Obama Extends Victory Lap

"Night Stalkers don't quit."

-- Motto of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, which flew the helicopters for the raid that killed Usama bin Laden. The unit is based at Kentucky’s Ft. Campbell, which will receive a visit from President Obama Friday.

President Obama’s visit today to Ground Zero – his first since taking office – is shaping up as a low-key affair featuring a wreath laying and a private meeting with the families of some of the victims of the 9/11 terrorists.

Obama had invited former President George W. Bush to attend his event today, which is designed to highlight Obama’s decision to authorize a Sunday raid that killed 9/11 architect Usama bin Laden. Bush declined, as did former President Bill Clinton, leaving the guest list limited mostly to local elected officials.

So, rather than attempting a politically risky effort to claim credit for Sunday’s raid at the sacred ground of the former World Trade Center, Obama will head to Ft. Campbell, Kentucky on Friday.

Earlier this week, the Washington Post used the base to show how the death of bin Laden had not changed the lives – or concerns – of soldiers and their families. The message from the piece was that for a war-weary military, the celebration of bin Laden’s death can’t break through the more immediate concerns of their deployments and homecomings. The base is also home to the unit that provided the helicopters that flew the SEAL team in and out of bin Laden’s Pakistani compound.

While today’s event will be somber, Friday’s event will be a chance for the president to bask in the reflected glow of a triumphant military. The SEAL team that did the killing is back in the U.S. and will head back to its Virginia base after a debriefing, but since they are part of the Joint Special Operations Command, they can’t really be used for political photo ops. The risks to their lives and operational capacity would be too great. Obama will, more likely, meet the team in a private ceremony.

But the Kentucky base has a touch of the bin Laden mission and, as home to another recently returned unit, will give Obama the chance to start his pivot in which he starts to talk about his long-planned military drawdown in Afghanistan. Obama is planning to start reducing troop levels in Afghanistan in July, a move he is coupling with an escalation of the covert war against Islamists inside Pakistan.

The calls are growing from Republicans and Democrats alike for Obama to begin a dramatic drawdown in the wake of bin Laden’s death – that having killed the man that planned 9/11, our work is done. Others argue that the two are unconnected and that bin Laden’s killing would make as much sense as a pretext for leaving Afghanistan as it would for suspending the Department of Homeland Security’s intrusive searches of airline travelers.

Obama will instead likely stay the course, but use the bin Laden death as political cover for his controversial plan. He can appeal to his political base by highlighting the fact that he is starting to bring troops home, but simultaneously blunt hawkish critics by highlighting the derring-do of the SEALs.

The Washington Post and New York Times have both found double-digit job approval bounces for Obama in surveys taken since the killing, but the scope of Obama’s political benefit is still hard to define. A Quinnipiac University poll out today finds the bounce at six points and daily tracking polls have shown barely a ripple since the attack.

All the surveys taken since the mission have shown overwhelming approval for the strike and improved scoring for the president’s security stances. But even in the polls most friendly to Obama, the bounce hasn’t broadened itself into other categories.

Today’s event at Ground Zero and Friday’s trip to Kentucky will be crucial in deciding whether the SEAL’s strike will be a political boon to Obama or a fleeting benefit.

President Chides bin Laden Photo Seekers

“I may have been preventing one of my early spring allergic coughs, so it could have no great meaning whatsoever.”

-- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when asked by a local reporter on a trip to Italy why she was covering her face with her hands in a photo taken in the White House Situation Room during the raid that killed Usama bin Laden

Transparency is generally an all or nothing proposition, as the Obama administration is learning about the killing of Usama bin Laden.

The White House tried to feed a news-hungry public as many details as possible about the mission and President Obama’s role in it – the Situation Room photos, etc.

But, the effort has caused multiple headaches for the Obama team – Why the Islamic rites for bin Laden’s burial? Was bin Laden armed or unarmed when he was killed? What role did the Pakistanis have in keeping or killing him? Was it culturally insensitive to give bin Laden the codename Geronimo?

Now, the president has decided to withhold the identification photo of bin Laden’s corpse on the grounds that it would be unseemly to do so – that we shouldn’t “spike the ball” after having killed him.

Obama made his case for avoiding excessive celebration during an interview with CBS News that is part of a nationwide victory lap by the president in the wake of the killing.

Many have argued that releasing the photo would be a sign to the rest of the world that justice was done, but the White House is now looking to draw the curtain after an early rush to provide details on the killing.

As the questions pile up about omissions and inconsistencies about the raid, the Obama team may come to wish that they had said less in the first place.

