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The Edge: Is Obama Ready for Prime Time?

The Edge is National Journal's daily look at today in Washington -- and what's coming next. The email features analysis from NJ's top correspondents, the biggest stories of the day -- and always a few surprises. To subscribe, click here.

Is Obama Ready for Prime Time?

 

Just how lonely does it get when not only the U.N., the pope, the British, and Vladimir Putin are against you but even your own Democratic allies on Hill? When even the man who took over your secretary of State's U.S. Senate seat, Edward Markey—from that bluest of blue states, Massachusetts—only votes "present" on the Syria resolution?

Really, really lonely. Barack Obama looked like about the most isolated man on earth Friday when, at his closing news conference at the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, he lamented that it was his lot to prevent international law from "unraveling" over Bashar al-Assad's flagrant use of chemical weapons.

Now, with the vote in the House at least apparently going against him, Obama has one last chance to rescue what may be his international reputation by delivering a prime-time speech on Tuesday. To give Obama a little bit of company, the White House released a joint statement on Syria signed by 10 allies: Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. But the statement fell short of endorsing a military strike, calling only for "a strong international response."

 

Michael Hirsh
mhirsh@nationaljournal.com

TOP NEWS

OBAMA WILL ADDRESS NATION ABOUT SYRIA ON TUESDAY. In an attempt to rally public and congressional support behind his call for a military strike on Syria, President Obama will address the nation about the conflict on Tuesday, Roll Call reports. "In the coming days, I'll continue to consult with my fellow leaders around the world and continue to consult with Congress, and I will make the best case that I can to the American people, as well as to the international community, for taking necessary and appropriate action," Obama said during a press conference from the Group of 20 summit in St. Petersburg. Obama refused to say definitively whether he would authorize a strike if Congress fails to approve his request. Read more

  • The widespread ambivalence over Syria is the culmination of a mood that has almost completely reversed what had been a rising tide toward interventionism, and the public no longer believes in the military's ability to achieve lasting results, National Journal's Ronald Brownstein writes. Read more

U.S. DIPLOMATS ORDERED TO LEAVE LEBANON. Stoked by fears related to the "ongoing conflict in Syria," and perhaps worried about a terrorist attack on American installations, the State Department today ordered "nonessential diplomats" at the U.S. Embassy and their families to leave Beirut "because of current safety and security concerns, The New York Times reports. Additionally, nonessential diplomats were told they could leave a consulate in the southern Turkey city of Adana, near the Syrian border, but were not ordered to do so. The release said "numerous security incidents between the border regions between Lebanon and Syria and coincides with an increasing number of security incidents around the country." Read more

AT G-20, OBAMA ENCOUNTERING OBSTACLES ON SYRIA PUSH. President Obama's push for a military strike against Syria is not letting up despite pressure from other nations attending the G-20 summit, leaving world leaders as divided as Congress back home, The New York Times reports. A dinner debate late Thursday night found Obama leaving with few supporters and certainly no consensus. Today, Obama said he had a "candid and constructive conversation" with Russian President Vladimir Putin about Syria, conceding that he did not "expect us to agree on this issue of chemical weapons use," but he left the door open on the two working together to forge a political solution in Syria. Read more

 

JOBLESS RATE CREEPS DOWN TO 7.3 PERCENT IN LUKEWARM REPORT. Unemployment ticked down a tenth of a point to 7.3 percent as the economy added 169,000 jobs in August and fewer jobs in July than previously calculated, according to the monthly jobs report released this morning by the Labor Department. The numbers overall fell below most economists' expectations, creating another wave of uncertainty among investors regarding the Federal Reserve's plans to scale back its monthly bond-buying program. "The Fed is certainly going to want to get more information before they make this move, particularly given how violent the financial-market reaction has been to tapering," said one former Fed economist. "You're not going to play Russian roulette with the U.S. economy and risk another backlash in interest rates." Read more

OBAMA MEETS WITH RUSSIAN ACTIVISTS IN ST. PETERSBURG. President Obama met today with Russian human rights activists, assuring them of his advocacy for their cause while acknowledging diplomatic challenges, the Associated Press reports. "He was telling us how difficult it is for him to raise these issues, especially in relations with Russia and China," said Pavel Chikov, who chairs nongovernmental organization Agora. The president cited his own experience as a community organizer, telling the activists, "I got elected as president by engaging people at a grassroots level." Read more

BAD BET: WHY REPUBLICANS CAN'T WIN WITH WHITES ALONE. This much is undisputed: In 2012, President Obama lost white voters by a larger margin than any winning presidential candidate in U.S. history, National Journal's Ronald Brownstein writes. In his reelection, Obama lost ground from 2008 with almost every conceivable segment of the white electorate. The key question facing the GOP is whether Obama's 2012 performance represents a structural Democratic decline among whites that could deepen even further in the years ahead—or a floor from which the next Democratic nominee is likely to improve. In recent months, a chorus of conservative analysts has bet on the first option. Read more

Don't Miss Today's Top Stories

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The day's action in one quick read."

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I find them informative and appreciate the daily news updates and enjoy the humor as well."

