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Obama Inches Closer to More Russia Sanctions

Image: Barack Obama, Shinzo Abe

President Barack Obama, left, speaks as he attends a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Akasaka State Guest House in Tokyo, Thursday, April 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Junko Kimura-Matsumoto, Pool) Junko Kimura-Matsumoto / AP

Teed up

President Obama made news overnight (East Coast time) when he said in his news conference in Tokyo that new sanctions against Russia are “teed up,” with technical issues that still need to be worked out. “We have been consistently preparing for the possibility that” Russia wouldn’t deliver on its promise from Geneva to de-escalate tensions in Eastern Ukraine. “And so what that means is that we have been preparing for the prospect that we’re going to have to engage in further sanctions. Those are teed up.” He added, “It requires some technical work and it also requires coordination with other countries. So the fact that I haven’t announced them yet doesn’t mean that they haven’t been prepared and teed up.” More Obama: “I think it’s important to emphasize that throughout this process, our goal has been to change Mr. Putin’s calculus; that our preference is to resolve this issue diplomatically; that sanctions hurt Russia more than anybody else but they’re disruptive to the global economy and they’re unnecessary if, in fact, Russia would recognize that the government in Kiev is prepared to have serious negotiations that preserve the rights of all Ukrainians.” Bottom line: It was a very skeptical and pessimistic president regarding whether Russia will deal diplomatically.

Caroline Kennedy on Hillary and 2016

In an interview with one of us, U.S. Ambassador to Japan Carolina Kennedy talked about her decision to accept the job; the importance of learning the balance between respecting local customs while pushing American values when appropriate, something she waded into a few months back regarding dolphin hunting. Some other highlights included learning Japanese on the job: “I knew not a lot before I came and I still know not a lot. And there’s a lot to learn; it’s a complicated language, but I think it gives you great insight into their culture.” On Hillary Clinton and 2016: "I would like to see her run if that's what she wants to do. I think she would be great." And on if Kennedy herself would try again for office: “Well, first of all, I wouldn’t consider running in Japan,” she joked. “I doubt that I would ever run in the United States, either.” In general, one can’t help but conclude she is not as interested about getting involved in campaign politics in 2016 as she was in 2008. In fact, it sounds like someone who didn’t have a positive experience running (briefly) for U.S. senator in 2009.

More Sanctions 'Teed Up' for Russia, Warns Obama 0:30

NRA gathers on Friday in Indianapolis

Tomorrow, the National Rifle Association’s annual gathering takes place in Indianapolis, and the confirmed speakers include Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sens. Marco Rubio and Dan Coats, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, and 2012 presidential candidate Rick Santorum. What do these folks all have in common? They’re all Republicans. That fact might not be surprising given the recent politics of gun control. But it is striking when you consider the NRA’s past bipartisan support (there was a time, after all, when the NRA handed out A-ratings to Democrats). Politically, the NRA has been on a roll since the 2012 election -- it defeated the background-check legislation sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA), and it even has appeared to stop President Obama’s nominee to be surgeon general. But there is a downside to being viewed as a partisan (and not bipartisan) organization: Political power comes and goes, and when an organization has fewer and fewer friends in one political party, there’s usually payback when that party has sole control over the government. Just ask organized labor. For years, labor made an effort to endorse Republicans, seek Republican support for their own initiatives and for a time it paid off. Labor had real substantial long term power. Now? After going more all in with Democrats than ever before, they are viewed as an influential with a smaller ad smaller constituency inside one party.

Kentucky Senate -- the cycle’s most unique race

If there's a second-day story to the New York Times/Kaiser poll from yesterday, it's how unique a race the Kentucky Senate contest is going to be. Think about it: You have a Democratic governor, Steve Beshear, who proudly supports the health-care law, who has implemented it well, and has a 55% approval rating in the state. Yet at the same time, President Obama has just a TK% approval rating there. It all adds up to make the general election -- assuming Mitch McConnell wins his primary next month -- a bit different than we're going to see in Arkansas, Louisiana, and North Carolina. And it’s possible that the individual (McConnell) could trump the overall national environment, even though Republicans are going to do everything they can to make the environment the No. 1 issue. The point is: When talking about the national landscape and the national political environment, folks should leave Kentucky out of the equation; this Senate race is on its own island, with national politics having less of an impact than in the other races. Of course, McConnell wants the national environment to matter. But right now, it sure looks like it’s not.

Q-poll: Udall and Gardner are running neck and neck in Colorado

Meanwhile, a new Quinnipiac poll is a reminder that while the Southern Democrats are holding their own, Republicans have expanded the map. Per the survey, Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) and challenger Rep. Cory Gardner are locked in a tight race -- Udall at 45% and Gardner at 44%. Interestingly, Dem Gov. John Hickenlooper appears to be in a much stronger position than Udall is. As Quinnipiac revealed yesterday, Hickenlooper’s job approval is above 50%, and he has significant leads over his potential GOP rivals.

Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and Sarah Palin uniting behind T.W. Shannon

Our colleague Perry Bacon reports that today in Tulsa, OK Sens. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee and Sarah Palin are holding a joint campaign event with T.W. Shannon, the former speaker of the Oklahoma House who is now running to replace Tom Coburn in the U.S. Senate. He is in a primary battle against Rep. James Lankford, which takes place on June 24. Bacon adds that this event is significant because it's the latest illustration of how the Republican Party really does want to embrace black candidates who are conservative. And Bacon observes that it's not an accident that Sen. Tim Scott is running virtually unopposed in South Carolina, while Lindsey Graham is having to ward off a long list of challengers. Come 2015, there’s the real possibility that, in a country where 90%-plus African Americans are Democratic voters, there will be two black GOP senators (Scott, Shannon) and one black Democratic senator (Cory Booker).

GOP group targets Democratic billionaire

By now, you’ve probably seen the Democratic TV ads (here and here) hitting the conservative Koch Brothers for the millions of dollars they’ve been pouring into key Senate contests. But chances are that you might not know that Republicans are now targeting Democratic billionaire Tom Steyer. In the past month, a GOP-leaning group called American Commitment has run online ads on Facebook and YouTube (at a buy of about $90,000) singling out Steyer as the reason why the Obama administration has delayed a decision on the Keystone pipeline. Here’s the new ad American Commitment is running in Colorado against Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO): “California billionaire Tom Steyer is bankrolling Colorado Sen. Mark Udall’s campaign,” the narrator states. “A pipeline delay is a victory for Tom Steyer, but a cold slap in the face of American workers. Call Mark Udall -- tell him to put Colorado ahead of his billionaire backer and support the Keystone pipeline.” And here’s the other one it began running last month. Phil Kerpen, president of American Commitment, tells First Read that the ad campaign is intended to “shame” Democrats and get Keystone approved.

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