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President Obama again faces criticism for caution in face of crisis

BY Domenico Montanaro, Terence Burlij, Rachel Wellford and Simone Pathe  July 21, 2014 at 9:16 AM EST
Search and rescue specialists inspect at the crash area as representatives from monitoring group of Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe arrive to inspect at the crash area of Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777. Photo by Soner Kilinc / Anadolu Agency

Search and rescue specialists inspect at the crash area as representatives from monitoring group of Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe arrive to inspect at the crash area of Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777. Photo by Soner Kilinc / Anadolu Agency

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • In wake of foreign policy crises, Obama criticized for “indecision”
  • Polls continue to show Americans want to do less, not more
  • Death toll in Gaza rises
  • Hillary Clinton faces challenges still with the left

Command presence? As European forensic experts finally appeared to get some access to the crash site of the downed Malaysian jetliner in Eastern Ukraine after days of Russian separatists blocking it, President Barack Obama is once again facing the familiar criticism that he is lacking in “command presence” — sounding weak and less authoritative when it comes to a foreign policy crisis — while not paying as much attention as he should to “optics.” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina derided the president on NBC’s “Meet the Press” as the “king of indecision.” Mr. Obama is not canceling a planned three-day trip of fundraisers to Seattle and California this week. Of that, The New York Times’ Michael Shear wrote Sunday, “The potential for jarring split-screen imagery was clear. Reports of charred bodies and a ground-to-air missile attack from Eastern Europe dominated television screens while photographers snapped pictures of a grinning Mr. Obama holding a toddler at the restaurant.” The White House said “abrupt changes” could “unduly alarm” Americans.

Caution: President Obama, in typically cautious fashion, said Friday he did not want to “get out ahead of the facts.” Yet the facts have become increasingly clear, according to U.S. officials — that the jetliner was shot down by Russian separatists, trained by Moscow. Obama was more cautious than even his own United Nations ambassador, Samantha Power, his Secretary of State John Kerry, who appeared on the major Sunday talk shows, and his vice president, Joe Biden, who remarked at Netroots Nation, an annual gathering of liberal activists, that this was “not an accident. It was shot down, blown out of the sky.” Of course, none of them is president, and Mr. Obama’s words reverberate much farther. Russian President Vladimir Putin, for his part, went from — in a strange twist of logic — blaming Ukraine to releasing a statement early Monday morning that “Russia would work to ensure that the conflict in eastern Ukraine moved from the battlefield to the negotiating table,” per The New York Times. But that’s something Putin has been saying for months. Reuters reports there could be a vote at the UN Monday condemning the downing of the plane and calling for access to the site. Russia is clearly at least somewhat worried about perception, because it is apparently working to adjust language of the resolution to “downing” rather than “shot down.” As we’ve pointed out before, polls continue to show that, despite the Washington calls for more action, Americans support LESS intervention, not more.

Gaza’s deadliest day: While all this was happening in Ukraine, the fighting between Israelis and Palestinians got even worse, as Israelis continued their ground offensive trying to root out tunnels that Israelis say Hamas militants are using to smuggle weapons. Sunday was the deadliest day since the latest conflict began with more than 100 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers killed, various outlets reported. Reuters has the total death toll now topping 500. The New York Times reports that it is at least 425, including more than 100 children, with more than 3,000 injured. Kerry was caught in a hot mic moment between hits on Sunday talk shows, appearing to criticize the Israeli operation. “It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation,” he was heard telling an adviser as they agreed a cease-fire was necessary. Kerry defended his remarks on “Fox News Sunday” when he was asked about them. “I reacted obviously in a way that, you know, anybody does with respect to young children and civilians,” the secretary of state said. “But war is tough.” Kerry is set to travel to Cairo Monday in an attempt to broker a cease-fire.

Clinton’s Warren challenge: Should Hillary Clinton decide to seek the presidency in 2016 she would be the overwhelming favorite on the Democratic side, but that does not mean her path would be void of hurdles, especially when it comes to winning over the party’s progressive base. Look no further than last week’s Netroots Nation conference as evidence of that fact, where grassroots activists showered Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren with chants of “Run, Liz, run!” Warren’s remarks Friday highlighted her brand of economic populism, charging that “the game is rigged” for the wealthy and powerful special interests. The Los Angeles Times’ Maeve Reston notes Warren’s “speech offered a striking contrast” with Clinton’s recent appearances, marked by “comfortable settings that often involve a moderator and an armchair.” It’s another potential area that could cause Clinton trouble with the base — the money she has earned since leaving the State Department. Bloomberg News reports Monday that Clinton has hauled in $12 million in the 16 months since she stepped down, “derived mostly from her latest memoir, speeches and paid appearances at corporate retreats.” The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Robert Costa report that “a medley of ambitious Democrats are making moves” to position themselves as a potential alternative to Clinton. The list of names mentioned include Vice President Joe Biden, Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and Govs. Martin O’Malley of Maryland, Jay Nixon of Missouri and Andrew Cuomo of New York. Former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart, a two-time presidential candidate, framed Clinton’s challenge this way: “She’s always trying to find the mythical center on controversial issues — and if you do that, someone else is going to take the bouquet for courage.” This is one of the potential problems for Clinton — that she, like her husband, tries to find a centrist stance, or triangulate. That may play well with a general election audience, but when it comes to whipping up enthusiasm among the Democratic base, it’s a much tougher sell. Of course, none of those potential challengers, including Warren, are saying they would run if she does, leaving them with few options. Clinton continues to make the rounds in support of her new memoir, participating in a live Q&A at Facebook’s headquarters at 5:30 p.m. ET Monday.

Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1989, former President Ronald Reagan was inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame for his time acting in Western films. What was the last movie Reagan ever acted in? Be the first to Tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. Congratulations to Ellen Broadwell (@ebroadwe1) and Larissa Sevcik ‏(@larsma) for guessing Friday’s trivia: Who is next in line for the presidency after the speaker and the Senate president pro tempore? The answer was: the secretary of state.

LINE ITEMS

  • With all that’s happening on the foreign front, President Obama will be focused publicly Monday on two of his domestic initiatives. At 10:15 a.m. ET, he will issue an executive order barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The order will not include an exemption for government contractors with a religious affiliation. At 11:45 a.m. ET, he will announce that 60 of the country’s largest school districts will join his My Brother’s Keeper Initiative to focus on black and Latino youth education.

  • At 3:00 p.m. ET Monday, Mr. Obama will present the Medal of Honor to Ryan Pitts, a former active duty Army staff sergeant, for his actions during combat operations in Kunar Province, Afghanistan. Pitts will be the ninth living recipient to be awarded the medal for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan.

  • The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos profiles Vice President Joe Biden. Biden calls the job “the most worthwhile thing I’ve ever done in my life. … I can die a happy man not being President.”

  • Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., will soon take on their new House leadership roles, and it looks like this new group will get along a lot more swimmingly than the oft-divided Boehner-Cantor-McCarthy leadership team.

  • With a few days left until it is official, McCarthy has effectively taken over the duties of majority leader.

  • Ahead of Tuesday’s runoff in Georgia, Rep. Jack Kingston and Dollar General CEO David Perdue have been spending a lot of time in metro Atlanta and its northern suburbs, where neither candidate has a natural advantage.

  • With the pattern in the Senate — appointees confirmed Monday, lawmakers out Thursday — the same every week, the chamber is stuck in a war of “mutually assured dysfunction” between Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Washington Post’s Paul Kane reports.

  • Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is trying to build support among a group of people who strongly dislike government intervention and who also could be a fundraising gold mine — Silicon Valley.

  • Paul is also in the midst of a “Jewish charm offensive” to build foreign policy credibility among mainstream Republicans and to court, even if he can’t win over, big donors who are hawkish on Israel. To expand his tent further, he’ll meet with business leaders, grassroots activists and young professionals in northern Virginia this week.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Secretary of State John Kerry, “gave the most ridiculous and delusional summary of American foreign policy I could imagine” on “Meet the Press” this Sunday.

  • Meanwhile Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, went after Mr. Obama and Majority Leader Reid on “Fox News Sunday,” saying, “90,000 children are expected to come in to this country illegally this year and Harry Reid says the border is secure? I’ll tell you who is holding these kids ransom, is Harry Reid and the president because their view is don’t do anything to fix the problem.”

  • Within the Republican Party, there is a choice between appeasing the base and regaining Hispanic votes, when deciding how to respond to the border crisis.

  • The New York Times reports that aides to the president were warned of the looming border crisis nearly one year ago.

  • Mr. Obama will meet with three Central American presidents later this week to discuss the immigration crisis.

  • The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee outraised its Republican counterpart by $1 million in June, and has now raised around $25 million more than the National Republican Senatorial Committee so far this cycle.

  • The federal government and state insurance regulators are working to create stricter standards for health plans offered under the Affordable Care Act, in order to provide people with more choices for doctors and hospitals.

  • Chris McDaniel kicked off a “Truth and Justice” tour, as the Mississippi tea party challenger is refusing to give up the fight against incumbent Republican Sen. Thad Cochran. Cochran was declared the winner of the GOP primary by about 7,600 votes, but McDaniel told about 100 supporters over the weekend, “This is the turning point. The lines are drawn now. We know who our friends are; we know who our adversaries are. Now we’re going to take it back.”

  • New Rick Perry, same as the old. The Des Moines Register says it’s almost like a new man went to the Hawkeye state when the energetic Texas Gov. Rick Perry spoke. It’s not surprising to people who’ve watched politics at a national level. It’s why so many of us thought he would give a more serious challenge to Mitt Romney. Look back to his 2011 Republican Leadership Conference speech, for example.

  • The IRS says Lois Lerner’s emails are irrecoverable.

  • Edward Snowden said sexually explicit intercepted photos were often shared by young employees at the NSA.

  • Democrats in nearly all toss-up states this cycle come from families with ties to state or federal politics, and they’re using that heritage to help secure or win over Senate seats.

  • The press secretary for Rep. Tom Marino, R-Penn., was arrested Friday and has pleaded not guilty of carrying a gun into a House office building.

  • A federal appeals court ruled on Friday that Oklahoma’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

  • Forty-six thousand prisoners — almost half of federal drug inmates — are now eligible for reduced sentences, after a vote from the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

  • 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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