Obama’s prime-time challenge to sell the country on action against the Islamic State

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • Obama set to address country at 9 p.m. ET
  • Public says military action in ‘national interest’
  • President tells leaders he has authority to act, but will continue to consult
  • The 2014 primary season officially comes to an end

Big-speech time: President Barack Obama will address the nation in a prime-time speech at 9 p.m. ET Wednesday on the threat posed by the Islamic State, operating out of Iraq and Syria. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest previewed the speech in his White House press briefing Tuesday, noting that the president will lay out the risk the group poses to the U.S. and the strategy he’s put together to “degrade and destroy” the group. But he will reassert that there will be no troops on the ground and no timeline for how long it might take. While polls this week show more support for action against the Islamic State, the speech comes at the lowest point of his presidency. A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds just 32 percent approve of his handling of foreign policy, the lowest score of Obama’s presidency. His overall job approval rating of 40 percent is also his worst mark. The president’s challenge tonight — the day before the 13th anniversary of 9/11 — is to sell military action to a war-weary country skeptical of military intervention and of his ability to lead. By the way, don’t expect it to be a long speech, which may indicate an address meant to make the moral case but short on detail.

Polls show support for military action: The president, though, may have an easier time selling the public on the plan he’s putting forward (airstrikes and no ground troops) than may have once been thought. On the heels of the beheadings of two American journalists, the NBC/WSJ poll also finds growing fear among Americans that the country has grown less safe — 47 percent said they believed the country is less safe than before 9/11, up from 28 percent who said so last year. Perhaps because of that, 61 percent of Americans now say military action against the Islamic State is in the national interest. Four-in-10, a plurality, support airstrikes, while another 34 percent back action that includes airstrikes AND combat troops. A year ago, only 24 percent of Americans supported the president’s call to use military force against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for its reported use of chemical weapons. And while the number of Americans who believe the country should be more active in world affairs has jumped to 27 percent (from 19 percent in April), still 40 percent of respondents said the U.S. should be less active (down from 47 percent earlier this year). President Obama has to walk a fine line tonight. Americans have clearly been affected by the images of the beheadings, but the support for action remains limited. There is support for airstrikes, but there remains an underlying weariness about becoming TOO entangled in overseas conflicts, particularly one that might include boots on the ground.

Consulting with Congress: The president huddled with congressional leaders at the White House Tuesday as part of his push to get buy-in from lawmakers for his strategy to confront the Islamic State. While some on the Hill have called for a vote to authorize force, the president “told the Leaders that he has the authority he needs to take action,” according to a White House readout of the meeting. What the president did offer was to continue “extensive consultation with Congress.” The top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, told the NewsHour Tuesday that he believes the president “already has the authority” to take military action, but wants him to “come out with a specific strategy” to “win this war.” Inhofe was joined on the program by Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., who advocated for the president to seek authorization from Congress, saying, “the best process is for the president to put a proposal on the table and for us to debate it and revise it and amend it.” House Republicans, meanwhile, heard Tuesday from former Vice President Dick Cheney, who urged them to reject the anti-interventionist approach being advocated by some in the GOP. And that’s a line for Republicans to walk — there may be more support for some intervention, but probably not as far as Cheney would like.

Election results – first Democratic incumbent loses: While the president’s speech Wednesday could have midterm implications for Democrats, the last primaries of this election cycle took place Tuesday night. And it put Democrats in the spotlight. In fact, the first Democratic House incumbent this cycle lost, John Tierney of Massachusetts to first-time candidate Seth Moulton, a Harvard grad and Iraq war veteran who served directly under Gen. David Petraeus. Tierney was a top Republican target in a district President Obama won with just 55 percent in 2012. By the way, so much for Mad-As-Hell America. Incumbents went 16-for-17 last night and now that primary season is over, just four House incumbents have lost this cycle — three Republicans and one Democrat. No incumbent senators lost in primaries and one governor did, Democrat Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii.

If you can make it there…: In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s primary opponent, Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham University professor and former director of the Sunlight Foundation, wound up with more votes than expected, pulling in 35 percent. It’s another embarrassment for Cuomo following his disbanding of an ethics board he created. He has a lot of work to do to fix his image if he has national ambitions. … In Massachusetts, Martha Coakley barely won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination — by far less than predicted. It’s again giving heartburn to Democrats after her disastrous Senate campaign against Scott Brown in 2010. Republican Charlie Baker, who has run previously for governor, but is seen as a strong candidate, won the GOP nomination. Could Bay State Republicans get their first governor since Mitt Romney? … Speaking of Brown, he cleared his primary hurdle in New Hampshire for the Senate and will take on incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who is favored.

Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt mandated gasoline rationing as part of the U.S. wartime effort. What other time in U.S. history was gas rationing mandated? 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: How many children of presidents were born at the White House? The answer was: One, Cleveland’s daughter.


  • Members of Congress are privately saying that nothing will get done during their short time back in Washington. That is probably not surprising to most Americans, whose approval of Congress is hovering around 13 percent.

  • One thing Congress is working hard at is raising money, but for House Democrats, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is shouldering a good deal of that burden. The California Democrat has already raised $80 million this cycle.

  • House Republican leadership released plans for a stopgap spending bill Tuesday that would fund the government through Dec. 11 and reauthorize the Export-Import Bank through June 2015.

  • But late Tuesday night, over pizza, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, held another strategy session with conservative House Republicans who think that Dec. 11 is too soon for a continuing resolution to expire.

  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid doubts there’ll be any action on corporate tax inversions this month. Earlier this week, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said his department would be taking action “in the very near future” but that no measure would be complete without a legislative solution.

  • Members grilled Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security witnesses about the militarization of police during a Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing Tuesday.

  • The Veterans Affairs inspector general testified Tuesday that multiple VA facility administrators have lied about the degree of waiting-list manipulation.

  • House Oversight and Government Reform Republican staffers claim that Attorney General Eric Holder’s communications director called them for help spinning a story…thinking they were the Democrats’ staff.

  • Forty-three percent of registered voters view Hillary Clinton positively, compared to 59 percent in 2009, according to the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.

  • Almost all of GOP 2016 hopefuls lack foreign policy experience.

  • Even though Colorado is on the frontline of legalizing marijuana, Centennial State politicians are not using pot as a political weapon.

  • The former Democratic Senate candidate in Kansas, Chad Taylor, is suing to have his name removed from the ballot.

  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is throwing more money behind Senate candidate Joni Ernst.

  • Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., came to Ernst’s defense against an attack from NextGen Action that accused Ernst of prioritizing big oil supporters over national security.

  • Republican candidate Monica Wehby gets the endorsement of a same-sex couple in her latest ad.

  • Georgia Senate candidate David Perdue is using the leaked campaign memo from his opponent’s campaign against her.

  • The National Republican Senatorial Committee is working hard to link Michelle Nunn to President Obama in a new ad that says “President Obama + Michelle Nunn = Amnesty”. The Washington Post points out that the “amnesty” legislation the ad refers to is the bill co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, among others.

  • Sen. Mark Udall says Rep. Cory Gardner stood with his party during the government shutdown, instead of standing up for the people of Colorado.

  • West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant goes personal in a new ad about her commitment to health care reform by talking about her daughter’s open heart surgery.

  • Michigan Rep. Gary Peters champions his military service as preparation for public service in the Senate.

  • A Detroit News poll of likely voters gives Peters a 10.5 percentage point lead over Republican Terri Lynn Land. The same survey shows Gov. Rick Snyder ahead of Democrat Mark Schauer by less than 2 percentage points.

  • The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee calls the Koch brothers a “cloud of dark money” who are “using their dirty profits to prop up Terri Lynn Land.”

  • Charlie Crist’s campaign tries to paint Gov. Rick Scott as wrong for the women of Florida in his latest ad.

  • A Republican Governors Association ad touts welfare reform as Maine Gov. Paul LePage’s greatest accomplishment.

  • Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., leads Republican Jeff Bell 42 percent to 29 percent, with 27 percent of registered voters undecided, in a Fairleigh Dickinson University/PublicMind Poll.

  • New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is back in Illinois campaigning for GOP gubernatorial hopeful Bruce Rauner. And he’s set to appear at a New Jersey GOP fundraiser with Mitt Romney in attendance later Wednesday.

  • Connecticut Republican Tom Foley leads Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy 46 percent to 40 percent among likely voters in a Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday.

  • Nebraska Lt. Gov. Lavon Heidemann is stepping down from his post and out of the race for re-election, in light of allegations that he assaulted his sister.

  • The Washington Post’s Philip Bump lays out who actually was the greatest job-creating president.

  • 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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