Dems Try to Sort Themselves Out on Debt Hike

"We believe a detailed proposal from the president will be key to the success of the working group.”

-- Letter from House Republican leadership to Vice President Joe Biden ahead of today’s summit on President Obama’s request for raising the debt ceiling

Today is the first meeting of the bipartisan group tasked with negotiating an increase in the federal government’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, and the message from Republicans is that if the president wants more borrowing power he must start the bidding on a plan.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan is hoping to pull off a debt-ceiling deal in the coming weeks that provides for caps on future spending – what he deemed to reporters a “single or a double.”

But the growing sentiment among congressional Republicans is that a broad bargain, even the kind of modest success Ryan is seeking, is out of reach. The administration had been jacking up the pressure on House Republicans but, as Senate Democrats started bucking the White House on the hugely unpopular borrowing request, the White House has eased back on the talk of economic “Armageddon.”

Earlier this week, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner extended by a month the deadline for the government running out of money to fund the $12 billion a day in current federal obligations. Now, Geithner says that the government can operate at full bore until Aug. 2.

Ryan, who takes an incremental approach to taming the debt beast, is arguing to his Republican colleagues that the administration’s predicament is an opportunity to win a modest victory on spending. With the Democrats divided on the subject, Republicans could get more out of the White House.

But there aren’t enough votes in the House to do a large, subject-limited expansion of federal borrowing, even with the caps Ryan has proposed. Remember, there was considerable dissent on Ryan’s 2012 budget as being unambitious. His plan for small ball on the debt ceiling may win plaudits from those calling for an “adult conversation,” but not among House conservatives.

Negotiating with Biden today will be House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl. It seems unlikely that they will be talking about small gains and bipartisan proposals to quickly bump up borrowing.

While Geithner’s extension may give Democrats more time to squabble amongst themselves over a deal, it also gives Republicans some breathing room. The simplest answer from Cantor and Kyl today would be to tell Biden and his fellow Democrats to come up with a pitch and get back to them.

Pawlenty Gets Ready to Whack Absent GOPers at Debate

“Some candidates are skipping tonight’s Republican debate in South Carolina because they believe it’s “too soon” to begin the presidential campaign against Barack Obama. I only hope that it’s not too late.”

-- Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty writing in the Daily Caller

The question for those Republican presidential pretenders not participating in tonight’s first-in-the-nation presidential debate is what their opponents will be saying about them in their absence.

The debate in Greenville, S.C., hosted by FOX News and the South Carolina Republican Party, will feature former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and businessman Herman Cain.

Leading into the event, Pawlenty is calling out the Republicans still waiting to wade into the presidential fight.

Pawlenty’s argument is that the sooner Republicans start their intramural fight over the GOP nomination the sooner they can finish and start focusing on the task of beating President Obama. The remarks seem directed primarily at former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, both of whom have chosen not to participate in the South Carolina primary debate.

While Romney and Gingrich may have good reasons for staying away, they will have to watch tonight as Pawlenty and the rest of the field pound away at Romney’s and Gingrich’s vulnerabilities.

Gingrich, whose campaign now says it will wait until next week to begin seeking votes in earnest, will be vulnerable on his own personal peccadilloes, and Romney will surely takes shots for statewide health plan he enacted in Massachusetts.

South Carolina Picks Presidents

“[Newt Gingrich is] a person that has had great ideas. And what he’s going to have to do is really plead to the people of South Carolina and see if those ideas are still relevant.”

-- South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley talking to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about Gingrich skipping tonight’s FOX News/South Carolina Republican Party debate

Gov. Nikki Haley on Wednesday identified the top issues for State Republicans: the looming vote on increasing the federal debt ceiling, the state’s plight with “bullying labor unions,” gas prices and the death of Usama bin Laden.

The state’s Republican voters have chosen every eventual Republican nominee since Ronald Reagan’s 1980 run, and the South Carolina Republicans have proven tough customers in election after election.

Power Play offers this advice to those Republican presidential candidates hitting the state in Greenville’s Peace Center at 9 p.m. Eastern: You may have a national audience for the debate, but don’t neglect the primary voters.

The state’s Republicans are electorally savvy – consider the 2008 choice of John McCain over Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson – but they aren’t above flattery.

And Now, A Word From Charles

“The reason the president held the raid the way he did, risky because he would have used a predator and destroyed the compound and reduced bin Laden to a cinder. The reason he ordered a raid -- a risky operation -- is to produce proof of death. We did not enter this to produce a trophy. I'm not sure why the president has a compulsive need to morally prove he is not spiking the football.”

-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report w/Bret Baier