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OBAMA AGENDA: Senators express doubts about Bergdahl’s health

Last night's closed Senate briefing about Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's release didn't go well for the White House, the New York Times reports. "Republican and Democratic senators emerged from the secure basement room in the Capitol Visitor Center saying that officials did not provide further evidence that Sergeant Bergdahl’s health had deteriorated recently or that his life was in immediate danger. Deeply skeptical lawmakers insisted that the exchange of the Taliban prisoners for Sergeant Bergdahl put American lives at risk."

(But that raises the natural follow-up: So Bergdahl shouldn’t have come home then?)

Getting buzz this morning, from TIME: “A Taliban commander close to the negotiations over the release of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl told TIME by telephone Thursday that the deal made to secure Bergdahl’s release has made it more appealing for fighters to capture American soldiers and other high-value targets.”

Here’s TIME’s cover story on the Bergdahl issue. “The return of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from captivity is no simple feel-good story. That makes it an ideal symbol for the end of the Afghanistan war.”

The New York Times also looks at the haste of the Bergdhal decision in the White House: "Issues that had bitterly divided the Obama administration — about the wisdom of the prisoner swap and the risks of releasing a group of aging Taliban commanders from Guantánamo Bay — were swept aside in the rush to secure Sergeant Bergdahl’s release."

Afghan villagers are anything but thrilled about the release of notorious Taliban commander Mohammed Fazi, the Wall Street Journal notes.

The AP: "President Barack Obama is consulting with two of his most important European allies — Britain and France — as they navigate shifting conditions in the Ukraine crisis now that a new government is coming to power."

NBC's Kelly O'Donnell reports: "Top House Republicans are telling President Barack Obama 'to personally take action in order to make things right for those who have served.'"

NBC’s Lars Gesing with a dispatch from Monday’s symposium on economic sanctions sponsored by the Center for Strategic & International Studies:

The symposium’s high-profile lineup, which included White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, former NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander, and a panel moderated by NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, gathered 10 years after the Bush administration created the Treasury’s office of terrorism and financial intelligence as a new tool to counteract threats to national security. Since then, the office developed a set of successful strategies to implement economic sanctions against countries such as North Korea, Iran or most recently Russia for its annexation of Crimea.

Lew said that during the escalation of violence in Eastern Europe, the United States led the effort to secure financial support for the Ukraine, while it also worked to isolate the Russian economy. But Stephen Hadley, former chief foreign policy adviser under George W. Bush, warned sanctions could only work effectively if “all folks with leverage are at the table.” He specifically pointed to Germany’s hesitance to join in the chorus of full-throated condemnation of Putin’s actions as the country holds close economic ties with Russia.

In the ongoing conflict over the Iranian nuclear program, former Obama National Security Adviser Tom Donilon said the rigorously imposed sanctions brought all parties back to the bargaining table. “[The newly elected Iranian] President Rouhani ran on the premise to get economic relief for his people. We have quite some leverage here.” He added: “We have to take advantage of the centrality of the U.S. financial system. That’s what the sanctions do.”

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OFF TO THE RACES: Gingrey endorses Kingston

Asked if a meeting with Hillary Clinton would be "worse" than one with Obama given her harsh words on Ukraine, Vladimir Putin: "It's better not to argue with women. But Ms. Clinton has never been too graceful in her statements."

Rick Perry watch, from the AP: "The longest-serving governor in state history isn't seeking re-election and may see two of his achievements — distributing hundreds of millions of dollars to attract top employers to Texas and stockpiling a rainy day fund robust enough to bankroll infrastructure projects — swept away not long after he moves out of the governor's mansion."

Our former colleague Garrett Haake with the scoop that Dick Cheney is helping Kansas City’s bid for GOP’s 2016 convention. “Former Vice President Dick Cheney made a surprise appearance at a reception for the RNC site selection committee in Kansas City tonight. According to a source in the room when the former Vice President spoke, he praised the city's hosting of the 1976 convention, and urged the assembled party insiders to strongly consider an early summer convention, a timetable that would favor Kansas City and the Sprint Center, which has no NBA or NHL tenant.”

