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OBAMA AGENDA: Going Dutch

Appearing alongside Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte Monday morning as he kicked off his European trip, Obama stressed that the United States and its allies are “united” on Ukraine. “Europe and America are united in our support of the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people,” he told reporters in brief remarks. “We’re united in imposing a cost on Russia for its actions so far.”

The New York Times writes that Obama and his predecessors, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, have each struggled to understand Russian President Vladimir Putin. “They imagined him to be something he was not or assumed they could manage a man who refuses to be managed. They saw him through their own lens, believing he viewed Russia’s interests as they thought he should. And they underestimated his deep sense of grievance.”

Former Russian ambassador (and NBC News analyst) Michael McFaul offers his recommendations for the administration and his take on the causes of the Russian conflict in the NYT. “This new era crept up on us, because we did not fully win the Cold War. Communism faded, the Soviet Union disappeared and Russian power diminished. But the collapse of the Soviet order did not lead smoothly to a transition to democracy and markets inside Russia, or Russia’s integration into the West.”

Something that will raise questions about how effective the United States intelligence community is amid continuing public disclosures of how it monitors communications: “U.S. military satellites spied Russian troops amassing within striking distance of Crimea last month,” writes the Wall Street Journal. “But intelligence analysts were surprised because they hadn't intercepted any telltale communications where Russian leaders, military commanders or soldiers discussed plans to invade.”

As Obama travels to Europe, the crisis in Crimea has been a “jarring diversion” from Obama’s second-term agenda, writes NBCNews.com’s Tom Curry in a preview of the president’s trip.

Over the weekend, former presidential candidate Mitt Romney hit the president’s “naiveté” and “faulty judgment” on the troubles in Ukraine, saying that the United States must “understand that Russia has very different interests than ours.” Worth noting: Romney’s still not limiting his critique to Obama; he once again made a point to name former secretary of state and likely Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in his negative assessment of the administration’s handling of Russian relations.

The Washington Post reports that Obama “has ordered a sharp increase in U.S. Special Operations forces deployed to Uganda and sent U.S. military aircraft there for the first time in the ongoing effort to hunt down warlord Joseph Kony across a broad swath of central Africa.”

Meanwhile, a White House petition to make Major League Baseball’s Opening Day a national holiday has topped 100,000 signatures, enough to prompt an official response.

The annual Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s legislative summit is taking place March 25-27 in DC. The speakers include: Vice President Joe Biden, John McCain, John Cornyn, Robert Menendez, Tim Kaine, Martin O’Malley, Nancy Pelosi, Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, and RNC Chair Reince Preibus.

As the Supreme Court prepares to hear cases Tuesday dealing with religious exemptions regarding the health-care law, some of the justices are notably vocal about their religious faith, the Washington Post’s Robert Barnes notes. “Much attention has been given to the religious makeup of the current edition of the Roberts court. With six Catholics and three Jews, it is the first without a Protestant member. But in what is likely to be the signature case of the term, the issue is not affiliation but devotion.”

CONGRESS

House, Senate differ in Ukraine aid packages“Congress this week will try to get its act together on bolstering Ukraine and condemning Russia, as the House and Senate struggle to reconcile divergent approaches to the crisis,” writes The Hill. “The Democratic-led Senate plans to begin voting Monday evening on legislation that packages aid to Ukraine with the approval of reforms by the International Monetary Fund sought by the Obama administration. But the House could vote by the end of the week on its own legislation that does not include the IMF provision, which House Republican leaders do not want tied to the Ukraine crisis.”

House Republicans are readying a budget blueprint in advance of the midterm elections, writes the WSJ. “House Republicans are planning to release a budget blueprint in coming weeks, making an election-year calculation that the benefits of focusing on the deficit outweigh the risks. In the Senate, by contrast, Democrats aren't writing a formal budget, opting to direct attention elsewhere.”

House Speaker John Boehner may have poured cold water on the Senate’s unemployment insurance compromise last week, but Senate Democrats are moving forward with the proposal anyway, writes Roll Call.

Senate Intelligence chair Dianne Feinstein says she has enough votes to allow the public release of key summary information from a report on Bush-era interrogation practices, Politico says.

