthy lunch program “unacceptable.”

  • Three VA officials are slated to appear before the House Veterans Affairs Committee Wednesday to testify about the destruction of documents that contained information about the VA cover-up of treatment delays.

  • Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., told Yahoo News that the cost-cutting culture in Washington helped lead to the VA scandal.

  • In a new campaign mailer, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor touted his success in shutting down a proposal that would have given “amnesty” to “illegal aliens.”

  • Scott Walker isn’t itching for a fight on same-sex marriage. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel writes that he “backed away from his previous support for the state ban on gay marriage passed in 2006, saying he didn’t know if it violated the U.S. Constitution… Making clear he wanted no part of this legal battle in an election year, the Republican governor said he was focused on other priorities.” (H/T: Taegan Goddard.)

  • GOP candidate Tom Cotton’s new web ad attacks Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., for his response to the Veterans Affairs scandal.

  • Democratic Senate candidates Michelle Nunn and Alison Lundergan Grimes are in no hurry to say whether they would have voted for the Affordable Care Act if they had been in the Senate.

  • Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., is up with his first TV ad of the cycle. It stresses a bipartisan record as governor and senator.

  • Beverly Young, the late Republican Rep. Bill Young’s widow, says she will run in 2016 for her husband’s seat — as a Democrat.

  • The Washington Post’s Philip Bump outlines which politicians feature their stance on major policy issues on their campaign websites.

  • The White House is launching an investigation into how a CIA official’s name was mistakenly given to the press and how to avoid doing so in the future.

  • Former President George W. Bush underwent knee surgery over the weekend in Chicago.

  • President Obama will host the first White House summit on sports concussions Thursday.

  • 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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