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First Read: Obama Unloads on GOP Candidates Over Refugee Refusal

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
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First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

Obama unloads on GOP candidates opposing Syrian refugees

As the world remains transfixed on this morning’s police raid in Paris, maybe the best political story played out last night in the Philippines, where President Obama blasted the politicians -- mostly Republicans -- who want to bar Syrian refugees from the United States. And some of the context here: Some Democrats (including Sens. Chuck Schumer and Joe Manchin) were talking yesterday about a pause on accepting Syrian refugees. "When candidates say we should not admit 3-year-old orphans, that’s political posturing,” Obama said at a news conference, referring to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. “When individuals say we should have religious tests, and only Christians, proven Christians, should be allowed, that’s offensive and contrary to American values," he added, referring to Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz. Obama went on to say, "I cannot think of a more potent recruitment tool for ISIL than some of the rhetoric coming out of here in the course of this debate. ISIL seeks to exploit the idea that there's war between Islam and the West, and when you start seeing individuals in position of responsibility suggesting Christians are more worthy of protection than Muslims are in a war-torn land that feeds the ISIL narrative. It’s counterproductive. And it needs to stop.” He concluded with this: “These are the same folks who suggested they’re so tough that just talk to Putin or staring down ISIL [will work] … but they're scared of widows and orphans… First they were worried the press was too tough on them in the debates, now they're worried about 3-year old orphans. That doesn’t sound very tough to me." Ouch.

But is his problem here with GOP presidential candidates?

Or is it now fellow Democrats? Yet while Obama was criticizing Republicans last night, it’s worth emphasizing that he was losing Democrats (Schumer, Manchin) on the issue of Syrian refugees. It certainly appears that the Obama White House -- and its PR shop -- was caught flat-footed here. Yet it’s also worth noting that we now have some Republicans (John McCain, Michael Gerson) who are criticizing their own party for its reaction to the Syrian refugees.

More Obama: It’s time for Russia to step up its involvement against ISIS

Obama made some other news during his press conference in the Philippines: He said Russia needed to step up its involvement against ISIS. “I've also welcomed Moscow going after ISIL. The problem has been in their initial military incursion into Syria, they have been more focused on propping up President Assad... If in fact he shifts his focus and the focus of his military, to what is the principle threat, which is ISIL, then that is what we want to see." More Obama: "We are going to wait and see whether Russia does end up paying more attention to ISIL targets. If it does so, that's something we welcome.”

Bush to deliver speech on U.S. military and national security

Turning to the 2016 race, Jeb Bush today gives a big military/defense speech at The Citadel in South Carolina at noon ET. According to excerpts of his address, Bush will begin by invoking the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. “This brutal savagery is a reminder of what is at stake in this election. We are choosing the leader of the free world. And if these attacks remind us of anything, it is that we are living in serious times that require serious leadership. The last seven years under President Obama have taught us that problems do not take care of themselves in the absence of American leadership.” He also will discuss his belief that U.S. military spending and size should be more robust. “I believe in the principle that the greater our superiority in military power, the less likely it is that we will have to assert that power, or be provoked into using it. Our best Presidents have called it peace through strength.”

Carson campaign performs damage control after adviser questions his foreign-policy knowledge

Speaking of foreign policy, the Ben Carson campaign had to perform some major damage control after one of his foreign-policy advisers, Duane Clarridge, questioned Carson’s expertise on the subject in an interview with the New York Times. “Nobody has been able to sit down with him and have him get one iota of intelligent information about the Middle East,”Clarridge told the Times. He added that Carson needed weekly conference calls briefing him on foreign policy so “we can make him smart.” The Carson campaign later responded with this statement, per NBC’s Shaquille Brewster: “Mr. Clarridge has incomplete knowledge of the daily, not weekly briefings, that Dr Carson receives on important national security matters from former military and state department officials. He is coming to the end of a long career of serving our country. Mr. Clarridge's input to Dr. Carson is appreciated but he is clearly not one of Dr. Carson's top advisors. For the New York Times to take advantage of an elderly gentleman and use him as their foil in this story is an affront to good journalistic practices.” Folks, read that last sentence again: As Jonathan Chait quips, the Carson campaign says the candidate ‘got tutelage from senile old man, because alternative explanation is worse.”

Carson campaign: Carson “has had more foreign exposure than any Republican candidate save Graham”

NBC’s Hallie Jackson gets an additional statement from the Carson campaign: “Nobody likes a story like that, but I don't believe it will hurt us with voters, because a) the premise is false. Mr. Clarridge was over-sold to the NYT reporter as a Senior Advisor and that simply isn't true. Dr. Carson has had daily, DAILY foreign policy briefings for several months. The briefs are an amalgam of no less than five senior foreign policy advisers… Finally, Dr. Carson , who has lived abroad and worked in and/or visited 57 countries, has had more foreign exposure than any Republican candidate, save Sen. Graham. In 1976 and 1980, Gov. Reagan was panned and belittled for his lack of FP experience, with great frequency. At the end of his term, he was hailed for his enormous FP achievements.”

Kasich proposes new government agency to promote Judeo-Christian values

A dispatch from NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell: “As part of a broad national security plan to defeat ISIS, Republican Presidential candidate John Kasich proposed creating a new government agency to push Judeo-Christian values around the world. The new agency, which he hasn't yet named, would promote a Jewish- and Christian-based belief system to four regions of the world: China, Iran, Russia and the Middle East. ‘We need to beam messages around the world’ about the freedoms Americans enjoy, Kasich said in an interview with [NBC’s Peter Alexander] Tuesday. "It means freedom, it means opportunity, it means respect for women, it means freedom to gather, it means so many things."

Take the Q-poll general-election numbers with a grain of salt

This morning, Quinnipiac has another poll showing Hillary trailing the GOP field in hypothetical general-election matchups -- this time in battleground Colorado. And it has her behind the Republican candidates by double digits (!!!). But as we’ve said in the past, take the Q numbers with a grain of salt: Either the GOP is poised for a historic blowout victory a year out from now, or something is consistently wrong with the Quinnipiac numbers. Most other polls aren’t showing what Quinnipiac does.

Yet another ’16 gubernatorial casualty

Jindal suspends his campaign: Finally, Bobby Jindal ended his presidential campaign last night. “Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal announced late Tuesday he would suspend his presidential campaign after failing to gain traction in the crowded Republican primary field. In a statement announcing his exit from the 2016 race, Jindal said running has ‘been an honor, but this is not my time,’” NBC’s Andrew Rafferty writes. Despite all of the earlier GOP rhetoric and talk about how a Republican governor was likely to emerge in the 2016 race, just look at the record GOP governors have had so far:

  • Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker ended his campaign
  • So did former Texas Gov. Rick Perry
  • Ditto Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal
  • And former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, current New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and current Ohio Gov. John Kasich haven’t exactly set the world on fire.

One theory: Giving how much more nationalized our politics is, does that hurt governors (and ex-governors) running for president?

On the trail

Donald Trump holds a rally in Worcester, MA at 7:00 pm ET… Bush campaigns in New Hampshire after his Citadel speech in South Carolina… Carly Fiorina also is in the Granite State… John Kasich stumps in Virginia… And Rick Santorum is in Iowa.

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