First Thoughts: Back to domestic politics

Back to domestic politics and the shutdown showdown… From Vladimir, with love… Obama: Weak or the anti-Bush?... Hillary’s secret money in the ’08 campaign?... Syria and 2014… Christie’s new TV ad… And de Blasio is still above 40%.

The U.S. Capitol Dome /

*** Back to domestic politics: Now that Secretary of State John Kerry is in Geneva to reach a diplomatic solution to Syria’s chemical weapons, we begin returning to our originally scheduled politically divisive programming -- funding the government after Sept. 30 and implementing the health-care law. And as NBC’s Frank Thorp reports, House Republicans continue to find themselves in a box on Obamacare and keeping the government open. “After conservative defections, House Republican leaders have delayed a vote on a bill to avert a government shutdown, saying that they need more time to build support for the proposal. The bill, which would fund the government until mid-December but would also include a provision to defund the Affordable Care Act, has exposed a strategic rift between GOP leadership and Tea Party-affiliated Republicans who want ‘Obamacare’ gutted even if it risks a government shutdown.” And check out this quote from a GOP leadership aide: “Does Ted Cruz have a plan to get 41 votes? Does he have a strategy he's executing on to get 41 votes? Not that I'm aware of,” the aide told Thorp. “Has he ever come to the House leadership and said, ‘Here's my plan to get 41 votes in the Senate, to hold the line so we can defund Obamacare?’ Never. No. He's just on his twitter account attacking House Republicans.” House Republican leaders know they are in a box, and that a P.R. debacle is coming if they aren’t careful. It’s why this news was made on 9/11, so it would be buried (for now) by Syria and 9/11 tributes. GOP leaders are clearly frustrated.

*** From Vladimir, with love: Per NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Geneva earlier this morning. And according to a pool report, senior State Department officials briefed reporters on the flight there saying that getting an agreement on seizing Syria’s chemical weapons is “doable, but difficult and complicated." Meanwhile, the big shiny object is Russia President Putin’s New York Times op-ed. While so much of the focus of Putin’s op-ed is on his chest-beating -- the dubious claim that the Syrian rebels were responsible for the chemical-weapons attack, his poke in the eye on “American exceptionalism” -- don’t lose sight of perhaps the biggest news from the op-ed: He endorsed the effort to seize Syria’s chemical weapons. “A new opportunity to avoid military action has emerged in the past few days. The United States, Russia and all members of the international community must take advantage of the Syrian government’s willingness to place its chemical arsenal under international control for subsequent destruction. Judging by the statements of President Obama, the United States sees this as an alternative to military action.” Putin clearly is feeling empowered for the moment, basking in his return (even if shortlived) to Superpower glory. But he’s got a lot on the line. And if he fails to deliver, his sharp pokes at the U.S. now could eventually make it easier for the Obama administration to rally support on Capitol Hill by making it a referendum on support for/trust in Putin. 

*** Obama: Weak or the anti-Bush? Given how Obama has changed his mind in this Syria debate -- going to Congress, then delaying a response to find a diplomatic solution -- the New York Times asks this question: Is Obama weak? Or he is simply the anti-Bush? “To aides and allies, Mr. Obama’s willingness to hit the pause button twice on his decision to launch airstrikes to punish Syria for using chemical weapons on its own people reflects a refreshing open-mindedness and a reluctance to use force that they considered all too missing under his predecessor with the Texas swagger. In this view, Mr. Obama is a nimble leader more concerned with getting the answer right than with satisfying a political class all too eager to second-guess every move.” On the other hand: “[T]o Mr. Obama’s detractors, including many in his own party, he has shown a certain fecklessness with his decisions first to outsource the decision to lawmakers in the face of bipartisan opposition and then to embrace a Russian diplomatic alternative that even his own advisers consider dubious. Instead of displaying decisive leadership, Mr. Obama, to these critics, has appeared reactive, defensive and profoundly challenged in standing up to a dangerous world.” Bottom line: This hasn’t been the picture of presidential leadership, and Putin’s victory dance on the op-ed pages of the New York Times only helps to underscore the point of the president’s detractors. Ultimately, what actually happens in Syria will decide whether the president got this right.

