Good Sunday morning. The staff is (mostly) in and we're preparing for today's program. Prepare along with us – read what we're reading this morning.
On our radar: the official kick-off of the general election, Newt Gingrich's withdrawal from the GOP race, the debate over U.S. policy for Afghanistan, France's runoff presidential election and plenty more.
Check out what we're reading, and be sure to watch our interviews with Gingrich, former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and former Virginia Rep. Tom Davis on the importance of their swing states; Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Mike Rogers on the way forward in Afghanistan; and economists Douglas Holtz-Eakin and Alice Rivlin (joined by the National Journal's Major Garrett) on the latest jobs numbers. State of the Union airs today at 9am/12pm ET.
GINGRICH / POLITICS / 2012
...It's time for the Republicans who are so bent on enforcing conformity to ask themselves a question: What would Ronald Reagan have done? He worked hard to maintain a welcoming, open and diverse Republican Party. He would have been appalled to see Republicans like Fletcher and Adams conclude that they had no other option than to leave the party.
We need to remind the Republicans who want to enforce ideological purity that if they succeed, they will undo Reagan's work to create an inclusive party that could fit many different views. ...
As president, Reagan worked very well with Democrats to do big things. It is true that he worked to reduce the size of government and cut federal taxes and he eliminated many regulations, but he also raised taxes when necessary. In 1983, he doubled the gas tax to pay for highway infrastructure improvements.
Today, that would be enough for some of the ideological enforcers to start looking for a "real" conservative to challenge him in a primary. ...
Being a Republican used to mean finding solutions for the American people that worked for everyone. It used to mean having big ideas that moved the country forward.
It can mean that again, but big ideas don't often come from small tents.
Mitt Romney may be coming to the financial rescue of failed-presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, but the former House speaker — who owes local vendors nearly $30,000 — could get some help from his big-bucks political action committee as well, a former Gingrich staffer said yesterday.
“His Super PAC is sitting on $6 million,” former Gingrich New Hampshire campaign director Andrew Hemingway said. Even with $4.3 million in campaign debts, “I know Newt’s not losing sleep.” ...
Gingrich paid off $500,000 in debts in April, said former spokesman R.C. Hammond. The Georgia Republican plans to appear at an event with Romney in the next few weeks where Gingrich is expected to officially endorse Romney. Romney’s campaign and the Republican National Committee have offered to help him retire his debt.
President Obama formally launched his reelection campaign here Saturday with some old favorites, from “fired up, ready to go” to a closing bow to “hope and change.” But almost everything else about the day spoke to the differences between his first and second runs for the president. ...
It was perhaps a coincidence in timing that the president’s opening events came just a day after a tepid employment report that showed only modest private-sector job creation. The unemployment rate ticked down a tenth of a percentage point, but only because the labor force shrank as discouraged Americans gave up looking for work.
The general election gets underway against that backdrop, neither so gloomy as to make it all but certain that the president will be defeated nor good enough to give Democrats real confidence that the president’s reelection is all but assured. For the next six months, Obama and Romney are both hostages to the economic statistics even as they slug it out on the campaign trail. ...
The contrasts he drew were more sharply etched and at times hard-edged. The litany was long. Tax cuts. Health care. Education. Financial regulation. Energy. Climate change. Women’s rights. Setting a timetable for ending the war in Afghanistan.
Representative Bobby Schilling’s face was twisted with tension. Another official event, another group of Democrats who craved to see him wiped from the Congressional map. Plus, he would have to smile. ...
“When it came to the debt ceiling vote, I once said, ‘Oh, I’d never do one of those,’ ” Mr. Schilling said. “But when you came down to the reality of what would happen if we didn’t, and I talked to local businesses about that,” the need to vote yes became clear, he said. ...
Mr. Schilling the outsider has also become more of an insider. He replaced his inexperienced chief of staff, whom he had thought would be refreshing, with a seasoned Hill expert, realizing, he said, “that you need people who know people up there.” He sends out a slew of mailings, which he had knocked the incumbent Democrat for doing back in 2010.
Public financing of presidential elections, the greatest reform to come out of the post-Watergate era, died this year after a long illness. It was 36 years old, and was drowned by big money and starved by the disdain of politicians who should have known better.
The U.S. military is more optimistic about the state of the battle against Taliban insurgents than are intelligence officials on the ground in Afghanistan, said House intelligence committee Chairman Mike Rogers, who returned this week from a visit to the country.
"My biggest take away from the trip was the huge difference between what the military says ... they believe the state of affairs is or our intelligence community believes the state of affairs is," said Rogers, referring to officials he met during his visit to Afghanistan. ...
"There is still a lot of uncertainty. There is no certain plan yet about what it looks like when the drawdown happens," he said.
"Nobody knows ... the military didn't know, the intelligence folks didn't know, nobody had a good feeling about what happens next," he added.
...[I]ntelligence officials see the Taliban adjusting to avoid casualties and having strong recruiting, so they believe "the Taliban are stronger today than it was even a couple of years ago," Rogers said.
"The Taliban has a clear political aim: to run the country. They want back," Rogers said.
...Rogers said Afghan special forces "are good" but it will be different without NATO support.
"The concern is when we don't have this big footprint to help them be successful can they do it on their own? The consensus I got when I walked out of there was probably not," he said.
After signing a 10-year lease and spending more than $80 million on a site envisioned as the United States’ diplomatic hub in northern Afghanistan, American officials say they have abandoned their plans, deeming the location for the proposed compound too dangerous. ...
The decision to give up on the site is the clearest sign to date that, as the U.S.-led military coalition starts to draw down troops amid mounting security concerns, American diplomats are being forced to reassess how to safely keep a viable presence in Afghanistan. The plan for the Mazar-e Sharif consulate, as laid out in a previously undisclosed diplomatic memorandum, is a cautionary tale of wishful thinking, poor planning and the type of stark choices the U.S. government will have to make in coming years as it tries to wind down its role in the war. ...
Had the Mazar-e Sharif consulate opened this year as planned, it would have been the second of four the U.S. government intends to set up. The United States has a consulate in the western Afghan city of Herat and is assessing options for the three other cities where it intends to keep a permanent diplomatic presence: Kandahar in the south, Jalalabad in the east and Mazar-e Sharif.
IN OTHER NEWS...
So, with the presidential election looming in exactly six months, I would like to issue a challenge to you both: Give at least one campaign speech, on a substantive policy issue, lasting at least 15 minutes, that does not contain a single factual error or misstatement. That means no sugar-coating of your record, no exaggerated claims about your opponent’s record, and no assertions that are technically true but lack crucial context. If you do, not only would you win the ultimate Geppetto Checkmark — which I award on those rare occasions of complete accuracy — but you would earn the gratitude of the American people, who are eager for hard truths.
Voting began Sunday in the final round of the French presidential election, in which forty-five million French citizens will choose their leader for the next five years.
The vote follows seven months of a very hard campaign between incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy, of the right-wing UMP party, and socialist challenger François Hollande. The two men bested eight other candidates in the first round on April 22.