First Read is the NBC Political Unit’s morning briefing on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter
Obama’s first test in maintaining Iran deal: Keeping his own party on board
President Obama faces several obstacles before actually achieving his historic nuclear deal with Iran. There’s a Republican Party willing to fight him every step of the way. There’s an Israeli prime minister vowing to kill it (see “Meet the Press” yesterday). And there’s the fact that the U.S. and Iran still have to finalize key issues like the timing of sanctions relief. But the first test for Obama is making sure that his own party doesn’t scuttle the deal -- by providing enough votes to override a presidential veto on bipartisan legislation scrutinizing the deal. Roll Call: “A key Iran bill moved this week to being just one vote away from having the necessary Senate support to overcome a promised presidential veto… Virginia Democrat Mark Warner became the 66th senator to publicly support the legislation.” Two-thirds of the Senate (67 votes) and House (290 votes) are needed to override a president’s veto.
History and the early perception of the deal suggest he will be able to do it
With just a few exceptions (like trying to make Larry Summers Fed chair), Obama has maintained discipline over his party -- due in large part to the work of Harry Reid in the Senate and Nancy Pelosi in the House. Can he do so again? Here was the non-committal statement that Senate leader in-waiting Chuck Schumer (D-NY) gave on Thursday: “Secretary Kerry and Secretary Moniz have worked long and hard and their announcement deserves careful, rigorous and deliberate analysis. I’ll be giving the framework a very careful look.” Then again, there’s the view that -- because many in the foreign-policy community believe the framework is better than expected -- Democrats are unlikely to buck the president. “I am pretty skeptical at this point that Congress will be able to push anything through with a veto-proof majority because I think the president has a pretty strong hand to play with this agreement,” former Senate Foreign Relations Democratic staffer Ilan Goldenberg told Roll Call. “If anything, you will probably see some Democrats move away.”
Obama defines the Obama Doctrine
During President Obama’s six-plus years in office, observers have been trying to define an “Obama Doctrine.” Well, in an interview with the New York Times’ Tom Friedman, the president himself defined the doctrine -- engage, even with your enemies, but keep your options open. “You take a country like Cuba. For us to test the possibility that engagement leads to a better outcome for the Cuban people, there aren’t that many risks for us. It’s a tiny little country. It’s not one that threatens our core security interests, and so [there’s no reason not] to test the proposition. And if it turns out that it doesn’t lead to better outcomes, we can adjust our policies,” he told Friedman. “The same is true with respect to Iran, a larger country, a dangerous country, one that has engaged in activities that resulted in the death of U.S. citizens, but the truth of the matter is: Iran’s defense budget is $30 billion. Our defense budget is closer to $600 billion. Iran understands that they cannot fight us.”
A flashback to 2007
In many ways, this is all a flashback to Obama’s answer in that July 2007 Democratic debate, when he was asked if he’d be willing to meet -- without preconditions -- with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea. Obama’s answer: absolutely. “[T]he notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them -- which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of [the Bush] administration -- is ridiculous. Now, Ronald Reagan and Democratic presidents like JFK constantly spoke to Soviet Union at a time when Ronald Reagan called them an evil empire. And the reason is because they understood that we may not trust them and they may pose an extraordinary danger to this country, but we had the obligation to find areas where we can potentially move forward.”
Obama to Israel: If you are attacked, the United States will stand 100% with you
But if the Obama Doctrine is “engage with enemies because they’re not really existential threats to us,” what does that mean to a country like Israel? Indeed, on “Meet the Press” yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “The preeminent terrorist state of our time should not have access to a vast nuclear capability that will ultimately give them nuclear weapons. That's a concern for Israel, for the region, for the peace of the world.” In his interview with the New York Times’ Friedman, Obama said he understood and sympathized with Israel’s predicament. “But what I would say to them is that not only am I absolutely committed to making sure that they maintain their qualitative military edge, and that they can deter any potential future attacks, but what I’m willing to do is to make the kinds of commitments that would give everybody in the neighborhood, including Iran, a clarity that if Israel were to be attacked by any state, that we would stand by them. And that, I think, should be ... sufficient to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see whether or not we can at least take the nuclear issue off the table.”
Is Hillary Clinton any good at running for president?
Turning to the 2016 race, be sure not to miss Jason Zengerle’s piece on Hillary Clinton in New York Magazine. His provocative question: Is Hillary any good at running for president? In the article, conservative Pat Buchanan muses that the great political talents over the last 50 years have been JFK, Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. By contrast, Hillary is more of a grinder, “The grind can be obvious watching Clinton on the campaign trail,” Zengerle writes. “In her two successful Senate races and her unsuccessful presidential run in 2008, she often struggled to exhibit the basic qualities required of politicians. ‘Let’s remember who she’s beaten in her career: Rick Lazio and John Spencer,’ says a Democratic consultant who has worked for and against Hillary. ‘The only time she’s run against anyone decent, she’s lost.’ Where most pols project warmth, she often runs cold. Her speeches can be leaden and forced. She tightens up in unscripted moments.”
Or, in 2008, did she just happen to lose to the only person on the planet who could have beaten her?
But here’s the fundamental question we’ve asked before about Clinton and 2016: Is she so flawed of a presidential candidate that she was destined to lose in 2008 -- to anyone who was “decent”? Or did she lose what was essentially a 51%-49% Democratic race to the only person on the planet who could beat her? “Most of Hillary’s strengths and weaknesses as a candidate really won’t be decisive to the outcome of the election, in part because she’s going to be facing a candidate who also has strengths and weaknesses,” George Washington University political scientist John Sides tells Zengerle.
Why watching the economy the next 20 months will be so important
Zengerle makes on other important point in his piece: Political scientists believe that general elections (not presidential primaries, which are more volatile) ultimately come down to the fundamentals -- of GDP and an incumbent president’s approval rating. So where does the U.S. economy currently stand? Well, it’s taken a step back in the first quarter of 2015. The latest evidence came on Friday, when the government revealed that just 126,000 jobs had been created in March, breaking the 12-month streak of 200,000-plus jobs created each month. The optimistic view of the economy is that, just three years ago, 126,000 jobs would have been seen as a decent number. And one less-than-stellar showing in a year is OK. The more pessimistic view is that, as economist Justin Wolfers has put it, March’s job report isn’t the only data that’s been lackluster.