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First Thoughts: Obama Tackles Two Tasks on Europe Trip

Image: Barack Obama, Mark Rutte

President Barack Obama and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte make their joint statement in front of Rembrandt's 'The Nightwatch' at Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Monday, March 24, 2014. Obama is attending the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, which will form the backdrop for an emergency meeting of Group of Seven leaders on Russia's annexation of Crimea. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

President Obama’s five-day overseas trip is jam-packed with different events -- a bilateral meeting with the Netherlands’ prime minister (which already took place), another bilateral meeting with China’s president (taking place right now), a G-7 meeting to discuss Ukraine (later today), a press conference (on Tuesday), a US-EU summit (on Wednesday), a sit down with the Pope in Rome (on Thursday), and meeting in Saudi Arabia with King Abdullah (on Friday). But during his week overseas, Obama has two important goals to accomplish, both of which have to do with Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. One, the president has to reassure Europeans that the United States and NATO can check Russian aggression. And two, Obama has to convince the Europeans to stay unified when it comes to the economic sanctions against Russia. “[A]s the United States ratchets up economic sanctions against Russia, it may be difficult for Mr. Obama to bring along European allies, who are more economically intertwined with Russia and who ended their own summit meeting on Friday with no detailed mention of tougher sanctions,” the New York Times writes.

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The three questions Obama didn’t answer

By the way, Obama did a print interview with the Netherlands paper, de Volkskrant, which submitted eight questions. Obama chose to answer five of them (on Ukraine, on European nations nervous about sanctions, on whether U.S. is still with Europe despite America's changing non-Euro demographics, on why Netherlands for the nuclear summit, and on whether diplomacy can work in Iran, Mideast and Ukraine). However, the paper also noted the three questions he did NOT answer, according to NBC’s Shawna Thomas. And all of them were MUCH trickier to answer:

1. How do you fight the perspective that America withdraws from the world and is no longer feared by his opponents?

2. Sanctions are a slow working medicine which perhaps doesn't work at all.

How do you expect to keep Putin in the meantime in check?

3. Is it still possible for countries like Ukraine and Georgia to become NATO member? How likely is it that we return to a situation of limited sovereignty for the immediate neighbors of Russia?

It’s a reminder that submitting questions is NOT the best journalistic exercise. The THREE unanswered questions were the best three questions, and they’re the ones we’re looking forward to others asking the president later this week.

Shall … we … play … a … game?

There’s one other story here worth mentioning regarding the president today: He will be participating in a hypothetical exercise with the other countries on loose nuclear weapons. The Netherlands, which is hosting the summit, came up with the idea; it involves how to react to an emergency loose nuke goes off scenario. Cue the “War Games” and “24” references.

Jeb and Hillary together -- again

Last Friday, we wrote about how both Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush have been stepping up their public events recently. And guess what -- both are appearing at the same event today. The AP: “Bush and Clinton [are] taking the podium Monday at a higher education conference in suburban Dallas organized by Bush, the former Florida governor who is the brother and son of Republican presidents. The former secretary of state, whose husband, Bill Clinton, served two terms in the White House, is the leading Democratic contender in 2016 if she runs for president again. The AP adds that this is the third time in the last year when Bush and Clinton have crossed paths (the others were at the George W. Bush Presidential Library’s opening and when Bush awarded Clinton the Liberty Medal in Philadelphia). And, of course, this quote from Bush’s mother also links Jeb and Hillary, too: “I think this is a great American country, great country, and if we can't find more than two or three families to run for high office, that's silly, because there are great governors and great eligible people to run. And I think that the Kennedys, Clintons, Bushes, there are just more families than that,” Barbara Bush told C-SPAN earlier this year, per NBC’s Sarah Blackwill.

Jeb to appear at Sheldon Adelson gathering later in the week

Speaking of Jeb Bush, don’t miss this Washington Post report from over the weekend: He’ll be hobnobbing with GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson on Thursday. “Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will get top billing when he and other potential 2016 presidential candidates join billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson for an exclusive Republican gathering next week in Las Vegas,” the Post wrote. “Bush, who is quietly exploring a run for the White House, will be the featured speaker at an exclusive VIP dinner on Thursday hosted by Adelson and his wife, Miriam, at his company’s private airplane hangar at Las Vegas Macarran International Airport, according to a draft itinerary obtained by The Washington Post. The Adelsons’ dinner for Bush will kick off the Republican Jewish Coalition’s four-day spring leadership meeting, during which politicians and major GOP donors will mingle at golf and poker tournaments, as well as in political strategy sessions.”

Some trouble in Rick Scott Land down in Florida

“On Friday, the Miami Herald reported that Gov. Rick Scott’s top campaign-finance co-chairman, Mike Fernandez, raised a concern in an email last month about campaign associates joking around in over-the-top Mexican accents. Insiders whispered about the email for weeks, but some of the contents became public only after Fernandez suddenly quit his campaign post, citing the need to spend more time with his family while expressing confidence in Scott’s chances,” the Herald added on Sunday. “Fernandez, however, also expressed some dissatisfaction with the direction of the reelection effort. The Scott campaign went into double-damage-control mode, reeling from Fernandez’s abrupt departure and downplaying the Mexican-accent issue, which apparently played out in a van en route to a Mexican restaurant in Coral Gables.” Internal spats happen all in the times in politics and campaigns. But you always want to limit it one-day stories. But this Scott-Fernandez story has already caused trouble for more than one day, and you never want to alienate a community (Latinos) that represent more than 20% of the state’s population.

Northern Exposure -- for Condi Rice

Per Politico, former Secretary of State Condi Rice appears in a new TV ad for GOP Alaska Senate candidate Dan Sullivan, defending him on attacks for not residing in Alaska when he worked in the Bush administration. The advertisement is fascinating on multiple levels -- 1) Rice continues to expand her political role, 2) the GOP group American Crossroads is the entity airing the ad, and 3) the Karl Rove-backed Crossroads is taking sides in this contested GOP primary. Remember the blowback Crossroads received when it said last year it was planning to back establishment figures in order to avoid nominating future Todd Akins and Richard Mourdocks? It will be interesting to see if that blowback still exists a year later. The Club for Growth has already backed Sullivan, so Crossroads’ endorsement isn’t super risky for the group. But it’s still pretty noteworthy.

Health-care sign-ups: One week to go

Finally, we’re exactly one week out before the March 31 deadline for Americans to obtain health insurance.

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