CALIFORNIA: Republicans got the nominee they wanted in the gubernatorial race, but it won't be a walk in the park for Neel Kashkari, the New York Times notes.

GEORGIA: Rep. Jack Kingston picked up an endorsement from former primary foe Phil Gingrey.

KANSAS: The Kansas City Star asks the question: Why is Cochran in trouble while Sen. Pat Roberts appears to be holding his own against a Tea Party challenger?

By the way, there's an independent candidate in that Senate race now, as well.

MISSISSIPPI: The runoff between Thad Cochran and Chris McDaniel is on, and it's already off to an eyebrow raising start. An official investigation has been opened after three people - including a top McDaniel supporter - were locked in a Jackson county courthouse after the building was closed. A McDaniel spokesman provides this statement to NBC's Kasie Hunt: "Last night with an extremely close election and Hinds being one of the last counties to report, our campaign sent people to the Hinds courthouse to obtain the outstanding numbers and observe the count. In doing so, they entered the courthouse through an open door after being directed by uniformed personnel. They were then locked inside the building. At this point they sat down and called the county Republican chairman, a close Cochran ally, to help them get out. Eventually a Sheriff's officer showed up and opened the door to let them out."

One of us (!) reported yesterday that the NRSC is "all in" for Thad Cochran.

The New York Times calls the GOP Senate runoff "the biggest break Democrats have been handed in this difficult election year."

But can Democrats pull off a win there? The Upshot: "Mr. Childers would probably need a historic drop-off in Republican turnout, allowing black voters to rise to a larger share of the electorate than in 2012. Then Mr. Childers would need to run a flawless campaign, and cross his fingers. Because even then, he might not have a pathway to victory."

OREGON: "The Supreme Court on Wednesday allowed same-sex marriages to continue in Oregon by declining a request to put on hold a federal judge’s order that the state’s ban was unconstitutional," the Washington Post reports.

SOUTH CAROLINA: A Clemson poll finds Sen. Lindsey Graham at 49 percent in the polls; he needs 50 percent in next week's primary to stave off a runoff.

Graham warned that GOP lawmakers could call for Obama's impeachment if more prisoners are released from Gitmo without Congress's ok.

SOUTH DAKOTA: Talk about a tough week. From the Argus Leader: 'On Tuesday night, Annette Bosworth lost the U.S. Senate race she spent the last year seeking. Twelve hours later, she was arrested. Now Bosworth faces 12 felony charges: allegations she lied on her petitions to get on the U.S. Senate ballot."


*** Thursday’s “The Daily Rundown” line-up: NBC’s Luke Russert interviews NBC’s Chuck Todd, Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), USGS’ Dr. Lucy Jones, Time Magazine’s Michael Scherer and The Washington Post’s Jackie Kucinich.

*** Thursday’s “News Nation with Tamron Hall” line-up: Tamron Hall interviews TIME Magazine's Michael Crowley, Retired Col. Morris Davis and Goldie Taylor about the latest on Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, Greg Gardner of the Detroit Free Press about the GM Ignition recall press conference today, Cincinnati Ohio School teacher Molly Shumate who resigned from her Archdiocese school than sign a strict morality contac that banned gays, and actor and literacy advocate LeVar Burton about his Reading Rainbow Kick starter campaign.

*** Thursday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: NBC’s Kristen Welker fills in for Andrea Mitchell, and will interview Andrea live in Normandy, France, White House Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri, Rep. Peter King, Rep. Donna Edwards, Bloomberg’s Jeanne Cummings, the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza and Ruth Marcus and Voto Latino Pres. Maria Teresa Kumar.

*** Thursday’s “The Reid Report” line-up: MSNBC’s Joy Reid interviews Fmr. NSA Senior Analyst John Schindler, The Enough Project’s Mark Quarterman,’s Joan Walsh and The National Memo’s Joe Conason.