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Fireworks on Afghanistan, Libya, Debt Limit


Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, hinted that Republicans might accept a short-term debt-limit increase now and put Obama and congressional Democrats back into a debt-ceiling vise in several months.(Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Donilon Says Qaddafi's Ouster Almost Inevitable

10:57 a.m. On CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon defended the pace of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.


“The drawdown, as you know, is not at all precipitous,” Donilon said. “The drawdown is a sound, paced withdrawal between now and the end of next summer.”

Regarding the Pentagon’s preference for a slow drawdown of troops, Donilon said that’s almost always the military’s instinct and desire. “From Gen. Petraeus's perspective, commanders are—and he has said this publicly—are always going to want more troops for longer. But we really do believe here from the perspective from our national priorities, our global resource allocation, that this is a very sound way to approach this, again, from a position of strength.”

On Libya, Donlion said ruler Muammar el-Qaddafi’s political demise is drawing near.


“There's almost inevitability here, I think. There is an inevitability here building as to what the ultimate result will be.”

The French have officially recognized the Libyan rebels and the opposition political leadership guiding the rebellion. Donilon would not commit the U.S. to following suit—at least not yet.

“That's a complicated legal issue, frankly,” Donlion said. “We have said straight up that they are the legitimate and credible representative of the Libyan people. We'll continue, and they under that guise have gotten a lot of support from around the world. We have a representative of Benghazi who works with the opposition group.”

France has also pledged to directly arm the Libyan opposition. Again, Donilon demurred.


“We have at this point provided a broad range of non-lethal supplies to the [rebels] and we haven't made a decision with respect to lethal assistance.”

Donlion said the U.S. wants a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan, one that would, by its very nature, include Taliban participation. There’s no horizon for such an agreement, though.

“We've indicated support—straight-up support for a political process with the Afghans in the lead, and we're pushing the transition process forward,” Donilon said. “So I think we've put in place the pieces of the strategy toward a political settlement, but I can't sit here and tell you today as to what time scale in which that could work.”

Reacting to reports that elements of the Pakistani military knew of Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts in Abbottabad, Donilon said the U.S. possessed no intelligence that implicated “Pakistani leadership.”

“I've not seen any evidence that the Pakistani leadership elements—in the army, military, the intelligence or the political leadership—had foreknowledge of Osama bin Laden’s operating in Abbottabad. The fact is that Osama bin Laden operated out of Abbottabad for six years or so in an operational role, leading al-Qaida in a town 35 miles from Islamabad. It’s clear that he had some sort of support mechanism there.”

Major Garrett

Graham: Afghan Drawdown May ‘Undercut’ U.S. Gains

10:21 a.m. On Fox News Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said President Obama’s decision to withdraw 10,000 U.S. surge forces from Afghanistan by the end of the year and another 23,000 by September 2012 risks military gains achieved in the past year.

“He may have undercut the momentum we have achieved over the last year,” Graham said. “The last year has been phenomenal progress in terms of building the Afghan security forces. Things were moving in the right direction. We had them [the Taliban] on their heels.

“This is now the Obama-Biden strategy. No military leader recommended the decision the president chose. My fear is that people are going to look at this as a withdrawal, not a transition, and we’re hearing that all over the country—uncertainty creeping back about America and what we’re up to.”

At testimony last week on the Afghanistan strategy, Marine Lt. Gen. John Allen told Graham the 33,000-troop withdrawal timetable was not an option put before Obama by Army Gen. David Petraeus, the outgoing commanding of U.S . forces in Afghanistan. Allen is nominated to succeed Petraeus, whom the Senate confirmed last week as the new director of the CIA. Graham noted Petraeus and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did not present Obama the decision he reached on troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, with both describing Obama’s decision as more “aggressive” than any recommendation he received from the Pentagon. Mullen, however, backed Obama’s move.

As for Libya, Sen. Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., said NATO forces must rout Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. “If Qaddafi is killed, so be it,” Lieberman said on Fox News Sunday. “I’m not saying we’re targeting him, but when you think about the thousands of people—including Americans—who have died because of Qaddafi’s decisions, then one way or the other, it’s time for him to leave power.”

Major Garrett

HUD’s Donovan: Housing Market Has Bottomed Out

10:13 a.m. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, appearing Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union, gave a cautiously upbeat assessment of the housing market when asked by host Candy Crowley whether the slumping sector has “bottomed out.”

“I think the answer to that is yes, frankly,” Donovan said. “Housing is more affordable than it’s been in a generation.... The number of people in default is declining. The number of people being foreclosed on is declining.”

“I think it’s very unlikely that we see a significant further decline,” he added. “I think the real question is, when will we start to see sustainable increases? Some think it will be as early as the end of this summer or this fall; others think it will be next year. And I wish I had a crystal ball on that.”