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WHAT OBAMA'S GAMBLE ON SYRIA MEANS FOR CHALLENGING IRAN. Anything a president does sets a precedent for the leaders who come after him. Except when it doesn't. That is one constitutional reality brought home by President Obama's unexpected decision to delay military action against Syria until Congress gives him authorization, National Journal's George E. Condon Jr. writes. Future White Houses will study Obama's actions. But what he has done may come back to haunt him first. The danger in Obama's action is not in any precedent he sets for the presidents to come. It is in the precedent he is setting for himself, particularly regarding Iran. Read more

G-20 SEES MORE ACTION NECESSARY TO SPUR GLOBAL RECOVERY. Leaders of the G-20 large economies promised today to take "decisive actions" to jolt a still struggling global economy that is in need of more activity and jobs, The Wall Street Journal reports. Despite signs of recovery in the eurozone and improving economic news from the U.S., the U.K., and Japan, the G-20 expressed concern about the slowing pace of growth in developing economies. "Despite our actions, the recovery is too weak, and risks remain tilted to the downside," the nations said in a statement. "Our central banks have committed that future changes to monetary policy settings will continue to be carefully calibrated and clearly communicated." Read more

WEEKEND PUSH PLANNED ON SYRIA RESOLUTION AS MANY IN CONGRESS WAVER. Three days of arm-twisting and long-distance lobbying lie ahead for lawmakers and the Obama administration, as neither the House nor the Senate appears to have enough votes to pass a resolution authorizing military action against Syria, National Journal's Mike Magner and Billy House report. The final weekend of a 37-day recess will find most members of Congress still in their districts before the fall session begins next week, and if they spend any time listening to their constituents there could be even less support for U.S. retaliation against the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons. Read more

SUNDAY TV

Please note: This is not a comprehensive list of Sunday show guests, and lineups are subject to change. Please consult network websites for details.

  • White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough will make the rounds, appearing on all five Sunday shows to discuss the Obama administration's response to the Syrian conflict.
  • Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., will discuss the situation in Syria in an appearance on FNC's Fox News Sunday.
  • House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, and Reps. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., and Peter King, R-N.Y., will appear on NBC's Meet the Press.
  • House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., and Reps. Justin Amash, R-Mich., and Elijah Cummings, D-Md., will appear on CBS's Face the Nation.
  • CNN's State of the Union will feature a congressional roundtable discussion of the situation in Syria.
  • Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, will weigh in on the possibility of U.S. intervention in Syria in an appearance on ABC's This Week.

QUOTABLE

"We listened to each other; we heard each other. I didn't agree with his argument; he didn't agree with my argument. We heard each other." -- Russian President Vladimir Putin, through a translator, on his meeting with President Obama at the G-20 summit (Politico)

BEDTIME READING

PLUMBING THE DEPTHS. BuzzFeed's Katie Heaney follows shipwreck hunters Ken Merryman, Jerry Eliason, and Kraig Smith as they scour Lake Superior for the SS Scotiadoc, a freighter that sank on June 20, 1953. The trio has been searching for shipwrecks for "30-odd years," and for the Scotiadoc since 2005. Its members "are now approaching retirement age," but they are convinced that they will find the freighter. Observers, perhaps spurred by popular images of pirates and buried treasure, are surprised to learn that the men are not after financial gain. When Heaney asks the men what they do after recovering a wreck, "in so many words, the answer seems to be: start looking for the next one." The searchers were inspired at least in part by Mike Nelson, the "totally inimitable" aquatic detective portrayed by Lloyd Bridges on Sea Hunt. Eliason muses, "Finding these shipwrecks is kind of like writing the last chapter in their history." Read more

REALITY CHECK

LIVING STANDARDS: SMARTPHONE OR STOVE? New census data out this week paint a sobering picture of deteriorating living conditions in the U.S., The Atlantic Cities' Emily Badger writes. Between 2005 and 2011, the share of U.S. households unable to meet their basic expenses increased by 16 percent to 19.1 million, while the number of households that couldn't pay the rent or mortgage grew by 39 percent. Additionally, the Census Bureau reports that just 64 percent of homes possess what the government deems a "full set of appliances," a list that does not even include computers. The bureau soon will need to begin measuring minimum living conditions in a new way, given this century's rapid technological advances, Badger writes. Read more

CHART OF THE DAY

THE TASTES OF THE TUBE. James Wannerton, a 54-year-old Briton with lexical-gustatory synesthesia, in which "a word, spoken or written, triggers vivid sensations of taste, texture, and even temperature," has commuted via the London Underground since age 5, chronicling his experiences beginning at age 16. In 49 years of travel, Wannerton has now visited all 360 stations in the system, and compiled a map of his sensations. The best-tasting stations include Baker Street ("Jam Roly-Poly pudding") and Paddington (pink marshmallow), while the Bond Street stop "has the horrible nasal taste and texture of hair spray." Wannerton, who has created taste maps of the Toronto and New York City subway systems, noted that "the Paris Metro would be a great system to taste." See it here

 

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Don't Miss Today's Top Stories

Excellent!"

Rick, Executive Director for Policy

Concise coverage of everything I wish I had hours to read about."

Chuck, Graduate Student

The day's action in one quick read."

Stacy, Director of Communications

I find them informative and appreciate the daily news updates and enjoy the humor as well."

Richard, VP of Government Affairs

Chock full of usable information on today's issues. "

Michael, Executive Director

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