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Obama Embraces Role of Commander, Not Campaigner, In Chief

The White House has concluded that the best political assistance they can provide Democrats before midterms is for the president to go be president.

Looking at the president’s schedule this week, you’d be hard pressed to know that a major national election is just seven weeks away. It’s painfully obvious that the White House has concluded that the best political assistance they can provide Democrats is for the president to go be president. And so this week, he’s clearly embracing the commander-in-chief title, even when it comes to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. On Monday, he awarded the Medal of Honor to two Vietnam veterans. Today, he travels to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, GA, where he receives an update on the Ebola virus as his administration announces that the Defense Department will spend $500 million for 17 treatment centers in Liberia to combat the epidemic. Before that, he meets at the White House with Gen. John Allen on the fight against ISIS. On Wednesday, Obama heads to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) at the MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, FL, where he will meet with commanders and military personnel to thank them for their service with the military action against ISIS. And on Thursday, he meets with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, whose country is battling pro-Russian separatist in eastern Ukraine. Indeed, senior administration officials told reporters yesterday that Obama will be focused on the ISIS threat and foreign policy over the coming weeks, per NBC’s Kristen Welker.

And staying out of the way on the campaign trail

So with exactly seven weeks until the midterm elections and with the president’s approval ratings stuck in the low 40s (mid- to high 30s in many of the battlegrounds), Obama brandishing his commander-in-chief credentials also might be the best way for the White House to assist Democrats this fall. Translation: He’s staying out of the campaign. Remember, our NBC/WSJ poll showed the president’s foreign-policy handling (at 32%) rating lower than his overall job-approval number (40%). This all comes, of course, as more and more Democrats are trying to run away from Obama in the red states. The latest example is Sen. Mark Begich, who is airing this ad in Alaska. “He took on Obama to get drilling in the Arctic, to keep our F-16s at Eielson, and to get local health care for veterans,” a narrator says in the TV ad. “And he took on Obama’s trillion-dollar tax increase. Mark Begich wins the fights for Alaska.” It follows Alison Grimes’ TV ad yesterday knocking both Obama and Mitch McConnell, as well as Natalie Tennant’s ad from earlier this year.

Obama’s surge to fight Ebola in Africa

Back to the Obama administration’s announcement today in combating Ebola in Africa. “President Barack Obama will announce a major military-led surge in U.S. aid to fight the ‘unparallelled’ Ebola epidemic in West Africa later Tuesday, with as many as 3,000 troops to help organize, train new health care workers and build treatment clinics,” NBC’s Maggie Fox reports. “The Defense Department will divert $500 million for the effort, which will include building 17 treatment centers with 100 beds apiece in Liberia, dedicating 10,000 sets of personal protective equipment and distributing supplies such as disinfectant and hand sanitizer to help 400,000 families protect themselves and care for sick family members.”

Obama: “We have to make this a national-security priority”

On "Meet the Press" earlier this month, Obama explained why the United States has to take the lead in fighting Ebola. “Americans shouldn’t be concerned about the prospects of contagion here in the United States short term, because it’s not an airborne disease,” Obama said. But he warned that the U.S. must make the disease a priority. “If we don’t make that effort now, and this spreads not just through Africa but other parts of the world, there’s the prospect then that the virus mutates,” he said. “It becomes more easily transmittable. And then it could be a serious danger to the United States.” Obama also said U.S. troops would likely be needed to help establish isolation units and to protect aid workers. “If we do that it will still be months before it is controllable for much of Africa, but it shouldn’t hit our shores,” he stated. “What I’ve said, and I said this two months ago to our national-security team, is we have to make this a national-security priority,”

Hagel, Dempsey testify on Capitol Hill

Meanwhile, Congress is expected to grill the Obama administration on its strategy in fighting ISIS. The AP: “Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, [are] scheduled to testify Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the first in a series of high-profile Capitol Hill hearings that will measure the president's ability to rally congressional support.” The hearing begins at 9:30 am ET. Oh, and given that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is a member of the committee, expect plenty of soundbites from the outspoken senator. The hearing also comes a day after the United States carried out more offensive airstrikes against ISIS southwest of Baghdad.

Bad boys, bad boys, whatchya gonna do?

Also, don’t miss this Politico piece on how the “bad boys of Congress” are surviving -- if not thriving -- this election season. “Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.), a physician who was revealed to have once impregnated a patient and then asked her to get an abortion, won his primary and is a virtual lock to win reelection. Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), whose public skirmishes with his ex-wife persist five years after he copped to having an extramarital affair with an Argentine woman, doesn’t even have an opponent. Rep. Vance McAllister (R-La.), the “kissing congressman” whose make-out session with a 20-something female aide was caught on camera, reversed his decision to retire, and polls show him in a tight race. Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), who faces a 20-count federal indictment tied to his past management of a health food restaurant, is slightly ahead of his Democratic opponent, according to private polling conducted by both parties. He may actually win another term.”

First Read’s Race of the Day: FL-2: Southerland vs. Graham

The race in this Florida Panhandle districtpits a Tea Party incumbent against the daughter of a beloved former Florida senator and governor. Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL) was first elected in the 2010 conservative wave, but he’s suffered a few notable gaffes since then, particularly his suggestion that his $174,000 salary isn’t “too much.” (That provided ammunition when Southerland became House Majority PAC’s first target after the government shutdown.) Democratic challenger Gwen Graham will be able to leverage the contacts and cache of her father, former Sen. Bob Graham. And she’s outraised Southerland soundly. But in a district that’s picked the Republican in the last two presidential elections by a decisive margin, she’ll have to distance herself from the unpopular president and Democrats in Congress.

Countdown to Election Day: 49 days

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