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Obama, Merkel look for united front on Ukraine

BY Domenico Montanaro, Terence Burlij, Simone Pathe and Rachel Wellford  May 2, 2014 at 9:04 AM EST
President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are putting on a display of trans-Atlantic unity against an assertive Russia. File photo from 2011 by Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will put on a display of trans-Atlantic unity against an assertive Russia when they meet Friday at the White House. File photo from Merkel’s 2011 visit by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Today in the Morning Line:

The Morning Line

  • German business interests complicate quicker response to Russia
  • Runoffs could threaten GOP chances at Senate control
  • The nuclear election scenario in Louisiana
  • GOP donors moving away from Christie and over to Jeb Bush?

Follow the money on Germany, Ukraine: As more fighting has broken out in Eastern Ukraine, President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be looking for a show of unity on the situation when they meet Friday at the White House. But if you want to know why Europe, particularly Germany, has been reluctant to go along with economic sanctions as forcefully as the U.S., just follow the money. German businesses have invested roughly $28 billion in Russia, and trade between the two countries was $105 billion in 2013. Russia also supplies 35 percent of Germany’s gas and 30 percent of its oil. For perspective, trade between the U.S. and Russia last year was about $38 billion. By the way, this is Merkel’s first visit to the White House in three years and her first since the National Security Agency’s spying revelations. That the U.S. was spying on its allies, however, is taking a back seat because Ukraine is more pressing, a Merkel aide told Bloomberg. The two leaders meet at 9:40 a.m. EDT and hold a news conference at 11:40 a.m. EDT.

April’s jobs report: The Labor Department reported Friday that the U.S. economy added a better-than-expected 288,000 jobs in April. The unemployment rate fell four-tenths of a percent to 6.3 percent, the lowest rate of Mr. Obama’s presidency and the best mark since September 2008. April’s gains were the highest for a single month in three years. The numbers for February and March were also revised upwards by a combined 36,000 jobs. Should this trend continue, Democrats will have something positive to point to heading into the November election.

Runoffs could make things messy for Republicans: Potential runoffs in three states — North Carolina, Georgia, and Iowa — with primaries coming up in the next month and a half could complicate Republican hopes at winning control of the Senate. The AP dives into this today. As we noted yesterday, Republicans are hoping Thom Tillis in North Carolina can get above the 40 percent threshold to avoid a runoff two months later that would not allow him to immediately focus on vulnerable Democratic incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan. But in Georgia, a two-month-later runoff is likely with its 50 percent threshold and crowded primary, giving Democrat Michelle Nunn a chance to continue to tack to the center and build her image in one of only two targets for the party this cycle. And in Iowa, if no one gets 35 percent, which is possible in the multi-candidate field — not only would the general election start be pushed back (only by 11 days), but the eventual nominee would be picked at the state party convention, where the most conservative candidate usually emerges.

The Louisiana Linger: And how about this scenario — in Louisiana, the winning candidate needs 50 percent in the November general election to win. If that doesn’t happen, the top two go to a runoff in December. Imagine — what if the GOP picks up five seats, and we’re all waiting on Louisiana in December for Senate control of the new Congress, which would start a month later. The entire country’s focus would suddenly and sharply turn to the Bayou State. Talk about big money and ground game. The entire country’s political infrastructure would be trained there. (But let’s face it, New Orleans in December for political reporters is a better gig than Iowa in December!) That said, midterms usually break one way or another and operatives don’t expect the Louisiana Linger to happen. But still, it’s possible…

Potentially problematic runoffs:

North Carolina: May 6 primary, July 15 runoff if 40 percent threshold not met
Georgia: May 20 primary, July 22 runoff, 50 percent threshold
Iowa: June 3 primary, June 14 runoff at a conservative state convention, 35 percent threshold
Louisiana: Nov. 4 general election, Dec. 6 runoff, 50 percent threshold

2016 — They’re just not that into you: Misgivings about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and loyalty to the Bush family among top GOP donors are pushing more of them toward backing former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, if he runs, the New York Times reports. Former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, who’s backed Christie in the state but also served as George W. Bush’s Environmental Protection Agency head, said of the position she’d be in if Bush entered the race: “It would be awkward. It would be very awkward.” Christie may be bringing home the bacon as chair of the Republican Governors Association, but the way his administration has handled the George Washington Bridge scandal has also left a funny taste in donors’ mouths. “I don’t know that Chris will be there at the end of the day,” Whitman said. The energetic donors of the Bush Brigade, the same network that gave Christie his start in national politics, now recognize in Jeb some of the appeal that first drew them to Christie as a swing-state governor, who has challenged the party line on education and immigration.

Filling in the blanks on health care: Administration officials Thursday helped fill in the details of President Obama’s mid-April announcement that 8 million Americans had signed up for coverage through the Affordable Care Act’s federal and state marketplaces. The top line number gave the president and Democratic allies evidence to counter GOP attacks about the effectiveness of the law. But a deeper look at the numbers shows some cause for concern. The Department of Health and Human Services reported that 28 percent of the enrollees were young adults between the ages of 18 and 34, short of the 40 percent mark that some analysts say would be optimal. The AP’s Carla Johnson also notes the disappointing level of sign-ups among Latinos. She writes: “Hispanics account for 14.5 percent of those eligible for coverage on the new health insurance markets, but they represented 10.7 percent of the actual enrollees who also volunteered their race or ethnicity, the government reported.” On the other hand, an AP analysis found that 31 states “met or exceeded enrollment targets set by the administration before the insurance exchanges opened.” As we’ve written previously in this space, the 8 million enrollments help take some of the sting out of Republican attacks on Democrats for backing the law, and raises questions about the GOP’s singular focus on the health care issue in the campaign.

Quote of the day: “I hope Jeb runs.” — former President George W. Bush on CNN about his younger brother. Flashback to last year when Barbara Bush, Jeb and George’s mom, said: “We’ve had enough Bushes.”

Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1865, President Andrew Johnson offered $100,000 reward for the capture of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Where was Davis eventually captured a few days later? Be the first to Tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia, and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. Congratulations to Colter Diehl (@colterdiehl) for guessing yesterday’s answer: President Obama announced the death of Osama Bin Laden. Also, a hat tip to Yvonne Gibney (Rachel’s mother) for being the first to get the answer; unfortunately she does not have Twitter.

LINE ITEMS

  • USA Today reports that, per a retired general who was at the U.S. Africa Command in Germany during the time of the Benghazi attack: “military personnel knew early on that the Benghazi attack was a ‘hostile action’ and not a protest gone awry.”
  • Following Sen. Mark Pryor on the trail in Arkansas, David Fahrenthold writes, “Pryor is hoping voters would rather have a Democrat with no great crusades, than a Republican with the wrong ones.”
  • During a talk-radio show appearance Thursday, Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called White House officials “scumbags” for what he says was lying about Benghazi. Graham is up for reelection this year.
  • Ahead of North Carolina’s primary Tuesday, State House Speaker Thom Thillis’ name recognition far outpaces his GOP competitors’, and has increased significantly since Febraury, according to the latest Elon University poll.
  • The Economist asks on its cover, “What would America fight for?” Its editorial notes criticism among U.S. allies of President Obama’s foreign policy stances. Morning Line dove into the debate over the president’s foreign policy. On Wednesday, NewsHour had an in-depth discussion on it.
  • 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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