OFF TO THE RACES: DSCC vs. Nate Silver?

Nate Silver writes on FiveThirtyEight.com that Republicans are now the “slight favorites” to win back control of the United States Senate. The DSCC is pushing back with this memo from Executive Director Guy Cecil: “Nate Silver and the staff at FiveThirtyEight are doing groundbreaking work, but, as they have noted, they have to base their forecasts on a scarce supply of public polls. In some cases more than half of these polls come from GOP polling outfits... Nate Silver predicted that Heidi Heitkamp had only an 8% chance of victory and Jon Tester had just a 34% chance. In 2010, he predicted that Majority Leader Reid had just a 16% chance and Michael Bennet had only a 34% chance in Colorado. All four are senators today because they were superior candidates running superior campaign organizations who made their elections a choice between the two candidates on the ballot. Only three Democratic incumbent senators have lost reelection in the last ten years, and our incumbents are once again prepared and ready.”

American Bridge is up with this new web video hitting back at the TV ads the Koch Brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity is airing in Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana and Michigan.

Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush will each speak at a higher education conference in Dallas Monday, the AP reports -- at least the third time in the past year that the two chattered-about pols have appeared at the same event.

“With his office suddenly engulfed in scandal over lane closings at the George Washington Bridge, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey two months ago summoned a pair of top defense lawyers from an elite law firm to the State House and asked them to undertake an extensive review of what had gone wrong. Now, after 70 interviews and at least $1 million in legal fees to be paid by state taxpayers, that review is set to be released, and according to people with firsthand knowledge of the inquiry, it has uncovered no evidence that the governor was involved in the plotting or directing of the lane closings,” the New York Times says. More: “It will be viewed with intense skepticism, not only because it was commissioned by the governor but also because the firm conducting it, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, has close ties to the Christie administration and the firm’s lawyers were unable to interview three principal players in the shutdowns, including Bridget Anne Kelly, the governor’s former deputy chief of staff.”

NEBRASKA: Not great news for Nebraska Senate candidate Shane Osborn, whose campaign has been circulating an “official-looking Navy memo” to counter critics who say he should not have landed a reconnaissance plane in China in 2001. “The World-Herald has learned that the unsigned memo was not authorized by the Navy, or vetted through normal channels, and was written as a favor to Osborn by a Navy buddy working at the Pentagon.”

OHIO: The Republican Governors Association has a new web video touting Gov. John Kasich’s re-election campaign.

PROGRAMMING NOTES.

*** Monday’s “The Daily Rundown” line-up: NBC’s Luke Russert interviews former Governor Jim Hunt (D-NC), Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), the Atlantic’s Steve Clemons, NBC’s Mark Murray and Chuck Todd. Plus, the latest on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 with NBC’s Tom Costello and Ian Williams.

*** Monday’s “Jansing & Co.” line-up: Guest host Betty Nguyen interviews MSNBC News Aviation Analyst John Cox, Retired Navy Captain Van Gurley, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Senior Editor for MSNBC.com Beth Fouhy, Political Editor for Buzzfeed McKay Coppins, Alliance Defending Freedom’s Matt Bowman, and President or NARAL Ilyse Hogue.

*** Monday’s “News Nation with Tamron Hall” line-up: Tamron Hall interviews Richard Burgess, a retired P-3C mission commander on the missing Malaysia Airlines plane; Oregon State Senator Mark Hass, who is proposing free community college; The American Heroes Channel has a new series called "Against The Odds" - Tamron sits down with Iraq War veteran Perfecto Sanchez about his life story highlighted in an episode of the series; and Dr. Lolita McDavid from University Hospitals Case Medical Center about a 12 year old who underwent a partial gastric bypass surgery.

*** Monday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell interviews former President Jimmy Carter, Huffington Post Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief Arianna Huffington, Fmr. FAA Chief of Staff Michael Goldfarb and NBC’s Tom Costello and Pete Williams.

*** Monday’s “The Reid Report” line-up: MSNBC’s Joy Reid talks to former commercial pilot Anthony Roman and NBC News Special Correspondent Bob Hager on the latest on the Malaysian Airlines missing airplane. Reid also interviews The Washington Post’s Robert Costa.

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