*** Hillary’s secret money in 2008 campaign? After the New York Times’ stinging look at the Clinton Foundation, after reports how aide Huma Abedin received outside money while still working at the State Department, and after the Terry McAuliffe-Tony Rodham-DHS story comes another tough piece on Clinton World -- which only revives the stereotype that there’s always some shady or odd or weird “deal” when it comes to money and Clinton politics. The Washington Post: “Jeffrey E. Thompson, a former city contractor who allegedly financed a secret campaign for then-mayoral candidate Vincent C. Gray (D) in 2010, financed an independent effort to reach urban voters on behalf of [Hillary] Clinton in Texas and at least three other states during the 2008 Democratic primaries, according to the interviews and documents. Thompson allegedly paid Troy White, a New York marketing executive, more than $608,000 to hire ‘street teams’ to distribute posters, stickers and yard signs beginning in February 2008 to help raise Clinton’s profile during her primary battle with then-Sen. Barack Obama.” To all our fellow political observers, note the timing of this reported campaign -- the Texas, Indiana, and North Carolina primaries. That’s when Team Clinton was essentially out of money and running on fumes. “A senior official on Clinton’s 2008 campaign said no one in the campaign’s senior leadership or with budget-making authority knew about White’s independent canvassing campaign. Other senior officials said they had never heard of White,” the Post adds.

*** Syria and 2014: Here is what appears to be the first 2014 ad -- a radio spot -- that has used the crisis in Syria to score political poitns. The ad, from Georgia GOP Senate candidate Karen Handel, whacks Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn for her support of the Senate authorization to use force in Syria. “Michelle Nunn said she would vote for direct American military intervention – even with no imminent threat to our national security,” Handel says in the radio ad. “But President Obama has failed to make the case. His foreign policy is a disaster. On Syria, the President is virtually incoherent, lacking consistency and failing to articulate clear goals. No wonder most Georgians – and Americans – oppose the costs of an intervention in Syria’s civil war. Yet Michelle Nunn continues to support this. If I were in the U.S. Senate today, I would vote against the authorization of military force in Syria.”

*** Christie’s new TV ad: Speaking of ads, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is up with the first general-election TV ad of his 2013 re-election race, and the spot emphasizes his record working with both parties and his work rebuilding New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy. “Working with both parties, he made tough decisions,” the ad’s narrator says. “Four balanced budgets, no new taxes for anyone. Wasteful spending cut. A cap on property taxes that's working. The best job growth in a decade.” The narrator adds, “And when tragedy struck, he was there - every step of the way.” And check out how it ends: “Chris Christie. The Governor.” The campaign of Christie’s Democratic opponent, Barbara Buono releases a statement countering the ad: "Chris Christie's discredited, trickle-down philosophy has given New Jersey one of the worst job creation rates in the country, leaving more than 400,000 people out of work. He has protected millionaires from paying their fair share while increasing property taxes by 20 percent and raising taxes on the working poor.”

*** De Blasio still above 40%: It’s looking more and more likely that Bill de Blasio, who came out on top in Tuesday’s NYC mayoral Democratic primary, is going to be above the 40% threshold needed to avoid an Oct. 1 run-off. With 99% precincts reporting, de Blasio is at 40.33%, Bill Thompson at 26%, Christine Quinn at 15.5%, John Liu at 7%, and Anthony Weiner at 4.9%. And that reality is moving some New York Democrats to force second-place-finisher Thompson to give up any bid for a run-off, the New York Times says. “On a day of back-room maneuvering and deal-making, Mr. Thompson’s own inner circle appeared divided over how, or even whether, to proceed, with his campaign. Mr. Thompson vowed to press on, but the chairwoman of his campaign said Mr. de Blasio had won a ‘clear victory’ and suggested the race was over. “I don’t think there’s much appetite within the Democratic Party to have a fight here,” Merryl H. Tisch, the campaign chairwoman, said in a telephone interview.” Kind of amusing that the Dem establishment wants to push Thompson out for the good of the party; Thompson, we’re sure, probably remembers all the “for the good of the party” rallying around him that took place in 2009. (Oh, right, that didn’t happen…)

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