Crowley also asked Donovan whether stricter mortgage requirements by banks—including down payments as high as 20 percent—may be pricing middle-class Americans out of the market.

While acknowledging that “we shouldn’t go back to where we were that got us into the crisis,” Donovan said, “We can’t overcorrect. We can’t go so far in the other direction that we cut off home ownership for people who really can be successful homeowners.

“If you have a credit score that’s good, if we know you can be a successful homeowner, I think we have to have ways to get people access to homeownership that are less than 20 percent down.”

Deron Lee

Cornyn: Only Obama, Boehner, McConnell Can Make Deal on Debt Limit

10:09 a.m. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, head of the Senate GOP reelection committee, said on Fox News Sunday that the only people who can cut a debt-ceiling deal are President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. He did not mention Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid or House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as crucial or even relevant to the endgame. Cornyn remained adamant it’s up to President Obama to join the high-stakes negotiations.

“We’re running out of time. We’re running up against this deadline, they [the White House] are going to try to present it as a fait accompli,” Cornyn said. “Nobody is going to have time to read it or consider the implications of it, and he’s going to say, ‘You have to pass it or the economy is going down the tubes.’ That’s just irresponsible. “

Cornyn, like McConnell, said there’s no time to consider wide-ranging tax reform, and absent that kind of heavy policy debate, Republicans will not support any tax increases or elimination of any tax subsidies in the debt-ceiling deal. “There’s not enough time to get this done between now and August 2nd. But it ought to be the first thing we turn to to try to make our tax code more rational.”

Cornyn also said he opposed, but did not rule out, a short-term deal to raise the debt ceiling for six or eight months while negotiations continue. But Cornyn’s emphasis on taking “savings we can get now” in a short-term deal and then putting Obama and congressional Democrats back into a debt-ceiling vise several months from now may well have betrayed the GOP’s ultimate strategy.

“The problem with a mini-deal is we have a maxi-problem. These big problems aren’t going to go away if cut a mini-deal. All it does is delay the moment of truth. Better now than then, but if we can’t, then we’ll take the savings we can get now and we will relitigate this as we get closer to the election.”

As for Democratic charges—leveled most aggressively by Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York—that Republicans are intentionally undermining economic growth to achieve bigger political gains next November, Cornyn said the Democrats need to look in the mirror.

“The president and his party are doing a pretty good job of undermining the economy as it is.”

Cornyn, a former member of the Texas Supreme Court, caustically dismissed sudden exploration of implied 14th Amendment powers Obama may possess to raise the statutory debt ceiling—now $14.3 trillion—without congressional approval. Schumer has said the idea warrants further study.

“That’s crazy talk,” Cornyn said. “It’s not acceptable for the Congress and the president not to do their job and say somehow the president has the authority to then to this by himself.”

Cornyn also called Obama a “schoolmarm” for chastising Congress about its failure to put together a legislative deal to raise the debt ceiling. “He’s the one who has not stepped up and given us a proposal. We’d like to see what his proposal is and do it in the light of day, not in secret, behind-closed-door negotiations.”

That call for transparency in the negotiations, of course, negates Cornyn’s earlier point that only Obama, Boehner, and McConnell can cut a deal. Doing something with only those three would, by definition, require secret or at least secretive talks.

Major Garrett

McCain: Afghan Drawdown ‘Unnecessary Risk’ But Not Political Calculation

9:55 a.m. On Independence Day weekend, Sen. John McCain stood up for the commander in chief's patriotism against charges that his Afghanistan troop drawdown was politically motivated, but he took a firmer stance on the conflicts there, in Libya, and over the debt ceiling.

Speaking from Afghanistan, the Arizona Republican told Candy Crowley on CNN’s State of the Union that he has seen nothing in theater to change his mind that President Obama’s plan to withdraw all surge troops by September 2012 is “an unnecessary risk.” But asked what he thinks of chatter that September 2012 is awfully close to Election Day, McCain shot it down: “I question whether this was the right decision or not, but I can’t question the president’s patriotism.”

Discussing the mission in Libya, McCain played down worries of instability there if NATO forces eliminate or neutralize Muammar el-Qaddafi. The very question “ignores that if Qaddafi stays in power, it is then a direct threat to our national security,” McCain said. He added, “This guy has the blood of Americans on his hands, he’s committed acts of terror, and he certainly is committed to committing more of those if he remains in power. This thing could have been over a long time ago if we had acted decisively with the use of American airpower.”

Finally, McCain was clear about his stance on cutting a deal involving higher taxes to raise the nation’s debt ceiling as the August 2 default date looms. He said Americans made their intentions on tax hikes known in the last election: “They don’t want compromise. They want us to balance the budget.”

Tom Madigan

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