There are two ways to interpret Joint Chiefs Chairman Dempsey’s remarks on Capitol Hill yesterday that U.S. combat troops COULD be introduced to fight ISIS if the current strategy doesn’t work. The first: Dempsey was just being the responsible, honest general laying out all of the options (and it should be no surprise that the military commanders have favored introducing combat troops). The second: Dempsey’s remarks were planned and represent a shift or trial balloon by the administration, especially since the ground-troop component remains one of the Obama strategy’s biggest questions (where are the troops going to come from?).
That’s why Obama’s speech at U.S. Central Command in Tampa, FL at 11:50 am ET will be important to hear. Does he repeat his vow that U.S. combat forces aren’t an option? Or does he nudge forward the door that Dempsey opened yesterday? Or does he avoid it altogether (which may be a tacit way of allowing the trial balloon to continue to float)? For its part, the White House says that Dempsey opening the door was simply him providing a range of all options. “It’s the responsibility of the president’s military advisers to plan and consider all the wide range of contingencies,” White House Press Secretary, Josh Earnest said. “It’s also the responsibility of the commander in chief to set out a clear policy.” Still, keep this in mind: Dempsey and this White House are VERY close. He’s not someone who goes out on a limb and risks making the West Wing folks mad; it’s hard to believe the White House didn’t get a heads up that he would be saying this during his Hill testimony.
Don’t forget what Robert Gates said about big American land armies in the Middle East
While it’s not a surprise that military commanders might favor sending U.S. combat troops into Iraq and Syria, it’s appropriate to remind folks of the words that former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said back in 2011: “‘Any future defense secretary who advises the president to send a big American land army into Asia, or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as Gen. [Douglas] MacArthur so delicately put it.’” Gates was speaking to an audience of West Point cadets at the time, so reported the Wall Street Journal.
Thanking the troops
An administration official previews Obama’s CENTCOM speech, per NBC’s Kristen Welker: “He’s going to be speaking to the men and women of CENTCOM, who will play a role in the efforts to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL. These are the same service members who have already done so much in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s a chance to thank them and talk about the importance of the role they're playing.”
House to vote on authorization to train Syrian rebels
Meanwhile, NBC’s Frank Thorp reports that the House of Representatives today will finish debate and then vote on the authorization to train and equip the moderate Syrian rebels to fight ISIS. Per Thorp, the House will restart its debate from yesterday around 2:00 pm ET, with votes starting around 4:30 pm ET. Thorp adds that if it passes, the measure will then head to the Senate, where if all 100 senators agree to move quickly on the bill, it could head for a vote as soon as Thursday. BUT: If a Senator objects, the Senate vote could be delayed. In reality, once senators start to smell the jet fumes, and realize that once they leave they aren't coming back until Nov. 12, then it's likely the vote will happen sooner rather than later.
Rubio to deliver defense speech in DC
Obama isn’t the only politician giving a defense/military speech today. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) will deliver remarks at 1:00 pm ET in DC on “Rebuilding American Defense.” The AP previews the address: “On Wednesday, [Rubio] is set to deliver a major national security speech at a conservative gathering in Washington, in which he is expected to call for increased defense spending and a reinvigorated American military. Those positions create a contrast with some of his potential GOP rivals and could help repair Rubio’s relations with conservative activists upset over his support for an immigration overhaul last year.” Rubio, more than any of the other 2016 wannabes, has tried to carve out a niche as the new candidate who has foreign-policy interest and chops. As we’ve noted before, with the shift of the country’s attention to int’l affairs again, it does leave a national security vacuum inside the GOP 2016 field and many a candidate is going to try fill it. But can first-term senators be the ones to fill it? Wasn’t one of the chief complaints of some Republicans about Obama his lack of experience?
Biden travels to Iowa
Days after Hillary Clinton make her first appearance in Iowa since 2008, guess who’s stepping foot in the Hawkeye State today? Vice President Joe Biden. The Des Moines Register raises the curtain. “For this Iowa visit, Joe Biden is hitching his wagon to a bus full of nuns. The vice president of the United States will help kick off a 10-state voter turnout tour for a liberal group called ‘Nuns on the Bus’ today with an outdoor event on the west terrace of the Iowa Capitol. For the nation's first Catholic vice president, this is a chance to attach himself with religious leaders who embrace a message on economic equality that syncs with his soul, his Iowa supporters say. The morning rally is being pegged as a nonpartisan event… Still, this is Iowa. The political implications are ever-present.” So is the timing…
Q-poll: Ernst leads Braley in Iowa
Democrats better hope this poll is an outlier. If it’s not, it’s one step closer to a GOP majority. In Iowa’s competitive Senate contest, Republican Joni Ernst is leading Democrat Bruce Braley by six points among likely voters, 50%-44%, according to a Quinnipiac poll. Interestingly, this poll comes as many strategists on both sides have started to believe Braley was finding his sea legs. Another Q-poll shows Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper trailing by 10 points (!!!), which runs against what our recent NBC/Marist poll showed (with Hickenlooper up four and with a 50%-plus job-approval rating).
Grimes stuck playing defense
If you want to know why Mitch McConnell has begun to pull away from Alison Grimes in all of the recent polling, look no further than Grimes’ TV ad from earlier this week -- in which she distances herself from Obama (and mocks McConnell at the same time). Over the past few months, Grimes has been playing defense and has rarely made McConnell have to do the same. The Grimes camp has all the money in the world (ditto Team McConnell), but it has been unable to turn the conversation away from Obama and toward Congress and Washington’s dysfunction. Instead, her campaign has been incredibility risk averse; she’s allowed McConnell to dictate the terms of the debate. Two months ago, when we pointed this out, Democrats said “just give this race time, she’s simply trying to inoculate herself early.” Well, it’s not early anymore. McConnell’s campaign has decided what this campaign is about. And Grimes’ team has let him do it. McConnell’s team deserves a lot of credit, but it doesn’t even appear Grimes has even tried to make McConnell OWN Washington’s dysfunction. To have the approval rating McConnell has in Kentucky and to see Grimes essentially whiff on making him own it is something many a backseat driving political consultant is going to ponder for months, if not years to come. The race isn’t over… But time is running out.
Grimm is ahead in New York
A day after Politico wrote about all the congressional “Bad Boys” -- Scott DeJarlais, Michael Grimm -- either surviving or thriving this election season, just check out this latest poll from New York, which shows Grimm leading slightly, 44%-40%.
First Read’s Race of the Day: FL-18: Murphy vs. Domino
Democratic incumbent Patrick Murphy is the favorite in this race over Republican Carl Domino, who won a fractious GOP primary with just 38.4% of the vote. Murphy, a political newcomer in 2012, defeated polarizing Republican (and fundraising behemoth) Allen West two years ago by fewer than 2,000 votes
Countdown to Election Day: 48 days
Click here to sign up for First Read emails. Text FIRST to 622639, to sign up for First Read alerts to your mobile phone. Check us out on Facebook and also on Twitter. Follow us @chucktodd, @mmurraypolitics, @carrienbcnews